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A Mother's Duty

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She watches fat raindrops turn the fresh dirt to mud, watches it soak the colorful spray of flowers. Tulips and roses. They are the only marker of this grave, at least for the time being. She stands without an umbrella; she lets the rain soak her to the bone, lets it run down her face and collect on her lashes.

“Nothing you could have done,” a voice speaks from behind her. “Nothing you could have done to save him.” He has to speak up, even though she knows he’s nearby. He almost has to shout, and even then the rain -- coming down in sheets now -- threatens to wash his voice away.

She sets her jaw and turns her head. He’s standing ten feet away, standing like a statue in an NCIS slicker. No umbrella. The rain has plastered his gray hair to his skull, but still he looks completely composed. Damn the man. “Agent Gibbs,” she says before looking back at the grave. “How did you get here?”

He answers simply, takes two steps closer, “I walked.”

“I shouldn’t have expected anything less.” She almost laughs. Almost. He’s close enough now that they don’t have to yell at each other. “But you don’t have to stay. You can relieve Agent DiNozzo.”

They both glance down the hill. DiNozzo is standing there in the grass, amongst the rows and rows of fluttering American flags. He huddles under a black umbrella, looking dejected, like a drowned rat. His agency issued car is parked further down the hill, on the muddy shoulder of the road. When DiNozzo notices that he’s being watched, he perks up. He waves.

“Eh,” Gibbs speaks, still watching his agent. He doesn’t wave back. “I could relieve him, but I don’t think he’d go.”

“He’s a sweetheart.” She looks back at the muddy patch of soil, at the flowers, soft petals quivering under the deluge. She feels Gibbs’ eyes, not on her face but on the items she clutches in her hands. A small flag attached to a plastic stick. A laminated photograph. The emptiness inside her belly clenches. She swallows, her face wet with rain or tears or both. She couldn’t really tell anymore, nor could anyone else. Except for this man beside her, maybe. She’s known him for a week now, but it seems like he hasn’t uttered more than a hundred words. He’s so quiet, contemplative, reflective -- but in a way that connects him, rather than detaches him, from the surrounding world.

“Like I said, nothing you could have done.” It seems now he’s speaking more than he had that entire week. “It was his choice.”

She shakes her head and doesn’t flinch, even as thunder rumbles overhead. She sees DiNozzo shifting nervously, but still he stays.

These agents aren’t close to her. She knows nothing of them, other than their outside personalities. Yet still they’ve lodged themselves close to her heart. They found answers, proved her son was the hero she always knew he was. Yet still…

“It’s a mother’s duty to protect her child.” Her voice is strong, convicted. Her back is straight; she doesn’t slouch. “A father’s duty, too.”

From the corner of her eye, she sees how Gibbs flinches, if only in a minuscule way. She chooses not to wonder why. It’s easier this way, even though these days -- ever since the CACOs showed up on her doorstep -- nothing is quite easy. “We’re getting a divorce,” she goes on, “My husband and I, we--“

Never saw eye to eye, she wants to say. But she doesn’t.

Gibbs nods as if he understands, although maybe he really does. He is a Marine after all; he had shared as much, a few of those one hundred words he had bothered to utter. Plus, the man looks the part.

“You’re angry. I get it,” he finally says. “But it was your son’s choice. Nobody else’s.”

She chuckles then, caresses the flag clenched in her fingers. “It runs in the family. The duty and the sacrifice. And sometimes I think nobody cares.” She turns to him suddenly. The water is running off of his slicker in fat rivulets. His hair is still flat on his head, although it appears no worse than it does when it’s dry. And he stares at her with those quiet blue eyes, usually flinty but now a little more human.

“People care,” Gibbs answers. And then he smiles crookedly, looks towards DiNozzo. Even at this distance, he looks sodden, despite the umbrella. DiNozzo’s gazing at something of interest in the distance, alert yet still at ease. Two black forms slowly walk the cemetery path. As they go, they leave flags in their wake. Gibbs then glances at the sky, at the leaden gray clouds promising nothing but more rain. He finishes, “You just gotta find the right people.”

She blinks, her vision blurred slightly by all this rain. There’s truth to his words. She knows that. Gibbs is a wise man. Still, she doesn’t answer. She simply kneels down, knee in the mud, and plants the flag by the flowers. And then she tucks the photograph beside it. A young man. A proud man. She watches the grave intently, watches the tangible finality of it.

“You’re not gonna find what you’re looking for here.” He is stepping away, slowly. “But you know that.”

“I do,” she swallows.

“So go home. Let yourself and poor DiNozzo out of the rain.”

She snaps, “He can go if he wants.”

“I already said that he won’t,” Gibbs retorts. “He’ll stand out here all day, waiting for you.” He laughs gently. “He’s stubborn like that.”

She is stubborn, too. Perhaps more so than anybody else. “Yeah, well that’s his problem. I like it out here.” Thunder rumbles again, louder than it had been before. “I like it out here, with my son.”

Gibbs shrugs. He has already pointed himself towards the concrete path. He’s also said his piece. He knows it’s her own choice, whether she stays or goes, whether she accepts it or not. “You should talk to your husband,” he says. His voice is soft now, yet still it somehow carries through the rain. “You might finally find you two have something in common.”

She stands. Her knee is dripping with mud, but she doesn’t care. Just like she doesn’t care why Gibbs had flinched at her words. Just like she doesn’t care that both she and DiNozzo have been standing in the cold rain for what felt like hours. She doesn’t care about much now. Not anymore. She doesn’t know what to do, what direction she should go from this place. This place in the mud and in the rain. “Sure. Maybe we do.”