Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: Betaed by Sue M and Nancy
Slowing his car, Tony peered at the mailbox at the end of the driveway. This was the third place he’d checked out.
“Finally!” he muttered to himself on reading the names, ‘Larabee, Wilmington, Tanner, Dunne’. He didn’t know who the other three were, but Larabee was the name he was looking for.
Being forced, and there was no other word for it, by the director to attend an inter-agency convention in, of all places, Denver was, in Tony’s opinion, cruel and unusual punishment. Worse still, he had to go with Gibbs, and Gibbs had been invited to stay with someone he’d once served with. It was a convention, not a conference; a get together, have fun, network, look at some new tech - yadda, yadda, yadda. 'Why wasn’t McGee going?' The only upside would have been the likelihood of some after-convention-hours action in the hotel – but no, he and Gibbs were staying in the middle of nowhere with – no doubt – some grizzled ex-marine. To top it all, they had arranged to fly out on Saturday morning, a full two days before the convention, but then Gibbs got recalled to court.
So here he was driving up the very long driveway of Mr Larabee, who apparently lived with three people called Wilmington, Tanner and Dunne.
“Don’t worry Hank, we’re on our way,” Chris put the phone down.
Inside the ranch house, Buck stood. “What’s up?” he asked, knowing from the tone of his voice that Larabee was worried.
“Hank’s bull has managed to fall into some kind of pit.”
Larabee shrugged. “From the sound of it, it may have been a root cellar or storm shelter, left behind when whatever was above it was demolished. Back in my grandparents' day, the family that owned Hank’s place had at least three different houses on the property. He needs help to get the damn thing out, before the storm hits.”
Heavy thunderstorms were predicted before dawn.
“What about the boys?” Buck asked
“Either we take them with us or let DiNozzo watch them when he gets here.”
Buck Wilmington wasn’t sure about that, they didn’t know DiNozzo. They’d never even met him.
“According to Gibbs, DiNozzo’s his best agent. Believe me, coming from the Gunny, that is like an endorsement from God,” Chris assured.
Just then the doorbell rang.
“No time like the present.”
A whipcord slim, blond man close to DiNozzo's own age and height, and about as far from a grizzled old Marine as it was possible to get, opened the door.
“Agent Larabee?” Tony asked, not really believing this was his host.
“Yeah, and it’s Chris. Come on in.” Larabee held the door open for him.
“That’s Buck.” Larabee pointed to the other man in the room.
“Hi,” Buck greeted.
DiNozzo noted that Buck was of a similar age. His hair was as dark as Larabee’s was fair, but he was a good few inches taller than both of them.
“Sorry to do this to you, but we have a situation.”
While Larabee explained the reason for their imminent departure, Wilmington disappeared. By the time he came back Tony had by some means – he wasn’t sure how – agreed to babysit their two sons.
Somewhere in the distance thunder rumbled.
“I thought the storms weren’t due until around dawn?” Buck asked as he came back to pick up his ‘Drizsa-Bone’ coat from the hooks by the door after telling the boys what was happening.
“As if the weather service ever get things right,” Larabee commented as he picked up his own coat. “We have to go, have fun,” he called to Tony when they left.
Tony stood there staring at the closed door, not quite sure what had just happened. Suddenly he got that feeling, that feeling he was being watched. Spinning around he found a small boy in pyjamas.
“Er, hello?” Tony began, looking at the boy. ‘Vin, Larabee said his name was Vin’. “Vin?”
The boy was giving nothing away. He was a little on the skinny side, but then Larabee was practically two dimensional. His hair was light, but not as blond as his father. The glare was somewhat Gibbs like, which was disconcerting.
“Guess it’s just the two of us for a while, huh?”
“Three,” Vin corrected.
‘Oh crap, yeah, he said ‘boys’, well three means there’s only one more of them’.
Suddenly another boy came flying into the room. He skidded to a stop when he saw Tony, but after running on the hardwood floor and with only socks on his feet, he wasn’t able to stop in time and collided with the tall agent. The boy bounced off his legs to land on his bottom on said hardwood floor. Tony looked down at him, and he looked up at Tony.
“H’lo,” the boy greeted.
Tony gave him a nervous smile. “You okay kid?” he managed to ask.
“Yeah.” The boy clambered to his feet.
Vin he could deal with, he was what? Eight maybe? This one was small, three, not more than four – his worst nightmare. He had dark hair, like his father and the biggest eyes Tony thought he’d ever seen. He was also grinning at him.
“Hi,” Tony finally managed.
“Who are you?” the small, dark one asked.
“He’s Agent DiNozzo. He’s the one babysitting us, ‘till Dad and Buck get back,” Vin supplied, still glaring at Tony.
“I’m JD,” JD announced. “Buck is my Da,” he added.
“Yeah I figured that.”
“What ya packin’ Agent Deenose?” JD asked, looking Tony up and down intently.
“What? Packing?” Tony looked over at Vin, but the older boy just kept ‘Gibbs glaring’ at him, which was getting seriously unnerving. “Um, well I’m here for about a week, so I got some clothes and …” Tony looked down at his case.
“No,” Vin interrupted, "packin’...your gun.”
“My gun!?” Tony spluttered. “What gun?”
“Mr, you’s a Fed’ral agent and that makes you a L.E.O., so you can take your gun on a plane,” JD told him, fixing him with a knowing stare. “Sooooo, what ya packin’?”
No sure how to respond, Tony just told them the truth. “Um, a Sig.”
“Which one?” Vin wanted to know.
Both boys nodded knowingly. It really was surreal to be talking about his gun with two pyjama clad ankle biters. ‘Forget Gibbs, we should get them into interrogation, every suspect would be singing in seconds!’
“That’s a good gun,” Vin commented.
“Err yeah, so what about your father? What does he pack?” Tony responded, not sure where this increasingly bizarre conversation was going.
“Smith and Wesson M&P Pro. He liked his old Sig 226 - from when he was in the Navy - but he says a man has to move with the times; ‘specially in the ATF,” Vin announced matter-of-factly.
“Da’s got a Glock 20,” JD chimed in. “He likes to keep it old school.”
“Right, well, good to know.” ‘God help their fathers if Abby ever meets these two, she’ll never give them up!'
“We got a rule in this house, all guns have to be locked up.” Vin’s announcement cut into his musing.
Tony hadn’t really thought about it, but of course it made sense in a house with small children.
“I don’t have a lock for mine,” he admitted.
“Don’t worry, we got some.”
Vin then led the way to the kitchen. When they arrived, and before Tony could stop him, the older boy dragged a chair across the floor and climbed up on to it, so he could reach the cupboard over the counter.
“Are you supposed to be up there?” Tony asked.
“If they really don’t want us to touch stuff they puts it way up high or in their footlockers,” JD explained. “Da keeps his guns in his footlocker, ‘cept his Winchester 73. That’s in the long gun cab’nit.”
Vin climbed back down clutching a red cable lock.
“Dad keeps a few of these, just in case someone forgets their lock. Cable locks fit everything.” He held it out.
Tony took it, complete with its key in the lock, and looked it over.
“Yous have to clear the breach and take the mag’zine out…” JD began to explain.
“Yeah, thanks kid, I know what to do.”
He reached under his jacket and pulled out his gun. As he did, both boys moved to stand a good four feet behind him.
“I’m not gonna shoot you,” Tony assured, looking over his shoulder
“We know,” Vin told him. “We have to be behind anyone who has a gun.”
“And far 'nuff back that they can’t touch us ifs they turn around,” JD finished.
“Oh, right, well okay.” He fitted the lock and then put the gun on the kitchen counter, before he turned around. “So where do we put it?”
Vin frowned then turned to JD and whispered in his ear. JD responded the same way. Finally both boys looked back at their NCIS minder.
“On the top shelf in the den,” Vin told him.
A few minutes later, and with this task accomplished, Tony turned back to his young charges.
“So just how old are you guys?” he asked.
“I’m five, Vin’s seven,” JD told him. “Did you ever get shot?”
Not used to such random changes of topic, Tony was momentarily caught off guard by this change of subject.
“Um, well yeah, once.”
“Can I see your scar?” JD asked.
“Yeah, where you got shot,” Vin joined in.
“Well, sure, I guess.”
Slipping his jacket off, he pulled up the sleeve of his polo shirt to reveal the thin crescent shaped scar on his bicep, where the bullet had gouged a chunk out of his arm. Well did he remember that day; trapped in a shipping container with Ziva. Both boys moved closer and peered at it.
“Got creased huh?” Vin speculated.
“The trolls shot Vin,” JD told him earnestly. “Da and Chris saved us from the trolls.”
Suddenly the truth of this strange family dawned on Tony. Their physical likeness to their fathers was simply coincidental. They had been rescued and...maybe adopted? After all, one single father raising a child alone was possible, but two best friends - both doing it, and both with young sons, that was too much of a coincidence – Gibbs’ rule 39. These boys were clearly Tanner and Dunne, the third and fourth names on the mailbox.
“Wanna see?” Vin asked, lifting his top to display his much larger, still livid scar.
“Wow, that troll got you good,” Tony admired, congratulating himself that he remembered enough about being a kid, to know that you always wanted your injuries to be admired.
“Doctor Two Eagles says it’ll go white when I get older,” Vin added as he let his top fall back down. “Dad got shot when he was in the Navy, so he knows what it’s like.”
“It’s good to have someone who understands what you’re going through,” Tony agreed. He looked over at JD. “You ever get shot?”
“Nah, I’m only a little kid.” There was a certainty in his voice that was endearing, his belief that he was too small to get hurt like that. ‘God I hope you’re right kid’.
“Da got stabbed,” JD then added. “In his leg, but he don’t have a big scar ‘cause it was only a little knife but he bleeded lots and lots and lots.” Little JD looked down with a big sigh. “He’s okay now.” Tony reckoned he was saying it as much to reassure himself, as inform Tony.
“Buck had to have a transfusion,” Vin added for clarity.
“Oh, well, that must have been scary, huh kid?” Tony sympathised with JD.
Little JD just nodded. There was then a long, awkward silence, until Tony spoke.
“So, can you guys show me where I’m gonna sleep?” The two boys looked at him and frowned. “I’m staying here, while I work with your dads?”
“There’s 'sposed to be two of you,” Vin told him.
“Yeah, my boss was held up. He has to testify in court on Monday.”
The boys whispered to each other again, then Vin turned back to him. “We don’t know which bed you get. There’s the bed in the spare room and the pull out in the den.”
“Uncle Ezra says it’s a torch-er ‘vice,” JD told him matter-of-factly.
“The bed in the den,” Vin clarified.
“It’s hard and lumpy, that’s what he says, but Uncle ‘Siah and Uncle Nathan are really big so he has to sleep on it if they all come here. Uncle ‘Siah and Uncle Nathan have to split the big bed in the spare room.”
“The bed in the spare room is big?” Tony asked feigning innocent curiosity.
“It’s two beds squished together,” JD explained.
Gibbs was used to hard beds, after all Tony had stayed in his house, and so he knew Gibbs slept on the couch, which was narrow and hard.
“I’ll take the spare room, if it’s alright with you guys?” he told his pint sized hosts.
With his bag in the room, the boys showed him the bathroom; assuring him that there was always a light on, so he’d be able to find it in the night. As he looked in, Tony noted he’d have to remind himself not to trip over the plastic steps, which no doubt made it possible for JD to use the facilities and to lift the small toilet seat that lay over the regular sized one.
As they returned to the main room, thunder, still distant, rumbled again. ‘What do I do if they’re afraid of the storm?’
“Dogs!” both boys shouted, running for the door.
“Dogs? Hey kids, boys, wait up,” Tony shouted as he ran after them.
When he got to the door, Vin was already pulling boots on.
“What is going on?” he asked.
“The dogs are out in the run, but we can’t leave them out in a storm,” JD explained.
“I’ll get them!” Vin called, and with that he was out of the door.
JD and Tony followed him, but only as far as the long veranda porch that ran the width of the building.
Tony wasn’t wild about dogs and they definitely didn’t like him, at least that was how it had seemed lately. There had been a time when he loved dogs, had wanted a dog. After, and even before his mother died, he would have done anything to have a dog, a friend, of his own. But it never happened. Once he was sent away to boarding school, he knew it never would.
“My dog’s called Elvis,” JD announced as they stood and waited.
“Oh, right, good name.”
The dog in question then made his appearance. A young golden retriever bounded up the steps and greeted the small boy enthusiastically before turning his attention to Tony. For once a dog seemed to be genuinely happy to see him. It jumped up, front paws on his thighs, tail wagging madly.
“Hi dog,” Tony greeted, giving it a few tentative pats.
“He likes you,” JD announced as he turned back to the house.
Elvis dropped back down and followed his young master inside, just as Vin appeared out of the darkness with a young, husky-type dog beside him.
“So what’s your dog called?”
“Ringo.” Vin replied. Ringo pricked up his ears at the sound of his name, then moved forward to give Tony a good sniff. Finally, Ringo used his nose to nudge Tony’s hand.
“He likes you,” Vin announced as he too went inside.
“Oh, well, good,” Tony muttered as he followed them.
Inside the dogs headed to the thick rug in front of the fireplace, not that there was a fire in the grate on this August night, but it was clearly their customary spot. The boys were standing by the couch looking at him expectantly.
“What happens now?” he asked. The boys were dressed for bed, was he supposed to put them to bed? Read a bedtime story?
“Popcorn and a movie,” JD announced.
“It’s Saturday. We get to stay up and watch a movie,” Vin confirmed.
“Da says you can’t watch a movie without popcorn.”
Both boys then gazed at him with huge pleading eyes.
‘Oh we so need to get these two into interrogation!’
Back in the kitchen the boys directed their temporary and somewhat bemused caretaker to help them fill their special movie night cups. These came with a secure clip-on lid and a long straw.
“Mine is the Superman one and Vin has Batman,” JD explained.
“What do you have in them?” Tony asked.
The boys gave him a ‘duh, what do you think?’ look and then directed him to the carton of chocolate milk in the fridge. Tony took the opportunity to help himself to a can of Coke.
“The beer’s on the top shelf,” Vin explained.
Tony was tempted, but he got the feeling he needed his wits about him.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m fine with Coke,” he told the mini Gibbs.
Vin shrugged. “Okay.”
“Mr Tony?” JD asked, with a slightly worried tone.
“Do you knows how to make the popcorn maker work?”
Vin immediately ran to join JD at the panty door.
“Err…” Tony responded as both boys rooted around in the walk in cupboard. “Why?”
“We don’t got no popcorn, ‘cept the kind you put in the popcorn maker.” JD looked up hopefully at Tony. “Sometimes Da makes fresh popcorn,” he explained.
“Can you?” Vin asked.
“Um… no.” The big eyes got bigger.
‘Okay DiNozzo, don’t panic, think!’ Tony told himself as desperate eyes bore into him from below. He looked around at the available food. This was definitely the food store of an all male house. Eventually, with a little negotiating, all three of them had a bowl of snacks, Cheetos for JD and Chex-Mix for Vin, while Tony had grabbed some honey, mustard and onion pretzel pieces for himself.
As the boys settled in to watch the second movie, which Tony helped them choose, he decided that in the last two hours his whole life had changed, at least in a small way. He had never known how to talk to children, or how to relate to them. Never understood how to work out how much they understood, what it was or wasn’t okay to talk about. Then he came here and, before he even knew what was happening, was thrust into the role of babysitter, not to mention dog sitter. Now that he thought about it, his fear that all dogs hated him was stupid. Logically he knew that some dogs, most dogs, pretty much liked everyone. That brought him back to the boys, who clearly loved their dogs to bits, not to mention the horses they also told him all about. These boys hadn’t waited for him to initiate their relationship, they had jumped right in and accepted him as he was. That right there was amazing; two little kids trusted him to look after them. There hadn’t been time to put on a game face, by the time he’d worked out what was happening, they had already met the real Tony. The real Tony who had lost his mother when he wasn’t much older than they were. He didn’t know where their mothers were, but it was a fair bet they were dead or as good as. Maybe that was part of it? Something they shared, something that had changed them, something they would carry with them, always. Maybe on some unspoken level, they understood him and he them. As he watched them return from the bathroom and feed their respective dogs a treat before the second movie, he gave a rueful smile. Who knew all it would take was a mini Gibbs and a mini McGee – he’d pretty much worked out that JD was one smart kid – to cure his kid phobia?
Some two hours later, with the storm having hit with a vengeance, the boys’ fathers returned. Wet and muddy, they abandoned their boots and coats on the back porch, and cleaned up in the mud room, before padding into the great room. They were not expecting the sight that greeted them. There was DiNozzo on the couch, with a sobbing boy under each arm and dogs sitting worriedly in front of their respective junior master.
“What happened?” Buck asked as he strode over.
JD looked up, backhanding tears and snot from his face. “Lassie came home!” he wailed by way of explanation.
Vin was desperately trying to look as if he hadn’t been crying.
Tony now knew where Vin got his ‘Gibbs glare’ from, as Larabee turned death rays on him.
“Err well, you see I thought, Saturday night, storm outside, that has to be movie and snacks – right?” Larabee was still glaring. “The boys couldn’t agree on which of your movies to watch, as they’ve seen them all, so I opened up Netflix and suggested some alternatives.”
“Such as?” Larabee asked darkly.
“First we watched ‘My Friend Flicka’,” Vin informed his father, emotion still very evident in his voice.
“Flicka didn’t die!” JD sobbed, as Buck, who could stand it no more, reached over and lifted his son into his arms.
“Then we watched Lassie Come Home,” Vin finished.
“So you didn’t like the movies?” Buck asked.
“They’s the best movies ever!” JD explained though his tears.
Buck's face broke into a grin. “I’d never have guessed.”
“Tomorrow we’re gonna watch Greyfriars Bobby and Born Free,” JD informed his father, now he was more composed.
“Are we indeed?” Chris glared at Tony.
“Please Dad, can we?” Vin turned the ‘big eyes’ on his father.
“Only if it's okay with you guys,” Tony added.
Chris looked over at Buck, who just shrugged. “Guess I’d best see how many boxes of Kleenex we have.”
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Smith and Wesson M&P Pro
Sig P226 Navy
Lassie Come Home
My Friend Flicka