WITH MY EYES OPEN

 

By

 

Ashleigh Anpilova

 

A songfic based on Going In With My Eyes Open by David Soul.

Gibbs thinks hard before entering a new relationship.

A first time story.

Written: May 2009. Word count: 6,653.

 

 

1999

 

"Stephanie! What the -" But the words stopped coming as the baseball bat his wife was wielding hit him around the head.

 

He staggered, tried to regain his balance and remained on his feet purely by grabbing the sideboard and holding onto it. He dashed his hand over his forehead, idly noticing it was smeared with blood, and blinked several times as he watched the livid woman who still stood holding the bat in a very professional manner.

 

The sight of blood seemed to calm her for a moment. Then under his eyes her breathing increased, her eyes narrowed, but at least she began to lower the bat. However, it was merely a momentary respite. "You bastard," she snarled, now raising the bat again and moving towards him.

 

But this time, despite the blood dripping over his eye and his head thumping, he was ready for her. Wife or not, woman or not, she was for now, at least, the enemy. She made the mistake of getting inside his reach and with one swift movement he grabbed her arm, twisted her wrist to force her to drop the bat and spun her around with her arm up her back. He held her tightly, not as tightly as he'd hold a criminal, but tightly enough for her to know he meant it.

 

She sagged against him, seemingly having giving in. But he was prepared and ready for any further attack on him, aware of how much damage high heels and elbows could do. But she didn't struggle, nor try to attack him. The fight seemed to have gone out of her and he heard her sniff.

 

"Bastard," she said again.

 

Barely able to see out of one eye, he risked taking one hand away from her and again wiped his brow. "Yeah," he said his tone not unfriendly. "That's me. But what am I meant to have done this time, Steph?"

 

"You've been with her." Her voice rose and her anger was clear again.

 

Still taking care, he partly released her, just enough to turn her around. Now he held her upper arms in a firm grip. "Her who?"

 

"I don't know who. But there's someone."

 

He sighed. She'd accused him of having an affair on and off since she'd lost their baby. But it had gotten worse since they'd left Moscow and returned to DC.

 

"I keep telling you, Steph, there isn't anyone else," he said, dragging one of her arms up so he could wipe his forehead with his hand.

 

"I don't believe you." She glared at him.

 

Finally he'd had enough. It couldn't go on like this. He let go of her arms and took a step backwards and to one side, bending down to grab the baseball bat. "Tell you what, you believe what you want to believe. You always do." He headed towards the door.

 

"Where are you going?" she shrieked.

 

"To get my head stitched."

 

"Don't bother coming back." Her tone was still shrill.

 

He whirled and for a moment everything went black. Righting himself he stared at her. "This is my house, Stephanie. Mine. You agreed to that before we married."

 

"I'll fight you for it."

 

He shook his head. "Try it," he said quietly; his voice flat and heavy with menace. "Just try it."

 

She stared at him for a moment. Then she turned away. "I never liked it here anyway." She turned back, stalked towards him and straight past him. "I'll collect my things tomorrow," she said. He heard the front door slam as she went out.

 

It was strange how she'd never taken to the house, given how little time they'd actually spent living there. Out of a fourteen month marriage, (which was six months longer than his marriage to Diane had lasted) they'd spent exactly two months in the house he now stood in. The other twelve had been in spent in Moscow.

 

Just for a fleeting moment he allowed fond thoughts of Moscow to slip into his mind. They'd been happy in Moscow; it was there he really thought he'd found the woman he could love and live with for life. That was why he'd allowed her to get pregnant; he'd really thought - But once she'd miscarried, once they'd left Moscow, once they'd returned to DC, everything had changed. Which proved really that it had all been false. If a relationship worked, it worked, it didn't matter where you were.

 

He sighed and realized that he felt nothing as his latest marriage ended. What was another ex-wife after all? He already had two. A third was just . . .

 

On that thought, he headed out of the house himself, got into his car and drove, considerably slower than he normally did, to NCIS where he knew Ducky would still be. Who needed an ER when your closest friend was a doctor?

 

You smiled that misty way and something in me said,

Remember the last time

Don't fall in love

 

The door to Autopsy slid open and Ducky glanced up from his desk and looked over his shoulder. The next second he was on his feet and hurrying across the room. "Jethro. My dear Jethro. What one earth -"

 

"Baseball bat," Gibbs said, more than happy to allow Ducky to put his arm around him and lead him to one of the Autopsy tables. He wasn't sure if his feeling of light-headedness was due to the amount of blood he'd lost or the lack of food since lunch time or the whole fact that another woman was leaving him. But he didn't care about that, did he? "Huh? Sorry, didn't catch that," he said, as Ducky helped him, without appearing to, to sit on the table.

 

"I asked who was on the other end of it," Ducky said, his fingers now on Gibbs's wrist as he took his pulse.

 

"Stephanie."

 

"Oh, Jethro. I am -"

 

"Don't. Just donít, Duck. Okay?"

 

"You don't even know what I was going to say."

 

Gibbs shrugged. "Guess not. But I know you. And it wasn't your fault. You didn't make me marry her."

 

Ducky sighed as he moved away from Gibbs to fetch a bowel of water, some cotton wool, a needle and suture thread. "No, I did not. Indeed, I confess I was - But that is irrelevant. What was her reason?" He came back to Gibbs and began to gently clean the wound.

 

Gibbs shrugged again. "Don't know. I don't," he said, as Ducky raised an eyebrow and looked surprised. "I mean she reckoned I was seeing someone else. Which, before you ask, I'm not."

 

"What makes you think I was planning on asking you such a personal question?" Ducky's tone was mild.

 

"Because of Jenny," Gibbs said, staring directly into Ducky's eyes.

 

Ducky held the stare for a moment or two, before glancing away and beginning to thread the needle with the suture thread. "What you do in your personal life, Jethro, is your business. Not mine. It only affects me when I have to deal with the," he paused, "after effects." He spoke the words quietly. "Now, tilt your head slightly. As you know well, you will feel this, but I have no doubt you'll still stubbornly refuse to let me give you a local anesthetic to numb the area." He didn't even wait for an answer before he put the needle under Gibbs's skin.

 

Gibbs hissed slightly and automatically tried to pull away from the sharp pain. However, Ducky had a firm grip on his head and held it steady. "I'm not seeing anyone else," Gibbs said again, not sure why he had to make Ducky believe him.

 

Ducky paused in his suturing and looked into Gibbs's eyes. He smiled, his soft, gentle, loving smile; the one he reserved for Gibbs and Gibbs alone. Gibbs found himself swallowing hard as he looked at Ducky. Suddenly he saw the smile in a different light. Suddenly the fraternal love he'd had for Ducky for years now changed and became something else.

 

He shook his head, he tried to shake his head, Ducky's steady grip was too firm for him to move. It was to do with the blood loss, that was all. He wasn't in love with Ducky; he couldn't be. Besides, even if for one impossible moment he was, it was hardly right, hardly proper. The night his wife had walked out on him and he was - "Sorry?" he said, again realizing Ducky had spoken.

 

Ducky frowned slightly. "I'm beginning to think I should take you to a hospital and ask for some proper scans to be carried out," he said, his hand again slipping to Gibbs's wrist.

 

"Nah, Duck. I'm fine. Just a bit of mild concussion. Used to that. Don't worry so much."

 

Ducky looked into his eyes. "Hmm," he said. But apparently after a moment he must have been reassured, because he went back to suturing Gibbs's head. After a moment or two he spoke again. "I merely said, I believe you. You do not need to convince me."

 

Gibbs blinked. "You do?"

 

"Of course, I do." Ducky carried on placidly working on Gibbs's head.

 

"Want to tell me why?"

 

Now Ducky paused and looked straight into Gibbs's eyes. As he did he let his hand slip down Gibbs's face, lightly cupping and stroking his cheek. At the same time he once again smiled his soft, gentle smile. Held captive by loving blue eyes, a touch that was far more of a caress, and a smile that he knew again was only for him, Gibbs knew, despite everything, despite the absurdity, the timing, he had fallen, he was falling, in love with Ducky. He had fallen, he was falling, in love with his dearest, closest friend.

 

Finally Ducky spoke. "Because, my dear, dear Jethro, whatever else you are, whatever else you do, whomsoever else you might be less than honest with, I know you would never lie to me. You tell me you are not seeing anyone else, thus I believe you." And with one more loving caress of Gibbs's cheek, he returned to his job of closing the wound on Gibbs's head.

 

TWO HOURS LATER

 

I walked so blindly in

I fell and hurt my head

Oh, I can't forget it

And I won't regret it

I couldn't even stop it if I tried

 

Only this time I'm going in with my eyes open

I won't make the same mistakes again

This time I'll see the signs and no hearts broken

Won't be so blind and lose my way

 

As he lay in Ducky's bed (there was no way he would have let Ducky sit up all night in a chair next to the bed in his spare room) his eyes closed, Gibbs reviewed his feelings for the man he was so close to. But they hadn't changed. Well they had, but they hadn't changed since that moment in Autopsy when Ducky had smiled at him and he had known.

 

But he shouldn't rush into it. He shouldn't tell Ducky immediately. Look what happened with Stephanie. On the rebound firstly from Diane who had not only cheated on him, but walked out emptying his Bank Account, and secondly from Jenny who had sent him a 'Dear John' letter once they'd returned from Paris, he'd been introduced to Stephanie one week, had taken her out and proposed two weeks later. He'd then, against Ducky's better judgment, even though Ducky hadn't said as much, married her as soon as he could and a month after that they had moved to Moscow.

 

It had been a whirlwind courtship, to use Ducky's terminology, followed by a marriage that in all honesty he'd known was doomed from the moment she'd lost his baby. He'd gone into the relationship without thought, without pausing. He'd gone into it so quickly just because, he realized now, Ducky had introduced him to her and he'd thought that - Well he didn't know what he'd thought, not really. But he'd gone in blindly and now look what had happened.

 

And yet as he lay there, listening to the steady sound of Ducky's rhythmic breathing (he didn't doubt Ducky would wake up as planned ready to wake Gibbs himself to check on him) he realized that with the benefit of hindsight, he couldn't have stopped the marriage or what had happened thereafter. He was so bitter after two women had betrayed him that he'd looked for something to prove it wasn't him.

 

But ultimately it was. Or at least he had to take a large part of the blame. He knew he wasn't the easiest person in the world to love. In fact he knew he was a hard person to love and an even harder one to like. He was a bastard. He was tough. H H e put work before relationships. He didn't follow the so called normal conventions when it came to romance; he needed time alone, but he also craved some kind of company - but on his terms.

 

He knew all that now. He knew his faults. He knew what had gone wrong. He knew he had been to blame, in all three cases, probably more than his ex-wives had. And knowing that he would be able to make sure it didn't happen with Ducky.

 

Because it couldn't happen with Ducky. Because Ducky was the one solid, the one constant, person in his life. Ducky was his friend. Despite everything Ducky loved him and more importantly, Ducky liked him. That had to stand for something.

 

So he would make sure that this time he didn't walk blindly into the relationship. This time he would go in fully aware, his eyes fully open. He wouldn't rush; Ducky wasn't going anywhere. Ducky wasn't likely to turn around and fall in love with someone else. He would wait. He would wait until the divorce was dealt with. He would wait some weeks longer. Then he would take Ducky out to dinner and tell him how he felt about him and what he wanted.

 

SEVERAL MONTHS LATER

 

You'd be so nice to love

Don't let it end the same

If you get uneasy just let me know

Don't lie or call me by somebody else's name

Oh, I couldn't take it

I know it would break it

And I wanna give you

Everything I am

 

"Hey, Duck. It's like this. I think I'm in love with you." No, that wasn't going to work. He didn't just think he was in love with Ducky, he knew he was in love wit him.

 

"The thing is, Duck. You know how long we've been friends - " Of course Ducky knew that; probably to the hour, if not minute.

 

"Duck. I know you've always had feelings for me beyond those of friendship. Well . . ." Oh, shit. That made him sound like a cheap romance novel.

 

He paused mid-knotting his tie and stared into the mirror. Suddenly he wasn't sure he was doing the right thing.

 

Sure, Ducky would be good to love, more than good. Ducky would be as perfect to love as it could be. But was it right? What if it went wrong? What if something went wrong? What if he went wrong? What if he couldn't do things differently and Ducky ended up feeling the same way as his ex-wives? What if he was unsettled? Would he tell Gibbs or just - Or just what? Walk out? Cheat on Gibbs?

 

No. Gibbs knew full well that Ducky would do neither of those things. At least he didn't think he would. But what if he drove Ducky to it? What if his long hours at the office and his hours spent working on his boat got too much and Ducky - What if . . . What if Ducky found his way into the arms of someone else and - And did what Diane did. Called Gibbs by another man's name? What then? It had been bad enough when Diane had done it, and he'd known she was seeing someone else, but if Ducky did it . . . Well, Gibbs knew he wouldn't be able to survive that.

 

No, it was foolish. They should remain just good friends. As nice, as good, as wonderful as it would be to take Ducky into his arms, into his bed, into his life, it was better for both of them, safer for both of them, if they just stayed in their loving friendship.

 

But that wasn't what he wanted. Despite everything, despite the fact that by taking Ducky as a lover as well as a friend it might ultimately spoil their friendship - but it wouldn't, Gibbs wouldn't let it - he wanted more.

 

And it was right. He and Ducky were right. He and Ducky would be right. Because now he knew what, or rather who, all three of his ex-wives had referred to when they'd accused him of seeing someone else. He had been; he just hadn't realized it. Nor had it been an affair, at least as far as sex went. But when it came down to it, he had been having an affair with Ducky for years.

 

Finally his tie was knotted to his satisfaction and he grabbed his overcoat and headed for the stairs. He had insisted, to Ducky's partial surprise, on picking him up and driving to the restaurant where he'd booked the table together. He had done so because this was a date; he just hadn't told Ducky that part of it.

 

THREE QUARTERS OF AN HOUR LATER

 

"Ah, Jethro, do come in. I am almost ready. I am afraid I am slightly behind as Mother had a small," Ducky paused for a moment and glanced behind him. "Let us say mishap."

 

Jethro frowned. "She okay? Because if you need to -"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No. Mother is fine, thank you. The carpet, I am not so certain about. We shall have to see when it finally dries out. However, I suspect I shall have to get professional cleaners in. That or simply replace it, which in itself would - Oh, Jethro, no. Please stop what you are thinking. Mother has her problems, but fortunately that is not one of them. No, she merely managed to knock an entire bottle of red wine over. And trust me, red wine on a beige carpet is not to be recommended. Not to mention," Ducky added, his eyes twinkling as he gazed up at Jethro, "the waste of good wine." He chuckled softly.

 

Jethro smiled. "Sorry, Duck," he said. "I didn't mean to -"

 

But Ducky silenced him with a shake of the head and he put his hand on Jethro's arm. The touch wasn't unusual, not in the slightest. They were very tactile and touched one another a considerable amount, going so far as to hug one another on far more than one occasion. However, the touch caused a bolt of electricity to race through Jethro's body. Had he had any doubt of the rightness of doing what he was planning on doing, he had none now. Quite the opposite.

 

"Um," he said, pulling himself out of where his thoughts had been going and looking at Ducky. "Did you say something?"

 

Ducky put his head on one side slightly and gazed up at Jethro. The look was the same look he always gave Jethro, no matter whether they were alone or in company. It was the look that had always told Jethro how loved he was; how liked he was. But now there was something else, Ducky looked slightly speculative, maybe even puzzled. It seemed as though he wanted to ask Jethro a question and yet he didn't know how to phrase it.

 

Finally, he seemed to remember that Jethro himself had asked him something, because he shook his head. "No. Not really. Nothing of any great importance. I need to wash my hands and brush my hair and then I'll be ready. Why don't you go and say hello to Mother, she'd love to see you."

 

"Sure. Is she going to be alone tonight?"

 

"Oh, no. Mrs. Patterson is coming over. She should be here in about half an hour."

 

"We can wait until she gets here. Table's not booked until eight. I thought we could have a drink first, but that doesn't matter."

 

Again Ducky looked at him, his head still slightly on one side. His look was once more the usual 'Ducky look' albeit with the added something. "No, we'll go as soon as I've popped back upstairs. Mother will be fine."

 

"If you're sure?"

 

"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were suddenly trying to come up with reasons not to be alone with me." Ducky spoke lightly and his eyes shone as he looked up at Jethro. Then without waiting for Jethro to reply, he patted his arm and turned away, heading for the stairs.

 

Jethro stood and watched him for a moment or two before turning on his heel and heading for Mrs. Mallard's living room. He tapped her door and waited for her imperial order for him to go in, before turning the handle and entering her domain.

 

"Hello, Mrs. Mallard," he said, crossing the room to where she sat.

 

She looked up at him and for a fleeting second he saw her frown and a there was a lack of recognition in her eyes. Then it vanished and she smiled. "Jethro!" she exclaimed, lifting her hand for him to take. "How lovely to see you." She tugged on his hand until he bent down and kissed her cheek.

 

"It's nice to see you too, ma'am," he said, squatting down by the side of her chair so that she didn't have to bend her neck back to look at him.

 

She looked him up and down and despite being forty-five he felt like a teenager again under her steady scrutiny. "Yes," she said, after a moment or two. "Very nice. I am glad you have made an effort tonight, Jethro."

 

"Ma'am?"

 

"Well a first date is always very important. Even when you have known someone for as long as you have known my son, even when you have been out to dinner as friends, when one decides to change the relationship, one should still make the effort. Which, I am delighted to see, you have done. Yes, you look very nice indeed."

 

A first date? What had Ducky told her? Suddenly realizing she was waiting for him to say something, Jethro opened his mouth to say something; anything.

 

However, Mrs. Mallard beat him to it. "Oh, Jethro, really," she said, patting his hand. "Do not look so embarrassed." He wasn't aware he was looking embarrassed. "I do not mind, not at all. I admit I had hoped for grandchildren; however, I have always known I would never have them. And whilst you are not of our class, our background, you are nonetheless a very nice young man. A very suitable one for my son - at least now you have finally realized the futility of marrying all those silly women."

 

"Ma'am," Jethro said, knowing he had to say something, but otherwise not finding any words to say. He wasn't troubled by the, what could be called, somewhat insulting comment about his class and background - it was true, so why should he be bothered?

 

She went on as if he hadn't spoken. "No. I know you and Donald will be very happy together. You will be good for one another. Do you yet know where you will live?"

 

"Mrs. Mallard, we haven't even -"

 

"Ah. You haven't told my son you are taking him on a date?" She laughed softly. "Oh, Jethro. You naughty boy. You really should have mentioned that small fact."

 

"What small fact?"

 

"Ah, there you are, Donald. Jethro and I were just -"

 

"Hey, Duck. You ready." Telling himself not to feel bad about cutting across Mrs. Mallard's speech, Jethro stood up. "It was really nice visiting with you, Mrs. Mallard ma'am," he said, bending over her and again kissing her cheek. "But Du - Donald and I really have to get going. The table is booked and  . . ." He trailed off as to his astonishment she looked at him and winked, before squeezing his hand and smiling in a conspiratorial manner.

 

Ducky was looking between Jethro and his mother, the puzzlement now very clear to see. "Mother?" he said. "Is there something -"

 

"Nothing, Duck."

 

Ducky blinked and turned his full attention onto Jethro. "Jethro? Are you -"

 

"Dear Jethro is quite well, Donald. Now run along both of you and enjoy your," she paused, again looked up at Jethro, again smiled in her conspiratorial manner and said firmly, "dinner. I shall be quite all right until Helen arrives. Oh, by the way, Donald, I invited Helen to stay the night. I did not want you and dear Jethro to feel you had to hurry home on my behalf. So do not worry what time you get home. I shall be quite all right. Do you understand that?" Although she had been addressing Ducky, it was Jethro to whom she turned when she said the final words.

 

He nodded and managed a half smile, wondering if he now did look faintly embarrassed. "Yes, Mrs. Mallard," he managed. "You get that, Duck," he added brightly.

 

Ducky looked at him for a moment, studying him as he might study an x-ray. Finally he nodded and said calmly, "Yes, Jethro. I assure you I did understand Mother."

 

"Good," Jethro said, wincing to himself at the falsely bright one. "That's all right then," he added, wincing again and vowing not to say another word.

 

Ducky stood for another moment or two, just looking at him before glancing at his mother. "In that case, Mother, I shall say goodnight and Jethro and I will take our leave of you."

 

"Goodnight, Donald dear. Do have a lovely time." She nodded at her son, smiled at Jethro and turned her attention back to the television.

 

AN HOUR LATER

 

"This is extremely pleasant, Jethro," Ducky said, sitting back in his chair as he sipped his dry sherry.

 

"You sound surprised." In turn Jethro sipped bourbon. "Didn't you think I knew about this kind of place?" He smiled to make sure Ducky knew he was only teasing.

 

Nonetheless, Ducky did flush very slightly. "Oh, I am sorry, my dear. I'm afraid that may have come out somewhat -"

 

"Nah, Duck." Jethro interrupted the apology. "You're right; it's not my usual kind of place.

 

Ducky looked at him. As when they'd been in Reston House, he put his head slightly on one side and his gaze became speculative and questioning. "May one ask just why, in that case, you chose to bring me here?"

 

Keeping his expression and tone neutral, Jethro said, "One may."

 

Ducky chuckled softly, raised his glass to Jethro and nodded slightly. "I believe I asked for that," he said.

 

"You think?"

 

"Ah, Jethro. Well, whatever the reason is, I am very pleased to be here with you."

 

"Are you?"

 

"Of course. Do you doubt my word?"

 

"Course not. It's just . . ." Jethro trailed off and shrugged.

 

Again Ducky looked at him. Then he put his glass down and reached across the table to put his hand over Jethro's. "Jethro, is there something you wish to tell me? Ask me, perhaps?"

 

"As a matter of -" Jethro stopped speaking as a waiter arrived with two leather-bound menus and a matching wine-list.

 

 

For the next hour and a half they simple enjoyed their meal and the pleasure of one another's company, chatting in the way they always did, not worrying about times of silence. They didn't need to; they knew one another that well.

 

Finally they settled back with coffee and liquors - brandy for Ducky and more bourbon for Jethro.

 

Ducky swallowed some coffee, took a sip of brandy and looked at Jethro. "As a matter of fact . . . ?" he asked.

 

Jethro didn't pretend not to know what Ducky meant. He glanced around him, but there was no other customer in viewing range of where they sat. The restaurant arranged the tables in such a way that no one was overlooked. He put his hand over Ducky's, again noticing the speculative look on Ducky's face. "You ever wondered why I've got three ex-wives, Duck?" he asked.

 

Ducky continued to stare into his eyes. "Putting aside the obvious reason, about which we do not speak, no. I cannot say I have."

 

Jethro widened his eyes. "Really?" he said, aware of how surprised he sounded.

 

Ducky chuckled. "Ah, Jethro. This may come as somewhat of a surprise to you, but I do not spend all my waking time thinking about you."

 

Jethro cocked an eyebrow. "Really?" he quipped.

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, really. Just about ninety percent," he added softly, his tone suddenly serious.

 

Jethro leaned forward even more. "Duck. I -" He broke off, silently cursing himself.

 

Ducky sighed. "Jethro, if you have wined me and dined me merely to ask me to be your best man yet again, then just come out and say so. Or better still, do not ruin what has been a wonderful evening. Simply take my answer as read."

 

Jethro blinked. "You think I've brought you here to ask you to be my best man?"

 

Ducky shrugged and lowered his gaze. "I cannot think what other reason you could have had. At least not given the way you are behaving," he said quietly.

 

It gave Jethro the opening for which he was looking. Tightening his grip on Ducky's hand slightly, now squeezing it and inserting his fingers between Ducky's he looked into Ducky's eyes and said, his tone deliberately sultry, "Can't you? Can't you really, Duck?"

 

Ducky shook his head. It was clear from the look on his face and the puzzlement in his blue gaze that he really had no idea.

 

Jethro smiled and went back to a previous subject. "You're really telling me that in that ninety percent you never once wondered why I had three wives?"

 

If Ducky was puzzled by the change, he didn't show it. He merely shook his head. "No. Why?"

 

"Just wondered. You know what they had in common?"

 

"Besides their red hair?"

 

"Yeah, besides that?"

 

Ducky shrugged. "Jethro, I'm not certain I -"

 

"They all accused me of seeing someone else. And they were right."

 

Ducky raised an eyebrow. "But you told me earlier that -"

 

"Steph was wrong, I hadn't cheated on her. Yeah, I know. And I hadn't."

 

Ducky frowned. "In that case, Jethro, I'm afraid I do not understand what you are saying. Either you were seeing someone else or you weren't. There are many things in life that are somewhat ambiguous, where there are grey areas, but I'm not sure this is one of them. In fact I'm certain it cannot be."

 

"You done?" Jethro asked politely as Ducky's ramblings finally ceased.

 

Ducky smiled. "Do forgive me, my dear."

 

Jethro shrugged. "Nothing to forgive. But prepare yourself for a shock, Dr. Mallard."

 

"Jethro?"

 

"You are wrong."

 

"Wrong?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah, wrong. You see, all this time there has been someone else. I just haven't been seeing them. Least not in the way they all meant."

 

Ducky just looked at him; he seemed lost for words. "I'm not sure I understand, Jethro."

 

Jethro smiled and tightened his grip a little. "It's you, Duck. You're the 'someone else'; you always have been. You're the one I've seen but not in the sense they meant. I just never realized it until Steph left me. Now do you understand?"

 

Ducky blinked and his eyes widened as he stared at Jethro. "Jethro?" he said, the one word asking several questions. "Are you . . . I mean, could you be . . . Is it possible that . . ." He swallowed hard before going on. "Jethro, is this a -"

 

"Date? Yeah, Duck. It is." Jethro couldn't let Ducky flounder any longer. "Didn't you guess? Your mom did," he added, as Ducky continued to stare at him.

 

"Mother?"

 

"Hmm. When I went to see her before we left, she told me I looked very nice and that she was pleased I'd made an effort for our first date. You know, Duck," he said, taking his other hand away from his glass and putting two fingers under Ducky's chin, "you could close your mouth." He pushed gently. "Is it really that much of a surprise?"

 

Ducky shook his head, but then belied the action with his words. "Well, yes, Jethro, just a little," he said, now smiling.

 

"Good surprise or bad?"

 

"What do you think?" Now Ducky's voice took on a slightly husky timbre and his gaze shone with even more affection, devotion, love and now more than a hint of passion.

 

Jethro swallowed. "I think I should get the check and take you home with me," he said, draining first the remains of his bourbon and then his coffee. "Unless," he added quickly, "the first date's too soon for you?" He looked directly at Ducky, making quite certain Ducky knew he was being serious.

 

Ducky acknowledged the look with a slight nod, letting Jethro know he understood and believed him. "Under any other circumstances, my dear Jethro, yes, it would be. However, given the longevity of our relationship, most certainly not."

 

"You sure, Duck. Because I don't want to -" He stopped speaking as Ducky drained his own cup and glass and pointedly stood up. The look his old friend suddenly gave him turned Jethro's throat dry and pushed his pulse rate up. He forced himself to look away, but not before he saw a look of almost smug, except Ducky would never be smug, satisfaction cross Ducky's face.

 

THREE QUARTERS OF AN HOUR LATER

 

Jethro shut and locked the front door, politely took Ducky's hat and coat from him, hung them up, tossed his own coat over the banister and pulled Ducky into his arms, gathering him close to him.

 

For several minutes they simply embraced, letting their bodies fit together in the perfect way they always had done - Ducky had always felt so right in his arms. Just holding one another and swaying very slightly.

 

Then Jethro moved back a little, looked down at Ducky, silently asked a question, received a barely perceptible nod in answer, before lowering his head and with an ease that he had to confess surprised him, found Ducky's mouth and began to kiss him.

 

As he kissed Ducky he found it difficult to believe they'd never kissed before, because as with the way Ducky fitted into his arms, Ducky's mouth felt so right, so perfect under his. He could taste a hint of brandy and coffee, together with the scents of pine trees, the sea, jasmine and the hint of formaldehyde that never ceased to follow Ducky around.

 

Kissing Ducky was good; kissing Ducky was very good. But he wanted more; much more. His mind and body were already clearly aroused and from the way Ducky's body was pressed against him he knew Ducky was equally as turned on.

 

Finally he broke the kiss. "Bed?" he murmured.

 

Ducky smiled. "I thought you'd never ask," he said. However, rather than break the embrace, he tugged Jethro's head back down and this time it was Ducky who initiated the kiss.

 

They did finally make it up the stairs and into Jethro's bedroom where he switched on the two lamps on the night stands before moving back to Ducky, kissing him briefly once more and then beginning the wonderful task of undressing him.

 

As he removed each piece of clothing and exposed a piece of Ducky's skin, he kissed it, or licked it and caressed it, enjoying the way Ducky shivered under his touches and kisses. Finally he removed Ducky's shorts and took a step back to just gaze down at Ducky, drinking in the sight and scent of him, looking him up and down. "You're beautiful," he murmured, meaning it.

 

"Jethro, I'm -"

 

"Beautiful," Jethro said firmly, meeting Ducky's gaze and holding it, saying so much more with his eyes.

 

After a moment, Ducky flushed slightly and said, his tone soft and somewhat hoarse, "Thank you, my dear Jethro."

 

"Can I touch you?" Jethro asked, his hand hovering near to Ducky's erection.

 

Ducky smiled. "Of course," he said. "Indeed it would make me very happy."

 

"Good. Because that's what I intend to do, go on making you happy," Jethro qualified, slowly taking Ducky's arousal into his hand and just holding him. Even up to that second, as much as he'd wanted Ducky, as turned on as he was, as desperate as he'd been to take Ducky's erection into his hand, a small part of him hadn't been certain he'd be able to do so. But he could. And never before had touching someone seemed so right. He moved his hand very slightly; he was more than a little pleased when Ducky gasped with what was clear pleasure.

 

For the next minute or two, he simply stroked Ducky lightly, not gripping him too tightly. He was caressing him to show him how much he loved him, more than aiming to fulfill. And then Ducky put his hand over his and stopped him. "Duck?"

 

"I really do prefer making love in bed," Ducky said, smiling at him. "And given our respective states of attire I really do think it is more than a little unfair of you not to give me the opportunity to indulge myself as you are clearly doing."

 

Jethro blinked. Of all the times to make a convoluted speech . . . And then he figured it out. "Oh, right," he said, laughing. He'd genuinely forgotten that while he'd stripped Ducky, he was still fully dressed, including his suit jacket and tie.

 

TWO HOURS LATER

 

Completely fulfilled and utterly content, Jethro rested with Ducky in his loose embrace, one hand still lightly flirting with Ducky's skin. "I do love you, Duck," he said.

 

Ducky smiled. "I assure you, my dear Jethro, that the feeling is mutual. I love you too."

 

Jethro swallowed. He had to say it. "Duck?"

 

"My dear?"

 

"You won't . . . I mean . . . Duck."

 

"Jethro?"

 

"I'm not the best partner in the world; you know that. I put work first far too often. I'm not great at romantic gestures. I don't always notice . . . Well you know. But I want this, I want us, to work, Ducky. I want us to last. So if you ever get really pissed with me, tell me. Please. Don't just drift away and don't -" He cut himself off abruptly. "God, listen to me. Not exactly the time to have this kind of conversation, is it? See what I mean?"

 

Ducky stroked his face. "I think given how long we have known one another, and what we feel for one another and how well we know one another, this is exactly the right time for this type of conversation. Rest assured, Jethro, I want us to last too. And had I not believed that we would, I would not be in your bed now."

 

Jethro smiled, and kissed Ducky on the nose. Nothing else needed saying. This was it. This was right. This was forever. This was Ducky and him. This time it would work. This time he would work. This time he was going in with his eyes open.

 

Only this time I'm going in with my eyes open

I won't make the same mistakes again

This time I'll see the signs and no hearts broken

Won't be so blind and lose my way

 

 

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