October 27, 2006: This idea would grab me by the throat and throttle me just days before Halloween. It is rather odd, and other than including some version of the Season 3 cast, I have no idea what continuity or category in which to put it. Halloween was the trigger, though, so I guess it's of a supernatural quality and, no doubt, located in some Alternate Reality. I'm stumped. I have so much to do this weekend it isn't funny - stop laughing, you ;) - and now this story won't leave me alone.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, this happens to me a lot.

I'm not sure where it's going or how it will be perceived. Writing is an interesting form of communication, but sometimes I'm not certain what I'm trying to say. We'll see how this turns out.

I hope to get this done and posted before All Hallow's Eve, when I'll be too busy complimenting trick-or-treaters on their costumes and pressing candy into their hands for their efforts.

And taping 'NCIS' to watch later, of course. :)

As usual, this hasn't been Betaed so any errors are my own darned fault. No infringement intended, just having fun, folks. My apologies if Washington, D.C., doesn't comply with how I've depicted it. ;)

October 29, 2006: Doing the final reading now. Strange story. I apologize if it deviates from my usual and doesn't appeal. If FFN is communicating with me today, I'll try to get it posted tonight.

My continued thanks to all who have supported my writing. It is greatly appreciated.

Happy Halloween!

True Colours

"It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood:

Stones have been known to move and trees to speak;"

- Macbeth (1606) Act 3, sc. 4, William Shakespeare

The morning ten days before Halloween started with a harmless e-mail, sent by the employees at NCIS who had either been voted or bullied into belonging to the Party Committee. The virtual invitation was cute and corny, with flapping bats and cackling witches, and announced the staff Halloween celebration. A party room had been rented at The Holiday Inn on The Hill and a full buffet dinner was being provided. Donations of canned and boxed goods would be accepted for the local food bank, to increase the supply in time for Thanksgiving. There was going to be a DJ and costumes were mandatory.

The invitation concluded with: Prizes! Fun! Two complimentary tickets per person for alcohol at the cash bar!R.S.V.P. by October 25th.

Special Agent Tony DiNozzo was so excited that he didn't know how he managed to contain himself.

Your tax dollars at work.

It took him five seconds to delete the message, send it to the bit bucket and oblivion. It wasn't nearly as satisfying as crushing a physical memo in his hands and aiming it at a certain Probie's head but it would have to suffice. He'd buy a case of Kraft dinner and give it to someone else to take. Situation reviewed and resolved.

If only it was that simple.

"Did you get the e-mail, Ziva?" Special Agent Timothy McGee retrieved a brown paper bag from the refrigerator, obviously determined to stick to his resolution of eating out less often. Tony busied himself with brewing another mug of tea and pretended to have no interest in the conversation.

Officer Ziva David smiled, as if she might be looking forward to the experience. "About the party? Yes. You will be going?"

"Sure."

"In costume, yes?"

"Yeah, but I haven't decided what to wear yet." He pulled a flat sandwich wrapped in cellophane from the bag and frowned at it. "What about you?"

Ziva placed her leftover chili in the microwave and selected the cooking time and temperature. "I thought I'd come as something traditional."

Tony couldn't help himself. "Like a witch?"

"Yes, actually, I thought it would be in keeping with the theme." She sounded miffed that he'd guessed correctly. It was purely by accident but if he gave the impression that he was psychic maybe he'd be able to have some fun.

"Oh, very appropriate," he agreed, tossing his tea bag into the garbage and turning to lean against the counter, mug in hand. "I think you'll make a perfect witch." He ran his eyes over her black jeans and matching long-sleeved t-shirt. She was dressed casually for a stake out, where comfort overrode fashion. "You already have a costume, I see."

Ziva frowned. "Black isn't a costume. Abby wears black all the time."

"Oh-kay." Tony smiled, pretending to agree. Neither of his teammates was fooled, of course. They were trained investigators. He'd have been disappointed if they'd left him alone.

"What are you going as, Tony?"

Though maybe he wouldn't have minded so much if they'd chosen a different topic to pursue.

"I don't know yet, Probie."

"He was James Bond last year," McGee informed Ziva, and gamely took a bite out of his sandwich. His face scrunched up and he squinted at it again. "But it wasn't much of a challenge as he already had the tux, and that was only after Kate pestered him to go."

There was a palpable hush at the mention of their dead friend. Ziva looked from one to the other but didn't know what to say. Ari's face flashed like a mug shot before Tony's eyes.

Special Agent Caitlin Todd had dressed as an angel the previous year. She'd arrived late and Tony had been at the party long enough that he'd had a few too many beers. He'd made a pass at her before realizing who she was. She'd elbowed him in the ribs and they'd shared a laugh, turning to their comfortable banter.

An angel, Tony reflected. Ironic, that.

"Maybe I won't go this year," he said, pushing away from the counter. Ziva's chili beeped readiness and he was able to make his escape.

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The reminder e-mail arrived five days later.

We haven't received your confirmation yet. This is your last opportunity to respond to the invitation for the Halloween party. Please let me know by 17:00 hours today. It was signed: Debbi :).

Tony pursed his lips at the spelling of her name and the smiley face. Her parents couldn't afford an 'e'? The message suffered the same fate as the initial invitation.

The conversation later that day with his favourite lab rat was very direct.

"So, I hear you might not be going to the Halloween party this year."

Tony, still wearing his latex gloves from the crime scene, deposited the box of evidence onto the table behind her and hesitated. Did he avoid getting into it right now? It wasn't phrased as a question and he didn't have a lot of time to play tiptoe through an awkward topic. He sighed quietly to himself.

"Who told you that?" Like I don't already know.

Forensic Specialist Abby Sciuto swivelled in her chair to regard him carefully. A silver-studded leather collar and matching wrist cuffs punctuated her shiny black PVC ensemble. Her white lab coat appeared very stark by comparison, almost like a ghost draped over her shoulders. "McGee, Ziva -"

"You're talking to Ziva again?"

"I've forgiven her for her comment about Bert," she said, indicating the farting plush hippo toy, which currently sat beside her monitor. "And don't try to change the subject, mister."

He smiled, genuinely uncertain which smile he was using. It was difficult to pull the wool over Abby's eyes at the best of times, but when she wasn't feeling playful she didn't appreciate the charm. She was practical when it came to dealing with Tony in his stubborn moods and he liked that about her. If someone asked him to identify his best friend, he'd consider Abby's name.

Enough dissension had occurred at his previous jobs - jealousy over his talent as a detective being one of the issues - that there wasn't anyone he trusted who'd known him longer - and would put up with him. Except maybe for Gibbs, but Gibbs might not appreciate a call at three-in-the-morning, asking him to help bury a body. Abby, on the other hand, would bring her own shovel. That was the sign of a true friend.

"If you're calling me 'mister', does that mean I get to call you 'mistress'?"

Abby waved a hand dismissively. "C'mon, Tony, even Debbi with an 'i' came down here to talk to me about it, and you know she hates blood and thinks I'm weird. She says you're always at the parties and that it isn't like you to turn one down."

He opened the box and began pulling the evidence out one piece at a time. It gave him something to do. He held up a ballpoint pen with his gloved hands, considered the chewed end, and placed it on the table. "I don't like Halloween."

"Why not?" Abby bounced from her chair, snapped on a pair of latex gloves and came to stand beside him. The pen was tagged like all the other items retrieved from the home of the victim. Their belongings had been reduced to a lesson in numbers. "It's fun. Besides, they're doing a food drive and the money for the raffle tickets is going to a children's charity and there's gonna be a buffet."

"What are you coming as?" he asked, setting a PDA beside the pen. How many appointments wouldn't be made now? You only get one shot at life, Tony thought wearily. Guess this guy should've prioritized the time with his kids instead of working late. Maybe then he wouldn't be dead, either.

"I thought about vampire but it seems so -"

"Cliché?"

"Yeah."

"Vampires look like everyone else, Abbs, except when they're about to feed."

She paused, holding onto a framed photograph of two smiling children. "What?"

"Never mind." He tugged at his gloves and tossed them into the garbage as he leaded for the door. "Let us know when you find something. I've got to get back upstairs before Gibbs blows a gasket."

"This conversation isn't over, Tony."

She was talking to the air.

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Three days before All Hallow's Eve was alarmingly bright and Tony had flinched and quickly slid on his sunglasses when he emerged from his apartment. He'd had another nightmare and not slept very well. He'd gone for a run at five in the morning, before the sun had risen, but felt he was off balance somehow. The superintendent had decorated the lobby with pumpkins carved in elaborate designs that his wife had probably downloaded from the Internet. There were streamers, black and orange crepe twisting in the breeze every time the door opened to the outside. Laughing paper skeletons, witches on brooms, and rubber spiders were hanging from the lights.

So cliché.

God, he hated Halloween.

He reached the office and hurried through security, his sunglasses still in place. He was abrupt with the guard and felt bad about that afterward, but he felt out of sorts and couldn't focus properly on casual conversation. With a quick "Thanks" he sought the refuge of the elevator.

He felt better after a cup of tea and settled into his morning of boring paperwork. He paused long enough to visit the cooler and refill his water bottle but some of the other agents were there, talking about the Halloween party, so he beat a hasty retreat.

Tony returned to the laborious task of finishing a report. His typing speed had increased over the years and he used more than two fingers but the process still took longer than he would have liked. To his right, McGee's hands remained relatively stationary as his fingers flew over the keys. He didn't even have to look down.

The report was boring and Tony's eyes needed a break from the screen, anyway. He took a moment to reflect on the suit his friend had chosen to wear that morning. It was dark grey and actually had a half-decent cut to it. The shirt was a fine grey pinstripe and the tie had a diagonal stripe pattern in yellow and grey that worked with the ensemble. Tony decided to credit himself with providing the valuable guidance and advice that had led to the purchase of everything that was right about McGee's selections. He glanced down. He wouldn't take the blame for the shoes, though.

"I didn't know you could type without looking at the keyboard, Tony."

Across from him, Ziva was hitting the keys with great proficiency. The only thing that consistently slowed her down were software issues, something she had in common with their boss. Tony had appraised her wardrobe when she'd arrived. She was wearing a chocolate brown pantsuit and a simple cotton top in pale blue with a scooped neck. Her shoes were brown leather pumps of a practical height for running at top speed should the situation require it. Her hair was worn long, pulled back from her face with a silver clip.

The look had his seal of approval. He wasn't obsessed with fashion but liked to pay attention to the details. Maybe that's part of what made him such a good investigator.

"Guess you don't know everything, Zee-vah," he replied smoothly, shifting his gaze from McGee's shoes to her face. He kept typing for a few seconds before pausing to lean back in his chair and consider her, as if interrupting his work for this conversation was very important. He knew he'd have to redo those few lines later. Ziva smirked, perhaps suspecting he was trying to cover his own inability to remain focussed.

She continued to type, her eyes locked on his. "You have to look at your keyboard, Tony. I've watched you now for many months."

His eyebrows rose. "Real-ly?" How much innuendo can you place on two syllables?

Ziva sighed, saved her report and sent it to the printer. "My desk faces yours, Tony. Unfortunately, I can't avoid you." She moved gracefully to perch on the edge of his desk and leaned over slightly, her weight on her left arm. Tony knew this was an intentional pose, keeping her right hand free to reach for her gun. Old habits.

It also gave him a lovely view of her collarbone and neck as she spoke. She seemed unaware of this benefit and he said nothing to alert her. Her Star of David slid along the chain and glinted in the fluorescent lighting.

He smiled, 'DiNozzo Smile # 92', which was flirtatious without being lewd, and with any luck would leave her wondering if he was serious or not. He lowered his voice seductively. "You'd miss me if I wasn't here."

"You can't type and look at the screen at the same time," Ziva continued, a slight blush in her cheeks. Her heart rate had gone up; Tony recognized the signs. He had no idea how he'd managed to acquire such a useful skill but it helped with his ability to read a suspect. Ziva looked away and seemed uncomfortable. She directed her attention to their teammate. "Now, Tim can type much faster and more accurately than even I can." McGee straightened slightly in his chair. "In fact, I don't think he's even working on his report anymore." A small smile appeared at that observation and McGee stopped typing long enough to indicate the file folder on his desk.

"She's right," he said. "I was done half an hour ago." He and Ziva shared a moment of sunny camaraderie that made the Brady kids look rude by comparison. Tony's mood flipped and his smile faded. How warm and fuzzy, he thought, and wondered vaguely why he was so on edge. He caught himself staring at Ziva's neck while she continued to talk to McGee, no doubt trading pithy comments with him at Tony's expense. He lost track of the conversation. If he focussed, he could see her pulse, a delicate rhythm at her throat, like a butterfly.

"Tony, are you alright?"

Ziva looked concerned and that was never a good thing.

He quickly reviewed his morning routine: up, run, shower, breakfast -

"Ah," he said, and opened the top drawer of his desk, reaching for a bottle of vitamins. He popped two capsules into his mouth and took a swig from his bottle of water.

"What are those?" McGee asked.

"Multi-vitamins," Tony replied with a shrug. "Some magic stuff my doctor found that helps when you're building muscle. Health stuff."

Ziva stared at him, incredulous. "You eat 'health stuff'?"

Tony gave her his best mock glare. "Don't spread it around or you'll have to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?'"

She rolled her eyes. "Is that from a movie?"

"I'm paraphrasing, of course."

"Clint Eastwood?"

"'Dirty Harry', 1971.Good guess, Probie."

"Grab your gear." Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs strode into the bullpen and removed his gun from his desk drawer. Tony had decided earlier that he didn't think he liked the brown suit but he wasn't going to say anything to his boss. "We've got a dead Marine and a killer on the run."

Ziva and McGee scrambled to gather their weapons and backpacks, glancing at one another to see who would make it to the elevator first.

Somehow, Tony beat them to it and was right behind Gibbs as the doors opened. His teammates hurried inside. He grinned at their startled looks and brushed some invisible speck of fluff from the lapel of his black Armani jacket.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The jacket is ruined.

Tony ran full out after a man who'd murdered the Marine who had apparently 'stolen' his girlfriend. The perpetrator, a Ted Adams, had fled the scene. NCIS and local authorities had tracked him. The car chase had ended badly near the Lincoln Memorial, incapacitating both vehicles. McGee had been driving and swerved in time to save their lives. Ziva had insisted on waiting for back up but Tony didn't want to wait. He'd ordered her to stay with a shaken McGee, who couldn't undo his seatbelt due to structural damage caused by the impact. Tony had extricated himself from helpful pedestrians just in time to see which way Adams had bolted.

"I'm coming with you," she'd stated firmly.

"You're staying here, and that's an order."

She'd remained silent. He'd heard the approaching sirens as he located his target and run like hell.

The jacket is ruined and Ted Adams is going to buy me a new suit before sunrise tomorrow.

He pulled out his cell phone and made another dodge through the cars on Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge. There was a traffic jam, of all things, and vehicles were either moving slowly or at a complete stop. Where was everyone going at eleven thirty in the morning? Was it lunchtime already? Tony pressed a number he had on speed dial one. Car horns sounded but he kept the man in sight and ignored them.

"Gibbs."

"He's crossing the Potomac," he said tersely into the phone. "We're on the TRM. I'm in pursuit." He tucked his arms and rolled across the hood of a Buick Century that was stuck in traffic. The driver, a woman with two children strapped in the back seat, screamed. Tony landed on his feet on the other side and kept running.

"DiNozzo, what the hell are you doing?"

"Sorry. Had to make a right."

Adams was probably ten years younger but Tony was gaining, regardless. All those hours pounding the pavement and eating right were paying off.

He was aware that someone was running behind him, trying to catch up, and matched the voice he heard yelling "NCIS! Stay in your vehicle!" with none other than Ziva David. He allowed himself a small smile, oddly pleased that she'd chosen to ignore his instructions. No doubt, she'd made sure McGee was in the capable hands of the fire department before following.

He guessed her brown pumps were practical, after all.

"I'm approaching from the other side," Gibbs said.

"Great. See you there."

"He's armed, DiNozzo, so don't do anything stupid."

"When have I ever?" He ended the call before his boss could comment further.

Tony couldn't remember when he'd managed such a speed. He didn't even feel winded, though he suspected that was the adrenaline talking and he'd hurt for this effort later. It was exhilarating, like how he imagined flying would be if he were Superman. His heart pounded, his arms pumped at his sides and then they were on the other side of the Potomac. He could see the police cars stuck at the turn at the end of the bridge. There was at least one unmarked car. Uniforms flooded from the vehicles and pelted down the road towards them, grimly determined. He thought he saw a silver head and brown suit amongst them. Adams was trapped.

And tired.

Tony was almost there. He swore he could feel the fear and exhaustion emanating from the man, though he dismissed it as his vivid imagination. He liked to pretend that the criminal mind was terrified of Justice. Sometimes, he had a running commentary going on in his head like a script from Mickey Spillane. All he needed was a saxophone in the background.

He was only feet away when he launched himself at the man to tackle him to the ground. Adams must have sensed him. In that instant, he stopped, turned and fired point blank.

Special Agent DiNozzo jerked but finished his tackle. The two men rolled over and slammed into the rail of the bridge. Ted Adams took the brunt of the impact.

Tony blinked and tried to focus. He lay on his back in the road. Someone grabbed Adams and hauled him to his feet, none too gently. A tall black man wearing the blue of the Metropolitan Police Department crouched beside Tony and gingerly moved the ruined Armani jacket to look at his chest, murmuring, "You're okay, you're gonna be fine, you're okay…"

The officer met his eyes and swallowed. Tony blinked at him, as if not comprehending what had happened. He could smell blood and he didn't want to know the source. He was painfully aware of his ragged breathing. It filled his ears like a rush of wind as he lifted his head and let his gaze drop to his chest.

There was blood everywhere. It soaked one of his best white linen shirts and his red silk tie would never be the same. Moving his arm hurt but he had to know, had to touch the blood to make it real. It was warm and sticky under his fingers. The officer pushed his hand away and said, "Lie still."

Distantly, Tony heard Gibbs barking orders. "Read him his rights. Secure the area. Get that damn ambulance over here!" People were shouting. Ziva arrived. She knelt beside the officer and stared at Tony.

"Hey," he said.

"That was stupid." She tore his shirt open, removed her lovely chocolate brown jacket and applied pressure to the wound.

"You know, I always… pictured us in bed when you… ripped my clothes off."

"Shut up."

"Don't worry," he said shakily, ignoring her. "It's just a… flesh wound."

"Is that from a movie?" She seemed angry. He didn't know what to say to make things better.

He choked out something that might have been a laugh. "Probably."

Then the paramedics were there, lugging bags and puffing because they'd been unable to get the ambulance through the traffic. Ziva's face was replaced with strangers. Tony closed his eyes.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Hey, DiNozzo, you still with us?"

He must have drifted off. He was lying on a soft surface and there were sheets tucked around him, like a cocoon. He took a tentative, shallow breath. Pain lanced through his chest but he gritted his teeth and hardly made a sound. He'd caught the distinctive mixture of scents that screamed 'hospital', which at least confirmed his location.

"Try not to move, Anthony. You've just undergone major surgery and it'll take a while for your body to recover from such a trauma. But it all went well, my boy. You're going to be… just fine."

Tony sighed. "Either we're all dead," he began carefully, his voice sounding hoarse, "or I'm still alive."

"You're not dead, DiNozzo."

He licked dry lips. "Good. I… hope to keep it that way."

"You're not going to die, DiNozzo."

Well, that approach had certainly worked with the plague. He found a smile but had no idea if it conveyed his relief properly. He thought it was 'DiNozzo Smile # 50', which wasn't used much as it made him look vulnerable. He genuinely appreciated the reminder of his previous survival so he didn't mind his friends seeing that smile. "Sure thing, Boss." He thought of something. "McGee get out of the car okay?"

"Timothy will be fine," Ducky said brightly. "Just a little shaken and he'll probably need a bit of physiotherapy for whiplash. You see, when the other vehicle hit the side of the car -"

"Ducky."

There was an awkward silence. A chair scraped across the linoleum floor and then he felt the weight of someone sitting on his hospital bed.

"You're… really not going to die, Tony."

They must have found either a sympathetic nurse or one that was intimidated by Gibbs because there was a third person in a room where only two visitors should have been allowed.

He opened his eyes and had to squint against the light. Gibbs was there, his face impassive. He stood long enough to switch off the light fixture over Tony's bed before returning to his chair. Dr. Donald Mallard sat in a chair on the other side of the bed, trying to look reassuring. His tie was missing and his jacket was off but otherwise Ducky looked about the same as he had earlier. There was a look on his face that Tony couldn't place, something between amazement and curiosity.

Hmmm…

Abby Sciuto sat on the bed next to Tony's legs, facing him. She was dressed in a black t-shirt - the one with the smiling skull - and black leather pants. He couldn't see her feet but figured she was wearing a pair of lace-up boots. She looked unusually solemn but considering his circumstances that wasn't too surprising.

"Hey, Abbs." She tried to smile but it didn't work very well. "If I'm going to live, why so glum?"

She glanced at Ducky who provided an almost imperceptible shrug. What, he's at a loss for words? Inconceivable.

Abby took a moment to fuss with the covers until she'd located his hand and gently pulled it free so she could hold it. She felt warm. He could see her pulse at her throat, just above her leather collar. It was… fascinating.

"Tony, you just got out of surgery." She bit her bottom lip and seemed unsure how to continue.

"Yeah, Ducky already told me."

She shook her head. "No, I mean just out of surgery, like, half an hour ago."

Tony stared at her. "What?"

"You seem coherent," Ducky added. "And your voice doesn't have that quality of the heavily drugged."

Gibbs shifted forward to lean his elbows on his knees. "You shouldn't be conscious yet, DiNozzo."

Tony blinked. "And this is a problem how?" They shared a look that made him uncomfortable. "I'm going to be okay, right?"

"Oh, yeah - at least, we think so."

"Your bedside manner needs tweaking, Abbs."

"Hey, I'm not a doctor. This isn't my gig."

"Patients who have chest surgery are kept in the hospital for seven to ten days," Ducky explained. "Then they usually face six to eight weeks of recovery before returning to their normal routine. Sometimes, depending on the reason for the surgery, medications need to continue for a while, to help with the pain and the healing, and certain activities are restricted."

"Speaking of pain, I could use something for that right now." Tony smiled tightly. "Oddly enough, my chest hurts. I think it has something to do with the bullet that went into it."

Ducky turned to Gibbs. "Should we tell him of our speculations?"

"Maybe we should wait," Abby suggested.

"Um, in the room here," Tony said dryly. "Ears not injured."

Gibbs sighed heavily and ran a hand over his face in a gesture that indicated he was angry, concerned or just plain tired. It occurred to Tony that he had no idea what time it was. With the curtains drawn over the only window, he didn't even know if it was day or night. He watched his boss carefully, trying to determine which of the three options applied. Maybe he's experiencing all three -

"You died," Gibbs stated bluntly.

"On the operating table," Abby added. Her hand squeezed his tightly and she pressed her lips together and blinked, containing a wave of emotion. "Do you recall a bright, white light and voices?"

"Abby -"

"Sorry, Gibbs. I had to ask."

"No." Tony's voice was clear and firm. "No, I don't."

"You're healing remarkably well, Anthony. Alarmingly well, actually. They're running tests right now to find out why your system is so strong."

"I thought it was weakened by the plague," Tony said, frowning in confusion.

"You've had a lot of injuries and nearly died once before this," Abby whispered, still gripping his hand tightly. She glanced at Ducky and Gibbs before continuing. "We figure your body has reached a point where it's had enough practice healing itself, and now… it's got it right."

"I'm not good with riddles at the best of times."

"Something's happened to you but we don't know what." Gibbs was watching him carefully. "There's something special about you, DiNozzo. It's like you've built up an… immunity to harm."

"If that's true, I wouldn't have caught the plague."

"You probably won't catch anything now, Anthony." Ducky's voice was so quiet, Tony had to strain to hear him. He checked each one of his friends with a long, searching look. This wasn't a joke. They were serious. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Maybe they misunderstood the doctors or something -

"Is that the 'Twilight Zone' theme I'm hearing? Is Rod Sterling standing in a corner somewhere, narrating my strange story to the world? What you're saying is impossible."

"But here you are," Abby said. She laced her fingers with his, as if desperate to confirm he was really there. "Alive when anyone else would be dead if they'd had a gunshot wound like yours. You shouldn't have made it to the hospital, Tony. You shouldn't have survived the surgery. And now, they're talking about sending you home in two days!"

Gibbs stood and put an arm around her shoulder. She bit her bottom lip hard and started to cry.

Tony DiNozzo stared at her, uncertain what to say or do. Abby pulled her hand away and turned towards Gibbs to weep on his chest. He said hushed words of comfort to her, glanced at Ducky and walked her from the room.

"She thinks you're still dead, Anthony."

Tony swallowed. "But… I'm here. I'm breathing."

"She thinks you're… undead. That somehow, your body has been changing, gradually, to accommodate a new… lifestyle. And with this injury the… change is complete." The doctor leaned in closer. "Don't get us wrong, my boy. We're delighted you're not dead, but if the hospital staff hadn't seen your condition this morning, they would look at your chest wound now and not link it with a gun at all." He rummaged in one of his coat pockets and pulled out a clear, sealed cylinder. "This is the bullet they retrieved from your body this afternoon. It lodged in your spine after destroying major organs. Abby has matched it with the gun Ted Adams used to fire on you, though there were certainly enough witnesses who don't doubt what they saw happen."

"This is impossible…"

Ducky sat back in his chair and looked solemn. "Yes, it is."

His bête noire, the recurring nightmare since he was five years old, seared to the surface like a fresh burn. His canopy bed, the flickering candles, the oil painting of the damned, the blood -

"I'm not a vampire," he stated firmly. "I don't have any desire to suck blood or anything."

"Your endurance and strength has been on the rise. You've noticed that, surely?" Tony thought about it and nodded slowly.

"That doesn't make me a vampire."

"I didn't say that it did. I've never encountered anything like it. Our current theory is that your ability to heal is so extreme that it is possible you will never die."

Tony closed his eyes tightly. If this was a nightmare all its own, he'd willingly let it end now. "This sounds like a bad superhero origin plot, Ducky."

There was a long pause. Tony discovered he was clutching his sheet and made a concerted effort to relax his hand. Ducky sighed.

"This is who you are, Anthony. This is real, this is truth. We'll get through this together, one day at a time, and we shall see what happens," he said softly, staring at the cylinder and the remains of the bullet it held. "Won't we?"

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The Halloween party was a big success.

Tony surprised everyone by being one of the first to arrive.

"I thought you weren't coming, Agent DiNozzo," Debbi with an 'i' stammered. "Y-you were shot."

Many people in the room stopped and stared at him, no doubt thinking the same things as Debbi.

Tony placed his case of Kraft dinner on the donation table and smiled, 'DiNozzo Smile # 39', which was polite and friendly. "I got better."

McGee had decided to dress as one of the Ghostbusters, complete with a 'proton pack' strapped to his back. Ziva made a fetching, rather sexy witch, but the pointy black hat kept sliding off her head. Jimmy Palmer was wearing it halfway through the evening though it didn't exactly go with his James Bond tuxedo.

Director Sheppard chose a flapper costume, complete with sparkly headband, and even demonstrated that she knew how to do the 'Charleston'. Doctor Mallard had stayed away from any medical references and wore his Stetson and Sheriff's badge with pride. The chaps didn't look comfortable but Tony thought the boots looked good. Gibbs came as a pirate. It suited him. His eye patch was on his forehead more often than it was covering his eye because he found it irritating.

"I'm building a boat in my basement," he'd explained gruffly when they'd asked about his costume. "It seemed appropriate."

Abby didn't choose to be a vampire. She surprised everyone by wearing a long, Edwardian dress - albeit black - with a matching hat with flowers on it, a doctor's bag and an umbrella over her arm.

"I'm Mary Poppins," she announced, smiling broadly, lips still bright red.

"'Practically perfect in every way,'" Tony stated firmly.

Abby shrugged and her smile held as she looked at him. "I like magic," she said, and was distracted by Jimmy offering her some punch.

"Good costume, Tony," McGee said, nibbling on pretzels. "Neo was cool."

Tony looked at him from behind the trademark Titanium sunglasses worn by Keanu Reeves in the 'Matrix' movies and said, "I am the One."

"I have seen those movies." Ziva sipped her wine and nodded her approval. "The black coat is very like the one he wears. You do the voice quite well." She stared up at him but could only see her own reflection in his lenses. She stepped closer and lowered her voice, looking concerned. "Are you sure you feel alright to be here, Tony?"

"You only get one shot at life," he said quietly, not knowing if in his case, that was true anymore. "I've decided to live it."

Ziva nodded though he didn't know if she completely understood his cryptic answer.

"A wise decision," she replied, and though her eyes were sad, a small smile teased her lips. She offered him her glass of wine. Tony tipped his sunglasses just enough to peer over them at her and accepted, taking just a sip.

Maybe she did understand, after all.

- End-