Chapter four


The room was mostly dark, with strands of moonlight and streetlights spilling in through the window.

Tony did little more than sleepwalk, screams piercing his skull, the sound coming from just below his ear. Emma refused to settle and he’d taken too long with the bottle – now she simply refused to eat. Or drink. Whatever.

“C’mon, kiddo,” Tony muttered. “We both need to sleep, you know. And you shouldn’t wake up Gibbs. He’ll be really pissy about it.”

He sat down on the chair again, trying once more to get her to latch onto the bottle. He let the nipple touch her lips and she squirmed and screamed, tears streaming down red cheeks. But then, wonders of wonders, as he persisted and all but shoved the nipple into her mouth, she started suckling.

“There you go,” Tony mumbled. “Not so hard, was it?”

The silence was blessed, interrupted only by a few stray mewling cries and gurgling as she downed the formula. Tony felt his eyelids drop, heavy as though lined with lead. It was four in the morning and he could barely get his body to function – hence the time it had taken for him to get her out of the carrier, warm the formula, and give it to her.

After a while, she stopped suckling with such force and her eyes closed as well, as sleep began to overtake her once more. Tony shifted her to his shoulder, rubbing her back until she burped. Tiny hands curled against his naked torso, flannel-clad body relaxing against his own. Silence and two steady breaths filled the room.

He realized he’d nodded off when he felt warm hands take a hold of Emma. Instinctively, he held her tighter, eyes snapping open, moving to stand protectively.

A hand held him down.

“Just me, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said softly. “Just thought you two might be more comfortable in bed.”

“Gibbs,” Tony mumbled. “Yeah. Yes. Bed.”

Emma slept soundly now and didn’t react when he placed her gently in the baby carrier.

“Didn’t mean to wake you, boss,” Tony said.

“You didn’t.” Gibbs nodded at the baby. “She did. Can’t hit ‘mute’ on a child.”

Tony smiled sleepily. “Guess not.”

“Sleep, Tony,” Gibbs said.

“Sleep,” Tony agreed.

Gibbs all but led him back to bed. Once Tony was down, Gibbs pulled the covers over him.

“You tucking me in, boss?” Tony wondered, lids half-closed in sleep already.

Gibbs didn’t answer, but Tony caught the small smile on his lips. Then he was out like a light, sleep claiming him before he managed another conscious thought.

new scene

Morning came all too soon and with it the soft cries of a baby. With a bit more sleep under his belt, Tony managed to drag himself out of bed and get Emma out of the carrier, and into the kitchen before the sniffs and whimpers had turned into full-blown screaming.

Gibbs was already in the kitchen, making coffee. He handed Tony a bottle, already warmed.

“Thanks,” Tony said and shoved the bottle into Emma’s mouth. She accepted it and Tony went into the living room to sit on the couch and feed her. He put her down and then laid down beside her, holding the bottle in place for her. She watched him with curious, aware eyes.

“You know what’s going on around you, don’t you?” Tony said. “You’re just pretending to not know, so that you get to observe instead. I’m sure you’ll be great undercover in a few years.”

She smacked her tongue and drank more formula in response.

Tony sobered as he thought of what her future might really hold. Years in foster families, hopefully good ones, but still without the safety of family. Not that family was any guarantee for safety, but still—

He smelled coffee and sawdust. “You’re turning into a voyeur, boss.”

A low chuckle came as a response. “What do you want for breakfast?”

“Do you have any cereal?” Tony asked.

“I’ll see what I can find,” Gibbs said.

Emma finished her bottle and Tony sat up, picking her up onto his lap.

“This is getting to be routine,” he said to her.

She smiled at him. After a few minutes, she burped, and he wiped her chin and was glad that he had yet to dress. Getting baby throw-up off a towel and his shoulder was so much easier than getting it off a shirt, even though it was still gross.

He headed into the kitchen.

“Ooh, breakfast,” he said upon spotting a bowl of cereal, a carton of milk standing beside it.

“Want me to take her?” Gibbs asked.

Tony handed Emma over, heading for the bowl. The cereal wasn’t the ones he was used to, but with a bit of extra sugar and lots of milk, it went down fine.

“Can we stop by Starbucks and get some coffee too?” Tony asked.

“There’s coffee,” Gibbs said, nodding towards the pot.

Tony made a face. “That’s not coffee, boss. That’s black poison.”

Gibbs glared at him but Tony simply grinned.

Twenty minutes later, they were off. It had taken two minutes for Tony to finish the cereal, and a total of four minutes for him to get dressed, brush his teeth, fix his hair, and find the car keys, but then there had been another fourteen minutes of making sure they had everything they needed for Emma.

They made a quick stop at Starbucks, Tony getting a latte with extra-sugary syrup and Gibbs getting simple black coffee – Tony ordered while Gibbs stayed in the car with Emma, because getting Emma out would have taken much, much longer – and then they arrived at NCIS headquarters.

Despite the morning rituals taking much longer than they usually did for Tony, he and Gibbs were still first of the team to arrive. Tony sat down and with Emma on his lap – because he knew she’d start screaming if she stayed in the baby carrier for any longer period of time when it stood still; it was understandably boring – and turned on his computer.

He didn’t work nearly as efficiently as he usually did, with a kid on his lap. Still, he got done, and once Ziva and McGee had arrived, he could concentrate more on keeping Emma entertained. For once, Ziva and McGee didn’t appear annoyed with his lack of concentration on work.

“You two seem to be getting along better today,” McGee said.

“Oh yeah, we bonded at three thirty this morning,” Tony said, rolling his eyes.

“Sounds fun,” McGee said, wincing.

Tony shrugged.

Gibbs returned to the squad room from wherever he’d been, demanding an update.

“I interviewed the neighbors,” Ziva said. “One of them heard gunshots, but did not see anything because it was dark. The others were asleep and of no help to us; the one who called it in was also asleep when it happened.”

“Abby found no fingerprints that shouldn’t be there,” Tony said. “The camcorder was of no use, just old footage.”

“She did match one of the bloody shoe prints at the scene to a military boot,” McGee said.

“Not much to go on,” Tony said. “It’s a Navy base, after all.”

“I am aware of that fact,” McGee said, sounding annoyed. “But go ahead and tell Abby that what she’s found is useless.”

“I don’t have a death wish,” Tony grinned.

“DiNozzo,” Gibbs snapped.

“I checked the phone records,” Tony said. Reporting felt odd with a baby on his hip – but then most things felt weird with a kid on his lap. “One number keeps coming back up. It belongs to a Petty Officer Rosen. She’s been calling the Browns several times a week in the last three months.”

“A friend?” Ziva asked.

“She’s in Lieutenant Brown’s unit,” Tony said. “She’s been calling his cell phone a whole lot too, for a friend.”

“A lover?” McGee asked.

“Find out,” Gibbs said. “Does Abby have a size for the shoe print?”

“Uh,” McGee said, searching his notes. “A size six and a half.”

“Woman’s size,” Tony said. Emma looked up at him with big eyes. “You can’t wear size six and a half yet, Miss Emma. It’d eat you up.”

She grinned at him. He wondered how she could trust so easily.

“Get me an address for Petty Officer Rosen,” Gibbs said. “I want to know what she was doing yesterday morning.”

“Yes, boss,” McGee said, and Ziva grabbed her gear, ready to go with Gibbs.

“What about me?” Tony asked, though he knew what the answer would be.

“You stay here with her,” Gibbs said.

Tony grumbled. “Yes, boss.”

Gibbs smiled slightly at him. “Go down to Abby for a while. She’ll enjoy the company.”

It was some sort of peace offering, an olive branch for putting Tony through this. Tony wasn’t sure it was all a negative experience, even though he was still far from understanding as to why anyone would have kids willingly. Tony had gotten a few good things out of this – most especially, he got to stay at Gibbs’ for the night.

He grabbed the carrier and pulled it along with one hand, holding Emma with the other. She wasn’t all that heavy.

The music was loud and obnoxious in the forensics lab and Tony held his hands over Emma’s ears until he could turn it down.

“What—Tony!” Abby said, turning to find him. “And little Missy Em! What are you doing down here? I already told you guys what I found.”

“I’m still on babysitting duty,” Tony said. “Gibbs told me to come down and bother you for a while, instead of just moping around the squad room.”

Abby smiled widely. “You’re welcome down here. Oh, you’re such a sweetheart.”

“I know,” Tony grinned.

Abby slapped his arm lightly. “Not you. Well, you too, but Emma – she’s just so cute!”

“Not so cute when she wouldn’t stop screaming this morning,” Tony said.

“Aww,” Abby said. “Did you keep Tony up all night, sweetie? I understand why – he’s a hottie, and I’d keep him up all night too if had the chance.”

“Abby!” Tony said, but he couldn’t manage outrage.

Abby grinned. “So, did Gibbs keep you up all night too?”

“Abby,” Tony said, this time in a more warning tone.

Abby rolled her eyes. “It’s not like it’s news. And if you’re not already doing each other, you really should be. It’d be hot. Really hot. And you’re in love with him, so that’s even better.”

“Abby!” Tony said for the third time and this time he had no trouble sounding scandalized.

Abby grinned and patted his cheek. “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.”

He’d suspected she knew, but she hadn’t said anything before. Then again, Abby always knew. She had a built-in lie detector – perhaps it came from always piecing together puzzles from tiny bits, while still managing to see the whole picture.

Tony sighed. He wondered if anyone else had realized. After all, they were all good investigators – even McGee – and none of them were stupid. His heart pounded a bit harder – what if Gibbs found out? God, he didn’t want to think about that. Except he did, because a part of him desperately wanted to know how Gibbs would react.

Emma emitted a high-pitched squeal that tore through Tony’s thoughts.

“You want attention again?” Tony asked. “You know, you’re a really egocentric little girl.”

She just smiled and made sounds, reaching out to grab a handful of Tony’s hair. Tony thought seriously about cutting his hair off completely – those tiny hands were strong.

Abby smiled, continuing to work but glancing over at them. “You two are really cute together.”

“Don’t start again, Abs,” Tony said. “I’m not having kids.”

“Should be criminal to be as hot as you and not have kids,” Abby grinned. “Those genes should be passed on.”

“Did the sperm bank thing,” Tony said. “No one wanted—uh, me.”

“Do they get to see pictures, or is it all descriptions? Because your description would totally not be as good as a photo,” Abby said. She grinned, “Unless it said ‘hot-hot-hot’ with really big letters.”

Tony shook his head. “You’re incorrigible.”

“Don’t I know it,” Abby said. “But still. You’d have really cute kids. You know—”

She trailed off and a wicked glint flashed in her eyes. Tony recognized it as harboring of trouble. No matter what Abby had thought of, it wouldn’t be good for him – especially not when her fingers flew over her keyboard and the grin was so wide, it was a good thing she had ears to stop it from going all the way ‘round her head.

“She’s up to no good,” he muttered to Emma. Emma just squealed. “I’m sure you’ll be just as devilish when you grow up, won’t you? Women are devilish.”

“Is that why you want Gibbs instead?” Abby grinned, not taking her eyes off the screen.

“Abby, keep it down,” Tony hissed.

“These walls are soundproof,” Abby shrugged.

“The door isn’t closed!” Tony said.

Abby glanced over her shoulder and frowned for a second. “There’s that.”

“What are you doing?” He came over to her.

“One second and—there!” Abby said. “Aaw, you’d have such cute kids.”

Tony’s mouth dropped open. The photo on the right was Tony, the one on the left was—Gibbs. And in the middle, a blue-eyed girl with dark blond hair and chubby cheeks. It was possible it was a cute kid, but Tony stuck by the notion that all kids looked alike up until a certain point.

“Abby! Take that down!” Tony hissed.

Abby giggled. “Too bad it can’t be reality.”

Tony glared at her. Abby rolled her eyes but finally clicked the image away.

“You shouldn’t get angry,” Abby said.

“I’m not angry,” Tony said.

Abby nodded at Emma. “Then she doesn’t know the difference.”

Tony looked down to find Emma, her face scrunching up, and a second later, wails filled the room. Tony winced and looked at her, thinking that she wasn’t very cute when she was crying.

“I didn’t mean it,” Tony said helplessly. “I didn’t mean to sound angry. I’m not angry with you. Please stop. Please?”

But she didn’t listen; she just kept screaming. Tony knew they were nearing lunchtime for her anyway and he grabbed a bottle and formula from the bag hanging off the carrier.

“I’m just gonna go,” he sighed to Abby.

She nodded. “Good luck.”

“Yeah,” Tony muttered.

He went up to the cafeteria, which was thankfully empty because it wasn’t quite lunchtime for the grownups yet. Using one hand, he mixed the formula – spilling all over the place because Emma squirmed and screamed in his ear – and warmed it in the microwave.

He tested it against his wrist, but wasn’t sure what he was trying to achieve by that; he didn’t know how hot was too hot, or how cold was too cold. He figured that if it didn’t burn him, it wouldn’t burn her, and as long as it didn’t feel icy cold, it’d be fine. He hoped. He really didn’t want to face disciplinary charges or something because he’d hurt her with his lack of knowledge – actually, he didn’t want to hurt her, period.

Tony pushed the bottle into her mouth, but she screamed around it and refused to take the nipple.

“You’re seriously getting on my nerves,” Tony said. “Gibbs always smacks me on the head when I get on his nerves – I don’t think I should try the same with you.”

She screamed more in response.

“You agree, obviously,” Tony said, talking normally as though his audience wasn’t one squiggling, wailing baby. “Well, what else does my dear boss do? He glares at me. Doubt that’d work here. But it is a nice glare. Really. He’s got nice eyes. They’re very blue.”

He tried pushing the nipple into her mouth again, to no avail. Her face was an unpleasant tone of red and fat tears rolled down her cheeks as she protested against whatever it was she was protesting. He sighed and held her up, sniffing her – and that too felt weird, even though he’d done it on a couple of occasions since the day before – and decided that once she’d calmed, she might need a diaper change. But he was nowhere near good enough to do it when she was this angry.

They’d set up the changing area down in the men’s bathroom on Abby’s floor, because it wasn’t used all that much. In the men’s room, because obviously Tony was the one who was going to change her. At least he’d gotten better at it since yesterday morning; it usually only took him one attempt now.

“Love, you need to breathe.” He hugged her awkwardly to his chest. “It’s no good for you to not breathe.”

He rubbed his hand up and down her back, massaging ever so gently. His head hurt, every wail she emitted passing through his brain like an electrical shock. Still, he couldn’t do anything but stay – hopefully, she’d calm down eventually. He couldn’t very well put her in her carrier – which he realized now he probably shouldn’t have left in Abby’s room, because it’d have been practical to be able to put her down. It also contained the diapers.

He sighed again.

“Gibbs would know what to do with you,” he said. “Gibbs always knows. He’s like Superman, or something. A really grouchy, bastardly Superman, but still. And he’s got grey hair, and he’s too old to be Clark Kent – not that you’d ever hear me tell him he’s too old for anything.”

He realized suddenly that he could hear his own voice again. Not daring to move beyond continuing to rub her back, Tony kept talking. She had calmed, no doubt about it. The wails were becoming weaker and she sniffed between them. He glanced down and saw that he would need a napkin – she had snot all over the lower part of her face.

“I’ll just keep talking about Gibbs, then,” Tony said. “There’s some sort of irony that he’d know how to calm you and then you calm down while I’m talking about him.”

He kept talking in a low voice, feeling as she heaved in little tiny breaths, and in the end he was allowed to put the nipple into her mouth. She drank her lunch calmly.

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