A Christmas Commitment

The most wonderful time of the year…well, it could have been once upon a time, muses Hollis to herself. She doesn't often feel the melancholy that she is today but then again it's rare that she finds herself back in the one city that she'd lost her heart. The jostling of the crowds reminds her to check her calendar. She looks up on the nearest marquee and sees that it's November 26, great…just great Hollis…of all days to come out walking you had to choose Black Friday.

More jostling and she finds herself being pushed into the elderly man in front of her.

"Sorry, I—Dr. Mallard, what are you doing out here; especially today of all days?"

"Colonel Mann, well, how delightful to see you my dear. Come we can chat inside here."

Ducky leads her into the nearest Starbucks and orders two coffees. They head over to a table and Hollis smiles at the courtesy of the man. Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard is truly a throwback to the golden age of man, where chivalry reigned supreme. He makes sure that she's seated before sitting down and then answers her question.

"I wasn't planning on going out today, my dear but you know Abigail. She just loves to shop on this day and I had promised Jethro that I'd look out for her. As it is so late, she had to go back to work but I decided to do a bit of window shopping as it were."

"I had heard about your mother; my condolences Doctor."

"Yes, she loved this time of year too. Not Black Friday, but the Christmas holiday and all that it entailed. Mother loved to decorate the house and I have to admit, I'm not looking forward to it quite so much this year. The house just seems so empty without Mother in it."

Hollis nods and plays with her coffee cup. Ducky watches for a few seconds then places a gnarled hand on hers.

"What brought you back here, Hollis?"

His gentle question brings her gaze to his. Hollis hesitates for a few more seconds before stating that her father passed away a few days ago and she's come back for the funeral. Ducky pats her hand, and Hollis can feel tears misting her eyes. Ducky hands her a handkerchief and she dabs at her tears as she smiles her thanks. Almost before she knows it, Hollis is telling the elderly man about her father.

"He's been in a nursing home for the past several years. It was one reason I took the post in Hawaii; to help with his bills. Insurance only covered so much and his savings was almost gone."

"Did Jethro know about your father?"

Hollis sighs, and shakes her head. "We never talked about our families. You know how closed mouthed he is even now."

"Mmm…yes, I do see what you mean. Jethro never was one for confiding in people."

"Yet he still expects his team to confide in him. I could never understand that about him. He's so…complex."

Ducky says nothing; just nods his agreement. A beeping brings their attention to Ducky's cell phone and he apologizes to Hollis as he takes the call.

"Dr. Mallard here; oh hello Jethro. Were your ears burning old chap…mm… I see. Very well, I'll be there shortly. No, no, I'm not that far away actually. I can be right in."

Hollis starts to leave but Ducky puts a hand on her shoulder. "You could come in and at least say hello. He probably won't say it but he will be glad to see you."

They start walking down the street and Hollis puts her hands in her pockets as they enter the Navy Yard. Hollis accepts the guest badge and follows Ducky onto the elevator. Just as they get to Autopsy Hollis speaks up

"I don't know if I want to put either one of us through that emotional turmoil again Ducky."

The elevator swishes open and Gibbs steps out.

"Then don't let it get emotional, just say hello, Hollis. Duck you're running late."

Ducky bristles with minor indignation.

"My being late is your fault Jethro; you're the one who told me to escort Abigail on the busiest shopping day of the year."

"Abby's been back for the better part of an hour Duck. What's your excuse?"

"I was having coffee with a charming young lady; and it is supposed to be our weekend off."

Hollis smiles at the compliment then frowns at the implication that Ducky is working on his weekend off.

"The other ME couldn't be bothered to show up today. Therefore you got pulled in. I'd have called Palmer but McGee reminded me that he's out of town for the holidays."

"Yes, visiting his mother in Hawaii; if not for your funeral my dear, you might have met him over there. Indeed it is almost ironic that your father passed away on the very day that Jimmy was packing to go see his mother."

Hollis nods and asks if there's anything she can do to assist him since she's there. Gibbs heads back upstairs and Ducky sighs.

"No, now it's a matter of metro bringing us the bodies. From what Jethro told me on the phone, they are swamped down there and we're actually doing a bit of interdepartmental cooperation. Although…would you mind filling this up my dear? We can have a spot of tea while we wait for our visitors to show up."

Hollis takes the offered water jug and fills it from the nearby faucet. She can feel a pair of silver blue eyes watching her and she slowly turns around.

"Hello Jethro."

"Hello Hollis."

"I won't take up too much of Ducky's time."

"Don't worry about it. Sorry about your dad by the way. I figured you'd be back for the funeral."

Hollis says nothing as she stares at him. How he can be so cold after all that they've shared is still beyond her knowledge. She wonders if anyone, any woman, could ever touch his heart.

"Don't go there, Hollis. We had a nice time together. I'm not going to try and apologize for something that I just can't give you."

"I hope you are able to give it to someone eventually Jethro. Regardless of what we did or didn't have, you are worthy of loving someone and having that someone love you in return."

"You are too…it just isn't going to be me."

Gibbs strides off down the hallway. Hollis takes the water back into Ducky's office. The older man takes one look at her face and immediately pulls her into a hug. He knows all too well the devastation of loving someone and them not loving him back. Hollis pulls back and smiles again.

"You aren't upset my dear?"

"A bit, but only because of what we could have had. I have met someone though and he is a nice man. I wanted to see Jethro just to make sure that the hold he had on my heart was truly gone. I was having conflicting feelings being back here again. I know now that Jethro wasn't the man I needed…that I need in my life."

Ducky blinks in surprise. He hadn't expected that kind of response considering how close the former Marine and former Lt. Colonel had been. Ducky looks at her closer and sees a look that hasn't been there before…a look of contentment.

"Ahh…the emotional turmoil you were speaking of…you were afraid that you still loved Jethro and wondering if you could commit to your newest paramour with the ghost of Gibbs lying between you."

Hollis nods and sighs. "It's not something that I'm proud of, but I had to make certain that those feelings were truly in the past. Derek is a good man and I wanted to be able to go to him without questioning my feelings anymore. I can do that now."

Ducky pats her hand and smiles. "Good for you my dear. Now let's have at that tea shall we? Did you know that there is no better cure for most ailments than a good spot of properly brewed tea? Of course there are all kinds but I prefer the traditional Earl Grey."

Ducky continues rambling about tea while Hollis thinks about the hazel eyed man she'd left in Hawaii. Having seen Jethro Gibbs again has done much to settle the concern she'd had regarding her relationship with Derek Paulson. Too often she'd found herself wondering if she was just rebounding. Now she knows that Derek is the one that she's been looking for. Now she can finally commit to the man that is still waiting for her reply to his question. She looks at Ducky and asks him if he will excuse her, she has a phone call to make.

Several weeks later, Ducky is flipping through a chart when Jimmy Palmer comes downstairs with the mail. Ducky casually looks through the mail then smiles when he sees the return address on a sealed card.

Opening the card, a picture of a man and woman in nice dress clothes falls out and drifts towards the floor. Jimmy catches it and hands it over to Ducky with a question on his face.

"Our Colonel Mann is getting married Jimmy. I do hope that Mr. Paulson knows what a gem he is getting. Our diamond in the rough certainly shined up didn't she?"

Jimmy looks at the couple in the picture and smiles at the happiness on both faces. He turns to Ducky who is dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief. "Dr. Mallard are you all right?"

Ducky clears his throat and says, "I'm fine Jimmy. I just had the honor of being asked to give the bride away at a Christmas wedding. If you'll excuse me, I need to go make some flight arrangements."

Jimmy picks up the card, smiling again at the couple within. The handwritten invitation for Ducky is in Hollis's neat handwriting. Jimmy places the picture and the card on Ducky's desk. He whispers as he turns off the light and heads upstairs, "Merry Christmas Hollis and to you Uncle Derek. I hope this is the beginning of a lifetime of joy and happiness for both of you."