QUESTIONS FOR CHARLIE
Charlie Patterson has a decision to make, the kind of decision a son might ask his father to help with. However, Charlie's parents are in another country and left Charlie to be brought up by his grandparents, providing for him in a purely financial capacity. Thus, Charlie turns to the two men who had been more like fathers to him than the man who actually fathered him, to help him with his decision. Once he's made it, he has to tell his grandmother.
An established relationship story.
Written: January 2007. Word count: 4,520.
"Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs's phone," the man's voice, not Agent Gibbs, sounded in his ear.
For a second Charlie hesitated; maybe calling Agent Gibbs while he was working hadn't been such a good idea. Maybe he should have called Dr. Mallard instead. Maybe he should just hang up. But that would be foolish. Instead he said quickly, before he could change his mind, "May I speak to Agent Gibbs, please?"
"I'll see if he's available. Who's calling?"
"Hold on. Hey, boss, got a Charlie Patterson on the phone for you."
Charlie winced and held the phone away from his ear, as the voice shouted the words. The next second he heard a kind of rushing noise and a soft clunk, followed by a voice he knew, "Hey, Charlie, what's up? Has something happened to your grandmother?" Agent Gibbs sounded concerned.
"No, Agent Gibbs," Charlie hastened to reassure the older man. "Nothing's wrong. I am sorry to bother you at work. But I wondered if I could come and see you and Dr. Mallard, please. There's something I'd like your advice on."
"Sure. Come over tonight if you like. Bring your grandmother, I'm sure Ducky can stretch dinner to four."
"Grandma doesn't know I'm in DC."
For a moment there was silence. "Charlie, you're not in any trouble are you?"
"No, nothing like that, Agent Gibbs. I promise. It's just . . . Look, it's too complicated to explain now, and I don't want to disturb you any longer. If it's really all right with you and Dr. Mallard, I'd like to come over tonight. But you don't need to feed me, I can -"
"Come and eat with us."
Agent Gibbs sounded so forceful that before he could stop himself, Charlie heard his voice saying, "Yes, sir."
To his surprise, Agent Gibbs chuckled. "Sorry, Charlie, didn't mean to make it sound like an order. It's just you know Ducky; he'll be upset if he thought you'd eaten somewhere else. We should be home by 6:00; things are pretty quiet here at the moment. But if we're not, you know where the spare key is, don't you?"
"Yes." It never ceased to surprise Charlie that, for a man in the business that Agent Gibbs was in, he was remarkably lax about his own security. He remembered hearing how he'd never used to lock his own front door, but that had been one battle which Dr. Mallard had won.
"See you later. Oh, where you are staying?"
"You said your grandmother doesn't know you're in town. You heading back to college tonight?"
"Er, no. I'll find a room somewhere and -"
"We do have a spare room, several of them. You can stay with us."
"Oh, I really couldn't -"
"You're staying." And before Charlie could say anything, the phone went dead in his ear. He remembered that another one of Agent Gibbs's quirks was never actually ending a phone conversation in the 'normal' way.
Smiling to himself, he closed his own phone and thought about how to spend the next few hours.
LATER THAT NIGHT
"Hello, Charlie. It's very nice to see you. Do come in."
"Hey, Dr. Mallard. It's good to see you too. Thanks for letting me come over."
"Now, Charles. What did we agree?" Dr. Mallard's tone was firm.
Charlie smiled ruefully. "That'd I'd call you 'Ducky' and Agent Gibbs 'Jethro' and you'd call Grandma 'Helen'. But it's difficult, Doctor."
Ducky chuckled. "I know, Charlie. I know. Jethro and I still both find that we refer to your grandmother as ‘Mrs. Patterson', more often than ‘Helen'. Habits can be very hard to break. In fact I remember - but I'm rambling. Do come through into the sitting room. Jethro isn't home yet, our dear Director decided that she had to confer with him just as we were about to leave. As we had no idea how long it might take, and with you expected, I decided to come home and leave Jethro to his fate."
Charlie followed Ducky into the sitting room. From the tone he'd used when he'd said 'our dear Director' Charlie was left in no doubt as to Ducky's true feelings for the lady. It surprised him slightly; he'd never heard Ducky be any other than courteous either when talking to, or about, anyone before. He wondered idly just what the Director had done to trouble Ducky so much.
"Well, do sit down, Charlie. You've known us far too long to stand on ceremony. Now what you like to drink? Beer? Wine? Whiskey? Or some other spirit?"
"Beer'd be great, thank you, Ducky. Oh, and this is for your and Ag . . . Er, Jethro." Charlie tugged a bottle of wine from the bag he carried.
"That is very kind of you, Charlie. Thank you. But there really no need."
"Hmmm, I seem to remember that's what Grandma said to you, when you and Jethro came to dinner last month."
Ducky chuckled. "Touché," he said, and smiled. "Now, I'll just fetch you a bottle of beer."
As he turned and began to move across the room, Charlie noticed just how badly he was limping. He jumped up. "I'll fetch it, Ducky," he said quickly. "If you don't mind that is," he added.
Ducky stopped and turned back around. "That's very thoughtful of you, Charlie. Thank you. You'll find several bottles in the fridge."
"Fine. Do you want one?"
Ducky shook his head. "Thank you, but no. I'll pour myself a small whiskey. However," he added, listening for a moment and smiling, "I believe that Jethro has just arrived home. I'm sure he would appreciate a bottle."
"Right ho." And Charlie left the room, smiling to himself. He wondered if Ducky knew just how much his whole face changed when Jethro was around, or when he spoke of him.
As he went into the kitchen, from which a wonderful smell emanated, he heard the front door open and Jethro's voice call, "Hey, Duck, I'm home." The slam of the front door, made him certain that Ducky was correct; Jethro did sound as though he would appreciate a drink.
He wasn't sure whether he moved more quickly than he'd thought, or whether Jethro had paused in the hallway to dispose of his overcoat or briefcase, but as he went back into the sitting room, he saw Jethro lower his head and brush his lips over Ducky's, while squeezing his shoulder.
"Hey, Charlie," Jethro said, looking up. "Is one of those for me?" There was no hint of any embarrassment or concern on the handsome face, even though Charlie knew that both he and Ducky must have known that he would have seen the greeting.
"Yeah, it is." He moved across the room and handed one of the open bottles over.
"Thanks. Did you have a good day, Charlie?" Jethro put the bottle to his mouth and swallowed. "I needed that," he murmured a moment later. By his side Ducky smiled up at him.
Suddenly Charlie was hit by an almost over-whelming feeling of . . . He couldn't really describe it; only that for almost the first time ever, he realized just what he'd missed by not having his parents around. Not that he'd change his grandmother or his now-dead grandfather for the world; not that they hadn't made his childhood and adolescent wonderful; not that he felt in any way abandoned; it was none of those things. But seeing how easy Ducky and Jethro were with one another and with him, made him momentarily yearn for a 'normal' mother and father. Jethro was about the same age as his father, and . . .
"Are you all right, Charlie?" Ducky's quiet voice interrupted his musings. "You're not unwell, are you?" Charlie felt a warm, firm hand grip his arm.
He shook himself; he was twenty-two for heaven's sake, not a kid. He'd had a great upbringing really, and to think, to wish for, anything else, was almost like betraying his grandparents. "No, I'm fine, thanks, Doctor. Sorry." He smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way.
Ducky stood with his head tilted back, Charlie was a couple of inches taller even than Jethro, and stared up at him; he appeared to be studying him. Behind Ducky, his hand still on Ducky's shoulder, Jethro stood in silence, just drinking his beer and also looking at Charlie.
It was Jethro himself who broke the tableau. Draining the final drops from the bottle he turned his attention back to Ducky. "Have I got time for a quick shower before we eat, Duck?"
Ducky turned his attention from Charlie and instead gazed up at Jethro. Again a change came over his face, and in particular his eyes. Even his voice, when he spoke, was slightly different. "Yes, my dear. We are having a very simple supper; as I had no idea how long Jennifer would insist on keeping you for, I have prepared something that will not spoil."
Jethro smiled. Then brushing his hand over Ducky's hair, he said, "Ducky's idea of 'something very simple', Charlie, is a lot of people's idea of a five course dinner."
"Jethro, kindly do not exaggerate."
"Sorry, I should have said three course. I won't be more than twenty minutes," Jethro said, and strode out of the room.
Both Charlie and Ducky watched him go. "Can I do anything to help?" Charlie offered politely, hoping that Ducky remembered that he and kitchens should be kept as far away from one another as possible.
Ducky looked at him. "Thank you for the offer, Charlie. I believe that setting the table would not test your culinary skills too much." He chuckled again and Charlie laughed with him.
"I will learn to cook, Ducky," he promised, as the two men left the room; Ducky heading for the kitchen, Charlie for the dining room.
After they had eaten, they sat in the sitting room, Jethro and Ducky on the sofa, each of them was holding a glass of whiskey, while Charlie slumped in one of the over-sized, extremely comfortable armchairs, another bottle of beer in his hand.
Dinner, or supper as Ducky for some reason insisted on calling it, hadn't been five or even three courses, but nor had it been what Charlie would deem 'quick and simple'. Chicken casserole chock full of mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and seasonings Charlie couldn't begin to recognize, crispy baked potatoes ('always bake them in the oven, Charles,' Ducky had told him), carrots, peas and parsnips, followed by cheese and biscuits, had left Charlie pleasantly full and wondering how on earth Ducky had found the time to produce a meal that would rival even Charlie's grandma's.
"So, Charles, what it is you wish to ask us?" Ducky enquired, shifting very slightly on the sofa. While Charlie knew it was partly his leg that made his friend move around as often as he did, he didn't fail to notice that the movement had put Ducky slightly nearer to his lover; they were now brushing against one another. Charlie would have sworn, under oath, that the movement had been a sub-conscious one, but again he felt warmth at how at ease his two friends were around him.
He shook himself, suddenly realizing that he was just staring at them and smiling. "I've been offered a job, for after I graduate. Or I should say," he added, taking another swallow of the cold beer, "another job. I've had eight other offers, including two from firms I didn't even approach. Oh, plus Dad's offered me a post in his firm." He spoke flatly.
Ducky and Jethro exchanged glances. "Your father wishes you to go and work with him in Japan?"
"Yeah, but I'm not going." Charlie spoke decisively.
"No, I wouldn't imagine that you would."
"I've already told him no. Told him that I won't leave Grandma."
"Charlie . . . " But Ducky trailed off, as Jethro touched his arm.
After a moment or two of silence, Ducky spoke again. "You were telling us about your job offers."
"Yeah. They're mostly with big firms, prestigious ones. Annual salary well over £80,000, before bonuses. Partnership prospects, help with the bar exam, car, the usual."
"And the usual hours, I imagine?"
"Yeah. Those too. Anyway, as I said, mostly they were like that. But the one I was offered today was different. Smaller firm, does a lot of pro bono work, still with partnership prospects, probably even better ones, help with the bar exam, etc. Less money, but they don't expect you to work a hundred-plus hour a week, and," he paused, took another swallow of beer, looked directly at his friends and said softly, "It's in DC."
"Ah," Ducky said. Charlie could see from the look on the older man's face that he immediately understood.
Jethro, however, frowned slightly and glanced at Ducky and then at Charlie. Clearly from the look on his face he had picked up on Ducky's 'Ah', but wasn't sure what it meant. He was about to say something, when Ducky shook his head. "Go on, Charlie," he said, his tone encouraging.
Charlie sat forward in his chair. "It's the job I want to take. Sure it's less money, quite a lot less, but," he felt himself flush slightly. "Money isn't a problem. I'm not leaving college with huge debts like most of my friends. My parents, for all their faults, have never skimped on school fees, or any other financial need. What they sent me each term was more than enough to pay my fees, books, food, living costs, plus enough to mean that I didn't have to spend every evening and weekend working in a bar or somewhere. Plus, Grandpa and Grandma had set up a very generous college fund for me when I was born; not to mention the birthday and Christmas gifts you both kindly sent me. I've ended college with more money than I started with."
"And whilst that is a positive thing, you also cannot help feeling a little guilty when you think about your friends' situations, am I not correct, Charlie?"
"Yes, Doctor, you are." Charlie knew that Ducky understood first-hand how Charlie felt.
"Anyway, my friends all think I'm mad even to consider joining the firm in DC. Too small, too provincial, they say. But that's what I liked. Yes, it is small, by some standards, but everyone knows one another, in a good way. You're not going to spend two years working in an office next to someone and never learn his name. It's almost like a family. Okay, the offices are a bit shabby, they don't redecorate every six months just because the senior partner's wife has a new favorite color. It might sound stupid but I walked in there and I felt at home, it felt right. And it'd be good to help people too. Most of the other places, if they did pro bono work at all, paid lip service to doing it. Felt that an hour a month was more than adequate, and that was meant to be on top of your hundred-plus billable hours."
"Charlie, I might be dense, after all I never went to college like you two did. But if it's so perfect, what's the problem? Why do you need our advice?"
Charlie watched as Jethro blinked, then turned to Ducky for an explanation.
"Charlie is concerned that his grandmother will think that he only wishes to take the job to be near to her. Is that not correct, Charlie?"
"Yeah, Ducky it is. Grandma is a consideration, I can't deny that. But . . ." He trailed off and glanced down at his lap. He couldn't tell his friends or his parents what he about to tell his two friends, they'd laugh at him. "It's for me too. I've missed her while I've been away at college. God, that must sound pathetic," he added, even though he was ninety-nine percent certain that the two older men wouldn't think so.
"Nah, it doesn't, Charlie. Not at all."
"Quite the opposite in fact."
Charlie breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. I'm so glad you think that. Thank you for saying so. So what I've come to ask you two is, how do I tell Grandma, how do I get over to her that I want this job? She's likely to try to get me to change my mind, because she'll think it's just because of her."
Ducky shifted slightly on the sofa, sitting forward and looking directly at Charlie. "May I ask you two questions, Charles?"
Charlie blinked. "Sure, Doctor."
"And I'd like you to promise to think about them for a few moments, really think about them, before you answer. Will you do that?"
"Very well. Firstly, are you certain that you are not just doing it for your grandmother? And secondly, are you certain you are not doing it merely to upset your father? No, Charlie, you promised to think about it for a moment or two. Now," Ducky said, beginning to stand up. "If you'll both excuse me for a few minutes, I'll -"
Jethro caught his hand. "Whatever you want, Duck, I'll get it for you. Save you having to move."
Ducky smiled at his lover. "My dear, I am afraid that there are some things that even you are not able to actually do for me." Patting Jethro's hand, and using his knee as a lever, he stood up. "And whilst I have gone, perhaps you'd like to make me a pot of tea."
"Sure, Duck. Another beer, Charlie? Or do you want coffee?"
"Jethro, it really is too late for coffee."
"Ah, come on, Duck. People often have coffee after a meal."
Ducky just stared at his lover. "Well," he said, after a second or two. "That is a new excuse. Just don't blame me if you are awake all night." And shaking his head, he turned and limped from the room.
"Coffee'd be great thanks, Agent Gibbs."
About ten minutes later, Ducky and Jethro reappeared together. Ducky was gently chiding Jethro about forgetting to warm the pot, and again Charlie reveled in the how comfortable it all felt.
Once they'd settled with their drinks, Ducky looked at Charlie and raised an eyebrow. "Have you thought, Charles?"
"Yes, Doctor. Firstly, no it's not just for Grandma's sake. Really it isn't. I'm going to tell you something that I can't tell anyone else, but it's the truth. Sure I've loved college, I've had a great time, made some good friends, but I missed home. I want to come back to be near Grandma, simple as that. And this job makes that possible, and it's what I want to do. Secondly, if I'm honest, there is a small part of me that will enjoy knowing that Dad'll be pissed if I take this job, because he'll feel it's not good enough, that I'm not making the best of myself. But it really is only a tiny part. Honestly." He took a sip from his mug and winced at the sheer strength of the liquid.
"Oh, Jethro." Ducky gently rebuked his lover.
"Sorry, Charlie. Want me to make you some more?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, really, it's . . . Good. Strong, but . . . Not bad."
Ducky sighed softly, then he turned his attention back to Charlie. "You really have thought this through, Charlie. And I am pleased to hear your answers."
"So what do I tell Grandma?"
"What you told us. About why the firm appeals to you, how at home you felt when you were there. And also that you have missed her, and would like to be nearer to her."
"You don't think she'll think that's soppy?"
"No, Charles. Not at all. She'll be very touched. Won't she, Jethro?"
"Sure. I know I would be. Heck, Charlie, if it makes you feel any better, let me tell you that I miss Ducky when one of us has to go to some conference or other. And they usually last only for a few days."
Charlie watched as Ducky's eyes softened, and he smiled lovingly as he took Jethro's hand and squeezed it for a moment. His eyes told both Charlie and Jethro that he echoed the sentiment.
Charlie swallowed the last of his coffee and stood up. "Can I use your phone, please? I want to call a cab. I need to tell Grandma tonight. It's not too late, is it?" Then he suddenly remembered. "Oh, I was meant to be staying the night. You haven't gone to any trouble, have you?"
Ducky shook his head. "No, Charles. Really, I haven't. The spare room is always ready for visitors. Don't worry about that. As for it being too late, no, I do not believe that to be the case."
"Why don't I drive you?" Jethro began to stand up.
Ducky, however, caught his hand. "Because, my dear, you have had beer, wine and whiskey, and whilst I know your capacity for alcohol, and I know that unless you knew you were completely safe you would not offer, any policeman pulling you over, might disagree. And there are some things that even your NCIS badge cannot help with." Ducky spoke quietly, but firmly. Not for the first time Charlie was reminded just how determined and forceful the mild mannered, quietly spoken man could be, when he put his mind to it.
"You're right, Duck. As always. Sorry, Charlie."
"Not at all, Agent Gibbs. I'll just -"
"Here, call this number and ask for Alberto. Tell him that you are calling on behalf of Dr. Mallard, and that you would like a car to drive you to your grandmother's house immediately." Ducky held out a card, that he'd pulled from his wallet.
Charlie took it and looked at it. "Thanks, Doctor," he said, glancing at Jethro.
Jethro just shrugged. "Don't ask me. Probably autopsied the man's brother or something."
"Jethro. It was nothing like that. Don't you remember, he was the young man who . . ."
Leaving Ducky to embark on one of his stories, Charlie went to phone the number.
Less than a minute later he returned. "He said he'll be here in about fifteen minutes. Thank you, both, for listening to me and advising me. I really appreciate it."
"Charlie, we did little more than listen; you had already made your mind up."
"Yeah, guess so. I just needed someone to . . . Well, you know."
"We do indeed, Charlie. The choices you make now are going to have an impact on the rest of your life. Deciding on your first real job is never an easy choice to make, and it is often better to get the opinion of someone whom you respect, even if you believe you know what it is you want to do. I remember when -"
"Duck." The tone was soft, gentle and very loving.
Ducky looked to his lover and smiled, before turning to Charlie. "I am sorry, Charles. I didn't mean to ramble on.
"That's all right, Doctor. I always enjoy listening to you. Both of you," he added, glancing at Jethro.
"And we enjoy your visits, Charlie."
"Thanks. Oh, by the way, I just wanted to check that you are still both able to come to my graduation with Grandma, aren't you?"
"We certainly are, Charlie. We have both already booked leave for that day, and I assure you that nothing will prevent us from attending."
"Good. Mum and Dad won't be coming, of course. Said it's their busy time. But then it always is."
"We'll be there, Charlie." Jethro spoke firmly. "I promise."
Fifteen minutes later he waved goodbye to Ducky and Jethro and climbed into the backseat of the cab. As they pulled away from his friends' home, he glanced back to see that Jethro had his arm around Ducky's shoulder and saw that Ducky was leaning against him.
He hadn't told them, but one of the reasons for him wishing to return to DC was the couple he had just left. They were both fit and healthy now, but Agent Gibbs's job was a dangerous one, and Dr. Mallard's limp seemed to be getting worse, and while his mother had lived into her late nineties, well . . . They hadn't got children, apart from the 'kids' as they called their team, they needed someone to look out for them. To be there for them, or one of them if, when, the worst happened, and in the meantime just if they needed any kind of help. So just as they'd both always been there for Charlie, as he was growing up, it was time he repaid the favor.
He rang the doorbell, as he knew that his grandmother would, by this time of night, have the chain on.
"Charlie. How lovely to see you? I didn't know that you were coming home. Is something wrong?"
"No, Grandma," Charlie hastened to reassure her. "Everything's fine," he added, as he went into the house, shut the door and put his arms around his grandmother to greet her. "I've just got something to tell you."
"Well, come along into the sitting room. Have you eaten?"
"Yes. I've just come from Agent Gibbs and Dr. Mallard's house." Despite the agreement that Charlie would call the couple 'Jethro' and 'Ducky' and they would call his grandmother 'Helen', he knew that his grandmother didn't quite approve - sometimes she seemed to forget that he was twenty-two - but grandmothers did do that. So whenever he referred to them, he never used their forenames. "I wanted to discuss something with them."
He patted her hand. "Don't worry, Grandma, it's nothing sinister. I promise. I just needed to talk to someone else before I spoke to you." He shook his head; he was making it worse. "Okay, Grandma, it's like this. You see, I'm . . ." And he told her.
"Well, Charlie, I must confess, somewhat selfishly, that I am delighted that you're going to be back living nearby. But are you absolutely certain that it is what you want to do? You really aren't just doing it for my sake, are you?"
Charlie took the lined hands and squeezed them. "Yes, I'm absolutely certain it's what I want to do, Grandma. It felt right; you've always told me that when things really matter, somehow we know what's right, well this is right. And no, it isn't just because of you. I told you, I missed you." He bent forward and lightly kissed her cheek.
He wasn't surprised when a moment later she pulled out her lace handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. "Oh, Charlie," she said, and smiled through her tears.
"Guess that makes six."
"Indeed. We are fortunate, are we not, my dear?"
"I know I am. I've got you." And with that Jethro lowered his head, pulled Ducky closer to him, and kissed him.
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