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 crèches 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 nappies, 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.”