They say time heals all wounds but there are some wounds that not even time could heal; wounds that were left wide open and gaping because of the effects that they had not only on a person but on the country as a whole. Wounds had a way of bringing people together; a nation together; a family together.
So many people even eleven years later question where you were when the world stopped turning. Gibbs closed his eyes; he could remember it just like it was yesterday. They had just come off a case that took seventy two hours of working non-stop to solve. He had dismissed his team two hours before but Tony was still at the office working alongside him to make sure everything was air tight about the case. They had just turned off the computer monitors and were standing to leave when the news reports came on showing the first attack on the twin towers. Frozen in place is the only way Gibbs can recall that feeling; he couldn’t move or take his eyes from the TV screen.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Tony, they watched as the second plane hit the towers. It was a sob that pulled Gibbs from his state of shock; a sob that had been so quiet that he would have missed it had he not been standing right next to the person that it came from.
“DiNozzo?” Gibbs said softly as he put a hand on Tony’s shoulder and squeezed.
“We have to go help them,” Tony said softly as he quickly wiped at the tears that were rolling down his cheeks. “Please, Boss?”
“Grab your gear,” Gibbs said softly. “I’ll go clear it with Morrow. We’ll stop at our places grab some extra clothes just in case.”
“Thanks,” Tony sighed in relief at Gibbs answer.
“Boss?” Tony walked up on his friend as he stood looking at the rubble of what used to be the NCIS building. “Reminds me of 9/11.”
“Me too,” Gibbs swallowed hard. “That day..”
“NCIS, where do you need us?” Tony yelled to one of the rescue workers only to hear the cries of a child in the distance. Pulling Gibbs in the direction of the cries, the NCIS duo worked side by side until they had successfully rescued a little girl and her two brothers from the destruction. Carrying them to safety, Tony could feel his resolve start to slip. Snapping his mask back into place, he returned to the carnage of the attack.
Rescue missions soon turned to recovery efforts and Tony had seen more victims than he had expected. They were faces without names; people were at home waiting for news on the loved one that they had just pulled from the rubble. Lives were not only altered by the events they were shattered and a nation would be forever changed.
“I don’t think we’ve been the same since,” Tony whispered.
“No,” Gibbs shook his head. “We haven’t.”
“When I was trapped in the elevator, I could hear the building coming down and all I could think about was what those final moments were like for the people in the towers and the Pentagon. I thought about how selfless it was for the people on the planes to try to take the terrorists down. It’s not something I will ever forget until the day I die; just like this. We lost people, Gibbs.” Tony’s voice cracked and his eyes filled with tears.
“Because of a terrorist,” Gibbs growled.
“Terrorist cost us agents, good people. Almost cost us, Ducky too.” Tony shivered despite the heat. “I wish it was just a nightmare; we could wake up and everything would be okay.”
“Come on, DiNozzo.” Gibbs pulled his exhausted, battered agent away from the rubble. “We’re going to get cleaned up, something to eat and some sleep. We’ll come back in a few hours.”
“No Gibbs,” Tony tried to break free to go back to digging.
A slap to the back of his head stilled the younger man. Turning to look at the former Marine, Tony saw how exhausted his boss was. “Sorry, Gibbs.” Tony whispered as he followed the man as he moved towards the area they had been permitted to park in.
Finally after what felt like driving forever, they were able to find a motel to stay in. Much to their surprise, the owner just handed them a key and asked for nothing in return. By the time they got to their rooms, they were both almost too tired to breathe let alone shower.
Just as Tony got out of the shower, he was met by a knock. Wrapping a towel around his waist, he went to the door to be met by a kind woman carrying bag of food.
“Let me pay for those,” Tony moved to find his wallet.
“No,” the young woman shook her head. “It is an honor to be able to provide shelter and food for you and your friend.”
“My friend?” Tony questioned. “Oh that’s my boss.”
“He’s your friend too,” the woman smiled. “He asked for me to find a doctor to check you over.”
“When we were at the motel that day,” Tony took a deep breath. “You had asked for a doctor to come check me over. Why? That was before the plague.”
“You were beyond exhausted and pretty numb. The pain your body was in didn’t even register; that’s why.” Gibbs sighed. “Like now.”
Tony opened his eyes to find Gibbs sitting at the little table in his room. “You need help getting up?” Gibbs questioned.
“No,” Tony shook his head and started for the bathroom. “Why are you in here?”
“They needed my room for other volunteers,” Gibbs lied. Silently, the man was more than concerned about his agent and wanted to be there for him when the nightmares hit.
“I’ll be right back,” Tony said softly as he closed the bathroom door.
Gibbs had the TV on when Tony came back out of the bathroom. Faces of those that had lost their lives were going across the television; several of them familiar to the two agents. The names were being identified as picture after picture flashed on the screen.
By the time they got back to Ground Zero, the emotions were high. President Bush had taken the time to shake Tony and Gibbs hands as he made his way through the workers. Tony’s voice was gravely and his throats sore from chanting USA alongside the fire fighters and volunteers. God Bless America was the only thing that came to his mind as he looked around at all the lives brought together by the tragedy.
They worked another thirty-six hours before Gibbs led Tony to the car and told him it was time to go home. The drive to D.C. was quiet for the first hour and it wasn’t until Tony’s hand clamped over his mouth and Gibbs was forced to pull off the road that the effects of the experience made themselves known.
Tony heaved the contents of his stomach into the grass alongside the highway, his muscles clenching tight as they went into spasms rebelling against the experience.
“Breathe,” Gibbs coached as he rubbed a gentle hand on Tony’s back.
The vomiting turned to dry heaves which soon gave way to sobbing. Tony’s mask crumbled and he mourned every single person that he had pulled from the rubble; every single person they had not been able to find. He mourned for the lives lost, the lives changed and for the future that would be void of nearly three thousand people.
Gibbs was shaken by the devastation but needed to keep himself together at least for Tony’s sake; a battle quickly lost. As Tony stood, he looked into Gibbs eyes and found tear filled, glassy eyes looking back at him. In an uncharacteristic move, Gibbs pulled Tony into a hug.
“You did good work, Tony.” Gibbs praised softly as he led his agent to the car. “Let’s go home.”
“Do you think we’ll be okay?” Tony looked to Gibbs.
“In time but we’ll never forget.” Gibbs sighed. “Come on, DiNozzo.” Gibbs put a gentle hand on Tony’s back to steer him away from the rubble. “Let’s go home.”