Ari returns to NCIS HQ to see Ducky.
The result of the visit causes a cascade of surprises.
An established relationship story.
Written: August 2005. Word count: 7,913.
"Ah, Jethro. I wondered if you would be able to come down to Autopsy, please."
Gibbs frowned. His gut began to churn. "Duck?" he said carefully. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine, thank you for asking, Jethro. I just need to you come down to Autopsy, please. Alone, if you'd be so kind."
"Ducky, are you sure you're okay?" he asked again.
This time there was a moment's hesitation. Then Ducky said, his voice soft and somewhat flat, "Yes, my dear. Please come and see me. I need you down here." The phone went silent in Gibbs's ear.
"DiNozzo," he shouted. "DiNozzo," he repeated half a second later when there was no response.
"Er, he's not here, boss, er, Gibbs, er. He went to the . . ." McGee's said, looking as he so often did in response to Gibbs's anger, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car.
"Then you get your ass over here, McGee."
"Yes, McGee. You, or I'll kick it for you from here to . . . Just get over here and get me the Autopsy camera on the screen."
McGee, stumbling only once en route, arrived at Gibbs's desk. His fingers flew over the keyboard, and less than a second later the image popped up - static. "Fuck!" Gibbs swore, yanking open
his desk drawer, pulling out his gun, and automatically slipping it into its usual place. "Go and get Tony. Tell him I don't care if he's still taking a crap, I want him here now."
McGee opened and shut his mouth. Managed, "Yes, sir. Boss. Gibbs," and turned.
"You wanted me, boss. What's that?" DiNozzo materialized as if from nowhere.
"That, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, dragging out a headset, and punching numbers into the phone. "Is Autopsy. That bastard's down there again. Here," he threw the headset at DiNozzo, slammed down the phone when it hadn't been answered within one ring, and raced across the office. He heard DiNozzo and McGee behind him.
"Where are you going, boss?" DiNozzo asked as Gibbs punched the down button on the elevator.
"I really don't think that's a good idea, boss." DiNozzo touched Gibbs's arm.
Gibbs, in a single movement, pulled his gun and whirled around to face DiNozzo, moving even closer. He invaded DiNozzo's personal space in a way that he rarely did, even when trying to intimidate criminals. It didn't matter that DiNozzo was an inch or two taller than Gibbs himself, Gibbs knew how to use his height. "I don't give a fuck what you think, DiNozzo. Now let go of my arm and get out of my way. Or you'll see just how good I am with a gun at this close range." He pulled his arm from the grip, cursed as the elevator still hadn't arrived, and headed at a run for the stairs.
He knew that he was behaving illogically, foolishly even. That he was allowing his personal
feelings to take over from his years of training, but he also knew that this time Ari had gone too far.
After Kate's death he had stood by and listened to the man as he told the FBI, Director Morrow, and Gibbs himself how sorry he was that Kate was dead. Gibbs had had to stand there and listen to the bastard lie, claiming that it wasn't him who had pulled the trigger, and that he had tried to prevent it, but that he'd been too late. Yes, he'd acknowledged, he'd threatened Gibbs, but even that he hadn't meant; that had just been about pride, he'd wanted to see Gibbs troubled.
And the FBI had bought the story. Gibbs still couldn't believe it, but they had. Or at least they were prepared to say they did in order to keep Ari. What did the death of one agent matter? Not when weighed up against the potential knowledge that Ari could deliver; the information that could prevent another 9/11. As they pointed out to Gibbs, Agent Todd knew the risks when she'd taken the job; she had known that she might have to die for her country. That was what she had done. Gibbs had come closer at that time than he'd ever done before to crossing a line from which he would not be allowed to return.
One dead agent, one long-term, if not permanently disabled team member was bad enough.
There was no way the man was getting away with injuring - or worse - a third member of Gibbs's team; especially not this one. As he took the stairs three at a time, various scenes popped into his mind; none of them pleasant ones. He made a silent vow there and then that if Ari had touched Ducky, had even scratched him, Gibbs would put a bullet through his brain - and then for good measure he'd empty the rest of the bullets into the bastard's body. He didn't care what might happen to him; no one harmed Ducky and lived to tell the tale.
As concerned and furious as he was, the years he'd spent in the Marines and as a Special Agent clicked in, and he automatically scanned he area as he ran, and took all necessary precautions as he rounded corners.
Pulling open the heavy door leading into the corridor outside Autopsy, he once more went into a defensive stance and swept the immediate area. The silence surrounding him was deafening, and to his half surprise the red ‘infection' sign wasn't in place.
Gun in a two-handed grip, he moved close enough to trigger the automatic door leading into Ducky's lair and moved inside, once more sweeping the area with his gun and his eyes. The latter came to rest on the figure of his long time friend and lover, who stood statue-like. The only hint of movement was the double-handed shaking grip in which he held a gun; the one that Jethro had given him and bullied him into learning how to use properly.
"Ducky?" Jethro moved slowly towards his lover, still keeping an eye on his surroundings; he'd seen Ari's traps before. Ducky didn't move; didn't even give any indication that'd he'd heard Jethro.
"Duck?" Jethro moved closer; still Ducky didn't move. Didn't speak. Did nothing except stand motionless, except for his shaking hands.
Throwing caution to the wind, now desperate to touch his lover, Jethro said softly, "Love?" The shaking spread to Ducky's body, and in two strides, Jethro was by his side, had taken the gun from the quaking grip, pushed the safety back on, and slipped one arm around the quivering shoulders.
He looked down, following the trajectory of the gun. He blinked. "Duck?" he whispered, dragging his eyes from the body on the floor, to look at Ducky. "Duck?" Still Ducky didn't speak. Loath as he was to let go of his friend, Jethro nonetheless moved away long enough to drop to one knee and place his fingers on the carotid artery of the man who lay there, eyes staring up. The lack of even a hint of a throb, told him what he'd known from the moment he'd looked down.
"He was correct, Jethro." Ducky finally spoke. However, the tone was nothing like any Jethro had ever heard his lover use before.
Jethro rose again and moved back to Ducky, gathering him back into a one-armed embrace, as friend and lover did battle with the special agent. Ducky needed the friend; but Jethro still needed to be the special agent. "Duck," he said gently, pushing Ducky away from him slightly. "Was he alone?"
"Yes, my dear. Quite alone," Ducky said, in his non-Ducky voice. He sagged against Jethro, who adjusted his stance to accommodate the additional weight.
Believing Ducky, but nonetheless needing to be sure, Jethro tugged Ducky more tightly against him, managing to dig into his pocket and tug out his cell, all the while keeping a grip on his gun and his attention on the room. "DiNozzo," he snapped. "Check the immediate area surrounding
Autopsy, then wait for my call." He closed the phone and pushed it back into his pocket, and wrapped his other arm around his lover and held him tightly, rocking him back and forth while kissing the top of his head.
They stood there for a long moment, then Jethro remembering Ducky's words said softly, "What was he correct about, Duck?"
Ducky moved away and looked up into Jethro's eyes. The pain and self-hate in the beautiful revealing blue eyes, cut into Jethro. "About me."
"When he was here before, when Caitlin failed to stab him, I asked him to let me have a go. He said no, because I wouldn't hesitate to kill him. However, he added that I would regret it. He was correct, Jethro, on both accounts. I didn't hesitate. And I do regret it. I'm a doctor, Jethro. I heal. I don't take life. I killed him. I murdered him. And I - Oh, Jethro, I believe I'm going to . . ."
Jethro grabbed a bowl and held it, keeping Ducky's hair out of his face and holding him
tightly as his lover was violently sick. All the time he kept up a soothing liturgy of words that didn't form sentences, that were barely coherent, but that should calm Ducky.
Finally, when Ducky seemed to have ceased vomiting and was once again resting heavily against Jethro, Jethro shoved the bowl back onto a nearby counter and pulled out his own handkerchief, wiped Ducky's streaming eyes and damp face for him, and urged him to blow his nose. Then he supported the trembling man to his desk, lowering him into a chair and crouching down in front of him.
Ducky's hands were like ice, and Jethro took them between his and started to rub them, still murmuring nonsense and relying on his presence alone to help.
Moments later Ducky, whose head had fallen to his chest, looked up. Strands of his once white gold hair were plastered against his face, and the rest of it looked a mess. "I'm sorry, my dear," he said, his voice still flat. "You must think me a childish fool. I look at death everyday. I put people back together who have been dissected. I take people apart to help you solve the mystery of their death. I have seen every atrocity that man can do to man and not react to it. I can put my hands inside still warm bodies; I can kneel in blood and worse. I can –"
"Hush," Jethro said, touching Ducky's lips with a finger. "It's not the same thing, Duck."
Jethro shook his head. "Not at all. Dealing with death is one thing. Taking a life is another. Most
people, good people, cops, Marines, soldiers, anyone on the side of law and order, have a bad reaction to their first kill. I've seen harder men than you, Duck, do far worse than merely throwing up. It's human nature."
Ducky looked up and met Jethro's gaze. For the first time since Jethro had entered Autopsy, the gaze that always looked at him with so much love and affection, it never ceased to make Jethro feel unworthy, looked as though it might begin to return to normal. "You aren't just saying that to make me feel better, are you, my dear?"
Jethro shook his head. "Hell, no. You ask DiNozzo about his first kill. It's not easy, Duck. It's enough to make you want to hang up your badge, resign your commission, or even desert."
"Didn't hit me until afterwards, but that's my way. I got drunker than I've ever been before that night, Duck. Close to alcohol poisoning, they told me afterwards. I was a mess when they found me. I'd passed out in the head. For weeks I had nightmares, and vowed I'd never do it again. That I'd do something to get myself dishonorably discharged. And that was a kill from a distance, Duck. This was even worse." The trembling that had begun to lessen increased, and Jethro rose from his crouch, perched on the arm of Ducky's chair and again pulled his lover into his embrace. "Ah, Duck," he whispered, burying his nose in the damp, but silky heavy hair. "Love you," he murmured.
After another few minutes slipped by, Jethro steeled himself to let the special agent once more take over from friend and lover. "Can you tell me what happened, my love?" he asked softly. He waited.
Ducky had to. And far better to tell someone who loved him, someone who knew him, someone who cared about him, than just anyone.
Another moment passed, and Ducky finally raised his head slightly, tilting it back to look at Jethro. The pain in the blue gaze was intense. "He came to tell me he was going to kill you," he said simply. "I couldn't allow that. So I killed him."
"He knew, you see. About us, that is. I don't know exactly how he knew. But he did. He told me that at first he'd thought that Caitlin and you were involved. But later he realized that he was wrong. Apparently the way I said your name gave the game away, that and the way my eyes changed when I spoke the words. But I don't think it could have been that simple."
Jethro said nothing; the bastard had been correct. Ducky's eyes did reveal his feelings. He did speak to and about his lover in a different tone to the way he spoke to or about anyone else. But Jethro had always believed, mainly due to the lack of scuttlebutt around the place, that people had just seen it as close friendship - which fundamentally it was.
Ducky spoke again. "And because of this relationship between you and I, he thought that I had the right to know that he really did intend to kill you. He was giving me the chance to say goodbye to you. It was strange; he must have known that I'd warn you, and yet . . ." Ducky shrugged and looked perplexed. "He turned away from me for a moment, just a second, less. And it was there by my hand. The scalpel. My tool. The gun you'd given me was too far away for me to reach, but even had it been to hand, I think . . . ‘In the head, Ducky. Put a bullet in the bastard's brain,' that's what you taught me, Jethro. But I couldn't. I only had my tool. An extension of me. He turned back and took a step closer to me. Jethro, I swear he knew. The next moment he was lying at my feet, and then I had your gun in my hand. I don't remember anything else until you took it from me. I killed him, Jethro. And I'd do it again. But I do regret doing it. Will they send me to prison? I don't want to go to prison, Jethro."
Jethro, his eyes blurring with tears he'd once told a young child never to be afraid to shed, pulled Ducky even more tightly against him, holding him fiercely and biting down on the near overwhelming urge to pull his gun and empty it into Ari's lifeless body. "Why should they, Duck?" he asked softly, forcing his teeth apart so he could speak.
"Because they wanted him alive. Wanted to use him. You were warned off, Jethro. And I don't have your immunity. I don't have the right to carry a gun and kill. I'm a doctor, my dear, not a special agent."
"It was self-defense, Duck."
"No, my dear. It wasn't. Not strictly speaking. I do not believe he is even armed. He had no intention of harming me. Not physically, that is. He only came here to tell me that he was going to kill you. And I couldn't let him. I murdered him, Jethro. I killed him in cold blood."
"No!" Jethro pushed him further away and shook him slightly. "No, Duck," he said firmly. "You didn't murder him. It was self-defense; you have to believe that. You have to," he ordered. And then because of the steady look in Ducky's eyes, the one that said ‘I won't lie,' Jethro played dirty pool. "For me," he added. He didn't miss the widening in the gaze, and the look that almost resembled accusation. He forced himself to meet it, and hold it.
Suddenly an idea came to him. He knew it was ludicrous, but still he voiced it. "Wait," he said, taking Ducky's shoulders and holding them, feeling the trembling that still shook the body he loved. "I killed him. Simple as that. It wasn't you. I came down here, surprised him, and I killed him. DiNozzo and McGee knew that I suspected he was down here. They'll -"
"Ah, Jethro my dear. You know that's impossible. They wouldn't let me carry out the autopsy and a mere assistant would be able to tell within seconds that the fatal stab was firstly delivered by someone several inches shorter than you. And secondly, by someone who had a vast and intimate knowledge of anatomy. No matter how much you know about the human body, my dear, only a surgeon could strike as effectively and precisely as I did. I'm sorry," Ducky added.
Jethro pulled him back into an embrace, pausing long enough to kiss his forehead. "I'll sort it," he promised. "I swear, Duck. I'll sort it. You won't be made to pay for ridding the world of a depraved evil."
"Oh, but I will, Jethro. I am already paying," and with those words, the storm that Jethro had known was coming broke, and Ducky sagged completely into his arms and began to sob. Jethro merely held him as tightly as he could. He ignored the way the chair arm had begun to dig into his backside, and once more murmured words of love, affection, trust, promises, and hope.
It was at least fifteen minutes before the sobs, that had reduced in volume, began to cease. As they did the violent quaking that had, on more than one occasion, nearly tipped Jethro off the arm, died down, and Ducky's body relaxed, slipping for a moment into what appeared to be a half sleep.
Jethro let him be, content to merely hold him and once again wiped his face with his other clean handkerchief. Aware, however, that DiNozzo would be waiting, alert and ready for his call, he knew that if his lover didn't move of his own accord within the next few minutes, he would, reluctantly, have to disturb him.
Telepathy had often seemed to exist between the two old friends, and this time it seemed to seep even into the lack of awareness, because within a couple of minutes, Ducky's eyes began to flicker and he opened them, and looked up at Jethro. He offered a barely perceptible half-smile. "You had better contact Tony, my dear. The poor boy will be making Timothy's life hell as well as wearing the carpet away."
Kissing Ducky's forehead once more, Jethro bent over and picked up the phone and in a couple of short, sharp sentences, ordered DiNozzo and McGee down to Autopsy. As he hung up the phone, Ducky whispered, "I'm so cold, Jethro."
Jethro tugged off his own jacket and wrapped it around the shivering man's shoulders, pulling it snuggly around them and never once letting Ducky from out of his grip. The sound of the elevator arriving was heard in the silent room.
Ducky moved away from him, but Jethro tugged him back, letting the embrace become slightly less intimate, but nonetheless making it clear that he wasn't moving. He could sense his lover's relief.
The doors swished open and his two young agents entered. Not surprisingly both had their guns in their hands. At the sight of their boss and their ME, and the body on the floor, they put them away, as two pairs of eyes swiveled from the terrorist to the couple in what Jethro knew had to look as it was: an embrace.
"Boss?" DiNozzo asked the question.
Jethro spoke swiftly and firmly. "Ari got into the building - again. Surprised Ducky, threatened him, and Ducky acted in self-defense." He held his agent's gaze unblinkingly, tightening his grip on this lover, daring him through their connection to correct him. Ducky said nothing; he simply edged an inch or so nearer to Jethro.
Suddenly Ducky spoke. Jethro tensed. "Yes, and now I am behaving like a fool."
"No, Ducky, you're not," DiNozzo said, swiftly moving to where Jethro and Ducky sat, and like Jethro earlier, crouched down in front of the chair. Before Jethro could even speak, DiNozzo began to. "Hey, it's okay. Killing isn't easy, Ducky. Not unless you're like him," he nodded to where Ari lay. "I remember the first life I took. I'd just been transferred out of uniform and was out with my Lieutenant. We came across a jewelry shop hold-up. I yelled the warning, the fool ran. I put a bullet in him. The next second I threw up all over myself. I reckoned that was it, my career was over before it had truly begun. You know what happened? My Lieutenant took me back to the precinct, gave me a clean shirt of his, fed me two shots of whiskey and welcomed me to his force. You're a doctor, Ducky. You're not even a cop. You're not a fool." He patted Ducky's arm and met Jethro's eyes.
"Thank you, Tony," Ducky said, his tone sincere, and for the first time containing something more than flatness. "Now if you'll excuse me, I think I shall go and wash my face."
Jethro slid off the chair, but still kept one hand on Ducky's shoulder. "Need a hand, Duck?" he asked softly.
"No, thank you, Jethro. I shall be . . ." he started to stand up. "Oh, dear," he said, clutching Jethro's arm, as his knees gave way. "I believe I shall need your assistance after all, Jethro my dear."
Jethro wrapped his arm around Ducky's shoulders and turned him. The two old friends began to move slowly towards the door. Pausing for a second, Jethro glanced back over his shoulder. "DiNozzo," he said simply and nodded towards the body. DiNozzo nodded once and turned away. Jethro continued to support his lover out of the door.
Tony turned back and stood watching his boss and Ducky for a long moment. And realization hit him. His vague suspicions, the idle thoughts he'd had in a moment of boredom were correct. Jethro Gibbs and Ducky Mallard were lovers.
Tony knew embraces; he'd seen enough of them during his life. He'd even hugged his own close male friends; well he was from Italian descent. He knew a simple friend's embrace, no matter how old and close friends the couple was, from that of a lover's. The way Gibbs had held Ducky was a lover's embrace. There was no doubt about it. Not to mention the ‘Jethro my dear,' that had clearly unintentionally slipped out. And was just as clearly something that Ducky was used to calling Gibbs.
Hearing McGee clear his throat, Tony shrugged and turned back to his job. So what? It didn't matter. It didn't change anything. He just hoped that Ducky made Gibbs happy. It was time his boss was happy, and after three failed marriages, maybe he would be.
"McGee," he said, and nodded at the body.
Jethro hovered over Ducky while he washed his hands, several times, sluiced his face, and swilled his mouth out repeatedly. Then supported him, letting Ducky again rest against him, while Ducky relieved himself, and waited while Ducky again washed his hands.
Once Ducky had appeared to do everything he might wish to do, Jethro gathered him back into an embrace and held him. As Ducky's arms came up and wrapped themselves, as they always did, around Jethro's neck, and Jethro buried his face in Ducky's hair, he suddenly wasn't entirely certain who was giving the comfort and who was taking it. "How about I take you home, Duck, and put you to bed? I think you could use the rest. I'll have to come back, but I'll be home as soon as I can."
"No!" Ducky said, his voice louder than Jethro had ever heard it, the panic clear. He glanced down into Ducky's eyes and read the same panic.
"Ducky?" he said softly, making the name a question.
Ducky pulled himself out of Jethro's arms and moved to the sink again, reaching once more to turn the tap on. Jethro stopped him and firmly turned him around and held him slightly away from him. "You've washed them half a dozen times already, Duck. They're clean."
Ducky lowered his gaze and said nothing. Then he looked up again and said, his voice falsely cheerful. "Just ignore me, my dear. I'm being a foolish old man."
"Less of the ‘old,' Ducky. Now tell me what it is." It was a clear order, as obvious as any one in their day-to-day working situation might be - more so in fact.
Ducky looked up. "I would just rather be with you today, Jethro. Or at least in the same building." When Jethro didn't reply, Ducky said swiftly. "There, I told you I was being a foolish old man."
Jethro pondered just what his lover had said; it was completely out of character. Yes, Ducky was upset at having killed Ari; he would likely suffer for days, weeks even. He might even, as Jethro himself had, have the odd nightmare. But this . . .? There was something Ducky wasn't telling him. Once more holding his lover's arms tightly, Jethro said quietly, "Tell me, Duck." Once more the order was clear.
However, for a moment or two, he thought that it was not going to be obeyed. Then Ducky sighed and looked up at him again. When he spoke his voice was flat and unemotional. "Jethro, Ari did not simply tell me that he was going to kill you; he told me exactly how he was going to do so. He told me in explicit detail. And remember, my dear, like me, he did train as a surgeon."
Jethro tugged Ducky back into his embrace, held him fiercely and once again pondered the validity of emptying his gun, DiNozzo's, McGee's, and Ducky's into the dead body.
He held Ducky for another minute, saying nothing, just relying on his arms to comfort. Then with great reluctance, he had to see the Director before someone else did, he pushed Ducky away and looked down at him. He hated to see his friend in so much pain and looking so ill and . . . Lost - that was the best way he could think of to describe the look. "Duck," he said gently, "As much as I hate to have to do this, I should get back. I have to go and see Director Morrow. He has to know from me before the scuttlebutt hits him."
"I know, my dear," Ducky said, and offered a faint, wan, half-smile.
Jethro brushed his lips across Ducky's, and still keeping his arm around his shoulders, guided him out of the men's room and back into Autopsy. DiNozzo and McGee had done a first-class job. The body had been removed from the floor, the blood cleaned up; even the bowl Ducky had thrown up into had been removed.
For a moment Jethro didn't quite know how to phrase his next words. He could hardly say ‘I need you to look after Ducky for me while I go and see the Director,' but he had to say something.
Then DiNozzo spoke. "Hey, Ducky, Abby wonders if you can go and see her, she wants to ask your advice about brands of tea, or something."
"Yeah. I'm not quite sure why, but she seems to have several in her lab and wants an expert's opinion on them."
Jethro didn't know whether Ducky was fooled by the ploy, but it didn't matter. It solved the immediate problem.
"I'd be delighted to join Abby for afternoon tea. It's the one thing I never have persuaded Jethro to enjoy." He smiled up at this friend, and the blue eyes spoke of his love and affection so clearly, that Jethro knew there and then that their secret, if indeed it still was a secret, was out.
"I need to see the Director," Jethro said, pausing by Director Morrow's personal assistant's desk.
"I'll just check for you, Special Agent Gibbs," she said, her tone one of efficiency with just a hint of mild flirtation, which Gibbs ignored - as always. Moments later she smiled again and said, "Go in, sir."
He nodded his thanks, offered a half smile, and entered the office. "Sir," he said in greeting, as Director Morrow looked up from his desk.
"Jethro?" the question was clear.
Jethro decided that simplicity was the best way. "Ari's dead, sir," he said bluntly and waited.
Director Morrow came to his feet. "Agent Gibbs, you were given a direct order. I may not have agreed with the decision, but ultimately my hands were tied. What on earth made you think you could take matters into your own hands?"
"It wasn't me who killed him, sir."
"Then who was it?"
Jethro took a quick breath and said quietly, "Dr. Mallard."
"Dr. Mallard?" The Director looked shocked.
"Yes, sir. Ari managed to get into Autopsy again, threatened Dr. Mallard. He had no choice, sir. It was self-defense."
The Director met his stare and held it for a long moment. Then he briefly closed his eyes, ran his hand over his head and said, "Sit down, Jethro." Jethro obeyed. Again the Director held his gaze. Finally he said, "How?"
"With one of his autopsy knives, sir."
"Did he have to kill him?"
Jethro held the steely gaze. Then in a swift movement rose to his feet, put his hands on his boss's desk and leaned forward. "Dr. Mallard is a sixty-three year-old Medical Examiner, sir. He is not a trained field agent. He's a doctor. What did you expect him to do? Wrestle the bastard to the floor, pin him down, and wait for me to turn up and put him under arrest? It was Ari or Dr. Mallard. It was self-defense. I know that bastard killed Kate. I know it. I saw his eyes when he stood there and expressed sorrow. I saw them; I read them. He killed her, sir. And we have to stand by and let him get away with it, just because he may be of some use. How many more people do we have to lose? I lost two members of my team because of him; what was Dr. Mallard supposed to do, stand there and make it number three? Sir," he added, as he realized his voice had got louder.
Again Director Morrow said nothing for a long time, he just appraised Jethro quietly and solemnly. "I have to ask you this, Special Agent Gibbs," he finally said. Jethro waited. He knew what was coming. "Will the autopsy bear out this story?"
Jethro straightened up, suddenly realizing how far forward he had leaned. "Yes, sir. It will show that he was killed by someone several inches shorter than me, and who had a far better knowledge of anatomy than I have."
"Thank you. Now do sit down again, Jethro. For what it is worth, I concur with your belief that Ari was responsible for Agent Todd's death. And I accept that what you told me happened, happened. You are correct of course; Dr. Mallard isn't a trained agent. He acted as he had to. How is he?" The tone in the voice changed, and became less official.
Jethro shrugged slightly. "Shaken. Upset. He regrets what he had to do. He told me ‘I'm a doctor, I save lives, I don't take them.' He isn't going to fully recover overnight, sir."
"Where is he now?"
"With Agents DiNozzo and McGee. He preferred to remain here, rather than go home."
"It's probably for the best."
"Jethro. I have to inform the FBI, you know that. And they will insist on questioning Dr. Mallard - alone. You can't interfere. Indeed you shouldn't. You can only protect him so far. As far as you would for any other member of your team." Once again he looked directly at Jethro.
The Director nodded at him and reached for the phone. Jethro stood up, and turned to leave. His boss speaking again stopped him. "Off the record, Agent Gibbs, I'm glad that bastard is dead. And also off the record, I am glad that it wasn't at your hand. My jurisdiction and protection only goes so far. I am sorry for Dr. Mallard though. Please tell him if he needs any time away from work, or if he would like to speak to someone professionally, I'll arrange it."
"Thank you, sir. I'll tell him. I doubt if he'll want to take up either offer, but I'll tell him."
The Director nodded, picked up the receiver and pressed three buttons. Again Jethro turned. This time he reached the door before his boss's voice once again stopped him. "Oh, and Agent Gibbs, please remember the rule that states that any changes in an agent's personal circumstances, should be recorded on his or her file." His voice was mild and free from any hint of displeasure or accusation.
For a second Jethro paused, then said simply, "Yes, sir." As he left the room he heard Director Morrow speaking to his equal number at the FBI.
Jethro came out of the office and ran straight into DiNozzo who was hovering, in what could only be described as a furtively anxious way. Jethro's gut began to churn. "DiNozzo, where's Ducky?"
"With Abby and McGee having some kind of tea party," DiNozzo answered, as he looked around Jethro.
"And the reason that you aren't with them, is . . . ?"
"He's here, boss. Arrived a few minutes ago."
"Here, Jethro," the FBI agent said, closing his cell as he moved towards them. "DiNozzo," he added, glancing at DiNozzo and putting his own slightly odd slant on the way he always said the young man's name.
"What are you doing here, Tobias?" Jethro asked.
"We need to talk, Jethro. Alone," Fornell added.
"Boss?" The single word was a question that over two years of working with DiNozzo allowed Jethro to read as easily as if his agent had voiced it. DiNozzo wanted to know if his boss wished him to go and away and leave him alone with Fornell.
Jethro glanced briefly at his agent. Then he turned to his second oldest friend and tried to read the man that it was said equaled Jethro himself when it came to being a bastard. However, Fornell, like all good special agents, was closed to him. He nodded. "Tony, go back to what you were doing." For a second DiNozzo hesitated. But after another glance at Fornell then at Gibbs, he turned and went down the stairs. "Our usual place?" Jethro said, not waiting for an answer, but simply moving to the elevator.
They entered the steel cage, the place that, if it could talk, would disclose things that neither special agent would want revealed. It began to travel downwards. Seconds later, Jethro hit the emergency stop button. The lights dimmed, and the elevator shuddered to a halt. "Well?"
"How did Ari die, Jethro? The truth." Fornell said, without any further preamble.
Jethro narrowed his eyes and stared at the other man, deliberately hiding his surprise at the words. "How -"
"Do I know? Or how did I get here so quickly? The how is easy, that was my Director I was just talking to, yours called him - but you know that. The how I got here. Well . . . You won't like this, Jethro. Damnit, I don't like it. But I give you my word, I didn't know about it until today. My Director has had one of our agents watching your building. As soon as he saw Ari entering, he called my Director who told me to get over here."
"Fornell," Jethro growled, taking a step nearer to the other man, and towering over him, and trying to use his height to intimidate. Fornell held his ground and merely looked up at Jethro. For almost the first time ever he let Jethro see the truth in his eyes. Jethro saw honesty.
"How come you didn't know?" Jethro finally asked.
"Apparently they didn't trust me not to tell you. They know I owe you."
"I thought that debt had been settled."
Fornell just shrugged.
"Because they knew Ari would try to get to you again."
"You're not trying to tell me that the FBI has been protecting me?"
Fornell made a sound that could have been a half-laugh, but Jethro knew it wasn't. "No, they were protecting Ari."
Jethro moved even nearer to Fornell. "That bastard," he began.
"I know, Jethro. I told you once that if it were up to me, I'd put a bullet through his brain. I meant it. I know he killed Kate. We all do. No one really believed him, Jethro. You know that. But -"
"One agent's life isn't worth much in the grand scheme of things," Jethro said bitterly.
"Something like that." Fornell's tone was equally bitter.
Jethro stared at his old friend and suddenly knew, probably more clearly than he'd ever known before, just why the likes of Fornell and himself were vital to the job, and more importantly, why they'd never become Directors. Yes, they were both bastards, and they encouraged their respective agents to believe that. They drove their agents hard, they played the cold, uncaring role well, but both men did care. Probably too much. The look in the other man's tired eyes told Jethro that Fornell had read him, and agreed with him.
He took a step backwards and leaned against the wall of the elevator. Then he said something he never thought he'd say to anyone other than Ducky. "Do you ever wonder why we do the job?"
"All the time, Jethro," Fornell said softly.
They held one another's gazes for another minute.
Fornell broke the silence. "Tell me, Jethro. There isn't much time. And make it the truth."
"For your ears only?"
"What do you think."
Jethro told him - everything. "But it was self-defense, Tobias. I'll swear to that. Hell, I'd even perjure myself on that point."
"Let's not get dramatic here, Jethro. It's not like you."
Jethro ran a hand over his head. It wasn't. Fornell was correct. But where his lover was concerned, Jethro's distant and cold persona vanished. He cast a rueful half-grin in Fornell's direction.
Fornell held the look, then glanced away and began to speak. "We received confirmation earlier that Ari really was simply playing us all. And that he never had any intention of helping us. That it was all some sick game he was playing. He was to have been apprehended, and whatever measures taken to secure his arrest."
Jethro blinked. "Why didn't your Director call mine?"
Fornell looked at him. "He doesn't know yet. I haven't had time to tell him."
Jethro held the look. "Why are you doing this, Tobias?" he finally asked.
His old friend said quietly, "I owe you, Jethro. I owe you my career, my reputation, and quite possibly my life. My agents might believe that I challenge you for the ‘bastard' tag, but I pay my debts - especially when they're to friends."
"And you?" Jethro said, sensing there was more to come.
"I'm getting out, Jethro."
"Retiring. I have enough years. And I'm tired. Tired of it all. I can't do it anymore, Jethro."
Jethro looked hard at Fornell. He did look tired and suddenly old, even for a man who had looked exhausted and old for as long as Jethro had known him. "What will you do?"
Fornell shrugged. "I don't know yet. But one thing I won't be doing is building a boat. Now shall we get this over with?" He reached past Jethro and unflicked the emergency button. With a shudder and a faint groan, the elevator began to move again.
Jethro caught Fornell's arm. His gut was beginning to trouble him; there was something his friend wasn't telling him. "Tobias?"
The exhausted eyes met him. "Mañana, Jethro." And he would say nothing more.
Following a videoconference between Fornell and his Director, followed by Tom Morrow and the Director of the FBI, Jethro's boss confirmed Fornell's words. As a result of the proof, the FBI would not be causing any problems for NCIS's Medical Examiner. Ari's death was a positive thing rather than a negative one.
Jethro escorted Fornell out of the building. As he said goodbye to his friend, he had the strangest feeling. "Why don't you stop by for a drink tonight, Tobias? I'll even dig out something other than the paint stripper you complain about."
Fornell smiled. "I think Ducky needs your undivided attention, Jethro. He's no special agent. He's a doctor."
Jethro couldn't deny that. But . . . . "Tomorrow then," he pushed.
Fornell looked at him. "No paint stripper?"
"No paint stripper."
"Okay. I'll see you then. No doubt I can let myself in whether you're there or not. That is unless Ducky has taught you some sense?"
Jethro chuckled. "He tries. But yeah, you'll get in." Fornell turned to go. "Tobias?" his friend glanced back. "Thank you," Jethro said simply.
Fornell raised his hand, nodded once and walked away.
Jethro watched him for a moment or two, before turning on his heel and reentering the building. He headed straight for Abby's lab.
He stood in the doorway for a moment or two, watching the scene before him. Ducky, Abby, McGee and DiNozzo were gathered around a table. DiNozzo had been correct; they were having a tea party. Quite where Abby had found what looked like china cups, saucers, a teapot, a white tablecloth, napkins, and the other essentials from, Jethro knew not. But then his Forensic expert, like all of his team, was remarkably adept. Ducky was telling one of his stories, that seemed to feature tea, a pack of hounds, a carrot, and a Duke; Jethro couldn't remember whether he'd heard that one before.
After a moment, Ducky, stopped his tale, turned around, a smile already on his lips. It didn't surprise Jethro that his lover had sensed him. "Jethro my dear," he said, his tone more intimate than it usually was unless the two men were alone.
"Hiya, Duck." Jethro moved nearer, accepting without thought the cup and saucer that Abby thrust into his hand. He studied Ducky. Already he looked better than he had done. Although Ducky's pale eyes were dimmer than they usually were, his face paler and more drawn, several extra wrinkles seeming to have appeared over the course of the day, and his whole body language far from relaxed, his lover was, nonetheless, clearly feeling somewhat better. Jethro moved even nearer and let his hand rest, for a moment, on Ducky's shoulder; the tension, while still present was vastly reduced.
The tea party continued for another quarter of an hour, before Ducky turned to Jethro and asked the obvious question.
"It's all sorted, Duck," Jethro said softly.
"I told you," Abby declared, squeezing Ducky's arm.
"Yes, Abigail," Ducky said, but his eyes were firmly affixed on Jethro. "You did."
Jethro would tell Ducky about Tobias later. He didn't keep secrets from his lover; he never had and he wasn't about to start.
It was another fifteen minutes, before Jethro declared that work was over for the day, including Abby and both of his agents in his words.
"Would you like me to fetch your hat and coat, Ducky?" McGee asked, putting his cup back on the table and standing up.
Ducky paused for a second, then looked up at the young man and said, "Thank you, Timothy. I would appreciate that."
"Are you sure you don't want me to come down with you, Duck?" Jethro said, as he and Ducky stood by the elevator that would take Ducky down to Autopsy.
"I'm sure, my dear. I have to face it alone sometime. You cannot always be here to hold my hand for me, physically or metaphorically. I've been going down, day and night, to my place of work for over fifteen years now. I am not going to let that bastard affect me anymore than he already has. I am not going to let him interfere with my, with our," he added softly, "lives. If I do that, Jethro, he has won. And I refuse to let a murderer win. I decline to let him take over our lives anymore than he has done during the last eighteen months. He is dead, Jethro, and as dreadful as it might sound, I am glad. I still regret killing him; but I am also thankful that I did."
Jethro moved a step closer and tilted the brim of his lover's hat back, so that he could meet the soft blue gaze. As always, when Ducky looked at him, it became even softer and more open with love and affection. "That's my Ducky," he said with a smile. "Contradictory to the end."
"But you wouldn't have me any other way, would you, my dear?" Ducky said, smiling himself now.
"No, Duck. I wouldn't," Jethro said seriously. Then very softly, there weren't more than a handful of agents in the room and they were all over the other side, but even so, said, "I love you, Duck."
Ducky smiled tenderly, the look so moving that for a moment Jethro felt choked up and said, his own voice low and tender, "I love you too, my dearest Jethro." He touched Jethro's arm, completing the circle.
The ‘bing' of the elevator arriving broke their intense gaze. The doors opened and Ducky entered the steel box, smiled his Jethro smile, and nodded once.
Just as the doors were about to close, Jethro slipped inside.
"Sorry, I forgot something." Jethro pushed the emergency halt button, tugged Ducky's hat off while murmuring, "I keep telling you, Duck, I can't kiss you with your hat on." Then he kissed him, briefly, sweetly, chastely, more of a brush of lips than anything else. Then with a wink, a quick ruffle of Ducky's heavy hair, he replaced Ducky's hat, flipped the switch again, touched the other one to reopen the doors, and strode out into the office.
He stood there, however, for a long moment, watching the lights show the descent of the elevator. He stood there until he knew that Ducky would have exited the car, and moved slowly to Autopsy. Then and only then, did he turn and move towards his desk. Ducky would be okay. They'd be okay. Jethro would make sure of that.
His cell phone began to burble, and he tugged it out of his pocket. "Gibbs?"
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