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The Truth Can Heal

by: Ashleigh Anpilova (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 6082
Rating: MATURE
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Ducky Mallard
Category(ies): Angst/Drama, Episode Related
Pairing(s): Gibbs/Ducky
Summary: Set after Escaped & Singled Out.

A sequel to: Tough Love.

Ducky goes to Gibbs's house. When he sees the unpacked boxes, he realizes that his fears were correct. However, Gibbs finally makes an attempt to resolve things between them. Both men discover things they hadn't before realized about the other.

Author Notes: An established relationship story.

I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.

Chapters: 1

The Truth Can Heal

There weren't any lights shining when Ducky arrived at Jethro's home, but that didn't particularly surprise him.

He left the Morgan and made his way, moving by instinct and knowledge, into Jethro's house. Not for one moment did he consider knocking.

Once there he turned on a light and looked around him. The sight of the boxes still piled up seemed to prove his fears; Jethro wasn't back. Not really. Not to stay. Although he'd known this, the confirmation was still a painful one.

For a moment he considered just turning around and leaving; of going back to his house and . . .

And what?

Besides, something was still nagging at him.

Sighing quietly, he moved towards the basement stairs; it was the most logical place to find Jethro.

He descended slowly into the room that, like upstairs, was filled with unemptied boxes; the shell of the boat seemed larger than when he’d seen it before, and also more desolate and stark. This really was confirmation, if any more was needed, that Jethro was about to depart again. If he'd been staying, he would have unpacked his tools.

Ducky's’ eyes came to rest on the sight of Jethro sprawled on the floor. Fear flooded through him as he hurried down the final few steps, and moved at speed across the room. Then he saw the bottle of 'paint-stripper' propped against Jethro's leg.

Anger charged through him. But mostly it was directed at himself for being such a fool.

He turned to go, but his doctor's sense of duty, at least he told himself that was all it was, clicked in. He had better check that it was nothing more than a drunken stupor.

He moved nearer. "Jethro." He spoke sharply, but not as sharply as he'd intended doing.

For a moment there was no response.

Then slowly the dark blue eyes opened and looked up at him, blinking several times, clearly trying to focus. "Duck?" Surprise, pleasure and wariness were evident in the harsh voice. "Are you really here? Or am I just imagining you again?"

Ducky blinked as the memory of himself imagining Jethro being at his house earlier in the evening, hit him. "I'm really here," he said. He glanced at the bottle. "Have you drunk all that tonight?"

Jethro followed his gaze and looked down. He frowned. "Probably."

Ducky sighed. "And you are sitting on the floor because? Oh, wait, of course, you haven't actually unpacked, have you. Therefore you have nothing on which to sit." He winced internally at the sound of his bitter tone.

Jethro shrugged. "Couldn't fall any further. And I haven't had time to unpack."

Ducky glared down at the man he used to know.

For a moment he was tempted to tell Jethro that he knew he was lying, but what was the point? There was none. He was tired of trying. He closed his eyes, forcing away the image of who Jethro once was, and gritted his teeth.

Then without any further words, he turned to leave.

"Don't go, Ducky. Please." The plea was clearer than any Ducky had ever heard.

It stopped him in his tracks.

However, he did not turn back around.

And then he felt a light touch, hesitant, like the wind blowing through his hair, on his shoulder.

"I hurt you by leaving, didn't I?"

For a moment Ducky was tempted to use Jethro's own sarcastic 'you think'? But he was too tired. Instead he just said softly, "Yes."

"But it's more than that, isn't it?"

Again Ducky simply said, "Yes."

"And it's more than me not going to your graduation, isn't it."

"Yes," said Ducky, for the third time.

There was silence.

Ducky thought that Jethro wasn't going to say anything else. But maybe there was nothing else to say.

He was about to move again, when Jethro's quiet voice stopped him. "Can we talk about it? Please, Duck."

That made three times.

Three times in as many minutes that Jethro had addressed him by name. Once as 'Ducky' and twice by using his own intimate version of Ducky's name. Jethro now sounded completely sober, whereas only moments before his speech had been clearly affected by the alcohol. His friend's ability to go from seemingly drunk to completely sober, had never ceased to amaze Ducky, despite seeing it more than once during their long friendship.

Still without turning around, he asked, "Is there any point?"

"What? What the hell is that meant to mean?" Suddenly Jethro grabbed him and dragged him around. Not, Ducky was pleased to notice, without taking care to support him as he pulled him. Jethro clutched Ducky's arms tightly, holding him away from his body, with enough force that Ducky knew he couldn’t break the grip.

He looked up into the dark gaze that glared down at him. For the first time he saw a flash of the real Leroy Jethro Gibbs in the look. In the fact that for the first time in far too long, Jethro was showing something that at least resembled mild irritation.

"I know you're pissed with me, Ducky. And I know I hurt you. But you what? You're doing a bloody fine job of hurting me too. And that's not like you."

"No," Ducky said, staring into the unblinking gaze. "It isn't. But maybe it should have been."

"What? Christ, Ducky. If I didn't know better, I'd . . ." He broke off, let go of Ducky and shook his head. "Duck, I -"

"Love me? Is that what you were going to say? It's so easy to say, isn't it, Jethro? Maybe it's time you did more than simply use the words."

A long, oppressive, heavy, cloying silence spread around the room.

Ducky wanted to break it - or at least he thought he did. But he couldn't. He didn't know how to. He also knew that doing so would be wrong.

Finally, Jethro, who had stood motionless, barely even seeming to breathe, said quietly, "Yeah, maybe it is."

Ducky looked at him. A faint glimmer of hope began to trickle through him; but he pushed it away. Instead he said, "Do you have anything to sit on upstairs?" He needed to sit down, and he knew that Jethro would know that.

Jethro nodded. "Yes. I even have some glasses and some decent whiskey out."

For a moment Ducky was about to suggest that Jethro had had more than enough whiskey for one night. But given how sober the other man sounded and appeared, it seemed a rather bitchy comment to make.

Instead he just turned and moved, limping badly across the floor, and began to climb the stairs.

He moved automatically into the sitting room, trying his best to ignore that piles of boxes and dustsheet covered furniture. At least Jethro had spoken the truth, his armchairs and sofa were uncovered, and apart from one of the chairs being the resting place for a couple of boxes, they were ready to be sat upon. He crossed to the unladen armchair and lowered himself carefully into it.

A minute later Jethro held out a glass towards him.

After a second Ducky took it; as he did, he realized that, up until that moment, he'd planned that had Jethro offered him a drink, he had intended to refuse. He sighed to himself silently, and wondered again whether they were beyond finding a resolution. Not that it really mattered whether they did or not; Jethro wasn't staying.

"Thank you," he said quietly, taking the glass and holding it between both hands. However, he did not look up.

Nonetheless he was aware that Jethro stood unmoving for a moment, until he turned and walked across to the sofa.

When Ducky did look up, he saw that Jethro had sat down, but was perched on the edge of the seat, his glass held between his parted legs. He waited for Jethro to begin the conversation; after all he was the one who had asked for it.

He watched his friend, really studying him, really looking at him for almost the first time since Jethro's return. He saw Jethro's indecision, and suspected it was based on where to begin.

In turn he just sipped his whiskey; it was the same single malt as he'd been drinking at his own home, the one he'd given to Jethro a few weeks before Mexico. He thought it was faintly ironic that now, here in Jethro's house, the whiskey actually tasted as it should.

Finally, Jethro spoke. "I know I hurt you when I left."

It didn't surprise Ducky that Jethro had chosen to begin with the 'easy' part; the part of which he was certain. The part that Ducky had already confirmed. "Yes," he said. "You did."

"I thought you understood."

"What exactly? Why you left me? Why you resigned, I'm sorry retired, from NCIS? Why I was forced to play out that stupid charade of yours, concerning me not knowing you fifteen years ago? Of me not knowing Shannon? And how you killed her killer? And how that not only did I have to play it out in front of other people, but also with you? Which of these, Jethro, did you think I 'understood'?"

Jethro opened his mouth. "I -"

Ducky cut into his speech. "And if the first words out of your mouth are 'I didn't leave you, Duck', then I am going to walk of your house right now."

Jethro blinked. "Actually, I wasn't going to say that, Duck. Really I wasn’t."

Ducky looked at him. Jethro spoke the truth. Once again a fission of hope began to prod him; again he pushed it away. He nodded once, and let his eyes drift away from the steady dark gaze.

"Because it wouldn't be true, would it?"

Ducky shook his head. "No." He spoke quietly, but firmly.

"I thought you understood that I needed to get away for a while."

"Oh, I did, Jethro. Really I did. At least I would have understood the 'a while' bit. Given what you had just been through, being blown up and nearly . . . " He broke off, silently cursing himself for being unable to say the word.

He swallowed hard, took another sip of his drink and continued. "Being dragged back to fifteen years ago; forced to relive losing Shannon and Kelly. Being what you considered, betrayed, having to watch people being killed simply because our country wasn't ready to let people see the truth. Yes, I can understand that you needed to get away for a while. But that did not necessitate you handing your badge and gun to Anthony."

"I was a mess, Duck." Jethro's voice was a mere whisper, and now he glanced down at his hands.

"Yes. But why did you not speak to me? Why did you not share your feelings with me? I'm a doctor, Jethro. I might cut bodies up for a living, but you know my passion for all things related to the medical world. This degree I have just completed, didn't happen overnight you know. One doesn't get such a degree in four months. I've always been interested in the mind, how it works, what motivates us, drives us, you know that.  I could have helped you, as a doctor, and as your friend. But no, you wouldn’t ask for my help, would you? You never have asked me to help you, not beyond a strictly work related professional sense, or to patch you up when your wives attacked you. You could have asked me to help you, but instead you chose to spend the night making love to me, barely giving me a chance to think, to speak. You were desperate, Jethro."

"Don't seem to recall you trying to stop me. And you had plenty of chances to speak. You could have asked me not to go, not to leave, but you didn’t. Just as always." As he spoke the last three words, Jethro looked up and stared, unblinkingly at Ducky. His voice was quiet and cold.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

Jethro shook his head twice, then stood up and began to pace around the room. "Four times, Duck. Four times. Four," he repeated, as if trying to drum the word into Ducky. "You didn't say a word. You let me marry them all. Hell, you even stood at my side. You stood there, let me promise to love, honor and cherish; to forsake all others. Hah! You, you, you, who knew what was going to happen. You stood there."

"Yes, I know. I never should have agreed to be your best man."

"No, you shouldn't. But then the damned marriages never should have taken place." Jethro raised his voice.

"Jethro?"

For a second Jethro towered above him, but then he sighed and sat back down heavily. "Why didn't you ever say anything, Ducky? Why didn't even once ask me not to marry them? Threaten to leave me if I went ahead. Did you care so little about me?" Jethro's voice fell and he sounded bewildered.

Ducky blinked and sat in silence as he looked at Jethro. "How can you say that, Jethro?" he finally said. "How can you sit there and -"

"Because you never once showed me, did you Doctor? You told me you loved me, were in love with me, and then what? I come along say 'hey, Duck, I'm going to get married, will you be my best man', and what did you do? Nothing. Except look hurt and say 'yes, my dear, of course I will'. God, Ducky, I sometimes wondered if you were even human. Then I told myself that despite your fine words, you didn't really care enough about me."

"Oh, Jethro. Oh, my dear Jethro. Oh, what have we done?" To his horror, Ducky found himself laughing.

"I'm glad you find it amusing, Dr. Mallard, because I sure as hell don’t."

"No, Jethro, I don't. I really don’t. I'm sorry. It's just so . . . I can't even think of the word I want."

"That's a first." But Jethro didn’t sound as though he'd made an, what had it been in any other circumstances, amused quip.

"I didn't say anything, Jethro, because I didn’t want to put you through what would in effect be emotional blackmail. I didn't want to force you to choose, because what almost inevitably happens is that the person who is being backed into a corner, either lashes out there and then, and doesn’t choose the person forcing them into the choice, or they do, but a short time later, the relationship ends. I didn't want that to happen to us."

"You're saying that you thought if you'd have asked me not to marry Shannon, Marie, Alice or Diane, and had told me that you'd leave me if I did, that I'd have broke up with you and married the woman anyway, or stuck with you and then we'd have broken up soon after?"

Ducky nodded. "Yes."

"And you got this from those damned books of yours? From your psychological studies?"

"Actually, from seeing it happen more than once."

Jethro shook his head in disbelief. Then he dragged his hand through his hair, drained his glass, stood up, grabbed the bottle and topped up both their glasses; again Ducky didn't protest. "Christ, we really fucked that one up, didn’t we? And I thought I knew you. I thought we knew one another. There was I wanting you to do the one thing you wouldn't do because you thought you'd lose me. And I wanted you to do it, because I wanted you to really prove how much you cared. I can see why you laughed. Ah, Duck, Duck, Duck. How the hell did we survive thirty years?" Jethro went on speaking without giving Ducky a chance to answer. "I knew I was hurting you each time and not just with the wives, but I still went on doing it. And I excused myself for being a bastard, because I told myself that it was okay because I knew what I was doing, I knew how much I was hurting you, and I felt awful about it. So it was okay."

"Unlike now," Ducky said softly, holding the dark gaze. It would be all too easy to let it go at that, to sit back, laugh at what fools they'd been, and forget everything else.

"Yeah," Jethro said soberly. "Unlike now. Or at least unlike up until now." He sighed and went on speaking. "I know you've explained your reasons, but if you'd stood up to me, even once, I'd never have gone on hurting you like I did, treating you like . . . I never once stopped loving you, Duck. You do know that, don't you? Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. As you said, it's easy to say. I'm meant to be showing you."

Ducky continued to look at Jethro. "I do know, Jethro," he said quietly.

"But it's not enough anymore, is it? Not the love, me admitting that I now know how much I hurt you by going. It's far more than that?"

Although he had already confirmed that thing, when they were down in the basement, Ducky said quietly, "Yes."

"If I asked you again, now, what it was, would you tell me? Or would you give me another cryptic reply?"

Ducky stared at him for a moment. "I could tell you, Jethro. But that wouldn't solve anything. Not really."

"Thought not. And you're right. I just . . . It's got something to do with your digs about me not unpacking, and whether I had anything to sit on up here, isn't it?"

Ducky nodded. "Yes." He spoke quietly.

Jethro stood up again and began to pace around the room. "How many degrees does this one give you?" he demanded, coming to stop by Ducky's chair.

Ducky blinked up at him. "Four, why?"

"No reason. Just trying to figure out how convoluted I've got to get to really work it out. Never could come close to you on the intellectual front."

"You are far more intelligent, Jethro, than you like people to think you are," Ducky said firmly.

"Maybe." Jethro fingered his mustache, before turning on his heel and striding away, dragging his hand again through his hair.

Ducky watched him, wondering whether his friend would figure it out. Wondering if he even wanted to. Wondering if he, Ducky, even wanted him to. Wondering if it would be better just to let it go now. To shake hands, to agree to be friends, and to . . .

"You're scared I'm going to leave you again. That's it, isn't it? You think I'm going to wake up one morning and decide to go back to Mexico. Well, don't you? Don't you?" Jethro came back to the sofa and sat back down.

Ducky looked at him. "That is part of it," he said slowly.

"Part of it? Christ, Duck, how many parts does this have? Look I'm back, okay. I'm not going away again. I won't leave you again. I . . . I'm back."

"Are you?" Ducky said quietly.

"Of course I am. I . . . I am," Jethro repeated. His tone said something else. He tore his eyes away from Ducky's gaze, stood up again, and retreated across the room. He stood by the window, his back towards Ducky. "What makes you think I'm not?" he finally asked.

"Everything," Ducky replied softly.

Jethro whirled around. "Cut the cryptic crap, Doctor, and tell me in plain English what the fuck you mean." Again he fingered his mustache.

Ducky sighed. Maybe it was time for him to give a little. He nodded at what Jethro was doing. "That for one?"

"What?"

"Your mustache and the long hair. Those are not traits of the Leroy Jethro Gibbs I know. But then I haven't seen him since I kissed him goodbye, and left him to carry out his assignment on the ship. I remember how he complained about Chip's mustache, how he made him get rid of it, and now look at you. But that aside, my Leroy Jethro Gibbs would never have quit. The man I knew didn't know the meaning of the word."

Eyes wide and unblinking, Jethro moved slowly back to the sofa. Still unblinking, his gaze never leaving Ducky's, he sat down. "I loved her," he said simply.

"I know you did. I've always known." Ducky swallowed hard, it seemed as though tonight was a night for truths. "I would have left you, had they not . . . " He trailed off; he didn't need to go on.

Jethro stared at him. "I wouldn't have let you." He spoke forcefully, bluntly.

Ducky smiled gently. "Ah, the world's a big place, Jethro, " he said simply. "Your reaction to being returned to the first coma showed me something that I spent over fifteen years trying to deny. That you loved Shannon more than you loved me."

"No!" Jethro's eyes blazed, and he shouted the word. "That's not true," he growled. "It isn't."

"Then why would you never let me speak of her with you? Why did you force me to promise that should the occasion ever arise, that I'd say I hadn't known you when you were married to Shannon? Hadn't been Kelly's godfather? All right the second part, I can somehow in a convoluted way understand. But why, why, Jethro, would you never once let me mention her name to you? Why would you not let me help you? Help you heal? Help you through your loss?"

"You did. You were there for me."

Ducky shook his head. "You never really came to terms with their deaths. Not even my love for you was enough. I think that is partly why you did marry another three times. Why all of your women had to be redheads, or at least have a hint of red in their hair. You -"

"Is that what you thought?"

Ducky nodded. "Yes."

"Oh, shit. Guess we've done it again."

"Jethro?"

"You're right, Duck. I don't think in some ways I ever really did get over their deaths, maybe that does explain all the other women. But that's no reflection on you and how I feel about you. I'm not sure anyone who has had that kind loss ever truly does get over it. I know I'd never have survived losing you. Hush," he added, when Ducky was about to speak. "The second bit, the not telling anyone else is easy, I was trying to protect you. You knew I'd murdered their killer, and somehow I reckoned that if it ever came out, that we'd known one another back then, things might get asked, and I never wanted to put you in the position where you'd have to lie for me. Not to mention the fact that I never wanted any accusations thrown at you for being -"

"The other woman?"

"It'll do. But the reason I didn't talk about them with you was because I didn't want to keep mentioning them. I was trying to protect you again. I thought it might hurt you too much if I did; if I told you how much I loved them and missed them. How much I -"

"Wished it could have been you? Oh, don't look at me like that, Jethro. Do you not realize how many times that exact same wish has gone through my head? How many times I've wished that I could have taken their place?"

Jethro shook his head, hard. "Don't," he said. "Please." His voice was little more than a whisper.

They sat in silence for several long moments.

This time it was Ducky, whose leg was beginning to stiffen up from sitting for so long, who rose, spent a few seconds flexing his leg, before reaching for the whiskey bottle.

"So you decided from a mustache and lack of hair cut that I wasn't going to stay around?" Jethro finally asked.

"Not just that, no. Your style of dress is another indication. When have you ever worn jeans on a regular basis to the office? Occasionally, yes, when you have been called to an emergency, but other than that, no. Plus your behavior is, what shall we say, very un-Leroy Jethro Gibbs-like."

"What do you mean?"

"Not attending my graduation. Calling Timothy 'Tim'. Not slapping Anthony around the head. Waking Abigail up in that most unpleasant and unnecessary way."

"She told you?"

"She needs a father figure at the office, Jethro, and as she's lost you, she turns to me. I told you, a lot of things have changed during the last four months."

"Including your feelings for me?"

Ducky shook his head. "And that is another thing my Leroy Jethro Gibbs would never ask. He would never need to ask."

"Sorry. In that case, why the fuck have you been . . . Oh, my, God. I've got it. I know what you're doing?"

"You do?"

"Yeah. Yes, I do. You're trying whatsit psychology on me. Learned that on your latest course did you? You're trying to shock me, to shake me up. To . . . "

"Bring you back," Ducky said softly.

"You couldn't just come out and say something? Of course not, that'd be too easy. That isn't your way. You . . . She doesn't want me back, Duck. Jenn, I mean. She told me so."

"I know."

"You know?"

"I mean, I am not surprised. I am, however, surprised that she told you that."

"She came round here after Tobias and I discovered how badly we screwed up over Paulson. I asked her, well I told her really, and she agreed she didn't want me back. Fed me some crap about how she was worried that if I went into a third coma then I'd never wake up from it. Didn’t believe her; I told her that the real the reason was, that her life was much easier without me."

"Which it is. Or rather it is much easier without the real Ler -"

Jethro held up a hand. "Please, Duck, can we skip the constant repetition of all my names. Because if that profiling degree taught you that, let me tell you it doesn’t work." Ducky smiled. "What?"

"Actually, my dear Jethro, it works remarkably well. Or rather it has finally begun to do so."

Jethro shook his head. "Whatever. Just drop it, please."

"Very well, for the moment anyway. So you did not believe Jennifer?"

"Do you?"

"Yes and no."

"Ducky."

"I believe there is more truth in her explanation than you are necessarily willing to believe, or at least admit to believing, and less than she believes."

"Again, in plain English."

"You're both correct."

"Oh. Okay, well answer me this, Dr. Mallard," Jethro smiled as he used the name, something he hadn't been doing at the office. "If she doesn't want me back, why the hell didn’t she file my retirement?"

"Ah. Well now, I really do not know. The way the female mind works sometimes, is beyond even me."

"That's sexist, I think."

"Mmm, maybe a little. However, I would venture to guess that women cannot fully understand how the male mind works either." For a moment things were back to normal; Ducky felt alive, he felt as though it was a regular evening.

However, the sight of the boxes on the armchair opposite him, as well as the others that stood around the room, together with the ones he’d seen in the hall, and the basement quickly sobered him. He glanced away from Jethro's steady gaze.

Jethro leaned across the small gap and closed his hand around one of Ducky's. Ducky didn't pull away. "Why didn't you just say something, Duck?"

"Because that would not have solved the fundamental problem. You had to be the one to realize, and not just realize, but accept. Because until you do . . . "

"Do you want me to stay?"

"Do you have to ask?"

"No. But it's good to hear anyway. And given how you've been around me recently . . . I know. I know. It's all been, well mostly, to get me back. But even so."

"Yes, my dear Jethro. Of course I want you back. But I want you back. Not what you are at the moment. We all, even Jennifer, want you back. But time is running out, Jethro."

"Huh?"

"If you slip away any further, I am not certain that you will ever find your way back. You have a choice to make. One that you may have believed, may have told yourself, you had already made. But look around your house. And please do not lie to me; do not lie to yourself. Do not tell me that you haven't had time to unpack. I know differently. And so do you. Your basement alone should have told you that. Look in the mirror, Jethro. Really look. Look around you. Look inside yourself and choose. And do so now. And do so for me as well as for you. Because I cannot go on like this any longer, Jethro.” For a moment Ducky paused and swallowed; he was about to do something he had never done before.

Using the hand that Jethro wasn’t gripping so tightly that Ducky was beginning to lose sensation in it, he took a sip of his whiskey. Then he licked his lips, looked directly into Jethro’s eyes and began to speak. “You said a while ago that I never tried to fight for you, that I never told you what I wanted. That I never put myself first, never considered what I wanted, or if I did, I never told you. And you are correct. I never have. But I cannot do this any longer. If you truly are back, be back. Be the man you were. The man about whom we all care. Come back to us. To the children, to Tobias, to Jennifer, to everyone else at NCIS who knows you, or cares about you. But most of all,” Ducky swallowed hard. “Most of all, come back to me. If you cannot do that, then leave now, Jethro. Go back to Mike and Mexico; go back to the beach and fishing and happy hour. Go now, before you really hurt us all; hurt us maybe beyond our capacity to heal."

Jethro looked at him, his face impassive. Then he glanced away, looked down at their still joined hands, sighed, raised his head, and again looked at Ducky.

Ducky realized he was holding his breath.

This was it. He'd finally forced Jethro's hand. He'd backed him into the corner of which he'd spoken earlier; the corner into which he'd never wished to put his beloved.

Jethro glanced away once more. "I want to come back, Duck," he said softly. "I'm just not sure how to." He looked up and met Ducky's gaze. "Will you help me? Please?"

"Ah, Jethro. Of course I will, my dear. Of course I will."

Ducky pulled Jethro to his feet, and after some slight clumsiness on both men's part, he found himself in Jethro's arms.

As he rested his head in its usual place against Jethro's shoulder, he realized that their relationship would never, could never, return to exactly how it had always been. And maybe that was a good thing. In fact, Ducky was certain, it was a good thing. For both of them.

Tonight had been about far more than just the last four months. Tonight, he realized somewhat shocked to have to admit it, he had discovered that he now knew the man he loved far, far better, and more intimately and honestly, than he'd done in thirty years.

TWO DAYS LATER

"You should have seen her face. It was - ouch! Boss!" Tony jumped to his feet, rubbed his head and stared in clear joy at Jethro.

McGee and Ziva both came to their feet too. They both stared at Jethro, in the same wide-eyed, pleased, almost childlike, look as Tony had on his face.

"Gibbs!" Abby's voice sounded from across the office. "Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs," she squealed, throwing herself into this arms. He held her tightly.

Across the office, beaming brightly, stood Jimmy.

Ducky glanced up. Standing at the top of the stairs, leaning on the banister was Jennifer Shepard. She met his gaze and smiled slightly. Then she turned and walked back towards her own office.

Ducky returned his attention to the children and Jethro.

Even if he said it himself, he'd done a pretty good job with the initial haircut and shave, leaving Jethro to put the final Gunnery Sergeant Leroy Jethro Gibbs touches to it. His lover had seemed surprised at his dexterity, but then Ducky always had been a man of many talents. And after thirty years, it was good to be able to surprise one's lover from time to time.

"What are you all standing around for grinning? Desks now. DiNozzo, where's that report you promised me?"

"Er, two minutes, boss."

"McGee."

"Yes, boss?"

"Get the van reorganized. I want my notebooks where I can find them."

"On it, boss."

"Officer David."

"Agent Gibbs."

"Next time, don't wait for me to tell you how to behave when you're undercover. A good agent should know."

For a second Ducky thought she was going to argue. However, she simply held Jethro's gaze, nodded once and spoke quietly, her tone, nonetheless was one of acceptance. "Yes, Gibbs."

Ducky watched as he saw the children one by one realize that their Gibbs was back.

Well, that was a little too simplistic; it wasn’t going to be quite a easy as that. Not for the job, nor for Jethro and Ducky's personal relationship. Jethro still had some way to go before he was completely the man whom Ducky knew. It would take time, but that didn’t matter; they had time. And Ducky would be there for him, with him, by his side, helping him. He’d make sure, in the right way, that the true Leroy Jethro Gibbs would reappear - just as soon as it was humanly possible. And until then . . . Until then Ducky would be vigilant.

Jethro’s belongings were mostly now unpacked, and his house was again beginning to look like a home. That was partly due to a surprise and opportune visit by Tobias. He had turned up after breakfast on Sunday, with the excuse of ‘being in the area and wanting a cup of coffee’. However, later, when Jethro had left the room, Tobias had briefly told Ducky about Abby’s phone call. He had told him how the children had been wondering how they, and Tobias himself, could all help Jethro and Ducky. As well as how worried they all were about both men, and how they feared Jethro might go back to Mexico.

"Abbs."

"Yes, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, sir." She saluted him.

He rolled his eyes. "Other hand, Abbs."

"Yes, sir." She turned on her heel and bounced down the office, without waiting for him to say whatever it was he had intended saying.

He watched her go, standing shaking his head.

"Palmer."

"Er, yes, Special Agent Gibbs sir."

"I hear you're going to Medical School."

"Er, yes, sir."

"Good. See that you don't let Dr. Mallard down."

"I won't, sir."

Jethro turned to Ducky, and under Ducky's eyes the harsh countenance and closed gaze, softened. He tipped the brim of Ducky's hat back and touched his shoulder with his other hand. "See you later, Duck," he said, in his intimate tone.

"You shall indeed, my dear Jethro," Ducky said, and smiled.

For a moment they just looked at one another.

Then Jethro smiled again, let the hat brim go, squeezed Ducky's shoulder one more time, before tuning away. Just before he turned, Ducky saw the shields his Leroy Jethro Gibbs had always erected, when at the office, go back up.

He turned himself. "Now come along, Jimmy, we have a lot of things to sort out before you abandon me."

"Oh, Doctor Mallard. I really . . . "

Ducky chuckled softly.

Chapters: 1

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MTAC - NCIS Fic