FINDING A WAY

 

By

 

Ashleigh Anpilova

 

Gibbs is behaving completely unlike himself and turns on Ducky before collapsing. Somehow the old friends have to find a way to make things right again between them.

A first time story.

Written: November 2007. Word count: 12,732.

 

 

WEDNESDAY EARLY MORNING

 

"Dr. Mallard, Dr. Mallard." Jimmy Palmer came racing into Autopsy and grabbed Ducky's arm.

 

"Mr. Palmer. How many times ha "

 

"It's Special Agent Gibbs, Doctor." Jimmy interrupted Ducky, and still held onto his arm.

 

Ducky frowned and looked around. "Where?"

 

Jimmy shook his head. "Not here. He's . . . He's . . . Doctor, I think he's having a fit."

 

All of Ducky's irritation with his young assistant fled. Now all he felt was ice-cold fear, deep concern, and the need to know more. "Explain, Jimmy," he said firmly.

 

"He's attacking DiNozzo. Dr. Mallard, you have to come." And before Ducky could say anything else, Jimmy literally dragged him out of Autopsy.

 

Rather than cause Ducky any further concern, Jimmy's words had, in fact, reduced his worry. No doubt Jimmy had just seen Jethro angry with DiNozzo or delivering one of his head slaps. Or even both. As good an agent as Tony DiNozzo was, he did tend to irritate Jethro more than the other children did.

 

Nonetheless, he let himself be pulled along. After all, he never objected to going to see his oldest, dearest friend, and just occasionally, even Ducky was forced to admit Jethro maybe took his irritation just a little too far. But if he did, when he did, Ducky always knew how to deflect the anger, how to calm his old friend, without being overt about doing so.

 

They rounded the corner leading to the interrogation rooms and Jimmy hurried him into one of the rooms. Any bemusement Ducky may have imagined himself to feel fled, and instead the concern, coupled with shock, flowed through him.

 

Jimmy appeared to be correct.

 

Jethro had Tony backed up against the wall, one arm across Tony's windpipe, pressing him back into the wall, whilst his other hand was bunched in a fist threatening his agent. He was leaning forward, his full weight keeping Tony from being able to move. Tony was struggling to breathe and making gurgling noises as he gripped Jethro's arms. Despite being almost two decades younger and a couple of inches taller than Jethro, as well as, like Jethro, a trained Federal Agent, Tony was clearly powerless against the onslaught.

 

Shaking Jimmy off, Ducky hurried forward and, without any thought for his own safely, caught Jethro's arm and pulled hard. "Jethro!" he cried. "Let go of Anthony. Now." Using force he did not know he possessed, a force that was suddenly far greater than the man who had six inches, twelve years and far superior strength over him, he pulled with enough force to cause Jethro to stumble and fall back.

 

He regained his balance immediately, but Ducky's iron grip on his arm prevented him from turning back to Tony, who was now on his knees, being supported by Jimmy as he coughed and retched dryly. Ducky barely spared him a glance; his full attention was firmly affixed on Jethro.

 

The dark gaze was even darker than usual, as pure fury radiated from the stare and every inch of Jethro's body. "Oh, it's my good old friend, Dr. Donald call-me-Ducky Mallard," Jethro snarled. The contempt in his voice was clear. "What's up, Duck? Jealous, are you? Don't want me touching anyone but you?"

 

"Jethro, please "

 

"Well, is that it? Don't look so surprised, Doctor. You know I know what you are. I also know what you want. I know you want me. I've known for years. Surprised everyone doesn't know; you're so obvious about it. It's pathetic. Well, let me tell you something." Now he leaned nearer to Ducky.

 

Ducky held his ground, but noted that he could not smell alcohol on Jethro's breath. He wasn't sure whether to be relieved or not; at least if Jethro had been drinking, it just might have explained his behavior. But the idea of Jethro drinking so much whilst on duty he became out of control was something Ducky had difficulties accepting.

 

Jethro went on talking. But now he lowered his voice from a snarl, to his silky, low, almost seductive, flirtatious, ultra-deadly tone. "You haven't got a chance. What you are disgusts me. You hear that, Ducky? Disgusts me. Bet it disgusts all normal men too."

 

Ducky forced himself not to react. He suddenly felt violently sick and had to fight hard not to begin to shake. Jethro's words cut into him; shocked him; stunned him. It couldn't be his friend speaking, could it?

 

He glanced away from the white fury that towered over him to where Jimmy was still supporting Tony and helping him to his feet. Ducky wasn't surprised to see that Tony was shaky on his feet, still ashen and still breathing harshly. But at least he seemed okay; which was far more than Ducky felt.

 

Ducky dragged his full attention back to Jethro. "Jethro, my de-" The phrase came automatically, without conscious thought. As soon as he'd begun to say it, Ducky regretted it.

 

"Oh, yes, 'my dear', how sickening is that? Men don't call other men 'my dear'. God, Ducky, what do you think, that if you keep on calling me it, touching me like you do, looking at me in that way, that I'll give in and go to bed with you? Is that what you think? Well is it?" Now he shook off Ducky's grip and in turn put both hands on Ducky. "Well?" he demanded, spittle appearing on his lips.

 

"No, of course not, Jethro," Ducky said, his mind racing as to what could have caused this; what was causing it. Was his friend suffering from, had he suffered, a stroke? Had he been poisoned? Or . . . Or was this the real Leroy Jethro Gibbs? Ducky didn't want to believe it. He couldn't believe it. And yet

 

"Good." Jethro spat the word. And then his face changed and the look made Ducky suddenly even more afraid. "Mind you, I've heard that fucking a gay man is good, bloody good. That it's really tight. Best fuck a man can ever have. Maybe I should try it. How about it, Duck? Want to come round tonight and I'll fuck you?"

 

"Jeth "

 

With ease Jethro spun Ducky around, pushed him up against the wall and pressed against him. "Or better still, how about doing it now? How about here? I could fuck you now and "

 

"Get your hands off him, you bastard," Jimmy yelled.

 

The next second Jethro was torn from Ducky, pulled around, and Ducky saw Jimmy's fist make contact with Jethro's face. The punch was so hard, as was the grabbing, that Jethro was knocked off his feet. He fell heavily onto the floor, his head hitting the floor with a sickening thud.

 

For a few moments the only sound was harsh breathing and the occasional cough from Tony, who when Jimmy had let go of him to grab Jethro, had once more sunk to the ground. Jimmy was standing over Jethro, his fists still bunched, his face white, his eyes wide, his expression one of disbelief. As Ducky watched, Jimmy staggered back against the wall and slid down it. Tony himself still looked only half-conscious, but he too looked beyond being shocked.

 

To his self-disgust, Ducky found he could not move from the safety and support of the wall as he just stared down at Jethro. He had to fight the near over-whelming urge not to disgrace himself by either being sick or starting to cry. Except he knew that even had he wished for them, tears would not have come; would not have given him even a brief respite. He could feel himself beginning to shake; perspiration began to break out over his body, but he felt icy cold, and his vision seemed to fade in and out.

 

Every shred of his doctor's instinct told him to go to Jethro's aid, to kneel and turn him onto his side, to check his airway, to . . . To do his job as a doctor and a friend, and to stop being so pathetic. The man who had attacked Tony and himself was not Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

 

Finally, after what seemed like hours, but couldn't even have been a minute, Ducky, using the wall to aid him, slowly sank to his knees and automatically began to check Jethro's vital signs. He didn't like what he felt: Jethro's pulse was thready and racing, his breathing shallow and infrequent, and his skin was clammy. He pulled back one eyelid and the pupil remained fixed and dilated.

 

"Anthony," he managed. "Please call for an ambulance. I believe Jethro should be in hospital." He was surprised to hear that his voice sounded quite normal.

 

But Tony just stared at him, eyes wide, seemingly unable to comprehend what Ducky had said.

 

Acting now, he knew, purely on instinct, Ducky dug into Jethro's pocket, found his cell phone, and dialed nine-one-one himself. Once he had ended the call, he put the phone down on the ground, rather than return it to Jethro's pocket,. He then turned his attention to the two young me. They were both still sitting on the ground next to him. It was only at that point that Ducky realized that the security camera had been knocked from the wall, which explained why security hadn't arrived.

 

Gently he put his hands on Tony's throat and felt it, before encouraging Tony to open his mouth. Tony winced and swallowed. "I am sorry, Anthony," Ducky said gently. "I do not mean to cause you any further pain. There doesn't appear to be any lasting or serious damage. However, I am afraid your throat and neck are going to be rather sore and bruised for a while, but there does not appear to be any damage to your windpipe. Although maybe you should go in the ambulance with Jethro and "

 

"No!" Tony managed. The fear in his voice, even though he'd managed nothing more than a half-croak, half-whisper, was clear.

 

Sadly, Ducky didn't blame him. He patted Tony's hand soothingly and rested his other hand on the young man's shoulder. "Very, well," he said. "But I shall be keeping a careful eye on you over the next few days."

 

"Thanks, Ducky," Tony managed.

 

Ducky dredged up what he hoped passed for a smile, and turned his attention to Jimmy. His assistant was cradling his hand, and swallowing repeatedly, his face was drenched with perspiration and seemed even more ashen than moments before.

 

"Jimmy," Ducky spoke softly, as he gently lifted the bruised hand. "It's all right," he said, trying to ignore the nagging voice that told him that nothing was ever going to be all right again. Then he asked, because Jimmy was still swallowing so repeatedly, "Are you going to be sick, Jimmy?" It was a clear testament to how shocked Tony must be, because rather than move away at Ducky's enquiry, he stayed exactly where he was: close to Jimmy.

 

Jimmy nodded; then shook his head; then nodded again. Finally, he swallowed once more and shook his head. "No, Doctor," he managed.

 

"Good boy," Ducky said quietly, holding the heavily bruised and fast swelling hand in his. Again, taking care not to hurt anymore than he knew he had to, he began to examine it. Under his touch he felt Jimmy wince and heard him hiss with pain. "I am sorry, Jimmy," Ducky said. "I do not wish to hurt you either, but I do need to examine you."

 

"I know, Doctor," Jimmy managed.

 

Ducky patted his knee and continued to feel carefully over his hand. As with Tony, there appeared to be no serious damage. "Nothing appears to be broken, Jimmy. Your hand is just bruised very badly. We need to get an ice pack on this as soon as possible. I'm afraid your movement is going to be limited for several days, but other than that, I'm sure that it will be fine. Does your arm hurt at all?" he then asked.

 

Jimmy shrugged. "A bit."

 

Ducky turned his attention to Jimmy's wrist and arm, probing and flexing as gently as he could. "I'm sure you've just wrenched it rather than dislocating or breaking anything; nothing feels out of place. But if you'd like to-"

 

"No!" Jimmy sounded alarmed. "I'm sorry, Doctor. No thank you. As you say, I'm sure nothing's broken."

 

Ducky sighed quietly to himself. "Very well. It appears as if I'll have two patients on whom I shall need to keep my eye for a few days." He patted Jimmy's hand one more time, before, with more reluctance than he hoped he was showing, again turning his attention to Jethro.

 

The erratic pulse rate seemed to have steadied somewhat, and Jethro's breathing was less shallow than hit had been. He seemed to have slipped further into unconsciousness, but his condition now gave Ducky less cause for concern than moments before. At least his physical condition.

 

As if he read his mind, Tony spoke in his half-whisper, half-croak. "What about, Gibbs, Ducky? Is he going to be okay?"

 

The paramedics and two security guards, accompanied, somewhat surprisingly, although maybe not, Jethro's team seemed to share some kind of improbable link, by McGee, Ziva and Abby appeared.

 

As they came into the room, Ducky glanced once more at the man with whom he had been friends, close friends, very close friends, for more than thirty years. The man whom he had always trusted with his life, his safety, his well being; the man he never dreamt would hurt him. The man he had always loved, both as friend, and as Jethro had surmised in other ways, even though he had always known his desire for Jethro would remain unrequited. The man he believed he had known.

 

As McGee gently helped him to his feet, supporting him carefully, whilst Ziva moved to Tony's side, and Abby to Jimmy's, Ducky finally answered the question. "I honestly do not know, Anthony," he said, and to his shame began to shake so badly that for a moment McGee struggled to keep him upright.

 

"Do you want to come with us, sir?" one of the paramedics asked, once they had Jethro on the gurney.

 

Ducky shook his head. "No," he said quietly. "I do not believe I shall."

 

The man accepted the answer, nodded at his companion and then, again accompanied by the security guards, wheeled Jethro away.

 

Standing was one thing; moving was something else entirely. In the end Ziva had to leave Tony and assist McGee in supporting Ducky. He had a rather desperate need to visit the men's room, but clamped down on his years' experience of being a doctor and instructed his body to wait. Needing assistance from the children to stand up, even to walk was one thing; needing assistance from the children to relieve himself was something else entirely.

 

LATER THE SAME DAY

 

The rest of the day seemed to both race by and take forever to move from one minute to the next.

 

As always seemed to happen, it soon became clear from the looks of sympathy and speculation that Ducky was getting, the suddenly cut-off conversations he interrupted, and the far-more-than-usual groups of people, that just about everyone within NCIS knew what had happened.

 

And as they always did, Jethro's team, they were still Jethro's team, turned inwards, and closed ranks, shutting everyone else out. They didn't need anyone else. They had one another.

 

Abby was so subdued that Ducky was worried about her. She looked ghastly, there was none of her usual bounce or energy, and when she did speak it was to tell Ducky that it would be all right. It was clear to Ducky the poor girl was trying to convince herself, as much as, if not more than, Ducky himself. Her shock was understandable, next to Ducky she was the closest to Jethro; she was his favorite of the children.

 

The field team was also quiet. There was none of their usual bickering or trick playing, and when one went somewhere the three of them did. Ducky even came across Ziva hovering, whilst appearing not to be there, outside the men's room. She seemed to want to say something to him, but each time he thought she was going to, she seemed unable to find the words. As he watched her, he saw, to his surprise, how affected, how distressed the young Mossad agent actually was. She had chosen Jethro, his team, over her friendship with Jenny. She had transferred her allegiances, her respect, her belief to him, and now in a few minutes it seemed as if Jethro had destroyed it, and with it, maybe her.

 

Poor Jimmy went from dark mutterings to 'how could he do that to you, Doctor?' to 'what will Special Agent Gibbs do to me?' to silence. Ducky tried to reassure his young assistant that Jethro would do nothing, that what Jimmy had done was the right thing, the necessary thing. Eventually, Jimmy appeared, at least, to believe him. It was only when Jimmy asked quietly, "What are you going to do, Doctor?" that Ducky realized he didn't know. He hadn't thought about it. He hadn't thought beyond the moment.

 

The one person he hadn't had to deal with seeing, avoiding, speaking to, being looked at by, was Jennifer. An inter-agency Directors' Conference would keep her away from NCIS until late the following day. He had considered contacting her to tell her that her Senior Field Agent had been taken to hospital, but given that Ducky still did not know what was wrong with Jethro, there had seemed little point. Besides he was certain that Cynthia, as a good assistant, would already have made the call. He had called the hospital once, he was after all Jethro's next of kin, but at that time they had nothing to offer him other than: 'he is still unconscious, stable and we are running further tests. We'll call you, Dr. Mallard, when we have any news'.

 

He had made one telephone call to Helen Patterson, to ask if it were possible for his mother to spend the evening with her. Thankfully Helen had been more than willing, and as was her way had not pressed Ducky for details.

 

EARLY EVENING

 

It was six o'clock, Ducky had finally persuaded Jimmy to go home, when the door to Autopsy slid open. Just for a fraction of a second he thought, he imagined, that his visitor was Jethro, even though he knew it couldn't be.

 

He turned around. "Tobias." So the news had penetrated as far at the FBI; why wasn't he surprised?

 

"Hey, Ducky. Thought you might like a lift to the hospital." Tobias came into Autopsy, moved close to Ducky and looked at him.

 

Ducky blinked. He hadn't got as far as deciding whether or not to go to the hospital. What was the point? Jethro was unconscious. Yes, you had. You're going because he is unconscious, his mind told him. He sighed. "Thank you, Tobias," he said. "It is very kind of you."

 

Tobias shrugged. "You ready?"

 

As ready as I'll ever be. Ducky nodded. "Yes, I believe I am."

 

They didn't speak again until they were in Tobias's car. The silence was rather like the kind of silences Ducky shared with Jethro: comfortable. Although he and Tobias were not as close as Jethro and Tobias were, they knew one another well enough not to need to fill ever second with pointless talk.

 

The only sign Tobias gave that things weren't 'normal' was that he 'fussed' slightly around Ducky, in a way he'd never done before. Of course they hadn't actually spent very much, if any, time alone together, but even so. Ducky recognized the gesture and was touched by it.

 

He let Tobias take his briefcase and put it on the backseat. He also let him hold the front passenger door open for him, wait until he'd carefully lowered himself into the seat before shutting it. Ducky settled back against the seat and for a moment closed his eyes. He was grateful that he didn't have to drive out to the hospital and also that when he saw Jethro, he wasn't going to be alone. He knew he could have asked any of the children to drive him, but he wouldn't have done so.

 

"Are you warm enough?" Tobias asked, after a moment or two of silent driving.

 

Ducky opened his eyes and turned his head. "Yes, thank you, Tobias," he said.

 

Tobias nodded. For a moment he was silent again. Then he said, "He didn't mean what he said, you know that, don't you, Ducky?" He took his eyes off the road and glanced at Ducky.

 

For a moment Ducky didn't know what to say. More than thirty years of friendship with Jethro compelled him to say 'of course I do', but . . .

 

Tobias looked back at the road and went on. "Because I know he didn't. It doesn't bother him. It never has."

 

"Tobias?"

 

"I overheard him once, making his feelings very well known to some agent or other. That was years ago, I'm not sure the man ever recovered."

 

Against his will, Ducky smiled a little. "Thank you, Tobias," he said.

 

Tobias shrugged. "Just telling it as it is, Ducky. He's got to be sick or something. You know Jethro better than anyone."

 

"I thought I did," Ducky said, without meaning to.

 

Tobias ignored him. "He's a bastard, we both know that. But this isn't him. He'd never behave like that to you, not unless he was sick or poisoned. Do they know what it is yet?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "Apparently not. At least not when I last called." He didn't tell Tobias that 'when I last called' had been a few hours ago, and Tobias didn't ask.

 

They spent the rest of the journey in silence.

 

When they reached the hospital, Tobias didn't ask Ducky if he wanted him to go in with him. He simply turned off the engine, climbed out, and was opening Ducky's door for him, before Ducky had a chance to say anything.

 

 

"Dr. Mallard, we were just going to call you." The woman who addressed him wore a sister's uniform.

 

"Is Jeth er, Agent Gibbs conscious?" Ducky asked.

 

She shook her head. "No, but we do finally have the results of his tests. If you'd like to wait a moment, I'll fetch Dr. Gordon."

 

"Thank you."

 

They waited a couple of minutes before Dr. Gordon appeared. He held out his hand to Ducky. "Dr. Mallard, I presume?" Ducky nodded. "Good." He opened the folder he carried and took out a sheet of paper. "I see from Agent Gibbs's records he was affected by a modified BZ gas several months ago?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. Someone got into his home and smeared his tools with it. The modification was such that if it was ingested or got onto the skin, then the person became very sick. Why?"

 

"Well we think that it has combined with a leakage of chemical fumes earlier today, to produce a unique affect on him, and on his brain and personality. It would also have caused the physical affects, abnormal pulse rate, breathing, etc."

 

"Is it going to be permanent?" Ducky asked.

 

Dr. Gordon shrugged. "Hard to say at this time. But my guess, going by the fact that he made a full recovery from the BZ gas, is no."

 

"You mentioned a chemical leakage, Doctor?" Tobias asked.

 

"Yes. Fortunately it wasn't serious or even widespread. No one really knew about it until we started getting people admitted complaining of the same symptoms; one of which was a change in mood. From what Dr. Mallard told us, the route Agent Gibbs regularly takes to get to work, would have taken him right through the affected area."

 

"What about the other people?"

 

"With one exception, they were all kept in for observation and have been released with no lingering after-effects. Well, embarrassment and guilt are the main problems they'll have to deal with. Things they said, did. It was mostly very mild, somewhat 'inappropriate' behavior, sexual innuendo, that kind of thing, although one did take a swing at a policeman. But as I said, nothing else. That's why I'm sure Agent Gibbs will make a full recovery. His vital signs, which were erratic when he was brought in, have settled down and although he is still unconscious, it's not as deep as it was earlier."

 

"Has he given any signs of regaining consciousness?" Ducky asked.

 

"Not as such, no. But we're not worried yet. Now would you like to see him?"

 

 

They stayed standing, Tobias looking down at Jethro's still body, Ducky turning his attention after a moment or two to the various machines that surrounded Jethro's bed, for about ten minutes, before Tobias offered to drive Ducky home. Ducky accepted gratefully, he could take a cab into the office the next day, and so they left.

 

The drive back to Reston was again conducted mainly in silence.

 

When they reached Ducky's Reston home, Tobias again opened the car door for Ducky, and this time offered Ducky his hand to help him from the car. He clearly hadn't failed to notice how badly Ducky's limp had increased during the evening.

 

"Thank you, Tobias," Ducky said, accepting the offer of assistance. He held onto the firm, gun callused, so like Jethro's in many ways, grip for a fraction of a second longer than was really necessary. "For everything," he added quietly, as Tobias grabbed his briefcase and handed it to him.

 

"Not a problem, Ducky. Glad to have helped."

 

"Would you like to come in for a drink?" Ducky asked, not certain whether he wanted the company or not.

 

Tobias saved him the trouble of trying to decide. "I'm afraid I can't tonight, Ducky. I promised Emily I'd stop by the house, so she could tell me all about her latest piano exam."

 

"Oh, dear, I am sorry. I "

 

"Hey. No need for apologies, Ducky. None at all. It was me who offered, remember."

 

"Well, thank you once again."

 

Tobias shrugged. "No worries." He briefly touched Ducky's shoulder, before turning away. He stopped and turned back. "Oh, and, Ducky?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"It will be all right," he said. "Jethro will be all right. You'll see."

 

Ducky dredged up a half smile. "I'm sure he will be," he managed, hoping that Tobias didn't notice his omission. Because at that moment he wasn't certain whether anything was ever going to be 'all right' again. He didn't know how it could be.

 

Tobias nodded. "Give me a call when you know anything further, will you?"

 

"Of course, Tobias."

 

"Or if you need . . . Well, anything."

 

Ducky nodded. "Thank you," he said again. "Please give my love to Emily," he added.

 

"Sure. You take care."

 

"I will." Ducky stood and waited for Tobias to drive away before he let himself into the dark house.

 

He didn't think that Tobias would necessarily regard drinking a third of a bottle of scotch, even extremely good scotch, without having anything to eat constituted 'taking care'. Nonetheless it was what he did.

 

A WEEK LATER

 

Returning from a Medical Examiners' Conference, Ducky once again came back to an empty, dark house.

 

His mother had been staying with Helen for the few days he'd been away, because the evening before he'd had been due to leave he had arrived home to find her hastily appointed new nurse, of two days standing, waiting for him. Waiting for him so that she could to hand in her notice and leave with immediate effect. No amount of cajoling, not that, Ducky knew, he'd been very good at it, or money could stop her from leaving. Thus with less then twelve hours notice, Ducky had to find someone else to look after his mother. That or not go to the conference, and he'd been reluctant do take that option.

 

Fortunately, Helen had yet again proven what a kind and good friend she was to both Ducky and his mother, and had suggest that Ducky's mother and the Corgis went to say with her. On top of that her grandson, Charlie, had offered to take a couple of days leave to help his grandmother 'entertain' Ducky's mother.

 

When he'd left for the conference, Jethro had still been unconscious. Although the depth of his coma had been so slight that Ducky hadn't been at all surprised when, less than twenty-four hours later, Abby had called him with the news that Jethro was conscious. Conscious and asking where Ducky was.

 

At the time, going away to the conference had seemed the ideal thing to do. Now Ducky wasn't so sure it had been. A week has passed by, but rather than heal, rather than help, Ducky began to fear it had worsened and hindered things.

 

He was angry with himself.

 

But most of all he found himself angry with Jethro.

 

He was angry with Jethro because had Jethro acted in a sensible and 'normal' manner, the manner everyone else, especially those employed in Federal Agencies, did, he would have locked his front door. That way Sharif would not have been able to gain access, at least not so easily; thus he could not have contaminated Jethro's tools, and as such none of it would have happened. At least not to the devastating extent that it had happened.

 

He was angry with himself because

 

The sound of the doorbell startled him.

 

Wondering who on earth it could be, he went to answer it.

 

"Jethro," he said, his tone a mixture of surprise, shock and something else he couldn't identify. He just stood and stared up at the other man.

 

Jethro stood there, hands pushed into his overcoat pockets, shoulders hunched, looking down at him.

 

Finally Jethro said, his voice low, careful, wary, hesitant, reluctant even, "Can I come in, Duck?"

 

For several moments Ducky simply stood and stared at Jethro.

 

Then from somewhere he dredged up the manners, the courtesy, he had been taught as a child; the manners and courtesy that came as naturally to him as breathing did. "Yes, of course. Do, please, come in, Jethro." He wondered if his voice sounded as odd to Jethro as it did to him.

 

From the almost imperceptible and swift widening of the dark eyes and the look of surprise that raced over the paler-than-usual face, he suspected it did. However, Jethro merely said, "Thanks," and took step forward.

 

Ducky moved back to allow Jethro to pass him.

 

Once the door had been closed and securely locked, Ducky turned. "May I offer you a drink?" Again the offer came almost automatically. As a doctor he wasn't certain that alcohol was appropriate, but he assumed that as Jethro had accepted he hadn't been warned not to drink. Although be warned not to drink wouldn't have necessarily have stopped Jethro. Ducky decided that really though it was not his problem.

 

"Er, yeah, thanks."

 

Ducky nodded and led the way into one of the downstairs rooms. He ignored the slight hesitation before Jethro followed him. He moved to the drinks cabinet and took out two glasses and a bottle of malt whisky. With his back to Jethro, he poured a small measure into each of the glasses.

 

"I do hope you'll forgive me, Jethro, if I ask if you would make your visit a short one. I am more than a little weary; the Medical Examiners' conference was extremely tiring. Add to that the fact that Mother has managed to drive yet another nurse away, so I have to arrange for a replacement. Fortunately, Helen was willing to invite Mother to stay with her whilst I was away, otherwise I'm afraid the conference would have to have gone on without me. I must say, your presence here tonight has taken me somewhat by surprise. Of course Abigail told me that you had regained consciousness, but I foolishly expected you to remain in hospital for a while longer. Or at least that you would have remained at home rather than "

 

"Duck."

 

Ducky stopped speaking. "Yes."

 

"Will you please give me a chance to say something?"

 

"Of course." Now Ducky turned around and moved towards the center of the room where Jethro was standing. He put one of the glasses down on the coffee table before moving towards an armchair. However, he did not sit down; instead he took a sip of his drink and waited.

 

As the silence stretched continued, his head began to ache with the tension that was encircling the room, enclosing it and pressing down on him.

 

Jethro hadn't moved. Hadn't taken off his coat. Hadn't even taken his hands out of his pockets. Hadn't picked up his drink. He just stood, still, silent, upright, rigid, simply looking at Ducky.

 

After another few minutes went by, Ducky spoke. "Well? You wished to say something."

 

Jethro shook himself. "Yeah. I did. I do. I just don't know what to say. Where to start."

 

Ducky looked at him.

 

"Sorry seems so damn inadequate. But I don't know what else to say. I am sorry, Ducky. I am so very sorry. I . . . " Now he did move; he took a step forward, then another. Then stopped and shook his head. "I am sorry, Duck," he repeated.

 

Ducky looked at him. "There's no need for you to apologize, Jethro. It wasn't your fault. It was the chemical fumes mixed with the residue from the BZ gas. I know that what you said to me isn't really how you feel."

 

"You do?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes."

 

"Then how come that doesn't help?"

 

"Jethro?"

 

"Come on, Duck, who's the one who's spent more than thirty years telling me about the sub-conscious? You have. You know you have."

 

Ducky glanced away from the steady, fixed gaze and shook his head. "Jethro, I "

 

"Well, you have, haven't you?"

 

"Well, yes, but . . . This is different."

 

"Is it?"

 

"Yes, of course it is."

 

"Look at me, Duck."

 

"What?"

 

"Look at me," Jethro repeated, his voice low. Ducky obeyed. "So we're going to be all right?"

 

"Of course we are." Ducky spoke quickly.

 

Jethro shook his head. "Oh, Ducky," he murmured. "If it'd been anyone else, I would have believed them."

 

"Jethro?"

 

"Four things, Duck. Four things, small, but they're there. One: you haven't come near me since I arrived; you made sure you stood well back when you let me in, you didn't even pass me the glass. Two: we're in here, rather than upstairs in your sitting room. Three: you haven't once used 'my dear'. And four . . . And four, probably the most damning of all. Four: your eyes. You've hidden them from me, Duck. I can't read you. And you've never done that to me before."

 

Ducky just looked at Jethro. He didn't answer. He couldn't. He didn't know what to say. Silently he cursed himself as he acknowledged that everything Jethro had said, every damning thing, had been correct.

 

Finally, he managed two words before slipping into silence. "Jethro. I . . ."

 

Jethro nodded; his look was grim. "Thought as much." His tone matched his look. He closed his eyes for a moment; then opened them again. "Oh, Ducky, Ducky, Ducky, I've really screwed everything up. And you know what? You know what's even worse than me screwing up? The fact I can't stop thinking about you. Thinking about you. Thinking about you and me. Thinking about me doing this to you." And with two strides, Jethro closed the distance between them, gathered Ducky into his arms, brought his head down and put his lips to Ducky's.

 

The kiss was gentle, fleeting, devoid of passion, and completely and utterly devoid of hope. Instead it was heavy with loss, hopelessness and grief. It was the most perfect, the most beautiful, the most anguished kiss Ducky had ever experienced.

 

For a scant second, or two or three, Jethro held Ducky against his body.

 

Then he carefully released him, brushed his hand over Ducky's hair, turned and strode across the room. "You take care, Duck," he whispered, and left.

 

Ducky just stood and stared after him. Torn between hurrying after Jethro, stopping him, dragging him back, and letting him go. He chose the latter.

 

"Damn you, Jethro," he said. "Damn you." He lowered himself down into the armchair, swallowed a mouthful of the whisky and closed his eyes.

 

Jethro had been right. Ducky had spent decades talking about the sub-conscious, and how one couldn't control it. How often it was the thing to be believed, as it allowed people to be true to themselves.

 

Deep down he knew, as a medical man he knew, that Jethro hadn't meant the hurtful things he'd said to Ducky. He couldn't have done; their friendship was intense, intimate, close, deep, beyond clarification. Had Jethro felt that way, they wouldn't have, couldn't have, remained friends. They wouldn't even have become friends. When Ducky had told Jethro that he was gay, Jethro had merely shrugged, said 'so what?' and went on as if nothing had changed.

 

That was the real Leroy Jethro Gibbs. That was the man Ducky knew and loved. That was the man he'd known for decades. The man who hated any kind of discrimination. The man who had arranged for one of his very best agents to be reassigned to another team, simply because the man had dared to make it clear how much homosexuals, how much Ducky, disgusted him.

 

That was Jethro.

 

Not the man who had stood in front of him in the interrogation room and said all those hateful things to Ducky.

 

Ducky knew that.

 

He did.

 

He really did.

 

At least he knew it consciously.

 

It was his sub-conscious that was starting to prickle, starting to remind him of what a person can keep hidden, can keep hidden without even knowing it. His sub-conscious that was nagging at him and suggesting that maybe that man, the man in the interrogation room, was the real Leroy Jethro Gibbs; even if Jethro wasn't aware of it.

 

And as well as that, there was still a small piece of Ducky that couldn't forget that it was in part at least, Jethro's own fault. A small piece that couldn't forget the unlocked front door. The unlocked front door that allowed anyone to walk in and do anything.

 

Ducky hated himself for his doubts. For the way he had behaved. For the way he was behaving. For what he was thinking. For what he was allowing himself to think. He was disgusted with himself. It was not like him. But Jethro had hurt him. Jethro had done more than hurt him. What Jethro had done, had no words to describe it.

 

And even though Ducky knew, because he did know, that it hadn't been intentional, that Jethro hadn't meant a word of what he said, it had still hurt him. Was still hurting him.

 

And then he realized why that was; why he couldn't quite let go. Part of him, a part that he hadn't even been aware of, had sub-consciously, always been afraid that Jethro had lied to him when he'd said Ducky's sexual preferences didn't matter. That he was bothered by them. And that the day would come when, what Ducky was, coupled with his desire for, his love, his non-fraternal love, for Jethro would disgust the ex-Marine.

 

And amazingly with that knowledge, everything fled. The doubt; the hesitation; the uncertainty; the belief that Jethro had really meant his words. It all went. It fled so quickly that Ducky slumped back in the chair, hit by a near over-whelming exhaustion. He closed his eyes for a moment, fighting the blackness that suddenly wanted to swallow him up.

 

Several minutes passed before he straightened up again. "Oh, my dear, dear Jethro," he murmured, finally allowing himself to say the words he hadn't even allowed himself to think for a week. "What on earth do I do next?"

 

For the first time in his life, Ducky was aware that he didn't know where to begin to find the words to put things right between Jethro and himself.

 

THE NEXT DAY

 

Ducky arrived at the office early. He still wasn't entirely certain how he was going to make Jethro believe him, and thus put things right. He just knew he had to do so. He had to believe that their friendship was strong enough to allow them to weather the storm.

 

When Ducky arrived in Autopsy, he found a note on his desk: it was from Jennifer, asking him to go and see her as soon as he arrived. Frowning, and pausing long enough to dial Jethro's extension, it wasn't answered, nor was his cell phone, he took off his hat and coat and went up to her office.

 

"Ducky, come in. Do sit down."

 

"Thank you, Jennifer." Ducky sat carefully and looked at Jennifer; she was uneasy, that much was clear. In fact she was avoiding meeting his eyes.

 

"How was the conference she asked? Tea?" She nodded towards a pot.

 

"Thank you. As for the conference, much the same as these things always are. One spends at least part of one's time wondering why on earth you had wasted your time attending. Thank you," he said again, as he took the cup she offered him.

 

"And your mother? Is she well?"

 

Ducky blinked, took a sip of tea, before putting the cup and saucer down on her desk. "Jennifer," he said, looking directly at her; she glanced away. "You did not invite me to your office to give me tea, nor to enquire about the Medical Examiners' Conference and my mother. Whatever you wish to say to me, please do so." And then suddenly it hit him. "It's Jethro, is it not? What has happened to him? Has he had a relapse? Why wasn't I "

 

"Ducky." She interrupted him gently. "Jethro is, as far as I am aware, fine. He has not had a relapse."

 

Ducky let out the breath, he hadn't even been aware he'd been holding. "Then what is it?" he demanded.

 

She looked at him, for the first time since he'd entered her office, she really looked at him. He saw compassion in the steady gaze. "Jethro has resigned," she said, her tone low and steady. "He has resigned with immediate effect. And," she paused. "And he has, I understand, left Washington."

 

"Where has he gone?"

 

"I don't know, Ducky. And yes, before you ask, I have tried to find out. But so far despite calling in several favors, no one has any helpful information. We both know how good an agent Jethro is; if he doesn't want to be found, then . . ."

 

"When did this happen? He can't have got that far."

 

"He came to see me last night, around ten o'clock."

 

So he'd gone straight from Ducky's to her. "I see." Ducky glanced away from her steady gaze; he didn't want to see the compassion any longer. "Thank you for letting me know, Jennifer." He began to stand up. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'll "

 

"Ducky." Again she stopped him. "Sit down."

 

He hesitated and then returned to his seat. "Yes, Director."

 

She sighed. "Oh, Ducky, " she shook her head. "Why don't you take a few days leave?" she finally asked.

 

"And do what exactly, Director?"

 

"I was thinking that while I might not be able to find Jethro, there is someone who is almost as good as he is. Someone who Jethro might even have told where he was going."

 

"Tobias?"

 

She nodded. "Yes."

 

He looked at her. "Thank you, Jennifer," he said and stood up again.

 

"Ducky." Again her voice stopped him from walking away. He looked at her. "You know Jethro didn't . . ." She broke off.

 

Ducky wasn't certain what his expression was showing, but it was enough to quieten her.

 

After a moment she simply said, "Let me know how long you'll be away for please, Dr. Mallard."

 

He inclined his head. "Of course, Director." He turned and left.

 

 

"Here," Tobias handed Ducky a slip of paper.  "A man matching Jethro's description checked in an hour or two ago. His reservation is for two nights."

 

Too surprised to even thank Tobias, Ducky took the paper and looked at it. "But how . . . ?"

 

Tobias shook his head. "Don't ask."

 

Ducky looked at him. "How much did it cost you?" he asked quietly.

 

Tobias shrugged. "He saved my career, probably even my life, once. I owe him."

 

Ducky frowned a little. "In that case, why are you helping me to find him?"

 

Tobias stared at him in silence.

 

Finally he said simply, "He won't admit it, will probably deny it and hate me for saying it, but he needs you, Ducky. You stop him from being an unbearable bastard. Now go on, find him. Find him and bring him home."

 

As he looked at Tobias, Ducky saw the depth of friendship that he had always known existed between the two Federal Agents. The friendship they always kept hidden, sometimes even from one another. A depth of caring and feeling that went beyond anything either man would admit to. "Thank you, Tobias," he said simply, as he watched Tobias re-erect the same shields that Jethro wore most of the time.

 

Tobias just nodded, before glancing back at the papers he'd been reading when Ducky had been escorted into his office.

 

 

"Donald, how nice to see you. Is everything all right? You're not unwell, are you?" Helen Patterson's concern was palpable.

 

Ducky could understand it; it was after all late morning and he should be at work. He shook his head. "No, Helen," he hastened to reassure her. "I'm afraid I need to ask you another favor."

 

"Anything I can do to help, Donald. You know that, I hope. Do come in. Your mother is in the sitting room."

 

Ducky hesitated for a fraction of a second, before taking off his hat and following Helen. "Mother," he greeted her.

 

"Oh, there you are, Donald," she said. "Have you and Jethro made up yet?"

 

"Mother?"

 

She sighed. "Do you think I'm a fool, Donald?"

 

"No, Mother, of course not. I "

 

"They've had a lover's tiff, Helen," she said, ignoring her son and turning to look at Helen.

 

 

"Mother!"

 

"Oh, I am sorry to hear that, Donald," Helen said, her tone heavy with genuine sympathy. "But I'm sure you'll be able to work it out. You've been friends for so long, have you not?"

 

"Um, yes," Ducky found himself saying, as he looked from his mother to her friend. He suddenly had to fight the desire to laugh. How ironic was it? His mother and Helen actually believed that Jethro and he were lovers! And neither seemed in the least perturbed by that knowledge. He was speechless as he looked at the two women.

 

Helen broke the silence. "Do I assume that you would like Vanessa to stay with me for a while longer, Donald, while you and Jethro . . . " She trailed off and flushed slightly.

 

Ducky just looked at her. "Um, yes, please Helen, if that is possible. I have to go away for a short time. A day or two, no more; at least I hope it will not be longer. If you're sure it wouldn't be too much trouble."

 

"Of course not. We'll be fine, won't we, Vanessa dear? And Charlie will be here again tonight, so if there's anything your mother needs from the house, I'm sure he'd be happy to drive us over there." She smiled.

 

Ducky found himself wondering if Charlie Patterson also believed that Jethro and he were more than just good friends. He forced his mind away from the absurdity of it all. "Will that be all right with you, Mother?"

 

"What?"

 

"Are you happy to stay with Helen for another day or two?" he said patiently.

 

"Oh, that. Of course I am. Now do run along, Donald. And don't forget to give dear Jethro my love."

 

He blinked. "Yes, Mother," he said quietly. He turned to look at Helen again. "Thank you, Helen. I don't know where to begin to "

 

"Nonsense, Donald. I enjoy your mother's company. We'll have a fine time, we always do." She smiled.

 

Ducky stood there for another moment or two, before turning and moving across the room towards the door.

 

"Donald," his mother's imperial tone stopped him.

 

He turned around. "Yes, Mother?"

 

"Here," she held out her hand. He moved back to her, and she pressed a ten-dollar note into his hand. "I'm sure you boys would like some sweets or something," she said. And then, before he could answer, she went on, "Now where is the girl with my tea?"

 

"Mo -"

 

But Helen shaking her head stopped him. "You go, Donald. It'll be all right," she said, taking his arm and leading him out of the room.

 

At the door he stopped and glanced back at his mother. He should be used to it by now, he'd have enough years to get used to it. Nonetheless whenever his mother slipped from moments of lucidity into the world she inhabited most of the time, it always jolted him and pained him.

 

Helen looked at him. "She's happy," she said softly. "She always seems content. You know that, don't you, Donald?"

 

He nodded. It was the one saving grace. "Yes," he said. "Are you sure though, that you don't mind? Surely it's difficult for you?"

 

She shook her head. "Oddly enough, not really. Less so than I fear it is for you. We manage quite well, really. Now go and sort things out with Jethro."

 

"Helen, Jethro and I. We . . ." He trailed off. What could he say?

 

She looked at him. "Donald whatever you and Jethro are to one another does not trouble Charlie or myself. You must believe that. I'm very fond of Jethro, he is a good man."

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, he is."

 

"And so are you. Now go along. And "

"Helen. Have you found the girl yet?" Vanessa Mallard's voice interrupted her.

 

"Coming dear," she called. "I must go." She leaned forward and kissed Ducky's cheek, patted his hand, smiled, turned and hurried back into the sitting room.

 

For a moment Ducky just stared after her. He wasn't certain, even if he lived to be his mother's age, that he could ever fully and adequately reply Helen Patterson, or her grandson, Charlie.

 

EARLY EVENING

 

"Good evening," Ducky said to the young man who sat behind a small desk.

 

The man looked up. "Good evening, sir. Can I help you?"

 

Ducky took his hat off and swiftly appraised the young man. He had seconds to sum him up and decide on his course of action. He glanced at the name badge the young man was wearing; it told him his name was Julian Harper. "I hope so, Mr. Harper," he said, smiling. He held out his hand. "My name is Dr. Mallard, Dr. Donald Mallard."

 

After a second or two, Julian took the proffered hand and shook it. "Pleased to meet you, Dr. Mallard," he said, his tone questioning. Then he added somewhat hurriedly and with concern, "Has someone here called for a doctor?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No." Again he looked at Julian.

 

"That's good. In that case what can I do for you? Do you need a room?"

 

Ducky hesitated for a moment. Then he reached under his coat and from his jacket pocket took out his wallet. Julian watched him carefully and began to frown. From the wallet Ducky took a picture: a photograph of Jethro, taken only a few months earlier. He looked down at it for a moment or two, before putting it down on the desk. "I believe this man is staying here," he said.

 

Julian looked at the picture and then back at Ducky. "I'm sorry," he said. "I can't give out information about our residents."

 

Ducky nodded. "I understand," he said placidly. Again he appraised Julian; he was certain he was correct in his judgment. Leaving the photograph on the desk, he returned his wallet to his inside pocket. Julian looked relieved at the gesture. "You're not the kind of man whom I would try to bribe," Ducky said quietly.

 

"Thank you," Julian said, after a moment or two. "Look, Dr. Mallard. I'd like to help you, you look like a nice person, but . . . It's rules. The manager would fire me if he found out. And I need the job."

 

"College fees?"

 

Julian nodded. "Yeah. I'm studying Law."

 

Ducky smiled. "Ah, a young friend of mine has recently graduated from Law School."

 

"Oh, really? Where did he study?"

 

"Harvard."

 

Julian whistled.

 

Ducky moved the photograph an infinitesimal amount.

 

It was enough to draw Julian's attention back to it. "Is he a friend of yours?" he asked.

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. An old friend. Well at least we were friends. I am afraid we had a foolish argument and he . . ."

 

"He left you?"

 

Ducky half-nodded. "And you see. I thought that if I could find him and talk to him that we could . . ."

 

"Make up?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes."

 

Julian glanced at the photograph again, glanced at Ducky and then behind him. "How long have you been together?" he asked.

 

Ducky mentally patted himself on the back. He had been correct. "We have known one another for over three decades," he said, still not lying.

 

"Over thirty years? Wow. That's amazing. And very unusual, or so Alex keeps telling me."

 

"Alex?"

 

Julian nodded. "My partner. We've been together since High School. He keeps saying that maybe we should be more like other gays. Play around, that kind of thing. I don't think he wants to, not really. In fact I know he doesn't. He just feels . . ."

 

"That he should?"

 

Julian nodded. "Yes. We don't know any other couples, you see. Least not any that have been together for more than a month or two, and mostly only a night or two. I've tried to tell him that there are gay men who are together for a long time, but I'm not sure he believes me. But now that you've told me about you and your friend Do you mind if I tell Alex?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No, of course not. If you think it will help you."

 

"I think it will." Julian looked down at Jethro's photograph one more time and back at Ducky. "He's in Room 42," he said quietly, but decisively.

 

"Thank you, Julian," Ducky said, covering the young man's hand. "Thank you very much."

 

Julian turned his hand over and squeezed Ducky's hand for a moment. "That's all right, Dr. Mallard," he said. "I hope you two make up."

 

Ducky sighed. "So do I," he said, trying to keep the qualms he suddenly felt from his voice.

 

 

"I told you, I didn't want to be Ducky!" Jethro's voice and face radiated pure astonishment as he stared at Ducky.

 

"Good evening, Jethro," Ducky said more calmly than he felt.

 

For a moment Jethro just continued to stare.

 

Then he asked, "How did you find me?"

 

Ducky looked at him. "Does that really matter?" he asked quietly.

 

Again there was a pause before Jethro answered. "Guess not."

 

Ducky waited.

 

He waited a little longer.

 

Finally he said, his tone still low and matter-of-fact, "May I come in, Jethro?"

 

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I guess." Jethro moved back a little, and allowed Ducky to precede him into the room.

 

Ducky glanced around him noting the stark simplicity of the room. Just for a second his gaze flittered over the double bed. From behind him there was still silence. He turned back. "Are you not going to shut the door?" he enquired.

 

He watched as Jethro shook himself, glanced at the door, frowned as if he hadn't realized he was still standing there, holding it open, before shutting it. The lock clicked automatically into place. Jethro, however, still stood by the door, just looking at Ducky.

 

After a moment or two, Ducky tossed his hat onto the chest of drawers, removed his coat, folded it carefully and put it on one of the two chairs, crossed the room and then, moving quite quickly, slipped his arms around Jethro's neck, tugged his head down and put his mouth to Jethro's.

 

As he kissed his old friend, he felt the shock and surprise race through Jethro's mouth and body. He kept the kiss relatively brief, before breaking away, turning back around and walking across the room to sit on the edge of the bed. He then looked up at Jethro who was still standing by the door.

 

"Duck?"

 

Ducky had often marveled at the numerous ways Jethro could say that single word; all the different nuances he put on the one syllable; all the many things he said, or asked, with the four letters. He answered Jethro's question. "It is my firm belief that when one is being kissed, especially if one is being kissed by a person whom one wishes to kiss one, that one should return the kiss. Last night, when you kissed me, I failed to return your kiss, thus I am doing so now."

 

Now Jethro did move away from the door. He moved, more slowly than usual, until he was standing in front of Ducky. "You wanted me to kiss you?"

 

Ducky sighed. "Jethro. Kindly do not play games with me. We both know that I have wanted you to kiss me for over three decades. Now, do sit down, please. My neck does not appreciate the position it needs to be in to allow me to look at you."

 

Jethro blinked. Ducky wasn't surprised; his tone, his very manner, was far more forceful, authoritarian, than it usually was. "Anywhere in particular you want me to sit, Duck?"

 

"I would like you to sit on the bed with me. However, I do not think, for the moment at least, that would be a very good idea. Why do you not use the chair?"

 

After another second of two of just staring down at Ducky, Jethro snagged the chair, turned it around and straddled it, putting his arms on the back and looking at Ducky. "Why wouldn't me sitting on the bed with you be a good idea?"

 

Ducky smiled a little. "Because my dear Jethro," he didn't fail to notice the flash of pleasure that raced across Jethro's face as he said the words. "Because, my dear Jethro," he repeated, "I do not merely wish to sit on a bed with you. And given the way you kissed me last night, and what you said to me, I do not think you do either. However, we do need to talk."

 

"We do?"

 

"Yes. You know we do."

 

Jethro sighed. "Not my favorite thing, Duck."

 

"I know," Ducky said softly. "But it is necessarily." He reached out and fleetingly touched Jethro's hand.

 

"Okay. Just not sure what else I can say."

 

"I believe that I may be able to find plenty to say." Ducky smiled.

 

"Not a lot new there then, is there?" Jethro smiled back.

 

And suddenly it was as it had always been. For the moment, at least, the tension had vanished, and the world had righted itself. It felt good. It felt more than good. It felt seductively good. It felt seductively and dangerously good.

 

Nonetheless, Ducky was determined to speak. If he didn't, things might be all right for that night, a week, a month; but there were things that had been unsaid for far, far too long. Again he touched Jethro's hand, letting his own hand linger for longer this time. He thought he heard his friend make a soft noise, but he couldn't be certain.

 

After a moment or two, he gently took his hand away and put it with his other one in his lap. "Jethro," he said. "I love you and I have done so almost from the moment we first met. I desire you too, very much; I have wanted you as my lover since the moment we met. I thought at one time my passion for you might wane over the years, but it never has. Indeed I am not certain what I would do if I woke up and suddenly found I was no longer in love with you, it has become so much a part of my life." He spoke quietly, again almost matter-of-factly.

 

"Duck "

 

Ducky shook his head, and Jethro fell silent. "I do still want you, Jethro. I want you very much indeed. And I believe that finally you have come to return that feeling. As such it would be so easy to do what I have always wanted to do and take you to bed. However, I have to know: are you always going to solve your problems by running away?"

 

He saw the surprise register in the dark, stead gaze, as his voice became firmer. "Running away?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. When you awoke from the coma and found yourself back to when Shannon and Kelly were alive, you dealt with the resurgence of the memories, the reliving of their deaths, by resigning and going to Mexico. Also shutting me out, behaving as if you did not remember, did not know, me. I know why you did that and it does not trouble me. I understand. However, when, as a result of another," he hesitated very slightly, "injury, you . . ." He trailed off; suddenly uncertain how to phrase it.

 

"Assaulted you?" Jethro said grimly.

 

Without acknowledging the term, Ducky spoke again. "You resign and go away again. Is this going to become a pattern?"

 

Jethro glanced away. "I had to get away after I was blown up; I had to, Duck. I couldn't . . . But I've made my peace now with their memories. They're back where they should be. As for you. I didn't know how to stay, Duck. Didn't know how to Shannon, Kelly and you. It's the only times, the only people, who've made me . . . I hurt you, Duck. So much. I was "

 

Again Ducky shook his head.

 

Again Jethro fell silent.

 

For a brief moment Ducky closed his eyes. When he opened them again he found Jethro still watching him. "I should have said more last night. Your arrival surprised me, but that is no excuse. The truth is, Jethro, whilst I know that what you said to me in the interrogation room was due to the combination of the residue of the BZ gas and the chemical fumes, I . . ." He swallowed hard. "I'm afraid, my dear, that I do hold you, at least, partly to blame for being infected in the first place."

 

"What do you mean, Duck?"

 

"If you actually followed the habits of normal, sensible people, Jethro, especially given the field in which you work, you would lock your front door. Anyone can and does walk in at any time. Now I know that the door being locked might not necessarily have prevented Sharif from gaining access to your home, and thus covering your tools with the altered gas. However, you "

 

"Didn't have to make it easy for him?" Jethro's tone was grim.

 

Ducky nodded curtly. "Yes."

 

"Do you really blame me for getting poisoned?"

 

"In part, yes. Yes, I do. Illogical as that might be, yes, my dear Jethro. Yes, I do."

 

Jethro nodded. "You're right. It is stupid. And you know what, Duck? You're right about the whole thing. I am partly, at least, to blame."

 

Ducky sighed softly and again reached for Jethro's hand. This time he took it and held it. "It is not just that," he said, after a moment or two.

 

"Guessed it might not be."

 

"You are correct when you said that I am always telling you about the sub-conscious. And as such, a small part of me, be it consciously or indeed sub-consciously, would naturally, did indeed, believe that what you said was what sub-consciously, you felt. But there is more to it than that."

 

"Go on, Duck. Tell me." Jethro edged the chair a little closer, so that their hands were entwined more easily.

 

Ducky swallowed and looked into the dark, steady, pain-filled gaze. "I realized last night, after you had gone, that ever since we met, there has been a part of me that has been waiting for the day to come when you . . ." He broke off, glanced away and then back at Jethro. "I do love you, Jethro," he said. "You do know that, do you not?"

 

Jethro frowned. "Course I do, Duck. I've always known it."

 

Ducky nodded absentmindedly. "And I believe, I hope, that you "

 

"Love you too? Yeah. I do. Have done for years. Just in a different way. Until now." Jethro said the final two words so quietly, Ducky wasn't entirely certain he had heard them. "Go on, Duck," Jethro encouraged after another silence. "Finish what you were saying."

 

Ducky swallowed hard again; briefly closed his eyes, before sighing, mentally steeling himself, and looking at his friend. "Part of me, Jethro, a part of me of which I was not consciously aware until last night, has always been waiting for you to . . ." He cursed himself.

 

"Tell you that you disgust me?" Jethro spoke quietly, grimly.

 

Ducky breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes," he whispered. "Jethro you accepted my 'I need to tell you that I'm gay', so easily; so very easily; most might say too easily. You were young, cocky, self-assured, a Marine; your background, upbringing, the era, everything, should have led you not to be so accepting, so quickly."

 

Jethro shrugged. "It never has bothered me, Duck. Really. I'm sorry if that bothers you, but . . ."

 

"That aside for a moment. What you have to admit, surely, is 'odd', is how easily you accepted my feelings for you. How simply and without any concern you accepted the knowledge that I wanted you as my lover." Something hit him suddenly. "Unless," he said slowly. "Unless you have not been aware all these years and only "

 

"Made it up? Nah, Duck. I've always known. You made it very clear. The way you look at me; speak to me; touch me. I've always known. Duck, I knew from the moment we met."

 

Ducky blinked. He hadn't realized Jethro's knowledge went back quite that far. He had always thought that, initially at least, he had managed to hide the true nature of his feelings for Jethro. "But you never . . . It never . . . Our friendship . . . "

 

Now Jethro took Ducky's hand in both of his. "Was too damned important to me, Duck. I wasn't going to lose you. And I knew that you'd never approach me; tell me outright. It didn't matter to me. Maybe it should have, hell, I guess it should have, but it didn't. And if that makes you uncomfortable, has made you uncomfortable, bothers you, or whatever else, I'm sorry. But That's how it is, Duck. That's me. That's how important you've always been to me." The last words were said very quietly indeed, and the intensity flared as Jethro looked at Ducky.

 

Ducky was more than a little surprised. It was rare, very rare indeed for Jethro to speak of his feelings. More than one of his wives had complained to Ducky about how Jethro never spoke of such things; how he rarely, if ever, said 'I love you'. Ducky had always known that Jethro cared, that their friendship was close, but hearing the words moved him deeply. He found himself unable to speak.

 

Jethro was silent too, he simply sat, gripping Ducky's hand, looking at him. The gaze was steady, but tension still radiated from it, and his whole posture spoke of wariness and uncertainty.

 

Finally, he spoke, his voice low, flat, he seemed to be deliberately choosing his words. "Can we get over this, Duck? Put it behind us? Move on? Can you ever truly forgive me? Both consciously and sub-consciously? Can you stop waiting for the day I " He stopped abruptly. "Guess I've already done that," he said, and glanced away.

 

Ducky considered his answer. "We have to, Jethro," he said simply.

 

"Duck?"

 

"We have to," Ducky repeated.

 

Jethro looked dubious. However, he said, "And can we . . ."

 

Ducky frowned. "Not if you are not even able to say it, Jethro. No, we cannot." He spoke firmly.

 

"Become lovers. That do?"

 

Ducky smiled. "Yes, my dear. That will 'do'."

 

"Well then?"

 

"If it is what we both really want, then yes. We can. Indeed, I would venture to suggest that we really have no choice in the matter. Neither of us is going to be happy with anyone else."

 

Jethro looked at him. "Sound awfully clinical to me, Duck."

 

Ducky shrugged. "What do you want me to say, Jethro? That I'd like roses, chocolates, poetry? That I'd like to be wooed and pampered? You don't do romance, my dear. I should know. Besides, none of those things matter, not really. They are mere dressing. I've had more than thirty years to get to know you. It would be somewhat foolish to begin a relationship as if we were beginning a relationship, would it not?" He spoke honestly, simply, once more his tone was on the edge of matter-of-factness.

 

Jethro still looked slightly skeptical as well as surprised. "You know, Duck," he said after a moment or two of just watching Ducky. "You've accepted that I want you, that my feelings have changed towards you pretty easily. Some might say too easily." His lips twitched upward as he said the final words.

 

Ducky chuckled softly. "Ah, my dear Jethro."

 

"So why have you?" Jethro asked after another moment or two of silent contemplation.

 

"That is simple: you kissed me."

 

Jethro blinked. "Er, Duck. You know, much as I hate to admit it, I kiss a lot of people."

 

"Women."

 

"What?"

 

"Women. You kiss a lot of women, Jethro."

 

Jethro frowned. "Go on."

 

"Have you ever kissed another man?"

 

"Hell, no. Sorry, Duck. No, I haven't. Never thought about it."

 

"Well then," Ducky said placidly. "Kissing someone is very intimate, Jethro. Incredibly intimate. Some people who have sex with one another do not kiss. You kissed me. You have never, as you yourself said, even considered kissing another man. Yet you kissed me. And you would never have done that, you would never have kissed me, unless it meant "

 

"That I wanted you as a lover?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. As you said you have always known how I felt about you. You have always cared deeply about me as a friend. There is no way you would have kissed me, thus hurting me, had you not been certain your feelings for me had changed."

 

"Can you rationalize everything, Duck?"

 

Ducky beamed. "Oh, I can try, my dear. I can try."

 

Jethro smiled. Then he tightened his grip even more on Ducky's hand and said firmly, "I do want you, Duck."

 

"Then why are you still sitting there?"

 

Jethro blinked. "You want to make love here?" He glanced around the room.

 

Ideally, no, Ducky didn't. In the rare, fleeting, moments when he had ever, over the years since he'd met Jethro, dare to allow himself to hope that one day . . . It had never taken place in some nameless, sterile hotel room.

 

But it seemed right, somehow. After all they'd been through in the past week, it seemed right; fitting. As much as he did have a romantic side, as much as he would like to be wined, dined, given flowers, have soft words of love spoken to him, that wasn't Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Not the Leroy Jethro Gibbs Ducky knew and loved. The place didn't matter; what mattered was the people.

 

He smiled and stood up. "Jethro, I have waited for over thirty years for this. I do not intend to wait any longer. Now stand up, come here and kiss me."

 

After only a moment or two's hesitation and a speedy stride across the room to check the door was locked, a small gesture that warmed Ducky inside, Jethro did that very thing.

 

And a hell of a lot more.

 

THE NEXT MORNING

 

Jethro held Ducky's coat for him, settling it on Ducky's shoulders. "Ready, Duck?" he asked, swinging one of his bags into one hand, and picking up the other one with his free hand.

 

Ducky picked his hat up and looked around the room. It no longer seemed sterile or faceless, and a swift glance at the bed would leave no one in any doubt as to what had gone on in it. "Yes, Jethro," he said. "I believe I am."

 

He moved to the door.

 

Once there, he hesitated for a moment.

 

"Duck?"

 

Ducky shook his head and smiled. It was silly, he knew, but suddenly he didn't want to leave the room; didn't want to go out into the world; out into reality. What if once outside these four walls, it didn't work? What if

 

Jethro moved closer to him, managed to juggle both bags into one hand and with his free hand, gathered Ducky into a one armed embrace. "It'll work, Duck. You said it yourself, it has to." He lowered his head and brushed Ducky's lips with him own. "Love you, Duck," he said softly, as he broke away. The words were new, the tone wasn't. It was the same way Jethro had always spoken to him; nothing had changed there. It was fond, caring, just as it always had been.

 

Nothing was new.

 

And yet everything was.

 

Ducky smiled up at his lover and offered his mouth for another brief kiss.

 

Then he turned away, put on his hat and opened the door, letting Jethro precede him out into the passage. He paused for a scant second and cast a final glance around the room, before determinedly and firmly closing the door.

 

He then turned towards Jethro. "Oh," he said, suddenly remembering. "There are a couple of things you should know."

 

"Go on."

 

"Firstly, the young man, Julian, who looks after the reception desk thinks that we have actually been lovers for more than thirty years." Jethro blinked and then widened his eyes slightly. Ducky went on placidly. "He interpreted my words to him in his preferred way, and as that led to him breaking hotel protocol and telling me which room you were in, I'm afraid that I didn't like to disillusion him. I didn't lie to him; I just didn't correct his incorrect assumption. Of course, he might not still be on duty when we go downstairs, and even if he is, there is no reason to believe that he would Mmm, Jethro. Whilst I confess I prefer that method of you quietening me, to you snapping, albeit in your fondly exasperated way I hasten to add, 'Duck' at me, I do not know if it is necessarily a good method to adopt. After all you just might forget where we are and "

 

"And the second thing you have to tell me, is?" Jethro asked, after several moments had passed by. He bent to pick up the bags he'd dropped.

 

"Ah, yes. Um, well, it appears that Mother, Helen and indeed Charlie also have managed to, er, shall we say put the incorrect connotation on our relationship."

 

Jethro blinked. "Huh? English would be good, Duck."

 

"Apparently Mother, Helen and Charles also believe that we are lovers," Ducky said calmly. And with those words, he smiled, turned on his heel and walked off along the corridor.

 

He decided to keep to himself the news that he strongly suspected Tobias was not going to be in the slightest bit surprised when he learned about the change in the relationship of his two friends. 

 

 

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