Author's Apology: *Slowly drags my sorry ass out of hibernation* HOLY CRAP it's been a loooong time since I last updated! I'm so sorry guys! I never intended for this hiatus to get so out of hand, hell, I never planned on having a hiatus at all, it just sort of . . . happened. You can lay most of the blame at the feet of my new job - my tedious, tiring, soul-destroying job *sigh*. I'm working night-shift now which has been a lot more difficult to adjust to than I imagined, it's also been eating into the time I used to spend writing. The rest of the blame goes to writer's block, general tiredness, and an energetic border collie puppy who I've been raising these past few months. Okay enough with my lame excuses, again just let me say how sorry I am that I've kept you waiting so long. I wish this chapter was longer and that I had been able to progress in the story a little more but I've been stressing about how long it's been since my last update so I thought I would just give you this chapter as it is. I will try my very best to give you some more regular updates and if I start slipping like this again you have my permission to send me a message to hurry me along. Hope this chapter was worth the wait :(
Barely twenty minutes after agreeing to Abby's absurd Harry Potter themed birthday party, Tony was already starting to regret it, the main reason being she just wouldn't shut up about it! They'd been wandering around the furniture store for ten minutes now and Abby had spent all of that time yammering on and on about things like what costumes she should get, how she could get her hands on 'authentic' Harry Potter food such as chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's every flavored beans (whatever the hell that was!), where she might get Harry Potter themed decorations and party favors, the likelihood of renting a real life owl for the day (Tony had shot her an incredulous look at that one), whether or not the cake should be in the shape of a spell book, a wizard's hat, Hedwig (whoever that was), or Hogwarts castle and so on and so forth. All of this was occasionally broken by exclamations of 'Oh look at this!' or 'Aww how sweet is this?!' as a piece of furniture caught her attention. Tony's head was beginning to feel like it was about to explode. Please shut up, please shut up, PLEASE shut up, he chanted silently, trying his best to focus his attention on the range of 'Junior beds' (as Abby had dubbed them) that they were currently inspecting. Tearing his eyes away from a tiny little bed shaped like a blue racing car, Tony searched for Gibbs who had wandered further ahead of them with Megan, out of earshot of Abby's endless rambling. Tony glared at the older man's back. Get back here so I don't have to suffer this verbal torture alone! Apparently sensing his gaze, Gibbs suddenly glanced over his shoulder and seeing the look on Tony's face flashed him a quick smirk and deliberately walked a little further away. Bastard!
"I can't decide whether I should go as Hermione or Luna …" Abby was saying, her voice suddenly penetrating Tony's thoughts. Tony rolled his eyes. "I mean they're two of my favorite female characters, they're both so smart and unafraid to be themselves, especially Luna, which is certainly something I can relate to . . . but how do you choose between the two?!" She was silent for an all too brief moment. "I suppose I may have more in common with Luna, I mean she's so open-minded, maybe too – what are you doing?" she suddenly asked Tony, who for the last few seconds had been closely inspecting the back of her neck.
Looking for the off switch, he felt like saying. "Nothing," he answered instead, in a falsely bright voice.
Abby eyed him suspiciously for a moment or two, then shrugged and turned away. Tony winced in preparation when he saw her take a large intake of breath to continue her speech, but to his relief she let it out in a gasp as she spotted something. Latching onto his elbow she pushed him towards a small, pink canopy bed.
"No!" he snapped bluntly, before she even had a chance to coo at the pink, frilly monstrosity. He remembered all too clearly the nightmares he'd had as a child thanks to his own canopy bed and there was no way in hell he was going to put Megan through that, no matter what Abby said to try and persuade him.
"Oh but, Tony, it's so –!"
"But don't you think –?"
"Oh but Megan will –!"
"Why are you being so –?!"
"I wasn't even going to ask that –!"
"No!" Tony repeated yet again, this time with a small smile as Abby stamped her foot in frustration. She gave him one of her most blistering glares – clearly hoping it would be enough to sway him – but Tony just stared right back, wearing a grin that could only be described as infuriating. Ah! Payback's a bitch, he thought smugly.
"What if it was in a different color?" she tried again.
"No, Abby!" he snapped, switching from amused to annoyed in a matter of seconds. He tried pulling his arm free from the forensic scientist's grip, but Abby just tightened her fingers around his elbow, holding him in place.
"Gibbs!" she cried out loudly, earning herself a round of dirty looks from some of the other customers.
Tony rolled his eyes and ground his teeth as Gibbs and Megan slowly approached them. He jerked him arm, hoping to break free of Abby's iron grip, and sagged in defeat when the attempt was unsuccessful.
"What's up, Abs?" Gibbs asked carefully, taking in the sullen expression on Tony's face.
"What do you think of this bed?" she asked sweetly.
Tony almost choked on the growl of annoyance that was trying to escape his throat.
Gibbs' expression remained impassive as he examined the little canopy bed. "What does Tony think?"
Abby's expression soured at the question. "Tony's being completely stubborn about it, he won't even consider it!"
"Well don't you think it's Tony's decision to make?" Gibbs asked gently.
"Ha!" Tony said triumphantly.
"Why?! It's not like he's going to sleep in it!" Abby continued stubbornly.
"Just let it go, Abs," Gibbs said.
But Abby wasn't ready to let it go just yet. Releasing Tony, she set her sights on Megan.
"Abby!" Gibbs barked warningly, as she ducked down to sign to Megan.
Abby ignored him and Tony didn't need a translator to know what she was asking the little girl. He clenched his fists in frustration and glared at the woman before him. Megan turned her head toward the canopy bed, studied it for a moment and then slowly returned her gaze to Abby, her face twisted in disgust. Tony wasn't exactly sure what she signed in response but it was clearly something along the lines of 'yuck!' Tony crowed in triumph while Abby gaped at Megan in shock.
"Aha! I love this child!" he cried happily, swooping down and lifting Megan into his arms and giving her a big celebratory hug. He was too preoccupied to notice the astonished looks he got from both Gibbs and Abby. When he finally calmed down and set a bemused looking Megan back on the ground, he turned to Gibbs, a wide, smug grin stretching his mouth. "So, which bed do you think we should get, boss?"
Gibbs stared at him for several minutes, his expression unreadable, before finally turning away and gazing at the selection of little beds. "To be honest, Tony, these are all useless," he said at length.
"But, Gibbs!" Abby immediately protested, springing out of her crouched position. "These are all aimed at Megan's age group!"
"Yeah, and have you any idea how quick she's gonna outgrow one of these things?" he challenged. "You need something that's gonna last."
"Oh," Abby said despondently.
Gibbs tilted his head to the side, indicating they should follow him, and set off towards some of the larger children's beds. Tony patted Abby consolingly on the back as they trailed after Gibbs, and in return she gave him a small apologetic smile. Gibbs led them along a row of beds and stopped next to a beautiful little wooden sleigh bed with short side rails, which Megan immediately clambered onto; a big grin on her face.
"Megan likes this one," Gibbs explained unnecessarily, smiling as Megan gently bounced on the bare mattress.
"Aww! It's so cute!" Abby exclaimed.
Gibbs and Tony shared a look and then rolled their eyes simultaneously.
"Well, it's not pink, it's not frilly, it's not bright green or orange, and Megan likes it . . . I'll take it!"
"Are you sure, Tony? You haven't even looked at any of the others, this one is really nice too," Abby interrupted, peering at the next bed over.
"Abby!" Gibbs and Tony barked in unison.
"What?! It was just a suggestion!"
While Tony was busy with one of the store clerks, ordering the bed and arranging for it to be delivered to his apartment later that day, Gibbs and the girls wandered around, perusing through the other children's furniture. Abby was rambling on about her party plans and Gibbs was pretending to listen. Suddenly Megan broke away from them and made a beeline for the most extraordinary piece of furniture Gibbs had ever seen before. It was a loud – for that the only word that could describe it – turquoise blue dresser that looked like it had jumped right out of a cartoon. It had three chunky drawers, all of which had curved edges that gave the impression that they were all sitting slightly lopsided, and two big round handles on each drawer; perfect for little hands to open. The sides of the dresser also curved inwards, making it look like they'd been squashed together like a lump of clay. It was by far the most bizarre piece of furniture he'd ever encountered and that was saying something, considering he'd lived through the seventies. Yet if Megan's delighted expression was anything to go by, then it was clearly the perfect next addition to her new room.
"Wow!" exclaimed Abby. "That's awesome! Look how bright it is!"
Gibbs crouched down in front of Megan, grimacing as his bad knee protested. 'You like that?' he asked.
Megan nodded emphatically. 'It's a pretty color and I like the shape,' she explained.
Gibbs grinned. 'You like things that stand out, don't you?'
Megan just gave him a big megawatt grin in response and Gibbs couldn't help but chuckle at the sight. He stood up, ruffled Megan's hair, and then turned to Abby still with a smile plastered across his face. "You better go find Tony and let him know we just found a dresser."
"Ooh, this is gonna be good!" said Abby, grinning from ear to ear in anticipation.
Gibbs chuckled again as she skipped off to find Tony. A few minutes later Tony was standing next to Gibbs, staring at the bright, turquoise blue, cartoon-shaped dresser with a slightly horrified expression on his face. Gibbs bit his tongue in an effort to stop from laughing.
"But," Tony spluttered at length, gesturing at the dresser, clearly distressed. "It – it won't match!" He looked helplessly at Gibbs, and it took all of Gibbs' self-restraint to keep a neutral expression on his face. "I mean . . . we want it to match, right? After all, I'm buying that nice bed and . . . I mean, c'mon look at it! Jesus . . . it's . . . it's …" he trailed off, and Gibbs could see him taking in the excited expression on Megan's little face. Tony scrubbed a hand over his face, and with his eyes still covered he sighed and asked: "How much is it?" Gibbs couldn't hold it back anymore, and was unable to stop the burst of laughter that escaped him. A second later Abby joined him, and Tony groaned, while Megan stared at all three of them in bemusement.
'What's so funny?' she asked.
Gibbs and Abby laughed harder.
Good God, what is this bedroom going to look like when we're done?! These were the thoughts of one Anthony DiNozzo as he made the final arrangements for more furniture to be delivered to his apartment. They were in their third furniture store of the day and Tony was purchasing the last of the essential bedroom furniture. Tony was still reeling over some of the things Megan had picked out, a list that included a bubblegum pink toy box that also doubled as a bench, a little red bookcase, a bright purple bedside table, a storage unit with multicolored bins, a little lilac wardrobe, and a banana yellow baby rocking chair (which admittedly, was rather adorable). Tony couldn't help but worry that Megan's bedroom was doomed to look ridiculous; surely even a child's bedroom should have some sort of consistent theme, such as matching furniture for example! Oh God! How do I let myself get talked into these things?! Gibbs and Abby, on the other hand, seemed to find the entire situation terribly amusing; each time Megan picked out another outrageous item, they would shoot him sly sidelong looks, Abby bursting into fits of giggles while Gibbs either chuckled or smirked that infuriating smirk of his. Despite his reservations, Tony couldn't deny that Megan seemed genuinely pleased with her choices and he supposed that was what really mattered; it wasn't as if he was going to have to live in the room after all.
"So, where to next?" he asked, as they stepped out of the store and into the bustling crowds milling around the mall.
"Follow me, I know the perfect little store where we can get all of Megan's bedding," said Abby, taking charge of the situation and looping arms with both Tony and Gibbs.
Tony smiled indulgently at his friend. Ignoring the funny looks they were attracting, Tony held Megan's little hand snuggly within his own and allowed Abby to drag him along to their destination, all the while resisting the urge to belt out a rendition of 'We're off to see the Wizard'. Abby led them to a small, quirky store named The Patchwork Owl, which featured – unsurprisingly – a number of patchwork owl cushions in the window, along with other animal-shaped cushions, two handsome patchwork quilts, a child sized manikin dressed in what appeared to be a handmade outfit, and a collection of wooden toys. Tony glanced down at Megan just in time to see her face light up as she clapped eyes on the storefront display.
"This place is awesome!" Abby said enthusiastically, as they stepped through the door. "Everything you see here," she released Gibbs and Tony so she could gesture empathically with her hands, "is handmade! You won't find any factory made, off the shelf items here, everything has been lovingly and painstakingly handcrafted for our shopping pleasure!"
"Yeah, we get it, Abs," Tony said over his shoulder, as Megan dragged him over to a display of unusual, fabric dolls.
"Oh, I love these!" Abby cried, rushing over to the dolls too.
As the girls gushed over the dolls, Tony stood with his hands in his pockets, and glanced around at the store. It was arranged in a rather higgledy-piggledy fashion; there were mismatching tables scattered around the spacious area, each one showing off a different display, one was adorned with a collection of quilts and blankets (some patchwork, some knitted, and some crocheted), another was piled with cushions of various shapes and styles, including the infamous patchwork owls, a group of teddies occupied a small table in the corner, while an assortment of purses and bags took up space on another. The walls were lined with shelves – packed with more quilts, and cushions, children's books, toys and various other things – and clothes racks, where a selection of baby and children's clothes hung; each item unique from the rest. On the wall to his left, stood a tall, wooden cabinet where all the handmade wooden toys were proudly displayed. It was this that had attracted Gibbs' formidable attention, and he stood before it, hands clasped behind his back, examining the little planes, trucks and animals.
"You know this place is pretty cool," Tony remarked, rocking on the balls of his feet.
Abby beamed at him, and entwined their arms; giving him a little squeeze. "Isn't it the best?" she said cheerfully. "Aren't you glad you have an amazing friend like me who brings you to such great places!"
"I'm not changing my mind about the canopy bed, Abby," Tony said sarcastically, a comment that earned him a punch to the chest.
"Way to ruin the moment, Tony!" she said, giving him a mock glare. Tony merely laughed in response.
They spent a good hour browsing through the store and by the end of it they had purchased a gorgeous rainbow striped quilt with a matching pillow, a set of very pretty bed sheets with embroidered butterflies, and three cushions that Megan (and Abby) insisted she must have – they included a pink patchwork owl, a blue and purple star, and a regular square shaped one which was white with multicolored polka dots. Tony had also picked out one of the little handmade dresses (simply because it was too adorable to resist) and one of the dolls that Megan had been admiring, both of which he intended to give to her on her birthday.
Loaded down with bags, they rejoined the busy crowds, and followed Abby as she marched purposefully toward their next destination, which turned out to be a large department store. According to Abby they still had "lots and lots" more to buy for Megan's bedroom. Tony wasn't entirely sure what else they could possibly need, I mean they had the paint, and the furniture and the bedding, so what the heck else did a nearly four-year-old need? Of course Abby soon caught him up to speed. She marched them from one department to the next, up escalators and down escalators, along aisle upon aisle as she sought out the items she had deemed 'essential', all the while barking at them to keep up like some sort of deranged army drill sergeant. Among the items they picked up were a children's bedside lamp with a green stem, and pink shade, with little foam butterflies and flowers stuck on it, a growth chart shaped like a giraffe that would hang on Megan's wall, a set of fairy lights (of all things) which they were apparently going to hang around the head of Megan's bed (for some reason, Tony still wasn't exactly clear why though), a packet of glow in the dark stars which apparently you stuck to the ceiling of the child's room, a set of bright yellow curtains which Tony had some serious reservations about, a packet of wall stickers shaped like (more) butterflies and flowers, and purely by chance they found a little wall banner with the Hogwarts crest printed on it (a discovery that caused Abby to shriek in delight, and Megan to hop up and down on the spot in excitement).
By the time they had paid for everything, and lumbered out of the store with all their purchases like a herd of pack mules, it was midday and Gibbs and Tony were both growing increasingly impatient and irritable with their excitable, and apparently tireless, forensic scientist. Abby – completely oblivious to her friends' bad moods – tested their fraying tempers even further when she suddenly expressed a desire to do a little clothes shopping before lunch. Before either man had a chance to respond to this (in their opinion) outrageous proposal, Abby had steered them towards a store with a dark, creepy exterior and disappeared inside, towing Megan along behind her. The two special agents shared an exasperated look and followed her inside. The store was dark and cramped, and had a wide range of Gothic clothing and accessories on offer, such as skull-emblazoned T-shirts, leather jackets, studded dog collars, platform boots, checked skirts and pants and basically everything else that Abby found fashionable. The store was empty apart from them and a bored looking clerk with red and black hair, and various facial piercings, who was slouched over the counter, texting on his cell. Abby had apparently already spotted something she liked, for she gave a cry of delight and a shout of "Back in a minute!" and then disappeared into the tiny changing room, leaving Gibbs, Tony and Megan to stand about awkwardly outside waiting for her. Several minutes passed before Tony's patience snapped and he turned to Gibbs with a beseeching look on his face.
"Boss!" he whined. "I'm tired, and hungry, and my feet hurt, and these bags are starting to cut the circulation off to my fingers! Can't you make Abby stop this madness so we can go somewhere and rest! Like the food-court, please I'm starving!"
"You also sound like whiny five-year-old!" Gibbs snapped tersely.
"I don't care!" Tony replied in the same tone, and to prove his point he stamped his foot and stuck out his bottom lip.
The corner of Gibbs' mouth twitched. "You're not the only one whose hungry, DiNozzo, or whose feet hurt."
"Then use the escape plan, boss, please, I'm begging you! Save us! Don't let it end like this!" Tony said dramatically.
Gibbs stared at Tony with one eyebrow arched, a small smirk playing about his mouth. "Abby!" he suddenly barked, causing Tony to jump in surprise.
"Just a minute!" she called back airily. A moment later she reappeared, wearing a black dress with spaghetti straps, which laced up in the front, and had a design of silver spider webs going down the skirt, which showed off a good portion of her long legs. "Whaddaya think?"
"Mmm," Gibbs grunted, sweeping his gaze around the store.
"Great," said Tony, sparing her just a fleeting glance and staring longingly at the door.
"You barely looked!" she accused.
Both men bit back sighs and cast their eyes over Abby's outfit.
"Mmm," said Gibbs, adding in a little nod for good measure.
"Lovely," said Tony in the same bored voice, his eyes drifting back to the door.
Abby stamped her foot. "You guys suck at this!"
"Why do yah think I've been divorced three times, Abs?" Gibbs said sarcastically. "Listen, we're gonna grab something to eat–"
"Yeah, 'cause we're starving to death in here!" Tony interrupted hotly.
Gibbs glared at the younger man until Tony had the sense to look contrite, before turning back to Abby and continuing. "So why don't you finish up here and we'll meet yah at the food-court."
"Oh, okay, I'll see you there in like ten minutes," she turned toward the changing room and then paused. "You know, if you guys were so hungry you shoulda just said something."
Gibbs and Tony shared another exasperated look as Abby vanished into the changing room for a second time, and then with a synchronized eye roll, they left the store, leading Megan along beside them.
"Oh thank you, God!" Tony cried in relief, as he collapsed into one of the plastic chairs at the food-court.
With a grimace, he untangled his fingers from the torture devices commonly known as shopping bag handles, and dumped the bags on either side of his chair. He gave a weary groan and collapsed face first onto the table before him, and lay there, unmoving. The sound of rustling told him that Gibbs had also set his bags down, and the squeaking scrape that followed it, informed him that Megan had been placed in the seat next to his.
"Anything in particular you wanna eat?" Gibbs asked.
"No. So long as it's not green and leafy I'll eat it," Tony replied, his voice muffled slightly by the tabletop.
He heard Gibbs chuckle. "Gotcha. Be right back."
A small giggle had Tony turning his face to the side and peering up at Megan, who was leant over the table watching him, amusement plain on her face.
"Gimme a break," he grumbled good-naturedly, "I'm a lot older than you, and besides, men have been scientifically proven to have a low-tolerance rate for excessive amounts of shopping . . . particularly if a woman is in charge of said shopping trip."
"Is that so?"
Tony nearly jumped out of his skin. "Geez, Abby!" he hissed, as she and Megan laughed. "Warn a person before you sneak up on them like that!"
"Well that would defeat the purpose of sneaking up on a person, now wouldn't it?" she replied smugly, sitting herself down on one of the remaining seats.
Tony grumbled incoherently under his breath. He sat up and laid his chin in his hand, staring across the table at Abby, who was sitting in an identical position.
"So," Abby said at length. "You don't like it when I take charge of a shopping trip, huh?"
Tony's eyes widened. He gave one of his nervous laughs. "Did I say that? I-I didn't say that, I mean…" Abby arched a thin, black eyebrow skeptically. "Okay, I guess I kinda said that . . . but I didn't mean it in a bad way . . . you see, what I was trying to say was . . . err . . . what I meant was…"
"Grub's up!" said Gibbs, suddenly appearing at Tony's shoulder with a tray of food.
"Oh, thank God!" said Tony, with a sigh of relief. "Perfect timing as usual, boss." Gibbs snorted and sat down, setting the tray on the table. "Burgers and fries, sweet!" Breaking eye contact with Abby, Tony reached forward and grabbed two burgers, passing one to Megan, and stuffing his face with the other. "Fanx, 'oss!" he said with his mouth full.
Gibbs chuckled. "You're welcome," he said, taking a large bite out of his own burger.
"Thank you, Gibbs," Abby said sweetly, "but you know, there's a perfectly good tofu stand just over there that you could've got lunch from." Tony and Gibbs both paused mid-chew, to stare blankly across the table at the smiling face of the forensic scientist. "What?" she said cheerfully, after a moment's silence. "I'm just looking out for your wellbeing by suggesting a healthier option," she added, taking a delicate bite out of a French fry.
Tony and Gibbs began chewing again, continuing to stare at their friend. Then, very deliberately, Gibbs set his burger down and turned toward Megan, a serious expression on his face as he signed something to her. Whatever he had said must have been funny because Megan giggled around the three French fries currently stuffed in her mouth.
"Gibbs!" Abby gasped, staring at the ex-Marine with a scandalized expression on her face.
Gibbs picked up his burger again, a deep chuckle rumbling in his chest.
"What? What'd you say?" Tony asked curiously, looking between the two.
"He just told her never to accept 'strange food' from me, 'especially tofu!'" Abby said incredulously.
Tony couldn't have prevented the bark of laughter that escaped him even if he'd tried.