COUNTING THE COST
Gibbs overhears something about his oldest friend that will change both of their lives forever.
A first time story.
Warning: Contains fairly strong homophobic content.
Written: July 2006. Word count: 12,052.
Stamping his feet and rubbing his hands, DiNozzo hurried into the NCIS building. It was bitter outside; winter had arrived with a vengeance. One minute Washington DC was enjoying an Indian summer, the next, the temperature had plummeted beyond the norm for even the coldest part of winter.
He nodded to the Security guard and waved his ID badge, before plunging further into the heat of the building; the heat that would make it feel even colder when people went back outside again.
DiNozzo was about to go up the stairs when a voice stopped him. "Hey, DiNozzo."
He turned. "Hey, Stephens. God, it's cold out there. Must be the coldest winter in living memory."
George Stephens ignored him. "Come here."
DiNozzo hesitated. "What do you want?"
After a second or two, DiNozzo joined the other man. "This had better be -"
"Shut up, DiNozzo, and listen. You work with Mallard, don't you?"
"Ducky? Yeah, why?"
"Ever been alone with him?"
"Well, have you?"
"Not often. But, yeah. So?"
"Make sure you don't again."
"What the hell are you on about?"
"He's a faggot."
"Ducky? Nah, don't be stupid."
"I tell you, he is. Jameson saw him coming out of that queer club."
"I don't believe it. Jameson was probably pissed."
"Pissed or not, he swears it was him."
DiNozzo paused. Then shrugged. "So what?"
"So what? What the fuck do you mean, DiNozzo? 'So what'?"
"I mean so what. What does it matter?"
"It matters. We don't want one of them working here. It's disgusting."
"Hey, watch it. This is meant to a non-discriminatory agency."
Stephens just made a noise in his throat. "That's all just talk. And you know it. Nah, we're going to get him out."
DiNozzo caught Stephens's arm. "Hey, what do you mean?"
"Just that. We don't want him here. There are ways."
"We can. And we will."
"You'd better watch it."
"Why? You going to do something? Come off it, DiNozzo, we all know how much you hate anyone different."
"I don't." DiNozzo was indignant.
"That's not what you said after you tongued that woman who was a man. You nearly puked when you found out."
DiNozzo shuffled his feet. "That was different."
"Maybe. But then there was the time you went on and on about McGee being gay. I heard your tone; the idea makes you as sick as it makes the rest of us. Mind you, it wouldn't surprise me if McGee was -"
"You keep your mouth shut about McGee, and Ducky too. They're part of the team. Besides," DiNozzo broke off and looked around him. "You go up against Ducky, and you'll have Gibbs on your back."
"Yeah. He and Ducky are old friends."
"Gibbs'll be glad. He was a Marine; he'll hate them too. Besides, he won't know. Unless you tell him." He moved towards DiNozzo threateningly.
DiNozzo held his ground. "Won't need to. He'll find out."
"I doubt Mallard will tell him."
"He won't need to. Gibbs'll know. In fact . . . " DiNozzo broke off and looked around him.
"Come off it, DiNozzo, the man isn't God. He can't make himself invisible. He's not here."
"Don't you be so sure," DiNozzo said, somewhat ambiguously. "Just watch it. That's all. Forget about it. So what if Ducky's gay. He's not going to suddenly jump you."
"Not going to give him a chance. And, DiNozzo, don't you say anything or else . . . "
"Or else what?"
"Or else we might start to wonder just why you're being so protective. See you." Stephens waved his hand and strode off.
Mouth open, DiNozzo watched him go. He stood for a moment or two, then shaking his head and blowing on his fingers, hurried up the stairs.
Standing behind a corner, Jethro Gibbs finally let his fist unclench. He glanced down at his hand that had, moments before, been red with the cold. It was now white from where he'd squeezed it so very tightly, and half moons from his fingernails stood out on his palm.
He shook his head. Whether what Stephens had said about Ducky being gay was true or not, was irrelevant. What bothered Gibbs was the threat. No one hurt his Ducky. No one. Forgoing his coffee for once, he changed direction and hurried down to Autopsy.
"Jethro, this is a surprise, albeit a very pleasant one." Ducky smiled and moved towards Gibbs. Then the smile faded somewhat, and he asked, "Is something wrong?"
"Why should anything be wrong, Duck?" Gibbs looked down at his old friend.
"Well, my dear, you have clearly come down here straight from outside, you still have the collar of your coat turned up, without even pausing to get yourself a coffee, or to dispose of your briefcase."
"Thought I was meant to be the investigator, Duck," Gibbs said lightly. He touched Ducky's shoulder, "You okay, Duck?"
Ducky moved slightly closer to him, tipping his head back and staring up at him, studying him like he studied the results of an autopsy. "I'm quite well, thank you, Jethro. Why do you ask?"
"Can't I even ask my oldest friend how is now?" Gibbs kept his tone light, but puzzlement still showed in Ducky's pale eyes.
Moments later it had gone, and Ducky merely smiled again and patted Gibbs's arm. "Of course, you can, my dear. So to what do I owe the pleasure of your company? I am assuming that nothing is wrong, despite your out-of-the-ordinary behavior."
Gibbs thought quickly. Just as he was about to say something, although he still wasn't certain what, the door to Autopsy whooshed open.
"Here you are, Dr. Mallard, one cup of - Oh, hello, Special Agent Gibbs. I didn't know that you were . . . Er . . . Um . . . Doctor?" Jimmy Palmer stood just inside the doorway, a cup of tea - a real cup and saucer, china no doubt - in his hand. As Gibbs looked at him, he hastily pushed it behind his back.
"Mr. Palmer!" Ducky said, his tone exasperated. "Now you will have slopped the tea into the saucer. You know I do not like that. Here, give it to me." Ducky moved away from Gibbs, who suddenly realized that his hand had remained on Ducky's shoulder, and limped over to his assistant.
"But, Doctor," Palmer looked at Ducky, concern clear for all to see.
"What is it now, Mr. Palmer?"
Palmer nodded over his shoulder towards Gibbs, who forced himself not to smile. Instead he just watched the pantomime with hidden amusement. "It's Special Agent Gibbs," Palmer hissed under his breath.
Ducky frowned. "Yes, Mr. Palmer, I do know that. I was talking to him before you arrived. Having known Jethro now for, what is it, my dear?" he glanced at Gibbs, the twinkle in his eyes clear. He had no need to ask Gibbs how many years they'd known one another for; Ducky's memory was all but infallible, especially where matters relating to Gibbs were concerned.
"Almost thirty years, Duck," Gibbs said, unnecessarily.
"Indeed. Twenty-nine years, seven months, and an odd number of days to be exact. And although, Mr. Palmer, Jethro has changed in appearance during those years, as have I, I do believe that I am still able to recognize him."
"Yes, I know that, Doctor. It's just . . ." Palmer gestured behind his back.
Ducky moved back to Gibbs and spoke to him; his tone was conspiratorial. "Ah, Mr. Palmer believes that you will be angry with me for breaking your rule about 'no food or drink is to be consumed in Autopsy'. I believe he is trying to 'protect' me from your wrath, Jethro. Do you think he needs to?"
Gibbs smiled briefly and shook his head. "No, Duck. Besides, what's this about 'my rule'?"
"Isn't it?" Ducky's tone was full of false innocence, and again his eyes sparkled.
Gibbs smiled again and shook his head. "Ah, Duck," he murmured, again brushing Ducky's shoulder.
Ducky smiled back at him, before turning back to Palmer. "Well, now that we have that matter settled, Jimmy, please go and fetch me a fresh cup of tea. And don't forget to wash the cup and saucer out," he called, as Palmer, after looking from Gibbs to Ducky, and back again, his mouth slightly open, turned to leave.
"Yes, Doctor. I mean, no, Doctor. Oh," he stopped quickly and turned back around, more tea sloshed into the saucer.
Ducky sighed. "What is it now, Mr. Palmer?"
"I almost forgot. I found this." Palmer held out a fat envelope towards Ducky.
Ducky frowned. "You found it?"
"Yes, Doctor. It's got your name on it. I just presumed someone had -"
"I'll take that," Gibbs said, moving swiftly towards Palmer and snatching the envelope out of his hands.
Palmer, glancing swiftly at Ducky, let go of it, and stuttered, "Yes, Special Agent Gibbs, sir."
"Jethro?" Ducky sounded puzzled.
Gibbs couldn't blame him.
Palmer was again staring at him, as if maybe expecting Gibbs to grow a second head or something.
Gibbs couldn't blame him either. He thought swiftly. "There's no stamp on it, Duck, which means it hasn't been scanned. It could be anything. We don't want to risk another bout of the plague, do we? No, I'll take it and -"
"Mr. Palmer, please go and fetch my tea." Ducky sounded firm; far firmer than he normally did. The order, for that is what it was, sounded strange coming from him. He spoke to Palmer, but his eyes were locked on Gibbs, his stare hard, heavy with confusion, and a hint of concern. "Well, Mr. Palmer, for what are you waiting?"
"Yes, Doctor. Sorry, Doctor." With one more glance at Ducky and then Gibbs, Palmer turned and fled Autopsy, tripping over his feet on the way. The sound of china shattering on the ground was heard inside the room. However, apart from a fleeting half frown, Ducky ignored it.
"Now, Jethro. Perhaps you would kindly tell me what is going on?" He moved nearer to Gibbs, and then nearer still. Tipping his head back a considerable way, he stared unblinkingly up at him.
Gibbs fought the urge to take a step backwards. From time to time Gibbs himself used his height to intimidate people, and he'd even had the odd villain attempt to do it to him before now. However, no one, especially someone six inches shorter than himself, had ever succeeded in doing it to him. He stared down into the blue eyes that were, as always, a barometer of Ducky's emotions. He saw steely determination, confusion, irritation, but most of all concern.
He opened his mouth.
At that second his phone began to burble at him. Silently thanking the God of mobile phones, he flashed what he hoped would pass as a 'sorry' rather than a 'thank God' look at Ducky, and dug the phone out. "Gibbs?" Moments later he clicked it off. "Sorry, Ducky. Got to go. Catch you later."
"Jethro!" Ducky's somewhat indignant voice followed him out of the room.
Pushing open the door that led out of the building, Gibbs breathed a sigh of relief, tinged with a lot of guilt. He didn't know whether Ducky had heard any of the brief conversation, his old friend had been close, his hearing was still acute, but . . . Gibbs hoped not. If Ducky had heard, he'd have heard Fornell telling Gibbs that he was going to drop a bottle of 'decent' whiskey off at his house later that day.
It was still freezing outside; he swore it hadn't got any warmer in the three hours since he'd got up. He blew on his hands, trying to keep a degree of feeling in his fingers, turned the collar of his coat further up, put his briefcase on the ground, and forced open the envelope.
Gazing down at the photographs he blinked, rubbed his eyes and looked again. Were some of those positions even possible? He sincerely doubted it. The photographs troubled him. However, not because they were of two men, two naked men, doing things together that Gibbs would have been mortified to have been photographed doing, or thinking of doing. He had never had any issues with any kind of sexuality - except when it featured underage children, or coercion.
The Marines may have frowned on homosexuality, but they frowned on fraternization onboard ship between the male and female crew, and look how many female crewmembers became pregnant during a tour of duty. Homosexuality went on everywhere there were people; hell Gibbs had known several during his life, including onboard ship. So the fact didn't bother him. What bothered him was that someone had sent the photos to Ducky, sent them with the distinct intention of hurting him.
"Dear God!!" he exclaimed, as he reached the final photo. He was going to kill someone, or at least hurt him very, very, very badly; he just hadn't quite decided who. The likeness wasn't even a good one! He'd seen manipulated photos before, and often he'd failed to see that they had been manipulated, until Abby or McGee had worked their magic and pointed it out. But this was so clearly a fake. It was Ducky's face, that part wasn't a manipulation. But Ducky's body was nothing like that. And he should know. As Ducky said, they'd known one another for twenty-nine years and a few months. You don't have the kind of intimate relationship that he had with Ducky, without the occasion arising, at least once whereby you'd seen one another naked. Besides, Ducky wouldn't do that. Would he? Could he even?
Gibbs shook his head and swore. He had to destroy the damned things - now. He didn't even dare risk putting them in his briefcase or coat pocket. He doubted if anyone would touch either, but . . . Well, every time he left the office with his gun, he knew he might not return. And he couldn't bear the thought that anyone else, especially Ducky, might see these abominations.
Digging under his coat, he pulled out the lighter a good Marine always carried, and one by one burned the photos.
He was just holding the last one, watching the flames eat away at the hideous picture, when a voice spoke.
"Well, I suppose that is one way of getting warm."
"Ducky." He turned around, and stared straight into the blue eyes, that once again contained concern and confusion. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you, my dear."
"Why . . . Ouch!" Gibbs dropped the remaining corner of the final picture and shook his hand.
The next second his hand was caught and held firmly by hands less callused than his own. Warm experienced fingers brushed over the skin, gently but efficiently, as Ducky looked at his hand. To his amazement and surprise the touch made him tingle in a way Ducky's touch had never done before. It was just that he was cold; even though he'd been holding burning paper for a few minutes, winter's icy fingers had kept his hand chilled. Ducky's touch, being warmer, was just accentuating the difference.
Ducky continued to hold his hand, continued to stroke his fingers over Gibbs's own, brushing away any hint of pain. As he rubbed, he looked up at Gibbs, frowning slightly and peering into his eyes. "What is it, my dear?" he finally said.
Captivated by the openly affectionate gaze, Gibbs just stared down into it. Then using his other hand, he brushed a strand of the overlong fringe from Ducky's forehead. "Nothing, Duck. Nothing you need worry about," he added. Then said softly, "Trust me."
Ducky cocked his head slightly, stilled his caress and continued to stare unblinking at Gibbs. Then he shrugged lightly, let go of Gibbs's hand, and said softly, "Always, Jethro. Now, my dear, please go inside and get warm; frostbite is not a pretty thing. Beside, Anthony keeps popping down to Autopsy to see if you've arrived. He's becoming very irritating."
"Maybe I should have said 'more irritating than usual'." Ducky smiled.
Gibbs forced himself to match it. Then with a quick squeeze of Ducky's shoulder, he grabbed his briefcase from where it had almost stuck to the ground, put his arm around Ducky's shoulders and ushered his friend inside.
As they were about to part, Ducky to return to Autopsy and Gibbs to go to his office, Ducky touched his arm. "If you feel you need to talk about whatever it is that's bothering you, my dear. You know where I am."
Gibbs opened his mouth to deny that there was anything. But he couldn't. He couldn't look Ducky in the eyes and lie. "Yeah, I do, Duck. Thanks. See you later," he said, smiled briefly, turned on his heel and headed up the stairs, taking them two at a time. He knew that Ducky had remained at the bottom watching him until he'd gone from sight.
FIVE DAYS LATER
"Good morning, Mr. Palmer. I do believe that it is getting colder by the day. I don't recall Washington ever having had such a hard winter before. Of course, I have experienced harsher winters in my - Oh." Dr. Mallard stopped speaking and moved towards his desk. He picked up the thick envelope and turned to Jimmy.
"It was there when I arrived, Doctor. It looks the same as the one Special Agent Gibbs took the other day. Maybe I should take this one to him too." Jimmy moved towards the doctor.
Dr. Mallard shook his head. "No, it's quite all right, thank you, Jimmy." He began to slit open the envelope, using the paperknife Jimmy knew Agent Gibbs had given him. "Sometimes Jethro allows the job to get the better of him. I believe he sees shadows behind every door and inside every - Oh my." He came to an abrupt halt.
Jimmy, who had taken his boss's hat and coat and had moved to hang them up, glanced around. The doctor was standing; staring down at something he held in his hand, something that Jimmy assumed must have been in the envelope. His boss's pale skin had turned even paler, and a faint tremble shook the otherwise static frame. "Dr. Mallard? Dr. Mallard? Are you all right, Doctor?" Jimmy moved slowly towards the other man, one hand held out.
But the only thing that greeted him was silence.
Jimmy was fond of his boss, extremely fond, and his concern at the unusual silence and stillness cut through him, more than the winter winds had done. Some people, Agent DiNozzo for one, thought he was a fool; but he wasn't. With one more swift glance at his beloved doctor, he turned on his heel and ran out of Autopsy, heading for the stairs and the one person he knew could help his boss.
He ran up the stairs, vowing, not for the first time, that he would start to exercise regularly.
Reaching the squad room, he paused to suck in a mouthful of air, before hurrying across the room. Agents DiNozzo and McGee, together with Officer David were gathered around Agent Gibbs's desk; the senior agent was talking to them.
Uncaring of, and unconcerned by, protocol, forgetting for the moment how afraid he was of the Special Agent Gibbs stare, Jimmy spoke over the steady, oft-times harsh sounding, voice. "Agent Gibbs!" For a second no one paid any attention to him, but then they rarely did. Swallowing hard and forcing himself to speak more loudly, Jimmy said forcefully, "Gibbs!"
As one, the three field members of Gibbs's team turned around, clearing Gibbs's line of sight. The dark blue eyes were wide, and surprise hovered in them. The surprise was quickly being replaced by irritation. "Palmer, what the -"
"It's Dr. Mallard." Jimmy spoke quickly.
The irritation vanished. Gibbs stood up and glowered at Jimmy. "What about him?" Steel, touched with heavy concern, was clear in the sharp words.
"He . . . He . . ." Jimmy broke off for a moment. What did he say? He couldn't say 'he needs you'. It sounded so . . . "There was an envelope on his desk this morning. Like the one you -"
"Stay here." Without another word, Gibbs moved from behind his desk and raced off across the office leaving Jimmy, DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva staring after him.
For a moment there was silence. Then DiNozzo grabbed Jimmy's arm and demanded, "What the hell was all that about, Palmer?"
Was Jimmy imagining it, or did DiNozzo's voice sound just a little panicky?
"Go away, Jethro." Ducky's voice was flat. He hadn't turned around when the door had opened. Nor had Gibbs said anything.
Just for a moment, Gibbs came to a halt. He looked at his oldest and dearest friend. Ducky was trembling and seemed to have shrunk several inches. Gibbs swore silently, again wishing to go up to the squad room and hurt someone - very badly.
He took a step towards the silent figure.
"I said go away, Gibbs." This time Ducky's voice had an edge to it. Then he added, more softly, "Please."
Gibbs took another two steps, coming to a halt behind Ducky. He was close enough to touch, but for the moment he didn't. Over Ducky's shoulder he could see the opened envelope and the white backs of several, what he presumed to be, photographs.
For a moment he clenched his fists and took several deep breaths, desperately trying to compose himself. He mustn't let any hint of the anger and disgust show in his voice. Because Ducky would read both as being directed at him, rather than the bastards Gibbs would take apart with his bare hands.
When he was certain he could speak, he did so. "I know," was all he said.
The trembling stopped. Ducky froze, and the faintest of sounds, too low for Gibbs to be certain there had been one, left the shrunken body.
When the quivering began again, it had increased considerably. Acting now on pure instinct, an instinct honed from twenty-nine years, Gibbs took two more steps, to the side and forwards, and pulled Ducky into his arms.
For a second or two, Ducky fought the embrace, but then he sank into it, his head coming to rest just below Gibbs's shoulder. As he gripped Gibbs, the photographs he'd been holding fluttered to the floor. Gibbs barely spared them a glance; but what he saw was enough. This time it wasn't one photograph of Ducky that had been manipulated; this time it was more.
Resting his chin on Ducky's head, as he simply held his friend in a tight embrace, Gibbs glanced over Ducky to his desk. There, half hidden by a photograph, was a note, written in large block capitals, so large that Jethro could easily read it:
RESIGN, YOU PERVERT,
OR COPIES OF THESE WILL
APPEAR ON THE STAFF NOTICE BOARD.
Gibbs had always hated blackmailers, but now his feeling went beyond hatred.
He continued to hold Ducky, not saying anything, just hoping the fierce embrace would say enough. Ducky continued to tremble in the hold; whether he was crying or not, Gibbs couldn't tell - but he doubted it. He suspected Ducky was too shocked, too hurt to cry, just yet.
Suddenly, as though someone had flicked a switch, the quivering stopped, and Ducky raised his head and tried to pull away. In the blue gaze Gibbs read fear. He loosened his grip slightly, not wishing to hurt Ducky who had now begun to struggle.
"Let me go, Jethro," Ducky's voice contained the same terror that appeared in his eyes.
Gibbs didn't. "Why, Duck?"
"What if someone comes in? Please, Jethro."
Gibbs shrugged. "What if they do?"
"But Jethro. You said . . ."
"That I knew. Yeah. I did. And I do."
"Then you must let me go. Jethro."
Gibbs sighed, and finally, in order to calm his friend, did let the embrace cease. However, he kept on hand firmly affixed to Ducky's shoulder.
Ducky stared up at him, pain and ice now filling the gaze. Gibbs shifted his position slightly. "I wish to tender my resignation, Special Agent Gibbs."
"Tough." Gibbs met the chill with steel.
Ducky's eyes widened; the shock was evident. Under any other circumstances, Gibbs would have laughed. "It's what the bastards want, Duck. And the last thing we're giving them."
"But, Jethro -"
"You know you can't give into blackmailers, Duck."
"Jethro. I can't fight this. I can't, my - I can't."
"Yes, you can, Duck." Now Gibbs gripped Ducky's other shoulder as well.
"Jethro. I'm too old for this."
"Rubbish. You're not old, Duck."
"That's a matter of opinion."
Gibbs shrugged. "Yeah, well, mine's the right one." For a second a flash of gentle amusement passed through Ducky's eyes. He took a silent breath. "Besides, if you go, they'll think you're ashamed. And you aren't."
"Aren't I?" Ducky's voice was soft.
"No." Gibbs's was firm.
Then Ducky frowned. "Wait a moment, Jethro, you said you knew. How?"
Damn. Gibbs shrugged, glanced away from the steady gaze, while appearing not to, mentally crossed his fingers and said, in what he hoped was a nonchalant tone, "I am an investigator, Duck. I do know people."
"For how long?"
For a split second, Gibbs was silent. The other comment hadn't been a lie, as such. But what he said now would be, and that would violate one of their sacred, albeit unspoken 'rules'. No, it won't. You've always known. You've just never wanted to admit it. And it was true; he guessed he had always 'known', or at least suspected. The signs were all there, Ducky had never married, and for all his quiet courtesy with the ladies, and his stories about past lovers, Gibbs had never actually seen him with a woman - Dr. Whatshername excepted.
"A while," he said softly. "And it's never mattered to me, Duck. Never. Do you hear me? Never."
The unblinking, pale gaze just held his own. Then Ducky said simply, "Thank you, my dear. However, whilst it might not bother you, the rest of our colleagues are unlikely to be so accommodating."
"It's an equal opportunities organization, Duck. We don't discriminate," Gibbs said, paraphrasing what DiNozzo had said a few days earlier.
Ducky made a soft noise. "Words, Jethro. Just fine words."
"I'll sort it, Duck."
"And how are you going to do that, my dear? I really do not relish the idea of visiting you in prison."
Gibbs offered a half-smile. "No violence, well, not much," he amended.
"None." Ducky was firm.
"Okay. Okay. None. But I will sort it, Duck. I promise. Just trust me."
"I always have, my dear. I cannot foresee any reason that would change."
"Now give me these. I'll destroy them."
"Not with your lighter again, Jethro. I assume that is what you were burning a few days ago?"
"Yeah. Sorry. I'd hoped . . . " He broke off and shrugged. "Guess it was stupid of me. I just didn't . . . "
"I know. And I thank you. However, given the shock I must have given Mr. Palmer and knowing him as I do, presumably the rest of the team too, it might have been better had you told me, Jethro. But -"
"Hindsight's a great tool, Duck." Gibbs finally let go of Ducky's shoulder and began to gather up the photos. "Is this the lot?"
"Oh, yes." Ducky was silent as he watched Gibbs pick everything up. "Jethro," he voice was low.
"These photographs, they -"
"Aren't you? Yeah, know that, Duck."
"Nor do I . . . " Ducky broke off and glanced away. "It isn't like the photos make it out to be. Or at least it doesn't have to be. It can be . . . " He stopped again and just shook his head, seemingly lost for words.
Gibbs squeezed his shoulder again. And said grimly, "I know, Duck. I know."
"I am not ashamed of what I am, Jethro."
"I know, Duck."
"It's just . . . I never told you how my leg was damaged, did I?" Ducky spoke softly. "Oh, don't look like that. It was over forty years ago; I suspect that even if I bumped into those responsible today, I wouldn't recognize them. So there is nothing you can do. But it did teach me that there are some things that are safer kept to oneself."
"Even from your closest friend?" Gibbs silently cursed his tone. "Sorry, Duck," he said swiftly, touching Ducky's shoulder.
Ducky smiled gently. "Don't be, Jethro. You are correct, I should have told you, rather than letting you find out. There just never seemed an appropriate time. It isn't something that comes up in conversation. It was never a deliberate omission. Just . . ." He broke off and shrugged. Then a frown creased his face and he took a step nearer to Gibbs, tipped his head back and looked up at Gibbs. "Are you certain it doesn't bother you, Jethro?"
"More than certain, Duck. You're not the first gay friend I've had. You don't doubt me, do you?"
"No, my dear," Ducky said softly. "I never could."
"Good. Now are you okay? Stupid question, ignore it."
Ducky smiled slightly. "I will be, Jethro. Thank you."
Gibbs squeezed his shoulder. "Good. I'll sort it, Duck. Promise."
"I know. But just remember your other promise. No violence."
"Jethro." Ducky stared firmly at him.
"I won't, Duck. Honest. I'd better go and see what the hell the kids have been doing. I'll tell Palmer to bring you a nice cup of tea."
Ducky smiled again. "Thank you, Jethro."
Gibbs squeezed Ducky's shoulder once more, pushed the envelope containing the hideous photos into his jacket pocket, and left Ducky.
Deciding that whatever Ducky had said, his lighter was the safest way of dealing with the abominations, he braved the icy wind and burned them. The note, however, he kept.
Pausing long enough to get himself a coffee in the hope it might help warm him up, he strode through the squad room, bypassing his team who had all returned to their own desks. Palmer was perched on the very edge of the chair that stood behind the spare desk. Gibbs stopped to speak to him, merely telling him to take Ducky a cup of tea. Then he crossed over to the other side of the office.
"Hey, Gibbs, looking for someone?" Frank Anderson glanced up questioningly.
"Stephens and Jameson."
"Out, for the rest of the day. Regulation firearm update course. They left about half an hour ago. Can I help?"
"No thanks, Anderson. Just need to see them about something."
"From the look on your face, it isn't to tell them they've won the Lottery. What they do, knock your coffee over or something?"
"Yeah, something like that." Gibbs nodded to Anderson and went back to his own desk and team. He'd deal with Agents Stephens and Jameson tomorrow.
Hands and lips moved over Jethro's body, touching him, caressing him, kissing him, stroking him, taking him to heights he'd never before experienced. He groaned in pleasure and shifted on the bed; his arousal was so intense, it was almost painful. In desperation he tried to touch himself, but gentle, firm hands stopped him, pushed him away and continued their quest.
He was close, very close, so close he was going to . . .
"Duck!" he cried out, as a shattering climax hit him.
He jerked and sat up in bed, breathing heavily, and dragged his hand through his hair. Fuck! What the hell had just happened? His undershirt stuck to his chest as the perspiration began to cool him; and his groin was sticky. Dear God, he'd just had his first wet dream in over thirty-five years, and it had been caused by his closest friend.
Still breathing harshly, the sound that woke him continued. He reached blindly for his phone and grabbed it. "Gibbs, what?" he snarled, as he ordered his pulse rate to slow down.
For a split second there was silence. "Jethro?" Ducky's tone sounded hesitant and apologetic. "Have I disturbed you?"
Shit. "Duck. No. I was asleep, sorry. What's up?" Jethro glanced at the clock and saw that it was just after midnight. He tugged the covers around him; it was damned cold.
"I wonder if you could come over to my house, please."
"Yes, please, Jethro."
Alarm bells began to ring loudly in Jethro's head. "What's happened, Duck?"
There was silence of a moment, then Ducky said softly, "Whilst I was out tonight, someone broke into my home."
Jethro was already out of bed and dragging warm clothes from his chest of drawers. "What's been taken?"
"I do not think anything has been taken. It's more a case of what has been . . . Left." Ducky's voice sounded strange.
Wrestling his damp undershirt off and a clean one on, while clamping down on his urge to curse violently, Jethro asked swiftly, "Where are you?"
"I'm in the hallway."
"She and the Corgis went over to Mrs. Patterson's, I am pleased to say."
"Go and sit in your car, Ducky." Jethro headed out of the bedroom and strode to the bathroom.
"But, Jethro, it's below freezing."
"I don't care." He ran hot water into the sink. "Turn the engine and heater on. I want you out of there, Duck. They may still be inside."
"I doubt it, Jethro." Again Ducky sounded strange.
"Just do it, Ducky." He grabbed a flannel and began to wipe his sticky groin. "I'll be there as quickly as I can." He dried himself hastily and ran back to his bedroom. "You want me to call the Police on -"
Jethro, the phone tugged between his shoulder and ear as he pulled on his clean shorts, blinked. "Duck?"
"I don't want the Police, Jethro."
"But, Ducky, you've -"
"No. Please, my dear. You'll understand when you get here." The panic was evident in Ducky's tone.
Pulling on his warmest trousers, Jethro hastened to reassure Ducky. "Okay, Duck, okay. No Police." He tugged up his zip and fastened the button, grabbed his Sig and his back-up gun, and sat down on the bed to pull socks and boots on. "Now go and sit in the Morgan and wait for me. But if you hear or see anyone, start to drive towards here. Okay."
"Yes, Jethro." The panic had faded, and now Ducky sounded obedient."
"I'm leaving in about two minutes, Duck. I'll be there as quickly as possible."
"The roads are very icy, my dear. You will - "
"Be careful. Yeah, Duck. I will. I promise. You in the car?"
"Good. Now remember what I said. If you even suspect anyone is nearby just drive. I'll see you." Tying his boots up with the phone trapped against his shoulder was a battle, but he won. Okay one was a bit loose, but what the heck. Grabbing a second sweater, he hastily pulled it over his head, and ran down the stairs. God it was cold. "You want me to stay on the phone, Duck?" He scooped his overcoat up from where it was draped over the banister.
"No, dear. I'd rather you drove with two hands," Ducky said, with obviously reluctance. Despite the reluctance, Jethro also heard determination; Ducky would not be argued with.
"Okay. I'll be there shortly." He thumbed off the phone, pulled his coat on and went outside into the freezing winter night.
De-icing his car windscreen wasted precious minutes, and when he did drive off tires squealing as they fought to get a purchase on the icy road, he'd only managed to clear just about enough to allow him to see. The rest would have to clear as he drove.
He kept his promise to Ducky and moderated his speed to take into account the lethal conditions. But even as he drove, constantly fighting to keep the car from skidding, he knew that Ducky would not consider his concession quite enough. However, he was an excellent driver, and despite one or two hairy moments - ones he wouldn't mention to Ducky - he and the car arrived at Ducky's Reston home in one piece.
To add to the winter 'fun', the whole area had been coated in a layer of thick, freezing fog. Through it he could just make out the headlights of the Morgan, and emissions coming from the exhaust told him that Ducky had indeed turned the engine and heater on. He swung his car round in front of Ducky's, turned off the engine and got out. Pausing for a half a second to make sure his balance was sound, he crossed to the driver's door and opened it.
A blast of warm air hit him, but as Ducky glanced up at him, Jethro saw that his friend was shivering and very pale. "Hey, Duck," he said softly. Crouching down he reached into the car and took one of Ducky's hands; even through the leather gloves Ducky wore, he could feel how chilled it was.
"Jethro. Thank you for coming over." Ducky sounded overly polite and stilted, and the blue gaze was flat. "I am sorry to have had to drag you out on such a night as this, but -"
"Hey, enough, Duck. Who the hell else were you going to call?" Jethro squeezed the hand he held. "Now you wait here, until I've -"
"No." Again Ducky spoke sharply. "Jethro, the Morgan may be a superb car, but her heating is barely adequate; I am extremely cold. I do not wish to suffer hyperthermia on top of everything else. I am coming in with you."
Jethro wanted to argue, but one look at Ducky's face, together with the shivering convinced him. "Okay, Duck. But you'll do as I tell you. You'll stay behind me when we go in, and -"
"My dear, I have worked with you for enough years to know how you work."
"Sorry, Duck. Come on then. Give me your arm. And be careful, it's damned icy out here." Jethro leaned across and turned off the engine. From his coat pocket he pulled out a pair of the gloves he always wore at crime scenes, and put them on.
Ignoring Ducky's mild protests, he put his arm around Ducky's shoulders, waited pointedly until Ducky slipped his own arm around his back, and then, Sig in hand, moved towards the house.
The front door still stood partly open. Jethro pushed it open; at once he knew the main reason why Ducky had left it thus. "Oh, dear God," he whispered, coming to a stop inside the door. He'd seen the mess that burglars could leave behind them; but this took things to a new level. Every instinct in him wanted to push Ducky back outside, but what was the point? His friend had already been into the hall.
By his side Ducky was still and silent. He appeared frozen in place. Dragging his eyes away from the filthy message that had been scrawled over the wall, Jethro looked down at Ducky. "Duck?" he whispered softly. He put one hand on Ducky's shoulder and squeezed it. Under the grip he felt Ducky shudder slightly.
Then Ducky tipped back his head and looked up at Jethro; his eyes blazed with a mixture of fury, disgust, sorrow and pain. "I am all right, Jethro. It's easier seeing it all for the second time, especially as you are here. You can see why I didn't want to call the Police, can't you?"
"Yeah." And Jethro could. He'd feel the same. "Oh, Duck," he said. "I . . ." he broke off; whatever he said would be inadequate. For a brief moment he pulled Ducky nearer to him, all the time keeping his special agent's instinct alert. His gut told him the house was empty except for Ducky and himself; his agent's instincts agreed. However, he still wasn't taking any chances.
He let Ducky rest against him for a moment, then with reluctance pushed him back slightly. "I have to check the place, Duck. I reckon you're right. No one's here. But I want to be sure. Stand there," he guided Ducky into the alcove outside the sitting room." Then swiftly, he scanned the rest of the hall, never moving far from Ducky; if anyone should appear they'd be greeted by Gibbs himself before they got to Ducky.
It was empty and quiet, almost ominously so. Then Jethro realized they'd stopped the Grandfather clock that always ticked away with a peaceful reassurance. He bent down and tugged out his back-up gun and handed it to Ducky. "Take this and wait there."
"But, Jethro -"
"No buts, Ducky. Do I as I say. You know how to hold it and use it. I'm going to check in here," he nodded towards the sitting room. "If anyone appears, you shoot first, Duck. We'll ask questions later."
"But -" Ducky stopped, as Jethro glared at him.
The room was empty, as Jethro knew it would be. Ignoring Ducky's protests, Jethro ushered him into the room, sat him down in a chair that would give him a clear shot of the door, but wouldn't be seen from the door, and made him promise to stay there until Jethro returned. "If anyone else but me comes in Duck, you shoot. Okay?"
Ducky sighed. "I'm sure you are being overly melodramatic, Jethro."
"Maybe I am. But that's just tough. I'll knock SOS on the door when I come back. Anything else, anything at all, and - "
"Yes, Jethro." Ducky sighed.
The house was indeed empty, and with the exception of the hall there was very little damage as such. The floor and every surface were littered with yet more of the same disgusting photographs, but other than that, all was clean.
Until Jethro reached Ducky's bedroom.
His constitution was strong. When you smell the odor of death and decay as he had done throughout his life, then you can face everything. But as he entered Ducky's room, even he had to clamp down on the wave of nausea that hit him.
It wasn't just the stench that was affecting him; he knew that. It was the violation that had been done to the best person he knew; the kindest, most generous, gentlest man around. Someone would pay for this; someone would pay dearly. Ducky already has. "Someone else," he muttered, through gritted teeth.
Two things were certain: Ducky was not spending the night in his home. And Ducky was not going to see his bedroom. The former Jethro guessed wouldn't be an issue; the latter might be. But this would be one battle he would not lose.
Leaving behind him the stench and sights, he swept around the remainder of the floor. In the room next to Ducky's bedroom, the one that he used as his office-come-sitting room, a different scent hit Jethro: the smell of alcohol. Every bottle had been emptied and then smashed and ground into the carpet. After what had greeted him in the bedroom, Jethro was almost relieved.
Reassuring himself that his gut had been correct, the house was empty, he took a deep breath and returned to Ducky's bedroom. Steeling himself for what he might find, he tugged open the top drawer of Ducky's chest of drawers. He was faintly surprised, but relieved, when all that greeted him was clean underwear.
He crossed to the wardrobe, again preparing himself, but again nothing out of the ordinary lurked. He grabbed an overnight bag, threw enough underwear, shirts and socks for several days into it, together with a couple of bowties, and headed for the bathroom to grab a few essentials, anything else Ducky needed, he could provide.
Just as he was about to slam the bedroom door on the hell, what Ducky was wearing beneath his overcoat impinged on his mind. Damn, his friend had been in a DJ. Taking another deep breath, he returned to the wardrobe, grabbed a blue suit, threw it over his arm and left the room. On the landing he took several gulps of cleaner air.
Taking care where he put his feet, and also avoiding letting the suit touch anything, he hurried down the stairs, trying to blot out the filthy words that loomed at him from the walls. All he could think was thank God that both Ducky and his mother had been out for the evening.
Just as he was about to knock the code on the sitting room door, he saw something out of the corner of his eye. Something glinted at him from underneath one of the foul photographs. Frowning, he opened the front door and put the bag and suit on the clean top step, before returning to the hall. Squatting down he carefully lifted the photograph up.
What greeted him made him simultaneously swear violently and smile. "Got you, you bastard," he said, picking up the NCIS Identity Badge of one George Stephens. Pulling an evidence bag from his pocket, he pushed the badge inside and stood up.
Swiftly knocking SOS on the sitting room door, he opened it to find Ducky still sitting there with Jethro's back-up gun held carefully, but firmly, in his hands. He strode over to Ducky, took it from him and shoved it into his coat pocket. Ducky looked exhausted; his face was ashen, his lips barely visible as they too had turned pale, his eyes looked dull and haunted, and he began to tremble.
In one movement Jethro tugged him to his feet, supported his weight and pulled him into his arms. After a second or two Ducky returned the embrace, wrapping his own arms around Jethro with more ferocity than Jethro had ever known him use before. Ducky seemed to be holding onto him as a drowning man would hold onto a life raft.
As he'd done earlier in the day in Autopsy, Jethro rested his chin on Ducky's head, and for a moment remained silent. He was desperately trying to compose himself before he spoke, because the urge to shout at someone was nearly too great to control, and he didn't want Ducky to think it was him whom Jethro was mad at.
After another moment or two, he spoke. "It'll be all right, Duck." The almost cursed himself. What stupid words. How inadequate. How false they must have sounded.
But Ducky sighed and moved even further into the embrace. "Will it, Jethro?" he finally said, his voice as dull as his eyes.
Jethro made a silent vow that if it took the rest of his life, he'd make sure it was. "Yes, Duck," he said firmly. "I promise."
Ducky sighed again and burrowed his head into Jethro's shoulder.
Jethro let him rest for a moment before saying softly, "Come on, Duck, let's get out of here."
Ducky moved back a little and looked up at Jethro. "Where are we going, my dear?"
"To my house. You can't stay here." Jethro's tone brooked no argument.
Ducky made none.
Once again wrapping his arm around Ducky's shoulders, Jethro led the way into the hall, trying as far as possible to shield Ducky from the sights - he couldn't do anything about the stench. Suddenly Ducky paused. "Duck?"
"I need to get a few things, my dear. I -"
"Already got them, Duck." Jethro cut into Ducky's words. Ducky frowned and looked at him, the question obvious. "Trust me, Duck, you don't want to go upstairs," Jethro said softly.
And with that one simple word, Ducky began to move towards his front door.
Once outside, Jethro pulled out his own key ring, he'd had a key to Ducky's house for years, Ducky had insisted, and locked the front door behind them. The words 'horse' and 'stable door' came to mind, but what the hell.
He guided Ducky to his car, cursed as he looked at the re-iced over windscreen, opened the door and helped Ducky in. Reaching across the still trembling body he turned the engine on and flipped the heating onto full blast. Ducky gasped as cold air filled the car.
"Sorry." Jethro said guiltily, turning it down to the first speed setting. Shutting the door, he hurried back to the house, grabbed Ducky's bag and suit, paused long enough to lock the Morgan - they'd both forgotten - threw Ducky's stuff onto the backseat, and set about de-icing the window again. This time he made sure it was virtually clear before he drove off; Ducky would only nag him otherwise.
The car had finally begun to warm up, as the heating won the battle with the winter chill, and for a few minutes they traveled in silence. Jethro let him mind turn to thoughts of revenge. He knew that Ducky would never let him do any of the things he thought of, but nonetheless he continued to plan. It calmed him down.
It was Ducky who broke the silence. "I must apologize again for disturbing you, Jethro." Again his tone was oddly formal and stilted.
Jethro risked a glance to his side. "It's me, Duck. Not some stranger you barely know. You don't need to apologize. Okay?"
Ducky sighed. "Yes, Jethro," he finally said. "I just hope that I wasn't interrupting," he paused slightly, "anything."
Jethro almost laughed at the delicate inquiry. No, Duck, he thought. Only the best orgasm I've ever had. Which, by the way, was at your hands. He shook himself; for the first time since waking up, he actually allowed himself to remember what had happened. Why on earth had he had an erotic dream about his oldest, closest, dearest friend?
He wasn't certain he wanted to answer that question. He wasn't certain he even had an answer. Yes, you do. He ignored it. Remembering that he hadn't answered Ducky, he said lightly, "If that's your subtle way of asking me if I had a woman with me, the answer's no, Duck."
"Good," said Ducky. Then swiftly added, his words almost falling over one another, "I mean, I am glad that I didn't interrupt anything pleasurable."
Again Jethro had to bite his lip.
They reached Jethro's house. Again taking Ducky's arm once he'd got out of the car, even he was having trouble staying on his feet as layers of ice had formed over layers of ice, Jethro opened the front door and ushered Ducky inside.
A blast of cold air hit them. "Christ, it's as cold inside here as outside. I swear it is. Hang on, Duck, I'll put the heating on. Shit," he cursed moments later.
"The damn thing has broken down. Oh, hell, Duck, I'm sorry." He looked down at Ducky.
"It isn't your fault, my dear. And I do not believe that I would be able to get warm tonight anyway. I doubt whether the heating would make that much difference."
Jethro frowned. "Maybe we should go to a hotel."
Ducky shook his head. "No. I'd rather stay here."
"Tea. Hot and sweet." Jethro headed towards the kitchen. He hoped he had some tea. He thought he did somewhere, but . . .
"Jethro," Ducky called after him. "You know I do not like sugar in my drinks."
Jethro was opening cupboard doors and muttering to himself. In answer to Ducky's objection, he called, "Sugar's good for shock, Duck. You're the doctor; you should know that. Tea. Tea. Tea. Oh, shit. Don't suppose coffee works, does it?" He turned around to see that Ducky had followed him.
For the first time since Jethro arrived at Ducky's home, Ducky smiled; not a proper smile, merely a slight twitch of his lips, but it was something. "I am not drinking coffee at this hour of the morning, and nor should you," he added, putting a hand on Jethro's arm.
Jethro stopped. "Brandy then. Now that I know I've got. Come on," and before Ducky could speak, Jethro ushered him into his sitting room. "Here," he handed Ducky a glass. "Drink it," he said, as Ducky raised his eyebrows at the size of it.
Ducky sipped the amber liquid. "Oh, Jethro," he said softly, moments later. He staggered slightly; Jethro supported him, led him to an armchair and hovered, uncertain quite what to do next. Ducky sank back into the chair and shut his eyes. Taking the glass from Ducky's hand, Jethro replaced it with his own hand, offering silent comfort and support.
Ducky's fingers were cold, as was his cheek, which Jethro touched. "Come on, Duck, let's get you to bed."
"I'm not tired, Jethro."
"Maybe not. But it'll be warmer. Come on." He stood up and held out his hand.
Ducky ignored it and sighed. "Please, Jethro," he said simply.
Jethro sighed. "Come over to the couch at least. I can sit next to you then. That'll help." Again he held out his hand. Again Ducky hesitated for a moment. Then he let Jethro help him up.
Sitting down next to Ducky, Jethro put his arm around him again and pulled him tightly against him. "Body heat is one of the best ways to get warm," he said.
"Yes, dear. I am a doctor, remember?" Ducky said, with the faintest hint of amusement in his voice.
After a moment Jethro sighed. "Duck, will you relax. You won't get much warmth if you try to hold yourself away from me. Now do I have to use force or . . . ?"
This time it was Ducky who sighed. But after another moment, he let his body become less taut as he settled into the embrace.
"That's better. I'm really sorry about the damned heat, Duck."
"Jethro, I hardly think it is your fault."
"Well, no, but . . ." He pulled Ducky a little nearer, using one hand to urge Ducky to put his head down on his shoulder. Once Ducky obeyed, Jethro rested his cheek on the heavy, cold, silky hair.
They sat in silence for several moments; the only sound was their breathing.
Again, Jethro let his mind wander to the pleasant thoughts of just what he'd do - what he'd like to do - to Agents Stephens and Jameson. But he knew that really his hands were tied. Unless he killed them, and he did momentarily entertain the thought, there was always the possibility that they'd simply let the furor die down before trying again. He needed to do something that would both silence them, and stop them for good.
He felt Ducky relax more and move a fraction closer. He didn't think he was imagining the fact that against his own body, Ducky's was beginning to feel slightly warmer.
"You know there's one way of stopping this from ever happening again, Duck, don't you?"
"Yes. My resignation."
"Not an option." Jethro said forcefully but quietly.
Ducky sighed. "What have you in mind then, my dear? I've already told you I do not wish to visit you in prison."
Jethro swallowed hard. What he said next could change everything. No, that happened an hour or so ago. He ignored the voice. "We let them know that," he swallowed again. "That we're involved. A couple. That I'm your lover," he added, just in case Ducky hadn't understood.
Silence greeted his words. For a moment he began to wonder if he had actually spoken them aloud.
Then Ducky answered. "I won't tell that kind of lie." His tone was cold and flat, but also heavy with flinty determination.
Jethro swallowed once more and took the final step. "What if it wasn't a lie?" he said softly.
Ducky jerked away from him. "What?"
"I said, what if -"
"I heard you, Jethro. What I want to know is, just what the hell you mean."
Jethro brushed Ducky's cheek with his fingertips; he didn't fail to notice the almost imperceptible shiver that passed through Ducky, nor the almost silent moan. He repeated the gesture, making his caress more obvious. "You asked me what you'd interrupted earlier on, Duck. Well, I was having this dream. Why don't I tell you about it? Or better still, as I'm not as good with words as you are, I could show you." He lowered his head, ignored Ducky's wide-eyed look, and briefly brushed his lips gently across Ducky's. This time the moan was far from silent, and the shiver far from imperceptible. Leroy Jethro Gibbs, what the hell have you done?
He moved back far enough to enable him to see Ducky's eyes. They were the one certain way he had of knowing just what Ducky was feeling or thinking. They were the one thing that had always given away Ducky's every emotion, including the deep affection and love he had for Jethro.
The pale blue was awash with conflicting emotions, but to Jethro's horror the clearest one was fear. "Duck," he whispered, letting his fingers hover, this time without touching, over Ducky's cheek.
"What are you doing?" Ducky finally managed, his voice hoarse.
"I believe it's called a kiss, Duck," Jethro said lightly, desperate to take some of the panic away from Ducky's gaze. "Want me to show you again?"
Ducky shook his head. But his eyes told a different story.
"Sure?" Jethro asked gently.
"Yes. I mean, no. I mean . . ."
"You know, Duck. I never thought I'd see the day when you were lost for words." Jethro still spoke lightly, and now he let his fingertips make contact with the pale, chilled skin.
"I . . . Please, Jethro."
"Please what, Duck?"
But Ducky just looked at him. "Why, Jethro?"
"Why what, Duck?"
"Why did you kiss me?"
"Because I love you." And he did; he'd done so for over two decades. He just hadn't equated it to more than fraternal, close friends love. "I do, Duck," he added.
"You're not just -"
"No, Duck. I'm not. I wouldn't do that to you." Now Jethro spoke firmly. He looked deeply into Ducky's eyes; as he did, he let the shields he habitually wore during the working day, tumble from his own gaze. "I love you," he repeated softly.
"I love you too, my dearest Jethro. But . . ."
"But what, Duck? Don't you want this? Want me?" Jethro held his breath.
"Of course I do, my dear. But . . . Jethro."
"I can't . . . I don't want . . . I . . ." Again Ducky seemed to run out of words.
You don't know someone as well as Jethro knew his Ducky, you don't have the close, intimate friendship that the two men had shared for nearly thirty years, without developing a sixth sense, telepathy almost.
Jethro looked deeply into Ducky's eyes, then closing the gap between them, tugged Ducky back into a firmer embrace. "Nor do I, Duck," he said softly, bending his head and kissing Ducky again.
This time he did more than merely brush Ducky's lips with his own, and this time Ducky returned the kiss. As the kiss deepened, Jethro slid a hand into Ducky's hair, stroking the heavy strands, caressing Ducky's head, feeling Ducky murmur through the kiss. Ducky's fingers began to explore the nape of Jethro's neck, sending gentle, arousing vibrations through his body.
Jethro could no longer feel the winter chill. It was a coldness he realized that had trapped him for far too long, allowing little to really touch him, allowing nothing or no one to truly penetrate the fierce shield he'd built around himself.
The only person who had got close to breaking through, the only person who was able to see Jethro for what he was, rather than what he wanted them to see, was the man now in his arms. The man he was kissing, touching, loving. The right in his otherwise wrong world. The light in his darkness. The summer to his winter. The peace in his chaos. He wasn't certain what the future would bring, as Ducky said maybe the talk about non-discrimination was merely words. If that were so, then so be it. The one thing he was certain of, was that his future would contain Ducky. In fact his future was Ducky.
He wanted to make love to Ducky properly, but it was far too cold. Besides, he wasn't certain this evening was the right time. But as they continued to kiss and lightly caress, he realized that they were making love anyway. What was sex compared to what they shared?
Despite the coldness of the room, and his protestations that he wasn't tried, after nearly an hour of pleasantness, Ducky slipped into a light sleep for a short while. Jethro continued to hold his lover, giving and taking warmth and comfort, enjoying the security he had never before known in a relationship; the security he'd never before looked for or even wanted.
When sleepy eyes, heavy with affection finally opened and looked up at him, Jethro smiled and pressed another chaste kiss on Ducky's closed mouth. "Duck," he said gently. He didn't want to spoil anything, but there were things that needed to be dealt with.
"Yes, my dear?"
Jethro swallowed. "About your house, Duck."
Ducky sighed softly. "I won't call the Police, Jethro."
"I'm not asking you to. There's no need. I know who's responsible."
Ducky blinked. "You do?"
"Yeah. Left some concrete evidence behind. And I'll deal with them later today. But that wasn't what I meant. You can't go back there in the state it's in."
"I know. Mother and the Corgis can stay with Mrs. Patterson for a while -"
"And you can stay here. But -"
"The place has to be cleaned, and the hall at least redecorated. I know. I just don't -"
"Duck." Jethro interrupted gently.
Jethro brushed his fingertips over Ducky's cheek again, letting them stroke upwards into Ducky's hair. Again he spoke gently. "Let me get the team on to it."
Ducky was shaking his head. "No, Jethro. I couldn't. It wouldn't be right. And I wouldn't want them to . . . They'd be disgusted, Jethro."
"Yeah, Duck. They will be. But not with you. Never with you."
"How do you know?"
Jethro swallowed, and told Ducky about the conversation he'd overheard between DiNozzo and Stephens. "DiNozzo didn't give a damn, Duck, not about you being gay. I know him. He may irritate the hell out of me, but I know him. He meant what he said to Stephens. It doesn't bother him. Jimmy and Abby adore you, and McGee, well, I often wonder if McGee's bi."
"I admit that the thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion too, dearest. But, Jethro, even if what you say is true, I couldn't expect them to clear up that mess."
"They've done worse, Duck."
Ducky frowned and smiled at the same time. "Jethro Gibbs, please do not start lying to me."
"Sorry. But you know what I mean. Come on, Duck, you've seen some of the crime scenes we've faced."
"Yes, but -"
"But nothing. They'll want to help, Duck. Trust me."
"Not Ziva." Ducky's tone made it clear that the matter wasn't open for negotiation. Not that Jethro had ever had any intention of including her.
"Nor do I wish Jennifer to find out."
"Won't hear a thing from me or from the kids."
"And I'm not sure that Abby or Jimmy should have to face the place as it stands."
"Fine. They can stay here with you and keep you company. DiNozzo, McGee and I can handle the worse. I'm no expert decorator, but I reckon a couple of undercoats will cover the mess on the walls, and then you can get it done properly."
"I was thinking that it was time the hall and stairs were redecorated. And I noticed that the carpet had begun to wear a little in a few places. Nothing major; it's barely noticeable, but with Mother not being all that steady on her feet, I felt that I should do something about it."
"There you are then. That way you don't even have to lie to her when you ask her to stay with Mrs. Patterson."
"No. And as it's so cold and icy under foot, I can even persuade her that she doesn't need to return to the house to fetch her clothes, or any of her other little essentials." Ducky looked slightly brighter. "But are you certain, dearest? I mean completely sure that the children will not mind?"
"Yeah, Duck, I am." And he was. He knew his team. He knew them well. In fact he also knew that he'd have to make them promise not to 'deal' with Stephens themselves.
"And they won't think any less of me?"
"My preferences won't disgust or shock them?"
"Well, if you are really certain that they'll be willing to -"
"I am." And Jethro kissed Ducky again, this time for a considerably long time.
He'd call DiNozzo as soon as it got light and tell him that he'd better cancel any plans for the weekend, at least. With deference to Ducky, he'd clean Ducky's bedroom up and leave the hall to the boys. If he knew Abby as he thought he knew Abby, as soon as she discovered what had happened, she'd insist on going along to help with the clean up, and he believed that Jimmy Palmer would too. Ducky's assistant had a bad case of hero worship for his boss, Jethro wondered if Ducky was aware of it, he doubted it; his lover was too self-effacing for that.
Ducky might try to object, but if anyone, other than Jethro himself, could get Ducky to do what they wanted him to, it was Abby. She'd wheedle and bounce and gently bully, until she got her own way. And once the team had done their bit, Ducky could get the professionals in to do a proper redecoration and carpeting job. At least there would be no worries about cost; Ducky was an extremely wealthy man.
And he would sort out Agent Stephens. He knew exactly how to do that. Maybe not the way he'd ideally like to do it, but then he could find other ways to work off his desire to hit someone very hard; his energies could be channeled into a far more pleasant area. No, it would be something far more subtle, and far more deadly than resorting to - what was it Abby had said? 'I wanted him stopped, not beaten to pulp with a baseball bat'. He would show George Stephens the true price of hurting Ducky. The hapless agent would be counting the cost and ruing the day he ever decided to go up against Jethro Gibbs for a very, very, very long time.
For the first time in days, weeks even, as the first touches of dawn gave way to a brighter light, signs of the winter sun could be seen, breaking up the grey, heavy, dank, dismal sky. It lit up the area and made the ice shimmer and glow; finally nature was able to show her true beauty.
Gibbs walked into the squad room, Ducky at his side.
"Hey, boss. Hey, Ducky. Cold out there, isn't it?"
"I don't know, DiNozzo, I reckon it's got a lot warmer, don't you, Duck?" Gibbs looked down at Ducky.
Ducky smiled up at him. "I do, my dear. Yes."
Gibbs hid a smile at the wide-eyed look DiNozzo cast their way. He put one arm lightly around Ducky's shoulders and moved with him to his desk. "You sure you're okay, Duck?" he said softly, as he pulled his overcoat off and threw it on the low cabinet behind his desk.
Duck nodded and smiled gently, his eyes ablaze with love.
Gibbs swallowed hard. No one, not even his dear Shannon, had ever looked at him with so much love and adoration. He tilted the brim of Ducky's hat back and moved nearer. "I mean about everything," he said, his voice still low.
Ducky smiled again. "Yes, dearest," he said, his own tone low.
For a moment they stood in silence just looking at one another. When he glanced up, Gibbs saw that DiNozzo and McGee were watching them; both of them still had wide-eyed looks. He shrugged mentally, so what? The team would find out soon enough.
DiNozzo knew the bare facts, and no doubt he would have already told McGee, about the vendetta against Ducky, and his fury had been clear even over the phone. As Gibbs had expected, his longest serving agent was all set on taking Stephens apart, very, very slowly and painfully. Gibbs had never heard DiNozzo so reluctant before, not even when he'd made him clean up the Interrogation room after the man had pissed himself in it. But finally DiNozzo had given his boss a grudging promise to keep his hands to himself, and leave things to Gibbs to sort out.
It was Ducky though who broke the silence. "Well, I had better go down to Autopsy, my dear. I do not like to leave Mr. Palmer alone for too long. I'm never certain what he'll get it into his head to do."
"Buy you lunch later?"
"As long as it doesn't necessitate going outside, yes, Jethro, you may."
Gibbs smiled. "Canteen it is then. See you later then, Duck."
"Indeed you will, my dear." Ducky smiled again, turned and moved off towards the elevators.
Nodding to DiNozzo, who was still watching him, McGee at least had returned his eyes to his computer screen, Gibbs strode across the office, returning the various 'morning, Gibbs', greetings.
He came to a stop in front of Stephens's desk.
The agent was talking to someone on the phone in a low, confidential tone; it clearly was not a case related call. Gibbs waited silently.
Seconds later Stephens glanced up, muttered a quick 'got to go', and hung up. "Gibbs," he said. "Can I help you?"
Gibbs studied him in silence for a moment or two. Under his gaze Stephens started to squirm, and sweat began to appear on his forehead and upper lip.
Waiting until the time was just right, Gibbs put his hand in his jacket pocket, closed it around the badge, and leaned forward slightly. "Got something of yours, Stephens," he said.
"Yeah. This." Gibbs pulled the badge out and threw it down on the desk in front of him. Under his eyes Stephens turned from white to green. He looked from the badge up to Gibbs and back again, he was swallowing repeatedly.
Again, Gibbs waited in silence.
Then, once more judging that the time was right, he spoke, his tone was low and almost conversational. "I found it last night when I got home." As he looked at the petrified agent who was now cringing in his chair, he wondered idly whether Stephens kept a change of underwear at the office.
Stephens swallowed hard. Opened his mouth. Closed it again. Opened it again. Gulped hard and finally managed, "Y . . . Yo . . . You . . . You found it?" His voice rasped.
Gibbs fixed him with his steady gaze, the ice cold one, the one that had on more than one occasion resulted in the perpetrators of a crime needing a change of clothing. "Yes," he said finally. "I found it. Enjoy your day, Stephens." With one more look, he turned and walked away from the desk.
"DiNozzo," he called, as he strode past his agent's desk.
"Strong, black, no sugar. Now."
"On it, boss." He didn't miss the broad grin that DiNozzo gave him.
Yes, winter was speeding away. Spring had arrived last night. He doubted if he would ever truly know winter again.
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