SUMMARY: Gibbs returns home after Tony is shot and Kate and Tim are to blame. My version of the discussion that SHOULD have occurred after Gibbs came back, after Hiatus is included here.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I am not sure how long a flight from Mexico to Washington, D.C. is but I am sure it is longer than the time I have allowed. Also, I like Kate, so I allowed her to live. Plus, her treatment of Tony is much different and worse than Ziva's. I gave Tony a lot of education. I wanted Tim and Kate to be surprised as hell about the amount of education Tony has. I think I did a good job there.

GIBBS' RETURN

"Para tu, Senior Gibbs." A waitress said as she handed the phone to former Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Jethro Gibbs and Mike Franks exchanged confused looks as Gibbs reached for the phone. Seated on their favorite bar stools in their favorite cantina in Mexico.

"Es Senior Maylard." The waitress explained, pronouncing Ducky's last name wrong.

Gibbs nodded. "Gracias." He then turned his attention to the phone.

"Da nada." The waitress said, walking away.

"Hello, Ducky." Gibbs said warily into the phone. He had not talked to his old friend since he had left D.C. a little over a month ago.

"We need you in D.C., Jethro." Ducky said, dispensing with the formalities.

"Ducky, I…."

"Anthony has been shot. He is critical. He may not make it, Jethro." Dr. Mallard said. "I thought you would want to be here."

Jethro was already on his feet. He was almost out the door when he realized he was not on his phone, but the cantina phone. "I'm on my way." Jethro threw the phone back over the bar to the bartender who caught it in mid-air as he and Franks headed out the door.

"Take care of DiNozzo, Probie." Franks said as he watched Gibbs pack. "He is a pain-in-the-ass, but he's a good kid."

Gibbs nodded. "If those two had anything to do with this I will skin them both alive." Gibbs said, speaking of McGee and Kate.

Gibbs arrived in D.C. several hours later. He considered going home and at least unpacking and maybe taking a quick shower, but decided against it. As far as he knew Tony was still alive. He had not spoken to Ducky on the plane. But if his detour home caused him to miss anything he would never forgive himself.

Gibbs rented a car from the airport and drove as quickly as he could to the hospital. Gibbs walked into Tony's room and had to stop for a moment and stare in disbelief at the sight before him. He had never seen Tony so still or hooked up to so many things. There was a respirator, a heart monitor, various IVs, catheters, and a chest tube. He hadn't even noticed Ducky in the corner. That was, until Ducky spoke.

"Hello, Jethro." The doctor stared for a moment, taking in the longer gray hair and the scruffy beard and mustache.

"Ducky." Jethro said, his heart aching seeing Tony like this. He jumped slightly at the sound of Ducky's voice.

"When did this happen? WHAT Happened?" Jethro asked. He was angry and he didn't try to hide it.

Ducky shook his head. "Not here. Anthony may be able to hear you." Ducky guided Gibbs toward the door.

They entered the ICU waiting room before Ducky spoke again. "We were at a crime scene. Timothy and Caitlyn then start arguing with Anthony over an order he had given them. The next thing I know Anthony is flat on his back." Ducky explained.

"Tony was shot because those two defied an order! Did they at least get the gunman?" Gibbs said, growing angrier by the second. He was looking for something to punch, but could not find anything.

"Jetho?"

"THIS IS THEIR FAULT!" Gibbs exploded, looking in at his friend, his former senior agent, fighting for his life. Gibbs' outburst caused a nurse or two to look down the hall at him from their positions at the nurses' station. "WHERE the HELL are they?"

Ducky unconsciously took a step back. He had seen Jethro angry before. But not like this, NEVER this angry. "They are …I'm not sure where they are. I have been here for hours."

Ducky continued to update Gibbs on the location of the rest of the team. "Mr. Palmer is conducting the autopsy. I will go over the autopsy report with him when I return."

Gibbs paced for a few moments trying to calm himself and failing miserably. "I'm going to the lab to see Abby. I will have Abby call McGee and Kate down there." Gibbs turned and started to walk away.

"Jethro," Ducky said, stopping Jethro in his tracks as the realization hit. "Abigail doesn't know." Ducky stated. "I requested that Mr. Palmer wait until I got back. We could break the news to her together."

Gibbs nodded. He was in the lab 20 minutes later. He even stopped and bought her a Caf-Pow.

"Ton…." Abby said, hearing someone entering her lab. She stopped mid-sentence when she realized who it was. "Gibbs?" Abby said, uncertain if she should trust her eyes.

Gibbs sat the Caf-Pow down on the table and nodded. Abby leaped into his arms. "YOU'RE BACK!" I KNEW you would be back!" Abby said, letting go. She looked at him for a moment. "What's wrong?" Abby asked, studying Gibbs's face.

"Tony's been shot." Gibbs said. Abby put her hands to her face and cried. Gibbs continued. "He's in bad shape, Abby."

"They were supposed to protect him. Why didn't they protect him?" Abby said through her tears. "So this stuff…" Abby said, looking around at the evidence Kate and McGee had brought in. "…this is from that crime scene. They walked in here, left me evidence and didn't tell me ANYTHING about what had happened!" Abby paused. "That explains why they were acting so weird." Abby reasoned, hurt and angry.

"What are you talking about Abby? What do you mean, they didn't protect him?" Gibbs asked, afraid of the answer.

"Since you left, Gibbs, it's been awful." Abby said, wiping her eyes. "Tim and Kate have just been horrible to Tony, treating him like he is too stupid to command. We both know how smart Tony is."

Gibbs nodded, but didn't speak, allowing Abby to continue.

"They defy Tony's orders ALL the time. They turn in work late. They intentionally leave things out. Jimmy and I both know for a fact Tony doesn't leave here some nights until well after midnight, long after Tim and Kate have left for the day. They question his orders all the time. He warned them and his told them that it could get them killed one day." She wiped her eyes again. "Look what happened."

Gibbs was so angry he couldn't see straight. "I want you to go in the back room when they get here Abby. I need to talk to the both of them and it is not going to be pretty."

Abby nodded and 10 minutes later she walked into the back room and made sure the door was shut before Gibbs began his speech.

Kate and Tim entered the lab, shocked to find Gibbs standing, waiting for them.

"Gibbs…Boss!" Tim and Kate stammered.

Kate just stood staring, opened mouthed.

"I'm not here as your boss." Gibbs began, still angry but the anger was in check. "Imagine my surprise to get a phone call when me and Franks are at this little cantina enjoying a beer and our day. Imagine my surprise to hear Tony has been shot and you two are responsible."

"We didn't…." Kate began.

"You didn't what? You didn't what? You didn't shot him? You didn't protect him? Or you're not at fault?" Gibbs demanded. He was letting his anger get the better of him. "Which is it?"

"I…We…" Tim stammered.

"Just so you know. The doctors told Ducky the bullet is lodged near Tony's spine. They could not remove it during the first surgery. Tony was too weak. They need to wait until he is stabilized before they try again. But the longer they wait, the greater the chance he has of being paralyzed." Gibbs was in Tim's face now. "Were your petty arguments and disagreements worth Tony loosing the use of his legs or his life?"

"We didn't mean…." Kate started.

"You didn't mean for any of this to happen." Gibbs finished Kate's sentence. "There is a reason you obey orders without question. When Tony gave you that order you should have followed it! No matter how STUPID you thought the order was or how STUPID you think Tony is! You SHOULD have followed it!" Gibbs allowed himself a moment to calm down before he spoke again.

Both Kate and Tim were surprised at how much Gibbs knew about what had gone on the last month.

"If you had, Tony would not be on a respirator in a coma." Gibbs stated.

Kate just stared at Gibbs. "Coma?"

"Yes, a coma, Kate!" Gibbs conformed. "And, for the record, you two should read the reqs for a Senior Field Agent. They require a Master's degree, or the educational equivalent."

Tim and Kate stood mute and in shock.

"Tony earned his Masters while he was in Baltimore. It's in Criminology. He also has bachelors in psychology." Gibb continued.

"You have ONE degree, Kate, right, bachelors?" Gibbs turned to Tim. "You have TWO degrees, both bachelors. Neither of you have a master's in anything. Am I correct?" Gibbs knew his was digging and at this point he really didn't care."

Both Tim and Kate shook their heads.

"Tony graduated Magna Cum Laude in both degrees. He graduated first in his class with his Phys. Ed. Degree." Gibbs said, again bragging on Tony's behalf. "I don't recall reading any special accomplishments for either of you in your files."

Neither one of them had had any special accomplishments with their degrees. Kate just threw it in Tony's face that at least her degree was in something serious, not Phys Ed. Tim just bragged about his MIT education, period. He did bring up his two degrees a lot. Actually more then he really realized. He had been proud of what he had earned. But he had never gone farther than those degrees. He had never tried to better himself.

"Last I knew about, before I left. Tony was still taking classes. I think he was working towards a doctorate in Criminology. He is always taking classes in something, learning something. Can either of you say that?" Gibbs concluded. "Tony is NOT stupid! Far from it, you have just seen what you wanted to see!"

Gibbs walked back to the glassed-in office. He knocked on the glass. "It's safe, Abby. I have to get back to the hospital." Gibbs then left the lab.

Abby left the back office area and dove back into the evidence.

Kate and Tim were still in shock by what Gibbs had said. Abby, however, seemed to be unphased.

"You knew?" Tim asked.

"Knew what?" Abby inquired. They both could tell Abby was also angry. She was not as good at hiding it as Gibbs.

"Tony's degrees, Abby." Kate stated. "You knew about Tony's degrees."

"Yes, of course."

"Why 'of course?' Kate asked.

"You treat him like a degenerate fool." Abby turned to Tim. "And you treat him like a dim-witted jock. I'm his friend. I don't judge him. I see how smart he his. How fast he picks things up. How efficient he is at his job. I SEE all that. It's ashamed you two don't."

Kate started to say something.

"I have been about as civil as I can be to both of you right now." Abby said glaring at them. "I don't get angry often. You both know that. You didn't tell me about Tony! HOW could you! You KNOW how close I am to Tony. But you come down here, bring me evidence like everything is OK and then you leave!" Abby said, still fuming. "I will tell you this, if Tony cannot come back to this job at 100%, or worse yet, if he dies, I will NEVER forgive either one of you."

This time Tim opened his mouth to speak.

"I saw what you did to him. The late nights he stayed here, doing YOUR work. The insubordination! The disrespect! You both should have been reprimanded a long time ago for all that shit you have pulled on Tony this last month! You both should have been on your hands and knees thanking him for not firing you. Instead, you just gave him more grief."

Both opened their mouths to speak.

"Just get out Agent McGee! Agent Todd! I will CALL you when I have something to report." Abby replied, coldly. She turned back to her computer as Tim and Kate left the room.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

By the time Gibbs returned to the hospital, Ducky had returned to NCIS. Gibbs figured Ducky would only stay long enough to review and verify Palmer's findings before completing the report and rushing back to the hospital. And indeed, Ducky returned 2 hours later with Jimmy by his side.

They found Gibbs in the ICU waiting room just outside Tony's door.

"How is our dear boy?" Ducky asked.

"They are evaluating him right now for surgery. Something about the level of anesthesia he will need." Gibbs said. "I understood very little of the conversation."

Ducky nodded. "Even though a person may be unconscious, they may still need anesthesia. Because, besides making you forget, it relaxes the muscles. That is most likely the reason they would use it in Tony's case. In case any part of him is aware and could feel pain or move during surgery."

Gibbs nodded. Though he still understood very little of what was happening. He leaned back in the chair and rubbed his hand over his scraggly beard. He hadn't realized how he must look to everyone sporting his new longer hair, beard and mustache. "Thanks for calling me, Duck."

"Tony needs you. This month has been hard on him." Ducky explained. "He felt a little lost without you."

"Tony is a very capable agent."

"This is not about his capabilities." Ducky replied. "This is about family. You are his family. He has no relationship with his real father. You…."

"I am NOT his family, Ducky. He is a grown man. He has overcome all that."

"You don't EVER miss your father, Jethro?"

Suddenly Gibbs got what Ducky was saying.

"He can't go see his parents like you or I can. He doesn't have that kind of relationship. You know that. You probably care for him more than his father does." Ducky stated.

"He…." Gibbs began, but stopped speaking and stood up when the doctor exited Tony's room. She walked over to Ducky and Gibbs.

"Dr. Mallard, hello." She then turned her attention to Gibbs. "Hello."

"This is Jethro Gibbs, a close friend of Anthony's." Ducky explained.

Dr. Emily Hairston nodded and continued. "We are prepping Agent DiNozzo for surgery now. He is stable enough to have the bullet removed. I will go in from the back. It is the least invasive and will cut the time in surgery significantly. He will be in surgery and recovery approximately 2 hours."

Ducky and Gibbs nodded.

Dr. Hairston continued. "The MRI shows little damage and a minute amount of swelling around the bullet site. He should have no long-range problems after surgery." The doctor then re-entered Tony's room and checked on her patient once again.

Gibbs and Ducky nodded, relieved at the news. Ducky continued talking as they watched Tony be wheeled from his room and taken to surgery. Ducky waited until Tony was out of earshot. "I called his dad. I, first of all, could not get through to talk to him, even when I told the numerous secretaries and assistants WHY I was calling. All I could do was leave an address where to send flowers."

Gibbs nodded. "I went through the same problem with them when Tony had the Plague."

"It seems as though the month away as improved your memory significantly."

"It seems so." Gibbs concurred.

"You spoke to Timothy and Caitlyn?" Ducky asked, already knowing the answer.

"Yes." Gibbs sighed as he and Ducky sat back down and began the wait for Tony to return from surgery. "I think Abby had a few choice words for them, too, after I left."

Ducky nodded. "I am sure she did. Abigail is Tony's dearest friend."

"What aren't you saying, Duck?" Gibbs asked. He had sensed the tension since the phone call he had gotten about Tony.

Ducky hesitated and sighed before he began. "I don't understand why you didn't talk to me. We had that entire car ride to your place after your resigned and asked me to drive you home. Yet you never said a word to me the whole way. I thought the reason you asked me to drive you was so that we COULD talk." Ducky said.

"I didn't want to get talked out of leaving, Ducky." Gibbs explained. "I knew that was what you would try to do. Not that I was unsure of leaving Tony in charge. That was the best choice I made through this whole thing. Tony is a good leader, Ducky. Despite what happened between him, Kate, and Tim. That was just ignorance on Kate's and Tim's parts."

"Yes." Ducky agreed. "Tony has been a most effective leader. Director Shepard has commended him several times. I think that even she spoke to Caitlyn and Timothy on Tony's behalf to try and get them to realize how they were treating their leader."

"It didn't work." Gibbs stated.

"No, sadly, it did not." Ducky agreed.

Gibbs got up and started walking around the room. "I can't loose him, Ducky."

Ducky stood up and put a reassuring hand on Gibbs's shoulder. "Tony is strong. He will make it."

Gibbs nodded. "I'm glad that they can remove the bullet easily. He, however, is not awake yet. The doctor never mentioned that. Why didn't she mention that, Ducky?"

Ducky just sat back down shaking his head sadly. He then pulled out his phone and called Director Shepard and informed her of the latest information on Tony's condition.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Tim and Kate were called up to the director's office as soon as they arrived upstairs from Abby's lab. They both seated themselves in the outer office by Cynthia's desk as she announced their presence to Jenny.

Director Shepard allowed both Tim and Kate to be seated before she began. "I'm sure you know why you are here, so I will dispense for the formality. I do want to tell you, however, that the doctor judged Tony stable enough to go into surgery to remove the bullet. He is being operated on as we speak."

Tim and Kate nodded unsure and a little fearful of what was to come.

"Special Agent Gibbs made Special Agent DiNozzo leader of his team when he left. I approved his decision because I believed Anthony could do the job. Plus, I trusted Agent Gibbs' judgment. I still do. You may not be aware of this, but Dr. Mallard is the one who called Gibbs back home. He didn't call him to come back and take over the team. Ducky called him back so he could be here in case Agent DiNozzo doesn't survive. Dr. Mallard knew Gibbs would want to be here."

Jenny stood up came around the desk and stood in front of them. "I know, Agent Todd, that you believe Tony should never have had this job to begin with. You're Secret Service…Tony was just a beat cop, a dime a dozen. It just…galls you that he is in a position higher than you. A position you believe you deserve more than him." Kate sat opened mouthed and dumbfounded. She had no idea how the director knew all this. Hearing this, it being said out loud, it sounded, harsh, childish and petty. But she could not deny, it was truly how she felt. It made her very ashamed to admit it.

Jenny turned to look at Tim. "You, Agent McGee, also felt Tony was not deserving of Team Leader or Senior Field Agent. You graduated MIT, which you NEVER cease to remind him. You are smarter. You are more computer literate. You are the wave-of-the-future as far as agents go. You don't understand how Tony ever became Senior Field Agent either. How can an immature, pain-in-the-ass frat boy be promoted to such a high position?" Jenny paused. "He deserved it, Agent McGee. He is a very smart man. But he deserved your respect, period. REGARDLESS of how he came about the position. REGARDLESS of your personnel, professional, whatever, feelings. He was promoted to the position. You honor the position and you honor the person in it." Jenny paused again. "Your actions were inexcusable. You all could have died out there. You put the case and you put everyone who was out there in the field in danger. I, personally, would have already fired you. I can do it. I am well within my power to do so. I have, however, decided to wait until Agent DiNozzo can present me with his side of the story."

Jenny stared at both Tim and Kate for a moment, trying to control her anger. "I am sure you are wondering how I knew all this. Agent Gibbs had noticed the interaction among the three of you. It has been an issue for him for awhile. He hoped that his leaving would not let the lack of respect he felt you were displaying spiral out of control. Really Gibbs had hoped it was just a case of sibling rivalry, and when he left and you saw Tony as leader, you would accept it. Treat him in the manner he deserved and be able to work under his command and supervision. Gibbs AND I greatly underestimated your depth of feeling in this matter. We apologize for that. That, however, in no way, excuses your actions."

Both Tim and Kate nodded their understanding. Tim was still reeling from Director Shepard complete understanding of his feeling and his actions towards Tony. And hearing it being said, out loud he too thought made it sound harsh and petty. He also could not deny, it was truly how he felt. He was also terribly ashamed.

Jenny continued. She went back around the desk and sat down. "I have made the decision to hand the case to Jason Lewis and his team. They will conduct the investigation and report their findings directly to me." Jenny laced her fingers together and laid her arms on her desk. "As of this moment you are both suspended with pay I will wait until I receive conduct reports from Agent DiNozzo, as soon as he is well enough. I have also requested statements from Dr. Mallard, Ms. Scuito and Mr. Palmer. I will read those, along with Agent DiNozzo's report and then make a decision as to your futures with this agency." Jenny paused. "I will need you immediately to turn in your weapons, your badges and your security passes."

Tim and Kate produced their badges and security passes and Jenny followed them downstairs to retrieve their weapons. "You have an hour to clean out your desks and leave the premises. You will be escorted out." Jenny said and nodded to the two security guards who stood waiting on either side of the elevator doors.

Kate was on the verge of tears. How the HELL had things gotten this far out of control? She cleaned out her desk and cast a fleeting glance at Tony's empty desk. Will he ever sit at that desk again? Kate shook her head and grabbed her box, her coat and her keys. She turned and looked at the squad room, hoping like hell this was not the last time she would see it.

Tim was having flashbacks to his first months at NCIS. The first day he had been officially welcomed onto the team. The first dual head slap he had gotten from both Tony and Kate. The constant teasing he had endured, from Tony alone and sometimes from both Tony and Kate when they decided to gang up on him. He was not ready to give up on this job. He was not ready to give up on his relationship with Tony. He just hoped Tony felt the same way. He too stole a fleeting glance at Tony's desk before he picked up his box of belongings and exited the building. He too hoped it would not be for the last time.

Gibbs and Ducky stood up as Tony was wheeled out of the recovery room. The surgery had not lasted as long as the doctor had thought it would. She had come out and spoken to them before Tony had been wheeled into the recovery room. The doctor told them that Tony would be positioned lying on his side until the surgical incision healed on his back and he could safely lie that way. He had not been given a lot of anesthesia and he had come through the surgery well. The incision on his back was small and the doctor expected it would be healed in a manner of days.

"The coma?" Gibbs asked.

The doctor shook her head. "It is still too early to tell. He is still very weak. His injuries were very traumatic. He's in a lot of pain. Right now, it is up to him. We have done all we can medically to fix what was broken. It is up to him now to heal and to wake up."

Gibbs nodded and waited for the medical staff to clear the room before he and Ducky entered Tony room. Ducky gently moved the material of his hospital gown over and inspected the bandage covering the incision on Tony's back. He then came around to the other side of the bed and inspected the bandage over Tony's chest wound.

Gibbs took Tony's shoulder and gently squeezed it. "I'm here, Tony. Ducky called me and I came back. I will be here as long as you need me."

GIBBS! What is he doing here? I must have really screwed up this time, really bad to bring Gibbs back from Mexico. I just wish I could remember what happened.

My chest hurts. My back hurts. I…I don't know where I am exactly. My throat is killing me. Somebody is using me as a pin cushion.

"Hi dear boy, we're waiting on you Anthony. It's up to you." Ducky said.

Hey Ducky! I'm not sure what you mean. What is up to me?

Abby bopped into the room, pigtails flying. Gibbs had called her and told her the surgery went well. She was still angry, but at least things were looking up for Tony. That did lessen her anger a little, not much, but at least a little.

Abby walked over to the bed and squeezed Tony's shoulder. "I hope you can hear me, Tony. I love you, please get better."

Hi Abby! I love you, too. I will get better. I promise. Don't give up on me. I'm tired right now though. I'm so tired. I need to sleep, Abby. Don't leave. Please stay with me.

Abby took a seat beside the bed. She had brought Bart with her and she laid him on the bed beside Tony, giving him a light squeeze before she did so. "Have they been here?"

Gibbs and Ducky both shook their heads, knowing who the 'they' were that Abby was talking about.

They! What are you talking about Abby? Who is this 'they'?

It was then Tony began remembering. He had been shot. He had been arguing with…with who? He remembered…Kate and McGee. Who else? This past month had been the month from hell, one long, ongoing argument. Everything was an argument. The way he had them fill out the reports. His 'campfires' as he called them, absolutely anything and everything McGee and Kate had challenged him on. He knew how they REALLY felt about him. McGee's smugness. Kate's snide remarks.

Tony thought when Kate first started here, she was just too serious. She needed to lighten up a little. She needed to take herself a lot less seriously to do this job effectively. Tony had thought the best way to do that was to joke around with her, to lighten the mood to get her to laugh. He knew she would burn out quickly on a job like this if she didn't. What he hadn't expected was her retaliation. He hadn't thought she would make hurtful vicious remarks and digs at him. He had not meant to embarrass or hurt her. He had wanted to make things easier for her in terms of doing her job. But she had quickly turned it into a pissing contest. He had then started doing things he hated doing, like going through her purse, answering her phone. To try to make her see how hurtful what she was doing to him was. But that had not worked. She had just gotten nastier and more vicious with her insults and comments. Now it was like they were on a collision course and he had no idea how to keep them from crashing head-on.

Tony had been hard on Tim, because he knew he needed it. He needed it to be able to see dead bodies in horrible conditions and not run away screaming. His computer background didn't prepare him for that. Tim was so green when he first joined NCIS. Tony knew Gibbs just saying his name sent him into a tailspin. Tony decided he had to help Tim develop a tougher hide. First, to deal with the job. Second, to deal with Gibbs. He had teased and pestered Tim constantly. He knew the best way to help Tim was to take a gently approach. Build him up over time. Tony thought he was taking a kind, almost big-brother approach. He thought he was helping them, both of them.

I was wrong, obviously. My approach didn't work. They either didn't need or didn't want my help. I really, honestly, thought I was helping them though. How could I have been so wrong? As much as I tried to help them, they said things they KNEW hurt. They did it anyway. Tim's constant mention of his education was meant as a put down. I let them believe I ONLY had a PE degree. It is harder then you might realize, to get a Phys Ed. Degree. But I never told him that. He wouldn't have believed me. The same way he wouldn't have believed me if I told him how much education I actually have. People who have a lot of education get discriminated against. Tim SHOULD understand that. He should face that discrimination, too. He should know how it feels. And Kate constantly belittled my intelligence. She has always thought she was better suited as SFA. I know, too, that Tim feels the same way. Kate's digs and snide remarks were all reminders of how she felt about me. It would surprise the HELL out of her to find out I have a degree in psychology, too.

Tony made his decision right then. I know how to deal with this. I tried to be their friend. That's the problem. I should have kept things strictly professional. I wouldn't be in this mess if I had just treated them like co-workers.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Both Kate and Tim were at a loss as to what to do when the left the NCIS building. Kate considered going to the hospital. She decided she couldn't face Tony, even an unconscious Tony. She couldn't face Gibbs either, and she knew most especially he would be there. He was probably practically living there. She decided instead to go home. She had a lot to think about. She had learned some surprising things about Tony today, things that would put him in a new light. She had not known Gibbs knew as much as he did about her and Tim's interactions with Tony. She really hadn't thought he had paid that much attention. But, apparently he had paid a lot of attention and didn't like what he had seen. Enough so he had been talking to Director Shepard about it. Kate knew that Gibbs felt Tony could lead. She knew, or he would not have told him so. She just couldn't figure out how Tony managed it. He was such a goofball. He acted like such a goofball. But then that was the thing, he acted. He was obviously smart; you don't get that many degrees to that level and not be. She kicked herself mentally. She was a profiler. Why hadn't she seen past his smokescreen? She got the big bucks in Secret Service to do it. Why had she allowed a thin mask to blind her to so much? Did she really not care enough to look past it? Did she think she had him pegged? Was he that good at hiding himself? Truth be told, it was a little of all three. But mostly it was she hadn't cared enough BECAUSE she thought she had him pegged.

Kate had a hard time coming to terms with Tony's education. The man was a goof off. How could he be that smart? How could he have a Masters? And as far as the psychology degree went, he basically had the same education she did, depending on the specialty. Why did a man who was so smart brag about having a PE degree? It just did not make any sense to her.

Tim was feeling very ashamed. Aside from Tony's current injuries for which he was partially to blame. He couldn't believe he had misjudged Tony so badly. He had known Tony had had a less-than-pleasant childhood. But that, in Tim's mind, could have meant anything. Besides, Tony's was rich, how bad could it have been? He found himself either unwilling or unable to have sympathy for someone in that situation. A person who had money handed to him anytime he wanted to buy anything he wanted. When he, himself, had to work hard and went to school on scholarships. He had had to work also, to have spending money and to have money for food and clothes all during his college years.

Tim had not really heard Tony TALK about his dad. And all Tony had said had been negative. But Tim just attributed that to the something like Tony not getting something he wanted and then turning around and being super childish about it. Tim began to suspect now that some far more serious, upsetting, troublesome stuff went on in Tony's childhood.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Tony moaned and opened his eyes. It has been 4 long days since the shooting and everybody's nerves were on edge. Tony had seemed to be getting stronger and his surgical incision on his back healed right on schedule, no complications. But he was still not awake yet. No one was going to breathe a sigh of relief until he opened his eyes.

"Tony?" Gibbs said, getting up from the beside chair and coming to the bedside.

"...dreaming?" Tony asked, looking up at Gibbs, his voice a whisper.

Gibbs shook his head and smiled down at Tony. "No, I'm here." Gibbs took Tony's hand in his. He pressed the nurse's call button with his other hand. He left a few minutes later, when the nurse arrived to check Tony over. He was allowed back in about 15 minutes. After the doctor had checked Tony out, too.

Gibbs walked back in and took his place beside the bed. He took Tony's hand again.

"...like...stache." Tony commented.

Gibbs touched his face, momentarily forgetting he had not bothered to shave since he had come back.

"Leroy...the...lumberjack."

"No." Gibbs shook his head. He had purposely not shaved because he knew Tony would comment on his new look. He knew Tony would tell his exactly what he thought and Gibbs knew he would get a chuckle out of it, at the least.

"Mountain...man...?"

"No." Gibbs said simply. He could tell Tony was getting tired.

"Come...on." Tony said. "Gotta... give...me...something."

"What happened, Anthony?"

Tony just laid and stared at Gibbs for a few seconds. He knew Gibbs was serious to call him Anthony. He also knew Gibbs had probably already talked to everybody, except him.

Tony shook his head. "Constant...arguing..." Tony paused for a second and moaned again, in obvious pain. Tony shook his head again, reading Gibbs' mind. "m' OK."

Gibbs nodded. "What were Tim and Kate arguing with you about?" Gibbs asked.

"Everything."

"You were taking up their slack, working late?" Gibbs asked and stated at the same time.

Tony nodded. His eyes were starting to close.

Gibbs touched Tony's shoulder with his other hand and Tony opened his eyes.

"Did you report...?" Gibbs asked. Tony's eyes had slid closed again by this time and Gibbs gently shook his shoulder. Tony did not open his eyes.

Gibbs let go of Tony's hand and settled back into his chair.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Director Shepard stuck her head in the door. She came in as quietly as she could and came over to Tony's bed. She took his hand in hers and Tony opened his eyes.

"Director..."

"Hello, Tony." Jenny said, squeezing Tony's hand.

"Kate...Tim...did...?"

Jenny shook her head. "I want to talk about you first. Doctor check you out when you woke up?"

Tony nodded.

"What did he tell you?" Jenny inquired.

"Wound...healed...getting...stronger."

The director let out a pent up breath. "Good. Good. That is great news, Tony." Jenny sighed, knowing Tony wanted to hear about Kate and Tim. "They are currently on suspension. I could then, if the decision had been mine alone to make, fire them. But I told them I wanted to get a statement from you. Then I would make my decision."

"Cannot...will not work...with them." Tony stated

The director nodded. By this time Gibbs was waking up. He rubbed his eyes, stood up and came to the side of the bed. They both waited until Tony had fallen asleep before either spoke.

"Jethro..." Jenny began.

Gibb motioned for her to follow him and they both stepped outside the room.

Jenny began again. "Jethro, I will not lose him to Fornell. I thought Tony might tell me that. I checked. There are no other teams needing leaders now or will need leaders in the future. And, as much as I would like to, I can't start pulling people from other teams to make a team for him."

"You don't have to." Gibbs stated.

"I...What do you mean?"

"I'm...I'm coming back." Gibbs said. "I'm coming back." Gibbs said again, firmly.

"Jethro, don't...Tony will be fine. I won't lose him. I can't lose him."

"It's time Jenny. I think I need to come back now. Tony needs time to rest, to get back up to speed. It is going to take awhile before he will even be able to come back to work for desk duty. He needs the time and I need to be back in D.C."

"If you're sure." Jenny stated.

"I am." Jethro said.

Jenny nodded. "I will get the paperwork started. But the stuff I told Tony about Kate and Tim..."

Gibbs nodded. "I agree 100%. It is Tony's decision and I would not take that away from him."

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

It had been 2 weeks since the incident and Tony was more than ready to go home. He hated the hospital food. He hated the fact that the nurses would not let him order in pizza. But most of all, he hated that probably every employee on the ward he was in had seen his bare behind at least once. He always seemed to have his backside to the door when company came in.

"Boss, you have got to do something about the breezy clothing they give me to wear."

"Stop showing your backside to every person who walks in the room." Gibbs said.

"It's not like I do it on purpose." Tony said. He was sitting up in bed and fumbling with the covers. "It's just that I forget I'm a little 'overexposed' back there."

"You're going home soon..."

"Really?" Tony said, all excited. "What have you heard?"

Gibbs shook his head. "I don't want to talk about that right now." Gibbs said. "I've made a decision you need to know about."

"Okay." Tony said, warily.

"I'm coming back to NCIS." Gibbs stated.

"Okay." Tony repeated, warily. "I'm not sure what you expect me to say here."

"I want you to tell me it's OK with you."

"If...If I said no. I...then what?" Tony asked.

Gibbs thought for a second. "I don't know."

"Then why did you ask, Gibbs?" Tony inquired. "I don't have a team anymore, which means you don't have a team anymore. Well, technically, not until Director Shepard makes her decision, which could be any day now. I gave her the statement she wanted 3 days ago."

"I know."

"What do you know, Boss?" Tony asked, more than a little confused.

"I know that you turned your statement in already. I know the director has decided to base a lot of her decision on what you say."

"So, we're back to my original question. What if I say 'No?'"

Gibbs didn't answer immediately so Tony continued.

"You can't start another team. The director said there is no agent pool to draw from for one Team Leader...for TWO team leaders!" Tony shook his head.

"I only need one agent on my team." Gibbs stated.

Yeah." Tony agreed, dejected. "A person only needs one screw-up on his team." Then he added. "What makes you think I would want to take a step back?" Tony asked, understanding his meaning immediately.

"That's why I asked if it's OK." Gibbs had been afraid that Tony was doubting himself. He could tell that the doubts were not huge ones. But he also knew Tony well enough to know he would wallow even in the smallest ones. "You did not screw up Tony."

Tony gave Gibbs his Yeah, Right, Whatever look.

"I'm sorry I never told you how good a leader I thought you would be. I should have told you. I just. I just thought you knew how good an investigator you are. I thought you knew how valuable you are to me to the team. I should have told you that, Tony." Gibbs said. "But having said that, I thought I showed you well enough. You didn't doubt it."

"The words are nice, Boss."

Gibbs nodded. "I should have told you more than "You'll do." You deserved better."

"I don't think I heard you correctly. Did you just apologize?" Tony asked and then he paused, not really expecting an answer. "You could always be on my team." Tony said smiling. "It would be nice to be the head-slapper instead of the head-slappee."

Gibbs shook his head and smiled. "Not even in your wildest dreams, DiNozzo." Gibbs paused. "Would you take the Senior Field Agent position again if it was offered to you?"

"I really liked sitting in the 'big boss' chair, Gibbs." Tony said. "I have to admit."

"It definitely has its perks, Tony." Gibbs agreed.

"It also has the biggest load of bureaucratic bullshit attached to it that I have ever seen."

"The burden of power and influence." Gibbs explained.

"It stinks, literally."

Gibbs nodded. "You see now why I just threaten to shoot people when it comes to that stuff, don't you?"

Tony laughed and nodded. "I hadn't gotten there yet, but Toby was giving me a run for my money."

"Is that right, DiNotezo?" Gibbs said grinning.

"Not that, he is actually pronouncing it correctly. The way I usually pronounce it is the Americanized version." Tony sighed. "I need to think about this. You know, when you left. I wasn't sure you were coming back. Part of me wanted you to, but another part knew you would retire eventually. But now...you...you wouldn't even be here now if Ducky hadn't called you?"

Gibbs nodded. "That's true."

"You didn't come back on your own." Tony said, completing his thought. "Are you sure you're ready? I would have preferred it if you had just been relaxing on the beach in Mexico or in a cantina and decided on your own to come back."

Gibbs sighed. "Sometimes life makes up our minds for us." Gibbs said. "I can't leave now. You are in no position to lead a team."

"I have no team to lead, Gibbs." Tony interjected.

"Shepard is DESPERATE to keep you. She will find something, anything for you."

"Fornell knocking at the door?" Tony asked.

Gibbs nodded again. "Apparently, and he is being pretty persistent."

"So, what? We go back to the way things were before Kate and Tim. A team of two. You know Morrow hated that. He was getting pressure from SecNav for you to expand your team, to take on new members. Is Director Shepard going to be any different?"

"Probably not." Gibbs agreed. "But I have a way with redheads."

Tony shook his head. "I want to know nothing about your ways with redheads. I would have to wash my mind out with soap."

Gibbs laughed and Tony smiled. He had not heard Gibbs laugh in a long time.

"It's too early, Gibbs. Go back to Mexico. Drink some more tequila. Dance with a few more senoritas. Waste your day away in a hammock. You're not ready for this."

"You make my decisions for me now, DiNozzo?" Gibbs said, his old spark coming back.

"That..." DiNozzo said, smiling and wagging his finger at Gibbs. "...is the Leroy Jethro Gibbs I remember."

Gibbs smiled.

Tony gave him an apprizing look. "You're going to have to get rid of the mountain man beard. It really doesn't suit you. Neither does the Hawaiian-shirt look. You look like a scary beach bum." Tony said. He had gotten out of bed and went to retrieve clothes from the small storage locker-room-type locker they had in his room.

Gibbs surprised Tony and hugged him when Tony turned around to come back over to the bed to dress.

"Truth be told, I missed you." Gibbs said. "I missed my family."

"I...We...What?" Tony said, confused. He recovered quickly. "That was really nice, kinda sweet. If I start blubbering, will you still respect me in the morning?" Tony asked smiling.

Gibbs gave Tony his much-earned head-slap.

"I missed you too, Boss."

THE END

GIBBS' RETURN

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