Nikki (nakeisha) wrote in ncis_gibbsducky,
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Fiction. Counting The Cost (Part Two)



THAT EVENING

Hands and lips moved over Jethro's body, touching him, caressing him, kissing him, stroking him, taking him to heights he'd never before experienced. He groaned in pleasure and shifted on the bed; his arousal was so intense, it was almost painful. In desperation he tried to touch himself, but gentle, firm hands stopped him, pushed him away and continued their quest.

He was close, very close, so close he was going to . . .

"Duck!" he cried out, as a shattering climax hit him.

He jerked and sat up in bed, breathing heavily, and dragged his hand through his hair. Fuck! What the hell had just happened? His undershirt stuck to his chest as the perspiration began to cool him; and his groin was sticky. Dear God, he'd just had his first wet dream in over thirty-five years, and it had been caused by his closest friend.

Still breathing harshly, the sound that woke him continued. He reached blindly for his phone and grabbed it. "Gibbs, what?" he snarled, as he ordered his pulse rate to slow down.

For a split second there was silence. "Jethro?" Ducky's tone sounded hesitant and apologetic. "Have I disturbed you?"

Shit. "Duck. No. I was asleep, sorry. What's up?" Jethro glanced at the clock and saw that it was just after midnight. He tugged the covers around him; it was damned cold.

"I wonder if you could come over to my house, please."

"Now?"

"Yes, please, Jethro."

Alarm bells began to ring loudly in Jethro's head. "What's happened, Duck?"

There was silence of a moment, then Ducky said softly, "Whilst I was out tonight, someone broke into my home."

Jethro was already out of bed and dragging warm clothes from his chest of drawers. "What's been taken?"

"I do not think anything has been taken. It’s more a case of what has been . . . Left." Ducky's voice sounded strange.

Wrestling his damp undershirt off and a clean one on, while clamping down on his urge to curse violently, Jethro asked swiftly, "Where are you?"

"I'm in the hallway."

"Your mother?"

"She and the Corgis went over to Mrs. Patterson's, I am pleased to say."

"Go and sit in your car, Ducky." Jethro headed out of the bedroom and strode to the bathroom.

"But, Jethro, it's below freezing."

"I don't care." He ran hot water into the sink. "Turn the engine and heater on. I want you out of there, Duck. They may still be inside."

"I doubt it, Jethro." Again Ducky sounded strange.

"Just do it, Ducky." He grabbed a flannel and began to wipe his sticky groin. "I'll be there as quickly as I can." He dried himself hastily and ran back to his bedroom. "You want me to call the Police on -"

"No!"

Jethro, the phone tugged between his shoulder and ear as he pulled on his clean shorts, blinked. "Duck?"

"I don't want the Police, Jethro."

"But, Ducky, you've -"

"No. Please, my dear. You'll understand when you get here." The panic was evident in Ducky's tone.

Pulling on his warmest trousers, Jethro hastened to reassure Ducky. "Okay, Duck, okay. No Police." He tugged up his zip and fastened the button, grabbed his Sig and his back-up gun, and sat down on the bed to pull socks and boots on. "Now go and sit in the Morgan and wait for me. But if you hear or see anyone, start to drive towards here. Okay."

"Yes, Jethro." The panic had faded, and now Ducky sounded obedient."

"I'm leaving in about two minutes, Duck. I'll be there as quickly as possible."

"The roads are very icy, my dear. You will - "

"Be careful. Yeah, Duck. I will. I promise. You in the car?"

"Yes, Jethro."

"Good. Now remember what I said. If you even suspect anyone is nearby just drive. I'll see you." Tying his boots up with the phone trapped against his shoulder was a battle, but he won. Okay one was a bit loose, but what the heck. Grabbing a second sweater, he hastily pulled it over his head, and ran down the stairs. God it was cold. "You want me to stay on the phone, Duck?" He scooped his overcoat up from where it was draped over the banister.

"No, dear. I'd rather you drove with two hands," Ducky said, with obviously reluctance. Despite the reluctance, Jethro also heard determination; Ducky would not be argued with.

"Okay. I'll be there shortly." He thumbed off the phone, pulled his coat on and went outside into the freezing winter night.

De-icing his car windscreen wasted precious minutes, and when he did drive off tires squealing as they fought to get a purchase on the icy road, he'd only managed to clear just about enough to allow him to see. The rest would have to clear as he drove.

He kept his promise to Ducky and moderated his speed to take into account the lethal conditions. But even as he drove, constantly fighting to keep the car from skidding, he knew that Ducky would not consider his concession quite enough. However, he was an excellent driver, and despite one or two hairy moments - ones he wouldn't mention to Ducky - he and the car arrived at Ducky's Reston home in one piece.

To add to the winter 'fun', the whole area had been coated in a layer of thick, freezing fog. Through it he could just make out the headlights of the Morgan, and emissions coming from the exhaust told him that Ducky had indeed turned the engine and heater on. He swung his car round in front of Ducky's, turned off the engine and got out. Pausing for a half a second to make sure his balance was sound, he crossed to the driver's door and opened it.

A blast of warm air hit him, but as Ducky glanced up at him, Jethro saw that his friend was shivering and very pale. "Hey, Duck," he said softly. Crouching down he reached into the car and took one of Ducky's hands; even through the leather gloves Ducky wore, he could feel how chilled it was.

"Jethro. Thank you for coming over." Ducky sounded overly polite and stilted, and the blue gaze was flat. "I am sorry to have had to drag you out on such a night as this, but -"

"Hey, enough, Duck. Who the hell else were you going to call?" Jethro squeezed the hand he held. "Now you wait here, until I've -"

"No." Again Ducky spoke sharply. "Jethro, the Morgan may be a superb car, but her heating is barely adequate; I am extremely cold. I do not wish to suffer hyperthermia on top of everything else. I am coming in with you."

Jethro wanted to argue, but one look at Ducky's face, together with the shivering convinced him. "Okay, Duck. But you'll do as I tell you. You'll stay behind me when we go in, and -"

"My dear, I have worked with you for enough years to know how you work."

"Sorry, Duck. Come on then. Give me your arm. And be careful, it's damned icy out here." Jethro leaned across and turned off the engine. From his coat pocket he pulled out a pair of the gloves he always wore at crime scenes, and put them on.

Ignoring Ducky's mild protests, he put his arm around Ducky's shoulders, waited pointedly until Ducky slipped his own arm around his back, and then, Sig in hand, moved towards the house.

The front door still stood partly open. Jethro pushed it open; at once he knew the main reason why Ducky had left it thus. "Oh, dear God," he whispered, coming to a stop inside the door. He'd seen the mess that burglars could leave behind them; but this took things to a new level. Every instinct in him wanted to push Ducky back outside, but what was the point? His friend had already been into the hall.

By his side Ducky was still and silent. He appeared frozen in place. Dragging his eyes away from the filthy message that had been scrawled over the wall, Jethro looked down at Ducky. "Duck?" he whispered softly. He put one hand on Ducky's shoulder and squeezed it. Under the grip he felt Ducky shudder slightly.

Then Ducky tipped back his head and looked up at Jethro; his eyes blazed with a mixture of fury, disgust, sorrow and pain. "I am all right, Jethro. It's easier seeing it all for the second time, especially as you are here. You can see why I didn't want to call the Police, can't you?"

"Yeah." And Jethro could. He'd feel the same. "Oh, Duck," he said. "I . . ." he broke off; whatever he said would be inadequate. For a brief moment he pulled Ducky nearer to him, all the time keeping his special agent's instinct alert. His gut told him the house was empty except for Ducky and himself; his agent's instincts agreed. However, he still wasn't taking any chances.

He let Ducky rest against him for a moment, then with reluctance pushed him back slightly. "I have to check the place, Duck. I reckon you're right. No one's here. But I want to be sure. Stand there," he guided Ducky into the alcove outside the sitting room." Then swiftly, he scanned the rest of the hall, never moving far from Ducky; if anyone should appear they'd be greeted by Gibbs himself before they got to Ducky.

It was empty and quiet, almost ominously so. Then Jethro realized they'd stopped the Grandfather clock that always ticked away with a peaceful reassurance. He bent down and tugged out his back-up gun and handed it to Ducky. "Take this and wait there."

"But, Jethro -"

"No buts, Ducky. Do I as I say. You know how to hold it and use it. I'm going to check in here," he nodded towards the sitting room. "If anyone appears, you shoot first, Duck. We'll ask questions later."

"But -" Ducky stopped, as Jethro glared at him.

The room was empty, as Jethro knew it would be. Ignoring Ducky's protests, Jethro ushered him into the room, sat him down in a chair that would give him a clear shot of the door, but wouldn't be seen from the door, and made him promise to stay there until Jethro returned. "If anyone else but me comes in Duck, you shoot. Okay?"

Ducky sighed. "I'm sure you are being overly melodramatic, Jethro."

"Maybe I am. But that's just tough. I'll knock SOS on the door when I come back. Anything else, anything at all, and - "

"Yes, Jethro." Ducky sighed.

The house was indeed empty, and with the exception of the hall there was very little damage as such. The floor and every surface were littered with yet more of the same disgusting photographs, but other than that, all was clean.

Until Jethro reached Ducky's bedroom.

His constitution was strong. When you smell the odor of death and decay as he had done throughout his life, then you can face everything. But as he entered Ducky's room, even he had to clamp down on the wave of nausea that hit him.

It wasn't just the stench that was affecting him; he knew that. It was the violation that had been done to the best person he knew; the kindest, most generous, gentlest man around. Someone would pay for this; someone would pay dearly. Ducky already has. "Someone else," he muttered, through gritted teeth.

Two things were certain: Ducky was not spending the night in his home. And Ducky was not going to see his bedroom. The former Jethro guessed wouldn't be an issue; the latter might be. But this would be one battle he would not lose.

Leaving behind him the stench and sights, he swept around the remainder of the floor. In the room next to Ducky's bedroom, the one that he used as his office-come-sitting room, a different scent hit Jethro: the smell of alcohol. Every bottle had been emptied and then smashed and ground into the carpet. After what had greeted him in the bedroom, Jethro was almost relieved.

Reassuring himself that his gut had been correct, the house was empty, he took a deep breath and returned to Ducky's bedroom. Steeling himself for what he might find, he tugged open the top drawer of Ducky's chest of drawers. He was faintly surprised, but relieved, when all that greeted him was clean underwear.

He crossed to the wardrobe, again preparing himself, but again nothing out of the ordinary lurked. He grabbed an overnight bag, threw enough underwear, shirts and socks for several days into it, together with a couple of bowties, and headed for the bathroom to grab a few essentials, anything else Ducky needed, he could provide.

Just as he was about to slam the bedroom door on the hell, what Ducky was wearing beneath his overcoat impinged on his mind. Damn, his friend had been in a DJ. Taking another deep breath, he returned to the wardrobe, grabbed a blue suit, threw it over his arm and left the room. On the landing he took several gulps of cleaner air.

Taking care where he put his feet, and also avoiding letting the suit touch anything, he hurried down the stairs, trying to blot out the filthy words that loomed at him from the walls. All he could think was thank God that both Ducky and his mother had been out for the evening.

Just as he was about to knock the code on the sitting room door, he saw something out of the corner of his eye. Something glinted at him from underneath one of the foul photographs. Frowning, he opened the front door and put the bag and suit on the clean top step, before returning to the hall. Squatting down he carefully lifted the photograph up.

What greeted him made him simultaneously swear violently and smile. "Got you, you bastard," he said, picking up the NCIS Identity Badge of one George Stephens. Pulling an evidence bag from his pocket, he pushed the badge inside and stood up.

Swiftly knocking SOS on the sitting room door, he opened it to find Ducky still sitting there with Jethro's back-up gun held carefully, but firmly, in his hands. He strode over to Ducky, took it from him and shoved it into his coat pocket. Ducky looked exhausted; his face was ashen, his lips barely visible as they too had turned pale, his eyes looked dull and haunted, and he began to tremble.

In one movement Jethro tugged him to his feet, supported his weight and pulled him into his arms. After a second or two Ducky returned the embrace, wrapping his own arms around Jethro with more ferocity than Jethro had ever known him use before. Ducky seemed to be holding onto him as a drowning man would hold onto a life raft.

As he'd done earlier in the day in Autopsy, Jethro rested his chin on Ducky's head, and for a moment remained silent. He was desperately trying to compose himself before he spoke, because the urge to shout at someone was nearly too great to control, and he didn't want Ducky to think it was him whom Jethro was mad at.

After another moment or two, he spoke. "It'll be all right, Duck." The almost cursed himself. What stupid words. How inadequate. How false they must have sounded.

But Ducky sighed and moved even further into the embrace. "Will it, Jethro?" he finally said, his voice as dull as his eyes.

Jethro made a silent vow that if it took the rest of his life, he'd make sure it was. "Yes, Duck," he said firmly. "I promise."

Ducky sighed again and burrowed his head into Jethro's shoulder.

Jethro let him rest for a moment before saying softly, "Come on, Duck, let's get out of here."

Ducky moved back a little and looked up at Jethro. "Where are we going, my dear?"

"To my house. You can't stay here." Jethro's tone brooked no argument.

Ducky made none.

Once again wrapping his arm around Ducky's shoulders, Jethro led the way into the hall, trying as far as possible to shield Ducky from the sights - he couldn’t do anything about the stench. Suddenly Ducky paused. "Duck?"

"I need to get a few things, my dear. I -"

"Already got them, Duck." Jethro cut into Ducky's words. Ducky frowned and looked at him, the question obvious. "Trust me, Duck, you don't want to go upstairs," Jethro said softly.

"Oh."

And with that one simple word, Ducky began to move towards his front door.

Once outside, Jethro pulled out his own key ring, he'd had a key to Ducky's house for years, Ducky had insisted, and locked the front door behind them. The words 'horse' and 'stable door' came to mind, but what the hell.

He guided Ducky to his car, cursed as he looked at the re-iced over windscreen, opened the door and helped Ducky in. Reaching across the still trembling body he turned the engine on and flipped the heating onto full blast. Ducky gasped as cold air filled the car.

"Sorry." Jethro said guiltily, turning it down to the first speed setting. Shutting the door, he hurried back to the house, grabbed Ducky's bag and suit, paused long enough to lock the Morgan - they'd both forgotten - threw Ducky's stuff onto the backseat, and set about de-icing the window again. This time he made sure it was virtually clear before he drove off; Ducky would only nag him otherwise.

The car had finally begun to warm up, as the heating won the battle with the winter chill, and for a few minutes they traveled in silence. Jethro let him mind turn to thoughts of revenge. He knew that Ducky would never let him do any of the things he thought of, but nonetheless he continued to plan. It calmed him down.

It was Ducky who broke the silence. "I must apologize again for disturbing you, Jethro." Again his tone was oddly formal and stilted.

Jethro risked a glance to his side. "It's me, Duck. Not some stranger you barely know. You don't need to apologize. Okay?"

Ducky sighed. "Yes, Jethro," he finally said. "I just hope that I wasn't interrupting," he paused slightly, "anything."

Jethro almost laughed at the delicate inquiry. No, Duck, he thought. Only the best orgasm I've ever had. Which, by the way, was at your hands. He shook himself; for the first time since waking up, he actually allowed himself to remember what had happened. Why on earth had he had an erotic dream about his oldest, closest, dearest friend?

He wasn't certain he wanted to answer that question. He wasn't certain he even had an answer. Yes, you do. He ignored it. Remembering that he hadn't answered Ducky, he said lightly, "If that's your subtle way of asking me if I had a woman with me, the answer's no, Duck."

"Good," said Ducky. Then swiftly added, his words almost falling over one another, "I mean, I am glad that I didn't interrupt anything pleasurable."

Again Jethro had to bite his lip.

~~~~~~~

They reached Jethro's house. Again taking Ducky's arm once he'd got out of the car, even he was having trouble staying on his feet as layers of ice had formed over layers of ice, Jethro opened the front door and ushered Ducky inside.

A blast of cold air hit them. "Christ, it's as cold inside here as outside. I swear it is. Hang on, Duck, I'll put the heating on. Shit," he cursed moments later.

"My dear?"

"The damn thing has broken down. Oh, hell, Duck, I'm sorry." He looked down at Ducky.

"It isn't your fault, my dear. And I do not believe that I would be able to get warm tonight anyway. I doubt whether the heating would make that much difference."

Jethro frowned. "Maybe we should go to a hotel."

Ducky shook his head. "No. I'd rather stay here."

"Tea."

"Jethro?"

"Tea. Hot and sweet." Jethro headed towards the kitchen. He hoped he had some tea. He thought he did somewhere, but . . .

"Jethro," Ducky called after him. "You know I do not like sugar in my drinks."

Jethro was opening cupboard doors and muttering to himself. In answer to Ducky's objection, he called, "Sugar's good for shock, Duck. You're the doctor; you should know that. Tea. Tea. Tea. Oh, shit. Don't suppose coffee works, does it?" He turned around to see that Ducky had followed him.

For the first time since Jethro arrived at Ducky's home, Ducky smiled; not a proper smile, merely a slight twitch of his lips, but it was something. "I am not drinking coffee at this hour of the morning, and nor should you," he added, putting a hand on Jethro's arm.

Jethro stopped. "Brandy then. Now that I know I've got. Come on," and before Ducky could speak, Jethro ushered him into his sitting room. "Here," he handed Ducky a glass. "Drink it," he said, as Ducky raised his eyebrows at the size of it.

Ducky sipped the amber liquid. "Oh, Jethro," he said softly, moments later. He staggered slightly; Jethro supported him, led him to an armchair and hovered, uncertain quite what to do next. Ducky sank back into the chair and shut his eyes. Taking the glass from Ducky's hand, Jethro replaced it with his own hand, offering silent comfort and support.

Ducky's fingers were cold, as was his cheek, which Jethro touched. "Come on, Duck, let's get you to bed."

"I'm not tired, Jethro."

"Maybe not. But it'll be warmer. Come on." He stood up and held out his hand.

Ducky ignored it and sighed. "Please, Jethro," he said simply.

Jethro sighed. "Come over to the couch at least. I can sit next to you then. That'll help." Again he held out his hand. Again Ducky hesitated for a moment. Then he let Jethro help him up.

Sitting down next to Ducky, Jethro put his arm around him again and pulled him tightly against him. "Body heat is one of the best ways to get warm," he said.

"Yes, dear. I am a doctor, remember?" Ducky said, with the faintest hint of amusement in his voice.

After a moment Jethro sighed. "Duck, will you relax. You won't get much warmth if you try to hold yourself away from me. Now do I have to use force or . . . ?"

This time it was Ducky who sighed. But after another moment, he let his body become less taut as he settled into the embrace.

"That's better. I'm really sorry about the damned heat, Duck."

"Jethro, I hardly think it is your fault."

"Well, no, but . . ." He pulled Ducky a little nearer, using one hand to urge Ducky to put his head down on his shoulder. Once Ducky obeyed, Jethro rested his cheek on the heavy, cold, silky hair.

They sat in silence for several moments; the only sound was their breathing.

Again, Jethro let his mind wander to the pleasant thoughts of just what he'd do - what he'd like to do - to Agents Stephens and Jameson. But he knew that really his hands were tied. Unless he killed them, and he did momentarily entertain the thought, there was always the possibility that they'd simply let the furor die down before trying again. He needed to do something that would both silence them, and stop them for good.

He felt Ducky relax more and move a fraction closer. He didn't think he was imagining the fact that against his own body, Ducky's was beginning to feel slightly warmer.

"You know there's one way of stopping this from ever happening again, Duck, don't you?"

"Yes. My resignation."

"Not an option." Jethro said forcefully but quietly.

Ducky sighed. "What have you in mind then, my dear? I've already told you I do not wish to visit you in prison."

Jethro swallowed hard. What he said next could change everything. No, that happened an hour or so ago. He ignored the voice. "We let them know that," he swallowed again. "That we're involved. A couple. That I'm your lover," he added, just in case Ducky hadn't understood.

Silence greeted his words. For a moment he began to wonder if he had actually spoken them aloud.

Then Ducky answered. "I won't tell that kind of lie." His tone was cold and flat, but also heavy with flinty determination.

Jethro swallowed once more and took the final step. "What if it wasn't a lie?" he said softly.

Ducky jerked away from him. "What?"

"I said, what if -"

"I heard you, Jethro. What I want to know is, just what the hell you mean."

Jethro brushed Ducky's cheek with his fingertips; he didn't fail to notice the almost imperceptible shiver that passed through Ducky, nor the almost silent moan. He repeated the gesture, making his caress more obvious. "You asked me what you'd interrupted earlier on, Duck. Well, I was having this dream. Why don't I tell you about it? Or better still, as I'm not as good with words as you are, I could show you." He lowered his head, ignored Ducky's wide-eyed look, and briefly brushed his lips gently across Ducky's. This time the moan was far from silent, and the shiver far from imperceptible. Leroy Jethro Gibbs, what the hell have you done?

He moved back far enough to enable him to see Ducky's eyes. They were the one certain way he had of knowing just what Ducky was feeling or thinking. They were the one thing that had always given away Ducky's every emotion, including the deep affection and love he had for Jethro.

The pale blue was awash with conflicting emotions, but to Jethro's horror the clearest one was fear. "Duck," he whispered, letting his fingers hover, this time without touching, over Ducky's cheek.

"What are you doing?" Ducky finally managed, his voice hoarse.

"I believe it's called a kiss, Duck," Jethro said lightly, desperate to take some of the panic away from Ducky's gaze. "Want me to show you again?"

Ducky shook his head. But his eyes told a different story.

"Sure?" Jethro asked gently.

"Yes. I mean, no. I mean . . ."

"You know, Duck. I never thought I'd see the day when you were lost for words." Jethro still spoke lightly, and now he let his fingertips make contact with the pale, chilled skin.

"I . . . Please, Jethro."

"Please what, Duck?"

But Ducky just looked at him. "Why, Jethro?"

"Why what, Duck?"

"Why did you kiss me?"

"Because I love you." And he did; he'd done so for over two decades. He just hadn't equated it to more than fraternal, close friends love. "I do, Duck," he added.

"You're not just -"

"No, Duck. I'm not. I wouldn't do that to you." Now Jethro spoke firmly. He looked deeply into Ducky's eyes; as he did, he let the shields he habitually wore during the working day, tumble from his own gaze. "I love you," he repeated softly.

"I love you too, my dearest Jethro. But . . ."

"But what, Duck? Don't you want this? Want me?" Jethro held his breath.

"Of course I do, my dear. But . . . Jethro."

"Yeah, Duck?"

"I can't . . . I don't want . . . I . . ." Again Ducky seemed to run out of words.

You don't know someone as well as Jethro knew his Ducky, you don't have the close, intimate friendship that the two men had shared for nearly thirty years, without developing a sixth sense, telepathy almost.

Jethro looked deeply into Ducky's eyes, then closing the gap between them, tugged Ducky back into a firmer embrace. "Nor do I, Duck," he said softly, bending his head and kissing Ducky again.

This time he did more than merely brush Ducky's lips with his own, and this time Ducky returned the kiss. As the kiss deepened, Jethro slid a hand into Ducky's hair, stroking the heavy strands, caressing Ducky's head, feeling Ducky murmur through the kiss. Ducky's fingers began to explore the nape of Jethro's neck, sending gentle, arousing vibrations through his body.

Jethro could no longer feel the winter chill. It was a coldness he realized that had trapped him for far too long, allowing little to really touch him, allowing nothing or no one to truly penetrate the fierce shield he'd built around himself.

The only person who had got close to breaking through, the only person who was able to see Jethro for what he was, rather than what he wanted them to see, was the man now in his arms. The man he was kissing, touching, loving. The right in his otherwise wrong world. The light in his darkness. The summer to his winter. The peace in his chaos. He wasn't certain what the future would bring, as Ducky said maybe the talk about non-discrimination was merely words. If that were so, then so be it. The one thing he was certain of, was that his future would contain Ducky. In fact his future was Ducky.

He wanted to make love to Ducky properly, but it was far too cold. Besides, he wasn't certain this evening was the right time. But as they continued to kiss and lightly caress, he realized that they were making love anyway. What was sex compared to what they shared?

~~~~~~~

Despite the coldness of the room, and his protestations that he wasn't tried, after nearly an hour of pleasantness, Ducky slipped into a light sleep for a short while. Jethro continued to hold his lover, giving and taking warmth and comfort, enjoying the security he had never before known in a relationship; the security he'd never before looked for or even wanted.

When sleepy eyes, heavy with affection finally opened and looked up at him, Jethro smiled and pressed another chaste kiss on Ducky's closed mouth. "Duck," he said gently. He didn't want to spoil anything, but there were things that needed to be dealt with.

"Yes, my dear?"

Jethro swallowed. "About your house, Duck."

Ducky sighed softly. "I won't call the Police, Jethro."

"I'm not asking you to. There's no need. I know who's responsible."

Ducky blinked. "You do?"

"Yeah. Left some concrete evidence behind. And I'll deal with them later today. But that wasn't what I meant. You can't go back there in the state it's in."

"I know. Mother and the Corgis can stay with Mrs. Patterson for a while -"

"And you can stay here. But -"

"The place has to be cleaned, and the hall at least redecorated. I know. I just don't -"

"Duck." Jethro interrupted gently.

"Yes, dear?"

Jethro brushed his fingertips over Ducky's cheek again, letting them stroke upwards into Ducky's hair. Again he spoke gently. "Let me get the team on to it."

Ducky was shaking his head. "No, Jethro. I couldn't. It wouldn't be right. And I wouldn't want them to . . . They'd be disgusted, Jethro."

"Yeah, Duck. They will be. But not with you. Never with you."

"How do you know?"

Jethro swallowed, and told Ducky about the conversation he'd overheard between DiNozzo and Stephens. "DiNozzo didn't give a damn, Duck, not about you being gay. I know him. He may irritate the hell out of me, but I know him. He meant what he said to Stephens. It doesn't bother him. Jimmy and Abby adore you, and McGee, well, I often wonder if McGee's bi."

"I admit that the thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion too, dearest. But, Jethro, even if what you say is true, I couldn't expect them to clear up that mess."

";They've done worse, Duck."

Ducky frowned and smiled at the same time. "Jethro Gibbs, please do not start lying to me."

"Sorry. But you know what I mean. Come on, Duck, you've seen some of the crime scenes we've faced."

"Yes, but -"

"But nothing. They'll want to help, Duck. Trust me."

"Not Ziva." Ducky’s tone made it clear that the matter wasn’t open for negotiation. Not that Jethro had ever had any intention of including her.

"No."

"Nor do I wish Jennifer to find out."

"Won't hear a thing from me or from the kids."

"And I'm not sure that Abby or Jimmy should have to face the place as it stands."

"Fine. They can stay here with you and keep you company. DiNozzo, McGee and I can handle the worse. I'm no expert decorator, but I reckon a couple of undercoats will cover the mess on the walls, and then you can get it done properly."

"I was thinking that it was time the hall and stairs were redecorated. And I noticed that the carpet had begun to wear a little in a few places. Nothing major; it's barely noticeable, but with Mother not being all that steady on her feet, I felt that I should do something about it."

"There you are then. That way you don't even have to lie to her when you ask her to stay with Mrs. Patterson."

"No. And as it's so cold and icy under foot, I can even persuade her that she doesn't need to return to the house to fetch her clothes, or any of her other little essentials." Ducky looked slightly brighter. "But are you certain, dearest? I mean completely sure that the children will not mind?"

"Yeah, Duck, I am." And he was. He knew his team. He knew them well. In fact he also knew that he'd have to make them promise not to 'deal' with Stephens themselves.

"And they won't think any less of me?"

"Nope."

"My preferences won't disgust or shock them?"

"Nope."

"Well, if you are really certain that they'll be willing to -"

"I am." And Jethro kissed Ducky again, this time for a considerably long time.

He'd call DiNozzo as soon as it got light and tell him that he'd better cancel any plans for the weekend, at least. With deference to Ducky, he'd clean Ducky's bedroom up and leave the hall to the boys. If he knew Abby as he thought he knew Abby, as soon as she discovered what had happened, she'd insist on going along to help with the clean up, and he believed that Jimmy Palmer would too. Ducky's assistant had a bad case of hero worship for his boss, Jethro wondered if Ducky was aware of it, he doubted it; his lover was too self-effacing for that.

Ducky might try to object, but if anyone, other than Jethro himself, could get Ducky to do what they wanted him to, it was Abby. She'd wheedle and bounce and gently bully, until she got her own way. And once the team had done their bit, Ducky could get the professionals in to do a proper redecoration and carpeting job. At least there would be no worries about cost; Ducky was an extremely wealthy man.

And he would sort out Agent Stephens. He knew exactly how to do that. Maybe not the way he'd ideally like to do it, but then he could find other ways to work off his desire to hit someone very hard; his energies could be channeled into a far more pleasant area. No, it would be something far more subtle, and far more deadly than resorting to - what was it Abby had said? 'I wanted him stopped, not beaten to pulp with a baseball bat'. He would show George Stephens the true price of hurting Ducky. The hapless agent would be counting the cost and ruing the day he ever decided to go up against Jethro Gibbs for a very, very, very long time.

For the first time in days, weeks even, as the first touches of dawn gave way to a brighter light, signs of the winter sun could be seen, breaking up the grey, heavy, dank, dismal sky. It lit up the area and made the ice shimmer and glow; finally nature was able to show her true beauty.

~~~~~~~

Gibbs walked into the squad room, Ducky at his side.

"Hey, boss. Hey, Ducky. Cold out there, isn't it?"

"I don't know, DiNozzo, I reckon it's got a lot warmer, don't you, Duck?" Gibbs looked down at Ducky.

Ducky smiled up at him. "I do, my dear. Yes."

Gibbs hid a smile at the wide-eyed look DiNozzo cast their way. He put one arm lightly around Ducky's shoulders and moved with him to his desk. "You sure you're okay, Duck?" he said softly, as he pulled his overcoat off and threw it on the low cabinet behind his desk.

Duck nodded and smiled gently, his eyes ablaze with love.

Gibbs swallowed hard. No one, not even his dear Shannon, had ever looked at him with so much love and adoration. He tilted the brim of Ducky's hat back and moved nearer. "I mean about everything," he said, his voice still low.

Ducky smiled again. "Yes, dearest," he said, his own tone low.

For a moment they stood in silence just looking at one another. When he glanced up, Gibbs saw that DiNozzo and McGee were watching them; both of them still had wide-eyed looks. He shrugged mentally, so what? The team would find out soon enough.

DiNozzo knew the bare facts, and no doubt he would have already told McGee, about the vendetta against Ducky, and his fury had been clear even over the phone. As Gibbs had expected, his longest serving agent was all set on taking Stephens apart, very, very slowly and painfully. Gibbs had never heard DiNozzo so reluctant before, not even when he'd made him clean up the Interrogation room after the man had pissed himself in it. But finally DiNozzo had given his boss a grudging promise to keep his hands to himself, and leave things to Gibbs to sort out.

It was Ducky though who broke the silence. "Well, I had better go down to Autopsy, my dear. I do not like to leave Mr. Palmer alone for too long. I'm never certain what he'll get it into his head to do."

"Buy you lunch later?"

"As long as it doesn’t necessitate going outside, yes, Jethro, you may."

Gibbs smiled. "Canteen it is then. See you later then, Duck."

"Indeed you will, my dear." Ducky smiled again, turned and moved off towards the elevators.

Nodding to DiNozzo, who was still watching him, McGee at least had returned his eyes to his computer screen, Gibbs strode across the office, returning the various 'morning, Gibbs', greetings.

He came to a stop in front of Stephens's desk.

The agent was talking to someone on the phone in a low, confidential tone; it clearly was not a case related call. Gibbs waited silently.

Seconds later Stephens glanced up, muttered a quick 'got to go', and hung up. "Gibbs," he said. "Can I help you?"

Gibbs studied him in silence for a moment or two. Under his gaze Stephens started to squirm, and sweat began to appear on his forehead and upper lip.

Waiting until the time was just right, Gibbs put his hand in his jacket pocket, closed it around the badge, and leaned forward slightly. "Got something of yours, Stephens," he said.

"You have?"

"Yeah. This." Gibbs pulled the badge out and threw it down on the desk in front of him. Under his eyes Stephens turned from white to green. He looked from the badge up to Gibbs and back again, he was swallowing repeatedly.

Again, Gibbs waited in silence.

Then, once more judging that the time was right, he spoke, his tone was low and almost conversational. "I found it last night when I got home." As he looked at the petrified agent who was now cringing in his chair, he wondered idly whether Stephens kept a change of underwear at the office.

Stephens swallowed hard. Opened his mouth. Closed it again. Opened it again. Gulped hard and finally managed, "Y . . . Yo . . . You . . . You found it?" His voice rasped.

Gibbs fixed him with his steady gaze, the ice cold one, the one that had on more than one occasion resulted in the perpetrators of a crime needing a change of clothing. "Yes," he said finally. "I found it. Enjoy your day, Stephens." With one more look, he turned and walked away from the desk.

"DiNozzo," he called, as he strode past his agent's desk.

"Yes, boss."

"Strong, black, no sugar. Now."

"On it, boss." He didn't miss the broad grin that DiNozzo gave him.

Yes, winter was speeding away. Spring had arrived last night. He doubted if he would ever truly know winter again.
Tags: !creator: nakeisha, challenge 07, fiction
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