A/N: Each chapter will deal with the death of a different team member. This is from overdosing on death stories and near death stories. Gotta love me some angst!
Death of a Team Member
By Lizabeth S. Tucker
He should've known better. Diving into the cold, dirty water followed by extreme physical activity, followed by still more exhaustive activities. Then hanging around the crime scene after the ambulances left with the newly breathing drowning victims in order to brief the team taking over the investigation. Too tired to think straight, Tony hadn't even shed his wet jacket. One of the paramedics had asked if he needed to go to the hospital as well, but duty came first. It was all he had left in his life.
The wind began to pick up as the sun went down. Tony's extremities began to lose all their feeling. It wasn't until he began to have problems speaking that anyone noticed.
"DiNozzo? Hey, man, are you okay?" Special Agent Doug Riviera grabbed Tony's shaking hand, his head shooting up in shock. "Jesus, Tony, I've felt corpses warmer than you."
Tony tried to understand what he was being asked, but the words simply didn't make sense in his iced brain.
"Bill, get me all the blankets you can find! Kale, call for an am…whoa, Tony!" Riviera caught Tony as his legs collapsed under him. "Screw the ambulance, get the car. We're taking him to the hospital."
Bill Reilly helped bundle Tony in the blankets as he and Riviera carried him to the waiting car. Kale slapped the bubble light on the top of the sedan and put the siren on as Riviera climbed into the back seat with a semi-conscious Tony. "Bill, call the hospital. Let them know we're coming in. Then contact whoever's left on Gibbs' team. They'll want to meet us there."
The two men locked glances over Tony's body. "Tell them to hurry."
The ride to the hospital was harrowing. Kale's driving skills were tested to the extreme as the car swerved in and around the early evening traffic. By the time they arrived, Tony was barely tracking anything or anyone, his eyes narrowed to slits. His chest heaved with the struggle for breath. Kale and Riviera watched helplessly as the stricken agent was quickly bundled out of the car and into the recesses of the hospital's emergency department.
Dr. Mallard, NCIS medical examiner, was there when the men followed slowly along. "I will check on our young friend. Will you stay here and inform the others when they arrive of the situation?"
"Of course," the agents chorused.
Ducky returned less than 10 minutes later, finding an anxious Abby Sciuto waiting with Reilly and Riviera. She was shredding her delicate black lace handkerchief.
"Ducky? Tony's okay, right?" She clutched at his arm, digging in with her fingers.
"Our young friend is extremely ill. His body temperature dropped belong what is considered safe for any living human. There is already an indication of fluid buildup in his lungs. I'm afraid that he will be in for the fight of his life."
"But…" Riviera was shocked. "You mean DiNozzo could die?"
Ducky ignored the gasp from the young woman standing beside him. "With his already compromised lungs, that is very much a possibility. However, you got him here as quickly as you could once you were aware of the situation. If Tony survives, it will be because of you both." He made a point of shaking both special agents' hands. "Thank you. "
"More likely it will be our fault. We knew he was wet from going in after Gibbs and that girl. We just didn't…Tony kept saying he was fine." Riviera was disgusted with himself.
Ducky patted the agent gently on his shoulder. "You couldn't have known he was anything but what he said. Don't blame yourself. There will be more than enough to share if this ends badly."
"It's that bad, Dr. Mallard?" Bill asked.
The medical examiner sighed, dropping his head for a moment. "With Tony's previous medical issues, it could be." He seemed to rally as he saw Tony's team members, Tim McGee and Ziva David, come rushing into the hospital entrance. "Let us hope that he will once again defy the odds."
"What's going on?"
"Where is Tony?"
"Is Gibbs with you?"
"He's been notified," McGee replied. "He's on the way."
"Dr. Mallard, we need to get back to the scene. Please keep us updated." Riviera and Reilly took their leave, stunned that something so simple could take their fellow agent down.
"Knowing Jethro, he will be here shortly. Let me save the explanation for then." They waited.
"Ducky, what the hell is going on?" Gibbs came storming into the waiting room.
"Anthony has been admitted for severe hypothermia. Based on the buildup of fluid in his lungs, he will almost certainly develop pneumonia."
Ziva frowned. "He is in the hospital. He will be well, yes?"
"The doctors and nurses will do all they can, Ziva."
The very lack of positive spin had the group realizing just how serious the situation could be for Tony. "Why don't you all go home? I'll call you as soon as I hear something," Gibbs said quietly.
"I'm not leaving," Abby said stubbornly. "Not until I know Tony will be okay."
"I, too, will stay." This was from Ziva who glared across the room at the nurse behind the intake desk.
McGee shrugged, finding himself a seat nearby. He pulled out his iPhone and began researching what Tony could be facing.
It was almost two hours later when the emergency room doctor came in search of Dr. Mallard. He was accompanied by Dr. Brad Pitt, the man who had been with Tony through his bout with the plague.
"Special Agent Gibbs, Dr. Mallard, I truly had hoped to never see you again like this," Pitt said. "Let me introduce you to Dr. Dhruv Patel."
The others crowded near. Dr. Patel blinked at the strange group of people. "You are Mr. DiNozzo's relatives?"
"No," Abby said, adding vehemently, "we're his family!"
"It's okay, Dhruv. Special Agent Gibbs is listed as Tony's emergency contact."
Dhruv Patel, a tall, ascetic-looking man, nodded. "Mr. DiNozzo…"
"Special Agent DiNozzo," Gibbs corrected sharply.
"Special Agent DiNozzo is very ill. His lungs are struggling to cope with the oxygen requirements of his body. This is increasing the strain on his heart."
"So what will you do to make Tony better?" Abby asked, a tremor touching her smooth pale lips.
"We will administer an array of antibiotics and other medications as well as assisting his breathing as necessary."
Abby and McGee visibly relaxed. Even Ziva seemed to lose a measure of tenseness. Only Gibbs and Ducky remained worried.
"How bad is it?" Gibbs' mouth was tight and grim.
Pitt sighed. "I think it might be a good idea for you all to prepare for the worst."
Tim gathered the sobbing forensic specialist into his arms, struggling to hold his own emotions in check.
"This cannot happen," Ziva protested. "He simply has a cold."
"For anyone else you would be correct, Ziva." Ducky gently rubbed the Israeli's shoulder. "For Tony, it is much more than that. His lungs are too weak to withstand a severe case of pneumonia. It's something that we have long feared."
Gibbs stood stone-faced, listening as the three doctors explained in detail Tony's condition. "Where is he?"
"Tony's been moved to ICU. You can all see him today, one or two at a time. Gibbs, if you'd come with me." Pitt escorted the NCIS Special Agent through the hospital corridors. Arriving at the glass-enclosed room, the doctor grabbed Gibbs' arm as he began to pass by him. "You once ordered him to live and he did, against all the odds. I don't want you to expect it to work this time."
"There's more than what you told the others?"
"Tony is a fighter, but this time the only way he can survive is with a lung transplant."
"So put him on the list!"
"Gibbs, there isn't enough time."
The older man ached to punch his fist through a wall, but knew he had to control himself. "How long?"
"How long does he have?"
Gibbs nodded curtly.
"I…I don't know for certain, but I think we're talking hours rather than days or weeks."
A sharply drawn-in breath was Gibbs' only reaction. Once he had his emotions under a tight leash, he walked into the room. Tony was hooked up to monitors, a breathing cannula running around his face to his nose.
Blinking drowsily, Tony smiled. "Hey, boss. Really did it…this time," he said, struggling for breath.
"It's my fault. Shouldn't have run off without backup."
Tony reached out with his hand. Gibbs grabbed it tightly, trying to keep the conversation normal. He hadn't asked if the younger man knew. Then he looked into the green eyes staring up at him, realizing that Tony was well aware of the situation.
"I wanted you…to know how much…"
"Don't," Gibbs growled.
"Not…this time. Love you, boss. Always have. You've been…father…friend…mentor…"
Gibbs fought back the tears threatening to spill over. "You don't give up, hear me? I want you to fight."
"Already signed…no extreme…measures."
"Boss, it's no life…please…"
Gibbs knew at that moment that, if he ordered it, Tony would allow the doctors to do whatever they wanted, but he was right. It would only prolong the pain. "Okay, Tony, okay." He stood there for a while, listening to the sounds of fluid gathering in his lead's lungs. "The others want to see you. You ready for that?"
"No, but…I've gotta. Boss?"
"Come back? Be with…me?"
Gibbs knew no man wanted to die alone. "I'll be with you as long as you want me, Tony."
As he started through the doorway, Gibbs turned back. "And, Tony? The feeling is mutual. You're my friend, my son, my partner. And I should've said thank you for saving my life."
Pitt was waiting when Gibbs left the room. "I'll get the others. I think you should stay nearby, Gibbs."
It was late into the night before Tony showed more signs of distress. Gibbs was sprawled in the well-worn hospital chair, within reach of the younger man. The others were in the family waiting room, periodically coming to visit with cups of coffee for Gibbs and a word or two with Tony while he was still conscious. That condition had ended over an hour earlier. He had slipped into a restless sleep that soon slipped into a light coma.
His chest was barely moving. Gibbs had to put his hand on Tony's chest to see if it was moving, not trusting the various machines that monitored the amount of oxygen given and absorbed.
Doctors Pitt and Patel had taken turns visiting the rooms, keeping Gibbs appraised of the situation. This time it was Brad Pitt, accompanied by Ducky.
"I'm sorry, Gibbs, but it won't be much longer."
Ducky gripped his friend's shoulder. "The others will need to be told."
"Can you do it? I don't want to leave him, Duck. Not this time."
As deaths went, it was one of the quietest. It seemed to Gibbs as if Tony simply slipped away between breaths. He leaned down, resting his forehead on Tony's limp hand for one moment before getting slowly to his feet. He gently brushed a wayward strand of hair off the young man's forehead with a smile. "Gonna miss you, DiNozzo." He gave the top of the man's head a slap. "Stay out of trouble in the next life."
He walked to where the others waited, never looking back. And if he seemed years older than when he first arrived at the hospital, no one would ever speak of it.