The fourth part of the Testing Friendship series.
Set during and after Jurisdiction. Gibbs and Ducky have to do something to try to save their friendship and possibly move beyond that.
A pre-slash story.
Written: March 2010. Word count: 10,420.
"Can I see you?"
"Yeah, yeah, Duck. On my way." Gibbs pushed his phone back into his pocket and paused for a moment before heading to Autopsy. No doubt Special Agent Borin would expect to go with him, but he didn't want to take her.
It would be the first time he would get to see Ducky alone since 'that' night. And yet did he want to see him alone? He thought back to the previous day when Ducky and Palmer had arrived at the crime scene; Ducky had been singing, which had disturbed Gibbs slightly. Not because of the fact Ducky was singing, he'd done that on more than one occasion and had an extremely good and pleasant voice, but because of what he had been singing. It had been, to Gibbs's mind, more than a little inappropriate. Yet another example of how much Ducky had changed recently.
And Ducky had snapped at him, oh, fairly mildly, but he had snapped, and Gibbs knew he hadn't completely hidden his surprise. Although given what had happened six nights ago, he guessed he shouldn't really be that surprised. After all he had reckoned, and still did, that Ducky wouldn't forgive him.
Yet, Ducky had been very much 'Ducky' later on in Autopsy. He hadn't called Gibbs 'Agent Gibbs' and he'd looked at him in the way he usually did, so maybe he had forgiven him. But then Palmer had been there, so . . .
Maybe he should take Borin with him after all. Ducky would be more likely to be himself with a stranger, and despite knowing he and Ducky did have to talk about what was said and done, Gibbs was in no rush to have a conversation that could end the best friendship he'd ever had. But surely Ducky wouldn't start such a conversation in the office?
He shook his head; he was over-thinking this! No, he wasn't taking Borin; he wanted to see Ducky on his own. Besides, there'd been something in Ducky's voice that had made his gut twitch very slightly. He would go alone.
Autopsy was dimly lit, as it often was at this time of the day, and as the automatic doors opened for him, Gibbs could see Ducky sitting at his desk. From the slump of his shoulders, Gibbs could tell that something wasn't quite right with Ducky - and he suspected it was more than their disagreement.
"Oh, you're alone." Ducky sounded surprised, but also Gibbs thought relieved and pleased.
"Who were you expecting?" he asked.
"Her, of course." Gibbs hid his surprise at Ducky's tone. For Ducky, the ever-present gentleman (people who messed up his crime scenes excluded) to use the term 'her' rather than Special Agent Borin told him a great deal. He also was fairly sure he caught a hint of jealousy in Ducky's tone. Before he could comment, Ducky went on, his tone still the same, "The whole building is talking about your coast guard friend." That didn't surprise Gibbs; he did sometimes wonder if the whole building was underemployed, given how gossip seemed to spread. He was about to say something, when Ducky spoke again. His words surprised Gibbs; they were not the usual thing Ducky said. "I'm feeling particularly alone and depressed tonight. First, mother moves into the next world, and then last night . . ."
"You broke up with Sophie?" Gibbs fought hard to keep his own tone neutral and not to show any hint of relief and delight at the news.
Ducky touched his bowtie. "You noticed. Hmm." Of course Gibbs had noticed; what did Ducky think he was? He'd noticed as soon as he'd seen Ducky face to face and had been absurdly pleased. Not that he'd guessed Ducky and Sophie had split up, he'd thought maybe Ducky had just started to re-establish his own character again. But this was even better. Okay, so he felt a bit of a heel for feeling that, but only a very small one. Ducky went on. "She was so anxious to change yours truly, I was beginning to question my own identity."
So it looked as if Gibbs's words had gotten through to Ducky, at least partly. "Yeah, I know how protective you are of that." And he did, unlooked for, unwanted, the whole incident concerning Ducky's time in Afghanistan raced back into Gibbs's mind. He pushed that away. This was not the time for such memories; that incident was long over.
"She also put some of mother's silver in the dishwasher." Ducky sounded totally askance.
"Really?" Okay, Gibbs got the impression from Ducky's tone and look, plus the fact that it seemed to have contributed to her and Ducky splitting up, that putting silver in a dishwasher wasn't a good thing. But to be honest he didn't know what to say - never having had, or wanted, anything silver. And then he realized that he had to get things back on a work footing, or else he'd be tempted to give in to the nearly over-whelming desire he had to pull Ducky, who was looking and sounding more woe-begotten by the second into his arms and hold him and . . . And now wasn't the time or the place. So disliking himself, but knowing he had to he said lightly, "Hey, Duck . ."
"Huh?" For a moment Ducky almost sounded as if he'd forgotten Gibbs's presence.
Again ignoring his own preferences, Gibbs went on. "Did you call me down here to tell me something?"
"Oh, yes." For a moment Ducky continued to sound distracted and almost upset that Gibbs had turned to conversation onto work. But then that tone fled and once again Ducky was Ducky the ME; Ducky the professional. "Jensen's medical records are on the way over. But in preparing this mold, I made an interesting discovery."
The case was over; the murderer caught; all loose ends tidied up. Gibbs obligingly followed Vance's lead and thanked Borin for her part in the investigation. He'd even gone so far as to confirm he hoped they'd get the chance to work together again - he was, after all, an accomplished liar.
He left DiNozzo and Ziva in the squad room, wondering as he did whether he should suggest they went to one of their homes to watch the movie. However, he decided that doing so would mean he had to acknowledge they were going to spend Friday night together - not just to himself, but to them. No, far better he just left for the weekend and let them think he didn't know.
He went home, showered, changed into casual trousers a tee-shirt and sweater, grabbed the bottle of wine he'd stopped for on the way home and headed out of his house. He still wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing, still wasn't sure what would happen, but he couldn't get the way Ducky had looked and sounded when he'd confessed to being 'particularly alone and depressed', out of his mind. Plus, they couldn't leave it any longer without trying to repair their friendship. And despite Ducky being back, not just as far as bowties went but in the way he looked at and spoken to Gibbs, to being Ducky, Gibbs knew that the things he'd said and the kiss, couldn't just be forgotten about. Also, he wanted to know whether the bowties were the only thing Ducky had gone back to, or whether he'd also changed his mind over moving and the Corgis.
And you could always tell him how you feel, the little voice in his mind suggested. He shook his head; no he couldn't. That would be taking things too far - he'd settle for just returning to the friendship they'd always enjoyed.
"Jethro!" Ducky exclaimed as he opened the door. "What a nice surprise. I didn't expect to see you tonight of all nights. Do come in," he moved back and let Gibbs go into the house, then closed the door behind him, relocked it and turned off the porch light.
"Hey, Duck," Gibbs smiled, relived that Ducky's greeting had been genuine. His tone and the way he looked up at Gibbs confirmed the 'nice' surprise. "Bought you this," he said, handing over the bottle.
Ducky took it. "Why thank you, Jethro. That's very kind of you indeed. I assure you that you didn't have to bring me anything; your company is more than enough."
Gibbs shrugged. "Wanted to." He pulled off his coat and hung it up. Part of him was somewhat surprised by how enthusiastically Ducky had greeted him; it was almost as if the event of just over a week ago hadn't happened. Surely Ducky couldn't have forgotten the words that were said, how angry they'd been with one another and the Judas kiss - could he? If he had, then that in itself was worrying. Gibbs was aware that Alzheimer's could run in families, but didn't really want to consider the possibility that - "Sorry, Duck. Did you say something?
"I merely inquired if you wished to open the wine now, or if you'd prefer a whiskey?" Ducky smiled, but there was a hint of sadness in the light blue gaze.
Gibbs shrugged. "Donít mind, Ducky, whatever you'd prefer."
Ducky frowned a little. "Have you eaten?"
Gibbs shook his head. "Not since a slice of pizza at lunchtime. But it's okay, I'm not - Ducky!" Ducky had taken his arm and was leading him towards the dining room. Clearly he was going to be fed whether he really wanted it or not. And if he was honest, he was actually fairly hungry.
"Here," Ducky handed him the bottle of wine and a corkscrew. "You open the wine and maybe you'd be good enough to set the table for us, you know where everything is, and I'll be back shortly." And with another smile, Ducky left.
Gibbs stared after him, still more than a little bemused by how normal Ducky was being as well as somewhat concerned as to the same thing. Still he'd been given instructions and he followed them. As he got the silverware out, he found himself examining it more closely than he'd ever done, and wondering if it was actually silver, and if that had been the stuff Sophie had put into the dishwasher.
Once the table was set, he glanced around the room. He couldn't see any signs that Ducky had been packing or even putting things away, so maybe he had changed his mind about selling the place. After a moment or two, he poured two glasses of wine, took a long swig from one of them, grabbed the other and headed for the kitchen where he could hear Ducky humming to himself.
"Hey, Duck," he said, "thought you might like this." He handed over the glass.
Ducky smiled at him. "Why thank you, Jethro," he said, putting down the knife he'd been chopping mushrooms, onions and tomatoes up with. He took a sip. "Mmm," he said, "you chose well. Your good health."
Gibbs nodded. "Cheers, Duck," he said, taking another sip of his own wine. And then he knew he couldn't wait any longer, because as normal as Ducky was behaving, he was starting to feel more and more wound up. "Duck," he said, putting his glass down and taking the knife Ducky had picked back up from Ducky.
"Jethro?" Ducky looked up at him and waited.
Gibbs swallowed. God, this was hard. "Duck," he said again.
"Look about -"
But Ducky interrupted him. "Jethro, what we said last week, was said. We cannot unsay it. However, I do not wish to rehash the conversation. I do not wish to relive it."
"But, Duck, we can't just -"
Ducky sighed. "Oh, very well. Let us get this out of the way and then we can enjoy the rest of the evening. I admit I was angry with you at the time by what I saw as your interference in matters that did not concern you, as well as somewhat hurt that you seemed unwillingly to even try to understand my feelings and actions. However, once I had time to think, I realized not only why you said what you said, but also how," he paused, picked up his own glass of wine and took another swallow, "correct you were."
"No, Jethro, hear me out. You were correct about Sophie trying to change me. And the reason I was so angry with you, so dismissive, was that, deep down, I knew you were correct. Oh, I didn't know it consciously, but I knew it."
"Duck, I never meant to upset you, to hurt you."
Ducky frowned. "Did you not?" He spoke softly, but his tone was somewhat hard and cold.
Gibbs swallowed and glanced away from Ducky's now penetrating gaze. "Er," he said, swallowing the last of the wine in his glass. "Okay, guess I - I am sorry, Duck," he said quietly, now taking one of Ducky's hands. "About what I said to you and about you and Sop-"
Ducky laughed softly, "Leroy Jethro Gibbs, do not start lying to me now. I accept you are sorry for hurting me, but you are not in the least sorry that Sophie and I have split up, now are you?"
Gibbs shrugged. "I'm . . ."
Ducky smiled. "I thought as much. Now, as I was saying, sub-consciously I knew you were correct about what you said, and when you had gone I . . . Well, I spent some time thinking about it. And that made me re-examine my relationship with Sophie, what I was doing and what I was planning to do and why I was doing it. And I realized what a fool I'd been; an old fool," he added softly.
"You're not old, Duck."
Ducky smiled a little sadly. "Am I not? I sometimes think I am, Jethro. But that's beside the point. You were correct; I was trying to be someone I was not, am not. Sophie was trying to turn me into someone I wasn't and it wasn't going to work. It wasn't going to work for more than one reason, but the overwhelming reason was that the person she was trying to change me into, was not the person I wished to be. And yes, you were quite correct about the Corgis; it wasn't my idea to get rid of them; it was Sophie's."
"So you still getting rid of them?"
Ducky shook his head. "No. Nor am I selling this house and nor am I buying the brownstone in Georgetown."
Gibbs should feel happy, elated even at being proven right. But again he felt like a heel; had he not visited Ducky and pointed out what he was doing, then Ducky wouldn't have -
"It isn't your fault, Jethro," Ducky said quietly, taking a step nearer to Gibbs and putting his hand on his shoulder. Gibbs realized he was still holding his other hand. "In fact I really should be thanking you for making me see sense, for pointing out how foolish I was being and for making me see that I hadn't changed; that I hadn't changed at all. Not," he said softly, his tone now sad, "at all."
For a moment they stood and gazed at one another and Gibbs thought that Ducky might . . . Kiss him, the little voice in his head demanded. You know you want to. It'd be easy, he wants you to. Just kiss him. Kiss him and tell him why you really kissed him a week ago. Kiss him and -
The sound of Ducky's phone ringing silenced the voice and changed the atmosphere. Ducky let go of Gibbs's hand, took his other from Gibbs's shoulder and with an apologetic look and murmured comment, hurried from the room.
Several minutes went by before Ducky returned. As soon as he came back into the kitchen, Gibbs could see he was annoyed and that the relaxed Ducky had gone. "Problem?" he asked.
Ducky glanced at him and frowned. "Why would you think that?" his tone was clipped and irritation was clear.
Gibbs shrugged. "No reason. Just thought . . . You know, if you want to talk abou-"
"Good God, Jethro, what has got into you tonight?" Ducky demanded, moving across the kitchen to glare up at Gibbs.
Gibbs blinked and realized it was only the fridge he was leaning against that prevented him from taking a step backwards. He gave a half-shrug. "Don't know what you mean, Duck," he said mildly.
Ducky frowned at him. "All this wanting to talk! Since when have you ever wanted to talk about anything?" All hints of the relaxed, happier Ducky had fled, and Gibbs could see anger beginning to build up in Ducky's body.
For a moment he didn't know what to say. Ducky was right, he didn't talk. He'd never seen any point in rehashing things and going over and over them. He'd found during his three failed marriages that if he kept quiet when they started to scream and yell at him, after a while they shut up. Apparently, not getting a response was far more galling than an out and out argument. But this was different; this was Ducky and deep down Gibbs still felt they hadn't really gotten over the previous week. Like it or not, to his mind Ducky had dismissed it all far too quickly.
"Look, Duck," he said, wondering if he ought to risk putting his hand on Ducky's shoulder. "I don't know who was calling you and I don't need to know," he added swiftly. "But whoever it is has upset you or -"
"Or what?" Ducky demanded. "Oh, wait, I can guess. You still want to drag last week up, don't you? I have no idea why. I've told you I wish to forget all about it. No good can come of going over what you said and what I said and what you did and -" Ducky stopped speaking abruptly and for a moment let his gaze flicker away from Gibbs's.
Gibbs took a gamble. "You really want to forget it, Duck?" he asked softly. "You want to forget everything?"
Ducky looked back at him. "Yes. I've told you. I value our friendship, Jethro. And I just want to forget what happened."
Gibbs swallowed. "What about the fact I kissed you. You want to forget that?" He held his breath and waited.
For a moment Ducky's face changed, his expression became one Gibbs hadn't seen before. Once again he glanced away and under Gibbs's eyes his body seemed to grow more taunt, more tense, more upright. Finally Ducky looked back at him. His eyes had changed color, now they were more steel than pale blue, and for one of the few times ever, Gibbs couldn't read them. Normally Ducky's eyes were extremely vocal, but not now.
When Ducky spoke, his voice was low, flat, toneless. "I want to forget that most of all," he said. "Now," he went on, not giving Gibbs a chance to say anything. "If you'll excuse me, I'll continue with preparing supper. That is, of course, assuming you still wish to stay."
Still stunned by Ducky's words, it took Gibbs a moment or two to respond. "You know what, Duck," he said, trying to keep his tone casual, normal. "Reckon I'd better be getting home. Feed the fish, that kind of thing."
"Ah, yes, the fish," Ducky replied and nodded. "I quite understand. Well, thank you for coming over, Jethro, and for the bottle of wine, I do appreciate it. I'm sorry you can't stay." His tone was now very formal and his words measured. He moved to the kitchen door and opened it.
Gibbs had to bit his lip to prevent himself from asking 'are you'? So instead he just followed Ducky, the Ducky who was once again not the man Gibbs had known for so many years, out into to hall and to the front door. Just for a moment Gibbs paused, wanting to say something - anything - rather than just leave. In some ways it felt far worse, the gap between them seemed far wider, than it had done a week ago. But he didn't know what to say and he certainly couldn't do what he wanted to do.
So instead he gave Ducky's shoulder a hasty squeeze. "Look after yourself, Duck," he said, and strode out into the night.
"You too, Jethro," Ducky called after him. "Do drive carefully."
As he headed down the porch steps and to his car, Gibbs realized that never before had he felt like a guest in Ducky's house before. Never had he felt like a mere acquaintance.
As he drove back to his house he tried to figure out how they'd gone from laughing and teasing and being themselves, as well as being so close that he'd given serious consideration to kissing Ducky, to how they'd parted. It was all the fault of whoever had called Ducky up; that phone call had annoyed Ducky; that had upset him. That's what it was.
"Yeah, but you didn't help, did you? Trying to get him to talk. Why the hell couldn't you just have let it go? You know, like you normally do?" Silence answered him, which just about summed it all up. He still didn't know why he'd pushed; why he hadn't just left it at 'I want to forget what was said last week'. All he knew was that it seemed they had to rebuild their friendship all over again. "Ah, Duck," he said, as he stopped outside his house and turned the engine up. "Really screwed that up, didn't I?"
As he went into his house, poured himself a drink, turned the TV on and sat watching nothing, the one thing he kept remembering, the one thing he kept hearing over and over and over again was Ducky's 'I want to forget that most of all'.
As he, mechanically now, finished preparing and cooking supper Ducky sighed, several times. What on earth had possessed him to behave as he'd just done with Jethro? Now things were back to where they'd been a week ago, and in all honesty it was his fault.
It would be easy to lay all the blame on the phone call, and it was true that had irritated him very much indeed. The call had been Sophie trying to persuade him yet again to reconsider his decision to sell Reston House and buy the Georgetown brownstone. By the time he'd hung up on her, Ducky had begun to deeply regret ever meeting the woman and giving serious consideration to changing his phone number. However, no matter how annoyed she had made him, it hadn't been entirely her fault that things had deteriorated so quickly between Jethro and himself.
Ducky took his meal and the remains of the bottle of wine into the dining room and settled down to eat it - not that he was particularly hungry now, but he wasn't about to let the meal go to waste. The truth was that despite how normal he'd been when Jethro had first arrived, how relaxed, how he'd assured Jethro that he didn't want to rehash what had happened a week ago, how he'd meant what he'd said that Jethro had been correct and really Ducky should be thanking him, part of him still felt a tinge of anger towards Jethro for 'spoiling it all'.
He took a mouthful of the savory pasta and then a sip of wine and sighed. "Oh, Jethro," he murmured. "You were perfect correct in what you said, and as my friend you were right to say it, I just wish you hadn't said it." Except, had Jethro not said the things, then Ducky might now be packing up him things, saying goodbye to the Corgis and starting a new life as a person he didn't want to be.
If only Jethro hadn't tried to talk about what he'd said, then . . . Then what? They'd now both be sitting at the table eating their meal, drinking the wine, chatting and . . . And at the end of the evening Jethro would squeeze his shoulder, maybe even put his hand around his neck, or brush his hair back or hug him and then he'd go home, and once more Ducky would be left wanting what he knew he could never have.
Or could he? There had been something in Jethro's behavior, something in his eyes, a look on his face just before the phone had rung that had made Ducky think for one fleeting moment that Jethro just might be considering kissing him. But that was foolish. There was only one circumstance under which Jethro would ever kiss him: to prove to Ducky how much Ducky hadn't changed. "You bastard," he said angrily, throwing down his napkin and standing up. "You utter bastard." Unwittingly he repeated the words he'd said to Jethro when he had kissed him.
And that was the whole problem; that was what it was all about. Because Ducky could not forget the look on Jethro's face or the tone in his voice when he'd wiped the back of his hand over his mouth and had said 'Yeah, Duck. She's really changed you'. He could not, no matter how hard he'd tried, forget the betrayal he'd felt at Jethro's actions, and while he'd told himself, and he believed what he'd told himself, Jethro's reasons had been justified, because even now he wasn't certain Jethro's words would have been enough, he couldn't just forgive and forget.
He glanced at the bottle of wine and quickly calculated just how much he'd drunk; it was actually less than he'd thought. Besides, he felt perfectly fine and capable of driving, and while he knew a lot of people who had had a drink or two or three thought that, when in fact they shouldn't even consider driving, he knew he actually was fine to drive. Had he genuinely not believed that to be the case, he would have called a taxi.
He took the remains of his meal into the kitchen and emptied into the kitchen trashcan and put the plate and cutlery into soak. Then he headed for the hall and paid a quick visit to the downstairs bathroom before putting on his hat and coat. Pausing for a second or two to really think about what he was about to do, he grabbed the keys to the Morgan and went out into the night.
As he drove, it suddenly became perfectly clear. He knew now he never should have let Jethro walk out of his house without telling him exactly what was on his mind. He knew they had to deal with the kiss and the betrayal and what it meant, and they had to deal with it now. They had to deal with it before it ate Ducky up inside and consumed him and as a result destroyed their friendship. Ducky had a large number of acquaintances, many of whom he would refer to as 'friend' when describing them. However, his friendship with Jethro was the single most important thing in his life and as such he did not wish to lose it. If they didn't discuss the kiss, the words he could dismiss, then ultimately their friendship would deteriorate.
As he reached the street in which Jethro lived, he had one hope: that Jethro hadn't got company. However, Ducky was now determined; company of not, they would deal with this. If that Hart woman or anyone else was there, Jethro would simple have to tell her to leave - and if he didn't, Ducky himself would.
He stopped, parked the Morgan and got out. There wasn't any strange car outside Jethro's house, of course that didn't necessarily mean anything, but it was a good sign; as was the fact that Jethro's car and truck both stood in his drive, and there were signs of lights showing through the curtains in the sitting room.
Straightening his coat and pulling his determination around him, Ducky walked slowly up the drive, paused for another second or two before ringing the doorbell.
The sound of the doorbell shattered the silence. For a moment Gibbs was tempted to ignore it. After all, it wouldn't be anything or anyone important. If it was something work or case related he'd get a phone call, Fornell was still busy with the case that had necessitated him growing a beard - so there was no one else he wanted to see. Except one person, and he'd hardly be outside, would he?
The bell rang again; Gibbs turned his head and glared at the door. Then he sighed; something told him that whoever it was outside was not going to just go away. Ah, well, he'd just have to get rid of whoever it was.
Not even bothering to put his glass of bourbon down, he stood up and strode to the door, unlocked it and pulled it open prepared to be curt and short with whoever stood there. "Duck?" he exclaimed, surprise racing through him. For a second he actually wondered if he was seeing things; if his mind was playing tricks on him; if his wishes to see Ducky had . . . He shook his head and blinked. "Hey, Duck," he managed. "This is a surprise."
Ducky gave a brief nod. "Yes, I imagine it must be. May I come in?"
"What? Oh, sure. Yeah, come in." Gibbs moved away from the door and ushered Ducky inside, before shutting the door and relocking it. He turned around to find that Ducky had his hat in his hand and was watching him.
"One of these days you really must tell me just that it was that finally persuaded you to put a lock on your door," Ducky said. His tone was mild and contained almost a hint of gentle teasing.
Gibbs shrugged. "Nothing to tell, Duck. Just one unwanted visitor too many," he said.
For a moment Ducky frowned. "It must have been quite an 'unwanted' one, given the ones you have had in the past," he said.
Gibbs shrugged again. "Guess so," he said. "Well, not in the way you mean. I mean it wasn't another Ari or - Duck, why are you here?"
Ducky took his coat off and without waiting for Jethro to take it, hung it and his hat up. "I came to talk to you," he said quietly.
Ducky nodded. "Yes."
"Thought you said you didn't want to talk. Thought you -"
"I did, yes. However, I was wrong. Well, at least I wasn't exactly wrong as such. More -"
"Either you were wrong or you weren't, Duck." Gibbs turned and went back into his living room. "Drink?" he said, when Ducky appeared in the doorway.
Ducky shook his head. "No, thank you," he said.
"Got some decent stuff, if you want that."
Again Ducky shook his head. "No, thank you," he said, his tone polite. "And if you'd be so kind, I think it would be better if you put your glass down."
Gibbs widened his eyes. "Oh, you do, do you. You telling me how much I can drink now, Dr. Mallard?" His tone was harder than he'd intended.
Ducky sighed and moved towards Gibbs. "No," he said, shaking his head and putting his hand on Gibbs's arm. "Of course I'm not, Jethro. I apologize for the way it sounded. "It's just . . . Actually, on second thoughts, yes, please, I will have a drink - of the decent stuff," he added hastily.
For a moment or two Gibbs just stood where he was looking down at Ducky. He bit back the urge to make a sarcastic comment or two, but realized the whole point was they were meant to be healing the rift between them, not making it wider. He sighed to himself because there was a rift to heal. So instead of speaking, he put his hand over Ducky's squeezed it for a second or so, before moving away to get Ducky a drink.
"Thank you," Ducky said his own oddly formal as he took the glass.
Gibbs nodded and took another sip of his own bourbon. "You're welcome," he replied. "Sit down if you want to." As he heard his own voice and the words, he winced. "Ah, Duck," he said, softening his tone and putting his hand on Ducky's shoulder, "didn't mean that to sound so - you know."
Ducky was silent for a fraction of a second before sighing softly and saying, "I know, Jethro. I know." He looked up at Gibbs and his eyes showed more than a hint of sorrow. "Maybe I shouldn't have come after all," he said quietly.
Gibbs shook his head and tightened the grip he had on Ducky's shoulder. "No," he said. "Glad you did."
"You are?" Ducky sounded almost surprised.
"Yeah. Yeah, Duck, I am. Very glad."
Ducky smiled, just a half smile, but it touched his eyes and warmed Gibbs. "In that case, why don't we both sit down?" he asked, before sitting on the couch and looking expectantly at Gibbs until he sat down next to him.
"We'll be all right, Duck," Gibbs said, after the silence that normally never bothered him, stretched between them.
Ducky smiled at him again. "You were correct," he said, after taking a sip of his drink.
Gibbs tried to ignore that fact that Ducky hadn't agreed with his 'we'll be all right'; instead he told himself that Ducky hadn't, at least, contradicted him. "I was?"
"Mmm, and not just about Sophie and the changes I was making."
"But that we do need to . . . You hurt me, Jethro. You hurt me very much."
"Know that, Duck."
"You hurt me more than anyone ever has, which isn't surprising given how close we are; how important you are to me." Ducky paused and took another sip of his drink. Then he spoke again.
However, Gibbs didn't hear what else Ducky said, because all he was focusing on was Ducky's 'how important you are to me'; present tense, not past. They would be all right; he was sure of that. Then he realized Ducky had fallen silent and was looking at him; the look was partly irritated, partly indulgent. "Um," Gibbs said, wondering quite how he could confess to not actually hearing Ducky.
Ducky shook his head. "Ah, Jethro," he said. "I am aware that you do, on occasions, tune me out when we are at the office and I am in a particularly rambling mood. However, given that it was you who first came to see me tonight, I would have thought that -"
"I'd have listened to you? Yeah, Duck. You're right. I was just . . . Sorry. If it helps, I was thinking about you, about us," he added.
Ducky raised an eyebrow. "Were you now?" he asked, his tone almost speculative.
Gibbs nodded. "Yeah, Duck, I was. Look I know I hurt you; I know I screwed up. I know what I said was right, you said that, but I still could have, should have, said it better. But I just wanted to get through to you and with you selling your home and - I didn't think I had the time to . . ." he trailed off and shrugged. "I am sorry for hurting you," he said, taking Ducky's hand and squeezing it. "Really I am."
Ducky nodded. "I know you are. And I too am sorry."
Gibbs frowned. "For?"
"Firstly for not telling you about Mother dying, and secondly for ordering you out of my house last week. I should have - we should have - talked further." For a moment Ducky looked away; then he looked back at Gibbs. "I hurt you too, did I not?" he said quietly. "By not telling you about Mother?"
Gibbs wasn't even tempted to lie. Instead he took another swallow of his drink and said quietly, "Yeah, Duck. You did. Stupid, I know. But you did."
Ducky sighed. "I am sorry about that. I should have told you, told the team - but certainly told you. It was - I didn't . . . I felt somewhat foolish by just how upset I was by her death."
Ducky nodded and again turned his gaze away from Gibbs and instead looked down at his lap. "Yes. She . . . It was her time; it was past her time. She was no longer my mother; she was in many ways a stranger. Nonetheless, she had been such a large part of my life for so long that I . . . I still miss her," he said softly. "I miss her very much. I sometimes even - But that's foolish."
"Go home and think she'll be there?" Gibbs spoke quietly.
Ducky looked up at him, his eyes slightly wide. "Yes," he said softly. "I wish I had told you," he said, now reversing the grip Gibbs had on his hand and squeezing Gibbs's hand. "And I wish I had have had some kind of service for her. But -"
Gibbs didnít want to make Ducky say the words he expected, so instead he cut in gently but quickly with, "You still could, Duck,"
"But who . . ."
"You, me, the kids, Tobias. Any other of your friends."
Ducky frowned a little. "But not all of them knew Mother."
Gibbs shrugged. "Seem to remember someone telling me once that funerals were for the living not the dead. Reckon the same applies to some kind of service, don't you?"
Ducky was silent as he stared at Gibbs. Then he gave a half shrug and faint smile and said quietly, "Maybe you are correct. Maybe I should, a small dinner party, perhaps in honor of - But Mother really isn't what I came here to discuss." Now he spoke slightly more forcefully and he let his grip on Gibbs's hand loosen.
"Never thought I'd see the day you'd throw me out of your house," Gibbs said, after another brief spell of silence.
"Nor did I." Ducky's tone was sad. "Nor," he went on, looking Gibbs directly in the eyes, "did I ever think I'd see the day when you would not only deliberately hurt me, but," he broke off and took a long swallow of his drink, before putting his glass back down on the table. He was silent for so long Gibbs almost thought he wouldn't go on. However, he watched as Ducky's eyes hardened and his entire body became tense. "But also I never thought the day would come when you would take advantage of the feelings you know I have for you. And that, Jethro," he went on, "is the thing I find the hardest to forget or to forgive."
Gibbs swallowed and looked down at the floor. So they finally had gotten to the kiss. The words they'd exchanged, yeah, they'd hurt, but he knew Ducky well enough to know those could be forgotten and forgiven. But the kiss . . . He should say something; he knew that. He had to say something. He just didn't know what to say. How to say it. He didn't do words; he did actions - and the only one action he could think of doing, he knew would not be a good idea. "Duck," he started, hoping something would follow.
"I don't need to ask you if you know how I feel about you, how I've always felt about you," Ducky clarified swiftly. "I don't need to ask, because of what you said when you . . ."
"Kissed you?" Gibbs said, now looking at Ducky. "Is it that hard to say, Duck? Besides, thought you said you wanted to forget the fact I'd kissed you most of all?" He silently cursed himself for the words and the tone, but a cornered animal strikes back, and that's how he felt: cornered. He heard Ducky's soft gasp of shock, but he ignored it and instead stood up and grabbed the bottle of decent whiskey and the bottle of bourbon and sloshed some of the former into Ducky's glass and some of the latter into his own. "Here," he picked Ducky's glass up and handed it to him.
For a moment he thought Ducky would refuse. But then he took the glass, Gibbs tried hard to ignore the way Ducky's hand was shaking slightly. Ducky held the glass with both hands and put it to his mouth, taking a long swallow and then a second one.
Unable to stand by and watch Ducky's hands shaking as much as they were, Gibbs reached for the glass and gently took it from Ducky and put it down on the table; then he sat back down next to Ducky.
"How could you, Jethro?" Ducky tone was heavy with pain and low. "How could you kiss you me knowing how much I have always wanted you to kiss me? And how could you say what you said? Do I truly mean that little to you?"
"'To make a point', that's what you said. 'To make a point'. My God, Jethro, how could you?"
Gibbs shook his head and made a helpless gesture with his hands. "Duck, I . . ."
"You kissed me to prove Sophie hadn't changed me, did you not? Well?" he demanded.
Gibbs nodded. "Yeah. But. Duck -"
"You kissed me, Jethro. You kissed me and went on kissing me until the second I kissed you back and then . . . And then -"
"And wiped the back of your hand over your mouth. Was kissing me really that disgusting, Jethro? Did you have to wipe away every trace of it?"
"Ducky, I -"
"And the look on your face and the tone in your voice. It was . . . You were a stranger to me in that moment, Jethro."
Gibbs stared at him. "What do you want me to say, Duck?" he asked quietly.
Ducky frowned. "What the hell kind of question if that? How about -"
"Is that a question or a statement?"
"Bit of both, I guess."
"Ducky, look, I am sorry. I'm sorry for what I said, for how I said it and for -"
"What you did?"
Gibbs swallowed. "Kind of."
"'Kind of'? What the hell is 'kind of'? Well, Jethro?"
Gibbs took a deep breath. "I shouldn't have kissed you, Duck. Not then and not for the reason I gave you. You're right. I kissed you because I knew you'd kiss me back. You're right; I did take advantage of your feelings for me. I did abuse your trust, our friendship - everything. You're right. Totally right. I was, as you said, a bastard. But . . ." He trailed off and took another deep breath.
However, before he could say anything else, not that he was entirely sure what he was going to say, Ducky spoke. "'Not then'?" he said, his tone low.
"You said 'Not then', when you were referring to kissing me."
Ducky frowned. "Yes, you did. What did you mean?"
Again the silence stretched between them as Gibbs tried to decide what to say. "Not sure now's the right time, Duck," he finally decided on.
Ducky put his head slightly on one side and stared unblinkingly at him. "And I'm not sure there will be another time," he said, his tone flat, low and slightly chilled.
"I investigated her. Sophie," Gibbs clarified.
Ducky shrugged. "That does not surprise me." He seemed prepared, for now at least, to let the change of subject continue.
Gibbs blinked at him. "It doesn't?"
Ducky's lips twitched very slightly. "It would have surprised me had you not done so."
"Doesn't it bother you"?
Ducky shrugged again. "I don't regard it was being overly important." Then he asked, "Did you find anything out?"
Gibbs gave him a half-smile. "Nah. Nothing -"
"For which you were looking?" Ducky's tone was mild. "Maybe hoping to find?"
"Duck, I'm not . . ." He trailed off under Ducky's once more cold gaze. "Guess I am," he added. "Kissing you wasn't disgusting."
Ducky looked at him. "Was it not?"
Gibbs shook his head. "No. In fact -"
"Why did you kiss me, Jethro? The truth, if you'd be so kind."
Gibbs briefly closed his eyes. "I did kiss you to try to get through to you, Duck. To shake you, to -"
"Make a point?"
"No. Yes. No. No. At least . . . At the time I told myself that was why I kissed you. And I believed it, but . . ." he trailed off and risked taking Ducky's hand. To his surprise, after stiffening for a moment, Ducky let his hand be taken. "I realized something while you were away."
"And that something would be?"
Gibbs swallowed. It was now or never. The truth or a lie. Friendship or betrayal. He chose his course. "That things had changed, that I'd changed, that my feelings for you had changed." He looked down at their now loosely linked hands and then back at Ducky. "I wanted to kiss you, Duck. And I had done for some time," he said quietly. "I just hadn't -"
"Realized it?" Ducky's voice was low.
Gibbs nodded. "Yeah, and admitted it to myself." Ducky just sat and stared at him, his eyes, normally an indication of his mood and what he was thinking and feeling, giving nothing away.
"I see," he said finally; his tone also gave nothing away.
"Wasn't going to tell you," Gibbs said quietly.
"Were you not?"
Gibbs shook his head. "No."
"And why might that have been?"
Gibbs looked at him in surprise. "How about blatant betrayal of our friendship, for a start?"
"And . . . And I'm not . . . Hell, Duck, I can't offer you anything."
Ducky studied Gibbs for some time before saying, his tone placid, "You were jealous, were you not? Of Sophie? Of the position you believed she occupied in my life? For the fact that she appeared to have replaced you in my affections? For the fact that she knew about Mother whilst you did not?"
Gibbs opened his mouth and closed it again before nodding. "Yeah. Guess I was."
"All right. I was. That make you happy?" Gibbs's tone was now harder.
Ducky shook his head. "No, it does not make me happy, Jethro. It -"
"Amuses you? Guess it is pathetic."
"Jethro! How can you say that? Think that? It does not amuse me, nor do I see it as 'pathetic'. I'm sorry you felt that way. You had no need."
Gibbs frowned. "Sure seemed like it."
Ducky sighed. "Yes, I realize that now. I was selfish," he said.
"Selfish? You? Come on, Duck, that's stupid."
But Ducky shook his head. "No. No, it is not. I was selfish. I had this new person in my life, she . . . I let myself be swept up in the whole idea of change and I forgot what was important. I . . . You asked me if I was asking you out on a date."
Gibbs blinked at the change in subject. "You did?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes."
"Oh, yeah. You did. And were you?"
Ducky looked from one side to the other. "In a way, I think I was. No, I know I was. Or at least I wanted to ask you to have dinner with me. But then Abigail called and . . . And soon after that I met Sophie and - Well you know the rest. Jethro, what I'm trying to say is that you won't lose my friendship, nor will anyone ever replace you in my affections. You have no reason to be jealous, none at all. And I understand now why you did what you did, even why you said what you said, although I confess it still hurts me. But I do understand. Truly I do. And I think we can, no, I know we can put things right. We can put this behind us, we can put it down to an aberration, to a tiff even the closest of friends have from time to time. We can go back to how things were and we can look forward, not back. We can forget last week, what was said and what was done and we can - Look, tomorrow, let us go out to dinner. Would you like that? Would you come out to dinner with me, Jethro? We can go to the Rooftop Grill and you can try -"
If he'd stopped to think about it, Gibbs wouldn't have done it. But as he was listening to Ducky's words, his heart began to sink as he realized Ducky was trying to explain away, to justify, to excuse, the reason Gibbs had kissed him. He was dismissing Gibbs's 'I realized, I admitted, my feelings for you had changed', and brushing them aside, putting them down to simply Gibbs being jealous and afraid of losing Ducky. But that wasn't it; Gibbs knew that. So he did what he did best: he acted. He silenced Ducky in the most effective and simplest way possible - he kissed him.
And he went on kissing him until Ducky gave in and began to kiss him back. But this time, as he felt Ducky begin to return the kiss, as he felt Ducky move nearer to him, he didn't yank his mouth away and wipe the kiss away and say the dreadful things he'd said a week ago, this time he simply continued to kiss Ducky, gathering him nearer to him, slipping one hand under his heavy, silky hair and putting his other arm protectively, possessively, around Ducky's back.
Maybe he should have kept the first kiss brief, but he didn't. He wanted Ducky to know what he'd said about his feelings for him having changed were true; he didnít want Ducky to be under any misapprehension, any illusion as to how Gibbs felt.
Finally though even he had to breathe, and with great reluctance he took his mouth from Ducky's and gulped in some much needed air. Already though he was missing Ducky's mouth, missing the taste of him, the scent of him, the feeling of him in his arms. Missing how Ducky's lips had finally parted for him and he'd slipped his tongue inside Ducky's mouth. Missed the little noises Ducky had made as the kiss had deepened and lengthened. In fact he missed it so much, after taking another gulp of air, he leaned forward to put his mouth back on Ducky's but -
"Wait," Ducky said softly.
Swallowing hard, Gibbs stopped and instead sat back upright. "Duck?" he said, asking more than one question. "You okay?" He looked at Ducky, looked at how dark his eyes had become, not with anger but with desire, how swollen his lips were, how flushed his cheeks were and how his eyes blazed with a love he'd never tried to hide, but Gibbs had never truly acknowledged.
"Why?" Ducky whispered.
"Did I kiss you?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes."
"Because I wanted to, Duck. I wanted to kiss you more than I've ever wanted to kiss anyone. I wanted to make sure you knew it wasn't because I was jealous or felt pushed out, but because I wanted to make you realize that it wasn't about proving a point, but because I wanted you to want me and not Sophie."
Ducky stared at him. "You kissed me to make me acknowledge how much I still wanted you? How I was still in love with you?" His tone was low and his gaze, although still filled with love, affection and desire was also slightly puzzled and hesitant. "That I hadn't changed?" he whispered.
"Yes," Gibbs said, aware his own tone was hesitant and somewhat unsure. Not that he was unsure of his feelings or why he'd kissed Ducky, he was just slightly uncertain as to whether he'd understood Ducky correctly.
Ducky smiled, which Gibbs found partly reassuring. "You do not sound that certain, my dear," he said.
"Just not totally sure what you said and what I agreed to makes it sound good. I wanted you, Duck. I wanted to kiss you. Yeah, I wanted you to want me. But most of all, I wanted to show you my feelings for you weren't just those of a friend. And I wanted - Hell, I love you, Duck. But you know that, don't you? Least you know I love you as a friend, right?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. But -"
"But it's not just as a friend any longer. I love you in the way you love me. I want you and me to be together."
Gibbs nodded. "Yes. I do, Duck. I want it a hell of a lot. I mean I'll understand though it you don't . . . In fact why would you? I know you've always . . . But -"
This time Ducky leaned forward and kissed him. This kiss was briefer; Gibbs got the feeling it was more to silence him than for any other reason. After a moment or two, Ducky broke the kiss and leaned back a little, he was still watching Gibbs intently. He seemed, to Gibbs's eyes, to be searching for something, an answer maybe, but Gibbs wasn't sure he knew the question.
Then Ducky took his hand between both of his and held it. "I have to ask you, Jethro, are you certain? Are you absolutely certain? Certain that you want me, certain that you want to kiss me?" Gibbs opened his mouth, but Ducky shook his head. "Hear me out, please, Jethro. I need to be certain that you kissed me for the right reasons and not out of some sense of guilt or the need to reassure yourself of your position in my affections. Because if it is for either or indeed both of those reasons, I can understand it; I can accept it; I can forgive it even. But if it is, then it can never happen again. Do you understand me, Jethro? Yes, you know my feelings for you go beyond that of close, intimate friendship; yes, you know I love you beyond that of a dear, dear friend, you know that and you've always known it. But I'm not certain you are aware quite how deeply my feelings go. In fact you can't."
"Duck, I . . ." Gibbs trailed off. He hadn't got the pretty words to tell Ducky how he felt, how much he wanted this. Ducky had them, he didn't. But he had to say something; he had to try to find a way to reassure Ducky, to assure him, that his motives were the right ones. "Duck," he said, shifting his hand slightly in Ducky's double grip so that he could hold Ducky's hand. "I know why I kissed you and it was for the 'right' reasons. I kissed you because I wanted to, I still want to. But I can understand you might have problems believing that."
"I want to believe it," Ducky said softly. "I want to believe it more than I have ever wanted to believe anything. It's just -"
"Difficult, given last week?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes," he said. "I'm sorry, my dear. Truly I am. If it's any help at all, I believe that you believe what you are saying is the truth."
"But you're not completely sure I actually do?"
Ducky sighed softly. "No, Jethro. I -"
Gibbs nodded. "It's okay, Duck. I get it."
"Mmm, and truth is, if I were you I wouldn't believe me either. In fact, I didn't expect you to."
Ducky's eyes widened slightly. "You did not?"
Gibbs shook his head. "Not really, no. I wanted you to, God, I wanted you to. But I didn't think you would."
"I love you, Jethro, and that isn't going to change."
"Know that, Duck. And I'm not going to stop loving you either. And I'll wait."
"Yeah. I will, Duck. Because you're worth waiting for and also because I need you to be sure too. I need you to know, to believe, that I kissed you because I wanted to. I need you to believe this isn't about guilt or about where I stand in your affections."
Ducky sighed softly. "It would be so easy," he said, now cupping Gibbs's cheek and lightly stroking it. "So very easy. It's everything I've always wanted. I don't know why I'm . . . I'm being foolish, Jethro. You've never lied to me and you're not going to now. I know that. I don't know why I'm even hesitating. The way you kissed me told me the truth. Let us just -"
Again Gibbs silenced him with a kiss; this one like the one Ducky silenced him with he kept brief. When he took his mouth from Ducky's, he heard Ducky moan with regret and saw the look echoed on Ducky's face.
"Jethro," he murmured, now leaning nearer to Gibbs.
Gibbs held him gently, but firmly in place and shook his head. "No, Duck," he said. "You're still not totally sure; I know you too well. Can't make love to you until I know you really believe me."
"You want to make love to me?" Ducky sounded so surprised, Gibbs couldn't help laughing.
"Sorry, Duck," he said swiftly. "It's just . . . What did you think I wanted to do?"
Under his eyes he saw a touch more color race to Ducky's cheeks, as he looked at him. "I don't believe I had thought that far ahead."
"Had you now?" Ducky's look was speculative, as was his tone.
"Yeah. I had. But we're not going to. Not tonight."
Ducky sighed softly. "So what are we going to do?"
"Well, I reckon given what you've drunk here and at your place earlier, that you shouldn't drive home."
"I agree with you."
"So there are three choices. One, I call you a cab to take you home and I'll pick you up in the morning and bring you back here to collect the Morgan. Two, you sleep in my bed and I'll sleep here on the couch. Three, we share my bed, as we've done before, and get some sleep."
Ducky stared at him for another moment or two. Then he said quietly, "Jethro, I -"
This time Gibbs put his finger on Ducky's lips. "Hush, Duck," he said softly. "Let's do it my way for now, okay?"
Ducky stared at him for a long time. "If I were to tell you that any doubts I may have had a short time ago have been assuaged by your words, you would not necessarily believe me, would you?" His tone was matter-of-fact.
"I'd believe that you'd believe what you were saying, but -"
"You still want to be certain that I'm certain."
"Something like that, yeah. So, what's it to be? One, two or three?"
"Oh, three. I really do not feel like going out into the night again and I have no intention of making you sleep on this thing." Ducky nodded at the couch they sat on. "Although, I -" He stopped abruptly. Gibbs looked at him, not saying anything, knowing what must be going through Ducky's mind, but willing him not to say anything. Not tonight. To his relief and partial surprise Ducky didn't. Instead he just smiled and patted Gibbs's hand. "Shall we go up now? I confess I am suddenly feeling extremely weary and very tired. I haven't been sleeping what well of late. In fact not since . . ."
"You mom died?" Gibbs spoke softly.
Ducky nodded and sighed. Then said quietly, "In fact not for a few weeks prior to her departure. Oh, Jethro, I should have -"
This time Gibbs didn't kiss Ducky to silence him; instead he just pulled him into his arms and held him. "Hush, Duck," he said quietly, kissing the top of Ducky's head. "No more talk. Let's go and get some sleep. Okay?"
For a moment Ducky just rested against him, his head a comfortable and comforting weight on Gibbs's shoulder. Then he looked up and smiled. "Yes, I think that would be a very good idea."
Gibbs stood up and offered Ducky his hand. "Come on, then," he said.
Ducky fell asleep within seconds, it seemed, of his head touching the pillow. There was enough light from the moon shining in through the not quite closed curtains, as well as the dull lamp on Gibbs's nightstand, which he hadn't yet turned off, for Gibbs to be able to see Ducky's face.
He took advantage of the fact that Ducky couldn't see him to really study him for a while. He realized just how tired Ducky looked, how much older, than he normally looked, he appeared, how weighed down almost. And yet as he watched Ducky sleep, as he felt one of Ducky's hands move and cover his own, as he leaned over and lightly kissed Ducky's temple, he saw some weariness begin to fade, he saw some of the extra years begin to leave Ducky's pale face.
"It'll be all right, Duck," he murmured. "We'll be all right. And we'll work out. Know we will." Kissing Ducky one more time, he fumbled to turn out the light, before settling down next to Ducky. For a moment or two he paused, then he put one arm across Ducky and felt sure he heard a soft sigh of pleasure as Ducky's body seemed to move towards his.
As he closed his eyes and waited for sleep to claim him, he just hoped his words were right, because he'd already gotten used to kissing Ducky, gotten used to Ducky turning him on, and gotten used to Ducky being in his bed, in him arms. Maybe, if he was lucky, the next time Ducky was there, it wouldn't be just to sleep.
LINKS TO ALL THE STORIES IN THE TESTING FRIENDSHIP SERIES
Making A Mistake
Making Ducky Think
Making Gibbs Think
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