Tony opened his eyes to find himself once again in the hospital, he just wasn't sure he could trust it. So many times he'd thought he was one place only to have it twist and find himself somewhere else. Moving restlessly in the bed, he plucked at the IV in his arm, determined to get up and find out for himself what was real.

A firm hand on his wrist stopped him. He looked up to find Gibbs leaning over him.

"You with me, DiNozzo?" he asked, his gaze piercing.

Tony could feel Gibbs fingers on his wrist, solid and warm and real. He licked his lips and felt his own weariness sweep over him.

"Guess so, boss." He shut his eyes for a moment. He felt Gibbs hold on his wrist loosen as he started to pull away and panic hit him. He grabbed for Gibbs' hand. "Don't," he gasped. The heart monitor reflected the frantic beat of his heart.

"What?" Gibbs was poised, ready to call for the doctor if he needed to.

"I need… to know you're…. you," Tony said, hoping that Gibbs would understand because he wasn't certain he did.

Gibbs pulled the chair he'd been sitting in a little closer and let his hand rest lightly on Tony's arm.

"Who else am I going to be, DiNozzo?" he asked, keeping his tone light.

Tony didn't answer. The heart monitor continued in its frantic pace as his memories began to surface.

"Gibbs, did I…?"

Gibbs stopped him immediately, "It's alright, DiNozzo. Everyone's okay."

Tony's glance took in the empty bed next to his, "McGee?"

"You've been out of it awhile, DiNozzo, McGee's been released. I sent him home to get some rest, like you should be."

"You know me, boss…" Tony's eyes shut and then snapped open again. His hand reached to grasp Gibbs's wrist once more, "I never follow orders." His lips quirked in a ghost of his cheeky smirk.

"You'd better this time, DiNozzo, or you'll have me to answer to," Gibbs strove to keep his tone level, normal. "Once you're out of here I expect you back at work, and if you're late, so help me, I'm going to kick your butt into next week."

Tony was losing the fight with sleep, but he rallied enough to whisper, "As if I'd ever be late, boss."

Even once he was asleep, Tony's fingers stayed clasped loosely around Gibbs' wrist.

"Good evening, Doctor, you're here late," the nurse commented as he walked by her station. She smiled up at him, flirting just a little.

"Just wanted to check on a few patients, then I'll be out of your hair," he told her, returning the smile as he continued on his way.

It was getting late. Visiting hours were over and the night shift had settled in. The halls were quiet and the doctor's footsteps echoed as he walked, pausing at doors to look inside. It wasn't necessary, he'd done his rounds, he just liked to reassure himself that his patients were resting comfortably before he left. It helped him sleep better at night.

It had been a long shift and he stretched sore muscles as he walked. It wasn't often he had a patient escape, that had caused quite a stir in the hospital. But things had turned out well, with the NCIS agent returned to the hospital, even if he was a little more bruised and battered than when he'd left.

He stopped outside the NCIS agent's door and glanced inside. His patient was sleeping and would be for a while. His injuries had been severe, but the man was a fighter, a lesser man wouldn't have survived this long.

The doctor was surprised to find DiNozzo was alone. One or the other of his co-workers had been sitting with him the entire day; they hadn't left his side for a second. Whether they thought he was still in danger or whether they just needed to be with him, the doctor didn't know, didn't ask. He'd just allowed them to stay, not even bothering to argue.

He checked down the hallway in the direction of the coffee machine expecting to see Special Agent Gibbs there. He always seemed to have a cup in his hand. There was no sign of anyone. The doctor went into the room shutting the door behind him.

"Well, well, Agent DiNozzo," he said conversationally though the man in the bed continued sleeping obliviously, "it looks like we're alone at last." He picked up the chart and made a note or two.

DiNozzo stirred, perhaps responding to his voice; maybe he just had an itch. As sedated as he was, he wasn't likely to wake up any time soon.

"Nothing to worry about, in fact you're responding quite well to the treatment," he assured his unconscious patient. "I was surprised. I never expected you to recover. I mean after what you've been through, you must have quite the will to live."

The doctor looked around the darkened room. Then, moving decisively, he picked up a pillow from the empty bed. "It's too bad that your friends weren't here when your condition took a turn for the worse. I did everything I could to save you of course, but your condition was just too severe."

DiNozzo stirred again, mumbling something in his sleep. The doctor actually imagined he might be trying to wake up and protect himself. Of course that was impossible, he was just projecting some of his own fears onto the man lying in the bed.

He bent down to whisper into DiNozzo's ear, "It's too bad, I don't have anything against you. You're quite intriguing actually, I still don't know how you broke the programming, but I can't leave any loose ends lying around."

He straightened, holding the pillow over DiNozzo's face and pressing down firmly. "Don't worry, this won't hurt at all."

Gibbs pushed back the curtain he'd hidden himself behind. He stepped out of the shadows, his gun leveled on the doctor.

"Step away from my agent, Doctor," he ordered.

The doctor straightened smoothly, but he didn't move from where he stood at Tony's side. "Ah, Special Agent Gibbs, there you are. I was just trying to make sure my patient was comfortable." He raised a brow at the gun, but otherwise appeared to be entirely unconcerned about it.

"You can cut the act, Doc, I was here the entire time," Gibbs growled.

It took all of his control to not pull the trigger and end the hell they'd all endured.

"I said step away from him, asshole," the tone brooked no disobedience, and the doctor did take a step back, still holding the pillow in front of him like a shield.

"I don't know what's going on here, Agent Gibbs, but I insist that you put the gun down." Gibbs had to give him points for having balls. The doctor didn't even blink at being confronted red-handed with the smoking gun in his hand, as it were.

Gibbs didn't move a muscle, holding the gun steadily, keeping the doctor in his sights, "I said cut the crap," a lesser man would have been quelled by just the tone; but the doctor just stayed, holding his ground, watching Gibbs coolly. "We picked up your orderlies and they've rolled on you. We know everything."

The doctor did flinch at that, he dropped the pillow to reveal the gun he was holding. It was pointed at Tony's unconscious body. Gibbs knew he should have shot him while he had the chance.

"Oh, I doubt you know the whole thing," the doctor sneered, changing in the space of a second from caring professional to cold-blooded killer. His eyes glittered with a mad light that Gibbs didn't like.

"We know that you're the one who engineered the drugs injected into Tony," Gibbs said. His focus narrowed to the point where the gun pressed against Tony's head. "We know that it was your research that was used to program Tony."

"Oh, bravo, Special Agent Gibbs, good for you. Now I'll tell you what I know. If you don't drop your weapon and step away from the door, I'm going to put a bullet into Agent DiNozzo's head. After all he's been through, that would be so tragic."

"You're never going to get away with this," Gibbs growled.

He just had to stall for time; Kate was on the way with back up. There was no way the doctor was getting out, but there was also no way Gibbs was going to allow him to hurt Tony again.

"Agent Gibbs, I am serious, I will shoot this man. Now drop your weapon and move away from the door."

It was deadlock with neither man budging to give an inch.

Gibbs was an expert on reading people; he had to be able to tell when a perp was going to run or when a gun-toting madman was going to shoot. He could see the doctor's finger tightening on the trigger and Gibbs lowered his weapon.

The doctor's lip curved into a cruel smile, "I knew you'd see it my way, Agent Gibbs, now move away from the door, and I'll take my leave."

Gibbs saw Tony's eye open, but the doctor didn't, his attention was focused solely on Gibbs. He didn't know that Tony was aware of what was happening until Tony had hold of his wrist and twisted. The move didn't require much strength, which was a good thing because Tony didn't have any to spare. It was enough.

The doctor gave a gasp, more surprised than pained and he dropped his gun onto the bed. It gave Gibbs time to cross the room and pull the doctor away from Tony. He slammed him to the floor, planting a foot in his back.

He glanced back to see Tony pick up the gun with trembling hands.

The doctor twisted and shouted, "Operation Turnkey," before Gibbs could silence him.

All the blood drained from Tony's face and the shaking of his hands increased. He raised his eyes to meet Gibbs. Gibbs could see the terrible fear there, the dread that he could be used as a weapon against the people he cared about most in the world.

"It's alright, DiNozzo," he said matter of factly, "I trust you."

The gratitude flashed in DiNozzo's eyes and he dropped the gun as if it burned him, pushing it further away from him.

The door opened and Kate stepped through. She stopped in astonishment at what she found. She stood in the door with her mouth open, for once in her life with nothing to say.

"Hey, Kate," Tony said, "You missed the party."

Gibbs searched the man on the floor thoroughly, clicking handcuffs into place before he pulled the doctor to his feet. He took no care to be gentle. Once the doctor was up, Gibbs thrust him at Kate.

"Get him out of here before I shoot him," he said shortly. Using a glove he pulled from his pocket, he picked up the gun from the bed handing it over to Kate. She had a handkerchief in her bag that she used to wrap around it.

She gave a glance to Tony to check on his condition before she shoved the man through the door in front of her. Two other agents met them in the hallway. The door shut as the doctor was led away.

Gibbs moved so that he was back at Tony's side. "You okay?" he asked gruffly.

Tony huffed out a breath. His hand sought the reassurance of Gibbs' arm without even being aware he did it. It was just the barest touch and he relaxed a little, letting his hand fall back onto the bed.

"This is getting old," he said with a tired yawn.

"You're telling me," Gibbs agreed with a nod. He sat. "Go back to sleep, I'll stay and make sure there are no more insane doctors out to kill you."

Tony was too tired to even smile, "But you will let the hot nurses in, won't you, boss?" he asked anxiously.

Gibbs eyes narrowed sternly, "If you can worry about the nurses then you're not too sick, DiNozzo." He leaned forward, his hand poised over Tony's head.

Tony closed his eyes, his whole body relaxing at last into the bed, "Going to sleep, boss," he murmured.

It didn't take long for his breathing to even out as he returned to the sleep his body needed to heal.

Gibbs picked up the newspaper he'd been reading when Kate called with the information about the doctor. Turning to the sports page he returned to his vigil, making sure Tony stayed safe.

Even though it was raining outside and he was pretty much soaked to the skin, Tony passed through the security doors at NCIS with a smile and a spring in his step. It was good to be back. After all the time in the hospital and weeks spent recovering he'd wondered if he would ever make it back.

He waved breezily at the security guard standing at his post observing the people going in and out of the building.

"Hey, Dave," Tony called out as he passed.

The tall black man smiled back genially, breaking the stern visage he presented to the public just for a second. "Hey, Tony, it's good to see you back."

Tony continued on his way anxious to get up to the office calling over his shoulder, "It's good to be back."

It was good to be back.

At the elevators, Tony pushed the up button and waited impatiently for the car to arrive. He bounced lightly to the music in his head, scrutinizing his reflection in the mirrored surface of the elevator door. He was still a little pale, but he thought he'd pass muster. Hopefully Gibbs wouldn't send him straight home because he needed to be back at work. He needed to prove to himself that he could do it.

Besides they needed him back, there was too much work for just Kate and McGee.

He imagined the welcome he'd receive from his co-workers. Kate would smile and say she'd missed him, McGee would shake his hand and welcome him back. And Gibbs…

Well Gibbs would probably hit him on the back of the head and tell him to get back to work. And that was okay. It was normal. Tony desperately needed for everything to be normal again. His life had been out of control for too long now and he needed to take it back.

Pinging its arrival, the elevator doors opened. Tony stepped in, pressing the button for his floor. Just as the doors were shutting, a body squeezed itself through them, joining him in the elevator car.

Bright blue eyes framed by honey blonde hair sparkled up at him.

Oh, yes, it was going to be a good day.

He leaned against the wall in his best casual manner and drawled, "What floor do you need there, Missy?"

She didn't answer, just lifted a brow before leaning in to push the button herself. Tony caught a hint of her perfume – it was light and feminine, with floral undertones.

"An independent woman," he said in warm approval, "I like independent women."

"Agent DiNozzo." She had a light, lilting southern accent, "It's good to see you back." She smiled up at him, revealing dimples.

Instead of the anticipation of the chase that he usually felt when confronted with a beautiful woman, Tony felt a stir of unease.

"I'm sorry, do I know you?" he asked cautiously, straightening.

"Why Agent DiNozzo, I'm hurt." She pouted with her eyes downcast demurely.

The elevator reached the third floor and stopped smoothly…

"Because I'm sure I'd remember you." He studied her face, trying to remember if he'd ever met her before.

She peeked up at him through a curtain of hair, "Well, you really weren't at your best."

The doors were opening…

"We worked together on Operation Turnkey."

Her bright smile turned malicious and she handed him a gun. "You know what you have to do."

Tony stumbled out of the elevator, looking at her over his shoulder. She made a shooing motion with her hands and the doors slid shut, hiding her from him.

"Tony!" Abby's glad cry pulled him back around. Before he could move or react, she threw her arms around him, squeezing him tightly.

"Abby." He half-heartedly returned her hug.

She didn't seem to notice the gun as she grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him into the office.

There was a sign – Welcome Back Tony, and a cake.

Kate was there smiling. She stood with McGee and Ducky and Jimmy Palmer, they stood in front of his desk, waiting for him. Agents from other teams were standing, watching over the partitions.

Tony felt the gun in his hand, cold and heavy. He wanted to let it go, he wanted to drop it, but he couldn't make his hand release it. No one else seemed to think it was odd that he was walking into the office with a gun in his hand, though. They all smiled at him amiably.

Kate stepped forward and hugged him, "We missed you, Tony," she whispered into his ear.

As soon as she released him, McGee grabbed his hand, shaking it enthusiastically, "Hey, welcome back, Tony, nothing's been the same here without you."

Tony stood rooted to the spot, waiting for someone to pinch him and convince him that he was awake.

Ducky and Palmer grinned at him.

"It's good to see you, Anthony," Ducky said, a plate of cake in his hand.

"Yeah, you look good," Jimmy agreed with his amiable grin.

"Well, DiNozzo," Gibbs' voice startled him, and he turned to see his boss standing, just watching him. "Glad you finally decided to make it in to work."

Tony tried to explain to him that he had to recuperate, that he'd been on sick leave. The words stuck in his throat and wouldn't come out of his mouth. He found himself raising the gun against his will. He fought against it, but the gun just kept raising, pointing at Gibbs.

Gibbs didn't move, didn't try to stop him, just stood there.

"Boss," Tony gasped as the gun fired, his finger pulling the trigger of its own accord.

Gibbs was on the floor, a pool of blood beginning to spread beneath him, a single gun shot between his eyes. Tony staggered away, he had shot Gibbs. The man he respected most in the world, he'd betrayed him by killing him.

Kate screamed. She fell on her knees next to Gibbs' body.

"Tony," there were already tears falling, "what have you done?"

Tony dropped the gun. Now he could let it go, and it hit the floor with a hollow thud. People were starting to come from everywhere to find out what was causing the commotion, but Tony didn't see them.

All he could see was Gibbs' dead eyes staring at him accusingly, and the pool of blood, spreading across the floor.


Tony jerked awake with his boss's name on his lips. He was covered in a fine sheen of sweat and his heart was tattooing its own rhythm inside his chest. He sucked in a breath and exhaled hard.

It wasn't real. It was a dream.


He turned to find Kate sitting beside him, watching him with concern lining her face.

He was in the hospital still. It hadn't happened. He had to make sure it never happened.

"You okay?" she asked frowning at him in her concern.

"Now that's the question, isn't it, Katey." He didn't mean to antagonize her with the hated name, but it came as easy as breathing sometimes. It was what they did.

Was he ever going to be okay? Was he ever going to be able to trust himself again without being afraid that he was going to walk into work one day and someone would say the wrong thing and he'd go postal, killing everyone? Wasn't that what he'd been programmed to do?

She flopped back in her chair, lifting her magazine with disdain. "Well pardon me for being concerned," she replied.

"Kate? I'm sorry, okay. I'm just…" crazed came to mind, but he couldn't say it.

"It's the drugs," she supplied as a peace offering.

"Yeah, must be." He eyed the magazine, it was oddly familiar, but he couldn't remember why.

"Cosmo, Kate? What would your mother say?"

She started in the chair. She opened her mouth, then shut it. She looked up at him and he could see the puzzlement in her eyes. Instead of replying to his question, she changed the subject, "Does Gibbs know you dream about him?" she asked smugly.

"What? No, I don't," he shivered even as he denied it.

"Yes, you do. When you woke up just now, you said Gibbs."

"I did not," he denied vehemently.

"Did, too," she insisted just as hotly.

"Well, don't tell him, will you? He'll think it means something," Tony suddenly capitulated, tiring of the game quicker than he normally would have.

"Okay…" she deflated a little, waiting for him to speak. He could see that she wasn't quite certain what to say to him, wishing she could make it all better and not knowing how. Tony loved her for that.

"Pinch me," he said after a long silence where they just sat, staring at each other.

"What?" her eyes flicked to the call button.

He chuckled, "I'm not crazy, Kate, come on, just pinch me."

"Why?" She studied him, trying to determine if this was some new weird joke he was going to play on her.

He turned uncharacteristically solemn, suddenly interested in the blanket, "In that… cage, I had hallucinations. It was hard to tell what was real and what I was imagining. And now… well I just need to know that this is… real. Come on, Katey," he spoke softly in his best wheedling tone, "pinch me. You know you want to."

He offered the fleshy underside of his arm out to her, careful of the IV.

She looked from the arm to his face, he nodded his encouragement.

"DiNozzo if this one of you stupid, juvenile pranks, I swear…" she pinched him near the elbow.

"Oh, come on, you pinch like a girl," he jeered. "Pinch me!"

Her eyes narrowed and she pinched him again, harder this time.

"Ow!" He yelped just a little more than the sharp pain had called for and was delighted to see the concern come flooding back.

"I'm sorry, Tony, did I hurt you?" she leaned in, her fingers resting on his arm lightly.

"No, you didn't hurt me," he said with an evil smile, "you pinch like a girl."

She rolled her eyes and sat back. "That doesn't make any sense, Tony."

He let himself relax. More than the pinch, her tone let him know that this was real. Hallucination Kate never sounded that pissed.

"Where's Gibbs?" he asked.

He'd woken several times during the night, not sure where he was or what was real. Gibbs had been there every time with his hand resting lightly on Tony's arm.

"Some of us have work to do," she declared.

"So, you got the short straw?" he guessed.

"Tony…" she began.

"I understand, better hospital duty than work. Besides this way, you can catch up on all the latest tricks to," he squinted reading the front of the magazine, "get into his pants."

He raised a scandalized eyebrow and settled back into the pillows, "so, learn anything useful?"

She stood, throwing the magazine down, "I'm going for coffee, and you'd better be asleep when I get back."

She stormed past him.

He just grinned, "What? Was it something I said?"

He heard her muttered, "I can't believe I was worried about you," as the door slammed behind her.

He smiled, content. His life wasn't back to normal yet, but he had just made a step to getting there.

Tony sat with a contented sigh, leaning back into the cushions of the sofa, just enjoying the first real moment of alone time he'd had since he'd been released from the hospital. It seemed that someone from his team or one of his neighbors had been there every second, intent on making sure he was taking his meds, getting his rest, eating properly, that he was doing alright. They were hovering. And while he'd appreciated it the first day or so, it was getting annoying. He was a grown up and he could take care of himself.

He wouldn't confess, even to himself, that it freaked him out just a little to remember what his living room had looked like the last time he'd seen it. The dead body without a face on the sofa, the blood stained floors. Alright so maybe the company wasn't entirely unwelcome.

He hit play on the DVD player and settled back when there was a knock on his door.

He couldn't help it, he tensed ever so slightly. His hand snaked under the cushion and felt the reassurance of the cool metal hidden there.

"Come in," he called casually.

The door swung open and McGee stood there, framed in the door, in that long trench coat he wore, carrying a pizza box. He paused, frowning at Tony.

"Your door's not locked," he accused, his glare fierce and protective.

That made Tony smile, that McGee was protective of him.

"It's been like Grand Central here," he replied, letting go of the gun. He let himself relax muscle by muscle.

"Come in and shut the door or the neighbors will think it's an invitation and I don't think you brought enough pizza for everyone." He turned his attention back to the DVD, knowing McGee would take care of himself.

Tim came in a little hesitantly, not sure of his welcome. He handed the pizza to Tony and took off his coat. When he stood, not sure what to do with it, Tony pointed to the bench beside the door, it had a hook for McGee to hang his coat on.

He pulled the box onto his lap and inhaled deeply, "Pepperoni, sausage and extra cheese, my favorite," he exhaled in appreciation. "How'd you know?"

"I spend enough time at stake outs with you, Tony, I know what's your favorite pizza." Tim shook his coat out and hung it up neatly on the hook.

"Good work, Probie," Tony nodded in whole-hearted approval.

McGee gave that little half smile he got whenever he earned a measure of respect from one of his co-workers. Tony knew he should make some smart remark and take it back, but he let it go, McGee had earned it, and not just for the pizza.

"So," Tony picked up a slice and eyed it, anticipating it, "you got a white board back at the office with a visiting schedule all worked out?' He asked, watching McGee closely from the corner of his eye.

He knew he'd hit the mark when McGee's mouth dropped open and he sputtered. Tony didn't press; he practically knew the schedule by heart now anyway.

"So, McGee, want something to drink? Pull up a chair, make yourself comfortable."

Tim took the out, and headed for the kitchen, "Alright. Can I get you something?"

"Would you bring me a bottle of water?" Tony called after him.

He heard the refrigerator open.


"Seems it does a body good," Tony answered with a wry smile as McGee returned and handed him the bottle. "Who knew?"

"And Kate took all the beer when she left?" McGee hazarded a guess.


Actually she'd dumped it all down the sink and threw the bottles in his trash, but Tony wasn't admitting that to McGee.

Tim sat in the chair and stretched out a little. Tony could see him letting himself relax. He'd seen them all do it over the last few days. They'd been so afraid he was going to die, he'd been afraid he was going to die. It took them a few minutes to relax and get back into the normal rhythm of their lives.

Tony couldn't wait until they were done treating him like fragile china that had to be handled gently or it would break. He hadn't broken, he wasn't going to break, and he just had to give them time to realize it.

Once Tim was settled, Tony pushed the play button on the DVD and the familiar theme song started to play.

"Magnum PI?" McGee asked incredulously, a hint of disdain coloring his voice.

"Hey, don't diss Magnum," Tony warned, "He's the guys guy, you know."

McGee just nodded doubtfully, breaking the cap on his water and taking a sip.

Tony took a bite of his pizza and chewed thoughtfully. "You know Magnum had the perfect life, he lived in Hawaii, had the Ferrari, the beautiful women."

"But you take away the car and the women and what did he have?" McGee leaned in and snagged a piece of the pizza.

"He had TC and Rick, he had Higgins and the dogs."

"Poor Tony, all you have is me and Kate," McGee laughed, never realizing that they'd crossed into a more serious topic until Tony leaned forward and deposited the pizza box on the table, the rest of his slice untasted.

"Yeah, and damn lucky to have you, too," he said, he let McGee see the sincerity in his eyes.

He caught McGee off guard, and he paused, pizza half way to his mouth.

"I… uhm… listen, Tony…"

"Kate told me what you did, you saved my life when you cut that wire," Tony said.

McGee dropped the pizza and shrugged, "It just seemed like the thing to do."

"Well, thanks." He leaned back, letting McGee take his time.

"You're welcome," Tim answered warmly. Then, "besides it's our job to torture you." Tim picked up his pizza again and things were normal between them again.

It felt damned good. Tony retrieved his slice and took a bite, savoring the spices and the tang of the tomato sauce, the burn of the cheese on the roof of his mouth.

"Kate said you almost died. Glad you didn't," he said talking around the pizza. "It would be hell breaking in a new Probie. You seen the new guy down in the computer room? He makes you look suave and debonair in comparison."

"Just eat your pizza, Tony," McGee shot back, not even bothering to respond.

Tony settled back, enjoying the DVD and the company.

Life was returning to normal and he for one was ready.

Tony pulled into his parking place and turned off the ignition. He took a moment to just sat and stare at the building. It looked no different from the last time he'd been there, from the time he'd almost killed Gibbs.

Even after weeks of down time, weeks spent recovering from wounds both mental and physical, he still wasn't completely sure what had been real and what was imagined from that day. As advised by his shrink, he'd written a lot of it down trying to figure it all out, but it hadn't helped. He was still left with the nightmare visions of Gibbs' dead eyes staring up at him in silent accusation, a pool of blood beneath him.

He realized that he was clenching the wheel, his knuckles white and his hands shaking. He forced himself to let go of the wheel and pulled his keys from the ignition. He needed to go back in the building, he needed to get control of his life back, and this was the last, and hardest, step.

He was afraid, he knew that. He had to be sure of himself if he was going to be any kind of agent, and he was afraid of the damn gun. He'd spent time at the shooting range, trying to deal with the fear and every time he came away sick and shaking, unable to even pull the trigger, because the face on the target was always Gibbs.

He had to go in the building and see if he could face the fear and deal with it, or leave his badge and walk away forever because he wouldn't be responsible for watching someone's back if he wasn't a hundred percent.

Tony was never the type to give into fear; he faced it dead on and dealt with it, one way or another. So, he got out of his car, slamming the door a little harder than necessary and strode into the building.

Inside there was the normal flow of people, in and out, and Tony relaxed a little. He smiled at them like there was nothing wrong, and they smiled and nodded back. It was just a normal day. He could do it.

Dave, the security guy, was standing in his usual place, ever vigilant. He was always there, and Tony had a private image that the guy never went home. They just hung him up in the closet at night and took him out the next morning and put him back in place.

When he saw Tony, his face broke into a warm welcoming smile.

"Agent DiNozzo, heard you were coming back today. Welcome back."

That caught Tony by surprise, he hadn't even been sure he would come back today. The doctor had offered to extend his leave if he needed and he'd only declined at the last minute.

"Thanks, Dave," he answered. "It's good to be back."

"I know your team will be glad to see you," Dave said, the grin still creasing his face.

Tony didn't know that he'd ever heard Dave say more than five words at a time. It was weirding him out.


"Oh, yeah, Gibbs has been even worse than usual the last few weeks, chewing people out. McGee said it was about time you were back, picking up the slack."

"Oh, he did, did he?"

"For a fact," Dave nodded knowingly.

"Well, thanks for the heads up, Dave," Tony said as he edged away.

"Watch your back, man," Dave called after him.

He didn't know why it bothered him that Dave had talked to him, maybe because it was different. Tony really needed the normality of things being the same.

He made it to the elevators without any other strange conversations. He pushed the button, grateful when it opened right up. He slid inside, pressing the button for his floor.

As the doors were shutting, a slim hand inserted itself. The sensor, noting that something was in the doors, opened them back up. Tony found himself staring down at the same bright blue eyes and honey blonde hair he saw in his dreams.

Except this woman took one look at him and a scowl descended upon her.

"Agent DiNozzo," she said. He swore the temperature in the elevator dropped ten degrees as she punched the button for her floor and moved to stand on the other side of the car.

Tony didn't take offense, he was glad to have some distance between them. He watched her out of the corner of his eye; her body language was definitely hostile with a frown upon her full, red lips. It hit him where he'd seen her before.

"You're a baggy bunny," he blurted before he even thought about it.

If anything, her back stiffened even further and the temperature in the elevator dropped even further. Tony expected frost anytime.

"I'll have you know Agent DiNozzo, that I am a highly trained professional, and my job designation is NOT baggy bunny." The doors slid open and she stalked out with a last scathing look back at Tony.

He sagged against the wall in relief and had to work hard not to laugh until the doors were completely shut behind her.

He was still shaking with laughter when the doors opened on his floor and he didn't even think when he stepped out.

Where he immediately found himself tackled by the waiting Abby.

"Tony, you're back!" she cried as she squeezed him hard enough he swore he felt his ribs creak.

"Abby, I can't breath," he wheezed and she let go.

"Oh, I'm sorry," her expressive eyes were so full of concern that he felt instantly guilty.

"No, it's alright, I'm glad to see you. I don't think I've ever been welcomed back quite so... enthusiastically."

"Well, that's just sad," she said as she caught his hand and pulled him along behind her.

And then he was at his desk and it looked just like he'd left it all those weeks ago. Except for the stack of files that was placed in the middle. Looking around he found that the rest of his team was nowhere to be seen.

"Where is everyone?" he asked, just a tad hurt that there really was no one there to welcome him back after all.

Abby stretched up on her toes and pulled his head down to meet hers so she could whisper in his ear, "They didn't want to overwhelm you on your first day back."


She smiled warmly and nodded. "I've gotta go, I've got a ton of work to do. It's good to have you back." She threw her arms around him one more time and squeezed before she was gone.

"There she goes, ladies and gentlemen," he said to no one in particular, "the tornado named Abby Sciuto."

Taking off his jacket, he hung it up before sitting down to the pile of files on his desk. Tentatively he opened one and glanced through the contents.

Kate was the first one to wander back and Tony didn't miss her glance in his direction.

He crossed his arms behind his head and leaned back, "Well, Katey me girl," he said in his best Irish brogue, "did you miss me now?"

"Please DiNozzo," she rolled her eyes, "we didn't even know you were gone, although your desk did make a good place to store files."

McGee rounded the corner, stopping short when he saw Tony.

"Hey Tony, I didn't know you were coming back today," his wide-eyed startlement didn't hide the twinkle.

"Huh, you didn't read your memos then, Probie, cause everyone else seemed to be in on it." Tony put his feet up on the desk, letting it all wash over him.

It was that moment that Gibbs came behind him, sweeping Tony's feet off the desk. Tony jerked back up.

"Glad you could make it in, DiNozzo. Comfortable there?"

"Why sure, boss, I've always liked this chair, you know you can..." he looked up to find them all staring him, as if they were glad to have the normality back, too.

Gibbs cleared his throat, "Alright, well, if you've all got your welcomes out, we have a case – a DB. Get your gear together, we're out of here." He clapped his hands and moved to his desk.

Tony automatically opened the drawer with his weapon in it. He pulled the gun out and slid the clip in. Then he just sat and stared at it, his mind caught in the eternal loop of watching himself aim the gun and firing it, Gibbs staring up at him with glazed, dead eyes.

How did he get past this? The knowledge that he'd been programmed to let people into NCIS who were going to blow it up? That he'd been programmed to kill his boss? How could he trust himself again? How could he expect his team to trust him when he couldn't trust himself?

"DiNozzo," Gibbs called sharply.

It was a Pavlovian response, Gibbs spoke, Tony responded. He snapped his eyes up, seeking out his boss.

"Operation Turnkey," Gibbs said softly.

It didn't even process with Tony, he was so lost in the horror of his vision. Then it broke through what Gibbs had said. He looked down at the gun he was holding. He hefted it in his hand and suddenly it wasn't the cause of Gibbs's death anymore, it was his tool for catching the bad guys and protecting his teammates. He slid it into place and snapped the holster close with practiced ease.

"Thanks, boss," he said softly.

Tony became aware that they were watching them – McGee and Kate, and they were smiling.

It was the best welcome back he'd ever had.

"Today people," Gibbs said gruffly. "Oh, and Kate."

She paused in the act of slinging her pack over her head, looking back at Gibbs.

"If you ever lie to me again, I will have your badge," he locked eyes with her so she could read the sincerity in his before moving past her to the elevator.

Kate opened her mouth to justify herself, but then, thinking better of it, shut it and finished pulling her pack into place.

Tony hooted, "Lying to the boss, Kate? That is not good." He moved to stand behind her and whispered in her ear, "It's a good thing I'm back to keep you in line."

She stiffened and whirled to face him, there was fire in her eyes. Tony backed up a step in self-defense.

"I lied to cover your sorry butt that Monday when you were late. But never again, Tony, the next time you're late, you're on your own. You can stay out there lying on the street in a fiery crash and I wouldn't care."

Tony couldn't help the lazy grin that seemed to split his face, "As if."

Kate turned he back on him and stalked to the elevator where Gibbs was waiting.

"Oh, come on, Kate," Tony called after her using his best wheedling tone, "you know you missed me, admit it."

"Tony, I missed you like I miss a migraine." She didn't even turn around this time; she just yelled it back to him as she stepped onto the elevator.

From inside the elevator Gibbs yelled, "DiNozzo, today."

Tony scooped up his pack and hurried to make it to the elevator before the doors closed. He slid in with no room to spare, pulling his pack in just as the doors snapped shut.

He couldn't help it, he grinned at his friends like an idiot, glad to have his life back to normal, or what passed for normal at the NCIS.

Well that's it. The end. Hope you enjoyed it!

Much thanks to Stonedtoad for the beta ;-)