Standard Disclaimer: The only thing I own are the ideas and the original character. All the rest belongs to our pals at NCIS, CBS, Bellisario, etc.

From California to Peoria in Under Four Hours

PROLOGUE

"He's not, really, you know," DiNozzo said quietly. It had been a long, annoying case, made more so by the team having to deal with a demanding father who had used his lawyers and business connections to try and buffer the news about his Navy son's arrest for domestic violence that led to murder. Something that had obviously run in the man's family.

"Who's not, what, Tony?" asked Gibbs, as Ziva and McGee continued to organize files and close out the case, while at the same time doing their best to eavesdrop.

"My father … he's not as bad as everyone thinks he is."

Gibbs stopped what he was doing, and regarded Tony with a mixture of interest and concern. DiNozzo wasn't exactly famous for providing more information about his father than an occasional one-liner or single-sentence revelation. But there was no way of knowing what was rolling around in Tony's head.

"No one is making judgments or comparisons, Tony," offered Gibbs, carefully. "But, to be fair, you weren't really complimentary about your old man during this case."

Tony nodded. "Yeah … I know. And believe me, there were plenty of parallels to draw. But … well … I just didn't want people to think … didn't want to give the impression … I mean, he's not a totally horrible guy. It's not like the guy pushed me up against walls or tossed me off rooftops or anything."

Gibbs waited.

"I was … you know … a … a 'handful', as they say."

"You think?" Gibbs said, with a deadpan smile. Tony looked up and returned the smirk.

"At any rate …," Tony was getting a little uncomfortable now, as he realized the whole team was listening. "I just wanted to clear that up."

Everyone looked at Tony, then each other, not sure where to go next.

"Ziva! McGee!" bellowed Gibbs. "How long does it take to put a case to bed? I'd like to get out of here at some point today." Tony shot Gibbs a look of thanks, for getting him out of the hole he'd talked himself into. "DiNozzo, take the last of the evidence down to Abby, and then everyone – go home. It's Saturday afternoon, and I don't want to see anyone back here until Monday morning."

Two hours later, Tony walked into his apartment, kicked off his shoes, served himself an obscene amount of peach cobbler from a dish provided by a grateful neighbor who had insisted on baking for him after he reattached a dryer hose, and plopped down on the couch to watch whatever was on the Sundance Channel. It wasn't until then that he noticed the duffel bag in the corner.

"Some detective YOU are," offered an amused voice from the hall.

It took Tony exactly six seconds to jump from the couch, cross the room, slide into the hallway, and pull the perpetrator into a fierce hug.

"I cannot BELIEVE you didn't tell me you were coming!" he said, as he literally took his guest's breath away.

"If I had told you," she said, gasping for air, "it wouldn't have been a surprise." She pushed away from him a bit, smiled, and glanced down to the plate on the coffee table. "Please tell me that you want more for dinner than just that, because I'm starving."

Tony returned the cobbler to the kitchen, grabbed his keys, slid his shoes back on, and looked back over his shoulder with a grin.

"You comin'?"

She grabbed a jacket and followed him out the door.

"I cannot BELIEVE you didn't even call!" his mock-hurt voice echoed as the door closed behind them.

"Give it up, Tony."