TITLE: A Lifestyle Change
AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard. Abby/McGee. DiNozzo/Jeanne (mentioned). Also mentioned in passing: Gibbs/Fornell; Ducky/Fornell; Gibbs/Jenn; Gibbs/Hollis
SUB-GENRE: First time. Alternative Reality
SUMMARY: Set within the current NCIS universe, but with one major difference: Ducky does not work for NCIS; in fact he is on a short-term contract with the FBI. He and Gibbs meet for the first time at an interagency party, where Tobias Fornell introduces them. The attraction is intense and immediate, and is more than just a physical one. However, for Gibbs, sex with a man is just that sex and one night stands, no commitment, no contact, no attachment. One night in Ducky's bed shakes the very foundations of this belief and he walks away. However, he cannot forget; but Ducky is leaving DC soon, very soon. Written for Challenge #14 - The AU/AR Challenge.
PROMPT: 20_1sttimes 17 - Starting from scratch.
RATING: R (mainly for language)
WORD COUNT: 7,191
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
Jethro Gibbs was bored; no make that very bored. As he stood in a room surrounded by fellow Federal Agents and connected service personnel, he wondered, not for the first time, what the hell he was doing there. He wasn’t there out of choice; his attendance, as with all the NCIS, staff had been mandatory. He glanced across the room at his 'date', Lt. Colonel Hollis Mann and wondered why he'd agreed to attend the function with her. Because you knew it'd piss Jenn off, his mind told him. He growled silently, but was forced to accept the truth of the little voice. It wasn't particularly adult, but there were times when Gibbs didn't feel particularly adult.
He and Hollis had been having sex with one another for a few months now, but that was all their 'relationship' consisted of. An hour or two of physical satisfaction, before he showered, dressed and went home, was all it consisted of. And even the physical satisfaction had dwindled - for both of them - over the last couple of weeks. Only last night he'd asked her why they still bothered seeing one another, going to bed together; spending time together; pretending. The starkness and sadness of her reply still rang in his ears. 'It's better than being alone', she had said.
But was it?
Was it really?
But it wasn't just Hollis who failed to reach him, to touch him. No one, not any of this three ex-wives, not Jenn, not a dozen or more other women, not the men he fucked when his need for that kind of sex got too much to bear, since he'd lost his dear Shannon had done so. And now, in the cold, stark honesty of the ending of another failed relationship, he was able to admit that many of his memories of Shannon were recalled through rose-colored glasses.
Yes, he had loved her, had been in love with her, part of him still did and still was. But their marriage hadn't been as perfect as his memories had made it out to be. The cracks had already been there, before Kelly had been born; her birth had smoothed over some of them, but in the last year of their lives, they had started to reappear and grow wider. Maybe it was nothing more than him being a Marine, maybe it was just normal relationship development, maybe . . .
Maybe it was time he stopped seeing her as a saint and perfect; she wouldn't have wanted that.
He glanced around the room again and his eyes came to settle on his team:
DiNozzo, looking oddly at ease in the dinner jacket and bow tie - the one Gibbs had had to tie for him - his arm around his fiancée, Jeanne, or whatever her name was.
Abby and McGee, with the dark shadows that new parents have under their eyes, nonetheless smiling and happy.
Ziva, standing slightly on the edge of the group, as she always did, looking extremely beautiful in her simple, long red dress.
Jenn who, as always at these things, seemed to have left half her own dress behind.
Jimmy Palmer, who hadn't stopped smiling since he had passed his second year medical exams a week ago.
And finally, Dr. Paul Sharpe, the Agency's ME; quiet, boring, distant, distinctively lacking in imagination, but nonetheless too competent for Gibbs to get rid of.
He didn't want to join them. Didn't want to talk to any of them. He had nothing to say to any of them. Not really. Small talk had never been one of his fortes.
He looked at the clock; he swore it was going backwards. Then he looked at the exit, surely no one would notice if he left. He had the itch that never boded well, the one that would keep niggling and nagging, until he gave into it, went to The Red Parrot and picked up some man or other to fuck. Then it would be over for another few months, and he could go back to fucking Hollis, or some other woman.
As he thought about men and bed, his eyes came to rest on Tobias Fornell, but he hastily pulled them away. They'd tried that a couple of times and it hadn't worked; thank God they'd managed to keep their friendship intact. Sometimes, after two bourbons too many, he dared to wonder just why going to bed with his oldest friend had been so catastrophic. But he always chose to have another drink rather than answer his own ponderings.
Shit. Fornell had caught his eye and was heading his way. As good a friend as the FBI agent was, Gibbs didn't think that, given the way his body was yearning, being too close to Fornell was a good idea. But he couldn't turn and walk away; even he had some shred of decency.
"Tobias," he said, when his friend reached his side.
"Jethro." Fornell returned the greeting. As always the exchange of names said more than just the two words.
Then Gibbs noticed that Fornell wasn't alone. By his side was another man, older than Fornell and Gibbs himself, maybe six or seven years older, shorter than Gibbs by about six inches, and he wore his dinner jacket and bow tie as if he spent his entire life in them. Gibbs glanced at Fornell and raised an eyebrow.
"Sorry. Jethro, this is our temporary ME. Dr. Mallard. Ducky, this is Jethro Gibbs, he works for NCIS."
"I am pleased to meet you Special Agent Gibbs," the man said, holding out his hand and glancing up at Gibbs. The timbre of his well-spoken English accent was pleasant, and Gibbs found himself wishing he'd say something else.
Jethro took it and nodded. "And you, Dr. Mallard." As he squeezed the proffered hand and looked down into the pale blue eyes, a fission of sheer attraction, the kind he hadn't felt for over thirty years hit him. The intensity was so hard that he had to fight from gasping aloud and yanking his hand away.
"Oh, please, do call me Ducky."
"Jethro," he said, a tad reluctantly, and finally he let go of the other man's hand.
For a moment the three men just stood there, the atmosphere seemed highly charged and yet surprisingly relaxed. Suddenly remembering that he needed to ask Fornell something, Gibbs turned to his friend and opened his mouth. "Tobias," he started to say, but at that moment, Fornell's own Director appeared.
"Sorry, Agent Gibbs. But there's something I need to discuss with Agent Fornell," he said, not looking in the least bit apologetic. Gibbs knew that neither Jenn nor Fornell's Director fully approved of the friendship between their senior agents. Or maybe it was just that Fornell and Gibbs had a bad habit of not always keeping their Directors informed, and doing things their own way. "Dr. Mallard," the Director added, nodding at the other man, making it clear that his presence was not required. The ME however, simply smiled serenely and nodded back as Director Victor strode off, leaving Fornell to follow him.
"Catch up with you later, Ducky. I'm sure Jethro can entertain you until then. Watch out though, he was Marine and he's an even bigger bastard than I am. Jethro," he said, and flashed Gibbs what passed for a smile.
"Tobias. Here," Gibbs said, handing over his almost full glass of wine. "You might need it."
Fornell nodded his thanks and strode off after his Director, leaving Gibbs and the FBI's temporary ME together. Suddenly Gibbs thought that was an even bigger mistake than him being alone with Fornell.
The pale blue eyes openly appraised him and Gibbs shifted slightly, feeling like he was an object under the ME's microscope. "So," he said, managing to avoid calling the man by name. What kind of a name was 'Ducky' anyway? "Have you been with FBI for long?"
"A month or two. Tobias and I are old friends, we don't see one another very often, but we manage to keep in touch, as much as two busy men are able to do. His current ME went on maternity leave and as I was in the country, and I have the necessarily clearance level, he asked me if I would like to cover whilst she was away. It seemed an ideal opportunity to spend some time with my friend, and to see how many of his stories were actually true."
Against his will Gibbs found himself smiling. "Yeah, guess we do tend to get the odd tall tale. Do you want another drink?" he nodded at the empty glass Dr. Mallard held.
The pale blue eyes continued to appraise him. When the other man spoke, his words stunned Gibbs. "Do you? Or do you wish to leave? I have an apartment within a short taxi drive of here."
"What?" Gibbs spluttered.
"Oh, come now, Special Agent Gibbs, please do not act innocent with me. Neither of us are children; we both know what we want. However, if you prefer, you could always tell yourself that you are merely joining me for a decent drink. I have a good supply of rather fine pure malt scotch. Of course, my great-grandfather would tell me that there is no such thing as a 'rather fine pure malt scotch', as by virtue of being a 'pure malt scotch' they are all fine. However, I am rambling; as Tobias could no doubt tell you, that is a rather unfortunate habit of mine. I am sure that you have no interest in listening to me, not when your interest lies in other directions. So, shall we go? I doubt if either of us will be missed."
The sheer blatancy of the offer stunned Gibbs; but what shocked him more was the man's uncanny ability to read him so well. He's met him less than ten minutes ago, and the steady gaze had seen straight through him. As far as Gibbs was aware, the only other person who had any idea that he was bisexual was Fornell, and he would never breathe a word; after all he had his own secret to keep.
For a moment he was tempted to growl his refusal, even ask the man how dare he make such an absurd assumption, but already his mind was imaging his hands on the other man's body, touching him, caressing him, f - As his body began to follow the direction his mind had gone, Gibbs yanked it away and instead replayed the last time he Jenn Shepard had gone to bed; that was enough to do more than cool his ardor. Or it should have been; instead he was just grateful that dress trousers were rather loose. As he casually buttoned his jacket, he noticed a glint of humor in the otherwise calm gaze and a soft smile, that could easily have been a smirk, but wasn’t.
As he looked down into his companion's face, he felt the distinct urge to just give in and drown in the soft eyes. He shook himself; what the hell was he thinking? It was easy; he wanted sex with a man; he was being offered it on a plate, there were no strings attached and at least the man was safe, unlike some of the men he occasionally risked picking up. "Sure, a decent drink would be nice," he managed.
The soft smile grew more intense, and under Gibbs's gaze a piece of dark blond hair fell forward onto the ME's forehead, partly obscuring his eyes. Before he even knew what he was doing, Gibbs found he'd reached out and was about to brush it back. He froze, his hand in mid-air and swallowed hard. Even without touching the other man, the electricity and deep attraction that had passed between them when they'd shaken hands, had once again zipped through the air.
His companion looked equally as surprised as he also visible swallowed and said, his voice nowhere near as steady as when he'd made his blatant offer, "I think perhaps we had better leave now."
They took a cab to the extremely smart, very expensive apartment block. As Gibbs stared up at it, he realized that the man he was with was wealthy, extremely so. It was clear from his manner than Dr. Mallard was genuine; he wasn't putting anything on in an attempt to impress Gibbs. Everything about him told Gibbs that he'd been wealthy all his life, and everything he did was natural.
Once inside his companion surprised him by taking his coat and then saying, "Now what would you like to drink? Do you like your whiskey smoky or smooth?"
Gibbs blinked. This was a new one. When he went home with a man it was about one thing: sex. He didn't do the 'dating' thing, even the 'friendship' thing, heck he didn't do that with half of the women he went home with. They went to the bedroom, stripped and had sex; plain and simple, effortless and without any ties or pain. Is it? He ignored the voice.
"Um," he found himself saying. "I don't know really. Tend to drink what Tobias calls paint stripper myself. Whatever you want is fine. But just to set the record straight, we both know why I came here, you don't have to bother with drinks."
The pale eyes darkened and became colder. "Actually, Agent Gibbs, I do. For two reasons." His voice matched his eyes.
"Oh?" Gibbs found himself saying.
"Yes. One, whatever you may think of me, and to be honest why I care, I do not know, I am not about to go to bed with a man who cannot even think of me by name, let alone call me by name. What? You think I haven't noticed? Can you deny it? Have you even once thought of me as 'Ducky'?"
Gibbs swallowed. He should just leave. As pleasant as taking the man in front of him to bed would be, it wasn't worth all this. His hand reached to take back his coat, but instead touched the hand that held it. Yet again the fission of power raced through them. "No," he said, more than a trifle embarrassed at the admittance. "I haven't. Sorry," he added. He shook himself. Sorry? Where the hell had that come from? 'Never say you're sorry, it's a sign of weakness'. His own Rule Four came into his mind.
To his surprise his companion's face softened, and he lightly touched Gibbs's hand; it was the first deliberate touch either man had made since they'd shaken hands. "Apology accepted. However, it is not really necessary. Many people have problems with the name. You could, if you prefer, try 'Donald', which is the name my dear parents gave me." He smiled and waited.
Gibbs blinked and then blinked again as it hit him. "Oh, I see," he said. "Donald Mallard."
"Yes. I do sometimes wonder just what on earth they were thinking of. I was 'gifted' shall we say, with the name 'Ducky' whilst at Eton. Initially I hated it, and was annoyed by it, but there was nothing I could do. The name stuck, as these things do, and as time went on, I decided I rather liked it. Tobias says it suits me."
"It does," Gibbs found himself saying, and then felt himself blush as the man in front of him - Ducky - he forced himself to think, chuckled.
"Come along into the sitting room, Jethro, and allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite whiskies." Gibbs trailed along behind Ducky, now noticing, for the first time, that he was limping; he wondered why. He also wondered why the hell he simply hadn't walked out. An hour or two in bed, wasn't worth this amount of hassle, surely?
"Here." A glass was held out towards him. "I think you'll like this." Gibbs reached out to take it, but found that his companion held onto it. "Now say, 'thank you, Ducky'," the blue eyes twinkled with mirth, and the smooth lips twitched.
It should have annoyed Gibbs, but instead, he found himself laughing aloud, as all his anxiety suddenly fled. He then found himself saying, as if he'd been saying it all his life, "Thank you, Ducky. Hey, this is good," he said, after he took his first sip.
"I thought you might like it. Please, do sit down." Ducky waved Gibbs towards an armchair, before sitting down himself, rather carefully Gibbs noted, in the second one. "Your good health," he said.
For the next ten minutes or so they chatted idly about nothing in particular, and to his surprise Gibbs found himself as relaxed as when he and Fornell shared a friendly evening together. He himself shared little information; Ducky on the other hand talked about his time spent traveling the world, and how different cultures treated medicine.
Gibbs found that he was enjoying himself; Ducky was a good storyteller and had a voice that was easy on the ear. However, as pleasant as it was, the more he looked at his companion and the more he listened to him, the more his body urged him to do something else. Then he remembered.
"What was the other thing?" he said, out of the blue.
Ducky frowned. "The second thing?"
"You said there were two reasons we were going to have a drink; one being you wanted me to call you by name. You never did tell me what the second was."
"Ah," Ducky said. He was silent for a moment, and Gibbs could see that he was considering his answer. However, when he did speak, the reply surprised Gibbs. "Oh, dear me, did I say that? I'm afraid that whatever it was, if indeed there was anything, has slipped my mind. It must be my age." He smiled.
"You're not old," Gibbs exclaimed and frowned. He was certain that Ducky had been less than truthful when he had claimed not to remember. He didn’t know why he was so sure, only that he was. However, he allowed himself to be lulled into following Ducky's lead and not forcing the issue of the second reason.
"How old do you think I am?"
Gibbs blinked. He hated that question; he never knew what to say. He shrugged. "A few years older than me."
"And you are?"
"Ah, in that case, I thank you for the compliment, Jethro. I am in fact sixty-six, more than a 'few years older', I would say."
"You don't look it," Gibbs blurted out, speaking the truth.
"Why thank you," Ducky said, and smiled again. He looked pleased; absurdly Gibbs also felt pleased. This was getting dangerous.
Gibbs determinedly drained the last of his whiskey and stood up, somewhat unnecessarily, to put the empty glass on the table.
Ducky rose too, again more carefully than Gibbs would have thought necessarily. He moved a little towards Gibbs and looked at him. "Would you like another drink, Jethro? Or . . ." He trailed off and just watched Gibbs; his gaze impassive.
Gibbs swallowed, took a step towards Ducky, then a second one, plucked the glass from Ducky's hand, put it onto the table and reached to take Ducky's hand. "I think, 'or', don't you?" he said softly, tugging on the hand he'd taken.
His intention was purely to get Ducky moving so that he'd show him where the bedroom was. Thus, when he found himself pulling Ducky into his arms, lowering his head and kissing him, he was beyond being stunned. In all the years he'd bedded men, this was only the second man he had kissed. The other one being Fornell, and that had arisen more out of a dozen years of friendship than anything else.
In fact he made it a deliberate point not to kiss the men he went to bed with. That wasn't what their joining was about; it was about sex, pure and simple. Again the phrase echoed in his mind, again the same question, Is it? followed immediately.
For a moment he tried to pull back from the kiss, attempted to cover it up with something else, but under his mouth Ducky's lips parted, invited him into the warm, sweet, somewhat smoky tasting cavern, as Ducky's arms slipped around him and he pressed against him. Unable not to, Gibbs took the invitation.
When Ducky finally led him into his bedroom, Gibbs was ordering himself not to slip again. It was simple; all he had to do was get undressed, get into bed, touch Ducky a few times, then . . . Under his eyes Ducky began to undress, and Gibbs rather than doing the same, found himself watching as the body was revealed.
The skin was pale, virtually hairless, and unblemished. Undressed, Ducky's age showed more than when covered by the black suit, but to Gibbs's eyes he was still very attractive. What did a little more weight than one might expect matter? Gibbs himself wasn't as trim as when he was twenty. As Ducky carefully lowered his shorts, Gibbs swallowed, as the clear arousal was uncovered. Again, moving against his will, he stopped his own disrobing and reached out to run a finger along it, brushing it softly, gently, as lightly as he'd touch a child's hair. He heard and felt Ducky's faint gasp and moan of approval.
An hour later when Gibbs climaxed, under Ducky's touch, another first, normally (Fornell aside) he only climaxed in one way: inside the other man, the fission of fear that had crept into his being when he'd kissed Ducky again made itself known.
Eight hours later when he awoke in Ducky's bed, the fission had become so insidious that he felt almost sick. Apart from Fornell, bastard as he was, Gibbs couldn't have sex with his closest friend and then just go home, spending the night with someone he’d bedded was definitely a first. He never, whether he went to bed with a man or a woman, stayed the night; he always fucked them and went home to his own bed to sleep.
He showered swiftly and dried himself using the clean towels that Ducky had laid out for him, before pulling his shorts, dress trousers, shirt, shoes and socks, and jacket; the tie he pushed into the pocket. Then making himself move, he went out of the room. Fighting the urge to grab his coat and just leave, he forced himself to walk into the kitchen.
Ducky looked up and smiled. "Good morning, Jethro. You slept well, I trust? Now would you like a cup of tea? Or would you prefer coffee?" He stood up and took a step towards Gibbs.
Gibbs swallowed. "No, thanks. I can't stay."
Ducky looked at him. Then sighed, turned away and moved slowly across the kitchen. "No," he said, his tone flat. "Of course you can't. Well, goodbye, Jethro."
Presented with Ducky's back, Gibbs felt like the bastard Fornell had told Ducky he was. He took a step towards Ducky, not sure what to say. "Ducky, I -"
"Just go, Gibbs. Please." Still Gibbs didn't move, couldn't move. Then Ducky spoke again, his voice softer, and with an edge to it. "Please, Jethro, please, just go."
Gibbs opened his mouth once more and closed it again. He let his hand fall, and turned on his heel, and strode from the kitchen, out into the hallway where he grabbed his coat and left. Never in his entire fifty-four years had he felt so impotent and such a bastard, and so furious at himself - and someone else.
For the next two months the words 'bear' and 'sore head' as well as 'contemptible bastard' would have been a extremely apt definitions of Gibbs. He made life hell for the team, far worse than he usually did. He head slapped DiNozzo so often that he wouldn't have been surprised if DiNozzo had reported him to Jenn. He drank even more coffee at the office and bourbon at home than he normally did. He barely spoke unless he had to, and then only in monosyllables to demand information, that was never given quickly or accurately enough to satisfy him. And worse of all, he even growled, snapped and shouted at his beloved Abby.
His sex life had dwindled to virtually nothing, outside of his own right hand. He'd called Hollis, only to be told bluntly and forthrightly that, while they might not be a match made in heaven, if a man took her to a function, she expected to leave with him, or at least be given a damn good reason why not. When he had failed to answer her, what the hell could he say? she had slammed the phone down on him.
He even went to The Red Parrot once, but when he realized that all he was doing was looking around for a dark blond haired man, older than him, shorter than him, with soft blue eyes, he had gone home in disgust.
He'd gotten as far as dialing half of Ducky's number on more than one occasion, finding the number hadn't proven that difficult, but had never completed the call. What could he say? 'Sorry I walked out on you that morning. Will you go to bed with me again?' Sure, Ducky was bound to agree to that one.
Probably worse of all, other than snapping at Abby, he had also avoided Fornell since the night of the party. He'd tried to excuse the lack of contact by telling himself that it was only because their cases hadn't crossed paths. Sometimes he even believed his own lies. Mostly he didn't. He couldn't face his old friend, for fear of what Ducky might have told him.
You're ashamed of what you did. It wasn't as question. He ignored the voice. Of course he wasn't. It wasn't as though he'd made any promises to Ducky, wasn't as though he'd let him believe it was anything other than a one-night stand. Ducky was gay or at least bi; he knew the score.
And then three things happened one after another, that shook him.
Firstly, following Gibbs's growling at Abby yet again, McGee cornered him in the head and told him quietly and calmly, but using a tone Gibbs had never heard the computer expert use before, that if he ever shouted at Abby again, that both of them would resign instantly, but not before McGee showed Gibbs just what a good teacher he had been. Gibbs had never seen McGee like that before; hadn't known the mild man had it in him. But what had chilled him most of all, was that he believed every word McGee had said.
Secondly, he reduced Agent Lee to tears for something that was entirely his own fault. But of course he wouldn't back down and admit his error and apologize. Instead he'd turned his back on her and walked away.
And thirdly, he was summoned up to Jenn's office. Certain that either McGee (which he doubted) or Agent Lee (more likely) had made a formal complaint about him, he had prepared himself for a battle. One that for once he didn't believe he'd win; especially as he hadn't any defense.
"Come in, Jethro. Sit down, I'll be with you in a minute."
The use of his forename, she hasn't used that for quite some time, and her tone, both surprised him and also made him wary. Maybe she was about to make another attempt to get him back into her bed. When he realized that he was seriously considering agreeing to it, he knew he had to do something. And quickly.
Finally, after what seemed like hours but in reality was less than two minutes, she put down her pen, took off her glasses and looked at him. "I'm afraid we have a problem, Jethro."
Damnit, so Agent Lee had complained. "Director Shepard, I -"
But she went on as if she hadn't heard him. "On the other hand, you might see it as a good thing. Dr. Sharpe has resigned, with immediately effect."
"Why?" Hastily Gibbs searched his mind to see if he could recall recently being particularly unpleasant to the man. He couldn’t think of anything he might have said or done, but . . .
"Family reasons, is all he would say."
"I didn't know he had a family."
"Nor did I. However, according to his record, it appears that he does indeed have a wife and a daughter."
Gibbs shrugged. "Can't say I'm particularly sorry. He wasn't the greatest ME we've ever had. Did his job okay, but no more."
"Between you and me, Jethro, I do agree with you. However, it does leave us with a problem. Palmer isn't qualified yet and even if he were, I don't think he'd be ready to take on the role of ME just yet, do you?"
Gibbs shook his head. "No, Jimmy's okay. Give him a few years and he'll be really good." He thought for a moment, aware that what he said next could change everything. "I might know someone," he found himself saying.
Jenn looked at him. "Really?"
"Yeah. He's working for the FBI at the moment. Covering their ME's maternity leave. So he knows the kind of work we're involved in and all that's involved. Fornell introduced us a couple of months ago at that interagency do."
A look he couldn't identify flashed across Jenny's face. "How long is he due to be working for the FBI?" she finally asked; her tone, like her look, indefinable.
She frowned. "Do you have any reason to think he'd want to come and work here? And what is this person's name?" Still her tone was, to his ears, strange. But then recently everyone had begun to sound odd to him.
"Mallard, Donald Mallard, but everyone calls him Ducky. Apparently, he was -" He came to an abrupt halt. What was he saying? Of course Ducky wouldn't want to go and work at NCIS, he had no reason to do so, and every reason not to. "Forget it," he said. "It was a stupid idea. Anyway, he's over retirement age." Damn. He hadn't meant to say that.
Again Jenny looked at him carefully. "That wouldn't necessarily be a problem, after all he wouldn't be a field agent. Yes, it might work well, especially if we were looking at a short term contract, maybe until we were able to appoint someone permanently." Then she held his stare unblinkingly and said quietly, "Dr. Stephens returned to work just over a week ago."
Gibbs used every bit of his ability to keep his feelings and emotions from letting themselves be seen. He called on his years as a Marine and Special Agent and clamped down on them. Confident that he was giving nothing away, and trying to ignore the way his throat felt tight and the near panic that threatened to erupt, he simply said, "Oh. That's it then. He's probably left already. He's British. Is there anything else you need me for, Jenn, as I have to . . ." Had to what? He honestly didn't know.
She continued to look at him; her gaze seemed to be almost compassionate. "I sometimes think that you are your own worst enemy, Jethro," she finally said. "You're fifty-four for God's sake, isn't it time you accepted what you are, and tried to stop hiding?"
He stared at her. "Is there anything else, Director?" he finally said, standing up abruptly.
She looked up at him, held his gaze for another moment or two, sighed and shook her head. "No, Agent Gibbs," she said, and returned to her paperwork.
LATER THAT NIGHT
Once again he dialed Ducky's number. This time he managed all but the last digit.
Growling at himself, he grabbed the phone again and punched in a number. "It's me. I need to see you." And he hung up.
"Well, I guess that even after fifteen years of friendship, you can still surprise me."
"Didn't think you needed anybody."
Gibbs glared at his old friend, but he knew his heart wasn't in it. "Drink?"
"Sure. As long as it isn't the paint stripper you keep in your basement."
"It isn't." Gibbs poured a decent measure of Macallan and handed it over.
"Thanks." Fornell took the glass and headed for an armchair.
After a few minutes of companionable silence he said, "So, Jethro, what do you want?"
Gibbs looked at him. "Would you come upstairs with me?" he asked bluntly.
Fornell's eyes widened for a moment. "No," he said flatly. Then added more softly, "Come on, Jethro, we agreed it was a mistake. I like our friendship too much to risk it again. Is that what you asked me over for?" He sounded disbelieving of, as well as disappointed in, Gibbs.
Gibbs shook his head. "No. Sorry, forget it, Tobias. I didn't . . . " Abruptly he stood up and walked across the room to top his glass up. What the hell was wrong with him?
"What is it, Jethro?" Fornell spoke quietly.
"Is Ducky still with you?" Gibbs asked, in what he hoped was a nonchalant tone. He kept his back to Fornell.
"No. Left a week ago. Kerry suddenly decided that motherhood wasn't for her, so she came back. He stayed on for a day or two to do a hand over, but then he left us. Why?"
Gibbs ignored the question. "How long have you know him?"
"Twenty-odd years, give or take."
"Ever slept with him?"
"Well, have you?" Gibbs turned round and moved to stand over Fornell.
His friend looked up at him, a mixture of irritation and puzzlement in his gaze. Then he shrugged and said, "Once. But why the hell are you . . . ? Oh," he said. "Damn it. Gibbs, you didn't?"
Gibbs sat down again. "Yeah. I did." He took a long swallow of his drink, and glanced down. "In both senses of the word."
"You stayed the night with him?" The incredulity in Fornell's voice was clear.
"Yeah." The confession was harder than Gibbs thought it would be.
"And then what? Oh, right, let me guess, you just walked out, right?"
"Leroy Jethro Gibbs, sometimes I wonder why . . . God, you really are a bastard at times."
Gibbs forced himself to look up. Forced himself to look into the eyes and face of his oldest friend. Forced himself to look and see the accusation, the . . . He blinked when he saw compassion instead. "Tell me about him," he said softly.
"Tell you what?"
"I don't know, anything. Has he ever had a long-term relationship?"
Fornell sat in silence for a moment or two. Gibbs could see that he was weighing up his two friendships, trying to decide what, if anything to say; trying to decide what he owed to Gibbs. "A couple. Both lasted about ten years, from what he's said. The first was just after he'd graduated, and from what I can gather ended because his partner was ambitious, very ambitious; he decided that the way to get on was to marry the boss's daughter. Apparently, he's Chief of Surgery somewhere or other now. The second one was some years later; that ended because the other man found someone younger. Why am I telling you this?"
"Because I asked."
"You asked me to go to bed with you and I refused."
"Why only once?"
Fornell was silent for a moment. Then he sighed before speaking. "Two reasons. One, Ducky's gay; I'm not. And two," he paused for a moment. Then he said softly, "Emily."
"If you didn't have Emily, do you think you could . . . ?"
Fornell shrugged. "I don't know, Jethro. Yes. No. Maybe. Oh, I don't know. At one time, I'd have said no, now . . . Well, I'm heading towards sixty, there comes a time when . . . Why the hell are we having this conversation?"
"I think I might be in love with him." Gibbs spoke flatly; honestly; quietly. Amazingly enough, this confession was far easier than the one concerning him spending night with Ducky.
"What? Christ, Jethro, you really are the limit at times. You fuck him once and - What did you say?"
"I said 'I didn’t'."
Fornell just stared at him. "Bloody hell." He continued to stare at Gibbs; he appeared to be trying to make a decision. After a moment or two he said quietly, reluctantly almost, "He leaves for England the day after tomorrow."
"Thanks," Gibbs said, after a moment or two. "You know, it'd be much easier with you." For the first time he really met his friend's gaze and held it.
Fornell sighed. "Yeah, it would be. I wouldn't make any demands; have any expectations. But just for the record, in case that was some kind of convoluted offer, the answer's 'no', Jethro, as you know it has to be. We're too alike - in the wrong way. We'd destroy one another, and, God knows why, but I care about you too damn much to do that. I value our friendship, and I want to keep it. But know this, Gibbs, you hurt Ducky again and I swear you'll find out just how good an agent I am."
Clearly not satisfied, Fornell went on. "You know what you'll be doing, don’t you, if you go round there? You'll be making a commitment. A commitment, Jethro. Do you have any idea what that is? And don't look at me like that, we both know the truth, don't we?"
Gibbs nodded again. "Yeah," he said.
"Yeah. Well you think about what I've said. And you remember, hurt Ducky, and -"
"Yeah, I heard you, Tobias. Think you can take me, do you?" he smiled for the first time.
"Huh, know I can. Now top this up, and tell me what you know about Sharpe leaving."
THE NEXT DAY
Gibbs stood outside Ducky's apartment, going over in his head what he was going to say. Or at least he would be, if he had any idea what it was he was going to say.
Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe he should just walk away now. Walk away before . . .
'You'll be making a commitment. A commitment, Jethro.' Fornell's words came to him clearly; as clearly as if his old friend was standing there.
What was he doing? Fornell was right; he didn't know the first thing about 'commitment'.
Yes, you do, the voice in his head told him. You've worked for the same agency for sixteen years; you've maintained a friendship with Tobias for fifteen years, what the hell are they if not commitments.?
"That's different," he muttered.
"Yes." But was it? Fundamentally, was it any different from making any other kind of commitment? Okay, the job was maybe different, but his friendship, his relationship, with Tobias was, in most senses, the same.
But was it what he wanted? Was it what he was?
'You're fifty-four for God's sake, isn't it time you accepted what you are, and tried to stop hiding?' Jenn's words came as clearly as Fornell's had.
Maybe it was time. But . . . This was different. Ducky was different; different from every man Gibbs had ever been with; different even from Tobias. As his old friend had said, he wouldn't make demands, have expectations; Ducky would. Ducky was the kind of man you dated, for want of a better word. He wasn't the kind of man you simply had sex with; he certainly wasn't the kind of man, according to Tobias, who went in for one-night stands.
You told Tobias you thought you were in love with Ducky. Was that a lie?
This self-argument wasn't getting him anywhere. He was already aware that one of Ducky's neighbors had looked through the peep hole in the front door, was in fact still hovering behind his or her door. If he stood there much longer, he might find himself having to attempt to explain to a local cop what the hell he was doing there. He wasn't entirely certain he could.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the shadow behind the door move nearer to the door, and was again aware that the person was looking out into the hallway. He had two choices: leave or ring the doorbell. He'd leave. It was the best option for everyone.
He heard the sound of the bell echo inside the apartment and swallowed hard around the dryness in his throat. It contrasted with his damp palms which he wiped on the lining of his coat pockets.
Hours seemed to pass before he heard the sounds of a bolt being slipped back, and a lock undone.
Within seconds the door opened. "Jethro!" Ducky's quiet, but astonished exclamation was clear. The stunned look on his face contrasted with the way the pale eyes hardened and became the color of steel. "What may I do for you, Special Agent Gibbs?" Now Ducky's tone was clipped, like flint, and distant.
Gibbs swallowed. "Ducky, I wondered if," he paused for a microsecond. This really was his final chance. He swallowed again. "I wondered if you'd like to come out to dinner with me, Duck?" he said quickly, hating how desperate his tone was.
The flinty steel faded from the steady gaze, and pale blue eyes softened with rich affection and emotion. Gibbs watched Ducky swallow as he continued to gaze up at him. He fought to stop himself from fidgeting or demanding an answer, and instead tried to be content with just drinking in the sight and scent of the man he was about to change his life for, assuming Ducky's answer was the right one.
Finally, smiling gently, Ducky said, his tone husky and heavy with deep affection, "I would like that very much, my dear Jethro. But why do you not come in and have a whiskey first?" He stretched out a hand towards Gibbs.
Fully aware, but ignoring the fact, that they were still be watched, Gibbs took Ducky's hand and let him lead him into the apartment.
Once inside, it was Gibbs himself who turned and relocked and rebolted the front door, before turning back to Ducky - back to his lover - gathering him into his arms, lowering his head and kissing him.
As the kiss went on and gave no signs of abating, Gibbs just allowed himself to enjoy the sheer beauty of it. Let himself be gathered into the love and affection that was emanating from Ducky; let himself be swallowed up by it; fulfilled; made whole; given what he'd been searching for for his entire life.
He'd tell Ducky about the job later.
Maybe over a late dinner.
In the meantime . . .