HERE WE GO A-CAROLING

 

By

 

Ashleigh Anpilova

 

The eighth story in my Occasions Universe.

Ducky persuades the team to go carol singing.

An established relationship story.

Written: December 2008. Word count: 10,944.

 

 

 13TH DECEMBER: RESTON HOUSE

 

"No, Ducky." And this time he meant it. He was well aware that some of the time, make that most of the time, when he said 'no, Ducky', he ended up giving in, but not this time. This time he was determined that whatever Ducky did or said, no matter how he looked at him, no matter what 'bribe' he offered (not that Ducky resorted to that kind of thing) he was standing firm.

 

"Very well, my dear. I quite understand. It would have been nice and strictly speaking we do, well I do . . . But, no. It is quite all right." Ducky slipped his arm through Jethro's, no doubt to let him know he meant his words.

 

The trouble was that Jethro knew Ducky did mean them; he really did. He never used the kind of manipulation or emotional blackmail the words could have implied, had anyone else said them. He didn't need to, because Jethro already felt bad enough by saying 'no'. And if he left it now, nothing more would be said. It wouldn't even be hinted at or referred to obliquely, let alone spoken about openly.

 

So that was all right; it was over. They could settle down and enjoy the evening alone, by the roaring fire in the sitting room of their Reston home; sitting together on the couch, a glass of good scotch in their hands, chatting or not and then . . . Well, it was Saturday evening and there were no outstanding cases at the office.

 

It was over and done with. He'd get the drinks and - And then he made the big mistake of looking down into Ducky's steady gaze. Again, Jethro knew Ducky wasn't deliberately letting his sadness at his rejection show. He knew that Ducky's words were final. But . . .

 

He pulled Ducky into a loose embrace, linking his hands behind Ducky's back and holding him. "It's just that . . . You know it's not my kind of thing."

 

Ducky slipped his own arms around Jethro's neck and smiled up at him. "I know, my dear. And it is perfectly all right, really it is. Come along, pour me a drink and let us sit and just enjoy the peace and quiet." He stretched up and lightly kissed Jethro's lips. It was nothing more than a mere whisper of a kiss, but as was always the case when Ducky kissed him, it never ceased to show him just how much his oldest and closest friend loved him.

 

Jethro shook his head. "Ah, Duck," he said quietly, kissing the tip of Ducky's nose in return. "Right, drink it is. What do you want?"

 

"I really do not mind, my dear. Whatever comes to hand is perfectly fine."

 

Jethro glanced down at Ducky just to see if his word were meant in some other way. Ducky wasn't beyond playing word games with him. However, from the look on Ducky's face and in particular in the steady pale gaze, tonight was not one of those times. Jethro found himself frowning slightly, but as Ducky's gaze turned quizzical, he just shook his head, kissed Ducky lightly again and broke the loose embrace.

 

He poured two measures of Aberlour, one of the many pure malts Ducky had introduced him to, and took them to the couch where Ducky was sitting. He handed one over to his lover and sat down next to him. "What did you mean when you said 'strictly speaking we do' and then changed it to 'I do'?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "Nothing, Jethro. Really."

 

"Duck. You never say anything without a reason. Come on, tell me."

 

Ducky shifted on the couch; Jethro was uncertain if it was out of discomfort from his leg or because he didn't want to peruse the subject. "It is just that . . . Helen was always so good to Mother and - Look, Jethro, we've agreed. And that is that. Now, come along, let us talk about something else."

 

Jethro closed his eyes. He was not going to give in. He wasn't. He sought around for another subject, but found himself asking instead, "How long would it last?"

 

"Jethro." Ducky sounded slightly aggrieved and his tone was just a little sharp. He turned towards Jethro and the hint of steel in the steady, affectionate gaze, matched his tone.

 

But Jethro could more than match the tone and the gaze. "How long?"

 

"An hour; maybe two. No more. But, Jethro, this is just -"

 

"I don't sing very well, Duck. I know you do, but . . . And carols aren't my thing."

 

"It wouldn't be just the two of us." Ducky's tone had lost its sharp edge and now a hint of hope hovered there instead. "At least I would hope it wouldn't."

 

Jethro put his head back and looked up at the ceiling. He was not going to give in. "Tell you what, Duck. Get the kids, all five of them, to agree to come too and I'll do it." He mentally crossed his fingers as he hastened to run through what their reactions might be. Abbs, McGee and Palmer he reckoned would agree; Abby and Palmer would do anything for Ducky and McGee would do anything for Abby, so . . . But he was certain that neither DiNozzo nor Ziva would want to join in, he wasn't even too certain if Ziva would feel it appropriate.

 

Ducky was suddenly far too quiet and far too still by his side. Jethro turned his head and looked at his lover, who chose that moment to glance away. No, Jethro groaned silently. No. "Duuuuck?" He drew the name out. "You haven't? Ducky," he added, growling the name very, very slightly. "Look at me."

 

Ducky did; he looked very apologetic. "I may have mentioned it, in passing, to dear Abigail and she was extremely excited by the idea. You know how Abby gets?"

 

"Yeah. I do."

 

"And she expressed an interest to . . . Um, well . . . To come along, and she said she was certain that Timothy would too. And it just so happened that Jimmy was - Jethro, what kind of parent names their child with a diminutive name?"

 

Jethro blinked at the sudden change of subject and shook his head as he hid his amusement at the seriousness of his lover's tone. He knew how much it aggrieved Ducky not to be able to extend Palmer's name like his did the others. "Don't know, Duck," he said, now putting his arm around Ducky's shoulders and pulling him into an embrace. "They probably did it just to piss you off." Now he laughed.

 

"But that is not possible. I - Oh, Jethro, really," Ducky chastised him gently.

 

Resigned now, Jethro settled back into the firm softness of the couch's cushions. "You were saying that Palmer just happened . . . ?"

 

"Oh, yes. He just happened to be in Autopsy when I was mentioning the event to Abigail."

 

"Just 'happened', eh?"

 

"Oh, yes, Jethro. Had Abigail popped down to see me the day before, well Jimmy wouldn't have been there as he was at Medical School. And as I was so busy, I was unable to leave Autopsy for more than a few minutes at a time. So . . . It was pure chance. Why, do you doubt my word?"

 

Jethro shook his head. "Nope. Course not, Duck. Would I do that?"

 

"Hmmm." Was Ducky's response.

 

"And DiNozzo and Ziva, did they just 'happen' to be around at the time as well?"

 

Ducky sighed. "No, Jethro. They did not. What possible reason would Anthony or Ziva have for being in Autopsy without you?"

 

It was a good point. But, "They do go down to see you sometimes without me, Duck."

 

Ducky sighed again. "And you tell me that I am pedantic from time to time."

 

Jethro turned and looked at him. He was very tempted to engage in a bout of word games with Ducky, except he knew full well who would win. So instead he just shrugged and said, "Guilty as charged. So they don't know?"

 

"Ah, well. It appears that Abigail mentioned it to Ziva when they had lunch together. Oh, Jethro, it is so nice to see the girls getting on so well nowadays. I do confess that at first I feared . . . Well, I think we all did, did we not? Ziva was not quite Caitlin. But now, we are a real family again, are we not?"

 

"Yeah, Duck. Guess we are." He kissed the top of Ducky's head. "So Abbs told Ziva and . . . ?"

 

"Well, to my surprise, Ziva said that she would be very interested in participating in the event. I must confess I was in fact very surprised. As we know she is not a strict Jew, and I know she attended our Yuletide celebration last year, but even so. And I do happen to know that she has a beautiful voice."

 

"Yeah, it's nice."

 

"Jethro? Ah, of course." Ducky put his hand on Jethro's knee.

 

For a moment they sat in silence as they remembered just what a debt they owed to Ziva. If it hadn't been for her - Well, Jethro wouldn't be sitting here now with Ducky in his arms. He tightened the embrace, pulling Ducky nearer to him and again kissing the top of his head. No one, outside of Ziva and himself, other than Ducky, knew the truth about Ari's death. No one. He didn't know if Ziva suspected he had told Ducky, but knowing his Mossad liaison officer as he did, he guessed she did.

 

Somehow he knew it was up to him to break the silence. "Guess that just leaves DiNozzo. Unless Abby told him too? Or Ziva for that matter."

 

"As far as I am aware Anthony has not been approached, no. So you see you're perfectly safe. Of course I shall have to invite him to join us all here afterwards, it would not be fair otherwise. You must remember how hurt he was when he discovered we had all been to Ziva's for dinner and he had not been invited?"

 

"Yeah, he was pretty - What do you mean 'join us all here afterwards'?"

 

"Ah."

 

"Ducky?" Jethro put his glass down on the coffee table and turned to look hard at his lover.

 

Ducky met the gaze and held it. "I am going carol singing, Jethro, whether or not you join me. I not only feel it is the right thing to do, I want to do it. I had considered doing it on previous years, but . . . Well, that does not matter. What matter is, I am going to do it this year. It has been too many years since I last participated in such an event. And once I had mentioned it to the children and they'd expressed an interest well . . . One can hardly expect them to come all the way out here, go around houses singing and then just go back to their own homes, can one?"

 

"Can't one?"

 

"No, Jethro. So I thought mulled wine, mince pies, sausage rolls and a few other snacks would be the ideal way to round of what I know will be a very pleasnt evening. Oh, don't worry; I do not intend it to be on the scale of last Christmas or Thanksgiving or the ghost story evening. No, this will be just a few snacks. Besides, if you remember after our successful Yuletide evening last year, you did indicate that you would not be against holding a similar event. Somehow this year has overtaken me somewhat and I had quite, if not forgotten, then . . . Ah, where was I?"

 

"Something to do with inviting the kids back here afterwards for a few snacks and a glass or two of mulled wine, I think."

 

"Ah, yes. So as I said, it won't be a major event, just a nice evening with the family."

 

Jethro shook his head, amused in spite of himself. The idea of Ducky providing a mere 'few snacks' for guests was a foreign concept to his lover. "You were planning on telling me, I presume?"

 

"Jethro!" Ducky more than a little hurt tone showed Jethro's attempt at humor had failed. "And I wasn't going to 'tell' you, I was going to ask you. This is our home, my dear. I would not dream of inviting guests without discussing it with you first. I am -"

 

"Better?" Jethro asked, when a few minutes had gone by. "I didn't mean to imply you would, Duck. I was just teasing you. Guess it didnít come out right. Okay, so let me get this straight, you, Abbs, McGee, Palmer and Ziva are going to join Helen and some of her Ladies' Circle and go and sing around the local old folks home and some of the houses?"

 

"Yes, that is essentially it. Oh, and I do believe Helen has persuaded Charlie to accompany her."

 

"And then you and the kids come back here? It is just the kids we're talking about, isn't it, Duck? Not the entire Ladies' Circle?"

 

"Oh, no. Just the team, my dear. The Ladies' Circle will arrange their own post-singing refreshments."

 

"And you couldn't just go to that?" It seemed a perfectly logical question for Jethro to ask.

 

"Well, I'm sure we could. I am sure that Helen would be more than happy for us to do so. However, I think the children would be happier here, and as I am the one who has suggested it to them, well, I feel that it is my duty to provide some degree of hospitality."

 

"Something you're not telling me, Duck?" Jethro didn't know what it was, but suddenly his gut began to twitch somewhat.

 

But Ducky held his gaze and shook his head. "No, of course not, dearest. What one earth makes you think that?"

 

Jethro half-shrugged and continued to look at Ducky, who continued to meet his gaze. "So while you are out singing carols to old folk, I stay here and . . . ?"

 

"Work on your boat. Invite Tobias to join you. I can leave you clear instructions as to when to heat the mulled wine. There are many ways you can pass the time, Jethro. And as I said, we'll only be an hour, maybe two at the most. Jethro?"

 

Jethro pulled his cell phone out and without actually looking at it, pressed a number. "It's me. You ever been carol singing? . . . . . . No, I'm not drunk . . . . . . Yes, he's here with me . . . . . . No, it's not April 1st . . . . . So, have you? . . . . . . Well, it's about time you went then . . . . . . No, our ex-wife laughing is not an excuse . . . . . . Mulled wine, mince pies, sausage rolls and whatever else Ducky deems 'snacks' . . . . . . Of course they will be . . . . . . Yes, 'that' mulled wine . . . . . . Hang on." He looked at Ducky. "When was it again?"

 

"This time next week, but -"

 

"A week tonight . . . . . . No, you haven't . . . . . . Because it'll make you feel good . . . . . . Yeah, you too." And he clicked the phone off, pushed it back into his trousers pocket and looked at Ducky. "Satisfied?"

 

Ducky smiled and leaned nearer to Jethro and kissed him. "Very," he said. And then blatantly batting his eyelashes at Jethro added, "Although now that you mention it -"

 

An hour later Jethro remembered, not for the first time, just why they had spent quite the amount of money they'd spent on buying a new couch.

 

15TH DECEMBER: NCIS SQUAD ROOM

 

"Hey, boss. Hey, Ducky."

 

"Good morning, Anthony."

 

"We're all going carol singing on Saturday evening, DiNozzo."

 

"Oh, Saturday, boss. I can't. Any other night and -"

 

"I said we're all going carol singing on Saturday evening, DiNozzo."

 

"So you did. Right, boss. Yes, boss. Certainly, boss."

 

20TH DECEMBER: RESTON HOUSE

 

"Hey, Duck, where have you -" Jethro came to a stop inside the dining room as he looked at the table and sideboards where the 'few snacks' awaited the return of the, no doubt, hungry carol singers. He shook his head in amusement as he gazed at the laden table; he'd been correct the concept of a 'few snacks' was foreign to his lover.

 

At that moment Ducky hurried into the room via the other door. "Ah, there you are, Jethro," he said, putting down another two dishes. "I was wondering where you . . . Is something wrong?" he asked.

 

Jethro shook his head. "Nah, Duck. Nothing. Just admiring the 'snacks'," he said.

 

"Oh, good. You approve?"

 

"Sure do. Sure the kids and Tobias will too."

 

"You don't think I've under-catered, do you? Jethro? Jethro? Are you all right, my dear?" Ducky now hurried across the room and took Jethro's arm. Jethro gave up trying not to laugh out loud. "Jethro, what is amusing you so much?" Now Ducky sounded somewhat piqued.

 

Jethro wiped his eyes and put his arms around his lover, pulling him nearer to him. "Sorry, Duck," he said, kissing the top of Ducky's head. "It's just . . ." and he started to laugh again.

 

After a moment or two he felt Ducky began to chuckle gently in his embrace and then he too stopped hiding the laughter and joined Jethro.

 

"You know how the children like to eat," Ducky said, when both men were finally capable of speech. "And I thought that as we had provided a fairly substantial amount of food the other times they have visited us that - And don't forget, Tobias is joining us too this time."

 

Jethro shook his head. "Ah, Duck," he murmured, softening his tone as he pulled Ducky even nearer to him and bent his head. "Don't ever change." He leaned closer to Ducky and put his mouth onto Ducky's.

 

"I thought you locked your front door these days."

 

Jethro lifted his head. "Fornell!" he growled, making the embrace a little less intimate, but still keeping Ducky in his arms.

 

"What? Oh, don't mind me. You carry on. I'll just . . ." And Tobias wandered over to the table and began to examine the food. "Nice snacks, Ducky," he called, grabbing a sausage roll.

 

"Hey, they're for later," Jethro, let go of Ducky, strode towards Tobias and grabbed his hand.

 

But Tobias was quicker and popped the roll into his mouth. "Mmm, that's not shop bought," he said, ignoring Jethro and looking at Ducky. "You've stopped then. Didn't have to on my account." He reached for another sausage roll, but this time Ducky deftly picked the plate up and removed it.

 

"As you both appear to have nothing to do, you can help me by covering things up," he said, grabbing a roll of foil from one of the sideboards and handing it to Jethro. "Now if you will excuse me, I must go and check on the mulled wine." And with that he left.

 

Tobias glanced at Jethro. "Is he as pissed as he sounds?"

 

Jethro shook his head. "Nah, not at all."

 

"You sure?" Tobias didn't sound convinced.

 

"Yeah. I saw his eyes, plus I know him. Duck's fine. Really. Now me on the other hand . . . Wait a minute, I did lock the front door. I know I did."

 

Tobias shrugged. "I thought I'd save you the trouble of answering it. Thought you might be busy. What are they?" he pointed at the plate Jethro was about to cover with foil.

 

Jethro looked at it. "Not sure. You can ask Duck later. If you want a drink before we go, you know where it is."

 

"I thought you'd never ask. You want one?"

 

"What do you think?" Jethro continued to cover the plates with the foil as Tobias poured two healthy measures of scotch into two glasses. "Thanks," he said, taking one of the glasses.

 

"Remind me exactly why we're doing this?"

 

"It's Christmas, Fornell. The time to do charitable things for other people." Jethro swallowed half of the scotch in one gulp.

 

"Ah, you mean you're doing it because Ducky asked you, and I'm doing it because you didn't want to suffer alone?"

 

Jethro smiled ruefully. "Yeah, something like that, Tobias. Something like that."

 

Tobias leaned against the wall, making no attempt to assist Jethro as he continued to cover the plates. "What do your lot think of it?"

 

Jethro looked at him. "Of what, exactly? Me and Duck? Or what?"

 

Tobias shook his head. "No, reckon they must have gotten used to that over the years. I meant how," he paused as Jethro narrowed his eyes and looked at him.

 

"At how?"

 

Tobias shrugged. "He's got you wrapped around his little finger? At how you can't say no to him? At how soft you are when it comes to him?"

 

"You done?"

 

"Can be, or I could go on."

 

"Perhaps that would not be advisable, Tobias. Not if you wish to enjoy the mulled wine. Oh, I see. I was going to offer you both a taste, but I see there is no need." Ducky his eyes twinkling with mirth, his lips twitching with the same humor, his face slightly flushed, came back into the room carrying a tray with three pewter goblets on it.

 

The smile turned to out and out laughter as, as one, Jethro and Tobias both snatched one of the goblets from the tray.

 

"That's even better than I remember it," Tobias said, after he took a mouthful of the warm, spicy, liquid and licked his lips.

 

"Why thank you, Tobias." Ducky beamed at him.

 

"Yeah, it's good, Duck." Jethro took a second swallow and slipped his arm around Ducky's shoulders.

 

"Are you certain it is seasoned enough? There isn't too much -"

 

"It's perfect, Ducky." Jethro and Tobias spoke the words together.

 

"Maybe not quite, but I thank you." Ducky beamed at them both. "The children will be here soon, so I suggest we close the doors on this room, or the chances of them actually joining me to carol sing are in danger of being seriously reduced."

 

Jethro drained his goblet and put it back on the tray. "Why are they coming here first, rather than meeting us at wherever it is we're meeting?" he asked, snagging Tobias's empty goblet and putting that on the tray as well.

 

"It seemed to make more sense. Not only could be consolidate the number of cars we take, although I imagine if they are sensible they will have arranged for a taxi or two, but I didn't have to try and give them directions. You know how poor Jimmy's sense of direction is, do you not, Jethro?"

 

Jethro gazed down into the guileless blue gaze and just smiled. "Ah, Duck," he said fondly. "And the third reason?"

 

Ducky blinked. "What makes you think there is another reason?"

 

"I know you."

 

"Ah, yes. Well, given how cold it is tonight and how deep the snow is underfoot, I wanted to . . . Well . . . I know it's foolish, they are after all adults, at least they are in chronological terms. But I . . . Well . . . Foolish, I know, but . . . I'll just go and check the setting on the timer for the oven." And with a smile, Ducky deftly took the tray Jethro had been holding and left the room. Jethro watched him go.

 

"One of these days I'm going to have a camera handy," Tobias said, his tone dry.

 

Jethro glanced at him. "Huh?"

 

But Tobias didn't answer. "Was it me or did he not actually explain what the third reason was?" As he spoke, he pulled his hip flask out of his overcoat pocket, unscrewed the top and squinted into it. "Ah, good, I did. Thought I had." He screwed the top back on and put the flask back into his pocket. "Well?"

 

"Well what?"

 

"Did Ducky tell us what the third reason for the kids meeting here was?"

 

"Oh, yes," Jethro said. "He wants to make sure they're 'suitably' dressed. I bet he has a selection of gloves, scarves and hats somewhere, just in case. You coming?" he demanded, over his shoulder as he reached the door and flicked the light off.

 

Tobias hurried after him. "But how do you know that? He barely finished a sentence."

 

"Called more than three decades of living with him," Jethro pulled his heaviest overcoat out of the hall cupboard and flung it over the banister. He then dug further into the cupboard and found a scarf.

 

ALLINGTON GROVE RETIREMENT HOME

 

"Hey, Charlie. See you got conscripted as well." Jethro put his hand on Charlie's shoulder.

 

"Hey, Agent Gibbs. Yeah, I did. Well, Grandma said there were fewer people coming this year, with it being so close to Christmas, so I thought I'd come and improve the numbers if not that actual singing. Mind you, Grandma has always said I have a nice voice, but Grandmas say that kind of thing. I'm glad to see I'm not going to be the only man. Are they your team?" he asked, nodding to where Ducky, Tobias and the kids stood.

 

"Yeah. Well, apart from the older guy next to Ducky. That's Tobias Fornell of the FBI; a friend. Come on, I'll introduce you."

 

He and Charlie walked towards the group. They arrived just as a woman Jethro didn't know was speaking to Ducky.

 

"It is very kind of you to join us, Donald. And I see you've brought your," just for a moment she paused. "Friends with you," she finally added.

 

So that was it. Jethro moved to stand by Ducky. That was why Ducky had been a little reticent when the subject of them joining the Ladies' Circle afterwards had arisen. The woman, whoever she was, clearly didn't 'approve' of the fact that Ducky lived with another man.

 

Before he could say anything, not that he really intended to, it would only upset Ducky and the woman didn't matter anyway, DiNozzo spoke. "Yeah, it was good of Ducky to bring us all along. He didn't have to; he could just have given you a donation or something, couldn't he? But no, he gave up his evening to come and help you entertain the old folk and persuaded us all to come along as well. Well, to be honest, me coming was down to Gibbs, wasn't it, boss?" But before Gibbs could answer, DiNozzo went on. "Anthony DiNozzo, but you can call me Tony, it's very nice to meet you." And he took the woman's hand and shook it vigorously while smiling at her.

 

"Oh," she said. "Yes, of course, you are quite correct, um, Tony. I . . . Donald, you and your friends," this time the word was said with a different intonation, "must join us afterwards for a drink and some hot mince pies. Please say you will."

 

"That is very kind of you, Mrs. Talbot. However, Jethro and I have already organized something back at the house." Ducky spoke politely with only the slightest hint of an edge to his tone.

 

"Oh, that is a shame. Well, if you decide to come next year, you must stay afterwards, Donald. All of you." She looked around the small group and her gaze came to rest on Jethro who still stood silently slightly behind Ducky. "You must be Jethro," she said. "Helen has mentioned you. It is good of you to have joined us, thank you for coming." And then she held out her hand to him.

 

Jethro pulled his hand out of his pocket and took hers and shook it. "Duck can be very persuasive," he said. "But I warn you, you might have second thoughts after you've heard this lot," he nodded around his group, "sing."

 

"Gibbs!" Abby protested.

 

"Well, if you'll excuse me, I had better make sure everyone has their song sheets and knows what order we are singing the carols in." She put her hand on Ducky's arm briefly, smiled and hurried off.

 

For a moment there was silence amongst the group. Jethro glanced at Ducky and saw he was having a small internal battle with himself. After a further moment or two, Ducky seemed to reach a decision. He turned to DiNozzo. "Thank you, Anthony," he said, his tone formal. "I do appreciate what you said. It was very kind of you." And he took DiNozzo's hand between his and squeezed them. Jethro watched DiNozzo's face light up under the quiet, but heartfelt praise.

 

And then Ducky looked up and saw Charlie. "Charles," he cried. "How lovely to see you. Now come along and let me introduce you to the children, about whom you have heard Jethro and I speak many times." He caught Charlie's hand and tugged him forward.

 

"I take it you didnít know," Tobias said quietly.

 

Jethro shook his head. "No. I didn't. Duck knows I wouldn't have agreed to come along had I had any idea. Wondered why my gut started to nudge me when I asked why we were hosting a party back at the house rather than join the Ladies' Circle."

 

"I'm surprised Ducky was okay about coming."

 

Jethro looked down at his friend. "Are you? Come on, Tobias. You know Ducky. He'll put helping others well ahead of his personal feelings.

 

"Okay, now, everyone," Mrs. Talbot's voice carried well. "Have you all got your copies of the carols? Oh, good. We have tried to keep it simple, stick to the well known carols and mostly the ones that do not requite a vast array of different types of voices. Now I know a few of you may feel that singing is not your forte, but I assure you, that the ladies and gentlemen who you will be entertaining will just be delighted to see so many of you, and a nice mixture of ages this year," she glanced in Ducky's direction. "For which we have to thank Helen for 'persuading' her grandson to join us and Donald Mallard, I'm sure you'll all remember his mother Vanessa, who along with his partner, has brought several of their coworkers and friends to swell our numbers. Well, now, let us begin. The first carol we will sing is Good King Wenceslas."

 

"Oh, I know this one," Tobias declared, turning over the pages of the booklet he held. "It was a favorite of mine as a boy. Well," he said, nudging Jethro, "don't just stand there; you can't tell me you don't know this one . . . On the Feast of Stephen, When the snow lay round about, Deep and crisp and even. Brightly shone the moon that night. . ."

 

Jethro found himself just staring slightly open mouthed at Tobias as he sang gustily and quite well. For someone who had not wanted to join in and had only agreed under sufferance, he certainly seemed to have had a sudden change of heart. Shaking his head, Jethro turned to the right page and joined in on Gath'ring winter fuel.

 

Tobias had been right; Jethro did know the carol and know it well. It had in fact been his mom's favorite, and as he sung he was yanked back five decades to the time she'd taught the then young Leroy the words. As he sang the words came flooding back and he realized he didnít need to look down at the printed sheet, which was a good thing on two accounts. Firstly, he'd left his glasses in the car and secondly his eyes were just a little misty. Instead he glanced around to see all members of the team throwing themselves into singing with the same gusto as Tobias was displaying.

 

Ducky, Ziva, Charlie, who had stayed with them rather than rejoin his grandmother, and McGee all sang extremely well and hit all the notes correctly and with a range that far supposed Jethro's own. Helen had been correct about Charlie's voice, he made a mental note to try to remember to tell Charlie later. Abby and DiNozzo sang loudly and mostly in tune, but hadn't got the range Ducky, Ziva, Charlie and McGee had. Palmer was singing quietly, almost as though he didn't want to draw attention to himself. Jethro briefly closed his eyes and tried to filter out the rest of the group and focus on Palmer's voice. Again it was nice, pleasant, unobtrusive, but well balanced.

 

Around him he could also hear the various voices of the Ladies' Circle who sung with varying degrees of competence - or not in some cases. But he could also see the faces of the elderly folk they were singing to, and it was as Mrs. Talbot had said, they didn't mind if notes were fluffed, if people sang out of tune, or in the case of one lady standing next to Jethro, the wrong verse, they were just happy to be entertained.

 

He also noticed one other thing: he, Ducky, Tobias, Charlie, McGee, DiNozzo and Palmer were the only men and as they were all gathered together on one edge of the group. The sound, especially given that DiNozzo and Tobias were singing loud enough for two people each, wasn't the best it could be. He wondered how long it would be before Mrs. Talbot suggested they split up.

 

However, it wasn't Mrs. Talbot who approached them, but Helen, who hurried over after Good King Wenceslas ended, with most of them group ending at the same time, while Mrs. Talbot was announcing they would sing While Shepards Watched next. Apparently even though she'd mentioned making sure people knew what order they'd be singing the carols in, she felt it expedient to announce them - which seemed eminently sensible to Jethro.

 

"Jethro dear," Helen said, putting her hand on his arm and smiling up at him. "I wonder if it wouldn't be too much trouble to split your group up a little? It would be nice if some of you men could come over to the other side. It would help the overall sound. Would you mind?"

 

"Course not, Helen" he said, smiling down at her. He glanced at Ducky who was already happily singing While shepherds watched their flocks by night. It seemed pointless to break up his little semi-circle, especially when they were harmonizing so well together. DiNozzo was once again singing loud enough for two people, as was Tobias, so it made sense to get them on opposite sides of the group.

 

He nudged Tobias. "Come on, we're going over here," he said, bending his head and putting his lips close to Tobias's ear. Then he reached out and grabbed Palmer's arm and in spite of the started look Palmer cast his way, dragged the young man along with them over to the far side of the group. At the look of what Jethro realized was sheer terror on Palmer's face as he stood with Jethro and Tobias, Jethro almost regretted his decision. He knew how scared of him Palmer still was and to in effect force him to be with two senior Federal Agents had been unfair. Then he had an idea.

 

Without bothering to ask him, well he was still singing away loudly, Jethro dipped his hand into Tobias's overcoat pocket and snagged the hip flask. He saw Palmer's startled look, but he ignored it, unscrewed the top, glanced around, but no one was looking at them, took a quick swig himself before passing it to Palmer. "Dutch courage," he said, his mouth close to Palmer's ear. "Go on, Palmer. Warm the vocal cords up."

 

After once again impersonating a deer in the headlights, Palmer took the flask and put it to his lips and took a healthy swallow. "Thank you, Agent Gibbs," he said, beaming as he handed the flask back.

 

"Hey," Tobias said, suddenly aware of what was going on. "That's mine." He tried to grab the flask, but Jethro kept hold of it.

 

"Palmer's need was greater than yours, Tobias. Keep singing, you're doing a grand job. Palmer and me'll join in on the next chorus, right, Palmer?"

 

Now looking less like a deer, Palmer smiled at him. "Yes, Agent Gibbs," he said earnestly.

 

 

They'd reached the final destination of the evening and were just about to start what Mrs. Talbot had announced as the 'ante-penultimate carol' when Jethro saw Ducky slip his arm free from Ziva's, reach up to say something to her, pat her hand and hurry away to where the Morgan was parked. He'd told Jethro he would head back to the house to re-heat the wine, uncover the food and do any other last minute touches to the buffet before the end, leaving Jethro and Tobias to bring the others back in their cars.

 

As he sung the first few lines of O, Come All Ye Faithful, his voice still drowned out by Tobias's, Jethro watched his lover carefully hurry across the snow to his car. It wasn't until Ducky was safely in the car, that Jethro turned his full attention once more back to singing. He mentally shook his head; it was ridiculous just how much he 'worried' about Ducky and just how much he wanted to make sure all was well and that he didn't trip or hurt himself. Ducky wasn't old or infirm, sure he had a bad leg and was limping more these days, and after an hour or two on his feet Jethro knew his lover would be suffering more than usual, but even so. Ducky was quite capable of taking care of himself, he didn't need Jethro to 'fuss' over him - but need it or not, Jethro knew he did. Even when that fussing was at a distance.

 

"Yeah, I definitely need a camera," Tobias muttered, as the women only sang the first O come, let us adore Him. Jethro pointedly ignored the comment and instead made sure he hit the second 'O' right on time.

 

 

Once the final line of Silent Night had been sung, Jethro led Tobias and Palmer back to join the rest of his 'group'.

 

"That was such fun," Abby was saying, her tone exuberant. "Wasn't it, Tony?" she beamed at DiNozzo.

 

He shrugged. "It was okay," his tone was dismissive. Abby glared at him. "Okay, okay," he said, quelling under the hard stare that Gibbs knew could rival his own when Abby put her mind to it. "It was fun. Thanks for inviting us, boss."

 

Jethro wondered if DiNozzo had forgotten his participation hadn't been an 'invitation' more like an order. Instead he ignored the comment and said, "You lot ready?" They all nodded enthusiastically. He looked at Charlie. "Want to come back to the house, Charlie? There's plenty of food and Duck's made his mulled wine."

 

"I'd love to, Agent Gibbs. But I think Grandma is -"

 

"No, you go back with Jethro, Charlie," Helen had come up to the group unnoticed.

 

"But, Grandma, don't you want me to -"

 

She shook her head. "Charlie, you really don't want to spend the rest of the evening with a group of elderly women. Trust me, you don't." She leaned a little nearer to them and lowered her voice, "If I could think of a valid excuse, I assure you I wouldn't stay either."


"Donít then," Jethro said.

 

"Now, Jethro dear, you know I have to. No, you take Charlie back. Leave me the car, Charlie, and I'll pick you up later. Maybe there will be some of Donald's delightful mulled wine left."

 

"Go on, Grandma, come with us," Charlie urged. "It's not as if you're President or anything."

 

She was clearly tempted, Jethro could see that. But he also knew that, like Ducky, she had a strong feeling of duty. "I couldn't," she said. "What could I -"

 

"Leave it to me," Ziva said, and before Helen could stop her she had moved away from the group and was heading to where Mrs. Talbot stood.

 

"Oh, dear. Jethro, what is she going to . . . ? Oh, dear. I should go after her. I . . ." she trailed off.

 

Ziva returned after a minute or two and smiled. "Mrs. Talbot says she quite understands and looks forward to seeing you at the, I believe she said 'Beetle Drive' in January. What is a Beetle Drive?" she turned to DiNozzo.

 

He opened his mouth and then shut it again and shrugged. "Boss?"

 

"Ah, now you see, Ziva," Charlie said, slipping his arm through Ziva's. "It's . . ." And he began to explain.

 

"Oh, dear," Helen said again. "I do wonder what she told Lynda?"

 

"You never can tell with Ziva," DiNozzo said. "She is after all Mossad. She probably threatened to - Oww, thank you, boss." But Jethro's hands were both still in his coat pockets. "Huh? Boss?" DiNozzo looked confused.

 

"I do not threaten," Ziva said, her tone silky. "I promise. However, I simply explained that as much as Mrs. Patterson would like to join the rest of the Ladies' Circle for mince pies and sherry, that Christmas is a time of family, and as such she wished to spend the evening with her family and close friends. Is that not true?"

 

Helen looked at her, "Well, yes, Ziva dear. It is, but . . . Oh, dear. I never would have dared," she gave a soft laugh. "I still shouldn't but . . . Oh, I'm going to. Ziva is correct; Christmas is a time for family and dear friends. And while I have only just met most of you tonight, I have the feeling that my family has suddenly grown. Oh, do forgive me. And I haven't even had a drink yet."

 

"Ah, I can remedy that," Tobias said, putting his hand into his coat pocket.

 

"Tobias!" Jethro exclaimed, as his second oldest friend pulled out his hip flask and held it out to Helen.

 

Charlie laughed out loud. "Go on, Grandma," he said, taking the flask and unscrewing the top before putting his arm around her. "I'll drive."

 

"We've got two cabs booked for later, I'm sure we can squeeze you and Charlie in," Abby said quickly. "That way no one has to drive."

 

"Except for me," Tobias said.

 

"Oh, we'll fit you in too," Abby said airily. "There'll be room - we'll make room," she added. "I can sit on McGee's knee. Can't I, Timmy?"

 

Jethro laughed at the color McGee turned and then as everyone began to talk at once whistled. "Cars," he said. "Or Duck'll wonder what's happened. McGee, Abbs, Palmer, my car. DiNozzo, Ziva, with Tobias. Charlie, I'm certain you'll make sure your grandma arrives safely, won't you?" Out of the corner of his eye he saw Helen glance around to see if any of the Ladies' Circle were nearby before very delicately lifting the flask to her lips and taking a ladylike swallow.

 

"Of course, Agent Gibbs. Come on, Grandma," Charlie said, offering his arm to his grandmother.

 

RESTON HOUSE

 

"Hey, Duck," Jethro called, striding into the house with the others behind him. "We're back."

 

A muffled and disembodied voice drifted his way; it came from the direction of the kitchen. Guessing it was along the lines of 'I'll be out soon, make our guests feel at home', Jethro shrugged his coat off, helped Helen off with hers, before offering her his arm and leading her into the dining room. He reckoned the others could manage to take off hats and coats without him standing over them.

 

He saw the Ducky had already been busy as all the plates and dishes were uncovered and they seemed to have multiplied since Jethro last saw them and the double doors leading to the sitting room were also open. Standing in the middle of one of the sideboards on a very low gaz burner was a bowl of mulled wine and by its side were an array of pewter goblets. Jethro decided that either Ducky was psychic, or he was just being thorough, as there were enough for Helen and Charlie without Jethro having to dig into cupboards.

 

"Mulled wine, Helen?" he asked.

 

"Oh, yes, please, Jethro. Do I assume it is Ducky's 'secret' recipe?"

 

He ladled some into a goblet for her. "Yep. And don't even try quizzing me, he won't even tell me what's in it."

 

Helen laughed lightly and took the goblet. "Thank you, Jethro," she said.

 

By now Tobias, Charlie and the rest of the kids had arrived and naturally DiNozzo was already gazing lovingly at the food laden table. The noise level increased ten-fold as they all talked at once.

 

Jethro moved to Tobias. "Be a good host and get the kids a drink," he said. "I'm just going to see if Duck needs any help."

 

The look Tobias gave him spoke volumes. Shaking his head he strode out of the room and headed for the kitchen.

 

"Hey, Duck," he called, as he pushed the door open. "Came to see if you needed any help."

 

Ducky, whose face was faintly flushed, glanced at him and cocked an eyebrow. "Did you now?"

 

Jethro shrugged. "Okay, came to do this," he said, crossing the room in four strides and pulling Ducky into his arms. "That's better," he said, after he took his mouth from Ducky's and lifted his head.

 

Ducky smiled. "Oh, yes, it is. Is everyone back safely?"

 

Jethro nodded. "Yep. Got Tobias dishing out drinks, and we persuaded Helen and Charlie to come back too."

 

"Oh, I am glad. That really does make it the perfect evening." Ducky reached up and gently pulled Jethro's head back down to claim another kiss, before patting his cheek and moving out of his arms. "Now, if you do really wish to be of assistance, you may take these hot sausage rolls through for me. Jethro, they are -"

 

"Hot. Yeah, gathered that, Duck. Nice though. In fact," and before Ducky could stop him, Jethro popped another one into his mouth - albeit taking a little more care this time.

 

AN HOUR OR SO LATER

 

Finally everyone seemed to come to a halt as far as eating went - at least for now - and they were all gathered in the sitting room, sipping mulled wine and managing to nibble a few peanuts and cashew nuts that Ducky had laid out.

 

Despite not having met his team or Tobias before, Helen and Charlie seemed perfectly at ease, in fact listening to them all laughing and talking Jethro found it hard to believe they hadn't met before.

 

Jethro settled down on the two-seater couch next to Ducky, managing to arrange himself so that he pressed lightly against his lover who turned and cast him a knowing smile. Abby and McGee occupied one of the other two-seater couches, Helen and Tobias had an arm chair each, and the other four younger members of the party were spread over chairs and another couch.

 

Suddenly Abby sat forward and looked at Ducky. "Is it story time?" she demanded. And before Ducky could answer she looked at Tobias, Helen and Charlie and explained, "Ducky always tells us a story when we get together like this. Something topical," she added.

 

"Oh, Abigail, I really don't think that it would be appropriate."

 

"Why not?"

 

"Well, for one thing I haven't got anything planned. Did you say something, Jethro?" Ducky turned to look at him. Jethro just held the steady gaze and tried to look innocent. "And besides," Ducky said, after a moment or two of just starting into Jethro's eyes, "we did Yuletide last year. No, I think tonight we'll just -"

 

"Carols."

 

Ducky glanced at his young assistant. "I beg your pardon, Jimmy?"

 

"Carols. Christmas carols." He beamed at Ducky.

 

"What about them?"

 

Abby rolled her eyes. "He means you can tell us about carols, Ducky. Where they came from and stuff like that. That's what you meant, isn't it, Jimmy?"

 

Jimmy nodded. "Yes."

 

"Well. There are stories, aren't there, Ducky?"

 

Well, some, yes. The history of the carol is - But no, Abigail. Another time, maybe. After all, I am sure that Helen and Tobias have no wish to -"

 

"Actually, Donald, I would be very interested in hearing more about carols. And it's very appropriate, given we spent the evening carol singing. So, please, do tell us."

 

"Well . . ."

 

"And it's been a long time since anyone told me a story. Well, at least the kind you're planning on telling us," Tobias said, his tone suddenly grim.

 

Jethro glanced at him and offered, what he hoped was, an understanding nod, ensuring he kept any hint of 'I told you so' from his face. As he turned back from Tobias he noticed the room had fallen silent and everyone was just staring at Ducky in anticipation. "Reckon you lost that one, Duck," he said quietly. "Come on, educate us."

 

"Oh, well, if you insist. But I'll keep it brief tonight." Jethro had to hand it to his guests, not one of them reacted to Ducky's words. Not even DiNozzo laughed or choked or made a face, everyone simply just continued to look at Ducky.

 

"Well, in fact the carol began life as a dance. The word 'carol' is in fact derived from the old French word 'carole' which was a circular dance accompanied by singers. During the 1150s and up to the 1350s, they were extremely popular dance songs. It was only after the 1350s that their use was expanded to include things such as accompaniments to religious plays and also for processional use. And even then they were also sung at other times, such as harvest tide as well as at Christmas, and they weren't sung in church, but were more communal songs. And of course like so many things which the Christian Church today tries to lay claim to, the carol has links with mythology."

 

"In what way, Doctor?"

 

"I am sure you all know The Holly And The Ivy?" Everyone nodded. "Well, that dates back to Celtic mythology in the fourteenth century. The version we know today was published by Cecil Sharp, but it is not believed to have been the original one. In the original version the words would not have had religious connotations, but would be linked to pagan times and nature. The holly would represent the male and the ivy the female. Some Christians would have you believe that the line 'The rising of the sun' is in fact 'son' spelt with an 'O' rather than a 'U', and refers to Jesus. However, that is not true."

 

"So carols have been around since the twelfth century?"

 

"Yes, but they haven't always been popular or indeed allowed."

 

"Carols weren't allowed?"

 

Ducky shook his head. "Indeed not, Abigail. There were times when they were banned outright. For example following the Protestant Reformation during the British Puritan Interregnum, which included the banning of many religious festivities and as such the carol went into decline."

 

"Why?"

 

"Well, it was a time when anything Catholic was frowned upon and as carols were seen as part of the Catholic faith, they were not permitted. It has been muted that The Twelve Days Of Christmas was, during the reign of King Henry VIII, a way for Catholics to keep the Catholic faith alive in an England where Catholics faced imprisonment. How true or otherwise that particular tale is, I am not altogether certain, as there have been regional versions of the same song, indeed not all versions have twelve days."

 

"And even the twelve days ones aren't all the same, are they, Dr. Mallard?"

 

Ducky turned to look at Charlie. "No, indeed they are not. I've seen several variations myself. Eleven pipers piping and twelve drummers drumming, for example as well as eleven drummers drumming and twelve pipers piping, and several other variations. So, the story that it was for Catholics to keep their faith alive, but under the radar, so to speak does lose a little of its validity. Which isn't to say it is not true, or was not true at the time, but . . . Well, let us say I am somewhat skeptical."

 

"It does sound very complicated, Duck. Singing about partridges and doves when you mean other stuff."

 

"Indeed. Of course that kind of subterfuge did go on, but I am not certain The Twelve Days Of Christmas can be counted as part of the subterfuge. However, nor am I about to say it categorically wasn't."

 

Jethro glanced at his lover. "It's not often you're uncertain about something, Duck," he said.

 

Ducky patted his knee. "Yes, my dear. I know," he said with smile on his face. "But I do still like to surprise you from time to time, even after all the years we've been together." The words were innocent enough, as was the tone, but the look in the twinkling gaze that shone with affection and love was not.

 

Suddenly Tobias cleared his throat loudly. "Sorry," he said, when everyone glanced at him. "Something must have gone down the wrong way."

 

"Would anyone like anything else to eat or drink?" Ducky asked, moving to the edge of the couch.

 

"But, Ducky, you haven't finished, have you?" Abby pouted. "You've only told us one thing."

 

"Um, well, no. But I thought I'd just get -"

 

"Here, boss," DiNozzo called and to Jethro's surprise DiNozzo's handcuffs arrived on his lap.

 

He couldn't look at Tobias; he simply couldn't. Instead he looked at Helen whose eyes were wide with amusement and speculation. "Standing joke," he said, glowering at DiNozzo.

 

"You see," Abby said, turning to Helen. "Ducky always jumps up and down and runs around after us and Gibbs gets tired of being jolted. So one time, which was it, Tim?"

 

"Don't ask me!" McGee said, sliding down on the couch and trying to act as if he wasn't part of the group.

 

"It was this time last year," DiNozzo announced.

 

"Thank you, Tony. Well last year Gibbs threatened to handcuff Ducky to the table if he didn't sit still." Abby finished her explanation and beamed at Helen.

 

Helen looked at Jethro. "I am so glad you persuaded me to join you here, Jethro dear, think what I would have missed out on." She smiled at him and then laughed.

 

Jethro hid a groan and continued to glower at DiNozzo.

 

Finally DiNozzo jumped to his feet. "How about I get everyone another drink and bring in some food?"

 

"Best idea you've had all year," Jethro growled. He instantly regretted the harshness of his tone, as he saw the look that crossed DiNozzo's face. But seconds later everyone, DiNozzo included collapsed into laughter, so he felt better about it.

 

Once everyone was re-mulled wined and re-plate-ladened with food, Ducky shifted a little to get more comfortable and began to talk again. "Now where was I? Ah, yes. Despite the carol being banned and losing its popularity, the folk-carol, the non-religious song, did still continue to be sung in rural communities. However, it wasn't until the nineteenth century that the carol as we know it today became popular again, and that of course led to the Church taking many of the non-religious carols and re-arranging them with Christian lyrics. And also in yet more modern times, some songs that once might have been regarded as carols have been reclassified as Christmas songs."

 

"What's the oldest carol, Doctor?"

 

Ducky looked at Palmer. "One of the oldest carols is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. It was first published in 1833, but the lyrics, which are traditionally olde English, are believed to date back to the fifteen century. It was believed to have been written to remind people of what Christmas was really about. It is also one of the first examples of a carol being used in carol singing, as it is believed it was sung by the town watchmen to the gentry in order to supplement their meager income."

 

"What about Silent Night, Ducky? That's a carol I've always liked."

 

"Ah, now, Timothy, that particular carol is another one about which there is a potential 'old wives tale'. The story is that if it hadn't been for a mouse gnawing its way through an organ pipe on Christmas Eve in 1818 in the small alpine village called Oberndorf, that it would never have been written. Certainly the organ was broken, whether or not that can be attributed to a mouse, I know not, although given the pipes would have been made of leather in those days it is quite possible. Thus the original music was composed for the guitar and the simple score was actually written in time for Midnight Mass. It's not the oldest of carols, but as Timothy says it is one of the most enjoyed and also one of the most well known. Indeed, one could say it is the most famous of all time. I think if you asked a dozen people to name five carols they knew and liked it would feature in most, if not all, of the answers."

 

"It is a very moving carol," Ziva said quietly. "I am glad we sang it tonight."

 

"I am sorry I missed that," Ducky said. "I would have liked to have heard you singing it, Ziva. You have a beautiful voice."

 

She smiled at him and blushed a little. "Thank you, Ducky," she said. "You also have a fine voice, I enjoyed singing with you."

 

"Thank you, my dear. I hope we get a chance to do so again. Now shall I go on a little more, or have people had enough?"

 

The general consensus was the latter. Jethro wondered idly if he wasn't the only person who'd happily listen to his lover read the telephone directory.

 

"Tell us a bit about carol singing, Ducky," Abby said. "Please. You mentioned the watchmen singing to the gentry, is that how it all began?"

 

"In part, yes. After all they sang what we now know is a carol. However, the tradition of groups of people going around houses singing has connections with wassailing. There were two distinct type of wassailing. The first was the house-visiting, which was very similar to carol singing when people would go around door-to-door singing. In fact there is a, what is more the Christmas song, than Christmas carol called Here We Come A-Wassailing or it might be known by its other name Here We Come A-Caroling. It is more a New Year song than a Christmas one, but it is rather catchy. I could - no, of course not."

 

Undercover of putting his goblet on the table, Jethro leaned nearer to Ducky and murmured, "One of these days, Duck, they won't play your game." He laughed softly as he said it, ensuring his lover knew he was only teasing him. Indeed he needn't have spoken so softly because as one the room erupted into 'oh, yes, Ducky, please do' and other similar comments.

 

"Well," Ducky said, pointedly ignoring Jethro, but Jethro hadn't missed the flash of amusement in Ducky's gaze. "If you insist . . ." And Ducky, indeed confirming what Ziva had said and Jethro knew, that he did have a very good voice, proceeded to sing the song. By the time he'd sung the chorus for the second time, several of the others were partly joining in each time he got to it.

 

The group applauded and went on for some time after Ducky had ceased to sing. From where he sat by Ducky's side, Jethro could tell his lover was both delighted and a tad embarrassed by the accolades. Finally he held up his hand and one by one the clapping stopped. "Thank you," he said simply. "So as you see, wassailing was definitely in part the forerunner of today's carol singing."

 

"You mentioned a second type, Ducky."

 

"Ah, yes, I did. That was known as the orchard-visiting wassail. And in short that practice refers to people singing to trees in apple orchards in the cider-producing regions of England in order to ensure a good harvest for the coming year."

 

"Hah, good one, Ducky," DiNozzo said.

 

Ducky looked at him. "I am sorry, Anthony?"

 

"Well, singing to trees. That's a joke, isnít it?" he added, his tone suddenly less sure. "I mean people didn't really . . . Did they?"

 

"Do you remember some of the things I told you last year at our Yuletide celebration, Anthony?"

 

"And I do not think Ducky means the Bean King, Tony," Ziva said.

 

Ducky smiled at her, his pleasure at the fact she had remembered was clear. "Indeed I was not, Ziva. Well, Anthony?"

 

"Um." Jethro watched his senior field agent screw up his face in concentration. "Um," he said again, looking at Jethro.

 

Jethro sighed and shook his head. "I reckon Duck's referring to the traditions to do with ensuring the sun returned; is that right, Duck?"

 

Ducky beamed at him. "Indeed it is, my dear. Now, more than one of you, if not openly expressed a hint of scorn that our ancestors would doubt the sun would return unless they paid homage to it and offered up sacrifices, did you not?" He glanced around the NCIS group who shifted on their seats and looked at one another.

 

"Yeah, Duck, we did," Jethro said, when it became clear no one else was going to speak.

 

"Well, then. In many ways singing to the apple tree is akin to that," Ducky picked up his goblet of mulled wine and drained it. "And I think that is more than enough on the history of carols and carol singing for one night." His gentle voice left no one any option but to agree with him. And although Abby pouted a little, she didn't demand more.

 

Helen looked around them all. "I can quite see why you," she paused for a second and then said, "children, enjoy your visits to Ducky and Jethro's home. It really has been a wonderful evening, one of the best I have ever spent. I am so pleased, Jethro, you persuaded me to abandon the Ladies' Circle gathering and join you. And thank you again, Ziva, for your part in making it possible."

 

"You are very welcome," Ziva smiled.

 

"Grandma's right, it's been great. And it's been nice to finally meet your team, Agent Gibbs and you too, Agent Fornell."

 

"You know you and your grandma are always welcome, Charlie. Who knows, one day you might actually call us 'Jethro' and 'Ducky'." Jethro smiled as he said the words.

 

"And now," said Ducky, again moving to the edge of the couch and using Jethro's leg to help him stand up. "I am going to put some plates of food together for you all to take home with you."

 

"Why don't I come and help you, Donald?" Helen said, standing up. "It will do me good to move about a little."

 

"Thank you, Helen. That is kind." And off they went.

 

HALF AN HOUR LATER

 

Jethro and Ducky stood, the former with his arm around the latter's shoulders, on the porch watching the tail lights of the two cabs disappear into the snow. The drivers had expressed some displeasure at first at having to squeeze in another three people and two locations, but once Ducky had taken the simple expedient of handing them each a $50.00 note, they ceased to complain.

 

"Don't know how you do it, Duck," Jethro said, turning Ducky and guiding him back into the house.

 

"Do what, my dear?" Ducky waited as Jethro locked and bolted the front door.

 

"Turn something I wasn't really looking forward to into something I'll remember for some time. And it's not just me; no matter what you do, you make sure everyone has a good time."

 

Ducky smiled up at him. "I don't believe I have a magical 'recipe', my dear. I enjoy this kind of occasion and it gives me immense pleasure to see other people enjoying them too."

 

Jethro moved to Ducky and tugged him back into his arms. "You do know how much I love you, don't you, Duck?" he asked, his lips against Ducky's ear.

 

He felt Ducky's sigh of happiness as he rested against Jethro, his head just below Jethro's shoulder. "Yes, dearest, I do. I believe it to be as much as I love you. However, if you had it in mind to show me . . ." he trailed off, moved back a little and looked up at Jethro. Affection, love and contentment, the things Jethro always saw in the steady blue gaze shone as usual. However, added to the mix was intense desire.

 

He chuckled softly. "Yeah, Duck. Why don't I do that thing?" And with those words he lowered his head and kissed Ducky soundly for several minutes, before taking his hand and leading him across the hall, up the stairs and into their bedroom where they spent a very pleasurable couple of hours showing one another just how much in love they still were.

 

 

LINKS TO ALL THE STORIES IN THE OCCASIONS UNIVERSE


A Fitting Tribute
Care Taking
There Be No Dragons
Upon That Night
Varying Degrees
Yuletide Celebrations
A Ghostly Tale

Here We Go A-Caroling

 

 

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