Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 2435
Warning(s): Character Death
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Ducky Mallard
Category(ies): Angst/Drama, Character Study, Episode Related
Summary: The events of "Broken Bird" take a sad turn and Gibbs is left to grapple in the aftermath.Character death.
Author Notes: Spoilers for Broken Bird.
Gibbs clenched the steering wheel and breathed deeply, looking at the nursing home doors. This was going to be his hardest task in a day of impossibly terrible ones. At oh six hundred, Jordan Hampton called him in tears. Ducky had died some time overnight, and she couldn’t revive him. It was just too late. Jordan suspected a heart attack but Gibbs knew it was a broken heart.
The past had come back and hit his friend hard.
Gibbs had driven over, sorted out most of the mundane details, contacted Vance but told him not to tell the team yet. Gibbs would meet them after he did this and tell them in person. They’d worked beside Duck for a lot of years and deserved to hear the news directly from him.
He and Duck had named each other powers of attorney years ago as well as executors of each other’s estate. As his oldest friend, Gibbs knew Duck could rely on him to sort out the details—and to tell Victoria the sad news.
He’d spoken with the nurses at Fairfax Elder Care, but Victoria had only been there a couple of weeks, they didn’t know her as well as Gibbs did. They couldn’t offer any ideas or strategies on how he could best approach this. But she was having an incredibly lucid day, which should make the task easier.
Gibbs was now her conservator, something he’d have to adjust to. He’d also have to update his will in case he lost his life before she did. Pulling in a very deep breath, Gibbs nodded briefly. He’d been so busy he hadn’t adjusted to the loss of his best friend. Guilt would come later, guilt that he hadn’t spent the evening with Duck, guilt that he hadn’t seen this coming.
He walked slowly inside, giving a nurse his ID and letting himself be directed to her room. She was sitting up and knitting, something he hadn’t seen her do in a couple of years. “Victoria?” he asked softly.
Victoria looked up from her knitting and smiled. She liked her new home, but she missed her dogs and the daily visitors she used to receive living with Donald. Her son came often to see her, but it wasn’t the same. “Jethro my dear, no one told me you were coming. I would have dressed. The nurses should have known better.”
She was so lucid, the intelligence shining in her eyes. This was going to be so damn hard. “It’s okay, Victoria.” And it was, she had a beautiful robe on and looked every bit as classy as she always had.
He let out a slow breath, crossing the room and kissing her cheek gently. “Victoria, we have to talk,” he said quietly. Every lucid moment was a gift and he couldn’t take it for granted.
“Of course we do. I would never assume that you’d come out to visit a silly old woman because it was fun. I know better. Donald is a good boy, and comes to visit daily, but I know he doesn’t find the task fun.” Setting her knitting down on the table next to her chair, Victoria put her hand on Jethro’s cheek as he leaned in to kiss her. Most of Donald’s friends, they didn’t pay her any mind, but this young man had always looked after her.
“You look pensive dear, come sit and tell me what’s wrong. You haven’t gone and gotten yourself married again have you?”
He closed his eyes briefly, shaking his head. “Promised you I wouldn’t make that mistake again, Victoria, and I keep my promises. That’s why I’m here.” He pulled in a slow breath. “I made a promise to Duck—to Don—a long time ago.” He knelt down, taking her hands in his.
“He’s been undergoing some stress at work, Victoria. And last night…last night he passed away, Victoria. It was too late to revive him. There was nothing we could do.”
“No, Jethro. He was just here the other day, he was always such a healthy boy.” Victoria tried to focus on what was being said, but it didn’t make any sense. Donald hadn’t been sick, he would have said. Stress didn’t kill a person. “He’s too young, he can’t be gone Jethro. He can’t be.”
He met her gaze, wishing he could take away her pain. “I know, Victoria. He was too damn young, but he is gone. It was quick, in his sleep. A heart attack, they think, but I’ll find the answers for you, Victoria.” He cupped her cheek, stroking over the wrinkled skin before pulling her into a gentle embrace. “He wasn’t alone, Victoria. He had a very close lady friend staying in a spare room.”
She was trained, from a young child to never cry in front of anyone. It just wasn’t proper. She hadn’t cried when her husband had passed away so young under such tragic circumstances. At least not in public, it wasn’t done. At home, after the funeral and ceremonies, she had allowed herself to cry and to be comforted by her young son, who didn’t understand why his mummy was upset and his papa wasn’t there. That had been many years ago, and now that she was older, she didn’t have the ability to stop the tears from slipping down her cheeks. At least with Jethro, she didn’t have to worry about his reaction. He would allow her to feel, without a word.
“I am an old woman, I should have been the one to go first. No one should ever have to watch their child die. You know that as well as I do, Jethro. It should have been me. I don’t want answers; I want my child back.”
He nodded, his heart breaking for her. Even before Ducky had learned, he’d suspected Victoria knew about Kelly or at least Shannon. There was something about losing the love of your life so young that perceptive others could see. And now they shared this agony as well.
“I know,” he said softly, sadly. “It isn’t natural and it isn’t right. And if I could take this pain away from you, I would. But you deserve to know.” He met her eyes, shining with the intelligence that Alzheimer’s was leaching away moment by moment. ‘The only thing I can give you is comfort and answers…”
He shifted to the bed and gently settled her on his lap, rocking her gently. He knew that her independence would protest it but that she needed a level of comfort that he couldn’t give her while she was in a chair and he was kneeling on the floor in front of her. “I know, Victoria. I know…”
“I would like to meet this friend, the one who was with him at the end. Was she special to him?” Donald had rarely brought women home while she lived there. She suspected he dated frequently, but there was never a special girl to bring home to his mother. “I would very much like to know that he was cared for until the end. I know you loved him Jethro, but a mother always hopes that there will be a girl who charms her son.”
Victoria allowed herself to be held, knowing that Jethro needed the comfort as much as she did. “I hope that Donald was met by your Kelly and Shannon, it would make me feel so much better knowing that he had someone watching out for him. Someone who would love him as much as we did while he was with us.”
“I know you loved him, by the way you took such care of him, my boy. He loved you too, he never had close friends growing up, and when he first met you and couldn’t stop talking about you, I suspected that perhaps it wasn’t a special girl after all that was to catch my Donald’s heart. He wouldn’t have been the same man without you in his life, Jethro. I owe you thanks for taking him in and being his friend. He was different after meeting you. Different in a good way.”
He gave her a very fond smile. “He is my best friend,” he told her simply. He was sure Shannon and Kelly and Ducky’s father and Kate and Pacci and Paula and Jenny had met him there. It was so like Victoria to have seen their closely guarded secret. “Not for a long time,” he told her seriously. “Have my eye on someone else, not wasting any more time. But Don was always special to me.”
He hesitated a moment, wondering how to describe Jordan. “Jordan Hampton is a fellow medical examiner. He met her on a case a little over a year ago and they’ve steadily been growing closer. He was cared for. He was in love with her, Victoria. She was the right one for him.”
Gibbs hadn’t spent much time with the couple but more often Ducky had been coming to work humming or singing, even as his mother’s illness had gotten progressively worse. Ducky had worn an expression of grim determination many days but there was also something in his gaze that made Gibbs understand that Duck was happy, settled.
“They were good together, Victoria. I’ll have her come over so that you can spend some time together.” He just hoped that she’d be this lucid.
“Oh, I know you were just friends, dear heart, but you and Donald. You had a special relationship once, and I will always be grateful you were there for my son. Before you, he was so reserved and shy, you helped him see that he was a valued friend. He needed that assistance more then you could ever know.”
Victoria was pleased, although not sure if Jethro was humoring her by saying this girl was the one that her Donald was looking for. “I’d like to meet her, before a service if she can take the time. She’ll sit with us of course, and your team as well. They were as much Donald’s family as you and I were. The furniture mover and the girl who was so kind to me with the stuffed animal, they were almost like children to him.”
That was a regret, there were no more Mallards to carry on the name, to take care of her in her old age. “I have nothing left to live for, Jethro. I didn’t want to leave Donald alone, and now there isn’t the need for me to be here. I can only hope to fall asleep and not wake up again. There is money set aside for my care. But why bother?”
“And Kate. We lost Kate a few years ago. He thought of her very fondly and the woman who joined our team afterward—Ziva. They became close friends. And he was very close with my youngest agent, McGee, and Jimmy Palmer, the medical student he was training to be Medical Examiner. Palmer has some big shoes to fill.”
He brushed her hair back. “You have me. I know it isn’t much and it doesn’t make the loss any easier to take, but I am here for you, Victoria. For whatever you need.”
He didn’t hand out promises freely but he meant this one from the bottom of his heart. “It would be an honor.”
"You are a good boy, Jethro. I would like that, if you would visit me from time to time. Maybe bring some of the children that Donald was so fond of." On her good days, the nurses often told her how blessed she was to have a son who cared for her and visited her. She knew though, that her good days weren't nearly as often as they used to be. She almost wished today wasn't one of them. She didn't want to remember that her Donald was gone. But she also knew that Jethro would take care of her as best he could.
"What I need is minimal, what I want is impossible. I can only hope that when my time comes, that Donald and your girls are there to meet me. I'm ready to go, although perhaps not yet. I think maybe you need someone to take care of you as much as I do."
“I’ll be here as much as I can. You may not remember me having been here, but I will be here. And I’ll bring Don’s people—our people—by.” Victoria was so like Ducky to reach out to him in one of her most horrible moments. “Don knew, Victoria. He knew that we’d have each other if the worst happened. We’ll watch over each other as best we can. And they’re not far away.”
He could almost feel Ducky’s presence and warm voice asserting his approval right now. “We’re family, Victoria, and family watches over family.” That was the last gift Duck had given them, Gibbs realized.
"I'll always know you're here, even if I might forget." She was going to need to depend on someone during the next days, and likely weeks. "He did know, that you would step up and take care of me. He wouldn't have left if he any say in it, knowing that I was alone." It would be nice to have friends visiting, even if she wasn't always coherent. "Just tell the children, that if I say something or do something while they're here, that I apologize. I'm not getting better. New medication allows me some days to have control of my facilities. But I'll never be the woman I once was, no matter how much I'd like that. But I look forward to the visits, even if the circumstances are not the best."
“Doesn’t matter, Victoria. I understand…I understand. I’m here and I’ll be your protector. It was what Don wanted.”
The task wouldn’t be easy but he’d do it for Victoria, for Duck, as a tribute to their friendship. It was the least he could do for a friend who had been there for him in so many ways.