SEASON OF MISTS
A chance quotation of poetry leads to a very special gift being given.
An established relationship story.
Written: September 2007. Word count: 3,285.
22ND OCTOBER 2007
"Good morning, Jimmy," Ducky called as entered Autopsy. He put his briefcase down on the floor and rubbed his glove-clad hands together. "My, my, today really is a fine example of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, is it not?" He smiled at Jimmy.
"Er," said Jimmy, offering his boss a half-smile.
Ducky shook his head and looked at Jimmy. "Oh, dear, dear, dear, what do they teach you children today?" He went on before Jimmy could decide whether or not he was offended by the term ‘children'. "I was quoting from the works of John Keats. The Romantic poet," he added. "He was born at the end of the eighteenth century and died as a very young man."
"Um," said Jimmy, frantically searching through his vague memories of English Literature lessons. But the name meant nothing to him.
Ducky was still staring at him, his half-exasperated, yet patient ‘teacher' look was clear for Jimmy to see.
The look told Jimmy that he was about to get a lesson in poetry of all things. But he didn't mind, not really; he often thought he'd learned far more about English, history and geography, in fact about most subjects, from his time working with Ducky, than he ever had done at school. He smiled, this time brightly, and tried to look encouraging.
"Maybe you'll recognize the name of poem from which I was quoting, even if you do not recognize the poet or the words." Ducky's tone, however, did not contain a great deal of hope or expectation. Absurdly Jimmy was glad to hear the tone; in fact he knew it was a good thing that Ducky's expectations weren't high, because he hated it when he disappointed his dear doctor. "It is one of his odes, probably one of the more well known and beloved ones. Indeed, it is certainly one of my favorites, which is not an easy thing to say, given how fond I am of all of Keats's works. In fact I remember – oh, where was I?"
"You were telling me the name of the poem you quoted from."
"Ah, yes. Well to be precise it is an ode, but poem will suffice. It is called To Autumn and the line that I quoted is in fact the opening one."
Jimmy shook his head. "I'm sorry, Doctor. I guess our English teacher didn't care much for Keats. But go on," he said quickly, as he saw Ducky frown, "tell me some more."
It was the right thing to say, because Ducky positively beamed with pleasure and began to speak.
"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core."
His voice, as it always did when he ‘lectured' or quoted from books, took on a slightly different quality from his everyday one. Not for the first time, Jimmy realized just what an excellent teacher Ducky would have made, had he chosen that profession rather than medicine. Selfishly he was glad that Ducky had felt that educating the young wasn't for him, and that he failed to picture himself giving ‘long, rambling, esoteric lectures'. Jimmy smiled to himself as he remembered the time his boss had said those very words to him.
"Well, Mr. Palmer?" A very slightly edge touched Ducky's voice.
"Um, very nice, Doctor," Jimmy hastened to say and smiled. "Very um. Autumny," he added brightly.
Ducky rolled his eyes. "The word, Jimmy, is ‘autumnal'."
"Oh, yes, I know, Doctor. I was just . . . Shall I fetch you a nice cup of tea?" Jimmy said in an attempt to placate Ducky.
For a moment the pale blue eyes that were so very expressive looked at him. Then Ducky shook his head several times, and said, his tone, gentle, "Yes, please, Jimmy, that would be very agreeable. Oh, and, Jimmy," he added swiftly.
"Yes, Dr. Mallard?" Jimmy said, coming to a stop in front of the automatically opening doors.
"Please do not forget to warm the pot this time."
"Yes, Doctor. I mean, no, Doctor. I –" And with that, Jimmy hurried out of the room.
He wasn't certain, but he thought he heard gentle chuckles coming from the room he'd just left.
19TH DECEMBER 2007
Gibbs glared at his computer that had the temerity to flash up an ‘Urgent Read At Once' email message.
He knew what it would be. And he didn't need reminding.
He knew he had less than forty-eight hours to find his ‘Secret Santa' – where the hell had Jenn come up with that one? – gift for Ducky. But given that he'd been trying for over a month, he didn't know how he was going to find something in the time he had left.
Why she'd come up with the idea in the first place he didn't know. Well he did, she was trying to rebuild some of the team spirit that she'd destroyed when she'd gone on her personal vengeance mission against the Frog, nearly got DiNozzo killed, and went behind Gibbs's back with his team.
Her idea had been that each member of the team would be given the name of another member of the team, and he or she had to buy a Christmas gift for that person. But she hadn't stopped there; oh no, that would have been too simple. Instead she'd put stipulations on the gift, for example Abby couldn't be bought black flowers, or Ziva a weapon.
Thus when he'd been handed Ducky's name and had thought how easy it was, he'd just give him one of the excess of presents he'd already bought him, he found he couldn't. Because most of what he'd bought for Ducky had been ruled out, and those that weren't, weren't the kind of gift Gibbs was going to give Ducky publicly.
Now had he gotten DiNozzo's name it would have been easy, because DiNozzo had spent the past month dropping ‘subtle' hints to the person who'd be buying his gift as to exactly what he wanted. In fact Gibbs had gotten so tired of hearing the same thing over and over again, he'd been very tempted to just buy the blasted thing himself and give it to DiNozzo. The only thing that had stopped him was that it wouldn't be fair on the person who'd been given DiNozzo to buy for.
He had no idea who'd been ‘gifted' with him, and if Ducky knew, he wasn't telling. Part of Gibbs did feel sorry for the person, because Jenn would have ruled out the one ‘safe' gift that anyone could ever buy Gibbs: bourbon. But then given the kindergarten mentality that had descended over the office during the last few days – there had been a distinct lack of marine and naval murders recently – his pity didn't go very far.
He sighed and rubbed his eyes. He had to come up with something, if for no other reason than he wasn't about to leave Ducky without a gift. He knew he could ask Ducky what he wanted, but his pride, not to mention the buried-deeply-but-still-in-existence streak of ‘fair play', wouldn't let him.
He could ask Abby, but she'd be disappointed in him, and he wasn't certain she'd completely forgiven him for going off to Mexico, returning and being what she considered un-Gibbsish, and then taking up, albeit reluctantly and for a brief period, with Lieutenant Colonel Hollis Mann.
No, Abby was out. And none of the other kids really knew Ducky, certainly not enough to know what Gibbs himself didn't know! Besides, asking DiNozzo, McGee or Ziva would hardly look good; he was the one who was meant to know Ducky; he was the one who could finish his stories for him; he was the one who didn't just go down to Autopsy when –
Autopsy! That was it. Why hadn't he thought of it before? Palmer! He'd know; well, he'd have more chance of knowing that anyone else. And Gibbs feeling foolish wouldn't apply to Palmer, because Palmer was so in awe of him, so scared of him, that it would never cross his mind to think any less of Gibbs for not knowing what Ducky would like. But how could he speak to Palmer alone, without arousing Ducky's suspicions?
And then, as if the Gods were, for once, looking favorably on him, Gibbs looked up and saw Ducky come into the squad room. Except, he knew, of course Ducky would be coming to see him; he always did track Gibbs down when he wanted him, whereas if, on the very rare occasions, he did want one of the kids, he'd call them. He cursed himself, but for the first time in the three and a bit decades they'd known one another for, the few months after he'd come back from Mexico notwithstanding, Gibbs did not really want to see Ducky.
Thus when Ducky just waved cheerfully at him and called out a greeting, before continuing on his way to Ziva's desk, Gibbs was momentarily speechless and didn't know whether to feel pleased or put out.
Shaking his head and telling himself that there had to be a murder soon, because the festive mood was clearly affecting him, he stood up, ignored the look DiNozzo gave him and strode out of the room.
Jimmy was just labeling the last specimen jar, just because NCIS hadn't had any murders, it didn't mean that Ducky hadn't got any bodies to dissect, prior to taking them up to Abby, when the door swished open.
He turned around with a smile, expecting the person to be Ducky. "I'm just about to . . . Oh, hello, Special Agent Gibbs sir," he stuttered. "I'm afraid Dr. Mallard isn't here, sir."
"Can see that, Palmer."
"Would you like me to . . ." Jimmy gestured towards the desk and the specimen jar he'd been holding flew through the air.
Before he could move to pick it up – amazingly it hadn't broken – Gibbs beat him to it, squatted down, grabbed it and put it on one of the empty tables.
Jimmy swallowed hard. "Thank you, sir," he managed. "Would you like me to find Dr. Mallard for you?"
Gibbs shook his head. "No need, Palmer. It's you I've come to see."
"Me?" Jimmy heard himself squeak.
Gibbs nodded once, grabbed Jimmy's arm and guided him out of Autopsy and into the elevator.
Jimmy swallowed and desperately tried to think of something to say.
The car traveled upwards for a few seconds. When Gibbs pushed the emergency stop button, Jimmy swallowed even harder. "Special Agent Gibbs, sir, I –"
"Shut up, Palmer." Gibbs snapped, but his tone wasn't an unfriendly one; nor was the look he was giving Jimmy.
Jimmy swallowed hard – again. "Yes, sir," he managed.
"And stop calling me ‘sir'," Gibbs growled.
"Yes, sir. Er, Special Agent Gibbs."
Gibbs just rolled his eyes. "Palmer," he said, his tone patient. "I have to buy Ducky a gift and I need your help."
"Mine? But surely you . . ." Jimmy trailed off. And then he realized, and smiled. "You're going to be Dr. Mallard's Secret Santa. I was lucky too; I've got Abby. Oh, I shouldn't have told you that. You won't tell anyone, will you? Not that you would, of course. I know that. But -"
The use of his given name silenced Jimmy instantly. He pressed his lips together, ordered himself not to interrupt again and waited.
"You're right, Palmer. I have been given Ducky's name and," for a moment Gibbs broke off. Palmer watched him carefully and suddenly he saw something he never thought he'd see: Gibbs uneasy, uncertain, ill at ease.
Jimmy waited and tried to look encouraging. Then he found himself saying, "I suppose it is difficult after all the years you've known one another."
"Yeah," Gibbs said, his tone softer than usual; soft in the way it only ever was when he talked to or about Ducky. Jimmy wondered if Gibbs knew how much his voice changed. "It's not just that, it's these damned silly restrictions the director gave us. Anyway, I just wondered if Ducky'd mentioned anything, you know like DiNozzo's been doing."
"Dr. Mallard would never ask for anything, Special Agent Gibbs, sir. You should know that," Jimmy said forcefully, forgetting for a moment how frightened he was of Gibbs.
To his surprise the dark, harsh gaze, softened very slightly and Gibbs's lips twitched upwards a little. "Yeah, Jimmy," he said, his tone more gentle than usual. "I do. Didn't mean to imply he would. It's just you're with him probably more than any of us, at work at least, and I wondered if he'd mentioned anything, you know when he talks to you."
Jimmy frowned. "Oh, dear. I don't believe he – ooh, wait. Yes he did, Keats."
"John Keats, the eighteen century English poet. Dr. Mallard was quoting one of his poems, To Autumn, a few weeks ago and he said how much he liked him. Maybe you could buy him a book of Keats's poems." Jimmy smiled brightly at Gibbs.
"If he likes him that much, he'll have all his works."
"But that won't matter, Gibbs. Dr. Mallard has told me before that he has several copies of his favorite authors, many bought for him as gifts. And he keeps and cherishes them all, because of the person who bought them for him. He loves books, and he loves y-," Jimmy coughed. "Keats, so he'll like it. I know he will."
Gibbs still looked dubious. But then he shrugged and said, "I haven't got any other ideas, so yeah, I'll do that. Thanks, Palmer." He pushed the emergency stop button again, followed by the down button, and the elevator started to move again.
As the door opened Ducky appeared; he did not look very happy. "There you are, Mr. Palmer. I thought I told you not to –"
"Sorry, Duck," Gibbs said swiftly, moving past Jimmy and touching Ducky's arm. "It's my fault. I needed Palmer to do something for me."
As Jimmy watched a brief frown crossed Ducky's face, before fading away to be replaced by the gentle, fond look his boss always had, the time after Gibbs had returned from Mexico aside, for Gibbs. "Oh, that's all right, my dear," he said, his tone as soft as his look.
Suddenly feeling, as he'd done on more than one occasion, that he was intruding, Jimmy hurried away, muttering about taking the specimens up to Abby.
TWO DAYS LATER
Gibbs sat on the edge of his desk watching Jenny hand out gifts. His head ached and he'd decided that if someone else didn't murder someone soon, he just might very well do it himself. He'd had enough of being cooped up in the office; the fact that he now had no unread emails in his inbox did not give him cause for ‘celebration', quite the opposite in fact. He was –
"Hello, my dear. You know you really should try to look as though you were not wishing you were hunting down a murderer, or indeed thinking about committing one, rather than being here with your colleagues enjoying the spirit of Christmas." Ducky spoke softly, as he sat down carefully next to Gibbs.
Immediately a large part of Gibbs's irritation fled, as it always did in Ducky's presence. "Sorry, Duck," he murmured. "You're right, it's just –"
"That you are tired of being stuck behind your desk and not busy. Oh, Jethro, what are we going to do with you when you have to retire."
Before Gibbs could answer, the heavy scent of Jenny's perfume announced her imminent arrival. With an ‘I'll show you later' look at Ducky, he forced a half smile and looked at her. "Director," he said.
"Jethro," she nodded at him before turning her attention to Ducky. "And here is your gift, Ducky. I do hope that you will like it." She shot another swift glance at Gibbs.
"Thank you, Jennifer. I have no doubt that I shall. After all it will have been bought for me by someone about whom I care, that alone will make it special." Ducky took the parcel from her hands and smiled at her.
He opened it with his usual care and precision and looked down at the contents. His soft expression of pleasure warmed Gibbs. Rather than buy a book that contained all of Keats poems, Gibbs had found a smaller hardbound, very tasteful looking, book of selected poems, including the one Palmer had mentioned. He'd also added a second book, one about the life of Keats.
With the reverence Ducky always showed books, he gently opened the book of poems and silently read the dedication. Knowing Ducky as he did, Gibbs hadn't despoiled the book by writing in it; instead he'd bought a bookplate, but rather than stick it into the book, he'd left it loose.
"Thank you, my dear Jethro," Ducky said quietly, as he turned his attention to Gibbs. His words were simple and few; his eyes, however, said far more.
"My pleasure, Duck," Gibbs replied, and squeezed Ducky's shoulder. As he looked at Ducky for a moment he let the shields he habitually erected each day at the office tumble, and joined Ducky with saying more with a look than with words.
LATER THAT NIGHT
"These really are particularly fine books, Jethro." Ducky looked up from the book of poems and smiled happily at Jethro.
"Glad you like them, Duck." Jethro smiled back at Ducky, sitting next to him on the comfortable sofa. In front of them on the coffee table were two heavy cut glasses, both containing a very friendly amount of fine whiskey. The fire had been lit, the lights were bright enough to allow Ducky to read, but not so bright as to dazzle, and all in all Jethro felt at peace with the world.
He didn't even mind the fact that from time-to-time Ducky would read him snatches from the various poems in the book he held. In fact he rather liked it. He wasn't sure he enjoyed Keats as much as Ducky seemed to, but at least he found he understood the lines more easily than he understood some poetry, or stuff that claimed to be poetry, but Jethro didn't believe was. At least Keats felt like poetry.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
"Huh? Sorry, Duck, did I miss something?"
Ducky smiled and moved a little closer to Jethro. "No, dear. I was merely quoting the two most discussed lines in all of Keats's poetry. The come from his Ode On A Grecian Urn. Scholars have argued, and will no doubt, go on doing so, as to the meaning of them, and to whom they were addressed."
"Guess I won't try to work them out then," Jethro said, snagging Ducky's glass and then his own from the table. "Although they sound far simpler than some stuff."
"Umm, I think that is one of the reasons they are so often disputed. But enough of Keats's poems - for now," Ducky added.
Jethro laughed gently. "Just glad I found something you really liked, Duck."
"Yes, indeed you did, my dear." Ducky paused for a moment, took a sip of his whiskey and looked directly and intently at Jethro.
After a moment or two, he added, "And it is also very reassuring to know that Mr. Palmer does in fact listen to me."
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