I wish you all the happiness and peace of the holiday season and for the forthcoming year.
TITLE: A Child Never Forgets
AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship. Happy memories. A tinge of sadness, but a lot of caring, fondness and comfort.
SUMMARY: Ducky recalls a special memory.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
"Duck, you okay?" Jethro touched his lover's arm. He was concerned as to why Ducky had come to a sudden stop and was now staring, although Jethro would have sworn unseeingly, into a shop window. It was a florist's shop of all things; and although he knew that Ducky liked flowers, he was nonetheless surprised by the intensity of Ducky's gaze. "Ducky?" he said again, when his lover failed to answer him. He closed his hand around Ducky's arm and squeezed it gently.
Ducky shook himself and turned towards Jethro. "I'm sorry, my dear," he said, looking up at Jethro. "I'm fine. Really. Shall we go?" And with a faint smile, he began to walk away.
Jethro blinked in surprise and opened his mouth to say something else. However, as he felt Ducky's arm slide from his gentle grip, he turned and followed him.
"Why don't you tell me, Duck," Jethro said quietly, as he sat down next to Ducky on the sofa, handed over a glass of whiskey and put this arm around his lover.
Ducky snuggled into the embrace, letting his head come to rest on Jethro's shoulder; as he did, he sighed.
Jethro's 'Ducky-alert' button went into overdrive. It wasn’t that Ducky had done anything different from usual; he always went willingly into any embrace Jethro initiated, always, in this kind of embrace, let his head come to rest on Jethro's shoulder, and always sighed with pleasure. But this time . . .
"Is something worrying you?"
"Are you ill?" Jethro bit down on the panic that suddenly threatened to spill out.
"No, dearest. It's nothing. I'm just being silly."
"If it's bothering you, then it's not silly. Tell me, Ducky." Jethro spoke firmly.
Ducky sighed again. "It was simply the sight of that wonderful display of pink carnations we passed, that is all, my dear. As I said, it's silly."
"And?" Jethro kept his tone firm.
"It is just that they were Mother's favorite flowers. And seeing them like that brought back a memory, one that until that moment I thought I'd forgotten. Well that is, I hadn't, because if I'd been able to think about forgetting it, then clearly I -
"I'm sorry, my dear. I was eight years old and Mother and I had been shopping for some new school shoes for me. I remember we passed by the large florist's shop, and they had a display in their window. It was of pink carnations; it was very similar to one we saw today. Oh, Jethro, it was a beautiful sight, and you have to remember that this was only the year after the war. I had never seen so many flowers in the same place at the same time. Mother had always had flowers in the house, but mostly they were ones that the gardener picked from the garden for Mother to arrange. I was small for my age, and so the central display was larger than I was. I just stood there captivated, my nose pressed against the glass, until Mother dragged me away."
Jethro pulled Ducky a little closer to him, and tried to bring to mind an image of the small boy Ducky had been. He'd seen photographs; Mrs. Mallard had over the years, despite Ducky's protests that Jethro wasn't interested, shown him the full story of Ducky's life. "You mom always loved flowers," he said, cutting into the silence.
They had finally buried Mrs. Mallard a month ago, and Jethro knew that Ducky was still getting used to the loss. He had been very close to his mother, and her death, although expected and in many ways a relief for both Ducky and for his mother, had still hit him hard.
"Yes, she did. And I discovered from Martha, when I got home, that pink carnations were Mother's favorites."
"Our housekeeper at the time. I spent many a happy hour in the kitchen with her. Mother always said that if I hadn't got my nose in a book, she knew I'd be with Martha. Or 'helping' Mr. Watson."
"He was your butler?" It never ceased to amaze Jethro how 'normal', how unpretentious, his lover was, given that he had grown up with servants.
"Yes. He was with us until he died. Even after he became too old to really do his job; he was as much a part of my family as my parents were. In some ways I often thought he was more of a father to me than . . . I'm sorry, dearest. That story you have heard many times."
"Don't worry, Duck." Jethro kissed the top of Ducky's head. "Tell me more about the carnations, if it's not too painful," he added.
"I still miss her, Jethro," Ducky said softly.
"I know, Duck. So do I." Jethro moved away far enough to be able to kiss Ducky on the lips, before resettling them both.
"Once Martha had told me that pink carnations were Mother's favorite flowers, I was determined that I would buy her a bouquet for Mothering Sunday, which was three weeks away. But I wanted to buy them out of money that I felt I had earnt. I had my pocket money, a more than generous amount, and I knew that if I asked Father for the money to buy flowers for Mother, he would have given it to me. In fact, he would probably have simply ordered the flowers himself. But I didn’t want that. I wanted to earn the money. But I was only eight. I'd had a privileged upbringing, and although I liked to think that I 'helped' Mr. Watson, I wasn't really able to do anything for which I thought I could earn money."
"So what did you do?" It didn't surprise Jethro to learn of his lover's desire to buy his mother flowers from money he'd earned himself. Again, Ducky's complete lack of snobbishness was apparent.
"I decided to confide in Martha; if anyone could help me, I knew that she would. I also knew that she would understand. Father wouldn't have done. Even though he and Mother had somewhat differing views on money, we are talking about a very small amount, and he . . . Well, he wouldn't have understood."
Jethro had met Mr. Mallard, and although the man had been very civil, very courteous, had gone out of his way to make Jethro feel welcome, Jethro had never felt at home with him. Not in the way he had with Mrs. Mallard. "So did Martha help?"
"Oh, yes. I suddenly discovered that there were people she knew who desperately needed small errands running, and that no one was available to do then. And Mr. Watson apparently strained his wrist slightly, just before he was due to set the table, he always did it himself, for a very special dinner party Mother was hosting. And he asked me to help him. He insisted on paying me two pennies, saying that he would have to have paid someone to help him, if I hadn't been able to. Looking back, I can see how foolish it was, how young I was, to believe him. But back then . . . It must sound terribly silly to you."
"Not at all, Duck." Jethro tightened the grip he had on his lover. "It sounds like a great thing for a child to do." Especially as, as Ducky said, he hadn't needed to 'earn' the money. "So did you get enough?"
"Oh, yes. But I imagine that Martha and Mr. Watson had already ascertained the amount I would need, and ensured that I managed to do just enough jobs to earn it. I was so proud when I went into the shop by myself, Martha waited outside for me, and bought what, looking back was quite a small bouquet, of pink carnations, and carried them home so carefully for Mother. She cried, Jethro, when I gave them to her. She cried. Oh, dear. I am being very foolish. But I can still see her standing there, she and Father were due to go to the Hamilton-Smythes for the evening. It was the day before Mothering Sunday, but I didn't want to risk the flowers dying overnight, so I insisted on giving them to her there and then, before she and Father went out."
"She must have been really proud of you." Jethro said softly.
"I believe she was, she was certainly very pleased. She hugged me and kissed me, and said they were the best flowers she had ever been given. She kept Father waiting whilst she asked Martha to bring her a vase so that she could arrange them. Compared to all the other beautiful arrangements that stood around our home, they were nothing, but . . ."
"I bet they were her favorite."
"Yes, my dear. I believe they were. I thought I'd never forget that moment, that I'd always remember it. But childhood memories do fade over time, and it takes something special to make them so clear again. And Mother was . . . Oh, Jethro." And for the first time since his mother had died, Ducky cried.
As he tugged Ducky further into his embrace, Jethro welcomed the tears. It was Ducky’s way of signaling that the worst of his mourning was over. It had always been that way with his lover; until Ducky finally shed tears, his grief was great and, as he’d said many times, too deep for tears.
As with the death of his father and beloved godson, the weight of Ducky's pain over his mother’s death had taken its toll on Ducky, although few, other than Jethro himself would have known it. But now, with his tears, things would improve; he would continue miss his mother, as Jethro would, for some considerable time, but his now open grief was a relief.
He held Ducky against him, letting him cry, not speaking beyond a low murmur of nonsense, just waiting until Ducky’s tears ceased. Once they did, he knew what would happen, he knew his Ducky so very well.
Finally, the tears ceased and Ducky lifted his head from where it rested on Jethro’s shoulder and looked up at Jethro. A level of peace and contentment, the kind he hadn’t seen since the night Mrs. Mallard had died had descended on Ducky’s face, and the pale eyes, although red from his tears, shone once again with a hint of their usual brightness and deep devotion, as well as something else.
Jethro smiled gently, handed Ducky his own handkerchief and then lightly kissed his forehead. “Better,” he said softly.
“Yes, thank you, dearest,” Ducky replied, after drying his eyes and face and blowing his nose. He pushed Jethro’s handkerchief into his own pocket, moved to the edge of the sofa, pushed himself to his feet, using Jethro’s knee for support, and held out his hand. “Come, my dear,” he said, his voice was low and tender and contained more than a hint of passion.
Jethro took the proffered hand willingly, stood up, put his arm around Ducky and together they moved towards the door, out into the hall. They paused long enough for Ducky to check that the front door was locked, before making their way upstairs to enjoy several hours of gentle and tender lovemaking.