Written for the Theatrical Muse Livejournal Topic 297 Crushed

Gibbs knew he should have been used to losing members of his team, but each one hit him hard, especially the women. Losing Kate had been the hardest on him. It hadn't helped that she'd been killed saving his life. Or not. Gibbs knew she'd been targeted by Ari and if he was honest with himself, he blamed Ziva for that as well. Even if he didn't consider the fact that Ziva may have come over to America just to kill Ari, as Vance had informed him, she'd built the dossiers. She'd known about Ari's guilt and she had chosen not to believe. Not believing had been a theme with her.

Gibbs still felt the loss of Kate, the sight of her standing, the split second of relief when she fell to the ground rather than Tony. And the fury, guilt, and anguish that came afterward, knowing they'd been targeted by a sociopath, knowing in his gut that he was right and Ari had been after Kate to inflict the most pain on Gibbs himself.

Gibbs and Paula had gotten off to a bad start, but he'd come to really appreciate her. When she'd made the ultimate choice and he and Tony were helpless on the other side, Gibbs had felt that same fury he had when Kate had been killed. This killer was already gone, Paula's death almost as instantaneous as Kate's. At least she'd known what was happening.

Losing Jenny had been hard, but there had been a little comfort in knowing that she went out exactly as she had wanted to. And that she had been terminally ill. At least she hadn't become weaker and weaker over time; at least she hadn't been forced to resign in the face of her pain and weakening body.

Michelle Lee had been a different story. She'd been young, the sister to a little girl who worshipped her. And Michelle had died in a much more intimate way. Gibbs had never had to kill one of his men before. The fact that he'd held men as they died was one situation, this was another. He'd had to look into her eyes and make a split second decision. Life or death—not only his, but the lives of all of the people on the bus. He was prepared to take the risks of his job, but they hadn't signed on for this.

Pulling the trigger had crushed something inside him, something Gibbs wasn't sure still existed until that moment. It went beyond his fury over Michelle killing Langer, it went way beyond having a mole in their midst. It was knowing that he was killing a little girl's maternal figure.

Gibbs knew it had to be done. She had no future and no hope of a regular life with Amanda. Michelle had ultimately made the choice, but Gibbs had been the one to actually pull the trigger, to physically end her life. He'd always welcomed the responsibility, but sometimes it settled very heavy on his shoulders.

And now the team had taken another loss, another woman. This one's true motives would never be known. Gibbs could choose to believe what Vance told him, or he could remember the woman who had cried in his arms in a hospital room in Portsmouth, someone who had genuinely mourned the loss of her brother, someone who had known Ari needed to be stopped.

There were no easy answers. Everyone had an agenda and the real truth would never be known. The only thing Gibbs knew for sure was that Ziva was dead and his team was torn apart again. And Ziva was indeed dead, NCIS had confirmed it. An undercover agent had identified the body before Mossad had even received it and Trent Kort had given the news to Gibbs this morning as details began making their way through official channels. At least Gibbs had a couple of hours to adjust before he'd had to give it to the team cold, ten minutes before Vance had come down, eyes blazing with fury.

Gibbs pulled in a deep breath and then looked across the bullpen to McGee. Tim had aged a great deal in the last couple of years, his body language taking on some of the cynicism he'd shown in the last year.

And then Gibbs' eyes tracked to the desk diagonal to his, studying Tony. DiNozzo's childish antics of the last year were in the past and he'd largely closed down since Israel. Tony was becoming more like Gibbs, and McGee…he was starting to take on some of Tony's traits. Gibbs wanted his team back, his men to regain their spirits.

"Grab your stuff, boys," he said, his inward wince halted when Tony's eyes brightened with hope. And with that look, it all became clear to Gibbs. He was the key to getting this team through this loss.

"What're we doing, Boss?" McGee asked, his voice a little tentative.

"My place. Beer, pizza, doesn't matter. But this team stays together." As McGee and Tony lingered by their desks, Gibbs looked at the empty one, the place where first Kate and then Ziva had made their homes. Thinking back on all the agents who he'd lost, Kate, Langer, Paula and her team, Pacci, Jenny, Lee, and now Ziva, he found himself reaching into his desk and pulling out a flask.

Gibbs motioned McGee and Tony closer with a jerk of his head, the two men coming close so that the team huddled in a semicircle. Gibbs uncapped the flask and handed it to McGee first. When both younger agents had sipped, he lifted the flask to the empty desk.

"Semper Fi."