Every action has a consequence, and no one exists in a vacuum. Sometimes we all need something extra, we all do things we would never have believed possible. Learning that no one is perfect can be a painful lesson, and a long lasting one. One from which some people never truly recover, as Shannon Gibbs discovers. Sometimes Ducky feels he holds too many secrets. But nothing would make him break his promise not to tell.
Set in 2006, 1983/84 and 1991.
An established relationship story.
Written: July 2006. Word count: 13,280.
Jennifer Shepard: "Kelly looks a lot like Jethro, doesn't she?"
Donald 'Ducky' Mallard: "Yes, a bit."
Hiatus Part 2
Ducky stood looking down at the first of two graves. "Ah, Shannon my dear," he murmured. "I hope that you do rest in peace." Carefully he placed the small bouquet of white poppies on her grave.
Then he turned to the second grave and sighed softly. "My dear Kelly. Your daddy loved you very much." On her grave he placed white violets.
He took a step back, bowed his head and closed his eyes. Unbidden memories came flooding back to him.
The sound of frantic knocking on his front door awoke Ducky from a pleasant dream.
He glanced at the clock. It was 3:00 a.m. Immediately his doctor's instinct clicked in, and he went from half asleep to fully alert mode. Barely pausing to pull his dressing gown on over his pajamas, he hurried down the stairs; cursing the long ago injured leg that always stiffened up after he had been asleep. He feared something must have happened to one of his elderly neighbors; they tended to ask for his help from time to time, despite him always telling them that he wasn't a physician.
Ducky pulled open his front door and looked in surprise at the person standing on his doorstep. "My dear Shannon," he said, reaching out and pulling her inside. He was shocked to see that she was shaking, and her make-up and hair was a mess. A rush of cold water raced through his body. Two thoughts entered his mind, but he pushed them both away. He refused to believe the latter. He was unable to face the former.
"Oh, Ducky," she sobbed, throwing herself into his arms. "I've done something so dreadful. So very dreadful."
"There, there, my dear," he murmured, patting her back and guiding her further into his home. "Come along, inside. Ducky will take care of you."
She looked at him then, really looked at him. "Will you, Ducky? Will you really?"
"Of course, my dear. Now come along. Let us go and sit down, and I'll make us a nice cup of tea, and you can tell me all about it." He patted her back again.
To his surprise her tears and sobs reduced, and instead she gave a slight giggle. "Oh, Ducky. Only you would offer me tea." She gave him a watery smile. "I'm sorry," she said suddenly. "I woke you. I shouldn't have come here. I'll -"
"No, you won't, Shannon. You'll come with me, sit down and tell me what is troubling you." Ducky spoke firmly, as he began to lead her into his sitting room. He led her to a comfortable armchair, and held her arm as she sat down.
Ducky was a good judge of people, and instinct told him to leave Shannon alone for a few minutes. Stroking her hair back from her forehead, he said softly, "I'll just go and make that tea."
When he returned he was pleased to see that not only had she settled more comfortably into the chair, taking of her shoes, as she always did, she had made an attempt to tidy her hair and clean her face.
"Now, my dear," he said, holding out a cup of tea. "Tell Ducky all about it."
She held his gaze for a moment or two, and then looked down at her lap. "Ducky, if I tell you something, will you promise me that you'll never tell Jethro?" Then without giving Ducky a chance to reply, she hurried on, "I'm sorry, Ducky. I shouldn't have asked that. I know how close you and Jethro are."
Ducky sincerely hoped she didn't.
"It would be unfair of me. It's just that . . . Oh, Ducky. Again, her eyes began to fill with tears.
Ducky moved to the edge of the sofa and reached across to take her hand. "Shannon, Jethro and I are close friends, that is true. But I also consider you to be my friend. If you wish to tell me something, I promise you that I will not tell Jethro."
"I don't want to damage your friendship."
You might if you knew the truth, thought Ducky. He felt the sense of guilt he always felt when in Shannon's company begin to wrap itself around him.
However, that wasn't important right now; Shannon was. Jethro was away on deployment, and as always just before he had left he'd made Ducky promise that if anything happened to him, that Ducky would take care of Shannon. And as always, Ducky had promised to do so.
"You won't, Shannon."
"But if I ask you to keep a secret then -"
"I'm a doctor. We spend out lives keeping secrets." And I'm better at it than most.
"Maybe I should just go." But Shannon's tone told Ducky that was the last thing she wanted to do.
Nonetheless he answered her, as though he hadn't read her tone. "If that's what you want, Shannon."
"It isn't. I have to tell someone. And . . . Oh, Ducky. I don't know what to do. I've ruined everything."
"I'm sure it can't be as dreadful as that, my dear."
"Oh, it is, Ducky. It is." Again she subsided into silence.
Ducky just let her sit. Let her be. He could wait. He was a patient man. Shannon Gibbs would tell him what she came here to tell him.
Another few minutes went by, during which time Shannon alternated between sipping her tea and twisting her hair around a finger.
Seconds before she spoke, Ducky knew she was ready to do so. "Just before Jethro went away, we had an argument. The worst we've ever had. I - we - said some horrible things. I told him I was tired of being a Marine wife, and that I wanted a normal home and husband."
Ducky forced himself not to react to the words ‘normal' and ‘husband'. She didn't mean what his guilty conscience was telling him she meant.
"I didn't mean what I said, Ducky. Well, part of me did. I would like Jethro here more of the time. But I know how much he loves the Marines; I'd never ask him to leave, not really. I love him, Ducky. I love him so much."
"I know you do." So do I. "I'm sure Jethro knows, deep down, that you didn't mean what you said, Shannon. All couples have arguments. We all say things we wish we hadn't said. I'm sure it's over with and forgotten about."
"But he was so angry, Ducky. I've never seen him as angry. And he left. And I was angry. I shouted after him, ‘Don't expect me to be here when you come back'. And he went. And now . . . And now it's too late."
Ducky smiled gently and again took her hand. "Of course it isn't too late, Shannon. You're just tired and upset. It will be all right. Jethro will understand. He once told me that Marines have more arguments with their wives and children just before they go away, than at any other time. As much as Jethro and men like him love the service, they don't really want to spend weeks, months away from their loved ones. I'm sure that he'll have forgotten all about it by the time he comes home. Long before that even. He'll come home, just the same Jethro and you'll be there waiting for him. It's not such a dreadful thing, Shannon. You're just tired and emotional. You hate him to go," as I do, "and -"
"No, Ducky," Shannon was shaking her head. Her voice was quieter now, but also less emotional. "That isn't the dreadful thing. Well, yes, it was awful, but . . . It's strange, whenever we argue, it's just before he goes away. It's just never been as terrible as this."
"If that isn't the dreadful thing, what is?" And suddenly the instinct that had always served Ducky well, the instinct that worked best with Jethro, but was there with other people too, went into overdrive. "Oh, my dear," he said softly. "Tell me." For only the second time in his relationship with Shannon Gibbs, did he use his forceful tone.
"I was still angry with him and upset. And angry with myself. I didn't want to spend the night alone in the house with the walls closing in on me, mocking me, reminding me of what I'd said, what he'd said. So I decided to dress up and go out. I called a friend, she's a Marine wife too, and we went to a bar she knew. He was nice, Ducky. So nice. He bought me drinks, flattered me, said all the right things, all the things that Jethro feels, but can't always say. He . . . I . . . We . . . It was wrong. So very, very wrong. But it was so good at the time. And now I hate myself. I feel dirty, Ducky, so dirty. But . . ." She subsided into heavy sobs again, and Ducky moved from the sofa, sat on the arm of her chair and pulled her into his arms. He brushed his hand over her hair, rocked her and murmured words of soothing nonsense.
Later, once her sobs had subsided, Ducky put Shannon to bed in his spare room and sat by her, watching over her for the rest of the night. His thoughts were mostly, as they always were, of Jethro. "Oh, my dear," he murmured softly. "What am I going to do?" But he knew what he was going to do. What he had to do. The only thing he could do. His lack of honorableness only went so far.
A MONTH LATER
"Shannon my dear." Ducky opened his front door to find Shannon Gibbs standing there. Her face was ashen and she was trembling. "Has something happened? Come in and tell me about it." As with a month ago, he took her arm and guided her into the house.
"Oh, Ducky," she said, once they were sitting down. "I think, no, I'm sure, I'm pregnant." She burst into tears.
Ducky patted her hand and let her cry for a moment or two. As the sobs began to lessen, he asked gently, "Are you certain, Shannon?"
She looked up him, her eyes red and still full of tears. "I haven't had a test, but, yes, I'm sure, Ducky. My period's two weeks late, and I'm never late. Never."
"Shannon, you've been under a lot of stress over the last month. You're not sleeping properly or eating properly. You feel guilty all the time; I know you do. You hate yourself. These kinds of things can have a huge affect on hormones. Many women -"
"No, Ducky. I tried to tell myself that. I really did. I kept saying 'it'll start today'. But I knew from the first day, it wouldn't. I have never, I mean never, been like this. I've been as regular as clockwork, almost to the hour, from the day I started them. I have never been a day early or late. It's impossible that I'm two weeks late. I'm pregnant. I know am. And I know something else too, it's not Jethro's." Once again she began to cry.
This time Ducky moved from his chair to sit beside her. He put his arm around her shoulders and held her, rocking her gently and murmuring soft words of reassurance. Words she wouldn't make out, but he hoped his tone would help her.
"Don't be nice to me, Ducky," she said, struggling a little to get out of his embrace. "I don't deserve your sympathy. I'm a wicked, cheating bitch. I've got what I deserve."
"Don't talk nonsense, Shannon," Ducky said firmly. He continued to hold her, and after a moment she stopped struggling.
Once her sobs had quietened, Ducky handed Shannon his handkerchief and waited for her to dry her eyes and blow her nose. "Now, Shannon," he said firmly. "Let us stop all this talk about you not deserving sympathy and understanding, and how wicked you are. What happened, happened. You cannot undo it, however much you'd like to. I told you, we all do or say things in life that we'd like to take back, but we cannot. I know how badly you feel about what happened, I know that you will never truly forgive yourself, and that you will go on paying for the rest of your life. But, my dear, you must try not to let it completely destroy you and your relationship with Jethro."
"I love him. And I feel so awful. I let him down."
"I know you love him, Shannon." Ducky took her hand. "I know you feel dreadful. But, my dear, you haven't let Jethro down. None of us are perfect, Jethro has never expected you to be."
"What are you saying, Ducky? That I should tell him what I did?"
Ducky shook his head. "No, Shannon. That is not what I'm saying. That would serve no purpose at all, other than to hurt Jethro badly. And you don't want to do that, do you?"
"No." The word was a mere whisper.
Ducky swallowed. "Then it shall be our secret, Shannon. Ours. Yours and mine. No one else need ever know. No one else will know - at least not from me."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "But, Ducky, Jethro's your friend. You love him."
"Yes, he is. And yes, I do." Just not only in the way you mean.
"You owe it to your friendship to tell him."
"Now you're being melodramatic, Shannon. I have no intention of hurting Jethro either. What would my telling him serve? Nothing. Except he'd be furious with me, and I'd lose the best friendship I'd ever had."
"He wouldn't be angry with you, Ducky. It's me he'd be angry with."
Ducky sighed. "Shannon. It is quite all right for a husband to criticize his wife, but if anyone else dares to do so, he will immediately take his wife's side, and he will be angry with the person who is doing the criticizing. If I told Jethro about you, it would destroy our friendship; he would never trust me again."
Ducky knew that not all of his words were completely accurate. If he did tell Jethro, he knew that it would result in Jethro and Shannon's marriage being over, and Jethro turning to Ducky and Ducky alone. It might have sounded hypocritical, given that Jethro was involved in a long-term relationship with Ducky, but Ducky knew that what would make Jethro furious and unforgiving, was not Shannon sleeping with another man, but Shannon telling Ducky about it and putting him in an awkward position.
"Whether what you say is true or not, Ducky, it's all different now. Everything changed two weeks ago. I'm pregnant, Ducky. And I know it's not Jethro's."
Ducky sighed. "Shannon, you cannot be certain of that."
"I am, Ducky. Look, I don't know how much Jethro tells you about us and other things, but you probably know that he doesn't want children."
"Yes, I did know that, Shannon."
"He's so good with them too. But he said he won't make the same mistakes as his parents made. He's never told me much about them; I bet you know more. Don't worry, Ducky, I'm not going to ask you. I'd never ask you to betray any secrets Jethro's told you."
"Jethro hasn't said that much to me either, Shannon. I'm sure we both know that Jethro isn't the world's most open man. You are correct about one thing though, he is wonderful with children."
"So that's that. It can't be his."
"Because he doesn't want them? Shannon, things don't work like that."
"No, Ducky, I'm not that naïve. Because we always use contraception when we make love," she blushed very slightly. Ducky tried to tell himself that she was just a patient, that she wasn't his lover's wife. "I can't take the pill, and the coil made me ill. Jethro always uses two condoms; he's fanatical about it. There is no way he could be the father."
"Did you not use a condom when you . . ." Ducky trailed off. Oh, please, Shannon, say that you did. If not, pregnancy might be the least of your worries. He held his breath.
"Of course I did, Ducky. I might have been drunk and angry and foolish, but I'm not completely stupid."
"Thank goodness for that." Ducky breathed again. "There you are then, no method of contraception is completely safe. Thus there is an equal chance that the father is Jethro, in fact much more of a chance. You and this other man only had sex once, whereas you and Jethro . . ." Again he trailed off. He wished that he could be any where other than his house, having any conversation other than that one he was having, with any other person than Shannon Gibbs. He wasn't naïve himself; he knew that Jethro and Shannon made love. He didn't fool himself that it never happened. Just because he preferred not to think about it, didn't do so deliberately, didn't negate the fact that he knew.
She was shaking her head. "There's something else. You see . . . Oh, I shouldn't be talking to you like this, Ducky. Whatever you say it isn't fair. And you must be embarrassed. I should go."
Ducky kept a firm grip on his hand. "I'm a doctor, Shannon. I might not be a gynecologist or even a family doctor, but I am a doctor. Whatever you say to me won't embarrass me, nor will it change my opinion of you. Besides, if you can't talk to me, who can your talk to? Do you have a close girl friend whom you trust?"
Shannon shook her head. "Not really. Not with this. Maggie's great; she's the girl I went out with the night it happened. But she'd already gone o -, gone home," she hastened to correct herself, when I," she waved her hand slightly. "She doesn't know; she thought I went home as soon as I'd finished my drink. And I'd intended to; I really had, Ducky. I never -"
"I know, Shannon." Gently but firmly, Ducky cut into her words. "If you can't talk to Maggie, then you really don't have a choice. Come along, dear, tell me what it is."
"Jethro and I don't make love at a certain time of the month, no matter whether he's going to sea or not. At least we don't . . ." Again she blushed and broke off. "He won't. It's another way he says of assuring I don't accidentally get pregnant. But when I . . . It was that time, Ducky. It can't be Jethro's. It can't be."
"Shannon my dear. These things aren't an exact science."
"It's my punishment. What am I going to do?"
Ducky sighed. "Shannon. Stop it. Please, my dear. You'll make yourself ill. Now, let us be practical. You should go and see a doctor, let us get things confirmed one way or another. Then we can decide what you are going to do. And before you ask, I'll support you in any way I can. I promise you."
"Can't you do the test?"
Ducky shook his head. "No, dear." He spoke firmly. "But I have a friend who could do so. He's a trustworthy man, as well as a good one. I assume you'd rather not see your own doctor at this stage?"
Shannon shook her head. "I don't like him all that much anyway. And I know that he's meant to be bound by the oaths you take about patient confidentiality, but he's a Marine doctor, Ducky. They pay his salary. I'm not saying I don't trust him, just that . . . Does that sound silly?"
Ducky patted her hand again. "No, dear." And it didn't.
"Okay. I'll see your friend. And when he confirms it . . . Then what do I do?"
Ducky cleared his throat. "May I ask you what might seem a very personal question, Shannon?"
She made a sound, rather like a half-laugh. "Ducky, after all the things I've told you about Jethro's and my sex life, I really don't think you can ask anything more personal."
"This man with whom you . . ." Ducky trailed off.
"Had sex." Shannon's tone was firm. "Let's not resort to euphemisms, Ducky. We screwed. We had sex. Simple as that." Despite her grim tone, Shannon also sounded less upset than she had since arriving at Ducky's home.
"Was this man . . . Oh, dear, this is foolish. Was he Caucasian, Shannon?"
Shannon's eyes became what must have been painfully wide, and she put her hand over her mouth. "Oh, Ducky. Yes, yes, he was. He was. But, why does that matter? Wait a minute; you're suggesting that I pass this baby off as Jethro's, aren't you? Ducky, I'm surprised at you. I can't. I can't. I can't. Besides, what about the blood group?"
"Jethro's blood group is the most common, Shannon. And despite what you have convinced yourself to believe, this child, if indeed you are even pregnant, could just as easily be Jethro's as this other man's. Shannon, would you like me to lecture you on the way the human body works? Because I can. We can sit here for another hour or two, and I can bore you. Can you not just accept that I have a far greater knowledge on the subject than you do?"
"But it still doesn't change the fact, Ducky, that Jethro doesn't want a child. You know he doesn't."
"Shannon. As I told you, no method of contraception is ever one hundred percent guaranteed, with the exception of abstinence, of course. Accidents happen all of the time. I once asked Jethro, after I'd pointed this out to him, what he would do if you did become pregnant. Would you like me to tell you what he said?"
She bit her lip and looked at him. Then nodded.
"He told me that if it happened, it happened. That although he did not wish to have children, if you did become pregnant, he would accept it. So you see, my dear. He won't be angry, or leave you, or make you have an abortion, or anything like that. He will accept what has happened. Que sara sara, I believe sums it up very nicely. Now, why don't we have a nice cup of tea, and then I'll ring my friend. Although I suspect he'll say it is a little soon, and that you should wait a short while."
"What will you tell him?"
"The truth. Hush, Shannon. I do not mean the entire truth. I simply mean that truth insofar as you and your husband are dear friends of mine, that you suspect you might be pregnant and would rather not see your usual doctor. And that as Jethro is away at sea, you've asked me to accompany you."
"Won't he think it odd?"
Ducky chuckled. "No, my dear. Not at all. We doctors are used to 'odd' things. In fact I remember a time when he and I - Oh, I'm sorry, Shannon. You don't want to hear one of my rambling tales."
"No, please, Ducky, tell me. If it's nothing confidential, that is. It might take my mind off things."
A MONTH LATER
"I told you, Ducky. I knew." Shannon's voice was flat and dull.
Ducky sighed. "Ah, Shannon my dear."
"What do I do now, Ducky? Oh, Ducky." And sobbing she threw herself into his arms.
For the second time in two months, Ducky kept watch over his lover's wife whilst she slept.
THE NEXT DAY
"What if Jethro is angry, Ducky?"
"He won't be, Shannon. He'll be happy. I know he will be." Ducky poured Shannon another cup of tea.
"I don't know if I can lie to him."
Ducky sighed. "Shannon my dear. Only you can make that decision. Only you know how you feel. Do you really want to hurt Jethro that much? Are you still angry with him?"
"No. No. No, I don't and I'm not. Really I'm not. I love him, Ducky. So much. He's my life. God, that makes me sound so pathetic."
No, thought Ducky. Because if you're pathetic, then I am too. Out loud he said, "I know, Shannon. In which case, my dear. You really only have two choices."
"Lie to him or get rid of it?"
Ducky sighed. "Essentially, yes. But, Shannon, it might not be a lie." Yet again, he began to repeat himself. He had to get through to Shannon. "I've told you, several times, no form of contraception is perfect. The baby might just as easily be Jethro's as this other man's. In fact there is a far greater chance that it is."
"But I know, Ducky. Don't ask me how, I just know, it isn't."
"Now you're being silly, Shannon. It's your guilt speaking, that's all."
She glared at him and tossed her red hair. "I know," she said stubbornly.
Ducky sighed. "Very well, Shannon." He didn't wish to argue with her; her emotions were up and down, and had been for at least a month. One day one thing could make her laugh, the next she'd cry. He hadn't any real experience with a pregnant woman, outside of the usual gynea rotation during his training, nor had he ever believed he would have.
"Maybe I should just get rid of it. That'd be best. That way, he'd never have to know or even suspect."
"If that is what you want to do, Shannon, then, yes." Ducky spoke carefully, ensuring his voice remained neutral. He would do many things for Shannon Gibbs; however, he would not make her decision for her.
She was silent for several minutes. "Do you really believe Jethro wants a child?"
"Yes." Ducky spoke firmly. And he did believe it. Or rather he believed that when presented with a pregnant wife that Jethro wouldn't turn his back on her. "However," he said, also firmly, but gently. "Let me ask you a question. And I want you to think, really think, about the answer. Can you promise me you'll do that?"
"Yes." She looked intently at him.
"Let us say, for a moment, that Jethro comes home and decides that he really cannot be a father to the child, except in a financial way. Would you still wish to keep the baby?"
She was as good as her word. She didn't answer him immediately. She glanced away from him, looking down at her lap, letting her long hair fall forward to cover her face.
Ducky waited, sipping his tea in silence, just watching Jethro's wife. Waiting for her to make one of the most difficult decisions a woman ever has to make. Waiting for her to in effect seal not only her future and Jethro's, but also his own.
Suddenly she lifted her head, tossed back her hair, and green eyes ablaze with what he guessed was maternal love said, "Yes. Yes, Ducky, I would. Yes."
He swallowed, smiled gently, and said, "Then, my dear, you have made your choice. Now drink your tea before it gets cold."
A MONTH LATER
"I'm scared, Ducky."
Ducky glanced at her, and sympathy poured through his body. She was scared; she really was.
He pulled her into his arms and soothed her. "It will be all right, Shannon," he promised, kissing her head. "It will be."
One thing was certain, Shannon Gibbs was still paying for her one small slip. A few moments when she proved to herself that she was only human, that she wasn't perfect. That no matter how much you love someone, and Shannon did love Jethro, sometimes you need something more. As he continued to hold her, it was with sorrow he realized that Shannon would pay for those few moments for the rest of her life.
Shannon looked at him. "Ducky?"
"Would you . . ."
"Would I what?" Ducky asked, guessing what she wanted to ask him.
She bit her lip and glanced away, shaking her hair. "No. I can't ask you. It's not fair. You've done enough all ready."
Ducky looked at her, studying her carefully. She still looked ghastly, paler than she normally was, her sparkle had gone, and pregnant or not, she'd lost weight. As a doctor he was concerned, as friend he was very concerned. He took her hand and she looked back at him. "Yes, Shannon," he said softly. "If you wish me to, I will tell Jethro for you."
Her green eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Ducky," she murmured. "Would you? I know it's unfair to ask you. I know it. But . . ." Again she broke off. Then she smiled gently and said, "It's just that sometimes I think that Jethro is closer to you than he is to me."
Ducky kept all expression of his face. "Don't be silly, Shannon," he said, when he felt he could trust his voice.
She smiled. "Maybe I should have said, that he listens to you more."
Ducky laughed softly. "Ah, well, my dear, that's because I talk so much. The poor man doesn't have any choose in the matter. Now go and wash your face and hands and comb your hair. You'll feel better then."
THE NEXT DAY
"Duck!" The pleasure in Jethro's voice was clear, as he grabbed Ducky and pulled him into a fierce hug. "God, I've missed you," he murmured, as he held Ducky closely against him.
"I've missed you too, my dear," Ducky replied, returning the embrace.
Around them men, women and children were hugging and kissing, laughing and shouting, as the Marines were welcomed home. As he held onto Jethro, Ducky mused that it was more than a little ironical, that one of the few public places where Jethro and he could embrace without fear of any reprisals, vicious comments, or anyone thinking they were anything other than the friends they appeared to be, was in the midst of departing or returning Marines.
He felt Jethro brush the top of his ear with his lips, a fleeting, light gesture, one that wouldn't have been seen by anyone else, even if anyone was bothering to look at them. And why would they do so? They were all too busy greeting their own loved ones to pay attention to what anyone else was doing.
Finally Jethro broke the embrace, pushed Ducky's hat, which he'd swept off Ducky's head as he pulled him into his arms, back onto his head and said, "Not that I'm objecting or anything, Duck, but where's Shannon? She's not ill, is she?"
As far as possible, Shannon and Ducky always went together to greet Jethro when he returned from deployment. Ducky had tried several times to demure, both to Shannon and Jethro, but Shannon had always insisted. 'You're Jethro's best friend, Ducky, you should be there with me'. Finally, realizing that if he kept on objecting, Shannon might start to wonder just why her husband's dearest friend didn't want to be there to help welcome him home, Ducky had given in.
"No, my dear," Ducky said.
"She hasn't left me has she? We had a bloody awful row before I went and she told me -"
"No, Jethro. Of course she hasn't," Ducky said swiftly. "Come along, my dear. Let us go home. There is something I need to tell you." Ducky began to move away.
He'd only taken one step, when an iron grip on his arm stopped him and pulled him round. Although the movement was swift and jerky, Jethro took care to support Ducky as he dragged him around, thus ensuring that Ducky's leg wasn't damaged any further. "You're not leaving me, are you?" Jethro hissed, his fingers digging into Ducky's arm. "Because -"
"No, dearest," Ducky said softly. "It's nothing like that. Now please come along, Jethro." He used the same forceful tone as he'd used with Shannon. Jethro's dark blue eyes widened in surprise, and he frowned, but then he shrugged once, flung his arm around Ducky's shoulders and allowed Ducky to lead him to his car.
"You know, Duck, I swear there's less leg room in your car each time I get in her. Can't you get yourself a normal one?" Jethro tossed his bag into backseat and, still grumbling, folded himself into Ducky's Morgan.
Sliding into the driver's seat and turning on the engine, Ducky said placidly, "I personally find that there is amble room, Jethro. My legs fit very nicely." He smiled at his lover, and after rolling his eyes in mock disgust, Jethro smiled back.
"No, Jethro." Ducky extracted himself from Jethro's arms, pulling out of the embrace that was getting more intimate and intense by the second.
"Why not, Duck? Not gone off me, have you"?
"Don't be silly, my dear. That will never happen."
"Then why won't you let me take you to bed?" Jethro tugged Ducky back into his arms, and began to nuzzle Ducky's neck. Ducky fought back a moan of pleasure, that doubled in intensity as Jethro moved his lips to cover Ducky's own. Ducky kissed his lover back; he wasn't strong enough not to. He didn't want to. Being kissed by Jethro and kissing him was Ducky's greatest pleasure.
However, he took care not to let the kiss become too passionate, not to let it move to the level whereby he wouldn't be able to say no. Not that he really didn't want to say no, he just felt he had to. Part of him told himself he was stupid not to go to bed with his lover now, as once he told Jethro about Shannon's pregnancy, he might lose his lover, as his lover. Carrying out a homosexual affair whilst married was one thing, carrying out a homosexual affair when you were not only married but had a pregnant wife, was something entirely different.
He felt the beginning of Jethro's arousal, and carefully stopped the kiss. "Duck?" The dark blue eyes, looked puzzled.
Ducky smiled gently, took Jethro's hand and led him to the sofa. "Sit down, my dear," he ordered.
For a moment Jethro looked as if he might argue. Then he sighed heavily and obeyed; he did not, however, let go of Ducky's hand. Instead he tugged on it and guided Ducky down next to him. "Go on then, Duck. Tell me whatever it is you have to tell me. Then perhaps we can go to bed."
Ducky said nothing in answer to the statement. But they wouldn't be going to bed. He would make sure of that. Once he'd told Jethro, he'd drive his lover back to his wife. They wouldn't be making love today. Maybe not ever again. He ignored the voice.
"Well?" Jethro looked at him.
Ducky had been through this moment in his head many times, in truth long before Shannon had actually asked him if he'd tell Jethro. He'd played out the scene over and over again, never in the same way twice. He still wasn't completely certain what to say.
But then, as he sat there, his hand still in Jethro's, it all became clear. "Shannon is pregnant," he said simply, his eyes never leaving those of his lover.
Something unidentifiable raced through the stunned dark gaze; but it was so fleeting that Ducky wasn't certain there was anything other than surprise. Jethro's mouth parted, and he blinked before his eyes widened. "What?" he finally said.
Ducky gently repeated the three words, trying to ignore the fact that his hand was now being crushed by the ferocious grip Jethro had on it.
"But . . . I . . . We . . ."
"Are careful. I know, Jethro. But as I told you before, my dear, no form of contraception is one hundred percent safe." He was beginning to tire of those words; he seemed to have been saying little else for the past three months. "And as Shannon is unable to take the pill, you had already eliminated the safest form."
"How far gone?"
Jethro still just stared at Ducky. He seemed to be searching for something, something to which Ducky didn't have the answer. "I never wanted kids, Duck. You know that. Shannon knows that."
"I know, my dearest. That is why Shannon asked me if I would tell you. She was afraid that you'd -"
"Yes, my dear."
"I'm not. It's a shock. But . . . As you said, you warned me it could happen."
"Yes, dear. And you always said that if it did, then it did," Ducky gently reminded his lover. The grip on his hand had, to his relief, lessened somewhat, but Jethro still hadn't let go of it completely. Ducky was absurdly relieved, and simultaneously guilty for being so.
"Yeah, I did, didn't I? I meant it too. Hell, I'm going to be a father?"
Ducky smiled at the way Jethro made it a question. "Yes, Jethro," he said softly. "You are."
For a moment they just sat hand-in-hand in an easy silence. Ducky wanted to hold on to the moment for as long as possible, but the honorable side of him came into play. "And now, my dearest Jethro, you really must go home to Shannon, and tell her that you are happy, and reassure her that you aren't angry." He patted Jethro's hand and tried to withdraw his own; still Jethro wouldn't let him. It was as though by holding onto Ducky, he was keeping a grip on reality. Ducky could understand that. His words must have come as an immense shock to Jethro. He understood that they often did, even when the pregnancy was as planned as any can be. "Jethro," he said quietly, when Jethro made no move.
Jethro shook himself. "Yeah, Duck. Guess I had."
"Come along then. I'll drive you home." He patted Jethro's hand again; this time he pulled his hand out of Jethro's now much looser grip, stood up and began to move towards the door of the sitting room.
The next second Jethro was on his feet too. "Duck." Again, as on the dock, he caught Ducky's arm, pulled him back around and held him in a firm two-handed grip, just far enough away so that he could look at Ducky. "This won't change anything, you know. For us, I mean."
Ducky sighed silently, and tipped back his head to look up into the steady dark gaze. "Won't it, Jethro?" he asked softly.
Jethro shook his head. "No." His tone was firm. "It makes no difference."
This time Ducky's sigh wasn't silent. "Oh, my dear Jethro, of course it does. You just haven't realized it yet."
"Ducky." Jethro growled his name, and the grip became tighter. "Don't you believe me?"
"I believe that you believe it at the moment, dearest. Look, Jethro, let us not make any hasty promises or say things that we'll later regret. When you've had time to digest this information and really think about it, you might well feel differently."
"And if I don't?" Jethro glared at him.
"Let's wait and see," Ducky said quietly.
Still Jethro wouldn't let go of his arms; still he frowned. "Do you want to end it?" he finally demanded.
It was Ducky's chance. His opportunity to do something decent. To do what was right. To do what he should have done from the beginning of the marriage. He should finally walk away from Jethro. End their relationship. Tell him they could still be friends, but that was all. It was the right thing to do. The proper thing to do. It was what anyone with a shred of decency would do.
He lowered his head, briefly closed his eyes and pushed back the tears that threatened him.
After a moment he opened them again, again tipped back his head and looked into the unblinking stare that was now rich with fear. He opened his mouth to tell Jethro what he must tell him. "No, dearest," he said, the ache inside so great he had to fight to keep from crying aloud at the pain. "I do not." I cannot, he thought, and hated himself with a far greater loathing than ever before.
Jethro's relief was palpable. He let out a whoosh of breath that Ducky hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Thank God for that," he murmured, tugging Ducky into his arms; he held on fiercely, burying his face in Ducky's hair. "I know it makes me a even greater bastard than I already am, but I couldn't bear to lose you, Duck. I couldn't. I couldn't."
Ducky let his own arms move to encircle Jethro and held his lover, allowing himself what he was convinced would be one last embrace.
SIX MONTHS LATER
"Oh, God, Ducky, make it stop. Please make it stop!" Shannon screamed, her fingernails digging into Ducky's hand, as she gripped it.
"It'll be over soon, Shannon," Ducky soothed.
"I don't want it! I don't want it!"
"Hush, my dear," Ducky stroked her sweat-soaked hair. He was concerned. She'd been in labor for nearly twenty-four hours now, and the baby seemed no closer to arriving than it had done when she'd first started.
Jethro was at sea again, so Shannon had begged Ducky to be with her. He had tried to persuade her to have one of her girl friends, but she'd declined. Saying that Ducky was closer to her, and to Jethro, than any one else she knew. He'd finally given in, musing not for the first time that it seemed as if both Gibbses could wrap him around their little fingers.
His relationship with Jethro, to his surprise and guilt, hadn't changed. Three days after Ducky had told Jethro of Shannon's pregnancy, Jethro had turned up at Ducky's house, pulled him into his arms, and before Ducky could object - not that if he were honest he was going to - they were in Ducky's bed and making love in their gentle, loving, intense, moving way.
"Can't you do something?" He glanced at the Marine doctor.
"We're doing everything we can, Dr. Mallard," the man all but snapped.
"But it's been more than twenty hours. Isn't that far too long?"
"I've known longer."
"But she's in such pain."
"I know. And I'm sorry. Epidurals occasionally don't work. And we can't do anything else."
"Can't you do a caesarian section?"
"Not yet. We don't like to do those until it becomes absolutely necessarily. It's far better for mother and baby that the baby is born naturally."
"Just get it out - now!" Shannon screamed. "I don't care how you do it, just get this bastard out of me!"
"Now, now, Shannon," a young nurse said, her tone heavy with reproof.
Ducky glared at her, shooting his steely, icy stare her way. After a second, she flushed and looked away. He turned his attention back to Shannon. "It'll be over soon, Shannon," he said, again stroking her head.
"You've been saying that for hours," Shannon sobbed. "Oh, please, Ducky. Please. You promised Jethro you'd take care of me. Please, please. Do something. I can't. I can't -" She began to sob dryly and quietly, and the grip she had on Ducky's hand slackened. She was utterly exhausted.
Just as Ducky was going to demand - or try to - that the doctor perform a caesarian, the nurse monitoring the baby's heartbeat spoke swiftly. "Dr. Albert, the baby is showing signs of foetal distress.
Torn between being thankful that finally they had to do something, and fear that the baby might die, Ducky began to pray.
From that moment things moved swiftly.
The doctor tried once to get Ducky to leave, trying to insist that it wasn't proper for him to be there. However, Ducky's cold, firm, "I am a doctor," together with the same steely, cold, unblinking stare he'd turned on the nurse, had Dr. Albert backing down.
Twenty minutes later it was Ducky who, somewhat awkwardly, held Jethro and Shannon's baby daughter, held her whilst her mother slept - despite the nurse's protestations. "Well, Kelly my dear," Ducky murmured gently. Jethro and Shannon had decided that if the baby were a girl she would be called Kelly, after Shannon's beloved and favorite aunt, who had died from leukemia two years ago. "You certainly gave your mother a great deal of trouble. But she is going to love you as soon as she sees you. As is your daddy." Eyes, the exact color as Shannon's 'looked' up at him, blinked once and then closed. "As your uncle Ducky does," he added, kissing her forehead.
"Shall I take her now, Dr. Mallard?" a young nurse, a different one from the one who had objected to Shannon sleeping, asked gently.
Ducky smiled up at her. "Yes, please." Carefully he handed his precious bundle over.
It was two further hours before Shannon woke up and Kelly was placed in her arms. She looked down at her, then across to where Ducky was still sitting. Her green eyes filled with tears and they spilled over and ran down her cheek; Ducky moved from his chair, took out his handkerchief and wiped the tears away. "Oh, Ducky," she said, reverence in her voice. "Isn't she beautiful?"
Ducky put his handkerchief away and lightly stroked Shannon's hair. "Yes, my dear," he said quietly. "She is. Jethro will be so happy; she could be a carbon copy of you." He bent and kissed Shannon's head. "And now, Shannon. I am going to leave you and Kelly alone for a while. I'll come back and visit you later." He reached for his hat.
"Ducky," Shannon caught his arm. He looked at her. "Her blood group. What is it? I mean . . . Could it . . . ?
Ducky looked down into her eyes. "Don't worry, Shannon my dear." He smiled.
She closed her eyes for a moment.
Then she opened them again and looked up at Ducky. "Thank you," she said solemnly. "For everything. I know the last nine months haven't been easy for you. I know how much you must hate doing what you are doing, lying to Jethro. I know how bad that must make you feel. You're a treasure, Ducky. I doubt if any other man in a million would stand by me like you have, not given how close you and Jethro are. If it weren't for you, Ducky, my marriage to Jethro would be over now. I know it would. Thank you," she repeated, tugging on his arm until he bent low enough for her to kiss him.
The guilt nearly overwhelmed him, but he pushed it to one side. Shannon spoke what she believed to be the truth, and there was a great deal of truth in what she said. She didn't know it, nor would she ever, but her thanks were for more than she realized. Ducky knew that with a few words, he could have taken Jethro from his wife forever; could have finally got what he'd wanted from the moment he'd met the young, dashing Marine. But he never would do that. He might not be as honorable as he wished he could be; but he did have his principles. Jethro Gibbs would never know, at least not from Ducky, Shannon's secret. Ducky would take it to his grave; he would protect his lover's wife.
He kissed her again, before standing upright. "You are very welcome, Shannon. But you really don't need to thank me. Jethro may be my closest friend, but as I told you nine months ago, you're my friend too, and I care for you very much indeed."
"I love you too, Ducky," Shannon said, and smiled another watery smile.
At that moment Kelly Gibbs decided to make her presence felt - very loudly. Ducky waved his hand and bid a hasty retreat.
As he left the hospital he was already planning what gifts to buy his brand new goddaughter and her mother.
THREE MONTHS LATER
"But you have to come, Ducky. Jethro will think it odd if you don't."
"My dear Shannon, Jethro will take one look at you and Kelly, and he won't have eyes for anyone else. He won't even notice that I'm not there."
"Don't be silly, Ducky. Of course he will. Besides, this little madam needs so many things, even for a short trip, that I'll never manage them and her on my own. I need you to come. And Kelly wants her uncle Ducky to come, don't you, Kelly?" Shannon smiled at Ducky in her winning way.
As if in response, Kelly's green eyes opened and blinked once in Ducky's direction.
"Very well, Shannon. I shall accompany you as usual," Ducky found himself saying. He couldn't say 'no' for long to one Gibbs, two were an impossibility.
Ducky stood and watched the man he loved engulf his wife and daughter in a long, tight embrace. Jethro seemed enchanted by Kelly, but then Ducky had never expected anything different.
As he saw the family together he again wondered whether he had lost Jethro as a lover. Jethro had confessed to Ducky that Shannon's pregnancy seemed so very unreal to him, and that he couldn't form any bond with the baby, unlike Shannon, and he feared that when it was born, he might feel the same. Ducky had assured him that it wouldn't be the case at all, and with Kelly now in Jethro's arms as he smiled down at her and stroked her cheek, he saw that he had been correct.
He'd kept Jethro throughout Shannon's pregnancy. Now, however, he really feared that Jethro would - and rightly so - decide to be a one hundred percent husband and father to Shannon and Kelly. He didn't think he'd lose Jethro's friendship; he hoped not.
However, he made a silent vow; when Jethro told him what Ducky knew he would, that would be the time for Ducky to leave America and resume his travels around the world. Maybe he should do that anyway. Maybe he should make the decision for Jethro; make it easier for his lover. But you won't. You aren't strong enough. He glowered inwardly at the voice.
Suddenly he found himself swept into a fierce embrace and held. He'd been so lost in his thoughts, that he hadn't seen Jethro hand Kelly back to Shannon and move to Ducky. "I've missed you, Duck," Jethro said, pulling him even closer into his arms.
"Ah, Jethro," Ducky said softly. "I've missed you too, my dear." He held on to Jethro, as he always did. But this time he was filing it away for when there would be no more such greetings. He felt Jethro's lips brush his hair, but he'd long since stopped worrying about what Shannon might think. Jethro's greeting and parting never really varied, and given that Shannon's behavior had never changed, clearly she hadn't seen it for anything more than friendship.
"And this still changes nothing, Duck," Jethro murmured, still holding Ducky tightly. "Nothing, you hear me? I know what's going through your mind."
Now wasn't the time to argue, now was the time to simply enjoy the final embrace. "Yes, my dear," Ducky said softly.
"Good." With one final squeeze, Jethro broke the embrace, but not before he brushed his hand over Ducky's hair and looked down at him. 'I love you', his gaze said.
Ducky smiled, and let his own eyes answer.
"She's beautiful, isn't she, Duck?" Jethro said, taking his daughter back into his arms.
"How could she be anything else, with Shannon as her mother?" Ducky said, touching Kelly's soft cheek.
"Hey, what about me as her father?" Jethro demanded. "Don't I count?"
The three adults laughed; Kelly blinked.
"It's time we got this little madam home, before she starts to demand her food," Shannon said, taking Kelly from Jethro.
"Duck and I'll cook out dinner, won't we, Duck?" Jethro swung his bag up onto his shoulder.
"I'm afraid that I'll have to leave that to you, my dear. I won't come home with you today." Ducky spoke firmly. He was almost amused by the looks of surprise on both Shannon and Jethro's faces.
"Why not?" Jethro demanded.
"Yes, why not, Ducky? You always come home with us," Shannon asked, moving nearer to Ducky. "You tell your uncle Ducky not to be so silly, Kelly." Again Kelly blinked.
"I know, my dears, but today is a special day for you all. Your first as a new family, it's only right that you should be alone. Things have changed for you both. You need time to make an adjustment to Kelly's presence."
"But you're part of our family, Ducky. You're our friend and Kelly's godfather, not to mention it was you who was with me when she was born. Please, Ducky." Shannon gave Ducky the look that usually got her her own way.
"Yeah, come on, Duck. Shannon's right." Jethro frowned at Ducky for a second, then also used 'his' look, the one that usually got him his own way.
But for once Ducky wouldn't be swayed. "No, dears," he said firmly. "I have made up my mind. Please respect my wishes. I shall be delighted to join you for dinner tomorrow. In fact, why do I not do the cooking? I know that you'd rather be at your home with Kelly and not disrupt her routine any more than it's going to be disrupted with her daddy coming home, so I shall bring everything with me, and take over your kitchen. If you would like that."
Shannon and Jethro looked at one another, before looking back at Ducky. "Well, I guess if you've really made up your mind, Duck, then . . . " Jethro broke off and shrugged, again his eyes spoke to Ducky. "But you will come over tomorrow. Because if you don't, I'll come over and drag you there myself."
"And I'll help him," Shannon added, her green eyes flashing. She bent her head to kiss Ducky's cheek. "See you tomorrow then, Ducky."
Jethro briefly squeezed Ducky's shoulder, letting his fingertips brush Ducky's cheek as he moved away. Again he looked puzzled, hurt almost; yet at the same time Ducky read understanding.
He watched the family walk off together, waving until they were out of sight. Then he found a taxi, went home and did something he rarely did - drank too much Laphroaig.
As he fell asleep he murmured, "Oh, my dearest Jethro, of course things will change."
THE NEXT DAY
"Jethro." Ducky blinked in surprise as he looked up at his lover. To his annoyance and chagrin, his body began to tingle in the way it always did when he and Jethro were alone.
"Hey, Duck." Jethro's dark gaze was heavy with love and desire, as he gazed down at Ducky.
"What are you doing here?"
"Shannon threw me out. Told me I was interfering with her routine, by trying to 'help'. She ordered me to come and see you. Reckon she wanted to be sure you'd keep your promise."
"Oh," said Ducky, feeling absurdly let down.
Jethro frowned and sighed. "And as her orders tied in with what I wanted to do, everyone's happy. So can I come in? Or am I going to kiss you on the doorstep?"
"What? There's no one about. Come on, Duck. I'm going to kiss you. Whether I do it on your doorstep or inside with the door closed, is up to you. But make no mistake, I am going to kiss you. And," he added, lowering his voice as he advanced on Ducky, "so much more."
Ashamed now at his own weakness, Ducky moved back into the house. "Oh, Jethro," he murmured, his good intentions fleeing as Jethro pulled him into his arms. "Oh, my dear Jethro." He slipped his own arms into their customary position around Jethro's neck, tilted his head back and met Jethro's kiss.
As always it was sweet, chaste, passionate, caring, full of love and affection and so much more. As always it gave as much as it took; offered promises that could never be met, but nonetheless were meant, and made Ducky feel like the most cherished, loved, honored person in the world. And as always, a single kiss was not enough - it never could be. No matter how many kisses they shared, no matter how much time they had together, it would never be enough.
"I want you, Duck," Jethro murmured, gulping oxygen, as he teased the nape of Ducky's neck. "So very much. Please."
"Oh, Jethro," Ducky said again, knowing now that he was completely lost. But then he'd known that from the second he'd opened his front door. And yet he also knew his lover well enough to be sure that if he really said no, that Jethro would respect his wishes. But Ducky couldn't say no, no matter how much he thought he should.
Ducky had long ago come to terms, at least during their lovemaking, with his guilt over his relationship with Jethro. He refused to let it interfere with their loving, telling himself it was unfair to both Jethro and himself. It would be cheating. So he left it behind at the bedroom door; left it for the long nights when he was alone, when Jethro was at sea. He believed that lovemaking should be honest and open, anything else would be a betrayal.
For over two hours they made love in their slow, gentle, affectionate, loving way. They enjoyed one another's bodies, they knew what both liked, they knew how to arouse, how to soothe, how to push to the heights, and how to take pleasure in the slide down the other side. Climaxes were never really what their joining was about; there was no desperation to achieve them, no rush, no overwhelming need. The pleasure of being together, in one another's arms, to be able to kiss and caress and share and love and give one another joy, were the things that mattered.
"I love you, Duck," Jethro said simply, when finally they were content to just rest, their bodies still against one another, their hands entwined.
"I love you too, my dearest Jethro," Ducky said with great solemnity. "I always will," he added, and offered his mouth for another gentle kiss.
"Duck, I need to ask you to do something for me." Jethro looked deeply into Ducky's eyes and took both of his hands. His eyes were dull with the sadness and guilt they'd contained since the deaths of Shannon and Kelly.
Since returning from the war, he'd seemed to need Ducky almost constantly, to need him as friend and lover. Ducky hadn't been certain about the appropriateness of the latter, had indeed tried to persuade Jethro to let him be there as only a friend. But all it had taken was the most honest, desperate, simple, 'Please, Duck', that Jethro had ever uttered, and Ducky had given his friend what he wanted - what he needed.
"Of course, my dear." Ducky returned the squeeze. "You know that I'll do anything that is within my power for you."
"You won't like it." Jethro's tone was flat and grim.
Ducky frowned and pushed several absurd thoughts from his mind. Instead he let the image that had played out in his mind many times since he'd met Jethro; the one that had become more insistent when his lover had married Shannon; the one that had been his almost constant companion since firstly Shannon's pregnancy had been confirmed, and then Kelly had been born. And most of all since their deaths.
He knew what Jethro was going to say. He'd been expecting it for years. And of course he'd give his lover his freedom; be willing to remain, what they should have been all along, just good, close, dear friends. He would leave the US for a while; put some distance between them.
Now that Jethro had decided that he wanted to work for NIS permanently, wanted to resign his commission with the Marines, and had been granted an honorable discharge, it would be better if Ducky returned to traveling around the world. It would make it easier for both men. Of course he'd return to the US in due course, and by then it would be easier for them to just be friends.
He studied Jethro and saw an even deeper pain in the dark gaze. Don't make him say it. If you really love him, save him that. He slipped one hand from Jethro's tight grasp, and moved it to touch Jethro's tanned, handsome face. "It's all right, my dearest Jethro. I quite understand. I think I always knew this day would come. Please don't worry, I won't make a fuss. And we can, I hope, still remain friends?" He stopped speaking as he felt that back of his throat begin to constrict. He would not cry; not yet; not here. He'd save that for -
"What are you talking about, Duck?" Jethro asked. Confusion was clear in his voice and in the blue eyes that stared at Ducky. Then realization dawned. He captured the hand that was still on his face and pulled it to his lips, kissing the palm as he shook his head. "You think I want to end our relationship, don't you? Ah, Duck. How many times do I have to tell you?" He moved forward a little and brushed Ducky's lips with his own. "No, it's not that."
"Then what is, my dear?"
Jethro ignored the question. "I can't lose you too, Duck. I can't. God, you don't want to . . .? Do you?" The last two words were a mere whisper, as fear appeared in Jethro's eyes.
Ducky hastened to reassure his friend. "No, my dearest. I do not wish to. I shall never wish to. I just thought . . . Oh, Jethro, maybe it would be better if -"
"You thought wrong. And no, it wouldn't. Enough, Duck. I don't want to hear this any more. Okay? Okay?" He gripped Ducky's hand and chin quite tightly. "Promise me," he added. "Promise me, Duck, you won't bring this up again. Promise me." Now he shook Ducky gently.
"I promise, Jethro," Ducky said softly, and stared unblinkingly into the eyes that began to lose the fear that had filled them.
"Thank you." It was a mere whisper. Kissing Ducky's fingers one more time, Jethro let both hands fall back down to his lap.
For a moment they remained sitting in silence. Then Ducky asked gently, "So what is it you want me do for you, Jethro?"
Jethro swallowed. "It's about Shannon and Kelly. I want . . . No, it's more than just want. I need them to remain our secret. No, let me finish, Duck. I don't want to talk about them, not even with you. I don't want anyone to know about them. I know they'll be on my record, and don't worry, I'm not going to falsify that, but outside of that, no one will know."
"But why, my dear?"
"Because, Duck, I can't handle the sympathy I'll continuously get if people know my wife and daughter were murdered. I'll never stop loving them, Duck; you know that. It's not that I don't care about them; it's not that I'll ever forget them. But you know what people are like. You know what I'll get. 'How awful for you, Jethro'. 'How do you cope'? 'How terrible'. 'I'm so sorry'. All that kind of crap, and more. Every time I meet someone new and tell them, that's what I'll get. They'll look at me and treat me, differently. Probably expect me to fall apart. Hushed voices and sideways looks. 'Oh, we mustn't assign him to a case involving a child'. I don't want it, Duck. I want to be treated normally." As Jethro had spoken, his grip on Ducky's hands had become tighter, his eyes and voice had lost their dullness and flatness, to be replaced by a fierce insistency and determination. He'd also moved closer to Ducky, as if he could extract the promise by sheer force of will.
For a moment Ducky was silent. He understood what Jethro was saying; he really did. Jethro Gibbs was a private man, he didn't like attention and he'd hate constant sympathy. And what Jethro said was correct. He would get the kind of 'we don't really know what to say, but we have to say something, we can't just ignore it', platitudes, even from perfect strangers. Jethro would hate it. Nonetheless, Ducky wasn't entirely certain that not even allowing Ducky to talk of Shannon was the best thing for his friend.
However, as a doctor he knew that different people healed in different ways. Some healed by talking, by crying, by ranting, by surrounding themselves with memories of their loved one, and needed constant companions. Others healed by shutting themselves away, by putting away everything that reminded them of their loss; by not talking about it; by simply getting on with life. Every human was different. No one way was right. None was wrong. The only thing that was right, was what each individual wanted; what they believed, or knew, worked for them. What was wrong, was to treat everyone the same; to force everyone to open up, or give everything away; to insist that everyone healed in one way.
There was only one answer Ducky could give. He loved Jethro enough to believe in him, to respect him as a person as well as his friend and lover. To trust in him and his wants. Besides, Ducky wasn't going anywhere; he'd be there if Jethro needed him.
He squeezed Jethro's hands, and smiled softly. "Very well, my dear," he said quietly and solemnly. "I promise. I will not talk about Shannon and Kelly to anyone, not even you. They will be our secret. But just remember, I will always be here for you, should you ever wish to talk. Will you promise me, Jethro, that you will remember that?"
Jethro sighed, the relief was clear in the sound, his eyes and in the way his face softened. "Yes, Duck. I promise. Thank you," he whispered, and let his head drop down on to Ducky's shoulder.
"Hey, Duck." The voice he'd feared he never heard again was soft, the arm that slipped around his shoulders and pulled him against the taller body, was firm.
"My dear Jethro," Ducky murmured, resting in the sanctity of the embrace.
"Thought I'd find you here." Jethro said, after a moment or two of silence.
"I felt that someone should come, and I didn't know whether even this day would be -"
"Enough to bring me back? Ah, Duck. It wasn't. Not on its own."
"Look at me, Ducky," Jethro turned Ducky, and pulled him into a loose two-armed embrace. "I came back for three reasons, Duck. Sure today was one of them, but the most important reason is the one I'm holding in my arms right now. I'm sorry, Duck."
"Hush, my dear. It doesn't matter."
"Yeah, it does, Duck. But we can argue about that later."
Ducky had a, what he considered, given where they were, irreverent thought. I can think of far better things to do with you later than argue. He pushed the thought from his head and instead asked, "And the third reason?"
"Huh? Oh, Jenn."
Ducky froze, and then attempted to move away from Jethro's arms.
However, Jethro used his fewer years, extra height and training, and held Ducky in place. "I don't mean like that, Duck. I mean I've finally done what I should have done six years ago."
Ducky let his body relax, and settled back into the, what would look to an outside observer, simple, fraternal embrace. How odd that one of the few places where a couple of the same sex could embrace, touch, hold hands even, was a graveyard. "And what was that, my dear?"
Jethro sighed, tugged Ducky a little nearer and began to speak. His voice had the timbre of a well-rehearsed speech. "Six years ago, when we were in Paris, Jennifer Shepard shot and killed a man, and I covered up for her." Ducky was silent. He knew that now wasn't the time to interrupt his lover. "She swore it was an accident, that she thought he had a gun. She cried, used the female charms she is so skilled at using, and I bought it. A few days later, she stood across the street and watched the Parisian cops arrest me."
Ducky spoke automatically, his shock overcoming his self-promise to remain silent until Jethro had clearly finished. "You were arrested?"
"Yeah. I'll tell you the whole story later, Duck. But finally they let me go. And still I said nothing. My gut was telling me she was lying. But I had no proof. Then she was shot, and - Hell, Ducky, she was my partner, a member of my team. Not forgetting the small fact that I was screwing her. Although God knows why I was."
"To get your own back on Diane," Ducky said quietly.
"That doesn't even make sense, Ducky. I was already cheating, if you want to call it that, on Diane, with you. As I'd done with all of them."
"Yes, dear. But it was different. Jennifer was -"
"The why doesn't really matter, Duck. Not now. I screwed up big time."
"No, dear. You did what you always do. You protect your team."
"Even when I know they're guilty?"
"But you didn't, my dear. You may have suspected, but you didn't know. You gut is incredibly accurate, but it would not stand up in Court. You know that. Any Defense Solicitor worth his salt would make you look a fool inside thirty seconds, as well as discrediting you."
"But I still should have done something. I should have confronted her. Something. Anything. If I had have done, she'd never have got the job as Director."
"She is actually a cleverer woman than I ever realized," Ducky said, after a moment or two.
Jethro pushed him away slightly and looked down at him, a frown appearing between the dark blue eyes. "Huh?"
"She tied your hands very effectively, my dear. Her timing of the 'Dear John' letter was perfect." Jethro still looked confused. "No doubt she rationalized that once you returned to Washington, and the romance and glamour of Paris was behind you, that you might begin to listen to that gut of yours. By sending you the letter when she did, she knew that if you did try to resurrect the matter at any time, that she could put it down to you being angry because she had terminated the relationship."
"Duck, she isn't that clever."
"Maybe 'clever' was the incorrect term to use. Devious might have been more appropriate."
"She used me."
"And I let her." Jethro sounded bitter.
"Yes, dear. I am afraid you did."
"What if I hadn't have been sleeping with her? Would I still have covered up for her? Still believed her?"
Ducky thought for a moment. "Initially, I believe that you would have done, yes. After all you did not for a moment doubt Timothy, not even when he began to doubt himself. She was, as you said, your partner; a member of your team. You support your team, Jethro. You back them."
"It was her behavior when McGee shot that cop that made me realize my gut had been right. It was then I knew I'd never trust her again. But I still didn't know what to do."
"Why didn't you tell me, my dear?"
"Because I didn't want to drag you into it, Duck. I wanted to protect you."
"Oh, my dear," Ducky said and sighed. He was still content to stand wrapped in Jethro's embrace, held firmly and lovingly.
It had been too many months since the last time he'd felt his lover's arms around him. Maybe it was wrong of him to wish to remain there, maybe he should move back, put some distance between them. Let Jethro do what it was he came to this place to do; spend time with Shannon and Kelly. But he couldn't.
Ducky was a strong man, had had to be so over the years he'd known Jethro, and especially over the last few months when he hadn't known whether he would ever see his beloved again. But even he had his limits. He could no more move from Jethro's arms, than he could fly. Even though if were honest, his leg was beginning to snarl at him, to let him know that he'd stood in one position for too long.
He rested his head against Jethro's shoulder for a moment then asked, "What are you going to do?"
"Done it. Went to see her. Told her that if she didn't resign and get the hell out of NCIS, then I'd bring the whole Paris thing out in the open, and my part in covering it up. Wouldn't cost me anything, I've already resigned. And although they won't be able to prove anything one way or another, it won't matter. The damage to her, her reputation, and to NCIS would have been done. Her bosses wouldn't keep her on, once they got a whiff of the possible scandal. Her career would be over."
"What did she say?"
"Oddly enough, she gave in pretty much without a murmur. Agreed she'd go. Maybe she's already got some top job lined up elsewhere. Or maybe 'Bob' is tired of just lunch dates twice a week, or some other fool has been taken in by the red hair and feminine whiles. Or -"
"Or maybe she realized that her job was on the line anyway," Ducky said placidly.
Again Jethro pushed him away and looked down at him, another frown creasing his highly tanned forehead. "Huh?"
"Jennifer's bosses were not, I believe, very happy with her for letting the Agency's best agent just walk out and resign, without making the slightest attempt to stop him. I believe that she was given a severe dressing down. I also understand that they began to look more deeply into some of the decisions that Ms. Shepard had made during her time with NCIS. Officer David, for one. As well as other matters."
Jethro just stared at him, his mouth slightly open. "How do you know this, Duck?"
"Ah, my dear, I'm a rambling old man who should have been retired several years ago. I'm part of the furniture; people don't always notice me. They talk in front of me, when maybe they shouldn't. Plus, I am extremely adept in the psychology of the human animal."
"Duck, I've said this to you before and I'll say it again - for the last time. You. Are. Not. Old."
"No, dearest," Ducky said, and smiled.
Jethro shook his head. "Let's go home." He began to turn.
"Don't you wish to -"
"No need, Duck. You've done it. Shannon loved you too. Kelly adored you. Besides, what's there isn't Shannon and Kelly. I don't need to keep coming here to remember them. Shannon wouldn't have wanted it. They'll always be part of me, Duck, but . . . " He broke off and shrugged, and again looked down at Ducky, gazing deeply into his eyes and saying everything he couldn't voice aloud.
As they rested in Jethro's bed, tired, sated and content from their gentle, drawn out lovemaking, Jethro made a decision. He moved slightly, propped himself up on one arm, looked down into the ebony and sapphire eyes and said softly, "I always knew, Duck."
Ducky blinked. "My dear?"
"That Kelly wasn't mine."
Jethro had never dreamed he'd see his lover lost for words, and the look of shock on Ducky's face almost made him laugh, until the shock faded to be replaced by guilt, and what looked like fear. Nonetheless Ducky faced him and said quietly, "You did?"
"Yeah. I told you and Shannon I never wanted kids, well I certainly didn't. No matter how well I got on with them, how 'natural', I seem to remember you telling me I was with them, I wasn't going to risk doing to them what my parents did to me. So I made sure I couldn't have them. So when Kelly was born, I knew."
"But these things -"
"I had tests afterwards. I was still sterile."
"But you . . ." But Ducky again ran out of words.
"Never said anything? No, I didn't. Because as soon as I saw Kelly I loved her - as you knew I would. She was my little girl, my dear daughter, in every sense of the word bar one, and that one didn't matter. Biology has nothing to do with being a parent."
"I believe it has something to do with it, my dear." Jethro rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything; he was just pleased to see that the fear had left Ducky's face.
"Kelly was my daughter. Simple as that."
"Yes, dearest. She was."
Jethro lowered his head slightly to kiss Ducky's nose. "You knew, didn't you? Shannon told you? Came to you?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. Oh, Jethro, I -"
Jethro silenced him with a kiss. "No, Duck. You shouldn't apologize, or whatever other noble thing you were going to do. Shannon not only loved you, you loved her too. And I know that you always felt guilty about us."
"Not guilty enough to leave you."
Jethro shrugged. "You know what would have happened if you had. We went over it time and time again."
"Yes, dear. But -"
Again Jethro quietened him. "God, Duck. Do you know how many people would have stood by Shannon? Would have kept silent on her behalf? Maybe one in a million, if that. It was the perfect opportunity for you. You could have used it against her. Used it to get me away from her once and for all. Used -"
"No, dearest. I couldn't." Ducky's tone was firm, as were his eyes. "As you so rightly said, I loved her. She was devastated, Jethro. I could do nothing less. I am sorry it necessitated in me keeping a secret from you all these years. That was the difficult part, my dear. That was so very difficult. And not because I thought it would draw you nearer to me, but because it was too close to a lie. And we agreed that -"
"We'd never lie to each other. Yeah, well, don't be too hard on yourself, Duck. In case you missed it along the way, I kept a secret from you too. About my vasectomy, and thus knowing Kelly couldn't be mine. So we're even. Now I think it's time we forgot the past; we put the secrets to rest, let them sleep. We've got one another now, Duck. Here. Now. Forever. That's all that matters. Okay?"
"Yes, dearest," Ducky said, and offered his mouth for another kiss.
White Poppies - Sleep, rest
White Violets - Youthful innocence
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