FEELINGS OF GUILT
Set the same evening as Twilight.
Gibbs goes to the only person who will understand completely how he felt after Kate's death. He discovers that he is not the only person who feels guilty.
An established relationship story.
Written: July 2005. Word count: 4,280.
It was late. And dark. Ducky was talking to on the phone when he heard the sound he had been waiting for all evening: the doorbell.
By the time he had got rid of his old friend from Eton, and hurried to the top of the stairs, his mother had already answered the door.
"Good evening, Mrs. Mallard. It's nice to see you again, ma'am." Jethro sounded exhausted, but as always he made a special effort when he spoke to Ducky's mother.
"Well, don't just stand there, Jethro. Donald is in his room, but you know the way." She clicked her tongue impatiently, as Jethro failed to move as quickly as she would like. "Perhaps you'd be so kind as to lock up for us, Jethro, before you go up to bed," Mrs. Mallard said firmly.
Ducky hurried down the last few stairs and touched his mother's arm. "It's all right, Mother. I'm here now," he said, glancing swiftly at Jethro in an attempt to judge his reaction to his mother's comment. But Jethro just stood still, his hands pushed deep into his pockets, his shoulders hunched over. Ducky wasn't even certain that Jethro had heard the old woman's words.
"Just you make sure that you -"
"Yes, Mother," Ducky said firmly, guiding her towards her room from where the sound of several excited Corgis could be heard. "Goodnight, Mother. Sleep well." He urged her through the doorway, and began to close the door behind her.
However, she stood firm, and pushed back against her son, glancing around him to look at Jethro. "Goodnight, Jethro dear," she said softly. "I'll see you in the morning."
Jethro glanced up, and Ducky watched his friend dredge up a smile from somewhere. "Goodnight, Mrs. Mallard," he said, and nodded slightly.
"Mother." This time Ducky was more resolute. Moments later his mother was back in her room and the door had been firmly shut. He stood for a moment listening to her talking to her ‘babies;' all signs of the lucidity she had only moments earlier been displaying, gone. He sighed. However, his mother wasn't his concern now; Jethro was.
He moved back to his friend. "Jethro?" he touched the dark brown covered arm gently, in much the same way as he'd touched his mother's arm. The contact aimed to both reassure and let the person know he was there.
Jethro, whose head had returned to its slumped position once he'd said ‘goodnight,' glanced up. The dark blue eyes made fleeting contact with Ducky's, before skittering away to stare over Ducky's shoulder towards his mother's room. "She's very clear-headed tonight, Duck," he said. "I haven't heard her that lucid for a long time."
Despite his concern for Jethro, Ducky was nonetheless drawn in. "Yes," he said, sadness touching his voice. "There are moments. Fleeting ones, but they are still there. It's awful to say, Jethro, but sometimes I wish -" he broke off and shook his head. "It doesn't matter," he said.
Now Jethro did turn his full attention onto Ducky, removing his hands from his pockets and gripping one of Ducky's shoulders with one hand, while the other one cupped his friend's face. "I know, Duck," he said softly. "I know." Then the touch had gone and Jethro spun round and moved back to the front door. "I better do as she ordered," he said, reaching up to shoot the top bolt, before bending to secure the bottom one, and finally turning the key. "There," he said. "All safe and sound." A very slight waver, one that no one but Ducky would have noticed, touched the Special Agent's voice as he said the final words.
Ducky said nothing for a moment, waiting until Jethro turned back to face him. Then he simply held out a hand and said, his own soft voice a clear order, "Come." There wasn't even a moment's hesitation as Jethro stretched his own hand out and took the proffered one. They moved towards the stairs.
As they ascended, Ducky said, more to break the tense silence than out of any genuine concern, although a small part of him was curious to hear Jethro's answer, "I hope Mother didn't embarrass you."
Jethro gave a half chuckle and squeezed Ducky's hand. "Duck, if I were embarrassed, I'd make sure that I phoned you first to make sure she was asleep, and left before breakfast. We're not exactly children anymore." Then he asked, his voice suddenly heavy with concern, "Are you okay about it, Duck? I mean . . ." he trailed off.
Ducky sighed. "Mother has always known, Jethro," he said simply. Jethro squeezed his hand again. The tense silence returned.
In Ducky's room all remaining energy seemed to seep from Jethro, as he took several uncoordinated steps towards Ducky's bed and sank down onto it, letting his head once more fall onto his chest. "Oh, Duck," he whispered.
Ducky moved closer. Near enough for his lover to sense him, near enough for him to touch Jethro, but he didn't touch. He wouldn't. Not until Jethro wanted it. He waited. Knowing what would come. What always came.
After a second or two, Jethro's breathing became harsher. His head shot up and the dark eyes blazed. "Why?" he spat.
"She was doing her job, Jethro," Ducky said calmly.
"Fuck that." Jethro's voice was as harsh as his glare.
Ducky said nothing. He simply held the furious gaze.
Finally Jethro ran his hand over his face and said, the anger gone as quickly as it had arrived. "I know that, Duck. They always are. We all know every time we get a call what could happen."
The words had become a recital, and Ducky tuned them out. He didn't want to hear Jethro speak them. Illogical as it might be, knowing his lover might die every day and hearing the man he loved say the same words, were two different things.
As a Medical Examiner Dr. Donald Mallard had seen more death than most. During his years with NCIS, the deaths had become more brutal and horrific, until Ducky wasn't certain there was anything that man could do to man that he hadn't seen. All this he saw each and every day, saw, dealt with, did his job. But even Ducky was human, and facing Jethro Gibbs death was not something that he cared to consciously consider.
The ‘speech' that Jethro gave to new agents before they finally ‘signed on the dotted line,' the one that told them in as harsh a way as possible what might happen to them, the speech that didn't sensationalize, but did exaggerate a little, the speech that Ducky had heard dozens of times, came to an end, and he turned his attention back to his friend.
Then Jethro said the words that none of his agents, his boss, or anyone - other than Tobias Fornell and of course Ducky - would dream that Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs even knew, let alone felt. "It hurts, Duck," he whispered.
"I know, Jethro," Ducky said, as the script continued.
Seconds later Jethro was on his feet; Ducky forced himself to hold his ground as his lover fled, and what the perpetrators of the heinous crimes the Special Agent investigated and solved saw, appeared.
"How can you possibly know?" Jethro spat, whirling around, his coat flapping around him, fists clenched as he strode across the room. "What do you know about losing someone who works for you? Or of facing death everyday? All you do is keep out of harm's way and prattle on with those stupid stories that don't even have endings." Jethro was shouting now and the look he gave Ducky bore no resemblance to the way he normally looked at his friend. Ducky, as always, was pleased that his mother slept downstairs. And relieved that there wasn't much more to come. Probably.
Jethro took two strides towards Ducky, deliberately, quite deliberately using the several extra inches he had on Ducky to intimidate. Ducky simple tipped his head back and met the fury calmly, locking his knees and refusing to allow his body to fulfill its instinct to back away from the man who could, and had, killed with his bare hands.
As Jethro reached Ducky and his hands came up, everything fled and he staggered, forcing Ducky to take the dead weight and manhandle his lover back to the bed. Jethro collapsed and put his head in his hands. "Oh, shit, Duck," he murmured, self-loathing heavy in his voice. He raised his head and the dark eyed blazed with a different look. The love they always showed when the men were alone, the apology, and the self-hatred that had touched his voice were all clear. The love won out.
He reached for Ducky's hand, stopping short of capturing it. Ducky completed the gesture. "I'm sorry," Jethro murmured, bringing Ducky's hand to his lips. "I don't mean it, Duck. You know that, don't you?"
"Of course, Jethro my dear," Ducky said taking a step closer and forcing himself not to wince as his bad leg screamed in protest. He had twisted his knee when he'd taken Jethro's weight, and he's pay for the move on the morrow. But that didn't matter, just as his concern for his mother earlier hadn't mattered. He moved even closer and took Jethro's head between his hands and pulled it against his body.
Jethro rested there for a moment or two. Then said, as he always did, "You shouldn't let me take it out on you, Duck. You don't deserve it."
"Better me than the whiskey bottle, Jethro," Ducky said softly, his fingers caressing his lover's scalp. "You always know when to stop with me," he added softly.
Jethro didn't deny the implication. How could he? When Donald Mallard alone knew what the loss of his first agent had cost him, and how the cost could have been more, much more. His career for one thing. If anyone else had seen the Special Agent that night, Jethro Gibbs would no longer be a Special Agent. But Ducky had kept that secret, just as he kept many others - one of them being the relationship that the two men had shared for over twenty-five years.
The Marine Corps hadn't known about it, nor had any of Jethro's wives - maybe that was why his friend hadn't fought overly hard against all three alimony orders. Guilt did form a part of Jethro Gibb's personality, but that too was known to very few people, maybe even only to Ducky himself. Although the Medical Examiner suspected that it was another secret that Tobias Fornell also knew. Just as he also knew about Jethro and Ducky, something Ducky believed that most of NCIS team now knew, or at least suspected.
"What if one day I don't?" Jethro asked.
Ducky said firmly. "You will." His tone brooked no argument.
"I love you too, Duck," Jethro said. Then added quietly, "God, I feel so guilty." It was yet another word and sentiment that most would have said Jethro Gibbs didn't know.
"I know," Ducky said; his voice even softer.
Something about his lover's tone pulled Jethro sharply out of his own thoughts. He moved backwards, pulling his head out of Ducky's secure grip, and glanced up at his lover. The pale blue eyes flittered away, the movement confirming Jethro's thoughts.
He stood up, gripping Ducky's arms to secure him in place as he did. "Duck?" he said, after a second or two of waiting futilely for Ducky to meet his gaze. "Duck?" he repeated, after another moment of silence. "What is it?" he asked, sliding one hand up Ducky's arm to capture his lover's chin and turn the beloved face towards him. Once more the eyes, hidden from him by more than just the glasses, refused to meet his. "Tell me." Like Mrs. Mallard and Ducky before him, he made it an order.
Nonetheless Ducky shook his head. "It's nothing."
Jethro growled. "Ducky," he tightened his grip and shook his lover slightly. "Tell me," he repeated.
Eventually, as he realized that there was no way he could escape from Jethro's grip, Ducky glanced up at him and said, wryly, "I'd rather you maintained some semblance of the belief you once had that I am a good and honorable man. I seem to have cracked that illusion over the years. I would rather not shatter it completely."
"What the hell are you talking about? You're the most honorable man I know."
"I doubt if your wives would have said that, had they known where you spent many of the evenings you were meant to have been ‘working late,'" Ducky said, now meeting Jethro's gaze. For a moment the Special Agent who had seen all the pain a human being could show, or thought he had, wished that Ducky would look away.
"You didn't exactly instigate that, Duck. I was the one who insisted. If I remember correctly." And of course he did.
"You didn't force me, Jethro. I had a choice. I could have said no."
"Do you wish you had?" Jethro asked before he could stop himself.
Ducky's eyes filled with the open love and devotion they always showed, no matter whether the two men were alone or in company. "No, my dear. I don't," he said simply and sighed, once more lowering his gaze.
Jethro frowned. He tightened his grip again and said firmly, "Tell me, Ducky."
Ducky looked up again and sighed. "Very well, but don't blame me if you hate me afterwards."
Again Jethro shook him slightly. "Hate you? What the hell are you talking about, Duck? I love you, I couldn't possibly hate you."
"Ah, yes, you could Jethro. You see, the emotions of love and hate are both incredibly strong, even though they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. If one is capable of truly loving a person, then he or she is also possible of truly hating that person. Indeed unless one can love someone, then one cannot hate that person. I remember once when I was a young man and working in -"
"Ducky!" Jethro growled, more loudly this time. His grip once more tightened on his lover's arms. He knew that he must be causing Ducky a small degree of pain, and that tomorrow Ducky would almost certain have faint bruises from Jethro's fingers, but this time he held firm.
Ducky sighed. "Very well, Jethro," he said. "But don't say I didn't warn you."
Jethro waited, puzzled as to what Ducky could possibly be about to reveal.
When Ducky spoke again, his voice was flat. "When Tony called me to tell me the news . . ." He broke off and looked at Jethro, who held the gaze unblinkingly, giving his lover no way out. Ducky sighed softly, before continuing. "There was a moment, a fleeting second when I was so relieved, I barely heard the rest of his words."
"Ah, Duck," Jethro said softly, suddenly fighting back tears he hadn't shed since his teenage years. He loosened his grip on his oldest friend's arms, and tugged Ducky into his secure embrace, not at all surprised when his lover's head came to rest just below his shoulder. "Don't feel guilty, my love," he said, using a rare endearment. Usually he relied on the way he said Ducky's name, the way he shortened it, the various tones he used, to show and tell his lover how he felt, but sometimes a name alone wasn't enough. He buried his mouth and nose in Ducky's silky hair and murmured, "I'd have felt the same."
"Would you?" Ducky asked, moving back so that he could look up at Jethro. Jethro let him move that far, but no further.
"Yes," Jethro said firmly, putting the affirmation into his eyes, his voice, his face and the word. "Now," he said firmly, "shall we agree to drop the mutual feelings of guilt and go to bed. I need you, Duck," he added softly. Then a memory came back. "Oh, shit," he said. "There's something I should tell you."
Ducky glanced up. "You resigned," he said.
"And it was accepted."
Jethro blinked again.
"Do not worry, Jethro my dear. You won't be held to it."
"Would you like me to be, Duck?"
Ducky tilted back his head even further and really met Jethro's gaze. "No," he said simply. Jethro raised his eyebrows. "Because you would not be happy. And if you weren't happy, then how could I be?"
"You could retire. We could be together permanently," Jethro said.
Ducky shook his head slowly. "No, Jethro, we couldn't be. As fond of and patient with Mother as you are, you could not share a house with her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And I won't -"
"And I'd never ask you to, Duck. No, you're right. I'll go in tomorrow like the good little agent that I am and then. . . And then I can really work on catching the bastard and -" The next second Jethro felt his head tugged down, hard, and his lips claimed by Ducky's. As a method of quietening one, it was a good one. Not one that Jethro intended bringing into his repertoire with anyone other than his lover, but nonetheless it was very effective.
The next time they spoke they were naked, in bed, and wrapped around one another.
Jethro's lovemaking was, as it always was on such occasions, somewhat desperate and intense - rather different from their normal gentle, loving sessions. Not that the love wasn't there, it was; it was always there. But at such time Jethro seemed to seek and demand more, seemed to need to prove to himself, and Ducky, that both men were still alive. If Ducky hadn't known better, he would have said that any body would have done at such times - but he did know better. Despite his desperation, Jethro never once let Ducky forget that he knew with whom he was in bed. The fact that his lover was prepared to let even more of his guards down, to use Ducky in such a way, made Ducky feel even more loved and cherished. Jethro's sex drive and recovery rate also raced up several notches, and as always neither man slept.
Dawn's pale fingers found them awake and still in one another's arms. Ducky was weary, he was getting too old for all night sessions, maybe he should consider Jethro's words - but no, he wouldn't; he couldn't. Taking Jethro Gibbs away from NCIS would be like taking a man away from water. As much as the Special Agent loved, wanted and - when he was prepared to admit it to himself - needed Ducky, he was too entrenched in NCIS to settle for ‘civilian' life; at least while he didn't have to. When the day came and the Special Agent had to hand over his badge, well . . . That was a different matter. Ducky wasn't certain what his lover would do then. He couldn't see Jethro moving to a desk job, but nor could he see him happy to settle for just building his boat and being with Ducky - if Ducky lived that long! Occasionally the twelve years age difference worried him. The last thing he wanted was to trap Jethro.
Their years of being friends and lovers often led to a kind of telepathy between them, a sense of knowing just when the other was around and when he'd left. For a brief second Ducky recalled the look on Jimmy Palmer's face when his young assistant had been trying to tell his boss that Special Agent Gibbs had already left while Ducky was telling yet another of his stories. Of course Ducky had known that Jethro had gone; he hadn't needed to see his lover, nor to smell the old-fashioned cologne, that had been old-fashioned from the first time Ducky had met the then somewhat cocky Marine Sergeant. When Jethro was nearby, Ducky always knew exactly where he was in proximity to himself. He also often knew what Jethro was thinking.
As Jethro spoke, his voice husky, more than a little weary, but once more the self-controlled man whom Ducky loved, his words revealed that the telepathy didn't just work one way. "Sorry, Duck," he said, pausing to kiss Ducky's nose. "I should save these all-nighters until we're retired, or at least until we have a day off. Are you very tired?"
"I'm a doctor, Jethro. I am used to going without sleep. And this was a far more pleasant way of spending such an evening than most I have known," Ducky countered with a smile, looking up at Jethro, who was propped on one elbow, looking down into Ducky's eyes.
Jethro kissed him again and rolled back onto his back, one arm stretched above his head, the other resting on Ducky's thigh. "Do you ever think about it?"
"What?" Ducky asked, knowing exactly what ‘it' was.
"Mine or yours?"
"Duck," Jethro growled the name as he always did when Ducky exasperated him.
Ducky hid a smile. Not that Jethro would have seen it, but . . . "Occasionally," he said. And then, because lying to his lover had never been something he did, added softly, "My own more and more often."
Jethro pushed himself up once more and stared at Ducky. "Your mother?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. She is getting worse, Jethro my dear. I do not know how much longer I can continue to leave her alone while I go to work."
The dark eyes darkened more and something that Ducky couldn't quite identify, or didn't want to, flashed across the face he knew better than his own. He reached up to caress Jethro's rough cheek and said softly, "But let's not talk about that now, my dear. It's getting late; we should get up. We do still have jobs to go to."
"Ah, Duck," was all Jethro said, as he lowered his mouth and claimed Ducky's in a long, deep, caring, yet not passionate kiss. "I do love you," he said, when he finally broke to suck in some air.
"I love you too, Jethro. Now why don't you go and shower first, and I'll take Mother a cup of tea."
Breakfast was a normal affair; as far as anything involving Mrs. Mallard was normal these days. She seemed to have forgotten the conversation with Jethro the previous evening as she expressed pleasure and surprise at seeing him sitting at the table, a slice of toast in one hand, a mug of thick, black coffee in the other.
However, post breakfast wasn't normal. After the two men paid quick visits to the bathroom, Ducky picked up his hat, allowed Jethro to help him on with his coat, and then turned to grab his car keys. A somewhat calloused hand closed over his. "Ride with me, Duck," Jethro said.
Ducky tipped his head back and looked up at Jethro. The order, for that was what it was, was unusual. Although Ducky was more than aware that his colleagues had their suspicions about the ‘friendship' shared by the Special Agent and Medical Examiner, and although neither Jethro nor himself hid that relationship, nonetheless they tended not to flaunt it. His arrival with Jethro, who lived in the opposite direction, would certainly fan the rumors. Nonetheless, he wasn't about to argue. He opened his mouth to agree, but Jethro spoke first.
Holding up one hand he said, "I promise I'll drive safely." Ducky cocked an eyebrow. "Okay, slowly then. I won't go above 30, I promise. How about that?"
Ducky smiled and patted Jethro's hand. "Jethro my dear. I do not think either you or your car knows what 30 is. Of course I'll come with you. If you're certain?"
Jethro squeezed his shoulder, then pulled him into fierce one armed hug. "Yeh, I am, Duck. I just want you with me for a bit longer today. I . . ." he trailed off and shrugged, the movement jerking Ducky. The next second the one armed embrace became two, and once more Ducky was kissed soundly, and with more love than he felt worthy of.
He could get used to Jethro like this, slightly uncertain, a little needy, placid even. Rather than the cock-sure bastard, he could be when he put his mind to it. Not that Ducky ever really saw that side of him, at least not directed at him, and that facet of Jethro Gibbs was always left firmly behind when the two men were alone together.
And yet, despite enjoying the moment, he knew that he wouldn't really want Jethro like this all the time. He'd fallen in love with the ‘cock-sure bastard,' mainly because he'd seen the other man beneath the exterior; anything else upset his equilibrium more than he wanted. No, he'd stick to having Jethro like this from time to time, whenever Jethro needed him in that way - not that he wished for it. In fact if Ducky could choose, he'd gladly let this man go forever, if only it meant that Jethro didn't lose another agent. But life wasn't like that. The odds were too long.
And yet, he realized as he kissed Jethro back, that the more gentle side of his lover was always there when Jethro and he made love, or even when they were alone together outside of the office. Deeply buried perhaps, but always there. Donald Mallard was greedy; he wanted ‘both' Jethros. Finally forced to break the kiss, he pulled back from Jethro, realizing that during the embrace, his hat had tumbled to the ground.
Jethro bent and picked it up and planted it down on Ducky's head, at a jauntier manner than the doctor usually wore it. Then linking his fingers with Ducky, he led the way from Ducky's bedroom, down the stairs and to the front door, where after a glance at the door behind which Mrs. Mallard resided, he bent his head, kissed Ducky one more time. Finally he opened the door and with a flourish, waved Ducky out in front of him into the sunlight.
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