A sequel to Shaped By The Past.
Gibbs keeps his personal vow to take Ducky away from Washington and to tell him the truth about why he always gets involved with redheads.
An established relationship story.
Written: September 2007. Word count: 5,238.
"This is very beautiful, my dear, but . . ." Ducky trailed off.
"Why are we here?" Jethro asked the question instead.
Ducky nodded. "Yes."
"There's something I have to tell you, Duck." Something I should have told you years, decades ago. In his mind he repeated the words he'd said, a mere two weeks ago, to the sleeping Ducky when he'd made his decision to take Ducky away from Washington and explain, attempt to explain, to him, about why he kept choosing redheads and what happened.
Ducky's face paled and the look in his eyes was a troubled one. "Jethro, if you have –"
Reading the sudden look of fear in the all-too-easy-to-read eyes, as well as in Ducky's body language and his tone, Jethro hastened to reassure his lover. He tugged Ducky into his arms and held him tightly. "God, no, Duck. No. I haven't brought you out here to tell you we're over. I'm not that much of a bastard." Then he added softly, "Did you really think I'd do that?"
Ducky shook his head. "No, my dear. Of course not. It is just –"
"The idea of me wanting to ‘talk' to ‘tell you something' is foreign to you."
Ducky smiled and chuckled softly. "Not entirely, no. But –"
Jethro kissed him briefly. "No, Duck. I'm not about to give up the best thing I've ever had. I may have made some stupid choices in my life, but that'd be taking it too far. No, it's nothing like that. It's just something I should have told you a long time ago."
"Very well, my dear. I am more than happy to listen to you." Ducky looked expectantly up at him.
Jethro shook his head, before lowering it and kissing the tip of Ducky's nose. "Not tonight, Duck. Tonight I want to make the best of having you all to myself without having to worry whether your mom will need you, or some Marine or Naval person will have gotten themselves killed or abducted or all the other hundred and one reasons that have dragged me from your arms."
He laughed quietly at the look of intense pleasure that lit up his lover's face. "Ah, Duck," he murmured, this time kissing Ducky's lips. Ducky met the kiss and returned it, letting his mouth part for Jethro, inviting him into the warm, moist depths and beginning to stroke and caress Jethro's back.
Moaning into Ducky's mouth, as skilled surgeon's fingers began to make love to the nape of his neck, Jethro gathered Ducky even closer, until their bodies were pressed tightly together and he was in so doubt as to Ducky's arousal.
"Want you, Duck," he murmured, breaking the kiss long enough to allow some oxygen into his lungs.
"Well, my dear, I do believe the bed looked extremely inviting and comfortable. Why do we not go and try it out?"
"Yeah, why don't we?" Jethro said, grabbing Ducky's hand and leading him into the said room. Once there he began the extremely pleasurable task of undressing his lover, of revealing the pale, still supple body, the skin that was unscarred, certainly when compared to his own, and felt like satin under his hands.
Once he'd finished stripping Ducky, he hastily removed his own clothes, kissing away the faint pout that touched Ducky's lips, and then pulled back the bedclothes and urged Ducky beneath them. Seconds later he joined him, pulled Ducky back into his arms and once more began to kiss and caress him, shivering with delight as Ducky's hands moved over his own body.
Supper, Mrs. Mallard, the office, dead and missing Marines, redheads, Diane, everything was forgotten as they spent several hours making love.
THE NEXT DAY
Relaxed and at peace after his uninterrupted night with Ducky, Jethro was almost tempted to delay telling Ducky the truth about his past.
However, he knew that the longer he left it, the more excuses he made not to tell Ducky, the harder it would be to do so. He knew his lover well enough to be fairly certain that, despite being garrulous and inquisitive, Ducky wouldn't press matters. They would return home without it ever having been said.
He would vow ‘never again' and he would mean it – then. As he always did.
For a few months Ducky would be enough.
And then . . .
And then another redhead would walk into his life and he'd do what he always did.
And one of these days, maybe he'd come across a redhead who didn't stop at a hit or two or three. And where would that leave Ducky? How would Ducky feel? Stupid question, Jethro knew exactly how his lover would feel. And part of that feeling would be an irrational, but very Ducky-ish, blaming of himself.
Thus once they'd enjoyed a fairly extended breakfast, washed up and taken a leisurely walk around nearby lake, Jethro poured himself another cup of coffee and looked at Ducky.
"So you do intend to tell me," Ducky said, his tone soft.
Jethro looked at him and shook his head in rueful resignation and partial surprise. "That obvious, huh?"
"Maybe. Maybe it is just more than two decades of knowing you. Now come and sit down and tell me." The order, for that was what it was, was given quietly but firmly.
Jethro gulped down another swallow of the hot, bitter liquid he enjoyed, before joining Ducky on sofa; thus fulfilling the first part of the order.
For a moment or two he just sat and looked at Ducky. He fully intended to fulfill the second part; he just didn't know where to start.
"Why not start at the beginning?" Ducky asked, his voice still soft.
Jethro blinked. "You taken up mind-reading, Duck?" he asked. "In that case, it'll be –"
"Jethro." Ducky's voice remained low, but this time rather than be merely firm, steely determination tinged with exasperation touched it. The steel was repeated in the steady pale eyes, as Ducky's stare held Jethro firmly in place.
"Sorry," Jethro said quietly. The steady gaze accepted the apology; the one that Jethro never gave to anyone but Ducky.
He swallowed another mouthful of coffee, tightened his grip on his mug and began.
"I know you've always wondered why they're always redheads," he said.
"I have always assumed, I now suspect wrongly, that it had something to do with . . ." Ducky trailed off and glanced down at his lap.
Jethro knew why: the vow Ducky had made him. "You can say her name, Duck," he said quietly.
Ducky looked up again. "With dear Shannon." His tone was steady and not without pain, regret and some guilt.
Jethro reached for Ducky's hand and squeezed it. "And I never gave you any reason to doubt that, did I? I knew you thought that and let you. It was easier." And it had been; unfair, yes; but still easier.
"Easier?" Now Ducky linked his fingers with Jethro's, the grip loose; if Jethro wished to pull away, he could do so easily.
"Than the truth. You sure you want to hear this, Duck? Sure you want to know the real Leroy Jethro Gibbs?"
"I do know him." Again Ducky spoke firmly.
Jethro shook his head. "No, you don't. Not entirely. Never let you. Never let anyone." At the look that crossed Ducky's face he hurried on. "Don't get me wrong, Duck. You know him better than anyone ever has done. Better than anyone is likely ever to do. I've never let anyone get as close as you have, never intended to. But . . ." Now it was his turn to trail off.
"Well, if it wasn't Shannon, then who was it?"
"My mom. God, how clichéd is that?" Pulling his hand away from Ducky, unable to sit still any longer, Jethro stood up and strode across the room.
To make it appear as if he'd moved for a reason, rather than just because he couldn't sit there, he topped up his mug. He took another gulp, before turning back around to look at Ducky. The steady gaze told him that his cover had failed him. He flashed his lover a rueful half-grin, before moving back across the room. However, for the moment he didn't regain his seat.
"I assume that she was a redhead?"
"Yeah." Jethro nodded.
Suddenly Jethro found he couldn't tell Ducky, not even Ducky, the truth. It was too damning, made him look . . . Lesser. Pathetic. More screwed up than he knew he was prepared to admit. And he didn't want Ducky to think any less of him.
You know that's not true.
He shook his head. Arguing in his head with himself was not helping.
"And I loved her. She loved me. She died young. I was at an impressionable age. And –"
"The truth please, Jethro, if you do not mind. If you intend to lie to me why the hell did you bring me all this way? Kindly do not treat me like a fool. Do not forget just how many years I have known you for. Or how well I do know you. If lies are all you have to tell me, do not waste my time." Ducky stood up. The steel was back, and now ice had been added to it, both in Ducky's voice and in the, now, grey eyes. He still spoke quietly, but the words were clipped; for Ducky it was as close as he came to snapping at Jethro.
Suddenly in a moment's startling clarify, Jethro knew that while throughout their relationship Ducky had forgiven him everything and was still with him, no matter what Jethro had done, if he lied to him now, continued to lie to him, or evaded the matter anymore, then their relationship would be over. It appeared that there were some things even Ducky would not forgive: lies.
"Sorry, Duck," he said quickly, catching Ducky's hand. He was left in no doubt at all that Ducky let him hold it. The steady gaze appraised him, read him, studied him for several moments.
Ducky must have seen what he was looking for because he briefly closed his eyes, sighed softly and put his other hand over Jethro's; his touch was warm, solid, comforting. When he spoke his tone was no longer heavy with steel. "You do not need to apologize, Jethro. Now, will you please tell me the truth?"
Jethro nodded once. He watched as Ducky sat back down again, letting his hands slip from Jethro's as he did so. He then tilted his head back and gazed up at Jethro, and waited. Unwilling to force Ducky to keep his neck and head in such an unnatural position, Jethro joined his lover on the sofa, perching on the edge.
"She was a redhead and I loved her," he said flatly. "That much was true. Everything else," he broke off and shrugged. "Everything else was either fantasy or lie. Mom never wanted kids, so when I came along I messed up everything."
"Lots of women claim they don't want children, but when they arrive they –"
"Love them? Yeah, I know. But not Mom. Don't think she ever loved me. Not sure she was that fond of Dad either. Not really."
"I'm sure –"
Jethro shook his head, silencing the reassurance Ducky was no doubt about to give him. "No, Duck. She didn't love me. Oh, she cared for him, and she kept me fed, clean, clothed, warm, gave me everything a baby and toddler needs. She gave me it all, except love."
"Oh, Jethro." Ducky's tone was soft as he reached out and touched Jethro's hand. He let his own hand linger, inviting Jethro to take it or not.
After a moment, Jethro did. "Thing is, I don't think I really knew I was missing anything ‘til I went to kindergarten. There weren't any other kids for me to play with near where we lived, so I didn't see what a ‘normal' mom was meant to be like. But once I was old enough to go to school, I used to watch the other kids run out into their mom's arms, whereas mine, well, mine just stood there. Detached, cold, distant, beautiful. That was the woman I worshipped and adored. God, that sounds pathetic."
"Of course it doesn't, Jethro. You were five years old." Ducky spoke firmly. "It was natural."
"Yeah? Well it was about the only thing that was. I remember I had a friend, Billy, his mom hugged him all the time and their kitchen was covered with his paintings. When I gave mom mine, she . . . I never saw her do it, I'll give her that, but I'm sure they ended up in the trash."
"What about your father?"
"Typical Marine dad. Away most of the time, when he was home, very much of the belief that it was the woman's job to raise and look after the kids. He'd take me to a ball game or play in the yard with me, slap me on the back, that kind of thing, but, other than that . . ." Jethro shrugged.
"That wasn't, indeed isn't, sadly that unusual."
"Yeah, I know. Anyway," Jethro paused, this was the moment of truth. This was where Ducky's entire view of him could change, and not for the better. He swallowed hard and under pretence of putting his coffee mug down, let go of Ducky's hand. He knew he hadn't fooled his lover, but he did it anyway. "Anyway, I was six, seven, maybe and I did something wrong, nothing that bad really, just tripped over and tore my new shorts, which I shouldn't have been wearing, but Mom hit me. I don't mean just a smack or even a slap, she hit me hard – several times."
"Oh, my dear Jethro."
Jethro heard Ducky's quiet, shocked words, but didn't acknowledge them. "And then, then, she pulled me into her arms and began to hug me and rock me and kiss me and basically – she loved me, Duck. Told me she loved me, took me upstairs, bathed me tenderly, not in her usual brisk way, put me to bed, fetched me milk and cookies, and read to me for over an hour. It was . . . It was everything I'd ever wanted, that's what it was. And I thought . . . But I was wrong. The next day." Jethro broke off and swallowed, angry with himself for the lump in his throat that the memories had caused.
"The next day she was back to ‘normal'," Ducky said quietly. Once again steel touched his voice, but this time Jethro knew it was not directed at him.
"Yeah. And I didn't want that, did I? What kid would? I wanted to be loved, held, kissed, treated like her son. So I started to be bad more often, started to do the kind of thing that would get me hit, just so she'd loved me again."
"And did she?"
Jethro nodded. "Oh, yes. She'd hit me, shake me, yell at me and then the next minute, she'd be holding me, kissing me, telling me what a good boy I was. No one noticed the bruises, not like they'd have done today. Guess if the teachers did, they just put it down to me being a boy, and anyway all the kids had bruises from time to time, it's natural. God, even -" He broke off.
"And how long did this abuse go on for?"
Jethro shrugged. He didn't correct Ducky's terminology; how could he? But nor did he, nor could he, acknowledge it as the truth. "Pretty much ‘til she walked out on Dad and me. I was thirteen. It was my thirteenth birthday, to be exact."
"And is she still alive?" Ducky's tone contained no emotion, no nuances at all. The fact they were lacking left Jethro in no doubt as to exactly what his lover was feeling.
Jethro shook his head. "No, that bit wasn't a lie either. Ironically enough, she died the day she left us. Lost control of the car. They told us she would have died instantly. After that, Dad drank himself to death. Oh, it took him five years, but he did it. And you know what I discovered?"
"That your mother had hit him too?"
Jethro blinked. "How did you . . . ?"
"It isn't unusual."
"But he loved her. We both did. Christ, what does that make us?" Jethro's tone was bitter and full of self-disgust.
"Human," said Ducky softly.
Jethro looked at his lover. "I sometimes wonder," he said bitterly.
Ducky said nothing; he just looked steadily at him, his gaze full of tenderness, concern and understanding. "What happened next?" he asked, after a moment or two.
Jethro wasn't altogether certain if he was glad or annoyed that Ducky had asked. Didn't Ducky know? Couldn't he guess? But Ducky had asked, so Ducky would be answered. "Don't think I really realized it at first, what I was doing. I joined the Marines, passed all the psych tests, physicals and other stuff and was happy. I hadn't dated that many girls in High School, I was too busy looking after Dad, the house and trying to keep my grades up, stuff like that. Anyway I woke up one morning, I was twenty, twenty-one, it was before I met you, and realized that my last three girl-friends had all had red hair."
"And where they also violent?"
Jethro shook his head. "Not really. One slapped me and I argued with them all, but who doesn't at that age? Anyway, they weren't long-lasting relationships. But then . . . I don't suppose you remember Mary-Beth, do you?"
Ducky shook his head slowly. "No, I don't believe I – Oh, wait a moment, yes, I do. Pretty little thing, had a very nasty temper, and she didn't really care for me, if I recall."
"Yeah. That's her. I really liked her; well until I found out she didn't like you that is. Even thought at one point of asking her to marry me. But I had to be sure. So I . . . " He trailed off.
Ducky sighed and squeezed the hand Jethro realized he was still holding. "I do confess that I never quite believed your story about the door. However, I thought that maybe you had got into a fight with a fellow Marine, which naturally you would want to keep quiet about. Or indeed that you had once again . . ." Now it was Ducky who broke off, and a faint flush touched his cheeks.
Jethro tightened his grip on Ducky's hand. "No, not that time, Duck. No one had insulted or threatened you. No, it was Mary-Beth. I kept on at her and pushed her and pushed her and kept on until she hit out at me. I shouldn't have lied to you. I'm sorry. Should have known you wouldn't have believed me about the door."
"Maybe I should have said something." Ducky spoke quietly. "But well, we hadn't really known one another for very long, and I didn't wish to interfere or imply I didn't believe you."
Jethro blinked. "But you didn't."
"It was more complex than that."
For the first time since he began to explain, Jethro found himself amused. He shook his head and looked at Ducky fondly. "It always is with you, Duck," he said. "It always is."
Ducky smiled back and chuckled softly. "Ah, my dear Jethro," was all he said.
For several minutes they sat in the kind of companionable silence they'd often shared. Jethro had never been the kind of man to talk for the sake of talking, but nor had he ever had a companion he felt so comfortable with in the silence. And given that Ducky was more talkative than Jethro himself, it could be said to be surprising.
However, he and Ducky often spent time just sitting together, enjoy one another's company without the need to constantly chat about – nothing. Of course there were times when they did chat about nothing, or more often Ducky chatted and Jethro listened, but they did sit in silence quite often. At least the verbal kind of silence; the one thing that was never quiet was Ducky's eyes.
It was Ducky who broke the silence. "I assume that is why you and Mary-Beth broke up so soon after your ‘accident'?"
Jethro nodded. "Yeah. That's what makes it all the harder to understand, Duck. I fall for a woman, I really care, but there's something in me that won't let me believe they really care about me, until they hit me. So I drive them to it, you know how much of a bastard I can be. And finally they'll snap and lash out, and then I feel vindicated: they've proven how much they love me; and so what do I do? I walk out. Explain that to me, Duck. I've got what I want, and so I walk out."
"'I do the leaving'," Ducky said quietly.
"'I do the leaving'. You said that to me once."
Ducky nodded. "Yes. I believe it was one of the ladies with whom you went out between Marie and Alice. I cannot recall her name, but she left you. And that was what you said. I confess I didn't really understand what you meant, but as you seemed disinclined to talk about it, I –"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. And with hindsight –"
"Always a great tool."
"Indeed. I believe I was wrong to have done so. Then and on other occasions."
Jethro shrugged. "If it's any comfort to you, Duck. I doubt I'd have told you the truth."
Ducky said nothing. He just stared unblinking at Jethro.
After a moment or two of the steady appraisal, Jethro said, "Well go on, then. Explain it to me."
Ducky tilted his head and Jethro could see his lover contemplating his response. Just as Jethro was going to add ‘in words I'll understand', Ducky spoke. "I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but it's clearly linked with your mother leaving you. No doubt you, sub-consciously or consciously, felt that you were to blame, at least in part, for driving your mother away. Had you been less naughty, shall we say, maybe she'd have stayed. That's perfectly normal, children nearly always feel that when there is a break-up of a marriage."
"I was thirteen, Duck, not a kid."
"I was twenty-one and at University when my parents decided to go their separate ways. It did not prevent me wondering, albeit fleetingly, whether somehow it was my fault."
Jethro blinked. "You really thought that?"
Ducky nodded. "In part, yes. Whilst at the same time knowing rationally that it had nothing to do with me at all. It couldn't have done. But I have often believed that it is impossible to entirely remove the child from the adult. We are the products of our upbringing; we are the children of our parents and our environment. I have known people in their twenties, thirties or older who have ended up going into therapy after their parents marriage has broken up, because they are convinced that had they not broken Mother's favorite vase, or had got higher grades in their exams, or not stayed out late, or . . . Well, the list is endless."
Jethro wasn't entirely convinced; however, he trusted Ducky. "I still don't really get it, Duck," he said.
"You are determined not to be left again, Jethro. And once you have got the woman to ‘prove' her love for you, you cannot let her leave you, as your mother did. Thus, you leave her."
"You make me sound even more fucked up than I sometimes think I am."
Ducky sighed. "Oh, Jethro. You are no more ‘fucked up', as you so eloquently put it, than anyone else who leads the kind of life you do, does the job you do, knows that every time he leaves the office it could be his last, and lives in the world you live in. Not to mention –" Ducky came to an abrupt halt and glanced away.
"You?" Jethro said quietly. "Sometime reckon you're the only sane thing in my life, Duck. The only thing that keeps me sane. Loving you; having you around. Well . . . Guess you're right, though. I get through all the blasted tests I have to go through each year. Guess I can't be that messed up."
Ducky smiled gently. "Ah, my dear Jethro." He simply looked at Jethro for a moment. Then he said quietly, "Did all your wives hit you?"
Jethro swallowed. "Yeah," he finally said. "And several other women as well. Most of the longer than a one of two night stands, if I'm honest. Not bad enough to need me patching up, but . . ."
Ducky was staring at him. "I had no idea," he said quietly. Jethro knew exactly who his lover was referring to.
"I know. Never wanted you to. It was bad enough with Marie, Alice and Diane. I couldn't tell you about Shannon. You loved her and Kelly and then . . . It was tougher with Shannon though, it took a lot of doing; she was like you in so many ways. Maybe that's why I . . . But one day she snapped and that was it. And then I was leaving on deployment, that last time, and you what I told her, Duck?"
Ducky shook his head. "Jethro?" There was intensity in the steady stare.
"I said to her ‘don't be here when I get back'. And she wasn't."
"Oh, my dear, dear Jethro." Ducky's voice was soft and now his eyes were full of anguish.
"Always told you I'm a bastard."
"You've lived with this all these years?"
Jethro nodded. "Yes. I couldn't tell you, Duck. Not about Shannon or anything. I didn't want you to -"
"I understand," Ducky's voice was still gentle.
"Yes." Now his tone became firm.
"Glad one of us does. So what now, Duck? Reckon it'll all stop? Reckon I'll stop chasing redheads? Stop getting them to hit me? Stop being a bastard? Stop cheating on you?" He said the last part quietly, and he knew his self-loathing was clear.
Clear blue eyes just looked at him. Then Ducky took his other hand and held them both in his steady, firm grip. "I wish I could say ‘yes', Jethro –"
"Especially to the last bit?"
Ducky ignored him. "However, I am not entirely certain that merely telling me what has happened will be enough of a catharsis for you to change everything overnight."
"So I'm going to go on fucking redheads, leaving them, until one day I wake up and realize I've paid Mom back enough for walking out on me?" Jethro's tone was bitter. "And in the meantime where does that leave us? And why are you smiling?"
"Because I wasn't the one who mentioned you ‘paying your mother back'. If you've figured that out for yourself, then I believe you have come to terms with the whole thing more fully than you realize. Maybe it is enough to have broken the pattern, at least somewhat."
"And where does that leave us?" Jethro repeated.
"Where is always leaves us, my dear. I am not going to leave you, you know that."
"So you're happy to go on as we are?"
Ducky frowned. "I never said I was ‘happy' Jethro. However, I would far rather know about the women that pass through your bed than have you lie to me."
Despite himself, Jethro smiled. "And I thought I was the one who was fu- messed up. Ah, Duck, Duck, Duck, what am I going to do with you?"
"I can think of plenty of things, Jethro. After all, you did bring me on holiday; you did want to get away from the city, the murders, the team, your phone, and all those other day-to-day interruptions. I cannot believe that the only thing on your mind was to tell me your life story. At least I hope it wasn't." Ducky smiled, and his eyes spoke volumes.
Jethro smiled again. "No, it wasn't. Assuming you weren't so appalled at what I told you and you insisted on going home again, I had one or two ideas as to how we could fill the days – and nights."
"Only one or two?" Ducky said softly.
Jethro smiled. As he sat there he felt a wave of relief pass through him. It was as though a huge weight had been lifted from him. He knew instinctively that Ducky was correct; just telling his lover wasn't a hundred percent catharsis, it couldn't be. He'd lived with it for so long, it wasn't going to go away over night. But somehow he knew things would be different now, at least in part. He felt fairly certain that his desire to drive the woman to violence had at the very least reduced.
He also knew for certain, as he'd always known, that one day he would stop ‘cheating' on Ducky. But for the first time in nearly three decades, he felt that day was reasonably close in coming. It wasn't going to be overnight, and he half suspected that if he did now vow ‘no more women' Ducky not only wouldn't believe him (after all he'd heard it before, many times) but might even be very annoyed by it. However, he knew it would happen.
"Well, Dr. Mallard," he said, slipping on arm around Ducky and tugging him nearer. "As a doctor, do you have a prescription for the patient?"
Ducky beamed at him, leaned forward and kissed him. Then he took Jethro's hand and led him to the bedroom.
Some several hours later, pleasantly tired out from their drawn out lovemaking, Jethro said quietly, "So. Ducky, how long do you think this will take? How will I know it's all over?"
Ducky was silent for a little while. Then he extracted himself from Jethro's embrace, pushed himself up on one arm, looked down at Jethro. For a moment or two, he just looked at him, then he said softly, his tone a little husky, "I believe that will be firstly the day you date a woman who is not a redhead, and secondly, when you find another way to end the relationship with her apart from marrying her and forcing her to resort to violence. Yes, that is a day to which I am looking forward. That is a day to which I shall look forward very much, because that is the day I believe you will fulfill the final part of your desire."
Jethro frowned. "Huh?"
Ducky beamed. "When you stop, to use your words, ‘cheating on me'."
Jethro felt the slow smile spread across his face and even though two minutes ago he would have sworn he was far too tired to do anything than lay there and hold Ducky in his arms, he tugged his lover back down flat on the bed and began to prove to both of them that he wasn't. And nor, he discovered to his joy, was Ducky.
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