Set the same evening as Lt. Jane Doe.
Jethro goes around to Ducky's house to see if his old friend is all right.
Mrs. Mallard answers the door and the conversation that ensues is not only surreal, but gives Jethro more than a little to think about.
But can he believe anything that the old woman has said? And does he want to?
A first time story.
Written: April 2006. Word count: 4,291.
"Jethro. How nice to see you, dear."
"Mrs. Mallard." Jethro nodded to the old woman and smiled. He was slightly surprised to see her answering the door. "Is Du . . . er. Donald," he corrected himself, "at home, ma'am?"
"Yes, dear. He went upstairs a little while ago. He told me not to let any strange men into the house, but I don't think you qualify as that, do you?"
Jethro smiled again. Sometimes he wasn't so sure.
"Well, come in, Jethro. Come in. " She moved back a little, then stopped and stared up at him. "Is that pretty wife of yours not with you, dear?"
Jethro swallowed. "Wife?" he managed.
"Yes, dear. The most recent one. The one Donald introduced you to. Now what was her name? Ah, yes, it was -"
"We got divorced, Mrs. Mallard." Jethro managed to keep the smile on his face, but inside he was aching for Ducky. Even he hadn't realized the true extent of Mrs. Mallard's senility. And yet moments ago she had seemed quite lucid.
"Yeah. Four years ago now." He braced himself for the inevitable ‘I am sorry to hear that, Jethro.'
"Oh, thank goodness for that. Very sensible, Jethro. I never did like her. I told Donald that he should never have introduced you to her. What was he thinking of?" She paused and waited, clearly expecting an answer.
Jethro wasn't certain he had one. In the end he managed a somewhat weak, "I don't think he expected me to marry her."
"No. But at least you've done the right thing now, dear. Not a nice person. Not a nice person at all. Certainly not a lady. No, Donald was very foolish to introduce you to her."
Well that was true, as Jethro's head could attest to. What had she given him other than one more scar to add to his collection? And they weren't just physical ones. He offered a half smile; what on earth did he say? Agree with Mrs. Mallard? Defend his ex-wife?
While trying to decide whether either, or any, response might be appropriate - not that the latter was one he'd make, even under torture - he realized that Mrs. Mallard was speaking again. "But then Donald has always been a little like that."
"Like what, ma'am?"
Mrs. Mallard frowned. Her pale blue eyes, like Ducky's in so many ways, but in other ways worlds apart, gazed up at him. She looked perplexed. "I can't quite remember the word, Jethro, but I believe that it can have connections with sex."
"Sex?" Jethro exclaimed, glancing around him in the hope that something or someone would appear and end this conversation. He was not about to stand and have a conversation about sex with his oldest and closest friend's mother. Hell not with anyone's mother.
"Yes, dear. But I'm certain it is not something that you indulge in, is it?"
Jethro couldn't remember the last time he had been speechless, except in anger. But now he was. "Um," he managed, desperately searching for something to say that might change the conversation.
"I didn't think so. You're not the type, despite the fact that you carry a gun and handcuffs."
Fascinated now in spite of himself, and beginning to wonder if he was actually having a very realistic dream, Jethro said, "Bondage?" He shook himself; what the hell was he saying?
Mrs. Mallard's frown deepened. "No. Not quite. But close. Pain, that's it, Jethro. Pain. There are two letters involved. Oh, dear, why can't I remember?"
How did she even know? Jethro was beginning to wonder just what cable channels the old woman watched when Ducky left her alone.
Mrs. Mallard was now clearly getting quite agitated. Just as Jethro was about to suggest a nice cup of tea, or knowing Ducky's mother like he did, a large gin and tonic, she said, "M&M. No, they are those horrible sweets Donald occasionally buys to bribe the monsters next door, so that I can get some sleep. Jethro?"
The pleading got to him. Telling himself that this couldn't be happening, and that he no longer wanted Ducky to appear, Jethro said, "S&M?"
A smile lit up her face, again making her look almost like a female version of Ducky. "That's it, Jethro," she said, tugging him nearer until she could pull his head down and plant a kiss on his cheek. Channel No. 5 enveloped him. "Now remind me, dear. What do the letters mean?"
"Why do you need to know, Mrs. Mallard?" Jethro said, buying himself a few extra seconds.
"Because of Donald," Mrs. Mallard said firmly.
Now Jethro definitely didn't want to pursue the matter. Ducky into . . . He shook his head. Never! And Ducky's mother knowing about it?
"Jethro," she snapped. "What do they stand for?"
Sighing, but knowing no way out of the situation, Jethro told her.
"Yes, that's it. That's what Donald is." Jethro glanced towards the stairs, once more torn between wanting Ducky to appear and not wanting it. "He's a masochist," Mrs. Mallard said firmly.
Jethro blinked. He really couldn't stand here any longer. He had to say something. "Mrs. Mallard," he began.
"Oh, but he is, Jethro. Certainly where you are concerned."
"Well, yes, dear. Why else would he have introduced you to her when he's in love with you." Mrs. Mallard smiled up at him.
"Excuse me?" Jethro managed. "Ducky's . . ." For once he didn't correct himself.
"In love with you. Yes, dear. Didn't you know?"
Jethro shook his head weakly. "No," he managed.
"Oh, dear. But it's so obvious."
"Oh, yes, dear. Now if you'll excuse me, one of my television programmes is about to begin, and I don't want to miss it. You go on up to Donald's room, dear. You know where it is. Goodnight, Jethro." She tottered off towards the sound of yapping.
"Goodnight, Mrs. Mallard," Jethro responded automatically, watching her go and wondering what reality he had just stumbled into.
As Mrs. Mallard closed the door firmly behind her, Jethro stood silently and still, pondering what to do next. Part of him thought that leaving might be the best idea. However, knowing Ducky's penchant for keeping a well-locked up house - a far more secure one than Jethro himself kept - that would mean dragging the old woman out again to lock up after him. Besides, she'd only wonder what was wrong. Sure he could tell her that duty called, but that would probably end up getting even more complicated.
Besides, her words weren't true. They couldn't be. Thus why would he hesitate to see his old friend? No, it was her senility once more. A conversation that had started off lucid had developed into just the opposite.
Of course Ducky wasn't in love with him. It was ridiculous. He'd known the man for more than twenty-five years, give or take. Granted they'd been times when they hadn't seen one another for months, even a couple of years at a time, but . . . Well, he'd know. He was a trained investigator for heavens sake; he knew how to read people. He knew when they were lying, when they were concealing something, when they were covering something up. He'd have known.
No, for some reason best known to the vagaries of the mind that was Mrs. Mallard's, she had somehow decided that her son was in love with his best friend. It was all part of her illness.
Happy now that he'd sorted it out in his mind, he turned and walked upstairs, and headed for Ducky's room. It was empty; as was the room next door that his friend used as an office, and the one beyond that which he used as a sitting room when he wished to neither sleep nor work, but when his mother was either watching TV, or had the ladies circle in.
Hovering at the door to Ducky's bedroom, Jethro heard the sound of the shower being turned off. Well that explained why he hadn't answered the door. Pausing only long enough to pour himself a glass of the whiskey Ducky kept especially for him in his sitting room, Jethro sauntered into his friend's room and sat down on the bed, Ducky's clothes being draped over the only chair. He waited.
A few minutes later he heard the pleasant sound of Ducky singing to himself; he smiled. Moments later his friend, looking somewhat damp around the edges and faintly pink, appeared in the doorway, drying his hair on a towel.
"Hey, Duck," Jethro said quietly.
Ducky jumped and looked around, blinking quickly. "Oh, my dear Jethro," he said. "You quite made me jump. What are you doing here?" He continued to blink.
Jethro picked the glasses up from the nightstand, stood up and crossed to where Ducky stood, letting the clean, damp, woodland scent, together with just a hint of the formaldehyde that always seemed to follow his friend around, drift around him. "Here," he said, and popped the glasses onto Ducky's nose.
"Thank you, my dear," Ducky said and smiled. "So what are you doing here?" he asked a few moments later, when Jethro just stood and smiled down at him.
Jethro moved back to the bed, sat back down and picked up his glass of whiskey. "Having a drink," he said.
Ducky rolled his eyes. "I am not Tony, Jethro. Please do not be so literal with me."
"That's a fine thing to say coming from the man who taught me how to do just that."
"Did I? Did I really? And I thought it was just part of your natural charm. Well, Jethro? Do you need me for something?"
For a fleeting second an unbidden thought flashed through Jethro's mind. A thought that until ten minutes earlier would never have appeared. Or would it have done? He shook his head, "No, Duck. It's okay, there's no body in need of examining or cutting up. I just came to see you." Ducky cocked an eyebrow. "To see that you're okay. That we're okay," Jethro added.
"Ah," Ducky said, moving across the room to the chest of drawers. "Yes, my dear. I am quite all right, thank you. I have laid my ghosts to rest, thanks to your help. I can't send the poor girl home, but I can put her to rest. As for us . . . Shouldn't I be the one asking that?"
"I did hold out on you, Jethro. Can you still trust me?"
"I've done so for over twenty-five years, Duck. I don't see any reason to change that."
"I am sorry, Jethro. I should have told you."
Jethro stood up and moved across to Ducky, slipped his arm around the shorter man's shoulders and as he'd done earlier during the case, and tugged him slightly against him. Also as earlier, Ducky echoed his gesture and put his arm around Jethro's back. Once again the clean, damp scent teased Jethro's nostrils. "It's forgiven and forgotten, Duck. Okay?" When Ducky didn't answer, Jethro turned him slightly, putting his other hand on Ducky's other shoulder and briefly pulling his friend against his body.
Whether it was Mrs. Mallard's words that made his senses go into overdrive and make him more alert to any slight oddity, he didn't know. However, he would have sworn that as he pulled Ducky against him, that his friend tensed, albeit infinitesimally. The tightening was barely perceptible, probably wouldn't have been to anyone else, but the two old friends were very tactile with one another. It wasn't the first time Jethro had hugged Ducky, but never before had Ducky displayed even a hint of reluctance.
Not wanting to appear as though he was aware of the incongruity, Jethro didn't release Ducky immediately. When he did, he brought one hand up and ruffled the damp, heavy hair. It may have gotten darker over the years Jethro had known his friend, but its thickness and silkiness remained. With a final squeeze of Ducky's shoulder and a smile, Jethro returned to his seat on the bed and once more reached for his glass.
Ducky stood still for a moment and looked at him. "Why don't you go through to the sitting room, Jethro? I'm sure you'll be more comfortable there. I'll join you in a few minutes."
Jethro blinked, but otherwise kept his surprise under control. "I'm quite comfortable here, thanks, Duck," he said, leaning back on one arm.
Ducky looked slightly irritated, but the look had gone in a second. "I wish to get dressed, Jethro," he said finally.
Once more Jethro used his years of training to give nothing away. Instead he said, deliberately using his almost ‘hill-billy'', as Ducky had once called it, drawl, "What's up, Duck? You suddenly grown something I haven't seen before? Or something that I haven't got?"
Ducky just stared at him; a frown appeared and marred his forehead. Then he sighed heavily, glanced away and removed his robe. Jethro found himself watching his friend, really looking at his body, while ensuring that Ducky wasn't aware he was doing so.
He'd seen Ducky naked on many occasions, and had always thought him to be attractive, in the way that a man can think another man attractive. Pale skin, very little body hair, good muscle tone, a lack of scars - unlike Jethro himself - and an agelessness about him that belied his sixty-two years. Yes, Ducky had put some weight on since Jethro had first met him, but it did nothing to detract from his beauty.
Beauty? Where the hell had that one come from?
He forced his eyes away as Ducky pulled on shorts and an undershirt, followed by a dress shirt; his friend was always so formal. When Jethro looked up again, Ducky was buttoning and zipping up his trousers, and had reached for a jacket-style light navy blue cardigan, a gift from Jethro himself the previous Christmas. The only thing different from Ducky's normal attire, was the lack of his customary bow tie.
Ducky picked up a brush from the top of his chest of drawers, and began to smooth the still damp hair into its usual style. He'd worn it in the same style and the same length for all the years that Jethro had known him, never bothering to attempt to obey any of the fashions.
After a few strokes, he put down the brush and turned to look at Jethro. "I am going to pour myself a drink, my dear. Are you still comfortable, or do you intend to join me?" Whatever irritation, if that is what it had been, had fled, and now Ducky merely sounded faintly amused. His blue eyes, which over the years had changed in the opposite way to his hair, becoming lighter rather than darker, twinkled with mirth.
Jethro drained his glass and pushed himself to his feet. "Sure, Duck. I could do with a top up anyway." He let Ducky lead the way; after all it was Ducky's home.
They settled comfortably, drinks in hand, as they always did, onto the sofa. After several minutes of chat, the kind that helped Jethro to remain in contact with what was going on at the office, without necessarily having to listen to all of the gossip, Jethro decided to ask as question.
Leaning back further into the corner of the sofa, he took another sip of the extremely good whiskey and said, his tone nonchalant, "Duck, how lucid is your mother these days? I mean can you believe anything of what she says? Or is it all nonsense?"
Ducky smiled, slightly sadly Jethro thought. The look made him reach across and touch Ducky's shoulder, squeezing it for a moment. "Ah, Jethro my dear. Most of the time Mother talks in riddles. However, there are occasions when she is amazing lucid and accurate, and knows just what is going on around her. I do hope you don't think I'm being cruel when I say that I wish she were never lucid. It's too painful." The last three words were said softly.
This time Jethro didn't merely squeeze his friend's shoulder, he moved along the small gap separating them and tugged Ducky into a gentle embrace, holding him against him for a few minutes and stroking his back. "I don't think you're cruel at all, Duck. I think you're marvelous with her. And for what it's worth, I do understand what you mean."
He held Ducky for another few moments, then with more reluctance than he had ever felt before, let him go. However, he didn't move back to ‘his' corner, he merely resettled himself, so that he was near to Ducky, but not quite touching him.
"Why do you ask, my dear?"
Jethro guessed it was a perfect natural question, but he wished Ducky hadn't asked it. "Oh, no real reason. She just seemed chattier than usual and I just wondered, that's all." Ducky's pale eyes held his and Jethro read clearly that Ducky was aware that Jethro was suddenly prevaricating, but was couldn't work out why. "She did ask me where my wife was," he said, inspiration suddenly hitting him.
"Oh, my dear. I do apologize." Ducky touched his arm, and Jethro was surprised at the sudden tingle that sped up it to his shoulder.
"There's no need, Duck. She also said she told you that you shouldn't have introduced us. I don't think your mother had a great deal of time for the latest Mrs. Gibbs."
"Oh, my dear," Ducky said again. "I really -"
"No, you shouldn't, Duck," Jethro said, interrupting what he knew would be another apology or two. One for his mother, and one for himself. He knew that Ducky still felt illogically guilty for the introduction. "You didn't make me marry her," he added.
"No." Ducky's tone was soft, and tinged with something that Jethro couldn't immediately identify.
They sat in silence for another minute or two, their comfortable, restful silence. Ducky was the only person Jethro knew whose silence made him feel relaxed. Except at the moment he wasn't very relaxed. He was feeling too wound up with the kind of curiosity that you feel when you're not certain whether you want to know something, but know that you have to know. He just didn't know how to go about finding out. He could hardly say 'so, Duck, your mom said you were in love with me, is it true'? Or anything along those lines.
Besides what if Ducky said 'yes'. What would it do to their friendship? What do I want it to do to our friendship? He mentally shook himself; where had that come from?
And what if Ducky said 'no'. What would that do to their friendship? Surely, nothing. After all nothing would have changed. And yet . . . It would have done. Because if Jethro asked the question, it meant that he had given it enough credence to ask, and that meant that . . .
He shook himself again. He was going round in circles now.
Did he want Ducky to be in love with him? Want Ducky to want him? And was it the same thing? Just because Ducky might, or might not, be in love with him, did it necessarily follow that he wanted Jethro?
Surely it did, but . . .
Maybe it didn't.
Maybe it just meant . . .
He shook himself again. "Sorry?" he said, as it suddenly hit him that Ducky had spoken.
"I merely said your name."
"To get your attention."
"Right. Well you have it."
"Jethro. What is the matter?"
"Yes, my dear. The matter. Did Mother say something else to you?"
Damn it. Now what? Thrown into a sudden panic, Jethro prevaricated. "Do you know the kind of thing your mother watches on TV, Ducky?"
To his surprise, Ducky flushed. "Oh, dear. She didn't tell you that, did she? Oh, Jethro. I am sorry. I didn't even know that such things were shown. I came in one day and found her. I was shocked."
"I'm not surprised."
"Mother told me I was being prudish, and that it was only the human body." Ducky sighed.
"I guess it doesn't do her any harm," Jethro said, touching Ducky's shoulder and again feeling a warm sensation travel through his body.
"No. It doesn't. And she has few pleasures left these days, so I don't like to cancel the channels. I'm sorry, my dear, if she embarrassed you."
Jethro tugged Ducky nearer to him. "Hey, Duck. It'd take an awful lot more than that to embarrass me." He slipped his hand into Ducky's still-slightly-damp heavy hair and let the touch linger.
I want to kiss him.
The thought came so forcefully and so loudly, that Jethro could have sworn that Ducky must have heard it. He pulled back. Where had that come from?
Ducky looked at him, a frown creasing his forehead. His blue eyes heavy with puzzlement as well as their usual affection. He covered Jethro's hand with his own, the touch warm, heavy and caring.
Jethro fought to keep a moan of pleasure from escaping, and thanked his lucky stars that he'd put a sweater on, rather than a jacket. It covered more.
"Why don't you just tell me, Jethro?" Ducky's voice was low and calm.
Tell you what? "Tell you what?" Surely he hadn't spoken the words? But he had.
"Whatever it is that is bothering you. Whatever Mother told you that is making your behave so . . ." Ducky's trailed off. His voice remained calm, and his hand still covered Jethro's.
Jethro knew he had to say something. And that he could no longer prevaricate. Ducky knew him too well. And he knew Ducky as well. His dearest friend would keep on at him, albeit in his very gentle 'Duckyish' way, until Jethro told him. He had no choice - not unless he intended getting up and leaving and . . . But that would only delay matters.
He closed his eyes, wishing for a moment that he'd never gone up to Ducky's bedroom. That he'd never even gone around to see Ducky. Whatever Ducky said would change things.
It had to.
And Jethro didn't want things to change.
Or did he?
When he opened his eyes again Ducky was sitting very still, very quietly, just watching him. His presence soothing as it always did, lulling Jethro into a sense of security. Into a sense of well-being.
Slowly he turned his hand over and let his fingers interlace with Ducky's. Apart from widening his eyes slightly and cocking an eyebrow, Ducky didn't move. "Duck," saying the name gave him a microsecond longer. "Your mother told me that you're in love with me." He said the words quietly, keeping his voice as free from inflection as he could.
Ducky didn't move.
Didn't look away from Jethro.
Didn't pull his hand away.
He just sat. Gaze locked with Jethro's. Still. Unmoving. Silent.
For a moment Jethro wondered whether he was still breathing.
Waited for Ducky to say something.
To do something.
But he didn't.
Still he sat like a statue.
And yet there was no tension surrounding him. In fact quite the opposite. To Jethro's surprise, he felt something that had always encircled Ducky fly away. It was something that Jethro hadn't even realized was there.
Not until now.
Until it fled.
The silence continued.
Jethro realized that Ducky wasn't going to speak.
They couldn't sit there holding hands all night. Why not? The little voice piped up.
Jethro suddenly realized that he would be quite content to sit there holding hands all night.
But . . .
"Duck," he said softly. "Is it true?"
And that was it.
He'd asked it.
With three words he had changed everything.
No, his answer will.
He ignored the voice.
Waited for Ducky to launch into one of his long, rambling speeches.
Waited for him to prevaricate.
"Yes." Quiet. Calm. Firm. Flat. Accepting. Decisive.
For a moment Jethro didn't know what to say. So many things raced in and out of his brain. But none of them seemed adequate. So he did what he did best. He used what he used best.
Actions. Not words.
He did what he'd wanted to do since the moment Mrs. Mallard had made her revelation. What, if he was being honest with himself, he'd wanted to do for much, much, much longer than that.
He leaned towards Ducky, not that he had far to go; somehow, at sometime they'd moved even nearer to one another. He slipped the hand not holding Ducky's into his hair, pulled gently, found Ducky's mouth and kissed him.
Several hours later Vanessa Mallard smiled to herself as she got ready to go to bed.
Donald was finally going to be happy; he had got what he'd been wanting for over twenty-five years. At least now when she left him, he would have someone special to care for him. A mother never stops being a mother, whether her son is two or sixty-two.
Maybe as a mother she should be shocked, horrified, disgusted even that her son was in bed with another man. But to Vanessa love was love. Her beloved Donald loved Jethro, and dear Jethro loved her son, and that was all that mattered.
As she turned off the light, Vanessa did what she did every moment she flickered back into reality and lucidity, moments that were becoming fewer and fewer. She prayed for release.
For both her and Donald.
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