QUIETENING THE STORM
Set between the penultimate and ultimate scene of Escaped.
After Jenny leaves his basement, Gibbs reaches a decision. Then he goes to see Ducky.
An established relationship story.
Written: September 2006. Word count: 2,940.
Gibbs sat alone in his basement after Jenn had left. Her appearance had surprised, and for a moment worried, him. The last thing he had wanted after the preceding couple of days had been another round of ignoring her flirting. But, apparently, that hadn't been on her mind.
So she didn't want him back. Whether it was for the reason he'd thrown at her or the one she had suggested, he knew not. If he were honest, he suspected it was a little of both; even if she wasn't prepared to admit to his reason, and he wasn't prepared to believe her altruistic explanation.
Her job was far easier without him around to argue with her, point out her inadequacies and make snide comments about her Directoring abilities - or lack of them. He accused her of abusing their past relationship in the way she dealt with him, but in the quiet emptiness of his basement, he had to admit that he did the same thing.
If they hadn't started their disastrous affair, if she was just a woman, or man, he'd never met before, any other junior Director, he wouldn't speak to her how he did. He wouldn't just walk into her office as he did, he would treat her with more respect, and if he did, then so would the kids.
She had started off on the wrong side of all of them by foisting Ziva on them without talking to him; with the stupid new dress rule for Abby; in giving Abby Chip without asking if she wanted or needed an assistant; as well as in the way she interfered with cases. And he knew that some of that had been, and was being, done because she had a hold over him, but for the first time ever, he wondered how he would have reacted had it been another Director who had done all those things.
Maybe it was time both he and Jenn tried to forget the past and start again, try to have a proper Director/Senior Agent relationship, like the one he had with Tom Morrow. Okay, so it was never going to become exactly like that; their affair aside, he still thought she was wrong for the job, but maybe it was time he stopped looking for ways to criticize her.
Yes, without him at NCIS, things would be much easier for Director Jennifer Shepard. DiNozzo was much easier to manage, to control, to order about. And Gibbs suspected that she actually wouldn't interfere as much if he wasn't there.
However, as much as he hated to admit it, he did believe that there was at least a degree of truth in the reason she had given for not wanting him back. She was worried about him coming back, for his sake.
Thus they were both correct in their reasonings for why she didn't want him back. He was almost amused at the thought of him and Jenn being in accord, even if neither wanted to consciously admit to it, for the first time since she'd returned.
But even if she didn't want him back, the kids did. That was clear.
Ziva and McGee were pissed off with DiNozzo and his ‘camp fires', and general way of managing them. And that would soon lead to a lack of respect and sloppiness, hell, McGee even looked sloppy in his ‘new' way of dressing, on the job, and that was disastrous. That led to people getting killed.
And even DiNozzo would be content to have him back. That had become obvious during the case as well. How he'd gone from making it clear that he believed he had everything in hand, from treating Gibbs as one of ‘his' staff, to correcting himself when he called him ‘boss', to slipping back into ‘boss', and deferring to Gibbs. He felt sure that part of it had been sub-consciously done, and that was understandable; he had, after all, been DiNozzo's boss for nearly five years. Yes, DiNozzo might be a bit miffed to be usurped if Gibbs returned, but basically he'd slip fairly happily back into his role as Gibbs's Senior Field Agent.
As for Agent Lee . . . Gibbs dismissed her; she didn't count. Their handful of exchanges hadn't boded well for her future. But he hadn't really had time to decide about her. His gut had, but at the moment he wasn't certain how reliable it was.
And Abby. His darling Abby, his daughter in so many ways. She definitely wanted him back; she'd be devastated if he didn't return. Hell, she'd probably get on a plane, fly to Mexico and drag him back - literally.
Mike'd be pleased to see him go too, actually. After all Gibbs had messed up his peaceful existence with his ‘improvements' to the shack, and just by being there. Mike would be quite happy to slip back into life pre-Gibbs.
And Tobias. He'd given it to Gibbs hard and straight. And what he said about them not doing the job properly if they didn't always want to quit, was correct. Gibbs could see that now. He guessed he always could.
Tobias had looked older than the last time Gibbs had seen him, and he didn't think it was just because of his worry over Emily. He'd never come out and say it, would never hug Gibbs or look at him fondly, would never give any indication of his true feelings, but Gibbs knew his second oldest and closest friend had missed him.
Hell, even Palmer had grinned like an idiot upon seeing Gibbs. Whether that was just because he was pleased to see him back, or because he was pleased for Ducky's sake, Gibbs wasn't certain.
And as for Ducky. Friend. Lover. Confident. Beloved. His Ducky. His Duck. Or did any of those terms fit anymore?
He'd never seen Ducky so pissed, certainly not at him. And he'd never expected to. But that little scene in Autopsy . . . Gibbs did not want to experience another one of those. He wasn't surprised that Palmer had suddenly hurried out, not surprised at all. And Ducky, as always, had hit the nail on the head; Gibbs had been avoiding him. He hadn't realized that he'd done that, not consciously. But now that he thought about it, he knew Ducky had been correct.
He'd hurt Ducky by leaving; hell, he'd done more than merely hurt him. But until Ducky had faced him in Autopsy, had said all the things he'd said, had kept his distance, physically and emotionally in a way he'd never done before, Gibbs hadn't realized, no he hadn't been prepared to admit to himself, how much he'd hurt his beloved. And Ducky's words . . .
Ducky's reaction had been all the more cutting because the attack was carried out in a terribly English way. That was what had made it so dreadful.
Others might have ranted, shouted, cried, cursed; but not Ducky. That wasn't his way. He'd be good at his ‘psychological autopsies' damn good. Because Ducky knew people, he knew them very, very well. Had he shouted or cursed Gibbs, it wouldn't have had the same impact, because it would have allowed Gibbs to retaliate in kind, he'd have had some defense. But as it was . . .
As it was he had none. Because he knew that everything Ducky had said, and everything his body language and the steely gaze had said, was true. As was everything Ducky didn't say.
At one point he'd thought that things were okay again, as when he and DiNozzo had been down in Autopsy with Ducky and Palmer, Ducky seemed almost his normal self. But thinking about it, that had been for the benefit of DiNozzo, and to a lesser extent Palmer. Ducky didn't believe in washing dirty linen in public. But thinking back, the little things that were always there when he and Ducky communicated were missing. Things that only he'd be able to see and recognize. They hadn't slipped into their own personal, private world as they normally did, while still interacting with the rest of the team.
Suddenly Gibbs feared they never would again.
He thought that Ducky wanted him back. But was that merely wishful thinking?
There was only one way to find out.
Gibbs shuffled his feet and tried to read his friend, trying to see whether the anger Ducky had shown earlier was still present. "Can I come in?" he finally asked.
Ducky looked at him. He was still keeping his distance, something that didn't bode well. "That depends."
"Why you are here."
Gibbs looked at his lover - at least he hoped they still had that aspect of their relationship. However, if he was completely honest, he wasn't even certain that he could use the term ‘friend'.
This was it.
This was his final opportunity to change his mind. If he told Ducky what he'd planned to tell him, then he was committed utterly and completely. He couldn't change his mind. Couldn't go back on what he said.
For a moment he prevaricated; giving himself a few final precious seconds. "Two reasons," he said. "Firstly, to tell you that I'm -"
"Donald, what are you doing? Who are you talking to? Who's at the door?"
Ducky turned around quickly; Gibbs didn't miss the slight stagger than indicated it was too quickly. He automatically reached out to catch Ducky's arm, but Ducky was moving away from him. "No one, Mother," he said quickly, going back into the house.
Gibbs felt as though he'd been bathed in ice-cold water. He stood on Ducky's porch, unable to move, unable to do anything but play over and over again Ducky's words.
"I heard you talking to someone, Donald. Is it dear Jethro?"
Gibbs heard the infinitesimal pause. Then Ducky said, "No, Mother."
Gibbs blinked at the obvious lie. Ducky never lied - especially not in such a blatant way.
"Oh," he heard Mrs. Mallard's tone change from hope and pleasure to, what Gibbs could only describe as, sadness. What the hell was Ducky doing? What was he thinking?
"Come along, Mother. Isn't Jeopardy on shortly? You don't want to miss that. I'll pour you a nice drink and you can settle down. Come along."
With Mrs. Mallard grumbling about how her son made her drinks far too weak, Ducky led her away.
Gibbs stood there, wondering what to do next. Should he go home? Stay where he was? Go into the house? What would Ducky prefer? What did he expect? In the end, based solely on the fact that Ducky had left the front door open, Gibbs stayed where he was. He told himself that if Ducky really had no interest in hearing what he had to say, then he would have closed and bolted the door.
It was at least five minutes before Ducky reappeared. He didn't look particularly surprised to see Gibbs still standing on the porch, but nor did he seem particularly happy.
Finally, after a strained silence he said quietly, "You'd better come in, but keep your voice down. In fact, don't say anything." He limped back into his house.
After a second or two Gibbs followed. He decided that pointing out that if he couldn't say anything, it would be difficult to tell Ducky why he was there, would not be a good idea. He closed the door behind him, and locked it automatically.
From Mrs. Mallard's sitting room came the blaring sound of what he knew to be the lead-in to Jeopardy. The level of noise was such, that even if he had been allowed to say anything, he would have to have shouted to make himself heard.
He turned around. Ducky was standing several feet away from him, his arms folded, just as he'd stood when Jethro had finally gone down to Autopsy. Ducky opened his mouth, but then frowned and closed it again. It was clear that a conversation in the hall was not going to be possible.
Gibbs watched as Ducky glanced at the front door, before sighing and moving towards the stairs. A terse nod indicated that he expected Gibbs to follow him.
"Well?" Ducky demanded, a few moments later as they stood in his sitting room. "Tell me whatever it is you have to tell me. And then you can go. I'm tired and I wish to go to bed."
But Gibbs didn't obey. Instead he asked a question. "Why did you lie to your mom? Why did you tell her it wasn't me?"
For a brief moment the man who had stood before him in Autopsy, the man he never wished to see again, reappeared.
Then under Gibbs's gaze, he fled, and his Ducky appeared, albeit fleetingly. At least Gibbs thought he had done so. He couldn't swear to it, because Ducky turned his back on him and limped away across the room.
Finally, without turning back around, he said, his voice flat and low, "Because I am not the only person whom you hurt when you left as you did."
Ducky whirled around and glared at Gibbs. Once again the man he saw in Autopsy was back. "Mother cares about you, Jethro. She cares a great deal. And I am not going to allow her to get her hopes up again by thinking you have come back. Tell me, did you once think of her before you went? Did you think of anyone but yourself? Well, did you?" Without giving Gibbs the chance to answer, Ducky went on. "She has asked me so many times when 'dear Jethro' is coming to see us again, that I could have . . ." He closed his eyes and bowed his head.
Gibbs wanted to go to his friend, wanted to make it right; but he had no idea how to do so. "I really hurt you," he said softly.
Ducky's head came up and his eyes blazed. "What could possibly have given you that impression?" he growled the words.
"Ducky, I'm -"
"What?" Still the blue eyes blazed, but now with ice rather than fire.
"Coming back to NCIS," Gibbs said quickly. "For good. And, I'm sorry, Duck. I'm sorry."
Ducky blinked. "What?" he said, shaking his head.
"I'm coming back and I'm sorry," Gibbs repeated.
"'Never say you're sorry. It's a sign of weakness'. Isn't that what you teach your agents? Isn't that what you live by?"
Gibbs strode across the room and gripped Ducky's shoulders. "Fuck that," he growled. "They're just stupid rules that don't mean anything. I don't give a damn about them. All I care about is what I've done to you. I'm sorry, Ducky. I'm sorry. I don't know how to begin to make it right. I'm not even sure if I can make it right. I'm not good with words, I can't talk myself out of this one, and I'm not even going to try. All I can do is say that I am sorry. I'm sorry for hurting you, for hurting your mom, for hurting the kids, for hurting Tobias. For screwing up everything. But then that's the only thing I'm good at, isn't it? Screwing things up? Screwing up relationships. It's just a pity that I had to do it to the most important one I've ever had. But there is it. I did. I can't change what I did, Ducky. I only know how I feel now. Believe me or don't. There's nothing else to say. I am sorry, Duck. Now I'm going. I'll see you at the office." He let go of Ducky and strode across to the door.
Gibbs stopped. However, he didn't turn around.
He sensed Ducky move nearer to him, nearer than his friend had chosen to be since the case had begun. Ducky came around in front of him, tipped his head back and looked up. "I'm sure Mother won't mind if we interrupt Jeopardy. It is quite possibly one that has been on before, and if not, well . . . " He shrugged and turned to leave the room.
Gibbs caught his arm, stopping him. "Duck?"
Ducky turned and again looked up at him.
Gibbs swallowed. He lifted his hand to touch Ducky's face, but aborted the move before he completed it. Now wasn't the time. "I never stopped loving you," he said quietly.
Ducky continued to stare at him. For a moment Gibbs thought he wasn't going to answer. Then he sighed and said quietly, "I know you didn't, Jethro. Now, let us go and see Mother."
"Wait." Again Gibbs stopped him.
Again Ducky paused and looked up at him. "Jethro?"
"We'll be all right, won't we?" He stared down into the pale eyes that were still nowhere near as soft and loving as they normally were when Ducky looked at him.
This time the silence was even longer, as Ducky just gazed at him.
Finally he said, his tone almost one of resignation, "I imagine so. Now, come along, Jethro. And after we've seen Mother, we can come back here and talk further. Then, if you wish to stay here tonight, I assume your house is still being fumigated, you may do so. The guest room is, as always, ready." He held out his hand and took Gibbs's own, it was the first contact Ducky had initiated, and led Gibbs out of the room and down the stairs.
It would do for now.
It would have to do.
Gibbs had quietened the storm. But he hadn't completely quelled it.
Decimation is the sequel to this story.
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