AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
PROMPT: 'Christmas Traditions'
SUMMARY: Gibbs has been going through the motions of Christmas.
WORD COUNT: 1,876
AUTHOR'S NOTE: For causticquery as a slightly early birthday present. Happy early Birthday, Caz. It's a wee bit angsty, especially for the time of year, but Caz does enjoy angst.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
CHRISTMAS EVE 2012
It was fifteen minutes to midnight and Gibbs already had the bottle of whiskey and a glass on the table in front of the fire, so he could carry out that particular Christmas tradition. As with all the others he'd already carried out during December, he wasn't doing it because he wanted to, he was doing it because he had to. Not 'had' in the fact that someone was forcing him to, but 'had' in the fact that he couldn't bear not to.
He glanced at his watch, wondering just why the minutes were going so slowly. Not that he needed another drink; he'd already had several, just as he'd done every night for the past year. The year that had been the worst year of his life. The year that he had both thought would never end while simultaneously wondering why it had gone so very slowly.
A year ago on Christmas Eve, Ducky had kissed him goodbye and had gone off, as was part of his tradition, to the pre-midnight carol service at the local Church. The tradition was then that once the service ended, he would return home and he and Gibbs would sit in front of the fire and enjoy a small whiskey as Christmas Eve turned into Christmas Day before they went to bed. Gibbs never went with Ducky, not just because he didn't really enjoy singing carols, but because part of his Christmas tradition was to wrap Ducky's gifts up while his lover was out of the house.
The time Ducky normally arrived back at Reston House had come and gone. Gibbs hadn't been particularly worried, he'd just thought Ducky had met someone and was chatting for longer than normal. But he'd be home soon. Ten minutes to midnight had found Gibbs on the porch staring into the dark, willing the Morgan to appear. Five minutes to midnight had had him dialing Ducky's cell phone over and over and over again. Midnight had come and gone and his lover hadn't appeared.
At fifteen minutes past midnight he'd called Fornell and the two of them had, after leaving a note for Ducky, retraced every step Ducky would have taken. The local vicar had still been in the Church when Gibbs and Fornell had arrived and he'd confirmed that Ducky had attended the service and had left as soon as it had finished.
Gibbs had called ever hospital in Virginia and DC and beyond that. But his calls had brought nothing. Nor had the calls to the local Police Departments. There had been no sign of Ducky or the Morgan. No accidents had been reported. There were no signs of accidents. It was as if Ducky had been spirited away.
While Gibbs had been making his calls, Fornell had called the kids and when, not long after six o'clock on Christmas morning, Gibbs, with Fornell at his side had strode into the squad room, he'd been met by all five of them. Three hours later Vance had arrived.
They'd worked harder and for longer than he could ever remember expecting them to work before, and he hadn't had to ask or order; they'd just done it.
In addition to his team, Fornell had dragged several of the FBI out to help. And then Trent Kort of all people had turned up and offered his help - how he'd even known about it, Gibbs didn't know. He just accepted the help.
Hours had turned into days which in turn had turned into weeks. But still they had found nothing.
And then people began to whisper - not Gibbs's people, but other people.
They hinted that Ducky had just become tired of Gibbs and had walked away before Gibbs took up with another red-head.
They suggested he'd become like his mom. They even started to talk about little incidences that proved Ducky's mind had been going. As such he'd just wandered off and had gone away right out of the area, not knowing who he was or what he'd left behind.
Other lovers were suggested. Maybe an old lover from Ducky's past had returned and the two had gone off together.
Ducky had witnessed something and had been taken into protective custody.
He'd been kidnapped.
He'd been abducted by aliens.
And then, as he'd listened to and investigated every single suggestion, no matter how impossible or ridiculous, came the thing Gibbs had been waiting for: Gibbs had murdered Ducky and had hidden his body.
After three weeks of the team pretty much working on nothing but 'The Ducky Case' Vance had stepped in. Despite raging at his boss for half an hour, letting all his pent up anxiety and anger and fear pour out, Gibbs had known that Vance had been right. He hadn't been doing his job for three weeks and nor had the team. He'd pulled out his Sig and badge and offered them to Vance. To his surprise Vance had refused, saying that Gibbs needed the resources of the agency and he'd rather he had them 'legally' and 'officially'.
And so as the months went by Gibbs had spent virtually every non-case-working hour trying to find his lover. The kids, Fornell, Kort, Vance all did their bit; the kids had been untiring. But nothing had been found.
There had been no evidence of Ducky using his credit cards or accessing his Bank account or contacting anyone he knew. It really was as if Ducky had vanished off the face of the earth. Or worse: had never even been alive. And not-alive had summed Gibbs up perfectly. He existed; day after day he existed. It had been worse than if Ducky had died, at least if he'd had to bury his lover, as he'd buried his girls, he'd have known. The not knowing was far worse than anything Gibbs had ever known or experienced.
December had arrived and despite a loathing for the season he'd grown to like because his lover loved it so much, Gibbs had carried out all of Ducky's Christmas traditions.
A tree had been bought and decorated. The rest of the house had been decorated. Cards had been written and sent. Presents had been bought and wrapped. Admittedly in most of those things he'd had at least one member of the team helping him. He'd even agreed to host Christmas dinner - which Palmer and Ziva were going to cook.
He'd done it all. Every single one of Ducky's traditions, including dropping the silver sixpence into the Christmas pudding Abby had made, had been carried out. And he'd hated every moment of doing each of them. But not to have done them would have made him loath himself.
And now here he was twelve months, fifty-two weeks, three hundred and sixty five days, eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty hours later, about to fulfill the final tradition before Christmas Day.
The grandfather clock that stood in the hall began to chime and he poured some whiskey into a glass and looking into the fire put the glass to his lips. The sound of the front door opening and closing brought him to his feet.
"Oh, my dear, Jethro, I am so very sorry. I'm afraid I got held up and quite - Jethro! What on earth . . ." The next moment, moving far faster than a man of seventy should move, Ducky had hurried from the doorway, completely ignored that glass that had shattered when it had, after sipping from Gibbs's grip, hit the coffee table, as well as the whiskey dripping off the edge onto the carpet, and had his arms around Gibbs. "Jethro! Jethro! Talk to me, Jethro."
As he was held firmly in Ducky's arms, Gibbs realized his lover had reached for his cell phone and was pushing numbers. From somewhere he managed to dredge up enough will power to put a hand that was shaking and shaking badly onto Ducky's and stop him. "It's all right, Duck," he said, wondering as he said the words what they meant.
Ducky pushed the phone back into his pocket and forced Gibbs to sit down. "Jethro, please tell me what the matter is, or with or without your consent I am taking you to the hospital. You look -"
"As if I've seen a ghost?"
"Well, that's one way of putting it. You look ghastly, my dear. Please tell me what's wrong."
Gibbs gripped Ducky's hand. He didn't know what he was or even who he was, but he wasn't any kind of ghost. "Duck," he managed. "Where have you been?" As he asked the question, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that the man who was holding him was Ducky. His Ducky; his lover had returned to him. But how?
Ducky blinked as he looked at him. "To Church, dearest, as always."
Gibbs shook his head. "Don't mean that, Duck."
"Then what do you mean, Jethro?" Ducky sounded puzzled and concerned.
"Duck. Don't quite know how to say this but, it's been a year since you walked out of here to go to Church."
"Jethro! What have you drinking?"
Gibbs shook his head. "Look around you, Duck. Did you put that tree up or those garlands or anything?"
After staring at Gibbs as if he expected him to grow a second head for a moment or two, Ducky slowly lifted his gaze from Gibbs and began to look around the room. Under Gibbs's own gaze, he saw Ducky pale. "Jethro?" he managed, his voice now shaky. "What is going on?"
"It's Christmas Eve 2012, Duck," Gibbs said softly.
Ducky shook his head. "It can't be. Jethro why are you playing games like this. I don't . . ."
"Not playing game, Duck," Gibbs said softly, finally able to move his hand without it shaking. He cupped one of Ducky's cheeks and gazed into the steady blue gaze that was heavy with affection and tinged with a hint of fear and unease. "A year ago tonight, you went off, as you always do on Christmas Eve, leaving me here, to Church. I waited for you and waited for you and . . . Duck, you never came home."
"But . . ."
"You've been gone a whole year, Duck. You vanished. Totally and utterly. Me, the kids, Fornell, Vance, even Kort have been trying to find you for a year. I never, not for one minute, stopped, Duck. But you'd gone. And now . . . You're back. Where have you been, Duck?" Gibbs spoke softly, gently, tenderly, as he tightened the already bruising grip he had on Ducky's hand and caressed the cheek he still cupped. He didn't need his lover to speak to know the answer.
For a long moment, Ducky just gazed at him in silence. Then he spoke, his voice low and flat. "I don't know, Jethro. Oh, Jethro. I simply have no idea. How -"
But Gibbs had had enough of talking. They could start tracing the last twelve months later. For now he had Ducky back. He had him in the same room as him; in his arms and he did what he'd been wanting to do for twelve long, lonely months: he kissed Ducky.