CAN THERE BE A HAPPY EVER AFTER?
Gibbs and Ducky meet one evening and something clicks between them. However, days later Gibbs tells Ducky something he cannot accept. All seems to be over, but a few years later they meet again.
A first time story.
Written: October 2010. Word count: 4,000.
I am not to blame.
If I had known then what I know now, it never would have happened. It never could have happened. But I didn't know and it did happen. It shouldn't have done, but it did.
I cannot change anything and the somewhat shameful thing is that even if I could, I am not entirely certain I would. But I still maintain I was not to blame. However, I am getting ahead of myself.
A WEEK EARLIER
"Can I buy you another?"
I looked up from the crossword I had been engrossed in, straight into the bluest eyes I had ever seen. The man, some ten or fifteen years younger than me, was a stranger. He was tall with more than a trace of grey in his short, cropped hair, his skin was weather tanned and his smile and his voice were captivating. But all those things faded as I stared more deeply into his eyes.
I mentally shook myself, aware that I hadn't answered his question. I wondered quite what my face and more importantly my eyes had revealed as I'd stared up at him. More than one person has told me how vocal my eyes are, how they betray my every thought. "Thank you; that would be very pleasant."
He flashed another smile, picked up my glass and headed for the bar. I watched him walk away, he moved with a confidence that did not surprise me. His long strides ate up the space between my corner table and the bar and it wasn't long before he returned.
"No ice," he said, smiling again as he put a glass down in front of me. He pulled his coat off, tossed it on top of mine which I'd laid carefully on an empty chair and sat down opposite me. "Cheers," he said, giving me yet another smile.
I picked up my glass. "Your good health," I replied, smiling back at him. We both took a sip, well I did, he took a deep swallow, and put our glasses back down.
He held out his hand across the table. "Leroy Jethro Gibbs. But no one calls me Leroy."
I took his hand. It was slightly callused; the handshake was firm and strong, the palm dry - none of these facts surprised me. "Donald Mallard, but everyone calls me Ducky." I waited.
I saw him raise an eyebrow and watched the corners of his mouth twitch slightly. Then he just nodded. "Nice to meet you, Ducky." Unlike many people when using my name for the first time, he didn't hesitate, it didn't sound forced; indeed it sounded as if he'd been saying it for years.
"And you, Jethro," I responded, taking another sip of scotch.
We sat and talked about this and that, talking like friends of some years standing, not strangers who had made one another's acquaintance only minutes earlier. I told him I was a doctor; in turn I learned he had received an honorable discharge from the Marines and now worked for NCIS as a special agent.
"Another?" he asked when I finally drained my glass.
I started to stand up. "Allow me," I paused and sat back down. "Or, maybe you would like to join me for dinner?" I waited, suddenly not entirely certain if I wanted him to say 'yes' or 'no'.
Jethro looked at me for several long seconds; I had no doubt he was an extremely good investigator. Then he shrugged. "Sure, that'd be nice. Thanks."
We left the bar and walked to a nearby restaurant where I ate quite frequently. I didn't have a reservation, but that didn't prove to be a problem. Within minutes we were seated, had an aperitif and were looking at the menu. I got the distinct impression that it wasn't the kind of restaurant Jethro was used to frequenting. However, with the same air of confidence he'd showed more than once during the evening, he dealt with the plates, the glasses and the cutlery, even if he did cast me a wry grin from time to time.
Again we talked, well I talked far more than he did; talking was something I realized very quickly that Jethro didn't do a lot of. However, I had plenty of stories to share and he gave me no indication that he wasn't at ease or wished I'd say less. He was attentive and seemed genuinely interested.
As we talked, I knew how the evening would end. Even though it was something I was not accustomed to doing, indeed something I had never done; had never thought I would do. It wasn't in my nature to go to bed with someone on a first meeting. However, I had no doubt that is exactly what we would be doing.
I had a house some twenty minutes drive away and I invited him to join me for a nightcap. While I paid the check, Jethro flagged down a cab. We talked very little on the drive to my home. But the silence wasn't an uncomfortable one, just a highly charged one. In the enclosed space I was even more aware of Jethro's sexuality, of his attraction, his desire, his being, his masculinity.
Inside my house, I took his coat and hung it and mine up. Then I offered him a drink. He shook his head and in two strides was by my side. He put his arms around me and pulled him into them. I went, more than willingly, drinking in his scent, feeling his strength, the firmness of his body. He held me with an assuredness that fitted his character.
And then he kissed me. Even I who pride myself on my vocabulary could not find words to describe it, at least not words that wouldn't sound like a romance novel. Perhaps the most over-whelming thing, the most surprising thing was the gentleness of the kiss. I hadn't been expecting it to be quite so gentle, quite so . . . Loving, I think is the best word I could find.
You see I knew something else about the man in whose arms I now stood, the man who was kissing me with expertise and naivety. He had never kissed, never held in an intimate manner, never made love to or with another man before. I'd known that long before he took me into his arms - and that was another first for me. Another first I thought I'd never have.
THE NEXT MORNING
I watched him dress, his skin still glowed from the shower, his hair still had water in it. I saw him frown for a second as he pulled on the same underwear I'd removed the evening before, before shrugging and dressing with the kind of resignation that told me it was something he'd done more times in his life than he would have liked.
About to put his trousers on, he looked up, aware no doubt that I was watching him. He smiled; his soft, lazy, winning smile. "Can I see you again?" he asked, now pulling his trousers on.
I watched his hands go automatically to zipper and button, watched him unselfconscious 'dress' himself, while all the time he watched me. Never once did he look to see what he was doing, never once did his penetrating dark blue gaze leave mine. "If you wish to," I said, cursing myself at how formal, how proper, how unenthusiastic my words sounded.
He dropped the shirt he'd been about to pull over his head and bare-footedly came over to me, put his arms around me and pulled me near to him. "Course I do, Duck." I'm not sure quite when he'd first dropped the 'Y' from the end of my name, nor why it didn't bother me in the slightest. "You think I'm the kind of guy who just . . ." He trailed off and gave a half shrug. "Don't you want to see me again?"
It was the first hint of anything other than confidence and I hastened to reply. "Of course I do, Jethro. I'd like very much to see you again." And I reached behind his head, pulled it down and kissed him.
"That's settled then," he said, several minutes later as he pulled his shirt over his head. "How about same time next week? That suit you?"
I nodded. "Yes. Would you like to come here? I can cook us a meal?"
He smiled. "Sure that'd be great." He came back to my side and ran his fingers through my hair; I'd noticed he seemed quite enthralled by my hair. Then he bent his head and kissed me again. "Got to go," he said, standing back up and again touching my hair.
"Would you like me to drive you back into town?"
He shook his head. "No need. I'll go to the main road and get a cab."
"If you're sure?"
He nodded. "I am. Until next week." And he kissed me again, before tuning on his heel and leaving my bedroom.
SIX DAYS LATER
"Jethro? I thought we'd -"
"Got something to tell you."
I blinked at the harshness in his tone, the dark circles under his eyes and the tightness of his lips. "Do come in. May I offer you a drink?"
I thought for a moment he'd refuse. Then he nodded. But before I could turn and lead the way into the sitting room, he'd pulled me into his arms, lowered his head and crushed my lips with his. It wasn't gentle, it wasn't passionate, it was a kiss of desperation, it was a kiss of doom.
We went into the sitting room and I poured two drinks and handed one to him. It didn't surprise me when he downed half of it in one swallow. "You're a gentleman, Duck," he said, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. I said nothing. "That's why I . . . I'm married." His voice was flat, emotionless. His gaze never once left my face, but it told me nothing.
I gripped my glass more tightly. "I see," I said, aware of how foolish it sounded. But his words had stunned me. I had never for one moment thought - Had I done so, had I even suspected, I would not have - You see, although I have known since a very young age that I would never marry, I firmly believe in the sanctity of marriage and in the vows. Therefore there was only one thing I could say. "In that case," I managed, dampening my lips with a tongue that felt like sandpaper. "I am afraid that I am unable to see you again, Jethro. I -"
"I know." Never had I heard so much pain, so much loss, so much devastation in two words. "I'll go."
"Wait." The word came automatically. "May I ask you a question before you go?"
He shrugged. "Yeah."
"If you knew what I would say, why did you tell me?" I knew it wasn't because he wanted an easy way not to see me again, that was clear from his body language, from his tone, from his face, from the eyes that suddenly became even more talkative than mine.
He just stared at me for what seemed like an age. And I thought he wasn't going to answer. Then he sighed. "Guess we'll never know," he said, his tone was once again free from inflection. "Take care of yourself, Duck," he murmured, brushing his fingers over my hair. Then he turned on his heel and strode out of my house. Out of my life.
As I watched him leave, I knew with a shattering clarity that I would spend the rest of my life alone. I believe, maybe foolishly, that in the world there is one person for every person. And I knew, despite the brevity of our relationship, that Jethro Gibbs was my person.
I followed him, after I knew he'd left my house, locking and bolting the front door behind him. "Take care of yourself, my dear Jethro," I whispered.
And that is the matter for which I am not to blame.
When I had been offered the position of Medical Examiner for NCIS I did, at first, given serious consideration to declining the offer. However, it was a good job, it was a position I was extremely interested in, it would, I felt, allow me to make a difference.
Plus, I reasoned, there were several NCIS offices across the United States, plus I knew most agents served terms on ships, there was no automatic need to assume that I would run into Jethro again. And even if I did, what did it matter? We had shared one night together two years ago, a night I still hadn't forgotten; a night I never would forget. But a night that could only ever be a memory. So why refuse a job I wanted just in case I ran into him again? If I did; I did. We were both adults.
"Welcome to NCIS, Dr. Mallard."
I shook the proffered hand. "Thank you, Director Morrow," I replied.
"I've asked my Senior Field agent to join us as you'll be working closely with him. Ah, that must be him." I turned towards the door as it opened. "Come in, Jethro."
"Director. Ducky!" I noticed a slight difference in the way he said the two words and it wasn't just down to surprise, of that I was sure.
"Do you two know one another?"
"We met once a couple of years ago, wasn't it, Duck?" He came towards me and offered his hand.
I took it. It was exactly how I remembered it. "Yes," I said, smiling up at him. "It's good to see you again, Jethro. Or should I call you Agent Gibbs?"
He finally let go of my hand and shook his head. "Nah. Jethro'll do fine or just Gibbs if you prefer. So you're going to be our new ME?"
I nodded. "Yes." I heard Director Morrow clear his throat softly and turned towards him. "I am sorry, Director. Please, forgive the -"
He shook his head. "There's no need to apologize, Doctor. Well, as I don't have to introduce you to one another, may I leave Dr. Mallard in your hands, Jethro?" For a fraction of a fraction of a second, I allowed an image to slip into my mind. Then I firmly pushed it away, consigning it to a different part of my brain. I knew I would never be able to have Jethro as my lover, however, I felt I could have him as a friend and I would be more than satisfied with that.
1996 - 2009
Thirteen years went by. Jethro and I became not only friends, but extremely close friends, intimate friends even. We assumed the team by finishing one another's sentences and always knowing where the other was.
I stood by his side when he married Diane and then Stephanie and was a supportive presence when both marriages ended, as his first marriage had in divorce. I listened to him vow 'never again', not just in terms of marriage, but in terms of forming a relationship with a woman. I watched him break his own Rule #12 with Jennifer Shepard and I was the one to whom he turned the evening she sent him the 'Dear John' letter.
I finally forgave him not only for not telling him about Shannon and Kelly, but also for leaving NCIS and our friendship once again settled back into what it had always been: easy, comfortable and close.
I met his father and was delighted to see father and son were rebuilding their relationship. I didn't tell Jethro just how like his father he was, I thought I'd let him figure that one out for himself. I liked Jackson, a great deal; like his son he was an easy man to like.
Life went on. I was happy, I was content. I had many friends, none as close as Jethro, but those with whom I could socialize and enjoy the opera, the theatre, good food and fine wines, bridge and all kinds of discussion.
The main sadness during those years was the death of my beloved Mother. But even that wasn't as sad as it could have been. Her time had come, her time was past. It was a relief. I was foolish after her death and allowed myself to flirt with the notion that I could form a relationship with a woman - a woman young enough to be my daughter. Of course it did not last. How could it? Not only was I gay, but I was still in love with Jethro.
But they were good years. I didn't have Jethro as a lover, but friendship was enough for me.
And then Abigail discovered the truth about Mexico. Discovered what Jethro had done. The fact he had killed the man who had killed his beloved girls did not surprise me in the slightest. After all, hadn't I told Jennifer they could close the cold case because Jethro would have taken his revenge on Pedro Hernandez?
Nor, if I am honest, did it trouble me. The man was, after all, a criminal; a killer. I know as a doctor I should believe in the sanctity of life - and for the most part I do. But I will not condemn Jethro for what he did.
I didn't believe, whatever he might say, whatever he might tell himself, he has ever truly forgiven himself for what he did. Had I thought differently I might have been less willing to accept. Jethro has made difficult decisions over the years; ones that many might question, ones I know from time to time have kept him awake at night. The decision to kill Hernandez was probably the hardest he made.
And like revenge it led to more revenge. To Jethro fearing for his father and his family. To him touching me for the first time ever with anything less than affection. To him running away from me, from everyone at NCIS and going to Mexico.
But that's over now too. Jackson is safe. Abigail is safe. I am safe. The family is intact - at least our family is. Jethro went back to Stillwater with his father to help him sort out his shop and when he returns I am sure - The doorbell pulled me from my reverie. I glanced at the clock; it wasn't particularly late - I just hadn't been expecting anyone.
"Jethro? I have just been thinking about you." I blurted out the words without intending to.
He smiled. "Bored were you, Duck?"
I chuckled. "Come in, Jethro. Come and have a drink."
"Thanks, Duck." He followed me into the hallway of Reston House and pulled off his coat as I locked the front door. "Duck," he said, catching my arm as I was about to head towards the sitting room. "Got something I have to say to you."
I patted his hand and shook my head. "No, Jethro, you do not. I understand."
He blinked. "You do?"
"Yes." I did. I knew why he'd touched me in anger, why he'd fled; he'd been afraid for me - and given the Day of the Dead dolls, with good reason. But that was all over. "Now come along, let us get that drink." I started to walk towards the sitting room again and he threw his arm around my shoulders and we walked together. "How is Jackson? How was Stillwater?"
"Dad's fine. Sends his best." Once in the sitting room it was Jethro who moved to the drinks cabinet and poured two glasses of scotch. He came back and handed one to me. "He said I should bring you with me next time I visit."
About to take a sip of my drink, I paused. "He did?"
"Yeah. He did. Reckons you'd like Stillwater. Although it could be that you'd provide him with conversation."
He was looking at me, as he always did. His expression one of fondness, he seemed relaxed, he seemed content, happy; he was Jethro. Except, something seemed very slightly different. And then I realized what it was. My mind went back sixteen years and I saw the look he'd given me when he'd offered to buy me a drink. Except of course I hadn't. I mentally shook myself. "I would like that very much, Jethro. However, why would your father invite me?"
Jethro continued to stare at me. When he spoke he didn't answer my question. "Why aren't you with someone, Duck?"
"You know a lover, a partner, a husband even, given the new laws. Why, Duck?"
"I . . ."
"In all the years we've been working together, I reckon I've seen you date a handful of times and they were all women. So they weren't dates, were they?"
"I . . ."
"And as for Sophie . . . What was that all about, Duck?"
"I . . ." For the third time I managed one word before coming to a spluttering halt. Finally I sighed. I could no more lie to Jethro than I could kill him. "You may find this sickeningly sentimental and more like a romance novel or film than reality. But nonetheless it is how I feel."
"Which is?" He was still looking at me, the same intense look he'd had on his face since he arrived. The same look he'd had on his face sixteen years ago.
"What?" I shook myself. Of course I hadn't actually said anything, had I? "Sixteen years ago I fell in love with you, Jethro. And as impossible as it may seem, as ridiculous as it may sound, I happen to believe that there is a certain someone for everyone. And that it doesn't matter for how short a time you know a person you can love them. As I said I know that sounds -"
He was shaking his head. "Doesn't. Know what you mean. Happened to me too."
"Shannon," I said softly.
He nodded. "Yeah. And once more."
I looked up at him and frowned slightly as I wondered to which of his wives he might be referring.
He shook his head. "None of them, Duck." He took my glass from my hands and put it, along with his, on the coffee-table. Then he took my hands and held them. "The reason Dad asked me, told me to bring you to Stillwater the next time I visit is because he thinks you're my lover."
I felt my mouth fall open and my eyes widen in surprise. "He does?" I managed. "But why? How? I mean . . . What . . . ? Jethro, I -"
The kiss was the same as it had been all those years ago. Gentle, loving, soft, passionate, experienced and still with the hint of naivety - a naivety I doubted he'd ever shown a woman. His kiss told me so much, offered whatever I wanted, asked me many questions and answered ones I hadn't even asked. "Me?" I finally whispered, when he lifted his head.
He nodded. "Yeah, Duck. You."
THREE HOURS LATER
"You know, Duck," he said, letting his fingertips trail over my chest. "I wasn't to blame.
I blinked up at him, trying to focus on his nearness. "For what?"
"You and me back then."
I pressed my head back into the pillow a little more. "And how to you figure that one out, Jethro?"
"If you hadn't looked so damn . . ." He trailed off and frowned. "Can't think of a word that'll cover it. But if you hadn't, I never would have."
"You'd never cheated on your wife before?"
He shook his head. "No. Believed in my vows."
I smiled. "So did I."
"Yeah. Know that. So you want to make them with me?"
"Is that a proposal?"
"Guess it must be." And with that he put his mouth back on mine and I let myself be swept away by his taste, his scent and the way his hands moved over my body.
AN HOUR LATER
"So as I said, I wasn't to blame. You do believe me don't you, Duck?"
I laughed softly. "Yes, my dear," I said. "I believe you."
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