Chapter Three: Do You Know What Day It Is?
"I'm here to see Penny."
The woman in the doorway looked at Tony blankly, and he fought back a groan. He only had his lunch hour to make the visit to Alicia's father's house, and her arrogant step-mother, Deirdre, wasn't making it any easier for him to get back to work on time.
"Penelope," he repeated, slower this time.
"What do you want with Penelope?" she asked. She seemed respectable enough, normal, docile even, but Tony knew that pure evil ran through this woman's veins.
"I'm Tony DiNozzo," he introduced.
"Oh," she said simply, but didn't move to let him in.
"Penny's father." It was the first time he had introduced himself as her father, and it felt strangely right coming off the top of his tongue.
Tony sighed aloud this time. "Look, I went to see Alicia this morning and she asked me to stop by and see Penny," he explained. "So, can I see her?"
Deirdre looked down her nose at Tony. "She's not available right now."
"She's not receiving visitors."
"A three year old isn't receiving visitors?" Tony repeated with a frown.
Again, she sneered down her nose at him. "The little madam is being punished, not that it's any of your business."
"Its entirely my business," he corrected. "I'm her father."
"Be that as it may, you'll have to call at another time, as she's being punished," Deirdre told him, moving to close the door.
Tony, however, lunged out and held out his arm, preventing her from closing it. "Being punished for what?" he demanded.
Deirdre said nothing.
"I want to see her. Now."
"She's not allowed to see anyone right now."
"I'm not leaving until I see her."
At this, Deirdre's body relaxed in resignation, and she allowed Tony through the door. Tony was shocked at his own protectiveness - a side to him that he'd never even imagined he possessed for Alicia's daughter. Of course, she was now his daughter as well. That still hadn't sunk in entirely. Neither had the fact that Alicia really wasn't going to be there forever. Penny was, until that moment, a simple drifting thought in the back of his mind, a reason why he and Alicia weren't together anymore. Now she was his.
Deirdre headed up the staircase, muttering just loud enough for him to hear as he followed her. "It's not like we wanted her here in the first place."
Tony took in a shaky breath, partly because he was about to meet his daughter for the first time, but mostly because he'd only been speaking to Alicia's stepmother for a moment and already he realised that all the horrible stories he'd once thought couldn't possible be true, were in fact as clear as day. Deirdre stopped outside one of the white panelled doors. There was a key in the lock, which she turned. She locked Penny in? SHE LOCKED HER IN? Tony fumed, the same strange protectiveness firing up inside of him again. Where did they think a child who probably wasn't tall enough to reach the front door handle would go if she left her room?
Penny's current room was twice the size of Tony's living room. The walls were magnolia as well, but the carpet contrasted in royal blue. Two of these walls were line with bookcases, and on each shelf was a colourful array of books, stuffed bears and toys. None of them looked as though they'd been played with, though. They were ornaments, perfect, untouchable relics from childhood. The neatly made single bed sat beside the large window that overlooked the wide expanse of garden. Despite the brightly coloured children's belongings, the room gave a cold and uninviting feel.
At the centre of the room was a small red plastic table and a matching tiny chair, at which sat Penny. Even from a distance Tony could see something was wrong and this certainly wasn't how he'd first imagined setting eyes on his daughter on the drive over there. She sat stock-still on her chair, not touching the lunch plate before her and almost rigid with fear. Her dark hair, an identical brown to his own, hung around her face in dirty, unwashed clumps, her pink top was grubby and creased.
Shock punched Tony in the solar plexus. He'd imagined she'd be cross-legged on the ground, looking at a story book filled with pictures whilst she clutched a stuffed toy dangerously close to her. Not this.
"Penny," he whispered, moving slowly across the room towards her.
He crouched down beside her, and waited for her to look at him. She did, and he was met with his own eyes mirrored on her face. She was definitely his daughter. She had that same disbelief in her eyes that he felt; the 'why does she have to go away' look. The look that he'd seen staring back at him in the rear view mirror before he'd pulled out of the parking lot, one that told him exactly how lost he'd be with Penny, but without Alicia. He could only imagine how hard it would be for this little girl to lose the only person she'd ever been able to depend on, and knowing that dependency might soon be aimed at him terrified him.
"Penny, do you know who I am?" he asked her.
A few seconds passed, and then she nodded.
"Who am I, Penny?" he asked, just to be sure.
"Daddy," she whispered, before turning her face back to her lunch plate.
It looked more like a dinner meal, with age-greyed boiled potatoes, dried and shrivelled peas and a desiccated pork chop that was covered in a skin of gravy. The smell of the old meat assaulted his nostrils and he turned away, resisting the urge to gag.
"Yes, I'm Daddy," he confirmed. "Did Mommy tell you that you might come and stay with me for a while?"
"How do you feel about that?"
She raised her shoulders and then lowered them again. Then, in a tiny, hoarse voice, just like her mother's, she whispered. "don't know."
He slowly reached out and tucked a lock of her unwashed hair behind her right ear, so that he could see her face, but before he made contact she flinched away from him into a cringe, her hands flying up as though to protect herself from an attack. Tony recoiled back as well, his heart racing as he realised she thought he was going to hurt her. The small, fragile child thought he might hurt her. He stared at her, feeling his heartbeat increase. Then he noticed her right hand, three red lines streaked across her swollen palm. Around her right wrist were multicoloured bruises that looked like handprints, as though someone had held her hand that way as they whacked at her with a cane…just like Deirdre used to do to Alicia when she was a child.
"Penny, who did this?" he asked her softly. She just looked at him. "It's okay, Penny, you can tell me. You can trust Daddy." Daddy. How naturally it had fallen of his tongue. Again, there was no reaction, and then her eyes flickered over his shoulder to where Deirdre was standing in the door way.
Inside, Tony snapped. He wasn't evening remotely close to screaming, lashing out or overturning furniture, as he had done when he was angry before, though. Instead, the anger spilled through him until he was calm. It dampened every other emotion until he felt nothing else.
He knew then what he had to do.
He got to his feet and Penny relaxed a little. He marched across the room to one of the wardrobes and opened it. He found so many neatly-folded clothes, but grabbed only as much as he could fit into the rucksack he used for work. It wasn't a lot, but there was enough to alternate clothes for at least a week.
"What are you doing?" Deirdre asked him.
He ignored her, shoving the clothes into his bag as Penny looked up at him with a childlike hope. Daddy, she realised, was coming to take her away from Nana Deirdre. Like Mommy promised.
"You can't do this!" Deirdre shrieked at him.
"Clearly I can," Tony pointed out. "Because I am doing it."
"I'll call the police," she threatened.
He stood at full height before her. "Perhaps I should have introduced myself properly," he said, producing his badge. "Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS." Of course, he wasn't police, not anymore, but most people heard 'special agent' and the acronym and assumed they were some branch of authority.
"Fine, take her," Deirdre spat. "We'll be glad to see the back of her."
With that, she turned on her heels and left the room. Tony waited until the bag was done up and the footsteps were faded before crouching at Penny's side again. Her face, with it's tear-stained cheeks, ski-slope nose and pouty lips, was turned up at him. She immediately looked happier with Deidre out of the room. "Do you have any of your toys here, Penny?" he asked her.
"Okay, I want you to find them, especially your favourite, can you do that for me?"
She nodded, this time suspiciously.
"We're going away," he explained. "You're going to come and live with Daddy now and tomorrow we'll go and see Mommy."
"Mommy?" her face brightened a bit. "Really?"
He nodded, smiling. "Yes, I promise. We'll go every day."
Her chair didn't make a sound on the thick carpet as she pushed it back. She went over to her bed and reached underneath, pulling out another rucksack that was filled with toys. One was hanging out and she tugged it out completely, he noticed it to be a strange looking rag doll. She clutched it in her arms and handed the rest of the bag to him. He grinned at her, and she gave him a small smile back.
Time passed. He didn't know how much time had passed, but eventually he was standing on the end of the street, waiting to cross the road to where his car was parked. He had his rucksack over his shoulder, Penny's in one hand, and he was supporting the child he held against his hip with his other arm. His cell phone vibrated against his thigh, signalling yet another phone call from Gibbs he hadn't answered in time.
"Do you know what today is?" he asked Penny out of the blue.
She looked into her eyes, as if nothing he said would surprise her, and shook her head.
"It's my birthday."
Penny leaned out, giving him a tiny kiss on the cheek. "Happy birthday," she whispered faintly, and then rested her tired head on his shoulder.
Tony just stared at her as she had curled up asleep in his chair. He stood before his desk, realising just how much she looked like him. She had the same dark hair as he did. She had a healthy summery complexion, despite the treatment she'd received at her grandparents house, complete with a few sun kissed freckles on her cheeks an nose. She had the same face shape as Alicia, but his nose. It was too great a resemblance for her not to be his child. She even twitched her nose in his sleep like Ziva teased him for doing when he fell asleep at his desk.
Okay, so getting her to his desk in the first place had been nothing short of impossible, but it was either that, or go home where he'd be completely alone with the child he had no idea what to do with, so the mission to get her into NCIS without anyone getting suspicious or noticing that he had a child with him was the only option. The lobby had been busy, but the security guard had raised an eyebrow. Tony, thankfully, had managed to silence him with a look. Then, noticing that the elevator was stuck between two floors, he realised that Gibbs was clearly holding a conference with one of their FBI 'friends' in it, and took off to the stairwell. Thankfully, he'd been right, and Gibbs wasn't in the bullpen. In fact, only Ziva was. She looked up as soon as he'd entered.
"There you are! We've been calling you for an hour. Gibbs is-" she stopped, noticing that Tony was placing a sleeping Penny in his desk chair. "Tony, what…who is that?" she asked, getting up from her desk and going to stand before his, looking down at the sleeping girl with wide eyes.
"That's Penny," he said simply, placing his jacket over her shoulders even though it swamped her, but it substituted for a blanket.
"She's my daughter."
As he suspected, that stopped the questions. Ziva continued to look at Penny, completely stunned. Of course, it hadn't surprised her that Tony had fathered a child considering all his ships that had passed on what had proven to be many different nights, but the idea of one of them actually falling into his hands was one that confused her.
"Where is her mother?" Ziva asked, and she noticed Tony stiffened before her. His shoulders locked into place and he froze completely. She frowned at him, about to ask him another question when the elevator doors opened across the bullpen, signalling Gibbs's return.
"DiNozzo!" he barked, as soon as he saw the back of his head.
Tony turned instantly, as did Ziva. Together, their bodies completely covered up that there was a sleeping child in Tony's chair. "Boss, I-"
"I told you to be back two hours ago. Where the hell have you been?"
"Riverdale," he said simply.
"Boss…I've got a bit of a … situation," Tony tried to explain.
Gibbs fixed him with a glare. "Does it involve searching for a new job?"
"Her mother's dying," he blurted out, and Ziva whipped her eyes round to him.
"Who's mother?" Gibbs asked him.
"Penny's mom. Alicia. She's got leukaemia, and she hasn't got much time left, and I-"
"Cut to the chase, DiNozzo."
Tony sighed, knowing that he was already in enough trouble, and that revealing this part of his past to Gibbs would either lessen his anger or throw it into catastrophic levels of rage. He stepped to the side, looking to the little dark haired girl sleeping peacefully with her head on the arm of his desk chair, covered by his jacket, still fast asleep despite the conversation that had just been happening before her.
"Boss, I…I think I'm going to need some help," Tony admitted quietly.