A/N: Written because Tim deserved as much of a 'good-bye' from Ziva as the rest of them.
"You talk to Ziva?"
"I sent her a text. She hasn't answered it yet."
Even as Tim's own words to Tony on the subject of Ziva come back to him now, the words from Gibbs earlier in the day, replay themselves as well over in his mind on endless replay:
"She wanted to move on. So - move on."
He realizes deep down that the man is right. Ziva left so she could move on with her life; past the tragedy, pain and heartbreak of her father's murder and his fellow countrymen's duplicity in the ordeal. This means they too, need to move forward and let her go.
But how do you just let go - of a friend who hasn't even said goodbye? How do you let go when that friend has literally said goodbye, in one way or another, to almost everyone else she worked with but you; the first person who welcomed her to the fold way back when? What does that tell you of how little she thought of your friendship, though she often claimed otherwise? And how to do you just stop worrying about her enough to let her go in this way; especially given all she's just been through?
Does the new Director of Mossad have unsavory plans for her predecessor's daughter who happens to be intimately familiar with the Agency and what it's capable of? Will this woman use Ziva for a target, as bait or maybe something worse than she used NCIS recently now that Ziva has returned to Israel? The New Director of Mossad has shown herself to be ruthless, cunning and less than upfront about her motives and even her means to achieve them. How does a woman get such a promotion in that ruthless country, anyway?
And what about Eli's enemies the world over? God knows, the man made more than his fair share of those in his lifetime. Would any of them set their sights on his only living relative now that he was no longer available to retaliate against? Have they already? How the hell can anyone protect Ziva against her father's troubled legacy; especially when she's gone silent and nearly invisible like this?
Tim's mind hasn't been able to stop the litany of questions from spinning endlessly around in his head since hearing Tony relay Ziva's message to Abby when he'd come back from going to look for Ziva. Even amidst the endless array of questions, he has to admit that hearing that the woman he treasured as his friend had sent back a message for Abby, said goodbye to Tony in person; promised to think about calling Gibbs, but sent not one word back for him had hurt.
That hurt had been compounded greatly when Tony had admitted that he'd had his chance to say goodbye in person, even if Ziva had given him a faux sense of what could have been. Tim couldn't help but feel lied to and confused about that. He recalls that Ziva, on more than one occasion, had stated she would never love Tony that way because they cared for each too much like family to go there with each other.
Still, as much as that information coming from Tony had stung, it alarmed him to a great extent because it means she really has no intention of coming back. With this in mind, his concern for Ziva far outweighs any other aspect of these changes and has taken front and center stage in his heart and mind now. The countless questions concerning her safety and well-being won't stop parading through his thought process, no matter how hard he tries to remind himself that Ziva can take care of herself. After all, just because she can; doesn't mean she should have to.
Now, with the work day over and the squad room emptied at long last, he can't think of anything else, having already turned down Tony's unexpected and rare invite to go out for a drink. Frankly, his mind just couldn't focus on anything else tonight if he'd tried. Thankfully, Tony hadn't done anything in response to Tim's refusal, other than look at the younger man more closely for a minute with a hint of guilt in his own expression. Obviously, no words were needed between them as the situation remained somber and painfully unresolved as often the case when someone leaves. With a slight nod of understanding and apology mixed together, Tony had headed out alone.
Just as thankfully, Gibbs had already gone out for his refill of coffee and had yet to return. Gently now, Tim begins absently flipping his phone over and over in his hand as the image comes to mind, of the text message he sent Ziva as soon as he'd realized she wasn't coming back.
"Tell me you're okay. Please?
I'm here for you. Always.
Sighing deeply, Tim returns to the present with a rapid repetitive blinking to clear his vision of the traitorous moisture that is attempting to slip past his the barricade on his emotions. Obviously, she doesn't need him to 'be there' for her, but he hadn't known how else to let her know that he's more concerned for her than he is about her not having said goodbye. That doesn't mean he hasn't been able to admit to himself that it hurt like hell; a slap in the face of their friendship, or at least what he'd thought their friendship had been.
He always thought they'd become important enough to each other as cherished friends, that they could always depend on each other not only to be there for each other but to never deliberately hurt each other or leave without a hint of goodbye. In their own, silent, understanding ways, they'd brought their friendship to that level over the years – or so Tim had believed. With a slight shake of his head, he mentally scolds himself that this isn't about making himself feel better, but about making sure Ziva is okay; making sure she knows he's still available for her to lean on or talk to if and when she needs a friend; letting her know that he won't stop being there for her just because she's decided not to come back.
At the edge of his peripheral vision, he sees movement that tells him the boss has returned, but still Tim can't seem to muster the energy to move beyond continuing to turn his phone over and over in his hand as if willing it to provide him with the answer to his earlier text to Ziva. Even his eyes remain locked on his phone, his attention intently focused on his hand.
That is, until the phone is unexpectedly removed from his hand and the quiet sympathetic voice of Gibbs reaches through the mental mist that has enveloped him. "Gotta let her go, Tim."
Even with the rare use of his given name that usually means the man is finally taking the time to reach out to him, Tim can't help but frown. Just let her go? That's easy to say, for someone she in all probability called and spoke to.
"Talk to me."
Tim is surprised by the request from the normally non-probing Team Leader. Shaking his head slightly, the younger man looks up. "Just worried about her, Boss."
"McGee, she'll b…"
"Able to take care of herself? We both know she's always been able to take care of herself, Boss, but look much crap life's managed to dump on her anyway! For all we know, she's still a target!" Tim rushes to voice his biggest fear for Ziva, now that he's been given the opening to do so.
Gibbs goes quiet, his scrutiny increasing as his eyes lock on to Tim's expression as if searching for something he can't quite see. Looking away first, Tim sighs as he reaches down for his gear bag and slings it over his shoulder. Suddenly, he no longer feels comfortable just standing here. Wordlessly, Gibbs hands him back his phone and nods at him in his trademark silent 'good night' communication.
Tim walks to the elevator, his feet feeling like concrete with every step. As he rounds the corner by Ziva's desk, his phone once again resting in the palm of his hand vibrates with the alert for a received text message. Stopping in mid-stride, Tim breathes in and slowly out deeply to calm his nerves. Turning his phone over, he flips it open, hope abiding in his expression.
From across the room, Gibbs watches his agent open the cell phone and frown before closing the phone back up, proceeding to the elevator and disappearing behind its doors, leaving a pensive Team Leader behind – but only for a moment.
He doesn't remember walking to his car or know how long he's been standing here leaning against it, his arms stretched over its roof as his gear bag sits on the ground at his feet. The wave of disappointment that rolled through him when he saw the text message from his sister back upstairs in the squad room, has finally dissipated, leaving him with a heavy knot of dread and worry about Ziva where only a nagging concern had resided before. Ziva may be going through a lot, but it wasn't like her to let them worry about her like this.
She doesn't know you're worried, bonehead
Startled by the voice of reason's cold honesty, Tim sighs deeply in an effort to force himself to calm down and find his ability to rationalize and re-engage his mental facilities without this shrouding over him. Reluctantly, he reaches down inside himself and draws out what he hasn't had to fall back on in years but has never forgotten. Memorized more out of the need for an anchor than anything else back in his younger days, Tim recites it half under his breath now, forcing himself back into the mindset that will accept it in regard to Ziva's departure.
"… the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference."
"Haven't heard that in a long time."
Gibbs pronouncement from just behind him has Tim's breath nearly suffocating him in shock. Determined to keep this to himself, he moves as if the man hasn't just interrupted him in a private moment of self-motivational speaking. Bending slightly to pick his gear bag back up, he turns to get in his car as he glances over at the older man. "See you tomorrow, Boss."
Knowing the Team Leader isn't gonna let this go now, he lowers the bag back to the ground without letting go of it as he looks over at him while he waits to hear what's coming next.
"This is more than Ziva not coming back."
Tim doesn't know what Gibbs is fishing for; more to the point, he doesn't even know how to best explain the dread he can't seem to let go of without sounding like an idiot, so he remains silent, knowing the man will add more to this to get the answer he's looking for.
"There a reason you can't just come out and tell me what's on your mind?" The Team Leader growls.
Breathing deliberately for a silent minute while he attempts to rein in his anger, Tim finally looks back up and quietly offers a generic response. "I'm fine, Boss. Really."
"Damn it, McGee!" The Team Leader huffs in irritation. It's obvious the younger man has something he needs to get off his chest. Does he really need to ask him to just say whatever it is already?
Feeling cornered and completely frustrated, Tim's response escapes before he can think to lock it away. "Boss, it's easy for you to tell me to just let her go- she said goodbye to you!"
Gibbs is shocked into silence and Tim takes the opportunity to quickly apologise and explain better. "Boss, I'm sorry. It's not your fault she didn't say goodbye to me." Taking another deep breath and slowly letting it out, he offers what he knows the man wants to hear, finally to accept himself that he can live with it. "I know I have to believe she can take care of herself and that she'll be alright. It's just…. She's family, Boss. And we can't watch her back like this."
Gibbs nods with solemn understanding, proud that the agent standing in front of him isn't this worked up for purely selfish reasons, but for the peril he believes his team mate to be in without their protection.
"Gotta put it away, McGee." Having said this, Gibbs remains where he's standing, his eyebrows slowly marching up to his hairline as he waits for Tim to accept the order for what it is.
Tim swallows hard around the lump in his throat. Maybe his text message will remain unanswered. Who knows? Regardless, the boss is right. No matter how hard it is or how much it hurts, the situation with Ziva needs to be set aside because life; their jobs, must go on. Finally, he nods. "Yes, Boss."
"G'nite, McGee." Gibbs offers as he turns to head to his own car some three parking spots away.
"Goodnight, Boss." Tim replies quietly as he remains where he's standing while he watches the older man walk away.
Surprisingly enough, not three feet later, Gibbs turns back to face his agent. "McGee!"
Expectantly, Gibbs remains silent, obviously waiting for Tim to walk over to him. As Tim reaches where the boss is standing, he can see that the man has something serious left to say.
With a softened expression and a sympathetic tone, Gibbs does what he can to help his agent move past this. "Give her time."
Tim nods in easy agreement. He can do bthat, no problem. He feels a small smile finally reach his face for the attempt the boss has just made to reach out to him as a person beyond the agent on his team.
"Don't give up on her." With a quick nod and a tiny smirk, Gibbs turns to leave.
Now, they can move forward, though it will still be tough to do. Tim's right, Ziva will always be family and it's never easy to let them leave the nest. Hopefully, she'll be back or at least, stay safe. As he reaches his car, his agent's last words reach him, drawing an appreciative smile from him.