mrwubbles: (NCIS Autopsies R Us)
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4. "Rooibos are not really tea."

Spoilers: 2X13 "The Meat Puzzle"

Fist inches from the door, Jimmy hesitated. The mansion with its pillars and panels reminded him of Roman buildings in his old textbooks; a connection that only served to make him gulp convulsively at the growing lump lodged in his throat.

The door seemed to suddenly loom high above him. He took a deep breath, squared back his shoulders and knocked, timidly. Then, when no one answered, he rapped at the door harder.

The side window curtain parted when Dr. Mallard lifted it to see who was at the door. When the door didn't open immediately after the flimsy veil snapped back into place, Jimmy began to sweat.

This was a terrible idea. Stupid. Why hadn't Tony said that on the phone when he first brought it up?

"Mr. Palmer," Dr. Mallard greeted as he opened the door. He looked uncharacteristically casual without his usual bowtie, standing in his gray wool cardigan sweater and black slacks.

"What a pleasant surprise."

Jimmy was relieved to see the smile offered to him followed by the widening of the door.

"I wasn't expecting any company this weekend, but please, come in."

"I uh, was coming back from a study session and thought I stop by, Dr. Mallard." Jimmy fought the stammer that usually gave him away. "That bakery I was telling Abby about was on the way, so I…" Jimmy lifted the cardboard take out box embossed in blue lettering with a finger hooked around the cotton string that wrapped around it. The warm scent of butter and smoky spices wafted up between them.

"Ah yes, the shortbread with the tea leaves baked in." Dr. Mallard gestured towards the living room and shrugged one shoulder when they both needed to veer around the cardboard boxes piled like short pillars in the hallway.

"Abby told me about them a few weeks ago. Thought they might be nice to have them in the office. I meant to buy some to try with Mother but alas…" Another shrug. Jimmy felt like apologizing now.

"Please excuse the mess. I've been sorting out her things for Goodwill before the move."

The mess, as Dr. Mallard referred to it, was a labyrinth of cardboard packing boxes that gathered in the foyer, lined the hallway like a second wall and snaked into the living room.

Jimmy stood in the center of the room, the pastry box close to his chest. He tried hard not to look like he was staring. It was the first time in the ME's home, but he was at a loss on what he should say. The usual conversational "You have a nice place" felt grossly inappropriate right now.

Something niggled in his memory and Jimmy glanced around him.

"The dogs are gone," Jimmy blurted out. He winced. He looked to the floor but the gaggle of Welsh Corgies Tony had once mentioned swarmed him were absent from the paisley carpet. He swallowed when he thought how much quieter the house now must be.

Dr. Mallard's mouth turned up at the corners but there was a sigh his words. "I wouldn't know what to do with all of them. My schedule is far too unpredictable and they're quite energetic. They really only listened to my mother. The dogs missed her dearly." He stared at his front door. "The day after she was admitted to the nursing home, they waited by the door all day for her return. I was reluctant to part with them then. But now...Abigail and Timothy offered to take them to a family who would like to take them all in. They left last night." The ME glanced around like he'd forgotten where he placed his keys.

"It does seem odd not to hear them barking, but it's for the best." Dr. Mallard offered another small shrug. "I simply couldn't care for them all."

"Tony did say they were a handful," Jimmy remembered.

Dr. Mallard chuckled faintly and nodded. "They were very taken with him the moment they met him. He believed they were collectively plotting to be underfoot to break his neck each time he was here." He idly picked up a blue dyed leather leash and tucked it into one of the boxes by the couch. It was marked 'Goodwill'. "Abby assured me they're going to a good home." He smiled to himself at a distant yip. "Although I found I couldn't give them all away. I've kept one of the less rambunctious ones and my neighbor took in her sibling."

Jimmy caught sight of reddish fur and shiny button eyes staring unblinkingly up at him before scampering away with a click of nails on the hallway hardwood. Somehow, Jimmy felt a little better knowing one of them was still around.

"I ah, got Earl Grey, Chai, er, some sort of rooibos—"

"Rooibos are not really tea," Dr. Mallard interjected absently, like he couldn't help himself. He rolled a small red ball in his hand, gazing down the hallway before he tossed it. It jingled and Jimmy could hear a frantic scrabble and a high pitched bark. "It's an herb. From South Africa mostly."

"Oh." Jimmy glanced down at the box he was hugging. Maybe he should have gotten the jasmine one instead? "Well…um, green tea. I also got the green tea ones. I'd never tried the green tea ones but Abby said they tasted floral but I'm pretty sure they're not…"

"Dr. Mallard—"

Dr. Mallard turned back from the hallway and raised an eyebrow when he saw Jimmy still standing there. "I think, considering we are not at work, it would be fine to call me Ducky." Gesturing towards the couch, he took the box Jimmy numbly gave him and excused himself to go into the kitchen.

Gingerly, Jimmy sat on the edge of the sofa and chided himself for not dressing at least in something other than the faded jeans and the oxford button down. He thought he was going to study for his boards when he'd impulsively called Tony for advice.

Tony was understandably not thrilled about being called at ten thirty on the rare Saturday morning he was off. However, Tony listened to Jimmy fumble around, debating out loud what excuse he should use to visit the ME before Tony succinctly replied, "Why the hell do you need an excuse?" He hung up without saying good bye.

"Here we go." Dr. Mall—oops, Ducky—returned with the shortbread mathematically arranged on a patterned plate Jimmy's mom would never have taken out except for holidays. The matching teapot wrapped with a towel and corresponding tea cups looked too fragile for Jimmy to handle.

So when Ducky offered him tea, Jimmy accepted the eggshell thin porcelain with cupped hands and drank it cradled like a baby bird because he was too terrified to hold it by its thin, petal shaped handle.

The brew remind him of coffee and licorice and peppermint; a combination that is not Ducky's normal English Breakfast he keeps stashed in his desk at NCIS. It was good, a little on the sweet side, but made sugar unnecessary which was probable why Ducky brewed it.

"Have you checked your glucose today?" Ducky asked. At Jimmy's nod, Ducky bobbed his head as well before offering Jimmy a sand-colored shortbread.

It was the Chai one, shaped like an irregular square, freckled with dots of black and browns. The shortbread melted as soon as he bit into a corner of it. Cinnamon nipped back his tongue before the swirly mix of minty cardamom and warm cloves followed. He nibbled, careful to make sure the crumbs fell onto the saucer.

The decorative sugar crunched under his teeth, loud in his ears. He kept checking but Ducky took no notice as he picked out an Earl Grey one and pronounced it delicious.

The silence that fell between them was strange because he was too used to the anecdotes that rolled out genially in the morgue. Jimmy didn't mind the stories about corpses wrapped in kite strings washed up on the shores of St Andrews or about his travels during his breaks from Oxford.

Several times, Jimmy thought about opening his mouth, offering his condolences, sharing memories of the late Victoria Mallard, maybe even give up a story of his own. But as he sat there, in a room that looked like it was out of those BBC shows, with matching porcelain, boxes all around, Jimmy was sure anything he said would be woefully inadequate. He only met Mrs. Mallard a few times, overheard vague references to her declining health. So there were no memories to reminisce over. And he lived too boring of a life (compared to everyone else) to have any interesting stories. He doubted tales about him and Michelle Lee count; not that he wanted to think about that. Not yet.

Ducky swirled the caramel colored brew before he took a sip, holding the cup by its brim with two fingers rather than its handle, but did set it down on its coordinating saucer. "What were you studying?"

"Huh?" Jimmy blurted out around the green tea shortbread he crammed into his mouth to abort what was going to come out: some inane question about the autopsy they performed yesterday. The burst of butter flakiness sharpened to the tiny bites of sweet bitterness from the green tea flecks.

"The library," Ducky said with his usual infinite patience. "You've mentioned you were studying."

Jimmy told him about the assignment he was given in his advanced forensic odontology. He admitted getting caught falling asleep during the lecture on Arizona v. Krone and how he still couldn't get a handle on the mathematics on capillary electrophoresis.

Even though he shouldn't, Jimmy went on and complained about his professor getting the diagnosis wrong and becoming peeved when Jimmy pointed it out because of that case last month they'd autopsied together that contradicted him. Of course, it didn't earn him any points but did provide some entertainment to the rest of his peers, who snickered.

Because he didn't want to sound like he was only complaining, Jimmy then told him about the library he often studied in. He described the corner spot no one seemed to know about: secreted between the shelves of American history and European history. It was against a window that faced the alleyway the university and the library formed. Jimmy recollected how he once snuck in with a sandwich, fell asleep, and had to dial 911 to get out.

It was boring, mundane and Jimmy found himself fidgeting as he tried to read the ME's reaction. He ran a finger around the border of his saucer plate, corralling the moist crumbs together to huddle over a painted ivy leaf. His knee bounced up and down as he went on prattling about the café that was on campus grounds and how they never get his latte right. He kept going there anyway because they still gave him his student discount.

Throughout it all, Ducky sat back, his teacup balanced on his knee as he nodded and listened without comment. He watched Jimmy intently.

"So ah…" Jimmy trailed off. He suddenly found himself out of things to say and on the verge of repeating himself. He adjusted his glasses sliding down his nose. "Is there anything I can do?"

Ducky canted his head. "Do?" he echoed.

"I mean," Jimmy stumbled, "I know you have Abby and Tim taking care of the dogs." He waved feebly towards the boxes. "Do you need help with those? Is there more to pack?"

For some reason, Ducky smiled to himself as he slowly shook his head. "Tony and Jethro helped me pack up everything this past week."

"I could drive them to Goodwill," Jimmy offered.

"Not to worry. Abby has a friend from Goodwill who will be here Monday with a van to pick everything up."

Jimmy fidgeted in his seat. "Do you need a few days off? I could take some extra shifts for you. I don't mind."

"Not necessary," Ducky replied as he sipped his tea. "Ziva helped me with the paperwork from the nursing home. And Director Vance recommended a very capable estate attorney to handle the rest."

"Oh." Jimmy deflated. He poked the crumbs around on his saucer.

"What is it?" Ducky asked gently.

"I uh…" Jimmy flushed. "I wanted to help," he admitted. "I mean, I didn't know your mother…" Oh, that wasn't something to mention. "But uh, I ah…I know you, well, I mean…" He sighed. His chin dropped. He swirled the remaining tea in the cup.

"Everybody seems to know what you need." Jimmy scratched a spot on his jaw. He could feel a flush creeping up his neck. He chuckled self-deprecatingly. "I wish…I wanted to help."

Ducky leaned forward, his eyes bright, his smile a little wider.

"My dear boy, you already have." Ducky patted him on the knee. He lifted up the tea kettle. "Tea?"

Jimmy blinked. His eyes went from Ducky's smiling visage to the teapot. A knot unraveled into warmth in his chest. He grinned and extended his cup.

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Date: 2011-09-23 11:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Very nice! It really captures that somewhat awkward dynamic they sometimes have and shows how their connection is much deeper than just the surface chatter. And I love how Jimmy tries to be subtle but finally has to come right out and say what he's trying to do - he's a great character for saying stuff that no one else will. <3

Date: 2011-09-24 12:10 am (UTC)
alidiabin: (Gibbs/Ducky)
From: [personal profile] alidiabin
So sweet. Jimmy was just the kind of help Ducky needed. Lovely chapter.

Date: 2011-09-24 02:50 am (UTC)
kew121: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kew121
I loved this entire story, but I though this was the most original chapter. It's my favorite one! I love your portrayal of Ducky and Jimmy.

Date: 2011-09-26 10:40 am (UTC)
sinfulslasher: (ncis jimmy)
From: [personal profile] sinfulslasher
*biggest of hugs* Oh, Jimmy, how much do I love you?

This chapter was heart-breaking. Poor Ducky. And it highlights the Ducky-Jimmy relationship, the slightly awkward hero worship and Jimmy's eagerness, his need to help, to be part of this wonderful, dysfunctional family. (And how awesome was it that everyone had already pitched in in one way or another without making a big fuss about it? *hearts*)

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