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Chapter Two: Christopher and Winnie the Pooh!


Thanksgiving - Thursday November 27, 2008

"Pooh!" Christopher jumped up and down with excitement, eyes wide and alight with delight to spot his favorite bear in the whole wide world dancing in front of his eyes.

Tony laughed, and jiggled the stuff bear some more,a wordless encouragement for Christopher to reach out and nab it. The kid was awfully hesitant, and that told Tony too much about his background. “Come on, squirt… Pooh wants you to play with him.” He encouraged.

It’d been a good morning. By virtue of the sun streaming through his eastern windows, Tony had woken up before Christopher. The kid surfaced not long afterwards, albeit Tony had to coax him out of the bedroom. They’d done morning ablutions, to which Tony felt immense relief -- Christopher handled the toilet like a pro, needing only a little help to get up reaching the right height, and then getting re-dressed.

The concept of breakfast, however, was clearly terribly new to the little boy, and he was hesitant to touch the food he was freely given. It was a meal that typically took Tony less than ten minutes to eat. Goading Christopher to try the food stretched breakfast to a full forty-five minutes. It was heartbreaking to watch the little boy be so fearful, to not recognize common breakfast foods like a bowl of porridge, laden with mashed strawberries and bananas. But, each new flavour was carefully tried, considered, and retested, and the child gradually became enthused with putting these new foods in his mouth. Even so, Christopher’s little stomach was a bit under-trained, so he struggled to finish his bowl.

After that, Tony had helped Christopher with a very careful bubble bath, his broken arm skillfully wrapped up in plastic, and taped to keep water off of it. There was something to be said for practical life-experiences. With the number of broken bones, or gunshot wounds Tony had endured in his career, Tony was an expert at waterproofing casts.

The bath itself had taken another hour to do -- and not all of it was fun. Christopher had screamed and fussed horribly at first, utterly terrified of the bath, and expecting cold water. Tony had persevered, using a washcloth to prove the water was warm, and ensuring copious bubbles formed in the tub. Plus, the small collection of bath toys he liberally dumped into the foamy cloud. Curiosity eventually led Christopher into the water, puzzled by the bubbles, and confused as sin about TOYS in the bath. And he quickly changed his tune about bath time.

Once the epic battle of the bubbles was done, and Christopher’s clean wet hair was sculpted into a Mohawk, Tony helped the boy dress in new clothes, being especially careful with the casted arm. The kid’s excitement at having new warm clothes was a kick in the gut.

Now, the pair were standing, or bouncing, depending on the individual in question, in Tony’s living room, and faced with not only Pooh bear but a movie about Pooh, the child was beyond verbiage with delight.

With trepidation, as if expecting someone to take it away, Christopher reached out for Pooh. Tony let it go once the child had it firmly in his grasp, smiling as Chris hugged it tight, smushing his face into the soft plush. “Pooh!” He whispered into the bear. “My own Pooh!”

“Yup.” Tony agreed. “And now, you and your own Pooh, are gonna watch Christopher Robin and his Winnie the Pooh.” Lifting Christopher up, he placed him on the big squishy leather couch, and started the DVD he’d preloaded into his system the night before.

And just like that, Christopher was gone. Big eyes, open mouth, zoned out completely on the screen, with his Pooh bear squeezed tightly in his arms. Tony had a terrible feeling that this might be the first cartoon the little boy had ever seen. He made a mental note to increase the kid’s repertoire of animated movies.

Tony returned to the kitchen and poured a plastic tumbler full of chocolate almond milk, and then himself a mug of coffee. Carrying both through, he set the glass for Christopher on the coffee table, sat down on the couch beside the rug-rat, and sipped his coffee as he watched Christopher while the child watched Winnie the Pooh.

The DVD, he was pleased to note, had two stories back to back, and lasted for a total of forty minutes. In breathtaking silence, it was watched the first time. The second, Christopher was a more lively viewer, though Tony had left him to watch alone for some of the time, disappearing into the bedroom to strip the bed (and was he ever happy to see no bed-wetting happened), before hitting the head and cleaning up the mess from bath time.

On the third play through, to which Christopher was haphazardly singing along, Tony got the ball rolling for the rest of the weekend ahead. He moved to the kitchen doorway, from where he could monitor Christopher easily on the couch, and picked up his cellphone.

“Tonio! What’s shaking? You still on for dinner and the game this afternoon?” Steve’s happy greeting was plenty warning that his frat-brother had already started drinking.

“How many beers have you had, Steve?”

“One.” Steve said, making a chug sound. “Just finished.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Right. Listen, I can’t make it today. Something came up, and it’s more important. But, that’s not why I called -- do you still have that queen mattress you wanted to get rid of?”

“Hell yeah.” Steve replied. “But what do you mean you can’t come? Come on man, you swore you were off duty this year.”

“I am.” Tony smiled at the whinge. “But, and I blame Mark, while I was coaching at the YMCA last night, we found an abandoned child, somewhere between three and four years old. Poor kid had a broken arm, fractured ribs, and had been someone’s kicking bag for some time. Hospital wouldn’t keep him, it’s the holiday so CAS was a little bit tapped out last minute. Long and short, he’s with me for the weekend.”

Silence chirped down the line. In the background, he could hear Steve’s significant other instructing the bird going into her oven to ‘cook nicely!’.

“Steve?”

“I only had one beer, I swear to God, DiNo.” His frat brother said suddenly. “I’m sure it was a normal brew… nothing fancy about it… Syd…” He called out to his wife, “I only had one beer, right? Just one?”

In the distance, Tony heard Sydney’s shout back. “Steve. Don't start. You’re showing signs of brain damage. Yes, you idiot, you only had a single beer. I’m going to cut you off if this is the shit you’re going to ask.”

“See?” Steve whinged. “A beer. Singular. So, I am not drunk. Or drugged. And that means I couldn’t have heard what I thought I heard.” He took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m ready. Say it again.”

“There was an abandoned child outside the YMCA, last night. I called CAS. We went to the hospital, kid was x-rayed, casted, and discharged. But he doesn’t have a home, CAS was tapped out because of the holiday, so he’s with me until Monday.”

Silence again. For a long hanging moment, broken finally with a, “Holy Fuck. The world is coming to an end.”

This wasn’t the first time Tony wondered if joining a frat was really a good idea. He’d had the thought numerous times over the past fifteen years Usually the pros outweighed the cons, but right now… it was regret that was dominating his mind.

“Steven.” He lowered his voice the ‘Federal Agent, stop or I’ll shoot’ gravity. “I have a three year old watching the third round of Winnie the Pooh, we have fifteen minutes, tops, for you to focus your theoretical intelligence and get with the program. Listen carefully: I want to buy the queen mattress set off of you. How much, and is Manny coming today, and does he have the truck?”

Steve blew out a breath. “Dude, you’ve got to understand -- you, Anthony D. DiNozzo, patron sex god of bachelors everywhere on this primitive planet, have just told me that there is a kid - not the ball, but the chain of bachelors - living in your apartment with you for the next four days. And that CAS is okay with that. Seriously, dude, this is like… the apocalypse I think. Honest to God, the only thing more traumatic to me would be Sydney telling me she was pregnant.”

There was a muffled smack, and a unmanly yelp before the sound of a phone hitting ground. Suddenly, Tony found himself speaking to Sydney herself. Steve’s girlfriend/common law wife was far easier to deal with. Usually.

“Tony, I understand that you’re not coming today. And, if I’ve overheard my untrained idiot here, it’s because you’re looking after a child?” Sydney asked calmly. She, like Steve, was a lawyer. Though while Steve worked in corporate law for a private practice, Sydney worked in the crown attorney’s office. The high pressure arena she operated in had created a calm, self-controlled woman out of her. And as always, in any crisis, she was a pleasure to work with.

“Do I really have to explain this again?” Tony huffed. “Yes. A three year old with a broken arm, found abandoned outside the YMCA. CAS had no where to put him, hospital wouldn’t keep him, so, I offered. Look Syd, I called to see if Steve still had the mattress he wanted to get rid of. That’s all.”

“He does. It’s yours. Steve and Manny will drop it off right after lunch, I’ll confiscate their drinks immediately. And lunch is on the table to be eaten NOW…” She shouted the last few words to the dolts in her home. “Do you need toys, books, or videos for the kid? My sister has scads.” She offered, her tone completely changed to calm sweetness.

“How much for the mattress?”

“Nada, Tony. I want it out of my home. I need that bedroom converted to an office, because between Steve and I, we bring home so many files and drop them all over the livingroom and dining room that sometimes we can’t even sit down. And the guys will drop the mattress, boxspring and rails off gratis, too. Because right now I want THEM out of my home, just as much. Toys, Books, Movies, Tony. Your turn to focus.”

Tony peered around the half wall in the kitchen, Christopher was mesmerized by the screen, the bear in his arms cuddled close. “I think we’re okay.” He said. “I hit the Walmart last night and loaded up with stuff. I’m going to feed him shortly, then see if he’ll take a nap. Tonight, I’ll get him outside for a walk, maybe do the monuments at night, and tomorrow I think I’ll take him to do the Smithsonian. I’d do the zoo, but I don’t think the weather is warm enough for a full day outside.” Getting Christopher outside and moving was good for them both. Kept inside his apartment too long, and Tony would go stir crazy. He couldn’t see a little boy being any different.

Sydney hummed. “The Discovery Theatre at the Smithsonian would be good for him,” she agreed. “He won’t understand the monuments, but he might like the visuals and lighting. Alright. Expect the boys in an hour or so. If you need them to move anything, make sure you know what you want going where.”

Just like that, Sydney was done and the phone disconnected. Sometimes, he wondered if she was distantly related to Gibbs.

Speaking of the devil, he quickly sent a text to his boss, explaining he’d be late on the Monday, and that he had to meet with Patty Smythe before he could come in.

---

Laughter pealed through the DiNozzo apartment, childish sweet bales of laughter. Through the door, you could hear squealing, and running feet, and then a sudden mocking rawr, and more laughter.

For Steve Adler, it was the strangest most surreal experience of his life. He’d known DiNo since their Freshman year at Ohio State. Kids and DiNo were like oil and water. It just didn’t mix. They avoided DiNo, and truthfully, DiNo had always looked at them in askance.

Standing outside of DiNo’s door, and hearing those…. strange family-like sounds was a Twilight Zone worthy experience. “Knock already.” Manny was grumbling some eight feet away, holding the mattress upright in the poorly lit hallway.

“There really is a kid in there.” Steve muttered wide-eyed.

Manny blinked. “Right.” He said, dropping his end of the mattress to fiddle with his coat. “Hold up a minute, let me get my cellphone out and ready.” He fumbled, fussed with buttons, and then nodded. “Knock, and get out of the way as soon as you can so I can take the picture. If it’s good, I’ll get some video.”

Steve grinned suddenly, wildly. Oh yes, this belonged on the Alumni site. It would be the highlight of the holiday weekend amongst their fraternity, creeping out many of their brethren. Saul would likely send an email out with the pictures attached preaching on the apocalypse and offering life-insurance packages. Gleefully cheered by anticipating the ruckus, Steve banged on the door.

DiNo jerked the door wide open in a sudden lurch, and Steve jumped back. He must have been sitting on the door -- but all snide comments were washed away by the picture his frat-brother presented. Oh, and what a sight he was. Standing with one arm wrapped around the waist of a kid, who was suspended upside down, head at Tony’s knees, laughing riotously. Little legs were lightly kicking at DiNo’s torso, and Steve could see the reason for the laughter -- DiNo was tickling the kids bare feet.

Now, despite the prior knowledge that a) there was a kid in there, and b) there was clearly a lot of fun being had by the kid, the entire scene was too much, and Steve’s jaw hit the ground. “Holy Shit.” He blurted unconsciously.

Tony’s eyes flashed ominous warning, “Language!” He barked, flipping the kid around until he was upright on Tony’s hip. “Listen to me, Christopher. This is a friend of mine, his name is Steven. Anything that Steven says and that you hear is NOT to be repeated, ever.” He told the child. “Steven has a bad habit of using bad words.”

Steve huffed, eyes rolling. “Right.” A nudge of the mattress he was holding pulled him from saying anything else.

“Move it, guys. I’m double-parked.” Manny whinged from behind.

Dutifully, Tony stepped aside. “Christopher.” He continued as the mattress entered the apartment. “That’s Manny. He’s a friend too. Guys, put it in my room. I’ve cleared out the office, and if you don’t mind helping, I’d like to move my old twin bed into that room. I’ve bought rails for it. Chris will sleep there, and the queen can become my new bed. It’s time I grew up and got a big-boy bed, anyway.”

Manny gaped at his friend, Steve went totally non-verbal. “Holy Fucking Batshit -- are you serious? What has this kid done to you?”

The slap upside his head, as he walked by, made the kid laugh, but Tony’s scowl spoke volumes. “Christopher -- we don’t repeat any words Manny says either. Those are bad words too.”

Defiant in the face of Tony’s disapproval, and innured to Tony’s glare from four years playing on the same football team, Manny grinned shamelessly, raised his cellphone-camera and snapped a picture. “Cheers!”

Tony sighed. Setting Chris on the floor, he pointed towards the couch and TV. “I need to talk to these guys for a moment, buddy. Can you go get Pooh, and show him how to play with the blocks?” He asked.

Chris shyly had a thumb in his mouth, peering at Manny and Steve with great uncertainty.

“Nope. We don’t do that.” Tony gently plied the finger free. “You’ll ruin your teeth.” Behind him, Steve choked. “Go get Pooh, help him building something, okay? Just for a few minutes.”

Slowly, Christopher nodded, and keeping a wary eye on the two strangers, backed away before suddenly spinning on heel and running toward Pooh, who had fallen off the couch and was half under the sofa table. Tony kept a weather eye on the kid, before addressing his frat-brothers. “Seriously, idiots. Watch the language around him. I don’t need Children’s Aid shooting me for teaching him bad words.” He glared.

“Pax.” Steve raised his hands. “We’re just… surprised, and it’s tripping out of us, DiNo. I mean, think about it, DiNo -- what if you came over to my place and found me all zen with a kid running around?”

Tony’s eyes narrowed. “One, kids do run around your place. I’ve met Sydney’s niece and nephew. Two, when they do, you’re running around with them leaving poor Sydney to deal with three misbehaving kids. No go, buddy. Now, move that mattress into the master.”

Manny pushed the mattress. “Go. Just do it man. Keep moving, idiot. Before I get a ticket.”

The two hefted up the mattress, and followed Tony to his bedroom. They dropped the mattress against the closet wall, and lifted up the pieces of the twin bed. Separating mattress and boxspring, each man carrying one item, and Tony carrying the bed-frame itself, they made their way to the newly vacated office. It hadn’t been hard to clear the space out. There had been a light computer desk, his laptop, and a small printer. His internet connection, thanks to McGoogle was a wifi configuration, set up around his stereo system. In the myriad of wires and connectors there, it blended in seamlessly.

The desk was now located in a ‘dead end’ corner of the hall. It should have been an open passageway through to the living room from the bedrooms, giving access to the bedrooms from the kitchen, and from the living-room/balcony area. After his morning calls, and before the third playing of Winnie the Pooh ended, Tony had dragged the desk out and tucked it into the niche there, and relocated the laptop and printer.

A quick sweep of the floor in the newly emptied room, a check for cobwebs, and it was good enough for a kid to use short-term, though, it needed a bedside table and lamp to make it usable as guestroom long-term.

Tony centered the bed under the window, and watched fussily as Steve dropped the box-spring, and Manny the mattress. The men disappeared back downstairs to get the box-spring for the queen bed, leaving Tony to quickly remake the bed, and find a night-light he could set up in the room.

A quick check on Christopher found the kid trying to share his milk with Pooh. Tony snorted quietly, and let the kid be. In moments, Steve was tumbling through the door, a metal bed-frame collapsed and tucked under one arm, the other busy carrying the edge of the box-spring. “Stay with the kid,” Steve said. “I’ll set the bed up, you can make it later -- you do have bedding for a queen, right?”

Tony nodded. He’d always intended to get a larger bed, but had never bothered. The hours he worked, and his preference to never bring a date to his own home… well, he’d just not gotten around to it. That didn’t mean he didn’t have the sheets and a duvet for it. One of his father’s secretaries had set him a lovely egyptian cotton Bed-in-a-Bag for Christmas one year. He just had to find where he’d stashed the damn thing.

Again, Steve and Manny vanished, and Tony made his way over to Christopher. “What are we building?” He asked, dropping down to sit on the ottoman beside the spread out pile of duplo. It had come in a massive little plastic dufflebag, and the pieces looked like mutant lego; they were huge. Tony freely admitted his exposure to toy aisles was limited, but he’d never seen stuff quite like this before.. The small brochure inside the package -- well -- It had sparked his curiosity. Tomorrow, he felt they needed to take an emergency field trip to Toys R Us to investigate. These were not the toys he had as a kid. His toys were more like ponies. Actually, his toys were ponies. And his toys were never allowed in the house..

“A boat!” Christopher told him, wide-eyed. He was awkwardly attaching pieces, using his right hand to stabilize things, his left to make connections, since his left had greater freedom of movement. As any kid would do, he had adapted very quickly to having his dominant hand less functional.

“Hmm.” Shades of Gibbs, it seemed. Tony slunk down on the floor, and began helping. “I think that blue piece needs to go there.” He said, pointing to a piece that was clearly wrong.

“Nuh huh.” Chris told him, pointing to a red-piece. “That one.”

“This one?” He lifted it up, turned it around and pretended to examine it closely.

“Yeah!” Chris bounced on his bottom. Pooh, sitting in his lap, bounced too. It reminded Tony that Tigger and Eeyore were waiting in the dryer.

Following instructions as given by a 3 year old, they assembled several more pieces on what was inevitably going to be a very lopsided boat, before Steve and Manny reappeared.

“I moved my truck to visitors. Is that a problem?” Manny asked anxiously. His Ford F1 was his pride and joy, and pampered like it was some sort of precious jewel. Manny lived in Ohio, and only came into DC a few times a year, usually for Thanksgiving, and again at Memorial Day. The truck, they all understood, wasn’t to get those miles too often.

Tony grinned. “It’ll be towed for sure.” He teased. “Yes, it’s fine. You’re not staying long anyway, don’t you have a party chez Steve’s to attend?”

“Meh.” Steve plopped down on the couch, eyes fixed on Christopher who was studiously ignoring the strangers, and focused on his rather un-water-worthy boat. “Syd can handle it.”

Tony’s nose twitched. Those words “Syd can handle it” got Steve into worlds of trouble, more often than not. Sure, Sydney could handle anything that came her way -- Steve’s idiocy being a good example -- that didn't mean she liked it. “You want to sleep in a tent this late in the year?” He asked, moving the platform the boat was being built on so that Chris didn’t have to move from where he was sitting.

“Hmm?” Steve asked. His head was cocked to the side, eyes alight. And Tony knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the highlights of what Steve and Manny had seen chez DiNozzo would be retold a thousand times tonight.

“Steven… your not-wife is hosting your Thanksgiving party with all your friends and some of your firm partners attending and you’re not there. You will be kicked out of your nice warm bed, just like last time.” Tony warned him.

“She’ll forgive me.” He said. And blinked as if a brilliant idea had struck. “You should come. Bring Christopher. It’ll be fun.”

“He’ll be bored to tears, surrounded by too many people for him to cope with, given his circumstances. And dietarily, Thanksgiving dinner is too rich for him to handle, I suspect. So, no. I’m keeping things quiet for Christopher.” Tony vetoed.

Manny was suspiciously quiet, hovering by the standing lamp. The cellphone he was mucking with didn’t fool Tony any. Sighing silently, and knowing it would fuel Steve’s amusement… he reached out and plucked Chris off the ground, plopping the child in his lap, and out of the direct line of sight of Manny’s camera, his body and face hidden by the cover of Tony’s larger body. “Stop filming him.” He ordered.

“But…”

“No.” Tony’s voice was firm. “Look, I can’t talk right now, but there’s a criminal investigation going on, and we need to keep things quiet.” Well, he couldn’t say much, because while there would be an investigation triggered by CAS, and the abuse made it a criminal investigation, it hadn’t started just yet. Besides, he wouldn’t be part of it, other than a statement on finding Christopher, and other observations, so his comments could only be vague at best. But if it stopped them from posting film or pictures, it was a fabulous excuse.

Both Manny and Steve looked crestfallen. “Oh.” Manny slumped. “So, no OSU…”

“Absolutely not.” Tony barked. Chris stiffened in his lap, and he softened his tone immediately. “Get your kicks out of what you want guys, where I’m concerned, but not on the kid.” He waited until he saw acceptance. “Okay, you saw Christopher, you’ve seen me. The apartment hasn’t burned down, and Christopher isn’t screaming for help. You have a party starting in twenty minutes, Steve-O. And I like Sydney enough to kick you out of my apartment.”

Eyerolls followed, and complaints about non-gratitude for their efforts, but the two left shortly.

Tony sighed in relief, hefting Chris up under his arm like a parcel, but being mindful to keep weight and pressure off the kid’s ribs. “And you,” He decreed, “Must explore your new room!” Christopher was laughing, which was good. They made their way down past his bedroom to his former office, stopping at the bi-fold doors that hid the washer and dryer. He set Chris on the ground, and using a pillowcase that was folded on the prep table beside the stacked machines, he stuffed Tigger and Eeyore in. Then, scooping up Chris again they made their way to the room.

It was small, 8’ x 10’, but the twin bed fit well in here, and Tony was pleased to see that while Steve had set up the metal bed-frame for the Queen, Manny had deftly installed the railings for the twin bed. He dropped Chris on the bed with a little plop, and then tossed the stuffed pillow case on his lap. “Look inside. I think you’ve got some new friends to sleep with tonight.”

He fumbled a little, but the squeal of delight was pure joy. “TIGGER!” He crowed. “EEYORE!” The unfortunate stuffed critters were being squeezed within an inch of the stuffing. “Tank you! Tank you!” Chris chanted, dropping the toys and throwing himself at Tony wrapping arms around a leg and squeezing some more.

Tony laughed, “Silly boy! You’re welcome.” He sat down on the end of the bed, Christopher beside him. “Now, Pooh, Eeyore and Tigger are yours, no matter where you go, what you do, these are yours. Do you understand?”

Christopher nodded, tugging Tigger close for a cuddle.

“So, when Patty picks you up on Monday, Pooh, Eeyore and Tigger go with you. So does all the new clothes, and any other toys we have here, okay? It’s all yours.”

Christopher sombered. “I no stay hewe?” He asked sadly.

“Sorry, buddy. That’s not the way things work. If you had a good Mommy or Daddy, you’d go to them. But, someone hurt you, and while it would help if you could tell us who, we have to believe your Mommy or Daddy is missing. So the good people who look out for little boys and girls are going to be responsible for your care. And they’ll find you a foster home, with a foster mommy and a foster daddy, and maybe other kids to play with.”

“Oh.” The kid slumped.

“That doesn’t mean you won’t see me again.” Tony tried cheering him up. “I’m sure Patty will let me visit.”

The thumb found his way to his mouth. “Nuh huh.” Tony pulled it out. Honestly, he needed to write Maria and Pablo a letter of apology for all the times they had to stop him from ruining his teeth. “Teeth!”

The tragic sigh was worthy of any stage production, and Chris curled into his chest, apparently quite sad by the news this wasn’t his forever-home. For Tony, it sucked to be the bearer of such bad news, but as a kid, all he had wanted was someone to shoot straight with him. He wouldn’t be the hypocrite now and deny another kid the truth.

Some few minutes later found Eeyore, Tigger and Chris joined Pooh on the couch with Tony and Christopher, all set to watch Toy Story. It wasn’t the football Tony planned on watching, but Christopher soon forgot the bad news, caught up in the wonder of the adventure.

And so the day rolled. After the first Toy Story, they started the second, but by a little after 1700 hours, Christopher wilted, and Tony tucked him to bed for an hour nap. It was of course, at this time, that his phone started ringing off the hook.

Patty was the first, checking in on the two, and relieved beyond all measure that everything was okay. The fact was, her checking up on them didn’t dishearten Tony, Patty was the kind of caseworker that checked up on all her foster parents and kids, regardless of how new or experienced they were. It’s what made him most comfortable to work with the older woman. She took her job seriously, and her diligence and attention to the children under her care made her a success.

The second call was Sydney, preemptively apologizing for anything Steve and Manny may have done, and inviting Tony and Christopher for dinner the following night. She swore to keep Steve on his best behavior, but that Tony well knew was beyond anyone’s ability to control. “We’ll see.” Tony offered. “Let’s see how we do tonight.”

The last call was Gibbs.

“Whattaya mean you’re going to be late? What’s CAS got to do with it? You don’t work for CAS, DiNozzo. Or do you need a reminder?” His Boss barked in lieu of greeting. His boss was in a foul temper for some reason.

This couldn’t, and wouldn’t, he knew, end well. “Ahh, well, you know how I volunteer on Thursday nights at the YMCA, Boss? Last night, I found a small child abandoned outside in the cold, with a broken arm. I called Patty.” He replied.

“So do your statement on your own time, and fax it to her from the office on Monday morning.” Gibbs ordered. This was the kind of shit that made Tony think his Boss, two years after the event, didn’t have his memories back. His lack of empathy for a kid was appalling.

“No can do.” Tony countered. “Because, the kid is staying with me until Monday. They had no where to place him last minute before the holiday, and the hospital wouldn’t keep him for a broken arm. So, he’s here.”

“With you? Jesus Christ... That woman's completely lost her mind! You can’t sit a kid in front of a tv for three days, feeding it pizza and thinking that’s all there is to it. I can’t believe Patty’d do something so dumb.” Gibbs barked. "I'll call her now and straighten her out before you ruin the kid for life."

Tony pinched the bridge of his nose, and forced himself not to get angry. “You know, Boss. It’s this kind of crap that makes me wonder why you keep me on your team.” He said softly. “Is it time for me to leave the team, if you think so little of me?”

Gibbs snorted. “Don’t start that crap, DiNozzo. You know what I’m saying. You’ve got no clue what to do with a kid. You ain’t far from being one yourself half the time. And if you’ve been rolling woman after woman through your place for your own private thanks-giving while the kid is there, I’ll kick your ass!”

“Yeah.” Tony answered, his voice hardening. “Because, after five years working with you, I’m still a flake. A piece of shit kept around for entertainment value, but not to be considered a responsible member of your team. I just jump in the sack with every woman whose path I cross, and ignore the baby down the hall. You know what, Agent Gibbs? Don’t worry about me being late on Monday. I’ll make an appointment with the Director and get out of your hair permanently.” Disconnecting the call on a mobile was far less satisfying than slamming down a good ol desk phone. But he had to make to. And he promptly put his phone on silent.

Gibbs was, by all accounts, in Stillwater with his Dad. He couldn’t come storming over to beat down his door willy nilly.

He ignored the next dozen incoming calls, knowing it was Gibbs, ready to declare war; instead Tony dialled the Director’s line to the office. He’d leave a nice tidy message asking for an appointment, and beg for a transfer to anywhere but the MCRT.

To his surprise, he got the big man himself.

“Special Agent DiNozzo, I’m surprised to get a call from you on the first Thanksgiving you’ve had off in four years.” Leon drawled.

“I’m equally surprised to be making a call today,” Tony admitted. “Or that you’d pick up. Honestly sir, shouldn’t you be at home eyeing the pies coming out of the oven? Doing the family thing? I was hoping to leave a quick message for you, for after the weekend. But, since I’ve got you on the line now -- I’d like to make an appointment with you for early next week. I want to transfer off the MCRT.”

The sound of a toothpick snapping was audible through the clear line. “Could you repeat that?” Vance’s tone wasn’t relaxed now, his voice was sharp.

Tony pulled the phone away and looked at it in askance. Why was everyone asking him to repeat himself today? He shook his head, and put the receiver back to his ear. “I’d like to transfer off Gibbs team.” Tony said succinctly. “My contributions are not wanted or needed per the junior agents, and my team leader has no faith in me, or respect for me. They’ve made it abundantly clear that it’s time to leave. If they have so little respect for me then how I can Itrust them to watch my back in the field?

“I see.” Leon’s desk chair betrayed him, it squeaked as he leaned back. “Has there been an incident in the field? If so, I expect you’ve at least reported it Gibbs. But, if this is about how long it took to transfer back from Agent Afloat...”

“No sir.”

Vance sighed, a tired sound, “Domino, then?”

“No sir. Not at all.” Tony countered. “Look, this has been building for awhile. But, today -- I… Okay. Once a week I volunteer with kids at the YMCA. I’ve been doing that for years.”

“I am somewhat aware. Jared has been begging me to go.”

“Right. Well, last night was my night, and after I dismissed the kids, all of whom are pre-teens between nine and twelve years of age, I was alerted that an abandoned child was found outside the building. I contacted Patty Smythe at CAS, and to make a long story short, due the holiday and a shortage of time, the kid is presently under my care until Monday.” Tony took a breath, pulling his thoughts into order. “I notified my Team lead I would be a few minutes late on Monday, as I transition care from myself to CAS, and Agent Gibbs called me just a few minutes ago. He was insulting, and derogatory. And insisted that I could not be responsible enough to look after myself, much less a kid.”

He could hear Vance groan in the background.

“I don’t need that, Director. I realize you don’t like me, and that’s fine, sir. To each their own. As long as my contributions are respected by team, I could deal with not being liked, hell, McGee and David hate my guts most days -- but that’s okay. I'm okay with that. If my team respected me, that was all I needed. But, they don’t. Not any of them, right down to my team lead, or, no offence sir, even you. And that means it’s time for me to move on before I end up dead.”

Vance sighed. “It’s not that I don’t like you, Agent DiNozzo. Your methods are just not my preferred. Despite my personal opinion, having reviewed your work as Agent Afloat, and gone over MCRT reports, there is no doubt to me that you are an effective investigative agent, and an asset to the agency.”

Tony didn’t snort. He almost did, but he didn’t. He had no doubt it was killing the Director to say anything complimentary about him. And, more than complimentary, that was a completely different song from what the Director typically sang, usually in McGee’s ear.

“I trust you’re not looking to leave NCIS?” The Director continued.

“Not at this time.” And that was truth. He didn’t want to change everything. He knew NCIS. Knew the systems, the players. He new the protocols, the rules, and liked having oodles of vacation time on the books. Who knew when he would need them? Besides, he couldn't go to the FBI. Fornel would never drop it.

“Okay. I’m out of office Monday in meetings with SecNav. I can schedule you for 1000 hours, Tuesday.”

“That would be fine, sir” Tony felt some tension drain from his back. Sure, it meant he had to put up with Gibbs on Monday. There would be fireworks, but he could do that. He had done it before.

“Hmm.” Leon’s keyboard was clattering. “Alright, then. 1000 hours.” He paused. “And Agent DiNozzo? I think you’re mis-reading how your team feels about you. But, that’s between you and them, and I can only offer that suggestion.”

The call disconnected, and Tony tossed the phone on the kitchen table, and sank down in a chair. He wished Vance was right. He doubted it.
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