The sixth story in my Occasions Universe.
Following the success of Thanksgiving, Ducky persuades Jethro to invite the team over to their home for a season celebration. Determined not to offend any member of the team, the event is not the typical Christmas party. Instead Ducky introduces the team to the history of the Solstice and Saturnalia.
An established relationship story.
Written: December 2006. Word count: 11,729.
As Ducky had his back to him, Jethro didn't need to hide the smile that crept on to his face. He knew that tone; he knew it very well. His lover was about to ask him something; something that he knew Jethro wouldn't choose to agree to, but something that Jethro would agree to. "Yeah, Duck," he said, crossing the room and slipping his arms around Ducky from behind, pulling him back a little to rest against his body.
Ducky gave a sigh of pleasure and settled back, putting his hands on Jethro's and stroking them lightly. "You know how successful our Thanksgiving dinner was."
"Well, I was wondering if . . . Of course it's entirely up to you, dearest. I don't want you to think that -"
"When do you want them over, Duck?"
Jethro gave a mock growl and turned Ducky around in his arms. "Don't use that fake innocent tone with me, Dr. Mallard, I can see through it." He tried, and failed, to keep the stern look on his face, and instead joined Ducky, who had unsuccessfully attempted to maintain his innocent look, in laughter. "Ah, Duck," he said, after a moment of two of shared chuckles. "Come here." And he tugged Ducky into just the right position that allowed him easy access to his mouth.
"So when?" he asked, several moments later, when they were sitting on the sofa with a glass of good whiskey in their hands.
"I thought that the best time might actually be 22nd or 23rd December."
"Any particular reason? Other than that's a Friday or Saturday."
"The Winter Solstice falls on 21st December, at least in most parts in the world, including America. In Western and Central Europe it actually slips over into 22nd, and in New Zealand and Australia it is actually . . . but that is hardly relevant. What is, is that I feel that it might be more appropriate to hold a party around that date."
"Well, of course a Friday or Saturday night is a better time to hold a party than a Thursday, especially as, emergencies not withstanding, we will not be expected to go into he office on Saturday, but I believe that there will be other events which people wish to attend on Saturday. However, that is not my main reason for suggesting 22nd. You see, I do not wish to upset or offend anyone by making it specifically pertaining to Christmas, especially with Ziva being Jewish, and as the Solstice this year is on a Friday, I felt that might be the best time. We can make it a seasonal celebration, a Yuletide event rather than anything tied to one religion or another. Also, celebrations relating to the Winter Solstice were enjoyed around the world long before the Christian calendar decided to make Christmas pertain to the birth of Jesus."
"Really?" Jethro said automatically.
"Yes, dear. And many of the rituals, customs, lore and symbols associated with Christmas, actually have their origins in, and are linked to, the Winters Solstice celebrations carried out by ancient Pagan cultures. Hence the Christian mythology that has been interwoven with the more contemporary observations of this particular holiday time, still has a rich and clear Pagan nature. There are some lovely traditions, relating to this time of year, and I believe that we could incorporate several of them into our party. In some ways it's going to be a little like Saturnalia."
"Saturnalia. It was the Winter Solstice celebration in Pagan Rome."
Knowing that he'd walked into Ducky's deliberate or non-deliberate trap, but equally knowing that there was no way out, well none that he wouldn't end up feeling guilty over, Jethro asked, "And this would relate to our party, how?"
Ducky moved a little closer to him, pressing against him and letting Jethro know how pleased he was that he'd asked. "A lot what we know and do today stems from this time, although very few people have heard of Saturnalia."
"Yeah, me for one."
"It was the most popular holiday of the Roman year, just as for many people today, Christmas is their favorite time."
"And others hate it, for various reasons."
"Indeed." Ducky moved away from Jethro slightly and sat forward so that he could see his face. "You don't, do you, dearest? I confess that I have always assumed that, given that you have never said anything to the contrary, that you -"
"No, Duck. I don't hate it," Jethro hastened to reassure his lover. "Really," he added, as Ducky continued to stare unblinkingly at him. "Go on with what you were telling me. But come back here first," he tugged gently and pulled Ducky back, this time slipping his arm around his shoulders and pulling him into a loose embrace.
"Very well, my dear. Saturnalia was an extremely large holiday. Businesses, schools and courts were all closed for several days; the army was rested, and even the execution of criminals was halted. There were lavish banquets and parties, people visited family and close friends, and gifts were exchanged."
"We're giving the kids gifts?"
"But of course, my dear. Don't worry, I'll deal with everything; all you have to do is to be here."
Despite the fact that Ducky's voice contained no hint of irritation or even expectation that Jethro would object to his words, together with the fact that he knew Ducky so well that he knew Ducky wasn't making a sly dig at him, Jethro felt irrationally guilty. Mainly because that was pretty much what he would do.
Then to his surprise he also found himself feeling a little put out that he wouldn't have anything to do. "There must be something I can do, Duck," he heard himself saying. "I know I'm not at my best in the kitchen or buying gifts or stuff like that, but we are partners in this. I'd like to do a bit more than just help pay for it and being here on the night."
"Really, dear?" Ducky sounded as if Jethro had just given him an early Christmas present.
"Yeah, really, Duck. Just tell me what you want me to do, and I'll do it."
"You can certainly come with me to buy a tree, and maybe you wouldn't mind helping with some of the decorations? I know how worried you get if I climb on stools or ladders."
"That's only because you don't always concentrate on what you're doing, Duck. Instead you're thinking about something else as well. You can leave scrambling about on things to me. Did you say tree?"
"Yes, dear. And holly branches, ivy, pinecones, laurel and evergreen wreaths; the evergreen symbolizes life's continuity "
"What about mistletoe?"
Ducky positively beamed. "Oh, yes, dearest, definitely mistletoe, and not necessarily just in the public rooms."
Jethro smiled back at him and kissed him for several moments.
Finally, they broke away. Ducky sighed with pleasure and said, "Now, where was I? Ah, yes, even the tradition of carol singing can be said to have its origins from Saturnalia. Although, in those days, the people who went around the streets carrying lit candles and singing holiday songs were quite often nude."
"Duck, you're not . . ." Jethro came to a spluttering halt.
"No, dearest. There is a limit to how far I wish to go with recreating the old traditions."
"Thank God for that."
"Although, in a way we will be continuing one of the most popular customs of the day, the one where the slaves and owners swapped roles, and everyone feasted together, and the slaves were given gifts. Not that I am, of course, calling the children your slaves, but you are their boss. Thus there will be a hint of the custom being continued."
"Better not mention that bit to the kids, Duck. They might be offended."
"Indeed, my dear. So is it agreed, then?"
"That either 22nd or 23rd would be the most suitable time to hold the party, and that we make it a Yuletide celebration and continue some of the traditions, customs and rituals?"
Oh, yes, they hadn't decided on the date. Yet again they'd somehow gotten sidetracked. Jethro shrugged. "Sure, Duck. Whatever you want. Just promise me one thing."
"No party games and no wearing silly hats."
"That's actually two things," Ducky said pedantically.
"I am sorry, Jethro. I promise, no silly hats and no party games. Although, the thought of playing sardines with you, is not without its merit."
"Since when did you need to play a game to get close to me? Besides, knowing my luck, I'd end up with Jenn or DiNozzo."
"I thought you told me that you and Jennifer had reached a truce, my dear."
"Yeah, I did. But . . . I don't know, Duck. It's hard to go from not trusting someone to trusting them overnight."
"You used to trust her." Ducky spoke softly, and all hints of lightness had vanished from his voice.
Jethro sighed, slipped his arm around Ducky and pulled him nearer to him. "I know," he said simply. "But that was before . . . Oh, let's not talk about her, Duck. As you said, we've agreed a truce. I take it that means she's on the guest list?"
"Unless you have any strong objection, my dear, yes."
"No, guess I don't."
"Good." Ducky turned within the loose embrace and smiled. Unable not to, Jethro smiled back at his lover.
"So who else is on the guest list?"
"The children, naturally; Jennifer as agreed; Tobias, if you think he'd like to come along, and you don't think the children would object."
"It's our party, we can invite who we want. Anyway, if Tobias comes, it'll give me someone to talk to while your doing your host thing. And the kids don't exactly dislike him."
"Good, Tobias it is then. And I was wondering about Agent Lee. After all she and Jimmy do seem to be getting along rather well."
"She's not really one of us, is she?"
"She was part of the team for several months, Jethro. Whilst -"
"I was in Mexico, yeah, I know. And she did a good job as that poor Chinese kid's sister. I suppose as long as she doesn't start lecturing me about search warrants and other legal stuff, and she and Palmer don't spend all their time in a clinch, why not. What about Gerald Jackson?"
Ducky shifted slightly under Jethro's arm, until he was settled more comfortably. "I did consider Gerald. However, the last time I spoke with him, I got the feeling that for quite understandable reasons, he does not wish to renew his associations with NCIS. I think the shooting was far more painful, in more than just the literal sense, than any of us realized."
"That bastard." Jethro's tone was grim, as he recalled the whole Ari affair.
"Indeed. Also, I believe that Jimmy might be a little intimidated and uneasy in Gerald's presence. He is not the most confident of young men, as I'm sure you know. I hope that his relationship with Ms. Lee might help him somewhat in that respect."
"Okay, so that makes the kids, Jenn, Tobias and Agent Lee, what is her name, Duck?"
"Michelle. However, on second thoughts, I'm not entirely certain whether inviting her is a good idea."
"I do not believe that her relationship with Mr. Palmer is commonly known about, thus it might appear a little strange if we do invite her. As you pointed out, she is no longer a member of our team, and it also might look strange to her colleagues in the legal department, if we invite her and no one else. Although . . . " Ducky trailed off.
Aware that his lover could go on arguing with himself for quite some time, Jethro said, "Tell you what, Duck, as long as you're not going to invite the whole building, why don't you decide and just let me know."
"Very well, dear," Ducky said obligingly. His tone, however, told Jethro that he wasn't getting out of it that simply. "I had better start planning and buying things, and brushing up on my knowledge of the customs and history."
"Yeah, we don't want you getting anything wrong when you start to tell us your stories."
"Jethro?" Again Ducky turned to look at him, his pale eyes were wide and a faint smile touched his lips.
"Admit it, Duck, you just want another chance to educate us all."
"The thought hadn't crossed my mind, my dear. However, now that you mention it, I believe -"
Jethro silenced Ducky in his favorite way.
30TH NOVEMBER - 21ST DECEMBER
As the weeks between Jethro agreeing to another team party and the actual gathering went by, he began to think that he ought to ask McGee to show him how to hack into Ducky's schedule, so that he could program some time for him.
At home Ducky was spending more time than usual in the kitchen, often shooing Jethro out of the way and telling him to go and work on his boat. Or suggesting, if he were bored, that he invite Tobias over. Jethro felt like telling him that as fond of Tobias as he was, it was Ducky he wanted to spend time with, not his second oldest friend.
However, he put up with it, in a good natured way, or at least good natured for him, as he knew that unless Ducky felt that everything was perfect, he wouldn't be happy. Besides, decades of loving Ducky meant that Jethro knew several methods of dragging Ducky away from his planning and into his arms.
Unlike with the Thanksgiving invitations, Ducky had gone around to all the members of the team and personally invited all of them to the party. Jethro suspected this was done so that Ducky could reassure them, especially Ziva, that it wasn't a Christmas event. One thing in particular pleased him, Ziva no longer shied away from Ducky, or looked at him as if he was going to jump her. As embarrassing as it had been to have been caught kissing Ducky by the Mossad agent, if it convinced Ziva that Jethro was all Ducky wanted, then it had been worth it.
Jenn had again presented her apologizes, but had explained that she was already committed to a dinner, apparently to be held at the White House, for all Agency Directors. Despite their agreement and the fact that both sides had adhered to it, and that relations between them was better than they'd been since she'd returned, Jethro found himself relieved to hear the news.
After several arguments with himself, well he did involve Jethro, but all he was required to do was to say 'Yes, Duck', 'No, Duck', 'Whatever you think, Duck', at the appropriate moments, Ducky decided not to invite Agent Lee to their gathering.
Tobias had reluctantly refused, as it was the evening he'd planned to have his Christmas with Emily; the little girl was spending the rest of the Christmas period with her mother. Before Jethro had realized what was happening, he was agreeing with Ducky that their old friend should spend Christmas Day with them. Tobias had tried, not very convincingly, to refuse, but his desire to be with them was clear for all to see. Therefore Christmas Day had increased to three; if he had to spend time with someone other than just Ducky, Tobias would be the person Jethro would have chosen. And it wasn't as though he had to worry about sitting too near to Ducky or touching him, Tobias had seen far more than a friendly hug and kiss. It had been after that, that even Jethro had agreed that locking the front door really was a habit worth adopting.
"Hey, Duck, I'm home. Sorry, I'm . . . " Jethro came to a halt as he stared in open-mouthed amazement around the hall.
The guilt he was already feeling at being later than he'd promised intensified, as he realized that Ducky must have decided to put the various decorations up himself. Ducky climbing on steps or stools when Jethro was there troubled him enough, the idea that his lover had been clambering around when Jethro wasn't there to keep an eye on him chilled him. If Ducky had fallen . . .
He also irrationally, and he knew it was because of the guilt he felt, began to feel angry. Ducky had promised. Yeah, so did you, and look how late you are. He growled silently to himself, pushed the thought away, dropped his briefcase on the floor and strode towards the sitting room. "Ducky, I thought you - Oh, hello, Charlie." He came to a halt as he nearly ran into Charlie Patterson, who had some folding steps in one hand and a wreath of greenery in the other.
"Hello, Agent Gibbs. It looks good, doesn't it? Dr. Mallard certainly has an eye for decorating."
"Yeah, he does. Did you do all that?"
"I put everything up. Dr. Mallard told me he'd promised you that he wouldn't go clambering on steps and stools, which between you and me, Agent Gibbs, is a good thing. He does tend to get a little -"
"A little what, Charles? Hello, my dear," Ducky, carrying a large box, moved towards Jethro and smiled up at him.
"Nothing, Doctor." The young man blushed slightly, suddenly reminding Jethro of Jimmy Palmer.
Jethro brushed his hand over Ducky's forehead, pushing back a strand of hair that had fallen over Ducky's eyes. Then he snagged the box from his lover's arms and said, "Can I do anything to help?"
"Actually, my dear, you have arrived at an opportune moment."
"Which is Ducky's way of saying, yes," Jethro said, smiling at Charlie. "What do you want me to do, Duck?"
However, it was Charlie who answered. "Dr. Mallard has this long garland thingy he wants to put up, and it would be much easier if there were two people, one at each end."
"Yes, I did offer to help Charlie myself, but he insisted that he could manage. I knew he was -"
"Just being sensible, Ducky," Jethro said firmly. "Come on then, Charlie, let's get it up. Where do you want it, Duck?"
He wasn't certain, but he could have sworn that the hallway suddenly got warmer. Ducky regarded him with a steady blue-eyed stare, but there was a twinkle in it, and Charlie did another impersonation of Palmer and tripped over the stepladder he was holding.
One long garland turned into another half an hour's work for Jethro and Charlie, while Ducky stood and directed operations, making them move something an inch to the left or right, or slightly higher. His lover seemed to be enjoying himself, and for Jethro, that was always the main thing.
Finally though, Ducky seemed satisfied and the various boxes were empty, so the three men stood back to survey the hallway. "Looks good, Duck," Jethro said, putting his arm lightly around Ducky's shoulders.
"You wait until you see your sitting room, Agent Gibbs, and the dining room," Charlie said brightly.
Jethro turned Ducky under his arm and looked down at his lover. "Duck?"
"I've just added a few extra things, dear. All in keeping with the celebrations, of course."
"There is still one final thing we have to do, but we cannot do that until the children get here."
"And that is?"
"To light the Yule Log. You see -"
"Er, Duck," Jethro gently interrupted his lover.
"I think Charlie's waiting to go home. Plus, if it's something the kids are going to be involved in, why not wait until then to tell me, save having to tell the same story twice."
"Certainly, Jethro." He turned towards Charlie. "Thank you so much for your assistance, Charles. I'm so sorry to have kept you for so long."
"Not at all, Doctor. I've enjoyed myself."
Ducky beamed. "If you and your grandmother aren't doing anything tonight, you would be more than welcome to join Jethro and myself, and the children of course."
"We'd really like that, Doctor, but I'm taking Grandma out for a birthday meal."
"Ah, of course you are. Jethro, in the kitchen, by the sink. You'll see."
Jethro blinked twice, then headed towards the kitchen.
Moments later he came back carrying a large arrangement of roses. "This what you wanted, Duck?"
"Yes, dear. Here you are, Charlie. Please give these to your grandmother with our love." He took the arrangement from Jethro and handed it to Charlie.
"You remembered?" Charlie's beamed, as he carefully took the flowers.
"Of course I did." Ducky sounded mildly hurt.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Dr. Mallard. I didn't mean that the way it sounded. Please forgive me. It's just that Dad clearly hasn't remembered. He hasn't even sent Grandma an email or ecard. What kind of son can't even remember his own mother's birthday?" He sounded very bitter.
"Your grandmother uses email?" Jethro asked, vaguely wondering what an ecard was. He'd have to ask McGee later.
Charlie smiled. "Why, yes, Agent Gibbs. She's very proficient too. She decided to learn when I went away to University; she said that it was the only guaranteed way of keeping in touch with me. It wouldn't have been, of course," he added quickly.
Ducky patted his arm. "We know that, Charlie. I'm sure that your parents have just been -"
"Extra busy? Yeah, that's what Grandma says. But she's only trying to convince herself, trying to hide her hurt from me. Anyway, I'm taking her out for a special dinner tonight to her favorite restaurant."
"I'm sure she'll love that."
"I hope so. And I know she'll love these. Thank you again Dr. Mallard, Agent Gibbs," he smiled at both of them. "Now, I really must run. Grandma will be wondering where I've got to. I hope you have a great party and a lovely Christmas."
Angry on Mrs. Patterson's behalf, he'd met her son once and hadn't liked him, Jethro found himself saying, "What are you and your grandmother doing on Christmas Day, Charlie?"
The boy shrugged. "I persuaded Grandma that we should have a quiet day, that she didn't need to spend hours in the kitchen. It's not as though I can help her, me and kitchens just don't get on."
"Why don't you come over here and join us?" Jethro glanced at Ducky as he spoke, and was relieved to see the look in Ducky's eyes that spoke of his approval, as well as the fact that he'd been about to make the same offer.
"I'm sure that you don't want guests on Christmas Day, Agent Gibbs." Charlie's tone, however, told another story.
"We already have an old friend of ours coming over, Charlie. He's also a Federal Agent, the FBI, but amazingly he and Jethro get on extremely well. So if your grandmother wouldn't mind spending the day with four men, and you do not mind spending the day with four older people, we would be more than delighted for you to join us."
"Really? Are you certain? It won't cause any difficulties?"
"Yeah. We're sure. If the amount of food Ducky's already bought is anything to go by, we could feed the entire city," Jethro said.
"Maybe you should check with your grandmother first."
"I will, Doctor, but I know what she'll say. Thank you both so much. We'd love to come. It'll be nice for Grandma too, not having too cook; although I warn you Doctor, the chances of keeping her out of the kitchen completely are pretty remote."
"That won't matter, Charlie, I'm about as much use in the kitchen as you say you are."
"And I would be more than happy for your grandmother to join me, at any time, in the kitchen, should she wish to do so."
"Oh, she will, Doctor."
Ducky smiled. "And you, Charlie, can try to keep Jethro and Tobias from talking about old cases all of the time."
"And your friend won't mind?"
"Tobias? Nah, give him some decent whiskey and a good meal and he's happy."
"Well, that's settled then. Unless we hear from you to the contrary, Charles, we'll expect you and your grandmother at mid-day on Christmas Day."
"Thank you, Doctor, Agent Gibbs. And once again, thank you for the flowers." Still smiling, Charlie hurried out of the house.
Jethro shut the door behind the young man before turning and tugging his lover into his arms. He suspected that if he didn't snag a little time for himself now, he wouldn't have another chance.
"I wish we could persuade him to stop calling us Dr. Mallard and Agent Gibbs," he said, after a suitable interval has passed.
Ducky chuckled softly.
"I believe that is what Mrs. Patterson says about us. She wishes that we would call her Helen rather Mrs. Patterson."
Jethro chuckled too. "Point taken, Duck. Well maybe we can agree to make an exception on Christmas Day. Somehow the idea of sitting around the table with the conversation being full of 'Agent Gibbs' 'Dr. Mallard' 'Agent Fornell' and 'Mrs. Patterson' doesn't seem overly friendly."
"Good idea, my dear," Ducky said from where he rested against Jethro's shoulder. Then he lifted his head, "Oh, dear, look at the time. I really must get on." Before Jethro could say anything he found a quick kiss planted on his lips and that Ducky had tugged himself out of his arms and was heading towards the dining room. "Come along, Jethro. I need your assistance."
"Come in, come in, my dears," Ducky called, as opened the door to greet their visitors, all of whom were carrying parcels. "Ah, Ziva," he said, slipping his arm around the young Mossad agent and guiding her into the house. "I am so pleased that you felt you were able to join us, on this your penultimate night of Hanukkah. " Jethro was pleased to see that Ziva didn't pull away from the embrace.
She smiled at Ducky, a real smile, one that softened her face. "Hanukkah is about celebrating with friends and family, yes? I . . . " Suddenly she trailed off and glanced away.
DiNozzo's arrival, Jethro assumed his senior field agent had been paying the cab, in typical DiNozzo fashion, covered up the suddenly heavy silence. "Hey, Ducky, hey, Gibbs. Wow, look at this, it's all so green." He gazed up at the hall that was festooned with evergreens, holly, ivy, laurel, pinecones as well as garlands of red, white and green. Then he spied something else and grinned. "Do you know what that is, Ziva?" he said, handing Jethro the parcels he carried and rubbing his hands.
She glanced up in the direction of where he was pointing. "Yes, Tony."
"It's mistletoe, Ziva."
"Yes, I know that, Tony. I may not be from your country, but even I am able to recognize mistletoe. Especially as you have been chasing all the women around the office, with some sprogs, for the last three weeks."
"Not all of them. And it's sprigs, Ziva. And anyway, I'm only upholding the customs."
Ziva rolled her eyes.
"Actually, Ziva dear, Anthony is both accurate and a little inaccurate in his explanation."
"See. Huh? What'd I get wrong, Ducky?"
"Whereas today kissing under the mistletoe is seen as a somewhat frivolous act, or the chance for the shy young man to finally get the opportunity to kiss the young lady in whom he is interested, it was originally seen as a pledge of friendship. Indeed, people hung mistletoe over doorways or in rooms to offer goodwill to visitors. It is also seen as a good luck charm, and households used to leave a sprig hanging over the major threshold until the following Yule, in order to bring luck to the house for the year."
Jethro gazed at the sprig hanging over their front door. "Er, Duck, we leaving that up all year?"
Ducky just smiled at him.
"So this friendship kissing, Ducky, it wasn't just like it is today?"
Before Ducky could answer, Ziva sighed and turned towards DiNozzo. "No, Tony. It wasn't. Firstly, the people were friends, not just some poor woman who doesn't know who you are, but feels obliged to allow you to paw her. And secondly, friends mean men and men and women and women, yes, Ducky?"
"Er, yes, Ziva," Ducky said.
DiNozzo's face was a picture, and the entire team was looking at him.
Ziva spoke again, her tone somewhat exasperated. "What, Tony? What? You are Italian. Men in your country hug and even kiss. I've seen it."
"Yes, but we're not in Italy, Ziva, we're in America. And American men don't -" He came to an abrupt halt and glanced at Jethro. "Sorry, boss. I didn't mean you, you're not . . . I mean you're different . . . Not different, just . . ."
Ducky took pity on him. "Why are we all standing around in the hall? Come along, my dears; come through into the sitting room. There is something we need to do." He put one arm around Ziva and another around Abby and led the rest of the team away.
Resisting the urge to suggest that the reason they were still all standing around in the hall was because Ducky had started to tell them about mistletoe, Jethro just shook his head and began to follow.
By the sitting room door, DiNozzo was hovering, clearly waiting for him. Jethro paused and looked at his senior field agent and waited.
"Boss, I just wanted to say . . . I hope you don't think . . . I didn't mean . . . I don't have a problem with . . . I'm not homophobic. I'm sorry, if what I said . . . It came out wrong . . . I . . . I . . . I didn't mean it, boss. I . . . "
Jethro was tempted, for a moment, to let DiNozzo struggle on, but it was Christmas, and Ducky had gone to so much trouble to get things just right, he didn't want to do or say, or not do or not say, anything that might upset that. Besides, he knew Tony DiNozzo; for all his bluster and apparent disgust when he'd kissed the man he'd thought was a woman, and they way he'd spent hours winding McGee up about being gay, he was not, as he said, homophobic in any way. Had he been thus, he wouldn't be on Jethro's team, and not just because of Jethro's personal relationship with Ducky, but because Jethro did not, could not, and would not tolerate any kind of discrimination. DiNozzo would either be out of NCIS by now, or working for a team leader whose own view of the 'non-discriminatory, equal opportunities for all' policy, was more fluid than Jethro's.
So instead he just stared at DiNozzo and said, "I know, DiNozzo. It's all right. But just try to think occasionally before you speak. Now go on, Ducky's waiting for us."
"Do I need to apologize to Ducky too? I will if you want."
Jethro shook his head. "Nah, no need. He'll probably only point out that he's not American, he's British. Or better still give us all a lecture on how American men at some time did kiss one another."
"You reckon they did, boss?"
"If you're really that interested, DiNozzo, ask Ducky, he's sure to know, and'll no doubt be happy to tell you. One of these days I'll find a subject that he doesn't know anything about, and can't talk about for hours."
"Wish you luck on that one, boss," DiNozzo said and grinned.
"Yeah." Jethro also smiled. "Now co -"
"Jethro, what is keeping you and Anthony?" Ducky appeared in the doorway. "We're all waiting for you." He looked at Jethro and DiNozzo as if they were a pair of recalcitrant children.
"Sorry, Duck. Just coming." He followed Ducky into the sitting room to where Ziva, McGee, Palmer and Abby were standing; they were gathered around the fireplace. "So what do we need to do, Duck?" Jethro said as he and DiNozzo joined the kids and Ducky by the fire. "Want me to get everyone a drink?"
"In a minute, Jethro. First of all we are going to light the Yule log."
"You're going to set fire to a Yule log, Ducky? Is that some weird British tradition?"
"Tony, Ducky means a real log, as in the kind that comes from trees, not the kind you eat." McGee said, glancing at DiNozzo.
"Is this part of the tradition, Duck?"
"Not as such, my dear. I confess that I am taking several liberties with the customs and traditions. Although fire was of particular importance to the Solstice, as it was seen as a gift to the sun to help bring her back. It was believed that unless fires were lit and kept alight, that the sun would not return. Fires were lit in order to ease the birth pangs of the sun, and they were kept burning as a sign to the sun that she must return, or else the world would be thrown into constant ice and darkness. The colors, the red flame and the white ash, maintained the symbolism of the red and the white, as with the red blood on the white snow. The Solstice was both the ending and beginning day; the day of death and new birth. And the Yule log, in those ancient times, long, long before even the first Christmas, was the burning branch that brought the sun back."
Silence had fallen over the group. Jethro knew it was down to him to say something; the kids were all too polite, or feared being slapped round the head. "Er, Duck," he said gently.
Ducky turned to him and beamed. "Yes, my dear?"
"Yule log; lighting; traditions. Are there any more modern? I mean we all know that the sun will come back, whether you light the log of not."
"Oh, yes, Jethro. Several. However," he added quickly, "please be assured that I am not going to recount all of them to you. I am sure that the idea of something to eat and drink is more appealing than standing around a fireplace, just waiting for something to happen. Jethro, please turn the main lights out."
After a swift glance at his lover, who met the gaze unblinkingly, Jethro moved to obey. The room was plunged into darkness, broken only by the lights from the Christmas tree, the flickering light from an array of candles, and the even more subdued than usual - Ducky had been busy - wall lighting.
"Thank you." Then Ducky bent and began to put a light to the fire. "Strictly speaking, this should be kindled from the remains of the previous year's log, but we did not have one. Also, according to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder's land, or given as a gift; it must never have been bought. Furthermore it should remain burning for either twelve hours or twelve days, depending on which particular cultural custom one is following; also it shouldn't be lit until Christmas Eve, but . . . Well, as I said I am taking some liberties. There now, that has caught well. Here you are, each take a sprig of holly," he went around the group handing them out.
"Thanks, Duck, but, er., what do I do with it?"
"Each of you throws your sprig into the fire in order to burn up the troubles of the past year. Well, go ahead. Jimmy," he said, taking Palmer's arm. "Why don't you begin?"
"Of course, doctor. Do I have to do anything else?"
"If there is any old habits or personal pains you wish to banish, think about them, and they too can be burnt."
"DiNozzo," Jethro warned softly, aware that DiNozzo had opened his mouth. He heard it close again.
One by one the kids, followed by Jethro and Ducky, tossed their holly sprigs into the fireplace.
"Good," Ducky said, as the log began to really catch and the flames appeared. "Your houses will also all be safe from being burnt down during the New Year. And now, let us begin to enjoy ourselves. Jethro, you may turn the main lights on again, please."
Jethro smiled to himself at the tone Ducky used. It reminded him of Mrs. Mallard's imperious tone, the one she especially employed when she wanted a drink. Ducky's wasn't as domineering as his mother's had been, but nonetheless, it was a clear order. He didn't mind at all, for one thing it might let the kids know that while he might well be Ducky's boss at the office, at home they were equal partners. Not that he really considered himself to be Ducky's boss at work, even though strictly speaking he was.
"Good. Now, come along into the dining room. I'm sure you would all like a drink and something to eat." With those words, Ducky again slipped one arm around Abby's waist and the other around Ziva's, and led the way through into the other room.
Before he followed the group, Jethro glanced at the fire; it was certainly burning well and brightly and it made the room feel even more cheery. He wondered whether Ducky would insist on keeping it lit for twelve hours or even days. He wasn't altogether certain he wanted to go to bed or out of their house, and leave it burning away, but no doubt Ducky would decide, and he'd go along with it.
He joined the team in the dining room, where everyone was gazing at the laden tables and sideboard, even he, who had been living with the preparations for three weeks was somewhat taken aback by the vast array before him. They'd be living off the remains for weeks. "You invited a load of people you haven't told me about, Duck?" he said teasingly, as he put his arm around Ducky's shoulders.
"Mmm, I fear that I may have gone just a little over-board, my dear," Ducky said, as he rested against Jethro.
"Nah, Ducky," DiNozzo said, his eyes gleaming as he rubbed his hands. "We'll get through it, won't we? And if it's anything like your Thanksgiving feast, it's all going to be great. Can we start? I'm starving."
Jethro shook his head as the rest of the kids just looked at DiNozzo. He'd never change his senior field agent, and in some ways he didn't want to. In others, however . . .
"Please, all of you, do help yourselves. I thought that a buffet would be preferable to another sit-down meal; people can help themselves as and when they wish to throughout the evening. And please, do not wait for either Jethro or myself to invite you to refill your plates. It is Yuletide; let us not stand on ceremony. I want you all to feel able to get yourselves more food or drink when you want it. Will you promise me that? I shall be very cross if any of you do not do so, and Jethro knows what happens when I get cross, don't you, my dear?"
"I'm sure that French cop still remembers, Duck." He squeezed Ducky's shoulder, before moving across to the sideboard and the alcohol.
"Were you and Ducky really fugitives, boss?" DiNozzo asked over his shoulder, as he moved around the table, piling food onto his plate.
"I was hardly going to let Ducky be arrested, was I? Wine, Duck?"
"Yes, please, Jethro. But before you pour me a glass, please pour the children their first drink, they still seem hesitant. After that they can help themselves."
"Sure, Duck. Whatever you say. Ziva," he called, noticing that as yet the young Mossad agent hadn't moved to the table. "What can I get you?"
She turned around and moved towards him. "A glass of - oh, Dr. Mallard," she turned back towards Ducky.
He came over to her and again put his arm around her. "Ducky, Ziva. It's Ducky."
"I'm sorry, Ducky. I was just . . . Thank you," she said softly, and kissed his cheek.
Ducky beamed at her and patted her hand. "I hope you didn't mind, dear. I wondered if you might think it a little presumptuous of me. However, as it is the penultimate night of Hanukkah and you have chosen to spend it with us, I wanted to acknowledge it in some small way."
"It's beautiful, Ducky. I've never seen one quite as beautiful."
Silence had fallen over the room, as they all turned towards Ducky and Ziva and looked at the antique menorah that stood in the middle of the sideboard. The gesture was typical of Ducky; Jethro wasn't sure where his lover had found it, but Ziva was correct, it was beautiful.
Ziva turned to Ducky. "May we light it?" she asked.
"If you wish to. I didn't like to do so. I know that they are becoming quite a common seasonal decoration, even amongst non-Jews, or at least the artificial ones are where all nine 'candles' appear lit at all times. However, I certainly would not presume to light this one."
"I'm not orthodox, Ducky. And it seems a shame for such a beautiful thing to stand unlit. Why do we not all light one? It could be a little like your throwing holly into your fire, we will take a few liberties with the custom."
"If you wish, Ziva," Ducky said softly.
"I do." She took the central candle from the menorah and turned to Jethro. "I assume that a good Marine is never without a lighter, yes?"
As Jethro handed her his Zippo, he heard McGee hiss, "Is that one of Gibbs's rules, Tony?"
He ignored them and instead watched as Ziva lit the candle she held.
"This is the shamash, meaning servant, and we use it to light all the other candles, going from left to right," she explained, as she touched it to the candle on the far left hand side. It caught immediately and the flame flickered up into the air. She then passed the shamash she still held to Ducky, who lit the next candle, before handing the shamash to Abby. Solemnly and in silence, it passed from Abby to McGee to Palmer to DiNozzo to Jethro himself. After he lit the penultimate candle, he handed the shamash back to Ziva who lit the final candle, before placing the shamash in the centre, where it stood once again, slightly taller than the others.
Ziva bowed her head for a few seconds, before looking up again. "There, it is as I said, Ducky, it looks even more beautiful lit."
"It does indeed, dear," Ducky said, and smiled at her.
She matched the smile and her eyes sparkled. "And now," she said turning towards the table, "if Tony has left anything for the rest of us, I'm going to get myself something to eat."
DiNozzo couldn't retaliate, as his mouth was full. The others, however, joined Ziva in laughing.
Some considerable time later when even DiNozzo declared that he couldn't eat anything else, at least for a little while, they all sat in the comfort and warmth of the sitting room sipping drinks and chatting.
Despite Ducky's proclamation that everyone was to help themselves, throughout the evening he'd kept jumping up and down to offer more food or drink. Jethro, tired of the constant jolting as Ducky got up, but more concerned by how badly Ducky was limping and how tired he looked, had finally caught his lover's hand, tugged him firmly back down and threatened to handcuff him to the table if he moved again.
As soon as he'd said the words he regretted them, as silence had fallen over the group and they all stared at Ducky and him in wide-eyed astonishment, which hadn't been helped by the fact that Ducky had chuckled. Casting Abby and DiNozzo a 'don't you dare', look, he'd contented himself with holding firmly onto Ducky's hand, thus preventing him from moving for the next few minutes.
Now he sat with his arm along the back of the sofa, his fingers dangling down to brush occasionally against Ducky's shoulder, hair or head. They sat near enough to one another, so that if either moved, their legs or arms bushed against the other's. He was happy, more than happy, he was contented, in a way that was rare. He wouldn't have confessed it to Ducky, not even under oath, but he hadn't particularly been looking forward to the evening, but he had to admit it was all going very well.
"Is it story time, Ducky?" Abby said, sitting forward and beaming.
"You've got some more stories to tell us, right? Of course you have. We're waiting."
Jethro looked at the kids, indeed they were now all looking in Ducky's direction and they did all appear to be expecting something, at least he thought the slightly fuzzy look on Palmer's face was one of expectation.
Then he watched as Ducky's assistant with great care and deliberation, picked up his glass from the table, moved it to his mouth, took a swallow and replaced the glass. It was done with precision, and not once did Palmer take his eyes off the glass. He hoped that one of the other kids would be sober enough to ensure that Palmer at least got to his front door and inside his apartment.
"Or we could play charades," DiNozzo said from the depths of his armchair. "I know some great movies we could use."
"We are not playing charades," Jethro growled. "Ducky tell them a story."
"If you're certain, dearest," Ducky turned to look at him; his eyes twinkled.
"I am and so are they. We'll all too full to move anyway. Go on, Duck, you know you want to."
"Yeah, go on, Ducky. Gibbs is right, I am too full to move."
"I am not at all surprised, Tony," Ziva said. "But please, Ducky, I would like to know more about your customs."
"Very well then," Ducky said, the pleasure clear in his voice. "What would you like to know about?"
"What about a bit more about the original Solstice celebrations, Ducky. You mentioned blood." Abby's eyes gleamed.
"The red and white are significant, dearest, even if few people know their true origins, and how important the blood was."
"How so, Ducky?"
"Because, Timothy, it signified a kill, and that in turn meant there would be an easing of hunger, if only for a little while. For us now, mid-winter symbolizes a festival of overeating and pleasantries, but back then, it was a time of true hunger and fear. We are going back over a thousand generations to a time when the long darkness brought severe hunger to the fireplace, and old people often died. A time when winter was bad and summer was good, when people, as I said earlier, truly feared that the sun would not return. And yet in many ways, those people were more civilized that many are today." Ducky paused, picked up his glass of wine and sipped from it.
The kids all watched him, already caught up in his story. Ducky had a beautiful voice, and it became especially rich and full when he told his stories. Jethro could listen to him for hours and hours, which was a good thing, given how often he did have to listen to his lover. "Why more civilized, Duck?" he asked.
"Oh, because the hunters then only killed what they needed to kill in order to survive. They never killed for sport, for fun, simply because they could; they killed in order to live. And they only took the flesh and the bones, they left the spirit of the deer intact so that it could roam."
For a moment a heavy silence fell over the room. Jethro shifted slightly, brushing against his lover, who seemed almost lost inside himself, and his thoughts.
Then Ducky shook himself. "Oh, I am sorry, my dears. That is far too solemn for such a pleasant occasion. Let me tell you of the forebear of Father Christmas. He was known as the Shaman, and he was considered to be the priest, the keeper of game, the magician, the mid-wife to the sun, the hunter and the hunted. The evergreen tree, like the one over there, was an invitation to the Shaman." He turned towards the well-decorated tree that stood at least a foot and a half taller than Jethro himself.
Jethro remembered very well the Sunday spent finding just the right tree, somehow managing to get it home, and then getting it into a pot and upright, while Ducky kept insisting that it was slightly crooked, first one way then the other, until Jethro, tired of being prodded by pine-needles, had come closer to snapping at his lover outside of the office than at any time during their three decade relationship. Somehow though Ducky had seemed to pick up on the vibes, as he suddenly declared it to be 'perfect'. Looking at it now, Jethro could see that it did lean very slightly to the left, but Ducky had never said a word.
This time he let his fingers touch his lover's shoulder properly, rather than merely brush them, Ducky glanced at him and raised an eyebrow. Or at least Jethro thought he did, it was very difficult to see given that Ducky's overly long fringe had fallen across his forehead. Without thought, Jethro put his glass down and brushed it away, the gesture was a very intimate one.
"Is it real, Doctor?" Palmer suddenly said, as he squinted towards the tree.
"Of course it is, Jimmy."
"Never had a real tree. Never had a tree at all as a kid. Dad said they made too much mess. Didn't like mess. Didn't like anything, specially not me."
For a moment everyone looked from one to the other. Even Ducky, who worked closely with Palmer, who talked to him all the time, who apparently knew about his secret love life, clearly had no idea. He looked faintly distressed as he glanced at Jethro and shifted as if about to move.
Jethro caught his hand and shook his head. "Leave it, Duck," he murmured.
At that moment Abby jumped to her feet and moved to where Palmer sat, looking down at his lap. "Hey, Jimmy," she said. "What about another mince pie? I'm sure you can manage one. I know I can."
Palmer looked up and smiled at Abby. "Me too, Abby," he said, all hints of somberness gone; he even sounded quite sober now.
"Well, come on then. We'll go and get some. Do the rest of you want one?"
"Shall I -" Ziva began, but closed her mouth as Abby swiftly shook her head.
Instead she put her arm through Palmer's and led him across the room. "Come on, Jimmy, we'll bring a plateful back."
"Will that be all right, Doctor?" Palmer asked, stopping and turning around.
Ducky smiled. "Of course, Jimmy."
"Hey, Abby, how about another glass of wine as well?" DiNozzo called. Jethro glared at him. "She's on her feet, boss. Seems silly for anyone else to get up."
"Oh, ignore him, Gibbs. Jimmy and I'll manage, won't we, Jimmy?" Abby called, as they left the room together.
As Jethro watched them go, he was conscious that McGee was also watching them; he wondered if McGee was aware of what his face was betraying. He also wondered whether Ducky was correct about Palmer and Agent Lee; to his mind his lover's assistant still carried a torch for Abby.
Ten minutes passed before Abby and Palmer finally sat back down again. Mince pies and a glass of wine had turned into several plates of nibbles and everyone's glass being topped up. Abby was still beaming and sparkling, and Palmer looked a lot happier.
"I hope I didn't miss anything, Ducky," Abby called, as she finally collapsed next to McGee. "You didn't carry on with your story without me, did you?" She turned to look at him, her little girl look, the one she tended to reserve for Jethro, and to a lesser extent Ducky, on her face.
Ducky smiled. "No, Abigail," he said, chuckling softly as she frowned at the name. No one else would dare to call her Abigail, at least not more than once, not even Jethro himself, but someone she let Ducky get away with it.
Jethro knew that Abby regarded him as her surrogate father; how she saw Ducky though, he wasn't entirely certain, maybe a second surrogate father, or favorite uncle. Although Ducky had once pointed out to him, that strictly speaking he could be Abby's grandfather, indeed he could be any of the kid's grandfathers. Jethro still recalled the very pleasant couple of hours as he showed Ducky just what he thought of that idea.
He was suddenly aware that quietness had once again descended over the room, but this time it seemed to be an amused one. He also became aware that everyone was staring at him; their looks ranged from the curious, through the faintly bemused, to Ducky's out and out clear amusement. The look together with the twinkle in his eyes, told Jethro that he, at least, had an idea where Jethro's mind had been.
Ordering himself not to react, and certainly not to blush, Jethro frantically searched his mind for the last thing Ducky had been talking about before Palmer's confession. Ah, yes, the tree. However, before he could open his mouth, Palmer himself beat him to it.
"You were telling us about the Christmas tree being an invitation to the Shaman, Dr. Mallard."
Ducky looked at his assistant. "Jimmy," he said, his tone making it clear that he was faintly irked that he couldn't extend the name, Jimmy Palmer's given name was indeed Jimmy, not James.
"Yes, doctor?" Palmer stared at him, his fondness for Ducky evident for the whole room to see.
"If I have to tell you one more time to call me Ducky, I shall . . . " He broke off; even the great orator apparently, for once, couldn't think of anything to threaten Palmer with. Then Jethro saw an idea pop into his mind. "I shall hand you over to Jethro and let him think of a suitable punishment."
At the look of momentary sheer terror that raced across Palmer's face, everyone, including, after a second or three, Palmer himself, began to laugh and giggle.
"Yes, Ducky. Certainly, Ducky. I'll try to remember that, Do . . . Er, Ducky."
Ducky briefly closed his eyes and shook his head. Jethro had no doubt that by the time they all returned to work, after Christmas (baring any call-ins to the office), that Palmer would once again be calling Ducky 'Doctor' and 'Dr. Mallard'.
"There isn't really that much more to tell. The evergreen tree, which we all commonly now call the Christmas tree, was part of the Solstice ritual, it was part of bringing back the sun. It was hung with a variety of shining objects, mirrors, and suns and lighted candles, which today have turned into lights, baubles, tinsel, etc. So again, what in many houses is done to please children . . . What did you say, Jethro?"
"Me? Ah, nothing, Duck. Just clearing my throat."
"Hmm," Ducky looked at him, Jethro met the gaze and held it, ensuring that he maintained his innocent look, the one that wouldn't for an instant fool his lover, but it was one of their many harmless games. "As I was saying, in olden days the decoration on the trees wasn't done to please or to look pretty, it was all part of the need to make the sun return. In fact, lights and shinning objects weren't the only things hung on trees."
"Well, go on, Ducky. You can't leave it there. What else was hung up?" Abby demanded.
Ducky looked at her. "Dead sacrifices were also hung on the trees, as gifts to the newborn sun. Again we have the link with death and life, the living timbers and the dead sacrifices. Death and new birth. Beginning and ending. The hunter and the hunted. The child and the ancestor, which is something else the Shaman was considered to be. These apparent dichotomies are what the Solstice was about. And now, how about a somewhat lighter story. Oh, yes, The Bean King; I believe you'll enjoy this one, Anthony."
DiNozzo sat up straighter in his chair and looked at Ducky. "I enjoyed the other one, especially the bit about the Sharman becoming Father Christmas, or was it a child? Or . . . What?" he demanded, looking around at the team who were all gazing at him.
"Actually it's Shaman, Tony. But do not worry, the acoustics in here aren't all that they might be, I've noticed that before."
Undercover of putting his glass on the coffee table that stood in front of him and Ducky, Jethro moved close enough to his lover to be able to whisper to him. "I didn't think that lying to the kids was something you prescribed, Doctor." Under his lips he felt Ducky shudder imperceptibly; his friend always had had sensitive ears.
Ducky just turned to him and smiled serenely and with deep affection, his eyes sparkled with love and happiness. Jethro swallowed hard, and settled back against the back of the sofa. He decided that he'd better not have anything else to drink at least for a while; Ducky was beginning to look far too appetizing, and Jethro himself was just mellow enough not to care what he did. But as open as they were about their relationship, not to mention that fact that both Abby and Ziva had caught them kissing at Thanksgiving, he thought that seducing his lover in front of the team might be a step too far.
"So, The Bean King, otherwise known as The King Of The Bean. It was actually part of Twelfth Night celebrations, rather than the Solstice, but nonetheless, it was a tradition, to which people looked to eagerly. In essence a bean was put into a cake or other food, and whosoever found the bean in their portion became King. He could go where he wanted to go, have any woman he wished, whether she was married or not, in fact in some versions of the story, he actually got to marry ‘the queen'. He spent his ‘reign' living like royalty, being treated to all the finery, good foods, drink; he didn't have work, he had a wonderful life for a period of time. Simply put, he had access to all he desires for the period of his Kingship, and no one and no thing could refuse him at this time. Quite what the length of his reign is, I am afraid I am not certain."
Jethro blinked and sat forward slightly. "Now that's something I never thought I'd hear."
Ducky cocked his head slightly. "My dear?"
"You saying you're not sure of something." He smiled at Ducky.
"There are many things of which I am not certain, Jethro. At the moment one particular thing comes to mind above all others." He met Jethro's gaze and held it firmly for a second or two, then the stern look faded, and Ducky began to smile and chuckle softly.
The kids, looking from Ducky to Jethro, also began to laugh quietly.
"Ah, Duck," Jethro murmured, under the cover of the amusement. He brushed his fingertips over Ducky's cheek, and smiled.
"As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," Ducky said, after a moment or two, he threw his mock steely-eyed glare at Jethro. "I am not certain as to the length of his reign. When I was first told the story by an old Master at Eton, who had been told the story by his grandfather, the reign of the Bean King lasted for a year. However, since then whenever I have come across the story, the time always seems to be less; sometimes two weeks, sometimes a month or two. However, the actual length of time isn't the main purpose of the tradition."
"You're right, Ducky, even two weeks of living like that would be great. All those women, no work, everything I want given to me. I could go for that. It sounds perfect to me."
"Well, yes, it does, does it not, Tony. There was, however, one small catch."
"There is? What is it, Ducky? I can't think of one. Unless when he did marry it was to an ugly woman, but even that'd be worth it."
"Well, that may or may not have been a catch, Anthony. However, it is not the one to which I was referring. You see, the major problem was that at the end of his reign, the poor man had his head cut off."
"What?" DiNozzo spluttered. "He was killed?"
"It was all part of the belief in sacrifices. The king epitomized abundance and excess in all things, and as such made the perfect offering or sacrifice at the end of his reign."
"And he knew about this before it happened?" DiNozzo sounded stunned.
"Why, yes, Anthony. People were willing; it was the old belief that it was better to sacrifice one, so that many may live. In time the sacrificial nature was replaced by the symbolic hunting of the wren, the wren being depicted as the avian stand in for the human counterpart, as the wren was the King of the Birds in traditional lore. There are still cultures, villages, where this kind of tradition remains. However, it is merely the appointing of a Kind or Queen, who presides over the feast and the games usually just for that evening. No sacrifice is involved anymore."
"Well that's something."
"So this is not a tradition you wish to reestablish, Tony?"
"Not the killing bit no, Ziva. But otherwise . . ." His eyes gleamed. "No woman can refuse the king, didn't you say, Ducky? No one can refuse him anything, right?" He looked at Ziva and raised his eyebrows.
From beside him, Ducky spoke again. "Well, I think I have bored you enough with my tales, at least for now. I do believe it is time we opened our gifts. Jethro, would you be so kind, please, my dear?"
"Don't tell me you're persuaded Gibbs to play Father Christmas, Ducky? Going to dress up in a red suit and white beard, are you, boss? Guess the hair is - Sorry, boss, I'm shutting up now." DiNozzo slipped down further into his chair; withering under the gaze Jethro cast his way.
Jethro turned back to Ducky. "What do you want me to do, Duck?"
"Just pass me the gifts, please, dearest. I do not feel like scrambling about on the floor."
Jethro got to his feet and began to gather the pile of presents together to pass to Ducky. He noticed that five of the parcels, each wrapped in dark green paper and tied with a red bow, were virtually the same shape and size; a quick glance at the labels showed that there was one for each of the kids. It didn't, therefore, surprise him when Ducky handed those out first. He had no idea what was in them, as he had left the gift buying to Ducky, who enjoyed shopping for presents.
He watched the various ways the kids had of opening the parcels. DiNozzo tore the wrapping paper straight off his; McGee turned his over several times examining it to find the best way in; Ziva looked at hers for several moments, as if she didn't quite believe it was for her; Abby opened hers slowly taking care to preserve the bow and paper, and Palmer appeared not to be able to find a way in at first.
Whatever the various methods, they seemed by silent agreement to wait until all of them had removed the paper, until they took the lid off the boxes, thus revealing the gifts - silver earrings for Ziva and Abby, and silver tie clips for DiNozzo, McGee and Palmer. But they weren't just any earrings or tie clips; each one had been chosen specifically for the receiver, they were tasteful and exquisite, and were as individual as each person. Quite where his lover had found them, or even commissioned them from, or spent, Jethro didn't know, he'd no doubt find that out later. However, from the looks on the kids' faces, their gasps and the atmosphere in the room, he reckoned that none of them had received quite such a perfect gift before.
It was Abby who broke the almost respectful silence, by jumping to her feet, hurrying across the room and pulling first Ducky and then Jethro to his feet. Then, from seemingly nowhere, she produced a sprig of mistletoe, wrapped her arms around Ducky, squeezed him, then pulled back far enough to kiss him soundly on each cheek, all the time saying, "Thank you, Ducky, thank you. Thank you." Seconds later she turned her attention to Jethro himself, only his hug consisted of Abby launching herself into his arms.
It was the cue for everyone else to get up, come over and join in the general thanks. Ziva too hugged and kissed Ducky, not quite so exuberantly as Abby, but then hugging and kissing was something that Jethro knew Ziva found more difficult; it was certainly something she wouldn't have contemplated even a few months ago. When she turned her attention to him, Jethro took the initiative and turned what he thought might be a handshake, into a hug. For a second Ziva felt stiff in his embrace, but then he felt her lips brush his cheek and she relaxed against him.
With Abby waving mistletoe over their heads and declaring that they didn't have to actually kiss, but they should hug, as that's what friends did, DiNozzo, McGee and Palmer also all gave Ducky a quick hug of thanks, and his field agents after a moment or two hesitation, also briefly embraced him. Palmer, however, stood and looked at him, and finally held out his hand.
"I don't bite, Jimmy," he said, and as with Ziva took the decision out of Palmer's hand and tugged him towards him. When he let him go, he saw the Ducky was beaming at him, Palmer was blushing, but also looked as though he'd been given an extra gift. Had he really been that scared of Jethro? He made a silent vow to try to be less frightening around the young man, at least until the next time he knocked his coffee over.
More gifts were then exchanged; bottles, chocolates, fun presents and other bits and pieces, both from Ducky and himself to the kids, and from the kids to him and Ducky. Ducky's gifts, from the kids, he noticed were far more adventurous than his own, which pretty much consisted of whiskey, whiskey, oh, and whiskey. Whereas Ducky gained, along with a bottle of brandy, a new fountain pen, several bow-ties, a what looked like old fashioned, hand carved set of figures depicting the twelve days of Christmas, which Ducky immediately arranged on one of the bookcases, some chocolates, and a couple of books. The kids even exchanged gifts among themselves, and even there seemed to have been as one accord as the gifts consisted of a fun present and a serious present for each person. Once again hugs and kisses of thanks and friendship were exchanged. Jethro idly wondered what the sexual harassment lecturer would make of it all - and decided that she probably wouldn't approve, as no one asked permission before hugging or kissing.
After another hour or so of general chatting, teasing, more drinking and eating, the cabs, which McGee had sensibly booked in advance, arrived. It took over ten minutes to get hats, coats, gifts, plates of food and say goodbyes, before the kids were all outside, waving and ssshing one another, while the snow fell steadily.
Jethro put his arm around Ducky's shoulders, pulling him against him as they stood in the doorway waving goodbye until the cabs were out of sight. Then Jethro turned his lover and moved back inside the house, locked and bolted the front door and then pulled Ducky back into his arms. "Come here," he murmured.
Ducky went into the embrace willingly, settling against Jethro and sighing. "I enjoyed that, my dear. Thank you for agreeing to it."
"Hey, I enjoyed it too, Duck. Very much." And he had done.
Ducky moved back a little and looked up at him. "Did you? Did you really, Jethro?"
"Oh, good. In that case, maybe we could make it an annual event. Start our own tradition."
Jethro laughed. "Sure, Duck. Whatever you say. Now talking of tradition . . ."
"Come with me." Jethro dropped a quick kiss on Ducky's head, before leading him back into the sitting room. Once there he turned off the main lights, leaving the room lit just by the lights from the Christmas tree, the embers of the fire that still remained, the candles, and the muted wall lights.
"Now," he said, guiding Ducky to one of the sofas and urging him to sit down. "How about the two of us start our own tradition," he said, sitting down next to his lover and putting his arms around him.
"What did you have in mind, my dear?" Ducky asked, his voice low and sensual.
"This," said Jethro. And as his mouth found Ducky's and his hands began to caress his lover's body, he spent the best part of the next hour showing Ducky exactly what he had in mind.
LINKS TO ALL THE STORIES IN THE OCCASIONS UNIVERSE
A Fitting Tribute
There Be No Dragons
Upon That Night
A Ghostly Tale
Here We Go A-Caroling
Feedback is always appreciated
Go to NCIS Gibbs/Ducky Fiction Page
Go to NCIS Index Page
Go to Home Page