Word count: 1632
Prompt: Ducky alone at Christmas
Merry Christmas, ragnarok_08. I hope this helps you have a happy holiday
Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard took one last sip of his Tom and Jerry and sighed. The Christmas tree was brightly lit and Johnny Mathis softly crooned on about silver bells. The fireplace was crackling away, even if it was gas and not wood. The windows were slightly frosted and outside the world was blanketed in snow. All was peaceful and silent, including his home.
The dining room table sat quiet and empty. Somehow, Christmases in his condo were even worse than when he was back in the house he’d shared with his mother. It was strange how the death of one person changed everything. Even when she was at the nursing home and Alzheimer’s had made him a stranger, she was still there, around every corner of the old house. He had his memories of the many parties they had thrown. When she was younger, his mother was quite the socialite and Ducky remembered their holiday parties with special fondness.
Ducky smiled as he walked to the Christmas tree. There were several corgi ornaments, many that he’d purchased for her after coming to America. He touched the closest one and felt a thick rock of sorrow choke him. Now Christmas was just another day. Even Jethro was busy, mostly running roughshod over Agent Fornell. Despite his sadness, Ducky managed a tight smile. Those two were good for each other and he was glad neither of them would be alone today. Fornell’s daughter, Emily would visit them and that would bring life back to both men.
Ducky had invited everyone to come to his house for Christmas dinner, but this was no longer the team of the old days, tight knit and so attentive. They were scattered now. Tony was in Paris with his daughter and father. Tim was celebrating the day with Delilah, Abby had her young man, the others – they were still too much strangers for him to know who they were spending the day with.
He looked up at a painting of his mother, done in happier times, but she still looked so stern, as if she knew of the trials awaiting them. “I’m sorry, Mother, I’m just not the mixer you wanted me to be.” Once people found out what he did for a living, well, who could blame them really? He spent his day with the deceased, the smell of death following him like a hungry puppy. Who in their right mind would want to be with him, especially at this time of the year?
A knocking on his door brought his head up and he startled just a little. He wasn’t expecting anyone and his association with NCIS had made him wary. He glanced up at his mother, as if seeking encouragement from her.
“Yes?” he asked, standing to the side of the door. He was old. He wasn’t stupid.
“Doctor Mallard?” Ducky recognized the voice of his associate, Jimmy Palmer. He hurried opened the door and gasped in delight. Jimmy was there with his young wife, Breena, and their little daughter, Victoria Elizabeth.
“My dears, please come in!” He let them actually make it over the threshold before holding out his hands to Victoria. Laughing, the young girl reached for him. “How lovely to see you. All of you. Take off your coats.”
“Oh, Dr. Mallard, your tree is gorgeous!” Breena slipped off her coat and then helped Victoria with hers. Jimmy walked quickly to the tree and set a package down under the boughs, thinking that Ducky hadn’t seen. “We were out and thought we might stop in and wish you a merry Christmas.”
“Certainly, my home is your home.”
“Thanks, Doctor. You sure have a lot of dogs on your tree.” Jimmy draped his jacket over the arm of the couch.
“Yes, well, Mother was rather fond of them.” Ducky walked closer to the tree so Victoria could see the ornaments. With a squeal of delight, she reached for one and managed to snatch a pickle off the tree before Ducky could react.
“Be careful, Victoria!” Breena was there instantly. “Remember, we look with our eyes, not our hands.” She eased the ornament out of her daughter’s hands and Victoria managed to look devastated when her mother passed it to Ducky.
“Sorry, Doctor.” Jimmy’s cheeks were flushed with embarrassment.
“Jimmy, please, we are not at work. Call me Ducky. There’s no harm done, Breena. In fact, it’s very good luck to find the pickle ornament on a tree.” He handed it to Jimmy. “It’s hers now. You take that home and keep it for her until she’s a bit older.”
Breena leaned in and kiss his cheek. “Thank you. One day, she will cherish it and we will tell her the story.”
Ducky smiled, nearly bursting with joy. “Oh, dear, my manners. May I offer you something to drink? I have a very nice claret that I think you’d enjoy. I was just about to open it.” He walked to the wet bar and reached for a wine opener. “Or would you prefer something white instead?”
“Sure.” Jimmy enthusiasm was infectious and Breena laughed. “The red will be fine, Dr. Mallard.”
“You must also call me Ducky,” he said as he carried the bottle and opener to the table. “Jimmy, would you be good enough to uncork—“ A knock interrupted him and he looked perplexed at them. “This seems to be a day of surprises.” On the other hand, they didn’t seem surprised at all, as Ducky walked back to his front door. “Yes?”
“Duck?” Jethro’s voice penetrated the wood with no effort and Ducky hurriedly opened it to let his oldest friend in. The man was followed by a limping Fornell.
“Jethro, Agent Fornell, how are you feeling?” He ushered them in. “Please have a seat.” He led Fornell toward the firmer armchair.
“Better every day, Ducky. Thanks.” Fornell took off his jacket, revealing a sweater of riotous colors. “Ah, Emily gave it to me,” he explained as Ducky tried not to snicker.
“Agent Gibbs,” Jimmy looked panic-stricken at his wife and nearly turned over the bottle of wine. Breena gave him a calming kiss and carried Victoria to Gibbs, who laughed and took her and bounced her on his knee.
“You are getting more beautiful all the time, Victoria.” The baby nearly vanished in Gibb’s hands and she giggled as if he’d told her the world’s funniest joke.
“What is the magic you have with women, Gibbs?” Fornell asked.
Gibbs laughed and then rolled his eyes. “Oh jeez, Palmer, I left my phone in the car. Would you…?”
“Oh, sure.” He took the keys from Gibbs’s outstretched hand and they shared a brief nod. Ducky let it pass. He was just so thrilled to have any visitors on this day of all days. He hurried to his kitchen to check his pantry. He had some hard salami and there were various cheeses in his refrigerator.
“Can I give you a hand, Doctor?” Breena walked into the small kitchen.
“Yes, there is some bourbon in my wet bar—“
“Already found it, Duck,” Gibbs shouted back.
Ducky smiled. “Then perhaps you can help me prepare some cheese. I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
“I hope you didn’t mind us dropping in like this.” Breena washed her hands in the small kitchen sink and dried them off on some paper towels.
“Mind? I’m thrilled.” Ducky knelt to reach the cheese in the refrigerator. “Although, I will confess that I’m just a bit unprepared for company.”
“That’s what we thought, too, so we decided to help out.”
The sound of Abby’s voice made him stand and turn. She was in the entryway, holding a tray of vegetables. Beside her, Tim was carrying a basket of fruit and wine while Delilah managed a box of gifts. Jimmy was holding a platter of meats and cheeses.
“Oh…” Ducky’s voice was very small.
“You didn’t think we’d stand you up on Christmas, did you, Duck?” Gibbs’s voice was soft in his ear.
“But I thought you all had…”
“We did.” Abby put her armful down. “But it wouldn’t be the same without family. ”Ellie apologizes for not being here. She’s back home, but she wanted me to give you this.” She planted a kiss on Ducky’s cheek. “Hope it fits.”
“It always does.” A touch of a blush stained Ducky’s cheeks and he blinked away a happy tear.
Suddenly, the condo, so cold just moments ago was now sparkling with life. Ducky felt awhirl with excitement and watched as his family came together. Still, there was a small flame of sadness, thinking of all their lost members.
There was a knock and everyone in the room looked at each other.
“Who?” Fornell asked, softly.
“You expecting someone, Duck?” Gibbs stood and walked quickly to the door.
“Everyone I know is here.”
There was suddenly a sense of concern and Tim’s hand wandered to his service weapon. Gibbs opened the door and then laughed, throwing it wide.
Tony stood there, his young daughter, Tali, in his arms and his father beside him, laden down with bags.
“I hear this is where it’s all happening,” Tony started.
“How did you--?” Abby ran up to Tony and hugged him.
“I might have let something slip,” Tony Senior admitted. “But we brought gifts.” He held out the bags and Abby slipped into his arms and gave him a bear hug. “Had I known that would be the greeting, I’d have come in sooner.”
“The more, the merrier,” Ducky ushered them in. “Please, let me take your coats.”
As he carried his armful towards the bedroom, he looked up at the painting of his mother. Perhaps it was the lighting or the fullness of his own heart, but she seemed to be smiling now.