Title: Thousand Words
Author: TaylorGibbs
Fandom: NCIS
Category: H/c
Pairing: Gen
Rating: FRT
Spoilers: Shiva
Summary: Gibbs makes a pilgrimage with surprising results.
Warnings: Major character death mentioned, major character severely injured.
Feedback: Any way you want to send it :)
Author Note: Thanks to tejas for the beta.

He comes nearly every day to see my youngest patient on the ward. The years have been kind to his extraordnarily handsome face, the mostly salt and pepper of his hair changing to a brilliant silver, the laugh lines bracketing his eyes deepening with the years, but not taking away from his handsomeness. He’s got amazing posture, and he walks with a sense of purpose always, no matter what time of the evening he comes in.

And he comes in most evenings. Sometimes he just sits with my patient, and others he'll talk about work, or boats, or their mutual acquaintances. Sometimes he talks about moving on, and those nights, my patient is very unsettled.

I thought he was my patient's father for several years, but then, on the fifth anniversary of that horrible shootout in DC, the man came to get him and take him for an outing. I wasn’t working the day shift, but the other nurses told me about it. The man carried a black suit almost identical to the one he wore, and dressed my patient slowly, reverently. And that night, I saw television footage of them at the memorial, the place where agents from the FBI and the director of the navy investigative service had died, along with the head of Mossad. The camera panned over a group of somber people on the eleven p.m. news, and it was then I realized that my patient had been an agent once.

Of course, they replayed the horrible event again and again, the footage clearer than it should be. It had been garnered from security cameras, I remembered hearing. The footage was shocking even now. Men and women falling, great gouts of blood painting the sidwalk in a ghoulish brighter-than-should-be-natural red. In slow motion, my patient lunged for the older man and knocked him out of the path of a bullet, collapsing on top of the older man. He’d saved the man who came to visit him, his boss, but at a terrible personal price. He’d never be the same.

I barely resisted the urge to look up the event on the Internet, but that just didn’t seem right. My patient had been to hell and back, and while I was curious, I was ever respectful of him. I’d gotten to know him in his years on the ward. We talked about everything except his life beforehand, and who he’d left behind. The circumstances that had brought him here weren’t in his chart or his record, and I just didn’t feel right finding it out on my own.

Several days later, I didn’t even pretend to hide my interest when the older man came in with a thin book, his usual drink in a thermos. I acted as if I was organizing my patient’s belongings, but the older man gave me a small and sad smile, and something about his bearing tonight compelled me to stay.

“I was just going to arrange his things,” I admitted as the man regarded me. He sat at the edge of the bed, my patient’s smile bright for a moment. They moved with the perfect synergy of two people who knew each other well. There was almost an intimacy there, but it wasn’t romantic at all, just the movements of two men who had fought at each other’s sides. My patient moved his legs, giving the man more room at the foot of the bed, and the man settled in, relaxing against the footboard, his knee, the one he favored, crackling for a moment.

“He has problems with his memory,” the man explained. In all his visits, I’d never learned his name. And suddenly that seemed so important.

It seemed as if he could read my mind, and he motioned for me to pull up a chair and favored me with a brighter smile.

“Gibbs,” he said.

“Boss,” my patient replied firmly. Some days, he stammered so much he could barely be understood, but today was a good day, and even though it was sunset, my patient seemed to have gotten a second wind.

“Boss,” I replied, endeared by the way the man turned and cocked his head. I had no doubt this boss—this Gibbs—was formidable when he wanted to be, but right now he was a man visiting a patient, and he clearly regarded that patient very highly.

“They told me back in the hopsital, early days, to help him work his memory. Remembering what happened...” He trailed off then, lips pressed into a tight line, eyes darkening. “We talk about his friends and family. Pictures.” He patted the book he held. “Ready?”

“Ready, Boss.”

“Ready, Danielle?” he asked, motioning to my nametag.

“Ready, Boss,” I echoed, unable to keep the smile from my face. So many of my patients are warehoused here, forgotten. Not this man—his boss spent many evenings here by his side, sometimes eating dinner with my patient, other times reading a book while my patient slept. And I knew the patient had other visitors, people who brought him trinkets and more meaningful items.

The man opened the book, motioning to a beautiful dark haired woman. “Who is this?”

“Kate,” my patient replied quickly. “B-but she died, Boss. Ari. Brother.”

None of this made sense to me, but the older man nodded, seeming to be satisfied.

“That’s right,” Gibbs said. For a moment, I saw the shadows of the past in his eyes, but he swallowed a sip of coffee from the thermos he always brought along, and turned the page.

“And this?”

“Abbs.” I craned my head and looked at the picture of a beautiful woman with pale, luminous skin and dark hair, pulled high in pigtails. She had a tattoo on her neck, a delicate rendering of a spiderweb.

“Where’s Abbs?”

“Made the book, Boss.” My patient’s green eyes narrowed in concentration. “She works with you still.” He paused, closing his eyes. “NCIS still. Friend.”

“Abbs’ll always be your friend.” He turned another page, bringing a picture of two men into view. One was much older than the other, short and solid, where the younger one was tall and very slim. “Remember them?”

My patient got quiet for a moment, then his expression brightened. “Palmer and Ducky. Ducky retired!” When he smiled, it transformed his face, making him look much younger than his years. “Palmer works where Ducky did, and Breena is his assistant now.”

My patient rubbed his chest several times and I tried not to be alarmed. A bout of pneumonia had almost taken him from us last year, and I was always worried about his pulmonary health. “Collapsed.” He turned to me. “Ducky collapsed.”

I let out a breath I hadn’t been aware I was holding, and nodded in understanding as my patient’s hand relaxed on the bed.

“Heart attack, but Ducky’s fine now. He’s at NCIS most days. Never really gonna retire.”

“Lots of stories,” my patient added. Gibbs turned another page and revealed a woman with dark, curly hair.

“Ziva David,” my patient said, looking very proud of himself. “Friend. We went to rescue her and we got kidnapped. Truth is out there...” He frowned. “The day. Boom.” His hand came up to his head, fingers tracing over the area where the bullet had entered his skull. “Just like me. But not as lucky. She died, Boss.” His entire body tensed as if he was reliving the horrific event, little tremors racking his body.

I stiffened and started to rise, but Gibbs put a hand up, stilling me. I glanced over at him, but his attention was focused on my patient.

“She did,” Gibbs replied, flipping to the next page quickly. He squeezed my patient’s knee and met his eyes. They appeared to be having a silent conversation, and slowly, too slowly for my liking, my patient began to relax. I considered intervening, but this Gibbs seemed to have it well under control, so I didn’t interfere.

“Who else died?” my patient asked. “I forget, Boss.”

It was a miracle he had the capacity to forget. The bullet that tore into his skull had damaged huge swaths of his brain. It had taken multiple surgeries, a lot of luck, and an incedible will to live to get my patient where he was today.

Not that that meant he’d ever live alone. He could walk short distances unaided, could read books and watch movies—which seemed to be his favoirte actitivities—but his short and medium-term memory was highly compromised. He’d certainly never be able to work again. He kept his mind occupied with activities around the nursing home, and seemed to enjoy what he had here. Not all patients were as gracious, or had such a positive attitude.

Gibbs took another long sip of coffee and then put his haand up, fist closed. My patient mimicked his motion, though he couldn’t make as tight a fist. Gibbs nodded as if he was satisfied and began talking. “Agent Sacks from the FBI,” he intoned, putting one finger up. “Director Vance.” Another finger went up, and my patient mirrored him. “The Mossad director.” Another finger. “Ziva.” That last name carried extra weight and hung heavy in the room.

“And the bad guys?” my patient asked hopefully, his eyes glistening.

“And the bad guys. We got ‘em. You took one down yourself.”

“Got ‘em.” My patient looked down at the book. “More?”

“More.” My patient reached for the book and turned to its back page, the photo of a smiling green-eyed man staring out. “Brother.”

“Partners,” Gibbs corrected. “Closer than brothers. You two have had each other’s six for a long time.”

“Miss him.” My patient looked so little boy and lost all of a sudden.

“I know. But he’ll be in to watch some DVDs with you on Saturday, like always. Maybe you can get Abby to bring you some lunch.”

“Maybe.” My patient looked at Gibbs, affection and appreciation shining in his eyes. “Still a part of the team, Boss?”

“Always, Tim. You earned it. Proud of you.”

“Proud of all of us.”
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