TITLE: Admitting Is Never Easy
AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship. Angst. Episode Related.
SUMMARY: Set immediately after Grace Period. Concerned by Hollis's comment, as well as trying to avoid her, Gibbs goes to see Ducky. The ensuring conversation, that surprises Ducky in more ways that one, also reveals a side of Gibbs that even Ducky, his long time lover, had not known about.
SPOILERS: Mild for Hiatus, Sharif Returns and Skeletons. Heavy for Grace Period.
PROMPT: 20_est_relships 02 - Surprise
RATING: PG (for language)
WORD COUNT: 5,093
WARNINGS: None - apart from the spoilers
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
"Jethro." Ducky was a little surprised to see his long time lover standing on his doorstep.
"Hey, Duck. Can I come in?"
"Of course." Ducky moved back a little to let Jethro pass him. As he did, Jethro paused and gave Ducky a quick, brief kiss. It was nothing more than a brush of lips over the edge of his mouth; the connection fleeting and almost hesitant, distant.
Ducky said nothing about it. Nor did he attempt to force Jethro to linger. Instead he shut the door and relocked and rebolted it. As he did so he said, "Is anything the matter? Or maybe I should say anything other than . . ." Ducky deliberately didn’t expand. He wouldn't need to; Jethro would know to what he was alluding.
Jethro shrugged as he took off his overcoat and threw it over the banister. Ducky noticed that his friend obviously hadn't been home, as he was still dressed in his black suit, albeit he had loosened his tie.
After a second or two, Jethro turned back to face Ducky. "She made a choice," he said.
Ducky frowned. It wasn't that he'd expected Jethro to react over-emotionally, that never had been his way, but the rather stark statement surprised him. "Jethro," he touched his friend's arm.
"What? What do you want me to say, Duck? That she gave her life to save ours? That she was suicidal from the moment she lost her team? That I blame my -" He shook Ducky's hand off and turned away, before moving further into the hallway.
Ducky waited for a moment or two before saying quietly. "Do you? Blame yourself that is?" He trod carefully, because as close as Jethro and he were, as well as they knew one another, as much as he knew that the harsh exterior with which Jethro all too often presented the world, hid a man who could be very gentle and compassionate, as uncaring as he sometimes seemed to be, the bitten off comment crossed into hitherto uncharted waters.
He also chose, deliberately chose, to ignore the comment about Paula being suicidal from the moment she had lost her team. He chose to ignore it, because he agreed with it. He hadn't seen that much of Paula after the death of her men, but what he had seen had told him perhaps more than Paula knew she was giving away; perhaps more than she even knew she was feeling. The feeling he had got hadn't been strong enough for him to actually voice it; indeed he wasn't even certain that he had been conscious of it at the time. At least not in a consciously-conscious way. However, now that his beloved had mentioned it, he knew he agreed with it. But that wasn't for public record; maybe not even something he and Jethro should discuss. And as awful as it may sound, his first concern was his lover, not Paula. The latter he could, sadly, no longer do anything for; the former he hopefully could.
At first he thought Jethro wasn't going to answer, but then his friend turned back to face him, ran his hand over his head and said, "Yes. No. Yes. No, Oh, I don't know, Duck. Course I don't. I can't. I didn't -"
Ducky waited. But Jethro said nothing further. So instead Ducky said, "Why don't you come upstairs, Jethro. We can have a drink and talk." Whether Jethro would wish to stay the night or not was also something that could be left for now. Their relationship was close enough for there not to be the need for either man to ask the question, at least not under normal circumstances.
"I don't need to talk about it, Ducky. I don't need analyzing."
"I didn't say we had to talk about that, my dear."
"Oh. Okay then. A drink'd be good. What about your mom? Is she all right alone?"
"Oh, Mother is quite happy. She and the Corgis are watching her favorite episode of Jeopardy for the umpteenth time, and then I believe there are several wrestling bouts for her to enjoy. And she has the gin bottle, what more could she want?"
He didn't wait for an answer to what really was a rhetorical question; instead he walked towards the stairs and began to climb them. He didn't need to hear Jethro to know that he was behind him.
Once upstairs he led the way into his sitting room. There he turned on the wall lights, crossed to the drinks' cabinet, took out a bottle of his better whiskey, Jethro might not notice the difference but he did, and took it and two glasses back to where his friend was still standing.
He waited for Jethro to sit down on the sofa before joining him and pouring two fairly large measures into the glasses. After carefully screwing the top back on the bottle, he picked up both glasses and handed one to his friend.
"Thanks, Duck," Jethro said, taking the glass. He then caught Ducky's hand before he could pull it away. Ducky looked at him. "Just in case you're wondering, Duck, I never doubted you, you know. Not even for a minute. Knew you weren't wrong; knew you couldn't be. You do know that, don't you?" He continued to hold Ducky's hand in his warm, gun-calloused own hand.
"Yes, my dear. I do know that," Ducky said, for a moment squeezing Jethro's hand. "I confess that I was a little surprised at Abigail. I would have thought . . ." He broke off and shook his head. "It does not matter. The issue has been resolved now. Let us forget it."
However, Jethro didn't just 'forget it'. Instead he continued to hold his hand and stare at him intensely, before saying, "If I'd really had to choose, I would have . . . Well, I would have. It's just, well, it would have been -"
"Difficult. I know, dear."
Apart from being surprised that Abby had basically said that he had made a mistake, something that was completely out of character for her, he was also surprised that neither she nor McGee considered the possibility of the voice somehow having been recorded, or faked, or something similar. After all, it wasn't the first time they had come across something like that. However, pointing out that kind of over-sight wasn't his place. Maybe it was simply because it was two of their own, one whom had been a close friend of McGee, who had been killed. Maybe that had pushed the obvious solution from Abby and Timothy's minds.
"I think Abbs is still upset over the guy."
"Don't know his name. But apparently he reckoned that they couldn't make it work, and so he ended their relationship."
Ducky wasn't certain but his friend's voice changed very slightly as he said the final few words. He wondered whether Jethro had noticed it, whether it had been intentional. He also wondered if Jethro realized that he was still holding his hand. "Poor Abigail. If she was genuinely fond of the gentleman in question, then I understand how she must be feeling."
"Well, I am certain that we've all experienced that kind of unrequited love or at least affection before now, have we not?" Ducky said softly. Or maybe his situation wasn't quite the same; it wasn't as if the love he had for Jethro was unrequited. It was just that . . . He pushed the thought from his mind; that didn't matter, not now. Now Jethro himself and his feelings over the loss of their colleagues were the things that mattered.
Jethro shrugged. "Odd thing is I always thought that it was McGee she was fond of. I always thought . . . Guess I was wrong."
"Oh, she is very fond of Timothy, just as he is of her. I am certain that one day they will both realize how they feel, and stop hunting for what they already have. Or indeed I do hope they do. I hope that -"
"Nothing, dear. How's the whiskey?" Ducky asked, finally extracting his hand from Jethro's.
"Huh? Oh, fine, Duck. You know me."
"Yes, dear." Ducky sighed. "Sometimes I do wonder just why I share my pure malts with you. I swear you'd be just as happy with the kind of - what is Tobias calls is? ah, yes - paint stripper, I believe is the term he uses, that you keep in your basement."
"I can tell the difference."
"I'm pleased to hear it." Ducky smiled.
They sat in comfortable, companionable silence for several minutes.
Finally Ducky said gently, "Jethro, do you wish to talk about what happened to Paula?"
Jethro shook his head. "Not really, Duck." However, the tone of his voice contradicted his words.
Again Ducky waited.
"Oh, shit. Okay, Duck. Yeah, part of me does blame myself. Or at least . . ."
"Just tell me, Jethro."
"It should have been us. But you must know that. You must have heard. DiNozzo and McGee have both been . . ."
"Yes, Jethro. I did hear. Although not from you."
"What did you want me to say, Duck? Paula's men died because I wanted to fuck Hollis?"
Ducky swallowed a mouthful of whiskey and tried not to choke on it. "Jethro?"
"I asked Jenn if we could swap weekends and she said yes. She said yes even though Paula's team had been on duty last weekend. She said yes and she didn't ask why. She just assumed that I had a good reason."
"As did I," Ducky said softly.
"Yeah. Well, know what, Duck? I didn't. Two men died because I was more interested in fucking a woman I -"
"Jethro." Ducky put his hand on his friend's arm. He could feel tightness radiating from beneath his fingers.
"What? You going to try and make it better, Duck? Well, you know what, for once you can't. You can't sit here and tell me some rambling story or other and make it all better. No one can."
"I wasn't going to try to, my dear. I was merely going to point out that had you not asked Jennifer to swap duties that -"
"I might not be sitting here now? Or I might be and we'd be mourning DiNozzo, McGee or Ziva, hell all three of them, maybe. Except that's not me, is it?"
"What isn't you?"
"At the moment, Ducky. I'm not sure. Want to know what I told Paula?"
"Only if you wish to tell me."
"Basically that I'd be as detached as I was trying to make her if it had been my team dead."
"Yeah. She called me on it too. She knew I was lying."
"So what did you say?"
"That I wouldn't grieve until I had the bastards in the ground."
"Oh, yeah. Didn't help her though, did it?"
"She made a choice," Ducky said calmly, repeating his friend's words.
For a moment Jethro just glared at him, the anger clear to see. Ducky just met it and remained placid, trusting in their friendship, in their love. Then the fury faded from the dark gaze, leaving the affection it always showed for him, tinged heavily with pain, as well as a degree of self-disgust. Jethro sighed heavily. "Guess she did. One of us had to. She just reacted quicker than DiNozzo or me."
Ducky hated himself, he despised himself, he was disgusted with himself. However, he couldn't stop himself from thanking God that she had done so. That she had reacted before his beloved friend had had time to do so. For a moment he closed his eyes, certain that if he didn't, his feelings would betray him to Jethro.
It was only when a hand was put on his that he remembered he still had his hand on Jethro's arm. "Duck." The tone was gentle.
"Don't feel guilty for what you're thinking."
Ducky opened his eyes and looked at his lover. He was about to ask how Jethro knew; then he saw the completely unshielded look in the steady gaze, and he knew he had no need to ask. Instead he raised his glass towards Jethro and said softly, "Paula."
Jethro clicked his glass against Ducky's. "Paula," he repeated. "I hope she found peace."
"I am certain she did, my dear."
Again they slipped into silence.
Once again it was Ducky who broke it. He hoped that his instinct to pursue the matter Jethro had raised earlier was correct. He felt sure it was; surely his friend wouldn't have told him had he not, but . . . "Jethro," he said.
"May I ask you a question?"
"You have to ask?"
"Is that a 'yes'?"
"Yeah. It's a yes. Go on, Duck. Ask. Although, can it wait a minute? Because I have to tell you something, and if I don't say it now, I probably never will. And as it's the main reason I came here tonight, apart from wanting to see you, that is."
"Go ahead." Ducky didn't mind delaying his particular question a little longer.
"Hollis wants to settle down. With me." Jethro swallowed the remainder of his drink and reached for the bottle, pouring himself an even larger measure than Ducky had given him, and topping Ducky's own glass up as well. On a normal night Ducky would have said that his question as to whether his lover wished to stay the night had been answered. But tonight didn't appear to be a 'normal' night. For a moment he wondered idly if he and Jethro ever really had 'normal' nights.
His lover's words momentarily silenced Ducky. He hadn't realized how serious the relationship had become. Suddenly he was glad that Jethro had interrupted him; he would have felt foolish if he'd asked his question. "I see," he said, after a moment.
"Glad you do. Because I don't." Jethro's voice was flat.
"Jethro? What do you mean?"
Suddenly Jethro stood up and moved across the room; he seemed to have no destination, no motive for moving, in mind. He just moved. He turned and looked at Ducky, "I mean how come she's got it so wrong?"
"Has she?" Ducky asked quietly.
Jethro came back and crouched down in front of Ducky, taking his hand between him. "Course she has, Duck. You know that. I told you. I promised you."
"Yes, dearest. You did."
"But you don't believe me." It wasn't a question. Jethro stood up again and continued his pointless prowl around Ducky's sitting room.
"I didn't say that, Jethro. And I'm sorry if I implied it. I just . . ." Ducky trailed off. "Jethro," he said after a second or two, deciding that he would, after all, ask the question, or at least he would do so in one form.
Jethro turned back to face him. "Yeah?"
"Why did you see her again? I thought you told me that it was over?"
"Never began, Duck. So it couldn’t have been over. I fucked her once. Didn't even spend the night, slunk - her words, not mine - out of her place, mumbling about calling her."
"Which you didn’t do."
"Which I didn't do. Four weeks later, I run into her again and, wham, she's with the 'why didn't you call me'? and all the double-edged conversations that made my head ache. Why didn't she get the message? Wouldn't you have done?"
"Wouldn't I have done what?"
"Got the message." Jethro again returned to Ducky's side, this time he sat back down on the sofa. "Let's say that after we made love for the first time I hadn't called you for four weeks, what would you have thought? Wouldn't you have got the message?"
"Well, yes, my dear. But it was somewhat different."
"In what way?"
"I was a homosexual man and you had never made love with a man before; nor had you ever expected to. If I am completely honest, dearest, I fully expected not to hear from you again. But it's different with Hollis. She's a woman and you're a man."
"She knew, I presume about your ex-wives, and from what you told me also about Jennifer. She assumed that you -"
"Yes. The rules are different."
"Duck. She's career military. A Lieutenant Colonel. You don't get to that grade, especially as a woman, without being intelligent and resilient. Hell, she's Army CID; she's used to investigating people, used to understanding them, to being able to read them. She should have - Did you really not expect to see me again?"
Ducky mentally shook himself, at the swift change in the direction of Jethro's speech. "Um, well, yes, dear. But that's -"
"Damned important. Why, Duck? What did I do, or not do, to make you think? Ducky?" Jethro now took both of his hands and held them tightly.
"Please forgive the cliché, my dear, but 'it wasn't you, it was me'. I assure you, you did nothing to make me think that. Nor did you not do anything. Quite the opposite. I just . . ."
Ducky sighed. He wished he had kept silent; he really didn't wish to get into what could be a lengthy conversation about something that had happened thirty years ago. Indeed a conversation that could end badly, especially with his lover in his current mood. But far more importantly he wished to get back to Jethro and why he'd made the 'date' with Hollis Mann, and even more importantly just how much guilt Jethro was carrying over the death of Paula's team.
Part of Ducky was still trying to come to terms with what his lover had told him. The idea that Leroy Jethro Gibbs would ask not to work, was something that Ducky would never have believed possible, and certainly not for something as basic as sleeping with a woman. Yes, in Paris he and Jennifer had spent almost as much time in bed as working the case, but they had never, at least not to Ducky's knowledge, put sex before their duties as Federal Agents.
"Go on, Duck. Just what?"
Ducky sighed, more loudly this time. "Jethro, can we just leave that for now, please? It is thirty years in the past, now is what is important. Not something that happened, something that we cannot change. You did call me again, you did see me again, I did take you to my bed again. We are still together. That is all that matters."
"Yeah, you're right. I'm just trying to . . ."
"Procrastinate? That is my job. I thought you knew that." He offered his lover a small smile.
Jethro laughed softly, and brushed Ducky's hair, before kissing him lightly on the cheek. "Ah, Duck," he said. "Don't know how you always do it. Don't know a lot of things really."
"Hollis," said Ducky firmly, determined to pull his lover back to the whole point of the conversation. "Now tell me, firstly, why you didn't call her after the night you spent together? And -"
"Because I didn't want to see her again. Christ, Duck, it was sex, okay? Sex. One night, that's all. Well, not even that. I, oh, I don't know. Maybe I felt I owed her. After all she did save my life."
Which was the one thing in her favor, as least as far as Ducky was concerned. He just shook his head. "Oh, Jethro," he said quietly. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Maybe what you should have done years ago, tell me to get lost."
"Jethro." Ducky let his irritation show. "If that is the attitude you are going to take, maybe it would be better if you simply went home. However, if you do not wish to do that, just tell me why you didn't tell Hollis that you didn't want to see her again."
"Didn't know how to," Jethro said, after a minute or two, glancing down at his lap.
Ducky blinked in surprise. "Jethro?" he finally said, unable for the moment to say anything more to say.
"Oh, Ducky. Why do you think I got married and divorced three times?"
For a moment Ducky considered his answer. "I think that I have always assumed it had something to do with Shannon."
Jethro shrugged. "Maybe it did, at the beginning, with Marie. But I'm not sure that it did, not even with her. And certainly not with Alice and Diane. Oh, no, it was something else entirely. The same reason Jenn and I dragged on until she ended it. The same reason I didn't tell Hollis why I hadn't called her. The same reason I just might end up marrying the damn women."
"My dear?" Ducky took his lover's hand and held it between his own. "Tell me," he said gently.
"Haven't you ever noticed, Duck? How they all left me?"
"Um, well . . . "
"Why should you? You were just glad that they did so."
"Well, can you deny it?" For a moment there was a twinkle in the dark gaze that looked at him; a hint of his own beloved Jethro. "Well, can you?"
"I don't think I would necessarily put it quite in those terms. However, I -"
"Thought not. Anyway, the reason is, I can't."
"End it. Tell them to go away. Tell them I don’t want to see them anymore. Tell them I don't want to marry them. Yeah, I know, sounds weird doesn't it? Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, harsh, tough, always in control, admitting he can't tell a woman to get lost. At least not directly. I can only do it in the way I thought I'd done it with Hollis, basically by doing nothing. Doubt I'd believe it, if I were hearing it."
“Go on, “Ducky said encouragingly.
“After the last case we worked together she mentioned that she had this weekend off and wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend it together. I told he it would, but I working. Thought it was a safe thing to say. The next thing I found myself agreeing to ask Jenn if my team could swap duties. Never thought, even for a second, that Jenn’d say yes. So when she did . . . Well, I was stuck. And then what went and happened? Paula lost her team and it’s -”
“Don’t what, Duck? Blame myself? I don’t. At least . . . Part of me does. Part of me feels disgusted at myself for what I did. Part of me doesn’t understand why I did it. It’s not like me, Duck. You know that.”
“Yes, dear. I do.”
“I wonder if something in my brain got screwed when I was blown up last time. I don’t feel like I’ve been me since then.”
Ducky looked at his lover closely and chose his words with care. “In what way, Jethro?”
“I left. I left my job. I left the team. Shit, Duck; I left you. I walked out on you. And for what?”
“You needed the time away from everything.”
“Did I? Thought I did at the time. But I don’t know anymore. And then what? I come back and what do I do? I treat you like -“
“We both behaved foolishly then, my dear. Neither of us was very adult about it.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t ask why you were pissed, did I? I didn’t try to make up. I didn’t come to you. I waited until you came to me. And this year, I’ve been, oh, I don't know. Don't know if I can even explain it."
"Try, my dear."
Jethro shrugged. "Part of me just wants to retire and go away somewhere with you. Somewhere safe where I don’t have to worry about terrorists or suicide bombers or dead naval personnel or whether DiNozzo and Jenn are up to something behind my back or how long it'll be before McGee decides to leave and be a full time writer or when Abbs’ll tire of the whole thing or what else I can do to screw up everything and everyone.”
“It’s perfectly natural, Jethro.”
“The fact that whilst you feel that you are partly responsible for the death of Paula’s team, which you weren’t, my dear. You know that. However, you are also feeling a sense of relief that it wasn’t Anthony, Timothy or Ziva. Are you not?”
Jethro gave him a rueful look. “Seems we’ve come full circle, Duck. Seem to remember telling you a little while ago not to feel guilty, because . . . Well, you know.”
“Yes, dear.” Ducky leaned forward and kissed Jethro lightly, letting the kiss heal and forgive and offer things that they both needed.
It wasn’t over.
There was far more to Jethro’s almost impassioned speech than one event. However, now wasn’t the time to get into that. Now was the time for Ducky to deal with more important, more immediate rather, things.
He kissed his lover one more time and then said firmly, “Now, tell me, when did the conversation about Hollis wishing to settle down with you occur?”
“During the case. She came round, brought Chinese with her. Just turned up. Tried at first to get me to talk about the dead agents. Got the message pretty quickly that I wasn't going to. She can get that message, so why the hell can't she get the other one?"
"Jethro." Ducky spoke gently.
"Oh, yeah. Well, wee were eating and then she said that we should do it again, and I kind of said yes, or rather I didn’t say no. Then she started to talk about how her twenty years was nearly up, and I mentioned that she could become a full Colonel. It was then she told me how she was thinking of retiring and settling down and spending time with the people she cared about. Something like that anyway; I wasn’t really listening. Then she asked me what I thought to that.”
“And you said?”
“Oh, Jethro, really.” Now that Jethro seemed, at least for now, to have stopped talking, Ducky just sat for a moment and considered what his lover had told him. It made sense; indeed it explained a lot of things; an awful lot of things.
And then something hit him, hard. And he stared aghast at his lover, as a deep-seated chill began to flow through him. "Jethro," he managed, trying to force his brain and tongue to co-operate. "Oh, my dear. Are you . . . Oh, Jethro. I . . . " And then his brain refused to play its role in the conversation. He just sat, still, silent; looking at Jethro in what he knew had to be horror.
For a moment he saw confusion in the dark gaze. Then Jethro's eyes widened in what appeared to be comprehension, and he pulled Ducky into his arms. "No, Ducky. No. No. No. Don't even think that. I didn't mean you. I didn't. Duck, you have to believe me. You do, don't you?" A little harshly he pushed Ducky out of the embrace, gripped his shoulders tightly and looked at him. "Duck?" he demanded. "Well?"
Now, as he saw and heard that his beloved spoke the truth, Ducky found himself almost weak with relief. A sudden wave of exhaustion hit him and his brain, and still he couldn't persuade it to co-operate with his vocal cords. But Jethro needed an answer; and he needed to give one. Thus he borrowed from his lover, and used actions instead.
A short time later when the kiss ended, Jethro asked, a little hesitantly, "Was that a yes, Duck?"
"Yes, my dear. It was."
"Thank God for that." Jethro sank back against the back of the sofa, taking Ducky with him.
Ducky rested against his friend for a moment, feeling the steady slightly-faster-than-usual heartbeat under his cheek.
After a few minutes of peace he sat up and looked directly at his lover. "Jethro, we have to do something about this."
"Great theory, Duck. But what exactly?"
"I don't know exactly. But know this, I am not going to stand by and watch you marry Lieutenant Colonel Hollis Mann!"
Jethro blinked and looked a little surprised. The surprise, Ducky suspected was a double one: his words and his tone. "Really?" he said, after a second or two. As well as displaying surprise, his look and voice showed pleasure.
"Yes," Ducky said firmly. "Really."
"You've never said that before." Now Jethro's tone was softer.
"I know. However, had I known what I know now, I might well have done so."
"How are you going to stop me?"
"Well, putting aside my going to Ms. Mann and telling her that you're 'mine', or indeed waiting until the vicar gets to the 'does have anyone have any objections' part of the service. I am not. You are."
"You are going to tell her, Jethro. You are going to tell her that you're sorry but you don't want to see her anymore."
"But that's -"
"Unkind? Yes, a little. But far kinder to everyone than marrying the damn woman, waiting or indeed driving her to hitting you, and do not forget she's a highly trained service woman; she knows exactly how to hit. In fact I shudder to think of the damage she could cause you. And then waiting for her to walk out on you, with or without your Bank Account, thus making three people unhappy for the duration. I am a little tired of being the one to -" The sound of Jethro's cell phone cut into Ducky's words.
"Gibbs. Oh, hey, Holl. No, I'm not, am I? What? Um, well, I'm not sure. You said it yourself, our schedules don't . . . " Ducky just glared at him. "No, wait, Hollis. It's not that. Look, we had . . . Hollis, don't retire on my behalf. Yeah. Yeah, guess that is what I'm saying. No, wait. It is what I'm saying. Yeah, I should have done. Guess I thought . . . Yeah. Yeah. That's right. I did. Yeah, you too." And with that he turned the phone off.
"Oh, Jethro. What am I going to do with you?"
Jethro showed him.
For now it was enough.
For now it would have to be enough.