TO THOSE WHO WAIT

 

By

 

Ashleigh Anpilova

 

Leroy Jethro Gibbs, a recently divorced, highly successful, hard-working lawyer, advertises for a tutor for his eight year-old daughter Kelly. The successful applicant is Dr. Donald 'Ducky' Mallard. The two men quickly become close friends. However, what Jethro could not possibly have realized was that Ducky will turn his life upside down and change it in ways he could not possibly have imagined.

A first time story.

Shannon Gibbs/Jenny Shepard also appear as a pairing in this story.

Written: November 2008. Word count: 125,609.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE: JANUARY 1992

 

Jethro Gibbs ran his hand over his head and sighed as he looked at the large pile of rťsumťs that littered his desk. What a great way to start the New Year! It wouldn't be quite so bad if this was the original pile of applications. However, he had already sifted through them and got rid of the time wasters, the people who clearly hadn't read the advert, those who tripped his gut, and various others. Also, he'd already spent an unsuccessful and frustrating week interviewing people; these were the next lot.

 

It was partly, make that wholly, his own fault. The advert he'd placed had, with hindsight, been guaranteed to appeal to a large number of people, due to the, what was for the position, extremely generous salary; in addition the position offered several other sought-after benefits. But he had to find the right person and if it took him another month, he'd find them. He had to. It wasn't as though he could take on the task of home schooling his darling daughter permanently - not with his job keeping him so busy. As it was he was having to do what he never did: work late into the evening every night, just to keep on top of everything.

 

Today he'd had another four candidates to interview; he had hoped that maybe one of those would be 'right' person, but the first three had all been unsuitable. He picked up the details of the final person, who was due in twenty minutes, and re-read the rťsumť. On paper the man fulfilled and exceeded all of Jethro's 'wants'. He not only had the required Master's degree, but also a Doctorate, as well as being a Doctor of Medicine. That surprised Jethro somewhat. He wondered why the man had completed his training and then had decided not to go into medicine. Oh, well, it was something he could ask him. His background was first class: even Americans had heard of Eton; he was single; his references impeccable. Okay, he was a bit older than Jethro's ideal being fifty, but Jethro had learned along ago that chronological age meant nothing.

 

Yes, on paper, Dr. Donald Mallard seemed ideal, and his infamous gut was giving him good vibes. He glanced at his watch; he had time for a mug of coffee before the interview started - he just hoped it wasn't over as quickly as his last eleven had been. Maybe he'd been wrong, after the first fifteen interviews, to decide to start the interview with the question he did, but it certainly got through the list!

 

 

"Come in, Dr. Mallard. Thank you, Grace." He smiled at his personal assistant who had kindly offered to come to his home on the days he was interviewing and help him. She nodded and smiled back, before going out and closing the door behind her.

 

He held out his hand and the other man took it. "Good morning, I'm Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Please sit down." The handshake was firm, the hand cool and uncalloused. Dr. Mallard was some six inches shorter than Jethro himself and had he not known his age, he would have guessed it at some six or seven years fewer. Jethro tended to go on first impression and as a lawyer he had learned over the years the art of reading people easily and quickly. And he was rarely proven wrong. He was still getting good and strong vibes from the other man and for a moment he dared to think that maybe -

 

"Thank you, Mr. Gibbs. It is a pleasure to meet you." Dr. Mallard sat down. His voice confirmed his schooling; it was very British and very cultured. It was also a pleasure to listen to, and that Jethro knew was another important thing.

 

"Thank you for coming, especially so far. I must confess I was somewhat surprised to get an application from the United Kingdom." And he had been, very. For a moment he nearly broke his rule and rather than ask 'the' question, delve further into what had brought the other man here.

 

"I was planning a holiday to the States anyway, so this came up at the right moment." Another thing in Dr. Mallard's favor was that he didn't look on edge or worried. He sat back in the chair, upright, but not rigid.

 

"Good. Dr. Mallard, there is a simple question I need to ask you straight away," Jethro paused for a second and swallowed. "What is your view of homosexuality?"

 

He watched as the steady blue gaze, only partly hidden by clear spectacle lenses, appraised him. Unlike the other candidates to whom Jethro had asked the question, Dr. Mallard did not rush to answer it. Instead he continued to study Jethro, his head slightly on one side, his gaze unblinking.

 

Finally, just as Jethro was beginning to wonder if he was going to get an answer, Dr. Mallard spoke. "I am going to assume that firstly you have a good reason for asking the question and secondly that you want an honest answer." He paused for a moment, then with a half shrug, leaned back further into the chair and spoke again. "My opinion of homosexuality, Mr. Gibbs, is exactly the same as my opinion of heterosexuality. Assuming that firstly both, or I suppose these days one should be a little more open and accept that in some cases it may be more than two parties involved, however, for ease of answering your question, let us assume we are only talking about a couple. As I was saying, assuming that firstly both parties are in agreement, i.e. they both want the relationship and secondly that both are over the age of consent in the country in which they live, although I understand that in your own country that varies from state to state, but I digress again, do please forgive me. Thus if both of these conditions are met, then to me whether a relationship is between two men, a man and a woman or two women makes no difference whatsoever. Now, I thank you for your time, Mr. Gibbs, and I wish you well in your search for a tutor." And with that Dr. Mallard stood up and turned towards the door.

 

Momentarily stunned by the answer as well as the movement, it took Jethro a second or two before he called, "Dr. Mallard." He rose.

 

The other man stopped. "Yes?"

 

"Where are you going? Do you make a habit of walking out of interviews before they're finished?"

 

Dr. Mallard looked at him, a slight frown creasing the skin between his eyes. "I . . . Oh, please forgive me, Mr. Gibbs. I assumed that . . ."

 

"Yes?"

 

"I assumed that my answer was not the one you wished to hear."

 

Jethro studied him for a moment. He wasn't lying. "Come and sit back down," he said. After a moment or two Dr. Mallard obeyed. "Now," he said, once the other man was seated, "just to clarify what you said: homosexuality, as long as your two conditions are met, doesn't bother you. That is what you said, isn't it?"

 

A very faint smile touched Dr. Mallard's lips and a hint of a flush touched his cheeks. "Yes, Mr. Gibbs, it is indeed what I said, albeit you said it much more concisely than I did."


Jethro looked at him. "Going by the fact you were about to walk out, I also assume that you did indeed speak the truth?"

 

Dr. Mallard nodded. "Yes, I did."

 

"Good. Right the job's yours if you want it." He had to call on all his years as a lawyer to stop himself from smiling at the look of incredulity that crossed the other man's face. He watched and waited, and as he did he suddenly got the distinct impression that the now silent doctor was not the usual doctor.

 

Finally Dr. Mallard spoke. "You are offering me the position as tutor to your daughter based purely on my answer to one question?"

 

"Yep."

 

"But . . . Mr. Gibbs, surely you want to ask me far more questions than that? You have asked nothing about my background, my education, my -"

 

"Got all that from your rťsumť," Jethro said, cutting in quickly. "Look, Dr. Mallard, or may I call you 'Donald'? Dr. Mallard is awfully formal, which I know you Brits are, but," he smiled.

 

"Please do. Although to be honest with the exception of my mother everyone calls me 'Ducky'."

 

"Ducky?"

 

"Mmm. It was a name I was, shall we say 'gifted' with at Eton. When I was first called it, I hated it, indeed I refused to answer to it. But as time went on and I realized that the name was not going to go away, I accepted it, albeit to begin with the acceptance was somewhat grudgingly, but then over the months and years I grew to quite like it."

 

Jethro frowned. "But why . . . ? Oh, of course: 'Donald Mallard'. I get it."

 

"Yes. Sadly, virtually everyone associates the name 'Mallard' with the waterfowl. Far too few people are aware of the English A4 steam locomotive with that name. The Mallard ran from London to Edinburgh for decades, and in 1938 it obtained a speed of 202 kilometers an hour. To this day I do not know what possessed my parents to give me the name 'Donald'. But from Mother's reaction on the few occasions I have broached the subject, I think in all honesty they were not aware of the cartoon character 'Donald Duck'. But again, Mr. Gibbs, I digress."

 

Jethro shook his head. "Not to worry, Ducky. If I did need any proof that you can teach, you've just given it to me." He smiled at the look of pleasure that passed Ducky's face. "Your references said so, but paper can only tell you so much."

 

"Indeed that is true."

 

"Anyway, as I was saying, Ducky. I got a hell of a lot of applications for the position."

 

"If you'll forgive me for saying, Mr. Gibbs, I am not completely surprised. The salary and other benefits you are offering are considerable."

 

Jethro shrugged. "I can afford it. And I don't care what I pay to get the right person for Kelly, that's my daughter. Can I ask you ask you a personal question, Ducky?"

 

"You are the one interviewing me."

 

"Yeah, I am. Do I assume your motivation for applying for the job had little to do with the package I'm offering?"

 

"It would be foolish of me to say otherwise, would it not? As you say you have my rťsumť, as you Americans call it. You know where I was educated and a man of your ilk would have done, I have no doubt, some kind of background check on anyone to whom you were going to offer an interview. No, my reasons for applying had nothing at all to do with money. Do you wish to know why I applied?"

 

"Maybe later. For now let me tell you why I offered you the job after only one question. As I said I got a lot of applications and while yours is one of, if not the, best in terms of fulfilling my requirements and then some, I'm sure you won't be surprised to know that there were plenty of 'Doctors' and 'Professors', including more than one with experience of home schooling."

 

"I certainly am not. But thank you, Mr. Gibbs."

 

"Jethro."

 

"I am sorry."

 

"You might as well call me 'Jethro'. Assuming you accept the offer, we're going to spend a fair bit of time together and I've never stood on ceremony."

 

Ducky looked at him for a moment. "I think until I have accepted your offer, I would feel happier calling you 'Mr. Gibbs'. As you said, we Britains are very formal, and Eton makes you even more so."

 

Jethro shrugged. "If it makes you more comfortable, that's fine. As I said I had a good choice of applicants, even after I'd gotten rid of those who weren't suitable, I still had well over forty who on paper were ideal. After a week of interviewing I got to the stage where I needed to cut the process down. So I took to asking the question I asked you. You're the first person to give me that answer. The rest of them, no matter what they might really have thought, gave me the answer they thought I wanted to hear."

 

"That it is was wrong, disgusting, depraved, sick, against nature, against God."

 

"Yeah, and a lot worse than that. So they got shown the door straight off. You see, Ducky, my wife left me for another woman."

 

"Oh."

 

"Yeah. And I admit when she first told me I . . . Well, you can probably guess, can't you?"

 

"I imagine I can."

 

"I've never had a problem with gay people. I have gay friends. My best friend at school was gay, and my legal assistant is, but -" Jethro stopped; suddenly he wasn't sure how to phrase the next sentence.

 

"It is somewhat different when it is your wife who is not only involved with another woman, but who is leaving you for one?"

 

"Yeah. And yes, part of it was to do with my masculine pride. So I behaved like a jerk at first; I told her she'd never see Kelly again - and I'm a good lawyer, Ducky, a damn good one. I could have done it, and she knew it. But then after a few days I calmed down and stopped thinking of myself and my hurt pride and thought of Kelly. She was only six; did I really want to deprive her of her mommy? So I told Shannon, that's my ex-wife's name, I wanted to meet her lover. I did and I liked her. Damn it, there was the woman who was taking, who had taken, my wife away from me, and I liked her. We talked and I could see how much Shannon was hurting and how much Jenny cared for her, loved her, and . . . What could I do?"

 

"I know what a lot of men would have done." Ducky spoke quietly.

 

"Yeah, well. Maybe I'm not like most men. We came to an agreement. Kelly would live with me, but she'd visit her mom and aunt Jenn several times a year. And so far it's worked really well. It's been a year since we divorced and two years since Shannon left me, and Kelly is the same well adjusted girl she always was. It was a bit tough at first, but I don't need to go into that now. I'm sure you can imagine."

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, I can. Very easily."

 

"Kell had always been home schooled, mainly by Shannon, and for a while I tried to juggle teaching her myself and my job, but that wasn't working. So I employed someone. She was here for just over a year, but in the end it just didn't work out. To be honest, I feel a bit bad about it, as I'd got a feeling for a few months that Kell wasn't happy. But I was even busier than normal at work, and so I . . . Well, that's all in past now. Anyway, once she'd done we went back to me, or mainly books, while I tried to find the perfect person. And I have."

 

The steady blue stare continued to watch him. "I can see now why you asked the question and why my answer pleased you."

 

"Yeah. Kelly will suffer enough from society making her feel that it's wrong for her mommy to live with another woman. I sure as hell wasn't going to employ a tutor who wasn't at the very least tolerant of it, and ideally one who has no problems with it at all. So do you want the job?"

 

"Well, I -"

 

"Hang on, I better tell you the terms of employment first. You'll get an idea of just why I'm offering the package I am."

 

Ducky leaned back again in his chair. "Very well."

 

Something suddenly came to Jethro. "Although, before I waste my time or yours, I'm going to ask you if you are at least, in principle, interested in the position? After all, just because homosexuality doesn't bother you, it doesn't mean that you want to work for a family where there is a homosexual. Or I suppose I should technically say 'lesbian'. So?"

 

"The prospect would not trouble me in the slightest, Mr. Gibbs. However, in the same light, to save you wasting your time, mine is far more flexible, there is something you should know."

 

Jethro frowned and looked carefully at Ducky. "Go on."

 

Ducky met the stare and held it unblinkingly. "I myself am gay," he said, his voice low and flat.

 

As Jethro stared at him he saw, for the first time, how 'vocal' Ducky's eyes were, how they told their own story as to what Ducky was feeling. And now he read slight apprehension as well, to his delight, a hint of a challenge. This man, who on the face of it, seemed very amiable and willing, was not a walk over. "I'd be more than a bit of a hypocrite if I said it bothered me, wouldn't I? And while I have a reputation in the legal world as being a bit of a bastard and I've other less positive traits, one thing I've never been is a hypocrite. So, no, it doesn't trouble me."

 

Ducky continued to look at him and now along with the mild apprehension and the challenge, was a hint of surprise.

 

"Did you really think I was going to say it did?" Jethro asked, his voice low.

 

"It would not necessarily have surprised me, Mr. Gibbs. It is one thing for you to accept your wife's relationship with another woman because of your daughter, but quite another for you to accept that the man you are considering offering the position of tutor to your said daughter is also gay. It would have been quite normal for you to have at the very least expressed some concern. If it helps," Ducky went on, apparently reading something in Jethro that Jethro wasn't fully aware he was showing. "From what you had said, and from the way you said it as well as from your body language and other signs, I do not think I expected you to say it would."

 

Jethro blinked, as he tried to follow the more than a little convoluted statement. In the end he focused on one part. "You do not think you expected, but you don't know? Forgive me, Ducky, but that sounds strange."

 

Ducky glanced away for a moment before looking back up. "Yes, I am aware it does, and I understand it does. However, given that I was hoping your reaction would be as it is, I cannot be one hundred percent certain that my hope was not projecting itself strongly onto my - I believe I am just confusing us both, am I not?"

 

"You think?" Jethro smiled. "Ah, Ducky. Okay, so being the lawyer I am, let me just clarify: it doesn't bother you that you'd be working for a family where one of the people connected with it, is gay and it doesn't bother me that you're gay."

 

"That sums it up, very concisely, Mr. Gibbs, yes."

 

"Okay. So I was going to tell you about the down side to this job and the reason for the high salary, the accommodation, the car, the medical insurance and pension plan. It's simply because it's not your nine to five, straight forward, five day a week job."

 

"I assure you, Jeth- Er, Mr. Gibbs, that as Housemaster in a boy's boarding house, I am well used to working considerably longer than the hours I am actually teaching."

 

"Good point. But there'll also be an element of, what I guess I should call 'babysitting', but please don't tell Kell I used that term."

 

Ducky smiled. "I promise."

 

"I have a housekeeper, but she doesn't live in. That's the way I like it. I work an eight to ten hour day at the office and then if necessary I do some work here in the evenings once Kelly is in bed. But unless something really, really urgent and vital comes up, I'm always home by 6:00 p.m. so that Kelly and I can have dinner together. Mrs. Stewart goes home when I get here. However, there are times when I have to go away from a few days to a conference or something, and I don't want to ask Mrs. Stewart, she has a disabled husband to care for, to stay here. So it would fall to you to move from the attached apartment into this main house while I was away. Kelly's a good kid, a very good kid. She's no trouble and I'm not just saying that - I wouldn't. She is good, and so it's not a huge task, but it's another commitment. Plus, if I was held up and couldn't get home by six then -"

 

"It would be my job to be here once Mrs. Stewart had gone, to keep an eye on Kelly."

 

"Yeah."

 

"That would not be a problem."

 

Jethro nodded. "Good. Then there are holidays. It's a good amount again. But they have to be taken at certain times, which I know as a teacher you're used to, but for all I know one of the reasons you applied for the job was because you wanted more flexibility. Sorry, you wouldn't get it. Kelly has set times she goes to visit Shannon and Jenny and those are the times you would take your leave. What you do would be entirely up to you, but if you wanted to stay in the apartment, that's up to you. The apartment would be to all intents and purposes yours."

 

"After twenty-five years as a teacher, Mr. Gibbs, I assure you I am completely used to having set holidays. Again that would not be a problem. Flexibility was not a reason I applied for the position.

 

Jethro nodded. "Okay. The other main, well I'm not sure if you call it a perk or a downside, 'extra', is that when I take Kelly away on vacation I'd expect you to come too. I like to show her different countries and cities and cultures, but I tend to need to work as well. So it'd be part holiday and part education."

 

"Again, I assure you that would most definitely be a 'perk' as you call it, not a downside. May I ask a question?"

 

"Sure."

 

"You say I would have to take holidays at set times and that I assure you is not a problem. But what if something really important came up? For example, I am an only child, my father is dead and my mother, whilst not in poor health or particularly old, is . . . Well, one always has to -"

 

"Ducky, if your mom got sick and you had to fly back to the UK that would not be a problem. We'd manage. I'm not that much of an ogre."

 

Ducky smiled. "If it isn't too presumptuous of me to say so, I do not believe you are any kind of ogre at all."

 

Jethro laughed. "Tell you what, let's see if you can say the same to me in three months. Oh, and that is one more thing." Ducky raised an eyebrow. "Contract. Initially, so that both sides can be sure, it's for three months. But after that it's until Kelly is eighteen. And she's almost eight now. And remember I am a lawyer. I can, and will, make the contract loophole free. Kelly's been messed about enough in the last two years, and as accepting as she seems to be about her mommy leaving and she seems really happy to go and visit, and when she comes back she's full of what they did, it's still an upheaval."

 

"How often does she visit?"

 

"Three or four times a year. Currently it's been four weeks in the late summer; two weeks in December, and two weeks in the spring, plus last year she also went for a week in the fall. But once you've taken the job, assuming you do, we can sit down and work out a schedule that'll suit all parties. Shannon and Jenny have said they'll be as flexible as they can as far as times they can have her go. I reckon Shannon is prepared to go out of her way to be accommodating, to be honest. The important thing is that Kell goes three or four times a year. I don't want her to forget her mommy or lose touch. It's a lot for her, but as I keep saying, she seems balanced. But I'm not going to employ a tutor who she'll get used to only to have to employ someone else a year or two down the line. I want something in her life to be a constant. And weighing everything up, that's probably the biggest downside to the job. It's long term, Ducky."

 

"I have been at Eton for twenty-five years."

 

"Yeah, but your contract is what . . . ? A month? Two's notice?"

 

"A term, actually. But I take your point."

 

"You'd be committing yourself to giving up your home and moving thousand of miles to a new country for ten years. And that is the only reason I came extremely close to not offering you an interview." Jethro spoke quietly. "Could you do that, Duck?" He spoke the name without thinking; without even being consciously aware he'd shortened what was already a nickname. "Could you give up everything you've known, home, family, friends, a -" He broke off.

 

Ducky smiled. "If that it your tactful way of trying to ascertain if I have a lover to give up, then the answer is no. I do not. Not anymore. He . . . um." He glanced down at his lap. For a moment Jethro thought Ducky wasn't going to continue.

 

Then as he watched, he saw Ducky swallow hard and look back up. "He is dead," he said softly. "Apart from my mother and some dear friends there is nothing to keep me in the UK, Mr. Gibbs. I have been thinking for some time now that I was growing stale stuck in the same place I had, apart from the few years I spent at Edinburgh, been since I was a boy of thirteen. To that end I tendered my resignation, it was not an easy decision to make, and more than once during the term I nearly changed my mind and came close to asking the Headmaster if I could take it back. But I stopped myself. I had got to the stage where I was questioning whether I was being fair to the boys under my tutorage and if I was giving them enough. So I stuck to my decision and left Eton, as you must know, several months ago. I had given serious consideration to travelling the world, as you ascertained I do not need an income. But I knew I would tire of that after a while. I may not need an income, but I enjoy the stimulation of teaching the young, of sharing my knowledge, of helping to give something back. The ten years would not be a problem."

 

"You sure?" Jethro found himself holding his breath as he looked at the man sitting on the opposite side of the desk.

 

Ducky smiled. "Yes. Yes, Mr. Gibbs." Then his smile became wider and he said solemnly, "Yes, Jethro. I am quite certain."

 

Jethro let out the breath he'd been holding and smiled too. "In that case," he said, standing up and holding out his hand to Ducky, who took it and shook it. "You'd better come and meet Kelly."

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Jethro opened the door for Ducky and ushered him into the hall.

 

"Have you finished, Mr. Gibbs? Shall I show Dr. Mallard out for you?" The lady Jethro had addressed as 'Grace' appeared from the room where Ducky had waited before being interviewed.

 

Jethro gave her a distracted smile. "I have, thank you, Grace. But there's no need. I'm taking Dr. Mallard to meet Kelly - he's going to be her new tutor. Dr. Mallard meet Grace Jenkins, my assistant. I couldn't survive each day without her."

 

"Or rather my coffee," she said. She smiled and held out her hand to Ducky. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Mallard. I'm pleased to hear Mr. Gibbs has finally found the right person."

 

"I'm pleased to meet you too, Ms. Jenkins," Ducky shook the proffered hand and found it to be cool and firm. That pleased him; one thing he had never liked was a limp handshake.

 

"Grace was beginning to think it was never going to happen," Jethro said. "And to tell the truth, Ducky, I was beginning to wonder the same thing myself."

 

"Mr. Gibbs has always been a very exacting person - especially to work for," Grace said in a fond tone.

 

Jethro rolled his eyes. "Gee thanks, Grace. That's it; put Ducky off even before he meets Kelly."

 

Ducky watched the interaction between boss and assistant with interest. It was quite one thing to see the man for whom he would be working in an interview sense, even when it became fairly informal and relaxed, but often the best way to truly know someone, to really get to see what they were like was to observe them interacting with people they employed. You could tell a considerable amount about a person while seeing their management skills. It was clear that there was a lot of mutual respect, as well as liking, between Jethro and his assistant, and that, Ducky felt, was a positive thing. The balance between the formality and informality seemed to work well, and he suspected that neither of them overstepped what was often an invisible line.

 

She laughed and turned back to Ducky. "Kelly is a lovely girl, Dr. Mallard - very bright and very fond of asking questions."

 

Jethro also laughed. "Oh, yes. She certainly is."

 

"I'm sorry, Mr. Gibbs, I shouldn't keep you any longer. Um, would you like me to," Grace flashed a look at Ducky, who without appearing to do so, took a step away from Jethro and Grace and began to study a picture on the wall.

 

"Yeah, you better. Contact them and give my apologies and say the position has been filled. If any have made special journeys, clearly I'll pay for their time and any other expenses. If any of them create problems, take their number and I'll get back to them. I don't see any point of going through the faÁade of interviewing them when there isn't a job. I don't want to waste my time or theirs. Is that okay, Grace? Do you mind doing that?"

 

"Not at, Mr. Gibbs. I'll get straight onto it. Nice to have met you, Dr. Mallard. I hope you'll be very happy and I am sure we will meet again." She smiled at him and again offered her hand.

 

"Thank you, Ms. Jenkins," he took her hand again and shook it.

 

Then she went back into the other room and closed the door.

 

"She's very efficient. Sometimes scarily so," Jethro said. "I can assure you there will be no calls for me to return. Now, come on, let's go and meet that daughter of mine."

 

He led Ducky along a corridor that had half a dozen doors opening off it until he reached one door that was half open. He pushed it open further and Ducky saw a young girl with long reddish hair sitting crossed legged on a low armchair reading a book. "Hey, pumpkin," Jethro called.

 

She looked up. "Daddy!" she cried, jumping up and running towards him. Ducky was pleased to see that she had taken the time to put a bookmark into her book before dropping it onto the chair rather than turning down the corner of the page, or just leaving the book open thus cracking the spine.

 

Jethro swung her effortlessly up into his arms and kissed her cheek. "Have you been a good girl?" he asked.

 

"Of course. Aren't I always?"

 

Jethro laughed and put her back down, ruffling her hair and then pushing it back from her face. "Kelly, I'd like to meet your new tutor: Dr. Donald Mallard. Dr. Mallard this is my daughter, Kelly."

 

Ducky held out his hand to the young girl. "Hello, Kelly," he said. "It's a pleasure to meet you." He waited to see if she was going to giggle at his name.

 

She took his hand and looked up at him, her head on one said, her tone solemn, "A mallard is a duck, isn't it?" she asked. "Is that why your mommy and daddy called you 'Donald'?"

 

"Well, yes, Kelly, a 'mallard' is indeed a duck. But it is something else as well."

 

"Oooh, is it? Tell me, please." Her eyes shone with expectation as she looked up at him.

 

Ducky glanced at Jethro, who just shrugged and mouthed 'told you so'.

 

Ducky looked back at Kelly and answered her 'demand'. "The Mallard, as far too people are aware, was also an English A4 steam locomotive which ran from London to Edinburgh for decades. In 1938 it obtained a speed of 202.7 kilometers an hour, and to this day, she holds the word speed record for a steam locomotive."

 

Kelly's eyes shone even brighter. "Is she still working?" she demanded.

 

Ducky shook his head. "No. She was decommissioned, taken out of service," he added, as a slight frown appeared on Kelly's face, "in 1963. Although, I prefer the word 'retired' rather than 'decommissioned', it has a friendlier ring to it, don't you think?"

 

Kelly nodded, clearly fascinated. "What happened to her?"

 

"Well, in the 1980s she was restored to fully working order. However, she has not been operated since then, except for a couple of special runs in 1986 and 1987. She is part of the National Collection of the National Railway Museum in York."

 

Kelly turned to her father. "Can we go and see her, Daddy?" she demanded.

 

"Dr. Mallard means 'York' in Great Britain, pumpkin," Jethro said gently. "Not the one in Pennsylvania."

 

"Oh," she said, her tone suddenly subdued. Then instantly she brightened again. "You're always saying I need to see new places, Daddy, so we can go to Britain and I can see her. Are you British?" she said, turning her attention back to Ducky.

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, I am."

 

"Do you like Enid Blyton?"

 

Even though he was used to children, the speed with which Kelly's mind seemed to switch was slightly surprising. Again he glanced at Jethro, again a shrug and a 'up to you' look was what he received.

 

Then, before he could answer, Jethro said, "Why don't you move your book and teddy and let Dr. Mallard sit down, Kelly?"

 

"Oh, I'm sorry, Dr. Mallard," and hastily Kelly gathered the book, again Ducky was pleased to see she handled it with care, her teddy and a small blanket from the chair and put them on her bed. "Please do sit down, Dr. Mallard," she said formally, waving her hand at the chair. "And you can sit on my bed, Daddy," she added, glancing over her shoulder.

 

"Thank you, Kelly," Ducky replied, glancing at the very low chair and wishing he felt able to suggest that he'd prefer to sit on the bed and leave the chair to Jethro. It would not help his leg sitting down so low, nor did it look an easy chair to get out of. But he didn't feel able to; sometimes he regretted being British. Carefully he sat down. When he was seated, the chair was actually surprisingly comfortable, he saw Jethro drop down onto Kelly's bed and Kelly herself sat cross legged on the floor in front of him, leaning forward and putting her chin in her joined arms and looking up at him.

 

"Well? Do you?" she asked.

 

Ducky nodded. "As a matter of fact, Kelly, I do. I read a lot of her books when I was a boy, and was very fond of her."

 

"What was your favorite?"

 

"Oh, it's been quite a few years since I read her books. I'm not sure I remember having a favorite."

 

"Mine's The Faraway Tree, St. Clare's and Malory Towers and Amelia Jane. But you'd better not tell Mommy I like those because Amelia Jane's a naughty girl. But she's not as naughty as the Naughtiest Girl. She's very naughty." Kelly giggled. "I think I'd like to go to a school like Malory Towers or St. Clare's, but then I'd have to leave Daddy behind and he'd be sad." Finally she stopped speaking.

 

"What about The Famous Five books?" Ducky asked. "Do you like those?"

 

Kelly put her head on one side again, took one hand away from under her chin and twisted her hair. "I think there are too many of them," she said, after considering Ducky's question. "They got very samesome. I think she should have wrote less."

 

"Written fewer." The correction came automatically and as he realized what he'd said, Ducky glanced at Jethro, who just smiled and winked.

 

"There you go, Kell," he said, learning forward and touching her head. "You listen to Dr. Mallard; he'll teach you how to speak properly."

 

"Why?" Kelly asked, looking at Ducky.

 

"I'm sorry, Kelly?"

 

"Why is it 'written fewer' rather than 'wrote less'?"

 

Ducky hid a smile. "I tell you what, Kelly, we'll make the subject of our first proper lesson."

 

"Okay," she said brightly. "Did you know I'm not supposed to like Enid Blyton?"

 

"Kelly?" Jethro spoke. "Who told you that?"

 

She glanced over her shoulder. "Mrs. Temple. She was my tutor before you. I didn't like her."

 

"Kelly!"

 

"Well, I didn't Daddy. Do you want me to lie and say I did? You and Mommy told me not to tell lies."

 

Jethro looked up at the ceiling and shook his head, while Ducky hid a smile. "Why did Mrs. Temple say you shouldn't like Enid Blyton, Kelly?" he asked.

 

She looked at him and frowned. "She said they weren't real. I didn't understand what she meant. Of course they aren't real, they're stories. She said the little girls and boys were too well behaved and all had money. I said that was okay because my daddy's rich. But I like the books. The girls don't have as much fun as the boys and some of them are samesome, but I like them. And my class likes them too."

 

Ducky cocked an eyebrow. "Your class?"

 

Kelly nodded. "Yes. My dolls and teddy bears and other cuddly toys. I teach them. I'll teach them what I'm taught. Mrs. Temple said that was silly. Is it silly, Dr. Mallard?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No. Teaching is actually a very good way of learning and remembering a new subject. I think it is a very good idea."

 

Jethro leaned forward and put his hand on Kelly's shoulder. "Why didn't you tell me about Mrs. Temple, Kelly?" he asked.

 

She turned to look at him and to Ducky's amusement patted his hand. "Because you were very busy, Daddy. And I didn't want to bother you. And I knew she wasn't going to stay. So it didn't matter. So I ignored her. But now I've got Dr. Mallard, I won't ignore him."

 

"I'm pleased to hear it, Kelly," Ducky said. "So who else do you like to read about from Enid Blyton?" He'd already seen various bookcases in the room he'd been interviewed in, the hall and in Kelly's own bedroom and that pleased him. She was clearly used to books and reading.

 

Kelly was silent for a moment; Ducky could see her thinking. After a minute of two, she answered him. "I like the Shiloh books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, do you know those?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No, I am afraid I do not."

 

Kelly jumped up and ran over to the bookcase, pulled out a book and ran back again. "Here you are," she said. "You can borrow it. This is the first book. There are two more."

 

"Thank you, Kelly," Ducky said taking the book.

 

But she held onto it. "You don't turn page corners down, do you?" she demanded.

 

"Kelly!" Jethro spoke firmly. "Apologize to Dr. Mallard."

 

She looked slightly perplexed, but dutifully said. "I'm sorry, Dr. Mallard."

 

"That's all right, Kelly," he said. "And I assure you I do not turn page corners down. It's a horrible habit, is it not?"

 

Kelly nodded. "I had a friend who did that, not Maddie," she said, glancing at her father. "So I wouldn't lend her any more of my books."

 

"I wouldn't have done either, Kelly," Ducky assured her.

 

She beamed and finally let go of the book. Then she asked, "What's your favorite planet? I like Jupiter because of the rings. They're pretty. Daddy brought me a book for Christmas and you can see them. Shall I show it to you?"

 

"Kell," Jethro said firmly.

 

She looked at him. "Yes, Daddy?"

 

"Think that's enough questions for now."

 

"Oh. Very well, Daddy. Are you staying for dinner, Dr. Mallard?"

 

"Well, I -"

 

"I was going to ask you, Ducky," Jethro said. "But this minx wouldn't let me get a word in."

 

"Well, thank you, Jethro. That would be very nice. But I don't want to impose on you at such short notice." Out of the corner of his eye Ducky could see Kelly had her hands over her mouth and was desperately trying not to laugh. He couldn't blame her, and having spent half an hour with in her company he knew it wasn't malicious at all. So far it appeared from his lack of correcting her, Jethro hadn't noticed his daughter was fighting a what was clearly going to be losing battle.

 

"It's not an imposition. I can also show you the - Kelly, are you all right?" Jethro looked at his daughter, who was now jigging up and down on the spot. "Do you need to go to the bathroom?" he demanded. "If you do, go quickly."

 

It gave Kelly the out she needed. She nodded vigorously, turned and scampered from the room. Jethro watched her go. He turned back to Ducky and frowned. "She didn't need to pee, did she?"

 

Ducky looked up at him. "Well, as for that, I do not know, Jethro. But I believe her need was not as great as she made it out to be. I think she was trying hard not to laugh at you calling me 'Ducky'." As the frown deepened, Ducky said quickly, "Oh, don't be cross with her, Jethro, she wouldn't be the first child, indeed the first person, to react to my name."

 

"Hmm," was Jethro's answer, as he again glanced towards the door. "So will you stay?"

 

"If you are quite certain, I would be delighted to do so."

 

"Good. When Kell comes back I'll send her to tell Mrs. Stewart they'll be one extra for dinner. She always prepares something for us before she leaves for the evening and depending on what it is, she either cooks it and leaves it for me to reheat or leaves me detailed instructions as to how to cook it. I must admit more often than not it is simply a case of reheating. And while I've been interviewing, she's actually made sure it's cooked and ready for Kell and me to eat without the need to reheat. Oh, there you are," he said, as Kelly came back into the room. "You get there in time? Didn't wet yourself?"

 

"Daddy!" she exclaimed. "Of course I didn't. I'm a big girl now. I don't wet myself." Her mouth turned down and she suddenly looked much younger than her almost eight years and looked very sad.

 

Immediately Jethro was contrite. He opened his arms. "Come here, pumpkin," he said, gathering into his arms and rocking her. "I'm sorry. I was teasing you." He kissed the top of her head. "Forgive me?" he asked, after a moment or two. Ducky used the father and daughter moment to, more than a little inelegantly, struggle out of the chair.

 

"It's okay, Daddy," she said, her voice still very small. And then she tugged herself from her father's embrace and went over to Ducky. "And I'm sorry to you, Dr. Mallard," she said, standing in front of him with her gaze cast down at the carpet. "And to you, Daddy," she said, without looking up. "I lied to you. I didn't need to pee, I was laughing at you calling Dr. Mallard 'Ducky'. I'm sorry," she said again.

 

Ducky's instinct was to assure her it wasn't a problem. But he was still very much in limbo; yes, Jethro had offered him the position and he had verbally accepted, but neither side had committed themselves in writing, and as such he wasn't officially Kelly's tutor. So indeed of offering the instant 'that's quite all right, Kelly', he glanced over her head to where Jethro stood. Once again he received a shrug and a silent go-ahead to answer her.

 

"That's all right, Kelly," he said, putting his hand on her arm until she looked at him. "It's very brave of you to confess, not many children would have done that. A lot of people, adults as well as children, find it amusing. And I confess it does take some getting used to; I hated it at first, but now, you know, I rather like it."

 

"You're not cross with me?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No, my dear," he said.

 

Finally she smiled at him. And then she turned around. "Daddy? Are you cross at me for lying to you?"

 

"You said you were sorry, Kelly, that's what's important. So, no, I'm not cross."

 

"Thank you."

 

"Now I'm going to take Dr. Mallard to see the apartment. Can you go and tell Mrs. Steward there will be a third person for dinner?"

 

She nodded. "Yes, Daddy. But can I do it in a minute, please?"

 

Jethro looked at her. "Kelly?"

 

"You see, now I really do need to pee." She began to giggle and then stopped. "Oooh," she said, and with that, she once again scurried out of the room. Together Ducky and Jethro began to laugh.

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

"So what do you think, Duck?" Jethro asked, as he led Ducky around the apartment. "It's a bit small. Will it be okay?" He looked concerned as he glanced around the place.

 

"Jethro, when I was a housemaster I had a bedroom and a study-come-sitting room, a minute kitchenette where I was able to make myself a cup of tea and a slice of toast, but nothing else, and a bathroom that reminded very much of the bathrooms I endured when I was a border myself at Eton. I assure you, this is perfectly fine."

 

"You sure? Because I could -"

Ducky shook his head. "It is fine, Jethro. I have a bedroom, a room that will be suitable for a study, a sitting room, a dining room, a wonderful kitchen and bathroom, and there's still another room. What else could I need?"

 

"It's just that, well, I assumed that . . . " Jethro trailed off and waved his hand in a vague gesture.

 

Ducky chuckled. "Ah. Well, yes, it is true my family home, and indeed the house in which I live during the school holidays, are both fairly large, but I often felt I was rattling around in the place. This will be wonderful."

 

"Good. And Mrs. Stewart will sort out the cleaning for you. I have a lady, Mrs. Abbott, who comes in a couple of times a week, she'll be happy to have a few more hours. She's having to bring up her son alone."

 

"Oh, dear. A widow?"

 

"No. I put her husband in prison. Well, not me personally. I don't tend to do much criminal law, but this arose from another case, and so I guess you could say I was responsible, in a way."

 

Ducky looked at him. "And you felt obliged to offer her a job as you felt guilty?"

 

"No. Well, yes. Well, actually, she came to see me. To, wait for it, Duck, to thank me."

 

Ducky raised his eyebrows. "To thank you?"

 

"Yeah. Turns out he'd abused her for years and she was scared for her son."

 

"Dear God," Ducky said.

 

"Yeah. Anyway, I put her in touch with a good divorce lawyer - Tobias Fornell, he's a good friend of mine, you'll meet him sometime. And Tobias is also sorting out custody, etc. so that the man can't get access to his son when he comes out of prison."

 

"How very sad."

 

Jethro nodded and said, his tone rueful, "Yeah. She's a lovely woman. I hope she'll find another guy one day who'll make her happy and care for her and her son. But in the meantime, she's happy to clean for me and a couple of other people I know, one of them is Tobias. That way she can be home for her son after school. But enough of that. If you're sure you're happy with this place and have seen enough, how about we go back next door and have a drink?"

 

Ducky smiled. "That sounds very pleasant, thank you. And please do be assured I really am more than happy with this apartment. It is beautiful, just like your home. However, I wonder if I might, um, emulate Kelly, shall we say?"

 

"Huh? Oh, right, sorry. Yeah. Go ahead. You remember where it is?"

 

"Thank you, yes. Yes, I do." And Ducky hurried off to the bathroom.

 

 

"Cheers, Duck," Jethro said, handing Ducky a glass of, what he promised was fairly decent, whiskey.

 

Ducky noticed that the use of 'Duck' rather than 'Ducky' was becoming a common occurrence. He wondered if he should say anything or not. Because if he were going to, it would have to be soon, tonight in fact; otherwise it would just sound foolish if he let it go on and finally said something.

 

After a few minutes consideration, he decided not to, as he wasn't certain or not if he disliked the diminutive of what was already a nickname or objected to it. He felt that maybe he ought to feel a little aggrieved at what could be considered to be a condescending thing for Jethro to do. However, he had noticed that Jethro often shortened his daughter's name and, it appeared, his ex-wife's lover's name too, from time to time. So he decided, on reflection, to say nothing.

 

"Oh, I'm sorry, Jethro," he said, suddenly aware that his about-to-be-employer had spoken again. "I believe you asked me something?"

 

Jethro lips twitched and he was now sitting down in the armchair set at an angle to the one Ducky sat in. "Only if the whiskey was okay."

 

"Oh, yes, it's very nice," Ducky said quickly.

 

Jethro nodded. "Probably better if you try it before you answer," he said, and began to laugh.

 

After a second or two, Ducky joined in. "Oh, Jethro, do forgive me," he said. "I was . . . It doesn't matter." He sipped his drink. "It is, as I said, very good." They laughed again.

 

For a few minutes they sat in what was amazingly, given how short a time they knew one another and the fact that really their 'relationship' wasn't exactly equal, relaxed silence.

 

It was Jethro who broke it. "So now that you've met my daughter, have you changed your mind?"

"About becoming her tutor? No, not at all. Quite the opposite. I believe she will be very stimulating to teach."

 

Jethro let out a sigh of what sounded like relief. Ducky wondered if he really had believed Ducky might change his mind. "Good," he said, and took another swallow from his glass. Then he glanced at Ducky and frowned slightly. "Is 'stimulating' good or bad?" he asked.

 

"Oh, good. Definitely good," Ducky said. "Seriously, Jethro, I am really looking forward to tutoring your daughter. I know I am going to enjoy it."

 

"Kell has certainly taken to you. I didn't say anything before you met her, as I wanted you to go in 'cold', but she's not a child who takes to strangers quickly. I reckon that's in part my fault with insisting on home schooling her."

 

"It was you who made the suggestion, was it?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah. You'd never know it but she was quite a sickly kid between the ages of three and six. Came down with everything that was going. She did go to kindergarten, but missed more days than she was there. We didn't want her to get behind, so we, well mostly Shannon I was at work, started to teach her basic stuff. And she loved it. It seemed to help her get better quicker, and was way ahead of Maddie, the little girl she mentioned, she's her best frien and Emily, she's Tobias's daughter, and other kids, so I suggested to Shannon we carry on doing it, teaching Kell at home."

 

"And did Shannon agree with you?"

 

"We argued, well as much as we ever did. She always said arguing with a lawyer was a waste of time as we're paid to argue. Guess she's right." Jethro smiled.

 

"Do you miss her?" Again Ducky spoke without thinking. It was partly Jethro's own fault, he wasn't treating Ducky as an employee. Maybe that was partly the American way, maybe it was Jethro, but whatever it was, it was dangerous. "Oh, do, please, forgive me, Mr. Gibbs," Ducky hastened to say, forcibly putting the relationship back on the correct footing.

 

Jethro raised an eyebrow and then looked around him. "Nope, can't see him. Mind you, given he's been dead for ten years, I guess I'd be shocked if I could."

 

Ducky just looked at him. "Um," he managed.

 

"Sorry, Duck. I'm teasing you - Shannon said that was another bad habit I had. I was referring to my father; he was 'Mr. Gibbs'. Except he wasn't; he much preferred - Oh, but now I'm digressing. Where was I? Oh, yeah. There's no need to apologize - don't ever think that. Do I miss Shannon? Okay, true lawyer's answer: 'yes' and 'no'. I miss the girl I married, I miss the woman who gave birth to Kelly, I miss the wonderful mother and wife she was. But I don't miss the woman she now is, because the woman she now is, isn't my Shannon. She's Jenny's. If you're asking would I want her back. Then that's a clear answer: no, I wouldn't. But not for all the normal reasons, not because of my masculine pride. But because -"

 

"Daddy. Daddy. Mrs. Stewart says I can set the table. But she told me to ask you which placemats to use."
 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

After dinner (Ducky told himself he should remember to refer to it as thus, rather than 'supper' after all one should try to assimilate the culture in which you lived) and Kelly had been sent off to have a bath and get into bed, Ducky again found himself being invited to spend a hour or so with his new employer.

 

For a moment he had considered refusing, but then he'd realized that although he and Jethro had talked about various things, quite what Jethro expected from Ducky as a tutor in terms of lessons and subjects hadn't arisen. Thus he had accepted Jethro's offer and settled down in the comfortable sitting room with another glass of whiskey.

 

Dinner had been filled with Kelly asking question after question, until finally Jethro had put a firm but gentle stop to it. Ducky was pleased to have more evidence that while Jethro clearly did, to an extent, spoil Kelly and doted on her, he was also a firm, even strict, parent. It would have been very easy to have gone over-board and compensated too much when Shannon had walked away. Added to the fact that only children tended, in Ducky's experience, to be somewhat more spoilt than children with siblings, plus the fact that given she didn't go to school, she was used to one-on-one attention pretty much day in day out, Kelly could easily have been quite the brat. But she wasn't; she was, Ducky had already ascertained, a tad precocious, but Ducky didn't see that as a bad thing.

 

"Sorry about that," Jethro said, striding back into the room and pushing the sitting room door half closed. He put a small what looked similar to a hand held dictation machine down on the table. Ducky cocked an eyebrow. "Oh, that," Jethro said, looking a little self-deprecating. "I know she's almost eight, as she keeps telling me, but - It's a fairly large house and I'm not necessarily going to hear her if she calls out. Not that she does; I know she was sickly to begin with, but ever since then she's never had a day's sickness. Well apart from the odd tummy upset if she's gotten over-excited or I haven't been quite as strict as I should have been with what's she's eating."

 

"You don't need to justify yourself to me, Jethro," Ducky said quietly.

 

"Is that what it sounded like I was doing?" Jethro looked at Ducky.

 

"A little, yes. You shouldnít worry. I can quite understand how you feel. Many parents have some kind of alarm in their child's room until the child is quite old."

 

"Maybe. But this goes when Kelly's nine. I promised her. She thinks she's too old for it now, but . . . Oh, ignore me."

 

"I'm not really sure I should 'ignore' the man who is employing me," Ducky said quietly.

 

For a moment a dark look and a frown crossed Jethro's face; Ducky didn't quite understand it. "I know I am employing you, Ducky, but a tutor is a bit different from most employees. And I don't see you as my employee. Not in that sense."

 

Ducky leaned back in his chair. "Do you not?"

 

Jethro shook his head. "No."

 

"Than how do you see me?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "Not sure really. A potential friend, I hope. Which I know to you must sound stupid and pretentious."

 

"And you'd think that because . . . ?" Ducky asked, keeping the smile that wanted to creep out to himself.

 

"You're British. What?" Jethro demanded, looking at Ducky who had lost the battle with his smile.

 

"I'm sorry, Jethro. I am not laughing at you, I am merely a little," he paused for a moment and chose his next word carefully. "Intrigued, shall we say, by how you perceive the British."

 

Jethro just stared at him for a while, before shaking his head and saying, "Well, I guess you're going to have to teach me what a real Brit is like then, aren't you?"

 

Ducky chuckled softly. "I shall certainly do my best," he said. And then, as Jethro had given him the perfect opening he said, "Talking of teaching, I think it would be a good idea if we discussed exactly what you expect from me as a tutor, in respect of Kelly's education. I confess that I am not exactly au fait with the American school system in general and home schooling in particular. I understand it, of course, at a broad, general level and there are some similarities and some differences between your system and the one to which I am used. But home schooling seems quite different. I assume you have some kind of guides and levels the child in question must attain? Regular tests, etc?"

 

"It is a bit complicated as it's yet another of those areas where we no two states are the same. Some, like Texas, have minimal requirements, others are more intensified. Not all states insist on testing and assessment. You can end up with kids being home schooled, who can barely read or write." Jethro said.

 

"And here, in Virginia?"

 

"I've put together a pack of useful information I'll let you have it before you go. Basically it's a copy of the full text of Virginia Home Education Law to give you a general overview of how it works. If you're suffering from insomnia, I recommend reading it; like most legal documents it's fairly long winded and boring - and that's coming from a lawyer. The most significant parts are the Compulsory Attendance Code and the Home Instruction Statute. Legally I've done everything to fit in with the requirements, so you needn't worry about that side of it."

 

Ducky nodded. He had expected no less. "What about the teaching program itself? Or method of teaching?"

 

"There are a lot of those here, from 'Classical' to something called 'Unschooling', which is basically, as far as I can see, where no one teaches the kids anything, they just are left to get on with it themselves."

 

"Ah," said Ducky. "That sounds rather like the kind of free expression I've heard about, where children are allowed to put paint wherever they want to, be it on the walls or the floor or anything else, and are not disciplined at all."

 

"Oh, yes. I know some kids like that. Kelly isn't one of them." Jethro said quickly.

 

"I can see that."

 

"Good. We've generally been following the traditional schooling more. Formal home schooling, where it's most like a normal school. It seemed far more sensible, given neither Shannon or I are trained teachers. And it meant we had levels and standards, and always knew where we were. We bought complete curriculums, so we knew exactly what we were doing."

 

Ducky nodded. "That sounds very sensible, I must say. How does it work for Kelly? Does she seem to enjoy it? Is she settled into that method?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "Mostly. Although I have noticed over the last few months she seems bored and less full of questions, not that you'd have noticed that tonight," he said, and smiled. "But that's the most animated I've seen her for a while, when it comes to lessons."

 

"She genuinely seems to want to learn," Ducky said, taking another sip of his drink.

 

Jethro nodded. "She does, very much so. That's why I didn't want to stagger on with a tutor here and a tutor there and me doing bits at weekends. I wanted it to be more formal, hence the longish search to find just the right person."

 

Ducky smiled. "And is this the system with which you would want me to continue?"

 

Jethro drained his glass and stood up and grabbed the bottle. "Another?" he asked, nodding at Ducky's glass.

 

"Well, I'm not sure if I - Oh, very well, thank you."

 

"And just in case you're wondering, but not sure how you can ask me, no, I don't drink this amount every evening."

 

Ducky felt his face flush. "I assure you, Mr. Gibbs, I wasn't for one moment thinking something so personal." He spoke formally.

 

Jethro looked at him and held up one hand. "Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean -"

 

"I know," Ducky said. "Now you were about to tell me if you wished me to continue with the formal style of home schooling."

 

"In many ways I think you should be the one to decide that. Or at least," Jethro said quickly, "be the one to advise me. Another method which I know is very popular is the 'Eclectic Method'. It's basically where a mixture and a variety of learning resources are used, and it's more tailored to the individual child. We did think about that, but we didn't want Kelly to end up missing out anything important and anything essential to satisfy the state."

 

Ducky listened as Jethro spoke, listening to the tone as well as the words. He got the impression that Jethro was more enthusiastic about the eclectic method than he had been by the more formal method. "I have to say this kind of learning sounds, for someone like Kelly, more interesting. You said she seemed to be getting a little bored. That could be due to a variety of reasons, one being she was being taught at too simplistic a level, she wasn't being stimulated, another that she was bored by the subject."

 

"She's not that fond of, or good at, math," Jethro said. "I get the impression she doesn't really understand a lot of it. I'm all for catering to her levels and tailoring to fit, but not at the expense of a good general, overall education."

 

"Oh, I agree," Ducky said. "Naturally I will more after I have read the various laws and seen a curriculum, I take it that will be acceptable?"
 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah. It's in the pack I've put together."

 

"Thank you. As I was saying I'll know more when I have read the paperwork and spent some time with Kelly. My suggestion, based on what you say, is that in the beginning we continue with the formal curriculum for a while, whilst I get a feeling for her strengths and weaknesses, with maybe introducing a few extra things."

 

"Such as?"

 

"Well, how would you feel about me teaching her to speak Latin? I know," Ducky said, hurrying on, "that there is not exactly any call for the subject these days, unless she is likely to go into the medical profession or follow you into law. Although even then one does not need to understand a vast amount of the language to get by. However, it is a stimulating subject in many ways. I think she might enjoy it."

 

Jethro shrugged. "I don't have a problem with that. Not at all, Duck. Anything else?"

 

"Well, you yourself said that many of your holidays are partly for enjoyment and partly for education, I would like to maybe extend on that. There are art galleries and other such things, as well as the theatre, even the opera when she is a little older." Ducky saw Jethro looking him carefully and changed track of what he was saying. "Oh, dear, have I maybe made you think twice about your offer of the position of Kelly's tutor? I did say you should have -"

 

"What makes you think that, Duck?" Jethro asked.

 

"Well here I am talking about Latin and the opera; they are not exactly exciting subjects for an eight year old, or for most people. I think I am showing my age somewhat. You know, Jethro, I do wonder if someone younger might not be . . . " Ducky trailed off under Jethro's stare.

 

"You'll do fine. I told you, I haven't seen Kell this animated for too many months. Plus she took to you instantly, and also as I said, she doesnít take to people straight off. The Kelly you saw today is the real Kelly, the Kelly I wasn't certain you would see. I expected her to be quiet, a bit clingy of me, overly polite and very much reserved. She wasn't. You're the right person to teach her."

 

Ducky looked at Jethro and saw he was speaking the truth. "In that case, I shall stop trying to talk myself out of a job," he said.

 

"Good. So you reckon we should change systems, then?"

 

"I did get a little off-track, did I not?" Jethro just smiled. "No, well not straight away. I do think I should assess her as she is now, see how she is with the formal system for a while, and then I'll advise you on what I think would be best. My instinct, based on what you have told me, what I have observed in the short time I have spent with Kelly, together with my knowledge of children, albeit older than your daughter, would be that she would do better with a less rigid system. Not just academically, but also overall. I think it would be better to stick to curriculum sets for some subjects, but be less rigid in others."

 

Jethro nodded. "Sounds good to me. So when can you start? I know you haven't got to give a notice period, but I assume you're going to need a bit of time to sort things out?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, I shall need to return to the UK for a couple of weeks or so, maybe up to a month. I need to see Mother, and also there are things I would like to bring with me. I take it you would have no objections if I brought some of my childhood favorite books for Kelly to read? I know that some of them won't be available generally here, but I think she'd like them."

 

"If you don't mind, I don't. Look, Duck, I know you feel you're my employee and," Jethro added swiftly, "you are, I get that. But you're the expert. Okay, not in home schooling and not in kids of Kelly's age - or sex, I guess," he said. "Eton is boys only, isn't it?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. I have a little experience of some one-to-one tutoring of girls, which I did during various school holidays, but generally yes, it is boys."

 

"But as I was saying you're the expert. I doubt you could suggest anything I'm going to object to. So if you want to bring her books or take her to art galleries - can you drive an automatic, by the way?"

 

"Um, I have done so once or twice. However, I am more used to a transmission gear box," Ducky said. "I have to confess I do rather prefer being in control of a car, rather than it of me. However, I know your country favors the automatic, so I am sure I can adapt."

 

"It's up to you, Duck. Whatever you'd prefer. I guess the advantage of getting an automatic is that if needs be I could drive it, and I don't drive a shift stick, never have done."

 

"I could teach you," Ducky said, before he really thought about what he was saying. "Oh, forgive me; that was presumptuous of me."

 

Jethro shook his head. "Not at all. Actually, it's a good idea. A damn good idea. And in turn, I'll help you learn about cars controlling you. And then when she gets to that age Kell can learn both too. So a non-automatic it is. So I was saying, whatever you think is right for her educationally, I'm not going to disagree with or object to. You donít need to clear every single thing with me."

 

Ducky looked at Jethro. "Very well," he said, after a moment or two. He decided he would have to be a little more subtle. It was all very well Jethro giving him carte blanch, but to begin with, at least, Ducky felt it would be better for everyone if he got approval. He didn't want to overstep any authority he might have.

 

"In answer to your question," he said, realizing he actually hadn't answered it. "How would four weeks from now, the beginning of the second week of February, be?"

 

Jethro looked a little surprised. "That quick?" he asked.

 

"Well, if that isn't -"

 

"Oh, it is, Ducky. It is. More than okay. I was just a bit surprised you could get everything sorted so soon."

 

"When you have worked in education for the number of years I have and been used to living your life around school terms and indeed living in a House Master's accommodation, it is fairly easy to arrange your life quite quickly. Yes, I think that will work very well indeed."

 

"That's settled then. I'll make sure the apartment has been properly and thoroughly cleaned and get fresh linen and everything else I need to do at this end."

 

"Thank you. Well," Ducky sat forward. "I think it is time that I said goodnight and left you to enjoy the rest of your evening. Thank you for your hospitality, it was very kind of you and very pleasant too. You have a lovely daughter, and I know I really am going to enjoy tutoring her. So thank you once more for the offer of the position." Ducky stood up.

 

Jethro also rose. He seemed about to say something and the look on his face registered a faint hint of amusement or bemusement. But in the end, he appeared to change his mind and instead said, "The pleasure was all mine, Duck. You're good company. And I know I couldn't have found a better person to teach Kelly." He held out his hand and Ducky took it. "Until February, he said.

 

Ducky smiled. "Yes. I shall of course let you know, nearer the time, more details of when I'll be arriving."

 

"You do that. I'll show you out and I can give you the folder of all that wonderful legal stuff you'll enjoy reading." Jethro smiled, bent to pick up the alarm he'd put on the table and dropped it into his pocket and escorted Ducky to the front door. "Hang on," he said, about to open it. "How are you getting to your hotel?"

 

"I was going to walk to the main road and get a taxi," Ducky said firmly.

 

"Oh, you were, were you?"

 

"Yes. Is that a problem?"

 

"Duck. This is a nice area, make that a very nice area, but even so. I don't recommend walking about in a place you don't know in the dark and cold. Come on, I'll call you a cab."

 

"But really it's . . ." Ducky trailed off under the stern stare. "Thank you," he said instead. "I would appreciate that."

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Jethro was in the sitting room, enjoying a glass of bourbon, half watching a TV show half reading a report when the doorbell rang. He glanced at this watch and frowned - it was late for someone to be just dropping by, and he wasn't expecting anyone.

 

Putting the file down and muting the TV, he went out into the hall, turned the outside light on and opened the door. "Duck?" he said, surprised to see Kelly's would-be tutor standing on the doorstep. "Is something wrong?"

 

Ducky made a gesture that could have been both a 'yes' and a 'no'. "There is something I believe I should tell you," he said, his tone even more formal than it had been during his interview.

 

"Come in." Jethro opened the door further and stood back to allow Ducky to enter. "Here, let me take those for you," he said, holding out his hand to take Ducky's hat and coat.

 

For a moment he thought Ducky was going to refuse, but then he removed his coat and handed it and his hat to Jethro. "Thank you," he said, his tone still very formal.

 

"Come on through and have a drink." Jethro gestured in the direction of his sitting room and when Ducky didn't move, put his hand under Ducky's elbow and encouraged him. "Well sit down," he said, when Ducky simply stood inside the room. "The same as you had last night okay?"

 

"What? Oh, yes. Thank you. Although I am not certain if - Oh, thank you." Ducky took the glass Jethro handed him.

 

"Ducky, sit down," Jethro repeated.

 

"Thank you." Again it took a moment or two for Ducky to do so, but then he slowly sat down in one of the armchairs, sitting on the very edge with his back ramrod straight.

 

Jethro waited until Ducky had sat before he did the same. "Ducky, what's up?" he asked, after the silence had stretched between them. "Have you changed your mind about the job?"

 

Ducky glanced at him and then looked away again. "I haven't, no," he said quietly.

 

More than a little puzzled by the choice of words, Jethro sat back in his chair and sipped his drink and simply stared at Ducky. "Well?" he said, after another period of silence. "You said there's something you believe I should know. And as I'm not into mind-reading, I guess you'd better tell me. But sit back, Duck, and enjoy your drink. It can't be that awful." He smiled at Ducky.

 

"What the -" The next second he was on his feet, across the room and was crouching down in front of his guest who, at Jethro's words, had turned ashen and had slumped forward, his shoulders and hands shaking. Jethro put his hand over Ducky's, closing it around the glass he held and guided it to Ducky's mouth. "Drink," he made the order a gentle one, but a firm one. "Ducky, what is it? What's happened? Are you ill? Has someone done something to you? Because if they have, I'll -"

 

"No. It is nothing like that. I am sorry, Mr. Gibbs. I -" Ducky stopped speaking abruptly and closed his eyes. Jethro watched him regain his composure, watched him mentally stop himself from shaking, watched as he once again drew himself upright.

 

When Ducky opened his eyes again the gaze was, for the first time since Jethro had met him, closed and it had darkened. As Jethro looked into Ducky's eyes, he was suddenly aware that he was still squatting on the floor, still in effect holding Ducky's hand. Slowly, nonchalantly, he took his hand away and stood up, but he didn't move away from Ducky until it became clear that Ducky wasn't suddenly going to jump to his feet and bolt from the room, or indeed collapse under his gaze.

 

Once he was reassured of both facts, he returned to his own chair, picked his glass up and sat back down. This time he waited, he'd go on waiting all night if he had to, for Ducky to speak.

 

After another couple of minutes of silence, Ducky looked directly at him. "I must apologize for my behavior, Mr. Gibbs," he said, still in the extremely formal tone.

 

Jethro shrugged. "Nothing to apologize for, Duck. Just tell me what it is you came to tell me. And drop the Mr. Gibbs, okay?" He made the last part of his words light-hearted, and was pleased to see that Ducky managed a hint of a hint of a hint of a faint smile and a minute nod.

 

"I am afraid I lied to you yesterday." Jethro said nothing. He just waited, sipping his drink and keeping his gaze on Ducky. "It concerns my," Ducky broke off and Jethro watched him take a sip of his own drink and then lick his lips. "It concerns the man who had been my lover. I told you he was dead. That is not strictly true."

 

"Either someone's dead or they're not, Duck," Jethro said quietly. "Not sure how you telling me he's dead is 'not strictly true'."

 

"Of course you are correct." Again Ducky took a sip from his glass. Then under Jethro's gaze he straightened up even more, albeit he remained sitting back in his seat and looked directly at Jethro. "David Gilmore, the man I once called my lover, is in fact still alive in the true sense of the word. He is however dead to me."

 

"Go on," Jethro said gently.

 

Ducky ran his hand through his hair, pushing it back and sighed. "We were together for quite a number of years. I was very fond of him; indeed it is fair to say I loved him. I knew he was not, oh, dear, do forgive me, this will sound like a corny romance novel, but nonetheless it is what I feel, what I believe. He was not 'the one', but nevertheless we were good together. We had a good relationship, an honest one, with respect and trust on both sides. At least I thought so." Again Ducky closed his eyes.

 

Jethro sat forward slightly. "Duck -"

 

"Please, Jethro, this is difficult for me, but please let me attempt to finish."

 

"Sure. Sorry. Go on."

 

"Thank you. As I said we had been together for a number of years. And during that time he had met some of the boys I taught, some of the older boys who were in my house. The Headmaster had always known that I was gay and he had no problems with that fact, and I always ensured he was aware of these meetings. It wasn't that unusual for boys to meet their master's partners or family; not that many actually had families. The life of a schoolmaster is - but more had them, more were married or had partners, than during my own time as a student at Eton. Anyway, one day I discovered that -" Again Ducky broke off and this time when he raised his glass to his lips, he drained it.

 

"Here," Jethro said, standing up quickly and pouring some more whiskey into Ducky's glass before he could refuse.

 

"Thank you." Jethro could tell it was only decades of habitual good manners that even made Ducky aware his glass had been refilled and the 'thank you' was automatic. "I discovered that he had been seeing a handful of the upper sixth boys alone. And not just seeing them. He . . . Eton is a curious place in many ways. I am sure you've heard all kinds of stories about English public schools, have you not?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "A few."

 

"Well, they are, like most stories, partly factual, partly fictional. Yes, of course there was an element of sexual intimacy amongst the boys - the older boys that is. I cannot lie and say that I never - but that is not the point. The point is they were boys, seventeen, eighteen, it was different. Illegal, I know. But nonetheless . . . David was a grown man, a responsible man, or I so believed. For him to take advantage of his relationship with me, for him to violate the trust I and my Headmaster had in him was nothing short of - He swore, and they swore, that nothing, to use his own term, 'heavy' happened."

 

"Did you believe him?"

 

Ducky nodded, shook his head and then nodded again. "I don't know, Jethro. Yes. I think I did. He was contrite and something about him told me he was telling the truth. And the boys, they were frightened, but the fear was far more down to what I and the Headmaster might do, than of what had been done. Yes, I do believe the contact was shall we say mild. But that is not the point. It does not matter, to my mind, if he merely touched them whilst they were fully clothed or whether he had intercourse with them. The point is it was wrong. Utterly and totally wrong and unforgivable. Oh, dear, that must make me sound terrible. Of course there is a huge difference between a touch and intercourse, but -"

 

"I know what you mean, Duck. Go on. What happened?"

 

Ducky took another swallow of his drink and sighed. "As far as any police charge might go, nothing. Naturally the Headmaster did not want to make a fuss about it for various reasons, and the boys were adamant that nothing had gone on, and they had no desire for certain things to become known. Most boys who engage in a little homosexual intimacy whilst at public school go on to have wives and families, and live a fully heterosexual life thereafter. So on that front nothing was done - David was told by the Headmaster he would never be welcome at the school again, but apart from that."

 

"What about you?"

 

"Me? Oh, for me there was no choice, no question. The relationship was over. He had killed any feeling I might have for him. Killed it completely."

 

"How did he take it, when you told him?"

 

Ducky shrugged and shook his head. "He tried to get me to change my mind, but when it became clear nothing on this earth would do that, he gave in and accepted my words. Not that he had any choice but to do so. However, as a consequence we at least parted civilly."

 

"There's more, isn't there?" Jethro said quietly.

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. I am afraid there is. I had some things, books, a change of clothing, toiletries, at his house. The clothing and toiletries didn't matter, but the books did. Two of them were irreplaceable. I still had a key and, with his agreement, I arranged to go around and collect them, whilst he was out. It was during my visit that I came across something I'm certain I was not meant to discover. I wasn't snooping," Ducky added hastily.

 

"Never thought you were, Duck," Jethro said with complete honesty. "Go on."

 

"I got the clothing and toiletries and then went to the bookcase to take out the books. For some reason they were tightly wedged in, and to get them out I had to take another book out first. As I did, some papers fell to the floor as well as a smaller book. The book contained photographs of - Oh, dear, God, Jethro, I had no idea. None whatsoever. Had I even . . ." Once again Ducky began to shake slightly.

 

Unable to simply sit across the room from Ducky and watch the anguish, Jethro again stood up and crossed to where Ducky sat. This time he sat on the arm of the chair and put his arm around Ducky's shoulders. "It's okay, Duck," he said. "You don't have to tell me."

 

For a moment Ducky leaned against him. But then he pulled back and again straightened. "The book was one thing; the file something else. The only one thing I can say is that at least they were not young boys. Not that that changes anything, but they were at least - God, what am I thinking. He came in whilst I was there and found me looking at them."

 

"What did he say?"

 

"He told me they were part of a research project he was doing. He said he'd been asked to write a report on how easily it was to get hold of that kind of pornography. He said it was all part of trying to find a way to help catch pedophiles, and to help understand them. That some at least were genuinely sick."

 

"Sick covers it well."

 

"Yes, it does. He swore they were not 'his' in the sense that he had got them for the purposes of getting pleasure from looking at them."

 

"Did you believe him?"

 

Ducky shrugged. "He had done that kind of research before. He was good at it. He has published a couple of books that are very hard hitting and of the kind that makes you wonder just - But that's irrelevant. At the time . . . I think I wanted to believe him. Because -"

 

"He was the man you had at one time loved. The man you'd slept with. The man you'd shared your life with, and you needed something to hold on to to stop you from feeling so awful."

 

Ducky nodded. "That sums it up fairly well," he said. Again he drained his glass. "May I?"

 

"Sure." Jethro stood up, snagged the bottle and poured Ducky another healthy measure. This time he sat back down on the couch, at the end nearer to Ducky. "There's still more, isn't there?"

 

Ducky nodded. "A year after I walked out of his house I found out he'd been arrested for the abduction of two twelve year old boys. Nothing had happened, he was caught before - But it never should have happened. I never should have allowed it to have happen. I should have done something. I never should have let it be brushed under the carpet so to speak. I should have made the Headmaster do something. I should have done something. I should have -"

 

"There was nothing you could have done, Duck. Trust me, as a lawyer I know what I'm talking about. All you had was circumstantial evidence at best. The boys from your school weren't going to press charges - didn't want to. The book, the file, as you say he'd done that kind of job before. You had nothing. No hard or concrete evidence. There was nothing you nor anyone could have done."

 

Ducky stared at him as if he didn't believe him. Didnít want to believe him. "It was that discovery that finally made me decide to leave Eton, to leave Britain. I knew you see that I would never be able to form another relationship whilst I was still teaching there. And as happy with my own company as I am, together with the fact that I do not need a physical relationship to be fulfilled, nor did I want to necessarily spend the next fifteen years alone. So I decided it was time to make a clean break." Ducky swallowed another mouthful of his drink and then put the glass down and stood up. "And now that I have told you, I shall take my leave of you. I apologize most sincerely, Mr. Gibbs, for lying to you and for wasting your time. I do hope you are able to find a tutor for your daughter soon. She will be a pleasure to teach." He turned around.

 

But Jethro was quicker. He caught his arm and held him firmly in place, using the extra six inches he had on Ducky and his extra strength and twelve fewer years. He turned Ducky until they were face to face. Well not quite, given that Ducky had lowered his head. "Look at me", he said firmly, prepared if necessarily to force Ducky to do that thing.

 

After a moment's hesitation, Ducky did look up. "Firstly, I have found a tutor for Kelly - his name is Dr. Donald Mallard, but he's known as 'Ducky'. No," he said, as Ducky opened his mouth to protest. "I offered you the job of tutoring Kelly. Nothing, I repeat nothing, Ducky, you have told me tonight changes that."

 

"But -"

 

"Hush. And secondly," now it was Jethro's turn for a moment to lower his gaze. He looked back up. "And secondly, I already knew."

 

He was almost amused at Ducky's reaction. His eyes widened and his mouth parted slightly. He swallowed, closed his mouth, opened it again, no doubt to speak, and then closed it again before finally managing to say something. "But how? Why?"

 

"The how is easy: I'm a lawyer, Duck. Tracking down information is what I do. You were the one who said you assumed I'd run some kind of background check on the people I interviewed. I didn't answer you directly. But yeah, I did. I have an excellent man who does this kind of thing for a living, who is honest, trustworthy and damn good at his job."

 

"So you also knew I was gay, before I told you?" Ducky's tone was harder than Jethro had heard it.

 

He nodded. "Yes. I did."

 

"Then why did -"

 

"I interview you? Offer you the job? Make you tell me the story?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes."

 

"Putting aside the fact that, as I told you when it came up, you being gay didn't matter in the slightest, I interviewed you because on paper and from what I'd learned about you, you were the best person for the job. I offered you the job because after interviewing you I had confirmation that what the pieces of paper told me, including the references, was true. I let you tell me, because let's be honest here, Duck, I didn't ask you to tell me, did I? You came here tonight because you thought I had the right to know."

 

Ducky nodded briefly. "You are quite right."

 

"I had no idea what you were going to tell me, Duck. Not until you started. It could have been that . . . Oh, I don't know - anything. But once you'd started, instinct told me to let you go on. Have you ever told anyone the story before?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No. And I never thought I would."

 

"Well, I reckoned you needed to tell it. Not for the reasons you thought you did, because you thought I had a right to know. But for you. I thought you needed some kind of closure, some kind of catharsis. And as you told your story the more sure I was that my instinct was right. Yes, I could have stopped you, and more than once, when I saw how upset you were, I nearly did. But . . . Well, maybe I misjudged it, but I still think I did the right thing."

 

"I . . ." Ducky shook his head, but it was clear he was not refuting Jethro's words. "But why didn't you . . . ? I mean . . . If you knew, why . . ." Again he trailed off and raised his hands and let them fall in despair.

 

"If any of that was meant to be why didn't I challenge you, when you said he was dead," Jethro shrugged. "Because I knew that you'd tell me - one day. You're that kind of man. I confess I hadn't expected it to be so quickly, but I knew you would."

 

Ducky looked up at him. "You did?" The tone of his voice was one of surprise.

 

Jethro nodded. "Sure did."

 

"Forgive me, Jethro, but I'm still not certain I understand how you could possibly want me to tutor Kelly, knowing what you know."

 

"Sit back down, Ducky. You look exhausted and staring up at me must make your neck ache." And to encourage Ducky to 'obey' him, Jethro firmly guided him backward and gently propelled him back down into the chair. "Here," he picked up Ducky's glass that still had some whiskey in it.

 

"Thank you."

 

"Well first off, as I said, you were the best person by far. And secondly, it was David Gilmore who did those things, not you. You had nothing to do with it. No," again he prevented Ducky from speaking. "You didnít. And before you go on again about you should have done something, I repeat there was nothing you could have done. Nothing that would have prevented him snatching those boys. Nothing. Ducky. Nothing. Nada. Nothing. You have to trust me on that."

 

"I -"

 

"Good."

 

Ducky finally managed a half genuine smile. "Why do I get the impression I might be behaving just a little foolishly, even melodramatically?"

 

"Because you're a good person, Duck. A fair person. A gentleman. You're honest and above all you're trustworthy. Now -"

 

"May I ask you one question?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Sure."

 

"Had Kelly been a boy, would you still have employed me?"

 

"Yes." Jethro left it at the one single, stark word as anything else would have negated the word, not confirmed it. "Now," he said, after another moment of silence during which Ducky's gaze never left his face. "We are going to sit here and finish our drinks and we're going to talk about the weather or whatever it is you Brits always like to talk about for a few minutes. I will then call you a cab to take you back to your hotel and you'll go back home, sort out whatever it is you have to sort out before coming back here and taking up your new position. Do you understand, Dr. Mallard?"

 

This time the smile was more than a half one. "Yes, Mr. Gibbs," he said quietly. "Yes, I do."

 

"Good. And when you come back, you can tell me I was right."

 

"Right?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Mmmm. About you feeling better for finally having told someone." He tried, he tried hard, he tried very hard not to laugh as Ducky's mouth again fell open.

 

CHAPTER SIX: FEBRUARY 1992

 

Ducky sat in the very comfortable passenger seat of Jethro's car. He had tried to argue that it was unnecessary for his employer to take time away from work to collect him from the airport, but Jethro had been relentless. And in the end Ducky had stopped arguing and instead thanked him.

 

As they drove along the motor- 'freeway' he reminded himself - he looked out of the window. He still found it rather odd and a tad disconcerting to be sitting on this side of the car without a steering wheel to hold onto as well as driving on the wrong side of the road.

 

He'd been a little taken aback when his companion had put his arms around him and pulled him into a brief hug at the airport, and it had taken him a second or two to respond. And when he had done, he must have seemed quite awkward and stilted, because a second or two later, Jethro had broken away and apologized, holding out his hand for Ducky to shake instead. Jethro had muttered something about not intending to make Ducky feel awkward and forgetting for the moment the British reserve.

 

As they drove along, Ducky reflected that it wasn't that Jethro had made him feel awkward, or the British reserve, it was that Jethro had - He stopped that thought, just as he'd stopped all similar thoughts that had come into his mind during the weeks he'd been back in England and Scotland getting ready for his new life. Suddenly he wondered if accepting the job had been such a wise idea after all.

 

He shook himself; heavens what was he thinking? He wasn't a teenager; he was a mature man of fifty. He could control any urges he might have, push away any desires or designs he might have for or on the man he sat next to. Of course he could. Anyway, he'd soon be far too busy to think about his employer in any terms other than an employer. And it wasn't as if he'd see a great deal of Jethro. Was it?

 

"Penny for them?"

 

"I'm sorry?"

 

Jethro took his eyes of the road and glanced towards Ducky. "Just wondered what you were thinking. You've been quiet since we left the airport. No regrets, I hope?"

 

Ducky shook his head and wondered just when Jethro would return his attention to the road. Fortunately for his sense of well-being, Jethro did that very thing. "No, not at all. I was just musing on how odd it felt to be sitting on this side of the car without a steering wheel and pedals, and also how slightly disconcerting it was to be on the 'wrong' side of the road." He wasn't lying; he had been thinking those things.

 

Jethro laughed. "Yeah, guess it must seem a bit odd. You'll get used to it." Again he glanced at Ducky.

 

"I'm sure I shall."

 

"By the way, I'd better 'warn' you as I don't know how you are with surprises, but Kelly's put together a 'welcome banner' and organized a welcome dinner for you. She sorted it out with Mrs. Stewart, planned the menu and everything. I did check with Amy though, it's not pizza, jelly and ice-cream." Jethro smiled.

 

Ducky blinked. "Oh, how kind of her. But she shouldn't have gone to any trouble."

 

"Wasn't any trouble. Gave her something to do. I'm afraid her school work has slipped a bit as I decided not to bother to try to find someone to fill in for the few weeks. I didn't want Kelly to have to get used to another teacher. Also, because I didn't want her to spend a few weeks with you and then have her schooling interrupted again Shannon and Jenn agreed to Kelly visiting them at a different time. And I took the opportunity to say we might be revising the whole visiting schedule anyway. I know I said they'd be pretty flexible, but forewarned and all that. So between that and celebrating her birthday, she hadn't really done much work. But she's been doing a lot of reading - she's written you lots of book reports, and has put together a pile of books she thinks you should read. She decided that as they were American books you might not have read them. You don't have to." Again he glanced at Ducky.

 

"I actually think it will be a good idea to get a general feel for the books Kelly is reading and for the standard of literature here."

 

"Hmmm, not too sure I'd call some of them 'literature' as such, but Kell likes them."

 

"Talking of books, do you have any, how shall I put it? Taboo books? Anything you would rather she didn't read?"

 

Once again Jethro took his eyes off the road. Given that at the moment he was over-taking another car, Ducky couldn't prevent himself from gasping aloud and grabbing the dashboard. Instantly Jethro was contrite. "Sorry, Duck," he said, turning his attention back to the road, as far as looking went, he did, however, then take one hand off the steering wheel and squeezed Ducky's arm. "I am a safe driver," he said. "Really I am. I don't take risks. I know it might seem like I do, but . . ." He shrugged. "Sorry," he repeated.

 

"That's quite all right. I apologize for over-reacting." Although to be honest despite the words, Ducky didn't really feel he had been.

 

"Given you've never been in a car with me before, you weren't. Really. You were asking about 'taboo' books. Not sure I know what you mean."

 

"Well I understand your country has a list of banned books."

 

"Ah, I see. Yeah, we do. Mostly because they contain sex. We're not good on sex, you know."

 

Ducky glanced at Jethro and raised his eyebrows. "Forgive me, but I find that rather difficult to believe."

 

Jethro laughed. "Yeah, me too. And I live here. But somehow in books it often isn't considered 'right'. Don't ask me why," he shrugged. "I hate to sound as if I'm passing the buck, but really as long as you're happy with what she's reading I am."

 

Ducky sighed to himself. As much as he appreciated the free reign his employer was giving him, he would also have liked a little more in the way of guidelines. It was all very well Jethro saying he didn't mind, but Ducky didn't know him well enough to know if that was genuine or just the kind of thing one said. He already knew Jethro to be a good, caring parent - you could tell that in Kelly's behavior, but even so. Oh, well, he guessed he could learn a lot from seeing more of Kelly's books and talking to her. He wondered if she had read To Kill A Mockingbird, given the similarities between the protagonist in the book and Kelly herself, she might enjoy it. Although given the somewhat dark themes of rape and racial inequality, he thought maybe he should wait a while and get to know Kelly and her father more before introducing it to her.

 

"What else has she been doing in the last few weeks?"

 

"Bits and pieces really. She's written a few stories, I've sat down with her for an hour or so in the evening and gone through some math and history with her and stuff like that, but it's been rather hit and miss, I'm afraid. And she's been bored - I can always tell when she's bored as she decides she doesn't like her bedroom the way it is or any of her clothes."

 

"Oh, dear."

 

Jethro shrugged. "It hasn't been too bad. She's a good kid really, can entertain herself a lot. Oh, and she did do some 'sorting out' in your apartment."

 

"Sorting out?"

 

"Hmmm. Got me rearranging furniture and kitchen stuff."

 

"Oh, dear," Ducky repeated. "I should have sent her some work. But I didn't like to in case -"

 

"It wasn't a problem. The place needed sorting out. Oh, and in case that British reserve is wondering whether I mind her planning dinner for you, I don't. I'd fully intended to ask you to join us. She just beat me to it."

 

"There was no need -"

 

"Yeah, there was. Your first proper night here in a new job, a new home, with new people - the last thing you needed to do was cook for yourself. Besides, it makes a bit easier for Mrs. Stewart."

 

"Easier?"

 

"Yeah. Remember I told you - Oh, hell. Hang on." Jethro pulled out his cell phone that had begun to burble and flipped it open. "Jethro Gibbs? Oh, hey, Grace . . . . . . What . . . . . ? They can't do that . . . . . . Yeah, yeah, I know. I know. It's not your fault . . . . . . About half an hour, maybe three quarters . . . . . . Yes, I will. I've already scared him half to death, I'll take care . . . . . . I will. I promise. You call Wilson and tell him to be in my office in an hour . . . . . . Tell him I don't care. It's his screw up; he's going to help sort it out . . . . . . Yes, you can quote me. See you shortly," and he flipped the phone off. "Sorry about that. Slight change of plan, I'm afraid. Something's come up at work, I'm going to have to drop you off at home and get straight to the office. You don't mind, do you? I'll let you in and tell Kell and well . . . I'm sure Kelly will look after you."

 

"That's perfectly fine, Jethro. I quite understand."

 

Jethro again turned towards Ducky and frowned. "It's not fine, actually. It's damned bad timing and not exactly good manners. But I really can't do anything about it. I have to go to the office." Then with a half nod, he turned back to the road and in seconds Ducky felt the speed increase.

 

Several minutes later they pulled up outside the place that Ducky would be calling home for the next decade - at least he hoped he would. Jethro got out, went to the boot - trunk - and pulled Ducky's cases out, leaving Ducky to grab the bag he'd carried onto the plane and his briefcase.

 

Ducky followed Jethro to the front door of the single storey house and was ushered inside. "Kell," Jethro called. "Kelly!"

 

"Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" Kelly cried running down the hallway. She came to a stop and smiled. "Hello, Dr. Mallard," she said. "I'm glad you're finally here."
 

"Hello, Kelly. I am too."

 

"I'll go and tell Mrs. Stewart to put the kettle on," Kelly called over her shoulder.

 

"Kell, come here," Jethro called, stopping her.

 

"Yes, Daddy?" she ran back to him.

 

"I'm sorry, honey, but I have to go back to the office. Something has come up."

 

"Oh, but, Daddy. I -"

 

"I know, pumpkin. But I have to. So it's up to you to look after Dr. Mallard. Will you do that for me?"

 

"Of course, Daddy. I'll -"

 

"And don't forget, Kell, he's come all the way from Britain. He's tired, so no dragging him off to the school room today. No book lists. Or book reports or essays. Okay? Make sure he has a cup of tea, and then take him to his apartment and let him settle in. Okay, Kelly? Promise me?"

 

"But, Daddy. What about the -"


"Kelly!"

 

"Yes, Daddy. I promise. "No school work. Tea. Apartment. Settle in. Daddy has told you you're having dinner with us, hasn't he, Dr. Mallard?"

 

Before Ducky could reply, Jethro did so. "Yes, honey, I did and he is. Although I reckon 'ask' is a better word then 'tell', and if you don't know why, ask Dr. Mallard. Now give me a kiss. There's a good girl." And with those words he ruffled her hair, flashed a smile at Ducky and strode out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

 

Ducky looked down at the young girl with whom he'd shortly be spending a large proportion of each day and watched her carefully without making it obvious he was doing so. It would be the first time they'd been alone, and while she had seemed to genuinely take to him and chattered away to him upon their first meeting, her father had been present all the time. Now he'd gone and Ducky wondered just how Kelly would behave and handle the situation.

 

"It really is very bad of Daddy to go back to work," she said looking up at Ducky.

 

"He couldn't help it, Kelly," he said gently. "I know he didn't want to."

 

She sighed and frowned. "Daddy works too hard. I worry about him at times." She sounded so formal, so old for her age that Ducky found himself smiling. Then the frown faded and the sunny smile that seemed to be her almost normal look reappeared. "Let's go and have tea," she said. And to Ducky's surprise, she put her hand in his and led him along the hall and into the sitting room. "You sit down and I'll go and tell Mrs. Stewart to put the kettle on."

 

"Thank you, Kelly. That would be very nice. But remember what your father said about 'asking' and 'telling'? It would be more polite if you asked Mrs. Stewart rather than told her." He spoke gently, but firmly and watched her.

 

She frowned and put her head on one side and he saw her considering his words. As with the first meeting, he knew she would be a challenging, but in a good way, student, who was not always just going to accept everything she was told without wanting to know the reason. "Okay," she said, after another second or two's quiet contemplation. "I'll ask Mrs. Stewart," and again she smiled her sunny smile and ran off.

 

 

Kelly was very solicitous during tea, she kept inquiring if every thing was okay, was the tea hot enough, the chair comfortable enough, the biscuits the right kind, and she stared at Ducky the entire time. Her eyes were very like her father's as far as intensity and color went and she, like Jethro, seemed able to see beyond Ducky's skin to inside him. It was rather daunting to be the focus of an eight year old girl, yet at the same time he also found it soothing.

 

He wasn't quite sure what he'd been expecting from her, behavior-wise or conversation-wise once her father had left them, but to all intents and purposes Kelly behaved exactly as she had done when her father had been present. It didn't take Ducky long to realize just how much Kelly idolized, wouldn't be too strong a word, her father, as it showed in the way she constantly talked about him and how her eyes lit up when she did so.

 

She also mentioned her mother from time to time too, telling Ducky about her house and how it was smaller than this one and how she enjoyed her visits to Mommy and Auntie Jenny. Nonetheless, Ducky got the impression that although Kelly clearly loved her mother very much, it wasn't in quite the same way as she loved her father.

 

In all his years of teaching and interacting with children he had tended to find that most children did have a favorite parent and although it was often the subject of psychological debates and stories, it often was that daughters preferred their fathers and sons their mothers. And in Kelly's case there was the added fact that she lived with her father and visited her mother. Plus, no matter how well Jethro and Shannon had handled things, no matter how adjusted Kelly was, there was no getting over the fact Shannon had walked out on her husband and daughter - that alone was bound to have some effect on Kelly's affections for her mother.

 

"Did Daddy tell you that I visited Mommy and Auntie Jenny while you were back in Britain?" Kelly asked, sipping a glass of milk.

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, he did."

 

"Have you remembered what you told me you'd teach me first?" Ducky blinked and quickly thought back through the conversation they'd had. However, before he could say anything, Kelly went on. "It doesn't matter if you didnít, because I did. I wrote it down."

 

"Did you now?"

 

She nodded. "Yes. I write a lot of things down. Shall I fetch my notebook and show you?"

 

"Well -"

 

"Oh," she put her hands over her mouth. "But I'm not allowed to. Daddy told me 'no school work'. So we'll have to do something else instead. Do you play cards?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, I do."

 

"We could play. Except Daddy said you need to get settled." She sighed and crossed her arms as she continued to stare at Ducky.

 

"I tell you what, Kelly. You take me through to the apartment, I'll unpack a few things and get partly settled, then I'll come back here and we can play a game of cards."

 

She beamed at him. "I'd like that. Shall we go now?"

 

"Very well."

 

"Dr. Mallard?"

 

"Yes, Kelly?"

 

"Are you married?"

 

A little taken aback by the sudden change of subject Ducky nonetheless answered. "No, Kelly. I am not."

 

She nodded. "I didn't think you could be. I told Jasmine that - she didnít believe me. She said you had to be married because all grown-ups are married. Jasmine isn't very clever," Kelly added. "I like her, but she can't even do her buttons up the right way and she still wets the bed and her panties." Kelly wrinkled her nose at that. "Only naughty children still wet themselves and the bed, don't they, Dr. Mallard?"

 

"Well. That isn't necessarily the case, Kelly. Some children have more difficulty than others for various reasons. Is Jasmine the same age as you?"

 

Kelly nodded. "Yes." Then she frowned and added. "At least she is in years. She's eight, like me, I became eight when you weren't here. I would have liked you to have been here, you could have come to my party. Maddie and Emily were there and Daddy and Uncle Tobias and Katie - she's a few years older than me. You won't meet her as her Daddy and Mommy have moved away," she sounded a little sad. But then her tone changed as she asked, "Would you have liked to have come to my party, Dr. Mallard?"

 

Ducky smiled. "Yes, I would have, Kelly."

 

She looked at him and put her head on one side. "When I'm nine, next year, I'll have another party and you can come then." She spoke decisively.

 

"Wasn't Jasmine at your party?" Ducky asked, curious about this other friend of Kelly's.

 

Kelly shook her head. "No. Her mommy won't let her go to parties."

 

"Really? And why is that?"

 

Kelly again put her head on one side and looked at him. "I don't know. Daddy said groups of people aren't a good idea. But I'm glad she didn't come."

 

"Why is that, Kelly? I thought you said you liked her."

 

Kelly nodded. "I do. But when she came here last time she peed all over my bed and Daddy had to buy me a new quilt and cover and I didn't like that. I go to her house and see her. It's better. Daddy says she's sick and I should be understanding, but I don't want someone peeing on my things." She spoke defiantly and looked at Ducky as if daring him to argue.

 

He decided tact was the best thing and instead asked her, "Why didn't you think I could be married?" He was interested in what her reasoning might be.

 

She rolled her eyes as she looked at him. "Because you're coming to live here with me and Daddy and you wouldn't do that if you had a wife and children, would you?" Ah, yes, the precocious child Jethro warned Ducky his daughter could be was suddenly evident.

 

But Ducky approved of her reasoning. "Very good, Kelly," he said. "And you are quite correct. However, you should say 'Daddy and me' not 'me and Daddy' and I am not actually living with you, am I?"

 

She giggled at that. "Have you ever been married?" she suddenly demanded.

 

Ducky shook his head. "No, I haven't."

 

"Why not?"

 

For a moment Ducky was silent. Lying to a child had never been something he did, nor did he often ignore a direct question, but he could hardly answer her question honestly - not even though her mother lived with another woman. So he fell back on the old adage, hoping it would at least placate Kelly. "It may be a clichť, Kelly, but I have never met the right person," he said.

 

She frowned and continued to stare at him. As she opened her mouth he wondered what her next question might be. He was rather relieved it was simply, "What's a clichť, Dr. Mallard?"

 

Ten minutes later Kelly seemed satisfied with the explanation and had declared it was time she took Ducky to his apartment. She put the cup and saucer and the glass she'd had her milk in back on the tray together with the plates they'd had for the biscuits and was about to pick it up.

 

Fearing for the china, which was, Ducky had to admit, balanced a little precariously, Ducky stopped her. "Why don't you let me carry that, Kelly?" he said. "It does look a little heavy."

 

She looked at him. "Daddy said I was to look after you," she said.

 

"And you have done that, Kelly. You've done it very well indeed."

 

"Have I?" she beamed.

 

"Yes," he said, balancing the tray and smiling at her. "Now if you open the door for me and show me where the kitchen in, that would be very helpful."

 

"Okay," she said, running ahead of him. "I've made something for you can I show it to you. Oh, no, I can't, Daddy said I wasn't to take you into the school room," she sighed in an exaggerated fashion. "Oh, well, I guess it will still be there tomorrow. It's a pity because it won't be the same because you arrived today not tomorrow. Do you think Daddy would mind really? It's not work," she gazed up at him.

 

Ducky sought for a way out of the situation that would favor neither father nor daughter and not cause Kelly to break her promise to her father. He didn't yet know Jethro well enough to be able to judge if Kelly simply showing him the banner Jethro had told him she'd made for him would be enough to break her promise or not. He had seen enough of father and daughter interaction to know that Jethro indulged his daughter but had a line over which she wasn't allowed to cross. He also knew children enough to know that Kelly would push that line ever so gently from time to time just to see how far she could go. He got the impression that Jethro was an indulgent parent but a firm one - a good balance. But this question was a little too soon for him to know if a straight 'yes' or 'no' was advisable.

 

Again he fell back on what the British do so very well: compromise. "Well, Kelly, your father was very precise in what he said, and whilst I agree that showing me something does not equate to school work, as he also told you not to take me to school room, then I believe that doing so would, to your father, be breaking your word. However, why do we not wait for him to come home and you can ask him if you can show it to me?"

 

She frowned, sighed and then nodded. "Okay, Dr. Mallard. The kitchen is here." She opened the door. "Hello, Mrs. Stewart," she called, bouncing inside. "This is Dr. Mallard, he's going to be teaching me."

 

"I'm pleased to meet you, Dr. Mallard." Mrs. Stewart came towards him and took the tray from his hands. "Here let me take that for you."

 

"Thank you. And thank you for tea, it was very refreshing, and if I'm not mistaken those biscuits were homemade, were they not?"

 

She smiled and flushed slightly. "They were indeed, sir," she said. "They were one of the recipes my grandmother passed down to me. I do hope you'll be happy here, I know Mr. Gibbs will be pleased to finally have a permanent tutor for Miss Kelly."

 

"Thank you. I have every reason to believe I shall be. Now, Kelly, you were going to take me through to the apartment," Ducky said, aware that Mrs. Stewart wanted to be left alone to get on with the cooking she'd been in the middle of doing when they'd interrupted her. "It was very nice to meet you, Mrs. Stewart." She smiled at him.

 

As Kelly led him through from the main house to the apartment she was suddenly very quiet, quieter than he'd known her to be. "Is something the matter, Kelly," he asked.

 

She shook her head and then nodded. "Kind of."

 

"Do you want to tell me what it is?"

 

She shrugged and then nodded. "Dr. Mallard?"

 

"Yes, Kelly."

 

"You won't tell Daddy how horrid I was about Jasmine, will you? I know it was wrong of me to say I didn't want her here. I know she can't help wetting herself. I know she can't help it because she can't do up her buttons. I know I should be kinder to her, but - " She broke off and stared up at him. "But I keep my things nice and I don't want other people messing on them. Is that very wrong?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No, Kelly, it isn't wrong. Of course it's right to want to keep your things nice. But as you say, Jasmine can't help it. Maybe the next time she comes here you should play somewhere where it wouldn't matter so much if she had an accident. Do you think that's a good idea?"

 

She looked up at him her gaze solemn. "Yes, Dr. Mallard," she said. "I think that's a very good idea. And I am sorry I was so horrid about her. I do like her."

 

"I know, Kelly," Ducky put his hand on her head. "And as you know you were a little unkind about her, I don't think there is any reason to mention it to anyone else."

 

Gradually the smile crept back onto her face. "Thank you, Dr. Mallard," she said, taking his hand and squeezing it. "Now I'm going to leave you to unpack and I'm going to choose one of my dolls for Jasmine. She doesn't have many toys; her Mommy doesn't have much money." And with that she turned and ran out of the room.

 

 

An hour later Ducky decided he'd done enough unpacking for the day. He looked around the sitting room and felt very much at home, it was odd to think he'd been there for little more than an hour.

 

He glanced at his watch and decided it was time he kept his promise to play cards with Kelly, so after a short visit to the bathroom he went to the connecting door. There he paused suddenly he wasn't certain he could or should just walk into Jethro's home like that. He knew he'd be going back and forth each day, and he knew he was expected back in the main house, but suddenly he felt he couldn't just waltz in as if owned the place. For a moment he gave serious consideration to actually going outside and ringing the bell and waiting to be let in - but he decided that would be rather too ridiculous.

 

Just as he was about to return to his sitting room to ponder the matter further to door flew open and Kelly, smiling and looking very pleased herself raced through. "I've solved it, Dr. Mallard," she cried, grabbing his hand and all but dragging him along with her into the main house - at least it resolved the problem of how he was to go back.

 

"What have you solved, Kelly?"

 

"This!" she said, flinging open the door to the dining room and pulling him to the table. "There. That's for you." She beamed and bounced on the spot as he looked down at the virulent 'Welcome' banner that lay on the table.

 

She'd written 'Welcome to my home, Dr. Mallard' in big letters, each one a different color, and underneath that in smaller letters had added 'I hope you'll be happy here'. She'd even signed it: 'Kelly Ann Gibbs - age eight'. And she'd put the date - hence her comment about it not being the same tomorrow.

 

"Do you like it?" she demanded.

 

Ducky swallowed hard. To his faint embarrassment he felt a lump in his throat at the obvious time and trouble that had gone into making it. He could see each letter had been written very carefully and were all of just about the same size, and she had taken great care not to go over the lines when she'd colored them in. To be welcomed in the way his charge and her father had welcomed him, warmed him beyond his ability to explain.

 

He forced himself to speak, hoping his voice didn't sound as shaky or choked up as he feared it might. "It is lovely, Kelly," he said quietly. "It was very kind of you to make it for me."

 

She smiled even more. "I made it all myself. Well, Daddy cut the paper for me, but other than that, I did it all. Do you really like it?"

 

He put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently. "Yes, Kelly, I really do."

 

"Good," she said, twirling round on the spot. "And now you can play cards with me," and taking his hand she again dragged him from the room and into a room he hadn't seen before. "This is my playroom," she said. "And next time Jasmine comes to play we can play in here, because it won't matter if she pees on the floor, because it's easy to clean. And even that chair, she nodded to one of the chairs, is plastic. But you can sit on this one," she pulled him over to a comfortable looking, albeit lower than he would have liked chair.

 

And for the next half an hour they played cards, and Kelly chattered away barely pausing for breath. Ducky let her and as he listened to her he leaned more about the young girl whose education he was now to be in charge off.

 

 

"That's Daddy," Kelly sudden cried, flinging down her cards, leaping up and racing from the room. "Daddy! Daddy!" Ducky heard her cry as more slowly and using the fortunately very stable table to assist him he stood up and followed the direction of Kelly's high pitched voice.

 

"Dr. Mallard had tea and I showed him the apartment and let him get sorted and then we played card and he loves his banner. He really likes it, Daddy."

 

Jethro paused in the process of taking of his coat and frowned down at his daughter. "Kelly, you promised me you wouldn't take Dr. Mallard into the school room," he said, his tone hard.

 

"But I didn't, Daddy. I didn't. Did I, Dr. Mallard?"

 

Ducky came up to where father and daughter stood. "No, Jethro," he said quietly, looking at the sterner than he'd seen it before countenance. "I assure you she didnít. Your daughter solved her dilemma in a very clever way."

 

"Go on."

 

"I was going to wait for you to come home and ask you if I could just show Dr. Mallard the banner. I wanted him to see it today because today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow and it wouldn't have been the same. But then I had an idea." She stopped speaking and smiled sunnily.

 

"Oh, you did, did you?" Jethro asked, returning to taking his coat off.

 

She nodded vigorously. "Yes. I took the banner from the school room, put it in the dining room and showed it to Dr. Mallard there. See, Daddy. I didnít break my promise." And then she added, her voice suddenly quiet and heavy with concern. "Did I?" She looked from her father to Ducky and back again.

 

Ducky decided it was up to Jethro to answer the question and just waited. He was pleased when the corners of Jethro's mouth turned up and Jethro bent down and kissed his daughter. "No, pumpkin," he said. "I guess you didn't at that."

 

 

Later Ducky sat, along with Jethro, in Jethro's sitting room on his very comfortable sofa, sipping a fairly reasonable whiskey. Dinner had again been an extremely good meal; Mrs. Stewart was an excellent cook and although, as Jethro had told him, she normally prepared and cooked things, leaving them for Jethro to heat up or pop under the grill, she had stayed and served the first and main courses before leaving for the evening.

 

Jethro had said that Kelly had chosen the meal herself, but Ducky wondered if Mrs. Stewart had maybe made a few gentle suggestions here and there. Kelly had, as before, chattered away happily, dividing her attention between her father and Ducky himself, she really did seem a very well adjusted child and a happy one. Ducky had been amused when on a couple of occasions she'd mentioned something to do with school, she'd instantly put her hand over her mouth said 'ooops' or something similar and had gone on to a different subject.

 

Ducky observed Jethro's interactions with Kelly noticing that unlike so many parents he tended not to talk down to her or to alter his words or speech to accommodate her. He spoke to her as if she was a 'normal' person not a child of eight. It was clear she didnít necessarily understand everything, but nonetheless he approved.

 

He had also found himself the object of Jethro's attention too, the steady dark gaze had come to rest on him on more than one occasion and Jethro spoke directly to him even more than he spoke to his daughter.


It was very pleasant to sit here, like this, with a man he already liked and hoped to become friends with, in such peaceful and comfortable surroundings - he could get used it very easily. But he mustn't allow himself too - not that he expected to be invited to dinner and to stay for a drink afterwards on a regular basis.

 

"So no regrets?" Jethro said, turning his steady gaze onto Ducky.

 

Ducky frowned a little. "In what way?"

 

"About coming here to be Kell's tutor."

 

Ducky shook his head. "No, why do you ask?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "Just wondered if you really knew, until this afternoon, what you were letting yourself in for."

 

Ducky laughed softly. "Ah, yes. That was very clever of her to figure out how to," he paused for a moment to consider his words.

 

"Get her own way?"

 

Ducky smiled. "I was trying to find a more subtle way of phrasing it, but essentially that is correct, yes. Between that and not breaking her promise to you, I thought her solution was very ingenious."

 

"Yeah. That's my Kelly. I reckon you and she are going to get along very well."

 

"Oh," said Ducky. "I am sure of it." He smiled.

 

"As are you and I," Jethro said, his voice quiet. "Yes, we're going to get along very well indeed."

 

Held captive by a gaze he could no longer read, Ducky just smiled and nodded before sipping his drink.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

After a not very good night's sleep, Ducky awoke early and decided that it would be fortuitous for him to check out the school room before his charge arrived. So after showering and other such important morning things, he had a quick breakfast of tea and toast and made his way, still a little apprehensively, through the connecting door and found his way to the school room.

 

He hadn't really got a specific lesson plan in mind for the first few days. He wanted to simply get a feel for Kelly, for her intelligence, for her abilities and for what she liked and disliked. He had read various reports on her and Jethro had shared his opinions about things that he'd noticed, but Ducky preferred really to formulate his own opinions. A piece of paper saying 'reading age above average; understanding of basic math not good' was, to his mind, not a great deal of help.

 

He opened the door, went inside and came to a dead stop as he stared around the room. There was a blackboard with several boxes of chalk piled next to it, a white board with several boxes of marker pens next to it, a flip chart and more relevant pens, an overheard projector and a small photocopier. Also, neat piles of binders, folders, paper (white, colored, lined, squared, graph) cardboard (of varying colors and sizes), notebooks (of varying sizes), pens, pencils, colored crayons, felt tip pens, drawing pins, glue, erasers, pencil sharpeners and exercise books. And if that wasn't enough, there was also as all the usual 'office related' stationery, plus a telephone and what looked like a fax machine. Ducky wondered vaguely if the Gibbses had invited the local stationery supplier to supply them with several of everything when they had first set up the room.

 

One wall alone held nothing but bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling and even without going close to them Ducky could see they held an array of text books on just about every subject under the sun. The other walls held large maps: one of the world; one of America; one of the local state, and one, that looked newer than the others, of the United Kingdom. A window, with blinds, was the focal point of one of the third wall, and finally the wall into which the door was set was pristine and clean. It seemed to be waiting for things to be put on it.

 

There were several tables and cupboards (Ducky hardly dared to look in those) around the edge of the room, on some of them rested the stationery, others were empty. In the middle of the room itself were two smaller tables each with three chairs set around them, and finally a rather handsome looking antique desk with what Ducky could see from here was a comfortable chair. But it wasn't finally, because Ducky also spied a small fridge and a tray that held tea, coffee, a kettle, several cups, glasses and mugs as well as a sugar bowl and milk jug and a tin of biscuits.

 

On one of the smaller tables were piles of books and a folder from which Ducky could see peeking various papers. He assumed these were the books Kelly wanted to show him and the book reports she had written.

 

He just stood and stared, drinking in the amazing set up and supplies. Jethro had told him they had kitted out a school room, but this was beyond anything Ducky had even remotely been expecting.

 

"Like it?" A quiet voice behind him said.

 

Ducky jumped and glanced around. "Oh, Jethro," he said, ordering his pulse rate to decrease. "You made me jump."

 

"Sorry," Jethro touched Ducky's hand. "Heard you come through and I wanted to check that everything was okay. Kell's only just got up. She's got to wash and have breakfast - I made her promise not to rush it and also to make sure she brushes her teeth - before she joins you."

 

"Oh, that is quite all right. I know I am somewhat early. I just wanted to get a look at and feel for the room before Kelly arrived."

 

"So it's okay? Do you reckon you've got everything you need?"

 

"I would say it is far more than just 'okay', Jethro. And I am fairly certain from a cursory glance that I have more than I could possibly need."

 

"I'll take that as a 'yes' then," Jethro said and smiled.

 

"I do apologize. Yes, Jethro, everything is perfectly fine."

 

"Good. Why don't you come and join me for a cup of coffee before you start?"

 

"That is kind of you. But I had intended to," Ducky paused. Just what had he intended to do? Certainly as far as the room went there was nothing that needed 'doing'. No supplies he needed to check. Then something occurred to him. "I thought you left home for the office long before this time?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "Normally, yeah. But it didn't seem right with this being your first day. I told Grace I'd be in around lunchtime. I said I'd do some work at home before that. She looked as though I'd told her I was going to elope with the tooth fairy." They both laughed. "So coffee?"

 

"Well, I -"

 

"Good." And before Ducky could raise any further objections, he felt himself firmly turned and guided out of the school room, along the hallway and into Jethro's study.

 

 

Half an hour later he returned to the school room to find Kelly still not present - it seemed as though she was obeying her father and sticking to her promises. He decided to use the opportunity to look through some of the books Kelly had left for him.

 

Despite Jethro commenting that Kelly had put out her American author books, he noted several ones that were familiar to him. He was pleased to see Anne Of Green Gables, Heidi and Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Little House On The Prairie. He was interested to see Black Beauty, Jethro had mentioned Kelly loved horses, and Ducky wondered what she had made of the style. Picking up the folder of what were indeed book reports, he flicked through it.

 

Her handwriting was clear and precise, Ducky thought almost a little too precise and crafted; it almost reminded him of the basic calligraphy his mother had loved so much. Her use of the written word confirmed her use of the spoken word, and he found himself wincing at some of the sloppy phraseology and words, as well as some misusage. He reminded himself she had only just turned eight and she was American, but even so, that was no excuse to use the word 'gotten' - at least not in a formal report.

 

He did find a report on Black Beauty and found, against his will, himself chuckling softly at her summation. Basically she thought it was a good story, she liked Beauty, although thought it a silly name for a staleon, he corrected the spelling automatically, and had found the writing itself tiring. She'd added that the 'Black Stalleon' (a different black stalion) books were much better, and recommended that Ducky read them. He noted the three different attempts at spelling the word 'Stallion' and commended her for trying, but also made a mental note to introduce her to research and checking. After all, if she had read the Black Stallion books, he assumed she had them, rather than having borrowed them from a library, thus she could have checked the spelling there.


He had, as he'd told Jethro, brought several books over from Britain with him. Some of the long cherished favorites he had brought over were his Arthur Ransome collection of hard back books, all with dust jackets, which he had grown up loving. As much loved as they were, sadly they had sat for far too many years on his bookcases gathering dust. He had known from a very young age that he would never have children onto whom he could pass the collection, and being an only child ruled out nephews and nieces. Kelly loved books, she'd told him so, Jethro had told him so, and he'd seen the array of bookcases not just in her room but all over the house, and even more importantly, he had seen what good care she had taken of them. He chuckled to himself as he still remembered her demanding to know if he turned down the corners of pages. She would give his beloved books a good home, and he was sure she would enjoy the series.

 

He had also brought with him Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings, both of which might be a little too advanced for her at the moment. However, he recalled his schoolmaster reading The Hobbit to his class of nine year old boys, and had decided that was how he would introduce the book to Kelly. He had always approved whole-heartedly of children learning to read and being left to read by themselves, but he had also always felt that being read to was also a vital part of learning and communication - especially at Kelly's age.

 

He was just about to turn his attention to the other pile of books, which from what he could see were Kelly's 'American authors' when the door flew open and Kelly raced into the room. He wondered if she ever walked anywhere, and again had to remind himself she had only just turned eight.

 

"Good morning, Dr. Mallard," she called sunnily. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting?"

 

"No, not at all. I was just -"

 

"I would have been here earlier, but Daddy 'sisted I ate my breakfast." She rolled her eyes.

 

"And quite right too, Kelly," Ducky said. "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

 

"Is it? Why, Dr. Mallard?" She stared at him eyes wide. Suddenly he had a mental flash of the next ten years being dominated with the words 'why, Dr. Mallard?' and that very look.

 

He chuckled softly. "We will come to that later, Kelly. For now, why don't you sit down tell me about some of these books?" He gestured towards the pile of books he hadn't yet looked through.

 

She plonked herself down in one of chairs, grabbed the first book and started to speak. "These are the Ramona books. Ramona is a little girl who is always getting into trouble." She giggled. "She has a big sister called Beezus and in first book she, Ramona, got sent home from kindergarten for pulling another girl's hair." She paused and looked at Ducky. "That was a bad thing to do, wasn't it? But she couldn't help it. Did you ever pull a little girl's hair when you were a little boy?"

 

Ducky, who had pulled up the, what he could confirm was a, very comfortable chair from behind his desk cast his mind back several decades. "As a matter of fact, Kelly," he said. "I didnít. I am afraid I was never a particularly naughty child. However, I had my own curls pulled by a little girl."

 

Her eyes grew wide. "You had curls?" she put her hand to her mouth in what he now knew to be her way of hiding the fact she was giggling.

 

He nodded. "Yes, longish blond curls; Mother loved them."

 

"I bet they were very nice," Kelly finally said politely. "Why did the little girl pull them?"

 

Ducky thought back to the various reasons, it had after all happened more than once, and to the spite on the face of the girl who had done it. However, he decided it was time for a less honest answer. "I believe it was for the same reason as Ramona: she couldn't help it. Do you have a favorite book in the series?"

 

She put her head on one side and frowned. "I have a favorite title," she said after a short span of silence. "Ramona And Her Father. And I also now really like Ramona Quimby Age Eight, because I am eight."

 

Ducky smiled at her; he had no need to ask about her favorite title. "Have you read To Kill A Mockingbird?" Even though he intended to mention the book to Jethro before he introduced it to Kelly, he was still interested to learn if she had at the very least heard of it.

 

Kelly shook her head slowly. "No. I don't think so. Should I?"

 

"Well the little boy in the book is also eight and his father is a lawyer."

 

"Like me and Daddy."

 

"Daddy and I."

 

"Daddy and I." She bent down and picked up the satchel she'd been carrying when she'd gone into the room and pulled out a notebook and a pen and wrote 'Daddy And I'. "This is my notebook where I write things I want to remember," she said. "Do you have a notebook where you write things you want to remember?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Oh, yes, Kelly. Several of them."

 

She beamed. "Good. Shall I tell you about some more books?"

 

He decided for the moment not to return to the question of To Kill A Mockingbird. "Yes, that would be very nice. And also would you mind if I borrowed a few?" The way her face lit up answered the question. "It would be nice for me to actually get a feel for the books you read. And later I'll show you some books I have brought from Britain for you. I think you'll like them."

 

Her eyes sparkled. It seemed that 'books' was a magical word in Kelly's world. She grabbed another book and pushed it across the Ducky, the author was Madeleine L'Engle, and from the look of the cover the book was science fiction or fantasy.

 

"I love The Wrinkle In Time series," Kelly said, now pulling the book back. "It's about a little girl, well she's a bit older than me, and her brother and her mommy going off to find her daddy as he'd been swept away in time. They travel to various worlds and have adventures and - Oh, but I won't tell you anymore as I'll spoil them for you. I have the whole set and lots of her other books as well. You can borrow as many as you like."

 

"Thank you, Kelly."

 

"Oh, and these books are very good if you want to learn about history. There are eight girls, plus one from recent times, but I don't like those so much, and they all have several books. You can borrow those too." She pushed over a book entitled Meet Samantha: An American Girl.

 

"I think Dr. Mallard probably knows his history, Kell." For the second time that day Jethro's voice sounded from the door and made Ducky and, he was rather relived to see, Kelly jump.

 

"Daddy! What are you doing here? You're interrupting!" Kelly frowned at her father.

 

Ducky wasn't certain of his role at that moment. Yes, it was during the school day, yes, he was Kelly's tutor and had it been anyone other than her father he would have gently, but firmly chastised her, but as it was her father . . . So instead he looked at Jethro and asked quietly, "Is there anything wrong, Jethro? Is there something you wish me to do?"

 

Jethro shook his head and held up his hands. "Sorry. I have no right to be here. I told myself I wouldn't interrupt and I'm not checking up on you, so don't think that, I just . . . Actually, truth is I'm not sure what I 'just'. I'll go." And he turned to do that thing.

 

Ducky glanced at his watch and was surprised to see quite how much time had gone by, it was in fact mid-morning and high time he broke for a short recess. There was a limit to how much information children or indeed adults could take in in one sitting, and although they'd only been talking about books, Kelly's intensity level had been fairly high. "As a matter of fact it is I feel time for a short break. I'm sure Kelly would like the opportunity to stretch her legs and maybe pop to the bathroom and -"

 

"May I have a glass of milk, please, Dr. Mallard?"

 

Ducky glanced at Jethro swiftly and received a quick nod. "Yes, Kelly. However, do remember not to interrupt someone when they are talking. It isn't polite."

 

"I'm sorry, Dr. Mallard," she said. "I'll try not to do it again. May I be excused, please?"

 

He nodded. "Of course," he rather liked her 'I'll try not to do it again', not a promise never to, just one to try.

 

"How long is the break?" she asked.

 

Ducky calculated swiftly, based on what he and Jethro had discussed. Given that she wouldn't be moving from room to room or even having different teachers for different subjects or simply having other children to chat to, her day was going to be slightly longer. He felt that half an hour in the morning and afternoon and an hour for lunch seemed about right. "Shall we say half an hour?" She nodded and ran off. "And in that case, Jethro, may I offer you a cup of tea before you return to your work?"

 

Jethro laughed. "Point taken, Duck. And yeah, thanks. But make mine coffee."

 

 

When Kelly returned Ducky took the opportunity to quiz her a little on 'The American Girls' books. "You said you didn't really care for the 'recent times' books in this series. May I ask why not?"

 

She looked at him. "Because it's not like that," she said, her tone almost defiant.

 

"What isn't like what, Kelly?" he asked gently. "Remember, I do not know the books. What are these about?"

 

"A girl called Julie whose Mommy and Daddy get divorced and it's horrid. And she doesn't want anyone to know. And she wants to play on the basketball team even though it's all boys, which is just silly. It isn't like that!" she repeated.

 

"Do you mean the divorce and the way her parents are?"

 

Kelly nodded. "Yes. They aren't like Daddy and Mommy, so I don't like them. They're silly."

 

Ducky decided the best course was to actually read one of the books before he brought up the subject again. From what little Kelly had said and from witnessing divorced parents of some of the boys at Eton, he felt that Kelly's experience, putting aside the whole 'Mommy left to live with another lady' was rather different from the normal. "I think I'd like to read one of the books, if I may, Kelly," he said.

 

She looked at him. "But I don't like them."

 

"Nevertheless, I'd like to read one. Do you have them?"

 

"I guess."

 

"Good. Now, I think it's time we talked about something else, don't you? Is there any other books about which you'd particular like to tell me? Let's say just one series and then we'll move onto something else."

 

"Okay." She thought for a minute then asked, "Can we talk about more books later?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Of course. Books are one of my favorite pleasures and subject."

 

"Mine too." Kelly spoke decisively. "In that case I also like mystery books. Do you, Dr. Mallard?"

 

"I do, Kelly, yes. Do you have a favorite children's author?"

 

"Hmmm, maybe Joan Lowery Nixon. She writes good stories and you can't always guess who did it. I don't like books where you know who did it at the end of the first chapter. I like to keep guessing. Do you, Dr. Mallard?"

 

And Ducky suddenly got a second flash forward of this next ten years where: 'Do you, Dr. Mallard?' would be another phrase he heard many times. "Yes, Kelly. Guessing is good. Now, as you mentioned history a little while ago, why don't you tell me some of the key things you have learnt so far in your schooling?"

 

She put her head on one side. "Learnt?" she asked.

 

Ducky nodded. "There are several words that our two countries pronounce differently, indeed many that are spelt differently too. When you say 'learned' we say 'learnt' and -"

 

"'Spelt' and 'spelled'! Oh, I'm sorry, Dr. Mallard, I interrupted you again. But I'm right, arenít I?"

 

Ducky sighed softly to himself and hid a smile. "Yes, Kelly, you are indeed correct."
 

CHAPTER EIGHT: MARCH 1992

 

"This gets silly, Duck."

 

"What does, Jethro?"

 

"Me asking you to join us for dinner each night. Why don't we just agree that unless you're really tired of Kelly or me - or both of us - that it's a standing thing?" Jethro stood in the doorway between the main house and Ducky's apartment. He was still dressed for the office, including wearing his overcoat and carrying his briefcase.

 

Ducky shifted slightly. "I really don't want to intrude, Jethro. I -"

 

"You're not, okay? Kelly and I like having dinner with you and more than that, it helps Mrs. Stewart."

 

"Ah, yes," Ducky said, suddenly remembering. "You mentioned that before, on the way back from the airport. You were going to explain the comment, but your assistant called you and you never had the chance."

 

"You're right. I didn't. I'll tell you later, after dinner, once Kelly's in bed. See you in a bit, Duck." And with that, Jethro turned and strode off down the hall.

 

Ducky watched him go and sighed to himself. He really shouldn't keep accepting Jethro's invitation to eat with them, and he certainly shouldn't agree to it being an every night thing. Although, now he came to think about it, with very few exceptions - ones he could count on the fingers of one hand - that had indeed been the case since he'd arrived in America.


It wasn't that he didn't like spending time with Jethro and his daughter; he did. He did very much - maybe too much. And it wasn't just dinner, it was after dinner. Jethro always invited Ducky to join him for a drink and somehow Ducky found all of his objections or excuses overturned. Jethro did have a habit of winning every argument - but then he did do that for a living, so maybe Ducky shouldn't be too surprised.

 

In the first few days as well as finding his feet and getting to grips with the lively mind that belonged to Kelly Ann Gibbs and letting his body adjust to firstly teaching regularly for several hours a day - there was no staff common room to which he could escape - which he hadn't done for the best part of a year and secondly to the time difference, Ducky had been grateful for the invitations. He had found the days more tiring than he'd thought he would, so much so that at one point it gave him serious pause for thought: maybe he shouldn't have taken on such a young child.

 

He was also aware that as much as he liked the Gibbses, and he did, he felt a little over-whelmed by them. It started to seem that the only time he was alone was when he had to answer a call of nature, and to his shame he found his trips to the loo getting more frequent and taking somewhat longer than was strictly necessary. Kelly was a joy to teach, but she was also a very demanding student, in a good way, but even so.

 

But it wasn't just Kelly or her mind or the work or the lack of any real time alone that was troubling Ducky and making him question the wisdom of accepting Jethro's constant invitations. It was his growing feelings for his employer.

 

It had been all very well him telling himself that he wouldn't see that much of Jethro and he was an adult, not to mention the not inconsiderable matter that Jethro was not gay. The fact was all those things aside, Ducky had found himself becoming more and more attracted to Jethro.

 

In some ways it wasn't that big a thing, Ducky was more than able to control his emotions and feelings and he had no concerns that he might suddenly grab Jethro and kiss him, but he did sometimes find it hard to spend an evening with him. Especially given how attentive Jethro was - and he was attentive - as well as being a fairly tactile man. He seemed to think nothing of putting his hand on Ducky's arm or shoulder or even his thigh, or brushing against him, and the steady dark gaze never seemed to leave Ducky's face.

 

It was foolish to go on spending evenings like that - why was he putting himself through it all the time? No, tonight would be the last - at least on a regular basis. He would thank Jethro, assure him it was nothing personal, that he enjoyed his meals with Kelly and Jethro himself and appreciated being invited to dinner and to spend time with Jethro thereafter, but really, he would like a few evenings to himself.

 

And he would stand firm. He would not allow Jethro to talk him round; he would not allow himself to be beaten by a lawyerly argument. He would be polite, of course, and courteous, but he would make it clear he would not be joining the Gibbses on a regular basis.

 

 

"I told Mrs. Stewart you'd be joining us for dinner each evening," Jethro said, as he poured a generous amount of whiskey into Ducky's glass.

 

"Jethro!" Ducky spoke more sharply than he'd intended to. And that was yet another reason why he should stop spending so much time with Jethro; he was starting to not exactly 'forget' but let the lines of their relationship become blurred. It was fair to say he did regard Jethro as a friend, but at the end of the day he was Jethro's employee, and these intimate evenings were not always conducive to him remembering that.

 

Jethro paused in the process of pouring the drink and looked at Ducky. "What? Is there a problem, Ducky?" He looked so surprised, so concerned, that Ducky found himself hastening to reassure.

 

"No, of course not, Jethro," he said, touching Jethro's hand - and that was yet another reason. It was one thing Jethro being tactile with Ducky, but Ducky found he was touching Jethro too. Oh, dear, this really wasn't going according to plan.

 

"Don't you like having dinner with Kell and me?" Jethro finished pouring Ducky's drink, sloshed some into his own glass and sat down opposite Ducky.

 

"Of course I do." And he did.

 

"You sure? You're not just saying 'yes' because you feel you have to, are you, Duck?" The look on Jethro's face told Ducky he had only just thought of that. "Because you are . . . If you feel I'm, we're, putting pressure on you, abusing our position, then please say so."

 

"It is not that at all, Jethro. I enjoy having dinner with you. It's -"

 

"What about afterwards?" Jethro leaned forward.

 

"I'm sorry?"

 

"Like now. You having a drink with me. Don't you want that? Do you feel you have to say 'yes' because of some ingrained belief that I'm your employer?"

 

"Jethro, you are my employer," Ducky said gently.

 

"Well, yes, I know that, but - So are you? Is that why you say 'yes' all the time? And is that why you donít want to eat with us? Have I been putting pressure on you? Have I been making you feel uneasy? Have I -"

 

Gently Ducky cut off the tirade. "No, Jethro. I assure you I have not felt under pressure or uneasy." It wasn't quite a lie - at least not in the way Jethro meant it.

 

"Thank God for that. Tobias did wonder, but I told him it was fine. Now I'm worried he was right." The surprise Ducky was feeling at the revelation that Jethro had told his friend about spending time with Ducky must have shown itself as something else, because Jethro hurried on. "Tobias Fornell, my friend and fellow lawyer. I mentioned him to you; at least I'm sure I did. The guy who sorted out Mrs. Abbot's divorce."

 

"Yes. I remember who he is. I was just . . . It doesn't matter. Please believe me, Jethro, I do enjoy my time with you and with Kelly of course. Really I do. It is very pleasant to spend time with you both."

 

Jethro sat back in his chair and let out a sigh. "Thank God, for that," he repeated. "So it's okay then? Me telling Mrs. Stewart to make dinner for three and me inviting you to stay for a drink? That's all right?"

 

"Jethro, I . . ." Ducky trailed off under the dark gaze that was tinged with concern. "Why don't you tell me why it is beneficial for Mrs. Stewart," he said.

 

"Oh, yeah. I told you her husband is disabled and he can't work, thus the only money they have coming in is what I pay her?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes."

 

"Well, it's a fairly recent thing. He was involved in an accident which wasn't his fault - I'm still in the midst of trying to sort out some kind of compensation, but in the meantime - Sorry, you don't need to know that. They, like a lot of Americans of their income bracket didn't have medical insurance. It's hellishly expensive and neither of them were the kind of people who got sick, so they took their chances. And then he had the accident."

 

"I think I understand."

 

"Yeah. I offered to help them out, to pay the hospital bills. To me they were nothing, God that sound dreadful, but . . . Well, I can make more in one case than they came to. But they're proud people, stubborn too, and wouldn't hear of it."

 

"I can understand both sides. And if it's any comfort it doesn't sound dreadful, remember I am in the same boat myself."

 

"Course you are. Anyway, I can at least pay her a damn good salary - she knows it's well above the norm. But she can justify it by the fact that she prepares dinner for us and also that I used the excuse that part of it is some kind of retainer."

 

"Retainer?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah. If I need or want to go out in the evening, she'll babysit for me."

 

"But you don't go out."

 

Jethro smiled. "I don't. And she knows that, but -"

 

"The fact is you might have to, and so she can happily tell herself it is okay to have a much higher salary?"

 

"That's about it. Anyway, the thing is when she prepares dinner she always makes too much," he paused and looked at Ducky.

 

"She makes enough for four?"

 

"Yes. And of course we don't waste it. So what's left over -"

 

"She takes home with her the next evening and they have a good, hot meal that doesnít cost them anything."

 

"Exactly! And the extra cost is negligible. In fact Shannon told me more than once that often cooking for five works out cheaper or as cheap as cooking for two or three."

 

Ducky nodded. "That can be the case, yes. Often why you buy more of something proportionately it is indeed cheaper. In fact not just proportionally but in reality."

 

"Right." Jethro's look was one of gentle amusement. "So all the time you've been having dinner here, she's simply been cooking for five rather than four. Which of course she would go on doing and again having another person to regularly cook for will make her feel she's doing more, and so -"

 

"She can continue to justify the larger than average salary you pay her."

 

"That's right, Dr. Mallard."

 

Ducky sipped his drink. There was no way he could say 'no' now. And you don't want to, he ignored the small voice. "In that case, I am more than happy for you to tell Mrs. Stewart that I will be dining with you and Kelly each evening. Ah, wait," Ducky said mischievously, "of course you have already done so." He laughed at the look of sudden contrition on Jethro's face.

 

"Sorry about that, Duck. I should have waited. But she goes shopping for the week tomorrow before she comes here and had asked if you'd be eating with us so that she knew how much to buy and . . . It just kind of came out. Sorry," he repeated.

 

"It doesnít matter," Ducky said. "What happens when Kelly goes to visit her mother?"

 

"Like you, that's when Mrs. Stewart has to take her holidays and before she goes she fills up the freezer for me and leaves me detailed instructions about re-heating. And of course when she makes the meals she always makes sure . . . You get the picture."

 

Ducky nodded. "I assume she is aware that you are aware of the - shall we say subterfuge?" He had met Amy Stewart several times and knew her to be a very astute and intelligent woman.

 

Jethro nodded. "Sure she does, yes. It works for both of us. It makes me feel better as I'm actually doing something to help, and it makes her feel okay about it because it isn't charity. So it's a win-win situation."

 

CHAPTER NINE: APRIL 1992

 

Ducky was awoken from an extremely pleasant dream, a dream he really should not be having, by the sound of the phone ringing insistently in his ear.

 

He switched on the bedside lamp and glanced at the clock; it was 3:00 a.m. Instantly he knew that the call was not going to be a good one. No good ever came of a middle of the night phone call. Nonetheless, as he reached for the receiver he allowed himself a second or two's thought or hope, that it was merely his mother, having forgotten the five hour time difference. She always had been an early riser, so for her to ring him at 8:00 a.m. would not be that unusual. However, as he put the receiver to his ear, even before he spoke his name, he knew.

 

Five minutes later he carefully replaced the receiver, closed his eyes and sighed. "Oh, Mama," he whispered into the dark, but for the single lamp, room, automatically falling back onto the name he hadn't called her for over forty years. "Oh, Mama," he repeated.

 

Knowing there was no chance of him getting any more sleep that night, and even if he thought he might, there was so much to be done, to be planned, he slid from the bed and padded quietly to the bathroom. There he relieved himself, brushed his teeth and took a shower, staying under the water for a little longer than usual, letting the warm, hard jets cleanse his body and the steam lull him into peace for a short time.

 

Three quarters of an hour later showered, shaved, hair washed, and dressed he began to pack a case, putting shoes, belts and other heavy objects at the bottom, folding shirts and jumpers automatically, tucking socks and underwear and handkerchief into small places, neatly folding his non-funeral trousers, and finally carefully placing his black suit and tie on top of everything. Then he packed a smaller case of toiletries and books and other documentation he might need in the UK, and finally a small bag he would carry onto to the plane with him. This included the book he was currently reading, two of Kelly's exercise books and his folder of lesson plans.

 

Then he looked around the room. For a moment, just for a fleeting moment, he regretted his decision to come to America. Regretted his decision to take up the position of tutor to the young Kelly Gibbs. Maybe if he hadn't have gone so far away from home, then maybe . . .

 

But he pushed that thought from his mind, suddenly annoyed with himself for even thinking it. Of course his presence in the UK, be it with his mother who had been living in their Scottish house at the time of her passing, or in Eton or anywhere else, would not have prevented his mother from having a massive heart attack and dying instantly. And she had been pleased to hear he was happy and settled, and had enjoyed all of the stories he'd shared with her about Kelly.

 

He did regret that he'd never been able to keep his promise, the one made to both his mother and to Kelly: to take Kelly to the UK to meet his mother. He knew his mother had always known he would never provide her with grandchildren and had also always known that although she did regret that, she respected his choices and didn't love him any the less for them. She would have loved Kelly and Kelly would have been fascinated by Vanessa Mallard. Yes, it was a shame they had never met; Kelly was without living grandparents and so the older woman would have been a delight to her.

 

But as he let the regret momentarily almost overwhelm him he heard his maternal grandmother's voice in his head. "Regrets, Donald, are futile. What is done is done. What is not done is not done. You cannot change the past. You must not look back and regret."

 

"Yes, Grandmamma," he murmured.

 

He looked at the clock. It was now 4:30 a.m. Still too early to do anything useful; he wasn't even certain if it would be possible to arrange a flight at this time of day. Besides, he felt he shouldn't attempt to make arrangements until he had done his employer the courtesy of informing him that he needed to return to the UK for a while.

 

He tried to settle down to read, but found his mind wandered too much. Then he tried to mark Kelly's latest book review. She had been reading Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan, an author of whom she seemed quite fond. Like several of Kelly's favorite authors Patricia MacLachlan was not one whom Ducky had read - until recently. Maybe some people, other tutors even, would find it strange, but Ducky made certain he read all the books he asked Kelly to review. He felt it only fair that he did that, and he'd certainly widened his, what was already extremely wide, sphere of literature. He smiled to himself as he realized he was doing what he never though he'd do: reading novels aimed at young girls.

 

But as he looked down at the paper covered with her handwriting and smiled at her latest attempt at trying to impress him with using 'big' words, he found they were just words on the page. He pushed it to one side; it wouldn't be right to grade it now.

 

He decided to make himself a cup of tea, warming the pot and letting the tea brew for the precise amount of time. Nonetheless, in the end even after drinking it, and he didn't hurry, and washing up the single cup and saucer, emptying the teapot, swilling it out and putting it away and wiping down the already clean work surface, he discovered less than half an hour had passed.

 

Jethro, he knew, was an early riser. He was always in his study by 6:00 a.m. as he liked to put in up to an hour's work, before having breakfast and leaving for the office. However, he still couldn't go barging into the main house and disturbing Jethro quite this early, even if by any chance he was awake.

 

Finally, unable to sit doing effectively nothing any longer, at 5:45 a.m. Ducky left his apartment. He went through the connecting door into the main house, walked quietly along the mutedly lit (Jethro was at least up) corridor and tapped on the door to Jethro's study before opening it and going inside.

 

"Duck?" Jethro came to his feet as Ducky went inside. "Is something up or have you just come to join me for breakfast?"

 

"I am afraid that I am going to have to ask for a leave of absence," Ducky said, silently cursing himself as the words and his tone sounded so formal.

 

Now Jethro frowned and he came out from behind his desk and crossed the room to where Ducky still stood. "What's happened, Duck?" he said, his voice low; he put one hand on Ducky's shoulder.

 

He had moved very close to Ducky, thus forcing Ducky to tilt his head back to look up at him. "I received a telephone call a few hours ago, three to be precise," again he mentally shook himself. "I am afraid that my mother has died. It was very sudden, instant in fact. A massive heart attack; she didn't suffer. She would barely have even been aware of what had happened. I should be, I am of course, glad that she would have known only the briefest moment of pain and that -"

 

He was silenced by Jethro folding him into an embrace and pulling Ducky close to him. One hand slipped under Ducky's hair, cradling his head and gently pushing it against his shoulder, the other went around his back. As he held him he rocked him gently, just as Ducky had seen him do so many times with Kelly. Then he put his mouth near to Ducky's ear and said softly, "I am so sorry, Duck. So very sorry." His fingers stroked Ducky's head; again the gesture was so familiar, Ducky had seen it many times.

 

As he let Jethro hold him, as he accepted the comfort he was being given, Ducky's throat tightened and his eyes began to prickle. He wouldn't cry; he must not cry; not here, not like this. He was - But even as he tried to fight them, he felt tears slip from his eyes and travel down his face, getting swept up by the softness of Jethro's cotton shirt.

 

He wasn't certain how long he was held, rocked, stroked and comforted, nor did he catch many of Jethro's murmured words, but finally he felt able to lift his head from where it rested so naturally, so comfortably and move away a little. As he moved, Jethro let the embrace loosen and finally broke it completely, apart from keeping one hand on one of Ducky's shoulders.

 

Ducky was about to pull his handkerchief from his trouser pocket when Jethro pushed his own into his hand. "Here," he said gently. Again the gesture was so familiar.

 

Ducky didnít object, suddenly he hadn't got the strength to do so. "Thank you," he said, taking the white linen and wiping his face. He decorously blew his nose and folded the handkerchief and, unlike Kelly who usually tended to hand it back to her father, carefully put it into his own pocket. "Please forgive me, Jethro," he said. "I -"

 

"Hush. Duck. You've just lost your mom. I know what that's like. And I know you British have the whole 'stiff upper lip' thingy, but I know how much you loved her. And don't look at me like that, I know you never came out and told me. But don't forget I'm pretty good at reading people, I saw it in the way you looked and heard it in your voice whenever you spoke about her. It's okay to mourn her, Ducky. It's okay to show you care. It's okay to cry."

 

Ducky gave a faint smile and nodded. "I know, Jethro. Thank you. I appreciate it."

 

"What are friends for?" Jethro said, moving his hand from Ducky's shoulder, to the nape of his neck. "Now. When do you need to leave? Have you got a flight booked?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "I didn't like to do anything until I had told you. Besides, I have to confess I didn't know if it was even possible to book a flight in the middle of the night. I know that sounds foolish and I could I'm sure have found out, but . . . It just didn't seem right to do anything until I had told you. And I'm sorry, I haven't answered your first question."

 

"Noticed that. Come and sit down for a minute." And with that, Jethro put his arm around Ducky and led him to the sofa he had in his study. Ducky had no choice but to go with him.

 

Once Ducky had sat down, Jethro moved back to his desk and grabbed his note pad. "Okay, where do you want to fly to and when?" he asked.

 

"Mother was in our Scottish home, so Aberdeen would be my choice. But if that is not possible, then Glasgow or Edinburgh, I should be able to get an internal flight or hire a car. As for when, if it is not going to cause too many problems for you, I would like to go as soon as possible. Jethro, what are you doing?" he asked suddenly, as Jethro grabbed his phone and pushed some numbers. "Jethro!"

 

But Jethro silenced him by holding up his hand. "Hey, Grace, sorry to bother you so early. I need you to book a flight, please . . . . . . From here to Aberdeen, preferable straight through, but if not, then with changes or whatever . . . . . . As soon as possible today . . . . . . No, not for me. It's for Ducky. Dr. Donald Mallard . . . . . . His mom died in the night, he has to go home . . . . . . For choice, yeah, but if that'll mean a later flight then whatever you can get . . . . . . Yeah, put it through the firm . . . . . . Yeah, I'll be here. In fact can you cancel my appointments . . . . . . Better be all day. I'll obvious take Ducky to the airport . . . . . . Thanks, Grace." And with that he hung up.

 

Ducky started to object. "But, Jethro, I can -"

 

"Yeah, know you can. But as I said what are friends for. Besides, Grace is used to the system, if anyone can get you a decent flight today, it'll be her. Now, you need some breakfast. Come on." And without giving Ducky a chance to speak, he snagged Ducky's hand, pulled him to his feet and led him from the study to the kitchen.

 

"Good morning, Mr. Jethro, Dr. Mallard." Amy Stewart looked up in surprise as the two men went into the kitchen. "I didn't expect to see you so early. Would you like some breakfast?"

 

Ducky opened his mouth to speak, but Jethro beat him to it. "Yes, please, Amy. Something light and nutritious. Dr. Mallard's mom passed away in the night."

 

"Oh, I am sorry to hear that, sir. My condolences to you."

 

"Thank you, Mrs. Stewart."

 

"Tea, toast and scrambled eggs," she said, already moving away. "Eggs are very nutritious and light. And tea is always good for shock."

 

"I really donít want to put you to any trouble." Ducky managed to get a whole sentence out without Jethro cutting him off.

 

"Oh, now, Dr. Mallard, you aren't putting me to any trouble. Don't be silly. Where do you want to eat, Mr. Jethro? Here or in the dining room? Or if you like I can set up the small table in your study."

 

"Study would be good, Amy. Thanks. But I'll set it up."

 

"If you're sure, sir."

 

"Yes. Thanks. Oh, and, Amy, I wonder if you could possibly - "

 

"Keep an eye on Miss Kelly for the rest of the day. Yes, of course I can, Mr. Jethro, it will be my pleasure. She can help me. Now of you go, I'll bring your breakfast through to you shortly."

 

"Thanks, Amy, what would I do without you?"

 

Mrs. Stewart just smiled.

 

Ducky found himself ushered back to Jethro's study and sat down again while Jethro assembled a small table, snaggled some cutlery and napkins and pulled up a couple of chairs. "There," he said, "that'll do."

 

And suddenly as he sat there waiting for Mrs. Stewart to bring tea, toast and scrambled eggs, which until that moment he hadn't thought he'd wanted, Ducky felt a huge weight lift from him and an overwhelming sense of gratitude and relief that Jethro had simply 'bulldozered' him and taken over.

 

Of course, he knew, he could have done it and would have done; had been expecting to do it all. And he would never have asked Jethro to help him, not even just to make him a cup of tea. No, he'd have rung the airport, booked flights, cars, whatever, arranged a taxi to collect him and take him to the airport. But it would have drained even more of his already depleted resources. Jethro had spoken the truth: Ducky had loved his mother, he had loved her deeply; she was - she had been - the most important person in his life. Her death was a shock, it hadn't quite devastated him, but it had hit him deeply. And for someone, someone whom he had only known for a few short months, someone whom, despite an instant rapport between them, someone who had become a friend, was still his employer, still a man he, when it came down to it, really hardly knew to do all that for it, warmed Ducky and gave him the kind of comfort he hadn't been expecting, hadn't been aware he needed.

 

"Thank you, Jethro," he said quietly, looking up at Jethro and putting his hand out to him. "Thank you," he repeated.

 

Jethro moved to him, took his hand and squeezed it, while with his other hand, he ruffled Ducky's hair. "No need to thank me, Duck," he said, sitting on the arm of the sofa and now putting his arm around Ducky and hugging him. "Told you, what are friends for?"
 

CHAPTER TEN: MAY 1992

 

The taxi pulled into Jethro's street and Ducky, absurdly found himself smiling and relaxing more than he had done in the three weeks since he'd been away.

 

Somewhat strangely, or maybe not, once he was back in Aberdeenshire, back in his Scottish childhood home, back among his mother's things, making the funeral arrangements, dealing with all the miniature that comes with death, he actually found himself less upset than when he'd stood in Jethro's study with Jethro's arms around him.

 

He had spoken at length with his mother's doctor and had been completely reassured that his mother would have, in essence, felt nothing. That it had been quick and painless, beyond one initial spark of pain. And he was glad for that; he had never wanted his mother to suffer and he knew she wouldn't have wanted that either. It turned out, following the post-mortem, that in fact his mother had suffered a stroke simultaneously with the heart attack and even had she survived the latter, the former would have, at best, left her bed ridden and needing constant care and assistance with everything, and at worst a complete vegetable. Ducky knew what both he and his mother would have chosen.

 

He had, as per his mother's wishes, scattered her ashes - she'd always told him she had no desire to rot in the ground - over the hills she had loved so much. The hills on which she had once told him he had been conceived. To this day he had no idea whether his mother had spoken the truth - it wouldn't have surprised him - and now he would never know.

 

He had closed up the house, pensioned off the servants and had decided to delay making a decision as to what to do with it as well as the house in England for the time being.

 

And now he was back in America; now he was back in Virginia; now he was home. It surprised him somewhat that America had become 'home' so very quickly, but another thing his grandmother had been found of saying was that 'home is people, not a place, not a building'. And now, inexplicably, Leroy Jethro and Kelly Ann Gibbs were his home.

 

He had rung Jethro to let him know when he'd be returning and on which flight and had won a hard fought battle over how Ducky would get back to Jethro's house. But it had been a battle which Ducky had been determined he would win; and for once he had.

 

"It's the third house on the left," he said, leaning forward to speak to the cab driver. As the house came into view he found his smile getting wider. The cab stopped and he pulled out his wallet - he intended to make sure he gave the driver a very good tip, because the poor man had had to load several heavy cases into his cab.

 

Ducky had decided to bring a 'few' more of his books, mostly from his childhood days and thus for Kelly, back to America with him. And then there were the gifts he'd brought for his 'family'. He had bought Kelly a stuffed highland cow with a tartan beret and scarf - it wasn't quite his type of thing, but she'd love it. He's also bought her a teddy bear in a kilt; however, he had drawn the line at a musical one! And then, because it reminded him so much of a precious doll his mother had had a child, which had somehow managed to survive being destroyed in the Blitz when everything around it had been ruined, he bought her a very special, very expensive, rather large doll. It wasn't really the kind you played with, but Ducky had never believed in toys as 'ornaments'; if Kelly wished to play with it, he would raise no objections. Besides the young girl treated her toys like her books: extremely well.

 

For Jethro he had bought a fairly large selection of pure malt scotch, a set of old English Law books he'd found in a second hand bookshop, as well as a painting of the wild Highlands painted by a local artist, plus a few other small gifts.

 

For Mrs. Stewart and Mrs. Abbott he had bought shortbread and marmalade and other Scottish delicacies. And he also bought himself a large selection of teas - getting a decent cup of tea was one of the greatest problems with living in America.

 

As he got out of the cab and hurried around the assist the cab driver who was already unloading the various cases and boxes (Ducky had gone way over the luggage limit and had had to pay a rather extortionate excess luggage charge) there was a high pitched cry and he turned around just in time to have an eight year old launch herself into his arms.

 

"Dr. Mallard! Dr. Mallard! Dr. Mallard!" she cried, as she clung to him so tightly he found it hard to breathe. "You're back! You're back! I've missed you so much." He could hear that she was laughing and crying simultaneously as she continued to cling to him.

 

"I've missed you too, Kelly," he said, brushing his hand over the top of her head. "You and your daddy," he added, as Jethro hurried up, frowning and trying to end a conversation on his cell phone. In the end he managed to do so by the simple expediency of just turning it off.

 

"Hey, Duck," he said, holding out his hand to Ducky and smiling. "Welcome home."

 

Ducky managed to extract one hand from Kelly's bear hug and took Jethro's. "Thank you, Jethro," he said, smiling in return. "It is good to be back."

 

"I see you brought half of Britain back with you," Jethro said, as the cab driver finally unloaded the last box and case from the car. "Would you mind giving me a hand to get them inside?" he said to the driver, as Ducky was about to pay him.

 

The driver glanced at Jethro, glanced at his home and clearly worked out his chances of an even larger tip. "Not at all, mate," he said, gathering up a case in each hand and tucking another under his arm.

 

There was no way Ducky could manage anything, other than his hand luggage, because Kelly was still clinging to his other arm like a limpet.

 

Finally everything was inside the house, they'd taken it all into the hallway of the main house, Jethro had given the driver an extremely large tip and was now shutting and locking the front door and Kelly was chattering away nineteen to the dozen. He was home.

 

"Kell," Jethro called, finally interrupting her constant chatter.

 

She stopped and looked at him. "Yes, Daddy?"

 

"Be a good girl and run and ask Mrs. Stewart to make a pot of tea."

 

"Oh, but, Daddy, I'm telling Dr. Mallard all about -"

 

"You can tell me later, Kelly. I'm not going anywhere. And when you come back, I'll show you just why I've, to quote your father, 'bought half of Britain' back with me."

 

She beamed, twirled round three times and ran away. Ducky and Jethro stood and watched her.

 

"I hope you haven't spoiled her," Jethro said, looking around the hall.

 

Ducky shook his head. "Oh, no. Most of the things I have brought with me for Kelly are educational."

 

"More books?"

 

Ducky smiled. "More books."

 

Jethro mock rolled his eyes. "Do I need to buy her yet another bookcase?"

 

Ducky chuckled. "I hate to admit it, Jethro, but yes, I think you just may."

 

"So is all that books?" Jethro asked, his eyes widening slightly as he stared at the cases and boxes.

 

Ducky hastened to reassure him. "Oh, no. Well, I couldn't just give her second hand books now, could I? But I have been restrained. And naturally as I was buying something for Kelly, well . . . Let us say I felt it was time you experienced some true malt scotch from its homeland. And then there are one or two small gifts for Mrs. Stewart and Mrs. Abbott. And of course I had to buy myself some tea. I have grown to love your country, but really the choice of tea is not quite up to the standard -"

 

"Yeah, I was right 'half of Britain'." And then, his tone more serious, Jethro asked. "How are you, Duck? You okay?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, thank you, Jethro. Yes. Yes, I am. Really I am. Mother is at peace and I am home."

 

"You sure? Because -"

 

But whatever Jethro was going to say was interrupted by Kelly's reappearance. "Done that, Daddy," she called, running back to them. "Mrs. Stewart said she'll bring the tea to us when it's made. Can I see what you've brought back now, please, Dr. Mallard?" She slipped her hand inside his again and stared up at him, the pleading look, the one that always seemed to get her her own way (not that she used it often, she was intelligent enough to know not to overplay her hand) was clear in her eyes.

 

Ducky smiled. "I'm sure you can, Kelly," he said, stressing the word and using his 'tutor' tone.

 

She frowned and put her head on one side. He watched her as she carefully figured out what he meant. "May I see what you've brought back, Dr. Mallard? Please," she added quickly. "Was that right?"

 

Ducky laughed softly. "Yes, Kelly," he said, glancing at Jethro who seemed bemused by the game. "That was indeed correct."

 

Kelly's smile grew wider.

 

 

"You okay, Duck? You look a bit tired?" Jethro asked, as they settled down after supper to enjoy some non-Kelly time and a drink.

 

"A little fatigued. This time last night it was past midnight," Ducky replied. "But I'll be fine, really. Now, I suggest we begin your 'education' of true Scottish scotch with a Speyside whisky."

 

"Whatever you say. I'm in your hands."

 

Ducky stopped the mental image that tried to flash into his mind at Jethro's words from even beginning to form. Instead he opened the bottle and handed it to Jethro to sniff. "This is Tamdhu; it is produced in the town of Knockando in Banffshire by the Highland Distilleries. It is a light to medium Speyside malt that is very slightly peaty, has a gentle sweetness and a long subtle finish to it. As you can see it is a beautiful color and it is what I would call a 'refined' whisky." As he spoke he took the bottle back from Jethro and poured a fairly healthy measure into each of two glasses. "The word 'Tamdhu' actually means 'little dark hill' in Gaelic and the distillery is the only one in Speyside to malt all of its own barley on the premises. The disti - Oh, dear," he said, breaking off as he saw the amused look on Jethro's face. "I am afraid I'm rambling again. It is one of the habits of being a teacher, I'm afraid; one never seems able to stop teaching."

 

Jethro shook his head. "I don't mind, Duck. You always make it interesting, but I would like to try the whiskey as well as hear about it." He held out his hand for a glass.

 

Ducky handed one glass over. "May I make a suggestion?" he said, as Jethro was about to take a second sip.

 

"Sure."

 

"Now that you've tried it neat, and no, don't yet tell me what you thought of it, try it with a little water."

 

Jethro shrugged, the gesture was a negative one. "It's not my way of doing of things, Duck. I never put water in my drinks. I like it neat."

 

"I understand your feelings and there was a time when I would have agreed with you. The very idea of watering down a good scotch seemed like a sacrilege to me. However, one of my professors when I was in my final year at Edinburgh persuaded me to do that thing. Like yourself I was wary, but he assured me that rather than detract from the taste, it would actually enhance it. Ah, I see you are still skeptical. But could you not trust me?" As emotional blackmail went it was very mild.

 

However, Jethro still stared at him and began to laugh. "You'd have made a good lawyer, Duck," he said. "Go on then. Put some water in it."

 

"And if you really do not like it, I'll happily drink it and you can have mine. I haven't touched it yet." Ducky poured a little water into the glass Jethro held and waited as his friend sipped it. He watched Jethro's reaction carefully.

 

"Well, I'll be damned," Jethro said, after he took not one sip but two. "You're right, Duck, it is better. Smoother somehow and you get a deeper taste rather than just the harshness of pure liquor. It works. Okay, I'll give one to you. It works."

 

Ducky sighed gently with relief and added some water to his own glass. "Well, your good health, Jethro," he said, raising his glass.

 

Jethro touched his glass with Ducky's. "Yours too, Duck," he said. Then he said softly, "To your mom, I never met her, but she sounded like a great woman. One I'd have liked."

 

Ducky swallowed around the small lump that had appeared in his throat. "I believe you would have done, and she would have liked you. And she would have adored Kelly. Mother was remarkably, especially given her generation, relaxed and understanding about my sexual preferences. We didn't talk about it in depth, one didn't, but I did tell her and her reply was that as long as I was happy, that was all that mattered. And it did, I know that. But I also know if she had any regrets by my choice, it was that she would never have grandchildren."

 

Jethro nodded and was silent for a moment. Then he asked, his voice low, "Do you regret not having kids of your own?"

 

Ducky looked at him. "I do not think so, no. Whilst I am very fond of children, somehow I'm not sure I would have made a good father."

 

"No, you'd have made an excellent father."

 

"Come now, Jethro, you are basing that purely on my abilities as a tutor."

 

But Jethro shook his head. "No, no, I'm not."

 

"Well, the whole thing is academic anyway. I am not ever going to father a child and even if I were suddenly to find myself a -" He cut himself off bluntly and hastily searched his mind for something else to say.

 

Jethro just stared at him and suddenly Ducky had a strange feeling. It was one of very slight unease, tempered with apprehension, expectation and the low level desire he had felt for Jethro almost from the moment they met suddenly flared beyond that of a low level. Hastily he put his glass down and stood up. "Please excuse me for a moment," he said, turning and hurrying across and out of the room.

 

After relieving himself unnecessarily he splashed several handfuls of cold water onto his face and forced himself to look into the mirror over the sink. "Stop it," he told himself forcefully. "You cannot do this to yourself. You cannot allow these feelings to grow. You must not. You're fifty for heaven's sake. Behave like the mature man you are, not like a teenager with a crush. Be happy with what you have: a good friend." He stayed in the bathroom for several minutes before he felt able to return and rejoin Jethro in the sitting room.

 

As he made his way back part of him, the cowardly side, told him to cut short the evening, to say that the fatigue from the time differences had increased and he needed to retire to bed. But part of him, the much bigger part, didn't want to.

 

When he went back into the sitting room, Jethro was exactly where he'd left him, sitting at one end of the sofa, sipping his whisky and flipping through a book on malt scotches that Ducky had bought for him. He glanced up as Ducky came back in, but other than flashing him a slightly quizzical look said nothing.

 

As he retook his seat at the opposite end of the sofa and picked his drink back up, Ducky felt relieved by the lack of any kind of question, even the 'are you okay'? which would have been a logical one for Jethro to have asked.

 

"So what are you going to do with the family homes?" Jethro asked, after a few seconds of silence.

 

Ducky breathed a silent sigh of relief at the safe topic. "I haven't quite decided yet. For now I have merely closed the one in Scotland and retired the staff; our home in England had already been closed when Mother moved up to Scotland. Someone goes in once a week to give the place an airing and check that all is well, and obviously the garden is to be kept tidy. To be honest other than that I haven't given the matter any thought. I certainly do not like the idea of taking in tenants for either of them, but nor do I like the idea of them standing empty and unloved for a long time. And yet equally so, I do not like the idea of not maintaining a home in Britain. I know that sounds foolish, but well it was my home for fifty years."

 

Jethro shook his head. "Nah, doesn't sound foolish to me. Makes sense. As a lawyer as well as your friend, my advice would be not to rush into any hasty decisions."

 

Ducky smiled. "Very sound advice, Mr. Gibbs," he said. "I believe I shall take it."

 

"Ah, Duck," Jethro said. "You're right this is a very good whiskey indeed."

 

"I'm glad you like it. I hoped you would."

 

"I do. Very much." Jethro was looking at him again with an intensity Ducky hadn't seen before. Once again he got a faint feeling of unease and another of apprehension. He also got the distinct impression that Jethro wanted to say something to him, but wasn't quite sure how to say it.

 

To cover the unease he felt, Ducky latched on to a safe topic: Kelly. "I hope Kelly kept up with her reading and work whilst I was gone," he said.

 

"She certainly did. More than once I heard her teaching her teddies and dolls. And assuring them that Dr. Mallard would be back soon. If she asked me once each day if I was sure you were coming back, she asked me half a dozen times."

 

"Oh, dear," said Ducky. "It was very unfortunate timing. We had just really settled down into a routine. I'm sorry she kept bothering you."

 

Jethro shook his head. "Wasn't a bother, Duck. She missed you."

 

"I missed her too. Far more than I think I had believed I would."

 

Suddenly Jethro put down his glass and to Ducky's surprise moved along the sofa towards Ducky. He watched Jethro swallow and his gaze became intense. "Kelly's not the only one who missed you, Duck," Jethro said, his voice low. And to Ducky's surprise Jethro cupped his face between his hands, leaned forward and kissed him.

 

It was just a mere brushing of lips on lips to start with, but it sent a surge of electricity through Ducky and he heard himself moan softly. The noise coupled with the fact that Ducky didn't move away or object, seemed to spur Jethro on, as the grip he had on Ducky's face became slightly firmer and the kiss less tentative.

 

Far too soon for Ducky's liking, Jethro took his mouth away from Ducky's and moved back a little, but he still kept his hands on Ducky's face. "You okay with this, Duck?" he whispered, his dark blue gaze never once leaving Ducky's face.

 

Part of Ducky's mind screamed at him to say 'no', to stop this before it went any further. But he was only human and his dreams had been filled with Jethro for weeks now, and as much as he'd missed Kelly while he was away, he'd missed Jethro ten, twenty times more. Why fight it? Well he could think of plenty of reasons; one in particular. But nothing in life was given, not even the amount of life; he could die tomorrow. On that sobering thought he nodded gently and said, his voice soft and husky, "Oh, yes, Jethro. Very much so."

 

The next second he found his mouth claimed again by Jethro's and he began to kiss him back. Jethro moved nearer to him, breaking the grip he hand on his face, to put his arms around Ducky and pull him nearer to him, gathering him into his embrace.

 

Jethro's lips were warm, firm and moist and Ducky could feel a very faint touch of stubble as Jethro's chin rubbed against his. He could taste as well as smell the expensive and subtle cologne Jethro wore each day, mingled with the natural scent of the man he was kissing. Feeling the tip of Jethro's tongue brush over his lips, he parted his own lips and encouraged Jethro's tongue into his mouth.

 

He could taste the Tamdhu more clearly now, along with the sweet freshness that came from Jethro's mouth. Jethro had one hand tangled lightly in his hair; the other was around his shoulders. Ducky's own arms were around Jethro and they felt the natural strength and good muscle tone of the man he was kissing.

 

After more gentle kisses, Jethro finally broke away and sucked in a mouthful of air. He moved the hand that had been entwined in Ducky's hair and started to lightly caress Ducky's face, outlining his cheekbones, his eyebrows, his nose, his chin and finally trailed one finger up to Ducky's lips. As the finger finished tracing the outside of Ducky's lips and glided onto them, Ducky opened his mouth a little and gently took Jethro's finger inside his mouth where he softly sucked it.

 

He saw the reaction on Jethro's face, in the way the blue eyes darkened even more, heard the soft, almost bittern off gasp and felt the very faintest hint of a tremble not only in the finger he sucked, but in Jethro's entire body. It pleased him; it pleased him immensely.

 

After a little more gentle sucking, he let Jethro's finger slip from his mouth and this time it was Ducky himself who leaned towards Jethro, pulled Jethro into his arms and initiated another kiss. It was sweet, the sweetest Ducky had ever known. It was, given the intimacy and closeness, and clear desire, remarkably chaste and pure. It was new, but it was an old as time itself. Jethro's mouth was unchartered waters for him, but he knew it was well, if not better, than he knew his own. It was intense yet so very mild and calm. He had never known a kiss like it, never before had he been kissed by someone in the way Jethro was kissing him. Never before had he known what it was like to be kissed by someone whose focus was one hundred percent on him - as Jethro's was.

 

Jethro's desire for him and his passion was obvious, but also clear was the fact that there was no rush. Ducky wasn't the kind of man who had ever bedded another man on a first date or first meeting, but never before had he been certain he wouldn't have to worry about someone trying to take it further and force him. To say he felt safe might sound foolish, but he did. He felt cherished, he felt cared for in away he hadn't known since he'd been a young boy.

 

For a man who had never kissed another man before Jethro was remarkably adept at it, and yet just uncertain, just naÔve, enough to ensure that the natural cockiness which Ducky was well aware formed part of Leroy Jethro's Gibbs's character did not raise its head.

 

Finally they broke apart again in order to regain oxygen and again Jethro raised a now slightly shaky hand and began to stroke Ducky's cheek. "I missed you, Duck," he said softly.

 

"I missed you too, Jethro," Ducky replied, taking Jethro's other hand and linking his fingers with it. "I -"

 

But Jethro just shook his head. "Don't say anything else, just come here and let me kiss you again."

 

And so Ducky did.

 

And for the best part of the next hour or so, they simply sat on the sofa exchanging kisses and light caresses that never moved below shoulder height, enjoying the peace and tranquility of one another's company. Ducky could not remember a time he had ever been as happy.

 

Finally, at about ten o'clock, Jethro, taking Ducky by the hand, walked him to the door that connected his house with the apartment Ducky occupied. "Sleep well, Duck," he said, kissing him again, this time very fleetingly. "Pleasant dreams," he smiled. And then and only then did the very faint sign of cockiness mixed with equal measures of uncertainty flash across Jethro's face.

 

"Oh, I shall, Jethro," Ducky said, retuning the kiss. "I hope you do too." And after one final kiss, which mirrored their very first one, Ducky slipped through the connecting door and into his own, quiet apartment.

 

 

Once inside his apartment, Ducky leaned against the wall and sighed. His entire body still tingled with desire, need, want and affection, but at the same time he felt guilty, so very guilty.

 

It shouldn't have happened. He should never have allowed it to happen. It could not, it must not, happen again. It just couldn't. It was wrong, so very, very, very wrong. He should have stopped it when his mind had told him too. He should have said 'no' when Jethro had asked him if it was okay. He should have - He should have done so many things. But what he should not have done was to let Jethro kiss him. And he never should have let him go on kissing him. And he most definitely should not have kissed him back.

 

But accepting Jethro's kiss, kissing him back had felt so good, so very good. It had felt more than just 'good', it had felt . . . And for once in his life, even with his huge vocabulary, that spanned several different languages, Ducky couldn't find the word to describe what it had felt like.

 

And when he'd taken Jethro's finger into his mouth and sucked it, how blatant had that been? But that too had felt so good. He could remember how it had felt inside his mouth, firm, warm, moist. He could remember the look on Jethro's face as he'd sucked it and he could remember how his body had reacted.

 

How his body was once again reacting. He was growing aroused again, as he thought about the kiss, Jethro's finger, Jethro's arms around him, Jethro's scent, the feel of the faint stubble as it brushed against his chin, thought about Jethro, he was hardening more and more. He had to stop thinking, stop remembering now, right now, before his body demanded completion.

 

But it was too late. He knew his own body intimately and he knew the signs. But he couldn't, he couldn't let thoughts of Jethro, memories of Jethro's mouth, lips, tongue, hands loving him be there when he - Because he now knew he had to let his body have its release.

 

Thus still shaking and tingling he went into the bathroom and somewhat clumsily removed his clothes, hissing slightly as the cool air touched his heated skin, turned on the shower and stood under the jets of hot water.

 

As he rested against the cool tiles and moved his hand down his body to his erection, he ordered himself to think of something else, anything else, someone else, not Jethro. Jethro was his employer, the father of his pupil; his friend. It was wrong, it was so very wrong. Yes, he'd dreamed of Jethro, more than once, yes, he was attracted to him, but not once had he deliberately thought of Jethro in a sexual or romantic sense when he'd . . . To do so now would be wrong.

 

But the mind is a strange thing, it has a will of its own and even as Ducky tried desperately to push the memories of the kisses and light caresses from his mind, even as he tried to force away the image of Jethro's finger in his mouth, the scent of Jethro, the taste of Jethro, they came back so clearly, so very clearly. So clearly that he snapped open his eyes in order to reassure himself that Jethro hadn't somehow materialized in the shower with him.

 

It was no good fighting it, thus after a few more valiant and failed attempts to do so, Ducky gave in. He gave in and let the memories of the kisses and the images of how Jethro had looked and felt under his mouth, under his hands, how his finger had felt so right in Ducky's mouth flood through him.

 

And as they flowed though him, they changed slightly and he and Jethro weren't just sitting on a sofa kissing while fully clothed, they were lying in bed kissing and caressing and making love to one another while completely naked.

 

He was close, he was very close, his fingers were slick and he could feel the usual build up as his body raced closer and closer to the edge. When completion finally hit him, he sagged further back against the wall. "I love you, Jethro. I love you." The words came, unwittingly, from him in a half sob, a half whisper.

 

Breathing heavily as he braced himself against the now welcome cool tiles, he held himself for several moments until his heart rate started to return to normal and he became completely soft again.

 

He spent several minutes washing himself, sluicing water over his body, grateful for the unlimited supply of hot water. Then dried and dressed in pajamas and his dressing gown, he went into his sitting room and poured himself another measure of Tamdhu which he took to bed with him and sipped while he read, or tried to read, several chapters of his current book.

 

An hour later he made another quick visit to the bathroom to brush his teeth and relieve himself, before he got back into bed, turned off the light and laid down to sleep.

 

But sleep was a very long time coming and for what seemed like hours he tossed and turned, forcing his mind from going to the place it wanted again. "No," he said, speaking aloud to the silent room. "No. It cannot happen again. It must not happen again. It will not happen again."

 

And with that determined vow on his lips, he finally did fall into sleep. But the dreaming Ducky 'obeyed' Jethro's last 'orders'; his dreams were very pleasant indeed.

 

 

Jethro went into his bedroom and shut the door behind him. "What the hell have you done, Leroy Jethro Gibbs," he said, staring at his reflection in the mirror. The face that stared back at him told him exactly what he'd done.

 

His lips were still slightly swollen and reddened, his pupils a little larger than they normally were, his chin somewhat red, and he could see the teeniest hint of a tremble in his cheeks. But it wasn't just his reflection that let him know what he'd done; it was the way his body was feeling.


It felt fully charged, it felt alive, it tingled with intense desire, want, need, a need so intense he had to stop himself from leaving his room, going along the hall, opening the door that connected his house to Ducky's apartment, going in, finding Ducky, taking him into his arms, crushing his lips with his and -

 

At the 'and' his lower body seemed to surge forward and he felt his arousal intensify. It had been just over two years since Shannon had left him, since he'd last kissed someone, other than Kelly of course, or the kind of 'social' or 'Christmas kisses' one bestowed. And the same amount of time since he'd held another person in his arms in such an intimate manner.

 

For a moment he cupped his hand over his hardness, pushing into it and imagining it wasn't his hand, but Ducky's who was holding him, who was about to unzip him, who was about to -

 

He forced that image away and forced his mind to think about the Laws of Tort, anything to calm him down. He didn't want release like that, not quickly and not while he was dressed, he wanted to enjoy the pleasure, take pleasure in the sensation of touching himself. He'd gotten good at self-stimulating and pleasure since Shannon had left him, but normally it was clinical, just a physical release, a need that wouldn't go away until he stroked himself. But tonight he wanted more. Tonight he was going to deliberately think of someone. And not just anyone; tonight he was going to think of Ducky.

 

But even as he thought that, even as he moved his hand away and began to unbutton his shirt, he knew he shouldn't. It wasn't right. He should never have kissed Ducky, should never have gone on kissing him, should never have started it. And he still didn't know why he had done so. Ducky was another man and never in his life had he considered kissing another man. But it wasn't about Ducky being a man, it was about Ducky being Ducky and he'd wanted to kiss Ducky, he'd wanted to hold Ducky in his arms, he'd wanted Ducky to kiss him back, he'd wanted Ducky to hold him in his arms.

 

His mind slipped back to the kisses, the gentle and light caresses, they way they held one another; the way everything had seemed so right, so proper, so perfect, so intimate. And then he remembered the way his finger had felt in Ducky's mouth. How surprised he'd been at the gesture, how aroused he'd become as Ducky had lightly sucked it. How his mind had imagined -

 

He stopped the thought again. No. It was wrong. He couldn't. Ducky was his employee; Kelly's tutor; Ducky was his friend. That was enough, that should be enough, that would be enough; that had to be enough.

 

No, he'd just undress, get into bed and give his body the release it craved in his usual expert, but somewhat clinical and detached manner. He wouldn't let his mind think of kisses and caresses and a finger in a warm, moist, soft - Again, he had to grip himself; if he didn't stop he was going to climax where he stood, without any need for physical stimulation.

 

Swiftly he undressed dropping his clothing, including his now damp shorts, onto the bedroom floor - he'd tidy them up later, for now he had to let his body have its own way. The sheets were cool under his naked, heated skin, as he moved his hand down his body, pausing just for a second before his fingers closed around his arousal.

 

He wouldn't think of Ducky or the kisses or - He'd just do his usual thing, as aroused and close to the edge as he was, it would only take a few strokes and his body could have the release it craved and then he'd tidy up, shower, and then go to sleep. It was simple; it was something he did regularly. He didn't need to think of anyone; he didn't need to think of soft mouths opening for him, of firm hands holding him, of lips meeting his, of tongues teasing his, of mouths closing around his finger. Of -

 

With those thoughts in his mind and the image of Ducky kissing him, holding him, caressing him, making love to him; of a naked Ducky in his bed, pliant, aroused, showing his need, his desire, his want, his body found its much needed fulfillment. His fingers and palm, already slick, were covered as his climax shook his body. He sank back further into the bed as the liquid flowed into his hand, "I love you, Duck. I love you," he murmured, his voice harsh and shaky.

 

He took his hand away from his softening arousal and lay on his back staring up at the ceiling, breathing heavily until his heart rate finally returned to normal.

 

He then got out of bed, gathered up his clothes, dumping underwear, socks and shirt into the dirty linen basket and throwing trousers and sweater over a chair, dealt with his suddenly desperate need to pee, before getting into the shower. He stood under the pounding hot water, letting it sluice over his body for what seemed like hours; he was glad his supply of water wasn't limited. Then pulling on pajama bottoms and throwing his robe over them, he padded into the sitting room and poured himself another measure of the scotch they'd been drinking. He tossed it back, without water, in two swallows, decided against pouring another one and returned to his bedroom and his bed.

 

For the next hour he read, or tried to read, one of his law books - he had a case he should be reading up on, but the words seemed like pure gibberish to him. So in the end he gave in, put the book on his nightstand, paid a quick final visit to the bathroom to brush his teeth and once more relieve himself, before he got back into bed, turned off the light and laid down to sleep.

 

But sleep was a very long time coming and for what seemed like hours he tossed and turned, forcing his mind from going to the place it wanted again. "No," he said, speaking aloud to the silent room. "No. It can't happen again. It mustn't happen again. It won't happen again."

 

And with that determined vow on his lips, he finally did fall into sleep. But the dreaming Jethro 'fulfilled Ducky's last 'hope'; his dreams were very pleasant indeed.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

Ducky was very tempted to refuse Jethro's usual offer of a post-dinner drink, cite essays to mark, book reports to read and return to his own apartment. But he decided that was foolish, even if he did that tonight, what excuse was he going to make tomorrow or the day after or the day after or . . .

 

They were both adults; they could sit in the same room and enjoy a drink and converse just as they'd been doing during the previous three months. Besides, he had made a firm decision and nothing Jethro could say or do would alter that decision.

 

Jethro poured them both a drink, handed one glass to Ducky, hesitated for a split second and then sat down on the sofa, in his usual place - at the opposite end to Ducky. For a few minutes they sat in silence, a relaxed, normal, non-threatening silence.

 

Then, after taking a long swallow of his drink and putting his glass down on the coffee table, Jethro looked at Ducky, moistened his lips with his tongue and spoke. "About last night, Duck . . ."

 

"Yes, Jethro?"

 

"It was -"

 

"Oh, yes, it was."

 

"I -"

 

"So did I. Very much."

 

"But it -"

 

"No. No. I agree entirely."

 

"Good. But it was -"
 

"Oh, yes. Definitely. Very much so."

 

"And I did -"
 

"As did I."

 

"So that's settled then?"

 

"Yes."

 

"And we're still -"
 

"Oh, certainly."

 

"Good."

 

And with that out of the way, Jethro poured them another drink and they sat and chatted about Kelly, Jethro's day, Ducky's thoughts about what to do with the houses he had in Britain, and all the other things they normally talked about. It was just as it had been for three months.

 

The clock on the sideboard showed the hour at which Ducky normally left Jethro. He drained the last few drops of his scotch, put his glass on the table and stood up. "I'll say goodnight then, Jethro," Ducky said, smiling and beginning to turn away.

 

Instantly Jethro was on his feet too. He caught Ducky's arm and stopped him from moving. "Duck?"

 

"Jethro?"

 

"I can't. I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry, but I can't. This can't go on. I'm so very sorry, Duck."

 

"Jethro?" Ducky looked at Jethro. Was he being in effect fired? Surely not; they were both adults. It might take a day or two, but he was sure they'd forget last night ever happened, well maybe not forget, he would never forget the feel of Jethro's mouth on his, his arms around him. It would always be a wonderful memory, but a memory was all it could be. So they could have their memories and - He swallowed around the lump in his throat. "What cannot go on, Jethro?" he asked, forcing himself to maintain eye contact.

 

"Me not doing this," Jethro said, as he tugged Ducky nearer to him, gathered him into his arms, lowered his head and kissed him.

 

It took Ducky less than a second to put his own arms around Jethro and begin to kiss him back.

 

In his time Ducky had read many novels, even those regarded as 'trashy', he had always felt one shouldn't judge a book or a genre until one tried it. And now as he was kissed by Jethro and kissed him back, as he felt Jethro's body press against his, as he felt himself being held in a tight embrace, as he tasted the scotch on Jethro's tongue and in his mouth as he smelt and drank in the expensive cologne, he almost felt as if he'd fallen into a cheap romance novel. It was perfect, no one had ever kissed him as Jethro was kissing him, no one had ever moved him as Jethro was moving him, no one had ever paid him as much attention as Jethro was paying him. But unlike romance novels, trashy or otherwise, this couldn't have a happy ending.

 

He should break the kiss, he should; he must. But he couldn't. Just this once more, he told himself, as Jethro's lips parted and the tip of Jethro's tongue touched his own lips, urging them to also part. Then his tongue flicked inside Ducky's mouth, before withdrawing quickly and encouraging Ducky's own tongue to follow it. It did and once again like trashy romance novels it was like tasting nectar, being in Jethro's mouth was like heaven, it was so right, so very right; so dangerously wrong.

 

He was growing aroused and could feel Jethro's matching arousal press against him, but it was a gentle arousal he was feeling; not the frantic kind, not the kind that was going to lead to bodies racing to completion, but one of trust, security, gentle pleasure. But he had to stop it; he had to. Just a few moments longer, he told himself. Just a few more moments of gathering memories, then he'd stop and they'd agree 'never again' and this time they would mean it.

 

Ducky wasn't certain how long the 'few moments longer' lasted, but finally the kiss was broken and they moved apart a little, both breathing heavily and searching for much needed air. He didn't want to look at Jethro, didn't want to look into the dark gaze, didn't want to see the desire he knew would be there, didn't want to see the affection he knew would be there. He didnít want to see Jethro's kiss reddened and swollen lips. But he had to look; he had to see all those things.

 

"Oh, Jethro," he murmured softly, when he finally felt able to speak. "We agreed."

 

Jethro took one arm from around him and ran his fingers through his hair, then he took his other arm away, leaving Ducky feeling cold and bereft, and turned and strode away, still running his fingers through his hair. "I know, Duck," he finally said, turning and looking at Ducky. Anguish was so very clear to see. "I know," he repeated. "I told myself last night, I vowed, when I . . . That it would just be that one time. That'd I'd just think of you once. No more. Just the once . . . I told myself that tonight we'd talk, like we did, and agree 'never again'. I told myself that and I meant it, truly I meant it, Duck. And I meant it when we agreed a couple of hours ago. But . . . I couldn't," the last words were whispered.

 

The words were just the things Ducky himself had been thinking, he'd made the same vow too as he'd . . . Did Jethro mean that he had also . . . ? Ducky forced the image of a naked Jethro on his bed, touching himself from his mind. This was neither the time nor the place. "I know you did, Jethro," he said quietly. "And so did I. I too vowed last night, 'just this one time'. And I meant it. I truly meant it."

 

Jethro looked at him. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

 

"I don't know what you think I'm saying," Ducky answered, not quite honestly.

 

"Did you . . . ? As well?"

 

Ducky felt his cheeks flush slightly; the flush deepened as Jethro smiled. "Jethro," he said, a tad sharply. "That is not the point. The point is -"

 

"The point is, Duck. I want to kiss you."

 

"Jethro. We . . ." Now Ducky trailed off.

 

Jethro closed his eyes and then put his head back. "I know, Duck. I know. But . . . Look come and sit back down."

 

"I really think I should go." Ducky turned away.

 

Jethro caught his arm and held him back. "And do what, Duck? Go to your bed or was it in the shower?" Ducky refused to comment. After a moment Jethro went on. "And then make the same vow 'just this once and never again'. What happens tomorrow?"

 

Ducky turned back to face Jethro. "Jethro, you are my employer; you are the father of my pupil and you are my friend. We cannot be anything more to one another."

 

"Why not?"

 

"I'm sorry?"

 

"Why? Why can't we, Duck? Look," Jethro moved towards Ducky. "I like you, a lot, and you like me, don't you?" Ducky nodded. "Well, then what's the problem?"

 

"Jethro, you know very well what the problem is."

 

"Did you enjoy kissing me?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes," he said softly. "Very much so."

 

"Do you want me to do it again?"

 

Briefly Ducky closed his eyes. "Yes," he said, his tone now grim. He opened his eyes again, God forgive him, but he did. "Yes, I do."

 

"Well then. I want to kiss you again, so . . . " Jethro shrugged and raised his arms in a gesture that matched his words.

 

"Is it really that simple?" Ducky asked.

 

"Can be, if we want it to be. Or it can be hellishly complicated. Look, Ducky, life is short. Too short to miss out on something that is so good. I want to kiss you and for the record I want a hell of a lot more too. Not sure I really know what I mean by that, you're the first man I've ever kissed, but I guess you know that, don't you?"

 

Ducky smiled. "Yes, Jethro. I had figured that out."

 

"Good. So to sum up: I want you. But I swear to you if you say 'no' now, then I'll let you go home and I'll say nothing more about it. I won't try to convince you, I won't try to kiss you again. We'll go on as we were before and, I can't say 'forget' because I won't, but put it behind us and not let it interfere with our friendship or anything."

 

Ducky looked at him, he was skeptical. "Could you?" he asked. "Could you really do that?"

 

Jethro again threw his hands up and shrugged. "Honest answer? I don't know. I've never wanted anyone in the way I want you, Duck. But . . . I would do my damndest."

 

"Maybe I should -"

 

Jethro interrupted him swiftly. "Oh, no. You shouldn't."

 

"You don't even know what I was going to say."

 

"Hmph. Go on then." Jethro's tone was not an overly inviting one.

 

"I was going to say that maybe I should stop accepting your invitation to eat with Kelly and yourself and -"

 

"And how are you going to explain that one to Kelly?"

 

"Ah," Ducky said. "I honestly had not thought about that. Very well, maybe I should stop accepting your offer to stay and spend the evening with you, after Kelly has gone to bed."

 

"And you think that would work?" Jethro looked extremely skeptical.

 

Ducky tried to be practical; he also tried to ignore the fact that not only was Jethro still holding his arm, but that somehow either he or Jethro himself had moved, as they were now standing much closer to one another. And he definitely tried to ignore the way his body was urging him to stop arguing, put his arms around Jethro and kiss him again. "If I were not here, you could not kiss me," he said.

 

He watched Jethro frown and saw his face take on the look he imagined opposing lawyers must see, as Jethro tried to find a way around the hard and cold fact. "It wouldn't stop me wanting to kiss you," he said finally. But from the way the frown deepened, Ducky got the impression that Jethro didn't consider it the best argument he had ever made.

 

"Well, that I suppose is true," Ducky said. "But if we removed temptation, then . . ." He broke off and shrugged. "We could try, at least," he said, hoping Jethro didnít notice how lacking in enthusiasm his tone was.

 

Jethro was silent for a few minutes. Then he sighed softly and said, "We could."

 

Ducky hurried on. "After all, it could have just been one of those things. Here we are, both -"

 

"Lonely people who just happened to -"

 

"I was actually going to say 'unattached'. I don't know how long it has been since you have - I'm sorry, what did you say?"

 

"I said since Shannon left me."

 

Ducky blinked. "Oh," he said. "I hadn't realized. I assumed . . . Actually, I didn't assume anything. I hadn't really given it any thought."

 

Jethro shrugged. "At first I told myself it was just because I didn't want to leave Kelly with a babysitter so soon after her mom left her. Then I told myself that I couldn't bring a woman here, couldn't let anyone meet Kelly unless I was sure she was it, because I wasn't going to let Kelly get used to another woman only to have her walk away too. Then I told myself . . . Oh, I don't know now, Duck, what I told myself. Truth is, I just didn't bother. I had my job, I had Kelly, I had . . . Well you know," Jethro said, for a moment glancing down at the floor and then looking back up at Ducky and brazenly holding his stare.

 

They stood there, in silence, just staring at one another for several minutes. Then Jethro slid his hand from where it held Ducky's arm down and took his hand. "Look, Duck," he said quietly. "I'm not saying it's going to be a bed or roses, I'm not saying it's not going to be without its complications, I'm not saying it's even right. But it's what I want. And I think it's what you want too. But if it isn't just say so and we'll deal with it. But I can't stand here talking about it any longer. I'm not you. I don't 'do' talking - oh, I do in my job; I can talk my way around any legal issue and talk my opponent into submission. I can tie them up in knots, legal-talk is easy. But outside of that," he shrugged. "So simple question: yes or no? Do we stop this now, really stop this now, or do we . . . ?"

 

Ducky stared up at him; Jethro had moved that close. Everything in his being shrieked at him to say 'no'. Every fiber in his body urged him to say 'stop it now'. But right or wrong. Simple or complicated. Bed of roses or a garden full of weeds, it was what he wanted. Jethro was right, life was too short.

 

He thought about Jethro's kisses, he thought about his mouth on his own, he thought about being in his arms, he thought about, being held by someone who cared, he thought about what he felt, he thought about what he wanted, he remembered how the kisses tasted and felt. And then he thought about and remembered Kelly. He closed his eyes; there was only one answer; there could only be one answer. Jethro knew that. He had to know that.

 

He opened his eyes again and made his decision. It was cost him, it would cost them both, but things were never without cost. He moved back a step so he didn't have to tilt his head back quite so far and moistened his lips.

 

"I can't, Jethro," he said softly, his tone heavy with regret. "I am very sorry, so very sorry, but I cannot do it."

 

Jethro nodded; his face looked grim. "Okay," he said, his voice rough. "I understand," he managed.

 

"Do you?" Ducky said softly, now taking a step back towards Jethro. "Do you, Jethro? Do you understand? I'm not sure how you can given I haven't told you what it is I cannot do?" He took yet another step nearer to his prey.

 

Jethro frowned and looked confused. "Duck?" he managed, the confusion clear in his tone as well. "I don't -"

 

"Why do you not ask me what it is I cannot do," Ducky said silkily, letting the tip of his tongue brush over his lips.

 

The confusion was still clear on Jethro's face. "Okay, what is it you can't do."

 

"Stop doing this," Ducky said, not quite echoing Jethro's own words, as he put his arms around Jethro's neck, tugged his head down and put his own lips onto Jethro's and kissed him. He went on kissing him and kissing him, as finally Jethro seemed to have recovered from his surprise and wrapped his own arms around Ducky and began to return the kiss.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: JUNE 1992

 

Jethro, juggling his briefcase, a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers for Mrs. Stewart as it was her birthday, closed the door, somewhat more loudly than he'd intended to do, behind him. "I'm home," he called, dropping his briefcase onto the floor and putting the flowers and wine on the table that stood in the hall next to the door.

 

"Daddy, Daddy," Kelly cried, running towards him.

 

"Hey, pumpkin," he said, picking her up and hugging her. He never got tired of her enthusiastic greeting, although he told himself it wouldn't be that long until it was far less exuberant and the idea of her father hugging her each day would not be 'cool'. But for now she was still his little girl, still loved to be cuddled and swung around and tickled.

 

"Stop it, Daddy," she giggled, as his fingers found her ticklish spot. "Stop it." She wriggled in his arms, but at the same time clung tightly to him.

 

After another minute of tickling and hugging her, he put her down. "Where's Dr. Mallard?" he asked.

 

She smiled up at him. "He's still in the school room making my essay," she said. "I wrote about the Tudors and Stuarts. Did you know King Henry VIII had six wives?" She sound aghast and Jethro hid a smile.

 

"Yes, honey, I did."

 

"You won't have six wives will you, Daddy?" she put her head right back until her long hair streamed down her back and frowned at him.

 

"No, Kell. I won't. One was quite enough. Now talking of Stuarts, do you know what today is?"

 

She nodded. "It's Mrs. Stewart's birthday. But she spells her names differently to the other Stuarts, doesn't she?"

 

"Differently from, Kelly. I've told you that before."

 

Jethro turned and saw Ducky coming towards them. "Hey, Duck," he said, well aware of just how soft his voice had become.

 

"Good evening, Jethro," Ducky's tone was equally soft, and for a moment they just stared at one another.

 

"It's very hard to remember, Dr. Mallard," Kelly said, breaking the tableau.

 

"Well, I'll see if I can think of a way to make it easier for you, Kelly."

 

"Thank you." Kelly beamed up at him. Then she turned back to Jethro. "Are those for Mrs. Stewart?" she asked, pointing to the bouquet of Jethro had put on the table.

 

Jethro nodded. "Yes, Kelly. They are. Do you think she'll like them?"

 

Kelly nodded. "Oh, yes. Daddy. Can I - sorry May I," she glanced at Ducky, who nodded his approval, "give them to her, please?"

 

"Of course you can, honey." Jethro picked up the bouquet and handed them to Kelly, who took them and tried to hold it steady as it wavered slightly in her hands. "It's heavy," she said.

 

"It is rather. I'll carry it to the kitchen for you and then you can take it, okay?" Jethro took the bouquet back from Kelly. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her catch Ducky's arm and she dragged him along with them.

 

"Happy Birthday, Mrs. Stewart," Kelly called, half running, half staggering into the kitchen and handing over the bouquet of flowers.

 

"Why, Miss Kelly, Mr. Gibbs, they are beautiful. Thank you, sir." She smiled at Jethro and bent down to kiss Kelly's cheek.

 

"Do you like them?"

 

"I love them, Miss Kelly." She smiled.

 

"Happy Birthday, Amy," Jethro kissed her cheek. "And this," he said, handing over the bottle of wine, "is for you and Henry to have with your meal tonight." He glanced at Ducky, who gave a small nod.

 

"Oh, I couldn't, Mr. Gibbs, you have already been more than generous. And Dr. Mallard insisted on preparing and cooking a meal for me to take home. And he's cooked for you all tonight as well. I've done very little all day."

 

"We can't have you cooking on your birthday, Mrs. Stewart," Ducky said firmly.

 

"So you take the wine and the food and the flowers, Amy, and off you go home and have a lovely evening," Jethro said, his tone also firm.

 

"Well, if you're really sure, Mr. Gibbs? Well, thank you. That would be very nice indeed."

 

"I am. Now come on, I'll give you a hand to get everything to your car."

 

"Oh, there's no - Thank you, sir."

 

 

With Kelly settled in bed with her book, Jethro took the opportunity to draw Ducky into his arms and kiss him. "Mmmm," he said. "I'm not sure I'm ever going to tire of kissing you."

 

"I assure you the feeling is mutual," Ducky said quietly, as he rested his head against Jethro's shoulder.

 

"I wish you'd spend the night with me," Jethro said, after another gentle kiss had been exchanged.

 

Ducky sighed. "I know you do, Jethro. But we're talked about it, have we not?"

 

Jethro sighed. "Guess so. Let's not argue," he added, nuzzling under Ducky's hair and gently nibbling his ear - Jethro knew it was one of his most erogenous zones.

 

Ducky moaned softly and leaned into the embrace even more. "I wasn't aware we were arguing," he said, after a moment or two.

 

Jethro gave a half shrug. "Let's have a drink, there's something else I need to ask, well tell, you."

 

Ducky pulled back and frowned. "Jethro? Is something wrong?"

 

Jethro shook his head. "No. Why do you think that?"

 

"It was just your tone."

 

Jethro hastened to reassure him. "Sorry, Duck. It's just . . . Let's have a drink."

 

Seated side by side on the couch, drinks in hand, Jethro felt the world rebalance on his axis. "There's a conference that I have to attend. It's an annual thing. Normally Kelly's at Shannon's, so it's not a problem. But with us switching her visits around so as not to interfere with you starting to teach her she'll be here. Plus, this year the date has also been changed, which adds to the mess - It's in three weeks time. I have to go, Ducky."

 

"And the problem is exactly?"

 

"Well . . ."

 

"You would like me to take charge of Kelly, I presume."

 

"Would you mind?"

 

Ducky looked at him. "Of course not. You did mention that was part of the terms of employment when you first interviewed me."

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah, I know. But . . . I just thought it wouldn't occur. It'll mean you'll have to move in here while I'm away; it's only for five days, so four nights. You can have your pick of bedrooms. But you'll need to in effect be on duty the whole time. And there's something else."

 

"Go on."

 

"Well, would you mind having a temporary guardianship of Kelly? Just in case something happens to her. The conference is in Chicago and Shannon isn't just down the road."

 

Ducky looked at him. "Jethro, I honestly do not see what your problem is. Of course I do not mind. And in the past at Eton we had the odd boy who, despite rules to the contrary, did not have a next of kin nearby and so we had the same issue of temporary guardianship. Do you have a problem leaving your daughter in my care?"

 

Jethro glanced away. "No, I just - Oh, shit, Duck. I'll miss you both, that's all."

 

Ducky chuckled softly. "Ah, Jethro," he said, he leaned nearer and kissed Jethro lightly.

 

After enjoying the kisses and knowing he could go on kissing Ducky all night, Jethro pulled away a bit. "So the temporary guardianship is okay?" he said.

 

"Of course it is. But perhaps you'd be kind enough to explain quite what that means both as far as you and the law here is concerned."

 

"Simply put in case anything happens to Kell and she has to go to the hospital, you'd have the powers to do whatever was necessary without having to wait for Shannon or me to agree. It's a straight forward thing really, we'll need to go before a judge, but it's pretty much all a formality. I should have set it up earlier, with you being Kell's primary carer really -"

 

"Jethro. I -"
 

"No, Duck. You're here with her all day and everyday. And there are times you take her out. And if anything should happen - not that I'm saying it would. But you know how these things can and while you're a damn safe driver, not everyone is. So . . . It makes sense. But if it makes you uncomfortable, then . . ." Then what? Jethro wasn't sure.

 

Ducky shook his head. "No, of course it doesnít. I guess I am just a little touched by the fact you trust me so much with your daughter."

 

Jethro just shook his head in bemusement. "Ah, Duck," he said, pulling Ducky back into his arms. "What am I going to do with you?" He knew exactly what he wanted to do to and with Ducky, but he knew that was not a viable option at the minute. So he instead restricted himself to kissing the man he knew he was well and was truly and deeply and lastingly in love with.

 

"So that's settled then?" he asked, when they again stopped kissing and just sat sipping their drinks.

 

"Of course. But have you not left it rather late? I would have thought these things would take time."

 

"In truth, yeah, but . . . As you may be aware," he grinned at Ducky. "I am a lawyer," Ducky obliging smiled at him. "So I do know the odd judge, and some of them are really odd! And it's not as though it's a full guardianship against the wishes of her parent or anything. So it'll be all right. We'll need to sort something more lasting out in due course, but for this short period, I can get it dealt with, I'm sure. Now, that's sorted, what are we going to do for the rest of the evening?"

 

"I really cannot imagine," Ducky replied, slipping easily into Jethro's 'game'. "However, I am sure we'll think of something."

 

"Reckon we will." And Jethro leaned forward and kissed Ducky.
 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

"Do you think Daddy's there yet, Dr. Mallard?"

 

Ducky glanced at Kelly. She'd asked the question ten times already and hadn't settled to her work at all.

 

She had also excused herself to go to the loo so many times that Ducky had, when she returned from her third visit, had put his hand on her forehead and his fingers on her pulse. Nothing had been amiss, but given she hadn't been drinking more than normal her constant visits were a little worrying. He began to suspect she didn't need to go at all, and it was just an excuse not to concentrate on the work he'd given her.

 

His suspicion was confirmed when she suddenly stood up and clutched herself between her legs, something she never did. "I need to go to the bathroom, Dr. Mallard," she said, turning to go.


He caught her arm and held it. "No, Kelly. I don't think you do."

 

She stared up at him. "Yes, I do," she insisted. "I really do, Dr. Mallard. I'll wet myself if you donít let me go."

 

He shook his head. "No, Kelly. I do not believe you will. Sit back down and get on with your work."

 

She glared at him. "I'll wet myself. I can feel it coming."

 

He looked at her. He hated to cause her distress, but running off every few minutes was not going to help her. "I do not think you will, Kelly," he repeated. "However, If I'm wrong, then I'll have to clean it up, won't I? Now sit down." He spoke firmly and forced himself to ignore the way he bottom lip was trembling.

 

She glowered at him, still holding onto herself, for another minute or too before sitting down heavily in the chair.

 

He watched her wondering just what would happen next. Wondering if, just to spite him, she would deliberately wet her knickers. She stared up at him and he saw her wriggling on her chair, then suddenly she looked away. "I'm sorry, Dr. Mallard," she said, her voice small.

 

Swiftly he glanced down at the floor, but there was no puddle. "Kelly?" he touched her arm.

 

"I didn't need to pee - none of the times. Well except the first," she added. "I just didn't . . ." She trailed off and again wriggled on her chair. Then she looked up at him again and her cheeks flushed. "Actually, Dr. Mallard," she said, her voice tight. "I really do need to pee this time. I need to badly, really badly." she added. "I - Ooh, please may I be excused?"

 

He believed her and nodded. "Go along, Kelly."

 

"Thank you." She slid off her chair and ran off at high speed out of the room.

 

He sighed softly as he watched her go and glanced at the almost blank worksheet. He gathered it up; there seemed little point forcing her to go on with it. Maybe once she knew her father had arrived safely she'd feel better. As he waited for her to return, he realized he was still learning just how close father and daughter were.

 

A minute or two later she trotted back into the room. "Are you all right?" he asked.

 

She nodded. "Yes, thank you. I am sorry, Dr. Mallard. I just miss Daddy." Tears began to well up in her eyes.

 

Ducky put his arm around her shoulders. "I know you do, Kelly. And I know normally you are with your mommy when he goes away."

 

"I like being with you," she said quickly, looking up at him and scrubbing her eyes with her sleeve. "It's not that, it's just . . . I don't know where he is."

 

Ducky had an idea. "Come along," he said, taking her hand. "We'll get the large atlas out and see if we can work out where Daddy might be. And then," he added, pleased to see she was already smiling. "How would you like me to tell you a story?"

 

Her smiled widened. "Oh, yes, please, Dr. Ducky," she said. "What kind?" Her eyes were now bright. And then, before Ducky could say anything, she added, "A ghost story!"

 

He thought for a moment. "Well," he said.

 

"Oh, please, Dr. Ducky. Not that I believe in ghosts," she said quickly.

 

"Do you not?"

 

She shook her head. "Anyone who does is silly." Then she clamped her hand over her mouth and looked up at him from under her fringe. "Do you believe in ghosts?" she asked, her tone apprehensive.

 

Ducky smiled. "Well now, Kelly. I have never seen one, but I know many people who I would consider to be rational and completely 'unsilly' who swear they have seen one, or at least felt a presence. I try not to dismiss things without proof they do not exist."

 

She continued to look at him and he could see her brain trying to work out how she could stick to her belief, but also conform to his - as she had a wont to do. Suddenly she smiled and said. "You tell me a story and I'll tell you if it's silly."

 

He laughed gently. "Are you sure a ghost story won't give you nightmares?" he asked.

 

Now she rolled her eyes as he'd seen her do many time before and sighed. "I am eight, Dr. Mallard," she said firmly. "I don't get nightmares." 'I am eight' was one of her current favorite phrases, used about anything she thought it was scornful for a girl of her age to be asked.

 

"Not even with your daddy away?" Ducky asked gently.

 

Just for the briefest of seconds he saw her hesitate. Then she shook her head firmly and said, "No. Because you're going to show me where Daddy is."

 

And for the next twenty minutes the poured over the atlas with Ducky tracing out the route he knew Jethro and Tobias, who was also going to the conference, had taken. He had been a little surprised when Jethro had told him they were driving rather than flying, but it certainly made his job and calculations easier. "I think that Daddy and Uncle Tobias will be here," he said, pointing to a place on the map.

 

She shook her head. "No. Daddy drives quicker than that, I think they'll be here," she pointed a little further on. "Ooh, unless they've stopped for coffee. Daddy likes his coffee. Do you think they'll have stopped for coffee, Dr. Ducky?"

 

"I would think there is a high probability that that have, Kelly," Ducky said, rather amused by the switching from 'Dr. Mallard' to 'Dr. Ducky'; he wasn't sure whether Jethro would approve, but maybe she'd stop the latter before her father got home.

 

She nodded sagely. "Me too. In that case, you're right. They're about here," she pointed to the spot Ducky had pointed to. "Good. So how long will it be before they get where they're going?"

 

Ducky looked at his watch. "Bother," he said.

 

"Dr. Ducky?"

 

He shook it and tapped it, but nothing happened. It was wound up, he did it last thing at night and remember doing it last night, but just in case he checked it. No, it was fine. He sighed softly. It had been an eighteenth birthday present from his parents.

 

"Dr. Mallard? Are you sad?" A small hand was slipped into his.

 

He looked at her. "I think my watch is broken," he said.

 

"Can we mend it?"

 

"I'm not sure, Kelly. It is quite old. But we'll see."

 

She bit her lip and put her head on one side. Then he saw her smile as an idea popped into her mind - he knew the look well' he saw it a dozen times a day. "Ooh," she said, letting go of his hand and running out of the room. "Wait there."

 

"Kelly." But she'd gone.

 

Seconds later she was back, a watch in her hand. "It's Daddy's spare one," she said, pushing it into his hand. "He won't mind if you borrow it."

 

He looked at it and swallowed. 'Spare' wasn't quite how he'd have described it. It was a Rolex, and clearly a very expensive one. He started to say, "Kelly, I really don't think -"

 

But she was relentless. She took it from him, fiddled with the strap of his own watch, tugged that off and slipped Jethro's onto his wrist. "Daddy would want you to borrow it," she said firmly. "I know he would." She frowned and crossed her arms.

 

In the end it seemed easier not to get into a long debate with her - more than once he'd come out of one aware that he might have won, but that it had been a very close 'battle'. When he'd told Jethro about the experience he had simply laughed a knowledgeable laugh. And it wasn't as if he was going to damage the watch. Plus -

 

He stopped that thought. For heaven's sake, he was fifty. His - The man he spent time with, the man he kissed, the man he knew he shouldn't be kissing, the man he'd got used to seeing every day, of spending time with every day was away for a few days. He shouldn't feel so bereft. But he did. He shook himself and looked at Kelly who was watching him carefully. "Thank you, Kelly," he said, adjusting the strap. "I'll take good care of it."

 

She beamed. "Good. Now story."

 

He just looked at her. "Story?" he said a little firmly.

 

She frowned for a moment, and then realization appeared on her face. "May I have a story, please," she said.

 

He smiled at her. He could see why there were times when Jethro, despite being a good parent, a firm parent, was maybe not quite as firm as he should be. There was something dangerously engaging about Kelly Ann Gibbs. About her father too a little voice said; he chose to ignore that.

 

"Very well, shall we go and sit in the sitting room and get comfortable?"

 

She took his hand, something she did quite often, he still wasn't completely certain it was the 'right' kind of behavior, that he should be allowing his tutee to hold his hand. However, she'd done it often in front of Jethro who hadn't been bothered, so Ducky tried not to over-analyze things too much. "Come on then," she said, tugging him along behind her.

 

He sat in what, when Jethro and he weren't alone, had somehow become 'his' armchair and Kelly sat on the floor cross-legged at his feet, on a bean-bag, gazing up at him expectantly. She liked sitting on the floor and spent most of her non-school room and non-eating time either sitting or sprawled out there.

 

"This story is a Scottish story, set in Aberdeenshire. Do you remember where Aberdeenshire is?"

 

She nodded. "On the right of Britain, nearish to the top. You used to live there with your mommy. Do you still miss her, Dr. Ducky?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, Kelly, I do."

 

"Do you believe she's in heaven?"

 

Ducky swallowed. Religion, heaven and hell and beliefs had not arisen in the few months he'd been teaching her. Looking back it was a question he should have asked early on; as it was, he didn't know. What were Jethro's feelings? What did Kelly believe? Jethro didn't go to church and Ducky had never heard Kelly saying her prayers. She did have a Bible and a children's book of Bible stories and a small gold crucifix, but a lot of people, even those who had no beliefs had those things. He didn't feel that now was the time to get into a discussion about the subject; he would raise it with Jethro upon his return.

 

He was just about to say something when she spoke again. "Is it like ghosts?" she asked.

 

"Kelly?"

 

"You don't miss it without proof it's not there."

 

"Dismiss it," Ducky corrected. And then nodded. "Yes, Kelly, I think that sums it up nicely.

 

"Good." She stared at him again with her waiting look on her face.

 

"As I said it is set in Aberdeenshire and it dates back to the eleventh century."

 

"The ten hundreds," she said quickly.

 

He smiled. "Indeed. And the story was passed down from person to person through generations, in the way stories used to be shared before books were common."

 

"There was a time when books didn't exist?" Kelly was aghast.

 

Ducky smiled. "Yes, and also a time when you needed to be very wealthy indeed to own them. And even then they weren't story books."

 

"Daddy's wealthy."

 

"Yes, Kelly. I am aware of that."

 

"You are too, aren't you? You have to be, you had two houses." She left it as a statement rather than a question and Ducky let it go at that.

 

"Well there was this ruined tower."

 

"How had it got ruined?"

 

"Lightening had struck it. And the story goes that it was believed there to be great treasure inside."

 

"What kind of treasure?"

 

Ducky sighed to himself; he wondered just how long it would take to tell the story. "Well, now, Kelly, that is part of the story and part of the legend - no one knew."

 

"How come?"

 

"Well, that is what I'm going to tell you."

 

"Oh, okay." Now she leaned forward and put her elbows on her knees and leaned her chin on her hands - it looked very uncomfortable to Ducky.

 

"However, people were told never to try to steal the treasure as something dreadful would happen to them." Kelly opened her mouth and quickly closed it again. "And no one knew exactly where the treasure was as the tower was quite large and had many possible hiding places, not only on the ground but also in niches in the walls."

 

"What's a niche?"

 

"It is a small enclosure that is set back or indented." She frowned, but then nodded. "But at full moon it was said the light shone through part of the roof and lit up where the treasure was hidden. And so despite all the warnings men would try to steal it."

 

"Only men?" Kelly demanded. However, before Ducky could answer she went on. "I bet ladies were too sensible. They listened to the warning. Don't you think so, Dr. Ducky?"

 

He stopped himself from laughing at the earnest look on her face. She was obviously not aware that having in effect insulted Ducky's own sex, she was now looking for confirmation of the insult. He said, "As far as legend goes, it was only men. Many had tried and failed, but there were a group of three brothers, and they were certain they would be able to go inside, find the treasure and survive. They believed they knew why others had failed."

 

"How?"

 

"Apparently the others who had tried had either gone alone or in pairs. The three brothers believed that if they all went inside, then one would always be able to keep watch and warn the others if anything appeared. They also didn't believe, like you, in ghosts and monsters, they thought it was all a joke, a story put together to keep people away. So they made their plans and on the first night of the full moon they took some large sticks and lamps and off they went."

 

"What happened?" Kelly's eyes were wide as she stared up at him.

 

"Well, they went inside and there was the light of the moon showing up a niche in the wall, it was about a quarter of the way up, much higher than any man stood. But they could see it glinting and shining, and they knew they had to have it. Apparently it grew cold, very cold, very cold indeed and everything fell silent."

 

"You said it was in the open countryside?"

 

Ducky nodded. "But the night, the countryside, is never silent, Kelly."

 

"Isn't it?"

 

He shook his head. "Oh, no. Nature is noisier than man made things. But this night turned still and quiet. No foxes barked, no owls hooted, no small animals crunched twigs. There was nothing."

 

"Were they frighted?"

 

He didn't correct her; it was one of her pet words and he knew that she knew the correct word. Instead he nodded. "Yes, they were, but none of them would admit it. They decided how they were going to climb up. Two of them would climb, the third would keep watch."

 

"What were their names?" Kelly suddenly asked.

 

Ducky blinked. "Um, Edward, Arthur and George, I believe. I don't know who did what, Kelly, so you needn't ask." She looked at him, surprise evident on the face; he had admitted to not knowing something. The look told him he had just shaken her world a very small amount. "As well as the heavy sticks and lamps they had taken with them, they also had pick axes and believed they could use these to help them make other niches in the wall to climb up. One of them reached behind him for one of them and," he paused and took a sip from the glass of water he had brought with him.

 

"Go on. Go on, Dr. Ducky. Please," she added, now moving from sitting crossed legs to kneeling.

 

Ducky took another sip of the water and smiled at her. "It had gone," he said.

 

Her eyes widened. "Gone?"

 

He nodded. "Yes."

 

"Gone gone or just moved gone?"

 

"At first they thought it had vanished totally, each blamed the other. Each thought the other was playing a trick or that one or two of them were in league to get rid of the third. They argued, but then they saw it. It was lying against the wall on the other side of the tower. A place they all swore they had already searched." Kelly's eyes were now almost impossibly wide and she was hanging on Ducky's ever word. "Well, one of them, we'll call him Edward, it is easier, decided that he wasn't going to risk anything. So he told both of his brothers to stand well away from him and he positioned them so they could watch him and each watch part of the tower and also still see one another. Once he'd arranged them to his satisfaction he began to use the pick axe on the wall."

 

"And . . . And . . ."

 

"I'm just coming to that part, Kelly. Be patient. Well, Edward was smashing into the wall and suddenly he was touched."

 

"Touched?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, on the shoulder. He turned around quickly, but to his disbelief neither Arthur nor George were anywhere near him. And they were both staring at him as if he -"

 

"Was mad?" Kelly whispered.

 

"That one term, yes."

 

"But one of them must have touched him."

 

"Well," Ducky said, looking down at her. "They both swore on the grave of their little sister, and that was a very important oath at that time, Kelly. It's not the kind of thing any of them would have said lightly. Do you understand?"

 

She frowned and then nodded slowly. "Like me promising Daddy I wouldn't do something really naughty and then doing it anyway."

 

"Yes, that's good enough, Kelly. None of them would have made that oath, and Edward knew that."

 

"What happened?"

 

"The moon suddenly vanished and everything turned dark as well as cold and silent."

 

"But that's not possible - is it? The moon can't just vanish."

 

"I imagine it went behind the clouds, but for Edward and his brothers it suddenly turned black. And these were country lads, born and brought up in a place and time when streetlamps didnít exist; their eyes would be used to the dark. They'd be used to seeing something. They would be accustomed to it. But they couldn't see a thing. Not a thing."

 

"What about the lamps?"

 

"They were blown out or they oil ran out."

 

"What happened next?" Kelly whispered, now kneeling up and putting her hands on the arms of Ducky's chair.

 

"Well they managed by virtue of calling out to get to one another. They all held hands and formed a circle and they vowed nothing, no matter what they heard or felt or smelt or saw, would make them let go of one another's hands. Nothing, Kelly, nothing would make them let go of one another."

 

"And . . . And . . . And, Dr. Ducky, And . . . ? What happened next? Did they find the treasure? Were they killed? Did they . . . What happened?"

 

Ducky put his hand on her hair. "I'm afraid no one knows, Kelly," he said gently. "Because they were never seen again."

 

She stared at him, her mouth open, her eyes wide - but not with any hint of fear, just excitement and anticipation. "Is that it?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, Kelly. I'm afraid it is. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go to the loo."

 

He patted her head, waited for her to move her hands and stood up.

 

 

He was washing his hands when the door the bathroom was flung open. "Dr. Ducky!"

 

"Kelly!" he admonished.


"What? You're only washing your hands. I waited until I heard you flush the loo. But it can't be."

 

He dried his hands and looked at her. "What can't be, Kelly?" he asked quietly.

 

"They can't all have died."

 

He hid a smile. "And why not?"

 

"Cause, if they had done, no one could have told the story!" She flung her head back and stared up at him, a victorious look on her face. She dared him to contradict her.

 

He chuckled softly and put his hand on her head. "Very good, Kelly," he said. "Well done."

 

"So it was all a lie?"

 

He turned her around and guided her out of the bathroom. "Well, now, Kelly, stories and legends aren't necessarily true, but that doesn't make them lies."

 

"But -" At that moment the phone rang.

 

"Daddy!" she cried, racing off to answer it.

 

"Saved by the bell," Ducky murmured.
 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

Ducky and Kelly sat in the school room, Kelly was frowning as she worked through a set of maths problems, the tip of her tongue protruded as she stared at the paper. Her maths had improved tremendously since Ducky had been tutoring her and she now even enjoyed the subject, even got somewhat excited by it. However, it was never going to be her favorite, nor was it going to be her best subject.

 

The sound of the front door opening and a voice calling out, "Hey, guys, I'm home," brought Kelly to her feet.

 

She flung down her pencil and without even asking Ducky if she could leave the room, turned and fled. "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" she cried, her excitement clear.

 

Ducky, who was also looking forward to seeing Jethro, followed her out into the hall just in time to see her launch herself into Jethro's arms and be picked up and swung around.

 

"Hey, pumpkin," Jethro said, kissing his daughter. "Did you miss me?"

 

"Yes, Daddy!" She wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder.

 

Ducky walked towards father and daughter and caught Jethro's gaze as it came to settle on him. The question in the dark eyes was clear: 'did you miss me?' it asked.

 

Ducky smiled slightly and nodded, letting his own eyes answer the question in more depth. The look he was getting as Jethro continued to hug and be hugged by Kelly said clearly that as much as he loved having his daughter in his arms, he'd like someone else even more - the someone he was now staring at. Ducky swallowed as the gaze became very intimate and he found himself forced to look away.

 

"Did you bring me a present, Daddy?" Kelly suddenly demanded.

 

"Kelly!" Ducky admonished.

 

Jethro just smiled. "What do you think?" He put Kelly down on the floor and ruffled her hair.

 

She looked up at him. "And did you, you know?" Her tone was conspiratorial.

 

"Yeah, I did, Kell. Were you a good girl while I was gone?"

 

Kelly nodded furiously. "Yes, I was."

 

Jethro cocked an eyebrow in Ducky's direction. "She was, Jethro, very good." He smiled again.

 

"Dr. Ducky told me a story, Daddy. If you ask him nicely I'm sure he'll tell you too. It's about ghosts in Scotland."

 

"Dr. Ducky?" Jethro's eyebrows both rose as he looked from Ducky down to his daughter.

 

She picked up on the clear emphasis and took a step back and looked up at her father. "You don't mind, do you, Daddy? Dr. Mallard doesnít."

 

Again Jethro looked at Ducky who gave a half shrug and offered a 'later'.

 

"We'll see," Jethro said, but he was smiling. He crouched down and began to dig through one of his bags. "Now let's see if I can remember just where I put - ah, yes. Here you are, honey. One, two, three. I'm sure Dr. Ducky," he glanced up at Ducky, "will approve of one of these."

 

Kelly took the three wrapped parcels, sat down on the floor and began to tear the paper off. "Thank you, Daddy. He's lovely," she said, as she unwrapped a, even Ducky had to admit, rather lovely looking teddy bear. She tucked it close to her and began to open the second present; from the shape that was the one of which Ducky believed he would 'approve'. "Ooh," she cried, looking up at Jethro, her eyes shining. "Thank you, Daddy. Look, Dr. Ducky, it's the latest Black Stallion book. Maddie will be so jealous."

 

Ducky smiled. "Very nice, Kelly."

 

"Open this one carefully," Jethro said, catching the edge of the third present. "Actually, I think Dr. Ducky might approve of that one too." He caught Ducky's eye and winked.

 

Kelly, as bid, tore of the paper in less than her usual demolition way. Inside was a dark blue box and from the shape of it Ducky suspected it held some kind of jewelry. He watched as Kelly prised of the lid and look down. "For me, Daddy?" she asked, very carefully lifting out the contents: a watch.

 

Jethro nodded. "Though it was time you had your own. That way you donít have to keep asking Ducky or me the time all the time. Do you want me to help you put it on?"

 

She shook her head and instead stood up with the kind of fluid movement only an eight year old can achieve and skipped over to Ducky. "Will you help me, please, Dr. Ducky?" she asked.

 

Ducky glanced at Jethro who stood, staring at his daughter, just shaking his head. His eyes twinkled with mirth as he caught Ducky's eye and again he winked at him.

 

Once he'd helped Kelly with the strap, Ducky admired the watch. For a child's watch it looked to be more expensive than most, but also very durable. He knew Jethro didn't spend money just because he could, but he did tend to work on the 'it's worth paying more for quality' basis. Quite whether that was appropriate for an eight year old's watch, Ducky wasn't certain. But on the other hand, Kelly took extremely good care of her books and toys and clothes, so he saw no reason why she should do any less with the watch.

 

After Kelly had admired it from several angles, she looked at her father. "May I go and show it to my class? And take my new bear to meet them, Daddy?"

 

Jethro looked at Ducky and back at Kelly. "It's not up to me, honey," he said. "It's still lesson time. You need to ask Dr. Mallard."

 

She glanced up at Ducky. "Please may I finish my work early today, Dr. Ducky? I'll make sure I tell the class about what I've been doing today."

 

Ducky smiled. "Just this once, Kelly," he said.

 

"Thank you," she called as she stopped to grab her new bear and her book and scampered off in the direction of her bedroom. Suddenly she stopped and turned around. "Daddy?"

 

"Kelly?"

"You won't forget you know what, will you?" Again her tone was conspiratorial.

 

Jethro shook his head. "No, Kelly. I won't."

 

"Promise."

 

"Scout's Honor."

 

"Were you a Scout, Daddy?" she demanded.

 

"Um. You know what, Kell. Just go and play."

 

She giggled at that. "Yes, Daddy."

 

Jethro began to gather up the wrapping paper that now covered the carpet. "Why is there always more paper when the presents are unwrapped than when it first started?" he asked.

 

"Is that a genuine question you wish me to answer, or . . . ?"

 

Jethro grabbed the last piece, rolled it together into a ball and tossed it onto the table. "That'd be an 'or'. Well, at least for now. But it is something I've wondered often - especially at Christmas and on Kelly's birthday. You'll see what I mean in December."

 

Ducky swallowed as he looked into Jethro's eyes. The voice was saying one thing, the stare something else entirely; he felt his body tingle and become warmer. "Would you like me to make a cup of tea?" Ducky asked.

 

Jethro moved towards him and shook his head. "Nope. What I want you to do is come with me," and snagging Ducky's hand with one hand and one of this bags with the other, he all but dragged Ducky along the hall into his bedroom and shut the door.

 

"Jeth -"

 

But Jethro's mouth on his silenced Ducky. The kiss, the first they'd shared in five days, was intense, sweet, moving, tender and highly addictive. Ducky was pulled into Jethro's embrace and held tightly; in turn he put his own arms around Jethro. They shouldn't be doing this, not in the middle of the day, not with Kelly only two doors away and Mrs. Stewart in the kitchen. And they certainly shouldn't be making the kiss and embrace so intimate Ducky could feel his body, and Jethro's, beginning to react to the closeness.

 

Finally, just as Ducky was starting to see spots in front of his closed eyes, Jethro released his mouth and took a gulp of air. "God, I missed you, Duck," he breathed. "I -"

 

But they'd have plenty of time for talking later, to hell with 'they shouldn't be doing this', Ducky wanted more. And so this time it was he who put his mouth on Jethro's and kissed him with the kind of passion that demanded so much more. And it was also he who broke the kiss.

 

Breathing hard, he leaned back heavily against Jethro's bedroom door and stared into the dark blue gaze. "Jethro," he managed. "We -"

Jethro nodded. "I know. I know." He leaned nearer to Ducky, gave him a brief and chaste kiss and with clear reluctance broke the embrace. "Later," he growled.

 

Ducky nodded and began to straighten his tie which he could feel had become skewed.

 

"Stay the night," Jethro suddenly begged.

 

"Jethro. We -"

 

"No, I don't mean with me - although God knows I wish you would. I mean stay here in the house, in the room you've been using. Please, Duck. I swear I won't . . . I just want you nearby and you thought you'd be staying anyway. I didn't expect to be home this early."

 

"I know that, Jethro. But -" However, the look in Jethro's eyes as he continued to gaze at Ducky melted away any objection Ducky might have. "Very well, Jethro," he said softly. "As long as I do have your word that you won't . . ."

 

"Scout's Honor." Ducky just looked at him pointedly. "Ah, yeah, of course. I promise. Now, Kelly isn't the only one I bought something home for. Here we are," and Jethro handed Ducky a box.

 

"But, Jethro, you -"

 

"Just open it."

 

Ducky did. "Oh, Jethro," he breathed as he took the lid of the dark blue box, the dark blue box that had come from the same store as Kelly's watch. "But how -"

 

"Did I know?" Ducky nodded. "Kell told me. She also told me you were sad. I guess it was originally a present maybe from your mom and dad?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, it was an eighteenth birthday present. So I shouldnít be surprised that - But, Jethro, this is far too -"

 

"I know it's not exactly the same, but I ran out of stores in the end. This was the best I'd seen, the closet match. I hope it's okay?" Jethro sounded genuinely concerned and the look on his face confirmed that.

 

Ducky took his hand. "It's perfect, Jethro. It's really lovely. You - " But he stopped himself. Objecting would be ungrateful, when in fact he was deeply touched not only by the gift itself but by what it implied. "Thank you, Jethro," he said instead. "Thank you so much." And then, because it was one way of showing thanks as well as verbalizing them, he moved nearer to Jethro and gently and tenderly kissed him. Not to arouse or excite, just because it was right.

 

"Glad you like it," Jethro said, once they broke away again. "Kelly said she'd loaned you my spare watch."

 

"She did, yes. I do hope . . ." Ducky trailed off under the slightly harsher gaze. "Thank you for the loan," he said, taking it off and handing it over to Jethro. "I do feel quite lost without a watch."

 

Jethro took the watch and to Ducky's partial surprise just tossed it onto the top of the chest of drawers. "Know what you mean. Although I think by the time I found that, Tobias had gotten to the stage whereby if he ever saw another watch again he'd go mad." Jethro laughed. "Now I seem to remember you said something about a cup of tea?

 

"Yes, I did, did I not?" Pausing to lightly brush his lips over Jethro's one more time, Ducky turned and opened the door to Jethro's bedroom. As he did he mentally crossed his fingers hoping that neither Kelly nor Mrs. Stewart would be anywhere in sight.

 

His wish was granted.

 

"So what's this about 'Dr. Ducky'?" Jethro asked as they walked towards the kitchen.

 

"Oh, it was something Kelly came out with on the day you went. For a while she switched back and forth between 'Dr. Mallard' and 'Dr. Ducky', but for the last couple of days it's been 'Dr. Ducky' all the time. Why? Do you object?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "Not sure. You?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No. No, I don't. And I don't think it is that surprising that she has adopted the name."

 

"Why not?"

 

"Well given the amount of time I spend here in a non-tutor capacity joining you both for dinner, staying around afterwards also accompanying you on non-school related trips, well she hears you address me by my name. I think it is quite natural that she has slipped into a version of it."

 

"Hmmm. Guess it could be that. Well, okay, I don't mind. As long as she doesn't drop the 'Doctor'."

 

"Oh, no," Ducky said quickly. "I would not permit that."

 

"Good. It is good to be home," he said, stopping outside the kitchen door.

 

"It is good to have you home," Ducky said, and then realizing quite what he'd said, opened his mouth to try to correct it.

 

"Hmmm," Jethro said, pushing open the door. "Reckon Freud would have a field day with that little comment." And he sailed into the kitchen, calling out to Mrs. Stewart.
 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: JULY 1992

 

"No, Jethro," Ducky repeated firmly, pulling away just a little. He couldn't go far, not unless he stood up, as he was trapped on one side by Jethro himself and the other by the arm of the sofa.

 

"But why, Duck?" Jethro asked again, as he stared at Ducky.

 

Ducky sighed and said quietly, but firmly. "I have told you why, my dear. I have told you why several times now." And he had. After two weeks of spending evenings together which always involved at least one kiss, even if it was just when Jethro escorted Ducky to his door, Jethro had asked him to stay the night. And as much as Ducky had wanted to do so, and he had wanted to do so, he did want to do so, he had always declined. The first time he'd murmured something about it being too soon, and Jethro had frowned, but accepted that. However, when Jethro asked again another two weeks later, Ducky had been forced to tell him the real reason. Not that it had stopped Jethro from asking. It seemed that he believed he could wear Ducky down by sheer force of will, and get him to say 'yes'. But once he was adamant, Ducky did not back down easily.

 

"Tell me again; maybe it'll make sense this time?" Jethro couldn't believe Ducky was still refusing to share his bed.

 

Ducky sighed again and this time frowned, but obligingly repeated the words he'd been saying for the last five weeks. "Jethro, as much I would like to go to your bed and make love, as much as I want to take this relationship beyond kissing and -" Ducky came to a hasty stop and Jethro had to stop himself from smiling smugly at the faint flush that touched Ducky's cheeks. He had thought his days of petting on a couch were over, but with Ducky refusing to go to his bed, and yet with the same Ducky getting him so turned on merely by kissing him, he'd had to do something and Ducky hadn't objected - well not too much.

 

He suddenly realized Ducky was speaking again. "I cannot sleep with you whilst Kelly is in the house. It would not be right. If she got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or if she was sick or had a nightmare and came into your room and found us - Jethro, it just wouldn't be right. I want to share your bed. I do, really I do. I want us to make love. But we can't. It wouldn't be right. You know that," Ducky put his hand on Jethro's face.

 

"No, Duck. Actually, I don't."

 

"Jethro!"

 

Jethro sighed and sat upright. "Ducky. Look, if Shannon had left me for another man rather than for Jenn, you know a woman, I could understand what you were saying and I'd agree with you. But Kelly knows Shannon and Jenn sleep together, she takes them tea every morning when she's there. She's not going to have a problem with it."

 

"Oh, Jethro. I do sometime wonder at your naivety. It was different with Shannon and Jennifer. Kelly already knew they were together before she went to stay with them for the first time. You told me yourself you'd had many conversations with her. So it wasn't going to come as a shock. Also you are her daddy, she has had you exclusively for more than two years now, finding you have feelings for someone else, especially when that someone else is someone -"

 

"She likes a hell of a lot. Surely that'd be easier?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "I think, actually, it might be harder. But as I said, for her to discover us, it would not be right, Jethro."

 

"Well, I'll tell her about us then. How about that?" Jethro raised an eyebrow and looked hopefully at Ducky.

 

"No." Ducky said firmly. "Not yet. I don't think it's the right time for her to know -"

 

"That her daddy and her Dr. Ducky are involved?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes."

 

Jethro stood up and strode to the drinks cabinet and pulled out a bottle of scotch, yanked off the top and poured some into two glasses. He downed half of his in one and then refilled it - it was Saturday tomorrow, he didn't have to go into the office. "Are we involved?" he said, his tone quite sharp.

 

Ducky glanced up at him, the surprise evident on his face. "Jethro?"

 

"Well, are we? You tell me, Duck. You're the so called expert on everything," Jethro snarled. Instantly, even before he saw the look on Ducky's face, he was contrite. "Oh, shit," he cursed. He sat down swiftly, plonked the glasses onto the table, ignored the liquid that sloshed over the edge of one of them and took Ducky's hand. "I'm sorry, Duck," he said, linking his fingers with Ducky's and touching Ducky's cheek with his other hand. "I didn't mean that to come out like that. It's just . . . . Look, Duck, we've been -" He broke off, stopping himself from saying 'messing about'.

 

"Kissing?" Ducky said quietly. The hurt that had flashed through his eyes and across his face when Jethro had snarled at him had faded, and all Jethro saw now was deep affection and regret but also the steely determination he knew existed within Ducky.

 

"Yeah, kissing," Jethro said, leaning forward and lightly kissing Ducky's nose. "We've been kissing for a couple of months now. And it's been getting more intense, you know it has. I want more, Duck. I want . . . I want you. I want to make love to you. I want to touch you properly. I want to undress you. I want to stroke you, to caress you, to kiss other parts of your body. And I want you to do the same to me. And I want to know if you want that too. Because to my mind it's the logical step, the natural step, the normal step the -"

 

Ducky leaned forward and put his mouth on Jethro's quietening him. The kiss was brief in itself, but the connection, far less so. "I do," he said, when he took his mouth away. "I do want more. Please, my dear, believe me. I want you in all the ways you said, and then some, very much indeed. And," he said, before Jethro could speak. "The answer to your first question is yes, we are involved. At least I am involved with you. Deeply involved. Put it this way, Jethro, I feel more involved with you than I felt with one of two of the people with whom I slept - and you know I never slept with anyone for whom I did not feel affection and believed it was more than a 'one night stand'."

 

Jethro hastily played the speech back in his mind. Sometimes he found Ducky's convoluted speeches more than a little confusing and difficult to follow. "So you reckon we're involved -"

 

"Do you not?"

 

"Yeah, yeah, I do, Duck. Very much so. I just -" He shook his head. "So we're involved, you feel closer to me than some guys you've slept with, but you won't sleep with me. I just - Okay, Ducky, don't take this the wrong way. Although I doubt there is a right way to take it. Look, I don't mean to offend you or anything, and I don't for one moment believe that you would - Well I know you wouldn't. And I know that there are other ways that you can . . . And really I know - What did you say?"

 

Ducky smiled gently. "I said no, there is no other reason other than the one I gave you for my refusing to sleep with you. You have no need to be concerned on that score, none whatsoever." Again he cupped Jethro's cheek with his hand, again Jethro leaned into it.

 

"Sorry," Jethro said again, and then laughed softly.

 

Ducky raised an eyebrow. "I'm not quite sure I understand the joke," he said.

 

"Just that if some of my, make that most of my, fellow lawyers and my staff, not to mention judges and more than a few criminals heard me, they wouldn't believe what they'd heard. 'Sorry' is not a word I use frequently or lightly. It's not a good idea in my business to get into being apologetic. One second you're apologizing, the next you're trying to explain to your client why he'd been found guilty. Plus, it's a word people say too easily these days and don't really mean."

 

"Rather like 'I love you'," Ducky said softly. "That is a phrase that is sadly over-used.

 

Jethro looked at Ducky, who chose that moment to glance away from him. "I can't see you saying it unless you meant it," he said.

 

Ducky was silent for several moments and kept his gaze averted from Jethro. Jethro hated it when Ducky wouldn't look at him. He found the paler than his own blue gaze very open and easy to read; it often told him things that Ducky's mouth didn't. In fact he'd never told Ducky, but he'd known within a couple of weeks of Ducky coming to work for him that Ducky was attracted to him.

 

When it appeared the silence was going to drag on and on, Jethro plowed on. His years as a lawyer had him well trained in being able to recall a conversation, even when it had gone off at a tangent. And five months of spending time with Ducky who, it had to be fair to say, did on occasion tend to ramble and go off on the odd tangent himself, had honed that skill even more. "I guess I still don't really get why you won't sleep with me," he said, returning to the point in the conversation before the digression had occurred.

 

Ducky sighed. "Oh, Jethro. You know why. I have told you over and over again."

 

"Okay, what about if I come to your bed, will that do?"

 

Ducky raised both eyebrows. "And leave Kelly alone in the house? Jethro, I am shocked that you would suggest such a thing."

 

So was Jethro. He shook his head. "Oh, hell. You're right. Forget it, I didn't mean it. You know I wouldn't do that."

 

Ducky smiled reassuringly. "Yes, of course I do." He took Jethro's hand and squeezed it.

 

Jethro returned the pressure and then snagged the two glasses and handed one to Ducky as he thought his way around the problem - something else he was well trained in doing. He instantly dismissed the 'what about the next time Kelly goes over to play with Maddie'. That wasn't how he wanted it, so he was sure Ducky would say 'no'. That would give it a sordid edge, and that last thing he felt his relationship with Ducky was, was sordid.

 

And then it came to him. He put his glass down and took Ducky's from his hand, quietening Ducky's objection with a shake of his head. "Okay," he said, staring intently at Ducky. "So the only reason you won't sleep with me, Dr. Mallard, is because you are concerned that Kelly might come into my room and find us. And you don't think she is ready to discover her daddy and her tutor are more than just good friends? That's about it, isn't it?"

 

Ducky eyed him carefully and Jethro could see him considering every word Jethro had said and his own response. "I would say that it a very fair summation, Mr. Gibbs," he said.

 

"Good. And you don't want me to tell Kelly we're involved, either?"

 

"I don't think the time is quite right. Jethro, I have only been in my employment for a few months. I think more time needs to have elapsed before - "

 

"A straight yes or no would do, Duck."

 

Ducky smiled. "Very well, no. I do not."

 

Jethro nodded. He was about to speak, when suddenly he wondered if he did want to do so after all. What if Ducky still said 'no'? He wasn't a defense lawyer, but one thing he knew most of his fellow lawyers, if not all, never did was to ask a client if they were guilty. If the client said they were, the lawyer wouldn't be able to defend them - at least not ethically. Of course that didn't stop some of the more shady lawyers out there.

 

So he procrastinated a little. "And you say we are involved, don't you?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Oh, yes," he said. "In fact I would go so far as to use the term 'lovers'."

 

Jethro widened his eyes. "Er, Duck, I don't know if it's just a difference in culture, but well, 'lovers' tends to mean, well . . ."

 

"Yes?" Ducky asked, his tone brighter than Jethro would have liked it to have been. He groaned inwardly and realized he'd fallen headlong into one of Ducky's very gentle 'traps'. He should have thought before he'd spoken; he'd sat through enough dinners when Kelly had done similar things to know better.

 

He rolled his eyes. "All right," he said. "So I'm sure the dictionary definition of 'lover' isn't limited to the physical."

 

"Indeed it is not. But then of course it has to be said that on the physical front we -"

 

"Ducky!"

 

Ducky blinked. "Yes, my dear?"

 

Jethro just shook his head. "Okay, okay, so we're lovers," and he realized how much he liked the term. He liked it very much. Now if only Ducky would stay on the same track as him for a few more minutes, he might be able to tie something down.

 

Once again he recapped. "You won't sleep with me while Kelly is the house. You don't want me to tell Kelly we're involved, to tell Kelly we are lovers," he corrected. "That right?"

 

Ducky nodded, but the movement was a little slower, as he stared at Jethro. Jethro could see that Ducky was trying to work out just where Jethro was going with this one. "Yes," he said, after a moment or two. "That is essentially correct."

 

"Good. Well, as you are well aware, Kelly goes off in two weeks for one of her annual visits to Shannon and Jenny."

 

"Ah." Was Ducky's sole response.

 

"So unless you have been," Jethro paused and searched for a word other than 'lying'. He couldn't think of one, so changed track. "So unless Kelly was merely an excuse, give me one reason why you will not be sharing my bed for the period of time Kelly is away." After he'd said the final words, he sat still and silent, just staring at Ducky and waiting. You've done it now, Jethro Gibbs, he told himself. What if he still says 'no', what will you do then? He honestly didn't know. "Well?" he finally demanded, after Ducky also sat in silence.

 

Ducky looked at him. "I do apologize, Jethro. I was merely doing as you asked and trying to think of one reason why I would not spend the duration of Kelly's visit to her mother in your bed."

 

Jethro forced himself to retain his composure as he called on his years of keeping an unreadable face. He shouldn't have pushed; he shouldn't have asked; he should have just let things go on as they were. He was a fool. He should have known it had to be more than Kelly, should have known that maybe he wasn't good enough for Ducky, that maybe Ducky wanted someone who knew what they were doing, that maybe it was too soon for Ducky. That maybe - Whatever, he'd been a fool. A damned fool. He sought around desperately for something to say and the tone in which to say it and then he caught sight of Ducky's eyes. They were twinkling and the corners of Ducky's lips were very faintly turned up and he was leaning back against the back of the couch looking completely and utterly relaxed.

 

Mentally crossing all his fingers and other appendages, Jethro forced himself to look at Ducky and say, his tone nonchalant, "And?"

 

The corners of Ducky's lips turned up even more and the twinkle in his eyes became more intense as he chuckled softly and then deliberately, because it was Jethro knew that, licked his lips slowly. "And," he said, now leaning forward and getting well inside Jethro's personal space. "And I am afraid to say I cannot think of one. Or," he added quickly, appearing to read something in Jethro's face that Jethro wasn't aware he was showing. "Two or three or four or -"

 

With a half growl and a half laugh, Jethro caught Ducky's arm and pulled him into an embrace and kissed him and went on kissing him until finally they had to break away in order to breathe. "Ah, Duck," he said, now ruffling Ducky's hair. "What am I going to do with you?"

 

"I imagine we shall find out in two weeks time, shall we not?" Ducky said, looking all together far too pleased with himself.

 

In the end unable to think of a suitable come back line, Jethro resorted to what he knew he did well: he kissed Ducky again.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

"Ah, Jethro, good morning," Ducky said, as Jethro appeared following a quick knock on the door that divided his apartment from the main house. "I confess I didn't expect to see you before you went to the airport."

 

Jethro look harassed. "Yeah, me neither. But I need you to come and tell Kelly that she doesn't have to take twenty books with her. She's only going for two weeks."

 

"Ah. I'm happy to do so, Jethro, but why can't you?"

 

"Because these days she listens to you more than she does to me," Jethro said, his tone slightly wry.

 

"Oh, dear," Ducky said. "I assure you -"

 

"Know that, Duck. And I don't mind. You spend more time with her than I do. I'm glad she listens to you."

 

"Well," Ducky said chuckling a little, "I don't think she has any choice but to listen to me now, does she?" He touched Jethro's hand and smiled up at him.

 

Jethro laughed. "Guess she doesnít. So come and rescue me, please."

 

"It will be my pleasure," Ducky said, following Jethro into the main house.

 

They found Kelly in her bedroom, trying to cram a pile of books into her case. "Hello, Dr. Ducky," she called, as she pulled one book out and pushed another in. "I think I need a bigger case."

 

Ducky went over to the bed and looked down at the clothing that was still scattered across it. "Do you now, Kelly?"

 

She nodded. "Yes. I can't get all my books in."

 

"Maybe you are trying to take too many, Kelly. I know how much you enjoy reading, but I really don't think you will have time to read all of these books." He began to take them out of the case.

 

She looked at him. "Won't I?"

 

"Well now, Kelly, for how long are you going?"

 

"Fourteen days," she said, frowning as he took another book out. "No, not that one, I want to read that one after I've finished the one I'm reading and read that one." She pointed to Swallows And Amazons. "And then that one," she picked up The Wishing Chair Again. "And then these two." She pointed first of all to Little House On The Prairie; then to Samantha Learns a Lesson, A School Story. "And then -"

 

"Very well." Ducky said, quickly but gently cutting her off. He put Ramona And Her Friends back into the case, but moved the other twenty-three, clearly she'd added some since Jethro had left her, aside. "Now I would have thought that six books would have been more than ample for fourteen days. Donít forget, Kelly, your mummy and auntie Jennifer will take you out whilst you are there. You are, in effect, going on holiday. I'm sure they have things planned for you to do. And I'm sure that, if you do finish all six books, that they'd buy you another one. And isn't there a good library near by?"

 

"There is a library," Kelly said, her tone making it clear she disputed the 'good'. "But I don't like it."

 

"Why not?" Ducky asked, as he automatically started to fold jumpers and trousers and skirts and put them into the case, filing up corners with knickers and vests and socks."

 

"The only books in the children's section are for babies," Kelly said, now copying the way Ducky was folding one of her jumpers. "Or they are scribbled in or have pages turned down. Daddy," she looked at Jethro.

 

"Yes, pumpkin?"

 

"Why do mommies and daddies let their children spoil books?" she demanded. "You and Mommy always taught me to treat books well."

 

"I don't know, honey," Jethro said, coming across to Kelly's bed.

 

She frowned. 'I don't know' was not an answer she liked. She opened her mouth to say something, but instead Ducky spoke. "Come along, Kelly," he said. "It's getting very near to the time you need to leave for the airport."

 

Jethro glanced at his watch. "Dr. Ducky's right, Kell. Come on; let's do your case up."

 

"Can I take just one more book? Please, Dr. Ducky? Please, Daddy? Just this one," she grabbed Anne Of Green Gables and held it tightly, as if Ducky or her father were about to snatch it from her.

 

Jethro rolled his eyes, but nodded. "Just that one," he said, taking it from her and managing to squeeze it into the case before he closed and locked it. "Now go and pee, Kelly."

 

She frowned. "I don't need to go, Daddy."

 

"And I don't want to stop on the way to the airport. Go to the bathroom, Kelly."

 

Kelly opened her mouth to protest. "But -" Then closed it again, glared at her father, turned around, tossing her hair over her shoulders and trotted off.

 

Jethro sighed and ran his hand over his head. Ducky touched his arm. "Are you all right, Jethro?" he asked softly.

 

Jethro looked at him. "Yeah. It's just -" He broke off and shrugged, turned away from Ducky and swung the case from Kelly's bed and put it by a small bag that rested on the floor.

 

"You'd be happier if you were taking Kelly yourself? You'd be happier if Kelly wasn't going at all? You'll miss her?" Ducky said in the same tone, again he put his hand on Jethro's arm.

 

Jethro turned around. "Yeah. And half a dozen other reasons, all of which are stupid."

 

"It's not stupid to love your daughter, Jethro. It's perfectly natural."

 

"I know, Duck. It's not just -"

 

But Kelly chose that moment to race back into the room. "I've peed," she said, staring up at her father.

 

"Good girl," Jethro said, putting his hand on her head and ruffling her hair. Then he caught her arms and swung her up into his arms and held her. "Give Daddy a hug," he said.

 

"Love you, Daddy," Kelly answered, wrapping her legs and arms around Jethro and burying her head in his shoulder.

 

"Love you too, pumpkin," Jethro replied, kissing his daughter.

 

Ducky had seen many times just how much father and daughter loved one another, but for some reason this embrace seemed to touch him more than ever before. He swallowed hard and found himself turning away from what he suddenly saw as a very private moment and busying himself with putting books back onto Kelly's bookcase.

 

"Come on then, Kell," he heard Jethro say. "Let's get going." Ducky turned to see Kelly put back down on the ground. Jethro picked up her case and bag, handing the latter to Kelly who took it and then grabbed Molly, the doll she was taking with her. "Say bye bye to Dr. Ducky," Jethro said, now by the door to Kelly's bedroom.

 

"But aren't you coming to the airport with us?" Kelly demanded. Ducky glanced at Jethro; his face was unreadable. "Daddy," she said, turning to Jethro before Ducky could speak. "Tell Dr. Ducky to come with us. Please. I want him to."

 

Jethro looked at Ducky over Kelly's head. Now the look was easy to read 'it's up to you,' it said.

 

Ducky glanced at Kelly who had turned back to him and was staring up at him, with a look of pleading in her eyes. "Very well," he said, and couldn't help but smiling as Kelly beamed and ran out of the room.

 

Ducky moved towards Jethro. "I can stay here if you'd prefer," he said quietly.

 

Jethro frowned, as he stood aside to let Ducky precede him from the room. "Why would I prefer that?" he asked, grabbing the car keys from where he'd left them on the hall table.

 

"I just thought -"

 

"Duck, we've been doing this three or four times a year for a bit over two years now. It's nothing special."

 

"Isn't it?" Ducky said softly.

 

Jethro didn't answer in words. But his eyes told Ducky a different story. It was clear that Jethro really did hate letting his little girl go, even for as little as two weeks.

 

As he closed the front door and locked it, Ducky found himself wondering just how much of Jethro's 'it's all civil; we're all friends' was true and how much was an act for Kelly's sake. He suspected there was a fair amount of truth in the 'we're all friends', but maybe not quite as much as Jethro believed - allowed himself to believe, wanted to believe.

 

 

"Want to stop for lunch?" Jethro asked, as he and Ducky made their way back to the car. They had handed Kelly over to the airhostess who would take responsibility for her well-being before the flight and during it, and who would in turn hand her over to Shannon and Jenny at the other end.

 

Kelly has gone from being excited to subdued to excited again in quick succession. To begin with she had clung to her father's hand from the moment he let her out of the car. As he watched Jethro pull a small teddy bear from his coat pocket and hand it to Kelly, Ducky found himself wishing he had stayed behind. Whether they'd done this eight times or one, it was still a private moment between them.

 

Before she'd gone off with Sally, Kelly had flung herself into his arms, pulling his head down so that she could whisper into his ear. "Take care of Daddy, Dr. Ducky," she'd said. "Don't let him get lonely." And then, after kissing his cheek quickly, something she'd never done before, she pulled herself from his arms, waved to Jethro, took Sally's hand and half walked, half skipped off chatting away nineteen to the dozen.

 

"If you would like to, yes," Ducky replied.

 

Jethro flashed him a quick smile. "Good. There's a nice place halfway between here and home. We'll stop there. He unlocked the car doors and opened the passenger door for Ducky.

 

For several minutes they traveled in silence. Then suddenly, out of the blue, Ducky felt Jethro's hand touch his knee and squeeze it. "Thanks for coming with me, Duck," Jethro said, taking his hand away again and putting it back on the steering wheel. "It made it easier."

 

"It was my pleasure. Jethro."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Do you mind if I ask you something?" Ducky turned his head and looked at his companion.

 

Jethro took his eyes off the road for a moment and glanced in Ducky's direction. "Sure. Go ahead."

 

"Why do not take Kelly to Shannon rather than letting her go on her own?"

 

Jethro glanced at him again and then back at the road. "I did the first time. But it didn't go well."

 

"In what way?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "My fault, really. I was so sure I was okay about the whole thing, Shannon and Jenn, I mean. I told myself I'd already met Jenny and had liked her; so it'd be fine. Tobias tried to tell me before I went, it might be difficult, but I ignored him. Cockiness, that's another of my less than agreeable traits. The flight was fine, Kelly was excited to be going, but the nearer we got the more subdued she became. Made me take her to the bathroom three times, said she didn't want to go on her own, she was frightened. Anyway, they were both there at the airport. I don't know why, but I thought Jenn would wait at the house. But she didn't. It was not pretty. Kell clung to me, didn't want to go to her mom, and she ignored Jenny completely. Shannon suggested I go back to the house with them, help settle Kelly. But I couldn't."

 

"Why not?" Ducky asked.

 

"I was booked literally on the next flight out; I had a client to see."

 

"Could you not have called and put him or her off?" Ducky asked, half suspecting Jethro's answer.

 

Jethro glanced his way again. "Yeah, well. That's another thing. I made the appointment deliberately. I couldn't face seeing their home; I didn't want to see Shannon in her new life. Guess Tobias was right after all."

 

"What happened?"

 

"Shannon took Kelly's arms and made her go with her. Kelly looked at me as though I'd betrayed her, burst into tears and then clung to Shannon. I left."

 

"It couldn't have been easy." Lightly Ducky put his hand on Jethro's arm.

 

Jethro shrugged. "No. It wasn't. But when I got back home I called, and Kelly was a lot happier, she was bight and cheerful and giggled when she spoke to me. But even so, I could tell she wasnít completely happy, and bastard that I am -"

 

"That made you happy?" Ducky spoke without any hint of censor or condemnation in his voice.

 

Jethro, in the middle of turning off the main road, couldn't spare him a glance, but Ducky knew what it would look like if he saw it. "Yeah," he said a moment or two later. "Yeah, it did. Anyway, Kell called me a day or two before she was due to come home. She'd made a friend, Josie, who was visiting her father. Apparently Josie always travelled on her own back and forth, with an airhostess looking after her. Kelly liked the sound of that - at six she was grown up and a baby in equal measures - she wanted to do it. Shannon and I spoke about it and in the end agreed. I think we were both relieved we wouldn't have to see one another again so soon. And it worked well. Kell was full of the trip when she got back - told me all about the flight and how she'd actually been taken to the cock-pit and how she'd been allowed to 'help' before they took off. And since then, it's been the best thing to do. She loves it and it saves problems."

 

"Have you and Shannon seen one another since then?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah, we have, Jenn too. And it was much better. I was better. I found it far easier to accept it all and we do get on. I got to know Jenny more and found her interesting and bright, ironically enough, probably the kind of woman I'd have dated myself."

 

 

After an enjoyable and fairly drawn out lunch, they arrived back at Jethro's home. Jethro had fallen silent on the journey back and had only spoken when Ducky had spoken to him, and then had been fairly monosyllabic. As tempted as he was to put it all down to Kelly having gone away, something within Ducky told him something else was amiss.

 

Jethro's first words once they were inside his house confirmed this. "Thanks again for coming with us, Ducky. I've got some work to do. So I'll see you tomorrow or later if you want," he added. "Come and have a drink with me."

 

Although he had sensed something wasn't quite right, Jethro's words, his tone and the fact he avoided looking at Ducky surprised Ducky. He'd thought - "Is everything all right, Jethro?" he asked.

 

Now Jethro did glance at him, but the eye contract was fleeting. "Sure. Why wouldn't it be?"

 

"It is just well you had said you were taking a few days holiday," Ducky said.

 

"Yeah. I did and I am. But there's something I have to do now. Does it matter to you?"

 

"Not really. No. No, of course not," Ducky hastened to say. "It is just that . . . Well, I thought . . . But it doesn't matter. A drink later would be nice. In fact, if you like I could cook supper for us."

 

Jethro again glanced at him. He shrugged. "Sure, that'd be nice. Got to go, Duck. Got a call to make. See you later," and he gave Ducky's shoulder a quick squeeze, before turning and striding away, down the hallway to his study.

 

Ducky stood and watched him go before turning and slowly making his way to his own apartment. As he wandered into his sitting room he mused that it wasn't quite what he'd been expecting to happen. Especially not after the way Jethro had said goodnight to him, only the evening before, and how he'd made it quite clear what his plans were for when he got back to the house after taking Kelly to the airport.

 

Ducky wondered what had changed between then and now. He didn't for one moment believe that Jethro had to work. Jethro had made it quite clear that he had dealt with everything even remotely pressing and was taking a long weekend off to spend with Ducky. Maybe it was just that he didn't want to start anything until they'd heard from Kelly to let them know she was there safely.

 

And that would have been Ducky's plan anyway. But he had been looking forward to just spending some time with Jethro, some time when he wasn't constantly on duty or half wary that Kelly would appear at any moment. As much as he loved Kelly, and he had to admit he did love his charge, she was wearisome at times with her constant desire to know things, as well as being more than a little inhibiting. He had hoped - He stopped the thought.

 

He was being selfish. Jethro admitted he was going to miss Kelly and would worry about her, especially until he knew she'd arrived safely. But Jethro wasn't the kind of man who could come out and say those kinds of things, not even to Ducky, the man whom, to all intents and purposes was his lover. Yes, that was it. It was simply that. Kelly would call to say she'd arrived safely and then Jethro and his time together could begin and everything would be fine.

 

"If you tell yourself that enough times, Dr. Mallard, you just might believe it," Ducky said, sighing as he went to make a cup of tea.

 

He settled down with his latest book and the tea and tried to concentrate on the words on the page. Normally he could get lost in the world about which he was reading and this book had certainly captivated him so far, but now . . . He put the book aside, drained his tea, went through to the kitchen to wash the cup and saucer up, visited the bathroom and generally managed to pass another half an hour.

 

He was just about to consider going out for a short walk when his phone rang. The fact that it was Jethro didn't help the way in which his thoughts were going. "Hey, Duck. Thought you'd like to know, Kelly arrived safely." And barely giving Ducky time to even acknowledge the words, Jethro severed the connection.

 

 

By the time the clock struck six, Ducky had had enough. He wasn't going to sit in his apartment any longer wondering what was going on. If something had changed he had a right to know about it if only because if Jethro's plans had changed, then Ducky wasn't going to spend the next two weeks in his apartment; he'd go away somewhere. Where he didn't know; but somewhere.

 

Putting a bottle of wine he'd opened earlier onto a tray and adding two glasses, he made his way through the connecting door into Jethro's house. He hesitated outside Jethro's study, before tapping once on the door and going in.

 

"Duck!" Jethro glanced up and to Ducky's surprise hastily pushed what Ducky thought was a book beneath a pile of files. "What do you want?" Jethro must have either noticed the harshness in his tone or seen something on Ducky's face, because swiftly he stood up and hurried across the room. "Sorry, Duck," he said, brushing his hand over Ducky's hair. "Didn't mean to sound so . . ."

 

"Uninviting?" Ducky asked.

 

"Yeah. Something like that. You surprised me, that's all. I was - But it doesn't matter."

 

"You did suggest I joined you for a drink," Ducky said, keeping his tone neutral.

 

"I did. You didn't have to bring it with you, though."

 

"I thought it would make a change," Ducky said. "Would you like it here or shall we go through to the sitting room or even . . ." He trailed off as he kept his gaze affixed to Jethro's face.

 

"Here or the lounge," Jethro said quickly. "Whatever you want."

 

It gave Ducky an opening. "What I want, Jethro," he said quietly, placing the tray on the filing cabinet that stood inside the doorway and taking a step nearer to Jethro. "Is for you to tell me what the problem is." He took another step and then another step until he was way inside Jethro's personal space and had to tilt his head back a considerable way to meet Jethro's gaze. He watched as Jethro literally forced himself not to take a step back.

 

"There's no problem, Ducky. I don't know what you mean." Now Jethro did turn and move away.

 

"Do you not?" Ducky asked, his voice flat.

 

Jethro shook his head. "No. Why do you think there is?" Again he turned away, refusing to look at Ducky, refusing to meet his eye.

 

Ducky stood where he was and watched Jethro. His body was taut, rigid even and yet there was an almost imperceptible tremble going through the tight limbs and muscles. He ran his hand repeatedly over his hair or fiddled with things on his desk. All the time he kept his back towards Ducky.

 

Ducky wetted his lips and composed himself. "Jethro," he said. "Please look at me." For a moment he thought his request would not be met.

 

But finally Jethro glanced around. "What?" he demanded. "What the hell's up with you, Ducky? I reckon you're the one with the problem. Not me. I haven't got time to play games. Some of us have work to do. Thanks for the drink, I'll have it later." And Jethro turned away again.

 

Ducky just stood where he was staring at the man in whose arms, less than twenty-four hours ago, he'd been. "I think you could have least have done me the courtesy of telling me," he said, his tone harsher than he'd intended.

 

He didn't know it was the tone or the words, but for the first time since he'd come into the room, make that the first time since they'd got back to the house, Jethro appeared normal. He turned back to look at Ducky, a frown on his face. "Tell you what, Duck?" he said, his tone one of confusion. And then the confusion fled and the frown deepened and changed. "Just tell me that the hell is wrong or go away, I've had enough."

 

So have I, Ducky thought. He straightened up more, pulling himself to his full five foot six inches, put his hands behind his back and looked at Jethro. "Jethro, only last night you made it perfectly clear what we would be doing once Kelly had gone. And now, well now, you don't even seem to want me in the same room as you. If you have changed your mind, I can understand that, really I can. Or if you are having reservations and wish to wait, I can understand that - and I have no problem with either. But what I do have a problem with is the way you are behaving. I thought we were friends. I would have appreciated you telling me rather than treating me like . . . Oh, it doesn't matter. Goodnight, Mr. Gibbs. I won't trouble you again. I will go away tomorrow and return when Kelly is back. Enjoy the wine." And with that Ducky turned away and moved to the door.

 

The next second his arm was caught and he was held in place. "Don't go, Duck," Jethro said. "Please. I don't want you to go," he added, gently turning Ducky around and pulling him into a loose embrace. "Shit," he said, as he held Ducky.

 

Ducky waited, but Jethro said nothing else. "Just say it, Jethro," he ordered gently, after the silence threatened to deafen him.

 

"Not sure I know how to," Jethro said, glancing down so that Ducky couldn't see his face.

 

Ducky licked his lips and decided to go for the direct approach. "Do you still want me?" he asked quietly.

 

Jethro brought his head up with a jerk. "God, yes. Yes, Duck. Yes, I do. Christ, what made you think . . . ? I want you more than I've wanted anyone for a long time. How could you think I didn't?"

 

"Then what is the problem, Jethro?" Ducky asked. "Why are you hiding in your study, lying about having to work?" The flush that touched Jethro's cheeks and the way he again glanced away told Ducky he was correct. "Lying about having to work," he repeated. "And telling me to go away?"

 

Again he didn't think Jethro was going to answer. But then he sighed and glanced at Ducky. "It's stupid," he finally said.

 

"Why don't you tell me what it is and let me be the judge of that?"

 

Jethro tightened the embrace a little and after more dragged out silence muttered something. "Told you it was stupid," he added.

 

"I'm sorry, Jethro, but I didn't quite catch what you said."

 

Jethro glared at him, but it was nothing like the glare he'd inflicted on Ducky earlier. Then he closed his eyes briefly, before opening them and looking over Ducky's shoulder. "I said I was scared," he said.

 

"Scared?" Ducky echoed. "Of what exactly? Jethro, come on. If we are going to take our relationship further, you have to tell me. You tell me you still want me -"

"I do. I do, Duck. I really do. I want to . . . I want to make love to you," Jethro said. "But I don't know if I can."

 

"Jethro?"

 

Suddenly Jethro let go of Ducky and strode to the filing cabinet where Ducky had put the tray with the wine and glasses. But instead of pouring himself a drink, he opened one of the drawers and pulled out a bottle of the high-proof bourbon Ducky knew he drank from time to time and a glass. Ducky watched as Jethro opened the bottle, poured a large slug into the glass and downed it in one. Then he poured a second one and took a swallow, but didn't drain the glass.

 

Finally he turned back to face Ducky. "I don't know if I can touch you, Duck," he said. "I want to. But what happens if," he took another swallow. "What happens if we get to bed and I just can't? What then, Duck?"

 

"What makes you think there will be a problem. You have touched me before and you have always . . ."

 

"Gotten aroused when we kiss and stuff? Yeah, I know. But that was different."

 

"How?" Ducky was a step ahead of Jethro, but something told him to make Jethro tell him.

 

"We were fully clothed, Duck." Jethro emptied the second glass and went to pour a third. Moving quickly, Ducky took the bottle from his hand and put it on the top of the filing cabinet.

 

"Come and sit down, Jethro," Ducky said, taking Jethro's hand and leading him to the two-seater sofa Jethro had in his study.

 

"I've never been with a man before, Duck. I donít know what to do. I don't know how to . . ."

 

"Touch me? Arouse me? Give me pleasure?" Ducky kept his voice low and non-threatening.

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah."

 

"Were you a virgin when you met Shannon?" Ducky asked.

 

"What? Hell, no."

 

"I see. So there have been other women?"

 

"Yeah. A few. But what's that got to do with it?" Jethro looked puzzled.

 

"And did they all get aroused by and enjoy exactly the same kind of touch? Did you make love to them in precisely the same way? Or did you adjust to each of them?"

 

Jethro's mouth fell slightly open and he blinked several times. Finally he shrugged. "Guess I . . . Well, you know."

 

"As a matter of fact, Jethro, I do not. I was not there and I have never slept with a woman. You'll have to tell me."

 

Jethro glared at him. "It was different with each one, a bit anyway. At the end of the day it's about -"

 

"Yes?" Ducky said politely.

 

Jethro shook his head. "I don't see what discussing my technique with women has to do with me and you," he said.

 

Ducky took his hand. "Because, my dear Jethro, just like all women are different, so are all men. Even if you had slept with other men before I might not necessarily have enjoyed being touched in the same way."

 

"What if I can't touch you at all? What if I - Duck, I want you. But . . . It's . . . I donít know." Suddenly Jethro's gaze flickered towards his desk.

 

Ducky followed the gaze and remembered. "Jethro," he said mildly, as he stood up. "What were you reading when I came in?"

 

"Nothing. I mean, just a book. Nothing of any - where are you going?"

 

Ducky crossed to Jethro's desk and moved the pile of papers he'd seen Jethro put onto of a book. When he saw it his eyes widened, he glanced inside flicking through the book and shaking his head. Finally he closed it and dropped it into the wastepaper basket. "Jethro," he said. "If you really did have to buy a book on gay sex, could you not have found a better one than this rubbish?"

 

Jethro who was now standing just looked at him. "How? I couldnít exactly ask the store clerk to recommend one, could I?"

 

"You could have asked me. If you have been sitting here all afternoon looking at that," Ducky nodded to the book. "I am not at all surprised you are, to use your own word, 'scared' I think I would be too. Dear God, Jethro, what do you think I am?"

 

"I didn't . . . Then it's not . . . ? That isn't . . . ?"

 

"No. It is not. And that isn't. Look, Jethro, you have kissed me, many times. If you can do that you can make love to me."

 

"Not sure I follow that, Duck."

 

Ducky came towards Jethro, and put his arms around him, moving closer; not quite touching, but near enough to make Jethro swallow and his eyes flash. "Do you trust me?" he said quietly.

 

Jethro swallowed and nodded. "Yes. Of course I do, Duck."

 

"Good," Ducky said. He moved back to Jethro, tugged him into his arms, pulled his head down and kissed him. Then as quickly as he'd initiated the kiss, he broke it. "Wait here a moment," he ordered. And with that Ducky hurried from the room.
 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 

Jethro stood where he was, mouth slightly open, breathing hard, his lips and body tingling from the way Ducky had kissed him. He and Ducky had kissed a great deal since the first night he'd kissed Ducky, but never had they been quite like the one Ducky had bestowed on him before he'd left the room. He touched his lips with his forefinger, tracing where Ducky's lips had been.

 

Within no time at all Ducky was back. "Where have you been?" Jethro asked.

 

"To make certain the front door was locked and to put the answer-phone on. What I have planned for you requires us not to be interrupted," Ducky said, coming further into the room and moving towards Jethro. "Now were we?"

 

"You were asking me if I trusted you," Jethro said, finding himself held captive by Ducky's steady gaze that was heavy with desire.

 

"Ah, yes, so we were," Ducky said, even his voice sounded different. "And you said you did, did you not?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah."

 

"Very good. I am relieved to hear that," said Ducky. "In that case, let me show you what making love to and with another man can be like. Sssh," he said, as Jethro opened his mouth. "Hush now." He moved even closer to Jethro stretched up on his toes and lightly brushed his lips over Jethro's. The kiss was by no means as passionate as the one Ducky had bestowed on him before leaving him, but its effects were electrifying. Jethro heard himself moan softly as his body started to react.

 

Ducky smiled; there was only the faintest hint of smugness in the loving look. "You see, Jethro," he said, his tone tender and evocative. "Kissing is very intimate. Very intimate indeed," he added, as slowly he moved one hand from around Jethro's neck to lightly stroke his face, before moving down to his lips. "Very intimate," he repeated, letting his fingertip trail over Jethro's bottom lip. "Some people never kiss, they'll have sex, but they won't kiss" he whispered, moving his finger away and stretching up again to put his lips to Jethro's for a moment. "But you like to kiss me, donít you?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah. Yes, Duck, I do." And he did; in fact 'like' didn't cover it. He could, heck he did, spend hours kissing Ducky. Ducky was an extremely good kisser and never seemed to tire of kissing or being kissed.

 

"Well then . . ." Ducky trailed off and let his tongue flicker over his own lips, moistening them. He gazed up into Jethro's eyes. "And you like to touch me, do you not?" This time Ducky took one of Jethro's hands and guided it to his own lower body. "See, you like to do that," he said, as he pressed Jethro's hand more firmly against himself and gasped as Jethro's fingers cupped him and began to lightly stroke him. "You do like to do that, don't you, Jethro?"

 

"God, yes. You feel so good, Duck. I love stroking you. That's why I want more. But you're still clothed. I -"

 

Ducky silenced him with another long, lingering kiss. As Ducky's tongue began to flick over his lips, Jethro opened his mouth for him, letting Ducky inside him; letting him invade his mouth, letting him sensually move his tongue around his mouth, flirting with Jethro's own tongue. And as they kissed and went on kissing, Ducky moved his body even closer to Jethro's, pressing against him, brushing against Jethro's growing arousal and letting Jethro feel how aroused, in turn, Ducky was becoming.

 

For all the times they had kissed, mostly it had been while sitting down and the few times they had kissed while standing had been nothing like this, nothing like the intensity he was feeling as his blood seemed to get hotter, his pulse rate increased and his desire for the man in his arms threatened to overwhelm him. "Duck," he gasped, finally breaking the kiss, mainly in order to get some air, but also because of the way his body was feeling.

 

"Yes, Jethro," Ducky murmured, looking up at Jethro through half closed eyes and tracing his own lips with the tip of his tongue. "Do you want to stop?"

 

"No!" Jethro cried; he didn't want to stop. He wanted to go on, but he also wanted a moment or two or more to calm things down a little.

 

"Good," Ducky said, moving his fingers over the nape of Jethro's neck. "That is reassuring. Now, come," he took Jethro's hand, entwining his fingers with Jethro's and led him across his study.

 

"Where we going, Duck?"

 

"We are to go and sit in the sitting room and share a drink."

 

"Can't we go straight to bed?"

 

"Oh, no," Ducky said. "Not yet. I want be certain you are really ready. Come along, Jethro."

 

And Jethro let himself, not that he really had too many options, be led out of his study, along the hall and into the sitting room. It was his sitting room, in his house, but it was Ducky who took control. He guided Jethro to the couch and encouraged him to sit down, bent down and kissed him fleetingly again, before leaving him and going to the drinks cabinet to pour two glasses of Tamdhu - a scotch Jethro had come to enjoy very much.

 

When Ducky returned he handed on glass to Jethro and deliberately, quite deliberately made certain their fingers touched as he handed it over. As a sexual touch it was nothing, but the suddenly skin on skin made Jethro gasp and a jolt went through his body. The jerk shook Ducky's hand and liquid splashed over the edge of the glass, wetting both their hands. Swiftly, Jethro snaggled the glass from Ducky's hand with his other hand and then pulled the scotch tinged hand towards his mouth and began to gently lick Ducky's fingers.

 

Ducky clearly hadn't been expecting that as he sucked air in very loudly and swayed slightly where he stood, before locking his knees and staring down at Jethro. From where he sat Jethro could see Ducky's arousal increase and he ached to touch it. But something told him Ducky would stop him. So instead he concentrated on licking Ducky's fingers clean before parting his lips slightly and sucking the first two fingers into his mouth.

 

"Jethro." Ducky's voice was low and slightly rough.

 

"Yeah, Duck?" Jethro spoke around the fingers he still sucked. But Ducky didn't answer, instead he just muttered something Jethro wasn't even certain were words, and closed his eyes. Jethro continued his ministration of Ducky's fingers for a little longer, before slowly letting Ducky's hand slip from his mouth.

 

A moment later Ducky sat down heavily beside him, he was breathing deeply and as he brought the glass to his mouth Jethro could see he was shaking very slightly. He didn't speak, because suddenly he didn't quite know what to say, so instead he sipped his drink and waited for Ducky to say or do something.

 

He was amused to see that it was Ducky who drained his glass in two swallows, before turning to Jethro and looking pointedly at his glass. "Want me to put this down, Duck?" Jethro asked.

 

Ducky nodded. "I think that would be an eminently sensible idea."

 

"Oh, you do, do you?"

 

"Yes, I do?"

 

"And why might that be?"

 

"Because it makes it so much easier for me to do this." And without waiting for Jethro to put his drink down, Ducky took the glass from his hand, put it on to the coffee table, turned back to Jethro and again kissed him. As his mouth met Ducky's and his arms went around Ducky's and Ducky's mouth parted for him, Jethro found himself being pressed very slowly and very carefully back against the cushions of the couch.

 

He realized as he let their combined weight move him backwards that usually it was he who had taken the initiative in their intimacy. Ducky had always seemed happy to go along with Jethro's lead, but now Ducky was definitely taking charge. As hands he knew well began to stroke the back of his neck, moving around the front to trace his chin, his cheeks and his nose, Jethro realized something: he was being seduced.

 

The kisses increased again in their intensity and intimacy as Ducky's caresses became more sure and more obvious. Suddenly Jethro felt fingers begin to fumble with the top button of his shirt; he moved his head back a little further to make it easier for Ducky to undo it, gasping aloud as warm, firm, soft fingers slipped inside and back to stroke his throat before moving down and undoing the next button.

 

He gasped again as Ducky's lips moved from his mouth, over his chin, around his jaw and onto the hollow of his neck. There Ducky licked and kissed and very, very gently sucked, while one hand entwined with Jethro's, one finger playing with Jethro's own, and the other caressed the nape of his neck. The triple attack on him was intoxicating and his own desire increased yet more as his arousal pressed against his shorts. He was damp, he could feel how damp he was and he wondered if Ducky was the same. He wanted more, much more.

 

"Duck," he managed, as Ducky ceased his ministrations on Jethro's neck and instead turned his attention to unbuttoning the rest of Jethro's shirt, tugging it out of Jethro's trousers as he got further down.

 

"Sit up a little," Ducky murmured, moving back and helping Jethro to sit forward. He then with skill and dexterity swiftly removed the shirt and helped Jethro pull his undershirt over his head. "Very nice," Ducky said, as he eyes roamed over Jethro's naked torso. "Very nice indeed." He licked his lips, before once again pressing Jethro back and down onto the cushions, by virtue of again putting his mouth onto Jethro's.

 

Jethro's skin brushed against the cotton of Ducky's own shirt, grazing it slightly and making Jethro shiver. The shivers increased as Ducky took his mouth from Jethro's and began to kiss his way from Jethro's lips, over his chin, pausing briefly to lick his throat, before continuing his way down onto Jethro's chest.

 

He kissed his way over and around, flicking his tongue over Jethro's nipples, keeping one hand still entwined with Jethro's own as the other stroked Jethro's face. The sensations Jethro were feeling were unknown to him, never had any lover paid such attention to his chest, never had he been licked, and sucked and lapped at and very, very, very gently nibbled. Never had teeth, a tongue and lips been so exotic and evocative.

 

And then just as he felt he couldn't bear any more stimulation, Ducky slipped his hand free from Jethro's and moved it slowly, but with clear determination to Jethro's groin, cupping his arousal and beginning to stroke it.

 

"Duck!" Jethro cried aloud, as he pressed up into Ducky's hand. "Please."

 

Ducky paused licking his chest and looked at him. "Please what?" he asked, his voice still low and sensual. "Please this?" And to Jethro's surprise he began to slowly, very slowly and carefully, pull the zipper down on Jethro's trousers.

 

"No!" Jethro reached for Ducky's hand and held it firmly.

 

Ducky looked at him and frowned. "Do you not want me to touch you properly?" he asked, slight puzzlement in his tone.

 

Jethro nodded. "God, yes. But not like this. I'm too close, Duck. You touch me like that and I'll come. I don't want to yet."

 

"What do you want then?" Ducky asked, his hand now completely still, the pressure of it became less.

 

"To see you."

 

"You can see me."

 

Jethro frowned. "No I mean -"

 

"Ah," Ducky said. "Would you like me to remove my shirt?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah."

 

"Very well." And swiftly, but still more than a little sensually Ducky unbuttoned his own shirt and took it and his undershirt off, dropping them onto the floor.

 

Jethro gazed at him from where he still reclined. Ducky's skin was very pale and was virtually hairless, only a very few, faint, blond hairs could be seen on his chest and around his dark, erect nipples. "Can I touch?" Jethro whispered, already lifting his hand.

 

Ducky nodded. "If you wish to."

 

Jethro did wish to. Slowly he reached out and let his fingers come to rest on Ducky's skin. It felt as it looked, flawless and smooth. Lightly, almost a little clumsily, Jethro began to let his fingers caress Ducky's body, letting them go on a journey of discovery. Not sure how sensitive Ducky was, but knowing how good it had felt when Ducky had touched his, Jethro began to stroke Ducky's nipples.

 

The result was better than he could have hoped for, as Ducky threw back his head and cried Jethro's name softly. His skin seemed to tremble as Jethro touched it, it was almost as though he was shivering, but he felt quite warm. As he touched Ducky, as he touched him more intimately than ever before, Jethro's own body again began to react and he felt his shorts become even damper.

 

He let his fingers travel further down Ducky's body, until they reached his belt; there they hovered for a second before slipping over the edge and continuing down coming to rest on Ducky's own fierce arousal. Ducky had always seemed to enjoy, had seemed to enjoy it very much, when Jethro had stroked him through his clothing, so Jethro did that again. He let his fingers slide around the firmness, cupping it and holding it, feeling the outline before he gave one or two strokes.

 

Now it was Ducky's turn to cry out. "Stop," he managed, and with reluctance Jethro did.

 

"I could make you come very easily, couldn't I?" he asked, turning the tables slightly on Ducky.

 

Ducky, whose eyes had long since lost all hint of blue and now appeared completely black, nodded. "Yes. Probably even more easily than you imagine."

 

"Really?" Jethro said, moving the tips of his fingers just a little. Again Ducky gasped, again Jethro stilled his hand. "Want me to?" he asked.

 

Ducky shook his head. "No. Not like this. Not this time," he added, although from the look on his face, Jethro felt sure that last few words hadn't necessarily been intentional.

 

For a moment or two they sat, well Ducky sat Jethro was still more reclined, just looking at one another, breathing more heavily than usual. As he stared up at Ducky Jethro wondered why on earth he'd ever had a moment of doubt. Why he'd behaved so foolishly, why he'd risked alienating Ducky by his actions. "Duck," he whispered, raising his hand and brushing Ducky's heavy hair from his forehead. "Let's go to bed."

 

Ducky smiled and leaned into the caress as he moved around to his cheek. "Soon, dearest," he murmured. "Soon. But not quite yet. I haven't finished with you yet." And with those words he leaned forward and once more took Jethro's mouth with his own.

 

As Ducky's naked chest touched his Jethro felt another spark of desire and electricity race around his body. He wrapped his arms around Ducky's back and of his own accord began to caress and stroke Ducky's slightly damp skin. As they kissed, as their skin touched skin and he touched Ducky, he felt his need for Ducky increase. Ducky's back was as smooth as his chest and felt warm and soft under Jethro's hands.

 

After quite some time, Ducky moved back, sitting up and swallowing as he gazed down at Jethro. "Come," he said, managing to push himself to his feet and offer his hand to Jethro. "No," he added, chuckling softly, "I don't mean that."

 

Once Jethro was standing, he took Ducky's arms with his hands, holding him in place and took a step backwards. Ducky's pale chest was a little red in places where I had brushed against his own and glistened slightly. His lips were swollen and reddened, his cheeks flushed, his forehead covered by his hair and as Jethro's gaze travelled below his waist, his arousal clear and impressive. "You're beautiful, Duck," Jethro breathed, as he moved one hand to cup Ducky's cheek. He was touched to see a flush touch Ducky's cheeks and he felt the warmth under his hand.

 

"Thank you," Ducky replied softly. "And you are extremely handsome," his let his fingers flirt with Jethro's chest. "Now come with me and let us take this to another stage." He let his hand fall from Jethro's chest and took his hand, entwining his fingers with Jethro's he led him out of the sitting room and into Jethro's bedroom.

 

To Jethro's surprise and disappointment, however, Ducky didn't stop by the bed instead he took him into the en suite bathroom. "You need to pee, Duck?"

 

"As a matter of fact, I do. But that is not the reason I have brought you with me." Ducky stopped and turned, looking Jethro up and down, the gaze provocative. "Come here," he whispered, taking Jethro's arm and gently tugging him nearer.

 

Still not sure why they were standing in the bathroom, being a man Jethro doubted Ducky would be able to relieve himself very easily, but not objecting to being in Ducky's arms again, Jethro let himself be gathered into an embrace.

 

Again Ducky put his mouth to Jethro's again he brushed his naked torso against Jethro's, again his fingers found their way behind Jethro's head where they stroked his neck. They kissed and lightly caressed for several moments until Jethro felt Ducky move back a little and began to slowly but surely move one hand around Jethro's waist until it reached the buckle of his belt. Moving slowly, as if they had all the time in the world, Ducky without looking down began to manipulate the belt until he had it undone and it was hanging loosely from Jethro's belt hooks.

 

Then Ducky, still moving slowly and carefully but with the sure touch that said he'd done this before, unbuttoned Jethro's fly. Then and only then did he begin to slide the zip down, slowly and methodically, taking care not to brush it too hard over Jethro's arousal. Jethro felt his trousers slip down his legs and pool around his ankles.

 

He held his breath and waited, but Ducky seemed in no hurry to go any further, instead he returned to touching Jethro's back and chest and finally moved down again to his thighs. Moving back a little he looked up at Jethro and with the same surety he'd displayed slipped his hand down so that this fingertips hovered on the slit of Jethro's shorts. "May I?" he asked, his tone oddly formal.

 

Jethro nodded. "God, yes," he managed. He heard his gasp echo around the bathroom as Ducky's suddenly cool fingers finally touched his naked, heated, firm erection. Ducky maneuvered his fingers through the slit until he could grip Jethro lightly as Jethro stood and fought his desire to push into the touch and make Ducky stroke him.

 

After what was far too short a time, but equally as long as Jethro knew he could stand it, Ducky gave Jethro's erection one further light stroke before sliding his hand out. Under Jethro's gaze, Ducky slowly brought his hand to his lips and lightly licked his fingers. This time the only thing Jethro could do was to grip himself swiftly and firmly and resort to once more reciting the Laws of Tort as he fought against his body's near over-whelming need for completion.

 

Ducky looked, to Jethro's eyes, immensely pleased with himself, as he took his hand away from his mouth and simply stood, arms by his side watching Jethro's face, as Jethro did battle with himself. Part of him didn't know why he was fighting it; he knew his body well enough to know he could climax now and still do so again later, but he didnít want that. Ducky had plans and he was more than happy to go along with them.

 

Finally he won the battle and slowly removed his hand and let out the breath he'd only been partly aware he'd been holding. He watched as Ducky licked his lips before putting his hands on the waistband of Jethro's shorts and, after seeking permission with a look, carefully pushed Jethro's shorts down.

 

Cool air hit heated skin and as Jethro thought that enough would take him over the edge, Ducky's hand, feeling slightly warmer than the air and much softer, wrapped itself around Jethro's erection and held it. Holding Jethro firmly, but still gently, Ducky leaned forward and brushed his lips over Jethro's. Jethro shivered as Ducky's mouth touched him and his tongue flickered over his lips and in turn he gathered Ducky into his arms and increased the passion of the kiss. All the time they kissed Ducky continued to hold him firmly, securely, perfectly, and then he began to move his hand, just a little. The movement was so small that at first Jethro wasn't really aware of it and then he became acutely aware and pushed forward.

 

Ducky stopped the kiss and gazed at him. "How close are you?" he whispered.

 

"Very." Came the honest answer, as Jethro wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. "Very," he repeated.

 

"I could make you come," Ducky murmured.

 

Jethro shook his head. "Not yet."

 

"Are you sure?" Ducky's tone was his gently teasing one as he fluttered the tips of his fingers over Jethro.

 

Jethro swallowed and shook his head. "No."

 

"No, you're not sure, or no, you don't want me to?" Ducky inquired, once more letting his fingers move.

 

Jethro put his hand over Ducky's and held it. "You do that one more time and there won't be a choice he said," breathing through his mouth.

 

"Really?" Ducky said, blinking several times and licking his lips.

 

"Yes, really," Jethro growled.

 

"So you like me touching you like this?"

 

"What do you think?" Jethro replied, suddenly moving his other hand and putting it on Ducky. Swiftly, without giving Ducky a chance to object or himself a chance to think, he caught the top of Ducky's zipper and pulled it down. Knowing his movements were far more clumsy and lacking in surety and finesse than Ducky's had been, he nonetheless managed to get his fingers through the fly of Ducky's trouser and shorts.

 

Ducky cried out as Jethro's fingers touched him and stilled his own hand on Jethro. It was awkward touching Ducky like this, but also incredibly sensual. Ducky was smooth and damp and Jethro could feel the hair surrounding his arousal was less coarse than his own. Half trapped by the material of Ducky's clothing, Jethro managed to move his hand somewhat, enjoying the gasps the emanated from Ducky and the way his body shivered.

 

"Do you want to see me?" Ducky managed, the words sounded hoarse.

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah."

 

"Then move your hand, that's it. Now," and his gaze locked on Jethro, Ducky's hands moved to his own belt and trousers and seconds later Jethro saw trouser and shorts slip down Ducky's legs and his gaze came to rest on the first erection, outside of his own, he had ever seen in the flesh. Ducky wasn't quite as long or as thick as he was and to Jethro's surprise he wasn't cut, instead a piece of skin was taut over the end of Ducky's arousal which glistened. "Touch me." Ducky murmured the gentle order. "Touch me properly."

 

Slightly annoyed that his hand was shaking slightly, Jethro slowly reached between them and put his hand around Ducky's erection, closing his fingers and holding it. He felt it throb under his touch and his hand was damp as he held it.

 

Still holding Ducky, moving his grip slowly, Jethro now put his other hand around Ducky and gathered him to him. He bent his head and put his mouth under Ducky's hair, kissing his ear and then licking it, before whispering something. To his surprise, as the words left his mouth, he felt Ducky shudder, push forward and the next second warm, sticky liquid flowed into his hand.

 

"Oh, Jethro. Oh, Jethro. Oh, Jethro," Ducky murmured as he slumped forward, putting more of his weight onto Jethro. "I do love you so very much," he said, his head against Jethro's shoulder, his words moist, his breath warm, his entire body still shaking.

 

As he gathered Ducky even closer to him and put his lips again to his ear, Jethro also pushed his body harder against Ducky, moving slightly. "Love you too, Duck," he said, gasping as a somewhat shaking hand closed around him. This time he didn't fight it, this time he knew it was right; it was what he wanted, and after only a few strokes he climaxed into Ducky's hand, holding them both steady as they breathed heavily in synchrony.

 

He was aware he was still holding Ducky and began to release him. "Please, don't, Jethro, not quite yet," Ducky murmured. "I like to be held a little longer than most men. I like it very much," he added. And then in true Ducky style added, "If you don't mind, of course."

 

"Course I donít," Jethro said, surprised by the request as he tried to shift his body away just enough so that his sensitive tip wasn't rubbing against Ducky's hand. But Ducky seemed to know, and although he didn't completely let go of Jethro, he kept his hand steady and away from where it might accidently brush Jethro.

 

How long they stood there, Jethro wasnít sure, but as his mind and body finally came down from one of the most shattering climaxes he had ever experienced, he began to fight to stop himself from laughing at what was rather an absurd position they found themselves in. He still didn't know quite what Ducky'd had in mind when he'd brought him into the bathroom, but he suspected this hadn't been quite it.

 

Moments later, once again proving that he seemed capable of mind-reading, Ducky lifted his head from Jethro's shoulder, brushed his hair off his face, looked up at Jethro and said, "Well that was not quite the plan I had in mind."

 

Jethro laughed. "You planned this?" he asked.

 

Ducky flushed slightly. "Well, not before earlier tonight when I -"

 

"Duck, I'm really sorry about how I behaved. It was stupid of me. I must have hurt you."

 

Ducky shrugged. "I think surprised and concerned more than hurt, but it does not matter, my dear. Despite things not quite going according to plan, I think we have proved that you are more than capable of making love to a man, have we not?"

 

"Mmm," Jethro said. "So what had you in mind? Why are we standing in my bathroom?"

 

"Ah, yes. You may let go of me now. In fact I think it might be a good idea if you did."

 

"Why? You getting turned on again already?"

 

Ducky shrugged. "As a matter of fact, I am. However, my desire to relieve myself is even more pressing and I should like to do so whilst I am still able to."

 

"Need a hand?" Jethro quipped, as he let his hand fall from where it still cupped Ducky.

 

Ducky swiftly bent down and tugged off his trousers, shorts, shoes and socks. "And what if I said yes?" Ducky asked, glancing back over his shoulder as he moved to the toilet. The twinkle in his eyes told Jethro he was teasing him.

 

Aware that he was standing watching Ducky, Jethro mentally shook himself and began to take of the remainder of his clothing. Once he was naked, he gathered everything up, tossed the clothes into the dirty line basket and moved the shoes out of the way.

 

He wondered vaguely if he should leave Ducky to fulfill his need, but Ducky seemed remarkably unfazed by his presence and he found he liked watching Ducky handle himself. Thus, he leaned back against the wall and instead asked, "So what was your plan then?"

 

Ducky glanced at him. "To undress you and myself and share a shower with you. To get you used to seeing me naked, and touching me in a fairly low-level sexual way before enticing you into your bed and beginning to introduce you to the pleasures of making love to a man. To the pleasure of making love with and to me."

 

Jethro liked the sound of that. "We can still do that, can't we?" he said, as Ducky finished his task and flushed the toilet.

 

"We can indeed," Ducky said, his voice sultry as he came back to where Jethro stood and reached out to run his finger along Jethro's softness. He reached up and pulled Jethro's head down and kissed him. "We certainly can," he whispered, taking his mouth away from Jethro's for long enough to form the words. And then he kissed him again.

 

And that is exactly what they did.

 

 

Several hours after they'd begun to make love, they lay on their sides in Jethro's bed gazing lovingly at one another, hands still entwined.

 

Jethro had never, not even with Shannon, felt as contented, as happy, as fulfilled, as at peace as he did now. The lovemaking had been amazing and never once had Ducky let him feel klutzy or lacking in ability. Ducky had caressed and stroked and touched and kissed and licked and made love to every inch of Jethro's body, leaving his skin tingling and his mind awash with love, desire and happiness.

 

He took the hand that Ducky wasn't holding and reached across the small space that separated them and lightly and slowly ran his finger around Ducky's face, tracing its outline. "Happy?" he asked.

 

Ducky smiled. "Very."

 

"Good."

 

"Are you?"
 

"What do you think?"

 

"I think you should answer my question." Ducky smiled.

 

"Guess I should. Yeah, I am, Duck. More than happy." He continued to trace Ducky's features, now moving from his face, over his chin and down his arm. Ducky's skin was virtually blemish-free, soft, a little less trim in places than Jethro guessed he must once have been, but the few creases in his face and body didn't trouble Jethro in the slightest and he hoped Ducky knew that.

 

As his fingers moved to more intimate areas, Ducky sighed softly, his pleasure obvious, but he remained completely soft, Jethro's touch barely even registered the slightest of twitches. But seeing Ducky was enjoying the caresses, Jethro didn't rush to move his hand; he continued his loving ministrations watching Ducky's eyes and smile tell him how much he was enjoying it.

 

And then the moment was spoiled by Jethro's stomach registering a complaint. As the growl erupted from it, Ducky chuckled softly. "Are you trying to tell me something, my dear?" he asked.

 

"I seem to remember you mentioning you'd cook for us," Jethro replied, as he finally ceased caressing Ducky's softness and began to trail back up Ducky's body.

 

"Mmm, I did, did I not?" Ducky moved forward a little and brushed his lips over Jethro's, before sliding towards the edge of the bed and getting out. Jethro lay and watched him, his eyes cataloging every inch of Ducky's body, enjoying the sight before him. "What I had planned won't take very long to prepare and cook." He walked still completely naked and seemingly unconcerned by the fact towards the en suite.

 

Jethro sat up. "You going to shower?"
 

Ducky nodded. "Yes."

 

"I'll join you."

 

But Ducky shook his head. "Oh, no, you won't. Not if you want to eat. I doubt my capacity to resist you if we are naked together under running water."

 

"Hate to admit it, Duck, but I'm not sure I could manage it again tonight."

 

Ducky smiled. "And I know I couldn't. However, there is far more to lovemaking than climaxes, is there not?" He licked his lips and lightly brushed his hand over himself.

 

Jethro moaned at the sight. "Yeah," he said. "There is. You're right."

"I usually am," Ducky said. And before Jethro could respond to the, what would have been in any other man arrogant, comment, Ducky had turned and gone into the bathroom. "You may shower once I have finished," he called. "Whilst I am preparing supper."

 

 

 

They ate supper, a simple but very tasty savory pasta with bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, cream and parmesan cheese, accompanied by the bottle of wine Ducky had brought through from his apartment, in the dining room - at Ducky's insistence. And for the most part they sat and held hands, eating with one hand, like two teenagers in love for the first time.

 

Ducky had also dug through Jethro's CD collection, but finding nothing that he deemed suitable had gone back to his apartment and reappeared with several classical CDs. He'd chosen well, as none of them assaulted Jethro's ears as he often found classical music did. Ducky had also, at Jethro's insistence, brought toiletries and clean underwear, socks and a shirt with him.
 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

For three days and nights they were barely out of one another's company, finding all kinds of excuses, good ones and otherwise, to have to go and find the other if one of them was away for more than a few minutes.

 

Jethro found it rather bemusing as well as surprising as he was a man who had always needed time alone. Even when he and Shannon were married and he wasn't working, he'd have to go into his study or for a drive or something for at least a couple of hours each day. But with Ducky he didn't want, he didn't need his own space, his time alone. He put it down to it all being so new, not just the relationship, but the fact that it was a completely different kind of relationship. A couple of times he found himself wondering if it was healthy, but then Ducky would look at him, kiss him, touch his hand and . . . So he gave up worrying about it.

 

 

But all good things must come to an end and on Monday evening Jethro set the alarm. "I wish I didn't have to go to work, Duck," he said, as he settled into his bed next to Ducky and put his arm around him. "But this meeting has been set up for months, long before you and I got together."

 

"That's quite all right, Jethro. I am perfectly capable of entertaining myself." Ducky snuggled into the embrace.

 

"Oh, you are, are you, Dr. Mallard? In that case maybe I should stay at home after all." Jethro waited for a second or two or three, while Ducky processed what he'd said.

 

He wasn't disappointed. "Jethro!" Ducky sat up and stared at him. "That is not what I meant."

 

Jethro laughed, ruffled Ducky's hair and pulled him back into his arms. "Sorry, Duck. Couldn't help it."

 

"Hmmm." Then Ducky wriggled free again. "Are you trying to tell me something?" His tone gave nothing away. Jethro gave a non-committal shrug. "Do you want to watch me?" Ducky didn't seem to be either troubled by, or in favor of, a possible positive answer; he just seemed curious.

 

Jethro shrugged again. "Don't know. Never thought about it. But . . . "

 

"But what?"

 

"Well I do like to see you touch yourself in other ways."

 

"Yes, I'd noticed." Ducky's tone was still unreadable, as was his steady, affectionate gaze.

 

"Does it bother you?"

 

"That you watch me so much?"

 

"Yeah."
 

"No. Should it?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "Don't ask me. I'm new to this whole thing."

 

Ducky frowned. "Jethro, you are not new to being involved in a relationship or making love to someone."

 

"No, I just meant -" Hastily Jethro stopped speaking. Fuck, he thought. "Duck, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to . . . What I mean is . . . Oh, hell."

 

But Ducky was smiling and his eyes twinkled with mirth and as Jethro watched him, his entire body began to shake with laughter. "Oh, Jethro," he finally said, when he was able to speak. "What am I going to do with you?"

 

And this time Jethro knew Ducky had chosen his words deliberately. "Well now, Doctor," he said, grabbing one of Ducky's hands and moving it down to his gentle arousal. "As you're asking . . . Mmmmm," he murmured, as soft, warm lips claimed his.

 

 

"So do you want to watch me?" Ducky inquired, after a very pleasant interval had passed.

 

Jethro, more than a little contented and well loved, lay on his back, one hand in Ducky's the other playing with Ducky's hair - something he did a lot. "Don't know, Duck," he said. "Really I don't. It's never come up before. Why do you want me to?"

 

Now Ducky shrugged. "I don't know. It is not something about which I have ever had occasion to think. This is very new for me too, Jethro. I have never, nor did I ever intend to, been involved with, slept with, a man who was not also gay - or at least one who was bisexual and had slept with other men. It is very different."

 

"Different good or different bad?"

 

Ducky leaned closer and kissed Jethro, as he began to lightly stroke Jethro's chest. "Do you really need to ask that?" he murmured.

 

"Guess not, but as I have asked . . ." Ducky's answer was to put his lips to Jethro's ear and murmur into it.

 

 

After another pleasant interval had passed and well aware that he really ought to be at the very least thinking about settling down to sleep, it was Jethro who returned to the subject. "Would you let me watch you?"

 

Ducky gazed at him with such utter devotion, Jethro had to swallow very hard. "Yes," he said softly. "If you really wished to do so, I would."

 

Jethro smiled. "Maybe sometime then," he said. "And now, Ducky, as much as it pains me to say so, I have to get some sleep."

 

"I confess that I too am more than a little sleepy," Ducky said, shifting around to get comfortable. "Although I can't imagine why, can you?"

 

Jethro laughed. "Nah, Duck. Sure can't." And with those words, he pulled Ducky into his arms, kissed him lightly and settled down to sleep.

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

It felt strange the next morning getting dressed in a suit, dress shirt and tie while Ducky still reclined in the bed, sipping the cup of tea Jethro had made for him. It had been a very long time since someone had been in bed just watching him get ready to go to the office. Again he wished he didn't have to go, but he did. "So what are you going to do with yourself today?" he asked, as he tied his tie.

 

"I am not certain. I may read or go for a walk or even pay a visit to the Principle Gallery. I was thinking of taking Kelly when she returns, and it is always good if the tutor is more clued up that the student. Oh, do come here, Jethro."

 

"Huh?" Jethro said, but he was already moving toward the bed.

 

"Sit down. I can't reach you otherwise," Ducky instructed.

 

Still not sure what Ducky had in mind, Jethro nonetheless obligingly sat on the bed and turned towards Ducky. Seconds later it became clear what Ducky had in mind as he undid, rearranged the ends and retied Jethro's tie for him.

 

"There now, that does look better. I have been wanting to do that from the moment I met you," Ducky said, leaning back into the pillows and picking up his cup again. "I don't know who taught you to tie a tie, but either they were not very apt themselves, or you were not a good student."

 

"That the only thing you wanted to do from the moment you met me?" Ducky simply looked at him over the rim of his cup; the steady blue gaze unfathomable. "Hmmm. So will I do? Or is there something else you'd like to do to me before I go?" Jethro asked.

 

"Oh, yes, there is. However, given that would make you very late for your meeting, not to mention the fact that I have not yet showered, I think we will leave until later," Ducky said, draining his cup and putting it back onto the nightstand.

 

Jethro just stared at him. "You, Dr. Donald 'call me Ducky' Mallard, are insatiable." He leaned forward and kissed Ducky's nose.

 

"Yes, I believe that I am. How strange I was not aware of that fact before," Ducky said.

 

Jethro just shook his head. "God, I l love you," he blurted the words out before he thought about them.

 

"And I feel the same, my dear. Now kiss me and go."

 

Jethro laughed. "Yes, Dr. Ducky," he said, learning forward and kissing Ducky. Ducky hadn't, as he'd said, showered yet, but he had taken the time to visit the bathroom to pee, wash his hands and face and brush his teeth and the kiss tasted of a mixture of mint and tea.

The kiss wasn't as brief as Jethro had intended. Thus, by the time they parted, not only did his lips tingle and his chin feel somewhat sore - Ducky hadn't shaved and although his stubble was far more gentle and far less than Jethro's own, nonetheless against Jethro's freshly shaved face it did feel rough - he was also, somewhat to his chagrin mildly and yet uncomfortably aroused. Standing up he adjusted himself unselfconsciously and began his Law of Tort mantra in his head.

"Jethro?"

 

"Hmm?"

 

"I really think you had better go," Ducky's voice was slightly rough, and as Jethro glanced at him he saw the blue gaze had darkened slightly.

 

The arrogant side in him, that he tried to keep under control, couldn't help but feel incredibly smug. His gaze flicked up and down Ducky's body, which was hidden by the duvet. "Later," he murmured, bending to once again kiss Ducky, this time fleetingly. Then he straightened, whirled on his heel, grabbed his overcoat and briefcase and strode out of the bedroom.

 

He was still smiling when he reached his office.

 

 

Several hours later he was no longer smiling, but fighting the urge to snarl at his clients and tell them to go and find some other poor lawyer to listen to their whines and demands. The only thing that had made the last few hours even remotely bearable as the presence of Tobias, who'd been invited to attend the meeting as he was acting in another matter for one of Jethro's clients.

 

The only break in proceedings, apart from answering calls of nature, were when two of the group had, muttering extremely darkly and making what Jethro knew to be idle threats, had to go outside to smoke. Jethro was willing to, and did, put up with many things as far as his clients went, but he never allowed them to smoke in his office. The fact that the two who had gone outside over a dozen times were actually chain smokers, had been the main reason Jethro had insisted on the meeting being in his offices and not theirs.

 

Grace, cool, calm, efficient Grace, had kept them supplied with tea, coffee or mineral water, as well as an extremely good and expensive - the clients were paying - buffet lunch. On top of that, she had also taken notes on several occasions.

 

Finally everyone, except Tobias had gone. Jethro leaned back in his chair, sighed heavily, closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. He had a nagging low level headache that in part had to be blamed on too little sleep over the past few days and more exercise than he'd had for a long time - but also on the clients from hell.

 

"Come on, Jethro," Tobias said. "We've done enough for today. I'll buy you a drink."

 

"Now that's the best offer I've had in months," Jethro quipped. "But tell you what, come home with me. We can have a drink there and you can meet Ducky."

 

Tobias cocked an eyebrow. "He hasn't taken the opportunity of Kelly being away to go somewhere himself?"

 

Jethro glanced away from Tobias's scrutinizing gaze, busying himself with putting files in drawers and other papers in his briefcase. "Um, no," he said. "Not this time."

 

"Sure why not?" If Tobias thought it strange that he was being invited back to Jethro's to meet the man who taught his daughter, his employee, he didn't say anything. In fact he added, "It'd be nice to meet the man your daughter, apparently, wouldn't stop talking about the last time she and Emily spoke. He's certainly made an impression."

 

He sure has, thought Jethro. "He's very good. No, make that excellent. He's even got Kelly excited about math. You ready?"

 

"As I'll ever be."

 

 

"Hey, Duck," Jethro called, opening the front door to the main house. "We've got a visitor." He had considered calling Ducky before they'd left, but in the end had decided that just might make Tobias's eyebrows rise even further. Not that he had a problem with his oldest friend knowing, in fact he planned to tell him, but even so.

 

Ducky appeared from the kitchen smiling. At the sight of his lover, it was a wonderful feeling to be able to think of Ducky as that and know it was true in the physical sense of the term as well as the less than physical sense, it took Jethro all his time not to drop his briefcase on the floor, go to Ducky, pull him into his arms, kiss him and - He stopped the thought as he suddenly realized both Tobias and Ducky were looking at him, waiting for him to speak.

 

"Tobias, this is Dr. Donald Mallard, who everyone calls 'Ducky', Kelly's tutor. Duck, Tobias Fornell, my oldest friend and another lawyer. We met at Law School and have been friends ever since."

 

Ducky moved towards Tobias and held out his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Fornell," he said.

 

Tobias's eyes widened and he glanced at Jethro. "He's British," Jethro said dryly.

 

"Ah, I see. That explains it. It's Tobias. Did you say people call you 'Ducky'?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. To this day I do not know what possessed my parents to name me 'Donald', but they did. Thus the name, given to me at Eton, was understandable. I imagine had I not been the poor unfortunate boy to whom the name was gifted, I myself might well have - Forgive me. It is the first day for quite some time I have not spent teaching or at least talking to someone. It is somewhat disconcerting to have no one to whom I have to lecture or indeed speak to."

 

"Pity Emily's not in town, you could have taught her," Tobias said, pulling of his overcoat and hanging it up.

 

"Ah, of course, you are Emily's father. Kelly speaks of Emily quite often - she seems very fond of her."

 

"Yes, they're good friends. It's a shame they don't see each other all that often."

 

"You know my daughter's not here and she still dominates the conversation," Jethro said, taking off his own coat. "Come on, let's go and have that drink." He glanced at Ducky and made it quite clear that Ducky was not allowed to vanish. "Actually, Tobias," go through and help yourself, you know where everything is. I'm just going to get rid of my coat and briefcase."

 

"Sure." Tobias nodded, waved his hand and went off to the sitting room.

 

In turn, Jethro snagged Ducky's hand and dragged him to the bedroom with him. "That's better," he said a few minutes later. "Sorry about bringing Tobias back with me, but he offered to buy me a drink and it'd been really odd for me to have refused. He knows Kell is away."

 

"It doesn't matter, Jethro. It is nice to meet him. If you want me to -"

 

"The next words out of your mouth had better be 'make dinner for three'," Jethro said, his tone firm. He pulled himself up to his full six feet and mock-glared down at Ducky.

 

Ducky batted his eyelashes and then said deferentially, "But of course, Mr. Gibbs, sir."

 

"You go on looking at me like that and Tobias is going to end up hungry!"

 

Ducky laughed and then said, "Are you sure, Jethro? I mean - Right, I'm going to the kitchen. Now."

 

 

After a very pleasant evening Jethro and Tobias went out into the hall, leaving Ducky collecting glasses. Jethro was very pleased with the way the meal and hour or so afterwards had gone. Ducky and Tobias had got on very well and had an interest in cricket, which Jethro hadn't known his old friend liked, as well as other things in common.

 

He still hadn't actually gotten around to telling Tobias about Ducky and himself; the opportunity hadn't arisen. He regretted now not introducing Ducky as 'my lover' rather than as 'Kelly's tutor'. But that might have been unfair to Ducky, given they hadn't discussed it. And it wasn't the kind of thing he'd felt able to just drop into the conversation. 'Another glass of wine, Tobias? By the way, I didn't tell you, did I? Ducky's my lover', somehow didn't seem to fit naturally into the conversation.

 

He took Tobias's coat from the hall stand and handed it to him. "Thanks. So how long has it been going on?" Tobias asked, as he pulled his coat on.

 

"What?"

 

"Come on, Jethro. Don't pretend. This is me, remember? But just in case you need clarification, how long have you and Ducky been sleeping together?"

 

"Is it that obvious?"

 

Tobias shrugged. "Probably only to me, but yes."

 

"What gave us away?"

 

Tobias settled his coat more comfortably. "Well, to start with there was: 'Hey, Duck, we have a visitor'. Then there's the small fact that while you told me everyone calls him 'Ducky' you call him 'Duck'. Not forgetting the fact that he was in your house, rather than his apartment and with Kelly away, there was no reason for him to be here. Then there's the way you look at one another - I nearly told you to 'get a room' more than once. And the way you go out of your way to touch one another. Don't get me wrong, Jethro, you're a man who does touch a lot, but there was something different about the way you touched Ducky. Nothing intimate, but the most intimate I've ever seen you with anyone - including Shannon. So how long?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "We've been involved for over two months. But we slept together for the first time on Friday night."

 

Tobias blinked. "Really?"

 

"Yeah. Duck doesn't think it's a good idea while Kelly's in the house." Tobias just looked at him. "Does it bother you?"

 

"What? You and Ducky?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yes."

 

Tobias shook his head. "No. Not at all. Life's too short, Jethro. If you're happy. I'm happy. We're friends, I like my friends to be happy."

 

"You sure?" Jethro found himself asking.

 

Tobias frowned. "How long have we been friends?"

 

"Best part of twenty years."

 

"And in all that time have I lied to you?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "Not that I know of. No."

 

"There you are then. Thanks for dinner. Ducky's a good cook."

 

Jethro smiled. "Yeah, he is."

 

"Next time Emily's here, you'll all have to come over and I'll return the favor. Or the next time Kelly goes away, which ever comes first. I just wish Diane would agree to regular and set visits, like you and Shannon do."

 

Jethro grimaced. He knew how hard it was for Tobias not seeing Emily as often as he wanted to. Diane, even though she'd had no reason, had fought Tobias every step of the way, making it as difficult as she possibly could, including moving across the country, for Tobias to see his daughter. "It makes it easier," he said quietly.

 

"Does Shannon know?"

 

Jethro shook his head. "Not yet. No. You're the only one who knows."

 

Tobias nodded. "In that case I'm honored. Anyway, I'll be off now. See you soon, Jethro."

 

"See you, Tobias." Jethro shut and locked the door behind Tobias before going back to find Ducky.

 

 

By the end of the two weeks more CDs, several books, Ducky's folder of lesson plans, various cooking utensils that apparently Jethro's own kitchen was lacking and more clothing had also moved from the apartment to Jethro's home.

 

One glance at the nightstands in Jethro's bedroom would leave no one in doubt as to who slept on which side of the bed.

 

Not that they'd slept an awful lot, seeming by mutual silent consent to prefer to spend time in one another's arms exchanging gentle kisses, caresses as well as some not quite so gentle ones.

 

Jethro couldn't remember the last time he had made love in some degree fourteen nights in a row. He was beyond being happy, he'd found the person with whom he not only wanted, but fully intended to spend the rest of his life, and nothing could now stand in their way.
 

CHAPTER TWENTY: AUGUST 1992

 

Jethro and Ducky waited in the airport lounge for Kelly's flight to arrive.

 

"I am looking forward to seeing Kelly again," Ducky said, taking a sip from the tea he held and grimacing.

 

"Me too. Although I have to confess I haven't missed her as much as I usually do," Jethro said, swallowing a mouthful of what laughingly passed for 'coffee'. "Can't imagine why that is, though, can you?"

 

Ducky laughed softly. "No, I cannot." They sat in silence, locked in a world with only two inhabitants as around them children cried and screamed, adults snapped or growled and the airport announcement system made noises no one could really figure out. "Jethro." Ducky's tone was suddenly serious.

 

Jethro glanced at him. "Yeah, Duck?"

 

"I -" But whatever Ducky was going to say was lost in the static voice announcing that the flight they were waiting for had landed. "It doesn't matter," Ducky said, standing up to join Jethro. "Later will do."

 

They stood side by side and watched as Kelly, holding the hand of an airhostess, half walked, half skipped, in the way only she could do across the tarmac towards them. As he watched her bob along, her hair shining, her bag swinging Jethro felt a lump in his throat. He loved her so much and he had missed her - even if it hadn't been quite as much as usual. He hated to think what life without her would be like.

 

Suddenly she spotted them. "Daddy!" she cried, trying, and failing to tug her hand free. "Dr. Ducky!" she added, again trying to pull free. But the airhostess kept a firm grip on her charge until they reached where Jethro and Ducky stood. Only then did she let go of Kelly.

 

Jethro swept her up in his arms, swinging her round and gathering her into a tight embrace. "Hello, pumpkin," he said, burying his face in her soft, sweet smelling hair. "I've missed you."

 

"Missed you too, Daddy," she cried, locking her arms around his neck and squeezing him hard.

 

He swallowed hard and not for the first time found himself wondering when 'Daddy' would become 'Dad' and when she'd be too big for him to pick up - or rather when she'd decide she was too grown up for such a fuss. But that time wasnít yet, so he took pleasure in the embrace.

 

Finally she lifted her head from where she'd been planting kisses on his cheek, brushed her hair aside and wriggled in his arms until he put her down. Then she flung herself at Ducky, throwing her arms around him and pressing against him, until he put his own arms around her. "I missed you too, Dr. Ducky," she said. "I told Mommy and Auntie Jenny all about you. Did you miss me?"

 

"Kelly!"

 

But Ducky just laughed as he embraced Kelly. "I did miss you, Kelly," he said.

 

"Good," she said.

 

"Kelly!" Jethro exclaimed again. But then found he couldn't help but join Ducky and the airhostess in laughter. "Were you a good girl?" he asked, once Kelly had, with clear reluctance, let Ducky move her out of his arms.

 

She bent down to pick up the bag she'd dropped when she'd thrown herself into his arms. "Of course I was, Daddy. I'm always a good girl."

 

Jethro shook his head and tugged her near to him, putting his arm around her shoulders and ruffling her hair. He looked at the airhostess who stood watching them. "Was she good?"

 

She smiled and nodded. "Oh, course she was, Mr. Gibbs. This one always is; unlike some," she added.

 

Kelly's eyes gleamed. "Nancy asked the man who drives the plane -"

 

"The pilot, honey," Jethro said.

 

"I know that, Daddy," Kelly said, looking up at him. "Nancy asked the pilot if I could go into the . . . What's it called, Dr. Ducky?" she asked.

 

"The cockpit, Kelly."

She nodded. "Into the cockpit and look around. And he said yes. I did that the first time I flew alone, but this one was different. And Nancy let me help her before the plane took off. I'm going to be an airhostess when I grow up," she announced.

"Are you?" It made the fifth career, at least, she'd decided on.

 

Kelly nodded. "I was good. Unlike the other little girl who was being looked after. She was naughty, wasn't she, Nancy?"

 

Nancy smiled. "You were a very good girl, Kelly," she said diplomatically.

 

"This other little girl, she -"

 

"Kelly," Ducky gently interrupted her.

 

"Yes, Dr. Ducky?" she smiled at him.

 

"Why don't you say thank you to Nancy for looking after you and let her get on. I'm sure she has things she needs to be doing."

 

"Of course." Kelly slid out from under Jethro's hand and walked towards Nancy and held out her hand. "Thank you, for looking after me, Nancy," she said. "And for taking me into the cockpit. And for -"

 

"Kell."

 

"You're very welcome, Kelly," Nancy said and smiled. "I look forward to seeing you again. Goodbye, Mr. Gibbs. Goodbye Dr. Mallard," and with a smile, that differed as she turned from Jethro to Ducky she walked away.

 

"Come on," Kelly called, grabbing one of Jethro's and one of Ducky's hands and starting to drag them away. "Let's go and get my case. I've bought you a present, Dr. Ducky," she said excitedly. "Oh, and you too, Daddy," she added.

 

Jethro looked at Ducky over Kelly's head and rolled his eyes. That just about summed it up.

 

 

"You're going where?" Jethro stood and stared at Ducky, his eyes wide, his mouth open in amazement.

 

"Back to my apartment, Jethro," Ducky said quietly.

 

"Why?"

 

"Because Kelly is now home again. Jethro, I thought you knew that . . ." Ducky took Jethro's hands and held them. "Oh, Jethro, don't make this any harder than it is."

 

"I can't believe you're doing this, Ducky. I thought we . . . I thought you . . . Don't you want to be with me?"

 

Ducky sighed and closed his eyes. "Yes, Jethro, of course I do. I want it more than anything, but -"

 

"Then what the hell are you playing at?" Jethro shook himself free of Ducky's grip and moved closer to him, deliberately using his height to intimidate Ducky. However, it didn't work; Ducky simply held his ground and looked up at him. "Everything's changed, Duck," Jethro said, dropping intimidation and instead cupping Ducky's face between his hands.

 

"Oh, Jethro," Ducky sighed, putting his hands over Jethro's. "Nothing has changed, my dear. Not as far as Kelly is concerned. Your daughter is back; my objections to staying here in your bed are exactly the same as they were two weeks ago."

 

"So what we did, all what we've done since she's been away meant nothing to you?" Again Jethro shook Ducky off and this time turned and stalked away.

 

"It meant everything to me, Jethro. More than mere words can possible say." Ducky reached out and caught his arm. "I love you," he said quietly.

 

Jethro whirled around. "You've got a damned funny way of showing it," he snarled. "At least I know now why you let me fuck you last night!" And without waiting for Ducky to say anything, but not quickly enough to avoid seeing the look of pain and anguish that crossed Ducky's face, Jethro turned back around and strode off down the corridor and into his bedroom. The sound of him slamming the door reverberated around the whole house.
 

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

 

Jethro sat at his desk and scrawled his signature on one letter and then another; the third he simply crossed through with a violent sweep of the pen. "Tell Pat to do it again," he snarled, handing the letters to Grace. "And this time you'd better make sure there aren't any mistakes."

 

"Is everything all right, Mr. Gibbs?" his assistant asked quietly, as she took the letters.

 

He glared at her. "Why shouldn't it be?"

 

"I just . . ." She trailed of under his stare. "I merely wondered if anything was wrong with Kelly, if she was unwell. That is all. I'm sorry to have troubled you." And she turned on her heel and left his office.

 

"Fuck it," he muttered, dropping his pen and putting his head between his hands. He'd been like that ever since he'd gotten to the office that morning. One thing after another, after another had irritated him.

 

Somehow he'd sat through a three hour meeting that took up most of the morning, giving advice, taking notes and maintaining order without losing his temper, but since then he'd snapped at Grace and his two secretaries. And for no good reason at all. In fact for no reason at all, other than he was mightily pissed off and disgusted with himself.

 

He'd tried telling himself it was all Ducky's fault, but that had lasted less time than it had taken to formulate the thought. No, it was all his fault. And he had to do something to put it right, and quickly. Before he ended up losing Grace, Pat, Helena and most importantly of all Ducky.

 

He grabbed the phone and punched in a number. "Hey, Hazel," he said. "It's Jethro Gibbs, is he available?"

 

"Just one moment, Mr. Gibbs."

 

Jethro tapped his pen on the desk and waited.

 

"You only just caught me."

 

"Need a favor."

 

"Legal or personal?"

 

"Personal."

 

"Go on."

 

"Emily's with you for the weekend, isn't she?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Don't suppose she'd like some company tonight?"

 

"Just Emily?"


"Yeah."

 

"Any particular reason?"

 

"Yeah. I screwed things up with Ducky last night and I need to put it right. I can't do that with Kell around." There was silence for a minute. "Tobias?"

 

"Yeah, I'm here."

 

"Is there a problem?"

 

"No. It's just . . . Jethro, do you know what you're getting yourself into?"

 

"I'm not getting myself into anything, Tobias. I'm already in it."

 

"Jethro -"

 

"What? You got a problem with Ducky and me being together?"

 

"No. You know I haven't. I told you that last week." Tobias's voice was hard.

 

"Sorry, Tobias. Yeah, I do know. It's just . . ." Jethro trailed off.

 

"Do you want me to collect Kelly or will you bring her round?"

 

"I'll bring her. And Tobias."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Thank you."

 

"De Nada."

 

Jethro hung up, dug out his credit card and quickly dialed another number and had a shorter conversation. When he put the phone down again, he stood up, grabbed his briefcase and coat and glanced around the office. There was nothing that couldn't wait until Monday.

 

He strode out into the outer office. "I'm going home for the day, Grace," he said, pausing by his assistant's desk.

 

"Very well, Mr. Gibbs. I hope you have a good weekend."

 

"Thanks. You too." He glanced at the other two desks, but neither Pat nor Helena looked up. So instead, he just nodded at Grace and walked away. He hoped the three bouquets of flowers that he'd bullied and bribed the florists into guaranteeing they'd deliver before the end of the day would say what he couldn't: Sorry.

 

 

"Hey, pumpkin," he called, going into Kelly's bedroom to find her teaching her dolls and toys.

 

"Hi, Daddy." She looked up and smiled at him.

 

He squatted down next to her, ruffled her hair and gave her a quick kiss. "What's today's lesson?" he asked.

 

"I'm telling them all about Lot. His wife turned to a pillar of salt. But it was his own fault she did."

 

"Was it?" Jethro said, only half listening to his daughter.

 

"Yes, Daddy. He was told not to turn around. But he did. So it was his fault. He was silly. I don't have any sympathy for him. If you don't do what you're told then it's your own fault when it goes wrong."

 

"You know, Kell, sometimes life isn't quite as simple as that." Again Jethro ruffled her hair and he found himself smiling at the look she gave him.

 

"You're home early?" she said, glancing at the Winnie The Pooh clock that hung on her wall.

 

"Yeah, I am. Kelly, how would you like to spend the night at Uncle Tobias's with Emily?"

 

In one swift movement, her lesson abandoned, Kelly was on her feet and running to her closet to pull out her overnight bag. Then she paused and changed direction, heading for the bedroom door.

 

As she ran by him, Jethro caught her. "Where are you going?"

 

"To tell Dr. Ducky."

 

He shook his head. "No, you pack your bag, Kelly. I'll tell Ducky later."

 

She put her head back and looked up at him. "You won't forget?"

 

He laughed. "Kelly, I don't think I'm likely to forget that my favorite girl isn't here, do you? Now hurry up and pack your bag. And Kelly."

 

"Yes, Daddy?"

 

"Only one book."

 

She nodded. "Yes, Daddy."

 

He let her get away with two, and within ten minutes they were in the car and headed for Tobias's house.

 

 

Emily came to the door with Tobias and the two little girls hugged and giggled and talked at the same time before linking hands and running off to Emily's bedroom.

 

"Want me to take that?" Tobias asked, holding out his hand for the bag Kelly had forgotten.

 

Jethro handed it over. "I owe you, Tobias," he said.

 

Tobias shrugged. "Nah. What are friends for? Do you want a drink?"

 

Jethro shook his head. "No, I need to get going. I need to sort this. I'll pick Kelly up tomorrow."

 

"I'll bring her home in the afternoon. I was going to take Emily to the park and then for a 'naughty' lunch - just don't tell Diane - if you're okay with it, I'll take Kelly too."

 

"That'd be great. Thanks. Here," and Jethro began to pull his wallet out, but stopped when Tobias glared at him. "I'll see you tomorrow, then." He started to leave.

 

"Jethro?" Tobias caught his arm.

 

"Yeah, Tobias?"

 

"Why don't you just move Ducky into your house? Kelly wouldn't mind."

 

Jethro gave a half bitten of laugh, it was completely lacking in humor. "I know that, Tobias. But you try telling Ducky that."

 

"Ah. I guess I'd . . ." He trailed off.

 

"Yeah. So had I." Jethro turned again.

 

Again Tobias stopped him. "Just how important is Ducky to you?" Jethro was quiet for a moment and Tobias spoke again. "Sorry, none of my business."

 

Jethro glanced along the hallway where Kelly and Emily had run. "You know how much I love Kelly?"

 

"Of course I do."

 

Jethro swallowed hard and turned his gaze back to Tobias. "If I had to I'd give her up." His voice was low, flat, heavy with anguish. But he spoke the truth.

 

He wasn't surprised when Tobias's eyes widened and his mouth parted. "I didn't know," he finally said.

 

Jethro sighed and ran his hand over his head. "Nor did I. See you tomorrow Tobias." And with that, he turned up the collar of his coat and strode away from Tobias's front door.
 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

 

He let himself into his house, paid a brief visit to the bathroom, before walking along the hallway to the door the connected his house to Ducky's apartment. He paused and raised his hand to knock; then changed his mind and instead turned the handle. As the door opened he realized he'd been expecting it to be locked.

 

Without calling out he moved quietly through the apartment; instinct led him to the kitchen. There his back to the door, chopping something stood Ducky. From the stiffness of his stature, Jethro was sure Ducky knew he was there.

 

He quickly crossed the room, snagged the knife from Ducky's hand, put it down and slipped his arms around Ducky from behind. "I'm sorry, Duck," he said, his voice low. "I am so very sorry." Ducky didn't speak, didn't even acknowledge Jethro. In fact he picked the knife back up and went on chopping mushrooms.

 

Jethro waited for a moment and then went on. "I never should have said what I said last night."

 

Now Ducky did pause. "Is that how you think of it?" he asked, his tone hard.

 

Instinct honed by years as a lawyer, together with a deeper knowledge of Ducky than he hadn't really appreciated he had until now made Jethro omit pointing out that it was a perfectly good term to describe that kind of intimacy. That wasn't what Ducky meant; he knew that. He wasn't sure how he knew, but he knew. "No," he said, feeling an infinitesimal lessening in Ducky's tautness. "No, Duck. It isn't. I swear it isn't. I was -"

 

"Angry?"

 

"Upset mainly. But yes, angry too. But not with you, Duck."

 

"Funny, it certainly sounded as though it was me with whom you were annoyed."

 

"I know. But it wasn't. Not really. Ducky?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"I'm sorry. Not just for what I said. But for not even trying to understand your feelings. Your reasons."

 

"But you don't, do you?"

 

Jethro sighed. "Honest answer? Not really, no. But I respect them. And if you still want me after the way I screwed up, I give my word I won't try to force you to stay with me when Kelly's in the house again." He waited, but Ducky didn't speak. He swallowed again and moistened his lips with his tongue. "But I need a promise from you too."

 

"Go on." Ducky's tone wasn't exactly encouraging, but nor had he dismissed Jethro out of hand.

 

"I won't try to make you stay. I won't even bring it up. We'll go on as we did before, you'll eat with us and then stay and have a drink and we can - Well, you know. But . . . But, Ducky, I need to know it won't be this way forever. It won't be this way until Kelly leaves home. I love you, Duck. I don't have pretty phrases or words to tell you how much. I screw things up, I know that. I'm a bastard, a ruthless one at times, but I love you. I don't want to lose you. I want to be with you and that's the only reason I keep pressing you. I want a real relationship with you. I want you to share my home, not just my bed, but my home and my daughter - although you do that anyway. I want to be able to take you out to dinner, to take you to Law Society dinners."

 

"That would be interesting," Ducky said, his voice now showed that the ice that had been in it ever since Jethro arrived was finally melting.

 

"Yeah, it would, wouldn't it? I just want a normal relationship. And before you give me any crap about two men together not being perceived as 'normal' to the world. I don't care about the world. I care about you, me, Kelly, and our friends. I don't want to go on introducing you as 'Dr. Ducky Mallard, Kelly's tutor'. I want to introduce you as 'Dr. Ducky Mallard, my lover' or 'my partner' or whatever term you'd prefer. That's all I want, Duck. And that's why I kept pushing. So do we have a deal?"

 

"A deal?" Now there was the very faintest hint of humor in Ducky's tone.

 

At least Jethro through there was. Mentally crossing fingers and offering up a quick prayer to a God he hadn't believed in since he was five, he turned Ducky in his arms. The fact that Ducky not only allowed himself to be turned, but also put the knife down and helped the move raised Jethro's hopes.

 

"You hurt me, Jethro. Very much," Ducky said, when they were face to face.

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah. Know that, Duck. And I swear I didn't mean to."

 

Ducky put his head on one side. "No, I don't believe you did. And part of it is my own sensitivity to what is a perfectly acceptable term. But -"
 

Jethro shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "It isn't acceptable. I never would have talked to Shannon about fucking her, so why would I do so to you? It is not acceptable."

 

Ducky's eyes and face softened as he stared at Jethro. Slowly he lifted one hand and touched Jethro's face. "I do love you, Jethro," he said, his tone as it often was when he said the words, slightly formal. "And I do want to be with you. Please believe me when I say that. I do. I want the life you describe. I want to have a real, to use your word, relationship with you. I'm not entirely certain about the Law Society dinners, that might be taking things too far," now he was smiling. "But I do want so much to be more than 'Kelly's tutor'."

 

"You already are," Jethro whispered, placing a brief kiss on Ducky's nose. "So very much more."

 

Ducky nodded. "I know that, my dear. So, yes, we have, again to use your terminology 'a deal'."

 

"We'll carry on as we are when she's here, but when she goes to visit Shannon and Jenn you'll move into my house and my bed?" Ducky nodded. "And I'll stop asking you to move in when she's here, but you'll -"

 

"Promise I will do so before she leaves home for good. Yes, Jethro."

 

Jethro took a chance. "Any idea how long that might be?"

 

Ducky put his head on one side and Jethro watched him. "Maybe the year after next, when is ten," Ducky said softly. "But that is not a fixed time. You understand that? It might be longer."

 

Jethro nodded. "I can live with that. Now, can I kiss you?"

 

Ducky's eyes twinkled with mirth and Jethro hid a groan; he knew that look. "I assume you can," Ducky said. "Indeed I know that you can. You can very well. Very well in -"

 

Jethro shut him up.

 

 

They spent the night in Ducky's bed rather than Jethro's.

 

And when Jethro opened the door to Tobias, Kelly, and Emily, the knowing grin on his oldest friend's face told him that Tobias had worked out the reason he looked more than a little tired.
 

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: SEPTEMBER 1992

 

Ducky hummed to himself as he moved around the kitchen in his apartment, preparing supper for himself and Jethro. It was a very nice apartment, very nice indeed; not that he spent a great deal of time there these days. But it was a very pleasant place to be, a very pleasant place in which to wake up and go to sleep. At the thought of doing either of those things Ducky paused and sighed softly to himself. It was getting harder and harder to do those things alone. Not for the first time he found himself wondering more and more why he was being so stubborn; why he hadn't given into Jethro's pleas and moved into the main house with Jethro and Kelly and into Jethro's bed.

 

But he still felt he was right not to do so. He still felt that for Kelly's sake it was better Jethro and he appeared as just good friends and employer and employee. It was true, of course it was, what Jethro said about Kelly knowing her mommy and her auntie Jenny slept together, but somehow to Ducky's mind this was still different. He knew Kelly was fond of him, very fond of him, but he wasn't certain she would want to share him with her daddy. And a tiny part of him, a part he hated, could understand that. Just occasionally he wished he didn't have to share Jethro with his daughter. Not that the thought lasted for more than a fraction of a second; it didn't. He cared deeply about Kelly; in fact that was an understatement; he loved the little girl. She was a delight to teach and to spend time with, but just sometimes . . .

 

He pushed the insidious thought from his mind, frowned, mentally slapped himself on the hand and returned his attention to preparing supper. Tonight he wouldn't have to share Jethro with anyone, because tonight Kelly was enjoying a sleep-over at her best friend's house. He had met Maddie Tyler briefly a few weeks ago, when she had visited Jethro's home to play with Kelly, and had found her to be another intelligent and nice little girl. Thus with Kelly away for the night, Jethro would join Ducky for supper in Ducky's home and then . . . And then Jethro would spend the night in Ducky's bed. Ducky smiled at the thought; it had been too long since they'd been able to share more than a few kisses and the more kisses he did share with Jethro, the more he wanted to share. Maybe he should think again about Jethro's suggestion. Maybe -

 

The sound of his doorbell interrupted his thoughts. He hurried to the door and opened it and stared in surprise at the woman and little girl who stood there. "Kelly!" he exclaimed. "Is something the matter?"

 

Before Kelly could answer the woman, whom he presumed to be Mrs. Tyler, certainly he could see a likeness between her and Maddie, spoke. "Hello, I'm Gwen Tyler, Maddie's mother. You must be Dr. Mallard?" She held out her hand and Ducky took it.

 

"Yes, I am, Mrs. Tyler. Forgive me; I am surprised to see Kelly. Has something happened?"

 

He was surprised to see a very faint flush suddenly touch Mrs. Tyler's face and a look of something he failed to indentify flashed through her eyes. Then both had gone and Mrs. Tyler smiled. "No, at least not really. Kelly is feeling a little under the weather, and with Maddie taking part in a show jumping competition the day after tomorrow, I felt . . . I hope you understand, Dr. Mallard."

 

Ducky frowned and put his hand on Kelly's forehead; it seemed perfectly cool to him. "What exactly do you mean by 'under the weather', Mrs. Tyler?" he asked.

 

She shifted her feet a little and glanced away from him. "It was probably nothing. She felt a little warm that was all and . . . I know the girls were very disappointed, weren't you, honey?" she said, smiling down at the so far unusually silent Kelly. "But you can come again soon, or maybe Maddie could come here again?" she glanced at Ducky.

 

"That would be up to Kelly's father," he said firmly. "I am merely her tutor."

 

"Yes, of course. I didn't mean to . . . Look, Dr. Mallard, I am sorry if I have spoiled your plans for the evening. But I do feel it is for the best that Kelly stays at home. That is going to be all right, I hope? You weren't going out? Kelly did say her daddy would be at work."

 

"No. I wasn't going out. So, yes, of course. If Kelly doesn't feel completely well, of course she's better here." There was something about Mrs. Tyler coupled with Kelly's silence that made Ducky somewhat wary and certain there was more to the whole 'Kelly's under the weather' than met the eye. It might be nothing more than the girls having a falling out, and Mrs. Tyler didn't want to say so, but something told Ducky it wasn't that simple.

 

"Oh, good. Well, I really must dash. Bye bye, Kelly, I'm sorry you aren't feeling quite yourself. I'll get Maddie to give you a call in a few days and you can catch up. She can tell you all about the show jumping." She bent down and brushed her lips over Kelly's cheek. "Good afternoon, Dr. Mallard; it is nice to have met you - Kelly has spoken of you often." Again she held out her hand.

 

Again Ducky took it and shook it. "Good afternoon to you, Mrs. Tyler. And thank you for bringing Kelly home. Kelly say goodbye to Mrs. Tyler," he said quietly.

 

Kelly looked up. "Goodbye, Mrs. Tyler," she intoned. "Thank you for letting me come to play and for bringing me home."

 

Mrs. Tyler smiled. "Such a polite child. A credit to you, Doctor. Now goodbye." And without waiting for Ducky to say anything else, she turned on her very high heels and hurried away.

 

Ducky watched until she'd climbed into her car and driven away before he took Kelly's hand and guided her inside his apartment. "Now, Kelly," he said. "What is wrong with you? Do you feel ill, my dear?"

 

She shrugged. "I did get hot, Dr. Ducky," she said. "Please may I have a glass of milk?"

 

Instinct, an instinct honed from teaching the young in general for twenty-five years and this young girl in particular for seven months, told him not press her for more information at the moment. So instead he led her into his kitchen saying, "Of course, you may, Kelly."

 

She sat down at the table and swung her legs. "Thank you," she said, when he handed her the milk. She then proceeded to drain it without stopping. "I was thirsty," she said, putting the glass down and licking her lips. "What are you making?"

 

"I was making supper for your daddy," he said. "With you staying with Maddie, he was going to take the opportunity to work a little later than usual, and I thought it would make a nice change for him to join me here."

 

"I'm sorry I've spoiled, spoilt, spoiled - which one should I use, Dr. Ducky?" She put her head on one side and looked at him.

 

The only real downside of being a British man teaching an American child was the differences in the language. The phrase 'two countries divided by one a common language' often seemed so very true. More than once Jethro had joked that at least his daughter would grow up bi-lingual.

 

"To be correct for your country, Kelly, you should say 'spoiled'," he said.

 

She frowned and suddenly as she gazed at him, he saw just how like her father she looked. "But why?" she demanded. "Why do we say things differently to you?"

 

"Differently from," he correctly gently. It was one of the few mistakes she continued to make, and even though Ducky had explained it to her many times, so far she seemed unable to fully grasp the concept and each time tended to fall back on her most common phrase: 'But why'? He expected the words to come. Kelly loved to learn, was very bright, but definitely a tad precocious as she rarely just accepted something; she always had to know 'why'. On occasions she asked such astute and unusual questions that Ducky found himself digging deeply into his mind for the answer - and sometimes it wasn't possible to give her a complete answer. She still had to learn that just occasionally 'because' was an acceptable answer.

 

He saw her considering his correction and wondered for a moment if he was going to get another 'but why'? However, instead she simply corrected herself and again asked the question. "But why do we say things differently from," she stressed the word, as she always did when he corrected her, "you?"

 

Ducky signed silently. "I am certain I can answer your question adequately in a few minutes. And as today was meant to be a non-school day for you, why do we not leave it for now and we'll discuss it tomorrow?"

 

He saw her again considering her answer. Finally, she nodded. "Very well, Dr. Ducky, but I won't forget," she said.

 

He chuckled. She rarely did. "Now, are you hungry?" he asked.

 

She nodded. "Yes. Maddie's mommy brought me home before we had anything to eat."

 

"In that case, why don't we go to your home and you can have a bath and I'll cook you something nice for supper. I think tonight you deserve a treat," he said. "And then," he added, as they went through the door that separated his apartment from the main house, "if you are very good, I'll read to you. Would you like that?"

 

She skipped along beside him, making him more sure that ever that she had not been unwell. "Yes, please," she said, as she began to half skip and half run to her bedroom. Then she stopped and turned round. "What time is Daddy coming home?"

 

"I'm not entirely certain. Would you like me to call him and tell him you weren't feeling well?"

 

She shook her head. "No. I'm fine. And I know Daddy is busy. What are you going to cook for me?"

 

Ducky smiled. "It will be a surprise, but don't worry, I promise you will like it." For a split second, as he said the word 'promise' he saw something on her face, in her eyes, something he couldn't quite indentify. But as he looked at her, something that made him even more convinced there was something she needed to tell someone.

 

After a supper of homemade fish fingers, or fish sticks as Kelly and Jethro tended to call them, chips and peas - Ducky had promised his charge a treat - and another glass of milk, Ducky quickly put plates and cutlery into the dishwasher and joined Kelly in the sitting room where he read to her for half an hour. Again it was a treat as Kelly's reading age and ability was above that of most eight year olds, but she still enjoyed being read to - especially by Ducky. And Ducky not only regarded it as part of her education, but he also enjoyed reading to her.

 

"I think I'll go to bed now, Dr. Ducky," she said, when he'd finished. "Will you come and tuck me in?"

 

"Of course, Kelly. And your daddy will pop in when he gets home."

 

She slipped her hand inside his as they walked from the sitting room to her bedroom, only letting go of it when she climbed into bed. However, she didn't lie down immediately; instead she crossed her legs and looked down at her lap. "Dr. Ducky," she said softly, after several minutes of silence.

 

"Yes, my dear?"

 

"Can I ask you something?" Now she looked at him.

 

For once he didn't correct her. "Of course you can, Kelly," he said, sitting down on the edge of her bed and brushing her long hair from her face. "You can ask me anything."

 

She bit her bottom lip, frowned for a moment and then looked at him. "Is there anything wrong with two men kissing?"

 

Whatever Ducky had been expecting, it was not that. He blinked and looked at her wondering if it was possible she had seen Jethro and himself. But she just continued to look at him, biting her bottom lip and now looking anxious. He patted her hand. "No, Kelly, there isn't. As long as the two men want to kiss one another and both are old enough to do so under the law, then there is not anything wrong with it."

 

She nodded. "That's what I thought. But -" She stopped speaking and hastily looked away from him, as she began to twist some of her hair around her finger.

 

Ducky watched her; something was troubling her, something was clearly troubling her a great deal. "But what, Kelly?" he said quietly, after a moment or two.

 

She shifted on the bed and then asked, her voice very quiet, "Dr. Ducky, is it always wrong to break a promise?" Now she looked at him, and he could see just how anxious and even upset she was getting.

 

"Well, now, Kelly," he said. "It depends if the promise was coerced."

 

She frowned. "Coeressed?"

 

"Coerced," he repeated. "It means to do something through pressure of necessity." She still looked puzzled. "Let us say that I saw someone doing something they shouldn't, stealing say, and that person made me promise not to tell anyone, he said he'd hurt me if I did. So I promised I wouldn't say anything. The man believes me and lets me go. However, then I do tell the police because, well stealing is wrong and the man should be punished. I would have broken my promise, but because I'd been pressured into making it, it wouldn't be wrong to break it. Do you understand?" Kelly nodded slowly. "Has someone made you promise something you didn't want to?" Ducky asked quietly.

 

Again Kelly nodded. "Kind of. I promised I wouldn't tell Daddy."

 

Ducky smiled and took her hand. "In that case, Kelly, you can tell me. I am not your daddy, so you wouldn't be breaking your promise."

 

He watched as the light came back into her eyes and she smiled. "Really?" she said.

 

"Really," Ducky said. "Now, what is it you promised not to tell your daddy?"

 

Kelly sighed, her relief clear, and keeping here hand in Ducky's began to speak. "Mrs. Tyler took Maddie and me to the park first and then we went back to their home. We were playing in the garden and Maddie said we should go to her playroom. And we did and -" Suddenly she stopped speaking and looked away from Ducky.

 

"And what, Kelly?" Ducky asked gently.

 

"Maddie's uncle Graham was there; he was kissing another man. We weren't snooping, we didn't know he was there, Dr. Ducky really we didn't." She looked at him and he could see the distress in the eyes.

 

He put his arm around her and hugged her. "I know you didn't, Kelly. What happened then? Was Maddie's uncle angry?"

 

Kelly shook her head. "No," she said, her voice low. "But her mommy was."

 

"Her mother?"

 

Kelly wriggled away from him a little and looked at him. She nodded. "Yes, she came in. She'd been looking for us as it was tea time. She . . . she . . . she . . ."

 

"It's all right, Kelly. You take your time. No one is going to be angry with you now."

 

Kelly nodded. "Mrs. Tyler was really angry. She said Maddie's uncle was dirty and disgusting and unnormal and bad and evil and wicked. And she called him something I know she shouldn't have said in front of Maddie and me. And she said he would never be allowed to visit again and she dragged me and Maddie away. She hurt my arm, Dr. Ducky. Look."

 

Ducky looked as Kelly pushed up the sleeve of her nightdress. There on her upper arm were faint bruises from where a hand had held the limb far too tightly. Suddenly he felt rage and impotence race through him. He wanted to do something, but he wasn't certain quite what.

 

But Kelly answered that. "Would you kiss it better, Dr. Ducky?" she asked, her voice small. "Mommy always used to and Daddy does. Please?"

 

Just for a moment Ducky paused; hugging Kelly was one thing, tucking her into bed, holding her hand, maybe all went beyond what a tutor normally did, but then his relationship with her father wasn't that of a normal employee and employer. And at this moment there was no one else and if he refused, all that did was to reinforce in Kelly's mind that she'd asked something that was wrong. But he couldn't do it. So instead he compromised. "Ah," he said, an idea coming to him. "Do not forget, Kelly my dear. I am also a medical doctor; my skill is in my hands. See," he said, a moment later as he gently rubbed her arm. "Does that feel better?"

 

She smiled and nodded. "Yes, thank you," she said. "And shall I tell you a secret?"

 

"If you want to, my dear."

 

"I know that kissing it never makes it better, but Mommy and Daddy like do it, so I don't tell them. But rubbing does. Why?" And she stared at him eyes wide, her expectant look on her face.

 

But Ducky wasn't about to be derailed and led off into a long, rambling explanation. So instead he said, "I'd like you to finish telling me about Mrs. Tyler and what happened earlier. Is that why she brought you home?"

 

For a moment Kelly pouted and then looked at Ducky in the way that her father always looked when he was trying to win Ducky over. Ducky groaned silently but hardened his heart; if he could refuse her father, he could refuse her. "Kelly," he said, a little more firmly. "Please tell me."

 

Instantly she was compliant. "Yes, Dr. Ducky. Maddie's mommy dragged us away and then sent Maddie to her room and took me into the kitchen. She made me promise that I wouldn't tell Daddy what I'd seen. I didn't want to agree, because I didn't know what the problem was, but she made me promise. So I did." Again she looked concerned.

 

Again Ducky hastened to reassure her. "As I told you, Kelly, you have not broken your promise. You told me, not your father and I am not your father. Do you understand the difference?" He wasn't totally sure she would. Yes, she was bright, but it was quite a complex theory to comprehend.

 

She frowned again and was quiet. Then she said somewhat hesitantly, "I think so."

 

"Good. Well, even if you don't, you trust me, do you not?"

 

She nodded. "Oh, yes, Dr. Ducky."

 

"Then trust me to tell you the truth. Can you do that? Good girl," he said, when she nodded. "Now is there anything else?"

 

Again she nodded. "Yes." And again she looked away from him.

 

"Kelly?"

 

"I don't want to tell you."

 

"Why not?"

 

"Because you'll be cross with me."

 

Ducky blinked. "My dear Kelly, what makes you think I'll be cross?"

 

She continued to stare down at her lap, as her fingers folded the nightgown. "I answered Mrs. Tyler back," she whispered. "All of you: you, Daddy, Mommy and Auntie Jenny have told me I shouldn't answer a grown-up back. But I did."

 

And not for the first time Ducky was hit with the stark difference between tutoring a child on a one-to-one basis, a child of eight, and teaching a class of boys, even of giving private tuition to them, who were thirteen plus. He sought around for the best way to tell her that sometimes it was okay to do that thing. In the end he settled for what seemed the easier way out. "Why don't you tell me what you said to Mrs. Tyler and we'll take it from there?"

 

He watched her think about it. And then she nodded. "Okay. I told her that I didn't understand why she was upset and why I couldn't tell Daddy. I told her Mommy lives with another lady and I'd seen them kissing and it wasn't wrong. I'm sorry, Dr. Ducky," she added, finally looking at him. "I know I shouldn't have answered her back."

 

Ducky touched her hair. "It's all right, Kelly," he said. "What you said was quite correct and I do not, and nor would your father, consider it answering her back. Did she answer you?"

 

Kelly nodded. "Yes. She said I was too young to understand. And that it was time Daddy remarried as I needed a new Mommy and she'd sort something out. I don't want Daddy to marry again. I wouldn't be his favorite girl then and I want to be Daddy's favorite girl." And she began to sniff and her lip trembled.

 

Ducky stroked her head, hoping the gesture would soothe her. "Kelly," he said. "I promise you that you will always be your daddy's favorite girl. Always," he repeated firmly.

 

She looked at him. "Is that a real promise?" she asked. "Not one of the confirmed ones?"

 

"Coerced," Ducky said gently. "And, no it isn't, it's a real one."

 

She looked at him, again her gaze reminded him so much of her father's. Finally she nodded and said formally, "I believe you, Dr. Ducky."

 

"Good. Now I think it's time you settled down and went to sleep, don't you?"

 

"Will you tell Daddy?" Kelly asked.

 

"Well now, Kelly. I think I should, donít you?"

 

"But won't that mean I've broken my promise?"

 

He shook his head. "No. Because I'm telling your daddy, not you. You told me, and I'm going to tell your daddy. You promised not to tell you daddy, and you haven't. Do you understand?"

 

"I'm not sure. I think so, but I'm not sure. Oh, I've had an idea, Dr. Ducky."

 

"Have you now?" he asked, as he gently encouraged her to lie down.

 

"Yes. Daddy can marry you." She beamed up at him.

 

"What?"

 

"Well, it's simple: Daddy likes you, you like Daddy, so if Daddy marries you then Mrs. Tyler won't have to find him a wife, because he'll have you. See? And as you're a man, I'll still be Daddy's favorite girl. And I like you, so I wouldn't mind if Daddy married you." She continued to smile up at him happily.

 

Ducky swallowed. "Well now, Kelly, putting aside anything else, there is one major problem with your idea."

 

"What?" she demanded. "You're not married already are you? You told me you weren't, but -"

 

Ducky shook his head and gently interrupted her. "No, as I told you, I am not married. However, I am afraid that it is simply not possible for your father and me to marry."

 

"Why not?"

 

"Because two men are not allowed to marry," Ducky said.

 

She stared up at him, her eyes wide, her mouth slightly open. He had to stop himself from laughing at the look on her face. "Well," she said, after a moment or two. "That's stupid."

 

Ducky sighed. "Stupid or not, Kelly. It is the law."

 

She brightened again. "That's easy. Daddy can change it. He's a lawyer." And with that pronouncement, she turned on her side, pulled her teddy bear into her arms, closed her eyes and said, "Night, night, Dr. Ducky. You can tell Daddy to come and kiss me goodnight when he comes home."

 

Deciding that it was the simplest thing to do, Ducky stroked her head and said softly, "Goodnight, Kelly my dear. Sleep well," and with that he turned on her nightlight and left her bedroom.

 

In Jethro's sitting room, he hesitated for a moment or two, before crossing to the drinks cabinet and pouring himself a small scotch. Jethro wouldn't mind; he knew that. His employer had told him more than once to treat the place like it was already his home. "Oh, Jethro," he said softly. "Sometimes your daughter . . ."

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

 

"Sometimes my daughter what?" Jethro said, striding into the room and tossing his overcoat and briefcase onto an armchair.

 

Ducky jumped. "Jethro! You should not creep up on a person like that. Really you could have . . ." He trailed off, ordered his pulse rate to return to normal and emptied his glass in one swallow.

 

The next second the glass was taken from him and he was pulled into Jethro's firm embrace. "Hey, Duck, what's up?" But he didn't wait for an answer, instead he brought his head down and put his mouth onto Ducky's and kissed him. After a split second, Ducky responded to the kiss and began to return it, as he put his own arms around Jethro and let the troubles of the world vanish for a few minutes while he enjoyed the taste, scent and smell of the man with whom he had fallen deeply in love.

 

"Mmmmm," Jethro said, finally and with clear reluctance, breaking the kiss. "I could get used to this."

 

So could I, thought Ducky. Instead he said, "You should be by now, given the number of times you have . . ."

 

"Kissed you?" Jethro asked politely, his tone filled with amusement.

 

Ducky felt a faint flush touch his cheeks. "Indeed," he said.

 

"Nah, I meant coming home to you, like this. Showing you how much I - But hang on, why are you here and not next door? I went there first, but the place was dark and empty. I thought we were going to spend the evening and night," he added firmly, but softly, as his gaze flickered up and down Ducky, "there."

 

Ducky sighed. "Yes, we were. However, there has been a change of plan, I'm afraid. Mrs. Tyler brought Kelly back a couple of hours ago."

 

Instantly Jethro's light mood changed. "Why?" he demanded. "Is she sick? Why didn't you call me?" He glared at Ducky.

 

Ducky hastened to reassure him. "No, she is not sick and she insisted that I didn't disturb you. She's fine, Jethro," he said, taking Jethro's hand and squeezing it. "I promise you, she is quite well."

 

Jethro sighed and dragged the hand Ducky wasn't holding over his head. "Sorry, Duck," he said. "Didn't mean to get mad at you. It's just . . . You know."

 

"Yes, my dear. I do."

 

"I am sorry, Duck," Jethro repeated. "You do know that, don't you?" he put his hand on Ducky's shoulder and squeezed it and brought the hand that was still linked with Ducky's to his mouth to kiss it.

 

"Yes, Jethro, I do. Really."

 

"Good. Because I couldn't bear it if I thought I'd hurt you."

 

"I'm fine, really, Your reaction was perfectly normal. Kelly is your daughter; you love her. You come home and I tell you Mrs. Tyler has brought her home, of course you are going to assume she was sick. But, Jethro, please believe me, had she been thus, I would have called you - no matter what Kelly's wishes were."

 

"I know," Jethro said, now bending his head and kissing Ducky's cheek. "So why did Gwen bring her home? Did she and Maddie have a falling out?"

 

"No, they didn't. Jethro, pour us both a drink, come and sit down and I will tell you."

 

 

"She said what?" Jethro was on his feet and pacing. "How dare the bitch. I'll -"

 

Ducky too stood up and took Jethro's arm. "Jethro, keep your voice down. Kelly is probably asleep, but even so."

 

"What? Oh, yeah. Sorry. Well that's it. If that woman thinks Kelly is ever seeing Maddie again, she's misguided." The anger was still clear, but Jethro kept his voice lower.

 

"Now, Jethro, that will only hurt two people: Kelly and Maddie. They are best friends and with Kelly not going to school, and her other really close friend, Emily, rarely in town, then she doesn't really get to interact with many children. If you forbid her to see Maddie, she'll think you're punishing her. I'm not entirely sure she truly believes, or at least understands, my explanation about her not having broken her promise." Ducky spoke quietly but firmly, and he kept his hand on Jethro's arm. He knew he was overstepping the boundary of employer/employee, he only hoped his friendship, his relationship, with Jethro permitted it.

 

Jethro glared at him - but Ducky could see it wasn't aimed at him. "Wouldn't matter if she had broken it. Not in this case. I wouldn't have been angry."

 

"I know that. However, Kelly is only eight. Oh, she is bright and I'm not merely saying that to keep you, her father, happy. She is extremely intelligent, but even so, she is only eight. And you and Shannon taught her well, taught her right from wrong, taught her about lies and promises, etc. She's the product of your training. And as such she is naturally confused and concerned about breaking a promise."

 

Jethro sighed and closed his eyes. "I ever tell you I sometimes reckon you're a better father than I am?"

 

"Don't be silly, Jethro."

 

"I didn't mean that as it sounded. I meant you know kids better than I do. You taught them for twenty-five years, you were trained. I became a father - it doesnít come with a manual."

 

Ducky smiled. "Ah, Jethro. I do not believe there is a parent around who has not thought or said exactly the same thing. You are a good father. I can see that."

 

"I guess I don't do too badly. So what am I going to do the, Duck?"

 

"Well, for now you go and kiss Kelly goodnight, I promised her you would."

 

"And if she's still awake?"

 

"Then you need to also reassure her you are not angry, that she didn't break a promise and that there is nothing wrong with two people of the same sex kissing."

 

"But she knows that."

 

Ducky sighed. "I know. But after today, after Mrs. Tyler's anger and the thing she said, I think Kelly could do with a little reassurance."

 

"Okay. And what about you? What are you going to do?"

 

"Well, when Mrs. Tyler brought Kelly home, I was in the middle of preparing supper for us. I suggest I go and fetch the ingredients from my kitchen and continue to do that thing here. That is if you would like me to. If you'd prefer, I could quite easily stay in my home."

 

Jethro sighed and tugged Ducky into a loose embrace. "This is your home, Duck. Here with me and Kell. One day you'll realize that."

 

"Jethro, I -"

 

But Jethro silenced him with a kiss. "Now you go and do whatever marvels you're going to do to supper and I'll go and say goodnight to Kelly. If I know my daughter she won't be asleep."

 

Ducky watched Jethro leave the room. "I do realize it, my dear," he murmured softly. Then he sighed and went out into the hall and through the connecting door into his own apartment to collect the supper ingredients.

 

 

"Hey, pumpkin," Jethro said, as he saw his daughter peering at him from beneath her 'closed' lashes.

 

"Hello, Daddy." She smiled up at him. "Have you come to kiss me goodnight?"

 

"Yep." He sat down on the edge of the bed and ruffled her hair, and then leaned over her and kissed her cheek and then her head. "Ducky told me," he said, as she snuggled against him.

 

"Oh." Her voice was suddenly very small. "You're not cross with me are you, Daddy? Dr. Ducky said you wouldn't be. He tried to explain to me about confirmed promises," she paused and moved away from him, frowning as she looked up at him. "That's not the word, but I can't remember what Dr. Ducky said.

 

"It doesn't matter, honey. All that matters is that you believe Dr. Ducky."

 

"He said you wouldn't be angry."

 

"And I'm not. You didn't break your promise." He didn't go on to add that to him it wouldn't matter if she had, Ducky's words had gotten through his anger.

 

"Are you sure, Daddy?"

 

"Would I lie to you?" Kelly shook her head. "Would Dr. Ducky lie to you?" Now Kelly smiled as she shook her head.

 

"Good," he said, kissing her again. "So you can go to sleep and forget all about it."

 

"Are you going to stop me and Maddie being friends?"

 

Damn it. What had she heard? "No, Kelly honey, I'm not. Of course I'm not. Maddie's your best friend, isn't she?"

 

Kelly nodded. "Thank you, Daddy."

 

"Good girl. And just remember, Kelly, Mrs. Tyler was wrong in what she said. There is nothing wrong with two men or two women kissing. Nothing. She shouldn't have said the things she said to Maddie's uncle Graham. It is not dirty or disgusting or abnormal. Do you understand? When two people love one another, when two people care about one another, then it doesn't matter what sex they are. Okay? Do you think Mommy and Auntie Jenn are dirty?"

 

She sat up. He had to stop himself from laughing at the indignant look on her face. "No, Daddy! And I told Mrs. Tyler that."

 

"Did you now?" Ducky hadn't told him that part.

 

Kelly nodded. "Yes."

 

"That's my girl. What did Mrs. Tyler say?" Kelly glanced away from him. "Kell?" he turned her face to look at him. "What did she say, honey?"

 

"She said it was time you remarried as I needed a new Mommy and she'd sort something out."

 

"Oh, she did, did she?" Jethro kept his voice low, as he fought to contain his anger. His years as a lawyer paid dividends.

 

Kelly nodded. And then to Jethro's horror, he saw tears well up in her eyes. "But I don't want you to marry again, Daddy. Because if you do then I won't be your favorite girl and I always want to be your favorite girl."

 

He gathered her into his arms and rocked her gently, kissing her hair and hushing her. "You, my little pumpkin, will always be my favorite girl," he said. "And that is a promise."

 

After a moment or two she looked up at him. Her eyes were slightly damp, but she was smiling a little. "That's what Dr. Ducky said too."

 

"You told him, did you?"

 

She nodded. "And I told him my idea."

 

"Your idea?"

 

She nodded again. "Yes. It's simple: you marry Dr. Ducky."

 

Jethro felt his mouth fall open and hastened to shut it. "What?" he managed.

 

She looked at him as if suddenly he was the child and she the adult. "You marry, Dr. Ducky," she said slowly. "Because you like him and he likes you and - Daddy? Dr. Ducky does like you, doesn't he?"

 

"Of course he does, Kelly. Why do you ask?"

 

But she didn't answer him. "I told Dr. Ducky my idea, but he said it wasn't possible. He told me that two men can't marry. I told him that was stupid and he said it was the law. But that's okay, because you're a lawyer, Daddy, you can change the law, can't you? You can change the law so that you can marry Dr. Ducky. And then Mrs. Tyler can't make you marry another lady because you'll already be married." Now she was sitting right up and she beamed at him. "Isn't it simple, Daddy?"

 

He shook himself. "Um. Well, Kelly, I -"

 

"That's why I needed to know if Dr. Ducky liked you."

 

"What makes you think he might not?" Jethro asked carefully.

 

She glanced away and then back at him. "If he likes you, why won't he sleep with you?" she asked.

 

This time Jethro's mouth fell open and stayed open as he just stared wide eyed at his daughter.

 

She hurried on. "I wasn't spying on you, Daddy. I promise."

 

Her distress pulled him out of his stupor. "It's all right, Kelly, just tell me. What do you mean?"

 

"Well, I've seen you."

 

"Seen me?"

 

Kelly nodded. "You and Dr. Ducky. I've seen you kissing. And I've heard you asking him to stay, but he always says 'no'. So I don't think he likes you. And that means he won't marry you, because you don't marry someone you don't like. So even if you change the law, he won't marry you. And that means Mrs. Tyler will make you marry someone else. And I don't want you to marry someone else, Daddy. I want you to marry Dr. Ducky. Can't you make him like you? He kisses you. Doesn't that mean he likes you? You said when two people like each other they kiss and you and Dr. Ducky kiss, so . . . But he won't stay. Even though you beg him to." Finally she came to a halt and stared at him. "Well?" she demanded, when he didn't answer.

 

"Um. Did you tell Dr. Ducky you'd seen us kissing?"

 

She shook her head. "No. No, I didn't, Daddy. But I will do if you want me to."

 

Jethro shook his head. "I think we'll keep it between us for the moment, Kelly."

 

She looked at him. "Are you sure, Daddy?"

 

"Yes. Yes, I am."

 

"So does he like you?"

 

"Yes, Kelly, he does."

 

"Then why won't he sleep with you? Why won't he spend the night in your bed? I know he doesn't, because -" She stopped speaking quickly.

 

"Because what? Kelly?"

 

"It's only been a couple of times, Daddy, really. And I wasn't snooping. I did have to get up."

 

"Go on."

 

"Well, I would look into your bedroom to see if he was with you. But he never was. And I think he should be. And I think I should tell him, don't you, Daddy? Maybe if I told him he'd listen to me. Because I know he likes me and I like him. So I'll do that, Daddy. In the morning I'll tell Dr. Ducky that he should sleep with you. Night, night, Daddy," and with the speed that only a child of Kelly's age seemed able to do, she feel asleep, going limp in his arms.

 

As Jethro lowered her down onto the bed and tucked the covers around her and arranged her teddy in her arms, he began to laugh quietly to himself. "Got you, Duck," he said softly, bending over to give his daughter one more kiss before leaving her room. "Try and get out of that one."

 

Pulling Kelly's door to just a little, he left her sleeping and went into the kitchen where Ducky was humming to himself and cutting up onions and mushrooms and chicken. Jethro slipped his arms around Ducky and nuzzled underneath his hair. "Smells good," he said.

 

"I hope it tastes as good. It'll be ready in about half an hour," Ducky said, leaning back a little into the embrace.

 

"Oh, the food smells good too," Jethro said, and laughed as Ducky sighed extravagantly. Leaning over Ducky, Jethro snagged the knife from his hand, dropped it onto the worktop and turned Ducky around in his arms.

 

"Jethro, I'm busy," Ducky protested; but his words didn't agree with his actions as he put his arms around Jethro's neck and tugged Jethro's head down and kissed him. "Did you manage to reassure Kelly?" he asked a few minutes later, as he firmly broke the embrace and turned back to his chopping.

 

"Mmm. Least I did about the breaking a promise," Jethro said. "Glass of wine?"

 

Ducky looked at him. "Yes, please, that would be very nice. About what else did you have to reassure her?"

 

But Jethro didn't answer as such. Instead he grabbed the bottle of already open red wine from the counter, took two glasses from one of the cupboards and poured wine into them. "Duck," he said, handing Ducky a glass.

 

"Yes, Jethro?"

 

"Remember the question I asked you when you came for your interview?" It was a rhetorical question, but it led nicely into what Jethro planned to ask next.

 

"Of course I do, Jethro."

 

Jethro nodded and sipped his drink. "And you remember what you said to me before you answered it? That you assumed that firstly I had a good reason for asking the question and secondly that I wanted an honest answer?"

 

Ducky stopped what he was doing, turned the gas jet down a little and looked at Jethro, puzzlement clear on his face. "Yes, of course I do. Why are you asking? Is something the matter? And does it have to do with Kelly?"

 

"It does have something to do with Kell, yes. And I hope nothing's the matter. As for why I'm asking," he paused and took another sip of his wine. He then put it down and crossed the kitchen to where Ducky stood, took Ducky's glass from him and put it down on the counter. "Ducky," he said, taking Ducky's hand.
 

"Yes, Jethro?" Still Ducky looked puzzled.

 

"I'm going to ask you another question and I want you to treat it in the same way as the other question I asked you, all those months ago. I want you to assume I have a good reason for asking it - which I do - and also that I want an honest answer - again which I do." He swallowed hard. "And I do want an honest answer, Duck, even if . . . Even if you think it'll hurt me. Do you promise?"

 

"Yes, of course. I wouldn't lie to you, Jethro. Do you really think I would do that?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "Not in general, no. But I also know you'd never want to hurt anyone. Especially someone you cared about. And you do care about me, donít you, Duck?" His voice had become quieter as he'd spoken and he was aware that as he said the final words, his voice was little more than a whisper.

 

Ducky frowned and raised his hand to touch Jethro's face. "You know I do, Jethro. Or at least I thought you did."

 

Jethro nodded. "Okay, then. Duck," he swallowed again. "Duck," he repeated. "Is the only reason you won't move in here and share my bed and my life and my home on a permanent basis because of Kelly? Because you are worried it'd upset her?" He knew he was holding his breath as he stared down into Ducky's face, willing him to answer in the way he wished him to. For a moment as he stared into the steady, full of affection, blue gaze he was tempted to look away - tempted to tear his gaze from the far too vocal stare. "If you need time to think about your answer, Ducky, just say so and -"

 

"No. No, Jethro, I do not need time to think about my answer. The answer to your question is 'yes'. The only reason I have continued to refuse to share your bed, your life and your home in ways beyond that in which I already do, is because of Kelly. I know you say she'll be fine; I know Shannon lives with Jennifer, and I know Kelly is an extremely well balanced little girl. But she idolizes you, my dear. You know that and as fond of me as she is, and I believe she is fond of me, me being your friend as well as your employee is one thing, but me being your lover is something else. I assure you, Jethro, that is my only reason. Truly it is."

 

Jethro smiled and let out the breath he had been holding. "Thank God for that," he muttered. "In that case, Duck, I think you'd better sit down. There's something I have to tell you."

 

"But supper will be spoilt, Jethro. And I am hungry even if you are not - and stop looking at me like that, Mr. Gibbs. I did not mean that kind of hunger."

 

"Sure you didn't, Dr. Mallard." Jethro smiled.

 

"Can you not tell me whatever it is you need to tell me whilst I am finishing supper?"

 

"Well, I could. But I think it's going to surprise, if not, shock you."

 

Ducky frowned. "Oh, well, just a moment. Let me just . . ." And he took his hand from Jethro's and turned back to the cooker. "Now, maybe I could . . . Ah, yes, yes, you'll do. I can put you in this dish and then in the oven for a few minutes. That will be satisfactory. Now, let me see, not too high, but not too low. Yes, that's it. Right," he said, turning back to Jethro. "That will keep warm whilst you tell me this important, shocking thing." He crossed and sat down at the kitchen table. "Well?" he said, a moment later.

 

Jethro shook his head and hid a faint smile as he joined Ducky at the table. "Reckon you missed something out when you were telling me about Kelly earlier," he began.

 

Ducky looked at him. "No, I assure you I . . . Oh," he said, glancing away for a moment. "Ah. Do I presume Kelly repeated her 'suggestion' to you?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yep. You presume correctly."

 

"Ah. I did tell her that it wasn't possible because -"

 

"Two men can't marry, yeah. She told me that. Then she told me something else," Jethro said brightly; his tone his conversational one.

 

"Did she?"

 

"She did."

 

"About her daddy changing the law?"

 

"That was part of it, yes."

 

Again Ducky glanced away. "Jethro, I assure you I did not . . ." He trailed off. "Does this have something to do with the other reassurance you gave to Kelly?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yep. You see Kelly asked me if you liked me."

 

Ducky looked surprised. "But why on earth should she think that I do not?"

 

Jethro took Ducky's hand and leaned forward a little. "Because, Duck, she's seen us."

 

"Seen us?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah. Seen us kissing and she's heard you refuse to spend the night. So she was asking if you liked me."

 

"Oh, Jethro. Um, Mr. Gibbs. I . . . You see, I told you. Oh, dear me. We have to stop this immediately. I shall, of course, cease to join you for meals and I will spend my evenings in my apartment and . . . That is, of course, if you still wish to employ me to tutor Kelly. I shall quite understand if you wish to break the contract. And I assure you if you do, I will make no problems for you. I shall leave immediately. In fact I shall return to my apartment now and . . . Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, dear. I . . . Oh, we shouldn't have. I knew we shouldn't have . . . I have no defense other than my feelings for you. But I should have thought of Kelly, I should have put her first. I should never have . . . Oh, what are we going to do?"
 

"You done?" Jethro asked politely, when Ducky finally came to a stuttering halt.

 

Ducky looked at him. "Um, yes. I . . ."

 

"Good. Because I hadn't."

 

"I'm sorry?" Ducky looked puzzled.

 

"I said 'I hadn't', done, that is."

 

"I do not understand?"

 

"That's because I hadn't finished. Now are you going to let me finish, Dr. Mallard?"

 

"Of course. I -"

 

"Good. Now, as I was saying Kell has seen us kissing, heard me begging you to stay the night and heard you always saying 'no'. This has puzzled her, because in her world when two people kiss it means they like one another. And it also means they sleep together. And she knows we don't, because apparently she has come into my room some nights to see if you are there. And she was disappointed, upset even, because you werenít."

 

"Jethro?" Ducky looked stunned by what Jethro was saying. In fact he looked as though he could barely understand the words, let alone believe them. "Are you . . . ? What are you saying?"

 

"Just before she fell asleep Kelly told me that she thinks you should be in my bed with me. In fact she thinks it so much she's decided that she'll tell you so. She thinks you'll listen to her when you won't listen to me. So there you go, Duck. Your reason for not moving into my home and my bed and my life has just been turned upside down. So if you were telling me the truth, you now have no reason not to do so. Shall we move your stuff now or tomorrow?"

 

Ducky's eyes were so wide, Jethro could see them straining and his mouth was parted slightly and the shock, because Jethro had judged it correctly it was shock, was evident in his expression and his entire body. "I . . . I . . . I . . . I'm speechless," he finished.

 

"Noticed that. Guess there's a first time for everything," Jethro said lightly, hoping it might break Ducky's mood a little.

 

Ducky did manage a half-smile, before shaking his head; he still looked bewildered. "But, Jethro," he finally managed. "She cannot know what she is saying, can she?"

 

"If you mean does she know what 'sleeping together' means in terms other than sharing a bed to get some sleep. Not as such, no. Being an only child the subject of a new baby never came up, she's seen pregnant women, but she's never asked, and so I've never said anything. But she knows her mommy and her auntie Jenny are in a relationship, she knows they share a bed, she knows they kiss. She knows that Jenn loves Shannon and Shannon loves Jenn and she knows that people who love one another get married. She's seen us kiss, she knows that means people like each other, she knows grown ups who like one another enough to kiss share beds, so . . ."

 

"Yes, but -"

 

"But what, Duck? Kelly wants you here. Kelly wants you to sleep with me. Kelly wants to know that you like me. Hell, Kelly wants us to get married."

 

"That's only because she doesnít want a new mommy because she wants to be the most important girl in your life." Ducky said quietly.

 

Jethro shook his head. "No, it's more than that, Duck. She wants you here. She wants you to move in."

 

"Ah, she hasn't said that," Ducky spoke quickly. "She merely spoke about me sharing your bed."

 

Jethro threw his hands up in the air. "Give me strength," he muttered. "So you did lie to me," he said, his tone suddenly angry. "It is more than just Kelly. Thanks, Duck. And I really believed you wouldn't lie." He began to stand up.

 

But Ducky caught his hand. "Jethro."

 

"What?" Jethro snarled the word and glared at him as he was about to shake Ducky's grip off - and they both knew he could do so easily.

 

"Listen to me, please."

 

"Go on." Jethro sat back down.

 

"I did not lie to you. I promise you I did not. Kelly is the only reason I have not moved in here with you. Truly she is."

 

"So why are you still making excuses?" Jethro's voice lost all hints of anger and instead he could hear the desperation and confusion he felt creep into it. "Duck, I love you. I want you. I want you here, with me. With Kelly and me. I need you, Duck. And I have never said that to anyone before. Not even to Shannon. I need you in my life. But I -" he broke off himself. He couldn't say what he had been about to say. "Just tell me why, try to help me understand, you are still objecting. Please, Duck."

 

"Because whilst Kelly has expressed a wish to see me in your bed, she has not said she wishes me to move in here with you. To move in here with you and her and be here all the time."

 

Jethro shook his head as he just stared at Ducky. "That's it?" he finally asked.

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, my dear. That is it."

 

"Simple as that? Kell tells you she wants you here all the time. She wants you to live here in this house with me, with us, rather than next door and you'll move in?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes. Jethro, where are you going?" He caught Jethro's hand.

 

Jethro tried to shake him off. "Where do you think I'm going?" he asked.

 

"Jethro! You cannot wake your daughter up now to ask her if she wishes me to move in."

 

Jethro sat back down. "Guess I can't," he said, but his tone belied the words.

 

"If you are as confident of her answer as you believe you are, then what is one more day?"

 

Jethro sighed. "Yeah, you're right. I know you are. So I'll ask her first thing and then when she says 'yes', that's it? You'll move in?"

 

Ducky smiled and lifted Jethro's hand to his mouth to kiss it. "Yes, Jethro. Yes," he repeated. "I will indeed."

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

 

It was somewhat later than usual when Jethro got up the following morning, he wanted to still be at home when Kelly awoke and began her day.

 

Suddenly his half-closed door was pushed fully open and Kelly, still dressed in her nightdress, but her face flushed from where he assumed she'd washed it, ran in. "Hi, Daddy. I - Oh," Kelly's voice dropped and under Jethro's eyes she sagged as she looked at his bed.

 

"Hey, pumpkin," he said, reaching out his hand and tugging her towards him. "Got a good morning kiss for your daddy?"

 

She nodded and kissed him on the cheek. "It's rough," she said, rubbing her lips. "You haven't shaved yet."

 

"No, I haven't. Not yet."

 

"But you've showered though. Cause you smell nice." Her gaze flickered to the en suite and Jethro hid a smile as he saw her trying to peer around the door without moving.

 

"Come here, pumpkin," he said, swinging her up in his arms and putting her down on the bed. "Got something to ask you."

 

She crossed her legs, put her hands on them, wriggled a bit to get comfortable and then looked up at him. "Yes, Daddy?" she said brightly. "Has it got anything to do with Dr. Ducky?"

 

"As a matter of fact, Kelly, it has." Jethro joined his daughter on the bed, sitting down on the edge of it and looking at her. "Kelly, I need to ask you something important. And I need you to really listen to me. Like you listen when Dr. Ducky is teaching you something new. Can you do that?"

 

She nodded. "Of course I can, Daddy." She sounded almost indignant as she added, "I'm eight and a half."

 

"Yeah, I know, honey." Jethro ruffled her hair. "You remember what you said to me last night about, um, about you seeing Dr. Ducky and me, um -"

 

"Kissing?"

 

Jethro smiled. "Yeah."

 

"Yes, Daddy."

 

"And what you said about . . ." Oh, God, this was more difficult than he'd thought it would be.

 

It seemed it was easier for Kelly as she stared directly at him and said, "Him sleeping with you?" Eyes the same color as his own stared at him, unblinkingly.

 

Jethro nodded. "Yes."

 

"Is he going to?" Kelly sounded delighted and bounced where she sat.

 

"Maybe."

 

"Maybe? What's maybe, Daddy?"

 

Jethro took a deep breath. "Kelly, would you like it if Dr. Ducky didn't just share my bed, but moved in here? Moved in here and shared this house with you and me? Moved in here permanently and - Kelly, where are you going?"

 

Kelly rolled over, got tangled in the duvet, untangled herself, jumped down from the bed and ran across to one of his closets. She yanked the door open and started to push his clothes about.

 

"Kelly?"

 

"You'll have to make room, Daddy," she said, now pulling out a suit Jethro hadn't worn for over a year and dropping it on the floor. "You can get rid of that. It's a horrible color. And this shirt," she pulled a dress shirt off a hanger and dropped that on the floor.

 

Jethro hurried across the room and stopped her as she was about to pull out his dinner jacket. "Kelly! What are you doing?"

 

She looked up at him. When she spoke her tone was the one he'd heard her use on her dolls when she was explaining their lessons to them. "I'm making room for Dr. Ducky's clothes, Daddy. He's got quite a lot of clothes - especially bowties," she added. "But they'll go in a drawer." And with that she pulled her hand away from him and ran over to his dresser, yanked open the third drawer down and under Jethro's now bemused and amused gaze, began to throw the contents of the drawer onto Jethro's bed. "You can put these somewhere else," she said. "Dr. Ducky isn't as tall as you, so he'll need a lower drawer. And we'll have to find him a study too. I'll go and sort one out." And before Jethro could say anything, she pulled her nightdress up so that she didnít trip over it and ran out of the room.

 

Jethro stood in his bedroom looking at the items of clothing on the floor and the pile of socks and handkerchiefs that mostly, Kelly's aim hadn't been too good at times, littered the bed. As he did he could hear doors being opened and closed and could also hear Kelly's faint voice as she did whatever it was she was doing.

 

After a moment or two of just standing there, he hastily changed his robe for a shirt and trousers added a pair of socks and his shoes and strode out of his bedroom. He could still hear Kelly chattering away as she went from one room to another, but she was happy, so he left her to it. He went along the corridor and, pausing only long enough to give a cursory knock on the door that divided his home from the attached apartment, went in. "Hey, Duck," he called.

 

"Jethro? Is something the matter?" Ducky came out of his bedroom, similarly attired in the way Jethro was.

 

Jethro shook his head. "No. But need you to come with me." He caught Ducky's hand and began to gently drag him back the way he'd come.

 

"But, Jethro, I haven't finished dressing yet. I -" And then Ducky fell silent and simply kept up with Jethro.

 

"There," Jethro said, propelling Ducky into his bedroom and coming to a halt.

 

"Jethro?" Ducky asked, after a moment or two, as he stared at the bed and the clothes on the floor - the clothes that had had three more dress shirts and another suit added to them since Jethro had left. "Er, are you clearing out your clothes?" he asked.

 

"Nope. Well, yes, sort of. Well, it wasn't actually me, as such. It was Kell."

 

"Kelly?" Ducky looked up at him and blinked.

 

"Uh huh, Kelly. My daughter. Your tutee."

 

"Yes, I am aware who Kelly is, but . . . Why? Why has she . . . ?" Ducky waved his hand at the clothes that littered the bed and the floor.

 

"Ah. Now that's easy. I asked her."

 

"Asked her?"

 

"Yeah. If she wanted you to move in here. Move in here with her and me. Move in here and live here permanently, rather than in your apartment. You know as we discussed last night. You do remember I was going to?"

 

Ducky nodded. "Yes, of course I do, but -"

 

"This was her answer." Jethro said, smiling as he gestured around the bedroom.

 

"Her answer?" Ducky echoed, he sounded puzzled. "But I donít think I understand. Why has she taken your clothes out of your cupboard and drawers and well, thrown them on the floor? Is she upset? Angry? Is she -"

 

Jethro put a hand on each of Ducky's shoulders and gazed down at him. "She told me," he said patiently, "that she was making room."

 

"Room?"

 

"Yes. For your clothes."

 

Ducky's mouth fell open. "My clothes?" His voice was a little high.

 

Jethro nodded. "Yeah. She said you had quite a few, especially bowties. And see, she's cleared a drawer for your ties. She said as you're not as tall as me you'll need a lower drawer than I have."

 

Ducky looked around him. "And where is she now?" he whispered, as if he hardly dared to ask.

 

"Oh, she's gone to sort out a study for you. Guess we'd better see what she's up to," Jethro said cheerfully. "Come on," he said, again grabbing Ducky's hand and tugging him out of the bedroom.

 

They found out instantly what she was us to. They watched, both frozen to the spot as, around the corner, somewhat red in the face, her nightdress tucked up into the legs of her panties, legs splayed, carrying a pile of books, Kelly staggered.

 

"Hello, Daddy. Hello, Dr. Ducky," she said, panting as she came to a halt. The pile of books toppled and it was sheer instinct that got Jethro from where he had come to a halt across the few yards that separated him and Ducky from his daughter so that he was able to catch them as they tumbled to the floor.

 

As he put the books on the floor, Jethro realized that Ducky had also moved and he had caught Kelly's arm and steadied her, propping her against the wall as he decorously tugged her nightdress down.

 

"What are you doing, Kelly?" Jethro asked, staring down into his now bright red faced daughter.

 

"Sorting out Dr. Ducky's study," she said, breathing through her mouth. "I haven't got very far. Everthing's so heavy," she said. "I'll need someone to help me."

 

Jethro squatted down in front of Kelly and brushed her damp hair off her face. "It's all right, Kell. I'm sure you've done a splendid job. But how about Ducky and I finish it later?"

 

She frowned. "But, Daddy," she glanced at him and then at Ducky before moving nearer to him and whispering in his ear. "Have you asked him yet?"

 

Jethro laughed. "Yeah, Kelly. I have."

 

"And?" she demanded, as she began to bit her bottom lip.

 

"And," he looked up at Ducky.

 

"And," Ducky said, also squatting down. "If you are a very good girl, I will entrust you later with the special task of moving my bowties and my hats from my apartment to -"

 

"Daddy's bedroom?" she almost squealed in a way Jethro hadn't heard her do since she was three or four.

 

Ducky chuckled softly. "Maybe we'll find somewhere else to put the hats," he said. "But certainly my ties, yes. And thank you for clearing a drawer for me, Kelly. That is very kind of you."

 

"Shall I go and make some more room?" Kelly said, gathering her nightdress up as she was about to run off again.

 

Ducky caught her hand. "Not now, Kelly," he said, using his gentle 'tutor tone'. "I think it's better if your daddy decides which drawers to empty - they are his clothes, after all. You wouldn't like someone else to rearrange your clothes now, would you?"

 

Her eyes widened in horror and she shook her head so vigorously her hair flew over her face. "No," she said. "So what shall I do?"

 

"I think you should go and get washed and dressed and then we'll all have breakfast together. I will cook you my secret recipe scrambled eggs. Would you like that?"

 

"Oh, yes. Dr. Ducky. Yes, please." And with that, she again pulled her nightdress up, this time to just above her knees, skipped off to her bedroom.

 

As Jethro stood up and offered his hand to assist Ducky they heard her telling her dolls and teddy bears about the new member of the family who was moving into the house today. Not that he was new, he wasn't, they all knew him, but now he wasn't going to be Dr. Ducky and live next door he was going to be Dr. Ducky and live with Daddy and Kelly herself.

 

"That good enough for you, Duck?" Jethro asked, after a moment or two. "That convince you enough?"

 

Ducky nodded and smiled as he gazed up at Jethro with a look Jethro had never seen before. "I love you Leroy Jethro Gibbs," he said, stroking Jethro's cheek. "And I love your daughter."

 

Jethro pulled him into his arms and hugged him briefly. "Let's hope," he said, dropping a kiss onto Ducky's head. "That you still feel the same way after you've lived with us both for a week or two."
 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

 

When Jethro returned home that evening he could see that Ducky and Kelly had been busy. The first thing he noticed when he opened the front door were two hats hanging on the hat stand and Ducky's overcoat hanging next to them. He smiled and a feeling of warm contentment flowed through his body. "Hey, guys," he called. "I'm home."

 

"Daddy! Daddy!" Kelly, her hair mussed, her face faint red, her hands grubby - a very unusual thing for Kelly - ran smiling towards him. Behind her came Ducky, he also seemed slightly red in the face, his bowtie was skewed and he pushed back his hair from his forehead. He was also, to Jethro's concern, limping more than he usually did.

 

"Hey, pumpkin," he said, catching Kelly before she could fling her actually very grubby hands around him. "What have you two been up to?" he asked, kissing the top of her head and then looking at Ducky.

 

Before Ducky could reply, Kelly caught his hand and dragged him the short distance to where Ducky stood. "Kiss Dr. Ducky," she demanded.

 

"Kelly!"

 

She frowned and tossed her hair as she looked up at Ducky. "What? I've seen Mommy and Auntie Jenny kiss."

 

"Have you?" Jethro asked, even though he knew the answer and knew that Kelly knew he knew.

 

Kelly nodded. "Not a kiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssss kiss, but a kiss. And I've seen you two already, remember. Now say hello to Dr. Ducky properly, Daddy."

 

Jethro shook his head in bemusement and bent his head slightly and brushed his lips over Ducky's cheek. "Hey, Duck," he said his voice soft, brushing back Ducky's hair that again fallen over his forehead.

 

As Ducky smiled at him and said, "Hello, my dear," Kelly sighed loudly.

 

Jethro ignored his daughter and asked again, "So what have you two been up to?"
 

"I've been dusting books," Kelly announced brightly. "Come and see." And she again grabbed Jethro's hand and dragged him off, this time in the direction of what had been Ducky's apartment.

 

Resigned to the fact that Kelly wasn't the only one who was going to have to wash her hands, Jethro let himself be tugged along by his daughter as Ducky followed.

 

"See," she said, unnecessarily as she gestured around what had been Ducky's sitting room. "I did all those."

 

Jethro raised his eyebrows and looked at Ducky, asking a question. Ducky answered it. "Books do gather dust, Jethro. And one cannot expect Mrs. Abbott to take them off the shelves every time she dusts. Indeed I asked her to leave the bookcases to me - she is an excellent and very meticulous cleaner. However, she is rather fond of polish and books are not. I'm afraid it has been some time since I had the time to do a thorough job myself."

 

"So I did it. And I did it right, didn't I, Dr. Ducky?"

 

"You certainly did, Kelly. And I'm very grateful for the assistance."

 

"And I carried all Dr. Ducky's bowties and hats - he let me wear one of them. I looked funny," Kelly giggled. "It was too big for me."

 

"Did you two do any school work today?" Jethro inquired lightly.

 

"Of course we did, Daddy. Maybe not as much as we usually do. But it was a special occasion. Talking of that, Mrs. Stewart is cooking a special dinner."

 

Jethro glanced at Ducky who shook his head. "I am afraid your daughter had told her before I was even aware of it."

 

Jethro frowned. "Kelly," he said, sitting down on the edge of the sofa. "Come here."

 

She bounced over to him. "Yes, Daddy?"

 

He took her hands and looked at her smudged, now less red face and pushed her hair back. "Kelly," he repeated.

 

"Yes, Daddy?" She looked at him. And then she bit her lip and shuffled her feet. "Did I do something wrong, Daddy?" she asked.

 

Jethro glanced up at Ducky who met the gaze and offered a half shrug. What did he say to her? If he made a fuss about her telling Mrs. Stewart, who he had fully planned to tell anyway, it would make a mockery of so much of what she'd been told ever since Shannon left. He pulled her towards him ignoring quite how grubby she was. "No, honey," he said, kissing her forehead. "But for now I don't want you to go around telling people about Ducky moving in here with us."

 

She frowned. "Is it a secret?"

 

"Not really, sweetie. No. But . . ." Again he glanced at Ducky.

 

"What your daddy is trying to say, Kelly," Ducky said, moving to where Jethro and Kelly were and sitting down next to Jethro. "Is that you need to remember that there are a lot of people like Mrs. Tyler. People who don't and won't understand. People who might try to make life very difficult for your daddy. Do you understand?"

 

She nodded. "I think so. What about Mommy?"

 

Jethro said quickly. "I'll call Mommy and tell her, honey."

 

"She won't mind, will she? She'll love Dr. Ducky. I know she will." Kelly beamed.

 

Jethro swallowed. "I'm sure she will, Kell. Now," he said, "why don't you go and have a bath before dinner. You are one very dirty little girl."

 

"But what the rest of Dr. Ducky's stuff? We need to move it."

 

"Kelly, I think we've done enough for today," Ducky said firmly. "You go and have a bath."

 

"Yes, Dr. Ducky," she smiled, turned around and ran out of the room.

 

Jethro turned to Ducky. "What's your trick?"

 

"My trick?"

 

"Yeah. I tell her to do something and - Oh, Kelly, is something wrong?"

 

Kelly ran back into the room. "I've been thinking. I can't call Dr. Ducky, Dr. Ducky when he's living with us, can I? So I'll call him Uncle Ducky when he's living with us and Dr. Ducky when he's teaching me. Like I call Auntie Jenny 'Auntie Jenny'. That's all right, isn't it, Dr. Ducky?"

 

Ducky smiled. "It is with me, Kelly. But you should also ask your father."

 

"Daddy?"

 

"That's fine, Kell. Just remember though 'Dr. Ducky' when he's teaching you, 'Uncle Ducky' at other times."

 

She rolled her eyes. "I will." And with that, she turned around and scampered out of the room, calling over her shoulder, "Now you can kiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssss."

 

Jethro watched his daughter hurtle from the room again and shook his head in amusement. She was amazing she really was. He knew all parents thought that about their kids, but not all kids had to face losing their mother to another woman and then watch her daddy fall in love with another man.

 

He sometimes wondered just how Kelly remained so cheerful and well-balanced. Counseling had been suggested when Shannon had left to be with Jenny, but Jethro had never been a fan of it. He tended towards the view that it often made things worse rather than better as the person was constantly thinking about it and talking about it. So instead he'd sat her down and explained things gently to her and she'd handled it as she'd handled everything in her young life, as just one of those things.

 

He smiled and turned to Ducky. "Think that was an order?" he said.

 

Ducky chuckled softly. "I do believe it might well have been."

 

"In that case . . ." He cupped Ducky's face between his hands, tilted his head slightly to one side and put his lips on Ducky's.

 

"How do you do it?" Jethro asked, several minutes later.

 

"Do what?"

 

"Move me so much with just a kiss. Heck, with just a look."

 

Ducky smiled. "I could ask you exactly the same question. Now, I do believe we should shut the door on this lot for tonight and go and see if Kelly has indeed obeyed our instructions to have a bath. In fact, I confess I would rather like a shower before we eat. It has been quite a tiring day and I feel more than a little grubby."

 

Jethro stood up and offered Ducky his hand. "Noticed you were limping more than you usually do. Does your leg hurt a lot?"

 

Ducky let Jethro help him to stand. "Somewhat more than usual, yes. But it's something I have become used to over the years. If I do more than I necessarily should, it lets me know."

 

Jethro put his arms around Ducky and held him in a loose embrace. "You're never told me how come you limp," he said.

 

"You've never asked me."

 

"Didn't like to."

 

"Do you want to know?"

 

"Do you want to tell me?"

 

Ducky shrugged. "There really isn't that much to tell. It was decades ago now. But if you wish to hear the somewhat sordid tale, I'll tell you later. But as it is getting very close to the time Mrs. Stewart goes home I think we really ought to go back into the house."

 

"I'm sorry about Kelly blurting it out. I never thought -"

 

"It doesn't matter. And to be honest I actually think . . . Well, let us say that Mrs. Stewart's reaction was in no way a negative one, nor did she seem overly, if at all, surprised."

 

"You know I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall."

 

"My dear?"

 

Jethro sighed. "It's just Kelly's happy about us, more than happy and completely unfazed and unbothered. Tobias was fine. Mrs. Stewart's okay. But as much as I hate to admit it, what you told Kell is true: more people will be bothered than not, and yet . . . Oh, I don't know, Duck. Ignore me."

 

"Jethro. You are not . . ." Ducky trailed off and glanced down. Then he looked back up. His gaze was troubled and he seemed to have withdrawn slightly. "You were the one who kept . . . Jethro, if these thoughts have only just come to you. Then . . ." Again Ducky trailed off; again he glanced away from Jethro. Then his head came up and he stared directly into Jethro's eyes. "Do you regret -"

 

"Good God, no, Duck. Not for a second. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply anything. I was just . . . Forget it, it's the lawyer in me. And talking of legal stuff; we'll need to sort various things out. Wills, deeds, insurance, life assurance, medical stuff, this house, Kelly and -"

 

When the kiss finally ended they turned to see Kelly standing in the doorway head on one side, a smile on her face watching them. Keeping a tight grip on Ducky, without making it clear he was doing so to stop him from pulling himself out of his arms, Jethro frowned at his daughter. "I thought you were having a bath, young lady," he said, his tone firm.

 

"I would. But I can't, Daddy," she said.

 

"Why not?"

 

"There's a spider in the bath. It's big. Really big," she added quickly. "Will you come and get it, Daddy, please?"

 

Jethro found himself smiling. At least he was still good for something! He couldn't recall the last time Kelly has asked him to do something or asked him to explain something; these days it was always 'Dr. Ducky'. Spiders, he could deal with them - he did still have his uses. "Come on, honey," he said, finally letting Ducky move from his embrace. "Let's go and rescue you from the big spider."

 

"You will make sure you catch it, won't you?" Kelly asked.

 

"Of course I will. Donít I always?"

 

She nodded. "Yes. But this one is really big, Daddy." And with that she tucked her hand in his and led the way back into the main house and into the bathroom she used. Behind them, Jethro heard Ducky shutting the door between the house and the apartment.

 

Once he'd dealt with the 'big' spider - and to give Kelly her due, it was rather large - rather than going into his bedroom, he wasn't sure he could quite trust himself, even knowing Kelly was in the house, with a naked and wet Ducky, he went into the kitchen to see Mrs. Stewart. Not that he doubted, for a moment, Ducky's reassurances about her reaction, but he knew he'd feel happier once he had seen her himself.

 

"Hey, Amy," he called. "Something smells good."

 

"Good evening, Mr. Jethro. I thought that as today had been busier than usual, you wouldn't want to have to mess about reheating things . . . Well, and it was no trouble."

 

"Thank you. We all appreciate it." He leaned against the kitchen counter and watched her. To his eyes and his knowledge of her something seemed a little amiss. He wasn't getting any negative vibes from her, just something slightly 'off'. "If there's anything you want to ask me, or say to me, Amy, go ahead."

 

She looked at him and gave him a half smile. "There is something actually, Mr. Jethro. I didn't like to ask Dr. Du - Mallard."

 

"I'm sure Ducky won't object if you call him 'Dr. Ducky', Amy. You call me 'Mr. Jethro'. What is it you want to ask me?"

 

"Well, sir. It's just . . . Oh, dear I don't quite know how to say this." Jethro watched her closely. He still wasn't getting any hint of a problem with the situation, just that she desperately wanted to ask him something. He smiled in a reassuring way at her. Finally she blurted it out. "Will you still need me?"

 

Jethro blinked. "What?"

 

"To come here. To work for you. To -"

 

"God, yes. Amy. Of course, I will. We will."

 

"Really?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Really."

 

"Oh, that is a relief. I've been worrying about it all day, ever since Miss Kelly told me the doctor was moving in with you. Oh, thank you, Mr. Jethro."

 

"Why did you think we wouldn't want you to stay on, Amy?"

 

"Well, sir. I wondered if . . . I know, because Miss Kelly has told me that Dr. Mallard cooks very well. Not that she needed to tell me; Henry and I still remember the wonderful birthday dinner he cooked for us. Also Clarrie has told me more than once that his apartment never needs much cleaning. And I just wondered if you would . . . Well, you know."

 

Jethro moved away from the counter and went across to her. He put a hand on each of her arms and smiled down at. "I do know, Amy, yes. In fact I was wondering if you'd be okay with the situation. If it was going to make you uncomfortable."

 

She frowned. "No, sir. Why should it?"

 

The look she gave him was so full of genuine puzzlement at his question, that rather than answer, he just kissed her forehead. "Thank you," he said solemnly.

 

She blushed. "Go on with you, Mr. Jethro," she said. "Now why don't you go and set the table for dinner?"

 

He smiled at her. "Certainly, Amy," he said, aware he'd just been dismissed from his own kitchen. And he went off to do that thing.
 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

 

Dinner was an amusing and somewhat tiring affair as when she wasn't talking nineteen to the dozen about how she thought Uncle Ducky's study should be organized and how she'd paint Uncle Ducky some pictures and how she thought Uncle Ducky's bowties were far smarter than Daddy's ordinary ones, Kelly kept staring with rapt attention at Ducky and Jethro.

 

Kelly insisted on helping clear the table and then settled down cross-legged on the floor after, maneuvering Ducky and Jethro onto the sofa, facing them. Once they were settled she continued to chatter away.

 

Finally after the twentieth 'Uncle Ducky' in less than five minutes, Ducky put his hand over Kelly's and spoke to her. His voice was gentle but firm. "Now, Kelly my dear -"

 

"Yes, Uncle Ducky." She gazed at him.

 

"I fear you might be getting a tad overtired. You have had a very busy day and have been a great help to me. And whilst I know it is Saturday tomorrow and you don't have any school work to do, I do think it's time you went to bed. Why don't you toddle off and have an early night."

 

Jethro waited for his daughter to object. It was, as Ducky said, Friday night and she never went to bed this early on a Friday.

 

"I think that's a very good idea, Uncle Ducky. I am rather tired. May I read for a little while before I turn my light out?"

 

"Of course, Kelly," Ducky said. "Just for a little while though."

 

"Yes, Uncle Ducky." She rose to her feet with the kind of elegance only an eight year girl can have and ran over to the sofa. She put her arms around Ducky's neck and kissed his cheek. "Night, night, Uncle Ducky," she said.

 

"Good night, Kelly. Sleep well."

 

"I will." And she turned to run off.

 

"Hey," Jethro called, catching her hand. "Don't I get a kiss?"

 

"Oh, of course, Daddy." She lowered her head and glanced down at the floor. "But aren't you going to come and tuck me in?" she muttered the words so softly, Jethro could barely hear her.

 

He put his fingers under her chin and gently tilted her head back and smiled at her. "Of course I will. If you still want me to?"

 

"Of course I do, Daddy," she said, flinging her arms around his neck and hugging him. Then she turned and skipped away across the room. That was his Kelly: eight going on eighteen one moment, eight going on five another. And he wouldn't change her for the world.

 

 

Fifteen minutes later he went into her room to find her snuggled down in her bed, her current favorite teddy under one arm, her book in her hand, her eyelashes drooping. "Hey, pumpkin," he said, sitting down on the bed and taking the book from her. He picked up the bookmark from the nightstand and popped it into the book, then tucked the book behind the lamp.

 

She lifted her arms to him and he tugged her into an embrace, resting his cheek on her silky sweet smelling hair. "I love you, Daddy," she said, her voice very small.

 

"I love you too, Kelly. You are my favorite girl."

 

She wriggled from the tight embrace and looked at him. "Will I always be?" she asked.

 

"Of course you will," he said, kissing her forehead. "I told you that last night."

 

"Promise."

 

And even though he had done so the night before, he repeated his vow. "I promise, Kell. Hey, what's the matter, honey?"

 

She shook her head. "Nothing." But the fact she was biting her bottom lip belied the word.

 

Suddenly concerned everything had gone too quickly after all and realizing just how manic she'd been before and after he'd gone to work, he pushed the duvet down and gathered her up in his arm, pulling her onto his lap. "You can tell me, sweetheart," he said, rocking her gently back and forth. But she was silent; instead she just snuggled into him, putting her head on his chest and wriggling even closer. He swallowed hard and forced himself to ask the obvious question. "Are you sure you're okay about Uncle Ducky moving in, Kelly?"

 

Her reaction, even before she spoke, answered his question. She sat up sharply, banging her head on his chin and making him wince, pulled back and looked at him as if he'd asked her if the sky was blue. She frowned and put her hands on her hips. "Of course I am, Daddy. I love Uncle Ducky. It's just . . ." To Jethro's horror tears welled up in her eyes.

 

He pulled her back into his arms. "Just what, sweetie?"

 

She sniffed and wiped her face on his shirt. "He's not going to leave us, is he? Like Mommy did? He's not going to stop loving you?" Her voice was so quiet he had to strain to hear her.

 

He held her even tighter and shook his head, mentally crossing his fingers, toes and every part of him. "No, Kell," he said. "No, honey. Uncle Ducky won't leave us."

 

"Promise?" The word came out in a very shaky whisper.

 

For a moment Jethro didn't, couldn't, wouldn't answer her. How could he? How could he make a promise, something that was sacred between Kelly and himself, of such magnitude? "Kell," he said. "I -"

 

"Your daddy can't make that promise, Kelly," Ducky's gentle voice came from the doorway. "But I can. I promise you Kelly Ann Gibbs, that I will never leave you, not by choice," he added.

 

Jethro looked up at his lover and he saw in the steady, not-free-from pain eyes that Ducky spoke the truth. Even if he and Jethro didn't make it, even if they ended up arguing and fighting, Ducky would stay. He was not about to be the second 'parent' to walk out of Kelly's life. And suddenly Jethro realized that was another reason why Ducky had held out for so long before sharing his bed. Why he wouldn't move in with Jethro until Kelly had forced their hands. It had been for Kelly's sake, but not just because Ducky felt she wasn't ready, but because Ducky wanted to be certain that Jethro was ready for a long term relationship. He loved Kelly that much.

 

In that instant Jethro's mind went back to what he'd said to Tobias about being prepared, if it came to it, to give up Kelly for Ducky. And suddenly he wondered if his lover loved his daughter more than he did. And he knew that Ducky would never have let him give up Kelly for Ducky - Ducky would have walked away first.

 

Jethro held out a hand to Ducky, who after a moment moved from the door and limped, Jethro hated to see just how badly he was limping, to the bed and took Jethro's hand and put his other on Kelly's head. "And I'm never going to let Uncle Ducky go, Kelly," Jethro said, kissing her head again.

 

"So we're going to be a proper family? A real family?" She turned her face from where it had been pressed into Jethro's chest and now rested the cheek against it and smiled happily. "See," she said, suddenly turning and glancing at her dolls and teddies, "I told you so."

 

"Now, come on, Kelly, it's time you got into bed and went to sleep."

 

"Yes, Daddy."

 

"Have you brushed your teeth?"

 

"Yes, Daddy?"

 

"Have you peed?"

 

"Yes, Daddy. Daddy, remember I am eight now. I don't need you to ask me."

 

"I know, pumpkin. But humor me."

 

She rolled her eyes and cast Ducky a 'look'. "Night, night, Daddy. Night, night, Uncle Ducky," she said, as her eyes began to close.

 

"Goodnight, Kelly."

 

"Night, honey. Sleep tight."

 

"I'll briiiiin -" And Kelly had fallen asleep.

 

Leaving the nightlight on, they quietly left Kelly's room.

 

Once they were back in the sitting room, Jethro gathered Ducky, much as he had his daughter a little earlier, into his arms, kissed his nose and then his lips before saying, "Have I told you, Dr. Mallard, just how much I love you?"

 

Ducky smiled and managed to get his arms around Jethro. "Well, now that you mention it, Mr. Gibbs, I -"

 

Tired of talking, Jethro showed Ducky instead.

 

Aware of just how much Ducky was leaning against him, Jethro kept the kiss fairly brief and gentle. When he pulled away he looked at the look of contentment on Ducky's face. "Happy?" he asked.

 

Ducky smiled. "Yes, very." And then he almost refuted his comment by gasping and grabbing his leg.

 

Jethro tightened the hold he had on him and steadied him. "Duck?" He tried to keep the almost panic he was feeling from his voice.

 

As Ducky slumped against him, Jethro shifted his stance and obligingly took more of Ducky's weight. "Can you walk?" He demanded, cursing himself for having left his cell phone in his briefcase.

 

He felt Ducky's nod. "Yes, Jethro. I am quite all right now. I am sorry if I troubled you. I have been more than a tad foolish today, I'm afraid - more so than I had realized. My leg is simply reminding me that I am not as young as I once was and also that I should not punish it so much."

 

"You sure? Because I can get a doctor or take you to the hospital or - "

 

"Jethro. Calm down. I am fine, really I am." Ducky's voice was soft, hypnotic almost as he moved his head back and looked up at Jethro. "But I do think sitting down would be a good idea. If only to save you from supporting me."

 

Jethro frowned. "Like that's a problem," he said, keeping a tight hold on Ducky until he was safely sitting on the couch. "Why don't you put your leg up? You can use the couch or I can fetch a footstool from the apartment or you can use the table or shall I get another chair or -"

 

"Jethro."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Stop fussing, my dear. If you want to do something useful you may pour me a drink and then come and sit down."

 

Jethro looked at him carefully. He was relieved to see that now Ducky was sitting down again the almost ghostly pallor which he silently admitted had worried him and the look of pain in the pale blue gaze was fading somewhat. He dutifully did as Ducky requested, bringing two glasses and a bottle back with him. "Where do you want me to sit?"

 

Ducky looked up at him. "Wheresoever you wish to sit."

 

"Are you going to put your leg up?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "No, not at the moment at least. It is more comfortable as it is."

 

"You sure?"

 

"Yes, Jethro. Now sit down before I . . ." He trailed off.

 

"Before you . . . ?" Jethro asked, sitting down carefully next to Ducky.

 

"Ah, I am afraid I was actually unable to think of a suitable and viable threat," Ducky said, and he chuckled.

 

Jethro joined in. "Ah, Duck," he slipped his arm around Ducky's shoulders and briefly kissed the top of Ducky's head. "You know, I guess in some weird way we ought to thank Gwen Tyler."

 

"Jethro?"

 

"Well if she hadn't upset Kell - and I'm not forgetting or forgiving, in case you're wondering -"

 

"Oh, I wasn't." Ducky's tone was lightly amused.

 

"Hmmm. If what happened hadn't have happened and Kelly hadn't come home, well, she'd never have had that conversation with you and subsequently with me. And you wouldn't be here now, in my arms, in my home, about to be in the not too distant future, in my bed."

 

"It is highly possible, Jethro, that I would be in your arms. We did seem to spend an inordinate amount of time like that."

 

"Stop splitting hairs," Jethro said, with a mock growl. "You know what I mean."

 

"Yes, Jethro. I do. I know very well. And when you put it like that, you are quite correct. However, I do not think you should thank her. I do not think she would be at all happy to learn of our relationship."

 

"You're right there. She cut Shannon off totally. Bitch."

 

"Jethro."

 

"Well, she is."

 

"She is also the mother of Kelly's dear friend. And with her other good friend not being in town as much as Kelly, Emily or indeed Tobias would like, as I said last night, we must not distance Kelly from Maddie."

 

Jethro moved a little so that he could see Ducky's face and eyes. "You read people well, don't you?"

 

"Jethro?"

 

"Your comment about Tobias wishing he could see more of Emily. He never said anything, I haven't mentioned it. Sure Kelly has said she misses Emily, but that's not the same. How did you know?"

 

"His face and eyes when he spoke of her. The tone of his voice. And the fact that he is your closest friend."

 

Jethro blinked. "Okay, I get the first ones, but not the last. How does that fit?"

 

"Because I cannot believe that had Tobias been the kind of man to happily in effect wash his hands of his daughter, apart from in a monetary sense, that your friendship would have remained quite so close, quite so intimate, quite so important." Ducky spoke quietly, but also with a degree of surety that surprised Jethro.

 

"Guess you're right," he said, after a minute of two of contemplation. "Never really thought about it. I told him he should fight for Emily, but . . . I'm still not sure what hold Diane has over him, but it's something. Nothing bad, I'm sure, just some nasty piece of gutter gossip she's picked up. Now she's another bitch. I could happily . . . Well, you know."

 

"Yes, I believe I do." Ducky was looking at him, with his head slightly cocked and an almost appraising look on his face, plus something else Jethro couldn't quite identify.

 

He found himself shifting slightly on the seat. "What?" he said.