Six months later
The roar of the crowd was deafening as Tony made the winning shot in the final seconds of the game. Glancing up in the bleachers he saw his friends cheering him on and for Tony DiNozzo, their presence met more to him than words could ever express. Ziva and Abby were holding up signs bearing his team's name while Ducky and Palmer were leading the crowd in an standing ovation; McGee and Gibbs were on their feet as well, whistling and loudly applauding for him and Edith had already made her way down the steps and was headed directly for him.
He was indeed blessed and he hoped that he never managed to take their friendship for granted; although Gibbs was quick to point out that Tony had done all the hard work, he gave them all the credit for helping him get back on his feet, so to speak, and reclaim the most important aspect of his former life. Tony had been back at work full time for two months and although there had been some difficult days, he didn't regret a single second that he had spent proving himself not only to Director Shepard but also to everyone around him.
Tony had easily managed to requalify on his weapon, his marksmanship ranking still one of the highest in NCIS. The all terrain wheelchair that he used for work had allowed him to go on most calls and although it had taken some getting used to, especially maneuvering around a crime scene without decontaminating it, he had proven that he could do anything that he set his mind to despite his paralysis.
He usually had to take his own vehicle since he had bought one that had been adapted for him to drive but Tony didn't mind; both he and Gibbs had talked with the Director about getting a company car modified for him but that was more than likely going to take a while. Tony had come to realize that he had almost as much independence in his wheelchair as he did when he had two functioning legs; he could look at things from a different perspective which allowed him to be a better investigator.
The young man was brought back to the present moment as his friends surrounded him and Edith planted a kiss on his cheek. "You were magnificent!" the elderly woman exclaimed.
Tony grinned at Edith's praise; similar compliments echoed her sentiment and his cheeks flushed with the sudden attention.
"Thanks, Edith," he sheepishly answered. "I'm glad you came."
"Are you kidding? I wouldn't miss this for the world! I just hope that you saved some of that energy for the dance competition this weekend."
"Don't worry; I'll be fine."
"You better," she teasingly warned. "If I lose to Vera and Jethro, I'm not going to be happy and neither are you."
Giving her a flirtatious wink, he replied, "Yes ma'am."
"Wait a minute," Ziva interrupted. "Do you mean to tell me that Gibbs is participating in a dance competition?" Turning to Gibbs, she added, "I had no idea that you knew how to cut a bug."
"Rug," Tony automatically corrected.
Ziva waved him off. "Whatever. I may have to come and see this for myself."
Gibbs shook his head. "You're working that day."
"If you and Tony are off, then the team is…"
"You and McGee are on protection detail this weekend," the team leader explained. "Director Shepard is attending a conference in L.A. and since DiNozzo and I pulled the last one, it's your turn."
Tony couldn't help but laugh at the expression on Ziva and Tim's faces; sometimes it seemed like Gibbs was still extracting a little retribution for McGee thinking he could take Tony's place as Gibbs' senior field agent and for Ziva, who had vocally expressed her doubts when he had returned to work. He wondered if the two younger members of the team had any idea what the former Marine was doing and judging by the disbelief etched on their faces, Tony decided that they had no clue.
Raking his hands through his sweaty hair, he glanced around at the rest of his friends as they continued to congratulate him. "Let's go out and celebrate!" Abby suggested.
"Sounds good to me," Tony conceded. "Let me shower and change and I'll meet you guys at Charlie's." Charlie's was one of Tony's favorite restaurants. It was run by a retired Baltimore cop and the owner seemingly had a special place in his heart for him.
The team was all in agreement and had started to disperse when Gibbs' phone rang. Everyone stopped in their tracks, waiting to see if they had to go to work. Tony could tell by the team leader's curt responses that he had just received a case. Gibbs hung up his cell and announced, "Dead Petty Officer at Rock Creek Park."
The various members of Gibbs' team jumped into action. Ducky and Palmer left together, announcing that they were stopping by NCIS to get the Medical Examiner's van while Abby declared that she would be waiting for them at the lab. McGee and Ziva promised to meet them there while Gibbs pulled out his phone to call Edith a cab.
He began to wheel himself towards the exit as the other players on his basketball team waved their goodbyes. Tony knew he really didn't have time to shower and change before he went to the crime scene so he would have to settle for slipping on his sweatpants and his NCIS jacket. He kept his other wheelchair in the back of his vehicle so he was always prepared at a moment's notice.
"Need a hand, DiNozzo?" Gibbs called out as he joined him at the door.
Tony knew that this was the only offer of assistance that he would get from his mentor; Gibbs would follow his lead. "I'm can handle it; I'll meet you at the crime scene," he promised.
Tony smiled as Gibbs glanced at his watch. "If you're not there by the time Ducky and Palmer are, you better have a good reason or else you'll be processing this scene by yourself."
"I'll be there."
The senior field agent appreciated the fact that Gibbs treated him like he was normal; the older man didn't use his disability as an excuse for anything and he didn't allow Tony to feel sorry for himself. This was exactly what Tony had expected and wanted from the ex-Marine; he had fought hard to get back his status as senior field agent and it had been Gibbs who had pushed him beyond what he believed his limits to be and in turn, Tony had discovered that he had more grit and determination than he thought possible as he worked every day to get stronger.
"You better be," Gibbs advised.
"I'm on it, Boss."
As the team leader left the gym, Tony made his way to the locker room. He rolled up to the sink and began splashing cool water on his face and as he reached for a towel, the agent took a moment to study his reflection. Staring back at him was a man who had less than a year ago had been at the lowest point in his life; he had been so wrapped up in himself and what he had lost, he had almost forgotten about what he still had. It had taken a lot of soul searching and determination on his part, not to mention a few head slaps from Gibbs to remind him that he didn't have to accept the hand that life had dealt him.
He now looked at every day as a new day and a second chance; if there was one thing that he had learned through this trial, it was that he needed to live life to the fullest. Tony knew that one day because of the effects that his paralysis had on his body, he would no longer be able to handle the physical demands of being an NCIS agent but until then, Tony would continue doing the job that he loved.
Tony dried his face and wadded up the towel before throwing it away. "Get your butt in gear, DiNozzo," he mumbled. "Time's a wastin'."
As he made his way over to his locker, he grabbed his sweatpants and within a couple of minutes, he had slipped his pants on and had grabbed his wallet and keys and headed out the door towards the parking lot. The sun was going down and although it was signaling the end of the day, Tony knew that he had many more days to look forward to; life was good and he couldn't wait to see what the rest of this day held.
Whew! The journey is over. I've had several requests for a sequel and although I don't have plans for one at the moment, we will see what the future holds. I can't find the words to thank everyone who has stuck with this story and I do hope that you've enjoyed the ride. I do have a couple of exciting stories ready to start posting, including my Frame Up AU and I hope you'll stick around for those. Again, I am honored and humbled by the support and dedication of my readers…you all are the best!