AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship
SUMMARY: A stomach bug going around the office is the cause of more problems than just sickness. Written for Challenge #2: 'Gibbs and Ducky are in Autopsy or Quarantine, and the surveillance camera is on'.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
"What is it, Duck?" Gibbs sniffed the small beaker of colorless liquid that Ducky had handed him and the rest of the team.
"A preventative medicine against this virulent stomach bug that's going around the building," Ducky said. He sounded tired.
"Oh, I don't need to take that," Gibbs said, pushing it away. "I never get bugs. You know that." He flashed Ducky a smile. To his surprise the pale blue eyes, which usually looked at him with deep affection, became like flint, and Ducky's face hardened.
"Fine. Don't drink it. But if you do become ill, don't look to me for sympathy or assistance." Ducky snarled the words, grabbed the small beaker he'd put on Gibbs's desk, and began to move away.
Stunned as he was, Gibbs was faster. He reached out and snagged Ducky's hand, the movement caused the beaker to jerk, spilling its contents onto the carpet. Gibbs ignored it. "Ducky, are you all right?" he asked, keeping his voice low. His 'Ducky sense' had raced into overdrive, and his concern had reached the level whereby he wasn't certain he could keep it from becoming overly obvious.
Around him he could hear the heavy silence as DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva held their breath, clearly waiting for Gibbs to explode or snap back at Ducky, who was in effect Gibbs's subordinate. Their shock was tangible. And he knew it wasn't just that Ducky had snapped at him, but that Ducky had snapped at all. Ducky was renowned for his even-going nature with his coworkers, with people in general; unless they interfered with crime scenes, or violated his standards.
"Duck?" he repeated softly, when Ducky didn't say anything. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine thank you, Agent Gibbs. Now kindly let go of my hand. Even if you do not require my help or my medicine, there are plenty of people who do." To Gibbs's further surprise, Ducky didn't wait for Gibbs to release his wrist; instead he yanked it away. The flinch that passed over the rigid face and touched the hard eyes, told Gibbs that the move had hurt his old friend.
Gibbs stamped down on his instinct to stand up and put his arm around Ducky, and cajole him into telling him what was wrong. The team might suspect, as Gibbs knew they did, about the 'more than just good friends' relationship Ducky and he shared, but now was hardly the place to confirm their suspicions. Just as it wasn't the time to display his softer side, that Abby kept telling Tony and others Gibbs did have, even if they might sometimes believe her.
So instead of saying anything else, or of following Ducky who was limping more than he usually did across the office, Gibbs remained in his seat. However, his stare never left Ducky, and he followed his lover's progress to the elevators. He did not return his attention to his computer screen until the doors had clanged shut behind Ducky.
The three field members of his team were still silent. For once even DiNozzo hadn't made one of his so-called humorous remarks.
After a minute or two Gibbs sensed them return to their own work. Nonetheless, he knew they were waiting for him to leave the office, and was aware that as soon as he did, they would be silent no longer.
Then something else touched his senses and he glanced up. Leaning on the railing overlooking the office looking down, stood Jenn Shepard; there was a faintly triumphant smile on her lips. Gibbs felt suddenly sick as his stomach began to churn. He's seen that look once before, when she'd stood watching from across the Parisian street as he had been arrested.
He locked gazes with her and watched as the victorious look faded, to be replaced by one of slight trepidation and concern. He knew exactly what his own look was portraying.
She stood there for another second or two. She then tossed her head - the effect failed due to her new haircut - and walked off.
Gibbs waited no longer.
He pushed back his chair, stood up and strode across the office, ignoring the elevators in favor of the stairs. He no longer cared what the team might be saying.
He took the stairs three at a time and arrived in Autopsy to be greeted by the sight of Jimmy Palmer standing, arms folded, just inside the door. "Where's Dr. Mallard, Palmer?"
"I'm sorry, Agent Gibbs, but Dr. Mallard is rather busy at the moment. He -"
"Palmer, if you wish to remain working here, or indeed in one piece, I suggest you get out of my way." Gibbs took a step nearer to the younger man, whose face had become the color of putty. Nonetheless, Palmer did not move.
"Agent Gibbs, kindly do not threaten my assistant with things that you do not have the authority to carry out." Ducky appeared from behind Palmer, who stood mouth open looking from one man to the other.
Once more thrown into a stunned silence, Gibbs just stared at Ducky, suddenly desperate to see the steady, unwavering affection in the pale eyes. But still nothing hovered there but steel. Then under Gibbs's fixed and he knew deeply worried gaze, the steel began to fade, and a hint of the usual open-for-all-to-see love appeared.
Ducky sighed, briefly closed his eyes, then opened them again. "It's all right, Jimmy," he said, his voice sounding wearier than Gibbs had ever heard it. "Go and talk to Abby."
Palmer glanced at his boss. He impersonated a goldfish for a few moments, before turning his head to look at Gibbs. "Are you sure, doctor?" he asked, his tone uncertain. Gibbs was hit by the clear and deep concern Ducky's young assistant was displaying for his boss.
"Yes, Jimmy. Go along now," said Ducky, sounding rather as though he was talking to a five-year old. He patted Palmer's arm.
Still glancing from Gibbs to Ducky, Palmer with clear reluctance left the room, leaving the two old friends alone.
Gibbs kept silent, leaving the ball in Ducky's court. He held the suddenly exhausted gaze and waited. Ducky closed his eyes again, and then said softly, "I'm sorry, Jethro." He ran a slightly shaking hand through his hair.
Gibbs blinked. Before he could respond, however, Ducky staggered. In a second Gibbs was by him, had wrapped his arm around him and guided him to his chair. Ducky sank into it gratefully, and put his head into his hands. Gibbs, keeping one hand on Ducky's arm, crouched down beside his lover. "Duck?"
"I shouldn't have snapped at you, my dear. It was wrong of me. We agreed that we'd keep our personal relationship out of the office. I'm sorry," he repeated.
Gibbs shook his head. "Just tell me what's up, Duck," he said quietly, moving from his position on the floor to sit on the edge of the desk. He now let his hand come to rest on Ducky's shoulder.
Ducky kept his gaze on his lap. Finally he looked up and met Gibbs's eyes. The pain that filled the steady stare cut into Gibbs. "Why didn't you tell me, Jethro?" he asked. He sounded exhausted and perplexed. "Why did you have to let me find out from her?" Now sadness was added to the mix.
Gibbs shook his head. "Tell you what, Duck?"
Ducky sighed. "That you and Jennifer are . . . That you have resumed your non-working relationship."
Gibbs blinked, puzzled for a moment. "What are you talking about, Duck?" Then it hit him. "Good God, Ducky. You don't think that Jenn and I are sleeping together again, do you?"
"No!" Gibbs shouted. As Ducky flinched, he instantly regretted his fierce tone. Then under his eyes he watched Ducky's face begin to lose its color.
"Don't lie to me, Jethro. I'm not a fool."
Gibbs grabbed Ducky's hand and pulled it towards him. He put his other hand under Ducky's chin and held it firmly. "Listen to me, Duck. I may be a bastard. I know I've treated you badly over the years. God alone knows why you're still around. But one thing I have never and would never do, is lie to you. I am not sleeping with Jenn Shepard. Nor am I about to."
For a moment, the gaze became heavy with hope, and then it faded. "Then where were you last night?"
"At home. Working on my boat."
"I rang you."
"There's something wrong with the phone. The engineers have promised to come out today."
"I rang your cell phone."
"Yeah, well. Um. The ringer thing must have gotten turned off again. And it needed rebooting. Ask McGee, he worked his magic on it this morning."
The color had now drained completely from Ducky's face, leaving it as colorless as the liquid he'd tried to get Gibbs to drink earlier. He was now shaking quite obviously, and the hand Gibbs held had become like ice. And yet perspiration was present on Ducky's forehead and upper lip. Gibbs touched the damp forehead; Ducky felt hot, yet clammy. Gibbs wondered if the doctor had taken a dose of his own medicine. But that could wait.
"What did she tell you?" he asked softly, letting his hand slip from Ducky's forehead to cup the side of his face. To hell with the surveillance cameras.
"That she'd forgotten how good it was with you. How much stamina you had." Ducky's voice was little more than a whisper. "Oh, Jethro."
"She just came out with it?" I'll ring her neck, Gibbs thought.
Ducky shook his head. "We rode up in the lift together. I happened to say that she looked tired, and asked her if she was feeling well. I thought that maybe she had succumbed to this bug. She glanced at me and looked faintly embarrassed. She then looked at me as though she was sorry for me, and told me that - Oh, Jethro my dear, I am so very sorry. What have I done?"
"You've done nothing, Duck. That bitch has. Tell me, Duck, why didn't you just ask me? Why did you believe her?"
"I couldn't ask you, Jethro. I may not have much pride left as far as you're concerned, but even I have my limits. As for why I believed her. Well, let us be honest, dearest, Jennifer Shepard was the one woman who had the audacity to leave you, before you were ready for it. I've lived in dread from the moment she returned here. You see I believe that she was the one person, apart from Shannon, for whom you truly cared."
"One woman, Duck. I care for you. I love you as much as I ever loved Shannon. More in fact," Jethro added softly. "You know that. And for once, my love, you're not right. I never really cared for Jenn. I just thought I did. She severely dented my pride when she sent me that 'Dear John,' letter. But I'd already seen her for what she was, a conniving, shallow, two-faced bitch."
"Jethro!" Ducky sounded indignant.
Jethro chuckled briefly. "Ah, Duck," he slipped his hand into Ducky's hair. "Don't waste your chivalry on her. She isn't worth it."
For a moment the blue eyes flared with anger, then they softened again and took on their usual 'Jethro look'. "No. She isn't. I see that now. I am sorry, my dear. I know I should have said something, but," Ducky shrugged. "I was so tired. Exhausted in fact. And I -"
"Don't, Duck. Don't worry. It doesn't matter." Gibbs tugged Ducky nearer to him, wrapping both arms around him and holding his lover. He let his chin come to rest on Ducky's head. "Why did you try to call me last night? Did you need me for something?"
"I was going to ask you if you'd mind coming and sitting with Mother for an hour or two, so that I could get a little sleep. She hasn't been well. She's had this bug that's been going around. I've been up with her for the past three nights. Mrs. Patterson has been sitting with her during the day, but I couldn't ask her to stay at night. She needed her sleep."
"Ducky! Why the hell didn't you say something?" Gibbs pushed Ducky, albeit gently, away from him and frowned. "Why didn't you call in sick or something?"
"Everyone has been so busy with half the office off sick. I couldn't. I've had sleepless nights before, Jethro. It comes as part of the package of being a doctor. When I was a medical student and newly qualified doctor, I remember -"
"Duck. I hate to say this, but that was nearly forty years ago. You were younger then."
"I know, my dear," Ducky said. "I'm a foolish old man."
"You're not old, Ducky. But I won't argue the foolish bit." Gibbs ruffled Ducky's hair and said nothing when Ducky sighed and sagged against him. Instead he simply shifted slightly to accommodate Ducky's weight. "Ah, Duck," he said, stroking Ducky's hair and wondering idly how long it would be before the pictures from the camera made their way around the office. In fact, maybe he should just call DiNozzo now, and tell him to take them and show them to Madam Director. Let her see that her attempts hadn't worked after all. If he could get his hands on her now, he'd -
His musings were interrupted by a soft sound. Glancing down, he saw that Ducky's head had slipped into his lap, and the gentlest of snores emanated from the suddenly heavy head. "Ah, Duck," he said again, continuing to stroke Ducky's hair.
Gibbs decided to let his lover be for the moment. Not for too long though, because as exhausted as Ducky clearly was, the position he was in was not going to be a comfortable one. Gibbs would wake him up in a few minutes, take him home, put him to bed and keep an eye on him. If Mrs. Mallard was still sick, Gibbs would hire a nurse, something Ducky could and should have done, to take care of her.
He moved very slightly, causing Ducky to mumble something and snuggle more closely into his lap. His hip pressed against something firm, and he glanced to his side. There stood a bottle of the colorless liquid Ducky had tried to force on him earlier. Casting another glance at his sleeping lover, and remembering how feverish Ducky had felt, he gathered Ducky against him, holding him with one hand and arm, snagged the bottle, somehow battled to get the top off, and gulped down what he judged to be the amount Ducky had put in the beaker earlier. Then for good measure he took a second swallow. To his surprise it tasted as it looked: colorless. He gave up trying to get the lid back on, put the bottle back on Ducky's desk, and returned to holding Ducky with two arms.
Just a few more minutes and he'd wake him up. And then when Ducky had recovered from his exhaustion, Gibbs would remind his long term lover of just how much he loved him, and just why he had no intention of taking up with Jenn Shepard, or any other woman. "Love you, Duck," he whispered, and bent to brush his lips over Ducky's head.
In the Director’s Office, Jenny Shepard watched the scene it had cost her several threats to see.
She had been so confident that even if Ducky had shown himself to be so lacking in pride as to actually tell Jethro what she had said to him, that Jethro would not have denied it.
She had felt certain that Jethro had merely entered into the weird relationship with Ducky out of some bizarre sense of loyalty and friendship, not because he had really wanted to get involved with Ducky in that way. She had felt sure that the relationship was nothing more than Jethro merely using Ducky for sex when a woman wasn’t available, or when he wanted something different.
She had believed he’d have welcomed a way out from what, despite changes in the law, was still regarded by many as being wrong and nasty.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs wasn’t gay. She could attest to that; and three marriages certainly proved it. Unlike Dr. Donald Mallard who was, and who had never tried to hide the fact. Not that, Jenny had to admit, he ever made a big thing of it; he was just . . . He was just Ducky. But if anyone stopped to think about it, then it would be clear to them all that their rambling ME did prefer men to women.
She had never dreamed for even a moment that Jethro actually loved Ducky, at least not in that way. One thing she had always been aware of was the deep friendship the two men had shared, and how no one ever crossed Ducky or had anything negative to say to about him, at least not in Jethro’s hearing. And given Jethro’s omniscience, not at all if they were sensible.
But Jethro was in love; that was as clear as the fact that he was the best NCIS agent the agency had ever, or would ever have. The thrice-time married man who had given her the best sex she had ever experienced, who flirted with every redhead he met, was in love, deeply in love, with another man - and a blond at that.
She had lost him for good.
But then she’d never really had him.
And suddenly she wasn’t certain that any of his women had ever truly had him.
Everything she’d observed, during her time as a field agent, since coming back as Director and today, both now and the scene she’d watched earlier, told her that Jethro always had been Ducky’s. She wondered now whether he realized that.
With a silent curse and the awareness that she never should have returned as Director, she flipped off the screen. Let them have one another. It was what they deserved. She was better than both of them.