Set immediately after Hiatus Part 2.
The team is still reeling from Gibbs's departure and becoming more and more disenchanted with DiNozzo's team leadership skills. Things become even more strained when information pertaining to cases start to appear in the newspaper. Information that could only have come from a member of the team. As everyone is viewed with reluctant suspicion, Palmer reports that he is becoming more and more by Ducky's erratic behavior. But will the combined problems be enough to bring Gibbs back? And if he does, can anything make him stay?
A first time story.
Written: May 2006. Word count: 13,072.
WASHINGTON, MAY 2006
Ducky drove Jethro to the airport.
The journey was completed in virtual silence.
They sat in the same silence just waiting.
Waiting for Jethro's flight to be announced.
All too soon and yet not soon enough the waiting was over.
Jethro held Ducky in his arms, tugging him tighter and tighter against his body, until it was impossible to tell where he ended and Ducky began. "I'm sorry, Duck," he murmured. "I have to go. You know that, don't you?"
From the vicinity of his shoulder Ducky said softly, "Of course, my dear."
Jethro ignored the sound of tears in Ducky's voice. Not because he didn't care, but because he cared too much. If he acknowledged Ducky's tears, then he'd start to shed his own. And he couldn't do that.
Maybe not ever.
He couldn't, wouldn't, let himself cry, because if he did Ducky would try to comfort him. And part of Jethro believed he didn't deserve to be comforted. After all he was walking out. Not on the job, well that of course. Or the team, although leaving them had hurt, especially saying goodbye to his darling Abby. But he was walking out on his oldest, dearest and most beloved friend.
Part of him still didn't know how he could do it. Why he was doing it.
Part of him knew exactly why.
It was more than the ever-increasing frustration he'd been feeling, that had been growing so much over the last twelve months, he had sometimes thought he'd explode. It was even more than what had happened in MTAC. He'd lived with that kind of bastardly political decision for his entire life and had learned to deal with it. Live with it. Accept it.
The more was Ducky.
The one person in the world who could keep him in Washington, was the person who was partly responsible for him leaving.
There were too many memories associated with Ducky. He'd had to reface things he'd buried and learned to deal with. Reface them in full technicolor, with sounds, smells, noises, feelings and taste.
And irrationally, because it was irrational, Ducky was the link to the hell.
And yet at the same time part of his brain was saying, Come with me, Duck.
But he wouldn't ask.
Because he knew that Ducky couldn't.
His flight was called for the final time.
Knowing now as clearly as he'd ever known anything, that if he didn't let go of Ducky and walk away, he never would, he squeezed Ducky hard one final time, brushed the top of his head with his lips, and let him go.
The pain in the pale eyes as Ducky looked up at him tore into him. Was almost too much for him to bear. But then it had gone, and all that remained was the deep affection Ducky always showed him.
"Take care, my dear Jethro," Ducky said quietly, and smiled.
"You too, Duck. You too." He bent to pick up his bag and began to move away.
He stopped, turned. "Duck . . ." But there was nothing more to say.
So instead he simply smiled, lifted one hand and walked away.
Away from his past and into his future.
MEXICO, JUNE 2006
Mike watched Jethro, as he'd been doing since his once probie had turned up to share his beach and his life.
When Jethro had walked on to the beach, Mike had given him a fortnight before he started to get antsy for NCIS; his caffeine; his friends; his life. But Jethro seemed content to fish, relax, talk about the old days from time-to-time, but mostly to sit in silence and, Mike assumed, think about the past and what he had lost.
And maybe not just the past.
Jethro hadn't said anything, but Mike got the distinct impression that leaving had cost Jethro in more ways than just his career. But when Mike had asked, in the kind of roundabout direct way that only someone who had the kind of relationship he and Jethro had could ask, Jethro had shrugged it off. Told him that his last marriage had ended six years ago, ended in divorce, like the two prior to it.
"Think I'll wander inside for a bit, cool down."
"Right. Catch you later."
Well that was a sparkling conversation, thought Mike, as he left the beach for the relative coolness of where they lived.
MEXICO, JULY 2006
"You know, Jethro, fighting the bastards from inside can be effective."
"That's not what you said when you walked out."
"I know. But . . . Well, maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should have stayed. Hell, maybe I could have stopped 9/11." That got a reaction.
Jethro glanced up. "I'm sorry about that, Mike. Shouldn't have said it. You couldn't have done anything. None of us could. We're all pawns. None of us make any difference. What's the point?"
"Some of us make more of a difference than others." Mike held his breath and waited.
Jethro glanced at him; a frown creased his tanned face. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. Just that . . . Ah, nothing. Try further down the beach today, shall we?"
Jethro continued to stare at him for a minute or two. Then shrugged and said, "Sure. Why not?"
And that was the end of another sparkling conversation.
MEXICO, AUGUST 2006
"Says here that they've caught a couple of senior members of Al Queda's cell."
"I thought you didn't bother with papers or the news?"
"Didn't until I got dragged back to see you. Then, well, I reckoned that I'd spent enough years not knowing what was going on. Decided what harm could there be in getting a paper from time to time. So I did. Want to see?"
A WEEK LATER
"Seems they can't break the bastards. More afraid of Queda than what'll happen to them. Even some rumors that maybe we're looking at another 9/11. The sooner the bastards talk, the better chance of stopping it." Mike crossed his fingers and hoped that Jethro wouldn't ask to see the paper. He hadn't done yet, but . . .
Mike bit the inside of his mouth. "So, they need an expert. And . . ."
Jethro stood up, anger radiated from him. He took a stride to where Mike sat and loomed over him. "Stop it, okay? Just stop it. I'll say this once and then if it ever comes up again, I'll . . . " He trailed off. "I. Am. Not. Going. Back. Okay? I don't care if they blow the White House up. If World War Three breaks out. If they declare martial law on all the countries in the world. I'm not going back. I'm finished with that life. If you want me to go away from here, just say and I will. I'll find another beach. Another shack. But this is where I'm staying. Nothing will get me back to Washington." He turned and strode off. The fury was still evident in his body.
"Nothing?" Mike said softly.
Jethro whirled around. "Nothing." His tone was flat. Final. Decisive. He glared at Mike for another minute, before turning on his heel and striding out of the shack, out into the mid-day heat.
Mike exhaled loudly. The words 'protest' and 'too much' came into his mind. He wondered just what would drag Jethro back. Because something had to. Something had to before the man who was Leroy Jethro Gibbs became a mere shadow and finally vanished.
WASHINGTON, AUGUST 2006
"Good morning, Jimmy."
"Good morning, Doc - er, Ducky." Jimmy corrected himself. It was so difficult for him to get used to calling Dr. Mallard 'Ducky', so very difficult. But Ducky had insisted, and so Jimmy tried his best.
He was now able to mostly think about the ME as Ducky, but addressing him as such was much harder. Often he called him nothing at all. "Oh, you've hurt yourself?" Jimmy hurried across the room to where Ducky stood, his arm in a sling. "Here, let me help you." He took Ducky's hat from his head and helped him remove his light overcoat which, despite the warmness of the weather, Ducky tended to wear.
"It was one of those foolish accidents. Tyson tripped Mother up, and I put out my hand to stop her from falling, and in doing so ended up tripping over myself and twisting my wrist, rather badly in fact. So I'm afraid, Jimmy, that you'll have to take the lead in performing the autopsies for a little while."
Ducky patted his arm with his good hand and smiled. "Yes, Jimmy, you. But you're quite all right. I have faith in you. And I'll be here to instruct you, should you need it. But I do not believe that you will."
"Me? Wow!" Jimmy was torn between delight and concern.
Ducky beamed at him.
"So how did you get to work today?"
"Oh, dear. I'm ashamed to admit that before I knew what I was doing, I'd called Jethro's cell phone. I'm beginning to fear that I shall become like Mother before long."
"Ah, Doctor, er, Ducky. No, no. Don't think that. You were shocked from the fall, that's all it is. And, well, you still miss him, don't you? Agent Gibbs that is."
Ducky looked at him. "Yes, Jimmy. I do." Again he patted Jimmy's arm.
He sounded so forlorn, that for a moment Jimmy was furious with Gibbs. How could he go away like he did and leave Ducky? Throw away years of friendship and just walk away? How could he? His leaving had shocked Jimmy, and not just because it had hurt his dear boss, but because it showed him an Agent Gibbs he didn't know existed. "Shall I fetch you a nice cup of tea, doctor?"
"If it wouldn't be too much trouble, Jimmy, I think I'd rather have a cup of coffee this morning, please?"
"Yes. It must be talking about Jethro. You remember how he loved his coffee. I swear that the only time he didn't have a cup stuck to his hand was when he came in here, or went to the bathroom. I remember once that I - I'm sorry, Jimmy."
"No, go on, Doctor."
"It's nothing. Just one of my rambling tales. It's not important. Not even interesting."
"You're always interesting, Ducky."
Ducky smiled. Jimmy was pleased to see that a twinkle had once again appeared in Ducky's eyes. "Ah, Mr. Palmer, you are a very kind young man. But this time it really isn't interesting. You did have to be there." He smiled again. "Now about that coffee?"
"Coming right up, Doc - er, Ducky." Jimmy smiled, turned around, tripped over his own feet and hurried out of Autopsy.
"Hey, Jimmy, how are you today? And how's my Duckman?" Abby slipped her arm around Jimmy's shoulder.
"Hello, Abby." Jimmy shifted his feet and tried not to blush. "I'm fine, thank you. But Dr. Mallard -"
"Ducky," Abby said gently, but firmly.
"Ducky," Jimmy said. He found it even more difficult to refer to Ducky as Ducky when talking to other people. "Has had an accident."
Abby gasped. "An accident? What kind of accident? I must go to him. Ooh, I can't. Tony wants the results of the Petty Officer Rankin's test, ASAP, well sooner than ASAP really. I shouldn't be here, but with Gibbs gone, I have to fetch my own Caff-Pow. Tony doesn't bring me any. He's not Gibbs. He's trying, but he's not. Oh, why doesn't Gibbs come back? Do you think he'll come back?" She was pacing up and down, her pigtails bouncing, flexing her hands and sighing.
Suddenly she whirled on her heel. "So Ducky. Why haven't you told me what's wrong with him?"
Jimmy didn't say that he couldn't get a word in. "It's all right, Abby. He's not hurt badly. He has his arm in a sling, that's all."
"That's all? That's all? What happened?"
"His mother was about to trip over Tyson, that's one of her Corgi's isn't it?"
"Yes. Yes. Go on."
"And he tried to stop her and ended up tripping over himself. He says he fine. And he looks okay. Just the normal Dr. Mallard. Well . . ."
"Normal since Gibbs left," Abby finished. Her voice was low. "If I miss him so much, and I do, Jimmy, I do. Tim does too, and Tony. Even Ziva seems to, but you can never tell with Ziva. If we all miss him then God knows what Ducky must be feeling. They've known each other for like forever."
Suddenly a thought came to Jimmy's mind. "Abby, have you noticed that -"
"Abby! What are you doing here? I told you I'd be down in five. I want those results. Now." Tony DiNozzo strode up to them.
Abby turned around and glared. "I needed something to drink, Tony. If you brought me -"
"We've been though that, Abby. That was Gibbs. Not me. Gibbs isn't here. I am. And I'm not Gibbs. Now come on." He turned and stalked off.
"Don't we know it," murmured Abby, grabbing her Caff-Pow and following her boss. She stopped and ran back to Jimmy. "Give Ducky my love and tell him I'll see him later. If, that is, Hitler ever lets me go." She hurried off again after DiNozzo.
Jimmy watched them go. Agent DiNozzo was right about one thing: he was not Gibbs. And he never could be. People weren't happy; Jimmy knew that. People talked in front of him, and even if they didn't, he watched; he listened; he paid attention. DiNozzo was irritating everyone with his relentless drive and pushiness. Jimmy wondered whose would be the first resignation.
He had sensed a kind of 'we only have to put up with him until Gibbs comes back' aura surrounding the team - even DiNozzo himself at times. But the aura had begun to fade as the months went on, until it barely existed any longer.
DiNozzo had even tried calling Ducky 'Duck' the first time he strode into Autopsy. Ducky had just stared at DiNozzo, his gentle eyes hardening and becoming steel like in color as his stare bore into DiNozzo. He hadn't said anything; he'd just looked and waited. The temperature in Autopsy had plummeted, and Jimmy knew that along with himself McGee and Ziva were holding their breath and waiting.
DiNozzo hadn't say a word. He'd just held the glare. But it was he who finally looked away first. And he never dropped the 'Y' from Ducky's name again.
Glancing at the clock, Jimmy realized that he'd been gone for longer than was necessary. He grabbed the cup of coffee, and all but ran back to Autopsy.
TWO DAYS LATER
"What is this, Agent DiNozzo?" A paper was thrust under Tony's nose.
He glanced at it. It was the Washington Times. About to look up at Director Shepard and wondering what he'd done wrong this time, the headlines caught his eye. "Fu- er, cra- er, oh dear," he managed, as he quickly scan readed the article.
"I think one of the first two words was more appropriate, DiNozzo. Don't you?"
The Director took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. Her heavy scent increased tenfold, making DiNozzo almost gag. God how had Gibbs ever . . . Not that he knew for a fact that they had ever . . . But . . .
"What I want to know, DiNozzo." The Director's tone was honey-sweet; DiNozzo gulped silently. He didn't like that tone; in fact he hated that tone. Give him plain anger any day. "Is how the," she broke off for a second. Then bent forward, further enveloping Tony in the perfume and said, "Fuck, did they find out. Who told them?" she added, when Tony didn't answer immediately. "Who, DiNozzo? Which one of you?"
"Well it has to be one of the team. The body was found in a deserted place, by a Marine Captain. And I cannot believe that he would have talked to the Press. Besides, the details can only have come from someone in this office. One of your team. I repeat again, DiNozzo - who?"
Tony stood up and locked gazes with the angry woman. She'd never dared to have bawled Gibbs out like this, he thought. She'd have told him to go to her office. And then, because he was still Anthony DiNozzo, thought, But God, I wish I could have seen her try. I wish Gibbs was here for her to . . .
He yanked his mind away from his thoughts. "No one on my team would do that, Director Shepard." His voice was like ice. He forced his arms to remain by his sides, fighting the urge to fold them across his body.
A myriad of emotions flashed across the hard face. He'd only just realized how hard it was; how unattractive, another reason why Gibbs wouldn't have. . . Then she said, her voice lower than it had been, "Jethro did teach you well. Find the guilty party, DiNozzo. Find them."
The Director turned on her heel and left the office.
"Wow, Tony, what's happened?"
Tony sent the newspaper spiraling across the room to McGee.
In seconds McGee's mouth fell open. "But . . . How could they . . . ? How, Tony?"
"What?" Ziva stood up and strode over the McGee's desk. She too read speedily. "Jenny is quite correct, Tony, either of your first two words would have been far more suitable a comment."
Tony sat down heavily in his chair. He didn't like this. He didn't like this at all. Dead navy personnel, bombs on ships, abductions, all of these he could deal with, but this. . . Where did he start? Who did he start with? Who did he believe? Who didn't he believe? Who could have, would have, done this? And why?
"Okay," he said, to give himself time. "Let's start from the premise that none of us are guilty."
"You mean this reporter found out these details by some kind of telepathy?"
"No, Officer David. Someone could have hacked into the computer system; they've done it before Pr - McGee."
"On it, Tony." The younger agent's fingers flew over his keyboard.
Not since the day Gibbs had walked out had Tony called McGee 'Probie'.
And not since that day had McGee called him 'boss'.
"And while McGee wastes his time looking for something that does not exist, what do you want me to do?"
"What makes you so sure, Ziva, that he won't find anything?" Tony's voice was quiet.
"You have firehedges, don't you?"
"It's firewalls, Ziva."
"Walls, hedges, what's the difference? You have them?"
"Of course we do. Sophisticated ones too. The best on the market. In fact -"
"More work, less talk, Timmy."
McGee glared at Tony. "I can work and talk at the same time," he said. Before bending his head and returning to what he was doing.
"So, if they're so good. No one can get in, right?"
"They've done it before."
"Yes, hacked right into Abby's computer once."
"Twice." McGee's tone was soft.
Yes, twice. And the second time . . . Tony hid a shiver. That lunatic had . . .
"Yes. Nothing on this part of the network anyway."
"If Abby's computer has been hocked -"
Ziva ignored him. "Before, then maybe we should be starting there. In fact given that the majority of the information has to do with -"
"Are you accusing Abby, Ziva?" McGee was on his feet.
"No. I am merely stating a fact. A fact, McGee. A fact that you yourself told me. I'll go and talk to her."
Tony caught her arm. "No, Ziva. McGee can go. He needs to check her computer anyway. You go and talk to Ducky and Palmer. McGee take some copies of the front page."
"Ducky?" She sounded almost insulted.
"Yes." Tony held the fierce glare.
Muttering under her breath, in her native tongue, Ziva turned on her heel and stalked off towards the elevators
"Ah, Ziva my dear, come in. Come in. How nice to see you. I'm afraid we haven't quite finished Lt. Draper's autopsy. You see with my wrist still being injured, Mr. Palmer is having to do all the work himself. And although he is competent, very competent in fact, he doesn't have my years of experience. Therefore he is a little slower than I would be. But it's far better to be thorough than to rush something and risk missing an important piece of evidence. I remember once -"
"I'm not here about Lt. Draper, Dr. Mallard," Ziva spoke sharply.
Jimmy, who had looked up from his work, frowned.
"Aren't you? Oh dear. I am sorry, my dear. Well what are you here for? May I offer you a cup of tea? It's about time that we -"
"Ducky. I'm here to int- talk to you both."
"Oh, about what, may I ask?"
Ziva thrust a piece of paper into Ducky's hands.
Jimmy moved closer and began to read over his boss's shoulder. "Dr. Mallard. But that's . . ."
"Yes, it is. And the Director wants to know how the reporter obtained the information."
"Yes, I imagine she would. Oh, dear. Well, I can assure you, Ziva, that neither Jimmy nor I have spoken to any newspaperman or woman about this case. Or indeed about any other. Have we, Jimmy?"
"No, Dr. Mallard. Of course not. I'd never do anything that might -"
"It's all right, Jimmy. No one is accusing you. Are they Officer David?" Ducky moved a little closer to Ziva, tilted his head back enough to look into her eyes and waited.
"No. Palmer. No one is accusing you."
"Or Dr. Mallard." Jimmy spoke decisively.
"Or Dr. Mallard," Jimmy repeated.
"Ducky." She turned to face Ducky. "No one is accusing you, but I just wondered whether . . . Well, whether you had got carried away telling one of your stories to someone."
Ducky held the gaze. "Officer David, I am sixty-three years old. I have been a doctor for nearly forty years. Even before I came to work for NCIS I knew more about what one does talk about and what one doesn't, than you could even begin to comprehend. In all my years I have never, I repeat never, spoken to anyone about anything I should not be sharing with them." Ducky's voice was low and almost conversational.
Jimmy, however, had never heard him so angry. If Agent Gibbs had been there, he'd have . . . But he wasn't. And Jimmy had given up hope of him ever returning. He wondered if Ducky had done the same.
And then Ziva did something that stunned Jimmy. "I'm sorry," she said, and with a hesitant gesture, one that spoke of someone not used to making it, she touched Ducky's arm.
A minute later, Ducky's face softened and he smiled up at Ziva. "That's all right, my dear. I suppose that as a Mossad agent you have to be even more suspicious than most."
"I think it's time for tea now, don't you, Jimmy?"
"Of course, Dr. Mallard. I'll be right back."
"And then I'll tell you the story about my uncle Ike and the beach in Normandy."
Jimmy smiled and went out.
It was only when he was on his way back with the tea that Ducky's words really registered. He could have sworn that when he'd heard that story originally, it had been Uncle Monty who Ducky was talking about. But he'd obviously misheard Ducky this time. That was what it was. As much as he hated to admit it, occasionally when Ducky said the word 'story', Jimmy found that he did momentarily switch off.
That was it.
"Hey, Jimmy, are you all right?" Abby beamed at him.
"Huh? Oh, sorry, Abby. I was thinking."
"I wish Tony would try doing that sometime. Sorry, that was bitchy. Oh, Jimmy, why doesn't Gibbs come back? Has Ducky said anything?"
Jimmy jumped. "About what?"
Abby frowned slightly. "About Gibbs coming back." She spoke very slowly and precisely. "Ducky must know where Gibbs is, mustn't he? Gibbs wouldn't leave Ducky and not tell him where -Jimmy, are you okay?"
Jimmy struggled with his conscience. It was nothing. He was imagining things. But . . . He made a decision. Glancing around him, he moved nearer to Abby and grabbed her arm. "Abby, can I talk to you?"
"That's what we're doing, Jimmy." Abby looked puzzled.
"No. I mean really talk to you. In private."
Abby tried to move back a little. "Look, Jimmy, don't take this the wrong way. I mean I like you. I do. Really I do. But -"
"No, Abby. I don't mean anything like that. It's about Ducky."
"Mmm. I'm worried about him, Abby."
Abby grabbed Jimmy's hand and dragged him back into her lab. Pushed him down on a stool, gripped his shoulders and said, in a firm voice, "Tell me."
"Are you sure, Jimmy?"
"But how can you remember that one story out of all the ones Ducky's told you? I love Ducky, but I couldn't tell you one story from another. Only Gibbs -"
"Could do that. But Gibbs is why I remember this one."
"Because Agent Gibbs finished the story for Dr. Mallard."
"Yes. He walked into Autopsy and finished what Dr. Mallard was saying. And I remember thinking 'I hope that one day someone cares about me enough to know me so well, to really listen to me'."
Abby patted his shoulder. "Oh, Jimmy," she said softly. "I -"
Jimmy shook his head. "I guess until that moment I always thought that Gibbs, like most of us really, didn't actually listen to the stories. I mean I listen, but . . ."
"Yeah, Jimmy. Me too. Me too." Abby patted his shoulder again.
"But Gibbs listens. I mean he listened."
"I wouldn't worry, Jimmy. I know it must have sounded strange, but . . . I'm sure it was just . . . Ducky's missing Gibbs. I know we all are. But Ducky's really missing him. Ducky hasn't been our Ducky since Gibbs left. Not really."
"I know that, Abby. But there's more. The other morning he asked me for coffee rather than his usual tea."
Abby's eyes got so wide Jimmy feared they'd pop. "Ducky asked for coffee?" She sounded as though Jimmy had told her that Ducky had run naked through the streets of Washington.
"But that's . . . That's . . . I've only ever seen Ducky drink coffee once, when Gibbs gave it to him to warm him up."
"I haven't either, at least not when he's had the choice."
"Even so . . . Maybe his wrist's hurting him more than he's saying."
Jimmy struggled with himself for another minute. Then said quietly, "I'm not sure it is injured."
"I suggested he let a doctor look at it."
"I was worried about it. He seemed . . . Not himself. He got really cross with me for a minute. Said he didn't need to see a doctor and I shouldn't interfere."
"Ducky's as bad as Gibbs when it comes to his own health. He bullies the rest of us, but -"
"I don't think he wants to perform the autopsies."
Jimmy sighed. "Abby, Alzheimers can run in families, can't it?"
"No, Jimmy. No. No way. Ducky isn't . . . He couldn't be . . . He's too young." Abby began to pace around the lab, waving her hands in short, jerky movements. "No, you've got it wrong. He's just missing Gibbs. Yes, that's what it is. He's really missing Gibbs. He's tired. His mother's getting more demanding. Maybe he's had to let the nurse go, but hasn't told us. Yes. He can't tell us because he thinks Tony or Madam Director will . . . He'd have told Gibbs. Yes, that's it. He's not getting enough sleep. He's hurt his wrist. He's . . . " She came to a stop by Jimmy and beamed at him. "That's it, Jimmy. That explains everything. He'll be fine soon. Now I've got to run, I'm meeting McGee. Night, Jimmy." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and ran out of the room.
Jimmy watched her go. Then sighed and followed more slowly.
He hoped she was right.
He had to believe she was.
But . . .
FIVE DAYS LATER
This time the Director called Tony to her office.
"Well?" She held out the Washington Times. Emblazoned across the headlines were details, even more details this time, of their latest case.
"Director Shepard, I'm -"
"Off the case."
"You heard me, DiNozzo. You are off the case.
"But Director ma'am. Give me another day or two. I'll find out who it is."
"Gibbs would have found out by now."
"But I'm not Gibbs, am I? I'm just Anthony DiNozzo, the person who no one wanted to lead the team. The person who everyone only puts up with because they keep thinking Gibbs will come back. The person you only let take over because you think he'll be back. And you know what? What none of you seem to realize, I want him back too. I only took the job, I only stayed because I thought, 'give it a week, a month maybe, and he'll walk back through that door, coffee in one hand, the other held out for his Sig and badge. And then he'll smack me around the head. And he'll be back'. Gibbs, the boss, will be back. But it's not going to happen, is it? And anyone who believes it will is fooling themselves. Nothing in this life is going to bring Leroy Jethro Gibbs back. Nothing. Not you. Not anyone. Nothing. And if you want my badge, here take it." He yanked it out of his pocket, ignoring the sound of ripping material and threw it down on her desk.
Breathing heavily he stared down at the woman he suddenly hated.
But then at that moment he hated everyone: Ducky. Abby. Palmer. McGee. Ziva. Himself.
Himself most of all.
He turned on his heel and strode toward the door.
"Agent DiNozzo." Her voice stopped him.
He didn't turn around. "Director Shepard."
"Come back here."
He hesitated. Why? What could she do if he didn't?
"Tony." Her voice was quieter. "I'm sorry."
He turned around and opened his mouth.
"And don't quote Rule Four at me. They were Jethro's rules. And you are quite right. He's gone. He isn't coming back. We, I, have to accept that. But you are wrong about one thing."
"I didn't let you take over because I believed Gibbs would be back. I let you take over because Gibbs believed in you. Maybe it's time you started to believe in yourself, Tony."
"That's a bit difficult to do, ma'am, when you are taking me off the case."
"That has nothing to do with you, DiNozzo. I've been ordered to hand it over to the FBI. You knew that would happen, didn't you?"
Tony shrugged. "Yes, Director. I guess I did. I thought . . . I thought it'd take a bit longer. Who?"
"Trust him, Tony. Gibbs did."
"Yeah. I guess he did. Don't think I really knew that at first. I saw what they wanted me to see. Believed what they wanted me to believe."
"We all did, DiNozzo. Don't feel so bad. Gibbs fooled me the same way six years ago."
"That was Gibbs all round, wasn't it? Made us see and believe what he wanted us to. Do you think anyone knew the real Leroy Jethro Gibbs? Did you? Sorry, ma'am." He felt his face flush.
For a long moment she just stared at him. Then she shook her head, her hair looked a little better now it was slightly longer again, but Tony didn't think it would be wise to tell her so. "No, Tony. The only person I believe who had any idea who the real Leroy Jethro Gibbs was, was -"
They said the name together.
"Yeah. And I guess we've all been too wrapped up in ourselves we forget how much Ducky must be missing him."
"You'll give Fornell whatever he asks for?"
"But . . . " Tony glanced down at her desk where his badge sat.
She sighed, picked it up and held it out to him. "Next time, DiNozzo."
Tony called the team together in Abby's lab and told them about the latest leak, and about Fornell.
They listened in silence, all of them, simply looking at Tony. In turn he looked from one to the other. He couldn't believe that any of them would do this, but . . . But someone had.
"Okay. Fornell will be here in a couple of hours. McGee, Abbs, go over ever computer in miniscule detail."
"But, Tony, we've already done that."
"Do it again. And again. And again. Tear them apart. Do whatever it is you two do when you hook up together. Find me something."
"And if there isn't anything? As Abby and McGee said, they've already done this."
"Then, Ziva. I hope you like being questioned by the FBI. Okay, everyone. Find me something."
He was about to dismiss them, when suddenly he noticed something. Damn, some investigator he was. "Where's Palmer, Ducky?"
"Hmm? Oh, I'm so sorry, Tony. I should have mentioned it. Mr. Palmer won't be in for a day or two; he called his morning to say that he had some kind of bug or something. It's quite inconvenient really, with my wrist being injured. Although I do recall a time when I had to -"
"Well, let's hope there aren't any bodies that need cutting up for a few days, Ducky." Tony forced a smile.
"Indeed. If anyone needs me, I'll be in Autopsy." And Ducky limped out of the room.
Abby stared after him.
She made a decision. "Tony, can I see you for a minute?"
"I haven't got time, Abbs. I have to -"
"It's important, Tony. Really important."
"Come on, Abbs. You said it was important. All you've done is tell me a few things that Palmer's told you. He's not the brightest spark."
"Jimmy's very intelligent, Tony. Far more than you give him credit for. He might not be a Special Agent, but he notices things. He's sensitive. Besides, it's not just him."
"What do you mean?" Tony was getting impatient. He needed to get back to his desk and . . . Do something.
"You saw how Ducky behaved just now. He didn't seem to care about Jimmy. Didn't know what was wrong with him. That's not our Ducky. I'm worried, Tony."
"Look, Abbs. I know you're fond of Ducky, but . . . He's getting on. He's . . . " He broke off. He'd just committed one of the ultimate crimes; he'd dared to rubbish Ducky. Gibbs would . . . But Gibbs wasn't there. Still, Tony didn't feel he wanted to go on. Gibbs might not be in the building, in the state, even in the country, but the man's omnipotence remained. "Maybe it's as Palmer suggested; maybe he is becoming like his mother. Maybe . . ."
"Maybe Gibbs should be told."
"Maybe Gibbs should be told. Think about it, Tony. If anything could bring Gibbs back, it'd be something happening to Ducky. If we were able to tell him that -"
"We think Ducky's going senile. Sure, Abbs. That'd work."
"It's worth a try. Then, if he came back he'd be able to find out who was talking to the papers; realize how much he missed us, missed the job, and stay." She beamed and moved her head, making her pigtails bounce.
"And if Ducky is going senile, and if it's Ducky who's talking to the papers." Tony's voice was soft.
"Oh." Before his eyes Abby deflated.
"Yeah. Gibbs'd never forgive himself. No, better to let Fornell do his job. If it is Ducky, well, then maybe we can tell Gibbs."
"Tony? Do you think it is Ducky? Do you think . . . ?"
Tony slipped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "I don't, Abby."
"What does your gut tell you?"
"No. But then -" Tony's cell phone began to burble.
"But what good will that do? She's crazy."
"Just go, DiNozzo." As always Fornell's slant on Tony's name irritated him. He wanted to say 'DiNOzzo, not DiNotzo'. As always he didn't.
"You just want to talk to my team without me around. It's just a ploy. Some time wasting. Mrs. Mallard won't know whether her son's been acting 'odd', she's odd herself."
"DiNozzo, Ducky's mother has a nurse, doesn't she?"
"Yeah. So?" Fornell just stared at him. "Right. Got it. On to it bo -" He stopped speaking and bit his lip. Damnit, but Fornell did remind him so much of Gibbs. He held the tired gaze, the gaze that looked even tiered than it normally did. "Right," he repeated, turning to go.
"I miss him too, Tony." Fornell's voice was soft.
Tony stopped walking, but didn't turn around. "Yeah." He left.
RESTON, THE SAME DAY
He rang the bell of Ducky's large, impressive home and waited.
He rang it again.
Finally it was opened, just a crack, and a grey head peered out.
Tony groaned. "Mrs. Mallard. How nice to see you again, ma'am. I don't expect you'll remember me, but I'm -"
"The gigolo. You moved some furniture for me. Donald insisted that it be moved back. But I don't like it where it is. Now that you're here, you can move it again. Come in, and don't forget, I have a knife in my brassiere."
"No, ma'am. Of course I won't." Tony went into the house, smiling his best 'furniture moving gigolo' smile. At least she seemed to have forgotten - for the moment anyway - the 'dogs' hairdresser' bit. "Right," he clapped his hands. She jumped. "Sorry, ma'am." He put his hand out.
"Don't come near me. Don't touch me. I warn you. I -"
"It's all right, Mrs. Mallard. I won't touch you. I'm just here to move some furniture for you."
"Hmm. Well come along then. Now I'd like this commode back out in the hall. That's where it should be."
Twenty minutes later, out of breath and sweating, Tony asked. "Er, is your nurse in, Mrs. Mallard?"
"Hmph. Her. I don't like her you know. I don't trust her. I caught her yesterday going through my drawers. She said she was looking for my tablets. But I didn't believe her. A hussy that's what she is, a painted hussy. A little tramp. She's probably out with a man. She leaves me alone, you know. I really must tell Donald. I don't want her in the house any longer. Yes, when Donald comes back, I will tell him."
"Comes back, ma'am?" Suddenly Tony's gut began to tingle. He pushed to one side the little voice that said 'she's crazy; she probably has days when she doesn't even recognize her son'. Then it hit him. "You mean comes home from work. That's a good idea, ma'am. You tell him. I'm sure he'll -"
"Of course I don't mean comes home from work. He's not at work, you fool."
"No. He's gone away to see his friend."
Tony forced himself not to grab her and shake her. He spoke slowly and softly. "Which friend, ma'am?"
"The nice one. The one he's known for decades. Tall. Handsome. Jeremy. Jeffrey. Jonathan. Julian. J-"
She beamed and squeezed his hand. "Yes, that's it. Jethro. He's gone away to see Jethro."
Tony swallowed. "Are you sure, Mrs. Mallard?"
She hit him. Hard. "Of course I'm sure, young man. Do you think I'm crazy or something?"
"No, ma'am. Of course not." Tony hastened to try to appease the old woman.
"How dare you? And what are you doing in my house anyway? Who are you?"
"I'm Tony DiNozzo. The gigolo, remember? The furniture moving gigolo." Tony began to back away.
"You're after my body." She pulled a knife out of a nearby drawer.
Tony held up his hands. "No, ma'am," he assured her, backing slowly towards the door.
"Then you're after the silver. I'm going to call the Police. They'll lock you up. They'll -"
"Now, Vanessa, what are you doing?"
"Helen. What are you doing here?"
"You invited me for tea, dear. Now why don't you put the knife down? That's it. What's going on? Who are you?"
Tony dug out his badge. "Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS, ma'am."
"There you are, dear. He works with Donald."
"Your son, dear. I'm sorry, Mr. DiNozzo. She gets a little confused."
"Yeah. I know."
"I'm Helen Patterson. I help Donald out from time to time. I come and see Vanessa as often as I can. Now why don't you go and put the kettle on, dear?"
"Can't the girl do it?"
"It's her afternoon off, dear."
"Oh, very well then. But really, servants today, they expect too much." Mumbling to herself, Mrs. Mallard tottered out of the room.
"Er, will she be okay?"
"Oh, yes. She won't make any tea. She'll be pouring us G&Ts now. Large ones. Not as large as that friend of Donald's used to make us. It's all his fault that she likes them so strong. But I suppose it can't really hurt her at her age. I miss him. He's gone away for a while, Donald was saying. Donald misses him too, but at least he'll be seeing him now."
She looked at Tony oddly. "Are you sure you work for NCIS, young man?"
She shrugged. "Well it must be in a different area then. Donald has gone away for a week or so to visit his friend Jethro."
Again Tony forced himself not to grab her. "Did Mrs. Mallard tell you this?"
"No, dear. Donald told us. I was here the evening he went. And he - Oh, are you going?"
"Yes, sorry. I have to go. A case. That's it a case. I'll see myself out. Thank you. Say goodbye to Mrs. Mallard for me. She thinks I'm a gigolo who moves furniture and is a dog hairdresser. Goodbye."
"Goodbye, dear. But -"
"I'm coming Vanessa. I'm coming."
WASHINGTON, THE SAME AFTERNOON
"Let me go to Mexico, Fornell."
"I can't do that DiNozzo. You're under suspicion."
"Then you go."
"I can't. Your Director and mine expect me to be here."
"Look, Fornell, you're good. You're as good as Gibbs. Stall her. You can do that. Don't tell her I've gone. Just . . . "
"Forty-eight hours. That's how long you've got. There's a Director's conference starting later today that'll go on for two days. You've got that long, DiNozzo. Get to Mexico, convince Gibbs to come back. Or . . ."
Fornell shrugged. "I only have your word for what Mrs. Mallard told you. Don't I?"
Holding the tired gaze for another minute, DiNozzo left.
MEXICO, THE NEXT DAY
"How is he?"
"Is he - hey, boss."
"DiNozzo. What are you doing here? And I'm not your boss."
"How are you?"
"Fine. It's great here. Should have retired years ago. Whatever it is, my answer's no. I'm not coming back, DiNozzo. And if Jenn reckons that sending you with some elaborate story about a case that only I can - What did you say?"
"I said it's Ducky."
That shook Gibbs. Tony saw it. The shield Gibbs had always worn around the office, which had trebled in intensity since Tony last saw him, crumbled. And for only the second time in the three years he'd known the man, Gibbs looked afraid. Then it had gone. The wall was re-erected, and the dark eyes became hard. "What about him?"
"I'll just go and get some beer. Yes, I'll do that." Franks wandered off.
Tony told Gibbs everything. Short. Precise. To the point. "And apparently, according to Mrs. Mallard and her friend Mrs. Patterson, Ducky has gone to visit you," he finished.
Gibbs ran his hand over his head. "Ducky used to do that from time to time. When he needed a break from his mother. He'd come and spend a few days with me. I made him, I guess. She's hard work, DiNozzo."
"Yeah. I kind of saw that. So you think that's what he's done?" DiNozzo felt deflated. "He's gone off to a hotel or something, but told his mother he'd gone to see you. And he's just carried on coming into work?" It made sense. It made a lot of sense. Now that he knew what he knew.
But Gibbs shook his head. "That's not Ducky. Not the Ducky I knew, anyway."
"He's changed, boss. Since you went." Tony wasn't above playing dirty pool.
Gibbs glared at him.
For a moment it was the old Jethro Gibbs standing there.
Tony waited for the smack around the head.
It never came.
Instead Gibbs sighed heavily and again ran his hand over his hair. "I guess he has." His voice was soft, flat. Then he shook himself. "God, I need a haircut. What time's the next flight?"
Tony mentally crossed his fingers, toes, legs, arms and anything else he could think of. But he didn't allow himself to hope too much. "Er, four hours."
"Right. Give me five to tell Mike I'm going."
"You're coming back?"
"Just to see if Ducky's okay."
It would do.
It had to.
WASHINGTON, THE NEXT MORNING
"Jethro!" Ducky turned around sharply and stared at Gibbs. The surprise was clear in the wide blue eyes, and for a fleeting second Gibbs swore he saw something else there too. He thought he read fear, or at least shock. But then it fled and the eyes softened, as they always did when Ducky looked at him. Except . . .
With three strides Gibbs was across the room and had enfolded Ducky in his arms. "Ah, Duck," he murmured. "Missed you." Did he imagine it? Or did Ducky not return the embrace quite as speedily as he normally did?
"I missed you too, Jethro. How are you? How is Mexico?"
Where was the 'my dear'? Gibbs would have bet his life that those two words would have formed part of Ducky's greeting. His ‘Ducky-sense', that had served him well throughout the years, was beginning to tingle.
"Mexico's fine, Duck. Changed a bit since you and me went there that time. Remember that?"
"Of course I do, Jethro. It was -"
Jethro broke the embrace, and in one swift move, whirled the shorter man around, yanked his arm up behind his back, put his other arm around his throat and snarled, "Who the fuck are you? And where's Dr. Mallard?"
From behind him he heard DiNozzo exclaim, "Boss."
And Fornell's quieter, "Hold on, DiNozzo."
"Jethro, what are you doing? Have you lost your memory again? I'm Ducky. Please let me go, Jethro, you're hurting my arm."
"I'll do more than hurt your arm," Gibbs growled. He spun the man around kept one hand on his throat. The other was on his shoulder, pushing down, biting into the skin. "Fine. If you're Ducky then answer these questions: Who's Thomas and how did he die? When and where did we first meet? When was Kelly's birthday? What's your mother's maiden name? What's your favorite book? And why, why haven't you called me ‘my dear'?"
"Jethro, there are other people here. I -"
"That's never stopped my Ducky." Gibbs moved one hand up into Ducky's hair and gripped it. "Now tell me or - what the . . . " Gibbs trailed off as the hair came off in his hand.
From behind him he heard two sharp intakes of breath.
He ignored them.
With fury rising inside him, almost beyond the level he'd be able to contain it, he took another step towards the figure that was now cowering in front of him.
It held out its hands. "Okay, okay. Enough. I'll tell you. Just don't hurt me. Okay? Please."
"Where is Dr. Mallard?" Gibbs spoke quietly, with such coldness that he felt it blaze against the heat of his anger.
"He's fine. I promise. He's fine."
"He had better be. Because if you have so much as hurt a hair on his head, I swear that if they ever find your body, no one will recognize it. And those who do see it will have nightmares for months."
He saw the man standing in front of him visibly pale under the now-all-too-obvious makeup, and he began to shake. "Please. I swear he is fine. I never intended to hurt him. I never wanted to hurt anyone. Hell, I even put my arm in a sling to avoid doing autopsies. Please. You have to believe me."
"I don't have to believe anything. Tell me two things, where is Dr. Mallard and what the fuck are you up to?"
"And who are you?" DiNozzo threw in.
The man glanced at DiNozzo. "I'm Sam Williams an editor on the Washington Times. I'm old for the job; they only want youth these days. There are going to be cutbacks and I thought I'd be axed. I just needed a big scoop, so big they wouldn't dare let me go. And what could be bigger than all the juicy details of NCIS cases? A friend of mine works here, and no, I'm not going to tell you who that is. He told me that I looked a lot like Dr. Mallard. He'd tell me things about him, nothing confidential, just about his habits. He reckoned that with a bit of practice, a wig and stuff, I could pass for him. The more I listened, the more I liked the idea. I had dreams of going, when I did go, that is, out with a bang. Winning prizes for my articles. But there was one stumbling block: you. I knew that with you around, they'd be no way I could do it. Reckoned I could fool the rest of them, but not you. You and Dr. Mallard are far too close. So when my friend told me that you'd resigned, I saw my chance. I just needed a wig in the right style, and a bit of makeup, some contacts to hide my eyes. And that was it. Part of me never really thought it would work, but even if I only got inside the building, then it was something. But then it became clear that they did believe me, all I did was to tell rambling stories and stuff like that. Any out-of-character behavior was put down to Ducky missing you. And so . . . But then Dr. Mallard's assistant got suspicious; I could see that. I'd screwed up once or twice, so he was 'persuaded' to take a few days off. Don't worry; he's not hurt either. In fact, he's with Dr. Mallard."
Gibbs had had enough. "And where is that?"
"The Station Hotel. I promise, Agent Gibbs, no one has hurt him. They wouldn't."
"DiNozzo. With me."
"On your six, boss."
Finally letting go of Williams, who fell back against a table, still shaking and wide-eyed, and now muttering to himself, Gibbs turned and strode towards the door.
He paused for a second. "Tobias."
"Oh, don't you worry, Jethro, Mr. Williams here and me are going to have a nice long chat."
Gibbs nodded and, with DiNozzo running to keep up with him, left the room and the building.
"Give me your back-up gun, DiNozzo."
"Haven't you got yours, boss?"
Gibbs stared at DiNozzo. "DiNozzo," he said in his ‘I'm talking to a child here' tone. "I just came into the country, remember? You were there. They have these things called weapons checks now, remember? And, gee, as I no longer have a nice, shiny badge, they wouldn't have let me bring a gun. Now give me your back-up gun."
He leaned against the door and listened. He could hear Ducky's voice, low, continuous, his story-telling-mode voice. He glanced at DiNozzo and signaled ‘on three'.
DiNozzo kicked the door down.
Gibbs went in, gun held in a two-handed grip. He didn't like the gun. It didn't fit right in his hands. But it was a gun. What he saw made him momentarily come to a halt.
Ducky was sitting in what looked like a comfortable armchair, a very comfortable armchair. A table by his side held a teapot, cups, saucers, a jug, a sugar bowl, plates and biscuits, as well as a bottle of Ducky's favorite whiskey. Sitting on the other side of the table, eyes fixed on Ducky, was Jimmy Palmer.
At another table slumped two men, only just coming awake. They blinked at one another and Gibbs and DiNozzo and just stared, their mouths open.
Ducky looked up too.
There was no surprise on his face, or in his steady gaze.
Instead there in the pale blue eyes, the eyes that Gibbs had been looking down into for nearly thirty years, he saw it. Or rather he saw it and acknowledged it. He saw it and didn't try to hide from it.
He saw the love, as clear as the perfect ocean.
The love, not just the fraternal kind, but the love that had allowed Ducky to enter into the charade with him, the charade that said ‘we've only known one another for just over a decade', although Gibbs had nearly messed that up with his 'Illya Kuryakin' remark. The charade that allowed Ducky never to acknowledge, not only knowing about, but also loving, both Shannon and Kelly.
The love that had allowed Ducky to be Gibbs's best man all four times.
The love that had allowed him to hold Gibbs, to support him, to care for him when all four marriages ended. The love that allowed him to do so without ever once saying ‘I told you so'.
The love that had never said ‘I love you. I'm in love with you', but that had never stopped saying it.
The love that he, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, had hidden from; run from; knew about; dreamed about; wanted, but had never dared to acknowledge.
In that split second before Ducky spoke, Gibbs knew what he'd known from the day he'd met Ducky.
"My dear Jethro, what kept you?" Ducky said softly.
Gibbs didn't actually remember crossing the room, tugging Ducky to his feet and wrapping him in his fierce embrace. One minute he was by the door, the next Ducky was in his arms. And as he held his oldest, dearest, most beloved friend, as he let his face rest on the top of Ducky's head, as he brushed Ducky's heavy, silky hair with his hand, as he inhaled the scent he'd know even if he were blindfolded, he wondered how he could ever, ever, even for a fraction of a fraction of a second have thought that the imposter, whom he'd held in a similar embrace less than an hour ago, could have been Ducky.
There was, and only ever could be, one Donald ‘Ducky' Mallard, and he was right where he should be: in Gibbs's arms.
"You okay, Duck?" he asked after another moment or two.
"Yes, thank you, my dear. These gentlemen and I were having a lovely time. I was telling them about my various exploits around the world. They seemed to particularly enjoy the story about Uncle Monty, didn't they, Jimmy."
"Yes, Dr. Mallard," Palmer said, as he smiled at Gibbs over Ducky's head.
How Gibbs stopped himself from kissing Ducky there and then, and to hell with DiNozzo, Palmer and the ‘gentlemen', he'd never know.
Finally he pushed Ducky away from him just a little, and stared deeply into his eyes. "Are you sure you're okay, Duck? They didn't hurt you in any way?"
"No, my dear. In fact quite the opposite. They have remarkable concerned about my health and well-being. At one point one of them suggested that maybe I might have a sore throat, as my voice sounded a little husky, and recommended that I should rest it. Wasn't that nice of him?"
Gibbs chuckled. "Come on, Duck. Let's get you home. DiNozzo, I'll take your car. You can call McGee and get him to come and pick you, Palmer, and the 'gentlemen' up."
Gibbs changed his grip to just having one arm around Ducky's shoulders, and was pleased to feel Ducky's arm come up around his back. It felt so right, so perfect.
He started to move slowly.
"Wait a moment, Jethro." Ducky came to a halt.
"I quite forgot for a moment. How dreadful of me. How remiss. It was seeing you again, my dear. Not that I ever doubted for a moment that you would come. I just wasn't certain quite when that would be. I didn't know how long it would take Anthony and the others to figure it out."
"Yeah, Ducky. I'm really sorry about that. I feel dreadful. I should have noticed. I -"
"Oh, don't worry, Anthony. Really. It isn't your fault. You see it's all to do with -"
"Yes, my dear?"
"Let's save the explanations for now. You can tell us all about it when we've got the whole team together. That way you'll only have to tell us once." Gibbs smiled, and pondered how many times he'd hear it before they got the team together.
"Certainly, Jethro. Shall we go then?"
"You said you'd forgotten something."
"Oh, dear. And I've done it again. Oh, Jethro, what must you think of me? You
don't think I'm -"
"I'm sorry." He turned towards DiNozzo. "It's Mother I should have asked about. Is she -"
"Your mom's fine, Ducky. I saw her yesterday. She's fine. I left her and Mrs. Patterson about to enjoy a g- er, cup of tea. She thought you'd gone off to see Gibbs. The man who impersonated you told her you'd gone away for a few days. So she's not worried about you." He didn't add that at one point she's asked who Donald was.
"Oh, good. I am sure that the ladies enjoyed their 'tea'." He threw a pointed look at Gibbs, who decided that his 'innocent who me', look was the best one. "In that case, my dear, you may take me home."
Gibbs started to move again. Home was indeed where he was going to take Ducky; just not to Ducky's home.
Gibbs sighed. "DiNozzo."
"Sorry, boss. It's just that you might need a bit of help when you go home, that's all." Ducky looked puzzled. Gibbs glared. "Well you see, your mom remembered me, which I thought was a good thing. It's just that she remembered me as . . ." DiNozzo trailed off for a moment, glanced at Ducky, then at Gibbs and swallowed. Then to Gibbs surprise, he flushed slightly. "As a furniture moving gigolo. I was there for half-an-hour before she'd let me stop. Sorry," he added, as Gibbs rolled his eyes.
"It's all right, my dear. There's no harm done." Ducky patted Gibbs's arm.
"I can come over later and help you move it back, if you like, boss. Or not," he added, as Gibbs just stared at him.
"Okay, Duck. Let's go home."
They drove in silence for several minutes. Not a strained silence, which was the type that Gibbs was, if he were honest, had partly been expecting. Instead it was their usual peaceful, at ease silence.
Reaching a junction, he signaled.
"Where are we going?"
"But this isn't the way to my home."
"No. But it's the way to mine."
"Stop the car, Jethro."
"Duck. I -"
"Stop the car."
Pulling over to the side of the road, Gibbs did as he'd been ordered. He turned off the engine and sat for a moment with his hands on the wheel, mentally composing what to say. "Duck."
"No, Jethro. Listen to me, please."
"Sure, Duck." Gibbs turned to look at Ducky. The blue eyes regarded him with a steady, unblinking stare.
"Tell me one thing."
"Are you back? Back for good, I mean?"
Gibbs took one hand off the steering wheel and touched Ducky's shoulder. "Yeah. Yeah, I am, Duck." His voice was low.
"In that case, my dear, you may drive me to your home. Well, what are you waiting for?" Ducky added after a moment or two when Gibbs just sat there, unmoving.
"Nothing. Right." He switched the engine on, pushed the car into drive, and pulled out onto the road.
Inside his house, the house he swore he'd never see again, but hadn't had the courage to sell, it felt cool. And to his surprise the air was clean. The musty-unlived-in-for-months feel and odor wasn't present. But surely . . . ?
"Unlived in houses need regular airing, so I used to come over here once a week. I told myself that when you came back, you'd . . . But that was foolish of me, wasn't it? You weren't coming back. I know that now."
"I'm sorry, Duck." Jethro pulled Ducky back into his arms. "I . . . " He broke off. There was nothing he could say. Nothing at all.
"It's all right, Jethro. I do understand. Really I do. I was just being foolish. And I knew that I was really. But -"
"No, dearest. It's all right. Really it is."
"Yes. Because you're back now. That's all that matters. Jethro," Ducky pulled out of the embrace slightly, tipped his head back and looked up at Jethro. In the relative darkness of the hall, his pupils had dilated, mostly hiding the light blue; as Jethro watched, the lightness became darker. He saw a myriad of emotions in the gaze: pain, acceptance, hurt, affection, concern, hope, belief, and as always unconditional love.
"Yeah, Duck," he murmured, memorized by the stare.
"You really are back, are you not? You have come back now. To stay."
"I told you in the car I had, Duck."
"I know. But I couldn't really see your eyes then. You looked down slightly when you said yes. Look at me, Jethro. Look at me and tell me you've come back, for good."
Jethro stared deeply into the enchanting gaze. He lowered his head very slightly and raised his hand to brush a strand of hair off Ducky's cheek. "I haven't just come back, Duck. I've come home. To you. And I'll prove it." He lowered his head even more, and in one simple movement that belied the fact that he'd never done it before, he found Ducky's lips with his own and kissed him.
Several minutes later during which, apart from pauses to breathe, the two men did nothing other than kiss one another, Jethro found himself more aroused than he could ever remember being from simply kissing. He lifted his head. "So, Duck, you want to talk some more, or should we take this to the bedroom?"
Ducky looked up at him and smiled gently. There was no blue in his eyes now, just dark, soft ebony. His face showed nothing other than pure contentedness, devotion, love and affection, and it was open to Jethro in a way he'd never seen before.
He hadn't realized that Ducky had, despite his revealing eyes and openness, always been slightly hidden from him, behind a barricade that allowed Ducky to go on loving him day in and day out while watching him give to others what he couldn't - wouldn't - give to Ducky.
The smile changed slightly. "Well, my dear Jethro, I do have to confess that my throat is beginning to feel a little sore."
Dawn found them still awake, still in one another's arms, still touching, kissing, connecting. Jethro was tired, but in a good way; in a very good way. And what was more, he was finally content, utterly and completely content, beyond any level that he'd ever believed possible.
Their hours-long lovemaking had been gentle, almost chaste. There had been no hectic race to climax, no need to touch merely to arouse, no need to worry about whether his partner was happy, no worries about performance, or whether the words 'I love you' were expected. Nothing but . . . There wasn't really a word for it. And yet there were more words than Jethro knew. 'Rightness' seemed to be the nearest he could find, and even that fell woefully short.
Every touch and kiss, every caress and endearment, every look and smile were engraved on his memory. And what was even better was that they'd do it all again that night, and every night from then onwards. Not necessarily the sex, that was only a miniscule part of what they'd shared; sex wasn't even what they'd enjoyed, because sex wasn't enough. They made love. And not just as a physical element.
"I love you, Duck," Jethro murmured, kissing Ducky's nose.
"I love you too, my dearest Jethro." Ducky blinked up at him. And Jethro fell in love all over again.
"Gibbs!" The human dynamo that went by the name Abby, pounded across the office and hurled herself into Gibbs's arms. "Gibbs. Gibbs. Gibbs. Gibbs. Gibbs," she murmured, as she buried her face in his shoulder and clung on to him. Through his shirt he could feel moisture. Abby never cried; only once before had she shed tears, but she was crying now.
Across the room stood DiNozzo, McGee, Palmer, Ziva and Fornell. Not really certain what his friend was doing there, but not really caring, Gibbs just grinned.
By his side, where Gibbs had ever intention of him remaining, stood Ducky. Closer than even they used to stand; now he was actually touching Gibbs, albeit only infinitesimally.
"Hey, Abbs," he murmured, after another minute went by. As she lifted her head, he kissed her cheek, trying not to pull a face as a mixture of mascara, eyeliner, and whatever other make-up Abby wore found its way onto his lips.
"Gibbs," she said again. Then suddenly, appearing to notice Ducky for the first time, squealed, "Ducky. My Duckman. Come here, Ducky." She yanked herself out of Gibbs's arms and threw herself into Ducky's.
"Careful, Abbs," Gibbs said, steadying his lover as he staggered slightly under the onslaught.
"Sorry. Sorry, Ducky. Oh, Ducky. Are you all right?" She pulled back and held Ducky at arms length, peering down at him from between even blacker-rimmed eyes than usual. "Did they hurt you? Because if they did . . . " The look on her face became fierce. Gibbs decided that staying on the good side of Abby was the safest thing to do.
"No, Abigail my dear, they didn't. I'm fine. Really I am. In many ways it was rather like a holiday." He smiled fondly and patted Abby's back.
She let herself be petted for a moment or two. Then she pulled away and the look on her face changed from sheer joy to clear guilt. "Oh, Ducky," she murmured again. "I am so sorry. We're so sorry. So very sorry. Will you ever be able to forgive us?" Before Ducky could speak, she glanced over her shoulder and glared at the group. "Well," she ordered, in her best Leroy Jethro Gibbs tone. "Don't just stand there!"
As one the group moved forward. And the next few minutes were taken up with handshakes, slaps and pats on the back, smiles and incoherent words.
During it Jethro noticed that Ziva had held back slightly, watching rather than really participating. He wasn't really surprised, Ziva didn't go in for hugs, and after she'd witnessed first DiNozzo, then McGee and finally Jimmy hugged, albeit quite briefly, by Ducky, she seemed to slip back even further.
"How are you?"
"I'm fine thank you. How are you?"
"Ziva, he's just -"
"Abbs," Gibbs said gently. And although Abby frowned at him, she subsided into silence.
A second later she gasped and again turned to Ducky. "We are so very sorry, Ducky. How could we have . . . I mean that man he was nothing like you. Nothing. And we all. . . . Call yourselves investigators." She glared at DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva. "If it hadn't been for Jimmy . . ." She beamed at the young man and he turned red.
"Hey, Duck." He touched his lover's arm.
"Yes, my dear?" Ducky gazed up at him. And with that one look, Jethro knew that their relationship was now public knowledge. Not that he'd planned on keeping it a secret. Assuming that Jenny would allow him to return, he'd be filing a change of address immediately. Ducky and he had decided that it was unfair to expect Mrs. Mallard to leave her home at her age, so Jethro, minus boat (for now at least) would move into Ducky's Reston home.
"Why don't you explain to them what you told me on the way in?"
"Certainly dear. Well you see, my dears . . ." He moved towards the empty desk, settled down in the chair and let the team gather around him.
Jethro watched for a moment, then gestured to Tobias with his head. As the two men moved away slightly, he heard Ducky explaining his complex theory as to why the team hadn't realized they had an imposter in their midst. He hoped that they followed it, because he'd heard it twice, and he still wasn't certain that he did.
Ducky talked about the mind and the way it processed, and thus saw and heard what it expected to see and hear, and as such why they hadn't realized that Ducky wasn't Ducky. But that Jethro would have known, because of their history. Because Jethro was the only person who really paid attention to Ducky. Not that he was saying the others didn't, but their focus was different. They went down to Autopsy expecting to see Ducky performing, or having performed, or about to perform an autopsy. Whereas Jethro, although he too did all those things, also went to see Ducky as his friend Ducky, not Ducky as Dr. Mallard.
Jethro shook himself. That made three times and it was getting harder to understand by the minute. However, from the wide-eyed look on Abby's still rather black face, he thought that she at least understood part of what Ducky was saying.
"What else did that bastard have to say for himself, Tobias?"
"Not a great deal really, Jethro. He mainly kept repeating that he'd never intended to hurt Ducky, or anyone. That it was all just a stunt. He wouldn't tell me who his friend who works here was. But I expect you could get it out of him. I think you turning up like you did took at least ten years off his life."
"What did he intend doing when his so called 'stunt' was over? Just expect Ducky to placidly walk back in here as though nothing had happened? Expect him to say nothing? Or did he intend to . . . Tell me he didn't intend to hurt Ducky, Tobias. Because if he did. Then I'll -"
"Its all right, Jethro. No, he didn't intend to hurt Ducky. Ducky returning to work with the story of how he'd been abducted and impersonated was going to be the icing on the cake. He wanted Ducky to tell, to tell as many people as would listen. Then he, Williams, could publish the whole story. How easy it was to infiltrate a Federal Agency. Even thought he'd get a book deal out of it."
"Bastard. He'll never work again. I'll make sure of that. What about the gorillas who were watching, Ducky? What were they getting out of it?"
"Not enough, from what they told us later."
"Let's just say that Ducky knows an awful lot of stories."
"Yeah, he does." Jethro's gaze wandered back and settled on his lover. The partly glazed look that had appeared on DiNozzo and McGee's faces told him a great deal. Abby and Palmer looked engrossed, Ziva, however, appeared as though she'd again retreated into a shell. "What are you doing here anyway, Tobias?"
"As you left last time without saying goodbye, thought I'd come along and say it this time. I needn't have bothered though, need I?" Now Tobias glanced at Ducky.
Jethro shook his head. "That obvious?"
"Pretty much. Are you coming back here as well?"
"That'll depend on the Director. I think Jenn might well be glad to have gotten rid of me."
"That's probably true. But what she thinks doesn't actually matter." Tobias leaned nonchalantly against the filing cabinet.
"Tobias. What's going on? What's happened?"
"It seems that our bosses bosses, weren't overly happy with Ms. Shepard letting the Agency's best agent just walk out without any attempt to stop him. Add that to a bit of digging, and the long and the short of it is, Director Jennifer Shepard is no longer Director Jennifer Shepard. She's plain Ms. Jennifer Shepard again. And not a Federal Agency in the country will touch her; not even as a canteen assistant.
Jethro just stared. "You haven't suddenly developed some sick sense of humor have you, Fornell?"
"Humor? Me? Not a chance, Special Agent Gibbs."
"Then who . . ."
"You know him."
For a moment Jethro just stared. Then his eyes widened and he said, a mixture of horror of panic in his voice, "Not you?"
To his relief Tobias just chuckled. "There's more chance of me remarrying our ex-wife than me, or you, ever becoming Directors. No. But you do know him."
Jethro turned around. "Dir - er. Sir?"
"It is Director Morrow again, Special Agent Gibbs."
For a moment Jethro didn't quite know what to say. If Tom Morrow was back here, then it implied that he'd, in effect, been demoted.
To his surprise his boss smiled. "It's all right, Jethro. It was my choice. I found I missed the place. And the team. Talking of which . . . "
Gibbs nodded and whistled sharply once. As one all head swiveled in his direction. "DiNozzo."
"Clear your crap out of my desk."
"Right away, boss."
"Clear his crap off my computer."
"On it, boss." McGee started to hurry towards Gibbs's desk, colliding with DiNozzo as he did so.
"Watch where you're going, Probie."
"Yes, boss. Er. Tony."
Gibbs had never seen the two young men look so happy.
"Yes, Agent Gibbs, sir?"
Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Take Dr. Mallard for a cup of tea, and then sort out any cr - mess in Autopsy."
"Yes, Agent Gibbs, sir. Dr. Mallard?" He held out his hand to help Ducky to his feet.
"I trust you didn't give that man any of my Earl Grey tea, Mr. Palmer?"
"Well, I did think he was you, Dr. Mallard."
"Never mind, Jimmy. You can always pop out and buy me some more."
"Oh, course, Dr. Mallard."
"It's Ducky, Jimmy. Ducky, remember?"
"Yes, Dr. Mallard. Of course."
Ducky put his arm around Palmer's back, and limping slightly more than usual began to walk towards the elevators.
Then he stopped, turned, looked at Jethro and said simply, "Jethro."
"I'll see you later, my dear."
Gibbs just smiled.
"Abby," he said, a moment later when he realized he was standing with a soppy grin on his face, watching Ducky arguing gently with Palmer about which button to press.
"Yes, Special Agent Gibbs, sir!" She beamed her pussycat grin.
He rolled his eyes. "Go and . . . " He came to a halt. He didn't know what to tell Abby to go and do.
"Buy a Caff-Pow. Yes, sir." And with that, Abby bounced out of the room.
Gibbs watched her go, shaking his head slightly.
Now only Ziva remained at the empty desk. There was a strange look on her face. He looked at her for a moment and then turned to his boss. Lowering his voice he said, "With Jenn gone, what about her?"
"That's up to you, Jethro."
"Yes. Jennifer Shepard may have been less than completely honest when she brought Ms. David to work here." Gibbs frowned. "There was no agreement between her and Mossad. No liaison role. However, Ms. David has in effect been working for this agency for a year now, as part of your team. Her future rests with you."
"Does she want to stay? I thought she'd have left with Jenn."
"I don't know the details, Jethro, but suffice to say that any friendship that existed between the ladies, is no more."
He could get rid of her.
As he'd always wanted to do.
He'd never wanted her.
She'd been forced on him.
She wasn't a team player.
It would solve everything.
And yet . . .
And yet he owed her.
He looked at her again. He expected to see her basically reminding him of the favor he owed her; letting him know she was calling it in.
Instead he saw . . .
He held her gaze until he was sure of one thing: she wasn't calling in her favor now. Nor would she ever do so. That's not what team members did.
"Don't just stand there. Start bringing me up to date with what's been happening."
A very faint smile, shy almost, touched her lips and her eyes softened. "Yes, boss," she said, and moved towards him.
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