Desk duty didn't suck as much as he always made out it did; it was better than moping at home. He never thought of himself as particularly smart, not academically smart like McGee, or able to read peoples' souls like Gibbs did, or you-name-it-I-can-do-it smart like Ziva; but he knew his brain was like a bouncing, quicksilver bunny, always needing the next thing to keep him occupied. He supposed sometimes that that was why his father never wanted him around, the continual nosing into everything, the endless stream of impossible questions, must have exhausted him.
Well, since he needed such constant entertaining, cold cases, and the possibility of doing his thing on them always excited him. He was pretty certain that the phrase which seemed to have stuck to him, the 'super-connector of random dots', had been coined by McGee, and he smiled to himself. It had been an unexpected compliment from the younger agent, and it had been said to Gibbs. He wasn't good at accepting praise, and he wondered what his reaction would have been if it had been said to his face.
He sighed… that was another legacy of his having brought himself up… embarrassment would unfailingly make him ungracious, and it was small wonder that Tim hadn't said it to his face. Must try harder, Anthony.
Well, his ribs were much improved, and the strapping had been reduced to the point where he could breathe again, and he didn't wake up in the night sweating because he couldn't cool down. The arm was another matter. It was healing, but he hadn't treated it kindly in the hours after he'd broken it. As he'd told Polly at the time, getting baby Lucy safely into the world took priority over everything. But broken ends of bone had jabbed and cut at muscle, and although the break was knitting well enough, the same bruised and torn tissues were still unrelentingly painful.
He grimaced; just another reason why he wasn't sleeping well… He'd been about to phone Gibbs to wheedle his way back into the bull pen, when the Boss had appeared on his doorstep.
"Been expecting ya in the basement," the senior agent had said baldly.
"Yeah, well, Ducky won't let me drive yet, Boss."
Gibbs knew that. He also knew why, because although Ducky was a stickler for doctor-patient confidentiality, there were ways…
"I was expecting to refill Anthony's prescription for pain medication before now". Translation: Anthony isn't taking his painkillers, Jethro.
"I had Timothy put Anthony's Mustang in the secure garage rather than leaving it in the parking lot for weeks." Translation: He is not to drive.
"You'll have noticed," spoken with heavy emphasis, "He's still rather debilitated during the day." Translation: He's not sleeping well, have you checked up on him recently?
But whether the lack of sleep was linked to the non-use of pain meds or something more, Ducky clearly intended for Gibbs to find out for himself.
"So, d'you want to come back to work yet?"
Tony had taken two bottles of beer from the fridge one handed, and given them both to Gibbs, rather than letting his mentor see that even gripping one to open it was something he'd really rather not do. It was next to impossible with only the tips of his fingers sticking out from the end of the cast anyway.
"You're usually telling me not to."
"Been a long time since I did that, DiNozzo. You can't requalify for firearms until Ducky lets you take the test, and no, I'm not asking him to say you can do it tomorrow… but if you're bored out of your brain and not sleeping, I got cold cases…"
"Who says I'm not sleeping?"
"I got eyes, DiNozzo." And I should have been round before now… dammit, he's not a child who needs watching – but of all of them he's the one who brings out the mother hen in me… "I can't force you to take the painkillers, but if I give you something to get your teeth into during the day, maybe…"
Tony had put him out of his misery. "I can't wait to get back to work, Boss. I'll be in tomorrow." And short of asking him straight out what was on his mind, Gibbs couldn't probe any further.
"Just as well," Tony thought as he stepped out of the taxi; "Because I can't explain. What sort of idiot will he think I am if I do? I told myself in the hospital… I've been telling myself ever since… Who'd have thought it would hurt this much?" He reached the elevator, and pulled the letter out of his inner breast pocket. He ran his eyes over the words and the picture again; they should have made him happy. He ought to feel happy, but the negative emotions were piling up one on top of another.
'Tony… glad to hear you're recovering well! Patch is having the travel seat fitted in my car today, so Lucy and I'll be able to visit you and see for ourselves. We got the tyres replaced, by the way! I enclose the latest photo… you can see her eyes are still that lovely blue. I hope they'll stay like that! Tony, I have something really important to ask you. My family are really traditional, and my mum would like Lucy to be christened while she's still small enough to wear the family gown!
'I don't have a problem with that, so, we'll be having a service and a shindig as soon as we can arrange things. Would you consider being one of Lucy's god-parents? I mean, who better? You were there for her even before she was born. No pressure, but please consider it, Tony. Please?
Hugs from Lucy,
He almost moaned out loud. He couldn't. He flat out couldn't. So… hurt Polly? Or hurt himself? No contest. He shook himself and headed towards his desk.
A snigger that he barely registered echoed behind him. "Oh, look, there's the midwife come to visit." Marchetti's new SFA, Frank Heron. He hardly knew the guy, and since the remark was about him, not to him, he didn't bother to turn. He had more important things on his mind. "What's the matter, Sister, no time to stop and chat?"
He'd known he'd be teased… he spun lightly on his heel, and smiled. "So many babies, so little time," he said brightly, drawing genuine laughter from other agents at their desks, then turned back and headed for his own, as his thoughts went straight back to where they'd been. There was a stack of files beside his keyboard; Gibbs had been as good as his word. Something to get his teeth into. Of the rest of the team there was no sign, so he guessed that they'd caught a case.
Trying to pull bites of useful information from the top file kept him focussed for all of an hour; his mind was just beginning to flit about again, when Gibbs called. He pulled up all the information he could on two men, a sailor and his civilian brother, and wasn't too proud to call Tim to see if there was any other channel he could go down to find out more. At lunch time, he didn't feel hungry, so he went down to Abby's lab to make a nuisance of himself.
The goth began to hurl herself at him, "Tony!" and then applied her brakes with force. He still seemed to her to be way paler than he should, almost ghostly; and that look that had been in his eyes when she'd taken pizza round a couple of nights ago was still there. Instead of delivering a rib-crunching killer hug, she put her hand on his good shoulder, laying her fore-arm along his biceps, and put her head on top of her hand. He momentarily rested his cheek against her hair.
She pushed him down into the nearest chair, hooked another one and sat beside him. She had this way of lowering her head, then raising her eyes to study him, as if she were a grade school teacher peering over the top of her glasses. There were times when it would have worked, but this time he was ready for it. One day he might tell her how the events of the past days had left him feeling, but he wasn't ready yet. He just needed Abby to be Abby, his mad, utterly stable, flirty, mothering goth angel.
He didn't crumple at that gaze, just looked innocent, and she gave up, with a sigh. "I'll be round with Chinese tonight," she said finally. "You choose the movie, and I'll cuddle you until you go to sleep. How's that?"
"Everything I could hope for," he told her, and turned the talk to the case.
When he got back to his desk, he blinked, then shook his head. There was an outsized baby pacifier sitting on the notepad by his keyboard. Ha, ha. He hung it from the corner of his monitor, but pushed it round behind, where he didn't have to look at it. They hadn't a clue…
When the team returned, Tim looked at the dummy with a curious frown; Tony shrugged with a wry smile. By that time, he'd pulled up enough on the brothers for their original suspicion of murder-suicide to be looking more like a probability. The civilian's business was in trouble; the sailor, if he'd been asking him for financial help, couldn't have given it, whatever the elder sibling had thought. The bigger man had a history of violent episodes, which was probably why his clients were voting with their feet. The younger man had been strangled, Ducky confirmed that this was done manually, and that what was left of the elder brother's brain after he'd shot himself harboured a slow-growing tumour.
"Quite possibly treatable if he'd got treatment, Jethro. A tragic waste of two lives." And that was that.
When they left that day, Tony noticed the pacifier was gone.
Abby was true to her word, and he slept better that night. When he woke, she was gone, which he thought, with a sigh, was wise. He couldn't keep depending on her to be his human security blanket, although he knew she'd have done it like a shot. Ziva called to say she was coming by to pick him up; he sighed again. He was lucky to have such thoughtful friends, but how he hated this dependency.
He stopped as he reached his desk; and tried to keep his face expressionless. He was sure they thought it was all a huge joke, and it wasn't as if he'd never teased, but shit, this wasn't funny. They were determined to rub his nose in it, when they didn't even know there was anything to rub it in! A large bottle of Nurse Harvey's Gripe Water, and a yellow plastic spoon with a teddy bear handle sat where the pacifier had been the previous day. Once again, he reacted with a shrug, wondering if anyone was looking out to see what he'd do… Polly had rung last night to see how he was, and mentioned that Lucy was a little bit colicky; even coincidence was having a go at him.
It's your own fault, DiNozzo… nobody asked you to feel like this… he was about to drop the items in the waste bin, when Tim stopped by his desk, frowning. Tony waited for some ribbing comment, reminding himself that it was fine for McGee to do it, but the younger agent just picked up the bottle, and looked at the label.
"Uck," he said. "I remember Mom giving this to Sarah. I bet she used to force it down me too."
Tony managed a small smile. "Well, I guess it's better than colic," he said. "Does it really work?"
Ziva was looking at it too. "I believe you know it has worked if the baby gives a huge burp." For once they saw Gibbs coming, changed the topic of conversation just in time, and hastily went to their desks. Tony didn't notice that somewhere along the line, the bottle and spoon had vanished.
Being back at the Navy Yard was both a good and a bad thing. He was busy; he had plenty to think about other than the little misery-bug sitting on his shoulder. He put all the pieces together and gave Balboa what he needed to close a case; although the perp was dead now, it was a case that had been bothering the team leader since he was a probie. He found enough on another case for his own team to go out and talk to people; they found that the major suspect was a civilian and turned everything over to Tobias Fornell. But for the misery-bug, Tony would have been feeling happy.
Every morning in the elevator, he'd get out the letter from Polly, and still not know how to answer. Between that and the aching of his arm and ribs, that always seemed to be worse at night, he still wasn't getting much sleep, and he couldn't bother Abby every evening. The next day was Saturday, and he felt sick every time the phone rang over the weekend, in case it was Polly. And no amount of telling himself to pull himself together worked. He was being foolish, getting worked up over something he could do nothing about, but 'Get a grip, DiNozzo' wasn't cutting it.
Talk to the Boss? There were two very good reasons why he couldn't, three if you included looking like an idiot… by the time he stood in the elevator on Monday morning, he was thinking about a long vacation in the most inaccessible corner of Alaska. He threw himself into his chair and powered up his computer, reaching for the next file at the same time, from the drawer where he'd put them away. Well, at least the practical joker seemed to have quit.
"DiNozzo! What the hell is that?"
Tony looked where Gibbs was pointing, at a spot somewhere above his head. Tied to the rail of the stairs up to the mezzanine was a colourful cot mobile, with clouds and cherubs… He reached up and pulled the string – Brahms' Lullaby, oh, how original. Tim threw him a sympathetic glance, and went up the stairs to take it down.
Gibbs knew something was wrong. Ducky, Abby, Tim all knew something was wrong. Ziva asked outright, and got that wide, empty smile, and "My arm aches a bit, Zi… you could rub it better for me?"
The next day, the younger agent tried unsuccessfully to get into the bull pen ahead of his friend, and almost crashed into his back when Tony stopped dead. "OK…." He said slowly, "OK, I think I'm starting to get fed up of this. That's… I dunno, kind of nasty somehow."
Tim looked; there was a pack of disposable diapers on the floor by Tony's chair. It was open, and the top one was spread out on the seat ready for Tony to sit down.
"Yeah," he agreed, "That is. D'you want me to go through the security film, and see who's doing this?"
Tony sighed. "Thanks, McGee, but I know who's doing it… just can't figure out why. I hardly know the guy…"
"Why don't you say – oh, no… you'd just end up with a slanging match and a feud…"
Tony nodded. "He – and anyone else who's involved'll get fed up in the end."
The following morning, Tim actually did get to his desk ahead of Tony, and took a quick look round. Well, it seemed as if the joker had finally given up. The SFA arrived about five minutes later, managed an approving grin for the early bird, and powered up his computer. He opened the drawer to reach for a file, and froze. Tim heard a faint gasp, and looked over at him, then jumped to his feet.
The files had been removed from the drawer and left in a pile underneath the desk. Inside the drawer, lying on a pink blanket, was a life-like baby girl doll, so realistic that from even a short distance away, you could only tell by the stillness that it wasn't a living baby. Tony just sat unmoving, his jaw clenched, trying to calm down. His face wore a mixture of anger and pain, with the pain winning by a couple of lengths. Tim went on instinct. He reached over and lifted the doll out, by the neck, none too gently, making it clear that he wasn't thinking of it as real, bundled it up in the blanket and dumped it behind his desk. He walked back to Tony, remarking, "I've got quite a little collection there now."
Tony came back to life. "You've been keeping the things? Why?"
Tim shook his head. "Not sure that I know. Just a feeling really. I reckon I know who it is too, and I can't say I like the guy."
"I've had enough," Tony said, pushing himself to his feet. "I'm going to Marchetti's pen, and I'm going to punch that jerk's lights out."
Tim stood in his way. "And then you get suspended instead of Heron? Don't think so."
"How did you know it was Heron, McGee?"
"Overheard a couple of snide remarks in the break room." He changed the subject in a way that was worthy of Tony himself. "I need coffee," he said with a beaming smile. "Come on…" He grabbed Tony's elbow and began to steer him back towards the elevator. As they approached, Gibbs emerged, carrying two large Starbucks cups. Tim didn't hesitate. "Taking Tony for a coffee, Boss… we'll bring you one back." He looked Gibbs straight in the eye, and then dragged his friend through the metal door before it could close. Gibbs stood there, weighing up the coffee in each hand, thought 'Good luck, McGee', and went to his desk.
Tim waited until they were out in the open air, before saying anything. They walked over to the river, and stood leaning on the railing. "Frank Heron's a jerk," he said finally, "And I think you're right to ignore him. Don't change that now. Ziva's trying to find out whether he's got an audience egging him on, or if he's doing it alone. That's more likely – it stopped being funny after the pacifier, and most of us wouldn't do it anyway. She's going to try and find out what his beef is."
"Oh." Tony's voice was quiet and a little shocked. "Like you've been hanging on to the evidence. While I've been wallowing around in self-pity, you two have been looking out for me."
"Don't sound so surprised, Tony. It's not like you've never done it for us. But I am going to ask you what you're wallowing in self-pity about. Because it's about time you told us why you're needing to be looked out for."
"There's no point in talking about it." Tony screwed his eyes up as if the light hurt them.
"And yet you're here," Tim said, trying to sound as if he were quoting a movie. "You came with me. You knew I'd ask." Tony nodded, and looked at the floor, and tried to begin, several times. The words had to be there somewhere… when was Anthony DiNozzo ever lost without them?
"OK," Tim said quietly. "You're embarrassed, I'm embarrassed – let's make it worse, shall we? Last time I visited you in Bethesda… I pretended not to notice, cuz it wouldn't have done me any good at all to ask… but you had tears on your face. And you've not been right since. And I met the Hastings on my way in that day. I'm joining random dots here. Your thing." He waited to have his theory, such as it was, shot down.
"D'you know what Anthony means?" Now it was Tony who went off at one of his odd tangents.
"Means beyond price. Priceless. Invaluable. Kind of ironic, huh? That my parents, of all parents, should have given me such a name. And then proved with every day that went by that it was wrong."
"Tony…" Tim couldn't keep the reproach out of his tone.
"Oh, yeah. And then, they gave Lucy my name. Did you know that? Lucy Aiden Antonia. Bright little fire, beyond price. She is beyond price… I knew she was before she was even born. What they went through to have her… I told Polly nothing mattered to me but bringing her safely into the world."
"But… you did that. I got the whole story at Bethesda. You saved them both. Explain to me why you're unhappy after that?"
Tony rested his forearms on the railing, wincing as the left one in its cast made contact with the metal, clasped his hands and looked down at the river. He let his breath out in a huff. "When I'd done everything I had to do… the next minute… I passed out. Did Polly tell you that?" He didn't wait for an answer. "I woke up… Lucy was lying on her mother's stomach, watching me. Yeah, I know newborn eyes don't focus, but that's what it looked like… Polly was stroking my hair… it didn't hit me all at once, it just kind of crept up on me. The emotional investment, I mean."
He shook his head, and his eyes didn't seem to be seeing the grey river. "I'm not the wonderful, unselfish person Polly thinks I am, Tim. I wasn't thinking about me then because I had to think about them. Everything I felt was for them, and now…"
"I still don't understand. Are you trying to tell me you're selfish? How?"
"What am I supposed to do? Gibbs might know, but I can't ask him, I can't make him talk about his loss. His double loss…"
"What have you lost?" Tim's voice was strained with anxiety, because he suddenly began to understand.
"I've lost Lucy, Tim… I've lost Lucy." His eyes were dark with memory. "But… she was never mine to lose in the first place, was she? The closest thing I'm ever going to have to a child of my own… I delivered her, I fell in love with her on the spot, and that's just tough. Because she's not my daughter. That day you saw them in the hospital, the family, they'd just been to see me. Polly put Lucy on my chest, and when she took her away again… I felt as if she'd torn my heart out. Like I said, emotional investment… I told myself I had to put that bond aside ruthlessly, because I was the only one that felt it. Because I wasn't entitled to it. I was managing, too… just."
He pulled Polly's letter from his pocket, and showed it to Tim. "I was doing it until I got this. I either say no, like the selfish jerk I am, and hurt Polly, or I go, and get reminded of what I haven't got, and never realised I hadn't got, never knew I wanted; and promise a lot of things, and hear them give her my joke of a name…"
Tim heard his friend out, with growing anger. After all these years it was still there in Tony's nature, and it still surfaced when things went wrong for him. He'd met Poppa DiNozzo, and unlike the girls, he found the charm very easy to resist. He couldn't hold back. "And then you keep your promises, and you're there for her at the important times as she grows up. How's that losing her? What more could her parents do than that to show you that they value what you did? They're welcoming you into her life!" He paused, as Tony looked at him in astonishment.
"Listen, Tony. This job we do – because we do it well… because we invest our whole lives into it… means we're never likely to have what the Hastings' have. Don't look at me like that. My body clock ticks just as loudly as yours. Do you wish they didn't have it?" He almost laughed at Tony's expression. "No, didn't think so."
He grabbed his friend's elbow again, and started him walking towards the coffee shop. Tony looked totally bemused as Tim kept up the attack. "You're not selfish. You're not worthless. You are, however, a complete idiot for letting yourself get into this state. If you weren't at a physical low, you never would have done. And," he said, fairly, because he was Tim McGee, "I don't suppose that numpty Heron's antics helped."
Tony stood silently while Tim ordered coffee for the team; he dug his hand in his pocket to pay, but Tim waved him away. They started back, and Tim returned to the attack. "D'you know what important duty a godparent undertook in the old days?"
"If something happened to the parents, it was the godparents' duty to speak for the child… to secure the future in the best way for him. Or her. I bet Polly knows that. The principle's the same… she's trusting you with a share in Lucy's life. You reply to that letter, and tell her you'll be delighted. Because you will."
Tony was silent for what seemed an age, while Tim reviewed what he'd just said, in his mind. Had he really called Tony an idiot? Yes. Did he want to take it back? Nope. He was doing some emotional investment of his own here.
"You're right," the SFA said finally. "I am an idiot." He took a deep breath. "Thanks, Mc-" he was going to say 'McAgonyaunt' – "Tim."
As they re-entered the bull pen, Gibbs looked up. Tim put the coffee at his elbow, not at all surprised to see that the other cups were already empty. A quick glance of understanding flashed between them; it was plain from DiNozzo's body language that there'd been a fundamental change. As Tim gave Ziva her coffee, and the same understanding passed between them, Tony was already diving into the next file with enthusiasm.
Tim frowned over an email from Ziva, and disappeared a while later, to see Abby, he said, but he was clutching his cell phone. Not long afterwards, as Marchetti's team returned from a call-out, Frank Heron returned to his desk and stopped dead in surprise. The pacifier was hanging from his monitor, the mobile twirled gently above his head. The bottle of gripe water and its bright yellow spoon were in his coffee mug, and the baby doll sat in his chair. Diapers were strewn all over his area.
"What the hell –"
"I hear you thought you should have had DiNozzo's job when you transferred here," Tim McGee said idly, leaning over the partition. "I also hear that any idiot can deliver a baby. Oh, and that he didn't take out three perps, it was just luck that the car caught fire."
Dave Marchetti looked sharply at his SFA, and Tim didn't care. "Tony said thanks for the gifts, but he hadn't room to keep them, so he sent them back to you."
The lift opened at that moment, and out of it stepped Polly Hastings, escorted by one of the guards from the entrance. She was carrying Lucy in a body sling. All the female agents and a few of the male ones let out a chorus of 'awww's.
"Just thought I'd introduce you to Lucy," Tim said, "Who wouldn't be here but for Tony. I just stopped him from coming down here and spreading your nose all over your face, Frank. I was worried about him hurting his arm some more. This goes on any more, I won't stop him." He left with Polly and Lucy.
Dave Marchetti said softly, into the stunned silence from his SFA, "Oh, Frank… clear up that mess."
Team Gibbs all glanced towards Tim as he returned. "Hey, Tony, look who I met on the way up!"
Tim's air of total innocence brought a long look of deep suspicion from the SFA, but they all gathered round the three week old charmer, who blew her trademark bubbles as she was fussed and passed from fan to fan. Tim gave Tony a few meaningful glances, and finally nudged his friend when he didn't seem to be getting the message.
"What, McGee? …Oh…"
He edged over to Polly. "I… er… "
She read him like a book. He didn't have to ask the question. "Yes, I did know what I was doing when I asked you, Tony. You'd be a great godparent."
"In that case… I'd be honoured."
AN: Anybody kind enough to review, don't think I'm ignoring you… shan't be able to reply until after the weekend. Off to meet up with Cheeks, VP and Cymraes for a couple of fun NCIS days!