A sequel to Quietening The Storm.
Set twelve days after Escaped.
At an unofficial team gathering, Ducky gives DiNozzo, and the rest of the team, a lesson in words and their history.
An established relationship story.
Written: September 2006. Word count: 3,132.
Gibbs tuned out the general chatter that was going on around him, and turned his attention back to the latest autopsy report Ducky was showing him. Ducky sat close to him, his arm brushing Gibbs's as he turned the pages of the report, pointing out this and that to Gibbs. They were merely passing the time as they waited.
Waited for Ziva and DiNozzo to join the rest of the team for their morning gathering. It wasn't anything official, it wasn't even, as far as Gibbs was aware, planned or discussed, it just happened; and had been doing so since his return to NCIS.
In as way it was a little like DiNozzo's 'camp fires', the whole team gathered together in the same place; except DiNozzo's camp fires, as annoying as they'd been, did have a particular purpose. These gatherings didn't. Except they did; it just wasn't one that anyone was prepared to mention.
Gibbs knew exactly why Ducky, Abby, even Palmer found their way to his office first thing, to join him and his field team. It was because, as yet, none of them were entirely certain that he really was back to stay. Thus the morning gatherings were all about checking that he was there each day.
He was sure that in time they'd stop, but for now he was content to let them go on, to give his team the reassurance they clearly needed. He just wondered if they thought he hadn't worked out what they were doing.
He glanced at Ducky, who was now frowning at part of the report and shaking his head over something or other. As his oldest friend pulled out his fountain pen and unscrewed the top, Gibbs wondered for a moment if even Ducky still feared that he'd go away again.
After all, it wasn't as if Ducky needed to be part of the daily gathering; he already knew, on a daily basis, where Gibbs was, because Gibbs was, still, in effect, living with Ducky and his mother. What had started out as a night or two while the final fumigation of his house was carried out, had somehow developed into something more. He was also no longer sleeping in the guest bedroom.
It had been the third night of his 'visit'; they'd said their goodnights to Mrs. Mallard and had gone upstairs. He'd turned to say goodnight to Ducky, when Ducky had just sighed, taken his hand and led him into his own bedroom. That night all they'd done was sleep, in the literal sense of the word, together.
The following night, Ducky had given Gibbs a very chaste, very brief kiss, before settling down to sleep.
The following night the kiss had been less chaste, and Ducky had invited an embrace.
That had been the pattern for several further nights.
Until on the ninth night (not that Gibbs was keeping count), Ducky's hands had started to wander over Gibbs's body, and tentatively, shyly almost, he had begun to caress and stroke his one-time lover.
And that is how it had continued.
They hadn't made love in the sense that a lot of people would consider making love to be, but in Gibbs's mind, they were making love. As had always been the case whenever they were together.
He wasn't entirely certain that Ducky had, as yet, fully forgiven him. But his lover liked to be kissed and held, he liked it a great deal; and Gibbs, who doubted he could ever fully forgive himself, was more than happy to comply with Ducky's wishes. He took his lead completely from Ducky, making no first moves, going no further than Ducky wished to. If that was all they ever did, Gibbs would still consider himself to be a lucky man. And if there came a time when he needed more, well, he had a right hand, and the door to the bathroom did lock.
He heard the ping of the elevator arriving and looked up; his expectations were met as DiNozzo and Ziva came out together.
"You don't understand, Ziva," DiNozzo said firmly.
"Hey, Tony, what's up?" Abby called from across the office.
"Nothing," DiNozzo said.
Gibbs sighed to himself. He knew that tone, and wondered how long it would be before Abby 'persuaded' DiNozzo to share his troubles with the team.
"His date did not go as well as he'd hoped for last night," Ziva said, putting her bag down and switching on her computer screen.
"The date? The one with that girl who you stalked, until she agreed to go out with you?"
"I don't stalk, McGee. I just called her a few times, that's all."
DiNozzo glared at Ziva.
"In one morning. In fact in two hours to be exact."
DiNozzo glared at McGee.
"So what happened, Tony," Abby said.
"Nothing," DiNozzo said, sitting down at his desk. "I don't want to talk about it."
Ziva rolled her eyes. "The baseball game to which he'd planned to take her was off called."
"I think Ziva means called off, Abby."
"Yes, thank you, McGee. Called off."
"So what? It was just a game."
"Hah! No, McGee that's where you're wrong. It wasn't just a game. It was the game."
Ziva sighed. "I still do not understand. What is it with you Americans and your sport? What is so important? Why could you not simply go somewhere else? Or go to a different baseball game?"
"Because, Ziva. She wanted to see this game. Her favorite team was playing and it was the most important match of the season. She hadn't been able to get tickets, and I just happened to have two."
"You mean she only agreed to go out with you because you -"
"No, McGee. That's not the reason."
"Sorry, Tony. My mistake."
"So what happened, Tony? Come on, poor baby, you can me. I care, even if they don't." Abby shot a dark glare at both McGee and Ziva.
"The game couldn't go ahead because her team was decimated by food poisoning. So she -"
"Do please excuse me for interrupting, Anthony."
Gibbs glanced at Ducky; he could have sworn that his lover hadn't been paying any attention at all. Instead he'd been going through the report, crossing out various passages and altering them. Gibbs would have placed good money on Ducky's attention being one hundred percent on what he was doing. He should have known better. He also recognized the tone Ducky used, and smiling to himself, leaned back in his chair and waited.
"You say that the team was decimated?"
"Did they not have substitutes?"
"Well, yes, but not enough." DiNozzo glanced at Gibbs; he ignored the look.
"I see. And there are, how many players in each team?"
"Nine or ten is usual," DiNozzo said slowly, again looking at Gibbs for support.
Around him the rest of the team had fallen silent and were also looking at Ducky.
"And they didn't have one player who could substitute?" Ducky sounded astounded.
Before answering, DiNozzo once more glanced at Gibbs; his look clearly saying 'help me, boss'.
Gibbs ignored the plea, instead he learned forward again, brushing accidentally against Ducky's arm. To his surprise and pleasure, rather than move away or even remain where he was, Ducky shifted slightly in his chair, and pressed more firmly against Gibbs, settling so that he was resting against him. In fact he was now so close, his hair brushed Gibbs's cheek; suddenly Gibbs felt warm inside.
For a second Gibbs wasn't certain whether to move himself or stay where he was. It was the closest Ducky had been to him in the office since the day Gibbs had returned from Mexico to help Ziva; and that, Gibbs realized now, had only been because Gibbs himself had embraced Ducky. Ducky hadn't made any move to put his own arm around Gibbs - which in itself was more than a little unusual. And since then their habit of ignoring one another's personal space had changed somewhat, as Ducky tended to put more space between them than ever before. Now, however, if he moved any nearer, he'd end up sitting in Gibbs's lap - now that was a thought. Gibbs silently shook himself and returned his full attention to what he knew was about to become one of Ducky's stories.
"Ducky, the team was decimated. Eight of the players had food poisoning. There weren't enough players to go on." DiNozzo spoke slowly, he was clearly choosing his words carefully, and he kept glancing at Gibbs, as if waiting for his boss to show his anger that someone would dare to in effect correct Ducky.
"Ah," Ducky said brightly, or rather falsely bright, if Gibbs read his Ducky correctly, and he thought he did. "I see. I do apologize, Anthony. I had forgotten that everyone now uses the modern usage of the word ‘decimate', rather than its original and true usage. Yes, the education system today had sadly fallen into decline. Don't you agree, Jethro?" Ducky turned his head to look at Gibbs; his hair once again flirted with Gibbs's cheek, and as he looked at him, he smiled.
Gibbs knew what the look in the twinkling blue eyes meant. He was about to oblige Ducky and slip into one of their famous double-acts, when Palmer spoke.
"What is the original meaning, Doctor?"
Ducky turned his attention from Gibbs to his young assistant and beamed at him.
DiNozzo glared at Palmer.
Ducky once again settled against Gibbs and began to speak in his storyteller's voice. "Originally the term 'decimation' referred to a form of extreme military discipline which was used by officers in the Roman Army to punish mutinous or cowardly soldiers. The word itself is derived from Latin and means 'removal of a tenth'. The earliest documented decimation occurred in 471. B.C. during the Roman Republic's early wars against the Volsci." Ducky paused for a moment and looked around his 'class'.
"Er, right, Ducky, that was very -"
"The procedure was that the cohort, a word which of course comes from the Latin cohors, that was selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten. Originally a cohort was a sub-unit of a Roman legion and it consisted of four hundred and eighty infantrymen, and the cohort itself was divided into six centuries of eighty men commanded each by a centurion."
"Yes, Mr. Palmer?"
"I thought that centurion referred to someone in charge of one hundred men?"
"Again, that is how we understand it today. However, in the times about which we are talking, a centuria referred to approximately one hundred men. I'll explain it to you further later, if you would like that, Jimmy."
"Oh, thank you, Doctor." Palmer positively beamed.
"That's quite all right. Now where was I?"
"You know, Ducky. I'm sure Gibbs must have something that needs doing, right, boss?" DiNozzo again turned his attention to Gibbs. The look he gave him was a pleading one.
Gibbs met the look. Actually, it was very quiet, and there wasn't anything overly pressing. What DiNozzo meant was 'please shut Ducky up so I can get on with surfing my porn sites'. However, Gibbs was enjoying having Ducky so near to him, and also to having Ducky in storytelling mode, something his friend hadn't slipped into for quite some time.
He was just about to tell Ducky to carry on, when Abby spoke. "No, Gibbs. No. You've got to let Ducky finish his story. It'd just got to the interesting part." Her eyes gleamed. For 'interesting' read 'bloody'. "You all want to hear the end, don't you?" she looked from McGee, to Ziva, to Palmer, daring them to disagree with her.
One by one, after glancing at Gibbs, they, with varying degrees of interest, agreed that they did want to hear the end.
"Carried." Abby beamed again. "Go on then, Ducky. Tell us about the punishment." She bounced on the spot, her pigtails flying.
Nonetheless Ducky turned to Gibbs and raised an eyebrow. "Jethro?"
"Sure, Duck. It's quiet at the moment. Finish your story."
"Thank you, my dear." Ducky turned back to his 'class'. As he did, Gibbs realized that the use of 'my dear' at the office was another first since he'd returned. Again he felt Ducky settle against him; again it warmed him.
"So as I was saying, the cohort that was selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten. Each of the group then cast lots, and the solider upon whom the lot fell, basically the man who drew the short straw," he clarified, staring at DiNozzo, "was executed by his nine comrades. The execution was rather bloody and could be quite drawn out, as the common method was to either stone or club the person to death. And as lots were drawn to determine the outcome of the punishment, everyone within the selected cohort, regardless of rank or distinction, was eligible for execution."
"What happened to the rest of the soldiers? Didn't they get punished?"
"They did, Timothy, yes. Their rations were reduced from wheat to barley, and they were forced to sleep outside of the Roman encampment."
"Was this form of punishment used a lot, Doctor?"
Ducky shook his head. "Apparently not. It is believed that because the process of decimation reduced the strength of the army, that it was rarely used. Also, of course, as everyone within the cohort had an equal chance of being 'selected' for execution, the mere threat of decimation did tend to instill fear and resolve into the Roman Legions. It is one thing to stand by and see a fellow cohort member cause trouble if you knew that he was the one who would be punished. However, quite another thing if you knew that there was the same chance that you yourself might be executed for his crimes, whereas all he would suffer was a reduction in diet and sleeping quarters."
"You know, Duck, that could work here."
"My dear?" Ducky turned and blinked at Gibbs.
"Well let's say that DiNozzo here is about to do something stupid, that'd be guaranteed to piss me off. It'd be in McGee and Ziva's best interests to stop him before he did it, because if they didn't, then I could punish one of them rather than DiNozzo."
Ducky's eyes twinkled with mirth and he smiled. "Well, yes, Jethro, I do believe that such a procedure might well work. Would you like to suggest it to the Director, or should I?"
Gibbs had to look away from his lover, in order to keep himself from laughing, Ducky looked and sounded so solemn. He glanced at his field team, who stared back at him with a variety of expressions on their faces. Horror and disbelief and surprise seemed to be the main ones.
Abby, however, was smiling her pussycat smile and looking from Gibbs and Ducky to DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva.
Palmer seemed uncertain whether to smile or look surprised; instead he just blinked in his bemused deer-caught-in-the-headlights-of-a-car manner.
"So, you see, Anthony," Ducky said after a moment or two of silence. "That is why I expressed surprise at you telling us that your young lady's team had been decimated."
Still staring at Gibbs, DiNozzo managed. "Um."
"Yes, it is now the common to use the term ‘decimate' to refer to an extreme reduction in numbers, as you yourself did, Tony, rather than to the original one tenth as was the case in Roman times. So many words have altered their meanings over the years, over the centuries in fact. It is sometimes a little difficult to keep up with all the new and altered meanings. And with a word like decimate, the meaning has changed so radically, that it is almost the opposite to what it used to be. I -"
"You know, Ducky, that was really interesting."
"Did you think so, Tony? Oh, good. I believe I have a book on the subject of the Roman Legions. I'd be quite happy to lend it to you."
DiNozzo opened his mouth and shut it again. "Thanks, Ducky, that'd be great," he managed.
"I'll try to remember to look it out for your tonight. Maybe you could remind me, my dear, if I forget." He turned to look at Gibbs.
"And now it is time that Mr. Palmer and I left you good people to get on with your work. Come along, Jimmy. You can fetch me a cup of tea, and then I'll finish telling you about centuries and centurions."
"That'd be wonderful, Dr. Mallard." Palmer was, Gibbs knew, completely genuine in his interest; unlike DiNozzo.
"See you later, Duck," Gibbs said, standing up when Ducky did.
"I'm sure you shall, my dear," Ducky said, tilting back his head and looking up into Gibbs's eyes; Gibbs looked down into the pale gaze. Around him he heard his team begin to settle into their normal working day. Abby, still smiling had bounced off, and Palmer was hovering waiting for Ducky to join him.
Ducky glanced away from Gibbs for a second, then turned his attention back to him. "By the way, Jethro," he said, his voice now so low that no one other than Gibbs would have heard it. "I omitted to mention that whilst you were in the shower, there was a telephone call for Angela." Angela was Mrs. Mallards fifth, or it might have been sixth, even seventh, nurse.
"Is there a problem, Duck?" Gibbs hoped it wouldn't mean yet another nurse leaving. Angela was the only one thus far who could not only handled Mrs. Mallard, but whom the old woman actually liked and was civil to.
"Apparently her grandmother has had a stroke, a fairly minor one I believe, and Angela has asked if she can visit her. It will mean that she will be away for a couple of days, which as you know would have meant that I would have needed to take some personal leave. However, Mrs. Patterson has kindly stepped in and invited Mother and the Corgis to stay with her until Angela returns. So there will just be the two of us for supper, indeed for the entire night." He smiled again; the look so intimate that it left nothing to Gibbs's imagination.
Then Ducky turned away from him and limping a little, crossed to where Palmer still stood.
Gibbs watched as his lover and his lover's assistant walked towards the elevators, already deep in conversation. Or rather Ducky was talking and Palmer was listening. He wondered just how quickly he could make the day go by, and what time he and Ducky could get away with leaving the office for the day.
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