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 campbed 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- His head ached distantly and he felt hot then cold.
“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 traveling. 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, wriggling 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.