STORY OF A STORY
Something in one of Ducky's stories rings a bell with Gibbs. Never one to let 'sleeping dogs lie', he investigates and finds a surprise in his old friend's past.
A first time story.
Written: July 2008. Word count: 8,033.
It was perfect; everything had gone to plan. Given that he'd planned it like he would a military operation, he guessed he shouldn't really be surprised. But even the things he had no actual control over had been right.
Dinner had been faultless; the choice of restaurant had been ideal; the service first-rate; the food and wine, even given his not particularly sophisticated palate, had been excellent. As for the company . . . Well that couldn't have been bettered.
Now they were back at his house with the front door locked, he could still remember Ducky's slightly raised eyebrows as he turned the key and pushed the bolt into place, sitting side by side on his couch, sipping whiskey – decent, good quality whiskey – enjoying one another's company and chatting quietly.
Nothing could possibly go wrong now.
Jethro put his glass on the table, snagged Ducky's glass and put that down too; again Ducky's gave him a quizzical look in response to the move. He then took Ducky's hand, leaned a little closer and said, "Duck, there's something I have to tell you. I –" His cell phone burbling silenced him. "Fuck!" he grabbed the phone and flipped it open. "Yeah, Gibbs . . . What? . . . Right? . . . Where? . . . Yeah. . . . No, I'll tell him." And he clicked the phone shut. "Dead Marine," he said as he stood up.
He strode from the room, took the stairs two at a time, went into his bedroom and hastily pulled off his suit and tie. As he donned his work clothes he rued the fact that this was not how he'd intended to go into his bedroom or get undressed.
In less than five minutes he was back downstairs, tucking his Sig into his holster, grabbing his cap and ready to go. He paused and looked at Ducky who was standing in silence looking at him. Maybe he should just . . . But no, that wasn't how he wanted it to be.
Ducky moved across the room and stared up at him, his eyes ablaze with emotion. "If what you were going to tell me, my dear, is what I think you were going to tell me, you have no need to worry about my answer. You do not need to seduce me; I am yours more than willingly."
Jethro smiled at him. "Know that, Duck, but I want to get it right with you." Then he bent his head forward and brushed his lips over Ducky's cheek. "Later, Duck," he promised, as he touched Ducky's other cheek with his hand.
During the following two weeks, Gibbs began to feel as if the Gods were conspiring against him, as he barely got to spend even five minutes alone with Ducky, let alone the hours he had planned.
Firstly work was manic; in all his years working for NCIS, Gibbs had never known it so crazy. It was as though every single member of the Marine and Naval personnel had decided to attack someone, commit murder, abduct someone; be attacked, be murdered or be abducted.
There were so many consecutively open cases that McGee had put together a database, which they consulted several times a day in order not to mix evidence and statements up. And so many bodies that Ducky had 'jokingly' - at least Gibbs thought it was jokingly - told him he had Palmer double stacking them. Everyone was working at least a fourteen hour day and he couldn't remember when he'd actually last slept in his bed.
And just when, amazingly, all the Marine and Naval personnel turned into angels or reappeared unharmed, Ducky's mom had fallen sick, and so any plans Gibbs had had for a nice, quiet, romantic, get-to-know-Ducky-in-a-new way again had to be shelved.
It was fast getting to the point where he was close to just grabbing Ducky, finding an empty room somewhere in the building and . . . But apart from the fact that given his luck they were bound to be interrupted, it wasn't the way he wanted his first time with Ducky to be. Ducky wasn't that kind of person. So Gibbs resigned himself to wait it out. Surely something had to go his way soon?
"Ah, there you are, Jethro. I have been looking for you everywhere." Ducky caught up with Jethro outside the interrogation rooms, moved right inside his personal space and smiled up at him.
"Hey, Duck." Gibbs squeezed Ducky's shoulder and returned the smile. He didn't bother telling Ducky that if he really wanted to find him, calling his cell phone would be far speedier than hunting for him throughout the building. After all, if it was something Ducky wanted urgently, he'd do that, and in the meantime at least it meant he got to spend a few precious minutes with his old friend. "What have you got for me?" he asked, after a moment or two of just gazing down at Ducky.
"It's not quite as much as what I have for you now, as what I might have for you later," Ducky replied, lowering his voice and leaning even nearer to Gibbs.
The look Ducky was giving him, combined with his closeness and the way his personal scent suddenly wrapped itself around Gibbs made his desire to grab Ducky and kiss him and so very much more, even more intense. He suddenly felt like a teenager again. He swallowed hard, let his fingertips brush over Ducky's hair and said, "And what might that be, Dr. Mallard?"
"Well, Agent Gibbs, let us just say that Mother is now fully recovered and Helen is paying her a visit tonight. In fact she has asked if she might stay the night as Charlie is at home with a few of his friends."
"And do I assume you said 'yes'?"
"You do indeed."
"Thank God for that," Gibbs breathed.
Ducky smiled. "I hoped you might be pleased."
"You know, Jethro, you really don't have to . . . In fact we didn't have to . . . We could have -"
"Yeah, I do, Duck. And no we couldn't. Told you I'm getting it right with you."
Ducky moved his head a little, tipping it back even further as yet again he took half a step nearer. "I think I should warn you, Jethro, that if you keep looking at me like that, the chances of me refraining from kissing you right here and now are incredibly slim."
Gibbs felt his eyes widen. "Duck," he spluttered, momentarily wondering whether there was anywhere in the corridor that was safe from the prying eyes of the camera. "I -"
But Ducky went on, as if Gibbs hadn't spoken. "Now I really must go and find Mr. Palmer, the young man went to take Abigail something twenty minutes ago and he still has not returned. I shall see you later, Jethro. I trust neither of us have plans to work late into the evening." And with a sultry look and a cool, light touch on Gibbs's wrist, Ducky turned on his heel and walked away.
For a moment Gibbs just stood and stared after him, his mouth slightly open. His body began to tingle in a low level anticipatory way.
Ducky swept into Abby's lab and found Jimmy and Abby talking in what looked like an earnest way. Or rather Abby was looking earnest and frowning a little; while Jimmy just looked confused and somewhat trouble. "There you are, Mr. Palmer. I was wondering just where you had got to."
Jimmy jumped, stood up, tripped over the legs of the stool and nearly fell over. "I'm sorry, Doctor, I was just -"
Abby turned to look at him and beamed. "Hey, Duckman. Jimmy's got something he needs to ask you."
Jimmy looked horrified. "Abby, I -"
"Don't be silly, Jimmy. Ducky's the best person to ask about anything, aren't you Ducky?"
"I'm not certain quite 'anything' is correct, Abigail, there are some subjects were my knowledge is woefully limited. Take the inner details of computers for example; now that is a subject on which I -"
"It's nothing to do with computers, Ducky," Abby said, interrupting him firmly. "And you will know this - it's about medicine."
Ducky blinked and looked at Jimmy who was trying to make himself invisible. "Has something happened at Medical School, Jimmy?" he asked gently.
"No. Yes. That is . . ." Jimmy looked at Abby.
She squeezed his hand and said firmly, "Just tell him, Jimmy. It'll make you feel better."
Jimmy looked at her, looked at Ducky, looked at the door as if calculating the chances of escaping, before looking down at the floor.
Abby nudged him. "Go on."
Ducky carefully sat down on one of the high stools and looked at his assistant. "You'd better do as she says, Jimmy; it's far easier in the long run," he added, shooting Abby a quick look. She beamed at him.
"All right. Last night I caught one of the older students stealing medical supplies. Well I didn't actually catch him as such. But I had seen him going into the supply area. And then I was outside the hospital when he came out and he was behaving furtively, looking around him and . . . Something told me something was wrong and I . . . Well I followed him. I don't know why I did, but I did."
"Which was really brave, wasn't it, Ducky?"
Ducky nodded non-committally; keeping his 'or foolish' thought to himself. "Go on, Jimmy," he said instead. "Where did he go?"
"Down into the really poor part of the city, where the homeless hang out. When I caught up with him he was handing out pills and bandaging and even getting out sutures. He was helping them, Doctor. He was helping people who couldn't afford to pay for medical treatment."
"I see," Ducky said, instantly guessing what Jimmy's dilemma was. "And you don't know what you should do?" he said quietly.
Jimmy nodded. "Yes. I know I should report him, what he did was wrong, but -"
"It wasn't wrong, Jimmy. I told you that. It was the right thing. Those people needed his help and he helped them. You should -"
"Abby." Ducky interrupted her flow.
"I know what he did he only did to help people, but it was still wrong to steal and now I'm -" Jimmy abruptly stopped speaking and began to flush.
"Worried what might happen to you if he is caught and it is discovered that you were aware of it?"
Jimmy nodded and bit his bottom lip; his flush darkened. "Abby said that rather than reporting him, I should be helping him."
"And you should." Abby tone was decisive.
Jimmy looked at her. "But stealing is wrong, Abby."
Abby frowned and crossed her arms. "Sometimes you have to do what's wrong because it's right. Isn't that so, Ducky?"
"Well . . ."
"Has anything like this ever happened to you, Doctor?" Jimmy asked, looking directly at him.
Abby looked at him as well.
As he stared back at his two young companions, Ducky's mind slipped back almost forty years. Surely it wouldn't matter now? And it wasn't as though he was going to go into any real details. And yet it was a story he had never told anyone, not even Jethro. "Well," he said, giving himself a moment or two to re-consider. "There was this one time when I was in . . . ."
". . . . Wow, and you never told anyone, Doctor?" Jimmy and Abby were both staring intently at him.
Ducky shook his head. "No. No one. After all I had made him a promise. Besides, as Abigail said sometimes you have to do the wrong thing because it is right."
"So you think I should help?"
Ducky shook his head, glancing at Abby and silencing her with a stern look. "No. Actually, I do not. The circumstances and the time are much different to my own. What I think you should do, Jimmy, is to take the young man aside, tell him that you know what is doing and assure him that you are not going to report him at this time. And you should also advise him that he should be very, very careful if he intends to continue what he is doing. And then you should make certain you are not alone, outside the hospital again. If, however, you do see him a second time, then I am sorry to say I believe you have no choice but to report him if only, as you say, for the sake of your own future career." Again he looked at Abby and held her gaze; she looked less than happy, but managed a half nod in his direction. He smiled at her.
"Yes, Doctor. I'll do that, Doctor. Thank you, Doctor."
"Good lad," Ducky smiled at Jimmy. "And now, I do believe it is time we went back to Autopsy. Mr. Pearson is not going to conduct his own autopsy."
To Ducky's surprise, Jimmy flushed again. "Um, Doctor, I hadn't quite . . ." He trailed off and glanced at the samples he'd originally been taking to Abby.
Ducky sighed. "Well there is something to which I must attend before we begin work on Mr. Pearson. I will expect you back in Autopsy in fifteen minutes, Mr. Palmer, and not a second longer."
"Yes, Doctor. Of course, Doctor."
Ducky nodded and turned to leave.
"Did you ever find out the man's name?"
Ducky turned back. "Well given the circumstances we both decided it was safer not to exchange names, as such. However, a day or two later I was passing through the base and overheard someone address him as 'Jed', which I believe might well have been short for ' Jedidiah'. Your fifteen minutes start now, Jimmy," and with those final words, Ducky walked across the room and out into the corridor.
"Hey, Duck," Gibbs said, coming to an abrupt halt as Ducky sailed out of Abby's lab.
"And hello to you too, my dear Jethro. I trust that nothing has arisen since I last saw you which will prevent you from completing your work at a reasonable time today?" Ducky beamed up at him.
Gibbs bit back a comment that, given the proximity to Abby's lab, was somewhat inappropriate and instead just shook his head. "Nah, nothing, Duck."
"I am very pleased to hear that. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a pressing matter to which I must attend before I begin the autopsy on Mr. Pearson. And as I gave my young assistant instructions to be back at his post in fifteen minutes, well that was almost a minute ago now of course, I really must ensure that I am there before he is. Goodbye for now, Jethro," Ducky called, as with a smile and a pat on Gibbs's hand, he hurried off.
Gibbs stood and watched him for a moment or two, shaking his head and smiling in what he knew was a fond and indulgent way, before turning back towards Abby's lab. He strode in with the requisite Caf-Pow in his hand.
As the doors close behind him he heard Palmer speaking. "'Jedidiah', what kind of name is that?"
"My dad's name," Gibbs said, his tone almost conversational.
"What?" Palmer jumped and looked at him, his mouth opening and closing like a
"It was my father's name, Palmer."
He watched the color drain from Palmer's face. "Oh, it's a very nice name, Special Agent Gibbs, sir. Er, I must go, Dr. Mallard is expecting me." And before Gibbs or Abby could say anything, he turned around, tripped over his own feet, regained his balance and raced off, moving so quickly he almost managed to hit the doors before they opened for him.
"What was all that about, Abbs?" Gibbs asked, as he handed her the Caf-Pow.
"Thanks. Gibbs," she said, taking it from him and all but inhaling it. He waited as she took a long slurp. "Oh, it was just one of Ducky's stories, from his time in Vietnam. At least I think it was Vietnam, I kind of got lost part of the way through. You know Ducky."
"Yeah, I do. What have you got for me, Abbs?"
Gibbs left Abby's lab and headed to get another coffee. As he walked his mind began to churn and his thoughts returned to the past; to more than twenty years ago; to a time when his father had been alive. It couldn't be? Okay so 'Jedidiah' wasn't exactly a common name, not these days at least, but there had to be more than one Jedidiah in the world who'd gone to 'Nam.
He was just being foolish. Given the number of American troops who'd served in 'Nam and the length of the war, the chances of his dad and Ducky, a British volunteer doctor, being in the same place at the same time were too low to be worth calculating. He'd just forget all about it and instead think about his plans for the forthcoming evening.
Except that wasn't really a sensible topic to think about while at work. Okay, so he'd think about something else: anything.
Except that wasn't how his mind worked. Once he had a puzzle, he had to solve it. Ducky himself had once told him he was like a dog with a bone; he'd never let go. He had to gnaw and gnaw until it was over.
Except there was no puzzle; no bone to gnaw. All there was was a name, a single name and the fact that Ducky might have been talking about 'Nam in connection with the name. Abby had confessed she'd gotten lost during the story, which Gibbs could understand. As much as he loved Ducky, he was sometimes guilty of switching off when Ducky was telling one of his stories. Okay, so it was his father's name, but that was all.
But it wasn't. He knew it wasn't.
By the time he'd got coffee and returned to his desk, he knew what he'd be spending the next few hours doing.
By four o'clock, after pulling in favors, pulling rank, making mild, and not so mild, 'threats', and talking to one of his dad's old surviving friends, he'd leaned a couple of things: Ducky and his dad had been in 'Nam at the same time and the odds were fairly high that they were also in the same province, attached to the same base, at the same time.
He felt vaguely guilty for in effect 'investigating' Ducky, especially as in doing so he'd learned that his old friend was even more self-effacing about his 'military' past than Gibbs had realized. From what the son of one of his dad's fellow Marines had told him, a dozen or more Marines wouldn't be alive today had the 'British Medic' not risked his life to save them.
He also felt guilty because he knew that had he simply asked Ducky when and where he was in 'Nam, Ducky would have told him, and not even necessarily have enquired why Gibbs was asking.
But what was done was done - something Ducky has said, albeit more eloquently more than once - he couldn't undo it. Now he had to decide what to do next - and more importantly when.
"Why don't you just say it, Jethro?" Ducky asked quietly, as he sat by Jethro's side on the couch sipping whiskey. Jethro had suggested they go out for a nice meal again. However, Ducky had firmly vetoed that saying he did not want to risk a repeat of the previous time. So instead they had gone to a local family run pizza house for a quick, but very enjoyable meal, which they were letting settle before moving onto other things.
"Huh?" Jethro shook himself and silently cursed.
"If you have changed your mind and no longer wish to -"
Jethro caught Ducky's hand and squeezed it, shaking his head. "No, Duck. I haven't. I still want to, and still intend to, take you to bed, I want to very much. I want it more than I've wanted anything for longer than I can remember." And he spoke the truth; he did want that.
"Then what is on your mind, my dear?" Ducky asked, turning slightly to look at Jethro. "If you are uncertain about . . ." He trailed off and to Jethro's mild amusement flushed slightly.
He shook his head again. "Nah, it's not that. Not that I've . . . Well, you know. But I'll figure it out," he smiled at Ducky and began to brush his fingers over the back of his hand.
To his surprise, Ducky put his other hand over his and gently put pressure on it. "Please tell me, Jethro," he said, his tone low, reassuring, but tinged with just a hint of the gentle order he so rarely gave; but the one that was always obeyed.
Jethro sighed and leaned back against the back of the couch. He closed his eyes, just for a moment and considered simply pulling Ducky into his arms and kissing him. But he had the feeling that while Ducky might allow it, might even be happy to kiss him back, once the kiss had ended they'd be back to square one: Ducky 'insisting' he told him what was on his mind.
He sighed once more and sat forward again turning to look at Ducky who was still gazing at him. He swallowed twice, took another sip of whiskey and asked the question that he suddenly had a daunting feeling would change so many things. "Duck, when were you in 'Nam?"
Ducky looked at him; the surprise was evident on his face – whatever he'd been expecting Jethro to say or ask, it certainly wasn't that. However, after a moment or two he simply answered the question. "It was 1971; I had finished Medical School and was a newly qualified surgeon. However, rather than seek instant employment in a hospital I decided to volunteer to go to Vietnam. The Americans had a few years earlier appealed for doctors to help in Vietnam and I thought I might be able to be of some use. It wasn't quite as straightforward as I had thought it would be though; your country may have appealed for assistance, but they didn't exactly make it easy to be accepted. Nonetheless, I kept following up my application and was eventually accepted. I spent just under a year working as a surgeon and came home far more qualified and experienced, having carried out procedures I wouldn't have even have dreamt of being allowed to carry out for several years, had I done the 'normal' thing."
As Ducky spoke, Jethro leaned back again and listened to his old friend's voice; it didn't surprise him at all that rather than simply say '1971', Ducky had gone on to explain more. He did tend to have a habit of doing that very thing, and this was a new story. "What was it like?" he asked, partly to delay the, what was fast becoming inevitable – although why he wanted to do that he didn't really know, he only knew his gut was rumbling – and partly because he was always happy to listen to Ducky, and partly because his dad had never spoken of his time in 'Nam.
"The hospital itself was adequate, more than adequate, indeed the operating theatres were better than I had dared to hope they would be. It is true that certain drugs and equipment were in short supply, not to mention the small fact that more than once I, and other members of the medical staff, had to donate blood in order for an operation to even be started – and more than once during an operation. However, despite that it was not bad at all. Of course from what I later learnt, it was helped by the fact that it was part of a Marine base; that tended to improve matters. The biggest shock was the fact that although the place was clean, reasonably well constructed and 'modern', there wasn't one indoor flushing lavatory."
"What were the people like?" Jethro asked.
Ducky put his head on one side and again he looked a little surprised. "The Vietnamese were like people everywhere; some more willing and helpful than others, some a little, or more than a little, underhand. Most of them were kind, generous, willing to go out of their way to help a young stranger fit in, even a young stranger who was, what they considered to be a 'Third Country National', as I was neither Vietnamese nor American. I made two very good Vietnamese friends during my time there, one of whom sadly passed away, that other with whom I am still in fairly regular contact, as well as several other people whom I still remember with fondness."
"What about the Marines themselves? Did you have much to do with them? Make friends with any of them?" As he spoke, Jethro knew his tone was not as nonchalant as he'd hoped it would be.
This time Ducky didn't answer the question directly. Instead he sat forward, put this drink down and put his hand on Jethro's arm. "Why are you asking me questions about my time in Vietnam, Jethro? And why are you particularly interested in the Marines I might or might not have met and/or have known?"
Ducky's tone told Jethro clearly that the time for prevarication had long passed. He put his hand over Ducky's and loosely linked his fingers with Ducky's. "I think you might have known my dad," he said, looking directly into Ducky's eyes.
He watched them widen in complete surprise. "Your father was in Vietnam in 1971?"
Jethro nodded. "Yeah."
"But what makes you think I might have known him?"
"Something you said to Abbs?"
Ducky's back became straighter and although he didn't pull his hand away from Jethro's he stilled and his look became slightly wary. "What did Abigail tell you?" he asked.
"As a matter of fact nothing. Well not really. Just that you'd told her and Palmer a story what might have been about your time in 'Nam."
"Because when I went into Abby's lab, after seeing you, Palmer was asking 'what kind of name is Jedidiah'? And I told him, it was my dad's name." To his surprise and shock, he saw the color begin to drain from Ducky's face and he felt Ducky began to move away from him. The latter was easy to prevent; he just used his extra strength and without being obvious, made sure Ducky couldn't move away.
After a moment or two Ducky swallowed. "Your father's name was Jedidiah?"
Jethro nodded. "Yeah, he went by the name of 'Jed' most of the time."
"But even so, that doesn't mean . . ."
"Come on, Duck. You know what I think about coincidences."
Ducky smiled a little. "Yes, my dear. I do. But they do happen, no matter what you think of them."
Jethro sighed and dug into his pocket; he pulled out a small photo and handed it to Ducky. "Here," he said. "My dad in '71, about to leave on deployment to 'Nam. That's him, isn't it? That's your Jed?"
Ducky looked at the photograph and then looked back at Jethro. "Yes," he said softly. "That is the man I met in Vietnam. I had no idea, Jethro, none at all. Not even for a moment did I even consider the possibility that –"
"Why should you have, Duck? You said it yourself; there were hundreds of Marines there at that time. He died before you and I met and he and I look nothing alike."
Again Ducky looked at the photograph. "No, I must confess you do not."
"Dad used to tease Mom about me being the mailman's son. In truth I look like Dad's Dad, whereas Dad looked nothing like him. Must be a Gibbs thing, we don't look anything like our fathers."
Ducky offered a faint smile, but other than that said nothing.
Jethro waited for a moment or two, before changing his grip on Ducky's hand so he could hold it more tightly and said quietly, "You going to tell me the story you told Abby and Palmer?" Ducky looked away again; he seemed almost distressed. "Duck?"
"If I had had any idea of who the man was, I swear I would never have –"
"Well you didn't, so you did. Come on, Duck, what did Dad do, commit mass murder?" Jethro spoke lightly.
Ducky smiled and even managed a half-chuckle. "No, my dear," he replied, squeezing the hand Jethro held. "It was nothing like that."
"What was it then? And why did you tell Abbs and Palmer?"
"As to the latter, Jimmy has a slight predicament concerning an incident at Medical School. He had told Abigail about it, the poor boy was really quite distressed as well as concerned as to what he should do. Abigail, as is her wont, was somewhat forceful in her view as to what Jimmy should do, and called on me to give my opinion. I am afraid that I didn't necessarily share Abigail's firm view that –"
"Yes, my dear?"
"Oh, yes. I am sorry; I was merely trying to set the stage, so to speak, to establish the reason why I told a story I had never believed I would tell."
Jethro nodded. "Right. And I thought you were just trying to avoid telling me the story." He laughed softly as a faint flush touched Ducky's cheeks. "Ah, Duck," he said, ruffling Ducky's heavy, silky hair. "You know," he added, with a flash of inspiration, "the sooner you tell me, the sooner we can . . ." He deliberately trailed off and raised his eyes towards the ceiling and nodded knowingly.
To his relief, Ducky smiled back at him. "Was I being that obvious?"
Jethro shook his head. "Nah, not really. Most people probably wouldn't even have noticed. But then most people haven't known you for all the time I have. So, we have Palmer telling Abbs something about something that happened at Medical School; her advising him; him not really liking the advice; them asking you what Palmer should do; you not really agreeing with Abby?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes, that's quite precise."
"Good. Just still not sure how it ties in with Dad."
"Ah, well, Jimmy then asked me if I had ever experienced the same thing as he had and I . . . Well, I had, and so, I decided to tell them the story of my time in Vietnam. I really didn't think that it was that important a thing any longer; it was over thirty-five years ago. And as I had no idea of the Marine's name, other than Jed and no idea whether or not he was –"
"Duck. It's all right. You don't need to explain why, just tell me how you knew Dad. Please."
Ducky must have read something in his look that Jethro wasn't even consciously aware he was portraying. "Jethro?"
"Dad never told us much about his time in 'Nam. Make that virtually nothing. I never really thought about it at the time, but now –"
"Now you are wondering why?"
Ducky sat and looked at him, without speaking, for several moments before sighing softly and beginning to speak. "One of my duties involved keeping a close eye on the inventory of supplies. I began to notice one or two discrepancies; at first I put them down to the fact that not everyone was as scrupulous as they should be about making a note of how many bandages they had used, how many painkillers they had taken, etc. etc. It was myself who instigated the count of swabs used at an operation; before that it was down to chance as to whether the patient would end up back on the table with the surgeon having to re-operate to remove a swab they had hitherto been misplaced." Ducky stopped talking for a moment and took another sip of his drink.
"Well, as I said at first I thought it was mere carelessness, but then as time went on, I decided it couldn't be. I watched the surgeons and nurses for several days and found, to my pleasant surprise that almost without exception they were dutifully recording the number of each item taken. And those couple of orderlies who weren't so rigid were not allowed to handle some of the supplies that were going missing, and although they were somewhat slapdash with paperwork, they were good, honest people. I didn't believe they were . . ."
"Jethro. I –"
"Just tell me, Duck."
"I began to notice a pattern to when the items went missing and so one night I decided to lie in wait to see if I could catch the culprit. My intention even then was merely to let him or her know that I was aware of it, give the person a firm warning and let it go at that. I had no intention of, at that time, making an official complaint. As long as nothing else went missing I fully intended to keep silent. Anyway, I waited and waited and waited and it got to the point where I began to believe the culprit was not going to appear. And then he did. I was rather taken aback that he was wearing the uniform of an American Marine. I regret to say I had believe it to be a member of the Vietnamese staff who had been involved. Not that I even then was racist or discriminatory, I do hope you know that, Jethro? Indeed, I was instantly ashamed of myself that I had –"
"Duck. I know you aren't, weren't and never will be. It was the logical conclusion; it doesn't make you bad for jumping to it."
"Thank you, Jethro. As I said I was surprised, but I continued to watch, and then when the man had collected the supplies and left the hospital, I . . . Well, I followed him."
Jethro blinked and shut his mouth with a snap. "You followed him?" His tone was one of incredulity.
"Don't know if that makes you brave or foolish, Duck."
Ducky frowned. "I'm not sure I quite follow, Jethro."
"You followed a US Marine. A US Marine who was about a foot taller than you, a lot heavier and highly trained to kill or maim. You followed him, just like that?"
"Well, yes. I did. Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, looking back with the value of hindsight, I suppose it was a tad foolhardy, but at the time, I wasn't concerned for my safety. It may sound foolish, but I trusted the man."
"Even though he was stealing?" Jethro spoke the word flatly.
"Stealing is such a pejorative term, Jethro. It really –"
"Pejorative or not, Duck. That's what he did. And that was Dad, wasn't it?"
Ducky sighed softly and tightened his grip on Jethro's hand. "Yes," he said softly. "I am afraid it was."
"He was a good man, Duck."
"Yes, I know, Jethro. I know that very well. Pray let me continue. As I said I followed the man –"
"Indeed, I followed your father for quite a distance. I can only assume his mind must have been on where he was going, as he never once hesitated or looked back or gave any hint he thought he was being followed. He finally reached a native - I hesitate to use the term 'village' as it was really no more than a handful of dilapidated huts. And it was there I discovered why he had been appropriating the medical supplies. He was bringing them for the people in the village; they were in a very poor state, Jethro. Malnourished, several with injuries that should have been treated, but hadn't been. One poor young boy had a gangrenous leg. I . . . "
"Why didn't they just go to the hospital?"
"To be honest, Jethro, I didn't stop to ascertain that, what suddenly seemed to be a completely unimportant, fact. Instead I –"
"Rolled up your sleeves and got stuck in?"
"Something like that, yes. Your father seemed shocked to see me, as well as embarrassed. Well, he was a, as you said, highly trained Marine and I, an unmilitary surgeon had not only observed him in the hospital but had also followed him for over two miles across at times very open and rugged countryside. However, I assured him there was no time for shock or embarrassment, as we had a job to do. And we did."
"Then we left. I assured him I had no intention of reporting him. I also advised him he no longer had to take the supplies without consent, and that I would find a way to either get the people from the village to the hospital for treatment or failing that, I promised I would take care of them."
"Because your father was not doing a bad thing, Jethro. To paraphrase something dear Abigail said 'sometimes one has to do the wrong thing because it is right to do so'. Would you have had me turn him in? Abandon the people who needed help? I am a doctor, Jethro. Black, white, yellow, color, creed, nationality, gender nor anything else is of no matter to me. I sometimes believe that had I stumbled across a Viet Con who had been injured that I would have . . ." Ducky trailed off and glanced away.
"Helped him. Yeah, know that, Duck. That's not what I meant. I meant why did Dad help the villagers? Don't get me wrong, I said he was a good man and he was, but . . . Come on, Duck, why that particular village? You can't tell me it was the only one like it. Can you?"
Ducky sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. Then to Jethro's surprise he pulled his hand away from Jethro's grasp, stood up, moved slowly, limping as he always did, across the room, snagged the bottle of whiskey from the cupboard Jethro kept his decent stuff in and returned to the couch. Once there he sat back down and poured a large measure into Jethro's glass and a smaller one into his own. Jethro watched him in silence.
After spending several moments placing the bottle in what seemed to be an exact place and taking a sip and then another from his own glass, before aligning that perfect with the bottle, Ducky took Jethro's hand between both of his and began to speak. "One of the villagers was a young woman, a young pregnant woman. She was in laborer when we arrived and had been for more than thirty-six hours. The baby wasn't due for another two months, but . . . There was nothing I could do; not then. Not even now, not after so many hours. All I could do was assist her. She struggled for several more hours before, almost unconscious with fatigue, she gave birth. It was a little girl; she was so tiny and yet so beautiful, and amazingly given the fact she was eight weeks premature she was breathing. But . . . There were complications. Some of her organs were outside of her body. There was nothing, nothing, Jethro, I could do. Nothing. I was . . . I was newly out of medical school, I'd done nothing beyond the bare minimum required in obstetrics, but even if I'd been a highly trained gynecologist, given where we were, how premature the baby was, the filth that was around, the whole . . . I tried, Jethro. I tried, but . . . I am so very sorry, Jethro. I did everything I could think of. Everything I could remember from my books and then some things I don't think anyone had considered. But it was all to no avail. She lived for three more hours, before . . . I am sorry." Ducky's gaze had never once left Jethro's face, and now he saw tears glistening in the steady, loving stare.
"She was Dad's," he managed, through a throat that suddenly felt tighter than he could ever remember it feeling. "Dad had a daughter. I had a sister."
Now Ducky did, for a moment, close his eyes. "Yes," he said simply. "Yes, my dear. She was indeed your half-sister."
"And the woman, Dad's," he paused for a fraction of a second, trying to choose his word carefully. "Dad's lover," he said quietly.
"The birth had been too hard for her and one of the other women had tried to help, but . . . She was internally damaged, Jethro. Again I tried, we tried, your father gave her blood. I set up a transfusion between them, but . . . There was nothing we could do. But she didn't suffer; she slipped into unconsciousness moments after she held her daughter and really just drifted away. I am so very sorry, Jethro. I –"
"Did what you could. I know that, Duck. You always do. I don't blame you, don't think that. Not at all. I'm not angry with you. I'm not even angry with Dad."
"You're not?" Ducky sounded surprised.
"Be more than a bit hypocritical if I was, wouldn't I, Duck? I was still married to Diane when Jenn and I –"
"It is somewhat different, Jethro."
"Well, it is your father about whom we are speaking. What we might do ourselves is often different from what we expect our parents to do. It would be perfectly natural if you were angry with your father, disappointed in him even." Ducky still held Jethro's hand between his own, and now he tightened the grip a little.
Jethro shook his head. "I never saw Dad or Mom as Saints, Duck. I saw them as human beings. Human beings I loved. Dad's dead and me ranting about what he did more than thirty-five years ago isn't going to change that. Nor is it going to change what happened. You can't change the past - you've told me that, more than once. Dad had an affair, he fathered a child; he must have loved her mom to risk his career for her and her village. A lot of people wouldn't have done that. You know that."
"Well, yes, indeed. That is very true. I observed your father for a mere few hours, Jethro, but what I saw in that time, what I saw when he greeted the young lady, when he held his daughter, the tears he shed when his lover died; how hard he tried to save them both. Yes, he did love her and in those few hours his daughter lived, he loved her too. But that never, not for one second, interfered with the way he loved you and your mother. Of that I am certain. He was not just a good man, Jethro, he was a very good man. He was kind, caring, compassionate, intense, determined; he would have taken the world apart to have saved them had he been able to do so. And now I know exactly from where you got your nature; you may not look like your father, but you are most definitely your father's son."
Jethro swallowed hard, fighting back the tears that he both wanted to shed and wanted not to shed. There would be a time when he would grieve for the baby sister he had never known, and for the woman his father had loved, but now wasn't the time for tears. If Ducky's story had told him and shown him anything, it was that love matters. He also knew that he'd want to know more about Ducky's time in 'Nam, and more about the meeting, or meetings, with his father. But again now wasn't the time.
"If I said 'come to bed with me now, Duck, and let me make love to you', would you think that was inappropriate, given what you've just told me?"
Ducky smiled, leaned a little nearer to him, took one of his hands from where it had covered Jethro's hand and instead put it on Jethro's face. "Oh, no, dearest, no. No, I would not. In fact, I sincerely believe it would be very appropriate. I just need to say one more thing, Jethro. I told Abigail and Jimmy the story about the Marine appropriating the medical supplies to help out the villagers, but I never told them the reason he did it. And I never would."
Jethro smiled. "You didn't need to tell me, Duck. I knew it. I know you, remember. I love you, Duck," Jethro said, covering the hand Ducky had on his face, while echoing the gesture on Ducky's own face. "I love you and this is it for me. We do this, Duck, and it's for good. For life, how ever long that might be. Is that okay with you?"
Ducky shivered slightly, smiled in a way Jethro had never seen him smile, pushed his face into Jethro's palm before learning even nearer to Jethro and brushing his lips across Jethro's. Before Jethro could turn it into a two-person kiss, Ducky pulled back a little. "Oh, yes, my beloved," he said, his voice low and just a little rough with emotion. "It is more than okay with me, much, much, much more. I am sorry to sound like a cheap, romantic novel, but you have given me what I have wanted from the moment I set eyes on you; you have made my every dream come true. I love you, Jethro. I always have and I always will. I love you." And with those words he again put his mouth to Jethro's.
This time he didn't pull back, and Jethro wrapped his arms around Ducky, gathering him into a fierce embrace and began to kiss him back, reveling in the way it felt so right, so perfect, as though he'd been doing it for years, decades, as though he'd been doing it his entire life.
It was over an hour later before they finally managed to part for long enough to make their way from Jethro's sitting room, up the stairs to Jethro's bed.
There they continued the very pleasant task of kissing, embracing, stroking, caressing, mouths, hands and lips meeting skin as they made love to and with one another, their bodies joining and merging in near perfect symmetry.
When the first fingers of the dawn light began to creep into the room, both men were still awake, still in one another's arms, still exchanging gentle, loving, soft kisses.
And as he pulled Ducky just that little bit closer to him, Jethro knew that one of the first things he'd be doing was informing the Director and Personnel of his change of address. After all, it was unfair to expect Mrs. Mallard to move at her age, so he'd simply pack up and move into Ducky's Reston home with him. And to hell with what anyone might think. He'd never cared what people thought of him; their opinions didn't matter, never had done. Except those of the man he now held in his arms; the man he'd spend the rest of his life holding in his arms; the man he loved; the man who he knew loved him – who he knew had always loved him.
"Love you, Duck," he murmured, putting his lips under Ducky's hair onto his ear. He let his eyes close as he took pleasure in the way he could feel Ducky's heart beating against his own chest.
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