OLD SCHOOL TIE

 

By

 

Ashleigh Anpilova

 

Set between Reveille and See No Evil.

Gibbs comes back from a conference to find a strange man in Autopsy with Ducky. He is a visiting doctor on his way to open up a high-class retirement home. Gibbs's gut, however, tells him there is more to the man than meets the eye.

An established relationship story.

Abby/McGee as a couple also appear in this story.

Written: April 2008. Word count: 22,730.

 

 

MONDAY

 

"Hey, Duck, I'm ba –" Gibbs came to an abrupt halt as he strode into Autopsy and came face to face with a strange man. He was leaning against Ducky's desk, drinking something from one of Ducky's mugs. The stranger stared at Gibbs, but said nothing. He had dark brown hair, Gibbs guessed brown eyes, was taller than Gibbs by a few inches, and to Gibbs trained eye looked about seven or eight years younger than Gibbs himself. He was well and expensively dressed in a dark grey suit, including a vest, white shirt and dark gold tie. He made Gibbs feel momentarily scruffy.

 

Just as Gibbs was about to ask who the hell he was, Ducky appeared. "Jethro my dear," he called, the pleasure he felt was evident in his tone. Ducky hurried across the room to where Gibbs still stood, smiling in the way he always did in Gibbs's presence; his eyes sparkled and he had an air of happiness tinged with a hint of excitement about him.

 

For a split second Gibbs almost thought Ducky was going to kiss him. However, instead Ducky came to a halt well within Gibbs's personal space, put one hand on Gibbs's arm and tilted his head back far enough to gaze lovingly up into Gibbs's face. "Welcome home, Jethro," he said, his voice low and heavy with emotion.

 

Gibbs had to fight his reaction to pull Ducky into his arms and kiss him. The place they stood was one area in Autopsy where the cameras didn't reach, and his plan had been to do just that very thing. However, the presence of the stranger prevented him from doing that, so instead he just contented himself with squeezing Ducky's shoulder and letting the tips of his fingers lightly brush Ducky's cheek. At the same time he lowered the shields he tended to erect when in the building and said so much more to Ducky with his eyes.

 

Quite how long they would have stood there, wrapped up in their own little world, Gibbs didn't know, but suddenly the false sound of a throat being cleared pulled them both back into reality.

 

"Oh, dear. Please forgive my appalling manners. Jethro," and Ducky put his arm around Gibbs's back and hurried him across Autopsy, "I would like you to meet Sebastian Lloyd-Hamilton. He's not only a fellow doctor who trained at the same university as I did, but he's also a fellow Etonian. Of course he attended the old school many, many years after I myself did. Isn't that wonderful? Sebastian, this is Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs."

 

"Ah, the man about whom Ducky has told me such a lot. I am so very pleased to meet you, Agent Gibbs." The man held out his hand.

 

Gibbs took it. "Dr. Lloyd-Hamilton," he said, and nodded.

 

"Sebastian, please." The man smiled.

 

Forced into a corner, Gibbs said tersely, "Jethro. So, Duck's been telling you a lot of stories, has he?"

 

"One or two, yes. He does know an awful lot." As he spoke Lloyd-Hamilton's gaze, (Gibbs had been right, his eyes were brown), moved away from Gibbs and came to rest on Ducky.

 

"Yeah," Gibbs said, letting his own gaze drift back to Ducky. "He does." He could see how happy Ducky was, how full of life, how he suddenly looked even younger than he usually did. Clearly Lloyd-Hamilton's presence pleased him. Gibbs wished he could say the same thing, but it wouldn't be true; Lloyd-Hamilton's presence didn't please him. It didn't please him at all. And it wasn't just a lack of being pleased; the man gave him a feeling he didn't like. As he'd taken Lloyd-Hamilton's hand and shared a brief but firm handshake, his gut had begun to churn, and his 'all is not well' internal button had started to clang.

 

Turning his attention away from Ducky, he looked hard at Lloyd-Hamilton and his gut churned even more. Damn it; the man was gay! That in itself didn't bother Gibbs, he'd be more than a bit hypocritical if it did. However, what did bother him was the way the blasted man was looking at Ducky. He wanted him! He, to use one of Ducky's own terms 'fancied' him. Well, he had damn well better keep his wants, his fancies to himself. Ducky belonged to Gibbs. He didn't for a moment have any worries that Ducky would return the liking, but that wasn't the point.

 

"Sorry, Duck," he said, suddenly realizing Ducky had spoken. As he turned his attention back to Ducky, he caught sight of Lloyd-Hamilton's face; the smug look, hastily changed, did nothing to endear the man to him.

 

Ducky simply smiled at him; he was clearly unperturbed by the fact that Gibbs hadn't been listening to him. Do I do it that often? Gibbs mused; suddenly he didn't want to answer the question, because he suspected it wouldn't show him in a particularly good light. He made a mental vow to 'do better'.

 

"I merely asked if the conference was a good one," Ducky said, his tone mild.

 

Gibbs shrugged. "You know what these things are like. Least Tobias was there." And then Ducky's inquiry gave him an idea. "Matter of fact, Duck, there's something I need to discuss with you. I'm sure Sebastian won't mind if I drag you away." He didn't give a damn whether Lloyd-Hamilton minded or not, but a couple of decades plus of time spent around Ducky had done wonders for improving his manners; at least when he was in Ducky's company.

 

"Oh, not at all, Jethro. I quite understand." Once again the look and the smile Lloyd-Hamilton cast Gibbs's way, did nothing to improve Gibbs's impressions of him. He seemed to be saying a hell of a lot more than his words; in fact he seemed to know what Gibbs really had in mind. Gibbs shot a quick look at Ducky, had he told Lloyd-Hamilton about them? Surely not. Of course not. He wouldn't. He trusted Ducky, implicitly. However . . .

 

Ducky touching his arm pulled his attention back to where it should be. He shook his head, flashed what passed for a smile for him, turned and crossed the room, Ducky at his side.

 

Moments later they were in Gibbs's 'office', the emergency stop button pressed and Gibbs was pulling Ducky into his arms. As Ducky's own arms slipped around him, completing the embrace, Gibbs's irritation, an irritation that had been steadily growing since he'd walked into Autopsy fled. He tugged Ducky nearer, sliding one hand up into his lover's silky, heavy hair, as he lowered his mouth and found Ducky's.

 

God, but Ducky tasted and smelled good. The faint twangs of Earl Grey tea, mingled with the taste and scent of pine trees, the sea and formaldehyde, all let Gibbs know that he really was back, and Ducky really was in his arms. "Missed you, Duck," he murmured, after they parted for a moment.

 

Ducky looked up at him his eyes shining with love, devotion, pleasure and a hint of surprise. Didn't he know how much he meant to Gibbs? Didn't he know how much Gibbs missed him when he wasn't around? Hadn't he ever said those words to Ducky before? Surely he had? But as he came to think about it, suddenly he wasn't so sure. He made a second mental vow.

 

"I missed you too, my dear Jethro. Very much," Ducky added softly, as he offered Gibbs his mouth again.

 

This time the kiss went on for a lot longer.

 

Finally, with great reluctance, Gibbs gently took his mouth away and contented himself with simply holding Ducky in a loose embrace. His body had begun to react, given where they were, too much to the closeness of Ducky, to the scent of Ducky, the taste of Ducky, to Ducky's own body. As much as he'd like to tell the world to go to hell and instead take Ducky home and do nothing for the rest of the day than make love to him, he knew that was not possible.

 

He also knew though that he really couldn't leave the elevator for another few minutes, not unless he wanted to broadcast to the office what he'd been up to. He sought for a topic that would detract him from carnal images. He found one instantly.

 

"How come Lloyd-Hamilton's here?" he asked, his tone brusque.

 

Ducky moved out of the embrace a little and gazed up at Gibbs. "His father and Director Morrow know one another."

 

"And?"

 

"And his father pulled a few strings. Apparently Sebastian has always been interested in the way Government agencies work compared to the ordinary health system, and as he was moving to America, it seemed logical to ask his father to contact his old friend. And he's not really involved in any depth with the cases, as such. He came out with us in the van a couple of days ago, but other than that, he's spends most of his time with Mr. Palmer and myself. Director Morrow made it clear he couldn't be involved with the actual solving of the cases. Of course he has met the children and does spend some time out of Autopsy, but as he is -"

 

"What's he doing in America?" Not that Gibbs cared, not really.

 

Ducky frowned a little and Gibbs suspected he'd picked up something from his tone or body language. But then the frown vanished and Ducky simply said, "He is planning on opening a highly sophisticated, very expensive nursing-come-retirement home for the elderly. Like myself he trained as a surgeon, but whereas I chose to specialize in the dead, he chose geriatrics. He truly believes his type of home could make a difference. But you aren't really interested, are you, Jethro?" Ducky's pale blue eyes twinkled with mirth and contained no hint of reproof.

 

"Truth? Nah, not really. Sorry, Duck."

 

"You don't need to apologize, my dear Jethro."

 

"How long's he here for?"

 

"He has been here for five days and will be around for another five or six, I believe. Maybe a few more; he was a little vague."

 

That long? Gibbs sighed silently and bit down on the urge to roll his eyes. "What's Palmer think of him?"

 

Again Ducky frowned a little. "I am a little saddened to have to say that I believe young Mr. Palmer is more than a little jealous of Sebastian."

 

"Jealous?"

 

"Well, he is rather an insecure young man, and although his position as my assistant has been officially confirmed as permanent one, he is still rather uncertain. I believe he feels –"

 

The sound of Gibbs's cell phone cut into Ducky's words. "Damn, hang on, Duck." Gibbs took his arms from around Ducky and pulled out the phone. "Gibbs? Yeah, two minutes." He clicked the phone. "Sorry, Duck. Got to go."

 

"I understand, Jethro." Ducky reached to push the emergency button again.

 

But Gibbs stopped him. "You coming round tonight?" he asked.

 

To his surprise Ducky flushed slightly and lowered his gaze. Then he looked back up at Gibbs. "Oh, dear, I am very sorry, Jethro. It's just . . . I'd been telling Sebastian how much I enjoyed opera and in particular – but that's irrelevant. The fact is, this morning he turned up with two tickets for tonight's performance. Quite how he managed to get them, I know not, as I understood they had been sold out for several weeks. He must have – I'll make my apologies, I'm sure he could find someone else to –"

 

"Don't be silly, Duck. You go."

 

"But, Jethro, I –"

 

Gibbs silenced him with a quick kiss, before reaching around him to push the button. "It's all right, Duck, really. You go and enjoy your opera. I'll have plenty of work to catch up on." As the elevator doors began to open, he brushed his hand over Ducky's head, pushing back an errant lock that had fallen over his forehead. "Catch you later," he said, about to exit the car. Before he did he asked, his tone nonchalant, "Did Lloyd-Hamilton know I was coming back today?"

 

"Well, yes, I believe I might have mentioned it, but . . . Jethro, what are you suggesting?"

 

"Me? Nothing, Duck. Nothing at all." And with that, Gibbs strode out of the elevator; his irritation was back ten-fold.

 

 

Ducky re-entered Autopsy his mind still very much on Jethro.

 

"I trust you and Jethro had a good 'discussion'," Sebastian said, standing up with the kind of fluidity Ducky envied. His tone left Ducky in no doubt as to what he was implying, and for the first time since meeting the young man, Ducky felt a fission of unease pass through him. And to his chagrin, he found himself flushing slightly.

 

"I don't know what you mean," he said, instantly cursing himself for his foolishness. He began to walk away.

 

Sebastian caught him and held him, as easily as Jethro would have done. "I'm sorry, Ducky, I didn't meant to embarrass you," he said, his tone contrite.

 

"I am not embarrassed," Ducky said, and he wasn't. Not at all; rather the opposite in fact. "It is just –" He stopped speaking; what was he saying?

 

"That no one knows about you and Jethro? That he doesn't want anyone to know," Sebastian added.

 

Ducky frowned and took a step back from Sebastian. "Whatever relationship Jethro and I may or may not have is our business." He spoke firmly, sharply even.

 

Sebastian held up both hands, palms out towards Ducky. "Again, I'm sorry, Ducky. I shouldn't have said anything. As you say it's your business and no one else's. I just . . ."

 

Sebastian looked so genuinely apologetic and guilty, Ducky's irritation and unease fled. He put his hand on Sebastian's arm. "It's all right, Sebastian," he said. "I just hadn't realized –"

 

"It was so obvious? I doubt it is to anyone else, Ducky. The rest of the people who work here know you're close friends, they'll just see that. But you know I'm gay, I guess I just picked up on the signs."

 

Again Ducky was slightly troubled. It wasn't that Jethro had insisted that no one know about the true nature of their relationship, or anything like that. Nor was it that Jethro was ashamed of or embarrassed about his relationship with Ducky, Ducky knew that too. It was just that it really was their business.

 

A very small part of Ducky, sometimes, wished it didn't have to be a secret, not that it was, not really. Sometimes he found himself wondering if the children, Abigail at least had noticed. After all, he knew full well if anyone really chose to study them together, to take the time to see the way they interacted, the way they looked at one another, the way they spoke to one another, the way they invaded one another's personal space, the way Jethro shortened his name to 'Duck' and how he from time to time called Jethro 'my dear', that they'd see the truth. But he could understand why no one did; with three marriages and other redheads passing through his life, no one would conceive Jethro as being interested in men. And the children probably thought Ducky was too old for sex anyway, or not interested in it. Or -

 

He suddenly realized Sebastian had spoken again. "I'm sorry, Sebastian. What did you say?"

 

"I said you can also be sure I won't let Jethro know that I know."

 

"I never imagined for a moment that you would do such a thing." Ducky spoke honestly.

 

"Good," Sebastian said and smiled. Then he looked at Ducky and said quietly, "He doesn't like me, you know."


"Who, Jethro?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Don't be silly, that is just Jethro's way. He's very abrupt with everyone. Besides he doesn't even know you, he met you for a mere minute or two, he hasn't had time to form an opinion about you." But as Ducky spoke the words, he knew he was being less than honest; he knew Jethro intimately, and not just in the sexual sense. He could read his old friend as clearly as a child might read the alphabet; he knew his body language; he knew the way he looked; he knew his tone of voice. And knowing all those things, he knew Sebastian was correct; Jethro had taken an instant dislike to him.

 

Sebastian shrugged. "I'm sure you're right. Now come here, your bowtie's a little crooked." And before Ducky could say anything, Sebastian straightened it for him, his fingers brushed against Ducky's jaw as he did so.

 

"Dr. Mallard, Agent Gibbs told me to tell you – Oh, I'm sorry, I'll . . ."

 

Ducky turned quickly, too quickly; he found his arm being caught and held by Sebastian as he was steadied. "Carefully, Ducky," he said softly.

 

"Thank you," Ducky said automatically. "Now what is it, Mr. Palmer?"

 

"Doctor?" Jimmy Palmer was standing, eyes wide and mouth slightly open, staring at Ducky and Sebastian.

 

"What is it Jethro told you to tell me?"

 

"There's a body."

 

"Where?"

 

"Um . . ."

 

"Oh, really, Mr. Palmer, are you not even capable of taking a perfectly straight-forward message?" Ducky snapped the words and instantly regretted his sharpness. It wasn't Jimmy's fault he had been momentarily thrown off balance by Sebastian's intimate touch, the intimate touch that had been witnessed by Jimmy. The kind of intimate touch that no one but Jethro had bestowed on him for more than two decades. The kind of intimate touch he shouldn't have permitted. Not that he'd invited it, but even so. He felt even worse as the doors to Autopsy swished open and Jethro came in.

 

"Hey, Duck, thought I'd come with you. DiNozzo and Kate are bitching at one another and I swear I'll fire them both if I'm stuck in a car with them. Palmer, you go with them, I'll drive Ducky."

 

And before Ducky could say anything, or even think clearly, he found himself by the autopsy truck, with Jethro opening the door for him and offering him a hand to climb inside, whilst shouting at DiNozzo to wait for Palmer. It all happened so quickly that before Ducky even thought about Sebastian and the fact he wasn't with them, Jethro had started the engine and driven away at speed.

 

They drove in silence for a few minutes before Jethro said, "You were a bit harsh with Palmer, Duck. What did he do to piss you off?"

 

Ducky sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. He hadn't been certain whether Jethro had heard him, but his lover's words proved he had. "I know I was. It was wrong of me, not to mention very unprofessional of me to snap at him in front of other people."

 

"Wouldn't worry, Duck, I do it all the time with DiNozzo."

 

Ducky chuckled softly. "Yes, dear. But that is you. This is me." He sighed.

 

Jethro glanced at him. "You okay, Duck?" he asked, his tone low.

 

Ducky sighed and put his hand on Jethro's thigh. "Yes, I am, thank you, Jethro. I'm just a little . . ." he broke off.

 

"A little what?" Jethro put his hand over Ducky's and squeezed it. Then to Ducky's surprise, Jethro moved his hand further up his thigh until Ducky found his fingers brushing against Jethro's groin. He heard Jethro swallow hard, "Guess the kids wouldn't believe me if I said we got lost, would they?"

 

"No, my dear, they wouldn't." Ducky smiled a little sorrowfully, lightly stroked his lover for a moment, before firmly taking his hand away. Jethro let him, but prevented him from taking it off his leg completely; instead they drove the next few miles with Ducky's hand on his knee.

 

LATER THAT NIGHT

 

Jethro swallowed another mouthful of the high-proof bourbon he kept in his basement, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and returned to sanding his boat.

 

He'd worked late at the office, but had finally been driven out by DiNozzo and Kate who had continued to bicker all day long.

 

The case had been simple, too damn simple; as such it had left him too much time to think about other things. In particular one other thing: namely Sebastian Lloyd-Hamilton! It was no good, Jethro did not trust or like the man. He didn't know why, although he admitted part of it was his interest in Ducky, but there was something about him that made Jethro wary.

 

Suddenly he heard the sound of his front door being closed. He glanced up sharply and to his surprise, Ducky appeared at the top of the basement stairs. "Duck!" Dropping the sander on the floor, Jethro hastened across the room and up the stairs. "Duck," he said again as he pulled Ducky into his arms and held him. As Ducky's hat fell off his head and Jethro put his lips to Duchy's ear, all thoughts of Lloyd-Hamilton fled.

 

Then it hit him. He pushed Ducky away a little. "I thought you were going out with Lloyd-Hamilton? Has something happened? Is it your mom?"

 

Ducky pulled him back into his embrace. "No, dearest, Mother is fine, as am I. I simply wanted to see you. Thus after the opera, which wasn't particularly enjoyable, I'm afraid to say," absurdly that pleased Jethro, "I told Sebastian I was unable to join him for a late supper, as I needed to get home."

 

Jethro laughed and pushed Ducky away again, holding him at arms' length. "Dr. Mallard, I'm surprised at you. You lied, and to a fellow doctor."

 

Ducky looked smug and his pale eyes twinkled in the light from the hall. "I did indeed. Although one could say that it wasn't actually a lie as –"

 

But Jethro silenced him.

 

This time there was no phone to interrupt them.

 

This time they didn't have to get to a crime scene.

 

Ducky's mouth opened beneath his inviting him inside. On top of the usual Ducky scents and tastes, he also tasted a hint of red wine. He could feel Ducky's arousal as it pressed against him, and felt his own increase as the kisses and the way Ducky was caressing his back and neck deepened and become more intimate.

 

It was Ducky who finally broke away. Eyes, now virtually black, blazed as Ducky gazed up at him, his breathing was harsh and his lips were red. "Are you going to stand here all night, or are you going to take me to bed and make love to me?" he demanded, his voice husky.

 

Ignoring Ducky's hat that still lay on the floor, and pausing only long enough to lock and bolt the front door, Jethro led Ducky, never once letting go of his hand, up the main staircase and into his bedroom.

 

 

More than two hours later, Jethro shifted a now dozing Ducky slightly, rearranging him so he could hold him more comfortably. Before settling down himself, he lightly kissed Ducky's nose and murmured very softly, "Love you, Duck." He smiled as Ducky managed to open one eye and mutter what passed as a response, before going completely limp in Jethro's arms.

 

Then, managing to turn off the bedside light without waking Ducky, Jethro settled down to sleep himself. Just as his eyes grew heavy and he began to slip into the heaviness that always preceded sleep for him, he had an idea.

 

THE NEXT DAY

 

They sat in the kitchen eating breakfast. Well Ducky sat at the table placidly enjoying tea and toast, Jethro leaned against the work surface swallowing scalding hot, strong coffee and munching on a slice of toast Ducky had pointedly buttered and passed to him.

 

Normally he tended not to bother with breakfast, as least as far as food went, but Ducky staying over meant he got to eat something. Ducky never tired of reminding him that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and that did not mean a grabbed piece of hours old, cold pizza.

 

He'd tried arguing with Ducky the first time he'd brought the subject up; an hour later they had not only been late for work, but Ducky had still been talking and had showed no signs of letting up. So just as he did with anything that Ducky was really determined about, Jethro had given in, and now when Ducky stayed over, or he stayed at Ducky's, he obligingly ate breakfast. And today it suited his purposes.

 

"When was Lloyd-Hamilton at Eton," he asked nonchalantly.

 

Ducky glanced at him sharply; for a moment Jethro thought he'd been too nonchalant. He waited as Ducky put his head slightly on one side and studied him for a long moment. "Why exactly do you wish to know?" he finally asked.

 

Jethro shrugged. "If he's going to be spending time with members of my team, I ought to know a bit about him."

 

Ducky frowned slightly, but then the look vanished and his gaze became just as it always was when he looked at Jethro. "Somewhat co-incidentally, his first term was 1975, the year you and I met, some fifteen years after I left the old school." Ducky chuckled. "Do you know, we even had the same House Master - Dr. Wetherby must have been in his final years by then. Ah, I can still remember him and the ghastly pipe he used to smoke. He, like so many of his generation of teachers, had little or no life outside of the school. Sadly, he passed away within eighteen months of retiring."

 

"And then, you say, Lloyd-Hamilton went to Edinburgh?"

 

"Indeed; where once again we shared one of the same tutors - Professor Cameron. He, I am happy to say, enjoyed a long and happy retirement. That's quite a co-incidence, don't you think? Sebastian and I not only having been to the same school and university, but even having the same tutors?"

 

"Hmmm." Jethro's answer was non-committal, as he was wondering if it was too much of a co-incidence. Well it would be easy enough to find out, especially now that he knew how old Lloyd-Hamilton was; at least it would be easy for McGee. Now all he had to do was to find a plausible reason for bringing the young man to DC. Not that he had to explain himself to anyone, well no one apart from Tom Morrow, but even so.

 

 

"You know, Duck, you could ride to work with me." Jethro tugged Ducky into his arms and held him.

 

Ducky sighed gently and put his own arms around Jethro. "I would like that very much, my dear. However, I really cannot leave Mother alone for two successive evenings."

 

"Guess not. Has your mom met Lloyd-Hamilton?"

 

Ducky tilted his head back. "Yes, she has. And like you I got the impression she did not particularly care for him." Ducky's eyes twinkled with mirth as he dared Jethro to attempt any kind of denial.

 

Jethro just shrugged and gathered Ducky closer to him, lowered his head and kissed him. It didn't bother him that Ducky had picked up on his dislike; he would have been surprised at anything else. But what did trouble him was that, together with the mirth in Ducky's eyes, there had been just the merest hint of sorrow; a sorrow that had been echoed in Ducky's tone.

 

As he kissed and was kissed by Ducky, Jethro realized a tad ruefully that for a man he disliked, he was spending an awful lot of time thinking about Sebastian Lloyd-Hamilton. The sooner he got McGee to DC the better; even if all McGee did was confirm the whole Eton/Edinburgh/high-class retirement home story.

 

 

"Hey, Abbs." Gibbs strode into Abby's lab and plopped a Caf-Pow down beside her. To his surprise she was slightly flushed and she not only jumped as he appeared, but also hastily turned off her computer screen.

 

However, she recovered at high-speed. "Gibbs! I haven't got the results you want yet. There's only one of me and those hard drives you gave me are at least doubly encrypted and my mass spectrometer can only go so fast and you want everything like yesterday and . . . What?" she demanded.

 

"Wondered if you planned on breathing any time soon. Got a solution for you."

 

She put her head on one side and frowned. "What?" she demanded.

 

"McGee's not busy at Norfolk, thought he could help with the hard drives." The next second the full weight of Abby as she launched herself into his arms caused him to stagger backwards.

 

"Take it you don't object?" he said lightly, firmly putting her back on her feet.

 

She crossed her arms and glared at him. "It wouldn't matter if I did, would it, bossman?" Only Abby, apart from Ducky of course, ever dared to stand up to him.

 

He grinned. "Guess not," he said, turning to go. He stopped and turned back. "As you're IPoding or whatever it is with McGee, you can tell him." Before she could say anything, he turned and strode away, a smile on his face.

 

As he walked away he decided that maybe the day wasn't going to be so bad after all. It wasn't often that he could solve two problems and make one person happy (or two if you counted McGee; he had no doubt McGee would be more than happy to come to DC) with one decision.

 

In many ways the task he was going to give McGee, the non-hard drive one, would be the final factor in his decision as to whether to take the young man onto his team as a full time field agent. Everything he'd seen of McGee thus far had pleased him. Sure he was green, nervous, too eager to please everyone and too easy to tease. Although Gibbs remembered how, fairly recently, the young man had gotten his own back on Kate and DiNozzo, leaving them open-mouthed and to come up with a lame question to ask Gibbs himself, as McGee sailed out of the office. That one event alone had notched McGee up several places in Gibbs's estimation.

 

 

Abby beamed to herself as her fingers flew over the keyboard and she told McGee that Gibbs wanted him to come to DC to help her. The task, even with two of them working flat out, was not going to be done in a day, probably not even in two or three – there were a lot of hard-drives and the encryption went beyond anything Abby had come across. As such, McGee would need a place to stay and . . .

 

She could remember clearly the previous occasion he'd stayed at her place, and not just slept in the coffin. It had been their first time, despite having dated on and off for a few months. In fact she'd almost given up offering him a bed for the night or inviting him in after a date – especially after the whole 'I really, really like you' thing – as he'd always found an excuse not to agree. But she was certainly glad she had offered one more time.

 

He wasn't as experienced as she was, that was obvious, and he clearly didn't go in for anything even remotely kinky, 'vanilla' would suit him well. But none of that mattered, not when he'd made love to her as he had made love to her. He'd spent hours just concentrating on pleasing her and not just once, before he made any attempt to penetrate her. She still tingled as she thought about it – and now she'd have a few more nights. Oh, she did love Gibbs – not that he'd done it for her, she knew that, but even so.

 

She smiled as she and McGee signed off, made a mental note to gently remind Gibbs it was 'IMing' not 'IPoding', and bounced across her lab to talk to her mass spectrometer.

 

 

Gibbs paused as he reached the stairs. Up to the squad room? Or down to see Ducky? He stood for a moment and pondered.

 

Finally, aware that his reasons weren't entirely 'honorable', but telling himself in fact he did have a genuine work-related query, he decided on down.

 

". . . And then the Duke said – Oh, hello, Jethro. I'm afraid I still haven't quite completed the tests you requested."

 

Not for the first time Gibbs had to hide a smile as he saw the look on Palmer's face and how far his mouth fell open as Ducky switched from telling a story to greeting Gibbs himself, without even turning around to see who had come into Autopsy. He was also rather pleased to see that for a fleeting second a very similar look had appeared on Lloyd-Hamilton's face.

 

"Didn't come about those, Duck." Gibbs said, moving across to stand by Ducky's side. "So what exactly did the Duke say?"

 

Ducky gazed up at him, his usual fond expression on his face; his eyes twinkled with mirth, letting Gibbs know quite clearly that Ducky knew that, having heard the story more than once, Gibbs knew exactly what the Duke had said. But it was one of their little games; most of the time Gibbs 'pretended' he didn't know or didn't remember, and Ducky went along with the charade. It kept them both amused, and that was what mattered.

 

Ducky was about to answer Gibbs, however, when Gibbs's cell phone began to burble. With a half-apologetic shrug, Gibbs dug into his pocket and pulled it out. "Gibbs? Yeah? On my way. Sorry, Duck," he said, already striding towards the door. "Got to go."

 

As the doors slid open he heard Palmer say, "Well, Dr. Mallard, what did the Duke say?"

 

 

"As you can see, Ducky, I really do intend it to be a home from home. The guests will want for nothing."

 

"Yes, I can see that, Sebastian. It's quite a project you are taking on. Do you really believe there is the market for it?" Ducky and Sebastian sat in one of the many small restaurants that were scattered about DC. In fact it was the same one where he had bought Caitlin and Anthony lunch on the very day poor Caitlin had been kidnapped by Ari, a mere two weeks earlier.

 

"Are you cold, Ducky?" Sebastian touched his hand and his tone registered concern. "Shall we go inside?"

 

Ducky shook his head; he hadn't been consciously aware the memory had made his shiver. "No, Sebastian, I am fine, thank you. It is very pleasant out here, thus I do not wish to go inside." Under cover of 'dropping' his napkin and bending to pick it up, he managed to remove his hand from beneath Sebastian's.

 

As he sat back up, he saw Sebastian was leaning back in his chair, looking at him over the rim of his wine glass. The look was . . . Ducky wasn't certain he wished to really analyze it, so he picked up his own glass of chilled dry white wine and took a sip.

 

For a moment neither man said anything. Then Sebastian put his glass back down, once again nodded at the brochure he had, which had been his reason for inviting Ducky out to lunch, to celebrate the first real stage in his new venture, and answered Ducky's question. "I'm sure, Duck-y."

 

Ducky frowned inwardly at the very slight hesitation between the 'K' and the 'Y'. As fond as he had become of the young man he shared a table with, he was not going to allow him to use Jethro's own personal version of his name.

 

Sebastian seemed to somehow pick up on Ducky's unease, as he hastened on. "Yes, Ducky," this time where as no hesitation, but the repetition of his name so soon, so unnecessarily, made Ducky certain he must have betrayed his feelings somewhat. "I did, as I told you, extensive research. Well I didn't, not in the first instance anyway. But I paid a lot of money for it to be carried out. And once I had the reports, then I started to verify it all myself. You'd be surprised at the wealth that exists in America. And a lot of that is owned by people who have elderly relatives they don't know what to do with. Like you," he added.

 

Ducky jumped a little and frowned. When he spoke his tone was sharp. "There might well be people like that, Sebastian, in fact I have no doubt there are, but kindly do not include me amongst them. I do not regard Mother as someone 'I don't know what to do with'."

 

Instantly Sebastian looked contrite and put his hand over Ducky's. "Oh, hell, Ducky, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that as it sounded. It came out wrongly."

 

"Did it?"

 

"Yes. Really. Forgive me, please."

 

As he sat and looked at Ducky seeking his forgiveness, Sebastian suddenly looked several years younger. His plea sounded genuine, and there was nothing in the way he looked at Ducky to make Ducky think it wasn't.

 

Ducky sighed, patted Sebastian's hand with his free hand, carefully extracted his other hand and said, "Of course, Sebastian. But you really should try to be a little more careful with how you express yourself. I might be willing to forgive you, others might not."

 

"I know, Ducky. I know. Look, may I say something?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Go ahead. But please remember, unlike you I do have a limited lunch break, and whilst a certain amount of leeway is permitted, one doesn't like to take advantage."

 

"Okay, I'll try and be brief. But will you promise to hear me out before you say anything?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Of course."

 

Sebastian swallowed some wine, put this glass down carefully, folded his hands and stared earnestly at Ducky. "I know your mother doesn't fall into the 'not knowing what to do with', but I also know that it's difficult for you at times, especially doing the job you do. I also know you said you'd never put her into a home, but my home is different. She'd have her own rooms, she could have the Corgis, she could have her meals when she wanted them, anything and everything to suit her – I doubt she'd know she was in a home. That is," he went on hurriedly, "of course she would, but it wouldn't be the usual type. Ducky, she wouldn't have to meet any of the other residents. But there would always be several members of staff on duty, medical staff and other staff, so you wouldn't have to worry what if she fell/forgot to put any water in the kettle/cut herself, etc. etc. because someone else would do the worrying. And," he paused.

 

"Go on," Ducky kept his tone neutral.

 

"Okay, I could offer you a job."

 

"Me? Sebastian, I'm a Medical Examiner, I hardly think you want to advertise my services on your brochure."

 

"You're a Medical Examiner now, Ducky. But you're also a general doctor. You could practice here, couldn't you?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, of course. But geriatrics was never a field in which I was particularly interested. Of course since Mother developed Alzheimers I have studied the subject a great deal more, but even so. No, Sebastian, it is not for me. Besides I have a life here in DC. I have my work, my interests, my home, my friends."

 

"Jethro?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes."

 

"But the home isn't going to be a million miles away. You could visit one another, or, hey, he could retire and come with you."

 

Ducky chuckled softly. "Ah, Sebastian. You really do not understand or know Jethro at all."

 

"Maybe I know more than you think I do."

 

Ducky frowned again. "What do you mean?" His tone became slightly sharp.

 

Sebastian took another sip from his almost empty wine glass. "I know he's been married three times, I know he sees women. And don't look at me like that, Ducky. I haven't been asking questions; but people talk. It's hardly a state secret is it? Unlike his relationship with you. How do you put up with it, Ducky?"

 

Ducky picked up his hat and coat from the empty chair next to him and stood up. "I think this discussion has gone on long enough. What goes on between Jethro and myself is between Jethro and myself. The way we conduct our relationship is our business and no one else's. Now, are you coming back to the office with me? Or shall I see you later?" Ducky stared down at Sebastian; his tone was low and steady, but tinged with an icy politeness he rarely employed. From the look on Sebastian's face, he knew his look was as uncompromising as his words.

 

Sebastian stood up. "I'll come with you," he said, grabbing his own coat.

 

"Good," said Ducky, before turning and walking away, leaving Sebastian, who had insisted on paying for the lunch, to catch up with him.

 

When Sebastian did that thing, Ducky said, as if their most recent exchange hadn't taken place, "Now, about the case we were studying this morning. I must confess to, albeit a little ashamedly and only for the briefest of moments, being almost a little in awe of the ingenuity of our murderer. Would you have even considered that as an option? I also must confess that had it not been for the facilities NCIS have, not to mention the time I have to conduct each autopsy, that I suspect the case would have been passed off, as the murder no doubt intended, as death by natural causes."

 

It gave Ducky a great deal of pleasure as the surprise Sebastian felt at how normal and natural Ducky was being, made itself clearly known. Oh, there were times when subtly achieved far, far more than the 'bull-in-a-china-shop' approach. It kept people off-guard.

 

Sebastian would now be waiting for the rest of the day, and maybe beyond, for Ducky to say something more, to be angry with him, to . . . And as fond as he had become of the young man in the short time he had known him, as good as it was to have someone with whom he could talk about the old school, Edinburgh, opera, paintings, classical music, fine wines, the theatre, medicine, bridge, and all the other things they had talked about, Sebastian had to learn that there were some lines one simply did not, for any reason, cross over. Ducky's relationship with Jethro was one of those.

 

 

"Hey, Abby."

 

"Hey, McGee," Abby replied, jumping to her feet and hurrying over to him. She flung her arms around him and hugged him briefly, before letting go and moving back. She was pleased to see he looked a little flustered and surprised, as well as blushing slightly. Without saying anything else, she turned on her heel and bounced back across her lab.

 

After a second or two, she heard him following her. "What have we got, then?" he asked, as he put his coat and laptop down on her desk.

 

She waved her hand at the pile of hard drive. "Those."

 

McGee gazed at them. "Encrypted?"

 

"Oh, yes."

 

"Double?"

 

Abby nodded, her pigtails flying. "Maybe even triple."

 

"Asymmetric?"

 

Abby just stared at him. She had to stop herself from smiling as the tips of his ears turned pink. "Sorry."

 

"That's all right, McGee," she beamed.

 

He looked at the pile again. "We're not going to get through all those in one day or even two."

 

Abby shook her head. "Oh, no."

 

"So . . ."

 

"So . . . ?"

 

McGee swallowed. "I can't really travel back and forth to Norfolk each day."

 

"No." Abby beamed.

 

"So . . ."

 

"So . . . So what, McGee?" She blinked her eyes at him and watched him swallow.

 

"So can I stay at your place?"

 

"Yes."

 

He glanced around him, before taking a step towards her and lowering his voice. "And sleep in the coffin?"

 

"Yes."

 

He glanced around him again, took another step towards her and lowered his voice even more. "And not just sleep?"

 

"If you two don't get on with what you're meant to be doing, you won't get a chance to sleep anywhere ever again."

 

McGee jumped, and spun around. "B . . . b . . . boss?" he stuttered, stumbling over the word, as well as his feet, as he tried to move away from Abby and away from Gibbs at the same time.

 

Abby, far more used to Gibbs 'miraculously' and silently appearing, hid her surprise more easily. She had to give it to Gibbs; he was getting sneakier. "Hey, Gibbs," she said. "I was just telling McGee what we had to do."

 

"Heard that." He stared at her.

 

After a second, even Abby's bravery began to falter under the steady 'Gibbs glare' and she turned away and grabbed one of the hard drives. "Come on, McGee, let's start with this one," she said, pulling McGee across to the other side of the room.

 

"How did he do that?" McGee whispered, once they heard Abby's door open and close and furtive glances around assured them it was Gibbs leaving.

 

"He's Gibbs," Abby said solemnly. Together they bent their heads and began to work.

 

LATER THAT EVENING

 

"Jethro, my dear. How lovely to see you." Ducky couldn't hide his delight or his surprise as he opened the door of his Reston home to find his lover standing on the porch.

 

"Hey, Duck." Jethro smiled at him, the corners of his eyes crinkling. From his clothes Ducky ascertained he'd come straight from the office. "Thought as you said you couldn't leave your mom for two nights running, I'd come and see you. That's if it's okay. You haven't got anyone visiting, have you?"

 

Ducky chuckled softly at the obvious inquiry. "Ah, Jethro my dear, no apart from Mother and the Corgis, I am quite alone. Well, do come in. Have you eaten?"

 

Jethro came into the house and closed the door behind him. Then to Ducky's faint surprise he not only locked it, he also bolted it. "Piece of DiNozzo's left-over-from-lunch pizza count?"

 

Ducky sighed. "No, it does not."

 

"In that case," Jethro shrugged off his coat, "no."

 

"Well in that case, you are just in time to join me for supper. I have more than enough for two."

 

"What about your mom?"

 

"I gave her 'meal' earlier. Some evenings, Jethro, I simply cannot bear to eat my own meal whilst she is partaking of her liquidized version of it. I know that's a dreadful thing to say, but . . ."

 

"Doesn't sound dreadful to me."

 

"Yes, well, maybe you could remind me of that from time to time – it might help my feelings of guilt. Now come along and pour yourself a drink whilst I heat the plates and make sure everything is piping hot." Ducky turned and began to walk away towards the kitchen.

 

"Hey, Duck. Aren't you forgetting something?"

 

He stopped and turned back round. "My dear?"

 

"This." And in two long strides, Jethro had closed the gap between them, gathered Ducky into his arms, lowered his head and found his mouth with his own.

 

Several minutes went by and Ducky's mind was not on his mother, or supper, or warmed plates, or a drink. It wasn't on any of those things.

 

Finally, Jethro broke the kiss, but rather than let go of Ducky, he moved his mouth to Ducky's ear and nuzzled under Ducky's hair, putting his lips on Ducky's skin and lightly kissing his ear. "Now," he said, a moment or two later, causing Ducky to shiver with pleasure as his warm breath brushed his ear, "What about that drink?"

 

"I think that is just what the doctor has ordered," Ducky said, extracting himself from the embrace and smiling up at Jethro. "Why don't we –"

 

"Donald? Who was at the door? I do hope it wasn't that dreadful – Oh, it's you, Jethro dear. How lovely to see you." Leaning heavily on her stick, but moving far faster than most women of ninety-five, she came over to where Ducky and Jethro were standing and offered her cheek to Jethro to kiss.

 

As he bent his head and brushed his lips across the soft skin, Jethro found himself enveloped by the scent of Chanel No. 5. "Hello, Mrs. Mallard," he said, straightening up again. "It's nice to see you too, ma'am."

 

"And it's perfect timing too. You can pour me a drink. Donald did make me one earlier, but as usual it had far too much tonic in it. Now you know just how I like it, don't you, Jethro?" She slipped her arm through his, and looked up at him, her manner almost flirtatious.

 

"Mother, Jethro has come here straight from the office. We were about to have supper."

 

"Is it on the table?"

 

"No, Mother."

 

"Well then. I'm sure Jethro won't mind. Will you, dear?"

 

"Of course not, Mrs. Mallard. Come on," and, considerably slowing his pace and length of stride, he led the elderly lady off.

 

"I'll go and warm the plates and get everything ready," Ducky said, his tone heavy with resignation. "And don't let Mother keep you too long."

 

Jethro turned round and gave Ducky a quick wink.

 

Once he'd settled her back in her chair and admired Contessa's new collar, Jethro poured her a large gin and tonic, and himself a somewhat smaller whiskey. "Here you go, Mrs. Mallard," he said, handing it to her.

 

"Thank you, Jethro dear. Now do sit down for a moment. Donald is quite happy fussing in the kitchen. He can spare you for a few minutes."

 

Jethro obeyed the order and sipped his drink. "Were you expecting someone else, Mrs. Mallard?" he asked nonchalantly. When she frowned, he added, "You said you hoped I wasn't that dreadful . . ."

 

"Oh, him. I meant that young man Donald has been spending time with. What's his name? Simon? No. Stephen? No, that's not it either."

 

"Sebastian?" Jethro said, keeping his tone nonchalant.

 

"Yes, that's it. Sebastian Lloyd-Hamilton, I believe. I knew a Lloyd-Hamilton family, when we lived in England. But he is not one of them. They were far too pleasant to have produced someone like him. Listen, Jethro," she sat forward and looked around her. "There's something I have to tell you."

 

"About Lloyd-Hamilton?" Jethro also sat forward.

 

"Yes. He's – Who are you? And what are you doing in my house? I have a knife, and I know how –"

 

Jethro hastened to reassure her, speaking softly, keeping his tone reassuring. "I'm Jethro, Mrs. Mallard ma'am. Jethro Gibbs, I work with your son." It wasn't the first time he'd witnessed the switch from the rational to irrational in a single sentence, and it always pained him on Ducky's behalf to see it. But tonight, it was more than that. Fuck it, he thought. Why couldn't it have happened a moment or two later?

 

She studied him, her head on one side, her eyes narrowing.

 

Then after a several seconds, during which he didn't move, he saw her smile. "Of course, Jethro. I am sorry, my dear, I didn't recognize you for a moment. The light in here is too dim. I have mentioned it many times, but Donald, like all young boys is too busy playing, and as for that husband of mine! But never mind. Have you come to play with Donald?"

 

"Yes, ma'am. If you don't mind."

 

"Of course not, dear. You may not be from our class, but you are a fine young man. Now, run along and find Donald."

 

Jethro stood up. "Yes, ma'am." He turned to go.

 

"Wait a moment." Her imperial tone stopped him.

 

"Ma'am?"

 

"Here. I bought these for you boys a few days ago. Now don't eat them all at once, and remember to brush your teeth before you go to bed." From her handbag that rested on the floor next to her, she pulled out a bag of sweets and handed it over.

 

Jethro took it and smiled. "Thank you, Mrs. Mallard," he said. "I promise I'll do that."

 

"Good boy. Now run along and play." She waved her hand, effectively dismissing him.

 

He smiled in her direction, and juggling his glass and the sweets, opened the door and went out into the hall. His heart ached for Ducky.

 

"Oh, there you are, Jethro. I was beginning to – Oh," Ducky said simply, as he saw the sweets in Jethro's hand. He sighed. "Oh, dear. I do hope Mother was not inappropriate?"

 

Pushing the sweets into his pocket, Jethro put his arm around Ducky's shoulders and pulled him into a half embrace. "Nah," he said, kissing the top of Ducky's head. Ducky leaned into the embrace, resting against him. "Ah, Duck. I'm sorry."

 

"I know, my dear. And it could be so much worse. At least I am still able to leave her and go to work. But what will happen in a year or two, I dread to think. Perhaps . . ." He trailed off.

 

"Perhaps what?" Jethro asked, glancing down at Ducky.

 

Ducky shook his head. "Nothing, my dear. Come, let us go and eat." And without further ado, he slipped his arm through Jethro's, just as his mother had done earlier, and together they moved towards the dining room.

 

 

An hour and a half found them in Ducky's sitting room, side-by-side on the couch, sipping whiskey. The washing up had been put in the dishwasher, the leftovers – not that there were many – had been covered and left to cool, the Corgis had been let out into the garden and let back in again, and Ducky had been to settle his mother for the night.

 

Ducky was warm and comfortable against him, his head resting almost on Jethro's shoulder, as they simply sat and enjoyed the sound of Mozart playing softly in the background. Jethro knew it was Mozart, Ducky had said so, but what Mozart it was, he didn't know – despite Ducky having told him. Other than the music, they sat mostly in silence; they never had needed to fill each second with talk.

 

Yet again Jethro found himself ruing the sudden change in Mrs. Mallard. What was it she was going to tell him about Lloyd-Hamilton? He pushed aside the nagging voice that told him firstly he shouldn't be such a bastard and that his concern should be that she'd become irrational at all, not that it had happened too quickly. And secondly, that even had she told him, he couldn't necessarily trust anything she had to say – Ducky had told him that more than once.

 

Apart from that he felt contented and at peace; well he had Ducky, a drink, he'd had a good meal, and he knew that, once they'd digested their food, other enjoyable diversions beckoned. What more did he want? He told himself he had to stop obsessing about Lloyd-Hamilton; he'd be gone soon, out of Ducky's life for good. And there was nothing to worry about anyway; he trusted Ducky with his life and his heart, hell, he'd even trust him with his boat!

 

As he sat enjoying the gentle scents of the woods, the sea and formaldehyde that came from his lover, he suddenly remembered. "Perhaps, what?" he asked again.

 

Ducky sat up and looked at him. "My dear?" he sounded a little puzzled.

 

"You said 'perhaps' earlier, when we were talking about your mom and you leaving her."

 

Ducky sighed, and settled back against Jethro again. "Oh, that. It's nothing, Jethro, really." However, his tone wasn't as convincing as his words.

 

"Duck." Jethro drew the word out.

 

He heard Ducky chuckle softly, then sigh again, before saying, "Ah, my dear, dear, Jethro. A terrier has nothing on you. Very well. I shall tell you. It's just something Sebastian suggested, that's all."

 

At the name, Jethro felt his hackles rise and some of the contentment he'd been feeling fled. He tried not to let it show too much as he said, "What was that?"

 

He'd clearly failed, when Ducky sighed for a third time and once again sat forward. "What do you have against Sebastian, Jethro?" he asked, as he looked steadily into Jethro's eyes.

 

Jethro shrugged. "Nothing," he said. The steady pale gaze continued to appraise him; the look making it clear that Ducky knew he spoke less than the truth. "Oh, I don't know, Duck. It's . . ." He trailed off, when he realized he couldn't explain it.

 

Ducky put his head on one side. "Could it actually be that Leroy Jethro Gibbs is a little jealous?" His tone and the look in his eyes told Jethro he was gently teasing him.

 

"No! Why the hell should I be jealous?" Teasing or not, for an instant Jethro silently cursed Ducky for his ability to read him so well.

 

"Because someone else is monopolizing my time. Someone else is in Autopsy, someone whom you cannot send away if the mood suits you. And someone whom you feel has more in common with me than you do." Still Ducky's eyes twinkled with the mild game he was playing.

 

Jethro frowned. "Ever thought you're in the wrong type of medicine," he said dryly, after a minute or two. He was angry with himself, as well as feeling a bit foolish. There was some truth in what Ducky said; there was a part of him that was jealous. However, he wasn't about to admit that, not even to Ducky – if only because it would mean really admitting it to himself.

 

"You have no need to be, Jethro. None whatsoever. You do know that, do you not?" All hints of teasing had fled and Ducky's tone was now serious.

 

"Course I do, Duck." And he did. He really did. He moved forward a little and lightly kissed Ducky's nose, then his lips. "It's just he wants you."

 

"What?" Ducky's astonishment echoed around the room. "Come now, Jethro, really." He chuckled softly.

 

Jethro took his hand. "I'm serious, Duck. The guy wants you."

 

"Jethro my dear, dear, Jethro. I am twenty years old than him; I'm old enough to quite easily be his father. Of course he does not want – Oh." His lips parted a little and he swallowed; the look in the far-too-easy-to-read blue eyes changed.

 

"Oh, what, Duck?"

 

For a moment Ducky was quiet. Then he said, "I think I may have been somewhat foolish. I simply had no idea. I knew he was gay, he told me, not that I needed him to tell me. I suppose when one is of that inclination, one does tend to pick up on –"

 

"Duck."

 

"I'm sorry. If what you say is true, it does explain several things. But no, it couldn't be that; not at all. He was just -"

 

"Such as."

 

"He offered me a job."

 

"Come again?"

 

"As physician for his new residential home."

 

"You're a Medical Examiner."

 

"Yes, I am aware of that. However, I would be perfectly within my rights to practice general medicine."

 

"You turn him down?"

 

"Of course I did. I am not interested at all. And as I told him, my life is here, with you."

 

"Bet that went down well." Ducky glanced away from him, looking down at their joined hands, effectively taking away his eyes. "Duck."

 

Ducky shook his head. "Please, my dear. It really is of no importance."

 

For a moment, Jethro was prepared to push and push, until Ducky told him. But he'd heard the hint of distress in his lover's voice, so let it go. "Does that tie in with the 'perhaps'?" he asked instead.

 

Ducky nodded. "In a way. He suggested that his home might be a good place for Mother to go."

 

"Thought you said you'd never put her in a home."

 

"I did. And I won't. But . . . Jethro, to be honest I have been wondering for some time just how practical that is. There will come a time when –"

 

"We'll deal with it when it comes," Jethro said forcefully. "So he was suggesting your mom move into his home and you into his bed."

 

Ducky flushed. "I assure you the latter did not come into it. He merely offered me a job."

 

Jethro shrugged. "Same thing."

 

For a moment Ducky just looked at him, his look a mixture of tolerance, bemusement, mild reproval, deep affection, surprise and humor. "Ah, Jethro," he said, tightening the grip he had on Jethro's hand. He leaned nearer and placed a chaste kiss on Jethro's own mouth. "I am tired of talking about Sebastian, I think it is time we took our drinks into the bedroom. There are far more pleasurable things to do than talk about people who will soon be gone from our lives, and about my mother." And with that, after another slightly less chaste kiss, Ducky, using Jethro's knee to support himself, stood up and offered Jethro his hand.

 

Jethro took it and stood up. "Thought you'd never ask," he said lightly, putting his arm around Ducky's shoulders. Together they went into Ducky's bedroom.

 

THE NEXT DAY

 

Ducky hummed to himself as he made tea for his mother and himself, and coffee for Jethro. Overhead he could hear the sound of water running as his lover showered. He felt good; he felt very good; in fact given he'd spent a second night with less sleep than he normally got when he slept alone, often even when he slept with Jethro, he felt exceptionally good.

 

Jethro had been extremely attentive during their hours long lovemaking, more so than he usually was – which was saying something! Ducky wasn't certain his lover would like to hear it, but he always had been, as far as Ducky went, more than a little possessive. Not that Ducky objected to it, not at all. In fact one reason he wouldn't ever dream of mentioning it to his lover was that he secretly enjoyed Jethro's possessiveness.

 

As he waited for the tea to brew and listened to the noises coming from the coffee maker, Ducky pondered Jethro's assertion that Sebastian wanted him. Now, in the light of day, Ducky was sure that his lover's gut had misled him for once. After all why would a man of forty-two be interested in a man some twenty years his senior? It was silly, Sebastian no more fancied him than, Anthony did. No, it was merely Jethro making something out of nothing.

 

Pleased now that he'd rationalized it, Ducky poured tea for his mother - she tended to like it very weak these days. He then left the pot still brewing and took the cup into his mother's room.

 

 

"Good morning, Mr. Palmer. Good morning, Sebastian. And another fine morning it is too. I trust you are both well." Still happy with life in general, Ducky breezed into Autopsy.

 

"Oh, hello, Dr. Mallard. Has the weather changed? It was raining when I arrived." Jimmy looked puzzled.

 

"Good morning, Ducky. It was raining when I got here too. It's amazing how quickly the weather changes, isn't it?" Sebastian smiled at Ducky, and under the steady stare Ducky felt himself grow slightly warm.

 

He chose to ignore the look, just as, seconds later when he took his hat and coat off and discovered both were slightly damp, he ignored both men's replies. Instead he launched straight into work. "Well, now, and what is on the agenda for today? Mr. Palmer, did Abigail manage to finish the tests on Gunnery Sergeant Taylor?"

 

"Yes, doctor. I've got the results here. I'll just – oh, I am sorry, Dr. Lloyd-Hamilton. Here let me help you."

 

Ducky turned around to see his assistant, offering his hand to Sebastian who was getting up from the floor. "Mr. Palmer, what on earth have you done now? Are you all right, Sebastian? Are you hurt?" Ducky hurried over.

 

But Sebastian shook his head. "No, I'm fine, thanks, Ducky. And it wasn't Jimmy's fault; it was mine. I shouldn't have moved when I did. But no harm done, I had far worse falls during rugby matches."

 

"Oh, did you play rugby, Dr. Lloyd-Hamilton?"

 

"Yes, I played for the school a few times."

 

"He is being modest, Mr. Palmer. In fact he captained the first fifteen, both at junior and senior levels."

 

"You played cricket, didn't you, Dr. Mallard?"

 

"Once or twice, yes. However, I did not reach the same standards as Sebastian. Although I do remember one occasion when –" The sound of the Autopsy phone ringing interrupted him. He hurried across to it. "Autopsy?" He listened for a moment or two. "Certainly, Jethro. We'll be there as soon as possible; assuming of course Mr. Palmer does not get us lost again."

 

THE NEXT DAY

 

"Abby."

 

"McGee."

 

"Do you think it's possible . . . I mean even faintly possible . . . You know Gibbs, has he . . .  Not that he would, that's silly. But I just wondered if . . . I don't think DiNozzo'd like it if he did and I'm not even sure about Kate. And I know I'm still green, and I get things wrong, and . . . But I think Gibbs thinks I do an okay job. But maybe he doesn't. Maybe he . . . But then he wouldn't ask me to come over and help if he didn't . . . Except that's mostly for computing and technical stuff, which I enjoy, don't get me wrong. And it's great working here, better than Norfolk. But . . . I really want to . . . And I thought that maybe –"

 

"McGee!"

 

He blinked. "Huh?"

 

Abby leaned forward and put her hands on each side of his face, effectively holding him in place. "Sentences. Finish them." She spoke firmly, her tone patient.

 

He looked at her, he wished he could tell her how he really felt about her, but he knew he'd almost blown it a few weeks ago when he'd told her he really, really liked her. So for now, at least, he'd keep silent and just let things happen as they happened. Maybe one day she'd –

 

He suddenly realized she was waiting for an answer. "Do you think Gibbs will ever let me be a full time Field Agent?" He said the words quickly; suddenly aware he wasn't certain he did want her to answer. After Ducky, Abby was closest to Gibbs; she knew him better than anyone (other than Ducky) and she had worked with him longer than even DiNozzo had.

 

She put her head on one side, as she continued to hold his face between her hands. They were warm, the skin soft and smooth, the only roughness came from the various rings she wore. "I think –"

 

"Hey! The fact you've got the time to gaze into each other's eyes better be because the drives are nearly unencypted."

 

Jumping and almost falling off the stool he was perched on, McGee, to his horror, found himself saying, "That would be decrypted, boss." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Abby's eyes widen, and also saw her begin to smile.

 

"Oh, it would, would it, McGee?" Gibbs strode across to him and loomed over him.

 

McGee hastily stood up. "Yes, sir. Er, boss. Er, Gibbs. Technically it would be, but of course there's no reason why . . ." He trailed off under the steady stare that Gibbs directed at him. He couldn't understand why, given that he was an inch or two taller than Gibbs, Gibbs still appeared to be looming over him. He swallowed hard – he'd blown his chances now. And then, to his surprise, he saw, he thought he saw, just the faintest flicker of humor in the dark eyes that glared at him.

 

Then Gibbs turned away from him and spoke to Abby. "Well, Abbs? Have you and McGee here nearly done decrypting," he stressed the word, "those hard drives."

 

Abby nodded. "Yes. We should have the last few done by the end of the day." Either his hearing was also playing games with him, or McGee detected the slight sound of sorrow in Abby's tone. With a bit of luck, maybe they could stretch it out until quite late, and then he could suggest staying one more night rather than driving home at such a late hour.

 

Gibbs nodded. "About time too. In that case you've earned this." From behind his back he produced a Caf-Pow.

 

Abby beamed. "Oh, Gibbs, that's so sweet." She bounced as she took it from him.

 

"And you, McGee. Come with me." Gibbs turned and strode out of Abby's lab.

 

After casting Abby a hasty look, so he had misread the flash of humor, McGee swallowed hard and hastened to follow.

 

Gibbs was waiting in the elevator when McGee ran out of Abby's lab. For a split second he faltered, but then hurried inside. The doors closed, the car began to move upwards and then Gibbs pressed the emergency button bringing it to a halt. The car shuddered for a second or two, and the lighting became dim.

 

"Boss, I'm sorry. I didn't mean -"

 

"Shut up, McGee."

 

"Yes, boss."

 

Gibbs looked at him; he seemed to be really studying him. McGee forced himself to meet the stare and stay still. "Want you to do something for me, McGee," Gibbs finally said.

 

"Of course, boss. Anything."

 

For another fleeing second, McGee thought he saw a flash of humor in Gibbs's eyes. "It's not official," Gibbs added more quietly. "You're not even to tell Abby. That a problem?"

 

McGee blinked. "No, boss," he said firmly. "You can trust me," he added.

 

Gibbs nodded once. "Know that, McGee," he said, to McGee's surprise.

 

 

McGee left Gibbs to go wherever the boss was planning on going, and went back into Abby's lab. What Gibbs had asked him to do was easy enough. In fact he could use some of the programs he's used when they were trying to find out more about Ari, after all, he'd spent a lot of time with British schools and medical schools then.

 

He vaguely wondered why Gibbs wanted him to do it, but after a second dismissed the thought. It wasn't his business; it was nothing to do with him. He knew, from Gibbs saying it wasn't official, that it was something personal, but other than that he had no idea why Gibbs had asked him to do it.

 

Gibbs had told him very firmly not to start on it until all the drives were completely decrypted and he'd promised he wouldn't. That order suited McGee very well because it meant, even if they suddenly managed to decrypt the remaining drives more quickly than he'd anticipated that he would have a genuine reason to stay with Abby for another night. After all, Gibbs's task might be pretty easy, but even easy things were time consuming – it wasn't as if he only had to look up one thing. In fact from what Gibbs had told him and what he'd asked him to confirm, McGee was confident he wouldn't get it all done in one day, which meant . . .

 

"Well?" Abby demanded as soon as he went back in. "What did Gibbs want?"

 

He looked at her; her expression was a mixture of anticipation and a small amount of concern. It warmed him to know that she'd been even a bit worried that maybe Gibbs really had objected to him correcting him. 'You're not even to tell Abby.' Gibbs words came back to him.

 

He had assured Gibbs then it wouldn't be a problem, and he hadn't thought it would be. But now facing her . . . But he had promised. He took both of her hands and said quietly, "I'm sorry, Abby. Gibbs wants me to do something for him and he told me I can't tell anyone – not even you," he added.

 

He waited, forcing himself to maintain eye contact with her. Waiting for a reaction. Expecting her maybe to be upset or angry even. Instead to his surprise she smiled, her pussycat smile, and she leaned forward and lightly kissed him. Then she pulled her hands away and hugged him – tightly. "Yes!" she said, letting go of him and bouncing, in the way only she could do, back to her seat.

 

He stood and watched her, suddenly aware that he'd never understand her. "Abby," he said, walking across to her.

 

"Yes?"

 

"Er, why are you so happy? I thought you might be . . ." he trailed off.

 

She turned to look at him and her expression became her patient-I'm-explaining-to-an-idiot one. "Because, Timmy, it means that Gibbs really trusts you. Not only that he thinks you do more than just an 'okay' job. Now shall we get on with 'unencrypting'," she beamed, "these drives, or do you have to do your job for Gibbs now?"

 

He shook his head. "No. Gibbs said to finish the drives first."


Her eyes shone. "Good," she said. "Because it's going to take the rest of the day to finish the drives. You told him that, didn't you?"

 

He nodded. "Yep."

 

"And it'd be silly to drive back to Norfolk so late. So . . ."

 

"So?"

 

She giggled, twirled around on the stool, making her pigtails fly out and patted the stool next to her.

 

LATER THAT EVENING.

 

". . . And so I said to the Duke – Oh."

 

"Duck, you okay?" Jethro touched Ducky's arm. His lover's face had become still, his eyes silent and he'd paled slightly. "Duck."

 

"Oh, Jethro. I didn't tell him. I –"

 

"Ducky, Jethro. What a surprise to see you here. I had no idea. Oh, dear, you must think I'm stalking you."

 

Jethro glanced up into the eyes of Sebastian Lloyd-Hamilton. The bastard was good, he'd give him that, but more than a decade of being a Federal Agent had honed his skills to perfection. Beneath the outward charm and contrition lurked a hint of smugness and a ruthlessness he hadn't seen before on the man's face. He also read the easy lie in the otherwise closed brown gaze. And he read something else too: Lloyd-Hamilton knew he knew the truth. How he'd found out the name of the restaurant Jethro had booked a table at, Jethro didn't particularly care.

 

Jethro glanced swiftly at Ducky; he looked faintly distressed, but also clearly believed Lloyd-Hamilton. Well why wouldn't he? Ducky was a very trusting man, maybe too trusting on occasions, but Jethro wouldn't take that away from him for the world. As he looked at Ducky, Ducky looked at him; his pale gaze asked a question.

 

Mentally Jethro shrugged. "You'd better join us," he said.

 

"Oh, I couldn't do that. I wouldn't want to interrupt you. No, I'll be quite happy on my own; I've brought along a book to read. One of the ones you recommended earlier, Ducky, the one on Egypt's Greatest Pharaohs by Reeves and Wilkinson"

 

"Sit down," Jethro said. "I can have dinner with Duck any time. And you're leaving us soon."

 

"If you're really sure. Ducky?"

 

"Oh, yes, of course. Do join us Sebastian."

 

As Lloyd-Hamilton lowered himself into a chair, a waiter hurried over and began to add a third place setting to the two already laid out.

 

To begin with the atmosphere and the conversation was slightly stilted. Ducky kept glancing surreptitious at Jethro, his look still one of mild concern. But after a second round of whiskey for himself and dry sherry for Ducky and Lloyd-Hamilton, the atmosphere changed.

 

"You going to finish telling me what you said to the Duke, Duck?"

 

"Oh, yes. Of course. Well, there we were in the middle of the field, trying not to move or be noticed or give the bull any reason to charge at us, when suddenly . . ." And Ducky happily rambled on with his story.

 

"Did he ever charge at you, Ducky?" Lloyd-Hamilton asked when Ducky's rambles wound down.

 

"As a matter of fact he did. But fortunately by that time we happened to be beneath a tree and so rather inelegantly we hastened up it. We then spent the next two hours waiting for the bull to either go away, or for someone to rescue us. Fortunately the Duke's Estate Manager, wondering where we had got to, took one of the dogs and managed to track us down. As soon as the bull saw him and the dog, he trotted off like a lamb."

 

"Bit of luck that."

 

"Not really, my dear. The man had been instrumental in raising the bull from a calf and so he knew him well. He was really was, or so I was assured, a very placid bull."

 

"You mean the bull belonged to the Duke?"

 

"Oh, yes."

 

"Duck, what were you doing in the field with the bull anyway?"

 

"Ah, now that is another story. And one which I believe can wait, as we are about to begin our meal."

 

For a few minutes they ate and drank mostly in silence, the only comments being to pass the salt, accept the waiter's offer of wine, etc. Then Lloyd-Hamilton spoke. "Have you been back to the old school, Ducky?"

 

"Not for many years, I'm afraid, Sebastian. What about you?"

 

"A few times. The last time was to cheer on the rugby team. They were dreadful, not like my days. They won, but only because Harrow was even worse. I don't know, Ducky, it seems to my mind there's far too much insistence on safety these days. I know you have to be careful, but some things go too far. Take the gymnasium for instance . . ." And off he went.

 

And once he'd finished that topic, Lloyd-Hamilton moved onto another topic, and then a third and then a fourth relating to Eton. And from there he switched to Edinburgh Medical School, before moving onto the opera and paintings and Venice and other subjects that successfully excluded Jethro.

 

More than once Ducky tried to intervene, and succeeded in pulling the conversation round to the more general, to try to include Jethro. But each time he achieved it, after a few minutes Lloyd-Hamilton would again change the conversation back to things Jethro had no interest in.


He was being so blatant in what he was doing, Jethro was sure even Ducky must have realized it was deliberate. But he could also tell that Ducky was enjoying himself; he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his lover quite so animated.

 

Nonetheless, as he sat leaning back in his chair, one arm casually resting along the back of Ducky's chair – something he could tell Lloyd-Hamilton didn't like – sipping his drink, Jethro realized something: he didn't care; it didn't matter what Lloyd-Hamilton tried to do. He wasn't about to get Ducky, he could talk about Eton and Edinburgh and Venice and the best year for a particular champagne, and whether Mozart's Clarinet Concerto was superior to his Oboe Concerto, or which soprano gave the best performance of Tosca, and all the hundred and one other subjects he was discussing with Ducky. But he wasn't the one who'd be going home with Ducky; Jethro was.

 

From the way he was sitting he could see his lover's face, and more importantly his eyes. And while he saw more than a degree of pleasure and of fondness for the man he was talking to, and of animation and enjoyment, it was all distant. The look in his eyes told Jethro that Ducky was detached in a way he never was when he spoke to Jethro himself, not even when they were talking about the mundane stuff, the stuff that made up every day.

 

Sure Ducky enjoyed this kind of talk, but he didn't need it – well at least Jethro didn't think he did. After all, Jethro knew that if Ducky did want it, then he had plenty of friends and acquaintances he could talk to. Ducky had once told him some of his happiest hours were spent sitting in Jethro's basement just watching him 'make love to his boat' – Ducky's words, not his! Or relaxing on the couch with a glass of whiskey and a take-out and one another. Or better still . . . He swiftly pulled his mind way from the 'or better still'.

 

"Well," Ducky suddenly said. "This has been extremely pleasant, Sebastian. However, I am afraid Jethro and I really must say goodnight to you. There are a few outstanding issues pertaining to the latest case we need to discuss before tomorrow." He began to stand up; swiftly Jethro joined him.

 

"And you came out to dinner to discuss them? Oh, hell, Ducky, you should have said. I told you I was intruding. Look, let me pay for the meal; it's the least I can do." Lloyd-Hamilton stood up quickly and reached into his pocket.

 

However, Ducky forestalled him. "That's very kind of you, Sebastian, but tonight is to be my treat." Ducky spoke in a tone he didn't use very often, but when he did, everyone – including Jethro – obeyed. As he spoke, he caught the eye of a waiter; Ducky always seemed able to do that in half, if not less, the time it took Jethro, and within seconds he was handing the man his credit card.

 

It seemed even Sebastian read the tone, because after a half-hearted attempt at an argument he gave up. "Thanks, Ducky. That's really nice of you. Thank you." He too stood up.

 

Moments later the transaction was completed and Ducky was handing the man a bill – Jethro didn't catch the color of it, but he guessed what it was. He'd eaten out enough times with his lover to know that when Ducky was happy with the service and food, he tipped well.

 

"Well, I'd better leave you two to sort out the case. I'll see you both tomorrow. Jethro, Ducky." Even Ducky couldn't have failed to notice the two different tones Lloyd-Hamilton used.

 

"Night."

 

"Good night, Sebastian. I shall see you tomorrow." And with that, his hand on Jethro's arm, Ducky turned and walked towards the exit.

 

Once they were in the sedan and Jethro was certain Lloyd-Hamilton wasn't around, he turned to his lover. "Dr. Mallard," he said, "I'm shocked and surprised at you."

 

They'd parked under a streetlight, and it gave enough light for him to see Ducky's face and eyes. The latter twinkled with mirth and Ducky's lips turned upwards. "It is reassuring to know that even after all the years we have known one another that I am still able to surprise you." He put his hand on Jethro's knee.

 

"Never doubted it for a moment, Duck," Jethro answered quietly, putting his hand over Ducky's.

 

"Good. Now, shall we go home and 'discuss matters pertaining to our latest case'?"

 

Jethro laughed. "Yeah, why don't we do that? Sounds like the best thing I've heard all day." After squeezing Ducky's hand, he turned on the engine, spared a quick glance in the rearview mirror and pulled away. He didn't fail to notice that Ducky kept his hand on his knee for the entire journey.

 

TWO DAYS LATER

 

McGee, with his laptop in his hands, hurried up to the squad room to see Gibbs.

 

"Still here, McGee."

 

"Your powers of observation never cease to amaze me, Tony," Kate said, in her pseudo-sweet voice.

 

DiNozzo flashed her his pseudo-sweet grin.

 

Not for the first time McGee found himself wondering if becoming a full time field agent on Gibbs's team really was what he wanted to do. "Where's Gibbs?" he asked.

 

"The men's room," Kate said.

 

"Why do you want to know?" DiNozzo demanded.

 

McGee thought swiftly. "He's expecting me to give him a report. Full details of what we found when we decrypted the hard drives," he added, sure that would be enough for DiNozzo to lose interest.

 

"A report, eh? Well you can give it to me, McGee."

 

"Er, why?"

 

"Because in Gibbs's absence I'm the senior field agent."

 

"So?" It was Kate who asked the question.

 

"I'm able to deputize for him."

 

"That so, DiNozzo?"

 

"Oh, hey, boss. I was just saying . . . Um . . . McGee has a report for you. And I thought you might like me to . . ." DiNozzo trailed off under the hard, steady Gibbs glare. "No, you don't. Right. I'll just -"

 

"You do that, DiNozzo. McGee, with me." Gibbs strode off; McGee hurried to catch up with him.

 

Once again Gibbs led him into the elevator and after a second or two pushed the emergency stop button. "Well?" he demanded. "What have you got?"

 

"Not a lot, boss. Which isn't what you want to hear, I know, but . . . Boss, I –"

 

"Just tell me, McGee." Gibbs's tone was slightly less abrasive than it often was.

 

"Sorry, boss. Everything checks out. Sebastian Christopher Lloyd-Hamilton did begin his time at Eton in 1975. His House Master was a Dr. Wetherby. He was an excellent student, even by Eton's standards, and captained the rugby team. Six years later he went to Edinburgh to study medicine, where one of his tutors was Professor Cameron. He chose to specialize in geriatrics and has been very successful. And now he's decided to move to America and set up a high-class, ultra-expensive retirement come nursing home. He's what he says he is, boss."

 

Gibbs was looking over McGee's shoulder at the information McGee's prepared. "That it? Nothing else?"

 

McGee paused for a moment. "Well, there is one thing, maybe. But –"

 

"Go on."

 

"Three years ago he inherited a lot of money, a lot of money."

 

"Who from?"

 

"His dead lover. A Dr. Patrick Avalon. Er, Sebastian's gay, boss."

 

"Know that, McGee."

 

McGee looked at Gibbs. "And it doesn't bother you that Duc–" He came to an abrupt halt. "Er, anyway, Dr. Avalon was thirty years older than Sebastian and he had a history or heart problems. When he died it was put down to natural causes."

 

"Was there an autopsy?"

 

McGee nodded. "Yes, although there needn't have been. Apparently his doctor was quite happy that it was natural causes and expected, but," he paused.

 

"Go on, McGee." Gibbs's grim tone told McGee that he knew just what he was going to tell him.

 

"Sebastian insisted, boss."

 

"Did he now? How much?"

 

"Boss?"

 

"How much did Dr. Avalon leave him?"

 

"Twenty million."

 

"What?"

 

"Twenty million, pounds. Dr. Avalon was the last survivor of a very wealthy family. Of course he had to pay Inheritance Tax, but even with that, he inherited a lot." McGee trailed off. He looked at Gibbs whose stony face gave nothing away. "There's no proof at all that he had anything to do with Dr. Avalon's death -"

 

"Oh, he did." Gibbs's tone was grim.

 

"Boss?"

 

"Come on, McGee. You going to stand there and tell me you believe it? It's too much of a coincidence."

 

"But, boss, he was the one who insisted on an autopsy. Surely if he'd – Oh."

 

"Yeah, McGee."

 

"What are you going to do?"

 

"Make sure he gets the hell out of here and gets on with his blasted retirement home for the rich elderly."

 

"But, boss. Aren't you going to . . . ?" McGee trailed off under the icy-cold stare.

 

"Do what, McGee? Said it yourself, there's no proof. None at all."

 

"But what if he does it again?"

 

"That's the other thing I'm going to do: let him know that I know." Gibbs pushed the button again. "Thanks, McGee," he said, as the elevator started to move once more. "You did a good job."

 

"Thank you, boss," McGee replied, trying hard not to show just how pleased he was by the praise.

 

McGee left Gibbs and went back to Abby's lap to pack his laptop and other bits away. There was no reason for him to be here anymore; he had to head back to Norfolk.

 

"Hey, McGee." Abby beamed at him.

 

"Hey, Abby." He smiled back.

 

"Was Gibbs happy with what you'd done for him?"

 

"He told me I'd done a good job."

 

Her eyes widened. "He does like you," she said.

 

For a moment they stood and looked at one another.

 

Then with a sigh, McGee moved to pick up his laptop and pack it away. "Guess I'd better get going," he said.

 

"Yeah." He was quite pleased to hear she didn't sound very happy about it.

 

"I've enjoyed the last few days."

 

"Me too." She smiled. "And nights," she added, her smile getting wider.

 

He felt himself grow slightly warm as he looked at her. "Abby," he said. "I . . ."

 

"Yeah. Me too." She hurried across to him, put her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "Take care, McGee," she said softly, pulling back far enough to kiss him lightly on the lips.

 

"You too, Abby," he said, returning the gesture. He picked up his bag, grabbed his coat and pulled his car keys out. "Bye, for now."

 

"IM me when you get back."

 

"I will."

 

"As soon as you get back." She stared at him with her mock-Gibbs-glare.

 

He smiled. "I promise." And with that, he turned and left the lab, wondering how soon it would be before he'd get 'invited' back, to either NCIS or Abby's coffin.

 

 

Despite his desire to go straight to Autopsy and tell Lloyd-Hamilton what he knew and 'suggest' he left immediately, Gibbs didn't. For one thing, Palmer would be there and he knew Ducky would not appreciate him barging in and throwing accusations about. No, he'd wait until later in the day when Palmer had gone for the day.

 

So instead he went back to the squad room and put a successful end to Kate and DiNozzo's latest squabbling. Sometimes he really believed being a kindergarten teacher would be easier than listening to them all day.

 

He was about to go and get another coffee when his phone rang. "Gibbs? Who? Fine, put her on." He waited for a second. "Hello, Mrs. Mallard, ma'am, is anything the matter? . . . What now? . . . Well, if you're sure it can't wait . . . Yeah, okay. I'll be there as soon as I can . . . Yes, ma'am." He put the phone down, stood up, grabbed his Sig and coat and strode across the office, ignoring the looks Kate and DiNozzo cast his way.

 

On the drive to Ducky's Reston home, he tried to imagine what could be so important that Ducky's mom had called him in the middle of the day and demanded, because that's exactly what it had been, his presence immediately. He wondered if maybe she'd remembered what it was she was going to tell him a few nights ago, but dismissed that thought. Ducky had told him more than once that his mother rarely remembered what she did or said ten minutes after she'd done or said them, so four days was unlikely. He probably should have told Ducky and let him call her and calm her down, but his gut had nudged him. And so here he was on his way - almost certainly on a wasted journey – to Reston.

 

He pulled up outside Ducky's house and was surprised to see Mrs. Mallard standing in the open doorway, four Corgis at her feet.

 

"Oh, there you are, Jethro," she called, as he got out of the car. "What on earth kept you? I said it was urgent!"

 

Resisting the urge to tell her that he'd driven the entire journey some fifteen miles per hour over the designated speed limit, he simply flashed her his 'special' smile and hurried towards her.

 

"Well come in, come in." She put her hand on his sleeve and tugged hard. "You didn't tell Donald you were coming to see me, did you?" She continued into her room, her fingers kept their steel-like grip on his sleeve.

 

"No, Mrs. Mallard."

 

"Good. Now, Jethro, I have to talk to you. It's that man."

 

"Lloyd-Hamilton?"

 

"Yes."

 

"What about him, Mrs. Mallard?"

 

"He wants to take Donald away from you," she said, confirming something he'd often wondered about. However, maybe she was simply talking about the job Lloyd-Hamilton had offered Ducky.

 

"Mrs. Mallard?"

 

She glared up at him; she was good – she was very good. The glare rivaled his own. "Oh, Jethro, really. Please do not treat me as though I am an imbecile. It is true that far too much of the time I am not as aware of things as I once was. Nonetheless I am perfectly aware of why you come to see Donald so often and why he, in turn visits you. I am not a fool."

 

"Never thought you were, ma'am," Gibbs said soothingly. "Come and sit down." He gently but firmly escorted her to her chair. "Would you like me to make you a cup of tea?"

 

She shook her head. "No. Jethro, we both know that any minute I could forget why you are here. So please listen to me."

 

"Yes, ma'am."

 

"And do sit down. Don't hover over me like that. You really can be very intimidating, and I am not a suspect you are interrogating."

 

 Gibbs backed away and sat down. "I'm listening."

 

"He was here two nights ago. I assume Donald was with you?" Gibbs nodded, as she continued to speak. "I didn't want to let him in. I told him Donald wasn't here, I told him he was with a friend. But he insisted."

 

"Did he hurt you?" Feeling like the bastard he often said he was, for a half second Gibbs wanted her to say 'yes', because then he'd have the perfect excuse to – He shook his head, disgusted with himself for what he'd wished.

 

She shook her head. "No. But I couldn't find a reason to prevent him from coming in. He's a charming speaker, when he wishes to be. It's a different type of charm from yours; his is more calculated, colder, yet you don't recognize it is such until –" She abruptly stopped speaking and shook her head. "He went up to Donald's rooms; he was there for half an hour, maybe more. I don't know what he did, Jethro. All I heard was muffled footsteps, sound does not carry well in this house." She looked at him and smiled a little, her face softening for a moment, and her eyes, so like Ducky's held him captive, and like Ducky's said more than her words.

 

He swallowed. "Go on, Mrs. Mallard," he said gently.

 

"When he left I went upstairs. And I found this." From her handbag that rested on the table next to her, she pulled out an envelope and handed it, with slightly shaking hands, to Jethro.

 

For a moment he paused as his fingers brushed against hers. He took the thick cream envelope and glanced down at it. On the front in black ink was 'Ducky'; he turned it over. "Mrs. Mallard!" he exclaimed, before he could stop himself.

 

"What? Don't look at me like that, Jethro. I knew he was up to something. Donald is my son. It doesn't matter that he is old enough to have grandchildren of his own, not that I ever expected him to have children, indeed to marry, I always . . . " She broke off and frowned slightly, he watched her refocus her mind, he could see the effort it was costing her. "He is my son, Jethro. I love him. I didn't trust that man from the moment Donald brought him home. I had to know what was in the letter. Now read it."

 

For a second or two or three, Gibbs hesitated. He couldn't. He'd done far worse in his time, reading other people's personal letters and documents were part of his job, but this wasn't just some 'other person' this was Ducky; his Ducky; his lover. He couldn't. "Mrs. Mallard. I –"

 

"Oh, really, Jethro. Here," she snatched it from his hand, pulled out the two sheets and paper, unfolded them and thrust them at him again. "Read it."

 

After hesitating for another fraction of a second, Jethro lowered his gaze and did.

 

My dear Ducky,

 

I know you told me that your relationship with Jethro was your business and no one else's and I respect that.

 

However, I could not respect myself if I did not say something to you, to let you know how I feel about you, and to let you know what a fool you are being.

 

Ducky, Ducky, how can you put up with what he does to you? How long are you going to wait whilst he marries and divorces and marries and divorces and sleeps with women, seeing you as and when it suits him? I know you will say he loves you; well, that is not how you treat someone whom you love.

 

I wouldn't do that to you, I couldn't. Ducky let me love you, let me give you the kind of life, the kind of relationship you deserve. Take me up on my offer, bring your mother and move away from DC. She'll be happy in the home, I promise you; and you, and you, my dear Ducky can be with me. The offer of the job will always be there, but if you don't want to work then you don't have to. I do not envisage my involvement with the home taking up all of my time; thus together you and I could do the things I know you love to do. Do the things I am confident you do not do with him.

 

I will never cheat on you, Ducky. I will never marry or sleep with a woman, of that you can be certain. I couldn't, because, like you, unlike him, I am gay. And that is what you need a man like yourself, not just in sexual preference, but with the same background, the same likes, the same way of thinking. It might be a clichι, but 'the old school tie,' Ducky, is real, Eton taught us more than merely Latin and Greek and History. It taught us so much more; things that only a fellow old Etonian would understand.

 

Please don't say no immediately. Think about it; think about what I've said. Make yourself look at it dispassionately, Ducky. Make yourself see what I, and everyone else, can see. Except they can't see it, can they? Because they don't know the true nature of your relationship with Jethro, do they? He won't let you tell them; he won't let them know. Why not, Ducky? Have you ever asked yourself that? Asked him that? Is he ashamed? Ashamed of you? Ashamed of the fact that he sleeps with a man? Again, I wouldn't hide it; I wouldn't hide you. I would be proud to be your lover, not ashamed of it.

 

Life is too short, Ducky, as doctors we both know that. We need to live each day as if it were out last. We cannot afford to waste it on people who don't really care; we cannot afford to waste it waiting for something that will never happen. What happens if the next woman he marries is 'the' one? The one he'll stick with. What happens to you then? Will you get a 'thanks, Duck, it's been good'? Or will he just start ignoring you? Or will he 'suggest' to Director Morrow that it's time you retired?

 

Come with me, Ducky - you and your mother. Come with me. Stop putting in eight, ten, twelve or more hours a day; stop getting called out in the middle of the night; stop having to worry about what your mother might be doing whilst you are at work. It's easy; you can stop all that. Your mother will be well cared for, and you and I will be happy. Because I promise you, Ducky, I will make you happy. And you deserve that; you deserve that and so much more.

 

I love you, Ducky. I think I fell in love with you from the moment I met you. And I think, I hope, I believe, that you like me. And for me that would be enough to begin with. And you could love me, Ducky; I know you could. In time when the pain he's caused you over the years has begun to fade, when you can wake up each day and know that it will bring you nothing but joy and pleasure and fun. Not hours standing cutting into bodies in an artificially lit room, and nights of wondering where he is, and whether he will he see you that night. Then, Ducky, then I know you'll grow to love me. And we will have many happy years together – not enough years, we could never have enough for me. But what we have will be the best of your life – I promise you that.

 

I won't say anything else now, as I know you'll be confused when you read this. I know your instinct will be to say 'no' immediately, to dismiss everything I have said, to push it away and instead remember all the years you've had with him. And it's only right you do that; I wouldn't want anything less. Just promise me you will keep the letter and think about my words, my promises. You owe it to yourself to do that, Ducky.

 

With love and respect,

 

Sebastian

 

Gibbs closed his eyes briefly as he fought to get his temper under control. How dare he? How dare Lloyd-Hamilton try to take what was his? How dare he presume to know Ducky better than Gibbs himself did? And how dare he say so many things that had at least an iota of truth in them? "It's not true, Duck," he whispered. "I'm not ashamed."

 

"I know you're not, Jethro." The light touch on his hand and the soft voice jolted Gibbs. He'd momentarily forgotten Mrs. Mallard was in the room. Then she added, her tone firm, "But does Donald?"

 

He glared at her. Of course Ducky knew. Does he? He ignored the voice. He opened his mouth; and for one of the few times in his life he didn't know what to say.

 

"And," Mrs. Mallard went on, her tone becoming imperial, "he dares to suggest putting me in a home. A home, Jethro. Donald has promised he would never do that. Never. Although," she added, faltering slightly. "Maybe he should."

 

Gibbs moved from his chair and crouched down in front of her and took her hands. "No," he said firmly. "No, he shouldn't. He'll never do that. You know he won't."

 

She looked at him, and he saw a hint of tears in the pale eyes. He could also see her fighting, a battle he knew she'd lose shortly. He squeezed her hand. "Mrs. Mallard, I'm going to make you a nice cup of tea and then I have to go. I –" He turned around swiftly as the door opened, one hand automatically going to where his Sig sat.

 

"Oh, Jethro dear. You gave me such a shock. I didn't know you were going to be here. Is something wrong with Donald?"

 

Gibbs shook his head and hastened to reassure. "No, Mrs. Patterson," he said. "Donald's fine. I had to –"

 

"Jethro came to collect something important, Helen. Now, you run along, Jethro dear, and don't forget to take the document with you. Now that she's here, Helen can make the tea. Well," she added, two seconds later when neither Gibbs for Helen Patterson had moved. "What are you waiting for?"

 

Gibbs and Mrs. Patterson exchanged a look, before he bent to kiss Mrs. Mallard's cheek and squeeze her hand again, while he pushed the letter into his coat pocket. "I'll see you soon, Mrs. Mallard," he said. "Mrs. Patterson," he nodded as he went by her.

 

"Goodbye, Jethro. Do tell Donald that if he wishes me to, I can stay with Vanessa tonight. Charlie wants to invite a few friends around to 'study'."

 

Gibbs nodded. "Thanks, Mrs. Patterson, I'll tell him. Goodbye, Mrs. Mallard," he called.

 

"What? Oh, yes, goodbye, er, Jerem – Goodbye. Now, Helen, where is the tea?"

 

"I'm just about to make it, dear." And she followed Gibbs out into the hall. "Are you all right, Jethro?" she asked, as he was about to open the front door. "You look rather pale."

 

"I'm fine, Mrs. Patterson. Thanks. I'll tell Ducky. Bye." And with that, he pulled open the door, closed it behind him and jogged to his car.

 

On his way back to the office, Gibbs tried to decide how and when he was going to approach Lloyd-Hamilton. For Ducky's sake he fully intended to keep it as non-aggressive as possible, but one thing he was sure of was that Lloyd-Hamilton would not be returning to NCIS ever again – not if he valued his health.

 

He also had to decide whether or not to show Ducky the letter. It seemed only fair he did given that both himself and Ducky's mom had read it, but whether he did or not, that wasn't something for the office.

 

Once he'd got back to the office, he decided to go straight to Autopsy and get it over with; he could always send Palmer away on some errand or other. As the doors opened and he strode in, all good intentions fled, because there, sitting at Ducky's desk, by Ducky's side, his hand on Ducky's was Lloyd-Hamilton.

 

In three strides Gibbs had crossed from the door to the desk, grabbed Lloyd-Hamilton and yanked him to his feet and across the room. "Get your hands off him," he snarled. "He's mine."

 

Lloyd-Hamilton's eyes widened and the look on his face was far from pleasant. "Oh, is he?" he said sneeringly. "Have you asked him that?"

 

Ducky stood up. "He doesn't need to," he said, his tone deceptively mild. "Jethro, do let go of Sebastian's wrist."

 

After a second or two, Gibbs obeyed what was a very clear, albeit quiet, instruction. Lloyd-Hamilton took a step or two away from him and rubbed his wrist. "Well now," he said. "That was quite an interesting display of jealousy, was it not, Agent Gibbs?"

 

Gibbs opened his mouth to speak, but before he could Ducky spoke. "Jimmy," he called. "Please take those specimen jars up to Abigail."

 

For a moment Palmer stood and looked from Gibbs to Lloyd-Hamilton and back to Gibbs again. Then he turned, tripped over his feet, regained his balance, grabbed the jars and fled Autopsy.

 

"You'll have to hope that young man isn't a gossip, Agent Gibbs." Lloyd-Hamilton's tone did not help the rage Gibbs was beginning to feel. However, he forced his temper back under control and simply glared at the other man.

 

"Now," Ducky said, looking at Gibbs. "Will you kindly tell me what the hell is going on, Jethro?"

 

"Lloyd-Hamilton's leaving, today. Now in fact," Gibbs said flatly.

 

"Oh, I am, am I?"

 

"Yes."

 

"And why might that be?"

 

"Because I know about Dr. Patrick Avalon." Against his will he was forced to admit to an almost grudging respect as he looked at Lloyd-Hamilton. His expression hadn't changed, he still stared at Gibbs with a look of disliked and condemnation; the only hint that Gibbs had said something that might have troubled him was the barest flicker in the dark gaze, and a tiny twitch by the corner of his mouth. But both had gone in an instant; and good as he was, Gibbs couldn't have sworn under oath that he saw them.

 

Ducky frowned and turned his gaze from Gibbs to look at Lloyd-Hamilton. "Who is Dr. Patrick Avalon?" he asked.

 

"He was my lover, Ducky. Sadly he died three years ago. I still miss him."

 

Gibbs had had enough. "He didn't just die though, did he, Lloyd-Hamilton? You murdered him."

 

"Jethro!" Ducky's tone was one of shock. "What do you mean?"

 

"Yes, Agent Gibbs, what do you mean?" The corner of one Lloyd-Hamilton's lip turned up slightly.

 

Gibbs ignored him and spoke to Ducky instead. "Avalon was wealthy, Duck. Very wealthy. He left Lloyd-Hamilton twenty million pounds. It's what he's using to set up this home of his. And Avalon was thirty years older than him," he nodded towards Lloyd-Hamilton.

 

Lloyd-Hamilton was shaking his head. "I wouldn't have thought even you would stoop that low." He turned away from Gibbs and looked down at Ducky. When he spoke his tone was completely different. "Ducky, Patrick died. He had a serious heart condition and even my skills couldn't help him. Can you imagine how that made me feel? My specialty is the elderly, and I could do nothing. Even though I told myself that I wasn't a heart specialist, it still made me feel as though I'd failed Patrick. We'd often spoken about setting up the home together, and now, I'm finally able to do it."

 

Gibbs just shook his head as he listed to the man; listened to what he was sure were his lies. He glanced at Ducky; surely he wouldn't believe the bastard? Ducky was starting at Lloyd-Hamilton, his gaze contained sympathy. "I am so sorry to hear this, Sebastian. Were you together for many years?"

 

"Only seven. No where near enough."

 

"Oh, for God's sake. Cut it out, Lloyd-Hamilton. You killed him."

 

Ducky turned from Lloyd-Hamilton and looked at Gibbs. "Do you have any proof to support your allegation, Jethro?"

 

"No, of course he doesn't, Ducky, because there isn't any. Patrick died of natural causes; I even insisted on a post-mortem. I wouldn't have done that if I'd killed him, now would I? He's just going by that bloody gut of his I've heard so much about. He's jealous of me, he knows I can give you more than he can, and he's so desperate not to –" He broke off. "I'm sorry, Ducky, forgive me. I didn't mean to make trouble for you, I was just shaken by his lies."

 

But Gibbs knew Ducky; he knew him well. And Lloyd-Hamilton had over-played his hand. Ducky glanced back at Gibbs, then turned once more to face Lloyd-Hamilton. He took two steps towards him, getting close enough have to tip his head back to make eye contact.

 

When he spoke his tone was flat, his voice low, but tinged with the merest hint of steel Gibbs knew lurked beneath the surface of his mild-mannered lover. "Sebastian, Jethro Gibbs is many things, not all of them necessarily admirable, but one thing he is not is a liar. I have also had more occasions than most to trust in his gut. However, it is not infallible and nor is Jethro; despite popular opinion he is only human. So, please look me in the eye and tell me that you did not have any intention to kill Patrick Avalon."

 

Although he knew Ducky well, Gibbs found the choice of words more than a bit surprising. He did not however have any intention of letting that surprise be seen as he looked at Lloyd-Hamilton.

 

Lloyd-Hamilton was clearly startled by the way Ducky had chosen to phrase his question. Gibbs watched him swallow hard twice, before glancing away from Ducky to Gibbs himself where his gaze hovered for a moment, before he looked down.

 

"I see," Ducky said quietly, his tone heavy with sadness. He turned away from Lloyd-Hamilton and slowly made his way to where Gibbs stood. "Dr. Lloyd-Hamilton did not kill his lover," he said, his tone now flat.

 

"Duck." Gibbs put his hand on Ducky's shoulder and felt the tension beneath it, tension tinged with a very slight shaking.

 

Ducky briefly closed his eyes and sighed quietly, so quietly Gibbs only heard it because of how close they now were. "However, it had been his intention to so do. I'm afraid nature intervened before he had a chance. He isn't a murderer, Jethro, merely a man who had intended to be one. Is that not so, Sebastian?" he asked, turning back around.

 

Lloyd-Hamilton just stood where he was. "Ducky," he said, taking a step forward; Ducky moved back, he was now brushing against Gibbs. Lloyd-Hamilton stopped. "Ducky," he repeated. "You have to understand, Patrick was sick, he was suffering. He wanted me to open this special home; he told me so many times. And it'll do so much good, Ducky. It will take away the worry people have, the worry what will happen to their loved ones if they die first. What would happen to your mother, Ducky, if something happened to you?" The sudden change in the direction of the topic clearly startled Ducky.

 

However, before Ducky could say anything, Gibbs spoke." She'd be my responsibility," he replied calmly. He had to admit to being gratified by the look of surprise that raced over Lloyd-Hamilton's face. "Is what Ducky said true?" he demanded.

 

Lloyd-Hamilton looked at Ducky. "Ducky," he pleaded.

 

"Is what Ducky said true?"

 

"I didn't kill him."

 

"But you'd planned to." It wasn't a question.

 

Lloyd-Hamilton closed his eyes briefly. "I swear I wouldn't have hurt Ducky, Agent Gibbs," was all he said. Against his will, as he looked into the pain-filled brown eyes, Gibbs read the truth.

 

"You would never have had the chance to. Sebastian, I do not know what you hoped for, but I was never going to come with you. I was never going to put Mother into your home. I was never going to accept your offer of a job. Never, Sebastian, do you understand that? I liked you; I liked you very much. It was lovely to talk about the old school and compare our experiences, but that's all it was. My life is here, with my friends, Mother and Jethro. Now, I suggest you do as Jethro said and get out of here."

 

"Ducky. I –"

 

"Just go. Please." And with those words, Ducky turned his back on Lloyd-Hamilton, patted Gibbs's arm and limping badly, as he always did under times of stress, walked across Autopsy and sat back down at his desk.

 

Gibbs and Lloyd-Hamilton were left starting at one another. Neither spoke. There was nothing to say.

 

Lloyd-Hamilton glanced over his shoulder to where Ducky sat, his back saying so much more than actual words could. Before he turned back to Gibbs. "You don't deserve him," he said, shaking his head. "You really don't." He turned, picked up his jacket and moved towards the doors.

 

It was probably the first and only thing Lloyd-Hamilton had said that Gibbs completely agreed with. "Lloyd-Hamilton," he called, as he reached the doors. "Be careful with the next lover you choose; make sure he has a full health check first." He left the veiled threat hanging in the air.

 

Just for a second, he thought Lloyd-Hamilton was going to say something. But after standing motionless, apart from clenching his fists, for a moment, Lloyd-Hamilton simply walked forward and through the doors that obligingly opened for him.

 

LATER THAT NIGHT

 

As he worked on his boat, or rather went through the motions of doing so, Jethro kept glancing at Ducky who sat, an untouched glass of Jethro's good whiskey in his hand, in the reasonably comfortable chair Jethro kept in his basement for his lover. Despite being an upright, hard wooden chair, it did have arms and a padded seat and back, and so Ducky could at least sit in some comfort. It hadn't been Jethro's idea to work on his boat that evening, and after supper he'd headed for the sitting room, but Ducky had moved towards the basement, so he'd followed.

 

Ducky had been quiet, for Ducky, all evening, in fact all afternoon too. Jethro had found several reasons to pop down to Autopsy, and each time he did, when he'd walked in, unusually Ducky hadn't been regaling Palmer with some tale or other. Jethro guessed his lover's mind was on Lloyd-Hamilton and the revelation about his dead lover, but he didn't want to ask, he felt he'd done enough damage.

 

He saw Ducky shift slightly and then do so again; that was enough for him. Dropping his tools back on the workbench, he wasn't concentrating on his boat anyway, he walked across to where Ducky sat and held out his hand. "Come on, Duck. Let's go upstairs and sit in comfort."

 

Ducky glanced up at him and for a moment he almost seem surprised to see Jethro. "I'm sorry, my dear," he said, his voice flatter than it normally was. "I'm afraid I am not very good company this evening. Maybe I should have gone home."

 

"Do you want to?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No. But –"

 

"No buts. Come on. Upstairs."

 

They settled down side-by-side on Jethro's couch, a bottle of whiskey on the coffee table, along with their quarter filled glasses. The silence stretched between them for several moments, until finally Ducky broke it.

 

He sighed, picked up his glass, swallowed some of the amber liquid, then leaned back again his glass in his hand. "Ah, Jethro," he said quietly. "I have been a fool."

 

Jethro shook his head. "No, you haven't, Duck. You were just you. You took him at face value, believed what he told you, and it was virtually all true anyway."

 

Ducky turned and looked at him. "You had him checked out, did you not?" Although he made it a question, the look in his gentle gaze told Jethro it was purely rhetorical. He was relieved that he saw no censorship, no hint of anger in the blue eyes, nor in Ducky's countenance or tone.

 

He took Ducky's hand. "Yeah," he admitted. "Got McGee to do a check on him. That's how I found out about his dead lover."

 

Ducky linked his fingers with Jethro's, making the grip more intimate. "I knew you never liked him, I hadn't realized you didn't trust him."

 

Jethro swallowed and for a moment contemplated not saying anything. Then he decided to he honest and confess to something he never imagined having reason to confess to, let alone do it. "Wasn't just that, Duck. He was right, you were right, I was jealous."

 

"Jethro?" The astonishment in Ducky's tone and in his eyes almost made Jethro smile. It proved, not that he'd doubted it, that when Ducky had raised the matter, he'd done so merely to lightly tease Jethro.

 

"Didn't recognize it as that to start with. It was just a feeling; my gut troubled me. But then, yeah, I saw a man who came from the same background as you did, went to the same school, the same university, was pretty much your equal intellectually, liked opera and fancy wines and stuff, and I compared it to what I am. Guess I didn't really like what I saw."

 

Ducky shook his head, put his glass down and now held Jethro's hand between both of his. "Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you are the man I love. The man I have loved for almost three decades; the man –"

 

"Who doesn't know one Mozart piece of music from another, who doesn't care what he eats and drinks, has no real interest in art or museums, and who got his high school diploma. As I said, it doesn't compare very favorably."

 

Again Ducky shook his head. "Oh, my dear, dear, dear Jethro, do you think those things matter to me?"

 

Jethro shrugged in a non-committal manner. He'd thought not, when they'd all been in the restaurant, but most of that, he now realized, had been wishful thinking. Because he couldn't forget how, somewhat detached or not, happy Ducky had been to have someone to talk to about those things.

 

"Jethro, we have been lovers for almost thirty years. Do you not think that if it mattered to me that my lover could identify what concerto we were listening to, or the year of the wine we were drinking, or could tell me facts about Ancient Egypt and quote in Latin, that we'd still be lovers?"

 

"Guess not." But Jethro was still a little skeptical.

 

"I confess it was very enjoyable to have someone like Sebastian around, to share memories about Eton and Edinburgh, to talk about our interests in art and music and cricket and all the other things about which we talked. But it was enjoyable in the way I enjoy an evening with one of my fellow medical men, or such like. I do not need it, Jethro. It is not of great importance to me. Unlike you."

 

"You mean that?"

 

Ducky smiled. "Of course I do." He leaned forward, closing the small distance between them and kissed Jethro's lips. "You are what is important, Jethro," he said, when the kiss ended. "You, Mother, Abigail, Caitlin, Anthony, Jimmy, Timothy, Helen and Charles, and the other people who matter. But most of all you and what we have together. Everything else is merely window dressing. Everything else is something I do not need; it's a nice addition, a pleasant one, one to be enjoyed, savored even, but it's all surface matters. No," he said, shaking his head and leaning back, "I behaved foolishly. I should have realized that you do not just take a dislike to someone for the sake of it. I should have trusted in your gut – as I told Sebastian, I have certainly had occasion enough to do so over the years. And I should have listened to you when you insisted he 'wanted' me, rather than just dismiss it, as I did."

 

Jethro maneuvered a little and managed to slip his arm around Ducky's shoulders. "I can't blame him for his taste, Duck. Could you really not see what he was trying to do?"

 

Ducky, whose head now rested against Jethro's shoulder, shook his head, his thick silky hair brushed Jethro's chin. "No, my dear. I could not. It has been some years since anyone has shown any interest in me beyond that of friendship, and given that I was twenty years older than him, and not exactly in the prime of my life, I . . . " He trailed off.

 

"Ah, Ducky, Ducky, Ducky, what am I going to do with you?"

 

"Well, my dear, if you are looking for suggestions, you could take me to bed and make love to me." Ducky's voice was low and slightly husky and he moved slightly, pressing himself more against Jethro. It seemed that whatever thinking or whatever else he'd done Ducky had needed to do about Lloyd-Hamilton had been done.

 

Jethro was about to happily take Ducky up on his suggestion, when he remembered. Damn! But Ducky had a right to see it. "There's something you need to see first, Duck," he said, lightly kissing the top of Ducky's head. "Be right back."

 

He stood up, strode from the room into the hall and dug into his overcoat pocket and pulled out the letter. For a second he stood there, just looking at it, remembering some of the words Lloyd-Hamilton had written, words that had a modicum of truth in them. He also remembered Mrs. Mallard's gentle but firm 'but does Donald?'

 

He turned on his heel and returned to his sitting room where Ducky still sat, looking quizzically at him. "Jethro?"

 

Jethro held out the envelope. "You ought to read this," he said.

 

Ducky frowned and automatically took it. He glanced down at it, read his name, saw it had been opened and looked back up at Jethro. "Jethro?" This time his tone was a little harder.

 

"Wasn't me who opened it, Duck; it was your mom."

 

"Mother opened a letter addressed to me?" Ducky's astonishment was clear.

 

Jethro sat back down and nodded. "Yeah."

 

"But why on earth would she do that? And why have you got it?"

 

"Just read it, Duck."

 

"Jethro. Kindly answer my questions."

 

Jethro sighed. "Lloyd-Hamilton went to see her a couple of nights ago. He insisted she let him in; told her you'd want her to, or some crap like that. Then he went up to your rooms, bet I can guess what he was doing there," he spoke harshly. He knew where Ducky kept his papers, and had a very strong suspicion that Lloyd-Hamilton had read them, thus finding out just how much Ducky was worth. "When he'd gone your mom went upstairs and she found this. You told me yourself she didn't like him."

 

Ducky was still holding the envelope. "She didn't, no. Thus, I ignored the two most important people in my life. But you know Mother, she does have these odd fancies at times; she does take against the most unlikely people. And yet . . ."

 

Jethro put his hand on Ducky's wrist. "And yet?"

 

"And yet with hindsight, that wonderful tool, I can see it was more than just one of her 'ways'. She saw something, my dear; the same something that you saw. The thing I failed to see."

 

"She didn't trust him either, Duck. She told me that. That's why she went up to your rooms after he'd gone. I reckon she knew what he'd been up to too."

 

"When did you see Mother?"

 

"She called me earlier today, asked me to go and see her. Told me she had something important, something I needed to know. She was going to tell me the other night, but as she was about to, she . . ." Now Jethro trailed off, not sure how to best phrase it.

 

"Slipped out of our reality into the one she frequents most of the time?" Ducky sounded sad, but also matter-of-fact.

 

Jethro squeezed Ducky's should with his other hand. "Yeah, Duck," he said.

 

Ducky sighed. "Poor Mother," he said.

 

"Reckon it's harder on you, Duck, than her," Jethro said softly.

 

Ducky nodded, but didn't speak. Then he looked at Jethro. "Did you mean what you said earlier, Jethro? When you told Sebastian that if I . . . That if anything happened to me before Mother, she would become your responsibility?"

 

Jethro now cupped Ducky's cheek with his hand as he continued to hold Ducky's hand. "Yes, Duck," he said firmly. "Yes, I did. I always have."

 

"Thank you," Ducky said simply. But with his eyes he said so much more.

 

After a moment or two, Jethro squeezed Ducky's hand again, then stood up. "You read the letter, Duck. Back in a minute."

 

"Where are you going?"

 

"The head."

 

"Oh." Ducky looked at him, the look faintly quizzical again. Then he glanced away and finally began to pull the letter from the envelope.

 

Jethro turned around and strode from the room. He didn't need to relieve himself, but he couldn't sit there while Ducky read the letter. He just couldn't.

 

To give himself something to do, as well as confirm his words, he did go to the bathroom. He peed, washed his hands, washed them again, fiddled with the shower door and generally wasted a few minutes until he judged Ducky had had time to read the letter. He then went back downstairs.

 

He entered the sitting room and found Ducky sitting where he'd left him. However, Ducky didn't look as he'd looked when he'd left him. He was sitting very still, very stiff, very upright; his face was hard and his eyes cold, on the coffee table lay the discarded, the very crumpled discarded letter.

 

"How dare he," Ducky growled, as Jethro entered the room.

 

"Duck?" He moved nearer to his lover.

 

"How dare the bastard presume to know me? You? Anything about our relationship? And what is best for Mother? What she would like? How dare he?" Ducky stood up. He looked so enraged that, against his will, Jethro took half a step backwards.

 

"Um," Jethro found himself saying. He'd almost never seen his lover so angry. In fact that last time he could recall him almost seething and being considerably less than his usual charming self, had been when he'd given the 'imbecile who'd messed up his crime scene' hell when they'd worked the dead naval commander, wrongly accused of drug dealing, case. And the time before that had been when he'd shoved the French cop off the cliff in Paris. Ducky always did regard them as 'his' crime scenes, rather than Jethro's, despite Jethro being the special agent in charge. He shook his head, aware that he'd just been staring at his lover, recalling old times.

 

Now Ducky frowned and he took two steps towards Jethro, looking up at him, his gaze intense. "I never told him anything about us, Jethro. About you and your marriages and women. Nothing. He told me 'people talk'. You do believe me do you not, Jethro?"

 

Jethro put his hands on Ducky's shoulders and squeezed. "Course I do, Duck."

 

"Good. He is so completely wrong about everything. I never could have loved him and he never could have made me happy. How could he? I already love someone and I already am happy."

 

It was the opportunity Jethro needed. "Are you, Duck?" he asked softly.

 

Ducky blinked and his frown deepened. "Of course I am, Jethro. How can you possibly ask that?"

 

"Even with me cheating on you? Even with me," Jethro swallowed hard, "not letting you tell anyone about us?"

 

Ducky shook his head; his face had a look of bewilderment on it. Slowly he raised his hands, putting them inside of Jethro's that still rested on his shoulders and took Jethro's face between them. "Ah, Jethro," he said, his tone suddenly soft and warm. "My dear, dear, dear, beloved Jethro. Maybe I am just getting too old to recall things, but I do not ever remember you forbidding me to tell anyone about us."

 

"But you never have done? Outside of Lloyd-Hamilton."

 

"He guessed. I did not tell him."

 

"Know that. Well? Have you?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "Why would I? What business is it of anyone other than ourselves? I am not Anthony, dearest, I do not have the need or desire to talk about my love life, or in Anthony's case my sex life, to anyone and everyone."

 

"Your mom knows."

 

"Does she? I was not entirely certain. I suspected she might, but . . . Does that bother you?"

 

Jethro shook his head. "No. No. No, it doesn't, Duck. You need to know that. You need to know I'm not ashamed of you. I'm not ashamed of our relationship. You need to know that, Duck. You do. You –"

 

"Jethro, could you please loosen your grip slightly, you're hurting me." Ducky's face had paled and his voice was edged with pain.

 

"Shit. Sorry, Duck." Hastily Jethro took his whitened fingers away from Ducky's shoulders, before putting his hands back and massaging gently. "Sorry, have I really hurt you?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No. I have experienced far worse pain than that."

 

"Bet I've bruised you."

 

Ducky shrugged. "I have pale skin, I bruise easily," he spoke dismissively. Then he took his hands from Jethro's face and instead took his hands from his shoulders and held them. "Now you listen to me, Leroy Jethro Gibbs. I have never for a moment, not one second thought that you were ashamed. Never, do you hear me?"

 

"But –"

 

"When we first began our relationship it was prudent, nay essential, for the sake of your career that we keep it a secret. And during your marriages, well . . ." Ducky shrugged slightly.

 

"Not in the Marines now, Duck. Nor am I married."

 

"No. I am fully aware of both of those facts, Jethro." Ducky's lips twitched in mild amusement.

 

"So it doesn't bother you that people don't know?"

 

Ducky put his head to one side. "Jethro, to my mind when one is involved in a relationship, the only people who need to know about it are those who are involved. Besides . . ." He trailed off and glanced away.

 

"Besides what?" He waited but Ducky didn't speak. "Duck?"

 

After a moment or two Ducky looked back at him. "Well, strictly speaking, as he was present when you told Lloyd-Hamilton that I was 'yours', it is safe to say that Mr. Palmer is now aware that we are involved. And I have also wondered, on the odd occasion, whether at least one of the other children might aware that our relationship goes above that of just good and old friends."

 

"You have?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. Oh, no one has said anything, but I sometimes think Abigail might have worked it out. And given her new-found close relationship with Timothy . . ."

 

Jethro recalled the conversation he'd had with the young man in the elevator. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Reckon you're right there. What about Kate and DiNozzo?"

 

"Anthony would not be aware of it even if you kissed me in front of him. As for Caitlin . . . I cannot be sure, I think not. I think she, despite what she herself thinks, is still far too intent on proving herself to you, to really be aware of any relationship outside the one she has with Anthony and yourself."

 

Jethro thought he'd just about followed his lover's somewhat convoluted answer. "I do love you, Duck," he said, turning the grip Ducky had on his hands around and holding Ducky's hands instead.

 

"Yes, dearest, I know. And I love you too, which I assume you know?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Course I do."

 

"Well then, that is all that matters. Unless," Ducky's lips twitched again and his eyes twinkled with mirth. "Unless," he repeated, "you intend to stand up on your desk and make an announcement to the entire squad room?"

 

"If you wanted me too, Duck, I would." And he would. He really would.

 

"Yes, I know. I have always known. Now, give me your lighter and fetch me the rubbish bin, please."

 

"What?"

 

"Your lighter. There is only one thing left to do before you take me to bed and make love to me. And that is to burn this," he nodded contemptuously at the crumpled paper on the coffee table.

 

Jethro let go of Ducky's hands, crossed the room to grab the trashcan, returned to Ducky, bent down to scoop the letter up and pulled out his Zippo. He was about to ask Ducky if he wanted him to do it, when he realized the full significance of the burning. He handed the letter and lighter over to Ducky and held the trashcan. Then he just stood and watched as the heavy cream paper turned to ash and dropped into the trashcan before his eyes.

 

When the final piece withered and fell, Ducky brushed his hands together, handed Jethro back his lighter and smiled. "And now," he said. "Kiss me."

 

Pausing long enough to put the trashcan onto the floor, Jethro gathered Ducky into his arms, held him tightly and did that very thing. He kissed Ducky's lips, his nose, his cheeks, his chin, his eyelids, before moving his mouth to Ducky's ear. He nuzzled beneath the thick strands of hair until his lips found Ducky's smooth skin and then he kissed his ear several times. "Love you, Duck," he murmured, finally taking his mouth away.

 

Ducky pulled back from the embrace. "Good," he said, his eyes shining, his mouth red from being kissed. "Now, let us go to bed and you can show me just how much."

 

Jethro wrapped his arm around Ducky's shoulders, felt Ducky's own arm go around his back and together they left the sitting room. They paused long enough for Ducky to check that he had locked the front door upon their arrival, before slowly making their way, still in one another's arms up the stairs, along the landing and into Jethro's bedroom. They had the rest of the evening and night ahead of them. And tomorrow was Sunday, and neither of them needed to go into the office.

 

 

Feedback is always appreciated
 

Go to NCIS Gibbs/Ducky Fiction Page

 

Go to NCIS Index Page


Go to Home Page