20.

His head was pounding to the point of nausea. Opening his eyes didn't seem to help, the bright light overhead only made things worse, so he closed them.

"Ah, keep them open for me, Anthony. I need to check your pupils."

"D-ducky?"

"That's right. Do you know where you are?"

Tony frowned, but that hurt as well, so he stopped. He peered around the room, his blurry eyes falling on his boss. Uh oh, I'm in big doo-doo. Amnesia? Nope, that won't work, I already recognized Ducky. Partial amnesia? He'll never fall for that. Temporary insanity? Oh, yeah, like that would be an acceptable excuse for any of this.

"DiNozzo, Ducky asked you a question."

"Uh, what was it again?"

"I asked if you knew where you were?" Ducky said again.

He carefully moved his head, afraid it might fall off. "Yeah, sorta. I'm in a hospital? I don't know which one. Should I?"

"No, of course not. You were rather insensible when you were transported here."

"Laurel? Is she okay? Did you find her?" He began to hyperventilate.

"We found her. She's fine, DiNozzo. Calm down. Slow your breathing." Gibbs held his hand firmly on his agent's diaphragm. "Do those breathing exercises they taught you at Bethesda."

It took a few moments, but soon Tony was breathing normally again.

"In fact, she insisted on seeing you before heading home with her father and sister."

"Tony!" Laurel's shriek drove an ice pick through his brain and Tony gasped in pain.

The little girl raced to Tony's side and stopped at the sight of her hero. She gently took his hand in hers, sniffling. "You're hurt again." She turned on Gibbs. "You were supposed to save him before he got hurt more."

"Oh, I didn't realize that. Sorry," Gibbs said meekly, the twinkle in his eye obvious to the others.

"Well, you should've." She turned back to Tony. "Are you gonna be okay?"

"I don't know. Ducky? Ducky's my doctor."

She puzzled over that before leaning closer to Tony. "I thought he worked on dead people."

"He does, but he's also my friend and one of the few doctors I really trust."

"Thank you, Anthony. That was quite nice. Now, young lady, I believe the patient will survive his experiences on his vacation. But he will need quite a bit of rest. Why don't you and I leave him alone to get some sleep?"

"But Agent Gibbs is staying," she observed.

"Yes, maybe you should take Gibbs with you. Ducky? Ducky!"

"DiNozzo."

"Yeah, boss?"

"Explain why your weapon was locked in your car trunk?"

"Uh, well, you see…" Tony gulped, then started coughing again. He lost his ability to breathe, struggling to get upright.

Gibbs moved back in, helping support his agent. "Breathe, Tony. Slow and easy, shallow breaths at first, then try the deeper ones. Don't rush it. Focus on just your breath. See it coming from inside."

"Damn it," the injured agent muttered. "I hate this."

"I know you do. Remember what Dr. Pitt said, you'll always be prone to pneumonia and bronchitis for the rest of your life. I don't think running half-naked in a blizzard is a way to avoid that."

Tony chuckled. "I don't think I was exactly half-naked, but I take your point." He leaned back, looking his boss in the eye. "I screwed up, Gibbs. I know it. I shouldn't have done it."

Gibbs reached out and gently smacked the top of Tony's head. "Remind me to hit your harder when you don't have a concussion. And don't do that again."

"I won't. I promise, boss," Tony said, then frowned. "Speaking of whom, where is Kathy Lee?"

"She left with Deputy Farris."

"Who?"

"The local cop helping search for you and Laurel."

"Man, I've been jilted for a local yokel?"

"Afraid so."

Tony glared at Gibbs. "You scared her off, didn't you? You know that she's sensitive."

"Sensitive? She's a 34 year old baby!"

"24! Not 34, 24."

"More like 14 with the way she acts. Do you really like all that cutsey baby talk?"

Tony snorted. "Not really." He closed his eyes, rubbing at his forehead. "Am I growing up, boss?"

"You? I wouldn't worry about it, DiNozzo. Happens to everyone."

"Not to me. I enjoy being what I am."

"You enjoy making people think you're that way. There's a difference. Look, get some sleep. I'll beat you up later."

Tony grinned. "Okay, boss, I'll be sure to remind you…not."

Gibbs slapped the overhead lights off as he left the room.

The End

July 2006