NEW BEGINNINGS

 

By

 

Ashleigh Anpilova

 

When Marine Sergeant Leroy Jethro Gibbs comes to the rescue of a perfect stranger, he has no idea of the effect the man will have on him. He'd never looked at another man before as far as sexual and romantic feelings went, but now he does. Now he wants his man and he's sure the man feels the same way about him. However, Ducky has other ideas.

A first time story.

Written: July 2009. Word count: 10,330.

 

 

 

As he walked down the semi-dark, almost deserted streets something caught Gibbs's attention. He turned and saw a gang of four men push another man to the ground and begin kicking and punching him. With no thought for himself, with no thought other than stopping it, Gibbs raced towards them.

 

"Stop that!" he yelled, grabbing the biggest man's arm and yanking him around. With one swift, fluid movement, he punched the man, knocking him to the ground. As his adversary fell, spitting blood, Gibbs whirled, brought his hands up and went into a defensive stance as he eyed the other three men. One against four odds - he ruled out the victim, from the brief glance Gibbs had spared him, he seemed not to be moving - weren't great, but Jethro Gibbs had known worse. He'd also been trained to fight; the Marines tended to do that.

 

One of the three men took a swing at him with a knife, which Gibbs not only deflected, but also twisted out of the man's hand as he tripped him and dropped him to the ground. From the screech the man made, Gibbs suspected he might have broken or dislocated one of his fingers, but he didn't care.

 

Ready to take on the remaining two as well as the first fallen man who was getting to his feet, and their companion, Gibbs backed up very slightly, giving shelter to the man he was rescuing with his body.

 

One of the two men, who hadn't fallen victim to Gibbs's abilities, made a move towards him, but was stopped by the biggest man. It seemed he was their leader. "Leave him. Let's get the hell out of here." He spat the order.

 

"But what about . . ." The man, the one who had cried out when he'd hit the ground and who was holding his wrist, nodded towards their still unmoving victim.

 

"I said leave it."

 

For a couple of seconds the four men looked at one another, then back at Gibbs. Then as one they turned and fled.

 

Gibbs watched them run for a moment or two, checking that they really were going, before sinking to his knees by the body of the fallen man. One hand went to the man's carotid artery, the other to his lips. He sighed in relief as the former beat steadily, if slightly quickly, and the latter gave evident signs of breath.

 

He moved one hand to touch the man's cheek, which was cut and bleeding and chilled, the other moved of its own accord to touch the man's shoulder. He gripped it. "Hey," he said, gently shaking the man.

 

Under his hands the body became tense and the man jerked upright. His eyes were wide and he looked spooked.

 

"It's all right," Gibbs hastened to reassure, moving his hands and holding them up and out in the universal gesture of surrender. "You're safe now. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here to help."

 

For a moment the man said nothing, but nor did he try to move away. "You wish to help me?" he asked, his accent clearly British, he was also very well spoken.

 

"Yes," Gibbs said.

 

"Why?"

 

Gibbs blinked. "Well for one thing, you're clearly a visitor to the States, and I don't want you thinking this is how we treat our visitors. For another, it's what people do."

 

The man shook his head slightly. "I am sorry, forgive me. That was a somewhat ridiculous and churlish question to ask. I should be, indeed I am, thanking you. Thank you, young man, for what you did. Not many people would have come to the rescue of a perfect stranger."

 

That much was true; Gibbs had seen enough of passing by on the other - indeed the same - side of the road to know that. "Are you hurt? Badly, I mean. Do you want me to fetch the cops or a doctor?"

 

The man shook his head quickly, seemed to regret doing so, swallowed hard and said, his tone not one to be argued with, "Neither, thank you. The former I do not wish to bother, the latter is unnecessary as I am a doctor. My name is Donald Mallard." He held out his right hand.

 

Gibbs took it. "Pleased to meet you, Dr. Mallard. Gibbs. Leroy Jethro. You're really a doctor?"

 

"Yes, Mr. Gibbs, I am."

 

"Please, call me Jethro. Mr. Gibbs always reminds me of my father."

 

Dr. Mallard smiled. "Ah, yes, I understand that sentiment very well. Most people call me Ducky."

 

"Ducky?" Gibbs had exclaimed the word before he could stop himself. "Sorry," he murmured.

 

To his surprise, his companion merely chuckled. "It is a name I was originally given during my years at Eton. I resented it at first, but as time went on I found I rather liked it."

 

Eton? Gibbs had heard of Eton! It was one of England's best known public schools, where royals and the upper class went. Clearly 'Ducky' came from a wealthy family. His own upbringing and education suddenly seemed very meager in comparison.

 

Suddenly he realized. "What am I thinking of? Let's get you up. Here, let me help you." Gibbs stood up, put one hand under Ducky's arm and offered him his other hand and tugged him to his feet. The next second, he found himself with Ducky in his arms.

 

"I am sorry, Jethro," Ducky said, moving out Gibbs's arms and taking a step back. He winced though, cried out softly and clutched Gibbs's arm. "Oh, dear. I am sorry," he repeated, as Gibbs supported him. "It is my ankle."

 

"No need to apologize." Gibbs put his arm around Ducky's shoulders, he was about six inches shorter than Gibbs and fitted very nicely, and held him firmly. He was faintly surprised when he felt the body he held became tense. "Am I hurting you?" he asked.

 

"No, not at all. I . . ." Ducky trailed off.

 

"I'm going to get a doctor. You should -"

 

"No, Jethro. Really. I have my bag with me at my hotel, if you could maybe flag down a taxi for me, then I can be on my way, as can you."

 

"Which hotel?"

 

"The Hurlington."

 

Gibbs bit back the urge to whistle. The Hurlington was the most expensive hotel in the city. "I can call you a cab, but I'm coming with you."

 

"There is no need for that. I've caused you quite enough trouble as it is. Really. I shall be -"

 

"I'm coming with you," Gibbs repeated firmly. Then a thought occurred to him. He cursed himself. "Sorry, should have realized."

 

"What?"

 

"Well a place like The Hurlington has standards. I'm not exactly -"

 

"My dear Jethro, now you are being foolish. And I am once again being less than courteous. I would be very obliged if you would indeed give me a hand to the hotel, thank you. I just didn't want to spoil your evening."

 

"Nothing to spoil. Come on then. Put your arm around me, and I'll take your weight. We can get a cab once we get to the main street." He put his own arm more tightly around the slender shoulders and held Ducky firmly against him. Was it his imagination or did Ducky hesitate just for a second before obeying Gibbs and putting his arm around Gibbs's back? Well, the man was British; they were reserved, it was probably breaking some Eton protocol or something to put your arm around another man, especially one you'd only just met, in a street. "Ready?"

 

"Yes, thank you. I - oh, I'm sorry, could I trouble you before we go?"

 

"Sure."

 

"My hat."

 

"Your hat?"

 

"Yes, it came off when the men pushed me to the ground. I wonder if you are able to see it?"

 

A hat? Gibbs glanced down at the ground. "Hang on, yeah, there it is. Hold on to my arm, I'll just . . . Got it. Here. I don't advise putting it back on until you've . . . This isn't the cleanest alleyway."

 

"Thank you. I shall carry it."

 

Slowly, they made their way to the main street and Gibbs hailed down a passing cab.

 

 

The cab deposited them outside The Hurlington and Ducky handed over a bill which, from the cab driver's only half hidden gasp, must have included an extremely large tip. Then with Gibbs still supporting Ducky, they made their way into the hotel.

 

Instantly the desk clerk hurried towards them. "Dr. Mallard, are you hurt, sir?" He barely flashed Gibbs a glance.

 

"Just a little, John. I am afraid I had a small," Ducky paused, "accident."

 

"An accident, Dr. Mallard?"

 

"Gang tried to beat him up," Gibbs said.

 

John's eyes widened as he now looked at Gibbs who cursed slightly for drawing attention to himself. "A gang?" his voice was quite high. "But why on earth would anyone want to -"

 

"Please, John," Ducky said interrupting him. "Do not worry yourself. I am quite all right really. Thanks to this kind young man, I sustained no lasting or serious injuries. It is just my ankle and a few cuts and bruises. I shall be fine, I assure you."

 

John looked somewhat dubious. "Would you like me to call a doctor?" he asked, now hovering in a way that was beginning to annoy Gibbs.

 

Ducky smiled. "I assure you this truly is a case of 'physician heal thyself', in the literal sense of the phrase, not the more usual and  prosaic meaning. Or in other words," he added, catching sight of John's now slightly frozen look, "I shall attend to my own injuries. I have everything I need in my medical bag."

 

John shook himself slightly. "If you are certain, Dr. Mallard, then -"

 

"Yes, John. I am. Now if you'd be kind enough to fetch me my key . . ." John hurried off. Ducky turned to Gibbs, looked up at him and smiled. He still looked pale and to Gibbs's eyes slightly shaky, and he got the distinct impression that Ducky was in more pain than he wanted to let on. "And once again, Jethro, I really must thank you for -"

 

Gibbs shook his head. "You can thank me after I've helped you to your room and have taken a look at that ankle and cleaned your grazes. I may not be a doctor, but I've seen enough cuts, bruises and sprains, had my fair share of them as well. No," he said firmly, as Ducky opened his mouth again to argue. "I won't take no for an answer. Thanks," he said as John returned with the key.

 

John glanced swiftly at Ducky, who nodded. "It seems my dashing young rescuer feels his job is not yet completed," he said, a hint of amusement in his voice.

 

John glanced again at Gibbs, but seemed not to be the slightest bit troubled by Gibbs's clean but somewhat shabby and very casual clothing. "If I can be of any further assistance, sir," he actually addressed Gibbs, "please do not hesitate to call down."

 

Gibbs nodded. "Thanks." And then moving slowly and still supporting Ducky, he began to walk towards the elevators.

 

 

Gibbs was as good as his word, and with a little gentle bullying he persuaded Ducky to let him clean the grazes on Ducky's face and smooth antiseptic cream into them. He also convinced Ducky to let him put a bandage, once he'd declared it wasn't broken and laughing quietly Ducky had concurred, on Ducky's ankle. After all, he told Ducky, it wasnít very easy to bandage your own ankle.

 

 

They sat in armchairs, Ducky with his leg up on a footstool, in the sitting room of Ducky's suite, sipping, what even Gibbs with his unsophisticated palate could recognize as, an extremely fine whiskey. Ducky had insisted on offering Gibbs his more than verbal thanks, and Gibbs, who found himself, somewhat to his surprised, more than a little fascinated by Ducky and interested in getting to know him, didn't argue.

 

They'd been chatting for about twenty minutes - well Ducky had done most of the talking, telling Gibbs briefly about his decision to leave Britain and do some travelling before settling down as a surgeon - when Gibbs quietly interrupted Ducky. "You know, Ducky, you really should report those thugs to the cops."

 

Ducky shook his head. "No, I do not wish to." He spoke firmly.

 

"Any particular reason?"

 

"Should there be?" To Gibbs's surprise Ducky's tone became sharp and cold, as he snapped out the question.

 

As he'd done in the alleyway, Gibbs raised his hands. "Hey, I'm not the enemy," he said quietly. "I didn't mean anything."

 

"Did you not?" Ducky's tone was still cool and his steady gaze held Gibbs's.

 

Gibbs shook his head. "No. I didn't. I guess I just don't like the idea of them getting away with it, that's all."

 

Ducky gave a half shrug. "I couldn't give them a description, could you? I rather think you had your hands somewhat full to pay too much attention to what they looked like."

 

Three minutes later Gibbs came to a halt and hid a smile at the look of astonishment on Ducky's face. Now he shrugged. "I'm a Marine," he said. "We're trained to notice things at all times, even if we're distracted by something else."

 

"Ah," Ducky said, sipping his drink. "I confess I did wonder whether you were involved in some way with the military, given your fighting abilities. Not to mention," he added, "your haircut." He smiled.

 

Gibbs ran his hand over his head. "Yeah, guess it is a bit severe."

 

Ducky smiled. "How long have you been a Marine?"

 

And for the next ten minutes or so, Gibbs found himself telling Ducky more about his background, his upbringing, his decision to join the Corps, and life as a Marine than he'd told anyone before.

 

Suddenly Ducky glanced at his watch. "Oh" he exclaimed. "I had not realized it was quite so late. Jethro, would you -"

 

Gibbs drained his glass and stood up. "Not a problem, Duck," he said, unwittingly shortening Ducky's name. "Thank you for the drink. And you make sure you -"

 

"What I was about to say was, 'Jethro, would you like to join me for supper'," Ducky said calmly, finally interrupting Gibbs's hasty speech. "Or have you already eaten?"

 

"Huh? Oh, no. Not since lunch time. But surely you don't . . ." he trailed off.

 

Ducky cocked an eyebrow. "Surely I don't want . . .? What exactly are you sure I don't want?" he smiled as he said the words.

 

"I just thought that - Look, Duck. The desk clerk guy might not have minded me helping you to your room, but you can't tell me the restaurant here will think too kindly to me being dressed like this."

 

Ducky frowned and under Gibbs's gaze, really looked at Gibbs. Gibbs got the distinct impression that it wasn't an act; Ducky genuinely hadn't paid any attention to what Gibbs was wearing. "As a matter of fact," Ducky said, now draining his own glass, "it would be incredibly foolish of them to object to a guest of mine's attire. However, I was going to suggest that we use room service, thus negating the necessity of my having to try to put a shoe on and putting weight on my ankle. If that is acceptable to you, of course?"

 

Forcing himself not to say 'huh'? for the second time, and realizing just how woefully inadequate his education and upbringing when compared to Ducky's really was, Gibbs hastily sorted out what Ducky was asking. "Room service would be great," he said. "If you're sure you -"

 

"Good. Now if you'd be so kind, the menus are on the drinks cabinet over there. Please feel free to pour yourself another scotch; unless of course you'd like something else? I believe there is some cold beer in the refrigerator, and I'm sure we can agree on a bottle of wine to complement our meal, don't you?"

 

Gibbs returned with the leather bound menus and handed them to Ducky. "I donít know that much about wine, Duck," he said, mentally crossing his fingers at the somewhat blatant lie. What he really should have said was 'I know nothing about wine, Duck, other than it comes in red and white and some are sweeter than others'. But he didnít want Ducky to think he was completely ignorant. "So whatever you choose will be good, I'm sure."

 

Ducky smiled at him, and Gibbs realized just how much he liked the smile. In fact it wasn't just the smile he liked; he already liked Ducky. There was something about him, all the differences between them aside, that made Gibbs feel more comfortable than he'd felt with just about anyone before. He wondered if he dared to hope they might become friends.

 

"Very well," Ducky said. "Once you have made your choices as to what you'd like to eat, I'll choose us a wine. Oh, and I assure you the food here is very good and it is not all fancy and covered with unnecessary sauces. Nor do you end the meal still feeling hungry or over-full. It really is an excellent restaurant with a very fine wine cellar. Here, why don't you have a look and then pour yourself another drink or as I said, help yourself to a beer."

 

"Thanks," Gibbs took the menu, opened it and glanced down the listing. He was relived to see it was written in English and that things appeared to have 'normal' names. The lack of prices confirmed what he already knew: the pace was very expensive.

 

He was suddenly aware that Ducky was watching him, his head slightly on one side, his mid-blue gaze gentle and tinged with affection. Yeah, he really did hope they could become friends; he'd hate to think this one meeting would be their only one. "Um," he said, hastily shaking himself. "It's probably boring, but I'd like steak and fries, rare, please. If that's -"

 

"Perfectly fine," Ducky said firmly. "And I assure you that it is not boring in the least and it is an excellent choice. The chef cooks a steak to perfection here. In fact, I think I shall join you, actually. And may I recommend the smoked salmon salad with brown bread to begin with?"

 

"Sure, sounds great." Gibbs handed the menus back to Ducky. "Want me to pass you the phone?"

 

Ducky nodded. "That would be kind, thank you. And then when you're getting yourself a drink, you can pour me a dry sherry, please. You'll find a bottle in the fridge and some glasses in the drinks cabinet." He smiled again, turned his attention to the wine list and then, after a moment or two, picked up the phone and placed the order.  

 

Meanwhile, Gibbs poured Ducky a dry sherry and opened a beer for himself, paused for a moment and then grabbed a glass and poured the beer into it, rather than just drink it straight from the bottle as he normally would.

 

He took both glasses back to Ducky as he handed the sherry over and settled back into his chair, he saw Ducky smiling and his eyes twinkled. The message in the latter was clear 'you didn't have to use a glass; be yourself'. Gibbs gave a wry smile and took a large swallow of the cold liquid. It was okay for Ducky to 'say' that, he wasn't the one with the lesser education and back-ground. And yet if they were to become friends then . . .

 

 

The meal was every bit as good as Ducky had promised, and the wine was far superior to any red wine Gibbs had tasted.

 

Once their plates, glasses and cutlery had been cleared away, Ducky offered Gibbs another whiskey.

 

"That'd be great, Duck. If I'm not keeping you up too late? Gibbs made it a question.

 

Ducky shook his head. "No, not at all. My time is my own. I have no appointments tomorrow, which given my ankle, is probably a good thing."

 

Gibbs frowned. "Is it hurting a lot? Maybe you should . . ." He trailed off under the amusement that flared in Ducky's eyes. "Sorry," he muttered.

 

"Oh, please, do not apologize. In answer to your question, yes, it does hurt slightly more than earlier on, but that is not surprising. But I assure you, I really do not need to see a doctor. You yourself said it wasn't broken."

 

"Yeah, but I'm not a doctor."

 

"No. But I imagine you are far better trained in first aid than the average person, are you not?"

 

Gibbs nodded. "Yeah, guess I am."

 

"Well then, I suggest you stop worrying and pour us another drink and we can talk some more."

 

Gibbs got up and followed the gentle order. He handed a glass to Ducky and once again sat down in the chair opposite the other man. "You say your time's your own, aren't you working here?"

 

"Not at the moment, no. I haven't decided how much time I wish to spend in the States yet, or indeed whether I wish to travel around or stay in one place. I did have a vague idea of traveling to all fifty states, but we'll see. I find I rather like it here. And yourself? Do have any long term plans?"

 

Gibbs shrugged. "Sometimes I reckon I'll stay with the Marines until I get to retirement age. Other times I think I'd like to do something else as well. Not that I'm thinking of getting out at the end of this tour of duty; I'm not. I like the life, the job, everything. It's a good life."

 

They continued to chat, both completely at ease with the other in a way that seemed unlikely after a mere few hours of acquaintance. Suddenly, as he put his glass back down, Gibbs caught sight of his watch - it was after two in the morning. He face must have registered his surprise, as he saw Ducky glance at his own watch and his eyes widened slightly.

 

"Goodness," Ducky said. "I had not realized it was quite so late. I do apologize, Jethro. I've kept you here talking, well, in the most part listening to me ramble for far too long. Whatever must you think?"

 

"That I've really enjoyed myself," Gibbs replied, sitting forward and looking at Ducky. "In fact -" Abruptly, he cut himself off. He didn't know how to phrase his next words. What the hell was he thinking of anyway? Sure they'd had a nice evening, they'd got on well, he'd like to think they could be friends. But realistically, that wasn't going to happen. His leave would be over in ten days, and as Ducky said, his plans could take him off all over America, as well as the rest of the world. And even if they didn't, well, despite everything, they were miles apart, and he didnít mean just geographically. No, it was a foolish thought.

 

He stood up. "I better say goodnight. Thank you, Ducky, for a great evening. You were right about the food and wine, not that I know much about either, to be honest. But it was all great. It's been good meeting you, it really has. I'm just sorry it was under the circumstances it was. But hopefully you'll know not all American are like those thugs." He shook himself, now what was he doing? He wasn't one for long speeches. He held out his hand, but Ducky just continued to stare up at him.

 

"In fact what?" Ducky said quietly.

 

Gibbs blinked. "What?"

 

"You said 'in fact' and then stopped speaking. I merely wondered what you were about to say."

 

Gibbs shook his head. "Nothing, really, Duck. Nothing," he repeated. "Just a stupid idea," he added, without meaning to.

 

Ducky sat, still staring up at him. Aware that it might be causing Ducky some slight pain in his neck to continue to maintain eye contact with him, and not willing to leave until Ducky at least said 'goodnight', Gibbs sat back down on the edge of his chair.

 

Ducky gave a half smile, acknowledging the move. "If," he said softly, his tone level, "you were going to say what I think you were going to say; my answer would be that I would like that very much. However," he added in the same tone, "there is something I think I should tell you before we begin what I believe and hope could be a long and lasting friendship."

 

Gibbs blinked. "There is?" What was Ducky about to tell him? Was he going to confess to be a mass murderer? Or on the run for drug smuggling? Or something like that. He mentally shook himself; of course Ducky wasn't any kind of crook - he couldn't be. Not only was he too gentlemanly, but he hadn't tripped Gibbs's gut. He was too honest and too genuine.

 

"Mmm," Ducky said. "I do believe it is necessary. Under most circumstances, I wouldn't necessarily bother. Not that I'm ashamed of what I am, I am not. Nor do I go around expecting people to . . . Although some do. However, given your career choice, I do feel it is apposite. Not that I believe that you as an individual would have a problem; I do not believe you would. However, you are a Marine, and whilst I do not know a great deal about your services, I am well aware of certain things. And please believe me, Jethro, when I say that it is only because of the fact I feel we could develop a friendship that would become very important to me, that I feel I have to tell you now, rather than a few months or so down the line when I will have invested time and more importantly emotions and feelings into the relationship. To discover then that it is an issue and that you felt obliged to . . . Well, it would be very hard indeed." Finally Ducky stopped speaking and flushed very slightly.

 

"You know, Duck, I did suggest maybe alcohol on top of pain-pills might not be the best idea. But you assured me that as a doctor you knew better." Gibbs kept his tone light and grinned at Ducky. Well it was better than saying 'what the hell are you talking about?' Because while he knew Ducky had been speaking English, and while he understood each word individually, he sure as hell hadn't even got the gist of what Ducky had been saying.

 

Ducky's flush grew deeper and for a moment he glanced away from Gibbs. Then he looked back up, met Gibbs's gaze, held it, moistened his lips and said firmly, "I am gay. I am a homosexual." He continued to stare unblinkingly at Gibbs.

 

So that explained Ducky's reticence for involving the cops; hell it probably explained the reason he was attacked in the first place. Gibbs felt his anger rising again. Bastards! It was bad enough that he'd thought the brutes had attacked Ducky because he was clearly wealthy, but to so because they were bigots was even worse. He forced the anger away, aware that if he showed even the faintest hint of it, Ducky would think it was directed at him.

 

Across the room, that suddenly seemed to have grown much larger, Ducky was still watching him and there was a hint of apprehension in his face. As well as anger, Gibbs found a complete lack of surprise at Ducky's news. It wasn't that he'd consciously thought 'this guy's gay' or even wondered it; but he wasn't surprised.

 

He licked his bottom lip and leaned forward a little. "That's the thing you felt it necessary to tell me, is it?" he asked, his tone gentle.

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. It is."

 

Gibbs laughed. "And there I was thinking it was going to be something important. Something that I might have to turn you in for. You know, like running a red light; or I don't know, maybe your butler's second cousin's wife's sister's boyfriend's half brother's father was the head of the Mafia; or you once failed to return a library book. That kind of thing; something that would definitely mean there was no way I'd want to be friends with you."

 

Finally, Ducky blinked and then frowned slightly. "Are you trying to tell me that my being gay does not trouble you?"

 

"Yep."

 

"Oh." For a moment Ducky sounded quite taken aback.

 

Now Gibbs frowned and carefully framed his next question. He spoke quietly and kept his voice free from any hint of censor or even the annoying tinge of hurt he felt that Ducky might think that of him. "Did you really think it would, Duck?" And then Ducky's convoluted, long speech began to make sense. "Oh, wait. You weren't worried that me as me would think that, but that me as a Marine might. I'm right, aren't I?"

 

Ducky leaned forward and took one of Gibbs's hands. He looked very abashed and still flushed; for a moment he lowered his gaze and stared at their joined hands. Finally he looked back up. "Oh, Jethro," he said, "I do not know quite where to begin to express how -"

 

"If that's about to be an apology, no need, Duck."

 

Ducky blinked and his mouth fell open slightly. "There isn't?"

 

Gibbs shook his head. "Nah."

 

Ducky still looked uncertain. "But I . . . Oh, Jethro. Please believe me when I say, I never for a moment thought that you as an individual would feel that way. You are correct, I was thinking of you as being a Marine. Oh, dear. I'm not sure I have ever behaved so appallingly and insultingly as I have just done. Tell me one thing, have I totally spoilt any chance of us becoming friends?"

 

Gibbs smiled. "Tell you what, why don't I pick you up tomorrow evening, hang on make that tonight and buy you dinner? It won't be up to the standards here, but there's a nice place I know that serves damn good food. It's in a fairly shabby part of town, so not many people give it a second look. That is, if you think your ankle will be up to a trip?"

 

Ducky's sigh of relief was clear and he smiled. "I'd like that very much indeed, Jethro. I'm sure that a day spent resting my ankle will improve it and if not . . . Well, I was a Boy Scout, I always travel prepared for all eventualities. I have a walking stick amongst my luggage, which I can use if needs be."

 

Gibbs smiled. "Great. I'll pick you up here at six then?"

 

Ducky nodded. "That would be fine."

 

"Good. I better go." Jethro squeezed Ducky's hand. "Thanks again for a great evening. No, don't get up, I can . . ." But Ducky was already pushing himself to his feet.

 

"It is I who should thank you, Jethro. Firstly for the rescue and then for -"

 

"Hush," Gibbs said, his tone firm. He took Ducky's hand and held it between both of his. "I only did what any decent person would do. And as for the rest," he shrugged. "Told you, it doesn't matter. I understand. Now, want me to fetch that cane for you? Reckon it might be a good idea."

 

Ducky nodded. "Thank you. I'd appreciate that. You'll find it in the right hand side of the wardrobe in the bedroom."

 

Gibbs nodded, turned on his heel and strode away.

 

Half a minute later he was back and handing Ducky the cane - even that had an expensive look and feel to it. "So until later tonight," he said, putting his hand on Ducky's shoulder and squeezing it. And then with a final smile, nod and another squeeze, he turned and headed for the door, letting himself out into the tastefully and expensively decorated corridor. Whistling to himself, he forwent the elevators and headed down the stairs and out in the cool, early morning air.

 

 

During the following days, the two men spent virtually every waking hour together. Ducky's ankle had improved considerably and as well as going for drives, they also visited some down town smaller shops on foot. Once they took a longer drive and stayed overnight in a local motel before heading back to the city.

 

They had dinner together each night, sometimes in the hotel, sometimes in places Jethro knew, sometimes in places neither man knew. Their friendship blossomed, and despite Jethro's concerns that their education and background and class and upbringing would be too diverse to overcome, he found the opposite to be the case.

 

Not once did Ducky make him feel inadequate, and when Ducky spoke about his home and growing up with servants and going to school with minor royals, and shared his vast knowledge of just about every and any subject, Jethro knew it wasn't a case of Ducky trying to 'show off'; it was just Ducky's natural way.

 

Yes, Ducky paid for far more meals than he did, but again that wasn't an issue. It was just what friends did. Jethro hadn't ever had a friend like Ducky; sure he had buddies at school and in the Marines, the latter who he'd die for, who he'd do anything for, who were his family. Nonetheless, despite the willingness to die for them, he wasn't sure most of them could be called 'friends'. But Ducky was different, Ducky was already a good friend, and Jethro knew it would be a friendship that would last a lifetime.

 

Jethro felt that the best night of his life had been the evening he'd come across the guys intent on beating Ducky up. He thought that because that was the night he'd met the eccentric Dr. Donald 'Ducky' Mallard. He still wanted to get his hands on the bastards and shake them until their teeth rattled and probably worse. However, a small part of him grudgingly had to admit that had they not attacked Ducky, he and Jethro wouldn't have met, and Jethro's life would be far the poorer for that.

 

 

It was two nights before Jethro was due to return to sea and for the first time in his Marine life, he found he wasn't looking forward to it. Ducky and he had eaten in the hotel restaurant and had returned to Ducky's suite, as they always did, for a nightcap, and no doubt another evening when they'd sit and talk until well past midnight.

 

Jethro poured the drinks, handed one to Ducky, took a large swallow of his own, before sitting down. However, once seated he found he couldn't settle and stood up again, walked across the room, straightened the curtains, took his jacket off, loosened his tie, straightened his cuffs, and half a dozen other time wasting things, before finally returning to sit down again. The normal relaxed atmosphere seemed charged with something and Jethro knew it was his fault. He drained the rest of his whiskey, put the glass back on the table, glanced at Ducky, then looked away, staring down at his hands, before after a moment or two looking up and meeting Ducky's steady gaze.

 

"What is it, Jethro?"

 

Jethro glanced away from the penetrating blue eyes. "I think I want to go to bed with you, Duck." Jethro spoke hesitantly.

 

For a moment there was silence. A silence so icy that Jethro could have sworn he felt the temperature in the room plummet. He had to stop himself from shivering.

 

He looked up. And instantly wished he hadn't. The sapphire blue eyes had changed and become a piercing grey: the color of steel; and steel is what they appeared to be. Jethro swallowed hard.

 

"Oh, you do, do you? And tell me, have you ever gone to bed with a man before?" Ducky's tone was as chilling as his look.

 

"Er, no." Now wasn't the time to lie. Although part of Jethro wondered why Ducky was asking a question which he must have known the answer to. Okay, so they hadn't talked about Jethro's preferences, they hadn't talked about Ducky's beyond what was said that first evening, but surely Ducky must have known Jethro wasn't . . . Hadn't . . .

 

"I see. And have you ever thought about going to bed with a man before?" Ducky's tone was clipped.

 

For a fleeting second Jethro hesitated. "No," he said softly.

 

"So why this sudden wish to go to bed with me?"

 

"I -"

 

"Do you know what going to bed with a man entails?"

 

"I -"

 

Ducky stood up and towered over Jethro. Glaring down at him. "Or is it just that you want to fuck me? Is that it, Gibbs? That's what straight men seem to think gay sex is all about. You want to fuck me. You like the idea of the tightness, do you? Well let me -" Ducky broke off, turned on his heel, winced once as he partly lost his balance and then moved to the window.

 

From where he sat Jethro could see that Ducky's shoulders were shaking and his hands were clenching and unclenching.

 

Suddenly Jethro felt as though someone had thrown cold water over him. "Oh, my God," he said, so softly he doubted if Ducky had heard him.

 

He rose to his feet, slowly and carefully, pushing back to the urge to move across the room and take Ducky into his arms and try to comfort him. He walked across the room, his pace even, and stopped just outside of touching distance behind Ducky.

 

"Someone hurt you, didn't he?"

 

For a long time it appeared as though Ducky wasn't going to answer. Then he sighed, let his head drop forward, before raising it and slowly turning around. The steel and ice had gone from his eyes and face; now he looked defeated and in pain. Again, Jethro had to fight the urge to gather Ducky into his arms.

 

He also had to fight the almost overwhelming anger that was welling up inside him. How dare anyone hurt Ducky? How could they?

 

"It was over five years ago; I was foolish. I made a mistake and I . . ." Ducky trailed off; he was staring at Jethro, but he didn't seem to be seeing him. "He seemed such a nice man, and I admit I was very attracted to him. However, like you, he was heterosexual. Then one night he begged me to take him home with me. He told me all the right things, the things he no doubt knew I wanted to hear. And fool that I was, I believed him. I was lonely, it isn't easy being different, and although homosexuality was no longer illegal, it was still frowned upon by many - just like today. My instincts, ones that had always served me well, were telling me not to believe him, but he was very convincing, and some men and women do indeed discover their true sexuality in their twenties, or even later. So I ignored what good sense was telling me and I allowed him to accompany me to my home. And he . . ."

 

"Raped you?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. I didn't have a chance. He was taller even than you, four maybe five inches taller, well-built, athletic. I was no match for him. Within minutes I realized what was going to happen. He was going to rape me, no matter what I did. I had a choice; I could fight him, and quite possibly be killed, or I could . . . I didn't want to die. It hurt a great deal, more than I could ever have imagined. You see I'd never . . . No doubt it sounds foolish to you, possibly laughable, or not even believable. I am sure that you've been told that all gay men fuck, at every opportunity, every other gay man they meet. And yes, that is true for some; just as it's true for some heterosexual men and women. But I never had. It was something that I believed should be . . . But as I said, no doubt you find that laughable."

 

"No," Jethro said quietly. "I don't."

 

Ducky looked at him, the stare unblinking and harsh. He appeared to be studying Jethro, reading him, trying to see inside him. Then the blue eyes widened before Ducky blinked. Shaking his head slightly he said slowly and softly, "I believe that you don't." The surprise in his tone was evident.

 

Jethro couldn't blame him. "Were you very badly hurt?" he found himself asking.

 

"I was fortunate in many ways. It could have been a great deal worse. There was quite severe damage, but it was all repairable and in time it healed. Fortunately, I had a good friend; he was a fellow doctor, and he was also gay, not that we had ever . . . Although we were close friends and cared for one another, we had never been attracted to one another outside of friendship. Have I just shattered another of you illusions, Jethro? No, don't answer that. He took care of me, and I recovered, physically and emotionally. That was when I made my decision to leave Britain and travel around the world."

 

"Didn't you report him?"

 

The harsh bark of bitter laughter, made Jethro ache for Ducky. "Ah, my dear Jethro, so young and so naÔve. No, I did not report him. I was known to be a homosexual; it would have been assumed that I had wanted that kind of sex. That I 'asked for it'."

 

"But you were hurt, badly."

 

"Yes, I was. But times were different then, Jethro. Or maybe they weren't. Sometimes I wonder. No, it would have done no real good, I'm afraid."

 

"Who was he?" Throughout Ducky's story, Jethro had been clenching his fists, now he could feel the discomfort of his nails digging into his palms.

 

Ducky smiled gently; the first genuine smile for some time. He even took a step towards Jethro and patted his arm. "Ah, my dear Jethro, do not look like that. As I said, it was well over five years ago; there is nothing you can do." Even if I did tell you his name, what are you going to do? Desert and go off on a futile hunt for him? Assuming you found him, then what? You'd beat him up? Maybe even kill him? Who would that help? It would make you no better than him."

 

"But . . ." Jethro trailed off. Ducky was right. He let his hands unclench and fall to his sides. "I'm sorry," he said. And he was. Sorry for everything that had happened to Ducky; never had the two words sounded so futile.

 

Ducky held his gaze and nodded slowly. "I know."

 

For a long moment they stood there in silence just looking at one another.

 

"I'd never hurt you, Duck. Never. I couldn't. Wouldn't. You know that, don't you? Don't you?" Jethro repeated. Never before had it been so important that someone believed him.

 

Ducky touched his arm again. "Yes, my dear," he said solemnly. "I do. Thank you."

 

Jethro wasn't completely sure what he was being thanked for.

 

Ducky looked exhausted as he continued to stare at Jethro. Suddenly Jethro realized that outside of the doctor friend Ducky mentioned, he had never told anyone the story before. His desire to hold Ducky, to take him into his arms, to comfort him, to show him that not all men were bastards, was tremendous.

 

Ducky was still holding his arm; so gently and slowly he put his other hand on Ducky's shoulder. "Duck, I . . ." He broke off. Now wasn't the time to say it; now was the time to go. But something warned him, that if he did, he'd never get another chance. If he walked out of the hotel room now, he suddenly knew he'd never see Ducky again. Ducky seemed to be withdrawing from him, closing off. Distancing himself; maybe regretting what he'd said. After all, Jethro realized the confession had arisen out of fear.

 

He licked his lips, mentally crossed his fingers and took a chance. "What if I told you I don't want that kind of sex with you?"

 

Once more the blue eyes blazed and Ducky pulled away from him. "You may not want to fuck me, but what the hell do you want?" He almost spat the words at Jethro.

 

"I -"

 

"Do you want to kiss me? Do you even think you could kiss me? It's very intimate. And what about touching me? Could you? I have exactly what you have, Jethro, donít forget that. Exactly what you have. Do you think you could put your hand on it? Could you?" And to Jethro's surprise, Ducky grabbed Jethro's hand and pulled it to his own groin.

 

For a moment neither man seemed to breathe. Time appeared to stand still. Then as Jethro looked at Ducky's face, he saw that Ducky knew he had made a tactical mistake - a big one.

 

For a moment Jethro did nothing; he merely stood and let Ducky hold his hand in place. Under the now damp with perspiration palm he felt that Ducky was trembling. He wanted to pull Ducky into his arms, but again some instinct that seemed to make him able to read this man whom, even after their intense time together in truth he barely knew, in ways he'd never read a person before, kept him still.

 

The next second Ducky dropped his own hand away and lowered his head, shielding the eyes that Jethro already knew to be betrayers of Ducky's every emotion. Ducky's body was rigid, yet a barely perceptible trembling touched it. Still Jethro kept his hand where it was, touching Ducky, but unmoving. To his surprise he felt the barest evidence of arousal under his fingers.

 

Now he did move his own fingers, very slowly, very lightly brushing the hardening outline. As he used mere feathering strokes, the barely perceptible trembling became more obvious, but still Ducky kept his gaze lowered.

 

Then Ducky made a soft noise: a moan? A whimper? A plea? Jethro didn't know which.

 

The next second Ducky wrenched himself away, turned around took two steps away from Jethro and stood head still lowered, visibly trembling.

 

Jethro swallowed hard, forcing his dry mouth to co-operate as he tried to calm his racing pulse. If the beginnings of Ducky's arousal from a mere touch had surprised him, what astonished him more, was the evidence that his own partial arousal. Ducky hadn't touched him, had done nothing more than stand and let Jethro lightly stroke him; Jethro should not be aroused himself. But he was. And one thing was certain, he wanted to be more so.

 

He took a step towards Ducky, stopped when the slighter figure tensed again, and said softly, "Duck."

 

"Please go, Jethro." Ducky may have been saying one thing, but his tone and his body language said something entirely different.

 

Still remaining out of touching range, Jethro said softly, "No." Ducky said nothing, but the trembling began to reduce. It gave Jethro hope; if only to prove that Ducky wasn't afraid of him. He spoke again, choosing his words with great care. "You're attracted to me."

 

"No. I'm not."

 

Jethro had to bite back the laugh at the blatant lie. "Your body tells me otherwise."

 

"A mere physical reaction. You're a man. You know how these things happen."

 

"Yeah. And had you not just told me what happened to you, all those years ago -" Jethro broke off as the trembling that had stopped, began again. He gritted his teeth and prepared to go on speaking. He didn't want to hurt Ducky, would never hurt him, not deliberately. Couldn't hurt him, would hurt anyone who did. But he was going to have his say, and that had to involve referring to Ducky's assault.

 

Once more instinct and the ability to read his newest friend came to his aid and he forced himself to go on. "- Then I would believe you. But physiology or not, and I know you know far more about that than me, I don't think you'd have that reaction. Not unless you were attracted to me."

 

For a long moment Ducky remained silent. But again the trembling ceased. "Please," was all he said, so quietly, so hesitantly, that had Jethro not been listening with care, he'd have missed it.

 

Gently Jethro played his final card. "Turn around, Duck. Turn around, look me in the eye and tell me you're not attracted to me. That you don't want me. Do that and I'll go. Or I'll stay and we'll forget the whole conversation. Tell me you don't want me," he repeated. "Tell me, Duck. Turn around and tell me."

 

Every inch of the five feet six inches, screamed defeat; again Jethro almost hated himself. Then Ducky sighed softly, raised his head and turned around. Jethro was expecting to see pain in the blue gaze, anger at Jethro, maybe even anger at himself. What he saw, however, was a mixture of peace, acceptance, open and clear affection and desire, and a hint of self-mockery and amusement.

 

"Ah, my dear Jethro," Ducky said quietly, taking a step towards Jethro, then another. Then one more, until he was so close he had to tip his head back to meet Jethro's gaze. "You are quite correct. I cannot tell you that. I cannot look at you and lie to you. I cannot lie to myself. And what is more, I do not wish to. Yes, Jethro I am attracted to you. I am very attracted to you and have been from the moment you rescued me. I want nothing more than to come into your arms, to kiss you, to touch you, to have you kiss me, touch me, take me to bed, make love to me in all ways possible. I want . . ." He smiled and a flush of color touched his pale cheeks. "You," he said with a gentle shrug and another smile.

 

Jethro swallowed hard as he looked down into Ducky's face, stared into the revealing eyes. He knew Ducky's words to be honest ones, and as he continued to gaze down into Ducky's eyes he saw them change somewhat, saw them reveal just how honest Ducky's words were. He saw the attraction Ducky felt for him, but had kept hidden from him.

 

For the smallest of a fraction of a second he was more afraid than he'd ever been in his life. He'd gone to Ducky's hotel that evening uncertain of what he was feeling, only knowing that the best days of his life had been the days he'd spent with Ducky. He'd gone there knowing that there was something between them, even if he couldn't quite figure out what. When he'd told Ducky he thought he wanted to go to bed with him, he'd meant it - and he still did. He wanted it very much indeed; he wanted to kiss Ducky, to touch him, to caress him, to make love to him, to hold him, to . . . So many things, and he wanted Ducky to do them all to him as well, but he wasn't certain he knew how to.

 

"It's all right, Jethro," Ducky said, now slipping his arms around Jethro's neck and holding him loosely. "If it's all too much for you, just say so. I will not mind. I will understand. This is all so new for you. We don't have to do anything, we don't have to act on our desires, we don't have to go to bed, we don't even have to kiss." He took one hand away from Jethro's neck and stroked his cheek, the touch was warm, soft, so familiar, and Jethro didn't bother to try to fight the moan of pleasure it elicited.

 

Jethro put his hand over Ducky's and moved it nearer to his mouth. One by one he kissed Ducky's fingers, starting with the little finger and going on until he finally kissed the thumb, then he turned it over and kissed Ducky's palm. Never once did they break eye contact, never once did either of them even blink. Ducky's other hand now rested on Jethro's shoulder, and his eyes had darkened somewhat, and he trembled very, very slightly. But other than that, apart from the faintest of gasps and his mouth parting slightly, Ducky didn't move; he just stood still and silent, letting Jethro pay homage to his hand.

 

Jethro swallowed again, kissed Ducky's palm once more, before licking his lips and saying, unaware until he began to speak how husky his voice was, "Maybe it is too much, Duck. But I reckon it always will be with you." And with those words, he let Ducky's hand fall from his grasp, slid one hand around Ducky's neck, put the other on Ducky's shoulder and guided him nearer to him so that he could lower his head and put his lips to Ducky's.

 

As their mouths met, Jethro gasped into the kiss at the sheer beauty of it. It was sweet, it was tender, it was intense, it was gentle. It was new; kissing another man was new; feeling the very faint brush of stubble against his own was new; tasting masculine scents was new; feeling lips not smeared with greasy lipstick was new. And yet somehow it wasn't; somehow it felt familiar; somehow it felt as though he'd been doing it, kissing another man - kissing Ducky - for years. Somehow Ducky's mouth felt known to him; somehow it felt familiar. But most of all it felt right; it felt natural. Kissing Ducky seemed like the most natural thing in the world; the rightest thing he had ever done.

 

As the kiss continued and Ducky's lips began to part, inviting Jethro inside Ducky's mouth, Jethro slid his hands from Ducky's neck and Ducky's shoulder, and instead put his arms around Ducky, gathering him even closer to him. Ducky fitted into his embrace as if he'd been designed for Jethro's arms. Just as kissing Ducky felt so right, so did holding him, so did feeling the firm body pressing against him, even the feel of the beginning of Ducky's arousal against his thigh felt right. Jethro moaned as Ducky moved slightly, pressing even nearer to him as he explored the inside of Ducky's mouth with his tongue. His own arousal was making itself known, and he moved his body slightly, letting it brush against Ducky, enjoying the feel of pressing it against Ducky's body.

 

Finally, they broke the kiss and stood still loosely entwined in one another's arms just sucking in much needed air and gazing at one another. Ducky's eyes were now far more ebony than blue, his mouth would tell anyone what he'd been doing, and his chin was slightly red in places. His hair was disarrayed, and Jethro recalled at one point he'd slid a hand into the heavy, silky, stands and tangled it around his fingers. Ducky also looked happier than Jethro thought he'd ever seen anyone look. And more than happy, he looked content, he looked at peace, he looked . . . He looked like a man in love. Jethro swallowed again.

 

As he gazed up at Jethro, Ducky smiled and his eyes shone with pleasure and fulfillment. He slipped his arms from where they'd held Jethro's back up to Jethro's neck, where he once again linked them behind Jethro. "You do realize I'm going to fall in love with you, do you not? In fact I should correct myself, you do realize that I have fallen in love with you, do you not?" Ducky spoke without concern, without hesitation, he might have been asking Jethro the time. He seemed completely at ease and relaxed with his pronouncement. "In fact," he said, before Jethro could answer, "you might as well be aware that I began to fall in love with you the moment I set eyes on you."

 

Jethro blinked. "You did?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Oh, yes. Of course one could say that was possibly just my reaction to you saving my life, but I knew it was more than that."

 

"You never said anything."

 

Ducky shook his head. "No." Now he sounded a little somber. "And nor would I have done so."

 

Jethro bent his head and kissed Ducky's nose. "Yeah, know that, Duck. Good thing I did then, isnít it?" He spoke half-jokingly, without really thinking. But as the words left him, he suddenly feared he didn't want the answer.

 

But Ducky read his mind again and unlinked his hands so that he could again stroke Jethro's cheek. "Oh, yes, Jethro. It certainly was," he smiled. After a moment or two he continued, "Although part of me feels I shouldn't be saying that."

 

Jethro frowned. "Why not?" He stilled Ducky's hand on his face and held it; it was warm and soft, free from calluses against his cheek; he leaned into it.

 

Ducky shook his head. "Let's not spoil tonight," he said gently, and tried to pull Jethro's head back down.

 

However, Jethro stopped him, holding him gently. "It's not just tonight, Duck," he said, his tone firm.

 

"Is it not?" Ducky looked and sounded somewhat surprised.

 

Jethro's frown deepened. "Did you really think I'd do that? Do you really think that's the kind of man I am?"

 

Ducky shook his head and smiled again. "Ah, Jethro, until twenty minutes ago, I had not let those kinds of thoughts enter my head. I did not mean to imply you only wanted one night. But, my dear, we cannot deny what you are, what you do for a living."

 

Jethro shrugged. "Donít ask, don't tell."

 

"Yes, but -"

 

Now Jethro did put his mouth back onto Ducky's, silencing his objections, and once again let himself be swept up in the delight, in the honesty, in the openness, in the rightness of kissing and being kissed by Ducky.

 

"Duck," he said, when again they broke away from one another. "If I had only wanted one night, I wouldn't have said anything because I know you're not a one night stand kind of guy. I want more. I'm not saying it's going to be easy. Hell, I'm away a lot of the time and well you might not be here when I'm home. So -"

 

"Oh, I can arrange my life quite easily to suit your routine. I said I liked this city, this country and maybe it is time I stopped travelling. I have been doing it for some time now."

 

Jethro stared at him. "You'd do that for me? You'd give up traveling for me?"

 

"Not just for you, no. I'd do it because it's what I want. Look, Jethro, we cannot make any promises of forever, not here, not now, not tonight. I can make you two promises: I will be here when you return from deployment, and no matter what, I will always be your friend, and I will always love you."

 

"That's three," Jethro said with a smile.

 

"Yes, it is, is it not?" Ducky smiled back at him.

 

"Duck?"

 

"Yes, Jethro."

 

"I can't . . . I won't . . . Oh, hell. I don't even know if I know what it is, and I won't insult you or lie to you. I like you, I like you a hell of a lot, more than I've ever liked anyone. I'm attracted to you, but I guess you know that. I want to kiss you again and go on kissing you. And I do want to go to bed with you - tonight. And I want you to show me how to make love to you, I want to learn what you like and -" he broke off suddenly and shrugged. "I'm going to miss you, I already know that. These days have been the best I've known as an adult, best I've known since Mom died. But I don't know if that makes it -"

 

This time it was Ducky who silenced him. And this time the kiss took on a different meaning; the change was subtle, but it was clearly there. This time the kiss was moving up a level, moving from the almost chasteness to the kind of deep and intense passion that would lead to one thing.

 

It was Ducky also who finally broke the kiss. He moved his hands to cup Jethro's face between them. "Hush," he said somewhat belatedly and unnecessarily. "It's all right. That is more than all right. And thank you for not taking the easy way out; thank you for being honest."

 

"Always will be, Duck," Jethro said. "That I can promise you. And God willing, I'll come home to you. And like you say no matter what happens, I can't imagine my life without you being in it in some way or other."

 

Ducky smiled and stroked Jethro's face with one hand, before letting it fall away to capture Jethro's hand. "In that case, Jethro, may I suggest we retire into the bedroom? The bed is exceptionally comfortable, and I think it is well past time we both took the weight of our feet."

 

Jethro laughed and linked his fingers with Ducky. "Sounds like a great idea, Duck."

 

And hand-in-hand they walked off to start a new parts of their lives. Lives that would, death aside, be entwined with one another, just as their hands now were.

 

 

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