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Smile Of The Moon

By Magicalpen

Thriller / Horror

Smile Of The Moon

Title: Smile Of The Moon
Category: TV Shows » NCIS Fan Fiction

NOTE: I do not own, or claim to own, any rights or trademark on NCIS or the characters used here. I simply like to play colorforms. Note though, that the creativity of the story, and it's plot, those are indeed mine.
Chapters: 22, Words: 43,855


Chapter 1: Chapter 1

Gibbs checked the rear view mirror.

Abby had done a good job staying behind them but if she did get lost, she had directions.

He smiled, remembering the argument she had with Ziva on who was going to drive.

(FLASHBACK)

"So…" Ziva said slowly, trying to make sure she understood what Gibbs had just said, "we are all going to …New Hampshire for a week? Together?"

Abby turned her music completely off, while McGee and Tony stood around Abby's table with their lower jaws on the floor.

"Yep." Gibbs smiled, ever so slightly.

"Boss-" Tony began, overlapped by McGee.

"In one house? For a week?" McGee said incredulously. "We'll kill Tony. I mean, eachother."

Tony shot daggers at him with his eyes and hissed, "Nice, Probie."

"OH MY GOD!" Abby squealed and then jumped up and down, knocking into Ziva as she jumped on Gibbs, hugging him. "This is gonna be sooooo great! We'll all be together ! No danger!"

"Speak for yourself," Tony mumbled.

"Why does Vance want us to go on this…" Ziva struggled to understand what Gibbs had said in the first place.

"Team building retreat," Gibbs said, sourly, although he enjoyed Abby's enthusiasm.

"It's gonna be GREAT! We can go hiking, and swimming, and play games, and collect bugs-" Abby was vibrating with excitement.

Gibbs was given the directive by Vance, to take them all for a week, to Sandown, New Hampshire, to a cottage occasionally used as a safe house by NCIS. There they would spend time working on their team relationships and generally unwind. It was apparent they'd all been suffering some burnout of late…

Gibbs had been angrier than usual, ZIva more violent, having gone a bit overboard and almost killing a suspect. And Tony, drinking a bit too much after a case that involved the neglect and death of a six year old child…with McGee looking miserable in the mix, and Ducky, Abby, and Palmer worried.

Gibbs fought the director on it. But not too hard, because secretly, he knew he was right. But a week? With this crew? He smiled once again to himself as everyone was complaining except Abby. This is gonna' be crazy.

"…and I can bring Bert, and my sketchpad, and my music –"

"No!" They almost all said in unison.

She suddenly looked very hurt, pulling her chin up. "Fine," she said, twisting a pigtail, "I'll just bring the opera."

"Oh God," Tony said, rubbing his hands over his face. "Abs, you better bring more than just Carmen."

"Come on, Tony! It wasn't my fault that time. I didn't know the song was on a loop…"Abby said innocently.

Gibbs didn't want to know.

"Rental cars, tomorrow morning, early, and then we drive up."He made it a solid statement. No room for argument.

More groans.

"All part of the decompress, no flying," he smiled. "Tony and McGee with me, and Ziva and Abby you'll take up a second car."

"I will drive, yes?" Ziva looked at Abby, who suddenly looked alarmed.

"Ah, no, Ziva. The idea is to go on retreat. Not to your death," Abby said, at least trying to smile sweetly to Ziva as she scowled.

"That is not fair, Abby. I am a very good driver, and I can get there more quickly than Gibbs." Suddenly Ziva remembered Gibbs was standing there.

"That so?" he asked her softly, while he caught Tony and McGee smirking from the corner of his eye.

"Ahh…well I-" she began, dark eyes roaming around, motioning with her hands a little.

"No, Abby will drive. Behind us," Gibbs said smoothly, walking away and laughing to himself.

(End FLASHBACK)

"Tony, c'mon!" McGee almost whined from the back seat. "We're almost in Massachusettes. You said you would switch."

"What is your problem, McPushy? We're almost there for God's sake."

"I get car sick. I told you that. On long trips, Tony. I can't take it,"McGee huffed, rubbing his eyes.

"You puke in the car, McGee," Gibbs warned, "you clean it up." He looked in the rearview mirror. He raised a brow in concern. McGee did look green. He started looking for a rest stop, where he would make DiNozzo switch places with him.

McGee leaned forward, gripping the seat by Tony's headrest.

"Tony, I can't-"

And suddenly, McGee lost it, mostly all over Tony, with a horrible, gasping retch.

"Jesus Tim!" Tony yelled angrily, while Gibbs bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing his head off.

McGee sat back with a moan. "Sorry Tony…I didn't know that was gonna' happen…"

"Probably why girls don't return your calls, McGee," Tony said, still annoyed, but trying to make light of it somehow.

They opened the windows, which helped with the vomit stench, but let in the humid eighty degree air into the car.

Tony was desperately looking in the glove box of the rental card for napkins.

He slammed it shut. "Great," he quipped. "If I don't get this off me…I'm gonna' puke myself."

"Here," McGee handed him something from the back.

"Thanks," Tony took it, but then realized it was his sweatshirt. "Nice Probie. You're really trying to get on my good side for this trip."Tony frowned while using the sweatshirt to clean himself up as best he could.

"Probably should'a let him switch before," Gibbs said smoothly, and felt Tony glaring at him, through the sunglasses he had on.

McGee moaned from the back again.


After the rest stop where Tony completely changed clothes, they headed up to Sandown, New Hampshire, stopping one more time to buy groceries to bring to the cottage.

McGee was still sheepishly apologizing to Tony, who had been the one to clean up the front seat as well as himself. Gibbs knew Tony had felt bad that McGee had gotten sick, so even though he was angry about getting his clothes ruined, he still cleaned it up for McGee to keep him from getting sick all over again.

By the time they rolled in to the road leading around Lake Sandown, it was 18:00 hours.

The roads through upper Massachusettes and lower New Hampshire, which had been littered with little houses and truck cabs, had become more wild with rocky hills and woods.

The roads became slivers carved through high clusters of assorted pine trees, and they glowed orange at the tops in the light of the setting summer sun.

A few small signs alerted Gibbs that they had arrived at the proper turn.

Tony sighed from the back seat, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

Gibbs smiled. "It's not that desolate out here, DiNozzo. You just can't see the houses because they have a good amount of space between them."The way it should be, Gibbs thought.

Gibbs let the windows down since the air was cooler here, and they could all smell the scent of fresh water and pine woods.

"There's a lake here Boss?" McGee asked, sounding much more normal than earlier.

"Yep. Five miles around. Only two places on it. A B&B on the other side, and our retreat on this."

As they made a right turn onto a narrow but still paved road, they caught glances of the lake on their left, glistening in some places where separations in the trees allowed the view to peek through.

A few moments later, a tree with a large red number two appeared, marking the driveway that was theirs.

Gibbs pulled left into it, while Tony and McGee curiously looked around as they crept along the drive that sloped gently down towards the lake.

Gibbs saw Abby and Ziva pulling into the drive behind them.

They passed innumerable trees, some with large mushrooms growing out their sides, and on their right a clearing with a huge fire pit in the center of it. Some cut off tree stumps, used for benches around the fire, were strewn around it.

"Awesome!" Tony said. "We could do a whole cowboy style cow over that one, Boss!"

"You promise to eat it all, and I'll cook it, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, amused.

After another small patch of woods, they saw the white cottage on the right, and the driveway, which stopped before a breathtaking view of the lake.

From the driveway, they could see a path that ran along down from the house, through the trees, to a dock right on the water. Attached to it were two canoes and one paddleboat.

In between some of the trees were hammocks, swaying lazily in the slight breeze.

The lake itself, though small by most standards, was majestic. It was a mirror for the sunset, and the silhouettes of the darkened tall pines and rocky ledges that surrounded it.

It could have been a postcard shot.

"It's beautiful here," breathed McGee.

"Yes," Gibbs said, already feeling some of his usual tension slipping away from the serenity of the scene before them, "it is."


Chapter 2: Chapter 2

"Ok. In the safe," Gibbs ordered, as Tony and Ziva watched McGee place his gun inside, along with his badge.

"C'mon, Boss, is this really necessary?" Tony asked, very reluctant to walk around with no sidearm.

"DiNozzo, we are on a mission here, to leave the job behind, and yes, you have to do it."

Tony took off his holster and gun, and placed it inside the safe with his badge, grumbling, "…this is a little ridiculous. And how did Palmer and Ducky get out of this, anyway?"

"They weren't as cranky as all of us, apparently," Gibbs said, still eyeing Tony suspiciously. "And unless it's a hunting knife…"

"The one you gave me counts as a hunting knife," Tony said, indignantly.

Gibbs moved on. "Ziva."

She looked at him, and then at Tony, who was smirking at her. McGee was already in the kitchen helping Abby disperse the groceries.

"Gibbs, I do not think-"

"That's right, Ziva. You do not think. You do. Now."

She sighed heavily, taking her gun and badge and placing them in the safe.

Gibbs continued to stare at her.

"Fine!" she rolled her eyes and huffed, and produced two knives and hidden sheaths from under the back of her shirt.

She stood back.

Tony chuckled, as Gibbs continued to stare at her.

Another heavy sigh as she removed two knives from her under her pants legs, and placed them in the safe.

"Are you satisfied, Gibbs?" she asked him and then looked at Tony too.

"Yes." Gibbs closed the safe.

They both stared at him now, a little angrily.

"Ah, Boss, aren't you forgetting someone?" Tony asked as Ziva placed her hands on her hips.

Gibbs smiled. "Nope," and walked away. "Combination'll be in the oatmeal box if you need it. Which you won't. And if you touch it without asking me first…there will be consequences."

Tony looked down at Ziva, who reflected his sour look almost exactly.

"Great," he said. "Do as I say, not as I do."

"Why would I do that?" Ziva asked confused, "And what is it you want to do?"

Tony sighed in slight frustration, but smiled. "Nevermind."

They all started to explore the cottage, which had three bedrooms. The lower level had a billiards table, chairs and games, and sliding doors with porches facing the lake on both levels. In addition in the game room were life vests, some oars for the canoes, and an extra propane tank for the grill on the upper deck. The lower level also had a laundry room and a half-bath.

The upper floor of the cottage had the larger kitchen just off the deck, a dining room area, living room with couches and tv, and the bath and bedrooms off a hallway to the side.

The décor was comfortable, but basic and utilitarian. And the inside of the cottage was white, as was the outside. What was nice, were all the windows in the kitchen and living room, giving a grand view of the lake.

"Gibbs?" Ziva asked in a disturbed voice.

"Uh-huh?"

"Where are the showers? There is a toilet and a sink in each bathroom, but no shower?"

She got no reply, and so looked at Gibbs, standing in the livingroom, and saw he was pointing out the window at the lake.

"You are not serious," Ziva said, almost disgustedly.

"This place is a summer cottage Ziva. No hot water heater. Bath is in the lake with some castile soap," he smiled, wanting to laugh again at her look of horrified disbelief.

"Well," she stammered,"This…this…is just primitive."

Abby was laughing from the kitchen. "Oh some on, Ninja chick, suck it up! This is normal! Come in here and help me with dinner."

Ziva still looked put off, but seemed to decide she was tough enough if they were. She shrugged, and gave Gibbs a slight grimace, and went into the kitchen.

It was getting dark, and the waxing moon, almost full, was already starting to reflect on the lake.

Tony asked, "What are the sleeping arrangements, Boss? I mean…there are three rooms…and I snore really heavily…" he had his duffel in his hand, ready to throw it down in one of the bedrooms.

"You usually say you do not snore, Tony," Ziva purred, as she passed by him will a plate of hamburgers behind Abby. They were going to the deck to start up the grill.

He scowled at her.

"The girls are in one room, you and McGee in another," Gibbs said plainly going into the kitchen to grab a beer.

"Oh. I guess that means you get a room to yourself," Tony said, and then saw the blue eyed glare peek over the fridge door. "But, that would be fine, because…you're the Boss, Boss. Even on vacation…" he muttered to himself and went into one of the bedrooms while Gibbs smiled.

After a basic hamburger and potato salad dinner, Gibbs sat out on the porch alone, nursing the second beer he had opened during dinner.

He had turned off the outside light, just to get more of the moonlight coming off the water.

He listened to the little sounds of small creatures jumping into the water, and of the crickets singing happily to the dark night.

The air had cooled considerably, even causing him to don a sweatshirt. Late August and early September were the ideal times to be up New England, since the lake would still be warm from the months of summer sun, but the air cool and comfortable, good for lighting a bonfire and telling stories into the night.

He remembered taking Shannon and Kelly up to a campground in Main one Labor Day weekend…and thought the memory was bittersweet, he smiled at the image of his little girl picking melted marshmallow off his face and giggling…

He took a deep breath of the pine scented, fresh air.

This place was peaceful. It was good. And he hated to admit it, but Vance was totally right about them needing to come.

They had all been getting edgy, and testy with each other…and burnt out from several ugly cases that seemed to come back to back…

He laughed to himself, remembering McGee vomiting on Tony in the car.

"Poor Probie," he chuckled, "it'll be a long time before Tony lets you live that one down…"

He stayed in his seat, on the porch, until he realized the house inside had gone mostly quiet.

He went in through the sliding doors, throwing his empty bottle in the recycle bin in the kitchen, and shut off the lights.

In the hallway, two doors were open, and one was shut.

The first one was the room where he heard ZIva talking and Abby giggling at something funny. The door was closed but a little light peeked out the bottom. He smiled to himself hearing them both burst out into loud laughter.

Next he passed the room where Tony and McGee were.

On one twin bed, Tony had fallen asleep on top of the covers, in his clothes, and in the other, McGee was tucked in, engrossed in his e-reader.

"I thought we said no laptops, McGee," Gibbs said softly but in a kind voice.

McGees eyes went wide. "Oh no, Boss, this just displays books digitally. In fact, I think you might like one of these, since then you could access any book or several and not have to carry them."

"I like good old paper, McGee," Gibbs smiled. Then he made a motion with his head towards Tony. "He fell out quick."

McGee eyed his SFA. "Yeah," he said thoughtfully, "I don't think he's been sleeping well for a while…that case…"

Gibbs nodded. "I know, Tim." He sighed, passing his eyes over Tony once more and then smiled at McGee, "G'nite, Tim."

"Nite Boss," he said pleasantly and went back to his reading.

Gibbs entered his room and closed the door, and got undressed for bed. He grabbed his "old school" book out of one of his bags and got into bed, taking his glasses from the nightstand.

As he got ready to dive into his book, he gave one more thought to the fact that he had them there, in this peaceful place, and for once, no one was in any danger. It was almost like having all his kids under one roof, and he suddenly felt embarrassed for having such a mushy thought.

"Gettin' soft, Gunney," he muttered to himself, and put on his glasses, opening his book.


Chapter 3: Chapter 3

Gibbs called out, "NCIS!" As they broke the door down of the little tenement apartment where their search had lead them to Geraldine French, a PO guilty of murdering her ex-boyfriend in a fit of jealous rage when she found him with another woman at his house.

Tony went in after Gibbs, gun drawn, and Ziva behind him.

Gibbs motioned for him to go right, as Gibbs went left.

The smell that hit them in the hallway was unmistakable.

Rotting flesh.

Ziva went behind Gibbs, and he heard them tell someone to freeze, and then Gibbs telling Ziva to 'Cuff her'…

He slowly opened the door of the bedroom…a child's room. It was extremely sparse but dirty. The bedding was almost soiled grey over the princess pink underneath.

They knew French had a six year old daughter, but…where was she?

Tony walked slowly over to the closet, where the smell became even stronger and he had to keep from retching.

He slowly opened the door, and inside was a little girl, in her footed pajamas, bloated and distended by decay. Her hair was long and tangled, indicating no one had paid it any mind for some time, even before her death.

Tony lowered his gun, as tears stung his eyes.

He opened the door wider, letting light from the bedroom window fall on her green tinged skin.

He jumped, heart racing, as she twitched. The dingy stuffed bear she had at her side fell away to the corner of the closet.

She opened her dead eyes, covered in film, and opened her mouth, as dirt and earthworms began to fall out.


Tony sat bolt upright in the bed, covered in sweat.

He was breathing heavily, trying to calm himself after quickly realizing McGee was beginning to stir in the bed next to his.

"Jesus," he muttered to himself, swiping a hand over his face.

Gibbs appeared at the bedroom door.

"You okay?" He gave tony a concerned once over before locking his blue eyes on the still waking green ones.

"Yeah," Tony tried to sound sure, but it didn't quite make it. "M'fine…" he looked down at himself. "I fell asleep in my clothes? What am I, five?" he breathed out, but then shuddered remembering the body of six year old Amanda French. The nightmare du jour.

"Coffee's up," Gibbs said gently. "I'm getting my suit on and washing up in the lake. Figure to do it before the girls are up, so they can go down after us n' have some privacy."

Tony smiled. "You mean, team building doesn't involve group bathing?"

"Oh God," McGee yawned next to him. "Don't you think we're all traumatized enough by you as it is Tony?"

Tony laughed, "Whats'a matter, McBarfsalot, afraid the ladies will compare our-"

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs growled, as McGee rolled his eyes.

"Sorry Boss!" Tony said, but still very amused with himself.

"You two get your asses up and down to the lake if you wanna' clean up. Otherwise when Abby and Ziva are up, they get it to themselves for a while."

"But Boss, it's a lake. How do you get it to yourself?" Tony pushed.

"Now. Or settle for the 'Italian shower' in the bathroom here." And with that Gibbs walked away.

"That's a bigoted remark!" Tony called after him. "And being an Italian-American, I resent that!"

The room was quiet for a moment.

Tony realized McGee was looking at him.

"What?"

Tim took in the sweatstains on his friends shirt, and the way he looked just a bit pale. He knew Tony had a nightmare, but decided not to call attention to it.

"Nothing. Let's get going before Gibbs decides to make scrapple out of us and serve us for breakfast."

Tony frowned. "What's scrapple?"

McGee laughed, "You'll find out sometime up here, I'm sure. I can tell you it's pretty gross though, and it has no wine pairing."


They walked down the path with towels and the castile soap, in bare feet and swim trunks.

Gibbs was already in the water after jumping off the dock.

It was cool as they walked through the shade of the pines all around them, but as they approached the water the tree line broke, and the morning sun felt warm on Tony's skin.

He stood on the dock while McGee jumped into the lake as well, coming up and sputtering a bit.

"This is great!" he said, with pleasure. "The water's really warm, Tony."

Gibbs threw his soap up next to Tony's feet, and the two younger men looked at him curiously as he climbed up the ladder up onto the floating dock.

It wasn't that he had two heads or anything. It was just that you never saw much of Gibbs' body, since he was always, almost obsessively, dressed and covered.

He was surprisingly fit, and muscular, and suddenly Tony felt a little inadequate.

Gibbs stood next to him, dripping onto the wood, passing a towel over himself, and then looking at Tony.

"What, DiNozzo?"

"Uh, nothing Boss. I just wouldn't have figured you were in such good shape."

He raised a brow at Tony and cocked his head. "And why would you not have guessed that?"

"Ah…well, you know, you're no spring chicken anymore, Gibbs, and-"

Suddenly Gibbs shoved Tony off the dock, so quickly, and so hard that he went flying out about five feet, arms flailing, into the water.

Tony felt the slight chill of the initial shock of the water, and then quickly came up, gasping.

He looked up at Gibbs angrily, but Gibbs just smiled and shrugged. "You know, us old guys. Too weak usually to do something like that. But I took my Geritol today."

McGee was laughing his head off.

Tony turned and said, "I wouldn't laugh so hard, McJackal, since between you and the dock, is me."

McGee stopped laughing instantly, as Gibbs turned with a smile and walked back up the path to the cottage, hearing McGee scream before Tony pounced to dunk him.


McGee came up sputtering but laughing because Tony hadn't held him under or made it anything serious. It was all relaxed, good natured fun. Something they hadn't shared in a while.

They finished getting cleaned up, and McGee headed back up before Tony.

Tony wanted just a few minutes to himself before joining them, to sit on the dock and enjoy the picturesque scene before him.

The water in the lake had been cool, but warmed up quickly. And it was crystal clear, only getting difficult to see into further out.

He sighed, looking out from the shaded dock, sitting cross legged. He breathed deeply, and closed his eyes for a moment, listening to the sounds of the birds chirping around the lake, and the subtle lapping of the water against the wood of the dock and the rocks of the shoreline.

He wondered if he had long enough to meditate before Abby and Ziva came down.

It was one of his little secrets. They had no idea he meditated almost every morning, to prepare himself for the day. Just ten or fifteen minutes helped him focus and keep his head on straight.

"Maybe that's why I've been a little off lately…" he said to himself, knowing that in the past several weeks, after discovering that little girl's body, he'd fallen off his practice.

He straightened his back and put his hands out on his knees, taking in more of the fresh air, and letting the vision of the lake before him go out of focus a little.

He focused on the water lapping sound, and nothing else.

Thoughts started to die down in his mind.

He almost had his head completely empty…was almost there to alpha…

Suddenly the quick flash of rotting flesh went through his mind, of decaying fingers and dirt.

He opened his eyes. "Shit." He felt a small twinge of anxiety go through him. That had never happened before. He usually was able to push away the bad things during meditation. Maybe it was because of the dream he'd just had...

He sighed a little disgustedly, and got up, grabbing his soap and towel, deciding he would try again tomorrow.


When Tony came into the kitchen, towel draped over his shoulders, he saw Gibbs and McGee had donned tee shirts over their trunks and were busy making breakfast for them all.

Abby was sitting with coffee at the formica type dining table, and smiled weakly at Tony.

He frowned with concern. He knew her looks. "What's up Abbs?" he asked while passing a hand on her shoulder on his way to pour himself coffee.

"She had one of her 'foreboding' dreams," McGee said, plainly, knowing to sound like he didn't take them seriously would be a big mistake.

"Oh yeah?" Tony asked, as he sat next to her. "What was it about?" He eyed her, keeping a neutral tone as well.

She pulled a face. "I know you guys don't listen to me on these things. But I had this really strange dream…and…it just gave me the creeps. Or maybe the icks. Maybe the creeps and icks. I mean, I dunno' if it's this place or maybe my head unwinding from all the stress we've been under. Usually, I just go do a little shopping. Some new black boots. Maybe some glitter eyeliner…Or I just take Bert and we go have ice cream together. When things get tough I like to hit the rootbeer floats. Using Caf-Pow, of course. They get annoyed when I bring it to the ice cream place."

"You…" Tony said, not sure if he should be amused or frightened, "take Bert with you to the ice cream parlor?"

Abby stared at him as if to say "How could you ask such a thing?'

"Okay, So…" Tony urged her on.

"Anyway I dreamt that we were in a restaurant," she said, while watching Gibbs and McGee moving about the kitchen.

"We who?"

"Oh," she looked at Tony again,"me, and you. And it was this super fancy place. And I suddenly realized after we placed the order that we were, like, in a houseboat restaurant in the middle of the lake, here. And they brought out these huuuge silver trays for us, you know, how they might do in a commercial to show just how fancy the food is. And then they put our plates down in front of us. And you know what?"

"What?" Tony asked, curious about the next part of the dream but seriously hungry, now that he smelled the sausages cooking in the kitchen.

"They lifted the domes off our plates, and there were these bowls, filled with dirt and earthworms."

Tony felt instantly sickened, and oddly disturbed that he and Abby had some kind of similarity in their dreams.

She continued. "And you know, I have nothing against earthworms or dirt, or lakes, or having dinner with you Tony, because, I mean, you are very charming. When you want to be. But anyway, the dream just gave me this weird feeling. I can't explain it." She finally stopped, and looked at Tony. "You know what I mean?"

Gibbs and McGee threw plates on the table, and forks. Each plate had eggs, two sausages, and toast.

Tony looked at his, knowing he was probably a little green looking.

"Look at this," said a very pleased Ziva from behind him. She still had her pajamas on, and her hair looked like a nest of some kind. "Breakfast ! The most important meal of the day."

"Yeah," Tony said slowly, as he got up, "why don't you have mine. I'm not so hungry right now." And with that he went to the bedroom.

"What is with him?" Ziva asked curiously, immediately sitting and picking up a piece of toast.

Gibbs and McGee also sat down now with their plates to eat, as the glanced a moment at the direction Tony had gone.

"No idea," said Abby, scooping up a mouthful of scrambled eggs. "But I had the weirdest dream."


Chapter 4: Chapter 4

After Ziva and Abby got cleaned up, they all took a ride to Coulter's Falls State Park.

The park was a maze of trails, wrapped around deep gullies with numerous waterfalls and footbridges that overlooked a stream at the bottom. Several flights of wood plank staircases wound up and down through the falls and connected the numerous bridges and paths. The pines here were very old, and towered above the cliffs and waterfalls, allowing for a mix of shade and sun sparkling of the water.

It was yet another truly breathtaking location.

As they walked into the cedar-scented woods, Tony was still quiet. Gibbs was a little worried. Whatever he had dreamt, Abby had somehow stirred it up at breakfast.

He knew they were all affected by the French girl's death. Her mother had allowed her to die, just by neglecting her. The child died of starvation, cowering in a closet, afraid of her mother's tantrums.

It had made Gibbs himself sick with despair and anger, that anyone could do that to a child.

He knew Tony hadn't been sleeping well, but this first morning of their retreat had confirmed it. Hopefully, he would unwind and get his center back.

Tony was walking ahead of McGee, with Abby and Ziva after, and Gibbs on everyone's six.

Tony had his shades on again, and McGee was sporting a bucket hat. Ziva was...Ziva. Cargo pants and tank top while they all had shorts on. Gibbs guessed she probably had one or two more knives hidden away in those many pockets…

And Abby made them all laugh when she took out her very unique hiking boots- which had skulls and 3D flames coming off the backs. On top of it she had sort of a Mary Poppins effect, deciding to use her black lace umbrella, even to hike in her black shorts and red skull tee shirt.

Gibbs smiled. They were quite a one of a kind group.

"My Dad made us camp up in Maine a lot in the summer," McGee said casually. "And it was mandatory that we roughed it as much as possible. I hated it. And we fought sometimes. But, all in all, it was usually a good experience. I was happy to get home though, to my books and my video games."

"My father dropped us in the wilderness, to force us to find our way back," said Ziva, with an equal air of nonchalance. "It was never about spending time together in the woods. It was about survival and being strong."

"That's awful!" Abby said, disturbed. "I can't believe your Dad didn't want to fish on a lake, or toast marshmallows with you, or tell stories…" Abby took a breath and said sincerely, "That's so sad."

"Well," Ziva smiled looking back at her as they walked," it was not all bad Abby. Once we returned to the designated location, we got to clean up and go for ice cream, after a family dinner. My father always praised us if we did well. He told us he was proud of us. So in the end, it was worth it."

"We had a camper," Abby said, "and we took all summer off when we were out of school, and drove all over the country to stop at state parks and see super cool suff. My parents were awesome," she finished softly, and got a little lost in her own thoughts.

"What about you, Gibbs?" Ziva asked. "I am sure your father took you camping?"

"Yep. And fishing, and shooting, and hunting. Learned most of it by the time I was ten." Gibbs smiled to himself, at the memories of how his father had taught him how to not only survive the wilderness, but to appreciate it, and to live in it. He felt a touch of old pain, remembering the first time he killed a deer, and had missed its heart. He had to get up close to it, and shoot it in the head. He had felt horrible for its suffering. He was fifteen. And it taught him compassion and thoughtfulness for animals. And gratitude… because every bite of food in one's mouth, is given by a living thing that dies so you can eat.

As he got older, he was still making connections to the things Jackson had taught him back then.

"What about you Tony?" McGee asked, pushing at a branch with his hand as they hopped over a fallen log on the path.

There was a pause.

"My Dad and I went fishing once," he said, not stopping or looking back, and then fell silent again.

No one pushed for more. They knew better.

Gibbs made a mental note, making another connection, but this time it wasn't to his experience, but Tony's. And he would gingerly poke the bear later.


They went into the small downtown area of Sandown, which consisted of three restaurants, several tourist related gift shops, one tattoo parlor, one hotel, one gas station, and a post office that shared space with the local hardware store.

Lunch was good, but a far cry from the food they were used to getting in DC.

"I wanna' go look in the shops!" Abby said with excitement, finishing a very greasy fry.

"I don't think they have any idea what "Goth" means here, Abby," McGee said, chuckling.

"McGee," she said pointedly, "Don't be so small minded. I have a sewing machine at home, remember? I could find something with a cherry print and turn it into fa-bu-lous after we get back. You have to use imagination!"

"Well," Tony said , smiling, "I can't imagine wanting to go anywhere in this town. No coffee house. No dry cleaner. No shoe store. I mean, what's the point people!" He was joking…but not really.

"I for one would like to go see what Abby picks out. I find the way she looks at things…refreshing," Ziva said, decidedly.

Tony looked at Gibbs, almost begging. "Boss…"

"You three go. Tony and I will go back to the lake, since we have two cars. You know how to get back, McGee?"Gibbs asked, feeling Ziva's scowl.

"Yes, Boss." McGee smiled, and tried to ignore Ziva's glare.

"You are going to have to let me drive some time," she said to them.

"Some time, like, after we retire and you live in another state?" Tony asked her, and laughed. "Omph!" air puffed out of him as she elbowed him in the ribs.

"DiNozzo, whatsay you go back and check out the lake via canoe?" Gibbs asked, giving him a pleasant enough smile.

"Oh sure Boss. That sounds like a most excellent idea." Tony was excited he would get some Gibbs time for himself. Somehow though, he felt apprehensive. Being alone with Gibbs, without bourbon, and in a canoe…in a boat. But not building a boat. What would they talk about? Or would they talk at all? He had no idea what nature/canoe Gibbs was really about yet. He was going to get some real attention from his mentor and he didn't want to blow it. Then he realized it was amazing he could worry about something so stupid.


Tony kept his sunglasses on in the canoe, while Gibbs donned a cap. The afternoon sun on the water cast a strong glare, and Gibbs had to squint a little anyway as they paddled around the lake.

Tony was in front, facing out from him.

The stuck to the rocky shoreline at first, pointing out a few frogs and turtles they spotted, sunning themselves until they jumped into the water with a plunk.

There were some grasses and reeds growing where the water met the rocks, but no sand or beach anywhere.

Then they headed out to the center of the lake, where the water became much deeper and they couldn't see the fish in it.

They slowed, putting the oars up to rest a bit.

Tony peered down into the rust brown depths.

It was so serene out on the lake. So quiet, except for the ambient sounds of nature, and the breeze causing the tall pines to whisper just a bit.

Tony knew he should be loving it. Should be relaxing. But he felt oddly sad, and a little anxious out on the water.

He took a deep breath and sighed. It was…melancholy. But he was with Gibbs! He had the Bossman all to himself. It was a prime bonding opportunity. He had to try.

"Can we fish here?" he asked Gibbs.

"Sure. I saw poles in the cottage. But we might need a permit," Gibbs said, thinking. "We can check it out later."

Tony nodded.

"You havin' a good time so far?" Gibbs asked him.

"Yeah, I am," Tony said in a relaxed tone, but he couldn't help but feel Gibbs was after a discussion about something. He gingerly turned around in the canoe to face Gibbs.

"How'd you sleep last night?" the older man asked gently, and though he was still squinting, Tony could still see the intensity of the stare directed at him.

But he had his sunglasses on.

"Not bad."

Gibbs gave him a wry half-smile. "Wanna' try that agin?"

"Okay," Tony frowned. "I dreamt of her. Again." He looked at the oar in his hands, rubbing a finger over it where a brand logo was mostly worn off.

Gibbs waited silently.

"I dunno'…I guess finding her like that…I mean, I never expected to see a kid like that. And I saw a lot of shit when i worked VICE. I'm still…having trouble understanding how anyone could do that to their own child." Tony added softly, "And I can't seem to shake it yet…"

He looked at Gibbs, who looked away for a moment and then returned his gaze.

"None of us are shakin' that one so easy, Tony. Nor should we. But…we have to let it go eventually, so we can be effective investigators."

"I know that Boss," Tony said, a little frustrated and feeling like he wasn't explaining himself well enough.

"But it's different for you…I think," Gibbs said. Here we go…let's see if the bear claws me after I poke it.

Tony cocked his head a little.

"Hawaii. Your Dad," Gibbs said simply, knowing those few words indicated his knowledge of how neglected Tony had been as a kid.

Suddenly, Tony tensed up a little.

"So…"he said slowly," you're saying it's because of my childhood that I reacted so…strongly. It can't be because I was just, upset at finding the rotting corpse of a six year old in a closet."

"I'm not saying that," Gibbs said calmly. Bear claw is out…better duck! "I'm just saying that you have a little more awareness about what she may have gone through before she died."

Tony's brow furrowed, but he said nothing.

After a moment, he turned around and picked up the oar, dipping it into the water.

"We should probably get back," he said steadily, but Gibbs could see the subtle shaking of his arms, and decided to leave well enough alone for now.


Tony sat on the dock again, looking out onto the lake.

They hadn't talked any more on the way back, and Gibbs silently walked up to the cottage alone, not calling any attention to the fact Tony had decided to sit alone on the floating planks.

He felt…depressed. Or maybe it was…morose.

What Gibbs had said was true. And it shouldn't have bothered him so much but it did. He felt a little irrational. A little like jumping out of his skin.

Bringing up his childhood and connecting it with poor Amanda French, was like opening up an old wound and rubbing salt in it.

He knew Gibbs was trying to help him. But it didn't make him feel any better.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a twig snapping in the woods to his left.

He quickly reached for his Sig, and then remembered he was unarmed.

Out from the woods emerged a girl.

She looked to be about 16 or so, wearing hightops and a denim shortall, and had her hair back in a ponytail.

She had coppery-brown locks, and pretty blue eyes, and a plucky little nose that had a slight upturn to it.

"Hey!" She said, looking at him, as she stopped at the edge of the dock, playing with the wood with her foot. "You moved in here?"

"Nah. Just a vacation," he smiled up at her, admiring the fact she seemed completely unafraid to approach a stranger and ask them their business. "And you are…?"

"Lisa. I live with my dad across the lake."

"Oh yes, the only other living people here," he said dryly.

She snorted and rolled her eyes, "Let me guess, you're from some big ol' city. And we're like po-dunk boonies to you."

"Well…no coffee shop…no shoe store…and I would say if the shoe fits, but in consideration-"

"Okay okay! " She laughed, and it was a delightful, free sound.

"I'm Tony," he said, and put his hand out to her.

She grabbed it and shook it hard, making him laugh too.

"Wow. That's a killer grip!"

She jumped down and sat next to him, crossing her legs Indian-style. "Yeah. I work in the greenhouse a lot, helping my Dad. It's like, totally rad for a greenhouse. Pretty modern and huge. Takes a lot of time to feed and water everything…"

"Oh yeah? That leave you time to do normal teenage stuff?" Tony asked her, seeing how she looked a little sad at the tail end of the description.

"Well," she looked out over the lake,"my Dad's pretty strict. I don't get out too much. Mostly I just do my school work and help out. But our house is a B & B too." She smiled then and looked back to Tony. "So sometimes there are new people there to meet. Sometimes they're friendly and I get to talk to them."

Something about that comment bothered the Hell out of him. But he didn't know anything about her or her father, so he decided to avoid making snap judgements.

"I'm gonna go to college though," she breathed out softly, "and then I'll get away."

Now that really bothered him.

Get a grip, Tony. Teenagers are dramatic. But, he had been a teenager, and neglected. And probably sounded a little like Lisa.

He knew this was not an interrogation though. Just a friendly conversation.

"You lived here your whole life?" Tony asked. "Not that it's so long to begin with," he chuckled.

"Yessir!" She smiled. "I was born in that house. My mom had a midwife."

"And what does your mom do? Does she work in the greenhouse too or the B & B?"

Her smile immediately fell.

Tony had no idea what exactly happened wit the girl's mother, but he knew from the look on her face it wasn't good.

"She's not around…"she murmured and then seemed to regroup. "Hey, how long are you gonna' be here again?"

"A week."

"Maybe you wanna' take the canoe out one day with me? Or maybe play a game of horseshoes? We have horseshoes at our house…" She looked so hopeful, and so eager.

Tony could feel the loneliness behind the offer.

"Sure," he smiled, "as long as your Dad approves. And I have some friends you could meet too." He took in her nervous response, "If you want to meet them, of course. You don't have to, but they're all going to be here anyway so you may run into them. I think you'd like them though."

A hint of a scowl passed over her cute features, but she recovered quickly.

"My Dad won't care as long as I get my chores done. Schools out and I have no homework. I'll come by tomorrow maybe. I guess I wouldn't mind meeting your friends…"

She hopped up and barely hesitated before running off. "Bye Tony!" she called over her shoulder, ponytail bouncing behind her.

He felt like he'd just been run over a little by her presence, and chuckled to himself a bit.

Then he looked back at the water, worrying a bit.

It wasn't quite safe, he thought, the young girl running around talking to strangers. She was still a minor. And what if he hadn't been a good person?

He sighed to himself. Maybe he was just paranoid or cynical because he was a Federal Agent, trained to be that way.

Or maybe it was because of his own childhood, being ignored by his father…

Or maybe because of Amanda French.

He wondered if her home life was better than he suspected.

He barely knew the girl, but had a bad feeling that there was something going on with her that drove her to seek out strangers, just to have someone to talk to.

He heard Gibbs calling him from the cottage, that steaks were on.

He shivered a little, feeling the chill of evening starting to crawl over the lake.

Was it dinner time already?


Chapter 5: Chapter 5

A loud snap came from the cedar logs burning in the fire pit.

It was dark now, and the many stars and full moon shone in the night sky.

The air was chilly enough for them to wear sweatshirts, and huddle on the cut log stools around the fire.

"I do not understand this. Is it not carcinogenic? The are made of just chemicals yes?" Ziva asked as she held her stick and marshmallow near the flames. It caught fire, and she stared at it curiously.

"Blow it out just when the outside goes brown," Abby said, already picking hers off the stick. "Mmmmmmm," she said, almost purring, while McGee looked at her distractedly.

"Ah, Tim-" Tony warned.

"Crap!" McGee said, realizing he'd let his marshmallow burn too far and now it was like charcoal.

"C'mon," Tony coaxed Ziva, as Gibbs took a pull off his beer in the dancing orange light. "Just try it."

Ziva pulled a gooey piece off her stick, looking up at Tony warily. "If I get cancer from this and die, I will haunt you forever." She smiled sweetly and then popped it in her mouth. She chewed, looking disturbed, and then a pleasant look came across her face. "I like it!"

"See!" Abby said. "Tomorrow night we should make S'mores. OH that could be soooo gooood…" her orgasmic tone when it came to food made McGee totally drop his stick in the fire this time, while Tony and Gibbs just smiled at each other quietly, not wanting to embarrass him further.

"I have heard of those," Ziva said,chewing. "I would like to try one of those too."

"Mmmmmm, marshmallows, and chocolate-" Abby began.

"Okay!" McGee interrupted. "Who can come up with words containing the word 'moon' in them?" He took in the silence around him as they all stared at him. "I-I mean, the moon is almost full. It's pretty awesome, don't'cha think?"

"OOOHHH!" Abby cried, jumping up from her stump. "I know ! Moon-pie!"

"Of course," McGee grumbled, "more food."

"Moonbeam," Ziva smiled.

"Moonraker," Tony said, as they turned to stare at him. "What? It was an awesome movie, but I happen to know the term also comes from Wiltshire, England. Residents were once caught raking a pond in the middle of the night. When asked what they were doing, they explained that they were trying to 'rake out' the Moon. So the phrase has also come to mean…idiot." He grinned his biggest grin at them, feeling quite pleased with himself.

"Moonlighting," McGee added.

"Moonrat," Gibbs said, and they were both surprised he had participated as well as not knowing what a 'Moonrat' was. "It's another name for a hedgehog." He laughed at them, and they all took in and relished the sound, since it was also something they didn't hear too often.

Gibbs took another swig of beer, and said, "There's a Cherokee legend, about the moon I know. Sometimes when my Dad and I were camping, he'd tell me lots of Indian folk tales…" He got lost for a moment, with a nostalgic grin on his face. "There was once a young Maiden, the Sun, who lived in the east. Moon, her brother lived in the west.

She had a friend who came to court her only when there was no moon and when it was too dark for her to see his face. He always left before the light of day. She was angry, because she couldn't see his face.

She asked his identity many times, but he refused to tell her.

One night he came to visit, in the dark, like he usually did. She had a plan to find out his identity. As they sat together, she reached down to the ashes in the dead campfire place." Gibbs reached down, gathering some dirt in his fingers. " She scooped some of the ashes up in her hands and brought them to his face, in a show of concern for him. "You must be cold", she said as she gently stroked his face with those ash covered hands.

He left before daylight as he always did. But as soon as daylight arrived, she was able to identify him by the ash spots on his face. It was her brother, the moon who came to court her.

He was so ashamed that he stayed as far away from her as he could from that time on. When he does come near, he makes himself as small as possible, so he can barely be seen."

"Eeeeewwwwww," Tony said, "they were brother and sister..."

"Tony," Abby said in reprimand, "A lot of legends are about the forces of male and female, creation of the universe, and light and dark. Not really about them as real individuals."

"It is said," Ziva spoke, narrowing her eyes in memory, "that in the moonlight of Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot, if an individual casts no shadow upon the earth, they are destined to die during the coming year."

"Cheerful," Abby said sarcastically.

To the right of Abby, McGee spoke softly,

"The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;

She shines on thieves on the garden wall,

On streets and fields and harbour quays,

And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,

The howling dog by the door of the house,

The bat that lies in bed at noon,

All love to be out by the light of the moon.

But all of the things that belong to the day,

Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;

And flowers and children close their eyes

Till up in the morning the sun shall arise."

They all were smiling as he finished, and suddenly he looked very self-conscious and uncomfortable.

"Uh…that was by Robert Louis Stevenson."

"That was beautiful," Abby breathed out, staring at McGee now, with glittering eyes.

"Uh..y-yeah?" he asked, trying to read more of her expression.

"When I was a kid," Tony began, shifting the attention away from the enrapt Abby, "my grandmother used to look at the moon, and say "Che fai tu, luna, in ciel? Dimmi, che fai silenziosa luna?"

Even Gibbs raised a brow at the beautiful Italian words.

Tony explained, "It meant, What are you doing, moon, up in the sky? Tell me what are you doing, silent moon?" He chuckled a little, remembering his Grandmother. "Then she'd tell me, "Look, Tonio, the moon is smiling at you. You remember to smile back at her, for good luck! Sorridi anche se sei triste, perché non c'é niente di più triste di non saper sorridere - Smile even if you are sad, because there is nothing sadder than someone who doesn't know how to smile."

"That's…just awesome, Tony," Abby sighed, "your Grandma was so cool."

"Yeah," he agreed she was.

They were all silent again.

To break the intensity, he added, "Then there's "Bang-zoom Alice, straight to the moon!"

"Ah!" Ziva cried, "I know that one! Jackie Gleason!"

"Wow," Tony laughed, "I can't believe you got it!"

"Oh, don't let's ask for the moon. We've already got the stars," Gibbs said softly.

Tony laughed again, "Bette Davis."

Gibbs smiled and nodded.

"Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody," Abby said, sitting down on her log, and leaning back with arms folded.

"Mark Twain," Gibbs said quietly.

"Oh my Gooohhhd, you got it so easily," Abby moaned, disappointed it hadn't taken longer.

Next to her, McGee chimed in again, "The moon's an arrant thief, And her pale fire she snatches from the sun."

They all tried to think, but ended up shrugging.

"No one?" McGee asked. "William Shakespeare."

Feeling Abby's eyes on him again, he added, "The word lunatic comes from the Latin luna, because it was believed that people were more likely to exhibit aberrant behavior during a full moon. Although studies have been done showing that emergency room visits and accidents are increased during the full moon period, there has yet to be conclusive evidence for causation."

She was leaning towards him, and Gibbs and Tony picked up their beer bottles, knowing it was time to leave the two alone. It took Ziva a moment to realize what was happening, but she then quickly smiled and hopped up to go as well.

Abby was still looking at McGee when she said, "The Full Moon exerts an influence on… rising ocean tides… and also an increase in erratic human behavior, and psychiatric admissions drop at New Moons, that supports a hypothesis that the gravitational pull of the Full Moon is counteracted by the...the equal but opposite effect of the New Moon having an adverse effect on the chemical imbalance in the brain, perhaps due to a reduction in the gravitational pressure exerted on the fluids within the body."

Gibbs snorted as Tony and Ziva walked back to the cottage with him, hearing Abby go on just a bit more in the distance, "Paranormal activity is tied to fluctuations in the geomagnetic field of the planet as well, and lunar cycles are thought to...affect supernatural activity, or perhaps more…the awareness of it…"

After Abby stopped talking, only ZIva looked back to see the two making out like teenagers.

"No rule number twelve up here, right Boss?" Tony asked, almost imploringly, hoping Gibbs wasn't pissed at the Probie and Abby. "I mean after all, Oberon and Titania eventually got it all worked out…I was sort of rooting for McGee and Abby…"

Gibbs grunted as a reply, but smiled secretly in the dark.

After a moment, Tony walked backwards, and began to serenade them with "That's Amore" before Gibbs cuffed him on the back of his head.


Chapter 6: Chapter 6

Once back inside, Gibbs went to get another beer and headed out to the deck to sit and relax.

"How about a game, Ziva?" Tony asked.

"What kind of game, Tony? Because if it involves drinking or removing clothing-"

"Tut-tut, my little ninja, I speak only of a traditional American game, one that is just about…words," he smiled while picking up the Scrabble box he had brought up to the dining room earlier.

"Scrabble," she said, eyeing him suspiciously.

"Yes."

"It is a word game."

"Yes. But only English words. No proper names. No Acronyms."

"Acronyms?" she asked, sitting down at the table while he opened the box.

"Yes. Like NCIS. That's an acronym."

"Alright," she said assertively, "Yes. I am ready."

He chuckled to himself, thinking, This'll be like candy from a baby…

He set up the board, and explained the rules to her. Then they picked their tiles, as she gave him occasional glances, smiling because she knew he was thinking he would win easily.

"Don't throw your chickens down the hatch," she said.

He snorted, "I think you mean, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."

"Yes," she smiled, "that is what I meant."

They started the game, and before long, she got the hang of it.

She laid down some of the tiles, as he took a swig of beer. "K-I-L-L. It is on a double word square. Sixteen points, yes?" She looked at him innocently.

"Kill? You're kidding me right?"

"Well I could not make the other word I wanted to because it is not allowed."

"What word?" His green eyes scanned her face curiously.

"Glock."

He laughed out loud this time.

He looked at the board, and then put down the letters to form L-E-M-U-R. "Double points…fourteen."

"What…is a lemur?" Ziva asked him.

"Are you challenging me?" he asked playfully, with raised brows. She scowled at him, and he said, "Okay- it's an animal. A type of animal."

She sighed, "Alright."

Then she put down the letters E-X-T-R-E-M-E. "Double word score, with one double letter score…thirty-four points."

He grunted a little. She was winning.

His next letters went down, F-O-R-C-E. "One triple letter score, twelve points."

She breathed out softly, "Extreme force."

He looked at her, and tilted his head a little. "Yyyyeah…speaking of that…what happened with Melisto?"

That was the name of the suspect they were chasing, who Ziva almost killed with several strikes when she caught up to him first. If Tony hadn't stopped her…

"I…"she looked at the scrabble board, and then her dark eyes came up, boring into him. "do not know."

"Yes you do. You just don't wanna' say."

He stared at her.

"Okay fine," she gave in. "I guess I have been a little…stressed. And…"

"And what?"

"He reminded me of Saleem."

Tony's eyes widened a little, and he wondered if Gibbs was catching any of the conversation through the screen doors onto the deck.

"I see. I guess…I guess what happened in Africa…it stayed with you," he said gently.

She swallowed, and nodded her head, still looking at him.

He smiled a little ruefully, "Hard to just 'get over' some things…but, you can talk to me, you know, any time. If you need."

"I am talking to you now," she said evenly. She sighed again. "I am a trained professional, Tony. I should have control over myself, no matter what happens."

"You're a human being," he replied, with warmth in his tone. "I don't care what training any of us have had, sometimes, you need time to live with the rough stuff. Even you, my deadly ninja. You're not a robot. Sure, you could probably…kill me with a scrabble tile…" he motioned to the board, feeling better when she laughed. "But I know you, Ziva. The team knows you. And we all love you, and know who you really are. Just because you lost a little control, for once, doesn't mean it will happen again. Just keep talking, when you need to." He looked around a moment, "You know…Rachel Cranston-"

"No. I am more comfortable talking to you, and Gibbs."

He smiled at her, "Okay, as long as you do that."

She put down more letters on the board, signaling the end of the discussion.

He read them. "Hey," he said, as Gibbs walked into the house and to the kitchen. "Gunney is not a word."

He felt the headsmack before Gibbs growled, "It sure as hell is in my book, DiNozzo, give her the points."

Ziva smiled at him like a cat that ate a canary, as he said, "I can't believe you're going to beat me at this."

She laughed, with a lighter sound than they had heard from her in a while.

I guess that's worth the humiliation, he thought, knowing she would hold this win over his head for months.


The house was quiet when Abby and McGee came in, almost like teenagers sneaking back in to their rooms.

McGee started to undress for bed, thinking Tony was asleep next to him in the bed.

"So?" Tony asked, startling him.

"So…what?"

"You and Abby…looked pretty close out there…"

McGee smiled in the light of the one lamp on their night stand. "Yeah…I guess we did."

"So…does this mean-"

"I dunno', Tony. " He sat down on his bed with a huff, looking confused. "I- we…last time it didn't work out, but…I'm not entirely sure I know what happened. I mean we talked, and we're friends no matter what…but…"

"You don't really want to be just friends," Tony said softly.

McGee sighed. "No. But just because we get a little carried away here…I don't know what she's thinking about it…"

"I guess you need to find out."

"Yeah," McGee said, getting lost in though. He suddenly snapped his head up, "Gibbs. Oh God. Is he pissed off ?"

"McGee, he didn't get pissed off the first time, and technically Abby is in a different department. So I don't really think he's gonna 'twelve' you any time soon. Now if you wanted to date or sleep with me, per se-"

"AGGHHHH!" McGee moaned and then made a gagging sound as Tony laughed at him.

"Ah well, I have that effect on women lately too," he joked.

After they snorted and laughed for another moment, McGee looked at him.

"Thanks, Tony."

"For what, McGee?"

"Giving a damn."

"Of course, Tim. You're my Probie. I've got your six. Now go to sleep, because for all you know, Abby may maul you in the woods tomorrow instead of a bear."


In his dream, he walked down to the dock in the moonlight.

The water on the lake was rippling a little, making the silvery beams dance and shimmer on its surface.

He knew she was there, but he was so tired. He willed his limbs to move forward.

"Tonyyyy…" it was sad and soft, a woman's voice. She needed him…

He couldn't seem to remember what happened. Why she was there. Or why he was there. Only that she was so incredibly sad. Her pain, her loneliness, were almost palpable to him. He could feel them inside his skin. She had no one to protect her. He ached to be with her, to see her and touch her. To let her know it would be alright…

He felt so warm, like he was in a sauna, heat emanating from his body and face.

He stumbled down the last few steps to the dock, and almost fell. Nothing seemed to be solid.

His vision was growing darker, as he sank down onto the wood planks, falling to his knees, and then face down at the edge.

Tony could feel himself being swallowed by the night, almost as if under the influence of some heavy drug.

His one arm dangled over and out, slanting down so that his fingers ghosted over the surface of the water.

As his eyes began to close, he saw a pale feminine hand reaching up out of the water, gently entwining its fingers in his.


Chapter 7: Chapter 7

McGee didn't know why he was awake. But he knew it was early morning from the little bit of light filtering into the room. He could tell it was overcast from the grey color of it.

He looked around and saw the other bed empty..

Tony must have gotten up. Maybe for a run. He did that in the mornings whenever he could.

But then McGee saw the sneakers still on the floor, where Tony had kicked them off last night.

He did hear a noise from down the hall, but it was Gibbs, not Tony, who passed by the door.

Gibbs noticed McGee's eyes open. "Hey," he greeted.

"Morning Boss...what time is it?" McGee asked sleepily, rubbing his face.

"Oh six hundred. Where'd Tony get to?"

"He's not up here?" McGee sat up, a little confused now that he saw Gibbs had that longer-than-necessary calculating stare focused on the empty bed.

"No."

"Maybe he went for a swim?"

"Maybe," Gibbs turned and walked into the living room. His footsteps fading out of the hallway and into the living room.

"McGee!" he heard Gibbs grunt urgently.

He heard Gibbs quickly open the sliding doors and run down the deck steps in his bare feet.

Tim hurried out himself, and followed, looking out the windows and seeing Tony's supine form down on the dock, unmoving.

Tony was still in his flannel pants and tee shirt.

When did he come down here? Gibbs wondered as he took the last few steps on the path with a leap.

"Tony!" he called arriving at the dock. But there was no movement from his friend.

He was lying face down, facing the lake, with one arm lazily draped over the edges of the planks. His hand was almost touching the water. The other arm was underneath him, and his head was resting on it.

"Tony," Gibbs said again, as he crouched down next to his friend. Could he have been drinking? He gut was coiled up inside, and if DiNozzo had been that careless to drink and come down for a swim...he was going to flay him alive.

As McGee also arrived now behind Gibbs, he saw the older man place a hand on the back of Tony's neck. Since his face was turned towards the lake, McGee couldn't even see if Tony was awake or not.

"He's burning up," Gibbs muttered, removing his hand and then nodding to McGee to carefully turn the man over.

Tony groaned a little, as he frowned and he started to slowly blink awake. As Gibbs compulsively place a hand on his forehead, the opening green eyes looked to be under very shiny glass.

"Boss," he breathed, "are you in my dream too?"

Gibbs sighed heavily, relieved Tony was responsive. And there was definitely no alcohol involved. He could feel the heat coming off the younger man as if in pulsing waves.

"No, DiNozzo. Not a dream. Why'd you come down here? You're obviously not feeling well."

Tony looked at Gibbs for a moment, concentrating. "She...was calling me...I had to help...help her...I think. I dunno..." his eyes started to drift closed.

The older man frowned at the words, which made little sense. "McGee," Gibbs ordered, and they both pulled him up to sitting. He woke a little more again, and slowly stood up with their help when they asked him to.

"What is wrong?" Ziva asked tensely from up on the path, with Abby trailing behind her.

Tony picked up his head, as they almost dragged him up off the dock to walk back towards the cottage. "Nothing to worry about," he said weakly. "Must have been...sleepwalking...I used to do it here and there when I was a kid."

"He's sick," Gibbs stated plainly and frowned as it started to drizzle on them. "C'mon DiNozzo, pick up your feet. We need to get you back inside."

"Anyone ever tell you, you're bossy, Boss?" Tony snorted softly, almost seemingly a little drunk with the fever.

They all smiled a little, though it didn't mask the worry in their eyes.

"Now I know you're really sick, Tony," McGee said, trying to hold up his side of the staggering agent, "cos' you're begging Gibbs for a headslap."

Just as they got to the lower sliding doors of the cottage, with Ziva and Abby watching them from just a few feet within, Tony became much heavier.

"Hey!" Gibbs called worriedly. "DiNozzo!" He tapped the younger man's face while McGee tried his best to help keep Tony up. Tony was struggling to open his eyes, and for just a moment, Gibbs thought he was really going to pass out cold.

But Tony took a deep shuddering breath and muttered, "Onnit Boss..." and seemed to come around again, back on his feet. He still looked dazed, but then pushed forward with them into the cottage.

Luckily, the stairs inside that went between the floors were wide, enabling them to help him slowly to the upstairs bedroom.

"Ziva, look in the bathrooms for a thermometer," Gibbs ordered, grunting a little getting Tony around the corner to his room.

Abby was pacing in the hall a little frantically. "Gibbs, should we call an ambulance or something? What's wrong with him? Is Tony okay?"

Ziva was rummaging around in the bathroom at the end of the hall. "I found it," she said triumphantly.

As they laid Tony onto the bed, Gibbs said, "I dunno yet. Let's give him a few minutes here and see what the temperature is. Meantime, get a washcloth, bowl of cold water, and also a glass of water, Abby."

McGee's back was aching from taking Tony's weight all the way up from the dock with Gibbs, but he was only worried about his friend so ignored it.

"Tony?" called McGee softly, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing.

Tony flinched a little and opened his eyes to look at McGee, "Hey Probie. What's...oh yeah," he smiled, a little embarrassed. "I was on the dock," suddenly he frowned and looked around as if trying to remember something. "I'm...it was a dream right?" He rubbed his tired eyes. "Wow, that's trippy..."

"Hush up," Gibbs told him, sticking the thermometer in his mouth. He was worried, but Tony seemed a bit more lucid, so that at least was comforting.

Ziva was sitting on the other bed with McGee now next to her.

Abby came in with the wash cloth and bowl of water. "Here, Gibbs," she said, placing them on the nightstand that sat between the two beds.

They were all silent, as Gibbs eventually took out the thermometer, squinting to read it without his glasses. After just a few seconds of frustration, he handed it to Abby. "Read it."

She looked at it.

"101.5," and then she sighed. "Oh Tonyyy," she looked at him sadly. "You are sick. You can't be sick. THis is vacation!"

Tony smiled weakly at her and shrugged.

"Anything hurting you, Tony?" Gibbs asked gently, as he sat at the edge of the bed, looking into the tired green eyes.

He pulled a face as he concentrated on the rest of his body. "No, just a headache. And I feel hot. And...maybe like I wanna puke a little...but no pain. Anywhere."

Gibbs continued to stare at him.

"Seriously, Boss. No other pain. I swear," TOny said, slurring the last few words as his eyelids slid down again.

Gibbs tilted his head and studied Tony for a moment.

"Okay," he announced, looking towards the others. "Since we're all up now, someone can make coffee and breakfast, but take your time. It's not gonna clear up til' tomorrow."

They all hesitated.

"But, Gibbs-" Abby began.

"He's just got a bug Abbs, and likely walked in his sleep," he looked back down at Tony, whose eyes were closed again, "which is…different…and it was cool last night...which didn't help him any. If he gets any worse we'll take him to a doc or hospital up here."

She swallowed and nodded, not looking convinced. But she said, "Okay. But I'm gonna' make breakfast. Abby-cakes will make him better."

He smiled at her, wondering if he should ask what was in an "Abby-cake".

They all left the room, leaving Gibbs to stare at Tony. He appeared to have fallen asleep.

He sighed, wringing out the cloth and placing it on the man's head. He chuckled to himself at how Tony would normally be embarrassed by that little offering of care from his mentor, and how he would also not usually do something like it. But a small sigh of relief passed through the younger man at the cool contact of the wet fabric.

He smiled warmly and studied Tony a while longer. But then his eyes turned serious again, as his brow creased as he ran a hand through his silvery grey hair.

Something told Gibbs there was trouble here. That something was wrong. He hoped it wasn't that Tony would get worse and need the ER. But he didn't really think so.

Tony twitched a little, and then murmured something, turning his head a bit to the side.

"Relaxing vacation, huh, Tony?" he said softly, before leaving the room and closing the door behind him.


It was quiet outside except for the sounds of falling rain. The birds had taken a break from their normally incessant chirping.

Abby tried to get Tony to eat, which didn't work out so well, but his fever had come down a little so they felt less worried.

Ziva beat McGee and Abby at Scrabble, and Gibbs caught bits of their conversation as he sat on a chair reading a book in the living room.

"You're really good at this game!" Abby laughed.

"Well, I played with my grandmother all the time when I was a child."

Gibbs snorted from behind his book.

McGee and Abby looked at Gibbs for a moment, and then back to ZIva for an explanation.

"Oh, yes, well…Tony thought he would…kick my ass – I believe that is the correct phrase for this- at Scrabble. He did not realize that the game is so widely known. I won with a very high score when I played him last night. He was...not so happy."

McGee laughed. "That's awesome!"

Then they put Scrabble away in favor of poker.

As they concentrated on their cards, Abby asked, "So, did anyone know Tony was a sleep-walker?"

Ziva shook her head no, and McGee replied, "No idea. Knowing Tony, it's just one of those things he hides because he knows we'll tease him with it to exact revenge for some of his antics."

"You wouldn't do that really, would you Tim?" Abby asked, sounding concerned. And then smiled, "Because I think I'd be the more likely to do it. Or Gibbs."

They all smiled, even Gibbs behind his book.

After a moment, Abby said more thoughtfully, "You think…it's because of that girl, the French case? I mean…that could be why he's sleepwalking? People tend to do it more when they're stressed…and finding that girl…"her voice became sad and soft, "for any of us would have been so horrible…but how her mother let her die…"

"Maybe that's what he was dreaming about. Maybe he was going to help her," McGee said, also saddened by the case and his SFA's distress over it.

Gibbs felt his gut twist, thinking back on the conversation he had with Tony in the canoe. He hoped it hadn't triggered this episode Tony was having.

"Whatever it is," Ziva said to them both gently, "Tony is always there for us. So will be there for him, if he wants to chew the fats."

"Fat," McGee said.

"What?" Ziva asked.

"I-it's fat, not fats. Chew the fat."


Tony slept. A few waves of heat seemed to disturb his peace from time to time. Along with Abby waking him up to try and eat several times.

He was somewhat aware that Gibbs and the others were coming in to check on him here and there.

By dinner time, he managed to get some soup down and toast, and felt much better.

He still opted to stay in bed while they all put a movie on in the living room. He was just still feeling sleepy, after the last big sweat wherein his fever had broken.

Sometime during the night, he heard thunder rumble, echoing around the lake and making the house vibrate a little.

Lightning flashed outside, revealing the curled up Probie, snoring soundly on the bed across from him.

Noticing suddenly he was thirsty, he got up to get a drink.

The lightning continued, flashing into the house, revealing the hall and living room, as he made his way to the kitchen.

He got a glass, and filled it from the tap.

"Tony," a low, almost whisper of a woman's voice sounded in his ear, making him turn suddenly. His heart launched into a frantic rhythm that burst through his body, and pounded in his eardrums.

She was standing, just a silhouette in the entrance to the kitchen, a slim, dark figure with long hair.

Until the lightning flashed.

And he saw her pale, bloated flesh, and deep-set grey eyes, filled with something like longing, and desperation.

She was dripping wet, with water pooling on the kitchen floor at her bare feet.

What was left of her clothing was rags, revealing black-pocked flesh that was missing pieces, as if small animals had been pecking a it.

"Tony," he heard again, but her lips never moved.

He heard a noise, and at the last flash of lightning she was gone.

Someone turned on the kitchen light, and had a hand on his arm, shaking him a little.

"Gibbs," he said, finally seeing the man in front of him, not sure if he was even still breathing. The blue eyes were boring into him.

"You okay, DiNozzo?"

Tony looked down and saw the glass, now shattered on the floor, and shuddered noticing the water around it.

"I…I dunno." He frowned, trying to figure out what had just happened. Was he losing his mind?

"I, was thirsty-"

Before he could finish, Abby appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. "What's going on?" she asked sleepily, with Ziva poking her head behind her like a ferret.

Tony seemed to pull it together. "I just dropped the glass. Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you. Go back to bed. Gibbs is already helping me with it," he smiled, looking down at Gibbs who was collecting the pieces of glass up in a paper towel.

Ziva nodded and disappeared out of sight while Abby looked at him for another minute. "You sure? You sure you're okay Tony?" She walked carefully around the glass to stand next to him and put her hand on his head. She looked up into his face. "No fever."

He smiled again, weakly trying to give something more like a grin. "I'm okay. I'm going back to bed, so don't worry. Go."

She nodded, "Okay, but you can wake me up any time for a dead of night icecream fest. We have jars of fudge, you know."

He chuckled, "Okay. I'll keep it in mind."

She left the room, as Gibbs tossed the glass into the garbage and grabbed more towels to get the water up. Tony went to help him and Gibbs shoved him away. "I got this."

"Kay Boss."

When Gibbs threw the last of the paper towels away, he turned to Tony, and took a long, appraising look at him.

Tony was pale, and when Gibbs found him standing before the broken glass just before, staring into space, he was shaking. He looked like he was almost in some kind of trance.

"Were you sleepwalking again?" Gibbs asked quietly.

Tony looked around a moment, thinking about it. "No," he said finally, "I was thirsty, and I got up to come in here for some water."

"And then?"

"I dunno…" Tony said, not wanting to tell Gibbs what he thought he saw, because it was…crazy. "I guess the lightning or thunder startled me and I dropped it." He looked at Gibbs, but away again, as the older man was just staring at him.

Gibbs knew Tony wasn't telling him something. But what it was he didn't know. And it was late.

Gibbs sighed. He turned and got a glass, filling it with water and handing it to Tony.

" bed." It was a definite order.

"Okay, Boss," Tony said, sheepishly, taking the glass from him. "I'll be good tomorrow. I'm feeling much better." He smiled, but Gibbs scowled at him.

"Okay, okay," he complained, "I'm going." He shuffled out while Gibbs watched him.

Gibbs shook his head. "Yep. Totally relaxing vacation." He snorted to himself and went back to bed.


Chapter 8: Chapter 8

McGee was woken up the next morning by Tony noisily gearing up for a run.

"Tony?" he yawned.

"Yes, McSleepy?" he asked cheerfully.

"What're you doing?"

"You're an investigator, Tim. What does it look like I'm doing?" he asked without much bite.

McGee pushed himself up on his elbows. "You sure you're feeling up to running?"

Tony rolled his eyes. "Yes, Grandma. I'm fine. I need to get some air and some blood moving…" Tony finished tying his sneaker and looked up at McGee. He softened when he saw the genuine concerncoming from the Probie's eyes. "Don't worry. I really feel fine. I promise. I'll take my cell, so if I don't feel well along the way I'll call you."

McGee was placated by that. "Okay, Tony. But- Gibbs is gonna kill you."

Tony chuckled. "He'll have to catch me first," and with a quick smile, he sprang from the room.


It was cool but comfortable outside, and the sky was still milky since the sun wasn't quite up yet.

He inhaled the deep, fresh, cedary scent of the woods as he started to lightly jog up the driveway to the road.

Birds were singing.

So peaceful here, he thought.

And he genuinely did feel good. Much better.

As he stopped to stretch a moment at the top of the drive, he pondered the strange dream he had, and the incident in the kitchen.

"Either it was being sick, or you're cracking the Hell up, DiNozzo," he murmured to himself, as he took to the pavement and jogged at a quicker pace.

Was it the stress of the French case? He pushed away the real and nightmare images of the little girl in the closet, and instead, thought about the conversation Gibbs had attempted with him in the canoe.

He knew Gibbs was just concerned, and trying to help him. He shouldn't have cut him off the way he did. He grimaced at his own stubborn behavior.

Maybe Gibbs was right. Maybe…he felt even more pain for the little girl simply because he knew what it was like to be ignored. Left behind. Forgotten.

It was terrible for him, when Senior left him in the hotel room in Maui. And there were other times. Times when his father either didn't pay attention, or was too drunk to care. Luckily, it wasn't a extreme as what the little girl went through. But he knew what it was like to miss meals when the housekeepers were off. He became a PBJ aficionado.

It was a very lonely place, that life, where there was no one around who really cared about him.

No kid should feel like that.

He continued to think about why the case had gotten to him so badly. He also thought about how the case had affected the team, and how lucky they were that they could count on each other.

Maybe this vacation wasn't so stupid after all.

Then he thought of Abby & McGee kissing by the fire, under the almost full moon. And it made he feel warmer inside.

The road was curving around the lake, and the sky was beginning to brighten with golden light.

He saw a driveway up ahead, with a big red number one nailed to a tree at the mouth of it.

He slowed down to a walk, looking through the trees and then at the large, lodge-like house that sat back from the road.

It was the epitome of rustic.

The outside was all log and stone, and the wrap around porch was immense. A good number of small tables and chairs could be seen sitting upon it. Large ferns and other plants graced the walks leading to and from the front and sides of the house, leading towards the back.

Set a little further behind the immense lodge, to the left, was what looked to be a very large greenhouse.

A large sign in the drive said, "The Daydream Inn, Bed & Breakfast," and below that "Christian's Greenhouse". It was a carved wood sign, with a chalkboard area below. Hand written on that was "Organic Lettuces and Exotic Flowers grown here."

Tony raised a brow in curiosity.

Just then, he noticed Lisa, the young girl he'd met the other day, walking from the the greenhouse path towards him.

He smiled at her warmly, "Hey there!"

"Hi Tony!" she beamed at him and skipped a few steps in excitement as she neared him. "Did you come to visit me?"

He was a little out of breath from the jog, and sweating. Sort of obvious I was out on a run, he thought, but then, she's just a kid. He just said, "Yeah. I thought I'd just come by and see what this place was like."

"Want some lemonade?" she asked sweetly. She absently pulled on her coppery ponytail, reminding him of Abby's tendency to twirl her pigtails.

"Ah…"he began, not sure if he wanted to stop for long. The jog had felt good.

"Pllleeeeease?" she whined, but still smiled. She was almost hopping up and down. "My Dad went in to town, so we could just sit on the porch and talk. Just for a little bit. Please? It' soooo boorrring here ! We don't have any guests coming until the weekend."

The blue eyes were begging.

He laughed, "Okay. But just one glass, and then I have to split." He followed behind her, noticing she was in the same outfit he met her in the other day. Did that mean she liked it? Or hadn't changed since then? Where was the girl's mother?

He felt a little pang of worry for her, though he didn't really know her. Something told him she led a less than happy existence here, but he just didn't know why.

He hopped up the large wooden steps, and took a seat at one of the tables on the porch.

"I'll be right back," she announced, turning to go into the house. Then suddenly, she spun back, looking at him gravely, and asked, "You're gonna be here right? You won't leave until after we have lemonade?" There was a quiver in her voice that broke his heart.

"No," he said softly, "I'm staying, just like I said."

She looked serious, and almost a little lost, until his reply registered. Then she smiled. "Cool!" And she ran into the house, as the screen door banged and bounced a little behind her.

He took in the little glass top tables, and bistro chairs, and other assorted rocking chairs.

He was curious how many rooms were in the large B&B. The porch itself was about 30 feet long in total. And the place looked to have three levels.

She emerged with a little serving tray, holding some very funny, ugly 70's patterned glasses and a pitcher. They had a strange vine and blocky flower pattern, in mustard, orange, and pea green.

She put it down on the glass table, and poured the lemonade.

"Thanks," he said, taking the glass that she offered him. He took a sip. "Mmmm. Did you make this? It's very good."

She beamed at him. "Uh-huh."

He causally asked, "Who taught you how to make it?"

She looked at the table as she slowly sat down across from him. "My mom."

He took in the distress and sadness on her face, and opened his mouth to ask more, but she suddenly changed gears on him.

"Have you done any cool stuff here so far on your vacation?" she was practically bouncing again, smiling.

He recognized the deflect tactic for exactly what it was.

"We went hiking," he began, not wanting to push her too much," and canoeing. And we made a big fire, and toasted marshmallows."

"Oh, I love toasting marshmallows," she said happily. Then she frowned. "I can't remember when I did it last, but."

They sipped the lemonade for a bit, in a small stretch of silence.

He smiled and was going to ask her another question, but she cut him off again.

"So you like it here? I mean, I hate it sometimes. It gets too quiet," she said, tilting her head as she spoke to him, and picking at her shortall hem. He noticed the white tee shirt she had on under the denim was a little dirty.

"Well, I could see a teenager getting bored here. But you have big plans of going away to school right?"

She nodded rapidly, "Oh yes. And I'm like, one of the top students in my class."

He drank down more of the lemonade, and then raised his eyebrows. "Sounds like you're super smart."

She smiled. "I like to think so."

He laughed. "You sound a little like me at your age," he said in a cheerful tone, but he was already making parallels at the avoidance, subterfuge, and obvious loneliness they seemed to be connected by.

She opened her mouth to speak again, but then seemed to be distracted. She jumped up suddenly.

"Uh, I just remembered, I need to finish a few chores, and I think I hear my Dad's car on the lake. He's back sooner than I though, so sorry, man!"

He stood up, watching her grab the glasses and quickly gather the tray up while it made rattling sounds.

She looked at him, "Sorry Tony!" and with a last baleful glance, swung the porch door open and ran into the house.

"Ahh - okay then," he called after her. "I'll ahh, see you…" he stared after her for another bewildered moment, and then shrugged, and turned to go.

He could indeed hear a car somewhere down the road.

It bothered him immensely that she would panic like that at her father's return, but maybe it was because she hadn't finished her chores?

Out of curiosity, he turned down the path to the greenhouse. After all, this was a business. It was probably a usual occurrence that people might wander in to check things out.

He approached the translucent-walled buiding, which, like the house, was huge.

But, it was not quite as modern as Lisa had described to him. It was still impressive.

Walking in, he stood straight in the open center row, while for at least for 50 feet, the two sides of the structure were lined with huge beds of all manner of leafy lettuces one side, and beautiful flowers, and roses on the other.

The rows of tables were really amazing. The tubs of dirt looked to be about 4 feet deep by 8 feet long and 5 feet wide.

The subtle noise of fans could be heard, and it was definitely a bit stuffy in the greenhouse. It smelled of flowers and earth, fertilizer and a hint of decaying leaves.

He walked in several yards, and stood in front of one of the huge tubs. It was filled with rows of tea roses, in three different shades.

He absently touched on of the buds, letting his green eyes pass over it. Then Tony let his hand drift down for just a moment to the edge, fingers resting ever so slightly in the soil.

Then everything shifted.

He suddenly felt like he was getting tossed around on a ship at see. The vertigo was so extreme, and overwhelming, that he gasped, and half fell to the floor, holding onto the tub to keep himself from falling down completely. His stomach lurched.

It was too hot in here…he couldn't breathe…

He heard the footsteps, and felt tendrils of fear snake through his gut. The water…he saw a stream of it in his mind…

It was coming from the hose.

He was watering the plants, because it was his job and he needed to do it. He was hoping to get done quickly. There were friends to visit on his bike…

He was daydreaming about something…and dropped the hose into the soil, the gun just slipping away from him before he realized what had happened. He reached down to get it…it had fallen in between the roses.

How annoying.

As he grabbed for it, accidentally jabbing his fingers into the dirt.

He frowned.

There was something in the soil that didn't feel right…not like a root or stem…

He moved a little to part the bushes a little, being careful to avoid the thorns.

He moved the hose and gun out of the way…

And choked back a scream. He had dug and pulled up the mostly decayed remains of a human foot.

Panicking, he tried not to hyperventilate.

He turned to run, barely seeing the movement out of the corner of his eye, of someone swinging something at him…but he turned in time to see the furious grimace, the eyes that burned with a single purpose…

Looking up into those blue eyes, feeling a mix of terror and sadness he had never known, he barely got out the word "Why-"

A series of disjointed images sped through his mind...dirt, worms, plants, lying in a canoe with his wrists and ankles tied as he tried to get air through his nose...he couldn't breathe through the tape...a woman with grey eyes and long blonde hair smiling, passing a brush through her locks as she spoke...then it was Tony she was looking at as he stood behind her...she whispered as her pale eyes locked on his face, "I need you...so lonely here..." and then hands were pulling him down into dark water...

Pain exploded at the side of his head, and everything went black.

"Hey," he heard a voice calling him, "hey, mister."

He moaned, in real agony. His head felt like it had hit a brick wall and his stomach felt like it was filled with animal hair.

Someone was gently shaking him.

He smelled vomit.

Moaning once more, he cracked his eyes open.

He gasped at seeing him. The man who had hit him with a shovel. Only…it wasn't him. This man was older, and had a beard peppered with grey and white hair, hair that had once been mostly red. His face was red and ruddy looking, and his hair was a little long and wild.

But his eyes…the blue eyes…looked the same as in…his what?

Dream? Vision? Fit? What the Hell was wrong with him?

"You…" Tony breathed painfully. "You're Lisa's Dad…"

The man looked suddenly a bit irritated, and perplexed.

"Who are you?" he growled.

"I…" Tony tried to breathe, but his stomach had other ideas. He rolled to his side, retching, but there must have been nothing left in his stomach. "M'sorry…I'm Tony…DiNozzo…vacationing with friends...a-across….the lake. Just was...curious about what you grew in here…"

He heard the man shuffle around, and water running.

Then he felt a cold cloth wiping over his skin, which felt very good.

"Well, I'm Christian, and it's a Hell of a way to meetcha', seein' as you just puked and passed out in my hothouse." The tone was less angry.

"S-sorry," Tony said, as the man tried to help him sit up. He leaned Tony against one of the tub legs.

Tony closed his eyes for another moment.

Then he felt the man nudge him. "Here," and he took the bottle of water the man held out for him.

He slowly opened, and sipped the water, which helped get rid of the foul acid taste in his mouth.

"Thanks," he mumbled.

"Can ya' get up?" the man asked. "I think you're sick, so I may as well throw ya' in the truck and take ya' home."

Tony was still dizzy, and nodded just slightly.

"How long you stayin'?"he asked gruffly.

"Uhhh...til' Saturday..."

The man, who was built like a lumberjack, and dressed like one as well, helped him gently to his feet, and up the walk to his Chevy pick-up truck.

The vertigo was starting to subside, but Tony still felt disoriented and like he was on fire.

"Can you put the A/C on?" he murmured, with his eyes closed, as Christian started up the truck.

The man snorted, "Sure. It's about a thirty second drive, but why not."

Tony held his hands to his face, and let out more of a groan this time.

"Whatsa' matter kid? You gonna get sick again?" The man asked worriedly, wondering most likely if Tony was going to vomit again.

"No," Tony said, "Gibbs is gonna' kill me."

The man shrugged, and backed out of the drive.


Chapter 9: Chapter 9

Tony wasn't sure how Gibbs knew, but he walked out of the cottage to greet the pickup truck, scowling when he saw the younger man slowly getting out.

Tony tried not to look at him, as he turned to the driver and said "Thanks, Christian."

He shook the man's hand and gasped a little as pain shot through his head again. He got a few more of the fast action pictures, whirling through his mind. He did his best to ignore them, and choked down the acid that tickled at his esophagus.

The rough looking man let go of Tony's hand, his deep blue eyes studying him intently, and said, "You should get some rest boy, go lie down before ya' fall down."

Tony smirked, at hearing words that could almost be Gibbs', and hurriedly tried to say goodbye so Gibbs wouldn't talk to the man.

He was trying to close the door when a hand prevented it from happening. And then another one went to his neck.

He cringed, knowing Gibbs was going to be pissed, but was also grateful, because the cool hand was strong and steadying. The world still had just a slight spin to it…

Gibbs leaned around him. "Hi, I'm Jethro Gibbs." The man in the truck reluctantly took his hand and shook it. "My friend here get into some trouble?"

"Really, Boss, I-" Tony blurted weakly.

"Didn't ask you, DiNozzo," Gibbs growled in his ear.

The man nodded curtly. "Christian Dobson. And no, he didn't cause much trouble. Just seemed a little under the weather, so I give'm a lift."

Gibbs notice the man wouldn't look at him for too long.

"Anyway, hope you enjoy your stay on the lake," the man said a little gruffly, dismissing them.

Something about him bothered Gibbs immensely.

"Well," Gibbs said, "thanks. I appreciate it." And finally, he shut the door.

Tony was all but leaning on him as they watched the white pickup back out of the drive up to the road. He could feel the heat again, coming off him.

He turned and looked at the younger man, who was avoiding his glance. Tony suddenly realized he was leaning on Gibbs and pushed away from him.

"M'okay, Gibbs." He finally looked up and saw the mix of anger and worry in his friend's eyes.

"I'd headslap you into next year," Gibbs told him sourly, "but I think if I did that you'd pass out. You look green, DiNozzo. What were you thinking?"

"Boss," he said slowly,"I…thought I was fine." Tony rubbed his face a little, taking a shaky breath in. "I mean, I felt great this morning. But…"

Gibbs saw Tony look away, with a glimmer of something in his eyes. Was it…fear?

That twist happened again in his gut. He frowned a little, but gently asked, "What's going on?"

Tony raised a brow, and shook his head slightly to himself, as if having an inner debate. Finally, he looked at Gibbs with a pained expression. "I dunno Boss, but…maybe…you were right…" Tony let his gaze drift down to Gibbs' bare feet, and then took in the cargo pockets on his shorts idly. "Maybe …the case really got to me and I'm a little crispy…"

"And sick."

"Ah, yeah…" he sheepishly looked back up at Gibbs. "I kinda…puked in that guy's greenhouse." He would skip the blacking out part. It happened so quickly. It really barely counted. DiNozzo's didn't pass out anyway… and how could he describe or explain the things he…saw? Gibbs would probably have him hospitalized and it would take several psych evals before he'd be allowed more than desk duty. That might be the right thing...but he still clung to the idea that maybe this was all just because of a virus...some bug that was giving him fevers and hallucinations. A little voice inside him said, you know they're not hallucinations. They're something else. Why kid yourself, DiNozzo?

Gibbs stared at him. "Uh-huh." He saw Tony avoiding his eyes again. "Anything else? You notice at some point you're burning up again?"

Tony blew out a little puff of air from his nose. It was a little humiliating to be treated like a child, though he knew the Boss's heart was in the right place. He stood for a moment longer, and shrugged at Gibbs, not really looking at him but slowly turning to walk towards the cottage. Gibbs fell into step next to him, protectively keeping a hand on the back of his arm. It both comforted and made him angry at the same time.

His legs were shaky and he felt like a train had gone through his brain. He shook his head. He felt like crap. "I swear…I was back to normal this morning…"

"Uh-huh…"


"Well, how long is he gonna' sleep?" Abby said in a slight whine.

"I dunno, Abby," Gibbs replied simply.

"He looked awful, Abs," McGee said. "I don't think I've ever seen him that color."

"Well why did he go for a run, if he is sick?" Ziva asked, passing them in the living room as she went to the kitchen for a snack. They had all been in the lake for a morning swim already, and she was hungry.

"Yeah, good question Ziva," Gibbs said, raising an eyebrow at McGee.

The Probie's eyes widened a little. "Uh…Boss, I told him not to. B-but, he said he was fine. And really, he looked …fine…"

"Relax, McGee," Gibbs smiled. "I think he's old enough to make his own decisions, even if they're stupid."

"But I wanted Tony to go horseback riding with us this afternoon…" Abby said sadly, tucking her legs under her on the couch.

"Well," Gibbs smiled again, "Tony's not so big on that anyway. Not sure he ever knew which end was which."

Ziva smiled as she sat next to Gibbs in one of the chairs by the sofas, munching on celery and peanut butter.

"You guys go," Gibbs said, "I'll stay here. I have a lot more reading I wanna' do. By the time you're back, I'll have dinner going."

"AAAAHhhhhhhhh!" Abby cried, "Now you're both not going riding." She folder her arms over her demon cat tee shirt. "That stinks."She narrowed her eyes at Gibbs almost in accusation.

"Oh c'mon Abs," McGee said sweetly, "we'll stop and get supplies for s'mores."

She looked at McGee and sighed, raising one eyebrow. "Well, I guess that's a little better. But," she pointed at Gibbs, "you and Tony are making them with us." Her jaw was clenched.

"McGee," Gibbs said evenly,"make sure you get some Caf-Pow when you're in town. We're almost out." And with that they all looked at Abby in alarm, as Gibbs chuckled and got up to go out on the deck.


"Please! Don't!" she cried, cowering in the corner of the kitchen.

"You think I'm just going to stand by, and watch you go? After everything I done for you, you fuckin' bitch?"

Her long dirty blond hair hung in her face, mostly hiding her pale grey eyes.

"I'm sorry," she sobbed. "I'm sorry but I can't take this anymore!" She saw him coming closer again, the fury emanating from him was almost a physical force in itself. Her lip was split where he had hit her, and her wrists hurt where he had grabbed her and thrown her in the corner.

He leaned in close, rage making his whole body tremble, "You were the one who wanted this life, remember Suze? You wanted a nice country life with me, a B&B, and a greenhouse. And I gave up everything to buy this place. Took on that dirtbag, Deveraux. You know he was gonna' force me to sell? But I couldn't let that happen Suze. Because you wanted this life."

He brought a hand to her face, stroking it gently as she flinched at the contact.

With trembling lips she asked, "Christian, what did you do?"

He looked at her with such sorrow, she almost forgot for a moment that he had slapped her only moments ago.

"What I had to," he murmured, with tears in his eyes, and placed his hands around her throat.

"No…"she choked. "Christian…no-" and then gasped, as he cut off her air supply. She kicked him and clawed at him, but it was useless. She finally lost consciousness while looking into the eyes of the man she once loved. The man who was killing her.

She opened her eyes. She was in the canoe. Her hands and feet were bound with duct tape, and a piece also covered her mouth.

Tony paddled the boat. He didn't know why exactly, but he knew she had to go into the lake.

And also, in the canoe, were two large cinderblocks, one tied to her feet, and one to her hands.

The moon was full on the lake, which was unfortunate. It meant someone could see what he was doing.

But there was no one staying at the cottage on the other side, and there were no guests expected in the B&B that night.

So he kept paddling, while she regained consciousness and whimpered next to him. It had been hard putting her into the canoe, and lowering them into the water from the boathouse crane. Every second filled him with more anger and sadness. He had done everything for her, even killed. And the thanks he got was finding her packing her suitcase in their bedroom.

Tony was momentarily confused. When had he gotten married? For a moment he faltered. He would never do this to someone…

But the dream took over again, and he paddled some more, reaching the dead center of the lake.

He looked at her. She was so beautiful. Tears were streaming from her lovely grey eyes.

"I'm sorry, Suze. It's til' death do us part. So I guess we're parting."

He kissed her head tenderly as she struggled to breathe through the duct tape, struggling a little.

Then he suddenly grabbed the cinder blocks, forcing her thin frame up to the side of the canoe.

With one last look into her desperate eyes, he said, "Don't worry Suze, I'll just tell Lisa you ran off when she gets back from camp. It's what you was gonna' do anyhows." And with that, he dumped the cement blocks over while her little frame was pulled over, disappearing in the splash and bubbles of the almost black water.

The canoe was still rocking, when Tony realized what he had done.

"No!" God ! No–no-no-" he leaned over the boat frantically towards the water.

Suddenly, so fast it was almost a blur, she rose from the water, now looking as dead as she had been in the kitchen when he saw her during the storm.

Her lifeless grey eyes bore into him, reminding him of Amanda French, in that dark filthy closet.

He screamed in absolute terror as she encircled her cold, dead arms about him, and he was pulled into the icy water with her, under the full moon.

He couldn't breathe.

He was clawing and gasping, struggling to get free of her arms.

"DiNozzo!" A gruff voice yelled.

Still he fought against the arms. "I'm sorry!" He said in a half sob. "Let me go!"

Now he was pinned. But the feel…the smell of the person restraining him…

He opened his eyes, as one of them let a tear run down his cheek, panting, and covered with sweat.

"Boss?" he asked in a shaky and weak voice.

The weight on him shifted off, as Gibbs leaned back to look at him. He twisted inside a little when he saw Gibbs' eyes. It wasn't often you saw the man with a look that could be described as 'shaken'.

"You with me, Tony?" His hands loosened up on Tony's arms.

He was still panting, looking around the room, confused.

"Yeah…Boss…s-sorry," he tried to calm his breathing, an inwardly told his heart to stop the full force gallop it was beating out.

"That was some doozey of a dream," Gibbs said, now putting a hand to Tony's head. "I think your fever broke again, so that's good news. Otherwise I was takin' ya' to the hospital tonight."

Tony suddenly locked his eyes on Gibbs, alarm showing.

"I said was, Tony."

"Uh…okay…thanks, Boss." Tony sunk back a little more into his pillow as he freed his arms from Gibbs altogether to rub his eyes. "Christ," he said. "Maybe I should go home. I feel like I'm putting a real damper on your vacation here, Gibbs."

The older man just smiled a little. "Oh, I think you'll be fine. Because tomorrow, you're going to rest. Until I say you can do different. And everyone will be just peachy. " His worried gaze transformed into "the glare". "You understand me, Tony?"

"Y-yes. Not going anywhere. Til' you say so Boss." But do you realize Gibbs, that I'm cracking the Hell up here?

Gibbs gently cupped his face with one hand and gave him a little smack, "Good boy."

The older man rose to leave the bedroom, and turned in the doorway. "And Tony, if you don't listen, you won't like what happens." Gibbs gave him a smile, and said, "Dinner in an hour. You're eating. And then back to bed."

As he disappeared, Tony scowled after him, but shuddered at the threat nonetheless.


Chapter 10: Chapter 10

The next morning brought Gibbs checking on Tony over breakfast.

He was for all practical purposes, fine.

Then why every time I look at him, do I feel like I should be on high alert? He thought, scowling.

"What?" Tony asked, through a mouthful of cereal. He swallowed it down, a little too soon and his expression pinched a little before he said, "C'mon, Boss! I really am perfectly fine."

Gibbs sighed. "Okay, Dinozzo. But one sign that you're not, and your six is back in that bed."

Tony smiled at him as he took another bite of cereal.

They were all sitting at the table, with an assortment of berries and different boxed cereals, trying to figure out what they wanted to do.

"Swim first!" called Abby.

"Okay. And then maybe we can go to lunch and then wine tasting?" asked Ziva, sipping her coffee.

"I'm all for that. Just as long as I don't need to get on a horse again," mumbled McGee, as Gibbs looked at him with a hint of a smile.

"I'm good. Sounds great!" said Tony, almost too enthusiastically. He caught Gibbs studying him again. "How bout you Boss?"

"Anything that doesn't involve vomit or emergency rooms is fine with me," he said plainly, but with humor in his blue eyes.

Tony frowned and was about to retort, when Abby jumped up from the table. "I'm done!" She ran into the kitchen with her bowl, in her skull and crossbones pajamas. "I'm getting my suit on!" She darted out of the kitchen, as Gibbs called after her.

"Abby, it's a twenty minute wait after you eat." Gibbs said it loudly enough for her to hear from the bedroom.

They all smiled at her groan of frustration behind the closed bedroom door.

"Sometimes," McGee said, "she's such a kid!"

"Oh? And, you're not, McGee? Elflord? McGamer?" Tony asked good naturedly.

"Ahhh…" McGee struggled for a comeback.

"Do not worry, McGee, it just means that you and Abby are cut from the same cloth." She looked at them, waiting. No correction came. She smiled with satisfaction. "Like two peas in a shed."

Tony dropped his chin, keeping his eyes on her, while McGee rolled his.

"Pod," Gibbs said, taking a sip of his coffee. "Two peas in a pod."

"Well," she said, "I do not understand that one completely because there are always more than two peas in a pod anyway."

Tony raised a brow and laughed. "More than two. Kinky." And then "OW!" when Gibbs slapped his head on the way into the kitchen for more coffee.

"You know," Tony said in slight annoyance, "it's pretty twisted, you being, all worried-like about how I'm feeling and then slapping my head. It's kinda…fickle of you Boss!" He rubbed the back of his head.

Then he saw the raised brows on Gibbs' face from the kitchen.

"Uh…but, I know…it's also a sign of affection. I love you too, Boss," Tony said, looking away.

Ziva and McGee both chuckled.

"Let's get this cleaned up so we can get going," Gibbs ordered, and they all moved.


The water was, in a word, delicious.

It was mid-morning, and the sun was already on the hotter side as they all jumped into the lake one after the other, off the floating dock.

Gibbs and Ziva decided on laps to the center of the lake and back.

Abby and McGee were content to just swim around the dock, as was Tony.

He tried to push the memory of the dreams and visions out of his mind, of the rotting woman who tried to take him with her into the depths of the water.

He shivered.

Then he heard Abby laughing. "Cut it out McGee!" She was happy, and the tone was in mock annoyance. She screamed as he popped up next to her, laughing.

It made Tony smile to see them like that, so playful and happy. It was a welcome distraction from his other thoughts.

He looked around the lake, as he truly started to relax again. The tall pines were swaying in the breeze, over their perches on the rocky terrain that surrounded the lake. And it was quiet except for the birds and the sounds he and his friends were making.

It was beautiful.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Abby and McGee kissing again, and with a wry grin, paddled off a bit to give them a little privacy.

He went to the dock, grabbing one of the thin floats that were in a pile to the left side. He pushed it out onto the water, lazily feeling the water whirl and suck around his feet as he swam out a bit towards the left side of the lake. He hoisted himself up, kicking at the water for more propulsion, so that he belly flopped with a satisfied sigh right onto it. Perfect for relaxing on the lake.

He folded his arms under his head, resting his chin on them to look at the pretty scenery.

He heard Abby and McGee laughing again, horsing around after their smooch break. And he heard Ziva laughing, challenging Gibbs to race out to the lake and back again.

No matter what else, everything at that moment was good. Was peaceful.

He took a deep breath in, still smelling the pines, and enjoying the sun on his back.

He was floating, but the breeze was taking him slowly back near the dock, so he didn't worry too much at closing his eyes. After all the rest he had gotten, he was still a little sleepy, and the soft rocking of the float was lulling him under. The sounds of his team mates started to fade, as he almost started a soft snore.

Suddenly, the float was over him and he was underneath the surface of the water, his back which had been toasting in the sun now freezing with the wet contrast of the lake.

What the-?

He struggled in the bubbles, feeling a hand on his ankle.

McGee! He thought. I'm so gonna get him back for this.

But, the hand didn't let go as he expected. Instead it held firm, keeping him just under the surface, and suddenly panicking for air.

He kicked much harder, managing to break free. What the fuck?

Tony came up sputtering, finding and grabbing the float, seeing spots as he breathed in deeply. "What the hell-" he began, but as he opened his eyes, the words died on his lips.

McGee and Abby were still many yards away from him, splashing eachother, and he quickly turned to see Ziva and Gibbs way out in the middle of the lake.

He swallowed nervously, wiping more water from his face.

"You're…" he clutched the edges of the float, "not. Cracking. Up. You hear me DiNozzo?"

He felt near hysterics as he could swear he felt fingers ghosting over his belly, and down the front of his thigh. His heart was pounding in his chest.

He dove quickly, determined to catch someone doing this to him, playing a trick on him.

Under the surface of the water, he looked, opening his eyes to lightly rust cast but clear water. It was about seven or eight feet down. He could even make out some of the rocks at the bottom, though it was darker.

Again he felt a touch, but at the back of his elbow. He spun around in the water, and saw no one. He was out of air.

With a gasp again he broke through the top of the water, clinging to the float, and wiping his eyes clear.

"Jesus," he whispered. "I'm freaking certifiable." He was frightened. And needed to be out of the water. Now.

Fingers were closing around one of his ankles again as sheer terror choked off his ability to think. He let out a half grunt, half whimper, and kicked hard, abandoning the float. He began swimming as quickly as he could towards the dock.

He didn't get too far when he was pulled under again, the water filling his mouth and nose as he tried to yell for help.

Through the bubbles and otherwise complete silence under the water, he opened his eyes.

And then he saw her.

Sickly grey green skin mottled with rot spots, long hair floating around her like the snakes of Medusa. Her greyed over eyes were focused on him, her hands on his body, seemed to almost burn at their contact sites on his chest, where she was pushing him down…further from the light.

He pushed and flailed, taking in water he knew could kill him. He had to get free again, or he knew this was going to be where he died.

Tony's foot touched rock, and he managed with his lungs screaming for air, to get both legs under him and push off, upwards towards the surface.

He kicked with whatever he had left, and felt someone grabbing him, warmer hands, pulling him upwards.

He heard the wonderful sound of splashing as he finally felt air on his skin.

Someone was holding him in the water as he gagged and coughed.

"Easy Tony," the voice held worry and some tone of regret in it. "Abby and I should have been keeping a better eye on you."

"M-McGee," he choked.

"Just breathe," McGee said gently, adjusting his arm around Tony's shoulders, as Abby swam the float over to them.

"Is he okay?" Abby was asking.

"Yeah," Tim said, grabbing the float so he could hang onto Tony more easily. "He just swallowed a little water." Then McGee turned back to Tony. "You okay? You can breathe alright?"

Tony looked at his friend, still panting and coughing a bit of water out, "Yeah...McGee... thanks." His words were laced with very genuine gratitude.

Tony put both hands on the float. "I'm...I'm okay now."

"What happened?" McGee asked, running his hand over his face quickly and sniffling."

"I dunno…" Well, some ghost chick keeps feeling me up in the water and trying to drown me. No…I guess I can't really say that. "I was just relaxing on the float…and then…I dunno…"

"Well, maybe it's like yesterday. You know, you were fine when you got up…but then…"McGee trailed off.

"Yeah," Tony said, a little sadly and looking away, "probably like that."

"Guys," Abby said in a shaky voice.

They both looked at her. Her teeth were chattering.

"It's really c-cold in thissspot of the w-water. Can…we just go back?" She eyed them imploringly.

"Sure," McGee said, and turned, carefully still checking Tony.

"M'fine, Tim," Tony said, more calmly. Still, he struggled to get more air and the words out. "Uh…can..we skip telling Gibbs...about this one? I'm...in enough hot water with him as it is…"

McGee smiled, as he lazily paddles himself next to Tony as they swam.

"Yeah, okay. But it's gonna cost you. You have to help Ziva make her s'mores tonight because I had to help her the other night, and ended up wearing it all."

"Great," Tony said, trying to sound normal. "I won't do...my Armani tee shirt for that…"


They were all in the process of getting dressed in dry clothes to go for lunch and their hike.

Abby and McGee insisted on taking Tony's temperature. Which was up a little to almost 100.

"C'mon, it's not that high, McGee," he looked from the Probie, and back to Abby, at their faces. "If I really don't feel good, I will tell you right after lunch and you can drop me back here before the wine tasting. I just…at least want to come to lunch with you." And I don't want to be alone here.

Abby and Tim looked at each other.

"Okay," Abby said, "but you better eat, and I'm checking your temp again after lunch."

Tony opened his mouth to protest.

"AH-AH," Abby said, "that's the deal or I tell Gibbs you almost drowned in the lake. Lucky for you he was too busy trying not to let Ziva kick his ass in the lake."

"I did not almost drown in the lake!" he said strongly.

McGee cleared his throat.

"Okay," Tony said sheepishly, "I…could have drowned in the lake. Which is, a lot different than almost!"

McGee smiled and shook his head at Tony.

Abby sighed. "Well, Gibbs and Ziva are still getting ready. Let's kill a few minutes doing something fun."

Tony and McGee looked at each other in alarm.

"Mushrooms." Abby hopped just once in happiness.

Abby and her family were in the habit of collecting large mushrooms, off the sides of trees when they camped. Then, they would scratch their names and date the mushrooms, which would harden and become memento's of their trip.

It was actually a clever thing to do, in Tony's estimation, since the tree mushrooms were so much bigger and shaped like sickle-moon disks…

He trailed up the driveway with them, watching them go off into the right side woods. Another opportune moment for romance.

"Hey guys? I'm just gonna go…on this side…" he saw Abby look up and scowl. "But I won't go far…" he added, which seemed to appease her.

He trailed off a little higher on the drive, closer to the road. He was thinking. As he had been since they got back into the cottage after the swim.

Maybe he was schizophrenic? Totally losing it? Or had he accidentally took in some kind of hallucinogenic substance without realizing it? There had to be an explanation for what was happening to him. He didn't believe in spirits. Or…ghosts. Or whatever the hell his gut was telling him…she was.

He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, stopping near a tree. "God." He felt panic rising in him again, and breathed deeply for a bit, trying to calm himself.

"You alright mister?"

He almost fell down, eyes flying open, startled by the presence of the man in front of him.

"Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't meant to make ye jump!" The shorter, stockier man in a vintage polo shirt and shorts was looking at him, with deepset brown eyes and a concerned frown on his face. He had round wired framed glasses, and was balding, with short brown hair, and long sideburns. He looked like he could have been on Three's Company. Tony smiled to himself at the thought.

"Ah, no…"I'm okay."

The man stuck out his hand, and Tony took it, shaking it slowly. Images…they were coming again…but he ignored them, sweat beading a little on his upper lip. It almost hurt to do that...

"I'm Chuck," the man said pleasantly.

No, no…Tony willed them away but, some images of rotting flesh in dirt crept through. He shivered.

The man thankfully let go of his hand, which seemed to cause a cessation of the imposing visions.

"I dunno if you've been over to the Daydream? The B&B on the other side of the lake?"

"Y-yes," Tony said thickly. "I have."

"Oh good," the man said. "I'm a partner in that business. With Christian Dobson."

Tony nodded, unable to speak. He wasn't feeling well after all.

"You like it here?" the man asked, cocking his head to the side a little.

"Yeah, it's beautiful," Tony answered. He started to think. "…so…you know Christian, and his daughter?"

"Oh yeah. Lisa's a good kid."

"What happened to her mom?" Tony asked, as the man stared at him for what seemed like a long time.

"I dunno." He said. Offering no other information. "Anyway, though I love this place, I'm lookin' to sell my share of the inn. I've got a sick relative out west, who I'm goin'a stay with for a spell, so I figure it'd be better to just get out altogether."

Tony nodded, still not feeling quite right.

"The greenhouse is…interesting. Don't you think?" the man said, as Tony felt a strange electrical buzz crawl up his spine.

The man came a little closer, staring into Tony's eyes. He felt trapped by them, almost frozen in place...

"You really should take a closer look at what Christian's got in that greenhouse…"

"Tony!" McGee was calling.

He struggled for a moment to make himself move, but finally turned his head towards his friend's voice, relieved. "Over here McGee."

He turned back to the man, but he was gone.

Tony frowned in confusion. "Where the hell did he go?" he muttered.

"Who?" McGee asked, now standing next to him, with Abby.

"Duh," Abby said, "the short guy who was standing here a minute ago," Abby said.

"You saw him?" Tony asked quickly.

"Yeah. But, he must have split quick because I looked down to step over a stump – oh, I like saying that, step over a stump. Step, over a stump. Anyway, I looked up and he was just gone. He's quick! Who was he?"

"He's the, ah, partner over at that B&B across the lake…" Tony felt like there was something he should know. It was like when they had a case, and he knew there was something he was just overlooking, right under his nose…

They heard an engine start.

"Well, let's go before Gibbs takes off without us," Tim said, turning with the mushrooms in hand Tony just noticed.

Abby smiled, looking at him. "Don't worry. We got extras," she held up her arms, where there were at least six large mushrooms resting.

Tony sighed as she turned and he followed her.

"No," he said softly. "I won't worry. Not at all."


Chapter 11: Chapter 11

As Abby and Ziva discussed the winery and distillery they were going to visit, McGee was up near the end of the diner chatting with a waitress. Abby occasionally broke her gaze from Ziva to throw a jealous glance at them, feeling certain the waitress was trying to move in on Tim.

This left Gibbs to watch Tony pick a little at his food and stare off out the window of the diner.

He'd seen McGee and Abby, sticking close to Tony as they got out of the water earlier, leading him to know that something had happened.

He had asked Tony how his swim was in the car, and he got a mumbled "It was fine", as he peripherally caught Abby and McGee in a silent 'eye' conversation.

It was probably logical to assume Tony had gotten sick swimming, and they were covering for him. Which was stupid. He had his SFA's best interest at heart. And it was always difficult to deal with him sick or in pain, because he would generally rather die than admit to it.

"How was your chicken salad?" Gibbs asked innocently, as Tony turned to him, and then looked down at the sandwich he'd eaten only a third of. Normally, you had to keep clear around DiNozzo when he ate…as you could lose a limb.

"Uh…good. Just…not so hungry," he said softly, and then looked up at Gibbs with a shuttered expression the older man couldn't read.

"You know," Gibbs said, not angrily but firmly,"it would be a nice change if you could just tell me what's going on with you instead of making me guess."

At that, Ziva and Abby became quiet, feeling the bit of tension start between the two men.

Tony wasn't expecting such a blunt remark, and for a moment, his lips parted a little in surprise. His green eyes seemed to soften, looking at Gibbs, wanting…something…

Boss, I'm having trouble. Boss…I almost drowned in the lake this morning. Um, Boss…I'm seeing things and maybe…maybe I need a catscan…

SO many things he wanted to say. But it was too much. The cold blue stare…evaluating…watching. He knew it stemmed from Gibbs' concern for him, but with Abby and Ziva, and now McGee who'd returned to the table…it was too much.

Tony laughed and looked away, rubbing his neck. "I dunno', Boss. Nothing specific. I just…guess it's part of my unwinding?" He glanced back at the man hopefully.

Gibbs scowled, and then looked away with a sigh, leaving Tony to feel he'd let his friend down. He swallowed and looked back out the window, hoping none of them could see his eyes getting a little moist.

Gibbs called for the check, and they left the diner in silence.


Tony sat in the back on the way to the vineyard. Another clear clue to Gibbs something was definitely up besides Tony not being a hundred percent.

At the Calais Vineyards, they all tried a variety of twelve wines, the best by popular vote being the Chardonnay.

McGee bought a case of it. And ZIva bought six bottles, as she flirted with one of the owners of the vineyard.

Tony seemed not even to notice, when he would usually jump at the opportunity to interrupt and embarrass ZIva as best he could.

Gibbs looked at Abby, who was idly looking at the tee shirts and other paraphernalia they sold near the check out. She was watching Tony also, out of the corner of her eye, until she noticed Gibbs.

He silently raised a brow at her in question.

She signed to him. I don't know what's really wrong with him. He wasn't feeling okay this morning in the lake.

What happened? He signed back.

She looked around guiltily, to see if anyone could see her, as if they could eavesdrop.

He had some trouble. Tim had to help him. And he doesn't want you worrying. As if you won't, or we all won't anyway.

What do you mean, trouble?

"It's not nice to talk about people behind their backs," Tony said, with subtle anger warning in his voice as he looked at Abby first, then Gibbs.

"Uh, we were…just saying how ugly these tee shirts are. I didn't wanna'…say it out loud. You know. In case the staff heard me…" she trailed off, while Tony returned his glare on her, frowning. "It's…not nice…you know…to…um…hey, we're going someplace else now. Right Gibbs?" She turned to the older man with a look in her eyes that said 'save me'.

Tony sighed. He looked down for a moment, and then his usual demeanor slid into place. He smiled with only a little strain, looking at Gibbs. "Where to next Boss?"

"Jenkins distillery."

"Ahh, much more up your alley, Boss." Tony blew out a breath, and rubbed his eyes a little.

Gibbs noticed the faint circles under them.

"Yeah, that's gonna' be good. This wine stuff…is not for me," Gibbs smiled as McGee passed him, carrying the case of Chardonnay and looking vaguely uncertain about what Gibbs might think of his purchase.


Ziva, Abby and McGee decided to walk the grounds of the distillery and take a look at all the machinery which was exposed by glass walls all around. There were benches and wildflower gardens as well.

Tony and Gibbs sat at the counter, circling their choices of what they wanted to try.

Tony was of course, eyeing Gibbs sheet of paper, when Gibbs suddenly had an idea.

"How much to try them all?" he asked their server.

"All?" she asked incredulously. "Well, you understand, these are very strong spirits, even at the half shot you get to try…it's twenty dollars to try all, but we recommend against it."

"You just don't know who you're talking to," Tony said, smiling warmly at her. "This is Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and he drinks bourbon like its coffee. And his coffee, like it's crack cocaine." He was laughing and then turned to Gibbs, dropping his smile at the scowl. "But that's not funny, because…Gibbs would never…smoke crack…" he trailed off, unsure of how pissed Gibbs really was.

Gibbs turned to the girl, "we'll both take the full tasting."

"Uh…but…" Tony choked out, "you think that's a good idea? I mean…just last night I had a fever, Gibbs…"

"Oh, now, you're worried about your health, DiNozzo? Well, ok, if you can't handle it-"

"Nononono, I didn't say I couldn't handle it, Boss." Tony tilted his head, giving Gibbs a crooked smile, "Okay Boss. Let's go!"

They tried two bourbons, one rye, two gins, and a slew of other brandy-like flavored drinks.

And Tony was doing his best not to look as drunk as he was getting.

Gibbs smiled as they finished the last one, the Maple Spirit. Which mostly tasted like scotch, with a sweet aftertaste. He felt good. Warm. But not drunk.

"Okay, DiNozzo. Whaddya' think?"

Tony clapped a hand on Gibbs' back, a little harder than he would have liked.

"Boss, I think…m'a little…tipsssy."

Gibbs grinned at him. "That so? Well, did you like any of these?"

Tony frowned, thinking for a bit. "The 5D Bourbon, and the Garden Gin."

"Good," Gibbs said in approval, "I'll buy two of each for us." He stood up from the stool, watching Tony stand up and list ever so slightly to the side.

Just then Ziva appeared, looking a little bored. She approached them, immediately seeing Tony's slightly off stance, and then looked at Gibbs questioningly.

"We tried them all," he said, chuckling as she raised her brows.

"I see. How are you doing Tony?" she looked at the green eyes blinking lazily at her.

"I'm awesome, Zeeeva." He was warm, and tipsy, and not thinking about the lake.

Gibbs smiled, and handed ZIva the paper, grabbing cash out of his pocket to hand her as well.

"Buy two each of the circled ones on the paper and meet us at the car. Where are Abby and McGee?"

"Making out," Ziva said almost as a complaint, "again. So I thought I would come see if you were done." She eyed Gibbs who was now gently laying a hand on Tony's elbow.

"I'm gonna' take DiNozzo for some air, before we get in the car," he said, turning and giving her a meaningful look.

"Okay, of course, Gibbs. I will take care of it." She took one more look at Tony and turned to get on the long line at the register.

Gibbs kept his hand on Tony, as they walked outside to one of the paths around the distillery.

"Where we goin', Boss?" Tony asked as he wobbled a little into Gibbs' grasp.

"Right over here," Gibbs said, guiding his young friend to a bench in front of a small fountain.

Ohhkay," Tony said, smiling, as he sat down a little clumsily, and looked at the water bubbling from the center of the small designed fountain and pool. It was surrounded by blue and yellow flowers. The fountain had a mermaid perched in it, with flowing hair.

The bubbles and flowing tendrils of the statue, drove Tony's mind to being under the surface of the lake in the morning. He suddenly shuddered, forgetting for a moment that Gibbs was next to him.

"Tony?"

"Yeah, Boss?" he replied in almost a whisper, still staring at the fountain.

"What happened this morning?" Gibbs asked, and felt his gut tighten and twist inside.

Tony suddenly dropped his gaze. He felt upset, and confused. He wanted to tell Gibbs about what was happening…about the things he was seeing. He should tell him shouldn't he? No…he remembered he didn't want to…he was a little drunk, though. SO hard not to tell the truth when...

He turned to Gibbs. "You…did thisson purpose…getting me a little fucked up…"

Gibbs smiled, "Was worth a shot."

Tony looked at Gibbs, seeing the bit of humor in the blue eyes, but something bigger underneath. Gibbs was really worried about him.

"Mmm…mmnot doing so well…on this trip, Boss." He looked down at Gibbs' hand, which was resting on his arm. "M'sorry, but I…I think this place…s'bad for me. Maybe...I should jusst g'home."

"What do you mean?" Gibbs asked gently. He watched Tony's eyes, which were still not looking at him, but seemed to darken and water was welling up in them. He started to hurt inside for Tony, who was obviously in much more pain than he originally thought when they came here.

Tony blinked rapidly a few times, willing the tears away, not speaking until he was sure his voice would be steady.

"I almost drowned in the lake this morning…"

Gibbs took a sharp breath in.

"The Probie…p-pulled me out…" he looked at Gibbs finally. He almost whispered,"Was pretty scary, Boss…"

Gibbs nodded, feeling alarmed, and frustrated they hadn't just told him. "What happened?"

Tony's eyes widened a little, as his mouth opened first, the line between his eyes deepening. "I…"

"Gibbs!" Abby shouted with glee from behind them. "Wait til you see what I've got!"

Her feet made a lot of noise on the gravel path as she bounded in front of them, her hands held together, cupping something. She looked at their faces, realizing something had been going on.

SO close…Gibbs thought. Damn.

He smiled anyway and sighed at her, "What'dya got there?"

She smiled so sweetly down at both of them, that for a moment they both forgot the conversation they were having.

"Look!" she said and lifted a hand.

A multicolored iridescent butterfly flapped its wings, and took to the air in front of them.

"Isn't she beautiful?" Abby beamed, watching the insect fly over to the flowers around the fountain.

"You know it's a she?" Tony marveled.

"Well…not exactly, I have to look up this species. It's not one I ever saw before. But I think she's a she. I named her!"

"Of course you did," Tony said wryly.

McGee approached now as well. "Abby introduce you to Lisa the butterfly?"

"You…" Tony frowned. "You…n-named her Lisa?"

"Yes, Tony. I named her Lisa. It just popped into my mind. Why? Is that the name of some ex-girlfriend that also put poo in your closet after you broke up or put your name on another STD website?" Abby laughed, just trying to be funny.

But Tony looked away from her, looking a little dazed.

Her face showed her sudden concern at his lack of humor.

"Okay," Gibbs announced, looking at Abby and McGee with a subtle shake of his head while Tony wasn't looking. "Time to go kids. Dinner's not gonna' cook itself." He stood up, and stayed close to Tony as they all quietly headed towards the car.


Chapter 12: Chapter 12

Back at the peaceful cottage in Sandown, Gibbs and Ziva were cooking something that smelled wonderfully Italian from the kitchen. McGee was in the living room reading, and Abby and Tony sat out on the deck now in the light of the glowing moon overhead.

He was still a little tipsy, but mostly tired, and a deep sort of melancholy had taken him over.

Abby saw it happening even as they had left the distillery earlier. She had an odd feeling about the man she had seen talking to Tony... Though she couldn't put her finger on it. There was something...hinky about him, and the way he was so intently focused on Tony...

Then Tony had just been acting strangely all day, especially when she brought up the name 'Lisa', which she thought was very fitting for her butterfly.

So, she thought perhaps if she sat with him for a while, and tried not to ramble, maybe he would open up a little more.

He was nursing a beer, not really drinking much of it, as he looked out on the lake.

They could hear the sounds of pots clanking in the kitchen, and Ziva happily chatting away at Gibbs.

What was even louder but still pleasant were the chirping crickets, and the white moon dancing on the glassy surface of the lake filled their vision.

Abby sighed, reclining further into the cushioned patio chaise.

" It really is beautiful here, don'tcha think?"

His eyes were still out on the water as he murmured, "It's beautiful, but it's so… dark...I mean, not in the literal sense, Abs..."

She waited, forcing herself to curb the million questions popping into her head.

"I think...either there's something...wrong with this place," he said, and then turned his head to look at her with pained and slightly bloodshot eyes, "or something wrong with me. And I'm leaning towards the problem being me."

He sounded so sad.

"What do you mean?" she asked simply. Then she stated," You're having an awful time here, aren't you...?"

"Abby..." he said, voice starting to quiver with some emotion between fear and despair, "I think I'm losing my gourd. I…could lose everything. My entire career, if I'm…" he was struggling with the words. "I'm seeing things...maybe some kind of hallucinations...I dunno...and in the lake this morning, I felt..." he swallowed, eyes glittering in the dark, looking afraid to finish.

She suddenly leaned towards him, and stroked his face. He looked like he was going to cry and it overwhelmed her. This was Tony. Tony did not cry. Ever. She threw her arms around his neck, and spoke in a low voice, thick with emotion, into his ear," You can tell me anything. Anything in the world, and I'm never going to call you crazy or think any less of you." she squeezed him tightly.

"I wasn't…I...in the lake...I didn't get dizzy, or sick, or anything, Abs. I felt someone ...pull me under..." he could feel her tense and shudder. "But there was no one. I swear I felt it...and I keep having these dreams...and I keep th- thinking...m- maybe I'm going crazy...and I have some kind of PTSD or something..."

His breath was coming in shorter puffs into her hair, as he hugged her back, held onto her like a rock in a stormy sea.

"It's okay," she soothed, rubbing his back. "I...dunno what's going on here, but something feels hinky to me, and I am sure you are not going nuts. Just try to relax, and we'll work on it together, okay?"

She felt him nod into her neck.

"Just...can you not tell Gibbs anything yet? I just want to try and get a handle on myself before I even try to explain this to him," he said softly. "There's something about this place, Abby. And that family, across the lake. The girl, Lisa-"

"Dinner!" Gibbs called from inside the cottage.

She frowned a little, knowing there was something odd now about how the name 'Lisa' had popped into her mind earlier. "Okay, but maybe after dinner we can talk some more about what's going on?" she said, "Or in the morning if they wanna' do the bonfire tonight..."

He nodded again. He pulled back and looked at her, giving her a sheepish smile, " Thanks, Abs."

She grinned at him, "If I had a dime for every time I wondered if I was crazy..."

He laughed, and as they got up, he lingered for another moment, looking back at the lake, with a shiver going through him.

Dinner was a pasta meal, made with a simple garlic and meat sauce everyone found very delicious.

They were all so hungry from the long day they had, that it was very quiet at the table. Most prevalent were the sounds of the forks clanking on the plates, though Tony was almost asleep, chin in hand over his.

"Gibbs," Ziva observed,"it appears Tony may fall asleep in his spaghetti."

Gibbs was chewing his last bite of food, and eyed Tony who indeed, looked about to slide right into his plate.

"DiNozzo!" He said loudly.

"Huh? Yes Boss!" he seemed to stutter to attention as his eyes flew open.

"Why don't you rack? We can wrap the plate n' you can have it later if you wake up."

Tony rubbed his eyes. "Yeah...that's a good idea." he got up from the table, and took his plate into the kitchen. As he passed back around them to go towards the bedrooms, he said, "Dunno why I'm so tired. Maybe it's because my Boss got me drunk today or something..."

" What'sa matter DiNozzo, you worried I was gonna try to get my fingers under your bra strap?" Gibbs called after him, smiling when he heard Tony snort good -naturedly from the hallway.

"He was really off today," Ziva said quietly. McGee raised his eyebrows, nodding in agreement, but still looking at his plate while he twirled more spaghetti onto his fork.

"Ya' think?" Gibbs muttered, and took a swig from his beer bottle.

Abby looked around and said nothing. But Gibbs knew by that little motion that Tony had said something to her. As long as Tony was talking to someone...

He wouldn't push her right now for intel. But if Tony was still not right by the time they were packing up to go back to DC, the beans would need spilling.

They were all too tired for much that night, so opted out of the bonfire.

Gibbs walked down the hall towards his bedroom, book in hand, and caught the sight of Tony, still in his clothes, face down on the bed, snoring. He shook his head, smiling, and went in. He placed the book on McGees bed, while he removed Tony's shoes and placed them on the floor next to his sneakers.

Gibbs frowned looking at the shoes. They looked like shoes, but were constructed like sneakers. They were brown leather. So...in essence, dressy sneakers. "Leave it to you, DiNozzo," he smiled, wondering if the fancy sneakers cost a whole paycheck.

He took his book and left the room.

Tony dreamt. The scenes kept revolving around the greenhouse across the lake. First it was Lisa screaming for help, with a bloody gash at the side of her head.

Then it was Christian's partner, Chuck, saying the words that echoed in his head, "You really should see what he's got in that greenhouse..."

And finally the lady from the lake, crying out in a low, mournful wail while she reached for him through the water...

He awoke covered in sweat again, shaking.

"Shit," he whispered fiercely to himself, not wanting to wake McGee.

He suddenly felt a rush of anger overcome the lingering feeling of sad helplessness from his dreams.

Tomorrow. He was going to look a little more closely at that greenhouse. He had to see what was going on there. He would somehow prove to himself, that he wasn't crazy.


Chapter 13: Chapter 13

The next morning Tony managed to get his sneakers and running clothes on without waking McGee.

It was a beautiful, clear day, and the air was cool and fresh as he stepped outside.

The intense desire he had to get to the bottom of things, to find something which would help make sense of what was happening to him, was fueling him to run, rather than jog to the other side of the lake.

He forced himself to take deep breaths, as he left the driveway of the cottage and hit the main road.

His green eyes passed over the shady pines as he went, but his mind was on his conversation with Abby. At least she had been supportive, not looking at him as if he were insane. He still felt a mild sting of embarrassment, knowing he had actually come close to crying on her.

"Such a tough guy you are, DiNozzo," he panted to himself, softly.

He mentally ran through all the expressions Gibbs could give him, if he told him the truth, running from a smirk of disbelief, to anger, and worse yet…pity…

Thinking again of the dreams and words from Christian's partner, he hoped he was early enough that no one would notice him snooping around. It was only about 07:30. He forced himself to walk a little and cool down right before arriving at the B&B.

As he neared the Daydream Inn, he heard someone crying, frightened and in pain.

It was Lisa, and it sounded like it was coming from the greenhouse.

He took off, sprinting down the path, getting a glance of her inside. She was leaning against the tub with the roses, barely standing, with blood pouring down her face and her jumper from a gash at her temple. Her hair was matted with it.

As he looked at her, he felt a terrible pain in his head. He cried out and almost fell.

Tony grunted and righted himself, tearing into the greenhouse, but she was gone.

It was silent. Except for the fans. And the pounding of his heart.

A terrible feeling of displacement hit him, and he was confused, muttering, "What the Hell?"

He walked slowly to where she had been standing, the very spot he was in the day he got sick in the greenhouse and Christian found him.

He looked around, wondering where she could have gone. He looked at the floor for any blood or signs of struggle. There were none.

Then, a strange feeling passed through him, as he looked at the roses, and the dirt they sat in. It was like something was pressing on him inside. Making it harder to breathe. He gripped the side of the tub with one hand, and gasped as images flew through his mind again…someone swinging a shovel at him, screaming, and rotting flesh in the dirt.

He groaned, opening his eyes after realizing he had shut them tightly.

He suddenly knew what he needed to do.

Tony started grabbing the tea roses low on their stems, feeling some of the thorns rip at his hands.

He didn't care.

He pulled them up and threw them out behind him, dirt flying everywhere.

He hissed as a particularly sharp thorn dragged across his palm.

Tony's white tee shirt and red shorts were quickly becoming filthy, but he kept going, his breath ragged, determined to get more out of the way.

Once the tub was about 1/3 free of the roses, he started to frantically dig and claw at the soil. He was so focused on what he was doing, he didn't see Lisa standing right next to him, watching with no expression on her bloody face.

He dug, and dug some more, finally feeling something hard and sharp with his hands.

He brushed away the dirt, momentarily wiping the sweat from his brow.

He could see now. Metatarsals. Human foot bones.

Realization hit him like a freight train.

Christian was a murderer.

He saw the denim jumper out of the corner of his eye.

Shaking, and struggling to stay calm, he turned to look at her. She was bloody, as he'd seen her. She was staring into his face.

"H-he…killed you…didn't he?" Tony said softly, wondering if he were dreaming right now, if all of this wasn't real.

She said, in a slightly wondering tone, "I guess so."

She looked now to be very sad, and he reached out to her, asking, "Why? Why did he do it?"

Just as he was going to stroke her cheek, he heard a tapping behind him.

He turned and saw Chuck, leaning against the next tub over, filled with gardenias. He was tapping his fingers against the edges of the table.

"S'a good question boy," he smiled at Tony.

Tony swallowed and closed his eyes for a moment. Maybe if he waited and opened them, this would all be different. Would all be normal. Maybe he fell asleep at his desk again. Where was a head slap when you needed one?

But Chuck was still there when he looked again.

"I'd be most appreciative, if you'd check this one out," Chuck said, face contorting in a bitter grimace as he shook a thumb at the tub.

"You…you…" Tony couldn't finish.

"Yup. And I'm stuck here…at least until I see that sum'bitch pay for what he did."

Tony looked around, and then said, "Why not?" He let a burst of hysterical laughter escape him. "I'm headed for a padded cell anyway, aren't I? Not very good room service though, in those places…"

He went to the tub, and repeated the motions of pulling the plants out of the top layer of soil, but less frantically. He only vaguely noticed that his hands were bleeding from the thorns from 'Lisa's' tub of dirt.

He dug again, feeling the man's…ghost's presence next to him.

This time, once enough was cleared, he found a larger set of bones, and pieces of what looked like a shoe.

"Tony-" Chuck's ghost said into his ear, a little urgently.

But he was gripping the tub, as images began peeling through his head again…

Chuck was arguing with Christian. Tony could see it as if he were standing there. They were out in the back of the B&B, nearer to the lake. Their voices were heated, as they fought over Chuck wanting out of the business, and Chrisitan did not agree with the idea, because he couldn't afford to keep the business by himself. Christian looked so much younger, without the beard, and was thinner too back then. But he had the same eyes…

Suddenly Chuck raised his hands in surrender, as Christian pulled the knife on him. Tony wanted to run and jump on Christian, but found he had no body with which to do so. After all, he was only a witness. Chuck turned to flee, but Christian was too fast. He caught up with Chuck, and tackled him, and at his first opportunity, cut his throat clean across. Then a sickly montage of bubbling blood, dirt, and worms grotesquely blanketed itself over his psyche.

Tony could hear Chuck calling him again, as he realized he was on the floor, barely holding himself up on the edge of the tub. His limbs felt weak and rubber-like.

"You have to go…" it was Lisa's voice now as well, and he could feel them standing near him…

"You found the other body," Tony whispered. "You found it and your father killed you."

Before she could respond, hands suddenly grabbed Tony by the shoulders as a deep voice growled with menace, "What the Hell are you doing?"

He was dazed as Christian threw him, almost across the floor to the opposite row of tables and plants.

"You," Tony croaked, horrified and wondering now if he was about to join the ghosts that lived at the Daydream Inn. "You killed them!"

Christian stood, hulking over Tony, with eyes narrowed. "How?" was all he was able to spit out at the dirt smeared, green-eyed man on the floor.

"Doesn't matter how," Tony began, crawling back slowly, trying to look for something he could use as a weapon while he distracted the angry bastard. "I know you killed them all. Your partner…your daughter…your wife…"

The man was almost hyperventilating with fear and rage. His hands were balled up into meaty fists. He became dead still for one long stretch of a moment.

"And you're gonna' join them," he said darkly. He grimaced, and then moved forward towards Tony.

Tony scrambled up, quickly running to the wall and grabbing the garden shears he saw hanging there. As he spun around, Chrisitan was upon him, so he thrust out with the shears as hard as he could.

Christian howled, as the shears sank into his shoulder, lower than Tony would have liked. He wanted to get the man in the throat, to fully stop him, but he'd been too close.

Instead of grabbing at the shears, Christian grabbed Tony by the shoulders once more, and Tony knew even before he had the chance to pull back on the shears what was coming,

The giant of a man, shifted back ever so slightly, and then slammed Tony into the wall, into one of the few metal beams that was one of the main supports for the large structure. His vision seemed to fill with bright stars, as the pain exploded at the back of his head. Right before he lost consciousness, he thought, What are the odds of that?


Chapter 14: Chapter 14

Gibbs drank his coffee and paced the outside deck.

McGee was already up, making breakfast for everyone in the kitchen, while the girls seemed to be taking their time.

Gibbs sighed, looking out onto the lake in the golden morning light. He knew he should be relaxed. But he found himself scowling.

Somewhere around 07:30, he awoke with a start, a little sweaty and feeling something was off. He got up, and after perusing the house found that Tony's sneakers were gone, indicating he'd gone for a run.

That fact shouldn't have bothered him. But it did. And now he was watching the clock, wondering what time his SFA would be back.

It was only 08:00 hours. A full turn or two around the lake could take longer than that…but as long as he didn't stop at that B&B again, with just once around he should be back by 08:30. Gibbs felt almost a little foolish, worrying like he was.

But every time his gut had a twinge when it came to Tony…

"Boss?" McGee called from inside the screen doors to the kitchen, "you want sausage, or bacon with the eggs?"

"Don't care, McGee. Just make sure you put on another pot of coffee after that one's done."

"Of course, Boss. Don't want you too cranky when Tony gets back."

Gibbs smiled. McGee knew Gibbs was worrying. It was easy to forget how observant McGee was at times, because of his gentler nature. Gibbs briefly flashed on how far Tim had come from the early days when he first started working with the team, and chuckled at how much sass Tony had given him back then. He shook his head to himself, "Only slightly less than now…"

At this point, McGee and Tony were like brothers. Which is why he knew that even McGee was a little concerned too, that Tony went running again, after how sick he was the last time.

"You better get your ass back here in one piece, DiNozzo," he muttered to himself, going into he house to help set the table for breakfast.


"Where's Tony?" Abby asked, sleepily rubbing her head as she sat down in front of her eggs.

"He went for a run," McGee said, putting some condiments on the table, as Ziva passed him on the way to get her coffee.

"He is…very stubborn sometimes," Ziva said in a mildly annoyed tone, as she sat her coffee down on the table and poured more into Gibbs' mug.

"Eh, just a little," McGee said facetiously.

"Oh, I would say more than a little McGee –" she looked at his face, and then smiled slightly, "that is what you meant, isn't it? It was sarcasm."

McGee just grinned at her and nodded, sitting down himself next to Gibbs to eat.

"What time did he leave?" Abby asked. Before anyone could respond, she continued. "I can't believe he gets up to run in the morning. I mean, I can't imagine anything so horrible to do first thing when you get up. I would only do that if, like, I dunno, a grizzly bear or something were running after me. Do you think Tony worries about getting fat? Cos', I don't think he's fat at all, not at all. As a matter of fact-"

"Abby," Gibbs said softly, motioning to her plate with his eyes.

McGee's brows had been raised, wondering what exactly she was going to say in the next part of that ramble. Why does she seem nervous? He thought.

"Eating now," she smiled. "But seriously," she picked up a bacon slice and nibbled. "What time should he be back Gibbs?"

"Now," said Gibbs, looking at the kitchen clock. "But we'll give him a while and if he's not back by 09:15, we'll take a ride and make sure he didn't get sick on anyone. He left his damned phone on the nightstand. I think he forgot the rules up here. I've been too lax on vacation."

"No rules ! No! No Gibbs! It's vacation. You can't be mad at him for that. Besides, you made everyone put their weapons away, including knives."

He smiled at her, "So I did Abs, so I did. But I think someone may still have kept a knife or two…" his eyes shifted to the other woman seated next to Abby.

Ziva looked around a little, while McGee snorted.

"Why are you so concerned about Tony this morning?" Gibbs asked her, eyes narrowing slightly. Something was up. Tony had spoken to her last night. She knew something…

"Oh," she said, looking at her eggs and taking a bite. "It's just," she said, chewing and chomping, "you know, I'm worried about how…he's feeling….after he was sick an' all…" she almost choked when she swallowed down the much too big forkful she had taken.

"Uh-huh," Gibbs said in gentle bemusement. "There's nothin' you wanna tell me, Abs?" he raised a brow.

But she just shook her head no and picked up her glass of orange juice to sip, while Ziva and McGee eyes her a little curiously as well.

She cringed inwardly. She didn't want to betray Tony's trust. But she had a bad feeling from the moment she awoke, that she just needed to see him, and hug him again. The terribly sad look in his eyes the night before had stayed with her.

She drank the whole orange juice down as they watched, gulping in loud jerks, and let out a deep sigh as she put the glass down on the table.

"I'm sure he's fine," she announced. Nothing to see here. Just move along…

So they ate, and they looked up at the clock periodically.

But Tony didn't return.

Gibbs' gut started to get more insistent.

At 09:25, he and McGee got into the car to drive around the lake, leaving Ziva and Abby to clean up the kitchen and go for their morning bath/swim.

"He's gonna' be annoyed with us, Boss."McGee said, trying to sound lighthearted, but he couldn't shake the feeling Tony was in trouble again. He thought back to the morning before, when he and Abby had been horsing around in the lake and he realized they hadn't seen Tony in a while…

If he hadn't caught the little kiss of bubbles on the surface of the water…

Tim shuddered.

"When is he not annoyed with you, McGee?" Gibbs asked, also trying to pass off as more relaxed than he felt.

"Good point, Boss," McGee smiled, as they pulled out onto the main road.

Their small talk died down as they looked for him.

Once around, no sign.

Twice, and the tension in the car had gotten thicker.

"Boss, maybe we should-"

"Stop by the B&B, to see if he's there?" Gibbs finished for him.

"Ah, yeah."

"Good idea, McGee," Gibbs said dryly.

They pulled up behind the pickup in the driveway. A sign sitting on the greenhouse path read 'Greenhouse closed today'.

They got out of the truck. Gibbs didn't know why, put he checked his gun in the back of his jeans compulsively.

"McGee, go take a peek in that greenhouse," he said softly, with a nudge of his chin towards the path.

"Onnit Boss," McGee said, checking his own gun, that Gibbs had graciously taken out of the safe for him before they left. Gibbs didn't know why…but instinct told him they needed to be prepared. For what, he didn't know.

Gibbs walked up the wood steps of the big porch, and knocked heavily at the screen door. It was quiet, except for the birds singing, and the distant hum of the greenhouse fans.

After getting no response, he knocked again, and entered the large foyer of the rustic great room of the Inn. "Hello?" he called a little loudly.

Just then, the lumberjack of a man who had brought Tony home the other day appeared, holding a cloth underneath the shoulder of his flannel shirt.

The man's white peppered red hair was askew, and he was a bit pale.

"Mr. Dobson."

"Yeah. I'd shake again, but- I had a little mishap in the greenhouse today and hurt m'shoulder." The man's eyes were scanning Gibbs' face. Gibbs knew that expression.

It was a poker face.

"You need a doc?" Gibbs asked, trying to play natural, not sure yet what to make of the man and his injury.

"Aw, nah. Took worse than this in the bar with my buddies. I'll be fine. What can I do for you Mr. Gibbs?"

"Actually," Gibbs took his time now, reaching into his pocket and pulling his badge, "it's Agent Gibbs," he watched the man's eyes widen for just a fraction of a second. "And my friend, Tony, who is also an Agent – you know," Gibbs said, tilting his head,"the one who puked on you the other morning - I was wondering if you've seen him?"

The man looked at Gibbs for a moment.

"Today, you mean?"

"Yes."

"No, I ain't seen him here again since I brought him home to you the other morning."

Gibbs sighed. Something was going on here. His gut was screaming at him.

But what was it ?

"Do you mind, if we take a look around?"

"We?" the man looked suddenly alarmed. "No! I have guests coming later today and I need to finish up what I'm doing. This isn't a good time."

He suddenly stormed past Gibbs and walked out the front door, brusquely stomping out to the driveway. He looked down the path to the greenhouse and saw McGee walking around it.

"Hey you!" He yelled, a little angrily.

"That would be Agent McGee, Mr. Dobson, if you'd like to address him by name," Gibbs said calmly, as he took note of the mans tensed body and slightly shaking hands. The one was still pressed under his shirt.

As McGee came walking up the path, Dobson turned to Gibbs, fuming.

"I donno' whatch'yer doing here, but you have to go. Now. I have no idea where your friend is, but I have very little business this week and I don't need you making things more difficult for me!"

"Mr. Dobson, our friend, the other Agent, hasn't been well, and we just want to see if he's wandered out on the property-"

"I said no!" he growled adamantly.

Gibbs took a deep breath and sighed, "Have it your way then." He turned to McGee, "Let's go, Tim."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Dobson called after him angrily.

"You'll see," Gibbs said simply, as he got in the car.

The hulking man watched them, as Gibbs studied him in the rearview mirror, until they were no longer in sight.

Gibbs pulled the car over, "Anything in the greenhouse?"

"Mmm, no...nothing you wouldn't expect. There was a lot of dirt on the floor in one part of it, a mess really, and some plants on the floor, sort of bunched up next to the tables. But I didn't have time to take a closer look and there was no sign of Tony." McGee studied Gibbs' face as he looked away again, out to the pines.

"You have your cell, McGee?"

"Yeah, Boss."

"Ok, you get out of this car and sneak through the woods til you get a spot near the house. Preferably out back. And - Don't. Get. Caught."

"You want me to watch and see if something suspicious is going on there?"

"I don't think, McGee, I know. And something isn't right."

"And you think Tony had some kind of run-in with this guy?"

Something cold fingered its way up Gibbs' spine. "Yeah. Maybe."

"You don't think he…he hurt Tony, do you?" McGee stared at Gibbs for a moment, alarmed, seeing that angry glint in the older man's eyes when one of his own was threatened.

"I dunno'…hopefully not. Hopefully, Tony took a bicycle ride with the Swedish Bikini Team. But if something did happen…and he and Tony got into some kind of fight…"

McGee nodded, grabbing the door handle. As he got out, Gibbs said "In fifteen minutes, Ziva is going to take over watching the Inn, we'll call you so you know when she's coming to relieve you. If you see or hear anything off, you call me. If Tony's at the cottage when I get back I'll let you know that too." And if he is, he's getting the head smack of his life.

"What are we going to do then?" the Probie asked, bending in slightly to still look at Gibbs inside the car.

"You and I are gonna' go on a little fact finding mission, and get a warrant to search that house."


Chapter 15: Chapter 15

Gibbs drove at breakneck speed towards the Haskill Falls Library, where he was going to kick McGee and Abby out while the car was still moving.

"So…" Abby started hesitantly from the back seat, biting her lip. "You think Tony is in trouble, Gibbs? Cos…I…I don't feel so good about things right now."

"I don't know for sure, Abby, but he would be back by now unless something happened. And there are only two places on that lake, for Tony to have had any interaction with other people."

She nodded, "Right. No coincidences... and…you said the owner was a little…hinky?"

"He was extremely uncooperative, if not rude, and didn't want us poking around," McGee said, rubbing his eyes to soothe the tension he felt. He was very worried about Tony.

Gibbs could see Abby thinking from the back seat, wrestling with something. Wanting to say something.

"Out with it Abs," Gibbs commanded from the front seat.

She frowned and looked around while Gibbs kept getting glances at her between following some of the road signs they were coming up on.

"I guess…Tony can't be upset with me now. I-if I tell you. I mean, he's missing…or…uh, worse…maybe he is hurt. Or maybe he…wandered off..."

Gibbs looked into the mirror sharply at that comment.

"I mean, he hasn't been right really…and he told me…"she hesitated, looking up now at Gibbs' eyes in the rearview mirror.

"What? C'mon Abby! This is serious!" Gibbs growled at her while McGee shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"He's…seeing things…having hallucinations…or something." She mumbled out the words, but he heard them, And McGee's eyes widened as he turned in his seat to look at her.

"What? When did he tell you that?" McGee asked her, fixing his stare on her now crumbling expression. He was even more worried now about his friend.

"Last…n-night. And I was gonna' try to talk to Gibbs about it. I swear I was Gibbs! But Tony wanted me to keep it quiet because he was confused as to what was going on. He was scared…that…that you'd bench him, Gibbs. And I told him not to worry, that we'd figure it out. Because…he's not crazy. He's not crazy Gibbs!" Her eyes were starting to fill a little with unshed tears.

"I know Abby. He's not," Gibbs said gently, "but he's been having some trouble since the French case. And…something happened with that Christian Dobson. I dunno' what…but…"

"Your gut," Abby said softly.

"Yeah," Gibbs breathed.

"What are we checking out at the Library? "McGee asked, trying to center, as the car made a hair turn into the little town of Haskill Falls.

"Everything to do with Christian Dobson and that Inn. Everything."

"Tony had started telling me something was up with that family. I think there's a girl named Lisa, but he didn't get to tell me much more…" Abby trailed off. "Can I come with you, Gibbs?"

"Naw, Abs. Go with McGee. I already called in a favor and just need to get a printout of the search warrant, and I want to see what backup the LEO's here can give me."

"How long do we have, Boss?" McGee asked, as Gibbs pulled up in front of a little brick building with an American flag out front and Library signs.

"About a half hour. Check in with Ziva and call me immediately if she sees anything strange happen.

"Okay Boss." McGee got out of the car quickly.

Abby hesitated, leaning forward to look Gibbs in the eyes. "Gibbs…I-"

"We'll find him, Abby," he said and leaned toward her to place a comforting kiss on her cheek.

She swallowed, and nodded tearfully, and then followed McGee out of the car.


Haskill Falls Sheriff's department was a little bigger than Gibbs expected.

That was about ten feet wider than the library. And the bricks were tan, instead of the red of the Library. In case you mistook one for the other, in a town with one bus stop and one gas station.

He walked up to the front desk.

"Can I help you?" The woman said in a raspy smokers voice. She had teased dirty blonde "Aquanet" hair that reminded Gibbs of Shannon's grandmother, who had hair like a hardhat. Round and bulletproof. She smiled pleasantly through her coral lipstick and horn rimmed glasses.

"I'm Agent Gibbs, NCIS," he said, showing her his badge. "Judge Miles Stark's office in DC was supposed to fax through a search warrant for me, since you guys were closer than any Federal offices."

She nodded, "Sure thing, Agent Gibbs. I'll go look for that warrant. Meantime, I'll also get Sheriff Dobson out here to talk to you as well."

Gibbs was grateful the woman seemed to be moving quickly enough, and didn't question his credentials or give him a hard time. And his next question was to ask for the Sheriff, to get some assistance, so he was pleased with her thinking.

It was all good until she said the name "Dobson", and he scowled, knowing the odds were great there was some relation to Christian Dobson.

"Shit," he muttered to himself, hoping that fact wasn't going to slow things down.

The Sheriff came out, all 6'3" of aged grizzly bear that had to be related to the owner of the B&B. He even had the wavy red hair, but looked a bit younger. Maybe late forties.

"Agent Gibbs," the man put his hand out congenially enough, so Gibbs shook it.

"Sheriff Dobson," Gibbs said curtly.

The man opened his mouth to ask something, steel blue eyes studiously on Gibbs' face.

Gibbs quickly showed him his NCIS identification, and the man smiled warmly at him. "Ah, you knew I was gonna' ask to see it too. Now, what can I do for you, Agent Gibbs?" He asked as he leaned back on one leg, in his tan colored uniform.

Just then, the receptionist came out with papers in hand, but there was no mistaking the look of concern and apprehension on her face.

"Whats'a matter, Millie?" The Sheriff asked with concern.

She took a deep breath. "Well, ah…this is a search warrant faxed from a Judge in DC to Agent Gibbs here…" she chewed her coral colored lip for a moment.

Here we go, Gibbs thought.

"It's for your brother's place, out on Sandown Lake, Pete," she said, not certain if she should hand the paperwork to either of them.

The hulking man turned to Gibbs with narrowed eyes. "Wanna' tell me what this is about?" He asked in a subtly menacing tone.

"Some of my Agents and I are staying on the lake, at the cottage. One of them is sick, and missing. We can't be sure he wandered into the woods, and is in need of medical attention, so we need to comb around the lake. Your brother flat out refused to let us look around on his property, so I had a Judge get me a warrant to take care of that." Gibbs hoped the words he chose would make the Sheriff less likely to get in the way of checking the B&B for Tony.

The man continued looking at Gibbs, and sighed. Then he turned to Millie.

"Lemme' see Millie." He took the papers and read them over. After several moments and flipping through the pages, he said, "This warrant is to search the entire premises, the car, and the property."

"Yes," Gibbs said plainly.

"You got somethin' else to say? Because this warrant seems a little extreme to me, Agent Gibbs."

Just then, Gibbs' cell rang.

He answered it, while keeping his stare trained on the Sheriff.

"Gibbs."

"Ah, Boss?"

"Yeah, McGee, who else?"

"Okay, ah, well w-we found some pretty…strange facts out about Christian Dobson and the Daydream Inn."

"Like what?" Gibbs asked impatiently, while holding up an index finger to the Sherriff in bidding his patience.

"Like, first of all, Dobson had a partner, a Charles Deveraux, who disappeared in June 1978, leaving Dobson to file abandonment and assume complete ownership. I tried to trace Deveraux- he was never heard from again." Gibbs could hear Abby speaking excitedly in the background, and McGee covering the phone for a moment. "No…I'm not telling him that Abs. Knock it off."

"McGee!"

"Ah yeah, so also, Boss, he filed a missing persons report for his wife Susan in May of 1979. She was also never heard from again and there are no traces I can find of her. And…they have a daughter, Lisa, who there is only record of until August of 1985, and then at age 16 she also disappeared. Or ran away. But there are no more traces on her either. And I don't get it, Boss. All these missing people. And no police investigation. Why did the local LEO's drop the ball? I mean, this Christian Dobson could really be… bad news…"

"I think I have some idea," Gibbs breathed out. "Be outside in five minutes." He hung up the phone while he could still hear Abby griping to talk to him on the other end.

Tony may just have had a run-in with a serial killer. Only you, DiNozzo, he thought, with an aching heart.

Gibbs licked his lips for a moment, while the Sheriff looked at him, still angry and prepared to fight him on the warrant. Millie sat down at her desk, nervously looking at the two men.

"Your brother had a business partner."

"Uh-huh," the Sheriff replied.

"And, a wife." Gibbs raised a brow. "And a daughter."

"And your point is, Agent Gibbs?"

"My point," Gibbs said louder and more slowly, "is that they all disappeared, and no one investigated? Can you explain that to me, Sheriff?"

The larger man's eyes blazed at Gibbs furiously. "My brother had a string of bad luck s'all, Agent Gibbs. His partner dumped him, wife ran off with another man, and the kid…well, teens run off too. I know my brother . He's a good man. And there was never any reason to suspect he had anything to do with them being gone."

"Never a reason to suspect?" Gibbs asked incredulously. He was going to launch into all the reasons the Sheriff's thinking was wrong, point out the fact he was too close. Point out the incompetency of what they failed to do. But he thought, Tony…

He feared even more now that he might never see Tony alive again.

There wasn't time.

"Listen Sheriff," Gibbs said with command, "you're gonna' hand over that warrant right now, and if I call you for back-up later you will give it to me quickly and with professionalism. You will not contact your brother about this, nor will any one else who knows or works for you."

"Oh yeah, Agent Gibbs? And just why would I do that?" The man's body language was speaking volumes about what he thought of Gibbs' suggestion. Just then a Deputy came out, and stood still, trying to figure out what was going on.

Gibbs stepped into the Sheriff's space.

"Because," he spat, "if you don't, I will be sure to give my pals at the FBI a call to come out here, and turn your little town upside down looking into those missing persons cases, that all happened to originate at your brother's place of business."

The Sheriff blinked for a moment.

"Who was the Sheriff back before you?" Gibbs astutely asked.

The hulking man was breathing heavily, but for the first time looked away, and was unsure of his stance.

"My father," he stated simply, and handed Gibbs the warrant.


Chapter 16: Chapter 16

Something was wrong.

He felt the pain first, radiating from the back of his head into his jaw and neck.

And then he noticed his shoulders aching…along with pretty much the rest of his body.

His eyelids struggled open, and that's when it occurred to him he couldn't breathe through his mouth.

Or move his arms.

Or his legs.

Shit! He remembered almost in a sudden mental rush what had happened in the greenhouse.

He was in a canoe. His mouth was covered in what he guessed was duct tape, and struggled ineffectively against the bonds around his wrists, knees, and ankles. The back of his skull felt like it must have a hole in it, and the world was slightly spinning.

Great.

"I tried to warn you," a man's voice came from somewhere above him.

Tony looked up, feeling dried blood crinkling and flaking from his neck with the movement. He groaned, trying to breathe slowly through the vertigo, as much as he could anyway. He was in some kind of small structure, with a hook and crane arm hovering just above the canoe. It was grey, with open beams, and there looked to be some light coming from a window somewhere.

It was hot.

And suddenly leaning over the canoe, looking very concerned, was Chuck Deveraux.

What the hell do you care anyway? You're dead, Tony thought, as only a small muffled groan escaped him as he blinked.

"Well, it's partly my fault you're in this predicament," the ghost said, as he slowly removed his glasses and cleaned them on his shirt.

Tony frowned and closed his eyes for a moment. So now you can hear me thinking? Seriously?

"Well, pretty much, yeah, I guess," Chuck said with amusement in his brown eyes.

Just then, as Tony opened his eyes again, Lisa poked her head over the canoe as well.

Her head and hair were no longer matted with blood as they had been in the greenhouse earlier. But she was crying, and seemed to be wringing her hands, upset and staring at Tony with desperate eyes.

"You have to get out of here Tony! He's going to kill you! Just like me & Chuck!"

And your mom, Tony thought sadly.

Her face changed, and she looked utterly shocked.

"M-my mom?" she said, confused.

You didn't know? I…I'm sorry…His brow creased as he fought to apply logic to this already massively surreal situation. I guess…he looked off to the side for a moment, trying to fight back the nausea that his head pain was causing, I guess maybe because your Dad threw her in the lake. Somehow it's a proximity thing? Or the fact she's in water and you're in earth? Maybe I should have watched a few more ghost flicks and laid off the action. Maybe I'd know something about this…about how you ended up this way…and your mom…

She put her hands over her face and began to sob into them, and then suddenly she was gone.

"You're a real blast o' sunshine," Chuck said. "Oh well. I didn't know about Suze either. That must'a happened after that some'bitch did me in." Chuck sighed, and lazily sat on the edge of the canoe. "It's a strange thing, bein' here. I mean, I get the girl's confusion. We ain't seen Suze, evah. I figure we're locked in to that proximity thing you're talkin' 'bout... I'm not sure the girl even knew she was dead for a while…seems like sometimes she knows. And sometimes she forgets. I suspect pretty strongly that when Dobson gets his come-uppance, I'll be able to get the hell outta' Dodge. Knowhattimean? And, well, I had high hopes for you son. But I gotta' tell ya', from where I'm sitting, things don't look so good. And I'm thinkin' Dobson's probably gonna' dump you in the lake."

Tony was sweating.

He knew the ghost was right.

Gibbs. Gibbs will figure it out, you'll see. And he'll nail the bastard…

Chuck tilted his head, "I hope so, cos' I feel awful bad now you're in such a pickle. But I guess….worst case scenario, you'll have comp'ny, with Suze out in the lake."

Tony shuddered, remembering the dreams of cold white arms pulling him under the water.

Please…you gotta find me Boss…


When Gibbs picked up Abby and McGee, they were arguing.

"Please Abby! There's enough for us to worry about right now!" McGee said, a little heatedly as he flung himself into the front seat, and slammed the car door closed.

From the back seat, Abby retorted, "Just because you don't think it's important, McGee, doesn't mean it's not. And just because you don't believe in anything except X-box doesn't mean that the rest of us don't! You saw that picture! You know that was him!"

"Who?" Gibbs asked curtly, as he tore away from the library.

"The man I saw talking to Tony yesterday morning- it was him, Gibbs! It was Charles Deveraux, and he looked exactly the same age as in the pictures from the 70's! And McGee…Tim didn't see him. At all. And then he just disappeared anyway, and Tony seemed so happy I could see him too…"

"I never saw him, and you only saw him from a distance, Abs," McGee said, near exasperation.

"I wasn't aware someone aside us had a conversation with DiNozzo yesterday," Gibbs said, his head banking the info.

"When we were getting ready to go out, Tony was up at the top of the drive, talking to Charles Deveraux. Gibbs," Abby hesitated, chewing her lip for a moment, "I swear it was him, and I saw old newspaper clippings McGee had on the screen of Dobson and Deveraux when they opened the Daydream Inn."

"You sure?" Gibbs asked, looking at her again in the rearview mirror.

She stared at him so intensely for a moment, that it almost took his breath away.

"I think …Tony's been talking to ghosts."

Gibbs took a breath and then sighed. "Abby-"

"No! You think whatever you want, Gibbs, but I know Tony. And…Tony isn't crazy. I don't care how much stress he's been under. You don't just start seeing things, just like that. And this place….and the moon…and the case and his childhood-" she was almost out of breath.

"Abby!" Gibbs called loudly to get her attention.

"Sorry," she grumbled, looking away from his eyes in the mirror.

"You got the warrant, Boss?" McGee asked, trying to end the 'ghost' conversation.

"Yeah. Turns out, Dobson's brother is the Sheriff, like their father was, and that's why the cases were not investigated."

McGee scowled. "You think…Dobson may have murdered them? Do you think he killed any of the guests that stayed there?"

"That's a whole other can o' worms, McGee. I dunno'. But I know we need to find Tony. Now."

McGee frowned worriedly and nodded. "Why would he go after Tony? Maybe…" McGees big eyes looked off, while he was thinking, "maybe Tony came across something suspicious?" He looked at Gibbs again, wanting Gibbs to tell him his thinking was wrong. And that maybe Tony had just played some kind of practical joke on them, and that he was oaky, having a beer in the local dive bar, waiting for them to figure it out. But no such thing came from the older man.

"Call Ziva," Gibbs commanded.

McGee dialed.

"Ziva-" he stopped short. "But- yes but - you were supposed to call us-….yeah," McGee said, and quickly handed Gibbs the phone.

"Sitrep!" Gibbs said quickly.

Ziva's softly spoken words came out in a breathy flow. "Dobson went out a little while ago, Gibbs, and there was no reception in the woods where I was standing….so I could not let you know... I am sorry Gibbs… Before he left, I did check the truck and there was nothing in the pickup. So, I took the liberty of going in to check the house. And I have more bars here…He did not pack any bags, so it appeared as though he is just going to make a local trip"

He wanted to yell at her, because if she got caught…well…they did have the warrant…even if he hadn't shown it to Dobson yet.

He also wished someone was able to tail Dobson, but Dobson wouldn't have had enough time to take Tony anywhere in the morning - since they had been out on the road looking for their missing SFA pretty quickly and the truck was in the drive each time they drove by…

So where the Hell was Tony?

"See anything?"he asked her, hopefully.

"No – I looked in every room, and the basement, and the crawlspace in the attic," she said, almost panting. "And now I am going to look in the greenhouse."

He could hear her moving quickly- she was running. He knew without having to ask that she had literally run from room to room in the B&B, and opened every closet looking for signs of Tony.

"Gibbs, nothing looks unusual here so far…" the phone continued it's muffled sounds. "Except…" he heard a little gasp come from her.

"Ziva!"

"There is a slop sink in the back, and there is a garden shear and some bloody rags in it." He could almost hear her swallow convulsively on the other end. He knew she was wondering if it was Tony's blood. He remembered Dobson holding his hand to the wounded shoulder. Did Tony give him that wound?

Tony, you'd better not be dead…his gut continued to torment him. No…DiNozzo was still in danger…and alive. He just somehow knew it.

"You checked the property?"

"Yes. Before the man left in his truck I managed to look all around the grounds, and as far as I could see, there is no sign of disturbed earth."

Thank God for small favors.

"Fall back to the woods," he said.

"But, Gibbs, the sink-"

"I know, ZIva. It'll keep. Doesn't matter how he tries to clean it. If we take him in now, we could lose Tony. Anyway- think it's his blood in there, not Tony's."

He heard her sharp intake of breath. "You think…Tony is alive?"

"Yes. Now fall back. And try to find a spot where the phone works. But if you can't I will be there soon anyway. Stay on the west side of the property, behind the greenhouse. "

"Okay," she said, and hung up.

"We have a plan, Boss?" McGee said, looking at him.

"Yeah, McGee," Gibbs replied solidly. And then he thought, Let's hope it's the right one, for Tony's sake.


Chapter 17: Chapter 17

"Sheriff Dobson," he answered the phone, pinching the bridge of his nose to ease the tension from his run-in with Agent Gibbs.

It was only half an hour ago, but he'd already chewed half a bottle of antacids and was hoping his brother would happen in…so he could at least try to hint at the trouble he might be in without having a traceable call that Gibbs could annoy him over.

Though really, he didn't think his brother had done anything wrong, except maybe mouth off to Gibbs.

"Sheriff Dobson, this is FBI Special Agent Tobas Fornell."

Dobson swallowed, and took a breath. He'd heard the Agent's name before... "What can I do for you, Agent Fornell?"

"Well, Sheriff, I got a call from Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS, who I hear you spoke to earlier today."

Dobson felt the flush of anger creep up his neck to his face. "Agent Fornell, I told Agent Gibbs-"

"Listen, Dobson, save yourself the trouble. I'm gonna' tell you how this needs to go, and I suggest you cooperate in order to save your own bacon."

He sighed. He knew now, it was a mistake. He should have investigated. His father should have investigated. All this could have been avoided.

"I'm listening," he said sourly.

"Firstly, you better be sure no one, and I mean no one, Dobson, tells your brother anything we don't instruct you to. That means not a whisper about Gibbs getting the warrant, or talking to you. Am I clear, Dobson? Because I really don't wanna have to end your career with charges of obstruction. It could…affect your pension adversely."

He scowled, staring at the wooden door of his office. "Understood."

"Now, Agent Gibbs may be a bastard, but he would never put an innocent man in prison. So I'm going to assure you, if your brother hasn't done anything wrong, then he will be just fine. In fact, you'll both get a full apology from our agencies, and Agent Gibbs. He always apologizes when he's wrong."

Dobson wasn't sure if he heard sarcasm in the man's voice.

"In order for us to make sure your brother has no connection to Agent DiNozzo's disappearance, as well as the disappearances of Charles Deveraux, Susan Dobson, and Lisa Dobson, we need you to contact your brother today, immediately after you hang up with me, and tell him one very specific thing. Can you do that Dobson?"

It would be some kind of trap for Christian. He knew he had no choice now. But…Fornell was right. Wouldn't this likely just help exonerate Christian from any suspicion ? His big brother was a good man. It was Pete, and his father, who'd let Christian down.."We should've just done the checks…" he murmured, not even aware he'd said the words aloud.

Fornell paused. And then said, "You with me Dobson?"

"Yessir, Agent Fornell, tell me what I need to say. Let's get this over with."


Gibbs was whittling at a branch with his knife. Ziva was still watching the house, absently picking at the tree bark of the tall pine she was leaning against.

Dobson had arrived back home with his pickup truck at 17:30.

When he got out, he glanced around in a wary manner, as if he worried someone was watching him.

Then he quickly went into his house.

And then they waited. An hour passed. Then one more. With very little movement coming from the house.

It was too quiet.

"What exactly are we waiting for Gibbs?" Ziva whispered. Her dark eyes flashed at him, glittering in the shadows of the woods at dusk. "Why don't we just…question him?"

"Question him?" Gibbs said, but more like a statement.

"Yes, I would like to-"

"Ziva, he would need to live long enough to tell us where Tony is. And if he doesn't tell us…"

She nodded, understanding why they were waiting. Tony could be hurt...any delay could make a difference. If he was still alive...

"Fornell put a missing persons out for Tony, yes?"

"Yes."

"And Sheriff Dobson did what Fornell asked him to?"

"Didn't Dobson look like it, when he got out of the truck, Ziva? You tell me."

She took a deep breath and looked back at the house. "Yes. He looks guilty. And now, we are waiting for…?"

"The smile of the moon," Gibbs said quietly, remembering the story Tony told about his grandmother, just a few nights ago.


At 19:27, a light went on in the Inn, and Dobson began to stir.

"Like a rat," Gibbs murmured, "waiting for the darkness."

Gibbs motioned Ziva to follow him, in the darkened woods, around to the back of the house, where Dobson had noisily walked out of the back screened door.

The back of the Inn was clear for about two acres, before a line of trees sprang around it almost as a border, between the Inn and the rocky shore of the lake. There were no obvious or worn paths out from the Daydream down to the water, Gibbs figured because the terrain hadn't allowed for the pleasant kind of floating dock they had back at the cottage.

He stealthily skimmed the tree line, motioning Ziva to go around the other way through the woods. He reminded her with a finger to his lips to remain very quiet, in case this was not the moment they were looking for. She nodded and disappeared.

But something told Gibbs…this was it. This was the moment. It was like a series of guitar strings strumming in his bowels. It was imperative to see what Dobson was up to, under the cover of night.

Only, the waning moon was only just waning, and she threw off plenty of light.

It was a good thing, because there was no solid path where Dobson was lumbering ahead of him.

Gibbs was carefully and quietly ghosting through all the trunks of the crisp smelling pines…it was difficult to stay close to the man without alerting him, so Gibbs kept back a bit and at a steady pace, heart pounding in the quiet. He hoped the crickets were covering any random twigs he might be snapping…

The man was muttering something…Gibbs could barely make out…

And then he turned, and for several moments, Gibbs lost sight of him.

As he made his way to the last place he could visibly see Dobson, he realized he had come to the end of the denser trees, as they opened up to a rocky cliff some 15 feet up over the lake. Just below to the right, he could see a small roof.

As he made his way carefully in the shadows, trying to stay concealed, he heard a noise.

A type of squeaking.

Like wheels that needed to be oiled, in a jerking kind of rhythm.

As he came upon a small stone stairway that lead to the little house.

He felt a presence behind him, and knew it was Ziva.

"Stay here," he said in a whisper, turning to look at her for just a moment in the moonlight. "In case I need you to cover me."

She nodded, and her eyes went from his face to the lake, and widened. "Gibbs!" She said in an urgent and low tone. "Look!"

The noise he heard was a canoe being lowered into the lake. A large one. Large enough to fit Tony, who was bound and struggling at the bottom of it, and Christian, who unhooked the cable and mechanism, and began paddling and talking to Tony…saying things that they weren't close enough to hear.

Gibbs' heart leapt.

"He's alive!" he said in a half growl, now allowing himself to feel the burning rage at Christian Dobson he'd pushed back all day.

From the distance, he could still see what looked like bloodstains on Tony's shirt…

Gibbs ran down the stone steps, to the end where they stopped at the boathouse, getting a better view of the little bay doors that opened to allow for the canoe to be lifted in and out of the structure.

He raised his gun.

"NCIS! Stop right there, Dobson!" Gibbs' voice boomed around the lake, the echo drowning out even the crickets.

Dobson jumped, and was obviously startled. He almost dropped the oar he was using. Then he looked up at Gibbs with an expression that could only be called pure hatred.

The canoe was drifting now, and was about thirty feet from the cliff edge where Gibbs stood.

Then Dobson stood up, without a word, and jumped out of the canoe, effectively tipping it, and plunging himself and Tony into the dark water.


Chapter 18: Chapter 18

Tony was in and out of consciousness, body bent uncomfortably and aching most of the day, with only the ghosts of the Daydream Inn to keep him company.

Well, maybe just the one ghost, since he had upset Lisa so much she did not return.

It was only Chuck who seemed to be hovering about chattering from time to time, and apologizing a few more times for Tony's predicament.

He would disappear for a while, and then reappear, almost as if needing to rest a little…if there was such a thing as for rest for disgruntled spirits.

Why can't you help me? Can you? Can you untie me?

"Sorry pal. I don't have that kind of juice. You know, we can't even get noticed by most people. I try to bug some of the guests at the inn, because I'm always anglin' for a way out. But until you, no one really took enough…interest."

Interest? Tony snorted through the tape gag, rolling his eyes. Not like any of you gave me a choice. You know, even if I somehow get out of this, no one will believe me. They'll kick me off my job. Probably send me to a mental health program...and I'd probably…lose my friends anyway…

That sad thought brought some tears to Tony's eyes, as he once again struggled to keep his breathing even.

"Look, Tony…I am very sorry. But being stuck here because some sonofabitch murdered you is no fun either. Not much in way of friends or social activity."

Tony drew a deep stream of air through his nose and blinked slowly, calming himself. Do you know where he is right now?

Chuck tilted his head, his glasses glinting a bit over his dark eyes. "He's back at the house…napping. Ahhh, the untroubled sleep of a sociopath." Chuck sighed. Then he put a hand gently on Tony's shoulder. "I wish I could do more for you, my friend."

Can you tell if anyone else is around…looking for me? He asked hopefully.

"I'm a little..used up talking to you… but give me a moment and I'll take a peek as best I can…" and then he disappeared.

Tony noticed the daylight was fading, and could no longer see shadows hitting the beams in the small structure he was in. The soft sheen of dusk was kissing the details in the ceiling now, as Tony tried once again weakly to struggle out of his bonds.

Why the hell can't I move? He thought in frustration. He was hot and thirsty, and still had to be careful about how dizzy he got trying to move. He knew he had a concussion, and if he vomited with the tape over his mouth…

"Hey pal," Chuck said as he jumped, startled. "I don't mean to be a jerk, but I gotta' go. I'm getting real tired and a bad feeling all of a sudden…and I think I may not wanna' be here for your next visitor."

Tony's brows came together as he blinked at Chuck dazedly. Whaddy'a mean?

"I mean…she's coming…" Chuck said, in a hushed tone. "And…you're not goin' anywhere. In case you don't know…your neck and feet are tied to cinder blocks. Sorry. But on a good note, some people are in the woods watching the property. I would surmise, they dunno' where this boat house is, but…I hope they find you Tony…"

Tony made a little sound, a whimper of desperation, as Chuck disappeared again. At least there was hope…it had to be Gibbs in the woods.

Wait…She? She who? And then Tony's eyes widened as he began to shake with terror as the realization hit. The room seemed to darken some more, and shift, becoming colder. He shivered.

"Tony," he heard the soft whisper, even before he saw her.

He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block the vision of her dead eyes and rotting flesh he knew was coming.

Please…God…

"Tony…" she said again, and he felt a puff of chilled air against his face. He kept his eyes tightly shut.

What do you want? What do you want from me? He asked in horror and desperation as he felt wet strands of hair tickling his face. His small choking sob was muffled by the duct tape, before he could reign in some of the fear. He still held his eyes shut, because he knew if he saw her, looked into those milky lifeless eyes, he would hyperventilate, or be sick. And the tape was making it difficult to get enough air as it was. He felt his whole body trembling, wishing frantically that there was some escape from this nightmare.

"I'm so lonely here…I need you…" her words were a mournful whisper, a sad plea filled with longing.

Suze…do you know how you ended up here? She was different than the other two…more…overwhelming, more powerful…less…conscious of herself…maybe he could try to reason with her…

There was silence except for a few drops of water hitting his neck and face.

"He did this to me…"she said, flat and monotone.

Yes. Yes…and he's going to do the same thing to me. Please…you don't want the same thing for me do you? I…don't want to…don't want to die…

He jumped, startled, when he felt the icy fingers drifting over his face and down his throat. He reflexively opened his eyes for a moment, before he could stop himself, and her pale face and sickly dead eyes were so close…reminding him of the eyes of dead fish at the supermarket when they were rotting on the ice. He shuddered violently and turned his head away.

"So lonely…" she trailed off, ignoring the last exchange of words they had.

Thankfully, he felt a little dizzy again, and welcomed the darkness when it claimed him once again.


Some time later, he was awakened by the sounds of footsteps near him, next to the canoe.

Suze was still there, leaning over him, but now she stood up, looking at the person who had come to stand on the other side of the canoe.

Tony frowned. It was Christian.

The large man quickly clipped some cables to four metal rings on the rim of the canoe, and got in, standing over Tony's head.

He started to crank something that made a squeaking metallic sound as he felt the canoe start to move.

In the darkness, Tony hoped help was coming, but now he wasn't so sure.

It seemed that very quickly they were in the night air, and the light of the newly waning moon hit the boat as it splashed into the water.

Now he could see Christian's face, as the man began to paddle and looked down at Tony.

"You know," he murmured, "I dunno' how you ended up finding them…in the greenhouse. But…I hope you understand that this is what I have to do. You gave me no choice."

No choice? My ass. Tony thought angrily, glaring at the man, forgetting just for a moment that Christian couldn't hear his thoughts.

The man's cold blue stare simply drifted away from Tony's face, unwilling to meet the recrimination burning in Tony's eyes.

He could feel icy fingers touch him, his neck, his chest…though he couldn't see her, he knew Suze was waiting for him. Waiting for Christian to dump him into the lake to join her.

Oh God…please help me! He thought this would be an excellent time for Gibbs to show up.

Then, as if his prayer were answered-

"Stop right there, Dobson!" sounded loud and clear from somewhere nearby.

Tony's heart suddenly nearly burst with relief.

You're SO screwed now buddy! Tony thought with a little smile under the tape.

But his eyes widened when Christian simply took a moment to glare in the direction Gibbs had shouted from, stood up, and jumped.

Tony's whole world quickly spun as the boat came over, plunging him and the blocks into the cool, dark water.

He got only half a breath in before going under completely and floating downwards at a steady pace.

He willed himself not to struggle. To simply hold his breath, and not risk the precious air leaving his nostrils. Gibbs…would come and get him…he just had to live.

He felt a soft plunk and his neck and ankles jerk as the cinder blocks hit the bottom.

Please…Gibbs, please…he begged silently into the dark, as a few little bubble escaped him.

A hand came to his face. It wasn't Gibbs.

He couldn't see her, in the dark. But he knew it was Suze, and his heartbeat which was now a wild drum in his chest almost skipped and he choked for a moment.

The icy hand ran down his body, and was joined by another.

No! Don't!

He twisted away from them but it was no use, as they continued their intimate fondling, and he lost a good bit of air suddenly in the struggle.

His chest was burning, the need for oxygen was starting to take over. A jolt of panic hit him.

He couldn't last any longer.

Suddenly he became dizzy and saw little pinpricks of light in his vision, as the rest of the air left his lungs, and was quickly, and horribly painfully replaced by the lake water.

M'sorry Gibbs…he thought, knowing the older man would be dragging his corpse out of the water. He thought about the terrible pain he knew it would cause Gibbs and his friends, and how sad he was to leave them all.

For just a moment, as his awareness started to shut down, he felt Suze next to him, and thought sadly about what had happened to her, and her daughter. So sorry, Suze...for you and me...and Lisa...

Something shifted in the energy next to him right after that thought, like something hot and firey burst in the water next to him. He thought something was tugging at his limbs…maybe to eat him…but...there are no alligators in New Hampshire...and then he knew no more.


Chapter 19: Chapter 19

Gibbs tossed his gun without hesitation and kicked off his shoes before leaping into the cool water of the lake.

His heart was pounding, and every fiber of his being needed for him to get to Tony right away.

He came up smoothly, flipping the water from his face, and swam quickly to where he thought Tony went down.

The canoe was still capsized, drifting in a lazy circle ahead of him. He saw what he thought were a release of air bubbles several yards from it.

As he swam and kicked as quickly as he could, he heard Ziva in the background on her phone, yelling at McGee to call for an ambulance and to make sure the LEO's were watching for Dobson in the lake, since he seemed to think he could get away by swimming to the other side.

He picked his spot, unable to see anything but the little moonlit patterns his movement was making on the surface of the water. Below was darkness.

Gibbs said a silent prayer and dove down.

Visibility was poor, and he let his limbs go wide as he tipped his body, pushing down lower until he felt the rocky moss on the bottom of the lake.

He half crawled, half swam in a circle, paying close attention to every sensation that hit his toes and fingertips. In the silence of the water, his heart thundered.

Where the Hell are you, Tony?

After a moment he came up for air, with a curse, gasping.

"Gibbs, should I-" Ziva started yelling.

"Stay there!" he bellowed, and to a great lungful of air, diving down again.

This time, as he touched the slimy pebbles of the bottom, his foot struck something.

He spun in the water, blindly feeling his way…

It was fabric…Tony's tee shirt!

He could barely make out with his eyes the form before him, but he could feel how Tony's body was being held down horizontally, in suspension.

He trailed along his friend's body until he felt the collarbone, and up to Tony's neck where a rope secured him down to something heavier.

Gibbs pulled his knife in the darkness and opened it, quickly slicing through the rope in the segment that lead away from under Tony's still body. Then he place the blade between his teeth. His own need for air was threatening…he tugged sightly at Tony's arms, and then harder, feeling the pull from his feet.

Jesus, his feet too? Gibbs had no choice but to scoot up quickly for air and then come right back down.

Every second could mean brain damage, or Tony's life.

He crawled down the gently swaying form until he found the rope tethering Tony's ankles to the bottom of the lake. He cut through it, and quickly grabbed him, pushing up to the surface.

"I got him Ziva!" he yelled out, sputtering and spitting out the lake water. "Where?" he added, as he tore off the tape from Tony's now blue lips. He was eerily still and Gibbs had a horrible feeling that he might have been too late.

"To your left Gibbs! About twenty feet!" Ziva called out, pointing to a small patch of what was some form of ground he could drag Tony out to, since he would not be able to get him up the cliff and do CPR.

"Go!" He panted as he swam with Tony in tow. "Get the…paramedics…go wait…bring them!" He knew without looking that she had already turned to run to the main road.

He gasped and kicked as hard as he could, but it seemed forever to get Tony to that little patch of sharp rocks and twig covered shoreline.

"You don't do it!" He yelled as he stumbled to his feet, dragging Tony up onto the land. "You don't die! You hear me!"

But Tony was pale, and still, water clinging darkly to his eyelashes and hair. His shorts and tee shirt still stained with the blood that came from the head wound he'd received earlier.

He pulled his knife out again and cut through the rest of the ropes from his neck, and wrists, throwing them randomly to the side as he rolled Tony flat out on his back. No use worrying about his ankles for the time being. He put two fingers to the younger man's throat.

Nothing.

"Shit!"

Please please, God please…the mantra began in his mind as he started CPR, on the lifeless rag doll version of what was Anthony DiNozzo. His Agent. His friend. Like a son. And he couldn't lose him…

"Not like this," he panted in between the breaths and compressions.

"C'MON DiNozzo! You DO. NOT. HAVE. PERMISSION!"

Every second of no response was torture, making his fear grow even larger, threatening to swallow him whole.

After another lifetime, but probably only about twenty-five seconds, there was a twitch in Tony's body, which erupted into spasms, and Gibbs turned him onto his side, as water began to leak and then pulse from his mouth.

The sweetest sound came to Gibbs' ears, the horrible, involuntary hacking gag of Tony's body struggling for air.

He had one hand on Tony's neck, and the other pulling at his shoulder, keeping him on his side.

Movement returned to the still body in a strong, all-over trembling, before suddenly Tony's arm struck out, flailing, hitting Gibbs in the chest.

"Tony?" he called, placing his fingers to Tony's neck again, just for the comfort and reassurance of the heartbeat there.

Tony was cold, and gasping for air, but still not really conscious.

"C'mon, son," Gibbs said gently, almost in a whisper, stroking Tony's face.

He heard Ziva calling in the distance. "Gibbs!"

"This way!" he bellowed. "Make it quick Ziva!"

He knew she would, and that Tony would soon be in more capable hands.

"Tony?" Gibbs gently patted the cold cheek. "Tony?" he tried more loudly.

No response.

Gibbs wanted desperately to see the green eyes peering up at him, but unfortunately, he'd have to make due with only the fact Tony was still alive.


Floating again. In the water? In outer space? He had no clue.

He kept hearing whispered echoes of words. And strained voices…and machines beeping.

Hospital.

Did they say…coma? He was in a coma?

Huh, that's weird. I don't feel the least bit worried.

He was peaceful. So relaxed. But…there was something he was supposed to do…

He needed to tell…tell someone…

The greenhouse.

And then it came rushing back. Except…differently. As if he had a birdseye view of the events that took place….as if he were inside everyone, and could feel what they felt…

Tony could feel the deep boiling hatred Christian Dobson felt the minute Gibbs caught him attempting another murder. He could feel Gibbs, frantic and worried jumping into the lake after him. And Ziva…frightened she was about to lose Tony and Gibbs both…her thoughts swirling around, entwined with the disappointment she had suffered with her own family. She didn't want to lose this one.

And McGee was across the lake, watching through binoculars with Abby at his side, nervously twirling her ponytail as he ordered the LEO's to surround the lake and get ready to arrest Dobson.

Quickly images of McGee trembling and tenderly holding Abby in the hospital hallway while she wept accosted his heart. They both missed him, and were worried he would never wake from the coma.

Wait, coma? Yes...he heard that before…

Palmer and Ducky…had been to sit at his bedside and visit him…when was that?

Everything was layered and happening now and before…

Most of the perspectives were minor compared to Gibbs searching for him with terrible fear…fear of losing him…

They were powerful visions and the emotions were so palpable…

Especially horrible was the sickly rotting ghost of Susan Dobson, trying to hold onto him under the water…But the surprise was her complete transformation into an orange, glowing ball that went after Christian, right after Tony's last words woke her up to her own daughter's murder.

Christain Dobson tried to get away after Gibbs busted him, but…he never made it to land again. Suze made sure of it.

He saw her now, filling his mind, beautiful and whole as she was before she died. She was smiling at him, and then he saw hands connected…she was with Lisa.

Somehow, they were now free, and Tony felt such a strong love emanating from them. They were smiling as they gazed at him knowingly, and then turned away from him, walking into what he could only describe as the most beautiful light he had ever seen. It was everything and simplicity all at once. It was peace…

There was no judgement of any kind in that light…it was…unconditional…

He wanted to follow them but something was echoing again in his mind…someone was speaking.

It sounded so far away. The words were low and soft, and masculine. They were filled with sadness…it was…Gibbs…

Some of the words were getting clearer again…

"Abby won't drink any Caf-Pow…"

What? That's a disaster in the making! What would –

"…won't…on strike til' you're back, and she's pretty mean lately…" the words were drifting in and out…"..me to tell you, she will not have a drop until you're back, DiNozzo."

The words were clearer now.

.The beeping of machines was the only other sound Tony could pick up on now, aside Gibbs.

Wherever he'd been, he guessed he was back.

He heard a miserable sigh come from the older man, somewhere near his bedside. He wanted to open his eyes and sit up, and let Gibbs know he was okay, and stop the pain he could feel rolling off him in waves.

"I…need you here, Tony. We all do. And I'm…I'm sorry…I should have found a way to understand what was happening with you. I'm still not clear on what happened up at that Lake. But you knew. Somehow, you knew about the murders…I'm sure of it. And we found the bodies in the greenhouse, managed…managed to put together that you'd…"

Gibbs took a deep breath.

"Anyway, I'd love to talk to you about the mystery. Hell, I'd even love to hear…" Gibbs' voice grew hoarse with emotion, "I'd love to hear you say anything…even talk about those crazy movies you're into." The last words almost broke apart.

Tony felt a hand on his arm, roughened but warm, and heard a shaky gasp.

Was Gibbs…

He was. He was crying…quietly, with just a few gasps and soft hiccups, before he seemed to get himself together.

Suddenly his hand disappeared, and Tony heard him stand up.

"I'm going for coffee, DiNozzo," he said in a more steady tone. "Can I get you anything? …A tall blonde you say? Well, if you open your eyes anytime soon, you'll see a very attractive young lady who's given you several sponge baths, I believe, since we transferred you here."

Where's here? Tony wondered. Probably Bethesda.

He heard another sigh, as Gibbs turned.

He was able to finally crack his eyes open enough to see Gibbs spin around in utter shock when he rasped out, "Pizza."


Chapter 20: Chapter 20

Gibbs heard that one word and was stunned to turn and see Tony awake.

The shock was quickly replaced by joy. Never had he been so happy to see Tony's green eyes looking at him.

He smiled and quickly went to the bed, taking Tony's twitching hand.

"Good to see…your eyes open," Gibbs said, almost choking with emotion. "Tony…How do you feel?" Gibbs was shaking his head a little, almost still in disbelief, his blue eyes still wide.

Tony blinked a few times, and squeezed Gibbs' hand a little. He felt weak, though he could move. He was uncoordinated. He looked around the room a little, and shifted one leg slightly. He was achy.

He looked back at Gibbs, and rasped, "Weak. Chest hurts a little…throat…"

"You were on a vent for a while…ended up with pneumonia." Gibbs saw the alarm on Tony's face and quickly added, "But that's all done. The pneumonia is gone now."

Had and done?

"How long?" Tony whispered now, as much because he was so surprised, as well as because his throat was so sore and dry.

Gibbs looked around for a moment, knowing Tony might not be prepared for the answer. But he owed him the truth. "Six weeks."

Tony raised his eyebrows, and then frowned. He felt overwhelmed, disoriented and suddenly drained. He looked down at Gibbs' hand on his. So long…six weeks…a little moisture came to his eyes, but he was too dehydrated to let many tears loose.

"Lemme get you some water, DiNozzo, and uh, I guess I need to let the docs know you're awake," Gibbs said, quickly going to the little sink in the room and pouring Tony a small cup. He tried to hand it to the younger man, but, he was unable to really grasp it quite yet.

"No problem," Gibbs said, bringing it to Tony's lips so he could sip it, and cupping the back of his head with the other hand to raise and steady him. "Slow…" Gibbs warned, as the deliciously cool water eased the dry burning Tony felt from the roof of his mouth back. "You're a little weak from being out so long. That's all," Gibbs said as if he could hear the thoughts and worries already popping into Tony's mind, about whether there was permanent damage…

Tony nodded, "Thanks." He looked at Gibbs gratefully. Gibbs smiled and nodded in return, putting the cup down on the table next to the bed.

Gibbs raised a thumb and jerked it towards the door, "I'm gonna' get the docs and tell em' the good news." Gibbs was smiling. Really smiling, with teeth and all.

It made Tony smile as well, though a little wanly.

"Boss," he whispered hoarsely, and Gibbs quickly took a few steps back to the bed.

"Yeah?"

"I…" Tony awkwardly raised his arm to touch Gibbs' sleeve. "You…read to me…while I was out…right?"

Gibbs looked surprised, and studied Tony's eyes carefully. "Yeah, I did. You remember that? You heard me?"

Tony could recall now more layers of things, though disjointed, including the steady timber of Gibbs' voice as he read to Tony on and off during his coma.

"Yes." Tony smiled more broadly at him. "Moby Dick."

Gibbs looked even more surprised, and simply nodded.

"Thanks, Boss," Tony whispered, squeezing Gibbs' arm affectionately, "I think it helped."

Gibbs gave him such a look of warmth, still mixed with relief and amazement that Tony was conscious and speaking. He gently brought his hand up and ruffled Tony's hair. "Anytime, Tony." His smile faded a little as his face flashed more somber for a moment.

He took a shaky breath, and then leaned forward, grabbing Tony into a hug, almost dragging him up off the bed, in spite of all the wires and tubes still connected to him.

Tony was taken a little off guard by the sudden display, and then quickly recovered, making the attempt to hug the man back.

"You ever do that to me again," Gibbs said softly in his ear,"you'll wanna' be sure to die because otherwise I will kill you myself."

Tony chuckled, coughing a little. "I love you too, Boss."

Gibbs let go and smiled again, still getting a thrill at seeing Tony awake.

"Okay," he said firmly, "Lemme get the docs and call everyone. The entire building is gonna' be relieved Abby can start drinking Caf-Pow again."

Tony watched him as he went, the door gently closing. He knew he only had a short reprieve before a swarm of people would be in the room, poking, prodding, testing. He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling tired.

And then he felt someone sit on the bed. He opened his eyes and almost jumped.

"Hey pal!" Chuck smiled happily at him.

Oh God. It was all real, he thought, as Chuck took off his glasses, and cleaned them with his shirt, as Tony had seen him do habitually before.

"I…"Tony stuggled to have a response. He was nervous, and the machines in his room started picking up a more rapid cacophony of sounds.

"Relax, Tony," Chuck said warmly. "I'm just here to say thanks. I waited, you know. I could have gone with the ladies. You saw them, right? Boy, Suze looked a helluva lot better huh?"

Tony nodded slowly. "Yeah."

"Well, you really did it! You helped free us all! Except, of course for that bastard, Dobson. I think he's gonna' be in that lake a long time. I almost feel sorry for that sonofabitch now." Chuck shook his head a little sadly, but then beamed at Tony again. "Your Boss, Gibbs, he's pretty cool. I mean, he's a real bad ass."

Tony smiled, "Yeah he is. But…" he looked down at his hands, and couldn't help the emotion that was making his throat constrict and his eyes water again. They would all want answers...including Gibbs.

"You're worried…he won't believe you. And that…this is gonna' change how he looks at you. And you don' wanna' lie to him."

Tony looked up at the ghost. "In a nutshell," he whispered shakily, yeah. Besides the fact they may try to put me in a looney bin if I tell the truth."

"Well, pal, I owe you, and like I said, I waited to see you before 'shufflin' off to Buffalo', as they say. What's a little more time? I'm sure I can help out. Just give me a little bit to do my thing."

Tony got nervous, suddenly. "What are you going to do?" he said, trying to use his voice, though it was cracking.

"No, no, don't worry, man. I got your back. Nothing bad, I promise. And, since apparently I'm repaying you a little debt, I've got a little more juice now. The people upstairs really get jazzed over a good deed. I should be able to…help matters. You just keep it zipped until he brings me up. K'ay?"

He nodded at the ghost, who was in the same old polo and shorts he's first met him in. I must be totally insane.

"No. You're not. And you know it," Chuck said, apparently still able to read Tony's thoughts.

"You know, you really are pretty creepy," Tony said, with a straight face.

Chuck stood up and smiled, "Not nearly as creepy as I could be," and with that his image shifted to that of a tattered, rotting corpse.

"Okay, okay!" Tony groused, looking away from the horrible sight, "I get it!"

He heard Chuck giggle a little, and say "Remember what I told you."

As Tony looked up, he saw the room was empty again.

And that was the moment the expected medical entourage burst happily in with Gibbs.


Chapter 21: Chapter 21

Gibbs sanded.

All the thoughts in his mind were passing over him in a cascade, but from a distance, as he focused on the texture of the wood under his hands.

It was a trunk he was making for Abby, after McGee had discreetly come to see him two weeks into Tony's coma.

He recalled the details with a little smile.

(FLASHBACK)

"Boss?" McGee called at the top of the basement steps.

"Yeah," Gibbs called back. At the time, he wasn't working on anything at all. Just drinking bourbon by himself. Thinking about Tony.

McGee came slowly down the steps, taking in the sight of Gibbs, sitting in the corner of his basement, with a glass in his hand.

"Uh…I, ah…" McGee finally arrived a few feet from Gibbs, and was shuffling a little on his feet. He was nervous, by the look of it.

Gibbs remained siilennt, though curious, waiting him out.

McGee seemed to gather his resolve, and looked the older man in the eye.

"I… I know, this is a really, really bad time to talk to you about this."

"Abby," Gibbs breathed out, amused, when McGee's mouth dropped.

"Uh, yeah." McGee paced a little, rubbing his face. He took a deep breath. "We're all…so worried. About Tony, and, Boss, I know," he stopped and looked Gibbs in the face, "I know, he's going to wake up from the coma."

Gibbs gripped the glass he was holding a little tighter, but kept his gaze on McGee.

"But…this has been…so scary…all of it. And, Abby and I…I just…I want –"

"Okay." Gibbs said it quietly.

McGee looked at him incredulously. "You don't even know what I was going to say – wait…" his eyes widened as a small smile played on Gibbs' lips. "You did know!"

"Tim," Gibbs said softly, "it's been a long time comin', between you and Abby. You don't work together directly, and I've never stopped you before. And if you wanna' make the big move…well, I'm not gonna stop you now, son." He took in the slightly astonished look on McGee's face. "You make her happy. She just needed to figure it out for herself. And everything that's …happened…" he broke off, a little sadly, "is just a remider that you may not get another shot."

McGee looked dangerously close to crying.

Gibbs turned and dumped out a jar for him, and poured him just a finger.

He handed the glass to McGee, who's hand was shaking a little. "Thanks, Boss…but y-you realize…I'm ahhh…going to…I mean, once Tony's better –"

"You're going to ask her to marry you, McGee, which makes you brave, or stupid. But either way, here's to you!" And with that, Gibbs gulped down his glass, raising his brow, as McGee struggled along to swallow the liquor.

He put down the glass, and hissed, "Jeezus. How do-" and his voice almost disappeared for a moment, "how do you and Tony drink that stuff?"

Gibbs smiled, thinking about how Tony would rib McGee if he were with them at that moment.

"You'll have to ask him, when he's back."

They were both silent for a stretch of time.

"So…" McGee began, and Gibbs knew he needed to iron it in so the younger man would not obsessively repeat himself. McGee liked to be absolutely sure about things like this.

"I wish you all the happiness in the world. And I hope she knows enough to say yes. You're a good man, Tim. And Tony…wouldn't want you to wait. So, you'll have to figure out the timing but…he'll just ask you what took ya' so damned long anyway…when…"

McGee nodded, looking at Gibbs with a mix of sadness and hope, "When he's back."

(End FLASHBACK)

And now that Tony was awake, and Gibbs was almost overcome with relief, something still roiled in his gut.

Abby had been the first one to race to the hospital to see "Rip Van Winkle" (as the nursing staff was calling him) awake.

She was running in her platform dragon boots and fishnets at breakneck speed, almost knocking Gibbs down at the doorway of Tony's hospital room.

"Whoa! Abs!" He caught her by the arm, stopping her as she almost toppled over him.

Then she started to hop excitedly, chains on her clothing jangling. "GIBBS! Gibbsgibbsgibbsgibbsgibbs! "

He laughed, her genuine excitement was so brightening. And it had been a while since they'd seen it from her…the lab had become a very cold place while Tony was in the coma.

She looked into the room, seeing Tony's eyes closed as nurses checked his IV and other assorted things.

"Is he- did he- is he awake or not?" She frowned a little, looking back at Gibbs with wide pale green eyes.

"He is awake," Gibbs said softly, "but sleeping. He gets tired easily. Six weeks-"

"Is a long time, is forever," she said, smiling, "but he's gonna be okay now right?"

"Yes."

She squealed with delight, hopping on her big boots, which made another big racket, causing the nurses to turn for a moment and scowl at her.

"What did he say? Did he talk? Did he ask about us? Did he talk about what happened? About the ghost-"she was full steam ahead, as Gibbs raised his brows again at her.

"Abs. Not that again. I know something was off with him before the…the lake, but…there are no such thing as ghosts. I'm sure there's a logical explanation of what happened, and how he knew about the bodies in the greenhouse."

She became still, and silent, and hurt showed in her eyes. The same hurt he'd seen for weeks, after they had the same conversation several times over. He loved Abby…like a daughter. But he just couldn't even address the claims she made about Tony, and the strange events leading up to Dobson trying to kill him.

Gibbs had been glad when they said they saw Dobson go down in the lake. Poetic justice for what he tried to do …what he did do, to Tony.

Abby bit her lip and looked down for a moment. Then she put her arms around Gibbs and squeezed him tightly.

She said, in an emotional but controlled, gravelly voice, "I know that somewhere inside, you know, you know, Gibbs, that something weird was happening at that lake, and with Tony. It was so many things coming together. Tony's childhood, the French case. The full moon. And a body of water...it all came together. And it happened. They affected him. And he couldn't tell you. Because of how you're thinking right now. So, before I go in that room, and sit with him, I want you to know, that I know, you won't let Tony down. You won't. I know it. You're going to hear him out, when he tells you everything. And support him. Even if you don't agree. Right? Tell me I'm right. Tell me."

She pulled away and looked at him pleadingly from under her dark bangs.

He sighed, and glanced at Tony for a moment, and then back to her. "You're right."

She breathed a sigh of relief and smiled, quickly jumping up to kiss him on the cheek before she went into the room.

After that Gibbs had gone to get a fresh coffee, and when he returned, Tony was sitting up in the bed, pale and in some kind of serious conversation with Abby. They didn't see him, so he hung back from the door, listening for a moment.

"- remember all of it? Or some of it?" Abby was saying, while she held Tonys hand in both of hers. "We were so scared…"

"I was …really scared…"Tony admitted in his weak, hoarse voice. "I won't lie. I…thought I was going crazy. They…talked to me..told me…where to find them…but it wasn't at first…"

And with a sudden angry start, Gibbs knew. Tony was talking to Abby about…ghosts? He thought he was talking to spirits? And Abby was in there, believing him and supporting this nonsense. He just woke up from a coma. How could he even know his ass from his elbow right now?

And how the Hell would Tony be okay…would re-qualify to be in the field…would…still be his closest friends if he were bat shit crazy? They needed to get to the bottom of this. Not feed a fantasy, and especially not when he just woke up from a goddamned six week coma!

Gibbs left the hospital, knowing he needed to calm down, or the anger would lead him to yell at Abby, upset DiNozzo, and basically make it all worse. He needed to go home. To think. He'd promised Abby…

"Christ," he muttered disgustedly to himself as he got in his car.

End FLASHBACK

Gibbs inhaled deeply again, focusing his thoughts on the happier subject of the chest he was working on. Abby's trousseau. When Tim had asked her to marry him, she had said yes. BUT she was adamant there would be no date set until Tony was out of the coma. Normally, Gibbs knew she would have run all over the office, showing everyone the 1.5 carat black diamond engagement ring McGee had bought for her…but instead she was quiet about it, occasionally looking at it with a sweet smile.

More of her time had been spent in Caf-Pow withdrawl, punishing those around her and showing the powers-that-be that she would not be nice until her big brother's return.

Gibbs sighed. "And now what? We have to get him into a shrink?" He shook his head, feeling morose.

He distractedly dropped the sanding block he was using, and sighed once more.

He bent down to get it, and as he came up, he started violently at the sight of a man sitting on top of the trunk.

He sprang three steps back before he realized…"Charles Deveraux." Gibbs' heart pounded fiercely in his chest.

The man, who's body Gibbs had seen exhumed from it's grave in the greenhouse in Sandown, New Hampshire, simply smiled.

"Hey Gibbs!"

Gibbs glared at him. It had to be a trick. Or a joke. Maybe someone had been tricking Tony…it would be a logical explanation-

"Nope. Nope. And…ahhh, no." Chuck said, with a patient tone. "You're a tough nut. But…" Chuck hopped up off the chest,"you're a good man. Thanks for helping get me outta' that greenhouse. What a relief! I mean, really man, you can't imagine-"

Gibbs walked straight over to his table, and pulled out his gun.

"Oh, now, calm down, Gunney. I'm here to help you see the light. Your friend Tony – he's not crazy at all. Not at all. And he is so brave. You must be proud of him."

Gibbs had the gun raised at Chuck, "I wanna' know who the hell you really are, and why you're doing this!"

"I told you…and you know who I am, Gibbs." Chuck walked slowly towards him, hands up in the air. "You gonna' shoot me? Well, that's pretty funny. Since I'm already dead. But hey, knock yourself out."

"Stay back! " Gibbs warned, but the man still walked towards him. "I will shoot you!"

"Go ahead, bossman," Chuck smiled, and turned serious, as he suddenly rushed Gibbs.

A shot rang out as Gibbs discharged the weapon, but all that happened is that as Chuck got close, he ran…through Gibbs. It made him shudder, the strange cool feeling like someone had dragged chilled molasses through his guts.

He looked around. There was no one in the room, and there was a hole in the plaster of the basement wall where the bullet had hit.

It should have hit the man…almost point blank in the shoulder.

"Jeezus," Gibbs said, now wide eyed and looking all around his basement. "Did that just happen?"

"Yep." The answer came as he spun around again, to see Chuck sitting Indian style, on top of the trunk like before.

Gibbs was for once, completely speechless and at a loss for what to think.

"What the Hell is this?" he growled angrily, motioning to raise his gun again.

"Ah-ah, it's just gonna be a shame when you shoot apart the young lady's trousseau, Gibbs. And it's coming out beautifully…" Chuck let his fingers drift over the skulls and flowers Gibbs had started to carve into the top panel.

Gibbs felt himself start to shake, and almost as if he had a bit of vertigo. Could this really be happening? He carefully put the gun on the shelf he was leaning against.

"How can I know…you…are what you're pretending to be?"

"Well, firstly, it wouldn't be pretending. Would it? Secondly, thanks to Tony, and to you, I'm going…home soon. And I'm just helping Tony out here, since it's pretty obvious no one pulls the wool over your eyes!" Chuck laughed. Then he looked at Gibbs more seriously. "He needs you. You're like…a father to him. If he can't talk to you…keep your respect…he feels he'll lose everything."

The words tugged at Gibbs, who was feeling as if his whole world was spinning out of control. "Did you…"

"Drug you?" Chuck said with a snort. "No. But you were doin' pretty good puttin' that bourbon down. Listen Gibbs, Like I said, I'm close to done here. And I can…get info from the other side. If it helps, ask me anything, and I'll get the answer. From Shannon."

Gibbs couldn't believe the nerve this man had. He mad a strangled sound between a yell and a grunt, and lunged after him. But his hands wrapped around air where there should have been a throat.

He was gone. Disappeared. Right in front of him.

Gibbs clumsily sat on the trunk, feeling completely insane.

"So?" the man said from behind him again. Gibbs spun around, as Chuck lightly touched some of the tools hanging on the opposite wall. "What's your question? Something only the two of you would know?" He was perfectly calm, though Gibbs had wanted to kill him for talking about Shannon. "She probably thought you were nuts down here, with your bourbon and your tools."

There was a small silence, and then Chuck turned to him. "I stand corrected. She liked it. She like your hobbies with wood, and she's telling me the bourbon used to be kept upstairs in a cabinet, that you'd never needed to keep it down here back when she was alive…"

Gibbs felt all the air rush out of him. How could he know?…it was so long ago…

"On her twenty-first birthday, I took her to Toronto. We drove up. Ask her what I gave her for her birthday," Gibbs said, still looking for some sensible tangent that would lead him to the real explanation of all of this.

Chuck smiled, with a knowing glance. And then his face softened. "I won't repeat this, Gunney, but here it goes. She says 'You never made it to Toronto because the car broke down. You had a distant cousin who was a jewler in the area up there, who was supposed to give you a deal on a bracelet or something when you got there. Instead, you ended up staying in a run down hotel in Saratoga, while your car was in the shop. And she did get a bracelet. You got her one there, in the town, a little silver bracelet that had a little crescent moon and two stars on it. And she loved it, and she loved you'.

Gibbs was shaking, his whole body felt like it would fall to pieces. How? How could he know?

"She says you should…stop spending so much time down here. You deserve to be happy. You need to open your heart up to let someone in again."

Gibbs let out a little puff of air through the tears that were running down his face. He hadn't expected this…any of it…

"Well that's it pal." Chuck said warmly. "Just…give your boy the benefit of the doubt. That's all. And without further ado, adios!"

And like a film that stopped abruptly in an old school theater, the man's image simply cut-out.

Gibbs put both hands to his head for a moment, and then gave his own face a little light smack.

"Sonofabitch…" he breathed into the silent basement, as he gazed at the bullet hole in his wall.


Everyone had come. Tony's room was filled with balloons and flowers. He was frustrated that he kept falling asleep on everyone.

The doctors told him that he'd need a few weeks of rehab, and might have a little residual cough that would subside as well. And they also pointed out he would be tired, a lot. At least for the first two weeks.

On the hospital floor, he was something of a celebrity. Some of the pretty nurses were smiling at him, and oh how he wanted to flirt with them. But he was still too tired. And preoccupied.

The night before, Ducky and Palmer had stopped by.

Ziva and McGee had both been in before work this morning, and after tears of relief, and smiles and hugs, they began to ask him questions.

Questions he didn't want to answer about Christian Dobson and the Daydream Inn.

So instead he congratulated McGee on his engagement, and complimented him on the ring Tony had seen on Abby's finger the day before. He was genuinely happy for them.

Still, Ziva pressed him, so he feigned exhaustion, which wasn't far from the truth, and sent them away with no answers.

It was almost lunchtime when he opened his eyes again, and saw Gibbs, sitting in a chair, staring at him in an odd manor.

"Hey Boss…" Tony's voice was still soft but much stronger than the previous day.

"Hey," Gibbs said kindly. But said nothing else, and just continued to stare at Tony, as if trying to figure something out.

"Ehh, did they surgically attach something strange to my head or something? Cos…the way you're looking at me…making me think of that movie, The Man with Two Heads…"

Tony nervously played with the bed bar with one hand.

Still Gibbs was quiet.

"Okay Boss, you have to talk to me-"

"No, DiNozzo, I think it's the other way around. You need to talk to me."

Oh fuck. This is it, he thought. May as well bend over and kiss his ass goodbye. He briefly wondered what he would do when he was "retired" from NCIS. He hadn't really come up with a plan, of how to lie about it all to Gibbs. He didn't want to lie to Gibbs. But he had to, didn't he?

Tony frowned and looked down at his lap. "you…wanna'...talk about the lake."

"Yeah," Gibbs said and leaned forward, "and I want you to be honest. About everything, Tony." He saw the distress in the younger man's eyes as he looked everywhere but at Gibbs.

"Honest, huh?" Tony swallowed harshly. "I want…I just…" he looked at Gibbs with a tragic expression, "You…would probably think I'm nuts…"

"Aw Hell, Tony," Gibbs sighed, seeing the green eyes getting misty, and then grabbed his SFA's hand, giving it a queeze, "I thought you were nuts the moment I met you in Baltimore. But…"

He saw Tony smile, but still look away, fear evident in his face.

"Are you listening, son?"

The green eyes turned back to him. "Yeah, Boss."

"I want you to trust me. Tell me everything. I'm never gonna' turn my back on you, you got that? Never

Something like hope flashed in Tony's eyes. He smiled nervously, "Okay, Boss. Got it."

"Okay." Gibbs sat back in the chair. "I want you to tell me everything that happened, everything you experienced at the lake, whatever you remember. But before we start, I just have to tell you something.

Your friend Chuck says hi."

THE END

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