Title: Coming To Terms
Author: Ashleigh Anpilova
Recipient's name: Stephy strainconductor
Pairing: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
Sub-genre: Established Relationship. Angst. Hurt/comfort
Summary: Gibbs has to come to terms with the results of his job, and face something he’d always believed he could face.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
"I am sorry, Jimmy, what did you say?" Ducky was suddenly aware that Jimmy had spoken his name, indeed had been speaking to him for several moments.
"I wondered if you wanted me to fetch you a cup of tea, Doctor." Jimmy was looking at him, his concern clear for anyone to see.
Ducky touched his arm, needing to make contact with the living. "That's a very kind thought, Jimmy, but I think we should . . ." He looked down at the body on the table, and for a second closed his eyes. He had to force himself not to relive the scene he had witnessed earlier.
When he opened them again he found that Jimmy was still watching him, the concern now greater than it had been only moments earlier. "Would you like me to . . . ?" Jimmy nodded at the body lying naked on the table between them.
Ducky shook his head. It wasn't fair to expect his young assistant to do what he should do himself. It was, after all, only another body. He'd cut so many of them up over his life, he'd lost count of exactly how many, but the figure was in the hundreds maybe thousands.
He'd always thought that he would keep count; that somehow it was the right thing to do, that it would be his way of . . . But as the years went by, now more than twenty-five, one body became very much like another. And yet in some way he could recall each and every one of them.
What he did was necessary, essential, but also intrusive. It was why he talked to them; they were human beings, they weren't just pieces of meat. They gave up all their secrets to him, even ones they would rather have died before giving up - which ironically of course was just what they did.
Why was this body so different? Why was it so painful? More painful than usual? And why couldn't he talk to it?
"Doctor?" Jimmy touched his arm.
Ducky shook himself. "I am sorry, Jimmy," he said again. "Please forgive me. I . . . "
"You're worried about Agent Gibbs, aren't you?" Jimmy spoke softly, hesitantly; he sounded as if he was concerned that Ducky would be angry with him.
Ducky closed his eyes and nodded. "Yes, Mr. Palmer, I am." He too spoke quietly, and he sighed.
"Why don't you call him? Or go up and see if . . ."
Ducky shook his head. "I can't, Jimmy," he said firmly. "That would be . . . I can't explain it, but Jethro has to . . ."
"I understand, Doctor."
Ducky looked at his assistant and saw that it wasn't just words, as it would have been for so many people; Jimmy Palmer really did understand. He nodded once, then with the knowledge that if he didn't begin, he might never do so, he picked up his scalpel, swallowed and . . .
He put it down again. “Put her to bed, Mr. Palmer,” he said quietly, but firmly.
Jimmy’s mouth fell open. Ducky wasn’t surprised. “Doctor?”
“She isn’t going anywhere, Jimmy. Is she?”
“Er, no, Doctor. I guess not.” Jimmy continued to stare at him for a moment or two, really looking at him, making eye contact and holding it in a way he rarely did.
Seconds, minutes, or even hours went by. Then Jimmy nodded once. “Of course, Doctor,” he said simply, and moved to obey Ducky’s instruction.
“And when you’ve done that, Jimmy, I think that cup of tea might be very nice. And you can join me.”
The metal door clanged shut and Jimmy pushed the bar to close and secure it. “Yes, Doctor. Thank you, Doctor. I’d like that. I’ll just -“
The door to Autopsy swished open.
Ducky paused. Even with his back to the door he knew who had come in. "Jimmy, would -"
"I'll just take these up to Abby," Jimmy said, cutting into Ducky's words. He grabbed the empty sample bottles, glanced over Ducky's shoulder, and then hurried out of the room.
Ducky waited until he heard the door open and close again before he turned around.
He didn't believe he had ever seen his beloved Jethro looking quite so . . . Even Ducky was unable to find a word to describe just how his friend looked. He also found himself momentarily unable to find the words to say anything worthwhile, anything that would help, anything that wouldn't sound trite.
Instead he simply opened his arms. "Come here, dearest," he murmured.
For a second or two, Jethro didn't move, he just whispered, his voice low and unlike any tone Ducky had hitherto heard him use, “Oh, Duck.” Then with a harsh noise that could have been a sob, a bitten off laugh, a cough, and half a dozen other things, he moved, with none of his usual fluidity, across the room and into Ducky's arms. Once there, he let his shoulders stoop so that his head came to rest on Ducky's shoulder.
Ducky folded his arms around the taller, stronger body, pulling Jethro into the fierce embrace, tightening his grip even more and just holding him.
In turn Jethro's arms wrapped themselves around Ducky, pulling him nearer, trying to close the already closed gap between them. The grip was punishing, painful, brutal even. Jethro held him with desperation of the kind Ducky had never known his lover to exhibit. Held him as if nothing on earth could ever make him let go.
Ducky stroked Jethro's back, letting one hand move to caress the lowered head, moving his hands to soothe, to calm, to comfort, to reassure, letting Jethro take whatever he needed, and to hell with the cameras.
His leg screamed in protest as Jethro's grip became even fiercer, and he slumped against Ducky even more, forcing Ducky to take a greater amount of his weight than he usually had to do. But Ducky ignored the pain, tried to tune it out, pushed it away, silently ordered it to leave.
Instead, he just stood in silence, feeling Jethro's rapid heartbeat against his chest, listening to the harsh breathing, and finally feeling dampness on his neck.
Still he didn't speak, other than to murmur, so softly, he doubted his friend would have heard him, gentle words of nonsense, that consisted mostly of 'it's all right, my dear, I'm here. It'll be all right, Jethro'.
For the first time in his life, a small part of Ducky wondered if he was lying to his beloved.
"I didn't know, Duck," Jethro said, as he finally lifted his head from Ducky's shoulder. However, he didn't end the embrace.
"I know, my dear," Ducky said softly.
And Jethro hadn't known.
None of them had known.
None of them could have known.
Against his will, Ducky's mind returned, in full film version, images, sounds, smells, to a few hours earlier.
It was a perfectly normal call-out, if any marine's death could be called 'perfectly normal'.
The kids were arguing gently whilst carrying out their duties.
Ducky was trying to stop Jimmy from tripping over anyone or anything - especially Jethro's coffee.
Jethro was overseeing the whole thing, standing over the body while the kids continued to collect and photograph evidence.
"Time of death, Duck?"
Ducky pulled out the liver probe, swiftly calculated for the temperature of the air, and looked up at Jethro. "About six to eight hours ago, Jethro."
"How did he die?"
Ducky sighed and pushed himself to his feet. "Why do you insist on asking me questions that you know I can't, or indeed won't, answer until I get the body home, Jethro?"
Jethro shrugged. "Force of habit, I guess. So how did he die?" For a brief second the shields he always erected to shroud his gaze whenever he and Ducky weren't at home tumbled, and a flash of the deep affection and intense love Ducky knew his lover had for him appeared. Then it had gone, and instead the fondness, that even Jethro couldn't hide, remained.
Ducky sighed again. "Well, it looks like -"
"Agent Gibbs!" Jimmy suddenly shouted. "Over there."
Jethro had clearly read Jimmy's tone as easily as Ducky had, because as he turned, he pulled out his Sig, clicked the safety off and raised it in a two-handed grip, all in one fluid, honed to perfection, movement.
There, running across the ground, running towards a marquee where a group of Marine and Naval Officers and their wives were celebrating something or other, was a figure. It was dressed entirely in black and was carrying a largish bag. But that wasn't the worst thing; the running person, a young man, Ducky presumed, carried an automatic rifle.
"Federal Agents. Freeze," Gibbs yelled, as he steadied his already steady grip.
As one DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva pulled their Sigs and aimed at the figure. Ducky knew, however, that they would not fire; not unless Gibbs ordered them to do so, or Gibbs himself was in danger.
The running figure didn't stop; he just kept on racing towards the oblivious group inside the marquee.
"Federal Agents. Freeze," Gibbs called for a second time, giving the man one final chance.
This time the figure did stop. Turned, raised his gun, and -
The sound of two shots rang out from Gibbs's Sig-Sauer.
In front of them the figure crumpled to the ground.
Gibbs took off, running towards the fallen man.
From the other direction, his field team also ran.
Ducky and Jimmy followed, less swiftly.
Nonetheless, it was Ducky who reached Jethro's side first.
Ducky who watched as Jethro pushed away the fallen gun, put his fingers to his victim's neck, and pulled off the bag, glancing into it quickly before tossing it behind him.
Ducky who . . .
Ducky who watched as Jethro tugged off the balaclava that the person had been wearing.
Ducky who heard the whispered, "Oh, my God, no."
Ducky who stood, one hand on Jethro's shoulder, staring along with this stricken friend down at the face of a young girl, a young girl who couldn't be more than twelve or thirteen.
The girl's body was the one Jimmy had put safely away seconds before Jethro had arrived in Autopsy.
Who she was they would no doubt find out; they always did. Well nearly always.
Why she did what she did, from where she got her weapons, for or with whom she was working, was a different matter. They might never find that out. At least not completely.
"I didn't know, Duck," Jethro repeated, his voice flat.
"I know, dearest," Ducky repeated, moving back just far enough to allow him to look up at his lover. Jethro's face, usually weather tanned, was ashen and his skin now looked ghastly. The dark blue eyes, completely unhidden, were dead and looked haunted, and the usual cock-sure attitude that was customarily evident on Jethro's face and in his body language had vanished. And under his gaze, Ducky watched as Jethro trembled.
Still not caring what the cameras might see, he reached up, pulled Jethro's head back down and kissed him gently on the forehead. "Come with me, dear," he then said, making it a quiet order. He slipped one arm from around Jethro, took his hand and began to move away. After a second or two Jethro followed him, almost stumbling, holding onto Ducky as if he was never going to let go.
"Here. Drink it. All of it," Ducky ordered again, after he'd poured two shots of whiskey, one somewhat larger than the other.
Jethro did as instructed. Then held out the glass towards Ducky. For a fraction of a second Ducky hesitated, then he poured some more into the glass. It was late on Saturday afternoon, and with a little persuading he thought he could get Jethro to leave the office somewhat earlier than usual and go home with Ducky. Besides, he knew his lover's capacity for alcohol, occasionally it worried him, he knew how much Jethro could drink and still remain unaffected.
Jethro tossed the second whiskey back, he couldn't have tasted it, put the glass onto Ducky's desk and sank down onto the desk. He held out his hand and Ducky took it. "'It was suicide-by-cop, Kate. Get over it'. That's what I told her, after she'd shot that young bloke. Makes a mockery of my words, doesn't it? And he wasn't even guilty."
"We don't know that -"
"Yes, we do. The bullets in her gun matched the ones in the Petty Officer's body. And her fingerprints were all over his wallet."
"Ah." That explained why it had taken Jethro longer than Ducky had expected, before he'd turned up in Autopsy. He'd waited until Abby had confirmed what they all suspected.
"She was a kid, Duck. Just a kid. How old?"
"We don't know for certain, my dear. Twelve, thirteen, maybe fourteen. I haven't . . ." Ducky trailed off.
"Why, Duck? Why?" Jethro gripped his hands tightly, his nails digging into Ducky's.
Ducky knew exactly what question his friend was asking. "Because she was a child. Because she was female. Because she reminds you of -"
"She could have been her, Duck. Same color hair, same shape face, same . . . Oh, Duck, she could have been Kelly at that age."
"Her eyes were different." Ducky spoke firmly.
Jethro shook his head. "I killed her, Duck. I killed a child. A kid. A kid who should have been playing with dolls or dressing up, or whatever kids do today. She should have been out with her friends, going to a party. Christ, even playing hooky from school and smoking. She shouldn't have been . . . Ducky, I killed a child. And I don't know if I can . . . I didn't know, Duck. I didn't."
"I know," Ducky said for the third time.
"But what if I had have know, Duck? What if I had have known? Could I still have done it? Could I still have pulled the trigger, knowing that I was going to kill a kid? Even though I knew it was one life against God knows how many. Could I, Ducky? Could I have deliberately, cold bloodedly, taken a child's life?" Now Jethro held Ducky just below his elbows, the grip bruising, punishingly tight, and he shook Ducky. "Could I?" he demanded again.
For a long moment Ducky just stood and looked into the desperate gaze. It begged him, pleaded with him, asked him. 'Absolve me', it said. 'Lie to me'. 'Find a way'.
But that wasn't how it was between them.
Ducky could lie to his lover. But dong so would cause more problems than it solved; effect more hurts than it healed.
Jethro needed him. Needed him in a way he'd perhaps never needed him before. Needed him even more than he had after the deaths of Kelly and Shannon. But he also needed the truth; no matter how brutal, how harsh, how terrible it was. He needed it. He needed it to allow him to go on being the Special Agent he was; the man he was.
Forcing himself not to close his eyes on the anguish before him, Ducky spoke a single word; quietly, but with determination. "Yes." Then as the gaze that held his froze, he repeated, "Yes. Yes, my dearest Jethro. Yes, you could have."
With those words, the cruelest he had ever said to Jethro, he pulled his lover back into his arms and held him against him. Once again he kissed him, this time on his head.
Now the healing could begin.
Later that night as Jethro, exhausted by the day's events, gentle lovemaking and something Ducky had added to the final glass of whiskey he'd given him (even as an ME, Ducky had rightful access to a variety of drugs, and it was Saturday night), lay sleeping in Ducky's arms.
As he held his sleeping lover, Ducky knew that one day he would have to tell Jethro just how he knew that his lover could have killed the girl, even had he known she was only a child.