AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: First Time. Angst (lots of it)
SUMMARY: Ducky takes matters into his own hands.
WORD COUNT: 3,538
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
"What the fuck!" Jethro snarled, yanking himself away from Ducky.
Ducky stood frozen to the spot staring in horror and shock up at Jethro. The look on the handsome, weather tanned face and the way Jethro was clenching and unclenching his fists made him take a step backwards. "Oh, Jethro," he said, "I am so very sorry. I misunderstood. I thought –"
"You thought what, Doctor?"
"That you – But I was wrong. I was so very wrong."
"You think!" Jethro snarled the two words as he turned on his heel and strode out of the room.
When the door slammed shut behind Jethro, Ducky stumbled towards a chair and slumped down in it. He put his head in his hands and fought the shivers that started to make their way through his body.
What had he done?
How could he have misread the signs so badly?
He had been so certain, so very, very certain that – He couldn't even think it. Not now. Not after he'd seen the look on his closest friend's face.
He swallowed and tasted blood.
With shaking fingers he touched his lips, hating himself for the way his mind and body raced back to the taste of Jethro's mouth; the way his lips were crushed against Ducky's; the way – Again he stopped his thoughts.
"Oh, dear, God," he whispered. "What have I done?"
His mind answered the question: messed up the most important relationship he had ever had. Destroyed the best friendship he had ever known. And for what?
For one kiss.
A kiss that wasn't really a kiss, because a kiss can only be a kiss if both parties participate.
A kiss, a few seconds of pure joy, that had ended a friendship spanning more than three decades. A friendship that nothing or no one had ever been able to destroy. A friendship that in a few seconds, a few foolish, miscalculated seconds, Ducky himself had destroyed.
And yet, he couldn't stop remembering that for a second, maybe less, Jethro had kissed him back. Had returned the pressure. Had – But that was foolish; that was impossible; he hadn't; of course he hadn't. It was just Ducky misunderstanding again.
As he sat, still unable to make himself move from the chair, he still could not believe, could not understand, could not figure out just how he had so utterly, completely and totally misunderstood what Jethro had been broadcasting to him.
Even now in the depths of his despair part of Ducky, a tiny, miniscule part of him, didn't truly believe he had misunderstood.
Why would he?
Why, after all the decades he'd spent loving, wanting, desiring, needing, being in love with Jethro and knowing, accepting that he'd never get him, would he suddenly believe Jethro did want him? Why had he suddenly started to misread the looks, the touches, the embraces, the way Jethro invaded his personal space, the way he monopolized Ducky's attention, the way he seemed almost jealous if that attention wandered to another person? Why would he do that if it hadn't been the truth?
He wouldn't have, surely he wouldn't have?
Had he become that desperate to kiss Jethro, to be kissed by Jethro that, despairing of never having the one person he really wanted, truly loved, he had let himself misread his friend? Let himself be lulled into misunderstanding?
Was there really anything different in the way Jethro had treated him over the last few months than in all the previous decades?
Yes, his heart told him.
No, his mind insisted.
He closed his eyes and listened to his mind.
The next two weeks were torture for Ducky. If he'd thought things had been bad after Jethro's return from Mexico, he realized now he'd been sorely mistaken. Those months had been nothing more than a mild 'falling out' compared to now.
Jethro didn't call him 'Doctor' or 'Doctor Mallard' - he didn’t call him anything.
He stopped talking to Ducky entirely.
He stopped visiting Autopsy, sending one or more of the field team instead.
If there was something he had to ask Ducky himself, he did it by email. Curt, icy, distant emails.
And if he ran into Ducky by a fluke chance, he simply avoided looking at him. He treated him as if Ducky was invisible.
Only once did Ducky attempt to say something, to try to find a way to explain his mistake, to try to find a way to regain at least civility – he'd given up hoping for friendship. He'd caught Jethro alone and had spoken to him, simply saying his name and raising his hand as if to – The look on Jethro's face, in his eyes, in the way he held his body had stopped him dead. He'd never seen his old friend look at anyone in that way – not even the most heinous of criminals. Not even Kyle Boone.
He knew the children were worried, concerned, perplexed, surprised. He saw them looking at him, when they thought he wasn't aware of it, when they came into Autopsy. More than once he came upon two or more of them only to find them scatter as soon as he appeared, that or quite deliberately change the subject.
He couldn't blame them. They didn't know what he had done.
He didn't blame Jethro either. Not really.
He did, however, blame himself.
After two weeks of what was nothing short than living, breathing, walking hell, he made a decision: he'd tender his retirement. It was better than this.
"Hey, Duckman," Abby called, as she bounced into Autopsy. The next second he found himself pulled, gently for Abby, into her arms and held. "Oh, Ducky," she said, kissing his cheek. "It'll be all right."
"What will, Abigail?" he said, as he gently extracted himself from her tight embrace. She didn't, however, let him go completely.
"You and Gibbs of course," she said. "It happens to everyone. Look at Tim and me, we sorted it out and we'd only been together a short time. Not like you and Gibbs."
"Abby, what are you saying?" Ducky pulled out of her embrace completely and held her at arms' length. He saw the look of confusion on her face and then it hit him. For a moment he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Oh, Abby, Abby, my dear, dear Abby, you think that Jethro and I are – That we've had a –"
"Lover's tiff. Yes. Well, that's all it is, isn't it?" Now she looked worried. "Ducky, that's all it is, isn't it?" she demanded. "It's nothing more serious than that, is it?" She whispered the final words as he looked down at him.
Then she frowned and said forcefully, "Tell me."
Ducky looked at her. He closed his eyes for a moment. Suddenly he knew he had to tell someone and that someone might as well be his dear Abby. "Jethro and I are not lovers, Abigail," he said quietly.
"Okay, not at the moment. But –"
"We have never been lovers." Ducky spoke quietly, and despite everything almost laughed at the look of shock on Abby's face.
"But everyone knows you are," she finally said.
"Yes. Well I do, and Tim, and Ziva, and Jimmy, and Kate knew, and Tony - well once we pointed it out to him."
Ducky shook his head. "I am afraid that you have all misunderstood," he said firmly. "Whatever you might have thought you knew, you didn’t. Jethro and I . . ." he trailed off.
"But it's so obvious, Ducky."
Again he shook his head. "Ah, Abby," was all he said.
She shook her head and again frowned. "Well if you're not lovers then what's happened? Why is Gibbs ignoring you? Why is he sending Tony down to Autopsy? Why won't he look at you? Why –"
"I kissed him," Ducky said.
"You kissed him and he's behaving like this? But why?"
"Because I was wrong. I thought – Ah, Abigail, I too was misled like you and the others by the way he . . . I was wrong, Abby. I thought . . . But I was wrong. So very wrong. And now . . . And now I am paying for one foolish moment. I have lost the most important friendship I have ever had, I have driven away my dearest friend, and for what?"
"Oh, Ducky," she said, and pulled him back into her arms.
After a second or two, she pushed him away again and looked down at him. Once more a frown creased her face. "You say you kissed him?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes."
"Just kissed him?"
"That's all? One kiss? You didn't try to . . . " To his mild amusement she flushed slightly.
He patted her hand. "No, Abigail, I did not try to . . ."
"Then why is he being such a bastard? Why is he behaving so childishly? Now if it were Tony, I could understand it. But this is Gibbs. He's mature; at least I thought he was. Oh, I know, I'll talk to him, Ducky. I'll tell him –"
"No!" Ducky said sharply, catching her arms. "No," he repeated a little more softly. "It's a kind thought, Abby, but no. That won't help. You know it won't," he said quietly.
She looked at him. "Then what are you going to do?" she said quietly. "Ducky, what are you going to do?"
He briefly closed his eyes again as he forced himself to speak the words he'd only thought. "I am going to retire," he said, surprised at how steady, how determined, how free from regret his voice sounded. "I am going to retire," he repeated.
Abby looked devastated. "But, Ducky," she whispered. "You can't. You can't just . . . You can't, Ducky. It'd be so wrong if you do."
Ducky sighed, reached up on his toes and gently kissed her forehead. "Staying would be far, far, wronger," he said, deliberately choosing to use her word.
THREE MONTHS LATER
Ducky drove his Morgan back towards his Reston home; he felt contented, almost happy. To his surprise he found he was rather enjoying his retirement; it gave him time to do all the things he loved to do, but had found difficult to fit into his working life.
He visited museums and art galleries; he regularly went to the opera and theatre; he met friends for lunch, or even enjoyed long lunches alone; he indulged his passion for reading; he listened for hours to his wonderful collection of classic CDs, and his golfing handicap had improved tremendously. In fact he was returning from a game with his old friend Joseph Cavell where he had not only, for the first time ever, beaten Joseph, but had done so with the best round he had ever shot.
Yes, retirement was not the monster he had thought it would be, rather the opposite. Maybe he'd been mistaken not to have done it several years earlier. After all he had never needed to work, and following the death of his beloved Mother a year earlier, his lack of need to work had increased twenty-fold.
He missed NCIS, of course he did; he missed the children; the cases; the mysteries; he missed dissecting bodies and helping to solve puzzles. And most of all he missed Jethro.
He missed his friend. He missed him very much. He missed him very much indeed. He missed their closeness, the way they had no need to finish sentences, they way they –
He stopped himself from thinking about Jethro. He was in the past. He had to be.
At least he knew Jethro was still alive and well, and according to Abby, not dating anyone. Upon Ducky's retirement Abby had turned up at his Reston home, Timothy and a computer in tow and together she and her now fiancé had set Ducky up with his home computer, connected him to the web and taught him the intricacies of using email and the Internet, and other useful programs outside of the office. They'd attempted to show him IMing as well, but Ducky had drawn the line at that. He'd explained that if he wanted an instant conversation with someone, that was what the telephone was for.
He'd discovered, quite to his surprise, he had quite a knack for computers and spent many a happy hour surfing the web, discovering new things, also discovering the high number of inaccuracies that existed, and generally enjoying himself. He even enjoyed playing the odd game, nothing of course like the kind Timothy played, no he preferred Sudoku or word puzzles.
His retirement was a full and happy one and he –
He rounded the corner to his house saw, to his surprise, a car, a black sedan, parked outside. He frowned to himself as he quickly ran through the people it could be, indeed he wondered if he had inadvertently forgotten someone was visiting. But no, his diary, both his computer and paper versions, had been, apart from his 'appointment' to play golf, empty.
He brought the Morgan to a stop, turned off the engine, opened the door and climbed out of the car. He paused long enough to tug his clubs out, before locking the door and turning around.
To his surprise his bag of clubs was taken from his hands. "Probably best if I have that," a voice said.
"Jethro!" Ducky spoke the word before he could stop himself. "What are you – What can I do for you, Special Agent Gibbs?" He forcibly changed his tone.
Ducky frowned. "What? What do you mean?"
But Jethro didn't answer.
Ducky waited another moment or two before sighing and holding out his hand. "Look, Jethro, I am a little tired and would like to get inside and sit down. So unless you intend telling me why you are here and what you want, I'd be obliged if you'd be so kind as to hand me my clubs and just go."
Still Jethro didn't answer. Nor did he offer Ducky the clubs.
Suddenly Ducky had had enough.
Seeing Jethro again, actually seeing him, speaking to him, made him realize just how much of a sham his retirement was. Yes, he enjoyed playing golf, surfing the web, having long lunches, going to the theatre, the art galleries, reading all the books he'd always been too busy to read, listening to his array of classical music. But when it came down to it, it paled into insignificance when he admitted honestly how much he missed Jethro. He silently cursed himself and his foolishness.
He turned around and began to walk away, saying curtly, "Just leave the clubs on the ground, or put them in the Morgan, that is assuming you still have the key and haven't thrown it away with everything else that I might have – What did you say?" He stopped.
"You weren't mistaken." Jethro's voice was low, flat, free from any and all emotion.
Ducky stood for a moment, before turning back around. "About what?" he finally said.
Jethro stood for a moment, still holding Ducky's bag of clubs, in silence, looking down at the ground.
Just as Ducky was about to snap his name or even cross the relatively small distance between them and shake him, Jethro raised his head and looked at him.
"About my feelings. My feelings for you. You weren't wrong. You didn't misunderstand."
"What?" Ducky silently cursed himself for his lack of coherency. Then before Jethro could answer, he shook himself and spoke again. "Then why?" he asked. "Why did you –"
"Behave like a fool? Treat you like you were nothing? Prove I'm the bastard I always say I am? Behave like a juvenile? Screw up one of the only two relationships that have ever really meant anything to me? Throw away the most important friendship I've ever had? Drive you away? Fuck with you mind?"
"Well, yes," Ducky said, rather taken aback by Jethro's vehemence.
"Because I couldn't handle it. Couldn't handle how I felt about you. Couldn't handle . . . What that meant."
"I've never . . . Well you know I haven't. And I didn't think I could. Not even with you."
"No even that's not completely true. I was scared, Duck."
"Of how much I wanted you. Of how I felt about you. Of how much I –" Jethro broke off and swallowed hard. "Of how much I loved you. I thought -"
"That it would make you a lesser man?"
"What? No. Yes. I . . . No. No, Duck. Least – Oh, shit, yeah. I guess. Part of me. But I was wrong, again; wasn't I?"
"I don’t know, Jethro, were you?"
"Yes." The single word was said so quietly, with so much pain, that Ducky wasn't even certain he had heard it.
And suddenly Jethro was close to him.
Suddenly he'd closed the gap between them and was standing so close to Ducky, Ducky had to tilt his head back to see Jethro's face.
"Yes." He whispered the word again. And then slowly, so slowly, so very slowly, his hesitation, his uncertainty blindingly clear, he lifted his hand and let the very tips of his fingers brush Ducky's cheek. "Can you . . . ?"
"Can I what, Jethro?" Ducky said, his own voice low. His mouth was dry, he could hear and feel his pulse beating in his ears and temple, his palms were damp and he had to force himself not to shake.
"Can you forgive me? Can you give me another chance, Duck? Can you, can we, can I make it right?"
Ducky looked at Jethro and for a moment was he silent. He should tell him to bugger off, that there wasn't a chance, that nothing could make it 'right'. Indeed, the one and only time he'd allowed himself to think about this very moment, that is what he had done. His pride, his sense of self-worth, everything he was demanded it.
But as he stood looking up at the man he loved, because love him he did, he realized that he too had been mistaken, he too had misunderstood. He had misunderstood the actual depth of his love, of his feelings for Jethro.
What was pride compared to how much he loved Jethro?
What was self-worth compared to a future with Jethro?
What would be gain by telling Jethro to 'bugger off'?
Nothing except long, lonely days and nights that would grow into weeks, months, years, possibly even decades, when all he could do was rue his lost chance. Because he knew, he knew as clearly as he knew the sun would rise in the morning, that this would be the only time Jethro would come here; the only chance he would have.
He sighed silently and put his hand on Jethro's arm, almost exclaiming aloud at the tension he felt beneath the overcoat, jacket and shirt Jethro wore. "I think that we've had enough misunderstanding to last us a lifetime, Jethro. Why don't we go inside and talk about it and how we," he deliberately stressed the word, "can make things right."
They did go inside.
But they didn't talk – not really.
Because as soon as Jethro had closed the front door and Jethro had bolted it and Jethro had dropped the back of clubs on the ground (Ducky had forgotten he was even carrying them) it was Jethro who gathered Ducky into his arms, brought his head down, found Ducky's mouth and with an ease that amazed Ducky and kissed him.
And then he kissed him again.
And then again.
And then again.
And then again.
And then . . . .
And then Ducky took Jethro's hand, led him across the hall, up the stairs and into his bedroom, where Jethro stripped him with such tenderness, awe and love that Ducky had to blink very hard not to shed a tear or two.
SEVERAL HOURS LATER
"Jethro," Ducky said, adjusting his position slightly and moving even nearer to his lover.
"What did you mean earlier when you said I'd got the wrong title?" Jethro's words had only just come back to his mind.
"Oh, that," Jethro said, kissing his nose, his cheeks, his forehead, each ear, his eyebrows, before returning to his mouth. "Just that it's plain Mr. Gibbs now," he paused for a second, looked down at Ducky and added, "I retired. And no," he said, before Ducky could say anything. "I wasn't that sure of you. Wasn't sure at all. In fact I nearly didn't come here. I really didn't think I had a chance, not after –"
"Jethro," Ducky interrupted him quietly.
"What would you have done?"
"Didn't I tell you Mike left me his place in Mexico? Do you fancy living on a beach, Duck?"
"No, I do not. However, I'm more than amenable to a holiday or two or –"
By the time they finally settled down to sleep Jethro had once again proved he not only could, but could do so very well. Could do so very well indeed!