kasman: (Default)
[personal profile] kasman
Fandom: NCIS
Author kasman
Title: The Loganizing of Tony
Beta: Many thanks Alaidh for the beta.
Pairing: None
Summary: This is entirely Alaidh’s fault. This…um…intellectual exercise is the end result of a chat the other day (while we were both watching a Dark Angel episode) and flows on from some prior discussions about turning Tony into Logan .






Chapter 3

"Anthony?" the word was softly spoken from the doorway.

Tony was drowsily watching TV in bed, trying very hard to stay awake just that little bit longer, as he had when he was a child. He was lying on his side, his legs pulled up together, an arm draped over the top, his head and upper body propped against the pillows. He looked back at her from his recumbent position. "Hi, Mom. Come on in," he said, pushing himself up and onto his back, his legs following the movement of his body. "I thought you'd be here sooner than this." He pulled off the headset, and clicked off the TV.

"Anthony, sweetheart…" she said. "I couldn't, I had to take a trip back home…" Tony offered his arms in the universal gesture that signaled he wanted to be hugged.

“Oh, Anthony, I’m afraid I’ll hurt you! I don’t want you any more broken than you already are.”

Tony sighed, “Come here, Mom,” and pulled her into a strong hug. “I’m not made of glass.”

Irene DiNozzo hesitated, then returned his strong grip. "I'm sorry, sweetheart."

------------------------------------

“Your mother’s not what I expected,” Gibbs said, preparing to leave.

“What did you expect? A two-headed fire-breathing monster?”

“No, someone a bit more…”

“My dad’s Italian. My mom’s family is Irish and Scandinavian.”

"Ahh,” Gibbs said, and nodded his understanding. “You sort things out with her?"

"Going home for Christmas," DiNozzo replied, placing his foot back on the footplate of the wheelchair, shoelaces neatly tied.

"Christmas? That's months away."

Tony shrugged. "Gives her time to fix the house up a bit for me. Told her I'm not an invalid and I won't be treated as one." He wheeled his way around the bed, ready for the gym.

"How'd she take that?" Gibbs asked, wearing a lop-sided smile.

"'Bout as well as can be expected," he grinned.

"Hope you weren't too hard on her."

"Me?" Tony's green eyes were startlingly innocent. "Never."

"Never? What about the other day?"

"Momentary aberration," he said, looking back over his shoulder at Gibbs, who was sitting on the edge of the bed. "You know me, boss."

"Yeah, I do, DiNozzo."

-------------------------------------

"Go get changed into something you can wear out on the streets. We're doing something different today." Anne breezed into Tony's room in the rehab section late in the morning, bubbling with life. "You have got something other than sweats?"

"Um, yeah. What're we doing?"

"Life skills class at the mall."

"Okayyyy."

"Come on, chop chop." She clapped her hands, chivvying him into movement. "I'll go and bring my car around to the door," she said. Fifteen minutes later, a long whistle greeted Tony as he rolled out the front door of the rehab section and onto the concourse. "Hey, hotshot! Lookin' good."

Tony was wearing a pair of tan cargo pants with a navy t-shirt and white running shoes. A pair of sunglasses was looped over the neckband of the shirt. He was clean-shaven and recently showered – his hair still sticking up in damp clumps where he'd combed it and then changed. He had been diligently working with the weights, and developed a good amount of muscle tone, which showed in the way he filled out the t-shirt and in the easy way he moved. One of the pockets of the pants bulged where he'd shoved his wallet into it, but other than that, he was clean and neat as he confidently pushed down the ramp to the car.

"Now then, is there anything in particular you'd like to do," Anne asked once he was settled in the passenger seat of her Toyota Camry.

"Get a decent cup of coffee. The stuff they serve in this place…well, it shouldn't be allowed."

"I know what you mean." She stashed the wheelchair in the back seat. The chair was hospital issue, but a far cry from the clunker he'd had at first. The wheelchair he was currently using was a fairly good standard chair with anti-tippers. He had already been measured up and they had placed an order for what would be his take-home chair, but for the moment, he had something that would do. Anne put the car in gear and headed out of the parking lot into the mid-morning traffic as Tony donned the sunglasses and wound down the window to catch the breeze in his face. "This is the first time you've been out since the shooting, isn't it?"

"Yeah," he replied scratching the back of his neck. "Never thought I'd escape the joint."

"You'll be out soon enough, bozo. Won't be long until you're taking me for drives."

Tony grinned, holding the good thought.

Anne paused for a moment before changing the track of the conversation. "That boss of yours – he has this way of getting things done, doesn't he."

"Yeah. He's not much of one for sticking to the rules if they get in the way."

"He'd fit right in where I come from." Tony wondered why she’d said that, then forgot all about it a moment later as she pulled the car into the entrance of a covered parking lot. "Speaking of rules…there's a swing-tag in the glove compartment."

"Got it."

A few minutes later, Tony was studying the curb cut to get into the building. The concrete had buckled slightly with age, creating a slight step – not enough of a step to be a problem, but just high enough to be annoying. Come on, mate, you've been practicing this. He heard Anne’s voice in his head saying the words. The little hop he gave to kick the casters up over the step was anti-climactic in the event. "Piece o’ cake." He looked up at the PT, a small grin of triumph on his face. "What now?"

"What about some shopping therapy?"

"Yeah, I need some toothpaste and shaving cream," he responded, tongue-in-cheek.

"Whatever," she shrugged, "but I was actually thinking of a different sort of shopping."

-------------------------------

Gibbs marched into NCIS headquarters with a box of evidence held loosely in his hands and headed straight down to Forensics.

"Morning, Gibbs, whatcha got for me?" she asked over the blare of the ever-present heavy metal music.

"Evidence from that shooting down at Norfolk."

"Cool," she said, taking a long suck on the straw of the large cup of Caffe Pow on her desk.

"You been to see Tony yet?"

"No, Gibbs. I know I should but...hospitals kind of freak me out."

"He'd love to see you, Abbs, and technically he’s no longer in the hospital but in rehab." Gibbs dumped the box on Abby's counter, next to the reconstruction of Gallipoli she had there. He used the movement as a distraction from the pain he still felt at what had happened. No matter what anyone said, he still felt responsible that one of his agents had been seriously injured on a job, that it was his fault.

"Well in that case, maybe I will," she replied with a huge grin, signing the chit to show the chain of evidence.

"See ya later, Abbs."

"Sure, Gibbs."

-----------------------------------

Tony handed the pretty clerk a bundle of clothing. Once upon a time, he would have leaned down on the counter on his hands, but now, it came to up around his armpits. He crossed his arms on the counter, leaning his chin on them, looking up at her with huge puppy dog eyes. "You're new here, aren't you…Tina," he said, reading the name off her tag.

The girl just smiled and nodded. Anne, standing back a bit to allow the DiNozzo charm free reign, saw the girl blush under Tony's candid gaze, and couldn't help smiling to herself. Hey, never been to this mall before, he'd said as they drove in. He'd had the girl pegged as a newbie as soon as they wandered into the shop.

“What happened to…oh, what was her name?"

“M-M-Margaret?" the girl asked. "Not here any more." She tried to avoid Tony’s gaze while she rang up the total. His candid look, undressing her with his eyes, was making her nervous.

Tony smiled, the dimple flashing briefly in his cheek. “And how will you be paying, sir?” the girl asked, staring down at the pile she was folding to pack in a shopping bag.

“Visa.” He smiled sweetly and blinked.

Anne was having a hard time containing her laughter at what he was doing, even if it was unconscious.

Tina swiped his card in the machine then gave him the slip to sign.

“Thank you, Tina,” he said, scrawling his signature.

She handed him the card and the plastic shopping bag, the receipt tucked safely inside. By then, she was in such a state that she almost dropped them and had to apologize quickly. “Have a nice day.”

“Oh, I fully intend to,” Tony replied. He tried to balance the bag on his knees and then realized it wouldn’t stay, and eventually hung it from the back of the chair.

Outside the store, Anne turned to Tony and said, “You know, you need a license for that smile.”

“What?!” he looked at her in confusion.

“Well, poor girl. You used it on her like a lethal weapon.”

Tony grinned at her. “How come you’re so impervious?”

“Three brothers and a large dose of Aussie skepticism.”

“Guess that makes you a challenge.” He grinned even wider.

“Keep trying, Prince Charming. Come on, I could do with a caffeine fix right about now.”

"Coffee shop's upstairs." Tony could see the sign on the upper level from his position below.

"The elevator's down this way," she said, setting off down the left-hand side of the mall.

"Hey, slow down!" Tony's attempt to follow at speed had resulted in a near-collision with a discount rack of clothes standing out in the main passageway. Catching up to the PT, he couldn't help saying, "Ya know, I never realized before what a nuisance those damn racks can be."

"Welcome to the world of the disabled, Tony," she said quietly, so that only he could hear her.

He looked at her a moment, his expression troubled, but then seemed to shrug it off. "Life isn't all smooth floors and straight passages. Come on, find me a machine so I can score some cash and I'll buy you a coffee." He pushed off, taking the lead this time, but then stopped with an exclamation. "Ack!" he said, lifting his right hand well away from the wheel.

"What's up?"

" Gum." There was a comical look of distaste on his face as he showed her the string of gum running from his hand to the tire of the wheelchair where he'd use a double grip to get his momentum going. "Ugh. And it's fresh." He wore an expression of absolute horror.

Anne looked through her bag and quickly saw she didn't have anything to clean it up. Looking around, she spied an ice cream stand and walked over to take one of the paper napkins from the top of the counter. "Hey, customers only!" said the disgruntled person behind the counter.

"Sorry, my friend has a slight problem," she said, pointing at Tony who was sitting with his chin in his left hand, his right hand held up with the gum on it.

"Oh, in that case…"

Anne crouched down and cleaned up the mess as best she could, scraping the tire with the napkin, then dumping the wadded paper in the nearest trash can. "Well, wouldn't that make you bawl," Tony finally said, adopting a really bad Charles Bronson voice, starting to see the funny part of the situation. "Could’ve been worse…"

"Yep, could have been…don't think we'll go there. You wanna go wash your hands?"

"Yeah, might be a plan." Tony looked around and saw a sign with the three international symbols for man, woman and wheelchair and a directional arrow. A few minutes later, he emerged smiling. "That's an experience I don't want to repeat in a hurry. Gum. Ugh," he said. "Now, cash and coffee."

"Cash I got covered – look over there."

He looked over at the ATM. "Ah, great, and just a nice height, too."

"They're like that deliberately, Tony."

"I know," he responded mildly, going over to join the line of people making withdrawals.

------------------------

"Make a hole, people! Comin' through!" The elevator doors had opened on a larger group than had boarded at the lower level – apparently headed for the offices upstairs, and they had instantly pressed forward, not giving anyone a chance to get out. Tony, while unwilling to use the wheelchair as an actual battering ram, had no hesitation in forcing a path through by other means. He bumped over the entrance to the car, almost taking out the toes of the nearest person to the door, blissfully oblivious to the glare she gave him. Once they were clear, he stopped for a moment with the observation, "Man, some people have no manners."

"You are so right," a man beside him agreed.

Tony gave the fellow an ironic nod of acknowledgment, then orienting himself, he pushed off in the direction of the coffee shop. "You comin', McCallister?" he asked cheekily.

"Right behind you, bozo."

"Good. Wouldn't want you getting lost."

-----------------------

The counter at the coffee shop was disproportionately high and someone had placed the display of cup sizes in such a way that it blocked the view of the bored clerk beyond; a clerk who, from a distance, could be seen staring blankly at the silent, flickering screen of a TV in the store opposite – Clint Eastwood dealing with some bad guys, his trusty magnum at the ready.

He waved Anne into a seat and waited at the counter for a minute or so before realizing that he was completely hidden. “Hello! I’m down here!”

“Oops, sorry,” the young man said, leaning forward to peer over the counter. He quickly realized the problem and moved the cups. “Can I take your order, now, sir?”

Tony looked up at him. “Cappuccino and a large Columbian. And could I have a chocolate doughnut and a slice of carrot cake for the lady.”

“That comes to $6.50.”

The clerk accepted the cash Tony handed up to him. “Keep the change.”

“I’ll bring it out to you,” said the clerk.

“Thanks,” Tony replied, looking at him in surprise.

“That’s okay. Do anything for a pretty face.”

Tony gave the clerk a strange look. “Right…”

When Tony pulled up near the opposite side of the table and locked the brakes, Anne immediately noted his expression and asked, "What's up?"

He shoved an existing chair further around and then nudged into the position it had previously occupied, softly bumping the central base with the footrest and causing the table to rock slightly as he did so. "You're doing this deliberately, aren't you? Making me do all the work." There was a dull thunk as he locked the brakes.

"You didn't answer my question. What's up?"

"Nothing's up," he said, clenching his jaw.

Anne raised her eyebrows, noting his stiff posture and knowing he wasn't being entirely truthful. He gave a deep sigh, and leaned more heavily into the chair back, turning his head as the clerk carried over a tray with the coffee. "Here you go," he said, standing uncomfortably close to Tony, his right leg brushing the wheel of the chair, and almost jabbing an elbow into Tony's head as he placed everything on the table. Anne took note of the body language, of her patient's frozen deer-in-the-headlights expression, and immediately tweaked to the by-play. She waited until they were alone again before speaking, her voice low. "Was he hitting on you?"

Tony nodded slowly.

"I guess that answers a question I bet you've been dying to ask: whether you're still attractive to other people." She looked at him thoughtfully as he smiled and picked up a packet of sugar from the dish on the table, delicately tore it open and spilled the contents into the cup. "Other than those silly, twittering nurses, that is."

"I'm sure Gibbs has filled you in on my reputation, thoroughly deserved, I might add," he smiled cheekily.

She nodded vaguely, "I've…seen it for myself." She watched as he tipped two more packets of sugar into the cup and stirred it. "Whoa, sugar overload! And Tony…a doughnut?" She raised her eyebrows. "Can you say 'cop stereotype?'"

"Cop stereotype," he parroted back. "Hey, I like doughnuts!" He looked over at the counter curiously to find that the clerk was studying him, and immediately looked away, taking a sip of the overly sweet, strong coffee.

Anne shook her head. "Look, I think we need to talk about a few things, but this isn't the time or place. And in answer to what you asked before, yes, I'm making you do all the work." She stopped to take a cautious sip of her hot, unsweetened cappuccino. "You're gonna be out in the big wide world on your own shortly. You won't have anyone to help you, and there won't necessarily be anyone you can ask. That was the whole object of this little excursion."

"Mall skills, 101. Got it."

She cut off a piece of carrot cake with the fork. "What do you want to do next?"

"Toothpaste and shaving cream?"

"What about a movie? There's a cinema on one of the other levels."

"Great. I've been wanting to see Seed of Chucky."

Anne looked at him doubtfully. "On second thoughts, maybe that's not such a good idea."

“What’s wrong with Seed of Chucky?”

“Um…everything…” Anne replied, looking at him somewhat askance.

Tony donned an expression of mock hurt.

“Finish your coffee. We can discuss movie choice when we get there,” Anne said by way of appeasement.

“Sure.” He gave her a little smile.

Another customer wandered into the coffee shop, distracting the clerk from his frank contemplation of Tony’s visage, and causing the subject of said frank contemplation to breathe a big sigh of relief.

Anne thoughtfully sipped her coffee while subjecting her patient to some scrutiny of her own. She’d seldom seen anyone with Tony’s kind of clean good looks, and certainly never treated one. She could easily understand why he’d had the nurses swooning. In addition, when he chose to be sensible (which was most of the time with her), he was good company, good-natured, friendly and funny. He smiled, seeing her look at him.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask,” he said, breaking the companionable silence.

“What’s that?”

“What brought an Aus…Auzzie girl to this neck of the woods?”

“Long story,” she said, smiling as he gestured for her to continue with a wave of a long-fingered hand. “I’ll give you the potted version. My brother was working over here, had an accident. I was between jobs…came over to help with rehab. Hospital liked what they saw and cleared the red tape in record time. Here I am.” She shrugged.

“Between jobs…” Tony mulled that over. “What’s that mean?”

“It means I was unemployed.”

“I know that. Why were you unemployed?”

Anne just smiled enigmatically. “Lady’s gotta have some secrets,” she said and winked. “You done?”

He tilted his empty cup so she could see.

“’Kay. Let’s get going, then.”

The cinema was on the next floor up. This time, the elevator ride was quieter, less eventful. "What happened to your brother?" Tony asked, by way of conversation, as the almost empty car traveled the single floor up. The door opened and Tony pushed out.

"Fully recovered. He's now in London."

"Guy gets around."

"Yeah, I guess. Goes with the job."

----------------------------

"Hmm…looks like you're out of luck on Seed of Chucky," Anne commented, half smiling as they both studied the overhead display listing the movie sessions. Chucky was listed for 5:15 pm. In fact, other than Shark Tales, the only film to suite the schedule was Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Tony's long-suffering sigh told what he thought about that state of affairs.

"Ah, come on, DiNozzo. The first one was funny, don't see why this one would be any different."

"It's a chick-flick."

"So what? I'm a chick. Just pretend you're on a date. Or are you gonna tell me you'd take a date to see Seed of Chucky."

"I might," he said, ducking his head so she wouldn't see his expression, and half expecting a cuff on the back of the head. "On the other hand, I might take a date to Café Atlantico or…"

"All right, Tony, you don't have to justify yourself. Hey, some girls might like you to take them to Chucky."

"Right, that's how I see it," he smiled up at her. "I'm doing this am I?"

"Yup."

"Figures."

“I’ll take it as a given that you want popcorn and drinks.”

Tony looked at her in amazement. “Of course. What’s a movie without popcorn?”

She gave his shoulder a squeeze and left him to buy tickets while she made a visit to the snack bar, despite the recent ingestion of coffee, doughnuts and cake.

“Your girlfriend talk you into a chick flick?” asked the attendant in the ticket office when Tony stated his preference.

“Yeah,” he sighed, “but she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Cinema 4 – down the end and to the left.”

Tony nodded his thanks, shoved the tickets and change into the thigh pocket of the cargo pants and turned to meet Anne at the bottom of the first of two ramps. She had her hands full with a drink in each hand and a large popcorn held against her body with one arm. "Hey, let me take that." He reached up for the popcorn, wedging it carefully between his legs.

"Ta," she said, allowing him to go up the first ramp ahead of her.

"What's this movie about, anyway?" Tony asked, looking up at the therapist quickly while they were on level ground.

"It’s a comedy."

"Okay, but I think I guessed that."

"It's…well, you'll just have to wait and see. You'll have to use the disabled seating area – fire hazard thing."

He sighed and pushed up the second ramp. "Right, gotcha."

Cinema 4 was small, cramped and obviously in need of refurbishment, with worn carpet and a couple of pinholes in the curtain across the screen. The disabled seating consisted of a section either end of the back row where a couple of seats had been removed. Tony could see a split in the upholstery of one of the seats in front of him, where some of the stuffing poked through.

"Damn."

"What's up?"

"I'd like a center seat."

"Um, Tony, hate to say this, but you won't be able to get a center seat…unless you feel like hurdling across a dozen armrests."

He looked down the row of seats in the almost empty cinema and gave a long-suffering sigh. "This is annoying." He looked around. "And I don't have a drink holder, or anything to lean on..."

"Here, move yourself a bit closer. You can use this one," Anne said, swapping her drink over to the other side.

"Thanks," he said softly, slotting his drink into the holder. He eased the chair back and forward a couple of times, squeezing a bit closer, and leaned on the padded rest with his elbow. "It's still annoying, though."

"I know."

"The stuff I have to get used to…" He offered her some popcorn and then sat quietly as first some advertising, then a couple of trailers and finally the movie itself started to play, laughing in all the appropriate places, muttering a couple of times that both hero, heroine and resident cad, all needed a good shake. "These guys fight like sissies," he said quietly at one point. Anne looked over at him to see his reaction to the kiss between Bridget and the girl who she thought was her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. She rolled her eyes at the grin on his face.

Anne quietly observed Tony, even as she enjoyed the film, and despite some obvious frustration with the frivolous drama on the screen, he did seem to get something out of it. At one point, she felt his arm snake across the backrest of her seat and leaned into the steady warmth with a smile. It wasn't a sexual gesture – just a sign of companionship and shared experience. All things considered, he seemed to be enjoying his day out. He had already proven himself to be a good patient, quick to learn new skills, and had worked steadily with weights to build strength, and while he became frustrated from time to time, it was usually short-lived, his good nature and high spirits carrying him through most things. Despite a strong tendency to fool around under normal circumstances, he usually took her advice, and was certainly keen to try different things. The day's outing was certainly showing both of them how far he had come from the recently injured paraplegic in the clamshell vest to the point where he was almost ready to resume his life.

----------------------------------

"Stop, thief!" the yell came as they wandered slowly along the main passage in the direction of the way out. Anne turned her head to see, while Tony swiveled around, and saw a disturbance back behind them as someone pushed their way through. As the someone drew near to them, Tony pushed himself out quickly. In the ensuing collision, two bodies ended up sprawled on the ground and a handbag slid across the floor, coming to rest at Anne's feet. Tony quickly scrabbled forward on his hands, grabbing the winded thief by one wrist and twisting his arm painfully up behind his back, to applause from some onlookers. He remained hunched, half lying over the body, and leaning across to grab the other wrist, while the slight thief bucked under him, pinned by Tony's heavier body weight. "Hey, git offa me," the thief squawked.

"I don't think so," Tony replied, holding on grimly.

"DiNozzo, you okay?" Anne asked, righting the wheelchair. She picked up the stolen bag and sat it on the seat.

"Fine," was the grim response.

"Security's coming," a voice said, as the circle around them parted.

A uniformed security guard arrived on the scene. "Hey, nice work," the guard commented, bending down to take over Tony's grip on the thief, pulling the boy to his feet as a second security guard escorted an elderly lady into the group.

Anne handed the purse to the second guard. "He dropped this," she said. Tony was preparing to transfer up into the wheelchair. The PT could see that he was red to the roots of his hair as he prepared to do this in public, and gave him a pat on the back by way of encouragement. "Good work, champ."

He gave a shrug. "Lucky trip."

"Yes, that's my bag," the old lady was saying to the security guard, oblivious to what was going on beside her.

Tony looked up at the faces watching him, and reached back to grip the chair frame, heaving himself up with a satisfied grunt, and then grinning up into the PT's smiling face as he settled himself properly. "That was a really stupid stunt, DiNozzo," Anne admonished. "What if he'd had a knife or something…"

"He didn't," said Tony.

Anne picked up Tony's bag of shopping from earlier, the contents still miraculously inside despite the recent misadventure.

The two security guards were now preparing to escort the "prisoner" back to the security office. Tony, seeing that they were distracted, said to Anne, "Come on, let's get out of here."

"You're not gonna hang around to make a statement?"

He looked at her and sighed, realizing he'd have to do exactly that, his cop training taking over from the desire to flee. "Guess I better."

----------------------------------

"Hospital's the other way," Tony commented dryly as Anne finally turned the car out of the exit from the parking lot and onto the street. It had taken an hour to sort out Tony's statement and get away from the gushing thanks of a very shaken old lady. Anne had also taken the opportunity to check that Tony hadn't injured himself in the fall, but other than a scrape on one elbow, he seemed to be fine.

"I know. You object to staying out a bit longer? Something I want to do before we go back."

"Whatever." He was starting to feel the effects of the day, and leaned tiredly into the door pillar.

"This'll be quick," she said.

-------------------------------------

“Hey, wakey-wakey. We’re here.”

“Huh?” Tony peeled himself off the door of the car where he had fallen asleep during the twenty-minute drive from the mall. He looked out the windshield at the façade of a familiar, modern apartment building and smiled.

“You okay? ‘Cause we can always do this another day.”

“No, no…it’s fine. Just give me a minute.” He looked out at the building again. “What’re we doing here, anyway?”

“Well, aside from the obvious allure of visiting the DiNozzo bachelor pad," she said dryly, "you’ll be going home soon and I need to do an assessment of what changes need to be made to accommodate your altered circumstances.”

“Oh, okay…wheelchair access and all that.”

“Right.”

“How’re we gonna get in? Gibbs has my keys.”

“No he doesn’t…”

“Oh, right…that’s what he was doing yesterday…”

“Some of it, yes,” she said with a strange smile.

“Okay.” He looked out of the car reflectively. “Let’s go, then.”

He waited while Anne got out the wheelchair, transferring while she opened the trunk. He shut the door of the car and turned, curious to see what she was doing. She slammed the lid shut and faced him, holding a notebook and a carpenter's tape measure. "Right, let's do this." He nodded and turned back to the front of the building, taking a rough ride across the asphalt. He navigated the ramp up to the entrance easily, even though he was obviously tired. Anne gave Tony the keys as there was a security card-swipe to gain access through a set of glass doors – high, but not out of reach. He had become quieter – a sign of his weariness. They waited a few minutes at the bank of elevators for a car, and ascended to the seventh floor. Tony unlocked the door of apartment 5 and entered first, pushing the door back out of the way.

"Mmm…nice place," Anne said, following him in, "If a bit…spartan."

"Spartan?" Tony asked, looking back at her

"Blokey…impersonal…"

"Right." Tony looked around curiously, the place seeming strange after such a long absence. Anne took note of the living area, dominated by a large, tan leather sectional La-Z-Boy sofa and a 72 inch plasma screen TV, which formed the main part of what was obviously an expensive entertainment system. There was also a desk underneath the window on the far side, on which sat a computer with flat screen, a neat desk caddy containing pens, pencils, scissors and so on, notepad and phone.

"Never would have picked you for a neat-nick," Anne said, smiling.

"I have a maid," Tony bristled with prickly dignity.

Anne wandered over to the selection of DVDs and videos on a stand – a who's who of horror and action flicks, but with a notable omission – not one film involved vampires. "Hmm…definitely blokey," she said, running a finger down the cover of the first of the Alien movies.

Tony looked at his comfortable sofa and sighed. Many's the night he had spent asleep on the reclining segment of that sofa after one of his regular, interminably long, sixteen hour workdays, an opened beer slowly going flat on the side table beside him. "Not a lot of space for you to get through here," Anne said, noting the gap between the sofa and the kitchen counter which, owing to the sweep of the curved lounge, was the only access to the far side of the room. "Hmm…she said considering. "I guess the sofa can move forward a bit and still give you access to the entertainment unit."

"Yeah, I guess." Tony sat half way into the living room, watching as she moved the pieces of the sofa out of the way experimentally.

"The carpet has a nice short pile – shouldn't be a problem."

"No, it's okay," he confirmed.

"Okay, want to try this?"

He pushed through the gap between the kitchen counter and the sofa fairly easily, and came to a stop at the desk. While Anne watched, he moved the desk chair out of the way and was able to move in front of the desk, although not without some hesitation. "I could get the desk moved over to the other side and shift everything across a bit – that would probably be easier."

"True, but do you want to do that?"

"No, that's fine. Minor adjustment."

"Okay." She made a note in the notebook. "Kitchen." Anne entered the kitchen area. The whole set up was immaculate, virtually unused. "Tony, has this oven ever been used?"

"I…don't cook…" he said.

"What, not at all? Not even reheat stuff?"

"I have a microwave for that," he said somewhat indignantly.

"Irrespective of that, if you ever did decide to learn to cook, you couldn't use this. You should get one with the knobs at the front. And the counter needs to be lowered." She scratched in the notebook. "The cupboard under the sink needs to be opened up so you can run the wheelchair underneath it – makes it easier for access – you do use the sink, right?"

"Yeah, I use the sink," he said, sounding a little grumpy.

"Anything in the high cupboards needs to be moved lower. If there's anything you don't want or need very often, I suggest swapping…"

"Noted."

She opened the fridge. "Man, you can tell a guy lives here – look at all the beer!"

Tony perked up a bit at that, taking some interest in the contents of the kitchen. "Did you say beer?”

"I did."

“I have beer? Really? Oh wait...Gibbs.”

Tony grinned for the first time since they'd pulled up outside. "All right, DiNozzo, no need to try to charm it out of me. Let's finish this and then you can chill for a bit." She looked at the refrigerator thoughtfully. "Okay, need you here, she said. "Can you reach into the top of the freezer?" She waited for him to move into the kitchen and attempt the stretch. "Right, I think a shorter refrigerator is in order. Maybe one of the upside-down type would be better."

"Okay, sure."

She left the kitchen and turned down the hallway.

"Bedroom's on the right," Tony grinned.

Anne opened the door and peered in. A king-size bed dominated the room, covered with a thick black comforter. There was a mirror-door type closet. A low chest of drawers running under the window completed the furnishings. The whole thing was completely impersonal. He didn't seem to have left an imprint on any of it. There were no pictures, no personal touches anywhere in the whole apartment so far.

"The racks in the closet need to be lowered or a second rack installed. No way you can reach the hangers."

“Hey, I can still reach them!”

“Okay, hotshot, take that suit down.”

Tony reached up into the closet. Like he said, he could reach the hangers, but the height and the awkward angle he was at caused him quite a bit of difficulty. The pants slid off the hanger onto the floor and he was unable to catch them.

He looked up at Anne, a sheepish expression on his face.

“I guess I should add a lower rack for the heavy stuff.”

“Right”

Anne opened the door into the two-way bathroom and was pleasantly surprised by the size of the room. "This is pretty good,' she said, looking around. There was a large triangular spa-bath, a shower with plenty of space, a sink with no cupboard underneath and a low cabinet immediately above containing toiletries, and so on. "You'll have plenty of room to move in here," she said to him through the door. "Shower bench and adjustable shower rose”

“Shower rose?” Tony asked.

“You know, one of those things on a hose.”

“Gotcha.”

“Lower the taps. Grab rails on the bathtub. Raise the level of the pedestal and put in some grab rails there as well."

"Okay."

Anne shooed him back out of the way so she could come out the way she'd gone in. "Linen cupboard – well, I think you know what to do there."

"Anything I use all the time down low, anything else can disappear up the top."

"Okay, think we're done here."

"Good, 'cause I can hear the beer calling."

Tony fetched a couple of beers from the fridge while Anne continued making notes, comfortably seated on the sofa, her legs curled up under her. "Ta," she said, accepting the cold bottle and popping the lid. "All things considered, this isn't too bad."

He thought for a moment before transferring onto the sofa, having already moved the small end table, raising the footrest and leaning back into the reclining seat comfortably. Waves of bliss poured off him. "That's good," he said, and took a long draught from the bottle. "Sorry, should have offered you a glass, shouldn't I?"

"Na, this is fine," she said.

"True," he agreed, closing his eyes.

"Feels good?" Anne asked, reviewing her notes while Tony relaxed.

"Feels good," he confirmed. He raised the bottle of beer and took a long swallow, then held it in both hands, the base resting somewhere around belly button level. Anne couldn't help smiling at his relaxed pose, the slight upward curve of sensual lips, the uncreased brow over closed eyes.

"Hey, Tony, don't go to sleep on me," she said.

"I'm not," he said, raising the bottle for another sip.

"Now the one major problem I can see is this: you live on the seventh floor. If there's a fire…can't use the elevator…"

"Crispy fried Tony?" he grinned at his own joke. "Guess I'll have to crawl down the stairs."

"You got any good strong lads for neighbors?"

Tony glared at her, thinking of the clerk's advances earlier.

Anne ignored the glare and continued, "You could get a couple of strong lads to give you a fireman's lift downstairs."

"Don't know," he said shortly. "Never really met the neighbors, other than…"

"Other than what?"

"Never mind," he said. "Look, a fire…I won't say it can't happen, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. At least the doors aren't alarmed like the ones at NCIS HQ."

"Okay."

Anne scratched at the notebook for a few more minutes. "It's getting late," she said, stretching. "You'll have missed dinner. Fancy some takeaway?"

Tony looked at her blankly. "There are times I really wish you came with subtitles," he said seriously.

"Would you like some takeout? I'm buying."

"Chinese?" he grinned broadly.

"Anything you like."

"You're on, McCallister," he said.

"Now, while we're here, do we need to check the parking garage for access?"

Tony closed his eyes again, thinking about the set up in the basement. "No. Elevator is on the same level as the floor. Plenty of space for access. My parking space is the end one in the section – nothing on one side. Shouldn't be a problem."

"Good."

---------------------------------

Tony slowly made his way back to his room in the rehab section, two shopping bags slung over the back of the chair and a couple of containers of Chinese food precariously balanced on his lap. Anne had driven him up to the door of the building, but he refused her offer to come in with him, tired or not. He entered the room and set the food down on the table on the right hand wall before becoming aware that he wasn't alone. "Abby?"

"Hey, Tony." Abby smiled. She had obviously been there for some time, as she had a magazine across her knees, and a reddened spot on her face marked where she'd been leaning on her hand, an elbow on his bed. "How ya doin'?"

He shrugged a non-committal response.

“Aren’t you glad to see me?”

“Sure I am, Abbs.” He summoned up some manners from somewhere deep within, tired as he was. “Hungry?"

"It’s not Café Atlantico, but yeah, I am," she replied with a grin, thinking that he looked exhausted.

"Help yourself," he gestured to the food. “I’ll be back in one minute,” he said, turning his wheelchair and rolling into the bathroom. There was the sound running water and he came back a moment later with splashes of spray on his shirt and drips on the back of his hands where he’d washed them, by which time Abby was already peering curiously into one of the waxed cardboard containers.

------------------------

Tony wearily transferred into the bed. Abby had stayed for about an hour, and while he enjoyed her company, he was just simply too worn out by the day to be much fun. He had been relieved when she left, and had immediately made preparations for sleep. The good thing about being in rehabilitation is that he was pretty much his own boss in this respect. He was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillows.



Chapter 4

“Hey, wake up, you lazy boy.” The sudden sound next to Tony’s ear startled him out of a deep slumber. He blinked into the bright fluorescent light that had suddenly flared on in his room.

“Wha…”

“Wake up! It’s time to get up!”

“No it’s not,” he said, squeezing his eyes shut and hugging the topmost pillow tightly. “Go away!” There was a thud and a scraping noise, and finally Tony was forced to open his eyes and look around. “Hey! What’re you doing?! I need that!” he said in alarm, seeing the wheelchair pushed up against the wall of the room, way out of reach.

“No, you don’t,” the voice said, closer to him this time. Tony looked at the apparition that had so soundly disturbed his rest. The person who owned the voice was a short, dumpy woman of middle age wearing a nightgown and a pair of well-worn slippers. Her eyes were currently crinkled by a condescending smile. “Come on, get up. This is no time for lazy boys to lie in bed.”

“No, I’m not getting up,” Tony said in frustration. He heard a siren blaring in the background as he pushed himself up and back from the edge of the bed, avoiding the clasping fingers as they tried to get a grip on his forearm. He was aware that he could be in trouble if the apparition did manage to pull him out of bed, owing to the as yet incomplete healing of his damaged vertebrae. Tony grimaced as the TLSO vest, which he’d left on the seat of the wheelchair, noisily clattered to the floor.

“Come on, up you get.” She grabbed his arm and started pulling. Tony jerked back from the clawing fingers, resisting strongly, as she tried to pull him off the bed.

“Hey, quit that!” He looked back over his shoulder at the door of the room and called out. “Hey! Somebody please! Need some help here!” He fell forward, scrabbling with his free hand for a grip on the side of the bed in order to push back. “Stop it! I’m gonna fall!”

“What’s all the noise?” the night nurse said, sticking her head around the door. “Estelle? What are you doing here?” Estelle immediately released Tony’s arm, and the nurse lent some support, helping him to scramble back into the middle of the bed. She then called over her shoulder urgently, “Lizzie, can you give us a hand?”

“Coming,” a muffled voice replied.

“Come on, Estelle, let’s get you back where you belong,” the nurse gently pulled the woman away from Tony, her expression apologetic. “Sorry about this,” she said. “Lizzie, where are you?”

“I’m here,” Lizzie replied, coming up behind her.

“Can you make sure Tony’s okay while I take Estelle back to psych,” she said.

“Sure, Lynne.” She waited until Lynne had escorted the intruder from the room before picking up the TLSO and placing it back on the seat of the wheelchair, which she pushed back beside the bed and locked the brakes. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I think so. What was all that about?” Tony asked, settling back against the pillows. He rubbed the area on his forearm where Estelle’s fingers had dug in painfully.

“Estelle used to be a nurse in the ER here. She had a bad breakdown a few years back and…well…every once in a while she gets out and…”

“Tries to get the lazy boys to get out of bed?”

“Something like that. She has a fixation about lazy boys lying in bed all day.”

“Right…guess I don’t need to point out it’s the middle of the night,” Tony said, squinting myopically at the face of the watch he’d picked up from the night stand. He snuggled down into the bed, turning onto his side to hug the pillow once more.

“You okay now?”

“Yeah, sure. Just…” he unsuccessfully tried to smother a yawn, “tired.”

------------------------

“Good morning. I hear you had quite a night.” Anne had looked for Tony in his room, but eventually found him in the cafeteria eating breakfast.

Tony looked up from the plate of food he’d been playing with rather than eating into Anne’s smiling face. His sleep, after the disturbance, had been fitful and it showed in his slightly drawn appearance. “Yeah,” he said putting down his fork and reaching for the coffee instead. “Had a visit from the local loony. Thing is, can’t help wondering if in some respects she’s not right, whether I am a lazy boy.”

“Look, Estelle Green has issues of her own to deal with. Don’t let it worry you.”

He shrugged. “Am I lazy, though?”

“Not from what I’ve seen, certainly not with the physical stuff. I’ve had to slow you down a few times, as I recall.”

“I was lazy at school. Lazy academically.”

“So was I,” she grinned, pulling up a chair and sitting opposite him. “And what does it matter now. We both have jobs we like. Heck, you’ve got a boss who wants you back in any way, shape or form as soon as you’re fit for light duties…ay-sap…” she drawled. “Stop moping just because some crackpot said you’re lazy. It just isn’t true. The only La-Z-Boy is in that blokey apartment of yours.”

He grinned at her.

“Now, bozo, if you’re done playing with your food, we’ve got a lot to get through today.”

“We do?”

“We do,” she said, holding up her hands and counting off on the fingers of one. “Aside from the usual stuff, you have an appointment in radiology and you’re booked in for a driving lesson at three.”

“I already know how to drive,” he pointed out.

“You know how to drive with your feet, and need I point out that they don’t work any more.”

“Right.” He gave her a wry grin.

“You’re gonna have to retake the state road test.” Anne reflected briefly on the fact that Tony was one of the best adjusted clients she'd ever had. He seemed to take most things in his stride, treating it all as an adventure.

Tony sighed deeply. “Right. Guess my police driver training doesn’t count.”

“Not unless you did it on adaptive equipment.”

“Guess they must have left that out of the curriculum,” he said, pursing his lips thoughtfully.

“Come on,” she said, standing up. “Let’s get cracking.”

-------------------------

"Tony, this is Toni Brown."

"Hiya…Toni," he said, somewhat bemused by the name.

"Tony," she said, offering her hand in a firm handshake. "I'm your official driving instructor."

Tony looked up into a pair of steady brown eyes. She looked almost as Italian as he didn't – short, and solidly built, with a plain but pleasant face framed by dark wavy hair, currently tied in a high ponytail. She wore an official uniform consisting of gray pants and a light blue polo shirt with the word instructor embroidered across the pocket.

"Have fun," Anne said, giving Tony's shoulder a squeeze. "And if he gives you any trouble, swat him."

"Gee, thanks." Tony turned one of his glowing smiles on Toni. "Well…"

"Come on, let's do this?"

"Yeah," Tony said, rubbing his hands on his thighs nervously. "Look…I'm…I'm just a bit…"

"Nervous? That's understandable."

Tony rubbed his head self-consciously. "Yeah, just a little."

Toni smiled at him. "You'll be fine. Here's the car," she said, gesturing to a late model Chevy Cavalier. "Okay," she continued, opening the door. "Now. There are several different types of hand controls – push/twist, right angle pull, and push/pull. The easiest one to learn is push/pull, and that's what you'll be starting with." Tony nodded and bit his lip, leaning forward to see, noting that the controls connected to the foot pedals, giving a dual control system, which he figured made sense. "Push/pull hand controls are defined as being single-action – the lever is pulled for gas, pushed for brakes. There's no chance of confusion – gas and brakes can't be operated at the same time."

"Uh-huh."

"Now I'd normally start you off on a simulator, but damn thing is busted. So, what we're gonna do is just find some quiet streets…"

"Right. Um, Toni?"

"Yeah."

"That…short for something?"

"Nope. My parents wanted a boy."

"Uh-huh. So the name is…"

"Just a coincidence." She smiled at him. "Come on, you can observe for a while."

Toni parked the car on a quiet side street, and then Tony completed the time-consuming task of transferring out of the passenger side and moving around to the driver's side. He moved the seat back before transferring back in. His legs were too long to hurdle the center console, gearshift and all, to climb into the driver's seat.

"Is the position of the seat okay?" Toni asked, folding the wheelchair to stash it in the back seat.

"It's…fine," he replied.

She got in and buckled the seatbelt. "You wanna start the engine?" She took him through the controls again and he tested them cautiously with the gear lever still in Park, brow creased in concentration. "Now, you wanna try this in a moving vehicle?"

"Sure," he sighed. He pushed the lever away from his body to engage the brake, released the parking brake and put the car in gear, and moved off, cautiously at first, then with growing confidence, along the quiet, tree-lined street.

"Turn right at the next intersection," Toni instructed. "Take your time."

He brought the car to a smooth stop at the corner, the thumb-operated indicator clicking, and carefully checked the street he was turning onto before moving off slowly, steadily accelerating onto the other street. He was half way round when a car shot out of nowhere at high speed, heading right for them. Tony froze for an instant, then thrust the lever forward – hard – and turning the steering wheel away, brought the car to a fast, if slightly rocky stop, avoiding collision by a fraction of an inch. The other car honked noisily, the driver giving him the finger, and roared off down the street. Tony sat white-faced, staring out the windshield.

"Hey, you can breathe now," Toni said, touching his shoulder. He let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding with a gasp and looked at the small, plain woman sitting beside him to find she was grinning broadly. "That was good work," she said.

"Thanks." He took a couple of deep breaths to calm his racing heart, then with a quick, quirky flash of a smile, started the car moving again. Forty minutes later, Tony drove the car back into the parking lot at the rehab center and stopped outside the door. After shutting off the engine, Tony rolled his tight shoulders to release the tension while Toni pulled out some paperwork.

"Well, I know this all seems a big hassle to you, but there's some paperwork we'll have to get sorted out, and we may as well get it started now as later."

"Paperwork?"

"Yep, paperwork. Here's the form you'll need for either disabled tags or license. You'll need to get this filled in and properly notarized. There's also a page your physician needs to complete." She handed him the four-page form, together with some other associated information. He flicked through the papers curiously before folding them and put them in the pocket of his shirt while he waited for Toni to bring the wheelchair around. "You did pretty well today. We'll have you on the road in no time at all."

"Thanks."

"See ya tomorrow," Toni said, starting the engine of the car once more to drive out of the parking lot.

Tony, looking out across the tarred expanse of the parking lot before entering the building, saw Anne leaning back against her car talking to someone, a tall, male someone. As he turned to go inside, he glimpsed the someone wrapping his arms around her. She reached up and pulled his face down to hers in a deep kiss, while he pressed her body back against the door of the car. Tony, with a little smile, turned away to enter the building.

-----------------------

"Who's the guy?" Tony asked the PT curiously as she started on some stretches the following morning.

"What guy?" she asked in reply as she manipulated his left leg.

"The one I saw you with yesterday."

Anne's only response was an enigmatic smile.

Tony nodded knowingly. "Ah, so Miss Impervious has a boyfriend. Who'd'a thought that."

"Now I know why Gibbs told me to swat you on the head if you stepped out of line."

Tony grinned at her.

-----------------------

"Top End Terminator Titanium," Tony read. “Terminator. Hmm…like the name,” he said with a grin. “Sounds like a chair worthy of Arnold.”

“I’ll be back,” replied Anne with a grin, doing her best to imitate a Schwarzenegger voice.

“I’ll be back…” Tony mused, looking at the note Anne had left on the seat of the wheelchair in his room.

“This came while you were out. I know you’re going to want to try it out for yourself now if not sooner, so I won’t try to stop you. Just be careful. You’ll find it a lot different to what you’ve been using. And remember, I’ll be back…Anne.

“PS. Read the manual.”

“Read the manual?” Tony snorted, slightly affronted that she thought he wouldn’t. “Now she sounds like my mother.” Tony picked up the manual that’d been left under the note and flicked through to the last page. “Dammit, it’s 60 pages long!” He tapped it against his chin, thinking for a minute, then opened it at a random page – a page full of warnings, as it turned out. “Do not tip the wheelchair without assistance. Do not operate on roads, streets or highways. Do not stand on the frame of the wheelchair – yeah, right, that’s gonna happen. Do not use the footplate as a platform when getting in or out of the wheelchair…right, yeah. Always wear your seat-positioning strap. I’m not wearing a damned seatbelt. Do not…always…blah! What exactly can I do in this thing?!” He closed the booklet and tossed it on the bed. “I can sit in it,” he said, grinning to himself as he prepared to transfer.

------------------------

“Do not tip the wheelchair without assistance.” Tony read the line out loud as Anne entered his room the following morning. He was ready for the gym, sitting in the new wheelchair, a smile plastered on his face. “Do not tip the wheelchair without assistance,” he repeated. “If I’m not supposed to tip this thing, how come you’ve been teaching me how to do wheelies?”

“They’re covering their asses,” she replied. “Don’t wanna get sued if someone gets hurt.”

Tony nodded.

“Truth is, wheelies are important. You’re gonna need them, and by the way, nice to see you’re actually reading the instructions,” she laughed.

“Well, I’ve skimmed them, at least,” he replied.

“Looks good on you, anyway, hotshot. Hmm…basic black. Nice.” She stood back to study him.

Tony grinned a response.

“How’s it feel?”

“Good, it feels…really good,” he said, pushing toward the door. “Guess this means I’m going home soon.”

“Sooner than you think.” She paused before continuing. “Tony, do me a favor…”

“Sure.”

“I know you’re gonna take the anti-tippers off sooner or later. Just don’t do it too soon, ‘kay?”

“I’ll think about it,” he said.

------------------------

“Brought your mail,” Gibbs said, dumping a pile of envelopes on the table in front of Tony where he sat in the cafeteria, lingering over an after-lunch coffee. He sat down opposite Tony in a plastic seat he pulled out from the next table.

“Oh, hey boss, how ya doin’?” He looked at his watch. “Strange time for you to be here.”

“On my way out to Georgetown. Thought it’d save time if I stopped by now rather than later.”

Tony gave his boss a slightly longing look. “Oh. Okay. Anything I can do?”

“Yeah, you can get yourself fit for duty, DiNozzo.”

Tony sighed. “But boss, I’m going nuts. I need something to do.”

“No!” Gibbs response brooked no argument, and Tony grinned, realizing he wasn’t gonna get anywhere, even though it had been worth a try. Gibbs stood to go – his visits were seldom long, but were enough to let his junior staff member know that he was missed. “Hey, see you got a new chair,” Gibbs said, noting that Tony had finally shed the hospital-supplied rehab chair for something more streamlined.

“Check it out boss! It’s only fifteen pounds!” Tony transferred into the plastic chair Gibbs had just vacated. “See? Lift it!”

“DiNozzo, I’m not gonna lift up your chair.”

Tony took a secret delight in realizing that he’d made Gibbs feel uncomfortable. “It has a custom-built seamless titanium rigid frame with tapered front frame and…”

“I’m also not gonna listen to you recite the stats.”

“But, boss…”

Gibbs fixed him with a glare.

“Okay, Gibbs.” Tony’s expression would have melted anyone except Gibbs.

“Look,” he paused, unsure how to go on as Tony transferred back into the chair. It pained him to see the effort it now took the previously free moving and athletic DiNozzo to do this. “I want you back at work at your desk, but don’t rush things, right? Do your reps, get yourself fit, and I’ll do the hard miles to get you back in the office, ‘kay?”

“Yes, boss.”

Gibbs turned to leave, but then stepped back and cuffed the young agent across the back of the head.

“Hey! What was that for??”

“Just testing out the new height. I like it.” Gibbs grinned evilly. “Don’t have to reach up any more.” Gibbs stepped away, heading for the exit. Tony rubbed the back of his head ruefully, then was startled into action as Gibbs tossed a set of keys to him with a single word utterance. “Catch.”

“What’s this?”

“Dark blue Taurus. Bay 4 in the parking lot.”

Tony looked up at him with a kind of wonder on his face. “Thanks, boss.”

-----------------------

Tony stopped the car in the street opposite the modern apartment block and looked up at the building. Harsh summer sun reflected from the windows of the multi-story building, and from the windshield of a car in the visitors’ lot in front. He scratched the back of his head, feeling a little nervous, not sure if he was ready to go home, but anticipating the freedom this step entailed. “Oh, and by the way, you’re going home tomorrow.” He still couldn’t believe it. The bombshell had been dropped on him completely out of the blue. He had known it would be soon, but twenty-four hours later, here he was in a government issue vehicle with a weird little potted plant sitting on the seat beside him.

Gibbs had somehow managed to push his DMV assessment through in record time, and he could now legally drive the NCIS Taurus. A lot of the credit for that was due to the ever-patient Toni, who had given him an intensive training course over a period of weeks instead of the more usual months. Gibbs had also pushed through the building work and alterations to the apartment, and was apparently working on making the work environment more wheelchair friendly. He looked up at the building again, picking out what he thought was his own window, and smiled, then gently pulled out into the traffic again and turned left into the driveway of the underground parking garage.

Tony rode the elevator up from the basement, his bag of clothes with the plant balanced precariously on top, on his knees. The elevator trip was almost anti-climactic after all the anticipation. It felt strange to be in the apartment – like it wasn’t his home any more. The place felt different due to the changes and rearrangement of the furniture. While he’d never exactly made a big imprint on the place, it had always been his domain. He wasn’t sure if he liked it, and it troubled him. He felt violated in some way – even more so than he had been by the gun blast that had taken out his spinal cord. Up until now, he had taken the injury in his stride as being part of the job, but this seemed more like an invasion of his privacy.

He left the plant and his keys on the kitchen counter and his bag of clothes on the end of the bed and came back to the living room. He sat at the entrance to the room and studied the new layout. The curved end of the La-Z-Boy sofa now abutted the far wall where the desk had been. The entertainment unit had moved across to the right with the desk now situated to the left of it rather than up against the far wall. The sofa had also been moved slightly forward to allow access to the windows. There were indentations in the carpet where the feet of the heavy sofa and the base of the entertainment unit had rested. They annoyed him for some reason and he made a mental note to find out how to fix them.

“Somebody tossed this place.” Gibbs said, walking across to the table under the window.

“How can you tell?” Tony asked.

“Furniture indentations on the carpet. No fingerprints or smudges on the icebox – or on the microwave.”


“Kinda describes this place,” he said out loud, feeling bemused by it all.

After the noise and bustle of the hospital and the rehab centre, the stillness of the apartment was overwhelmingly oppressive. Most of the occupants of the building were out – either at work or play – at this time of day. Even the elevator had been quiet. Tony was starting to feel unnerved by the silence. The crackle of his clothing as he moved, the sound his fingers made as he tapped the tire of one wheel of the chair, even his breathing seemed unnaturally loud. He sighed loudly, not sure what to do now that he was home and eventually swiveled around to go into the kitchen to check through the cupboards. “Dammit, no Cap’n Crunch! Gotta do something about that.” He checked further through the kitchen cupboards and started putting together a list of groceries…of sorts. He couldn’t help thinking that Kate, or Anne, or even Abby would probably be horrified by what he noted down – Cap’n Crunch being the least of his sins.

A loud bang from the corridor made him jump out of his skin. He could feel his heart pounding against his ribs. “Gees, why are you so spooked, DiNozzo?” His stomach rumbled noisily. “Hungry, and not a snack in the place. Guess I need to do some shopping.” He gave a deep sigh.

The supermarket was busy at 3.45 pm on a Wednesday – full of tired mothers with screaming children and teenagers. With all the disabled parking spaces taken – and not a swing tag or disabled license in sight, Tony found himself driving in circles looking for a parking spot with a little extra space – one on the end of a row, for preference. It took him a good ten minutes or so to find one, during which time he almost turned around and went back home. The space he found was in a corner with a triangular section beside it in the corner, too small for a car, although it would probably hold a motorcycle.

There was a slight incline down to the shops. And although it was easy to navigate, Tony was thankful for the gloves Anne had forced on him as a parting gift for his "graduation". He could feel the friction on his hands as he rolled down. He threaded his way through a group of teenagers hanging around the entrance and slowed to navigate a bump in the paving.

“Woof!” The booming bark sounded right in his ear and he turned his head to be confronted by a large muzzle as the woof’s owner planted a pair of large paws on his knee and proceeded to lick his face.

“Ack!” He looked into the shining brown eyes of a large golden retriever. “Hey, where did you come from?”

“Kika! Come here!” a woman called frantically.

The dog looked around and barked again. “Kika, is that your name?” He ruffled the dog’s soft ears, attempting to push the animal back out of his face. The dog licked at his chin and he tried to move his face out of the way, only succeeding in getting his neck washed instead. Tony, feeling himself being pushed backwards, reached down and locked the brake on the opposite side, halting his backward progress. Kika then tried to crawl into his lap. “Hey! Hey, dog. Cut it out.”

“Kika!”

“I think I found your dog.” Tony looked up into the face of a blonde haired woman wearing glasses and carrying an ice cream cone.

“I’m terribly sorry. She got away from me. Kika, get down.” The woman took hold of Kika’s leash and tried to persuade her to get down.

“No, no, it’s okay, really.” Kika, her body halfway onto his lap, planted a large paw on Tony’s shoulder and tried to lick him again. “She likes to sit in people’s laps, I’m afraid.”

“Kika, icecream.” The woman showed the dog the cone, and she immediately got down, her eyes following the treat. “Good girl. Come on, let’s go home.”

“See ya later, dog.”

“And thanks for catching her.”

“You’re welcome.” Tony, shaking his head in amusement, pushed off in the direction of the supermarket again.

--------------------------

Tony, a plastic shopping basket on his lap, glared up at the Cap’n Crunch, located on the top shelf of the supermarket. “Excuse me,” he said a middle-aged woman pushing a very full shopping cart. “Would you be able to pass me down some Cap’n Crunch?”

“Oh, for your children?””

“Um, no,” he replied sheepishly. “Actually, it’s for me.”

The woman looked at him in mock horror. “Which one would you like?”

“Crunch Berries, please. It has the best action figures,” he grinned.

“There you are, dear,” the woman laughed.

“Thanks.” Tony placed the box in the basket and headed for the snack food aisle.

Tony waited in line at the checkout feeling a little overwhelmed by it all. He was accustomed to being the tall guy in most groups, and he was now finding how hard it was to not only be short, but incapacitated as well. He had been fine doing this with Anne, who had followed up the initial Mall Skills 101 with a couple more such excursions. Doing it on his own was a lot more daunting. He missed the distraction of her steady stream of chatter and tidbits of information, and the visual distraction she’d been, as well. Tony morosely reflected on all of this as he waited, absent-mindedly staring at the midriff of the slightly overweight woman unloading a shopping cart full of groceries, a child in the safety seat, ahead of him. He could see her belly button where she brushed against the edge of the shopping cart as she unloaded it for scanning, causing her t-shirt to ride up. The child, a fat toddler with a halo of blonde curls, stared down at him from his perch, sucking on his thumb, and adding further insult to injury.

Tony, tired of being the subject of the child's candid gaze, stuck his tongue out. The child, startled, stopped sucking his thumb, and stuck his tongue out at Tony in reply. Tony grinned and tried to think of something else to do. He waggled his eyebrows and twitched his nose, and stuck his hand under his chin and wriggled his fingers. The little boy grinned and pointed at him, kicking a pair of chubby legs. Tony poked his tongue out again, and the kid laughed at him, attracting his mother’s attention.

“Aaron, are you bothering the man?”

Tony looked up at her, grinning, “No, he’s fine,” he said. She smiled at him, then pushed the shopping cart through the narrow lane between the cash registers, blocking his view of the child.

Tony reached up about to put his whole basket of items on the conveyor belt for scanning only to have the cashier lower it for him. "Whoa! That's neat!" he exclaimed, handing her the backpack that came with the wheelchair to pack the shopping into.

The cashier smiled down at Tony. "Yes, there’re four checkouts with the same feature. We had them installed a couple of years ago. I guess this isn't your regular supermarket."

Tony sighed, "Well, yes it is, actually. I just haven't been here...well...since..."

The woman nodded her understanding and began ringing his items through. "If, at any time, you need some assistance in carrying items, either in the store or to your car, just let us know. There's always someone available to assist you. We can also do home deliveries."

Tony smiled up at her. "Hey, thanks. That's great."

Tony hung the laden backpack from the back of the chair, looping the straps over each corner with some help from the cashier and went back out to the concourse. The slope back up to the car looked a lot steeper going the other way. His shoulders were starting to burn by the time he made it back to the car. Sitting behind the wheel, he debated with himself whether or not it was too early to do something about dinner. Eventually he decided that it was too early, even for someone with his cast-iron stomach, and headed for home.

-----------------

Once back home, Tony found himself feeling a bit happier about things. He’d accomplished something on his own without it being too much of a disaster, and the building was now less quiet – coming to life as people came home from work and school. He didn’t feel nearly so spooked about it. He found himself drawn to the La-Z-Boy and set himself up with a packet of unsalted nuts and a beer, and with the DVD of Halloween II playing in the machine, he lay back happily.

He was just in the process of falling asleep when the phone rang. “Dammit, I forgot to turn on the machine,” he said, as the phone rang and rang. Grumbling, he hit pause on the remote control, brought the recliner back to upright, placed his beer on the nearest corner of the coffee table, and transferred, the phone still ringing.

“Hello?” he said, picking up the receiver.

“Anthony, sweetheart.”

“Oh, hi, Mom,” he replied, inwardly groaning.

“I called the rehab center. They told me you went home.”

“Yeah, I’m home.”

“Is that wise? I mean, isn’t it a little soon?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “It’s fine. They said I could go.”

“It’s just…”

“You’re worried about me?” he said dryly. “I’m touched, Mom.” He sighed. “Look, I’m sorry. I know you care, but it really is okay, you know. I’m fine here. If I need any help with anything, I’ll let you know.”

“That’s all right, sweetheart. I know you have to do things your own way.”

“Look, I’ll call you next week, okay?”

“Sure. Bye, darling.”

“Bye, Mom.”

Tony hung up, thinking, I gotta get me a cordless phone, and made a point of turning on the answering machine before returning to his seat in front of the TV to resume watching the movie. An hour later, the phone rang again. Tony listened as the answering machine picked up. “DiNozzo, it’s Gibbs. You there? Call me back at work,” the gruff voice said. Tony ignored the message in favor of watching the end of the movie before transferring again. He was just in the process of changing DVDs when the phone rang again. With the DVD case on his lap and the disk in his hand, he answered the call, “Hey.”

“DiNozzo, why didn’t you return my call?”

“I was about to, boss,” he said using an injured tone, trying to put the DVD back in the case one-handed. “Hey, boss, you know they got these conveyor belts at the supermarket that actually lower down?”

“DiNozzo, I didn’t call to ask you about shopping.”

“Oh, okay, boss.” Tony attempted to press the DVD into the box only to have the whole lot slide off his lap onto the floor. The box skidded forward and came to rest against the entertainment unit, but the disk itself disappeared from view.

“I just wanted to tell you that I’ve spoken to the Director and he’s agreed to let you back on light duties from the 23rd – provided your doctor clears you.”

“Um…yeah…” he said, distractedly looking for the disk. He eventually found it underneath the wheelchair and reached down to try and get it. Gibbs, at the other end of the phone line, heard a muffled, “Ah, crap,” and a thud, coupled with a crackling noise as the phone hit the floor.

“DiNozzo? DiNozzo?! You there?”

Tony fumbled for the phone, finding it half buried under his body. “Yeah, boss, I’m here,” he said, sounding a little sheepish.

“What happened?”

“Nothing, Gibbs,” Tony replied testily, wedging the phone between his ear and shoulder so he could straighten up, and nearly ending up dropping it again. His cheek hurt, and feeling it, he found a lump where he’d hit the coffee table. His head was pounding uncomfortably.

“Didn’t sound like nothing to me,” Gibbs replied suspiciously.

“Look, it was nothing,” Tony repeated. “Thanks for the news, but I gotta go.” Tony broke the connection instantly, pulling the base unit of the phone off the desk where it had remained, despite the earthward plummeting of the handset. Putting the two together, he stretched up to put them on the desk.

Gibbs looked at his handset. He wondered what the hell had gotten into Tony, but was satisfied that he hadn’t come to any actual harm.

Tony put a hand out and immediately came into contact with the errant DVD, which he replaced in its case and put on the coffee table. The wheelchair was another matter, it had rolled several feet away. He looked at it morosely. “Okay, so maybe the lightweight chair wasn’t such a good idea after all.” He sighed. He dragged himself backwards, only to have the phone fall off the desk again when his heel grabbed on the cord. “Dammit!” he yelled and flung it across the room, ripping the cable out of the socket in the process, along with the answering machine, which also fell and was dragged along by the cable until it reached the end of its extension lead. He punched a fist into his useless leg, and then sat breathing heavily while he calmed down.

Tony looked back at the wheelchair, then across to where the phone had landed near the end of the sofa, trying to decide which problem to tackle first. Looking at the phone, he thought, Well, that was a stupid thing to do, DiNozzo. He was annoyed with himself, firstly for falling in the first place – as if the dire warnings in the wheelchair manual hadn’t been enough – and secondly for the temper tantrum that led to throwing the phone. He scrabbled forward and grabbed the answering machine lead, pulling the phone in like a fisherman. He put them both up on the desk and fed the cables over the back to plug them in behind. Squashing under the desk to do this wasn’t easy, but he got the job done finally. Eventually, he was back to square one – hoping that both devices worked – and back in the wheelchair, just as the buzzer on the intercom rang.

“Yes?”

“Pizza for DiNozzo.”

“I didn’t order a pizza,” Tony said, somewhat confused.

“Well someone did. Prepaid.”

Gibbs, he thought. “Okay, come on up.” He pressed the button to open the security door.

A slightly bemused pizza delivery boy brought the pizza in and left it on the kitchen counter for Tony rather than burning his legs, accepted a tip, and was gone. Tony subjected the receipt to close scrutiny, but other than a price, his name and address, there was no clue as to the anonymous donor of his meal.

Tony looked over at the desk as the phone rang again, immediately going to answer. “Hey?”

“Hey, DiNozzo.”

“Oh, hey, Gibbs. Thanks for the pizza.”

“You’re welcome. Just thought I’d make sure it got there.”

“It’s here.”

“Go eat it while it’s hot.”

“Yeah, ah, boss, just one thing…” Tony continued. “Don’t suppose you’d come and look at some cars with me.”

“Why? You got a car to drive.”

“Gibbs…it’s a Taurus. Come on, boss, you gotta come with me. I can’t test drive a car on my own…”

“What’s wrong with the Taurus?” Tony could almost see Gibbs’s eyebrows rising down the phone line, could sense the senior agent’s annoyance that Tony didn’t appreciate what he’d done in having the vehicle adapted and assigned to him.

“What’s right with it? It’s not mine. Sorry but...I wouldn’t feel comfortable if…well, I just…”

“All right, DiNozzo, I get it.” Gibbs suddenly smiled, realizing what was going through the younger man’s head. “Sunday, okay?”

“Thanks, boss.” He hung up the phone, made a fist and punched the air, exclaiming, “Yes!”

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