I could give you a million excuses for the delay on this, but I got majorly blocked. For kind of a long time. And then got distracted by other fandoms. My apologies for the delay, and thank you all for your patience. To any new readers – welcome aboard!
Getting Annie situated at school had been the easiest task of Tony's day. He had flashed his credentials, explained the situation, and when the school's office called Stacey to check on the story, she verified it.
The situation with Lance was stickier. Per Annie, Stacey had made threats, Lance had made worse threats, and there had been very little progress made. Lance had eventually promised to "go a little easier" on Annie and Stacey, but if Tony had voiced his thoughts on how that would go aloud, he could have made a sailor blush. And he'd learned a lot of new words from sailors.
After dropping Annie off at school and assuring her she could call him if she needed anything, Tony went downtown to pick up a copy of Annie's birth certificate. He knew he'd need it in his arsenal if things kept going the way they were headed. With him listed as the father, that had been no trouble at all, and Tony tucked the document in the glove compartment of his rental car. He had one more stop to make while he was downtown.
The reception area of the Offices of Harrelson and Fisk, Attorneys at Law, was swanky and once upon a time, Tony would have felt uncomfortable sitting there, waiting. That was a long time ago, though, and now lawyers' offices were just another part of Tony's every day life. He normally avoided them where possible, per Gibbs' rules, but in this case, it was necessary.
"Fisk" of Harrelson and Fisk was Jackson Fisk, the junior partner and a family law attorney. Also one of Tony's old college pals. They hadn't been in touch in years, but Tony hoped their old friendship could move him up a little higher on the priority list of potential new clients. Besides, from the research he'd done, his old buddy Jack kicked serious ass in the courtroom.
The secretary answered her phone when it rang, and nodded at Tony after a brief conversation. "Mr. Fisk will see you now, sir. Second door on your left."
"Thanks." Tony smoothed his shirt down and walked into the office.
Jack jumped up from behind his desk and came around to greet Tony. "Tony DiNozzo...didn't expect to see you around these parts. Last I heard you were stopping crime in DC."
Tony grinned, shaking his hand. "Still am. Had to take care of a little family business, though."
Jack returned the smile. "Hence, me. So what brings you here?"
Tony sighed. "Short version – my daughter's stepfather is an abusive asshole, but the only proof I have is her word and my gut. If I can't convince her mom to kick the guy out, I'm gonna have to get Annie out of there. Even if it means moving her to DC." He smiled at the look on Jack's face. "I know, right? Me, with a kid. Trust me, I was way more surprised than you, especially considering she's seventeen and I just found out this week."
"Ouch." Jack steepled his hands, moving back to his desk and gesturing for Tony to sit. "Messy, but I've seen worse." He frowned suddenly. "Wait, you said her name was Annie. Is that the missing girl that was on the news, Stacey Fuller's daughter?"
Tony nodded. "You know Stacey?"
Jack shook his head. "Not since you left, but when she ran away, it was on every news outlet in the area. I saw a blurb that she'd been found safe in DC, but I didn't really think anything of it until now."
"It's a big town." Tony shrugged. "But, what can I say? Girl's got guts." He sighed. "Seriously, this stepfather of hers is making her life hell. I'm not going to stand by and let it happen, not when she ran almost five hundred miles away to a dad she didn't even know. She trusted me that much. I can't let her down."
"I understand." Jack tapped his fingers against the dark wood of his desk. "The good news is, I've seen more complicated situations. Joint custody's easy, even across state lines...if you have cooperation between the parents."
"And the bad news?" Tony asked, a bit uncertain.
"If you don't get that cooperation from Stacey, this could get ugly," Jack warned.
Tony had suspected as much, but he was prepared to fight. "Just tell me what I need to do."
Tony's rental car was set up to let him plug his MP3 player into the stereo system, and he'd used his hotel's WiFi to download some Annie-approved songs for the drive from her school back to her house. He wasn't sure if it was a sign of things to come or merely an amusing coincidence that "The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny" started playing as he turned onto her block.
Annie giggled. "How'd you find that one? It took me forever to get the Lemon Demon tracks!"
"I had a little help from McGee," Tony admitted. "He pointed me in the right direction." He figured he'd avoid some of the teasing if he said it was for Annie – which, technically, it was.
Her eyes sparkled. "Did you get 'Geeks in Love,' too? It's totally him and Abby."
Tony hadn't seen it, but he was definitely going to have to now. "Couldn't have all the fun at once, I guess." He pulled up to the curb in front of Annie's house, noting that both Stacey's and Lance's cars were there. He hoped they'd had some serious conversations while Annie was at school, but somehow, he doubted it. He got out of the car and walked Annie to the door.
"Hi, Mom, I'm home!" Annie called as they stepped inside.
"Oh, hey, honey," Stacey called back, emerging from the kitchen into the living room. She looked at Tony apprehensively. "Tony, I'm not sure it's such a good idea for you to-"
"I want him here, Mom," Annie insisted, her jaw set firmly.
Lance came into the room, apparently catching what she'd said. "When you live in your own house, then you can decide who comes in and out." He cocked his head, giving Tony a challenging look. "And I say you leave."
"Fine." Tony glanced at Annie. "Care to have dinner with me, then?"
Annie brightened as Lance glowered. "Sure!"
"Tony-" Stacey broke off as Lance pushed her backwards. It technically wasn't a shove, but it wasn't gentle.
Lance stepped toward Tony. "I'll handle this, Stacey."
"You might want to watch the way you touch your wife, buddy," Tony growled. "Now either you step out of the room and let me talk to Stacey about our daughter, or-"
"Or what?" Lance challenged. "You'll arrest me? I'm afraid you're a little out of your jurisdiction, Agent. You step out the door with that girl and I'll report it as a kidnapping."
Tony was moments away from strangling him and was really getting to the point where he didn't care about possible assault and battery charges. "She has a name – and she sure as hell never did anything to deserve the way you treat her."
"Oh, look at you." Lance's tone was mocking. "A whole week and suddenly you know everything about being a parent."
Tony didn't back down. "I know what not to do."
"Is that so?" Lance crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, guess what? Other than that, you don't have squat."
If Tony was one to give into bullying, his career would have been over a long time ago. "I've got a birth certificate, DNA, and a damn good lawyer. You have allegations of abuse and a non-existent service record. I've got no problem pursuing Stolen Valor prosecutions." That task usually fell to agents lower on the totem pole than Tony, but in this case, it would have been a genuine pleasure.
Lance's face flushed an unflattering shade of red. Annie had told Tony one way to get Lance really mad was to question his military tales. "How dare you..." He swung on Tony with a closed fist and though Tony saw it coming, he chose to take the blow because it gave him an excuse to fight back.
"Dad!" Annie called out in warning just before Lance's fist hit Tony's jaw.
Even though he had braced himself for the impact, Tony still tumbled to the floor; Lance was strong. As Tony scrambled to his feet, he waved Annie out of the room. "Go. I'll be fine." She complied, but just barely, backing into the next room but watching from the doorway. Satisfied that Annie was out of harm's way, Tony deflected a second punch from Lance and threw one of his own. It didn't strike dead center on Lance's jaw as Tony had hoped, but it did knock him off balance long enough for Tony to move in and knock him to the floor. It didn't give Lance as wide a range of motion of his arms. Lance did manage to land a hit squarely on Tony's nose, which gave him a temporary advantage as Tony automatically recoiled at the explosion of pain. Tony blocked a follow-up hit, then rocked forward on his knees from where he'd been knocked on his ass. Ignoring his bleeding nose – and, admittedly, Stacey's shouts for them to stop – Tony threw a gut punch, then aimed again for Lance's jaw. When Lance was sufficiently dazed, Tony scrambled to his feet. He wasn't looking to murder the guy, as much as he wanted to.
Lance rose slowly, hissing in pain. "You can forget any chance of seeing her again," he said, pointing at Annie. "I'll see to that."
"What, after you attacked me?" Tony scoffed. "We'll see about that." He had to follow up with Annie's school counselors tomorrow; they'd passed along her reports of emotional abuse to Children's Services as required, but Tony wasn't sure what had come of that yet. When the school had Stacey on the phone that morning, he'd at least gotten her to add him to Annie's contact list.
Lance reared around to glare at Stacey. "You called the cops on him, didn't you?" That sneering tone, suggesting she was an idiot if she hadn't...well, Tony wanted to deck him again.
"On him?" Annie asked disbelievingly. "On you, maybe. You went after him."
Lance advanced on her, snatching her cell phone out of her hand. He immediately examined it, and Tony gathered from the fury in his expression that Annie had indeed called the police. "You're going to regret that."
"Excuse me?" Tony strode over, putting himself between Lance and his daughter. "Did I just hear you threaten her?"
There were flashing lights outside and a knock on the door. Stacey looked like she'd have rather crawled under the rug, but she answered the door and let the police in. Lance immediately started demanding that they remove Tony from "his" property – despite the fact that it was technically Stacey's house.
After interviewing everyone – though they'd had to get Stacey alone, which had not been easy – the police officers seemed satisfied that Tony had acted in self-defense. He was sure to inform them, however, that there should have been a pending abuse case in the system and he was not going to hesitate to act if he felt his daughter was threatened. The officer dealing with him gave him a knowing look, but said nothing. It probably didn't hurt that Tony had "accidentally" shown them his NCIS ID while pulling out his driver's license when they asked for identification.
When asked if he wanted to press charges, Tony immediately wanted to, but he declined, suspecting that unless Lance was removed from the house immediately – which rarely happened in these situations – Annie and Stacey might be in danger because of his decision. Plus, Lance had a poisonous hold over Stacey and Tony still needed her on his side to work out the custody arrangements smoothly.
After wrapping up their dealing with the police, Tony really wanted to take Annie with him, but he couldn't get Stacey away from Lance long enough to talk her into it. Despite the birth certificate, despite the altercation, Tony didn't yet have the legal standing to keep Lance from reporting it as a non-custodial parent kidnapping, and Tony didn't trust Stacey to stand up for him when Annie wasn't around. So he was low on legal options.
Unsure that Lance would return Annie's cell phone to her – he still had it – Tony slipped a burn phone he'd bought for just such an occasion into her back pocket when he hugged her. It had his cell phone as well as several other important numbers programmed into it – notably the Franklin County Child Abuse hotline. He whispered instructions for her to call him if she felt so much as uneasy. He felt terrible leaving her, but she squeezed him tightly and assured him she'd be okay. Even so, it was reluctantly that Tony said goodbye.
His nose was still throbbing and bleeding sporadically when he left Stacey's house, so Tony stopped at Mt. Carmel East's ER on his way back to his hotel. It was not only close, but Tony had spent a lot of time there in college, both for himself and friends, because it was always less crowded than OSU's ER. There, he was diagnosed with a broken nose, which annoyed but didn't surprise him, he got taped up, and collected his painkiller prescription. He headed back to his hotel, not stopping at the twenty-four hour pharmacy to fill the prescription. He didn't want to be fuzzy if he had to run to help Annie. There was Tylenol in the hotel vending machine if he really needed something.
As he let himself into his hotel room and got ready for bed, Tony knew he was going to have to redouble his efforts to get Annie away from Lance in the morning. He jumped as his phone received a text message and snatched it immediately.
It was the burn phone's number, but fortunately, it was just an FYI from Annie. Half-day at school tomorrow. Mom's office in Huntington Bank building on High Street. Lance at "seminar." Meet you at 12:30? - A -
Tony snorted, remembering the eBay seller's seminar that Annie had mentioned. He went to these things whenever they were in town, never seeming to get a massive increase in his sales and always getting Stacey to pay for them. But if it got Lance out of the way for a few hours, he was all for it. He immediately texted back a confirmation and set the phone on the nightstand where he could get to it quickly. It was going to be a long night.