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Yuletide Gift Exchange Story for sharpiesgal



TITLE: Challenging Ducky
AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
WRITTEN FOR: sharpiesgal. Chris asked for: Established Relationship, Ducky sharing facts, Jenny to be nice.

Chris, I wish you happiness and peace for the holiday season and for the forthcoming year. May 2008 be a good year for you.

PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
CHARACTERS: Gibbs, Ducky, Jimmy, DiNozzo, McGee, Ziva, Jenny
GENRE: Slash
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship. Humour. Ducky educating.
SUMMARY: The kids ask Ducky questions.
RATING: PG
DISCLAIMER: I do not own the NCIS characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I'm really sorry I couldn't fit angst into this, Chris, I'm afraid I am all angsted out. Nonetheless, I really do hope that you enjoy your story.





CHRISTMAS EVE

Tim walked into the squad room heavily engrossed in the book he was reading. A few months ago he wouldn't have dared to do it, as the chances of Tony tripping him up or having moved his chair or something equally childish would have been very high.

But, overnight it seemed, Tony had grown up, or rather re-grown up given that he'd matured during his relationship with Jeanne. The childish pranks had stopped, as had the nasty, the cruel, teasing. Of course they all still teased one another, played one-upmanship games, bitched from time to time, but only in a friendly sibling-like way.

When Tony had first changed, Tim had been wary, certain that it was just another one of the more senior agent's tricks, but it wasn't. What had brought about the change, Tim didn't know. Was Tony dating someone else? Seriously dating someone else? Tim couldn't be certain, but he didn't think so. Maybe the boss had finally had a firm word with Tony and warned him enough was enough. Maybe it was just all down to Tony himself.

Whatever had caused the change, Tim was glad of it. Very glad of it. Not that the old Tony had gone completely, and Tim wouldn’t want that, but the nasty Tony, the Tony who was around for months after Jeanne had left him, was well and truly buried.

"What's that you've got, McTim." Tony snatched the book from his hands and looked at it.

Leaving the book in Tony's hands, Tim walked across to his desk. "It's called a book, Tony. Do you know what those are?" Tim took his coat and scarf off, and immediately turned his computer screen on.

"Yeah, read one of two of them," Tony replied, turning the pages over.

"With or without pictures?" Ziva asked, coming up and looking at the book as well. "The Book Of General Ignorance," she read.

"What's that about then, McGee?" Tony asked, looking up. Then, before Tim could answer, he read from the flyleaf, "A comprehensive and humiliating catalogue of all the misconceptions, mistakes and misunderstandings in 'common knowledge', which will make you wonder why anyone ever bothers to go to school'." He looked at Tim and his eyes positively gleamed. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" he asked.

Tim moved across to where Tony and Ziva stood, took the book from Tony, and said, "Yes."

Ziva frowned and looked firstly at Tim then at Tony. "What?" she demanded. "What are you both thinking?"

"Ducky." They said together.

Ziva's frown deepened. "What about Ducky?" She was beginning to sound annoyed; never a good sign.

Nonetheless, Tim pushed his luck a bit further, ignoring her and instead speaking to Tony again. "But will Gibbs let us?"

"Will Gibbs let you what? If one of you does not answer me, I will . . ." Her hand moved to her belt, to where her gun would have been, if she had been carrying it.

"Officer David!" Tony exclaimed, in mock horror, as he and Tim tried not to laugh.

She glared again. "You will tell me," she said, her tone like chilled steel.

"Tell you what?" Director Shepard came up to where they stood. "Good morning," she added, nodding to each of them. "Well?" she demanded.

Tony glanced at Tim before tuning and addressing the Director. "McGee brought this book in today," he again snatched it from Tim's hands and showed it to her. "We thought that as it's Christmas Eve and likely to be quiet that we could um," he paused, and quickly glanced around him. "Challenge Ducky," he finished.

"May I?" she asked, and held out her hand for the book. Tony gave it to her and she began to flick through the pages. "I think that would be an excellent idea," she said.

"But will Gibbs let us?" Tim asked. "You know what he's like."

She closed the book and handed it back to him. "I think we all know that Jethro has mellowed somewhat since he changed his address." She smiled. "Besides, Ducky will enjoy it, and that alone will make Jethro agree."

"Agree to what?" Ziva cried, her voice getting shrill. "About what are you talking?" she glared at them all.

"What're you talking about," Tony said, sotto voce.

"What?" Ziva demanded, moving closer and closer to him. Sensibly, in Tim's opinion, Tony did take a step or two back, before stopping and holding his ground.

"Tony," Tim said warningly, as he saw one of Ziva's hands move around behind her. "Now isn't a good time to –"

"Just tell her, DiNozzo." Gibbs's voice interrupted him. "Before she uses this on you." He didn't change his pace, as he strode past Ziva, took the knife from her hand, and continued on his way to his desk. He dropped the knife onto the desk, put his briefcase on his chair and started to remove his coat. "Well?" He looked at DiNozzo. "We're waiting."

"It was McGee's idea," Tony said quickly.

"It was not," Tim countered.

"Was too."

"Was –"

Gibbs whistled and glared at them.

Instantly, they both stopped arguing and looked at him. "Sorry, boss," Tony spoke hastily. "McGee brought a book to work today."

"Least he knows what one is," Gibbs said, continuing to glare at DiNozzo.

"Ha. Good one, boss. Um, right, yes," he hurriedly added, as the cold stare got even colder. "This one," he added, holding it up. "Oh, do you want me to bring it nearer."

Gibbs just continued to stare at him.

"No, of course you don't, boss. Well, it's a book about common mistakes we all make. You know," he opened the book and again read from the flyleaf. "Thinking that Mount Everest is the world's tallest mountain, that kind of thing."

"And?"

"And McG- Er, that is we, thought that we could challenge Ducky. See if we could –"

"Challenge Ducky to do what?" Abby asked, as she bounced into the squad room, a sprig of mistletoe hanging from each pigtail.

Gibbs looked at her. "Abbs," he said. "Why?"

"It's Christmas," she said, and beamed brightly at each of them in turn. "So what are we going to challenge Ducky with this year?" she asked, looking at Tim.

"This," he said, taking the book from Tony and handing it to her.

"Ooh," she said, after a moment or two of flicking through it. "Ducky'll love this. We can – Wait," she cried, and bounced across to Gibbs's desk, grabbed his phone and pushed some buttons. "Jimmy," she said, her tone suddenly conspiratorial. "Come up to the squad room, now. But don't tell Ducky where you're going," she added quickly, before she replaced the receiver.

"Er, Abby," Tim said slowly.

She turned and smiled at him. "Yes, Timmy?"

"Er," he glanced quickly at Gibbs. "We haven't actually . . . That is Gibbs hasn't –"

"Oh, he won't mind. Will you?" she demanded, turning back to face Gibbs. She moved her head so quickly that the green and white mistletoe became a blur.

Not for the first time, Tim envied how Abby dared to adopt 'that' look and 'that' tone with Gibbs. She really was Gibbs's favorite; not counting Ducky, of course.

Before Gibbs could answer, assuming he was planning to, Ziva spoke. "Abby," she said.

"Ziva?"

"Do you think that you could possibly tell me what you are all talking about, please?" Her tone was low, sweet even; Tim couldn't remember a time it had ever sounded so deadly.

Abby blinked. Then she rounded on Tim and Tony. "Why haven't you told her?" she demanded. She then, before either man could answer, turned back to Gibbs, once again the green and white blurred in front of Tim's eyes. "You need to teach them better," she informed him, before she turned away and hurried across to Ziva, the book still in her hand.

She slipped her arm through Ziva's. "It's simple, Ziva," she said. "We each ask Ducky a question from this book. If he gets them all correct we buy lunch between us, but –"

"If he gets one wrong, Ducky buys us all lunch," Tony finished, rubbing his hands and grinning.

Ziva frowned. "That does not sound very fair to me."

"Don't worry, Ducky's –"

"I am what, exactly, Anthony?" Ducky said, as he came into the squad room, Jimmy at his side.

They all turned to look at him.

"Jimmy!" Abby said, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at him.

"I'm sorry, Abby. But Dr. Mallard – "

"Insisted on accompanying him," Ducky said firmly.

Gibbs glanced at him at raised an eyebrow. "You make a habit of going everywhere with Palmer, Duck? People'll talk you know."

Ducky looked at him, his fond gaze clear for all to see. And as happened so often, Tim suddenly felt shut out. It was as though Gibbs and Ducky had moved into their own private world, one where he, where no one other than the partners existed. Ducky smiled at Gibbs and, without actually doing so, appeared to close the gap between them.

"No, Jethro," he said, his tone tinged with bemusement. "I do not make a 'habit' of it. However, when Mr. Palmer said that he needed to leave Autopsy for a few minutes, he failed to give me a satisfactory explanation as to why he needed to be absent. And as he was acting, somewhat oddly –"

"How'd he'd notice," Tony whispered to Tim. "Sorry, boss," he added, paling under the double icy glare that was thrown his way, as both Gibbs and Ducky turned to look at him. Jimmy, however, just continued to stand next to Ducky blinking and trying to look invisible. How on earth either Gibbs or Ducky had heard Tony, Tim didn't know, but clearly they had both done so.

"As I was saying," Ducky turned his attention back to Gibbs, and Tim noticed the complete change that came over Ducky's face. "As Mr. Palmer was acting somewhat oddly, guiltily one might say, I decided that it would be a good idea if I accompanied him. After all we do not want you getting back into the habit of 'vanishing' do we now, Jimmy?" He stared at Jimmy.

"I haven't done that for months, Doctor." Jimmy sounded indignant.

Ducky's gaze softened. "I know, Jimmy," he said, his tone paternal, and he patted Jimmy's shoulder. "And let us keep it like that, shall we not."

"Yes, Doctor. Of course, Doctor," Jimmy said hastily, as the words tripped over themselves.

"Good lad. Now, Anthony," Ducky turned his attention away from Jimmy and looked at Tony. "You were, I believe saying something about me?"

"Er," Tony looked at Tim. His look said 'Help!' Tim ignored it.

Ducky continued to look at him, his head slightly on one side, his expectant look on his face.

The silence continued.

Finally Tim heard Gibbs sigh. "They want to ask you questions, Duck," he said. "Get them all right, they'll buy you lunch. Get one wrong and you buy them lunch."

Ducky turned to him and beamed. "Oh, really? What kind of questions?"

Abby hurried towards him and held out the book to show him the cover. She held it firmly, fingers clasped over it, as if she feared Ducky might snatch it from her and look through it. "This," she said. "It's about all the things we all think are right, but they're not." She beamed.

"Oh, you mean like people believing that Mount Everest is the tallest mountain?" Ducky asked.

Tony's mouth fell open. "You've got the book." He sounded disappointed.

"Oh, no, Anthony," Ducky said, smiling at him. "I assure you I neither own the book nor have I read it. It is simply that Mount Everest being the tallest mountain in the world is one of the things that we all believe we know. Whereas in fact what we know, indeed in many cases what we are taught, is in fact incorrect."

"What is the tallest mountain then, Doctor?"

Ducky turned to Jimmy. "It is actually Mauna Kea, which is an inactive volcano on the island of Hawaii. It is approximately three-quarters of a mile taller than Everest."

"They why does everyone think Everest is the tallest?"

Ducky smiled again. "The current convention is that 'highest' means when measured from sea level to the summit of the mountain. However, 'tallest' means when measured from the bottom of the mountain to the top."

"Huh?" Tony asked.

"The majority of Mauna Kea, is actually below sea level," Ducky said. "Indeed the amount that is above sea level is very modest indeed. As such, people forget about it and believe that Mount Everest is the tallest, whereas in fact it is merely the highest."

Gibbs looked at him. "That's just semantics, Duck."

Ducky beamed at him. "Not entirely, my dear Jethro. However, I do know what you mean," he said. "Now I shall leave you good people to decide on the questions you wish to ask me. Shall we meet in, say, three-quarters of an hour in the small conference room?" And before anyone could answer, he turned away and began to walk, his limp obvious as it always was, across the room.

Suddenly though, he stopped turned back around and returned to the group. "Oh, dear," he said, heading towards Abby, "I am forgetting my manners." He took her arms and tugged her down a little; even so he still had to stretch his neck to reach her so that he could solemnly kiss her twice, once on each cheek. "Merry Christmas, Abigail dear," he said. "Your new attire looks very fetching."

"Thank you, Duckman," Abby answered, bending down and kissing him in return.

"And we must not of course forget the other ladies, even though they have not been as forward thinking as you have." And with that, he turned and moved to Ziva.

Despite widening her eyes a little and glancing swiftly at Gibbs, Ziva held her ground. As he had done with Abby, Ducky took her arms and with equal solemnity kissed her on each cheek. Apart from 'Ziva dear', Tim didn't know what Ducky said to her, as he spoke in Ziva's native tongue. Clearly it pleased her though, as she smiled, and answered him in the same language.

Ducky then moved to Director Shepard. "Director," he said politely. He took her hand and she bent down a little to offer her cheek to him. "Merry Christmas, Jennifer."

"Merry Christmas, Ducky." As Abby had done, she too returned the kiss.

"Would you like to join in the questioning, Jennifer?" Ducky asked.

She smiled rueful and said, her tone unlike any Tim had heard, "I'd love to, Ducky. However, there are various things I have to do this morning. And no," she added, glancing around the group, "that was not a hint that you all should be working. You enjoy yourselves."

Tim hoped he didn't look as surprised as he felt. "Thank you, Director Shepard," he managed, when it became clear that no one else was going to say anything.

She smiled and turned away.

"Maybe if you have finished your work by lunch time, Jennifer, you might care to join us," Ducky called, as she began to walk away.

She stopped and turned back. "Maybe," she said, smiled again, and this time did walk away.

Ducky watched her for a moment before turning his attention to Gibbs. "Oh, well never mind. Six has always been one of my favorite numbers, has it not, Jethro?" The message was clear.

Gibbs glared at him; as much as Gibbs ever glared at Ducky. "Yeah, Duck," he finally said, his tone one of resignation.

Ducky beamed back at him. "Good. Well, now I really shall leave you good people to decide on the questions you all wish to ask me. And I shall see you shortly." With a wave of his hand, he turned and headed across the squad room again. This time he didn't stop.

As Ducky limped across the room towards the elevators, Tim glanced at Gibbs who was watching Ducky. He wondered if his boss had any idea just what the gentle-for-Gibbs gaze screamed.

AN HOUR LATER

"What kept you?" Ducky asked, as the team trooped into the small conference room.

Although he spoke to them all, his gaze settled and stayed on Gibbs. Until Gibbs had moved into Ducky's Reston home, to live with his long-time lover, he'd always believed that Ducky had revealed many of his true feelings for him, just by the way he looked at him. However, now he knew that Ducky had only shown a very small amount of them, keeping the others firmly locked away. Now the pale blue gaze blazed with a love and devotion so deep that Gibbs felt constantly warmed and happy by it, as well as unworthy. Surely no one, certainly not him, deserved to be loved as much as Ducky loved him.

The kids and Jenny had all be fine with the discovery of the true nature of Gibbs's relationship with Ducky, but then Gibbs had often believed that some of the kids had suspected. Indeed the vast majority of their co-workers seemed unfazed or unbothered by the news. Some, Gibbs had to admit, seemed surprised and cast him incredulous looks from time to time – in truth, he couldn't blame them. However, other than one man who'd fled from the head when Gibbs had gone in one day, no one seemed perturbed. Gibbs did wonder idly whether it might have anything to do with just how clearly his team made it known that they did not mind, were, in fact, delighted by the news, and that if anyone tried to make trouble, they'd have them to deal with. Crossing Ziva in particular wasn't something that most people would do lightly.

"Important phone call, Ducky," DiNozzo said quickly.

Gibbs looked witheringly at him. "DiNozzo refused to believe what the book said about St. Bernards; he insisted on McGee looking it up on the web to prove he was right."

"Ah. I assume that Timothy did in fact manage to confirm it was the book that was correct," Ducky said, his tone one of gentle amusement. He then added, "But do not feel too badly about your mistake, Anthony, it is a common one. Many people believe what the pictures show them; they see St. Bernards with brandy flasks around their necks, thus they truly believe that the dogs carry them. Of course anyone with any understanding of medical matters, or the art of rescuing, would know that giving brandy to someone with hypothermia would be a disastrous mistake to make. I do hope, Jimmy, that you were aware of the fallacy involved?"

Palmer nodded. "Oh, yes, Doctor," he said quickly.

Ducky beamed. "Good. Now why don't we go and get comfortable, and you can all ask me the questions you have chosen." Solicitously, he held the chairs while Abby and Ziva sat down, before allowing the men to sit down themselves. Finally when his 'guests' were all seated, Ducky himself sat down, between Gibbs and Abby.

"Right," he said, looking around at them. "Who is going to ask me the first question?"

They all looked at one another.

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "DiNozzo. You start."

"Right boss. Okay, Ducky," DiNozzo took the book from McGee and opened it, flipping through the pages until he came to the one marked with his name. "Can you tell us what James Bond's favorite drink is?"

"I might have known you would choose something from a movie, Tony," Ziva said.

DiNozzo ignored her. "Well, Ducky?" he asked, sitting forward. "Do you know?" He grinned.

"As a matter of fact, Anthony, I do, yes. His favorite drink, by a considerably margin, is whiskey."

Gibbs glanced at DiNozzo as Ducky spoke, and saw his face fall. So Ducky was right; not that he doubted his lover, but even he knew the famous 'shaken not stirred' line.

"But, Doctor," Palmer said, looking puzzled. "I've seen most of the movies and he definitely drinks martinis."

Ducky smiled. "Indeed he does, Jimmy. However, James Bond existed as a character in Ian Fleming's books quite some time before he appeared on the screen. And in the books he drinks more whiskey than any other alcoholic beverage, and he prefers bourbon to scotch." He shook his head a little as he said the words; Gibbs hid a smile.

Ducky sat forward slightly and folded his hands together; his voice took on his storyteller's timbre. "He does drink other things as well, for instance he is also fond of champagne, and in You Only Live Twice, which is set in Japan, he drinks rather a lot of sake. You will probably be surprised to hear that the number of times he opts for his supposed favorite drink is very small indeed, and he also drinks almost as many gin martinis as vodka martinis. The reason for the misconception, I imagine, was that the filmmakers opted for the vodka martini and the 'shaken not stirred', which was first spoken by Sean Connery in Goldfinger, I believe, because it had a far more flamboyant appeal than the simple whiskey. Well, Anthony, am I correct?" His eyes twinkled with mirth.

DiNozzo was sitting just staring at Ducky. He seemed almost mesmerized by the facts Ducky imparted and was clearly impressed by Ducky's knowledge about Sean Connery. "Yeah," he said hurriedly. "You're spot on, Ducky. According to this book, Bond, in the books, consumed three hundred and seventeen drinks. A hundred and one of those were whiskey and he only drank vodka martini nineteen times. Well done," he added.

Ducky beamed at him. "Thank you, Anthony. Now who would like to go next?"

"Oh, me, please. Me," Abby cried, almost bouncing on her seat. "Can I?"

"Certainly, Abigail."

For half a second Abby frowned, then snatched the book from DiNozzo, opened it at her marker, smiled gleefully, looked at Ducky and asked her question. "What crime did Burke and Hare commit?" Now she did bounce.

DiNozzo sighed. "Everyone knows that, Abby," he said.

"Remember, Anthony, this book is full of questions to which everyone believes they know the answers. You are, of course, expecting me to say 'body snatching', are you not? However, they were in fact guilty of murder. If my memory is correct, in total they killed sixteen people and sold the bodies to an anatomist named Knot."

"Why did they commit murder?" Abby demanded.

"Abby, you've got the book, you know."

"But I want Ducky to tell us," she said, glaring at DiNozzo.

Now Ducky settled back a little more in his seat, his arm brushing against Gibbs as he did so. "In the nineteenth century the number of students studying anatomy increased by a very large amount, and there simply wasn't the bodies available to fulfill their needs. At the time the law in Britain decreed that only the corpses of recently executed criminals could be used for the purposes of dissection. As the number of executions was not great enough to provide the necessary number of corpses, an illicit trade in 'grave robbing' or 'body snatching' as it is more colloquially known, quickly grew up. Burke and Hare, however, were more proactive, rather than going to the trouble of robbing graves, they simply committed murder and sold the bodies."

Abby who, as DiNozzo had pointed out already knew the stuff, was sitting on the edge of her seat, her elbows on her knees, her chin in her hands, staring avidly at Ducky as he spoke. She was utterly captivated. In fact all the kids were staring at Ducky, listening to his every word; Gibbs himself was content to sit and listen to Ducky, the midst of a case aside, he always was.

"Did they get caught, Doctor?"

"Why yes, Jimmy, they did indeed. However, as so often happens in these cases, Hare, in order to save himself, gave evidence against Burke and his wife, Helen, who was also believed to have at the very least been aware of what her husband was doing. However, at the trial she was released, as the prosecution was unable to prove her involvement. Upon her release she immediately disappeared, as did the Hares; Knot was never even prosecuted. Burke was the only one of the group to be found guilty and executed."

"Was his body used for dissection?"

Ducky glanced at Palmer. "That might have been poetic justice, Jimmy, but the fact of the matter is, no one knows for certain. Do you know that amazingly today one is able to qualify as a doctor without having ever dissected a body at all? I think that is rather shocking. Apparently it is believed that the ability to dissect a body with care and reverence is merely an antiquated chore in a high-tech world." Ducky sounded extremely disenchanted. Then he sighed and said, "Ah, I remember very well my first autopsy, it took place in winter and it was cold, very cold indeed. Our Professor –"

Gibbs cleared his throat and moved slightly, gently brushing against Ducky who turned and smiled at him.

"I do apologize, my dears, I was digressing a little. Now whose turn is it? Jimmy, how about you?"

"Me?"

Ducky nodded. "Yes. Come along, Jimmy. Ask me your question."

Palmer's eyes became wide as he took the book from Abby, dropped it, picked it up again and flipped through the pages. Panic seemed to grow in him as he failed to find his marker. Suddenly he blurted out, "What makes champagne fizz?"

"Dirt," Ducky said firmly.

"No way."

"Urgh."

"It can't be that."

"I'm afraid it is. Again, people believe it is the carbon dioxide that creates the fizz, but that is not the case. If you poured champagne into a perfectly smooth, clean glass, the carbon dioxide molecules would evaporate invisibly. Because of this, for a long time it was believed it was the imperfections in the glass that enabled the bubbles to form. However, new photographic techniques have revealed this is not the case; the imperfections are far too small for the bubbles to attach themselves to. Instead it is the microscopic particles of dust, dirt and fluff that will be found in even, what is be believed to be, the cleanest of glasses that enable the bubbles to form."

"You mean every time I've drunk champagne, I've been drinking dirt?" DiNozzo sounded horrified.

"Anthony, every time you, any of you, eat or drink anything, you will be ingesting a small amount of dust or fluff or dirt," Ducky said calmly. "There is simply no way for us to avoid it, no matter how much care we take. Do not worry though, it will not harm you."

"How do you know?"

Ducky sighed. "The fact that you are, that I am, sitting here, in perfectly good health should prove it," he said.

DiNozzo still didn't look overly reassured.

"Go on, McGee," Gibbs said. "Ask Ducky your question."

"Right boss. Ducky, how did Roman emperors order the death of a gladiator?"

Ducky raised one hand, folded his fingers into his palm and raised one thumb. "Like this," he said calmly. "With the thumb up."

"But all the movies –"

"Show the crowed and the emperor using the thumbs down sign. Ah, once again, Anthony, films do not give a true depiction of reality. Not only did the Roman emperors not use the thumbs down sign, Romans did not use it at all. Instead the thumbs up, was used as it is like a drawn sword, the weapon that would be used to execute the gladiator. No, if the loser's life was to be spared, the emperor would keep his thumb tucked inside his hand, like this." Ducky tucked his thumb into his hand. "That, as you can see, to continue the analogy, is like a sheathed weapon. In Latin it is expressed as police compresso favor iudicabatur, which translated means 'goodwill is decided by the thumb being kept in'."

"How come they got it wrong then, Duck?" Gibbs found himself asking.

Ducky turned to look at him, his gaze soft and steady. "Ah, that was the result of a single painting. Pollice Verso painted by the nineteenth century artist Jean-Léon Gérôme; it shows a gladiator awaiting his fate and the emperor's thumb is pointing downwards. Historians agree that Gérôme incorrectly assumed that police verso which means 'turned thumb' meant 'turned down', whereas in fact it meant 'turned up'. That one painting has been single-handedly responsible for one of the greatest fallacies of the last two centuries: 'thumbs down' indicates death."

"Ha, so Scott got it wrong when he directed Gladiator?"

"Indeed, he did, Anthony. Indeed he did. Just like so many producers and directors before him. Now, who is going to ask me the penultimate question? Ziva? Or is it to be you, my dear Jethro?" Again Ducky turned to gaze lovingly at Gibbs.

"You know, I'm not sure Gibbs should ask you a question, Ducky."

"And why not, Anthony?" Ducky turned his attention to DiNozzo.

"Well, he knows you so well, he might . . ." Under Gibbs's gaze, DiNozzo trailed off. He flushed suddenly realizing what he was implying. "Sorry, boss," he said swiftly. "I didn't mean to . . . That is . . . I know you wouldn't . . . I just meant . . . Well -"

"Ziva, ask Ducky you question," Gibbs said, cutting into DiNozzo's incoherence.

Ziva frowned as McGee handed her the book. "I have not chosen a question for Dr. Mallard. I am not certain I –"

"Oh, go on, Ziva. It's fun. Look here, I'll find one for you to ask." Abby took the book from Ziva's hands and flipped through it. "Ooh, ask this one?" Her eyes gleamed, as she handed the book to Ziva.

Ziva quickly read it and her eyes widened. "Abby. That's –"

"Oh, go on, Ziva. Please."

"But, Abby, as Ducky is a doctor he is almost certain to know the answer. I thought the object of this game was to ask him questions to which he would not know the answer. Yes?"

Abby sighed. "Yes," she said, looking very disappointed. "But ask him anyway. What?" she demanded, silencing DiNozzo before he could speak. "It's Christmas."

Ziva glanced at Gibbs who just shrugged. "Very well. Ducky, how long do your fingernails and hair grow after death?"

"Urgh, Abby," McGee said.

Abby just glared at him.

Ducky smiled. "As you indeed predicted, Ziva, I am afraid that I do know the answer to this. The correct answer that is, not the fallacy so many people believe. Despite popular belief, neither the hair nor the fingernails continue to grow at all. Instead, as the body dehydrates the skin tightens, thus giving the illusion of hair and nail growth."

"I didn't know that, Doctor," Palmer said.

"Don't worry about it, Jimmy. You do now. And I'm sure you will remember it."

"Oh, yes, Doctor." Palmer nodded avidly.

"Where did the idea come from then, Ducky?"

"From someone like yourself, Timothy, a writer. The novelist Erich Paul Remarque wrote about it in his classic novel All Quiet On The Western Front. Quite why he had the idea, I do not know; however, he did. And from there the idea became one of popular belief, and has, of course, been used to great effect, albeit incorrectly, in many films." Ducky's tone changed a little as he continued to speak. "Of course whilst the nails and hair might not continue to grow after death, there is nonetheless plenty of activity going on. You may be dead, but your body will thrive with life. You see –"

"Er, Duck."

"Yes, Jethro."

"Another time maybe. Don’t want to ruin the kids' lunches."

"Of course not. I do apologize." Ducky smiled at each of them. Only Abby looked upset that Gibbs had stopped Ducky, in fact she pouted. Ducky looked at her, patted her hand, and said quietly, "We can discuss it later if you wish, Abigail."

The pout vanished and instead she beamed happily.

Ducky smiled back at her, before once more turning his attention to Gibbs. "Well, my dear. It appears as though it has fallen to you to ask the question which will prevent you all from buying lunch." His eyes twinkled as he looked at Gibbs.

"Make it a good one, boss," DiNozzo said, taking the book from Ziva and handing it to Gibbs.

Gibbs, who like Ziva hadn't chosen a question, held the book out at arms' length and blinked hard several times as he tried to focus.

After a moment Ducky handed him his glasses. "Try these," he said.

"Thanks, Duck." Gibbs took them. They were more powerful then his, but after another moment or two of blinking, he managed to read the list of questions at the front of the book. He scanned through them, trying to find, to use DiNozzo's words, 'a good one.'

He found one that would do. "Okay, Duck, how many people died in the Great Fire of London?"

"Gibbs! That's not fair," Abby said. "How can you expect anyone to –"

"It's perfectly fair, Abby," DiNozzo said. "Well, Ducky. How many?"

Ducky still looked at Gibbs, who took Ducky's glasses off and handed them back to him. "Hmm, well now, let me see. I do know that despite the fact over eighty percent of the city was destroyed, which included more than thirteen thousand homes, and dozens of churches, the actual number of recorded deaths was amazingly low. That isn't to say that the true number wasn't far greater; as modern forensic evidence suggests, some of the corpses would almost certainly have been vaporized by the heat. Thus their deaths would not have been recorded. Indeed –"

"Ducky! Sorry, boss," DiNozzo hastened to add.

"It's quite all right, Anthony. I was, once again, wandering from the subject. The truth is, I am afraid that I do not know the exact number of deaths that were recorded. I am certain that it was fewer than ten. But as to the actual number, well . . ." Ducky spread his hands and looked abashed.

"Yes!" DiNozzo cried, clenching his fist.

"Like Abby, I do not think that was a fair question. How many was it, Gibbs?" Ziva asked.

"Five."

"Well then, fewer than ten is close enough, I believe. Do you not think so, Abby?"

Abby nodded firmly. "Yes."

In the background Palmer was also nodding.

"Oh, no," DiNozzo said. "Rules are rules. Aren't they, McGeek?"

Before McGee could answer, Ducky spoke. "It is quite all right, Ziva, Abigail," he smiled at each of them. "Anthony is correct, I failed to answer the question accurately, therefore lunch is to be my treat." He beamed at each of them in turn. "Now why do you not collect your coats and do whatever else you wish to do, and I'll join you shortly." He stood up. "And why don't you go down to Autopsy and collect your coat and then join the rest of the children, Jimmy. There is nothing that I need you to do."

"Thank you, Doctor." Palmer managed to avoid tripping over his feet as he followed DiNozzo, McGee and Abby towards the door. Only Ziva and Gibbs himself remained. Ziva was looking at Ducky, her head slightly on one side.

"What is it, Ziva?" Ducky asked gently.

"You knew, did you not?"

"Knew what?"

"How many registered deaths there were?"

Ducky smiled. "There are many things one knows without necessarily being able to recall the fact at the instant one wishes to," he said.

She frowned and was silent for a moment or two. Then she said, "It would not matter what question Gibbs had asked you, would it? Or whoever asked you the final question. You would have given the incorrect answer, would you not?"

"Why, Ziva, what are you suggesting?"

"That you always intended to buy lunch for all of us." Ducky just continued to smile. "Why did you simply not offer to do so? Why go through the," she paused and frowned. Gibbs could see her searching for the word.

Ducky took pity on her. "Charade of you all asking me questions?"

She nodded. "Yes."

"Did you not enjoy yourself?"

She looked at Gibbs, then back at Ducky. "It was educational," she admitted.

"Only educational?"

"And enjoyable, yes. But –"

"Well then," Ducky simply said. "Now go along and join the others. Jethro and I will be with you shortly."

She opened her mouth to say something else. But then closed it again, glared at Gibbs, turned on her heel and stalked out of the room.

"She's got a point, Duck," Gibbs said. He crossed to a chair where Ducky had put his hat and coat and picked them up; he then returned to Ducky and held the coat for Ducky to put on. However, he kept the hat. "Well. Doesn't she?"

"Oh, Jethro my dear. Just think how disappointed Anthony would be if he couldn't spend several days believing that I do not, after all, know everything."

Gibbs laughed. "Yeah, guess he would."

"Besides," Ducky said, tucking his hand through Gibbs's arm and moved with him towards the door. "I am, as Anthony was about to say before Jimmy and I appeared, very wealthy. As you well know, I can easily afford to buy you all lunch, and it is, as always, my pleasure to do so."

Gibbs did know. He knew only too well. When he'd moved in with Ducky, Ducky had calmly handed him a copy of his saving's account statement, and other important documentation. The paperwork had not only shown Gibbs exactly how wealthy his lover was, but also that Ducky had added his name to the saving's account, the deeds of the house, his investments and several other things.

Gibbs had always known that he was the main beneficiary in Ducky's will – not that he ever thought about Ducky dying – but somehow he hadn't realized that the simple act of moving into Ducky's home with him, would overnight make him an extremely wealthy man. He'd tried to argue with Ducky, he had tried very hard, but Ducky had been immoveable, intractable in a way he hardly ever was, refusing to give in. In the end, because he could see it was causing his lover distress, Gibbs had stopped arguing. He still wasn't overly comfortable with it all, but as he knew it made Ducky happy, and making Ducky happy made him happy, he never let his unease show.

They moved across the corridor to the elevators, Ducky's arm still through his, and Gibbs pushed the button to summon the elevator. As they waited for the car to arrive he said, "Think they all know?"

Ducky turned to look at him. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if Abigail and Timothy had not guessed. Jimmy, probably not. He is in many ways a very innocent young man; I do not believe he would think me capable of what, could be considered to be, such duplicity. As for Anthony . . . I do not know, Jethro. Almost certainly not, at least not consciously. Sub-consciously, however, I would imagine –"

During Ducky's speech the elevator had arrived and Gibbs had led Ducky inside, pushed the button to start the car moving and almost immediately pushed the emergency stop button to stop it. As it shuddered to a halt, he swept Ducky into his arms, lowered his head and silenced his monologue in his favorite way.

"Mmm, Jethro," Ducky said, as he looked up at Gibbs, several moments later. "Now what was it I was saying? Ah yes. The –"

With a fake growl, Gibbs bent his head again and once more found Ducky's mouth.

When they finally arrived in the squad room, it was to find one of the members of one of the other teams calling the maintenance engineer to report a faulty elevator.




Tags: !creator: nakeisha, challenge 24, fiction, yuletide gift exchange 2007
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