Author's note: I liberated Katie-Bear and Amelia the Ninja Kitty from "Breathless." I love Katie-Bear so, and she became necessary to this chapter. Amelia comes along because this story (while it has become AU with the addition of Antonia) takes place after Ziva gave her to Tony. You do not need to read "Breathless" to understand, though I'll hardly discourage you. :) (Katie-Bear and Amelia only appear in its last chapter.)

Tony's talk with Stacey could have gone better, but it could have been much worse. Stacey had cried – Tony hated to hear a woman cry – and she had apologized enough times that Tony stopped counting. Tony was torn between saying something like, "Too little, too late," and assuring her that it was okay. He chose neither, because it really wasn't okay, but he didn't want her to cry harder. Besides, his primary concern was Annie, and fighting with her mother was not going to help the case.

The one thing Tony couldn't let her off on – okay, the one thing after not telling him he had a child – was leaving Annie alone with Lance, knowing what an absolute asshole Lance was. Sure, Stacey got to fly off to Europe and only get berated by phone, but Annie had to stay and cope with it, day in and day out. Stacey got a reprieve; all Annie had was the option to bring her father into it if things got too bad. And isn't she lucky I'm not a douchebag who doesn't give a shit, Tony thought, but again, he bit his tongue.

"I'm getting on a flight back to the States tomorrow," Stacey told Tony. "After I heard Annie ran away, it was the first one with open seats."

Tony would have camped out at the airport if it had been him, but he also wouldn't have left his kid with an abusive jerk in the first place. This was something else he considered telling Stacey, but settled for the less inflammatory, "Are you coming in to Columbus or DC?"

"My connection is out of JFK," Stacey replied. "I'll take the Amtrak to Washington from there. I can tell Lance I missed my flight and they had to reroute me out of Reagan."

"Sure, you can lie, but that buys you maybe a day or two," Tony pointed out. "Why not kick his ass to the curb?"

Stacey sighed, sounding tearful again. "It's not that simple. My company won't let me take Annie with me when I travel. I've asked. Besides, I can't leave her in a hotel room while I work."

It hadn't stopped Tony's father, but that was hardly a good example of parenting, either. "Then let her go back to your parents. She told me she liked it there."

"Yes, but Lance won't allow it anymore," Stacey countered. She sounded every inch the abused woman, and Tony was torn between sympathy and wanting to give her a Gibbs-slap to snap out of it. This was not the feisty woman he'd dated.

Tony shrugged, though the gesture was lost over the phone. "I can help you get a court order. This guy doesn't have to terrorize you or your daughter."

There was a long pause. "Okay, I'll think about that." She drew in a sharp breath, and Tony hoped she wasn't about to start crying again. She'd kept it at bay the last few minutes. "Thank you, Tony.'re being so kind, don't have to do this."

"Yeah, I kind of do," Tony said. "This is my kid." Realizing belatedly that could sound like he was only doing this because he had to, he added, "For her, I want to." He had known his daughter for approximately an hour, but he was determined to do right by her. He already felt bad for missing seventeen years, though deep down, he knew that wasn't his fault.

Tony had been leaving for Peoria when he and Stacey broke up. They had been having fun together, but they both knew it wasn't "The One." Thus, it was hard to make a case for a long-distance relationship. Stacey had found out she was pregnant about a month later. At first, she didn't have Tony's number – and, upon realizing she could have called the police department in Peoria, she hadn't wanted to disrupt his life.

"You were off, starting a new life, becoming a cop, and what was I? An advertising designer. Protecting the people seemed a lot more noble. I didn't want to ask you to give that up."

Tony argued that he wouldn't have had to give it up. Cops had families. Even visiting his child on the weekends would have been preferable to being an absentee father. If Stacey had been so willing to change her life for her child, she could have moved. Tony could have found police work in Columbus. There were options. Stacey had been able to admit as much through her tears, and apologized yet again.

Tony's nightmare visions of years of back child support were laid to rest, at least. He had money, but not the kind of money people thought DiNozzos did, and he was relieved to hear that wasn't the reason Stacey had told Annie to seek him out.

"I didn't want her to feel like she was out of options."

Options, Annie definitely had now, and one of them was not going back to Lance by herself. Tony would sue for parental rights before that happened, and Stacey did say that his name was on the birth certificate. Stacey worried over where Annie would stay, and Tony said she would stay with him. He had a spare room, and it was serviceable though cluttered with college memorabilia and other treasures that had found their home there.

The conversation with Stacey ended on a civil, nearly hopeful note, and Tony smiled as he looked at Ziva. She was concentrating very hard – too hard – on her computer screen. Tony had put her off because he needed to take care of more pressing concerns, but as long as Annie was safe with Abby, he had a few minutes to talk. "If you were McGee, I'd be calling you McNosy about now, Agent David."

Ziva raised her eyebrows at him. "I was not trying to listen in. Sound drifts this way."

"So it does." Tony knew he'd have been just as eager for details if the situation were reversed. "I'm surprised you haven't mangled any metaphors about putting horses before carts."

Ziva shrugged. "Things happen."

Tony waited for a crack about how it was only a matter of time before a child of his came calling. It was not forthcoming. "Come on, you know you want to say this day should have come sooner."

"It should have," Ziva agreed, "but so that you would have known your daughter before now." She smiled at the look Tony gave her. "It is tempting, but this is not the time for jokes. Some of us have tact that way."

Tony perked up a little at the small jibe. Ziva being openly nice to him felt weird. "Okay, so what do you want me to say? Because, I'll be honest with you, I don't really know how I feel right now."

"Nor do I expect you to," Ziva said. "But she seems like a lovely girl, and if you need me to accidentally put a hit out on this character of a stepfather, it can be arranged."

Tony smiled. "Thanks, Ziva, but I got this." He knew it was her way of saying she was there if he needed her, and he was grateful. "I need to go rescue her from Abby's death metal."

"I will see you later, then." Ziva wiggled her fingers at him in a wave.

Tony mimicked the gesture. "See ya."

Tony's first stop after Abby's lab was autopsy. He peeked through the doors before bringing Annie in to make sure there weren't any dead bodies lying out in the open, then brought her in. "Ducky! I need a favor."

Ducky smiled. "For you, Anthony, always." He reached out his hand to shake Annie's. "And who would this lovely young lady be?"

Tony smiled, and glanced about for any lurking Gibbses. "This is my daughter, Annie."

Ducky's eyebrows climbed into his hairline, but his smile widened. "A pleasure, my dear. I am Dr. Mallard, but you can call me Ducky."

Annie giggled. "Everyone here is so cool."

"I'm glad you think so," Tony said, patting her shoulder. "And autopsy is the coolest place of all, temperature-wise. Not so cool if you're a resident. We make Ducky work on living people sometimes too, though." He had explained to Annie on the way that he wanted Ducky to have a quick look at her to see if Lance had left any trace of his abuse on her, even if Lance had only hit her once. It was one time too many. Tony looked at Ducky, trying to communicate with his eyes that he wanted to talk.

Ducky got it. "Mr. Palmer!"

Jimmy came out from around the corner. "Yes, Doctor?"

Ducky nodded at Annie. "This young lady is Annie, and she's visiting us. Could you show her around?"

Jimmy nodded. "Oh, of course."

"Thanks, Jimmy." Tony gestured from Annie to Jimmy. "Go on, take the Autopsy Gremlin Tour. I'm just gonna give the good doctor here the down-low."

"Okay." Annie nodded and followed Jimmy.

"Good kid," Tony said, before he realized he was talking about both of them.

Ducky nodded. "Yes. Now tell me, what's on your mind?"

"Her stepfather hit her," Tony explained, "and she said he didn't leave a mark, but I was kind of hoping you could look her over. If he left so much as a hangnail, I want to know about it."

"Of course," Ducky said. "I am curious, though, why you haven't mentioned her before. Is this a new development?"

Caught yet again by Ducky's perception. "Yeah, like an hour or so ago new."

"You seem to be taking it remarkably well," Ducky observed.

Tony shrugged. "I guess." He shifted from one foot to the other, knowing Jimmy and Annie would be back soon. Autopsy wasn't that big. "If Gibbs talks to you, can we, uh, keep this quiet?"

Ducky frowned. "Surely you're not going to keep this a secret?"

Tony shook his head. "Oh, no, no. I asked Abby the same thing. I's, I've got to figure out how to tell him."

"I understand." Ducky put an arm on Tony's shoulder. "I wouldn't fret too much if I were you."

It was hard not to. "I know he's not going to freak out, I just..." Tony took a deep breath and confessed, "I don't want to disappoint him."

"You won't," Ducky assured him. "He would only be disappointed if you were neglecting your responsibilities – which you clearly are not." He glanced at Annie as she and Jimmy came back in. "Now, I believe I have some work to do. Fortunately for you, I specialize in finding zebras where most other doctors would see a horse."

Fortunately and unfortunately, Ducky didn't find anything wrong with Annie, other than the expected emotional trauma. By the time Ducky was done with her, it was time to leave for the day, and Tony was grateful that Gibbs' meeting seemed to be dragging. He would definitely talk to Gibbs in the morning, but getting Annie fed and bedded down after her long trip was Tony's first priority.

"Welcome to Chez DiNozzo," Tony said as he unlocked the door to his apartment.

Annie's smile was a mile wide. "Wow, you've got a ton of movies."

"That I do," Tony agreed. "We'll work on your education in the classics soon." He led Annie to the spare room. "This is where you'll be staying. It's not much, but the futon's comfy."

Annie's grin hadn't faded. "Better than a Greyhound bus seat." She stepped into the room, looking around. "Aw! Where'd you get the cute plushies?"

Tony had guessed she would ask about those. "I suppose I should introduce you. Annie, this is Katie-Bear, and that is Amelia the Ninja Kitty."

Annie laughed. "Where did they come from?"

Tony shrugged. "The cat showed up one day." He and Ziva both knew Ziva had sent it, but neither of them admitted it. "Katie-Bear, well, my old partner gave her to me, and Abby named her."

"They're so cute!" Annie squealed. "Was your old partner a woman, too?"

Tony nodded. "Her name was Kate. That's where Abby got the name."

"What happened to her?" Annie asked.

Tony supposed he should have expected this conversation when he admitted to the bear's origins rather than making something up. "She was killed in the line of duty."

"Oh, my God, I'm so sorry." Annie lunged forward and hugged him. "And that's why you kept the bear, huh?"

"Yeah." Tony held up a warning finger. "And when you meet Agent McGee tomorrow, keep Katie-Bear out of it. If she does come up, don't believe a word he says. The man lies." Kate had given the bear to Tony while he was still recovering from the pneumonic plague, back when he was barely able to stay awake for more than an hour at a time. Kate had caught him snoozing with the bear in his bed and tucked it under his arm for a photo. Tony thought he had gotten all copies destroyed, but McGee was crafty, because Ziva had either seen the picture or heard about it. Tony wasn't sure which it was, but he threatened her with more pictures from LA if it ever came up again.

Annie laughed again, and Tony wondered if he was romanticizing it or if she really did have his mother's laugh. "She looks a lot like my teddy bear at home, Mari. I...still sort of sleep with her. I've had her since I was a little kid."

"You're a girl; that's allowed." Tony noted that the only things Annie had in her backpack were a change of clothes and a purse. "Didn't bring her with you, huh?"

"She didn't fit." Annie shook her head. "It's okay. I don't need her to fall asleep. It's's nice having her there."

"I gotcha." Tony took Katie-Bear off the shelf. He had kept the bear in its place of honor since Kate died, but he knew she would approve of his pulling the gift into service. "She told me she gets kind of lonely at night. I guess the cat disappears to God-knows-where." He handed the bear to Annie. "Keep her company for me?"

Annie's eyes widened. "Oh, no, I don't want to-"

Tony cut her off. "It's okay, really. If it makes you feel better, that's what's important."

"You sure?" Annie asked, though by that point, she was holding Katie-Bear tightly.

"Of course." Tony reached out to squeeze Annie's upper arm. "Now, what kind of pizza do you like?"