AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: First time.
SUMMARY: A chance meeting in 1975 heralds the beginning of a deep, intense and long lasting friendship between two, on the surface at least, completely different people. The love is clear and sometimes the best things are worth waiting for. Set in 1975 and 2005. Written for the Challenge #13 'Choose three words from ten'. The words I have chosen are: whiskey, water and friendship.
PROMPT: 20_1sttimes 04 - Lessons
WORD COUNT: 7,298
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
"Would you mind if I joined you?"
"Huh?" Jethro looked up at the man standing by his table. "Oh, no, course not. Sit down."
"Thank you," the man sat. Jethro noticed that the movement wasn't particularly fluid, and that the man favored one leg.
Not sure what to do or say, Jethro began to fiddle with his empty beer bottle.
"May I buy you another?"
Jethro shook his head swiftly. "No, thanks." He winced at the terseness of his own tone.
The other man, however, smiled gently. "I assure you that my offer of another drink, is merely that. I have no hidden agenda; accepting my offer would not put you in my debt. Now, may I buy you another drink?"
The accent was English, the voice reassuring, peaceful, unhurried, honest. Mid-blue eyes, open with the same reassurance, peace and honesty stared at him. There was nothing remotely threatening about the figure that sat opposite him; quite the reverse, in fact. As Jethro watched, the man brushed his overly long fringe back from his forehead, making it even easier to see the steady gaze.
Jethro suddenly felt ten kinds of fool. Wasn't he guilty of what he'd accused Benson and Foster of? "Sure, thank you. That'd be good."
The man smiled, raised one hand, caught the attention of a busy waiter, and nodded towards the bottle Jethro still held.
Moments later a fresh bottle, the moisture clinging to its sides, was placed on the table, along with another, what Jethro presumed to be whiskey. "Thank you," said the other man, handing the waiter a folded bill.
"Thank you, sir." The man said, failing to keep the surprise from his tone.
Jethro couldn't blame him; he'd caught sight of the color of the bill. So unless his companion was trying to impress him, and somehow Jethro didn’t think that was the case, money didn't seem to be a problem. But then the obvious quality of his clothes and the flash of the tasteful, but clearly expensive cuff links, had already told Jethro that.
"Thanks," he said, taking the bottle and putting it to his mouth.
"You're very welcome." The other man sipped his own drink and continued to appraise Jethro. Then he put the glass down and held out his hand. "I'm Ducky," he said.
"Ducky!" Jethro exclaimed, before he could stop himself; he opened his mouth to apologize.
However, his companion merely chuckled. "Actually it is Donald Mallard. However, I was given the name 'Ducky' at Eton, and after a while, I decided I rather liked it. Thus I have remained Ducky. It does cause surprise, even amusement, and the odd less pleasant response, from time to time. However, I am quite used to that."
"You went to Eton?" His own 'public school', which was one of the better ones, faded into insignificance. He wondered what the other man did for a living; no doubt his own meager exam results would also fade into insignificance. He suddenly realized that he was still holding the other man's hand; he hadn't even been aware of taking it.
"I'm afraid so," the other man, Jethro couldn't quite think of him as 'Ducky' yet, said, again he smiled. He squeezed Jethro's hand one final time and then broke the handshake.
Jethro's hand suddenly felt cold. "Jethro," he said, remembering his manners. "Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but everyone calls me either Jethro or Gibbs."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Jethro."
"Likewise." Jethro took another swallow of his beer. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of two men kissing and embracing, and found his eyes drawn to them. Hastily he yanked his gaze away and again glanced at - Ducky, who was watching him carefully.
"Please forgive me for saying so, and if I am mistaken, I offer an apology in advance, however, may I say that you do not look entirely comfortable. Do I assume that this is your first time, not only here, but in such a place?"
"Is it that obvious?"
Ducky smiled. "A little."
"Yeah. You're right. It is. And I shouldn't really be here."
"Then why are you?" Ducky looked slightly bemused.
"I guess I lost a dare."
Under his gaze the gentle, friendly, reassuring blue gaze became frozen and hostile. "I see." Ducky's clipped tone matched the look. He looked as if he was about to stand up.
Without thought, Jethro reached across the table and caught Ducky's hand. "Don't go. Let me explain. It's not what you think. Really. Please, stay."
For a moment the cold gaze just held his and Ducky seemed to retreat further, while not actually moving away. "Very well," he said, his tone still stiff.
Jethro took another mouthful of the cold beer. He didn't really know why Ducky understanding bothered him so much, it just did. He glanced around, leaned across the table and said softly, "I'm a Marine."
Ducky blinked. "I would say that is indeed a reason why you shouldn't be here. But do go on."
"Two of my shipmates were going on about gay men, have been for weeks now. Really unpleasant stuff, how . . ." He broke off. "You probably know what I mean." He looked into the steady blue stare.
Ducky nodded. He seemed slightly less distant and cold, or at least the coolness that remained didn't appear to be directed at Jethro any longer. "I probably do," he said, his tone clipped.
"Today I'd had enough. Well, I'd had enough weeks ago, when they started, but . . . " Again he broke off, shrugged and said, his own tone apologetically, "I have to work with them."
"I understand," said Ducky, his tone friendlier. He patted Jethro's hand and offered a hint of a smile. "Do go on."
"As I said I'd had enough. We all had seventy-two hour's leave and I thought why the hell not. So I told them. I told them that gay men were just the same as everyone else, and that all the crap is just that, crap. That they aren't out to get every man they meet into bed, that they . . . That they are human, and for them what they do is normal. I basically told them to shut up. Told them that if I had a gay friend I wouldn't treat him any differently from how I treat my straight friends. And I wouldn't."
Ducky's eyes had grown wider during Jethro's what he now realized to be impassioned speech; he also realized that his voice had gotten louder, and that one or two people at nearby tables had glanced their way. However, Ducky merely smiled and nodded, and after a moment or two the men returned to their own business. "And what did these shipmates of yours say?"
"They called my bluff. Dared me to come here and spend the evening. Reckoned I'd refuse outright, or I'd be back outside within two minutes. I didn't have a choice. Not if my words were to mean anything."
Ducky sat in silence for a moment, again he was just watching Jethro. Jethro began to wonder if somehow he'd offended him. He sought around for something to say, but again Ducky beat him to it. "I wish there were more people like you, Jethro. I really do. Life would be an awfully lot easier for people like me if they were. Not that, I am sorry to say, there are not some gay men who do seem to make it a habit of trying to 'get off' with every man they meet. But then there are enough straight men who believe that they are God's gift to women and that it's their right to sleep with any female they see. Sadly, whilst, when the man is heterosexual, that kind of behavior seems to get little more than almost approval, when the man is homsexual, then . . . " Now Ducky trailed off and shrugged. "But people are indeed human, and human nature is that people are often afraid of what they do not understand, of anyone who is different. History . . . I am sorry, Jethro, I am afraid I do have a rather bad habit of rambling on from time to time. Please forgive me."
Jethro didn’t think that telling Ducky that he could sit and listen to him read from the telephone directory was necessarily the right thing to say. Instead he shook his head. "No need to apologize, Ducky, what you say is right." He emptied the bottle of beer.
"Would you like another one? Or do you think you have fulfilled your obligation to your friends?"
"Let me get you one. Whiskey?"
"Yes, but it hardly seems fair. They do rather overprice spirits here, I am afraid to say. Why don't you -"
"I want to," Jethro said firmly, cutting into Ducky's words.
"Thank you, then. I would indeed like to join you in another drink."
It took far longer for Jethro to catch the eye of one of the passing waiters, but eventually another bottle of beer and another whiskey appeared, and Jethro paid.
"Cheers," he said, lifting the bottle. "Here's to . . . "
"Why not. Understanding."
"And tell me, Jethro, if you don't mind my asking, have the gentlemen here lived up to your expectations?"
"Yeah, they have, actually. Been here for about forty minutes before you came over. No one had tried to . . ."
"Pick you up?"
"That might have had a little to do with the 'keep out' aura you were giving off," Ducky said, his tone rich with amusement. "But also the men who come here are generally of the kind you described to your friends. It is a pleasant club, a safe one, and most of us would like to keep it that way."
"Do you come here often?" Jethro said without thought. To his horror he found himself blushing, but then as Ducky began to laugh, he joined in. "Sorry," he said, wiping the back of his eyes with his hand.
Ducky smiled and shook his head. "Whenever I'm in town, yes, I do."
"Do you travel a lot?"
Ducky's eyes twinkled. "More than a lot of people in my profession do, yes."
"All right, all right, I'll bite. What do you do?"
"I'm a doctor."
So Jethro had been right; Ducky was intelligent. His own examination results slipped down below insignificance. "You don't have a practice?"
Ducky shook his head. "I left England a few years ago. I trained at Edinburgh, spent a few months working in a private hospital in Surrey once I'd qualified, my mother played bridge or something with the wife of the Chief Surgeon. But I decided that it wasn't for me. I wanted to see more, do more, spend time with different people. Besides although my parents, or at least my mother, was aware of my sexual preferences and didn't seem to mind, it nonetheless wasn't easy. So I began to travel and in effect work my way around the world. Money, as I'm sure you have already worked out, is not a problem. So in effect I am fortunate to be able to do what I want, go where I want to go, when I want to, and have no commitments."
Jethro listened, fascinated by the story on many levels - one being that Ducky's parents knew he was gay and didn't mind. He dreaded to think what his own father would have done had he admitted such a thing. Not that he was, of course, but . . . He shuddered at the thought; he'd be lucky to still be alive.
"Jethro?" Ducky touched his hand and Jethro glanced up.
He shook his head. "Sorry, just . . . Sorry," he repeated. Then something hit him; something in Ducky's words that had rung a slightly false cord. Ducky may have said that he was happy to basically be a free agent and have no commitments, but Jethro wasn't so certain. "So how often are you in town?"
Ducky shrugged. "It varies. Of all the places to which I have traveled, I find that I like this city most of all, apart from my home in England. Thus it seemed sensible to purchase a home here, far better than spending money on hotels all the time. I think one of the things I really like is how anonymous one can be, certainly more so than where I grew up. There everyone knew everything about everyone."
"Do you have a home in England as well?"
"Mother still lives in the family home. What about you?"
"Rented apartment that I don't see a lot of. Parents are both dead. No brothers or sisters. You said your mother still lives in the family home, is your dad dead?" Then he added quickly, "Sorry, none of my business."
Ducky smiled and shook his head. "Please do not apologize, Jethro. Father is still alive, however he and Mother went their separate ways whilst I was at University. They never could agree over money. Mother believes in spending it; Father in saving it. But I am being a little flippant, although it is what Mother says."
Jethro wasn’t certain whether he should say he was sorry to hear that or not. So instead he just flashed Ducky a quick smile, which he hoped did the job. "Brothers and sisters?"
Ducky shook his head. "No. In fact I'm not entirely certain my parents ever planned to be parents. Mother was thirty-two when I was born, which, in 1942 was considered late to have a child." So Ducky was thirty-three, some twelve years older than Jethro himself; funny, Jethro would have guessed at half that age difference.
For a few moments they sat in the kind of companionable silence, that Jethro had never before experienced. He felt as though he'd known Ducky all of his life, rather than less than an hour. There was something tranquil about the other man, reassuring almost, he had a peaceful aura; not that Jethro really believed in auras or stuff like that, at least not until now. But whatever one was, Ducky had a soothing one. He wondered when his companion would make his excuses and leave him; after all he was hardly going to spend the whole evening with someone who wasn't even gay.
"Can I ask you something?" Jethro said, wondering what on earth had possessed him.
"Of course you may." Ducky sounded a little surprise.
"Why did you come over and talk to me?"
Ducky stared at him, appearing to study him, seeming almost to be trying to read Jethro, to gauge what he thought Jethro wanted to hear him say. When he did begin to speak, Jethro was surprised by his words. "An old master at Eton once told me 'never ask a question, Mallard, unless you really want to know the answer'."
Jethro blinked, wondering if somewhere down the line he'd missed something. "Um."
Ducky leaned forward a little, staring deeply into Jethro's eyes. "Do you really want to know the answer to your question, Jethro?"
Jethro opened his mouth and shut it again. Did he? Then he shrugged. "Sure."
Ducky nodded. "Very well. Two reasons, actually. Firstly," he paused for a second and sipped his drink. Then again looking Jethro straight in the eyes, he said softly, "Firstly, I thought you looked a very attractive young man, and I wished to get to know you better." He stopped speaking and again looked at Jethro in his quizzical, examining way.
Whether he was expecting Jethro to get up and leave the table, Jethro wasn't certain. However, he made sure he sat still, not letting his shoulders hunch up, nor folding his arms, or even moving at all. For the first time since Ducky had sat down, he saw a shadow of doubt cross the pale face together with a hint of almost uncertainty.
After a moment or two Ducky asked a question, his tone telling Jethro that there was a degree of reluctance in his inquiry. "Does my answer bother you?"
Jethro shook his head and said firmly, "No." And it didn’t. If he were honest, if he really thought about it, he'd half been expecting it, but even so to have it confirmed was . . . Maybe he should be bothered. But he wasn't. "Not at all," he added for good measure. "And the second reason?" Ducky frowned for a moment. "I'm assuming there is one. You did say 'firstly'."
Ducky chuckled softly. "So I did. The second reason actually was, strictly speaking, of greater importance than the reason I have just told you."
Jethro blinked, wondering for a moment if one of the things that was taught at Eton was how to use several words when one would do, and how to confuse the person you were talking to. If he and Ducky were going to be friends, then he reckoned he'd better start thinking about furthering his education. He shook himself. Friends? Where had that come from? He was here for one night, simply because he couldn't keep his big mouth shut.
Ducky was speaking again; Jethro tuned in to what he was saying. "It was because of him," he nodded in the direction of another man.
Jethro looked the same way. The man was tall, even taller than Jethro, which made the stranger about a foot taller than Ducky, somewhere in his mid-thirties, broad shoulders, jet-black hair and not a very pleasant expression. "I don't understand?"
"His name is Adam Parsons. He is not a very nice man. Indeed, he is the type of homosexual who gives us all a bad name. He is not the type of person this club likes to encourage. However he has, let us say, influential friends. Therefore, the management cannot really do anything about him, and he has never actually broken any of the club rules. I saw him watching you, and I did not like the look he was giving you. I could see that you were uneasy, although at the time I assumed it to be simply because you had only just come to terms with your sexuality, I apologize for that assumption. But whatever the reason for your unease, I did not think that meeting Mr. Parsons would help you become less uneasy. So I -"
"Came to rescue me?"
Ducky laughed. "Oh, dear. I am afraid it does sound a little like that, does it not? Again, please accept my apologies, Jethro. I did not intend any offence, quite the opposite."
Jethro shrugged and touched Ducky's hand. "No, Duck, no need to apologize - for anything." He watched Parsons put his arm around a young man; from the expression on the younger man's face, the embrace was not welcome. "You're right, I wouldn't have liked him to have come over. Might have thought that Bill and Fred were right after all. In fact, I should thank you."
Ducky shook his head. "As I said my motivations were not entirely pure. However, even if I hadn't been attracted to you, I would have approached you. The one saving grace Mr. Parson's has, is that he does not try to pick someone up who appears to already be 'taken'. You are quite safe, as long as I am with you."
Jethro glanced at his watch. He still had at least two hours before he could go, that or he'd be admitting that he was wrong, and that he couldn't put up with sitting in the club. "Forewarned is forearmed, so they say. Thanks for that, Ducky. I'll be careful."
The gentle smile that had been on Ducky's lips faded and his eyes, which Jethro realized were as vocal as the man himself were, became covered. "Do you wish me to go?" he said, his tone flat.
Jethro shook his head. "No, not at all. But I can hardly expect you to sit here all night with me."
"And why might that be?" Under his eyes Jethro saw the hastily raised shields that covered the blue gaze begin to fade a little.
Jethro fiddled with the bottle and shifted on his seat. "Well, it's hardly fair, is it? I mean, you'll want to . . . Well, you know. I'm not, so . . ."
Now Ducky chuckled and the shields fell away completely. "Oh, my dear Jethro," he said, the smile reappearing. "You are a very nice young man, I hope that one day you find a young lady worthy of you. However, your concern, whilst being very much appreciated, is unnecessary. I more often than not come here simply for companionship, for somewhere to go where I can be with likeminded men. I do not always come here, or indeed go to any similar club, with the intention of romance or sex."
Realizing that he'd come close to falling into the 'all gay men are always after sex' trap, Jethro felt himself flush. To cover it, he put the bottle of beer to his lips and took a deep swallow. He wondered if he should apologize, but Ducky merely seemed faintly amused rather than offended or troubled by the inference.
Suddenly, because he felt he had to say something, Jethro blurted out, "Do you have a -" He broke off, uncertain quite what to say. Boyfriend? Lover? Partner? "Sorry," he said, feeling the flush travel down his neck and disappear under his shirt. "Too nosey sometimes."
Again Ducky just smiled and shook his head. "Not at all. And for your information, no, I do not have a lover at the moment."
"Why on earth not?" Jethro wished the ground would open up.
Now Ducky laughed. "Oh, Jethro," he said, touching Jethro's hand. "Maybe we should change the subject. Red really is not your color." He laughed again; the sound was infectious, and after a second or two Jethro joined in.
"So are we in agreement," Ducky said after a moment or two. "I'll spend the evening with you, until you have fulfilled your bet, I mean, " he added hastily; now a faint flush now touched his cheeks.
"If you're sure, then, yeah. Thanks. I'd like that." And he would; he really would. He felt more at ease with Ducky after a short time than he did with most of his fellow Marines.
"Good. That's settled. Now, Jethro, have you eaten?"
"Er, I grabbed a sandwich before I came out. Didn't have time for a proper meal. Or more to the point, if I'm honest, there wasn't much in the cupboards."
Ducky smiled again. "In that case, please allow me to buy your dinner. The food here is extremely good, as is the wine list."
For a moment Jethro wondered if he should say no. It seemed as if he would be taking advantage of Ducky's generosity and clear wealth, there was no way he could offer to pay, or, given the horrendous price of the drinks, even go halves. However some instinct, or feeling he got, told him not to refuse; doing so would only hurt Ducky, and he didn't want to do that. For some reason Ducky, despite being twelve years older than Jethro himself, and well traveled, a professional, well educated, etc., brought out Jethro's protective nature.
"Sure, thanks. I'd like that."
The next time Jethro glanced at his watch, he realized it had gone midnight. He was amazed; where had the evening gone? Ducky had been quite right about the quality of the food and wine, not that Jethro was any expert in either, but he’d certainly enjoyed his meal. And more importantly, he'd really enjoyed Ducky's company.
They'd talked without any of the usual 'we've just met' hesitation or reserve, in fact Jethro found that his own walls, his own ability not to share anything remotely personal about himself, vanished. In one evening Dr. Donald 'Ducky' Mallard knew more about one Leroy Jethro Gibbs than anyone else did. He wasn't sure whether he should be troubled by that, or whether he should be troubled because he wasn't troubled.
In turn Ducky had shared information about his home, his education, his life, and had told Jethro many stories from his trips around the world. He was a very easy man to talk to, and clearly a very compassionate and caring one.
"Goodness me," Ducky said, glancing at his own watch. "Is that the time? Oh, my dear Jethro, I am sorry. I didn't mean to monopolize you for such a long time. I assume that you have more than fulfilled your side of bet now? No doubt you'll want to be getting home? I am sorry if I have bored you."
"Hey, Duck," Jethro said, learning forward and brushing his fingers over Ducky's hand. "The last thing I've been in bored. Really. Just the opposite. It's me who should let you go. You've been great. Thank you. In fact," he said, "if it helps, the bet was over a couple of hours ago. I just lost track of time, I was enjoying myself."
"You were?" Ducky sounded genuinely surprised.
"Yes, I was, really." Jethro closed his hand around Ducky's. He didn't miss the look of surprise that flashed through the blue gaze. "Can I see you again, Duck?" He suddenly realized how it sounded. "Sorry, that didn't come out as I meant."
Ducky looked at him, looked down at their hands, and then returned his gaze to Jethro's. "Didn't it?" his voice was soft and gentle, but he gave nothing away. Even his eyes were silent.
Jethro opened his mouth. And then closed it again. "Guess it did. Well can I? In fact, why don't you take me home with you now?"
Ducky carefully tugged his own hand out from Jethro's. Jethro tried to capture it again, but Ducky shook his head. "Jethro," he said quietly. "I'm flattered, really I am. But the answer is no."
"Why? You like me, don’t you? You said you found me attractive."
Ducky smiled. "Oh, yes, my dear. I do. I like you very much. And you have become all the more attractive to me during the hours we have spent together. But my answer is still no."
"Why?" Jethro demanded.
"Because I do not believe that your motivations for offering are necessarily the correct ones. In fact, I know they aren't."
"What do you mean?"
"You feel indebted to me in some way. Not just for the dinner, but for . . . Let us say helping you prove to your friends that you were correct about gay men. And also because, as you told me yourself, you do not like not knowing things." Ducky was correct, Jethro had told him that. "Homosexuality is something about which you have no real knowledge; it is something that you never will know, not really. You have an understanding of gay men, that a lot of heterosexual men do not have, but even so, it isn't the same as really knowing."
"You mean I don't know what I want?"
"Simply put, yes. And, as I told you earlier, I do not find it necessary to seek out romance or sex all the time. In fact without the former I cannot enjoy the latter. When I go to bed with someone, it has to be because there is a connection, a level of caring between us"
"I like you."
"I know you do, Jethro. And I would indeed like to 'see you again', as a friend. But I cannot take you home with me, as much as I would like to, and if it helps, I do want to, I want to very much. But I can't go into any kind of sexual relationship knowing that it's a one-night stand, Jethro. Do you understand?"
Jethro stared at Ducky. Slowly he nodded. "Yes, I guess I do. Sorry, Duck. I didn't mean any offence. I . . . " He trailed off and shrugged.
"I assure you, Jethro, I am not offended in the least. Quite the opposite in fact. You're what, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two?"
"And as you already know, I'm thirty-three. I am very flattered."
"I'm not flattering you." Suddenly it was important to Jethro that Ducky knew that.
"I know. I'm sorry, that didn't come out as well as it should have done." Ducky moved his hand back and covered Jethro's.
They sat there for a moment in silence. Jethro was somewhat surprised to discover that the companionable silence they'd slipped into almost from the moment they met, was still there. He'd expected it to be awkward and tense, but it wasn't.
"Can we be friends?" He suddenly demanded.
Ducky's eyes twinkled. "Oh, I'm sure we can, Jethro." He chuckled.
Jethro joined in. Had anyone else in effect corrected his grammar, he'd have been furious, but he knew that Ducky wasn't laughing at him at all. In fact in many ways it lessened the already missing tension.
"Thank you," he said. "Seriously, I would like us to be. I have enjoyed tonight, your company. It'd be good to have a friend." The final words slipped out without him meaning them to. For a moment he was about to correct himself, find something to say, but he didn't.
"I'd like that, Jethro," was all Ducky said.
"Great. I'll write to you from the ship, if that's okay?"
"Of course it is." Ducky pulled out his wallet, patted Jethro's hand and then let go of it to take a card out of the wallet.
Jethro missed the warmth of Ducky's hand on his. Maybe he could try again; he knew Ducky liked him and . . . He pushed the thought away. No, Ducky was right.
"Here," Ducky handed a card over. "That address is my home here in the city. However, it is probably better if you write, in the first instance, to my Bank's address. When I travel, they always forward any mail to me. And that," he said, pointing to another address, "is my mother's home in England. I cannot think why you would need that, but as it's on the card, you might as well know what it is."
"Thanks." Jethro tucked it away carefully. "I don’t suppose you'd . . . Nah, forget it."
Ducky raised his eyebrows. "Oh, dear, that is one certain way to raise my curiosity. Do go on."
Jethro knew when he was beaten. "I was just going to say, we're off on deployment in two days. We'll be gone six months. Families and friends usually come and see us off, I was going to . . . But you'll be busy."
"My time is my own. If you do not think it would cause any problems for you, I'd be delighted to come and see you off. But are you certain? I wouldn't like anyone to think that . . . " Now Ducky trailed off.
"No worries. As I said friends and family come. Men, women, kids, no one would think twice."
"Very well. I shall look forward to it. Now, not only are we getting the kind of looks that are only given when the staff are wishing we'd go, but are far too polite to say so, I suspect that your friends will no longer be waiting for you. You did say that the terms of the bet expired over two hours ago. Is that a problem? Would you like me to give you a lift home?"
"Thanks. But I don't want to put you out any more. I can walk."
Ducky sighed, took Jethro's hand and held it firmly. "Friends do not 'put one another out'. Now, if you wish to make yourself useful, you may fetch my hat and coat for me, whilst I pay the good gentleman." He smiled with both his lips and his eyes.
Knowing that offering to contribute to the cost would be futile and insulting, Jethro drained the last of his wine and wandered off to fetch Ducky's hat and coat, marveling at the fact that someone who wasn't old, thirty-three was still young, wore a hat.
They pulled up outside of Jethro's apartment building and Ducky turned off the engine. The journey had been like the rest of the evening, restful, enjoyable, relaxing and filled with great company.
Jethro turned to his companion and caught Ducky's hand. "You're right," he said softly.
Ducky didn't pull his hand away, but nor did he complete the grip. "About what?"
"A man like you deserves more, far more than just one night. I reckon I could persuade you to take me to bed, if I really tried. But it would be wrong. You're right, I'm not sure why I'm offering, and you need me to be sure. You deserve that. So I'm going to make you a promise. If I ever am, I'll let you know. Until then . . ." The street Jethro lived in was quiet, no one was around this time of night. He leaned across the small distance and brushed his lips very gently over Ducky's.
Then before Ducky could say anything, he pulled back, let go of Ducky's hand, opened the car door, and with a, "See you in a couple of days, Duck," climbed out, shut the door and jogged up to his apartment.
Ducky watched until he saw lights go on in what he assumed must be Jethro's apartment. "Ah, my dear Jethro," he murmured. "You are quite correct. You could indeed have persuaded me to take you to my bed." He turned on the engine, switched the headlights back on and drove off. As he did he wasn't entirely certain whether to be pleased or not that Jethro hadn't tried.
"Would you mind if I joined you?"
The man sitting at the table looked up sharply; the surprise was clear on his face. "J -"
Jethro shook his head firmly, effectively silencing the man.
The man sitting at the table widened his eyes slightly, but then smiled and nodded at the seat opposite him. "Please, sit down. I should be delighted for you to join me."
"Can I buy you another drink?"
Jethro caught the eye of a passing waiter and ordered two glasses of whiskey. "Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but no one calls me Leroy."
The man took the proffered hand. "Donald Mallard, but everyone calls me Ducky."
"Pleased to meet you, Ducky." Jethro smiled, holding onto Ducky's hand for a moment or two longer than was strictly necessary. The pale blue eyes looked speculative.
"And you, Jethro. Thank you," Ducky added, as a waiter brought their drinks over.
"Cheers." Jethro held up his glass.
"Your good health." Ducky touched his glass to Jethro's.
For a moment they sat in silence. Ducky was clearly willing to take his lead from Jethro.
"You waiting for someone?" Jethro finally asked.
Ducky shook his head. "No. I have an elderly mother who lives with me; she suffers from dementia. As awful as it may sound, from time to time I find it necessary to spend an evening away from her. Fortunately we have an excellent neighbor who is also Mother's closest friend, and she is happy to come over and spend the evening with Mother. "
"I'm sorry. That can't be easy for you." Jethro touched Ducky's hand.
Ducky smiled a little sadly. "I miss who she was. However, she is still a force to be reckoned with. What about you? Are you meeting someone?"
"I hope so." Jethro spoke softly.
Ducky looked puzzled.
"I'm here because of a promise I made thirty years ago." Jethro looked unblinkingly into Ducky's eyes.
They looked back at him; a mixture of emotions seemed to flash through them. "Jethro?" Ducky murmured the name.
Jethro tightened his grip on Ducky's hand, tugging it nearer to him. Dropping all pretence he said firmly, "Thirty years ago, tonight to be exact, I made you a promise. Do you remember?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes, of course I do."
"Well, I'm here to keep that promise."
Glancing around him, Jethro leaned nearer to Ducky. "I want you to take me to bed," he said softly but firmly. "And," he went on quickly, "not just for one night."
"I want you, Duck. I love you. But you know that, you've known it for years now."
"Yes, but . . ."
"But it's more than just 'closest friend love'."
"Yes, Ducky. It is." And then something suddenly struck Jethro and he felt like an idiot. The something hadn't crossed his mind until this very moment. "Er, you do still find me attractive don't you, Duck? You do still . . ."
Ducky smiled. "Oh, yes, my dear. Very much so. Not a day has gone by when I haven't regretted not taking you to my bed all those years ago, whilst at the same time knowing that I did the right thing."
"Thank God for that. So what do we do now?"
"What do you want to do now?"
"Well, I mean, do we date or . . . What? I know you're not the kind of man who jumps into bed with someone just like that."
Ducky chuckled softly. "Given our thirty year friendship, my dear. I would hardly call it 'just like that'. If you wish to court me, if you wish to do the things you do with your lady friends, then I would be more than happy to go along with that. However, if you would like to take me home with you now, then you would not find me unwilling. Quite the opposite in fact."
"Mrs. Patterson's staying the night at your place?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. Her grandson has persuaded her to let him hold another of his parties. You know she cannot say no to him. I shall need to ring and let them know not to expect me home, so that they lock up, but other than that . . ."
Jethro drove them to his house in Ducky's Morgan. He didn't really enjoy driving a car with a transmission gearbox, but Ducky had offered, and so he'd accepted.
"So what now, Duck?" he found himself asking, once they'd got inside.
"I believe that locking your door would be a good place to start, dear," Ducky said, and smiled up at him.
Jethro rolled his eyes at the literal answer and did as Ducky said. "And now?" he asked, turning back to the man he'd known for thirty years and loved for what seemed like forever.
Ducky continued to stare up at him; he seemed to be studying Jethro, appraising him. "If you wish, my dear, we can go into your sitting room and have a drink and simply talk."
Jethro frowned. "I don't want a drink, Duck. I want . . . " He trailed off.
"Yes, dear?" The pale blue gaze continued to appraise him.
"To take you to bed and make love to you. To kiss you. To. . . Oh, hell, Ducky, why is it so difficult? I'm fifty-one, for heaven's sake, I know what I want. I've known you for thirty years, and loved you for almost as long. It should be -"
He came to a spluttering halt as Ducky put one hand behind his head, firmly pulled it down and kissed him. The kiss was everything he dreamed about, fantasized about, and yet also completely different.
"Easy?" Ducky murmured, when they finally broke the kiss. "Well, isn't it?"
Jethro looked down into the more ebony than blue eyes that gazed up at him in open adoration. "Yeah, Duck," he said softly, "very easy." He lowered his head, and this time he initiated another long, lingering, discovering and sharing kiss.
Finally, after several aborted attempts, they kept pausing to exchange kisses, they found themselves in Jethro's bedroom. Leaving Ducky in the doorway, Jethro quickly crossed the room and switched on the bedside lamps. Then he turned back around and opened his arms, the invitation was clear.
Smiling at his dearest friend, Ducky moved slowly across the room into Jethro's arms; it was a place he'd been as a simple friend on more than one occasion; a place he had always longed to be as more than just a simple friend; a place in which he had always felt at home. He let Jethro gather him in, tugging him nearer and nearer to his body, leaving Ducky in no doubt as to Jethro's state of arousal.
Jethro began to kiss him again, this time concentrating on Ducky's face, his nose, his cheeks, his eyes, his chin, moving to his ears, which he nuzzled and spent a considerably time kissing. Finally he returned his lips to Ducky's own; as he returned the kiss Ducky knew no matter what happened next, he had experienced true happiness.
Then Jethro moved back a little, let his embrace slip away and instead began to tug Ducky's jacket off. Ducky glanced away. "Duck? What is it? Don't you want . . . ?" Jethro trailed off, put one hand under Ducky's chin and tipped his head back. "Ducky? You all right?"
"Yes, my dear. It's nothing."
"It's just I'm not like the others you have taken to bed."
"No, you're far better." Jethro spoke firmly.
"You are. Tell me."
"I don't want you to be . . . Maybe you should turn the lights off." Ducky said, letting his eyes flicker downwards.
"Ducky. Ducky. Ducky. What am I going to do with you? Look at me. Duck." The tone was the one he used at the office, when he slightly exasperated with Ducky, and Ducky's automatic response was to obey. "That's better. Now, Dr. Mallard, in case it's slipped your mind, I've seen you naked more than once over the years. And as recently as last week."
And it was true. Jethro had.
After completing several long and arduous autopsies, Ducky had decided that, rather than drive home simply to shower and change, he'd do so at the office. He had just been enjoying the hot water on his body and the fact that he was alone, when Jethro's voice had startled him.
"Ah, there you are, Duck. Palmer said he thought I'd find you here."
And before Ducky could say anything, Jethro had propped himself up against the wall opposite where Ducky was showering, and had proceeded to begin what was to become a fairly involved conversation.
After his initial surprise, Ducky had seen little point in cutting short his shower, so he had continued under Jethro's gaze, that was clearly one of not deliberately watching him, but not deliberately avoiding watching him, to enjoy the unlimited supply of hot water. Indeed, now he realized that he had intentionally taken his time, it was probably the longest shower he had ever taken.
"So that's settled," Jethro said firmly, breaking into Ducky's remembering. And he tossed Ducky's jacket onto a chair, pulled on one end of Ducky's bowtie to undo it, before moving his hands to Ducky's shirt buttons.
As Jethro's hands continued to undress him and caress him, a thought came Ducky. "Jethro?"
"How did you know where to find me tonight?"
Jethro's answer was to kiss him.
Later in his bed, as Ducky caressed his body and encouraged Jethro to relax and simply enjoy himself, to do what seemed right, Jethro knew that he'd found a new life, he'd made a new beginning. The old and the new, the familiar and the unknown, the common and the unique, all meshed together and gave him belief in a future.