The squad room was quiet this morning; quiet as it had been every morning since that day, the day when a simple operation had gone wrong, so badly wrong, when the team he had worked with, who had been at his side through good and bad, the team he had fought so hard to keep together, had shattered forever.
He knew Ziva was watching him; it felt like everyone was watching him these days, wondering how long he could hold it together. If they only knew, he wasn't holding it together at all, every night down in his basement, he fell apart. Replayed those fateful moments over and over in his mind, downed another glass, or two of bourbon, fell into a restless, booze-induced sleep. Then every morning he went through the rituals of getting clean, put on fresh clothes, donned the façade of able team leader and turned up for work. He'd avoided the squad room for as long as he was able, but eventually he had to come back, to be confronted by two empty desks.
One of the desks would be occupied later today; Tony was coming back, desk duties only for a week, then another medical assessment, but he was coming back…
Ziva put down her phone, glanced over at Gibbs, shook her head, and gave a sad little smile.
"There is no news Gibbs, but we should not give up hope."
Hope...that was all they had left... The vain hope that Tim would turn up somewhere, with no memory of who he was, but how often did that happen in the real world? No, Gibbs knew it, and he knew the others knew it too, but none of them would say it aloud, the only thing they could expect now was that one day Tim's body would wash up on the shore.
He'd left someone behind, one of his people, and that was eating him away inside. But he had to carry on, for Tony and Ziva, even for Ducky and Jimmy; but most of all for Abby. Her lab had become a silent place, no music, not even the dirges she had played after Kate...he had to steel himself to go down there, the look in her eyes, that fleeting millisecond of hope, followed by absolute despair, it tore at his very soul. She refused to accept that Tim was gone, hence no dirge, but her life had changed without him, and she couldn't bar to listen to her own music...Gibbs had tried to bring her round, to convince her that Tim was gone, but she had raised her tear filled eyes to his, and the accusation was there for all to see. Gibbs had come home, Ziva too, Tony was battered, but still here, Tim...she wanted Tim, it was also the one thing in the world she wanted...and that was the one thing in the world he couldn't get for her.
It should have been a simple arrest; NCIS had been tracking these men for months. Weapons, supposedly de-commissioned weapons had been going missing and they had finally got a lead on who was behind the operation. The trail had led Gibbs and his team deep into the Virginia countryside, and they had found the cabin being used to store the weapons without difficulty.
Gibbs had tried to remember exactly how the operation had gone so badly wrong, so fast. But try as he might, he couldn't pinpoint when he lost sight of Tony and Tim, he saw Ziva lying on the ground, ran to check on her, turned around, and he couldn't see them. He heard more gunshots; fired off four rounds, two men dropped and then he heard it.
"Boss! Over here!"
He'd raced over to the sound and felt the air rush from his lungs as he saw the hands grasping at the crumbling earth at the river's edge. They were both clinging on for their very lives, and in that instant, when the world was suddenly in ultra sharp focus; he saw that Tony was bleeding, the blood seeping through his sleeve. His grip was loosening, and Gibbs made his choice, he had reached out his hand for Tony and pulled him to the safety of firm ground, away from the foaming white water of the James River below.
He'd made his choice, and Tim was gone; missing presumed dead, now all they had left was hope. But Gibbs knew better, the river had taken Tim, Gibbs' last glimpse of him had been of eyes full of panic and pain, panic as the current dragged him under one last time, and pain because Gibbs had let him fall…had seen his outstretched hand, heard his pleas for help, and chosen Tony.