The ceremonies had been going on for three days now and he was tired. Sick of the wailing and beating of breasts. For Chrissake, the guy was gone and all the crying in the world wouldn't bring him back. He hated funerals, especially the ones where the big shots came out to play. He'd never seen so many NCIS agents ad big brass together, not even at the Christmas party, which had better booze and a hell of a lot more atmosphere.
The wake had been last night and he and the team had gone out and gotten drunk. Even Jen had been there and Jethro had tipped his bottle of beer at her. Even now, she sat there at the gravesite in the second row, behind the team, her eyes red rimmed, her lip trembling.
The priest was saying something profound, but he was beyond listening, didn't really care. It had all blurred together anyway, the speeches, the remembrances from the people who had barely known the dead guy. The ones from the team and the director had actually meant something. The letters from the president, the SecDef, and the SecNav had been surprising but strangely touching. Even Gibbs found himself misting up a little and he wasn't that guy.
Finally, it was done, the team standing up. Jethro shook off his stiffness and stretched before turning to Ducky.
"You did good, Duck. Real good. Thanks for helping me out here. I couldn't have managed all these details."
Ducky smiled sadly at his friend, then looked at the box, the coffin that held the body, or what was left of it. It wasn't pretty, Jethro knew. He'd been there when a positive ID had been made. Crush injuries, the worst. Closed casket. Best for everyone. It had been bad enough when Kate and Tony had found the body. Kate's screams still echoed in his head.
Abby stumbled over to the coffin and stroked the shiny wood and Jethro gave Ducky a nod before going over to the grieving woman. "It's okay, Abbs. Really. He's someplace where he doesn't hurt and he can watch over you."
"Gibbs," she whispered and turned into his chest. His arms came around her.
"I know, Abbs. I know. But you need to be strong now. We're all going to need those smiles in the coming days. You hear me?" He kissed her forehead and tugged on one of her pigtails. Despite the occasion, she'd put her hair up in that cute style.
Tony came up beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder and Jethro stepped back, watching. Tony looked much older now, his grief worn on his face. How had Jethro never known how much DiNozzo had worn his heart on his sleeve?
"Boss," Tony began in a shuddering breath and Jethro couldn't help himself. He pulled the younger man against his shoulder, stroking the head he was used to striking instead.
"Be strong for me, Tony. I know you can do it. I always knew you had it in you. It's why I ride you so hard. You wouldn't expect any less and I wouldn't give you any less. You'll be okay, DiNozzo."
Jethro had spoken to McGee earlier, the kid was going to be laid up for a while yet. And the youngest agent had written a letter that Tony and Abby read at the service. McGee was a hero, had rushed in despite all odds, hoping to stop the inevitable. For his troubles, he'd shattered an arm, some ribs, and damn near broken his back. But he'd taken one for the team and that was all Jethro could have asked for. Teamwork and guts, McGee had them both and he was proud of the kid.
DiNozzo and Todd were banged up as well, but not as badly. He'd been told they had been digging through the rubble for twenty minutes, trying to rescue McGee after they found the body.
Kate stood a little apart from the others and Jethro took a few steps closer, looking at the bruises on her face. "Should have covered those up, Kate. You look terrible." He started to pat her back and then pulled away. He'd never been quite sure how to deal with her; they'd never had the easy banter he and Tony and he and Abby shared.
"Come on, Kate. Chin up. You know this is a dangerous job. We all did. But you have to pick yourself up and go on, for the better of the team."
"I'm sorry, Gibbs," she said quietly as she walked away. "I never wanted it to end like this."
"Me either," Jethro sighed. Losing a good agent was tough, but this one was extra personal. "Kate..." He tried to find the right words, but they wouldn't come and she didn't turn back. He shrugged to Tony, Ducky, and Abby and moved on. His job was far from done yet.
"Jethro," Jenny spoke just as he said her name. Her smile was soft, reminiscent. "We had a good run, didn't we?"
"We did. I'll never forget—"
"Paris," she finished for him.
"Paris," he echoed. "You were my weakness. Beauty, brains, and guts, topped with that red hair. We could have made a go of it, you know."
"I loved you, but we never could have had more and you know it." Her voice was so wistful.
Jethro winced. There was so much more to say and he just couldn't voice the words. "I loved you too, Jenny."
He stroked a hand over her soft cheek and turned his attention to the three women standing close together, three shades of red hair together for the first time ever. He wanted to think of them as the three witches, but he didn't have that anger inside him.
He went up to his most recent ex first. "Stephanie," he said softly and she wobbled. "Drunk again. Oh, hell." He pulled her close for a moment in time. "I hope you're gonna be okay. I worry about you."
Unlike the others, she didn't react at all. "And this was why the marriage didn't work, Stephanie. You always ignored me when I tried to reach out." He was getting annoyed and frustrated. Why had she come anyway?