Mum

by Juli

January 2006


Ducky was just beginning to hose down the autopsy table when Jethro came in. At first he thought his old friend was going to tell him they’d been called out to another scene and Ducky stifled a sigh at the thought. It had been a trying day, what with three bodies to autopsy. Even with Mr. Palmer’s assistance, Ducky felt tired down to his bones. Normally, love of his work kept Ducky spry, but he hadn’t been sleeping well of late. Mother had been restless and when she couldn’t sleep, her son didn’t get much sleep either.

His weariness abruptly drained away as he got a good look at Gibbs’ grim face.

“Good Lord, Jethro.” Contrary to popular belief, Ducky was capable of getting right to the point. “What’s wrong?”

“I got a call from a Sergeant McMannis, a local badge,” Gibbs explained, an oddly gentle tone in his voice. “They found your mother wandering in the median of Rte. 12. She’s fine, but we need to go pick her up.”

“Merciful Heavens, what was she doing out there?” Ducky stammered, the hose dangling forgotten in his hand. “What happened to the attendant that’s supposed to watch her while I’m at work?”

Gibbs strode the rest of the way into autopsy and carefully took the hose from Ducky and placed it in the bracket designed to hold it when not in use. “That’s what we’re gonna find out. DiNozzo went to get the car and Jimmy here,” once Jethro gestured to him, Ducky could see his hapless assistant hovering in the background. “Jimmy is going to finish up with this.”

“Yes, of course.” Ducky answered absently as he moved towards the door. His mind whirled with a hundred scenarios, none of them good, about what had led to his fragile mother being out on such a busy road. “I’ll get my coat.”

A hand on his arm stopped him.

“Duck, you need to change out of your scrubs.”

Ducky looked from Jethro’s concerned face down to his surgical attire. He’d already removed the apron, but there were still splotches of blood and less palatable biological spatter on the garments.

“Yes, indeed.” He muttered as he abruptly changed direction towards the lockers. “Whatever was I thinking?”

Jethro stopped him again. “She’s fine, Ducky. McMannis said there wasn’t a scratch on her.”

A ball of anxiety had lodged itself in Ducky’s stomach the moment he’d gotten a good look at his old friend’s face. It loosened a little at Jethro’s reassuring words, but only a little.

“She’ll be frightened,” he reminded the other man.

A small smile played around Jethro’s lips. “Your mother? I think it’s probably the other way around. The cops at McMannis’ precinct house probably don’t know what hit them.”

Ducky’s gut relaxed a little bit more. “Mother is a formidable woman.”

“That she is, Duck,” Jethro chuckled as he threw an arm across Ducky’s shoulders. “That she is.”

The next few minutes were a blur of activity. Jethro’s continued presence helped steady Ducky and he was able to quickly change into his street clothes. It was only a short time before Jethro was leading him out of the building and to the car that Tony had pulled up to the curb. The younger agent was leaning against its metal frame as he waited for them.

“Car’s all warmed up, Boss,” Tony called as he saw them approach.

Tony opened up the passenger side door without any of his normal flourishes. Ducky smiled at the kindness. Despite his seeming preference for acting like a thirteen year-old with a badge, Tony was a compassionate person. It’d taken Jethro far too long, in Ducky’s opinion, to declare himself to the younger man, but Ducky was glad his old friend had finally done so. Jethro had been alone for far too long. They both had, really, but for vastly different reasons. Ducky, at least, had Mother… which, of course, was part of the problem.

He sighed as he settled into the seat and reached for the seatbelt. Tony mistook the reason for his melancholy and patted his shoulder.

“I’m sure your mom’s just fine,” Tony said reassuringly.

“Jethro told me that she was unharmed,” Ducky answered. “For the life of me, however, I cannot figure out where her attendant was. Mother is in her 90s and can’t move very fast. Even if the woman was distracted for only a few moments, she shouldn’t have gotten so far.”

With one last pat, Tony shut the door and then quickly moved to the back of the car. He clambered in and swiftly put on his own seatbelt. Since Jethro was driving, the belt was an absolute necessity. Ducky braced himself as, under Gibbs’ operation, the sedan peeled out of the parking lot as though it were a sports car.

“Lucky you had that ID bracelet made for your mom,” Tony commented Ducky. “That’s how the local cops knew to call NCIS. I guess there wasn’t any answer at your house.”

“Oh, dear, that doesn’t sound good,” Ducky fretted.

“Didn’t you say that Eloise was on vacation?” Jethro asked, barely taking his eyes off the road. “Who’s been staying with your mother?”

Ducky made a vague sort of gesture. “Some woman that the agency sent as a temporary replacement.”

Her dementia had gotten to the point where Ducky’s mother wasn’t safe staying by herself. Rather than putting her in a nursing facility, Ducky had arranged for in-house services for when he wasn’t at home. Eloise had been her usual caregiver and was a dear woman, but even she needed some time off. Her replacement seemed nice enough, but Ducky hadn’t been too happy to have a virtual stranger in his home. When it came down to it, however, he hadn’t had a choice. He’d been taking an increasing number of personal days as his mother’s mental conditioned worsened and didn’t want to let the team down. Mister Palmer was nowhere near ready to handle autopsies on his own and, for some odd reason, all of the other medical examiners had a hard time working with Jethro.

“I wonder why no one answered at the house?” Ducky mused. Mother was feisty, but frail. It should have been easy to keep an eye on her. The woman the agency had sent seemed responsible, but not terribly young herself. He only hoped nothing had happened to her.

“We’ll figure it out, Duck,” Gibbs promised him. “That I can guarantee you.”

The tone of Jethro’s voice made it clear that wasn’t the only thing he was guaranteeing. Ducky rather hoped, for her own sake, that the attendant had a good reason for letting Mother wander off. Jethro had always been protective of people he considered family and that trait had gotten more pronounced ever since Kate Todd’s murder. She might be Ducky’s mother, but it would be Gibbs who exacted punishment for the lapse.

The rest of the ride to the precinct house passed in relative silence. Gibbs pulled right up to the entrance, blithely ignoring the no parking zone. Ducky got out without Tony’s help and strode purposefully to the door, coat flapping in the breeze created by the briskness of his walk. He was aware of Jethro’s solid presence beside him and, in a more vague way, of Tony staying with the car. Once inside, he stopped and looked around. For a small precinct, it was a busy place. Where could his mother be, in this building teeming with activity?

He heard her before he saw her.

“Unhand me, you lout!”

Ducky veered towards her voice and once he got past a row of desks, finally located his mother. The petite woman was confronting a large, uniformed policeman who was wearing a sheepish look on his face.

“The Gestapo may reign supreme in Germany,” Mrs. Mallard lectured the young man, pointing her finger at him while she did so. “But in this country, we don’t have the patience for glorified bullies.”

“Mother,” Ducky called out, hurrying to rescue the police officer. “He’s not with the Gestapo; he’s trying to help you.”

“Donald,” she rounded on him. “Where have you been? Probably off trying to get some young hussy to show you her panties again.”

Ducky was so relieved to find her well and unscathed that he didn’t mind the snickers from those around them. Ignoring his mother’s continuing admonishments, he pulled her in for a careful hug before tugging her over to a nearby chair. Once he had her seated, he efficiently took her pulse and did a quick once-over. All of sudden, she looked frail and old.

“Donald, I’m fine.”

A fine-boned hand, blue veins as fine as spider webs marring the skin, came into his field of vision. It softy cupped his cheek and Ducky raised his head to find his mother looking at him with a focus that had been all too lacking of late. For one brief moment, his beloved mum stared back at him fondly. They shared a smile and then the veil of the disease lowered again and took her away.

“I can’t imagine where your father’s gotten to,” she muttered, glancing around the precinct with a wild look in her eye. “I wanted to bring him his lunch, but I couldn’t find his office.”

Ducky didn’t have the heart to remind her that his father had been dead for a long time. “I imagine he’s home by now. Why don’t we go there and meet him?”

His mother ran her hand along the soft fabric of the skirt she was wearing, smoothing it with a nervous gesture. “That sounds like a fine idea.”

Ducky helped her to her feet with a hand under her elbow. When he got them both turned towards the exit, Jethro stepped in beside them. His mother looked at Gibbs in frank assessment for a moment and then her face lit with recognition.

“I know you,” she cried in delight.

“Yes, ma’am,” Jethro responded, nodding at Ducky over her head. “We’ve met before.”

“You’re that pig farmer,” Ducky’s mother continued. “You had that fat boar to sell at the state fair. It won a blue ribbon, as I remember.”

Gibbs’ step didn’t falter. “Yes, ma’am, that was me. I’m surprised that you would remember.”

“I have a keen memory,” she claimed as they ushered her out the door, “And you have the most beautiful smile.” Her sigh was deep enough that it shook her body. “It really is too bad that I’m married.”

Tony had moved the car out of the no parking zone, but stayed close enough that he saw them when they stepped out of the building. By the time the trio was at the curb, so was the car.

“Everything okay?” Tony asked as he got out, anxiously looking from Gibbs to Ducky.

“It’s fine,” Jethro answered. He helped Ducky get his mother in the car, then moved around to the driver’s side. “I’ll tell you all about it as we head to Duck’s house.”

By the time they finally headed for home, it was full dark and a steady stream of lights flashed by as Jethro drove the car with his usual disregard for speed limits. Ducky was only vaguely aware of it, as he was hard-pressed to keep up with his mother’s confusion on where they were going. He heard murmured voices from the front seat, along with Tony’s rich laugh and a soft call of “Sooo-ey!”

When they did reach the house, it was dark. No lights came on as the car pulled up, nor when they parked and then exited the vehicle. With a stiff arm, Gibbs motioned Ducky back. Taking a firm grip on his mother, Ducky waited while Jethro and Tony entered the house. There were a couple of flashes of light which were worrisome, but before Ducky could become truly concerned, Tony had stuck his head out the door and motioned them in. Ducky breathed a sigh of relief, exhaustion washing over him as the day’s events began to catch up with him.

Again taking Mother by the arm, Ducky entered his house. Gibbs and Tony were in the drawing room. As he walked past, Ducky could see Regina, the temporary attendant, sprawled out on the couch. He was going to stop and see if she needed medical assistance, but Jethro must have read his mind.

“Not necessary, Duck,” Gibbs explained. He bent down and picked up a bottle. Ducky winced when he saw what it was. Brandy, particularly that brand, was expensive and the bottle was clearly empty. “I think we know why no one was watching your mother.”

“Indeed.” Ducky knew that, when he was rested, he would be furious. At the moment, though, he was too tired to be more than mildly irritated at the woman.

“Ducky, why don’t you go ahead and get your mother fed and settled,” Jethro suggested. He turned briefly to the woman passed out on the divan and Ducky could see the ex-Marine’s expression harden. “We’ll take care of this.”

Jethro didn’t need to make the suggestion twice. Ducky led his mother to the kitchen, where from the sound of whining and scratching against the door, he knew the dogs had been shut up. Thankfully they were all of a small breed so they didn’t overwhelm his mother when they pushed past them to enter the room. Normally, Ducky would have just opened the door and let them run free, but didn’t want Gibbs and Tony to be interrupted by the animals. Thankfully they were all well-trained and, even though there was no telling how long they’d been confined in the kitchen, there were no accidents awaiting him.

His mother was delighted to see her pets. She stooped to stroke each wriggling body, calling some of them by the correct name and others by names of dogs that’d long since died. It didn’t matter. The dogs loved her unconditionally and didn’t care a whit if her mind was working properly or not. It was the major reason why he tolerated them in his home, even though the whole pack could be a little overwhelming.

Not all of the dogs were his mother’s, however. The four Corgis were, but the little terrier that separated itself from the others was his. Ducky had adopted Toni after Kate’s death. The little animal had obviously missed Kate keenly at first, but then, so did they all. Now she would curl up with Ducky in the evenings while he read and he found he enjoyed the comfort of her company.

While his mother lavished attention on the dogs, Ducky heated up some soup. When it was ready, he let the dogs out and sat his mother in a chair. He gently washed her hands and face with a warm, wet washcloth. Her eyes closed in pleasure and Ducky smiled, remembering all the times she’d done the same for him when he’d been small. It was difficult to make the transition to parenting one’s parent, but there were some small consolations.

It took some coaxing to get his mother to eat, but Ducky persisted and slowly he got half a bowl into her. As he did, he could hear voices coming from the other part of the house as Jethro and Tony dealt with the drunken attendant. A rash of barking from the dogs alerted him to a car pulling up and he went to the window to look. It was a cab and Ducky watched with some amusement as Jethro none-too-gently marched the attendant out to it and poured her in. Some money was exchanged and the cab left. Ducky smiled grimly. If only all of life’s problems could be dealt with so neatly.

Mother was visibly drooping when Jethro and Tony came into the kitchen. She didn’t even seem to notice them as Ducky cleaned her up, which was a little worrisome, but also quite convenient.

“I saw you send that woman on her way,” Ducky commented. “I’ll call the agency tomorrow and have them send someone else.”

“Already taken care of,” Jethro replied succinctly. “They’re sending someone out tonight.”

Ducky looked up, startled. “But I never had any arrangements for an evening attendant.”

“You do now,” Tony explained. “Free of charge. It’s funny what phrases like ‘police report’ and ‘lawsuit’ will accomplish.”

Eyes narrowed, Ducky gave Gibbs a harsh look. “Jethro, what did you do?”

“Nothin’ Duck,” Jethro drawled. “Tony took a couple of photos with that camera phone of his and then when we called the agency superintendent, we put their attendant on the line to talk to him.”

“She could barely talk, she was slurring her words so bad,” Tony continued the story. “After hearing that and seeing the pictures I emailed him, there wasn’t much he could say in the agency’s defense.” He smiled broadly. “Don’t worry, Ducky, Gibbs didn’t even threaten him. Promise.”

A scratching on the back door interrupted anything Ducky could say.

“Go on, take care of your mother,” Gibbs urged him. “Tony and I will take care of the pups.”

Tony’s grin slipped a little, but he gamely agreed. “Sure. We can handle the dogs. Get ‘em fed and watered anyway.”

Ducky didn’t argue, just took his mother by the elbow again and led her out of the kitchen. She remained strangely docile as he gently guided her through her nightly ablutions. She still slept in the drawing room and that’s where he got her settled, thankful that Jethro and Tony had cleaned away all traces of the attendant’s drunken activities. As he was tucking a blanket over her, Mother reached for his hand.

“You’re such a good boy,” she commented, already half-asleep. “Your mother must be very proud of you.”

It wasn’t the first time she’d failed to recognize him, but it still had the power to startle and upset him.

“I hope so,” he murmured, stroking her hair back from her face. She looked as fragile as spun glass. “I certainly hope so.”

After Ducky was sure she was asleep, he trudged to the kitchen. The dogs were oddly silent, but then they tended to be well-behaved when Jethro was around, as though they could sense that he was the alpha dog. When he opened the door, Ducky found Tony on the floor, surrounded by a pack of squirming, happy canines. Tony himself was grinning broadly as he petted and praised each one. Ducky had a feeling that Tony hadn’t been allowed a pet when he was a child and that a lot of his previous hesitancy had to do with lack of experience more than anything else. From the looks of it, however, the dogs’ exuberance at having company was going a long way to dispel that.

Jethro leaned against the kitchen counter, observing the goings-on with a fond expression on his face. When he heard Ducky come in, Gibbs looked up.

“Got her settled in okay?” He asked.

Ducky nodded, going over to stand next to his old friend. “Yes. The poor dear was exhausted.”

Jethro uncharacteristically hesitated before commented, “She’s getting worse, isn’t she?”

“I’m afraid so. She’s held her own for so long, but it’s inevitable that the dementia would eventually get the best of her.” Ducky sighed, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes. After replacing his spectacles, he looked at the ex-Marine apologetically. “I’m so sorry, Jethro, about that pig farmer comment.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Gibbs replied firmly.

“Besides,” Tony added as he stood up and joined them. “It wasn’t that far from the mark.” He smirked and shot a sly look at Jethro. “Gibbs does pork me every chance he gets.”

Gibbs reached out to smack Tony on the back of the head, but Ducky stopped him by grabbing his wrist.

“Don’t, Jethro,” he admonished the other man. “If you can’t laugh at a situation like Mother’s, the only thing you can do is cry and that really isn’t very productive.”

Jethro had been glaring at Tony, but relaxed as he accepted Ducky’s words. “I suppose so.” He looked blandly at DiNozzo. “I’d rather be a pig farmer than a gigolo.”

“Oh, but I’m a very good gigolo,” Tony retorted, a devilish twinkle in his eye. “I hear I have the blue ribbon to prove it.”

Gibbs growled. “Come here and I’ll give you a ribbon.”

Tony was close enough that Jethro could get a grip on the waistband of his jeans. Slowly and inexorably, he pulled the younger man into his arms. Tony didn’t fight, but went willingly. Once he was close enough, he kissed Jethro with a chasteness that Ducky suspected was due to his presence. Many of his contemporaries found same sex love vile and abhorrent. To Ducky, that always seemed unfathomable. As long as it was two consenting adults, who cared? He’d never been drawn to other men sexually, but saw nothing wrong with it. In fact, along with Abby, he’d been instrumental in bringing Jethro and Tony together and considered it one of his life’s best works.

A growling interrupted them. Ducky looked down at the dogs, but they looked up at him in all innocence. It was Gibbs’ soft chuckle that drew his attention back to the lovers.

“I think DiNozzo’s hungry,” Jethro stated, kissing Tony again before letting him go. “You got any chow in this place or shall we just order in?”

Ducky had a number of meals frozen and it was decided just to heat those up. In short order, they were feasting on lasagna that had been zapped in the microwave. Tony got Ducky to talking about his mother, drawing story after story out of the older man. Without really realizing it, Ducky spent the whole meal describing what an incredible woman his mother had been in her youth and middle age; a far cry from the woman they’d seen. It was bittersweet. Reliving the good times helped Ducky remember the mother he respected and adored, but also made it clear how far she’d slipped from what she once was.

Finally, he fell silent.

“Ducky, how long are you going to try to keep this up?” Jethro asked quietly.

“What?” Ducky had a feeling he knew what his old friend was getting at, but wasn’t feeling particularly cooperative.

“Trying to take care of her yourself,” Gibbs explained. “There are services and… facilities… that would be able to help you.”

Ducky shook his head. “No. As long as she knows me and as long as she derives some comfort from familiar things around her, I’m determined that she remain at home.”

“Even if it kills you?” Jethro countered. “Ducky, have you looked at yourself lately? You said yourself she’s getting worse. You work at NCIS all day and then you’re run ragged looking after her when you get home. You’re gonna get sick at this rate.”

“I have the attendant from the agency for when I’m at work,” Ducky argued. At Gibbs’ snort, he defended his choice. “Eloise is from there and she really is quite good. When she’s here, Mother gets top-notch care.”

“And when she needs a day off?” Gibbs pointedly asked. “What happens the next time your mother walks into the middle of a busy street.”

“Jethro!”

Startled, Ducky realized that the firm, implacable voice came from Tony DiNozzo. He turned to look at the young man, to find an equally stern expression on Tony’s face.

“She’s Ducky’s mother,” Tony stated to Gibbs. “Don’t try to bully him about her care. If he wants her home, then home’s the best place for her.”

Jethro backed down, showing that his relationship with Tony was more equal than Ducky would have thought. If only Kate had witnessed something like this. She’d been worried that the more forceful Gibbs would overwhelm Tony, but Ducky had just seen the evidence that this wasn’t the case.

“I just don’t want Ducky to kill himself trying to do so much,” Jethro explained.

Tony smiled and took Gibbs’ hand. “I know. But just because he wants his mother to stay in their home doesn’t mean he has to do everything by himself. I’ll call Abbs in the morning. We’ll get McGee and a few of the others and get a schedule worked out, make sure that Ducky has some down time.”

Ducky was appalled. He appreciated his friends’ help, but he was no charity case.

“Tony, I’m perfectly capable of seeing to Mother’s care on my own.”

“Nobody said you weren’t, Ducky,” Jethro jumped in. “But you’ve said yourself that NCIS is family. Family helps their own.”

“Not to this extent….”

Ducky was still arguing a few minutes later when the doorbell rang. It was the new attendant from the agency, a supervisor of sorts, and she spent the first five minutes apologizing profusely for the other woman’s glaring misbehavior.

“And I assure you Dr. Mallard, that it won’t happen again,” she assured him as she finally wound down.

“Damn right it won’t,” Gibbs said before Ducky could comment. “From here on out, all of the attendants your agency sends out will receive a thorough security check.”

Ducky didn’t doubt that they would. Abigail could be relentless. With a sigh, he turned to the new attendant and briefly went over his mother’s needs. They would be minimal, but Mother did become confused if she awoke during the night. Normally Ducky slept with a baby monitor on so he could hear her, but since Jethro went to all the trouble to get him a helper, he would make use of her. Perhaps he would get a good night’s sleep for a change.

Once assured that the new assistant knew what she was doing, Ducky left her in the drawing room and returned to his guests. Jethro and Tony were standing at the foot of the stairs.

“Got that all settled?” Jethro asked.

“Yes, she does appear to know what she’s doing,” Ducky replied, unsuccessfully stifling a yawn.

“Been a long day,” Tony commented. “I’m pretty tired myself.”

“Yes, thank you, but Mother and I will be all right now,” Ducky assured them. He’d really taken too much of Jethro and Tony’s time already. It was full night and time for all of them to find their beds. “You should be heading home now, getting some rest.”

“Nope,” Jethro replied succinctly. “We’re staying here tonight.”

Ducky blinked at him fuzzily. “Jethro, that’s hardly necessary.”

“It’s time someone took care of you for awhile,” Tony stated, taking Ducky by the elbow and guiding him up the stairs. “Gibbs called Director Shepard and she said for you to take care of yourself. In fact, we all have the day off tomorrow.”

Ducky knew he should protest, but he couldn’t find it in himself to do so. He let himself be steered upstairs and into the bedroom. Suddenly too tired to stand any longer, he sat inelegantly on the edge of the bed and, in a stupor, watched as Tony untied his shoes. He had enough self-possession to lift his feet so that they could be removed, but that was all he had the energy for. In a similar fashion, Jethro helped with his clothes and, with little effort on his part, Ducky was soon in his pajamas.

“Jethro?” He asked suddenly.

Just like that, his old friend was at his side. “Yeah, Duck.”

“They don’t know for sure, but it seems possible that dementia is genetic, to a certain extent,” Ducky explained in a clipped tone. He’d been staring off into the distance, but turned to look into Jethro’s eyes. “If you ever observe that my mind is slipping, I would very much appreciate it if you would do me the supreme mercy of shooting me.”

He heard a small sound of dismay from behind him and knew that Tony, at least, was dismayed at the request. He didn’t turn to look, though, needing to keep eye contact with Gibbs.

“Not gonna happen, Duck,” Jethro said firmly as he helped Ducky get under the covers. Whether he was referring to Ducky getting dementia or shooting him was unclear. “You’ve worn yourself out, that’s why you’re talking like this. It’s not going to happen again, you hear me? We’re not going to let it.”

Jethro kissed Ducky chastely on the top of the head, just as he was wont to do with Abby. There was nothing sexual about it, just as there was nothing sexual about Jethro crawling into bed with him. Tony got in on the other side. The two of them held him, their warm bodies reassuring him that he wasn’t alone; he hadn’t ever been alone, really.

Safe in their arms, Ducky let himself weep. His mother was gone, in every way that truly mattered; he just hadn’t let himself grieve until now. Tomorrow he would carry on, taking care of the shell of the woman who’d birthed and raised him.

Tonight, though, tonight he would mourn.

~the end~

 

Return to NCIS Stories Index

Return to Fandom Index

Comments or questions taken at: journeyoftheheartfiction@yahoo.com