THE IDEAL DATE
Set after Judgment Day.
Ducky knows Jethro is troubled, so decides to give him an evening to remember.
An established relationship story.
Written: June 2008. Word count: 3,541.
Ducky was still in the squad room when Jethro and the field team came down the stairs. One look at his lover's frozen, more-closed-than-usual face, together with the shocked look on the faces of DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva told him all was not well.
This was confirmed seconds later as Jethro threw the files he carried down onto his desk and strode off across the office towards the elevators without speaking to, or looking at, anyone.
To anyone other than the man who had known him for more than three decades, it would appear that Jethro wanted to be left alone. And he did; by everyone except that one man, who followed him across the room to where the elevator was still waiting.
Ducky went inside and waited whilst the car started and then was instantly stopped. "Jethro?" he said quietly, and then listened as in short, terse sentences his old friend told him what had happened.
Jethro's words told Ducky one thing; his body language, the stillness of his face and his tone told Ducky something else: Jethro did not want Ducky to try to comfort him or make suggestions or anything else 'helpful'. Not that Ducky would have tried, not here, not now; he knew Jethro far too well for that. So instead, he simply put his hand on Jethro's arm, feeling the tension radiate out from under the clothing, and lightly squeezed it. A very faint softening in the cold, hard stare told Ducky the gesture had been acknowledged and understood.
They stood in silence for another moment or two, then Jethro said, his tone low and flat, "Can you get Helen to stay with your mom tonight?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes," he said simply.
Jethro nodded once and pressed the button to re-start the elevator.
Ducky let Jethro get out when they reached the squad room and rode back down to Autopsy thinking and planning.
It had been a rough few days. In fact if he were honest it had been a hard three years with Jethro's coma, him leaving, returning, their relationship being fragile. Then Jennifer using DiNozzo as a pawn in her own personal vendetta against La Grenouille - Ducky knew his lover had never forgiven Jennifer or DiNozzo for what they'd done, which explained why he'd all but ignored and shut DiNozzo out since he discovered their duplicity. Added to that Jennifer being prepared to risk Gibbs's entire team in her obsession with the man whom she claimed had 'ruined her life'. And if that wasn't enough there was her illness and Ducky's part in having to keep quiet about it. And then her death, Jethro's discovery that she'd messed up, and finally Jethro's part in the whole cover up of her death. And now this. It was more than any one person should have to cope with.
Their relationship was as strong, if not stronger, than it had ever been. They still saw one another each day and as many evenings as they could manage, but it had been some time, years not mere months, since they had really been out together. Been on a 'date'. Maybe it was foolish, after all they'd been together for over thirty years, but Ducky still firmly believed 'dating' could form part of a relationship - and it wasn't as if he and Jethro lived together. Although he sincerely wished - He pushed the thought from his mind and instead turned his thoughts to planning the perfect evening.
"Dr. Mallard." Jimmy's voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Is it true? Has the director reassigned Special Agent Gibbs's field team?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. I am afraid it is true."
Ducky sighed. "I'm sure Director Vance has his reasons, Jimmy."
"What's going to happen?"
"Jethro has been given three new agents with whom to work."
"What about . . ." Jimmy trailed off and his face flushed.
Ducky patted his arm. "I assure you, Jimmy, your position as my assistant it quite safe."
"How can you be sure?"
Ducky looked at his young assistant, seeing the concern and fear in his gaze. He sighed, "Because I, Mr. Palmer, know where the bodies are buried. I assure you Director Vance will not attempt to reassign or dismiss you." His tone became harsher as he spoke the words. "You will be all right. And if the worst really does happen, for whatever reason, your position at Medical School is quite safe. You will be able to complete your studies and become a doctor. I promise you that." And it was true, whether Jimmy was allowed to remain his assistant or not, would not affect Ducky financing the young man's time at Medical School.
Jimmy flushed even more. "I'm sorry, Doctor, I know it's selfish of me."
"Not at all. It's human nature. Now, why don't you go home?"
"We are quite up-to-date with everything and it's been a long day, not to mention a difficult time. You go home, Jimmy. I'll see you on Monday."
"Are you sure, Dr. Mallard?" Jimmy sounded hesitant.
"Quite sure. Now do try to have a good weekend. Don't spend every moment of it studying, do something you enjoy."
"I enjoy studying, Doctor."
Ducky sighed and smiled. "I know, Jimmy, but do something else as well. Go out for a walk or a drive or read a novel or . . . Something."
Jimmy nodded, his expression earnest. "Yes, Doctor. I'll do that."
"Good boy," Ducky patted his arm again. "I'll see you on Monday, bright and early."
"Yes, Doctor. I hope you have a good weekend too. And thank you again."
"You're welcome, Jimmy." Ducky smiled, and found himself all but shooing the young man out of Autopsy.
Several phone calls, and an unplanned, unapproved short absence from NCIS, later all his plans were in place. All he had to do now was ensure that Jethro played his part in the evening, beginning with him handing over his car keys to Ducky and letting him drive them to where they were going.
"Hey, Duck. You ready?" Jethro swept into Autopsy, his briefcase in his hand. His expression was still grim and harder than usual; yet as he looked at Ducky, it began to soften somewhat. He even managed a glimmer of a smile, as he moved to Ducky and touched his shoulder, sliding his hand around to the back of Ducky's neck. For a moment Ducky thought he was going to pull him closer and kiss him, but although Jethro did the former, he simply allowed his gaze and face to soften even more. 'Later' the dark blue eyes promised.
"Yes, my dear," Ducky replied, pleased to see that at least with him his lover was more himself.
Side by side they walked to the garage. "You going to leave the Morgan here and come with me?" Although he phrased it as a question, Ducky attuned as he was to his lover's tone, could hear that it wasn't really one.
"Yes," he said. "However, I am going to drive." He held out his hand for the keys to Jethro's sedan. He had to hide his amusement as Jethro's eyes widened and his mouth even parted slightly.
"Just hand me the keys, Jethro."
"And you want me to do that because?"
"We are going out to diner and I know where we are going."
Jethro frowned. "Ah, Duck. I really don't want to go out. Let's just go back to my place, grab a carry-out and relax."
Just for a second Ducky was tempted to go along with Jethro's request. However, his lover needed what he had planned, they both did. So instead, he took a step or two closer to Jethro, moving well inside his personal space, unconcerned by the presence of a handful of people who were also getting their cars. He tipped his head back and looked up at Jethro. "We are going out to dinner, Jethro," he said firmly. "I would like a decent meal and you will appreciate it too." He spoke quietly but firmly, using the tone he rarely used, but the one to which even Jethro always conceded.
Jethro's lips twitched a little as he gazed down at Ducky and his eyes flashed with deep affection. "Oh, I will, will I, Dr. Mallard?" he enquired, in a mildly teasing way.
"Yes, Agent Gibbs, you will. Now please hand me the keys. I do not wish to be late for our reservation."
"If you're worried about being late, I can always -"
"Keys, Jethro. Now!" Ducky had to stop himself from laughing at the look of shock and incredulity on the face of a junior agent, whose name he couldn't instantly recall, who happened to be walking by as Ducky spoke the words. In fact the young man was intent on watching Jethro and Ducky he ended up bumping into one of the cars, so hard he lost his balance and tripped over. Ducky fought his natural instincts to go to the young man's aid; he was sure he was fine.
"So where're we going, Duck?" Jethro asked, once they were settled into the car and Ducky had moved the driver's seat several inches forward and adjusted the rear-view mirror - watched by his bemused lover.
"It's a surprise," he said firmly. "But I assure you it will be a pleasant one. In fact you could shut your eyes and relax. If you like," he said, starting the engine, "I could even tell you a story."
Jethro laughed at that, as Ducky hoped he would. "Ah, Duck, Duck," he said, putting his hand on Ducky's knee. "What would I do without you?"
Ducky didn't answer with words, instead he turned his head and glanced at his lover instead and said so much with his eyes.
"Got to hand it to you, Duck, you were right. It's great."
Ducky leaned back in his chair and sipping his pre-dinner dry sherry and looked across the table at his lover. He was pleased to see that already the tension that had been present in Jethro's whole being was fading a little; of course that could have something to do with the large bourbon he'd downed virtually in one gulp and the second one he was now sipping. However, from experience, Ducky knew it was more than that. "I'm glad you approve, my dear," he said, now leaning forward and putting his hand over Jethro's.
Just for a half second, Jethro frowned and glanced across the room, before smiling and turning his hand over to link it with Ducky's. Then he tilted his head slightly, cast Ducky a quizzical look, before again turning around and letting his gaze wander around the room.
Ducky just sat and watched him. He had half suspected that Jethro hadn't taken everything in about the restaurant upon arrival, and now he was certain. He watched his lover's gaze pass over the well spread tables, which allowed each couple or small group to, in effect, be cut off and separate from all the others. Several wide pillars broke up the room, and the tables had been arranged around them. It was clearly a conscious decision by the restaurant owners, as they could easily have doubled the number of tables and still had room for the waiting staff to move easily around. However, they had not done that, choosing it seemed to prefer to give their patrons more than just an illusion of intimacy - of course one paid for such a decision, but that was not for Ducky any factor whatsoever.
The tables themselves were all large enough to accommodate four people, but most were set for only two. The clothes were heavy damask linen, clean, simple, fresh, as were the napkins, and in the center of each table was a small arrangement of flowers - the kind that would appeal equally to men or women. The lighting was bright enough not to struggle to read the menu or see the food, but not so bright as to dazzle. The balance was ideal.
And for Ducky one of the most pleasant things about the restaurant was the quality of the stereo system used to play the relaxing, very pleasant classical music. As with the lighting, it was not too loud so that patrons had to raise their voices to speak to one another, but also not too soft so that you strained to hear it.
The décor was simple, plain and relaxing and complemented the linen, the flowers and the music, as well as the handful of quality pictures that had been hung carefully on each wall.
The staff did not appear every two seconds to ask if everything was all right, or top up glasses; they took the view that patrons were generally capable of refilling their own wine glasses and knew when they wanted to do so. However, nor did they vanish for such long periods of time that the customer was left to wonder if they were alone and if they were ever going to have the chance to order their meals. They seemed to know just when each couple or quartet needed and wanted them. Nor did they display any hint of discomfort or displeasure or any negative feeling when a couple, be it of the same of opposite sex, held hands or gazed deeply into one another's eyes.
Some words that came to mind when summing up the place would be 'intimate', 'classy', 'non-judgmental', 'discreet' and 'romantic'.
And it wasn't just the restaurant itself that was ideal; the setting was too. It was near to the ocean and had what was, in effect, a private beach, accessible only from a path leading from the restaurant and surrounded by high, unusually colored cliffs.
Jethro turned his attention back to Ducky, the quizzical look still in place. He picked up his glass and took another swallow, almost emptying the glass, before squeezing Ducky's hand. "Duck," he said.
"Yes, my dear?" Ducky answered brightly.
"Is this a date?"
"Oh, yes, dearest," Ducky said, his tone still bright.
Jethro blinked. Opened his mouth, closed it again, shook his head and then just stared still somewhat wide-eyed at Ducky. "Um," he said, again reaching for this glass, this time he drained it. "Don't take this the wrong way, but . . ." Jethro trailed off, and Ducky could see his lover trying hard to find a way to phrase his question or statement without offending Ducky.
Duck put his other hand over Jethro's and held it. "Just because we are lovers, Jethro, just because we have been in a relationship for more than three decades does not mean there is any law against us going out on a date. Unless of course you have any objection?"
Jethro shook his head. "None at all, Duck. I just guess I hadn't ever thought about it."
"Well, it's a good job that I did then, is it not? Now, have you decided what you would like to eat? If so, I can choose some suitable wine."
Jethro smiled at him, the smile he seemed to keep just for Ducky; the smile Ducky had never seen his lover bestow on anyone else - not even his four wives. He gazed at his lover, drawn as always to how even more handsome and desirable than usual he looked in his black suit and smart white shirt. Whilst Ducky loved seeing his lover dressed up, he was saddened by the reason for Jethro's attire. However, he was determined that his sorrow over Jennifer's death and the news about the children was not going to spoil his evening. It was rare for Ducky to be selfish, very rare, but tonight he was going to allow himself to be thus.
The meal, like the surroundings and the company was excellent, and Ducky was delighted that, apart from the times they were eating he and Jethro held hands across the table all of the time. They didn't even part when the waiting staff came and almost invisibly removed their plates and served them with more courses. Ducky was both relieved and, given the day, the week, they had had, a little surprised at how relaxed his lover had become.
"May I offer you gentlemen coffee and liquor?" The quiet, respectful voice of one of the waiters interrupted Ducky's thoughts.
He glanced at Jethro.
"You have a drink, Duck. I'll drive us home," Jethro said, his hand still linked with Ducky's.
For a second Ducky paused, then he glanced at the waiter. "Do you think you could give us a moment, please?" he smiled.
"Of course, sir." The man glided away.
"We could both have a drink, Jethro. The restaurant has a handful of small bungalows nearby, which they let out. We could stay here tonight and drive home in the morning. I did take the liberty of ascertaining that Helen would be happy to stay overnight with Mother. And I also popped home and have packed a few overnight essentials for us. Of course if you'd rather go home, that isn't a problem. But -"
"You'd like to stay?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes. Yes, I would, Jethro. Very much."
He was rewarded with a smile. And it was Jethro who re-attracted the attention of the waiter, and Jethro who ordered coffee and brandy for them both.
Later, before retiring to their small bungalow, Ducky proposed a walk along the moonlit beach. His lover seemed more than amenable, so arm and arm they set off along the firm sand, the sound of the ocean lapping against the beach sounding in their ears. The full moon was bright; both in the cloud free sky and as it reflected in the ocean, and total darkness had yet to fall.
"This is great, Duck. Thanks," Jethro said, as he squeezed the hand Ducky had through his arm. "I needed this."
Ducky swallowed and hesitated just for a moment before saying, "The restaurant also has a number of boats for hire. If you wished, rather than drive home tomorrow morning we could stay, hire a boat, spend the day on the water, and then either go home tomorrow evening or indeed spend another night here and go home on Sunday, or even go straight to the office on Monday."
Jethro stopped walking and turned to look down at Ducky, from the light of the moon Ducky could see he was smiling gently. "I guess you've already taken the liberty of checking with Helen and of bringing enough stuff for the whole weekend?"
Ducky felt himself flush a little, he hoped the moon wasn't bright enough for Jethro to see that. "Yes," he said softly, as he looked up at his lover. Then he added a little more determinedly, "Yes, Jethro. I have. I really believe it would be good for you, for us, for . . ."
Jethro tugged him into a loose embrace. "Our relationship?" he said softly.
Ducky leaned into the embrace, putting his own arms around his lover. "Yes," he said, only a little hesitantly. "Yes, Jethro. I do. It's been a hard year."
"And the rest," Jethro said, a little ruefully. "Yeah, Duck. You're right. We'll stay and to hell with everything else. Now come here." He let Ducky go, instead capturing his hand and leading him towards the cliffs that stood like sentries over the beach.
"Jethro?" Ducky said, as he walked by Jethro's side. "Where are we going? Do you need to relieve yourself?"
They reached the cliffs and Jethro turned and pulled Ducky back into his embrace, this time the embrace was not as loose. "No, that can wait," he said, his tone silky. "This can't." And with that he lowered his head and began to kiss Ducky, his mouth warm, soft, tasting of coffee and brandy and Jethro himself.
Ducky let himself be swept away by the kiss, the way he was being embraced, the quiet sound of the waves lapping at the shore and simply took immense pleasure in the love and affection he was being shown. As Jethro's tongue lightly brushed against Ducky's mouth, Ducky parted his lips inviting his lover inside as he pressed himself more firmly against Jethro's body, where he felt the beginning of Jethro's arousal.
After several minutes of kissing and embracing, Jethro finally took his lips from Ducky's and instead moved his mouth under Ducky's hair to his ear. After a second or two of gently kissing it, brushing his mouth over his ear, he murmured, his breath warm and soft, "I think it's time we went back to that bungalow you rented and make love, don't you?"
Ducky shivered as Jethro's breath and words moved him. "Oh, yes, my dear," he said, sighing happily. "Oh, yes."
"Good," Jethro breathed, nuzzling Ducky's ear for a second or two longer, before moving to kiss his nose and brush his lips once more. He then broke the two armed embrace, slid his arm more firmly around Ducky's shoulders and once Ducky put his own arm around Jethro's back they began to walk back to where what would be their home for the next day or two.
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