WITH DIFFERENT EYES
A phone call in the middle of night sends Gibbs racing to the hospital where his old friend has been taken. Ducky's out of character behavior leads Gibbs to reconsider their entire relationship.
A first time story.
Written: April 2009. Word count: 15,845.
This story originally appeared in BOLO #03: The Lab and The Boss which was published in 2009 by Carriage Hill Press.
The sound of the phone ringing woke Gibbs.
Like all Federal employees, cops, emergency service staff, and all the other people who were used to being woken in the middle of night, Gibbs was alert and attentive before he was even fully awake.
"Gibbs," he snapped into the phone. He was expecting a call that would drag him from his warm bed and take him out into the cold night air to investigate the latest murder or disappearance of a member of the marine or navy personnel.
"Is that Leroy Jethro Gibbs?" a woman's voice greeted him.
A glance at the clock revealed that, unless she was violating all the laws pertaining to telemarketing, it wasn't someone trying to sell him something. Thus he said, slightly less acerbically, "Yes. Who are you?"
"I'm Staff Nurse Melanie Draper. I understand that you know a Dr. Donald Mallard?"
Forcing himself not to react until he knew the full facts, but nonetheless not being able to stop the feeling of dread and near panic that began to course through his body, he bit his lip and said, "Ducky? Yeah, why? Has something happened to him?"
"He has been brought into the Emergency Room of Providence Hospital. But please do not worry, Mr. Gibbs, he is not seriously injured. He -"
Already climbing out of bed and tugging clean clothes from his chest of drawers, Gibbs interpreted her, snapping, "Injured? What the hell has happened to him?"
"I'm afraid we are not entirely sure, Mr. Gibbs. He was admitted a short time ago with a relatively minor head injury and some other cuts and bruises. We think he may have been mugged."
"Think? May have been? Can't he tell you? I thought you said he wasn't badly injured?" All attempts at civility had fled and Gibbs growled the words at her.
She continued to speak calmly and reassuringly. Gibbs, however, wasn't reassured, not in the slightest. That would only happen when he was face to face with Ducky, and Ducky told him he was all right. "He isn't, Mr. Gibbs. However, I'm afraid that Dr. Mallard has lost his memory."
"He doesn't know who he is, where he works, or what happened."
"Then how come you're calling me?"
"Because Dr. Mallard still had his wallet, and in it he had your details listed as his next-of-kin."
For a second the Special Agent took over from the friend. "I thought you said he was mugged."
"May have been, we really don't know."
"But he still has his wallet?"
"Well, yes, sir. However, there is no cash or credit cards inside."
"What about his ID?"
"His NCIS Medical Examiner ID." The Special Agent remained in ascendance.
"Oh, that. Yes, that is still there, along with your details. But there is nothing else."
"I'll be there as soon as I possibly can," Gibbs said, quickly calculating the time it'd take for him to grab a swift shower, throw some clothes on and drive to the hospital. It was a scenario, except for the driving to the hospital part, that he was familiar with and he had it honed down to perfection. "Half an hour, maybe three-quarters. Just tell Ducky I'm on my way. I'll be with him soon."
"I will, Mr. Gibbs, but I don't think -"
"Just tell him." Gibbs slammed the phone down and raced into the bathroom.
Minutes later he was back in his bedroom, barely dry, but what the heck, dragging clothes on and grabbing his gun, ID and own wallet.
Minutes after that he was down the stairs, slamming his front door and racing for his car.
Tires skidding, he fought to regain control as he drove with one hand while fastening his seat belt with the other, he pulled away from his house and sped off down the road.
In his mind he could hear Ducky gently protesting at the speed at which he was driving, telling him that it was better to be a few minutes late, than not to arrive at all. In deference to his old friend, Gibbs slowed his speed a tiny bit. However, it was still nearer the half hour than the three-quarters when he arrived at the hospital.
He waved his ID, it did have its uses, at the young nurse/receptionist/whoever she was who was on duty and jogged towards the ER.
"Dr. Mallard." He snapped at the nurse who asked if she could help him. She frowned for a moment, and he could see her running through the medical staff on duty. "He's a patient," he added. "Brought in a while ago, has amnesia."
"Oh, yes, sir. I am sorry. You must be Mr. Jethro Gibbs?"
"He's over there, sir, the fourth cubicle on the right. However, Dr. Appleby is with him at the moment, so if you'd like to -"
Gibbs strode off in the direction she'd indicated.
Reaching the fourth cubicle on the right, he pulled back the curtain and went in. Ducky was sitting on the bed, having a light shone in his eyes. He had a bruise on his cheek, a cut on his forehead and chin, and his lips were swollen, he was also cradling his left wrist. Attached to him was a machine that seemed to be recording his vital signs. Gibbs barely gave it a glance; he wasn't the doctor.
"Duck," Gibbs breathed, suddenly feeling that the breath he'd just taken was the first one since the phone had rung and woke him up.
As the doctor, whom Gibbs assumed to be Dr. Appleby, turned around, Ducky glanced towards him. "Jethro," he cried, holding out his right hand. "Oh, my dear, dear Jethro."
Gibbs heard the surprise that came from the doctor and a nurse who was also inside the cubicle, but he ignored it. He strode across the room and taking care not to jolt him, tugged Ducky into his arms. "Oh, Duck," he murmured.
The next second later the surprise was his own, as Ducky pulled out of the fierce hug a little so that he could tug Gibbs's head down, at the same time he tipped his own back. He then, with an accuracy that amazed Gibbs, found Gibbs's mouth and kissed him. Gibbs was too stunned by the move to do anything other than return the kiss for a moment or two.
Seconds later reality hit him and with care he pulled away from the kiss, however, he still kept Ducky in a loose embrace. "Duck?" he said, confusion heavy in his tone.
Ducky just beamed and gazed lovingly up at him through what now appeared to be unfocussed eyes. "Have you come to take me home, my dear?"
"Er, yeah, Duck." Gibbs let go of his old friend, allowing him to settle back against the pillows and instead took his hand.
"Well, I hope you know where to take me, because I'm afraid I do not." Ducky continued to simply smile lovingly up at him.
"It'll be all right, Duck," Gibbs said, brushing one hand over Ducky's hair, pushing back his heavy fringe; it revealed another dark bruise. He frowned, and fury began to flow through him.
It must have shown on his face, or in his body language, because suddenly Ducky looked concerned. "Is something the matter, Jethro? Have I done something wrong? Something to upset you?"
Gibbs hastened to reassure his friend. "No, Duck," again he touched Ducky's head. "You've done nothing wrong or to upset me. I promise."
"Oh, good," Ducky said, his relief clear.
Gibbs, still holding Ducky's hand, turned to the doctor. "Can I take him home?"
She looked up at him and frowned slightly. "Do you have any experience with concussion, Mr. Gibbs?"
"Yeah, plenty. Mostly my own. Is he concussed?"
"Mildly. We need to bandage his wrist. It isn't broken, just sprained, but then, yes, you can take him home. I think he'd be more comfortable. There are a few things I need to go through with your first, so if you'd like to come with me, while Nurse Cassey bandages Dr. Mallard's wrist, we can talk about them."
He didn't really want to go with the doctor; he wanted to stay with Ducky. But even Leroy Jethro Gibbs could recognize the kind of non-order-order that even he couldn't argue with. "Sure. I won't be long, Duck. I'm just going to talk to the doctor, then we'll get you out of here."
"Very well, Jethro." It was Ducky who let his hand slip from Gibbs's.
Gibbs followed the doctor out of the cubicle and along the corridor to an empty room.
"I'm very sorry, Mr. Gibbs. I had no idea that your relationship with Dr. Mallard was more than just friendship."
Gibbs dragged his hand over his head. "That's just it, Doctor, it isn't. We're friends; extremely close friends; intimate friends if you like, but that's all it is, friendship. Ducky's gay and I know that he's always been attracted to me, hell, loves me as more than just a friend, but . . ." As he rattled the words out, he realized he was telling a perfect stranger things that even he and Ducky had never openly talked about. However, Ducky's well being was paramount to Gibbs, and if that meant a few minutes of mild discomfort and embarrassment, so be it.
"You've never returned the feelings?"
Gibbs shook his head. "I've nothing against gay men or women, nothing at all. I couldn't have, given my closest friend's gay. I love him; but . . . It doesn't matter. What does, is why the hell did he kiss me? He clearly thinks we are lovers, he remembers we are. How can that be?"
"Mr. Gibbs, the mind is not an exact science. Even today with all the advances in medical science, there are far more things that we don't know about it, than we do. Amnesia is also not an exact science; some patients have complete memory loss, others partial and some, as with Dr. Mallard, seem to remember a completely different reality. You say that you are very close and intimate. If I understand you correctly your relationship is as -"
"Close to being lovers without actually being lovers. Yes. Heck, I've been more intimate in some ways with Ducky than with my wives." Gibbs continued to speak the brutal and honest truth. After all, he reckoned, he'd probably never see the doctor again, and if it helped Ducky in some small way, then it was worth it.
"In that case, I can only say that your closeness coupled with Dr. Mallard's desire for you as a lover, has for the moment become real."
"But why that and nothing else?"
"I don't have an answer, I'm afraid. Other than -"
"It's not an exact science. Yeah, Duck says that to me a lot. What do I do?"
"That is up to you, Mr. Gibbs. My advice would be not to correct Dr. Mallard at the moment -"
"You mean I should lie to him?"
"Not exactly, no. However, he was somewhat distressed when he was brought in. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but he was extremely uneasy. I'm not surprised by that fact; suddenly having no idea who you are or what you do or where you are is extremely unnerving. His pulse rate was higher than what is considered to be normal, as well as being fairly erratic, his blood pressure was also elevated, and he showed other signs of distress too. All these things vanished as soon as you appeared. So I am merely suggesting that rather than come out and say 'Ducky we aren't lovers', that you play along with him as far as you can, without compromising yourself or your friendship."
"When he regains his memory will he remember that he kissed me, that he thought we were lovers?"
"Oh, dear. I'm afraid that is another one of those questions, to which I cannot give you an exact answer. Different people react in different ways."
"I can't lie to him. And I can't give him what he wants; it'd be a betrayal. And the one person I'd never lie to or betray is Ducky. I'd never forgive myself, and I doubt Ducky would either."
"I'm sure that you can find a way, Mr. Gibbs, that won't involve lies or betrayal, but that also won't involve telling him the blunt truth at a time when I'm not all together certain it would be good for him to hear it. However, if you wish, we can keep him here. It is not usually hospital policy to release amnesiacs, unless they know their own name. And although you know who Dr. Mallard is, and he appears to know who you are, then -"
Gibbs shook his head, cutting her off. "No. I've already told him I'm here to take him home, and you've said there's no reason for him to stay. I've had some experience with memory loss, albeit nowhere near as severe as Ducky's, and it's frightening. If I'm the one thing he remembers, even if that memory is slightly faulty to some extent, then he needs to be with me. Besides, put him in familiar surroundings and his memory might come straight back, right? I could take him to my house, he'd look around and wham, it could come back."
"Yes, indeed it might. Often one or more of the senses can be stimulated by the known, and the memory can return as easily as switching on a light switch. Scent is strangely enough probably the most powerful of all triggers. From what you say he's a medical doctor, himself."
"Medical Examiner, we work together at NCIS. That's -"
"Naval Criminal Investigative Services, yes, I know. You investigated the death of my closest friend's fiancť. In that case, Mr. Gibbs, if his memory doesnít return tonight, I suggest that you take him into work tomorrow and see if the scents of Autopsy can work as a trigger."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'm building a boat in my basement. Duck swears that wherever I go, the scent of sawdust goes with me. Maybe I should take him down to the basement and see if that helps."
"Anything is worth a try, Mr. Gibbs. However, I would not advise trying to force the memory or attempting to find too many ways to bring it back. I have seen people sit and recite a person's life history or throw questions at them constantly. All that does is confuse and upset the person more. In the short term at least, it is far better that the memory is allowed to return naturally. Of course if the amnesia continues for any length of time, then we might wish to consider other methods."
"There has been quite a lot of success with hypnosis. But let's not worry about that for now, Mr. Gibbs. Take Dr. Mallard home; see if the sight of familiar surroundings, etc. triggers any kind of memory over the next few days. If nothing has surfaced in three or four days, we'll maybe consider some more invasive techniques. Don't look at me like that, Mr. Gibbs, they are painless, I assure you."
"I'm sure they are but -"
"You have an instinctive dislike of anything like that?"
He smiled wryly. "Yeah, guess I do at that."
"Look, Mr. Gibbs. Most amnesiacs do recover their memory by themselves. Dr. Mallard's could return in an hour or by tomorrow or during the next few days. Unless . . ." She trailed off.
She sighed. "Unless there is a reason the brain might be suppressing his memories."
"What kind of reason?"
"Emotional, physical harm. In some -"
Gibbs took a step nearer to her. "If anyone's hurt Ducky, I'll -"
She shook her head. "It's all right, apart from this wrist and a few scrapes and bruises, Dr. Mallard has not been harmed in any way. I apologize for how my words must have sounded."
But Gibbs still wasn't completely comforted. "You're sure? You've . . . He hasn't been . . . I mean . . ." Angry with himself for not being able to form the words he glared at the doctor.
"There are no signs of any harm, Mr. Gibbs."
She sighed and then smiled. "I really would not like to be interrogated by you, Agent Gibbs." The emphasized switch from 'Mister' to 'Agent' reminded Gibbs she was not a suspect who he was interrogating. "You are clearly extremely good at your job. No, Dr. Mallard has not been raped. Is that better?"
He ran his hand over his head and said something he hardly ever said, "Sorry. It's just -"
"You're concerned. Yes, I realize that. However, as we are on the subject, may I ask you a question?"
Gibbs shrugged. "Sure."
"Are you aware of anything that Dr. Mallard's mind might wish to suppress?"
"His mom died recently, but to be honest that was more a relief for everyone than anything else."
"Is it possible that Dr. Mallard feels guilty about being relieved?"
Gibbs thought for a moment and then shook his head. "No. That's not Ducky. He's not like that. His mom was suffering, a lot. She'd had Alzheimers for years and he'd cared for her at home as long as he could. But it got too much and she had to go into a home. The really tragic thing was that she still had moments when she was aware, and in those moments she prayed for death, even begged him to -" He cut himself off and shook his head. "And before you ask, no, he wouldn't be trying to block out the guilt he felt for not being able to - Oh, hell." He said the final words softly. "Look, Doctor, there is possibly something. I can't, I won't, go into details, not unless you can categorically tell me his mind is deliberately suppressing it. And as such a way to get 'him' back."
"Which I can't do. To be honest, Mr. Gibbs, in my experience the brain deliberately suppressing memories does not happen all that often."
"But Ducky's brain hasn't just forgotten, it's built new memories - well a new memory."
"Yes, it has. But again as I told you that isn't unheard of. Not remembering anything at all is extremely frightening, thus once again the brain has a coping mechanism and latches on to something. You told me yourself that Dr. Mallard's feelings for you are deep and they go back some time, thus you are a constant. And for a short time he is, I suppose you could say, getting what he's wanted for years. Look, maybe it would be better if we did keep him here overnight."
Gibbs shook his head. "No." He spoke firmly, flatly. "I'm taking him home."
"Are you sure? Can you . . ."
"Manage? Yeah. Yes, Doctor, I am."
"Very well then. I would think Nurse Cassey has finished now."
Jethro brought the car to a stop outside his house, turned off the engine and glanced at Ducky. He touched Ducky's arm, "Hey, Duck," he said softly. "We're here."
Ducky turned from him to look at Jethro's house, but said nothing.
After a few seconds, Jethro took the keys from the ignition, opened his door, got out and went around to Ducky's side of the car, opening the door and offering Ducky his hand to help him out. "Come on, let's get inside and I'll make you some tea or whatever you want."
Ducky took his hand and once out of the car didnít let go of it. "Thank you," he said. "Tea would be very nice as, I must confess, a shower would be."
"Got plenty of hot water." Jethro made no attempt to take his hand from Ducky's, instead he just began to move towards the door.
Once inside he not only locked it, he pushed the bolts on as well. He paused, hoping against hope really that Ducky would comment. Even though he hadn't truly expected the out of ordinary gesture to trip Ducky's memory, he was somewhat disappointed when Ducky said nothing.
He was just standing, carefully and slowly looking around the hall. Finally he sighed. "Oh, dear. You would think that seeing the house in which I live might jog my memory, wouldn't you?"
Jethro groaned silently under his breath. Maybe brining Ducky home hadn't been his greatest idea, but the thought of walking away from the hospital, leaving Ducky there, wasn't one he even wished to consider. He put his arm around Ducky's shoulders and turned Ducky into a half embrace. "You don't live here, Duck," he said, keeping his voice gentle. "This is my house."
Ducky was staring at him, the look in the steady blue gaze was exactly the same as it had been over all the years, decades, they'd known one another. It was so frighteningly normal that it made Jethro swallow hard. And then the look changed and sadness, disappointment and a degree of embarrassment crept into it. Ducky lowered his head. "Oh, do, please, forgive me, Jethro. I had thought . . ." Now he did look back up. "Are we not committed then?" he asked, his voice little more than a whisper.
Jethro pulled him nearer to him, taking care not to crush his bandaged wrist. "Yeah, Duck," he said, lightly kissing Ducky's head. "We're committed." It wasn't a lie; not as such. If there was one person in the world Jethro Gibbs would say he was committed to it was the man he held in his arms. Just because Ducky and he were talking about different kinds of commitment didn't matter. Not to him.
Ducky moved back a little and looked up at Jethro, pleasure once again shining in his eyes and showing on his face. Yet he still looked a little troubled and confused. "If that is the case, then why do we not . . ." And then before Jethro could formulate an answer, Ducky hurried on. "Oh, do, please, forgive me, my dear. I didn't mean to sound so -"
"Nothing to forgive, Duck. The thing is until pretty recently your mom has lived with you."
"I sill lived with my mother?" Ducky sounded aghast.
Jethro had to stop himself from laughing. "Not really. Your mom lived with you. She was ill, Duck. Alzheimers and she needed to be with someone. You're an only child, and you didn't want to return to Britain so she came out here."
"I see. Oh, dear. What about now. Do we need to -"
"She died, Duck. I'm sorry," he said, again pulling Ducky near to him. "A few months ago. She'd been getting worse, a lot worse. You had to -" He broke off and swallowed. "You had to put her into a home," he said softly. "She was suffering, Duck. It was better - for both of you, and for those who love you. I hope that doesn't sound harsh, but it's the truth."
Ducky settled against him, resting his head against Jethro's shoulder. "Mother wouldn't have wanted to suffer," he said softly.
"No she - Duck?" Jethro pushed him away again. "Duck has your . . ." He trailed off as the look in Ducky's eyes answered his question.
"Sadly no, my dear." Ducky stroked Jethro's cheek. "I just . . . Oh, I don't know, I just somehow know she wouldn't have wanted to. And I am correct, am I not?"
Jethro nodded. "Yeah, you are." He metaphorically crossed his fingers hoping the next thing Ducky said wouldn't be to ask why, if his mom was now dead, were they still not living together. He suddenly realized this was going to be a lot harder than he had imagined. "How about that cup of tea?" he asked, wincing at how falsely bright his tone sounded. "Or the shower? Although," he added quickly, "not sure you should have a shower with that bandage. How about a bath, instead?"
"That would be lovely. Oh, yes, I do like that idea." Ducky smiled.
"Come on then. Let's go and get it run and you undressed."
"I'm sure I could manage both and you could make the tea."
Jethro shook his head. "No. You're concussed, remember? I'm not letting you mess about in the bathroom on your own. And I doubt you'll manage to get undressed without a bit of help; you haven't got much movement in your wrist."
"Oh, well, in that case . . . I accept." And Ducky smiled again.
Jethro showed Ducky where the bedroom was in what he hoped was a nonchalant 'let's not make too much of the fact you don't remember my house' fashion and went to the bathroom to start to fill the tub. A second or two later he started as he looked up to see Ducky standing in the doorway looking almost apprehensive. "You okay, Duck? Do you need something?"
"As a matter of fact I do, but I'm not sure how to phrase it."
Jethro frowned. "Try straight out," he said. "You know that - damn it, sorry, Duck."
But Ducky just shook his head. "Let us agree, my dear, that you won't apologize every time you say something like that and I won't apologize every time I have to ask you something."
Jethro smiled. "Yeah, why don't we do that, Duck. So what do you need?"
"I was wondering just how intimate we were in certain matters."
Keeping his expression neutral, at least he hoped it was, Jethro said carefully, "Such as?"
"Well I need to use the loo and I wondered if it would bother you as you are in here."
Fighting the double urge to breathe a sigh of relief and laugh at the absurdity of the question, Jethro waved his hand in the direction of the toilet. "Be my guest, Duck. It's nothing we haven't done before," he added, returning to the task of making sure the water was the right temperature.
"Thank you," Ducky said, moving into the steamy bathroom and taking care of his needs. However, once he had finished, he didn't return to Jethro's bedroom, he stayed where he was.
When the bath was filled and just slightly too hot, Jethro turned, and said, "Let's get you undressed and into the tub, then I'll make you some tea."
Ducky smiled at him and followed him back to Jethro's bedroom where as Jethro had predicted, he did indeed need some help in undressing. Once he had Ducky into the tub and had extracted a promise that he wouldn't close his eyes and if he felt even the slightest bit odd he'd call for Jethro, Jethro hurried from the room, down the stairs and made some tea.
While it was brewing, Ducky had taught him well, he hastened back upstairs, briefly checked on Ducky and then strode into his spare room where fortunately Ducky had a few items of clothing. A few months before Ducky had finally given into the inevitable and had put his mother into a home, Jethro had literally bullied him into taking a few days off from caring for his mother and made Ducky come and stay with him. And for some reason Jethro couldn't recall, the clothing and toiletries Ducky had brought with him had never gone home with him. Jethro had thrown Ducky's underwear, shirts and pajamas into the washing machine along with his own, and then put them back in his spare room.
Now he took them from there and put them in his own room. Whatever else he did or didn't do, he knew that Ducky would be sharing his bed that night - and not just because he needed to keep an eye on him. He'd face whatever else might arise later. It wouldn't be the first time they'd shared a bed, just the first time they'd shared a bed when Ducky was of the mind they were lovers.
The bath seemed to tire Ducky, although given what he'd gone through, was still going through, plus the small matter of it being the early hours of the morning, Jethro wasn't exactly surprised. So once he was dry, Jethro suggested he went to bed - they went to bed.
Ducky was under the covers as Jethro stripped his clothing off for the second time that night. "Jethro?"
"I have something I need to say and I hope you won't be offended or upset or . . . Well anything."
Down to his shorts and undershirt, Jethro looked at him. "Doubt anything you could say could offend or upset me, Duck, but go on."
"Well, it's a little sensitive. Oh, dear. Look, I'm just going to come out and say it and trust that our relationship is as close as I believe it to be."
"Which it is." And it was, just not quite in the same way as Ducky meant.
"Until I regain my memory, I do not think it would be a good idea, oh, no that isn't even correct. The thing is, strange as it might seem, and thinking about it, it does seem strange, you'd have thought I would want it more, given the circumstances, that it would give me something to hold on to, something solid. However, I find I feel the opposite." Jethro waited patiently for Ducky to say something that actually made sense. "What I'm trying to say, Jethro, is that until I regain my memory I do not think we should make love. I do not think it would be right, especially as I have no memories of what you . . . Well, enjoy." And under Jethro's fond gaze, Ducky flushed slightly. "Would that be okay?" he said, a moment or two later. "Would you mind terribly? Because if you would then -"
Jethro crossed the bed and put his finger on Ducky's lips. "Hush," he said, gently brushing Ducky's fringe back with his other hand. "Of course I don't mind, Duck. Makes sense to me." It was also a huge relief; it was one less thing he had to worry about. As he'd told Ducky's doctor, he was not going to lie to that extent to Ducky. And even though he'd always somehow known that if for some reason, not that off-hand he'd ever thought of one, he had to touch Ducky sexually or have Ducky touch him, he could do it, he meant what he'd said about it being a betrayal under the current circumstances.
"Thank you, my dear," Ducky said softly, moving a little nearer to Jethro and leaning into the, what Jethro suddenly realized had become a, caress as Jethro's hand had slipped under Ducky's hair and was stroking his scalp. "Of course," he went on, "if you wished to put your arms around me, I would have no objection to that. None at all," he added, his voice even quieter.
Jethro got the message: Ducky was feeling even more vulnerable at this moment than he had been before. "Give me two minutes," he said, squeezing Ducky's shoulder, "to go the head and I'll come to bed."
As he relieved himself he offered up a silent prayer to a God he'd never been certain existed, that this would all work out okay.
Returning to his bedroom he got into bed and gathered Ducky into his arms. He heard Ducky's gentle sigh as his head came to rest on his shoulder and felt one of Ducky's arms slide over his body. He lay there trying to work out what the hell he was going to do if Ducky suddenly changed his mind about not wanting to make love, listening to Ducky's steady breathing, and wondering why it somehow felt so right to be in bed with Ducky holding him like this. He'd embraced him before, many times; he'd shared a bed with him, but until now the two hadn't coincided.
He was about to suggest that Ducky settle down and go to sleep when the faintest of snores told him Ducky had already fallen asleep where he was. Making a mental note to wake Ducky up from time to time just to reassure himself all was well, Jethro closed his eyes and let his body rest, if not sleep.
Meanwhile his mind churned over and over. What would happen if Ducky didn't regain his memory? As soon as that popped into his mind, he pushed it away again. It was pointless worrying about that because Ducky was going to regain his memory.
The next thought he couldn't dismiss so easily. What would happen when Ducky regained his memory? Would he remember the last few hours or not? What would happen if Ducky woke up and found himself in Jethro's bed and arms? He knew that amnesia could be partial, so it was possible that Ducky might have forgotten the last few hours and also thought he'd forgotten Jethro and him getting together. But if he did remember the last few hours what would he think to the fact that Jethro had misled him? Would he hate Jethro for what he'd done?
Suddenly Jethro wasn't at all certain he should have brought Ducky home with him. He also wasn't sure he should have listened to Dr. Appleby when she had suggested he didn't tell Ducky outright they weren't lovers.
So far everything he'd done or said could easily be put down to their intimate friendship. They'd shared beds, bathrooms, seen one another naked, embraced. Okay he couldn't recall ever helping Ducky undress or helping him get into a bath, but both of those things had simply been one friend helping another. No he'd done nothing to mislead Ducky - yet at least. Nothing at all. Even his answers to the questions had been honest; they had that kind of friendship.
What about the kiss? That had taken him by surprise; he hadn't been expecting it - he could hardly have yanked himself away, could he? A lot of men would have. True, but a most men didn't have the close friendship he and Ducky shared. What are you going to do if he kisses you again? What are you going to do if he does change his mind and wants to make love? He ignored both questions. He'd deal with them if they arose.
THE NEXT DAY
Following the advice of Dr. Appleby once they were both bathed and dressed he led Ducky down to his basement.
"Oh, you're building a boat, how nice."
Absurdly, Jethro felt completely let down. Something must have shown because Ducky's look became guarded. "Have I said something wrong, Jethro? Upset you in some way?"
Jethro shook his head. "Cause not, Duck. It's just . . . You've told me more than once that the scent of sawdust follows me around most of the time, like you and formaldehyde, and as -"
"Scent is one of the most powerful of triggers; you had hoped that coming down here would stimulate my memory."
Jethro smiled a little. "Yeah. Yeah, Duck. I had." He sighed. Then something occurred to him. "Duck?"
"Can I ask you something?"
"How come you know that stuff? About scent being the most powerful trigger? I mean do you remember other things like that? Medical things? History? Books?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. I do. I can tell you anything you wish to know about the body and anatomy, indeed I believe I could quite easily conduct an autopsy. I can tell you the names of all of Mozart's concertos. I can recite the Kings and Queens of England back as far as you want to go. I know I know several languages, etc., etc."
"Yet you don't remember anything personal?"
Ducky shook his head. "Apart from knowing who you are and that we are involved, and even that is hazy beyond that simple fact, no. I do not."
It gave Jethro an opening. "Duck," he said, putting his arms around Ducky and tugging him into a loose embrace. "There's something I have to tell you."
Ducky looked up at him and in the steady stare Jethro saw more than a hint of fear and apprehension. "And what might that be?" The same apprehension was in Ducky's tone.
Jethro couldn't. He simply couldn't. Not seeing and hearing Ducky's anguish; he couldn't. So instead he forced a smile, hoping it didn't look forced, and made his tone light. "Don't look like that, Duck, it's nothing to worry about. Just that I don't think they'll let you perform any autopsies for a while, that's all."
He watched the apprehension fade away and heard Ducky chuckle very slightly. "I never imagined for one moment 'they' would, Jethro. Now I believe you suggested I come into the office with you today to see if the familiar sights, sounds and smells might bring my memory back?"
"Yeah. If that's okay with you. If you'd rather stay here, if you're tired, I'll take the day off and -"
"No. Not at all. I think it's a good idea. The sooner I get my memory back the happier I'm sure we'll both be." He smiled.
"Yeah. Reckon we will be." And without making the conscious decision, Jethro lowered his head and brushed his lips over Ducky's forehead.
Out of consideration for Ducky, it was in effect the first time he had been in a car with him, he didn't count the journey back from the hospital, Jethro drove to the office far more slowly than he usually did. He kept glancing at the man sitting next to him and didnít like the vibes he was picking up. As well as his gut troubling him, the fact that Ducky had been virtually silent since getting into the car did not, in his book, bode well.
Taking one hand off the steering wheel he reached across and put his hand on Ducky's knee. "Hey," he said softly.
Ducky turned his head and looked at him. "Jethro?"
"If you don't want to do this, go to the office, just say so. I'll turn around and we'll go back home. Leave it until tomorrow or even the next day."
The look in the still open-to-read gaze told him Ducky would like that; he'd like it very much indeed. However, Ducky put his hand over Jethro's, squeezed it and said, his tone only slightly belying his words, "No. It will be all right, I will be all right," he corrected. "It's a good idea, a logical one, a sensible one. It is just . . ." He trailed off.
Glancing back and forth between the road and Ducky, Jethro said softly, "Just?"
Ducky sighed. "I know it's foolish, after all I know these people, I see them every day, do I not?"
"Yeah. Most days anyway."
"It is just the idea of meeting a number of people who all know me, know about me, whereas I don't remember them, is somewhat disconcerting."
The traffic was building up more and Jethro was forced to take his hand from Ducky's knee and return it to the steering wheel. He tried to ignore the very faint wistful sigh that came from Ducky; he tried to ignore it because he knew Ducky didn't want him to have heard it. "I know it's tough, Duck," he said quietly.
"Mmm. A few years ago I was blown up and -"
"You were blown up? Oh, Jethro." Ducky sounded alarmed.
"It's okay, Duck. I'm okay. Anyway, I was in hospital, in a coma and when I came round I'd lost fifteen years. Didn't even remember who y- the kids were," he added hastily. "As I said, it's a horrible feeling and it's worse for you as you can't remember anything."
"Apart from you," Ducky said softly. "You won't just . . . I mean you'll be . . . You won't - 'the kids'?" he said suddenly.
Jethro smiled. "Yeah. Abby, McGee, DiNozzo, Palmer and Ziva, they're the team. McGee, DiNozzo and Ziva are my field agents; Palmer's your assistant and Abby's our forensic scientist. For some reason we took to calling them 'the kids', well, I do, you tend to go for 'the children'."
"Are they aware of that?"
"Yeah. More than once they've used the term themselves. We're a family, Duck. It'll be okay, you'll see." Again Jethro put his hand on Ducky's knee. "And of course I'll be there and no, I'm not going to just dump you in Autopsy and leave you alone." Ducky looked at him and to Jethro's relief he saw some of the tension that had been present in Ducky's eyes and body language begin to melt away. "Didn't really think I'd do that, did you?"
"Well, I hoped not. But as I have no idea of the protocol or how things are done or what is expected, indeed allowed, then . . . Oh, Jethro."
"These 'children' do they know, about us, I mean?"
Shit. Jethro thought fast. "Um, to be honest, Duck. I don't know. They know we're close friends, we occasionally bemuse them by the fact we can finish one another's sentences. Palmer still looks amazed when I come into Autopsy and you address me by name without even turning around. But as for knowing, well nothing's ever been said." Okay, so that wasn't a lie. Nothing he'd said was anything but the truth.
They arrived at the Navy Yard, Jethro parked the car, got out and went around to the passenger side and offered his hand to Ducky to help him out. Once again Ducky looked troubled. "We can still go home, Duck," he said quietly.
Ducky smiled a clearly forced smile and said, his tone falsely bright, "No, my dear. It will be fine. Now, as I have no idea at all where to go, I think you had better lead the way."
As he put his arm around Ducky's shoulders to turn him in the correct direction, Jethro had a foreboding feeling that 'fine' was the last thing it was going to be.
"Duckman! Oh, my Duckman!" Abby cried, jumping up from where she'd been sitting on McGee's desk and half running, her arms open, across to where Gibbs and Ducky stood. Gibbs felt Ducky's shock by the way the body that was touching his froze, and the next second he felt Ducky grab his hand and hold it.
"Abbs!" he said sharply, as the grip Ducky had on his hand tightened. "Calm down, okay? And that goes for the rest of you," he added, glancing around at the other four members of the team who were all hurrying towards Ducky and himself. "Remember, Duck doesn't know any of you or anything. It's damn scary."
"Sorry, Gibbs," Abby said, glancing away from him, her tone very subdued. "And I'm sorry to you too, Ducky," she said, now taking a tentative step forward and holding out her right hand. "I was, we were," she corrected, "just so relieved to see you're okay, well here. I'm sorry she repeated. I'm Abby, Abigail Sciuto - but you're the only one I ever let call me 'Abigail'." She smiled and still held out her hand.
After a second or two Ducky let go of Gibbs's hand and took Abby's. "I am pleased to meet you, Abigail," he said. "I am just sorry I cannot remember you."
"Ooh," Abby murmured, suddenly letting go of Ducky's hand and turning away, but not before Gibbs had caught the glint of tears in her eyes.
"Well," he said, glancing at the other four, "go on, introduce yourselves." He knew in some ways it would be far easier for him to do it, but someone's voice just might tip the balance and make something click in Ducky's memory.
DiNozzo went first, then McGee, followed by Ziva. Ducky had registered nothing at all, apart from increasing tension, as he greeted the boys, but when it came to Ziva, he frowned slightly, put his head on one side and really looked at her.
Before Gibbs could say something, Ziva said something in her own language and Ducky responded in the same language. The rest of the team looked surprised and even expectant, but Gibbs was neither. He knew Ducky too well, besides he remembered the conversation in his basement. Ducky knew Ziva's language, but he didnít know Ziva.
Finally Palmer came towards them and held out his hand. "Hello, Dr. Mallard," he said. "I'm Jimmy. Jimmy Palmer. I'm your assistant." He beamed in true Palmer fashion.
"Jimmy?" Ducky said the name, but again he frowned. He looked up at Gibbs. "Jethro?"
But it was Palmer who answered. "Normally you call me Mr. Palmer, Doctor," he said, failing to completely hide the hint of sadness in his tone.
"Do I?" Ducky sounded surprised. Again he looked at Gibbs. "Why would I do that, when I call the rest of you by your given names?"
This time it was Gibbs who answered. He put his hand on Ducky's shoulder and lowered his head a little. "I reckon it's because you're pissed with Palmer's parents, Duck," he said.
"Jethro!" Ducky's exclamation made them all, even Abby, who was standing close to McGee, her arm through his, smile. "Why on earth would you suggest that?"
"Because, Duck, you have a habit of using people's full names. Abigail, Timothy, Anthony -"
"And you called Kate 'Caitlin'," DiNozzo said. "Sorry, boss," he added swiftly, as Gibbs glared at him.
"Kate? But I thought you said there were only five children, Jethro?"
"Kate was on the team before I, Ducky," Ziva said, her tone low. "She -"
"Duck?" This time even Gibbs allowed himself to hope.
But it faded instantly as Ducky shook his head. "I'm sorry, my dear," he said, gazing up at Jethro with open and clear affection. "I do not recall dear Caitlin, just that you all look so sad. There was no other explanation. Now do go on telling me your theory as to why I call the young man with whom I work each day 'Mr. Palmer' rather than 'Jimmy'."
Gibbs thought back to where he'd got to. "Oh, yeah. As I said you like to call people by their full names. Palmer here was named 'Jim' by his parents, but didn't like the name so decided to become Jimmy." He hid a smile at the look of incredulity on Palmer's face. "And that means you can't extend his name, because 'Jimmy' is in fact his full name. So you call him 'Mr. Palmer' instead, like you call Abby 'Abigail'. It's just what you do."
Ducky was gazing at him. "I'll have to take your word for that, my dear," he said, after a moment or two of what seemed to be consideration of Gibbs's words.
Gibbs put his hand on Ducky's shoulder. "Yeah, you do that, Duck. Now tell you what, while Palmer makes you a nice cup of tea, how about I take you down to Autopsy and we'll see if . . ." He trailed off. "Well you know."
"Very well," Ducky said.
And that was the best part of the day. Things only got worse from that moment.
The more people Ducky met, the more people he knew he knew but couldn't remember, the more people talked to him, the more normal day to day terminology was used, the further into his shell Ducky retreated, and the more stressed and visibly upset he became.
Finally, just before lunch, Gibbs knew he couldn't inflict it on Ducky any longer so, leaving him with Palmer in Autopsy with a promise he'd be five minutes, he raced to Vance's office and put in a request for a few days leave. Vance hadn't hesitated for more than a few seconds before agreeing to Gibbs's request.
And five minutes later Gibbs, with Ducky in the passenger seat of his car, was heading back to his house. He gave some thought to going to Reston House instead, but decided Ducky had been through enough that day.
As he drove back to his house he saw the tension begin to fade away from Ducky, and under his out-of-the-corner-of-his-eye gaze, Ducky became visibly less upset.
THREE DAYS LATER
"Are you sure, Duck?" Jethro stood in the hallway, his briefcase in one hand, his Sig in the pocket of his overcoat, his other hand on Ducky's shoulder.
Ducky smiled up at him. "Yes. Yes, Jethro. I am quite certain. I'll be quite all right here by myself. You need to go to the office, don't you?"
"Well, there is a case, but . . ."
Ducky put his hand on Jethro's cheek. "Then you must go and do whatever it is you do, so very well and solve the case. I assure you I'll be fine here. I have books and music and, as we went shopping yesterday, more than enough food to make sure you have a good meal waiting for you when you come home."
Jethro put his hand around the nape of Ducky's neck. "Can't guarantee what time that'll be, Duck," he said quietly.
"I realize that. Maybe you could . . ."
"Call you? Yeah, I'll do that, Duck. Promise." And he meant it. He'd never bothered when he'd been married to let any of his wives know how late or otherwise he might be; it had been yet another of the many things he'd done that pissed the women in his life off. But with Ducky, it was different.
"Good. In that case don't let me delay you any longer." And with those words Ducky stood up on his toes and lightly brushed his lips over Jethro's. "Do take care, my dear," he said, seconds later after the chaste kiss ended.
"Always do, Duck." Jethro ruffled Ducky's hair, before turning around and heading out of the door. "Don't forget to -"
"Lock the door after you. Yes, dear. I'll do that thing," Ducky said, amusement in his voice.
Despite the fact they did have a case waiting, Jethro hovered outside his own front door until he heard Ducky locking it.
A WEEK LATER
Ducky was in the kitchen making dinner when Jethro heard the sound of the door being tried and the next moment the sound of the door bell. For some reason ever since Ducky had been staying with him, he'd taken to locking the front door at all times.
Calling out to Ducky that he'd get it, not that he'd expected Ducky to answer it, Jethro strode to the front door and opened it. "Tobias," he said, as he saw his second closest friend standing there.
"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
Jethro frowned. "What makes you think that?"
"The front door was locked."
"Oh, yeah. That's for Ducky."
"Well, are you going to invite me in?"
"Yeah, sure. Come in, Tobias."
"Thank you, Jethro." Tobias smiled at him and followed him into the house. "How is Ducky?" he asked, taking off his overcoat and tossing it over Jethro's banister.
Jethro glanced towards the kitchen. "The same," he said quietly.
"He still can't remember anything?"
Jethro led the way into the living room. "Not anything remotely personal, no. Ask him to name Mozart's concertos or what year man landed on the moon or how many bones in the body or anything else and he'll know it. But beyond that . . ." He trailed off and shrugged. "Drink?"
"As long as it's not that stuff you keep in the basement, yes, please."
"It isn't. Duck doesn't like it. What?" he said, a moment later as he handed Tobias a glass.
"Don't give me that, Fornell. What's on your mind?"
Tobias took a healthy swallow of the whiskey. "Now that's what I call whiskey," he said. "Ducky's choice?"
Jethro nodded and took a gulp of his own whiskey. "You can sit down, you know," he said, flopping down on the couch and putting one leg over the arm.
"Just looking around. I don't think I've ever seen more than your hall and basement before." Tobias finally sat in one of the armchairs. "Done much to the boat recently?" he asked, his tone nonchalant.
Jethro frowned at him. "Why don't you just say it, Fornell?"
"Whatever the hell's going on in your mind."
"Do I need to?" Tobias's tone was low.
Jethro sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "Cut the crap, Tobias. I'm tired."
For a moment or two Tobias just looked at him. "Look, Jethro, I know we have this faÁade we have to keep up in front of our teams, right?" Jethro shrugged and nodded. "But it is just a faÁade, isn't it?"
"What do you think?"
"I like to think we're friends."
"You sick or something, Tobias?"
Tobias smiled. "Yeah, guess it's not the kind of conversation we usually have."
"Unlike you and Ducky." Once again Tobias's tone was soft.
"Jethro, look at you. The front door is locked. You're drinking decent whiskey. You're using the rest of your house and not just your basement. You're leaving work at a reasonable time. You -"
"You checking up on me, Fornell?"
Tobias sat forward. "Jethro, how long can it go on?"
"Donít know what you mean."
"Yes, you do. How long? You say Ducky's personal memory still hasn't come back. Does he still think you're . . ." Tobias trailed off.
Jethro sighed. "Yeah. Yeah, he does."
"And you still haven't told him you're not?"
"How the hell am I meant to do that, Fornell?"
"Gee, Jethro, I don't know. How about 'hey, Duck, got something to tell you. You see we're not -" Tobias stopped speaking abruptly as the door opened and Ducky came in.
"My dear, I've - Oh." He came to a dead stop and just looked at Tobias. "I am sorry, I had no idea, you had . . . Forgive me, I assume we know one another." Ducky looked at Tobias, but he still stayed in the doorway.
Jethro stood up quickly and hurried across the room, put one arm around Ducky's shoulders and guided him across to where Tobias was now standing. "Tobias Charles Fornell, he works for the FBI. We're friends," he added.
"Hey, Ducky." Tobias held out his hand. "Nice to see you."
"Thank you. It's a pleasure to meet you," Ducky paused for a second, then managed, "Tobias." Then he added, after glancing at Jethro, "Would you like to join us for supper? There is plenty?"
Tobias glanced swiftly at Jethro and said, "Thanks for the offer, Ducky. But I'll have to take a rain check. I'm due to pick up Emily up in an hour."
"Um, no. My daughter."
"Oh, do, please forgive me, Tobias. I -"
"There's no need to apologize, Ducky. You . . ."
"Have lost my memory. Yes, I know. If you'll forgive me, Tobias, I have to return to the kitchen and check on the meal. Jethro," Ducky touched Jethro's hand before hurrying away.
Jethro watched him go. "Are you really picking Emily up?" he asked, turning back to Tobias.
Tobias shook his head. "No," he answered softly. "I just thought . . . Well, I got the feeling . . . Don't take this the wrong way, Jethro, but -"
"That Duck's offer was made out of politeness?"
"Yeah. Look, I'm -"
Jethro shook his head. "It's all right."
"It must be hard," Tobias swallowed some more whiskey. "On both of you." Once again his tone was low.
Jethro looked at him. "Yeah. It is. Far harder for Duck than me, but," he shrugged. "Now I seem to remember you were going to suggest something before Ducky came in?"
Tobias glanced away. "Forget it. I get it now."
"Yeah. But I still ask you, Jethro, how long can it go on?"
"It's only been twelve days."
"Twelve days is a long time - it's nearly two weeks. And the longer it goes on, the less likely it is that . . . Well you know. What are you going to do, Jethro?"
"Don't know what you mean."
"Donít lie to me, Jethro. It's bad enough you're -"
"Don't say it." Jethro growled the words and moved towards Tobias, getting closer and closer until he was glaring down at him, deliberately and calculatingly using his height to intimidate Tobias.
Except it didn't; it never did. Tobias held his ground and calmly gazed up at him. "What happens in another twelve days? Or a week after that? Or a month? Or two? Three? Six? A year? How long, Jethro? How long can you go on before you either tell Ducky the truth, and how the hell do you do that if you wait much longer? Or before you . . . Have you thought about that? What happens when he wants more than just a hug?"
Jethro took a step back, grabbed his glass and drained it. "I told you."
"Yeah, you did. Do you really believe that's going to go on forever? And what about you?"
"What about me?"
Tobias just shrugged. Then he drained his own glass and put it down on the coffee table. "Think about it, Jethro. Think about it hard. Because if Ducky doesn't regain his memory soon, you're going to have to make some decisions. And I'm not just talking about the whole 'lovers' thing."
"I mean I saw him tonight. He doesn't like being around other people, does he? People he knows he should know but doesn't?"
Jethro shook his head. "No. It's hard for him."
"So what are the options? You stay here, you go on going to work everyday, Ducky becomes more and more of a recluse. Or . . ."
"You retire, move away and start a new life. Have you thought about that? Could you do that? Well?" Tobias demanded, as Jethro looked away and stared at the door. "Jethro?"
Jethro looked back at him. "I have thought about it," he said.
"And pushed it away just like you're pushing the whole other thing away? Just like you're pushing away the idea of trying some other methods of helping him regain his memory? I take it you haven't followed up on the doctor's suggestion of hypnosis?"
"We talked about it."
"Ducky felt he'd rather wait a bit longer and see if it came back by itself. The doctor said that's the best way."
"And what about -"
Jethro shook his head silencing Tobias. "No. I can't. I can't do that to him, Tobias. I can't and I won't. We'll wait a bit longer."
Tobias sighed. "How much longer can you wait, Jethro?" he asked, his tone low.
Jethro frowned and said again, "It's only been a twelve days, Tobias. It'll be fine. Any day now, Duck'll -"
"You go on telling yourself that often enough, Jethro, and you know what? You just might believe it. Thanks for the drink. Tell Ducky I said goodbye." And with that, Tobias walked to the door and out into the hall.
Seconds later Jethro heard the front door close behind him. "Damn you, Fornell," he muttered, grabbing his glass and sloshing some more whiskey in it.
"Is Tobias not a good friend?" Ducky's voice made him jump and the glass jolted, spilling whiskey onto his hand.
Ordering his pulse rate to slow down and wondering just what, if anything, Ducky had overheard, Jethro wiped his hand on his sweatshirt and walked to where Ducky stood. "Yeah, he is, Duck," he said, putting his hand on Ducky's shoulder and squeezing it. "He is. A very good friend," he added softly.
"Oh. In that case why were you cursing him?" Ducky looked up at him, curiosity in the steady gaze. At least it was clear he hadn't overheard anything Tobias had said.
"It's nothing, Duck," Jethro said, putting his glass on the nearby bookcase and putting his arms around Ducky, gathering him into an embrace. "Nothing for you to worry about," he said softly, pulling Ducky a little nearer to him. He didn't miss the sigh of pleasure as Ducky slipped his own arms around him and rested his head against his shoulder. "Nothing at all," he repeated, his tone still soft. And then, because it felt right, more, because he wanted to, his put his lips on Ducky's head and kissed him twice.
He felt Ducky move slightly in his embrace and lifted his head to allow the movement. Ducky pulled back just a little, tilted his head back and gazed up at Jethro; the look on his face was heavy with longing, a hint of uncertainty and just the smallest hints of a plea.
Without stopping to consciously think about it or the consequences, Jethro lowered his head and put his mouth onto Ducky's. As he met Ducky's soft lips he told himself it was okay, he'd just kiss Ducky lightly, briefly. But then he heard Ducky moan softly and the next second the kiss was anything but light or brief, and Ducky's lips had parted for him and he was exploring Ducky's mouth for the first time with his own tongue.
Ducky's mouth was warm and moist and he tasted clean and pure and of something that Jethro couldn't indentify, but suspected came from Ducky tasting his cooking. Ducky's mouth was unknown to him, and yet seemed familiar and as he brushed Ducky's tongue with his own and pressed his lips even closer to Ducky's he felt as though he'd been doing it for years.
The brief kiss they had shared in the hospital and the mere brush of lips over lips had not prepared him for how well, how exquisitely, Ducky could kiss. The number of times both over the years and in the last twelve days he'd held Ducky in his arms had not prepared him for the feel of Ducky's body pressed against his in the way it was. He'd held Ducky face to face before, held him and felt his entire body against his, but it hadn't been anything like this. And it wasn't just that Ducky was becoming aroused, and that his own body was starting to react to the nearness of Ducky, the taste of Ducky, the scent of Ducky, the feel of Ducky, the soft sounds of pleasure and happiness Ducky was making. It was all that but yet so much more.
He wanted Ducky, and not just because he felt sorry for him, not just because he wanted to give him some moments of happiness, to give him what he knew Ducky had always wanted. He didn't just want his oldest, dearest, closest friend out of some kind of sympathetic friendship; he wanted him because he loved him. And not just in the fraternal way he'd loved him for years, but in the way he'd loved Shannon. Somewhere down the line he realized he'd fallen in love with Ducky and he wasn't certain it had just happened in the last week or so. In fact as he thought about it, he knew it couldn't be just in that short space of time.
Feeling himself start to grow light-heated, he slowly calmed the kiss down and reluctantly took his mouth away from Ducky's. Blinking he looked down into the face of his dearest friend. Ducky looked like he'd never seen him look before. Ducky looked contented, at peace, fulfilled; happy didn't begin to describe it. His eyes also blazed with the depth of passion that Jethro hadn't seen directed at him by anyone for many, many, many, many years, but a passion that mingled with love and devotion and need. But even as he gazed down into the darker-than-normal gaze, he saw apprehension and a hint of concern creep into it.
Once more, without conscious thinking about it, he put his mouth back onto Ducky's and kissed him again. This time it was a shorter kiss and less about passion and more about love. Taking his lips from Ducky's, Jethro gently kissed his way across Ducky's cheek and found his ear. "I love you, Duck," he breathed, gently kissing and nuzzling beneath Ducky's heavy, sweet smelling, silky hair. "It'll be all right."
"Oh, Jethro," Ducky murmured, snuggling once more into the tight embrace. "Will it?"
"Do you know what I regret most of all?"
Ducky again moved back a little and gazed up at Jethro. "I regret not being able to remember all our first times; the first time we met; the first time we had dinner; the first time we kissed; the first time we hugged; all those things. But most of all, I regret not being able to remember the first time we made love."
Jethro brushed his lips over Ducky's nose and gathered him back into his tight embrace. This time he didn't just act and not think; this time he made a conscious decision. Again putting his lips to Ducky's ear he whispered, "We can put that right now, Duck. We can make a new first time. Come on, let's forget dinner and go to bed and make love for the first time." He held his breath, suddenly not certain if he wanted Ducky to say 'no' or 'yes'.
"Oh, Jethro," Ducky murmured. "Oh, my dear, dear, dear Jethro. I love you so very much. You are so . . ." He trailed off and just sighed again with pure contentment.
"Well?" Jethro asked softly, after a minute of silence had gone by. "Is that a 'yes'?" Now he knew what he wanted Ducky's answer to be; he wanted him to say 'yes'. He wanted it more than he'd wanted anything, more than he'd wanted anyone since Shannon had been killed.
Ducky sighed and moved back again. "Oh, Jethro. I do not know, my dear. So much of me wants to say 'yes'. So much of me wants to be in your bed, in your arms, with your hands on me and your lips on mine. So much of me wants to touch you, caress you, feel you naked under my hands. But . . . But there is part of me that still feels it wouldn't be right. That it wouldn't be fair. That I wouldn't . . . Couldn't . . ." He trailed off and flushed slightly.
"Don't reckon there's any doubt about you being able to make me happy, Duck," Jethro said quietly. "You do that anyway."
"Thank you, Jethro. And you make me happier than I can - Oh, dear, I was going to say 'remember being'. But . . . Please don't hate me, Jethro. And I hope you understand and don't feel angry with me or frustrated or anything. But -"
"Hush, Duck." Jethro gently interrupted him and silenced him with a gentle kiss. "It's all right. I don't want to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Until you're ready, just holding you and kissing you, hell just having you here, is more than enough for me."
THE NEXT DAY
As Jethro drove home from the office, he found himself still smiling as he recalled the looks McGee, DiNozzo and Ziva had cast his way when he'd put his coat on, pushed his gun into his pocket, grabbed his briefcase and bid them a good night. It made the fifth night in a row he'd left before any of them had even thought about leaving - and this night was earlier than any of the others.
He had a reason to get home; a good reason. He had someone to go home to; someone who would be waiting for him, who would almost certainly have preparations for dinner well under way. He pushed aside the nagging little voice that reminded him it wasn't real; that what he and Ducky had was an illusion; that they weren't lovers. He didn't care about any of that, he just wanted to get home and take Ducky into his arms again and kiss him. He even gave thought to maybe trying again to encourage Ducky into making love - despite what he'd said the previous evening about it being up to Ducky.
But even as he thought the last thought, he pushed it away. They couldn't. Ducky had been right; it still wouldn't be right. And yet, what Fornell had said was true - the longer memory loss went on, the less likely it would be that it would be regained. And now he knew he was in love with Ducky, now he knew he wanted him as his lover as well as his friend, he didn't want to wait. He wanted to make love to Ducky, he wanted it very much.
As he drove he thought about maybe telling Ducky the truth; telling him why he had let him believe they were lovers and then telling him that his own feelings had changed and now he was in love with, loved and wanted Ducky very much. But he wasn't certain that would be the best thing to do either. But if he ever did plan to tell Ducky the truth, he had to do it soon - Fornell had been right about that as well. Letting twelve days go by was bad enough, but any longer and it would be impossible.
In many ways it was akin to walking on egg shells at the moment and whatever he did, he wasn't sure it was the right thing. Usually he relied on his gut, on his instincts, but this time he was getting conflicting messages. In the end he decided just to see what happened once he got home and took Ducky into his arms. That would do for a start.
However, as he pulled up outside his house he suddenly felt chilled and knew instantly that something was wrong, or at least wasn't right. Leaving his briefcase in the car, he pulled his gun from his pocket and headed for his house, sweeping the area outside with his gaze as he went. To his relief there were no signs that someone had forced their way into the house.
Juggling his keys and keeping on full alert he opened the door and went inside, automatically gripping his gun in both hands and glancing around the hallway. Nothing untoward hit him. There was no one in sight, no noise, no tantalizing scents coming from the kitchen, in fact nothing at all. And that was far more than just untoward; that was terrifying.
"Duck?" he called. But even as he did, he knew: the place was empty; Ducky wasn't there. There were two possibilities to explain his absence: he had been abducted or he had left of his own accord. As he took the stairs two at a time and began to move from room to room, Jethro wasn't entirely certain which option he'd prefer. The lack of disturbance in the house, the fact the door had been locked - from the outside - all pointed to Ducky simply having walked out. But why would he do that?
As he headed back down the stairs and began to check the downstairs rooms, Jethro tried to avoid the obvious answer. However, moments later when he went into the lounge and saw an envelope with his name on it written in Ducky's hand, propped up on the table, he knew he couldn't ignore it any longer.
Pushing his now redundant Sig back into his overcoat pocket he strode across the room and picked the envelope up and stared down at it, before turning it over and then back again. Just open it, the little voice instructed him. Seconds later, knowing he had no choice in the matter, he tore the flap and pulled out the piece of paper, unfolded it and began to read.
My dear Jethro,
I hardly know what to say to you. 'I am so very sorry' barely seems to cover it, but for the moment it is all I can think of to say. I am indeed so very, very sorry. I do not know how you will ever be able to - But that is irrelevant now; it will not arise, thus there is no need for me to speak of it, indeed to think of it.
Oh, Jethro. I always knew you to be a fine man, a good man, an honorable one. No one could have ever hoped for a more loyal, caring, devoted and good friend. I have been truly blessed to have called you my friend for so long.
I cannot begin to imagine what it must have cost you to . . . To do the things you did. If I could turn back the clock so you never had to have endured them, I would do so willingly. If I could turn back the clock so that we never met, I would do that too. I would do anything I could to have prevented what was a complete and utter betrayal of our friendship.
The selfish part of me, which I cannot quite push away, wishes I had succumbed to your suggestion that we make love last night. Had we done so, I would at least have the memories to fulfill me. But most of me, and please, please believe it is the major part of me, is glad beyond measure that we did not do that. That you will not have to live with the fact that you made love to another man.
I understand why you did not tell me, after I kissed you at the hospital - and that must have been so dreadfully embarrassing for you - that we were not lovers. You would have done so as not as to cause me any more pain and fear and confusion. I am ashamed to have to confess that I did not realize until an hour or so ago quite how deep our friendship went and just what a truly good person you are.
My dear, I naturally will remove myself from your life to the fullest extent possible. Please, I beg of you, do not attempt to find me. I am ashamed with myself and I am sure that you will be relieved that you will not have to face me again.
Once more, Jethro, I can only offer my sincere, deep, true and heartfelt apology for taking such blatant advantage of your loyalty, your love and your kindness. Our friendship has been the most important thing in my life; you have given me the happiest years of my life; you have been the most important person in my life for so many, many years. I just wish -
Do please take care of yourself, and I hope one day you might find the happiness for which you have been seeking for far too long. If you can find it in you to say goodbye to the children for me and to tell them I wish them all long, happy and healthy lives and tell them how dear they all are to me, I would be so very grateful.
I shall miss seeing you each day, I shall miss our dinners, I shall miss hearing your voice, yes, even when you snap at me in the tone you reserve only for me. I shall -
Once more, my dear Jethro, take care of yourself.
Yours in fond memory,
Jethro read the letter again. By the time he'd gotten to the end of it he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It was Ducky from start to finish; only he could ramble in a letter, even a letter that much have been so painful to write. He ignored the obvious question that came into his mind: just what had triggered Ducky's memory? That was irrelevant; that could wait. All that mattered was that Ducky had regained his memory - in full, including the events of the last twelve days.
Part of him wanted to find Ducky and shake him and 'thank' him for the clearly poor opinion he had of Jethro himself. Part of him wanted to find Ducky, pull him into his arms and kiss him and go on kissing him until Ducky was beyond thought, let alone words. Part of him wanted to do both of those things and several others as well. The only one thing he was sure of was that he was going to ignore the second sentence of the sixth paragraph.
"Oh, no, Duck," he said, turning on his heel and jogging back out to his car. "You don't get away from me that easily. You're mine now." He slammed the door behind him, locked it - might as well keep the habit going - jogged to the car, got in and drove off tires screaming.
"Boss?" Finally McGee, a damp looking McGee dressed only in a robe, opened the door and stared at Gibbs. "Is something wrong? Have we been called out? Is my phone -"
"Can I come in?"
McGee blinked at him for a moment. Then mentally shook himself and moved back. "Of course, boss. Sorry, I wasn't -"
"Expecting me. Yeah, kind of gathered that. You alone?" Gibbs asked, shutting the door, when it appeared McGee wasn't going to do so.
McGee's somewhat indignant, "Of course," made him hide a smile.
"Good. Need you to do something for me."
"Of course, boss. Anything, boss. What is it?"
"Um. You want to get dressed first?" Gibbs asked.
"What?" McGee looked down at himself and under Gibbs's gaze flushed slightly. "Oh, yes. I won't be a minute or two. I'll just -" And with that he turned from Gibbs and hurried away.
A minute or two later, dressed in an MIT tee-shirt and a pair of casual trousers which he was still zipping up, his feet bare, McGee hurried out of his bedroom. "Okay," he said, coming to stop in front of Gibbs. Then before Gibbs could speak, he added, "Would you like something to drink, boss? I've got some beer in the fridge."
"Thanks, Tim," Gibbs said. "That'd be good." He didn't really care one way or another, but he got the impression it might relax the seemingly very rattled McGee. Suddenly he wondered if his younger agent had in fact lied to him when he'd said he was alone.
'McGee isnít your father and he isnít Ari. He doesnít know how to lie.' The words he'd said to Ziva more than three years ago came racing back to him. He'd meant what he'd said at the time and in many ways they still held true. Sure McGee was a far more mature agent now, far more confident, had grown into the job and had in many ways 'lied' more than once. However, Gibbs still felt sure he couldn't tell an out and out lie - at least not to Gibbs himself.
"Here you are, boss." McGee handed him an uncapped bottle. "Oh, do you want a glass?" he asked, turning to move away.
Gibbs caught him arm. "No. This is fine. Relax, McGee. I don't bite."
McGee swallowed. "I know that, boss. It's just -" He broke off, took a deep breath, swallowed some beer and said, "What is it you want me to do for you, boss?"
For a moment Gibbs hesitated. It had all seemed logical, sensible when he'd left his house and on the drive to McGee's apartment, but now he wasn't certain he should be involving McGee in nefarious things that had nothing to do with his actual job. But in a way it did, because if he didn't find Ducky, then NCIS would lose the best ME any agency, any hospital, had. And this way would be quicker.
"Sorry, McGee. Okay, look. This is more personal than work related. That a problem?"
McGee shook his head. "No."
"Maybe I better tell you what it is before you say that. I need you to do some hacking."
McGee just nodded. "Sure. You tell me the place and I can do it."
"That'd be places."
"Plural, McGee, as in more than one."
"Okay. How many?"
Gibbs sighed, put the bottle of beer to his lips and swallowed some of the cold liquid. It was good. He then perched on the arm of the couch and looked at McGee. "Ducky regained his memory," he said.
McGee's face lit up and he smiled. "Oh, that is good news, boss. I know everyone will be . . ." He trailed off and his smile faded a little as he looked at Gibbs. "Boss? It is good news, isn't it?"
Gibbs shrugged. "Kind of."
Gibbs stared at McGee, considering just how much he needed or wanted to confide in him. Suddenly he stood up and moved across to McGee's computer. "Can you use this to do the hacking or do we need to go into the office?" He glanced at McGee and saw him begin to turn slightly red.
"Well, it seemed . . . That is . . . I was the one who needed to know it inside and . . . And I was careful . . . And I've never abused it . . . I wouldn't. But it just made . . . Boss, I -"
Gibbs moistened his lips. "When Ducky lost his memory he
thought we, him and me, were lovers. The doctor suggested I didn't correct him
straight away as he was very upset from the attack and amnesia and I went along
with it. Sometime today he regained his memory and -" He broke off. "When I got
home tonight he'd gone. He left me a note telling me he was going away and -"
"You want me to find him?"
Gibbs blinked. Not just because McGee had interrupted him, but by the calm way he'd spoken and the look in his steady gaze as he met and held Gibbs's. "Yeah, Tim. I do. He's still in the city, I'm sure of it. And I'm sure of something else too, part of him, even if he's not consciously aware of it, wants to be found. He's not at home, nor has he been back as his passport's still there."
"So you want me to hack into the local hotels and see if I can find the names of all the men who booked in today and then we'll help you break it down further?" McGee was already sitting in front of his computer, fingers poised over the keyboard.
"That's about it, McGee. Yeah. I don't know how easy or difficult it'll be. But I figured if you could hack into the CIA, then hotels would be easy." He perched on the edge of McGee's desk and forced a half grin.
"I'm going to start with the kind of hotel I think Ducky would go to. Unless you think that he'd go somewhere un-Ducky-like to -"
"Don't reckon he's actually thinking too clearly. I think his only real coherent thought was to get out of my house and somewhere I wasn't easily going to be able to find him. People are habitual, you know that. He'll act on instinct and go somewhere he'll feel comfortable. And before you ask, I did think of calling the local cab companies and finding out who took him where, but . . ."
"That's makes is all more official than you want it to be. Got it, boss." And with a nod in Gibbs's direction, McGee turned his attention to his computer.
Twenty minutes later Gibbs felt giddy from watching McGee's finger flying over the keyboard. He was about to stand up and stretch his legs when McGee looked up. "Boss," he said.
"Does the name Christopher Harrington mean anything to you?"
Gibbs's mouth suddenly felt dry and he swallowed another mouthful of now warmish beer. "Christopher was the name of Ducky's father. Harrington was his mother's maiden name, why?"
"The Morrison-Clark Inn had a single man check in a few hours ago. He gives his name as Christopher Harrington and his nationality as British."
Telling himself it couldn't be that easy; Gibbs leaned over McGee and squinted at the screen. But it told him nothing more than McGee had. "What's the hotel like?" he asked, it wasn't one he knew.
McGee flipped to another page and glanced through the information. "You know Ducky better than I do, boss. But I'd say this was very Ducky-like. Here." He stood up and let Gibbs take his place in front of the screen.
Gibbs read the information. McGee was right; it was very Ducky-like indeed, added to that the name and nationality it had to be Ducky. Surely it was too much of a coincidence otherwise? And everyone knew his opinion on coincidences. He made a decision.
He stood up. "I'm going over there," he said. "Will you -"
"Keep checking for other possible matches. Of course, boss. Want me to call you if I find any?"
"Yeah." Gibbs was already turning to go.
Gibbs stopped and turned around. "McGee?"
"I just wanted to say that . . . Well . . . What you told me . . . The thing is, boss, I want you to know to know that . . . I want you to be sure that -"
"What was said here tonight stays here?"
McGee nodded. "Yes, boss."
Gibbs patted his shoulder. "Know that, Tim. And it goes both ways," he said. "Call me if you find any other matches." And with that, he turned back, strode across the room, opened McGee's door and left.
As the door shut behind Gibbs McGee breathed a sigh of relief. He hoped he hadn't let his surprise show when Gibbs had told him that Ducky had misremembered them to be lovers. After all he and the others had thought for years that Gibbs and Ducky were indeed 'more than just good friends'!
Jethro arrived at the hotel and parked the car. Yeah, it was very Ducky; very Ducky indeed. Not too large or ostentatious, but clearly extremely expensive. He still wasn't sure how exactly he was going to find out Ducky's room number, but he did know that he wasn't leaving without Ducky by his side, whatever it took.
In the end getting the desk clerk to give him Ducky's room number was amazingly simple. He'd simply shown the young guy his badge and asked for Christopher Harrington's room number saying he was an important witness to a crime involving a Marine.
Thus a minute or so after he'd entered the hotel he was standing outside the door of Ducky's room. "Don't screw this up, Jethro Gibbs," he muttered, knowing he had one chance to get this right or else Ducky would be as good as his word and leave. He knocked on the door and waited.
Half a minute went by before he heard the sound of the door being unlocked and the door was opened. Ducky stood in the doorway, a look of complete surprise tinged, Jethro was horrified to see, with a hint of fear, on his face.
"Hey, Duck," Jethro said. "Can I come in?" And without giving Ducky a chance to answer, he slipped by his old friend and shut the door. When he turned back around he saw that Ducky had retreated to the far side of the room. Instinct told him not to move, at least not yet.
"What are you doing here, Jethro?" Ducky asked, his voice wary.
Jethro smiled, that was just the opening he needed. "I've come to take you home, Duck," he said softly, keeping his hands by his sides as he moved slowly towards Ducky.
"Home?" Ducky still sounded a little wary and now very puzzled, but Jethro was pleased to see he hadn't moved any further back.
Jethro nodded. "Yeah. Reston House or my place, doesn't matter. Whichever you prefer." He stopped in front of Ducky, not getting too close but still making sure he was inside Ducky's personal space.
Ducky blinked and frowned; he now looked very confused. "But, Jethro. I do not understand. Did you not -"
"Read the letter you left me? Sure I did, Duck."
"But then you'll know that I have regained my memory and know that we aren't - Oh, Jethro, I am so very - Jethro," he exclaimed a few seconds later when Jethro took his mouth away from Ducky's. "What are you doing?" Jethro was relieved to see and hear that although Ducky was still expressing surprise, the hint of fear had vanished and had been replaced with the merest tinge of hope.
"Always thought it was called a kiss," Jethro said, moving his hands from where he'd cupped Ducky's face prior to silencing him and instead pulling Ducky into a loose embrace, that had him in his arms, but allowed him to still see Ducky's face. "Is it called something else in Britain?" He cast his wide-eyed innocent look at Ducky.
Ducky smiled faintly and shook his head. "No, Jethro, our countries are not that far divided by a single language. However, why are you kissing me?"
Jethro sighed. "Why do you normally kiss someone, Duck?"
"I know why I kiss someone, Jethro. I was merely wondering why -"
Once again Jethro silenced Ducky. "How about because I love you."
"You love me?" Ducky sounded astonished.
"As in you love me."
"As in I love you, am in love with you, want you. Yes, Duck."
"But why now?"
Jethro sighed to himself. "Look, Duck. You know I don't do words and fancy talk like you do. Can't you just accept what I say? Don't you believe me? Do you think I'd lie to you?" Shit, he cursed, maybe that hadn't been the best thing to ask. If Ducky chose to play semantics with him over the whole 'we're lovers lie' they'd been living, well . . .
Their much talked about telepathy seemed to kick in. "For what it is worth, my dear Jethro, despite what has happened over the last, what is the best part of, two weeks, no, I do not for one moment believe you would lie to me. As I said in the letter I left you, I know why you didn't correct me over my misremembering the true nature of our relationship. And looking back on everything you said to me, nothing was a lie. As for whether I believe you or not. . . Oh, Jethro, I want to believe you, you must know that but -"
"When I suggested last night we went to bed and made love, Duck, I wasn't doing it just out of some kind of misguided sympathy. I don't know when it happened, Duck, but somewhere along the way I stopped loving you as just a friend and started loving you as something more. Guess I just didnít realize it until this all happened and you were in my home, in my bed. And I just knew I never wanted, I never intended, to let you go. That do you?" Jethro hoped it would, it was one of the longest speeches he'd made for some time.
"Are you certain it is not just out of some long standing sympathy that I have never -"
This time Jethro kissed him for a lot longer and this time he pressed his body against Ducky's letting his partial arousal brush against Ducky's thigh. "That feel like sympathy to you, Duck?" Ducky slowly shook his head. "This feel like sympathy?" Now Jethro took one arm from around Ducky and put his hand over Ducky's matching partial arousal, cupping it and lightly stroking it. As he did, he once again put his mouth on Ducky's and kissed him and went on kissing him until Ducky's mouth parted for him and he felt Ducky push into the caress.
"Well?" he asked, finally breaking the kiss and stilling his hand, knowing that if he continued to kiss and touch Ducky much longer, they'd end up making love there in the hotel room, and he didn't want that. He wanted Ducky in his bed, or he wanted to be in Ducky's bed. As he'd said, he didn't care whose home they went to, as long as they went to one of them together and stayed there together.
Ducky shook his head slowly as he gazed up at Jethro with total and utter devotion, love and pure contentment. "No, my dear," he said softly. "It does not."
"But please forgive me is I ask one more question."
"I hate to ask it, Jethro, and had this happened before I lost my memory then . . . Of course it couldn't have happened before then. But let us say for the moment, that it -"
"You were saying?" Once again Jethro took his mouth away from Ducky's.
"Oh, yes. I was. Very well, I shall take a leaf out of your book and be blunt. Is this just a one-off, Jethro? Or a short term fling?"
Jethro smiled and gathered Ducky back into a tight embrace. "You asked me twelve nights ago whether we were committed. I told you we were. I might have meant it then as just in friendship, but now I don't. No, Duck. This is not a one-night stand or a short-term fling. Had it been that I wouldn't have come here. I wouldn't have kissed you. I don't want one night, Duck, I want forever. That do you?"
Ducky moved back a little and Jethro had to swallow hard to fight the lump that appeared in his throat as he saw the look on Ducky's face and more importantly in his open for all to read eyes. "Oh, yes, dearest, that will do me very well indeed."
"Good. So your place or mine?"
Ducky beamed at him and said, his tone suddenly seductive, "Whichever is the nearer."
"Why, Dr. Mallard . . ."
"Yes, Agent Gibbs?"
"I do believe you're -"
This time it was Ducky who silenced him with a kiss.
SEVERAL HOURS LATER
They lay side by side in Ducky's bed, still entwined in a partial embrace, still sharing the kind of loving, sleepy kisses that lovers share, the duvet tucked around them, Ducky's head resting on Jethro's shoulder, where, Jethro decided, it belonged.
"So, Duck," he said, kissing Ducky's nose. "Do we get the kids and Tobias to help me move my stuff from my house to here, or do you reckon we can do it between the two of us?"
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