AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship. Angst
SUMMARY: DiNozzo kills an innocent man by accident. Gibbs, in his usual way, tells him to 'get over it'. However, DiNozzo hits back at Gibbs and tells him some home truths.
WORD COUNT: 6,495
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
"Hey, Ducky, I wondered if - Oh, hey, boss. I didn't know you were down here." Tony hadn't seen Gibbs sitting on the edge of Ducky's desk.
Gibbs stood up and crossed the room. "You want something, DiNozzo?" he asked.
Tony gave a half-shrug. "I just wondered if Ducky had -" He fell silent and sighed. "It doesn't matter," he said. "I'll come back later." He turned to go.
DiNozzo stopped at the sound of Gibbs's voice but didn't turn back round. "Boss?" he knew what was coming. He curled his fingers into his palms and bit the inside of his mouth.
"It was an accident, DiNozzo. These things happen. Get over it."
It was words he'd heard before; it was the tone he'd heard before; it was words he'd even paraphrased somewhat and said to others. He knew Gibbs wasn't being deliberately insensitive; he knew it was just Gibbs's way. He knew that the essence of what Gibbs said was true. He knew all of that.
And had it been any other day, he'd just have nodded, maybe mumbled something and left. But it wasn't any other day. It was today. The day he had shot a perfect innocent man who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A perfectly innocent man who'd done nothing more than try to be a hero, a misplaced hero, but a hero nonetheless. The man was now lying in one of Ducky's lockers, dead. Dead with two of the bullets from Tony's gun in his chest.
Without making a conscious decision, Tony whirled around. "Get over it?" he spat, taking two strides towards Gibbs. "Get over it? They're great words coming from you!" He moved closer to Gibbs, getting way inside his personal space, getting closer than he normally did. He pulled himself up to his full height, an inch or so taller than Gibbs and glared at the man he normally respected.
Gibbs was good; Gibbs was very good. But even he wasn't perfect and it gave Tony immense satisfaction to see a hint of surprise flash across Gibbs's face. "You're a fine one to tell someone to get over it when you don't."
But Tony ignored Ducky. "How dare you tell anyone to 'get over it', when you've never even tried to get over the deaths of Saint Shannon and the perfect Kelly? And that's been twenty years. You're a hypocrite, Gibbs. So they were innocent. So they were murdered, it happens. Get over it!"
"Anthony, please." Now Ducky put his hand on Tony's arm.
But Tony shook him off and turned to face him. "What, Ducky? What's the matter? You should be glad that someone's finally said it to him. I don't know how you've put up with it all these years. You deserve far better than him. What?" he asked, as he saw shock race across Ducky's face and saw his gaze flicker towards Gibbs. "Do you two really think we don't know? We are investigators; we get paid to notice things."
Ducky opened his mouth a little, but then closed it again as he once more glanced at Gibbs.
Tony turned away from Ducky and looked back at Gibbs. "Well, boss?" he spat. "Haven't you got anything to say?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm fired. Well I'm not giving you the satisfaction of that. I quit!" And with those final words, he turned and strode across Autopsy and out of the doors that dutifully parted for him.
Ducky watched Tony leave; never in his life had he been so stunned by anyone. He thought he knew people; he prided himself on knowing people, on being able to read them, understand them, on knowing how they'd react to something. How they would behave. And he would never have believed that Tony would speak like that to the man he admired, respected, needed constant approval from, the man whose attention he went out of his way to get, even if all that earned him was a head slap. He was shocked. If he hadn't seen and heard Tony for himself he wouldn't have believed it.
He shook himself. As fond as he was of Tony, as sorry as he felt for him in respect of the events of the day, when it came down to it he wasn't of primary importance to him. Jethro was. Jethro who still stood, stock still, eyes like steel, a look on his face that even Ducky couldn't read, hands clenched into fists, just staring into nothingness it seemed.
He touched Jethro's arm. "Jethro," he said. "I -"
But as Tony had done moments earlier, Jethro shook his hand off and without speaking, without looking at Ducky, without even acknowledging his presence strode across Autopsy and out of the doors which, as they'd done moments before for Tony, dutifully parted for him.
"Oh my, oh my," Ducky murmured, watching as Gibbs hit the button for the elevator before abandoning it and heading for the stairs. "Oh dear, oh dear."
Tony strode into the squad room and across to his desk. He had a cardboard box in his hand that he'd grabbed from maintenance on his way from Autopsy to the squad room. He plonked it down on his desk, yanked open first one drawer and then the next and started to throw his personal stuff into it. "Hypocritical bastard," he muttered, barely noticing that in his haste to get it out of the drawer, he'd torn the cover of one of his favorite porn magazines.
"Er, Tony, what are you doing?"
Tony looked up and glared across at McGee. "What does it look like I'm doing, McNosy?" he snarled the words and saw a look of hurt pass over McGee's face. "Sorry, Tim," he said, his tone softer. He swallowed hard and glanced from McGee to Ziva. "I've quit," he said.
He watched McGee and Ziva glance at one another and back at him. Both looked stunned and horrified. "But, Tony, why? What has happened?" Ziva asked.
Returning to throwing things haphazardly into the box, Tony shrugged. "I can't work for Gibbs any longer," he said. This time he heard the gasps of surprise from McGee and Ziva. He looked back at them. "Hey, it's not so bad. And it's time I moved on. I've never stayed in a job for more than two years and I've been here for the best part of ten years. It's not just time, it's past time. It'll be good for me and for you. You'll be Senior Field Agent, McGeek and there'll be a new Probie who you can give the jobs you hate to, Ziva. So it's all good."
"But why, Tony?" McGee asked, ignoring what Tony had said. "What happened?"
As angry with Gibbs as he still was, Tony nonetheless didn't want to expand while he was still in the squad room. Still in the Navy Yard. Still officially in the employ of NCIS. So he just shrugged. "It doesn't matter, Tim. It was just one of those things. It's time."
"Time for what?" Abby called, bouncing into the squad room her arm through Palmer's. "Hey, guys, Jimmy got top marks in - What's going on?" she let her arm slip from Palmer's and hurried to Tony's desk. "What are you doing, Tony?"
He swallowed hard. Suddenly he couldn't say the words to Abby; not to Abby, he knew how much they'd hurt her. "I . . . Abby, I . . ."
Abby whirled around and looked at McGee. "You tell me, Tim," she ordered.
However it was Ziva who answered. Her voice was quiet, her tone subdued, her speech even more deliberate than it usually was. "Tony has resigned, Abby," she said, standing up. "He is leaving NCIS," she added.
Abby spun back round with so much force her pigtails hit the sides of her head. "What?" she said, her tone heavy with disbelief.
"I've quit, Abby," he said. It was easier to say now that Ziva had already said it. "I'm leaving."
"You can't leave, Tony."
"Yeah, Abby, I can. And I am."
"Tell him, Tim. Tell him, Jimmy. Tell him, Ziva." Abby looked from one to the other. "Tell him he can't leave." She turned back to him. "Please, Tony," she said.
Tony just shook his head. "The decision's made, Abby," he said.
She opened her mouth and closed it again. "When?" she asked. The look on her face and her tone told him she was already planning on how to change his mind.
He swallowed again. He'd always thought if the day came when he left NCIS that it'd be Gibbs he'd missed most. But he knew now that would never have been the case. He'd miss Abby most of all; then the others.
He threw the final item into the box, pushed the lid on, picked it up to get an idea of the weight and put it back down. "Today," he said. "Now in fact. Sssh," he added, as she opened her mouth. He put his finger on his lips, put his other arm around her, pulled her towards him and kissed her cheek. "You take care, Abby." He crossed to Ziva, put his hands on her shoulders, tugged her towards him a little and kissed her cheek too. "You stay safe, Agent Ziva David," he said.
"And you, Tony." She kissed him back.
"Tim." He held out his hand, but as McGee took it, he pulled him into a half hug. "And you stay alive. Don't let Gibbs keep you tied to the desk all the time. You're far too good a field agent for that."
"Thanks, Tony. Take care." Tony didn't think he was imagining it when he heard the traces of sadness in McGee's tone.
"Pal- Jimmy." He took Palmer's hand and as with McGee hugged him. "Try not to let Ducky drive you mad with all his stories and keep an eye on him; he's not getting any younger."
Palmer swallowed. "I won't, Tony. I mean I will. I mean - You take care."
"What will you do?" Abby asked her voice flat.
Tony shrugged. "Don't know. Go back to the force. Go to New York and see Dad. Don’t worry about me, I'll be fine." And he would be; he knew that. Maybe he'd just let go of his ten year old security blanket, maybe it wasn't the way he'd have wanted to end his time with NCIS, but he was right about one thing: it was time he left.
He pulled on his coat, took his gun and ID from his desk drawer, went to McGee and handed them to him, squeezing his hand one more time as he did. Then without another word, he strode back to his desk, swept up the box of his personal stuff, glanced back at the four people who mattered more to him than he could admit, nodded, turned on his heel and headed across the squad room towards the elevators.
After a brief but futile search (not that he'd been expecting anything else) of the building to see if he could find Jethro, Ducky arrived in the squad room. He took in the scene immediately and sighed softly to himself as he saw that Tony's desk had been cleared and his coat had gone and also saw the others huddled together around Ziva's desk.
Abby looked up and saw him. "Ducky!" she cried, running across to him. "Oh, Ducky, Tony's quit." She didn't appear to have been crying, but she looked dejected.
He patted her arm and then put his arm through it and together they walked back to the others. "I know, my dears," he said, looking around at them.
"You know? How?"
"It doesn't matter how I know, Abby, suffice to say I do." Ducky spoke gently. "Now, Timothy, I believe you should go after Anthony, just to make sure he's all right."
McGee slid off of Ziva's desk. "You sure that's a good idea, Ducky?" he asked, already going to his desk and pulling out his gun and wallet.
Ducky nodded. "Yes, I do."
"But where shall I look?"
"Well, wounded animals do tend to return to their lairs to lick their wounds," Ducky said. "Thus I suggest you begin with Anthony's apartment."
"Tony's injured?" Jimmy exclaimed.
Ducky shook his head. "No. I was merely talking metaphorically. Now, off you go, Timothy."
McGee pulled his coat on, but then hesitated. "Are you sure it'll be okay, Ducky? I mean what will Gibbs say?"
"Jethro will not mind," Ducky replied. "Now go along."
"But - Right, Ducky," McGee grabbed his car keys and hurried across the squad room to the elevators.
Ducky looked around at the other three, they all seemed somewhat lost or as if they had lost something - which they had. "And you can all come down to Autopsy and join me for tea. You can transfer the phones, can you not?" he looked from Ziva to Abby and back again.
Ziva nodded. "Yes, of course, but do you think -"
For once Ducky ceased to be the gentleman and spoke over Ziva. "I think, nay I know, it is just what the doctor ordered. Now come along." He spoke firmly, far more firmly than he normally spoke.
"Very well, Ducky. Thank you for the invitation."
FORTY MINUTES LATER
"Dr. Mallard, what is -" Vance came to an abrupt halt as he saw not only Dr. Mallard and Palmer, but also David and Miss Sciuto.
Dr. Mallard stood up as soon as Vance spoke. "Good afternoon, Director," he said calmly. "It's somewhat cold today, do you not think?" And then before Vance could reply, he turned to the others and said, "I think it's time you returned to your desks. And, Jimmy, please go with Abby and collect the results of the test she has been running for me."
Just for a second Palmer hesitated and a small frown creased his forehead. Then he said swiftly, "Yes, Doctor, of course, Doctor."
Dr. Mallard smiled.
"Thank you for tea, Dr. Mallard," Ziva said formally. "Director," she nodded as she walked past Vance.
"Yeah, thanks, Ducky." Abby said. "Come on, Jimmy. You'll have to wait a few minutes for one of the results, I left Major Spec running it, but the others are all ready." She glanced at Vance and her arm through Palmer's almost dragging him along, she hurried out of Autopsy.
Vance waited for a moment or two until he heard the elevator arrive and depart. He put down his briefcase and looked at the other man. "Well, Dr. Mallard? Are you going to tell me what's going on? I return from a meeting to find the office gossip system working overtime. From what I gather Agent DiNozzo has resigned and Agent Gibbs has," he paused for a moment, "vanished, as has Agent McGee."
Dr. Mallard sighed softly. "In essence, Director, that is true."
"In essence? And then I find you holding a tea-party for the remaining members of the team. Well, Doctor, I am waiting for an explanation."
Dr. Mallard looked up at him. "I am afraid Anthony was more than a little upset by the fact he accidentally shot and killed an innocent bystander. Jethro was, shall we say, less sympathetic than he may have been. You know Jethro, Director Vance; you know his belief when something like this happens, do you not?"
Vance nodded. "Yes. 'Get over it', I believe is his term."
Dr. Mallard nodded. "Indeed. And whilst he is correct in what he says. If accidentally killing an innocent person affects you so much you cannot do your job, well then, you should not be doing that job in the first place. However, that said - and I do not meant to criticize Agent Gibbs in anyway, I would not do that I -" Despite himself Vance couldn't stop a smile from creeping out as he looked down at the doctor, someone he felt he didn't know well, barely knew at all, but someone whom, despite him not really knowing, he had a great deal of respect for. "Ah, do forgive me, Director Vance, I was . . . As I was saying, Jethro can sometimes be a little blunt and today Anthony for some reason reacted to his comment. I don't know why, he's known and worked with Jethro for ten years, he is used to him. But everyone has a line and a breaking point and for some reason today's was Anthony's."
Vance nodded. "That happens. What did he say or do?"
Ducky sighed. "I am afraid he told Jethro, oh, dear, this is somewhat difficult for me."
"I can understand that, Doctor. Ducky," Vance deliberately used the doctor's informal name. "However, it is your," he paused and before he could continue Dr. Mallard spoke again.
"Oh, yes, I know that, Director. Anthony chose to tell Jethro something Jethro did not want to hear. Something no one has ever said to him, something even I would never have contemplated saying to him - no matter how true it might be." The last few words were said so quietly, Vance barely heard them and for the first time since he'd arrived, Dr. Mallard glanced away from him. "Oh, dear. I shouldn't have said that. I do not mean it as such, it's just . . ." He looked back at Vance and Vance watched him pull himself up to his full height, lock his knees, put his hands behind his back and once again meet Vance's glance. "Anthony told Jethro he was hardly in a position to tell people to 'get over it' given he had never 'got over' the deaths of Shannon and Kelly."
For a moment Vance was speechless. He'd had first hand evidence of how loyal the team was to Gibbs and he knew that DiNozzo especially saw no wrong in the man, looked up to him, respected him, idolized him even. Thus for it to be he who'd said such a thing was almost unbelievable. Indeed, had it not been Dr. Mallard who'd told him, he wouldn't have believed it.
"Yes, it is surprising, is it not? And before Jethro had a chance to respond, not that I'm certain he had a response, Anthony said he was resigning and he left here, because all this happened down here in my presence. He then went to the squad room, packed his things and left. I felt it only wise to send Timothy after him just to ascertain all was well. I am sorry about that, Director. I am more than aware I have overstepped my authority by quite some way. Taking the rest of the children away from their duties is something I also should not really have done. However, I feel I have a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the team and I assure you the phones were switched through to Autopsy. Nonetheless, I do offer my sincere apologies and am quite happy and willing to accept whatever reprimand you feel fit to give me."
Vance shook his head. "No reprimand is necessary, Doctor. I agree with what you did. But what about Gibbs?"
"Ah, well, seconds after Anthony departed, Jethro did too. He is not in the building and he is not answering his cell phone, I doubt it is even switched on. Had I not sent Timothy after Anthony I would have asked him to check that, but as it is -"
"It won't be on." Vance spoke with an assurance he felt.
"No, I am certain it will not be. As far as Jethro goes, I believe all we can do is to wait until he returns."
"Assuming he doesn't quit again and go back to Mexico." He saw Dr. Mallard's cheeks pale and for a moment read anguish and fear in the suddenly unsteady gaze.
Then he watched as Dr. Mallard recomposed himself. "Jethro will not do that." For a moment Vance wondered if Dr. Mallard was aware of the barely there waver in his voice or sounded as if he spoke more out of hope than expectation. "I assure you, Director Vance," he said, this time his tone was waver free and more forceful and direct, "Jethro will not do that. He will not quit again and he will not run away to Mexico."
Vance gave a curt nod. "You know him better than anyone," he said, still not certain the doctor's words were fact.
"Yes, I do."
"I guess there's nothing else we can do for now. I don't want to put you on the spot, Doctor, but from your knowledge of people and your ability to read them, to 'autopsy' them, do you think Agent DiNozzo would want to return? And if he did, would Gibbs accept him back on his team?"
Dr. Mallard was silent for several seconds and Vance watched him consider the question. "From my knowledge of both men, I would say the latter is more likely than the former," he finally said.
Vance nodded once; he wasn't surprised by the reply. "Thank you, Doctor," he said formally. "Now I have things I need to get on with." He nodded again, turned and left.
AN HOUR AND A HALF LATER
"Hey, Ducky," McGee hurried into Autopsy. "I just thought I'd let you know, Tony's okay. You're right he was home. He didn't want to let me in at first, but I insisted. Then he ranted for a while, told me what he'd said to the boss and after that he was a lot calmer. He was even cracking jokes and making movie references."
Ducky smiled. "I am reassured and pleased to hear that. Did he give any indication of what he might do?"
"Yeah. He's going to go and see his dad for a while. He said something about them maybe going fishing." McGee shrugged and looked puzzled. "Anyway, I better get back. I saw the Director heading for the squad room when I came back." He flashed Ducky a quick smile.
"Of course, Timothy. And thank you for what you did. I'm sure your presence helped Anthony."
"I hope so." And with that McGee turned and hurried off.
Ducky felt somewhat better knowing that one of the men was okay. He tired not to worry about Jethro, but couldn't keep his concerns from slipping out. It had been over two hours since Jethro had stormed off and he still didn't know where he was or whether he was all right. He had no reason to doubt the latter and Jethro was a well trained man, he was certain all was well. Nonetheless, loving Jethro as he did, he couldn't help being somewhat concerned. Maybe he should try calling him again; maybe Jethro had finally turned his cell phone on.
He was in the process of pulling his own cell phone from his pocket as the doors opened. Despite himself, he glanced up in the hope it might be the person he wanted to see, even though he as quite certain it wouldn't be. It wasn't.
"Hey, Ducky, Tim told me Tony's fine, so that's good. He's going off to see his dad for a while. That's good, isn't it? I'm really glad they're a proper father and son again."
Ducky smiled. "Yes, it is good news, Abigail. However, Timothy has already been to see me to tell me -"
"Oh, I know. He told me he had. It's not that."
"Then what is it?"
"I've just finished running the DNA on the guy Tony," she paused for a second before saying firmly, "shot. And there's something hinky about them."
"Yeah. They're a fairly close match to another DNA we have on the system." She stopped speaking and bit her lip. Ducky waited. "Tony's," she said finally, after another moment or two of silence.
Abby nodded. "Yeah, look," she held out two pieces of paper. "I still have Tony's DNA from when Chip tried to - but that doesn't matter. Look, Ducky, it's very similar."
Ducky studied the papers. "Well, yes, there are indeed similarities, but are they -"
"They're close enough to be brothers, Ducky. Well half-brothers. Ducky, do you think . . . ?"
"Abigail, are you absolutely certain you have," Ducky paused, not wishing to intimate Abby might not know her job.
But she nodded and when she spoke she didn't seem at all bothered by the hinted at intimation. "Yeah, Ducky, I am. I even ran them more than once and just to make quadruplerly sure, I also ran them at a deeper level than I normally do. Ducky, I'm sure that guy in your locker is related to Tony. I'd stake my reputation on it," she added softly.
Ducky stared at her; she was that certain? Could she really be? He knew all about anatomy and the workings of the body and the mind and he had more than a basic understanding of DNA, but it was Abby's field far more than his. But even if she was correct, what could he do? What could any of them do? And when it came down to it, the brutal truth was, did it matter? The man was dead; nothing could change that. Knowing one way or another could not change that fact.
"Abby, even if what you say is true, and I believe the results do speak for themselves, there is nothing we can do to prove the fact. And even if we could, who would it help? Certainly not Anthony."
"Couldn't you call Tony's dad?" Abby looked expectantly at him. "I've got his number."
"And say what exactly, Abigail?"
"I don't know you could . . . Ooh, I know, you could talk to him about that restaurant you both enjoy." Abby beamed at Ducky.
"Well, yes, I could. However, I imagine he might find a call from a man he met for a matter of seconds somewhat strange, a man who is calling to talk about a restaurant. And even if he did not, moving from restaurants, hotels and steaks onto the subject of children, would not be a smooth transition."
"But, Ducky, you're so good at talking. You put people at their ease. I bet you could do it."
Ducky sighed. "Abigail, it is not a subject I would feel comfortable raising with a close friend, let along someone who is not quite a stranger, but -"
"Ah, but that's the point. It isn't a subject you could raise with a friend, it'd be too embarrassing. It'd be much easier asking something you barely knew."
Ducky shook his head. "No, Abigail," he said firmly. "I am not going to call Anthony's father and ask him if Anthony has a half brother." Abby pouted. "Abby, as I said it wouldn't help anyone, would it? The man is dead, nothing can change that. Anthony feels bad enough about it as it is; how do you think he'd feel if he knew he'd killed his unknown brother?"
"I wouldn't tell him!" Abby sounded shocked that Ducky would think such a thing. "How could you think that, Ducky? It's just . . ." she trailed off, shrugged and looked away from him.
Ducky looked at her bowed head. He knew what she'd been about to say. She wanted to know purely from the scientific point of view, she wanted to know she'd solved another puzzle. And he could understand that a very large part of his job was solving puzzles and he didn't like to just brush things under the carpet and forget about them, let them go, ignore them. However, this time they both had to let it go. There simply wasn't a logical, sensible, easy or trouble free way to confirm Abby's findings.
And in truth it didn't matter anyway. They didn't need to know for an investigation. The man had already been identified and the family had been notified. "I think you'd better get back to your lab, Abby," he said gently.
Abby looked back up and nodded. "Okay, Ducky. But, just between you and me, and I won't say anything anyone, I promise, you do think Tony killed his brother, don't you?"
Ducky closed his eyes for a moment. Then he took a step nearer to Abby, took her arms in his hands, stood up on his toes and kissed her forehead twice.
Abby looked at him. "Me too," she whispered, turning on her stack heels and hurrying out of Autopsy.
Ducky watched her go and sighed. He was exhausted, physically and emotionally he felt drained. He glanced at the clock, somewhat surprised to see it was almost six o'clock. Well there was nothing else important, nothing else he could do, thus he was going home.
As he tugged on his coat and picked up his hat he hesitated for a second or two. He was going home to an empty house and something told him he would have a very long wait before he had company - maybe he should stay and do some paperwork to distract him. However, the thought of a glass of good scotch, a comfortable chair, a light supper, the fire and his book was too intense to resist. He picked up his briefcase, turned the lights off and left Autopsy.
RESTON HOUSE ABOUT FIVE HOURS LATER
At the sound of a key in the front door lock, Ducky glanced up, cast a swift look at the clock, took another sip of scotch, put a bookmark in his book and fought the urge to get up and hurry out into the hall. He listened to the sounds of the door being relocked and to his relief the bolts being pushed across, followed by footsteps making their way from the front door to where he waited in the sitting room.
He realized his mouth felt dry, his pulse rate had increased slightly and he felt warm. He swallowed hard and took another sip of scotch. Then the door to the sitting room opened and he automatically stood up and faced the door, wondering just what he'd see.
To his surprise Jethro appeared relaxed; he was even smiling, the smile he reserved solely for Ducky and his dark blue eyes seemed alive as he stared at Ducky. "Hey, Duck," he said softly, his voice the tone he reserved for Ducky.
"Jethro." Ducky found he was unable to say anything else. Part of him was relieved that Jethro seemed so . . . So unaffected; so normal. But part of him was concerned it might be the calm before the storm; part of him feared his assurance to Director Vance that Jethro wouldn't quit again and return to Mexico wasn't one he should have made.
The next moment he found himself in Jethro's arms, as his lover strode across the room and pulled Ducky close to him as he lowered his head, put his lips to Ducky's ear and murmured, "God, I love you, Duck. You do know that, don't you?" There was an intensity in Jethro's voice which Ducky had never heard before.
He pushed himself back a little so that he could look up into Jethro's face, so that Jethro could see his eyes, the eyes that betrayed and confirmed his every feeling. "Yes, of course I do, my dear. I know it very well."
"Good." Jethro said, before he put his mouth on Ducky's and kissed him.
Ducky returned the kiss and pressed himself nearer to Jethro for a moment or two, before pulling away gently and looking up at Jethro. As much as he wanted to stay in Jethro's arms, he wanted answers; Jethro couldn't just vanish for half a day without an explanation. "Jethro," he said, putting a hand on Jethro's cheek. "Are you -"
"All right? Yeah, you know what, Duck. I am. Wasn't to begin with. Reckon if I could have got my hands on DiNozzo I'd have . . ." he shrugged. "But I'm okay now."
"Where did you go?"
"Drove around for a bit, not sure where. Then went to the cemetery. Spent some time there. Went home for a bit, looked around. Went back out. Spent a long time thinking, once I'd calmed down. DiNozzo was right, wasn't he, Duck?"
"Jethro, I . . ." Ducky trailed off and glanced down at the ground. It was so like Jethro to ask such a direct and simple question. However, the answer was far from simple.
"Come on, Duck, it's an easy enough question. DiNozzo was right, yes or no?"
Ducky looked back at his lover. "My dear, it is not that simple. Very few questions can be answered with just 'yes' or 'no'. And in this case, it is far more complex than that. Tony was -"
"Out of line? Yeah, he was. But he was also right. And that's what matters. How come you never said it to me?" Jethro's tone was serious.
"What?" Ducky was aghast.
To his amazement Jethro laughed. "Ah, Ducky, Ducky, Ducky." He kissed Ducky's cheek. "You should have said something, Duck," he said, his tone more somber. "Never thought about how much it would have hurt you. Never thought about it at all. I just . . ."
"Was still so wrapped up in your grief?"
Jethro nodded; then shook his head. "Yeah. No. I don't know. No, it wasn't that. It was . . . habit maybe. Tell you one thing though."
Jethro gave a rueful grin. "Shannon would have told me. And told me straight. Sometimes wonder if that's where I got it from."
"Jethro?" Ducky didn't quite follow or understand what Jethro was implying.
"The 'get over it'. Told her once about something Dad did when I was younger, something that still pissed me off. She looked at me, tossed her hair and pointed out it'd been years ago and to get over it. She didn't speak to me for the rest of the evening. You should have said something." His tone had contained more than a hint of amusement while he was relaying the story. But when he said the final few words, it was serious once again.
Ducky shrugged. "It's not in my nature to hurt someone about whom I care deeply."
Jethro smiled. "Not in your habit to hurt anyone at all, Duck."
Ducky smiled back at his lover. "There is that."
Ducky shook his head. "There is nothing for which I need to 'forgive', my dear."
Jethro shrugged. "Guess we could argue about that for the rest of the night and into tomorrow. But how about we agree to differ?"
Ducky smiled. "I think that's an eminently sensible idea," he said. "Now would you like a drink? And have you eaten?
"Drink'd be good. Yeah, I grabbed a ham burger and fries a couple of hours ago." He grinned at Ducky.
They settled down on the sofa in front of the fire with their drinks.
"Going to put my house up for sale," Jethro said, after a moment or two of peaceful silence went by.
Ducky turned to look at his lover and raised an eyebrow. "Please don't take this the wrong way, Jethro, but are you sure you aren't acting a little too soon?"
Jethro actually laughed. "Soon? Duck, as DiNozzo 'reminded' me it's been twenty years, that's hardly 'soon'."
"Well, no, but . . ."
"Talking of DiNozzo." Jethro's tone was less jocular, but there was no anger or to Ducky's surprise, hurt it in.
"He did what he said, he resigned. He packed his things, left and went home. And before you ask, he is quite all right. I sent Timothy after him to make sure."
"You sent McGee?" Jethro grinned.
"Well, yes. I know it was overstepping my authority. But someone had to do it and -"
"I wasn't there. Good call, Duck."
"Why, thank you. Director Vance approved too."
"Ah, yeah, Vance. Guess he knows." It wasn't phrased as a question.
Nonetheless Ducky answered it as if it had been. "Yes, he does. He came down to Autopsy once he returned from his meeting and heard the office gossip."
"You tell him?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes, Jethro. I did. I told him what had been said and what happened. I wasn't going to lie," the 'not even for you' hung in the air.
"Wouldn't expect or want you to, Duck."
Ducky smiled. "I know, my dear. But thank you for saying it. As for Anthony, he has decided to go to New York to see his father."
"Good for him. About time too." Jethro took a long swallow of his drink.
"Apparently they might be going fishing. But enough about Anthony; have you any idea to where you will move?"
Jethro put his drink down and turned to face Ducky. "That kind of depends on you, Duck."
"Yeah, you. We've never talked about it and you may not want it. But if I know my Duck as I reckon I know him, you do. You've wanted it for a long time. But maybe things have changed after today."
"Why would they have done?"
Jethro shrugged. "Don't know. Just what happened didn't just affect me and DiNozzo, did it?"
Ducky shook his head as he thought back to Tony almost turning on him when he'd tried to intervene, to quieten Tony down. And how he'd told them the team all knew. "No, my dear, it didn't."
"When do you wish to move in?" Ducky said simply, for once feeling a short, to the point, speech was better than a rambling one.
He almost laughed at the look of surprise that raced across Jethro's face. "Just like that?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes, just like that."
"But what about the -"
"Long rambling speech, in which you'd have lost track of what I was saying halfway through? When I used a hundred words when a handful would have done?"
Jethro grinned. "Well, yeah."
Ducky shrugged, parted his lips in order to answer and decided that it was a time for another kind of response. He leaned nearer to Jethro, put one hand behind his head, pulled it down slightly and kissed Jethro. He went on kissing him until Jethro put both arms around him, tugged him nearer and met the kiss, returning it with interest.
It was quite some time before they broke the kiss. "Tomorrow?" Ducky asked politely, after he'd taken a much needed gulp of air and a sip of scotch.
Jethro glanced at his watch. "I don't know, Duck, how about today?"
Ducky glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece, it was just after midnight. He laughed. "Today would be perfect," he said, learning closer to Jethro and once again putting his lips on Jethro's.