Disclaimer: NCIS and its characters do not belong to me and this story is not intended as an infringement of copyright. It has been written solely for entertainment and no profit has been made from its creation.
A/N:- Warning – this is a death fic. If that is not to your liking or if you believe you will be overly distressed by the content of the story, please go no further. The title of this story was taken from a line from the US Marine Corps Hymn.
From Dawn to Setting Sun
Standing in front of his bathroom mirror, Tony frowned in irritation at his reflection's inability to tie a half-Windsor knot. He shook his head in frustration and tried again knowing that, on a normal day, he could accomplish the task without batting an eye…but this was not a normal day. Failing in another attempt he cursed loudly and ripped the black Gucci tie from his neck. Stopping just short of hurling it across the room, he closed his eyes and took a few deep, calming breaths.
"Get a grip, Anthony," he whispered.
Trying again, he opened his eyes to find the perfect half-Windsor and his shoulders slumped in relief. He ran his long fingers along both sides of his jaw to ensure he'd shaved closely enough and tried to ignore the pallor of his skin and the dark smudges under his eyes. He was bone-tired and he couldn't remember the last time he'd had a restful night's sleep.
Over the years, he had grown close to the former Marine; so it was no big surprise that Tony had been nominated as his next of kin. It was both humbling and heartbreaking but making the necessary funeral arrangements and putting the man's affairs in order proved to be onerous and exhausting, particularly when the MCRT were working a man down. Walking back into his bedroom he sat heavily on his bed, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and cradle his head in his hands.
Somewhere in the recesses of his mind he knew this day would come, but part of him desperately wanted to believe that the older man would be around forever. He wasn't ready for this...he wasn't ready to say goodbye. His eyes grew dim with recall as his mind drifted back several days.
As he'd done on countless occasions, Tony had arrived at the former Marine's home with a six-pack of beer and a bag full of Chinese take-out. Letting himself in, he noticed the house was in darkness and was immediately concerned. He'd found him in the living room, lying peacefully on the couch as if taking a nap. Even before his trembling fingers failed to locate a pulse and a heartbeat, Tony had instinctively known the older man was gone. It was comforting, somehow, that a man who had outlived those he loved most - a man who had seen the horrors of war and the very worst that mankind had to offer - should slip away so peacefully. He reached out a hand and gently brushed back the silver hair, before placing a kiss on the older man's forehead in a silent goodbye.
The shrill of his ringtone startled him from his thoughts, bringing him back to the present. He snatched his cell from the nightstand and for a fleeting moment, he expected to hear Gibbs' voice on the end of the line. Crashing back to reality, he recognised the placid voice of the funeral director telling him the car had arrived to take him to the service. Disappointment crushed the air from his lungs and he swallowed several times before he found his voice.
"I'll be right down."
Glancing at his watch, he shrugged into his suit coat and removed his black cashmere overcoat from the closet. He collected his wallet, keys and sunglasses and scanned the apartment for anything he may have forgotten before heading downstairs to meet the car.
Tony looked absently out of the window of the limousine, seeing nothing of the passing scenery as he lost himself in thoughts of the former Marine. Almost from the moment they'd met, they'd formed an unlikely but a rock-solid friendship. He marveled how two men could be so different and yet forge such a solid bond - the pretty boy and the man's man, the cop and the former Marine, the ladies man with commitment issues and the guy who gave his heart to one woman many years ago. A small smile quirked his lips as he thought of the many times they'd spent together over the years, the drinks, the steaks, the occasional baseball game or just hanging out together.
Arriving at Arlington National Cemetery, the limousine stopped before the Old Post Chapel and the funeral director opened Tony's door. Sliding his sunglasses into place Tony effectively masked his turbulent emotions, forcefully pushing them aside to deal with when he was alone with his thoughts and a large bottle of bourbon. Nodding his thanks to the funeral director, he climbed from the car and walked to where his teammates waited in sombre silence.
Shaded from the sun by her black lace parasol, Abby looked ghostly pale as she leaned into a comforting one-armed embrace from a solemn Tim McGee. Equally austere, Ducky and Ziva stood several feet to their right. As he approached the group, the forensic specialist took several tentative steps toward him. Needing the physical comfort, Abby wrapped him in a warm embrace and rested her head against his shoulder. Overwhelmed by the emotion of the last few days, her eyes swam behind a curtain of tears that, inevitably, overflowed and tracked a trail of misery down her pale cheeks.
"This isn't fair," she softly sobbed. "Gibbs should be here with us."
"I know," was the best reply he could muster.
Feeling his fragile facade begin to falter, he kissed her cheek before stepping back to greet the others. They turned to their left as members of the Old Guard made their way slowly to the front of the chapel. Six perfectly matched Lipizzans pulled a horse-drawn artillery-caisson bearing a flag-draped casket. The expertly trained horses imitated the solemn military bearing of the soldiers who sat ramrod straight in the saddles.
Tony cringed slightly as he imagined the gruff voice of the former Marine, complaining that he didn't need or deserve such an imposing, formal ceremony.
"The real heroes are the ones who didn't come back," he'd growl with genuine humility.
But in Tony's mind, there was no greater hero and no one more deserving.
Prompted by the Marine chaplain, the team joined the cortege; falling in behind the casket. Tony walked alone, followed by Abby, McGee, Ducky and Ziva who linked arms in a show of unity and support. In perfect synchronicity, the Marine honour guard led the cortege along the narrow pathways until they arrived at their destination and the team was escorted to their seats.
Desperate to keep his emotions at bay, Tony sat several seats away from the others. He was too close to the emotional edge to give or receive comfort from his friends and hoped they would understand. The mournful strains of Amazing Grace sounded as a piper led the chaplain and the casket-team in a slow procession to the grave. As the casket passed, the honour guard performed a slow-motion salute as a show of respect to a fellow Marine.
As the chaplain began the service, Tony watched the young Marines, resplendent in their dress blues as they attended to every detail of their ceremonial duties with cadence and precision. His mind drifted back to his early days at NCIS when, armed with pizza and a six-pack, he and Gibbs sat down to watch a game of football where the pre-game entertainment featured the Marine Silent Drill platoon.
"I'll say something for the Marines, Boss, they've got the coolest threads in the military."
"They're not threads, DiNozzo, they're dress blues and it's a privilege and honour to wear them."
"Well…yeah, but I mean," Tony paused to swallow a mouthful of pizza, "you can forget Armani, cos the minute you step out wearing that get-up, you turn into a walking chick magnet."
The casual head slap was swift and not entirely unexpected but it was the rigid posture and the reflective look in the older man's eyes as he watched the precision of the Marine rifle drills, which caught Tony's attention.
"The dress blues represent a proud legacy of Marines who have served for more than two centuries," Gibbs explained calmly, his gaze never leaving the TV. "The eagle and the anchor on the buttons have been on the uniform since 1804 - the oldest military insignia in continued use. The "blood stripe" runs down each trouser leg to honour the memory of fallen comrades while the collar reflects the original Marine uniform of the American Revolution, which had a high leather neck to protect from sword blows. Because of what it represents every Marine wears the dress blues with pride."
Both men sat silently reflecting on Gibbs' words as the Marines left the field of play, marching in precise formation. Tony picked up his beer bottle from the table and extended it in Gibbs' direction.
"Yeah, but it still attracted the ladies, right?" he asked.
"Damn straight," Gibbs said, clinking his bottle against Tony's in a silent toast.
Concluding the service with the benediction, the chaplain backed away from the casket as the members of the rifle party presented arms and fired a three-volley salute. Shortly thereafter, McGee placed a comforting arm around Abby's heaving shoulders and Ziva swiped at an errant tear as a lone bugler performed "Taps."
Moving into position at the grave-site, the casket-team fashioned the flag into a triangular shape in just twelve meticulous folds before passing it to the OIC. In a series of precise steps and turns, the OIC stopped directly in front of Tony and took a knee.
"Sir," he said. "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and Corps."
Desperately marshaling the emotions churning inside him, Tony accepted the tri-folded flag and hugged it to his chest as the OIC stood at attention and delivered a final slow-motion salute. With the ceremony over, the honour guard departed, leaving only one Marine to stand watch over the casket until it was interred into the ground. The small crowd dispersed in a blur of handshakes and tributes until only the team remained.
"It was a fine service, Anthony," Ducky said, his own voice choked with emotion.
"Yeah," Tony rasped.
"A fitting final tribute to a man among men," the ME continued. "I've taken the liberty of having refreshments prepared at my home. I was hoping you'd join us."
Tony continued to stare at the casket.
"Thanks, Ducky," he choked out. "I'll meet you there…I…I just need some time."
"Of course, my boy," the ME said, with a gentle squeeze of Tony's shoulder. "Take as long as you need."
He turned to see McGee raging a battle with his own composure and in a rare show of emotion, Tony pulled his partner into an uncharacteristic hug, exchanging several back slaps.
"Anything I can do, man?" McGee asked.
Clearing the emotion from his voice with a quiet cough, Tony looked at Abby.
"You're already doing it," he replied. "Go look after Abs. I'll see you at Ducky's."
Abby moved in for a bone-crushing hug before McGee led her away.
Tony turned back to the casket when another voice sounded.
"You should not be alone, Tony. If you would like some company, I do not mind staying."
He turned to see Ziva standing hesitantly behind him, her nose and eyes reddened.
"I got this," he said with a forced smile. "I'll see you at Ducky's."
With a dubious look she nodded her head.
"As you wish," she said, placing a chaste kiss on his cheek before hurrying after the others.
He wasn't sure how long he stood standing by the casket, one hand placed on the smooth polished oak. The morning had passed in an indistinct blur where every moment distorted, stretching and contracting, until he'd lost track of time.
He frowned as he sensed a familiar presence and a hand pressed against his back. The heat and the weight of it was almost his undoing and he turned his face away when he felt his control slipping. After a moment he cleared his throat and turned back to face his boss.
"The hearing's over?" he asked.
"Yep," Gibbs replied. "Righteous shoot. Cleared for full duties immediately."
Tony nodded his head slowly, his shoulders slumping slightly in relief that, after a week of investigations, Internal Affairs had cleared the team leader.
"I wanted to be here," Gibbs added. "Show my support."
"S'okay, Boss," Tony replied looking back at the casket. "He'd understand. He knew how much you respected him."
A long moment passed and Gibbs' hand moved to gently squeeze the younger man's nape.
"Wanted to be here for him...but I wanted to support you."
Tony turned back to face the former Marine, his eyes filled with gratitude that he could never adequately express. Nodding as if the words had been spoken aloud, Gibbs quirked a smile.
"Come on," he said jerking his head toward the parking lot. "Gotta give this Marine a proper send-off."
Tony and Gibbs joined their teammates at Ducky's home, sharing tears, laughs and memories of an ordinary man of extraordinary valour who had made an indelible mark on their lives.
With the dulcet tones of Artie Shaw's clarinet, playing softly in the background, Gibbs poured a round of Wild Turkey and milk back for all and they raised their glasses in a toast.
"To Medal of Honour recipient, Corporal Ernie Yost," Gibbs said. "Semper Fi!"
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A/N This story was first conceived on Christmas Eve 2012 when the incredibly gifted actor, Mr Charles Durning, passed away. After ten seasons of NCIS, many of us still count "Call of Silence" among our favourite episodes. Like his NCIS character, Mr Durning was a war hero awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Heart medals. As an actor, he left a marvelous body of work as his legacy but to me…he'll always be the lovable Corporal Ernie Yost.
Thank you for reading, L
Happy ANZAC Day to Aussie and NZ readers. God bless our Diggers, past and present. Lest We Forget.