AGAINST ALL ODDS
Jethro finally pushes Ducky too far.
An established relationship story.
Written: March 2007. Word count: 4,004.
How can I just let you walk away, just let you leave without a trace
When I stand here taking every breath with you, ooh
You're the only one who really knew me at all
How can you just walk away from me,
When all I can do is watch you leave
Cos we've shared the laughter and the pain and even shared the tears
You're the only one who really knew me at all
So take a look at me now, oh there's just an empty space
And there's nothing left here to remind me,
Just the memory of your face
Ooh take a look at me now, well there's just an empty space
And you coming back to me is against all odds and that's what I've got to face
Jethro pulled up outside his house, turned the engine off and for a moment leaned his head on the steering wheel. What had he done? And more importantly why? He ignored the voice in his head that answered both questions.
After a moment of two, he climbed out of the car, slammed the door, hurried through the heavy rain, and let himself into his house. He dropped his keys on the hall table, shrugged out of his coat and strode into the sitting room; he needed a drink, a large drink.
"Where have you been, Jethro?" His lover's voice came out of the gloom.
Jethro jumped. "Duck? What are you doing here?" He switched the light on and stared at Ducky who was standing across the far side of the room.
Ducky ignored him and slowly moved towards him. "On second thoughts, don't bother answering that question. I know exactly where you've been. You might have least taken the time to shower before you came home, Jethro. Or do you enjoy smelling of sex and expensive perfume?"
"Duck, I -" What could he say? That he couldn't bear to stay in her apartment once he'd fucked her, even long enough to shower.
"Don't touch me." Ducky took a step backwards. Jethro stopped moving.
"Ducky, I -"
"You know, Jethro, I often wondered whether there would be anything that you could do that would finally push me too far. I always told myself that there wasn't. After all, you'd married four times, had countless other women, surely if I could put up with all of those things and keep coming back, then I should be able to put up with anything. I was wrong." Ducky's tone was one of gentle surprise.
"You've found it, Jethro. You've found the one thing that I cannot put up with. You have finally pushed me too far." Weariness and steel replaced the surprise. And the pale blue eyes, always a barometer of Ducky's every mood, began to turn grey as Ducky erected long-forgotten shields.
"Ducky, please, listen to me." Jethro began to panic. Ducky's words were worrying him enough, but his lover was withdrawing from him, and not just in the physical sense.
"Why? So you can tell me all the things you've told me in the past? How sorry you are. How you never meant to hurt me. How if I give you one more chance it'll be different. I'm sorry, Jethro. It's over." All emotion fled, and Ducky's voice contained no intonation at all.
"Ducky, you don't mean that. Look, it was stupid, thoughtless. I don't even -"
"Know why you did it? I know. I know that, Jethro. But maybe it's time that you did know why you did it. You've been doing it for thirty years, you should have some idea." For the first time, anger began to slip into Ducky's voice.
"Ducky, please. She means nothing to me." Jethro winced at the words that automatically came out. Words he'd used many times before.
"No. I know that as well. And although I do not particularly care for Jennifer, even she deserves better than that."
"Ducky," Jethro took a step towards his lover.
"I said don't touch me. And I meant it, Jethro. I don't want you near me. I don't want to smell her and what you've been doing. It sickens me, Jethro. You sicken me."
And Jethro believed his friend. Believed him in a way that made him think he'd never truly believed him before. "You don't mean that, Duck. You're angry. I understand."
"No, Jethro, I'm not angry. At the moment I don't feel anything that I should feel. I'm not certain I feel anything. I'm not entirely certain I ever will again." All signs of anger, if that is what Jethro had heard moments earlier, fled, and once again Ducky's tone became flat and toneless.
"Ducky, we can sort this."
"Yes, Jethro we can. Very simply. You keep out of my life from now on." He sounded exhausted.
"Ducky, please. I love you."
Ducky looked at him, and for the first time something other than ice showed in the grey gaze. "I know you do, my dear," he said softly. "And that is what makes it even harder to understand, that's why it's impossible to forgive. You do love me. I've always known that; I've never once, not once, Jethro, in thirty years doubted that. You have never once given me cause to question it, to disbelieve it. You love me. You want me. But, my dearest, you don't need me. No, Jethro, you don't. I thought love was enough, I thought it was enough to forgive anything and everything. But . . . I am sorry, Jethro. I am more sorry than you will ever know. Possibly more sorry than you will ever understand. But I cannot, and more importantly I will not, do it any longer. I cannot give you anything else; I have nothing left to give. Nothing. Nothing. I . . . Goodbye, Jethro." Throughout his long speech, Ducky's voice had betrayed a variety of emotions. But now, as he said the final two words, there was nothing there. Nothing at all.
"Ducky, you can't just walk out of here."
"Actually, Jethro, I can. And I intend to."
"Duck." Jethro stretched out his hand and held it towards Ducky.
Ducky ignored it. Instead, he moved slowly away from Jethro, circling round him until he reached the door of the sitting room.
Jethro stood, frozen to the spot. He had no idea what to say or do. Then something hit him. "Why are you here, Duck?"
Ducky paused and bowed his head for a moment. Then he raised it again, turned back around and looked at Jethro. "Mother died a few hours ago," he said flatly.
"Oh, Duck, I'm so sorry. I'm so very sorry. I'm sorry." Jethro moved towards Ducky. The look on Ducky's face, in his body language, made him stop.
"'Call me, Duck. Day or night. Whenever you need me. Call me and I'll be there'. I needed you Jethro, and Mother was asking for you. And where were you? Fucking Jennifer Shepard." Ducky turned away again and limped out of the room.
It was only after he'd swallowed two large mouthfuls of whiskey he didn't taste, that Jethro realized that he hadn't seen or heard the Morgan. Ducky must have got a cab to his house, and clearly preferred waiting or walking in the pouring rain, to being inside Jethro's house.
Knowing that going after Ducky would not help matters, he instead went to his bathroom and stood under a scalding hot shower, staying there until the water ran cold, scrubbing every part of his body. But when he got out, he knew that he still wasn't clean. He could still smell and taste her. Smell and taste what they'd done. Smell and taste his final betrayal.
THE NEXT DAY
"The Director would like to see you in her office, Agent Gibbs." Cynthia's cool, formal tone greeted Gibbs, as he sat trying to force the headache, that pounded his brain, away.
Oh, great! Just what I need.
He pushed back his chair and went up to her office.
He found her sitting behind her desk, a letter in her hand. The look on her face was strange, a mixture of . . . He couldn't really put his finger on it. "I'm busy, Jenn," he said. It wasn't strictly true, but he had no desire to be in the same room with her.
She looked directly at him and held out the letter. "This was on my desk this morning. I think that you should see it."
Frowning he took it and scanned it. "Fuck," he cursed. He dropped the letter back on to her desk, turned and strode towards the door.
"Agent Gibbs." Her tone stopped him. However, he did not turn back round. "Where are you going?"
"To see Ducky, to sort this out. He can't resign." Now he did turn back round and moved towards her.
"Retire." Her voice was low.
"Resign, retire, it's the same thing. He can't."
"He can, Jethro. And he has. And I intend to accept it."
He leaned his hands on her desk and glared at her. "Why? As a way of getting back at me?"
She laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. "As a matter of fact, no. Not everything in this office revolves around you, and it seems that for once that even applies to Ducky. No, Agent Gibbs, the reason I intend to accept it is, that it saves me having to find a way to ask Dr. Mallard to retire."
"What? Why the fuck would you want to do that?"
"He's over sixty, Jethro. Indeed, I believe that he in fact turned sixty-five last month."
"So. That is the accepted retirement age for Federal employees."
"Ducky's not a field agent, the same thing doesn't apply. Anyway, we both know that it's a rule that can be gotten around for non-field staff. Look at Dr. Carter, and at Frank Bones - he's pushing seventy-five. You're the Director, direct. You know you can do it."
"Yes, I can. But Ducky is the one who wishes to retire."
Gibbs shook his head. "No, he doesn't. He's just reacting to him mother's death. In a few days, a week or so, he'll realize he's made a mistake. Sit on it, Jenn. File his application for personal leave and don't file the retirement. You did it for me. Do it for Ducky."
She smiled at him. The look chilled him. "Yes, but you I wanted to keep. Ducky I don't. Give me a good reason to do as you ask, Jethro. Let's call it incentive, shall we?"
He stared at her. He could hardly believe what she'd just said. She was blackmailing him, in effect. Have sex with her, or else she'd file Ducky's retirement. Sex with Jenn is what's caused Ducky to resign, his brain told him.
He leaned even nearer to her. "Are you really that desperate for me to fuck you, Jenn? Am I really that good?" He watched her face turn ashen and then red, as he said the words. And as he said them he knew he'd sealed Ducky's fate.
But what did it matter anyway? Why was he even trying to keep Ducky at NCIS? Wouldn't it be more painful seeing him every day and knowing that he'd screwed up the best relationship he'd ever had, all because he had to go and fuck and ex-lover?
He straightened up. "Do whatever you want to. You always do," he said, turned and left her office.
THREE MONTHS LATER
I wish I could just make you turn around,
Turn around and see me cry
There's so much I need to say to you,
So many reasons why
You're the only one who really knew me at all
So take a look at me now, well there's just an empty space
And there's nothing left here to remind me, just the memory of your face
Now take a look at me now, cos there's just an empty space
But to wait for you, is all I can do and that's what I've got to face
Take a good look at me now, cos I'll still be standing here
And you coming back to me is against all odds
It's the chance I've gotta take
Take a look at me now
Gibbs wiped his hands on the sides of his trousers for the third time and swallowed, trying to force the dryness and the lump in his throat away. He shouldn't have come here; he should have honored Ducky's wishes. But he couldn't. Not any longer.
He reminded himself that he faced men and women who wanted to kill him, in a cool, calm manner. Thus, he should be able to ring the doorbell and speak to his one-time friend and lover. What was the worst thing Ducky could do? Either not answer the door, or answer it and slam it in Gibbs's face, or answer it and tell Gibbs to fuck off. Not that he thought Ducky would resort to such a level of crudity. He did the night he walked out of your home.
He ignored the voice. He'd gotten good at doing that over the past three months. What do you mean over the past three months? You're always been good at it. Again he ignored it.
Swallowing again and wiping his hands for a fourth time, he reached out a finger and pressed the doorbell. He heard it ring inside the house; surely it had never sounded that loud, that echoing before.
He went on waiting.
Finally the door was opened and Ducky stood on the doorstep.
Gibbs had to stop himself from firstly gasping aloud at the sight of Ducky and secondly from acting on instinct and gathering him into his arms.
He couldn't tell if his appearance was a surprise or not to Ducky. Nor could he tell how Ducky was feeling. He couldn't tell anything. And that was because the barriers that shielded the beautiful pale gaze were ten times thicker than any Gibbs himself had ever raised.
For a moment Gibbs thought that Ducky would simply shut the door, or stand there in silence until Gibbs gave in and went away.
However, finally Ducky did speak. But even his tone wasn't anything like his old one. And it had a hint of someone who hadn't spoken for a while. "What do you want?"
Gibbs came straight to the point. "To talk to you."
"Give me one reason why I should listen."
Gibbs swallowed and crossed his fingers, both literally and metaphorically. "Because you still love me and you're as miserable as I am." He spoke softly, hesitantly, and yet with the certainty that only long standing lovers can have.
Ducky looked at the man he'd loved for more than three decades. The man who, despite everything, he did, as Jethro had said, still love. The man he would go to his grave loving. The man who completed him, who made him whole. The man who had hurt and comforted him at times in equal measure. The man who, at times over the years, he had hated, because for Ducky hate only came when he truly loved. The man who had let him down when he'd most needed him. The man who had . . . The man who had clearly been suffering almost as much as Ducky himself had suffered over the past three months.
Jethro had loved Ducky's mother, had been as good a son in many ways as Ducky himself was. In fact Ducky sometimes thought, as his mother's dementia had got worse, that Jethro was a better son. And how had Ducky repaid that love? By not letting Jethro say his own goodbye to her. It didn't matter that Jethro had brought it on himself by his actions, Ducky's excluding him would have hurt, and hurt deeply, far more deeply than Ducky had realized.
And it wasn't just that he'd kept Jethro away from saying goodbye, but he'd also kept him away from supporting Ducky himself. The children, particularly Abby, had tried, had done valiant jobs, but they didn't know Ducky as Jethro did. They had had to ask, where Jethro would just have acted, and that had made it harder for Ducky.
Yes, Jethro had let Ducky down, had let Ducky's mother down, and Ducky had punished him for it. But he'd punished himself as much, if not more. He was lonely; he was miserable; and despite everything he did still want Jethro. It wasn't just the sexual intimacy he missed, it was the other kind of intimacy; the kind that stemmed from their deep friendship. He'd always said that being Jethro's lover was secondary to being his friend.
As he continued to simply stare at the other man, his mind returned to the things he'd said to Jethro on the evening of his mother's death. How much of what he'd said had been true? Had Jethro really pushed him too far? Had he really crossed the line over which there could be no return? At the time, with Ducky hurting so much from the loss of his mother, yes. Yes, he had. But now?
Had he really meant all the cruel and vicious things he'd said? Had Jethro really deserved them? Had he? After all, what had he done that he hadn't done a dozen or more times before? But they were different. But were they?
He closed his eyes for a moment and considered life without Jethro; a moment was all it took. He didn't want a life without Jethro - not if the last three months were anything to go on. But if he just fell back into Jethro's arms, into his bed, into his life, would that really be right? For either of them? Didn't that mean that Jethro had, once again, won? And wasn't that a rather juvenile consideration?
And if he didn't take Jethro back, who was the winner then? No one. Well maybe Jennifer Shepard or whichever woman Jethro was currently bedding. But no, the women, not even Jethro's wives, were ever the winners.
He was sixty-five, if he lived as long as his mother had done, he'd have more than thirty years left. And whilst there was no guarantees that Jethro wouldn't get killed tomorrow, did he really want to spend all that time alone? Weren't the last three months more than enough?
But did he want to spend the next thirty years, or however long they had, in the same way as he'd spent the last thirty? Watching Jethro move from woman to woman? But he always came back to you. And he had done so. But was that enough?
Of all the things he'd said to Jethro on that dreadful evening, the one grain of truth had been that Jethro didn't need him. He loved him; Ducky, as he'd told Jethro, had never doubted that and would never doubt it. He loved him and he wanted him. But did he need him? Yet was Jethro needing him so very important? And if so, why was it so?
And then he looked at Jethro, really looked at him. Jethro hadn't said since he'd spoken the simple but truthful declaration. Nor had be moved. He had remained standing, his head and shoulders slightly bowed, his hands deep in the pockets of his overcoat. He'd lost weight since the last time Ducky had seen him; that was now clear.
"Look at me." Ducky spoke the order quietly.
Jethro lifted his head, and then Ducky saw what he saw every day he looked in the mirror: the pain that was beyond measuring, beyond description. Mixed with it was self-loathing and regret, the kind of which Ducky had never seen on the handsome face before. Oh, Jethro was always sorry, but oft-times Ducky had thought his words just that, words. But now . . .
Then Jethro pulled one hand from a pocket and dragged it through his hair, which, Ducky suddenly realized was far longer than Jethro had ever let it grow, apart from his time in Mexico. But it wasn't the length of the hair that really caught his eye.
Without thinking, acting purely on instinct, Ducky grabbed the hand and pulled it towards him. He tried to ignore the fission of desire and love that flashed through him, just as he tried to ignore the half bitten-off gasp that had come from Jethro.
"What's this?" he demanded, as he ran his fingers over the angry red scar on the back of Jethro's hand. The new angry red scar. The angry red scar that clearly hadn't been stitched properly - if at all. The angry red scar that clearly still hurt if the swallowed hiss of pain was anything to go on. "Jethro."
Jethro frowned and shook his head and he glanced down at his hand, as if he'd forgotten all about it. "Nothing, just a scratch." Ducky stared at him and waited. After a second or two Jethro sighed and said, his tone reluctant, "A bullet grazed me. It's fine. It's nothing. It'll be fine." He pulled his hand from Ducky's grip and pushed it back into his pocket.
"And did you have it stitched?" Ducky asked, although he already knew the answer.
Jethro shook his head. "No, wasn't worth it. Told you, it's only a scratch." It was a lie; but it was the kind of lie that was acceptable between them. The only kind that had ever been.
And that was suddenly the crux of it. In everything he'd done to Ducky, for all the times he'd hurt him, made him hate him, the one thing that Jethro had never done was lie. Above everything else, even when he hadn't particularly liked Jethro, Ducky had always trusted him. And wasn't trust more important than need? Or rather more important than need that Jethro would acknowledge.
"Tell me, Jethro, what did you expect from me today when you came here?"
Jethro blinked. "Expect?" he said carefully.
Ducky nodded. "Yes, expect."
The dark blue eyes, all too often shielded, even with Ducky to an extent, met his. "I expected you to tell me to go to hell and stay there." Jethro spoke flatly, quietly and his eyes confirmed, not only the words, but the sentiment. He wasn't merely telling Ducky what he knew, what he would have guessed, Ducky wanted to hear.
Jethro blinked again, but still didn't tear his gaze away. "Now? Pretty much the same."
Now it was Ducky's turn to blink. Jethro's reply had surprised him, more than surprised him. Ducky knew instinctively that whatever he said now would seal their future. If he sent Jethro away, he would not see his friend again, at least not whilst he was alive.
The odds of them having a 'happy ever after' had always been stacked against them, and always would be whilst Jethro continued to deny what he had always known. Maybe they never would have the 'happy ever after' that existed in books and films. But maybe what they had was more real; more lasting.
Ducky sighed softly and for a moment glanced away.
Then he looked back, looked up at Jethro, looked into the steady gaze that was still heavy with apprehension, and spoke. "Come inside, Jethro. We need to talk."
The look on the dark eyes on the face Ducky had seen every night in his dreams over the past three months, told him what he needed to know. Just for a moment, no more than a second, he . . .
He pushed the thought aside, consigned it to the depths.
Instead, he held out his hand and waited patiently for several long seconds until slowly and tentatively Jethro removed his own hand from the pocket of his overcoat. And then even more slowly and tentatively, took the hand Ducky still held out.
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