LEARNING TO TRUST
An AU story set in London, England.
Ducky is a barman and he meets Jethro, who is from an extremely wealthy American family. Jethro is also a whiz kid with finances and has been sent by his father to see what life in a British finance house is like. The attraction between the two men is instantaneous and intense, however, things are not straightforward, and before there can be a future Ducky has to overcome his instinctual distrust of people.
A first time story.
Written: November 2006. Word count: 37,244.
This story originally appeared in BOLO #02: Gibbs/Ducky which was published in 2008 by Carriage Hill Press.
LONDON. FRIDAY EVENING, 21ST MARCH 1980
Ducky wiped the already clean bar with a cloth and glanced at the clock. It was five minutes to opening time; he was quite looking forward to it, as he always did on a Friday.
On Fridays his favourite regular crowd of finance whiz kids, who worked nearby at Fletchers, always came in. The Company was of the opinion that one sure way of ensuring a high standard of work, loyalty and good attendance was not to expect their employees to work ridiculously long hours, certainly not every night. Fletchers had a rule; no one was expected, in fact allowed, to be at his or her desk after six o'clock. And it seemed to work; their employees were loyal, their attendance record was exemplary, and from what Ducky had gleaned, productivity was high.
In the world of finance, the way the company worked was unique, and some of its competitors poured scorn on the regime, saying it would be the downfall of the company. However, they had been working that way for as long as Ducky had been working in the bar, some nineteen years, and rather than fail, it seemed as if the company's profits and standing in the world of high finance had increased.
As he always did, despite the longevity of Ducky's employment, Henry Thompson, the owner of the bar, came out of his office, gave the bar, the stocks, and Ducky a thorough examination before opening the door. The evening had begun.
Before twenty minutes had passed, 'his' group crowded into the bar, talking, as always, in loud voices at the same time. But tonight Ducky noticed something different, or rather someone, different. With them was a young man in his early to mid-twenties, whom Ducky had not seen before. He was taller than most of the group, had short dark hair, and an air of assuredness, confidence, experience and knowledge about him that belied his young age.
"Ducky," Francis Benson, the unofficial, unelected leader of the group called over the sound of talking and laughter. "Eight Pils, please."
Ducky nodded and smiled in acknowledgement of the order; before hurrying to fulfil it, he made a note of the number of beers on the tab. The Fletchers's crowd were the only people his boss had ever let run a tab, but then as with a lot of workaholics they tended to play hard too, so it was worth Thompson's while to allow them to do that.
He took the bottles over to the group and put them down. "Mr. Benson," he murmured softly.
"Thanks, Ducky." Francis grabbed one and took a long swallow before handing the other bottles round. "Hey, don't go, there's someone I want you to meet." He grabbed the tall stranger and pulled him through the crowd towards the bar. "Ducky, meet Leroy Jethro Gibbs the Twentieth or something."
Ducky glanced at the tall man who rolled his eyes, they were a very dark blue, and smiled. "It's Fourth, as you well know, Frank."
"Twentieth, Fourth, what's the difference. You Americans do like your numbers. Jethro's American," he added unnecessarily. Did he really think that Ducky had failed to notice his 'you Americans', not to mention the subtle but obvious American accent?
Jethro was still smiling at Ducky, and held out his hand. "Pleased to meet you, er . . ."
"Ducky," Francis said.
The dark gaze widened and Jethro raised an eyebrow. "Ducky?" he repeated, his tone heavy with amusement and astonishment.
Ducky sighed and finally took the proffered hand. Immediately he felt as if a spark of electric current had raced through his body. His mouth felt dry, his whole body tingled and he felt alive. If the look that flashed through the dark eyes was any indication, the spark hadn't merely raced through him.
He shook his head, remembering that Jethro had asked him a question. Still holding onto the warm, firm grip, well actually it was Jethro who seemed to be holding onto his hand, he looked up at the other man and said, "I'm afraid so. My surname is Mallard, and for some reason that only they seemed to understand, my parents christened me Donald."
"Ah, I see now. Well, Donald Mallard, a.k.a. Ducky, I'm very pleased to meet you." Jethro smiled, with both his eyes and his lips as he said the words.
"The feeling is mutual, Mr. Gibbs." With reluctance, Ducky started to pull his hand away.
"Jethro, please. Mr. Gibbs is my father."
Before Ducky could say anything, Francis spoke. "He's not allowed to call you ‘Jethro’."
"Not allowed?" Jethro turned to face Francis and stared at him.
"Yeah, not allowed. We call him 'Ducky', he calls us ‘Mr. Whatever’."
Jethro blinked and shook his head. "You British," he muttered, shaking his head, as once again his gaze came to rest on Ducky. "I knew you were more formal than we were, but really, that's ridiculous. You'll be telling me next that I can't buy you a drink." He looked at Ducky. "What?" he said, in the ensuing silence. "You have to be kidding me, right?"
Francis shook his head and answered the question himself. "I'm afraid not, old man," he said. "House rules. That's right, isn't it, Ducky?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes, Mr. Benson. But thank you for the thought, Mr. Gibbs."
Jethro scowled at him. However, some kind of instinct told Ducky that the look was not aimed at him.
After a moment or two, Jethro was pulled into the group, and Ducky walked away to serve another gaggle of customers who had just come in.
Throughout the evening, Ducky found his gaze being drawn over and over again to the tall American, and more than once the dark, steady, penetrating eyes met and held his own. Indeed, more than once Ducky glanced up to find himself the object of Jethro's scrutiny.
"Ducky, come here a minute," Francis called.
Obligingly Ducky moved towards the group and waited.
"You're gay, aren't you?" Francis demanded.
More than a little taken aback by the question, as well as something he didn't wish to think about, Ducky said, "Well, yes."
"Good. So what's your specialty?"
"Come on, Ducky. You must have one. Maybe not specialty, but what do you like? Some men like to give head, others to be fucked. I just wondered -"
"What the hell kind of question's that?" Jethro growled the words as he moved closer to Francis; looming over him, deliberately, that was clear, using his height to intimidate.
For a second Francis did look slightly intimated. But then he just laughed and pushed Jethro's arm. "What? Oh, don't worry, Jethro. Ducky doesn't mind, do you, Ducky?"
Actually, Ducky did mind. He minded very much. But he minded more whether he had a job in the morning.
He was about to answer Francis when Jethro spoke again. "He may not, but I do." He spoke more quietly this time, but his voice was like ice. He fixed Francis with a stare, and as Ducky watched, he saw far more being said than the words Jethro had uttered.
After a moment or two, Francis blinked and looked away from the frozen stare. He shook himself a little, glanced at Ducky and said, "Sorry, Ducky. I was out of line. Didn't mean to offend you."
Ducky nodded, and accepted the apology. He then glanced up at Jethro; he didn't quite know whether to thank him or say nothing. The dark gaze became less frosty at it looked at him, and with a tiny, half nod, Jethro accepted whatever it was Ducky had offered in his own look.
After another hour or so, the group, including Jethro, left. They waved and called goodbye to Ducky as they went, still talking about share prices and the markets.
It was some two hours later, before Ducky turned out the final light and left for the evening.
"Hey," a low voice came out of the shadows.
Ducky was startled. "Mr. Gibbs?" he said, ordering his heart to stop pounding.
Jethro frowned. "You're not at work now, it's Jethro." He voice made it clear it was not up for discussion.
So instead Ducky just nodded noncommittally, glancing behind him towards the darkened bar as he did so. "May I help you?" he asked, turning back to face Jethro again. "Are you waiting for someone?"
"Yes. Want to buy you that drink."
Ducky blinked and opened his mouth to speak.
"Can't be against the rules now because we're not in the bar. So what do you say?"
Ducky found himself saying, "Thank you. I'd like that very much."
"Good. Only thing is, I keep forgetting this isn't America. Everywhere is closed. But tell you what, I live near here, just round the corner in fact, and I have a very good supply of scotch. Why don't you _"
"Mr. Gibbs, if you wish to fuck me, just say so. You do not need to buy me a drink." Ducky spoke flatly, as sadness overtook him.
"What?" Jethro stared at him. "Hang on, Ducky. Did I miss something? How did we get from me offering you a drink to me wanting to fuck you? Is that some other strange British custom I don't know about?"
Ducky shook his head. "No, of course not. It's just -"
"Look. Let's get this straight. I have no interest in fucking you, okay? I simply want to share a drink with you. But if you're not interested then . . . I'm sorry. Goodnight, Ducky." He turned and began to walk away.
Telling himself he should just let him go, Ducky caught his arm. "No, wait. I'm the one who should apologize. It's been a long week. And I . . ." He what, misunderstood? Was just so used to . . . ?
Jethro turned back to him and smiled; as in the bar it softened his face. "I know all about those kinds of weeks. Come on; let's have that drink. You'll feel better."
"This is a very nice place you have, Jethro," Ducky said, as he sipped the glass of what was very expensive pure malt scotch. The name came easily, maybe too easily, and as he settled back into the deep, firm, but extremely comfortable armchair, he felt the tension with which he always lived begin to lift for a moment.
Jethro sat in the second armchair, one leg thrown over the arm, one of his arms above his head. He'd taken off his overcoat and jacket, throwing both onto the sofa, and loosened his tie. In his hand he held a glass of the same whisky. "Thanks. I'm not here that often, but it's nice to come home to. So tell me about you."
Ducky blinked. "About me?"
"Yeah, why someone who clearly went to what do you call them here? Oh, yes, public schools, means the opposite in America, who knows his whisky, and who is used to this kind of place, is doing working behind a bar, and a not very up-market one at that."
For a moment, Ducky didn't answer. It wasn't the question he'd been expecting, and he wasn't sure he wanted to answer it. But then he looked at Jethro again, and was hit with an overwhelming desire to tell him the whole story.
He took another sip of whisky and did that very thing. "You are correct, I did go to public school. In fact I went to Eton."
Jethro whistled. "That's your top public school, isn't it?"
Ducky smiled. "It's one of our top ones, yes. It's probably the most well known and world renowned."
"And expensive." It wasn't a question.
Nonetheless, Ducky answered it. "Yes. My parents were wealthy and I came from, although I hate to use the expression, very much an upper class background. I grew up in a house with a butler, a cook, and several other servants. My entire schooling had been decided before I was a year old. A good prep school, Eton, and then Oxford or Cambridge, and a career possibly in the Civil Service, or maybe in Law. I did at one point raise the possibility of teaching; however, Father wasn't too keen on the idea of me being a simple teacher." Ducky finished his whisky.
Without taking his gaze from Ducky, Jethro swung his leg to the ground, reached behind him and snagged the bottle of whisky, unscrewed the top and poured another healthy measure into Ducky's glass. "Go on," he said softly, his tone and the look on his face encouraging.
"Thank you," Ducky acknowledged the second drink. "The full details of the story would take some time to tell, but simply put, Father lost all the family money."
"I am not entirely certain of the full details. However, it wasn't just our money that he lost, he . . . Oh, dear."
"Embezzled?" Jethro said softly.
Ducky nodded. "Yes. And if that wasn't awful enough, he took his own life rather than face the consequences of his actions. And whilst at one level I can understand his shame, because my father was a good man, Jethro, a very good man. I . . ." Ducky broke off and looked into the dark eyes that held him captive. There was no hint of accusation or disgust, nor was there any pity, and that was something for which, above everything else, Ducky was grateful. Instead, there was quiet compassion together with a hint of understanding and acceptance.
Ducky swallowed and went on. "I did understand Father's shame, really I did, and I still do. However, what he failed either to remember or to care about was that his life assurance policy had a suicide clause in it. Thus the money that could have helped repay something to those from whom he -" Even now, he couldn't say the word 'stole'. "Was forfeited. Overnight we went from having no worries about the future, to in effect having nothing."
"How old were you?"
"I had just turned eighteen, and had, a few weeks earlier, taken my final 'A' Level. I, and three of my school friends, was about to embark on a trip around Europe. And I don't mean of the backpacking kind. Instead I returned immediately to Mother, knowing that Oxford, because that is where I had been accepted, was no longer in the picture, in an attempt to salvage something. But there was nothing that I could do. Except . . ."
"Go on, Duck." Again, Jethro spoke with the same quiet encouragement. No one had ever shortened what was already his nickname before, and Ducky found that it warmed him and gave him some level of reassurance.
"Henry Thompson, the man for whom I work, the man who owns the bar, was one of the people Father had been involved with. He made me the proverbial offer I could not refuse. He said that if I went to work for him, not only would he forget the money Father owed him, but he would also provide Mother with a small flat and an allowance, thus making it possible for her to, at least in part, live the life to which she had always been accustomed. It was a good offer, a fair offer; and one that, had it not been for Mother, I would not even have considered. For myself I'd have happily lived in one room and worked evenings and weekends whilst continuing my education, albeit at a far more modest establishment. Or if not that, then I would have found a job in which I could work my way up. I studied Classics for 'A' level, which although more than suitable for a career in the Civil Service, were not considered helpful for most other openings. Nonetheless, I am certain that I could have found something. However, whilst I'd be happy to do that, it would not keep Mother."
"And your mom's used to money?" Again, there was no hint of judgment in the quiet voice.
Ducky nodded. "Oh, yes. Mother was thirty-three when I was born, which was very late for the time. And she had been surrounded by money, servants, and big houses since she was born. At fifty-one, I could not expect her to suddenly adapt and learn to live the kind of life that she would have to have done. She could cut down; indeed she has had to do so, but to give it all up, would have been unfair. I was the man of the house then, I am an only child, and I had to do what was best for her."
"How long ago did this happen?"
"Almost nineteen years ago."
"You're twelve years older than me. Funny, I'd have guessed less."
"Fewer," Ducky found himself saying without thinking. Then he gasped. "I am sorry, Jethro. I didn't mean to . . ."
He broke off as rather than be irritated by the correction, Jethro was laughing, a genuine, amused laugh. "Guess I should tell Dad that all the money he spent on my education was wasted." The blue eyes twinkled with mirth, and the smile once again softened what, Ducky suddenly realized, could be a fairly harsh countenance. "Here," he poured Ducky another drink.
For a second Ducky thought of refusing. It was, after all, late, and he really should be getting back to his small flat. However, the whisky was excellent, the company the most pleasant Ducky had known for as long as he could remember; he was warm, comfortable and, despite the conversation, at peace. So instead, he thanked his host and again settled back into the depths of the chair.
"So let me get this right, you've worked for this Thompson for nineteen years, simply for the sake of your mom?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes," he said simply. As he did, he wondered if the fact that he had been prepared to do that sounded strange, odd even, to his companion. Occasionally Ducky wondered the same thing, but he also knew that it was the only thing he could do. It had been the correct decision to take all those years ago.
Jethro spoke again. "Does he pay you, or do you have to work for nothing?"
"He pays me a small salary, not even remotely enough to allow me to be able to save any substantial amount and thus escape him. But enough to allow me to live, as long as I do not want luxuries."
For a moment Jethro was silent, he just sat and looked at Ducky. Then he asked quietly, "Are your only duties those behind the bar?"
Ducky closed his eyes. He was torn between anger, exhaustion and the need, because he now acknowledged, now admitted, that it was a need, to finish the whole, sordid story. "It isn't as dreadful as you might think. He is not a highly sexed man, he goes for weeks, months even, before he . . . And for all of his other faults, he is a fanatically clean man. It could be far worse," he said quietly.
Again Jethro said nothing. Again Ducky read no hint of condemnation in the steady gaze and the tall frame. Then he said, his voice still low, "And does this duty extend further than him?"
Ducky stared at him. A mixture of emotion began to race through his body. To his surprise, the main one was disappointment. "What makes you think that, Mr. Gibbs," he finally managed, his tone cutting.
Jethro's eyes widened slightly at the harshness. He shrugged. "I think it was the 'Mr. Gibbs, if you wish to fuck me, just say so. You do not need to buy me a drink', that gave it away. Unless, of course, you do make a habit of offering that to perfect strangers."
Ducky shook his head. "No," he said quietly. "You are correct, again. If a customer - I thought that maybe . . . I am sorry for jumping to a conclusion that was not only incorrect, but also insulting to you." He spoke stiffly, formally.
His companion shrugged. "Incorrect, yes. Insulting . . ." He shrugged again. "You must love your mom very much." His eyes never left Ducky's face, and his tone contained something Ducky couldn't immediately identify.
Ducky was momentarily thrown by the change of topic. But then he said simply, honestly, determinedly, "Yes. Yes, I do."
"It's more than just duty though, isn't it?"
Again Ducky nodded. "Yes."
"How much did your dad own this Thompson?"
"Two million. Which at one time would have been nothing to us. But now . . ."
"Two million? Is that all?" But Jethro was clearly talking to himself. "Sorry, that came out wrong. It's just that . . . Okay, my turn. Brief life history of Leroy Jethro Gibbs the Fourth. I'm also an only child; Mom was thirty and Dad thirty-eight when they had me, which is also older than a lot of folks have kids; but it took Mom a long time to conceive. They'd all but given up hope, and then I came along. I'm, well we're, extremely wealthy; we own several companies, mostly in the finance market in America, but we're considering extending into other markets and countries. I enjoy my job, I'm good at it, very good, actually. I work hard, but Dad taught me there's more to life than work. Oh, and I'm gay." He held Ducky's gaze.
Deliberately ignoring the last part, Ducky asked, "Why are you in London?"
"Dad thought it would be a good idea to see a British finance company, as it'd be our first area of expansion. Fletchers seemed a natural place, given its location in London. Plus the fact that it is having a few financial problems of its own."
Ducky blinked at that. There had been nothing about any problems in the news, nor on the grapevine, nor had his customers given any indication. In fact quite the opposite. And yet Jethro was calmly telling him, a perfect stranger, a stranger who had not long ago confessed to being little better than a prostitute, what was undoubtedly something that Fletchers would not be happy to become widely know. Trust wasn't merely implied; it was blatant. "Are the staff aware?" he asked.
Jethro smiled. "Oh, yes, they are. That's why Frank couldn't fall over himself quickly enough to apologize to you, for his crass question. He knows, they all know, that one word from me and Dad could buy the company out and get rid of the lot of them."
Again Ducky was torn between not knowing whether he should thank Jethro or not. Finally he said, "I hope you don't think I didn't appreciate what you did earlier."
"Thanks aren't necessary, Duck." The shortened version of his name again. Ducky could get used to it; but he mustn't. In fact, he should go. Now. He moved to the edge of his chair. "Hey, where're you going?" Jethro said, also moving.
"It's late. I really should go. My day begins quite early. I have to do the remainder of the clearing up from tonight, before we open firstly for coffee, and then for the lunchtime trade." He stood up.
"Are you sure?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. Thank you for the drinks. I . . ."
"Yeah, me too. Hey, Duck, before you go. Do you get any time off?"
"Actually, yes. The last weekend in every month. Other than that, apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and, if Mr. Thompson is in a particularly generous mood, one week in February, I work seven days a week."
Jethro frowned. "Not sure that's legal."
"Neither am I. However, I am not about to start raising matters like that."
"Any particular reason for it being the last weekend in every month?"
"Yes, there is. You may not be aware, but attached to the bar, owned by Thompson, is a restaurant, small, but well laid out and it is of a higher class than the bar. Once a month a group holds a Dining Club meeting that lasts for the entire weekend. It is members only, and as far as I am aware, membership is highly exclusive and difficult to obtain. Indeed, I believe that more than one eminent person has been refused membership, or rather told that membership is currently full."
"Don't they want someone to run the bar?"
"They bring in their own staff; it really is extremely exclusive. I can only imagine that it must bring Thompson quite a substantial amount of money for him to close the bar to regular patrons once a month, especially at a weekend. It also appears that these club members and their employees do not want anyone who isn't a member to be aware of who they are. I am all but pushed out of the door as soon as we close on a Friday afternoon, unlike other times when I have to clean up, and I am not expected to return until the second we open on the Monday lunchtime. And now I really must go."
But Jethro ignored him. "What do you do? On those weekends off?"
"As the museums and art galleries are free, they are a luxury I am able to afford. I even treat myself to a meal in a nearby, not chic, but inexpensive, Italian restaurant."
"Do you like opera?"
"I have not been to one for many years, but yes, I do."
"Next weekend's the last weekend of the month. Come and spend it with me."
"Spend it with me. We'll do whatever you want, go wherever you want. Galleries, the opera, museums, non-inexpensive restaurants." Jethro closed the gap between them slightly, not invading Ducky's personal space, not quite, but getting closer than was strictly necessary. "My treat."
"I don't know what to say." Ducky was tempted, very tempted.
"Try 'yes.' Although, before you do, I'd better tell you something. It's only fair."
Ducky waited. "And that is?" he asked, after a moment or two of silence.
"What I said earlier about not wanting to fuck you wasn't strictly true. Well, it was; I have no interest in merely fucking you. I do, however, want to make love to you. I want to show you what lovemaking can be like, I want to give you pleasure and I don't expect anything in return." The blue eyes had softened even more as Jethro stared down at Ducky. He had also, although Ducky would have sworn under oath that he hadn't, moved slightly nearer.
But Jethro went on speaking. "However, that isn't part of my offer. This place has three bedrooms. The 'spare room', the one I don't use as a bedroom or office even has a lock on it. I give you my word that if you accept my offer, then where you sleep is up to you. If you want to share my bed, then that would make me very happy, but I would not expect it. It's not a condition. My only condition is that you enjoy yourself and you let me spoil you. And before you correct me, I know, I know that's two conditions. So what do you say?"
"I . . ." He should say no. It was the right thing to say. The correct thing to say. The sensible thing to say. The adult thing to say. But suddenly he wasn't feeling sensible or adult. He'd had to be both for nineteen years; surely he was entitled to one weekend of being 'spoilt', to use Jethro's term.
But no. It was foolish. An unnecessary risk, for more than one reason. Not that he didn't trust Jethro to honour his word; oddly enough he did. He believed him. But that wasn't the point. If Thompson found out, he'd . . .
"Thank you. I'd like that very much indeed," he said, surprising himself at least as much as he surprised Jethro, given the look that passed across the handsome face.
Jethro smiled, and put a hand on Ducky's shoulder and squeezed it. Suddenly Ducky realized that apart from the handshake and when he himself had stopped Jethro from walking away, it was the first contact between them. As with both of the previous occasions, an electrical charge coursed through Ducky's body. "Great," he said. "What time do you escape?"
"The bar closes at two o'clock; I tend to be outside by a minute past."
"I'll meet you outs -"
"No!" Ducky spoke the word loudly. "I'm sorry," he said, quietening his voice. "It is just that -"
"Thompson wouldn't like it?" Ducky nodded, now wasn't the time to point out that 'not like' was an understatement. "Tell you what, here." Jethro put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a key. "There's no alarm or anything like that. Let yourself in; make yourself at home. The spare room is immediately next to this one, on the left. I'll be here by three, four at the latest, and then we can decide what to do first."
Ducky looked at the key Jethro had pushed into his hand. "Didn't your parents ever teach you about not giving strangers open access to your home?" he said quietly, more touched by the gesture than he wanted to admit.
"You're not a stranger, Duck." Was all Jethro said, as just for a fleeting, instant, his fingertips brushed over Ducky's cheek. "Now," he said, turning on his heel and striding away. "I'll get my secretary to book some seats for the opera. Don't know what's playing, but guess that doesn’t matter, does it?"
"Um, no. But . . . Do you enjoy opera, Jethro?"
"Never been to one. Mom likes it, so I've heard bits of it when she's played her records. Be a new experience for me."
"Maybe we should -"
"Ducky. Would you or would you not like to go to the opera?" Jethro asked, his tone patient. He had returned to stand in front of Ducky and had put one hand on each shoulder and was looking down at him.
"Well, yes, I would but -"
"Good. That's settled. Now, let's see about getting you a cab."
"There's no need, Jethro, really, I can walk."
"Sure you can, but you're not going to." Jethro strode from the room leaving a slightly bemused Ducky staring after him.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON, 28TH MARCH 1980
Ducky hesitated outside the front door. It was all very well Jethro having given him a key and telling him to 'go in and make himself at home', and maybe that was the kind of thing Jethro was used to doing, but Ducky wasn't. Despite how well the two men had got on, how relaxed, regardless of everything he'd told Jethro, Ducky had felt, they had only known one another for a few hours.
However, it wasn't quite three o'clock, Jethro had said he'd be home by four at the latest, but surely that depended, even for the son of the man who could buy the company, on the state of the markets? If Ducky didn't go in, he could be standing outside for hours. Also, given the clearly up market neighbourhood, and the fact that whilst Ducky's clothes were scrupulously clean, they were fairly old, a little threadbare in places and not at all fashionable, he might find himself trying to explain to a policeman why he was standing outside the front door. No, he would go in.
Resolutely he turned back to the front door, and took the key from his pocket. However, he couldn't bring himself to use it. It was no good, he could not overturn his culture, upbringing and general nature, not even when he glanced at the sky and saw the grey clouds forming. Sighing and telling himself he was being stupid, he put his case down, and rested back against the wall; preparing himself for a long wait.
"Guessed I'd find you standing here," Jethro called, as less than five minutes later he strode up to where Ducky stood. In one hand he carried a black briefcase, his other was buried in his overcoat pocket. The coat was the same one he'd been wearing when Ducky first saw him, but he could see that the suit was a different colour, dark grey rather than light.
"God, it's cold," Jethro said, as he pulled out his key. "I don't think I've been warm since I got here. In you go." He pushed open the door, grabbed Ducky's case before he could pick it up himself, and gestured to Ducky to precede him.
Once inside, Jethro pushed the door shut, and dropped his keys and briefcase on the hall table, before turning to face Ducky. He looked down at him and under Ducky's gaze, he actually saw Jethro's face change; it softened, his eyes seemed to become bluer and more gentle, and he smiled. Just for a moment Ducky thought Jethro was going to kiss him.
A second later, when Jethro instead just lightly and fleetingly brushed his fingertips over Ducky's cheek, before squeezing his shoulder and moving towards one of the closed doors, Ducky didn't know whether to be glad or sad that the expected kiss hadn't arrived.
"I hope this is okay for you," Jethro said, opening the door and again waving Ducky inside. He moved past Ducky, put the case down on the bed and glanced around him frowning. "I'm afraid it's a bit small. I hadn't thought I'd have guests, so I used the second largest for my office. But it does have its own bathroom, see," he strode across the room and opened another door. "Well, shower rather than bath, I hope that's all right. If you'd rather have a bath, then the main bathroom has - What?" he said turning to face Ducky who had, against his will begun to chuckle softly.
"I am sorry, Jethro. It is just that this one room is actually larger than where I live." Ducky spoke lightly; he had stopped feeling sorry for himself many years ago. Indeed, he had long ago convinced himself that his small accommodation was far easier to keep warm and clean. He rather liked it, and over the years he had managed to furnish it with some quite good quality items that he'd spent hours repairing and renovating.
Jethro, however, looked aghast at what he'd said. "Ah, Duck. I'm sorry. I didn't think. I never -"
"Hush, Jethro." Ducky moved across the room and lightly put his hand on Jethro's arm. "It doesn't matter. There was a time when I'd have said the same thing. And my home is comfortable. You must -" He stopped himself abruptly, and hastily changed the subject. "And a shower is more than acceptable. Especially" he added, smiling up at his taller companion, "if your hot water is in plentiful supply."
It made Jethro smile, but his eyes still showed that he wished he hadn't made the comment. "It certainly is. Made sure of that before Dad bought the place. The central heating is great too. Now how about some tea? Or do you want to unpack first?"
"Tea would be lovely."
"Good. Come on then. I didn't know what you liked, so I got a selection."
He led Ducky into the kitchen. Ducky just stared. "Are you thinking of opening a tea shop, Jethro?" he asked after a moment or two.
"Guess I did overdo it a bit. But I wanted to make sure I had what you liked. The guys at work weren't that helpful; they mostly drink coffee. But my secretary seemed to know her stuff, and went on about Indian and China tea, and which was better at what time of day. I lost track of whether Earl Grey was better at breakfast or in the afternoon."
"Oh, the afternoon, most definitely. Not that it is to everyone's taste of course, some people think it is too scented."
"Scented? You have tea that's scented?"
Jethro looked bemused and shook his head. "Do you like it?" he asked.
"Yes, I do. It is also one of Mother's favourites."
"Good. So you want that, do you?"
"Are you going to join me?"
"Sure. Why not. Oh, I also bought a teapot and a thing for straining the tea, Fliss, she’s my secretary, told me that I had to buy real tea, not tea bags. Sugar, milk, teacups, sugar tongs, oh and that thing," he pointed to a rather brightly coloured tea cosy. "Was the best I could find. Did I forget anything?"
"You bought all this just for me?" Ducky said quietly, more than a little taken aback.
"Sure. I don't usually drink tea, and as I have my coffee black without sugar, I don't have either here, and don't use cups. And before you say it, it wasn't any trouble. Really. Mom'd be cross with me for not getting that kind of thing from the beginning. But that's Mom for you; I swear she's prepared for anything, and I mean anything. I remember once when I was a kid, I - Let's get tea. Right, what's first? Fliss said something about warming the pot?"
"Here, let me," Ducky said. "Er, Jethro," he said quietly a moment or two later.
"Where's the kettle?" He began to laugh at the look of horror on Jethro's face. "Do I presume that you do not spend a lot of time in the kitchen?" he asked politely, a moment or two later.
"That obvious?" Jethro was now, at least, grinning ruefully at him.
"And that you use a coffee percolator or something similar?"
Jethro nodded and pointed to a very modern looking device.
Ducky frowned. "I suppose I could use it to heat some water. Unless you have such a thing as a saucepan?" He wasn't very hopeful of an affirmative answer.
"I've got this," Jethro said, grabbing a frying pan. "I can manage bacon and eggs. Oh, and toast." He nodded towards a toaster. Then he leaned back against the pristine work surface, lowered his head and sighed. "Ah, shit," he cursed. "I'm sorry, Duck. I wanted this to be, oh, I don't know. Bloody good host I am. I can't even provide a cup of tea."
He looked thoroughly miserable, and Ducky had to fight an urge to go across to him and take him into his arms, and - He stopped the thought before it began. "It doesn't matter, really," he said. "I'd be quite happy with a cup of coffee."
But Jethro shook his head. "No," he said decisively. "We'll go out and have tea. Then we'll go and buy a kettle and some saucepans and whatever else you think I need." And with that, he pushed himself upright, strode across the kitchen, snagged Ducky's hand and all but dragged him into the hall.
"But, Jethro, I -" Ducky gave up and simply followed him.
He managed to stop Jethro from buying the entire contents of the store's kitchen department, but even so he marvelled at the amount of money his companion had spent on things that Ducky doubted, from what Jethro had said, he would ever use.
To his partial surprise, he found that he didn't resent the fact that in effect Jethro was just throwing his money away, money that could have kept Ducky fed and warm for several months. In fact he found himself enjoying the experience of being able to spend money without thought, even if it wasn't his money.
In the end they left the store with only the kettle. Jethro had managed to charm the head female sale's assistant into agreeing to deliver his purchases, even though normally the store didn't offer a delivery service on anything other than furniture.
That evening they had dinner at an Italian restaurant rather more exclusive, but still family-run, than the one Ducky frequented from time to time, returning to Jethro's home at around eleven.
Ducky refused Jethro's offer of coffee. He did, however, accept his offer of whisky, and spent the time whilst Jethro was making his coffee examining the rather large collection of extremely fine single malts, finally settling on a Mortlach.
And for the next three hours they sat side by side on the sofa, which was equally as comfortable as the armchair Ducky had sat in on his previous visit, drinking whisky and talking in the kind of relaxed way that you usually only find with friends of some years. They exchanged stories of their respective childhoods; Jethro told him tales about his parents. Although he tended to speak of them a little dismissively, even disparagingly, from time to time, it was clearly just his way, as the deep love, caring, affection and respect he had for them shone through.
"Never did ask you, Duck, how long had you been waiting outside, before I got home?"
Suddenly embarrassed at having to confess that he had been unable to bring himself to follow Jethro's instructions, Ducky stretched the truth a little. "I was just about to let myself in, when you appeared." He glanced away from the penetrating dark eyes.
"Hmm. I hope you've never considered becoming some kind of spy or undercover agent," Jethro said lightly.
Ducky looked up and met the now amused gaze. "And why might that be?" he said, in what he knew was a vain attempt to stand on his dignity.
"Because you can't lie."
"I wasn't . . ."
"Sorry, Duck. But those eyes of yours are too damned revealing."
Ducky swallowed hard and again glanced away. "They are?"
"Yeah. They are." The touch was again fleeting, far too fleeting, as Jethro brushed a strand of Ducky's hair from his face.
Ducky looked at his companion and for a moment . . .
But then Jethro stood up swiftly. "God, it's late," he said. "And I've got this report I must read before tomorrow. You don't mind, do you?"
Ducky shook his head. "No, of course not. I'll see you in the morning." He stood up too.
Jethro smiled and nodded and turned away.
A second later he turned back, moved towards Ducky and -
"Night, Duck," he murmured, less than a heartbeat later. "Sleep well." And with that he'd gone taking the energy and brightness from the room with him.
As he stood and watched the tall figure stride out of the room, Ducky couldn't be certain whether Jethro's lips had touched his cheek or not.
SATURDAY MORNING, 29TH MARCH 1980
After allowing himself the luxury of a, by his usual standards, extremely long shower, Ducky got dressed and went into the kitchen, following the tantalizing scent of bacon and freshly brewed coffee. Jethro was correct; he could manage eggs, bacon, coffee and toast; more than manage.
After breakfast Ducky managed to win the argument as to who would wash up, insisting firmly that there wasn’t enough to justify using the dishwasher. He sent Jethro off to make the phone call he said he really had to make, concerning the report he'd read the night before. So it hadn't been an excuse; for some reason that really pleased Ducky.
Sitting next to Jethro, who looked extremely handsome and, Ducky had to confess, very desirable, Ducky forced his mind away from his companion and concentrated on the music, the singing and the acting, as he let the story of Figaro unfold before him. And within minutes of the orchestra playing the overture, he was captivated and his full attention was where it should be.
Ducky enjoyed thoroughly every second of the experience; one he hadn't been able to enjoy for nearly two decades. Nothing jarred, nothing was wrong, nothing was out of place; there wasn't one missed note, chord, step, line; it was perfect. The wine they'd shared during the interval was rich and full bodied and again reminded Ducky of more affluent times. His companion drew approving and even some flirtatious glances from women young and old, but Jethro's attention never wavered; Ducky himself was clearly his focus.
As to how much, or otherwise, Jethro enjoyed the opera, Ducky couldn't be certain. He didn't fall asleep, he applauded courteously, he seemed to be watching and listening, but Ducky had a feeling that maybe part of it was out of politeness. That he was only there because of Ducky, and would rather be somewhere else, doing something else. However, for the duration of the opera, Ducky fought his natural instincts; instead he let selfishness take over and simply took pleasure in the experience.
After the performance was over, they had a late supper in a quiet, very expensive restaurant, where Ducky found himself telling Jethro of other performances he had seen, and allowing his enthusiasm to come to the forefront. And Jethro sat and smiled and listened, his eyes, apart from when he was looking at the menus or his supper, never leaving Ducky. He didn't say much, but he seemed happy, at peace and content.
"You enjoyed yourself tonight, didn't you, Duck?" Jethro asked, as he poured Ducky a generous measure of eighteen-year-old Glenmorangie.
"Yes, thank you, Jethro. I did. Very much indeed. It's the best evening I have ever spent."
"Good. That's all that matters." Jethro settled down next to him on the large, comfortable sofa. Not too near, but just near enough for Ducky to know he was there, to be encircled by his essence.
"And you? Did you enjoy yourself?"
"Sure. Not certain I followed all the story, but I enjoyed myself. Mom would have loved it."
They sat and talked for another hour or so, before finally Jethro stood up and took the glasses to the kitchen. "Any idea what you'd like to do tomorrow?" he asked when he came back.
Ducky shook his head. "Why don't we wait and see how we feel," he suggested.
For a minute they stood and looked at one another, before Jethro moved near enough to Ducky to brush his fingers over Ducky's hair, and then again give him a fleeting kiss, that might not have been a kiss, on his cheek. "Night, Duck," he said softly.
"Goodnight, Jethro." Ducky watched the tall figure walk out of the room, before following him and turning off the lights.
Still humming snatches of arias, he undressed, visited the bathroom and returned to his room. He was about to climb into bed, when it hit him. How ridiculous it was for him to be here in this bed, alone, whilst the man to whom he was attracted, who in turn liked him, who had made it clear that he would like him in his bed, but only if Ducky wanted it, was also alone, two doors away.
He paused by the door of his room. Should he go to Jethro? Was that what Jethro was expecting? After all he'd spent a lot of money on Ducky already, maybe he was waiting for some form of payment. Ducky frowned, and shook himself; that wasn't the man Jethro was, of that he was certain.
Yes, Jethro had spent a lot of money, but he'd done so in a relaxed, carefree natural way. Not once had Ducky felt, not even for a second, that Jethro was merely trying to impress him. The seats at the opera, clearly the most expensive, the bottle of wine they'd enjoyed with their meal, everything had just been a normal thing for Jethro.
"I have no interest in merely fucking you. I do, however, want to make love to you. I want to show you what lovemaking can be like, I want to give you pleasure and I don't expect anything in return."
"I give you my word that if you accept my offer, then where you sleep is up to you. If you want to share my bed, then that would make me very happy, but I would not expect it. It's not a condition."
Jethro's words came flooding back to Ducky. He'd always had an excellent memory, a kind of audio-photographic memory even, and his recall was exceptional.
The prospect of being in Jethro's bed, in his arms, being held by him, kissed by him, made love to by him, was an intense one. Ducky wanted it more than he had ever wanted anything in his life, but still he hesitated. What if . . . ?
"Life is too short for what ifs, my dear Donald." The words of his paternal grandmother came to him so clearly that, for a moment, he even glanced across the room. "There are only two certainties in life: birth and death. Whatever happens between the two is up to each person. Take happiness where you can, Donald, you never know what might happen tomorrow."
Oh, how right she had been. He had always been glad that she hadn't lived to see what had happened to her son.
With her words still echoing in his mind, he resolutely pulled open his bedroom door, waited for a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the differences in light, before walking quietly down to Jethro's room.
There, he hesitated for a moment, before knocking gently and carefully opening the door. Jethro was sitting up in bed, a large book in his hands.
Jethro glanced up and immediately let the book fall. "Is something the matter, Duck?" he asked, his voice heavy with concern. "Are you ill?"
Ducky shook his head and moved further into the room, crossing the deep piled carpet. "No, Jethro," he said quietly. "Nothing is wrong." And it wasn't. Had he needed any further convincing that Jethro's words of a week ago had been honest ones, the look on the handsome face gave him the confirmation. Jethro had not been expecting him; had not been waiting for him; Ducky's appearance had been a complete surprise to him.
He reached the side of Jethro's bed and looked down at him. Jethro was staring up, watching him carefully; his face now showed a mixture of hope, surprise and almost disbelief. "Duck?" he said softly, slowly lifting a hand towards Ducky. His voice contained the same mix of emotions as his face had displayed. He swallowed hard. "Duck?" he repeated. "Are you . . ." he trailed off.
Ducky nodded. "Yes," he said calmly. "I am."
Jethro blinked, and pleasure and a desire that Ducky suddenly knew he had kept deliberately hidden began to appear. Now it was Ducky's turn to swallow hard; he hadn't been looked at in the way Jethro was looking at him in his entire life. "Are you sure?" Jethro asked, finally capturing Ducky's hand.
Ducky smiled and shivered slightly as the fission of electrical current raced through him. "Oh, yes," he murmured. "Completely sure." But to his annoyance, he found he couldn't move. He didn't know how to make the transition from standing by Jethro's bed to lying in it. It was ridiculous he was almost thirty-seven and he couldn't even . . .
The next moment Jethro solved the problem for him, by pushing back the covers, tugging on Ducky's hand and guiding him down, gathering him into his embrace and lightly kissing him as he did so.
As Jethro's lips met his, Ducky had to stop himself from moaning or, what he was afraid of, whimpering with the sheer beauty and delight of it. It had been such a long time since anyone had kissed him like Jethro had kissed, was kissing, him. Kissing him as if he were the most important person in the world, the only person in the world. In fact, he'd never been kissed like Jethro was kissing him.
Jethro's lips moved over his face, brushing cheeks, nose, forehead, eyelids, chin, returning all the time to his mouth, before sliding away to touch his neck and his ears. His hands lightly, but with surety and comfort, stroked Ducky's body, his arms, his shoulders, his chest, his thighs, reassuring Ducky, not threatening him. Somehow Jethro seemed to know exactly what Ducky wanted; what he needed.
Ducky desperately wanted to touch Jethro in return, but his mind was too taken up with experiencing the pleasure of Jethro's loving. "Is this okay?" Jethro murmured, ceasing he kisses for the moment. His fingers hovered over the first button on Ducky's pyjama top.
"Yes, please," Ducky moaned, pulling Jethro's head back to him so that he could kiss him again.
And then he was naked; and so was Jethro. "Ahhh," he managed, as Jethro's cool hand finally touched his heated skin. "I . . ."
"Hush, Duck. Hush. Don't. It's all right. Relax. I'm not going to hurt you."
"I know," Ducky managed, moving under the sure, light caress.
"Relax and let me make love to you. Let me love you. Let me show you -" Jethro silenced himself by kissing Ducky again.
The sound of Jethro's voice, his kisses, his caresses, were hypnotic and Ducky found himself following the quiet, gentle order. Rather than try to return the touches and the pleasure, he let his body sink further into the mattress and gave himself up fully to Jethro's loving. With that simple move, he gave himself over utterly and totally into Jethro's care.
Jethro was a good lover, a skilled one. But as he used his knowledge, his skill, not once did it seem like a technique; never once did Ducky feel that Jethro was making love to him as he'd made love to other men. He also seemed to be able to read Ducky's body, even better than Ducky could himself, and knew when to calm his touches and when to continue.
"How do you like it?" he murmured once.
"Gentle. Slow," was all Ducky could manage, as again he pressed up into the sure grip.
He lost all track of time and place, knowing only that he was being made love to, that he was being loved, being cared for, being pleasured beyond anything he could ever have hoped for, wished for, expected. The world contracted into this one bed, in this one room, in this one building, in this one city, and only he and the man making love to him were part of it.
Finally, Jethro allowed his completion to happen, and as he felt it go through his entire body, Ducky cried out his lover's name, and shuddered as his mind, soul and body climaxed, letting himself again be gathered into a warming, secure embrace.
When he next opened his eyes, he looked up into Jethro's. They shone with what was clear delight, as midnight blue and ebony merged into one. Jethro's face was flushed, his lips reddened and swollen, and perspiration glistened on his upper lip. "Hey," he said softly. "You okay?"
Ducky smiled and nodded. 'Okay' didn't begin to cover it, but oddly enough it was the best word Jethro could have chosen. He reached, what was to his embarrassment, a slightly shaky hand up and began to lightly caress Jethro's face, whilst his other hand lightly stroked the naked, warm torso.
He didn't miss Jethro's sharp intake of breath, nor the way the pupils became even larger, as he let his hand slip down Jethro's body. As he slipped his other hand around Jethro's head and began to pull it down towards him, Jethro suddenly caught and stilled the hand that was moving even further down his body.
"Jethro?" Ducky frowned a little.
"You sure you want to?" Jethro managed, his voice hoarse.
Ducky smiled, as another wave of happiness coursed through him. "Of course," he said. "Of course I do, Jethro. There's nothing else I want more."
But still Jethro held on, although by the way he swallowed and bit his bottom lip, Ducky could see the personal battle wasn't an easy one. "You don't have to, Duck."
"I know," he said simply. And put an end to the discussion by pulling more firmly on Jethro's head until he was able to claim Jethro's mouth and kiss him.
SUNDAY, 30TH MARCH 1980
They spent most of Sunday morning in bed, before finally sharing a shower and going out to lunch.
Later they spent a couple of hours wandering around dingy, cheap antique shops, where much to Jethro's bemusement, Ducky found a table that he claimed would fit perfectly into a corner of his room. At least it would once he'd expended some tender loving care onto it.
MONDAY MORNING, 31ST MARCH 1980
"When will I see you again?" Jethro asked, as he held Ducky in his arms.
Ducky rested against the taller frame. "You can see me any evening you visit the bar," Ducky said.
"That's not what I meant, Duck."
"I know. I'm sorry. If you wish, I can return here at the end of next month."
"Not before then?"
"Jethro, it's . . . I -"
Jethro kissed him. "I don't want to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, Duck."
"I know." Ducky kissed Jethro, before moving back a little to look up at him. "Jethro. This weekend has been amazing. It has been the most pleasant, the most wonderful, weekend of my entire life. It's been like, oh, forgive me, this will sound very sentimental, but it's been like another world for me. And now . . . Now I have to return to reality," he said firmly.
Jethro looked down at him, and Ducky watched the steady gaze. Oh, please don't say it, Jethro, he silently begged. Please don't spoil it. Please.
Just for a second the dark gaze betrayed Jethro, and Ducky feared that his plea would go unheard. But then under his own unblinking stare, he saw Jethro erect a defence, not to shut Ducky out, but to hide what Ducky didn't want to see or hear. He lightly stroked Ducky's cheek, before slipping his fingers into Ducky's hair; he seemed fascinated by it. "I'll definitely be in on Friday, and probably before too. Let's just . . ."
Ducky smiled and nodded. "Yes, let us do that."
APRIL- JULY 1980
For the next few months they fell into an easy and regular pattern of being together.
Jethro came into the bar on Friday nights with the rest of the crowd from Fletchers, and at least two other evenings, usually more, during the week as well. Mostly the visits were fairly short ones, and there was nothing, or at least Ducky fervently hoped and prayed there wasn't, that could connect them in any way over and above the involvement Ducky had with the other customers - unless you counted the number of times Jethro appeared.
During April Ducky held out and didn't spend the night at Jethro's home until he spent his weekend there.
However, once he'd spent the best part of another three days being the focus of Jethro's loving attention, being in his arms, being in his bed, being made love to by him, making love to him, exchanging an inordinate amount of kisses at all times of the day, behaving on the one hand almost like adolescents with their first real lover and on the other like mature, lovers of years' standing, he knew he'd never last out another month without being in Jethro's arms.
During May he started to go home with Jethro every Friday night, as well what quickly became 'their weekend'.
By June he was going home with him every time Jethro appeared.
Not that Jethro would hang around the bar until it closed; he didn't.
On Fridays he'd leave with his Fletchers's friends and join them for a meal, before returning to hover in the shadows a little while before Ducky was able to get away.
On other nights, Jethro would leave, go home to work, and then again return to wait for Ducky. Ducky told him, on more than one occasion, that he was capable of walking unescorted the relatively short distance to Jethro's home, but if Jethro heard him, he choose to ignore it. Ducky found to his bemusement that, rather than be irritated by this show of over-protectiveness, he rather enjoyed it.
By the end of July, he hadn't seen his own small room for two weeks.
To his amazement, Thompson hadn't approached him once for anything other than bar work related matters. Ducky was more than relieved by it, vaguely wondering if his boss had found a younger man to satisfy his desire to fuck someone once every month or so. He and Jethro never talked about it, but he assumed that as when he wasn't working, he was in Jethro's home, that Jethro knew.
In the few hours when Jethro was at work and he wasn't, Ducky turned his hand to cooking and freezing various meals. When Jethro asked why, Ducky said that he wasn't going to see all the good kitchen equipment just languishing unused and unloved.
SATURDAY, 26TH JULY 1980
Although both of their birthdays were in early July, due to the fact that Ducky was working, by mutual agreement they had a double translated celebration during the last weekend of the month. Also by mutual agreement, they didn't exchange gifts, instead they visited the theatre and enjoyed a lavish meal at an exclusive restaurant.
Except neither of them had kept to their agreement about presents; Ducky had bought Jethro a fine woollen scarf, as his lover was already anticipating a cool autumn. In turn Jethro's gift to Ducky had been two bottles of fifteen year-old, and a bottle of original cask strength ten year-old, Laphroaig whisky. Jethro himself didn't like the malt; he found it too smoky and peaty for his tastes. Thus the generous present was entirely for Ducky's enjoyment.
SATURDAY, 30TH AUGUST 1980
"So how about showing me where you live, Duck?" Jethro said, as they sat on the sofa. He had his arm around Ducky's shoulders and as was his wont was playing idly with Ducky's hair where it touched his shoulders.
"It's just a room, Jethro. A simple bedsit."
"I know. I just . . . It's been part of you for nearly two decades, Duck. I'd like to see it." Jethro spoke softly.
About to prevaricate, even maybe distract Jethro, Ducky suddenly realized that it was the first time his lover had ever asked him for anything. Even now his tone tried to convey that it was just the same as them going to an art gallery or to the park, that if Ducky wanted to do something else, then that was fine. But he couldn't control his voice as easily as he did his eyes.
It was more, Ducky knew, that just going to see a room. Far more. He was asking, inviting, Ducky to trust him on a new level; to share something with him that he knew Ducky had never shared with anyone else.
If he said no, he knew that Jethro would just accept it, and that it wouldn't affect their relationship, at least not openly. But . . . Relationships were about give and take; Ducky couldn't give Jethro much, at least not in any obvious way, but he could give him this.
And suddenly it wasn't about just giving it to Jethro because he'd asked; Ducky realized he wanted to show Jethro his room. He was proud of what he'd done with it, and although he'd talked to his lover about his love of antiques and the pieces he'd worked on, he'd never shown him any of them.
He sat up and looked at Jethro, wanting him to see as well as hear his words. "I'd like that too, Jethro," he said, and smiled.
Jethro's face lit up, and it was as if Ducky had given him a very expensive gift. "Really?" he asked. "Because we don't have to. Only if you really want to. We could stay here and . . ." he raised his eyebrows and leered at Ducky.
Ducky laughed, leaning forward to kiss his lover quickly, before standing up. "I'm sure. Well, come along, why are you still sitting there?" And with that, he turned and left the room.
"This is . . . Amazing, Duck. I never -" He broke off and flushed slightly. "Sorry. That came out wrong. I didn't mean to . . . Well, you know. Least I hope you do."
Ducky smiled up at Jethro and took his hand. "I know," he said quietly. "And it's all right, Jethro. It took me quite some time to get it how I'd like it, but I must admit I am rather pleased with it."
"So you should be. It's like a haven."
Jethro gazed down at him, his look fond, and then something caught his eye. "Hey, is that what I think it is?" he asked. In two strides he'd moved from Ducky's side to the corner of the room."
Ducky followed him. "Yes, it is."
"But it can't be? I mean it was . . ."
"All it needed was some tender loving care. Not that it is anywhere near finished."
"Of course not," Ducky said indignantly.
Jethro laughed. "Sorry, Duck. It's just that when it comes to anything involving wood or DIY, I'm about as much use as I am in the kitchen. I can just about change a light bulb, but other than that . . ." He shrugged.
"I have always enjoyed doing things with my hands. It gives me pleasure and I believe that I have a certain aptitude for it."
"Oh, you do, Duck. You do," Jethro murmured, his voice was low and sultry. He slid his arms around Ducky from behind, tugging Ducky back to rest against his body, his hands slipping down Ducky’s body and beginning to lightly caress him.
Ducky moaned and pushed forward into the touch. In an instant he went from normal, everyday
mode to being highly and obviously turned on. He had no idea why that particular kind of touch excited and aroused him so much, indeed until he and Jethro had been engaged in a mock struggle over a newspaper early in their relationship, he hadn't even been aware that he liked it so much.
He could still recall, could feel, that first time, how the tingle of pleasure had turned into something far, far more, and had done so far more quickly than he could have envisaged. So quickly that he'd . . . Even recalling it now took him near to the edge and he forced his body to obey his mind.
And of course Jethro wasn't helping matters. He appeared to get as much enjoyment from this kind of touch as Ducky himself did, perhaps even more so. Ducky also had to be careful to keep on eye on Jethro's mood on occasions. If his lover was in a particularly wicked frame of mind or bored, then all it took was for him to stand in front of Ducky and with very little movement he could flutter his fingertips fleetingly over Ducky.
As Jethro's touch grew even more sensual, Ducky forced himself around in the loose embrace, grabbed Jethro's head and kissed him. A minute later they were both naked, clothes scattered around the floor, on Ducky's bed making love. It was quite an achievement to get two grown men in Ducky's narrow single bed that was by necessity pushed up against the wall, but somehow they managed it.
SEPTEMBER TO MID-NOVEMBER 1980
Life for Ducky was wonderful. Even when he hadn’t had any money worries, when he had believed he would have a bright future, even when the world and he were at peace, he had never known such happiness, such joy, such fun, and he had never before been so contented.
Jethro completed him in a way that he'd never believed another person could, in a way he'd never believed he'd want to be, need to be, completed.
He was happy.
And so, he knew, was Jethro.
And he was also . . . But he wasn't going to allow himself to go there.
LUNCHTIME. FRIDAY, 14TH NOVEMBER 1980
Ducky glanced at the clock, something he found himself doing more and more often these days. There was only another five minutes before closing time, and as the lunchtime traffic had been slower than it usually was on a Friday, the cleaning and tidying up he had to do would hopefully take less time than usual. He hoped so, because he intended to return to his bedsit, and do some more work on the table Jethro had so admired; he planned to give it to his lover for a Christmas gift.
As the final customer called and waved goodbye to him, Ducky closed and bolted the door and crossed to the first table to begin clearing it.
Ducky jumped. He hadn't realized his boss was in the building. "Yes, Mr. Thompson," he said, turning around.
Ducky felt icy fingers began to creep up his neck as a chill raced through him. Had Jethro and he been less careful than usual? Had Thompson found out? What would happen to his mother? Jethro would help, Ducky knew that, but . . . He shook himself; this was not the time to think about Jethro. "I'm sorry?"
"I said get out. Going deaf now, are you?"
"No. I just didn’t -"
"Understand? Yeah, well, I always reckoned that all that money your dad spent on sending you to Eton wasn't worth it after all. Probably wasn't even his money to spend, probably some poor old pensioner's."
Ducky took a deep breath and clenched his fists behind his back, as he forced himself not to react to the double slur. He didn't care for himself, but whatever his father had done, he had never ceased to love him. And the people from whom his father had . . . They had all been if not overtly wealthy, then not living on a pension. Their loss might have hurt them, but it wouldn't have destroyed them.
"My father -"
"Get out and don't come back until opening time on Monday. Opening time, do you hear me, Mallard?"
"Monday?" Ducky shook himself. In equal measure the feelings of huge relief and disappointment swept over him, as he realized he wasn't being fired. "But today isn't -"
"The last weekend of the month. So you'd noticed. Maybe all that fancy education wasn't wasted after all. Well, what are you standing there looking at me like that for? You should be bleeding grateful; you're getting a bonus weekend off. Now get out!" And before Ducky could even speak again, he found himself outside the bar, a cloth in one hand and a bar mat in the other. It was bitterly cold and raining and not only was his overcoat inside the bar, but he had no hope of getting it.
At that moment a taxi pulled up, and before he thought about it, Ducky had hurried over to it and given the driver his address. It was the kind of luxury he normally couldn't afford, and wouldn't allow himself. However, as he'd spent very little at all over the last eight months, Jethro having made it clear in the first couple of weeks of their relationship that he'd be offended if Ducky tried to pay for anything, he did have more money to spare than usual. Therefore, he could afford the taxi. Besides, he'd rather spend the relatively small amount of money than risk catching a cold and ending up having to explain to Jethro how he'd got it. Jethro would not be amused; he knew that.
As the cab drove through the streets, Ducky's mind, as it often did, turned to thoughts of Jethro in general, and how pleased he'd be, at least Ducky hoped he would be, at the prospect of an extra weekend with Ducky. He also realized that he would need to phone Jethro once he got to his room and let him know, if for no other reason than that Jethro would otherwise go to the bar expecting to see Ducky that evening.
"This it, mate?" the driver said, breaking into Ducky's thoughts.
"Yes, thank you very much." Ducky handed over the money, added a small, but adequate tip, and climbed out of the cab. The bitter chill of the wind whipped through him; it felt much colder in the more exposed street than it had done outside the bar.
He hurried inside the building and up the three flights of stairs, trying not to look at the paint that was peeling off the walls and smell the faint but unmistakable odour of stale urine. Until these last few months he'd ceased, at least consciously, to notice how grim his surroundings were. But after the luxury, comfort, peace and cleanliness of the area in which Jethro lived, it now hit him.
He ignored it. It was all external anyway. It didn't matter. It never had done so. What mattered, when he was here, was inside his own private space. He put the key in the lock, twisted it and went inside.
The chill hit him as he entered his bedsit. It hadn't seemed logical or financially sound to leave the heating on these days, at least not for more than just for an hour or two in the morning and early evening, to ensure the place didn't get damp, or the pipes frozen. He could also taste and smell the layer of dust that hovered around the place. That wouldn't take long to deal with; there were some advantages of living in a small room. And it would help him warm up.
He told himself that after he had dusted, he would put the heating on and work on Jethro's table. Unless . . . Well, why not? The spare bedroom was no longer used, and Jethro had stressed more than once that if there was anything that Ducky wanted to keep there or do there, that was more than fine by him. He had already taken several books over to Jethro's home as well as the few personal items he had that were of sentimental value. If he took the table and his tools over he could work in the warmth and peace, and not have to worry about hurrying between the two places.
Yes, that's what he would do. Of course it would mean him taking a second taxi, but given the fact that he had only got one overcoat, and he wouldn't have access to it until Monday, then he'd almost certainly have had to do that anyway. The vast majority of his meagre wardrobe was already at Jethro's home, and nothing that remained in his room was warm.
He dusted the place thoroughly but quickly and then picked up the phone and dialled Fletchers’s number. He had never rung Jethro there before, although his lover had made him promise that if he ever needed him for any reason at all, he must ring.
"Good afternoon, Fletchers Financial, how may I help you?"
"May I speak to Mr. Leroy Jethro Gibbs, please?"
"I'll put you through to his assistant, sir. May I ask who's calling?"
"Just one moment, sir."
He waited for a few seconds and tried not to wince as he was forced to listen to piped pseudo-Mozart. "Jethro Gibbs's office, may I help you?"
"I'd like to speak to Jethro, please."
"May I ask who's calling?"
Wondering why the receptionist had asked for his name if she hadn't passed it on, but then deciding it was probably just habit, Ducky told her.
"Oh, just one moment, Mr. Mallard, I'll put you straight through."
A second or two later he heard his lover's voice. "Duck? Are you okay? Has something happened?" Jethro's tone was heavily laced with concern.
As he hastened to reassure his lover, Ducky heard muted voices in the background; clearly he'd interrupted something. He should have waited. "I'm fine, Jethro. Really I am. I'm just ringing to let you know that Mr. Thompson has, for some reason, given me the weekend off."
"Instead of the usual?"
"That's great, Duck. Really great. I'll get home as soon as I can. I'd leave now, but I'm in the middle of a meeting."
So he had disturbed him. "Oh, I am sorry, Jethro. I -"
"No need to apologize, Duck. I'm glad you called. I was about to tell them that I'd work tomorrow, but -"
Hastily Ducky tried to reassure Jethro. "If you need to work, Jethro then -"
"What I need, Ducky, has nothing to do with work." Jethro's voice became quieter, and Ducky had to strain to hear him.
He smiled at the words and felt a flush pass through him. "If you're certain," he said.
"Sure am. I'll be home just after six, at the latest."
"I'll be there."
"Where are you now?"
"I had to collect something from my room. But I'll be leaving shortly."
"Make sure you take a cab."
Ducky chuckled softly at the clear order. "Yes, dear," he said softly, and before Jethro could say anything else, he hung up. He was no longer cold, despite the fact that he hadn't turned the heating on.
"Hey, Duck, I'm home."
The sound of Jethro's voice filtered into the kitchen where Ducky was preparing supper. He'd had a busy but constructive afternoon, working firstly on the table, which was now hidden under an old sheet he'd brought with him from his bedsit, before deciding on and beginning to prepare supper. He wiped his hands and hurried out into the hall.
"There you are," Jethro said, dropping his briefcase and pulling Ducky into his arms. "Mmm," he said, after they'd shared a fairly lengthy kiss, "something smells good. You cooking?"
Ducky moved back a little so that he could look up at Jethro. "Not me personally, at least not yet," he added, a little wickedly.
Jethro laughed, before lowering his head and kissing Ducky again. "I could get used to this," he said, after several minutes had gone by.
"Kissing me? I should have thought you were by now."
"Coming home to you." Jethro's tone was low, and suddenly serious.
Ducky swallowed hard. He didn't know what to say. Frantically he thought for something that would change the subject, without appearing to do so.
Instead though it was Jethro who, after once more kissing him, said, "Have I got time for a shower before we eat?"
"Oh, yes. Plenty of time. I wasn't certain what time you'd be home, so I've prepared something that doesn't need that much attention."
"In that case, care to join me?"
Ducky shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "I said that it didn't need 'much' attention, not 'any' attention."
"Spoilsport. Oh, well, come and talk to me anyway."
"In a minute. I'll just turn the gas down a little."
When he joined Jethro in the bathroom a couple of minutes later, the shower was running and his lover was standing naked in front of the toilet.
The first time he'd walked into the bathroom when Ducky had been brushing his teeth and proceeded to calmly relieve himself, Ducky had been somewhat taken aback. He'd been even more taken aback the first time Jethro had walked in when Ducky had been relieving himself, and had leant against the wall facing Ducky and had begun to talk to him. Ducky hadn't been used to that level of intimacy, and wondered whether it was a cultural difference or something specific to Jethro himself. After musing on the matter, he had decided not to make a fuss about it. It was after all a perfectly natural bodily function, and whilst he suspected he still wasn't as comfortable about it as Jethro was, nor did it bother him. After all, the matter didn't arise when going to the Gents, so why did it seem more unusual sharing a bathroom? Ducky didn’t know, he just knew that whilst, for him, the former was a 'normal' thing, the latter wasn't.
"I'm sorry if I interrupted your meeting," he said, sitting down on the edge of the bath.
"I'm surprised your assistant didn’t say you weren't available."
Jethro flushed the toilet and moved to the shower. "That's because I told her that if you ever called, she must put you through to me, no matter where I was or what I was doing."
"Oh," said Ducky, feeling rather warmed by the news.
"So what have you been doing with yourself, other than cooking?"
"Oh, this and that." Ducky prevaricated.
"You holding out on me, Duck?" Jethro called above the sound of water.
Ducky watched his lover wash and soap himself, enjoying the opportunity to really study the firm, naked, lightly tanned body, and how Jethro's hand caressed his own skin. Just for a moment he was tempted to join Jethro under the hot water. But he knew what would happen if he did. Their relationship was at one level still too young for them not to take as many opportunities as possible to make love, and the prospect of them both being wet and naked in the same place at the same time, would undoubtedly, no matter whether they tried not to, lead to far more than simply showering.
After a moment he had to turn his eyes away from watching Jethro, as the sight of the hands he knew so well stroking and touching wet skin was having an affect on him. So as Jethro moved from soaping his chest down across his stomach to his groin, his strokes becoming more intimate by the second, Ducky shifted slightly on the bath, and glanced down at the floor.
"Well, are you?" Jethro asked, after another moment or two.
Ducky shook himself, now forcing his mind, that hadn't followed his eyes, away from the image of Jethro touching himself. "Am I what?" he said, glancing back up. It was nearly his undoing as, following his cleansing, Jethro was now partially erect. Again Ducky fought his urge to join his lover, as he tried and failed to keep a very soft moan from escaping. Hopefully the sound of the water would cover it.
Seconds later, he realized it hadn't, as under his eyes Jethro deliberately moved his hand over himself, the strokes firm and sure. "Like that do you, Duck?" he asked, his voice low and sultry. "Want to watch me?"
"No!" Ducky said forcefully, as he hastily stood up and hurried from the room.
He was still, to his annoyance, trembling slightly as he tried to concentrate on chopping up onions, tomatoes and mushrooms. In an attempt to calm his hands, he paused and reached for the glass of red wine he'd poured himself and took a long swallow of the smooth, medium bodied claret.
He sensed rather than heard Jethro come into the kitchen, but he didn't turn around; he couldn't. He continued instead to chop, making the movements deliberate and exact.
After a moment or two, the knife was removed from his hand and he was pulled into Jethro's arms; he didn't resist, but nor could he bring himself to return the embrace. "Sorry, Duck." Jethro's tone was soft and honest, as he tugged Ducky nearer to him, and put his lips to his ear. "Didn't mean to upset you."
"You didn't," Ducky managed, finally slipping his own arms around his lover. He too was being honest; Jethro hadn't upset him, not really. He had just . . .
"You know, there's nothing to be embarrassed about," Jethro said quietly, after another silence. "If you did want to watch me, I mean. Wouldn't bother me."
"Wouldn't it?" Ducky asked, wondering if it was yet another cultural difference, or just a difference between Jethro and himself.
Jethro leant back a little so that he could look down at Ducky. "No," he said softly. "Not at all. Do you want to?"
Ducky shook his head. "I don't know," he said finally. "I don't think so. But I don't know. I've never thought about it. And I've never . . . God, you must think I'm so -" He pulled himself from Jethro's arms and moved away. "There I am little better than a -"
He was grabbed and yanked around, hard. The movement forced him off balance. "Don't!" Jethro snarled. "Don't say it. Don't ever say it. Don't even think it." He was breathing heavily.
Ducky instinctively tried to take a step back from the sudden fury. He'd never seen his lover so angry. His naturally tanned face had paled, and the eyes that always seemed soft when they looked at Ducky were like flint. For a fleeting second, less, he had to remind himself that this was the same man, the same gentle, caring, affectionate, loving, tender man who held him in his arms, kissed him, caressed him, made love to him, invited him into his home and world, and took such care of him and had never hurt him.
The next second that man reappeared as Jethro broke the bruising grip he had on Ducky's arms and instead gathered him into a tight, loving embrace. "Oh, shit, oh, shit," he cursed. "I'm sorry, Duck. I am so sorry. So very sorry. Did I hurt you?" He pushed Ducky away a little and looked at him; fear, self-disgust and concern was clear on his face and in the now tender gaze.
Ducky shook his head. Jethro hadn't hurt him, not really. His arms were a little sore, but it was only fleeting. No, his lover hadn't hurt him; he'd just surprised him a little; more than a little. "It's all right, Jethro," he said, lightly stroking Jethro's cheek. And it was. Because now he'd got over his shock, he knew why Jethro had reacted so badly. In many ways it was Ducky himself who should apologize for his crassness.
"Is it?" Jethro whispered.
"Yes, my dear," Ducky said and smiled, before pulling Jethro's head down to kiss him.
"Did I hurt you?" Jethro asked after a moment or two during which he relaxed slightly.
Again Ducky shook his head. "No, Jethro. You did not."
"I know," Ducky said quickly. "I know." And then because he knew that he had to make things better, that only he could, said, "And, given the way my body began to react to what you were doing whilst you were showering, I would say that I might not be averse to . . ." To his self-shame he found he couldn't complete the sentence.
However, it seemed to do the trick, because Jethro visibly relaxed even more and began to laugh. "Ah, Duck," he said, pulling him back against him and beginning to nuzzle his ear and hair. "You and your Eton education. Why use one word when twenty will do, eh?"
Ducky also began to laugh, resting against Jethro who shifted to accommodate his extra weight. They stood in the warm kitchen letting the delicious scents wash over them, allowing the tender embrace to heal, relax and calm. Ducky was so relaxed, that when the phone began to ring seconds later he jumped.
"Damn," Jethro muttered. He paused long enough to lightly kiss Ducky on the forehead, before grabbing Ducky's glass of wine and striding out of the room to stop the noise.
Muttering to himself about 'personal property', but not in the least meaning it, Ducky took a second glass from the cupboard, filled it with wine and returned to chopping and slicing.
LATER THAT EVENING
"That was Mom, by the way," Jethro said, as they settled down on the sofa after supper. He slipped his arm around Ducky and pulled him into a loose embrace.
"How is she?" Ducky asked, resting his head against Jethro's shoulder. His lover was a great one for cuddling, which surprised but pleased Ducky. It was rare that, if they were settled down, for more than a minute or two, Jethro didn't put his arm around Ducky.
"Fine. She's in the middle of redecorating 'her' part of the house."
"Your parents have separate parts of the house?" Ducky was surprised. From what Jethro had said about his parents, he'd thought they had a very happy and close marriage.
"Not really. It's a bit of a family joke. Dad has his office, his billiard room and his den, which mom isn't allowed to decorate, so she decided that she wanted her own rooms, to do just what she liked with. Most of the house is nice and neutral, but they try to out-do one another when it comes to 'their' rooms. We've been through the stereotypical male, female schemes; one over-cluttered, the other so austere there wasn't a spare chair, and several others. They seem to enjoy it; that's what matters. Mind you, she also threatened to redecorate my room. And as I don't know what phase she's in, I'm wondering what I'll find when I go home."
"I didn't think you lived with your parents." In fact Ducky was certain Jethro had talked about his own house.
"Oh, I don't. But when I go round there for dinner or something, it's usually easier to stay over, so I've still got a room there. And it's not as though they need it for anything else."
"They sound like wonderful people."
"Yeah, they are. You'd like them, and they'd love you. In fact," Jethro paused and snagged his whisky from the table. Ducky waited; content just to be in Jethro's arms, happy and relieved that the incident in the kitchen earlier hadn't had any lasting affect on them. "Well, the reason she called was to see if I was going home for Thanksgiving."
"Oh of course, that's next weekend, is it not?"
"And are you going?" Ducky tried to ignore the sinking feeling that began to spread through him. He told himself he was being ridiculous and selfish. He would be working, so it wasn't as if he was going to be at home with Jethro, and he knew how important the occasion was to Americans.
"No. No, I'm not." Jethro's voice became softer.
"Oh." Ducky didn't know what else to say.
"I told mom that you couldn't get the time off, so I was staying in England with the man I loved."
The room suddenly became silent. Jethro seemed to be holding his breath and he didn't move.
Ducky sat up, moving to the edge of the sofa and turning to look at him. "You love me?" he said quietly.
Jethro nodded. "Yeah. Yes, Duck, I do. I love you." He spoke softly, slightly hesitantly, but his tone was certain and firm. He looked at Ducky, staring unblinkingly into Ducky's eyes; his own blue gaze, although steady and confirming of the words he'd said, was slightly apprehensive.
Ducky simply looked at him. He didn't know what to say or do. He knew what he wanted to say and to do, but he couldn't.
Tell him, his mind said.
I can't, he answered.
He ignored the voice and instead opened his mouth. "Jethro, I -"
Jethro quietened him with a shake of the head, and by putting his fingers on Ducky's lips. "It's all right, Duck," he said softly. "I know. I understand. It's all right," he added, pulling Ducky back against him and stroking his hair. "It's all right."
Suddenly Ducky sat back up. "Did you say 'man'?"
"Yeah." Jethro looked puzzled.
"Your parents know I'm a man?"
Jethro blinked. "Er, yes. Why?"
"And they don't mind?"
"Should they?" Jethro's puzzlement was clear and honest. Ducky just looked at him and shook his head, not answering the question as such, rather trying to process it.
Jethro smiled. "Come here," he said, again pulling Ducky back to settle against him. "And let me explain about the Gibbs family. Great Grandfather Gibbs, he who started the whole Leroy Jethro thing, was the eldest of four. He had a brother and two sisters. The family was rich, but they weren't happy. Great Great Grandfather was a bully; he took it on himself to decide who his kids would marry. Which I know wasn’t that unusual given the era and the fact that money was involved."
"It still exists today in many families," Ducky said.
"Guess it does. Anyway, Great Grandfather was lucky, he was in love with the woman he married, and his brother was happy enough with his wife as well. It was the girls. One of them, the older of the two, the second eldest child, flatly refused to obey her father. And after a lot of arguments and threats, she became a nun - it was the only alternative. The other, the youngest, wasn't as strong-minded. She married the man her father had picked out for her." Jethro stopped speaking and sipped his whisky.
"What happened?" Ducky asked softly, taking Jethro's hand.
"They found her dead one morning; she'd been married about ten years. She'd finally . . . He’d, over the years, abused her, raped her, beaten her, humiliated her. It all came out after her death. As did the fact that she'd told her mother, showed her the bruises, and her mother had done nothing. Great Grandfather never forgave his parents; he left the house and never went back. He was disowned, but he was a resourceful man. From nothing, he built up what we have today, and he vowed that no child of his would ever have to live like that. And that's how it's been since. He had three kids, two daughters and a son, and they were all free to marry who they wanted, or not marry, whatever. All that mattered was that they were happy. And that's how it's been since. Creed, colour, gender, race, whatever, doesn't matter. In fact I reckon my great aunt Annie was gay."
"Really?" Ducky said softly, squeezing Jethro's hand.
"Yeah. No one spoke of it; well, it was twenty years ago. But she never married and she lived with another woman, who I called Aunt Eddie. They were together for over fifty years before Eddie died, and within a month, Aunt Annie was dead too. Oh, not by her own hand; it was natural causes, apparently. But I've always reckoned. . . But that's stupid."
"She died of a broken heart?"
"Yeah. Said it was stupid."
"I don't think it is."
"You believe it can happen?"
"Yes, I do," Ducky said solemnly.
Jethro kissed the top of his head. "Anyway, my parents have always known I was gay. Mom claims she knew even before I told them; even before I knew. And it's never mattered to them."
"They aren't upset that there won't be a Leroy Jethro Gibbs the Fifth?"
"No, not at all. All they want is for me to be happy."
"They really are wonderful people," Ducky said, as he digested what Jethro had told him.
"Yeah, they sure are. Does your mom know?"
"We have never actually spoken about it as such. But, from a couple of things she has said to me, yes, I am fairly certain that she does know, or at least strongly suspects. And from what I can tell, she isn't disapproving."
"Good old British reserve, eh?"
Ducky chuckled. "Something like that. Have you ever slept with a girl?"
Jethro shook his head. "No. You?"
"No. I did touch one once."
"Really?" Jethro sounded surprised.
"Yes. I was thirteen, if I recall correctly. Our cook's daughter, Brenda, who was about eighteen months or so older than me, followed me, one day, into what I regarded as 'my' part of the garden, pulled up her skirt to reveal that she wasn't wearing any knickers, opened her legs and offered to let me touch her. When I very politely declined, she grabbed my hand before I could stop her and made me. At the same time, she grabbed me. She was a very strong girl, and bigger than me. I was small for my age."
"What did you do?"
"I am afraid that for the first and only time in my life, I actually slapped a girl. Not hard, but it was enough to make her let go of me and run off, but not before she called me a few names that I didn't know, but soon learnt were in effect correct. When I returned home for the Christmas holidays from Eton, we had a new cook. I later learnt that Brenda had got pregnant, and her mother had been so ashamed that she'd felt compelled to leave us."
"So, she put her hand on you, did she?" Jethro's tone was silky, his intention obvious.
Ducky played along. "Yes, she did."
"And you didn't like it?"
"No. Not at all."
"Umm, how did she touch you? Like this? Jethro began to lightly stroke Ducky, causing him to moan with sheer delight and press up into the touch. "Or was it more like this?" This time Jethro's fingers encircled Ducky through the material of his trousers and underpants. Again he moaned and shifted position, opening his legs a little to give his lover more access. "And I bet she didn't do this, did she?" Jethro whispered, guiding him back to lay on the sofa and putting his lips to his, as he returned to lightly caressing Ducky again.
Ducky's response was inarticulate.
MORNING. 15TH NOVEMBER 1980
"I meant to ask you last night, Duck, but something distracted me. Can't think what," Jethro said, as he put a plate of bacon and eggs in front of Ducky, and poured some coffee for him.
Ducky smiled his thanks and waited until Jethro sat down before starting to eat. "You meant to ask me what?"
"Hmmm, oh, yeah. Christmas. You said that you always got Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, and I was wondering, as they fall on the Thursday and Friday before the last weekend of December, whether you'd still get your weekend off?"
Ducky swallowed a piece of bacon and wiped his mouth on his napkin. "I have no reason to believe that I won't. Certainly in previous years when Christmas has fallen in such a way, then I have."
"That's great. So what do you want to do?"
"Mmm. Do you want to go away somewhere? Find a nice hotel and let them spoil us? Or will you be going up to your mom's?"
"No, Mother and I agreed many years ago that she would make her own arrangements for Christmas. As it would be a rare occasion when I would be able to get up to Scotland and back again in the short time I have off, it seemed unfair to, in effect, mess her about. She spends it with an old friend of hers; one of the few who still speak to her."
Jethro reached across the table and squeezed Ducky's hand. "Hotel then?"
"Aren't you going home?"
"No. Mom and Dad assumed that I'd be staying here with you, and so Mom has finally got her dream."
"Yeah. A cruise. Dad's given in and is taking her. Between you and me, he's secretly looking forward to it, but don't tell Mom."
Ducky smiled. "Why, if you don't mind me asking, have you, as a family, not done it before?"
"Put it this way, Duck, I can get sea-sick on a boating lake."
"Yeah. Fifth birthday, Mom took me and my friends on a ferry. I threw up the entire time."
"That's a shame. Now I love the water, in particular the sea. In fact I even considered a career in the Navy at one time, when I was much younger, that is."
"Rather you than me." Jethro shuddered. "So, you still haven't answered me. What do you want to do?"
"If you really want to know, I'd far rather stay here."
"Here? Oh, okay, I'm sure we can find a local hotel and have dinner."
"That isn't what I meant. I'd like to stay here and cook Christmas dinner for us."
"Turkey and the whole lot?"
"Yes, really. It would give me great pleasure."
"Fine. If you're really sure."
"Oh, I am. However, there are one or two small matters."
"Firstly, I'm afraid that I shall need a few more kitchen items. Roasting tins, for example."
"Not a problem, we'll go shopping after breakfast. And the other small matter?"
"You may have to actually do some of the shopping for me. Christmas is an extremely busy time at the bar. I'll have even less time away from the place."
"I can manage that. Give me a list and I can follow it. And if I get stuck, Fliss will help me."
"Are you certain you'll be happy to just stay here?" Ducky asked, slightly concerned.
"More than. I have you all to myself, and I get to try a real British Christmas dinner."
"Are you ready, Duck?"
"Almost. I wonder if you have a spare overcoat which I might borrow, Jethro?" Ducky asked, coming out of the bathroom into their bedroom.
Jethro turned and looked at him. "Sure, it'll be rather long on you, but . . . Hang on, where's yours?"
"Ah, well, you see. Mr. Thompson was so eager to get me out of bar yesterday, that I didn't have time to collect it."
"Right. Well first stop is to buy you a new coat." As he spoke Jethro pulled a dark brown coat from his wardrobe and held it for Ducky to slip on. It dragged on the floor. "You can't wear that," he said, pulling it back off. "Um. Hang on. Put these on," and he handed Ducky a very thick jumper and a tweed jacket. "They'll do, until we can get to the store."
"Really, Jethro, I don't need a new coat. I'm sure this will be . . ." Ducky trailed off under the fixed, firm stare directly down at him. He knew he was beaten. "Thank you," he said softly. He wasn't going to object too much. His own coat was over ten years old and hadn't been that warm when he'd bought it, and now, well, sometimes he thought that the extra protection it gave him against the elements was more of a psychological one than an actual one.
WEDNESDAY EVENING, 24TH DECEMBER 1980 - CHRISTMAS EVE
Ducky wiped the bar down for what felt like the fiftieth time that evening, letting the tips of his fingers 'accidentally' brush over Jethro's knuckles as he did so. Although he had argued with his lover about the logic of him coming to the bar that night, he was glad that he was there.
Ducky had tried pointing out that clearing up would take much longer than usual, as he would be able to do very little that made any real difference during the evening itself. Christmas Eve was one of their busiest nights of the year; so busy even Henry Thompson helped out. He was there now, standing at the opposite end of the bar talking to one of the customers.
Jethro glanced at Ducky as he went by and gave him a gentle smile. He had countered all of Ducky's arguments, telling him that he wasn't going to sit alone on Christmas Eve when the man he loved - now that he'd told Ducky once that he loved him, he made a point of telling him most days, even if not directly - was only a few miles away. He also made it clear that he was not going to allow Ducky to walk home alone, not that he ever did, and as getting a taxi when it hadn't been booked weeks in advance was an impossibility, he was going to be there. Even Ducky's 'but you'll be standing outside, outside in the cold, for possibly an hour if not more', had not deterred him. So in the end Ducky had given up.
He occasionally wondered if the way he had happily slipped into allowing Jethro to protect and take care of him should bother him. After all, he was older than Jethro and yet by the way he let Jethro treat him, it was as if he was the younger man and Jethro the older. However, he rationalized it by the fact that he hadn't been a young man. He had gone from childhood to adulthood overnight; he had taken on far more responsibility than many people, certainly not at the age of eighteen, ever have to shoulder. An Eton education was rather a dichotomous one. On the one hand the fact that it was a boarding school, allowed its boys to grow up more quickly than other boys of their age. Yet on the other hand, the rather cloistered, relatively small and exclusive nature of it actually meant that its pupils were often younger in other ways than those of their age who attended more secular schools.
He also occasionally worried as to whether Jethro liked him so compliant and what might be called needy, and yet really he wasn't either, and he knew that his lover knew that. It was just that it was very nice to be allowed to be younger than he was, to have few responsibilities. Maybe he shouldn't enjoy it, but for now he did. In fact . . .
"Duck," his lover's sotto voce comment pulled Ducky from his reverie. He glanced up and Jethro nodded in the direction of a customer who stood frowning and holding out two glasses.
"I am sorry, sir," Ducky hastened over to him, and smiled.
Whether it was just the season or whether the fact that he was so happy it came over so clearly, he didn't know, but the frown faded and instead the man smiled himself. "No worries," he said cheerfully, and went on to exchange the normal kind of customer-barman words as Ducky filled the glasses with white wine.
"It's Jethro Gibbs, isn't it?" he suddenly heard his boss say.
Forcing himself not to turn around, Ducky continued serving the next customer, while listening keenly to what his lover said.
"Yes, that's right. And you must be Harry Thompson. Nice place you have here."
"Thanks. Customers seem to think so. You're with Fletchers, aren't you? Seen you in here with them. Didn't expect to see you tonight though."
"Really? Why's that?" To anyone other than Ducky, who had become intimately acquainted with his lover’s voice for the last nine months, Jethro would have appeared merely to be passing the time of day with Thompson. However, Ducky could hear that his lover was being careful what he said, and also intrigued as to why he was being talked to.
"I thought you'd have gone home to America for Christmas, see your family."
"No point. My parents have gone on a cruise and that kind of water and me don't get along." Jethro laughed in a self-deprecating way.
Thompson joined him. "I see your point. Still, I would have thought you'd have been out with friends, or your girl-friend, not sitting here on your own."
Ducky didn't hear Jethro's reply, as at that moment a roar of raucous laugher split the air. Seconds later though, he heard his boss call his name. "Mallard, get over here."
Ducky hastened to obey. "Yes, Mr. Thompson." He caught sight of Jethro's face; he did not look particularly happy and Ducky began to feel chilled.
Thompson opened his mouth, closed it again and said, his tone suddenly distracted, "Get Mr. Gibbs another drink." With that, he pushed past Ducky, and hurried down to the other end of the bar. After glancing at his lover, Ducky turned and watched his boss. He was in deep conversation with a man, a man whom Ducky had never seen before, and he didn't look particularly happy. In fact he kept shaking his head.
As he glanced in Ducky's direction, Ducky quickly turned his attention, putting on his best barman smile, to Jethro. "Do you want another drink?" he asked.
"Not really. But you'd better get me one, in case he comes back. Thanks," he said, as Ducky took the top off a bottle of Pils and handed it to his lover, letting his fingers linger before letting go of it.
"He doesn't look very happy," Jethro said quietly. From his position on the other side of the bar, he could more easily and naturally look at Thompson. “He's still shaking his head, frowning and looks angry. He's looked at you a couple of times too. Duck -"
But Ducky interrupted him as he caught sight of the time. Quickly he rang the 'last orders' bell and for the next few minutes, he was swamped by the sheer volume of customers. He did notice that Thompson left the man to whom he'd been talking, and also began to serve the throng of customers.
When everyone had been served and had returned to their tables or turned back to their friends, Ducky began to clean up behind the bar, tidying clean glasses, wiping up spills and moving empty glasses underneath the bar.
"You can leave that, Mallard. And get off." Thompson's tone was grim. Ducky didn't dare look at Jethro, but he knew his lover was listening intently.
"There's been a change of plan. The Dining Club members want to meet for some special gathering. So, I'm going to close the bar until," he paused and glanced swiftly down the bar. The man to whom he'd been talking was standing watching him. "Second of January. So you needn't come in until then."
"If you have to go away, sir, then I'm happy to -"
Thompson sound angry as he interrupted Ducky. "I said I was closing up, Mallard. You deaf or just daft?"
Ducky ignored the comment and again avoided looking at his now standing lover. He silently urged Jethro not to do or say anything; to his relief Jethro didn’t. "I'm sorry, Mr. Thompson," he hastened to say. "I was just a little surprised that's all. I didn't want you to think I wasn't willing to work, that's all."
Thompson merely narrowed his eyes and stared at him. "I know that, Mallard," he said, his tone suddenly silky. "You never let me down. He's the best I've got, Mr. Gibbs," he added, suddenly turning to Jethro.
Jethro smiled. "Doesn't surprise me to hear you say that. My co-workers praised him even before I first came here. You've got a good man there. Loyal too." He smiled again, it did not even come close to touching his eyes; in fact it rather chilled Ducky. "Anyway, I'd better be getting off home. Night, Mr. Thompson. Night, Ducky, and Merry Christmas to both of you."
"Happy Christmas, Mr. Gibbs," Thompson said.
"Goodnight, Mr. Gibbs, and Happy Christmas," Ducky added.
Jethro nodded, pulled his overcoat around him and strode out of the bar.
"I'll just -"
Thompson caught his hand and Ducky stopped speaking. "I told you to get off home. Now."
"But surely - Right, yes. Mr. Thompson. Happy Christmas, sir," Ducky said swiftly, and after nodding, turned and hurried to collect his coat. It took him several minutes to negotiate his way through the crowded bar, exchanging Christmas greetings as he did, and by the time he reached the chill of the streets, his head was beginning to ache.
"Hey." For a fleeting moment, he felt Jethro's arm slip through his and squeeze it. "You okay, Duck?"
"Now that I'm outside, yes, thank you, Jethro. Although it is bitterly cold, I'm relieved that you didn't have to wait any longer."
"You're cold? That's a first. Anyway, come on. Let's get home. Going to have to walk, I'm afraid. I did have a look around for a cab, but as I thought, there’s nothing available."
"I'm quite happy to walk. It helps get rid of the smell of cigarette smoke."
"Know what you mean. Come on then." And with that Jethro slipped his arm inside Ducky's again, and began to walk.
"Jethro," Ducky said, glancing around him.
"What? No one's paying us any attention, Duck. Besides, it's slippery, and I don't want you falling over. Who's going to cook my dinner if you end up with a sprained ankle?"
Ducky laughed. "Ah, now I know why you keep me around."
"Darn. Always thought you wouldn't figure that one out," Jethro said, the humour in his voice clear. "What do you reckon that was about, with Thompson, I mean? Did you buy the whole thing about the special Dining Club meeting?" he said, after a moment or two.
"I don't know. And as dreadful as this is going to sound, Jethro, I really don't want to know, nor at this moment do I care. I am not going to let speculating about what my boss is up to spoil our Christmas."
"Doesn't sound dreadful, Duck. I agree with you. And whatever he's up to, I'm not going to object, not when I get an extra four days with you."
"Won't you have to go to work?"
"No. Might need to do the odd hour or so at home, but other that, I'm all yours."
"You know, Duck, don't think I've enjoyed Christmas as much as this since I was a kid. And I'm not sure that counts." They were together in bed, lying in a loose embrace; Ducky had his head on Jethro's chest and Jethro was again playing with Ducky's hair.
"It is most certainly the best Christmas I have had for over twenty years," Ducky said softly. "Thank you for making it possible, Jethro." He spoke quietly and solemnly and kissed Jethro's chest.
"Getting soppy on me, Duck?" Jethro turned his attention to Ducky's ear.
"Well, yes, I believe I am, Jethro."
"That's good. Hate to be the only one. Anyway, it's me who should be thanking you. That dinner was amazing."
"Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it."
"Not sure 'enjoy' is adequate enough. It was . . . Well, perfect'll do."
"I must confess," Ducky said, a little smugly, "everything did go exceptionally well. I was expecting the odd hiccough. But no, and given that it is my first experience with a full Christmas dinner, I am very pleased with myself."
"So you should be." Jethro tugged his head a little until Ducky moved towards him far enough to be kissed.
It had been a wonderful day, a very special day, and Ducky had enjoyed himself immensely. Jethro had showered presents on him; to the extent that Ducky was almost embarrassed by his lover's generosity. One of the gifts had been a bottle of thirty year-old Laphroaig whisky, which, as well as being very expensive, was rather difficult to obtain. However, as with all his gestures, it wasn't done to impress, it was done simply because that was the man Leroy Jethro Gibbs the Fourth was. And Jethro had got as much, if not more pleasure out of watching Ducky unwrap his gifts and express his thanks and delight, as Ducky himself had.
In turn, his gifts to Jethro, at least in number, fell woefully short. Nonetheless, his lover had been genuinely delighted and deeply touched by them. He'd spent ten minutes alone praising the table that Ducky had finally managed to finish restoring, looking over every inch of it, stroking it, and touching it; in fact at one point Ducky had felt quite jealous of the attention it was getting. As yet Jethro hadn't made his final decision as to where to put it; he'd kept finding the 'ideal' place, only to change his mind.
Ducky had given him two other gifts, one an extra large coffee mug, which Jethro chuckled over and really liked. The other which, had it not been for the fact that by in effect living with Jethro he'd spent very little of his meagre wage for months, he could never have afforded, was a tasteful, simple, elegant, antique tie-pin with a tiny dark sapphire blue stone set in old gold. He had seen it in the shop when he'd bought his mother a small broach; his eyes were drawn to it, because the colour of the stone was so similar to that of his lover's eyes. He knew then that he had to buy it, not matter what. The stone wasn't real, and the gold only the lowest carat, but Ducky had spent time polishing and buffing it up until it shone as it should do, fixed the clasp that had been slightly bent, and had done so with love.
Of the three gifts he had given his lover, this was the one over which Jethro was almost silent in his thanks. At least as far a verbally expressing them went; even now, several hours, and quite a lot of alcohol later, Ducky could still remember the moment Jethro had taken it out of the box into which Ducky had carefully placed it. He had held it reverently in his palm, looking down it for a moment, touching it so carefully with the tip of one finger. And when he looked at Ducky his eyes had been misty and his quiet, 'Thank you, Duck. It's beautiful', had been almost more honest and revealing than Ducky had ever heard him. He'd then stood up, pulled Ducky to his feet, gathered him into his arms and held him tightly. 'I love you so much, Duck', he'd whispered, so very softly that it was little more than a breeze against Ducky's ear.
He did have one final gift for Jethro, and had been waiting until they were settled in bed to give it to him. He didn't have much to offer the man in whose arms he rested, but he did have this. He hoped, in fact he was sure, that Jethro would understand and appreciate it.
He initiated a kiss, parting his lips and inviting Jethro inside, as he began to lightly caress and stroke Jethro's chest. "Mmm, that feels good, Duck," Jethro murmured, flicking his tongue over Ducky's lips and beginning his own exploration of Ducky's back.
"Good," said Ducky, kissing him again.
After several minutes, he pulled away and half sat up.
"Duck? Something up?"
Ducky raised his eyebrows slightly and smiled. Jethro rolled his eyes. "Didn't mean that," he said.
"Ah. In that case, no, my dear. Nothing is 'up'."
"Why are you up there and I'm down here, then?" Jethro asked. "Come back here," he began to pull Ducky back down.
"In a moment. I have something else for you. A final gift." He pulled open the drawer of his bedside table, and took out the item in question.
"Another one? But, Duck, you've been . . ." Jethro trailed off as Ducky turned back to him and held the gift out. "Ducky?" he whispered. "Duck?"
"Yes," Ducky said simply, answering the non-verbalized question; the one Jethro's eyes, face and entire body asked. "Yes, Jethro. Yes, I am certain. Here," he handed the small tube to his lover.
After a second or two, Jethro slowly took it; his steady, almost unblinking gaze never leaving Ducky's own. Although they had been lovers for nine months now, they had not had penetrative sex. Ducky hadn't been ready to give something he had never willingly given before, and as such had not offered or indicated he would like it. And somehow, although it was never said, never talked about, he knew that Jethro would never ask, or attempt to initiate, to test the waters, until Ducky did. He had always known that it would be up to him to make the first move.
He was still unable to say the words Jethro said to him on a regular basis, even though he felt them. He just hoped that this gesture, for some people such a simple, uncomplicated, maybe meaningless one, would not only show and tell Jethro how loved he was, but also that Ducky trusted him. That by this one act he was giving over to Jethro his final reservation, the small part of him that he had never, not since his father had taken his life, thought he would ever give to someone.
As he looked down in the dark sapphire gaze, Ducky saw that Jethro understood fully; the gift had been accepted in the manner it was given. Jethro's eyes said the words that he didn't, maybe couldn't, voice. They said 'I love you', they said 'I understand', and they said 'thank you'; not just for the physical gift, but for what it implied, for the trust Ducky was giving him.
SUNDAY EVENING. 25TH JANUARY 1981
It was the Sunday evening of 'their' weekend. The day had been bright, but cold, and apart from lunch at a smart, nearby hotel, followed by a brisk walk home, they hadn't ventured from Jethro's home.
Jethro had been more attentive during the weekend than even he usually was, appearing not to want to let Ducky out of his sight for longer than was absolutely necessary. In fact more than one trip to the bathroom had been interrupted by Jethro seemingly having to tell or ask Ducky something then and there, something that simply couldn't wait.
Ducky moved from Jethro's arms and stood up. He held out his hand to Jethro who cocked a questioning eyebrow up at him. "I need to go to the loo, and as you will undoubtedly suddenly remember something of great importance and have to come after me, why not simply come with me now?" Ducky smiled.
Jethro looked abashed and lowered his gaze. "Sorry, Duck. Guess I have been a bit . . . Didn't mean to irritate you."
Ducky sat on the arm of the sofa and stroked Jethro's head. "You haven't been, Jethro. I am just a little concerned that is all. You have been behaving -"
"Like a weirdo?"
"Hardly. Is something the matter, my dear?" Jethro shrugged. "Why don’t you tell me?" Ducky moved from the arm he'd been perching on and sat back down next to his lover.
"Thought you needed to pee?"
Ducky shook his head. "No. I just thought it might be the easiest way to persuade you to talk to me."
Jethro looked at him, shook his head and smiled. "You know, Duck, sometimes the way your mind works worries me. I am sorry. I didn't mean to make you concerned. It's just . . ." He swallowed, put his arm around Ducky and pulled him nearer to him. "You know I have to go back to America soon, don't you?" He spoke quietly, his tone steady and flat, but he couldn't hide the pain in his voice.
Ducky closed his eyes for a moment, almost wishing he hadn't forced Jethro to speak. He sighed softly. "Yes," he said softly. "When exactly?"
"Don't know exactly, but it'll mid-March, late-March at the latest. Dad only sent me over here for a year."
"If your father would agree to very late March, then we could have two more weekends together," Ducky said, trying to keep his own voice calm and steady.
"That's what I want to talk to you about, Duck." Suddenly Jethro pushed Ducky away from him and sat more upright, facing Ducky and staring intently at him. He took both of Ducky's hands and held them. "Come with me, Duck. No wait," he said. "Hear me out. Please."
Ducky nodded once.
"You know I love you, I love you more than I can say. And I know that even though you've never said it that you love me."
"No, it's all right, Duck. Really. I understand that you can't. I know that despite everything we've shared, there's still a small part of you, at least I hope it's small, that's afraid to allow yourself to love me; maybe even to trust me."
And as he heard the words, as he saw the earnest look on Jethro's face, Ducky suddenly knew that his lover spoke the truth. That he knew Ducky better than Ducky knew himself. Despite giving Jethro his final gift, despite believing that with it he'd offered full and total trust, Ducky now knew that wasn’t so. Somewhere inside of him, buried so deeply that he hadn't consciously been aware of it, there remained a tiny, a minute, an infinitesimal part of him that didn’t, couldn't, was afraid to. "Oh, Jethro," he said, pulling one hand away to touch Jethro's cheek. "I'm -"
But once again Jethro interrupted him. He shook his head, captured his hand and put it to his lips to kiss. "It's all right," he said again. "Really. I know." For a moment they sat in silence. Every part of Ducky wanted to say the words he'd wanted to say since the first time Jethro had said them to him; longer. But he didn't.
"I've never offered you money, Duck, no matter how much I've wanted to, how much I've ached to, how much I . . . I haven't done so, because I know it would have been wrong of me to do so. Every instinct in me screamed at me to say 'let me take care of you; let me take care of your mom'. Every part of me wanted to take you away from the bastard you work for. But every instinct in me also told me not to. That if I did, then I'd lose you, drive you away, insult you. Whatever. So I didn't. No matter how much it hurt me, made me angry at myself, I didn't. And I was right not to, wasn't I?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes," he said simply. He was surprised at quite how astute his lover was. Jethro was only twenty-five, and yet he seemed to have the instincts, the understanding of someone years, maybe decades older. And given that he'd had such an easy time growing up, had never wanted for anything, had parents who adored him, was a natural at his career, had no need to worry about anything, it was very surprising quite how aware he was.
"But now, Duck. Now I have to. Come with me; be with me. It won't be me 'taking care of you', not in any unbalanced way. If you want to go back to school or whatever and get a degree then you can; or whatever you want to do, I can make it happen. If you want to stay at home and cook and do your antiques, that'd be great too. Whatever, Duck. And your mom, we'll look after her too. She can come to America and we'll buy her a home and get her a housekeeper. Mom and Dad would love to meet her, and they're both great. Or she can stay here. We can work the details out later; just say, 'yes', Duck. Or at least don't say 'no'. Please. I love you." He squeezed Ducky's hands tighter and watched him intently.
Jethro's face betrayed a mixture of emotion as he looked at Ducky. He was clearly trying to gauge if he'd blown it by what he'd said, if there was a chance, and to tell, to assure, Ducky how true every word had been. "Jethro," Ducky spoke softly. "You are correct about my feelings for you. And please believe me when I say that if I only had myself to consider, then I would say yes, here and now. Of course if I only had myself to consider then we wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation. Indeed we probably wouldn't be sitting here at all, because the chance of us ever meeting were - Oh, I am sorry," he hastened to add.
He sighed softly and again pulled one hand free so that he could stroke Jethro's face. "For nineteen years now I have done what I have done for one reason, for one person: my mother. I have to know, to be certain that . . . Jethro, I know that nothing in life comes with guarantees, and as such I am being unfair. However, it is the only thing I know how to do, how to be. To say yes to you now, would be to make a mockery of what I have done, what I have endured for nearly two decades. I - I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I said I know," Jethro spoke softly, and he mirrored Ducky's gesture by touching Ducky's own cheek. "I know, Duck. I knew what you'd say, the gist of it anyway. You wouldn't be my Ducky, you wouldn't be the man I love, the man I want to spend the rest of my life with, had you said yes. You're right; life doesn't come with guarantees. I know how I feel about you; I know that won't change. I know how you feel about me and I'm fairly sure that won't change either, but I know it's not enough, at the moment. And I know also that part of you not being able to say yes is because you're afraid that this is some kind of holiday romance, right?"
Ducky blinked. His lover had done it again. Suddenly he had to fight the urge to demand to see Jethro's birth certificate, or failing that, where the portrait was. "Yes," he said finally, when he realized that Jethro was waiting politely for the confirmation.
"Fine. Okay, how about this, then. I go back to America for a while. At the end of that time if I still feel the same way, and you do too, heck, Duck, holiday romances work both ways, you'll come and join me. You'll let me look after you and your mom, and you can look after me. How does that sound?"
"As if you've had too much time on your hands recently. Maybe I should have words with your manager at Fletchers," Ducky chuckled softly.
Jethro laughed too. "Guess I have been thinking about it a lot. Planning what to say. Well?" His tone became more serious again.
Ducky looked at him, looking more deeply, more searchingly than he had ever looked before. This really was the final step of trust. If he said no now, he knew that Jethro wouldn't ask again. Wouldn't push him, wouldn't pressure him. They would spend two more weekends and all the nights in-between together, and in some ways it would be exactly the same as it had been. But in other ways it would be completely different.
Then Jethro would go. Would return home to America; to his family; to his company, and Ducky would never see or hear from him, apart from maybe the odd Christmas card again. The ice that started to form in his veins at the thought gave him his answer.
He swallowed hard, giving himself one small moment longer. "It sounds like a very good suggestion, Jethro."
Jethro let go of the breath Ducky hadn't realized he was holding and grabbed Ducky's shoulders, pulling him forward into his arms and kissing him as he murmured words that Ducky couldn't decipher.
"How long?" He asked, pushing Ducky back up and holding him. "A week?"
"Jethro, a month isn't really long enough."
"Duck. A day's going to be long enough; more than long enough. Don't look at me like that, I can be soft if I want to be."
Ducky marvelled at how the mature, responsible 'older' man had vanished and before him sat an eager young man, little more than a boy in some ways. Which is how everyone should be, which is how Jethro had allowed Ducky to be. "Six months," he said.
The dark eyes widened and Jethro gulped. "Two."
"Very well, three."
Jethro again exhaled noisily. "I can call you though, can't I, during those three months?" he stressed the three.
Ducky nodded. "Of course, as often as you like."
"Good. Now I am going to offer something, but don't be offended, Duck, please. Let me pay for another phone line to be installed at your place. I would offer you this place, Dad wouldn’t mind, but again I know what your answer would be. So I won’t. But a phone line, surely that okay, isn’t it? I want to always know I can get you, and I'll have the reassurance that if you need to call me, you'll be able to, and you won't have to worry about money. And you must promise Ducky that if you need anything you'll call day or night. And if you can't get me, you'll call Mom and Dad. I'll give you all the numbers. Do you promise?"
"I promise, Jethro. And, I shall happily accept." Again Ducky was deeply touched by Jethro's astuteness. He could easily have offered money, or as he said the place they were now; it would have been a logical thing to do. But no, all he was doing was offering to pay for a phone line and any calls Ducky might make. Jethro showed not only a level of maturity that rivalled Ducky's own, but also a depth of understanding of Ducky that amazed him.
"Great. There is one final thing. Okay, okay, so yes, maybe I have had a bit too much time on my hands. You must hear me out before you react, okay?"
Ducky nodded. "Very well."
"I went to see my Bank Manager on Friday, well, the one over here. No, Duck, listen to me. You said you'd hear me out. It's not what you're thinking. I just want, need, to be sure that if something happens, I don't know what, your mom falls ill, or Thompson throws you out or . . . . Well, whatever, something really important. Something that means you need money immediately, for your safety or your mom's, more quickly than calling me and me wiring it over, that you'll have it. And that's what I've done. All you need to do is to go and see Mr. Phillips, and give him a letter, that I'll give you. He's got standing instructions to give you whatever you need."
"Yes, whatever. Guess trust goes two ways, Duck." Jethro spoke quietly.
MONDAY MORNING. 30TH MARCH 1981
Jethro pulled Ducky into his arms and held him tightly, so tightly that for a moment Ducky struggled to breathe.
His own embrace, however, was no less crushing, as he clung to Jethro with a ferocity that terrified him. His throat was painfully tight and ached with the need not to give into the tears he desperately wanted to shed. Tears he hadn't shed since they buried his father; just his mother, the vicar, a gravedigger and Ducky himself, alone in a churchyard in the rain.
If the way Jethro was swallowing was any indication of how he felt, Ducky knew that his lover was struggling as much as he himself was to keep to their non-verbalized agreement.
They were pressed together so closely, that not even a piece of paper could have been pushed between them, and yet neither of their bodies was reacting to the intimacy and nearness of the other.
After a long, long time, Jethro loosened the embrace just enough to allow himself to lower his head and find Ducky's mouth with his own. For an instant, his lips crushed Ducky's, the kiss was almost brutal in its intensity and need, but then it gentled and became the most pure, the most loving and most beautiful kiss they had ever exchanged.
Time seemed to stand still as they kissed; as did their need for oxygen. But finally and with clear, almost palpable reluctance, Jethro did break the kiss. He raised one shaking hand and brushed Ducky's fringe from his forehead, slipping his hand into Ducky's hair and caressing his scalp with his fingertips.
One final time he lowered his head, brushed his lips over Ducky's lips, his hand over Ducky's cheek, before grabbing his briefcase and turning. "Call you tonight, Duck," he said, and then he'd gone. Behind him the sound of the front door closing quietly was like cannon fire in the silent flat.
Even though he wasn't due at work for another few hours, Ducky let himself out of Jethro's home within minutes of his lover leaving. He could not bear to remain there alone; it was too empty, too lifeless.
Jethro had told him simply to lock the door when he left, assuring him that 'people', he hadn't elucidated as to who exactly, would deal with all the necessary things occasioned by Jethro leaving. Ducky assumed that Jethro's father would now sell the flat, and he tried not to think about strangers in the place where he had finally learnt once again to be happy.
MONDAY EVENING. 27TH APRIL 1981
Ducky closed the door behind the final group of customers and began to clear up. His head was pounding and he felt vaguely sick; he was also exhausted. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a decent night's sleep. Except he could. He could recall it perfectly.
He sighed and tried to push the memories of Jethro away. But he couldn't. It was, in fact, getting harder rather than easier to do so. The weekend had been especially difficult, far, far more difficult than he had anticipated. Up until the weekend he had felt that he had, apart from finding it hard to sleep, adjusted quite well to his lover's absence, and they did speak every evening. But then he'd had his weekend off.
For the first time ever, he'd delayed going straight home, choosing instead to wander aimlessly around the streets, until a heavy rain storm finally drove him back to his bedsit. It had been then, that it had really hit him. For thirteen months his weekends off had been spent with someone, and although that compared woefully to the nineteen years when he'd spent them alone, they were what mattered.
He found himself, after drying his hair and making a pot of tea, doing what he'd vowed not to do: phoning Jethro during the day. He hadn't thought about the time difference, about the fact that his lover would be, should be at work, he had just phoned. And for nearly four hours they'd talked and talked; he hated to think what that one call was going to cost Jethro.
What the hell was he doing? Why had he said 'no'? Okay, so Jethro had said he'd expected him to say no, but maybe that had just been his lover being sensitive and mature. What more did Ducky want? Expect? He was the one who'd said that there were no guarantees, and there weren't. Thompson could sack him tomorrow; could stop looking after his mother; could even die. Then where would Ducky be? He would be in exactly the same position as he'd been twenty years ago; the only difference would be that he'd be twenty years older, and thus have more difficulty finding a job that would support both him and his mother.
But all that aside, Ducky was tired. Tired of being alone. Tired of being used. Tired of missing his lover. He had known within days of Jethro going back to the States, that at the end of three months, he would be saying 'yes', to him. So why wait two more months to say the inevitable? Their phone conversations had left Ducky in no doubt at all that Jethro's feelings for him hadn't changed. Why then was he waiting?
There and then as he emptied the final astray, he made his decision. When he got home, he would ring Jethro and tell him that he had made his decision, and that he was going to join him in America. Of course he had minor things like sorting out a passport, but that should be straightforward.
And his mother, well it was up to her. He hoped she'd go with him; he missed seeing her. They were close, had always been close; as much as he had loved and respected his father, he had always been closer to his mother. But he would understand if, at her age, she'd rather not leave the country of her birth.
As he made his plans the exhaustion lifted, and for the first time in a month he found himself genuinely smiling. He had a future now, and for a moment he felt like he was seventeen again, when he’d had nothing to worry about but his 'A' levels, cricket, whether he'd become a Popper, and whether when he went up to Oxford or Cambridge if he was going to live in college or take rooms in the city itself. Utterly unimportant things really; even if at seventeen they hadn't seemed so unimportant. But they had been good times, happy times, free times.
"Good weekend, Mallard?"
Ducky jumped, he hadn't heard his boss come into the bar. The question also stunned him; never before had Thompson asked him such a question. "A little quiet, but enjoyable, thank you," he said carefully.
"Guess it would be quiet, now that your rich toy boy's gone home."
Ducky froze suddenly unable to think of anything to say.
Thompson took a step nearer to him. "What's the matter, Mallard? Did you think I didn't know? Course I did. It was obvious." He took another step nearer. Instinctively Ducky took one backwards and banged into the bar. "Thought about putting a stop to it, dealing with you and your mother. Know why I didn’t?"
Ducky shook his head. "Mr. -"
"Wanted to see how long it'd last. Knew he'd be going home at some point. Wanted to see him dump you, walk out on you. Used you, didn't he? Got what he wanted and left. Went on longer than I reckoned, you must have been good. Just not good enough, eh? Tired of you in the end, didn't he? Just went back home, and left you with nothing."
"He asked me to go to America with him." Ducky spoke stiffly, and tried to stop the anger that was rising inside him from boiling over. The words Thompson said about him didn't matter, it was the slur about Jethro to which he objected. He tried to tell himself that words didn't matter; that he knew the truth and that it was all academic anyway now.
"Don't bloody lie to me, Mallard." Thompson moved even nearer to Ducky. The sneer on his face had vanished and now he looked menacing. He wasn't as tall as Jethro, but he was still some three inches taller than Ducky himself.
"I'm not lying," Ducky said.
"Yes, you are. Course you are. You're not telling me that you'd have turned him down. All that money. Come off it, Mallard. You'd have been on your knees in front of him, thanking him. Or didn't he like that? Weren't you good enough at it? Find out shall we? Always wondered. You see when you were letting him fuck you and whatever else he wanted, I found someone else. Younger than you, not quite as good to fuck, but he was good at the other stuff. Stuff I'd never thought of. So come on, show me. Show me what you did for him."
"No," Ducky said, pressing back against the bar as far as he could. He spoke calmly, decisively. No matter what happened next, he wasn't letting the bastard near him.
Thompson growled and grabbed Ducky's arms, shaking him violently. "I said show me. Get on your knees now, or I'll -"
"Get your hands off him!" As the voice he knew so well snarled the order, Thompson's grip on his arms was wrenched away. The move was so violent that it dragged Ducky forward for an instant, before he crashed back into the bar. He sank to the floor, smashing his head against the bar as he fell. He heard the sound of flesh hitting bone, a cry of pain, and something crashing to the floor, splintering wood before it landed.
And then for a second or two everything went dark and his hearing became muffled. When he regained his senses, he heard the anguished voice of the man he loved, calling his name. "Duck? Oh, God, Duck? Please, say something." Jethro was crouched down on the floor next to him, his coat spread out around him, holding Ducky's arms. His face was pale, his eyes full of fear, and he was shaking.
"Jethro?" he managed, suddenly certain it was all a dream.
"Thank God for that. Are you hurt? Badly I mean? I'm sorry, I hadn't realized how hard he was holding you. I just saw him touching you and -"
"Jethro, why don't you give the poor man a chance to answer you?" The voice was also American, and sounded similar to Jethro's, albeit deeper and older.
Ducky glanced up. But all he could see was Jethro, who still hovered over him. He was now stroking Ducky's hair, brushing it back from his forehead.
"Come along, Jethro. Let's get your young man to his feet. Honestly, if this is the way you treat the man you love, I've not surprised he refused to come home with you. Hello, I'm Leroy Jethro Gibbs the Third. You must be Ducky." The man firmly pushed Jethro aside and held out his hand.
Ducky wasn't certain if he was meant to take to shake, or take it in order to allow Jethro's father to help him up.
Before he could decide Jethro said, his voice still heavy with concern, "Should we move him, Dad? Maybe we should get an ambulance. He might be -"
"Jethro, I'm fine. Really," Ducky said. And he was. His head throbbed, but fundamentally he was fine. "I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Gibbs." He took the proffered hand and shook it. Then leaning against Jethro, who had slipped his arm around him, he allowed the two men to help him to his feet, and over to a table.
As he sat down, he glanced to where Thompson was sprawled, groaning. As Ducky watched he began to move slowly and sit up.
Mr. Gibbs looked at him. "I'd stay there if I were you, Thompson. It'd be safer for you. I'm not sure my son has finished with you yet."
The older Jethro Gibbs ignored him, and instead looked back at Ducky. His eyes were virtually the same colour as his son's, just a little lighter; but they shone with the similar zeal for life that Ducky had often seen in the eyes of his lover. His face was the same shape, and as Ducky looked at him, he saw the man his Jethro would become in thirty or so years' time. He sat down opposite Ducky, while Jethro remained standing, one hand on Ducky's shoulder, the other holding his upper arm.
"So you're Ducky. You're the man who has made my son impossible to live and work with."
"I really wish you'd come home with us, you know. He might actually get some work done."
"Dad," Jethro said again. He sounded a little aggrieved at his father's words.
"What? It's true, Jethro. If you'd been anyone other than my son I'd have fired you three weeks ago." Despite the words, the fondness, deep affection, and paternal love were clear in the elder Gibbs's tone.
However, Ducky felt obliged to say something. "Mr. Gibbs," he began.
"Leroy. Well, we can't have two Jethro's, it's confusing enough as it is."
"You're the one who insisted on calling me Leroy Jethro," Jethro said mildly.
His father continued to ignore him. "So we take turns. My grandfather was 'Leroy' and my father 'Jethro'. Means I'm Leroy, and he's Jethro. Guess it won't matter now. And don't look so guilty, Ducky, his mother and I have always known he'd be the last."
"Dad, I'm sure Ducky doesn't want a lesson in family history now. That's not why we're here." Jethro spoke softly.
This time his father did look at him. From the look on his face something passed between father and son. After leaning forward and squeezing Ducky's shoulder, Leroy leaned back in his seat and looked at Ducky. "How much did he," he nodded dismissively, without turning his head, towards where Thompson still sprawled on the floor, "tell you your dad owed him when he died?"
A little surprised at the way the question was phrased, Ducky nonetheless answered it. "Two million," he said softly.
Leroy Gibbs nodded, and again looked up, presumably at his son. For a moment he was silent. And then he turned on his seat and looked towards Thompson who, although he had now sat up, hadn't made any move to stand. "Why don't you tell me how much Mr. Mallard owed you, Thompson?" he said, his voice suddenly flat.
"Two mill, like he told you. Pounds that is." There was only a hint of the cockiness and confidence that Thompson had showed earlier left in his voice. Nonetheless he met and held the elder Gibbs's gaze.
In a swift movement, Jethro's father stood up. He took two steps towards Thompson. "I'll ask you again," he said, his voice almost conversational, but rich with the same steel that Ducky had heard touch Jethro's own voice on one occasion. "How much did Mr. Mallard owe you when he died?"
"I told you, two million. You deaf or something?"
Jethro's father sighed heavily and looked away from Thompson. "Where's your phone, Ducky?" he asked pleasantly.
Before Ducky could tell him, Thompson spoke. "Why? Who are you going to ring?"
"Oh, Mr. Thompson. Really. Do I have to go into details?"
"I think you should, Dad."
"Really? Oh, very well then." He sat back down again. "I believe unregistered gambling is just as much of a crime here as it is in our country, isn't it, Ducky?"
Ducky nodded. He was suddenly grateful for the fact that Jethro had moved slightly so that he was standing directly behind him, with a hand on each shoulder, holding him securely against his body.
"It's what he's been up to, Duck," Jethro said quietly. "The reason why you had to have set weekends off, and it explains the extra time at Christmas. I’m sorry, Duck, but I couldn't just let it go. It worried me."
"So Jethro asked me if I could do some digging."
"Something Dad's very good at." Jethro's slightly dry tone told Ducky there was another story to be heard, but not now.
"It wasn't difficult. You were sloppy, Mr. Thompson. But then you always were."
"I don't know what you mean. You can't come over here, come into my business and start making accusations. That's libel."
"Actually," Ducky said, before he could stop himself. "It's slander. Libel is only when it's written down."
"And," Jethro added. "It's only slander if it's untrue."
"And it isn't." His father got into act.
Suddenly Ducky felt exhausted again and he slumped back even more against Jethro. "Jethro?" he murmured.
"Dad." Jethro spoke quietly, but his voice was heavy with concern as he addressed his father.
"I'm sorry. I'll ask one more time, Mr. Thompson, and this time I want the truth. How much did Mr. Mallard owe you when he died?"
Ducky felt the grip his lover had on his shoulders tighten even more.
"Nothing," Thompson finally growled. "Nothing."
Ducky heard the word, but for the first time in his life he couldn't compute what was said. In the end he fell back on the one solid thing, the one piece of reality, the one person he truly trusted. "Jethro?" he turned his head and looked up.
He watched Jethro's eyes flicker over his head towards where his father sat. A moment later, still keeping one arm around his shoulders, Jethro moved from behind him and sat down beside him. He put his hand around both of Ducky's, looked into Ducky's eyes and began to speak; his tone was quiet and full of compassion. "Duck, your dad wasn't a crook. He didn't defraud anyone, quite the opposite. He was as much a victim as everyone else. More so in fact, as he was made the fall guy."
Ducky just looked at him and blinked. For a moment he wondered if the bang on his head had affected him more than he'd thought; was he hearing things? Was he, in fact, hallucinating totally? Were Jethro and his father really there? They must be. He couldn't be imagining the steady, loving presence, the look in the blue eyes he dreamed of, during his broken sleep, the warm, secure grip on his hand; surely he couldn’t be? "Jethro?" he said again, more than a tad irritated with himself by the fact that he seemed incapable of saying little else but his lover's name.
"It's all right, Duck. I know it's a lot to take in. Just trust me, okay?"
Ducky nodded. "Always," he managed. Well it was a different word, at least.
"That's my Duck." Jethro squeezed his shoulders, and lifted his hands to his lips to lightly kiss them.
He certainly wasn't imagining Jethro's lips on his fingers; the fleeting, gentle kiss grounded him. "If Father didn't defraud all those people, then who did?"
"Thompson here, aided and abetted by your family accountant and lawyer," Jethro said gently.
Before Jethro could answer, Thompson snarled, "Because you ruined my sister's life."
Ducky blinked. "Your sister? But I've never -"
"Brenda," Jethro said quietly, as he interrupted Ducky.
"Brenda? Brenda Jarvis?"
Jethro nodded. "Yes."
"She was your sister?"
"Yeah, and you ruined her life. All you had to do was to fuck her. But no, little poof that you were, you couldn't even bear to touch her."
"I don't understand." Ducky turned his attention back to Jethro.
"She was already pregnant when she tried to seduce you, Duck. She wanted to pass the baby off as yours."
"Your posh family, all that money they had, big houses, enough room for twenty kids, and they only had you. Precious little Donald with his golden curls and skinny body, a right mummy's boy. All you had to do was to stick your dick where it belonged, inside Brenda. But no; she wasn't good enough for you, was she?"
"It wasn't that," Ducky said, staring in amazement at the man for whom he had worked for twenty years. The man who was now standing, albeit not moving towards them; he kept his distance, well outside of Jethro's reach.
"No, that's what's so bleedin' pathetic, it wasn't that at all. Would it have killed you to fuck her?"
"What I don't understand," Jethro said, turning to look at Thompson, who took two steps backwards. "Is why, if your sister was prepared to lie and say the child was Ducky's if he had had sex with her, didn't she just do that anyway?"
"Because she has some morals. Silly cow. If he'd have done what he was meant to have done, then she could have lied. Could even have convinced herself it was his. But when he wouldn't, stupid bitch wouldn't lie. I told her to, told her that his family would pay as much as she wanted to keep her out of the way. She'd be made, for life. But she wouldn't lie."
"She needn't have lied at all," Ducky said softly. "My parents would have helped your mother and Brenda, they were fond of them both. It was your mother who chose to leave, not my mother who asked her to. We would have helped."
"We don't take charity."
"I see, so fraud, lies and deception are acceptable, charity isn't?" Mr. Gibbs said. "What a strange family you are, Mr. Thompson."
"My family's strange? That's rich! I'm not the one sitting there whilst your son, your son mind you, paws another man under your nose. Christ, I've seen some things in my time, but that beats everything. You've got a queer for a son and you don't seem to care."
Mr. Gibbs sighed and stood up. Again Thompson retreated. "This is getting us nowhere. Jethro, I think it's time we got out of here and took Ducky back to the hotel. I can call the police from there."
"Wait." Ducky and Thompson spoke the word together.
"How did they do it?"
Jethro patted his hand. "Dad's got all the details, evidence and stuff back at the hotel. But it's all true, Duck, every word of it. Your dad's not a criminal."
"Then why did he kill himself, or did they . . . ?"
Jethro shook his head. "No, Duck. They didn't. They were just so good at what they did. They probably managed to convince your dad that everyone would believe the evidence they had. The evidence they'd faked to show it was your dad who'd done it. They had, after all, spent the best part of five years on it. They set out to ruin your family, to take away the good name. And in the end, I imagine they drove your father to the only thing he thought he could do."
Ducky stood up suddenly, dragging Jethro with him. He shook Jethro's arm off and began to walk slowly towards Thompson. "You killed my father," he said, his tone almost conversational. "You killed my father. You took away everything my mother had ever known and loved, and you in effect ruined my life. You have put me through hell during all the years I have worked for you. You have made me live almost every day in fear of what you would do to Mother if I did not comply with what you wanted, and for what? All for some stupid little girl who couldn't keep her legs together."
"My God." Ducky continued to walk towards Thompson, who retreated until he was up against the wall. "I could -"
"Don't, Duck." Jethro caught his arms and held them tightly. "Don't," he said softly. "Don't let him win."
"But he already has."
Jethro turned him around. "No. No, he hasn't, Duck. He hasn't." Jethro brushed Ducky's hair from his face and looked down at him. The dark blue gaze was soft, loving and hypnotic as it held his own. "Has he?" he whispered.
And as he was held captive by the steady, unblinking gaze, Ducky realized his lover had spoken the truth. Thompson hadn't won. He hadn't won at all. He smiled a little and shook his head. "No, my dear," he murmured, taking Jethro's hand. "No, he hasn't."
"We can prove it all, Ducky," Jethro's father said. "And if you want, we can make a case of it, get your father's name cleared."
Ducky looked at him. "I believe that is a decision Mother should make, Mr. Gibbs. She has been through enough over the years; she might just wish to let it all rest. After all, it won't bring Father back. And," he glanced over his shoulder to where Thompson still stood, "I personally think that I have had enough of this man and the hold he has had over my family. In fact," he turned back to face Jethro.
"Jethro, Mr. Gibbs, I need to ask you something."
"Ask away, Duck."
"It might be asking too much of you, but I want to sever every link with this man. I don't want him to have any hold over my family any longer. You know why I stayed here, Jethro, why I put up with it all. The long hours, low pay and his -"
"I know, Duck, for your mom. Go on." Jethro tugged him a little nearer to him, and smiled encouragingly down at him. Once again Ducky felt as if he were the younger man and Jethro the elder. He was also suddenly aware that he felt suddenly more than a little faint and nauseous. He was not going to pass out or throw up in front of Thompson and Jethro's father. He would not do it. He wasn't an old Etonian for nothing. He straightened his back, locked his knees together and leaned into the embrace, letting his lover support him, knowing though to an outsider that it wouldn’t look that way at all.
Turning his head now to look at Jethro's father he said calmly, "Would you be prepared to repay this man the money he has spent 'looking after' Mother for the last twenty years? I will of course repay you, just as soon as I am able to. One thing I have learnt is that I am not afraid of hard work. It -"
"Duck," again Jethro interrupted him, his voice soft, as again he tightened his grip on Ducky's shoulders. "Dad." Again father and son communicated with and understood one another, even though only one word had been spoken.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs the Third turned away and walked to the door. He stopped, bent down and picked something up, before returning to the table and putting the briefcase down on it. Seconds later he opened it.
Ducky blinked at the sight.
"We thought you'd want that, Duck. So we came prepared."
"How much?" Mr. Gibbs asked.
"I don't know exactly, Mr. Gibbs. I'm sorry, I should have -"
But Mr. Gibbs shook his head, effectively silencing Ducky. "No reason you should know, Ducky. Well, Thompson?" Jethro's father turned his cold stare on the man in question. "Oh, and don't forget, money is my business." The threat was subtle, but nonetheless clear.
"About ten grand a year, what with the flat, which I could have rented out otherwise. Didn't want her to suffer too much, did I?"
Father and son exchanged glances for a moment. Then Ducky felt Jethro shrug, and saw his father nod briefly once.
"Very well. Two hundred thousand. Here." Jethro's father held out several bundles of crisp, new, notes. "And if I were you, I'd take it and get out of here, tonight. While you still can."
Thompson for a moment just stared at the money, his mouth open. He took a tentative step towards the elder Gibbs and stretched out his hand. "Christ," he said, flipping through the notes. "That's not payment for just a year, Mallard. You must have done things for him that you didn't -"
This time it was Jethro's father who hit him - hard.
As he flexed his knuckles, he said quietly, "No one insults my son-in-law to be. Now, Ducky, is there anything else?"
Suddenly aware that if he didn't get out of the bar in the next minute, he was going to pass out, Ducky shook his head. "No," he said, leaning even more heavily against Jethro. "Take me home, Jethro."
"Where's that, Duck?"
"Wherever you are."
As Jethro's father led the way into the hotel, Ducky realized two things: one, that he hadn't thought about where they were going and two, that he was virtually asleep on his feet. His mind failed to register which hotel they were in, only that given the doorman's uniform and the solicitous way he held the door open for them, together with the fact that he was politely ignoring the fact that Jethro still had his arm around Ducky, that it was one of the high class, expensive ones. At some point Jethro had also put his overcoat around Ducky's shoulders, and Ducky could feel it dragging on the floor.
They went into the lift and Ducky took advantage of the fairly lengthy journey to close his eyes for a moment. Jethro and his father had been chatting on and off since they'd left Thompson's bar, but virtually nothing they'd said had made sense.
The doors opened and, keeping his arm firmly around him, Jethro led him out and towards a door. "Hey, honey," Mr. Gibbs called, opening the door and letting Jethro guide Ducky inside. "We're back."
A light, pleasant floral scent drifted into Ducky's nostrils and he glanced up to see a woman. "Hello, you must be Donald, Jethro's told us so much you. I'm delighted to meet you. I'm Jethro's mother, Christina," she added, smiling.
"Good evening, Mrs. Gibbs. I'm very pleased to meet you too," Ducky managed, falling back on years of habitual courtesy. He held out his hand towards the lady, realizing somewhat embarrassingly that he had extended his left rather than right hand.
However, Mrs. Gibbs took it and held it. "Oh, you poor boy, you look exhausted, come over here and sit down," she exclaimed, extracting him from her son's arms, and putting her own arm around him. Like her son and husband she was inches taller than Ducky, and seemed able to support him as easily as Jethro had done.
Once she had him seated on the deep, low sofa, she glanced at her son. "Jethro, get Donald a drink. And what have you been doing?" Leaving Ducky she stalked across the room and grabbed Jethro's hand. "Oh, Jethro," she chided. "You are no longer five years old."
"Yes, mom. No, mom. Sorry, mom, but he deserved it," Ducky heard his lover say; his tone full of fondness and affection for his mother.
Whether it was the warmth of the room, the comfort of the sofa, the feeling of homeliness and security and peace, the Gibbses exuded, or just the fact that he was finally sitting down again, Ducky realized he felt a little less exhausted than only moments before. He looked across at Jethro's father and smiled as he saw him push his hand into his overcoat pocket. Mr. Gibbs caught Ducky's look and returned the smile before winking conspiratorially.
"I'm sure he did, Jethro. But really." Despite her words she smiled up at her son, the maternal love blazed from her dark blue eyes. As he watched Jethro interact with his parents, Ducky knew that his involvement with Jethro was going to extend to his parents as well. The thought made him very happy.
"Here you go, Duck," Jethro handed him a heavy glass, a quarter full of amber liquid.
"Thank you, Jethro." Ducky smiled up his lover, who returned the look. He left Ducky long enough to hand his mother and father drinks, before coming back and sitting down next to Ducky.
Suddenly Ducky didn't know what to say. The atmosphere was a relaxed one, yet he sensed a hint of anticipation, as though the other three people in the room were waiting to do or say something. He also felt a little strange being in the presence of the elder Gibbses who not only knew about their son's homosexuality and were unconcerned about it, but also knew that the man he was sitting next to was his lover. The lessons in etiquette and other such things his parents and to an extent Eton had taught him, had not covered this kind of occasion.
The room they were in was considerably larger than Ducky's bedsit, and was expensively and tastefully furnished. As he looked around he saw four doors, the one they'd come in through, and three others; two of which he presumed to be bedrooms. Assuming that Jethro hadn't brought him here simply to meet his mother before taking him somewhere else, Ducky realized that the chances seemed high that at some point or other, Jethro and he were going to go to bed - under Jethro's parents' eyes. Etiquette definitely hadn't covered that one! It hadn't even covered the situation if it were a man and woman at her parents' home. He decided not to worry about it; Jethro wasn't; Jethro's parents weren't; so why should he?
He sipped his drink and listened as, between them, Jethro and his father gave his mother a brief recount of the evening.
"Ducky, there are some papers I think we should look at," Jethro's father said, addressing him directly.
"Leroy, surely they can wait until tomorrow? Poor Donald is exhausted. He must want to go to bed."
"I think he'll sleep easier, Christina, if he deals with these first. They concern his mother."
"Mother?" Ducky sat forward.
"It's all right, Duck," Jethro pulled him back. "Nothing to worry about."
"I'm sorry, Ducky. I didn't mean to startle you. As Jethro said, it's nothing to worry about, quite the opposite." Jethro's father smiled reassuringly at him, before reaching out to snag a file from the nearby table. "Christina is right, this could wait. However, given that according to my son, the reason you didn't return to the States with him a month ago was for the same reason as you've done everything over the last twenty years, your mother, I think you'd be happier if we sorted this now, don't you?"
Ducky offered what he hoped was an affirmation and waited. He watched as Leroy Gibbs took several papers from the folder and glanced through them. "Right. I'll explain them to you and then all you have to do is to sign them. If you're happy to do so, of course," he added. "Simply put, these papers commit us, the family and our company, to provide for your mother in all and any circumstances."
"What Dad means is, Duck, if we should split up, or something happens to you before your mom, then she'll be okay," Jethro explained gently, putting his hand on Ducky's. "Not," he added, his tone and the steady gaze becoming more intimate, "that I have any intention of letting you go."
"The Gibbs men are loyal and faithful," Jethro's father added.
"The women too!"
"Right, the women too. And those who marry into the family." Ducky saw Jethro's parents look at one another, and knew just why his lover was so open with his affections; he'd known nothing else.
"The company will buy a home for your mother and provide all the necessaries, a housekeeper or whatever. She'll be fine, Ducky. Whatever, I promise you. This document is binding, my lawyer drew it up, and while I appreciate that after tonight you have little reason to trust them, I hope that you can trust Jethro. I daren't say it's one hundred percent unbreakable, because with some of the underhanded lawyers around today, they'll find a way to break anything. But it has been gone over by not only the company lawyers, but outside firms too. And they couldn't find a loophole."
"Dad's had them working on it for the past month," Jethro said softly.
Ducky looked at him. "You were that certain? That sure of me?"
"I was that sure of myself, Duck. The rest I just hoped. And every time I spoke to you, you gave me more hope. So, yeah, in a way, I was. Does that bother you?"
For a moment Ducky thought about it. "No," he said quietly. "No, it doesn't."
"Good." Un-self-consciously, Jethro brushed a stand of Ducky's hair back off his face.
"There is one other thing you should know, Ducky," Jethro's father said, interrupting the silence.
Ducky turned to him. "Yes, sir?" It came automatically.
Leroy Gibbs shook his head, but said nothing. "There's also a trust fund, set up by my great-great-grandfather, for long-term partners of the family. I don't know if you and Jethro have talked about what you'll do when you come home with us, or not, but basically the fund will provide you with a fairly substantial amount of money of your own."
"It's done so that if the husband or wife doesn't wish to go out to work or whatever, he or she isn't reliant on their spouse for everything." Mrs. Gibbs explained.
"But Jethro and I aren't -"
"It's the same thing, Ducky. Jethro's great aunt's partner was treated the same way as she would have been had she and his aunt Annie been able to marry."
"I knew I was right," Jethro said quietly. His father glanced at him, but Jethro just cast his innocent look his way.
"So do you think you'd be happy to sign the papers, Ducky? If you'd rather we can wait until the morning and you can take them to a lawyer and have them checked over. In fact that's what I should be recommending that you do."
However, although he knew that Jethro's father spoke the truth, Ducky also knew that he had no worries. And the elder Gibbs was correct; he would feel better knowing that his mother was safe and secure. As he said, everything Ducky had done for two decades he'd done for the sake of his mother. If he died tonight with the papers unsigned then . . . Although he had no doubt in his mind that Jethro would honour the papers, signed or not, he'd still feel better.
"I'd be quite happy to sign the paper pertaining to Mother, Mr. Gibbs," he said firmly, holding out his hand to take the papers and pen.
He quickly read the papers, which weren't written in the usual legalese he'd seen at the time of his father's death; what Mr. Gibbs had outlined was clear to see. Resting the papers on the table, he uncapped the pen and signed his name three times.
As he wrote the final 'D', a wave of the same exhaustion he'd felt earlier swept over him and against his conscious will be slumped back against Jethro, who caught him and steadied him.
"It's all right, Duck," he said softly, putting his arm around Ducky's shoulders.
"Jethro, take Donald to bed now. The poor boy is completely exhausted, and I'm not surprised."
"Yes, mom." With his father's help he got up and brought Ducky to his feet. "Put your arm round me, Duck," he said.
Ducky obeyed. An order, he could follow those. He could do anything that didn't involve him having to think or decide.
"Come on, that's it. Oh. Mom, I -"
"There's a new toothbrush, pyjamas, and other essential things in your room, Jethro. I'm sure that Donald will be content to share other things with you, but you do not share toothbrushes."
"You know, I've never understood the logic of that. You can kiss someone but not -"
Once again, Jethro's mother silenced him. "Go to bed, Jethro. Now!" As drained as he was, Ducky could still hear that loving humour that touched Mrs. Gibbs's tone.
"Yes, Mom," her son said. Taking as much care of Ducky as if he were made of china, he led him across the room, though one of the doors Ducky had noted earlier and into another large room.
Jethro carefully lowered Ducky onto the bed and Ducky made an attempt to undo a button on his shirt, and failed. Instead he let Jethro gently and efficiently undress him, vaguely noticing that there was little of the lover in the way he did so.
"I am sorry, my dear," he said, as Jethro helped him put a pyjama jacket on.
"Sorry? What for, Duck?"
"My behaviour. What must your parents think?"
Jethro looked at him for a moment, the gaze steady and full of affection tinged with a hint of fond amusement. Then, his tone low and gentle began to speak. "When I was four, I got meningitis and was really sick. The doctors apparently thought I'd . . . Well, Mom didn't believe them, maybe wouldn't, couldn't believe them. She virtually lived at the hospital with me, just being with me, helping to look after me. She was relentless, tireless, the nurses kept trying to make her take a break, but she wouldn't. Dad told me years later that the doctors said it was only thanks to Mom that I lived. I don't know, maybe it was her. I don't remember much of it, not really, just her always being there. And finally I turned the corner and they knew I'd live. But still Mom wouldn't go home, wouldn't rest. Not until I was home, and back on my feet did she stop. Two days later she collapsed herself. She wasn't ill, just exhausted, like you. She said, you keep going when you have to, it's when you stop that it hits you. You've kept going for twenty years, Duck, and finally you've stopped. I promise you Mom and Dad won't be thinking anything at all, except to marvel at what a great son and person you are. Now, do you need the bathroom or do you want to get straight into bed?"
Jethro smiled up at him from where he still crouched on the floor. "Which, Duck?" he put his hand on Ducky's leg, the touch light and warm. "Do you need to pee?" he asked gently.
Ducky nodded. That was better, a simple question.
Still holding him firmly and safely in his arm, Jethro guided Ducky to the bathroom.
It took him half a second to realize what Ducky's co-ordination was non-existent, and Ducky felt his own hand covered by Jethro's, holding him carefully, Ducky let himself slump against Jethro even more. As he let Jethro take care of him and his needs, Ducky's brain couldn't even process whether it felt odd or not to have someone else hold him whilst he relieved himself. Or whether he should be embarrassed or ashamed at what he was letting his lover do for him.
Somehow Ducky managed a perfunctory and cursory brush of his teeth, before letting Jethro lead him back to the bedroom and put him in bed. Once he'd settled Ducky, Jethro stripped off his jacket, shirt, trousers and kicked off his shoes and socks, more speedily than Ducky had ever known him manage before, or maybe it was just that he was thinking more slowly, and joined Ducky in the bed. He tugged Ducky into his arms, settled him gently and then placed a soft, chaste kiss on Ducky's mouth. "Go to sleep, Duck," he whispered.
He wasn't certain how long he'd slept, but when he opened his eyes, blinking a little in the soft glow from a bedside lamp, he was still in Jethro's arms and Jethro was watching him. He looked up at his lover and smiled a little. He was still tired, but the overwhelming, bone numbing exhaustion he'd experienced had faded a little, and he was aware that he was in bed with the man he loved, for the first time in more than a month.
Not that he was up to doing anything other than be aware of it. Nonetheless, it felt good, it felt more than good, to be held again, to feel the firm, warm body he knew so intimately, to smell Jethro's unique scent and to be gazed at with the adoration that showed in the steady gaze.
"I love you, Jethro," he murmured, reaching up to touch Jethro's cheek, before he fell back into a healing, dreamless sleep.
TUESDAY MORNING. 28TH APRIL 1981
When he awoke again, the glow from the lamp had been muted out by another faint glow, daylight filtering in through a crack in the curtains.
He was still in Jethro's arms, although the embrace was not as firm, and this time his lover was asleep. Ducky's body began to tingle very slightly and throb as it became consciously aware that he was next to Jethro. However, early morning sex, before he'd had time at the very least to brush his teeth and wash his face, had never appealed to Ducky, plus he had a fairly urgent need to once again relieve himself. Thus, taking care not to wake his sleeping lover, he extracted himself from the strong arms and went into the bathroom.
He was taking care of his urgent need, when Jethro came in. "Hey," he said softly, crossing to stand near Ducky. "Guess you don't need my help this time. Although if you want I could -"
"What? Don't look at me like that, Duck. I'm not into that kind of kink. Least I don't think I am. Guess you never know until you . . . All right. All right. It's just I want to touch you, Duck. I want to touch you very badly, and I'm not going to apologize for it."
"I wouldn't ask you to," Ducky said, tearing his eyes away from the stare that was divesting him of what little clothing he was wearing. "Especially as the feeling is mutual."
Jethro began to stroke his neck. "Come back to bed then," he murmured.
"Jethro. Your parents."
"What about them? In case you've forgotten, it was Mom who ordered me to take you to bed. Besides, they won't come into our room."
"Are you certain?" Ducky asked, moving away to the sink. He didn't bother to flush the toilet, leaving that to his lover who seemed more than a little grateful to take Ducky's place. He washed his hands, splashed water on his face and began to brush his teeth, far less perfunctorily than he'd done the previous evening. He might well have only met Mrs. Gibbs the previous night, but he got the feeling that a bedroom door would not necessarily keep her out, especially when she was in mothering mode.
Jethro glanced at him; his look rueful. "Guess I'm not. Mom did ask if you liked tea first thing. She won't let the bellhop bring it in and disturb us, but she'd figure that it was okay for her to do so."
Ducky sighed. "I thought as much," he said.
"We could share a shower. She won't come into the bathroom. Even Mom has some limits, plus there's a lock."
"Jethro, if your mother comes into the bedroom and we're not there and the bathroom door is shut, what is she going to think? Oh," he said, as his lover looked at him. He felt his face begin to become slightly warm. The openness and relaxed nature that the Gibbses all seemed to share was going to take a little getting used to.
Jethro flushed the toilet and moved to wash his own hands. He grabbed his toothbrush and the toothpaste and spent a few moments brushing his teeth. "Maybe I should have introduced you to my folks before I in effect brought you into the family," he said quietly. He suddenly sounded concerned and worried, and his look was one of apprehension and a hint of fear.
The look was enough to push aside any objection Ducky might have. He couldn't bear to see the man he loved looking so worried. Moving quickly and in silence, he crossed to the door, deliberately locked it, turned on the shower and stripped off his pyjamas. "Well," he said calmly, standing naked in front of Jethro who just watched him. "Are you going to stand there all day, or are you going to join me?" Without waiting for an answer, he opened the door to the shower cubicle and stepped inside.
Seconds later two arms went around him and he was pulled back against a damp, firm, warm body, part of which grew harder as he pressed against it.
"So tell me more about this unregistered gambling in which Thompson is involved," Ducky said, as they dressed. Jethro's mother had done more than provide toothbrush and pyjamas; she had even produced underwear and a clear shirt for him.
He took a sip of the lukewarm tea that had been waiting by the bed when they'd finally come out of the bathroom. When he'd seen the tray he had found himself once again growing warm at the thought that Mrs. Gibbs had indeed come into the room. What must she have thought? However, memories of Jethro's hands and mouth on his lips and body and his naked, wet skin against Ducky's own soon pushed any such worries from his mind.
"High stakes gambling. All illegal. You name it; it went on. Not to mention a few high class call girls, and other shady goings on."
"I had no idea."
"No one had. The Dining Club was properly registered, all apparently above board, etc. It was only when Dad dug deeply that he found the truth. Thompson didn’t want you around, because he couldn’t be sure of you. A line too many, maybe." Jethro shrugged. "God, I want you," he murmured.
Ducky laughed gently at the way Jethro suddenly and smoothly changed the subject. "Jethro, you've just -" He did rather enjoy the way Jethro silenced him. He slipped his own arms around Jethro and met and returned the kiss, moving further into the embrace, until their bodies were again pressed closely together.
It was only when, somewhat to his surprise, he started to feel his body begin to react to the closeness, that he reluctantly, but determinedly broke the kiss.
Jethro let him go, just far enough to be able to look down at him; his face was flushed, his eyes even darker than usual and his lips slightly swollen. His look was rueful as he gazed down. "I'm never going to get enough of you," he said, his tone a tad self-deprecating. "Kissing you, holding you, touching you, having you in my arms, in my life." Suddenly he said, his tone slightly wary, "You are in my life, aren't you, Duck? I mean for keeps."
The cock-sure young man his lover could often appear to be had vanished, and the insecurity of which Ducky had had only one or two teeny glimpses, raced into ascendance. Jethro had told him and shown him many times that he loved him, but until this moment as he saw and heard his lover, Ducky hadn't realized quite how much.
He raised his hand and cupped Jethro's cheek, letting his fingers flirt with the warm, soft skin. "Oh, yes, beloved," he said softly, the term coming so naturally. "I am indeed. I'm yours for as long as you want me." He pulled Jethro's head down for a sweet, pure, tender kiss.
This time it was Jethro who pulled back. "How about forever?" he whispered. Ducky smiled and pulled his head down once more.
Again it was Jethro who broke the kiss. "Breakfast," he said firmly, capturing Ducky's hand and all but dragging him to the door.
"Good morning, darling. Good morning, Donald. I do hope that the tea wasn't too cold for you." Mrs. Gibbs looked up from the book she'd been reading and smiled at them.
Against his will, Ducky felt his cheeks flush again.
"Mom," Jethro chided, letting go of Ducky's hand and striding across the room to bend and kiss his mother on the cheek.
She simply smiled up at her son, and then turned the same affectionate smile on Ducky who saw clearly that she meant no harm by her words. They hadn't contained any malice, quite the opposite. She was trying to put him at ease.
"Where's Dad?" Jethro asked, pouring himself a cup of coffee from the pot that was by his mother's side. "Duck?"
Ducky shook his head. "No, thank you." He watched as Jethro took two large gulps of coffee, and smiled as he saw the look of pleasure spread across his lover’s face.
"I can order some tea if you prefer, Donald? Or we could go down for breakfast, unless you boys would prefer to eat here?"
Jethro glanced at Ducky and raised his eyebrow in question; Ducky simply shrugged, passing the decision back to his lover. Jethro rolled his eyes, shot Ducky a fake glare and said, "Let's go downstairs. Are you coming with us, mom? Or have you eaten?" He took another gulp of coffee and sighed happily.
"I had a slice of your father's toast, before he went out. He's gone to Fletchers," she said answering Jethro's question. "But I decided to wait and join the two of you for breakfast."
"Dad's gone to Fletchers? Is he still thinking of buying it?" Jethro opened the door of the suite and let his mother and Ducky precede him.
"I don't think so, but you know your father."
"Yeah. I do. So what's the plan for the rest of the day?" The lift arrived to take them down stairs.
"What makes you think I have a plan?"
"Because you always do." Jethro smiled at his mother and winked at Ducky.
"We thought, if it was all right with Donald, that we really should go and see his mother. I'm sure that Donald would like to explain things to her and tell her the truth about his father."
"That okay with you, Duck?" Jethro asked as they walked to the room where breakfast was served.
"Oh, good. The flight's at two o'clock," Mrs. Gibbs said calmly.
Jethro just laughed.
"And before we need to go to the airport, we could go to Donald's home and collect anything he might wish to bring with him. I really want to see the furniture you restore, Donald. Jethro has told me so much about it, and the table you gave him is simply beautiful."
Ducky glanced at Jethro and silently asked a question.
However, it was Mrs. Gibbs herself who answered. "It's all right, Donald. Jethro told me where you live," she smiled and took his hand. "You are what matters, Donald. Not where you live. Now, I'm hungry."
When they returned to the suite, Mrs. Gibbs, to Ducky's surprise, sent her son out on an errand, to buy her the latest novel by her favourite author. When Jethro had suggested they could stop on the way to Ducky's she had been extremely insistent.
"Now, Donald," she said, when still shaking his head, Jethro had left. "There's something I wish to tell you, and I'd rather do it without Jethro around. It's all right," she added swiftly, seeing the look that Ducky tried to hide. "It's not what you might be thinking," she smiled and pulled him down to sit next to her.
"Now, Donald, I - Oh, You don't mind if I call you 'Donald' do you? I know my husband seems comfortable using Ducky, but I . . ." she trailed off and smiled.
"Not at all. My mother calls me Donald."
"Oh, good. Now, Donald, I'm not certain how much Jethro would have told you about us, his father and I, and the family."
"Not a great deal, but enough to know how much he loves you, and how important the family is to you all."
"He's a good boy. I know how you must be feeling at the moment, Donald, at least to an extent. It would have been different had your poor father not been cheated in the way he was, but then had it not happened, maybe you would not have met Jethro. For me it was even harder; you see, I was what is not very pleasantly known as 'trailer trash'. When I was fifteen my mother died, I never knew my father. Mother left me with two younger sisters and a brother. Her dying words to me were a plea that I take care of them. And I did. I waited tables and until I was sixteen, I managed to keep one step ahead of the education authorities. I ran errands, I cleaned, I . . . Well, let me just say that I did what I had to do, to keep food on the table, a roof over our heads, and my sisters and brother with me."
"And did you?" Ducky asked softly.
"Yes. I did. Then when I was eighteen, I met Jethro's father. He'd been dragged along to a stag night by some friends and I was . . . Well, exotic dancing is a polite term for it. He was nice to me, very nice. He kept me from having to provide more than just dancing for the men. He walked me home and asked if he could see me again. I had no idea what he was, who he was, or what he did, I just thought he was a nice man. Ironically I wondered if he might be gay, given that he made no attempt to seduce me or get me into bed. I saw him on three further occasions before I had even a hint that he was wealthy. But at the time I could not conceive of how wealthy. I didn't think that any one person could possibly have that amount of money. I was very young for my age, Donald. At least in some ways, and my education had been interrupted. Yet in other ways I was considerably older than my years."
"Jethro is very like his father." Ducky spoke softly.
"Yes, he is. They are both good men, Donald. Passionate men. They would do anything for those they love. I'm not entirely sure if you yet know quite how far Jethro would go for you. In fact you can't, not completely. It took me several years before I really understood the depths Leroy would go to. I refused his offer of marriage three times; I didn't want people saying that I was only marrying him for his money. At one point I wasn't certain of my motives myself, as awful as that might sound. But I was only nineteen when he proposed for the first time. My refusing only made him all the more determined. He took it upon himself to complete my education. As well as that, he also taught me what knife and fork to use, how to use napkins, and to call them thus, rather than serviettes, and everything else that was necessary to join his world. But most of all, he taught me how to trust and how to love. At the end of the day that was what mattered, not whether I knew how to use a fish knife, or how to dress or how to run committees, none of that mattered. Nor did where I come from matter."
She was silent for a moment and a smile crossed her face. Clearly, despite the hardships she had endured, the memories were happy ones. Then she spoke again. “And he took care of my siblings. One of my sisters, the baby of the family, is now a doctor; the other is a very happy and contented housewife and mother. My brother . . .” She broke off and sighed, and her look became a little sad and wistful.
However, it only lasted for a moment, before it changed and her eyes blazed with maternal protection and devotion. “My brother refused to accept what Jethro was. He taunted him, he made life very unpleasant, he was disgusted by him. No one hurts my son; no one. No one, Donald, not even my brother. Leroy gave him enough money to go away, on the understanding that he never again . . . He never did. He was well over the limit when his car skidded off the road; fortunately he didn’t kill or hurt anyone other than himself.”
“I’m sorry,” Ducky said gently.
She smiled. “Thank you. I was sorry for the boy he had been, but not the man he became.”
"I assume Jethro knows."
"Oh, yes. Well most of it. There are one or two things that a mother doesn't want her son to know. Not that he'd think any less of me; I know that. But even so . . . But I thought that you might appreciate knowing, because I'm sure that you must be feeling a little overwhelmed."
"Thank you, Mrs. Gibbs. I do appreciate you trusting me, and yes, it does help."
"Good. And I hope that soon you'll be able to drop the Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs. But only when you are comfortable to do so."
"Old habits die hard, but I'll try."
"Good. And there is another thing, Donald. I know that you must already be thinking of how you can repay Jethro and his father for the money they gave to that wretched man, are you not?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. I am."
"Please don't. You'll only insult them if you do so, and I'm sure you wouldn't wish to do that."
"No, of course I do not. But -"
"Donald. If it were the other way around, if you were in the position to do what Jethro has done for you, would you expect him, given your relationship, to repay you?"
Ducky smiled ruefully and shook his head. "No, Mrs. Gibbs, I wouldn't."
"There you are then. And trust me when I say, Donald, that the happiness you have brought to Jethro, and therefore to his father and me, is more than adequate payment."
Ducky swallowed hard. "Thank you," he managed, feeling it was inadequate, but unable to form any further words. He smiled.
Jethro's mother returned the smile. "You know you are the first man Jethro has ever let us meet; the first one he's even talked about. I knew from when he was very young that he was different from other boys, so when he finally confessed to us that he was gay, we were not surprised. I assume there have been other men, but he's never brought anyone home, or mentioned them. And yet within days of meeting you, he talked about you. I've never seen my son quite like this before; I always hoped that he'd find someone who'd make him as happy as his father has made me, I guess mothers always do. Does your mother know about Jethro? Does she even know that you are gay?"
"My mother is from a different generation, Mrs. Gibbs. Whilst we have never openly spoken about it, I do believe that she is aware of my sexual preferences. I haven't found the opportunity to mention Jethro to her. I -"
"Was protecting her?"
"Yes. Certainly to an extent."
"And you are close to her, aren't you? What you've done for her over the years is more than just filial duty."
"Yes. I am. In a different way from you and Jethro, but yes. Or at least as close as it's possible to be when you aren't seeing one another for maybe a year or two at a time."
"Do you think she'll want to come with you? With us?"
"I don't know. I hope so, but -" Ducky stopped speaking as the door opened and Jethro strode in. It had been raining, and his overcoat and hair glistened with water.
"Mom, are you sure that the book has been published? I went to three different stores and they all said it's not due out until next week. Hey, Duck," he paused and put his hand on Ducky's shoulder and gazed down at him.
Ducky smiled back and, as Jethro's fingertips brushed his cheek, felt a shiver of desire pass through him. It was ridiculous, they'd spent over an hour in the shower, and yet already he wanted to be back in Jethro's arms, with Jethro's lips on his, and his hands on his body, touching him, stroking him, caressing - He stopped his train of thought immediately and shifted very slightly in his seat. It didn't help when the look in the steady gaze that still held his told him that Jethro had, apparently, read his mind, and desired the same thing as Ducky did.
"Oh, dear. Isn't it? Oh, darling, I am sorry. I must have got the dates mixed up."
"Hmm," Jethro said, dragging off his overcoat, and staring at his mother. "I trust you two had a nice chat."
"Oh, very nice, Jethro. Now, I think I'll just go and get my coat and tidy up, then we can go and collect Donald's things and see his wonderful furniture, before we go to the airport. Your father will meet us there." She smiled, stood up and left the room.
Jethro offered his hand to Ducky and pulled him to his feet. He put a hand on each of Ducky's shoulders and looked down at him, in silence, his look quizzical.
After a moment or two, Ducky said, "Jethro?"
"I'm just wondering if I dare risk kissing you, or whether I won't be able to stop at just a kiss."
"We are adults, Jethro. I'm sure that we can manage to control ourselves."
"Glad you think so. Oh, what the hell; come here." And Ducky found himself tugged into Jethro's arms and kissed thoroughly, but without too much intense passion. Nonetheless, when they broke away he found his body tingling.
LATER THAT MORNING
"Donald, these are beautiful. Jethro was correct, you are very talented."
Ducky found himself blushing. "Thank you, Mrs. Gibbs."
"Yeah, Duck's good with his hands."
Ducky felt his cheeks flush even more and he shot a look at his lover, who just widened his eyes and gave Ducky his innocent look.
Jethro's mother ignored her son. "And the room itself. It's so light, and has a wonderful warm feel to it. Again, that's your doing, it must be."
"I had to live here. So I decided to make the best of it. I couldn't do anything about the outside, but once in here, it was possible to forget, to an extent, where I was."
"Now my son," she glanced at Jethro, "is hopeless around the house."
"Well, it's true, darling. You are very talented in other areas, but DIY is not your forte. Whatever you do, Donald, do not let him do anything that involves nails, hammers, screwdrivers or other tools."
"I put that set of shelves up in my office."
"Yes, and then had to pay for someone to not only replaster the wall, but redecorate the entire room, before putting the shelves back up properly." She smiled with fondness at her son, and after a second or two he grinned back.
"Mom's right, Duck. But I told you that already."
"Now Donald, on the other hand, clearly not only knows what to do, but loves doing it. I don't know what plans you have, Donald, but I can assure you, that if you wished to do so, you could make a career out of this kind of work. You know how much us Americans like anything antique. Not that I'm trying to push you into anything, and money is certainly not a -"
"Mom." Jethro's tone was quiet but forceful. "Don't push, okay. We haven't talked about it yet. I think Duck has enough to come to terms with without you trying to sort the rest of his life out for him." Although his voice was still low and still tinged with the affection he always showed his parents, there was an edge to it as well.
"I'm sorry, darling," Mrs. Gibbs said. "I am sorry, Donald. I just -"
"Like to organize everyone. Yeah, we know." The irritated edge vanished and once more Jethro's tone was his usual one.
"I will just say one more thing though," she turned towards Ducky. "Whatever you decide to do, Donald, do not rush into anything. Jethro is correct, you have had a lot to come to terms with, and you're not going to do so overnight. You have also known nothing other than work and responsibility for far too many years. It is all right to stop for a while, to take time to think, to decide. Please promise me that."
As he looked at and listened to Jethro's mother, Ducky recalled their conversation at the hotel. She was correct in what she said, and she knew that he knew it. He smiled at her. "I promise, Mrs. Gibbs."
"Good. Now, we need to arrange for these wonderful pieces to be sent to America. Leave it to me; I'll sort it out. While I do, you and Jethro can put together whatever else you might like to bring." And before either Ducky or Jethro could say anything, she whirled on her heel and crossed to the phone.
As he put his meagre collection of clothes and personal belongings that he didn't wish to leave behind into a case, Ducky heard her organizing the collection of the items, and their transport to the hotel. He tried to imagine the reaction of the Manager, having to arrange for someone to come to this area of London and take things to the Dorchester. Money certainly did come in useful.
ABERDEEN. THAT AFTERNOON
"Donald," his mother cried as she opened the front door. "Oh, my dear Donald." To Ducky's surprise she put her arms around him and hugged him tightly. It wasn't in Vanessa Mallard's nature to be so effusive, normally she offered him her cheek to kiss and took his hand.
"Mother?" he asked.
"Oh, Donald, I thought something had - Oh," she said, suddenly noticing Jethro who stood quietly behind Ducky.
"Mother, this is -"
"Your young man?" She sounded delighted.
"Leroy Jethro Gibbs, ma'am, but please call me Jethro." Jethro held out his hand.
"I'm very pleased to meet you. Now you must both come in. Donald, go and put the kettle on and we'll - Oh, no, I think a glass of whisky would be better. Jethro, there are some glasses in the cabinet over there, perhaps you would be kind enough to - Oh, Donald." She began to tremble.
"Mother, what is it?" Ducky put his arm around his mother, and led her to her chair. He was concerned; he'd never seen his mother like this before. Never; not even when they had buried his father.
But she just looked at him, and seemed unable to speak.
"Here you are. Drink this, Mrs. Mallard." Jethro came across the room with a glass in his hand, sat down on the arm of the chair and held the glass for Ducky's mother. As she tried to take it, her hands were shaking, and Jethro calmly wrapped his own hand around it and supported her.
"Mother," Ducky said quietly. "Please tell me."
She took a sip of the whisky and then another, and sighed. "Thank you, Jethro," she said, pulling herself more upright as, under his eyes, she became the woman Ducky had always known. "I do apologize for making such a fuss. It is just that I thought that Donald might be - There was a report on the lunchtime news. The bar where you work, my dear Donald, has burnt down."
"What?" Ducky glanced at Jethro.
"Apparently they believe it was arson, but it has been so badly destroyed that as yet no one has been able to get inside to see if there are any bodies."
"Oh, Mother," Ducky dropped to his knees and took his mother's hand; it was chilled. "It's all right, Mother," he said softly. "I'm all right."
"Yes, I know that, now. But . . . I am sorry, Jethro, what must you think of me?"
"That you're a mother who loves her son very much," Jethro said quietly.
For a moment his mother just stared up at Jethro in silence. Once again Ducky marvelled at his lover's maturity and ability to say just the right thing.
After a second or two, she turned away and stared at Ducky. "Donald, what are you doing here? And do get up from the floor."
Ducky smiled a little. "Yes, Mother." He obeyed the command and moved to sit on an armchair. A moment later a glass was put into his hand. Where to begin? "Mother," he said. "I have something to tell you, quite a lot really."
"Father was not guilty of taking other people's money."
"What do you mean, Donald?"
"It's true, Mrs. Mallard, ma'am. Your husband was a victim, just like the other people who lost money." And succinctly but gently Jethro told her the same story as he and his father had told Ducky.
"I never did trust that man," she said, when he'd finished.
"Which man, Mother?"
"Pearson-Lloyd, your father's accountant. I didn't like his eyes. I told your father, but he wouldn't listen to me. He was too trusting, far too trusting. Just as you used to be, Donald. I knew; deep down I always knew."
"Knew what, Mother?"
"That your father wouldn't, couldn't, do the things of which they accused him. If only I'd - But we couldn't. They made certain of that."
"Mother. We can at least clear his name now."
"Ducky's right, Mrs. Mallard. Dad can get his lawyers to bring charges against them. He's got all the proof. We can show that your husband -"
"I said no, Donald. I don't want that. There is no point. You and I know the truth, that is all that matters. I do not wish to drag up the past. Nothing can be gained from it."
"You might be able to salvage some of your old friendships," Ducky said carefully.
"No. Those people who turned their backs on us when we needed help, are not worthy of our friendship. Do you not agree, young man?" She looked at Jethro.
Jethro glanced quickly at Ducky, leaned forward and said, "You know what, Mrs. Mallard, I do. Friendship's about being there in the bad times as well as the good."
"Very well, Mother. If that is what you want." Part of Ducky was relieved; he hadn’t really relished the prospect of dragging up the past.
"It is. Now what else is it you have to tell me? I assume it has to do with this young man?"
"Yes, Mother. Jethro has asked me to go to America with him, and I have said that I will."
"How long have you known my son?"
"I met him just over a year ago, ma'am."
"And Mother, we'd like you to come too. Jethro has kindly offered to -"
"Provide you with a new home, ma'am, the kind you're used to."
"Because I love your son, Mrs. Mallard, and him being happy is important to me. And he won't he happy if he has to worry about you."
"Be quiet, Donald. Go on, young man."
"Um. My family owns various finance companies, so money isn't a problem. Mom and Dad are here, at the Norwood Hall Hotel, they're waiting to meet you. I'm a hard worker. Um," he glanced at Ducky.
"And you say you care for my son? This is not just a case of a young rich boy wanting to try something different, is it?"
"Mother!" Ducky was shocked.
Jethro however didn't seem in the least perturbed. "No, ma'am. Not at all. I'm not interested in women. I never have been. And a year's a long time for just trying something."
His mother continued to stare at Jethro. Ducky couldn't remember ever feeling more uncomfortable in his life; not to mention surprised by his mother's behaviour.
Suddenly Jethro stood up, the movement sleek and effortless. "May I use your bathroom, please, Mrs. Mallard?" he asked.
"It's the second door on the left."
"Thank you." Jethro smiled and strode from the room.
"Well, Donald?" she turned to her son. "Is this what you want? Or are you merely once again doing it for me?"
"Oh, Donald, do not treat me like a fool. I know what you've done for me over the years, what you've had to put up with." Ducky hoped that his mother didn't know everything. "Expressing my feelings, even for you and your father, has never come easily for me, Donald. But you are my son; all I want is for you to be happy. Do you wish to go with Jethro for your sake or mine?"
"Mother, I promise you that I am not doing it merely for you. I . . ." He swallowed hard. The words had come so easily from Jethro. "I love him, Mother. I'm sorry if that makes you uncomfortable in any way. We have never spoken of -"
"No, we haven't. However, I have always known, Donald. I have often wished that I might find a way to tell you that I knew and that I . . . That it does not trouble me, not in the way that you might think it does. There have been many times since your father died that I wished I could somehow find the way to say so many things to you. To tell you that you did not have to work for that man, that we would find a way to manage. I just did not know how to do so. I've failed you, Donald."
"No, Mother. You have not." Ducky leaned forward and took his mother's hands. For a moment she merely let him hold them, sitting rigid and upright, but then she relaxed a little and returned his grip. "Do you want to come to America, Mother? If not, say so. Jethro will provide you with a home here."
"But what if something goes wrong, Donald? Oh, you say you care for him, he claims the same, but - Relationships do change. People change."
"Jethro's father has had legal documents drawn up, which insure that whatever happens you will be provided for."
"Do you trust them? Jethro and his parents?"
"Yes, Mother. I do."
"And what do you want me to do?"
"Whatever makes you happy, Mother. I can understand if you'd prefer to stay here, in Scotland. It is after all your home. From my purely selfish point of view, I'd love you to come with me. We haven't seen each other as much as I would have liked since Father died. But we could visit you, or you could visit us. It's up to you."
His mother sat in silence, just looking at him, before looking away and gazing around the room. "I've never been to America. I've always wanted to. Yes, I think it is time for a change."
Before Ducky could say anything, she called out. "Young man. Stop hovering outside the door and come in here."
A slightly sheepish looking Jethro appeared. "Yes, ma'am?"
"You mentioned that your parents were here"?
"I believe it is time that I met them. After all, it would be nice to know someone, apart from my son, in my new home." Imperiously she held up her hand, and waited for Jethro to go across to her and help her to feet.
Once his mother was safely out of the room, Ducky looked at Jethro. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" he asked, keeping his voice low. His lover's eyebrows rose and he gave Ducky a half smile. "Jethro," Ducky chided, albeit more than a little half-heartedly. It was no good trying to deny it; he wanted Jethro as badly as his lover clearly wanted him. But now was neither the time nor the place.
"Sorry, Duck." Jethro sounded mildly abashed. "It's just that . . ." He moved slightly nearer to Ducky and looked down at him; affection and lust blazed in equal measures in his eyes.
"I know. Me too." Ducky allowed himself a fleeting touch, before determinedly taking a step backwards. "Very much," he added softly, as the dark gaze became a little saddened. "But -"
"I know, Duck. Don't worry. I'll be good. I promise."
Ducky smiled. "You always are,” he said softly, laughing quietly at the look that appeared on his lover’s face. The one that said ‘and you have the nerve to berate me.” He took half a step forward and said softly, “And I promise I won't fall asleep on you tonight. Now, about that other thing we were both thinking."
"Thompson." It wasn't a question.
"Yes. It's too much of a coincidence, is it not?"
"Seems like it to me. Far too much. Reckon Dad'll agree."
"I suppose it could have been an accident," Ducky said slowly. He was a little annoyed with himself for even thinking it; the man had - Damn him. Whatever else he'd done, the man had been, in part at the very least, responsible for Ducky meeting Jethro. Not that it made up for what he'd done, not at all. But despite everything, Ducky couldn't find it in him to want to accuse Thompson of something he hadn't done. He frowned, now even angrier with himself.
To his surprise he saw that Jethro was smiling gently, and looking at him in his soft, loving way. "Ah, Duck. Don't ever change," he said quietly, moving towards Ducky again and lightly touching his shoulder.
"But it wasn't, was it?"
"Put it this way, I don't think I'd be risking any of my inheritance if I bet against it not being one. No, Duck. Thompson started the fire himself to cover his tracks. My suspicion is they'll find a body inside. They'll trace you, but not be able to trace Thompson, and then they'll assume that he died in the fire. If the body's badly enough burned, they probably won't be able to tell for definite who it is."
"You think he's a murderer?"
"Not necessarily. There are other ways to acquire bodies. Some of the members of the 'Dining Club' have got some interesting backgrounds."
"Do you think he warned them?"
"I'm not sure. Depends. Most of what Dad has on them, although pretty damn conclusive, could no doubt be laid open to reasonable doubt by a good, or underhanded, lawyer. And they'll have those. Two at least were members."
"What will your father do with the information he has?"
"That depends on you, Duck," Jethro spoke quietly. "We can get our own lawyers to prove you weren't aware of what was going on. I can vouch for the last year's worth of weekends. But . . ."
"It would still be my word against theirs?"
"I was thinking more of what else might come out. Your mom -" He broke off as Mrs. Mallard swept back into the room. "Let's talk about it later," he said softly.
Ducky nodded. But he'd already made his decision. And he suspected that Jethro knew that. Suddenly his overwhelming urge was to get out of his mother's flat; out of Scotland; out of Britain and to America, and forget nineteen of the last twenty years. And then he remembered. "Oh."
"Duck?" Jethro, who had been about to help Ducky's mother on with her coat, paused and turned to face him.
"Oh, dear. How foolish of me. I've only just remembered."
"I'm afraid I haven't got a passport."
Jethro stared at him, his eyes wide, his look one of mild incredulity. His mouth was parted slightly, and after a moment he began to chuckle silently.
His mother frowned. "Donald!" she exclaimed, her tone one of exasperation.
He addressed his mother. "There really didn't seem any point in renewing it, Mother. I wasn't going anywhere and -" He stopped short of admitting that it had been an expense which he had considered to be an unnecessary one.
"Well, I have kept mine updated."
Ducky found himself hit with a wave of pure happiness. That was his mother. That was the Vanessa Mallard whom he was used to. She even looked different; even from when they'd arrived. He knew that the years since his father's death had not been easy for her. However, not once had she complained; not once had she let Ducky believe that the men in her life had failed her. She had endured things she had never before experienced, had never expected to experience, and she had done so with the fortitude and resoluteness of the woman she was. But now, seeing her upright, dignified, wearing her best dress and jacket, her out-of-fashion but expensive coat still draped over Jethro's arm, he saw the woman he hadn't seen for twenty years.
He swallowed hard and pushed away the urge to embrace her, to tell her how much he loved her; how much she meant to her. It wasn't their way; it never had been. He knew she loved him, and he knew that she knew he loved her, but they didn’t speak of it. Not since the days he had called her 'Mama' had he told her that he loved her; had he kissed her just because she was his mother, and not because he was saying 'hello' or 'goodbye'.
The contrast between their relationship and the one Jethro had with his parents was stark. He just hoped that his mother would not find Leroy and Christina Gibbs, especially the latter, not to mention their son's, overt affection and caring to be too much. And he hoped that they wouldn't feel stifled by his mother's less outward nature.
He didn't want either to change, and he hoped that the Gibbses wouldn't feel that they had to try to do so. He'd talk to Jethro.
Maybe with them both spending time around the Gibbses whom, as Ducky had seen, did kiss one another and show open affection simply for the sake of it, both Ducky and his mother might be able to learn to show their love for one another. He wasn't certain his mother would be able to, but nor was he about to give up hope. If for no other reason than he suspected that now Jethro was over the initial meeting with the woman who would in all senses but one be his mother-in-law, that he might well treat her much as he treated his own mother.
"Well, it's not a problem, is it?" Jethro was saying. "We'll sort it out. Don't worry, Duck. Now come on. Mom and Dad'll be wondering if we've been abducted otherwise. Mrs. Mallard," he turned back to Ducky's mother and held up the coat for her.
"Thank you, Jethro dear," she said and smiled at him. "Well, come along, Donald," she added, putting her arm through Jethro's and letting him escort her to the door. "We must not keep your young man's parents waiting any longer."
Ducky smiled as he followed his lover and his mother out of the door. At the age of thirty-seven; his life had begun.
Poppers: also known as the Eton Society. In the 18th century Pop began as a debating society which met to argue in a lolly-pop shop on the Eton High Street. Over the years their power and privileges have grown. Pop is the oldest self-electing society at Eton, although the rules were altered in 1987 and modified again in 2005 so that the new intake are not now elected solely by the existing year. Members of Pop are entitled to wear checked spongebag trousers, and a waistcoat of their own choosing or design. Historically, only members of Pop are entitled to furl their umbrellas or sit on a special wall. They also perform roles at many of the routine events of the school year including School Plays, Parents' evenings and other official events
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