Characters: Gibbs (mentions of basically everyone else)
Warnings: Death fic
Spoilers: Everything up to Judgement Day
Summary: Every year on Christmas Gibbs visited the graves of his deceased loved ones.
A/N: Big thanks to my amazing (and I mean really epically amazing - she got this back to me about an hour and a half after I sent it to her) beta VanishingP2000 over on fanfiction.net. And I don't own NCIS at all. Not even a little.
Gibbs dropped down in front of the headstones, the snow crunching beneath the weight of his knees. For the last twenty-five years visiting the graves of his lost loved ones had been his Christmas tradition.
For the first fourteen years he had only had to bring two bouquets- red roses and purple lilacs. That year he added yellow roses and a trip to a warehouse.
On the eighteenth year another bouquet had been added to his yearly order- Orchids, along with a trip to another cemetery.
On year twenty White Peace Lilies were added to the list and yet another cemetery to his itinerary.
Year twenty-one incurred two new additions- Mexican Tulip Poppies and Blue Carnations and stops at the ocean and the post office.
Year twenty-three brought another, Purple Cyclamen and a visit to the remains of what used to be an apartment building in Silver Spring, Maryland.
And now, on the twenty-fifth year, he had added the most painful of the bouquets since the first two. Black Roses on a gravestone located two spots away from the first two.
Each of the deaths still haunted him, his heart growing wearier with each one that passed and now, for the first time in twenty-five years, he was seriously contemplating the idea that it was no longer worth it. That living was no longer worth the pain.
He’d always given Shannon red roses on their dates, on her birthday, at Christmas and whenever else he felt the desire to buy her flowers; she’d even carried red roses at their wedding – a prospect which had horrified the wedding planner, to say the least. He’d always said that they matched her hair and her lips and they always made her smile. He hoped that, wherever she was, that they would still make her smile.
He and Shannon had planted purple lilacs in their backyard and Kelly had loved them. Every summer she would cut new ones every few days so that there was always a vase full of fresh lilacs on the coffee table. When he had left for Iraq for the last time, she had given him a bunch of them as a goodbye gift. It only seemed right for him to return the favor.
Kate was buried in Indiana, so he never went to her grave. Instead each year he placed flowers on the faded, but still stubbornly visible, bloodstain on the roof of the warehouse where she had died. Yellow roses – the same as the tattoo that she had on her left shoulder (had Tony thought to look, he would have found it right at the beginning of her file under ‘identifying marks’) and, he had learned from Kate’s sister at the wake, her favorite flower since she was a child.
Orchids had been Jenny’s favorite flowers, something which he had discovered during their undercover operation in Paris and had made sure to never forget. Even after their relationship had ended and she’d become director it had been a tidbit of knowledge that had aided him often. A bouquet of her favorite Orchids went a long way to smooth her ruffled feathers. The last time that he had sent them to her was just after he had returned from Mexico – before he had found out about La Grenouille.
He knew that someone else knew that they were her favorite because every year there had always been a bouquet of them left on her grave on the anniversary of her death and at Christmas. He had his suspicions about the mysterious visitor – suspicions that he knew would be either confirmed or denied today.
Ducky had always loved Peace Lilies, saying that they added a touch of serenity to his domain, which saw so much violence and death. He’d kept a vase of them in his office whenever possible to brighten up the room and to combat somewhat the ever present smell of death that hung in the air of autopsy.
He’d gotten the call from Tony at 0300 telling him that Duck had died of a heart attack and Victoria Mallard, panicked by the fact that Ducky wasn’t responding to her had called up her favorite gigolo and Tony had called an ambulance – which he beat to the Mallard residence by several minutes – only to discover that Ducky was long gone. Jimmy Palmer had conducted his first solo autopsy that night, determining Ducky’s time of death to be almost three hours before Mrs. Mallard had discovered him. It didn’t stop Tony from blaming himself for not getting there sooner, though.
Franks had finally managed to kill himself with his cheap cigarettes – he’d died of undiagnosed and untreated lung cancer in the summer of 2011 in his shack in Mexico. Camila Charo found him dead in his lawn chair, his hand still curled loosely around a half empty Corona bottle, when she came to drop off his groceries and mail. Gibbs didn’t know what kind of flowers Franks might like; flower preferences were not exactly a hot topic of conversation between him and Franks. So he found the flower that seemed most like Franks and the Mexican Tulip Poppies seemed to fit that bill – wild, colorful, and Mexican, a description that could fit the flowers or Franks. Franks’ ashes had been scattered in the Mexican sea where he had spent the last years of his life, so Gibbs always dropped the flowers into the Atlantic Ocean, allowing the current to whisk them away as it had with Franks.
He’d also gotten word of Stephanie’s death that year. She’d been killed in a car crash by a drunk driver on the way home from visiting her parents in the nursing home one night. She was the only one of his ex-wives that he could honestly say that he had been on good terms with. The other two… they would kill him in a heartbeat if they thought they could get away with it. But Stephanie… she hadn’t deserved to be put through the farce that had been their marriage. Each year he sent one dozen blue carnations to each of her parents. He knew that they would appreciate the flowers – their daughter’s favorite flowers – since visitors would be scarce for them now that Stephanie was gone. And he knew that Stephanie would have appreciated it, too.
Tony, it seemed, was the appointed bearer of bad news in the early hours of the morning, because it had been Tony’s cracked and grief ridden voice that had sounded through his phone just after 0400 almost two years ago, telling him that Ziva’s Silver Springs apartment had been blown up earlier that morning. Her death had been a no-holds-barred (a phrase which would doubtless have confused Ziva to no end) assassination, not an entirely surprising end for a Mossad Officer of her caliber (or, indeed, her specialty). She had pissed off her fair share of criminals, terrorists, arms dealers and other dangerous individuals over the course of her career both in Israel and with NCIS, any number of which would have had motive to want her dead and the means to make it happen.
The worst part was that they still, two years later, had no idea who had sanctioned the assassination. After about two weeks Mossad had, more or less, booted NCIS off the case, restricting their access to all files related to Ziva and her case. The official party line from Mossad was that the investigation had strayed into Israeli national security and that they didn’t have clearance for it any longer. Not that it stopped them from continuing to work on the case independently, though without the access to view the files they needed to follow leads, they never got very far.
She had been buried in the desert sands of her homeland halfway around the planet, so each year he placed the Purple Cyclamen on the charred remains of her apartment building.
He always visited the graves in the order that they had died and today his final stop would be a mere few feet from his first, but he couldn’t bring himself to face the new marble headstone that morning. As if putting it off for a few hours would change it, as if the grave would be gone when he returned and the occupant standing in its place, laughing at how they’d fooled him. But he knew that would never happen. He sat in his car in the same place as he did every year, staring at the same area, yet it was so very different from his previous visits. He was headed not to his wife and daughter’s graves, but to one a few feet to the right, on the other side of the plot reserved for Gibbs when he died.
Finally, after several minutes of sitting in his car and staring out at the headstones, he sighed and picked up the final bouquet from the passenger’s seat – black roses.
Abby always gave everyone black roses for almost every occasion, but Tony had always been the most frequent recipient of Abby’s flower affections. And he’d developed an affinity for the dark beauties, once telling Abby jokingly that he wanted only black flowers at his funeral. At least, everyone else had taken it as joking; Abby and Gibbs knew Tony well enough to know when he was being serious, though he had dismissed it – it didn’t do to start planning someone’s funeral before they were actually dead, especially in their job, because you would drive yourself crazy worrying about if any given day would be the day that one of you died.
But then, there it had been in his will – all the funeral arrangements were up to Gibbs’ discretion and the only thing that Tony specifically requested was that he was buried in DC, which he cited as being his ‘true home’, and that he be buried with black roses. Gibbs had made sure that both his final requests had been fulfilled, burying Tony in the plot next to his own in a monochromatic burial.
Abby didn’t give away black roses anymore; not to anyone but Tony. And no one tried to give them to her anymore, either - they knew better. Black roses were only for Tony now.
It had been three months since Tony had died in his arms.
Three months since he had watched in horror as a cornered and desperate suspect shot Tony three times before falling dead under Gibbs’ barrage of bullets even as the former Marine sprinted towards where his friend lay, bleeding and gasping. Two of the bullets had lodged in his chest, while the third had been stopped by the badge hanging around his neck.
Three months since Gibbs had pressed down on the worst of the wounds in an attempt to stop the rapid flow of blood leaving Tony’s body.
Three months since Tony had gripped his jacket sleeve and told him that it was okay and to tell Abby that he was sorry and thanked him for being a better father to him than his real one ever had been.
Three months since, with his last breath, Tony told him haltingly that he had, in fact, seen this film.
Three months later and the pain was still just as raw as it had been that day.
Tony, it seemed, was the straw that broke that camel’s back. Or perhaps a more fitting metaphor would be to say that Tony had been the support that had been keeping all the other straws from breaking the camel’s back and now that he was gone, so was the camel’s back. More fitting, maybe, Gibbs thought, but it sounded a whole hell of a lot dumber.
As he knelt down in front of the marble headstone he felt his knees pop and he suddenly felt much, much older. Despite the frequent jokes that Tony made – had made – about his age, Gibbs was even now still a few years off of mandatory retirement and he had managed to stave off the effects of his age until now. But now, without Tony to remind him of how damn old he was, his body seemed to feel the need to do the reminding for him.
Maybe it was time to head back to Mexico; Franks had left him the beachfront shack in his rather short will and now seemed like as good a time as any to put it to use, before it got too run down to be fixable. There wasn’t much keeping him in DC or at NCIS anymore. Most of the people with whom he enjoyed working had either died or moved on. Abby was the only one left and he knew that even she was considering leaving NCIS in favor of going and working for one of those corporate head hunters that courted her so often. McGee had been transferred to an attaché office in Geneva leading their division of cyber crime and fraud detection there after a stray bullet had found its way into his leg a few months after Ziva’s death, severing nerves and effectively ending his career as a field agent.
Since McGee’s departure Gibbs and Tony had been working together as partners once again, with the occasional temporary agent passing through to help with some of their bigger cases, but all in all they were still effective enough as a duo to maintain the highest solve rate in NCIS. After so many years of working with Tony Gibbs couldn’t stand the idea of having to break in a new team; of having to get a new Senior Field Agent, though it had been some time since Tony had actually been his senior field agent. Tony had been promoted to Supervisory Special Agent several years earlier, before Ziva had died, even. Tony had an exemplary record at NCIS and the new director had felt that he merited the status upgrade, even if he had point-blank refused all offers of official promotion which would have moved him off Gibbs’ team and onto his own. Not a move that many directors would have made, but Director Lee felt that she owed it to Tony for helping her find her sea legs as an agent and insisting that she not be thrown unceremoniously back to legal after her second stint on Team Gibbs/DiNozzo. She maintained that Tony had ‘taught her everything she knew’. Strange how similar her relationship with Tony had been to his with Jen – only he knew for a fact that Tony and Lee had never slept together; he knew for a fact that she had been too busy sneaking out with future husband Jimmy Palmer.
Gibbs glanced down at the gold badge on his waistband as it gleamed in the bright December sunlight and he knew that he couldn’t go into work at NCIS every day and pretend that everything was alright, that his best and oldest friend was dead.
The first time that he had met Tony he had never imagined that the young Homicide Detective would work his way under Gibbs’ skin the way that he had, but he had and now Gibbs didn’t know what he was supposed to do without Tony. Tony had been his last true, good friend on the planet and now he was gone, too. Ducky was dead, a tragic loss that Gibbs doubted he would have gotten through in one piece without Tony’s support, both personally and in the form of taking over a greater part of the professional duties assigned to the team. And now Tony had followed him, along with almost every other person about whom he had ever cared. Abby was the last person left about whom he cared and even she was preparing to leave.
He felt tears prick at his eyes and, for once, he did nothing to try to stop them from falling. He put his hand on the top of Tony’s grave and rested his head on top of his hand, allowing the sobs to wrack his body.
When you’re as good at something as you are, you don’t just quit. For years, Jen’s word and his friend’s confidence and friendship had been the only things that got him through the day and at this point, her words were all that he had left and he doubted that they were still enough. He was so good at his job because he surrounded himself with the best people, ones who he could trust to have his back and to do their jobs better than anyone else. And now he was alone and, at this point, as good as useless.
He would be back next year and the year after and every year until the day he died, but NCIS was no longer his home.
This time his retirement was real and would be final. He glanced at his watch briefly – by the time that Michelle discovered his badge and gun on her desk when she came in the next day, he would already be in Mexico.
“I’m sorry, Tony,” he said quietly before standing back up and pulling the badge off his waist, fingering it lovingly for a moment, his finger pausing briefly over the mangled bullet lodged in the NCIS seal before setting it down amongst the black roses. With a final glance back at the three graves, he left the cemetery, heading straight for the airport.
He had a teak hot tub to build.