AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
CHARACTERS: Gibbs, Ducky, Abby, McGee, Jimmy, DiNozzo, Ziva, Jenny, Fornell, Mrs. Mallard, Helen Patterson, Charlie Patterson
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship. Angst. Romance. Songfic.
SUMMARY: Ducky turns up at Jethro's house one evening with some news that shocks Jethro. Whilst he understands Ducky's reasonings for his decision, Jethro is deeply troubled and upset by it, but feels that he has no choice but to accept Ducky’s decision and not raise any objections. Soon, however, he if forced to face the results of the choice. Written for Challenge # 16. The song I have chosen is Without You by Harry Nilsson, and it can be downloaded for the next seven days - Without You
PROMPT: 20_est_relships 06 - Pain
WORD COUNT: 8,513
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
"Good evening, Jethro."
The sound of his lover's voice penetrated Jethro's brain as he concentrated hard on getting one part of his boat just right. Seconds before he had been determined that nothing, not his desire for whiskey, nor his rather pressing need to visit the bathroom, was going to interrupt his work. However, as soon as he heard Ducky's voice, he put down his tools and strode across the basement to gather Ducky into his arms.
"Hey, Duck," he murmured, sparing a hand to pull Ducky's hat from his head, and nuzzling his ear before moving onto the mouth which happily met his own and joined in a long, lingering kiss.
"Not that I'm objecting or anything," he said, several minutes later, "but I didn't expect -"
"To see me tonight. No. I realize that, my dear. And normally I wouldn't have interrupted your time with your boat; I know how important that is to you."
"Nothing or no one's as important as you are, Duck. Drink?"
"Thank you. Yes, that would be . . ." Ducky trailed off.
"Come on then." Jethro caught Ducky's hand and led him towards, and then, up the stairs, still carrying his hat for him. "Won't be a minute," he added, once they reached the top, as he left Ducky and took the second flight of stairs two at a time.
It was only when he had flushed the toilet and was washing his hands that he realized there was something slightly out of sync in Ducky's manner. It wasn't anything he could instantly explain or even put his finger on, but something was making his 'Ducky sense' tingle.
Without bothering to dry his hands, other than to wipe them on his jeans, he hurried from the bathroom, back down the stairs and into the sitting room. Ducky had put his hat and coat on one of the chairs and had poured whiskey into two glasses.
Jethro crossed the room and without any preamble said, "What's up, Duck?"
Ducky smiled faintly, handed him a glass and said quietly, "Is it really that obvious?"
"To me, yeah. What is it?" Then a shiver passed through him, and he put his hand on Ducky's shoulder. "You're not ill, are you?"
Ducky shook his head. "No, dear. I am perfectly healthy, I assure you."
Jethro breathed a sigh of relief. "Is your mom sick?"
Again Ducky shook his head. "No. At least not in the way to which you refer. However, it is to do with Mother."
"Come and sit down and tell me." Jethro slid his arm around Ducky's shoulders, and together they moved to the sofa. Once they were seated, Jethro again put his arm around his lover's shoulders and Ducky, as he always did, settled into the embrace, sighing softly as he did so. It wasn't his normal sigh of contentment, however, and despite Ducky's earlier reassurance that he was fine, again Jethro's extra sense perked up.
He waited a little longer.
"Come on, Duck," he said after another moment or two. "Sooner you tell me the better you'll feel." It was what his grandma used to say to him.
Ducky's reply both surprised and troubled him. "I'm not certain that I will, dearest," he said, and sighed again. "However, as my reason for coming here tonight was to tell you, I had better do that thing." He moved slightly from the embrace and turned so that he could look at Jethro. Then he took his hand, looked directly at Jethro and said quietly, flatly, "I have to take Mother home to England, beloved."
"You mean for a visit? A holiday?"
Ducky shook his head and his pale eyes showed intense and deep sadness. "No, my dear. Until she dies."
"She begged me, Jethro. Tonight, she . . . I have never seen her like this before. She wants to go home to die. And she was lucid, Jethro, lucid in a way that I have not seen her for quite some time. She's deeply unhappy here; I didn't know. I should have known. But I didn't. I had always thought . . . Well, she had never given me any indication to the contrary. However . . . She wants to go back to her home, to what she knew, to . . . And I have to take her."
Jethro bit his lip for a moment and tightened the grip he had on Ducky's hand. He could barely process what his lover was saying, as he fought with the conflicting emotions that raced through his head.
For a fleeting second he felt rage and hatred towards Mrs. Mallard, but that fled as he saw the pain in oldest friend's eyes. "Oh, Duck," he whispered, unable for the moment to say anything else.
"It's not just that she wants to go home, Jethro, it's that . . . I can no longer leave her with a nurse. I have to be with her."
"You lost another one?" Mrs. Mallard wasn't the easiest of patients, and even with the incredibly high salary Ducky paid, and the other benefits, thus far she had driven four away.
"Yes. But this was the worst of all, Jethro. I really thought that Mother was going to be arrested."
"Oh, Jethro. Mother attacked Jean with a knife."
"You're kidding?" But Ducky wasn't. Jethro could see that clearly. "Oh, hell. Oh, Duck."
"It took me well over half an hour, not to mention an extremely healthy check, to persuade her, nay, beg her, not to press charges against Mother."
"Why didn't you call me? I'd have come over. I could have persuaded her."
"Jethro. I wanted her not to press charges against my mother. Not to end up pressing charges against both my mother and my lover." Ducky did, however, smile gently as he said the words.
Jethro looked ruefully at his lover. "Point," he said. Then asked, "Er, did she actually hurt her?"
"A scratch, nothing more. But that isn't the point, Jethro. The point is that Mother did it. And I simply cannot trust her any longer. I cannot go off to work and spend all my day worrying just what she is going to do. We were lucky this time, next time . . ." he trailed off and shuddered.
He looked so troubled that Jethro pulled him back into his arms, putting his own glass down so that he could wrap both arms around Ducky and just held him, kissing the top of his head and drinking in Ducky's unique scent.
As Ducky cuddled against him, Jethro tightened the hold even more, suddenly desperate to have his lover near to him. An idea came to him. "Can't you -"
"No," Ducky said. Jethro felt him shake his head. "I admit that would be the better solution, and I could easily, I am certain, fill my days, and you and I might even be able to find time now and again, I am sure, to have lunch together. I am certain that Mother would be quite content with Helen for an hour or so. And if you didn't mind spending even more nights at my home, then . . . But no. She wants to go home, Jethro. I owe it to her to take her. I am sorry."
What about what you owe me? Jethro tried to push the dark and unfair thought away, as he once again tugged Ducky even nearer to him.
"I owe you so much, dearest. More than words can ever say," Ducky said softly, from the vicinity of Jethro's chest.
Jethro winced and wished that their oft time apparently telepathic abilities hadn't come into play at that point. "Sorry, Duck," he said, now ashamed of himself. "I'm not being fair."
Ducky sighed. "I am not certain that 'fair' comes into it. And please, my dear, do not apologize for loving me." He sighed again, and then moved back a little and sat up, once again gazing deeply into Jethro's eyes. "I do not want to leave you, Jethro. Indeed, I am not entirely certain how I am going to do so. But I have to; and I am going to do so. I -" He cut his own words off by leaning forward and crushing Jethro's lips under his own.
For a moment the kiss was frantic, desperate, harsh almost; then it calmed, and softened into their usual kind, as both men clung to one another. As he kissed and was kissed by Ducky, as his hands gently caressed his lover, as he felt Ducky's sure and soothing touches on his own body, Jethro thought frantically.
When they broke away in desperate need of air, he said, "You will come back, won't you? Come back to me?"
"Of course, dearest. If -"
"If what? If what, Duck? What are you trying to say? You think I'm going to wave goodbye to you and then go out and fuck the first person I come across? Is that it? Is that what you think of me?" His voice had gotten louder and louder, until he was all but growling at Ducky, and he gripped his lover's arms so tightly, he saw a flash of pain cross the ashen face, and the pale blue eyes widened in shock. "Oh, shit, oh, shit, oh, shit," he said, furious at himself. He tried to stand up, certain that Ducky wouldn't want him near, disgusted at himself for his words, his thoughts and his actions.
However, Ducky who had proved in the past just how relatively strong he could be when he put his mind to it, held him firmly. Of course both men knew that had Jethro really wanted to break away, he could do so. But physically hurting his lover was something he'd never done, and he wasn't about to start doing so now.
"Hush, dearest. Hush, my beloved. It's all right. It's all right." Once Jethro had stopped struggling, Ducky loosened one hand and began to stroke his face. "Don't, my love," he said. "Don't. Please don't." It was only then, that Jethro discovered to his horror that he was crying.
He dragged the back of his hand over his eyes. "Oh, Duck, I'm sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean . . . I don't know what made me say those things. Duck."
Ducky took his face with both hands and held it, looking at him, a gentle, loving smile on his face, although the sadness was still the main emotion in the steady, caring gaze. "It's all right, Jethro," he repeated. "I know exactly why you said what you said. You're afraid, you're hurting and we often lash out at times like that. And my own words could have been chosen more carefully. I assure you that what you suggested was not on my mind."
"Yes. Really. However, dearest, whilst Mother is now ninety-eight, apart from her dementia she is still incredibly fit for her age; far more so than anyone else I have known of her age. Her heart is strong, her other major organs are all in fine shape, her blood pressure is steady and excellent. She could easily live for several more years. And I could not expect you to -"
"Wait for you like you did for me?"
"Jethro, as much as we love one another; as close as we are; as well as we know one another; as similar in so many ways as we are; we are different people. We have different -"
"There's been no one else for more than two years, Duck."
"I know, my dear. I know."
"I don't want anyone else."
"Then what are the hell - sorry. What are trying to say?"
For a moment Ducky just looked at him. Then to Jethro's surprise, his lover gave a quiet bitten off chuckle, shook his head, looked puzzled and said, a hint of self-effacement in his voice, "To be honest, dearest, I really am not certain. I was just -"
"Putting me before yourself." It was not a question. "Ah, Duck. Come here," and with that, Jethro again tugged Ducky back into his embrace.
As Ducky settled against him, resting his head on his chest and snuggling closer, Jethro began to think. Okay, so Ducky was determined, that was obvious. But it doesn't have to be the end of our relationship. Hell, I'm not going to let it be the end. "I could come with you," he said suddenly.
Ducky tensed where moments before he had been relaxed. "And do what, dearest?" he said, after a moment or two. Again he lifted his head.
"I could . . . " What the hell could he do? "Does it matter?"
"Yes, dearest, it does." Ducky spoke solemnly. "You cannot make that kind of decision just like that."
Ducky sighed. "It is different, Jethro. I do not have a choice."
Jethro bit back his 'yes, you do', retort. "Fine. Well, I’ll just have to come and visit you. I could actually start taking some leave. And . . . What?"
"No, my dear."
"Oh, Jethro. Don't you understand? I couldn't bear it. Saying goodbye to you once is going to be the hardest thing I have ever, ever, Jethro, done. I still do not know how I am going to do it. But I could not bear to do it once, twice, three times, or more a year. No, beloved. Please, don't ask that of me."
Despite everything, a part of Jethro understood; understood only too well. Understood, because while it had been his suggestion, he wasn't certain how he could have dealt with it either. "What are you saying, Duck?" he finally asked. "Are you saying we're over? Can't I write? Call you?"
Ducky shook his head. And then quickly hastened to correct the negation. "No, dearest. I am not saying that our relationship is over. I doubt if it will ever be over. And of course we can write and call, who knows we could even attempt that modern thing called 'emailing'; I believe it is quite good." But his attempt at humor fled and he let himself sink back into Jethro's embrace, where he settled quietly for a moment or two.
"I am sorry," he said, after a few minutes. "I am being selfish. I am only thinking of myself."
At that, Jethro almost laughed. "Ducky," he said, stroking Ducky's head, enjoying as he always did, the feel of heavy silk under his fingers. "Anyone less selfish than you I've yet to meet. Look," he added suddenly exhausted. "What do you say we don't talk about this anymore tonight? Come to bed and - What?"
"I'm sorry, my dear. I cannot stay tonight."
"Helen was kind enough to come over and sit with Mother for an hour or two, after I explained to her what I had decided to do, and told her that I had to come and tell you. However, she isn't able to stay with Mother all night. She has a previous engagement; she did offer to break it, but as it's Charlie's birthday, I really felt that I cannot let her do that. You do understand, don't you?"
"Course I do, Duck. What about if I came home with you?"
"I don’t think so, dear. Not tonight. I'm still not certain that Mother is . . . Oh, dear, I am afraid that I gave her a mild sedative before I left. I didn't not think that she would attack Helen, but . . . I really would not feel comfortable if you came home with me. Not tonight. I would not be able to relax. You do understand, do you not, my dear?"
Against his will, Jethro nodded. But he did understand; he didn't want to; but he did. "Sure, Duck. But you will find time to spend the night with me before you vanish, won't you?" He hated his tone, aware of how bitter and needy it was.
But Ducky just smiled, and stroked his face. "Nothing, beloved, nothing will stop me. I promise." And with those words, he leaned forward and again claimed Jethro's mouth with his own.
Despite his words, it was another twenty minutes before he finally, with clear and obvious reluctance, and some effort, moved away and, aided by Jethro, stood up. He allowed Jethro to help him on with his coat, slipping back into Jethro's fierce embrace once he had done so, letting Jethro hold him and kiss him, before pulling back and picking up his hat.
As he put it on his head and turned to go, he smiled up at Jethro. "I do love you, Jethro," he said softly. "I love you with all my heart."
Putting his arm around Ducky's shoulders and walking with him to his front door, Jethro said, fighting to keep his voice steady, "Love you too, Duck. I always will."
At the door they paused long enough to share one last, chaste, lingering kiss, before Ducky offered a final faint smile and limped off into the black of the night.
No, I can't forget this evening
Or your face as you were leaving
But I guess that's just the way the story goes
You always smile but in your eyes your sorrow shows
Yes, it shows
No, I can't forget tomorrow
When I think of all my sorrow
When I had you there but then I let you go
And now it's only fair that I should let you know
What you should know
I can't live if living is without you
I can't live, I can't give any more
I can't live if living is without you
I can't give, I can't give any more
When Gibbs awoke on his sofa the next morning, his head throbbed intensely. One glance at the whiskey bottle told him why. For a moment he believed, hoped, that it had all been a bad dream. But if that was so, why had he drunk so much? And why had he fallen asleep on his sofa, alone?
A rather-longer-and-hotter-than-usual shower made his headache, if not him, feel a little better. But as he dressed, grabbed Sig, coat, briefcase, and car keys, he suddenly had a foreboding feeling that the way he felt now, was going to be the way he felt for a hell of a long time.
Spotting the Morgan in the car park, Ducky must have gotten up even earlier than Gibbs himself had, he forewent his usual coffee, ignored the squad room and headed straight for Autopsy. Hoping against hope that . . .
One glance at his lover's paler-than-usual face, one glimpse into the dull now grey gaze, one look at the way Ducky was holding himself, taunt, tense, beaten, he knew his hope was futile.
Ignoring the camera that blinked at him, as well as the possibility that anyone could come in, Gibbs dropped his briefcase on the ground, strode across to where Ducky stood, watching him a little warily, and gathered the tense body into his arms. For a moment Ducky became even more rigid and tried to struggle against the embrace. Seconds later, however, he ceased his fight and instead sagged against Gibbs, slipping his own arms around him as he did so.
For the next minute they just stood in total silence holding one another. Gibbs had no real idea what was going through his lover's mind, what Ducky was feeling, but if it was anything like his own thoughts and feelings, he felt incredibly sorry for the man he loved.
Finally Ducky sighed and moved a little. This time Gibbs let him go. "Duck?" He said, putting so many questions into the name.
Under his gaze Ducky straightened a little, tipped his head back so that he could meet Gibbs's eyes and spoke. His voice was flat and distant, with the first word he uttered, Gibbs knew just how tight a rein his lover had forced onto his emotions. And under his gaze he saw the same lock down begin to appear in Ducky's eyes. "I have tendered my resignation, and Jennifer has accepted it. She has kindly agreed, under the circumstances, not to insist that I work for a month. I have made flight reservations for Mother and myself. The Corgis will need Pet Passports and Helen and Charles have kindly volunteered to sort those out, and then we'll make arrangements for them, and any larger belongings, to be flown to England. I shall not sell the house, indeed I hope that -" He broke off, frowned and started to speak again, but when he did, he didn't continue talking about the house. "I shall tell the children later today, as soon as they come in. I . . . "
"I could tell the kids if you want." Gibbs could only begin to know how much this was costing his lover.
"Thank you, my dear. However, I feel it is something that I have to do myself. Indeed I, I won't say 'wish to do it', as I do not wish to, nonetheless, I have worked with them all for quite some time, and I care about them. I should be the one to tell them that I am leaving and why. Perhaps though . . ."
"You want me to get them all together?"
"That would be . . . No, wait a minute. I cannot not tell Jimmy, how he would he feel? No, I must tell him as soon as he arrives. And Abigail, I have worked with her for longer than anyone, with the exception of you of course. I should tell her alone. I . . ."
Gibbs had never seen Ducky quite so uncertain and hesitant, quite so outwardly needy. He put a hand on each of Ducky's shoulders. "Tell Palmer when he gets here, Duck. Then go and tell Abbs, and you can tell the others together. How about that?"
"Thank you, dearest. That would be . . . Thank you. Oh, and Tobias. I don't want him to hear via the grapevine that will inevitable start to flow very shortly."
"Want me to call him? And then," Gibbs said, forestalling Ducky's comment. "How about I invite him round for a drink one evening, and you can say -" He broke off and cursed himself; he couldn't even say the word.
"That would be extremely kind, Jethro. Thank you."
Gibbs frowned and tightened his grip on Ducky's shoulders. "Duck. It's me, remember. Less of the ultra-polite and 'it's very kind'. Okay? We don't have that between us, do we?"
Ducky shook his head and raised one hand to touch Gibbs's face, it seemed that he too was uncaring of the cameras. "No, dearest. Of course not. I . . . " He broke off and smiled a little.
"Good." Part of Gibbs couldn't believe that he was standing here, having a calm conversation with his lover of over thirty years, about said lover leaving him. He's not leaving you. He'd told himself that twenty times at least this morning; maybe he might soon begin to believe it. Suddenly he remembered something. "You started to say something about your house. What do hope? Are you going to try to rent it out until you come back?" The idea of someone else, a stranger, being in Ducky's home, touching Ducky's thing, sleeping in Ducky's bed, in the bed where they'd . . . "Sorry?" he said, yanking himself out of his thoughts.
Ducky smiled gently again. "I said that I hoped you might consider living there."
"Yes, dearest. I know that it might not be practical, with it being further from the office. And of course there is your boat; the cellar is quite large, but as you know it hasn't really been used for anything other than storage for years. However, you are free to do exactly what you like with it, with all of the house. I - Oh, I'm being foolish. Of course you don't want to live in Reston. I'll contact a - I'm sorry, Jethro?"
Gibbs squeezed Ducky's shoulders, pulled him a little closer to him again, and spoke quietly. "I said that I'd be happy to live there, Duck."
"Really?" Ducky's face brightened.
"Really. Love to in fact. But only if you're sure. I mean if you rented it you might . . . What?" he asked as a twinkle appeared in Ducky's eyes.
"Oh, my dearest Jethro. If you were about to say what it is I think you were about to say, then there is no need - as you well know. Money is not, never has been, and never will be an issue for me."
And it wasn’t; as Gibbs well knew. Ducky had no need to work, none at all, had never needed to. He owned his home in Reston, had bought it outright; the Morgan had not been cheap to buy, nor to rebuild; his tastes in wine, whiskey, books, music, furniture and some paintings was expensive, and gave more to charity than Gibbs, after he'd paid three lots of alimony, made each year. And then there was the home in England; which Gibbs hadn't known about, or at least if Ducky had told him, it had been in the midst of one of his rambles.
"I am so glad that you said yes. Apart from the fact that it will make life so much simpler for me as to what I can leave, take, put into storage, etc. etc. Just knowing that you -"
"Good morning, Dr. Mallard, isn't it a - Oh, Special Agent Gibbs, sir. Sorry, am I interrupting something?"
For a moment Ducky didn't speak. Then he closed his eyes, touched Gibbs's face again and moved back from Gibbs's half embrace. "No, Jimmy, it's all right. Jethro was just . . ."
"Going," Gibbs said; suddenly knowing that he couldn’t stand there and hear Ducky tell Palmer that he was leaving. He'd have to be there when Ducky told his field team; he himself had promised to call Tobias; that was more than enough. "I'll sort that stuff out for you, Duck."
"Thank you, my dear." Ducky turned his gaze back to Gibbs and for a moment allowed his eyes to blaze with what he really wanted to say.
Gibbs swallowed. "Catch you later, Duck." And because he couldn't stop himself, he squeezed his lover's shoulder again, brushed a hand over his hair before striding towards the door, grabbing his briefcase and leaving. "Palmer," he said, nodding as he passed him.
"Hey, Abbs. Have you -" Gibbs staggered backwards slightly, as he fought to keep his coffee and Abby's Caf-Pow upright under the onslaught of Abby flinging herself into his arms.
"Oh, Gibbs," she said and began to sob. Her head was on his shoulder and her body pressed against his. He could feel her shaking.
Carefully he maneuvered and managed to put both cups down on the desk, and then put his arms around Abby, holding her tightly, kissing the top of her head and murmuring to her. "Don't cry, Abbs."
But for once she didn't obey him. As he held her in his arms, he wished that he could be the one to cry and have someone to comfort him.
"Ducky's leaving, Gibbs," she said between sobs.
"Yeah, Abbs. I know."
"How can he leave us? How can he leave you? How can you let him go?"
"Excuse me, Agent Gibbs, but are you busy at the moment?"
Gibbs glanced at Ducky's assistant and raised an eyebrow. "Not so you'd notice, Palmer," he said dryly.
Palmer blushed and looked away. "I'm sorry, sir. It's just -"
"Don't call me, 'sir', Palmer."
"No, sir. Sorry, sir. Er, Special Agent Gibbs, sir."
Gibbs gave up. "Well, what do you want, Palmer?"
Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Yes, Palmer, want. I assume you followed me in here for a reason, and not because you needed to come in here?" Gibbs zipped his fly up and moved to wash his hands.
"Er, yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. I mean . . ."
Gibbs sighed. "Jimmy," he said quietly, putting one hand on each of the hapless man's shoulders and looking into his eyes. "Just say it."
"Yes, sir. It's about Dr. Mallard."
"Ducky? Is something happened to him? Palmer if you've -"
"No, Gibbs. I mean, Special Agent Gibbs. He is fine. I was wondering if -" He broke off as the door opened.
The man, Colin Adams, nodded to Gibbs and moved across to a urinal.
Gibbs waited, but Palmer was not forthcoming. In the end, after counting to ten under his breath, he turned Palmer around and pushed him towards the door. "Right," he said, when they were outside. "You were wondering if . . . ?"
"If we could set up some kind of rota to help Dr. Mallard look after his mother. Then he wouldn't have to leave," he added quietly.
To his annoyance and surprise, Gibbs felt a lump begin to form in his throat. He squeezed one of Palmer's shoulders as he fought for control of his voice. "Nice idea, Jimmy. But, it's not as simple as that."
"Oh." Palmer looked crestfallen. "I'd hoped . . ."
"Yeah, Palmer. Me too. Go on, you better get back to Autopsy."
"Yes, sir. Sorry to have bothered you."
"No bother, Jimmy. Oh, and, Palmer," Gibbs called as the young man began to walk away, his head drooping slightly.
"If you're worried about your job with Dr. Mallard leaving. You needn't be."
"I needn't?" Palmer's tone told Gibbs that he had indeed been worrying.
"No. It's all sorted out." And with that, Gibbs himself turned and strode off.
If only other things could be sorted as easily as Jimmy Palmer's job had been.
"Hello, my dearest. I am sorry to once again arrive unannounced. However, I didn't want to - Mmmm," he managed through the kiss Jethro had silenced him with.
"Well, my dear," he said, when Jethro finally released his mouth, "that was very pleasant indeed. However, before you repeat it, which I am hoping you plan to do, or take it any further, I do think it would perhaps be better if I came inside. Don't you?" He smiled up at Jethro.
With a cursory glance over his lover's shoulder to see if anyone was about, not that he really cared one way or another, Jethro tugged Ducky inside, pushed the door shut, gathered Ducky back into his arms and once again found his mouth.
Several minutes were spent in the simple and peaceful pleasure of kissing and holding Ducky. For a moment Jethro let himself be lulled into a sense of false security, and pushed away the knowledge that there were very few days remaining until Ducky left him.
"Drink?" he said, once he'd helped Ducky off with his coat and gone outside to retrieve the hat he'd failed to notice he'd knocked off when he'd first grabbed his lover. "Or can't you stay?" he added, putting the hat down.
"Oh, yes, dear. I can stay. In fact unless you have other plans I am able to stay with you until . . . That is, of course, should you wish me to do so. I would understand if -" Once again Jethro silenced him in his favorite way.
"So how come you can stay?" he asked, when a few minutes later they were seated side by side on his sofa. He had one arm around Ducky, and his fingers were lightly stroking his lover's hair. In his other hand he held a glass of whiskey.
Ducky snuggled, there was no other word for it, more closely into the embrace and sighed in evident contentedness. "Helen," he said. "Or rather I should say Helen and Charles."
"As you know I had told them my decision to take Mother home, and the events that had forced me to make the decision. And when I arrived home from work today, Helen was in the kitchen making supper; Charlie was playing some kind of two-handed Bridge with Mother and the Corgis. Helen calmly informed me that they would be staying with Mother for a few days, whilst I . . ." He broke off and sipped his drink.
Jethro swallowed. Now he'd heard everything. In all honesty it had never ceased to amaze him the ease with which both Pattersons, especially Helen, as well as, when she was lucid, Ducky's mom, had accepted the fact that he and Ducky were lovers. Acceptance was one thing; this however, was beyond that. "And your mom? Was she okay with it?"
"Helen was rather forceful with Mother, as well as with me, actually." Ducky chuckled. "She told Mother that she must not be selfish and that I was going to go away for a few days, and that she and Charlie would be staying with Mother."
"And you're okay with that? You're not worried that your mom will . . ."
"Actually, my dear, no, I am not. Not worried, that is. Mother has been very placid since I told her that I was going to take her home, and with Charles very kindly taking a few days leave so as not to leave his grandmother and Mother alone, well . . . I think that everything will be perfectly fine. So if you wish me to stay here with you then - Jethro, I was drinking that. I -"
Jethro found something far better for Ducky to do with his mouth than drink whiskey.
"Jethro, could you come up to my office, please? I would like to go through these reports with you."
"Sorry, Jenn. They'll have to wait until tomorrow. I'm going home." Gibbs continued to pull on his coat and throw things into his briefcase.
Jenny had walked off towards the stairs after delivering her order, clearly expecting him to follow her without question. Now the stopped and turned around to face him. "Agent Gibbs," she said firmly. "These reports -"
"Can wait until tomorrow. I told you, I'm going home." And without waiting to see what her response might be, Gibbs strode away from his desk and across the office. He took the elevator down to Autopsy where he collected Ducky and went home.
"Boss, isn't there anything we can do to stop Ducky from -"
"Boss, Abby was telling me about this excellent home she knows about. Usually there's a long waiting list, but she knows the manager and -"
"Thanks, Tim. But Ducky won't."
"See you in the morning, McGee."
"Jethro, do you think it might be better if . . ."
"If what, Duck?"
"Well, maybe we should . . . That is it might be easier on both of us if . . ."
"I am taking you to the airport."
"You're just going to let him go?"
"You tell me how I can stop him, Tobias. Yeah, thought as much."
"Gibbs. I know of a lady who is an excellent nurse. She is used to dealing with all kinds of illnesses, including dementia. I am certain that Dr. Mallard would find her more than suitable. And I assure you that knife threats do not worry her in the least."
"Thanks, Ziva. But Ducky's made up his mind."
"And you? Have you made up yours?" She shook her head, muttered something in her native language, turned on her heel and stalked away from him
He just stared after her.
"I have to return home tonight, beloved. You know that. We agreed. I don't want to but -"
As he silenced his lover for yet another time, Jethro tried desperately to force away what tomorrow would bring.
"I'll come round about six, then? Unless -"
"No, dear. Please. I couldn't -"
"I know. See you in the morning, Duck."
"Goodnight, my dear."
No, I can't forget this evening
Or your face as you were leaving
But I guess that's just the way the story goes
You always smile but in your eyes your sorrow shows
Yes, it shows
"Goodbye, Jethro dear. You will come and visit us, won't you?" Vanessa Mallard offered her cheek for Jethro to kiss.
He did so, knowing as he did that he wouldn't be able to smell the scent of Chanel No. 5 without seeing the old woman and remembering this morning. It was as if the whole airport had shrunk into one small bubble. A bubble that consisted of: Helen and Charles Patterson, Vanessa Mallard, Ducky and himself.
"Well, Jethro," she demanded. "I asked you a question."
Before he could answer, Helen appeared and took the older woman's arm. "Come along, Vanessa. Come and say goodbye to Charlie; he has bought you a gift."
"Oh, has he? How kind of him." And with those words Mrs. Mallard, moving quite speedily for a woman of her advancing years, went off eagerly with Helen.
The bubble became smaller. Now it contained only two people.
Around him he could hear the sounds of people talking, children crying, announcements being made, but none of them registered. He saw groups of people hugging, kissing, crying, laughing; he saw people alone, intent on their cell phones or whatever it was they were holding. But none of them seemed real.
The only real person stood, hat in hand in front of him. His steady gaze fixed on Jethro.
For twelve days, twelve endless days that had both gone far too quickly and far too slowly for Jethro's liking, he had thought about this moment. Now that it had come he wasn’t sure what to do.
The pale blue gaze was misty with tears and heavy with pain; but it was also determined. Still Ducky didn't move; he just stood, still, upright, watching Jethro.
In that second Jethro made the decision; to hell with what anyone might think. He closed the gap between them in one stride, pulled Ducky into his arms and just held him tightly, letting his lips find Ducky's ear, and then letting his mouth and nose come to rest in Ducky's heavy, silky, sweet smelling hair. "Love you, Duck," he murmured, fighting the tears that wanted to spill over. "Always will."
"I know, my dearest Jethro. And I love you too. And I always shall. I -"
"Don't, Duck." He wasn't even certain what he was objecting to; as he hadn't really known what Ducky had been about to say. He only knew that right there, right now, he didn't want to hear his lover say anything else; and yet he wanted him to go on speaking.
He felt Ducky move even closer to him, pressing himself against him, tightening his own arms, pulling him even closer, until Jethro had the idea that they weren't two people any longer. That it would be impossible separate them.
And then it came.
The first call for the flight.
For Ducky's flight.
He felt Ducky stiffen against him. Before, for an instant, burrowing impossibly closer into the fierce embrace.
Then he felt his lover pull back slightly.
He let him go just far enough.
He let him go just far enough to allow him to lower his head and kiss him. A brief brush of lips over lips; chaste; honest; pure; a kiss that wasn't really a kiss, but couldn't be anything other than a kiss.
And then he let him go.
Brushed away the single tear that had escaped from Ducky's eye.
Took the somewhat crushed hat from his hand and put it reverently on Ducky's head.
Slipped his arm around Ducky's shoulders and with Ducky after a second or two, completing the half embrace, moved slowly to where the Pattersons and Mrs. Mallard stood.
It was Charlie who offered his arm to Vanessa Mallard, while his grandmother walked on her other side.
It was with the Pattersons he stood and waited and watched until the flight took off and the plane was in the air.
It was with the Pattersons he stood as it disappeared into the clouds.
It was with Charlie he got drunk that night. So much so that his final vague memory had been of the young man putting him to bed.
I can't live if living is without you
I can't live, I can't give anymore
I can't live if living is without you
I can't live, I can't give anymore
"What do you want, Tobias?" Jethro growled at his friend as he opened the door of his Reston house.
"To ask you something."
"Well, can I come in, or do you really want to do this on the doorstep?"
Jethro shrugged; he honestly didn't care. However, he did move away from the door and walked towards the sitting room, relying on his friend to shut and bolt the door himself.
"You can't stay long," he said, handing Tobias a glass of excellent whiskey. "Duck'll be calling soon."
"Oh, so you still speak to him, then?"
Jethro frowned. "What the fuck is the meant to be mean, Fornell?" He took two steps towards Tobias and glowered down at him, using his height to intimidate.
Tobias ignored the anger and the intimidation. "I just wondered that's all. This is good stuff. Ducky's no doubt."
"Look whatever it is you want to say, Tobias. Say it. Cut the crap and say it. Okay?"
"Fine. If that's what you want."
"Why the hell are you still here?"
Whatever Jethro had been expecting; it was not that. "What?"
"I asked," Tobias said, crossing to an armchair and sitting down. "Why are you still here."
"Here. In this house. Or more importantly here in the States. Why aren't you in England? With Ducky," he added, his tone making it clear that he thought he'd better say that, just in case Jethro hadn't worked it out for himself.
"What? Well, come on then, Jethro. Tell me, why are you still here? What are you trying to prove?"
"I'm not trying to prove anything."
"Oh, right. And there I was thinking you were trying to prove to everyone what a heartless bastard you really were. Or how much you're suffering. How miserable you are. Or how you can cope without Ducky. Or -"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Sure you do. Don't lie to me, Jethro. I'm your second oldest friend. Make that your oldest friend currently in the same country as you. That gives me rights."
"Sure. The right to say some things that everyone has been wanting to say for four months, but hasn't dared."
Jethro glared at him. "And what's that?"
"That you should stop messing around, get on a plane and go to England."
"But what? What's the problem, Jethro? What are you worried about? It can't be commitment. Or can it?"
"No, course not. It's just . . ."
Tobias's voice became gentler. "Just what, Jethro? Or don't you really know. Look sit down and stop towering over me like that. You aren't going to intimidate me."
Jethro glared at is friend for a moment before sighing and obeying him. "You're right," he said, after a moment of two. "Damn it, Tobias, you're right."
"About what in particular?"
"Everything," Jethro admitted a tad grudgingly. "I want to go. Shit, I knew I'd miss him, but . . . I had no idea how much. We talk every other evening, but it's not enough."
"I bet those are the evenings you get home, aren't they?"
"Pretty much, yeah. Never realized how big this place really was."
"Then what's stopping you? It can't be money, can it? You can afford a ticket, can't you? Hell, if it's that, then I'll give you the damn money."
Jethro shook his head. "Thanks. But no, it's not."
"Then what is it?"
"Something Ducky said before he went."
"What will I do if I went? And he's right, Tobias, what would I do?"
Tobias frowned. "You mean work-wise, I take it?"
"Does it matter?"
Jethro opened his mouth to answer. Shut it again as the question really hit him, and frowned. He just sat and looked at his friend.
"Look, Jethro. I've never claimed to understand the relationship you and Ducky have, and that's not just because you're both men. I'm not sure anyone other than the two of you can understand it. But what I do know is that I've never seen one that's more right; more lasting. Whatever you two do together, whatever you are to one another, it works. It always has. Christ, Jethro, if it can survive all your marriages and the other women, then it can survive anything. You know that."
"You're right, Tobias. Again."
"Besides, come on, Jethro, you can't tell me that you won't be able to find something to do? You're damn good with your hands; all those boats you've built and destroyed, you can put those skills to some use."
Jethro just stared at Tobias. "When the hell did you become so smart, Tobias?"
In response Tobias simply held up his glass and nodded.
"Agent Gibbs, you can't - I am sorry, Director Shepard. I did try to -"
"It's all right, Cynthia. Thank you. Well good morning, Jethro, and what can I do for you?"
"I'm come to retire, Jenn. And I won't - What's that?" he asked, as she took some papers from her desk drawer and held them out to him.
"The paperwork." He just stared at her. "Everything has been completed and has merely been waiting for you to sign and date it since Ducky left."
"Oh," he said, unable to think of anything else.
"I must say that I am surprised it's taken you so long, Jethro. But then you did tend to be slow at the really important things in your life."
"I jumped into bed with you quick enough."
"Exactly." Her tone was flat; her voice quiet and tinged with a hint of sadness.
He swallowed hard. He really had been a bastard; he'd hurt pretty much everyone he'd ever touched. "Jenn, I . . ." He trailed off; there really wasn't anything he could say.
"I know, Jethro," she said softly. "Me too. Now, sign these; go and tell you team; book your flight, and go."
"Can't wait to get rid of me, eh, Jenn? Sorry," he added, at the look on her face. And he was. The look on her face told him that for once she knew he had meant it.
She smiled. "I will miss you, Jethro. We all will. But there is one thing that I won't miss."
"Yeah, what's that?"
"My senior agent not knocking before he bursts into my office."
He grinned at her. Then in four quick strides he rounded her desk, pulled her to her feet and kissed her, once on each cheek, and then fleetingly on her closed mouth. The former was the kiss of an ex-lover, the kind of kiss lovers often part with; the kind of kiss they'd never exchanged. The latter was the kind of kiss friends can share. Then he quickly touched her hair; "You take care of yourself, Jenn," he said softly.
She smiled and let her fingers brush his cheek for a second or two. "You too, Jethro. And take care of Ducky."
"That's a promise." With those words he turned and left her office.
Telling the kids, even Abby, was easy; far more so than he'd expected. It seemed as if Tobias had been correct. They had all been wanting to say the same thing to him since Ducky had left, but hadn't dared.
"We can come and see you, Gibbs, can't we?" Abby asked, as he handed her a Caf-Pow.
"Course you can, Abbs. Ducky'd like that. Besides you're not going to get married without me there."
"I'm not getting married," she declared indignantly.
He just raised an eyebrow and glanced over her shoulder to where McGee was doing 'his stuff' with one of the computers. "Sure you're not, Abbs," he said, deliberately making the words ambiguous.
"Thanks for driving me here, Charlie," Jethro said, when they reached the airport. "Specially as such short notice." Tobias had been due to do the honors, but had called to say a case had escalated and thus it was impossible for him to get away.
"My pleasure, Ag - er, Jethro."
Jethro grinned. It was hard to break habits. It had taken Ducky and himself quite some time to get used to calling Charlie's grandmother 'Helen' rather than 'Mrs. Patterson', and Charlie had never really managed 'Jethro' and 'Ducky', at least not more than half the time.
"I'm a bit surprised it has taken you so long, I have to say."
"You too?" Jethro said ruefully.
"Oh, yes. And Grandma. We were both surprised that you were still here at Christmas."
"Yeah, well, as someone I know said to me, 'I'm a bit slow on the uptake when something really matters'."
"Hmm, maybe that's not a bad thing."
"Maybe it's not. You got to get to work?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, I've taken the morning off. I thought I'd stay and see you off; if that's okay?"
"Want to make sure I actually go, do you?" Jethro teased, and they both laughed.
They sat drinking coffee and chatting until Jethro's flight was called.
"Well, this is it, Charlie. Time I was on my way. Thanks again." Jethro pulled the younger man into a quick hug. "Give my love to your grandmother."
"I will indeed. And please give ours to Ducky."
"Take care, Jethro."
"And you." He hugged Charlie for a second time, grabbed his bag from the floor and turned to go.
"Yeah?" He stopped and turned.
"Have you actually told Dr. Mallard that you're on your way?"
Jethro grinned and shook his head. "Nah, thought I'd surprise him. Why, do you think I should have?" For the first time since he'd deliberately decided not to tell his lover, he felt a tinge of concern. Maybe he should have done so. Was it too late? He glanced at his watch.
Charlie shook his head. "No, not at all. You know how much Ducky likes surprises." That was true; he did. "And this'll be the best one ever."
Jethro breathed a sigh of relief. "Guess it will be, Charlie. Guess it will be."
And with a final wave, he strode off, bag swinging, towards his new life.