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Fiction. Counting The Cost (Part One)

TITLE: Counting The Cost
AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
GENRE: Slash
SUB-GENRE: First time
WARNING: This is not a light, fluffy story. It has a fairly strong homophobic content.
SUMMARY: Written for Challenge #7. Gibbs overhears something about his oldest friend that will change both of their lives forever.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.



Stamping his feet and rubbing his hands, DiNozzo hurried into the NCIS building. It was bitter outside; winter had arrived with a vengeance. One minute Washington DC was enjoying an Indian summer, the next, the temperature had plummeted beyond the norm for even the coldest part of winter.

He nodded to the Security guard and waved his ID badge, before plunging further into the heat of the building; the heat that would make it feel even colder when people went back outside again.

DiNozzo was about to go up the stairs when a voice stopped him. "Hey, DiNozzo."

He turned. "Hey, Stephens. God, it's cold out there. Must be the coldest winter in living memory."

George Stephens ignored him. "Come here."

DiNozzo hesitated. "What do you want?"

"Come here."

After a second or two, DiNozzo joined the other man. "This had better be -"

"Shut up, DiNozzo, and listen. You work with Mallard, don't you?"

"Ducky? Yeah, why?"

"Ever been alone with him?"

"Huh?"

"Well, have you?"

"Not often. But, yeah. So?"

"Make sure you don't again."

"What the hell are you on about?"

"He's a faggot."

"What?"

"He's gay."

"Ducky? Nah, don't be stupid."

"I tell you, he is. Jameson saw him coming out of that queer club."

"Ducky?"

"Yes!"

"I don't believe it. Jameson was probably pissed."

"Pissed or not, he swears it was him."

DiNozzo paused. Then shrugged. "So what?"

"So what? What the fuck do you mean, DiNozzo? 'So what'?"

"I mean so what. What does it matter?"

"It matters. We don't want one of them working here. It's disgusting."

"Hey, watch it. This is meant to a non-discriminatory agency."

Stephens just made a noise in his throat. "That's all just talk. And you know it. Nah, we're going to get him out."

DiNozzo caught Stephens's arm. "Hey, what do you mean?"

"Just that. We don't want him here. There are ways."

"You can't."

"We can. And we will."

"You'd better watch it."

"Why? You going to do something? Come off it, DiNozzo, we all know how much you hate anyone different."

"I don't." DiNozzo was indignant.

"That's not what you said after you tongued that woman who was a man. You nearly puked when you found out."

DiNozzo shuffled his feet. "That was different."

"Maybe. But then there was the time you went on and on about McGee being gay. I heard your tone; the idea makes you as sick as it makes the rest of us. Mind you, it wouldn't surprise me if McGee was -"

"You keep your mouth shut about McGee, and Ducky too. They're part of the team. Besides," DiNozzo broke off and looked around him. "You go up against Ducky, and you'll have Gibbs on your back."

"Gibbs?"

"Yeah. He and Ducky are old friends."

"Gibbs'll be glad. He was a Marine; he'll hate them too. Besides, he won't know. Unless you tell him." He moved towards DiNozzo threateningly.

DiNozzo held his ground. "Won't need to. He'll find out."

"I doubt Mallard will tell him."

"He won't need to. Gibbs'll know. In fact . . . " DiNozzo broke off and looked around him.

"Come off it, DiNozzo, the man isn't God. He can't make himself invisible. He's not here."

"Don't you be so sure," DiNozzo said, somewhat ambiguously. "Just watch it. That's all. Forget about it. So what if Ducky's gay. He's not going to suddenly jump you."

"Not going to give him a chance. And, DiNozzo, don't you say anything or else . . . "

"Or else what?"

"Or else we might start to wonder just why you're being so protective. See you." Stephens waved his hand and strode off.

Mouth open, DiNozzo watched him go. He stood for a moment or two, then shaking his head and blowing on his fingers, hurried up the stairs.

Standing behind a corner, Jethro Gibbs finally let his fist unclench. He glanced down at his hand that had, moments before, been red with the cold. It was now white from where he'd squeezed it so very tightly, and half moons from his fingernails stood out on his palm.

He shook his head. Whether what Stephens had said about Ducky being gay was true or not, was irrelevant. What bothered Gibbs was the threat. No one hurt his Ducky. No one. Forgoing his coffee for once, he changed direction and hurried down to Autopsy.

~~~~~~~

"Hey, Duck."

"Jethro, this is a surprise, albeit a very pleasant one." Ducky smiled and moved towards Gibbs. Then the smile faded somewhat, and he asked, "Is something wrong?"

"Why should anything be wrong, Duck?" Gibbs looked down at his old friend.

"Well, my dear, you have clearly come down here straight from outside, you still have the collar of your coat turned up, without even pausing to get yourself a coffee, or to dispose of your briefcase."

"Thought I was meant to be the investigator, Duck," Gibbs said lightly. He touched Ducky's shoulder, "You okay, Duck?"

Ducky moved slightly closer to him, tipping his head back and staring up at him, studying him like he studied the results of an autopsy. "I'm quite well, thank you, Jethro. Why do you ask?"

"Can't I even ask my oldest friend how is now?" Gibbs kept his tone light, but puzzlement still showed in Ducky's pale eyes.

Moments later it had gone, and Ducky merely smiled again and patted Gibbs's arm. "Of course, you can, my dear. So to what do I owe the pleasure of your company? I am assuming that nothing is wrong, despite your out-of-the-ordinary behavior."

Gibbs thought quickly. Just as he was about to say something, although he still wasn't certain what, the door to Autopsy whooshed open.

"Here you are, Dr. Mallard, one cup of - Oh, hello, Special Agent Gibbs. I didn't know that you were . . . Er . . . Um . . . Doctor?" Jimmy Palmer stood just inside the doorway, a cup of tea - a real cup and saucer, china no doubt - in his hand. As Gibbs looked at him, he hastily pushed it behind his back.

"Mr. Palmer!" Ducky said, his tone exasperated. "Now you will have slopped the tea into the saucer. You know I do not like that. Here, give it to me." Ducky moved away from Gibbs, who suddenly realized that his hand had remained on Ducky's shoulder, and limped over to his assistant.

"But, Doctor," Palmer looked at Ducky, concern clear for all to see.

"What is it now, Mr. Palmer?"

Palmer nodded over his shoulder towards Gibbs, who forced himself not to smile. Instead he just watched the pantomime with hidden amusement. "It's Special Agent Gibbs," Palmer hissed under his breath.

Ducky frowned. "Yes, Mr. Palmer, I do know that. I was talking to him before you arrived. Having known Jethro now for, what is it, my dear?" he glanced at Gibbs, the twinkle in his eyes clear. He had no need to ask Gibbs how many years they'd known one another for; Ducky's memory was all but infallible, especially where matters relating to Gibbs were concerned.

"Almost thirty years, Duck," Gibbs said, unnecessarily.

"Indeed. Twenty-nine years, seven months, and an odd number of days to be exact. And although, Mr. Palmer, Jethro has changed in appearance during those years, as have I, I do believe that I am still able to recognize him."

"Yes, I know that, Doctor. It's just . . ." Palmer gestured behind his back.

Ducky moved back to Gibbs and spoke to him; his tone was conspiratorial. "Ah, Mr. Palmer believes that you will be angry with me for breaking your rule about 'no food or drink is to be consumed in Autopsy'. I believe he is trying to 'protect' me from your wrath, Jethro. Do you think he needs to?"

Gibbs smiled briefly and shook his head. "No, Duck. Besides, what's this about 'my rule'?"

"Isn't it?" Ducky's tone was full of false innocence, and again his eyes sparkled.

Gibbs smiled again and shook his head. "Ah, Duck," he murmured, again brushing Ducky's shoulder.

Ducky smiled back at him, before turning back to Palmer. "Well, now that we have that matter settled, Jimmy, please go and fetch me a fresh cup of tea. And don't forget to wash the cup and saucer out," he called, as Palmer, after looking from Gibbs to Ducky, and back again, his mouth slightly open, turned to leave.

"Yes, Doctor. I mean, no, Doctor. Oh," he stopped quickly and turned back around, more tea sloshed into the saucer.

Ducky sighed. "What is it now, Mr. Palmer?"

"I almost forgot. I found this." Palmer held out a fat envelope towards Ducky.

Ducky frowned. "You found it?"

"Yes, Doctor. It's got your name on it. I just presumed someone had -"

"I'll take that," Gibbs said, moving swiftly towards Palmer and snatching the envelope out of his hands.

Palmer, glancing swiftly at Ducky, let go of it, and stuttered, "Yes, Special Agent Gibbs, sir."

"Jethro?" Ducky sounded puzzled.

Gibbs couldn't blame him.

Palmer was again staring at him, as if maybe expecting Gibbs to grow a second head or something.

Gibbs couldn't blame him either. He thought swiftly. "There's no stamp on it, Duck, which means it hasn't been scanned. It could be anything. We don't want to risk another bout of the plague, do we? No, I'll take it and -"

"Mr. Palmer, please go and fetch my tea." Ducky sounded firm; far firmer than he normally did. The order, for that is what it was, sounded strange coming from him. He spoke to Palmer, but his eyes were locked on Gibbs, his stare hard, heavy with confusion, and a hint of concern. "Well, Mr. Palmer, for what are you waiting?"

"Yes, Doctor. Sorry, Doctor." With one more glance at Ducky and then Gibbs, Palmer turned and fled Autopsy, tripping over his feet on the way. The sound of china shattering on the ground was heard inside the room. However, apart from a fleeting half frown, Ducky ignored it.

"Now, Jethro. Perhaps you would kindly tell me what is going on?" He moved nearer to Gibbs, and then nearer still. Tipping his head back a considerable way, he stared unblinkingly up at him.

Gibbs fought the urge to take a step backwards. From time to time Gibbs himself used his height to intimidate people, and he'd even had the odd villain attempt to do it to him before now. However, no one, especially someone six inches shorter than himself, had ever succeeded in doing it to him. He stared down into the blue eyes that were, as always, a barometer of Ducky's emotions. He saw steely determination, confusion, irritation, but most of all concern.

He opened his mouth.

At that second his phone began to burble at him. Silently thanking the God of mobile phones, he flashed what he hoped would pass as a 'sorry' rather than a 'thank God' look at Ducky, and dug the phone out. "Gibbs?" Moments later he clicked it off. "Sorry, Ducky. Got to go. Catch you later."

"Jethro!" Ducky's somewhat indignant voice followed him out of the room.

~~~~~~~

Pushing open the door that led out of the building, Gibbs breathed a sigh of relief, tinged with a lot of guilt. He didn't know whether Ducky had heard any of the brief conversation, his old friend had been close, his hearing was still acute, but . . . Gibbs hoped not. If Ducky had heard, he'd have heard Fornell telling Gibbs that he was going to drop a bottle of 'decent' whiskey off at his house later that day.

It was still freezing outside; he swore it hadn't got any warmer in the three hours since he'd got up. He blew on his hands, trying to keep a degree of feeling in his fingers, turned the collar of his coat further up, put his briefcase on the ground, and forced open the envelope.

Gazing down at the photographs he blinked, rubbed his eyes and looked again. Were some of those positions even possible? He sincerely doubted it. The photographs troubled him. However, not because they were of two men, two naked men, doing things together that Gibbs would have been mortified to have been photographed doing, or thinking of doing. He had never had any issues with any kind of sexuality - except when it featured underage children, or coercion.

The Marines may have frowned on homosexuality, but they frowned on fraternization onboard ship between the male and female crew, and look how many female crewmembers became pregnant during a tour of duty. Homosexuality went on everywhere there were people; hell Gibbs had known several during his life, including onboard ship. So the fact didn't bother him. What bothered him was that someone had sent the photos to Ducky, sent them with the distinct intention of hurting him.

"Dear God!!" he exclaimed, as he reached the final photo. He was going to kill someone, or at least hurt him very, very, very badly; he just hadn't quite decided who. The likeness wasn't even a good one! He'd seen manipulated photos before, and often he'd failed to see that they had been manipulated, until Abby or McGee had worked their magic and pointed it out. But this was so clearly a fake. It was Ducky's face, that part wasn't a manipulation. But Ducky's body was nothing like that. And he should know. As Ducky said, they'd known one another for twenty-nine years and a few months. You don't have the kind of intimate relationship that he had with Ducky, without the occasion arising, at least once whereby you'd seen one another naked. Besides, Ducky wouldn't do that. Would he? Could he even?

Gibbs shook his head and swore. He had to destroy the damned things - now. He didn't even dare risk putting them in his briefcase or coat pocket. He doubted if anyone would touch either, but . . . Well, every time he left the office with his gun, he knew he might not return. And he couldn’t bear the thought that anyone else, especially Ducky, might see these abominations.

Digging under his coat, he pulled out the lighter a good Marine always carried, and one by one burned the photos.

He was just holding the last one, watching the flames eat away at the hideous picture, when a voice spoke.

"Well, I suppose that is one way of getting warm."

"Ducky." He turned around, and stared straight into the blue eyes, that once again contained concern and confusion. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you, my dear."

"Why . . . Ouch!" Gibbs dropped the remaining corner of the final picture and shook his hand.

The next second his hand was caught and held firmly by hands less callused than his own. Warm experienced fingers brushed over the skin, gently but efficiently, as Ducky looked at his hand. To his amazement and surprise the touch made him tingle in a way Ducky's touch had never done before. It was just that he was cold; even though he'd been holding burning paper for a few minutes, winter's icy fingers had kept his hand chilled. Ducky's touch, being warmer, was just accentuating the difference.

Ducky continued to hold his hand, continued to stroke his fingers over Gibbs's own, brushing away any hint of pain. As he rubbed, he looked up at Gibbs, frowning slightly and peering into his eyes. "What is it, my dear?" he finally said.

Captivated by the openly affectionate gaze, Gibbs just stared down into it. Then using his other hand, he brushed a strand of the overlong fringe from Ducky's forehead. "Nothing, Duck. Nothing you need worry about," he added. Then said softly, "Trust me."

Ducky cocked his head slightly, stilled his caress and continued to stare unblinking at Gibbs. Then he shrugged lightly, let go of Gibbs's hand, and said softly, "Always, Jethro. Now, my dear, please go inside and get warm; frostbite is not a pretty thing. Beside, Anthony keeps popping down to Autopsy to see if you've arrived. He's becoming very irritating."

"That's DiNozzo."

"Maybe I should have said 'more irritating than usual'." Ducky smiled.

Gibbs forced himself to match it. Then with a quick squeeze of Ducky's shoulder, he grabbed his briefcase from where it had almost stuck to the ground, put his arm around Ducky's shoulders and ushered his friend inside.

As they were about to part, Ducky to return to Autopsy and Gibbs to go to his office, Ducky touched his arm. "If you feel you need to talk about whatever it is that's bothering you, my dear. You know where I am."

Gibbs opened his mouth to deny that there was anything. But he couldn't. He couldn't look Ducky in the eyes and lie. "Yeah, I do, Duck. Thanks. See you later," he said, smiled briefly, turned on his heel and headed up the stairs, taking them two at a time. He knew that Ducky had remained at the bottom watching him until he'd gone from sight.

FIVE DAYS LATER

"Good morning, Mr. Palmer. I do believe that it is getting colder by the day. I don't recall Washington ever having had such a hard winter before. Of course, I have experienced harsher winters in my - Oh." Dr. Mallard stopped speaking and moved towards his desk. He picked up the thick envelope and turned to Jimmy.

"It was there when I arrived, Doctor. It looks the same as the one Special Agent Gibbs took the other day. Maybe I should take this one to him too." Jimmy moved towards the doctor.

Dr. Mallard shook his head. "No, it's quite all right, thank you, Jimmy." He began to slit open the envelope, using the paperknife Jimmy knew Agent Gibbs had given him. "Sometimes Jethro allows the job to get the better of him. I believe he sees shadows behind every door and inside every - Oh my." He came to an abrupt halt.

Jimmy, who had taken his boss's hat and coat and had moved to hang them up, glanced around. The doctor was standing; staring down at something he held in his hand, something that Jimmy assumed must have been in the envelope. His boss's pale skin had turned even paler, and a faint tremble shook the otherwise static frame. "Dr. Mallard? Dr. Mallard? Are you all right, Doctor?" Jimmy moved slowly towards the other man, one hand held out.

But the only thing that greeted him was silence.

Jimmy was fond of his boss, extremely fond, and his concern at the unusual silence and stillness cut through him, more than the winter winds had done. Some people, Agent DiNozzo for one, thought he was a fool; but he wasn't. With one more swift glance at his beloved doctor, he turned on his heel and ran out of Autopsy, heading for the stairs and the one person he knew could help his boss.

He ran up the stairs, vowing, not for the first time, that he would start to exercise regularly.

Reaching the squad room, he paused to suck in a mouthful of air, before hurrying across the room. Agents DiNozzo and McGee, together with Officer David were gathered around Agent Gibbs's desk; the senior agent was talking to them.

Uncaring of, and unconcerned by, protocol, forgetting for the moment how afraid he was of the Special Agent Gibbs stare, Jimmy spoke over the steady, oft-times harsh sounding, voice. "Agent Gibbs!" For a second no one paid any attention to him, but then they rarely did. Swallowing hard and forcing himself to speak more loudly, Jimmy said forcefully, "Gibbs!"

As one, the three field members of Gibbs's team turned around, clearing Gibbs's line of sight. The dark blue eyes were wide, and surprise hovered in them. The surprise was quickly being replaced by irritation. "Palmer, what the -"

"It's Dr. Mallard." Jimmy spoke quickly.

The irritation vanished. Gibbs stood up and glowered at Jimmy. "What about him?" Steel, touched with heavy concern, was clear in the sharp words.

"He . . . He . . ." Jimmy broke off for a moment. What did he say? He couldn’t say 'he needs you'. It sounded so . . . "There was an envelope on his desk this morning. Like the one you -"

"Stay here." Without another word, Gibbs moved from behind his desk and raced off across the office leaving Jimmy, DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva staring after him.

For a moment there was silence. Then DiNozzo grabbed Jimmy's arm and demanded, "What the hell was all that about, Palmer?"

Was Jimmy imagining it, or did DiNozzo's voice sound just a little panicky?

~~~~~~~

"Go away, Jethro." Ducky's voice was flat. He hadn't turned around when the door had opened. Nor had Gibbs said anything.

Just for a moment, Gibbs came to a halt. He looked at his oldest and dearest friend. Ducky was trembling and seemed to have shrunk several inches. Gibbs swore silently, again wishing to go up to the squad room and hurt someone - very badly.

He took a step towards the silent figure.

Then another.

"I said go away, Gibbs." This time Ducky's voice had an edge to it. Then he added, more softly, "Please."

Gibbs took another two steps, coming to a halt behind Ducky. He was close enough to touch, but for the moment he didn't. Over Ducky's shoulder he could see the opened envelope and the white backs of several, what he presumed to be, photographs.

For a moment he clenched his fists and took several deep breaths, desperately trying to compose himself. He mustn't let any hint of the anger and disgust show in his voice. Because Ducky would read both as being directed at him, rather than the bastards Gibbs would take apart with his bare hands.

When he was certain he could speak, he did so. "I know," was all he said.

The trembling stopped. Ducky froze, and the faintest of sounds, too low for Gibbs to be certain there had been one, left the shrunken body.

When the quivering began again, it had increased considerably. Acting now on pure instinct, an instinct honed from twenty-nine years, Gibbs took two more steps, to the side and forwards, and pulled Ducky into his arms.

For a second or two, Ducky fought the embrace, but then he sank into it, his head coming to rest just below Gibbs's shoulder. As he gripped Gibbs, the photographs he'd been holding fluttered to the floor. Gibbs barely spared them a glance; but what he saw was enough. This time it wasn't one photograph of Ducky that had been manipulated; this time it was more.

Resting his chin on Ducky's head, as he simply held his friend in a tight embrace, Gibbs glanced over Ducky to his desk. There, half hidden by a photograph, was a note, written in large block capitals, so large that Jethro could easily read it:

RESIGN, YOU PERVERT.
OR COPIES OF THESE WILL
APPEAR ON THE STAFF NOTICE BOARD.

Gibbs had always hated blackmailers, but now his feeling went beyond hatred.

He continued to hold Ducky, not saying anything, just hoping the fierce embrace would say enough. Ducky continued to tremble in the hold; whether he was crying or not, Gibbs couldn't tell - but he doubted it. He suspected Ducky was too shocked, too hurt to cry, just yet.

Suddenly, as though someone had flicked a switch, the quivering stopped, and Ducky raised his head and tried to pull away. In the blue gaze Gibbs read fear. He loosened his grip slightly, not wishing to hurt Ducky who had now begun to struggle.

"Let me go, Jethro," Ducky's voice contained the same terror that appeared in his eyes.

Gibbs didn't. "Why, Duck?"

"What if someone comes in? Please, Jethro."

Gibbs shrugged. "What if they do?"

"But Jethro. You said . . ."

"That I knew. Yeah. I did. And I do."

"Then you must let me go. Jethro."

Gibbs sighed, and finally, in order to calm his friend, did let the embrace cease. However, he kept on hand firmly affixed to Ducky's shoulder.

Ducky stared up at him, pain and ice now filling the gaze. Gibbs shifted his position slightly. "I wish to tender my resignation, Special Agent Gibbs."

"Tough." Gibbs met the chill with steel.

Ducky's eyes widened; the shock was evident. Under any other circumstances, Gibbs would have laughed. "It's what the bastards want, Duck. And the last thing we're giving them."

"But, Jethro -"

"You know you can't give into blackmailers, Duck."

"Jethro. I can't fight this. I can't, my - I can't."

"Yes, you can, Duck." Now Gibbs gripped Ducky's other shoulder as well.

"Jethro. I'm too old for this."

"Rubbish. You're not old, Duck."

"That's a matter of opinion."

Gibbs shrugged. "Yeah, well, mine's the right one." For a second a flash of gentle amusement passed through Ducky's eyes. He took a silent breath. "Besides, if you go, they'll think you're ashamed. And you aren't."

"Aren't I?" Ducky's voice was soft.

"No." Gibbs's was firm.

Then Ducky frowned. "Wait a moment, Jethro, you said you knew. How?"

Damn. Gibbs shrugged, glanced away from the steady gaze, while appearing not to, mentally crossed his fingers and said, in what he hoped was a nonchalant tone, "I am an investigator, Duck. I do know people."

"For how long?"

For a split second, Gibbs was silent. The other comment hadn't been a lie, as such. But what he said now would be, and that would violate one of their sacred, albeit unspoken 'rules'. No, it won't. You've always known. You've just never wanted to admit it. And it was true; he guessed he had always 'known', or at least suspected. The signs were all there, Ducky had never married, and for all his quiet courtesy with the ladies, and his stories about past lovers, Gibbs had never actually seen him with a woman - Dr. Whatshername excepted.

"A while," he said softly. "And it's never mattered to me, Duck. Never. Do you hear me? Never."

The unblinking, pale gaze just held his own. Then Ducky said simply, "Thank you, my dear. However, whilst it might not bother you, the rest of our colleagues are unlikely to be so accommodating."

"It's an equal opportunities organization, Duck. We don’t discriminate," Gibbs said, paraphrasing what DiNozzo had said a few days earlier.

Ducky made a soft noise. "Words, Jethro. Just fine words."

"I'll sort it, Duck."

"And how are you going to do that, my dear? I really do not relish the idea of visiting you in prison."

Gibbs offered a half-smile. "No violence, well, not much," he amended.

"None." Ducky was firm.

"Okay. Okay. None. But I will sort it, Duck. I promise. Just trust me."

"I always have, my dear. I cannot foresee any reason that would change."

"Now give me these. I'll destroy them."

"Not with your lighter again, Jethro. I assume that is what you were burning a few days ago?"

"Yeah. Sorry. I'd hoped . . . " He broke off and shrugged. "Guess it was stupid of me. I just didn't . . . "

"I know. And I thank you. However, given the shock I must have given Mr. Palmer and knowing him as I do, presumably the rest of the team too, it might have been better had you told me, Jethro. But -"

"Hindsight's a great tool, Duck." Gibbs finally let go of Ducky's shoulder and began to gather up the photos. "Is this the lot?"

"Oh, yes." Ducky was silent as he watched Gibbs pick everything up. "Jethro," he voice was low.

"Yeah, Duck."

"These photographs, they -"

"Aren't you? Yeah, know that, Duck."

"Nor do I . . . " Ducky broke off and glanced away. "It isn't like the photos make it out to be. Or at least it doesn't have to be. It can be . . . " He stopped again and just shook his head, seemingly lost for words.

Gibbs squeezed his shoulder again. And said grimly, "I know, Duck. I know."

"I am not ashamed of what I am, Jethro."

"I know, Duck."

"It's just . . . I never told you how my leg was damaged, did I?" Ducky spoke softly. "Oh, don't look like that. It was over forty years ago; I suspect that even if I bumped into those responsible today, I wouldn't recognize them. So there is nothing you can do. But it did teach me that there are some things that are safer kept to oneself."

"Even from your closest friend?" Gibbs silently cursed his tone. "Sorry, Duck," he said swiftly, touching Ducky's shoulder.

Ducky smiled gently. "Don't be, Jethro. You are correct, I should have told you, rather than letting you find out. There just never seemed an appropriate time. It isn't something that comes up in conversation. It was never a deliberate omission. Just . . ." He broke off and shrugged. Then a frown creased his face and he took a step nearer to Gibbs, tipped his head back and looked up at Gibbs. "Are you certain it doesn't bother you, Jethro?"

"More than certain, Duck. You're not the first gay friend I've had. You don't doubt me, do you?"

"No, my dear," Ducky said softly. "I never could."

"Good. Now are you okay? Stupid question, ignore it."

Ducky smiled slightly. "I will be, Jethro. Thank you."

Gibbs squeezed his shoulder. "Good. I'll sort it, Duck. Promise."

"I know. But just remember your other promise. No violence."

"Sure, Duck."

"Jethro." Ducky stared firmly at him.

"I won't, Duck. Honest. I’d better go and see what the hell the kids have been doing. I'll tell Palmer to bring you a nice cup of tea."

Ducky smiled again. "Thank you, Jethro."

Gibbs squeezed Ducky's shoulder once more, pushed the envelope containing the hideous photos into his jacket pocket, and left Ducky.

Deciding that whatever Ducky had said, his lighter was the safest way of dealing with the abominations, he braved the icy wind and burned them. The note, however, he kept.

Pausing long enough to get himself a coffee in the hope it might help warm him up, he strode through the squad room, bypassing his team who had all returned to their own desks. Palmer was perched on the very edge of the chair that stood behind the spare desk. Gibbs stopped to speak to him, merely telling him to take Ducky a cup of tea. Then he crossed over to the other side of the office.

"Hey, Gibbs, looking for someone?" Frank Anderson glanced up questioningly.

"Stephens and Jameson."

"Out, for the rest of the day. Regulation firearm update course. They left about half an hour ago. Can I help?"

"No thanks, Anderson. Just need to see them about something."

"From the look on your face, it isn't to tell them they've won the Lottery. What they do, knock your coffee over or something?"

"Yeah, something like that." Gibbs nodded to Anderson and went back to his own desk and team. He'd deal with Agents Stephens and Jameson tomorrow.

Part Two
Tags: !creator: nakeisha, challenge 07, fiction
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