MISTLETOE AND MULLED WINE
Mrs. Mallard insists on Ducky inviting his colleagues over for a Christmas drink.
An established relationship story.
Written: December 2006. Word count: 4,233.
"Hey, Duck, is something up?" Gibbs looked up as his old friend and lover came into the squad room and crossed over to his desk.
"Hmmm? I'm sorry, my dear, what did you say?"
Frowning, Gibbs stood up and beckoned Ducky nearer to him; he bent the brim of Ducky's hat back, so that he could see Ducky's face and eyes. "I said is something up? You look as though you've got something on your mind." Then the most logical thing it might be, hit him. "Is it your mom? Has something happened?"
Ducky smiled. "I'm sorry, Jethro. I confess I am a little distracted. Oddly enough, the answer to your question is both yes and no. It is Mother, but nothing has happened, at least nothing sinister."
"Well? What is it? Come on, Duck, tell me."
"As I was leaving for work, Mother asked me when my colleagues were joining us for a Christmas drink."
Gibbs blinked. "Have I missed something?"
"No, dear. It is my fault. Just over two weeks ago, Mother mentioned how nice it would be if I invited you all over to the house. I am afraid that I choose not to say anything, as I believed she would forget about it. However, it appears that she hasn't."
"You got a problem with us all coming over, Duck? Even DiNozzo's housetrained."
"It's not that, Jethro, as you well know. I would be more than delighted to entertain you all, if only . . . Oh, dear, that is a terrible thing to even think. It is just that Mother's behavior can be very inappropriate at times. I still feel embarrassed every time I recall what she said to Caitlin."
Gibbs hadn't heard this one; or if he had, he'd switched off. "What did she say?"
To his amazement, Ducky blushed slightly. "Oh, dear, haven't I told you? It really doesn't matter, Jethro. I –"
"Ducky," Gibbs growled in his mock annoyed, Ducky-affectionate manner.
Ducky sighed. "She asked, nay demanded, that Caitlin showed Mother her knickers. Poor Kate, for a moment she didn't know what to say. However, she quickly recovered and handled it marvelously, I must admit, but I was so embarrassed; I found it extremely difficult to look Kate in the eye for several days."
"Ah, Duck, I'm sure that Kate had forgotten all about it, even before the evening was over. She understood, I know she did. And the kids will too. Of course we'll come."
"I don't know, dear. Can you imagine Ziva's reaction if Mother asked her to show her her knickers? Oh, dear. The thought . . . "
"Ziva'll be fine, and you know it, Duck. You're just looking for excuses. But they won't work. Oy," he called, letting go of the brim of Ducky's hat and turning towards the team.
DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva looked up at him. "Yes, boss?" DiNozzo asked.
"Ducky's mom's invited us over for a drink before Christmas. Sort out a date between the three of you by the end of today and let me know."
"You know, boss, that's really kind of Mrs. Mallard, but I think that I'm -"
"It wasn't a suggestion, DiNozzo."
Ducky touched his arm and said softly, "Jethro, I really don't -"
"Shut up, Duck," Gibbs said, his tone heavy with affection. He turned back to face his friend. "Now what about Palmer and Abby?"
"Jimmy will, I'm sure, be able to fit in with any arrangements; I do not think the poor boy has been invited to many parties. And I'm fairly certain that Abigail will also be willing to -"
"Willing to what? And please don't call me 'Abigail' Donald, you know I don't like it." But as Abby said the words she beamed.
Ducky smiled up at her. "Strictly speaking, dear, I wasn't calling you 'Abigail', I was merely using the name when referring to you."
Abby frowned and glanced at Gibbs. "Do you ever win that kind of argument with him, Gibbs?" she demanded.
Gibbs shook his head. "Nah, gave up trying a long time ago, Abbs."
"So what is it I'll be willing to do?" She looked from Gibbs to Ducky and grinned at each of them.
"Ducky's mom's invited us all round for a drink one evening. I've told this lot," he nodded towards his field team, "to agree on a date by the end of today. Ducky reckons Palmer will be able to fit in with any date. So that just leaves you."
"And me, or does the invitation not extend to me?" Gibbs glanced around. He hadn't heard Jenny appear; nor oddly, had her heavy scent preceded her. She was still wearing her outdoor coat and carrying her briefcase.
"Of course it does, Jennifer," Ducky hastened to assure her, after a swift glance at Gibbs. "I am sure Mother would be over-joyed to know that the Director of NCIS was going to be in her home."
"That's settled then. You can let me know what evening you agree on, Jethro, and I'll make sure that Cynthia puts it in my schedule." With that, she turned on her heel and walked away towards the stairs leading to MTAC and her office.
"If anyone's interested," Abby said, pulling Gibbs's attention back to her. "I'll make any evening too. Don't want to let the Duckman down, and I'd like to see your mom again. Ooh," she added, bouncing where she stood.
"Good 'ooh' or bad 'ooh', Abbs?"
"Good. I know just what to buy your mom, Ducky. Must go," and with that, pigtails flying, she hurried across the office.
"You don't need to buy Mother anything, Abby," Ducky called. She ignored him.
Simultaneously Gibbs called. "What did you come up here for, Abbs?"
She stopped abruptly and turned around. "Sorry, Gibbs. Just to let you know that Ducky was right about Franklin, it was heroin cut with rat poison. Got to go. Lots to do." And before Gibbs could add anything, she's vanished.
"Jethro, people don't have to bring anything for Mother," Ducky said, again touching Gibbs's arm; he sounded worried.
Before Gibbs could say anything to reassure his friend, Ziva spoke. "Of course we do, Ducky. When one if invited to someone's house, one takes something, yes? A bottle of wine or a gift, for example. That is correct, is it not? It is not the custom?"
"Well, yes, Ziva, but . . ."
Gibbs put his hand on Ducky's shoulder. "Give it up, Duck. You've lost."
Ducky looked up at him. "Oh, dear. I do hope -"
"It'll be fine, Duck. Now come on, I'll come down to Autopsy with you. I want to have another look at those marks on our John Doe. Have you any idea yet what might have caused them?" He put a hand on Ducky's shoulder to turn him around, and began walking towards the elevators.
Ducky obeyed and began to move. "Well, actually, Jethro, I believe that I do have a possible solution. You see . . ."
Tony watched until Gibbs and Ducky were out of sight, or more importantly out of earshot - not that not being within hearing or sight distance seemed to stop Gibbs from knowing what was going on, but it made sense not to make things too easy for him - before leaning forward across his desk and hissing at his coworkers. They looked up. "I vote for not finding an evening that we can all agree on. Gibbs can't make us go to Ducky's."
"I wouldn't place any bets on that, DiNozzo," McGee said, and Ziva nodded in agreement. "Why don't you want to go to Ducky's, anyway? Free drinks and food, just your kind of thing."
"It's not going to Ducky's that's the problem, it's his mother."
"What's wrong with her, Tony?" Ziva asked.
Tony glanced around the office again, and lowered his voice. "She's crazy."
"She's not that bad, Tony."
"You didn't meet her, McGee. You don't know what she's like. She carries a knife in her bra."
"What a sensible lady."
"I might have known you'd approve, Ziva. I tell you what, you and she can compare places to hide weapons."
"I'm sure that Ducky will make sure she isn't armed, Tony."
Tony glared at McGee. "It's not just that, Probie. I spent an afternoon with her and I ended up rearranging half of the downstairs' furniture. And if that wasn't bad enough, Gibbs made me move it all back again. It wasn't my fault; I didn't suggest I move it. It was all her idea."
"Why did she want you to move the furniture, Tony?"
"How should I know, Ziva? I told you she's crazy. She just insisted, at knifepoint! And if that wasn't bad enough she kept calling me -" Tony came to an abrupt halt.
"Calling you what, Tony?"
"Yes, go on, Tony, you should not keep secrets from your coworkers," Ziva added.
Knowing he was beaten, Tony hissed, "A gigolo. An Italian gigolo. It's not funny," he added, as Ziva and McGee began to laugh. "And she made me bath and dry her blasted dogs."
"She has dogs?"
"Yeah, dozens of them."
"I think that's an exaggeration, Tony."
Tony glared at McGee. "Well it felt like dozens when I was trying to get them back into the house. No, I'm not going. You can both do what you like. I am definitely not - Ouch. Thank you, boss. Friday suit you two?" As he rubbed the back of his head, he looked across at Ziva and McGee; both were smiling. Gibbs was walking away from him; he wondered if he'd ever work out how his boss managed to sneak up behind him unnoticed.
Jethro was already at Ducky's house when the kids and Jenny turned up. As the doorbell rang, he kissed Ducky lightly once more on his nose, and briefly tightened his embrace before letting him go. "It'll all be fine, Duck," he promised, as he brushed his hand over Ducky's hair.
Ducky offered him a half smile. "Yes, my dear. If you say so," he said. However, he didn't sound convinced.
Ignoring the bell as it sounded for a second time, Jethro tugged Ducky back into his arms and kissed the tip of his ear. "It will be, Duck," he said, making his tone the one which even Ducky did not argue with.
This time the smile Ducky gave him was genuine; he stroked Jethro's face. "With you here, dearest. Everything is always all right."
Jethro winked at him. "Now answer the door."
"Yes, dear," Ducky said obediently.
Ducky's mom was 'doing her face', watched over by Mrs. Patterson, who upon hearing about the party, had insisted on coming over to 'help Donald'. The Corgis were, at Ducky's insistence, safely secured in the kitchen and Ducky's mom's nurse had gone out for the evening. In the dining room, the table and sideboard were covered with food and drinks, including some mulled wine that Ducky had been making since he and Jethro had arrived home from the office.
"Thank you all for coming, my dears," Ducky said, once they'd all gathered in the hallway. "Now do let me take your coats, otherwise you won't feel the benefit of them when you go out again."
"It's all right, Duck, I'll take them," Jethro touched his shoulder. Stress was already beginning to show in his lover's tone, but then it had been hovering from the moment he'd gotten into Jethro's car to be driven home; or, if Jethro was honest, considerably longer.
He suddenly wondered if he'd been unfair to his old friend in basically forcing the party on him. It wasn't that Ducky didn't like parties or entertaining, he did, but Mrs. Mallard was indeed becoming even less reliable than before. Never mind, a few glasses of wine would help everyone, even DiNozzo, who seemed to be waiting for an axe murderer to make an appearance.
"Thank you, my dear," Ducky said, his tone grateful, he smiled up at him lovingly. "Now why don't we all go through into the dining room and I'll pour everyone a drink."
"Where's your mom, Ducky?" Abby asked, clutching the somewhat oddly shaped parcel she carried.
"In her room, titivating herself, I'm afraid. I'm sure she'll join us soon enough. She has a friend with her, our neighbor, Mrs. Patterson. You'll like her, she's . . . " Ducky trailed off.
"Sane?" DiNozzo blurted out. He winced as Jethro's hand made contact with his head. "Sorry, Ducky," he said.
Ducky shook his head and patted DiNozzo's arm. "Please do not apologize, Anthony. You are quite correct, poor Mother," he sighed.
Jethro moved around the group and put his hand on Ducky's shoulder. "It'll be okay, Duck," he said softly. "Now about those drinks. I can recommend the mulled wine - just don't ask what's in it. Ducky won't even tell me."
It eased things considerably; everyone began to talk at once as they all gathered around the sideboard, where the drinks stood.
"Smells great, Ducky," DiNozzo called.
"Thank you, Anthony." Ducky beamed. "Would you like me to take that for you, Abby?" The others had all handed over their parcels, which were all gifts for Mrs. Mallard, to Ducky.
"No." As Abby clutched the parcel protectively to her, a muffled sound filtered out into the room. As one, the group turned to look at her.
"You didn't, Abby," DiNozzo said, looking at her; he gave her a wide-eyed look.
"Abbs," Jethro growled.
Even McGee stared at her in surprise.
"What?" she demanded.
"Oh, Abigail," Ducky sighed. "Oh, dear."
"But she loved mine, Ducky. She really did. What harm can it do? And it took me forever to find one. I even thought I'd have to give her Bert."
"Bert?" Jenny turned to Jethro.
"Her hippo," he said.
"Her farting hippo," DiNozzo clarified. "This tastes great too, Ducky," he added, swallowing half of the glass of mulled wine.
Ducky beamed at him. "Why, thank you, Anthony. Jethro assured me that it did, but knowing the kind of liquor he is used to drinking, one can never be certain."
"So is it okay, Ducky?" Abby pleaded, grabbing Ducky's arm. "Please say it's okay." With her other hand she continued to hold the parcel tightly against her.
Ducky glanced at Jethro who just raised his eyebrow. Then he turned to Abby, smiled, took her arm and said, his tone reassuring, "It is fine, Abby. Thank you. Mother will love him. I am sure."
"Donald?" Mrs. Mallard's voice rang out from the hallway.
"I think they are in the dining room, dear," Jethro heard Mrs. Patterson say.
"What are they doing in there?"
Ducky hurried towards the door. "We're just getting everyone a drink, Mother. Come along in and meet everyone." As he reached the door, his mother and Mrs. Patterson appeared.
"I want a drink too. Jethro," Mrs. Mallard demanded in her imperious tone, as she turned and stared up at him.
"Coming right up, Mrs. Mallard."
"And pour one for Helen too. No, not the stuff that Donald made. That's far too weak. We'll have our usual. Well, what are you waiting for?"
"Come along, Vanessa. You said only a few minutes ago how nice the mulled wine was."
"No, I didn't. I said it was too weak. Far too weak. You couldn't have been listening to me, Helen. But then no one ever does. Well, Jethro. I'm waiting."
"Mother." The stress that Jethro was sure only he would have noticed earlier, now became clear for all to hear. He felt for his friend and wanted to go to him, to give him some moral support, if nothing else, but if he didn't obey Mrs. Mallard's instructions and pour her and Mrs. Patterson G&Ts, they'd be hell to pay. So instead he gave Ducky, what he hoped was a supportive smile, and turned to his task.
As he was about to pour a healthy offering of gin into a second glass, someone touched his arm. "I'll have the mulled wine, thank you, Jethro." Mrs. Patterson smiled up at him. "I happen to think it's extremely tasty."
Across the room Ducky was introducing his mother to the team. "Mother this is -"
"I know you," she said, peering at DiNozzo. "You're the Italian gigolo, Andrew something, aren't you? Not that Andrew is an Italian name. I'd change it if I were you."
"Mother, his name is Anthony, Anthony DiNozzo, and he is not a gigolo. He is one of Jethro's agents."
"He's a gigolo. I'd watch out for him if I were you," she said, looking at Ziva.
"Don't worry, Mrs. Mallard. I do. I'm Ziva David and I'm also one of," she glanced up quickly at Jethro; he nodded, better keep it simple. "Jethro's agents."
"A woman agent. Do you carry a gun, my dear? I usually have a knife in my brassier, but Donald insisted that I take it out tonight. Do you have a knife in your brassier?"
"Not in my brassier, no, Mrs. Mallard. But I do carry one."
"What a sensible girl you are. Attractive too."
"Thank you," Ziva actually blushed.
"You're not trying to sleep with my son are you? Because he's -"
"Here you are, Mrs. Mallard." Jethro pushed the glass into her hand. "Just as you like it."
She took a long swallow. "Very nice, Jethro dear. You always know just how to make it. Donald uses far too much tonic."
"Mother, this is Timothy McGee. He's another of Jethro's agents."
"You're not a gigolo," she pronounced, after looking him up and down several times. Then added, "Are you?"
"Er, no, ma'am." McGee's ears turned pink.
"I thought not. Are you a virgin?"
DiNozzo spluttered with laughter and began to choke.
Ducky groaned and put his head in his hands.
Ziva widened her eyes.
Jenny was unreadable.
And Abby smiled her pussycat smile.
Jethro thought that McGee would lose all powers of speech.
However, to his credit, after several spluttering attempts at finding words, and blushing furiously, McGee said firmly, "No, ma'am."
She beamed. "Good," she said, squeezing his arm. "You should never trust a man, or woman, who says that they are. Not once they're over eighteen that is. They'll be lying."
"Yes, ma'am. I'll remember that."
"Mother, you remember Jimmy Palmer and Abigail Sciuto, don't you?" Ducky asked, taking his mother's arm.
She frowned and studied Palmer. After a moment or two, she beamed and said, "Of course. Fetch me something to eat, boy."
"Mother, please. Jimmy is not a servant. He is my assistant. He helps me."
"But I'm quite happy to fetch you something to eat, Mrs. Mallard. What would you like?" Jethro caught Palmer's arm as he tripped over his own feet in an attempt to move forwards and backwards at the same time.
But Mrs. Mallard's attention was now on Abby. "You took me to your room, didn't you?"
"My lab. Yes, Mrs. Mallard. I showed you my mass-spectrometer." Abby beamed.
"Oooh, yes, I remember." She gave Abby a conspiratorial smile. For a fleeting second, Jethro had a glimpse of what the young and worry-free Vanessa Mallard must have looked like.
"Do you remember what else I showed you?"
"Not her knickers," DiNozzo muttered, ducking before Jethro's hand could make contact.
Mrs. Mallard frowned. "I don't know, dear. Do I?"
"Here," Abby said, and squeezed the parcel she held. The muffled sound again filtered into the room.
Mrs. Mallard's face lit up and, pushing her glass into Palmer's hand, she grabbed the parcel from Abby and tore the paper off. Her delight was clear for the entire room to see, as was the enjoyment she was getting from squeezing Bert's double.
Finally, Helen Patterson went up to her and firmly took it away from her, she handed it to Jethro. "Now, Vanessa, you still have one more of your guests to meet."
"Of course, please forgive me, Jennifer. Mother, this is Jennifer Shepard, she's the -"
But Mrs. Mallard glared at her. "You're the bitch who tried to take Jethro away from Donald, aren't you?"
The sudden silence that filled the room after she spat the words was deafening and oppressive.
Jethro, Ducky and Mrs. Patterson spoke at the same time.
"Mrs. Mallard -"
"Now, Vanessa -"
But it was Jenny who took control. She smiled gently at Mrs. Mallard and said, "Not at all, Mrs. Mallard. Jethro and I were undercover at the time; that is all it was. I would never try to come between Jethro and Duc- er, Donald. Really, I wouldn't. Didn't they tell you? I'm sure they must have done."
Jethro glanced at Ducky, who was just staring at him, horror on his face; he seemed incapable of reacting. He swallowed, offered a silent and speedy prayer that he was about to do the right thing and said softly, "We did tell you, Mrs. Mallard. But it was six years ago."
"Yes, dear, you must have forgotten," Mrs. Patterson said quickly.
Mrs. Mallard looked from Jethro, to Ducky, to Jenny, and back again. Everyone else stood unmoving and silent. "I must have done. I do forget things, I'm afraid. I am sorry, Jennifer."
Jenny smiled again. "Don't worry, Mrs. Mallard. We all forget things."
"Oh, good. Now why don't you come with me, Jennifer, and I can give you some advice on how to keep your looks. We older women must stick together."
"Oh, Mother." This time Ducky merely whispered the words.
Jenny, however, her arm through Mrs. Mallard's, just shook her head at Ducky and smiled. "I'd like that, Mrs. Mallard," she said.
"Helen, you can come with us."
"Yes, Vanessa," Mrs. Patterson said dutifully, and began to follow the other two women.
"And you," Mrs. Mallard said, coming to a stop and turning to face DiNozzo.
She smiled in what, even at her age, was clearly a seductive way, or at least an attempt at one, and said, her voice low, "I don't have a knife in my brassier tonight, but I do have some mistletoe. Donald tried to hide it from me, but I always know where to look. You come and find me later, Andrew, and we'll . . . " she winked at him, and leaning on Jenny's arm, left the room.
"Mouth, DiNozzo," Jethro said, as he hid the grin that threatened to erupt at the sight of DiNozzo's face.
Then the kids weren't so able, or indeed didn't even try, as Abby, McGee, Ziva and Palmer collapsed into shrieks of laughter.
Only Ducky seemed unamused; in fact Ducky seemed not even to have heard. He was still standing in the same place and had the same look on his face as he'd had when his mother had first spoken to Jenny.
Leaving the kids giggling and leaning on one another, even DiNozzo was smiling weakly now and shrugging it all off, Jethro crossed swiftly to Ducky's side.
Putting himself between Ducky and the rest of the room, he put his hands on Ducky's shoulders, squeezed them and said gently and honestly, "It doesn't matter, Duck. I swear."
Ducky finally looked up at him. "Oh, my dear Jethro," he murmured. "I am so, so very sorry. I never dreamt that she'd -"
"I said it doesn't matter. Come on, Duck, most of the kids have probably guessed, or at least suspect anyway."
"I'm sure they -"
Another hand pushed one of Jethro's out of the way; he noticed that the laughter had quietened. "Gibbs is right, Ducky," Abby said, looking down at Ducky with her serious expression. "Most of us had guessed, ages ago. And it doesn't matter to us. Really, it doesn't. You make one another happy, that's all that matters to us. All that should matter to anyone. Well," she said, glancing around at her coworkers. "Isn't that the truth?"
As one, they gathered around Ducky, all murmuring words of reassurance, touching his arm, his back, his shoulder, DiNozzo even put his arm around Ducky's shoulders.
Over their heads, Jethro glanced at Abby; she met his gaze and held it. He couldn't read her, at least not completely. Whether everything she'd said was true, or not, he didn't know; as to whether the team had guessed or not, he had no idea. However, what was completely clear was the honesty in the fact that it didn't matter to them, to any of them. He smiled at her; she matched the gesture.
"Hey, Ducky, I know that Gibbs said you won't tell him what's in the mulled wine, but why don't you tell me. In fact, you tell me your secret and I'll tell you mine."
"I doubt if Ducky is interested in your kind of secret, Tony."
"Well, Ms. David, your mind. Tsk. Tsk. I meant that I'd tell him my grandmother's own secret recipe for mulled wine. She shared it with me on her deathbed, made me promise not to tell another living soul, not unless that person was a true connoisseur. Now, she used to take . . . " And with his arm still around Ducky's shoulders, and his head bent close to Ducky's, DiNozzo led him away towards the bowl of mulled wine.
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