AN: Response to NFA Feel The Wood Challenge

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He turned on the familiar cassette tape he often played when working alone in his basement. The resounding, "I love you's," from his wife and daughter gave him all the motivation he needed. Ever since he heard the news he tried to think of something special for his friend; but nothing seemed to fit. What do you give to a man that had given him so much? He contemplated simply buying him something; but knew the time he'd spend creating it would mean more than the object itself.

He'd let ideas bounce back and forth through his head for days before finally deciding on what it would be. The next question was what it would look like. How would it encompass his friends character; his traits; their friendship. He had a picture in his mind and all he had to do now was create it…

He spent hours each night after work doing just that. A project that would take any normal carpenter a couple weeks had taken him months. He was meticulous with every carving, every shaving, and every detail. He handled the piece as if it were the first endeavor he'd ever taken on. He'd started over more times than he could count; and even when he finished the final one; something still seemed off. But it wasn't with a carving, shaving or detail; it was the purpose behind its creation.

He left that morning, with it placed gently in a felted box. Today, just like every day he visited, he hoped his friend remembered him. Remembered his name. Remembered his demeanor. Remembered their friendship.

He entered through the doors and saw his friend look up at his entrance and smile.

"Always a pleasure to have company…please sit young man."

Gibbs sighed inwardly while forcing a smile on his face. Maybe he would remember him tomorrow. "Doctor Mallard," he nodded as he received the invitation to sit down.

"Doctor? I'm afraid there's no Doctors here my boy…are you ill?"

Gibbs shook his head. "No, no I'm fine. I must've mis-took you for a friend I knew…he was a Doctor…"

"I do have that effect on people. Always reminding them of someone. In fact; you resemble a chap I used to know…his eyes were much like yours. Fiercely loyal to the very end, he was. I often wonder what became of him…"

He swallowed hard as he contemplated how to give him the gift he'd so meticulously created. "I'm sure he's doing well; any friend of yours would be a better person having known you…"

"Now that is sweet. You speak much like him as well." He shifted his weight as he sat; his hands visibly shaking. "Enough chit chat, what brings you here my boy?"

He glanced down at the box; then shifted his eyes back to his friend. "Just came to listen."

Ducky managed a soft chuckle. "To me?"

Gibbs simply nodded. "To you."

"I'm afraid I haven't much to say…my memory is not what it used to be…"

Gibbs swore he saw his eyes begin to well up with tears and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "That's okay, happens to the best of us…" As he removed his hand; he noticed a tear fight its way down his friend's cheek, and reached to wipe it away. His own hand quivering as he did so.

"You are a very sweet young man."

Gibbs sighed outwardly. "A friend once told me that true friendship begins with humility."

Ducky pointed towards him. "Smart friend."

"Yeah, he was." It was then Gibbs slowly reached for the box and set it on Ducky's lap.

"You brought me a gift? We've only just met."

Gibbs knelt down on one knee as he opened it and removed its contents. He held it in his hands as if it were crystal. "I made this for you Duck." Gibbs watched his eyes shift at the sound of his name; but he remained silent. "It should help you get around a little easier…"

His shaky hands reached out and took hold of the cane; and he slowly ran his hand over the wood. "It is magnificent…you made this?"

Gibbs nodded and gestured towards the handle. "That part is Ebony…wont find anything sturdier…it's in the shape of a fist…symbolizes strength…"

Ducky moved his hand down the wooden shaft and back again. "There are carvings…but I'm afraid my eye sight isn't what it used to be…"

Gibbs sat down beside him and pointed to each of them one by one. The rest of his team had asked that their names be carved on it; with the hope that it would help him remember the time they'd shared together. "This one near the top is a date…"

"Of what significance?"

Gibbs had done well at keeping his emotions subsided until that moment. He let his head hang a little lower as his eyes welled up with tears. "It's the day we met."

It was then Ducky let out a long sigh. "That friend you were speaking of earlier…this Doctor Mallard…it's me isn't it?" He watched Gibbs nod and slammed the cane's bottom firmly on the ground. "I am so sorry…"

"Don't apologize…it's a sign of weakness…"

Ducky then placed a hand on top of his friends. "Not between friends."

With that he gave his best attempt at standing; and held the cane firmly in his hand. Gibbs stood up with him, and the two shared a silence that spoke volumes as they stood firmly beside each other. "Shall we go for a walk?"

Gibbs simply nodded as he watched his friend take slow step after slow step. And as he watched him he realized; that whether he remembered him today, tomorrow or never again; the friendship they shared would never waver…

Ever.