AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: First Time.
SUMMARY: Set during and after Patriot Down and after Spider And The Fly. Ducky knows all he can do is to wait to see if Jethro will return from Mexico. But even if he does, Ducky isn't sure how he will be.
WORD COUNT: 3,100
SPOILERS: Patriot Down, Rule Fifty-One and Spider And The Fly
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for ashley_pitt: R - 'Return'
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
Jethro strode into Autopsy. "Duck, the knife used to kill Lara Macy . . . Who made the knife?"
Ducky studied his old friend. Gibbs appeared to be the complete professional; fellow NCIS agent or not, it seemed to be just another case. But Ducky knew differently. "For the most part, linking a specific weapon to a nick in a human bone is virtually impossible."
Jethro didn't quite roll his eyes, but Ducky knew rambling would be appreciated even less than it normally was. "But in this case, uh?" Even the tone wasn't Jethro's usual one.
"I can go out on the proverbial limb. The pattern is indicative of a KA-BAR 12-77."
"That's an army knife."
Ducky nodded. "Yes. Our assailant knew that the first cut had to be sufficient. He ended her life deliberately, brutally and without hesitation. She was executed."
"Yeah, and then left to be discovered."
"To taunt whoever would be hurt the most by her untimely death." Ducky paused for a second before continuing. He stared directly up at Jethro. "Not unlike leaving a single bullet to be found in the Mexican sun. You're familiar with the kind of killer of which I speak."
Jethro glared at Ducky. It wasn't his usual 'Ducky glare'; instead it was the type of glare Ducky had never seen Jethro give a member of the team before, let alone Ducky himself. "I am." Jethro's tone was curt and harsh as he turned on his heel and headed out of Autopsy.
Ducky, however, was not going to be brushed aside so easily. He followed his friend. "Now, Jethro . . . Wait. This is as much about you as it is about Special Agent Macy." He carried on talking as Gibbs kept pushing the button in an attempt to summon the elevator "Listen to me. I autopsied Pedro Hernandez. He seemed familiar at the time. Now I know why."
The elevator arrived and Gibbs hurried inside. But Ducky still wasn't through. He put his hand on the door to stop it from closing and continued to speak, continued to try to reach his friend. "I know what you've been carrying around for nearly twenty years. You may not have wanted this to come to the surface, but someone else did. And now they are forcing your hand. Who is it? I mean, tell me Jethro!" Jethro pulled Ducky's hand from where it held the elevator door open, the movement, harsh, vicious even. Ducky watched the doors close. "Jethro!" he called, as the elevator moved away.
Ducky just stood for a moment. He'd failed; he'd tried to reach Jethro, he'd gambled on the method he'd employed and he'd failed. Jethro had gone, angry and bitter - whether he was more angry with himself or with Ducky, Ducky wasn't certain; all he knew was he had failed.
He leaned against the wall for another moment or two, it wasn't that he expected Jethro to suddenly return, but he was actually feeling a little shaky after the event. He shook his head; how had he failed? He'd known Jethro for so many years, they were close friends, intimate friends, but not only that, he knew people; he had a degree in how the mind worked; how had he got it so badly wrong? He'd really believed he could reach Jethro when no one else could; truly felt the way he'd tackled Jethro had been the right way. But it hadn't.
Finally he sighed, pushed himself away from the way and limping far more than he normally did given the relative earliness of the day returned to Autopsy. He was glad he'd completed Lara Macy's autopsy, glad there was no other corpse waiting to talk to him because, for the first time ever, he really wasn't certain he would manage.
He busied himself making tea, warming the pot, letting the tea steep for just the right amount of time. As always he added the milk to his mug first, before pouring the tea. He held the china mug between his hands and brought it nearer to his mouth and nose taking pleasure in inhaling the scent and warmth. Then he made his way to his desk, sat down and began to slowly drink his tea.
TWO HOURS LATER
Ducky was doing paperwork when he heard the doors swish open. He knew it wasn't Jethro. Jethro was no longer in the building. Jethro was quite possibly no longer in the US. Jethro had gone; gone without saying anything to anyone. Gone and left those who cared about him to wait and wonder, to speculate and discuss, to worry and second-guess. When he would return was anyone's guess; Ducky refused to acknowledge the 'when' could easily be 'if'.
"Hello, Dr. Mallard." It was Jimmy, beaming at him, blinking several times.
Ducky stood up. "Jimmy," he said, noticing Jimmy's beam became even broader at the use of his given name. Ducky told himself he definitely should use it more; he didn't really know why he still called the young man 'Mr. Palmer' and why he hadn't insisted Jimmy call him 'Ducky'. "I wasn't expecting to see you today. Is everything all right?"
Jimmy came towards him, still smiling, his hands held together in front of him. "I had to come and see you, Doctor. I had to come and tell you."
Just for a moment Ducky wondered if Jimmy had come to announce his engagement; he hoped not. Call him old-fashioned, but he believed Jimmy should complete his medical degree before embarking on matrimony. "And what is it you have to tell me?"
"Last week's test I told you about, the one I really thought I'd messed up. Do you remember?" Ducky nodded. "Well I didn't. Mess up, that is. In fact I got ninety-eight percent, which was the highest in the class and not only that, it's the highest mark ever on that test." Jimmy was now beaming so much Ducky felt sympathy for his cheek muscles and his mouth.
Jimmy's happiness was contagious and in spite of himself and his concerns about Jethro, Ducky found himself smiling, a genuine smile. "Jimmy my boy," he said, moving towards Jimmy and taking his hands. "Congratulations. I'm delighted for you. Well done."
Jimmy beamed. "Thank you, Doctor. Doctor?"
"Is everything all right?"
Ducky glanced at his assistant. "What exactly do you mean?"
"Well, it's just people seem to be . . . I don't really know. But not right. Is there a case?"
Ducky sighed and made a quick decision. Jimmy was, after all, part of the team; he deserved to know what everyone else knew. "Jethro has gone to Mexico to follow up on something that has arisen from a," he paused for a moment and thought about what to say. He wasn't entirely certain if everyone knew, at this moment, the full details. "An event that happened some twenty years ago," he said finally.
Jimmy's eyes widened. "Wow, Agent Gibbs is really thorough, isn't he? Twenty years."
Ducky smiled; he wished Jethro had been a little more thorough all those years ago. "Yes," he said. "I sometimes believe Jethro chose the wrong service to belong to. He would have made a good Mountie."
Jimmy frowned. "Doctor?"
"Mounties always get their man," Ducky said. "Well except that is not strictly speaking, as is believed, part of their oath, rather like our own oath does not include 'do no harm'. However, it is one of those sayings that has become so entrenched in popular culture it is believed to be fact."
"So Agent Gibbs has gone after someone?"
Ducky nodded. "Or someones." He sighed and let his mind wander from the present to the scene outside the elevator and then back through the years Jethro and he had been friends.
"He'll come back."
Jimmy's voice jolted Ducky. "I'm sorry?" he said.
"Agent Gibbs. He'll come back. He always does. You do believe that, don't you, Dr. Mallard?"
Jimmy had moved a little nearer to Ducky and was staring down at him with an intensity Ducky had rarely seen. He patted Jimmy's hand and said, "Yes, Jimmy. I'm sure Jethro will return." And suddenly he was. However, he wasn't sure just which Leroy Jethro Gibbs would return.
A WEEK LATER
"Jethro?" Ducky opened the door of Reston House and stared out into the semi-darkness. "You're back." He shook his head, angry with himself for stating the obvious.
Jethro dredged up a smile. "Yeah, Duck, I am."
"Do you wish to come in? Or . . ." Ducky trailed off.
Jethro nodded. "Yeah, just for a minute or two. Can't stay long. Dad's at home, got agents watching him, but," he shrugged. "You know." As he spoke, Jethro went into Ducky's home and closed the door.
Ducky nodded. "Yes, I do. How is your father?"
"Bit shaken. But mostly, okay. He's tough."
Ducky smiled. "Yes, like another Gibbs I know."
Jethro smiled; a more genuine smile this time. "Duck?"
"What happened last week, when we . . . When I . . . Ah, Duck."
Ducky put his hand on Jethro's arm and squeezed it. "It's already forgotten, my dear?"
Jethro blinked and looked skeptical. "It is? You sure, Duck. I behaved like a real bastard towards you -"
Ducky shook his head. "No, you didn't. Well, I confess at the time I was somewhat surprised, shaken, upset even, but I've had time to think and I'm fairly certain why you behaved as you did."
Ducky nodded. "Yes."
"Want to tell me?"
Ducky laughed and after a moment or two Jethro joined in. "Ah, Duck," Jethro put his hands on Ducky's shoulders. "I was so scared for you," he said so quietly Ducky almost had to struggle to hear him. "I somehow thought - I don't know, Duck. Thought the more you knew, the more I told you, confessed to you, the more chance there was of something happening to you. You, Dad, Abbs - you mean everything to me. I couldn't -"
"Nothing has happened to me, Jethro; Abigail has her bodyguard and I cannot think of anywhere better, anywhere safer for your father to be at the moment. He has the best protecting him."
"I could arrange for someone to keep an eye on you as well."
Ducky shook his head. "No, thank you. I'll be fine. I do not actually believe, despite what you may think, that I am in any danger."
Jethro frowned. "You sure?"
"Yes. Completely certain."
Jethro nodded. "All right, but if anything -"
"Yes, Jethro," Ducky said. He realized they were still standing in his hall with Jethro's hands still on his shoulders. The pressure was good; he always had enjoyed being touched by Jethro - sometimes he thought he enjoyed it far more than was good for him. He was staring up at Jethro, who was gazing back at him with a look in his eyes and on his face that Ducky had never seen before. "Jethro"? he asked, his tone soft.
Jethro shook his head twice. "It's not right," he murmured.
"What isn't?" Ducky asked.
"Me doing this." And to Ducky's surprise, shock even, Jethro slid his hands from Ducky's shoulders and instead cupped his face, lowered his own head and kissed Ducky. It was a brief kiss, lips brushing over lips, little more than that. Chaste yet full of so much more. When Jethro lifted his head he looked stunned. And before Ducky could say anything, not that he knew what do say, Jethro bent his head and once again kissed Ducky. This time the kiss went on for a little longer. "Yeah," Jethro said, once more lifting his head. "Not right at all." And he kissed Ducky for a third time. This time when he lifted his head, he didn't lower it again; instead he put his hands back on Ducky's shoulders and looked into Ducky's eyes.
Ducky waited for Jethro to say something. When he didn't, he swallowed and asked softly, "May one ask what was not right about that?"
Jethro laughed. "One may." He brushed Ducky's hair off his forehead. But didn't say anything else; he just continued to stare at Ducky a faint smile touching his lips.
Ducky echoed the smile. "And may one expect an answer any time soon?" He began to chuckle.
And Jethro laughed again. "Ah, Duck," he said, again brushing Ducky's hair back. "Should have waited until we had more time."
Ducky frowned. "More time?" he asked; then it dawned on him. "Ah," he said softly. "I understand," he sighed.
Ducky nodded. "Yes, my dear. I cannot say I like it, but I do understand."
"Once this is over. Once I've got Paloma and her damn brother and Dad's back home and safe. Once that's happened, I'll be back. That's a promise, Duck. Just like this is." And Jethro kissed him for a fourth time; then a fifth.
"I'll be here," Ducky said, his tone somewhat formal.
Jethro nodded. "Know that, Duck. Always have." Then he kissed Ducky for the final time, a much longer, lingering kiss, telling Ducky all he needed to know, before turning sharply on his heel and leaving Ducky's home.
Ducky stood at the door watching the tail-lights of Jethro's car disappear down the drive. He smiled.
FOUR MONTHS LATER
Ducky moved a knife a fraction of an inch, refolded the napkins, brushed away imaginary specks of dirt from the pristine white table-cloth and realigned the side plates. He sighed; what was he doing? Why was he doing it? Why was he behaving like a nervous virginal wife about to feed her new husband for the first time? It was only Jethro coming to dinner, something he'd done many, many times before. Except it wasn't only Jethro coming to dinner it was Jethro coming to fulfill a promise he'd made four months ago in this very house.
The four months had been long ones. Despite being certain everything would work out and everyone would be safe, Ducky had spent the time worrying about Jethro, the children, Jackson and Tobias - after all Paloma had vowed to harm everyone Jethro cared about.
He hadn't seen Jethro outside of the office since the evening Jethro had kissed him. He'd invited Jethro and Jackson to join him for dinner. However, Jethro had regretfully declined, insisting he wanted to ensure Ducky was safe; that he didn't want Paloma and her brother to realize how important Ducky was to him.
Yet somehow they had found out. Three Day of the Dead dolls had been delivered: one to Jackson, one to Ducky, one to Abby - the three most important people in Jethro's life. Somehow sister and brother had found out how much Ducky mattered to Jethro. With the delivery of the dolls, Ducky had felt afraid for himself for the first time ever. It wasn't that he doubted Jethro; it was just that he realized Paloma and Rivera were not going to stop until someone was dead.
And someone was dead: Paloma Reynosa killed by her own brother. Ducky shivered slightly. She had been a criminal, responsible for many deaths, a woman who would have happily killed Jethro, his father and all those about whom Jethro cared. But she had been a human being and her death at the hands of her brother, the person who'd loved her, rather than at the hands of those who disliked her, somehow touched Ducky. He sighed, a little irritated with himself for his softer thoughts.
He glanced at his watch. Jethro should be with him very soon now. He'd called just as he'd been about to leave Stillwater to tell Ducky he was on his way back and would -
The doorbell ringing interrupted Ducky's musings. With one last glance at the table, Ducky, smoothing down his hair, hurried towards the front door. As he went into the hall, a thought struck him, what if Jethro had changed his mind? What if he didn't want what he'd promised the last time he'd been here? What if - He only realized he'd come to a stop when the doorbell rang again.
Pushing all thoughts of 'what if' from his mind - after all he couldn't change whatever happened - he started towards the front door again and hastened to open it. "Jethro. It's good to see you."
"Hey, Duck. You okay?" Jethro walked straight into the house and closed the door behind him.
"Yes, thank you. I'm perfectly fine. And you? And your father?"
Jethro paused in the process of taking his coat off and cocked an eyebrow at Ducky. "I know it's been four months since I've been here, Duck, but it's me, not some stranger you have to be -"
"Polite to?" Ducky asked, trying to keep the smile he could feel building from showing in his eyes or on his face
Jethro laughed and Ducky joined in. "Ah, Duck," he said, taking Ducky's arm and gently pulling him towards him. "Missed you," he said, now taking Ducky into his arms.
Ducky put his own arms around Jethro and sighed with happiness. "You see me every day at the office," he pointed out.
"Not the same. Told you it wasn't right to kiss you the last time I was here."
Ducky felt himself stiffen and he tired to move back a little from the now tight embrace. "Jethro, I . . ." he started to say, aware how formal, stilted the two words had been.
"No, Duck." Jethro said, pushing Ducky away a little to look down at him. Horror touched the dark blue eyes as Jethro stared at Ducky. "Didn't mean it that way."
Ducky dared to allow himself to hope. "Did you not?" he asked softly.
"Then what did you mean?"
"Just that I've spent a lot of time over the last four months thinking of you, of us, of what I'd like to do with you, to you. Of what'd happen when it was all over and I came back to you, came here, took you in my arms and . . ."
"And?" Ducky urged gently. "You know, my dear, you often tell me you are far better with actions than with words. Thus, maybe rather than try to tell me, you should show me?" He ran the tip of his tongue around his lips, and gazed up at the man he'd loved for so long.
Jethro grinned. "You know what, Duck? Maybe I should."
And he did.
Ducky didn't have to worry about whether the table was set 'just right' as the first meal as life-partners, because that's what Jethro had said he wanted, was breakfast (Ducky had insisted) eaten in the kitchen rather the dining room and it had been perfectly fine, just as Ducky's life now was.