After The Storm1
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 one 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 left 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 labouring 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 woke 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 securely 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.”