AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard (also mentioned in passing are Abby/McGee and Jimmy/OMC, and Jenny/Ziva is inferred)
SUB-GENRE: First time
SUMMARY: Sometimes even intelligent men fail to see the obvious. Jethro and Ducky finally realise what had been obvious to both of them, had they thought about it, for thirty years. This story spans forty years of their relationship, and as such ignores the canon inconsistencies in Hiatus. Written for the songfic challenge. The song I've chosen is Friends by Razzy Bailey. If anyone would like to hear it, it can be downloaded (she says crossing her fingers) here: Friends. Some of you might recognise it as the song I quoted in my ship_manifesto essay Old Friends And Lovers, as being the perfect song for them. The story contains spoilers for Yankee White, Left For Dead, Bête Noire, Lt. Jane Doe, Heartbreak, The Meat Puzzle, Hiatus.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
You were always there to talk to
And I was always hanging around
You were always there to pick me up
After love let me down
I never would have made it without you
I almost waited too late to see
That all the time I was leaning on you
You were leaning on me.
“Hey, give that back!” Jethro Gibbs took off and raced after two youths who had snatched a hat from another man’s head, and were running away laughing.
They ran quickly. But he had an advantage over them. For one he was taller, for another, he was a trained Marine. It didn’t take him long to catch them, persuade them that handing over the hat was in their best interests, threaten them with all kinds of things he’d never really do, and jog back to where the man stood watching.
He held out the hat. “Here you are, sir.” The ‘sir’ came automatically, and he wasn’t surprised when he saw the sapphire blue eyes twinkle with mirth.
“Thank you,” the man said, taking the hat. He was blond, about six inches shorter than Jethro, and probably about five or six years older than him. The man held out his other hand. “I’m Dr. Mallard, Dr. Donald Mallard to be precise, but everyone calls me Ducky. Thank you again, that was a kind thing to do.”
Jethro took the proffered hand. “You’re English?” Jethro could have slapped himself. Talk about stating the obvious.
Again the man smiled, with both his lips and his eyes. “Indeed I am. Although I have a great affinity for Scotland where I did my medical training. It is a beautiful country. Have you ever visited it, Mr. . . ?”
“Gibbs. Jethro Gibbs. Well, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, actually, but no one ever calls me Leroy. And no, I haven’t. Until I joined the Marines I’d never been out of the country.”
“A Marine? That must be an interesting life.”
“It’s okay. I’m a Sergeant now. I wasn’t the class jock, but nor was I top academically. Dad died when I was young, Mom took it hard. I was left to my own devices. Didn’t know for a while what to do, then I attended a recruitment lecture and decided it’d suit me.” Jethro mentally shook himself. Here he was standing in the street, talking to someone he’d only just met, someone he’d never see again, and telling him far more than he told most people he’d known for months.
“You are on leave, I assume?”
“Yeah. Got two more days. What about you? Why are you here?”
The man smiled again. “After I finished my training, I spent a short time in a hospital, then decided that I would take my knowledge and skills and travel around the world. There is always call for a doctor’s services. I finally reached America. So far I have liked what I’ve seen. It’s quite different from Britain. Certainly the medical service is completely different.” So maybe he was older than he looked.
“Do you think you’ll stay here?” Again Jethro mentally shook himself. What was wrong with him? Why did he care? He should end the conversation and go. He was due to meet Mary-Beth in an hour or so. “Sorry. Look I should go. I have to - You are okay, aren’t you? I mean it must have shaken you up a bit to have your hat snatched like that. Kids. They don’t get enough discipline.”
“I’m fine thank you. And thank you again for recovering my hat for me. It’s one of my favorite ones; I shouldn’t have liked to lose it.” He smiled.
For a moment they just stood there on the pavement, being jostled slightly as people edged by them.
Jethro was just about to say goodbye and go, when the man spoke. “I don’t suppose you’d allow me to buy you a drink or a cup or tea to say thank you?”
“Well, I -“
“I’m sorry. Forgive me; you did say that you had to go.”
And he did.
And he would.
“Sure, a drink would be nice. There’s a decent bar round the corner. If that’s okay for you? It’s nothing special, just ordinary.”
“When you have visited some of the places I’ve visited, believe me anything that has tables and chairs, as well as glasses to drink from, would seem like Buckingham Palace. Shall we go?”
“Sure.” They began to walk. As they did, Jethro noticed that his companion was limping slightly; he regulated his stride so he didn’t rush ahead. “Did you say people call you ‘Ducky’, Doctor Mallard?”
“Yes. I’m afraid so. It is a name that I was given whilst at Eton. But I rather like it now. Please feel free to use the name, Doctor Mallard is so formal.”
“Ducky is it then.” He must remember to call Mary-Beth when they got to the bar.
Jethro settled into the bed in Ducky’s spare room. Quite why he’d ended up telling the man, who it turned out was actually thirty-three, some twelve years older than Jethro himself, so much about himself, he didn’t know.
Nor was he certain why he’d ended up back at Ducky’s house, rather than going home to his own rented apartment. But somehow he had. Somehow they’d started to talk, a quick ‘thank you’ beer had turned into another, which had led to dinner, which had led to more drinks. And although they’d talked throughout the meal, and Ducky had started to tell Jethro more about himself, his upbringing - the man was wealthy - and his meanderings around the world, they found that they were still talking when the tired looking waiter had told them the restaurant was closing. Ducky had suggested they take a cab to his home.
And they had. Where they’d sat for another couple of hours, sipping remarkably good whiskey, while Ducky told Jethro tales of his exploits.
As he was about to fall asleep, Jethro realized that he never had made the call to Mary-Beth.
“Hey, Duck. Can I come in?”
“Of course, my dear.” Ducky moved away from the door.
About to enter, Jethro paused. “I’m not disturbing you am I? You haven’t got anyone here?”
“No, Jethro. Do come in.”
Ducky led the way into the sitting room. “Drink? Or have you had enough all ready?”
“I drove here.”
Ducky looked at him, the clear blue eyes examining him. Jethro met the gaze. “Very well.” Ducky poured him a drink and handed it to him.
Jethro sank down into an armchair. “Cheers, Duck,” he said, his tone heavy with irony. Ducky cocked an eyebrow, as he sat down, with slightly more care, into the opposite chair. “Well that was a waste of time.”
“And money. What’s wrong with me, Duck?”
“It can’t just be the job. Other Marines get married, set up home. They find girls willing to cope with the long separations; so it must be me.”
“Jethro, you’re only twenty-four. That’s a little young to be worrying. I’m thirty-six and you don’t see me complaining.”
“Hmm.” Was all Jethro said, as he sipped his drink. One thing, on a purely basic level, his friendship with the somewhat eccentric Medical Examiner had brought him was good whiskey.
Ducky sighed softly and smiled gently. “Jethro, I assure you that there is nothing wrong with you. You simply haven’t met the right lady yet. That is all.”
Jethro stared at his friend, who was watching him, his eyes soft and heavy with the open affection Jethro knew he had for him. “If you say so,” he finally said, albeit with reluctance.
“I do. And I’m correct. Now I take it you wish to spend the night here.”
“If that’s okay?”
“Isn’t it always?” Ducky said placidly.
And it was.
Which was maybe strange. But Jethro had never stopped to question why whenever he turned up at Ducky’s door, Ducky was always alone. Or whenever he called him and asked if he could come over, usually after his latest girl had dumped him, Ducky always said yes. Maybe it was just that he kept the time when Jethro was home on leave, free. The spare bedroom was always ready and waiting for him, so much so that Jethro even kept a change of clothes there.
“Jethro.” Ducky stood in the doorway of his house.
“You look happy.”
“I am, Duck. I am.”
“What is her name?” Was it Jethro’s imagination, or did Ducky sound slightly tired or bored or . . . ?
“Shannon. And this is it, Duck. She’s the one. She’s perfect.” Jethro smiled broadly.
For a moment Ducky didn’t say anything. Then he too smiled, the blue eyes twinkling in the light from the streetlamps as well as from the hall lights that flared behind him. “Good. I’m glad. Do you wish to come in?”
“Course. I don’t just come to you when I’m pissed off.” Or did he? No, he didn’t. Jethro was sure of that. “Do I?” Ducky chuckled and moved back slightly. He winced once, and Jethro moved swiftly to his side and put his arm around him. “You been overdoing it, Duck? Standing too long?” His excitement faded as his concern for his friend increased.
“A little, my dear. It has been a long day.” Ducky accepted Jethro’s help, slipping his own arm around his waist, and limping slightly he moved slowly into the sitting room.
Jethro made sure he was settled into his armchair then poured him a drink. He crouched down in front of Ducky and looked at him. “Is that all it is, Duck?”
“Yes, dear. Really.”
“You sure. No one has - “
“No, Jethro. I don’t believe anyone would dare. Let us say that there are some kinds of gossip that I do not mind.”
“You would tell me?” Jethro took Ducky’s hand and held it tightly.
“Promise?” He stared at Ducky.
“Good. Because if -“
“Jethro. Why don’t you pour yourself a drink, sit down and tell me about Shannon?”
“Can I still stay?”
Ducky chuckled again. “Ah, Jethro. Of course.”
“So will you?”
“Of course, my dear. I would be delighted. Unless you feel you should ask one of your fellow Marines? Might it not be more apposite?”
Jethro blinked. “Ducky. It’s my wedding. I’ve got to put up with inviting some people because it’s appropriate, see I do know what apposite means, I’m damned if I’m going to let myself be influenced into picking who’s my best man. You’re my closest friend, Duck. I couldn’t get married without you by my side. I couldn’t.”
“I’m honored you should think so, Jethro. But really all you need are yourself and Shannon.”
“And you.” Jethro spoke firmly. “And for once, Dr. Mallard. I’m right.”
Ducky smiled. “Very well.”
Jethro looked around the room he regarded as ‘his’. It would seem strange not coming here, not spending the odd night with in Ducky’s house. Not turning to Ducky as his first port of call. The room had always been his sanctuary; the one place he felt truly at home; truly at peace; completely secure.
He moved to the chest of drawers where more than one change of clothes now resided. He opened the top drawer and touched the underwear. He should take them out. Pack them away. No doubt Ducky would be glad to have the room back. But . . .
Suddenly aware that Ducky had come into the room and was standing there still and silent, he turned around. Ducky held a white rosebud in his hand, and wore a matching one in his buttonhole. Slowly he moved towards Jethro, and with steady hands affixed the rose to Jethro.
Jethro caught one of Ducky’s hands before he could withdraw it, just holding it in a steady, lose grip. Ducky didn’t move. His head was slightly bowed, hiding the revealing eyes from Jethro, and the sunlight shimmered off of the lightish blond hair. “Duck . . .”
Ducky looked up and smiled. “Why do you not leave your things here, Jethro? Unless of course you need them. After all, I don’t need the room.”
How had Ducky guessed what was going through his head? “If you’re sure, Duck.”
“Of course, my dear. Now let us go. It’s time.”
"Ah, Jethro my dear."
"It hurts, Duck."
"Why does it hurt so much?"
But Ducky apparently for once didn't have an answer. Instead he simple pulled Jethro into his arms and held him.
And Jethro let him. Let his dearest and closest friend comfort him. Opened up in a way he never had done, not even with Shannon, cried for his wife and daughter, for what might and been and now never could be. Cried for his own lack of courage at not being able to take his own life. Cried for all the innocent people who lost their lives. Cried for those who had to live through what he lived through.
And Ducky just held him. Dear, beloved Ducky. His one anchor. His one true friend. Held him and murmured constant words, some of which Jethro heard, all of which he knew were honest, true, genuine. Not like the platitudes other people had spoken. The things he'd said himself from time to time. Of course they meant them, as far as they could.
But Ducky's words said so much more, meant so much more. He'd actually known Shannon and Kelly, had been Kelly's Godfather. He’d loved them too in his own way. And whilst he might not truly know what Jethro was going through, how could he? He hadn't just lost his wife and daughter so senselessly - and Jethro prayed he never would have to go through it - he knew as much as it was possible to know.
Finally the tears stopped and Jethro raised his head, took the handkerchief Ducky calmly handed him, and looked into the soft blue eyes that always showed Ducky's feelings and emotions. Saw the flash of pain the Ducky himself felt; pain at his own loss, but much more pain for Jethro's loss.
"I don't know if I can go on, Duck," he said flatly and honestly, again looking into the brilliant blue eyes, lighter than his own, and far more revealing.
"Yes, my dear Jethro, you can." Firm. Gentle. Honest.
And that was that.
Ducky was correct.
Ducky was always correct.
"Make me one promise, Duck."
"We never mention them again."
"But, Jethro -"
"No, Duck. Please. I don’t want anyone else to know about them. They're our secret. Yours and mine. If anything ever happens and you're asked, tell me you'll lie. Please, Duck."
Ducky looked at him. Silent for a long, long time; one of the longest amounts of time Jethro had heard him be silent. He looked troubled and sad. He studied Jethro; he seemed to be looking inside of him, searching for something.
Finally he said quietly, sadly, simply, "Yes, my dear. I promise."
Jethro pulled into the NCIS car park, glanced at the cars, failed to spot Ducky’s Morgan and breathed sigh of relief. His friend wasn’t there, well it was extremely early, and it was a Saturday. There was no reason for Ducky to be there.
Now all he had to do was to get into the building, collect the paperwork he needed and get out again. He –
The sound of the Morgan, he’d know it anywhere, few people drove cars with transmission gearboxes; in fact Jethro couldn’t think of anyone else. Damn. Thank God. The two thoughts raced through his brain simultaneously.
The single burst from Ducky’s horn, sedate, classy, very Duckyish, told Jethro that his friend had seen him. Now he had no excuse, he had to wait there and greet Ducky. You didn’t really want one. If you had have done, you’d have stayed home.
“Good morning, my dear Jethro, and a beautiful one it is – Dear God, Jethro, what has happened do you?” Ducky’s steady placid gait changed, and he hurried to Jethro’s side, dropping his case onto the bonnet of Jethro’s car, and touching Jethro’s head with one hand. “Jethro?”
Jethro paused for a split second. To tell the truth or to lie? You’ve never once lied to him before, you can’t start now.
He took a deep breath. “Marie hit me.”
Ducky’s mouth fell open and his eyes widened. “With what?”
“A frying pan.”
Ducky stared at him, one hand still touching his scalp, the other around his wrist. For a moment he said nothing, then he picked his case back up, slipped his arm around Jethro’s waist and turned, heading back to his car. “Come, Jethro,” was all he said.
“Where are we going?”
Jethro came to a stop. “No, Duck. I don’t think that would be a good idea. She –“
“I didn’t say your home, my dear. You are coming with me to mine. You can stay with me until you decide what you are going to do.” He began to walk again.
“But, Duck, I have things to do.”
“Yes, indeed you do, Jethro. You need to listen to and obey me.”
Jethro heard the doorbell ring for the second time. But just as he’d heard it ring the first time, he could do nothing about it.
He was backed into a corner, his hands raised, trying to prevent Alice was smashing him around the head with a seven-iron for the third time. He could feel the blood trickling down his face, see it as it dripped off his forehead and momentarily obscured his vision.
She was screaming at him hysterically. He hadn’t understood a word of what she’d said apart from ‘you bastard’, for nearly five minutes. He suspected she was now crazy enough with anger to actually kill him, if she got the chance, without necessarily intending to.
He knew who was at the door. He and Ducky had a long-standing arrangement to have dinner together. Alice had meant to be away visiting some relative or other, and Ducky had insisted on picking Jethro up.
He was torn between hoping that Ducky would use the key he’d insisted on giving him, when he and Alice had moved into the house, and hoping that Ducky would simply think that Jethro had forgotten or got held up at the office and go away. The latter was a forlorn hope; he might be a bastard generally, but never where Ducky was concerned. Ducky would know only too well that had Jethro got held up, he would have called.
Ducky, I need you, his mind cried against his will. He cursed silently. He didn’t need anyone. Except Ducky. He ignored the voice.
Then suddenly another voice, one he’d known for so long, one he would know anywhere and under any circumstances, one that he could count on, rely on, trust, sounded. “Alice, give that club to me, at once.”
And Ducky was there, by Alice’s side, shock and anger resting on his face, as he reached out and grabbed the club from her hand, wrenching it away with such ferocity that Jethro had not doubt it must have hurt her.
As her weapon was torn from her hand, she screamed again, turned and launched herself at Ducky.
“Duck!” Jethro cried, trying to move to go to his friend’s aid.
But he had no need to worry, as the fury reached for him, Ducky lifted one hand and slapped Alice, hard, very hard if the resounding sound was anything to go by, around the face. She took a gasp of air, clutched her cheek, stared in shock and hatred at Ducky, before spitting at him, and racing from the room.
Jethro suddenly discovered that he was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, letting it take his weight. His breathing was finally beginning to return to normal.
Then Ducky was there by his side, crouching down in front of him, Jethro wanted to tell him not to, his leg wouldn’t like it, gently but thoroughly examining Jethro. And Jethro let him. Let him take charge, happy to lean on Ducky. Happy to let him handle things. It was only with Ducky that he ever did this. Because Ducky was the only person he truly trusted.
“Look at me, Jethro.”
“How do you feel?”
“My head hurts.”
Ducky smiled fleetingly. “I’m not surprised. However, it does, despite the amount of blood, appear to be fairly superficial. If you think you can get up, I’ll clean it and see if it will need suturing.”
“Don’t want to stay here.”
“I wasn’t going to allow you too. Now can you get to your feet, my dear?”
“Yeah.” And Jethro found that he could. Ducky had, as always, made it right.
"Good God, Jethro. What on earth . . .? No, don't answer that. I know. What was it with this time?" As Ducky spoke he was hurrying across Autopsy, moving far faster than he should, given his long-time damaged leg, towards where Jethro leaned against the door.
It was taking Jethro all his strength to remain on his feet, and his vision kept flickering in and out, becoming double on occasions, his head throbbed and he felt sick. His hearing also seemed to be at fault, because although he could hear Ducky, the voice seemed to be coming from a very long way away. Plus, Ducky seemed to be moving incredibly slowly.
Then a secure arm was slipped around his waist, and his own arm was tugged until it rested around Ducky's shoulders. Then very slowly, Ducky began to move towards one of the empty autopsy tables, guiding Jethro as he did.
Jethro tried not to let too much of his weight fall onto Ducky, it wasn't fair on his friend. But despite his gritted determination, Jethro found that he was leaning on Ducky far more than he had intended to.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, but could only have been less than a minute, Ducky backed him up against the table and helped Jethro up onto it. He began to examine Jethro, his touch decisive and knowledgeable, but also soothing.
"Look at me, Jethro."
"Follow my finger."
Jethro did, well sort of.
Ducky frowned. "Do you feel sick?"
"A bit," Jethro confessed. Although he did now feel better than he had done when he'd arrived.
"Is your vision blurred?"
"Are you seeing double?"
"Now and then." Jethro didn't lie to Ducky about his health; it wasn't worth it. Besides, he wasn't that stupid. He knew you didn't mess around with head injuries.
Ducky sighed. "So with what did she hit you?" He left Jethro and moved to collect warm water and the other necessities for stitching Jethro up.
"I don't know, Duck. Not really. Other than I was probably being the bastard I always am."
"Ah, Jethro my dear," Ducky said softly, coming back to stand in front of Jethro. He patted Jethro's shoulder and then took his hand, holding it for a moment or two before moving his fingers to take Jethro's pulse.
He seemed about to say something else, but then apparently changed his mind, and instead turned his attention to stitching the wound on Jethro's head.
"Can I come home with you?" Jethro asked, after a moment or two. He felt oddly vulnerable, a feeling he didn't normally particularly like, yet it bothered him less to feel that way when he was with Ducky.
"Of course, my dear. Where else would you go?"
"Jethro, is everything all right?" Ducky stood in the doorway of his home, dressed in his pajamas and dressing gown.
Jethro glanced at his watch. Shit. It 3:00 a.m. "Sorry, Duck," he murmured. "I'll go."
Ducky sighed and caught Jethro's arm and stopped him. "Don't be silly, Jethro. You clearly came here for a reason. And as I'm awake anyway, you had better come in and tell me what that reason was."
Jethro stood for a moment. "You sure, Duck? Because I can -"
"Come in, Jethro." Ducky's tone was forceful; in a way it rarely was when he spoke to Jethro. He saved it for dealing with idiotic people who messed up 'his' crime scenes. He tugged Jethro's arm again, then put his own arm around Jethro and led him into the dimly lit hallway. Once there he tipped his head back and looked up at Jethro and studied him. "Come upstairs, my dear. That way we can be certain we won't disturb Mother or the Corgis." Again he put his arm around Jethro, effectively preventing any argument.
He led Jethro into his upstairs sitting room, switched on the light and again looked at Jethro. "Sit down," he ordered, as he moved to the drinks' cabinet. "Here." Moments later he handed Jethro a glass.
"Thanks." Jethro took it and drained it in one.
Ducky sighed again. "Well the spare room is ready." He took the glass and poured another measure.
"Thought it always was," Jethro said.
Ducky chucked softly. "It is," he said. "Now, tell me. What's happened?"
Instead of answering, Jethro dug into his pocket and pulled out a screwed up letter. He handed it across to Ducky.
Ducky took it, glanced at it and said, "Are you certain you wish me to read this, my dear?"
"Yes." Jethro's tone was firm. He sipped his drink; he was fairly certain Ducky wouldn't offer him a third at this time of night, day, whatever. After all, he did have to be at work in a few hours time. He sat in silence and watched Ducky quickly read the letter.
When Ducky had finished, he folded it up neatly, stared at it for a moment before looking up and meeting Jethro's gaze. "Ah, my dear," he said. "I am sorry." But to Jethro's ears, and he was very attuned to Ducky's voice, the usual sincere sentiment was slightly lacking.
Jethro wasn't that surprised, Ducky had never really seemed to 'approve' of his affair with Jenny Shepard. He wasn't certain whether it was because of the woman herself, or because Jethro was cheating on Diane. Even though the marriage had effectively been over from the moment she'd attacked him with the baseball bat, plus as they both knew, Diane herself was seeing other men. Maybe Ducky did still feel something for the woman he'd introduced to Jethro. Although given how many times he'd apologized for introducing them, Jethro wasn't sure it was that. Maybe it was just that he didn't approve of Jethro breaking his own Rule 12.
Then Ducky said something that surprised Jethro; something he'd never asked before. "Did you love her?"
Jethro blinked. Torn between honesty and a lie. He shook himself; what was he thinking? He had never lied to Ducky, why start now? "No," he said quietly. And then he went on, because somehow Ducky always brought the totally honest Leroy Jethro Gibbs out, "In fact sometimes I'm not sure I even liked her that much." He paused, expecting Ducky to say something, or to react. But to his faint surprise the pale blue eyes just held his, the look calm, unsurprised and full of Ducky's open affection for him.
He stood up and moved across the room. "Not sure I liked myself all that much either. Christ, Duck, what the hell was I thinking of? Why did I do it? God knows how we didn't screw the case up totally. Jesus, Duck, I'm forty-six, I've been married four times. I'm not some sex-crazed teenager who has suddenly discovered sex and has to fuck ten times a day for fear of not getting enough. I - " He broke off and shook his head. "Well, I'm not," he said firmly.
"I never said you were, my dear," Ducky said quietly; he sounded mildly amused.
"I suppose you're wondering why I turned up on your doorstep at 3:00 a.m., and why it's bothering me, aren't you?" Jethro knew he sounded defensive.
Ducky looked up at him. "Actually, Jethro, I believe I know. But why don't you tell me. It might help."
Jethro frowned. Then sighed and went to sit down again. "Why do you want to tell me something you say you already know?"
"Because, dear, whilst I believe I know, I am not certain that I know. And anyway as I said -"
"It might help. Yeah, I heard you. The reason it bothers me is that it's yet another one, isn't it? Yet more proof that I can't maintain any kind of relationship for more than a few months or a year or two at best. That I am a bastard and not worth bothering about. There, does that make you happy."
Ducky sighed. "Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you are 'worth bothering about'. You may well be a bastard at times, but that isn't who or what you are deep down. And as for maintaining a relationship, what do you think we've had for over twenty years? Or does that not count?" Ducky's tone was a mixture of reassurance, mild anger and a degree of hurt.
Jethro winced. Shit. "Told you I was a bastard. Ah, Duck. Of course it counts. Christ, it's the best relationship I've ever had, as well as being the longest lasting one. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I meant - Oh, fuck it, Ducky, even you have to admit that my track-record with women is hardly one to write home about."
Ducky looked at him, his eyes once again softening. When he spoke all traces of anger had gone from his tone. "Maybe -" he broke off and shook his head.
"Maybe what?" Jethro said warily. He suspected he knew what Ducky had been about to say. He'd been about to mention the thing they never mentioned. And yet . . . Ducky never had before, so why now?
"It doesn't matter, my dear. Really. Why don’t you go to bed? I'm sure things will look much better in the morning."
Jethro smiled. "Doctor's orders?"
Ducky smiled too. He stood up. "Come along, my dear. I'll show you to your room."
"I think I know the way by now, Duck," Jethro said with a soft laugh. He felt better already; but Ducky always made him feel better.
"I know you do, but - oh," Ducky had begun to turn around, but now stopped and gripped the back of his chair with one hand, and his thigh with the other.
Jethro was by his side in an instant and had his arms around him. "Duck? Are you okay? Want me to call a doctor?"
In spite of the clear discomfort Ducky was feeling, his friend chuckled softly. "No, my dear. I'll be quite all right in a moment. I just moved a little awkwardly, that's all." He rested against Jethro, leaning into the embrace.
Jethro took the extra weight, shifting his stance slightly and making his grip more secure. He let Ducky rest against him, taking a degree of pleasure and security from his friend's closeness.
After a few minutes Ducky said quietly, "I believe I shall be able to move now."
Jethro moved one of his arms from around Ducky, allowing him to turn slightly, but kept the other tightly wrapped around Ducky's shoulders. Ducky took a tentative step, then another, Jethro kept pace with him, regulating his stride to Ducky's. "Come on then, Duck, he said, as they reached the door and he turned off the light. "Think I'll be the one putting you to bed for once."
"I don't believe I said anything about putting you to bed, my dear." Ducky's voice was amused.
"Same thing," Jethro said, continuing to move slowly.
And he was as good as his word.
Just as he was about to enter the woman, the phone rang. "Damnit," he swore. Just for a fleeting second he contemplated ignoring it. But he'd been a Special Agent for too many years. He grabbed it, not bothering for once to look at the caller display. "Gibbs?" he snapped.
For a moment there was silence. "I'm sorry, Jethro. I've called at a bad time. I'll -"
Jethro rolled away from the woman. "No, Ducky. It's okay. Sorry. I didn't realize it was you. What's up?"
"Mother has had a fall. And -"
"What happened and where are you?" Jethro interrupted him. All thoughts of the woman had fled as he listened to Ducky. With one hand he tugged off the condom - he hated the things anyway - with the other he started to pull some clean underwear out of his chest of drawers. He completely ignored the sighs and mutterings that were coming from behind him.
Then the mutterings got louder. Breaking off from digging through the drawers, he turned around and growled, "Shut up!"
Ducky stopped speaking. "Not you, Duck. And before you - be quiet, Ducky! I'll be there as quickly as I can. Yes. Yes. Yes." He clicked the phone off and turned around. He was about to pull on his undershirt, when he paused and decided to grab a quick shower. "You can see yourself out." He moved towards the door.
"Where are you going?"
"To the hospital."
"Ducky's mom's had a fall." He continued to walk.
He paused. "And he needs me."
"What on earth for? He's the doctor, not you."
He turned around and strode back to the bed, looming over her. He glared down at her, watching her eyes widen and her throat tremble. "You really are a bitch, aren't you?" Again he turned and left.
This time he didn't stop.
"Don't bother calling me again," she screamed after him.
"Wasn't planning to."
"I'm sorry, my dear. I shouldn't have bothered you."
"It's no bother, Duck. And who else are you going to call?"
"It's just . . . Well, after all what can you do?"
"Keep you company. Here." Jethro held out a cup of greyish-brown liquid. "It's not Earl Grey, but it's wet and warm."
"Thank you." Ducky took the cup from him; his hand was shaking slightly. Jethro put his own hand around Ducky's and held it for a moment. Once he felt the trembles stop, he sat down next to Ducky, tugging his chair slightly closer to Ducky's.
"I'm sorry," Ducky said again, after a moment or two. "You must think I'm behaving very foolishly. I am, after all, a doctor."
"Doctor or not, she's your mom."
"I know, but even so . . . I am sorry though for interrupting you, my dear. Was she very angry?"
Jethro shrugged. "Doesn't matter, Duck. She wasn't important. And even if she had been, you're -"
"Dr. Mallard?" A nurse entered the room. Ducky stood up, flinching a little. Jethro joined him, taking Ducky's arm to steady him. "I'm afraid your mother's hip is definitely broken, Doctor. We've made her comfortable and we'll be operating shortly. I have some consent forms that need to be signed." She came across with them and held them out to Ducky.
"Thank you," he said, after signing his name.
"Thank you, Doctor." She took the forms. "Do you wish to wait here until after the operation?"
Ducky looked up at Jethro.
"It's up to you, Duck," he said gently.
Ducky was silent for a moment. "This is going to sound dreadful, my dear, but I really think I'd rather go home. There isn't anything that I can do here. Sitting and waiting is not going to help Mother. And - But as I say, it's selfish of me. No, I'll stay."
Before Jethro could say anything, the nurse spoke. "It's not selfish at all, Dr. Mallard. If you ask me, it's only sensible. Your mother's in good hands, the best. And as you quite rightly say, there isn't anything you can do. Why don’t you let your," for a split second she paused, let her eyes flicker to Jethro, then hurried on, "friend, take you home?"
"Yeah, come on, Duck. Let's go home. You can't do anything here."
"Very well, dear, if you think so." Ducky looked up at Jethro again.
The nurse smiled, nodded and left.
It was unlike Ducky to be so indecisive and so needy, but on the other hand, Jethro wasn't surprised really. It was his mother after all. And she's all he has. Jethro shook his head. What the hell was he thinking? Ducky had him. Ducky had Abby too. But it's not the same.
He realized he was still holding Ducky's arm, and that Ducky was still resting against him. "Come on, Duck," he said again, letting go of Ducky's arm and instead putting his arm around Ducky's shoulders. "Home."
"Yes, dear," Ducky said obediently.
"Jethro, what are you doing?"
"Coming to stay for a few days," Jethro said, bringing his bags into the hallway.
"Because your mom's coming home today, and if I leave you alone with her, I'll be visiting you in hospital. And I don't want to do that."
"I have employed a nurse, dear."
"I know. But I also know you. You'll be the one making her cups of tea and making sure she's okay. So I'm staying." Jethro shut the door with a resounding bang. "Right?"
Ducky blinked up at him. He looked tired. He looked very tired. He was also limping a lot more than he normally did. And Jethro didn't like that. He didn't like it at all. He couldn't do a lot to help, but he could do this. Ducky needed him. And he'd been there enough for Jethro throughout the years. It was only fair that Jethro was there for him.
But you always have been. He's always relied on you. He's just been more subtle about it. The thought hit Jethro like the baseball bat Diane had used on him, and he came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs.
"Are you all right, Jethro?" Ducky asked, his voice showing concern.
Jethro shook himself. "Er, sure, Duck. Sorry. I'll just take these bags up. Then I'll make you some tea." He started up the stairs, then paused and glanced back down. "You haven't put that nurse in my room, have you?"
Ducky smiled. It was the first genuine smile to cross his face for far too long. "No, my dear. Of course I haven't."
"Good." Jethro continued up the stairs.
Go to Part Two