Disclaimer: When monuments are built to the creators of NCIS, the name "Qoheleth" will be conspicuous by its absence.
The Thanksgiving banquet at Chez Ducky had been progressing steadily and uneventfully for perhaps an hour. Surprisingly, considering the participants, very little had occurred in the way of conversation; perhaps it was the excellence of Ducky's cooking, or perhaps it was that everyone wanted a rest from their professional badinage as well as from the other aspects of their working lives, but, whatever the reason, the sound of chewing had been the only one heard in the Mallard dining room for nearly the entire meal, and most of the people there seemed quite content with this.
The only one who seemed at all restless was Abby, who, every so often, would glance around expectantly at the others, open her mouth as if to say something, and then seem to decide against it at the last moment. Several of her more perceptive table-mates had noticed this, and had wondered what was on her mind, but it wasn't until the end of the penultimate course that they found out.
Ziva had cleared away the dishes, in accordance with McGee's proposal that they divide up the serving tasks so that Ducky didn't have to do everything (Gibbs had agreed to serve dessert, and Abby and Tony were going to take care of the dishwashing), and the six of them were sitting around the table waiting for their food to digest enough to stuff some pumpkin pie in, when Abby leaned forward. "Well," she said brightly, "I'm thankful that the blue jays outside my apartment window don't have to fly south for the winter."
Her co-workers stared at her. "Where did this come from?" said Tony.
"It's for the tradition," said Abby. "At Thanksgiving dinner, everyone has to think of one thing that they're thankful for." She glanced around the table of blank looks. "What, didn't any of you ever do this at your homes?"
Tony and McGee both shook their heads, and Ducky and Ziva, who hadn't grown up in the United States, didn't feel the need to make even that confession of ignorance. Gibbs, however, nodded in recognition. "Yeah, my folks made me do something like that," he said.
"There, you see?" said Abby. "Good Americans, the Gibbses."
The others sighed. "Okay, then," said Tony. "Time to get into thankfulness mode. Do we get a minute to think of something, or should we just blurt out the first thing on our minds?"
A mischievous look passed over Abby's face, and for a moment she seemed very much tempted to make her comrades wing it, but charity prevailed and she shook her head. "No, that's okay, you can think about it," she said.
There was a moment's silence as the others pondered. Then Tony stood up and picked up his wine-glass. "Well," he said, "I am thankful for our lovely and devoted co-worker, Miss Ziva David, who will make a fine addition both to the citizenry of our nation and the staff of NCIS."
Ziva seemed mildly startled. "Well, thank you, Tony," she said.
"Yeah, well." Tony shrugged nonchalantly. "Actually, I was going to say that I was thankful that the Lions were actually going to win one this season, but, you know, didn't want to jinx them." With that, he resumed his seat. "So – over to you, McGratitude."
McGee considered. "I'm thankful for the weather, actually," he said. "It's been really nice lately: not too warm, not too cool – just the way I like it."
Nobody seemed to have anything in particular to say about this. "Yeah, okay," said Abby at length. "Good job, Timmy." And she flashed him a friendly smile.
Ziva took a deep breath. "I am thankful..." she said, and stopped. The look on her face, while not outwardly very expressive, spoke volumes to her friends around the table; it was plain that she had ceased to speak not only because her Mossad training made it difficult for her to be this vulnerable, but because there was so much in her recent life meriting thankfulness that she scarcely knew where to begin.
She licked her lips, and tried again. "I am thankful..."
The others said nothing, but sat waiting expectantly.
"To be alive," Ziva finished simply. "That says it all, doesn't it? It is so easy to die in our profession, and yet I... am here." She looked around tenderly at the people who were there with her; then, as though horrified at having said so much, she lowered her eyes and fixed her gaze intently on her place setting.
It was Tony, of all people, who came to her rescue. "L'chaim!" he roared in his best Topol imitation, brandishing his wine-glass upwards as though it were the Olympic torch.
"L'chaim!" Ducky echoed, raising his own glass in turn.
"To life!" the others chorused, and the table dissolved into laughter. Even Gibbs (for whom Fiddler on the Roof evoked one of his least painful memories of Shannon and Kelly) couldn't resist chuckling softly.
About a minute later, when they had all regained their breath, Abby turned and smiled at their host. "Well, Ducky?" she said. "What are you thankful for?"
Ducky leaned back in his chair reflectively. "Well, I'll tell you," he said. "I was reading an article the other day about alternative energy sources, with particular reference to nuclear fission. In the course of discussing this, the author made an offhand comment to the effect that Russia and the United States – the nations with the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world – now have only some 5,000 nuclear warheads between them. Their governments, it seems, have voluntarily dismantled a tremendous number of their warheads, so that they can use the uranium inside them to run their nuclear power plants."
"Huh." McGee cocked his head. "I didn't know that."
"I did," said Ziva.
"In other words," Ducky continued, "the leaders of at least two of the world's great nations consider heating their subjects' homes a more pressing concern than stockpiling for the next international bloodbath. I consider this a sign that the human race is genuinely progressing, however hesitantly, towards moral sanity – and for this, I am deeply thankful."
"That's beautiful, Ducky!" said Abby.
"Thank you, my dear."
There was a pause, and then all eyes turned to the silent figure at the far end of the table. "Well, Gibbs?" said Abby.
Gibbs arched an eyebrow. "So you want to know what I'm thankful for, do you?" he said.
"Come on, Gibbs, don't be bashful," said Abby. "We've all done it; there's nothing to be afraid of."
Gibbs's eyes traveled slowly over each of the expectant faces. "I think..." he began, and the others all leaned forward in anticipation.
Then, abruptly, he rose from the table. "I think I'd better get the pie," he said, and strode from the dining room without another word.
When he had departed, a silence fell upon the table – a heavy, awkward silence, in which everyone communed with his own thoughts and scrupulously avoided looking at the shattered expression on Abby's face.
Ziva was the first to break it. "What a fuzz-out!" she said, glaring dangerously at the kitchen door through which her boss had just vanished.
"Cop-out," Tony corrected automatically.
"Well, we always knew that was going to be a long shot," said McGee philosophically. "After all, this is Gibbs we're talking about..."
"So what?" Abby demanded. "Does being Gibbs excuse you from being thankful for things? Or just from sharing them with the people who care about you?"
"Abby..." Ducky began.
"No, Ducky, this is important," said Abby. "Some things are important. If Gibbs doesn't trust us to know what matters to him, he shouldn't go around pretending that we're something more to him than just backup protection and bloodstain analyzers. When people love each other, they share things – and don't tell me that different people have different ways of expressing love," she added sharply, and Ducky, who had just opened his mouth to do so, shut it again with a snap. "I know there are some things Gibbs doesn't like to do. Well, there are some things I don't like to do, either, but if you or McGee or Ziva wanted me to do them, I would. Sometimes loving somebody means you have to get a little uncomfortable – and if that's too much for Gibbs to handle, then maybe..."
She fell silent abruptly as Gibbs re-entered the room, wheeling Ducky's antique Georgian dessert-rack behind him. Ducky was mildly amused that she found it impossible to criticize Gibbs in his presence, but he said nothing; despite his conciliatory manner, he was rather disappointed in his old friend himself.
Gibbs distributed five slices of pie to his five fellow investigators, then settled down at his place again with the sixth. For a few minutes, the sound of chewing again predominated in the Mallard dining room, though this time it was rather a less convivial sound than it had been during the main course.
It was Ziva who noticed first. She had taken perhaps four bites when she noticed that her fork was scraping against the tip of some small, papery object concealed amongst the filling. "Ducky," she said with a frown, "did you put something in the pie?"
Ducky glanced up quizzically. "No, of course not," he said. "I'm saving all my trinkets for the Christmas pudding."
"Well, there is something in my slice now," said Ziva, probing the exposed edge with her fork.
McGee blinked, feeling his own fork collide with some slim, flexible substance. "Yeah, mine too," he said. Carefully, he scraped away enough of the orange-brown matter to reveal a slip of photo paper, folded over five or six times until it was only a couple inches long; he picked this up, wiped it off with his napkin, and unfolded it to reveal...
"Hang on a second," he said. "This is the photograph from my NCIS ID."
"And this," said Ziva, who had meanwhile withdrawn the foreign object from her own slice, "is the photograph I sent in with my application a month ago."
These words galvanized Abby, Ducky, and Tony, who promptly turned the eye of inquiry upon their own desserts. Sure enough, a thorough search revealed photographs in each of their servings – Ducky's between the crust and his plate, while Abby and Tony found theirs concealed in the heaping helpings of whipped cream that Gibbs had slathered on their slices.
There was a moment's silence.
"Where..." said Ziva.
"Jethro, how did you..." Ducky began.
Abby said nothing, but clutched the white-stained photo to her bosom as tears began to well up in her eyes.
All this time, Gibbs hadn't once looked up from his plate, nor did he look up now. A small smile, however, played about his lips as he said, "Good pie, Duck."