A GHOSTLY TALE
This is the seventh story in my Occasions Universe.
The children are invited to Gibbs and Ducky's home on the weekend before Halloween. Ducky regales them with stories of the ghosts of Scotland.
An established relationship story.
Written: October 2007. Word count: 7,914.
"Ducky?" Abby called, as she bounced into Autopsy.
Ducky looked up and smiled. "Yes, Abigail."
She frowned. "Don't call me Abigail, Donald."
He chuckled gently, and she beamed; it was a game between them. "Forgive me, yes, Abby, what may I do for you?"
She moved slightly closer to her, her eyes were shining, she was smiling what Ducky called her 'pussycat smile, and although she stood still, she was nonetheless bouncing. He hid his own smile; sometimes he wondered whether part of the reason Abby could like a little girl at times was to do with growing up with deaf parents. "Do you know any ghost stories?" she asked, her tone daring him to say 'no'.
He smiled at her. "Oh, plenty," he said, and waited.
Now she didn't just bounce invisibly, she began to bounce visibly. "Oooh, will you tell me some? Please, Ducky? Please."
The door to Autopsy swished open, knowing it wasn't Jethro, he instinctively knew when his lover entered Autopsy and when anyone else did, Ducky turned to see who had come in.
"Oh, Jimmy." Abby called. "You'd like Ducky to tell us some ghost stories, wouldn't you?"
Jimmy, who had been on his way to put a piece of paper on Ducky's desk when Abby had called to him, tried to go left and right simultaneously. He was only saved from tripping over by the arrival of Jethro, who caught his arm and steadied him. "Thank you, Special Agent Gibbs sir," Jimmy managed to stammer out.
"Don't call him 'sir', Jimmy, he doesn't like it," Abby chided gently. "Just call him 'Gibbs' like the rest of us do."
"Abigail," Ducky said quietly but firmly, as he watched Jimmy's cheeks flush.
"Sorry, Jimmy," she said, hurrying over to him and slipping her arm through his. His cheeks flushed even more; despite Jimmy's 'relationship' with Agent Lee, Ducky knew that the young man still carried a torch for Abby, even though Jimmy, like the rest of the team, her heart belonged to McGee she just still needed to realize it for herself.
She then beamed at Jethro. "Ducky's going to tell us ghost stories, Gibbs. Aren't you, Ducky?" she glanced back at Ducky, again her tone dared him to say no'.
"Stories, ghost or otherwise, will have to wait, Abbs. I need you to run tests on this." Jethro gave her a plastic evidence bag, containing various sheets of paper, and waited for her to sign the chain of evidence form.
Ghost stories and Jimmy clearly forgotten, Abby held the bag up and turned it around several times, staring at it from different angles. "I'll get onto it straight away," she turned and moved to the door. Stopped and turned back around. "Gibbs "
"On your desk, Abbs," he said.
"Thank you, Gibbs," she called, as she scurried off.
Jimmy had faded away into the background, leaving Ducky and Jethro effectively alone. Under his gaze, Ducky watched the oft-times harsh expression, which his lover tended to wear, at the office, momentarily fade away as he looked down at Ducky.
Ducky opened his mouth. "Jeth-"
"Sorry, Duck. Got to go. Left DiNozzo clearing out the filing cabinet. I was getting fed up of finding his crap in there every time I needed a clean shirt. If I leave him too long, he'll end up getting rid of stuff that I want to keep. That or he'll just re-arrange everything and get rid of nothing."
"But, Jethro, I only wanted to "
"Just sort out a date, Duck, and let me know," Jethro turned at the door and flashed Ducky his special smile. "See you later."
Ducky beamed. "Thank you, Jethro."
With a wave of his hand, Jethro departed.
"That was nice of Jethro, was it not, Jimmy," Ducky called.
"What was, Doctor?"
"That he agreed to invite you all over to our home for an evening of ghost stories."
"Did he? I didn't hear that, Doctor."
Ducky sighed. "You really must pay more attention, Mr. Palmer." He shook his head, and crossed over to his desk to find his diary. "Now I wonder when the best evening would be? Of course Halloween itself is ideal, but I wouldn't like to interfere with any party plans you all might have. I am certain that dear Abigail at least will have something already arranged." He began to flick through his diary. "I rather think a Saturday night might be best, don't you, Jimmy?"
Jimmy hurried over to join him. "I'm free any night, Doctor," he said.
Ducky stopped what he was doing, turned and looked up at Jimmy. "Are you, Jimmy? Are you really?"
"Oh, yes, Doctor."
"Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Jimmy my dear boy, for a young man of your age that is very sad."
"Oh, I don't mind, I'm quite happy at home, studying." His tone, however, wasn't quite as convincing as his words. Yes, there was some truth, at least, in what Jimmy said, but there was also a hint of wistful resignation that it was thus.
Ducky frowned. "Maybe I should have a word with Anthony. Perhaps he might No, maybe not. What about Timothy? Although if one is to believe everything Anthony tells us, Timothy stays at home every night too. Don't worry," he said kindly, patting Jimmy on the arm. "I'll think of something." He smiled at Jimmy.
"Yes, Doctor. Thank you, Doctor. Er," Jimmy called, as Ducky moved away from his desk. "You were sorting out a date - for the ghost story evening," he added, his tone eager.
"Oh, yes, so I was. I rather think either 20th or 27th October might be best. The latter would be preferable, as it's nearer to Halloween; not that traditionally Halloween is the night for but that doesn't matter. I think I had better check with the others before deciding. You did say you could make either evening?"
"Yes." Jimmy nodded and beamed.
"Good." Ducky smiled back at his young assistant.
Jethro went into the kitchen and slipped his arms around Ducky from behind and pulled him backwards against him. "I thought it was only the kids you'd invited, Duck," he said, kissing Ducky's ear. "Not the entire NCIS staff."
Ducky sighed and settled against Jethro's body. "Oh, dear," he said, as Jethro cast his gaze over the large central work surface that would have dominated the kitchen, had the room been any smaller. "I do seem to have prepared rather a lot of food. Although of course, we can freeze some of what is left over."
"Can you freeze baked potatoes?" Jethro asked, his tone dubious, as he counted the number that sat on the tray waiting to be put into the oven. And given that they were, as always when Ducky cooked them, rubbed with olive oil and salt before baking, they couldn't be put back into the sack.
"Well no, but . . ." Ducky broke off and turned in Jethro's embrace, slipped his arms around Jethro's neck, tipped his head back and looked up at him. "You're teasing me, are you not?"
"Just a bit, Duck. It'll be fine. The kids'll love it. I know for a fact that DiNozzo didn't bother with lunch today."
"Oh, good." Ducky beamed. He then frowned. "Although as a doctor, I shouldn't encourage people to skip meals."
"Your secret's safe with me." Jethro kissed him. "What can I do to help?" Ducky eyed him. "Don't look at me like that. I'm not that helpless in the kitchen. I did spent a few years alone, you know."
"Yes," Ducky said. "And I remember only too well the kind of meals you used to eat. Takeaways are all well and good, indeed very enjoyable, from time to time, but not every night. Especially when at least three nights out of five if not six, the said takeaways are eaten at your desk."
Jethro smiled. "Ever thought of becoming a doctor, Duck?" His smile became broader at the look on Ducky's face.
This time the kiss went on for much longer.
The sound of the oven beeping to inform them that it had reached the required temperature was what finally pulled them out of one another's arms. After regaining his breath, Jethro said, "You were about to tell me what I can do to help."
"I was? Oh, yes. If you would put the potatoes in the oven on the top shelf, please. That would be very helpful."
"Think I can manage that without too much trouble," Jethro said. "Now what?"
"Open some wine, set the "
"Dining room table. Yep. Thought as much. You want a glass of wine now? There's still a bottle open."
"I believe that is just what the doctor ordered," and Ducky smiled.
As had happened on the previous occasions they'd entertained the kids at Reston, despite the amount of food Ducky had prepared and cooked, there wasn't such a vast amount over - Jethro didn't feel he'd be living off the remains for weeks. As he looked at the food that had been left, he vaguely wondered whether DiNozzo wasn't the only one to have skipped lunch.
Once they were settled in the sitting room and their glasses had been refilled, Abby sat forward, her eyes gleaming, doing her bouncing without actually doing so act. "Well?" she said, looking at Ducky. "We're waiting." Unable to contain herself any longer, she did bounce, causing McGee, who was sitting next to her, to choke on the mouthful of wine he'd been swallowing.
When peace had, once again, been restored, Ducky settled back against the back of the sofa and Jethro himself, glanced around the room and smiled. "The oral tradition of telling ghost stories dates back to Victorian times, indeed further. Although the stories used to mainly be told on the long winter's evenings when people would gather around the fire and scare one another."
"Why was that, Doctor?"
"Oh, that doesn't matter now, Jimmy," Abby said quickly. "Sorry," she added, blushing slightly. "I didn't mean to . . ."
Ducky came to her rescue. "Why don't I explain why later, Jimmy? That is far less interesting than the stories themselves. Would that all right?"
"Of course, Doctor." Palmer beamed.
Jethro looked at the young man and realized, not for the first time, that just about anything Ducky suggested was all right with Palmer. Had Ducky been anyone other than Ducky, the level of devotion and willingness might have worried Jethro. However, as it was, it didn't bother him in the slightest.
"There are of course many, many different ghost stories, and I'm certain that all of you know, or at least are aware of, some of them. Indeed, some of you may even have had experiences of a ghostly or supernatural nature." Abby nodded excitedly and smiled her pussycat smile.
Ducky smiled at her. "I have decided to concentrate on some of the ghost stories of Scotland tonight, as I would hope they will be new to you."
"Oh, good." Abby bounced again.
"As I'm sure you know, Scotland has a considerable number of castles, and thus ghosts. In fact it is estimated that approximately one hundred and fifty of the Scottish castles have ghosts associated with them, and some of them have histories that stretch back over six hundred years. It's all right, Anthony," Ducky said, chuckling softly. "I do not intend to tell you stories about each of them. I think that even Abigail would tire of them after a while."
"I wouldn't bet on it, Duck," Jethro murmured, as he saw the look that crossed Abby's face.
"And it is not just the castles of Scotland that attract ghosts, the country is rich with the supernatural and stories pertaining to it. Indeed, in some cases the same name is given to more than one ghost, as well as to different kinds of ghosts."
"Different kinds, Doctor?"
"Yes, Jimmy. Some ghosts are believed to be benevolent, others quite the opposite. Take The Green Lady for example. Now she is known to be both protective and beautiful, and a blood-sucking demon; it all depends on where in Scotland you hear the story and who is telling it."
"Tell us, Ducky. Please." Abby sat forward again.
"Abby. Do sit still," McGee said, wiping his hand with his handkerchief, as yet again her moving had jolted his glass.
Jethro was quite surprised to see that, after flashing McGee a look and sighing, Abby complied, settling not only back against the sofa cushions, but also moving so that she was resting against McGee. It seemed that their 'on-again-off-again-on-again-off-again' relationship was, for now at least, back on.
"The Green Lady, as she is so famous, was indeed one of the stories I had planned to tell you. So why do we not begin with her?"
DiNozzo opened his mouth. He shut it again quickly as Jethro just stared at him.
"In the Highlands, where the macabre is always present and most ghost and faerie stories are of a dark nature, tales are often told of a dangerous Green Lady. However, I myself prefer the lighter stories of benevolence and care, and often feel that the darker imagery comes from a similar looking ghost, or indeed from the storyteller's exaggerations. Exaggerations that become even more so as the evening goes on, and the number of glasses of whisky consumed increases. Indeed more than once I have heard the same storyteller tell different versions of the same tale. Oh, Anthony, perhaps you would be so kind as to refill Ziva's glass for her."
"Huh? Oh, sure."
Under the cover of DiNozzo refilling everyone's glass for them, Jethro watched his lover lean forward and speak to Ziva. "Are you all right, Ziva?" Ducky asked quietly.
She glanced at him. "Oh, yes, Ducky," she said swiftly. "I am quite all right. It is just . . ."
"That not all of your ghosts are in stories?"
Jethro watched Ziva's eyes widen before she lowered her gaze. Ducky leaned forward a little more and patted Ziva's hand. "Nor are mine, Ziva. And I believe that if you asked anyone here tonight, they would all say the same. We all have our own ghosts with which we have to live."
She looked back up. "I am sorry," she said, suddenly sitting forward. "I am going to spoil the evening for you. Perhaps I should leave."
"Do you wish to?" Ducky asked.
After a moment or two Ziva shook her head. "No. But nor do I wish to "
"You won't, Ziva," Ducky said, his tone firm; the one that even Jethro didn't argue with. This time he squeezed her hand; she looked relieved and grateful.
Glancing around at the others, Jethro was certain that none of them had noticed the exchange. Ducky was right, but then he often was, most people did have their own ghosts. Jethro himself did; he suspected that one of them, he had in common with Ziva.
He shook himself. This wasn't what the evening was about. "Hey, Duck," he said, gently touching his lover's arm. "You going to tell us these stories or wait for McGee to put them in a book?"
"Of course, now where was I?" Ducky asked. Jethro didn't bother to answer; he knew it was a rhetorical question. A split second later, Ducky proved Jethro correct. "Ah, yes, the Green Lady. She is actually similar to the Irish Banshee because she is neither ghost nor human. Many describe her as a mortal woman who has either already entered the faerie world or who is under enchantment."
"Does she scream like a Banshee? Sorry, boss."
"However," Ducky continued to speak as though DiNozzo hadn't interrupted. "Unlike the Banshee, once a Green Lady has been welcomed into a particular home, she remains there, even if the original family under her protection moves out. She will then protect the new family and any subsequent ones thereafter. Once a Green Lady has made her home, she does not leave it."
"How does she get welcomed into a home, Doctor?"
"Once again there are various stories. However, as she is usually associated with water, many of the stories tell of a beautiful woman arriving at someone's home dripping wet. She will enquire if she might enter in order to dry her clothing and warm herself. If she is welcomed into the home, she will stay, and from then on she is believed to protect that home."
"You said she was beautiful?"
"That is typical of you, Tony."
"Well, he did. Didn't you, Ducky?"
Ducky laughed. "I did indeed, Anthony. And that is the only part of the story that is always the same, whoever is telling the tale or where it is being told. No matter what the nature of the Green Lady is, she is always a slender, lovely, young woman with long golden hair. In fact because of the long hair, the Green Lady is usually called a Grugach, which is a category of brownie-type spirits from the Scottish Highlands. Brownies are generally known to be good spirits, even though from time to time they may be a little mischievous. But any mischief they cause is minor compared to the good they do. However, the Green Lady is a unique spirit, and as such must not be categorized with all Grugachs or brownies."
"If she's always beautiful, Ducky, and protects houses, where do the stories of her being a blood-sucking demon come from?"
Ducky turned his attention to McGee. "Every woman who appears as a Green Lady wears a floor length, rich green gown. In the darker legends it is believed that the gown covers her demon-like body. Some tales tell of her body being hairy and goat-like; others of her having hooves for feet. The goat's body has its own tradition in the Highland spirit world, but those are stories for another occasion." Ducky spoke firmly.
"Is she always a woman?" Palmer suddenly asked.
DiNozzo looked at him. "That's why she's called the Green Lady, Palmer."
"Actually, Anthony." Ducky said his tone mild, but nonetheless containing a hint of reproof as he corrected DiNozzo. "There is in fact a male counterpart. He is not the Green Man of the Celtic forest legends, but is a slender, handsome young man who appears dressed in red and green, and like the Green Lady, he too protect the house, the family who live there and its cattle. The male counterpart, however, is extremely rare."
"Where does she appear, Ducky?" Abby asked suddenly.
"As I said, there are many Green Ladies. One of the most famous is the Green Lady of Skipness Castle, which is near Loch Fyne, on the west coast of Scotland. The story is that she has created a supernatural confusion on more than one occasion amongst enemies who had planned to attack the castle. Another Green Lady appears today at Crathes Castle, which is in Aberdeenshire; this particular Green Lady is always seen with a ghostly infant whom she picks up and she then vanishes with it. Another can be found at Fyvie Castle, which is also in Aberdeenshire, and another at Huntingtower Castle. These are only four of the many, possibly even hundreds, that appear in castles and homes around Scotland, indeed ghost hunters are able to plan holidays to encounter at least one Green Lady."
"Does the Green Lady only appear in Scotland, Ducky?"
"No, Ziva. There are also stories of a Green Lady being found in several castles in Wales. However, there are no reports of a Green Lady outside of the British Isles."
"Have you ever seen one of them, Ducky?" Abby again sat forward, but this time she was more careful when she moved.
Ducky just smiled. "I believe, Abigail, that might also be a story for another occasion."
"Ducky." She pouted. "Gibbs," she turned his attention to Jethro. Her look said 'can't you make him tell us'?
Jethro shook his head. "Don't drag me into it, Abbs."
She sighed and slumped back heavily.
"Before I tell you any more stories, assuming you wish to hear some that is, I wonder if anyone would like anything else to eat?"
Despite more than one of them declaring, once they'd finished supper, that they couldn't eat another thing, all of them moved and filled their plates with the cold, finger food and nibbles, that Ducky had laid out especially for this part of the evening.
Jethro filled plates for both himself and Ducky and then topped up the various wine glasses, safe in the knowledge that the kids had all arrived in cabs, just as they'd done on the previous occasions Ducky had invited them all his and Jethro's Reston home.
He began to wonder just how many of the apparent 'one-offs' would turn into regular evenings. Ducky had said, the previous Christmas, that he'd like to make that event an annual one, and from his 'another time' comments, it looked as if he wanted to make 'ghostly tales' a regular event too.
Not the Jethro minded. Yes, of course, part of him would rather be at home with just Ducky, with the irregular hours they worked, he valued the time hand had alone with Ducky. But he found that he enjoyed these evenings, himself. Maybe not as much as his lover did, but certainly more than he'd ever thought he would. His agreement to their first 'event' had been purely to make Ducky happy; he'd been prepared to suffer through it, for the sake of his lover, thus he'd been pleasantly surprised when he discovered the 'suffering through it', did not come into it at all. He assumed the kids also enjoyed themselves and it wasn't just a case of free food and drink or a feeling that they had to accept. If they didn't enjoy themselves he was certain they wouldn't keep not only turning up, but also being very happy to do so. And they genuinely seemed to enjoy the stories they were told.
Ducky would have made a wonderful teacher, he'd have had a lot to give. But Jethro was happy that education hadn't snared Ducky; somehow he doubted that they would have met had his lover chosen an academic life. It was academia's loss and his, and NCIS's, gain.
Abby had barely sat back down again before she demanded, "Go on, Ducky. Tell us some more stories."
Ducky chucked softly. "Very well, Abigail."
Abby opened her mouth and quickly closed it again. Jethro hid his smile behind his glass of wine. He knew she'd been about to complain about being called 'Abigail', a name that she only ever allowed Ducky to call her, but that she'd stopped herself, just in case it meant no more stories.
"Let me see now. As I said there are so many from which to choose, some far more interesting that the others. Hmmm. I know let us begin with Ecclescrieg House, which is in St. Cyrus, in Aberdeenshire. In case you are wondering why this is the third reference to an Aberdeenshire property, it is because I spent quite a lot of time in the area, when not at university." Jethro saw Ducky glance at Palmer as he spoke and shake his head gentle. Palmer closed his mouth again; Jethro suspected that the young man had been about to ask why Ducky had spent much of his time in Aberdeenshire. No doubt Ducky would share the tale with his assistant at some other time.
Ducky continued with the story. "Now, this particular old house actually can be said to have links with Count Dracula himself."
"Abby, stop bouncing," McGee said again, capturing her arm firmly and tugging her back.
"Apparently Bram Stocker used to spend his holidays at Cruden Bay, which is near to St. Cyrus, and it is believed that he used Ecclescrieg House as the inspiration for Dracula's castle. The ghost that haunts the place is not particularly old by supernatural terms, nor is it particularly scary, it is far more poignant than anything else. The haunting is apparently due to a curse that was placed on the Forsyth-Grant family, who were the original owners. The young son, Osbert, against the wishes of his father joined the Navy and set sail from Montrose to command a whaling ship, whose crew consisted of Scots and Eskimos. They Oh, dear, one should not use the term 'Eskimo' today, it is not considered 'correct' to do so. We should, of course use the term 'Innuit', however, as the tale dates back to a time when "
"Duck," Jethro gently, but firmly, interrupted Ducky's self-argument.
"My dear?" Ducky turned to look at him.
"No one here minds what you call them, we just want to hear the end of the story."
"That's right, Doctor."
"In that case, as we are referring back to an earlier time, I shall be incorrect," Ducky sounded almost boyish with the kind of glee youngsters show when they know they've got away with something just a little naughty. "Now where was I?"
"Osbert had sailed from Montrose to join the whaling ship."
"Thank you, Timothy. Of course, whaling itself can be "
"Ducky!" This time several voices were joined as one.
Jethro, as Ducky was once again leaning against him, couldn't see his lover's eyes to see if the drawing out was deliberate or not, he mostly suspected that it was. Ducky was a true storyteller; he knew exactly how to play his audience.
"I do apologize. Something, what exactly is not known, happened between Osbert and the Eskimos and it appears that they put a curse on him and his family. Not long afterwards his ship was wrecked by a storm and was never found. It is possible there was a mutiny onboard, but no one knows for certain, as the only survivors were a handful of Eskimos. Osbert's body was never found and it is said that his father never recovered from the incident. No doubt part of him blamed himself for allowing his son to go to sea with bad feeling between them. He spent his remaining days standing on the terrace staring out to sea with binoculars, hoping for the return of his son. It is said today that an old man can still be seen walking the grounds, waiting for a son who will never return."
"Oh," exclaimed Abby. "That is so sad, Ducky. That poor man, he must have suffered so much, and is still suffering."
"It's just a story, Abby."
"How do you know, Tony?" she demanded.
"Well . . . You tell her, boss."
Jethro raised his hands. "As I told Abby earlier, DiNozzo, don't drag me into it."
"Ziva then, you tell her."
Abby looked at Ziva, holding the dark gaze, daring Ziva to agree with DiNozzo. "I am with Gibbs, Tony, I do not wish to be drawn into arguments. Indeed, surely we did not come here tonight to argue, but to enjoy a pleasant evening, no?"
"You're right, Ziva."
"Thank you, Tim."
"My pleasure. Ow, Abby."
"Sorry, my arm slipped. Go on, Ducky. Tell us another one."
"I'm sure that by now, you'd all "
"No, Dr. Mallard. Please, tell us some more. Unless you're too tired."
"Well tomorrow is Sunday. So why not?" Ducky smiled.
Which is, of course, as Jethro knew, exactly what Ducky had planned all along. He did wonder, mildly, how many more stories his lover was going to tell. He knew Ducky had said he wouldn't tell them about all hundred and fifty castles, but noticed he had been careful not to mention quite how many he intended to tell. But Ducky would know; Ducky knew exactly when to stop, Jethro knew that.
Ducky shifted slightly on the sofa besides Jethro until he appeared to find a comfortable position again. "I think for the next story, we shall go back further in time, and also move away from Aberdeenshire. Roche Castle, which is in Pembrokeshire, has been associated with supernatural occurrences since the thirteenth century; not all of which have resulted in hauntings. It is believed that the original owner, Adam de la Roche, was told by a witch that an adder would bite him, and that as a result of this, he would die. Yes, Anthony? You wish to say something?"
Under Ducky's steady scrutiny, DiNozzo shifted in his chair, slipping down further. "No," he said firmly. Ducky continued to appraise him. "Really, Ducky. It's fine. You go on."
"I think, what Tony was about to say was that there is no such thing as witches."
"How do you know there aren't, Ziva?" Abby demanded, once more sitting forward.
"I did not say there were not witches, Abby, I merely said I believed that Tony was about to say that. Is that not so, Tony?"
Abby ignored her. "Because I happen to "
"Oh, come on, Abby, even you "
"That's not fair, Tony, you "
"Oy!" Jethro called loudly. As one they stopped speaking and looked at him. He stared at each of them in turn. "Do you want to listen to Ducky or do you want to argue? Because if the latter, you can all go home now."
"I am sorry, Gibbs.
"Yeah, me too, boss."
"Good. Because next time . . ." Jethro left it hanging. He stared at each of them in turn again, before returning his attention to Ducky. "Go on, Duck," he said, his tone considerably softer than it had been. "Tell us your story. Not that this lot deserve it," he muttered.
He then flashed a look at Palmer, who hadn't taken part in the squabble and who had slid so far down in the chair he seemed to be trying to make himself invisible. "Want that topped up, Palmer?" he asked, nodding at the half empty glass Ducky's young assistant held. He kept his voice mellow, not as gentle as when he spoke to his lover, but he allowed none of the anger he'd directed at the other four to impinge.
It clearly worked as Palmer beamed and sat up a little. "Thank you, Special Agent Gibbs, sir. Er, I mean . . .Thank you." He started to stand up.
"Stay there, Palmer," Jethro said hastily, snagging the bottle of wine and standing up himself. There were several small tables between Palmer and where he and Ducky sat, and he didn't quite trust the younger man to navigate them safely. He topped Palmer's glass up and pointedly returned to his seat.
He thought he heard Ducky sigh softly, but he ignored it. Instead he said, "Sorry, Duck, we're ready now."
"Thank you, my dear. Now where was . . . Ah, yes. The prophecy. Well, Anthony, whether you, or indeed anyone else, believe in witches or not, is not the issue here; Adam de la Roche did. He was so scared by the witch's foretelling, that he built Roche castle high upon rock, away from all undergrowth and moorland, which are the kind of places that tended to attract adders. Despite all of his precautions, Roche remained terrified of the prophecy and he became a recluse hidden behind the thick walls of his castle." Ducky paused and swallowed some wine.
The kids were all silently watching him, Abby's eyes were so wide, Jethro felt his own tingle in sympathy.
"And yet, in spite of all of his efforts, amazingly a snake did manage to find its way into the castle. It is believed that a servant had brought it in along with a bundle of wood for the great hall fire. Whether or not this is the case, during the night an adder apparently slid out of the wood and bit Roche. The next morning he was found dead." Ducky paused and took another sip of wine.
Still the kids watched in silence.
After a second of two, Ducky continued. "The castle is also haunted by the ghost of Lucy Walters, who was King Charles the Second's mistress. It is said that she was a beautiful woman who met the King when she was holidaying with her lover, Colonel Robert Sydney, in Holland. As these things are wont to happen, an instant chemistry was felt between Lucy and the King and an affair commenced. It was an affair led to the birth of a child: the King's son, the Duke of Monmouth. Sadly, as again all too often happens, King Charles tired of Lucy; he gave his son, who was in fact his favorite son, into the care of his wife and he spurned Lucy. The poor girl was only twenty-eight when she died of poverty. It is said that her ghost, dressed entirely in white, can be seen walking around Roche Castle. Some people have claimed to see her float through closed and shut doors and it has been said that she even goes so far as to awaken people in the night."
"The King's wife knew her husband had been unfaithful to her and not only accepted the fact, but was prepared to become a mother to his child?" Ziva's tone was one of scorn, anger and incredulity.
"Yes," Ducky said quietly.
"Well I would not. I cannot believe that any woman would do such a thing. Would you, Abby?"
"It was a different era, Ziva," Ducky said gently. "Things were different then; cultures were different; the place of women were different. You cannot compare it to how things are today. The Queen did what she had to do, what she was expected to do."
"But her husband committed adultery. That is never " Ziva stopped speaking and a heavy, wary silence descended over the room. For a moment no one seemed to breathe.
It was Ducky who broke it. Speaking as if he hadn't heard Ziva, indeed as if Ziva hasn't even spoken, he touched Jethro's knee and said, "I think the children would appreciate another glass of wine, my dear. And maybe even a chance to replenish their plates again?"
As five pairs of eyes swiveled to face him, Jethro stood up. He forced himself to adopt Ducky's calm, no-one-spoke attitude as he said, "Sure, Duck. Go on then, go and help yourselves."
As one, they did, almost tripping over each other and the small tables in order to comply.
With only Ducky and himself left in the room, Jethro looked at his lover who gazed back placidly at him, his eyes soft with the deep affection they never ceased to show him. Ducky said nothing; he simply lifted his own glass for Jethro to refill. The message was clear. Jethro accepted the quiet order and sat back down next to his lover.
When the kids returned, their plates again filled, and had settled back down, McGee spoke. "Are there any ghost stories associated with Edinburgh Castle, Ducky?"
Ducky smiled. "One or two, Timothy, yes. In fact it is said that a ghost, a headless drummer, was seen there as recently as in 1960. And that there is also a piper who plays on the battlements, and not just during the Edinburgh Tattoo."
"What's the most haunted castle in Scotland, Ducky?" Abby asked, her eyes gleaming with anticipation.
"Oh, dear. Now that is a very difficult question to answer. There are so many; Dunnottar Castle, for example is notorious and has a history of bloody violence that dates back to the time of the Picts. And despite more than one church being built in its grounds over the decades, the violence associated with it has never ceased. It has associations with witches, and war and smuggling, and many of the ghosts who are purported to haunt it are innocent civilians caught up in pointless bloodshed. For over two centuries the place was allowed to fall into disrepair until in 1925, the first Viscountess Cowdry began a restoration program. In fact Dunnottar Castle was fairly recently," Ducky turned his attention to DiNozzo, "used in the Hamlet film starting Mel Gibson."
"I am surprised you did not know that, Tony."
"I don't think Shakespeare's really Tony's thing, Ziva." McGee grinned.
"Maybe not, but I thought movies were. Is that not so, Tony?" Ziva smiled.
DiNozzo smiled back at them. The bickering this time was merely friendly. It was the normal day to day bickering that family members indulge in.
"You said many, Ducky," Abby demanded. "Tell us about another."
"Abigail, I really do believe that everyone has heard enough ghost stories for one night."
"Oh, just one more, Ducky, please. Go on. One more. Another really haunted one. Please." She looked around at her co-workers.
"Please do, Doctor."
McGee, Ziva and DiNozzo also nodded. Again Jethro got the clear impression that them nodding was not merely out of politeness and a feeling they had to keep in their boss's good books.
"Very well, then. Just one more." Ducky spoke firmly. Abby beamed. "Now which shall I . . . ? Oh, yes, I know: Glamis Castle. It has a reputation for being one of the most haunted castles in Scotland, although as I said, there are many contenders for the title. You may know that it was the home of Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the present Queen of the United Kingdom. However, much earlier in its history King James the Fifth accused the young and beautiful Lady Glamis of being a witch. The claim was believed and the poor unfortunate girl was burned at the stake in 1537. Even since then her ghost, known as the Grey Lady of Glamis, is said to have haunted the castle. A second ghost is said to be the Fourth Earl of Crawford who haunts a room where he is purported to have played cards with the devil. Yet another is the large, bearded ghost of Earl Beardie; he has apparently been seen on many occasions. And that, my dears," said Ducky firmly, his voice a little husky, looking around him and smiling fondly, "is all."
"Oh, but, Ducky . . ."
"Abbs," Jethro said gently, but also firmly.
She looked at him and pouted. He wondered if she'd been like that as a child when her parents read to her; he then wondered if they'd been able to read to her. Just for a moment he was reminded of Kelly and how she'd beg him for just 'one more story, Daddy', and how he had always given in.
He swallowed hard and pushed the image away. He may have lost his darling daughter, but he had five more kids to make up for it. And despite everything, their bickering and worse, they mostly did. And of course, far more importantly, he had Ducky.
Ducky touched his hand and Jethro glanced at his lover, the steady, calm gaze held his. For a moment they just looked at one another in silence.
"Will you tell us more another time, Ducky?" Abby finally asked.
Ducky glanced away from Jethro, smiled and said, "I'm always happy to tell stories, Abigail, you know that."
Half an hour later, the pre-booked cabs arrived and, after an increasingly confusing session of hugs, several rounds of thanks, promises that they would do it again, the kids, all clutching plates of food departed.
Jethro firmly shut and locked the front door, before turning and reaching for Ducky; he tugged him into his arms.
Ducky sighed with contentment and settled against Jethro. "That went very well, I think, my dear," he said, his voice still a little husky.
"Always does, Duck." Jethro spoke without really thinking about it. Then he did think about it, and realized he spoke the honest truth; he wasn't just following form and being polite.
"I'm glad you think so, my dear," Ducky said, his tone soft. He slipped his own arms around Jethro and returned the embrace, moving very slightly no doubt to favor his injured leg. "In that case, I was wondering if "
"Sure, Duck." Jethro chuckled. Then, well he had been deprived all evening of doing so, lowered his head and kissed Ducky's lips.
He then kissed him again.
And then for a third time.
A little while later as they were undressing, Jethro paused and asked, "Have you ever seen a ghost, Duck?"
Ducky, about to sit on the bed and put his pajama trousers on, also paused. He moved across the room, decreasing the distance between them and looked up at Jethro. "That is not an easy question to answer, Jethro," he said softly.
Jethro frowned. "Why not?"
"It has partly to do with what you believe a ghost to be. If we are talking in terms of the supernatural, then no, I have not. I have, however, on more than one occasion sensed something that might possibly be 'not entirely of this world', a presence maybe, a . . . I'm not entirely certain I can explain, especially not to you."
"Huh?" Jethro, who had recommenced his undressing, paused again, this time before he donned his own night time apparel.
"Well, dearest, you are, shall we say, more skeptical than I am. I doubt that you believe in presences."
Jethro shrugged. "Not sure, Duck. I mean, no I don't hold with women walking through walls and headless drummers, but . . . Oh, I know that Colonel Ryan was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and Ernest Yost was caught up in a guilt trip related to the death of his wife, which brought Iwo Jima and the mercy killing of his best friend flooding back, but . . . Oh, I don't know, Duck. I know medicine can, and did, explain it all away, but . . ."
"Leroy Jethro Gibbs it is unlike you to be so uncertain." Ducky's eyes twinkled.
Jethro wasn't quite so sure; however, he didn't refute Ducky's words. Instead he said quietly, "And the other kind of ghost?"
"Ah, the non-supernatural kind. Oh, yes, my dear. I have seen many of those, far too many; both in reality and in my dreams."
"Guess we all have."
"Indeed. As I said to Ziva, I do not think there is a member of the team who hasn't got at least one ghost in their past, or even present," Ducky added more softly. "In fact, I would go so far as to say that there isn't a person alive who hasn't got something, someone, some kind of regret that haunts them."
"Reckon you're right."
"Oh, I know I am," Ducky said placidly. Jethro smiled. "But what matters is how we live our lives with the ghosts of our past and our present. Everyone does so in different ways. Take the way Anthony is dealing with the loss of Jeanne, for instance."
"Yeah," said Jethro with some feeling. "Really thought he'd grown up and was proving to everyone why I keep him around."
"Does what other people think matter?" Ducky asked.
Jethro shrugged. "Guess not. But I would like the DiNozzo we had for a few months back. Not the 'I've got a dentist appointment' DiNozzo who lied to us all, but the mature one. Wouldn't you?"
Ducky moved a little nearer and tilted his head back further. "Why are we talking about Anthony?" he asked quietly.
Jethro frowned. "You started it, Duck."
"Mmm, yes, I did." Ducky continued to simply stare up at him.
The silence stretched.
Jethro was about to break it, when his lover spoke again.
"As I said, my dear, how we live with our ghosts is what matters."
Jethro blinked and opened his mouth. "Duck, I "
He was silenced by Ducky kissing him, and given that Ducky still hadn't put his pajamas on, Jethro found his mind racing away from ghosts and presences and supernatural happenings. In fact his mind raced away from everything and everyone but Ducky, Ducky's mouth, Ducky's body and Ducky's hands that were doing wonderful things to his, also naked, body.
He moaned and deepened the kiss, gathering Ducky even closer to him and beginning to caress Ducky's back, letting the strokes sweep lower, flirting with Ducky's soft skin of Ducky's buttocks and sliding back up his back again.
Ducky's firm arousal, as he pressed against Jethro's lower body, was extremely obvious, and suddenly Jethro knew that this was going to be quick; very quick by the way Ducky was moving against him was anything to go by. It was rare they went from zero to sixty in a blink of eye, but Jethro wasn't about to complain; he never complained about having Ducky in his arms, making love to and with him. And it was Sunday tomorrow, this one could be quick, the next . . .
Using his extra height and strength, he managed to maneuver them around a little so that he could guide Ducky down to the bed and join him, yanking the covers back so that their heated bodies touched cool cotton.
He'd been right: it was quick. He'd barely touched Ducky, when his lover climaxed, pushing Jethro himself, his own arousal pressing against Ducky's leg, over the edge.
"Oh, Jethro," Ducky murmured, as he shuddered through his release, before sinking back bonelessly into the mattress.
Jethro continued to hold him lightly, tenderly and soothingly brushing his fingertips over Ducky softening arousal, just as Ducky liked, while with his other hand he lightly feathered his fingertips over Ducky's chest and neck and, with his lips, claimed Ducky's mouth again in a sweet, lingering kiss.
They rested together for a while cuddled in a loose embrace, with the fingers of one hand entwined, sharing soft and gentle, almost fuzzy kisses. They didn't speak, but they never had felt the need for unnecessary chatter or pointless enquiries as to 'how was it for you' or saccharine endearments that suited neither of them.
As his own body started to remind him that he still had his lover, his naked lover, his very naked lover, close to him, Jethro pushed himself up on one elbow and gazed down at Ducky. He was a little surprised to see, along with evidence that Ducky had also recovered, a look of speculation in the still slightly hazy mid-blue gaze he'd always loved he way Ducky's eyes changed, not only with his mood, but especially with passion.
He began to let his fingers flirt over Ducky's warm skin, encouraged by the faint smile that touched Ducky's lips. But the look was still there, sighing silently to himself, he kissed the tip of Ducky's nose and said, "Go on then, Duck, tell me."
Ducky blinked 'innocently' up at him. "Tell you what, my dear?"
Jethro rolled his eyes; it was one of their many gentle games. "What you're thinking."
"Oh, that. I was merely speculating as to what the children might think we did after they left us. I was wondering if they thought we went to bed each night with a mug of cocoa and a book, or whether they "
Jethro silenced him with a kiss. "Don't care what they might think we do, Duck," he growled softly, letting Ducky's mouth go for a moment. "Because I know exactly what I'm going to do now."
And he proceeded to do that very thing.
As he had earlier 'planned' it most certainly was not quick. It wasn't quick at all.
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
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