VANCE'S FAULT

 

By

 

Ashleigh Anpilova

 

A sequel to Now You Do.

Vance gets his own way. However, he could not possibly have foreseen what his decision was going to lead to.

A first time story.

Written: March 2009. Word count: 10,232.

 

 

"You can't!" Gibbs couldn't believe what he'd just heard. He glared down at the man who sat behind his desk, a file in front of him.

 

"Yes, Agent Gibbs. I can. I am the director." Vance's tone was icy.

 

Gibbs fought to get his temper under control. "I know that, Leon. But . . . Why?"

 

"Dr. Mallard is sixty-seven. He is past the age of retirement."

 

"He still does a damned good job." Gibbs continued to glare down at the man who was his boss. The man he should be showing more respect to; but respect had to be earned.

 

Now Vance met his glare and held it unblinkingly. When he spoke, some of the coolness had vanished from his voice. "I am not saying he doesn't. However, the point remains he is past the mandatory age of retirement. Besides," Vance paused and Gibbs watched him, wary now. Vance seemed to reconsider what he was going to say, but finally continued to speak. "His leg seems to have been giving him more trouble recently, he's been limping somewhat more than usual and he has been sitting down more. The question has to be asked, is he really able to manage the rigors of the job? How long is he going to be able to go on being called out at all hours of the day and night and carrying out long, often arduous autopsies?"

 

Who the hell had been talking out of turn? But even as he asked the silent question, he knew the answer: no one. Vance had seen for himself. But limping and sitting down more or not, Ducky was still more than up to the rigors of the job. "He's had a lot to cope with recently. His mom going into a home and now, well you know she died a few weeks ago."

 

"Yes, I am well aware of that."

 

"Well, you can't just retire him after that. It'll -"

 

"Agent Gibbs. I am sorry. I know you and he are old friends. I know he's an important member of your team. I know he does an excellent job. I know how difficult it will be to replace him. However, none of that matters. Dr. Mallard is going to retire, whether you like it or not."

 

Gibbs swallowed hard and again fought his rising temper. "You could -"

 

"I could what?" The ice returned to Vance's tone.

 

"Choose to ignore the fact," Gibbs said.

 

"I could. But I'm not going to."

 

"Why the fuck not?"

 

Vance ignored the profanity. "Because once I start making that kind of allowance for one person, I'll have to do it for everyone else."

 

"I don't care about everyone else. I only -" Too late Gibbs stopped speaking.

 

"Yes?"

 

"Just don't do it, Leon. Not now. Wait a few more months until -"

 

"You can find another excuse? Another reason why I shouldn't do what we both know I have to do. No, I'm sorry, Jethro. Dr. Mallard will retire in one month's time. Now as you are old friends, and as you have worked with him for considerably longer than I have and know him far better, I offer you the choice: do you want to tell him or shall I?"

 

Gibbs just stared at Vance. He was beaten; for once he was beaten. "I'll tell him. At least I'll -" Again he cut himself off; there was no point saying anything else. And then suddenly he didn't care. "And I thought I was the bastard," he snarled. With those words, uncaring as to what Vance might or might not do, he turned around abruptly and strode to the door. He flung it open with such force it hit the wall and bounced back. He caught it before it hit him, continued out of the office and slammed the heavy, unslammable door behind him.

 

With the noise still reverberating in his ears, he headed for the elevators and punched the number that would take him to Autopsy. If he didn't tell Ducky now he knew he wouldn't. And he also knew Vance would only give him until the end of the day, if that, before he told Ducky himself. And it wasn't the news you wanted to hear from someone who wasn't a close friend. At least it wasn't the news Ducky would want to hear from anyone other than Gibbs himself.

 

Silently praying that today was one of Palmer's Medical School days he left the elevator and headed towards the doors that automatically swished open for him.

 

Ducky was sitting at his desk, his white coat over his ordinary clothes. To Gibbs's relief, there were only so many times he could send the young man to 'go and see Abby', Palmer was nowhere to be seen.

 

As the doors parted Ducky looked up, turned around and smiled; the smile Gibbs knew he kept just for him. "Jethro my dear," he called. "This is a pleas -Jethro what is the matter?" Suddenly Ducky was on his feet and hurrying towards him. Against his will Gibbs noted that Vance was right, Ducky was limping a lot more. But you knew that anyway; you admitted as much. He ignored the voice.

 

Ducky reached his side, moving nearer and nearer getting well inside Gibbs's personal space, as they both tended to do, grabbed his arm and looked up at him. All hints of pleasure at seeing Gibbs fled from the open and talkative gaze; instead it was replaced with concern and trepidation. "What has happened, Jethro?" Ducky asked. "Has something happened to you? Are you sick? Or -"

 

Gibbs hastened to reassure him. "No. I'm fine, Duck. I -"

 

"Oh, one of the children then? Not Anthony or Ziva? Nothing has happened to either of them, has it? I know it's foolish of me to worry, but -"

 

Again Gibbs reassured him. "No. Duck. They're both fine. Abbs got an -"

 

"Abigail then? Or dear Timothy? Or -"

 

"Ducky!" Finally Gibbs resorted to snapping at his old friend to quieten him. Ducky blinked at the sharper-than-intended tone and took half a step backwards. But Gibbs caught him, put his hand on his shoulder and then, to Ducky's obvious surprise, pulled him nearer to him and put both arms around him. "Oh, Duck," he said quietly, putting his lips against Ducky's ear as Ducky finally slipped his own arms around him. For a moment or two or three, Gibbs just stood there, holding his dearest, closest, oldest friend, soaking up some of the calmness, the affection Ducky exuded.

 

Now Ducky seemed content to just stand where they were, as he rested against Gibbs, but Gibbs knew it was only a temporary lull. He knew his behavior was somewhat out of the ordinary even for two men who were extremely tactile with one another. Besides, clearly Ducky had read something in Gibbs's look.

 

Thus he wasn't surprised when after another moment or two of closeness and stillness, Ducky moved back a little, breaking the tightness of the embrace and stared up at Gibbs. "Please tell me, Jethro," he said, his tone suddenly formal.

 

"Let's go and sit down," Gibbs said, trying desperately to delay the moment he had to tell Ducky.

 

But Ducky shook his head. "No. Tell me, my dear. Whatever it is, you can tell me. Whatever the problem is, we can sort it out."

 

Gibbs sighed and for a moment shut his eyes. "Ah, Duck," he said, altering the embrace slightly so that he now had one hand on Ducky's shoulder and the other around the back of his neck. "Not this time."

 

"Jethro -"

 

"Duck, there's no easy way to say this. In fact I'm not even sure how to say it."

 

"Straight out with it is your usual way."

 

Gibbs managed a fleeting half smile. "Yeah. Guess it is. Duck . . ." again he broke off.

 

"Jethro?"

 

Still trying to delay the inevitable, still not coming 'straight out with it', Gibbs said flatly, "I've just come from Vance."

 

"Oh." Ducky closed his eyes and sagged very slightly under Gibbs's hands. Seconds later he opened his eyes again, straightened his back, locked his knees and looked up at Gibbs. Gibbs almost groaned aloud at the look in the steady gaze; the steady gaze that was quickly becoming closed to him.

 

He took his hand from Ducky's shoulder and put it on his cheek instead. "Duck, I -"

 

"How long do I have?"

 

"Duck -"

 

But Ducky went on. Now his tone was flat. "An hour? A day? A week?"

 

"A month. Ducky, I - Damn it, Duck. I had nothing to do with it. I told him. Fuck it, Ducky. I did my best. Short of -"

 

"Hush, Jethro. Hush." Now Ducky reached up and put his hand on Gibbs's face. And the gaze that had stared to harden and become closed, softened once more and opened for Gibbs to see the understanding, devotion, love and compassion that Ducky had for him. "I know you had nothing to do with it, my dear. Please do not think even for a second that I blame you. I don't. I haven't known you for as long as I have without having some idea as to what was said in the director's office. I trust you still have a badge and gun to carry?"

 

"Yeah. Just about. Duck, if I thought it would have done any good. I'd have . . . Well, you know."

 

Ducky smiled a little. "Yes, my dear. I know. But I would not have wished that to have happened. Indeed I would not have allowed it. No, Jethro. No. As much as I dislike the idea, I am not that surprised that it has come to it."

 

Gibbs frowned. "Duck?"

 

"I am sixty-seven, Jethro."

 

"Age doesn't matter."

 

Ducky chuckled softly. "To you and me, maybe it doesn't. But to some . . . Oh, look, Jethro, there is nothing to be gained by us standing in the middle of Autopsy giving a floor show to anyone who happens to be looking at the security cameras. What is done is done and it cannot be undone. I have a month, that at least will give me time to say a proper goodbye to the children and my other friends and colleagues and to make sure that Mr. Palmer is - Jimmy will still have a position here, will he not?" Again his voice had changed and hardened.

 

Gibbs blinked. "Um. Vance didn't say anything. But -"

 

"Jimmy will still have a position here, Jethro, will he not?" Ducky tone was now like steel and offered no option other than full agreement.

 

"Yeah, Duck. Yeah. He will. I promise." As he made the promise, Gibbs silently prayed he'd be able to keep it.

 

"Good. Because that young man will become an excellent Medical Examiner and doctor in due course. Excellent, Jethro. Not just good - excellent. NCIS will be lucky to have him on their staff. Now," Ducky glanced at his watch. "I know it is a trifle early, but so what? I am going out to lunch now. I am going out for a proper lunch and you, my dear Jethro, are going to accompany me." And with that and one final pat of Jethro's cheek, Ducky turned on his heel and sailed across the room, pausing only long enough to take off his white coat, grab his hat and coat, both of which he put on, before moving to the doors which obligingly opened for him.

 

"Well?" he called, looking back at Gibbs. "For what exactly are you waiting?"

 

Gibbs shook himself. "Nothing, Duck," he said, smiling to himself. "Nothing at all. I'm just coming." And with those words he followed his friend out of the room.

 

Ducky pushed the button to summon the elevator. "Good. Now we get upstairs, you can wait in the elevator whilst I go and fetch your overcoat. We both know that if you go into the squad room no doubt Timothy or one of your two Probies will have an over-whelming need to ask you something. And that will lead to something else and inevitably to something else and you will be tied up. So as I said, you can wait here, I will fetch your coat, tell Timothy you are taking your lunch break and then we shall go out to lunch. Now say, 'yes, Ducky'," his blue eyes twinkled as he looked up at Gibbs.

 

"Yes, Ducky," Gibbs repeated obligingly, slipping his arm around Ducky's shoulders and ushering him into the elevator.

 

 

The next month seemed to fly by and suddenly it was the day before Ducky's retirement party.

 

Ducky had been as good as his word and had spent the time putting Autopsy so thoroughly in order that no one could have any quibbles about anything. He had also spent a considerable time saying goodbye to people, both within NCIS and outside of it. He had taken each member of the team, even the two newest members, out to lunch one at a time. And, quite possible to Ducky most importantly, he had obtained a promise from Vance that Palmer would keep his job - Gibbs had been present during that talk and he had been more somewhat surprised by Vance's assurance. In fact the speed and ease with which Vance had assured Ducky that Palmer would still have a job made Gibbs's gut begin to churn - not that he had told Ducky that.

 

However, all those things aside, what seemed to take up most of Ducky's time also involved McGee. In fact if Gibbs needed McGee and he wasnít at his desk, he knew he'd almost certainly be in Autopsy. Ducky had decided that he wanted a computer at home and who better to ask advice from than McGee? And of course Ducky being Ducky meant that before he invested in his new piece of equipment he wanted to know as much about his options as he possibly could. Not only that he would want the best money could buy, but also something of extremely good quality that would last.

 

Thus Ducky and McGee had spent hours pouring over specs and discussing the benefits of a laptop versus a desktop computer, as well as what other things Ducky might need and what he planned to do with it, and the best size screen and so many other things Gibbs lost track.

 

In the end after much debate Ducky had decided on both a desktop machine and a laptop. He declared he rather liked the idea of being able to be anywhere in his house or even the garden and have access to the world - and his friends. That decision had led to yet another debate, this time over routers - whatever they were!

 

With money being no object whatsoever once Ducky had decided on his two machines and once McGee knew roughly what Ducky's plans were,  McGee was let loose to in effect build his perfect and idea system. Gibbs wasn't sure how much Ducky had spent, but he knew the check Ducky had given to McGee to buy everything - Ducky said it made far more sense than him having to do it - had made McGee's eyes widen.

 

Naturally as well as advising, finding and buying the machine and all other related 'gizmos', McGee was the one to install it in Reston House, and seemed to spend virtually all of his off-duty time there. In fact one evening Gibbs dropped by after leaving the office intending to spend a peaceful hour or so with his oldest friend and enjoy a drink, only to find McGee not only present but enjoying a Ducky-cooked meal. Naturally Ducky had invited Gibbs to join them, so Gibbs had ended up spending an evening listening to Ducky and McGee talk techy stuff, most of which went right over his head.

 

Gibbs never once interfered with the amount of time - NCIS time - McGee was spending on the project, and if Vance was aware that McGee probably wasn't putting in a full day's work every day, he wasn't saying anything. Gibbs guessed he had to know, because more than once he'd gone down to the squad room and asked where McGee was and Gibbs always told him; told him quite pointedly.

 

He was somewhat bemused and amused by Ducky's sudden delight and obsession in his computer systems. He had been even more amused when during one evening, after they had shared a peaceful dinner and drink, and were alone at Reston House, Ducky had extracted a promise from him that if he ever saw Ducky's name on an email in his in-box he would read it; even if he ignored the other sixty or so that were unread. Not that Ducky had needed to extract the promise, but it clearly gave Ducky enjoyment to do so. Thus, Gibbs had played along with his old friend.

 

The reaction to the news of Ducky's impending retirement of each member of the team (past and present) had been pretty much as Gibbs had expected.

 

Abby had been equally distraught and furious, threatening to go and tell Vance exactly what she thought of him and his idea. It was only down to Ducky's calm reassurances and promises that he wasn't about to leave the area and return to the UK, and of course he would have regular lunch dates with Abby, that had stopped her from doing that thing.

 

McGee had been quieter in his response, but had left Gibbs in no doubt as to exactly what he thought of it. Apart from the hours he spent helping Ducky get his computer bought and installed, McGee's way of showing his displeasure had been to up his techno babble when speaking to Vance, to the level where even Vance, who normally understood McGee, clearly couldn't follow it. Gibbs sometimes wondered if McGee was making up some of the terms he used.

 

He also volunteered no information to Vance, waiting until he asked a question and then answering it concisely without any embellishment. Thus if Vance wanted to know more, he had to ask another direct question, which McGee would answer - concisely.

 

Palmer had been shocked and to Gibbs's surprise had instantly dashed off an email offering his resignation - which again Ducky had stopped him from sending. Then he'd turned inward and seemed concerned about his abilities and kept saying he knew he would now fail at Medical School and how the temporary MEs wouldn't like him, wouldn't trust him, wouldn't teach him and would see what a fool he was. It had taken Ducky several hours of reassuring talk to calm Palmer down and to get him to promise not only not to resign, but to work just as hard as if Ducky were still there. Ducky had also gently reassured Palmer that he would still continue to pay his Medical School bills - not that Palmer had asked, Gibbs knew that. But Ducky being Ducky had known that the thought must have passed through his young assistant's mind, so had sought to reassure him.

 

DiNozzo and Ziva, who Abby had emailed before anyone could stop her, were both aghast at the news. DiNozzo had even offered to send Ziva to mysteriously assassinate Vance or at least threaten him into changing his mind.

 

Even Dwayne Wilson and Emma Carrington, the other Probie, had been surprised and seemed somewhat upset by the news. But then Ducky did seem to have that affect on people; meet him once and you were swept under his spell.

 

Gibbs himself spent the month in a maelstrom of different emotions. More than once he gave serious consideration to storming into Vance's office and throwing down his badge and gun and telling Vance exactly where he could go and what he could do with himself. But each time he had those thoughts Ducky seemed to know, and would track him down and manage to distract him with a story or lunch or a cup of coffee or a case or just by being Ducky.

 

Quite a bit of the time Gibbs spent reconstructing the shell he wore each day, the shell that in truth only Ducky had ever really broken down, had ever really got through. Without Ducky there each day to offer him wisdom, someone to talk to, someone to rant at, to give him a place to go, and a person whose main focus was Gibbs himself - a person who was a friend and equal as well as a co-worker - Gibbs knew the team would see a vastly different man. A man he wasn't sure they'd like.

 

Most of the time he tried not to think about what life without Ducky would be like. He told himself he'd still see Ducky, of course he would. Ducky would visit NCIS and they'd still have dinner together from time to time, in fact they'd probably do it more often. They'd still be in touch; they'd still - But it wouldn't be the same, and in truth Gibbs knew that in spite of his best laid plans, and his silent vows, that he wouldn't see Ducky as much as he thought he would. If only because of the demands of the job. They would start to lose touch. And his biggest fear, in the moments he allowed himself to think about it, was that without NCIS they'd have nothing in common - without NCIS they didn't have anything in common.

 

And then the day came.

 

Unlike DiNozzo's leaving party which Abby had organized and they'd held in the squad room, Ducky's had been organized by Vance's personal assistant and was held in the large conference room where they tended to hold the Christmas parties.

 

It was far more formal than DiNozzo's. The food and drink were of a far superior quality, everything was laid out just so; there were real glasses, china, silver wear and napkins - rather than plastic and paper. Pat had put a lot of hard work into it - and Gibbs knew Ducky appreciated it. He also knew that given the choice, as much as the setting, the food, etc. was very Ducky, Ducky would have much rather gathered in the squad room where he could have usurped Gibbs's own chair and enjoyed another 'Abby' party.

 

But it was not be. This appeared to be Vance's way of showing how important Ducky was; what a valued member of the team he had been; how much he would be missed; how respected he was. And deep down Gibbs had a grudging respect that Vance had gone to so much trouble. He would actually have been furious if Vance hadn't, but that didnít mean he had to like it.

 

Apart from making certain that Ducky's glass was always topped up - he was driving Ducky home - Gibbs had never left Ducky's side for a moment. Nor had Abby, McGee and Palmer; even Wilson and Carrington had hovered nearby, clearly not wanting to impose on the 'old team' but still wanting to be part of it and to show solidarity.

 

The rest of the office had wandered over during the afternoon to share a few words with Ducky and tell him how much he'd be missed and to wish him well and all the other inane things you said on these occasions.

 

Fornell had even paid a flying visit, wished Ducky well, told him Autopsy and NCIS would never be the same again and promised to pop round one evening and share a decent bottle of scotch with him. He'd then raced off again.

 

DiNozzo and Ziva had called and had invited Ducky to go and visit them in San Diego whenever he wanted to do so.

 

Finally Vance moved to the centre of the room and tapped his glass to get the attention of the room. One by one people fell silent and turned their attention to their director; the team moved even closer to Ducky.

 

Vance looked around the room and his gaze came to rest on Ducky. "Dr. Mallard, Ducky," he said. "I am sure I speak for all of us when I say how much you will be missed. Not only you and your skills, but also the stories you like to share with us." He paused and people obligingly, led by Ducky himself, laughed.

 

"I could go on and on about what you have done for this agency and how hard it will be to replace you. But I am well aware that people do not need me to spell out what they know - what you, I'm sure, also know. So instead I will thank you for the years of service you have given us, the long hours you have put in, the times you have gone way beyond the call of duty, and wish you a long and very happy and fulfilled retirement. And on behalf of NCIS I would like to present you with a gift." He glanced at his assistant who grabbed the wrapped box and hurried across the room with it.

 

Ducky smiled and moved towards Vance who offered him the box. "Thank you, Director Vance, Leon. And thank all of you for coming here this afternoon and for all the kind things you have said to me. I shall miss you, all of you," his gaze came to rest on 'Team Gibbs'. "And I shall miss the place and the day-to-day interaction with people and even the dead bodies. It will be more than a little strange to begin with not having to get up for the office each day, not wondering when I go to bed each night if I will get a call in the middle of the night to go and see a dead body. But I'm sure I'll adjust, in time. I have many interests and, thanks to Timothy, and of course you, Director for allowing him the time," Gibbs hid a smile; that was Ducky, "a, I believe Timothy and Abigail would call it, 'state of the art' system, which I intend to use to its full capacity. As you all know I could ramble on for hours," he deliberately paused and encouraged everyone to laugh. "However, I shall spare you all that. I hope I will see many of you again, indeed I shall be very hurt if I do not," again his gaze came to rest firmly on where 'Team Gibbs' stood. "And I am certain I shall be welcome to visit you here from time to time. So I shall end by saying thank you again and by wishing each and everyone of you safe, healthy and happy lives. Thank you."

 

Vance stepped forward again and held up his glass. "Dr. Mallard," he said.

 

As one everyone raised their glasses and repeated the formal address. It seemed the right thing, the proper thing, to do.

 

 

An hour or so later with the squad room virtually deserted apart from Gibbs and his team, Gibbs prepared to give his own speech. Once the party had broken up he had escorted Ducky down to his own desk and firmly but gently sat him down in his chair and ordered him to 'stay'. He made no objection when neither Abby nor Palmer returned to their respective areas, and none when no one bothered to do any work. Instead the group gathered around Ducky and he told one or two of his rambling stories to pass the time.

 

Now it was time. Gibbs slid of his desk and moved forward a little. "Duck," he said, locking gazes with his dearest friend. "I know I speak for everyone when I say just how much you'll be missed. The place won't be the same without you, and the team won't be either." He paused and swallowed before going on. "Unlike you or Vance, I can't speak for hours, so I'm not even going to try and I don't think I need to. Duck, you know, least I hope you do, what you mean to each and everyone of us," he gestured around the small group. "I know you've been given a nice gift by Vance on behalf of NCIS, but we've got gifts for you too."

 

"Oh, Jethro. I - Oh, my dears," Ducky looked around at all of them. There was no hint of pretence in the steady gaze; he truly had not been expecting this - but that was Ducky all over.

 

Gibbs moved across the room, reached behind the spare desk and pulled out a large box. "Here we go," he said, digging into it. "This is from DiNozzo." He handed over a longish parcel.

 

"Oh," Ducky exclaimed, as he unwrapped it. "My very own Mighty Mouse stapler - the dear boy remembered."

 

Ziva had sent an array of teas from around the world, some very exotic, some which Ducky claimed never to have tried and a small, clearly old, book of poetry in Hebrew.

 

"The rest of us, well actually Tony and Ziva too, all clubbed together, Ducky," Abby said, "because we wanted to give you something really special. Something that you'd look at and remember us all by."

 

"I assure you, my dear Abigail, that I do not need gifts by which to remember you." Ducky smiled and Abby sniffed.

 

"Maybe not," she said, rubbing her eyes. "But we wanted to. So there."

 

The main gift, the expensive one, was a heavy gold chain for the pocket watch Gibbs knew Ducky had but didn't wear as the chain his parents had given him had broken, and for some reason Ducky had never gotten around to replacing it.

 

"Oh, my dears," Ducky said, as he opened the gift and took the chain out. "This is really too much. It's . . . Oh, it's wonderful. I . . . I am quite lost for words. I donít think I - Thank you all. I shall wear it every day and you will all be with me at all times."

 

Abby beamed at him. "There are also small gift from each of us. Nothing much, Ducky, and you can wait until you get home to open them. But this one we'd like you to open now," Abby said, now handing Ducky a flat parcel.

 

"Another gift? Really you shouldn't have gone to such - Oh," Ducky's quiet exclamation carried around the group.

 

Gibbs leaned over Ducky's shoulder to really look at it. He'd known about it, but hadn't seen it. Abby and McGee had spent literally hour upon hour working on it. Thinking about it, he actually wondered if his senior field agent had done any NCIS work for a month. They had spent their time manipulating pictures and tweaking and all kinds of things he wouldn't begin to be able to say let alone understand.

 

It was a picture. But not just any picture. It was a hand crafted, specially put together picture of the team, the family. But not just the current team, oh, no. There in the background were all the team members Ducky had known and worked with: Stan Burley, Vivian Blackadder, Chris Pacci, Paula Cassidy, Cassie Yates, Kate, Gerald, Tom Morrow, Jenny. Some figures were more distant than others, standing further back. The positions of each person, Gibbs could see, all depended on how long they'd been with NCIS and how close Ducky had been to them. To one side were even pictures of Wilson and Carrington.

 

And in the middle was what Gibbs knew had become the hard and fast family: Gibbs, Abby, McGee, DiNozzo, Ziva and Palmer. They stood and in front of them sat Ducky. Somehow McGee or Abby had even managed to get Gibbs's hands to rest on Ducky's shoulders - and Gibbs knew no photo existed of that.

 

Everyone, suddenly Gibbs noticed Fornell's figure, was there. Everyone - everyone except one person. Gibbs looked again carefully wanting to be certain he hadn't missed it. But no, the person wasn't there. He glanced at Abby and raised an eyebrow.

 

"It was Tim's idea," she said firmly. "He felt it wouldn't be appropriate given the circumstances. So we didnít include him."

 

Gibbs glanced at McGee who stood, back ramrod straight, staring straight at him. "Abby's right, boss. It was my decision and I stand by it. It wouldn't have been proper."

 

Suddenly Gibbs felt someone watching them and glanced upwards. There standing by the rail looking down at them was Leon Vance. Whether he could see that far or hear Gibbs didn't know, and quite frankly didn't care. But something crossed Vance's face as he glanced away from Gibbs to look at McGee that told Gibbs he'd heard enough.

 

And with that look Gibbs knew: Vance had been hoping, had probably even been certain, that he could sway some of McGee's loyalty to himself. After all, they spoke the same language and he'd made it more than clear that he preferred McGee to DiNozzo. Well, he'd misjudged McGee, he'd badly misjudged McGee. McGee had been Gibbs's since the day he had told him he had good news and bad news for him - in truth, McGee had been Gibbs's even before that. Gibbs had always known exactly where McGee's loyalty lay and how far he'd go. Not a chance, Leon, he said silently. Not a chance. He's mine.

 

 

Finally the moment came for Ducky to say his goodbyes and for Gibbs to take him home. Wilson and Emma had taken their leave of Ducky and the group a while before, leaving Ducky with those few people he knew and loved most of all.

 

"Come on, Duck," Gibbs said, putting his hand on Ducky's shoulder. "Time we called it a night."

 

"Oh, no, Gibbs. Not yet it's -"

 

"Time, Abby." Gibbs said firmly. She stared at him, gulped and bit her lip.

 

However, another twenty minutes went by before Gibbs grabbed the box containing Ducky's presents and some personal things he'd kept in Autopsy until the last moment and tucked it under one arm, before picking up Ducky's cherished picture.

 

It had taken Ducky a good five minuets to say goodbye to each of the kids, hugging them, in Abby's case kissing her, saying something appropriate to each of them and promising them he would be in touch with all of them and wouldn't be a stranger to NCIS. He also told them that he'd be emailing each and everyone of them and that they'd better read his emails. Finally Gibbs had somewhat pointedly, but gently, picked Ducky's coat up and held it for him, before handing him his hat.

 

Now they stood together in the elevator as it took them down to the garage and Gibbs's car. "Hey," Gibbs said. "You okay?"

 

"Yes. Yes, Jethro. I am. Well, that is to say I shall be. I knew today would be somewhat moving, but . . . Oh, Jethro, I shall miss coming here every day. I shall miss seeing the children each day and I shall, most of all, miss seeing you."

 

"You'll still see us, see me, Duck."

 

"I know. But it won't be quite the same. Oh, ignore me, my dear. Now I seem to recall you suggested we might like to go out to dinner?"

 

 

It was two hours later when Jethro brought the sedan to a stop outside Reston House. He got out of the car, went around the hood and opened Ducky's door for him, offering him his hand to help him out.

 

Moments later they were standing in Ducky's hall. Jethro put the box of presents down on the hall table and carefully leaned the picture against it. Then he opened his arms. "Come here, Duck," he said, his voice slightly unsteady.

 

A second later Ducky was where he had been many times over the decades they'd known one another, his own arms going around Jethro, as he sighed softly and rested his head against Jethro's shoulder.

 

Ducky was pressed slightly closer against his body than he normally was when they embraced, and new feelings and sensations started to slowly course through Jethro's body. His mouth grew dry as he silently fought the sudden nearly over-whelming desire to push Ducky away just far enough so that he could lower his head and kiss Ducky. But it wouldn't stop at a kiss; he knew that. With a startling clarity he knew that.


But it wasn't right. Not tonight. Because tonight both of them were so caught up in the emotions surrounding Ducky's retirement that Jethro hated to admit it, but he didn't really know if he wanted to kiss Ducky, wanted to make love to Ducky because he really wanted his old friend, or if it was all just tied in with the day. And until he knew which it was, until he was certain he wanted Ducky because he wanted Ducky and not because of the day, he couldn't kiss Ducky. He couldn't do that because he knew how Ducky felt about him, he'd always known, and kissing Ducky now, taking him to bed now, not knowing if it was for the right reasons would be an utter betrayal of their friendship.

 

Thus rather than pushing Ducky far enough way to enable him to kiss him, instead he tugged him even nearer, wrapping him even more tightly in his embrace and put his nose and mouth on Ducky's hair, drinking in the natural scents and the feel of the heavy, silkiness before brushing his lips very lightly over Ducky's head.

 

He wasn't sure if Ducky noticed the 'kiss' or not; certainly he didn't say anything, nor make any other kind of indication, he just seemed content to stand being held by Jethro and in turn holding him.

 

Finally, he honestly had no idea how long they'd stood there, Jethro felt Ducky shift a little and flex his long ago injured leg. With more reluctance than he wanted to show, Jethro loosened the embrace and let Ducky move away from him slightly. His old friend gazed up at him, his deep affection and love, the double emotion he always showed Jethro clear in his eyes. But there was also a tiny hint of . . . Questioning? Curiosity? Hopefulness? Wishful thinking? Confusion? Bemusement even? But Jethro couldn't honestly say he saw any of those things; it could just have been his own feelings over-riding what he saw.

 

"Why don't we go through to the sitting room and have a drink?" Ducky asked, his tone soft.

 

"That'd be good, Duck. Thanks." Jethro made no comment when, once Ducky had let his arms fall completely from about him, he took Jethro's hand, loosely linked his fingers with Jethro's.

 

A MONTH LATER

 

Gibbs sat at his desk, reading McGee's latest report. As was nearly always the case it was impeccable with no errors, no typing mistakes, nothing at all for him to correct or get McGee to re-do.

 

McGee had done, was doing, a damn good job thus far as his senior field agent. Sure, when it came to actual one hundred percent field work skills, he was still not as good as DiNozzo, and in all honesty Gibbs doubted he ever would be, but he was more than competent. He was also good with Wilson and Carrington, leading them and guiding them and keeping them from making too many raw recruit mistakes, the kind that would piss Gibbs off most of all. And he also kept them well away from Gibbs's coffee.

 

But it was back in the office, in front of his computer, where McGee's skills really came into force, where Gibbs knew he could happily leave things to McGee with the knowledge they would get done. McGee had always outsmarted DiNozzo in that respect, and Gibbs knew his previous senior field agent had always known that. That's why, putting aside all their rivalry and one-upmanship games and bickering, they had made such a damn good team.

 

DiNozzo was as far as Gibbs could gather doing a very good job in San Diego. According to Ducky who had heard it from Ziva he had stopped the 'camp fires'. He had also stopped trying to emulate Gibbs's team leadership style and stopped trying to do what he thought Gibbs would want him to do and instead had concentrated on doing his own job, in his own way, being his own person.

 

Going into a new office where no one knew him, meant that he could go in as the Anthony DiNozzo he wanted his new co-workers, his new team, his new bosses to see, rather than the Anthony DiNozzo the DC people had grown to know. His confidence had increased and again according to Ducky who had got it from Ziva, his maturity level had gone back up to where it had been before his slump had set in. As much as Gibbs missed, and he did miss, seeing DiNozzo each day, he knew the decision to move him right away from DC and away from Gibbs himself had been the right one. DiNozzo in the DC office would not be as effective a leader, would not have reached his full potential, as DiNozzo away from DC.

 

His email pinged and he looked up, realizing as he saw the name he was smiling. He had been as good as his word and kept an eye on his email these days and as soon as he saw Ducky's name, he made sure he read it. Ducky tended to email him and the rest of the team several times a day - he seemed to be having a fine time surfing the web and simply had to share some of the things he found. His messages to Gibbs himself were also more personal, yet rarely more than a sentence or two long, and often in the form of an on-going conversation.

 

This message was simple, concise and straight to the point: Dinner tonight 8:00 p.m. Gibbs noted it wasn't a question. He smiled to himself again as he hit 'reply' and typed his single word answer.

 

It was odd, he found he both missed Ducky much more than he thought he would, but at the same time found he missed him somewhat less than he thought he would. It was strange not seeing him every day and there were still occasions he found himself automatically heading for Autopsy when he had something he needed to talk through with someone, only to pull up short when he remembered that Ducky wasn't there.

 

He had visited Reston House several times in the month since Ducky's retirement. Most of the visits had been short visits, barely more than a pause for a drink or a coffee, but he still hadn't taken the next step and kissed Ducky.

 

And it wasn't because he didn't want to; he did. He definitely did. He'd known within a day or two of the night of Ducky's retirement that his desire to kiss Ducky and make love to Ducky was not simply due to Ducky retiring. He wanted his oldest friend; he wanted to get to know him at a different level, to begin a new stage of their relationship. And he knew he now loved Ducky as more than just a dear, close, cherished friend. Over the weeks he'd dreamed of kissing Ducky, of holding Ducky, of - He stopped the thought before it went any further, suddenly aware that McGee was looking at him.

 

"You need something, McGee?"

 

"I've got the results of the Timpson search, boss."

 

All thoughts of Ducky vanished, as Gibbs stood up, crossed to McGee's desk and leaned over to look at McGee's computer. Scanning the information quickly told him that once again McGee had proven his worth. "Good work, Tim," he said, briefly squeezing McGee's shoulder. "Put it up on the plasma and we'll go through it bit by bit."

 

RESTON HOUSE - THAT EVENING

 

Jethro rang the doorbell and waited. It was actually 8:30 rather than 8:00, but the Timpson case had kept him and the team at the office until 7:30, and he'd also grabbed a quick shower and change of shirt and underwear before leaving to drive to Ducky's home. When he'd called Ducky to tell him he'd be late, Ducky hadn't seemed perturbed at all about dinner being spoiled, instead he had instructed Jethro, in his own particular Ducky-way, not to rush and ordered him to drive 'carefully' - meaning at least close to the speed limit. Jethro had done both things - well mostly.

 

Ducky opened the door and Jethro blinked in surprise at the sight of his old friend. "You sick, Duck?" he asked, concern heavy in his voice.

 

Ducky smiled up at him. "No, my dear. I am quite well, but thank you for asking."

 

"Were you in the shower?" Jethro queried, dismissing it as he did, Ducky would hardly have chosen a few minutes before Jethro was to arrive at him house to take a shower.

 

"No. Well, are you going to stand there staring at me all evening or are you actually going to come inside?"

 

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Right." Jethro went inside and shut the door behind him, hearing the faint sound as the lock clicked into place. He tugged off his overcoat and hung it on Ducky's hat stand before looking down at Ducky and asking, "If you're not sick and you weren't in the shower, why are you dressed like that?" He nodded at the heavy silk robe Ducky wore; although it was a long robe, it ended just above Ducky's ankles, and showed him quite clearly that Ducky wasn't wearing it over his clothing.

 

"Ah, this," Ducky glanced down at himself and lightly let his fingers smooth the material. Then he looked back up at Jethro and the expression on his face and in the steady blue gaze caused Jethro to gulp and widen his own eyes. "The explanation for this, my dear, dear Jethro, is really quite simple."

 

Moistening his lips, Jethro managed. "It is?"


"Oh, yes. You see, I thought it would make things much easier."

 

"Easier?"

 

"Mmm." And with the single murmur of agreement, Ducky closed the small distance between Jethro and himself, put his arms around Jethro's neck, pulled his head down and kissed him.

 

For a second or two Jethro was so stunned by Ducky's actions that he simply stood frozen to the spot letting Ducky kiss him. His sub-conscious noted two things: Ducky certainly could kiss and Ducky wasn't wearing anything underneath his robe.

 

And then his brain noted those things consciously, along with the want, the need, the desire to kiss Ducky back. Wrapping his own arms around Ducky and tugging him even nearer to him, Jethro did that very thing.

 

He heard Ducky moan slightly and felt Ducky's lips part beneath his, simultaneously he felt Ducky's arousal beginning to make itself known to him as it hardened against his thigh. The feel of it, together with the scent and taste of Ducky, and the knowledge that he was kissing Ducky, being kissed by him, had Ducky in his arms, made his own arousal begin to throb.

 

As he let his tongue flirt first with Ducky's soft, full lips, before slipping into Ducky's sweet tasting mouth, his brain reminded him that Ducky wasn't wearing anything beneath his robe. Carefully, moving slowly, without really thinking about it, just knowing he wanted to do it, he had to do it, he needed to do it, he let one hand slip from where it held Ducky's back and began to move it. Letting it slide over the heavy silk covering Ducky's hip and then angling it down and inwards until it found the edges where the robe met.

 

A little more gentle maneuvering, had his hand between the edges of the robe and seconds later his finger touched naked, warm, smooth, soft flesh. Seconds after that, he closed his hand around Ducky's arousal and simply held him, not moving, not stroking, just holding, while letting the very tips of his fingers flirt with the tip of Ducky's erection.

 

He heard Ducky gasp softly and felt him sway very slightly under his grip. "Yeah, Duck," he whispered, taking his mouth away from Ducky's and nuzzling under his hair to kiss his ear. "You're right, it does make thing easier."

 

SEVERAL HOURS LATER

 

Even though it was now the early hours of the morning and dinner had never materialized, both Jethro and Ducky were still awake, still in one another's arms, still in Ducky's bed, still gazing at one another by the light of soft glow of the bedside lamps.

 

Jethro moved a little and looked down at his totally content lover. "Hey," he said, his fingers coming to rest on Ducky's neck. "Reckon it's a good job you don't need to go to the office later today." He felt slightly guilty as he gently caressed the red mark, but given he could still clearly remember Ducky's reaction when he'd put his mouth to Ducky's neck and began to kiss and suck, the guilt was only marginal and fleeting.

 

"Oh, I don't know, Jethro," Ducky said, smiling as he let his fingers flirt with Jethro's arm. "It might have given the children something to talk about. It might have proved to them that I do more than just dream about sex."

 

Jethro laughed. "Yeah, guess even without DiNozzo there, it might have done at that." Suddenly something came to him. "Hey, Duck?"

 

"My dear?" Ducky gazed lovingly into his eyes.

 

"Not that I'm complaining or anything, but why did you kiss me?"

 

Ducky smiled. "Oh, I was simply tired of waiting for you to make the first move." Jethro blinked and Ducky chuckled. "Ah, I see you were not aware of quite how obvious it was that your feelings for me had, shall we say, altered somewhat."

 

"Guess I wasn't," Jethro said, moving from lightly caressing Ducky's neck to letting his fingers trace the outline of Ducky's face. "How long have you known?"

 

Ducky studied him and was silent for several seconds. "I have known that you have been consciously aware of the change since the evening of my retirement," he said, after a moment or two. "I truly expected you to kiss me that night, well kiss me properly, rather than just kiss my hair. However, when I saw your face I realized that although you knew that you wanted me, wanted to kiss me, you weren't quite certain as to why."

 

"Ever thought of being a special agent, Duck?"

 

Ducky laughed. "Ah, my dear Jethro. Those kinds of activities are long behind me," he said.

 

Jethro spluttered. "Not sure I'd say that, Duck. Not after what we've spent the last few hours doing!" Ducky looked extremely pleased with himself. So pleased, that Jethro had to kiss him and then kiss him again and again.

 

 

"So," he said, after quarter of an hour or so had gone by. "You've known I've wanted you for a month?"

 

"I've known that you have known consciously that you want me for a month, yes." Ducky corrected him carefully and gently.

 

Jethro blinked. "Huh?"

 

But Ducky smiled and shook his head. "Another time. It is somewhat late, or maybe I should say early, to go into the depths of the conscious and sub-conscious."

 

"You think?"

 

Ducky smiled. "Ah, Jethro," he said, beginning to stroke the nape of Jethro's neck. "I've been waiting for you to act on your 'discovery' since that evening, and as you still hadn't done so after a month I simply decided it was time for me to act. I confess I had got to the stage where I wondered if you would ever do so. And as neither of us is getting any younger, I decided that it was up to me to make the first move."

 

"Guess I wasn't sure how to make the move. Crazy as that sounds," Jethro said. "I just didn't know how to go from friendship to . . . Well, you know?"

 

"Kissing me? Making love to me?" Ducky asked softly.

 

Hearing the words made Jethro tingle. "Yeah. And then some."

 

"Well, I do believe me managed it quite well in the end, do you not agree?"

 

Jethro laughed softly. "Talk about the British understatement," he said, moving a little nearer and kissing Ducky's nose. "You know I love you, don't you, Duck?"

 

Ducky sighed with obvious pleasure. "Yes, my dear, of course I do. I have always known. And I, as you must know, love you too."

 

"Yeah, but I mean I love you, Duck," Jethro said, hoping this time he'd made himself clear.

 

Ducky chuckled softly. "I know, dearest. Do forgive me for -" But Ducky silenced himself by kissing Jethro.

 

"Duck," Jethro said, after another few moments had gone by.

 

"Jethro?"

 

Jethro paused for a moment, maybe he shouldn't say anything. But as Ducky had pointed out neither of them were getting any younger. And he knew how he felt; he knew that he wanted. And he hoped he knew his Duck well enough to know what he wanted too. Thus, he decided to take a chance. "It may be too early, but on the other hand, I'm not sure it can be. It's a bit like what DiNozzo said to Ziva, although in our case it's a hell of a lot longer than four years. But I'll understand if you think it's too soon. Or more likely just donít want to. It's not as though I've got the best track record. But I miss you, Duck. I miss you a hell of a lot. I miss you more than I know how to tell you. I miss seeing you each day. I miss being able to pop down to Autopsy and see you. And at least this way I'd see you every day, so it'd be almost like you were . . . . What?" He demanded, trailing off and looking at Ducky who was trying hard not to laugh.

 

"I thought I was the one who rambled. The one who used twenty words when one would suffice. The one to whom you occasionally had to demand 'you going to say that in English, Duck'?" His eyes twinkled as he spoke. "If you were trying to ask, to suggest, what I believe you were trying to say then my answer is 'yes', as soon as you like. It certainly isn't, for me, too early, too soon. And everyone is allowed to break their track record. My basement will need some sorting out, but I believe in due course we can make it suitable for you to continue your boat building. Or, given the amount of land surrounding this house, we could erect something for you, something that can be built to your specifications."

 

Jethro smiled and swallowed the lump in his throat. "Don't reckon I'll need to build boats any longer, Duck," he said, lightly kissing Ducky's nose. "Won't need to. I'll have plenty of things to do with my time and one person I want to do them with. The Kelly is just about finished. So I reckon we should get her out of the basement and I'll take you sailing in her."

 

Ducky cocked his head slightly. "Does this mean that after all these years you are finally going to share with me the secret as to just how Leroy Jethro Gibbs gets his boats out of his basement?"

 

"Yeah." And Jethro put his lips to Ducky's ear and told him.

 

"Oh. As simple as that. I must say I'm rather disappointed." But Ducky's eyes twinkled with mirth as he continued to gaze at Jethro.

 

"Well, we can't have that, can we?" Jethro said, and he began to once again caress Ducky, his hand slipping further down Ducky's body.

 

"Oh, Jethro, I really do not think it is possible for me to - Ooooh.," the last word was drawn out, as Jethro proved that Ducky was quite wrong.

 

 

Daylight crept into the room and still Jethro and Ducky were awake. Jethro just hoped the day wasn't going to be a particularly long or arduous one. It had been a long time since he'd spent a sleepless night, doing anything other than working. "You know, Duck," he said, gazing down at a now very obviously sleepy Ducky. "I'm going to have to go to the office very soon."

 

Ducky sighed. "Yes, Jethro. I know that. Unless . . ."

 

"Unless?"

 

"Well. Have you actually taken any leave since you returned from Mexico?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "Not a lot. Okay," he said, at the look on Ducky's face. "No. I haven't. Why are you suggesting I take today off?" He couldn't believe that firstly he was saying that and secondly he was seriously considering agreeing.

 

"Yes. Yes. I am. Unless of course you have a particularly pressing case?"

 

"Nah. We tied up most of the current one yesterday and the rest of it, reports and stuff and pulling all the evidence and records together is what McGee's going to be doing today."

 

"Well then?"

 

Jethro hesitated for a moment or two. "I don't know, Duck. I - Oh, why the hell not? You're right. I haven't had any time off and McGee can handle whatever comes up. Yeah. Good idea. We can get some sleep and start moving some of my stuff over here."

 

"Oh, good." Ducky looked beyond being happy.

 

"I'll call and leave Vance a message," Jethro said, pushing himself up and leaning over Ducky to snag his cell phone from Ducky's nightstand. For some reason he couldn't recall, his phone, wallet, car keys, ID and Sig had ended up on Ducky's side of the bed. "What?" he said, as he settled back down. To his surprise Ducky was laughing softly.

 

"Oh, dear," Ducky said, wiping his eyes. "Oh, dear, dear, dear."

 

"Duck? What?"

 

"Well, it is just that I fear we may have to actually thank Leon."

 

Jethro blinked. "Huh?"

 

"Well, my dear. Had he not forced me to retire, I am entirely certain we would at this moment be lying in my bed having spent the last several hours making love, making plans for you to move into Reston House and live with me and -"

 

Jethro silenced him. "Want me to tell him that?" he asked politely, once he broke the kiss. His mouth fell open at the look on Ducky's face. "Dr. Mallard!" he said, "I'm surprised at you. Mind you, he's going to know soon enough, isn't he?"

 

"Oh, yes," Ducky said, looking very smug and pleased with himself. "He certainly is. I do wonder if he will realize the irony of it?"

 

"Irony?"

 

Ducky nodded and a faint hint of steel touched his steady gaze. "Oh, yes. He clearly instigated my retirement as a further way to isolate you and to get rid of another person who was devoted and dedicated to you."

 

Jethro blinked. "Ducky?"

 

"That is why he was so pleased when dear Ziva left with Anthony."

 

Jethro suddenly wondered just how much had been going on that he hadn't been aware of. "He was?"

 

Ducky nodded again. "Oh, yes. He wasn't aware of it; in fact he thought no one knew he was there. However, I happened to see his face as he stood and watched Ziva walk away with Anthony. And it was then I saw his gaze come to rest on me and that was when I knew."

 

Pushing aside the urge to ask Ducky why he hadn't told him all of this, Jethro said, realization dawning on him, "Which is why you weren't all that surprised when I -"

 

"Told me I had to retire. Indeed, I regret to say I was not."

 

Now Jethro did say softly, "You never said anything."

 

Ducky shrugged. "No. I have to confess I did not wish to do so. I felt it unfair of me to say anything, just in case I had been wrong. He was quite some way from us, there were shadows, I was feeling emotional having just said goodbye to two people about whom I cared a great deal. And . . ." Ducky trailed off. "I just think it's wonderfully ironic," he said again, his tone once more lighter. "That rather than keep us apart, isolate you from me, his actions have in fact, pushed us much closer together. Oh, I do wish I could be present when you tell him you are moving into my home."

 

Jethro just laughed before dropping the phone and again kissing Ducky.

 

 

Another half an hour went by before he found the phone and made the call, leaving a brief message on Vance's answer phone telling him he was taking a day's leave. Before he hung up, he added that if Vance really needed to contact him and his cell was turned off he could try calling Ducky's number. He then left a similar message for McGee.

 

Then with one final kiss, he rearranged Ducky in his arms slightly, before settling down to grab a few hours much needed sleep.

 

LINKS TO ALL THE STORIES IN THIS SERIES

Earned It (Team Gen)

Now You Do (DiNozzo/Ziva)

Vance's Fault (Gibbs/Ducky)

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