AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship
SUMMARY: Gibbs and Ducky are living happily and openly together at Reston House. Their future together is settled and they have made a lasting and meaningful commitment. It appears that no one or nothing can come between them. Then an old friend of Ducky's dies and Ducky drives to New England to attend the funeral. There he comes face to face with a completely unexpected part of Gibbs's past, which threatens everything they have.
WORD COUNT: 5,735
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
A SMALL TOWN IN NEW ENGLAND
Humming softly to himself, Ducky walked along the main street of the small town. The funeral of his old friend had been a celebration of Albert's life rather than a gloomy and sad occasion; it had been planned by Albert before he had died and Ducky was quite certain Albert would have been happy that his wishes had been carried out.
Albert had left him his collection of books and Ducky had spent the better part of the day loading them all into the Morgan and was looking forward to getting them home so that he could spend time really examining them.
Home was not just his house, home was also Jethro. And as crazy or sad as it may sound, Ducky had sorely missed his lover, even though he had only been away for less than a week. It was just that it was the first nights they had spent apart since Jethro had placed a ring on his finger.
"You really are getting soppy, Dr. Mallard," he said to himself, but he actually didn't care if he was. As he walked along he enjoyed the warmth of the early spring sun and took pleasure in the sight of the spring flowers in the window-boxes that lined the street.
He rounded a corner and literally ran into a red-headed woman. "Oh, do, please forgive me," he said, automatically raising his hat. "It was entirely my fau- Shannon?" He stared open-mouthed at the woman who stood frozen in front of him.
For a moment she didn't say anything, she just paled and looked like she was about to turn and flee. But then she seemed to pull herself together. "I'm sorry," she said, smiling at him. "I'm afraid you're mistaken. My name is Shenna."
For one of the few times in his life, Ducky found himself speechless. He was certain, as certain as he was that the average adult human had two hundred and six bones in their body, that the woman who stood staring at him was Shannon Gibbs - no matter what name she now called herself.
Before he could find something to say, however, a younger woman ran around the corner. "Mom, Dad said to tell you - Unc-," she gasped and fell silent, her gaze darting from Ducky to her mother.
The woman took her arm, "Come along, Kerrie, we mustn't keep your father waiting. You know how irritated he gets. Excuse us," she managed, glancing swiftly at Ducky, before literally dragging her daughter away.
Ducky just stood and watched the two women, the younger who, despite the speed at which her mother was dragging her, kept looking back over her shoulder at Ducky. It may have been more than twenty years since he had seen her, and then she had been a mere child of seven. However, just as he had recognized her mother, Ducky clearly recognized Kelly Gibbs. The eyes were exactly the same colors as his lover's; the way they'd looked at him was the same as they had looked at him all those years ago.
Shannon Megan and Kelly Ann Gibbs were still alive.
He just stood staring, a million possibilities going round and round in his head, fighting one another for prominence of place. Shannon and Kelly were alive. But why? How? And most importantly of all, what did he do now?
He began to walk, letting the possibilities of why they were alive and living under different names, wash over him. The three most logical possibilities were, firstly that Shannon had simply tired of her husband and had left him, taking Kelly with her. But that simply did not make any sense; the Marines would never be party to lying about a simple break up of a marriage, so it couldn't be that.
The second most likely possibility was that Shannon had tired of Jethro and had left him, but had somehow managed to set up an elaborate ruse whereby two other people died instead of her and Kelly.
Again, Ducky dismissed that possibility; Shannon wouldn't have the necessary resources to set up such a hoax - not unless she had help from someone who was able to pull a lot of strings. After all, Kelly had spoken of 'Dad' which implied Shannon had remarried, or at the very least was living with someone whom Kelly accepted as her father.
However, again, Ducky had trouble with that concept; in spite of Jethro being away on deployment far more than he had been at home, Kelly had been very much a 'Daddy's girl'. She had loved her mother; she had idolized her father. For her to accept another man in Jethro's place just was not something Ducky could comprehend - unless she had been told her daddy had been killed.
Ducky stopped walking and found himself in front of a bar, and despite the relative earliness of the hour and the fact the place looked more than a little run down, he went inside and ordered a large brandy. He drank half of it in one swallow, before ordering a second one and taking both glasses to a surprisingly clean looking table where he sat down and continued his thoughts.
Just assuming the whole accident had been some elaborate ruse set up by Shannon and her lover in order to for Shannon to leave Jethro and let him to think they were dead was true, then telling Kelly her darling daddy had been killed in action fitted. She may only have been seven when she was meant to have been killed, but she was a bright girl, Ducky could see of no way, other than being told her daddy had died, in which she would accept another man in her life. Accept him enough to call 'Dad'.
Except there was one other way. The most logical way of all. The one solution to the problem that would explain everything - including the look of horror and fear that had crossed Shannon's face when she had looked at Ducky. There had been no guilt, just shock and fear. And it's wasn't the fear of an adulterous woman, it was the look a mother gets when she fears for her child's safety. Therefore -
"You wanna buy me a drink?" The slightly slurred man's voice sounded next to Ducky's ear.
Ducky jumped slightly and turned to look at the man who was dressed in close-fitting black clothes; his hair, also black, was wavy and brushed his shoulders, and his eyes were the darkest Ducky had ever seen. He shook his head. "No, thank you," he said.
"You sure. Because, I'm good."
Ducky silently groaned; what place had he walked into. "Here," he said, pulling out his wallet and handing over a wad of twenty dollar bills. Do buy yourself and your friends a drink and please leave me in peace." He smiled a little and kept his voice level.
The man blinked, grabbed the money and nodded at Ducky. "Thanks," he said. "I appreciate it." And to Ducky's ears the sentiment was genuine. If it gave the man one night of freedom then Ducky felt it was a small price to pay.
"You're welcome," he said, and after another nod, turned away and pulled his thoughts together again. However, once again he was interrupted before he could begin to formulate them.
"You know that wasn’t the most sensible thing you could have done, don't you?"
Ducky looked up again. This time the barman stood by his table. "Oh?" Ducky said. "And why might that be?"
The man sighed. "Look, I'm no saint and most of my customers aren't either, but you're different. Derek there, he's a good enough guy, but a lot of his friends aren't."
"I don't think I understand," Ducky said politely.
"Yeah, well, maybe you don't, maybe you do. I know what goes on here and I let it. As long as the cops don't find out and no one does drugs - I won't have them on the premises - and everyone's consenting, you know what I mean? Then I turn a blind eye. But you didn't come in here for anything other than a drink, did you?"
Ducky shook his head. "No, I didn't."
"Thought as much. Okay, here's what you're going to do. You're going to sit here, drink your brandy and have a meal. Steak and kidney pie -"
"But I -"
"And then when you're done, there'll be a cab outside the back to take you wherever you want to go. My brother. You'll be safe with him. Okay?"
"But why -"
"Because you're a gentleman. Now I'll get your food."
And with that the barman left Ducky alone. Without making it obvious he was doing so, Ducky let his gaze wander around the room. "Oh, my," he murmured under his breath as he was suddenly aware of just what kind of bar he'd walked into and he wondered quite what else went on in small town New England; Albert had certain never mentioned this!
He could see the man the barman had called 'Derek' with a group of other men. They were men that made Ducky feel distinctly uncomfortable - and from what he could see, 'Derek' didn't look overly happy to be with them and kept shaking his head as they spoke to him.
"Here." The barman returned with a plate of steak and kidney pie, potatoes, carrots and green beans. It looked and smelled wonderful, and even though moments ago Ducky would have said he couldn't have eaten anything, he realized how hungry he was.
"Thank you," he said, taking the knife and fork that were wrapped in a paper napkin. "It looks and smells wonderful."
"Got a damn good chef. I'll tell him you complimented it. Oh, brought you a glass of red wine too. I'm sure it's not the type you're used to, but for house red it's pretty good and it goes well with the steak and kidney. Enjoy your meal." And with that, the barman, whose name Ducky still hadn't caught, vanished again.
The meal was not only every bit as it looked and smelled, but even better, and the barman had been correct the glass of wine went complemented it extremely well and was more than passable, Ducky had drunk far poorer red wines in his time, and not all of those had been 'house reds'.
As he ate, he let his mind come to settle on what, in truth, he knew had to be the solution to Shannon and Kelly being alive. They had been taken into the Witness Protection Program. Ducky knew Shannon would never have left Jethro for anyone else, or even just left him. Jethro and she had been too happy, not as perfectly happy as Jethro tended to remember them, but happy and in love. They were a good family, the three of them - there was no way Shannon had walked away from Jethro, from her home, from her friends, from her life by choice.
She was Jethro's wife, but she was a mother too. Ducky knew mothers; they protected their young, they would do anything to protect their young. Clearly it had been felt that Shannon and Kelly's lives were in danger after what Shannon had witnessed, and she had been persuaded to do the only thing guaranteed to keep her child safe. Ducky could only begin to understand what it must have taken her to walk away from Jethro.
For more than twenty years she and Kelly had lived their new lives, safe, protected - and for more than twenty years Jethro had grieved for the only woman he'd ever truly loved and for his little girl. More than twenty years of pain and anguish over deaths that never happened.
Except they had happened, maybe not death in the actual, true sense of the word, but in every other sense Shannon and Kelly had died. Would Jethro had grieved less if there had been some way for him to know his girls were alive and safe, even if they could never be with him again? As well as he knew Jethro and Ducky really knew him well, he couldn't answer that question.
Nor could he answer the next question: what did he do now?
RESTON HOUSE - TWO DAYS LATER
As Gibbs drove up the drive of the house he shared with Ducky the automatic lights came on. He stopped the sedan, grabbed the bag of carry-out Chinese and his briefcase from the passenger seat, got out of the car and locked it, before hurrying up the porch steps and into the house.
He dumped his briefcase on the hall table, bent to grab the post and headed towards the kitchen with the carry-out in one hand and the post in the other. He turned the oven on and put his dinner inside to gently get piping hot again while he took a quick shower.
Back in the kitchen he got himself a bottle of beer and a glass (living with Ducky had rubbed off on him in more than one way), a plate and chop-sticks and put the meal onto the plate. Then with the chop-sticks in one hand he started to flick through the post.
Most of it was for Ducky, or was basically junk mail, but there was one letter addressed to him. He had a vague feeling he recognized the handwriting, but pushed that thought out of his mind as he opened the envelope and pulled the single sheet of paper out and opened it.
He heard the sound of his chop-sticks clattering first onto his plate and then falling to the floor, but he ignored them as he stared open-mouthed at the letter.
I should not be writing to you, however, I am doing so to prevent Ducky from having to make the hardest decision he has ever had to make.
You see, Kelly and I did not die. We are in the Witness Protection Program (which of course is why I shouldn't be writing to you) and have been since I witnessed the murder of the two Marines.
We live in New England, a place I never believed we would bump into anyone we knew from our past. But today Kelly and I bumped into Ducky, and although I told him he was mistaken when he called me by name, I knew only too well he knew I was lying.
Jethro, know it was the hardest and yet also the simplest decision I have ever had to make: my husband or my child. I loved you dearly, but I had to protect Kelly and there was only one way to make sure that happened. So I chose - I chose to leave you, to let you believe we were dead in order to protect the little girl I know we both loved. The little girl we would have both died to protect.
Kelly and I have made a new life for ourselves, Jethro, and we are both happy. I am remarried and Kelly will soon be married. I only hope that somehow you found some happiness in your life. And I truly hope you can forgive me for choosing Kelly over you.
It seems so strange writing to you again after more than twenty years have gone by as neither of us are the people we were back then.
Try to be happy, Jethro.
Gibbs blinked and read the letter again, before screwing it up and throwing it across the kitchen table. The next second he swiped the glass of beer from the table and took pleasure in hearing it shatter on the floor. He felt a near over-whelming rage growing inside him and he gripped the kitchen table so hard his hands turned white.
The sound of his cell phone ringing finally penetrated the white anger he was feeling. He grabbed it, prayed it wouldn't be Ducky and answered it, without looking at the caller ID. "Yeah, Gibbs," he snarled, "what do you want?" he demanded, when the person didn't instantly reply.
Gibbs gritted his teeth. "Yeah, McGee," he said, forcing the anger from his tone. He almost wished DiNozzo had called him, because he could have snapped at him, but somehow snapping at McGee for something that wasn't his fault didn't feel right. He listened for a moment, sighed and said, "On my way."
As he drove away from Reston House, the annoyance of being called out on a case faded because it meant he wouldn't have to talk to Ducky - and Ducky was the last person he wanted to talk to at that moment. It was irrational, he knew that, but if Ducky's old friend hadn't died in some godforsaken place in New England and Ducky hadn't insisted on attending the funeral (and driving rather than flying) then he would never have been wandering around the town and would never have bumped into Shannon and Kelly and then -
As a car coming towards him sounded the horn and flashed his headlights, Gibbs realized he'd let his car drift onto the opposite of the road. He dragged the car back to where it should be and forced his mind away from thoughts of Ducky and his girls.
RESTON HOUSE - THE FOLLOWING EVENING
Determined to be home before Ducky returned from New England, Gibbs left a stunned looking field team in the squad room and drove back to Reston House. The case had kept him occupied, and as such he hadn't had time to call Ducky - or at least that's what he told himself. Besides, Ducky never had his cell phone on when he was driving, and Gibbs knew he'd planned to leave New England the previous evening, break the twelve hour journey overnight and continue on his way in daylight, stopping en route to browse in a few of his favorite book stores. As such, Gibbs was confident he would be back at Reston House before Ducky.
As he pulled up outside the place he'd called home for some eighteen months and glanced at the large, imposing building he had a sudden feeling that it would never be'hom' again - if indeed it ever had been. He got out of the car and headed up the steps and into the house where he went into the lounge, poured himself a modest sized whiskey and settled down to wait for Ducky.
It was less than an hour later when he heard the sound of the Morgan coming to a stop outside the house and he stood up and pulled the crumpled letter from his pocket, held it for a moment and then pushed it back into his pocket. He took a deep breath and then another and a third as he told himself to give Ducky a chance to speak; to tell him what had happened in New England. He told himself it wasn't Ducky's fault - he just didn't believe himself.
"Hello, my dear," Ducky said, as he went into the lounge. "It is good to see you again," and he smiled at Gibbs and hurried towards him. The smile faded a little as Gibbs just stood where he was and didn't open his arms to embrace Ducky.
Ducky stopped in front of him and Gibbs saw a somewhat wary look cross Ducky's face, at least he thought he did, it might have been his imagination. "Is everything all right, Jethro?" Ducky asked, putting a tentative hand on Gibbs's arm. "Has something happened?"
Gibbs stared down at the man he'd known for nearly thirty years and tried to fight the rage that was racing through him. Once more he told himself it wasn't Ducky's fault; once more he didn't believe himself. "You could say that," he growled.
Ducky didn't quite take a step backwards, but he seemed to back away just a little. "Do you wish to tell me what has happened, Jethro?"
"Sure, Duck, why the hell not - or better still, why don't you tell me?"
"When the fuck were you going to tell me? Or rather were you going to tell me?" Gibbs pulled the crumbled letter from his pocket and thrust it at Ducky. "Well?" he demanded a second after Ducky had unfolded the letter and glanced at it. "It's not as if you need to read it, is it?"
Now Ducky did take a step away from Gibbs, in fact he took several and went to the drinks cabinet, hesitated and turned back to look at Gibbs. "Jethro, I -"
"Simple question, Ducky: were you or were you not going to tell me?" Gibbs clenched his fists and glared at Ducky.
Ducky was silent for a moment or two before he sighed and said softly, "I do not know, Jethro."
"What the fuck do you mean 'you don't know'?" Gibbs growled the words out and took two strides towards Ducky.
Ducky sighed and rather than move away any further, turned around and poured himself a whiskey and took a deep swallow. "I had not quite decided whether or not to tell you, Jethro," he said calmly.
"You hadn't quite decided whether or not to tell me that my wife and child - the only people I've ever loved - were still alive?" Gibbs was shouting now; he was shouting louder than he'd ever shouted in his life, and he took another step towards Ducky and quite deliberately pulled himself up to his full height as he loomed over Ducky.
Ducky held his ground, took another sip of the whiskey and said quietly, "No, Jethro, I had not"
"Why the hell not?"
"Because, Jethro, believe it or not I did not wish to upset you nor did I wish to anger you."
"Upset me? Upset me? You reckoned it'd upset me to know my girls were still alive?" Gibbs took another step towards Ducky and glared down at him.
Ducky sighed. "No," he said, his tone still calm, "I thought it might upset you to discover your wife chose your daughter over you."
"You -" Gibbs fell silent and forced himself to back away as he stared at the fist he had been seconds away from punching Ducky with. He began to tremble and for a moment thought he might throw up as he stared at the man he no longer knew.
He had to hurt Ducky; he wanted to hurt Ducky. And yet even as his fury rose and threatened to swallow him whole he knew that no matter how angry, how enraged, how incensed he was with Ducky, he couldn't physically hurt him.
So he used words instead. "Or maybe it was because you knew as soon as I knew they were alive I'd get away from you and your stuffy house and go back to them. Didn't want to lose me, did you, Duck? Didn't want to be alone again? Well you know what? You've done both."
"I love them, Ducky. I love them - get it? I. Love. Them. Them, Ducky, them. My girls. The only people I have ever loved," he yelled again. "The only people." And with that he turned on his heel and strode out of the room and out of the house.
A SMALL TOWN IN NEW ENGLAND - THE FOLLOWING DAY
He'd driven all night, stopping only for coffee and to visit the head. His eyes felt gritty, his head ached and now that he was here, he didn't know exactly what he was going to do. He knew he shouldn't be there; he knew, even though Paloma Reynosa was dead as well as the amount of years that had gone by, the threat to Shannon and Kelly's lives was far less than it had been - indeed there may not have been any threat. However, he still shouldn't be there.
Suddenly the passenger door opened and he turned as the women he hadn't seen for more than twenty years slid in next to him. "Hello, Jethro," she said. Her voice was lower, she sounded a little tired, her hair was no longer the bright auburn it had been, she'd gained a little weight and her once flawless complexion was no longer flawless. But she was still Shannon, the woman he'd fallen in love with and fathered a child with. The woman he still loved.
"Shannon?" he whispered.
She shrugged. "Actually, it's Shenna, but you might as well call me Shannon."
"How did you know -"
"You'd come?" he nodded. "I knew as soon as I sent the letter you would appear - even though you shouldn't be here and even though I shouldn't be talking to you."
He stared at her as the love he still felt for her began to get over-whelmed by the anger he suddenly realized he felt. "Why?" he demanded, his tone harsher than he'd intended.
She stared back at him and gave him a gentle smile. "To keep Kelly safe."
"I could have kept her safe."
She shook her head. "No, Jethro, you couldn't. At least I didn't know for sure you could. And I had to be sure. You must be able to understand that?"
"You left me. You let me think you and Kelly were dead. You left me, Shannon!" He was shouting now, and bit his lip and tried to get a grip on his temper.
"Yes, I did and I'm sorry to tell you, but I would do it again."
"What the fuck did you think was going to happen to me?"
She frowned at the profanity, but just said, "That you would grieve; that you would be angry, hurt, devastated, but that you would, in time -" She stopped speaking abruptly.
"That in time? That in time I'd what, Shannon? Forget you? Forget my little girl? Forget -"
"No!" For the first time she raised her voice and her eyes flashed, and suddenly she was the woman he'd left behind to go off to fight for his country all those years ago. The passionate woman, whose Irish lineage ran strong in her. "No," she said more softly, "I knew you'd never forget us. I just wanted you to . . ." She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. "I'm sorry," she said.
"Yes. For hurting you; for letting you believe we were dead. But I am not sorry, Jethro, and will never be sorry for leaving you in order to ensure our daughter was safe." She gave him a gentle smile. "Well, that didn't take long, did it?"
He stared at her and frowned and suddenly he realized and against his will he found himself smiling too. Their arguments had always been as heated as their lovemaking, and had always been quick to reach an intensity and quick to die down.
He sighed, "I'm sorry," he muttered, aware to his surprise he actually meant it. He closed his eyes for a moment and then said softly, "I just wish . . ."
She touched his arm. "I know; so do I. But we can't change what's happened, Jethro. All we can do is accept it and make the best of things."
"Which you've done." Again the anger began to rage through him, but he clamped down on it and forced himself to breath more slowly.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I have. Ted is a good man; I know it's going to sound like a cliché, but under any other circumstances you would like him. He's a good father to Kelly and she loves him - but she's never forgotten her first daddy. She still prays for you, Jethro; she prays that her first daddy is happy and safe."
"You told her the truth?"
Shannon nodded. "Yes. The FBI suggested I didn't, they said it would be better to simply let Kelly believe you'd died and we'd just moved away. But I couldn't do that, I wouldn't do that to her - it wasn't fair. So I sat her down and explained in a way I hoped she'd understand that we'd had to go away, but that Daddy would always love her and that to keep us and her daddy safe, she couldn't tell anyone what we'd done and who we'd been."
Gibbs swallowed. "She always was a bright kid."
"She was and she's a very bright young lady."
"And does Ted know the truth?"
Shannon nodded. "I know, I shouldn't have told him but - I couldn't live a lie, Jethro, and I trusted him - I trusted him before I fell in love with him. In fact," she glanced at her watch and then touched Gibbs's arm. "Look," she said softly, "over there."
Gibbs turned and looked out of the window and gasped aloud as he saw his little girl standing in-between two men. One was older than her and had to be Ted and he guessed, partly from the way he was holding her hand, that the younger man was the man Kelly was to marry.
Ted was saying something to the other two people and after a minute or two, Kelly tossed back her hair and laughed, before putting her arm through Ted's arm and the three of them walked off together.
Gibbs watched them until they were out of sight, before he looked back at Shannon. "Thank you," he managed, around a tongue that suddenly felt too large for his mouth.
She smiled. "I told Ted, but not Kelly. I'm sorry, Jethro, but I won't tell Kelly you were here - please try to understand. She does think her first daddy is happy in DC. I asked Ted to bring Kelly and Jim here, I texted him once I saw the car, and to keep her standing for as long as he possibly could."
"Thank you," he said again.
They sat in silence for several minutes before she asked, "Are you happy?"
He shrugged. "Got three ex-wives."
"Oh." Again they fell silent before she asked, "And Ducky?"
He glanced at her. "What about him?"
She moistened her mouth and said quietly. "One of the things that made leaving you a little easier was that I knew you'd always have Ducky. That he'd always be there for you as your friend or even . . ."
He stared at her and then suddenly something came to him. "Why did you send the letter to Ducky's house?"
She shrugged. "I believed you would have sold the house we lived in, but somehow I always knew Ducky would never sell Reston House. So it made sense to write to you there."
"That the only reason?" The faint color that touched her cheeks answered him. "If you ever want to write to me again, no point sending it to Reston House. Screwed it up," he said when she raised an eyebrow.
She sighed. "Leroy Jethro Gibbs you are a fool!"
"Better than some things I've been called."
"I can imagine. Well, Ducky will forgive you."
He shook his head. "Not sure he will."
"Of course he will; Ducky always forgives you. Now go, go home, Jethro. Go home and - well, I won't say forget Kelly and me, but . . . Love us, Jethro, just as in one way I will always love you. Love us as part of your past. Love us and let us go. Do that for me, Jethro, do it for us - all of us."
He stared at her and suddenly for the first time since he'd been told his girls were dead he knew, he truly knew he could. He bent across and put his lips on her cheek for a moment. "Be happy, Shenna," he said.
She took his hand and put it to her lips. "I am - and you can be."
RESTON HOUSE - THE FOLLOWING DAY
He'd stopped at a motel to grab a few hours sleep, a shower and a change of clothes before continuing his journey home. Despite what Shannon had said, he wasn't certain even Ducky could forgive the things he'd said before he'd slammed out of the house.
The porch light was on as he pulled up outside Reston House - which wasn't a usual thing. Unless they were expecting visitors, once they were both home they turned the light off.
He sat in the car just staring ahead of him, trying to work out what to say to Ducky when suddenly the door was pulled open and Ducky's calm voice said, "Well, are you going to sit in the car all evening, Jethro, or are you going to come into the house and have supper?" And before Gibbs could reply, Ducky had walked away back towards the house.
He was halfway up the porch steps when Gibbs caught up with him. "Duck, I -"
"Come and have supper, my dear," Ducky said, slipping his arm though Gibbs's.
FORTY MINUTES LATER
They were sitting on the couch in the lounge with a glass of whiskey in their hands and Gibbs still hadn't had a chance to say - Well he still didn't know exactly what he was going to say; he just knew he had to say something.
"Duck," he said, when Ducky paused mid-tale.
"My dear?" Ducky gazed at him as he always did and Gibbs swallowed hard at the look of love that shone in Ducky's eyes.
"Ducky. I'm sorry, Duck," he said swiftly. "I'm so very -"
"Hush, Jethro. It's all right."
Gibbs stared at him. "It is?" he asked, his tone full of surprise.
Ducky smiled. "Yes, my dear, it is. I," he paused for a moment and then said softly, "I love you, Jethro, and that will never change."
"I love you too, Duck, really I do. I shouldn't have -"
Ducky's mouth on Gibbs's silenced him and it was quite sometime later before either of them spoke again.
As he tucked Ducky's arm through his and they went upstairs together, Gibbs felt what he now knew he hadn't felt since the day he'd learned of the death of his girls: he felt contented. He wasn’t sure he deserved Ducky's forgiveness, but he had it along with Ducky's love and that was what mattered.