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Giving Thanks

by: Ashleigh Anpilova (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 7720
Rating: MATURE
Warning(s): Character Death, Disturbing Imagery or Content
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Ducky Mallard
Category(ies): Friendship, Angst/Drama
Pairing(s): Gibbs/Ducky
Summary: An established relationship story.

Jethro has to face his worst nightmare and does so in the only way the he knows how. Shattered by the outcome, the team is asked to give thanks, rather than to mourn.

Author Notes: Tobias Fornell and the team also appear in this story.

I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.

Chapters: 1

Giving Thanks.

"Friends, we are gathered here today, not to mourn, but to give thanks for . . .”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jethro had always known he wouldn’t, couldn't, survive Ducky’s death.

Few people, if indeed any, would have labeled him the suicidal type; but he was.

In 1991, some seventeen years ago, the only thing that had stopped him from taking his own life, when he’d been given the news about his darling Shannon and Kelly’s deaths, was the knowledge that it would hurt, and probably destroy, his beloved Ducky. He couldn't kill himself without saying goodbye to the man he loved as friend and lover. The man who hated, and felt guilty about, being ‘the other woman’, but the man whom Jethro wouldn’t let walk away. And once he saw Ducky, he couldn't say goodbye.

So for more than three decades, Jethro had refused to accept logic and face Ducky's death. He told himself that the twelve extra years Ducky had over him, were negated by the fact that his job was a dangerous one. That every time he went on deployment, or in later years took his gun and left the office, that he could die. He told himself that the odds of him dying first, far outweighed the odds of Ducky dying before him. And he tried to ignore what he knew his own death would do to his lover.

And then one evening his logic fell apart, and he was forced to face the brutal reality; as out of the blue Ducky had a stroke.

After the fifth doctor told Jethro that there was no chance, that Ducky would have a second stroke, and that that one would kill him, even Jethro had to accept the words. Or rather he did once Ducky, whose speech had been completely unaffected, looked at him and said simply, 'Please, my dearest'.

So against the doctor's strenuous objections, and Ducky's lesser ones, Jethro took Ducky home with him. Took him home to die. Took him home to allow him to spend whatever hours, days, weeks - certainly no more - Ducky had left, with the person who had loved him for half his lifetime. Took him home together with enough medical paraphernalia to start his own hospital, because he wasn't strong enough to let Ducky remain in hospital. He had to have Ducky in his arms for just a little while longer. It didn't matter what it cost him. It didn't matter what he had to do. Nothing mattered but Ducky.

And as he made all the arrangements for Ducky, he made his own too.

"Are you comfortable, Duck?" Jethro hovered by the side of the bed, looking down at Ducky, whose hand he held; whose hand, apart from inconvenient lapses to see to his own bodily needs and other annoying matters, he'd held from almost the second Ducky had collapsed on him. "Oh, shit," he said, before Ducky even had a chance to answer. "What a stupid question; I'm sorry, Duck."

"Jethro," Ducky's voice was low, although his ability to speak had not suffered, it nonetheless tired him, and he could manage little more than a whisper.

"Yeah, Duck?"

"Sit down." Ducky tugged on Jethro's hand, as determination to get his own way appeared in the gentle blue eyes; they also had not suffered from a loss of speech.

After a moment's hesitation, as he glanced around the room looking for something else he needed to do, and finding nothing, Jethro sat.

Ducky let go of Jethro's hand, but only so that he could slide it up to touch Jethro's face. "Believe me, my dear, I am quite comfortable."

Jethro covered the hand that cupped his face with his own hand, moving it slightly so that he could kiss it. "You sure, Duck?"

Ducky nodded once. "Yes, dearest. Far more comfortable than when I was in hospital. Our bed is definitely superior to the one I was in there."

Jethro kissed Ducky's hand again, lingering over each finger. Ducky's eyes softened even further. "That's all right then."

"But, Jethro my dear, are you certain bringing me home was the right thing to do?"

"Sure, Duck. Why didn't you want to come?" Jethro grasped Ducky's hand with both of his.

"Of course I did, dearest. The chance to be in our own bed, in our own home, able to touch you, kiss you, look at you, simply be with you, without the worry that a nurse, or doctor, or other well-meaning person, will suddenly appear, knowing that we have no one to answer to but ourselves, for no matter how short a time, is one that I would not wish to pass up. But it is you that concerns me."

"Me?"

"Yes, dear. You. You're already exhausted, and at least at the hospital the nurses and doctors did have their uses. You shouldn't have to -"

Jethro leaned forward and pressed his lips to Ducky's. "In sickness and in health," he said quietly, but firmly, after a second or two. "I want you here, Duck. I need you here," he added softly. "I love you. Oh, Duck," and to his shame, the tears, he'd kept silent and hidden since the night his world had been turned upside down, began to fall.

Given the level of Ducky's paralysis, Jethro wasn't certain how his lover managed it, but as the tears he couldn't stop streamed down his face, blinding him and making his eyes smart and his throat scream with pain, he found himself in Ducky's one-armed embrace, his head on Ducky's shoulder, being held securely, as a murmured liturgy soothed his ears. "It's all right, Jethro. It's all right, my dearest. I'm here. I'll never really leave you. I love you too much. I love you, Jethro. I love you. And I always shall. Death cannot truly part us. Nothing can. No one can."

Jethro wasn't certain how long he'd cried for, and how many times Ducky had repeated his words, but finally he lifted his head, dragged his hand over his eyes and nose, and looked at Ducky. "No," he said quietly. "It can't."

He saw the shock register in the soft blue gaze. Felt Ducky's fear; a level of panic that Ducky had not hitherto displayed. "Jethro. No, my dear. No. Please, you must pro -"

“Don’t ask, Duck, please." Jethro put one finger to Ducky's lips, and with his other hand gripped Ducky’s hand tightly. As he did, he let the shutters he tended to wear over his eyes unless the two men were alone, the shutters that had quadrupled in thickness and intensity since the evening of the stroke, fall from his eyes.

“But, dearest.”

“No, Duck. Please. I don’t want to lie to you. I can’t lie to you. And I can’t make the promise you want me to make. Because I can’t make a promise to you I know I’ll break. Please.”

“Oh, Jethro.” Ducky lifted his hand, taking Jethro's own with it, frowned at how badly it was shaking, and touched Jethro’s cheek. “I wish . . .” He stopped speaking as a harsh cough wracked his body.

Jethro pulled him into a loose embrace, relaxing only when Ducky’s head came to rest on his shoulder and the coughing ceased. “I know, my love, so do I.” He kissed the top of Ducky’s head.

For a while they just sat in silence, holding hands and looking at one another. Jethro felt a kind of peace, the like of which he hadn’t felt since the last time Ducky was in their home, begin to descend around them.

He wanted to hold on to it, to let it gather him up.

At the same time, he wanted to push it away, drive it out of the room, out of their lives, out of sight, out of mind, out of presence. He feared he knew that it meant.

Then Ducky spoke again; his voice even gentler than it had been previously, and full of the kind of affectionate intimacy Jethro knew so well. “Come to bed, Jethro,” he said, smiling and letting his eyes take on the same look as was present in his voice.

Jethro glanced around the room; he was suddenly desperate to find a reason not to do what Ducky asked. “It’s the middle of the day, Duck. I should be doing . . . Something.”

“You will be doing something, dearest, you’ll be holding me. Please, my dear Jethro. I want you to hold me; I want it so very much. Please.”

Jethro looked into Ducky’s eyes. And, as with his desire to force the peace to leave, he wished he could find a reason to say no to Ducky. He knew what Ducky was saying. He knew exactly what Ducky was saying. Irrationally he told himself that if he didn’t get into bed with Ducky, didn’t hold him, that he could . . . But he knew he couldn’t.

You brought him home to die. At least let him die in your arms. I thought we’d have longer. I can’t let him go yet. He thought. No matter how long you had, it won’t be enough. And it wouldn’t be.

For a brief second he closed his eyes. Then opened them again, leaned forward and brushed his lips, letting them linger for longer this time, over Ducky’s. “Sure, Duck,” he said, after a moment or two. “Why not.”

He stood up, moved to the window to pull the curtains, and began to remove his sweater and trousers. As he did a biting chill began to settle over and within him. He knew he would never be warm again.

Dressed now in just his undershirt and shorts, he moved back to the bed and reached for the covers. Ducky frowned slightly. “Aren’t you a little overdressed, my dear?”

To his self-disgust and horror, his body began to react to the tone and the look in Ducky’s eyes, just as it always did. Jethro turned around, desperate to hide the reaction, and began to recite the rules of cricket that Ducky had once tried to teach him.

“Don’t, Jethro,” Ducky said softly. “Don’t be embarrassed, please, my dear. It pleases me. It shows me that although I am . . .” he broke off for a moment. Still Jethro tried to order his body to obey him; but it knew Ducky’s voice too well. “Not quite myself, that I am still able to affect you, in a good way, that is. Please, Jethro, turn around and take the rest of your clothes off, and then get into bed and hold me. I need you, my dear.”

Jethro swallowed once and then obeyed.

As he stripped off his shorts and dropped them onto the floor, he saw Ducky smile in obvious pleasure at the sight of his partial arousal. As Ducky lay looking up at him, for a moment Jethro could almost fool himself that it was just like any other time they’d gone to bed.

Taking great care and moving slowly, Jethro got into bed beside Ducky, tugging the covers back around them both. Ducky moved the hand that was able to move, and ran two fingers along Jethro’s erection. Jethro gasped, as his pulse rate began to increase. Then Ducky smiled again and let his hand fall away, and instead offered his mouth for a kiss. ‘A real one’, his eyes said.

Still taking care, Jethro carefully gathered Ducky into his embrace, holding him like he would something fragile, and found the mouth he’d been kissing for over three decades; he claimed it in a kiss as old as their relationship, and as young as the day.

Jethro knew that Ducky's capacity not to need to breathe had diminished since the stroke, so he kept the kiss, and the subsequent ones, fairly brief. For a long time they simply shared tender, loving kisses, letting them say so many things; things that neither man could, would, voice.

Jethro knew he had to face reality, at least for now. Ducky was saying goodbye, there could be no doubt in that. And he was also asking Jethro to let him go, to accept that he must die, that he must leave Jethro, at least for a little while. As much as Jethro hated to do so, he knew he had to do as Ducky was asking. He had to let his lover go; let him die in peace, dignity, and with the person he loved.

Ducky's one good hand was lightly stroking Jethro's back and side, the touch full of the same love and affection the kiss was giving. Against his body, Ducky felt warm and soft, and again for a moment Jethro let himself be fooled, let himself be lulled.

But moments pass; as this one did.

This time when they paused for breath, Jethro pulled back a little and looked down at his lover. Ducky looked content, serene almost. His eyes still blazed with the love and devotion they always showed, and were soft and vocal. The blue had almost been replaced by ebony, and the heavy lashes fell and rose over them slowly. Ducky's face was flushed, but a touch, half-hidden as a caress, to Ducky's forehead reassured Jethro that his lover's temperature wasn't overly high. His lips were reddened from the kissing, and as Jethro watched the tip of Ducky's tongue appeared and licked them.

"You thirsty, Duck?"

"A little, my dear."

Moving carefully, Jethro turned the embrace into a one-armed one and reached across Ducky to snag the glass of water. Then with a skill he'd developed from the hours he'd spent at Ducky's hospital bedside, Jethro helped his lover sit up enough to allow him to sip some of the water.

"Thank you, dearest," Ducky said, when they were once again settled back onto the bed. Slowly he moved his hand and stroked Jethro's face. Jethro caught the caressing fingers and pulled them to his mouth; he kissed them one by one.

As he looked down at his lover, he saw the pale face had a solemn look upon it. "Duck?"

Ducky tugged his hand from Jethro's mouth and again began to stroke Jethro's face. Letting his fingertips move over his cheeks and forehead, letting them trace the shape of his nose and eyebrows, letting them caress his lips, before moving back to cup his face.

"My thanks are for more than the water, my dear Jethro. They are for every day of the last thirty-three years. I gave thanks each day that I happened to be in that alleyway, at exactly the same time as you were walking by, and that you were prepared to come to the rescue of a perfect stranger. It's all right, Jethro," Ducky said quickly. As always, he would have sensed, or indeed felt, Jethro's reaction to any mention of how they first met. "Maybe, dear, we should be grateful to the men who -"

Jethro kissed him to silence him. "You don't have to thank me for loving you, Duck," he said, after another brief interlude.

"I know, my dear. But I wish to. You have made me very happy, more so than I could ever have hoped to be. I never really allowed myself to believe that I would meet someone who could, and would, love me in the same way as I loved him. And for a while -"

"You didn't think I would." Jethro's tone was heavy with self-depreciation.

But Ducky shook his head firmly. "Oh, no, dearest. Do not ever think that. I always knew, right from the moment you seduced me and made love to me, that you loved me, and that you always would."

"Despite four marriages? Jenn Shepard? And -"

"Hush, dear. I do not wish to speak of past lovers. Not now. But yes, despite all of those things; despite everything, I always knew. I also always knew that you disliked yourself for what you were doing to me."

"Dislike's a bit too tame a word, Duck."

"I know." Ducky touched Jethro's lips once more with his fingers, and then let his hand fall back onto the bed. After a moment or two, it moved towards Jethro's own hand and interlaced the fingers. "And that is why I, to quote you, 'put up with all the crap'. Had I believed for one moment that you were cavalier about it all, then no matter how much I loved you, I would not have stood for being treated like that. I would have left you, Jethro. No matter how difficult it would have been. Or at least I would have tried to," Ducky added, after a moment or two. "I am not certain I would have succeeded. But I would have tried."

"I love you, Duck." Jethro's throat was tight as he spoke the words.

"I know, my dear. And I love you too. I always shall. I just wish that we could make love one final time."

"We are doing, Duck. We always do. You know that."

Ducky smiled softly. "Of course, dearest. You are quite correct. I just . . . But that's foolish on two levels. One it is not possible, and two -"

"When has it mattered?" Jethro said firmly. Ducky acknowledged the truth in the question.

Again they spent several minutes exchanging gentle kisses.

Jethro noticed that the time Ducky needed between kisses was growing longer, and that his eyes were losing some of their brightness. "Can I touch you, Duck?" he whispered, kissing Ducky's nose.

Ducky blinked. "There would be little point for me, my dear."

"I know, but . . ." Jethro trailed off.

Ducky just smiled and nodded.

Jethro spent several minutes letting his fingers brush lightly but assuredly over Ducky's body; caressing gently, loving and giving and taking reassurance; taking the contact and locking it away in his mind. Although Ducky was clearly enjoying the touches, where he could feel them, they had, as he said, no physical affect on him. And for the first time ever in their relationship, beyond the lull of pleasure and security that always ran through Jethro's body when he touched his lover, he too had no physical reaction.

As his fingers completed their circle, and again brushed Ducky's lips, Jethro realized that the caressing had been his final way of accepting. And he knew something else too.

"Kiss me, dearest, please." Ducky spoke quietly, but firmly.

Jethro did so, gathering Ducky back more tightly into his arms, holding him, wishing he never had to let go, but knowing. Just knowing.

"Jethro." For the first time since the dreaded night, Ducky sounded almost afraid, and he sought Jethro's hand, his own moving clumsily until Jethro took it and squeezed it, holding it securely. He looked into Ducky's eyes and saw the same hint of fear.

"It's all right, Ducky," he whispered. "It will be all right, my love."

The fear faded and the serenity reappeared; Ducky smiled softly before lifting his mouth to meet Jethro's. It was the briefest kiss they'd shared since Jethro had got into their bed; but also the sweetest he had ever experienced.

It was Ducky who pulled away. "Hold me," he said simply. "Please hold me, my dearest Jethro."

Jethro did.

Ducky closed his eyes, nuzzled more closely into the embrace, sighed once and then slipped away.

Jethro knew the second that Ducky's life had left his body, and his own reaction surprised him. He had thought that he'd fight it. Had thought he'd try anything to breathe life back into his lover. Had thought the tears would overwhelm him, and that sobs would shake his body.

Instead he felt the same serenity he'd seen on Ducky's face moments before. "Love you, Duck," he murmured. "So very much. Always will." He kissed Ducky's face several times before adding, "I'll see you again soon, my love. Very soon."

Then carefully, like he was handling fine china, he lay Ducky back down onto the bed and settled down next to him, Ducky's hand still in his, to watch and wait.

He waited until the ravages of death had run their course; then calmly cleaned Ducky and the bed. He felt more at peace, more settled now than he had done for the past few weeks.

Sitting back down on the bed he braced himself for what he now must do.

"Abbs?"

"Gibbs," the sleepy voice of his dear Abby was clear in his ear.

For a moment he thought it might break him, but he swallowed hard and briefly closed his eyes. "Yeah, Abbs, it's me."

"He's dead, isn't he?" Abby's voice was hesitant. Her tone said 'don't tell me. Lie to me'.

But he knew; she knew anyway. It was the middle of the night, 3:15 a.m. to be precise, and given that Jethro hadn't been at the office since Ducky had his stroke, there would be no other reason for him to be calling her.

He heard her sob, before he even confirmed it. Again, he thought her grief might be his undoing; maybe he should have called someone else first. But it felt right, proper, just, that it was Abby, who was dear to both of them; she was Jethro's surrogate daughter, and saw him as her second father, her hearing one. He remembered Ducky asking him once, 'If you're Abigail's father, does that make me her mother'? Rather than pain him, the memory made him smile.

"Oh, Gibbs," Abby said softly, sniffing as she spoke. "I'm so sorry. I . . ." For a moment she trailed off, and Gibbs heard her sob. Seconds later she spoke again; this time her voice was steady. "How are you, Gibbs? Stupid question. Ignore me."

"Never, Abbs. You wouldn't let me. I'm okay. I . . ." he swallowed. "I guess by the time I brought him home, I guess I'd finally accepted it."

"Did he suffer, Gibbs?" Again he heard her hesitancy; her need for him to lie.

But he didn't need to lie. "No, Abby. He didn't. I promise. It was very quick; very peaceful. He just," he swallowed again. Her pain was beginning to affect him. "Went to sleep."

"You were with him?"

"Of course. Where else would I be?"

"I just wondered . . . Well you know sometimes we have to go out for a minute and . . . It happens. But Ducky wouldn't have done that to you, would he?" Then another sob escaped her. "Oh, Gibbs, I'm going to miss him. I'm really going to miss him."

"I know you will, Abbs. But you'll be okay. You will be. You hear me? Have I ever lied to you? Well, Abby, have I?"

To his surprise and relief, the heavy emotion lessened, and when she spoke her voice was lighter, almost his old Abby, with a very faint hint of humor. "Not if you don't count not telling me everything, then no." Then she said quickly, "Wait. I remember. There was that one time. The tree DNA. You lied to me then, Gibbs. You told me - Sorry, Gibbs."

"Don't be, Abbs. Duck wouldn't want you to grieve. You know he wouldn't. He'd want you to remember the joy, not the loss."

"I know he would. Gibbs?"

"Yeah, Abbs?"

"Nothing."

"You sure?"

"Yes. You going to call the rest of the team?"

"Yeah. I'd better. Do I need to call McGee, or . . . ?"

"He's not here tonight, Gibbs. If that's what you're trying to find out."

"He should be, Abby."

"Gibbs."

"It's time you two stopped messing around and accepted fact."

"You telling me to marry him?"

"Do Goths marry?"

"I do love him."

"I know."

"It's just . . ."

"I know. But you won't find anyone else like him, Abbs. He'll take care of you."

For a moment Abby was silent. Then she said quietly. "Yeah, he will. Thank you, Gibbs."

"Abby, I . . ." But he couldn't say it. He couldn't tell her. It was one thing to say it to Ducky, but, the words wouldn't come. They weren't part of the 'rules'.

"I know. Me too, Gibbs. Thank you," she repeated.

"Go back to sleep, Abbs." He said the words softly and then, because he knew that if he didn't, she wouldn't, and he did have other calls to make, gently ended the call. "And take care," he added.

The single call had almost exhausted him. Emotional outpourings were not part of his nature; they didn't come easily to him. "Ah, Duck," he stroked Ducky's cold face. "You'd have done it so much better."

"You can do anything to which you put your mind, my dear Jethro." His lover's voice was as clear as if he'd spoken the words.

"Guess I can, Duck. Guess I can."

He pressed another button and listened to the phone ring. Once, twice, thr -

"DiNozzo?"

"Tony."

"Boss. Is anything . . . Oh, hang on a moment. Get off. Now!"

Jethro heard a female's voice exclaim and then curse. It was all so very normal; so perfectly and reassuring natural.

"Sorry, boss." Then he said, this time more quietly, and in a far more serious tone than Jethro had ever heard him use, "I am sorry, Gibbs."

So he'd guessed too.

Well, it made sense, and not just because DiNozzo was paid to investigate, but because in many ways the whole team had some kind of almost psychic link. "Yeah. I know, Tony."

"Was it . . . ?"

"It was. He didn't suffer."

"Good. I'm glad." Then he added, to Jethro's surprise, "For your sake as well as Ducky's."

"Thanks, Tony."

"Can I do anything, boss? Do you need me to come round or something?"

"In the morning, DiNozzo. Ducky's not going anywhere. Come round before you go to the office."

“Sure, boss.”

There was silence. As with Abby there were things Jethro wanted to say; probably things he should say; but saying them was impossible. Instead he said, “DiNozzo?”

“Yeah, Gibbs.”

“Watch your six.”

He could almost hear DiNozzo blink. Then, his lead field agent said, “Always, boss. Thanks for letting me know. See you tomorrow.”

Jethro disconnected. Maybe he shouldn’t do it to DiNozzo, but it had to be someone, and of all the kids, DiNozzo just seemed right.

“Guess he didn’t turn out too bad, did he, Duck? Irritated the hell out me most of the time, but, he knows his job.”

You wouldn’t have kept him around for six years had he not, my dear.” Again he heard it as clearly as if Ducky had spoken.

“So you told me - more than once.” Jethro looked down at Ducky and shook his head slightly. He leaned across and brushed Ducky’s overlong, heavy fringe back from his forehead. “That’s better.”

Two down. Three to go.

“McGee?” The phone was answered on the first ring, by a very alert sounding McGee.

For a moment Jethro wondered if Abby had called; but he knew she wouldn’t have done. “Tim.”

“Boss?”

“Yeah.” Suddenly he couldn’t face being second-guessed. “Ducky’s dead. It was quick. He didn’t suffer.”

There was silence for a moment; then he heard McGee swallow hard. It didn’t surprise him; the young agent was far more emotional than DiNozzo. “I’m so sorry, boss. I am. Is there anything I can do?”

Jethro found himself saying, “Yeah, Tim, there is. Go to Abby. Take care of her.”

“On it, boss.” The acceptance of the order came without hesitation.

“Thanks.” Again, there was so much he could have, should have, said. Again he couldn’t.

“Thank you, boss.”

Again, Jethro hung up.

“Ah, Duck. I should have told him. Let him know what a good agent he is. Should have done it many times. He needed it more than DiNozzo.”

He knew, my dear.”

“You sure, Duck?”

Quite certain, Jethro.”

For the fourth time, Jethro pressed the relevant buttons.

“Hello, Jimmy Palmer speaking.” Palmer sounded, like he so often looked, like a frightened deer.

"Hey, Palmer. It's Gibbs." Jethro was fairly certain that Ducky's assistant would recognize his voice - he should - but it was better to be certain.

"Oh, Special Agent Gibbs sir. Hello."

Jethro sighed silently and shook his head. "Just Gibbs'll do, Jimmy," he said gently; repeating something that both Ducky and Jethro himself had told the young man several times.

"Yes, sir."

Jethro gave up. "Jimmy," he said quietly, wondering why this was so much harder than telling the other kids. Probably because when it came down to it, Palmer was responsible firstly to Ducky. "I'm afraid that . . ." He broke off, briefly closed his eyes and tried again. "Ducky died a few hours ago, Jimmy."

There was silence. It went on for long enough to make Jethro wonder if Palmer had inadvertently disconnected the call.

"Palmer?"

"Sorry, sir." He heard the tears that Palmer made no attempt to hide. "It's just . . . I mean we all knew . . . But . . . Oh," he sobbed twice.

Abby's pain had nearly broken him, but surprisingly Palmer's made him feel suddenly very paternal. "It's all right, Jimmy," he said. "I know. I know." Again he should say more, Palmer needed him, needed someone to say more, but Jethro had run out of words. Ducky would have known what to say; Ducky would have managed to even make Palmer think he was there with him. But words had never been Jethro's closest friend.

"I never told him."

"Told him what?"

"How grateful I was that he gave me a chance. I never thanked him. I should have done. I should have let him know. But -"

"He knew, Jimmy."

"Did he, Agent Gibbs? Did he really?"

"Yes, he did."

"Thank you, sir." Palmer sniffed loudly, but his voice seemed less distressed.

"Palmer?"

"Yes, sir?"

"You don't have to worry about your job."

"Sir?"

"Dr. Mallard made arrangements. It'll all be okay."

"Wow. He did? But that's -"

"So like Ducky."

"Yes, sir."

Again there was silence. Again Jethro wondered how to end the call.

But he didn't have to. Palmer spoke again; his voice was definitely more even now. "I think I'm going to make myself a cup of tea, sir."

Jethro found himself smiling. "You do that, Jimmy. You do that."

"Yes, sir. Thank you for letting me know. Thank for you . . . Thank you, Gibbs."

"Night, Palmer." Now Jethro did click the phone off.

"He's a good kid, Duck."

"I know, my dear. I always told you that. Jimmy will make an excellent Medical Examiner; in due course, naturally."

"Yeah, Duck."

Jethro ran his hand over his head. He wasn't sure he could make any more calls. Not now. You have to, he told himself. Unless you've changed your mind.

And he did have to. Unless . . .

He looked at Ducky, so still, so pale, so peaceful. Ducky would want him to change his mind. Ducky had tried to make him promise. Ducky wouldn't mind if Jethro kept him waiting; quite the opposite. He could still live a good life; still make a difference. You've got the kids, he told himself. And he did have. But for how long? How long could the team stay as it was?

Assuming Goths did marry, and Abby overcame her fear of commitment, would McGee be prepared to remain a field agent and risk making Abby a widow?

And if they had kids, would Abby want to be a working mother? And even if she did, how long would it be before she looked, in effect, for promotion?

DiNozzo had more than doubled the length of time he usually remained in a job. But a wanderer is always a wander. History tended to repeat itself; certainly did with you. Statistically, DiNozzo would be looking to move on very soon now.

Palmer would be, assuming that he accepted Ducky's generous gift, be going to Medical School, before he returned to NCIS.

The kids would all, one way or another, fly the nest.

And without the kids, what point was there?

He changed his mind once before, and not regretted it, maybe he should . . . But the only reason he'd changed his mind after the news of Shannon and Kelly had been brought to him, had been Ducky. Was it? "Yes," he said firmly. Then make the final call.

"Fornell?" The voice he'd heard many times over the years, sounded tired, but also alert.

"It's me."

"Oh, Jethro. I am sorry."

"I know, Tobias. So am I. But it was quick. He didn't suffer."

"That's something."

"He was ready."

"And you?"

"What do you think?"

"Can I do anything, Jethro? Want me to come over?"

"Yes, you can. And yes, but not now. I've told DiNozzo to come to the house tomorrow, Tobias. I don't him to be alone."

He heard Tobias sigh. "You haven't changed your mind then?"

"Can't."

"I ought to stop you. I could. I could have the cops on your door step in minutes."

"I know. But you won't."

"Won't I?"

"No."

"What about the kids?"

"They'll be fine."

"Guess they'll have to be."

Jethro knew with that short exchange, it was more than the kids Tobias was asking about, and more than the kids who would have to be okay. This was why this call had been the hardest.

He and Fornell had never appeared to have a close relationship, had appeared to almost hate one another at times, had pissed each other off professionally on many occasions. They had argued, bitched, played one-upmanship games at times; but it was all for show. Well maybe not quite all. The FBI and NCIS had never really played well together, but that was all professional. The two senior agents had a close relationship, a close friendship. It was one based on fierce respect, deep trust and a fondness for one another they would never admit - probably not even to themselves, let alone each other. Ducky had known the truth; but then Ducky always knew the truth of anything related to Jethro.

"I'm sorry, Tobias," he found himself saying.

"Yeah. Me too." Fornell came close to crossing the line they'd drawn.

Jethro held his breath, wondering if his second oldest and closet friend would say anything else.

Wanting him to.

Desperately hoping he wouldn't.

Fornell was silent for several moments.

Then Jethro heard him sigh.

When he spoke again, his voice was low, flat and gruff, but Jethro knew it was hiding emotion. Emotion a special agent does not show. "I'll be over first thing, Jethro."

"Thanks, Tobias." Jethro's voice matched Fornell's.

Again the silence stretched between them.

"You take care, Jethro." Fornell finally said.

"You too, Tobias. You too."

"Yeah. You know, Jethro, I just might retire. I'm tired of it all. It's a game for the young." And Fornell would be able to do just that, should he wish to; should it be more than just talk - and Jethro thought it was. He wasn't that surprised. He'd probably do the same.

"One more favor, Tobias."

"Shoot."

"Talking of the young, see if you can find time to drop in on the kids now and then."

"I'm sure they'll love that."

"Yeah." For another minute, Jethro let silence fall again. Then he said simply, "Tobias."

"Jethro."

Jethro ended the call.

"That was harder than I reckoned, Duck."

"Ah, my dear Jethro."

Although the calls had exhausted him, emotionally more than anything else, they had at least provided him with a distraction; now that it was gone, he had a choice to make. His years spent around death and around Ducky in particular, had given him a good understanding in the ways of suicide.

He reckoned he had three options.

The most logical, he dismissed. Putting Tobias and Tony through it was bad enough, but a gunshot was never pretty to see. Besides it would no doubt cover Ducky in blood too, and he didn't want that.

He picked up a syringe and fingered it. He remembered Ducky telling him that inserting an empty syringe into a vein and injecting air into it would be an effective way of ending a life. Indeed, they had seen it used on more than one occasion. Ducky had even talked Jethro through how it could be done, during the case on the Enterprise, albeit via an IV drip rather than a direct needle. The only problem was that, guaranteeing to be able find the vein was sometimes difficult enough at times for trained medical personnel, for someone non-medical, even with the degree of knowledge that Jethro had, was problematic at best. And yet, it still seemed like a nice non-fussy, non-messy, fully guaranteed way. Again he turned the syringe over in his hands.

The other option was pills - there was plenty of Morphine around the place. The idea of being able to simply drift off to sleep, with Ducky in his arms appealed. The possibility that he became unconscious before he'd taken enough to achieve his goal didn't. But he trusted the pills; they were something tangible.

He spent several minutes in the bathroom, before returning to the room that held some of his fondest memories. Returning to the man he loved more than he loved life.

Settling down onto the bed, he kissed Ducky gently; letting his lips caress the pale, cold face.

He then took a step his gut told him would be irreversible.

He let the glass fall to the floor, moved closer to his beloved and, eyes swiftly closing, embraced him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tobias didn't need to place his fingers on Jethro's neck in order to confirm death, but he did it any way.

He looked down at the couple he'd known for over twenty years. They both looked to be at peace; there was a serenity around them that had never existed in life.

"Should I have stopped you, Jethro?" But he knew the answer to that - ultimately he couldn't. And at least this way, he could ensure there was some dignity. "I'm going to miss you two," he said, swallowing hard and rubbing his hand over his eyes.

He must have imaged the two voices saying, "We will meet again, Tobias."

With one more look at the couple, and a brief touch of both of their foreheads, he slowly made his way down the staircase to wait for DiNozzo to arrive.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Friends,” Tobias said again, swallowing hard around the lump in this throat. “We are gathered here today, not to mourn, but to give thanks for the lives of two men who were, in their own ways, very dear to all of us. So please, join me in the thanksgiving of the lives of Jethro and Ducky.”

He looked towards the NCIS team.

Abby was being held by McGee. She looked paler than he had ever seen her, but she was refusing to cry.

McGee, however, did have tears standing in his eyes, and on his cheeks.

DiNozzo looked to be in shock. The same way he had looked ever since the morning he and Tobias had met outside Jethro and Ducky’s Reston home.

Jimmy Palmer was openly crying. He looked lost and completely vulnerable, and almost scared.

Tom Morrow was almost unreadable. He looked quietly composed, but the ex-NCIS Director had always been a master at hiding his true feelings. And even he could not completely hide his sorrow.

Jennifer Shepard looked almost bored. But her pallor, as well as her dark rimmed eyes, told Tobias a different story.

Ziva David, sitting a little apart from both Tom Morrow and the ‘children’ as Jethro and Ducky tended to refer to the team, and Jenny; he could not read at all. He could not even begin to read her. But then he never could.

He nodded gently at Abby and offered a half smile. Squeezing McGee’s hand one more time, the young woman stood up and carefully, very carefully, putting one foot in front of another like a child walking for the first time, made her way to join Tobias.

He was about to move to one side, when she grabbed his hand and held on to it.

She began to speak.

She was followed by McGee, DiNozzo, Palmer, Tom Morrow, and finally Tobias himself. He hadn’t asked Jenny to say anything; he hadn’t known how to approach Ziva. One by one the people who had, in their own ways, loved Jethro and Ducky, did as Tobias had asked; they gave thanks for the men who had touched their lives. Gave thanks in a way that was deeply personal to each and every one of them.

Once Tobias had finished speaking and had blinked hard several times, he led the team that had, to his surprise, all remained gathered in a group. He'd expected each one to come up, speak and return to their seats; but that hadn't happened. Abby still had her hand in his, and he welcomed the warmth and support it gave him.

Quietly another man, Martin Grantwood, made his way to where the team had stood. He stood in front of them for a few moments in silence, just letting his gaze come to rest on each of them. He exuded peace and calm and quietness, and his aura was reassuring - it always was. That was one of the reason Tobias had approached him.

"I had never met Jethro or Ducky. However, after hearing you all speak, I feel that I know them." Martin's voice was low, it's timbre unthreatening, reassuring, calming. "When Tobias approached me and asked if I would be prepared to conduct the official part of this thanksgiving ceremony, I know that it was with a degree of trepidation.

Tobias found himself nodding. It had been.

"However, he need not have worried, for two reasons. To me, no matter what the official doctrine of the Church might be, I personally believe that love is love. That true love, affection, respect and friendship of the kind Jethro and Ducky clearly shared, is the same whatever the gender, race, color, creed, or any other way we have of differentiating between people."

The members of the NCIS team were quiet; they were all watching Martin intently, clearly listening to his every word. And as he explained his own feelings, Tobias saw the tears begin to slip from Abby's eyes. He squeezed her hand and she returned the gesture; he then handed over one of the two handkerchiefs he'd put in his pockets.

"My second reason for not hesitating, once Tobias explained to me, was that I cannot believe that the God I serve, the God of love, the God of understanding, the God who does not discriminate, the God who put his own son amongst us, and did not bring down fire and brimstone on the people who betrayed, and thus caused the death of, his son, can be anything other than a loving God. I refuse to believe that he would turn his back on two people for their love, merely because they were two men. I cannot believe that; I will not believe that. And as such, I was more then willing to stand with you today, and to help you celebrate and give thanks for the lives of two men who were, by your own words, human, fallible, imperfect, as 'irritating as hell at times', I believe was how Tobias himself described Jethro; men who were demanding, perfectionists. Men who didn't always share as you might have hoped they would; men who couldn't always say how they felt, but men whom you all loved, trusted, respected, looked up to. Men for whom I firmly believe that each and every one of you would have willing laid down your lives; as they would have done for each and every one of you."

The tears now poured from Abby's black-rimmed eyes, and as Tobias looked, he saw that the only people in his little group not openly crying were Tom Morrow and himself. Tobias knew the battle he was having to keep the tears from falling, and he suspected that Tom Morrow was fighting the same battle.

Something made him glance to the other side. Jenny Shepard sat still and silent, so still and silent that for a moment Tobias wondered if she'd been frozen, or ceased to breathe. Her eyes were quite dry, but her ashen cheeks and the way her hands were gripped together told their own story. But it was Ziva who surprised him.

She too sat silent and still. But from her eyes poured a steady flow of tears. She made no noise nor did she make any attempt to check the tears. For a moment he regretted that he hadn't found a way to ask her to speak.

Then he heard Gibbs reminding him that regrets were futile and telling him to stop worrying. He turned back to face Martin.

"Jethro and Ducky touched, in one way or another, the lives of everyone with whom they came into contact - not necessarily always in a good way, at all times. But most of all they touched one another's lives. They shared with you all what they could; they gave you all they could give. They gave you hope. Let us now give them something. Let us give them thanks. Let us not mourn; they wouldn't have wanted that. Instead, let us remember them as the men they were; don't make them into what they weren't. Give thanks that they touched your lives. Give thanks that you knew them. Give thanks that they had one another. Let us pray."

As he bowed his head, Tobias murmured softly, so softly that no one would have heard him, "Thank you, Jethro, thank you, Ducky. Thank you both for making me believe in love."

Chapters: 1

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MTAC - NCIS Fic