Thanks, as always, to maubast for editing the story for me - and for encouraging me to post it here :-)
TITLE: Death Changes Everything
AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
GENRE: Slash. Established Relationship
PAIRING: Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUMMARY: Gibbs realizes that the death of someone really does change everything and that he and Ducky have some decisions to make. Set about six months after Twilight.
WARNINGS: Minor character death.
Jethro Gibbs walked into the relatively quiet NCIS building, paused long enough to get himself a coffee, and headed for the office. He'd been away for four days on some damn silly training course, the kind that Gibbs hated with a passion. In fact strictly speaking he should still be there, having a 'final bonding breakfast'. However, having ascertained that the event was nothing more than an excuse to eat, chatter, and avoid another day's work, he chose to leave the evening before. The last formal event had finished at 11:00 p.m., so Jethro had loaded his bags into his car and driven through the night, pausing around 4:00 a.m. at a motel long enough to grab a shower, a coffee, and an hour's sleep.
If he were honest it wasn't just the fact that he found chattering breakfasts annoying that had made him drive back; something had triggered his 'all isn't well' button. Jethro relied on that button and had done for all his working life. He owed his survival as both a Marine and now a NCIS Agent to it; so when it clicked in, he wasn't going to ignore it. The only thing that bothered him, made him uneasy even, was that it wasn't his 'danger' or 'work' 'all is not well' button, it was something personal.
Timothy McGee, as Jethro expected, sat at his desk, fingers flying over the keyboard, a look of intense concentration on his face as he glared at the screen. For a moment Jethro paused, outside the periphery of any good NCIS Agent's awareness, and looked at the young man. McGee was a bit of an enigma in many ways, an expert with computers, what he couldn't make them do wasn't worth mentioning. Seemingly innocent and klutzy in so many ways, McGee was nonetheless a damn good NCIS agent, and would become an even better one.
Sometimes Jethro wondered whether he ought to praise the young man more, he seemed to need it, far more than Tony or even . . . He pushed the thought of Kate from his mind. But nonetheless the relentless teasing that his two more senior agents used to inflict on the then Probie came into his mind. Jethro knew that if he had the choice, McGee would open his arms and welcome the teasing and bitching back, would take it every day of his life, if only it brought Caitlin Todd back. He firmly pushed that thought from his mind. They had a new Probie now, and it would unfair to her if the team kept thinking about Kate. Ducky occasionally told him that he ought to praise McGee more, but that wasn't Jethro's style, and yet he should try at least to let the young man know that he was a valued member of the team.
At the thought of Ducky, Jethro felt a strain of warmth go through him, as he always did when he thought about his lover. Telling himself he was a sappy fool, but not really caring, he moved closer. "McGee," he said, and blinked as his agent jumped to his feet, knocking his own coffee off the desk to drip onto the carpet.
"Boss!" the green eyes widened and flickered from side to side. McGee had turned pale and looked frantic. Jethro's 'all is not well' button switched into overdrive. "You're back."
"So it appears, McGee," Jethro said, striding to his desk and ignoring the coffee stain that was now soaking into the carpet - they'd had far worse on it, and no doubt would do again. "Anything happen while I was gone?" As he spoke he pulled out his gun and tucked it away in its usual top drawer, and shrugged out of his long brown overcoat. Silence greeted him. He paused finger poised to turn on his computer screen and glanced up. "McGee," he said, attempting to sound patient. "I asked -"
He didn't get any further, before McGee interrupted him. "Sorry, boss, I've just remembered. I've got to go and see Abby." Leaving Jethro standing open-mouthed, McGee flew out of the office.
"But Abby's not . . ." Jethro started to say as the door swung shut behind him. He stared after his departing agent, shaking his head. "What the hell . . .?" he muttered.
The back of his neck now tingling beyond his ability to ignore it, along with the sensation that had been building in him since late the previous evening, made him ignore the computer and its undoubtedly full inbox. Instead, snatching up his coffee, he headed for the elevator and Ducky's lair. The Medical Examiner was always in early, and as there were clearly no bodies, Jethro would have been told about that, he'd offer to buy his friend a coffee and they could catch up, at least on the kind of things they could catch up on in public.
He door swished open and Jethro strode in. "Duck," he called. "I'm back early and I wondered if . . ." he came to an abrupt halt. "Oh, Mr. Palmer," he said, slipping into Ducky's mode of address for the Medical Examiner's young assistant. "I'm sorry, I thought Dr. Mallard would be here."
"Agent Gibbs! You're back." Palmer answered, eyes wide, skin pale. The same look of panic that Jethro had seen on McGee's face now rested on Palmer's.
Jethro had had enough. "What exactly is going on, Palmer?" he demanded, moving forward and standing menacingly by the young man. "Where is Dr. Mallard?"
"He's taken a few days personal leave, sir," Palmer stammered.
Jethro pulled his shell around him, biting down on his instinct to reveal more than was necessarily advisable, and asked softly. "Why?"
Ducky never took personal leave. Never. It was all that Jethro could do to make his friend take any leave at all. However, as Ducky fondly reminded him, it was a little like the pot and kettle. If Ducky had been taken ill and no one had thought to tell Jethro, heads would roll, and Jethro wasn't certain he was just thinking metaphorically. After all the whole team knew that their boss's relationship with the ME went beyond that of old friends. "I'm sorry," he said, suddenly aware that Palmer had spoken.
"I said that his mother died, sir." Jethro felt a wave of relief sweep through him, followed by a waver of the kind of sadness that one always feels when someone you know dies, together with sudden understanding, and the instant knowledge of why Ducky hadn't called him. "When?" he demanded.
"Two days ago, sir."
Jethro nodded his thanks and swept from the room.
He strode out of the elevator and crossed to his desk. Huddled together at DiNozzo's desk were DiNozzo himself and McGee. The pair had bonded in a way Jethro had never believed possible since Kate's death, their shared grief replacing any animosity they might previously have shared. He reached his desk, opened the top drawer and pulled out his gun, tucking it away inside his jacket, before yanking on his overcoat. He wasn't expected back today, so he wouldn't be back.
"Boss!" DiNozzo jumped to his feet, the move echoed by McGee. "You're back," he added.
Jethro just shook his head. "I'll be at Ducky's," was all he said, as he strode past them on his way to the door. He didn't wait to see if either of them would answer.
"Ducky," Jethro said softly as his friend finally opened the door.
Ducky stared up at him, his soft blue eyes wide. "Jethro," he said. "You're -"
"Back. Yes, I know," Jethro said. "Can I come in?"
"Yes, of course, my friend. Please forgive me. I am a little distracted." Ducky moved backwards and let Jethro slip past him.
Taking the door, that Ducky seemed about to hold on to, from his oldest friend's hand, Jethro closed it firmly, before throwing both bolts. "Oh, Duck," he said, turning to his lover and opening his arms.
After only a second's hesitation, Ducky moved into them, letting his head come to rest on Jethro's chest, and sighing. Jethro closed his embrace and held on, rocking his lover slightly and brushing his mouth and nose through the silky, soft, no-longer-white-blond hair. "I'm sorry," he said after several moments, speaking the words that he spoke so often in his job. Never before had they seemed so banal and trite. And he was sorry; he really was. However, a tiny part of him, the part that disgusted him, also couldn't help being glad. Mrs. Mallard had definitely affected his relationship with Ducky. Because of this feeling, he felt guilty, so said firmly, "I am sorry, Ducky. Really I am." He squeezed Ducky more tightly.
Ducky extracted himself slightly from the hold, tilted his head back and looked up at his friend. Not for the first time he appeared to read Jethro's mind, because he smiled in the way he only did for Jethro and said softly, reassuringly, comfortingly even, "I know you are, Jethro. I'm just being silly. She was very old, and her senility was getting worse by the day. It was getting to the stage where I knew I could no longer leave her alone, not even for half an hour. She was beginning to suffer, Jethro. And I didn't want that for her. So it was for the best. But I do miss her." His voice sounded slightly muffled as he let his head come to rest once more on Jethro's chest.
Jethro enfolded him back into this embrace. "Of course you do, Duck. You're not being silly at all. You're her son. Damnit, I'll miss her," and he would.
Ducky simply said, "Ah, Jethro." Then he moved away, took Jethro's hand and turned towards the stairs. "Come," he said simply.
Jethro was only half surprised at the clear message. Lovemaking always had been their way of dealing with the death and destruction life threw at them every day. It was their way of reaffirming that they were alive. Even when Jethro had been married, even when he'd been in the Marines, it was Ducky to whom he turned at such times, not one of his wives or a woman.
Only Ducky could understand that the need to make love didn't diminish what had happened, didn't take anything away from the victim. Only Ducky knew that rather than take, their loving gave. It was the only times that Ducky would allow Jethro in his bed while the younger man was married. Even when Jethro's relationships were going through hell, even when he had evidence that his wife had had an affair, Ducky wouldn't let him sleep with him. He'd offer Jethro other kinds of comfort, he'd hold him, he'd make up a spare bed and sit up all night with him, but he wouldn't make love to him. Only Donald Mallard could have that kind of old-world quaint logic.
And yet somehow Jethro hadn't been sure that Ducky would want that, not when it was his mother whom he had lost - but clearly he did.
Their lovemaking was gentle, as it always was. They'd been together for far too many years to surprise one another. They knew what worked and didn't venture beyond that. They didn't need to. They rarely had penetrative sex, generally preferring other kinds of intimacy - although sometimes nothing else would do. Like all long term lovers they could read one another's bodies, and had signals and signs that only they would recognize. So when Ducky moved slightly from Jethro's caresses, glanced up at him through his now unshrouded eyes and said simply, "Please, Jethro," the younger man knew exactly for what he was asking.
Nonetheless he had to ask. "Are you sure, Duck?"
Ducky nodded, the blue eyes clear and assured.
It didn't take Jethro long to prepare his lover, nor for Ducky to convince him that he was ready. Despite it being an infrequent event, they were relaxed enough with one another, sure of the other, completely in tune and trusting of each other, that it was simple and as painless as it could be.
"I love you, Ducky," Jethro said simply, lightly kissing Ducky's face once they were settled back in other another's arms.
"I know. And I too love you, Jethro."
The morning of Mrs. Mallard's funeral dawned bright but cold. Jethro shrugged his own overcoat on over his black suit - it was an exact match for his brown one, the only difference was that this one was black. Then he turned and picked Ducky's up, holding it out and fussing over his friend until he was satisfied. Apart from a brief visit to his own house to collect more clothes - including the dreaded funeral ones - and toiletries, Jethro had barely left Ducky's side, taking personal leave of his own, and daring his boss to deny him it. He didn't know what the team would think of the fact he'd all but moved in with Ducky, and quite frankly he didn't care.
However, nor did he really know what Ducky felt, not really. They hadn't talked about it. Outside of a 'do you want me to stay with you?' and Ducky's acquiescence, they hadn't mentioned Jethro's being there, nor for how long he would be staying. They needed to talk about the latter, Jethro knew that, but he didn't know how soon it would be appropriate for him to raise the subject, and he knew until he did that Ducky wouldn't.
He knew what he wanted and he thought he knew what his lover wanted. However, he also knew that Ducky would be thinking firstly of Jethro and what was best for him; what he really wanted, rather than what he might think he wanted. Ducky's own wishes would be secondary. Although to be fair, Ducky would also no doubt consider, after deciding what was best for Jethro that is, his own feelings, and you couldn't erase the fact that Jethro Gibbs had married and lived with three women, and all the relationships had ended in divorce.
However, now was not the time to think such thoughts. As the doorbell sounded, Jethro said gently, "Are you ready?" Ducky just nodded. Before going to answer the door, knowing who it would be, Jethro took a moment to truly study his friend. For the first time since he'd met the eccentric man, Ducky looked his age, in fact he looked several years older. Jethro rarely considered the twelve years age difference between them. Age was after all something that was; there was no point worrying about it, it wasn't going to change. He suspected though that it crossed his lover's mind more often than his.
"You okay?" he said, moving to answer the door, after the bell rang for the second time. If a doorbell could sound apologetic, this one did. And Jethro was touched by the effort those outside were making. Ducky looked up at him. "Stupid question," Jethro said, shaking his head. He patted Ducky's shoulder and opened the door. There, as he knew they would be, stood the entire team: DiNozzo, McGee, Palmer, Abby, and even Lucy, the new Probie. She stood to one side, as though uncertain as to whether her presence really was wanted, or even acceptable.
Jethro hadn't been surprised when DiNozzo had asked him if they could attend the funeral. Even though few of them had met Mrs. Mallard more than once, maybe twice, they all knew and loved Ducky. Funerals never had been about the dead; they were always about the living. Assuming that he could leave Lucy to 'man the fort', Jethro had been a little surprised when Abby had told him that Lucy would also like to attend. She had never met Mrs. Mallard, had only been on the team for six months, but nonetheless she already admired and cared for Ducky. Indeed, *she* was prepared to listen to his stories, which meant that for the first time ever the Medical Examiner actually had to make up endings for them.
The three men nodded to Jethro and moved slowly passed him into the house. Abby though hurried in, began sobbing, and threw herself into Ducky's arms. After Jethro, she had had the most contact with Mrs. Mallard, but Jethro knew that her tears were for Ducky as much as for his dead mother. Ducky enfolded the young woman in his arms, much as Jethro had done to him, and held her, stroking her hair and murmuring soft words that Jethro could not hear. He glanced at his lover and saw, for the first time, tears in the beautiful blue eyes. And he knew what had caused them: Abby's appearance, the thing that had finally broken Ducky. The Goth had gone and in her place stood a young woman in a sedate black suit, the skirt knee length, sensible shoes, pantyhose, her hair down, rather than in her usual bunches, covering her tats and all signs of the large, clunky, silver jewelry removed. Even her make-up was subdued. Despite the sight of tears in his lover's eyes, Jethro knew that Ducky was far more at home being the comforter than the comfortee.
Suddenly Jethro realized and turned swiftly back to the door. Still standing on the top step, trying to imitate a statue was Lucy Harker. "I'm sorry. Do come in, Lucy," Jethro said, reaching out and touching her arm.
"Thank you, sir," she said, slipping passed him into the hallway. He winced. He still hadn't broken her of the habit of calling him 'sir.' Despite Abby's insistence of Lucy's presence, she was the one person of whom he was unsure. Not as an agent, she was already proving herself in that capacity, but in respect of other things. He knew that she had to know about him and Ducky, and assumed that as she was there, she didn't mind, but not knowing things for certain had always bothered Jethro Gibbs.
Suddenly she moved from his side, and crossed to where Ducky still stood with Abby in his arms. Jethro couldn't prevent his body from becoming tense. He needn't have worried though. After a half-aborted gesture, she touched Ducky's arm and said softly, "I am sorry for your loss, Dr. Mallard."
The shining blue eyes turned towards her, before Ducky freed one hand from where it comforted Abby, took the hand that rested on his arm in his own, and said, his voice firm, "Thank you, my dear." And he smiled.
The NCIS team stood in the Mallard sitting room, sipping tea and/or whiskey, and chatting in the way that only close colleagues can. The atmosphere was relaxed, in fact if it weren't for the sober black outfits and the slight redness surrounding Ducky's eyes, Jethro could have believed that they were just at a social gathering. His head ached, funerals always did that to him; it was partly because for once in his life he was not in control, and had no way of being so.
Suddenly the shrill beeping of DiNozzo's cell phone cut into the room. Six pairs of eyes swiveled towards the noise, as DiNozzo dug into his inside pocket, glanced at the display and flipped open the phone. Everyone had moved from relaxed mode to waiting mode; it was almost certain the call would be important. Even Tony DiNozzo wouldn't be answering a call from one of his many women friends. "DiNozzo." He listened for a moment of two, before holding the phone out. "Boss," he said.
With a silent curse and a frown, Jethro moved and took the proffered phone. The call was brief, his comments terse and short. He flipped the phone shut, tossed it to DiNozzo without even looking. "We're on," he said resignedly. His team began to collect bags, replace cups and glasses on the various tables, and mill towards the doorway. Only Abby didn't move.
Snatching his own coat up from where he'd dropped it over the arm of the sofa, Jethro moved to where Ducky stood, positioning himself so that his back was to the other people. "Sorry, Duck," he said softly. "I've got to go."
Brilliant blue eyes looked up at him. "Do you need me, Jethro?"
"No. Not yet anyway. Not at all, I hope. So far the Marine in question is just missing. In fact," he hesitated. "I could -"
"No, Jethro," Ducky said firmly. "You couldn't. Now go. I'll be fine." Still Jethro hesitated; why had the call had to come today of all days?
Then Abby said, "You won't need me yet, Gibbs. I'll stay and help Ducky wash up. Jimmy can stay too. After all, you don't need him either. I'll wash, Jimmy, you can dry."
Jethro smiled at her. Then, because he couldn't not do it, he bent his head and brushed his lips over Ducky's. "See you later, Duck," he murmured. "I'll try not to be too late." He squeezed Ducky's shoulder, before whirring on his heel and striding past the group of three who were trying to look as though they hadn't just observed their boss kiss their ME. "DiNozzo," he called, tossing the car keys in the air. "You drive."
The four Special Agents left the Mallard house and climbed into the car. As DiNozzo turned on the engine, urged the car into gear and started to back down the driveway, Jethro felt a nagging sensation deep within him. The feeling of something left undone. "Stop the car, DiNozzo," he snapped.
"I said stop the car."
Before DiNozzo had the brake on, Jethro was out of the car and hurrying back to the house. It was the wrong time, but hell, there wasn't going to be a right time. And it would be more wrong not to do it.
Using his own key, he burst into the house, causing three pairs of eyes to turn with a start in his direction.
"Jethro?" Ducky rose to his feet, concern showing on his face.
"Excuse us," Jethro said, grabbing Ducky's hand and leading him, the other hand in the small of his back, into the kitchen.
There he put one hand on each side of his beloved's face, lowered his head and found Ducky's lips with his own. The kiss, once Ducky had got over his initial startlement, went on for a long time. Passion wasn't the object, just love, affection, devotion, and reassurance. Finally Jethro pulled back and dragged air into his lungs.
Ducky was smiling up at him, his mouth red from Jethro's kiss, the kind of redness that didn't vanish quickly. Jethro guessed his own lips must look as swollen and colored. "Jethro my dear, I really think -" Jethro shut his lover up in the most effective way possible.
Once more breaking away. Jethro slipped his hands onto Ducky's shoulders and tightened his grip, staring down intently into the gaze that always made him feel unworthy of the amount of love it offered. "You only have one thing to think about, Ducky." Ducky cocked an eyebrow. "Simply this. Are we going to live at your house, my house, or are we going to find a new place together? You can give me your answer later when I come home." Not allowing his lover a chance to answer, he brushed the kiss-engorged lips once more with his own, ruffled Ducky's hair, turned on his heel, and again strode out of the house, his black coat flapping around him.
As he jogged down the drive to where the car waited, Jethro felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He felt happy, truly happy in a way he had never before felt. And now he knew why. It was all down to one simple word: home. It didn't matter where they lived, it didn't even matter if he had to move his boat, it didn't matter - nothing did. All that mattered was that finally, at the age of fifty-one, Leroy Jethro Gibbs knew what home meant: Dr. Donald Mallard - Ducky. That was home, and Jethro would be back there just as soon as he could.
He was smiling as he climbed back into the car, and completely ignored the looks on the faces of his three agents. If they were lucky, if they were very lucky, then they too might one day have a home of their own.