Chapter 11


"Tony's back, Tony's back ," Abby gave a high-pitched squeal as she literally bounced up and down in excitement and then propelled herself into his arms almost as soon as the elevator doors slid open.

"Hey Abs."

He did his best to conceal the sharp twinge of pain in his side behind a trademark smile, that didn't quite reach his eyes. He was glad to see her too.

"I've missed you so much," she advised, beaming happily up at him as they shuffled their way into the bullpen, with her arms latched firmly around his mid-section like some pig-tailed alien entity that was trying to suck the life out of its host. Jethro Gibbs followed a few steps behind the pair, looking amused. "It's no fun here without you," Abby lamented in the way that only she could. "Everyone's been in such a bad, bad mood…especially Gibbs," she narrowed her eyes and scowled at the man in question, who gave her a crooked half smile and an unrepentant shrug.

"Abigail my dear, perhaps it might be prudent to relinquish your rather enthusiastic hold on young Anthony…just for a moment or two," Ducky added kindly. "He seems to have gone a rather curious shade of green."

"Oops sorry." The young woman did as she was told, but still seemed unwilling to move too far away.

Tony shot Ducky a look of gratitude as he moved across to perch on the edge of his desk, aware that he was holding himself stiffly and limping slightly and that all eyes were on him.

Ducky observed with a mix of professional and personal concern.

The young man had suffered quite considerably; not least from the horrendous knife attack. He'd lost a lot of blood; would have some permanent scarring, had a cocktail of drugs forced into his system by the Spurlock woman; had been dangerously dehydrated, exhausted and that was just the tip of the iceberg. They hadn't yet begun to explore the long-term psychological effects resulting from his ordeal and from his misplaced guilt over Megan O'Neal's death.

That was one of the reason's he'd been discharged from the hospital a few days earlier than expected. He'd wanted to attend her memorial service, which had taken place that morning.

Gibbs, of course, had insisted on going with him - hence the dark formal suits they both wore - unwilling to let Tony face the O'Neal family on his own when they were unsure of the reception he'd get.

Of course, the press had had a field day with this one, milking the story for all it was worth. They'd even caught a couple of the scumbags red-handed staking out Tony's private room at the hospital.

The media frenzy had gradually died down when a better story came along, and as it turned out Gibbs needn't have worried about the O'Neal's. Megan's parents had been emotional but entirely welcoming to the young man and made it clear that the only person to blame for their daughter's death was Alice Spurlock and to a lesser degree Barbara Swain. Though they might have come to terms with the tragedy, Gibbs knew they had their work cut out to convince Tony. Which was why one of the conditions of his premature release from hospital and return to light desk duty, was that he agreed to some heavy-duty counseling sessions with the staff shrink.

"Ooh, ooh, Tony, come see what we got for you." Back in full hyper-active mode Abby none too gently pushed Tony down into the chair behind his desk, which was laden with assorted cards and packages.

"Cool, presents." Both Gibbs and Ducky noted that his smile this time was genuine and less strained as he picked over his bounty.

"This one's from me." Abby thrust a small box at him which he opened enthusiastically, though the smile soon froze in place.

"What is it?" he asked warily, lifting it out by its handy chain and dangling the dark green shiny bug thing intricately edged in gold almost at arms length.

Gibbs looked up and snorted, and then went back to sorting through his mail.

"It's a Scarab Beetle," Abby advised brightly. "The Ancient Egyptian's worshipped them you know."

"Indeed they did, Abigail," Ducky contributed. "Scarab amulets were often placed on the hearts of their mummified deceased. Now I have a feeling they found some of these little fellows perfectly preserved in the tomb of…"

"Yeah, yeah I saw the movie," Tony cut in, looking stricken as a horrible thought occurred. "Hey, it's not cursed or something is it?"

"Don't be silly," Abby scolded, snatching the chain from his fingers and looping it over his head before he had time to object. "They're also supposed to ward off evil and I want you to promise to wear it at all times."

"Who knows, you could start a fashion trend," Ziva joined in as she and McGee arrived back from the lunch run. She leaned across Tony's desk, her lips coming tantalizingly close to his, only to give the scarab chain a playful tug. "It will make a tasteful change from your usual tacky medallion when you next go out clubbing."

She ruffled his hair affectionately and then gave him a wink as she headed over to her work station to dump her stuff, leaving Tim McGee to hover in her place.

"Good to have you back, Tony," he said sincerely.

"Good to be backing Prob…McGee."

"Those are from me." McGee pointed first at a CD "It's 'The Soothing Sound of Pan Pipe Music'…various artists and…uh…a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, including your favorite… with the sprinkles."

"Thanks McGee." Tony was genuinely touched. He lifted the lid of the box with relish - almost as if it was some treasured religious artifact - and then scowled at the almost empty contents, including a half-eaten donut minus most of its sprinkles. His bottom lip trembled. "Is this a joke?"

"Maybe your pet bug ate them!" Ziva offered helpfully, wiping a crumb from the corner of her mouth with her pinky finger.

Her reward was a soft warning growl and a flicker of a devilish grin that spoke of future pay-back. Tony waved the scarab pendant in her direction.

"Abs, I thought this thing was supposed to protect me from evil?"

"Hey!" Gibbs reprimanding tone cut across the bullpen. "You wanna see if it'll protect you from the sharp end of my boot. Now back to work, all of you."

The group dispersed quickly; Ducky and Abby towards the elevator, with McGee and Ziva settling down at their desks.

When Gibbs looked back in his direction, Tony was staring at him and their gazes locked for a brief moment, with something almost subliminal passing between the two. Gibbs gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head and Tony grinned, spinning his chair to face his computer monitor and jabbing the 'on' switch.

Gibbs sighed. Now the team was whole again maybe things could get back to normal, or at least what passed for normal at NCIS.

Westmore State Hospital - West Virginia. Secure Psychiatric Wing.

Barbara hummed contentedly to herself as she glued another picture into her album. It was a complete labor of love and she could loose herself for hours just thumbing through the pages.

Most of her former husbands had let her down badly, but she knew this one never would. For a start he had maturity on his side and a wealth of experience.

And this time she had no intention of sharing him with anyone else.

Hearing a sound in the corridor outside her room she quickly gathered together her mementos, stashing them for the moment under her nightstand until she could find a better hiding place.

The door opened and one of the nurses peered in. "Barbara, its supper time."

"Coming Martha."

She waited until the woman had left before carefully retrieving one small treasured item to carry with her, close to her heart - a photograph of Leroy Jethro Gibbs.