All In A Day's Work

They're waiting for me to crack up. To go nuts. To rage against the machine. But I can't.

Yeah, I liked Jeffrey. He probably had the potential, at one time, to be an okay guy. I admit that I felt bad for him and for the life he said he had. I fell for the whole story, and I wanted to treat him like I'd treat any other guy who'd had a rough life. And even once it became clear that he was playing me, I couldn't help but still kind of like him. He was like the kids in high school who helped out the trainers. The ones who couldn't hack it in sports but who so badly wanted to be part of the football team that they agreed to hand out towels and collect jockstraps and clean up after us. Most of the guys would give the trainers a hard time, but to me, they were the kids who never got picked for dodgeball. I guess I kind of felt sorry for them. "There but for the grace of God …" and all that. Jeffrey reminded me of those kids.

Still … I totally owe myself a mental headsmack. I should have figured out Jeffrey's double persona sometime before he figured out mine. And I definitely should have figured it out before there was a knife to my throat. Stupid, DiNozzo. Just stupid. And now that it's all over, I have all these people looking at me and waiting for me to fall into a million pieces.

Kate's so skittish that when McGee tapped her on the shoulder to hand her a copy of his report, she nearly hit the ceiling. I know she'll get back at me at some point for the dog comments, but right now? She'd rather be anywhere else.

McGee is so nervous that he keeps looking back and forth between me and Kate and Gibbs like he's watching some virtual tennis match or something. Add him to the list of people who'd rather be somewhere else.

Abby is just the opposite of how you'd think – she's quiet. She looked at me with that kind of cock-eyed look she gets when she's trying to get inside your head. Her eyes narrow a little and she looks at you, and just kind of … thinks about you until she can wrap her head around how she thinks you feel. It doesn't matter that you may not actually feel that way. Abby thinks that's how you feel, and so she reacts to that. It's kind of like people who throw you a surprise party and do all the stuff they want to do, not necessarily thinking about whether or not you'll enjoy it.

I predict that sometime tonight, Abby will show up on my doorstep with food. Food, movies, and talking a mile a minute. And when I tell her I'm fine, she won't believe me, and it will take me a couple of hours to talk her into going home. I'd really like to ask McGee to keep Abby busy so that she doesn't turn all nursemaid on me tonight, but he's kind of deer-in-the-headlights right now.

Gibbs just keeps watching me, which is really kind of disconcerting. I've heard people use the word "disconcerting" before, but I never really understood its full meaning until now. But it's the perfect word to explain how I feel with Gibbs looking at me like that. I'm used to him staring at me – that angry stare that wonders why he hired me. But the stare I'm getting now is the one that wonders if I'll be back tomorrow.

And on the subject of Gibbs … I'm sitting in a car, with a knife to my throat, wondering where the HELL my back-up is – because it's not like I haven't left them any clues. I take the only possible route I can, because no matter how much I liked or pitied Jeffrey, he would have killed me in a heartbeat. And when you're faced with the choice of 'me vs. him', 'me' generally wins out. Self-preservation is what it's all about. So, like I said, I take the only possible route I can and I pull the trigger. Gibbs FINALLY shows up, and all I get when I admit that "I really liked him" is a slightly sarcastic, "Yeah, I can see that."

Okay … I wasn't expecting him to get all sappy or caring all of a sudden. I wasn't looking for a group hug. But was it too much to ask that Gibbs maybe just be quiet for that moment? For him to not toss in a smug comment? I'm sitting in a car, blood all over me, tired as hell, in need of a hot meal and a hot shower, my ears still ringing from the gunshot, and Gibbs has to toss in a self-righteous little dig. If I hadn't been so tired – and if it wouldn't have looked really bad on my record – I'd have popped out of the car and taken a swing at him.

I guess it was too much to ask for him to simply say, "You okay, DiNozzo?" and leave it at that.

They're all still looking at me.

I want to stand up and remind them all that I've been in situations like this before. I've had guns to my head. I've been trapped in shoot-outs and hostage situations. I've called in snipers and ordered them to shoot. I've killed people. They've tried to kill me. I've been shot, punched, beat up, taken down. I've broken bones, had concussions, sprained things, had bruises the color and size of large eggplants. And I have returned the favor more times that I can count. (Actually, I do know the numbers – the exact numbers – but that's not the point.) This isn't new. It's not fun … but it isn't new. It's what I do.

I decide to go downstairs. My wrists kind of hurt where they were chafing against the handcuffs and Ducky might have something. This turns out to be the best possible move. Because the only one who seems to understand how much of a deal this is not is Ducky. With age comes wisdom, I guess. He gave me something for the itchiness and redness on my wrists. He checked the ankle that I twisted when I tumbled down the bank and into the stream. He did a quick once-over of blood pressure and heart rate and was amazed that it was normal. He actually said that. He took my BP and checked my pulse, and looked at me and said, "I am amazed that you have managed to return to normal blood pressure and heart rate so soon after such an event, Tony," he said. "I am quite amazed." (His British accent is better than mine, but you get the idea.) And once Duck gave me stuff for my wrists and reminded me to keep my ankle elevated and asked if I wanted something to help me sleep – which I didn't – he sent me home with orders to take a shower, eat something, and get some rest. He didn't look at me strangely or wonder if my smile was genuine. (For the record, it was.) He didn't wait for me to implode. He just told me to get some rest. Gotta love Ducky.

So I went back upstairs, turned off the computer, grabbed my pack and started to head out. And they're all still looking at me. So … I stop. I turn.

"Ducky sent me home, Boss," I say. Then I look at Kate and grin the best tired lecherous grin I can manage. "And I'm dying to get this gel out of my hair. Wanna help, Katie?"

She instantly goes into 'snappy comeback mode' and even opens her mouth to reply, but then she remembers that she's waiting for me to freak out and she doesn't want to be the one to send me over the edge. So she just smiles a counterfeit smile and tells me to have a good night and to sleep well. So close. She was so close to being normal again, and she sold out. Katie, Katie, Katie.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Boss," I say, and Gibbs just continues with that stare. But then it changes. It becomes more normal. Because I said the words. "I'll see you tomorrow." He knows I'll be back, so he doesn't have to worry any more.

He nods and says, "Good work today, DiNozzo," just as easy as pie. Like he says it all the time.

I take a second to let the compliment sink in and then I grin and turn for the elevator, running into McGee who was … wherever. Bathroom, maybe.

"See ya, McGee," I say as I punch the elevator button. He stammers a "Have a good night" and rushes back to his desk. The kid is not going to last a year on this team.

The elevator opens and, just like clockwork, there's Abby.

"You're going home?" she says, with a worried look and a worried voice and little worry lines all over her forehead.

"No," I say, very seriously. "I'm camping out in the elevator. That's why I have my stuff."

She looks at me for just a second, and I realize that everyone else is still looking at me too. Geez … can't these guys take a hint?

"Funny, Tony," Abby finally says with a quirk of a smile. "You want me to come over later with a pizza?"

I've lucked out – she asked first, which means I can actually choose. And the best thing about Abby is that she won't feel bad if I say no, since she's already decided in her head that I'm okay. I sigh a huge internal sigh of relief. I've got Ducky and Abby. The rest will follow.

"No thanks," I say with a smile. "I'm kind of beat. Maybe another night?"

She leans over and kisses me on the cheek and tells me to 'sleep tight' and the elevator doors close.

Twenty minutes later, I'm home. I open the fridge. I pull out the last of the lasagna Mrs. Sims down the hall made me last week, then heat up the oven while I take a shower.

Can I just say how great it feels to take a shower and shave when you've been dirty and wet and muddy and tired and grungy for three days? There is not an adjective in the language that is powerful enough to describe how much I enjoy this shower.

I get cleaned up, finish heating the lasagna, head for the living room to eat, and turn on the TV. I bypass the "Girls Gone Wild" commercials and the "How to Decorate Your Deck" tutorial. I slide past police procedurals, chick flicks, wrestling, talk shows, gangster movies, religious channels, even football. And I settle on … cartoons. For an hour, I lose myself in fake violence and gunshots that are accompanied by big signs that say "BANG". And, as luck would have it, my very favorite cartoon of all time – a Wile E. Coyote short – comes on. It's him and a sheepdog, clocking in at the top of the day, the Coyote trying to get the sheep while the sheepdog out-thinks every scheme. They do this all morning, then break for lunch, sharing a thermos of coffee and talking about the family. Then they go back to it in the afternoon, still trying to kill each other until the whistle blows and they can go home.

I laugh and nod, because I understand. And somewhere after the last bite of lasagna and the beginning of the Spongebob Squarepants marathon, I stand and stretch and turn off the TV. I crawl into bed with the realization that the sheets are clean and the bed is mine and I don't have to sleep with one eye open tonight. I slide my eyes closed and sigh the sigh of a man who has beaten death … again. And then I smile to myself, because I will probably have to do it all again tomorrow.