Set immediately after Shalom.
What did Jethro's reappearance do to Ducky? Mrs. Mallard finds out. She also discovers that sometimes we all need a Mother's comfort, no matter how old we are.
An established relationship story.
Written: September 2006. Word count: 1,696.
"Donald?" Ducky's mother tapped on the door leading to the sitting room.
"Please, go away, Mother." Ducky didn't want to see his mother. He didn't want to see anyone.
Liar. The voice in his head said.
He ignored it.
Instead he carefully put the empty glass he held back on to the table, and refilled it with Glenfidditch. He'd been drinking solidly since he had arrived home, and now even he could not deny the fact that he was drunk. He'd hoped that the alcohol would dull him, dull his senses, and his feelings. But all it had done was to enhance them - which is of course what alcohol did, as he well knew.
The next moment the door opened and his mother, leaning heavily on her walking stick, came in. He closed his eyes. "Please, Mother," he said softly. "Go away."
She ignored him and instead came closer. Her heart almost broke when she saw her beloved son looking so desolate, so full of pain. For a moment she wished that her lucidity had not chosen that night to return. "Oh, Donald," she said, touching his shoulder. "What is it?"
"Nothing, Mother." His tone was flat, and he didn't look at her.
"You've been drinking." She lowered herself carefully into the chair opposite her son.
Donald sighed. "Just a little."
"Don't lie to me, Donald. You never were a good liar, not even as a child." Then, as he raised the glass to his lips, she said, "Don't you think you've had enough?" Her son ignored her.
For a moment she just sat and looked at him. "Is it Jethro?" she asked quietly, after a moment or two. She could think of no other explanation for his suffering. Jethro was the only person capable of truly hurting her son, because he was the only person, beside herself, whom Donald truly loved.
"I don't want to talk about him."
"No, you may not wish to, but you should." She reached out a shaking hand to take his glass, but instead he rose to his feet, limped to the sideboard and fetched another glass.
He returned slowly, she knew it was deliberate, and poured her a generous measure, handing it to her without meeting her eyes. She touched his hand as she took the drink from him, and to her horror, she heard a sob escape from him.
Then he looked at her, and she watched tears escape from beneath his glasses. At that moment, had she been able to, she swore she would have strangled one Leroy Jethro Gibbs. "Donald," she said softly. "Please tell me." For a moment she thought he'd disobey her.
Then he sighed and said, his voice flat, distant, exhausted, "He came back."
"He went again."
"Oh, my dear Donald."
"He didn't even say goodbye to me. He just . . . Oh, Mother. He . . . For one moment, for one far too brief, fleeting moment, he held me. Then . . . " The tears now fell steadily, and blindly Donald reached out for her hand.
Slightly awkwardly, Vanessa took it; she'd never been particularly good at giving comfort. Trying always made her feel inadequate and inept. But it was her son, and he needed her; he needed her in a way he had never needed her before.
Donald had always been the one to comfort, been the strong one, the responsible one, the caring one. He was the one to whom people turned, the one who helped people, the one who looked after them, made them whole again. Now it was his turn. He needed . . . He needed the one thing that Vanessa couldn't give him. He needed Jethro.
Shakily she got to her feet and moved to sit beside him on the sofa, slipped her arm around his shaking shoulders, and pulled his head on to her shoulder. She patted him clumsily; she hoped she was giving more comfort, more help, than she felt she was.
As she sat there, not knowing what to say, not really knowing what to do, she hated, hated with such a fierce passion she feared it might overwhelm her, Jethro. How could he do that to Donald?
He'd hurt her son over the years, although Donald had never said so in as many words, instead he always seemed to understand. And because he had always seemed willing to put up with Jethro, and because she knew that Jethro never lied to her son - although sometimes she thought it might have been better if he had done so - and because she knew that Jethro knew he wasn't behaving honorably, she too had put up with it. Besides, Jethro wasn't an easy man to hate, quite the opposite; he was charming, flirtatious, even with an elderly woman, caring, and she knew that he loved Donald. But this . . .
This was beyond any level of cruelty of which she had believed him capable. His leaving Donald, leaving his home, his job, his friends, had hurt her son badly enough, but to come back, give Donald hope, and then go again . . .
She wished she could get her hands on him; she would make him suffer, make him pay. But what could she do? She was nearly ninety-eight; her dementia was so far advanced that her moments of lucidity were nowadays barely existent. She couldn't help her son, not really.
And yet . . . And yet maybe she was. Maybe she had. Donald's tears seemed to have ceased to fall, he held her hand less tightly; his body, pressed against her own, was less rigid. Maybe a mother's embrace had helped him; a mother's love, because she did love him, she loved him intensely, even if she'd never told him, was unconditional, and that seemed to be what her dear son needed at the moment.
Not quite, she knew that. She knew what he really needed. She knew whom he really needed. She knew that only one person could truly comfort him, truly heal him. But for now, she was all he had, and maybe . . . She pushed the thought away.
Donald sat up, pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his face. He looked at her; he appeared not to know what to say.
Vanessa could understand that only too well. She felt the same. Leaning forward, she picked up his glass and handed it to him. "Drink this," she said softly.
"I thought you said I'd had enough."
"I'm your mother. I am entitled to change my mind. Now drink it, Donald."
His lips twitched upwards, the movement barely perceptible, and slowly he took the glass from her hand. "Yes, Mother," he said, and obeyed her.
The phone rang and rang and rang and rang. And went on ringing.
The noise sounded like an orchestra whose members not only couldn't play the instruments they were torturing, but were also all attempting to play different pieces at the same time. As well as doing so far too loudly, and in far too high a key.
The noise cut through Ducky's head, making his teeth tingle, and every nerve in his body jangle; even his hair felt as though it was standing on end. It was his own fault, utterly and totally. He had no one to blame but himself for his foolish, teenage-like behavior. Except, he'd never got drunk before, not even as a teenager. If this was what a hangover was, he never intended to experience one again. How could people do this to themselves more than once?
The phone continued to make its demands, and moving in what felt like slow motion, Ducky reached for it. The pounding in his head worsened, and the nausea nearly over-whelmed him. He had a vague memory of his mother holding him in her arms, comforting him like she had never done before, not even when he was a child.
Finally, more because he had to end the cacophony of wails than because he wanted to do so, he picked up the phone. "Hello." He hoped his voice didn't sound as slurred to the person on the other end of the phone, as it sounded to him.
"Duck?" The tone was hesitant.
He moved the phone away from his ear and stared at it. For a second he considered putting it down and never again answering it.
"Ducky?" Concern overtook the hesitation. "Ducky? Are you there? Ducky?" Desperation now touched the voice.
He should hang up.
But he couldn't.
"Yes, Jethro," he said, trying to make his voice calm.
Silence greeted him.
He choose not to break it.
Finally Jethro said, almost reluctantly, "Just wanted to see if you were okay. I . . . I . . . I had a strange feeling last night, that . . . Are you okay, Duck?" And then before Ducky could answer, Jethro hurried on. "Course you're not. I'm sorry, Duck."
"For coming back or leaving again without saying goodbye?" Ducky said, before he could stop himself.
He heard Jethro sigh. "Both, I guess. Duck . . ."
"One day, Duck. I promise you. One day I'll -"
"Don't, Jethro. Don't say it unless you really mean it. Don't, my dear. I cannot . . . Please." Ducky spoke quickly, he didn't even attempt to keep the intense pleading tone from his voice.
"One day, I will come back to you for good, Duck. I just don't know when. I'm sorry." Jethro's voice was gruff and low, and he sounded apprehensive, hesitant.
Ducky's headache fled. His aches were healed. He felt young again. "Mizpah, dearest," he whispered, and carefully placed the phone back on the receiver.
In her bedroom downstairs, Vanessa Mallard also replaced the phone. She smiled to herself. The comfort she had begun to give, had now been completed.
Mizpah is an emotional bond between people who are separated (either physically or by death). From the Bible Genesis 31 "And Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another."
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