Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy
Jethro grunted impatiently as the doorbell rang again. Tossing down the wood plane he’d been using, he took the steps from the basement two at a time then yanked the front door open with little ceremony when he reached it.
Tony stood there and Jethro’s eyes widened in disbelief. His mind flashed back to the last time he’d opened the door and found Tony standing there, a year or more ago. Then, Tony had been confident, sure, cocky even. This Tony looked tired and worn, beaten down almost. The casually smart clothes were gone, replaced with worn jeans and a ratty-looking t-shirt, battered sneakers in place of the Italian leather shoes Tony liked to wear. That wasn’t the only difference.
There was a small pink bundle in Tony’s arms, a tiny sleeping face peeking out above the soft blanket. As Jethro watched, the little face scrunched and the baby started to cry.
Tony lifted his hand and patted the tiny back rhythmically, the gold wedding band on his finger glinting in the early afternoon sunlight. “Sssshhh,” he whispered. “Go to sleep.” Lifting his gaze from his charge, he looked at Jethro steadily. “Hi, Boss.”
Jethro found his eyes fixed on the wedding ring. Then he raised his eyes to Tony’s and stepped back and slammed the door.
Tony flinched as the door slammed shut and clasped his precious burden even more closely to his chest. Emmy wailed loudly and he pulled the blanket up around her then turned and stumbled down the porch steps, castigating himself as he went for even thinking he could come here for help. Jethro had every reason to be angry. He’d abandoned him, after all. Walked away from the only person he’d ever really loved, the one person he knew loved him without reservation. He’d never meant to stay away but Jeanne’s illness had dragged on and on, as much a death sentence for him or at least for his old life as it had been literally for her. Then after Emmy’s birth, all his time, all his thoughts had been taken up with the knowledge that he was going to lose her too, that she’d been born only to die and he’d vowed to spend all his time, his energy, his money on making what time she had as good as it could be.
Reaching his dilapidated, rusty car, he put Emmy into the car seat and covered her warmly, soothing her with practiced ease. He climbed into the front seat and started the engine but then just found himself sitting there, his gaze still focused on the closed door of the house where he’d hoped to find… what? Shelter, sustenance, friendship, a lost love? Help, he supposed. He’d always been defiantly independent, vowing he’d make do on what he had saved from his time with NCIS once he wasn’t able to work.
The problem was the money hadn’t lasted as long as he’d thought it would. Emmy’s medications were expensive as were the blood tests that she had to have every month. Then there were the infections she was so prone to, which meant more money spent on antibiotics and equipment and even less time for him to look for work. Not that there was a lot of that around either. Not many police departments were looking to take on a cop who needed to spend more time at home with his dying child than he did at his desk or on the streets chasing down bad guys. He’d managed to find casual work from time to time, mostly laboring and bar work but just when he thought he was getting on his feet again, Emmy would get sick and the babysitter would quit and he’d be right back where he started again.
He jumped as the car door was yanked open and Jethro leaned in.
“Get your ass in the house, DiNozzo,” Jethro snapped and then he turned and walked back up the driveway and into the house, leaving the door open behind him.
Jethro had stood for long minutes watching through the window as Tony put the baby in the car and then climbed in himself. Even without his glasses on, he could see the way Tony fussed over the child, snuggling the blanket up close around the small head then patting rhythmically till the crying stopped. He’d expected him to drive away then but instead Tony just sat, his gaze focused on the front door as if lost in thought.
Jethro felt more than a little lost himself. He’d given up on Tony ever coming back a few months ago; recognizing that if Tony had wanted to, nothing would have kept him away. The knowledge that Tony had gone to be with Jeanne still rankled and the evidence of their union glinting so brightly on Tony’s finger had sent a chill stab right through Jethro’s heart. He’d thought he and Tony had made it work, that they’d be together forever. Then Jeanne had called, wanting Tony to go visit her in California and Tony had gone, telling Gibbs it’d only be for a few days. A week had gone by then two and then Tony had sent his resignation papers inside a letter to Jethro, telling his lover it was over between them and asking Jethro not to come looking for him, that he and Jeanne were moving away and trying to start over.
Jethro had done what Tony wanted, walling himself off from further pain by burying himself in his work. Tony’s replacement was as different from Tony as night from day, a young serious-minded gung-ho agent named Mitch Romero. He was good at his job and looked different enough from Tony that Gibbs no longer felt a pang whenever he looked over at what used to be Tony’s desk.
The rest of his team had asked about Tony of course but over time, as he rebuffed their questions more and more, they gave up and took Romero under their wings, making him feel part of the team. Even Abby, strong as her affection for Tony had been, seemed to know not to push, that to do so was just twisting the knife in Jethro’s heart deeper and deeper. Jethro had managed to numb that pain… until tonight when Tony had shown up on his doorstep.
He’d known he wouldn’t leave them out there, of course. Had known it the minute he’d slammed the door in Tony’s face. It had been shock, a knee-jerk reaction, and one he knew he had to reverse. Sighing, he went out to the car, opened the door and ordered Tony inside.
Tony entered the house hesitantly, the baby still in the car seat carrier. He hadn’t wanted to waken her by taking her out. He bent down and put the carrier on the living room floor then let the diaper bag he had slung over his shoulder slide down his arm to sit next to it.
Jethro was standing in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen, a shuttered look on his face. “You want coffee or beer, DiNozzo?” he asked flatly.
“Coffee, thanks. It’s cold out.” Tony rubbed his hands together as if to prove his statement true. “Look, um, I know it’s a shock, me turning up like this with Emmy,” he nodded at the baby carrier, “but I just-“
“Save it for later, DiNozzo,” Jethro said, turning to walk into the kitchen, and Tony could only give silent thanks that there might yet be a later, a time when he could explain, could somehow find it in himself to ask for the help Emmy needed. He couldn’t bring himself to ask anything for himself. He’d lost that right the day he’d turned his back on Jethro and the life they should have shared together.
Jethro came back out a few minutes later, a steaming mug in each hand. “Sit,” he ordered and Tony did, after brushing the seat of his jeans off with his hands and hoping he didn’t smell as bad as he thought he did.
“Drink up and then go take a shower,” Jethro said, dispelling that hope. “Some of your clothes are still upstairs.”
That warmed Tony almost as much as the coffee did, that Jethro hadn’t just tossed all the remnants of his former life out. It made him feel like a heel too, not that he needed much help in that department. He’d never forgiven himself for what he’d done and now, seeing Jethro back to the man he’d been before they fell in love – stern, controlled, humorless – Tony found room to hate himself even more.
Jethro didn’t say anything else and Tony found the silence unnerving, almost wishing Emmy would wake up, if only to fill the soundless room with something. He downed his coffee then stood to pick up the carrier.
“Leave it there, DiNozzo, unless you’re planning on showering the kid too. She looks a little young for that.”
“Um, what if she wakes up?” Tony asked nervously, his hand still hovering over the sleeping baby.
“Then I’ll come haul you out of the shower,” Gibbs said shortly as he gathered up the mugs and went back out to the kitchen. “Go! You smell like you haven’t showered in days.”
“I haven’t. Not too many rest stops between here and California with showers.”
“There are motels,” Gibbs said but then he just shrugged and pointed up the hallway. “Go. You know where everything is. Nothing’s changed around here.”
‘Except you’ Tony thought sadly. He bit down on his lip to stop the emotion turning into actual tears then headed up the hallway to the bathroom.
He detoured into the master bedroom to get some clean clothes, hesitating for a moment before crossing the threshold. Jethro had been right. The room didn’t look any different in essence. Only certain things pointed to the barrenness of a room that had once been full of love and laughter and passion. There were still two sets of pillows on the bed but only one side of the bed looked slept in. Tony couldn’t help a perverse twinge of pleasure at that. Much as he hated the thought of Jethro being lonely, he decided he hated more the idea that he might have found someone else to fill that empty space in what used to be their bed.
Shaking off the intense feelings for now, ever aware that he had to hurry in case Emmy awoke, he crossed quickly to the dresser and pulled out underwear and socks. Over at the walk in closet, he ignored the elegant trousers and silk shirts he would once have chosen automatically, instead grabbing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt that were at least less threadbare than the ones he currently wore. Shivering a little still, he pulled out a sweater from the bottom of the closet. It was one of the last things Jethro had bought him, a Christmas gift just before he’d left, and he almost tossed it back in, then shrugged and took it with him anyway. It was just a thing and had no more power to hurt him than anything else he’d found in this room tonight. Just being in this house brought memories aplenty. He decided he’d better get used to dealing with them.
He bundled the clothes under his arm then walked through to the en suite, instinctively gathering up a large bath towel from the hamper on his way through. The sight of his shower gel and shampoo still sitting in the caddy as he opened the door to turn on the water took him aback but he steeled himself, stripped off and climbed in under the welcome spray.
Much as he would have liked to revel in the feeling of the hot water sluicing over his skin, washing away the accumulated grime of the last few days travelling, as well as the aching muscles from sitting for too many hours behind the wheel of the car, he knew he couldn’t. He showered as efficiently and quickly as possibly, his hearing constantly alert for the sound of crying from the living room. It was only when he turned the water off and stepped out of the shower alcove that he heard it though. With a soft curse he dried himself off haphazardly, then still more or less damp, pulled on his clothes and left the bathroom at a run, his t-shirt sticking uncomfortably to his back and chest.
What he saw when he got there pulled him up short. Jethro sat in the big old rocking chair, Emmy cradled surely in his arms. As Tony watched, Jethro’s big hand cupped Emmy’s tiny cheek and he bent and murmured something to her.
Emmy wasn’t crying anymore, Tony realized. She was giving Jethro a full on Emmy special – a wide mouthed grin. A small hand patted at Jethro’s face and he grasped it gently and blew bubbles on the palm and Emmy laughed out loud.
“Sorry if she disturbed you,” Tony managed to say as he walked over to the rocking chair and held out his hands for the baby.
Jethro waved him off. “Go sit,” he said. “She’s fine.” He waited till Tony was sitting on the couch opposite then gave him a long, steady look and said, “So tell me what happened.”
After The Storm 2
This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived
As freezing persons recollect
First chill, then stupor, then
The letting go.
Tony took a deep breath and sat forward on the edge of the sofa, as if by keeping himself upright and steady, he could stop himself from crumbling into a million overwrought pieces. “Emmy’s sick,” he said.
“What’s wrong with her?” Jethro peered down at the baby and Tony thought he saw a shadow of a smile cross his face. “She looks healthy enough.”
“She’s got AIDS. Full-blown, not just HIV.” Tony said the words softly, moved forward on the seat a little, prepared to grab Emmy from Jethro’s arms if he showed any sign of disgust or fear. AIDS even in this day and age *was* still scary to most people. But when Jethro looked up all Tony could see in his eyes was sadness. “She’s going through a good stage right now. Her T cells are up further than they’ve ever been since she was diagnosed. The meds are working…”
“But?” Jethro put in. “If the medication is working why on earth would you drive a baby across the States all the way back here? And where’s her mother? Why isn’t she with you?” Jethro stopped suddenly then lowered his head to look at Emmy again. “Jeanne’s dead.”
“Yeah.” Tony stood up and took Emmy from him. She was starting to squirm and suck on her fingers, which he knew meant she was hungry. “I need to feed her first.” Then I’ll explain everything.”
Jethro nodded, stood and walked across to the diaper bag still sitting where Tony had left it. He unzipped it and pulled out the can of formula and a bottle then walked through to the kitchen.
“Four scoops,” Tony called out. “There should be just enough left for that. Oh, and the water has to be boiled and then cooled-“
“I know, Tony,” Jethro said mildly, poking his head back into the living room. “Why don’t you change her diaper while you’re waiting? That way you won’t have to wake her up after she’s finished eating.”
“Right, good idea.”
“You can’t put her in there to sleep,” Jethro observed, looking the baby carrier over with a critical eye. He scooped Emmy up from where she’d fallen asleep on Tony’s lap after finishing her bottle and walked up the hallway, motioning for Tony to follow him. “I take it she’s not crawling yet?”
“No.” Tony stood behind him in the bedroom. “She rolls over though so I don’t think I should put her on the bed.”
“Get the camp bed mattress down from the top shelf. We’ll put her on that out in the living room so you’ll hear if she wakes up.”
“Okay.” Tony grabbed the mattress and unrolled it as they walked back to the living room. Some part of him was grateful for having to be caught up in the minutiae of his child’s caregiving. Finding her a safe place to sleep could serve the dual purpose of putting off the conversation he was dreading.
Jethro was efficient though and they had Emmy settled and still sleeping in the space of a few minutes. Tony stood up and watched as Jethro placed the pink blanket over her and tucked it under her body with precise movements of his fingers.
“Let’s talk,” Jethro said as he stood up and Tony walked slowly back to his seat on the sofa and sat again, stiffly, suddenly wishing he’d stayed in California, wanting to be anywhere but here. He should have written first, picked up a phone and dropped a dime-
“Get on with it, DiNozzo. I’m not getting any younger.”
Jethro’s voice was all business again and Tony heaved in a breath then let it out slowly. “I meant to come back,” he said. “When I got there Jeanne told me she was sick and that she was pregnant. She had no one else. Her parents were both gone, she’d had to give up her job.”
“So you married her, didn’t say a word to me-“
“Jethro, I couldn’t. She was still hiding out, still terrified she’d be tracked down. Let’s face it, she had no reason to trust NCIS or the FBI.” Tony leaned forward and stared Gibbs down. “*I* did that to her. If not for me, she wouldn’t have been hiding out, wouldn’t have any knowledge of what her father was, wouldn’t have lost her career.”
“How’d she get AIDS?” Jethro asked, dropping his gaze away to look over at Emmy, who slumbered peacefully on, blissfully unaware of the rising tension in the room.
“She said it was from some guy she’d known before she met me.” Tony sighed and ran a hand over his face. “She said she was scared to tell me before, that it was only when she found out about the baby that she felt she had no choice. She didn’t want Emmy raised by strangers in some orphanage or foster home somewhere.” He grinned sardonically. “She told me I was the only person she could trust. Ironic if you think about it.”
“So she slept with you while she had AIDS,” Jethro snapped out, his voice cold. “Nice. I guess I should get tested-“
“You can but you don’t need to. I’m clean. I got tested straightaway.”
Jethro raised an eyebrow at that. “Pretty unusual, isn’t it?”
“We always used protection,” Tony said then waited for the inevitable.
“Then how could you-“
“Have fathered Emmy? I didn’t. Emmy’s biological father had AIDS too. He died before Jeanne. I adopted Emmy when she was born with Jeanne’s consent. She’s as much mine as if I had fathered her.”
“You didn’t think any of this was important enough to tell me about?” Jethro stood up and paced, hands fisted at his sides.
“I couldn’t. I promised her. What she wanted me to do seemed nothing compared to what I’d put her through.” Tony stood up. “I shouldn’t have come back.” He moved towards the mattress but Jethro blocked his way.
“You’re not running out again, Tony,” Jethro said. “Tell me all of it. You owe me that much.”
It was true, Tony knew. That was the problem. He seemed to owe everyone so much – Jeanne and Jethro, all the friends he’d left behind. Suddenly he felt unbelievably weary. He walked back to the couch and sat down, slumping back against the cushions. “She asked if I’d marry her so the baby would have a proper name, said she could die in peace knowing I’d be there for her. I agreed. We got married as soon as we could. Even then I thought I could come back but then Jeanne got sick really fast and then Emmy came and she was already sick. I had to just be there. There wasn’t time for anything else, for anyone else. Not for me, not for you. Just for them.” He was vaguely aware of the seat dipping next to him then Jethro’s arm was around his shoulders, pulling him in close.
“Slow down, Tony, take it easy.”
Tony clenched his teeth down on his bottom lip and took a deep shuddering breath. He straightened and pulled away from Jethro. “I’m okay now,” he murmured. “Sorry.”
Jethro let him go. “You’re exhausted. You should get some sleep before the kid wakes up.”
“Can’t. Too much to do. Look, Jethro, I’m broke. Emmy needs stuff – formula, diapers, medicine, and I’m tapped out. Cost me all I had just to get back here. If you could give me a job-“
“I can’t do that. You’re in no condition to be back at NCIS. And who’s going to look after her while you’re working?” Jethro sighed and stood up. “Listen, let me help you out with a loan for a while, just till you get something sorted out. I’ll help you find somewhere to stay…”
The rest of the words washed over Tony as he focused in on that. Somewhere to stay. Had he really believed he could just walk back in and set up house again with Jethro as if nothing had ever happened? Deep down he thought he had, stupidly believing that if he could just explain it all…
Tony blinked and found Jethro looking worriedly at him, crouched in front of him only inches away. “We’ll be fine. If you could maybe loan me enough just to get some formula and diapers for tonight, we’ll get out of your hair.”
“Whatever you need. I’ll write you a check.” Jethro grabbed at his arm as he started to walk away. “Not tonight though. Tonight you stay here. Get some sleep. We’ll work the rest of it out in the morning.”
“Thanks.” Tony made it abrupt, as if that was all he’d wanted all along. He yawned and rubbed at his neck. “I can crash here on the couch. That way I’ll hear her if she wakes up.”
Jethro shook his head then gripped his shoulder and turned him around. “Bedroom. I won’t be sleeping for a while yet. I’ll keep an ear out for her, wake you if she does.”
Suddenly sleep seemed overwhelmingly alluring and Tony let himself be pushed along the hallway. He almost fell onto the bed, his eyes closing immediately. The last thing he was aware of was a blanket being pulled up over his shoulders.
Jethro stood and watched for a moment as Tony settled into sleep. How many nights had he wanted nothing more than to wake up and find him there, next to him, where he was supposed to be?
Tony shivered and Jethro frowned as he placed a hand on his forehead. Tony felt warm and his skin was sweaty. Tony looked older, he decided, worn and tired, even asleep. Without consciously thinking about it he bent and placed a kiss on his hair.
He wandered back out to the living room and leaned down over the baby. She didn’t look like Tony but then Jethro supposed people probably thought Kelly didn’t look like him either when she was this small. He tugged a loose end of the blanket up then froze as Emmy stirred but she just put one small thumb in her mouth and sucked on it gently and he relaxed.
He detoured to the kitchen and pulled down the bottle of bourbon from above the stove, pouring himself a healthy shot into a tumbler and downing half of it in a gulp. Then he picked up the phone and pressed speed dial 3. “Hey, Ducky,” he said when it was picked up. “Tony’s back. Can you come out here?” He hung up with no further explanation, knowing his old friend would come through for him. He swigged down the rest of the bourbon and poured himself a smaller shot then went outside to sit on the front porch and wait.
“Jethro, sorry to keep you waiting. I had to wait till the sitter got there to keep an eye on Mother.” Ducky sighed dramatically as he walked up the porch steps and placed his bag on the decking at his feet. “Can’t get reliable help these days.”
“Hey, Duck,” Jethro said quickly as much as a way to stop Ducky going off into one of his rambling tales as anything else. Something was niggling at his mind about Tony and he wouldn’t be able to relax until he knew it was nothing to worry about.
Ducky smiled at him and patted his shoulder. “So where is he? I hope he had a good excuse for leaving us all worrying about him like that.”
Jethro stood and stretched the kinks out of his aching back. “You could say that,” he replied, leading the way inside. “I’ll explain in a minute.”
He heard Ducky close the door behind them and almost felt the moment when he spotted the sleeping baby on the floor.
“Dear Lord,” Ducky said, “is that what I think it is?”
“If you think it’s a baby then yeah,” Jethro drawled, ushering Ducky around Emmy and over into the kitchen where they could talk without waking her.
“Jethro? What on earth is going on? When you said Tony was back I assumed he’d simply come to his senses and come home but that child on the floor in there tells me it’s much more complicated than that. I’m assuming she belongs to Tony?”
“Yep. Pull up a pew, Ducky, and I’ll fill you in.” Jethro looked at the bourbon bottle and regretfully poured a glass for Ducky, contenting himself with a bottle of water from the fridge. He had the feeling, if his memories of Kelly’s infant days were correct, that he wouldn’t appreciate drinking any more tonight if Emmy decided to make her presence known.
Ducky frowned at him over the rim of the glass but thankfully didn’t say anything, just gave him a wave with his other hand to start talking.
“Poor Anthony,” Ducky said as he held his glass out for a refill when Jethro finished talking. “The poor boy must have felt he was between a rock and a hard place. Feeling he had to be there for this ailing woman and then for the child yet wanting to come home to you.”
“I don’t know, Duck,” Jethro said, filling his glass quarter-full. “I have to admit I’ve been wondering if this whole thing with Jeanne wasn’t just the excuse Tony needed to get away from me. Think about it, how surprised were you when you found out we were together?” He smiled wryly. “Gotta admit he surprised the hell out of me the first night I came onto him. I had no idea he was gay or bi before that. Hell, I wouldn’t have even done what I did that night if I hadn’t been drunker than a skunk.”
“Oh yes, you would have, eventually,” Ducky replied with a sly grin. “You and Anthony had been dancing around each other ever since you met. If an old bird like I could see it, I’m sure you did too.”
“Maybe,” Jethro allowed with a small answering smile.
“So where is our young friend? Not hiding out afraid to see me, I hope?”
“He’s asleep. Ducky, he looks exhausted and it feels like he’s running a fever. Will you check him over?”
“Of course, if he’ll allow me to.” Ducky rose to his feet and headed out of the kitchen. “I take it he’s in the bedroom,” he called over his shoulder.
Jethro stayed where he was and gave another longing look at the bourbon then sourly he picked it up and pushed it up on top of the fridge as far back as it would go. No way was he waking up to a screaming baby with a hangover on board.
“Jethro? Could you come here for a moment?”
When he got to the bedroom, Ducky was peering at the ear thermometer in his hand. “His temperature is rather high, I’m afraid. And he didn’t even stir when I put this in his ear.” He bent over Tony and gave his shoulder a shake. “Tony, time to wake up. That’s it. Nice and slowly.”
Jethro watched as Tony blinked up at Ducky, looking confused. “Ducky?” he said as he pushed himself up in the bed.
“It’s good to see you, dear boy, though I would have preferred it to have been under better circumstances and at least a year ago,” Ducky murmured, pushing Tony back as he tried to sit up.
“Is Emmy okay?” Tony turned panicked eyes to Jethro.
“She’s fine, DiNozzo, but apparently you’re not,” Jethro replied not unkindly. He walked across to the bed and brushed a hand across Tony’s forehead. “He’s burning up. He was okay a couple of hours ago.”
“Well, right now he has a temp of 102 degrees,” Ducky said. “We need to get an antipyretic into him and I’ll take some blood and send it off to the lab. Tony, have you been feeling ill?”
“I thought it was just from the travelling. I’ve been so tired,” Tony replied, closing his eyes. “I can’t be sick. Emmy-“
“We’ll worry about Emmy,” Jethro said gruffly. “You just do everything Ducky says.”
“You don’t understand,” Tony said, opening eyes that looked bloodshot and tired. “If I caught something I could have already given it to her. I need to get her to a hospital, have her checked out.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Ducky said soothingly. “I have a friend at the Children’s Hospital. I’m sure he won’t mind making a house call. He owes me a favor. In medical school, you see, the silly boy used to go out partying just before finals. Well, being the kind soul I am I used to tutor him and he’s actually become one of the top pediatricians in the country. He’s-“
“Right. I’ll just go and call him. Anthony, try not to worry too much. You may just have a mild virus or be run down.” Ducky gave Tony’s shoulder a comforting pat. “Get some rest for a while. Jethro, could you show me where the telephone is again? Senility, you know?”
Puzzled, Jethro followed Ducky from the room, worry gnawing at him. “What’s going on, Ducky? You’ve been here dozens of times. You know where everything in this house is.”
Ducky led him into the kitchen and turned to face him. “I didn’t want to mention this in front of Tony but even if the child is fine, I’m afraid he won’t be able to care for her till he’s better. We may have no choice but to call Social Services and find some kind foster parents to look after her till this emergency is over.”
“No way!” The voice that came from behind Jethro was panicked sounding and he turned quickly to see Tony standing shakily in the doorway, one hand pressed against the wall as if to hold himself up. Tony was paler than ever, twin spots of fever-bright red the only color in his face. “You put her in the system, I’ll never get her back. I told you that’s why I adopted her. To keep her out of that.”
He turned and pushed off the wall, heading for the living room, where he bent and picked Emmy up from the floor. The baby stirred in his arms then wailed loudly and Jethro crossed over to them in a few quick steps as Tony began to walk towards the front door. He got both arms around him from behind and helped him support the now screaming bundle, while stopping him from moving forward any further.
“Tony, stop! You can’t look after her in your condition. You want her to get sick if she’s not already?” He gave Tony a small shake and then bent his head close so he could whisper into Tony’s ear. “She’s staying here, all right? No foster home, I promise you. I’ll take care of her.” He felt Tony shudder within his arms then turned his head to look at Ducky. “Okay?”
Ducky nodded. “Whatever you say, Jethro. I’ll call my friend, shall I? I suggest you get Tony back to bed so you can take care of the little one’s needs.”
Tony turned, his eyes bright with unshed tears, and handed Emmy over to Jethro then pulled away and walked unsteadily back up the hallway and into the bedroom.
After The Storm part 3
If you judge people,
you have no time to love them.
- Mother Teresa
Jethro loved this time of day. The sun just barely rising, the cool chill of nighttime still raising goose bumps on his uncovered arms. The time of day that made you think nothing could go wrong today, when you were totally alone as if you were the only person awake on earth. He sipped slowly at his coffee, savoring every drop. He wondered what it was about this first cup, the one that got him up in the morning, which made it taste better than all the myriad cups to come after. Shrugging, he consigned that question to one of the mysteries of life, drank the last of it in a pleasurable gulp then stood and went indoors.
Peeking cautiously into the living room he saw that Emmy was still asleep and he heaved an inaudible sigh of relief. Ducky’s pediatrician friend had pronounced her reasonably healthy despite her chronic condition and the long cross-country trip she’d undertaken. He’d organized repeats of the medication she was on and taken blood for lab testing to be on the safe side.
Emmy had proved herself a poor night time sleeper though, waking every two or three hours for a bottle, replacement of her pacifier, a diaper change, and the last time just apparently for a cuddle. Jethro had given it willingly, sitting up on the side of the sofa, rocking her in his arms, his own eyes drooped half-closed, alert for signs that Tony had awoken. Only when he’d heard no stirring from the bedroom, no fever-drunk scuffle of feet down the hallway, did he give in to Emmy’s continued grizzling and sing to her… softly. She’d blinked at him as if in surprise when he’d started then suckled with renewed intent on her pacifier and closed her eyes and gone to sleep. He’d wondered if it was as much a way to stop him singing as anything else.
He wandered down to the bedroom. Tony was sprawled bonelessly on the mattress, the sheet pushed down to his waist, the exposed expanse of his skin beaded with sweat. Jethro thought about getting a bowl and facecloth and at least sponging him down then worried he’d get started and the baby would wake up. He was beginning to think he should have taken Ducky up on his offer to stay and help but Ducky’s mother was ailing and Jethro knew his friend needed to get home. He’d given Jethro more meds for Tony and said he’d call with the blood test results as soon as he had them.
The doorbell rang and Jethro turned and sprinted for the front door, wanting to stop whomever it was from ringing again and waking Emmy. Reaching it, he pulled it open and found McGee, Abby, and Ziva standing on the porch. “What are you doing here?” he asked abruptly, putting a finger to his lips to hush them as he let them inside.
“We came to help you,” Abby whispered, looking over at Emmy as she walked past Gibbs. “Oh, how adorable. Can I look at her?”
“Just don’t wake her up,” Gibbs warned, ushering McGee and Ziva into the kitchen. “So,” he turned and leaned up against the counter. “Don’t you people have cases to solve? Just because I took a leave of absence doesn’t mean you three can’t be working.”
“The Director gave us the day off,” McGee explained with a grin. “Said he could see he wasn’t going to get anything useful out of us until we saw Tony.”
“He was right,” Ziva stated matter-of-factly. “Where is Tony?”
“Asleep, and no, you can’t go look at him, David. We still don’t know if he’s contagious or not.”
“So, what do you want us to do?” McGee asked. “Ducky said you’d have your hands full looking after Tony and the baby…”
A wail from the living room heralded Emmy’s awakening and Gibbs sighed. “If you poked her…” he called to Abby.
“Of course I didn’t poke her.” Abby walked into the kitchen cradling Emmy against her shoulder. “She smells awful though.”
“Good, you three can change her diaper. Surely between the three of you, you can work out how to do that,” Gibbs replied, heading out the door and up the hallway.
“Diaper?” he heard Ziva say in a shocked voice. He grinned and walked into the bedroom and closed the door.
Tony was still asleep and Jethro walked through to the en suite and grabbed a damp washcloth and a towel. Back beside the bed, he just stood looking down at Tony for a long moment then he sat down on the side of the bed and began wiping the damp cloth down his arms and then his chest. Tony barely stirred as he worked but his skin definitely felt cooler by the time Jethro was finished. He took the towels back to the bathroom and tossed them in the hamper then refilled the glass from the bedside table with water from the bathroom faucet and grabbed two Tylenol tablets from the medicine cupboard above the sink.
He sat back on the edge of the bed and shook Tony’s shoulder gently. “Hey, DiNozzo, rise and shine. Time for your pills.”
Tony woke slowly, blinking several times as if his eyes were too heavy with sleep to stay open. Eventually though he managed to get himself up on his elbows and reached out a hand for the pills. Jethro tipped them into his palm then handed over the water once he’d put them in his mouth.
Pills swallowed, Tony slumped back on the pillows. He still looked exhausted, depleted of energy. “Emmy?”
“Fine. Abby, Tim, and Ziva came by. They’re watching her for a while.”
Tony flinched. “I don’t want to see them-“
“You don’t have to,” Jethro soothed. “They want to see you but I’ll keep them at bay till you’re ready.”
Tony nodded and rolled to his side, closing his eyes.
Without being consciously aware of what he was doing, Jethro found himself laying down next to him, on his side, one arm reaching out to wrap around Tony’s shoulder and pull him forward. After a moment’s hesitation, Tony came willingly, resting his head beneath Jethro’s chin. “God, I missed you,” Jethro whispered, emotion burning his eyes and roughening his voice.
“I’m sorry,” Tony murmured back. “I’m sorry.”
A gentle tap at the door roused Jethro sometime later and he rolled to his back, realizing he’d fallen asleep with Tony in his arms. Tony grumbled a little then snuffled and rested his head on Jethro’s chest, one arm stretching out across his waist as if to keep Jethro in place.
The door edged open and Tim’s face peeked in. “Sorry, Boss,” he said quietly, his face flushing red. “Um, Ducky’s on the phone.”
Jethro nodded and edged out from under Tony who opened his eyes. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing. Gotta take a call,” Jethro said, patting his shoulder as he sat up. “You feeling any better?”
Tony nodded but Jethro could still see the dark lines that told of exhaustion under his eyes. “I could get up,” Tony added.
“No way. I’ll get you something light to eat. If you can keep it down then we’ll think about letting you up for a while.”
McGee had backed out of the doorway and Jethro heard the door snick shut.
“I’m sorry, Jethro,” Tony murmured.
Jethro tapped the back of his head lightly. “No more apologies. Coming here was the right thing to do. It’s what you should have done right at the start after Jeanne died.”
Tony chewed on his lip and wiped a hand over his eyes. “Go. Get your call before they hang up. If it’s Ducky, tell him I really need to see Emmy if he thinks it’s safe.”
McGee was hovering outside the door and gave Jethro a nervous smile as he passed. “Um, maybe I could go visit with Tony for a while, Boss?”
“He’s not really up to visitors just yet, Tim. You sick of babysitting already?”
McGee shrugged. “Hey, she’s really cute but I don’t know much about kids. Never really known any.”
“You were a kid once, weren’t you?” Jethro asked. “You must have known kids then. What about your sister? She was a baby once.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t actually have to do anything with her. As a matter of fact, I avoided her as much as possible. That’s why I got to know so much about computers. I used to lock myself in my room to hide from her.” Tim confided. “Sorry, Boss. Hey, if you have anything you want done to your computer I’m your man but I think I’ll leave the baby care to Abby and Ziva.”
Jethro stopped for a minute. “Actually there is something you can do, McGee. Tony’s getting antsy. He needs something to keep him busy. Grab my laptop and take it into him for me, will you? Download a game or something for him. That movie game he used to play at work, maybe, if you can find it.”
McGee nodded eagerly. “Sure, Boss, be glad to.”
Out in the living room, Ziva held Emmy stiffly on her knees while she grinned determinedly into the baby’s face. “She’s smiling… isn’t she?” she asked and Abby leaned around her for a closer look.
“Not sure. Could be gas. I think it’s the way you’re holding her. She’s not made of plastic, Ziva. Babies are made for cuddling. Here, let me show you.”
“Fine. You are obviously the expert.” Ziva handed Emmy over and Gibbs suppressed a grin as she headed for the front door and out onto the porch, closing the door behind her.
“Cut David some slack, Abbs,” he said as he walked into the kitchen. “She’s more used to handling a gun than a baby.”
“I know, I know.” Abby smiled ruefully at him. “Hey, maybe we could take Emmy for a walk outside, let her get some sunshine. It’s warming up out there.”
“Sure, I guess. Just bundle her up well. She’s been sick recently.” Gibbs still wasn’t sure how much information Tony wanted him to divulge. Better to err on the side of caution, he decided as he picked up the phone. “Ducky?”
“Good news, Jethro,” Ducky replied without preamble. “Tony is simply poorly nourished and exhausted. His blood work is deplorable for a man of his age and former fitness but there’s no sign of anything more worrying.”
Jethro’s legs felt as if they wobbled momentarily before he shored himself up. “Good, that’s good. Thanks, Duck. What should I do for him? His fever’s still up a little I think, but I gave him some more Tylenol…”
“Rest, Jethro, that’s the ticket. And light, nutritious meals, plenty of fluids. Let him get up for a short while if he feels up to it but don’t let him overtax himself. Oh, and tell him it’s quite safe for him to spend time with the child. I’m sure the poor boy’s fretting at being kept away from her. That should relieve some of his anxiety at least.”
“You know the most important part of Tony’s treatment, don’t you?”
Jethro allowed himself a smile at that. “Yeah, I’ve got that in spades, Ducky.”
“Good. I’ll call in and see how they’re doing tomorrow then.”
Jethro hung up the phone and looked out the window. On the tree swing he’d hung for Kelly from the oak tree in his yard sat Ziva with Emmy, warmly snuggled in a blanket, cuddled against her chest as Abby pushed them to and fro, giggling. Shaking his head and wishing he had a camera handy, Jethro turned and went into the guest bathroom. Now maybe he had time for a shower. Then he’d see about making Tony something to eat.
“Hey, Tony. It’s good to see you.”
Tony looked up from the pillow and groaned inwardly. He’d told Jethro he didn’t want to see anyone from the team. “Hey, Probie. Look, nothing personal but I’m not really in the mood for company,” he said, steeling himself against the expected look of hurt in McGee’s eyes.
“Understandable,” McGee said, coming in anyway and placing a laptop on the bed. “Gibbs said you were feeling a little better and he thought you might like to play that game of yours. You know, fill in the time a little while you’re resting up.”
“He let you load it on his laptop? Wow.” Tony pushed himself up on the pillows and reached for the laptop. “Is it the current version?”
“Of course not.” McGee shook his head reproachfully. “It’s the Silver Screen version.”
“Good. They haven’t really made a halfway decent movie since the 70’s,” Tony said as he unzipped the bag and lifted the computer out. It was heavier than it looked and he was relieved when McGee grabbed it just before it slid from his fingers. “Thanks,” he added as McGee powered it up and opened the game for him.
McGee nodded and moved toward the door. “No problem. Anything else I can do for you, Tony?”
“Yeah. Um, the baby… my daughter. You’ve seen her?”
“Cute as a button. Ziva and Abby are squabbling over her so I jumped at the chance to get away for a while… Oh. Not from the baby, just from them competing. You know. ‘She is smiling at me.’ ‘No, she’s not, she’s smiling at me.’
Tony smiled at McGee’s uncanny imitation of Ziva and Abby. “Well, thanks. For the game and all.”
McGee sketched a salute and opened the door.
“Hey, Tim, why don’t you sit in on a game or two with me?” Tony asked suddenly, surprising himself with the invitation. “Not as much fun playing by yourself.”
“Sure. I’d like that.” McGee grabbed the desk chair and rolled it over to the bedside. “You might need to spot me a game or two though. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie older than Star Wars, The Phantom Menace.”
“Ah, a pigeon. Come learn from the master,” Tony said with a wink. “Five bucks a game, okay?”
“I have the feeling my wallet’s going to regret this,” McGee groaned.
Tony relaxed a little at the familiar banter. He’d been holding onto control and responsibility for so long. Would it really hurt, he asked himself, to relinquish that for just a little while? To be the Tony DiNozzo he’d once been? He was back where he’d longed to be for so long, and Emmy was in safe and loving hands. Maybe he could let go.
It is well to give when asked but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.
Gibbs watched as Tony placed the tiny baby on the bed and efficiently changed her diaper and redressed her then picked her up and put her against his chest with practiced ease.
The rest of the team had left an hour ago.
Tim had come out of the bedroom and a minute or two later Tony had followed. He’d taken a small step back as Abby had squealed with glee and hurried over to hug him.
“Hey, Abbs, I missed you too but you want to let a guy breathe here?” Jethro heard him say with a chuckle in his voice.
Ziva had followed Abby more sedately, Emmy held in her arms. She looked more comfortable with the baby now and Jethro wondered how much of what he’d seen before was an act, Ziva being Ziva, the cold as ice Israeli agent. “Tony. It is good to see you.” She handed Emmy over to him with a small smile. “Your child is very sweet though I have to admit to never having pictured you in such a role.”
“Yeah, well, people change, Ziva,” Tony replied quietly. He held Emmy up in front of his face and smiled broadly at her. “Hey there, kiddo, did you miss your old Dad?”
“I believe sometimes people have to change,” Ziva added as she ran a hand over the baby’s downy hair.
Emmy gave a gummy smile then burped and upchucked all over Tony’s t-shirt. That had certainly broken the ice, Gibbs reflected now, with Ziva running for a damp rag and Abby and Tim laughing at the look on Tony’s face.
“Well, thanks, kiddo, that’s a nice welcome,” Tony said as he ruefully mopped at his shirt, Emmy balanced easily in the crook of one arm.
“Seeing how horrified you looked at seeing baby chuck all over your shirt makes me think you haven’t changed as much as you think you have,” McGee said.
“Well, between that and the fact I just cleaned your clock at Movie Trivial Pursuit, you could be right,” Tony added. “Don’t forget you owe me 25 bucks, Probie.”
Tim had grumbled good-naturedly while pulling the money out of his wallet and just for those few minutes, Jethro felt as though the world had righted itself again. It all seemed so familiar, as if Tony had never been away at all.
Then they’d all left and now here they were – just him and Tony and the baby.
“I can do that for you if you want,” Jethro said but he handed over the warmed bottle when Tony shook his head.
“Thanks, but I’ve missed doing this stuff for her,” Tony replied, placing the nipple between the baby’s eagerly seeking lips. He grinned down at her as she sucked strongly. “Seems odd for me to be saying that, I know.”
Jethro cast his memory back to the nights he’d sat up with Kelly so Shannon could sleep, nights he’d relished that special closeness he was building with his own daughter and shook his head. “Not at all,” he said.
“I sometimes forget you had a child,” Tony said.
Jethro fought back the pang of pain at the words. He’d hidden knowledge of Shannon and Kelly away from all of his team for a long time. In fact, he and Tony had been lovers for months before he’d finally told him about them. He guessed it wasn’t surprising Tony would forget that secret part of his history. He sometimes found it hard to believe they’d existed himself, so successful had he been at burying their existence. “So,” he said, more as a way of deflecting painful memories than anything else, “will you stay here? I want you too,” he added quickly as he saw a shadow of doubt cross Tony’s face. “No strings.”
“There are always strings, Jethro,” Tony said softly. “You might not intend there to be but there will be.”
“I promise not to ask for anything you don’t want to give,” Jethro replied.
“Will you let me go back to work at NCIS?” Tony asked as he took the bottle from between Emmy’s mouth, grinning at the caterwauling that produced. He held her up over his shoulder and patted her back gently till she burped then stood up and carried her out to the living room again, placing her on the mattress.
Jethro followed him then walked into the kitchen and picked up his keys and wallet. “I need to go out for a little while,” he said, standing in the doorway, watching as Tony patted Emmy’s back with heartbreaking gentleness.
“Will you? Let me go back to work?” Tony asked.
Jethro nodded abruptly. “If we can work out childcare for Emmy then I’ll definitely find a way to make it happen once Ducky says you’re fit for duty,” he said. “It might only be desk work for a while,” he added at the hopeful look in Tony’s eyes.
“I can deal with that,” Tony said. “The child care might be a problem though. A lot of crčches don’t take kids with AIDS and I’ve lost more babysitters than I can count over the past few months.”
“Leave it with me.”
“Okay.” Tony nodded and Jethro felt a warm surge of pleasure at how easily Tony was doing that, leaving it with him, as if he still trusted him after all.
“Back soon. Ducky’s number is on the speed dial, in case you need anything.”
“Emmy and I will be fine. We’ve been hanging out together, just the two of us for a while now, Jethro.”
That gave Jethro a pang, to think of Tony and his little girl spending long, lonesome days and nights holed up together in a tiny apartment or rooming house in California but he just nodded back and let himself out the door.
There was a damn good reason why Jethro didn’t shop much. In fact, he remembered now, there were several damn good reasons. All of them had to do with crowds, and loud mall music, and artificial air conditioning that was too hot in winter and too cold in summer. He promised himself if he just got through this particular shopping expedition without feeling the need to resort to pulling out his gun and shooting anyone, he’d stick to shopping online in future, for *everything*. According to McGee there wasn’t anything you couldn’t buy online and Jethro’d test that theory out… as soon as he got everything a small, sick little girl named Emmy DiNozzo needed.
He started with the largest items first. No way was Emmy going to sleep on the floor another night. He arranged to have the crib delivered and bought a portacot to take with him to tide her over till it arrived. A highchair, wind-up swing, and change table were next. He wondered if Tony already had a stroller somewhere in his car then decided it wouldn’t hurt to have a spare so he got one of those as well. Tony had always loved to run in the mornings so he got the jogging stroller. Maybe they all could go running together like he and Tony used to. By the time he’d taken the equipment out to his car and filled up the trunk, he was wondering if he’d have room for everything else he remembered baby’s needing.
Sighing, he went back inside and bought several packs of diapers, some in the current size Emmy was wearing, a couple in the next size up. He remembered how quickly Kelly had grown in those first few months of life. Bottles, nipples, formula and a multipack of pacifiers were next then he moved onto the clothing section. Looking at the vast array of frilly, pink, blue and yellow items he began to wish he’d brought Abby with him. He cast that thought aside almost as soon as it was born when he realized he’d probably have gone home with all the accoutrements needed to turn Emmy into a tiny Goth child. Somehow he didn’t think her father would be thrilled with that. Finally he grabbed a dozen grow suits, t-shirts, socks, a couple of sweaters, and two tiny, pink dresses with hearts and bows, shoved the lot in the cart and headed for the checkout.
With his credit card sadly depleted and the back of his car weighed down by what felt like the entire contents of Wal-Mart’s baby department, he headed for home, head and feet aching but his heart lighter than it had been for months.
“Hey,” he whispered as he opened the front door and stuck his head inside, “feel up to giving me a hand with this stuff?”
Tony looked up from the book he was reading. “Sure,” he said, standing up and following Jethro outside.
Jethro waited by the car for him to catch up, smiling as he popped the trunk and saw Tony’s mouth drop open in what he surmised was stunned shock. “I got a few things Emmy might need,” Jethro said.
“A few? Jethro, this is too much. You shouldn’t have done this. I can’t pay you back right now…” Tony began.
“I know. I also know you will once you get back to work and start getting a pay check. Think of it as a loan for now, okay?”
“Okay.” Tony began hauling the bags from the back seat. “Thanks,” he said softly. “For everything.”
Jethro put down the box he’d pulled from the trunk and walked around the car to where Tony stood. “You do know I never stopped loving you, don’t you?” he asked rhetorically.
Tony smiled. “I know.”
“But no strings.” Jethro held up his hands. “This is just so you and Emmy can get on your feet, a loan between friends, all right?” He waited for Tony to say something else, the one thing he wanted to hear.
“Thanks,” Tony said.
That wasn’t it but it’d have to do for now, Jethro realized. He’d said no strings and he’d meant it… he thought. He went back to the car and picked up the box again. “Well, get the lead out, DiNozzo. We’ve got a nursery to set up.”
It had taken a couple of hours, with breaks for Emmy’s feeds and food for themselves but finally they had a nursery. Jethro lounged in the doorway and watched Tony wander round what used to be his junk room, picking up clothes and putting them away in the chest of drawers Jethro had emptied out.
Tony looked tired still. There were dark circles around his eyes and his face still looked thin but the burn of fever was gone and he’d had enough appetite to put away one and a half of the salad sandwiches Gibbs had made them up for lunch.
“You feeling better?” Jethro asked as Tony finished up.
Emmy was in the swing, smiling to herself as it moved gently back and forth, playing a lullaby.
“I’m better,” Tony replied, crouching down in front of her and reaching out to tickle her tummy. “Hey, kiddo, how about all this stuff? You are one lucky little girl, you know that?”
“Think you can handle a beer?” Jethro asked. “I thought I’d grill some steaks for dinner, unless you’d rather have something else.”
“That’d be great,” Tony said, scooping Emmy out of the swing. “It’s time for her meds. Can I give her a bath?” he sniffed at his underarm and wrinkled his nose ruefully. “I could use one too. Might as well kill two birds with one stone.”
“Go for it.” Jethro went out to the kitchen and got Emmy’s medicines and the droppers from the fridge then took them back into the nursery. “Here.” He handed them over. “I’ll go defrost the steaks. Give me a yell if you need anything.”
He told himself he wasn’t hovering outside the bathroom door. He’d just happened to walk past after Tony and Emmy had been in there for twenty minutes and if his footsteps had hesitated a little as he did, that was just in case Tony called that he did need his help. Jethro stood, one hand raised then tapped twice on the door. “You need a hand?” he called.
“Actually… yes,” Tony replied and Jethro pushed the door open and stepped inside.
“Could you take Emmy for me?” Tony asked. “I don’t want to try standing up in the tub with her in my arms. It’s a little slippery.”
Jethro grabbed a towel, bent down, and held it in front of him so Tony could place Emmy in its folds. She grizzled a little as he wrapped her in it and Jethro turned away from the tub, glad of a diversion away from the sight of Tony’s naked body.
He waited till he heard the sound of Tony’s feet hitting the bathmat and turned back just in time to get a glimpse of bare backside and smooth hip as Tony wrapped a towel around himself. Jethro swallowed hard against the resurgence of other memories that had been created in this room and forced himself to carry Emmy out into the nursery where he dried her off, diapered her, and dressed her in one of the new sleeping suits he’d bought.
By the time Tony joined them, Jethro had Emmy settled in the portacot, pacifier in her mouth, her eyes already heavy-lidded with sleep. He watched as Tony dropped a kiss on her forehead, then he wiggled his fingers in a goodnight wave to her before heading out to the porch and the barbecue.
“You want me to make a salad?” Tony asked from behind the screen door.
“Sure. Good idea.” Jethro flipped the steaks and tried not to think about that small patch of golden skin he’d glimpsed. He’d loved to kiss Tony there, sliding his lips and tongue along it as Tony shivered beneath him. He shook his head then called out, “There’s a bottle of bourbon on the fridge. Bring it out, will you? Glasses are-“
“I know where the glasses are,” Tony replied as he shouldered through the door with the bottle, one glass, and a bottle of water in his hand.
“Help yourself to a beer if you want one.”
“I’d love one,” Tony replied, uncapping the water and taking a long drink, “but I’ve learned too many beers and sleepless babies don’t mix. I’ll go make the salad.”
“Right.” Jethro watched as he walked back inside then grabbed the bourbon and poured himself a healthy slug.
They ate dinner in a mostly companiable silence, Jethro wary of talking too much for fear of giving his feelings away. He waved Tony away when he offered to help wash up. “Go, get some rest before the kid wakes up. I’ve been doing this on my own for the last year or so.” He almost bit his tongue as soon as the words were out of his mouth but Tony just nodded and went into the living room, settling down on the couch after grabbing pillows and blankets out of the hallway closet.
Jethro finished the dishes then went and stood in the doorway. Tony wasn’t asleep. He was reading the book he’d had earlier. “You don’t have to sleep on the couch, Tony,” Jethro said. “I want you to be comfortable. I can sleep out here and you can take the bed.”
“It’s fine. I’m closer to Emmy and the kitchen here,” Tony replied. He sighed and put the book on the floor. “I just don’t think it’s fair on you if we sleep together,” he said.
Jethro fought back from saying he didn’t give a shit if it was fair or not, he just wanted Tony where he’d always wanted him – in his arms. Instead he nodded and said, “Okay. Like I said, no strings. I’ll see you in the morning. I’m going down to work on the boat for a while. Yell if you need me.”
Two hours later he looked up from the wood beneath his hands and saw Tony sitting on the steps, watching him. “Can’t sleep?” he asked as he laid down the plane and wiped off his hands.
“Stupid, isn’t it? The past few months all I’ve wanted to do is sleep yet now I just can’t relax.” Tony stood up and stretched stiffly and Jethro wondered how long he’d been sitting there.
“Come on,” Jethro said, grabbing his arm as he passed him on the steps. He led him up the hallway and into the bedroom then pointed at what used to be Tony’s side of the bed. “Go to sleep. I’m sleeping here too. Sleeping, Tony, okay?”
Tony smiled slowly, sighed then walked over and crawled beneath the covers. “Okay. Goodnight.”
Jethro sat on the side of the bed for a while till he was sure Tony was asleep then he changed into the sweatpants and t-shirt he never wore to bed and climbed in behind Tony. He held himself back from the kiss he want to leave on the nape of Tony’s neck and contented himself with a gentle pat to the back of his head. “Goodnight.”
Someone in his dream was wailing, a loud, hight-pitched sound that threw Jethro from the depths of sleep into instant wakefulness. Puzzled when the cries continued, he sat up on the edge of the bed and belatedly realized it was Emmy crying. Glancing behind him, he saw Tony was gone and he stood, gathering his robe from the end of the bed then heading down to the nursery.
Tony was pacing the room, Emmy in his arms, her tiny face red-cheeked and tear-streaked. Jethro wrinkled his nose as an odious smell became noticeable and winced as Emmy let out another ear-piercing shriek.
Tony looked over at him helplessly. “Sorry,” he called above the noise. “I was trying to calm her down but it’s not working.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Jethro asked, stepping into the room and over to Tony’s side.
“Diarrhea, diaper rash. The meds do this to her sometimes. I’m sor-“
Jethro placed a gentle hand over Tony’s mouth. “No more saying sorry. Tell me what I can do to help.” He picked up the soiled diaper from the change table. “I’ll start with this,” he said, taking it out to the trashcan outside the house.
Back in the nursery, he saw Emmy had settled a little, her screams now shuddering sobs as Tony held her over his shoulder while he walked, patting her back rhythmically.
“What else?” Jethro asked. “Does she need a bottle of formula?”
“No, she had one just a little while ago.” Tony moved Emmy from his shoulder and cradled her in his arms. “I think she’s going to sleep again.”
Jethro watched as he rocked the child to and fro, crooning nonsense to her while her red-rimmed eyes looked into his. Gradually she closed them and went to sleep and Tony turned and placed her carefully in the crib, blowing out a relieved breath when she didn’t move and didn’t wake up.
“Want some breakfast?” Jethro asked quietly.
“Coffee for sure,” Tony replied.
“Breakfast for sure,” Jethro said firmly. “You’re not getting run down from malnutrition again on my watch.”
Tony gave him a tired smile and a nod of agreement. “Okay, just don’t blame me if I end up face down in my food.”
“How often did she wake up?” Jethro asked, walking down to the kitchen and across to turn on the coffee pot.
“Three times,” Tony
said around a yawn.
“Shit, I’m sorry. I can’t believe I didn’t hear her,” Jethro said contritely, getting eggs, bacon, milk and cheese from the fridge.
“Yeah, well, you were probably pretty tired after looking after both of us the past couple of days. Besides,” Tony propped himself up at the counter as Jethro began to whisk up the omelette mix, “I’m always kinda listening for her subconsciously now. The first week or two I had her home with me I slept through her starting to cry. Then when I did finally hear her I’d feel terrible. She’d be almost hysterical…”
Jethro gave him a smile of understanding. “When Kelly first came home from the hospital, Shannon said she couldn’t understand how a guy who could hear the enemy creeping up on him from five hundred yards away could miss hearing a crying baby in the next room.”
“At least Shannon was there to hear her,” Tony said softly.
Jethro couldn’t help a twinge of guilt at that. “I wish I’d been there for you both,” he said.
“My fault,” Tony replied, “I didn’t give you the chance.”
“No, you didn’t.” Jethro held his breath as Tony leaned sideways, his lips just barely brushing Jethro’s own.
“I am now,” Tony whispered, pulling back and holding Jethro’s gaze with his own.
Jethro turned from the stovetop, his arms reaching to pull Tony closer but Tony moved away, pushing off from the counter to go sit down at the table.
“Did you mind me doing that?” he asked, fiddling with his fork.
Jethro turned to face him. “No,” he said, adding honestly, “I wanted it to be more though.”
“I do too.”
“Then why’d you walk away?”
“Remember those strings, Jethro? I want to make sure I’m not pulling yours either. When we were together before, it wasn’t because of what you could do for me or what you had done for me. I’m not sure whether it would be this time.”
Jethro shook his head. “You’re not like that, Tony. You wouldn’t be with me just because of what I can give you and Emmy.”
“Maybe I would, for Emmy. I keep telling you. I’m not that Tony you knew anymore.” Tony laughed harshly. “When I found out she was probably going to die, I would have offered my soul to the devil if it could have saved her.”
“So… what we had before? That’s gone?” Jethro asked, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.
“I still love you. Never stopped. But I want to be with you because I know I can’t be anywhere else, regardless of what’s happening with Emmy. Give me some time, Jethro. Let me go back to work, get Emmy into a routine, live the way whatever passes for normal in this Tony DiNozzo’s world.”
“Then you’ll know?” Jethro asked, turning back to the stove.
“And you’ll be the first person I tell,” Tony replied.
“What’s all this?” Jethro asked, looking into the nursery where Tony was setting up the camping mattress on the floor.
Tony looked up, a blush creeping over his cheeks. “Um, I just thought after the talk we had this morning, it wouldn’t be fair of me to keep sharing your bed,” he said.
Jethro walked over to the crib and smiled down at Emmy who reached up with one small hand. He bent and kissed it then patted her head gently. “Is that what you want?” he asked without turning around.
“Then put the damn mattress back where it belongs,” Jethro replied gruffly. “Is she better, do you think?”
Tony stood up and joined him next to the crib. “Yeah, she’s okay. Takes a while for her system to adjust every time the docs increase her dosage.” He leaned down and kissed Emmy goodnight then tucked the covers up more securely around her and put her pacifier in her mouth.
“I’m going down to work on the boat,” Jethro said. “Night, Em.”
Tony grabbed his arm and pulled him around. “Night, Jethro,” he said, brushing another of those sweet, light kisses across his mouth.
“Night, John Boy.”
“Smartass,” Gibbs said as he closed the door behind him.
Jethro slumped forward over the wooden spine of the boat, sweat slickening his skin. He worked harder than he ever had in an effort to keep the questions crowding his mind from rising too close to the surface. Despite his exhaustion, he’d been unable to completely quell the main one that was currently niggling at him. Was Tony testing him? Seeing if Jethro would stick to the “no strings” promise he’d made no matter what temptation Tony threw at him? Or was Tony, like Jethro, desperate for any small shreds of affection he felt he could share? Proof of love perhaps.
Yawning, he tossed aside the sandpaper and straightened up, glancing across to the stairs. No Tony there tonight. He walked slowly up them and headed straight for the shower, sluicing himself clean efficiently, too tired to want to enjoy a long, leisurely wash. He toweled himself dry, dressed in the sweatpants and t-shirt he’d left in the bathroom that morning and walked into the bedroom.
Tony was asleep, curled on his side, one hand resting limply on Jethro’s pillow.
Jethro slid under the covers and Tony rolled over the other way then wriggled backward till he was spooned against Jethro’s all too willing body.
“Night, Jethro,” he murmured, his voice heavy with sleep.
This time Jethro did kiss him, nuzzling against the soft downy hair at the nape of his neck. “Goodnight.”
To Part 2