Chapter Eleven: Can You See Beyond Emotion
In part from a feeling that they did not do enough to save the others who perished and in part from feelings of being unworthy relative to those who died.
Dark rainclouds threatened war on the horizon, the silver slivers of rain battering against the windshield, even as the wipers futilely attempted to flick them aside. Another grey, miserable day, clouded with emotion and lingering with whatever could be found. And that wasn't much, there wasn't much to find in the minds of men for the past week. The same thought, the same person on the mind and there was nothing that could quelch that thought into the background. It would never leave, and he knew it would never leave. Everything he passed the desk, every time he caught Roy's eye, but it would pass right? It would always feel this way. He knew how it felt to loose, loose out with life and the game. He'd never stopped feeling sorry, sad, the pain clenching in his heart, but it had faded over time. Had that only been because of Tony? He'd arrived in his life, a life full of laughter, beauty and joy; helped with the pain and the sorrow.
The engine had stopped minutes ago, quiet and cold now under the torrent of rain. The house, standing in front of him, usually a place he couldn't wait to get inside to, the snuffling of the faithful canine at his feet, begging for food, the bright smile of unconditional love. Now could he face it again? Every time he looked at those bright green eyes he didn't see the joy that had been imprinted on his mind from the time he'd first seen one of Tony's football games. No, he didn't see that any more. Now, he saw the pain and the fear which had dulled the emeralds to murky glass. No shine any more, just a sheer, unadulterated terror; agony coursing every movement.
How could he face him after what he'd done, or more precisely hadn't done? Shock had set in at the hospital. The room in Recovery, a figure lying in the pale beds, bandages wrapping his torso, left arm in a full cast, right arm wrapped from the Burn Ward. The fever colouring the too pale cheeks with high dashes of scarlet; dripped up, wired up, beeped up. There he'd lost composure, caught by the attending doctor, leant against an opposite bed. Ducky had been called in, of course. Mark Runyon had brought himself up on the case and refused to leave. It was a likely thought that all would've been completed and the shock would've worn off if Nurse Natasha Dalrym hadn't swooped in, tears streaking down her face.
Roy had been the first to her side, catching her before she could thump straight into Gibbs, balled fists flying. She'd howled, beating her hand into Roy's shoulder as he held her tight, his own tears unable to stay put, snaking down his cheeks. The shock had affected them all. Natasha had collapsed in a heap, Roy carrying her out, leaving her in a nurse's care, and he'd left. His own sense of shock and grieving leading him to silence and staring at the blank wall against the second floor stairwell. There he let the tears fall, seated at the bottom of the wall, he hadn't even taken off his singed jacket.
Right now, what was there he could do? If anything he couldn't sit here all night, even if it seemed the only viable option. The car's heat had left, leeching out of the frame towards the miserable evening sky. Raising his head from where it had rested against the steering wheel, he let out a deep, long held in breath, staring up at the dark windows of the house.
The rain crumpled against his head and shoulders, soaking the coat in moments, the walk from the dark door to the house seeming to take months. The door had been locked securely when he left and it hadn't been touched in the hours since so his worn, old metal key was the only entrance into the dark corridor.
There was no bark even though Diefenbaker had been back in the house for two weeks. There was no quiet snuffle from the living room or a creak of the tell-tale floorboard on the upstairs landing which you had to step on wherever you were going. The house was still, the lights off and dark. Gibbs flicked on the living room light, giving an involuntary shiver at the cold which had penetrated the entire house without the constant fire which Tony usually insisted on keeping pepped up to full. It was just a surprisingly cold house.
Did he want to check up stairs? Did he want to know what he'd find by pushing open the wooden doors to each bedroom? No, he needed to; it wasn't a question of 'want' or 'don't want' he needed to right here. But, what if he couldn't face what was happening? Both he and Tony had lost so much, he didn't know who had lost more, but it wasn't a contest. It was the same loss, but who had it struck more? Tony. Tony had come out worse; of course he had! What was he doing with self-pity right now.
Mustering out the confidence and the will-power, Gibbs discarded his jacket, not bothering to put it on a hanger in the airing cabinet, just left it over the end of the sofa. The stairs were a daunting task, but he took them; a single step at a time, the carpet against his wet shoes. Still there was darkness in the house, the landing on the second floor had just a single sliver of dim orange, but it was hardly enough to illuminate anything. It just caused shadows, shedding the dark pictures on the walls.
Gibbs leant his head against the door frame, the imagine springing unbidden tears to his blue eyes. This shouldn't be like this; he should've stopped this happening. Swallowing down his emotions, Gibbs stepped into the softly lit room, the bedside lamp which Gibbs could remember Tony ready to when he was younger was casting an eerie orange glow across the entire room.
But, it wasn't Tony's room, it was his room. His room with the folded back, warm blankets and the bedside light he'd always had to turn off as the only way to push his son out to bed. The bedcovers remained untouched, but one of the pillows was bundled up in his son's arms, his head pressed against the soft pillowcase. And his son, his pride and joy, curled up on the covers, his chest rising and falling as steadily as only Gibbs had seen when he was sedated, head buried in the pillow. His torso was bare except for the bandages which were changed each day by one of the two doctors Gibbs trusted, and usually only one. It had taken all of Mark Runyon's will power not to back away yelling for help when Gibbs had turned the glare on him. But, that wasn't the point. The point was Tony.
Gibbs settled himself on the edge of the mattress, his eyes falling on Diefenbaker, who was snuggled next to his son, fluffy head resting on his thigh whilst Tony's casted arm was lying across the dog's soft side. Gibbs had even realised his hand was shaking until he reached out to stroke back his son's unruly hair, his long fingers tender against the bruised jaw when he rested his hand against Tony's cheek.
The boy stirred underneath his touch, his eyes blinking blearily for a moment, yet refusing to focus on the figure, just concentrating on the comforting, warm touch.
"Hey there." Gibbs voice was smooth despite his emotional chaos, love over-riding guilt, concern over-riding fear. Tony didn't answer; just lay still for a moment, eyes blinking rapidly back the course of disobedient tears.
"Hey, hey, c'mon kiddo. Tell me what it is." Gibbs muttered, his thumb brushing away the damp streak, but it didn't seem to quell the downpour. Head once against buried in the soft pillow, Gibbs didn't hear the murmured response.
Tony shifted his head away, eyes still tightly shut.
"It should've been me," The sentiment put Gibbs back, his hand faltering on Tony's cheek, staying in the same place even when the boy pulled back, away from the touch.
"It should've been me," Tony murmured again, the tears unbidden and flowing freely down his cheeks. Gibbs swallowed thickly, his blue eyes staring blankly.
"Don't say that, don't you say that." His voice sounded rough and worn, shadowed as the room.
"Why, it's true." Tony pushed himself up with his right hand, ignoring the twinge of the healing burns across his forearm. He turned hurt, flashing green eyes across to Gibbs, who met the eyes with difficulty. "It's true."
"No, no. No!" Gibbs reached across, turning his body around and grasping his son's face gently between his hands. "It's not true, Tony. It'll never be true, never say it should've been you." His voice exuded sincerity, flashing the valuable substance around the room.
"Then why do you blame me?"
"What?" Gibbs was dumbstruck, stroking a thumb across Tony's battered cheek. "Blame? How could I blame you, Tony?" Confusion coloured his concern.
"This wasn't anything to do with P-Peter." Tony started, refusing to let his gaze meet the soft blue sincerity. "He wasn't meant to be there, w-wasn't meant to be there!" The words came in stuttered gasps of jumbled reason. "Wasn't anything to do with him and he died because…because of me." Tears ran over Gibbs fingers as he held his son's head, running a hand over the soft hair as the boy collapsed into a heap on the bed, Diefenbaker squirming out the way. Gibbs swung a leg onto the bed, gathering Tony up against his chest, ignoring the soft protests and weak pushes he got against his shoulder.
"Peter did his job, Tony. And he did it damn well. He dedicated himself to saving people, and that includes you, son. There would've been nothing to stop him savin' you, not even his life." Not even my life. God, Peter loved you Tony. He couldn't bring himself to say it, but both Roy and Peter, even Annie; they loved the kid like their own. Roy and Annie might have children of their own, but they'd never hesitate to take Tony in. Peter, he was the cool uncle type, loved Tony like a nephew, treated him like one. They hadn't just been 'Gibbs team'; they'd been Gibbs friends, Tony's friends. Tony finally turned his face into Gibbs chest, fisting his right hand into the soft fabric of his jacket, tears no longer sliding down his cheeks, just trying to leech up the warmth and comfort.
Gibbs tucked his son safely against him, leaning back against the backboard whilst Dief settled himself to curling up with his head resting on Gibbs outstretched knee.
"Tony, forgive yourself, it wasn't your fault. You know that, don't feel guilty, he wanted to save you and he did. I bet he's sitting smugly right now thinking of a job well done. He'd never regret it, you know he wouldn't, don't do this to yourself." He didn't know if his tone was pleading or comforting, but he felt the tensed muscles in Tony's back relax under the soft circles he was stroking through his shirt.
The hitched breathing which had assaulted Tony throughout his recovery were fading off as exhaustion took the boy. Greif, guilt and misery had taken their toll, leaving him bereft of energy and for the first time in over a fortnight, safety had taken over the feelings. Warmth and safety mixed in together as he rested his head against the strong heartbeat, love. Gibbs didn't move as he felt the breathing even out, the body relax in his arms; safe in his arms, cuddled against him, a memory of years before.
Careful not to disturb the figure against him, Gibbs reached over to pull up the cover blanket to wrap around his son, just to keep him warm and comfortable as possible. It did disturb Diefenbaker, but being as docile as he was, he just flopped back down onto the sheet beneath, still snuggled up against his owners.
The murky evening turned into a murky night with the digital clock on Gibbs bedside table setting a soft blue glow over the carpet. Seven o'clock left way for eight o'clock and the soft click of the front door which Gibbs had been expecting. Always punctual. Diefenbaker leapt nimbly off the bed to investigate this new comer, his paws padding silently along the carpet. Gibbs had given Ducky his own key just to make things easier since he'd taken to locking the door again, bolting it as well, he'd contemplated putting something in front of the front door, or training up a guard dog since Diefenbaker wasn't exactly a perfect choice, he'd just drown the intruders in drool.
The NCIS M.E. knew better than to call out for attention, knowing that the occupants of this house would be perfectly aware if he was inside it. Following the direction the Gibbs family dog had appeared from, Doctor Mallard made his calm way upstairs.
The faint light from the light and the digital clock was enough to tell the doctor where to head, the sight making him falter at the door for a moment. Tony was still wrapped up snugly with the bed's cover blanket, tucked safely under Gibbs' chin, with Gibbs resting a cheek on Tony's smoothed down hair, one hand absently stroking his back through the blanket, the other on his hair, blue eyes closed. It was such a peaceful sight. Such a contrast to the past few days, one could say weeks if you counted the tensions that had already been running between Gibbs and…that woman.
He didn't want to disturb, so stayed back in the doorway, it wasn't like Gibbs would be getting a surprise, and he knew exactly where everything and everyone was in his house right now, even the dog. With a lasting deep breath Gibbs slowly opened his eyes, looking over at the door, raising his head from its previous position. No words were exchanged between the two old friends, but the silence spoke enough to let Doctor Mallard move away from the doorframe back towards the stairs and the kitchen.
Gibbs slid himself out from underneath the softly slumbering boy, laying his head gently against the pillow and tucking the blanket around his shoulders. Leaning down he pressed a soft kiss to his son's temple, brushing back the hair he'd smoothed down before. It was a I'm still here, you're not alone touch they both needed. With a fleeting glance back at the door, Gibbs made his way after Ducky towards the kitchen.
The doctor had already turned on the two lights which lit the main kitchen and the island, pulling various mugs down from the wooden shelves and flicking the ever ready coffee machine into action.
"How is he?" Ducky asked, taking a seat on one of the comfortable kitchen chairs, taking in Gibbs' appearance. Gibbs didn't immediately answer, but ran a hand down his tired face.
"Better." Came the one worded reply with a nod of reassurance – reassurance for whom? "I didn't want to wake him, his bandages are fine."
"I'm sure they are, Jethro, I don't just come here to look over the medical side of things." The cultured response gave Gibbs a soft smile as the coffee machine bleeped softly, the green light flashing, almost smugly about finishing its task.
Gibbs automatically poured two cups, letting Ducky take his as he chose, lowering himself to the kitchen island chairs, and Ducky knew where everything was. Even if he didn't, it wouldn't be hard to locate the refrigerator, even if it was covered in miscellaneous scraps of paper; grade sheets with elegant red stamped 'A's, letters written from Tony back home in his almost illegible scrawl which Gibbs had learnt to decipher, a calendar. All rudimentary things.
"And how are you doing?"
"Me, I'm fine." Monotonous.
"Really? Jethro, you lost a man, you've been through quit an ordeal, have you even considered talking to someone about it?"
"I'm talking to you, aren't I?"
"Jethro." The tone held a warning.
"Don't, Ducky. We'll get through it." Gibbs looked up at the doctor's rather unbelieving expression, but decided to ignore it, just let the scolding coffee run down his throat. He heard Ducky sigh deeply, taking his own mug off the counter to drink.
Diefenbaker chose that moment to potter in, his head bumping affectionately against Gibbs leg, one paw pathetically padding at his foot. He wasn't sure when the dog had been taught to beg, but with those huge brown eyes he was rarely forbidden anything he begged for. So, he did the natural thing. He fed the dog.
Gibbs couldn't understand why such a normal act felt so out of place. Feeding the family pet and having coffee with a family friend. It was such a natural action, yet it felt odd, disconnected.
"I did the right thing, didn't I Ducky?" He murmured, glancing towards the stairs. "I took him in, gave him a life but…this? God, Ducky, he's been through so much and now even more. I did right to adopt him?" Gibbs swallowed, staring into the depths of his black mug.
"Jethro. Jethro, look at me." Ducky's voice held a command Gibbs couldn't refuse. "Of course you did right. This event will never destroy the love you have for that boy or that he has for you. You are his father, Jethro. It may not say so on his birth certificate, you may not look like him but you are his father. Biologically you could never say you would not take him, you could never do that. You won't do so now, you know you couldn't do anything. He may be old enough to look after himself, move out, attend university, live alone and survive alone, but he will never stop depending on him. And Jethro, you – even you – will never stop depending on him. This is not something to tear you apart, this is to bring you closer together, never let yourself or Tony forget that."
Gibbs swallowed thickly, his jaw clenched. It was true, of course it was true, and he'd just needed to be told it. He'd known it. He could never abandon his son, it may have only been five years but that was no difference, it felt like nineteen years. Nineteen years he'd seen the boy grow, his love blossom and his pride extend what he felt possible. He was an amazing child, and amazing man and there was no way anyone could take that away from him. This? A set back? Not even that, it was a speed bump, but they'd work through it. Gibbs himself knew he would do anything and everything in his power to make this easier for Tony. He'd be there any time, any day, any hour. Never more than a phone call away.
He'd never abandon his son.
"I need to see him." Gibbs voice was slightly hoarse as he pushed up from the table, making it up to the second floor landing even before Ducky had put his mug into the sink. A slight smile curved the side of the doctor's mouth, his calm exterior now reflecting much more of the internal emotions rather than the plunging concern that had been dancing before.
Picking his coat from the hanger, Doctor Mallard shut the door softly behind him.
Minutes passed. In the kitchen, Diefenbaker looked up from his empty bowl, his tongue lapping at his canines. Big brown eyes roamed the now dark room, his tail waving amiable as he padding up the stairs where he wasn't usually allowed, along the corridor he hardly ever passed and, pushing the door open with his fluffy head, surveyed the room. The bedside lamp was still on, but the stuffed armchair in the corner had been pulled up towards the bed. Gibbs sat against the bed, one hand resting on Tony's side. His other arm was lying flat across the mattress, his head resting on his forearm, eyes closed shut against the battle of sleep. One of Tony's hands had found its way out from underneath the blanket and was encircled in his father's sleeve, long fingers holding on gently in his sleep.
With a soft gruff, Diefenbaker leapt lightly onto the bed, curling up against Tony's legs, the warmth of absolution better than any blanket made.
It's always interesting how things turn out. And whilst this is finished, who knows where the road leads next.
Another thing, my story Reach Out For The Sweet Dream seems to have fallen completely off the grid. Literally, for some reason it just can't be accessed any more and apparently exists not. I have no idea why I'm afraid, it's just gone. Frustrating I know, but if you are looking for it and do find it, please tell me, I just can't find it any more.
Hope you liked this, and the reviews have really been incredible. I'm sorry I haven't been as active in updating as usual, exams and life piling up more boxes of things to do. Should change soon, but thank-you so much for the support.
Soul Music [Eryn]