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.