A LIFETIME OF MEMORIES
Ducky has a very special anniversary gift for Jethro. Together they remember their decades together.
An established relationship story.
Written: July 2007. Word count: 7,524.
2015 - THE COTSWOLDS, UK
Jethro came up from the basement where he'd been working on his boat. "Duck?" he called, as he reached the top of the stairs. He'd been a little surprised to see how late in the afternoon it was; normally when he went down to work on his boat, Ducky would join him around 3:00 p.m. for afternoon tea. Or rather Ducky would have tea; Jethro would stick to coffee.
He wondered if his lover had fallen asleep and as such he moved quietly into their sitting room. However, instead of a sleeping Ducky, he found a very much awake Ducky; a Ducky surrounded by boxes of photographs.
Ducky looked up as he went into the room and smiled. "Hello, my dear," he said, tilting his head back and inviting Jethro to kiss him.
Jethro duly obliged and ruffled the heavy, silky hair. "What's that?" he asked, nodding towards the album Ducky had in front of him.
The pale blue eyes twinkled with mirth and Jethro groaned to himself as Ducky answered the literal question. "It's a photograph album, Jethro," he said, his tone sincere.
"Yeah, can see that, Duck," Jethro said, shaking his head. "I mean what's in it?" Silently he cursed his own foolishness.
Ducky beamed and once again answered him literally. "Why photographs, dear." His eyes still twinkled, and he looked inordinately pleased with himself.
Gritting his teeth and composing his face into his 'give me strength' look. A few years ago, before Ducky and he had retired, the look was virtually his normal grimace, Jethro grabbed Ducky's hand and tugged him to his feet. "Duck!" he growled, as he held both of Ducky's upper arms.
"Yes, dear?" Ducky inquired, his tone solicitous, and then he had the audacity to bat his eyelashes at Jethro.
Five minutes later, Jethro finally released his lover's mouth for more than a second or two. He felt content, relaxed and mellow; kissing Ducky always had that effect on him, and prepared for anything Ducky might throw at him.
For a moment or two they just stood and gazed at one another. Not for the first time Jethro felt unworthy of the way Ducky looked at him; the unconditional love he had always given him over their decades together was as clear to see as it always was. No matter what Jethro had done, Ducky still loved him; he didn't always, Ducky told him once, particularly like him, but he never stopped loving him.
"You going to make me ask, Duck?" he said finally.
Just for a moment he saw Ducky considering his answer and a glint appeared in his eyes. But then it vanished and instead Ducky said, "No, my dear. Let us go and sit down and I'll show you what I've been doing."
Together they moved to the sofa. "You want a cup of tea?" Jethro asked, before he sat down.
"I believe it's rather late for afternoon tea, is it not?" Ducky said brightly. Then he added, his tone puzzled, "Jethro?"
Jethro took his hand from Ducky's forehead. "Just checking you hadn't got a temperature."
"Just that in all the years I've known you, I've never heard you say it was too late for tea. Thought you drank it at any time of the day or night."
"That is a slight exaggeration, Jethro. I would have thought that you of all people would not fall prey to the incorrect assumption, indeed myth, that so many of you Americans seem to believe."
"That British people drink tea at a drop of a hat. It's a pure fallacy, at least it is for most of us."
"But you like tea."
"Indeed I do, very much. However, there are times when I prefer something else, now is one of those times. You may pour me a whiskey." For a moment Ducky's tone, which Jethro knew was exaggerated, reminded Jethro so much of the late Mrs. Mallard's imperial one. In fact it reminded him of her so much, he found himself glancing towards the chair that used to be her favorite one. Seconds later he shook himself, pulled his mind back to the present and looked back down at his lover. Ducky looked up at him in his usual fond, affectionate way, albeit the gaze was tinged with a hint of mirth and also of sadness. Even though eight years had passed since they'd buried Ducky's mom, Jethro knew his lover still missed her.
He brushed his hand over the top of Ducky's head, squeezed his shoulder and crossed to the drinks cabinet to fulfill Ducky's request.
"Here we are, Duck. Just as you like it," he handed one of the two glasses over, then sat down next to his lover.
"Thank you, my dear. Your good health."
"And yours." They drank. "So come on then, show me what you've been up to." He reached for the midnight blue, leather bound album that Ducky held. To his surprise rather than relinquish his grip, Ducky held it a little tighter. "Duck?"
"I wasn't going to give this to you until tomorrow. Indeed, I had planned to have everything cleared away before you joined me, so that it would be a surprise. However, I'm afraid I got somewhat caught up in the memories and found -"
"Is this some less than subtle way of asking me if I've forgotten what tomorrow is?" Jethro spoke gently.
"Of course not," Ducky's tone was faintly indignant.
Jethro took his hand. "Good. Have I ever forgot, Duck?"
"No, my dear. You haven't. Not once."
"There you are then. And I'd certainly remember this one. It's forty years, isn't it?"
"Yes. Forty years since the day we -"
"Oh, very well, Jethro." And with a soft, almost wistful smile, Ducky solemnly handed Jethro the photograph album.
For a moment or two, Jethro just held it in his hands.
Then with same solemnity that Ducky had shown, he opened it and looked at the first page.
Rather than hold photographs, it instead contained a heavy piece of ivory paper that Ducky had written on in his calligraphy script.
For my beloved Jethro,
Forty pages: one for each year of our lives together.
With all my love now and forever,
For a moment Jethro was too choked up to speak, as a thousand memories came racing back. After a second or two he, with great care, turned to the first page of photographs and looked down at the four pictures. "God, was I ever that young?" he murmured.
"Young and handsome. And so much more. Do you remember the night we met?"
"How I could I forget, Duck?"
1975 - NORFOLK, USA
With the rain lashing down on him and bouncing off the pavements, and the wind whipping around him so strongly he had to fight to remain on his feet, Jethro Gibbs had only one aim: to get home.
As he hurried past a dark alleyway, he caught sight of something on the ground. His mind told him to ignore it; it was probably a drunk or something, and it wasn't his job to clean up the streets. However, his gut that, even at twenty-one, he tended to trust, told him he couldn't just ignore it. With a heavy sigh and a curse, he turned and moved into the alleyway.
As he walked towards what he could now see was a body, his Marine training instincts came into play and his senses were on full alert. It was hardly the weather for practical jokes or traps, but he had learned that it never paid to let your guard down.
Still glancing around him, Gibbs crouched down by the body and touched the saturated overcoat. He was immediately hit by two things: one, there was no rank odor coming from the person and two, the material of the coat was heavy; even waterlogged it felt expensive. This was not a homeless drunk.
By the light of his pocket torch he gently pushed back the thick, heavy hair and uncovered the man's face. The eye he could see was badly swollen and blood oozed steadily from a cut above it, as well as from another cut by the man's mouth, and he didn't like the angle of one of the man's legs.
As his fingertips hovered over the blood-splattered ashen cheeks the man groaned and shifted slightly. Quickly Gibbs put a hand on his shoulder. Before he could speak the swollen eye was forced open and the man tried to pull away from his touch.
"It's all right," Gibbs said, in what he hoped was a reassuring tone. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm a Marine," he added, as he kept his hand on the man's shoulder. By the suddenly bright moonlight saw the look of fear begin to fade, although clearly the man was still wary; Gibbs didn't blame him.
"Perhaps you would be kind enough to help me sit up," the man said, after a moment or two of studying Gibbs. The accent, Gibbs noticed, was British, and even though the man spoke softly, his voice was clearly refined.
Gibbs shook his head. "Not a good idea. We don't know what injuries you might have. I'd better –"
"There is no need. I am a doctor. I am fairly certain that I do not have any life-threatening injuries, and I am somewhat tired of lying on the cold, wet ground." Again the voice was gentle, but Gibbs found himself obeying the words, just as he'd follow any other order.
After a couple of minutes of careful maneuvering, punctuated by stifled groans and cut-off hisses, the man was sitting up and learning heavily against Gibbs. "Thank you," he managed, after a moment or two. "That feels better. Now allow me to introduce myself; my name is Donald Mallard, but everyone calls me Ducky'."
Gibbs found himself responding automatically. "Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but everyone calls me Jethro or just Gibbs."
Three-quarters of an hour later, they were in Ducky's hotel room. "Simple choice, Ducky," he found the somewhat curious name came strangely easily. "You either let me clean you up and take a look at that ankle of yours. Or, I am going to call a doctor."
Blue eyes, lighter than his own, stared at him and silently they did battle.
After a moment or two Ducky sighed. "Very well, Jethro. My bag is over there."
Two hours later as he put his knife and fork back on the plate and wiped his mouth with a napkin – a real linen one – Gibbs knew more about the man he'd rescued than he did about most of his fellow Marines. And one of the things he knew was the reason Ducky had been beaten and left for dead.
"And the fact that you're gay should bother me because? And don't say ‘because you're a Marine'," he added.
A flush touched the pale cheeks. "I do apologize, Jethro. I did not mean to insult you or to imply . . . I am still a little shaken."
Gibbs looked hard at Ducky and realized that ‘a little' was a major understatement. Idly he wondered if understatement was a British thing, or something personal to Ducky. He shook his head. "No need to apologize, Duck. I understand."
He found himself being fully appraised by the steady, clear gaze. "I believe you do. Thank you." Ducky smiled.
Not entirely certain what he'd been thanked for, Gibbs smiled back.
An hour later he found himself sitting in a very comfortable and large armchair watching Ducky sleep. He told himself that his presence there was unnecessary; that whoever had attacked Ducky would hardly be likely to turn up at his hotel and finish the job they'd started. But nonetheless, for some inexplicable reason (after all Ducky was really a perfect stranger, a stranger who Gibbs felt he'd known his entire life, but still a stranger) Gibbs found himself insisting on staying, just in case.
Oddly enough, after one or two attempts at arguing, Ducky had ceased to object and had instead taken himself off to the bathroom to prepare for bed.
Three months later, in the same room, Jethro Gibbs found himself in the bed of Ducky Mallard.
"I never meant for this to happen, Jethro," Ducky said. He sounded almost upset and guilty, and yet he also could not completely hide his pleasure.
"Nor did I, Duck. But I'm damn glad it did," Gibbs said, and kissed Ducky again.
2015 - THE COTSWOLDS, UK
"Oh, Duck, what if –"
"But you did, dearest."
"Yeah, but –"
Ducky silenced him with a kiss.
After several minutes of pleasurable kissing, Jethro released Ducky, lightly touched the kiss-swollen lips and glanced down once again at the photograph album. Suddenly it wasn't enough to sit there, looking through the pages, with Ducky by his side. Jethro wanted, he needed, his lover closer.
Steadying the album with one hand, he slipped his other arm around Ducky's shoulders and tugged him a little towards him. With a soft sigh of evident pleasure, Ducky settled against him, and Jethro maneuvered the album so that it was resting on their knees; albeit it a little more on his than on Ducky's.
Then slowly he began to turn the pages and study the photographs. Some he knew well; some he vaguely recognized, others he couldn't recall at all. The photographs were a mixture.
Some were just of him, often in his uniform, sometimes in relaxed dress, very occasionally in a suit.
Some were of Ducky, whose idea of informal clothes did not match Jethro's jeans and sweatshirt. In fact to the casual eye, there would be little, if anything, to differentiate Ducky's ‘normal' attire with his informal wear.
Still others, in fact the majority, were of both of them.
"You know, Duck," Jethro said, pausing at 1978, "it's a wonder no one guessed about us." And he meant it. Studying the photographs like this showed him with complete clarity that they weren't photographs of two good friends; they were photographs of two lovers. It wasn't anything overt, nothing he could put his finger on and say ‘this shows it', but it was there. In every picture of them together, and in some of them apart, it was there, clear and plain for anyone to see.
Ducky chuckled softly. "People only see what they want to see, my dear. Or they see what they believe or wish to believe. Everyone believed you to be completely heterosexual, therefore they saw us a merely good friends. Which essentially, it is fair to say, we always were."
Jethro glanced at him. "Er, hate to break it to you, Duck, but just ‘good friends' don't sleep together. And they certainly don't do the kind of things we do together."
Ducky just smiled at him and blinked his eyes, his look one of false innocence.
Jethro shook his head and returned to the album. He turned over another couple of pages until he reached 1980 – the year that Ducky had moved into his Reston home. "Do you remember the day you moved in, Duck?"
Ducky chuckled. "I don't think either I or the removal men will ever forget it, my dear."
"It wasn't that bad," Jethro said a touch defensively.
"That, I believe, is a matter of opinion. I am not certain they appreciated you directing them as if they were part of a military operation." Ducky smiled.
"It got the job done."
"Yes, it did. And I confess that I suspect had you not assisted in the way you did, that it would have taken at least twice as long."
"And you'd have spent most of the day making endless cups of tea or coffee for them. Besides, don't forget I had another reason for getting them out of the way as quickly as possible."
Ducky smiled. "Ah, yes, so you did. Or I should say we both did."
The ‘other reason' had been the beginning of Jethro's deployment the day after Ducky had moved into his Reston home.
"Never did work out if you planned that deliberately, Duck."
"Planned what, Jethro?"
Ducky's evasiveness made Jethro laugh. "You did! You wanted me out of the way while you got settled."
"It was more a case, my dear, of having far better things to do with our limited time together other than move furniture around, decorate, and all the other things associated with moving into a new home," Ducky said calmly.
"So it wasn't that you didn't want me around?"
Ducky looked at him for a moment, his gaze steady. Then he said calmly, "Quite the opposite, Jethro. I wanted you around a little too much."
Jethro swallowed hard and for a moment thought about all the wasted years. Then he forced himself to remember one of the things Ducky was fond of saying: ‘the past is the past; we cannot change it. Thus regrets are futile'. So instead he brushed his hand over Ducky's hair and smiled.
"You ever miss it?"
"Reston? Sometimes, yes. But I have wonderful memories of it, and this is far more suitable to our needs. Why do you?"
"Sometimes, yeah. Always thought of it as a sanctuary. The only place I ever really felt at home. The one place I could be, well me." And it was true, over the years, Reston and had become Jethro's retreat from the hells of the world, as well as the pain and chaos that was his personal life. "Wouldn't want to go back though; this is home for us now."
Ducky smiled. "Good," he said simply.
After a moment or two, Jethro continued to turn the pages. He might not necessarily recall the exact photographs of the year in question, but he nonetheless remembered each year; both the good and the bad.
He turned over the next page, 1990, expecting to see more photographs of Ducky and himself and instead saw . . .
"Duck?" he whispered, tearing his gaze away from the page to look at his lover.
"They were a large part of our lives, dearest. It is only right that they should be there." Ducky spoke quietly and calmly as he covered the hand that still held the page with his own.
"But . . ." Slowly Jethro turned his attention back to the page. There they were, Shannon and Kelly smiling at him: young, happy, peaceful – alive. He swallowed hard as he turned over the hand Ducky covered with his own hand and interlinked his fingers with those of his lover.
Ducky didn't speak; he didn't need to. He simply sat there, holding Jethro's hand, his body resting against Jethro's, his steady, loving, reassuring, calming, ubiquitous presence was just what Jethro needed.
Jethro looked down at the page again and turned his attention to the other picture of Shannon and Kelly, the one that he and Ducky were also in. "She loved you too, Duck," he said quietly. "They both did."
"And I loved them, dearest. And like you, I still miss them."
Jethro glanced at his lover. "Do you?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes." He spoke quietly but firmly, and the steady, unblinking gaze confirmed his words.
Jethro was silent for a moment. Even after the secret of Shannon and Kelly had become generally known, he and Ducky had still rarely spoken about the only females in his life he had truly loved. He looked at Ducky and asked, "Do you think she knew?"
Ducky squeezed his hand. "Does it matter?"
"Guess not." For a moment he was silent again. Then he asked, "Duck?"
"Do you ever wonder what would have happened if they'd lived."
"No." Ducky spoke firmly again, but this time he glanced away from Jethro.
Jethro tightened the grip he had on Ducky's hand, letting his lover know that he'd read the lie, but had allowed it as an acceptable, a forgivable, one. "Reckon you saw more of Kelly's growing up than I did," he said after a moment or two. "I'm glad you were there for them, Duck."
"So am I, my dear. I only wish –"
But Jethro shook his head quickly, silencing his lover. "Hey, do you remember Kelly's fifth birthday?"
Ducky chuckled. "I don't think I ever saw Shannon so furious with you – or with me."
Jethro laughed too, and didn't correct his lover. After all, strictly speaking Ducky was correct; he had never seen Shannon so mad at Jethro. "What did it matter? It was only water, and Kelly enjoyed it."
"I don't believe that it was the water per se that annoyed Shannon so much, but rather the fact that Kelly was wearing her more-than-a-little expensive party frock at the time she, er . . . ‘fell' into the boating lake. Not to mention the small fact that Shannon had spent over half an hour braiding Kelly's hair and making it perfect. Plus, if you recall, the water wasn't overly clean. And the other children, who were looking forward to Kelly's party, were already at your home when we brought Kelly back."
"Even so . . . Never did really get it, you know, Duck, Shannon being so mad. It was only a dress and a hair-do. What?" he demanded, as he saw the glint in Ducky's eyes.
"I think I have just worked out why your relationships with women were never successful."
"'It was only a dress and a hair-do'," Ducky repeated, and laughed softly.
But Jethro didn't laugh. Instead he pushed Ducky a little further away from him so that he could really look at him; he held the gaze until he was certain Ducky was looking at him. As he again tightened the grip he'd let loosen, he said solemnly, "That wasn't the reason, Duck."
For a long moment, Ducky just looked at him. Then he sighed softly, smiled a little sadly and said quietly, "No, maybe it wasn't."
"No ‘maybe' about it, Duck."
Ducky offered a half-shrug and glanced away.
Jethro tugged him back against him, brushed his lips through the heavy, silky, dark-blond hair and made a decision. He wasn't sure that now was really the ideal time; but there wasn't ever going to be one. "Duck," he said, once again pushing his lover away a little.
"My dear?" Ducky frowned slightly as he looked at Jethro.
"Something I've got to tell you."
Ducky continued to watch him. "That sounds a little ominous," he said quietly.
Jethro shrugged. "Not really. Least I hope not. The thing is, Duck, I finally figured out why. Why I kept marrying and dating all those women."
"I see." Ducky's tone and his eyes gave nothing away.
"Yeah. It was because I didn't think I deserved to be happy with you, because of . . . Well because I broke all the rules with Shannon and you, didn't I? Loved you both. Had you both. Was happy. And that's not right, is it? You're not meant to love two people at the same time. And then . . . I wasn't there, Duck. I wasn't there. I was away protecting my country; not my family."
"Oh, Jethro," Ducky said softly.
But Jethro ignored him. "So I kept punishing myself. Kept telling myself I didn't deserve to be happy with you. That I didn't deserve just you and your love. The only thing is . . . Well, I realized far too late, it wasn't me I was really punishing, was it? It was you. Not deliberately," he added quickly as he saw the color begin to fade from Ducky's face. "I didn't blame you or anything, you do know that, don't you, Duck? Don't you?" he added a little forcefully.
Ducky nodded once. "I –"
Jethro cut into his words. "I was trying to hurt myself, trying to make myself pay, but I was hurting you all the time. And I didn't realize it, Duck. Not until Hollis. I didn't realize, not really, not consciously, not in the way I should have done, just what I was doing to you. I mean I knew I was hurting you, and I hated myself for it. But . . . I am sorry, Duck," he whispered the last four words.
"It's all right, my dear. I –"
"No!" Jethro spoke a little more harshly than he'd intended. "Don't say ‘it's all right' just like that, Duck."
Ducky voice was soft. "But it is, my dear."
"Because I've always known that's why you were doing it. And I've always known how much you hated yourself for hurting me."
Jethro blinked. "You have?" he said, his tone an incredulous one.
Ducky smiled gently and reassuringly. "Of course I have, dearest."
Jethro just stared at him lover. "Oh," he said finally. He fought back the instinct to add ‘and you didn't tell me this before because?' because he knew why: Ducky had known that he had to figure it out for himself.
Pale blue eyes continued to gaze at him with the same love and devotion they had always shown him. "Now," Ducky said, "do you wish to sit here and continue to angst about something that is in the past, something that you cannot change? Or shall we return to enjoying your anniversary present?"
Jethro stared hard at Ducky. "That's one of those whatsit questions, isn't it?"
"Rhetorical? Why, yes." And Ducky beamed.
Jethro rolled his eyes and shook his head in bemusement, before lightly kissing Ducky's nose.
They continued to look through the album and exchange ‘do you remember when . . .' comments for the next twenty minutes. Both the good and the bad times were remembered, because, as Ducky said when Jethro tried to hurry past 2000 - the ‘Paris' year - it was all part of what they were.
"God, that boat was small," Jethro said with a smile.
"I prefer ‘intimate'." Ducky smiled at him and his eyes twinkled.
"Yeah, was certainly that. You know, Duck, I reckon that might have been why Jenn sent me that ‘Dear John' letter. Me in effect choosing to go with you, rather than stay with her."
"Do you think she knew?"
Jethro shrugged. "Don't think so." He went back to turning over pages. Now each page held a team photograph too, as one by one the members of what was the best team he had ever headed joined Ducky and himself.
"You know, Duck, I still don't know exactly why I took DiNozzo on. He irritated the hell out of me the moment I met him. But there was something about him."
"I must confess that when you first introduced him to me, I was rather surprised that you had picked him for your team. I also did not expect him to last."
"Nor did I really. His record for staying in one job wasn't good."
"I was thinking more along the lines that you would be so irritated by him, that you would be the one to terminate the involvement."
"Came close to it more times than I can remember. But somehow . . . Ah, I don't know, Duck, there was always something about him. He always came through, no matter what."
"Indeed he did. As did they all."
"Yeah. They did. Damn glad to have known and worked with them all."
In 2003, Kate smiled up at him. "What a waste," he murmured.
"It wasn't your fault, Jethro."
"I know that, Duck. Really I do," he added, as Ducky raised an eyebrow slightly. "It was that bastard. He took Kate and Gerald away and could easily have –"
"But he didn't," Ducky said firmly. "And I still firmly believe it was never his intention to do so. He valued his own life too much. He would have known that had he killed me, that no one would have stopped you from getting your revenge."
"He knew me so well, Duck." Jethro spoke with loathing in his voice.
"No, my dear. He only knew one very small part of you. The part that anyone can see within moments of meeting you. The fierce loyalty you have to those for whom you care."
"I guess so," Jethro said, after a moment or two. And then, because he knew he couldn't dwell on it any longer, that doing so would change nothing, he returned to the album.
2004 added two new members to the team: McGee and Palmer. "God, I'm glad I took a chance on McGee; nearly didn't, you know. Wasn't sure that he had it in him to be as ruthless as you had to be, in order to be a field agent."
"I'm not certain he ever did, not really. He was, however, intelligent enough to know how to cope, and he was never going to let you down; not after you had taken a gamble on him."
"Bit like you with Palmer really."
"Indeed. I saw something in Jimmy the moment I met him, something of which I do not believe he was consciously aware. However, it was so fleeting, so fragile that, well . . . there was more than one occasion when I wondered whether I really had seen it, or whether I had just wanted to see it. But I had seen it; he proved that."
"He did, yeah." Jethro knew just how important Ducky had been, and still was, to Palmer and vice versa. He knew how Palmer would have done anything for Ducky.
"Ziva even worked out okay," Jethro said, after a moment, as he looked down at the photograph in 2005.
"She did, yes. Once she made her choice and decided to become part of the team."
Jethro nodded and for a moment of two, they just looked at one another. He didn't need to ask Ducky to know that his lover was remembering the ‘children'.
After a few minutes, Jethro returned to the album. He hesitated just before turning over to 2006, and then sighed to himself with relief. The photo of Ducky was from his graduation. Although it was nine years ago, and he knew that Ducky had long ago forgiven him, Jethro still regretted his actions at that time. In particular the fact that he, Ducky's oldest, closest, dearest friend, had not attended something that was so important.
"Should have been there," he said softly.
He felt Ducky shrug. "And I should have asked you to come." He spoke firmly. "Jethro, we were both at fault after you returned from Mexico."
"Yeah, I guess."
"We were." Once again Ducky spoke firmly, and this time it was he, rather than Jethro who turned over the next page.
Jethro tugged Ducky even closer to him as he saw the main picture: Ducky's mom. What happened that year had been both good and bad.
2007 - WASHINGTON DC, USA
Lying on his back, his head and shoulders underneath the bathtub, Jethro connected up yet another pipe and secured it. As he did so, he wished, not for the first time, that he'd never started the job. His only aim now was to finish it; because when he did that he could also do, what he should have done several months ago, finish his ‘relationship' with Hollis.
He could walk away, as he should have done when she gave him her ‘you should want me' speech. As he'd thought he'd done after he'd spent a few hours in bed with her after she'd saved his life. As he should have done at least half a dozen times before he started fixing her plumbing – and even since then.
He could be with Ducky now, or working on his boat, rather than sprawled on the floor in her cramped bathroom saving her the cost of a professional plumber. He forced an image of Ducky from his mind; the one thing he had never done was to think of one lover while with another – that was taking cheating too far.
But Ducky wouldn't fade from his mind as easily as that. No matter how hard Jethro tried to concentrate on something else, his oldest friend and lover kept reappearing. It wasn't only the fact that he couldn't keep Ducky away; it was also that something didn't feel right.
Suddenly he heard his cell phone begin to burble. He reached down to snag it from the pocket of his jeans, before remembering that he'd taken it out before crawling under the bath. "Damn. Holl," he yelled. "Get that, will you?"
Seconds later the noise stopped.
"Just a minute," he heard her say, and he wriggled out from beneath the bath. "It's Ducky." She held out the phone to him, turned and walked away; she did not sound pleased.
"Hey, Duck. Something up?" He listened for a moment. "I'll be right there." And before Ducky could object, he hung up. "Got to go, Holl," he called, grabbing his jacket and racing to the door.
"What's happened?" she demanded.
He stopped and turned round. "Ducky's mom's died. I've got to be there. I'll call you," he added. As he spoke he saw her face change; he recognized the look. It was the same one that had crossed Jenny's face when he'd told her he was leaving France in the boat with Ducky, and it was up to her to clear things up.
She shook her head. "Don't bother. I'll call another plumber." She turned and walked away from him.
For no more than half a second he stood in the doorway, before shrugging and hurrying down the stairs. All thoughts of Hollis had fled; the only thought he had now was for Ducky.
Three months later he sat in Ducky's sitting room sipping whiskey and wondering why Ducky had insisted that they sit separately in the armchairs rather than, as was more usual, on the sofa, together.
After several minutes of listening to Ducky tell him about his day, Jethro said softly but firmly, "Just say it, Duck."
"Whatever it is you want to tell me."
For a second Ducky glanced away. Then he looked back up and looked at Jethro, his gaze fixed and steady. "Very well. Jethro, now that Mother has passed away, I believe it is time for you to make a final decision. I know that we have never spoken of it as such, not in detail, but . . . I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I asked you when you wanted me to move in," Jethro said quietly. He stood up and moved across the room to squat down in front of Ducky.
Ducky blinked. "Jethro, are you . . . ?"
Jethro nodded and took Ducky's hands in his. "Been wanting to tell you since the evening she died. But I thought you'd think I was just . . . You know."
"Trying to make me feel better?"
Jethro nodded. "Yeah. Thought you'd think it was too soon."
"And you are certain it is what you want?"
"Yes, Duck. I am and it is."
"It's more than you just living here, isn't it? I don't think I could –"
Jethro silenced him in his favorite way.
2015 - THE COTSWOLDS, UK
"Mother would have been pleased to know that her death led to something so good," Ducky said quietly.
"Reckon she would have, Duck." Jethro kissed Ducky lightly and tugged him infinitesimally closer to him.
They sat in silence, the kind that only two people who knew one another so well, who cared for one another so deeply, could share, for a moment or two.
Then Jethro glanced back down at the album. There weren't many unlooked at pages remaining.
As he turned over to 2009, he wasn't the least bit surprised to see a photograph of Abby, his darling girl, and McGee on their wedding day, with Ducky and himself standing by their sides.
"Never thought they'd actually do it," he said, smiling fondly at the girl, the woman, who had always been a surrogate daughter to him.
"Did you not?" Ducky's sounded surprised. "Why, Jethro, I am surprised at you."
"You're saying you always knew they'd finally stop messing around with other people and settle down?"
"Of course I did. It was so obvious."
Jethro looked at his lover. "Reckon you're just a romantic, Duck," he said, after a moment. "Always like the happy endings."
Ducky smiled. "In many ways Abigail and Timothy's relationship was rather like a romantic novel."
"Better not let them hear you say that."
"Oh, I don't know. I don't think they'd mind that much. After all they did both prove how much they loved one another by certain things they did. Things that I doubt they'd have done for anyone else."
"Well, with Timothy it was the tattoo."
"Did he really get one?"
"Oh, yes. I once had occasion to see it."
"Come on then, Duck, where was it."
"It was on the back of his left thigh just above his knee."
Jethro looked at Ducky in surprise. "Do I want to know?" he asked.
"It was the first time the poor boy had been subjected to an attack of poison ivy."
"Yeah, remember that. His face looked awful."
"Believe me, Jethro, his face did not look anywhere near as bad as another affected area. He must have been particularly uncomfortable, it really was quite badly er, swollen. And if that wasn't bad enough, Mr. Palmer happened to walk into Autopsy as Timothy was showing me the problem, and . . . Well, let us say that prior to the incident, whilst I had absolutely no doubt about Jimmy's abilities as a prospective Medical Examiner, I did occasionally wonder whether he had all the necessary tact, at least at the time. However, the incident completely reassured me. What is it, dear?" Ducky said. "Did I say something that wasn't quite clear?"
Jethro resisted the urge to take exception to the word ‘quite' or say something along the lines of ‘what's new', and instead said, "You still haven't told me how you saw the back of McGee's knee."
"Oh. I am sorry, Jethro. Well Timothy's other problem area required him to remove his trousers and shorts and –"
"Palmer walked into Autopsy when you were . . ."
"Yes." Ducky nodded.
"How come you didn't tell me?"
"I am a doctor, Jethro. I gave Timothy my word that his secret was safe with me. He was particularly concerned that Anthony might have found out and –"
"He'd have made his life hell. Yeah, that's DiNozzo." But Jethro spoke fondly of his one time senior field agent. "Guess it all worked out okay in the end, with McGee and DiNozzo."
"Yes. Caitlin's death brought them closer together. Now I do confess to being more than a little surprised when Timothy asked Anthony to be his best man."
Jethro smiled. "Yeah, me too. So what about Abby then? What did she do to prove her love for McGee?"
"Why married him, of course." Ducky sounded surprised that Jethro had to ask. "She once told me that she would never marry."
"I'm glad she did. It was one of the happiest days of my life."
"I know." Ducky said simply. "As was the day she asked you to give her away, was it not?"
Jethro nodded and swallowed around a lump that had formed in his throat.
Ducky patted his leg and turned over the next page. "And then the following year we had another happy event." This time the photograph was not only of Abby, McGee, Ducky and Jethro, but also of Abby and McGee's twin boys: Thomas Jethro and Benjamin Donald McGee – their godsons and honorary grandsons.
"Did you know they were going to name them after us?" Jethro asked, smiling down at the photograph of Ducky and himself holding the twins.
Ducky shook his head. "No. I was as surprised as you when they were fully named at the ceremony. That was a very special day, Jethro. I had never . . . Well, why would I?"
"I know, Duck." Jethro tugged Ducky back into a close hug. "It'll be good to see them again next month. That was my one concern about leaving America, not seeing enough of them. But we don't have to worry about that. Now that surprised me more than Abbs marrying. Her giving up work at NCIS. Don't tell me, it didn't surprise you."
"Not entirely, Jethro. No. I had always known that as much as Abigail loved working for NCIS and was passionate about what she did, even more important to her was the people with whom she worked. So when we both finally announced that we would retire in a few months, and Timothy had already declared his intention to move away from being a field agent, well I wasn't that surprised when she decided that she wouldn't be returning after her maternity leave."
"And everyone thought I was the one who always knew everything."
Ducky chuckled. "Ah, but they never did find out exactly how you managed it, did they?"
Jethro smiled. "Just another one of our secrets."
"Indeed. Probably the best kept one."
"Yeah. Reckon so."
"Talking of keeping secrets, I confess that our combined resources did rather fail us in 2011, did they not?" Ducky turned over to the year in question.
"You mean our retirement party?" Ducky nodded. "Still don't know how they managed to pull that off without one of us finding out something."
"You trained them very well, Jethro. Tobias said that it was as carefully planned and organized as any Marine operation might have been."
"Guess I didn't do too bad a job."
"You did a very good job, dearest."
"So did you, with Palmer. You miss it?"
"The place? Not really, not as such. The people? Yes, of course I do. It would be nice to see Jimmy a little more often. However, I had always said that, assuming I was still working, still permitted to work given that I had passed sixty-five, that I would retire with you at the time you reached the mandatory age of retirement. And I was not overly sorry to leave; sixty-nine was quite old enough to be working the hours we sometimes had to work."
"I never thought I'd say it, Duck, but part of me was damn glad when my fifty-seventh birthday loomed; you're not the only one who found the sixteen hour days a bit long. There were far better things we could be doing." He grinned down at Ducky.
"Jethro!" Ducky exclaimed in his pseudo-shocked voice.
They both laughed.
The final four pages showed mostly life in their new home. They'd moved to the Cotswolds in 2012, and neither had any real regrets. 2012 showed another photo of their Reston home, but this time with it had its new owners in front of it.
"Guess it was your turn to surprise Abbs and Tim," Jethro said, remembering the look on the faces of the McGees when Ducky had handed over the keys to the house.
"The home always needed a real family to fill it. And given that it was your home as well as mine, it was our surprise," Ducky chided gently.
Jethro shrugged. It was strange really; the Reston house had always felt like home to him, but he'd never felt as if he had any rights to it. Even though he'd lived there with Ducky for four years, and even though he'd spent almost as much time there over the years as he had in his own house, and even though Ducky had told him, early on in their relationship, that he was the main benefactor in Ducky's will, it had always been Ducky's home.
Unlike this one. This was their home.
He closed the album and carefully placed it on the table.
Forty years worth of memories lay within its pages.
Forty years of memories, both good and bad.
Forty years of pleasure and pain.
Forty years of life with Ducky.
But mostly forty years of love.
He didn't know how many more they'd have together; but he hoped they were many, decades not just years.
But in the meantime.
In the meantime . . .
He turned slightly and tugged Ducky into a two-armed embrace. Ducky sighed with pleasure and snuggled against him; Jethro drank in the scent of the forest as he buried his nose and mouth in Ducky's hair. "Hey, Duck," he murmured. "Remember what I said about having better things to do than work?"
"How about we go upstairs and do some of them."
Ducky moved back slightly and looked up at Jethro from under his overly long fringe. "That, my dear, is one of the best ideas you have had since –"
"The last time I suggested it?"
Ducky laughed softly and offered Jethro his mouth to kiss.
It was an invitation Jethro never failed to accept; nor did he ever tire of doing so.
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