Ashleigh Anpilova


When Gibbs starts to behave strangely, Ducky is concerned. However, even he does not anticipate just what the strange behavior means. DiNozzo is shocked by what Ducky does.

An established relationship story.

Written: April 2006. Word count: 9,094.



"Right, DiNozzo, McGee, Palmer, you three finish up here. Ducky and I'll meet you back home."


"Boss?" DiNozzo glanced up.


McGee was frowning.


Jimmy Palmer's mouth was open, and he was looking from his boss to the senior Special Agent.


Ducky felt a tingling of something he couldn't quite identify.


"Is there a problem with your hearing, DiNozzo?"


"No, boss," DiNozzo replied swiftly. He cast a quick look at Ducky, then shrugged and started ordering McGee and Jimmy about.


"Jethro?" Ducky called, hurrying off after the departing man.


Jethro paused and allowed him to catch up. "What, Duck?"


"Are you certain, my dear, that -"


"Sure, I am, Duck. It's time my two did something without me hovering over them. And you're always saying you should give Palmer more chances." He strode off again, leaving Ducky to follow him.


They reached the sedan, which stood close to a small copse of evergreens. Jethro glanced around him, then to Ducky's surprise, shot out a long arm, snagged Ducky's hand and tugged him into the trees.


"Jethro!" Ducky exclaimed. The faint tingling he'd felt earlier increased tenfold.


The next second he found himself in a fierce embrace, with Jethro's mouth over his own. Torn between his natural instinct to respond to his lover's kiss, and the instinct that screamed 'not here', he struggled for a moment, fighting against the kiss.


But Jethro had twelve years, six inches and a Marine background on him, and within seconds his struggles had been quashed, and he was kissing Jethro back. The kiss was far more brutal and demanding than his long-time lover's usual ones, frantic even. And the way in which Jethro was pressing against him, left Ducky in no doubt as to just how aroused his lover was.


As Ducky felt his head begin to swim from lack of oxygen, Jethro broke the kiss. He released one arm from where it surrounded Ducky, pushed Ducky back just a little, captured one of his hands in a death grip, and pushed it to his groin.


"Jethro!" This time Ducky was not going to comply. The tingling was now a fierce throbbing, and Ducky felt out of bounds for the first time ever in their relationship.


Then he made the mistake of looking up into Jethro's face. The pain and anguish together with the obvious need and plea, made him forget his own vow and focus only on soothing Jethro and taking away the pain.


It wouldn't take more than a moment or two anyway, he knew his lover's body as well as, if not better than, he did his own. So tugging out his handkerchief, he twisted his hand in the bruising grip and did what Jethro demanded.


It was over in seconds, and Jethro sagged against him, breathing more harshly than Ducky had ever heard him. An occasional half-sob escaped from the trembling frame he struggled to support.


Moments later, Jethro lifted his head from where it had come to rest on Ducky's shoulder and gazed at his lover. "Duck?" he said, confusion and a hint of self-disgust clear in his voice.


"Hush, my dear." Ducky hastened to sooth. He brought one hand up, tugged Jethro's head down and kissed him again, this time with affection, love and comfort.


After a few moments they moved to the car and began their drive back to NCIS Headquarters.


Jethro's behavior continued to trouble Ducky. One moment he seemed quite normal, the next he seemed like no one Ducky knew. He kept taking one hand from the steering wheel to rub his temple and he was blinking more than usual.


Ducky gently touched Jethro's arm. "Are you all right, my dear?" he asked.


Dark blue eyes, looking darker and heavier than usual, glanced at him. "Sure, Duck. I'm fine. My head hurts a bit, that's all."


Ducky looked sharply at his lover. Jethro didn't suffer from headaches, or anything else remotely normal. If he was admitting to it, then it must be bad indeed. "Would you like something to ease the pain?" he said carefully.


Jethro shook his head. "No, thanks, Duck. It's not that bad. In fact, it feels a bit better." He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, Ducky barely glanced at the road, used as he was to Jethro's driving. "Guess I should have gotten more sleep last night." Jethro's tone was jovial, but forced.


Ducky patted his leg, murmured an inaudible response, and settled back into his seat to watch his lover during the rest of the journey back to the office.


They hadn't had a particularly late night. And Jethro had, as he always did, slept soundly with Ducky in his arms.



Gibbs sat at his desk and fought another wave of nausea as he tried to force away the pain in his head. He didn't get headaches. He wasn't ever sick. He'd never even had a cold. But now he felt ghastly.


He also felt dreadfully guilty and ashamed at what he'd forced Ducky to do earlier, as well as confused and concerned as to what had made him induce such a thing. Sex in a public place, for heaven's sake, was beyond any level of acceptability. Not only because DiNozzo, McGee and Palmer could have appeared at any minute, but also because anyone else could have done so. The last thing NCIS needed would be for their Senior Field Agent and Medical Examiner to be arrested on a charge of lewd and lascivious behavior.


It was true that Tom Morrow seemed happy, or at least willing, to accept the fact that Gibbs was not only sleeping with a member of his team, but that the said member was a man. However, expecting him to be anything less than furious had Gibbs and Ducky been caught, would have been ridiculous. The Director had never said that Gibbs and Ducky had to keep their relationship a secret, but he would have expected, and have every right to expect, them to behave like the two responsible, mature adults who worked for a Federal Agency, that they were.


Gibbs couldn't be certain that the shiver that passed through his body as he realized what could have happened, was just to do with the horror and self-disgust he felt, or due to the constant body temperature changes he'd been experiencing since earlier that morning. Or indeed both.


He forced down the last mouthful of his eighth cup of coffee and had to fight the almost overwhelming instinct to spit it out. Suddenly it tasted vile. Maybe he'd just had too much of it, too quickly, but he'd been feeling strange all morning. He's alternated between being hot and cold, drained and hyper, and his whole body was now beginning to feel as though he'd walked into a patch of poison ivy, which he knew he hadn't.


He felt unreal, distant, trembling, and noises were exacerbated. The light hurt his eyes, and the pain in his head was far greater than any gunshot or knife wound had ever been.


His throat felt like sandpaper and he felt permanently thirsty, hence the reason for the coffee. He ignored the voice in his head that sounded just like Ducky explaining to him that drinking coffee wouldn't quench a thirst. If anything it would make it worse.


He glanced down at his hand, which suddenly seemed as though it didn't belong to him, certain that something must be crawling over it. Nothing was there. He rubbed it with his fingers, partly to try to regain some feeling, partly to help calm the itching. It didn't work.


If he didn't know better, he'd say he was sick.


But he couldn't be.


He'd never been ill in his life. He didn't count gunshot or knife wounds; that wasn't being ill. Perhaps he had an allergy to DiNozzo's cologne or Kate's perfume, except he didn't get allergies. He never had. He wasn't about to start now. Besides, you didn't just suddenly become allergic to something, did you? The voice in his head reminded him that you could. Then the little voice also added that maybe it was coffee he'd suddenly become allergic to. That he not only ignored, he also snarled silently at it.


Maybe some cold water would help. If it didn't, then he really would have to admit defeat and go to see Ducky. Getting up from his desk and walking across the room without drawing attention to himself, or acting out of the ordinary, cost him more effort than he'd believed possible.


By the time he reached the men's room his undershirt and shirt were both soaking, and the sweat was beginning to seep into his jacket.


He moved to the sink, sluiced his face with cold water, then as another wave of nausea bombarded him, he turned and staggered towards a cubicle. He barely made it time, slipping to his knees as his stomach won its battle with his iron will.


Jethro Gibbs pushed barriers. He never gave up. He wouldn't admit defeat. He was even imprudent sometimes and took risks with his own personal safety. However, he was no fool. As blood appeared mixed with more than half-a-dozen cups of coffee, he moved one hand from where it gripped the toilet bowl and hunted for his cell phone.


Finally pulling it from his pocket and fighting against the swiftly approaching unconsciousness, he pressed a number.


From somewhere in the distance he heard it ring.




"Duck. Help -"


The sound of the phone hitting the floor sounded in Ducky's ears.


"Jethro? Jethro?" Ducky called sharply.


A heavy silence greeted him.


The voice may only have uttered two words, but they could only have come from one man. Even if Jethro hadn't called him by the name that only he ever called Ducky, Ducky would have known who the caller was.


He turned sharply and hurried from the room. "Mr. Palmer," he ordered. "Come with me."


Ignoring the elevator that stood with its doors shut, Ducky took the stairs two, sometimes three at a time, pushing the shrieking pain that came from his leg out of his mind.


"Where's Jethro?" he demanded, coming to a halt inside the room the agents shared. For once his usual courtesy of not interrupting a conversation fled.


Three heads that had been bent together shot up. The smiles and giggles died as they looked at Ducky, who was flanked by an out-of-breath Jimmy Palmer.


Tony stood up. "He went to the head a few minutes ago. Or at least I think that's where he went. Why? What's up, Ducky?"


"Come with me, Tony. You too Timothy," was all Ducky said, as he turned, dragged Palmer around with him and hurried off. He didn't need to smell Kate's perfume to know that she too was following. She always had had a problem with what she quaintly called ‘the boys night out.'


They arrived at the nearest men's room and Ducky pushed open the door. He hardly heard the collected gasps of shock at the sight of the man all of them seemed to regard as invincible lying on the floor, a trickle of blood coming from his mouth.


Once more ignoring the shooting pain in his leg, Ducky sank to his knees, moving from friend and lover into Doctor mode with reluctant ease. One hand automatically found its way to Jethro's carotid artery, the other hovered over his lips.


The pulse rate was extreme, well over 120 beats per minute, whereas Jethro's breathing was shallow and barely registering on Ducky's fingers. Recognizing the sweet-sickly smell of vomit, he spared a glance behind him. The blood he saw added to his concern. Jethro's skin was clammy and had a worrying greenish, ashen hue, and his limbs were trembling. Ducky pulled back one eyelid and swore as the pupil remained fixed.


"Someone please call 911," he ordered. "Jimmy, go back to Autopsy and fetch me what I need to take a blood sample. I suggest that the three of you go through Jethro's waste paper basket and collect all his coffee cups. Also one of you will need to take a sample of his vomit. Get them to Abby and ask her to run tests. I'm afraid that Jethro has been poisoned."


For a split second the four just stood and stared at him. Then as one they began to move.


By the time the paramedics had arrived, Ducky had been forced into one round of CPR, as Jethro's heart rate having raced even higher, suddenly plummeted and stopped altogether. The faint breath that had been present had also ceased.


"I'm coming with you." Ducky's tone brooked no argument, and he stared unblinkingly as the two young men affixed an oxygen mask to Jethro's nose and mouth, and moved him onto the gurney.


As they pulled away, lights flashing and sirens blaring from NCIS Headquarters, Ducky saw the entire team, Abby having no doubt been alerted by Jimmy thrusting the blood sample into her hands, standing silently watching. Their faces were almost as pale as the man whose hand he now held.



"I'm staying with him," he calmly told the obscenely young doctor who tried, a nurse having already failed, to make him leave Jethro's side.


"Sir, I've told you -"


"I'm his doctor," Ducky said firmly. "I am staying." It wasn't a complete lie. Jethro refused to actually get a doctor, arguing that as he never got sick, there wasn't any point, and adding that he had his own personal one anyway.


The doctor looked as though she was about to argue further. But at that moment the sounds indicating that Jethro's heart has once again stopped, cut through any further discussion.



Ducky sat in the room surrounded by machines that beeped and displayed ever-changing numbers and lines. For the first time in his life he wasn't certain whether it was beneficial to know what the lines and noises meant, or to remain in blissful ignorance as to the seriousness of his lover's condition.


Virtually every part of Jethro's body had something attached to it, giving, taking, monitoring. But none of it was going to do any good. Jethro Gibbs was dying. And even the medicine of the twenty-first century could not prevent it.


He was stable, for now. But like Ducky, the doctors and nurses were deeply concerned by how erratic his heart rate was, as well as by the fact that several major organs were giving signs of failing.


Ducky sat and held Jethro's hand, the one that didn't have three lines attached to it, and just watched the man he'd loved for over twenty-five years. The man whose death he'd forced himself to consider every time he went to sea or, in later years, put on his gun and left his office. But this was different.


"Oh, my dear Jethro," he murmured. "Why?" Tears burned the back of his eyes, but he wouldn't shed them. He wouldn't let them fall until he'd done all that would have to be done following the death he wasn't entirely certain he could, or would, survive.


The doctor in him knew the reality.


The lover refused to accept it.


There must be something they could do.


The hospital had naturally taken blood tests of their own. But Ducky was placing his futile hopes in Abby and her magic hands.


He heard the door open, but didn't turn around. It would only be a nurse doing her latest observation checks.


"Ducky?" The voice was low, but Ducky recognized it.


"Tony." He looked up and met the younger man's eyes. He did not, however, release Jethro's hand. Why should he?


"You were right," Tony said, taking a step nearer to the bed, and looking at the man Ducky knew he admired above all others, even possibly above his own father. "It does look like poison. Abby's still running tests, but there's certainly something odd showing in his vomit and his blood. I was wondering if I should go and check his house, to see if there's anything in his coffee and stuff there from this morning. Just in case."


"There's no need, Tony. Jethro wasn't at home last night."


"Oh. Do you know who he was with? Was it that redhead we've seen him with from time to time? Maybe I should go and see her. If it was -"


"Jethro spent the night with me, Tony." Ducky voice was soft. "He and I shared the same breakfast, and I am fine."


"Oh," Tony said. "Got too late for him to drive home, did it? What was it, too many shots of whiskey and too many old stories, or something?"


"Or something, yes." For the first time since Jethro had dragged him away from the crime scene that morning, Ducky was fleetingly and faintly amused. "Were the only empty coffee cups the ones from our cafeteria?"


"Yeah, Abby's running tests on them now. Ducky." Suddenly Tony tore his gaze away from the man in the bed and asked softly, "Is he going to die?"


Ducky closed his eyes. He doubted if he could face Tony's pain. "Unless we can find an antidote, if indeed one exists, then yes, Tony, he will die. His body is slowly shutting down, and he has always made it clear that he does not wish to be kept alive artificially. I shall honor his wishes."


"You?" Again Tony dragged his gaze back to Ducky.


Ducky sighed. "Jethro made me his next of kin, Tony, after his third marriage failed. He has no other family, as you know. And we are old friends." And so much more, he wanted to say. But still he couldn't. A heavy silence, broken only by the noises of Ducky's profession, filled the room.


Suddenly angry, Ducky shot a look at Tony. "Find him for me, Tony. Find that bastard who did this. Find him and -" The blaring sound indicating that once more Jethro's heart had ceased to beat, cut into his words.



Once more Ducky sat by the bedside of the only person he'd ever truly loved, holding his hand and praying to a God he had never been certain existed.


Once more the efforts of the hospital staff had pulled Jethro back from the jaws of death.


Once more he was 'stable', or as stable as anyone whose body was shutting down could be.


Once more the lover had dared to hope.


Once more the doctor knew it was pointless.


The hospital had confirmed Abby's findings. However, like the devastated girl, they could offer no solution. Broad spectrum antidotes were being pushed through Jethro's body in a vain hope that something might stop the attack of the unknown poison.


But it was having no effect.


Ducky had never expected it to.


There was only one hope. And that hope now lay in one person's hands: Anthony DiNozzo.


Ducky had to believe that Jethro had taught the young man well. He had to believe that he wasn't the fool he often appeared to be. Had to believe that had he been the person he all too often showed the world he was, that Jethro wouldn't have kept him around. He wanted to trust Tony; but all he could do was to trust his dying lover. Trust that Leroy Jethro Gibbs's gut knew better than what people saw.


It wasn't as though Tony was alone. He had Kate and McGee, Abby and Jimmy, and the entire resources of NCIS at his disposal. And if that wasn't enough, he also had the FBI and Tobias Fornell.


For a moment Ducky took comfort in the less-than-five-minute visit of the only person, apart from Director Morrow, who knew the truth about Jethro and Ducky's relationship. The only person who knew how truly devastated Ducky was. The only person who knew his pain wasn't just that of old friend and colleague. The person who had looked old for as long as Ducky had known him. The person who was Jethro's second closest friend, perhaps his only other true friend. The person whose face had turned ashen as he saw Jethro. The person whose eyes had blazed for a split second, with fury and the need for revenge. The person who, in his own way, although he'd never call it that, also loved Jethro.


No, Tony DiNozzo wasn't alone. But Ducky knew that ultimately he was. Just as Jethro always was. And if they did find the bastard who'd poisoned Jethro, then Tony had to do what he'd never done before. He had to break him. And quickly.


Ducky closed his eyes and once more offered up a prayer.



"We've found him." Tony's voice was without inflection. His face was white, except for the dark circles under his eyes. His entire body language screamed one thing: defeat. He slumped against the wall and glanced at Ducky, before letting his stare move to the far-too-still body on the bed.


"Tell me." Ducky made it a clear instruction. As clear as any Jethro might give.


It worked.


Tony straightened up, almost snapping to attention. "He's one of the cafeteria workers. New. He's been there less than a month. He admitted he'd been paid a lot of money to slip a poison into Gibbs's coffee. He won't tell us who or why and -"


"The who or why doesn't matter at the moment, Tony." Again Ducky's voice was firm. He stared at Tony.


The younger man blinked. "No, I guess it doesn't," he said, after a moment or two.


"Is there an antidote?"


"Yes. Or rather he says there is, but -" Tony broke off. He swallowed hard, bit his lip and then said, his voice heavy with anguish and bitter with defeat, "I'm sorry, Ducky. I tried. I really tried. Fornell even tried. The Director too. But . . . I've failed, Ducky. He won't tell us. Nothing we can do or say will make him tell us. And believe me, you don't want to hear what Fornell said, and I thought Gibbs was a bastard. But -"


"Let me talk to him."

"You?" The surprise and skepticism was clear. "But you're . . ."


"Just an eccentric Medical Examiner who bores you all with long, rambling stories that often have no endings."


"No, but -"


"I'm not a Special Agent trained in interrogation? No, Tony, I am not. But I have worked with Jethro for over twenty years. And he is the best interrogator this country has. Even Tobias will attest to that. Besides," he said softly, "what have you got to lose?"


Tony looked from Ducky to his boss, and down to where Ducky still held Jethro's hand. "Shall I bring him here?"

Ducky paused. He didn't want to leave Jethro's side. He might never again see his lover alive if he did. But if he didn't leave, he knew he would never again see his lover alive. "No," he said quietly, but forcefully. "I will come with you."



"Ducky are you sure about this? He's a tough bastard."


"I am sure, Tony. Bring him to Autopsy in ten minutes."


"Okay, Ducky." Tony turned to go.


"Oh, and Tony." Tony glanced back. "Do not allow yourself to be surprised at anything, anything, Tony, I might do or say. Can you do that?"


Tony blinked. "Sure, Ducky."


"Anything." Ducky said the word again.


Tony frowned, shrugged, nodded and left the room.


All Ducky had to do now was wait.



DiNozzo and Fornell escorted the man into Autopsy. He sauntered in, glancing around him with the ease of someone out for a morning stroll.


Ducky stood behind one of the tables, his doctor's white coat over his autopsy greens. DiNozzo kept his surprise to himself. When he'd left Ducky less than ten minutes earlier, the ME had been dressed in his usual suit and bow tie.


Behind Ducky was a light that shone done on his head, making the dark gold shimmer and seem almost ethereal. The look in Ducky's eyes was like steel. And steel was the color they now appeared to be, not the pale blue DiNozzo was used to seeing.


Ducky stood erect, as tall as he could be, without appearing to be stretching. He was motionless; in fact for a second DiNozzo wasn't certain that Ducky was even breathing. In his hand was a scalpel that also glinted in the light.


Apart from the single light, the rest of the room was in darkness, and apart from Ducky and the three other men, the room was empty. DiNozzo didn't know why, but he did know that if he had anything to confess, he'd be on his knees doing just that.


Dr. Ducky Mallard, affable, friendly, pleasant, caring, jovial Ducky Mallard scared him.


DiNozzo mentally shook himself. It was an illusion. He was tired. Exhausted. Worried. Frightened even. Sick to his stomach at the thought of losing his boss. Not only because he'd never worked for anyone like Gibbs before, anyone he actually respected, but also petrified at the thought that without Jethro Gibbs to tell him what to do, people would actually see what a loser Anthony DiNozzo really was.


"Du - Dr. Mallard." He corrected himself. The person standing there so still, so silent wasn't Ducky. He was Dr. Mallard. "This is -"


"Bring him over here, please, Anthony."


The sensation that had been worming its way into DiNozzo seemed to be spreading, because it took the combined effort of Fornell and DiNozzo himself to move their captive. They all but dragged him over to where Ducky stood on the other side of the autopsy table.


The man was tall, taller than Gibbs, taller even than DiNozzo; some six inches taller in fact, thus even from across the table he towered over Ducky. Yet as Ducky tipped back his head, far further than he had to do to look at Gibbs or any of the team, he was the one who still appeared to be in control. He was the one who appeared taller. The steel eyes were like flint, and not even a hint of the affection or humor that always touched them when Ducky looked at the team in general, and Gibbs in particular, was present.


Ducky stared unblinkingly up at the man, studying him, watching him. He seemed to be waiting for something. Then he spoke and his voice was amazingly conversational, calm, gentle even. "Now you will be kind enough to tell me the antidote for the poison that you gave to Special Agent Gibbs."


DiNozzo hid a groan and forced himself to give nothing away. He had dared to allow himself to hope. Dared to believe. To have it dashed away so cruelly was . . . He wondered what Fornell felt, but the man was impassive. He alone hadn't seemed surprised by Ducky's insistence at seeing the poisoner.


In fact Fornell had suggested that he accompany DiNozzo to Autopsy, and DiNozzo had been only too pleased to in effect hand over the reins to the far more experienced and qualified man. At one point he had believed he was already equipped to take over from Gibbs. Now he doubted he ever would be. Director Morrow hadn't objected; nor had Fornell's Director. So the FBI man, with whom Gibbs seemed to have some kind of love/hate relationship, was now temporarily acting in Gibbs's role.


Blake, because he did have a name, even if Ducky didn't want to hear it, gave a bark of laughter. "Oh, I will, will I? And just why might I do that, Dr. Mallard? Because you asked me so nicely in that posh accent of yours? Because you have a medical degree and I didn't even finish High School? Because you're old, and nice people are kind to the elderly? Because -"


"No," Ducky said simply, cutting into the tirade. "Because of what I'll do to you if you do not."


Another bark of laughter, a longer one this time, filled the room. "You do to me? Oh that's a good one. And just what might that be, Dr. Mallard? Are you going to bore me to death, like you bore everyone else? Are you going to make me sit here while you tell one of your endless stories?" He laughed again.


"No," Ducky repeated impassively, turning the scalpel around in his hand.


A chill swept around the room. DiNozzo would swear under oath that the temperature plummeted.


"What then? Something physical? Try me. This lot have already threatened me with everything they could think of. Mind you, I doubt if half of the things they said they'd do, they'd be able to. So what can you do that they can't?"


"I can perform an autopsy on you."


The temperature dropped even further.


Ducky drew the scalpel slowly across his thumb, nicking the skin.


As a single drop of blood fell onto the silver table, DiNozzo realized he'd stopped breathing.


Ducky spoke again. His voice soft, low, formal. Devastating. "Whilst you are still alive. Anthony, Tobias, please be so kind as to help the gentleman up onto the table."


"What?" Blake spluttered, as he tried to pull away from the grip the two Federal Agents had on him. "You wouldn't. You're kidding. He's kidding, right?" He turned to DiNozzo. For the first time a hint of fear touched the vomit green eyes. DiNozzo grabbed onto everything Gibbs had taught him, and forced himself to remain impassive.


Blake dragged his eyes from DiNozzo and swiveled to face Fornell. Against his will, DiNozzo followed his gaze. He was out of his depth. And he wasn't ashamed to admit it. "Right?" Blake demanded.


Fornell spared DiNozzo half a glance, then without any change in his expression, took what DiNozzo offered him. "No," he said quietly. "I don't believe he is. Agent DiNozzo, do as Dr. Mallard said. Get the bastard on to the table."


Orders. Tony DiNozzo could follow those. Could follow those well.


In less time than he'd had believed, they had Blake on the table and strapped down. As he continued to struggle he filled the air with violent curses.


Still Ducky hadn't moved.


Then he did, he brought the scalpel closer to Blake. "Now, Mr. . . . I'm sorry, Anthony. I interrupted you earlier when you were about to introduce the gentleman to me. Please tell me his name. After all, he and I are going to spend many hours together."


"Blake," DiNozzo managed. "Freddie Blake."


"Blake. His poetry really is quite good. I remember - Oh, dear. There I go again. You really shouldn't let me ramble so much." He smiled. Still the temperature slithered down.


DiNozzo clamped his teeth together to prevent them from chattering. It was Ducky's voice, his conversational, friendly, affable, voice, but it was like nothing DiNozzo had ever heard before. Nor did he ever wish to hear it again. And the smile . . . DiNozzo was glad he'd grabbed two minutes to visit the head before going down to Autopsy.


"As I was saying, Mr. Blake. You will tell me the antidote, or I will begin the autopsy."


"You wouldn't."


Ducky sighed. "You really do have a limited vocabulary. I am tiring of those words. Let me say this once more and once more only. I will. And let me also tell you, it will be painful. Very painful. In fact you cannot even begin to imagine how painful. You see, I know exactly how deeply I can cut in order to hurt you and to allow the blood seep out, but also to keep you alive for the longest possible time. I know what I can cut off or take out. Did you know that I could actually take your organs from your body, hold them in my hands and let you look at them?"


DiNozzo thought he was going to throw up or pass out. He spared Fornell a quick glance and saw that the usually pale man was marginally paler. However, the accepting look remained in his eyes.


"You wou - argh." The shriek as Ducky slid the blade of the scalpel over the back of Blake's hand, cut into the room. DiNozzo looked down. The scratch, for that is all it was, was no more than a kitten might deliver, less in fact. Blake bit his lip. "You'd be arrested. Locked up."


Ducky shrugged. "It wouldn't matter to me what they did to me. You see if Jethro dies, I might as well be dead. These two think they'd be upset, but one is a friend, the other a colleague and subordinate, that is all. They like Jethro, care for him even. Respect him, but they don't love him. I do. We're lovers you see."


DiNozzo would go to his grave not knowing how he stopped himself from reacting to what Ducky said. But then he realized that it was just something Ducky was saying, like the threat of the autopsy. It was all part of the plan - because now he had to believe that Ducky had a plan. He had to believe that the ME hadn't lost his mind. He had to believe. He had to. He had to.


"Lovers?" Blake's tone was scornful. "Pull the other one, doc. I know that Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs has been married three times, and that if she's a redhead he fucks her."


Ducky smiled.


DiNozzo swallowed.


"All merely a cover. Given that Jethro was a Marine, we couldn't possibly let anyone know. So he married and divorced three times, is seen with beautiful women, but it is me to whom he returns each night. And he is my life. He is all I have. I'm an only child. My sole godson, whom I loved as a nephew, died years ago. My parents have long departed this life."


That was it. Ducky was lying. It was all some elaborate scheme. DiNozzo knew only too well that Mrs. Mallard was still more than alive. More than a bit crazy, but alive. DiNozzo was relieved. Then he wondered if it was possible to inherit craziness.


He pushed that thought away as Ducky in his completely Ducky-non-Ducky voice spoke again. "So you see, I have nothing to live for, should Jethro die. Therefore," he ran the tip of the blade over Blake's hand again. This time a whimper split the air.


Once again DiNozzo dared to hope.


Then the hope fled.


"They won't let you. They'll stop you. They're bound by law. You might be crazy, but they're not. They'll -"


"Come on, Agent DiNozzo. I think we can leave now." Fornell's voice was flat but determined. Not even a flicker of hesitation was heard.


Now DiNozzo couldn't prevent his mouth from falling open. Fortunately he was standing above Blake's head, and Blake was staring open-mouthed at Fornell, so Blake wouldn't have seen his reaction. He stared at Fornell and saw, for the first time, in the deep set eyes a mere whisper of the hesitation Fornell had kept from his voice. But it lasted less than a nano-second. Thus DiNozzo couldn't have sworn it was ever there.


He couldn't walk out of the room. He couldn't. Because suddenly he had no doubt, not even a hint of one, that Ducky had meant every word he'd said. Everything. The affable, rambling storyteller was crazy.


Haven't heard you this pissed since you shoved that French flic off a cliff, Duck. Gibbs's voice suddenly came into his mind.


And if Fornell was about to walk out of the room, then he must be mad too.


Was Anthony DiNozzo suddenly the only sane being in the room?


He'd stay here.


Nothing would make him leave the room.


He'd try again.


This time he would break the bastard.


This time -


"Agent DiNozzo. I gave you an order." And the tone was so like Gibbs's. So very like Gibbs's.


DiNozzo had turned and taken a step before he realized what he'd done.


"No! Wait!" Blake's voice wailed. "I'll tell you. I'll tell you. Better still. I'll give it to you. It's in my locker. Just don't leave me with him. Please don't. Do whatever you like with me. Send me to the chair. But don't walk out of the room."


Harsh sobs cut through the air. The sound of metal hitting the floor added to the commotion. And with a move that belied his usual almost laid back air, Fornell had moved around the table and was supporting a fiercely shaking Ducky. All the time, in his Gibbs tone, he barked orders at DiNozzo.



Tony DiNozzo sat at his desk, shaken by what he'd just witnessed.


He also felt ashamed and a little angry that it had been Ducky, a non-investigator, a mere ME, who had succeeded where he, Anthony DiNozzo who was a trained investigator had failed. Combined with his shame and anger was guilt that he felt that way. Surely it didn't matter who had broken the bastard? All that mattered was the Leroy Jethro Gibbs was going to be okay; well he was going to live. As yet the medical staff were being somewhat cautious about the 'okay' bit.


After the charade had reached its conclusion, and as soon as Ducky had stopped the violent shaking that for a moment had DiNozzo concerned that they'd end up with another member of their team in the hospital, Fornell had departed the NCIS building, taking Ducky with him.


He still couldn't believe what he had just heard and seen. The man he'd known for nearly three years, wasn't the man he thought he knew. Yes, he'd heard talk of Gibbs and Ducky's infamous 'double act', but had always believed that it was Gibbs who led and Ducky who followed. Now had it been Gibbs who'd said all the things Ducky had said. Had it been Gibbs who had threatened Blake with an autopsy while the man was still alive. Had it been Gibbs who had said all the things about removing organs . . . DiNozzo swallowed hard, and tried to force the words and Ducky's voice as he said them from his mind.


But he couldn't.


He wasn't certain he ever would be able to.


He'd seen and done a lot that most men and women would, God willing, never see or do. He thought he was hardened. He'd taken life, and had learned early on in his career how to deal with doing so. Like all such people on the side of law and order, he'd had to learn, otherwise he wouldn't still be in his chosen career. He'd seen more than one good man and woman, people he'd say were far better cops/agents than himself, far brighter, far more versatile, fall apart when they were forced to fire their gun and kill.


But Ducky had shocked him.


Had shaken every image DiNozzo had ever had of the affable man.


Had shaken his belief in the way things were.


For a moment he was angry with Ducky for doing so.


If one of them had to have gotten sick, why couldn't it have been Ducky, not Gibbs? Why couldn't it have been Gibbs doing the threatening. Why couldn't it . . . He shock himself in disgust. Gibbs would kill him if he knew the way his brain was working. Not to mention, of course, that had it been Ducky rather than Gibbs who had been poisoned, even Jethro Gibbs didn't have the bargaining, threatening power that Ducky had had. Ultimately, at the end of the day, Gibbs couldn't have threatened anything more than DiNozzo, Fornell and Director Morrow themselves had threatened.


And then there was the other thing Ducky had said. About him and Gibbs being lovers. Another lie? Like the live autopsy? It had to be. And yet . . .


He pushed away the little voice that reminded him that for a moment he had actually believed that Ducky had meant what he said about the autopsy.


"Agent DiNozzo."


He glanced up. Director Morrow was standing by his desk. "Sir?" DiNozzo straightened in his seat.


Director's Morrow regarded him with a look that DiNozzo couldn't immediately identify. There was a hint of softness of . . . He wasn't sure of what. Then he remembered, Fornell had taken a couple of minutes to speak to Director Morrow before he'd taken Ducky back to the hospital.


"Come up to my office and give me your verbal report, please." The Director nodded and turned.


DiNozzo stood up and prepared to follow him, wondering as he did just how much Fornell had told the Director. As well as just what he himself was going to mention.



Jethro opened his eyes and then closed them again. The small movements made him almost groan in pain, except he hadn't got the energy to make the noise. If this was what being sick was like, they could keep it.


He couldn't remember even feeling as awful as he did. If he thought he'd felt dreadful earlier, he knew now that he'd felt in perfect health. He didn't hurt all over, what he felt was beyond hurting. He wasn't even certain a word had been invented for the pain he was experiencing. And he didn't just hurt externally, his insides felt as though they'd been ripped out, played with and pushed back inside, in the wrong order.


He was going to be sick. Except that would take energy, and would mean he had to move, and he couldn't. Therefore, he didn't even have the luxury of throwing up and getting rid of the hell that was battling against him.


Bleeps and other noises rang through the air. It was like being on a rifle range with over a hundred people firing and him in the middle without any ear defenders.


He knew if someone touched him, he'd - Do nothing except probably scream in agony. If he had the energy to do so. And yet someone was touching him. His hand was being held, and he was suddenly aware that it was the only part of him that didn't feel trampled or mangled.


He would speak. Except his throat couldn't make such a monumental movement. Nor could he actually remember how to form a word.


Again he tried to force his eyelids apart. Again they rebelled as the pokers that were holding them down, fought against the abuse.


Finally he allowed a groan to escape him, except to his abused ears it sounded more like a silent whisper.


And then the same warmth, the same hope, the same peace that enclosed his hand touched his forehead. "Jethro?" The voice, like the touch, didn't abuse his ears, not in the way all the other noises did.


He knew the voice. Just as he knew the touch. Only one person could touch him like that. Only one person sounded like that.


He was going to answer and open his eyes. For heaven's sake he was Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Okay, so he'd been sick - even he had to admit that - but other people were sick, they coped. He would. He could say the name. It wasn't hard.


The hand that had been brushing his forehead like a summer's breeze went away, and the pain in his head tripled in its intensity. He wasn't aware of doing anything, but the touch came back and he sighed in relief, or rather he made another strange noise that sounded as if he were shouting.


"Can you open your eyes, my dear?"


Of course he could.


This was ridiculous. He'd wallowed in self-pity for long enough. He'd open his eyes, get up and -


Fighting with every ounce of strength he had, he forced one eyelid open. Violent agony poured through him, and he slipped back into a welcome oblivion.



This time when he opened his eyes the pain was less. That was rather like saying that ninety-nine was less than a hundred, but it was a start. "Duck?" Somehow he formed the word. He just wondered why he was bellowing it.


"Hush, my dear. Don't try to speak. Just go back to sleep, Jethro. Hush now. Hush."


He decided to obey Ducky's soft voice, especially as it was accompanied with a soothing, cool hand again touching his burning, throbbing head.



"So what the hell was it, Duck?" Jethro was finally well enough, according to Ducky, who for some reason had decided that he knew better how Jethro felt than Jethro did himself, to be propped up in bed against pillows rather than lying flat on the bed.


They'd even removed one or two of the tubes going into and coming out of his body. And apparently Ducky had promised him that if he behaved, not that he could do much else, then they'd take the catheter away later that day. Jethro hated to admit it, but he'd rather they didn't; it was one less thing for him to have to worry about. But Ducky knew best. Ducky was the doctor. Ducky knew best.


"We still don't know, Jethro." Ducky sounded tired. "I'm not convinced we'll ever know for certain. The mix was unique and extremely complex. If it hadn't been for the antidote being given to us, then . . ." Ducky broke off, and the constant grip he had on Jethro's hand tightened.


"Duck, why don't you go home and get some sleep?" Jethro said quietly. "I'm fine now." Well 'fine' was stretching the truth, but Jethro had had enough of being sick. And as much as he liked having Ducky there with him, as much as part of him didn't want to let Ducky go, Ducky going home would be a hint of normalcy.


His dependence on Ducky and his, irrational in his opinion, dislike of the idea of Ducky not being in the room had worried him somewhat. Until Ducky, clearly recognizing the concern, explained to him that it was 'normal' for someone who'd been as sick as Jethro had been to have this kind of need, and that it didn't mean anything was wrong with Jethro. All it meant was that Jethro had never had the opportunity to learn the degree of self-indulgence that most people allow themselves to feel for a short time when they are ill.


Jethro had accepted Ducky's words. It was too tiring to try to figure out a logical argument against them. However he'd decided that if this was what being sick was like, then he wasn't going to get ill ever again.


"Don't you want me here, my dear?" Ducky asked, looking up at him.


"That's not the point, Duck. I just think that you could do with some rest."


The look on Ducky's face warned Jethro that his lover was about to argue.


Then suddenly Jethro remembered something; something he could use. He almost hated himself for it, but it was for Ducky's sake. "The docs said that I'd need a fair bit of looking after when they let me out of here. Apparently I'm going to be weak for quite a while. And you know only too well who's going to do that 'looking after', don't you?" Not that Jethro had any intention of being weak and needing looking after. He was going to be fine. Doctors were wrong all the time. No one told Jethro Gibbs how to feel.


A faint smile touched Ducky's face, and his pale eyes twinkled; he'd seen through Jethro - as usual. "Very well, my dear. I really should give Mrs. Patterson a break from Mother."


"Duck. No. That isn't what I meant. I want you to go from here to my place and rest, not go home and start running around after your mother. Mrs. Patterson is fine. You know they have a great time together. As long as you left them a decent supply of Gin."


Ducky chuckled. "All right, Jethro. I shall do as you say." He stood up shifting slowly and rather stiffly, the chair did look uncomfortable, and sat down on the edge of the bed. Still moving slowly, he let go of Jethro's hand and instead brought both hands up to cup Jethro's face, bent forward and kissed him.


It wasn't the first time they'd kissed since Jethro had regained consciousness for more than a minute or two, but it was the first time that something more than 'that's nice', rippled through Jethro. And the kiss went on for far longer than any other had.


There were no feelings of arousal in Jethro's body, not as such. Instead a feeling of warmth, wholeness and security, together with so much love he felt unworthy, deep long-lasting affection, and the kind of non-passionate passion and understanding that only lovers of such long standing could experience, washed over him. It was one of the chastest kisses they had shared, outside of the mere brush of lips, but more moving than some of their most ardent ones.


As always Jethro felt Ducky's kiss with his entire body and mind, and as always it was as new as the first time they ever kissed, and as old as their over two and a half decade relationship was. "I love you, Duck," he murmured, when he finally broke the kiss. He felt ten times better than he had even moments before; Ducky's kisses should be patented as a medicine. Except Jethro had no intention of letting anyone else experience them.


"I love you too, my dear Jethro." Ducky's now looked as much at peace as Jethro felt. He leaned forward slightly again, no doubt to kiss Jethro again, when a noise outside the door had him moving back. However, he didn't stand up from the bed, nor did he let go of Jethro's hand that at some point he had once again taken.


"Well you look better than when I was last here," Tobias said, coming into the room and putting a bag of grapes down on the bedside table. "Ducky." He nodded to Ducky and smiled at him.


"Ah, Tobias. How nice to see you. And how fortuitous your arrival is."


Jethro muttered something under his breath, but refused to elaborate when his two oldest friends looked at him. From the twinkle in Ducky's eyes, he saw that this lover had guessed the kind of thing Jethro had muttered.


"It is? Good." Tobias took his coat off, sat down in the chair Ducky had vacated, and helped himself to one of the grapes he'd brought.


"Yes. Jethro has persuaded me that I really should go home -"


"To my house." Jethro interrupted him firmly.


"To Jethro's house." Ducky smiled. "And sleep."


"He does have good ideas at times." Tobias helped himself to another grape.


"I know it's foolish, but I was a little concerned about leaving him alone. But you being here makes all the difference."


"I don't have to hold his hand as well, do I?" Tobias pulled the entire bag of grapes towards him and this time took out a small bunch.


"Hell, no!"


Ducky just smiled and shook his head at the two men.


He gathered his hat and coat together, squeezed Jethro's hand again, let his eyes say everything he felt, smiled at Tobias, and limped out of the room.


Jethro watched him go, feeling suddenly as though the warmth had been taken from the room.


Then he shook himself, turned to Tobias, grabbed the grapes back and said firmly, "Tell me, Tobias. Tell me everything."



"Well that explains DiNozzo," Jethro said, and sighed. "He's been here a few times, they all have, and he keeps looking as though he expects Ducky to grow another head, or attack us all with a machete. Not to mention the side-looks he keeps giving us both. Oh, well. I guess it had to come out sooner or later."


"It doesn't have to. I can't see DiNozzo coming out and asking you. But if he does, tell him it was all for show, just like the rest of the act."


Jethro shook his head decisively. "No. I won't lie about it, Tobias. I told Director Morrow that. I'm not ashamed of Ducky or our relationship. I'd take it further if I could."




"Yeah. I'd have him live with me, or I'd go and live with him. But he says not while his mother's alive."


"But she knows, doesn't she?"


"Oh, yes. Always has. But Ducky doesn't think I could stand actually sharing a house with her all the time. He has a point. She is difficult. But . . ."


"Life's too short in our jobs?" It was said with the understanding that only someone in the same line of work could show.


Jethro didn't say anything.


He didn't need to.



It had taken a month in all since the day that had begun in such a strange way, but finally, Jethro was about to return to work.


Despite his determination, he hadn't got out of the hospital bed and felt fully fit. In fact he'd got out of it and had immediately wanted to get back in. His grit and good health and 'sheer bloody mindedness' - as Ducky called it - had kept him on his feet. It had also got him out of the hospital faster than Ducky or the doctors had felt advisable.


It was the same attributes, plus a lot of tender loving care, courtesy of Jethro's own personal doctor, that had helped him get to the stage where even Ducky admitted he could return to work.


And tomorrow that is what he would do.


And tonight?


Well tonight he had Ducky in his arms and in his bed, and he planned to enjoy the night. With Ducky in his arms, everything was more than all right with Leroy Jethro Gibbs's world.



A couple of hours filled with kisses, strokes, caressing and touches, all rich with affection and love, drifted by, leaving both men content, peaceful, fulfilled and sleepy.


"Love you, Duck," Jethro said softly, rearranging them both until they were settled into their usual sleeping positions. His fingers still lightly touched Ducky's body, and he dropped several more kisses on Ducky's face.


"Ah, my dear Jethro, I love you too." Ducky smiled, and offered his mouth for a final kiss.


Then they both gave in and let Morpheus sweep them into his arms. 



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