AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: First Time
SUMMARY: It's autumn and Gibbs is thinking and remembering.
WORD COUNT: 3,830
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for ashley_pitt: A - Autumn (11/26)
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
Gibbs turned the collar of his coat up and put his hands in his pockets; there was a chilly wind, and in the exposed area he was in, it cut through you. It was getting darker far earlier and the clocks had already been altered. Autumn had well and truly arrived; autumn with its stunning colors and fallen leaves. And it really was beautiful; the woods he was in were an array of red, oranges and yellows - nothing was more spectacular than the sight around him.
Autumn wasn't his favorite season, but it was the season which reminded him most of all of Ducky. Ducky loved autumn; loved the colors, the darker nights, the colder weather - a fine excuse for staying in by a roaring fire with a good book, some classical music playing and a glass of scotch.
He sighed softly and pushed his hands deeper into his pockets; he missed Ducky. A year had gone by since he'd last seen his oldest, closest friend and he missed him as much now as ever. He had driven him to the airport, even leaving a case mid-way through to do so. He'd justified his decision by telling himself that the kids could cope, they didn't need him breathing down their necks every second. And if they did . . . Well, if they did then it was high time they got off of his team. When he'd got back to the office, he'd found they had indeed coped perfectly.
He still remembered the drive; it had been conducted mostly in silence - a rare thing indeed for Ducky. And not even a companionable silence, but a tense one; neither of them, it appeared, had known quite what to say. How do you say 'goodbye' to someone who meant so much to you? How do you walk away from your closest friend? How do you let your closest friend walk away from you? How indeed? Well they'd done it.
It had been cold outside, but the car had been warm and the leaves had been golden and red and orange as they lay on the sidewalks and fluttered down into the road. Autumn had been at her most splendid that day, because although it had been cold the sun had been shining, making the colors all the more stunning.
Autumn was Ducky's favorite season - at least used to be; Gibbs guessed it still was. Autumn just meant Ducky to him. As he walked along he suddenly remembered it had been autumn when they had met for the first time and a year ago it had been autumn when they had said goodbye. So many of the important times of their relationship had revolved around autumn.
He remembered, as if it was yesterday, the day he had driven Ducky to the airport. The day when they had parted for good; when he had hugged Ducky one final time and watched as he walked away. He had stayed in the airport until Ducky's plane had taken off; until Ducky had been taken away from him; away from America, back to the land of his birth. The land he hadn't realized how much Ducky had missed.
He missed Ducky; he missed him every day, and it was his fault Ducky had gone. It was his fault his closest friend was no longer in America; his fault they no longer even spoke or exchanged cards or emails or anything. His fault.
He had been the one to let Ducky walk away. He had been the one who had stood and listened to Ducky telling him how he really felt about him, telling him so very calmly. He had been the one who had said 'love you too, Duck, just not like that. Never could'. He had been the one who had met and held Ducky's gaze, had seen a flash of sadness race through the pale blue eyes, along with a touch of regret but also resignation.
He could have given Ducky what he wanted; he'd done it before. Okay, so he'd been eighteen and it had only been the once, but he had done it. But, no, instead he'd chosen to let his closest, his dearest friend walk away.
He'd told himself it was simply because he loved Ducky too much to risk giving him what he wanted one day and taking it away the next. He'd told himself he was too old to start a new life; too set in his ways. He'd told himself he wouldn't have known how to tell the kids, Fornell, Vance, his dad. He told himself that Ducky hadn't been thinking logically when he'd declared that given Gibbs's answer he had decided to return to Britain and live out the rest of his life there. He'd told himself - He'd told himself so many things; some of them he had even believed.
It had taken him the rest of autumn, all of winter and even into spring before he had accepted which of the things he'd told himself had been true. When it came down to it, the real reason, maybe even the only reason he'd told Ducky he couldn't love him as Ducky loved him, was simple: he didn't trust himself. He didn't trust himself not to hurt Ducky; he didn't trust himself to take him in his arms, kiss him and make love to him one day and not to walk away from him the next.
Surely that would have been worse. Surely Ducky wouldn't have wanted him for a day, a week, a month even a year. Surely Ducky wanted permanence. Well, Gibbs didn't do permanence - not any more. So he'd let Ducky walk away, because it was the best thing to do; the only thing to do; the sensible thing to do; the logical thing to do; the right thing to do.
But had it been? At the time it seemed to be the best thing, the only thing, the sensible thing, the logical thing, the right thing to do - but had it been? Had there not been an even deeper hidden reason for him letting Ducky walk away? For him telling Ducky he could never love him in the way Ducky loved him? Hadn't there been?
Hadn't in truth he been afraid, not of hurting Ducky by walking away from him after a month or two or a year or two, but of Ducky being the one to walk away from him? Hadn't he been afraid of Ducky leaving or even dying? Hadn't that, when it came down to it, been the real reason, the underlying reason, for him saying and doing what he'd said and done?
He had lost one love of his life, he hadn't, in truth, tried with Diane, Alice or Stephanie, or any of the women who passed through his life and bed, he knew he couldn't lose another one. And he knew that after all their years of friendship, if something beyond friendship had developed between Ducky and him that it would be intense; it would be deep, it would be meaningful and committed. How could he risk losing a second love of his life?
So he had let Ducky walk away; encouraged him to do so really; he had driven him to the airport, hugged him, watched his plane take him away from him and that had been that. He'd told himself Ducky had chosen to be the one to leave, he hadn't had to have done so, he could have stayed. They could have remained close friends, Ducky hadn't needed to leave - he'd chosen to leave. Thus, it was Ducky's fault. If he told himself that often enough, he might even believe it.
That excuse had been the reason for the lack of contact between them during the year - well that and the fact that to begin with Ducky had tried to email him. Gibbs didn't do email, everyone knew that; Ducky knew that. So it had been easy to tell himself that clearly Ducky sending an email, meant that Ducky was merely being polite and dutiful and didn't really want to maintain contact with him. Had he done so, he wouldn't have sent an email.
It had been easy to ignore the emails. It had been harder to ignore the, to begin with what were constant, enquiries from the kids, Vance, even from Fornell, as to how Ducky was and when was Gibbs planning on taking a trip to Britain. The kids he could snap at; with Vance he could change the subject, say he had something case related that was pressing; with Fornell it had been harder. Fornell had been hard to ignore because Gibbs often thought Fornell was as big a bastard as he was - he was certainly as good an investigator.
Finally, he'd resorted to telling Fornell if he really was that interested in finding out how Ducky was, why didn't he email him himself; he'd even gone as far as to give him Ducky's email address. He didn't know if Fornell had done so; he hadn't asked. Once he'd got Fornell to stop asking him about Ducky, he effectively stopped thinking about Ducky. The kids had even stopped asking, so maybe they had also started to email Ducky. Or they'd forgotten about him - somehow Gibbs didn't think that was the case.
At some point h had consciously at least stopped thinking about Ducky and remembering the good times they had shared. He couldn't, however, control his sub-conscious or his dreams - Ducky popped up in both.
A year had gone by; a year. Part of him couldn't believe it had gone by so quickly, that a year had gone by since he had last seen Ducky, last spoken to him, last listened to him, last put his arm around him, last shared a drink with him. Part of him, however, couldn't believe that only a year had gone by because as he watched leaves fluttering to the ground and heard the sounds of kids laughing as they jumped in piles of leaves; he realized it felt considerably longer.
It was as if with Ducky's leaving his life had been put on hold. A year had gone by and apart from work what else had he done? He hadn't even spent that much time in his basement; he'd turned down all of Fornell's invitations to go to dinner or have a drink; he'd found excuses for going out with the team a couple of times.
To begin with he'd told himself it was just because it was autumn and then winter; a time of year he'd never really card for as it seemed that everything was coming to an end rather than beginning. However, spring had arrived, the beginning of new things, which had slipped into summer and here he was back in autumn and nothing had changed.
It suddenly seemed to him as if he was destined to spend the rest of his life in a perpetual state of autumn and it was all Ducky's fault. If he hadn't taken it upon himself to tell Gibbs his true feelings for him, then Gibbs would never have said what he'd said, and thus Ducky wouldn't have decided to retire from NCIS and go home to Britain. Yeah, it was all Ducky's fault.
LATER THAT NIGHT
Gibbs threw down the book he'd been trying to read (McGee's latest) and sighed loudly before emptying his glass of bourbon. It was no good; now that he had let thoughts and memories of Ducky filter into his mind he couldn't stop thinking about him. He couldn't stop thinking about the last time he'd seen him, spoke to him, hugged him and said goodbye to him. He'd been a fool; a damned fool. He'd run away from his chance of happiness; he'd let the one person who just might make him happy walk away from him - hell, he'd pushed him away.
He grabbed the phone, paused and put it back down. A phone call wasn't going to do it. He couldn't ring Ducky and say 'hey, Duck, I was wrong'. It wasn't a conversation he could have by phone, and it certainly wasn't one he could have by email or even by that skype thing the kids swore by. No, this was a conversation that called for them being in the same room together.
THE NEXT DAY
"Need to take some leave, Leon," Gibbs said, as he strode into Vance's office.
He wasn't surprised when Vance stared at him with a stunned look on his face. "Leave?" he asked.
Gibbs nodded. "Yeah. That thing you've told me more than once to take. Want to take some now."
"That won't be a problem. How long do you need?" Vance was already pulling a form from his desk drawer.
Gibbs paused. "Not sure," he said. Vance raised an eyebrow. "I'm going to Britain," he said. "To see Ducky."
Vance smiled at him, nodded and pushed the form across the desk. "It's about time too. Just sign and I'll fill in the details later."
Gibbs hesitated for no more than a second before scrawling his name on the form. "Thanks, Leon," he said.
"My pleasure. Give Dr. Mallard my best wishes, please."
Gibbs nodded. "Will do."
THREE DAYS LATER
As he got out of the cab which had dropped him at the end of long drive which would lead him to Ducky's home, Gibbs suddenly wasn't certain being there was the greatest idea he had never had. Maybe he shouldn't have just turned up without giving Ducky any warning. Maybe Ducky wouldn't even be at home; he might have gone out for the day or for longer. He could be traveling; hell as far as Gibbs knew he could even be on a plane heading back to the states. Then another thought entered his mind; a worse one. What if Ducky was there, but had someone there with him? What if he wasn't living alone? Surely one of the kids or Fornell would have told him - wouldn't they? Of course that was assuming Ducky had told them.
Suddenly Gibbs really felt foolish and decided he'd made a huge mistake; a stupid mistake. He'd leave; leave before someone had a chance to see him loitering and call Ducky or even the police and -
Gibbs jumped. "Duck! You're here." He silently cursed himself as he realized what a stupid thing he had just said.
For a fleeting moment the smallest of smiles twitched Ducky's lips - at least Gibbs thought it had. But then it vanished, if it had ever been there, as Ducky spoke; his tone was flat and slightly clipped, suddenly he sounded very British, more so than he'd ever done. "It was more than likely I would be here, given that I live here, do you not agree?"
Gibbs shrugged. "Yeah. Guess you're right."
Ducky stared at him, he was dressed for the season in his navy overcoat and a hat Gibbs didn't recall seeing before. "Do I presume you are not here in Britain officially? You are not on a case, I take it."
Gibbs shook his head. "No. No case, Duck."
"I see. Well, in that case I suppose you had better come in." Ducky sounded anything but inviting. Gibbs really couldn't blame him.
"Only if you want me too, Duck."
Ducky gave him a look that told Gibbs clearly not to push his luck, before he turned and began to walk up the drive. After a moment or two Gibbs followed him.
"You've been busy," he said, noticing the piles of leaves by the sides of the drive. "With the leaves," he added, when Ducky paused and glanced at him.
Just for a moment Ducky's look softened. "I confess, I cannot take the credit. I have a very efficient gardener."
"Oh. That's good. I mean . . ." Gibbs fell silent under Ducky's steady look and decided not to actually speak again until Ducky spoke to him.
That decision meant they spent the rest of the walk up Ducky's long drive in silence. As Ducky opened the front door and politely stood to one side to allow Gibbs to precede him into the house, Gibbs noticed that Ducky hadn't unlocked it, which either meant the area he lived in was really safe, so safe you didn't lock your door when you went out, or Ducky had seen him arrive or someone else had seen a stranger arrive and had called Ducky.
"Do come through to the sitting room," Ducky said, removing his hat and coat and hanging them up.
"Thanks." Gibbs followed Ducky along the substantial hall into an even more substantial room. In spite of the coldness of the day, it was colder in Britain that it had been in the states before Gibbs had left, the room was pleasantly warm, and despite its size very friendly and welcoming - which was more than Gibbs could say about Ducky.
"Tea? Coffee? Whisky?" Ducky asked, moving to the fire and throwing another log onto it.
"Um . . . Whatever you're having," Gibbs said quickly.
Ducky sighed softly and turned around. "Just make a choice, Jethro," he said quietly, his voice slightly less hostile than it had been.
A swift glance at the clock told Gibbs it was past noon. "Whisky'd be great, Duck, please," he said.
Ducky nodded and went as far as to give Gibbs a small smile. "I do believe I shall join you. Oh, do sit down."
Gibbs sat. "Thanks." He repeated the word a moment later when Ducky handed him a glass. He took a sip and said, surprise in his voice, "It's good."
Ducky actually chuckled slightly. "I know," he said.
They fell into silence, a silence that became more strained by the second as Gibbs desperately sought for something to say and Ducky . . . Ducky appeared to be waiting for Gibbs to speak, which given he'd come all the way from America, Gibbs guessed made sense. But he really didn't know what to say - he didn’t know how to begin.
Finally he took another swallow of the very fine whisky, looked at Ducky and said, "Duck -"
Instantly Ducky interrupted him. "Look, Jethro, I don't really know why you have come all the way from America to see me - at least I presume you came all this way to see me?" Gibbs nodded. "But I'm not really certain we have anything to say to one another, not after all this time, do we? I think you made your sentiments quite clear that evening I - What did you say?"
"I said 'I'm sorry, Duck'. And before you remind me I've always said apologies were a sign of weakness, I'll remind you of the other time I said 'sorry' to you and what I said when you told me that."
"'Not between friends'," Ducky said quietly. "That's what you said." He spoke even more softly, and for the first time since greeting Gibbs, he not only fully met his gaze, he held it. Gibbs saw a hint of sorrow in Ducky's eyes, together with a pain that hadn't died and a hint of regret.
Gibbs moved to the edge of his chair. "I am sorry, Duck. Sorry that I . . ." He paused and decided to cut to the chase. "Sorry I lied to you." He held Ducky's gaze.
Ducky frowned. "Jethro? What exactly did you lie to me about?"
Gibbs didn't actually answer the question. He simply went on staring at Ducky. "I've missed you, Duck."
Ducky frowned slightly. "I have missed you too, Jethro. However, I am not the one who -"
"Didn't reply to your emails? Yeah, know that. But come on, Duck. Me and emails? Did you really expect me to reply?"
"I . . . Maybe I didn't, no. Maybe I told myself that I was the one reaching out, making the effort, whereas . . . Maybe I felt justified in being able to blame you fully for the ending of our friendship because I had tried to contact you and you hadn't replied. Whereas . . ." Finally, Ducky fell silent.
"Not sure our friendship could ever end, Duck."
Gibbs shook his head. "No. Are you?"
Ducky sighed. "Allow me to pour you another glass of whisky." And before Gibbs could reply, he did that very thing.
He took the decanter back to the table and stood fiddling with it and some bottles and glasses before he turned back around and stared at Jethro. "So," he said, his tone once again quite hard. "Maybe you should tell me quite what you expect to happen now?"
Ducky moved to sit back down. "Well, after all you have come all the way to Britain to see me. You have told me you lied to me the evening I told you how I actually felt about you. You've apologized. You've in effect told me despite our silence for the past year our friendship hasn't ended. What do you expect me to do now? Fall into your arms and -"
Gibbs shook his head. "No. No, Duck. Really no. I . . ." He fell silent and glanced away from Ducky. "I um . . . Thing is, Duck. Don't think I thought past apologizing to you and telling you I'd lied. Hell, don't think I actually thought past arriving and you telling me to go to hell."
"I see." Gibbs looked back at Ducky and was surprised and hopeful to see the faintest hint of a twinkle in Ducky's eyes. "Well, then, allow me to tell you what will happen."
"You can go back to your hotel - I assume you booked into one?" Gibbs nodded. "- And collect your things. You will return here, by which time I will have made up the guest suite. You will stay here with me and we will see what happens. I can't promise you anything will happen - I'm not even certain I can promise our friendship will return to the level it was at before I left America. I'm sorry if that isn't enough for you, but it is all I can offer."
A YEAR LATER
"Jethro, we do have a gardener. You do not need to sweep the leaves up."
Jethro paused his leaf tidying and looked at Ducky. "Yeah, I know we do. But I like doing it. I like doing things, you know that."
"Yes, my dear, I do. However," Ducky moved a little closer to Jethro. "There are other things I could suggest you do."
Jethro smiled and rested the brush against a tree and put his arms around Ducky. "Are there, Duck?"
Ducky smiled. "Oh, yes," he said. "Far more enjoyable things," he put his arms around Jethro.