A DOUBLE CELEBRATION
It's Ducky's birthday and the team plan a surprise for him. However, when they return to their home following the surprise, Jethro has a second surprise of his own.
An established relationship story.
Written: August 2005. Word count: 8,444.
The day was unseasonably cool when Jethro and Ducky arrived at NCIS Headquarters. As had become his custom, Jethro walked his lover to Autopsy. Cases or an emergency permitting, he'd been making the unnecessary journey for the past two months, and despite telling himself that it was unnecessary and illogical, he couldn't seem to break the habit.
It had started when he'd received an envelope containing a photograph of Ducky with a carefully added red hole in the centre of his head. For three weeks, from that moment, Jethro had barely let Ducky out of his sight, driving the Medical Examiner to irritation with his perpetual and, in Ducky's opinion, over the top protection.
But Ari was dead now and had been for two months. Taken down by Jethro himself and Tobias Fornell in an unplanned, unauthorized, but totally coordinated effort. Jethro had put two bullets in his nemesis's brain, where he knew he should have placed them months before. Fornell had double tapped the heart - not that Jethro was convinced the bastard had one. Both men had been immediately subjected to heated and angry interviews with their own Directors, and faced joint disciplinary charges from the FBI, NCIS, the CIA, and the Secret Service. But then for reasons neither Jethro nor Tobias had been privy to, all charges were dropped, and instead the two senior agents had been commended for their swift action.
So there was no need for Jethro to continue to escort Ducky to his lair, but still he did so. He enjoyed the few extra peaceful moments it gave him in his lover's company before the demands of the day overtook them both.
The door swished open revealing a brightly lit, but empty room. Ducky sighed. "I do wish the youth of today paid more attention to punctuality than to their iPods, PDAs, and whatever other gadgets they play with. I sometimes think that whilst being able to tell what's happening on the other side of the world as it happens, or knowing the difference between a megabyte and a gigabyte, none of them can actually tell the time. What?" he said, tilting his head back to look up at Jethro.
As the hat Ducky habitually wore began to tumble off, Jethro caught it, pushed it back on, and instead bent the brim back. He smiled down at his friend. "Nothing, Duck. Besides, I'm not complaining. It means I get to do this before I go." Now he did take Ducky's hat off, lowered his head and, as Ducky tilted his head back further, brushed his lips across those of his lover. Handing the hat back, he ruffled Ducky's hair, winked and turned on his heel to leave. "Catch you later, Duck," he said and strode out of Autopsy, secure in the knowledge that the security camera would have picked up nothing other than his back.
He was about to push the elevator button, when a hissed, "Gibbs," drew his attention to the stairwell. He was surprised to see that the door had been propped open.
"Abbs?" he glanced up to see her leaning over the banister.
"Come up here," she said, and before Jethro could say anything, she'd vanished.
Frowning, he took the stairs two at a time. In Abby's lab he found DiNozzo, McGee, and Jimmy Palmer, as well as Abby herself. She was beaming; his agents looked furtive; Palmer looked worried. "Dr. Mallard's looking for you, Palmer," he said.
"Oh, dear. I told you I shouldn't be here, Abby. Dr. Mallard specifically told me that I must not be late today. He says that unpunctuality is a sign of –"
"Jimmy," Abby said forcefully. "Be quiet and let me explain."
"Explain what?" Jethro asked, glancing from one of his team to the other. "McGee," he added, spying a cup of coffee in the young man's hand. "Has that got sugar in it?"
"Er, no, sir. Boss. Gibbs. You see I thought that I'd - Oh," he added, as the Styrofoam cup was neatly removed from his hand.
Gibbs took a small sip and nodded appreciatively. As well as not putting sugar in the coffee, McGee also hadn't despoiled the caffeine with milk. He took another, much larger, swallow. It wasn't strong enough for his ideal tastes, but it would do - for now.
"I warned you, McGee," DiNozzo said softly. "If you want to ensure your coffee's safe, learn to drink it like I do. Gibbs won't touch that."
"Yes, but, Tony -"
"Maybe I should -"
"Be quiet!" Abby snapped, doing an excellent female impersonation of Jethro himself. The three younger men immediately shut their mouths and turned to her.
"What's going on, Abbs?" Jethro asked, adding, as though it had only just occurred to him, "and why aren't you two at your desks?" DiNozzo and McGee glanced at him, and then back at Abby.
"I told them to meet me here," she said. "Jimmy too."
"Oh, you did, did you? Did someone reorganize the chain of command and forget to tell me?"
"Gibbs. Listen. Look, it's Ducky's birthday next month, isn't it?"
Jethro nodded. "Yes, the fifteenth. Why?"
"What have you got planned for him?"
Jethro blinked. To be honest he hadn't actually thought that far ahead. However, given that it was likely to be the same ‘plan' as all the previous years the two old friends had been in the same city, it didn't really require him to make any plans. "Dinner," he said.
"Is that it?" Abby demanded. "Dinner? You can buy him dinner any day."
Jethro, amused despite himself, just looked at her. "What do you suggest?"
"I, that is, we," she glanced around, including DiNozzo, McGee, and Palmer in her look, "thought about a surprise party." Jethro opened his mouth. However, Abby beat him to it. "But then we realized that even though Ducky might like that, you'd hate it. And although it's Ducky's birthday, you are his -" she came to an abrupt halt, and to Jethro's surprise her cheeks began to flush.
He waited. He and Ducky had been officially living together for six months now, since the death of Mrs. Mallard. The team all knew it, hadn't seemed surprised by the news, nor bothered by it, but as yet not one of them had actually addressed the fact in so many words. He continued to wait. The three younger men were all staring unblinkingly at Abby; they seemed to be holding their breath.
Finally proving, as she'd done on many occasions, that she was as fearless as she was intelligent,
Abby said firmly, "Partner, we thought that we ought to be fair to you too. So we wondered about a surprise dinner. The surprise being that we'll all be there too." And then she hurried on, barely giving Jethro a chance to speak. "I'll organize it all, Gibbs. You won't have to do a thing, apart from getting Ducky there. That is, without letting on that we'll be there. So what do you say, Gibbs? It'll be fun. Ducky'll love it. You know he will." She paused for a second, then went on again. "It'll do him good, Gibbs," she said, her voice softer. "Please," she added.
Jethro looked at the four of them in turn. For a moment they reminded him of eager schoolchildren. Abby was correct, Ducky would love it, and it would indeed do him good. It had been a hell of a two years for Ducky…..
Held hostage and forced to watch his then young assistant shot, possibly fatally. Kidnapped and within minutes of losing his own life. Having to perform autopsies on two of their own, and probably worst of all, the death of his beloved mother. Prior to her death Ducky had, following weeks of soul-searching, finally given in and put her in a home, where she had been well taken care of, and had seemingly been happy and content.
With his mother safely ensconced in the home, Ducky had gone off, relatively contently, to the Medical Examiner's conference. He'd only been there one day when the call from the home came; the call that anyone with a loved one in hospital or a home dreads. With no time left to contact Ducky, Jethro had arrived at the home to be told that she had very little time left, and that she would not recognize him.
However, as he'd reached her side, her eyes had opened and she'd spoken, her voice clearer and more lucid than it had been for several weeks. "Jethro dear," she said, reaching up to take his hand. "Promise me you'll take care of Donald for me."
Jethro had enfolded the dry hand in his. "Yes, ma'am," he said. "I promise."
She had sighed and her eyes had closed; for a moment he'd thought she'd gone. Then they opened again and she spoke, her voice low and breathless. She tugged him nearer; he sat on the edge of her bed and let his head be pulled down. "No more wives, Jethro," she managed between gasps for air. "Promise me. No more wives. Jethro, please."
His eyes blurred with tears, Jethro had gathered her up into his arms and whispered into her ear.
"I promise, Mrs. Mallard. No more wives."
This time the sigh was longer, and then she'd fallen silent and still and become a heavy weight in his embrace. He'd kissed her head, noting the scent of Channel No. 5 that overrode the less pleasant smells of death and old age, filing it away to tell Ducky. He'd been touched that the staff had taken the trouble to do such a small thing. He laid her gently onto the bed, closed her eyes, brushed his hand, as he so often did with her son, over her hair, and kissed her forehead.
He'd driven the four hundred miles to tell Ducky the news. Even the Director hadn't objected, agreeing that it was hardly the kind of news that could be told via telephone. Not that the Director objecting would have stopped Jethro from going.
And just as it seemed that nothing else could go wrong. Just as they were enjoying the one good thing that had happened, Ducky moving in with Jethro, Ari had made his threat.
Yes, it had been a dreadful couple of years. Ducky needed something special, needed more perhaps than Jethro alone could give him.
Abby clearing her throat pulled him back to the present. "Gibbs?"
"Yes," he said. "Do it." The next second he was enveloped in Abby's arms, her unique perfume tickling his nose, and being squeezed so tightly he momentarily felt giddy. The kiss on his cheek was loud, as was Abby's squeak of pleasure.
"Abbs," he said, catching her arms and holding her away. "It's a dinner party, not front-row tickets to a vampire orgy."
"Sorry," she said moving away and glancing downwards. "It's just that I wasn't sure you'd say yes."
DiNozzo quipped, "I tried to tell her boss, but she wouldn't -"
"You did not, Tony DiNozzo, you -"
"Children!" Jethro held his hand up. "Enough. Work calls. Go on, shoo," he said, waving his hands. He turned to leave the room. "Come on, Palmer. I'll come with you and tell Dr. Mallard you've been helping Abby with something."
"Boss!" DiNozzo's swift call stopped him.
He turned. "What, DiNozzo?"
"Er, I think you'd better wipe Abby's lipstick off your face first," he said.
Jethro glanced in a mirror that Abby kept near the door. "Abbs," he said, seeing that dark black-mauve lip print, which stood out on his cheek.
"Sorry, Gibbs," she said. "I keep trying to find one that doesn't come off, but they don't make them in the color I like."
Jethro sighed and dug out his handkerchief. The next second DiNozzo pushed a cloth into his hand. "Better use this," he said. Jethro blinked at him. "I just thought you wouldn't want Ducky to . . ." he trailed off, and like Abby before him flushed.
Jethro shook his head, amused and a little touched at the sentiment. He grabbed the cloth, wiped his cheek, frowned at the dark stain on the cloth, and glanced in the mirror; then tossed the cloth back to DiNozzo and moved towards the door. As he left he said, "Just for your information, DiNozzo, Ducky doesn't go through my pockets. That was my second wife." He followed Palmer out and left the others standing watching him.
"Duck, are you ready?" Jethro called, walking back into the bedroom knotting his tie, while settling his suit jacket more comfortably on his shoulders.
"I was just trying to decide which tie to wear, my dear," Ducky said, turning around a bow tie in each hand. He smiled and looked at Jethro, the look a lingering one. "You look particularly handsome tonight, my dear," he said, dropping the ties on the bed and moving towards Jethro, who recognized the look in the pale blue eyes and groaned silently. "But then I always have liked you in a suit, or in your uniform," he added, slipping his arms around Jethro's neck and pulling his head down for a kiss.
Jethro's arms automatically came up and enfolded Ducky in an embrace, as his head involuntarily tilted to the right, and his mouth met Ducky's. His half-plan to keep the kiss short and chaste, fell apart as Ducky's mouth opened beneath his, and surgeon's fingers began to caress Jethro's neck, while his lover moved even closer to him, rocking his body slightly. One of the downsides of being lovers for over twenty-five years meant that they knew one another so well - they knew exactly what buttons to push. Within moments Ducky had several of Jethro's pushed, and Jethro's mind was fast moving from thoughts of surprise dinner parties and birthday cakes (Abby had promised one), and onto getting his lover into bed.
However, a promise was a promise, and Jethro retained enough conscious thought to pull his mind and body back from the gifts being offered. Almost hating himself, he deliberately used the six inch height difference, together with the twelve fewer years, and all the Marine training he had over his lover, and pulled out of the fierce embrace, gentling the kiss and once more calming it down. "Duck," he said fondly, finally breaking the kiss. "We have to go."
"Jethro, it is my birthday," Ducky said, and tried to move back nearer to Jethro. "I should get to choose what we do. We can go out to dinner tomorrow. Tonight I'd rather . . ." he let the sentence trail off. His provocative look, the way his hands were once more caressing Jethro, and the smoldering gaze in the now deeper blue eyes, left Jethro in no doubt as to what his lover would rather be doing. And had it not been for the surprise, Jethro would now be undressing them both, but he couldn't give in. It wouldn't be fair. Ducky would understand - once they actually got to the restaurant that was.
Calling on all his self-control that made him the special agent he was, Jethro gripped Ducky's arms, held him away from him, and looked down at him. "Duck," he said in his fondly exasperated tone; the one he used regularly at the office, but rarely employed at home. "The table's booked and a cab's on its way. We have to go. I'll make it up to you later, I promise," he added, softening his voice again.
Ducky blinked at Jethro's tone and frowned slightly. "Jethro?"
For a moment Jethro was tempted to spoil the surprise and tell Ducky, but then Ducky shrugged, smiled his fond, affectionate smile, pulled Jethro's head towards him again, kissed him, and then moved away. "Which one?" he said holding up two ties.
"This. It matches your eyes," Jethro said, taking the one he'd bought as part of Ducky's birthday gifts from his lover's hands, and began to arrange it around Ducky's neck.
Ducky tapped his hands and tugged away slightly. "Jethro, my dear," he said, beginning to knot the tie, while staring up at Jethro. "Adept as you are at many things, tying a bow tie is not one of them."
Jethro held up his hands in a mock gesture of defeat, and instead picked up Ducky's suit jacket and held it for his lover, who let him help him into it and arrange it neatly. Rather than let Ducky go once the jacket had been settled on his shoulders, however, Jethro wrapped his arms around his lover in a loose embrace and tugged him backwards, lowering his head to brush Ducky's cheek with his lips. Ducky turned in the embrace and offered his mouth; this time the kiss remained chaste and merely affectionate.
The sound of a car horn broke them apart and Jethro swept up the two overcoats, helped Ducky into his, pulled his own on, and led the way down the stairs.
A middle-aged redheaded Maître d' met them at the door. "Jethro Gibbs," Jethro said, pausing long enough to hand over their overcoats and Ducky's' hat to the hat/coat check girl.
"Ah, yes, sir. Please come this way." The man glided off across the room, Ducky and Jethro followed.
"Jethro?" Ducky hesitated for a moment as the Maître d' didn't stop at any the tables.
"Just walk, Ducky," Jethro said, slipping his hand into the small of Ducky's back to encourage him.
"Here you are, sir," the Maître d' said, coming to a stop by a door.
"Thank you," Jethro nodded at the man, indicating that he should leave them.
The Maître d' smiled his understanding and moved off. Before he did so though, he turned to Ducky, smiled and said, "Enjoy your evening, sir."
"Thank you." Ducky's response was automatic, as his eyes were once more firmly affixed on Jethro. "Jethro?"
Jethro paused, glanced swiftly around, gripped Ducky's shoulders and said quietly, "I do love you, Duck." Suddenly he was concerned that the whole thing had been a bad idea.
Ducky blinked, looking momentarily surprised. "I love you too, Jethro my dear," he said, equally quietly. "But -"
Jethro cut him off, opened the door, and with another slight push, urged his lover through it.
"Happy Birthday, Ducky!"
Ducky glanced around at Jethro, mouth slightly open, eyes wide. Jethro just smiled, once more pushed Ducky gently and closed the door.
The next moment Ducky was swept away from him and hugged by all present and kissed soundly on each cheek by Abby. Jethro sighed exaggeratedly, and dug into his pocket for his handkerchief. As he moved towards the small group he noticed a definite change in his lover. The years had tumbled away from him, and once again he looked younger than his years and happy. Jethro came to a halt and just stared.
He'd known that the past two years had been hard on Ducky, but even he hadn't realized until this moment just how hard. Ducky was so easy going and on the face of it relaxed and cheerful, that it was easy, too easy, to forget the inner man. Being with Ducky day in and day out meant that he hadn't really noticed the subtle, but now clear changes, that had overtaken his friend. How he'd aged, beyond his years, how his eyes, although always soft when looking at Jethro, had become perpetually tired and duller, how the lines in his face had deepened, how he always seemed strained - as though he was waiting for something. Merely surviving rather than living. Jethro swallowed hard and immediately felt dreadfully guilty. He should have noticed. He should have realized. He should have done something. "Damn," he said softly.
"Hardly an appropriate sentiment for such an occasion, Jethro," a voice broke into his thoughts. Startled he turned around.
"Director Morrow, sir," he managed, automatically taking the glass his boss held out for him. "I hadn't . . . " He bit his lip and silently cursed himself.
The Director surprised him and chuckled. "It's all right, Jethro. I'm not here to stay. I rather fear my presence might, shall we say, put a dampener on the evening. However, when Abigail mentioned what she had arranged, I felt that the least I could do was to come and wish Dr. Mallard a Happy Birthday."
"I'm sure you'd be more than welcome to stay, sir," Jethro said, glancing again at the group that surrounded Ducky, who, for some reason, now had a glass of wine in each hand.
The Director chuckled again. "Ah, Jethro," he said, suddenly reminding Jethro of Ducky. "You really are a first-class special agent. No wonder you can break anyone."
"Sir," Jethro said carefully.
"Actually, I do have a previous engagement, with my opposite numbers at the FBI, the Secret
Service, and the CIA. I rather think that you and your team will have the better evening." Jethro smiled and sipped his wine. "So tell me, Jethro, why the curse?"
Jethro glanced again at his lover who was clearly already enjoying himself. "I had just realized just how hard it's been for Duc . . . Dr. Mallard, during the last couple of years," he said. "I don't think I'd consciously noticed before. And I should have," he added softly. Suddenly realizing what he'd let slip, he mentally shook himself, and once more pulled the distant persona that he habitually wore around himself. He glanced at his boss, who seemed to be studying him.
Finally Director Morrow said, his tone serious, "Maybe you should take some time off, Jethro. You and Dr. Mallard." Before Jethro could respond, his boss said, his tone now lighter, "Now I had better go and pay my respects to the good Doctor before I need to leave. Jethro," he nodded, and moved off.
Jethro watched him go, drained his glass, poured himself another from a bottle that stood on the table, and followed the Director across the room.
Jethro leaned back in his chair, one arm resting along the back of Ducky's chair, the other holding his wine glass. The evening had gone even better than he had hoped for. In fact, there had been an added bonus - he'd enjoyed himself more than he'd expected to. Ducky had clearly been in his element and had enjoyed every minute of his surprise, and was still doing so.
As Jethro watched his lover, he saw the man he'd met over twenty-five years ago, the animated, outgoing, likeable, eccentric, energetic, playful man, who, while never totally leaving, had partly slipped away. The years had indeed taken their toll on Ducky, and it hadn't just been the last two. As he observed Ducky, Jethro suddenly realized how much pain he'd caused his lover over the years with his three marriages, and the handful of other women who had passed through his life. I've been very unfair to you over the years, Duck, he thought.
Just then, appearing as he'd done on many occasions to be able to mind-read Jethro, Ducky turned around, let his hand come to rest briefly on Jethro's thigh, and looked directly into Jethro's eyes. The look in the now mid-blue sparkling eyes was such that Jethro had to call on all his inner strength not to either begin to cry or pull Ducky into his arms and kiss him. Ducky's eyes always had revealed all of his feelings for Jethro; no matter how hard to tried to hide them, the love, caring, affection, devotion, and trust was always clear for anyone to see. Now all of those sentiments were there, but amplified many times over, and also present was the forgiveness and understanding that Ducky had always shown him.
Certain that if he didn't do something, and quickly, he'd embarrass himself, Ducky, and the rest of the team, Jethro quickly squeezed Ducky's hand, smiled and stood up, murmuring under his breath about finding the men's room.
When he returned some ten minutes later, it was to find the remains of the dessert cleared away, and Ducky surrounded by a pile of presents.
"There you are, Gibbs," Abby said, leaping to her feet and dragging him across the room. "I was just about to send Tony to see if you were all right. Ducky wants to open his presents and refused to do so until you got back." Her eyes gleamed, and Jethro wondered how much of her urgency was to do with her wanting Ducky to open his gifts, rather than his lover's desire.
He smiled, shook his head, and glanced at the table. For a moment he felt like the only adult in the room. The evening had been a good idea, for all of them, not just Ducky. Barriers had been dropped, defenses vanished as the wine flowed freely, and he realized consciously just why they made such a good team. They were bound together by far more than merely the job; they actually liked one another, he suddenly realized, it wasn't just respect. DiNozzo and McGee appeared to have reached a mutual agreement to leave any hint of animosity at home, and Jimmy Palmer had managed to stop calling him ‘sir' every two minutes, and impersonating a deer caught in car headlights whenever Jethro spoke to him.
Ducky smiled at him again as he slid back into his seat, and Jethro let his arm return to the place it had occupied, whenever they weren't eating, throughout the entire evening. As he looked into the sparkling eyes, Jethro knew that the brightness wasn't just caused by the enjoyment or the lack of pressure, it was also partly due to alcohol; Ducky, it seemed, had drunk more than he usually did.
"Open mine first, Ducky. You'll like it," Abby said, reaching across and pulling out a black and silver wrapped present. "You both will," she beamed looking from Ducky to Jethro. She was bouncing in her seat, and her pigtails jerked up and down, brushing Gibbs's cheek as she leaned across him.
"Abbs," Jethro said, his tone slightly gruff.
"Don't worry, Gibbs, it's nothing hinky. Would I do that to the Duckman?"
"Did you say hinky or kinky, Abby?" DiNozzo said around laughter.
"Tony!" Abby admonished, glaring at the man.
"Well I'm not the one who sleeps in a coffin."
"And not just sleeps," McGee said, joining in the laughter.
"You behave, McGee, or you won't be sleeping anywhere at my place tonight," Abby said, turning to face McGee.
"I don't think sleeping was what he had in mind," DiNozzo muttered, loudly enough for everyone to hear.
"Gibbs," Abby appealed to him.
Before he could say or do anything, not that he really knew what to say, he didn't want to slip back into his role of their boss, Ducky solved the problem by pulling out his gift. "Why, Abigail," he said softly. "Thank you, my dear. You were quite correct, Jethro and I will both enjoy this." He held up the bottle of twenty-five year old single malt scotch. Jethro whistled. "It'll make a nice change from that paint-stripper he drinks," Ducky went on, learning across Jethro to kiss Abby.
She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him into an embrace, which he matched. "Hey," Jethro said, as two bodies all but ended up on his lap. "Don't mind me, will you." He got one hand under each of their arms and urged them to their feet. "That's better," he said, as Ducky tugged the young Goth back into his arms and kissed her soundly on each cheek. When he sat down again, after Abby had in turn kissed him, Jethro silently handed Ducky his handkerchief again.
"This stuff better come off in the wash, Abbs," he said, returning the blacky-mauve streaked linen to his pocket. "Abby," he added, as she glanced away from him. "It does, doesn't it?"
"I think so," she said, playing with her wine glass.
He narrowed his eyes, more for the sake of proprietary than anything else. "What do you mean ‘you think so?'"
"I tried my own mix this evening. I really thought it wouldn't come off on skin, but . . . In fact," she said suddenly turning to McGee, "it didn't come off earlier, did it, Tim?"
McGee blushed, glanced around the table, and stuttered out a negative reply, before gulping down half a glass of wine and choking on it, ending up with hiccoughs.
After several minutes of various ideas as to how to cure the latter had been suggested and dismissed, even McGee refused the drinking backwards from a glass of water idea, Ducky returned his attention to his gifts, choosing a smallish, neatly wrapped navy blue parcel.
"That's from Jimmy," Abby announced, unnecessarily given the way Ducky's young assistant had started to grow red and look anywhere but at his boss.
The parcel revealed a somewhat battered looking, claret red box with a dull golden clasp. Everyone grew quieter as Ducky opened the box. From his place by Ducky's side, Jethro caught sight of what was inside before anyone else did. He stared at the object, wondering what on earth had possessed Palmer to give Ducky such an old . . . thing. But Ducky's exclamation of pleasure and surprise pushed any irritation from his mind.
"Jimmy!" he cried, lifting the item out with more reverence than Jethro had ever seen him pay to anything. "Jimmy, my boy. How . . . ? Where . . . ?"
Jimmy turned an even brighter red and looked down at the table. "It belonged to my great-grandfather," he stammered. "My grandmother told me he still used it up until he retired."
"But, Jimmy. Surely you -"
"No, Doctor Mallard," the young man said, his tone firmer and more serious than Jethro had ever heard it. "I want you to have it. Grandmother wants you to have it. She says that you'll appreciate it. Please, Doctor," he added, earnestly.
Ducky stared at his young assistant, his searching look on his face. Then it relaxed and he stretched his hand across the table, took Jimmy's and held it, squeezing it tightly and smiling. "Thank you, Jimmy," he said softly. "And thank your grandmother for me. It's beautiful. Look, Jethro," he said, holding the dull silver knifelike object for Jethro to admire.
"Very nice, Duck," Jethro managed, hoping that his voice sounded genuine.
Ducky just rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, Jimmy, he doesn't understand these things. He is a little of the philistine at times." Then he glanced around the table at the other three people, all of whom were trying to look politely enthusiastic. "Between you and me, Jimmy," he said, leaning forwards again. "They all are."
"Well then, Duck," Jethro said, patting his lover's shoulder, "why don't you tell us poor things what it is?"
"Oh, right, of course, my dear. Well it's a rather old and very rare scalpel. Only twenty-five, I believe were made, due to what was perceived as a design fault on the handle. See," he held the scalpel out to Jethro, who obligingly looked at it, but honestly couldn't see anything unusual, not that he had made a study of scalpels.
"Mmm," he murmured, noncommittally.
It seemed to satisfy Ducky, who beamed and went on with his explanation. Jethro, knowing that he'd hear it at least twice more than evening, and goodness only knows how many more times thereafter, tuned the words out, and just listened to the voice he loved.
After a couple of minutes, he touched Ducky's shoulder and said, meaningfully, "Duck." As Ducky turned his loving gaze on to him, Jethro nodded to the still unopened presents.
"Oh, yes. Of course. I am sorry, Tony, Timothy," Ducky smiled at each young man, replaced his precious gift in its box, and turned his attention to the other gifts.
DiNozzo's, somewhat predictably, was clothing; a white linen shirt and three bowties, one sedate, the other two more than a little garish - Ducky would enjoy wearing them.
McGee's gift was a heavy leather bound collection of Keats poetry.
Ducky insisted on hugging both men and Jimmy Palmer, and expressed his clear and obvious gratitude and pleasure. There were several more gifts, described by Abby as ‘from all of us.' These contained a variety of chocolates, a bottle of Ducky's favorite cologne, and a bottle of red wine. Jethro wondered idly when Ducky would run out of ways of saying ‘thank you'. However, knowing his lover's huge vocabulary - in more than one language - he doubted if he'd need to worry.
When everything had been unwrapped and carefully packed away in a box, thoughtfully provided by Abby, and Ducky's health drunk - again - Abby vanished. She returned a few minutes later with a cake, bearing half a dozen candles.
Following a somewhat out-of-tune and slightly uncoordinated (Jethro hoped that all his team had had the sense not to bring their cars) rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to You', Abby ordered Ducky to blow out the candles.
Obliging as ever, Ducky did so.
"Did you make a wish?" Abby demanded.
Ducky turned around, gazed at Jethro, put his hand on Jethro's arm, and said softly, "I have everything I could possibly wish for, Abby."
A split second of tangible silence was broken by Abby starting to clap, seconds later the three young men joined in, followed briefly by Jethro who again had to fight his emotions. Not for the first time he wished he could kiss Ducky; but as open as they were about their relationship, as accepting and relaxed as the team was about it, he wasn't about to push things that far. He contented himself with a fleeting touch of Ducky's hair, followed by a longer touch of his shoulder, while relying on his own eyes, which he normally, unless alone with Ducky, kept completely shrouded and under control, to say what he felt.
The smile in the twinkling, now misty blue eyes, and on Ducky's lips, told him that his message had been seen and more than understood.
Once coffee and brandy and birthday cake had been served, Jethro signaled one of the waiters for the check. "It's already been taken care of, sir," the man said, speaking quietly.
Jethro frowned and glanced at Abby - surely not?
"No, sir. It was the gentleman who left before you ate. He said to give you this; you are Mr. Jethro Gibbs, aren't you, sir?"
Gibbs nodded. "Thank you," he said, taking the envelope. He opened it and read the few lines.
Please do not make a fuss. Just accept this gesture in the spirit in which it is intended.
It is not just Dr. Mallard who has had a difficult two years; it is your entire team. You are so close knit that what affects one of you, affects you all.
Like you, I do not find it easy to praise or even say ‘thank you.' Indeed, one might argue that there is no need to thank people for doing what is, in effect, their job.
I had, however, been trying for some time to think of a way to acknowledge what you have all been through, and when Abigail told me of the plans for Dr. Mallard's birthday, it seemed like the ideal solution.
I shall leave it up to you to decide whether or not to tell the team.
Jethro read the words again, then folded the letter up and slipped it into his jacket pocket. He would tell the team; it was only right that they knew they were valued. Once again the Director had surprised him, just as he'd done when Jethro had told him of his intentions of sharing his home with Ducky.
An hour and a half later, a cab pulled up outside of Jethro and Ducky's home. Giving up all pretence of not supporting his friend, Jethro helped Ducky out of the car, juggled the box containing Ducky's presents and hat up into one arm, and wrapped his other arm around his lover's shoulders. Seconds later he felt Ducky's arm go around his back. He smiled, paid the cab driver, and nodded to him, the driver returned the smile and drove off. "Come on, Duck," Jethro said in an indulgent, fond tone. "Let's get you inside." He wasn't certain whether Ducky was actually as unsteady on his feet, or even as affected by the alcohol as he appeared to be, or whether he was just using it as an excuse to make contact with Jethro.
Once in the house, after he'd placed the box on the hall table, when Ducky turned within his embrace and tugged his head down for a kiss, both movements utterly coordinated, Jethro began to suspect the latter. Breaking away in order to breathe, he glanced down at the man whom he'd loved and been loved by for over twenty-five years. He was pleased to see that the Ducky who'd appeared when they'd arrived at the restaurant was still present. Jethro made a silent vow to keep that man in ascendance, and began to give serious thought to his boss's words about Ducky and himself taking some leave.
"Thank you for tonight, Jethro my dear," Ducky said, glancing up at Jethro. "Now I know why you were so insistent about us going out. I was almost beginning to wonder if you'd tired of me." The soft voice told Jethro that Ducky was mostly joking, but there was just enough of a hint of seriousness in it to make Jethro, yet again, rue his treatment of his lover over the years.
"Never, Ducky. I love you."
"I know you do, Jethro. I love you too. Come," Ducky said, "Let us go to bed."
Ducky just smiled.
Knowing now that Ducky didn't really need his support, Jethro nonetheless once more wrapped his arm around Ducky's shoulders and led him up the stairs. Ducky paused outside the bathroom. "I won't be a minute, my dear," he said, moving away from Jethro.
Still keeping to his role, Jethro quipped, "Need a hand?" Ducky smiled again and his eyes twinkled.
Waiting until Ducky had gone in, Jethro turned and strode into their bedroom. Once there, he moved to his nightstand and pulled open the drawer, reached right to the back, and took out something he'd placed there several months earlier.
By the time Ducky returned, Jethro had removed his overcoat and was sitting on the bed. However, he remained fully clothed, not even loosening his tie.
"I thought you'd have at least started to undress by now, Jethro," Ducky said, moving completely into Jethro's personal space and putting a hand on Jethro's shoulder.
Jethro glanced up at his lover, took the hand on his shoulder and tugged on it. "Sit down, Duck," he said. "There's something I want to say to you."
Ducky frowned, but let himself be pulled down to sit next to Jethro. "You suddenly sound very serious, my dear. Is something wrong?"
"No," Jethro hastened to reassure. "Nothing. There's just something I need to say, Ducky. Something important."
"You haven't resigned again, have you, Jethro?"
"No. Nothing like that."
"You aren't ill?" Now Ducky sounded concerned.
"No. Nothing like that either."
"Duck," Jethro growled, adopting his office voice for a moment. "Shut up, for a minute. And let me speak."
"Certainly, Agent Gibbs," Ducky said, his eyes twinkling.
Jethro rolled his eyes, paused long enough to give Ducky a fleeting kiss, and then pulled a box out from his jacket pocket. He looked at it for a moment or two, then opened it and handed it to Ducky.
"I'm probably going to make a mess of this, Duck, but hear me out, please, before you say anything."
"Very well, my dear," Ducky held the box and sat completely still.
"I bought that several months ago, six to be exact. I just didn't know how to go about giving it to you. After all, you stood by my side three times and saw me give one of those to each of my wives, and heard me exchange vows with them. Vows that you knew I wouldn't keep, vows you knew I had no intention of keeping. Why then, would you believe that this time it would be different? How could you? How could anyone? I wouldn't believe me if I were you. But it is different, Duck. It would be different. This time I mean what that ring signifies. I mean what the vows say. I've never cheated on you, Ducky, or rather in some weird, convoluted way I've never cheated on you. And I never will. I never could. But as I said, why would you believe that?" Jethro finally stopped talking, aware that he was about to start repeating himself.
Ducky still sat silently and unmoving, his eyes never once leaving Jethro's face, the box containing the simple gold band held, even more reverently than he'd held Palmer's present, in his hands.
When it appeared as though Ducky wasn't going to say anything, Jethro said, "Er, I've finished, Duck."
Finally Ducky blinked and glanced away from Jethro down to the box he held. "What are you offering me, Jethro?" he looked back up.
"A commitment, marriage - legally or otherwise. A promise." Once again Ducky didn't speak. Jethro reached across the small gap separating them that suddenly seemed like the Grand Canyon, and attempted to remove the box from Ducky's hand. He should have left it where it was at the back of his drawer; how could he expect Ducky to just say ‘yes?' "I'm sorry, Duck. I never should have . . . Especially today. I shouldn't have spoiled your birthday. It was stupid of to even -"
"Be quiet, Jethro. You've had your turn, now allow me mine." Ducky's grip on the box was fierce, and Jethro, despite being stronger and younger than his lover, knew he'd never break it - not without breaking several of Ducky's fingers as well; something he had no intention of doing. He was about to pull his hand away, when Ducky slipped one of his own hands into it and interlaced his fingers with Jethro's. In the other he still held the small box.
He began to speak, once more staring unblinkingly into Jethro's eyes. "I never should have agreed to be your best man, certainly not the second or third times, when I knew, truly knew that you were taking vows you would not keep. It was wrong of me, hypocritical of me even, and I do regret doing it. Yet, I know I would have regretted it more had I not done so. I am as much to blame, if we insist on using the word, as you were, Jethro my dear. I could have, indeed I should have, refused you, sent you away, maybe I should even have left America, and formed a new life for myself. My only defense is that I loved you too much." He must have read something in Jethro's eyes that Jethro wasn't consciously aware he was projecting, because he added softly. "I love you too much, my dearest Jethro."
Jethro swallowed hard and momentarily looked away. As Ducky began to speak again, he looked back up. "I often wondered though if I loved you enough, because if I had done so then it seemed to me that I should have been following the words of John Denver ‘I love her, yes I love her, just enough to let her go.' Or the ‘if you love something let it go,' saying. Then I realized that I was letting you go. I ‘let' you marry three times. I never once asked you not to. I never fought for you or made demands. I never made you choose between them or me - maybe I should have done so, but I couldn't. It would have been wrong." Any hint of the inebriation that had touched Ducky's voice earlier had now gone.
Jethro gripped the hand that held his more tightly. Forcing himself not to say anything until Ducky made it clear he'd finished speaking, Jethro simply sat quiet and still.
Moments later, Ducky again began to speak. "I wasn't completely honest earlier, my dear, when I told Abby that there was nothing else I could wish for as I had everything I could ever want. There was still one thing." He stopped speaking and looked even more deeply into Jethro's eyes. Twenty-five years of reading the man he loved, told Jethro that Ducky had, for the moment, finished speaking.
Jethro again reached for the box that Ducky held. This time Ducky let it go. Taking out the ring, Jethro took Ducky's left hand. He looked deeply into the blue eyes that were watching him, and thought for a second or two. He didn't want to use the words he'd used three times; Ducky deserved more. Finally he settled for formality. "Duck, will you accept this ring from me and the promises that go with it?"
The pale blue blazed with love and affection, and a layer of contentedness, unbeknown to and unseen by Jethro before, settled over Ducky. "Yes, my dearest Jethro," he said, his voice as loving as his eyes.
"Even knowing what I am?"
Ducky smiled, his fond, understanding smile. "It's because I know what you are, Jethro my dear, that I can say ‘yes.' I've always known that if the day ever came that you did ask me to share your home, then that would be the day that you were finally certain. I knew that you would finally be mine, solely, wholly, and unconditionally. And I also knew that if ever you should ask me to marry you, be it legally or just between us, then the promises you made would be kept. As you said, Jethro, in a somewhat convoluted, maybe illogical way to anyone but us, you have indeed always remained faithful to me."
This time Jethro didn't fight the tears; after all, as he'd once told a young boy tears weren't a sign of weakness, and no-one should ever be afraid to cry. His eyes grew misty and he blinked around tears as he looked at Ducky. He still wasn't certain he deserved the love Ducky had always shown him, nor the total and unconditional devotion. "I love you, Duck," he said, taking Ducky's hand and slipping the ring on to the appropriate finger. Never had the gesture seemed so right.
"I love you too, Jethro my dear," Ducky said softly, capturing Jethro's other hand and holding it. Behind his glasses Ducky's eyes were also misty, in fact as he watched Jethro saw a single tear slip over Ducky's lower lashes and make its way down his cheek.
He swallowed hard and began murmuring the words he'd spoken three times before. Whether or not they were able to or wished to formalize things didn't matter. What mattered was what they exchanged. The law where they lived would at least recognize it as far as a legal status went. But they'd already taken care of that as far as they were able to when Ducky had moved in with him. Ducky was a very wealthy man, more so than Jethro, who for many years had known that he was the main beneficiary of Ducky's will, had even realized. And with his mother's death, and the sale of Ducky's house in Reston, both men could easily retire and be more than comfortable for the remainder of their lives.
Jethro had wanted to ensure that none of his ex-wives could have any possible claim on Ducky's money, and to that end Ducky had suggested a solution. A one-off final payment to them all, accompanied with a legal contact in which they accepted that they had no further claims. After a short period of self-agonizing, Jethro, who had always resented to an extent, especially given what they had all done to him, being forced to pay alimony to three women capable of taking care of themselves, agreed. The lawyers had drawn up the necessary documents and the three women received a more than, in Jethro's opinion, generous settlement.
As he spoke the formal words, Jethro realized that with one exception they'd always been true between Ducky and himself anyway. As he reached the exception, he made a slight alteration to the familiar liturgy, again not wanting to use the words that hadn't meant all they should to him on previous occasions. "I promise I'll always be faithful to you, Duck. They'll be no one else. There couldn't be." Keeping his voice level he added, "I'm yours until death, Duck. And if there's any justice beyond that. You're mine Donald Mallard, and for good or bad, I'm yours."
"Ah, my dear," Ducky said gently, and offered his mouth for a brief but fulfilling kiss. As they broke away, Ducky took Jethro's hand and looked deeply into his eyes and opened his mouth.
"Wait," Jethro said.
Ducky blinked and frowned slightly. "Jethro?"
Jethro picked the box back up and removed the velvet on which the band had sat. There nestled below was a matching ring. Ducky took it out, once again his treatment as gentle as if he were picking up a butterfly. "Jethro?" his voice was tinged with wonder and surprise.
Jethro wasn't surprised by the astonishment evident in his lover's voice. Never before had he offered or agreed to wear a ring; this time he hadn't even thought about not wearing one. When he'd gone to buy the one for Ducky, the purchase of a second one had been as natural as breathing.
As Ducky took Jethro's left hand and slipped the ring on, there was awe in the slightly unsteady voice as he too spoke the formal words. Words that he had never spoken before, but had heard many times, three times while at Jethro's side.
Reminding Jethro, if he needed reminding, of his ability to recall words, Ducky chose to repeat Jethro's own version of ‘forsaking all others.' In his turn, he finished with, "And you, Leroy Jethro Gibbs are mine, until and beyond death. And I, my dearest, will always be yours, as I always have been."
It was quite some time later when Jethro remembered Director Morrow's parting words. Shifting his lover slightly in his arms, in order for him to see his face, he kissed Ducky's nose and said, "Would you like a honeymoon, Duck?"
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