AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: Episode Tag. Angst. Established Relationship
SUMMARY: Set after Borderland. Gibbs gets a second visitor.
WORD COUNT: 3,022
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
"What I really need to know, Gibbs . . . is if you're going to love me, no matter what." Abby stares at him, waiting for him to answer.
He just stares back at her, keeping his expression neutral. He doesn't answer her. He can't answer her. He should be able to answer her. He wants to he wants to answer her. Inside he's screaming at himself to answer her. But he doesn't. He can't.
It's too important a question. And he can't answer it because he simply doesn’t know. He wants to be able to say 'yeah, Abbs', or 'of course, Abbs', or any other reassuring answer she wants. But he can't. How can he? He doesn't know what her doing what he knows she has to do will do to him. How it will make him feel towards her.
Besides, part of him, a small, tiny, insidious, hateful part, the dark part of him, the dark side he tries so hard to keep hidden, is angry with her; is furious with her. She's right, he's always seen her, always loved her, as a daughter, and kids shouldn't betray their parents. He'd never do that to her; he'd told her so. He'd told her, 'Because I got your back. Always have had. Always will'. So why hasn't she got his?
But it's not her he's angry with, not really. The rest of him, the non-dark part, knows that.
'I don't know anything. The only thing that I do know is that I didn't find this out by accident.' That's what she'd said. And he knows she didn't. Someone had wanted her to find out. Someone had set her up. Someone wants to destroy him. And he knows who.
Colonel Bell and Ms. M. Allison Hart. They're at the bottom of this. They're the ones who made sure Abby didn't find it out by 'accident'. He doesn't know how. He just knows why. It's pay-back time. Bell wants to pay him back for getting him locked up in a Mexican jail and Hart . . . ? He's not sure what her game is. Maybe it's just her connection with Bell, he's always thought they were more than just lawyer and client. Maybe he's gotten someone she cared about put away. Whatever her motivation is, the result'll be the same. They are out to destroy him; to ruin his career; maybe to cost him the few friendships he has; to lose him the respect of the kids. To show him up; to make an example of him.
And he's not sure what, if anything, he can do about it. Because if Bell and Hart are good enough, clever enough, to make sure Abby found the evidence, then even if she has a change of heart and buries the evidence, they'll find a way to make sure it comes to light again.
And it's not just Abbs who'll have to bury evidence. It's not just Abby who knows about Hernadez's body and the fact it was a twenty year old cold case; it's not just Abby who knows about the bullet. Other people know about it too: McGee, Palmer and Ducky.
Too many people are involved. Too many people know. And he can't expect them all to lie for him. To cover up for him. To put him before their own careers. Their own good names. The whole thing is a nightmare. One that in truth he's lived with every day for nearly twenty years. And he doesn't know a way out of it. There isn't a way out of it.
Unbidden words Kate had 'said' to him some four and a half years ago come racing back to him. 'Maybe the only way to save Ducky, Abby and McGee is to kill yourself.' Back then she'd been talking about a different kind of 'saving', but with the addition now of 'Palmer' the words fit perfectly. He shivers and shakes his head, forcing his mind to cease replaying the words over and over again.
Death or destruction? Destruction or death? Some choice. For a moment, without consciously meaning to, his eyes flicker to the bench where he keeps his revolver.
Then another noise has him turning back to the stairs. "Duck!" he exclaims, as he watches his lover make his way carefully down the stairs. "Didn't expect to see you." He notices a slight frown cross Ducky's face and sees him start slightly. He shakes himself, hurries towards the bottom of the stairs and offers Ducky his hand. "Sorry," he mutters, "didn't mean it to sound like that."
Ducky takes his hand and goes down the last two steps to join him. He nods, but says nothing. Instead he just stares up at Gibbs; a look that Gibbs can't really figure out is on his face. Then the look vanishes, and instead Ducky moves slightly closer to him and puts his arms around him. Automatically Gibbs returns the gesture and gathers Ducky nearer to him. He rests his head on Ducky's and simply lets the warmth he always feels when in Ducky's arms, in Ducky's presence, wash over him. For a moment the nightmare fades and it's just Ducky and him as they so often are: embracing in his basement.
But all too soon Ducky breaks the embrace, moves back a little and looks up at Gibbs. His gaze is steady, calm and yet filled with pain and sorrow, regret even. Gibbs feels chills begin to creep through him. He opens his mouth to say something, but Ducky beats him to it. "I know," he says gently, taking Gibbs's hand. "About Hernandez," he adds.
The nightmare returns with full force as Gibbs just stares down into the face of the one person who has never, not even for a second, tried to change him. The one person who has never and would never betray him. The one person whose love has been a constant. The one person, outside of the job, he'd willing give his life for. The one person he's never wanted to let down, and yet has constantly done so. The one person he wouldn't have wanted to know what he'd done.
'I thought we didn't keep secrets from each other.' The words he'd said to Ducky just over two years ago come, unbidden, back to him. Yeah, right, that was true! He pushes the various 'secrets' they have kept from one another away. They don't matter; none of them do. All that matters now is now. And yet again unbidden he remembers that it'd been Abbs who'd made him question Ducky about the blood he'd been testing. Ducky and Abby; his lover and his surrogate daughter; they seem inexplicably to be tied to one another.
He suddenly realizes he hasn't answered Ducky. But what does he say? What can he say? What is there to say? In the end he simply settles for one word. "Oh."
Ducky nods. "Yes. I've known since Jennifer told me about Hernadez killing Shannon and Kelly. At the time I told her she might as well close NCIS's cold case because you would have had your revenge." Ducky's tone is calm and, unlike Abby's, contains not even a hint of accusation.
But Ducky reaches up on his toes and silences Gibbs with a brief kiss. Then he takes Gibbs's hand and leads him over the bench where Gibbs keeps his high-proof bourbon and pours some into one of the empty jars. He takes a small sip, shudders and hands the jar to Gibbs, who takes it and tosses the contents into his mouth and swallows the burning liquid in one gulp.
"We'll get through this, Jethro," Ducky says, leaning against the workbench.
"Will we? You sure of that, Duck?"
Ducky nods. "Yes." There is no hesitation, no hint of doubt or question in his tone.
"Wish I could be so sure."
Ducky stares at him. "Well, for one thing, you cannot be tried and prosecuted for the crime."
Gibbs blinks. "I can't?" Despite prosecution being the last thing on his mind, he's still surprised.
Ducky shakes his head. "Indeed not. The Statue of Limitation for," he pauses for a second and just stares at Gibbs. Then he sighs softly and goes on. "Murder," his steady, free from accusation gaze never once leaves Gibbs's face, "in Mexico is fourteen years."
Gibbs pours himself another drink and downs it in one. "Figures," he says.
Ducky frowns slightly. "Jethro?"
"Abbs told me she was meant to find this out. It wasn't accident."
"Rule forty," Ducky murmurs.
Gibbs nods. "Yeah."
"About Abigail . . ." Ducky trails off and stares at Gibbs.
"You knew she's been here?"
Ducky nods. "I waited until I saw her car leave. She didn't see me."
"She's got to tell Vance."
"I imagine it's very hard on her."
Gibbs shrugs. "I guess." At the look on Ducky's face he adds. "Course it is. It's just . . ." He shrugs.
For a moment Ducky says nothing. Then he asks quietly. "May I inquire as to whom you believe is, or indeed are, 'out to get you'?"
"Bell and Hart."
Ducky nods; he appears unsurprised. "Yes, I always did feel Ms. Hart's sudden arrival at NCIS was not shall we say accidental. Do you really believe Colonel Bell dislikes you that much for -"
"Putting him in prison?"
"You didn't do that yourself, Jethro."
"Good as. Yeah, Duck. I do. Kind of ruined his businesses, didn't I? That's what he's out to do to me. Ruin me."
"I think you may be somewhat over-estimating the power they have, my dear."
Gibbs pours himself another drink, but before he can down it, the jar is taken from his hand. For a moment he frowns, then shrugs; it wasn't helping anyway. "You reckon?"
Ducky nods. "Mmm, I do. As I said, there can be no official murder charge, thus no -"
"That's not what it's about, Duck. They don't want me locked up. That'd be too easy. They just want me to lose my job, my friends, the respect I have."
"And you think that will happen?"
Gibbs widens his eyes. "You don't? Come on, Duck, you aren't that naïve. You know Vance'll have -"
"Director Vance will not 'have' to do anything, Jethro. At least not anything that he doesn't wish to do. Our director has his own secrets, not in way Jennifer had, but he has them."
"Yeah, well, he probably does. But he's never hidden the fact I'm not 'his' kind of agent."
Ducky shrugs. "So you lose your job. Would that be the end of the world?" His tone is placid as is his look. "You have to retire sometime, do you not?"
"Well, yeah, but -"
"You'd rather it be at a time of your choosing, or at least at statutory retirement age?"
"You know me too well, Duck."
Ducky smiles and takes Gibbs's hand. "I don't think so, Jethro."
Gibbs puts his arm around Ducky's shoulders and again lets the warmth and reassurance wrap themselves around him. As he stands there, for a moment the nightmare he's been living begins to recede slightly. "Okay, so the job's one thing. But about -"
"Your friends? The children?"
Gibbs nods. "Yeah."
"Well, I am still here, am I not? And don't forget I've 'known' for four years."
Gibbs frowns and moves back a little so that he can look down at Ducky. "You haven't known, Duck," he says. "You just guessed."
"If you wish to split hairs then yes. However, I guessed correctly, did I not? And I am still around."
"Doesn't it bother you?" Ducky stares at him. "That I killed Hernadez in cold blood? That I murdered him? Well, Duck? Doesn't it bother you? Or are you so blinded to me that I can do anything in your eyes and you'd find a way to justify it?" His tone is harsher than he meant it to be.
Ducky, however, continues to regard him placidly. "I imagine the term 'cold blood' came from Abigail, did it not?" Gibbs nods once. "Jethro, I am considerably older than Abigail and whilst I love you and whilst . . ." He trails off. When he speaks again, Gibbs is certain he has changed his mind about what he was going to say. "I've seen more than dear Abigail has, more than any of the children have, more even, my dear Jethro, than you have. Do not forget my own -"
"That was justified." Gibbs cuts Ducky off and pulls him nearer to him.
Ducky sighs. "Was it?" His tone is low.
"Yes." Gibbs speaks flatly.
For a moment Ducky is silent. Then he sighs, Gibbs feels it rather than hears it, and speaks again. "However, we are not speaking about me, we are speaking about you." He moves out of the embrace a little and gazes up at Gibbs. "Can I justify what you did? You killed a man, you killed a killer. You took the life of someone who had killed other people and almost certainly not only Shannon and Kelly. Even if he didn't directly take any other lives, he was responsible for other deaths, that much is certain. You did what you have done on many other occasions: you killed a killer. The way you did it and the reason you did it -"
Ducky just stares at him, his gaze steady, reassuring, full of affection. "And you have lived with that knowledge for nearly twenty years. And whilst you will probably never admit it, not to me nor to yourself, you . . ."
"Know it was wrong?"
Ducky gives a half shrug, neither confirming nor refuting Gibbs's words. Gibbs knows he's partially right, but only partially. But Ducky's right; he won't, he can't, admit anything else. "So," he says instead, once more pulling Ducky nearer to him. "I won't lose you."
Ducky chuckles softly. "No, my dear. You will not lose me as friend or lover. I'm afraid you're stuck with me."
Gibbs smiles a little at that. "I guess that's one out of two," he says.
"Ah. Well, I cannot see Tobias walking away from you either. But deep down you know that, do you not? It is not the possibility of losing Tobias's friendship or losing me that really concerns you, is it? Because you know you won't."
Gibbs shakes his head and tightens his grip on Ducky even more. "Abbs hates me," he says softly. "She won't forgive me."
Ducky sighs. "I doubt she 'hates' you, Jethro. She's hurting, she's feeling let down, betrayed, confused. You've shattered an illusion she's always had of you."
"She told me 'Gibbs doesn't do things like that'. And she asked me if I'd still love her no matter what she did."
"And you did not answer her?" Although Ducky makes it a question, his tone tells Gibbs it wasn't one. And once again Ducky moves back a little in Gibbs's arms, so that he can gaze up at Gibbs.
"Couldn't." Gibbs falls silent. Then he asks, his tone gruff, "You reckon she will forgive me, Duck? Reckon things can go back to how they were?"
Ducky sighs. "Things cannot go back to 'how they were', Jethro. That is impossible. The genie is out of the bottle. Things will never, can never, be exactly the same between you and Abigail. She will not regard you in exactly the same way. But she will forgive you, of that I'm certain. She will come to accept what you did and find a way to deal with it, a way to live with it."
Gibbs is sceptical. "You sure?"
Ducky shrugs. "As I can be. But time will tell."
"You reckon any of the others be like her?"
"Anthony may be."
"DiNozzo?" Gibbs's tone shows his surprise.
Ducky nods. "Oh, yes. He regards you in almost the same light as dear Abigail does. You are his father, his boss, the man he has put on a pedestal, the man who can do no wrong. I would not be at all surprised if his initial reaction was similar to dear Abigail's."
"What about the others? McGee? Ziva? Palmer? Ziva told me I was the closest thing she had left to a father."
"That's as may be. However, Ziva's background, her culture, her upbringing is quite different. She would have been there helping you, not condemning you. As for Timothy . . . Well, whilst he respects you above all others, whilst he is loyal to you and would be by your side throughout anything and everything, I do not think he sees you quite in the same light as Abigail and Anthony do. Timothy see you as his boss, he has never regarded you as a father. He does not think you are perfect. As for Mr. Palmer . . . You're Special Agent Gibbs. You have a reason for whatever you do. Plus, he will follow my lead."
"You that sure, Duck?"
Ducky sighs. "Maybe not quite as sure as I sound, or as I hope. But fairly certain, yes. Whatever their initial reactions are, the children will not wish to lose you. However, as I said, time will tell. Now, there really isn't anything else that can be gained from remaining in your basement talking about something over which neither of us have any control. We cannot influence what may happen; we cannot change what has happened. We can only wait and see what cards are played next. So I suggest we go upstairs and you try to put the nightmare in which you have been living for far too long, to one side, at least for tonight. Do you think you can do that?"
Gibbs looks down into the eyes of the man he loves, the man who loves him; the man he knows will be there by his side whatever happens. "I can try, Duck," he says softly. "I can try." And tugging Ducky a little nearer to him he lowers his head and kisses Ducky.