DUCKY, NOT ILLYA
Ducky is the victim of several attacks.
An established relationship story.
Written: June 2012. Word count: 15,775.
The sound of the phone ringing made Ducky look up from his book. Just for a second he allowed himself the faintest of hopes that it might be Jethro. However, a glance at the clock reminded him it was too early for his lover to be calling as the evening session of the conference for Senior Federal Agents wouldn't yet be over. As he reached for the phone he sighed a little; he was missing Jethro far more than he normally did when Jethro had to go away.
He glanced at the caller ID but it showed no name or number. It wasn't that unusual an occurrence, but something made Ducky's sixth sense twitch just a little. He wouldn't have been able to say just why he felt a little uneasy, but he did. "Hello?" he said, deliberately not giving his name. Silence greeted him for a moment and then he heard a click as the call was disconnected.
Still feeling a little uneasy, but putting it down to children or someone realizing they'd dialed the wrong number but hadn't got the courtesy to say 'sorry', Ducky put the phone down and returned to his book and his glass of whiskey.
Five minutes later the phone rang again. Once again Ducky knew it couldn't be Jethro and once again the caller ID was blank. For a moment he hesitated; suddenly he didn't want to answer it. But then he told himself he was being foolish; just because the number wasn't showing it didn't mean it wasn't someone he knew. There could be all kinds of reasons that someone he knew might be calling from a different phone and had withheld their number.
He picked it up decisively. "Hello?" he said, speaking the word more firmly this time. Again silence greeted him for a moment or two, but then, rather than hearing the click as the phone was replaced, he heard the sound of somewhat labored breathing. At the sound the doctor in him took over, maybe someone was ill. "Who is it?" he demanded. "Are you ill? Do you need help? Tell me -" Then he heard the click as once again the caller hung up.
Ducky frowned at the phone and quickly dialed star sixty-nine. However, the voice at the end told him that the caller had withheld their number. He hadn't been expecting anything else, but even so he sighed as the voice confirmed it.
When the phone rang again ten minutes later, Ducky grabbed it but this time he didn't speak. He listened to the silence for a fraction of a second before determinedly ending the call himself. As he put the phone back on the table, he felt pleased with himself for being so decisive. And he decided he deserved to pour himself another drink.
Ten minutes later when the phone again shattered the silence of the room he was once again the first one to hang up. As he yet again put the phone back down on to the table, the unease he'd felt earlier began to trickle through him and for a moment he considered calling Timothy and asking if he could somehow trace the call. But then he shook himself and told himself he was over-reacting.
Half an hour later the phone rang again. He was very angry now and grabbed the phone. "I should have thought you would have had enough of your stupid games by now. Kindly do not-"
"Duck?" The sound of his lover's voice cut into his anger.
Instantly his anger fled and was replaced with the feeling of contentment he always got when talking to or seeing his lover. "Oh, Jethro. It's you."
"Sure is, Duck. Something up?"
Now that he was talking to Jethro, the unease he'd felt over the phone calls fled and he told himself he'd been more than a little foolish to let the calls unnerve him; it had just been children messing around. "No, my dear. I've just had one or two, nuisance calls, I suppose you would call them."
"What kind of nuisance?" Jethro demanded.
Ducky smiled to himself. That was his Jethro; one minute the lover, the next the special agent. "Oh, the silent kind. Someone rings and then just hangs up after a moment or two."
"You get a number?" Jethro's tone was still more of the special agent than Ducky's lover. However, Ducky knew that had Jethro been involved in an accident of any kind, he would be far more the doctor than the lover - just as he had been when Jethro had been blown up and - "Ducky!"
"I'm sorry, my dear, I was um . . . No. The caller display was blank and -"
"Did you star sixty-nine?"
Ducky stopped himself from saying that had Jethro let him finish, he was about to answer that very question. "Of course I did, dear. However, the number had been withheld."
"Want me to get Abbs or McGee to come over and see if they can trace it?"
Ducky smiled; he actually rather enjoyed what some might call Jethro's over-protectiveness. "No, Jethro," said soothingly. "I am sure it is just the local children having a little, what passes for, 'fun' at my expense. I mean who else is going to do that kind of childish thing?"
"I guess you're right. Okay, but I want a promise, Duck." Jethro's tone was firm; it was the one he used when the matter wasn't open for debate.
Ducky chuckled silently to himself; he knew exactly what Jethro would demand. "Very well, my dear, tell me what it is."
"If it happens again before I come home, you call McGee or Abbs and get them to do whatever it is they do. And if you can't get them, you get DiNozzo to come and stay with you."
"Now, Jethro, really, I do not need babysitting. I am quite certain that Anthony would not appreciate me dragging him away from his current young lady."
"What DiNozzo appreciates doesn't matter. Your safety does."
"Jethro, I think you are over-reacting just a little. Look I am quite happy to promise you that if the caller calls again I will contact Timothy. Now, let us talk of other things. How was your day? How is Tobias?"
"Long. And he's fine. Sends his love."
"Does he now? Well, I am flattered."
Jethro laughed briefly. "Okay, he said to say 'hello' to you."
"You know I am not certain poor Tobias has ever fully recovered from walking in on that evening when we were making love on your sofa."
"Not sure I have! Ah, Duck. Miss you."
"I miss you too, my dear. Very much."
"Well, you asked about Tobias, but not me."
Ducky laughed at the gentle teasing. He doubted, not for the first time, that the children simply wouldn't believe the Gibbs they saw at work every day, the Gibbs who all too often did prove 'the second B's for bastard' was not the Gibbs who went home to or with Ducky each day. Except, given that they saw him interact with Ducky at the office, maybe they wouldn't be quite so surprised after all. "Rest assured, my dear Jethro, I do miss you; I miss you rather more than I should be admitting to. The house is very large and lonely; I do sometimes wish we had kept the Corgis after all."
"Told you to, Duck. Told you I was happy for them to stay."
"I know, Jethro. But it wasn't fair on them. They'd been used to having constant company and with the hours we work and the times we get called out in the middle of the night, it wasn't fair. They are far happier with Helen."
They chatted for another few minutes before Ducky heard the faint sound of a voice in the background which he assumed to be Tobias. "I'll say goodnight to you now, Jethro, and allow you to go and have a drink with Tobias. From the sound of your day you need one."
"Yeah. Guess I could do with one. Make sure you lock up properly."
Ducky laughed. "Yes, Jethro," he said obligingly. "Sleep well."
"You too. Love you."
"And I love you too. Goodnight." And with that, Ducky ended the call. He sighed happily to himself, not just because he had spoken to Jethro, but also because of Jethro's final words to him; words that had, unless he'd gone again, almost certainly, been spoken in front of Tobias.
THE NEXT DAY
Ducky hummed to himself as he carefully locked the front door of the house Jethro and he shared; he was still humming as his way down the steps and around the side of the house to the garage. Spring was definitely very much in the air; the birds were singing, the sky showed patches of blue and the snowdrops and crocuses were beginning to peek through the ground.
As he opened the garage door he thought he caught sight, out of the corner of his eye, of something glinting or flashing. He turned sharply around, but there was nothing to be seen. "It was just the sun," he told himself, as he went into the garage and unlocked the Morgan.
However, as he drove the car out of the garage, got out of the car to relock the garage and turned back to the car, he thought he caught a fleeting glimpse of a figure at the end of this drive. Seconds later he heard the sound of a car driving off. He told himself firmly it was no doubt one of his neighbors was leaving for work somewhat earlier than usual.
Against his will, indeed he tried hard not to think about it, Ducky found himself on edge for most of the evening, just waiting for the phone to ring.
However, it remained silent until Jethro called him at his usual hour.
THE NEXT DAY
Ducky's spirits were high as he drove from Reston to the office; today was the day Jethro was returning home and his lover had promised that rather than go into the office when he got back to DC, he'd go straight to their home.
As he drove, Ducky thought about what to prepare for supper. It had to be something that was fairly quick to cook and not too heavy, as he doubted they'd eat as soon as Jethro got home; in fact he was certain they wouldn't. He smiled to himself at the thought of what they'd do instead of eating.
It was only when he pulled into the Navy Yard and glanced in the rearview mirror that he consciously noticed a black sedan driving off at some speed. The same black sedan, he suddenly realized, that been behind him ever since he had left Reston.
"Hey, Duck, I'm home." The sound of the front door being closed, the lock dropped and the bolts pushed into place had Ducky hurrying from the kitchen into the hall.
Seconds later he was in Jethro's arms being held firmly in a tight embrace, his head was resting against Jethro's shoulder and Jethro's lips were brushing his ear. "Hey, you okay, Duck?" Jethro asked, gently pushing Ducky away a little to look down at him.
Ducky smiled. "Yes, of course I am, Jethro. I'm just pleased to have you home again."
Just for a second Jethro frowned as he stared down at Ducky, but then the frown vanished, to be replaced by a smile and Jethro pulled him back closer to him. "Glad to be home, Duck," he said, bending his head and putting his mouth to Ducky's.
"Mmm," Jethro murmured after several long moments had gone by. "Now I know I'm home."
"Indeed," Ducky said, happily settling against Jethro's taller frame again. The slight strangeness of the last few days fled, as he was held and kissed by the man who completed him. Indeed, he felt foolish now that he'd allowed himself to indulge in the slight apprehension he'd felt. It might be a foolish thing for a man in his sixties to say, but he suddenly realized that for the first time in well over a decade he had been completely alone in the house, without another living, breathing being. And it was that fact which has caused his slight unease; nothing more.
Jethro kissed the top of his head and shifted slightly. "Reckon I'm going to grab a shower. Come and talk to me, or better still," he said, now pushing Ducky away from him a little, "come and share it with me." The look on his face told Ducky exactly what 'share' meant.
"Jethro," he said, deliberately making his tone slightly askance.
"What? Don't tell me dinner's going to be ready in half an hour or so?"
"Well no, but -"
"Or that it needs your attention."
Ducky chuckled softly. "Ah, Jethro," he said, enjoying the gentle game they were playing. "You do know me so well."
"Sure do. So, you going to join me?"
"What do you think?"
"That we'll end up eating dinner at around ten," Jethro said, dropping a kiss on Ducky's nose, before letting his arms fall from around Ducky and instead snagging his hand and leading him to the stairs.
LATER THAT EVENING
"Anything else strange happen while I was away?" Jethro asked, as he ate the fish pie Ducky had prepared much earlier and popped into the oven with the timer set before he went to greet Jethro. "This is good," he added, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, before Ducky's unblinking stare had him smiling and grabbing his napkin.
"Why, thank you, Jethro," Ducky replied, being deliberately ambiguous. He hesitated for a moment or two recalling his sense of unease, the flash he might or might not have seen, the figure at the end of his drive, and the car that had 'followed' him from Reston to the Navy Yard. But as with earlier he just dismissed them as being him simply not used to being alone in the house. "No," he said firmly. "No, nothing else. And before you ask, there were no more phone calls. I'm sure it was just local children."
For several second he found himself subjected to an intense, fairly hard, given they were alone, gaze, as Jethro paused, fork halfway to his mouth and looked at him in silence. He seemed to be trying to see inside Ducky, to read him and his own gaze. Finally, Jethro frowned slightly, put the fork in his mouth, swallowed and gave the faintest of nods. "Hmm," was all he said.
For reasons Ducky did not understand, despite being more than a little tired, all be it pleasantly so, with a good meal and a couple of generous measures of whiskey inside him and most important of all being in Jethro's arms, he did not sleep well that night.
He lay awake for ages listening to the faint sound of Jethro's steady breathing, feeling his heartbeat under his palm. And when he finally did fall asleep he jerked awake more than once, starting and looking around him, his own heart racing; and the dreams he had were not good ones. Maybe eating supper at gone ten o'clock had not been such a good idea; the fish pie was a very good one, very nutritious, but it had also been a little rich.
THE NEXT DAY
"Two or one?" Jethro asked, as he pulled on his overcoat and grabbed his briefcase.
Putting his own overcoat and hat on, Ducky said, "If it's all the same with you, my dear, I think I'd like to ride with you today."
Again he found himself the object of another intense scrutiny before Jethro shrugged and smiled. "Sounds good to me, Duck."
LUNCHTIME - OUTSIDE THE NAVY YARD
"And so there we were, the Duke and I, up a tree and the bull was - Oh."
Ziva glanced at Ducky who had come to an abrupt halt and as he had tucked her arm through his when they had left the restaurant they had had lunch in she came to a halt too. "Ducky?" she said, now turning her head to look in the direction Ducky was staring in. "Dr. Mallard? Is something the matter?"
"What? Oh, I am sorry. Do please forgive me, Ziva. I was quite - Oh."
She turned slightly and looked at him again. "Ducky, what is it? Are you ill? Shall I call -"
"No. No, Ziva. I am quite well. It is just . . . Oh, but it's foolish. Just ignore me." He patted her hand in an absentminded way, but still his gaze was on the road outside the Navy Yard.
"Ducky," she said softly, but firmly. "Tell me."
"It's nothing, dear. Just that I thought for a moment I recognized that black sedan. But that is impossible, well not impossible of course, but highly unlikely. After all one black sedan is very like another and as I didn't get the license plate number, well . . . Oh, I am sorry, Ziva. Do please ignore me, and do not worry, I am fine. Now I must thank you for joining me for lunch, I did enjoy myself." He smiled at her.
"I enjoyed it too, Ducky. And thank you for buying lunch for me."
"It was my pleasure." And with a chaste kiss on her cheek, Ducky smiled again, glanced once more at the road and limping more than he normally did hurried into the building.
She stood outside for a moment or two, looking at the road, trying to see the black sedan to which Ducky had referred. She thought she saw it vanishing into the distance, but as Ducky had said one black sedan was very much like another, even to an investigator, and she could not see the license plate.
Ziva hurried up to the squad room. "Where is Gibbs?" she demanded, cutting across the conversation McGee and DiNozzo were having.
"Men's room. Hey, Ziva, where have you been?"
"Ducky invited me out for lunch," she said, turning and heading for the restrooms.
"Gibbs!" she called, striding into the men's room.
Apart from staring at her and raising one eyebrow, Gibbs didn't comment. Several seconds later he zipped up his fly and headed to the washbasins where Ziva stood. "Something wrong with the ladies' room?" he asked, his tone dry, as he began to wash his hands.
"What? No. That is, I do not know. Gibbs. I think something is wrong with Ducky."
That got his instant attention and he paused mid-hand wash and glared at her. "Go on."
"Ducky was kind enough to invite me out to lunch -"
The fact Gibbs had known she had been out to lunch with Ducky did not surprise her. "We were coming back here and he was telling me one of his stories, the one where for some reason he and a Duke were up a tree and a bull was in the field beneath them. He never did finish the story. Do you -"
She met his stare and raised an eyebrow.
"The bull was the Duke's."
"Ah." She frowned. But then went on with her story. "He was telling me the story and suddenly he just stopped and exclaimed. He was looking at the road and started talking about how one black sedan is very much like another and how he did not get a license plate number. He seemed distracted and he became paler than he normally is. He said nothing was wrong, it was just him being 'foolish', but . . . I am sorry, Gibbs, I am the one who is behaving foolishly. It is just -" She stopped speaking as the door opened.
"Ah, there you are, Jethro, Timothy said you were - Oh." Ducky came to an abrupt halt and stared at Ziva and then looked at Gibbs again. "Am I -"
Gibbs shook his head. "No, Duck. Ziva had something really important to tell me about the case. Something that apparently couldn't wait two minutes." Now he glared at Ziva.
"I am sorry, Gibbs," she said, her tone somewhat stilted. "I sometimes forget that - I shall return to my desk. Ducky." She nodded and turned to go. Then stopped and turned back. "Ducky, about the bull -"
"I am going." This time she did depart.
Gibbs followed Ducky as, limping far more than he normally did, he made his way to the urinals. "You wanted me, Duck?" he said as he leaned back against the wall.
"What? Oh, yes. I - Jethro, what was Ziva really doing in here with you?" Ducky turned his head and stared at Gibbs. "I see," he said, after Gibbs just met the gaze in silence. He turned his head away again. "I assume Ms. David told you about -"
"A black sedan, yeah. You want to tell me?"
Ducky sighed. "There is nothing to tell, Jethro."
"Right," Gibbs said, pushing himself away from the wall and taking another step towards Ducky where he loomed over him. "You got a new hobby you haven't told me about?"
Ducky glanced at him. "Jethro?"
"Wondered if you'd taken up black sedan spotting."
Ducky sighed and zipped his trousers up and turned to move towards the washbasins. Gibbs, however, stopped him with a hand on each shoulder. Ducky sighed again and looked up at him. "It is nothing, Jethro." Gibbs continued to stare down at his lover. "Oh, very well, if you really want to know, I thought I spotted the same car which I thought had followed me from Reston to here one morning; that is all. Now, please, Jethro, do allow me to wash my hands. I have work to do, even if you do not." And without waiting for Gibbs to move his hands, Ducky turned, effectively shaking Gibbs's hands off his shoulders and unnaturally upright, but still limping far more than Gibbs liked to see, went to the washbasins.
"Ducky, I - Shit!" he cursed as his cell phone began to burble. "Gibbs, yeah?" He listened. "On my way. Dead Marine found outside of Quantico," he said, looking at Ducky.
"Mr. Palmer and I will meet you there." Ducky's tone was low.
Just for a second Gibbs paused. But then he turned and strode out of room, heading at speed for the squad room. "Grab your gear. Dead Marine at Quantico."
"Do you want me to call Ducky?" DiNozzo asked, his hand already reaching for his phone.
"He knows." Gibbs pulled open his top drawer, grabbed his Sig and pushed it into place on his belt. Then with the kids behind him, he headed for the elevators.
TWO DAYS LATER
Ducky drove home from the Navy Yard, trying to push the images of the dead Marine from his mind. He had seen much in his years as a doctor, but this had been something beyond anything he had ever dreamed he would see. No one, not even Anthony, had said anything when Timothy had swallowed hard and muttered something about forgetting his - what it was no one had heard, as he'd hurried away. Even Ziva had paled; Jimmy's eyes had widened so much Ducky saw his young assistant wince. And Jethro's jaw had tightened as after taking the camera Timothy had thrust into Anthony's hand before hurrying away, he had begun to take the photographs himself.
However, even that hadn't been the worst of it. Ducky thanked a God he wasn't certain he believed in, that the person, a civilian, who had found the dead Marine had not found his two children. That crime scene Jethro processed alone, with only Ducky to deal with the bodies. No one, not even Ziva, had argued. And in turn Ducky had sent Jimmy home before he began the autopsies.
As much as the death of the children troubled and sickened him, he knew it would be Jethro whom it hit even harder. He'd considered waiting at the office for Jethro to finish for the day; he could easily have found things to do, even if it was reorganizing the supply room Jimmy had reorganized only the day before. However, he hadn't known and loved Jethro for over three decades and not learned when to hover and when not to do so. Tonight was definitely a not to do so; one look at Jethro's face when he'd popped up to the squad room had told him that. Instead he would go home, prepare an easy, quick to reheat supper, and get out the whiskey and glasses.
It was times like this in particular that he was so glad Jethro and he now lived together, because he did not have to worry about how much high proof bourbon Jethro would drink, while using sharp tools.
He was so lost in thought that the slight jolt as the car behind him nudged his rear bumper made him jump; fortunately he was not so lost in thought that he allowed the Morgan to skid. A glance in the rear-view mirror revealed nothing but bright, dipped headlights from a car the proper distance behind him. Just for a moment he wondered if he'd imagined the bump; maybe he had driven over something in the road. But deep down he knew that had not been the case.
The next second he gasped softly as the headlights behind him were raised to full beam and began to race towards him. He gripped the steering wheel tightly, resisted the urge to push his foot down firmly on the accelerator and braced himself for impact.
However, even though the car raced towards him, at the last second he saw the headlights veer off at an angle and seconds later a sedan raced past him and drove off into the darkness. He regulated his breathing and ordered his heart rate to return to normal as he continued, now on automatic pilot, to drive on. He couldn't have stood up in a court of law and sworn that the car had been black, it was far too dark to make out colors, but he knew it had been.
By the time he got home he was chilled and he had to confess more than a little afraid. His concern deepened when his arrival failed to turn on the outside lights. He wondered if something had happened to damage the sensors, or if it was something more wide-ranging than that. Whatever it was, he did not like it. Reston had no streetlights and the dark sky was covered with clouds, showing signs of neither moon nor stars.
Had it been the only incident, had it even been the only incident apart from the bump a few moments before the car had raced towards him, Ducky would simply have sighed, dug out the torch he kept in the glove compartment and made his way to the house. But as it was . . .
But that was foolish; he couldn't sit in his car in the dark, cold night just waiting for Jethro to come home. It could be hours before Jethro got there. He knew he could call Jethro and ask him to come home now, but he wouldn't do that to his lover. No, he being foolish; it was a circuit breaker or some damage to the sensors, or even a power-cut; it was something perfectly logical and utterly un-sinister. He'd get the torch, turn it on, open the door and get -
He gasped aloud as he heard the squeal of tires on the gravel and a sedan drove into sight. His fingers were already turning the ignition key as the car came to a halt near to him and he realized to his relief that it was none other than Jethro. His lover must have left the office not long after Ducky had done so. Although given the differences in the speed at which they both drove, it might have been a good half an hour after he'd left. He wasn't certain he had ever been so relieved to see his lover, well maybe when he'd led the party which had rescued Ducky from certain death at the hands of the Hanlans.
He heard the sound of a car door being slammed shut and saw the light from the torch he knew Jethro kept in his glove compartment and then the sound of Jethro walking towards him. Before he could open the door, Jethro pulled it open. "Hey, Duck," he said. "What's up with the lights?" As he spoke he offered Ducky the hand he wasn't using to hold the torch.
Ducky took the offered hand and got out of the Morgan. "I don't know, my dear," he said. "As you can see, I have only just arrived myself. I wondered if something may have damaged the sensor?"
Jethro shook his head. "Shouldn't have. It'd be difficult. Made sure of that when they were put in."
"Could the circuit breaker have clicked in?" Ducky slipped his arm through Jethro's and together they began to crunch their way across the gravel to their home.
"Possibly. But that'd imply some kind of major spark cut across the freezer or something else that's plugged in and turned on and they don't have that much power." By now they had reached the porch and Jethro dug into his pocket, pulled out his keys and opened the door.
"Jethro." Ducky caught his arm.
"I - Oh, nothing." What could he say? 'Maybe you should draw your gun' or 'I think you ought to be on alert', both sounded so foolish. And yet -
"Damn it. Well that's the problem, Duck." Jethro flicked the light switch just inside the door, but nothing happened. "Hang on a second. I'll just have a look at the trip switches." Those were also situated just inside the door. "Nah, all fine," Jethro said seconds later, coming back to the door. "Looks like a power cut. Lets's see." He dug in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.
After a moment or two Ducky heard him say, "Yeah, Jethro Gibbs, Reston House. Has there been a power cut? . . . Oh, right. Thanks . . . How long do you reckon it'll take? . . . Right. Thanks . . . Yeah, you too." He clicked the phone off and turned to Ducky. "Looks like some idiot in a JCB cut through the mains. They reckon a couple of hours at least before the power's back on."
Ducky breathed a sigh of what he hoped Jethro didn't realize was relief. "Oh, well," he said. "At least that explains it."
"Yeah. So what do you want to do?" Jethro moved nearer to him and put his hand on Ducky's shoulder.
"Yeah. Want to go out to dinner or . . ." By the light of the torch Ducky saw how dull and full of pain Jethro's gaze still was. But added to it was a hint of desire and need and want too. "
Ducky smiled softly and reached up on his toes to put his mouth on Jethro's. "Oh, I think 'or' would do very nicely, do you not?"
A WEEK LATER
Jethro was down in the basement of Reston House working on getting it up to the standards he wanted to enable him to start a new boat. Ducky's basement was vast as it stretched the entire way under the house. But for some reason it had been divided into fairly small areas, one of which Ducky used as a wine cellar and several others for storage. However, there had been half a dozen that simply stood empty and after careful consideration and consultation with a builder - Jethro was good at all things DIY related, but even he consulted experts when it came to taking down potentially load-bearing walls - Jethro had decided to turn them into one big room that would be for his use.
Ducky was still at the Naval Yard performing an autopsy on the son of a Marine Colonel, who had drunk far too much and still insisted on trying to drive home. There was no case to solve, but the SecNav had put pressure on Vance who in turn put pressure on Ducky to complete the autopsy on the Colonel's son before leaving for the evening.
Jethro had offered to stay at HQ and keep Ducky company; but in the end Ducky had shooed him away, telling him that as an assistant he found Mr. Palmer far more obliging. Thus, Jethro had returned home, dug through the freezer to find one of the many meals Ducky had cooked and frozen, defrosted it in preparation to putting it into the oven once Ducky called to say he was leaving the office and had gone down to the basement to do a bit more work on getting the now single space up to his standards.
His phone rang and he grabbed it, fully expecting it to be his lover. However, DiNozzo's name showed on the display. Frowning and sighing - the most likely reason for DiNozzo calling him was to tell him they had another case - he flipped it open. More because he liked to keep DiNozzo on his toes than for any other reason he snapped, "You better have a good reason for -"
Two words from DiNozzo stopped him dead. Dropping the screwdriver he'd been holding and heading through the empty space for the stairs he barked, "What happened?" He listened to DiNozzo's swift report. "Where?" Again DiNozzo spoke. "I'll be there in," as he took the stairs two at a time, he glanced at his watch. "Thirty," he said, calculating. Pausing only to grab his badge, wallet and gun, he raced out of Reston House, slamming the front door and locking it behind him, and ran to his car.
Thirty minutes, just as he'd said, he pulled up outside the hospital. Ignoring the 'Staff Only' sign, he abandoned his car and hurried into the building. DiNozzo was waiting for him, a Styrofoam cup in one hand. "DiNozzo," he acknowledged his agent, and took the proffered coffee. "Where is he?"
Even though the team knew Ducky and he lived together, thus DiNozzo surely wouldn't be surprised to see more reaction than just that of a close friend and coworker, Gibbs deliberately pulled the shield he habitually wore around everyone except Ducky more tightly around him. At the same time he made the curtain that hid his eyes from revealing how he felt even denser.
"He'll be okay, Gibbs." DiNozzo's words, tone and the look on his face, made Gibbs think that he hadn't been as successful as he'd hoped.
He nodded once. "What happened?" he asked again, knowing that DiNozzo would understand that he wanted a full version, not the succinct one he'd been given when his agent had called him.
Before DiNozzo could speak, a nurse bustled up, a clipboard in her hands. "Is this the gentleman you told me about, Mr. DiNozzo?" She fluttered her eyelashes at DiNozzo, and in spite of himself, Gibbs hid a half smile.
"Er, yes. Sorry, Gibbs. The nurse needs all kinds of personal details about Ducky. I said that you'd know. I could call McGee and get him to get them from his Personnel file, if you don't want to -"
"Fine. Go ahead."
"Who is his next of kin? We had to operate on him without permission, as he was unconscious."
"I am." Gibbs didn't miss the way DiNozzo's eyes widened and his mouth fell open. He ignored DiNozzo's surprise and instead just looked at the nurse and waited for the next question.
The questions went on for the next ten minutes, basic stuff like Ducky's date of birth, who his own doctor was, etc. And more detailed ones concerning previous illnesses and/or operations, and whether he was allergic to anything. As Gibbs answered them all, he could see DiNozzo was staring at him more and more intently. What the hell was the matter with his agent?
Finally, the nurse asked her final question. "Thank you, Mr. Gibbs." She smiled gently at him, and more intensely at DiNozzo and turned around.
Gibbs caught her arm. "When can I see him?"
"He's in surgery, at the moment."
"Then when can I see someone who can tell me how he is?"
"The doctor will come and speak with you as soon as he's finished operating. The relatives' room is over there." She nodded towards a beige door which looked like every other beige, hospital door Jethro had ever seen. Then she added, "He'll be fine, Mr. Gibbs. Really. He was very lucky. And he's in good hands, the best in fact." She smiled, patted his arm again and walked off.
He watched her go. His head which had begun to ache the moment DiNozzo had said 'it's Ducky', was now pounding. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to will the pain away.
"Hey, boss. How about another coffee?"
Gibbs opened his eyes and met DiNozzo's concerned stare. All the joking around and 'I don't care' attitude that habitually surrounded his agent seemed to have fled, and he saw a flash of the maturity and compassion that he knew existed, but which rarely appeared. Also mixed in with it though was a look Gibbs couldn't really identify; the one that DiNozzo had been showing since the nurse had begun to ask her questions.
They were seated in the waiting room and Jethro took a long swig of coffee before he asked the question he seemed to have spent the last hour asking. "What happened, DiNozzo?"
"Ducky came up to the squad room and left a copy of what he said was the report he'd just given to Director Vance on the Colonel's dead son on your desk. He told me I should go home as it was getting late. I told him I would as soon as I finished the report I was working on. He said goodnight and left. He hadn't got his coat or hat on, so I assumed he had to go back to Autopsy. A few minutes later I was just finishing up the Johnson report when I heard a squeal of brakes and a woman cry out. I ran to the window and saw Ducky lying on the ground and the taillights of a car going away from him at a hell of a speed. I called the paramedics on my way down and when I got to him he was unconscious. Gibbs, it was clearly a hit and run."
"How do you know, did you see it?"
DiNozzo shook his head. "No, but three other people did. They all told me independently that the car had deliberately driven at Ducky."
"Make? Model? Color?"
DiNozzo shook his head. "Dark sedan is all I got."
Suddenly Gibbs felt a chill race through him and he remembered what Ziva had said to him in the head. "Black?" he snapped.
DiNozzo shrugged. "Black; dark blue; dark green; dark red even; I don't know, Gibbs. It was too dark for people to be certain. Sorry," he said.
"It's not your fault, DiNozzo," Gibbs said. He squeezed the bridge of his nose and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Ducky mention anything to you about a black sedan?" He turned his head and looked at DiNozzo.
DiNozzo shook his head. "No. Why? Is he thinking of trading in the Morgan? It is rather . . ." He trailed off under Gibbs's stare.
"You noticed anything odd about Ducky recently?" Gibbs asked, taking a long swallow of the warmish liquid that passed for coffee.
"Boss? Ducky's . . . Well, Ducky," DiNozzo finished. "I mean I don't . . ." Again he trailed off.
"Yeah, DiNozzo. I know. Where the hell's that doctor?" Gibbs stood up and started to pace around the confining room.
"It hasn't really been that long, boss," DiNozzo said. "Boss?"
"Yeah, DiNozzo?" But at that moment the door opened and the nurse who'd asked Gibbs the questions about Ducky came in.
"Ah, Mr. Gibbs. Dr. Frederick asked me to let you know, he'll be along in about half an hour. He's just finishing operating on Dr. Mallard. Everything went well, but Dr. Frederick will no doubt tell you more."
"When can I see him - Ducky," Gibbs clarified.
"Well, Mr. Gibbs, it is rather late and normally visiting at this time of night is restricted only to family. So, I'm afraid -"
"I'm his partner," Gibbs said flatly.
"His partner?" Her eyes widened slightly as she stared at Gibbs. "Oh," she said swiftly. "I see. In that case, I'm sure you will be allowed to see him. Obviously, not for long, but, yes. I'll make sure Charge Nurse Lucas knows." And after flashing DiNozzo another smile, she hurried from the room.
Gibbs sighed and sank back into a chair and briefly closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he found that DiNozzo was staring at him. "What?" he demanded.
DiNozzo shook his head. "Nothing, boss." His tone and the look on his face belied his words.
Gibbs sighed again. "DiNozzo, I'm not in the mood for games. Whatever the hell is on your mind, just say it." He snapped the words at DiNozzo.
"It's just that . . ." DiNozzo suddenly stood up and moved towards Gibbs, stopped, turned on his heel and strode towards the other side of the room. "You told a perfect stranger what you've never told us," he turned around to face Gibbs again.
Gibbs blinked. "What? DiNozzo, what the hell are you talking about?"
"You told that nurse that Ducky's your partner," DiNozzo said.
"You've never told us; the team," DiNozzo clarified.
Gibbs blinked. "Didn't think I had to, DiNozzo. You all know Ducky and I live together. What the hell did you think that meant? That I was paying so much alimony I couldn't afford the mortgage on my house any longer?"
"No! Well, I didn't really think about it. I just thought you'd have told us. We're family, Gibbs."
"You're an investigator, DiNozzo. Didn't think I needed to tell you. What do the rest of you think?"
"I donít know; we haven't talked about it."
Gibbs stood up and shook his head. "You know, DiNozzo, there really are times I wonder just why on earth I keep you around."
"Boss!" DiNozzo's tone was heavy with hurt, but Gibbs wasn't in the mood.
"Okay, so now you know Duck and I are partners. Does that bother you?"
"No. I mean, yes. I mean, I don't know. I don't know, Gibbs." DiNozzo glanced away from Gibbs's stare.
Gibbs sighed and looked up at the ceiling. Give me strength, he thought. "Well, DiNozzo," he said after a moment or two. "If you work it out, let me know."
"And if I do have a problem with it?" Now DiNozzo did look at him.
Gibbs shook his head. "Do I need to answer that, DiNozzo?" Despite everything he spoke quietly and kept his tone flat. He held DiNozzo's stare.
After a moment or two, DiNozzo glanced away. "No, boss," he said quietly.
Gibbs nodded. "Good. You get off home, DiNozzo."
"Are you sure, boss?"
Gibbs nodded. "Yeah. Thanks for looking after Ducky."
DiNozzo nodded, grabbed his coat and crossed to the door. He stopped with his hand on the handle. "Boss?"
"I . . . Nothing, boss. Goodnight. Tell Ducky, I hope he's . . . Well, you know."
"Yeah, I will, DiNozzo."
DiNozzo waited for another second or two, before he left the room.
Gibbs sank back down into the chair, put his head between his hands and cursed. "Ah, shit."
Another twenty minutes went by before the door opened again and this time a man, dressed in theatre greens with a white coat over them came in. "Mr. Gibbs?" he asked.
Gibbs stood up. "Yes, I'm Jethro Gibbs."
The doctor smiled and held out his hand. "I'm Dr. Frederick; I've just finished operating on Dr. Mallard. He's your partner, I understand."
Gibbs nodded as he shook Dr. Frederick's hand. The handshake was cool and firm. "How is he?"
"Amazingly well for a man who had a car driven directly at him," Frederick replied. "In fact I was somewhat astonished by how few injuries he'd sustained. It was almost as if - But, no that's foolish."
Despite his concern for Ducky, Gibbs found his special agent bell begin to ring albeit softly, and his gut began to churn - of course that could just have been the so-called coffee he'd drunk. "What's foolish?" he asked.
Frederick spread his hands and looked slightly uneasy. "It's just that according to the gentleman who came in with Dr. Mallard, the car was driven directly at him?"
Gibbs nodded. "So DiNozzo said. He didn't see the accident himself, just heard the tires. Witnesses said it was hit and run."
"Well, my evaluation would be that whoever was driving was incredibly skilled; he or she managed to hit Dr. Mallard in such a way as to hurt him, but not kill him."
Gibbs shook his head. "How badly hurt?"
"His ankle was broken, not badly, the fracture was clean, it will heal easily. He also sustained a couple of broken ribs, again not badly broken or really serious. One did puncture the lung, but that was easily dealt with; he's in no danger at all. His chest will be sore for a while, but he'll be fine. Other than those breaks, the only other injuries he sustained were cuts and bruises - admittedly there were quite a number of those, but again - Forgive me, Mr. Gibbs, I'm being somewhat fanciful. I simply should be glad, indeed I am, that the injuries were so relatively minor; I shouldn't be trying to second guess why that is the case. Although, I understand that you spend your days doing that very kind of thing?"
Gibbs nodded. "Yeah. I do. The nurse said it'd be all right for me to see Ducky?"
"Oh, yes, of course. He's still unconscious following the anesthetic and of course despite what I've just told you about how non-serious his injuries were, you'll find he's hooked up to a vast array of machinery - between you and me, I'm not altogether sure I know what all of them do." He smiled and Gibbs found himself smiling back; he liked the young doctor. He seemed a good man. "I'm afraid you won't be able to stay long, Charge Nurse Lucas doesn't approve of any visitors after eight p.m., but you can come back and visit him first thing in the morning. He should be awake and aware by that time."
"Not a problem," Gibbs said, knowing from experience that there were times even he had to bow to a higher power and hospital charge nurses definitely fell into that category. "Just want to - well, I'm sure you know."
"Reassure yourself that what I've told you is correct?" Again Frederick smiled.
Gibbs nodded. "Something like that, yeah. Thank you, doctor." He held out his hand again. "Looks like Ducky was in good hands."
The young man blushed slightly and again shook Gibbs's hand.
Gibbs spent ten minutes sitting by the side of Ducky's bed before a meaningful cough had him bending to lightly kiss Ducky's forehead. He squeezed his hand one more time and after murmuring a promise that he'd be back in the morning he left.
Despite Frederick's words, Gibbs had been relieved and a little surprised to see how well the sleeping Ducky looked. Despite the bruising on his face, hands and arms, which made Gibbs's blood boil, Ducky's color was good and he looked peaceful. The machines told Gibbs nothing, but a young nurse had assured him that all of Ducky's vital signs were fine and she was certain Ducky would awaken fairly soon.
As he drove back to Reston House, Gibbs found himself glancing in the rear-view mirror more often than he normally did; each time he looked up he saw car headlights, they were quite some distance behind him, but they were always there. Whoever was driving the car seemed to be intent on remaining a set distance behind him.
He frowned to himself and dismissed it and instead began to mull over the information he'd been given. DiNozzo had said that witnesses had reported the car (a dark sedan) had been driven directly at Ducky, before racing away; whereas Dr. Frederick had implied that whoever had been driving had somehow not hit Ducky with as much ferocity as the witnesses had thought. Could they be lying? If so, why? Had Ducky just been unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or had it been a deliberate attack?
Gibbs almost laughed at the thought that anyone would deliberately wait outside the Navy Yard and drive a car at Ducky. Him, yes. Maybe. He'd pissed enough people off in his life and some of the bastards he put behind bars didn't get to stay there. Even DiNozzo, he could understand, a woman scorned and all that. But Ducky? It wasn't possible. Was it? He thought back to the Hanlans and their grudge and how they had come so close to taking Ducky from him. For one person, or set of people, to want to harm Ducky had been hard enough to accept, but for another . . . No, it had to simply be the wrong place at the wrong time.
And yet . . . And yet, why did his mind keep returning to a black sedan? The fact that Ziva had thought it worth mentioning to him, told him that no matter how reassuring Ducky had been when he'd seen it, something had tripped her gut. He thought back over the last couple of weeks, focusing on Ducky both in general and in particular and tried to remember if anything seemed odd or different or unusual.
He couldn't really pinpoint anything, and yet the more he thought about it, the more he thought about Ducky, the more he realized that something had been very slightly out of kilter. Ducky had been . . . He wasn't certain he could find a term for it, but something, now he really thought about it, now he concentrated on his lover in the way he'd concentrate on a case, nagged at him. He recalled the way Ducky had been when they'd got home to find the house in darkness; there had been something about him. At the time Gibbs had been so wrapped up in the horror of the case, he'd hadn't really noticed; or if he had, he'd put it down to the case. And yet now, thinking about it now, he was sure it had been more than that. He wouldn't want to say that Ducky had been frightened, but he hadn't been quite Ducky. And what about the nuisance phone calls when he'd been away? They had been just that, hadn't they?
By themselves phone calls, a power-cut and the presence of a black sedan on several occasions didn't mean anything, but put them together and throw in a hit and run that maybe wasn't quite so hit as it was run, and . . . But no, he was the one getting fanciful now. He was letting his work cloud his judgment. Ducky had purely been in the wrong place at the wrong time. As Frederick has said they should concentrate on being thankful the hit wasn't as dreadful as it might have been, not trying to find out why the injuries had been so relatively insignificant.
Satisfied that he was just letting his concern that Ducky was lying in a hospital bed get to him, and that nothing was strange, he deliberately turned his mind away from grim thoughts. Nonetheless, he resolved to talk, in a roundabout way, to Ducky as soon as he was up to it about the various issues - just to completely reassure himself; not that he needed to, but he would.
THE NEXT DAY
Tony walked into Abby's lab. "Hey, Abby," he said, handing her a Caf-Pow."
She beamed at him and snatched it. "Thanks, Tony." She sucked some of the liquid and then looked at him. "Well?"
He looked at her. "Well, what?"
"What do you want?"
"What makes you think I want anything?"
She put her head on one side and stared at him. "Because you
bought me this," she nodded at the Caf-Pow. "That means you want something.
Unless - Oh, Tony," she said, placing the drink down on her table and putting
her hands to her face. "It's not, Ducky, is it? He's not . . . Tony. Something
hasn't happened, has -"
Hastily Tony shook his head. "No, Abby, he's fine. Gibbs called a few minutes ago. Apparently, he's already sitting up in bed eating toast and drinking tea and asking when he can go home."
Abby sighed, her relief was obvious. Then she grabbed the Caf-Pow again, slurped some more of the brightly colored liquid and once again looked at Tony. "Well?" she repeated; her look like her tone was expectant.
Tony sighed and perched on the edge of one of Abby's stools. He fiddled with his cuffs and then began to fiddle with one of Abby's mice, until she caught his hand and stopped him. "Tell me." It was an order; as clear as any Gibbs might give.
"It's just . . . Did you know about Gibbs and Ducky?" Tony blurted out.
He saw surprised register on Abby's face. "What about Gibbs and Ducky?" she said slowly.
"That they're . . . Together. A couple."
Abby looked even more surprised. "Yes, Tony. It's kind of obvious. They do live together."
Tony glanced away. Was he the only one who hadn't figured it out? Not that he'd actually given it any thought. One day Gibbs was living in his own house, the next, he'd moved into Reston House. But that was it; Tony had just accepted it in the way he accepted that one day Gibbs would wear a green shirt, the next day a red one.
"Tony?" Abby put her hand on his arm. "Didn't you know?"
Tony shrugged and shook his head, then shrugged again. Of course he'd known; he just hadn't admitted it, or thought about it. But he'd known, surely he had, hadn't he? He was an investigator, after all. "They never said anything," he said.
"Well, no, but . . . They live together, Tony. What did you think that meant? That Ducky needed someone to help him pay the mortgage?" She smiled.
Tony glanced away; it had been uncannily similar to what Gibbs had said the evening before. Suddenly he felt really foolish. And yet . . . "No. Yeah. I don't know, Abby. Why didn't they tell us? I thought I knew Gibbs."
Abby smiled and put her arm through his. "Anthony DiNozzo," she said firmly, "there's only one person who knows Gibbs and that's Ducky."
Tony managed a smile. "Yes. Guess you're right. But even so, I would have thought they'd have told us. We're family, Abby. He didn't tell us, but he told a perfect stranger."
Now Abby let go off his arm and put a hand on each of his cheeks. She shook her head as she looked at him. "Is that what's bothering you, Tony? That Gibbs didn't tell you, but he told someone else? Or is it that you don't know how you feel about the fact that Gibbs and Ducky are lovers?"
He knew she'd deliberately used the term lovers; but even so, hearing it shook him. "No!" he snapped at her. "Yes. No. Yes. I don't know, Abby. Okay? I don't know how I feel."
She shook her head and then hugged him. "Tony," she said, pushing him away. "Gibbs is still Gibbs and Ducky is still Ducky. They've been living together for nearly a year now. Has anything changed?"
Tony shook his head. And then suddenly something came to him. "Actually, yes. Gibbs hasn't head-slapped me so much."
Abby laughed. "Which has to be good, right?"
"Right. The thing is, Abby, I told Gibbs I didn't know how I felt about it."
"Oh," she said quietly. "And what did he say?"
"He told me if I figured it out to let him know."
"And all but told me if I did have a problem then I better start looking for another job."
He expected to see surprise on her face, but there wasn't any. Instead she just nodded slightly. "That sounds like Gibbs."
"He didn't actually say it. But that's what he meant. Did he mean it?" Abby just looked at him. "Yeah," he said. "Stupid question."
"You think, DiNozzo," she said, in an amazingly accurate impersonation of Gibbs.
Tony found himself laughing. "God, I'm a fool, Abby."
"Yes." She beamed at him.
"Gee, thanks, Abby." But he laughed again. Suddenly he felt better. "Do you reckon the others know?" he asked. "Ziva, McGeek, Palmer?"
She looked at him. "Yes, Tony," she said firmly. "But by all means ask them, if it'll make you feel better."
"No, thanks," he said. "Once was bad enough. Well, twice really."
She nodded. "It'll be all right, Tony," she said quietly. "Now go away and let me get back to work." And with that, she turned on her heel and bounced across to her mass-spectrometer.
He watched her for a moment and then turned to go. "Thanks, Abby," he murmured as he reached the door. As it swished open in front of him, he saw the reflection of her waving her hand in acknowledgement of his words.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Now that Ducky had been home a couple of days, Jethro decided it was time he asked Ducky about the accident. He'd put it off until now because he didnít think it was a subject for discussion in the hospital, not with nurses, doctors and the team popping in and out what seemed like every few minutes. Also, Ducky had seemed quieter than usual, and kept watching Jethro, his look somewhat wary.
"How you feeling, Duck?" he asked, taking the opportunity to brush Ducky's fringe back from where it rested on the top of his glasses.
Ducky turned his head and smiled at him. "Considerably better now that I'm back home, my dear."
"It's good you have you back, Duck."
Ducky took Jethro's hand and linked his fingers with Jethro's; he sighed softly. "Why don't you ask me?"
Ducky smiled, "Ah, Jethro. I do sometimes wonder just how you can be so good undercover and yet with me . . ." He trailed off. "And don't give me that nonchalant look; I know you too well."
Jethro lifted their joined hands to his lips and kissed Ducky's hand. "Yeah, guess you do, Duck."
"I confess I am somewhat surprised you have not asked me before."
Jethro shrugged. "Didn't want to while you were in the hospital and I thought I'd give you a couple of days to settle at home."
"That was good of you," Ducky smiled.
"Yeah, it was, wasn't it? So, you want to tell me?"
Ducky sighed. "I'm not certain there's much to tell you, my dear."
Ducky sighed again. "One moment the car wasn't there, the next it was."
"The black sedan?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes."
"The same black sedan you saw when you and Ziva had lunch together. The same black sedan you told me was 'nothing'."
"Well?" Jethro demanded, cutting Ducky off before he could, no doubt, begin to ramble.
"Jethro, kindly do not use that tone with me. I am not someone whom you are interrogating." Jethro just continued to stare at his lover. Finally, Ducky sighed again, he seemed to be doing it a lot lately. "I don't know," he said. Jethro frowned. "I do not know if the black sedan which was intent on knocking me down, was the same black sedan I saw outside the Navy Yard or the same black sedan I -" Abruptly, Ducky stopped talking.
Jethro's gut began to churn and he tightened the grip he had on Ducky's hand. "Duck?" he said, gently. "Or the same black sedan you . . ."
Ducky closed his eyes for a moment. "I'm sure it's nothing," he said.
"Want to let me be the judge of that?"
Ducky shook his head, but it wasn't in negation, it was in fondness. "Ah, Jethro," he said, stroking Jethro's cheek. "I wonder if the day will ever come when you cease to be the special agent and my lover and instead be just my lover?"
"Probably the same time you cease to be the doctor and my lover and are just my lover," Jethro answered.
Ducky chuckled softly and learned nearer to Jethro, resting his head on Jethro's shoulder. "Ah, Jethro," he murmured, as Jethro slipped his arm around Ducky's shoulders. "I should have told you before, but it all seemed so silly, so unconnected, so innocuous, so . . . I didn't want you to think I was a foolish old man who . . ."
Jethro kissed the top of Ducky's head. "Less of the old, Duck. As for foolish, well, guess we all are at times. Who what?" he asked gently.
"Who found himself missing you the last time you went away, more than was even remotely sensible."
"Missed you too, Duck. You know that."
"Yes, dear. However, you didn't find yourself . . . Imagining things that weren't there."
"Go on," Jethro said quietly.
He felt Ducky shift slightly under his arm, snuggling slightly nearer to him, clearly attempting to get more comfortable. He lifted his arm a little, until Ducky had stopped moving and had once again put his head on Jethro's shoulder. "It started with those telephone calls, the ones I told you about."
"You said you didn't get any more."
"And I didn't. And I'm still certain, well, part of me, maybe isn't certain any longer. But surely it had to be, it would have been foolish to think it was anyone else. No -"
"Duck!" Jethro snapped very gently at his lover, stopping the rambling.
This time he felt as well as heard Ducky's sigh. "I really do think it was children, Jethro. But the following day when I was getting the Morgan out of the garage, I thought I caught sight of something that I thought was a flash."
"What kind of flash?"
"Sunlight reflecting off of something, I'm sure that's all it was. And yet . . ."
"Go on," Jethro urged.
"I thought it might have been a flash from a camera. I'm sure it wasn't. It was a bright morning; the sun must have caught the Morgan's bumper or something and yet . . ."
"Go on, Duck." Jethro squeezed Ducky's shoulder.
"It couldn't have been the sun reflecting off the Morgan, the garage doors weren't open far enough. I remember now; after I saw the flash, I turned back and opened them and then, yes, the sun did glint off the bumper, but it couldn't have been that before."
"Someone was taking a photo of you?" Jethro kept his voice low, but he was already planning ahead.
Now Ducky sat up and looked at Jethro. "It could have been the sun glinting off something else," he said quietly. However, his tone told Jethro he no longer believed that. He briefly closed his eyes, when he opened them again Jethro read a hint of fear, but also determination. "I've been a fool, Jethro. I really have," Ducky added.
"Just tell me, Duck," Jethro said, taking a second to brush his lips over Ducky's cheek.
Ducky nodded. "Once I got the Morgan out, I naturally locked
the garage doors behind me. When I turned back to the car I thought, no," he
shook his head. "I know I saw a figure, Jethro, at the end of the drive.
Seconds later I heard a car start up and drive away. I thought it was a neighbor
leaving for work a little earlier than usual. A neighbor who had -" Ducky raised
both hands in a gesture of defeat. "I don't know what I was thinking. Even if it
had been a neighbor leaving for work, what possible reason could he or she have
for being at the bottom of our drive? But at the time it seemed logical that
they were. Oh, Jethro. I really -"
"Hush. Just go on, Duck. Is that it?"
Ducky shook his head. "No. The morning of the day you were due home a black sedan followed me from here to the Navy Yard. And no, before you ask, I didn't get the license plate number. I didn't even consciously notice it until it raced away once I reached the office. Indeed, had it not speeded up so, I doubt I'd have noticed it at all."
"You didn't notice a car behind you for the entire journey?"
Ducky smiled. "No, my dear. I didn't. I'm a doctor, not a special agent or a spy or a detective, although it is fair to say I do carry out detection in my own way. However," he hurried on, as Jethro opened his mouth, "I wasn't aware of it. Why would I be? The road is a fairly busy one; it's not that unusual for a car to be behind one. Besides, I was . . . Shall we say a little occupied with thoughts of . . ." Ducky trailed off and smiled, his cheeks flushed a little.
"Ah, Duck." Jethro shook his head and again brushed his lips over Ducky's cheek. Maybe it was taking longer than he'd have liked to get Ducky to tell him everything, but on the other hand, he knew his lover well enough to know Ducky would tell him in his own good time. "I'm guessing there's more?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. There is. Apart from spotting a black sedan when I took Ziva out to lunch, the black sedan that again could have been the one that followed me, or simply could have been just an ordinary black sedan that happened to be outside the Navy Yard."
"Yeah. Right. And you know what I think about coincidences."
"Yes, my dear. I do - everyone knows what you think about coincidences, and as I keep telling you, like it or not, they do exist. However, leaving that fact aside for the moment, two days later when I was driving home I was . . . A car bumped into me."
"And you didn't tell me this before because?" Jethro's voice rose and he had to force himself not to glare at Ducky. What the hell was Ducky playing at?
Ducky held his gaze with his own gentle one. "Because it was the evening of the case involving the Marine's children," he said softly.
Jethro silently cursed and shook his head. "Duck -"
"No, Jethro. Besides, once again it was . . . I wasn't sure. My mind was not on driving, you know how one just drives, and does so perfectly safely. I wasn't aware that anything was behind me, until I felt a bump against the bumper. It wasn't that hard and when I did look up, the only headlights I saw were well behind me. I told myself I had driven over something in the road."
"And did you believe yourself?"
Ducky shrugged. "I don't know. Anyway, the next second the car raced towards me and - I really thought . . . But at the last second it swerved and drove off. And before you ask, it was a sedan, it appeared to be dark in color, but by then it was late and everything was dark."
Suddenly Jethro remembered. "That was the night of the power-cut, wasn't it?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. Except . . . Jethro, what if it wasn't a power-cut."
Jethro frowned. "I called the company. A JCB went through the lines."
"I know. But what if - You see, I told you I'm being fanciful. Of course it was a power-cut."
"You mean you think it could have been deliberate?"
"I donít know, Jethro. All I know is a week later a black sedan drove at me, swerved just enough at the last second to avoid plowing straight into me, knocked me down and raced off. Jethro, I think someone may be trying to frighten me. And I confess he or she has done a bloody good job of it."
Jethro stared into his lover's eyes, eyes that told him just how scared Ducky was. As he looked, what Dr. Frederick had said about Ducky's injuries came back to him. "Duck," he said, taking both of Ducky's hands. "Are you sure the car swerved? Are you certain?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes, Jethro. I am. Whoever was driving, did not wish me dead. They wished merely to go on frightening me. And Jethro," Ducky's voice became lower and he began to tremble slightly. "I am very frightened."
Jethro pulled Ducky into his arms and held him tightly. "It's all right, Duck," he murmured, kissing Ducky's head again. "No one's going to hurt you while I'm around. We'll get the team on it tomorrow."
TWO WEEKS LATER
"Well?" Gibbs demanded, looking around at his field team. "One of you tell me you've found something?" DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva all looked at one another; each of them was clearly telling the others to speak. Gibbs finally got tired of waiting. "DiNozzo," he snapped.
"As you're so fond of telling everyone, you're my senior field agent, so behave like one and tell me what you've found."
DiNozzo swallowed hard as he glanced away from Gibbs to again swiftly look at McGee and Ziva before he shifted some files on his desk and stared down at them. Gibbs was just about to snap at him again when he looked up and met Gibbs's gaze. "That would be nothing, boss," he said quietly, his tone apologetic. "Sorry, boss," he added swiftly. "We've all, Abby and Palmer too, been through all of the case Ducky's been involved in, given evidence in and there's no one who has made any threats against him."
"Tony's right, boss," McGee said. "I've done searches into his background and the only people who have ever made any threats against him are either dead, imprisoned or have forgiven him," he said quietly.
"Then what the hell is going on?" Gibbs grabbed his empty coffee cup and strode out of the squad room without waiting for an answer - even if there had been one to give him. He didn't doubt what they'd told him; he trusted his team implicitly and he knew that where Ducky's safety was concerned, none of them would have cut any corners. He wasn't the only person who loved Ducky; the entire team did. All of the kids would do anything for Ducky; anything to help him and anything to keep him safe.
As much as he always said he didnít believe in coincidences, he was almost beginning to wonder if this was one of those times when he was going to have to. Ducky had been right when he'd said that there were a lot of black sedans about - NCIS had a lot of them for a start. Maybe the car that had apparently followed Ducky home, the one he'd seen outside the Navy Yard, the one that had knocked him down, had all been different cars. Maybe they had all got so used to seeing bad guys around each corner, of treating everything with suspicion that non-connected, perfectly innocent incidences got blown out of proportion.
Maybe the person who had hit Ducky hadn't set out to deliberately run him down; maybe he'd been on his cell phone or something and had swerved at the last second and driven off not sure what damage he'd done. He wouldn't be the first hit and run driver, nor would he be the last. Maybe they were making too much of it; maybe they were all worrying about nothing. His gut troubled him, but he'd be the first one to admit that where Ducky and his safety were concerned he wasn't always rationale.
Just then his cell phone rang. "Gibbs, yeah? Where? Okay, we're on our way." Well, Ducky's 'case' if there was one, had to be pushed to one side for the moment as they had a real case with a dead body. He dropped the coffee container into the trash can and strode back into the squad room. "Grab your gear," he called, striding to his desk and pulling his gun out of the drawer, before heading towards the elevators, McGee, DiNozzo and Ziva hurrying along behind him.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Ducky left Jethro dressing and went down stairs to put the kettle on to make himself tea and the coffee percolator on to make the thick, jet black liquid Jethro called 'coffee'.
He was very pleased with the progress he had made, how relatively easily he could walk, albeit still with the aid of a cane. He'd even, after the lack of evidence and the fact that a month had gone by since he'd been knocked down without anything else strange occuring, convinced himself that all the things that had happened had been separate and unrelated incidences; that no one was out to frighten him, hurt him or even worse.
Humming gently to himself he went to unbolt the front door; he was surprised to see a white envelope lying on the mat. It was far too early for the post to arrive, so whatever it was had to have been delivered by hand. He bent down carefully and picked the envelope up; to his further surprise neither his name nor Jethro's was on the envelope. "It's probably some kind of circular," he said, sliding his finger beneath the flap, opening it and pulling out the single piece of paper.
He gasped as he read the words and dropped his cane which clattered on the wooden floor, the noise echoing through the house. The next moment he heard Jethro hurrying down the stairs. "Duck? Are you - Duck?" In an instant Jethro was by his side, pausing long enough to bend down and scoop Ducky's cane up for him. He put his arm around Ducky and pulled him nearer to him. "Are you all right, Duck?"
"I . . . I was, Jethro." Ducky spoke quietly, as he turned under Jethro's arm and gazed up at his concerned lover. "You'd better read this, my dear." With a shaky hand he handed the sheet of paper to Jethro, who held it out at arm's length, squinted a little and read it.
"What the . . . ? Duck? This is a joke, right? Someone's just . . . Ducky, there's nothing you need to tell me, is there? You're not really . . . Sorry," he said swiftly as Ducky stared in silence up at him. "Let's go and sit down, I'll make you some tea."
"Thank you, my dear." Ducky put his arm around Jethro's waist and leaning on his cane, he let Jethro lead him into the kitchen where he sat at the table and watched Jethro fill the kettle, turn it on and pile spoons of coffee into the percolator. "I'm afraid my fingerprints will be all over the envelope and the letter," he said. "I didn't think - I just thought it was some kind of circular."
Jethro shrugged. "I took it from it you, Duck. I didn't think anything either. Anyway, Abbs can eliminate our fingerprints. Not that I reckon we'll find any other than ours."
Ducky sighed. "I believe you are correct, my dear. No, Jethro, you need to warm the pot before you pour the water into it; I've told you that many times."
Jethro grinned at him. "Yeah, Duck, you have. One day I'll remember. There, that better?"
Ducky smiled and nodded.
"Look this might be a silly question, but you don't know anyone who'd play a practical joke on you, do you?"
Ducky glanced at the piece of paper which Jethro had laid on the kitchen table. "The other times were just warnings. Next time, Kuryakin, you're dead." He read the words in a cool tone. "No, Jethro, I do not believe I know anyone who would write such a thing - not even as a practical joke."
Jethro poured a mug of tea for Ducky and a mug of black coffee for himself and brought them both to the table. He sat down and took Ducky's hand. "Okay, Duck, I'm going to ask this, because it's the question that's going to be asked. You aren't Illya Kuryakin, are you?"
Ducky smiled. "No, Agent Gibbs, I assure you I am not now, nor have I ever been Illya Kuryakin the Russian agent who worked along side Napoleon Solo for U.N.C.L.E. and who, along with Mr. Solo, saved the world on numerous occasions. I am, and always have been, Dr. Donald 'Ducky' Mallard, a British Medical Examiner who, whilst having travelled the world and, somewhat surprisingly given I am a Medical Examiner, saved a number of people's lives, has never saved the world. Will that suffice?"
Jethro smiled, even though Ducky could see it was somewhat forced. "Yeah, Duck, it'll do." He bent forward and brushed the hair back from Ducky's forehead. "But it appears someone thinks you are Illya Kuryakin," he said, his tone grim. "And that someone is trying to -" He fell silent.
"Kill me." Ducky said softly. "Well, you'll just have to stop him or her or them, won't you?" He picked his mug up and sipped the tea. Maybe he was being a foolish elderly man, but after the initial shock had subsided somewhat, he felt far less concerned and far more relaxed than he probably should be.
Jethro just stared at him in silence, his coffee mug halfway to his mouth. "You know, Duck," he said after Ducky just held the gaze, "you can still surprise me at times."
"Oh, good," Ducky said and sipped his tea. "So what is your plan?"
"Other than keeping you alive? Well, to start with we're
going to a safe house." And with that Jethro pulled out his cell phone and
pushed a number.
"Oh, Jethro, do you think that is really . . ." Ducky trailed off under the stern glare Jethro cast his way. He sighed softly as he watched his lover turn from lover to special agent under his very eyes. "Very well; I shall go and pack some bags," he said as he heard Jethro start to talk to Director Vance.
A FEW HOURS LATER
"Right, a guard will be with you at all times when you're at
"But, Jethro, surely -"
"At all times, Duck."
Ducky sighed. "Very well, Jethro, but please ensure he has a strong stomach. I really do not need someone passing out or throwing up whilst I am in the middle of an autopsy."
"If you leave the Navy Yard before I do, then two of the field team will go with you."
"Yes, dear," Ducky said quietly. He knew there was no point arguing; Jethro had made up his mind.
"What about when you're there, boss? Will you want one of us as well?" DiNozzo asked, glancing at McGee and Ziva."
"No," Ducky said firmly. He stared at Jethro and they conducted a silent argument that lasted for some time before Jethro looked away from him, silently conceding the point to Ducky.
"No, DiNozzo, reckon I can manage." His tone was grim but resigned. "But you'll all remain on call. You all need to be ready to get to the safe house at a moment's notice," he added, turning to look at Ducky who conceded that point with a small nod.
"You know how to fire a gun don't you, Duck?"
"Yes, Jethro, you know I do. However -"
"Ziva, get another Sig booked out -"
"If you insist on me being armed, even though you know I would not use a gun on another human being, I would prefer something other than a Sig-Sauer. My personal choice would be a revolver."
"On it, Gibbs."
"You do know I would not use it, do you not, Jethro?" Ducky said quietly.
Jethro shot him a look. "We never know what we'd do, Duck, until we have to. Like to think if it was a choice of you or him then you'd - Well, you know."
Ducky smiled. "Yes, my dear, I do." He put his hand on Jethro's arm.
"Hey, Gibbs," Abby said coming up to the group, Jimmy at her side. Ducky wondered idly which of the other children had called Jimmy, because he knew Jethro hadn't. He felt touched by the gesture.
"Hey, Abbs. What you got?"
She sat on the edge of Jethro's desk and sighed. "Nothing. Sorry, Gibbs, the only fingerprints were yours and Ducky's."
Jethro shrugged. "Not your fault, Abbs."
"I know, Gibbs. But . . ." She looked at Ducky. "Nothing is going to happen to you, Duckman," she declared, her tone firm. "Nothing. Is it?" She looked around at the others; they all shook their heads.
"McGee, you managed to dig anything up on U.N.C.L.E. and what's happened to their files and personnel since they closed down?"
McGee looked up from his computer. "No, boss," he said grimly. "Nothing. It's as though they never existed. All traces of the organization and the personnel have been erased. Whoever did it is good, boss; very good. Better than me," he added softly.
A WEEK LATER
Tempers were beginning to fray; Ducky's in particular. He was already tired of having a third party watching him constantly - he wasn't even allowed to go to the men's room unaccompanied. And he really didn't like having someone whose gun was always visible hovering around Autopsy all day, every day - especially as it made Jimmy nervous, which affected his work, which made Ducky even more short tempered.
When he returned to the safe house, which he didn't consider any safer than Reston House - if as safe - and Jethro remained at the office, he would be accompanied by two of Jethro's field team. And as fond as he was of Ziva, Timothy and Anthony, he resented their constant presence; the fact they never relaxed, always refused a glass or wine or a beer and treated him like someone they were being paid to guard, not someone they knew well.
"Jethro, this has to stop." The moment Jethro closed, locked and bolted the door behind Timothy and Ziva, Ducky spoke.
"What has, Duck?" Jethro asked, going to the window and peering out.
"This. All of it. This constant surveillance and someone always having to be with me, wherever I go. I am tired of it, Jethro. As strange as it may seem there are certain things I prefer to do in private!"
"Ah, Duck, I know it's hard on you," Jethro left the window and put his arms around Ducky. "But it's for your safety."
Ducky put his arms around Jethro and let Jethro tug him into a loose embrace. "I know, my dear. I know. But there are moments when I'd almost welcome an -" He stopped speaking abruptly at the anger that appeared on Jethro's face. "I'm sorry, my dear," he said softly, "I didn't mean -"
"It's not just you who's involved, Ducky," Jethro snarled. "How the hell do you think the rest of us feel? Me? The kids? Vance? Don't you know how much we care about you? Don't you know I don't know what I'd do if you -" He broke the embrace, turned around and strode across the room. "I can't lose you, Duck," he said quietly. "I can't."
Ducky stared at his lover's stiff back and sighed softly, regretting now what he'd said. "Jethro," he started to say.
However, Jethro cut him off. "Illya Kuryakin pissed off a lot of people; a hell of a lot. And they were good, Duck - the bastards Solo and Kuryakin brought down - they were very good. I don't know if we're that -"
"Leroy Jethro Gibbs," Ducky said firmly, "you are the best special agent our agency has; the best any agency has and you have the best, the smartest, the most dedicated, the most loyal and the most caring team. I assure you that you and your team are more than a match for anyone. Anyone, Jethro."
After a moment Jethro turned around and gave Ducky a half-smile. "Reckon you might be a bit biased, Duck," he said softly.
Ducky smiled. "Biased or not, I am correct." Jethro laughed and Ducky joined in.
LATER THAT NIGHT
"Jethro, wake up!" Ducky hissed as he shook his sleeping lover.
"What is it?" Jethro sat up, awake and alert in an instant; his Sig already in his hand.
"I believe, no I am sure, I heard a noise and I fear I can smell smoke."
"Fuck," Jethro cursed, throwing the covers back and getting out of bed. "Okay, Duck, you know what you have to do, don't you?"
Ducky also got out of bed. "Well, yes, my dear, but -"
"No, buts. Duck. You get out as we've practiced. You get out and you call DiNozzo and you go with him."
"But, Jethro -"
"Dr. Mallard, you will do as you are told." As he spoke, Jethro pulled on a pair of trousers and was now dragging a sweat-shirt over his head and then put on a bullet proof vest.
Hastily Ducky donned a pair of trousers and pulled a sweater on over his pajama top. "Yes, Agent Gibbs," he said quietly, reaching for his glasses and the gun he was still certain he would not use - not unless it was to save another person's life. He put his shoes and his overcoat on and turned around. "Jethro," he said softly.
Jethro turned from where he'd been looking out of the window. "Always do, Duck," he said, striding across the room to give Ducky a fleeting kiss. "Now get out and -"
"Call Anthony and go with him, yes, Jethro." And with that Ducky headed towards the door in the wall that would connect him with the house next door, which in turn would connect with the next house and finally a fourth house from where he would, as Jethro ordered, call Anthony.
Gibbs watched Ducky leave the bedroom and he closed his eyes for a second and offered a brief prayer up to a God he wasn't sure ever listened to him, if he even existed, before he slid the window up silently. The scent of smoke was increasing and a quick glance at the bedroom door showed a hint of smoke curling under the door.
He took one final glance around the room before swinging his legs over the window-sill and climbing out. It didn't take him long to reach the ground and to let himself out of the fake faÁade, the one that showed no windows on the side of the property. Nonetheless, he glanced around him carefully, thankful for the brightness of the moon and the street-lights and gun in hand, quietly and slowly made his way around to the front of the house.
He nearly ran into one of the men who had been posted as a guard, pulling up at the last second and hitting the man over his head with the butt of his Sig; he caught him as he fell and lowered him to the ground. His fingers found the carotid artery and he felt how thready the man's pulse was; he doubted the man would survive, unless he got help very quickly. Gibbs hadn't intended to hit him so hard, hadn't intended to kill him, but he knew he couldn't spare time, or the inclination, to call for assistance - the man would just have to take his chances.
When he carefully put his head around the edge of the house and looked towards the front door he could see the house was already blazing as long fingers of fire licked up the walls. He listened for a moment for the sounds of sirens, but none came. One of the reasons they had selected this particular safe house had been because of its location.
Two men stood outside watching the fire as it greedily destroyed the house. Despite the heat from the fire, Gibbs shivered just a little as he realized the men clearly didn't give a damn that at least one person was meant to be inside the house. Moving quietly, even though he doubted if his footsteps would be heard over the crackling of the fire, he went up behind the man who was the further away from the house, put his lips to his ear and whispered, "Give me a reason." The man did.
Two bullets took him down and two more took his companion down as he whirled around, pulling his gun from its holster; he was a second too late.
Gibbs stared down at the two bodies and tried to find a hint of compassion inside him. He failed. Despite knowing they had to be dead, he knelt by each body and felt for a pulse; there was none. He dug into their pockets and took out their wallets which he tucked into his pocket, even though he doubted their IDs were real.
He pulled out his cell phone and pressed a number. "It's done," he said and closed the phone. Within ten minutes a black van appeared and he helped Palmer load the three bodies (the man he'd hit on the head hadn't lived) into the van. After nodding at Palmer, he stood and watched Palmer drive off again. He then dialed a second number. "Well?" Two seconds later he turned the phone off, closed his eyes, smiled a little and muttered his thanks to God or whoever had kept Ducky safe.
He waited another twenty minutes for the fire to get a complete hold on the house before he called the police - and a TV station. He then turned around and jogged back the way he'd come less than half an hour earlier and headed for his own black sedan which he turned around and drove towards the Navy Yard and Ducky.
SOME MILES ACROSS TOWN
Napoleon Solo sat watching the late night news. By his side his long time partner and lover slept. He listened to the reporter give details of the house fire that had apparently taken the life of the man who had once been known, when he'd worked for U.N.C.L.E., as Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin and who it appeared had at some point taken on a new identity and learned a new profession and had joined NCIS as a Medical Examiner under the name of Dr. Donald Mallard, known to everyone as 'Ducky'.
The reporter went on to say that the fire had been so severe and had been started with an unknown accelerant that the fire chief wasn't certain any evidence of a body or indeed anything at all would be found. The reporter also reported that there had been evidence of blood on the ground outside the house, but no trace of any bodies had been found.
Napoleon lowered his head and lightly kissed Illya before turning the television off, taking his glasses off and settling down to sleep. Not that he thought sleep would come that night; in fact he knew it wouldn't.
Maybe it had been wrong of him to let the only three men left alive in the world who had vowed to take Illya's life know that in fact Illya was now Dr. Donald 'Ducky' Mallard who worked for NCIS. However, he had done so simply because he'd had such great faith in Leroy Jethro Gibbs; he'd studied him, he'd paid a vast amount of money to secure background information on the man and he'd known, he'd believed, that if anyone could keep Dr. Mallard alive, it would be Gibbs.
And his faith had not been misplaced. A discreet call made to NCIS had ascertained that Dr. Mallard was indeed alive, safe and well. As Illya gave a soft snore, Napoleon decided it was not only time for them to leave DC, it was time for them to leave America. All their enemies from their days as U.N.C.L.E. agents were now dead, but he had a new enemy now: Leroy Jethro Gibbs, even if Gibbs wasn't aware of it.
Napoleon knew that Gibbs would not understand and would certainly not forgive Napoleon for daring to use Dr. Mallard in the way he had done. For having the nerve, the audacity to risk his life, in order to save Illya's. He knew that because he knew exactly how he would feel had the situations been reversed and someone had used Illya as he had used Dr. Mallard. But he'd had to do it; he would do it again. He would do anything to keep Illya safe and alive.
During their days as U.N.C.L.E. agents everyone had thought he was the one who had more morals, that Illya was the colder, harder, more immoral man - they had all been wrong. At least they had been wrong as far as where Illya was concerned. Napoleon had always known he would sacrifice anyone and everything for the man who slept beside him. The man who must never, who could not ever, know what Napoleon had done.
Napoleon shivered and decided against even trying to sleep. Carefully he got out of bed, pulled on his robe and went into their sitting room where he poured himself a very large brandy and sat down in his favorite arm chair. The darkness of the room was broken by only one faintly shining lamp.
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