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Taking The First Step

by: Ashleigh Anpilova (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 6110
Rating: TEEN
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Ducky Mallard, Other Female Character
Category(ies): Angst/Drama, Episode Related, Established Relationship, Friendship
Pairing(s): Gibbs/Ducky
Episode(s): 6-13 Broken Bird
Summary: Set the same evening as the final scene in Broken Bird. Gibbs begins to help Ducky regain his equilibrium.

Chapters: 1

All I want is for someone to hold me and tell me that everything is going to be okay.

The doorbell rang for the third time and Ducky sighed. It appeared that whoever was outside was not going to go away until he answered the door.

But he didn't want to answer the door, because he didn't want to see anyone. Well, that wasn't strictly true; there was one person he did want to see; there was one person he wanted to see very much indeed. However, that person had a key, so had no need to keep ringing the doorbell.

When it rang for the fourth time, he reluctantly stood up and made his way slowly, fully aware of just how much he was limping, how much his long-ago injured leg was hurting him, to the front door. As he walked he was already composing in his mind what he would say to whoever was out there in order to make them go away. And it wasn't necessarily going to be overly-polite.

"Jethro!" he exclaimed in surprise, as he opened the door and found the one person he wanted to see standing there. "Why did you not use your key?"

His lover shrugged and muttered something Ducky didn't quite catch. He was about to ask him to repeat his words when his glance fell on to what Jethro was carrying. He gasped and took a step backwards. "Jethro?" He shook his head. He took another step and then another. "Please, no. Not again. I can't -" He could hardly believe that Jethro would be so cruel.

"Ah, shit." In one swift movement Jethro dropped the suitcase he'd been holding, closed the gap between them and pulled Ducky into his arms. For a moment Ducky fought the embrace, but Jethro was relentless. "Sorry, Duck," he murmured, holding Ducky firmly in a one-armed embrace, while with his other hand he began to stroke Ducky's head. "Didn't think. It's all right," he said softly, now beginning to gently rock Ducky and kiss his cheek. "It's not what you think."

Ducky forced himself to breathe normally again and urged the quivers that shook his body to cease. He stopped fighting Jethro's arms completely and instead leaned into the loving embrace, resting against Jethro's body, letting his lover take his weight as he fought the exhaustion he suddenly felt. He put his head against Jethro's shoulder, closed his eyes for a moment and soaked up the caring and compassion he was being offered.

When he felt able to speak again, he lifted his head, but didn't move from the protective arms and asked, "What is it then? Why have you turned up at my home with a suitcase? And why did you not use your key?"

He was pulled a little nearer and now Jethro rested his head lightly on Ducky's. "Thought I'd come and stay with you for a while," he said. "If that's okay. Thought you might want some company. Unless . . ." He trailed off.

Ducky waited for a moment, but Jethro did not continue, so he moved back a little and looked up at his lover. "Unless?" Again Jethro shrugged, and again muttered something that Ducky didn't quite catch. "Jethro?" Ducky was now surprised to see Jethro glance away from his gaze looking instead over Ducky's shoulder. Suddenly he got an inkling of what Jethro might have said. "In case you are wondering," he said softly, "there is no one else here." The look on Jethro's face confirmed Ducky's suspicions. "Did you really believe there might be? Is that why you rang the doorbell repeatedly rather than letting yourself in?"

Jethro shrugged again. "Thought you might have had company."

"Did you now?"

Jethro nodded. "Yeah."

"And just whose company did you think I might have? Dr. Hampton's, maybe?"

"She was here the other day, Duck. And she . . ." Again he trailed off.

"Yes, she was. And for what it's worth, I did not ask her to come and see me. Indeed when she rang the doorbell I was surprised, not to mention a little irritated given that she should have been covering for me at the office. However, at the time I confess I was also more than a little grateful to have someone to assist me. Someone who -"

"Wasn't me?"

"Jethro? What on earth made you say that?"

"Don't know. Just that - Duck, does she always call you 'Donny'?"

Ducky blinked, a little surprised at the swift change of subject matter, but willing to go along with it. "Ah. That. Yes, I confess I do not like it. I do not like it at all. However . . . Oh, dear, I suppose it really is my own fault. I should have said something the first time she used it. However, I was so taken aback by the fact that she had done so, that she seemed to believe it to be a perfectly acceptable thing to call someone by a version of their given name that -"

"You mean like I do."

"Oh, Jethro. Oh, my dear. I did not mean that at all."

"Didn't you?" Jethro's tone was grim.

"No. I did not. I like your personal version of my name. I like it very much indeed. It's very intimate."

"Bit like 'sweetie' really." And now Jethro smiled.

Ducky felt his face flush a little. "Oh, dear. I really must apologize for that, my dear. I simply do not know of what I was thinking."

"Not sure you were 'thinking', Duck. You were pretty high on morphine." Jethro smiled down at him.

"Yes, I was. Was I not? But even so . . . To be so . . . Well, shall we say indiscreet. I do hope that . . . I'm sure that Abigail and Jimmy would have put it down to the morphine. At least I hope so."

"Do you?"

"Jethro?"

"Do you hope so? Do you, Duck?" Jethro's gaze was intense as he stared down at Ducky.

"Jethro, I . . ." Unable to answer his lover's question, Ducky returned to the subject of Dr. Jordan Hampton. "As I was saying, Dr. Hampton threw me so much the first time she used that name that, well . . .† Please do not laugh, but for what is one of the very few times, if not the only time, in my life I was speechless. And by the time I had formulated a reply that was courteous and would hopefully not upset her, she had used it for a second time and, well . . ." He trailed off and shrugged slightly.

"You felt you couldn't say anything?"

"Yes. I'm afraid that is the case. And now . . . Well, it would seem more than a little foolish to bring the matter up now."

"Would it?" Jethro's tone had a faint edge to it.

Despite everything, despite how weary he felt, how much he still hurt both physically and emotionally, despite the fact he still wasn't entirely certain how he was going to begin to go about facing the fact that those who cared about him, that those about whom he cared deeply, now knew he was a killer, despite the fact he wasn't certain he wanted to remain with NCIS, could remain with NCIS, despite the fact he didn't really know how he could face what he did, face it, accept it and be able to push it back where it belonged and once again return to his life, Jethro's faint hint of jealousy and uncertainty warmed Ducky. "Oh, Jethro," he said, "if that is your less than subtle way of trying to ascertain exactly what my relationship with the good doctor is, do let me tell you. I have seen Jordan Hampton several times since we first encountered her some fifteen months ago. I have taken her out to diner, to an art gallery, to a museum, and she was kind enough to accompany me to the opera a few months ago. But that, my dear, is as far as it goes."

"Is it?"

"Oh, Jethro. For how long have you known me?" Ducky didn't wait for the answer, he just went on. "I am gay, Jethro. You know that. I always have been and I always will be. I have never been interested in women in the romantic and sexual sense. I enjoy their company, I enjoy it very much. I like to tell the odd tale about my so-called affaires, but you know they are merely tales. I enjoyed Dr. Hampton's company, that is all. That was the entire extent of our 'relationship'. And it was rather good for my ego for me to be seen out with a woman of her age."

"You said 'enjoyed'." Jethro's voice was low.

Ducky sighed. "Yes, I did, didn't I?"

"And you don't make that kind of mistake, Duck."

"No. No, I do not. Something has changed, Jethro. I don't know what. But . . . The last time we had dinner it was as if . . . And when she turned up here and in effect took over, well I . . . That is the main reason I did not answer the door. I was well, I am sad and a little ashamed to say, 'dreading' would not be too strong a word, that it might be her."

"Why don't you just tell her it's over?"

"Jethro, there is nothing, in effect, to be 'over'. We never had that kind of relationship."

"Did she know that?"

"Given that we didn't kiss or anything else, I assume so, yes. I may have offered her my arm from time to time, but that is all."

"You didn't tell her?"

"Not in so many words, no. It has never arisen. And given our age difference. . . Jethro, I sometimes think twelve years is a big age gap, but Jordan is very nearly thirty years younger than me. She's easily young enough to be my daughter. It's preposterous."

"Not to me. Besides, you're not old, Duck."

Ducky sighed. "I feel it, Jethro. I feel it very much at the moment. I sometimes think I'll never - Oh, Jethro." Suddenly everything over-whelmed Ducky again, and against his conscious will he felt the tears well up.

As he let them fall, far too exhausted to stop them, he felt himself gathered back into Jethro's arms, pulled against his sturdy body and held. "It's all right, Duck," he heard Jethro murmur, as the embrace became even tighter. "It's all right," he said again. "Come on, let's go to bed so that I can hold you properly."

Ducky made a slight noise. "I don't know if I want to . . . Jethro, I don't even know if I can."

"Hush. Hush. We donít have to do anything you don't want to do, Duck. But you need holding and loving and that's easier to do if we're in bed. But if you don't want to, that's okay. I'll stand here and hold you for as long as you want me to. I'll do whatever you want, Duck. Whatever you need, just ask." Gently, softly, he put his lips on Ducky's ear and kissed him, it was a mere whisper of a kiss, nothing more. But it meant so much to Ducky, more than he could even explain to himself.

He snuggled further into the, what was now for him a, healing embrace, pressing against Jethro's body, soaking up some of the physical and emotional strength his lover had. And then suddenly something Jethro said hit him. With tears still falling, but accepting now they were beginning to cleanse him rather than cause him pain, he pulled back just a little and glanced around Jethro's body. To his surprise and chagrin he realized they were still standing in his hallway, the front door was still open and Jethro's case was on the doormat. "Oh," he said, letting his surprise show.

Jethro smiled at him. "Come on, Duck. Let's at least go into the house properly, even if you don't want to go to bed." He let go of Ducky for a moment and began to turn away and move towards his dropped case. But clearly he saw something in Ducky's face that Ducky wasn't even aware he was betraying, as quickly Jethro caught his hand and tugged him gently towards him again. And without making it obvious, he slid his arm around Ducky's shoulders, effectively taking Ducky with him as he went to the front door where grabbed his case, pushed the door shut and firmly locked and bolted it.

Ducky looked at Jethro's case. "Are you really coming to stay?" he asked, still not quite believing either the evidence or Jethro's words.

"Sure am. If you want me to, of course. You do, don't you?"

Ducky smiled a little. "Do you really have to ask?"

Jethro swallowed, and Ducky saw something pass across the handsome face, the face he suddenly realized had aged by several years since the moment he had been stabbed. He watched Jethro closely and saw him having a silent argument with himself.

Suddenly Jethro put down his case and put one hand on each of Ducky's shoulders and looked down at him. "If it'd been any other time, Duck, then no," he said softly, "I wouldn't. But now . . ." He broke off and shrugged.

"But now you no longer know me." Ducky spoke flatly.

Jethro blinked and shook his head. "No, Duck. No," he repeated, his tone firm. "No. I know you. I know who you are."

"Do you?"

"Yes."

"How can you honestly say that, Jethro? After -" Ducky broke off abruptly.

Again he saw Jethro studying him. "Want me to tell you something, Duck?" Ducky gave a half nod. "Not sure you'll like it."

"Go on."

"I've always known you'd be capable of killing, Duck. If the reasons were right. Always knew you could kill to protect."

"Jethro?" Ducky whispered.

"And that's what you did, Duck. You killed to protect."

Ducky shook his head. "Jethro, I -"

"You saw what that bastard was doing, you knew there was nothing you could do to stop him, so you did the next best thing. You protected."

"Jethro. I took a life. I took several lives. I . . . I am a doctor. My job, my oath, is to save lives, not to end them."

"And to help prevent or reduce suffering."

"Well, yes, but . . . I should have found another way." Ducky spoke softly.

Jethro tightened the grip he still had on Ducky's shoulders. "Reckon if you could have done, you would have done. Know it, in fact."

"Jethro?"

"I know you, Duck. I know what you're capable of. You said it was the hardest thing you'd ever done, well I believe you. And I know what it must have cost you at the time, and I know what it's costing you now. But you have to believe me, Ducky. You have to trust me. You have to accept that for once in our relationship I know more than you do." Jethro smiled as he said the final words, and against his will Ducky allowed a twitch of a smile to touch his lips. "You killed to protect, Duck. You killed for that reason and that reason only. Didn't you? Didn't you?" Jethro demanded, a little more firmly when Ducky failed to answer. "Ducky."

"I . . . If you put it that way, then . . . Maybe I . . . But I'm not sure that . . . Oh, Jethro, do you really believe that is why I did it?"

"Sure do. And not only believe it, I know it. You couldn't do anything else to help them. You couldn't stand by and go on patching them up only to watch them walk through the door, or be wheeled through the door, again time after time. You couldn't stand by knowing what was happening to them. You couldn't." Jethro licked his lips and now slid his hand around Ducky's back and held him in a loose embrace. "Standing by and doing nothing, Duck, would have been . . . Well nowhere near as bad as what that bastard did, but . . . You helped them, Duck. You saved them from suffering. You protected them."

"But it still wasn't right." Ducky said the words softly.

"Right. Wrong. Good. Evil. Sometimes the lines get blurred, Duck. You know that. Look, Ducky, it's easy for me to tell you you've got to try and let it go. That you've got to put it back wherever it was before this happened. I know it's easy for me to say it. And I know it's not that easy to do. But you know you have to, don't you?"

And Ducky did know that. Deep down, in a place he rarely accessed, he knew. But it was still too bitter, still too painful, still too impossible to accept, to rationalize. He knew his tone was weary and full of the pain he felt as he spoke. "How can I? Jethro how can I go on . . . How can things go on as they were?"

Jethro frowned. "What exactly do you mean by 'things'? Us? Or what?" And then he nodded. "You mean your job, don't you? You mean the kids?"

Ducky nodded. "Yes. What will they . . . What must they be thinking?"

"They were all as sure as I was that you weren't guilty, Duck."

Ducky sighed. "Yes, I know that. And we have established and I have accepted that I am indeed not guilty of the things of which I was accused. However, I still . . ." He trailed off.

"Didn't notice Palmer treating you any differently when you went to Autopsy earlier today," Jethro said softly.

"No. He didnít. Not at all. In fact it was rather touching. He'd - Jethro, what do you mean? How did you . . . Jethro?"

Jethro gave another of his shrugs, but didn't directly answer Ducky's question. "Why did you go into the office?" he asked, his voice now very low. "Feeling like you clearly felt."

"I -" Ducky glanced away from the steady dark gaze. It was a question he didn't really want to answer. A question he felt unable to answer, without making himself sound like a weak, clinging fool.

"Why didn't you just call me and ask me to come and see you?" Jethro asked, his voice remained low.

Still not looking at his lover, Ducky said simply, "I couldnít."

Now Jethro pulled him nearer again, wrapping his arms around him and holding him. "Ah, Duck," he said, kissing the top of Ducky's head. "Oh, Ducky, Ducky, Ducky. I should have come to see you, but, I didn't want to intrude if you didn't want to see anyone. I know it's easier sometimes to deal with things by yourself. But I should have known."

Ducky moved a little nearer to Jethro and put his own arms around Jethro's body, leaning against the taller, firmer frame, and letting his head come to rest in its favorite position. "It isn't your fault, Jethro. I hadn't exactly welcomed you with open arms the last time you were here. Nor did I show you in any way that I was pleased to see you when you came to the Embassy. Indeed, I distinctly remember telling Ambassador Saydia that I did not wish to see or speak to you."

"Yeah, well, I didn't exactly come here as your lover, did I? Not too sure you could say I came here as your friend."

"But you did, Jethro. You came as both of those things. What will it cost you?"

"Duck?"

"The CIA file. It no doubt came at a cost, did it not?"

"Oh, yeah. Kort made that quite clear."

Ducky pulled back a little and looked up at Jethro. "Kort? Trent Kort?"

"The very same."

"Oh, but, Jethro, he -"

"Is an out and out bastard who at some point will need something from me as much as I needed something from him. Yeah, know that. But sometimes it's the best way, Duck. Deal with someone you know is an unscrupulous bastard. That way you won't have any surprises. Except -"

"Except?"

"He did surprise me. Gave me a second file. 'In good faith'."

"Whose?"

"Director Leon Vance's."

Ducky felt his eyes widen in shock. "The CIA has a file on our director?"

Jethro nodded. "Sure does. And before you ask what's in it, I haven't looked."

Ducky felt his eyes widen even more. "You have not?"

"Nah. Had something far more important to get on with - saving you. Vance's file'll keep. Now, Dr. Mallard, are you going to answer my question?"

Ducky blinked. "Question?"

"Mmm, the one I asked about five or so minutes ago. Do you want me to come and stay with you?"

Ducky thought about all the millions of ways he could answer the question, all the ways he could let Jethro know exactly how much he wanted him to 'come and stay', exactly how much he'd always wanted him to do so. However, in the end he said simply, "Yes, dearest, I do. Very much indeed."

"Good. That's settled then. I'll collect some more things tomorrow. Didn't want to bring too much stuff, just in case . . ."

"You really thought I might have said no?"

"Told you, Duck, wasn't even sure I'd find you alone."

Ducky shook his head and again allowed a smile to touch his lips. "Ah, Jethro. You do know the meaning of word 'gay', do you not? In the homosexual sense of the term, not the -"

The kiss was brief, chaste, loving, affectionate, cleansing. "Yeah, Duck," Jethro said, lifting his mouth from Ducky's. "I do. But I also knew, I saw, how much you needed someone. I nearly came down when I saw you . . . But I didnít know if . . . I should have come here, Duck. You shouldn't have had to go looking for me. Looking for comfort. Specially as I failed -"

This time it was Ducky who kissed Jethro. "Leroy Jethro Gibbs," he said, breaking the second brief, chaste, but effectively silencing kiss. "You have never, never, do you hear me, failed me. Never. Had it not been for you and your bulldozering way, I might not, indeed I would not, be standing here now."

Jethro's grip on him tightened. "They'd never have taken you, Duck," he said, his tone harder than it had been since he'd demanded: 'What the hell is wrong with you, Ducky? Your life is in the balance here?' "Never," he repeated.

Ducky looked up at him and saw the look on his lover's face. The look he knew so well. The look he'd seen many times over their decades together. The steely, determined look that told so clearly that Jethro would not take no for an answer, would not be defeated and would not give up. And suddenly he realized, maybe consciously realized, that had Ambassador Saydia moved more quickly, had he made Mosuma Daoub's accusation a formal charge, that somehow, no matter what it might have cost him, or indeed anyone else, Jethro would have found a way, even without Ducky's acquiescence, to get him out of the Embassy and spirit him away.

He'd always known Jethro loved him, his lover had both told him and showed him often enough, but he was suddenly aware he hadn't realized quite how much Jethro loved him. He'd known Jethro would die for him, kill for him, lie for him, and yet he still hadn't realized, hadn't allowed himself to realize, quite how deep the love went. "Jethro," he said, putting his hand on Jethro's cheek.

"Yeah, Duck?"

"I -" He broke off. What could he say? Even he couldnít find the words. So instead he asked, "How long is 'a while'?"

"Huh?"

"You said you were coming to stay for a while. I was simply wondering how long you considered a while to be."

Jethro linked his arms behind Ducky's back and gazed down at him. As Ducky stared up into the steady, affection gaze he saw something strange: he watched Jethro erect the barriers he wore to shield his gaze at the office, the barriers that were never in place when he was alone with Ducky. He watched Jethro moisten his lips before speaking, his tone as unrevealing as his eyes. "How long would you like a while to be, Duck?"

"Jethro?"

"How long do you want me to stay for, Ducky? Truth."

"I . . ." Ducky glanced away, unsure as to whether now was the right time to answer the question honestly. "Donít you know?" he finally said.

Jethro shrugged. "Rather hear it from you." His voice was low.

"Jethro. I . . . Jethro, I can't answer it right now. No, that is not correct. I do not think it is the right time for me answer it now."

Jethro nodded. "Okay, Duck. That's fine. Told you I don't want to make you do anything you're not comfortable with."

"Thank you."

"And talking of not being comfortable. Your leg must be objecting to you still being on your feet."

"It is a little, yes," Ducky admitted.

"Well then, why don't we go and sit down or . . ."

Suddenly Ducky wanted nothing more than to be in bed with Jethro, to be in bed in Jethro's arms. To be able to soak up the love and compassion, the caring and devotion, the steady understanding and healing. But even as he thought that, even as he prepared to tell Jethro what he wanted, he felt another wave of emotion hit him. He swallowed hard; he didn't want to cry again, except he did. Because he finally realized, no he finally accepted, that his tears were healing ones. "Oh, Jethro." He wasn't sure he had spoken the words aloud, but once more he was gathered, so very carefully and lovingly into the arms he'd longed to be in from the moment he'd left the hospital, in fact from the moment he'd been stabbed.

"It's okay, Duck," Jethro said, holding him. "It's okay. It's okay."

For several minutes he just continued to hold Ducky, wrapping him in a fierce, protective, possessive, loving embrace. Shutting the world out from around Ducky, giving Ducky one thing and one thing only to focus on: Jethro himself. All the time he murmured soft words, a lot of which Ducky couldn't hear, couldn't make out, and from time to time he kissed the top of Ducky's head, his cheek, brushing away the tears with his lips, or Ducky's ear.

Finally he said softly, but firmly, "You did it to protect, Ducky. That's why. That's what you did. You killed Javid to protect him. Say it. Come on, Duck, say it. Look at me." Gently he urged Ducky away from him a little. "Look at me, Duck, and say it. Say it, Duck."

Ducky swallowed. "I . . ." He wasn't certain he could. He still wasn't certain Jethro was correct. But then he heard Jethro saying again 'You have to accept that for once in our relationship I know more than you do.' He straightened up, just a little, gripped Jethro even more tightly, ignoring the pain the shot through his injured hand, tilted his head back so that he could make eye contact with his lover and spoke. "I," he swallowed around a very dry throat and moistened his own lips. "I did it to protect," he said. "I killed Javid in order to protect him." He slumped forward then once more into Jethro's embrace, feeling Jethro adjust his stance in order to take the extra weight Ducky forced on to him.

"That's my Duck," he whispered. "Next time or the time after that or the time after that or the time after the time after the time after that you'll even believe it, Duck. How ever long it takes, Duck, be it days, weeks, months or years, there will come a day when you will believe it. I know you will. I promise you will. Believe me, Duck. Trust me."

And as he was once more gathered back into a tighter than tight embrace, for the first time in days, Ducky felt a glimmer of hope, no more than just a high speed passing glimmer, that had gone as quickly as it had arrived. But it had hovered, just for a fleeting second, it had been there. His lover had spoken the truth. Jethro gave him not just hope, but belief, that one day and somehow Ducky knew it wouldn't be 'years', that one day in the not too distant future, he would say the words and he would believe them.

But tonight was not that time.

Just as tonight was not the right time to tell Jethro just how long he wanted 'a while' to be. Not that he had to; he knew that Jethro knew 'forever' would be his answer.

Tonight was too soon.

Tonight was about something else.

"Take me to bed, Jethro," he said softly. "Take me to bed and hold me."

"You sure, Duck?" Jethro again pushed Ducky away from him a little. Ducky knew why, his lover wanted to see his eyes, the one way he always said told him the full truth. Told him what even Ducky's words maybe didn't.

Tears once more began to well up in his eyes as he saw the depth of love Jethro had for him. Saw exactly what Jethro would do for him. Saw the lengths to which Jethro would go to for him. Saw he wasn't just loved, he was liked, he was respected, he was trusted. He also saw the want and something he hadn't seen before, other than in the faintest of flashes, the need.

Through his tears he smiled and touched Jethro's cheek. "Oh, yes, beloved," he said softly. "Yes. I am completely certain."

He let Jethro take his hand and lead him up the stairs. He let him guide him first into the bathroom where he relieved himself, brushed his teeth and washed his hands and face all under the steady, loving, caring, compassionate gaze of his lover.

He then let Jethro take his hand again and lead him into the bedroom. He let him slowly undress him, noting that it wasn't quite so much the lover that undressed him, but far, far, far more than a mere friend. He let him help him on with his pajamas. He let him turn back the covers and wait while he got into bed, before hastily stripping his own outer clothing off, getting into bed and pulling Ducky into his arms.

He let Jethro hold him and murmur soothing words to him. He let him lightly stroke his back and his arms, the touches not designed to arouse Ducky, just to reassure him. He let Jethro kiss him, not passionately, but with more love that he felt worthy of. And as he began to return the kisses and pressed himself further into Jethro's embrace he felt, a little to his surprise, the first hint that his body was reacting to the caresses, the kisses and Jethro's nearness. But he didn't say anything and neither did Jethro. It wasn't necessary.

Finally still being lightly and affectionately caressed, kissed and held, he felt his eyelids grow too heavy and felt sleep begin to creep up on him. And for the first time since he'd been free of the effects of the morphine he welcomed the feelings. As he finally slipped from being awake to being asleep he heard Jethro tell him he loved him.

THE NEXT DAY

Ducky was in the shower and Jethro was whisking eggs together while butter heated in a pan when the doorbell rang.

Pausing only long enough to turn of the heat and push the pan off the still warm burner, Jethro strode to the front door, unbolted it, turned the key and opened it.

"Donny, I thought I'd - Oh, Gibbs."

"Dr. Hampton."

"Is Donny around?"

"Ducky's in the shower."

"Oh." For a moment they just stood and looked at one another. Then she gave him a forced smile and said, her tone falsely bright, "I thought I'd bring him breakfast." She held up a bag.

"I'm just scrambling some eggs. He said he'd like eggs."

"Oh. Um. Well . . . I guess I'd . . . Do tell Donny I called, please."

"Sure. Oh, and Dr. Hampton. Thank you for covering for Ducky," deliberately he stressed the name, "while he was injured. I'm sure he'll call you if he needs you to cover again. Or I will." He stared down at her.

She stared back and he saw realization dawn on her face. "Oh," she said. "I see."

"Good. Have a good day, Doctor." And with that, without even waiting for her to turn around he shut the door and pointedly relocked and rebolted it.

Turning around he saw Ducky standing halfway down the stairs dressed only in his robe with a towel in his hand rubbing his still damp hair. "Oh, hey, Duck. Er, been there long?"

Ducky looked at him. Jethro thought he saws the edges of Ducky's lips twitch, but he couldn't be quite certain. "Long enough," he replied, his tone giving nothing away.

"Ah. Sorry if you thought I was . . ." he trailed off and shrugged. Still he watched Ducky, trying to gauge his reaction.

Finally he saw Ducky smile. "Are the eggs nearly ready?"

"Can be. They're all mixed, just got to cook them."

"That isn't quite what I meant."

"Isn't it, Duck?"

"No. It isn't. If they aren't nearly cooked then they can't burn, can they?" And Ducky held out his hand towards Jethro.

Chapters: 1

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