INTO THE SUNSET
Gibbs has to retire and Ducky had always said he would retire at the same time. Gibbs had thought he would be able to easily fill his days, but time hangs heavily on his hands. Bored not only with retirement but also with DC, Gibbs realizes he wants and needs something new in his life.
A first time story.
Written: October 2013. Word count: 3,400.
It was late; the sun had set long ago, but Gibbs was still outside sipping beer and thinking. The sun had not only literally set, it had also set on his career as an NCIS agent. He was fifty-seven, the mandatory age of retirement for NCIS agents and no exceptions were made, not even for the agency's best, most experienced, hardest working agent.
He thought back to his final attempt to get Vance to if not break the rules then at least bend them for him.
"Come on, Leon, you must be able to do something."
"I'm sorry, Gibbs, but as I've already told you at least half a dozen times, there are no exceptions. None - not even for an agent as good as you are."
"But plenty of people work for the agency past fifty-seven. Ducky for instance."
"Dr. Mallard isn't a field agent."
"Yeah, know that, Leon. But -"
"I am sorry, Jethro. It's the agency's loss, but my hands are tied."
"Then untie them."
"I can't; you know that."
"Would you if you could?"
He'd never got an answer to that question, because at that moment Vance's assistant had buzzed to say the SecNav was on the phone.
So that was it. All those years devoted to serving NCIS, to catching the dirt bags, to righting wrong, to taking down criminals, to serving his country - none of it mattered. All that mattered was the date on his birth certificate; the date that declared he was as of that day fifty-seven.
The agency had thrown him a retirement party - well him and Ducky because as he had always known he would, Ducky had opted to retire on the same day as Gibbs, saying it was well past time he handed over the reins to Palmer.
It had actually been a very good party; well it would have been if it hadn't been for him, if it hadn't represented the end of his career. The kids had told him and Ducky they'd miss them and that they'd visit and he was sure they would miss them and would even visit - but it didn't change anything. They would be returning to NCIS the following day and he wouldn't.
He drained the bottle of beer, stared up at the sky and decided to stop being maudlin and wishing for something he couldn't have. He had always known he'd have to retire when he turned fifty-seven - Vance had been right, his hands were tied; there wasn't anything he could have done, even if he'd wanted to.
No, all he could do was start his new life; enjoy his retirement; take pleasure in not being shot at, not having to take lives, not having to get up in the middle of the night to go to a crime scene. He should be glad he would no longer have to referee arguments between the kids, no longer have to put up with DiNozzo's constant movie references and McGee talking to him in a language he didn't understand. He no longer had to do battle with bureaucracy and his life wouldn't be driven by computers and reports. He could enjoy doing what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. He was going to enjoy his retirement and he'd be able to fill his days more than easily.
Decision made he went inside and trudged up the stairs to bed - reminding himself that there wouldn't be any of the middle of the night phone calls.
THE NEXT DAY
He had a very productive day sorting out his basement, something he'd been intending to do for years, but had never really found time to do so. "Well, I'll be damned," he said, as he unearthed a hammer he'd thought he'd lost several years ago.
By the end of the day the basement looked quite different and he'd found quite a few things he'd thought he'd lost - including a bottle of whiskey, which given it wasn't the usual bourbon he drank, but the malt whiskey Ducky tended to drink when he visited, he couldn't work out what it was doing in the basement.
He went back upstairs, took a quick shower and started on dinner. As it cooked, he stood at the window, a bottle of beer in his hand watching the sunset. As he watched the sun sink further and further down, its brilliant colors lighting up the sky, he thought about other sunsets he had seen in the various parts of the world he been deployed to or sent to as an NCIS agent. They'd all been beautiful in their own way, but nothing could beat a sunset at sea.
Suddenly he found himself wondering what a Scottish sunset would be like. The phone ringing pulled him from his thoughts and he grabbed it. "Hey, Duck," he said, "I was just thinking about you."
"Were you?" Ducky sounded a little surprised.
"Yeah. How was your first day of retirement?"
"Perfectly pleasant, thank you. How was yours?"
"Finally sorted the basement out and found a lot of things I'd thought I'd lost. Also found a bottle of your favorite whiskey."
"That was a very strange thing to discover."
"That's what I thought. Hey, Duck, have you had dinner yet?"
"Actually, I haven't. I sat down after tea to read for a short time and, well, I confess I became rather caught up in the story and simply went on reading. I was just about to make myself something."
"Come and have dinner with me." Ducky was silent for a moment. "I can cook you know, Duck."
"Yes, my dear, I know you can. I just - I'd love to come to dinner."
"You sure? You haven't got other plans, have you?"
Ducky laughed softly. "No, Jethro, I have no other plans."
"Good. See you in a bit then?"
"I shall leave shortly."
"Great. Hang on, Duck."
"Why did you call me? Did you want something?"
Once again Ducky didn't reply instantly. Then he said softly, "I'm afraid I must confess that I had no particular reason for calling, Jethro. I merely wished to . . . I called to say hello, that is all."
"You sure you're okay, Duck?"
"Of course I am, Jethro. Why would I not be?"
"It's just - Ah, nothing. See you soon."
"May I ask why you happened to be thinking of me?"
"What? Oh, yeah. I'll tell you when you get here."
"Very well. Goodbye for now."
"Bye, Duck. Drive carefully."
Ducky chuckled softly. "I always do." And with that, it was Ducky who ended the call.
Gibbs stood for a moment and frowned. The conversation had been a perfectly normal one, as had the invitation to dinner, so why did he feel . . . Well, to be honest he wasn't entirely sure what he felt. It was just that something seemed - well, different. It was as if . . . He shook himself and went to set the table for two rather than one before opening a bottle of wine.
AN HOUR OR SO LATER
"That was extremely good, Jethro." Ducky said, putting down his napkin and smiling at Gibbs.
"No need to sound so surprised, Duck." Gibbs started to gather the plates together.
"I wasn't," Ducky sounded a little indignant.
"Sorry, Duck, just teasing. I was," he said, as Ducky stared at him.
Then Ducky chuckled, patted Gibbs's hand and said, "Very well, I'll believe you. Now do let me give you a hand with the dishes."
Gibbs shook his head. "No, you go and sit down. I'll put them in the sink and do them later."
"It really won't - Very well, I'm going."
Gibbs watched Ducky move across the couch and frowned; maybe it was just his imagination, but he thought Ducky was limping a little more than he normally did. "Your leg hurting?"
Ducky sat down a little carefully and nodded. "A little more than it normally does, which given I have spent far less time on my feet today than I usually do, is somewhat surprising. But it's nothing, really it isn't." Ducky smiled at him.
Gibbs stood for a moment, he was sure there was something else on Ducky's mind; once again, although the time they'd spent together had been like any other time, something felt a little strange, a little out of alignment. He told himself it was probably just because they'd both retired; the day hadn't been normal for either of them; that was all it was. It'd take a few days or weeks even before they both adjusted completely to their new lives, but once they did, everything would be right again, as it always had been.
He put the dishes into the sink and filled it with water before returning to the living room. "Whiskey?" he asked, holding up the bottle he'd found in his basement.
Ducky hesitated for a moment before saying. "Yes, why not? I'll have a small one please."
Gibbs poured Ducky a drink and handed it to him before pouring himself a slightly larger glass of bourbon. "So," he said, sitting down at the opposite end of the couch. "You going to tell me why you really called me earlier?"
"There really wasn't a reason, Jethro. It's as I told you, I merely just wished to - It's been a strange day. I kept waiting for -"
"Someone to call and say they've got a body for you?"
Ducky sighed and said quietly, "Something like that, yes."
"Know what you mean. But this is it, Duck. This is our lives now. This is retirement. Got to make the best of it."
"We have indeed and after a few days, I am quite certain it will feel more normal." He smiled at Gibbs who smiled back.
A MONTH LATER
Gibbs was bored. So much for telling himself he'd have plenty to do to fill his days. He did have plenty to do, but he found he actually tired of spending day after day in the basement or tidying the yard or the house.
He'd finally gone through papers and things that he hadn't looked at since Shannon and Kelly had died and made a conscious effort to begin to get rid of things he'd hung onto for far too long. More than once he'd felt that Shannon was watching him, encouraging him, approving of him finally if not letting go completely, then at least letting go partly.
He'd done a number of small repair jobs for some of his elderly neighbors and now had more cakes, cookies and 'just put it in the oven and reheat it, Jethro dear' meals than he knew what to do with. He'd flatly refused to let anyone pay him for what he did, so they cooked for him instead.
He had made a point of not dropping by the Navy Yard nor had he called any of the kids. It wasn't that he didn't want to see them or hear from them, but he knew they'd be finding it difficult to adjust to working life without him or Ducky, and he wanted to give them a bit more time. At least that' what he'd told himself and if he told himself it enough, he'd believe it.
He and Ducky had somehow, without discussing it, fallen into a habit of either having lunch or dinner together every day and Gibbs realized that was the best part of his day. He found he looked forward to seeing Ducky; sometimes they went out, but for the most part they ate either at Ducky's home or Gibbs's - well he had to get rid of all the food his neighbors provided him with somehow.
In fact Ducky was due to arrive soon. As he put the casserole into the oven to reheat, Gibbs suddenly realized he wasn't just bored of not working, he was bored with DC. He was even tired of the house he'd lived in since he and Shannon had married. He was tired of the same streets, the same roads, the same people. He was retired; he no longer had to live in DC; he could move - somewhere. But where? And would he actually be any less bored? It wasn't just a change of location he needed, it was a complete change.
TWO HOURS LATER
"That really was an excellent casserole, Jethro."
"Yeah, Mrs. Fletcher's a great cook."
"She certainly is and I would venture to suggest that asking for a recipe would unfortunately be to no avail, because I suspect she doesn't use one."
"Probably not." Gibbs poured the last of the wine into Ducky's glass.
They sat in silence for a while before Ducky said softly, "Jethro, there is something I . . . Something I have to tell you."
Gibbs glanced at Ducky and frowned. "You're not sick are you, Duck?"
"What? Oh, no. No, Jethro, I am quite healthy, thank you. It's nothing like that."
"Then what is it?"
"Shall we go and sit down and get more comfortable?" However, without waiting for Gibbs to answer him, Ducky stood up and taking his glass with him, made his way over the couch and sat down.
Gibbs swiftly cleared the table and then joined Ducky. "Well?" he demanded as he sat down.
Ducky glanced away from him for a moment before swallowing and saying softly, "Do you remember me telling you - It was years ago, so you probably won't remember. Indeed there is no reason at all why you should remember; it really was only said in passing, so of course you won't remember."
"Remember what, Duck?"
"What? Oh, yes. Um. You see . . . Oh, dear; I'm not entirely certain how to say this."
"Words." Gibbs nodded. "Just say words."
Ducky gave him a faint smile. "Very well. Some years ago, maybe eight or nine or was it -"
"Is when you told me pivotal to what it is you're not telling me?" He spoke rather more loudly than he tended to do.
Ducky looked slightly startled. "Well, no, it isn't."
"Right. So how about forgetting trying to remember just when you told me and instead just tell me."
"Very well. I once told you that when I retired I would return to Britain."
Gibbs thought; he had a vague memory of Ducky telling him that. "I remember," he said, suddenly wondering why it had turned so very cold in the room.
"Well, the thing is," Ducky fell silent and sipped his wine for a moment. "The thing is - Oh, Jethro, I have decided I am going to do that thing. I'm going home, Jethro. I have decided I shall return to Britain," he added softly.
Gibbs stared at his oldest friend and shook his head to clear it; he couldn't have heard Ducky correctly. Ducky wouldn't leave him. Ducky couldn't leave him. He shook himself again; what was he thinking? Ducky wasn't leaving him as such; he was just - leaving.
"Why?" he asked. "I mean I thought you had plenty of friends here."
"And you play Bridge and whatever and you've got a home here and - Why do you want to go back to Britain?"
"I'm not entirely certain I can explain it, Jethro, because I'm not entirely certain I know exactly why. I just know I wish to go. I want to see the hills and mountains and the skies and the greenery and the beauty of the country in which I was born again."
"Can't you go for a visit?"
"I could. But - No, Jethro. I have decided. It's not something I've decided on lightly; I have actually been thinking about it since we retired."
"You never said anything."
"No, because I wasn't certain then and I didn't want to - I didn't want to tell you until I had made a decision."
Gibbs really didn't know what to say. He was still trying to get his head around the fact that Ducky was going to leave him. "When?" he demanded. "When are you going to leave m- DC," he hastily corrected.
"I haven't got an exact date in mind, but I wish to be back for Christmas."
"I'll come with you," Gibbs heard himself say.
Ducky stared at him. "What? Jethro? What are you saying? What do you mean?"
That was a very good question. Just what did he mean? "Um," he managed, now irritated with himself for being so indecisive. Why had he said it? Sure he'd miss Ducky, but they could call and he could even get a computer and they could email one another. It wasn't as if he didn't have any other friends in DC, was it? He had . . . He had Fornell.
Ducky was staring at him in silence. "What do you mean, Jethro?" he repeated softly, and then surprised Gibbs by asking, "Or do you not actually know?"
"Of course I know!"
"Good. Then why don't you tell me?" Gibbs remained silent. Ducky sighed softly and asked, "Are you suggesting you come for a holiday? Because you would of course be very welcome. I'd be more than happy for you to do so. I could show you some of the wonderful places in Scotland and England. And would you actually want to come with me when I go or come later. Or -"
"But, Jethro, I - Jethro?" Gibbs pulled Ducky to his feet. "What are you -" Gibbs silenced Ducky by kissing him. He felt Ducky's surprise and hesitation, but it only lasted for a moment two, before Ducky put his arms around Gibbs and began to return the kiss.
As Gibbs's mouth parted Ducky's and he slipped his tongue into Ducky's mouth, he idly wondered why kissing another man didn't feel strange. However, the answer was simple: it wasn't just another man he was kissing, it was Ducky, his closest friend and the man he'd loved as a friend for as long as he could remember who he was kissing.
Finally, realizing that even he could only go on kissing someone for so long before he had to break away in order to breathe, Gibbs took his mouth from Ducky's and gazed down at Ducky who now looked stunned.
"What . . . Why . . . Jethro, are you quite well?"
"Perfectly, thanks, Duck."
"But you kissed me."
"Yeah. Noticed that."
"But . . . Jethro, why now?"
Gibbs shrugged. "Why not?" Ducky opened his mouth and closed it again. Gibbs pulled him just a little nearer to him and said, "You see, Duck, I don't want to come on holiday with you, I thought we could ride off into the sunset together."
Ducky moved back a little and stared up at Gibbs. Gibbs saw the twinkle in Ducky's eyes and waited. "Jethro?"
"You are aware that the sun sets in the west, are you not?"
Gibbs decided to simply play along. "You know what, Duck? I do know that."
"And that the UK is in fact to the east of the States?"
"Yep, know that too, Duck. Your point?"
"Well, my dear, we can hardly ride off into the sunset now, can we?"
Gibbs growled softly before lowering his head and kissing Ducky again.
TWO MONTHS LATER
It was early evening, two hours before their flight to Britain was due to take off; two hours before the sun would set.
It had taken Gibbs some careful research (well it had taken McGee) but he'd finally managed to find a flight that would depart just as the sun was setting. Thus while they might not be riding off into the sunset together, they would be flying off together as the sun set.
The kids all went with them to the airport. After multiple hugs all around and promises to email, call, write, Skype (at least that's what Gibbs thought Abby had said, he made a mental note to ask Ducky what Skype or whatever it was Abby had said actually was) and an open invitation for any of them to visit as any time they parted company.
"You ready, Duck?"
"Yes, my dear Jethro? And you?"
"Never been readier," Gibbs said and smiled down at Ducky.
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