THE DEFINITIVE CHRISTMAS GIFT
Last minute Christmas shopping doesn't go quite the way that Gibbs and Ducky had planned. The results leave Gibbs with the task of finding a way to make this Christmas extra special for Ducky.
An established relationship story.
Written: December 2005. Word count: 9,400.
"Jethro?" Jethro Gibbs jumped as a hand touched his shoulder. He glanced up, a look of puzzlement on the drawn face. The dark eyes asked a question. "I'm sorry if I startled you. I'm Dr. Adrian Johnson, a friend of Ducky's, we met at Mrs. Mallard's funeral."
Jethro stood up and held out his hand. "Of course, Doctor. I'm sorry. I'm . . . "
"Of course you are. I understand." Adrian took the proffered hand and shook it. "Ducky's going to be fine," he said. "The surgery went well; there were no complications. His heart is strong and no vital organs were damaged. He lost quite a lot of blood, and we will need to keep him in hospital for a week or so, but basically he is fine. He's lucky."
"I know," Jethro whispered. "Can I see him, please?"
Adrian was about to tell Jethro that Ducky was still unconscious after the anesthetic, and that Jethro should go home and get some rest, but the haunted look on the abnormally pale and drawn face, together with the pain in the dark eyes made him reconsider.
He had been unsure of the man to whom he had been introduced, or rather uncertain that he was right for Ducky. Adrian had known Ducky for over fifteen years, and knew about Jethro's marriages, and also about the relationship Jethro and Ducky had shared for over twenty-five years. So when Ducky had told him that Jethro had promised 'no more women,' Adrian had been skeptical, especially as Jethro was apparently still reluctant to make the relationship known to their friends and coworkers. However, not wanting to risk his friendship with Ducky, Adrian had kept his hesitation to himself.
Now he was glad that he had. Seeing Jethro now, so clearly upset and suffering, showed Adrian that his old friend had been correct. Jethro Gibbs did care about and love Ducky, with a ferocious passion. A glance at the table littered with a dozen empty Styrofoam cups, also confirmed the depth of Jethro's anxiety. "Of course you can," he said gently. "He's still unconscious from the anesthetic and will be for a while yet. Give the nurses fifteen minute to get him settled, and then you can go in."
"Thank you," Jethro said, his gratitude palpably clear.
"Maybe you should go and wash up a bit first," Adrian said gently.
Jethro frowned, then looked down at his still blood-covered hands, shirt, jacket, trousers and overcoat. "Oh," he said. "Yeah, I better. Umm," he glanced around as if expecting the men's room to suddenly appear.
"Come on," Adrian said, touching Jethro's arm. "I'll show you."
"Thank you," Jethro said again, and managed a partial smile.
Jethro crept into the subduely lit room and moved near to the bed. He stared down at his lover, trying, and failing, to ignore the sight of the blood transfusion and saline drips that were going into Ducky, the monitoring leads attached to him, and the inevitable catheter coming out of him. "Oh, Duck," he whispered, moving even closer and gently picking up Ducky's hand, the one that didn't have drips attached to it.
He stood still and silent for several minutes just watching Ducky breathe, and listening to the machines bleep at him. Then he stretched out a leg and hooked it around the leg of the chair and tugged it nearer to the bed. He'd rather sit on the bed, but he didn't want to jolt Ducky; besides Adrian had said that the nurses would be in and out every half-an-hour or so to check Ducky's vital signs, and they didn't approve of people sitting on beds. Holding Ducky's hand as though it was fragile china, he sat down on the edge of the chair, before reaching across to brush the heavy strands of Ducky's over-long fringe off his forehead.
There was nothing he could do now except sit and keep vigil and wait for Ducky to open his eyes. Logic said that he should have gone home, but Jethro's logic always deserted him where Ducky was concerned. He had managed to get the blood off his hands, but it still smeared his jacket, shirt, trousers and overcoat, and felt brittle when his hand brushed against the places where the blood had soaked more thoroughly into the material.
Not just 'the blood', but Ducky's blood. His life force. The thing that kept him alive and breathing. Mere liquid that had poured from Ducky, despite Jethro's desperate attempts to stop it. His throat became tight and his eyes prickled as he fought to clear his vision. Tears might not be something to be ashamed off, but Jethro still didn't want strangers seeing him shed them. Only one person saw him cry, and that person needed his strength now.
Settling back slightly more comfortably in the hard, unwelcoming chair, Jethro's thoughts returned, against his will, to the events that had led to Ducky lying in a hospital bed, and Jethro himself being covered with the blood of his lover. As the memories hit him, they came in full color, with sounds, smells, and the fear he had felt.
Ducky had persuaded Jethro to go Christmas shopping with him, something that Jethro normally hated. But what Ducky asked for, Ducky tended to get. It amused Jethro to think about just how easily his lover could manipulate and get his own way with him. No one else would ever dare to try the things Ducky did, and if they did they'd get a short, sharp answer. It also amused Jethro to think that no one else would believe it, as it appeared that it was Jethro who always got his own way - and he did, when he really wanted it. It worked for Jethro and Ducky, and that was all that mattered, not what other people thought.
They were in DC's large shopping mall, arguing gently over what to buy for the team - Ducky had insisted on buying gifts - when screams of terror broke into their pleasure. Jethro had his gun in his hand and was scanning the area before he even consciously thought about it. As he spun around he saw, to his horror, Ducky grab the arm of a woman who in turn was being dragged along by a man waving a revolver.
"Duck," Jethro cried, desperately fighting his way through the crowd who were all trying to get out of the store. At the sight of his gun, people began to push and shout, and in the seconds it took him to dig his ID out and yell 'Federal Agent,' he saw his worst nightmare unfold in front of his eyes.
Suddenly the woman, whom Ducky was trying to rescue, shook herself free of Ducky and plunged a knife, hitherto hidden, into his body. Ducky cried out and sank to the ground, as Jethro again pushed his way through the crowd, torn now between Federal Agent and lover.
The quandary was reinforced as another woman cried out, "He's got my daughter."
Sparing a glance at the ground where Ducky laid, blood already pouring out of the wound around the knife, Jethro raced out of the store after the man and his first 'hostage,' who were dragging a toddler along with them. "Federal Agent, freeze," Jethro called out, bringing his Sig up and out in a steady two-handed grip, praying that the other shoppers would get out of the way.
The man turned and fired off two shots, both of which missed Jethro, and the shoppers who were now huddled together against the shop wall. Calling a warning one more time, Jethro aimed and fired four shots; two into each of the fleeing criminals. They fell to the ground, the child they'd been dragging with them, took one gasp of breath and then began to cry.
Around him the crowd fell into an eerie silence. Waving his badge once more as Security Guards pounded up the stairs, Jethro spared no time for the child, let her mother or father go to her, or anyone else, as he raced back to where Ducky still lay on the floor, blood pooling in a horrifying amount around him.
Shoving his gun and badge into his overcoat pocket, Jethro dropped to his knees in the blood. Like all Marines and Federal Agents he had been trained to a degree in first aid, but his knowledge was considerably short of the help Ducky needed. As one hand went to Ducky's carotid artery, which to his relief beat under his fingers, weak but steady, the other moved near to the gaping wound.
Gaping? Shit. He glanced down, and by Ducky's side lay the knife. It had serrated edges and fork like prongs; it was designed to do more damage on the way out than it had done on the way in. He groaned. "Who did this?" he demanded, glaring up at the gaggle of people who surrounded him.
The sight of a young woman, her hands covered with blood, her face smeared from where she had clearly covered her mouth, standing and shaking, gave him his answer. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she kept repeating. "I thought . . . I couldn't stand to see it in him. I thought . . ."
"I told her to leave it where it was, but the silly bitch wouldn't listen," a man said.
The young woman began to cry, harsh deep sobs. "I'm so sorry. So sorry. So very sorry."
Jethro bit down on his instinct to also shout at her, to shake her and point out what she'd done. But she didn't need that - she could see. "It's all right," he forced himself to say. "It's done now." He began to press down with a steady pressure on the area of the wound. But despite his best efforts, the blood flowed through his fingers. "Has someone called 911?" he demanded.
"Yes. They're on their way," a man's voice said.
"Get me something to try to staunch the bleeding," Jethro said, glancing up. "Anything!" he yelled as no one moved.
"What about the risk of infection?" a voice asked. "I mean you shouldn't be touching him without gloves on, and you shouldn't be covering the wound with anything unsterile."
Jethro shook his head, as he grabbed what looked like a tablecloth from the hands of one of the store personnel and placed it over the wound, again putting pressure in the correct places. "If he's dead, he's hardly going to be worried about an infection," he snapped.
"But what about you? And the young woman who touched him before? In fact anyone who has gone near him," he voice continued. "He could be infected with anything. He could -"
"He isn't, okay!" Jethro said, grinding his teeth and forcing himself not to do or say anything he might regret.
"But how do you -"
"Will you just shut the fuck up!" Jethro snapped, glaring up at the man and treating him to the look that always made even the most heinous criminals quail. It worked.
The man backed away muttering, "I was only trying to help."
As the screams of the ambulance were heard over the noise of the shoppers, Jethro's again clamped one hand onto Ducky's neck and felt for the pulse. It was getting weaker and less steady, and despite his best efforts, the blood still poured out around the cloth that was now thick with Ducky's blood.
Jethro's own hands were been covered with the sticky liquid, and the cuffs of his jacket and overcoat were soaked with the same. Jethro began to pray, as he had never before in his life prayed.
Shaking himself, Jethro looked down at his hands, expecting to see them still covered with blood, but they were clean. Muttering to himself about finally knowing what Lady Macbeth had felt like, Jethro carefully put his fingers to Ducky's throat. He trusted his touch more than the machines that were obligingly telling him that Ducky's heart was still beating at a steady and normal rate.
Jethro wasn't certain for how long he'd sat there, nor how many rounds of nurses had come and gone, before Ducky's eyelashes began to flicker and he made a soft noise. He was on his feet and bending over Ducky before he thought. "Duck?" he said gently, still holding Ducky's hand, while touching his forehead with the other. "Ducky my love," he whispered.
The pale blue eyes finally opened for a second or two, before the lashes fell again. Jethro stood still, vaguely wondering if he should call for the nurses who had ordered him to do so, once Ducky woke up.
After another moment or two, the lids were once more forced apart, and the tip of Ducky's tongue was rubbed around his lips. "Jethro?" the husky voice managed, as Ducky blinked several times and fought the clear battle to keep his eyes open.
"Yeah, Duck, it's me," Jethro managed, his own voice low and slightly shaky.
"Did you get them?" Ducky asked, after swallowing hard several times.
Jethro glanced around searching for a bowl should Ducky need it. His lover had never been sick from anesthetic before, but there was a first time for everything. "Yeah, Duck. I got them." The amount of paperwork that would be generated from the day's events, suddenly came into his mind. Oh, great. He'd be doing that between now and Christmas Day. He saw Ducky swallow again. "Are you okay, Duck? Are you going to be sick?"
Ducky started to shake his head, groaned and instead managed. "No, my dear. Just thirsty."
Jethro squeezed his hand. "I'll get you something," he said, once more looking around the room.
Ducky returned the pressure. "I think you had better call a nurse, my dear."
"Why? What's wrong?" Immediately Jethro's attention returned to his lover, and his pulse rate shot up.
To his surprise, Ducky managed a half-chuckle, which turned into a cough. Not totally certain whether he would do more harm than good, but not willing to see his lover choke under his eyes, Jethro slipped one arm under Ducky's head and shoulders, and raised him slightly, pulling Ducky against him and supporting him while he coughed dryly. If Ducky was wrong about not being sick, Jethro would find out soon enough, but his clothes were ruined anyway.
Lifting Ducky's head seemed to be the right thing to do, as within moments the coughs subsided, and Ducky snuggled against Jethro sighing peacefully. Then he moved away. "Why do your clothes smell of blood, dearest?"
Jethro laid him back down. "Because they're pretty much covered with it, Duck," he said, desperately trying to keep the quiver from his voice.
"Ah," Ducky said. Then to Jethro's surprise he said, "I'm so sorry, my dear."
Jethro blinked. "Sorry?"
"For acting so foolishly. It was just that -"
"Your chivalrous streak got the better of you. Yeah, well, Duck. Despite everything, I'd have been surprised if it hadn't. But next time, leave it to me. I am the one with the gun."
"Yes, Jethro," Ducky said softly. "Now about that nurse. And no, my dear, I feel perfectly well. That is as well as I can be expected to feel given that I've been stabbed and clearly operated on, and am lying in a hospital bed with tubes stuck into me, putting liquid into and taking it out of my body, and covered with monitoring devices, three days before Christmas, when we were meant to be - Jethro," he managed, a second or two later when Jethro released his lips.
The sound of a throat being cleared had Jethro turning around. There in the doorway, arms folded, a faint hidden smile on his lips stood Dr. Adrian Johnson. Jethro groaned silently, but held the steady gaze, daring the doctor to say anything. The brown eyes held his own, and to his complete astonishment one closed in a clear wink.
The next moment Adrian was by the bed, taking Ducky's other hand. "Hello, Ducky," he said. "I know we said that we'd try to get together over Christmas, but this wasn't quite what I had in mind. And you," he said, glancing at Jethro, "were meant to call the nurses as soon as he woke up."
Jethro opened his mouth. But Ducky beat him to it. "Oh, don't be cross with Jethro, Adrian, he's far more used to giving orders than following them. Besides," he said, as the smile that had touched his lips faded, to be replaced by sincerity, "the poor man has not had an easy time of it."
"And what about you?" Adrian said.
"Oh, I was merely stabbed, Adrian. Jethro had to watch the drama unfold around him."
"You nearly died, Duck," Jethro whispered. He sank down onto the bed and clutched Ducky's hand between both of his, staring into the pale eyes which, as they always did, softened and became rich with love and affection as they looked up at him.
"I know, my dear," Ducky said softly, and his eyes said so much more.
For a moment the two lovers just stared at one another.
Eventually the sound of a throat again being cleared pulled Jethro's attention back to Adrian, who was now checking the two drips and looking at the monitor.
"When can I go home, Adrian?" Ducky suddenly asked.
Adrian chuckled. "Is he always like this?"
Jethro nodded. "I'm afraid so. Five or ten minutes after he comes round from an anesthetic, you'd never think he'd had one. I feel like hell, he's asking for tea and toast."
Ducky's eyes brightened. "Ah, tea. Now that would be nice." Jethro smiled and brushed his hand over Ducky's hair, once more pushing it back from his face. "You didn't answer my question, Adrian."
"Not for at least a week, I'm afraid Ducky."
"But that's ridiculous. I feel fine. Besides it is almost Christmas and Jethro and I had plans."
"Ducky, you lost a substantial amount of blood, the wound was very deep and ragged. We are keeping you here until we are certain that you have not picked up an infection, and until we've replenished the blood that you lost. You may feel fine - although I doubt if that is strictly accurate - but your blood pressure is low and your pulse rate higher than it should be. You know the dangers involved in knife wounds, of any wounds come to that. So, please be sensible. Jethro can spend as much time as he likes here with you. Now, I am going to fetch the nurse, before sister arrives and gives us all hell." He nodded to Jethro and turned towards the door.
"You know, my dear, you and Adrian have a lot in common," Ducky said, squeezing the hand Jethro still held. "Now, it's regretful but I think you had better move from the bed back to the chair. The nurse will not appreciate coming in and finding you sitting there."
Jethro stood up, bent forward to brush his lips over Ducky's forehead, and moved to the chair. However, he still couldn't bring himself to let go of Ducky's hand. The near loss of the man he loved more than he had ever, or could ever, love anyone, was still too fresh in his mind. To hell with what the nurse might think; in fact to hell with what anyone might think. He loved Ducky. He wasn't ashamed of it, and it was time that he stopped behaving as though he was.
Five minutes later, however, he found himself outside Ducky's room, leaning against the wall and cursing under his breath.
"Now, now, Jethro, those are not the kinds of words a gentleman of your standing should be using."
Jethro turned around. There watching him, arms folded, the same look he'd had on his face when he'd entered Ducky's room, stood Adrian. "She threw me out."
"Mmm, they usually do."
"But what on earth for? Christ, I had my hands virtually inside Ducky earlier on, I'm still covered in his blood, I don't think I'm going to pass out or throw up at the sight of her changing a bag of blood and taking his pulse."
"But some people would, and quite frankly it's better just to make all visitors leave rather than go through the rigmarole of dealing with those who can't handle it. Besides, Jethro, you do tend to intimidate people."
Jethro opened his mouth to deny it. Then closed it again when he realized that he couldn't. "It's the gun," he said finally.
"No. Not exactly. I just caught my coat on the chair as I stood up."
Adrian smiled and shook his head. "Oh, Jethro," he said. "I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, but even without the gun you are intimidating." Jethro glared at him. To his faint amusement, Adrian just laughed. "Come on, let's go and get some coffee. It'll be a while before you can go back in. Putting up another bag of blood isn't as quick and simple as merely putting saline up; it all has to be double-checked. And they'll want to check the bandages around his wound, and as Ducky is feeling so bright, they'll tidy him up generally, let him wash his hands and face, that sort of thing, and probably even remove the catheter."
"None of which -"
"Jethro. For once just accept the fact that you have to obey an order. Come on, I happen to have a very good blend of coffee hidden away in my office. I believe it'll suit your tastes."
Jethro settled back in the chair in Adrian's office and sipped his coffee. The doctor was correct, it was very good and very strong - Ducky would have hated it.
Appearing almost to read his mind, Adrian said, "Just don't tell Ducky that I fed you this stuff. He wouldn't approve."
Jethro smiled. "I won't. He occasionally tries to get me to cut down on the amount I drink each day."
They sat for another moment or two in silence. Then Adrian said, his tone slightly less friendly, "You will be here with him, won't you? Over Christmas I mean."
Jethro stared and fought the instinct to snap at the man. He was Ducky's second oldest friend, and Jethro knew that the two men were close. "Of course I will," he said firmly. "Where else would I be?"
Adrian shrugged. "Sorry, Jethro. I didn't mean -"
"Yes, you did," Jethro said firmly, but without anger.
Adrian smiled ruefully. "Yes, I did. Seriously, Jethro, I am sorry. I know how much you mean to Ducky. It's just . . ." he trailed off and shrugged. "Forget it. It's none of my business."
"I won't hurt him any more, Adrian. I promised him that. I've never yet broken a promise to Ducky and I won't start now. I love him," he said quietly, amazed at himself as the words came out. "I won't hurt him. I've done that too often over the years."
The brown eyes stared at him, unblinkingly. The appraisal clear. The look in them was the one that Ducky and Abby both got when considering a particularly interesting specimen or organ. Jethro tried not to shift in the chair, but he felt as though he was under the microscope.
Finally Adrian said, "I believe you, Jethro."
Jethro was surprised at how much the words meant to him. They shouldn't have done, after all it wasn't any one's business but his and Ducky's, and if Ducky believed him, that was all that mattered. But nonetheless the what could be deemed 'approval' touched him.
He had an idea. "Adrian, I know that you said it's okay for me to visit whenever I like, but what about other people?"
"What did you have in mind?"
"Ducky had planned to have the entire team over to his house for Christmas night. Would it be all right if they came here instead?"
Jethro thought quickly. "Four maybe five."
"Should be fine. But not for too long. I don't care how well he says he is, he'll tire easily and losing that amount of blood will take its toll. I don't want him overexcited."
"I promise. I'll keep my eye on them."
"And no alcohol. This is a hospital after all."
Adrian raised an eyebrow.
Finally Ducky virtually ordered him to go home, stating that the smell of dried blood on Jethro's clothes was making him feel nauseous. Besides, he wanted, he told Jethro, his own toothbrush and other wash things and pajamas. So, Jethro pulled his overcoat back on and prepared to leave Ducky's room.
As he bent his head to kiss him, the sound of a voice he knew well, stopped him and made him straighten up. The door was pushed open and the scent of Poison floated into the room ahead of the redheaded woman.
"Ducky," she moved nearer to the bed and kissed Ducky's cheek. "How are you?"
"I'm very well thank you, Jennifer," Ducky said, glancing at Jethro. For a second Jethro read Ducky's eyes, but then under his own gaze, a shield was erected. Jethro moved closer to the bed without appearing to do so.
"Jenn," he said carefully.
"Jethro." She met his gaze and smiled her bedroom smile, while letting her eyes flicker up and down him. He groaned silently, and stuffed his hands into his coat pockets. "You owe me a dinner."
"Yes. I have spent the afternoon cleaning up the mess you made at the shopping mall."
"I thought they had janitors for that," Jethro muttered, suddenly feeling Ducky's shoulder press against his arm.
Jenny glared at him for a second, before laughing lightly. Again, she turned away from him and addressed Ducky. "I understand you'll be in here for a while, Ducky?"
"So I've been told." Ducky sounded suddenly weary.
Jethro again inched a little closer to the bed. "I think Ducky needs to rest," he said firmly.
Jenny smiled. "Indeed. You can walk me to my car, Jethro, and we'll decide where we are going to eat."
"Sorry, Jenn," Jethro said, not in the least sorry, but forcing his voice to show that was. "I can't. I have to go and collect some things for Ducky."
"Can't Abby or one of the others do that?"
"It's three days before Christmas. They have plans. Besides, I'm going to the office after that. As you said I left quite a mess behind me. The paperwork will keep me there for the rest of the night. Now, goodnight, Jenn. Thank you for stopping by. I'm sure Ducky feels so much better knowing that the Director is concerned for the wellbeing of her staff."
He saw Jenny's eyes widen at his words, and sensed Ducky's surprise. For a moment he thought that Jenny would say something else. Instead she just looked at him, held him with a cold, appraising stare, before smiling and saying lightly, "You're correct, as always, Jethro. I'm sorry, Ducky. I should have waited until tomorrow. I know how tiring it can be after getting injured. I'll leave you to rest. Goodnight." Again, she moved towards Ducky and leaned over to kiss him. As she did her body brushed against Jethro's, the touch as intimate as a touch can be when both parties are fully clothed.
Jethro felt no reaction to the blatant invitation. In fact he felt nothing at all.
She moved from the bed towards the door, taking another waft of heady perfume with her. "Jethro," she said, offering him a half-smile.
"If you find you've finished the report sooner than you think -"
"He'll be going home to sleep," Ducky said firmly. "I as a doctor insist. As you know, Jennifer, being the one standing by and seeing a team member seriously injured without being able to do very much about it, not to mention taking lives, no matter how deserved it might be, is extremely tiring and stressful. What Jethro needs is to go home, get out of his blood soaked clothes, have a long, hot shower, a very large whiskey and sleep. However, we both know that until he has dealt with at least some of the paperwork, he will not be doing those things."
Jethro forced his mouth to remain together; he was stunned by Ducky's words. The last time he'd heard his friend so fierce, had been when someone had tampered with a crime scene. From the astounded look on the carefully made up face, Jenny felt the same.
Nonetheless she recovered swiftly. "Ducky's quite right, Jethro. I'm sorry. I was being selfish. Look, it's late anyway, why don't you leave the paperwork until tomorrow. It's not going anywhere. Anyway, I'll leave you to make that decision. Goodnight, Ducky. I'll stop by tomorrow."
She smiled and left the room.
"I'm sorry, my dear," Ducky said softly.
Jethro looked down. "Duck? What the hell have you got to be sorry about?"
"For being so forceful, and basically telling you what you were going to do. Maybe you did want to join her for dinner. If you wish to I -"
This time there was no gentle cough to break the kiss, and Jethro, taking great care not to jolt Ducky, showed Ducky just how much he'd wanted to go out to dinner with Jennifer Shepard. The kiss was gentle, loving, sweet, chaste almost. Jethro used it to tell Ducky everything he often found it difficult to say aloud.
When he finally laid Ducky gently back against the pillow, he smiled gently and touched Ducky's lips with his fingers. If Jenny came back now, she wouldn't have to think too hard to know exactly what had been happening. As gentle as he'd been, Ducky's lips were clearly kiss-reddened and slightly swollen, and his pupils, which had already begun to enlarge as a result of the antibiotic drugs being pumped into his body, now completely covered the irises.
"I love you, Duck," he said earnestly.
Ducky smiled and his lids began to close. It seemed that his tiredness was genuine after all; that, or the kiss had acted like a sleeping tablet. "I love you too, my dearest Jethro. I just didn't -"
"Hush," Jethro said, bending forward to kiss Ducky again. This time he was aware that he was the one doing the kissing, Ducky was merely a participant, clearly a content one, but nonetheless he seemed too exhausted to even return the gentle pressure.
Jethro pulled away, not without regret, brushed Ducky's fringe again, kissed his forehead and nose, and said softly, "Go to sleep, my love. I'll be back later."
"Yes, dearest," Ducky managed - or at least that's what Jethro thought his lover had said.
Smiling gently, he crossed to the door, lowered the lights and left the room. Outside he ran into a young nurse with tinsel around her head. She blinked up at him. "Dr. Mallard's asleep," he said, fighting the urge to pull his lips into his mouth. "I'm just going to fetch him some things he needs. I'll be back soon."
"Visiting hours will be over in half an hour, sir."
"It's all right. I won't stay when I come back. I know he needs to rest." He smiled at her and walked away, aware that her eyes were on him for the entire length of the corridor.
Jethro decided to collect the stuff Ducky would need and take it straight back to the hospital before he bothered to shower and change himself. The only thing he paused to do at Ducky's house was to make himself a large mug of strong black coffee.
When he returned to the hospital, he ran into the same nurse who smiled up at him and offered to take the bag he held.
"Thanks, I appreciate it, Nurse. If Dr. Mallard needs to get in touch with me for any reason before I come back tomorrow, will you tell him that I'm staying at his house, please?"
"Of course, sir," she said and smiled again.
"Thank you." Jethro returned the smile, put his hands in his overcoat pockets and strode off. He was back outside getting into his car when the realization that she had been a redhead struck him. He chuckled to himself and climbed into his car. "Ah, Duck," he said, gunning the engine. "I think you're finally cured me."
After he'd showered and changed, and sorted his clothes into those he thought might possibly be dry-cleanable, and those he knew the blood would never come out from, he went into the dining room, poured himself a large whiskey from Ducky's ample supply, dug out his cell phone and called Abby.
The phone was answered almost instantly. "Gibbs!" Abby yelled. "Thank God you've called. I've been going frantic. Madam Director . . ." But what Abby was about to say was lost in the raucous laughter and overly loud music coming from her end of the phone.
Wincing as the thumping of the music matched the throbbing that was building up in his head, Jethro felt a little guilty. He should have called Abby earlier; he knew how deeply she cared about Ducky. "Abbs?" he yelled himself, trying to be heard over the racket.
"Hang on, Gibbs." And Abby had gone. Moments later the noise faded too. "That's better, I can hear you now. So tell. What's been going on?"
"What do you know?" Gibbs asked.
"Only that Ducky was stabbed and badly injured, and that you killed the people responsible. Is Ducky alive, Gibbs?" The question was asked hesitantly and softly.
Christ, hadn't Jenn told them? If he could get his hands on her now he'd wring her neck. "He's fine, Abbs. You know Ducky. He came through the operation perfectly well. There's no damage to any major organs, and not long after he came round from the anesthetic, he was asking for tea and toast. I'm sorry, Abbs. I thought Jenn would have told you he was okay."
"Well yes, she came to the hospital."
Jethro knew that technically he should say something, should chastise Abby, but he wasn't about to. He agreed with Abby, wholeheartedly. So instead he sipped his whiskey.
"She told us that no one was to go to the hospital. No one, she said. And then she goes herself. I called, Gibbs, but you know how it is. 'Are you a family member, ma'am?' Well, I couldn't say I was, as I didn't know what you'd told them. So I had to say no, and of course they wouldn't tell me anything. Is he really going to be okay?"
"Yes, Abbs, he is. I promise."
"Good." Again it was said softly. Even through the connection and above the much-more-muted-but-still-present noise of the party, Jethro could hear that his Forensics expert was choked up.
He knew Abby well enough though to know that while she would know that he knew she was upset, she wouldn't want him to say anything. But there was something else he wanted to say anyway, and hopefully it would cheer her up. "Hey, Abbs, you know we were all going over to Ducky's on Christmas night?"
"Of course. I was looking forward to it."
"Well, you still can."
"I know that one sure way of cheering Ducky up would be if all the people he cared about were together in one place."
"You want us to come to the hospital?"
"Well Ducky has been told he'll be in there for at least a week, so yes."
"That's so sweet, Gibbs. Ducky'll be so happy. But what about the hospital? They can be fussy about these kinds of things."
"I checked with his doctor and he said that as long as there weren't too many people, and no alcohol, and everyone behaved and didn't stay too long, then it was fine. Can I leave it to you to organize, please, Abbs?"
"Of course. I'll get onto it straight away." She paused, and Jethro heard her thinking. "Who exactly am I asking, Gibbs?"
He smiled to himself. "Well apart from you; McGee, DiNozzo and Jimmy." He waited.
"Nor Madam Director?"
"You rock, Gibbs."
Jethro laughed. "Yeah, so you keep telling me, Abbs. Oh, and Fornell, but I'll call him myself."
"Oh, that'll be nice. He hasn't got any family, has he?"
Jethro wasn't overly surprised that she knew that. "No," he said. "Not since my second ex-wife walked out on him."
"You know I'm sure there's something hinky about you both marrying and divorcing the same woman, but I can't think what it is at the moment." For the first time since he'd called her, Jethro was aware that Abby had clearly been drinking.
He chuckled. "When you work it out, Abbs, call me."
"Where are you now?"
"At Ducky's. I thought I'd stay here tonight."
"Good idea. I doubt if she'll think of looking for you there."
Jethro blinked. He shouldn't be, but he was still occasionally surprised by Abby. And he thought the only person who could read his mind was Ducky. "Go back to your party, Abbs," he said.
"Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs," she called, as he was about to hang up.
"Call me tomorrow, okay? Or . . . "
"He'll be fine, Abby. I swear. Now go on and have fun." This time he thumbed the phone off.
He settled back on the sofa, took another swig of whiskey, and called Tobias. As he'd thought the FBI had heard about the incident, but like Jethro's own team, was as much in the dark as to how Ducky was.
Tobias accepted Jethro's invitation, with even more pleasure than Jethro had been expecting, maybe Christmas Day was an awful day to be alone. He half wondered whether he should invite Tobias along to the hospital earlier, but his altruism didn't go that far.
"See you around 7:30, Tobias," he said, after giving his friend Ducky's floor and room number. After promising to call Tobias the next day too, he hung up again and tossed the phone down next to him.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes. The whiskey was starting to hit far faster and harder than it usually did, he must have been even more exhausted than he'd thought.
Then he remembered, he also hadn't eaten since he and Ducky had shared breakfast that morning. Pretty certain that the chances of getting someone to deliver a pizza to him within the next two hours were as likely as he and Jenn getting back together again - actually, getting the pizza was more likely - he pushed himself to his feet, and went to see what Ducky had in the kitchen.
Two chunky rounds of ham and cheese sandwiches, and two bags of potato chips came back with him to join his whiskey. He'd finish them, then he'd call the hospital again, just the check that all was still okay.
Then he'd start on the paperwork.
"Jethro, are you in there?" Jenny called, as she knocked on his door. The house was in darkness. There wasn't even a faint light emanating from the basement, and most unusually the door was firmly locked.
She frowned and pursed her lips.
She'd already been to the office, fully expecting to find him there, head bent over his desk, filling out the endless paperwork his shootings had caused, and drinking coffee. She's been so certain that she'd find him there, that she had even gone up to the office with a mug of coffee, just the way he liked it, in her hand. She'd also been sure that this time she would manage to persuade him to join her for a late dinner, and even to spend the night in her bed. Thus when the elevator had opened onto the dark, empty office, her smile had faded and she'd felt badly let down.
However, deciding that he must have gone home to do the paperwork after all, she threw the coffee into the nearest bin, checked her make-up, added a touch more perfume and drove out there. Spending the night in his bed wasn't really what she preferred, but she'd do it. Even she couldn't expect him to drive from his house to her apartment just to make love to her. That he would be making love to her that night, she had no doubts about at all.
This double absence was just too much! He must have stayed at the hospital after all. He probably fell asleep in a chair and they were kind enough to let him stay - the man could sleep anywhere!
As she drove away from the dark, empty house, she told herself that it was his loss, not hers - maybe if she repeated if often enough she'd believe it.
Jethro sat on the edge of Ducky's bed, one arm around Ducky, holding him while he slept. Two hours ago he'd persuaded his obstinate lover that an after-lunch nap might be a good idea, as Ducky could hardly keep his eyes open. Ducky had finally agreed, but only after Jethro promised him that he wasn't going anywhere. And he hadn't, despite the fact that he'd lost sensation in the arm he had around Ducky more than half an hour ago.
Ducky's temperature had been slightly raised since the day before, and the brightness and determination he'd been exhibiting ever since the stabbing had reduced somewhat. The nursing staff had told Jethro that he had also seemed anxious when Jethro was out of his sight, and he was slightly more demanding of Jethro's attention when Jethro was with him. Adrian had assured Jethro that everything was fine, and that some degree of post-operative depression was normal.
Somehow Jethro had managed to stretch the twenty-four hours in each day by several more, mainly by not sleeping for more than an hour or two, and had fitted in not only writing a full and comprehensive report and filling out reams of paperwork, but had also managed to go shopping to buy extra gifts for Ducky, as well as the gifts that Ducky insisted he buy for the team.
Throughout it all, he'd also had to cope with Jenn's less than subtle flirting and demands that he still owed her a dinner. Finally, in a desperate attempt to shut her up, he'd taken the entire team out for lunch, explaining that he wanted to say thank you for all the extra work that they'd undertaken over the last few days. He wasn't entirely certain whose eyes shot the fiercest ice, Jenn's or Abby's.
Ducky had, not surprisingly, done all of his own Christmas shopping weeks before, and Jethro found several presents all neatly wrapped with labels addressed to him where Ducky told him they would be. Following Ducky's insistence, he'd brought them to the hospital as well as the gifts he had for Ducky, and the gifts the team would be given when they arrived. Ziva's own gift, again at Ducky's insistence, he would give to her when they were next in the office.
Ducky had been delighted with all the gifts Jethro had showered on him, despite the fact that most of them weren't either original or particularly exceptional. Finding either after over twenty-five years of exchanging presents, was a challenge in itself, and just occasionally Jethro wondered why either of them bothered. Ducky had more than enough money to buy whatever he wanted or needed for himself, and Jethro, despite paying alimony to each of his three ex-wives, was also able to indulge himself, should he choose to do so. But he knew how much Ducky enjoyed giving gifts, so he never once suggested that they break their habits - even if most years several of the gifts were exactly the same as the year before.
Ducky had his head on Jethro's shoulder and was snuggled against him, relaxed and heavy in Jethro's arm - at least Jethro assumed his arm was still there. He glanced over Ducky's head and wiggled his fingers; yes, they still moved. As uncomfortable as the position was, Jethro was determined not to move until Ducky awoke. Although, no doubt Ducky would appreciate the opportunity to wash his hands and face and brush his teeth before the team arrived - except Ducky didn't know about that.
A short time later, just as Jethro was seriously considering having to break his promise to himself not to disturb Ducky, his lover made several soft noises and began to move in the embrace. Within a few minutes the pale blue eyes were blinking at him and a faint smile touched Ducky's lips, his cheeks were lightly flushed, but a touch to Ducky's forehead reassured Jethro that his lover was no warmer than he had been earlier. He moved his head slightly, lowered his mouth and gently kissed Ducky's lips. "Feel better now?" he asked, moving back from the kiss.
Ducky smiled. "Yes, thank you, my dear." He stretched and moved away from Jethro's embrace, allowing Jethro to move his arm. He couldn't hide the gasp that escaped him as the blood started to flow back into the abused limb, and his fingers felt as though hot knives were being pushed into them. Flexing his fingers and shaking his wrist, Jethro brushed the hair back from Ducky's forehead with his other hand, before standing up and stretching himself.
"I was having such a lovely dream, Jethro," Ducky said, his voice slightly husky.
Jethro glanced down at his lover. His pupils were enlarged, but they had been ever since the accident. "You were, were you?" he said, letting Ducky take his hand and tug him back down.
"Oh, yes, my dear. But in it, you were not fully clothed."
Jethro chuckled. "Duck," he said, letting his head be pulled towards Ducky for another kiss. Surgeon's fingers began to tease the nape of his neck, making him groan and deepen the kiss. It was one of his most erogenous zones, as Ducky well knew, guaranteed to arouse him in seconds.
His mind told him it was not a good idea, for several reasons; his body tried to ignore the order. Clamping down on his control, however, he reached behind him and caught Ducky's hand. "Duck," he said, kissing Ducky's hand. "We can't."
"I know," Ducky said simply. "I just wanted to give you something to think about when you go home tonight."
Jethro frowned. "Duck, I don't need anything to make me think about you. That comes naturally."
"Duck? What is it?" Jethro put his finger under Ducky's chin and tilted his lover's head up. Was it just post-operative depression? Or was there something else?
Ducky shook his head. "It's nothing."
"Ducky," Jethro growled, deliberately using the tone he employed at the office.
"She still wants you," Ducky said, after a moment or two.
"Ah, Duck. I don't want her."
"No. Why on earth would you -"
The sound of the door opening stopped him. It was a young nurse. She smiled brightly at them both, ignored the fact that Jethro was sitting on the bed, holding Ducky's hand and said, "It's time for your medication, Dr. Mallard."
Ducky rolled his eyes. "Haven't you pumped enough into me already?"
She smiled. "And then I wondered if you'd like to freshen up a little? It will make you feel more comfortable, being in bed all day is never really enjoyable, is it?"
Ducky glanced at Jethro and his eyes twinkled. The more somber mood that had suddenly pressed down on him a moment ago seemed to have vanished. "That would be nice, thank you." He smiled at her.
She glanced at Jethro. "Sir . . ."
Jethro held up a hand. "I know. I know. I'm going. I need to visit the head anyway. I'll see you soon, Duck."
The twinkle vanished for a second, and the unease the nurses had spoken off was suddenly apparent. But then it had vanished again as Ducky turned back to the young nurse and held out his hand for the tablets she offered him.
It was less than half an hour later when Jethro was allowed back into Ducky's room to find that his lover propped up against freshly plumped pillows, and wearing clean pajamas. His hair had been brushed and he looked happy to see Jethro. He held out his hand. "I'm sorry, my dear," he said as Jethro moved back to the bed and took it. "Please ignore my foolishness. I didn't mean to upset you."
"Hey, there's nothing to forgive. And I'm not upset. I really don't want her, Ducky. I love you."
"I know you do, my dear. And I love you too. And always shall. It's just the medication and after effects of the anesthetic. I'm just being a stupid old man."
Jethro sat down again and pulled Ducky into his arms, and kissed him. "You are not stupid. Nor are you old," he said forcefully.
"If you say so, my dear," Ducky said, and offered his mouth for Jethro to kiss.
Jethro did so willingly.
The next hour passed pleasantly, as the two old friends chatted about inconsequential things, and exchanged chaste, affectionate kisses. Then the sound of voices outside Ducky's room made Ducky glance up, and for a split second Jethro wondered whether inviting Abby and the others over, and not telling Ducky had been a good idea after all.
However, as Abby and the four men came into the room and Ducky saw Abby firmly close the door behind her, the pleasure on his lover's face assured him that it had not just been a good idea, it had been an excellent idea.
The team seemed touched by the gifts they were given, and all of them had bought presents for Ducky. DiNozzo then presented Jethro himself with a parcel saying that the contents had been Fornell's idea.
"For the next time I come to visit you," Tobias had said. Adding, "And here's something for the time after that." He in turn handed Jethro a similarly shaped parcel.
Everyone laughed as the contents of the parcel Tobias had given Jethro, as the one Jethro had handed his second oldest and closest friend, revealed identical bottles of Macallan whiskey.
Adrian popped his head around the door at one point and was persuaded by Ducky to come in and join the party and be introduced to everyone.
It was getting on for 8:30, when Jethro noticed how suddenly tired Ducky looked, and how his face had begin to whiten. It was time to get rid of everyone, but there was something he still had to do first. A final gift he had to give to Ducky.
"Hey," he said, cutting into the general chat. "As much as I hate to break the party up, Ducky's getting tired." He half expected his lover to protest.
Instead Ducky said quietly, "I am afraid that Jethro is correct. I am feeling rather weary. It was lovely to see all of you. Thank you so much for coming here tonight. It was not the way I'd hoped we'd all spend Christmas night, but at least all the people who really matter to me were together in one room."
His choice of words confirmed, had confirmation been necessary, to Jethro that not inviting Ziva or Jenn had been the right thing to do. Although he knew that the former would almost certainly have been genuinely welcomed, the latter would not have been.
Ducky held Abby's hand with one of his own hands; the other was pressed, to all intents and purposes, nonchalantly against Jethro's leg, as he leaned against the bed.
Jethro waited until everyone had gathered their belongings together and had said their goodbyes to Ducky. Abby insisted on kissing Ducky once for herself, and once for McGee, DiNozzo, Jimmy, Tobias, and Adrian. Jethro watched amused as Ducky let himself be covered with black lipstick, deciding that it was far better than blood any day. He even received a swift kiss and hug from Abby himself.
As they reached the door, he spoke. "Wait. There's something you all need to know." As one his team, Tobias and Adrian turned around. Jethro looked down at Ducky who had tilted his head back and was gazing up at Jethro with open love and devotion, mixed with a quizzical expression.
Jethro took Ducky's hand and held it between his own. The quizzical expression deepened. He smiled down at his lover, letting his own eyes soften in a way he never did unless the men were alone, then looked back up at the six people who stood waiting in silence.
"When Ducky leaves the hospital, he'll be coming home with me," Jethro said. Then he added firmly, "And he won't be going back to his house again." He sat on the edge of the bed, and slipped his arm around Ducky's shoulders. Ducky sighed softly, the sound one of pure pleasure and settled into the embrace.
Jethro waited. Not entirely certain what to expect.
Tobias spoke first. "About time too, Jethro. And this means that I won't have to bring my own whiskey round ever again. Ducky has far better taste than you do."
"Try to teach him about locking his front door, Ducky," Tony said.
Adrian nodded slowly and regarded Jethro with an approving look.
McGee and Jimmy looked at one another, grinned wildly and slapped hands.
Abby squealed, pushed the parcel she held into McGee's hands, and dashed back across the room to encase both men in one of her super-woman hugs. Then she bounced back across the room, slipped one arm through McGee's, and left him still holding her parcel as she slipped her other arm through Tobias's.
As they all left the room, Jethro heard Tobias inviting everyone back to his house for a drink and something to eat. He heard Adrian decline, saying that officially he was on call, but his team accepted with what sounded like genuine pleasure.
Jethro turned his attention back to Ducky resting comfortably in his embrace, his eyes were closed, his lips were turned up in a faint smile and he looked at peace. A moment later the blue eyes opened and gazed up at him. If Jethro had thought throughout the years that Ducky's eyes had clearly spoken on his love, devotion and affection, he realized now that although there, it had been shielded.
For a moment he didn't know what to say, so instead he kissed Ducky tenderly. When he pulled away he said softly, "I hope that's okay with you, Duck? Maybe I should have asked you first, but -"
Ducky silenced him. When they broke apart again, Ducky said tenderly, "Jethro my dearest, you have made me happier than I ever dreamt I could be. You have given me the greatest gift anyone could ever give me."
Jethro swallowed hard, as he saw the truth confirmed in Ducky's eyes. "I love you, Duck," he whispered.
"I love you too, Jethro my dearest."
And again Ducky tugged Jethro's head down for another kiss.
When Adrian popped his head around the door before he went home for the night, to see if his friend was still awake, he found both men fast asleep. Jethro was again sitting on the bed, his arm firmly around Ducky, Ducky was snuggled into the embrace with his head on Jethro's shoulder, and Jethro's head was resting on Ducky's.
Adrian hadn't the heart to wake them, despite wincing as he imagine just how stiff Jethro would be when he awoke. So instead he dimmed the lights, pulled the door shut and went to tell the nurses on duty not to disturb Dr. Mallard until the morning. It wouldn't be the first time the hospital staff had allowed loved ones to spend Christmas night at the hospital with their partners.
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