An email from Madam Director 'inviting' NCIS employees to take part in a charity 'giving something up day', leads to some interesting choices by the team as to what they should give up. But will they manage to achieve their goals?
An established relationship story.
Written: March 2006. Word count: 8,128.
"Wooh, have you seen this?" Tony DiNozzo glanced at his coworkers and pointed to his computer screen.
"Seen what, Tony?" McGee asked.
"The latest missive from Madam Director."
"Tony, the Director, specifically told you not to call her that. She said you'd be keel-hauled if you did so - and I still don't know what that is."
"Yeah, well. She isn't going to know, is she? Unless you go running off to tell her."
Ziva flushed and looked genuinely hurt by the words. "That was unfair, Tony."
"Yes, Tony, it was."
"Did anyone ask your opinion, Probie? No, I thought not."
"I don't go 'running to the Director', as you put it."
"Gibbs thinks you do."
"Well he does."
"He's told you this, has he?" McGee stood up and glared at his coworker.
"Not in so many words, no. But I know him."
"Maybe not as well as you think you do, DiNozzo." The three agents turned as one as Gibbs strode into the office, his long coat flapping around him, his usual cup of coffee in his hand.
Ducky followed him, shaking his head and looking from Ziva to Tony. The air was heavy with silence.
Gibbs stopped at his desk, shrugged out of his coat and just looked at Tony, who quailed under the steady, dark gaze. "Sorry, boss," he finally muttered.
"It isn't me you need to apologize to, DiNozzo. Duck," Gibbs turned away from the younger man and beckoned Ducky over.
Tony watched his boss bend his head and say something to Ducky, the softening of the dark eyes and oft-time harsh countenance was apparent - as always. He wondered if Gibbs was aware of just how much he gave away every time he spoke to Ducky. Although it wasn't as much as Ducky gave away. Ducky's eyes glowed with love every time he looked at Gibbs, and his voice spoke of his deep affection, even if he was simply saying Gibbs's name.
He pulled his attention away from the two old friends. "Sorry, Ziva," he said. "I didn't -"
"Yes, you did, Tony. But it's all right. I understand. It wasn't fair of Jenny to employ me without talking to Gibbs first. Yes, she is my friend. But I work with you." Her deep brown eyes held Tony's, and he read for the very first time a hint of insecurity beneath the fierce, confident exterior.
"Sorry," he said again, really meaning it this time.
Ziva smiled at him. The smile like his second apology was genuine. "So what has got you so excited anyway, Tony?" she asked.
"Huh? Oh, that. The email inviting us all to take part in some kind of charity sponsor thing."
Ziva grinned; the look was positively evil. "If Jenny is involved, 'inviting' is not the word that I would use."
For the first time since the young Mossad agent had been forced onto the team, Tony suddenly saw her as a team member. "Hey," he called, glancing over his shoulder to see that Gibbs and Ducky were still involved in a conversation. "Come here," he beckoned to Ziva and McGee.
After a quick glance from both of them towards Gibbs and Ducky, they came over and huddled over his screen. He pointed to the email in question. "I bet you one thing," he said, once more looking around. "Gibbs won't be giving up coffee. He'd never survive an hour, let alone an entire day." The three giggled.
"Maybe he'll give up hitting you around the head, Tony," McGee said.
"I wish." Tony's tone was heartfelt.
"Well, I," said Ziva, spinning on her heel and striding back to her own desk, "will give up carrying more than one weapon."
"How many are you packing?"
Ziva smiled, the look feral. "Ask Gibbs," she said sweetly, and bounced out of the room.
Tony looked around again, but Gibbs and Ducky were no longer at Gibbs's desk, instead they'd moved to the elevators. "What about you, McGee? Think you could go a whole day without calling Gibbs 'sir?'"
"I don't call him sir." McGee's tone was indignant.
"McGee!" Gibbs suddenly called.
"Yes, sir." McGee jumped and turned around to look at Gibbs.
Ducky and Tony laughed. Gibbs smiled and shook his head. Then touching Ducky's arm and saying something so quietly that no one but Ducky could have heard, he turned and strode away from his old friend, tipping more coffee into this mouth as he did. "And, yes, DiNozzo, I could give up coffee for a day," he said, as he passed Tony's desk and tossed his cup into the trashcan.
Tony laughed, a short, sharp sound. "Good one, boss."
Gibbs stopped dead. Turned on his heel and moved back to Tony's desk. He got close enough to entrap Tony in his chair, forcing the agent to lean back and stare up at his boss. Gibbs's face was, as usual, unreadable, but the twinkle in the dark eyes did nothing to make Tony feel better.
Gibbs studied him, just as he studied case files, or when he was trying to intimidate a witness. "How much?"
"How much do you want to bet me that I can't go all day without coffee, DiNozzo?" Gibbs's tone was soft and silky, and very, very dangerous.
Gibbs shrugged. "All in a good cause, DiNozzo. I'll hand it over to Madam Director's charity."
"She said that the next person who . . . But that doesn't apply to you," Tony hurriedly added.
"Er, $20.00?" Gibbs just stared. "$50.00?" He still stared. "$100.00?"
"You spend more than that on a tie, DiNozzo. Come on; make it worth my while. In fact, I'll give you an added incentive. If you win, you don't have to hand the money over to Director Shepard. And," he added, leaning even nearer to Tony, "I won't hit you around the head for a week."
"Done." Gibbs held out his hand. Tony blinked at it for several seconds, Gibbs had never before shaken his hand, before taking it and returning the squeeze. With the same look in his eyes as he got when he'd broken a particularly tough suspect, Gibbs turned around and strode out of the office.
"Where are you going, boss?" Tony called.
Tony watched him go. "He'll never do it."
"$50.00 says he does." McGee moved over to Tony's desk. "In fact, $100.00."
Tony looked up. "You're on, McGee," he said and rubbed his hands. "This is going to be so easy. I wonder what I should spend it on?"
"You can make mine $25.00, Tony," Ziva said.
Tony jumped in his chair. "I thought I told you not to sneak up on me." He silently ordered his pulse to return to normal.
She smiled her innocent smile. "Sorry, Tony. I keep forgetting." She spun around, her dark hair flying behind her and walked to her desk. "Shall I call Abby and Jimmy? Or will you, Tim?"
"Ooh, have you seen this, Dr. Mallard?"
"What exactly is 'this', Mr. Palmer?" Ducky enquired, as he removed his hat and coat. As usual he hid his amusement at his young assistant's enthusiasm.
"This email." Jimmy pointed to the screen.
"Ah, the one from our beloved Director concerning the 'giving up' day. No, I haven't seen it, but I know about it. The children were discussing it earlier."
"The children, Doctor?" Jimmy looked puzzled.
"Yes. Jethro's field team. Sometimes they behave just like children. It's no wonder Jethro talks about feeling like a High School Principal."
"Yes. Well at least he did when . . ." Ducky paused as Jimmy looked expectantly at him. "It doesn't matter." Ducky smiled to soften the blow he knew his words would cause.
Jimmy's smile froze on his face, and as expected he did look a little saddened. Ducky sighed to himself. In many ways Jimmy Palmer and Timothy McGee were very alike.
Then Jimmy shook himself and said, his tone one of forced brightness, "Not that email, Doctor. The one that says that Special Agent Gibbs is planning to give up coffee for a day."
"What?" Ducky exclaimed, limping quickly over to the computer.
"Yes. According to Agent DiNozzo, Special Agent Gibbs has also accepted a bet from Tony about it. And Tony is taking bets from people who believe that Gibbs, that is Special Agent Gibbs, can do it. What do you think, Doctor? Can he?"
Ducky looked over Jimmy's shoulder at the email from Tony. "I think, Jimmy," he said, slightly distractedly, "that there's no need for you to constantly refer to Jethro as Special Agent Gibbs or sir. You have been here long enough now to simply call him Gibbs."
"Really, Doctor?" Jimmy's face lit up.
Ducky nodded. "Yes, Jimmy. In fact I believe that it is time that you stopped calling me Doctor Mallard and called me Ducky."
Jimmy opened and closed his mouth, but no words came out, and his eyes shone more brightly than before. Ducky patted his shoulder and smiled. "Do you think Spe - er, Gibbs can do it, Doctor?"
Ducky hid his smile. Maybe changing two names at once was too much to expect the young man to cope with. "Oh, yes, Jimmy," he said. "Jethro can do anything he puts his mind to. I am just not certain, however, that any of us will like the results. Now, I think we've spent enough time on this for now. We have Mr. Tucker's autopsy to begin, we can decide whilst we're doing that, just what we are going to give up for the day."
"Hey, maybe Ducky could give up telling his rambling stories for the d - Ouch," DiNozzo cried, rubbing his head and looking up at Gibbs, who kept walking towards his desk, and then continued on beyond it.
McGee watched his boss leave the office. "You never learn do you, DiNozzo?"
"Not to say anything that Gibbs could interpret as being negative about Ducky."
"Well how was I to know that he'd come back to the office?" Tony was still rubbing his head.
From the look on his face, the slap had been somewhat harder than usual. McGee knew from experience that Gibbs was always careful when he hit one of his team around the head. The surprise was usually far worse than the slap itself. However, something told him this time that Gibbs hadn't been quite as gentle as usual.
"Gibbs always knows what we say and do. You should know that better than any of us," McGee said.
"Am I missing something here?" Ziva suddenly asked.
McGee and DiNozzo glanced at one another. McGee threw the ball firmly into the 'I'm the senior agent here's' court.
"Missing?" DiNozzo said.
McGee winced at the oh-so-obviously false innocence. He sighed. Maybe he should have answered her question, all DiNozzo had done was make her more suspicious.
"Yes. McGee's reference to Ducky. Why should Gibbs be any more upset by something being said about Ducky than anyone else?"
Again DiNozzo and McGee exchanged glances. "They're old friends," DiNozzo managed.
"Surely you've noticed," DiNozzo said, after another glance at McGee and also around him.
"Noticed what? That Dr. Mallard tells long rambling stories that Gibbs clearly knows, but often lets him tell despite being irritated?"
Ziva blinked. "What do you mean 'exactly?' What?" she added, as the two men again exchanged looks.
This time McGee decided it was time he said something. "They're not just good friends."
"What?" Again Ziva looked perplexed. "Is this some American term? Because I don't know what you mean."
DiNozzo rolled his eyes, bent forward and hissed, "They're lovers. Okay."
"Keep your voice down."
"You are joking, Tony." It was a statement.
"But they can't be. Gibbs has been married f - three times."
"What were you about to say?" DiNozzo pounced.
"Nothing. I sometimes forget what language I'm speaking in as I translate." DiNozzo stared. McGee frowned and also stared at the young Mossad agent. "Is this true, McGee?"
McGee frowned again and looked around him carefully. He wanted to be certain that Gibbs wasn't anywhere nearby. "Yes," he said, slowly. "I think so."
"Well, Tony, it's true. We do only think."
"So none of you actually know for certain. You haven't asked him?"
DiNozzo's open mouth matched McGee's own. "Well, gee, Ziva," DiNozzo finally managed. "We never thought of doing that."
"I tell you what, Ziva. You ask him."
"Tony," McGee said, his tone one of warning. He knew Ziva somewhat better than Tony did, and he knew that she just might do that thing.
"Ask me what?" Gibbs appeared, his usual cup of coffee attached to his hand.
The members of his team just stared at one another.
"Jenny, do you think that Gibbs and Dr. Mallard are lovers?" Ziva sat on Jenny's desk and swung her legs.
Jenny laughed and went on laughing. Ziva watched her, mildly curious at the somewhat excessive reaction. Jenny finally stopped laughing and wiped her eyes. "No, Ziva," she said, and smiled. "Why? Who says they are?"
"Tony and McGee."
"They're just winding you up, Ziva."
"Winding me up?" Ziva was puzzled by the term.
"It means teasing you, that kind of thing."
"Ah. So you're certain it is not true? They suggested that I ask Agent Gibbs, but . . . " she trailed off and shrugged.
"I'm certain. I'm not saying that Jethro is homophobic, but he was a Marine. He's been married three times and I know how much he likes women."
"Do you think you and he will get back together?"
"We were never 'together,' Ziva. We had a good time. We went to bed. That's all it was, for either of us."
For the first time since she had met Jenny Shepard, Ziva felt her friend was being less than honest with her. However, Jenny was her friend, so rather than comment she just smiled.
"So is there anything I should know?"
Ziva smiled. And prepared to tell Jenny all that she'd heard that day. It pleased her that she'd fooled Gibbs, that he'd been taken in by her hurt reaction to Tony's accusation - maybe Gibbs wasn't as intelligent or aware as Ziva had always thought. Her pleasure at deceiving Gibbs was suddenly dimmed somewhat as she again heard Tony's words, and she had to fight a shiver from escaping. It was true what she'd said to him, she didn't exactly go running to Jenny, but . . . The result was the same, and she wasn't sure Tony would understand the difference. She wasn't certain she did.
After all, she did tell Jenny everything and took great pleasure in doing so. She knew that the team didn't want her and that they put up with her under sufferance. She knew that, despite her killing Ari and thus saving Gibbs's life, that Gibbs didn't truly trust her. And yet she had a hold over him that no one else had. A secret that no one else - or maybe there was someone - knew. And she knew that troubled Gibbs. Troubled him a lot.
Yet he too held a secret; one that she didn't wish to become known; the secret that she, not Gibbs, had killed her half-brother. She knew that Abby hated her and suspected she knew why. She knew that Dr. Mallard was wary of her, probably because Gibbs was. And whether or not the lovers thing was true or not, and despite Jenny's denial, Ziva suddenly wasn't certain, the two men were certainly very close friends. She strongly suspected that the long-winded doctor knew both her and Gibbs's secret. That thought did make her shiver.
She shook her head. Then shrugged. "A little," she said. "Your country is colder than mine."
Jenny frowned and stared at her. Ziva held herself still, and composed her face. Finally Jenny said, "Come on, I'll buy you dinner, and you can tell me anything you think I should know."
Ziva slid off the desk and followed Jenny out of the door. Dinner would Jenny would be enjoyable, it always was, plus, Jenny tended to tell Ziva things that maybe she should keep to herself, or at least things that Gibbs should hear before anyone else did. Ziva again smiled when she recalled Gibbs defending her and making DiNozzo apologize.
"And what exactly are you planning on giving up, Duck?" Jethro asked, sliding his arms around Ducky and tugging him against him, before lowering his head and kissing him.
When Ducky was able to answer, he tilted his head back and said, his tone one of complete innocence, "How about kissing you?"
Jethro's mouth fell open and his eyes flashed. Then he chuckled. "Oh, yeah, Duck, I can just see you telling Jenn that one."
Ducky tipped his head to one side and said softly, "Actually, my dear, I would be more than willing for my part to tell her. However, I would not be able to fulfill the challenge, therefore it would be a waste of time."
"She doesn't mean anything to me, Duck. You do know that, don't you?" Jethro asked quietly, he looked concerned.
Ducky smiled. "Yes, my dear. I do. But she is still interested in you."
"Nah, she's not. She told me so. Quite clearly."
Ducky stared at his lover. Sometimes he couldn't believe just how innocent Jethro could be about women.
Some time later as they lay together in Jethro's bed, Ducky said, "I know I keep telling you that you drink too much coffee, my dear, but maybe you should have chosen something a little more manageable."
Jethro frowned and pulled back a little. "Don't you think I can do it, Duck?"
"Oh, I know you can, Jethro. I am just concerned for everyone with whom you'll come into contact."
Jethro laughed and pulled Ducky against him. "Maybe I should take the day off, stay here and make love to you all day. That'd keep my mind off coffee."
"Oh, yes, dearest, I can just see you explaining that to Jennifer."
Jethro pushed himself up on to one elbow and looked down at Ducky. "Do you want me to?"
"What? Explain to Jennifer that you are taking the day off to make love to me, in order to take your mind off a lack of caffeine?"
Jethro snorted. "Not exactly, Duck. I meant more do you want me, us, to stop hiding that we're more than just good friends?"
Ducky was silent for a long time and simply stared unblinkingly up at Jethro. Finally when he spoke his voice was controlled, in a way that Jethro rarely heard it. "That is entirely up to you, my dear. I am not the ex-Marine, the team leader, the ladies' man. I have nothing to lose. I'm merely the eccentric Medical Examiner who talks to corpses, tells long, rambling stories, prevaricates from time to time, who still lives with his mother. I hardly think that discovering that I was gay would really surprise anyone; not if they really stopped to think about it."
"It's your house." Jethro's tone was firm.
Ducky frowned quizzically. "My dear?"
"Your mother lives with you. You don't live with her."
Ducky smiled. "Semantics, Jethro. Merely semantics."
Jethro kissed his nose. "I love you, Duck," he said.
"I know, dearest. I love you too." Ducky's response was oddly formal.
"So, do you?"
Ducky sighed and pulled Jethro back down. "Jethro. I am not prepared to answer that question."
"Because giving me what I want makes you happy. And I don't want you to make such a serious decision, one that could have unforeseen consequences, merely to give me what I want."
"Which means you do want me to?"
But Jethro knew the answer to that. He'd known it for almost as long as he'd known Ducky. But could he do it? Ducky was right, but then he usually was. It wouldn't be a big deal for Ducky; it wouldn't really change anything. But Jethro . . . And Jethro was always Ducky's first priority.
"Make love to me, Jethro," was all Ducky would say.
Jethro did so.
And another night passed by.
"What's the time, Duck?"
"Five minutes later than when you last asked me. Seven thirty-five."
"And we've been up for?"
"An hour." Ducky's tone was patient.
"So I've got another sixteen hours and twenty-five minutes to live through?"
"I can't do this, Duck."
"Yes, you can, Jethro. You know you can."
"No, I thought I could. But I can't. Hell, Duck. I've usually had at least two mugs of coffee by now. Look at this." He held out his hand.
Ducky looked. "Look at what?"
"No, Jethro. Actually it isn't."
"But I can feel it." Jethro stared at his hand. It was as steady as it always was. He turned away, raking his hands through his hair, and began to pace. "I feel awful," he said, coming to a stop. "I feel twitchy, my skin's crawling. Can't you give me something?" he whirled around and strode over to Ducky.
"Like what?" Ducky tilted his head back and stared placidly up at Jethro, who loomed over him.
"I don't know. Something. Some kind of shot. Something. Anything. What is it they give to drug addicts when they try to wean them off heroin?"
"Methadone. But you're not addicted to heroin, Jethro." Ducky's voice was calm, as was his look.
"No, just to caffeine. They don't warn you. Tell you. They just let you go on."
"Tell you what?"
"How bloody awful you'll feel when you stop drinking it. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I have told you many times, my dear, that you drink too much coffee."
"And that's meant to make me feel better?" Jethro snarled. Ducky's eyes widened. "It's all right for you, you're -" He cut himself off. "Ah, Duck," he said, his tone gruff. "Come here," he pulled Ducky into his arms. "What's wrong with me?"
"Mostly, my dear, you are getting yourself worked up, and reacting how you think you should be feeling."
"You're trying to tell me it's all in my mind?"
"No. But you are over-reacting. You're thinking yourself into an acute state of withdrawal. You can't feel as dreadful as you think you feel. But you will if you keep on his way." Now Ducky sounded firm. "Have a cup of tea."
"I don't want a damn cup of tea. I hate tea. I need some caffeine."
"Ah, but tea does contain a small amount of caffeine."
Jethro blinked. "Oh."
"Shall I make us a pot?"
"I suppose," Jethro said, ungratefully. Ducky sighed and lowered his eyes. Immediately Jethro felt awful. "Ah, Duck," he said, gathering Ducky even closer to him. "I'm sorry. I'm being a real bastard, aren't I? No," he said with a half-laugh, "don't answer that. Don't let me keep taking it out on you. It's not fair of me."
"Just don't start slapping me around the head," Ducky said.
Jethro kissed him. "Can I do this, Duck"? he asked after a minute or two when peace once more descended over his kitchen.
"Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you can do anything to which you set your mind. Now come along, let us have a nice cup of tea before we drive to the office. It'll be easier when you have something with which to occupy your mind."
Jethro lowered his head even more and whispered something in Ducky's ear.
"Hey, Probie, feeling nervous are we?"
"Er, no, Tony. Should I be?"
"Well, yes. I'm going to be taking $100.00 off you today."
"You really think so, do you?"
"Yes. There's no way that Gibbs is going to get through even an hour without coffee. Let alone - Hey, boss." DiNozzo rubbed the back of his head.
"So far, Tony, it's been eight hours and fifty minutes."
"You sound surprised to see me, Anthony. I do work here, you know."
DiNozzo smiled. "Yeah, I know that, Ducky. Just didn't expect to see you now."
"Ah. Jethro was kind enough to give me a lift to work."
"Morgan broken down?" DiNozzo was trying, and not really succeeding, to sound sympathetic. That's the trouble with these old cars. What you need is -"
"The Morgan's fine, DiNozzo."
"Then how come? I mean Ducky lives in the opposite direction to you."
Gibbs stared down at DiNozzo, who straightened in his chair and looked more alert. "He spent the night with me." He waited.
"Ah, to make sure you didn't sneak in a day's coffee allowance between midnight and him getting here. Nice one, Ducky."
"Why thank you, Tony."
"Mind you, he's devious. Quiet too. I hope you locked him in his room. Otherwise he could have slipped out."
"What did you do then, sleep in the same bed handcuffed to him?" DiNozzo laughed, and looked at Ducky.
"Didn't bother with the handcuffs." Gibbs strode away from DiNozzo's desk, but not before he saw his most senior agent's mouth fall open.
"I had better go and see what Mr. Palmer has been up to," Ducky said, after a moment or two. "He's an excellent assistant and a really nice young man, but I don't like to leave him alone for too long. I'm never quite certain what I'll find when I return. Jethro." He looked up at Jethro; his head tipped back, his hat at a precarious angle.
"Catch you later, Duck." Ducky's eyes twinkled with their usual clear-for-all-to-see deep affection. But also hidden there was a small hint of puzzlement. Gibbs brushed his hand over his shoulder and smiled down at his lover.
"Hey, Ducky," DiNozzo called, as Ducky moved away. "Can we send him down to you if he gets too unbearable? He's always nice to you."
Gibbs glared at DiNozzo, until his agent had the good sense to look abashed. Oh, well, it was one head slap that he could save up for later. The thought made him feel a little better.
Ducky turned and glanced at Gibbs, before looking at DiNozzo and smiling. "You may send Jethro down to me anytime you wish, Tony." He glanced again at Gibbs, nodded once and limping slightly, continued towards the elevators.
Gibbs watched as the elevator swallowed Ducky up, wondering how much time he could justify spending in Autopsy. Not only did it mean he'd be close to the one person who was capable of calming him down simply by his presence. It also put him about as far away from his supply of coffee as it was possible to get while still in the building.
Ducky had faith in him and his abilities, far more so than Gibbs did himself. It had been a foolish choice. But DiNozzo's assertion that he couldn't do it had rankled; plus a tiny nagging voice had told him that told him he was drinking too much coffee.
He could do this.
Ducky said so.
Ducky believed in him.
All he had to do was avoid . . . "Gibbs?"
He slammed the receiver back onto the phone cradle so hard that it knocked the phone onto the floor.
Before he could grab the computer screen, which the phone cord had somehow got itself wrapped around, McGee was there. "Got it, boss." His voice came from behind Gibbs's desk.
"I'll be with the Director," was all Gibbs could think of to say. "Oh, and McGee?"
"Boss?" McGee looked up from where he was untangling the various cables.
"Don't get too used to the lack of tie."
"Oh, I won't, boss. I won't."
In spite of himself, Gibbs had to laugh at the earnest tone. He took the stairs two at a time in his usual fashion; better not give the team too many changes in one day.
"Did you hear that?" Tony hissed, once Gibbs had vanished up the stairs.
"What?" McGee continued to sort out the cables.
Tony got up from his desk and moved over to McGee. "What Gibbs said?" He lowered his tone.
"Which bit in particular, Tony? Hold this up here for a moment."
Tony took the phone and held it several inches above Gibbs's desk. "About him and Ducky, you know."
"No, Tony, I don't know. Put that down there. Thanks."
"That they," Tony glanced around, bent closer to McGee and whispered, "slept together. Shared Gibbs's bed," he added.
"Oh, that. He was just winding you up." McGee sat down in Gibbs's chair, something that Tony wouldn't dream of doing, not unless he was looking for a head slap. But somehow Gibbs never seemed to mind when Probie did it.
It really wasn't fair. He, Anthony DiNozzo, was Gibbs's senior field agent, his most loyal lieutenant; after Ducky and Abby he'd been with Gibbs the longest. And what was his reward? Head slaps and irritable-and-sarcy Gibbs; whereas Probie, who'd only been there five minutes, got hair ruffles and praising Gibbs. No, it wasn't fair.
He watched as McGee's fingers flashed over Gibbs's keyboard at the kind of speed that Tony envied. Not that he'd ever admit to that, well not unless someone had a gun held to his head and some other part of him hooked up to a lie detector. "What are you doing, Probie? Gibbs won't like you fiddling with his computer. You know how he gets."
"I'm just checking that everything is okay after it's tumble."
"You caught it before it hit the ground, McGee. Which I have to say was a masterly move. I'm impressed. We'll make a ball player out of you yet."
McGee glanced up at him. "Huh?"
"Maybe not. So come on, why are you playing around with it?"
"I'm not 'playing around,' Tony. I'm just checking that nothing came loose. If Gibbs comes back and finds the screen fuzzy or covered with funny colors, you know who he'll blame, don't you?"
McGee frowned. "I was thinking of me, Tony. I'm the one he left with it."
"Maybe. But he'd blame me anyway. He always does. Oh, well, I guess it's the price I have to pay for being his right-hand man." McGee just looked at him. Tony hurried on. "You really think he was winding me up about him and Ducky sleeping together?"
"I thought you said that they were lovers."
Tony jumped. "Ziva. I've told you before, don't creep up on me like that."
"I wasn't creeping. Good morning, McGee."
"Tell me that Gibbs and Dr. Mallard are lovers."
"Ssh, keep your voice down." Tony glanced around him. No one was paying Gibbs's team any attention. Nonetheless, he lowered his voice again. "Yes, but -"
"You were just making it up to scratch me."
Ziva frowned. "Itch me." She sounded decisive.
Tony stared. "Itch you?"
"She means irritate, don't you, Ziva?" McGee finished doing whatever he'd been doing and stood up.
"Yes!" Ziva said and smiled at McGee. "Thank you, McGee. Irritate me. You were making it up to irritate me." She stressed the word.
Tony looked from McGee to Ziva and back again. He blinked and briefly shook his head. "No. That is . . . No. I wasn't. It's just that -"
"You never really believed it yourself." McGee went back to his own desk.
"Yes I did. It's just that I -"
"Didn't really believe it yourself."
"I . . ." Tony broke off as the phone on Gibbs's desk rang. He grabbed it. "Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo here. I'm afraid that Special Agent Jethro Gib - Oh, hey, Ducky. Gibbs is with the Director at the moment. What? Sure. I'll tell him." He put the phone down. "Ducky wants to see Gibbs when he's finished with the Director. Back soon."
"Where are you going, Tony?"
"To get coffee. Would you like a cup, Probie? Ziva?" His two coworkers blinked at him.
"Er, Tony, are you feeling okay?"
"No reason. It's just that -"
"You have never offered to buy McGee or myself a cup of coffee before now," Ziva said bluntly. The frown that crossed McGee's face should have told her that she had once again said what a polite person didn't say. "So why are you offering now?" Ziva crossed her arms and stared.
"Can't a teammate buy his coworkers a cup of coffee without having a reason?"
Ziva opened her mouth.
McGee spoke swiftly. "It's all right, Ziva. I know his what his game is."
"Game?" Tony's voice was innocent.
"Yes, game. And it's cruel, Tony. Very cruel." Ziva looked at McGee. "He wants us all to be sitting here with coffee, Ziva, when Gibbs comes back."
"But that's . . . " She came to a spluttering halt.
"How DiNozzo plays the game."
Tony jumped. "Hey, boss," he managed weakly, bracing himself for the slap. It never came. He stood frozen to the spot, unable to move.
"Ducky wants to see you, boss," McGee said, finally breaking the heavy silence.
"Right. I'll be in Autopsy. And don't forget, DiNozzo, it's three coffees you're getting."
Tony still stood unmoving until he heard the ping of the elevator doors.
Jethro strode into Autopsy. "Hey, Duck. You wanted me? Palmer." He nodded in greeting to Ducky's assistant.
Palmer opened his mouth, "Sp -" And shut it again.
He saw Palmer swallow hard, grip his fingers together and screw up his face, before he finally managed, "Gibbs."
"Bravo, Jimmy," Ducky said, coming towards the two men with a smile on his face. "Jethro."
"Duck. You wanted to see me?"
"Ah, yes. I have the report on - Jimmy, would you be so kind as to take these samples up to Abby, please?"
"Of course, Do - Of course." He gave Ducky a weak smile, grabbed the sample jars and fled.
"Oh, dear. The poor boy simply isn't comfortable calling me Ducky. He hasn't managed it once today, despite trying very hard several times. He starts to say 'Doctor', remembers that he shouldn't, but cannot manage Ducky. He did, however, manage to stop himself from saying 'Special Agent' and just call you 'Gibbs'. I suppose that is a start."
"Hmm. I'm not sure he'll manage it after today, Duck. It seemed to cause him pain having to say it."
"Oh, dear. We can't have that, can we? I'll speak to him later. Yes, I'll do that. He's not the first person I've known who has a problem with this kind of informality. It seems strange given today's culture, but it's quite common, actually. I remember a young assistant I had back in -"
"Duck." Jethro's tone was soft, and rich with fond affection. He smiled.
"Yes, my dear?" Ducky glanced at him. "Ah, yes. I'm sorry. You want to know why I asked you to come down here, don't you? It's the report on Petty Officer Simpson. We were quite correct in our assumption, the young man had been - Jethro, why are you looking at me like that?"
"You gave me that report yesterday, Duck." Jethro spoke carefully.
"Did I? Oh, dear me. I must have forgotten. I am so sorry, Jethro. What must you be thinking?" He blinked up at Jethro, and to Jethro's relief that blue eyes twinkled with mirth.
"Yes, my dear?"
"You didn't forget at all, did you?"
"No, dear. Once Tony told me where you were, I thought that the children might prefer it if I distracted you for a few minutes."
Jethro chuckled. "Ah, Duck," he said, brushing a lock of Ducky's hair out of his eyes. "You do know me."
"Well I should, after all these years. Actually, you don't look anywhere near as strained as I expected you to look. Jethro, you didn't give in, did you? You didn't return from her office via the coffee machine?" Ducky sounded hurt.
Jethro hastened to reassure him. He was suddenly aware that if he had given in, the person he'd be letting down most of all would be Ducky, not himself. "Nah, Duck. Oddly enough, rather than irritate me - any more than a summons from Jenn usually does - it made me more determined."
"Mmm. She had no real reason to demand my presence. It was all a ploy on her part to wind me up so much that I would give in. Odd in a way."
"Well, if I do 'give in,' then her Charity loses out. I'd have thought that would have been more important to her, than her personally getting one over on me."
"There is a little more at stake than that, Jethro."
"Ducky, what have you done?" Jethro moved closer to Ducky, put his hands on his shoulders and looked down at him.
"Jennifer was so certain that you wouldn't be able to go even a hour or so, let alone a whole day without coffee. She was disdainful when I assured her that you could. Quite viciously so, I have to add, that before I was really aware of what I was doing I . . . "
"How much, Ducky?"
"Oh, enough that The Alzheimer and Senility Charity Director will be more than pleased when I present him with a check." Ducky eyes glittered. "But then she can afford it."
"Donald Mallard, I don't believe I'm hearing this."
"What, my dear?"
"Where's my chivalrous, I-won't-hear-a-bad-word-against-anyone Ducky gone?"
Ducky sighed. "I'm sorry, Jethro. But I find it more and more difficult to like Jennifer. And I'm not entirely certain that I trust her."
Jethro couldn't answer. He knew what Ducky was feeling.
For several minutes they just stood there, Jethro with his hands still on Ducky's shoulders, Ducky leaning slightly towards him.
Then Ducky moved slightly, tipped his head back, frowned and said, "Jethro, was it wise to say what you said to Tony earlier this morning?"
Jethro shrugged. "There's something else I'm giving up today, Duck."
"Mmm. I'm giving up hiding our true relationship. It's time I stopped pretending. Time I showed you that I'm not ashamed of us."
"I've never thought that were, my dear."
"That's because you have rose-colored glasses when it comes to me."
"Oh, no, I don't, Jethro." Ducky's tone was firm.
Jethro smiled. "You mean I can do bad in your eyes?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes, Jethro," he said firmly. "But I love you anyway. And I know that you return the feeling. That is all that matters. So what exactly are you planning onto do, put an announcement on the notice board?"
Jethro laughed. "If that's what you want, Duck. Then, yeah, I'll do that."
Ducky smiled. "No, my dear. That is not necessary. In fact I don't think that -"
"Dr. Mallard, for once in your life - be quiet." Jethro's tone was firm.
The look on Ducky's face went from surprise to humor in a flash. "Why, certainly, Special Agent Gibbs. Sir," Ducky added evilly.
Jethro laughed. "Ah, Duck," he said. "What would I do without you? No, don't answer that. I don't think I want to know. There's something else. Maybe this isn't the time or place, but -"
"Why, Jethro, you're not thinking of seducing me in front of the cameras, are you?"
"If it makes you be quiet, then yes! Will you please shut up, Ducky."
Ducky did. He smiled instead.
"I've been thinking. Your mother knows about us, doesn't she?"
"As much as Mother knows about anything, my dear. Yes, you know she does."
"Exactly. Well then, what's to stop me from moving in with you?"
Ducky blinked. "You want to live with me?"
"It seems unfair to up-root your mother at her age, so yeah."
"That isn't quite what I meant, Jethro."
"I know. But it's what I meant."
"But, Jethro -"
"If you don't want to, Duck. Just say so. I'll understand. Hell, I'm not the easiest person to live with. Four women have found that out."
"My dear. That is not my concern. I may not have 'lived' with you in the precise sense of the word, but in all other senses I have lived with you for nearly thirty years. There is little, if anything, that you could do that could surprise me. Well, except for what you have just done, or rather said."
"So if my track-record isn't the worry, what is? And please don't say 'your reputation' or anything like that. I don't care any more, Duck. I'm not sure I even did, not in that sense. I'm just tired of hiding. It's something we - I - should have done years and years ago. Long before -"
"Hush, Jethro." Ducky patted Jethro's arm.
Jethro was suddenly hit, not for the first time he had to confess, with an almost overwhelming desire to kiss Ducky. There and then in the middle of Autopsy, and to hell with the cameras. But even with his new 'giving up hiding' motto, he decided that was one step too far - for now at least. He resigned himself to simply covering Ducky's hand and smiling. No doubt anyone watching the cameras, if they bothered to do so, might wonder just why Agent Gibbs and Dr. Mallard were standing in the same place for so long, but let them.
"So what is it, Duck?"
"Are you certain, my dear, that you really want to live with Mother? I know you spend a lot of time at my house, but . . . She's very difficult at times, Jethro. I know that one day I'll have to make a difficult decision, but until then . . ."
"Until then, it's time you had someone to help you look after her. And she likes me."
"That is very true. I sometimes think she prefers you to me."
"Only because I don't snap at her."
"Hmm, I think it's more the way you mix her gin and tonics." Ducky smiled, and Jethro laughed.
"There's that too. So?"
"If it is really what you want, dearest, and not just some aberration due to lack of caffeine, or some feeling of guilt that is affecting you, then, there only is one answer. There only ever could be one. I've always known what it would be. Not that I've really allowed myself to - Yes, dear?" Ducky stopped speaking, and peered up at Jethro, who was watching him.
"Do you think you might share the answer with me, at some stage, Duck? It only takes one word."
"Oh, I am sorry, my dear. I should have said. I just assumed that you would know what it would be, after all we do seem to -"
Ducky's pale eyes twinkled with mirth. "Yes, dear," he said solemnly.
He went on waiting, as Ducky just smiled up at him.
"Answer, Duck," Jethro finally said.
"But I did answer you, Jethro."
Jethro swiftly replayed the conversation in his mind, and saw what he'd missed. God, he needed coffee, lots of it. His brain didn't seem to be functioning without it. "Oh, right. Good. I'll come home with you tonight then. Now, what's the cafeteria tea like?"
"Yes, tea," Jethro growled. "Come on, you can buy me a cup."
Gibbs managed to get through the rest of the day without killing anyone - even DiNozzo. Who, as Gibbs knew he would, kept up his 'dirty' tactics and kept producing coffee - far more than he usually drank.
He also managed to avoid wringing Jenn's neck after she'd 'ordered' him up to her office for the fifth time, so that she could flutter her eyelashes at him and ask him some damn foolish question that she could have asked over the phone.
As the minutes turned into hours, he found himself wishing that some naval personnel would get kidnapped, or murdered, or disappear in a alien space craft, or something. Anything to get him out of the office. He immediately felt a pang of guilt at such a thought, and revised it to something non-fatal and as free from pain and trauma as possible.
The powers that controlled these things, however, were not on his side. And at 5:00 p.m. he was still in the office. The upside was that he had got through a mountain of paperwork. As such he'd managed to throw a dozen reports back at DiNozzo to rewrite, with instructions that they had to be on his desk by 8:00 a.m. the following day.
His head ached. His mouth was dry. And he again felt as though his limbs were twitching. He didn't like to hold out his hand, as he was now certain that it would be shaking. He'd had enough. He knew that he still had several hours to go before he could have coffee, as Jenn had 'sweetly' reminded him on his last visit, the challenge was for the entire day, but he'd cope far better alone with Ducky, well and Mrs. Mallard, than here any longer.
He grabbed the phone and punched Autopsy. "Duck? You ready?"
"But, Jethro, it's only five o'clock." Ducky's surprise was tangible, even over the phone.
"I know. But if I stay here any longer I'll do more than just slap DiNozzo around the head. Come on, Duck, you'll be doing the children a favor if you take me home."
Ducky chuckled. "I'll be up in a few minutes, my dear," he said. His tone was full of the affection it always showed when he spoke to Jethro, no matter where or when or with whom they happened to be.
It was only indeed a few minutes before Ducky appeared in front of Jethro's desk, his hat and coat in place.
Jethro gave him a quick smile, flicked his computer screen off, grabbed his gun from his drawer, his overcoat from behind him, and stood up.
"Going home, boss?" DiNozzo sounded surprised.
Jethro ignored him. "Ready, Duck?"
"Are you going home with him again, Ducky? To make sure that he doesn't overdose on coffee? There's still seven hours to go."
"Six hours and forty-five minutes, actually, Tony."
"Who asked you, McGee? Ow. Thank you, boss. Well, are you, Ducky?"
"If it's really any of your business, DiNozzo, I'm going home with Ducky tonight, we can't expect his neighbor to look after his mother two nights in a row. And the coffee has nothing to do with it," he added in a low voice. It was loud enough to carry to McGee and Ziva's desk, but quiet enough so that the rest of the room wouldn't hear. "Come on, Duck." He put his hand on Ducky's shoulder and turned him towards the elevators.
As they passed Ziva's desk, he paused. He bent down and said softly, so softly that the only person other than Ziva who would have heard his words would have been Ducky, "When you're giving the Director your daily report, Officer David, don't forget to tell her my exact words."
She was good.
The gasp and look of shock was so infinitesimal, one in a million wouldn't have noticed it.
But Jethro was better.
He held her wide-eyed stare for another fraction of a second, and saw her pale even further as she read him.
He stood up, again touched Ducky's shoulder and they continued towards the elevators. "Don't forget, DiNozzo, he called, all twelve reports retyped - correctly this time - on my desk by tomorrow."
"Yes, boss." DiNozzo's tone was subdued.
"The tie will back on tomorrow, boss."
Jethro nodded his approval. He had never once regretted his gamble to take the young man on as a full-time field agent.
A ping announced the arrival of the elevator. Jethro ushered Ducky inside before him and followed him. A second later, he stopped the doors from closing, ignored Ducky's quiet 'Jethro?' and strode back out.
"David," he called. She glanced up. "Here." He sent the safely closed knife spiraling across the room towards her.
This time a million in a million would have recognized her shock.
As the elevator door began to swish shut again, he caught the sound of the knife hitting her desk and heard DiNozzo and McGee begin to speak, their tones were not pleasant ones.
As the door settled into place and the elevator began to move, the antics of his team fled from his mind. Jethro's only thought was for his lover, and whether it would take one G&T or two, before Mrs. Mallard was sleepy enough for them to leave her alone and go to bed.
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