THE COMMON FACTOR
Set towards the end of Season Two; after The Meat Puzzle but before SWAK, and written with the assumption that one has no knowledge of Seasons Three and Four.
A serial killer is on the loose, raping and killing highly ranked Marine officers. Despite Gibbs's best efforts to find the man or even some clues, the team keeps running up against dead ends. It isn't until the fourth body is found that Ducky has a sudden inspiration. His idea leads to Gibbs going undercover, in an attempt to lure the killer into attacking him. His gut tells him that they have their man, but somehow he has to entice the suspect into making his move, without losing his own life.
An established relationship story.
Written: February 2007. Word count: 13,316.
MORNING - 7TH MARCH
"Damn," muttered Gibbs, crouching down by the half-naked, beaten body of the dead Marine Colonel. "Duck?" he glanced across the body and met Ducky's somber gaze. "Was he?"
"It looks that way, Jethro. However, I cannot be entirely certain until I get him home."
And Ducky was right of course. They couldn't be certain. But Gibbs knew. His gut told him. "Time of death?"
Ducky pulled the liver probe out of the corpse and glanced it; Jethro could see his friend swiftly calculating. "Given his temperature and the fact that it dropped below freezing last night, I'd say around zero two-hundred, certainly no later than zero two-thirty."
Gibbs looked at the marks on the body. "It's the same MO, isn't it?"
Ducky nodded. "I believe so. I'll know for certain once I -"
"Get him home. Yeah, I know. Take him, Duck. He'll tell you more than he'll tell us." But would he? Why would he, when the other three hadn't? So far they had nothing, less than nothing to go on.
Four dead bodies. The men all Marines, or at least retired Marines. Two had been newly retired, one retired about a year; as for the latest - Colonel Thompson, according to his wallet, obliging and uselessly, like all the others, left by the body, - he had two more years to go. Other than scratches and bruises and signs of a fairly brutal rape, the bodies had revealed nothing. The tox screens had all been clear; none of the victims had been hit over the head to knock them out; there was no blood under their finger-nails; no fingerprints, no helpful strands of hair; not even any semen or other bodily fluids, other than those belonging to the dead men. Nothing. Nor had the killer, thus far at least, left any evidence anywhere else.
All they had was the pattern. The body of a dead Marine, raped before he was killed, every four days. They were all found in a fairly, but not overly, out of the way place. By their sides were their wallets, keys, credit cards, and other items men carry in their pockets. All of them had been murdered elsewhere and moved; but that was all they had to go on.
Kate's profile had been vague; it had told Gibbs nothing that he hadn't already worked out. The man was methodical; intelligent; appeared to have a grudge against Marines, possibly because of some harm, intentional or unintentional being done to a family member. He was almost certainly unmarried, nor was he likely to be living with anyone; and he was obsessive about detail and order. And that was it.
Gibbs didn't blame Kate. It wasn't her fault that all her fancy training wasn't able to pinpoint anything concrete about the bastard responsible. No, illogically, he blamed himself. He should have found something, anything, to go on by now. And despite the fact that he'd worked on more than one serial murder case, he still felt he should have prevented the latter murders.
"DiNozzo," he barked, standing up and glancing around.
"Have you finished snapping?"
"Kate? Finished sketching?"
"McGee. Got enough measurements?"
"Yes, sir. Er, boss."
"Go on then, Duck. We'll see back home later." Gibbs reached out and touched Ducky's shoulder. Ducky smiled gently, and nodded.
"Mr. Palmer," he called.
"Yes, Doctor?" Ducky's young assistant, who had for some reason been facing the other way, spun round, lost his balance and careered into Gibbs, knocking the cup Gibbs had just picked back up onto the ground.
There was a collective gasp from Gibbs's three agents, followed by a tense silence.
Ducky's eyes widened and he looked from Palmer to Gibbs and back again.
Palmer himself began to impersonate a goldfish. "I'm terribly sorry, Special Agent Gibbs, sir. I didn't mean to . . . Here let me," he bent down and grabbed the cup that, despite landing on its side, hadn't started to leak. Immediately the lid came off, and black liquid spread out over the ground. "Oh, dear," Palmer said, looking up and starting frantically at Gibbs. "Maybe I could . . ." He looked around him wildly and began to move towards the truck.
"Mr. Palmer!" Ducky said sharply.
Palmer stopped dead and turned back round. "Yes, Doctor?"
Ducky met the started gaze and sighed. "Get the body bag and gurney, if you would be so kind."
Palmer again did his goldfish act, looked from Gibbs to Ducky and then, with another, "Yes, Doctor," raced off, tripping and half-falling once, towards the Medical Examiner's vehicle.
Ducky turned to Gibbs, moved near to him, tipped back his head and said, "I'm terribly sorry, Jethro. Mr. Palmer can be somewhat clumsy, shall we say."
Gibbs, who normally reacted badly whenever anyone so much as looked at his coffee, touched Ducky's arm. "It's all right, Duck. It wasn't intentional, and it was getting cold anyway."
Ducky's look became pensive. "Ah, Jethro," he said softly, his tone heavy with understanding.
Gibbs nodded briefly. "Tell you what, Duck, come back with me."
"With you, Jethro? But what about -"
"DiNozzo, Kate and McGee can handle it. We know what they're going to find, don't we?"
"Just like the other three. Damnit, Duck. I want this bastard."
"I know, my dear," Ducky said, his tone still soft.
Gibbs whirled around. "DiNozzo," he called.
"You and Kate bring the truck back. McGee."
"You help Palmer and ride back with him. See if you manage to keep him from getting lost."
"Er, yes, boss," McGee answered, glancing at DiNozzo.
"And where will you be, boss?" DiNozzo asked.
"Back home. Come on, Duck."
"You're taking Ducky back with you?"
Gibbs, who had been walking towards the sedan, Ducky at his side, stopped and turned around. "Yes, Agent Todd. Why, do you have a problem with that?"
"No, of course not. I just . . ."
Gibbs moved back towards her, moved intimidatingly close and stared down at her. She held her ground, but swallowed hard several times. "You just what, Kate?"
"Wondered why that's all. But you must have a reason."
"Yes, Agent Todd. I do." Gibbs turned around and strode back to where Ducky waited by the car.
"Well, that was a surprise," Kate said, as the car wheels screamed and Gibbs pulled out of the parking lot.
"Not really." Tony stared after the departing sedan.
"Gibbs has left a crime scene before all the evidence has been collected. He's taken Ducky with him, thus leaving Jimmy with the body, and you say that's not surprising. What have I missed this time?"
"Yes, Tony. Kate's right. It is kind of weird."
"Oh, and you'd know this because you've worked with Gibbs for how long, Probie? Oh, yes, wait of, course, it's all of eight months now, isn't it?"
"McGee's worked with us for longer than that, Tony."
"No, that doesn't count. Then he only assisted us, as a part time field agent. That doesn't count, he wasn't based in DC. Isn't that right, Probie?"
McGee flushed and glanced away. "Sorry, I just -"
Tony briefly touched McGee's arm. "Yeah, I know, kid. I know."
At that moment the sound of Jimmy Palmer returning with the body bag and gurney, and once more tripping over, broke into the agents' attention. "Where's Dr. Mallard?" he said, looking around him, as if expecting Ducky to materialize out of thin air.
"Gone back with Gibbs," Kate said.
"Gone back?" Palmer squeaked.
"Yes, Palmer. Why is that a problem?" Tony looked at Ducky's assistant who was once more looking around him.
"What about the body?"
"You'll take it back with you," Tony said patiently.
"No, Palmer. Special Agent McGee here will help you. McGee, help Palmer now. Kate, you and I'll do another sweep of the area before we go."
"Wait, Tony," Kate moved nearer to him and stood in front of him; her ‘determined' look on her face. "First, tell us why it's not all that surprising that Gibbs has gone back, and taken Ducky with him."
Tony sighed and looked from one of his coworkers to the other; they were all watching him attentively. "This is the fourth body we've been called to in what, two weeks?" Kate nodded. "They're all Marines, all older men, and they've all been raped. What, Palmer?" he demanded.
"It's just that, Agent DiNozzo, Dr. Mallard hasn't confirmed that this particular Marine has been raped. I heard him tell Special Agent Gibbs that quite clearly. So -"
"Shut up." He glared at the young man, who opened and closed his mouth several times, before flushing and glancing away. "Gibbs feels he should already have caught the bastard responsible."
"But he's worked lots of serial murder cases before, why is this making him behave oddly?"
Tony frowned. "Okay, Kate, look at it this way. What if the victims were all women, in their mid to late twenties, with some connection or other to law enforcement, say? Wouldn't that make you want to work just that little bit harder to catch the bastard?"
Kate's mouth fell open slightly. "Oh," she said. "You mean that Gibbs is somehow identifying with the victims?"
"Yes. He's an ex-Marine, he's around their age."
"But again it won't be the first time he's done that kind of thing. What's so different?"
"They were raped," McGee said softly.
"Well done, Probie. They were raped." Kate still looked puzzled. "What do most women consider to be the ultimate crime against them?"
"Rape," Kate said slowly.
"And men feel the same. Maybe they even feel worse. Come on, Kate, you're the profiler, you've done the psychology courses, isn't it true?"
Kate nodded. "I hadn't thought of that. It's just . . . "
"Well Gibbs, he's usually so . . ."
"Focused?" McGee ventured.
"I was going to say detached."
"Yeah, Kate, real detached. That's why he spent all those nights at the office trying to find out who Ari was. That's why he drives himself and us to exhaustion. That's how detached he is."
"Okay, point. But what I still don't get, Tony, is if he feels like that, why has he left us to work the scene alone, rather than staying to watch over us? And what's more, why has he taken Ducky back with him."
"He needs to talk to someone."
"But Ducky's an ME, not a Special Agent."
"I didn't say he needed to talk about the case, Kate. I said 'he needs to talk'. Besides, Ducky's been around a lot longer than several of the agents in the office put together, he probably knows as much about working a case, more possible, than most of us."
"I just can't see Gibbs talking to anyone; not even Ducky."
"They've been friends for over twenty-five years," McGee said suddenly. "Abby told me," he said, his tone defensive, as his fellow agents looked at him.
"Yes, but the words ‘Gibbs' and ‘talk' aren't exactly synonymous," Kate said.
"Actually," Palmer said, speaking for the first time since Tony had ordered him to shut up. "Special Agent Gibbs does turn up in Autopsy a lot."
"Yes, when Ducky has information to give him."
"Oh, no, Agent Todd. Well, that is, yes, of course he does then. But I meant at other times as well. Before Dr. Mallard has called him, sometimes even before we've started the Autopsy."
"Oh," Kate blinked.
"Where did you think Gibbs was when he wasn't at his desk, and you knew that neither Ducky nor Abby had called him down to see either of them?"
"Well, I hadn't really ever thought about it. But if I had, I'd have assumed he was getting coffee, or with the Director, or in the bathroom. Or . . . Well, I don't know, Tony. As I said, I'd never really thought about it. But then, I don't spend my entire waking life trying to find ways to impress Gibbs, or get into his good books," Kate smiled sweetly at Tony.
Tony just stared at her. "We've got a crime scene to finish processing," he said. "McGee, Palmer, body. Kate, check the perimeter again to the north. Let's see if we can find something this time." He turned on his heel and strode over to the body, took several more swift shots before Palmer and McGee reached him, and then began his own perimeter search to the south."
"It isn't your fault, Jethro," Ducky said, relaxing back into the seat as Jethro pulled out into the far lane. He wasn't bothered by the fact that Jethro was technically driving at twenty-five miles over the speed limit, nor by the fact that the car he'd cut up was blaring its horn and flashing its lights. He'd been in a car far too many times with his old friend to let minor things like that concern him.
"But I should have found something by now, Duck. This makes number four. And I'm no nearer to catching the bastard than I was two weeks ago." Gibbs swung the wheel hard, pulling the car back into the middle lane and then back out again moments later, after he'd raced past a car in the outside lane that was daring to travel a mere five miles over the speed limit. "What am I missing?" he glanced away from the road for a moment and met Ducky's eyes. "Why can't we find anything?"
As the sound of several blaring horns filled the car, Ducky nodded towards the road. "Jethro," he said quietly. Jethro glanced back, suddenly noticing that the car had begun to drift and straightened it up again.
"Sorry, Duck," he said, reducing the speed by a fraction.
"That's all right, my dear. But why do we not stop somewhere for a coffee? The children won't be home for at least another hour, probably longer if Tony chooses to follow Mr. Palmer."
Jethro glanced at him again, smiled briefly and turned his attention back to the road. "You're prescribing me coffee? God, I must be bad, Duck." Then he added, "Ah, why the hell not." He yanked the steering wheel hard to the right, causing more horns to be blasted and more lights to be flashed, not to mention the sudden squealing of tires.
Seated in a booth in the coffee shop, Ducky studied his friend. Jethro looked tired, even for the man who habitually had dark circles under his eyes; now his dark circles had dark circles. He wasn't sleeping well, Ducky could attest to that. Too often over the last two weeks he had awoken and found the bed empty. After trekking down two flights of stairs, to find Jethro working on his boat, for the third time, Ducky had given up, and now he simply went back to sleep - or at least tried to. Even he could only do so much for Jethro at times like this; even he could only intrude on his friend's privacy so far.
He wished fervently that this murder would be the one that would give them the evidence they needed to catch the person responsible; a lead even. Not just because he hated to see Jethro like this, but also because he owed Mrs. Patterson so many favors, he suspected he'd be his mother's age by the time he'd repaid them all.
Jethro might seem to prefer working on his boat to sleeping or being with Ducky, but his lover was demanding Ducky's presence in his house far more than he usually did. And the demands had become far less subtle as the days had gone on. In fact, Ducky could hardly remember the last night he'd spent in his own bed. Driving back and forth between his house, he insisted on going to see his mother at least once each day, and Jethro's every night was, beginning to take its toll on Ducky himself - as were the nights with broken sleep. Doctor or not, Ducky's reserves were being used up. He as after all, sixty-two.
The coffee shop was virtually empty at this time of the day, and they were seated in a booth at the back, so Ducky, after glancing swiftly around, reached across the table and covered Jethro's hand with his own. "You will find him, my dear," he said softly. "I know you will. You always do."
Jethro turned his hand over and briefly squeezed Ducky's, his grip tight. "Yeah, Duck, but when? How many more Marines are going to be brutally raped and murdered before I do catch the bastard? I need something to work with. He's not leaving me any clues. Why the hell not?" The grip became tighter. Ducky glanced at their joined hands, idly noticing that they were both becoming white.
He patted Jethro's hand with his other hand. "Jethro," he said softly. The fierce grip loosened, and after squeezing Ducky's hand one more time, Jethro let go and turned his attention back to his coffee.
"We don't even know what the men had in common, if anything. Other than them being Marines, that is. That's what's so odd, Duck. They are all, or were, highly ranked officers, career men, good officers, respected by their crews, but no one seems to know anything about their private lives."
"That, or they're not telling," Ducky said softly.
Jethro stared at Ducky for a long moment, his dark eyes widening, his weather-tanned hue paling. "Ducky?" he said softly. "Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?"
"It is possible, is it not?"
Jethro shook his head, but Ducky knew the gesture wasn't one of denial. "I guess. I mean I'd never thought of it. And I should have done. It's just that they are all officers. You know scuttlebutt, Duck. Surely someone would have known."
"Would they?" Ducky stared into Jethro's dark gaze; his voice was even softer. "And maybe someone does, but until you ask the correct question . . . "
"Then no one's going to give me the right answer. They're protecting their loved ones. And they're telling themselves that it couldn't possibly have anything to do with their deaths, so why mention it?"
"Indeed. I sometimes think that death makes us more determined to defend our loved ones and to keep their secrets. 'Don't ask; don't tell'."
"Damnit, Duck. You could be right. But this is between us for now, right? I'll find out. I'll go and see Colonel Thompson's next of kin on my own. Promise me, Duck. Nothing to the team until I know for sure."
"Of course, my dear," Ducky said, pushing his half-full cup of coffee across the table for Jethro to drain.
The drive back to Headquarters was conducted at a marginally slower speed than the drive to the coffee shop.
Jethro left Ducky to await the children and the body of Colonel Thompson, and left to go and interview the victim's next of kin - his brother.
"We know what they had in common." Gibbs strode back into the office, his ever-present cup of coffee in one hand.
"They all preferred the company of men to women." Gibbs went behind his desk and flipped his computer screen back on.
"They were gay, DiNozzo," Gibbs snapped and looked up.
"But I thought . . ." DiNozzo trailed off.
Gibbs stared at him unblinkingly. "You thought what, DiNozzo?" The tone of his voice gave DiNozzo no out.
"That Marines didn't . . . That it was considered . . ."
Still Gibbs stared at him. He was aware that Kate and McGee were watching and waiting, not willing to join DiNozzo in the hole he was digging himself into. "I'm waiting, DiNozzo," he said softly.
DiNozzo swallowed. "Not exactly encouraged," he said, in a sudden rush.
"No. Well, I don't exactly 'encourage' you to chase after anything in a skirt. But when did that stop you."
"Sorry, boss," DiNozzo muttered.
"Do we know anything else, Gibbs?" Kate asked.
Gibbs turned his attention to her. "They were all members of Strands. It's a particularly high class, very exclusive gay bar down town."
"So you think that they maybe met someone there, who . . ." Kate trailed off under Gibbs's stare.
"Well, gee, Agent Todd, I hadn't thought of that." Kate flushed.
"So, you think we should, you know, put someone in under cover, boss?"
"Yes, McGee. I do."
"I'll go," DiNozzo said, standing up.
Kate spluttered with laughter. "You, Tony?"
DiNozzo turned to her. "Yes, Kate, me. Why do you have a problem with that?"
"I don't, no. But I'm just remember the whole he/she incident. But, hey, I forgot you've probably grown up since then. It was after all, what? Ten months ago?"
DiNozzo opened his mouth to reply. But as Gibbs again glared at him, he closed it again quickly. "Well, boss?" he asked. "You know I'm good at undercover work. I could do it."
Gibbs stared at his senior field agent for several minutes. "Come here," he said, gentling his tone.
After a quick glance at Kate and McGee, DiNozzo moved across the office to stand in front of Gibbs's desk.
Gibbs moved slowly out from behind it, letting his gaze run up and down DiNozzo's body. The message was clear for all to read.
DiNozzo's eyes widened, he swallowed hard, his body began to tense up, and sweat began to appear on his upper lip.
Gibbs took another step forward and brought one hand up slowly and ran his fingers over DiNozzo's face, while his other hand began to caress the now rigid back. DiNozzo looked to be in shock. His entire body language screamed ‘run' as he backed away as far as possible from Gibbs's touch, without him actually moving his feet.
Gibbs ceased his touches and instead, in a slow, sensual move, brought his hands up and cupped DiNozzo's face, pulling the younger man towards him and letting his lips touch DiNozzo's. The reaction was everything that Gibbs had been expecting, and he easily avoided the punch that DiNozzo swung at him.
A combined gasp from Kate and McGee followed by utter silence filled the air, as for a second DiNozzo squared off against Gibbs. Then he realized what he'd done; sheer terror crossed the suddenly ashen face, and he began a stumbling apology.
Gibbs held up his hand and shook his head. "It's okay, Tony. You don't need to apologize. You simply proved what I knew would happen."
DiNozzo, still looking pale and guilty, took a step away and said, "Boss?"
Gibbs flicked his glance to Kate.
"He was trying to prove, Tony, that there's no way you could go into a gay bar and keep your cover."
"Very good, Kate," Gibbs said approvingly. He turned his attention back to DiNozzo. "You know me, Tony. We've worked together for over three years, hell, you've even lived with me for a few weeks. I've slapped you around the head enough for you to know my hands, and yet, I touched you in a sexual way and you -"
"Freaked," DiNozzo said dryly. "Look, boss, give me another chance. I wasn't expecting it."
Gibbs have him a half smile. "Exactly, DiNozzo." He held DiNozzo's look for a moment before calling, "McGee," as he turned his attention to his other male field agent.
"Sir? Er, boss. Er, Gibbs?"
Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Get over here," he ordered, albeit fairly gently.
After a moment or two of impersonating a goldfish, combined with a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car, McGee scurried over. "Boss?" he managed, looking at Gibbs.
"Now, you are expecting it, McGee," Gibbs said simply, reaching out and tugging the younger man nearer to him. He began to stroke McGee's upper arms and neck, moving onto his chin, just as he had with DiNozzo.
The reaction wasn't quite as severe as DiNozzo's had been, McGee at least held his ground, didn't become as taut as his coworker had, and didn't look to be in shock. But he was unmoving, unyielding, a statue under Gibbs's hands. Moments later, Gibbs cupped McGee's face and moved his mouth to cover that of the younger man. They were dry, clamped tightly together, and shaking slightly.
Seconds later Gibbs broke away, squeezed McGee's shoulder and moved back behind his desk, picked up his coffee and drained the cup. "Nope," he said, as his three agents watched him. "You won't do either. Now who else . . ." He glanced around the office, hiding a smile as all the men hastily returned their attention to their screens or desks, and made themselves look half their size.
Swallowing the last dregs of his coffee before he went in, Gibbs entered Autopsy. "Ducky?" he called.
A clattering of a metal bowl rang through the air, as Jimmy Palmer spun around and stared at him. "Special Agent Gibbs," he managed, stumbling over the three words. Then he turned, muttered, "Dr. Mallard, I have to go to -" and sped out of the room as fast as he could.
Gibbs stared after him and sighed. So it had reached this far. Well, it had been all of ten minutes ago, why should he be surprised? "Duck?" he called again.
"I'm here, Jethro," Ducky appeared from his small office and smiled up at his friend. "I hear that you have been causing quite a stir. Should I be worried or jealous?"
Gibbs moved towards Ducky and put his hand on the other man's shoulder, letting the touch linger. Ducky didn't move away, nor did his body become tense. "Nah, Duck. They're just kids."
Ducky patted Gibbs's hand and took two steps nearer, invading Gibbs's personal space and surrounding Gibbs with the heady mixture of Formaldehyde, blood, the light forest cologne that he had first bought Ducky, and Ducky's own scent. The unique combination was one Gibbs never tired of inhaling.
Ducky was near enough to have to tip his head right back in order to meet Gibbs's eyes. The blue, that had gotten slightly paler over the years, just as the blond hair had gotten darker, twinkled with mirth and affection. "So, my dear," he said after a moment or two. "Are you going to explain to me just why you are kissing all the men in the office?"
Gibbs sighed and rolled his eyes. Typical office scuttlebutt. "It wasn't ‘all the men,' Duck. It was only two: DiNozzo and McGee."
"Ah," said Ducky, the twinkle deepening. Then he said, his tone conversational, "I am rather sorry to hear that."
"Ducky?" Gibbs blinked at his lover.
Ducky chuckled and touched Gibbs's inner arm; the caress would have been clearly intimate to anyone who could see it. However, Ducky's movement and body were shrouded by Gibbs himself; thus all the camera would pick up would be Gibbs's back. "It is just that if you had been going around kissing all of the men here, well, you could kiss me, and no one would be surprised or bothered."
"Dr. Donald Mallard, I'm surprised at you," Gibbs said. Then he grabbed Ducky's hand and dragged him across Autopsy. There was one place directly behind the camera, which was free from observation.
"Better?" he enquired several minutes later.
"Yes, thank you," Ducky said, and stepped back from the embrace. Gibbs reluctantly let him go. "So, Jethro, are you, or are you not, going to tell me just why you were kissing Anthony and Timothy in full view of the entire office?"
Gibbs sighed. "Because you were right, Duck." And in a few words he told Ducky what he'd found out.
"Ah," Ducky said, understanding immediately. "I assume then that you intend to go yourself?"
Gibbs shrugged. "Makes sense, on more than one count. Putting everything else aside, the other thing the victims have in common, is that they are all older men and Marines. And you yourself once told me that if you had to choose someone to impersonate a Marine, you'd choose me."
"And you believe that you would be all right with a strange man kissing and touching you?"
"I kissed DiNozzo and McGee."
"Exactly, my dear. You kissed them."
Gibbs shrugged. "I've never had a problem with you touching or kissing me, Duck. Not even twenty-six years ago. Did I?"
Ducky shook his head. "No. Not at all. In fact I confess that it has always rather surprised me just how easily you did succumb to my unintentional seduction. But you have never been with another man. You have never shown any interest in another man, have you, Jethro?"
"Well, no. But I am used to a man's touch and kiss, Duck. I'll be fine."
"There is another option." Ducky looked at him.
Gibbs paused for a moment and frowned. Then it hit him. "Oh, no," he said, holding up his hands. "No," he repeated. "No way, Ducky."
"I'm a logical choose, my dear. I am, after all, gay and always have been. There have been men other than you."
"No." Gibbs's tone was frozen.
"Is that a personal or professional answer, Agent Gibbs?"
Gibbs glared at him. Then, because he couldn't lie to his lover said, his tone self-mocking, "A bit of both, Dr. Mallard." He touched Ducky's cheek. "But mostly professional. I can't, Duck, even if I wanted to. You're not a trained agent. And you'd never pass as a Marine, retired or not; at least not with your hair this length," he brushed a heavy strand of old gold hair back from Ducky's forehead. "And I'm not having you cut it. Besides . . ." he broke off and glanced away. "I can't go through it again," he whispered.
Ducky caught his arm. "I know, my dear. But don't you know that's how I always feel?"
Gibbs glanced at him. "I can take care of myself, Duck. I am a trained agent."
"Yes, Jethro. I've seen first hand many times how you ‘take care of yourself'."
Gibbs blinked. "I'm a damn good agent, Ducky. I don't get injured all that often."
"I wasn't talking about your professional injuries, my dear. I was thinking about frying pans, seven irons, and baseball bats." Ducky smiled, and Gibbs matched it.
"I'll be careful," he said. "Scouts Honor."
"You were never a Boy Scout, Jethro."
Ducky shook his head. "I do have another suggestion, my dear. Allow me - No, let me finish," he said, holding up his hand and silencing Gibbs. "To come to the club along with Tony."
"Tony? But . . ."
"He'll be with me. I'll take good care of him and make sure that no other man comes near him. People will just think that I'm a rich, sad, old man, and Tony a gigolo. We can have a drink or two, and observe you from a distance."
Gibbs narrowed his eyes. As a plan it made some kind of sense; but it still meant putting Ducky, a non-agent, into a potentially dangerous situation. "Let me think about it," he said.
"Very well." Ducky smiled. "It is a pleasant bar, Jethro. I believe you will feel quite comfortable there."
"You know it?"
Ducky nodded. "Where do you think I used to go when you were going through the first few blissful months of your marriages?"
"I didn't . . ."
Ducky went on quietly. "I am not a monk, Jethro. I loved you, but there were times that I needed company. The company of people like myself. It was a pleasant place to go. A safe one."
"Doesn't seem that safe anymore," Gibbs managed, still staring in some kind of shock at his lover.
"Ah, Jethro my dear," Ducky said softly. "Don't look like that. Did you really think that I sat at home every night with my medical journals?"
"Well, no, but. . ."
Ducky held his gaze. "But what, my dear?"
"I just didn't think you went in for sex without some kind of affection."
Ducky shrugged. "Not often, no. But once or twice, even I . . . They were kind, Jethro. They were there."
"And I wasn't. When was the last?" Gibbs's tone was harsh
Ducky blinked. "I last went to the bar four years ago, my dear. And before you ask, it will be the same as it always was; there are some things, just as there are some people, in life that never change. I last slept with someone other than you at least three times as long ago as that. Unlike Tony, I do not know to the exact minute," he looked solemn. Then said softly, "I didn't know you could be jealous, Jethro."
"Neither did I," Gibbs said quietly. "Neither did I, Duck. Didn't know I could be hypocritical either. But apparently I can be."
"I love you, Jethro," Ducky said, his tone still low. "I always have and I always will. Nothing else matters. No one else matters. It's the past, my dear. Let it be."
"I sometimes wonder why you love me, Duck. But I'm thankful every day that I met you, and that you do appear to love me as much as I love you." Not for the first time Gibbs was grateful that the were no audio recording devices in Autopsy to supplement the cameras. It wasn't that he and Ducky hid their relationship, they just didn't broadcast it.
Ducky lightly touched Gibbs's cheek. "Good," he said softly. "Now, Agent Gibbs, don't you have an operation to plan?"
Gibbs smiled, brushed his hand across Ducky's hair, winked and moved towards the door. When he reached it he turned, "Oh, Ducky? Try to explain things to Palmer. I don't want him to be scared of me."
"He already is, my dear. He already is. But nonetheless I promise you that I shall try."
Gibbs's cell phone burbling cut into what would have been his response.
He tugged it out from his pocket. "Gibbs?" he said, waving one hand at Ducky in a gesture of good-bye, and moving towards the elevator.
The call was the one he'd been expecting: Director Morrow would like to see him; immediately.
"Ah, Jethro. Do sit down."
"Thank you, sir."
Director Morrow looked at him. "Well, Agent Gibbs, you have been causing quite a stir, have you not? Is there anything I need to know?"
Gibbs groaned silently. Then he saw the amused look that his boss was trying to hide and relaxed slightly, instead he offered a faint smile of his own. "It certainly got the office working hard. Don't think I've ever seen so many bent heads as I did after I'd, um, kissed McGee and DiNozzo."
"I can imagine. Well, Jethro. I assume that there is a good reason for your behavior."
Gibbs's amusement fled. "Yes, sir," he said flatly; and proceeded to tell his boss what he'd discovered.
"And I take it that you intend to go to the club yourself?"
Gibbs shook his head. "It's closed tonight. I'm going tomorrow."
Gibbs paused before answering, and then told his Director about Ducky's suggestion.
"And what do you think of the suggestion?"
What the hell do you think I think? But Gibbs forced himself not to overreact. "Personally, I don't like it. I want to -" he broke off. He didn't need to explain; Director Morrow knew the truth. He swallowed hard. The next thing he said was one of the most difficult things he'd said for a long time. "Professionally I think it's a good idea. We know the person has killed four times. I guess I'd be a damned fool to go in without some kind of back-up, even though, if he follows the pattern he's set up, he won't be killing tomorrow."
"I agree." His boss's voice told him clearly that even had Gibbs objected, he would have been overruled. "No heroics, Jethro. From any of you. I know you have particular reasons for wishing to catch this man, but if you could do so without any harm coming to you, Dr. Mallard, or Agent DiNozzo, I would be very obliged."
"I don't let any personal consideration get in the way of my work, sir."
Director Morrow raised an eyebrow, before tugging out a report from under a pile of papers. He opened the folder, flipped through the papers and began to read pointedly, from what Gibbs could see was a transcript of a taped interview.
Gibbs had caught sight of the folder cover and now silently groaned. It was what the team had termed 'The Meat Puzzle', and memories of his threat to tear all of Jonathan Hanlan's teeth from his skull, if anything happened to Ducky, flooded into his mind. Very professional, Jethro, he told himself.
"Yes, DiNozzo, Ducky. Is there something wrong with your hearing?"
"No, boss. It's just that Ducky's - Ouch." DiNozzo rubbed the back of his head and looked at Gibbs. "I was going to say not a special agent," he said; he sounded hurt.
Gibbs shrugged and ignored him, and continued to talk to his agents. "Any questions?"
"Does he have to hold Ducky's hand?" Kate asked, and laughed.
Her laughter died instantly as Gibbs glared at her. In fact she flushed slightly.
"Actually, Caitlin, Anthony will not have to hold my hand, or indeed do anything other than pay me attention and be courteous to me. I am a rich, elderly man and simply put, Tony, you expect to be adequately 'rewarded' in my will. Try to remember that, and I am certain that you won't have any problems. Although, you will of course, unlike when we are in the office, have to refrain from looking too bored when I'm telling my stories." Ducky's eyes twinkled with mirth, and at the look on DiNozzo's face, Kate, McGee, and even Gibbs himself grinned.
Ducky put his hand on DiNozzo's shoulder and patted it. "Don't worry, Tony, I don't hold it against you, and often it is barely perceptible, unlike some people I could mention." He patted DiNozzo's shoulder again, Gibbs was pleased to see that his senior agent didn't flinch or pull away, before turning his attention to Gibbs. "Do you remember Agent Simpson, Jethro?" Without giving Gibbs a chance to answer, Ducky turned back to face the other agents. "You might think that Jethro head slaps you quite often, Tony, but believe me when compared to the amount of times he slapped Alan Simpson, it is nothing. As much as the man irritated me, there were occasions when I was more than a little concerned for the well being of his head. In fact I remember -"
"Yes, my dear? Oh, I am sorry. However, it did prove that Tony can look attentive when I talk. Just remember to look at me at all times, Anthony, and be considerate, and everything will be fine. And in case you are worrying, I assure you that no other man will attempt to proposition you whilst you are with me. You virtue will be quite safe." Ducky beamed.
DiNozzo swallowed. "Fine. Want me to pick you up, Ducky, and we can meet -"
"I'll pick Ducky up."
"But, boss, you . . . Right. You'll pick Ducky up. Where do you want me to meet you, boss?"
EVENING - 8TH MARCH
Gibbs sat in the club sipping his drink and settling into his role. He was now, 'officially' Captain Thomas Shaw. They weren't certain quite what the man they were hunting was capable of finding out, but if he did somehow have access to US Marine personnel listings, he would find Captain Thomas Shaw duly listed.
From where he sat he could see Ducky and DiNozzo, who had already been in place when he'd arrived. He was pleased to see, although if he was honest not surprised, that DiNozzo was being as good as his promise; in fact somewhat better.
If Ducky and DiNozzo had been perfect strangers, he would indeed be thinking that the younger man was the older man's gigolo or 'toy boy'. DiNozzo was hanging onto Ducky's every word and gesture, looking adoringly at him, being solicitous, and generally playing his part extremely well.
Ducky was very much being . . . Ducky, albeit slightly exaggerated. From time to time he would touch DiNozzo's hand or arm, or even knee in the kind of deliberately-accidental-paternal-establishing-ownership way that fitted with their roles.
Gibbs had been sitting there watching the act without appearing to do so for over half-an-hour now, and no one had approached him. He was beginning to think the whole thing was futile anyway. Even if they were correct and the murderer was a regular of the club, how did Gibbs guarantee that the man would speak to him? Try to pick him up? Okay, he'd made his already Marine-style hair more so, but he was hardly wearing a badge saying 'I'm a Marine'. No, it was a stupid idea. It was the best one you had. It was the only one he'd had. He'd just -
"May I join you?"
Yanked from his reverie and annoyed that he'd allowed himself to be distracted, if only for a moment or two, that's often all it takes, Gibbs glanced up. "Sure," he said. "Please," he added, trying to think as a Marine Captain, not an ex-Marine Gunnery Sergeant.
He began to study the man, without appearing to. As he did, he noted that both Ducky and DiNozzo were doing the same thing. He looked perfectly 'normal', whatever the hell that was. About four inches taller than Gibbs himself, medium build, dark brown hair, green eyes, tanned skin, forty, give or take a year or two, and harmless. However, his gut, the instinct that had always served him well, apart from in your choice of women, told him that this was their man.
Gibbs sat in his car and waited for Ducky and DiNozzo to arrive, which, taking into account the additional length of time the 'couple' had agreed to stay at Strands after Gibbs had left, together with the speed he knew DiNozzo tended to drive at, should be another ten minutes.
It couldn't come quickly enough for Gibbs. His head was throbbing, he felt vaguely nauseous, and his skin felt as though tiny ants were crawling over it. "I'm getting too old for these operations," he muttered. But it had little to do with his age, and more to do with the whole sordid nature of the crime; the violation. Not to mention the fact that he was already aware of what he might have to do next in order to capture their suspect.
He glanced at the dashboard clock, five more minutes. He just wanted to get to Ducky's home, have a decent drink, a shower, and take Ducky into his arms, and not necessarily in that order. He needed desperately, more desperately than he really wanted to admit to, Ducky's steady, comforting, loving, soothing presence. He always knew how to touch Gibbs, at both an emotional and physical level. He always knew exactly the right thing to say, or not say, to do, or not do; somehow he always managed to calm Gibbs, to make his forget, if only for a short time, the blackness of the world.
He couldn't remember how Ducky had managed to persuade him into spending the night at Ducky's home, rather than his own, but he'd agreed. One of the reasons he recalled Ducky giving was to do with 'owing Mrs. Patterson', but Gibbs suspected the real truth was that his lover wanted him in bed with him all night. And when they stayed at Ducky's home, Gibbs, with no boat to work on, did stay with Ducky, and was happy to do so. "Damn, I've been unfair to you recently, Duck," he muttered. "Make it up to you tonight, I promise."
Gibbs let his mind slip beyond the drink, shower and having Ducky in his arms, to having Ducky in his arms naked in Ducky's bed. To having him there by his side, touching him, kissing him, loving him . . . He came to an abrupt halt as he realized that thinking such things with DiNozzo about to arrive, were not a good thing. Instead he turned his mind back to the victims; that cooled any ardor he might have had.
Two headlights appeared and Gibbs automatically sat upright and went into 'Special Agent Mode'. The timing was correct, but in the darkness he couldn't make out anything but the two bright lights. Then the headlights were dipped, brought up to full beam and flashed twice more. It was DiNozzo.
"Hey, boss," DiNozzo called quietly, as he went around his car to open the door for Ducky and offer him a hand to help him out.
"DiNozzo. Duck." Even DiNozzo wouldn't have failed to notice the complete difference in Gibbs's tone as he said the two names.
"Hello, Jethro," Ducky said, as he limped across to Gibbs's side and lightly touched his arm. Just having his lover close made Gibbs begin to feel better.
"Was it him?" DiNozzo asked, also coming across to where Gibbs and now Ducky stood.
"Yeah. Reckon so."
"So what do we do?"
"You go back to the office and run the name Harold Young through the computer. Find out everything you can about it. If he as much as spat on the sidewalk I want to know about it."
"Right, boss. And after that?"
"Nothing. Go home, DiNozzo."
"But, boss -"
"I said go home. There's nothing we can do with the information tonight. We'll talk about it tomorrow."
"But, boss, what if he . . . "
"He won't. I'm his next victim. Besides, it doesn't fit the way he's been working - you know that. We only found the body yesterday, the autopsy confirmed he died in the early hours of the morning. Young won't kill again for forty-eight hours. He's predictable; he's following a pattern. Now that we know who it is, we'll get the bastard."
"Jethro is correct, Anthony. There is nothing more we can do tonight."
After a moment or two, DiNozzo said, "Okay. See you both tomorrow. Night, Gibbs. Night, Ducky." DiNozzo turned away and began to walk back to his car.
"Goodnight, Anthony, and thank you for a very pleasant evening." Gibbs had to hand it to his lover; he was courteous to the last.
DiNozzo stopped, turned back round and said, "Oh, right. Yeah. You know, it was. I enjoyed it. But is that story about the -"
"DiNozzo," Gibbs growled the name.
"Yes, boss. Sorry, boss. Night then." And with that, DiNozzo climbed in his car and drove off.
Once the taillights had gone from sight, Gibbs glanced around him, then gently turned Ducky towards him, bent his head and kissed him. It was a fleeting kiss, no more; the contact brief, but it was enough to make Gibbs's world begin to feel right again.
"Do you wish to talk about it now, my dear? Or wait until we get home? Or indeed tomorrow?" Ducky asked after they'd driven in companionable silence for a few miles.
How about not at all, thought Gibbs. But instantly dismissed the thought. Now was as good a time as any, and at least it wouldn't interfere with his plans for later. "It was him, Duck."
"I see. And may I ask, how you know? Did he say anything to arouse your suspicions?"
That was his Ducky; straight to the point. He wasn't afraid to ask the questions that maybe DiNozzo, Kate or McGee might hesitate over. Gibbs often used Ducky to run things through with, before discussing them with his agents, or even Tom Morrow, if only to force himself to find a justification - which sometimes, he had to admit, he needed. Not that he often shared his rationale with the team; all too often he relied on 'my gut', but when he did, nine times out of ten, Ducky would have wheedled more information out of him. But this time, this time he wasn't certain there was anything other than 'my gut' to go on.
But Ducky would accept that. As long as Gibbs had thought about it, even if he had no rational explanation, Ducky would be happy. Nonetheless, he sighed. "No, he didn't. That's just it. He didn't. He said nothing; he did nothing. But . . . Ah, Duck, I know it's him. I just know. There was something about him, that just made my skin crawl. I do know it's him. I just don't know how I know. I've been going over it and over it, telling myself that there must have been something he said, some way he looked, but there wasn't."
"He did deliberately seek you out." Ducky spoke quietly.
Although he wouldn't be able to see his lover in the darkness, Gibbs nonetheless glanced to one side. "Duck?"
"Anthony and I saw him arrive. He had been in the club some twenty minutes before he approached you. He surveyed the entire place, taking his time, noting who was there, who might or might be alone; dismissing people who didn't 'fit'. And then his eyes settled on you. After a minute or two, no doubt he was waiting to see if anyone was going to join you, he approached you. So, yes, my dear, it does indeed seem extremely likely that he is our man."
"I sometimes think you're in the wrong job." Gibbs chucked, but it sounded forced even to his ears.
Ducky was silent for a moment. Then he said quietly, "Forgive me for asking, my dear. It may sound a strange question, given what I have just told you, but . . . Oh, dear, I don't quite know how to put this. I do not wish to offend you in any way, or indeed to doubt you. Maybe I should just -"
"Just ask me."
"Very well. Are you certain that it wasn't just the fact that you felt uncomfortable, and that you were -"
Gibbs interrupted him. "No, Duck. I swear. It wasn't that. Yeah, I can't say I felt particular comfortable, it's not my kind of place. In fact the whole - Oh, shit. I didn't mean that how it sounded, Duck. You know that, don't you?"
Ducky was silent for a moment.
"Don't you"? Gibbs demanded, again taking his eyes off the road to glance at his lover. But as with moments before, it was far too dark for him to see Ducky. To see the one thing that would tell him everything, even if Ducky didn't speak: his lover's eyes. "Duck?"
"Yes, dear," Ducky finally said. But his tone didn't convince Gibbs. However, for now there was nothing he could do about it.
So instead he just ignored it, for now, and said again, "It was him. I'd bet my life on it."
"Let us hope it won't come to that." Ducky's tone was soft, and more 'Duckyish'. "Are you seeing him again?"
"Yeah, night after tomorrow. I tested him a bit and suggested that I went home with him tonight. But he told me that he didn't on a first meeting. Went on a bit about how strange he knew that sounded, but that was how he was. He liked time to get to know the person first, before things became intimate. Then he added, that he thought I'd prefer it too, as I also seemed like the kind of person, despite my offer, who didn't do that sort of thing. It got very Victorian for a moment. I could do nothing but agree, and he said he'd meet me there the night after tomorrow. Which fits with the pattern. Part of me was glad, but part of me just wanted to get it over with. The sooner it is, and the sooner we have the bastard where he should be, locked up, the better I'll like it."
"So will I," Ducky said softly. "So will I."
For the remainder of the journey they, by silent mutual consent, talked no more about the case.
"Mother, we're home," Ducky called, as they went into his Reston home.
Gibbs shut the door behind them, locking but not bolting it; there wasn't any point, Mrs. Patterson would be leaving shortly. He liked Ducky's words; he liked them very much and he could very easily get used to them.
He and Ducky had talked, more than once, about them sharing Ducky's home, but each time it had been Ducky who'd explained, in some detail, how impossible it was. Gibbs himself had countered each one of Ducky's arguments, using this over twenty-five years knowledge of his dearest friend shamelessly, in an attempt to win him over. But his lover, the mildest of men, the person who seemed willing to bow to all of Gibbs's wishes, had thus far continuously held firm. And when Dr. Donald ‘call-me-Ducky' Mallard was determined, there was nothing or no one who could change his mind. Nonetheless, it didn't stop Gibbs from trying from time to time. He wouldn't be Leroy Jethro Gibbs if he didn't.
Pulling himself from his musings, he quickly followed his now badly limping lover into Mrs. Mallard's sitting room. "Hello, Mrs. Mallard," he said, and smiled. "Mrs. Patterson. I hope you ladies have had a good evening."
"Very nice, thank you, Jethro dear," Helen Patterson said, smiling up at him. "Haven't we Vanessa?"
"What? Oh, yes. Very nice," Mrs. Mallard answered vaguely as she turned to her son. "Where have you been, Donald? And why didn't you tell me you were going out?"
Ducky sighed softly. "I did tell you, Mother. Jethro and I came to say goodbye to you. We had to go to work."
"You most certainly did not tell me, Donald. But then you never tell me anything these days."
"Vanessa dear," Mrs. Patterson touched Mrs. Mallard's hand. "Donald is correct, they did come to say goodbye to us. Surely you remember? You insisted that Jethro made us a drink before they left."
Mrs. Mallard frowned at her friend. "I did? Oh, yes, I did. I remember now. In fact, Jethro," she nodded in her imperious way towards the drinks' cabinet.
Gibbs glanced swiftly at Ducky, who raised his eyes, but nonetheless nodded his head, before crossing the room to obey the order. "Mrs. Patterson?" he glanced at her.
"No, thank you, dear. It's time I called Charlie and asked him to collect me." She began to stand up.
"No need to bother Charlie. Let me fix Ducky and his mom a drink and then I'll drive you home," Gibbs said, as he unscrewed the top of the gin bottle.
"Now, Jethro dear, that would be rather silly, would it not?" Mrs. Patterson said quietly, but firmly. "No, you pour Vanessa, Donald and yourself a drink, and I shall go and call Charlie."
An hour later, after settling Mrs. Mallard and the Corgis for the night, they made their way up to Ducky's bedroom. They had long since, as far as Ducky's mom went, given up any pretence of Jethro going home for the night, and Mrs. Patterson's words had only confirmed that continuing the charade with her, had been a foolish one. Jethro wondered vaguely whether it should bother him, but decided that it didn't. After all, Mrs. Patterson hadn't seemed in the least bit troubled by the fact that her closest friend's son slept with another man.
Before they'd gone up to bed, DiNozzo had called with the bad news: Harold Young was almost certainly had to be an alias, as there was no such person, at least not who fitted the age of the man who'd 'picked' Jethro up. Jethro had found he wasn't even that surprised by the news.
Once inside Ducky's room, Jethro took the glass of whiskey his lover held and, together with his own glass, put them down on the nightstand on 'his' side of the bed. He then tugged Ducky into his arms, waited until Ducky had settled into his usual position and kissed him. Unlike the brief, chaste contact in the alleyway, the kiss was intense, deep and went on for quite some time.
"Love you, Duck," Jethro murmured, as he finally, for the moment, stopped kissing Ducky. He let his lover rest against him and shifted slightly to accommodate the extra weight. He should really insist that Ducky sit down, or better still lie down, and rest his leg, but a few more minutes wouldn't hurt.
"I know, dearest. And I love you too," Ducky responded, as he always did. His tone, however, wasn't quite usual.
Frowning Jethro moved back a little. "Duck? What is it?"
Ducky smiled. "It's nothing, my dear," he said. But as he spoke he glanced away from Jethro's gaze.
Jethro had long since thought that he and his lover had some kind of sixth sense, or were occasionally telepathic, and now that came into play. "Oh, Ducky," he said, pulling Ducky back against him. However, he kept the contact brief before breaking the embrace, taking Ducky's hand and leading him to the bed. He urged Ducky to sit down before joining him, and then took one of Ducky's hands in both of his. "It doesn't change how I feel about you," he said quietly.
"How can you think that, Duck?" Jethro kept a rein on his exasperation.
Ducky glanced away. "I am sorry, my dear. But I saw your face, you hated it. You -"
"No. I didn't. Look at me, Ducky," he spoke forcefully. After a second or two's hesitation, Ducky obeyed. "Now listen to me. I didn't hate it in the way you mean. I hated the reason we were there. I hated him for what he'd done. He made me feel dirty. I just wanted to . . . But that has nothing, nothing, Duck, nothing to do with us, with you, with how I feel, or even with the place. And I know I said earlier that it wasn't 'my kind of place'. But that was unfair; given the circumstances I was there under, I doubt if anywhere would have been 'my kind of place'. But if I'd had you at my side, you gazing into my eyes, you touching my hand, you . . . Well, things would've been a lot different, I'm sure." He stared firmly into Ducky's eyes and held the pale gaze.
Under his steady look, it became softer, and at peace; more so, Jethro suddenly realized that it had been since he'd left Ducky in Autopsy the previous day. "Really?" Ducky asked quietly.
"Really." Jethro's tone was firm. He took one of his hands away from Ducky's and instead cupped Ducky's face, before leaning forward and placing a fleeting kiss on his lips, and then a second one. "Better?" he asked, after the third kiss.
"Yes, thank you, my dear. Please forgive me. I am rather tired and . . . Oh, don't look at me like that, Jethro Gibbs, I am not too tired. However, being the object of Anthony's undivided attention is somewhat wearisome."
"He did good, didn't he?"
"He did ‘very good', my dear." Ducky's eyes shone with mirth, as he deliberately repeated Jethro's choice of words. He then added, "Better, I must confess, that I had expected."
"Yeah, me too. Do you think it means he's finally grown up?"
Ducky chuckled. "Oh, I wouldn't go that far. Although, you can always test that theory the next time his heating breaks down, and he asks if he can come and stay with you."
The next second Jethro had his lover flat on the bed, bending over him. Ducky's eyes twinkled with mirth, as he offered his mouth for another kiss, and another, and . . .
It wasn't the first night where the first rays of the sun found the two lovers still awake, albeit somewhat drowsily so.
MORNING - 9TH MARCH
"So, you're really sure it's him, boss?"
Gibbs was starting to get irritated, and also bemused. It was unlike DiNozzo to question his boss's gut. Idly he wondered just what his lover and field agent had talked about during their time alone together at the club. "Yes, DiNozzo, for the thirteenth time. Yes."
"I'm almost certain that is a slight exaggeration, my dear. However," Ducky went on before Gibbs could say anything, "Jethro is correct. The man whom approached Jethro last night, is almost certainly our killer, as you and I strongly suspected at the time. Coffee anyone?" Ducky proffered a tray.
As he automatically took the tray from Ducky and put it on the table, Gibbs saw the mouths of his three agents fall open as they stared in surprise at Ducky. He managed to keep his own surprise from letting itself be seen, but even he blinked twice as he stared at Ducky. Then he noticed that his lover had his hat and coat on. "You been out, Duck?"
"Yes, Jethro, I have." Ducky began to take off his coat. "Oh, thank you, Timothy," he said with a smile, as McGee jumped to his feet to take it from him. "Just put it on Jethro's desk, I'm sure he won't mind." He also handed his hat to McGee, before calmly taking the young agent's chair, which happened to be next to Gibbs's own, and sitting down slowly. "That's how I know that the man with whom you spent time with last night, is indeed our man." He began to pass around the coffee.
DiNozzo, McGee, who had dragged up another chair, and Kate, were still staring at Ducky in astonishment. Gibbs still felt more than a little stunned by his lover's pronouncement, but he continued to hide it. "Well, Duck," he said, after a moment or two of Ducky just sitting and beaming around the table. "Are you going to tell us, or are we going to play twenty questions?"
"Oh, I know a good version of that. You need - Thank you, boss." Gibbs lowered his hand and picked up his coffee again.
"Yes, of course, Jethro. Do forgive me. Firstly, the gentleman's actual name is Joseph Henry George O'Reilly. And he - Oh." He looked a little startled as McGee, without waiting for Gibbs to order him to do so, jumped up, hurried to his desk and started to key the name into his computer.
Gibbs was just about to tell Ducky to carry on when McGee spoke; he sounded shocked. "Er, boss, I think you'd better come and look at this."
Putting down his coffee cup and pushing his chair back, Gibbs strode over to McGee's desk and looked at the screen. He read what McGee had seen, blinked and read the words again. "Are you sure, McGee?" he asked, not that he needed to. The picture looking at him from the screen was the man he'd spent two hours with the previous evening.
"Yes, boss. I double checked it." McGee's voice was flat, and it contained a hit of an apology.
Still unable to completely take in what he'd read, Gibbs again just stared at the screen. He knew that his team was all waiting for him to say something, and he should. But . . .
"Jethro," Ducky said gently, after another few seconds of silence.
It was what Gibbs needed. He shook himself, straightened up, briefly touched McGee's shoulder to show the young man that it wasn't his fault, and said grimly, "He's a Marine."
"An ex-Marine to be exact. Dishonorably discharged." He returned to the table and sat back down, automatically his hand reached for his coffee.
"What for, Gibbs?" Kate asked.
"Homosexual practices." McGee's voice was unreadable.
"But he's . . ."
"Raping and killing Marines? Yeah, DiNozzo. Noticed that."
"It doesn't make any sense. If he's -"
"It makes a great deal of sense, Tony," Kate said firmly. "And it all fits, Gibbs. The obsessiveness; the lack of any evidence around the bodies; the cleanliness of it; the exact number of days between murders; the way in which the murders were all committed; the order. He's been treating the murders like a military exercise."
"And not just the murders themselves," Ducky said quietly.
"Duck?" Gibbs looked at his lover, and saw more than just attentiveness in the steady gaze.
"He has even been following the same pattern for meeting his victims. Not just the where, but the when."
"How do you know, Ducky?"
"Because I have been to Shades, Caitlin. Or rather I have been to see the barman who works there."
"But why, Duck? I was going to send McGee and Kate there this afternoon."
"Yes, I know. However, they would not have managed to extract the relevant and pertinent information, and I believed that I would be able to do so. You see I know the gentleman to whom I spoke, and have done so for many years. Even so, it took me a long time and a great deal of persuasion, to convince him to answer my questions."
"But why? I mean why didn't he want to help? Is he an accomplice?"
Ducky sighed. "No, Anthony, he is not. As for why, well, it wasn't so much a case of him not wanting to help, but -"
"Exactly, Jethro. The club prides itself on discretion. Some of its members would, well, shall we say have an awful lot to lose should their preferences become generally known."
"Okay, I get the loyalty bit, but surely after four murders, they'd have realized there was a serial killer on the lose, and grasped the connection to the club?"
"But they wouldn't have known, Tony."
"Huh? Oh, of course they wouldn't. We deliberately kept it out of the papers. No pictures, no names."
"And the bodies weren't found anywhere near the club," McGee added. "They couldn't have known, Tony."
"Guess not. So what did this barman tell you, Ducky?"
"Essentially that Mr. O'Reilly did indeed pick up each of the three men; that he appeared to, as with Jethro, deliberately be looking for a certain type of man, which isn't that unusual, when he went to the club; and that he had a pattern. He met them one night and left without them. He didn't appear the following evening, but the next night, he did. Then he was again absent the evening after that, and when he came in the following evening, he looked for a new man. And so the process began again. Working backwards from when the first body was discovered, the pattern fits."
"Guess it wouldn't be unusual for a gay bloke to pick up four different men in such quick succession."
"And is that any different from you dating five different women in the same week, Tony?" Kate asked in her pseudo-sweet tone.
"Yes. Of course."
"Because, Probie. I'm . . . Er, that is, I don't . . . Er, kill the girls I date. Sorry, boss," DiNozzo added swiftly. "I didn't mean . . ." He broke off and glanced at Ducky, before quickly looking back at Gibbs.
At the moment, Gibbs's phone began to demand his attention.
EVENING - 9TH MARCH
"I don't like it, Jethro," Ducky said for the fourth time.
"Can't say I'm too happy about it myself, Duck, but that's how it's going to have to be."
"But -" Gibbs silenced his lover in his preferred way.
"Well, Thomas, I think it's time we went to my home, don't you?" Harold Young, Gibbs always stuck to aliases, even in his thoughts, it was far safer, ran his fingers over the back of Gibbs's hand. Again, Gibbs had to force himself not to yank his hand away and shudder. It was all so different from Ducky touched him; his lover's touch never made him pull away or shudder. It never had, not even after Ducky had told Gibbs that he was gay, but before Gibbs first went to bed with him. He'd always enjoyed being touched by Ducky, but this . . .
However, "I think that's a great idea, Harold," he replied, and smiled.
"Good. I can promise you a very memorable evening."
Yeah, so can I. Just not in the way you think. Or at least that was the plan.
They left the club and began to walk along the street, just like any two men, any two friends; Young was close enough to brush against Gibbs from time to time.
The team had agreed, well Gibbs had decided, that it would be too risky for Ducky and DiNozzo to appear again, or even Ducky and McGee. With Young's Marine training and skills, he could easily have spotted them as being present when he first met Gibbs and felt uneasy. Marines, whether ex or not, had an 'unease' button that served them well. Not only did Gibbs want this over with tonight, but if, for some reason, Young backed off from him, then some innocent man was at risk. So instead of that kind of back up, he was wearing the same kind of locator watch as he'd worn when entrapping the ATP woman and her accomplice, so that DiNozzo, Kate and McGee could track him.
"How far is it?" he asked, after they'd walked for about fifteen minutes.
"Oh, a little way yet. Why, Thomas, are you eager?"
Yeah, but not for what you've got in mind. Gibbs knew he couldn't risk going back to Young's apartment. Not that there was any evidence that the other bodies had been killed indoors, all they knew was that the men had been killed in one place and then moved somewhere else. But being inside was, for Gibbs, far more risky; whatever went down had to do so out in the open.
They were near to some waste ground that was surrounded by trees; Gibbs decided that it was as good a place as any. The sooner this was over, the better - for everyone. "Well, yes, of course," he forced himself to say. "But I also need the head. Sorry, should have gone before we left. Guess I thought you lived a bit closer."
Young took his arm and guided him under the trees. "It's fairly quiet and secluded here. Go ahead. Or," he added, suddenly moving very close to Gibbs, "is that merely a ruse?" Gibbs's body went into hyper-alert mode. But Young simply took another step closer and said huskily, "Is it actually something else you can't wait for?" And he ran two fingers over Gibbs's groin, and pressed his mouth to Gibbs's.
Fighting against the automatic urge to push Young off him and fell him, Gibbs tried to force himself to kiss the man back. Seconds later, without warning, he felt a scratch on the back of his hand. Damn, the scratches had been connected, or rather one of them had. He fell to the ground not quite paralyzed, but unable to really control his limbs. He could see; he could hear; he could even swallow, just; his brain worked; but he couldn't really move. He certainly couldn't put up a struggle. He could do nothing except hope and pray that his team were going to arrive in time.
Young knelt down next to him and stroked his face. "Now, that's better, now you can't fight me. I'm sorry to have to do this to you, but it's better this way. This way I won't hurt you, and I don't want to hurt you. I only want to make you pay."
"Pay?" Gibbs managed, forcing the word out from around his far-too-big-for-his-mouth tongue.
"Why, yes." Young continued to stroke Gibbs's face, before letting his hand move slowly down Gibbs's body. "It's no use struggling," he said, as Gibbs made a pathetic attempt to pull away. "That will only make the drug work harder. Just relax. After all, you're just like me; the only difference is, you still have a career; you still have respect; you'll still get your pension. You haven't had your life ruined simply because of your choice of partner.
But I could have. The thought flashed into Gibbs's mind against his will. It was quickly followed by the 'there but for the grace of God' cliché, also against his will. It must be the drug, he thought, as he found himself almost feeling some kind of sympathy for Young.
That fled as he felt Young's fingers unzip his fly and begin to work their way inside. It was nothing like the touch he was used to; nothing like's Ducky's gentle, yet firm, loving caress. This sickened him, angered him, made him feel despoiled, violated. He had to do something. He had to. He -
"If you wish to remain alive, you will remove your hand, now. And do so very, very slowly."
It was Ducky's voice. And in the what suddenly seemed overly bright moonlight, Gibbs could see that Ducky was standing above them, a gun in his hand pressed against Young's temple. The grip was steady, unwavering, just like Ducky's voice. But what the hell was Ducky doing there? They'd discussed it; Ducky had agreed, albeit reluctantly, to remain at home. Yet, he must have followed Gibbs, and done so without Gibbs noticing it.
But had he actually agreed? Suddenly Gibbs wasn't too sure. But what did it matter anyway?
"I said," Ducky began again.
Young, who had frozen the moment the gun barrel had touched his head, now began to move both hands, slowly as per the order, up from his sides to above his head. He still hadn't turned around though, and Gibbs feared what he might do once he did do.
Young had over twenty years, not to mention some ten inches, and his Marine training over Ducky. If he chose to . . .
"Now stand up. Again slowly," Ducky ordered.
And as Young began to obey, Gibbs saw Ducky take a step, then another, then another, and yet another backwards. Still the gun was held firmly; still it did not waver. However, his lover was now outside of Young's arm or leg reach. Gibbs hoped fervently that if Young did make a lunge for Ducky, that Ducky would not hesitate to pull the trigger. Because if he didn't, and if DiNozzo didn't show up shortly, there could be two dead bodies, not just one.
Young started to turn towards Ducky, as . . .
"NCIS, freeze." DiNozzo's voice snapped, and simultaneously bright lights from three torches lit the area up.
For a split second Gibbs saw the indecision and confusion on Young's face, as he was faced with two, conflicting, orders.
And then he saw and felt nothing as blackness swept over him.
Gibbs awoke in a strange bed, but the dimmed lighting, antiseptic smell, and the beeping noises told him where he was. "Duck?" he murmured, knowing from the grip on his hand, as well as the 'special' scent of the forest, Formaldehyde and 'Ducky' that managed to subdue the less pleasant odors, together with the feeling of rightness and safety, that his lover was by his side.
"Yes, my dear?" Ducky said softly, and placed a gentle kiss on Gibbs's forehead.
"Get me the hell out of here."
"Yes, my dear," Ducky said and smiled.
"Are you sure about this, Jethro? We can go to your home. Mrs. Patterson is quite happy to spend the night with Mother."
"No, Duck. We agreed, we can't keep taking advantage of Mrs. Patterson. Besides, your bed's more comfortable."
"Very well, my dear."
Three quarters of an hour after they'd arrived at Ducky's home they were snuggled together in Ducky's bed, and everything was beginning to feel right again with Jethro's world. Not only had they caught the bastard, apparently Young, or rather O'Reilly, had been pathetically glad to have been caught. In fact he had already started to confess to everything even before McGee had finished reading him his rights. But as importantly, in fact personally far, far more so, was the fact that not only was Jethro himself, alive, but Ducky was also; the latter was even more important to Jethro than his own life was.
Ducky's hands were touching his chest, the contact reassuring, soothing; an odd mixture of medic and lover. Jethro hoped that soon Ducky would become more lover and less medic, but however and wherever Ducky touched him, it was always good.
"I haven't said thank you yet for saving my life, Duck," Jethro said quietly, after a few more minutes of soft caresses and chaste kisses.
"There really is no need, Jethro. Anth -"
"Yes, there is. Thank you, Ducky."
Ducky pushed himself up a little and looked down at Jethro; his stare was hard to decipher. "Do you happen to know the old Chinese proverb."
Jethro blinked. "Huh?"
"The one that says 'If you save someone's life, you are responsible for it forever'." Ducky looked very serious; his tone echoed his look.
Jethro opened his mouth to make a quip about Ducky making a better job of it than he had himself, but changed his mind. Instead, he reached up and tugged Ducky back down, so that he could kiss him, and hold him against his body. "You'll get no objections from me, Duck," he whispered, kissing Ducky's ear.
"I'm glad to hear that, dearest. And you will get no objections from me. Now, why do you not tell me just what is on your mind?"
Jethro frowned. "Nothing."
"Oh, Jethro. Please don't dissemble. Tell me what it is, I do not wish you to be distracted, at least not by anything other than me," he added.
For a moment Jethro was silent. Then, after arranging Ducky slightly, he said, "Just that when I was lying there, waiting for O'Reilly to do his worst, I kept thinking 'there but for the grace of God'. And you know what else?"
"You felt a degree of sympathy for him?"
"You sure you're not a mind-reader, Duck?"
Ducky chucked softly. "I just know you, Jethro. You identified with him, to an extent; you felt a degree of anger about his dishonorable discharge; you felt the Corps had let him down. All those things would lead to a certainly element of sympathetic feeling. But one thing you must know, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, one thing you must believe, is that there was no 'there but for the grace of God', at least not in the way I believe you are thinking."
"Ducky, if we hadn't been . . . I don't know, careful, lucky, whatever, the same thing would have happened to me as happened to O'Reilly."
"Yes, it would have done. However, Jethro, you would not have resorted to rape and murder in an attempt to get some kind of revenge and payback. You would have got on with your life; made a new life for yourself."
"You think so?"
"No," Ducky said solemnly. "I know so. And so do you. You are not a murderer, Jethro."
"I'm a killer."
Ducky sighed. "Jethro, please do not play semantics with me. We know who will win, do we not?" Although he spoke firmly, his unhidden-by-lenses, pale eyes twinkled with mirth and love.
Unable to stop himself, Jethro began to laugh. "Yeah, Duck," he said, when he could speak again. "We do. Now come here, and let me prove to you who, and what, is the only distraction here."
"Yes, dear," Ducky murmured obligingly.
And he was as good as his word.
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