TITLE: Is Love Enough?
AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship.
SUMMARY: Ducky tells Jethro he can not longer be his lover.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
With thanks to maubast for the beta.
"I said no, Jethro." Ducky's voice was quiet, but firm. His eyes, always soft and full of affection when they looked at his lover, held a determination in them that Jethro hadn't seen before.
"I'm sorry, my dear. But I cannot do it any longer."
Jethro stared at his friend. "But, Ducky. You always said -"
"I know I did. But I can't. And I won't." The pale eyes hardened slightly, and Ducky's tone was edged with a hint of steel.
"But I love you."
"Yes, dearest, I know." Ducky now sounded almost sad.
"And you love me."
"Yes." The simple word conveyed far more than any lengthy speech might have done.
"Well then, isn't that what counts?"
"Sometimes, Jethro, love alone isn't enough."
"You telling me to choose?" Jethro stood up and strode across the room. His own voice hardened. He'd never expected this from Ducky.
"Yes, you are. You're telling me that if I date . . ." Jethro came to a sudden stop, and dug around
in his mind for a name.
"Her name is Hazel." Ducky sounded both amused and even sadder.
"I knew that. Sorry," Jethro added, as the blue eyes widened with shock at the obvious lie. "Okay, I'd forgotten for the moment. But her name isn't important. What is, is that you're telling me that if I date Hazel, then that's it, we're over. You are making me choose."
A myriad of emotions flashed over Ducky's face and through his eyes as he stared at Jethro. The tender, fond affection still remained in the blue eyes, but they were now far sadder than Jethro had ever seen them. "No, dearest. That is not what I am saying."
Jethro felt ice begin to replace the blood in his veins. At the same time his skin began to feel as if it was burning, and as though something was beginning to burrow through it. "Then just what are you saying, Duck?" he asked, hoping his voice sounded more assured to Ducky than it did to him.
The tender, sorrowful look remained. When Ducky spoke, his voice was soft, gentle and full of pain, but it was also filled with the determination Jethro had seen on his beloved's face earlier. "Jethro, you are fifty-two years old. I am sixty-four. We aren't teenagers anymore. I've known you and loved you for nearly three decades. I've been your lover for almost as long. And for all those years, I am ashamed to say, I have been the equivalent of 'the other woman'. I simply cannot do it any longer. Have you ever considered that I just might have some pride? I know it must be a hard thing to believe, but I do have some."
"Duck. Don't say that. Don't belittle yourself." Jethro crossed back to the sofa and sat down next to Ducky. He touched his shoulder, before gently caressing Ducky's cheek. "I love you, Duck," he said softly. "I do."
Ducky leaned into the caress for a moment, before pulling back slightly. He didn't move away completely, he was still touching Jethro, but to Jethro it seemed like an enormous crater had opened between them. A gulf that he feared could not be breached.
"I know you do, Jethro my dear. I've always known. You don't need to convince me. I love you too. I always shall. I have never cared for anyone in the way I love you, and I know I never shall. And it's partly this depth of love that is finally making me stand firm. I can no longer be your lover, Jethro."
Jethro blinked and shook his head, trying to clear it. He could hardly believe that he'd heard Ducky correctly. For a moment he was completely lost for words. Knowing though that he had to say something, he fell back on normality. "Oh, Duck." Now Jethro slipped his arm around Ducky's shoulders and tugged gently. He half expected to be met with resistance. But after a fleeting second Ducky sighed, and let his head come to rest on Jethro's shoulder. "Why?" Jethro whispered, unable to speak aloud as he knew his voice would break.
"Each time you do it, Jethro, it hurts more and more. It's strange in a way, as I didn't think it could hurt any more than the four marriages, but it does. Although at least I don't have the guilt associated with standing by your side and hearing you take vows I know, we both know, that you won't be keeping. Maybe it is just my getting older, seeing Mother slip further away from me."
"You're not old, Duck." Again Jethro clung to something concrete.
"Oh, Jethro." Ducky sounded exasperated. "Don't let's pretend. I am very near to retirement age. You can't ignore the fact. It won't just go away. I could die tomorrow."
"Don't!" Jethro gripped Ducky's shoulder tightly; so fiercely he felt his old friend flinch. "Sorry," he murmured, brushing his lips through Ducky's hair. Ducky sighed.
They sat in silence for a moment or two. Jethro's gut and thoughts were churning. He couldn't remember ever feeling this awful, not even after he had been brought the news of Shannon and Kelly's deaths. Not even when first one, then two, then three further marriages fell apart. Not even when he received Jenn's 'Dear John,' letter. But then he'd had Ducky there on all of those, and all other, occasions.
The only time he had come even close to feeling the panic and sense of loss he felt now, was when Ducky had been abducted from under Kate's nose. When he'd sat in the office and tried to make her feel better by telling her it was his fault - which it was. When he'd led his team, to find and rescue Ducky. Fearing all the time that while he felt certain they'd find him, it wouldn't necessarily be a rescue.
He made a decision. "Fine. I'll -" Ducky's lips on his own silenced him. He met the kiss and returned it; taking the love it offered and giving it back. He sank into the familiar feelings and embrace, accepting the beauty, the almost chasteness of the well-known mouth; the one he knew better than any other. He drank in the scent he'd lived with for nearly three decades, now, as always, all the clearer as he tasted it. Hands, his body knew as well as they knew his own, held his face, and surgeon's fingers lightly caressed his cheeks as Ducky continued to kiss him.
When Ducky finally took his mouth from Jethro's, Jethro was feeling light-headed, and he gasped in some much needed oxygen. He looked at Ducky and immediately a sense of wariness raced through his body.
Nearly thirty years had brought with them a kind of sixth-sense, a knowledge of one another than went beyond the mere physical. Beyond words. Beyond things they had shared. He didn't have a name for it. He couldn't be sure that anyone would believe him if he told them about the bond. But nonetheless it existed.
And he knew it did in reverse too. Ducky had proven that too many times for it not to be the case. Jethro had lost count of the number of times he'd entered Autopsy and been greeted by name by Ducky, who was engrossed in dissecting another body, or indeed in the middle of another conversation, and had his back to the door. And so often the way Ducky spoke to him, would have sounded as though Jethro had merely popped out for a minute before returning to continue a conversation.
"You're going home, aren't you?" It was an unnecessary question.
Ducky nodded. "Yes."
"Haven't you been listening to me, Jethro?" Ducky sounded mildly irritated.
"Of course, I have. But we need to talk about this. You can't just -"
Ducky put his fingers to Jethro's lips. "Don't, my dear. Don't make it any harder for me, for us, than it already is."
A cornered lion always strikes back. Jethro opened his mouth to do just that. To throw at Ducky, 'Is it really hard that for you? If it were, you wouldn't be doing it.' Then he saw clearly his dearest friend's face. He saw Ducky's eyes - always the barometer of Ducky's feelings. He couldn't prevent the half-swallowed gasp of shock when he saw the naked pain in them.
Jethro had always believed that he'd seen Ducky suffering before: each time Jethro had asked him to be his best man; when the news that his godson, whom he always referred to as 'my nephew', had been killed; when he'd finished the autopsy on Kate; when he had admitted that the time would shortly come when he would have to put his mother into a home; other times too. But he hadn't. He'd seen pain and loss and distress and agony, but they paled into insignificance at the anguish and torment that now showed in the clear, blue gaze.
He reached out. "Duck?"
"I'm sorry, Jethro," was all Ducky said.
"Please, Ducky. I'll give them all up. I promise. Have I ever broken a promise to you? Have I ever lied to you?" Suddenly Jethro began to fight with whatever he had.
"No. You haven't. But it's still no, Jethro."
"Because I'll never put you in the position when you might have to lie to me. Might have to break a promise."
"And you think I would?" Jethro sounded bitter; but it was towards himself, not Ducky. What evidence did Ducky had to prove the Jethro kept his promises? Very little.
Ducky sighed softly. "No, my dear. Actually, I believe that you would keep your promise to me. But I fear that by doing so it would make you unhappy. And that in time you would come to resent me, hate me even."
"I could never hate you, Duck." Once more Jethro's voice became a mere whisper.
"Oh, Jethro," was all Ducky said; again he touched Jethro's face.
Desperate to keep Ducky there, suddenly hopeful that his resolve may be weakening, certain that
it wasn't really what Ducky wanted to do, Jethro hunted for something, anything, to say. "How did you know I was going to say I'd give them up? Earlier, when you kissed me to silence me."
Ducky chuckled softly and pure love radiated from his gaze. "Ah, Jethro my dear. By the same method that you knew I was going home. You're, I hesitate to use the word 'scared' in respect of anything you could feel, but -"
"Oh, I've been frightened, Duck," Jethro whispered. He tightened his grip on Ducky's arm, as once more the image of Ducky lying strapped to a table with a needle sticking into his neck and blood seeping into a trough, flashed into his mind. Only this time, like so many other times, their arrival was four minutes later than it had been, and the blood that flowed wasn't the beginning of the draining of his oldest friend's body, but the ending of it.
Ducky touched his face and slipped his hand into Jethro's. The open compassion, understanding and caring that showed on Ducky's face, told Jethro that his belief in their shared sixth-sense had once more proven to be accurate. "Go to bed, dearest. Or go and work on your boat."
Jethro suddenly realized he had to let Ducky leave. There was nothing more he could say. Not now. Not that would mean anything.
He stood up and reached down to offer Ducky his hand to help him to his feet. Ducky had been sitting in the same position for too long, and Jethro knew that the long-ago damaged leg would have set. The offer was accepted. Jethro tugged his lover to his feet and into a loose embrace.
"Jethro. I will still be your friend. Even if I am not your lover, I will always be there for you."
Jethro could barely speak. Managing an, "Oh, Duck," he made the loose embrace fiercer, and held on tightly.
Ducky stayed in his arms for several minutes before gently pulling back. "Now, dearest, give me my hat and coat and see me to the door. And, Jethro, please lock the door after me."
Jethro did everything Ducky asked.
Then he grabbed a bottle of what Tobias called gut rot and spent the night drinking it and staring at his boat.
As the first rays of sunlight reached his small basement window, he realized that his head was aching - badly.
He welcomed the pain.
He deserved it.
The next two weeks seemed incredibly strange to Gibbs. On the one hand, Ducky was his normal, affable, rambling, story-telling self. On the other hand the last word Gibbs would use to describe his closest friend was 'normal'. However, he was certain that no one else would recognize the differences in Ducky.
His eyes still softened with affection whenever he looked at Gibbs; his voice became more intimate when he spoke to him; he still let Gibbs finish his stories for him (when Gibbs had the want to do so); he still went out of his way to see and talk to Gibbs; and he still called him 'Jethro'. Yes, on the face of it, Ducky was still very much 'Ducky'. No, nothing had changed between the old friends, at least not that anyone else would have noticed.
However, for someone who had known and loved Ducky for nearly three decades, the changes couldn't have been clearer than if they'd jumped to their feet and sung the Star Spangled Banner.
Yes, Ducky's eyes softened with affection, as they always did. However, as well as the affection, was the clear pain and sense of loss that Ducky was feeling, together with a determination not to change his mind.
His voice, although still intimate when he spoke to Gibbs, had a hitherto unheard edge to it, and like his eyes contained the hurt he was clearly feeling.
He also, to Gibbs's eyes looked more tired, more ashen, and for the first time since Gibbs had met him, he actually looked his age, plus a few years. And for the first time ever around Gibbs, Ducky had begun to raise a shield, both in his eyes and around himself.
Despite his concern for Ducky, Gibbs felt utterly helpless. It was as though he'd been handcuffed with his own cuffs and the key had been taken away. He respected Ducky deeply, and for that reason alone he knew he couldn't say anything. If a change was to come in their new relationship, it could only be at Ducky's hands.
Hurting himself, but with no one to whom he could turn, Gibbs took the other option and threw himself even harder into his work. He crammed even more hours into his already twenty-six hour day, and spending even more of them at the office. He arrived before anyone else and left long after even the most vigilant NCIS Agent had gone home. When he wasn't at work or grabbing the few hours sleep even he needed in order to function safely, he was ensconced in his basement with a bottle of gut rot and his boat.
He had taken Hazel out, despite knowing it would be a disaster even before the evening had begun. Irrationally blaming her for Ducky leaving him, but blaming himself even more, he was less than a good dinner companion. Realizing from his complete lack of physical or emotional reaction as she pressed herself into his arms and kissed him, that the chances of him even being able to remotely satisfy her or himself, he played the gentleman and left her, clearly very frustrated and angry at her door. At least she was one less thing he'd have to worry about; she wouldn't be accepting a second date with him, even if he were willing to offer.
It was close to midnight and he had planned to put in at least another two hours work before going home. Sitting at his desk, the lighting in the office turned down low, Gibbs began to plough his way through DiNozzo's latest report.
"Still here, Jethro?"
Only years of training prevented him from letting the surprise he felt show. Damn, he must be either more in need of sleep than he'd thought, or more caught up in his depression than he'd realized, as Jenn Shepard had arrived right at his desk without him even being aware of her presence. And given the fact that, as always, she smelled as though she'd bathed in the heavy perfume she'd always favored, that in itself was amazing.
He wondered how he'd ever been able to be so intimate with her without being suffocated by the over-powering scent, which always increased tenfold when they did have sex. He bit back a sarcastic reply and settled for, "Yeah, I've got several reports to check."
She smiled, and his hackles immediately rose; he recognized the look. "Why don't you leave them for tonight, Jethro? And instead join me for a late supper." She smiled again, and this time fluttered her eyelashes.
He forced himself to remain civil. "Sorry, Director Shepard, but I really do need to get these out of the way before tomorrow." He twitched his lips upwards.
"'Director Shepard,' that's a little formal isn't is, Jethro?" She touched her hair, and he wondered whether now would be the right time to tell her that an elfin haircut looked ridiculous on a woman of her age. He decided it wasn't.
"I'm only doing what you told me to. 'It's Director Shepard or ma'am,' I seem to remember you telling me."
"But we're alone now, Jethro."
He shrugged. "Doesn't matter. I always called Tom Morrow 'Director Morrow', 'Director' or 'Sir', it's time I treated you with the same courtesy.
"Yes, but you and Tom Morrow hadn't . . ." She trailed off, and again fluttered her eyelashes and smiled seductively. Then she bent forward, getting even closer to him, and letting another waft of her perfume hit him. The nauseating quality of it had increased, meaning her temperature had too, which only meant one thing. Gibbs wasn't surprised by her next words. "In fact why don't we just skip supper, Jethro, and go to my apartment? Maybe it is time we -"
"And repeat the biggest mistake of my life? No thanks, Jenn." The words were out before Gibbs really thought about them.
As her eyes widened then hardened, he groaned silently. "You really are a bastard aren't you, Jethro Gibbs?" She began to turn.
Realizing that antagonizing the Director of NCIS, no matter how good it made him feel, really wasn't a good idea for himself or his team, Gibbs reacted quickly. He caught her hand; it was trembling slightly with obvious suppressed anger. "I'm sorry, Jenn," he said, hoping he sounded apologetic. "That came out wrong."
"Did it?" She snapped the words, but a minute hint of hesitation and hope hovered in her tone.
He stood up, remaining behind his desk so not as to use his height to intimidate her, and patted her hand with his free one. "Yes, it did, Jenn. I don't regret our affair." He did, but now was a good time to lie, and lie convincingly. It was something he had become amazingly adept at in both his personal and professional life over the years. If he were being honest with himself, he wasn't proud of the former. "Not at all," he added for good measure, not entirely sure whom he hated more at that moment: Jenn Shepard or himself. "But it was a mistake; we both know that. Not least because I was your boss. Strictly speaking I abused my position."
"And now I'm yours. Are you sure that's not the problem, Jethro? You don't like the new balance of power? You always did like to, shall we say, dominate, didn't you?" An edge of bitterness remained, but acceptance, resignation and amusement now warred with it. "You know, most people might have said it was wrong because you were married. But that never did bother you, did it? Tell me, did you ever mean the three lots of vows you took?"
Gibbs kept his face impassive and his body language under control. She couldn't know? Could she? Surely not? Admittedly once during one of their long stake-outs, when they were determined to keep their hands and mouths off of one another, and were talking about their coworkers, she did, seemingly out of the blue, say, 'You do realize that Ducky's in love with you, don’t you?' Lady luck had clearly been watching out for Gibbs on that day, as before he could answer, the person they were waiting for appeared and had attempted to make a run for it, and Jenn had ended up with a bullet through her thigh. When Gibbs had gone to visit her in the hospital, she made no reference to the conversation they'd been having, and had never even hinted at anything since.
Not waiting for him to answer, maybe not wanting to hear the answer, or maybe not needing to, she smiled and said, "Oh, well. You're right of course, Jethro. But then you always were. I think I hated you for that, and I also think that part of me still does. Goodnight, Jethro. Don't worry, I won't make the same mistake again."
As she turned and walked away, Gibbs knew that she was referring to flirting with him now, not their affair. As uncomfortable as the conversation had been, he decided that if it meant Jenn would stop fluttering her eyelashes at him and saying, 'Oh, Jethro, what shall I do?' every time there was a decision to be made, it had been worth it.
Deciding that he'd had enough after all, Gibbs cleared his desk, shrugged into his overcoat, grabbed his briefcase, turned off his desk lamp, and left the building.
Driving home, or rather back to his house - the word 'home' had lost its meaning over the last two weeks - Gibbs allowed himself to realize just how much he missed Ducky. It wasn't the sex, although he missed that too, it was the intimacy; the lovemaking that they shared whether they actually had sex or not.
Theirs, even when he'd been a young brash Marine in his twenties, and Ducky a vigorous doctor in his thirties, had never been an exceptionally adventurous or overly energetic sexual relationship.
In fact the first time Gibbs had ventured into bed with Ducky, he'd been somewhat surprised by how gentle their lovemaking had been. Ducky had chuckled when Gibbs had finally confessed his surprise, asking him whether he was rough with his lady friends. Upon Gibbs's fervent and rather indignant denial, Ducky had enquired as to why Gibbs thought things should be different just because he was making love with another man. Gibbs hadn't had an answer, other than 'that was what he'd heard/assumed,' which had led to a 'never believe everything you are told,' from Ducky. It had set the tone of their entire physical relationship.
Besides, as Ducky said, neither of them were exactly young anymore, and although both men still enjoyed making love, more often than not, these days, it tended to be about kissing, caressing, holding and being together, rather than achieving an orgasm every time they slept together. The realization that he had nothing to prove and there were no expectations to be met, when he slept with Ducky, always had been a source of comfort in Gibbs's otherwise often less than reassuring world.
He missed Ducky's arms around him; he missed his lips on his. Hell, he even missed the damn stories he knew backwards, forwards and sideways - even if Ducky did embellish them from time to time to keep Gibbs from getting bored, or that was what his old friend told him. Yes, he heard the stories at the office, but it wasn't the same; they were told for anyone who cared to listen, rather than just for Gibbs.
For a moment or two, Gibbs toyed with the idea of going to see Ducky, maybe making the pretence of wanting to see his mother, or at least calling him. But like all the other times he'd considered it, at least four times every day, during the past two weeks, his respect for Ducky, together with the deep love he had for him, won out.
"You once told me that you were worried that you loved me too much, Duck. I'm beginning to see what you meant," he said, pulling up outside his dark and inevitably cold and lonely house. "That's it, Jethro, talk to yourself, why don't you? You'll be talking to your boat next, and then before you know, the corpses in Ducky's care."
TWO WEEKS LATER
"You tell him, Tony. You are, as you keep telling us, the senior field agent."
"Yes, but he likes you more, Probie."
"No, he doesn't."
"Ziva should tell him. She's a girl after all; they're good at those kinds of things. Ouch! That hurt. Have you been taken lessons from Gibbs?"
Ducky stood inside Autopsy listening to the conversation between the field members of Jethro's team. He assumed that as they were hovering outside his door that the 'he' to whom they referred was himself, rather than Jethro, otherwise, why were they there? He supposed that it could be Jimmy, but he dismissed that idea as soon as it had entered his mind.
As the three 'children' continued to bicker, he took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. He was too tired, or rather he was no longer tired and that worried him. He had also been experiencing a nagging feeling all morning; the kind of twitch and itch that never boded well, and wouldn't go away. It had intensified a few hours earlier, and he'd been almost waiting for the phone to ring, and yet fearing that it would. But it hadn't. So telling himself that it was just his over-wrought and over-exhausted imagination playing tricks with him, he'd busied himself with paperwork, and had tried to push the feeling that something somewhere was not well.
It was getting more and more difficult seeing Jethro every day and not being able to share and connect with him. For the first time ever, Ducky was giving serious consideration to retirement. If not for his own sake, then for Jethro's, who was clearly - to Ducky's eyes anyway - suffering as much, if not more, than Ducky was.
Even Ducky's mother had noticed that all was not well with her son. More than once she had asked him why 'dear Jethro' had stopped dropping round, and enquiring as to whether they'd 'had a fight?' Adding if they had, when were they going to make up because she was worried that the 'use by' date on the coffee Jethro drank in the mornings might expire.
Ducky had almost run out of excuses for Jethro's continued absence. And although he knew that his mother knew - or at least had known before he became uncertain whether she truly knew anything anymore - the true nature of his relationship with Jethro, he didn't feel able or willing to tell her what had happened. If he was honest it wasn't that he feared she wouldn't understand, sometimes he felt her senility was maybe not as advanced as she liked to pretend, but because he feared that she'd tell him to stop being such a fool, and to go back to Jethro. Sometimes he thought his mother actually preferred Jethro to her own son.
He sighed, rubbed his eyes once more, and put his glasses back on. The three were still in a huddle outside the door, and one by one they kept shooting glances his way. Tired now of their childishness, but then he had been becoming more easily and quickly irritated over the last month, Ducky limped to the door. He enjoyed the flash of pleasure that raced through him as they all jumped as it whooshed open; he folded his arms and glared at them. "Well?"
He frowned and gritted his teeth. "I'm waiting." When all they did was look at one another again, he added, "For one of you to tell me what it is you wish to tell me. I assume that the 'he' you mentioned does refer to me?"
They glanced at one another. His patience suddenly reached the end of its tether, and without really meaning to Ducky snapped at them. "Oh, really. If you insist on playing games, kindly go and find somewhere else to play them. Tell me what it is you wish to say, or do I need to call Jethro and have him -" He came to a halt as the sensation he'd been feeling earlier went into overdrive when he spoke Jethro's name. Glancing at Tony, he said quietly, "Where is Jethro?"
Casting one more glance at the others, Tony said quickly, "Now don't worry, Ducky, it's nothing serious. Well, not that serious."
"Sorry. Gibbs was shot earlier this morning."
Pulling the cloak that had allowed him to distance himself from Jethro more tightly around him, Ducky took another step forward, tipped his head back and stared at Tony. He opened his mouth to ask the obvious question, but couldn't. For the first time in his life, he felt true fear.
"It's all right, Ducky. He's alive," Tony's voice seemed to come from a great distance. "He's fine really."
"Where is he?"
"We were Norfolk, so they took him to Sentara. He's still there. But he's fine."
"Tony, doctors do not keep people in hospital if they are 'fine'."
"Well, he will be. He was hit in the head, side and shoulder, nothing too bad. The head wound was a graze more than anything. But because he was unconscious for a while, and then concussed when he came round, they're keeping him there for observation. He'll be fine." He smiled at Ducky.
Ducky had a sudden flash of himself performing an autopsy on one Anthony DiNozzo - while he was still alive! If the word 'fine' came out of his mouth one more time, Ducky's vision just might come true.
"You know Gibbs, he was complaining about being kept there, said he could go home, that had been shot before. But you know how careful these doctors are."
"Oh, yes, Tony. I'm sure that is what it was. They merely wanted the pleasure of Gibbs's company for a few more hours. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the blood transfusion they had to give him!"
"What? Ducky's a doctor, for heaven's sake, Tony. He's used to blood and hospitals and injuries. He is hardly going to believe that a hospital kept a patient who was 'fine'."
Tony opened his mouth to no doubt retort.
Ducky beat him to it. "What happened?" he said quietly.
"Er, I'm afraid it was my fault, Ducky."
Ducky turned to a red-faced McGee. "Your fault, Timothy?"
"Kind of, yes. My gun jammed. Gibbs pushed me out of the way just as the two men we were chasing fired at me. He got one of them too, just before he fell. I thought . . . Just for a moment. There was so much blood. Oh, Ducky. I'm sorry. It's my fault."
"It wasn't your fault, McGee," Tony said, his tone oddly patient. "I keep telling you that. You tell him, Ducky."
"Tony is quite right, Timothy. It wasn't your fault. Guns do jam, even the ones you carry, and they are meant to be some of the best. Jethro won't blame you."
"He doesn't. He told him that too. But McGee won't listen, will you, Probie?" Tony clapped McGee on the shoulder. Again a hint of affection, rather than the usual irritation or teasing, was present in Tony's voice.
"But the blood."
"Head wounds do bleed very profusely, Timothy," Ducky said, patting McGee's other arm.
"I told him that too," Tony said. "Hey, Ducky, you want me to drive you to see Gibbs?"
Ducky turned his attention to Tony. "No thank you, Tony. I may be old, but I'm not yet incapable. I'll drive myself."
"If you're sure . . ."
"Yes. Besides, as senior field agent, in fact senior agent in Jethro's absence, you, Tony, have reports to write."
"And others to check." Ziva beamed.
Tony groaned and repeated, "If you're sure, Ducky."
Ducky nodded, forced a smile at Jethro's team, and turned to go back into Autopsy. The sound of Tony's voice stopped him. "Hey, Ducky?" He glanced back. "You're not old." The words were almost an exact copy of what Jethro had said to him. Even the tone, while lacking in the special fondness Jethro's always held when he spoke to Ducky, was similar. For some reason it both chilled and warmed Ducky, as nothing else had for over a month.
As the door leading into Autopsy swished open, he heard Tony's loud, "Come along, team." A half glance saw him ushering a bemused Ziva and a still red McGee into the elevator.
"I'd like to see Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, please," Ducky said, his tone firm.
"And you are?" A redheaded nurse, with sparkling green eyes looked up at Ducky from where she sat behind a desk,
"As well as being his doctor, friend, and next of kin, I also work with him at NCIS." Ducky flipped open his identification, and flashed it quickly at the young woman, hoping that she wasn't swift enough to catch the 'Medical Examiner' that was emblazoned across it.
For a half second he considered throwing 'lover' into the mix. However, strictly speaking that was currently an untruth, unlike the other offerings; at least he assumed Jethro still had him listed as 'next of kin'. 'Doctor' was only pushing the boundaries of the truth a little; Jethro didn't have another doctor. He refused point blank to do so, stating why should he waste time and money when he had one of his very own. Even Ducky's rational argument that it wasn't his money, NCIS covered all medical bills, Jethro was insistent. Fortunately, apart from his work related injuries which tended to involve hospital treatment, and those caused by a frying pan, a seven-iron and a baseball bat, Jethro had very little call for the services of a doctor, thus Ducky had stopped arguing.
"Oh, you must be Doctor Mallard. Agent Gibbs said to expect you." She rose elegantly to her feet and smiled - down - at Ducky.
He pulled his hat off and smiled back. "How is he?"
"Oh, he's -"
"Please don’t say 'fine'."
She smiled again. "I was going to say as comfortable as can be expected. He lost quite a lot of blood, although his wounds aren't particularly serious. The head wound is minor; the bullet merely grazed his scalp. The bullet he took in his side only tore through soft tissue, so there has been no damage to his organs. The bullet that hit him in the shoulder, managed to find the exact place he'd taken a bullet before, and thus got lodged in the scar tissue, and as such wasn't easy to remove. And he's also concussed, we believe more than he's letting on. But he will," she paused, "make a full recovery. He's rather irritable at the moment, and keeps insisting that we release him, despite the fact that he is still receiving blood to make up for the loss. If you have any influence over him at all, Doctor Mallard, as either his doctor or friend, could you please try to convince him to accept some pain medication? He's clearly in quite a lot of discomfort, but is refusing any attempts to help him."
"That sounds like Jethro. May I offer my apologies on his behalf?"
Her lips twitched, and once more a smile lit up her face; she was very beautiful - just the type for whom Jethro might fall. Ducky pushed that thought away. "He's not the worst patient we've had, not by a long way. And I can understand his irritation. A fit, energetic man like he is doesn't like to be sick, or admit to any kind of weakness."
"No," Ducky said. "He doesn't. If I might see him now, please?" The limits of his chivalry just about reached, Ducky nonetheless forced himself to remain pleasant.
"Yes, of course. He's down there, the third room on the left. Number 212."
"Thank you. And I will make sure he accepts some pain medication."
"Thank you." Her relief was palpable.
For a moment Ducky wondered whether the 'he's not the worst patient we've had', was as honest as it had sounded. He nodded, offered a half smile and moved towards Jethro's room, aware of just how badly he was limping.
He paused for a moment with his hand on the handle, before taking a deep breath and pushing open the door. The room was dimly lit; the blinds had been pulled, and the light was turned down low.
Nonetheless Ducky could clearly make out his dearest friend, as he lay slumped back on the pillows, his face ashen and contorted with a grimace of pain, his arm in a sling, a wide bandage around his torso, and flecks of dried blood on his forehead.
"I told you I don't want any damned -" The dark blue eyes shot open. "Ducky!" The exclamation was filled with a mixture of affection, pleasure and relief. Jethro held out his good arm towards Ducky and winched as the cannula through which the blood was being given, tugged on his skin. Ducky saw one end of the tape holding it in place flap off.
"Oh, for heaven's sake," he said, striding as swiftly as his damaged leg would let him, across the room. "You know you shouldn't pull these, Jethro. Really. You are worse than a child sometimes." He checked the needle, which had bent partially over, was still correctly sited in the vein, and
that the blood was still flowing, and pressed the tape back down, holding it in place for a moment.
Jethro just stared at him. "Duck?" he said softly, confusion and hesitation in his voice. The dark eyes that were normally heavily shrouded except when in Ducky's company, although Jethro had erected the wall even where Ducky was concerned for the last month, were completely uncovered and heavy with pain.
Ducky snapped. "What the hell did you think you were doing, Jethro? Aren't you a little old for heroics?"
"Don't 'Duck' me. I'm tired of it."
The wall sprung back up, and Jethro's lips thinned. "I'm sorry, Doctor Mallard," he said formally.
Every ounce of energy and resolve that had kept Ducky on his feet and surviving for the last month fled, and he sagged against the bed. He didn't even argue when Jethro caught him and managed between hisses of pain, to get Ducky seated on the bed, where he held him firmly in place.
"Duck?" he whispered, after a moment or two. "Are you okay? Do you want me to buzz for a nurse?"
Ducky shook his head. "That's the wrong way round, my dear," he said softly, giving up all attempts to remain upright and letting his head come to rest on Jethro's uninjured shoulder. "Oh, Jethro," he whispered. "Oh, my dearest Jethro." His words came to a halt as he felt the tears he had not allowed himself to shed since the night he walked out of Jethro's house, well up at the back of his eyes. His throat became tight with fighting them.
Somehow Jethro got his arm, blood drip and all, around Ducky's shoulders, and tugged him into a more secure embrace. "Hush," he said, brushing his lips, as he so often had done in the past over Ducky's hair.
Ducky hadn't remembered saying anything, or even making a sound. But then when had they ever needed to do either? Their sixth-sense was still clearly working perfectly, even after a month apart.
Letting himself rest against Jethro, telling himself that he shouldn't, that it must be hurting his friend a great deal, Ducky tried to regain some of his strength. He found it physically. However the emotional depth of resolve and determination that had allowed him to walk away, and stay away, from the only person (apart from his parents) he had ever truly loved, had gone. And he knew it would never return.
He rested for a few more minutes, before pushing himself more upright and tugged Jethro's arm down, looking again at the now loose cannula, and the tiny droplet of blood oozing from the equally small hole on the back of Jethro's hand. He carefully maneuvered the needle, manipulating it with care and precision until he was sure it was at least temporarily back in place. Then he took Jethro's hand and held it between both of his own, pressing down on the tape that had lost its stickiness, using his fingers to hold the cannula in place instead.
"I'm sorry, Jethro," he murmured. "But I can't do it any longer."
Jethro looked at him, and his ashen countenance became even paler. "Duck?" he whispered, dread heavy in his voice.
"I can't stay away from you any longer, Jethro," Ducky said calmly, as a sense of peace and serenity poured through his veins and wrapped itself around him. "I was wrong. I don't have any pride left as far as you are concerned. And I don't want any. I was a fool, an old fool. I have far more than most people can ever hope to have in their lives; why should I want more?"
"Duck." Jethro tried to interrupt him, but Ducky kept speaking.
"I don't care any longer, my dear, how many women you have. Well, that isn't strictly true, of course I care, I have always cared. But I am not going to let it affect us and our relationship. If you wish to date a different woman every week, I won't say a word. If you wish to marry twice, three times more, I'll be there at your side. I'll be there for you, dearest, whenever and wherever you want me."
"Duck." Again Jethro said his name.
Once more Ducky ignored him. "Assuming that is that you do still want me after my stupidity and childishness. And assuming that you do want someone for whom you can now surely have little respect, someone who is without pride and who is proud to be so. Someone who -"
Jethro gave up trying to get Ducky's attention by words and instead leaned forward and put his lips on Ducky's. A little surprised by the kiss, Ducky nonetheless did nothing to fight it; in fact he did quite the opposite.
When they parted, Ducky was pleased to see that Jethro had regained some color in his cheeks, and his eyes looked less haunted and full of despair. "Jethro?" he said softly.
"That really is a very pleasant way of shutting you up, you know, Duck. Now, keep quiet and listen to me for a change." Jethro's tone, and Ducky was certain that it was deliberate, became his 'Ducky at the office' one.
"Yes, Agent Gibbs," Ducky said with a smile. However, he couldn't resist adding, "My dear."
Jethro rolled his eyes and shifted the grip that Ducky had on his hand, until he was holding Ducky's hand instead. "Duck, firstly you weren't behaving like a child. If either of us was, I was. No. I told you, be quiet." Ducky shut his mouth again, and Jethro placed a fleeting kiss on his lips. "I respect you more than anyone I have ever known, and I always have done and always will. It might be difficult for you to believe that at times - Aa. Aa. Aa. Hush - but I have," Jethro continued, as though he hadn't interrupted his own speech.
"I've loved you for nearly thirty years, and yet I've treated you pretty shabbily, what with the marriages and women I dated. My only defense, if you can call it that, is that I was so afraid that
if I did commit to you, and I wanted to, Duck, I really did, that I'd fail. As awful as it sounds, I was always prepared to cheat on them, but I knew I'd never be able to do that to you. You were, you are, my closest friend, and I wasn't about to lose that because I couldn't keep a promise."
This time Jethro ignored Ducky. "I wasn't certain I could ever be monogamous, not even with you. And that just wasn't acceptable to me."
"You never cheated on me, Jethro," Ducky said quietly.
Jethro gave a half snort of laughter and shook his head. "Ah, Duck. Sometimes your logic fails me. I don't think anyone else would agree with you."
"But you haven't, my dear. You always told me about all of them. You did, didn't you?" Once more, Ducky altered the grip, so that he was holding Jethro's hand between his.
"Yeah, Duck. I did. I'm not proud of that. But I did. You know, I'm not even sure what I got out of dating, certainly since Diane, and if I'm honest long before that."
"Sex?" Ducky's voice was soft.
"I can have that with you."
"Yes, but not the same. And not as often. Maybe -"
"You're the one who told me that we're not longer teenagers, Duck. I'm more than satisfied, and always have been, with that side of our relationship."
"Was I too intense? Too demanding?" Ducky moved nearer to Jethro, holding the dark gaze and trying to see beyond the look.
"Donald Mallard, a less 'demanding' lover or person I've never known. How many other people would have waited twenty-seven years to walk out on me?"
"I didn't walk out on you, my dear. Or at least that wasn't the intention."
"I know, Duck. But you can't deny it brought me to my senses. Intent or not, that's what it did. I love you, Duck. I want to be with you. And only you. So we'll have no more of this talk about putting up with me seeing women, or marrying them. There won't be any. I don't need them. But I do need you," Jethro's voice dropped as he said the final words.
They were words he'd never actually said to Ducky before, words that Ducky never thought he'd ever hear his dearest friend say. The simplicity of them said far more than the other promises Jethro had made, as Ducky knew that not only had he never heard Jethro say them before, but no one had. Jethro Gibbs had always been a fiercely independent man, who had prided himself on not needing anyone or anything. It was that tiny part of him that he'd always kept to himself, kept even from Ducky to whom he'd given everything else.
"Oh, Jethro my dear," was all that Ducky could manage, least he let the tears that were once again threatening him appear. Mindful of the blood drip and of Jethro's damaged arm and side, he slipped his arms around Jethro's neck, letting them come to rest in their customary position, moved even nearer, tilted his head slightly to one side and kissed his lover.
It was quite some time later when Jethro, now relaxed and free from pain, Ducky's influence over him had prevailed, re-cannulated, and resting sleepily on the pillows, his hand still in Ducky's, spoke again. "So, Duck, tell me, do you think your basement is large enough to build a boat in?
This time Ducky didn't try to prevent a single tear from escaping from each eye, as he once more moved close enough to brush his own lips over Jethro's.