UPON THAT NIGHT
This is the fourth story in my Occasions Universe.
Ducky gives Jethro a lesson in Halloween.
An established relationship story.
Written: October 2006. Word count: 4,166.
Jethro sighed silently with relief as he closed and bolted the door behind the last trick-or-treaters. One of the good things about the neighborhood in which he and Ducky lived, was that the kids always had set times for these things; as such there would be no more witches, vampires, goblins, monsters, or any of the other creative - or not - designs visiting them.
His head ached in the same low-level way as it always did after such an evening. It wasn't that he didn't like children, he did; he liked them very much. In fact had his beloved Kelly lived she'd be -
He pushed the thought from his mind, clamping down on it and forcing it back into his memories. It was unfair of him, unfair to Ducky, and to Shannon and Kelly's memories, to keep allowing his dead wife and child to come into his life with Ducky.
As the waves of guilt, illogical he knew, threatened to swamp him, he tugged Ducky into his arms, pulling him closely against his body and holding him tightly. "Love you, Duck," he murmured, resting his head on top of Ducky's.
As Ducky slipped his own arms around Jethro, thus completing the circle into which they slipped several times each day, he sighed quietly. "It's all right, my dear," he murmured. His words told Jethro that, as usual, Ducky had worked out where Jethro's mind had gone, and was reassuring him that he didn't mind Jethro thinking of his first wife and child. Nonetheless, it was a good excuse for an embrace, not that they needed one, but even so.
As Ducky snuggled nearer to him, resting against him and letting Jethro take some of his weight, Jethro smiled to himself ruefully. He'd been determined that they'd avoid the whole trick-or-treat invasion, by the simple expedient of staying at the office.
However, Ducky, aided and abetted by Abby, had other ideas. Jethro found it difficult enough to refuse his lover or his surrogate daughter anything singularly, but when they combined forces . . . Well, it wasn't even a contest.
Thus with a heavy sigh, much eye rolling and mutterings, Jethro had left the office at 4:00 p.m., it had been a particularly slow day, taking a far-too-pleased-looking Ducky with him.
"Do you hate it that much, my dear?" Ducky asked, from the vicinity of Jethro's shoulder. Then he pulled out of the embrace a little, tipped his head back and looked up at Jethro.
Jethro spared a second to place a quick kiss on Ducky's nose, before shaking his head. "Nah, Duck. Really," he added, as the blue eyes continued to regard him. "It's just . . . " He broke off, again pushing away the image of Kelly dressed up as a miniature witch, ecstatically happy because not only was her home-on-leave daddy going to be taking her trick-or-treating, but her uncle Ducky was too. It had been the last time they'd . . .
He tightened his arms around Ducky, and pulled him back against him. Damn it. He bit his lip and tugged his lover impossibly tighter, needing the contact, the reassurance, the total and utter unconditional love Ducky had always given him. "Sorry, Duck," he muttered again.
But against his shoulder Ducky shook his head. "No, dearest. It is I who should apologize. I didn't think. I am afraid that I let Abigail's enthusiasm for this night lead me astray. I am sorry, Jethro." Now Ducky pulled back, and he again looked up at Jethro; the concern and wariness was clear. "Can you forgive me?" he asked softly.
"Nothing to forgive, Duck. Come here." This time Jethro didn't merely embrace Ducky, or kiss his nose, instead he found his lover's lips and crushed them with a loving, searing kiss.
"It's not that I ever really liked it; not even as a kid," Jethro said, several moments later, after the kiss had ended and they'd made their way into their sitting room. "In fact it's one American custom that I wish hadn't become a custom."
"Ah," Ducky said.
Jethro recognized the tone and groaned silently. "Drink?" he offered brightly, wondering idly if he could distract his lover; but knowing he wouldn't try.
"Thank you, my dear." Ducky smiled.
Jethro poured two friendly whiskies, took a large swallow of his own, handed Ducky a glass, tugged him over to the couch, waited until Ducky had carefully sat down, and said, "Go on then, Duck."
Ducky blinked up at him. "My dear?" His tone and his look were his fake innocent ones.
"Tell me all about Halloween," Jethro said, sitting down next to Ducky, he slipped his arm around Ducky's shoulders and settled them both more comfortably.
"No, Jethro. You won't be interested in my ramblings. Let us enjoy a drink and then I'll cook supper and you can deal with those reports you brought home with you." Ducky had spoken decisively, but over three decades of intimate knowledge of his lover, let Jethro read him as easily as he read a child's book. Ducky wanted to share what he knew, and he'd be very disappointed if Jethro took him at his word.
The fact that Ducky would know that Jethro had already worked that out wasn't lost on him. He sometimes wondered how they ever managed to surprise the other, but they still did from time to time, in certain ways.
So after a moment or two of 'pretending' to consider Ducky's words, Jethro said, "No, Duck. Reports can wait, I really can't cope with the kids various mangling of the English language tonight."
"Timothy's is always perfect, or at least I thought that is what you told me, on more than one occasion."
"Well, there is that. But no, really, they can wait. Go on, Duck. Tell me all about Halloween; you know you want to."
Ducky chuckled and shifted slightly under Jethro's arm, settling himself even more comfortably. "Ah, my dear," he said softly. "Well you see -"
"Hang on a moment, Duck. You're not going to feed me anything funny, are you?"
Ducky chuckled again. "No, dear. Sadly there are very few traditional foods, other than apples and things related to pumpkins. Besides, I never feed you anything 'funny'." He moved away slightly and looked at Jethro, holding the gaze unblinkingly.
"Hmm," Jethro said. He still hadn't gotten around to finding out exactly what haggis was. He gave Ducky a mock frown, which in turn produced a Ducky mock-innocent look, before tugging his lover back under his arm. "Go on," he said, and took another sip of his whiskey.
"Very well, dear. Firstly, I am afraid to tell you, although you may already know, that Halloween is not something that you Americans invented."
"No, dear. It is true that it is part of your culture, or at least it has been since the nineteenth century. Before that, due to the lingering Puritan tradition that meant that even Christmas was scarcely observed before the 1800s, it simply did not exist in your country. However, it was in existence in other cultures and countries long before that."
"Yes. Its origins go back centuries. It was part of the Celtic tradition in Britain, Ireland and France, and was known as the Pagan Celtic harvest festival. It was celebrated by the Druids as 'Samhain', which come from from 'Sain' and means 'summer', and from 'fuin', which means 'ending'. It was regarded as a 'Feast of the Dead', and it was believed that the dead would sometimes return as evil spirits. There would be ritual fires lit in order to ensure that the sun would return the following spring, and surprisingly even today, there is still a lingering belief that children born on Halloween have supernatural gifts. Although, strictly speaking, the common term 'Halloween' is not quite correct."
Ducky's voice had taken on its storyteller's timbre, and for a moment Jethro wondered if he was going to regret his insistence on hearing the tale. However, given that he was more than happy to listen to Ducky recite the telephone directory, and he had to admit that he had enjoyed his 'lessons' in Burns Night, St. David's Day, and St. George's Day, he decided to just settle back and take pleasure in having his lover in his arms, and a glass of good whiskey in his hand.
Talking of which . . . "Hang on a moment, Duck." He slipped his arm from around Ducky's shoulders and stood up.
"I want another drink," he said, crossing to the drinks' cabinet, snagging the bottle of whiskey and bringing it back to where they sat. He held it out towards Ducky, who smiled and nodded his acceptance.
Once he'd topped their glasses up, Jethro put the bottle on the table, sat back down and put his arm back around Ducky. "Okay, Duck, go on. You were just telling me that not only is Halloween not American, it's not even Halloween. It's not going to end up like the dragon that wasn't, is it?"
"Not really, no. Halloween, or rather it's older spelling of Hallowe'en," Ducky obligingly spelled out the word, "is actually short for All-Hallows-Even, which is the evening before All Hallows Day, also known, on the Christian calendar, as All Saints Day. In fact All Hallows Day was specifically chosen to be on 1st November by the Christian church in an attempt to give Hallowe'en a Christian interpretation." Jethro noticed that his lover had slipped into the older pronunciation; it didn't surprise him, that Ducky had done so. "In fact, Hallowe'en is not the only Pagan festival that the Christian church attempted to usurp. There are several other examples, one of which - But no, I'll keep that for another time."
Jethro didn't need to see Ducky's eyes to know that they'd be twinkling with mirth. One thing, apart from all the obvious ones, of his relationship with Ducky was that over the years his education had been added to, quite considerably. "Good idea, Duck," he said.
"I can stop, if you wish me to, Jethro. There is no need for you to -"
"No." Jethro hastened to reassure. Damn, he hadn't meant his tone to imply that he was bored. "You've got me interested now." As he said the words, he knew that Ducky had always known that would be the case. "Go on, Duck. Enlighten me further."
"Very well, my dear." Again the pleasure in Ducky's voice was evident. "I shall endeavor to keep to the salient points though, so as not to bore you."
Again Jethro moved away a little; he wanted to see his lover. He looked at Ducky, slipping one hand on the back of his neck, up under the heavy, silky hair that Ducky had always worn longer than was the norm. "You never bore me, Duck. Never," he repeated. He leaned forward and brushed his lips over Ducky's own.
"Good, my dear. I'm glad." Ducky smiled and again settled against Jethro. "One of the best ways to learn about the customs surrounding Hallowe'en is to read Robert Burns poem Hallowe'en, which he wrote in 1785. I do have a book of his poems, if you would like to read it later. It is, quite long, and is naturally written in the language of the era, thus for someone unacquainted with the customs and traditions of the time and place, it is not necessarily simple to understand. However, I will be more than happy to provide you with a translation."
"Sure, Duck, that'd be great," Jethro said brightly. Now he did hide a groan; he vaguely remembered the thingy Grace Ducky had spoken on Burns' Night, before he'd introduced Jethro to the delights of a Burns' Night supper. He hadn't understood a word of it; well very little of it, and that had only been a few lines. He felt sure, however, he could find something else to occupy Ducky with 'later'.
"Or shall I give you a feel for it?"
"Don't worry, you don't want to get up."
"Oh, there's no need for me to do that, dearest. I know it really quite well."
"Yes. Not all of it of course; there are more than twenty-five verses. And I admit, even I find the language a little hard going at times. However, I do know the first few verses." Jethro was about to open his mouth to say something, anything, when Ducky chuckled and went on. "It's all right, my dear, I shall inflict no more than a few lines on you."
"Right," Jethro managed, and took another swallow of whiskey.
"Good. Now here is the first verse." Ducky paused, cleared his throat and began to recite. Just as he'd done when he's spoken the Grace thingy, his voice took on a hint of a Scottish accent.
"Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the rout is ta'en,
Beneath the moon's pale beams;
There, up the Cove, to stray an' rove,
Amang the rocks and streams
To sport that night;"
Ducky stopped speaking and swallowed some of his own whiskey.
Well it was slightly better than the, Jethro suddenly remembered the name, Selkirk Grace, insofar as he understood more words this time. However, Ducky was correct, the language was somewhat hard going. Nonetheless as always, hearing Ducky speak the words brought it to life, and Jethro swore he had glimpses of fairies, the moon, rocks, steams and fire.
"Very nice, Duck," he murmured, after a moment or two of silence, suddenly realizing that Ducky was waiting for him to say something.
To his surprise Ducky laughed. "Oh, my dearest Jethro. You never cease to remind me just why I love you so much."
Jethro blinked. "Er, good."
Ducky laughed again. "No more Burns, I promise. At least not until later." The twinkle that would once again be in his eyes was clear in his voice, as was the challenge he laid down to Jethro. The one that said 'find something else to occupy me later, or else you will read all twenty-five plus verses'.
"Ah, Duck," Jethro said, tugging Ducky even nearer to him. He turned his head and kissed the top of Ducky's head. "So what else are you going to tell me about?"
Ducky was quiet for a moment. "Maybe I should make it a little more personal. As I studied medicine in Scotland, shall I tell you about the Hallowe'en tradition in Scotland throughout its lifetime and how it differs from your own knowledge and experience in this country?"
"Sure, Duck. That'd be great." Jethro always enjoyed the more personal trips through Ducky's past life.
He vaguely considered asking why Ducky would choose the country of his young adulthood rather than his childhood, but given his wealthy upbringing and years at Eton, maybe the Mallard household had thought such a tradition unsuitable. Although having known Mrs. Mallard as he had, Jethro doubted that; he filed the question away for later. Although, Ducky had said it was a Celtic tradition and he had a vague memory that the majority of Celts were in the more northern and western parts of Britain, which would include Scotland. So maybe England had never really had the tradition like Scotland had.
"In Scotland, Hallowe'en was traditionally associated with witches and bonfires."
"Bonfires? But I thought you kept them for Guy Fawkes Night?"
"Well, yes, we do now, and have done for the last few hundred years. However, before Guy Fawkes Night began to be celebrated, bonfires formed a large and important part of the Hallowe'en celebrations. As with all things, once something is removed, something else comes along and takes its palace. Thus other Pagan rituals were perpetuated, such as 'dookin' for apples', more commonly known as bobbing for apples. And there are several traditions, associated with apples, which have come into being over the centuries. Of course, apples were sacred to the Druids."
"Wait a minute, I remember one of the kids at school telling me about how his cousin used to go to bonfire parties at Halloween."
"Ah, did the young man or indeed lady, live in a more rural area of America?"
Jethro frowned and cast his mind back some forty years. "Yeah, I reckon he did."
"That explains it then. Yes, in some respects, your country has kept the traditions of Hallowe'en better than Britain has. With the exception of how vastly commercialized it has become, of course. Indeed, I understand that after Christmas it has become the most profitable holiday. Many decorations that used to be handmade, are now commercially produced and sold; indeed many children buy or hire their costumes, rather than make them. But I jumping ahead somewhat."
"It is commercialized, yeah, but then so much is these days." Jethro sipped his whiskey.
"Are you and I getting too old, Jethro?"
Jethro laughed softly and again moved so that he could see Ducky. Bending his head slightly, he kissed his lover again, the contact was brief, but as always reassuring, and more than merely pleasant. "Don't think we'll ever get too old for that, Duck," he said, after he'd kissed Ducky for the second time.
"I have to concur with that, dearest," Ducky said, and smiled. "Do you wish me to continue with my ramblings, or would you rather have supper?"
"Go on, Duck. I'm comfortable." And he was, very comfortable.
Ducky beamed, it had been the right response, and again settled against Jethro. "Now, where was I?"
"Running my country down?" Jethro teased.
Ducky sighed somewhat dramatically, but otherwise chose to ignore Jethro's words. "Ah, yes, I was telling you about some of the older traditions, those dating back to the Celtic times, some of which are continued today; albeit the meaning has been lost. 'Neep lanterns, which were -"
"Hey, I remember neeps. We had them for that Burns Night supper you cooked for me, they're swedes, right?"
"Actually the term is used interchangeably for both swedes and turnips, and the lanterns tended to be made out of the latter."
"Why? I mean why do you use the same word for two different vegetables?"
"Actually, both vegetables are from the same family. In fact the swede is a cousin of the true turnip that originally came from Sweden, and thus the name 'swede' is simply a shorter version of 'Swedish Turnip'. I -"
"Can we skip the lesson in horticulture for another time, and stick with Halloween?" As much as he loved his beloved Ducky, Jethro's patience did have its limits. A 'lecture' in one subject at a time was just about all he could handle. Besides, he was starting to feel quite hungry.
"Of course, Jethro. Please forgive me. These neep lanterns were made by scooping the inside of the turnip out, and cutting through the flesh to create eyes and a nose and mouth - the household then 'enjoyed' a diet of turnip for several days - and a candle was placed inside the hollowed out turnip to produce the lantern. Today, as I'm sure you know, the pumpkin is used instead, both here and in Scotland, as it is much easier to scoop out. What the children who make these and have so much fun doing so, do not realize is that they are, in a way, continuing a tradition of placing skulls on poles round encampments to scare away evil spirits."
"I see what you mean, Duck. Things were a lot different. I wonder what the kids of today would think if they knew half of what you'd told me?"
"Sadly, I think few would be interested. Indeed, there would be those who would simply refuse to believe it, no matter how much evidence we could show them. No, for far too many children across the world, Hallowe'en only has one function: getting sweets or other treats. It's a shame."
"So why were you so keen to 'play the game' earlier, Duck? We could have easily stayed at the office and avoided it all."
"Ah, my dear, when one lives in a community, one has to adopt the customs and cultures. And whatever I might think of the commercialization, I do enjoy seeing the young ones dressed up. Even though so many of their costumes come from stores, it is nonetheless quite fascinating to see the lengths to which some go to try to be the best."
"Guess you're right. So where did the whole trick-or-treat thing come from?"
"Trick-or-treat is simply another name for what the Scots called guising, the term was simply used to cover the costume or disguise that the children wore. And it is a late nineteenth early twentieth century 'invention', which was when Hallowe'en became very much a children's festival. Originally children dressed up as spirits of the dead, but that has also changed over the years."
"Nothing's how it used to be, Duck."
"Oh, I don't know, dearest. I can think of several things that have never changed, nor will they ever do so." This time it was Ducky who moved from the embrace and initiated the kiss.
"You're right there, Duck," Jethro said, ruffling his lover's hair. Ducky's unconditional love, affection and devotion for him had never changed over the years, even though sometimes Jethro thought it should had done. He hadn't always treated Ducky very well.
"The practice of trick-or-treating is the most significant difference between the way Hallowe'en has developed here, and how it is in Scotland."
"In Scotland, children are only supposed to receive 'treats' if they perform 'tricks' for the households to which they go. Normally these 'tricks' are nothing more than a simple joke, song or poem that the child has memorized. However, some more talented children will even do card tricks, play a musical instrument, or something even more impressive. I remember I once visited the parents of one of my fellow medical students, although by then we were newly qualified doctors. They lived in Aberdeenshire, and my friend and I were there during Hallowe'en. I confess that I was quite taken aback when upon opening the door, my hosts liked to spread the joy of the occasion, I was not merely greeted with two witches, but they proceeded to sing to me."
"Really? So the kids had to earn their treat?"
"Yes. My friend's parents were very strict in that respect, and refused to hand over sweets to two young boys who just stood on the doorstep with their hands held out."
"Does that still go on today?"
"In many areas, I believe so. However, in others it is falling out of favor, and is being replaced with your own form of trick-or-treating."
"I think it's a damn good idea. Make the kids earn their treat. There's too much something for nothing these days."
Ducky chuckled. "Well, dear, should we ever happen to be in Scotland at Hallowe'en, I shall let you stand at the door and demand that the children do their party pieces. I doubt if many, if any, would dare to say no to you."
"Damn right I will." Jethro joined in with Ducky's laughter. He ruffled his lover's hair again before saying, not without a certain amount of regret, "I hate to say this, Duck, but as much as I've enjoyed my lesson in Hallowe'en," he deliberately used the term Ducky had used throughout his lecture, "and I have," he added. "I really need to eat something. Sorry, Duck."
"There is no need to apologize, my dear Jethro, I too feel somewhat hungry."
Jethro dropped a quick kiss on Ducky's head before standing up and offering his hand to help Ducky to his feet. His lover's longtime damaged leg tended to lock up more as the day went on. "Come on then, Duck, let's see what we have in the kitchen. And then, I think an early night might be called for; giving candy out is very tiring." He tugged Ducky into his arms and held him for a few minutes, before moving away.
Ducky smiled up at him. "I do believe that you are correct, my dear," he said. "Come," he offered Jethro his hand, and began to lead him towards the kitchen.
"One thing, Duck."
"Please tell me it's not pumpkins or neeps, of either variety, or apples, that you plan to give me."
Ducky just laughed for a moment. Then he said, his tone reassuring, "No, Jethro. I have something quite different in mind."
Robert Burns poem - Hallowe'en can be found in full, along with explanations for some of the less obvious to translate words, here: Hallowe'en.
LINKS TO ALL THE STORIES IN THE OCCASIONS UNIVERSE
A Fitting Tribute
There Be No Dragons
Upon That Night
A Ghostly Tale
Here We Go A-Caroling
Feedback is always appreciated
Go to NCIS Gibbs/Ducky Fiction Page
Go to NCIS Index Page
Go to Home Page