Chapter one


“Well, she’s perfectly healthy. She might have been a bit frightened, but not injured. She does need to be looked after, of course.”

With that, Ducky headed out, to go down and get his equipment to care for the bodies.

The small child, perhaps six months old – Tony had no idea really, because he hadn’t seen all that many babies in his life – stared up at him with big blue eyes, and appeared to be listening intently. It held onto one of his fingers.

Gibbs looked at the baby in the crib. “She can’t go with Child Services. We don’t know what the murderer’s objective is – she needs protection until we’ve solved the case.”

“No living relatives anywhere near,” Tony said. “Grandparents on both sides are dead. Mrs. Brown’s sister lives in Australia with her husband.”

“There’s a neighbor downstairs who’s willing to take her,” McGee said.

“What part of protection did you not get?” Gibbs asked. “She’s staying with us. DiNozzo, she’s yours. She seems to have latched on already.”

“What?” Tony asked. “Me? No way. I mean—give it to Jenny or something. I can’t take it. I don’t know anything about babies.”

He heard McGee chuckle and gave him a murderous look, which shut him up quickly.

“Her, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said. “Not ‘it’.”

Tony looked down at the baby again. He really couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl, except she did have girlish clothes on. They weren’t pink – thank god – but beige. What probably gave them away was the hearts sprinkled very freely all over – and the swirly text, although Tony assumed that ‘Mommy’s sweetheart’ could have been on a boy’s outfit too.

The baby blew raspberries at him and giggled at the feeling of the bubbles against her skin.

“But boss, I don’t know anything about this stuff—babies really aren’t my thing,” Tony tried again, helplessly.

“You’ll learn,” Gibbs said.

Tony knew it wasn’t up for discussion and his shoulders slumped slightly in defeat. Gibbs returned downstairs to the other crime scene – the parents of the baby, a Navy Lieutenant and his wife, had been gunned down during what seemed like routine morning activities. The husband had been killed in the kitchen. Ducky had estimated the time of death to two hours earlier, which would have been very early morning. The neighbor – the one who had offered to take the kid – had called it in after knocking on the door to see if Mrs. Brown needed any help during the day. Through the kitchen window, she’d seen Mr. Brown lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor.

The baby started making noise, apparently unhappy with the lack of attention. Tony winced as it – she – started wailing, and sighed. He had never actually held a baby before, a fact that perhaps ought to be pointed out to Gibbs. Gibbs had had a kid – why couldn’t he—but he knew where that train of thought ended, and he knew that if Tony had said anything about it, he’d likely have ended up with his head on a platter. Gibbs’ daughter was not a topic ever breeched.

With hesitating fingers, Tony touched the baby. She kicked and flailed with her arms, and her wails increased in volume.

“DiNozzo, pick her up.”

Gibbs was suddenly back, standing in the doorway to the baby’s room.

“Boss, I’ve never done this before,” Tony said, wincing. He hated when he couldn’t live up to Gibbs’ expectations – and it seemed to happen a bit too often.

Gibbs rolled his eyes and came into the room. Without fuss, he picked her up from the crib.

Tony thought it looked annoyingly normal to see a baby in Gibbs’ arms. One hand rested on her back and he whispered to it. Her. Whatever. Once she had begun to quiet, he held her out for Tony to take.

“She won’t bite,” he said, with a smile that was both amused and impatient.

“I know, boss, I just don’t—uh, want to hurt her,” Tony said.

He still held out his hands, albeit hesitantly, and took the odd lump of a baby in his arms. She immediately began wailing again, eyes squeezed together and feet kicking into empty air.

Tony held her awkwardly, feeling clumsy, especially when Gibbs watched him with an amused smile.

“There you go,” Gibbs said.

He left again and Tony stood there, baby girl against his chest and a chaotic wreck of a room before him. The second murder, of the baby’s mother, had happened just outside the baby’s room. One bullet had gone wild and had passed straight through the wooden side of the baby’s crib, leaving splinters everywhere. The woman, a beautiful woman with blonde hair spread out like a halo around her head, stained with the pool of blood she was laying in, had fallen just short of the doorway to the baby’s room. She looked frightened, even in death, and Tony had to wonder how much she had feared for her daughter’s life.

The baby’s wails turned into hiccups as he held her, rubbing her back in a motion copied off Gibbs. It seemed to calm her.

On the door, four colorful letters had been glued – E, M, M, A.

“Emma,” Tony said. “It’s better than ‘it’, definitely. Gibbs probably wouldn’t appreciate if I continued to call you ‘it’. Although there is an It in ‘The Addams Family’. But it’s just a mop of hair, really. Not the best role model.”

The baby sighed softly; he felt her warm breath against his throat.

He walked downstairs. They would be processing the baby’s room in a minute – Ducky and Palmer were due to come up to collect the body at any moment.

The body of the dead Lieutenant lay at a slightly awkward angle on the kitchen floor. Ziva had poured out a can of coffee upon their arrival, and had concluded that they must have been making breakfast when the killer surprised them.

“Ah,” Ziva said. “The baby daddy.”

“Yeah, or not,” Tony said, already annoyed with the teasing he would have to endure. “I’m just watching her until we know she’s safe.”

“It is a her, then?” Ziva asked.

She was obviously uninterested in the baby, sparing her little more than a glance. Tony knew that placing the baby in Ziva’s care would have been far worse, even though he knew nothing of babies. She’d probably kill it when it started screaming.

“Yes, it’s a her,” Tony said.

“Good. She’s perhaps a little young for you,” Ziva remarked, “but give it a few years.”

“Ha, ha,” Tony said, without smiling.

The baby whimpered against his shoulder, and he sighed, assuming it wouldn’t be long until it started crying again.

“Ugh,” Ziva said. “It smells.”

Tony realized it as Ziva said it – the baby had obviously done something nasty in her diaper.

He brought the baby back upstairs. There was a changing table in her room, and there had to be diapers. He was unsure of whether or not he’d succeed in putting one of those things on her, but with the awful smell she was giving off, he couldn’t really wait to find someone who could do it better. Asking Gibbs was out of the question – he’d tell Tony to ‘figure it out’.

Pulling the diaper off the baby wasn’t hard – there were bits of tape on the sides to pull at, and the whole thing came off. The content of it was gross. He felt the bile rise in his throat, and wondered how he could look and smell dead people without a problem, but a baby’s full diaper was making him sick.

He looked at the baby, whose bottom was still disgusting after the diaper had been removed and thrown away. Looking around, he found wipes, and he grabbed a handful. Still holding his breath, he wiped at the baby, who screamed and wiggled to get away. He tried holding one leg, and then the other, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, he grabbed both legs and held on rather tightly, and managed to get all the stuff.

“How can you do that much when you’re so little?” Tony asked the baby, who only screamed in response. Her little face was red and scrunched up and she thrashed her arms about.

He found a new diaper in the cabinet above the changing table, and he pulled out a fresh one. Looking at it with doubtful eyes, he tried to place it correctly under the baby. However, with little knowledge of what the correct way was, and with a baby who simply did not want to cooperate, the diaper ended up on the floor.

“Now you’re just being annoying,” Tony said.

He pulled out a new diaper, and placed it under her. This time, he managed to tape it together – but when he stood her up, the diaper fell down.

“Okay, so a little tighter,” Tony growled with frustration. His head hurt – the baby’s screams cut through his brain like a knife, grinding this way and that. “Third time’s the charm.”

It was a bit loop-sided, and the baby’s mom would probably have sniffed and done it over again, but the mother was dead and he’d have to be happy with it. It stayed up, and the baby finally stopped crying so much.

He managed to get the onesie back on, switching between not wanting to hurt her and wanting to just force her small hands into the piece of clothing. By the time he was finished, he had invented a few new cuss words.

“Uh, Tony?”

McGee stood in the doorway.

“Yes,” Tony growled, picking up the hiccupping baby with awkward moves.

“Gibbs is wondering what’s taking you so long,” McGee said.

“I’m changing the kid,” Tony said, tone low and threatening, daring McGee to comment.

“Well—he wants you downstairs, so you should probably hurry up,” McGee said.

Tony glared daggers at McGee, and wondered why McGee wasn’t the one to look after the kid.

McGee disappeared down the stairs – Tony heard the thump-thump-thump as he went down – and Tony was left in relative silence. Emma had relaxed against his shoulder again, sniffling continuously, but at least not wailing anymore.

After a steadying breath, Tony followed McGee down the stairs. At the base of the stairs, he met Palmer and Ducky, with a gurney.

“Ah, I thought I heard her,” Ducky said, smiling at the baby.

Thought you heard her?” Tony said. “She was screaming loud enough to wake the neighborhood.”

Ducky chuckled. “Yes, yes, well, that’s the way it is with little babies. Poor little dear; this is most awful.”

He cupped the baby’s cheek in his hand. She didn’t react, apparently exhausted from her screaming fest.

“She is a beautiful child, for sure,” Ducky said.

Tony wondered how he could tell – in his opinion, all kids her age looked about the same.

“Well, we’re going up and you’re going down,” Ducky said. “Come on, Mr. Palmer, let’s go.”

Palmer nodded, looking rather nervously at the baby. Tony didn’t feel like listening to any inanities by him, so he headed towards the kitchen, where Gibbs would be waiting.

“DiNozzo, where’ve you been?” Gibbs asked.

“I—uh, she needed changing,” Tony said.

One of Gibbs’ eyebrows rose slightly but he didn’t comment.

“I want you to go upstairs and grab whatever you think you’ll need to care for her,” Gibbs said. “It might be a few days before she can be handed to Child Services.”

“Uh, isn’t there anything I can help with down here?” Tony asked.

“Whilst holding her?”

Tony sighed. “I see your point. I’m going back upstairs.”

Tony didn’t think it wise to tell Gibbs that he had no idea what a kid would need to stay with him for a few days. However, he trudged back up the stairs, realizing that Emma had fallen asleep against his shoulder. She was warm, like a tiny human heater.

He found a large bag stuffed in a corner, which already seemed to be filled to the brim with stuff necessary for the baby. There were diapers, wipes, some sort of powder, lotion, a sun hat, a change of clothes, a bottle, and much more. Tony looked at the clothes and grabbed a few more pieces out of the drawer. She’d need more than one change of clothes if she was to stay for more than a day. Babies probably switched clothes more often than adults – they were bound to spill food and stuff all over the place. If they ate food. Did babies eat food?

Finally happy with his selection of things – he’d thrown in a few more diapers for good measure – he hoisted the bag up onto his shoulder.

“You know, you don’t weigh much, but the stuff you need – good God,” Tony muttered to the baby. “I don’t need this much stuff going away on a two week vacation.”

Not that he could remember the last time he’d been on a two week vacation, but that was beside the point.

When he came downstairs again, he found a baby carrier in navy blue, placed by the doorway. He assumed the baby’s father had had a hand in buying the baby carrier, as everything in the baby’s room was pink and frilly, unlike the carrier.

“I’m assuming you’re not going to buy her a crib,” Gibbs said. “She can sleep in that.”

“Uh, thanks, boss,” Tony said.

“Go back to NCIS,” Gibbs said. “There’ll be some paperwork for her, and you can keep her with you while you check out Lieutenant Brown’s background, and his wife’s.”

Tony nodded, rather unhappily. He liked working crime scenes – paperwork was the downside to this job.

“Something bothering you, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked.

Tony hesitated. “Why me, boss? I mean, I’m sure the Director – or McGee for that matter – would be better than me with a kid.”

“Because I gave you the job,” Gibbs said.

Tony pursed his mouth and nodded.

“There’s a car seat in Brown’s car,” Gibbs said. “Use it. And don’t let her out of your sight.”

He left. Tony sighed deeply, wondering if Gibbs was out to punish him for some reason. He couldn’t think of anything bad he’d done lately, but then he usually seemed to have done something, at least if the head slaps were anything to go by.

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