Warning: minor character death/suicide. Not Ducky.

Spoilers: for 4.11, Driven

Disclaimer: I don't own anything but my soul. I've borrowed the following characters from Bellisario and the amazing actors who portray them.

A/N: My angst muse strikes again. This is my idea of how they might have handled his death on the show. Thanks to Rachel (amillionnames) for the first beta'ing and Lisa (nyciby) for round two, plus the reassurances.

II

"Autopsy." The voice that answered the phone was not the one Gibbs had been expecting, but it didn't really matter.

"I need to speak to Ducky. We have a case."

"He's not here, Agent Gibbs." Palmer's voice carried the nervous tone it always did when speaking with Gibbs.

"Well go find him and have him call me back for the details. I want him at the scene as soon as possible."

"I don't know where Doctor Mallard is, sir. He hasn't come in yet."

"What? It's almost ten o' clock. What do you mean he isn't in yet?" Gibbs frowned at the clock as if it was time's fault, and not Ducky's, that the ME was late.

"I don't... I'm not sure..." Jimmy stammered, feeling the agent's ire through the phone.

"Never mind. Just gather whatever you need and meet us at the scene."

"Me? Alone?"

"You've done it before, Palmer." After giving the address of the crime scene he hung up the phone, not caring that Palmer had been in the middle of a reply. Motioning to his team that it was time to head out he walked to the elevator. Before the doors even opened he had his cell phone out and Ducky's phone number dialed. No one answered.

He told McGee and Ziva to take the van, throwing the keys to a relieved McGee. Ziva glared but didn't say anything. When he headed for one of the Dodges and ordered Tony to ride shotgun, his number one slid into the seat without a question. Gibbs didn't say much on the ride, but let Tony know that unless the case was particularly delicate he would be on his own.

"You'll call if you know anything," Tony said, not phrasing it as a question. Gibbs nodded briefly.

A half hour later he was on the freeway, alone. His team was more then capable of handling a murder case without him, and there was a more pressing mystery for him to solve. It was strange for the usually punctual Ducky to be late to work, but the fact that he hadn't called in or answered any calls was more then odd. Without signaling the car behind him, Gibbs turned sharply into the driveway of the Mallard residence and stopped sharply inches away from the front steps.

When the ringing of the doorbell didn't bring an immediate response Gibbs pounded on the front door. He was debating whether to use his lock pick or simply break a panel of glass to let himself in when he heard the clicking of the dead bolt. A moment latter the door swung open and Ducky stood there, looking worse then Gibbs had ever seen him.

The man who was usually fastidious about his appearance was wearing a stained white undershirt and wrinkled slacks. His hair was matted, and two days growth of whiskers made him look rather like a mad scientist. It was the dark circles under his eyes that worried Gibbs the most, though. That and the pungent smell of Brandy emanating from the doctor.

"Is there any particular reason you are trying to break down my door, Jethro? It's rather solid, and would give even you a rather difficult time." His voice was clear and succinct, but he staggered slightly when he released his hold on the door.

"Where the hell have you been? I've been trying to reach you for hours."

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry about that. I meant to call in, the thought did occur to me, but..." Ducky shrugged. He turned away from his uninvited guest and walked slowly into the living room. Gibbs closed the front door with something only slightly less then a slam, and followed.

The air in the room was stale, smelling of old tobacco and alcohol. Thick curtains covered all of the windows so that only the dim light of a single lamp illuminated the space. Gibbs almost tripped over a dog as he made his way to the couch Ducky now occupied. The Corgi growled, and then ran out of the room.

"Drink?" Duck offered, bottle in one hand and a crystal tumbler in the other.

"No I don't want a drink. It's the middle of the day and I'm on duty, as are you, I might add. Now why don't you tell me what's going on before I..." His words faltered as he failed to think of anything he could do to get the answers he wanted.

"She's gone, Jethro." Gibbs watched helplessly as his friend seemed to collapse in upon himself; for the first time the man looked old. The word broken came to him, but he pushed it away. He wouldn't let Ducky be broken.

"She?" he asked, hating that he already knew the answer.

"Mother. I found her yesterday morning. The dogs were making such a racket that they woke me up. They sleep with her, you know; all four of them. I came downstairs, thinking that maybe Mother had too much Wild Turkey the night before and was sleeping through the noise. I opened her door- after knocking, of course- and then..." He had been sitting completely still, but as he fought to get the next words out he started to rub his hands together, almost as if he was washing them. "There was so much blood. I should be used to it, given my profession, but it seemed so different seeing it in my own home."

"An accident?" It hadn't been that long ago that Ducky had taken him mother to the emergency room when the older woman had cut herself shaving. Ducky had joked about his mother's odd proclivity, and promptly replaced her straight edged razor with a disposable safety razor.

"I'm afraid not. Looking back I have to admit that the incident a few weeks back wasn't an accident either, but rather a portent of what was to come. She went for the wrists this time, even used one of the kitchen knives."

"Oh Ducky." Nothing he could say was going to be enough, so he simply moved closer to his friend and wrapped his arms around the dejected man. Ducky didn't resist, but fell gratefully into the embrace.

"I should have known, should have seen this coming." After a minute Ducky pulled away, a single tear falling down his cheek before getting lost in his scraggily beard. "During her more lucid periods she talked about not wanting to be a burden to me. She was aware of her behavior, and hated the loss of control over her mental facilities. I never thought she would do anything. I was so blind."

"You couldn't have know, Duck."

"I was her son. I live with her and I know her better then anyone else. When I said goodnight, only hours before, I should have known what she was planning." Ducky cast a glance at the open doorway where the closed door of his Mother's room was partially visible.

"Ducky you are one of the smartest people I know. I'd say that you are the smartest, except that I'm afraid Abby'd find out and kick me with her boots." His small joke earned him a ghost of a smile. Not much but at least it was something. "But smart doesn't mean all knowing. There was no way for you to know what Victoria was planning because she didn't want you to know."

Ducky didn't deny Gibbs' reassurance, but he didn't accept it either. He simply reached for the bottle of Brandy. Gibbs stopped him with a hand wrapped around his wrist.

"When's the last time you slept, Duck?"

"I was sleeping rather well when the dogs woke me. After I found Mother there were calls to make, and the dogs to take care of. I had to give them all baths. They were taking care of Mother, you see, guarding her as they always did, regardless of the blood." His voice cracked and he stopped speaking. Gibbs understood, though. With his vast experience he could picture the scene perfectly. Silently he cursed Mrs. Mallard for the final memory she had given her son.

"You need to get some sleep now, Duck. I'm going to walk you upstairs." His hand was still on Ducky's wrist, and once he was standing Gibbs used the contact to tug his friend up from the couch. Like a sleepwalker he led Ducky from the room and up the stairs. The bed that Gibbs had never seen unless it was meticulously made up was in shambles with half the blankets fallen to the floor. He waited until Ducky had lain down before pulling them up to cover his friend who had started to shiver.

"I'm just downstairs if you need me."

"You should be at work. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine," Ducky protested weakly.

"Of course you'll be fine, but I'm still downstairs if you need me. Some things are more important then work." Ducky didn't protest again, and Gibbs waited in the doorway until shallow breathing turned into soft snoring. As he headed down the stairs he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and pressed number two on his speed dial.

"Abby's house of fashion, where black is always in season. How may I help you?" There was a laugh in her voice, and he hated knowing that he was about to extinguish it.

"It's me Abbs."

"It's about time, Gibbs. Tony called an hour ago to say you were checking on Ducky. What's the sitch? Ducky down with a bug or something?"

"Are you busy right now?"

"Not until Tony and them get back. Only thing I have running is a DNA test and that's going to take hours. What do you need?"

"I need some help." As he spoke he slid open the door to the room that had been Victoria's, and realized how true his statement was. The bed had been stripped but twin pools of rust brown blood caked on the mattress and there were splatters on the carpet and bed stand. Ducky was right; it was harder to see when it was personal.

"Can you be a little more particular? You are starting to freak me out a bit. Ducky's okay, isn't he?"

"He's as well as can be expected," he answered evasively. When Abby retorted with a sharp "Gibbs!" he knew that he had to tell her the truth. She'd find out as soon as she got here anyway. "Are you alone?"

"It's just me and my mass spec. in here."

"It's Ducky's mom, Abbs. She's dead."

"Oh, God. No wonder Ducky didn't show today. Are you at his house? I'll be there as quick as I can." She headed for the inner lab where her jacket, purse and keys were.

"Just a minute, Abbs, there's more." He would do everything he could to make sure that whispered rumors didn't pass through the NCIS hallways, but Abby needed to know the details.

"More?"

"It wasn't an accident, or old age; it was suicide. There's blood, and I don't want Ducky to have to deal with it. I thought you might be able to..."

"I have what we need. It'll take me a few minutes together it all together, but I'll be there soon."

"Thanks Abby."

"No need to thank me Gibbs. It's what you do for family." When Gibbs disconnected Abby hung up the phone. In a habit of her childhood almost forgotten she crossed herself and muttered a quick prayer for Mrs. Mallard, then moved around the lab collecting the solutions and materials she would need to clean up blood and other biologicals. In ten minutes she was exiting the elevator and walking through the lobby.

II

"When you said quick you weren't lying. You've been taking driving lessons from Ziva?" Gibbs opened the door at her first knock, not wanting to risk anything waking Ducky up. She was carrying a large cardboard box stuffed with bottles, jars, rags and other miscellaneous materials. He took it from her and set it down on the hall table.

"If I learned any race car driving skills from anyone it would be you. But really what it comes down to is the car; everyone gets out of the way of a hearse."

"You'd make better time in a car that wasn't continually breaking down." It was an old argument and his comment was almost automatic. Abby didn't take the bait.

"Where is he?"

"I convinced him to get some rest." He nodded his head towards the upstairs. Without a word Abby ascended the steps, surprisingly quiet despite the thick black boots and multiple chains hanging from her skirt. Without asking she opened the correct door. She didn't enter the room, but simply stood in the doorway. After a minute she closed the door again and walked back down the stairs.

"He's resting, but not very well. I hate to think what his dreams look like."

"Probably something like that." Gibbs drew her attention to Victoria's bedroom and Abby swore softly.

"He doesn't deserve this." When she touched one of the patches of blood on the mattress Abby found it to be stiff. It wasn't hard to imagine what this room would have looked like the day before for so much blood to have soaked through the sheets. Poor Ducky.

"Can you fix any of this?"

"You're talking to me, Gibbs. I will make this room look as good as new with a wave of my magic wand." Reaching onto her box of supplies she removed a spray bottle and a rag. With a look of determination, she set to work.

While Abby cleaned the bedroom Gibbs attacked the living room. Despite the winter weather he opened up windows to clear out the air before picking up a trio of brandy tumblers and carrying them to the kitchen. After rinsing those out he returned for the ashtray on the coffee table. He threw away half a dozen cigarette butts before washing it too. Gibbs tried to remember if he had ever seen Ducky smoke before. He was pretty certain that the answer was no. Victoria Mallard had been known to smoke upon occasion, though, when she was able to find matches or a lighter. He assumed that it was her cigarettes that Ducky had smoked and wondered if he had done it in an attempt to relax or because of the connection to his mother.

The room was clean and he was on his cell talking to Tony when Abby sat next to him on the couch and rested her head on his shoulder. He finished his call quickly.

"We'll need to turn over the mattress. I tried everything short of fire but I couldn't get out all the blood. Everything else is clean and sparkly."

"You're the best."

"You better believe it." When the clock hanging over the fireplace struck, Abby realized for the first time how late it was. "It's past lunch time, Gibbs."

"I'm not really hungry." He could go straight from an autopsy to lunch, but today's events had been enough to make him loose his appetite.

"Don't be silly. You and I need to eat, and when Ducky wakes up he's going to need food too. I hate to think about how longs it's been since he's eaten."

The kitchen was well stocked, as usual. Cooking was an activity Ducky used to relax, and he liked to have a variety of ingredients on hand. Abby settled on something easy to prepare; grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato soup. Both items would be easy to reheat whenever Ducky woke up. As it turned out, though, they didn't have to wait. Gibbs and Abby were still eating when the M.E. appeared in the kitchen doorway. Gibbs was glad to see that he had showered and put on clean clothes.

"I'm so sorry, Duckman." Abby was across the room and had her arms wrapped around Ducky before Gibbs had a chance to blink. With Abby in boots and Ducky with his bare feet the difference in their height was exaggerated, and Ducky's head rested on her shoulder, sandy hair covering the spider tattoo.

"Thank you, my dear."

"Come and have lunch with us." She tangled her fingers with his and led Ducky to the table. Once he was seated next to Gibbs she moved to the counter, ladling soup into a bowl and retrieving a sandwich from the oven where she had been keeping them warm. When he shook his head and started to protest, Abby kissed his forehead and handed him a spoon.

"Eat, Ducky. And don't worry, the food's safe. I didn't let Gibbs prepare any of it," she teased.

"Hey." Gibbs glared at Abby but there was no heat in the look.

"I love you Gibbs, but we all know that cooking is not one of your many accomplishments. I'm just glad that someone invented TV dinners, and that they come in so many choices, otherwise you'd probably starve."

"I'm not that bad," he protested.

"Though, you do make a very good steak, Jethro." Out of habit Ducky came to his friend's defense, not seeming to notice that he was taking bites of his sandwich between words.

Abby scoffed. "That's barbecuing, not cooking. Besides, do you remember what happened to the potatoes last time he made dinner?"

"The fact that they exploded was not all my fault. Either of you could have reminded me to poke holes in them."

Laughing, she poked him on the arm. "Maybe, but it wouldn't have been as much fun."

They kept up the lighthearted banter for the rest of the meal, Abby taking the lead and not being afraid to do her best to embarrass Gibbs more then once. The ploy worked; by the time Ducky pushed the dishes away from him he had finished off the soup and most of the sandwich was gone.

"Are there any arrangements that need to be made?" Gibbs asked softly while Abby washed dishes. Ducky shook his head.

"Mother wished to be cremated, and unbeknownst to me she had all the arrangements made already. She even had space picked out in a cemetery here in Virginia. I was a little surprised that she didn't want to be taken back to England to be buried next to my father, though."

"She knew that you would want to visit, Duck." Gibbs knew that his friend always brought his mother flowers on her birthday, and that he would continue to do so.

"Yes, you are probably right." He smiled sadly and looked out the kitchen window, as if he could see the grave. "She didn't want a fuss, so there won't be any service. I can't let her go without any ceremony, no matter what she said, so I have a friend who has agreed to say a few words at her grave."

"Can we be there?" Abby wrung out the sponge she had been using, drying her hands on a towel before moving to stand next to Gibbs. "I mean, if you need some alone time we understand, but..."

"I would love you to come, Abigail. I believe Mother would like it too."

"And the team too, right?"

"Of course, my dear."

"Good." Abby's shoulders relaxed visibly; relieved that he wouldn't be alone when he buried his mother. "Speaking of the team, I have to get back to my lab. They should be back by now and Tony's almost as much of a slave driver as Gibbs is."

"Watch it, Abbs. I might forget to pick up a Caf-Pow tomorrow morning," Gibbs cautioned.

Abby rolled her eyes. "I'll be back after work, 'kay Ducky? Is there anything in particular you want me to pick up for dinner?"

"You don't need to drive all the way out here again, Abby. I'll be in for work in the morning."

"Good, because it's your turn to pick up the donuts for breakfast. But that still doesn't answer my question about dinner tonight." She gave him a look that both men were familiar with, and Ducky knew better then to argue with her 'resolved face.'

"What ever you decide will be fine, I'm sure." When she smiled at him Ducky couldn't help smiling back.

"Just remember that you said that when I show up with tofu wraps," she teased.

Gibbs groan followed her as she left the room. "She's just mean enough to do it, and then where will we be?"

"Politely eating tofu, my dear Jethro, as you well know. Neither of us would dare do differently, if Abigail asked us to."

"Damn, you're right Duck." Gibbs fervently hoped they wouldn't be tested, though. He decided to give her a call later and drop some not so subtle hints. Chinese sounded good. "So what would you like to do this afternoon? Chess? A movie? Or maybe a walk; you look like you could use a little sun."

"As you pointed out when you first arrived today is a work day. You should be at the office, Jethro." Moving into the kitchen Ducky filled the teakettle and placed it on the stove. "I promise that I will be fine."

"What's the point of being boss if I can't play hokey once in a while?" he asked, though they both knew that only circumstances like today's would keep him from work. "Besides, Tony led the team for an entire summer without creating international incidence. I think he can handle one day."

"You bring new meaning to the word stubborn, my friend." Reaching up into the cabinet to his left, Ducky removed two teacups. "Why don't you go set up the chess board while I prepare some tea?"

"Sure thing." Gibbs was almost into the hallway when he looked over his shoulder. Ducky was uncovering a teapot and choosing between a selection of loose teas. The circles under his eyes, though not as prominent as they had been, were still obvious and his shoulders sagged in a very un-Ducky way. Gibbs frowned.

"The game, Jethro, is not going to set itself up." Despite his words there was no censure in Ducky's voice, only a gentle prodding. "And don't forget that the queen goes on her color. You mixed them up last time."

"Okay, Duck."

Gibbs had the chessboard out and was laying down the first piece when he remembered the mattress in Victoria's room. He made a quick detour to turn it over; glad that it was a twin bed and he could accomplish the task on his own. He would do everything he could to make the coming days and weeks easier on his friend. It was no less then Ducky deserved.