Tribute to Whom Tribute is Due

Chapter 12

Tony's dead weight landed roughly on top of both Gibbs and McGee as soon as the shots were fired, then Gibbs swiftly pulled out his gun and aimed toward where he knew that the shots had come from as he moved out from underneath Tony, who was now unconscious, but the older agent saw that the man who fired the rounds had already been taken out thanks to Fornell arriving before the man could fire again.

McGee's first instinct was to help his partner and though he wouldn't openly admit it most days, his best friend, and once he struggled to move out from under him, Tim gently pulled Tony over onto his back and that's when he saw blood blossoming out from a wound in his lower left side and found that there was another wound as well, the bullet having entered through his back and lodging itself into his upper right shoulder, dangerously close to his neck.

"We've got to get Tony to a hospital quick, boss!" Tim cried out as he quickly placed his hands firmly over the wound in his side, while Gibbs did the same for the other wound and Tobias called for an ambulance.

"DiNozzo! Tony!" the senior agent shouted as he fought to wake his friend from unconsciousness, though to no avail. "Come on! You've survived tougher messes than this."

After making sure that the shooter was dead, Fornell searched the man for identity, then walked over and knelt down nearby as he spoke up saying, "An ambulance is on its way, but it'll take longer for them to get here because we're way down underground. What the hell happened here, Jethro?"

Gibbs stared at the prone form of his friend as he softly answered, "What happened is that I screwed up."

"We all did," McGee responded, knowing exactly what his boss was thinking and feeling in that moment as he struggled with the numerous emotions that were flooding through him in that moment as he stared down at Tony.

"I hope you explain more in depth later, once we know he's going to be all right, but until then, it looks like our scumbag over there's name is Victor Marsters," the FBI agent replied. "I'll bet Abby will be able to dig up all sorts of grime on him."

McGee looked over at the dead man's body as he answered, "She better be able to dig up a whole lot more than just that. There are a number of monsters down here that need to answer for this mess. We'd be the ones dead if Tony didn't jump in the way of those shots."

It was then that Dr. Woolsey moved into the center of the arena, as the only one involved with this who wasn't handcuffed or being dealt with by another cop, and was shocked when he noticed the body and the unconscious form of the champion, but he snapped out of his shock a few moments later when he looked down at the man he once knew as Connor Bacic, then rushed over and pushed himself in between McGee and Tony as he said, "I can help your friend until the paramedics arrive if you'll let me."

"Do whatever you have to do," Gibbs finally spoke up again. "Just keep him alive."

"I'm mostly a psychiatrist, but that wasn't what I initially wanted," Woolsey responded as he quickly looked down at his side and then began to look over what he found was the more serious wound near Tony's neck. "You should know, I was a doctor first until my license was taken away for malpractice, even though later on it was discovered that I was innocent of the charges brought up against me."

Gibbs replied, "I don't care so long as you help him."

Within forty-five minutes, the paramedics had finally arrived and took over taking care of Tony, while Gibbs and McGee stood back and observed their work, then proceeded to finish helping the other agents and officers round up the remaining criminals while the paramedics carried DiNozzo back out to the surface on a stretcher. Dr. Robert Woolsey was the last one to be handcuffed and was about to be put into a police car when Gibbs walked back over to him, then told the officers that he would take over for them.

Then Gibbs looked directly at the man as he acknowledged, "If you hadn't have come down when you had, our friend would have died down there in that hellhole. He still might, but at least his chances are better, thanks to you. You allowed yourself to become involved in the fight club, which still makes you a criminal, but you helped us out when you didn't have to. That's a step in the right direction. If you continue to give us everything we need to make sure that your partner and everyone else involved pay for what they've done, then we'll make sure that you get a fair deal."

"Thank you," Dr. Woolsey answered. "I get the sense that helping out a criminal isn't something you do often, so coming from you, that means a lot. I realize that Connor, or Agent DiNozzo, came here undercover, so the things that he said were not necessarily true, but I got the sense that the feelings he eventually brought across were. He's hurting and he has no idea how to share it with anyone."

"You're right," Gibbs responded. "I should have seen it. Thank you, doc."

Abby, Ducky, and Jimmy all met up with them at the hospital a short time after Tony was wheeled into the emergency room and several hours passed, mostly in silence while they waited fearfully for any news on their friend. Abby cried openly as Gibbs and Ducky took turns trying to comfort her, but the worst moment during their wait was when Tony's father walked in with Director Vance and Gibbs and McGee began to explain what they knew about happened to his son.

McGee started, "What we know for sure is that Tony took some time off to try to help a man, whom he felt he owed, when in truth the man played on your son's guilt in order to blackmail him into doing so. We'll make sure he pays for his role in all this. As for his investigation, Tony admitted himself into a rehab center to try to locate and rescue this man's friend, which we were able to do. Later on, he was caught and shot up with drugs to make him excessively aggressive, then was forced to fight against another patient in a fight club, run by one of the center's owners and doctors, as well as a couple of backers who put up the money to begin it all.

Gibbs cut in, "They all got rich off of men and women with no family or friends to miss them, who fought each other to the death, while lots of money traded hands. We found Tony before he was hurt too badly in the fight, but he took two bullets meant for us when we busted in to take down all the men and women involved. He saved mine and McGee's life. Despite the drugs, your son was still himself. He's strong, Mr. DiNozzo. If anyone can survive this, he can."

"Gibbs is right," Abby said softly. "Tony is nothing if not resilient. If he can beat the bubonic plague, he can beat this no problem."

"I believe you, Agent Gibbs," Sr. replied sadly. "Thank you for telling me. I came here to visit with my son because I want to continue to rebuild our relationship. I plan to remain here for as long as he needs me to."

DiNozzo Sr. walked away to be alone in order to allow what he had just been told about his son to sink in as Gibbs just stared toward the ER's doors until Ducky walked over to him and asked, "Do you want to know the real reason why Anthony did all of this, alone?"

Without turning around to look at his long time friend, Gibbs answered wearily, "I know why, Duck. It's because he's finally lost what little faith in himself he had left. He's giving up and I've been too blind to see that he's been in this much pain. A part of me knew it, but I kept shrugging it off and telling him to do the same. Now he's paying for it. He went off alone because he didn't want to risk any of us getting hurt too."

"Guilt is a powerful weapon, Jethro," Ducky responded. "And Tony has been building it up ever since everything that happened between him and Ziva back during the whole Michael Rivkin affair."

"Actually, I think it goes back a whole lot further than that," Gibbs replied as he finally turned around to look at the chief medical examiner. "I just hope that I'll have the chance to finally have the talk that has been long overdue."

Ducky spoke up again saying, "If anyone can get through to him, to help save him from himself, then it will be you."

It took the rest of the night, as well as several hours into the next morning before a doctor finally walked out from the ER to inform the team of their friend's condition, which was worse than they had imagined and little of the damage done had anything to do with the two gunshot wounds, nor the multiple injuries caused by the beating he had received during his fight against Lucien.

It was the amount of drugs found in Tony's system, along with the combination of the drugs used in order to cause enough of a drastic change in Tony to the satisfaction of those who ran the fight club that troubled them more than anything. It appeared that nearly twice the amount of drugs found in Craig Lucien's system was found in Tony's system. Tony must have fought harder against the affects of the drugs for as long as he could, making it so that they had to give him much more than they had given the rest of the rehab's patients.

Over the next several weeks, Tony remained hooked up to multiple machines, on life support, while his friends and his father remained by his side as much as possible, despite the agents having to return to work. His wounds healed slowly and little by little, the color came back into his face, but Tony still had yet to waken. It wasn't spoken of out loud, but his friends each feared that the reason had more to do with him having no fight left within him than with the drugs and wounds he had received.

Finally, late one night while Gibbs was sitting with him, Tony's hand moved and then he struggled to open his eyes, but once he did wearily, the older agent reached out and took Tony's hand in his own as he said softly, "Tony, can you hear me?"

"B… Boss…" he tried to speak until he cut himself off and slowly began to panic as he struggled to become aware of his surroundings.

"It's going to be all right," Gibbs answered. "You're safe and you're going to be fine. Don't try to talk right now. There are some things that I need to tell you. We know what you did because Jason King guilted you into it and it's thanks to you that Craig Lucien is alive and well, but you also need to know that you don't owe him anything. You did a good thing, but I wish you didn't feel like you had to do it alone."

Tony looked away from him as he responded in defeat, "I'm tired."

Understanding that Tony was admitting that he had lost his will to keep fighting, Gibbs tightened his grip around Tony's hand as he replied firmly, "I know and that's on me. You've been hurting for a long time and I've been too blind to see it, but I see it now and I promise you that I'll be here to listen whenever you're ready to talk. You can't give up on us, Tony. You saved mine and McGee's life while high on dangerous drugs and that's saying something. I've never been more proud. I told your dad this a long time ago and I meant it, you're the best agent I've ever had the privilege of working with. Now get some rest. We're all here for you."

"Not everyone," Tony said softly as he slowly drifted back off to sleep.

"No, not everyone," Gibbs answered, knowing he was talking about Ziva.

Three weeks later, Tony was finally released from the hospital although he still continued to struggle with the most recent events, as well as with the emotional pain that he's felt for years. If it wasn't for his friends and his father being there for him through it all, Tony knew that he never would have made it.

That night, Tony walked into his apartment alone after his friends had gone home and his father had gone back to his hotel, as Tony had asked to finally be left alone after having someone always around him ever since he woke up in the hospital. However, as soon as he turned on the lights he found someone standing before him whom he didn't expect to see again, least of all inside his apartment; Ziva.

Ziva looked fearful and sad as she only stared at him, as Tony spoke up saying, "You're here?"

She nodded and then finally responded, "Yes, I'm here. I heard about everything. I knew that I needed to come. I'm so sorry, Tony."

"You have no reason to be," he began to reply and then proceeded to tell her what he was so afraid to say to her before. "I understand why you left. You needed to start over in order to find yourself again, but I miss you, Ziva. More than anything, I wish you were still here with us, with me. While I was being drugged at that rehab, the one thing that kept me fighting was you and I knew that you wouldn't have given in as long as there was hope. I nearly forgot that. Gibbs, McGee, and the others are here now to help me get through this, but… I love you, Ziva."

"I was hoping you did," she answered as she suddenly rushed forward and began to kiss him passionately, then relaxed within his arms. "I love you too, Tony. I'm here now and I always will be, for you. This is my home and you, Gibbs, McGee, Abby, Ducky, and Jimmy, are my family."

Tony smiled and then responded, "I should have known that you wouldn't be able to stay away from me forever."

The End

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