Disclaimer – The characters of NCIS belong to their creators. The Victorian-verse in which this story is set was lovingly created by Sequitur and is used with her kind permission.
AN – If you are interested in what motivated me to write this after so long an absence feel free to go check out my profile. Long story short is Sequitur offered me a whole new sandbox to play in and I could not resist.
"I'm still not at all certain about this," Catching sight of his reflection in the glass hung over the fireplace Timothy McGee was sure his own mother would scarcely recognise him in such an array of finery. He tugged lightly at the cravat, which Anthony had tied, rather too tightly in Timothy's opinion, around his neck. "Perhaps, it would be best if you were to go alone after all?"
"And how would that serve to further your introduction into polite society?" Anthony demanded with a frown, not looking at him, as he lifted cushions and moved books, clearly in search of some item. Timothy wasn't at all sure if the frown was meant for him or the missing item.
"Not in the slightest, but I am perfectly content to stay at home with my books and contraptions. Not every man feels your need to always be abroad," Timothy pointed out. "I notice you do not subject Gibbs to these constant excursions."
"That is because Gibbs is already well aware of how a gentleman should conduct himself, " Looking up, Anthony scowled at Timothy's altered cravat and broke off from his searching to stride over and use both hands to return it firmly to what was evidently in his mind its proper place. Meeting Timothy's gaze he continued. "If Gibbs were to cause offence you can be sure it would be deliberate and not because he is ignorant of how things ought to be done. Besides, the carriage has already been sent for and I went to some considerable effort to have you included in the party, it would scarcely do to back out now."
Timothy supposed he ought to feel grateful. Despite his own rather unconventional manner, Anthony had apparently seen it as his duty to ensure that a mere merchant's son was fully conversant with the undeniably complex ways of London society. Timothy had to admit that although at times he had grown irritated with the almost constant tutelage, it was something of a comfort to know he would not embarrass himself in this strange new world he now inhabited.
"So, given our attire I suppose it is too much to expect that a supper party will be a simple affair in front of the fire with friends?" He acquiesced.
"Well, it is a smaller gathering than a ball," Anthony admitted, giving off a small cry of triumph, as he located his gloves, half hidden behind a pile of The Gentleman's Magazine. "But no, by no means a simple affair. On arrival there will be some light conversation and then our hostess will indicate which lady each of us will escort into the dining room, somewhere between six to nine courses. Lady Hertford likes to impress so most likely nine. Can you recall the placement of the stemware?
"Top row, water glass, glass for chambertin, glass for latour, champagne glass; bottom row, green glass for sauterne, sherry glass, and a red glass for Rhine wine." McGee recited carefully.
"Bravo," Anthony grinned at him, in a slightly feral manner that Timothy still found somewhat unsettling. "Although, since nobody will be requiring us to serve ourselves what with half a dozen footmen in attendance, I can't see why it matters a jot that either of us should know it. But there you are. "
At that moment the clatter of hooves on the cobblestones coming to a sudden halt outside clearly announced the arrival of a carriage. Anthony and Timothy looked at each other in some surprise, before Anthony pulled out his pocket watch to confirm what they both already knew. The vehicle was a good fifteen minutes early.
"I though the carriage was ordered for a quarter past the hour." Gibbs' voice spoke from the door.
"And so it was, sir," Anthony clung fast to hope as he put his watch away. "Although, not everyone in London drives as you do. Perhaps, the driver merely wishes to ensure we are punctual?"
To Timothy's ear, it did not sound as if Gibbs was agreeing. Nor did the manner in which he strode over to the window to see who their unexpected visitor was, suggest that he had been convinced by the argument. Indeed, seeing how Anthony's own shoulders slumped at the likely prospect of an interruption to his plans for the evening it did not even appear he had any faith in his own words.
People did not generally call at this house, Gibbs being a man who much preferred his own society and Anthony one whom was much about town. Not to mention, as a cane rapped imperiously on the door, that in the normal course of things Timothy didn't think any driver or man servant would announce himself with a knock of such authority. This was a man accustomed to demanding respect.
The wealth of questions in Anthony's tone immediately attracted Timothy's attention. For he was unaccustomed to hearing a man who was courageous to the point of being quite foolhardy, in the words of the good Dr Mallard, sound quite so uncertain. Looking over, he saw Anthony had become quite pale, looking as skittish as a colt and just as like to bolt. It was hardly clear whether it was the sheer terror, loyalty to Gibbs, or his own undoubted courage which kept him anchored in place, perhaps, a little of all.
Neither the curtness of Gibbs' tone, nor the grim, hard, lines, of his expression, seemed in the slightest measure designed to reassure, but the relief bled out of Anthony regardless, making him sag just a little, before he visibly tried to pull himself together and step forward to address the matter in hand.
"Shall I answer the door, sir?"
It was not a question that usually arose. Timothy had quickly realised that the few visitors they did have were accustomed to letting themselves in and out as they pleased, for the front door was never locked. Nonetheless, the fact remained that this caller was waiting to be admitted and with the Mrs Anderson gone home for the evening, Miss Dawes on her evening off and no other servant in the household, then one of them must do it.
"You are not my servant, Anthony." Gibbs snapped.
"No sir," To Timothy's surprise, Anthony, who had still been a little wild around the eyes as if his body refused to allow such recent terror to be vanquished by will alone, incredulously seemed further steadied by the sharp rebuke. Timothy did not think that he could bear Gibbs' wrath so lightly. But Anthony seemed to read something in Gibbs' manner that he had missed, for his response was calm and steady, under lain with both unwavering respect and a measure of affection. "But I am your assistant, Sir and in this matter I am more than willing, and I hope able to assist."
It was only when Gibbs turned his head and something in his features softened at Anthony's earnest expression that McGee realised that their employer had also been somewhat put on edge by their unexpected caller. And wasn't that was an un-nerving discovery for Gibbs was not a man easily surprised. Although, Timothy could not for the life of him think why any caller, even one of some evident quality, might be the cause of such consternation, for he had never had never met anyone who seemed to court danger with such impunity as these two or have such scant regard for rank.
"No," Gibbs spoke decisively, but there was something of an apology in both his tone and the way he paused to momentarily rest a hand on Anthony's shoulder as he passed on his way to the staircase. "I'll do it."
And so, they all went downstairs and when the door was opened Gibbs had executed a bow of near military precision. Timothy had only seconds to comprehend that by "Morrow" Gibbs actually mean his grace the Lord Thomas Morrow, Duke of Rutland before his Lordship was inside and Anthony performing his own bow with a grace that McGee doubted he could replicate.
"Mr Gibbs, Anthony, my boy." Lord Morrow greeted them both with an unexpected degree of familiarity and warmth.
"My Lord, may I present Mr Timothy McGee," Gibbs nodded in his direction.
"My Lord," McGee bowed, a good deal more awkwardly than Anthony, being rather too focused on not falling over his own feet, merchants' sons not commonly being accustomed to having a bone fide Duke in their own hallway. "It is an honour to make your acquaintance."
"The pleasure is mine Mr McGee. For you must be a man of some uncommon talents, for Gibbs to accept you so readily into his employ." Lord Morrow observed.
McGee felt a flush stain his cheeks to know that a man such as Lord Morrow had already heard of his new employment. All at once put in mind of the conversation he had overheard at the commencement of their acquaintance between Antony and Gibbs he resolved he must 'do things well' to ensure that Lord Morrow would instil his full confidence in him.
"You are most gracious, my Lord," He responded politely. "I fully intend to repay Mr Gibbs faith in me by my most diligent service."
"Quite so," Lord Morrow nodded approvingly, although a faint smile of amusement tugged at his lips at the young man's most earnest assurances, before his expression fell into grim lines and he turned his attention to business. "Gibbs, I must apologise for the intrusion. I am well aware of your reluctance to entertain at home indeed I confess I rather depended upon it, as the matter I wish to discuss is rather delicate and not yet commonly known, if I may require a moment of your time?"
As the two men proceeded upstairs and Anthony made no move to follow, Timothy wondered if he might escape to change into his more accustomed attire. No wonder the nobility were always so upright when their collars were so stiff. For a moment, nothing was heard but the tick of the clock and the murmur of voices from the floor above until Anthony groaned as if in pain.
"Lady Hertford," He said by way of explanation at Timothy's curious look, "the carriage will be here imminently and she will still be expecting us. And now the table will be two short and worse there will be an entirely unequal number of ladies and gentlemen. Must the world always conspire to tear me away from my entertainments with its business? Could not these matters confine themselves to a more convenient time?"
"Since you seem to spend all your time when you are not engaged in 'business' as you term it, in the pursuit of entertainments, I hardly see how that might be possible." Timothy observed.
"And here I thought you were a man of science, McGee," Anthony retorted, as he turned and headed towards the kitchen. Presumably, since they were evidently to be denied the pleasures of Lady Hertford's table, to see what could be put together in the way of supper. "And yet you have failed to observe your subject with any degree of accuracy. I also devote a good measure of my time to numerous other pursuits."
Reaching the pantry, he swiftly located a plate of cold tongue, a wheel of cheese and half a loaf of bread and began to cut slices off each, popping a slice of tongue wrapped around a piece of cheese into his mouth as he worked without regard to plates or silverware.
"You do seem to spend an inordinate amount of your time eating anyone would imagine you lived in constant fear for your next meal." Timothy agreed lightly.
Unexpectedly, Anthony stilled, the knife frozen in mid air, as if the words had unwittingly ripped the bandage off a wound as yet only part- healed and caused it to bleed again. Not for the first time Timothy was reminded how little he really knew about his new companions.
"Maybe, his Lordship's business will not involve us," He offered by way of apology, although for what he was not entirely sure.
"I am rarely that fortunate," Anthony rolled in eyes in a dramatic manner, which Timothy rightly took as a sign of swift forgiveness. "And besides, not even Lord Morrow would so far presume on his prior association with Gibbs as to disturb him at home unless the matter was one of one of extreme importance."
"What could possibly befall a man of Lord Morrow's status that he would require our services?" Timothy wondered.
"Perhaps the fact that his only son and heir has been taken hostage," Gibbs informed them, from the doorway.
"Not blackmail," Anthony immediately vetoed that. "Lord Morrow is above reproach and his heir is a young man of good character."
"No, not blackmail," Gibbs agreed. "Exhortation, pure and simple, Lord Morrow's heir will only be safely returned upon the payment of a King's random."