BY WAY OF LOVE
Kate and Tony have a conversation about the relationship between Gibbs and Ducky.
And Ducky tells Jethro something surprising.
An established relationship story.
Written: August 2005. Word count: 4,543.
Kate was aware that Tony had been staring at her for the past five minutes. At first she'd decided to just ignore him, as she often tried - and failed - to do. But now it was starting to make her twitch. "What, Tony?" she demanded.
Tony frowned, and chewed his lower lip; he seemed uneasy. Kate's twitch doubled. She glared at him - well it worked when Gibbs did it - but still he seemed unwilling to speak. So she sighed heavily and returned to the file she had been studying, but she couldn't concentrate. Putting her pencil down, she looked up again; Tony was still staring at her. Softening her voice and smiling, Kate repeated, "What is it, Tony?"
For a moment it appeared as though Tony was still not going to answer. Then he stared at her, even more intensely, and said, "Can I ask you a question, Kate?"
It was on the tip of her tongue to give him one of her usual comebacks like, yes, as long as it had nothing to do with bra size; at what age she lost her virginity; or any of the other hundred-and-one annoyingly personal questions her co-worker tended to ask her. Then it hit her; there was something different about Tony. Why was he asking her if he could ask her a question? He didn't usually bother, he just asked. "Okay," she said, noncommittally - it was, after all, still DiNozzo.
Tony opened his mouth; then closed it again and glanced away. He shook his head. "Nah, forget it, it doesn't matter."
Kate counted to ten. Then another ten. She hated it when people did that, and Tony knew it. It was childish in the extreme; designed to make the other person cajole, persuade, be nice. Well she wouldn't; she didn't care. No doubt it'd be some teenage type question anyway. "Go on, Tony," she heard herself say. "Ask."
Tony glanced around him and leaned forward over his desk towards her. Then apparently changed his mind, pushed his chair back, and came to perch on her desk. She looked up at him. He was behaving completely out of character; the usual confident, half-teasing flirtation, the kind he did without even being aware of it, was absent. For just about the first time ever in her time with NCIS, Anthony DiNozzo looked serious.
He bent his head closer to her; she didn't back away. "Do you think Gibbs and Ducky are seeing one another?" he asked, the words coming out in a rush.
She blinked. All that build up, for this? Now she was annoyed. She, DiNozzo and McGee had all been walking behind Gibbs and Ducky, when the two men had talked about their dinner plans. So what was the big deal? "They're having dinner together, Tony. You heard them mention it. Something to do with Ducky saying thank you for something Gibbs did for him at the weekend."
"That's not what I meant, Kate." Tony sounded frustrated.
"Then what did you mean, Tony?" Kate began to tug the file she's been working on out from underneath Tony. Despite appearances to the contrary, this was clearly just another example of DiNozzo trying to delay getting started on his own files.
"I meant, do you think they're together?"
Kate blinked again. "Unless they're having dinner in separate restaurants, then, yes, Tony, I think they're together," she said, her tone heavy with sarcasm.
"I don't mean that either, Kate. God, are you really that -" he shut his mouth.
Kate narrowed her eyes and glared at him. "That. . . ?"
He ignored her for a moment; instead he began to play with the pens and pencils on her desk. He stopped just as she was about the slap him, glanced around once more, before bending even closer to her. "I mean do you think they're lovers?"
"Lovers?" Kate said, aware that her voice had become shrill. She forced it back under control. "Gibbs and Ducky? Lovers? Honestly, Tony, I've often wondered about the way your brain works, but this is beyond me. Where has this come from?"
"Lots of things. Take this dinner for example."
Kate waited. Tony just stared at her. "It's just dinner, Tony. You know the kind of thing that friends do together. It doesn't mean that they're . . . Don't you ever go out with your male friends? Assuming you have any, that is." She smiled sweetly at him.
He ignored the implied insult. "Sure. But we don't go out to dinner. We go to nightclubs, to bars, to stri . . . Er., dance clubs."
"Tony, can you really see either Gibbs or Ducky at a nightclub? Or the kind of bar you frequent?" She chose to ignore the cut-off comment.
"Well, no. I guess not," Tony said after a moment of two's thought. "But dinner is . . ."
"Is what, Tony?"
"Like a date. Romantic. I take a girl out to dinner when I want to - "
"Get her into bed?" Kate said sweetly.
Kate frowned, that hadn't come out right at all. She tried again. "They're old friends, Tony. They go back years. How long have they known one another?"
"About twenty-five years. They first met when Gibbs was in the Marines. Apparently Ducky was his best man all three times."
Kate was surprised. "Wow," she said. "That long. Ducky's more long suffering than I thought. Gibbs too," she added, with a smile.
"Exactly. That's more evidence."
"Yes. Okay, look how Gibbs is with everyone else. If someone doesn't give him exactly what he wants, exactly when he wants it, exactly in the way he wants it, what does he do?"
"He slaps you around the head," Kate said sweetly. "Hey, maybe that explains -" Tony rolled his eyes. "Sorry," she said, for once meaning it. "He gets irritated; more irritated that is than usual."
"Exactly. But not with Ducky. He lets Ducky prattle on for ages before he interrupts him. Well ages by Gibbs's definition, that is."
Kate couldn't deny that. It was true. "But that's just friendship. It's a different dynamic than the one with you, me, McGee, even Abby. Yes, he's officially Ducky's boss, but as you said their friendship goes way back to long before that. He's going to treat him differently. Plus, Ducky's older than Gibbs; Gibbs respects him. And he does snap at him."
"Yes, but have you ever listened to the tone of his voice?"
"And the name he uses? He calls him ‘Duck,' and the tone is . . . I don't know exactly. It's exasperated, the one he uses with the rest of us, but it's overlaid with something else. And it's not just then; whenever Gibbs talks to Ducky, his voice is different, softer, fonder. More . . ." He shrugged.
"They're friends," Kate repeated. "They like one another. They respect one another. They're fond of one another. They -"
"Love one another?" Tony said, his tone completely serious.
Kate pushed her chair back a little and thought. "Possibly, yes. But, Tony, it is possible to love someone in ways other than sexual or romantic. I've had friends, female friends, who'd I say I loved." She bit her lip and waited for the laugh, and the sly look, or the comments about two women being such a turn on.
It didn't come. "Yes, but girls are like that," was all Tony said. "Guys aren't. Heck, most guys don't even form friendships that last as long as Gibbs and Ducky's has."
Kate shook her head. "Tony, I think you're -"
"And there's another thing. Have you noticed how it's okay for Gibbs to question Ducky, ask him things that he knows Ducky would have done, because Ducky's been doing the job for years? But if one of us should do the same, show initiative, then Gibbs is not happy. And Ducky, who never reacts when Gibbs asks him obvious questions, also appears put out when someone else asks the same question?"
"No, but then I don't spend my entire life trying to impress Gibbs."
"Don -" Tony shook his head. "That's beside the point. Look I'll give you an example. Remember when Gibbs was so uptight that time?"
"Which time? Tell me of a time when Gibbs isn't uptight."
"Before we knew that Ari was Ari? When he had us working twenty-six hours a day, eight days a week. When he spent more time sleeping in the office than he did under his boat. Remember?" Kate nodded. "Well it was just before he got really manic. We were in autopsy and that suicide, the one who made his own inferior D-link, was on the table. I preempted Gibbs and asked if Ducky had sent the toxes up to Abby. Well, I might as well have been asking Ducky if he'd . . ." Tony came to a stuttering halt. He waved his hands in frustration. "Well, I can't think of a suitable example. But let me tell you the temperature dropped by several degrees. Ducky looked less than happy, and Gibbs . . . Well, if looks could kill, Kate. I wouldn't be sitting here now."
Kate bit back the obvious ‘oh, if only,' retort, and instead repeated, "They're friends, Tony. Plus Ducky's about thirty years older than you. It's one thing for your boss, or an old friend, a friend who is only about a decade or so younger than you, to ask you the obvious, or to imply that you don't know your own job. However, it's not the kind of thing someone who isn't your old friend, boss, or someone reasonably close to your own age, does. It's to do with good manners, Tony. You know, the things you haven't got." She beamed, but to her own ears, the banter wasn't the same as usual; for once she was forcing it. She knew it; and worse still, she knew that Tony knew it. He held her gaze.
Flustered, but determined not to show it, she forced herself to not to blink. "None of your so-called ‘evidence' adds up to anything more than friendship. Besides, aren't you forgetting that Gibbs has been married three times?"
"Exactly!" Tony said firmly, as though it answered the question to life, the universe, and everything.
Kate was getting mightily sick of the word. "What do you mean ‘exactly?'"
"Come on, Kate. One failed marriage is pretty much the norm for someone like Gibbs. Two even, but three . . .? No. It strikes of desperation to me. That or a cover up for something else."
"There you go again, Tony. Once more the way your mind works, the way it takes two and two and ends up with seven, is beyond my comprehension."
Tony just looked at her. "And then there's the way they look at one another - well, especially the way Ducky looks at Gibbs."
"That's because Ducky has to look up at Gibbs; it makes people look in a different way. To maintain eye contact, while looking up at someone, puts a whole different perspective on the way that person looks when compared to them looking at someone else of the same, or very similar height." She frowned, she wasn't completely certain she followed her own explanation. It was rather like the time she'd been attempting to boost Tony up by trying to explain the difference in the dynamics between Gibbs and Stanley, and Gibbs and Tony. She'd failed then; she was greatly afraid she'd been unsuccessful now.
"He has to look up at me - you too when you're wearing heels - but his eyes aren't anything like as soft as when they look at Gibbs. And don't give me ‘they're old friends.' Even old friends don't look at one another like these two do. Gibbs is always softer around Ducky. And they touch, a lot. Gibbs has hugged Ducky more than once."
"Gibbs is fairly tactile, Tony. Ducky isn't the only man he touches."
"There's a difference between a slap round the head, even ruffling someone's hair, and a hug, Kate."
"Okay, let's say that just for a minute that you're correct. What does it matter? Does it bother you?"
"I didn't say that."
"No, but you did take months to get over kissing that he/she."
"That was different."
"Yes. Totally different. What are you trying to imply, Kate?"
"Nothing. Just that . . . Well, men do sometimes - make that often - have problems with other men who are ‘different.' They feel threatened."
"Oh, and women don't?"
"No. They don't." Then, because for some reason, she felt she had to play fair, Kate added, "At least not in the same way." The looks they shared showed that, once again, they understood one another fully.
Kate spoke again, more gently this time. She knew what Gibbs meant to Tony, her comment earlier might have been designed to tease or wind up, but it was also true. Tony looked up to Gibbs, idolized him in a way, wanted - maybe needed - Gibbs to notice him, to praise him even. As such, he often went out of his way to try to force the former. "Tony, even if Gibbs and Ducky are lovers, it doesn't change either of them. Gibbs is still the irritating, demanding bastard he's always been. Ducky still the rather sweet, rambling storyteller. Just because a man is gay, sleeps with other men," she added. Somehow she couldn't see Gibbs as ‘gay,' whether what Tony was suggesting was true or not. "It doesn't mean that they want to sleep with every man. It's a fallacy. It's just other men's insecurities coming through. That or their egos."
Still Tony said nothing.
She touched his knee. "Tony?" she said softly. "Does it bother you? Really? Does it change Gibbs in your eyes?" As she waited for him to reply, or not, she suddenly realized what she'd said. ‘Does' not ‘would.'
Jethro Gibbs strode into the restaurant and blinked as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. It took him less than a second to identify the person for whom he was looking, and he smiled. As always the sight of his lover relaxed him; made him feel whole; made him realize that the world did hold something good after all.
Nodding to the waiter who had hurried towards him, Gibbs continued his way towards the far table. "Sorry I'm late, Duck," he said, the affection clear in his voice. He touched Ducky's shoulder, letting his hand linger for just a few seconds longer than would be the norm for two men who were ‘just old and close friends,' no matter how old and how close they were.
Ducky smiled up at him; his pale blue eyes as always revealing all the love he felt and wished to share. It was obvious - to anyone. "That's all right, Jethro my dear. I haven't been waiting long, and the wine here is particularly quaffable."
Jethro smiled, his fond, affectionate smile, the one he reserved for Ducky alone, and slid into the seat opposite him. He wished he could greet Ducky as a lover, as he could if Ducky, or he, were female. He wished he could kiss him. Oh, nothing passionate, nothing ‘bedroom like', just a quick brush of his lips on Ducky's cheek, forehead, or lips. Just a slightly deeper way of connecting. But he couldn't. Not here.
Maybe not anywhere.
Yes, there were gay bars, clubs, places where he and Ducky could go and not have to hide. But they were for other men; they weren't for Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs and Dr. Donald ‘Ducky' Mallard. Not that Jethro was ashamed of his relationship with his old friend; he'd never been prouder of anything; if he could, he'd make an announcement about them. He'd move Ducky in with him, or move his boat to Ducky's house. But Ducky had a mother who lived with him. Elderly, going senile and dependant. Quite what she knew about her son and his oldest friend, if she knew anything, Jethro wasn't certain - nor was Ducky. But while Mrs. Mallard lived, Ducky and Jethro would go on playing the game they'd played for nearly twenty-five years.
"I love you, Duck," he said softly, letting his fingers skitter over the back of the hand Ducky had resting on the table.
"I love you too, Jethro," his lover replied, as he always did, his own voice soft and unhesitating; but the eyes asked a question. When Jethro said nothing, merely reached for Ducky's glass and drained it, before pouring another for his lover, and one for himself, Ducky said, almost as quietly, "What did keep you at the office, my dear?" Jethro smiled. "I was indulging in my second favorite thing, Duck."
"Ah. And what did you discover tonight that will keep your omniscient label well and truly affixed?" Ducky's eyes gleamed behind his glasses.
Jethro smiled. Just occasionally his lover reminded him of a young child in his eagerness and love of gossip. He leaned nearer and said softly, "DiNozzo thinks that you and I are lovers." He sat back and waited; not entirely certain what Ducky's response would be.
Ducky picked up his wineglass and drank, deeply. "Clever boy. I've always told you that you underestimate that young man's intelligence, Jethro my dear." He smiled in his loving way. "And with whom was he sharing his beliefs, may I ask?"
"And does Caitlin agree with him?"
"Well, there's a first time for everything."
"She just doesn't know it yet."
Ducky chuckled. Then he looked more serious. "And their reaction?"
"That it didn't change anything. I was still the irritating, demanding bastard I've always been. And you're still the rather sweet, rambling storyteller. That basically, it didn't bother them."
"Does it bother you, Jethro?"
"I don't know. I'm not the ex-Marine or the Special Agent. I'm just an eccentric Medical Examiner; what would one more peculiarity amongst so many matter?"
Jethro reached across the table and covered Ducky's hand with his own. "Duck," he said, his tone serious. "If it bothered me, do you really think we'd still be lovers?"
Ducky met his gaze. "No, my dear," he said.
"There you are then. We'll just have to be eccentric together. I love you, Ducky. Don't ever forget that. I know I don't always show you, or even tell you. I know I do enough things to make you doubt that, but. . ." His three disastrous marriages came to mind, but he knew he didn't need to mention them. Ducky would know what he meant. He always did.
"I never have doubted it, Jethro. Not even during your marriages. Now, my dear, as it seems to be an evening of revelations, I believe I have something to tell you."
At that moment the waiter appeared, so silently that it wasn't until he cleared his throat that Jethro was aware that the black and white clothed man was standing over him. Some Special Agent you are, Jethro Gibbs, he told himself ruefully. He fought his long-instilled automatic reaction to snatch his hand away from Ducky's; doing so would only draw even more attention to it. Besides, doing so implied he believed he was doing something wrong, something nasty - and he didn't and he wasn't.
Instead he glanced briefly at the menu, blinking hard in order to attempt to focus; maybe he should wear his glasses more. He was about to order something that he hoped was listed, when he heard Ducky ordering for them both. Jethro nodded his acquiescence, and asked for a second bottle of wine. Pausing only long enough to top up their half empty glasses, the waiter glided off as silently as he'd appeared.
Deciding that as the roof hadn't fallen down, nor had they been unceremoniously ordered from the restaurant and told to never darken its doors again, nor had words like ‘fucking queers' been yelled at them, Jethro decided to leave his hand where it was. "What is it, Duck?" he asked, after drinking some more wine. Ducky looked suddenly serious, and for a moment Jethro's gut began to bother him. "Duck?" he said, more sharply.
"Do not look so worried, my dear. It's nothing bad, or at least I hope it isn't. Of course it is possible that even though you told me that -"
"Duck," Jethro growled, in his ‘Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs' voice, or at least the version he always used with his lover, which, as DiNozzo had told Kate, did differ from the ‘Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs' voice he used with everyone else.
Ducky smiled, as he always did when Jethro used that tone. Jethro pondered, not for the first time, just how much of his lover's ramblings were intentionally designed to make Jethro growl. "Mother enquired after you last night, Jethro."
"Oh," Jethro said, feeling oddly let down. "That's nice. How is she?"
Ducky chuckled again, and his blue eyes sparkled with mirth. "Or rather I should have said that Mother enquired how my paramour, that ‘nice Jethro Gibbs,' was, and asked when you were coming to stay again."
"Your mother called me your paramour?" Jethro said, startled beyond any level he believed it was possible to surprise him.
"You have to remember, Jethro dear, Mother is over ninety; she isn't up with the modern terminology. Paramour is a rather archaic term, which you have to admit does suit my mother. I believe that she used to refer to her gentlemen friends as ‘my paramours.' Of course it can also be used to refer to an illicit love affair, often used when one of the people involved is married, but not to the person with whom they are -"
"Duck!" His lover blinked at him. "I don't need the whole dictionary explanation. I do know what the word means. My surprise was that your mother should use such a term in relation to what I am to you."
"Yes, I confess that it surprised me too at first, Jethro. I believed that she was no longer particularly aware of what was going on around her. Then I realized that I shouldn't be surprised. Mother always did have an uncanny ability to see things. Apparently she knew before I myself did that I preferred the company of men to women. And she has known for a long time that I love you. I just wasn't cognizant to the fact that she was aware that the love was anything beyond friendship. But apparently, she always has been."
"What?" Jethro grabbed his glass and drained it.
"Oh, yes. We had quite a nice, lucid conversation for several minutes, before she retreated into her own world and began to ask me what time we were leaving to visit Crufts."
"Ah, Duck." Jethro patted the hand he still held. "I'm sorry," he murmured.
"Don't be, my dear. I believe she is quite happy." Ducky smiled, and with his free hand refilled Jethro's glass.
But what about you? Jethro mused, sipping the wine. Ducky was correct; it was ‘particularly quaffable.'
"I'm happy too, Jethro," Ducky said quietly. "After all I have you."
Jethro was relieved that he hadn't been swallowing when Ducky spoke, as he suspected the pristine white tablecloth would no longer be pristine - or white in places.
Ducky laughed softly. "Ah, Jethro my dear. Do not look so startled. I have not yet quite achieved the ability to read your mind. I can just read your eyes and your expression. And of course I know how your mind works. It was an obvious thing for you to think, given what I had just said."
"What would I do without you, Duck?" Jethro asked, his tone light; not that he wanted to have to find out.
Ducky's gaze was steady. "I have no intention of allowing you to find that out, my dear," he said. "At least not for quite some time," he smiled gently. It, and the open affection in the blue eyes, instantly took any sting from the final words. "Now I regretfully think that perhaps you had better remove your hand, so that our nice young waiter can bring our meal over and serve it, without having to attempt to work out how to do so without drawing attention to the fact that two men are sitting in his restaurant holding hands."
Not without a tinge of disappointment, Jethro pulled back his hand. A tiny bit of warmth left him, as it always did when he disconnected from touching Ducky.
After their meal, and the second bottle of the ‘particularly quaffable' wine, had been served, and the two lovers had begun to eat, Jethro said, "So does this mean that we can stop sneaking around like those illicit lovers you spoke about? Can I now come and visit you openly?"
"You always do, Jethro."
"Yes, but I also always make a show of leaving again before bedtime, and of then really vanishing before you take your mother her early morning cup of tea."
"If that's what you want, my dear, then yes."
Jethro put his knife and fork down and once more grabbed Ducky's hand, holding it tightly and tugging it slightly towards him. "What I want Dr. Mallard is to either come and live with you, or have you come and live with me, or at least to stop having to play ‘just good friends' all the time. But what I want isn't the only issue here, Duck. What do you want?"
Ducky twisted his hand and reversed the grip. Staring deeply into Jethro's eyes he said solemnly, "What I have always wanted, my dear Jethro."
Jethro swallowed hard, squeezed his lover's hand once more, and returned to his dinner. "Good," he said, when he felt certain it would come out coherently.
They continued to eat for a few more minutes, the silence comfortable, relaxed and caring. Then, once more refilling their glasses, Jethro murmured, "By way of love."
"Paramour. Its exact meaning, I believe, is ‘by way of love.' Your mother couldn't have picked a more appropriate term, Duck." He raised his glass, and after swallowing hard himself, Ducky, his blue eyes looking suspiciously moist, picked his own up and clicked it against Jethro's.
"Ah, Jethro," he said simply, as he stared deeply into Jethro's eyes. "Je crois que je vous aime vraiment, mon cher."
Jethro smiled his response and signaled for the check.
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