As he sat there in the hospital waiting room, Gibbs couldn't help but continue to harp on himself for what had happened. If anyone else—specifically any other member of his team—had done the same thing he was doing to himself, Gibbs would have administered his customary smack to the head, telling them to knock it off, that blaming themselves wouldn't do any good.
It was much harder to do so when the shoe was on the other foot.
If he'd just fought harder, hadn't let them talk him out running back in there, maybe Tim wouldn't be in this hospital and Gibbs wouldn't be sitting here waiting for more news.
But he knew that wasn't true.
When the bomb had gone off, he and Tim had been in different areas of the building. He'd left Tim to fiddle with the computers while he searched the rest of the old place. The last thing he remembered before the explosion was walking toward the front door to make a call. When he'd come to, he was outside, surrounded by paramedics while firefighters ran into the incinerating building. Tim was nowhere to be seen.
He'd told them that his man was in there and had been in the basement when the explosion happened. Tearing away from them, he'd insisted that he had to go in and get Tim. Unfortunately, four or five pairs of hands had grabbed him, holding him back. Let the firefighters do their job, they'd told him.
Some job they'd done, he thought cynically. Surely if they'd done what they were supposed to Tim wouldn't have had to go to intensive care, right?
He looked up and saw the doctor standing there looking a bit worse for wear. "Your agent sustained a couple of fractured ribs, a wound to his cranium, and inhaled some smoke. He will be okay, but we'll need to keep him in the hospital for now. He was lucky to have been in the basement, though. Had he been on the ground floor it would have been much worse."
"Is he awake?"
"Yes, but he's been given morphine and has on an oxygen mask. You can speak to him, but I can't guarantee he'll do much talking."
Gibbs followed him back, passing rows and rows of rooms filled with people in various states of health. He hated hospitals. The only good thing to have ever happened in a hospital was Kelly's birth.
"You have a visitor, Agent McGee," the doctor said as he led Gibbs in.
Tim's eyes moved slowly to look at his boss. They were heavily lidded and he looked like he was on the verge of sleep. An oxygen mask covered most of his face and the machine beside his bed made ominous beeping noises.
Gibbs took a seat in the chair beside Tim's bed. "Hey, McGee."
"Hey…boss," Tim responded in a muffled drawl. "What happened?"
"Bomb," he said bluntly. "I was pretty much outside when it happened. When I woke up they wouldn't let me back in there to get you." He stopped, swallowing back the angry lump in his throat. "I want you to know that me not going back in to help you…it wasn't by choice," he assured his young teammate, lest the man should think otherwise. "If they hadn't stopped me I would have gone in."
Tim shook his head gently. "Not you fault," he slurred.
"Yes, it is. I'm responsible for what happens to you."
"No," he disagreed. "You could've gotten killed."
"You could have, too."
Gibbs grinned at that. "No, you didn't."
"I'm good…just little sore…and tired." His eyes fluttered closed for a second before slowly opening again.
"I just don't want you to think I left you there to almost die. It wasn't my choice."
Tim nodded as much as he could under the conditions. "I know. Don't worry."
Gibbs leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees. "It's hard not to worry, McGee. You're a member of my team and I don't leave teammates behind, no matter what. I mean, what if something worse had happened to you? I don't want to add another death to my conscience, McGee. It's already starting to get heavy."
A low, throaty laugh emanated from Tim and Gibbs could see a twinkle of amusement in his weary eyes. "What's so funny?" he asked.
"You," Tim said. "If it were me doing this, blaming myself for something, you'd slap me on back the head and tell me to get over it or something. But now you're doing the same thing."
Tim had him there and Gibbs knew it. He was being quite the hypocrite. "I guess it's easier to say that when you're on the other side of things. But you're right; I can't blame myself for what happened today."
The morphine must have given Tim a boost of courage because he then asked, "Have you learned your lesson, or do I have to give you a headsmack?"
Gibbs laughed, a very unusual occurrence. "I don't think you're in any condition to headsmack anyone, McGee. But the next time I start blaming myself, I grant you the right to bring me back to reality."
"Okay…boss," was Tim's soft reply before settling into a deep sleep.
Gibbs remained quiet, wanting to let him rest. And now Gibbs could let his own conscience rest as well.