He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
Three months later:
“Hey, it’s me,” Jethro called as he walked into Tony’s apartment, placing the grocery bag he was carrying carefully on the floor by the door. Emmy was on the floor on a blanket and he swooped her up, blew a raspberry on her belly then held her easily astride his hip. “Where’s your dad, kiddo?” he asked rhetorically.
“Right here.” Tony peeked around the kitchen door, grinning. “Cooking, like I promised you.”
“Hey.” Jethro crossed the room and pecked a quick kiss on Tony’s lips. “Smells good,” he said, sniffing appreciatively.
“See, told you he’d like it,” Tony said, bending down so he was eye level with Emmy who smiled broadly and batted at his face with one small hand.
“She looks great,” Jethro said.
“Yeah, she’s doing okay. Doc said that cold she had bumped her T cell count down a little but she seems to be mostly over it and as long as she stays out of contact with any more bad bugs, she’ll be back to normal in no time.”
Jethro walked back out to the living room and put Emmy in the wind up swing that stood opposite the kitchen door. He wound the swing up and gave it a gentle shove, smiling as Emmy clapped her hands delightedly as the music started to play. He looked around the apartment then over at Tony, who’d gone back to stirring something on the stove. This had been the right thing to do, he decided. Right for Tony and Emmy and right for him too. With Tony in his own apartment, working at NCIS, earning a decent living, and happy with the childcare they’d found for Emmy, there were no strings anymore. Which reminded him… He went over to the grocery bag he’d put on the floor and pulled out the bottle he’d hidden in there then carried it out to the kitchen, touching the back of Tony’s neck with the chilly glass.
“Hey!” Tony jumped and spun around then reached out and grabbed the bottle. “Dom Perignon?” He raised an eyebrow at Jethro who shrugged. “You planning on trying to seducing me?”
“Would it work?” Jethro asked.
“Here, taste this.” Tony grinned as Jethro sipped at the spoon he held to his lips. “Good, huh? I got the recipe from Mario at Bellarico.”
“It’s great. What is it?” Jethro laughed as Tony whapped the back of his head lightly.
“Your favourite Bellarico lasagne.” Tony frowned. “You’re yanking my chain, aren’t you?”
“Maybe a little. So will it?”
“What? Oh.” Tony’s frown disappeared to be replaced by a broad smile. “Pretty sure it’ll work. Um…” he paused then stumbled on, “if you’re sure you want to…”
Jethro pulled him in for a deep kiss then pushed him away. “I’m sure. Cook,” he ordered. “Linda picking Emmy up?”
“Yep, she should be here any minute.” Tony rolled his eyes. “She thought it was romantic I was cooking dinner for you. The woman’s a walking Harlequin novel, I swear.”
“And you lap it up, don’t you?” Jethro smiled at the repartee. He’d missed this casual, easy back and forth between them, and for a while after Tony had come back had wondered if they’d ever get it back. Tony had seemed so withdrawn for so long that Jethro had all but given up on the idea of them ever having any sort of relationship beside that of co-workers again.
“What are you thinking about?” Tony asked.
“You’re not mad I asked you to move out of my place, are you?” Jethro asked.
“No. It was the right thing to do for all of us. I do hope…” Tony turned back to the stove and busied himself with stirring the sauce.
“What? Spit out, DiNozzo,” Jethro ordered when Tony didn’t respond immediately.
“That maybe one day we might be able to live together again.”
“I want that too,” Jethro replied softly. “I just want it to be for the right reasons. You told me that, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember.” Tony turned his head, giving him a wry smile. “I sometimes wonder, when I’m here and you’re over there at your place, what the hell I was thinking.”
“You were thinking that we needed to get things back on an equal footing, that you weren’t just with me because you felt you had nowhere else to go, that we were together because it’s what was right for us, and for Emmy.”
“I know. It’s just…” Tony sighed then laughed as the doorbell rang. “Saved by the bell.” He turned and swooped Emmy from the swing then went to the front door and opened it, stepping back as he saw who was there. “Um, Director Vance. Sorry, I was expecting the sitter. Come on in, I guess.”
Jethro walked into the room and watched as Vance stepped inside. “I do have a cell phone,” he said as he watched Vance pat Emmy’s hair then gently shake her small hand in his and murmur hello to her.
“I wasn’t looking for you, Agent Gibbs,” he said mildly as he turned back to Tony. “Sorry to disturb you, Agent DiNozzo. I know I could have called you both down to my office but I wasn’t sure if there’d be someone to look after the child and, frankly, I’d rather do this here than there.” He looked over at Gibbs. “As a matter of fact, while I really only needed to speak to Agent DiNozzo, perhaps it’s just as well that you’re here.”
“What’s up?” Gibbs was aware he’d moved slightly in front of Tony and Emmy as if he was protecting them from Vance but he didn’t really care how it looked. This was off limits space, Tony’s space, even *his* space a little and he wasn’t going to give Vance even half a chance to sully that.
The doorbell rang again and Tony murmured an apology to Vance as he walked over to open the door. Emmy crowed with delight as Linda came in and held her arms out.
“Hi, Linda, thanks so much for this,” Tony said, handing Emmy over with a kiss to the top of her head.
“Everything okay, Tony?” Linda asked, looking over at Gibbs and Vance, who still stood as if facing each other down, a few feet away.
“Everything’s fine,” Gibbs said, breaking the standoff for now. He walked away, over to the door, feeling Vance’s eyes boring into his back as if recording every move he made. Deliberately, slowly, he leaned in and pressed his lips to Emmy’s cheek. “Be good for Linda, kiddo,” he said, looping an arm around Tony’s back. “You need a hand with her stuff?” he asked Tony who shook his head, picked up the bag, and followed Linda out of the apartment.
“What’s going on?” Jethro asked flatly, turning back to face Vance as soon as the door closed behind them.
“I’d rather wait till Agent DiNozzo gets back,” Vance said. “You gonna let me sit down?”
“Sure. I’d prefer it if you didn’t get too comfortable though,” Jethro said. “Tony and I have plans tonight.”
“I’ll try not to take up too much of your time,” Vance said, sitting down on the sofa, perching on the very edge of it as if ready to take off at the first sign of trouble.
They stayed like that, neither saying a word till Tony came back.
“So what’s wrong?” Tony asked. He moved over to stand next to Jethro, watching Vance warily as the Director stood up.
“You remember when I asked you if your relationship would cause problems for the agency?” Vance asked, looking at Jethro.
“Yeah, I remember. I told you no. It hasn’t,” Jethro replied, his words clipped.
“Actually it has.” Vance ran his hand over his short-cropped hair. “A complaint was made to SecNav that you’ve been favoring Agent DiNozzo, giving him choice of jobs and roles because of your relationship with him-“
“That’s bullshit!” Tony said at the same time that Jethro barked out, “Who made the complaint?”
Vance looked at Jethro first. “You know I can’t tell you that. What I can tell you is that it was the same person who gave me the heads up about your relationship, and I can tell you that wasn’t Dr. Mallard.” He turned to look at Tony. “You’ll both get a fair hearing on this, DiNozzo, but, in the meantime, while the complaint is being investigated, I’ve been ‘advised’,” his fingers made air quotes around the word, “to transfer you to another team-“
“No way!” Jethro stepped forward, into Vance’s personal space, his finger jabbing at the Director’s chest. “Tony’s been a member of my team for six years. We were together for a year before anybody even thought we might be and there were no hints of partiality made until now. I know who’s behind this.”
“Who?” Tony swung his head to look at Jethro, a look of absolute surprise on his face.
“You haven’t noticed Romero bitching every time I’ve given you a job he thinks should be his?” Jethro asked. He’d noticed it, even McGee had remarked on it. Surely Tony couldn’t have been that oblivious to Romero’s grumblings.
Tony shrugged. “He’s never said anything to me. Told me he was glad I was back to help take some of the load off him having to be the gung ho guy of the team all the time.”
“So you admit you have given Agent DiNozzo jobs that Agent Romero could have done as well?” Vance put in.
“Tony has seniority,” Jethro spat back. “He’s been on my team longer than Romero.”
“*Was* on your team longer. He then took a sizeable chunk of leave from that position and you brought in Romero as the man best able to fill his shoes,” Vance said.
“Romero was never anything but a placeholder till Tony came back,” Jethro retorted hotly. He glanced sideways at Tony. “I knew he would, just wasn’t sure when.”
Tony smiled at that, a sweet, grateful smile that made Gibbs glad he’d said it.
“Nevertheless, Romero may have some backing for what he’s saying.” Vance shook his head. “You should have had DiNozzo placed on another team as soon as he came back to work.”
“I didn’t want him on another team,” Jethro yelled. “I wanted him on mine. Not because of our relationship, as you so euphemistically put it, but because he’s the best at what he does. He solved the Jason case three months ago and he’s helped to solve just about every case we’ve worked on since. I’ve given him precedence over Romero only when I knew he was the right man for the job. Here’s an idea for ya! How about you transfer Romero to another team?”
Vance sighed then shook his head and stood up. “I’m actually trying to help you out here, Jethro,” he said quietly. “Regardless of what the Navy may publicly say about DADT, SecNav’s not known for being tolerant towards gay lifestyles. His wife died of AIDS received from a contaminated blood transfusion back in the seventies, remember? If it was up to him, he’d have shipped DiNozzo off as an agent afloat somewhere or transferred him interstate.” He smiled coldly. “Fortunately, it’s not up to him and I think he’ll be satisfied with DiNozzo working on another team. That way Romero keeps his spot, you’re back to a four person team, and DiNozzo gets to stay in the same building at least.” He held up a hand as Jethro opened his mouth. “Agent DiNozzo?” he said, turning to Tony.
“Fine.” Tony shrugged. “No point me pretending I don’t think it sucks like a Hoover, because it does but I’ll accept the transfer.” He looked at Jethro. “It’s not that big a deal.” He looked back at Vance. “My new team leader needs to be aware the same conditions apply. No undercover work, and when possible, I want to be home in the evenings and on weekends with my daughter.”
“I’m placing you on Jack Emerson’s team. He’s a family man himself.”
“Will he need to know about…” Tony waved a hand between himself and Jethro.
“No. SecNav prefers it’s kept under the rug and out of the office. Your team already knows, Agent Gibbs, but I think they’re well aware of the need for discretion here.”
Jethro snorted out a laugh. “They kept the secret for the past couple of years,” he said, “until I was stupid enough to bring Romero on board.” He looked at Tony. “You sure you’re okay with this?”
“I’m fine with it.” Tony gave him a broad smile then looked at Vance as he walked to the door. “Sorry to shove you out, sir, but unfortunately I didn’t cook enough for three.”
“No problem. I need to be heading home anyway.” Vance stood in the doorway and looked back at Jethro. “Good luck, to all of you.”
Tony pushed the door shut behind him then turned and gave Jethro a wry grin. “So that’s that,” he said. “Should have known it was too good to last.”
Jethro crossed the room in a couple of strides and pulled Tony into his arms, hugging him close. “If you’re really not okay with it, I’ll fight them on it. Hell, I’ll threaten to resign if I have to…”
Tony kissed him, a sweet tender caress. “No, you won’t,” he said. “I’m fine with it, really. We don’t need to work together to…” he bumped his groin gently against Jethro’s…”well, you know.”
Jethro groaned and buried his face against Tony’s neck. “How hungry are you?” he muttered. “Can dinner wait?”
“Give me a few minutes to put it all together and we’ve got all the time in the world,” Tony said, pulling free of Jethro’s arms.
“Need a hand?”
“Nope, got it all under control. You could just go wait for me, you know, in the bedroom.” Tony winked and Jethro swallowed hard.
“Right. I’ll just go wait for you then,” he said.
In the aftermath of their lovemaking, with Tony held securely in his arms, Jethro wondered if life could get any better than this. Their lovemaking had been gentle and slow, as if they had all the time in the world and all the past days and nights apart to make up for. He knew, as much as he’d told everyone that he always knew Tony would come back, that hadn’t really been the case. There’d been long, dark, lonely nights when he’d almost crawled into that bourbon bottle and not come out. It was only in the mornings, when the sun was shining, giving promise to a new day, that he dared to hope that Tony would.
“What ya thinking?” Tony mumbled sleepily, his cock limp and sated and still damp against Jethro’s thigh.
“Nothing much. Just how glad I am you’re back,” Jethro said, kissing the top of Tony’s spiky hair. “I like your hair short like this,” he added.
“It’s just easier. Don’t get much time in the mornings to primp like I used to,” Tony said around a yawn.
“Never thought that day would come,” Jethro replied.
“I told you I was different now,” Tony said. He rolled to his back and looked over at Jethro. “Does it bother you? That I’m not the suave, confident Tony DiNozzo you fell in love with?”
Jethro pulled him in for a long, passionate kiss. “You are still the man I fell in love with,” he said as he pulled away. “You’ve just got more facets to you now.”
“That’s a good thing, right?”
“Oh yeah, that’s a great thing.” Jethro moved over and blanketed Tony’s body with his own, rubbing his already half-hard erection against Tony’s, enjoying the way Tony groaned his name when he did. “You up for another round?” he asked, planting small kisses from Tony’s eyelids down to his jaw line.
Tony rocked up against him. “What do you think?” he whispered.
Two months later:
Jethro had to admit it hadn’t turned out as badly as he’d thought it would. While he missed having Tony working with him, and still burned with righteous indignation every time he so much as looked at Romero, having them on different teams hadn’t impacted their renewed relationship at all. If anything, it had brought a new spice and pleasure to it, as the times they were able to spend together seemed doubly precious. They wasted less time on things that didn’t matter, rarely talking shop, instead spending their time either taking care of Emmy together or having long nights together filled with good food, conversation and lovemaking. Jethro was careful not to spend every night with Tony, still wary of intruding on his lover’s space and hard-won independence. It was working and he felt the relationship they were building now was one that could withstand anything life might throw at them.
Tony’s new Boss was happy with him, telling Jethro when they met from time to time how impressed he was with his new team member’s capacity for hard work and sharp insight into the cases they worked together. Tony liked his new team, they seemed to like him, and he still got together with Ziva, McGee, Ducky, and Abby for a drink on Friday nights.
All in all, Jethro thought, life was about as good as it could get.
Emmy was the only shadow darkening their bright life together. Jethro had grown to love the little girl as much as he loved Tony. She was bright and cheerful even when she was sick, simply becoming more clingy when she’d had a spell in hospital. Of late, she’d become as happy to cling to him as to Tony, and Jethro lapped it up, relishing the feel of the little warm body against his chest, the tiny arms wrapped around his neck, the scent of her soft downy hair as she nuzzled into his neck. But she wasn’t doing well, her paediatrician had told Tony that the next few months would see her going downhill and he’d warned them that another infection could be disastrous. It was to be expected, Tony told Jethro later. He’d known it from the moment she was first diagnosed and he’d been determined from that day not to wrap her in cotton wool but to give her as full a life as any loved little girl deserved. So he took her to the park to play on the swings on his days off, invited friends with kids round for playdates and joined a playgroup for children with AIDS and HiV.
“How can you bear it?” Jethro asked Tony one night as they cuddled on the couch together while Emmy crawled on the rug amongst her toys, at their feet.
“How did you bear losing Kelly?” Tony asked. “Whatever time I have with her is worth it. Would you have given up the chance to be Kelly’s father if you’d known she was going to die?”
Jethro had shaken his head. He’d never thought about it like that before but it was true. No matter what had happened, the years he’d had with his child were worth the pain of her loss.
“I keep hoping for a cure,” Tony had whispered, picking Emmy up and sitting her on his lap, cuddling her close. “I know it’s not going to happen in her lifetime but I hope anyway.”
“Me too.” Jethro reached out and pulled them both in against his side, kissing first Tony’s hair and then Emmy’s. “Whatever happens, we’ll get through it together,” he murmured.
The phone rang and Jethro jumped, startled from his memories. He scooped the phone up and stood, ready to grab his weapon from his desk drawer.
“This is Linda,” a shaky voice on the other end said. “Emmy’s been taken to the hospital. She got sick so fast. She had a seizure. I’ve been calling Tony’s cell phone but it says it’s out of range and I didn’t know who else to call-“
“That’s fine,” Jethro said quickly. “You did the right thing. I’ll be right there as soon as I can contact Tony. You just hang in there, Linda.” He hung up and looked around the office, waving McGee over as he caught his eye. “Find Tony. His cell phone’s coming up as out of range. I don’t know where he is but you find him somehow. When you do, get out to where he is and pick him up. Tell him Emmy’s sick but don’t let him drive himself. You got that?”
McGee nodded quickly, his face paling, his eyes wide with shock. “It’s bad this time?”
“I don’t know. I think so. Just find him for me, Tim.”
“I will, Boss. I will.”