Author's Note: Yup, it's been a while for this one - sorry! Finally got hit with some inspiration for this one last night. I'm working through the requests in the order I get them, so it's Ducky's turn to die today...

Gibbs - Ducky's grave



Ducky's grave is next to his mother's, in the cemetery a few minutes' walk from the house he'd lived in for as long as Gibbs had known him. The agent leaves the wake early, pausing only to let the hostess, Dr Hampton, know of his intention. She smiles sadly and kisses his cheek, trying not to let on how much she's struggling with losing her husband-to-be.

Gibbs knows the pain of loss, and has felt it again and again. No matter whether it's a mother, a daughter, a wife or a friend, it never ceases to blindside him. There's no way to prepare for it; no way to develop calluses over his emotions as he has his hands.

He stands at the foot of the grave, inhaling the lingering scent of freshly-turned earth and wishing like hell he'd dropped by a coffee shop before coming here. His addiction to caffeine is mostly physical, but it was Ducky himself who lectured him on the psychological benefits of having coffee nearby.

Gibbs' fingers twitch as the silence stretches on; usually he would take a sip of coffee to fill a few seconds, giving himself time to compose his thoughts. Ducky would see through it instantly, though, and he imagines his old friend looking back at him expectantly. "Jethro… to what do I owe this pleasure?"

The medical examiner was Gibbs' exact opposite in a lot of ways. Talkative where Gibbs was laconic; expressive in the face of the other man's stoicism; dealing in fact, whereas Gibbs let his instinct guide him. Yet there was always a bond between the two men, forged over long years of testing boundaries and discovering common ground.

Ducky's curiosity, dry wit and strong moral compass mirrored Gibbs' own, and his unashamed eccentricities proved key in luring the younger man's personality from its shell. Over the years, the two became fast friends, the bond born of mutual respect and unspoken trust.

Only once did a significant rift divide them, caused by Gibbs' post-traumatic retreat to Mexico after the second explosion to almost end his life. For four months, he was absent from the Navy Yard, severing all ties to DC and everyone he knew there. When he returned, Ducky treated him with icy courtesy that was only thawed a couple of months later, by a well-deserved apology.

In the years since, their friendship only strengthened, and the two shared details of their lives that each had once vowed to keep hidden. Ducky favoured Scotch, and often coaxed Gibbs out of 'that ghastly dungeon of a basement' to sit with him by the fire, surrounded by Corgis, at his own residence. Tongues loosened by alcohol, they would reminisce about experiences past, and discuss problems in the present.

After Ducky lost his mother, seeming in his grief to become frail and old, Gibbs' visits became a weekly occurrence. The loss only reminded them of the others who had died before her; Michelle Lee, Jenny Shepard, Paula Cassidy, Caitlin Todd, Chris Pacci. Ducky autopsied them all, and Gibbs never could comprehend how he'd managed it. "Think you'll still be at the Navy Yard to autopsy me?"

"Heavens, Jethro," Ducky had replied, his expression somewhere between amusement and a frown, "you have more lives than the most determined of cats. I should think you'll still be hanging onto life long after I'm gone."

Gibbs can't even begin to guess how much time is left for his own life, but losing his old friend is a bitter pill he's having difficulty choking down. He had always obtained a morbid modicum of comfort from knowing that if he was killed in the line of duty, Ducky would be there talking to him while his chest was cracked open and his organs removed and weighed.

Now that task will fall to Jimmy Palmer, the nervous yet talented young man who'd assisted Ducky through so many autopsies. And though Gibbs has no doubt that the Scotsman trained him well, accepting Palmer as a fully-fledged medical examiner will be difficult – for all of them, Jimmy included.

Where most deaths leave a void, Ducky's has left a crater in the lives of those who knew him, and at the epicentre of that crater stands Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

He stares at Ducky's grave, and doesn't say a word. The one man who encouraged him to open up lies six feet below, and with his demise, Gibbs knows that silence will once again become his companion.