The sentence's abrupt death made the green eyes dance as their owner passed the now silent security guard; they would know before he even exited the elevator. The sound of the landline being rapidly whispered into, in a voice not nearly as quiet as the owner believed it to be, sent a flash of white teeth gleaming in the dawn's light. Yes, they would know.
The hushed tones and disbelieving questions ringing out ceased when the elevator pinged to signal the opening of its doors. Slowly, the voices rose from silence, following the laughing green eyes as they faced first the hall, then the bullpen, then the balcony, finally settling on the stern expression of one Naval Criminal Investigative Service Director Leon Vance.
"DiNozzo!" The toothpick was removed in favor of the snarled name of the Agent looking up at Vance with such a blatantly amused expression. "What is the meaning of this?"
The smile of one Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo faded, and he slipped his pack off his shoulder and set it on the floor next to his desk with his free hand, trying to appear unaffected by the harsh address of the head of the agency employing him. "Meaning of what exactly, Director?" The feigned ignorance and thinly veiled disrespect for the man's position evoked surprised looks and poorly concealed whispers from more than one spectator.
However, the shock was further intensified by the subsequent growl the comment elicited from the Director. "The presence of that… that…"
"Child?" Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs made his presence known as he entered the bullpen, coffee in one hand, the elevator door closing behind him. The gossip momentarily turned to the ever-present conundrum of how Gibbs arrives without a single person hearing the ping, signaling the elevator's arrival. However, the items held firmly in Gibbs's usually empty hand quickly drew attention back to the more -as doubtful as it may seem- curious issue gracing the Navy Yard on this fine December day.
The sun shone brightly outside the building, reflecting off the snow and through the windows, accenting the oddity of the objects Gibbs was calmly depositing on DiNozzo's desk. "Tony." At his name, DiNozzo turned, his eyes alighting on the new additions to his desk's décor. "Rule eight."
Tony grinned sheepishly, his right hand lifting to sooth the restless stirring of the sleeping child held to his chest. "Yes Boss. Thank you." He murmured, shifting the left arm supporting the babe's weight slightly, tucking the child more securely under his chin. He gingerly leaned sideways, reaching for the back of his chair to turn it around.
"What the hell do you think this is, DiNozzo, a day care?" The Director bellowed, stuffing the toothpick back between his lips, "I don't know which of your unfortunate one night stands is semi-responsible for this mess, and I don't know which of my actions gave you the impression that I would stand for the consequences of your indiscretions invading this office, but this is extremely unprofessional, and I expect to see the situation resolved by the time I return from my conversation with SecNav." Vance turned on his heel, striding into MTAC without a backward glance, despite the chaos that ensued in the bullpen behind him.
"Mess? Consequence? SITUATION!" Tony hissed, his eyes glittering for an entirely different reason than originally observed by his coworkers. "Just who does he think he is?" Tony sat down near violently, checking himself at the last minute so as not to jostle the toddler still encased in his arms. His efforts proved useless, however, as the child was awakened by the commotion and proceeded to make its discomfort known.
The babe raised his head, crying out his fear and displeasure at the tone and delivery of both Vance's and Tony's statements. Gibbs smirked, striding to his desk and sitting down, reaching to boot up his computer. "Out of the mouths of babes," he commented, eyes twinkling with sardonic humor.
Tony shot him a quick glare before looking down, adjusting the child so that he was sitting across his lap, his side tucked firmly into Tony's, green eyes facing the Ziva's confused expression. As he reached for the sippy–cup and child's ibuprofen Gibbs had placed on his desk, he consoled the child. "It's okay, Ry. We're right here. Come on baby, shhhh." Tony expertly opened the child-proof ibuprofen bottle with one hand, measuring out the right amount with barely a glance, concentrating on murmuring to the obviously feverish child currently grasping his shirt tightly in both hands. "Here baby, I know it tastes bad. Just one sip baby. Come on, for Daddy? Please Ryan, it'll make everything better. Come on baby. No, you can have juice after you take the medicine. Come on Ry, for me?" Tony's attempts to cox the toddler into taking the grape flavored medicine proved fruitless as Ryan continued to twist his head from side to side, digging his face into his Daddy's shoulder and sobbing whenever Tony tried to subdue his now flailing arms.
"Since when do you have a child?" Junior Agent Timothy McGee finally mustered up the comprehension necessary to ask the question everyone had been wondering since Todd Myers, the security officer manning the gated lobby entrance of the building, had phoned Cynthia, the Director's secretary and NCIS's biggest gossip.
Tony shot him a brief look. "Since he was born," he answered slowly, as if speaking to a slow child.
Probationary Agent Ziva David frowned at his sarcasm, glancing at Gibbs. "So… why have we not heard of him before? And what about all the parties?"
McGee spoke at the same time, addressing Gibbs. "Boss, you knew? I mean, of course you knew, you know everything. I didn't mean to make you sound stupid or un-informed. I mean, why… how… when did you know?" By the end of his question, McGee was stuttering and blushing furiously, unable to meet Gibbs's eyes.
Gibbs raised an eyebrow at McGee, turning toward Tony who was looking at him hopelessly, still fighting with the babe in his arms. "Michael Ryan DiNozzo, drop the attitude right now!" Gibbs's voice, the voice dubbed 'the listen-to-me-now-or-the-stirring-straw-in-my-coffee-will-end-up-in-places-you-don't-want-to-know-about voice' by Forensic Specialist Abigail Scuito, rang across the bullpen, silencing everyone, even the child. Gibbs focused his intense gaze at the toddler, "Take the medicine Michael."
The child stared defiantly at Gibbs for a moment, pressing his lips firmly together to prevent Tony from pouring the medicine in his mouth. After almost a minute had passed a small sigh passed through the child's mouth, and he accepted the medicine, making grabbing motions toward the sippy-cup, immediately drinking from it when Tony gave it to him.
"Brat." Tony muttered affectionately, smoothing the unruly, sweat-soaked blonde curls and kissing the child's forehead. Tony turned his head toward Ziva as Gibbs ordered all the bystanders to get back to work, an order which no one, despite how curious they were, defied. Before he could address her questions, however, a squeal rang out in the bullpen. Abigail Scuito had arrived.
"Awww, he's so cute! What's his name? How old is he? Anthony DiNozzo, why didn't you tell me about him! You don't trust me? I thought I was your friend! How could you not tell me! Can I hold him?" Abby bounced on her heels, punching Tony in the arm several times, struggling to both glare at Tony and smile at the child… Michael was winning.
Michael shrank away from her grabbing hands and let out a very distressed noise. "No! Daddy, no!" He threw himself back into his Daddy, trying to escape Abby. When all else failed, he screamed at the top of his lungs, "Papa!" The sob stopped Abby short, and elicited raised eyebrows from both Ziva and McGee.
"He calls you Daddy and Papa?" Abby asked, trying to cover up her blunder by withdrawing her hands in favor of twisting one of her many rings.
"No." Gibbs firm voice drew everyone's attention from the child momentarily. He strode forward, grasping Michael under his arms and lifting him to rest against his chest, head tucked safely against Gibbs's shoulder. "Shhhh Ryan, I'm here."
"Papa…" The feverish boy sobbed, burying his face in Gibbs's neck and wrapping one arm tightly around it, his other hand clutching at the fabric covering Gibbs's shoulder.
"Shhhh baby, I know. Papa's got you." Gibbs bounced the child gently with one arm, reaching his other out to grasp the sippy-cup that had fallen in Michael's attempt to escape Abby as Tony handed it to him. "They're all yours Tony." Gibbs maintained a straight emotionless face, though his eyes glittered with smugness, ignoring the flabbergasted expressions on his coworkers' faces, returning to his chair with Michael.
Tony flashed a smile at his back, quickly holding up a hand to stop any further comments. "I'll answer all your questions, just sit tight. Ziva, you haven't heard of him before because I… We, wanted to keep him separate from our work. This is a dangerous job, and we make enemies every day. I'd rather not give them more ammunition. Against any of us. Whatever I have to do to keep him out of the crosshairs, whether it be making up elaborate cover stories or withholding secrets from my friends," he met Abby's eyes, "I'll do it."
Ziva smiled slightly, and nodded, satisfied with his answers for now. McGee and Abby, however seemed less than happy, although McGee seemed to be more confused than genuinely upset. Tony set about straightening his clothing, before ducking his head to rummage through the bag at his feet. "To answer your question McGee, Gib-" His disembodied voice floated up from behind his desk, only to be interrupted by the ringing of the phone on Gibbs's desk.
Gibbs quickly reached out to silence it, bracing it between his ear and shoulder, rubbing Michael's cheek gently with the back of his fingers to calm the snuffling noises emitting from around the sippy-cup. "Gibbs." His expression remained blank, although Michael shifted slightly as he felt a muscle in his Papa's cheek tense as Gibbs gritted his teeth. Gibbs refrained from growling as he snapped his phone closed. "Dead Marine. Grab your gear. DiNozzo, you're with me." He stood up swiftly, somehow managing not to jostle Michael in the process.
He tossed the keys to McGee, stifled a laugh at Ziva's horrified expression, and covered Abby's mouth as she went to speak. "When this case is over, I expect everyone at my place. Until then," he smirked, "McGee! You drive."
The team grabbed their packs, snapping guns, badges, and knives into place as they fell in behind him (Ziva trying to convince McGee to give her the keys), leaving Abby to pout and huff in the bullpen before stomping down to autopsy.
As she disappeared down the stairs, the elevator door dinged and Tony came running out of the barely open doors, nearly skidding around the corner before scrambling desperately to reach Gibbs's coffee. When his hand made contact he hissed out a triumphant "Yes!" and straightened, clearing his throat and walking quickly to the elevator, trying to maintain as much dignity as possible. His poker face died an abrupt death, however, when Michael giggled at the head slap his Daddy received and the subsequent sputters emitted from his mouth as Gibbs smugly took the coffee from Tony's surprised grasp.
"I expected you here twenty minutes ago, Jethro." Ducky did not look up from where he was securing the body, listening to the sound of Ziva and McGee good-naturedly arguing as they set out to secure and tag the scene.
Gibbs grunted. "You got time of death, Duck?"
Ducky was cut off by the sound of a child's laugh and the squeal that followed. "Nonno Donny!" Ducky looked up in surprise before moving away from the body and removing his gloves.
"Mr. Palmer, I trust you can handle it from here." He turned and crouched, holding his arms wide. "Nipote Michael, il mio bambino caro! How's the fever? All better I hope?" Michael crashed into his chest, nearly knocking him over. "Well, at least we know why Jethro was late, don't we?"
Michael nodded emphatically, face twisted in a mask of concentration. "Take… Tank… Tank… Thhhhhh-anK oo, Nonno." Ducky smiled, wiping off the small amount of spit that had landed on him during Michael's fight against the alphabet. Michael leaned against his chest and sucked on his sippy-cup, content to let Ducky support his weight and coddle his 'grandson.'
Tony walked up, struggling with the camera cord. "Grazie per la medicina, Ducky."
"He told you where he got it?" Ducky looked over Michael's head surprised.
Tony chuckled, but before he could answer, Gibbs spoke up from behind them both. "No Duck, he recognized the sippy-cup as the one he forgot at your place last weekend." He gently gave Tony a shove, pointing toward the previous location of the body. "Shoot, DiNozzo." As DiNozzo walked away with a muttered "Spoilsport," Gibbs knelt next to Ducky and Michael, reaching out to pet Michael's hair while handing Ducky the bottle of children's ibuprofen. "Can you watch him for us, Ducky? We'll pick him up when we're done here."
Ducky stood, holding Michael's free hand. "Of course Jethro!" Ducky looked insulted that Gibbs had even had to ask, "I'll take good care of him, won't I Michael?"
"Thanks Duck." Gibbs knelt next to Michael, cupping the back of his head with one hand, "You behave for Nonno Donny, alright buddy?" He kissed Michael's forehead, accepting the hug from the slightly less feverish, less grumpy little boy.
"Luwv oo Papa." Michael planted a large, wet kiss on Gibbs's cheek then turned, grabbed Ducky's hand and ran toward the van, where Mr. Palmer, known to Michael as "Unca Jimmy," was waiting to sweep him up.
"I love you too Ry." Gibbs said softly, remaining on the ground for a moment, his eyes following Michael, before he climbed to his feet with a nearly inaudible sigh, turning to survey the crime scene.
Tony stood, stretching as his computer shut down. After a satisfying series of cracks up his spine, he let his arms drop to his sides, tiredly sighing.
"Alright people, we're done here. My place, forty five minutes. Run home, shower, repack your overnight bags, food'll be waiting. Go." Gibbs slipped his coat on as McGee and Ziva rushed out of the bullpen, one hand wearily rubbing over his eyes. "C'mon Tony, let's get you home." He smiled slightly as Tony mumbled an affirmative, leaning toward Gibbs, eyes drooping. "C'mon, wake up." When Tony merely blinked sluggishly, Gibbs reached out a hand and slapped the back of his head. "DiNozzo!"
Tony snapped upright, eyes open wide. "Boss!"
Gibbs monotoned, "Home, Tony."
Tony stifled a yawn, nodding rapidly and gathering his stuff.
"Michael's with Duck. We're going to stop and get pizza on the way."
"'Kay. Sausage, extra cheese?" Tony shuffled into the elevator after Gibbs, resting his head casually on Gibbs's shoulder. With no one remaining in the building, he had absolutely no motivation to maintain a professional distance.
Gibbs, unbeknownst to Tony, smiled gently, "No. Anchovies and pickled artichoke hearts." His smile shifted into a rare grin when Tony gagged and dry heaved a little at the idea. "Of course Tone. Take a nap in the car."
"'Kay." Tony didn't even bother to stifle the next yawn, smacking his lips afterwards and burrowing his face into Gibbs's shoulder. As soon as he was buckled into the car, he was asleep, snoring quietly as Gibbs drove at a slightly more sedate pace.
Thirty minutes later found Tony being gently awakened and sent to take a shower and put on sweats. While he was in the shower, Gibbs set the table for six and then pushed all the furniture in the living room up against the walls, being careful not to cut off access to the tree sitting in the far corner of the room. He removed a large pile of spare blankets, pillows, and his and Tony's sleeping bags from the closet in the hall, laying them on the floor next to the couch. He had just finished when the front door opened and the six expected individuals arrived.
"Papa!" Michael kicked off his shoes and flung himself at Gibbs, his flushed and tearstained face the picture of misery. "Huwts…" He whimpered pathetically, sniffling into Gibbs neck as Gibbs lifted him into a secure hold.
Before Gibbs could say anything, Tony swept down the stairs and grabbed the distraught child, disappearing into the kitchen. "Well," he looked slightly put out, "food's in the kitchen. Eat first, talk later." The group turned as a whole, disappearing after Tony, the sound of cans being cracked open and pizza boxes being passed soon filling the house. Gibbs turned to the only remaining member of the group; Dr. Donald Mallard. "Well, Duck? How's he doing?"
Ducky smiled at Gibbs's gruff manner of demonstrating concern. "My dear Jethro, Michael is doing just fine. His fever spiked briefly a short while ago, but it's going back down now. I suspect it will be broken by tomorrow morning. Until then, the ibuprofen will keep it from rising too high."
They both turned toward the kitchen, standing in the doorway to observe the chaos ensuing. Both of them smiled affectionately as Jimmy Palmer smacked playfully at Michael's hands. Michael succeeded in stealing the sausage from Jimmy's slice of pizza, retreating to peak around his Daddy's arms from his safe position in Tony's lap, all the while giggling in a subdued manner at Jimmy's mock angry expression.
"Gosh Tony, teach that kid some manners!" Jimmy growled good-naturedly.
"Can't help it if the kid's got good taste," Tony retorted, smugly taking a bite of his own slice, one arm tucked firmly around Michael's waist, holding him in place. Gibbs glanced over toward the sink, seeing the freshly used medicine measuring cup, and relaxed enough to lean on the door jamb.
Though there was tension between the people sitting at his table, the banter flowed freely. After everyone had eaten, the dishes had been done, and everyone was settled in the living room, Gibbs demanded everyone's attention. "There're two bathrooms, one across the hall right there, and one up the stairs and to your right. Everyone go get changed. We'll talk in the morning. Pillows, blankets, and sleeping bags are by the couch. Ducky, you know where the guest room is." With those final words he took the sleeping Michael from the drowsing Tony's arms, carrying the former and leading the latter up the stairs, making it clear that he wouldn't be coming back down before everyone had gotten a full night's sleep.
The group was far too tired to be put out, and settled down to sleep in the twinkling lights coming from the tree in the corner of the room, a gentle reminder of the time of year.