THANKS to those who inspired and contributed to this fic, as well as to loud, raucous peals of laughter, even if you don't realize that you're included. It was all greatly needed and appreciated, really–even if you didn't exactly mean it.

Wee Hours
(Or, Nocturnal Remission

NCIS: Friday, July 1, 2005, 10:37 a.m. EDT

Anthony DiNozzo sat on the couch in Dr. Mallard's rarely used office. He looked for all the world like a young boy sent to the headmaster's office, the doctor thought, hunched over his knees and looking miserable–except that the grey complexion, sunken cheeks and bloodshot eyes made him look anything but young or boyish. The agent had not been sleeping well for several weeks and, of late, was not sleeping at all. Finally Gibbs threatened to order him onto medical leave unless he agreed to cooperate with their resident physician before he became one of Ducky's more typical patients–one a lot greyer and more sunken than Tony looked quite yet.

"You haven't been sleeping, Anthony, or you won't go to sleep?" At DiNozzo's eyes' quick dart upward to his, the doctor knew he'd struck pay dirt. "The dreams, again...you said before, your sleep was often disturbed by dreams..." DiNozzo didn't speak but, after a moment, grudgingly nodded, glancing back up to the doctor for affirmation. "You've been through a lot of stress lately, Anthony," Dr. Mallard urged, hoping to give the man some peace. "It's not at all unusual to have incredibly vivid, disturbing dreams as your mind works to clear itself of the trauma it's suffered..."

"But it's not that..." Tony finally managed, struggling with demons more harrowing than only dreams or lack of sleep. Was this it? Could he finally admit to himself–and to the doctor–that his sanity maybe really was on the brink? How could he admit this to the wise and helpful doctor who would have to report his insanity to Gibbs before the words had faded from the air? "Ducky, I..." he started, stopped, and licked his lips. "they're not..."

"Not what, Anthony?" Dr. Mallard helped.

A gulp. "Dreams. They're not dreams. They're real..."

The kindly expression took a sad turn. "You're dreaming about Kate, aren't you?"

"Yes, but..."

"It's not at all unusual to feel as if dreams about a recent loss are real–more real than the alternative, the grimmer, harsher reality of the daytime."

"But it's everyone, Ducky, not just–what happened. There are some with all of us, or some with just a few, but...mostly, it's me. And Gibbs."

"Well, naturally, my boy, the two of you were with her at the time...and we're a team; we've shared a loss..."

"No, no, Duck, it's not that!" Tony was suddenly up and pacing, tension and lack of sleep making his agitation bubble over. "It's what they're doing to me! I've been killed, shot, stabbed, drowned...I've been diagnosed with heart failure, M.S., a severed spinal cord...I've had half my brain removed!"

Ducky frowned, less certain but still game. "Who are they, Anthony?"

"I've been a coma nearly as often as I've been made to lose my mind..." he gulped, too wound up to hear anything but his nightmares. "I've been made to be fourteen again, and pushed ahead to be nearly fifty. I've broken down, broken up, broken out, broken in...I've slept with everyone you can imagine– and several you can't! Why, Ducky? Why are they doing this to me?"

The sad expression was back. "Tony," the doctor spoke softly, to soothe. "Could it be that your subconscious is trying to punish you, to hurt you, because you're still blaming yourself for Kate's de..."

"No, we're all falling victim–Gibbs, Abby...even Kate! We're all in and out of emergency rooms more often than soap opera surgeons! And they're not always bad things; hell, it's almost as creepy–we get married, we have babies, we become happy little couples and I'll be damned if they don't have cute little names for each match up–Kate and I get married we're the 'Tates.' Gibbs and Abby get it on, they're 'Gabby.' Kate hooks up with Gibbs, it's..."

"I get the idea..." The good doctor was positively frowning his concern now.

"Oh, but there's more..." Tony breathed, finally breaking free of long weeks being haunted. "They're watching! And not just watching...they're...judging me, judging us...reviewing us, what we've done, like the judges in the old time Olympics, holding up cards after the performance. But not with numbers, oh, no..." His green eyes now glittered with a sort of madness, "but with comments and opinions... like, 'Awesome!' and 'Kewl!' and 'OMG!' ...or...or... 'Tony would never do that,'" he panted. "Who the hell are these people and why do they think they know what I'd do?"

"Tony; please; sit..." Dr. Mallard rose to gently herd DiNozzo back to the couch, concern still tracing his brow. "I had no idea things had become so intense for you. How long has this been happening? Just since we lost Kate?"

Tony hesitated, looking awkwardly guilty, suddenly aware how much he'd confessed, but knowing he'd have exploded if he held it in much longer. "No...for...awhile. Maybe a couple years now...it started picking up, just one or two small moments, but then in the fall 2003, more and more..." He sighed. "It was pretty steady, and but really picked up after Kate was...well, you know..."

Ducky nodded. "I see..." Tony suddenly noticed–or was he imagining–that the doctor looked less worried now–and more thoughtful? "Anthony..." he was asking. "Was there something...recent...that pushed you to this, a final straw, perhaps?"

Tony looked back into the kind eyes and wavered, then looked away, imploring, "yes...but please, Duck, don't make me tell you..."

"It will help to get it out in the open..."

Tony wavered, stared at the wall for long minutes...and let his face drop into his hands. "I was pregnant," he shuddered, "I had a baby..."

"Boy or girl?" Ducky brightened a little.

"Ducky!" Tony moaned, miserable. "For God's sake, you're a doctor! I can't be pregnant..."

"Well, of course not..." Ducky remembered himself, musing a moment...then asked, "Who was the father?"

"I think you know that, Dr. Mallard..."

Both sets of eyes swivelled up to meet the familiar, icy hues as Gibbs stood in the doorway, gazing long at DiNozzo...

"...Tony..." Gibbs stepped in the room, nearing the younger agent, slowly. "You're not ashamed of me, are you? Of us? You know...Tibbs?"

"Boss..." Tony moaned, weakly. "They're just dreams..." He looked over to Ducky, hope still alive. "Bete noire, all just bad dreams, right, doc?" His eyes begged the doctor for his help.

"Oh, I'm afraid not, Anthony; you see, 'Tibbs' has a very special place in the hearts of our readers everywhere..." Ducky stood, and gently guided Tony by the elbow to Gibbs' waiting embrace. "And 'slash is the stuff that a young girl's dreams are made of...'" he paraphrased, regally. "Although I bloody well can't for the life of me tell why."

"DiNozzo, think of all the time you've spent trying to impress me these past few years." Gibbs lifted an eyebrow to waggle it at the younger agent. "Maybe you did too good a job."

"No..no, look...I can't..." Tony backed up, eyes wild with the implications, and stammered, "Just... I need a few days off; I need that week, Boss...er, Gibbs, er, no, Boss; I..." He was out the door and still babbling the knowledge just opened to him. "I'll...I'll call..."

The two older men stood silently for the moment, listening to the footfalls in the hall as Tony now ran for the door, for the outside world, desperate to find what was real and what merely fiction. After a moment, the doctor turned to peer up at the senior agent. "Well, now Jethro, what's next? Will he come around?"

Gibbs grinned one of his patented, slow grins as he drawled, "Oh, come on now, Ducky. You have to wait and read the next chapter, same as everyone else."

"Oh, damn it, Jethro, how I hate when you say that!"

"Well," Gibbs shrugged, his grin sliding lopsidedly into a look of amusement. "I could help you pass the time..."

At that, the older man beamed as he slid into the younger man's strong, ex-Marine arm. "Why, Jethro...I thought you'd never ask..." But as he drew closer, Dr. Mallard paused for a moment, a twinkle in his eye. "For tonight, Jethro–shall we go it alone...or shall we call Caitlin to join us again...?"