Disclaimer: NCIS and its characters do not belong to me and this story is not intended as an infringement of copyright. It has been written solely for entertainment and no profit has been made from its creation
"Jethro?" the diminutive ME called as he entered the waiting room and spotted Gibbs staring grimly out of large windows. "I came as soon as I could. Is there any news?"
"Not yet. Doctors sedated him, just took him downstairs for more scans."
"The poor lad must have been in considerable pain to agree to let you drive him to the hospital."
"Agree? Hell, Duck, he asked me!"
"Oh my!" Ducky said with obvious concern, knowing the younger man's passionate aversion to hospitals.
He watched as his friend carded his fingers through his short silver hair in frustration. Very little could rattle Leroy Jethro Gibbs like the health and safety of one of his team – particularly one Anthony DiNozzo.
"Should've brought him in last night. I should've known he'd play down any pain in was in."
"Yes, well, knowing that young man, I'm sure he assured you that all he required was a good night's sleep."
"Doesn't matter. He was nearly killed last night, I should've brought him in."
Ducky sighed deeply and tried to steer the conversation away from Gibbs' self-recriminations.
"Timothy told me that Russell Carney targeted Anthony to avenge the death of his foster brother, Guy Briggs," Ducky said.
"Looks that way."
"What I don't understand is how on earth he connected Anthony to Briggs' death?"
"Carney was Briggs' next of kin. He's entitled to request a copy of the police and fire department reports. DiNozzo was listed as lead agent."
"So he blamed Anthony for Briggs' death, regardless of the circumstances," the ME said, shaking his head at the senselessness. "A rather tragic example of how a combination of grief and the overwhelming desire for vengeance does not lend itself to rational decision making."
"Ya think, Duck?"
Ducky checked his watch and noted that it was not quite seven AM.
"Perhaps you'll join me in a light breakfast? There's a lovely little British cafe just a short walk from here that has a most delightful breakfast menu." At his friend's hesitation he added. "Jethro, Anthony will be at least an hour in the imaging department – there's nothing you can do until he returns."
The lead agent nodded reluctantly and followed Ducky to the exit.
"Don't care what you say, Duck, I'm not eating kippers," he grouched.
"You don't know what you're missing, my good man!" Ducky admonished, with a chuckle. "But I'm sure we can find something more to your liking."
With breakfast eaten and a fresh cup of coffee in hand, Gibbs and Ducky returned to the hospital and had just exited the elevator as an orderly pushed an empty gurney from Tony's room.
"Ah, perfect timing! It would appear our Anthony has just returned," Ducky stated.
A nurse was still fussing over the bed, straightening the blankets and gently positioning the pillows behind the head of the still sleeping man. She looked up from her patient as Gibbs and Ducky entered.
"Good morning, Agent Gibbs, Doctor Mallard, we meet again," she joked in a hushed voice. "As much as I enjoy your company, gentlemen, this is becoming a bad habit."
"Tell me about it," Gibbs muttered, silently appraising his agent.
"Dr Colby said to tell you that everything went well and that Tony should be waking up from the sedative very soon."
"Where is Colby?" Gibbs asked.
"He's requested an urgent consultation with Dr West, our Chief Ophthalmologist," the nurse advised. "They will both come and see you as soon as they have reviewed Tony's scans. You're both welcome to wait in here, of course."
The two friends sat in a comfortable silence, watching as Tony fought his way through the fog of sedation and struggled to open both eyes before remembering one was swollen closed. He licked his dry lips and Ducky rose to his feet, poured a glass of water and held the straw to Tony's lips.
"How are you feeling, my boy?"
"Tired," Tony answered sleepily and not at all surprised to find the ME at his side. "What's the verdict?"
"We're still waiting on Dr Colby, I'm afraid," Ducky replied. "I'm sure he'll be by any minute now. Are you in any pain, Anthony?"
"Some…s'not bad though," Tony replied, his eyes closing seemingly against his will. "s' the boss here?"
"Right here, Tony," Gibbs answered.
Tony nodded his head and allowed himself to doze lightly, seemingly comforted by the lead agent's presence.
Another thirty minutes passed before the door opened and the two senior doctors arrived. After the introductions, the leading ophthalmologist, Dr West, performed a quick check on Tony's eyes and confirmed that, although he had quite a shiner, the injury was to the surrounding tissue and not the eye itself.
Dr Colby advised that the scans had shown a reduction in the swelling of tissue in Tony's occipital lobe. The subsidence of swelling had partially released pressure from the optic nerve and nerve bundles and was the cause of the acute pain Tony had experienced.
Calling on all of his undercover skills, Tony absorbed the news with a totally unreadable expression on his too pale face - but beneath the façade his heart was pounding furiously.
"Doc, does this mean my sight will return?" he asked.
"These nerves have been compressed for two weeks now," Colby replied. "There is no guarantee, of course, but if they escaped damage, your vision may improve partially or - if you're extremely fortunate – when the rest of the swelling is gone, your sight may return fully."
"This is just the first step in what can be a very long process. Like I said, now that the pressure has started to release, your recovery is completely dependant on the extent of the damage to the optic nerves and the surrounding nerve bundles and when or if they can resume functioning normally."
"Give me something, Doc, two months, two years, never?"
"I'm sorry, Tony, I'd like nothing more than to be able to give you a definite timeline," the doctor replied. "Suffice to say that this is a very positive step toward possible recovery. Had your optic nerves sustained that pressure for too much longer, the chance of any kind of recovery would be minimal."
"What about the headaches, Doctor?" Gibbs asked.
"The headaches and dizziness are a result of the trauma caused to the nerves and, as you witnessed this morning, can be extremely painful. Unfortunately, they can occur quite frequently while the nerves are recovering. I've prescribed a much stronger painkiller to take as soon as he feels the headaches begin. If they don't provide enough relief, I want him back here stat."
"Can I go home, Doc?" Tony asked.
"I'd rather you stayed until that sedative is completely out of your system," the doctor replied. "But if you give me your word you'll go straight to bed at home…"
Tony was out of the bed and standing on trembling legs before the doctor finished his sentence and Gibbs allowed a small grin. Having Tony actually ask to be brought to the hospital was so out of character for the younger man it had worried the life out of the former Marine. Watching Tony jump from the bed and look impatiently in his general direction was definitely more DiNozzo-esque and Gibbs exhaled a long and relieving breath.
Despite protests that he was not tired, Tony was out like a light before his head hit the pillow and spent the rest of the day sleeping off the effects of the stronger painkillers and the sedative.
It was almost 5pm when Gibbs heard the clomping of platform boots thundering up the front path to his house and he walked quickly to his front door, hoping to harness the approaching Gothic cyclone.
"Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs!" Abby called excitedly as McGee followed sedately behind.
The former Marine quickly closed the door behind him and placed his index finger to his lips. "Shhhhh!"
"He's sleeping?" she whined, not bothering to hide her disappointment.
"He was," Gibbs replied dryly.
"I really, really need to see him, Gibbs. I'm the only one who didn't see him last night!"
"He needs his sleep, Abs," Gibbs replied as he led them into the living room and they took a seat on the couch.
"Tony have a rough night, Boss?"
"Um…duh! Someone tried to kill Tony last night, remember, Timmy!" Abby prompted. "I don't know about you, but I'd totally call that a rough night!"
"Actually, I meant after that, Abs, after we'd all gone home," McGee explained.
"Oh, of course you did, sorry Tim," she replied meekly.
Gibbs explained the trip to the hospital and the results of the latest scans as Abby bounded to her feet and headed toward the stairs.
"Don't try to stop me, Gibbs! You cannot tell me that story and expect me not to go to him. I need to see him with my own eyes. Just for a minute, please, please, Gibbs!"
Gibbs sighed audibly; he knew he was a sucker for those pleading green eyes and that double please thing she always did.
"Go!" he said. "Just for a minute - lose the boots first."
"No problem," she said sitting down on the couch while she unclipped the multiple latches on her platform boots. After quickly removing the boots, she leapt to her feet and started for the stairs again.
"Abs! Do not wake him," Gibbs said, emphasising each word.
"Cross my heart," Abby replied, making the gesture over her heart before continuing up the stairs to the guest room.
"You're in charge, McGee," Gibbs said. "There's food and drink in the refrigerator. Make sure DiNozzo stays resting – even if you have to sit on him - if we end up at the hospital again I'm gonna hold you personally responsible."
"Er…right, Boss," McGee answered hesitantly.
Gibbs picked up his wallet and keys and stood looking up at the guest room door when he realised that Abby had not returned.
"Damn," he cursed softly as he climbed the stairs and stood just outside the door.
Abby was sitting on the side of the bed, watching Tony as he slept soundly. She reached out a slightly trembling hand and gently ran one slender finger down the line of his jaw. Her eyes were filled with tears she refused to let fall – her friend was here and he was alive – that's all that mattered to her.
She looked to Gibbs, still watching from the door, smiled tremulously and lifted her hands to sign.
'He's so still, Gibbs!'
'He's sleeping, Abs,' Gibbs gestured in return. 'You know, DiNozzo - he's got two speeds – mach 5 and stop!'
'He's so pale…what's gonna happen, Gibbs? What's gonna happen if his sight never returns?'
'He'll do what he always does…he'll take what he's got and he'll do the best he can.'
She quickly swiped away the traitorous tear that slipped down her pale cheek and she leaned in to place a kiss gently on Tony's temple. She joined Gibbs by the door and he wrapped her in a comforting hug before steering her back down the stairs.
"I'll be back in about two hours," Gibbs said.
"Two hours! But what if Tony doesn't wake up for two hours? I won't get to talk to him!"
"Stay for dinner and you can talk to him later."
"Really, Gibbs? We can stay for dinner and see Tony later?"
"Yup! Have to settle for take out though, I only thawed two steaks," the team leader said as he walked through the front door and climbed into his car.
From the moment Abby saw Tony walk cautiously from the guest room to the landing, she had stuck to his side like a limpet, oohing and ahhing over his spectacular black eye and lavishing copious amounts of sympathy and tender loving care. McGee had to hand it to Abby - his obstinate and independent senior field agent would never tolerate that level of comfort and open affection from anyone else.
"So, where's Gibbs?" Tony asked.
"I don't know, he just said he had to go out," McGee replied.
"You didn't ask where?"
"Hey, Tony, I brought the computer game I gave you for your birthday," McGee said. "I thought you might like to try it in a day or two, when you're feeling better."
Tony heard the tiny inflection of guilt in the younger agent's voice.
"Okay, Probie, spill! You already played my game, didn't you?" Tony teased.
"I…er…okay…I admit I was a little intrigued by the concept of computer games for the blind."
"You played it! Admit it - you couldn't help yourself."
"Well…fine, I played it," McGee confessed.
"Tony…I'm not trying to big note myself here, but you have to remember that I have been in the upper echelon of on-line computer game champions since I was seven years old."
"What are you saying there, McGoo? Is this game a little too easy for the likes of you?" Tony continued to goad.
"Okay…first, TROG was created for the visually impaired, so I have an unfair advantage…second, yes, it was a little too easy for me."
Tony reached out a hand to the end table and felt around until he found what he had been searching for.
"You and me, Probie, best out of three games," he challenged and threw the item to McGee who caught it sharply.
"A blindfold?" McGee questioned. "You just happened to have a blindfold lying around?"
"I use it for baseball," Tony replied. "Put it on, Probie – my game, my rules."
"You really think you can beat me?" McGee grinned, rising to the challenge.
"With my eyes closed, Probe-ster," Tony quipped. "Set it up and don't even think about peeking – Abby's got you covered."
McGee patiently ran through the concept of the game with Tony, explaining how the player is trapped in a labyrinth with a murderous caveman called TROG and must avoid him to continue playing the game. If the caveman finds the player, the game is over. Points depend on how long the player can avoid the caveman. The background music plays a specific tempo or volume depending upon how far the player is from TROG.
"Come on, McGee! Cover those peepers and get ready to rumble!"
They spent the next hour amid raucous laughter; cursing and competitive taunting and Tony stunned McGee and Abby with his dexterity as he raced to a comprehensive three-nil victory.
"I don't get it," McGee stated. "I thought you said you'd never played this before."
"Cheer up, McGloomy, and I'll share the secrets of my success," Tony replied. "Despite the blindfold, you were still trying to use hand to eye co-ordination whereas I was using hand to ear co-ordination."
"Hand to ear co-ordination? Really?" McGee scoffed.
"Absolutely, Probie, I no longer need eyes to see – I'm like a bat!"
"Wow, Tony, that was amazing!" Abby enthused. "You totally kicked McGee's butt!"
"You must learn the way of the Force, Probie-wan. The Force is what gives a Jedi his powers," Tony joked. "Set it up again and I'll teach you how it's done."
"Nope, no more, the boss will be home soon and he made it very clear that you were supposed to be resting," McGee said, firmly. "Hey, maybe you could sit back on the couch and we'll throw a blanket over you and Gibbs will never know."
"Yes he will," Tony said.
"You mean, he'll know because he's Gibbs?" McGee asked, still wearing the blindfold.
"Well, yes, there is that - but what I meant is that he'll know because he's standing right behind you."
"Very funny, Tony, but in case you haven't noticed, I'm not as gullible as I used to be."
"I'm telling ya, Probie, he's been here for five minutes haven't you, Boss?"
"More or less," the former Marine replied.
The sound of the team leader's voice propelled McGee to his feet. He bit back a curse as he hit his shins against the coffee table before whipping off the blindfold and comically holding it behind his back.
"Oh, hey, Boss, I was just telling Tony to sit back on the couch and relax while I get him a blanket."
"That so?" Gibbs asked, walking through the living room and placing several parcels in the hall closet. On his return trip he surprised McGee with a swift head slap. "You better hope he doesn't wind up at the hospital again tonight."
"Ow! Sorry, Boss," McGee muttered.
"Damn, I wish I'd seen that," Tony whispered to a smiling Abby.
The rest of the evening was spent pleasantly but even after dinner had come and gone, Abby was still in full mother hen mode.
"Abs, I'm fine," Tony insisted for the umpteenth time.
"I'm sorry, Tony, I can't help it. Every time I look at you I think of how close we came to losing you."
"But you didn't lose me, Abs, I'm right here," he said, pulling her in for a one-armed hug.
"It was way too close," Abby stressed. "That man tried to smash your head like a ripe melon with Gibbs' baseball bat. We'd all be devastated!"
"Even Gibbs?" Tony asked, cheekily.
"Especially Gibbs!" Abby replied, empathically. "Wouldn't you, Gibbs?"
"Absolutely," the team leader said without hesitation.
Tony's jaw dropped in shock at the rare public admission.
"Really? Wow, ah that's…er thanks, Boss," he stuttered, rendered almost speechless.
"That was my favourite bat," Gibbs deadpanned as he collected the empty pizza boxes and took them to the kitchen.
After Abby and McGee departed, Tony turned in for the night and Gibbs spent several hours pottering around in his empty basement. He locked up the house and decided to head upstairs to bed. Although it was rare for him to lock the door of his house, he wasn't taking any chances with his trouble-magnet houseguest.
He removed the parcels he'd placed in the hall closet earlier and carried them up the stairs past Tony's room. Looking in, he expected to find the younger man asleep and was mildly surprised to see him sitting with this back against the bed head - seemingly in deep thought.
"Thought you were sleeping," he said, appraising his agent and seeing no sign of pain or illness.
"Just thinking," was all the younger man offered and Gibbs accepted it without pushing.
Tony felt the weight of something tossed onto his bed and heard the crinkle of paper wrapping.
"Went to see Sam this afternoon," Gibbs told him. "Picked up the uniforms."
"So…beep baseball…we're really doing this?"
"Unless you've changed your mind."
"No…I just…you know…you're busy and your knee gives you hell sometimes…"
"All I'll be doing is pitching and a bit of batting coaching. You and the other players will be doing all the running," Gibbs said. "First game's Saturday if you're still interested."
"What do the uniforms look like?"
"Like baseball uniforms, DiNozzo!"
"Yeah, but, you know, what are the team colours?"
"That a deal breaker? If you don't like the colours you're not playing?"
"Course not, Boss, I just wanna know, that's all."
"That's it? Blue? What kinda blue?"
"Blue's blue!" Gibbs replied exasperatedly.
"Come on, Gibbs, work with me here! Yankees blue or Dodgers blue?"
"Cool! And the pants?"
"Hey, sue me! I'm trying to paint a picture in my mind!" Tony defended as Gibbs gave a loud put upon sigh.
"Jerseys are Dodgers blue with white and red piping. The pants are pale grey with blue pinstripes and the socks and caps match the jerseys."
A huge DiNozzo smile lit up the room.
"We'll make these look good!" he said, quoting from his favourite MIB movie.
Gibbs didn't miss the fact that the smile disappeared as quickly as it arrived and he had the feeling the mood change had nothing to do with baseball.
"Something else on your mind?" he asked.
"The rest of my life," he answered vaguely after a long moment.
Gibbs waited patiently for Tony to gather his thoughts, knowing that the younger man would speak his mind when he was ready and not before.
He couldn't pinpoint exactly when he became more than just a team leader to DiNozzo. Once he'd breached those interminable walls that he used so effectively to deflect anyone from caring or knowing more than he wished to reveal about himself, the deal was done. He knew Tony had many friends, from his college days to his years as a cop and a federal agent, but when the younger man was troubled and needed to talk, Gibbs was the talisman to whom he always turned – and to his surprise, the former Marine realised, he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I'm going to enrol in the blind reorientation centre," Tony suddenly blurted out. "I don't know whether my blindness is for two weeks, two months or for the rest of my life but I can't just sit here and wait, Boss…I need to move on...decide what to do with the rest of my life."
"Vance is still willing to find a position for you within the agency."
"I can't go back, Gibbs, you know that, right?" Tony said softly. "As much as I'd like to keep working with you guys, I'd hate not being involved in the investigations and the field work…it'd be too hard."
"What will you do?"
"I spoke to Steve Myles again earlier. He said, once I've finished my rehab, they could use someone to implement and co-ordinate an ongoing sports and exercise program at several of the blind youth centres he works with."
"Finally dusting off that Phys Ed degree?"
"Yep. It's not law enforcement and the pays not much but I thought it might be something I'd be good at."
"Difficult choice," Gibbs stated, knowing how much the younger man loved his job as a federal agent.
"No, the choice is easy. It's just the doing that's difficult," Tony said. "What do you think?"
"I think that you can do…anything you set your mind to," Gibbs replied earnestly.
"Thanks, Boss," Tony whispered, the emotion catching in his throat.
"Get some sleep, if you feel up to it tomorrow, we'll get some more batting practice."
Tony hunkered down in the bed and called to Gibbs as he walked to the bedroom door.
"You know what's really crazy?" he asked. "That with your wardrobe, you even know what piping and pinstripes are. You been holding out on me?"
"Goodnight, DiNozzo!" Gibbs said gruffly, unable to keep his amusement from his voice.
Tony listened to the footsteps as Gibbs walked up the hall to his bedroom. He had always found comfort in the former Marine's unwavering support but now, as he faced his life's biggest challenge, that support meant the world to him. He took a deep cleansing breath and settled down to sleep.
One month later.
Tony enrolled and was accepted at a top blind reorientation facility in Maryland. As it was a residential course, he'd moved into one of the dorms three weeks ago and lived there during the week - phoned frequently by his friends and former teammates.
Relearning how to do the most basic of tasks without the benefit of sight was quite often frustrating and arduous but Tony was completely focussed and determined to master these new life skills as quickly as possible.
He was learning how to get around using a white cane for guidance, a skill that gave him independence when there wasn't anyone to assist him. He was pleased with his progress with cooking, personal health and housekeeping though each of those areas required constant practice. He couldn't wait to speak to McGee each week to tell him about his progress with the computer and visual aid technology but by far his biggest challenge was Braille and using public transport. Although it was still early days, he was a long way from being able to take public transport alone and found both areas to be daunting and, at times, overwhelming.
He worked particularly hard during the week and always looked forward to Friday evenings when, unless his team was working a case, Gibbs collected him from the centre and they spent the weekends together. Saturdays were spent playing beep baseball for the Brentwood Bears – a team coached by Gibbs' old Marine buddy Slammin' Sammy Robinson, who also doubled as the team's catcher. Sundays were spent catching up on household chores and hanging out. Before they realised it, they had fallen into an easy, comfortable routine.
Both men had thoroughly enjoyed their three games of beep baseball - the atmosphere was always a mixture of fierce competition mixed with a liberal dose of fun and every game was played in a great sporting spirit.
Three games into his rookie season, Tony was proving to be a natural, scoring ten runs from twelve "at bats" - including three home runs. So impressed was Coach Robinson, that he elevated Tony up the batting order to leadoff hitter. Tony's athleticism in the field had also impressed his coach and teammates and scored him the important position of back-fielder. Generally called into play as backup for the rest of the fielders in case they failed to stop the ball, the back fielder needed to be quick and not afraid to put his body on the line to save a run. Tony had affected eight 'outs' in three games and the array of bruises and scrapes he had acquired, certainly testified to the fact that the ex-detective was as tenacious as they come.
They were ten minutes into the drive to the Bears' home ground before Gibbs noticed the unusual silence. As part of their new routine, Gibbs was driving Tony's Mustang, the top was down and the younger man sat with his face tilted toward the warmth of the sun.
"You okay?" Gibbs asked.
"I'm fine," came the reply, complete with a grin that didn't quite cut it. "Just a case of pre-match nerves, I guess. Leadoff hitter in front of a VIP crowd today."
Gibbs had finally caved to Abby's constant badgering and he'd reluctantly agreed to the team coming to watch today's game. Abby, Ducky, Ziva, McGee and Palmer, who was bringing a particularly eager Mrs Cantrell, would all be at the game to cheer them on.
Gibbs narrowed his eyes in thought then quickly dismissed his suspicions and pressed down hard on the gas. His actions had the desired effect as Tony flashed a brilliant smile.
"Listen to that engine," he crowed like a proud Poppa. "She handles like a dream, doesn't she, Boss?"
"That she does," Gibbs replied, his lips quirked in a small grin as he eyed the near empty stretch of road. "Let's see what she can do."
He shifted into top gear and flattened the gas pedal to the floor as the powerful engine responded immediately and roared to life – his ear-to-ear grin mirrored on the face of the younger man at his side.
They arrived at the ground just fifteen minutes before the start of play. Gibbs assisted Tony from the car to the spectator area to greet their mini fan club. Ziva, Abby and Mrs Cantrell were all wearing copies of the team's blue jerseys with 'DiNozzo 04' blazoned across the back. They all greeted him with a warm hug.
"Jethro! Where on earth have you been? Your entire team has been looking for you!" Ducky exclaimed.
"Do you wanna tell 'em or will I?" Tony said, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
"DiNozzo," Gibbs warned.
"Gibbs got booked for speeding," Tony blurted. "He left his ID and cell in his sports bag in the trunk and the cop wouldn't believe he was NCIS' finest."
"You done?" Gibbs said without rancour.
"That had to be embarrassing, Boss" Tony continued. "I told you to let me swap places, that would have really freaked him out. We could have been just like Al Pacino and Chris O'Donnell in Scent of a Woman. Ooh-rah!"
"Come on, Pacino, let's go warm-up," Gibbs said, nudging Tony with his guide arm and moving off.
"Good luck!" the others echoed as they resumed their seats.
Ziva and Abby stole a lingering glance at the rear view of the two men as they walked toward the other players.
"Oh my," Ziva muttered, admiringly.
"I love a man in uniform," Abby grinned mischievously.
"Snug in all the right places," Mrs Cantrell said appreciatively. When she noticed Abby and Ziva's shocked expressions she added. "I may be old, girls, but I ain't dead yet!"
Due to the shortage of volunteers, Palmer and McGee had agreed to assist as spotters. While the Bears were fielding, Palmer took the left side of the field and McGee the right. When the batter hit the ball McGee or Palmer would shout a player number to warn that player that the beeping ball was headed in their direction. They were mindful not to call two numbers or give any instructions or directions, as the batter would automatically be awarded a run. They were also responsible for calling 'stop' if a collision between players was imminent.
When the Bears were batting, McGee waited at third base and Palmer at first, to guide the runners back to the dugout after they had either scored a run or got out.
As back-fielder and the last line of defence, Tony moved to the right, left or centre, depending on the call of the player numbers, ready to cleanup any misfields or assist if necessary. Despite feeling the beginning of another headache, Tony had affected four very athletic stops and three outs, to the utter delight of his team and his very own cheer squad.
With the Bears going in to bat at the top of the sixth and final innings they were leading the Falcons by 11-7. After a quick huddle in the dugout with their team and some encouragement from the coach, Gibbs led Tony over to the batter's box and handed him his bat.
"You're next man in. You feeling okay?" Gibbs said, worried that Tony looked a little pale.
"Your swing's a little off," Gibbs said.
"Your back foot is coming off the ground and you're losing power," Gibbs said. "Let me see your swing."
Tony assumed his usual stance; going through his action in slow motion for Gibbs to analyse.
"Stop!" Gibbs called. "Where's your back foot?"
Tony realised that his back foot had lifted an inch from the ground. "Huh."
"As you start your swing, you need that shift of weight from the back leg toward the front leg," Gibbs told him, correcting Tony's stance. "You can't do that if your back foot's in the air. That's where you're losing power. Try it again."
Tony tried again, this time mindful of keeping his back foot grounded.
"Better," Gibbs said. "Make sure you follow through, you'll get more distance and height. You got it?"
"I gotcha, Boss."
They heard the mixed reaction of cheers and moans from the crowd as the Falcons affected another out.
"You ready?" Gibbs asked.
"I'm ready," Tony replied, reaching for Gibbs' guide arm and allowing the former Marine to steer him to home plate.
"Go get 'em, Tony," Gibbs whispered as he stepped away from the plate to the rapturous cheering and applause from Abby, Ziva and Mrs Cantrell.
The crowd settled, unlike normal baseball, it is imperative for crowds to remain quiet while the ball is in play so the players can hear.
Tony set himself and nodded slightly as the pitcher called 'ready' and 'pitch.' Misjudging the speed of the ball, Tony swung too soon and completed a hefty air-swing.
"Strike one!" the umpire called.
Tony rolled his shoulders, lifted the bat over his head with both arms to loosen up, before setting himself again. Hearing the pitcher call 'ready' and 'pitch,' he launched into another lofty swing, this time after the ball had passed him, and he heard the ball thud into the catcher's glove.
"Strike two!" the umpire called.
'Concentrate, Anthony,' he thought, ignoring the nagging of his persistent headache.
He stepped back from the plate, took a few deep breaths and practiced his swing before stepping up again and readying himself. He closed his eyes behind the blindfold and tried to relax, replaying in his mind, Gibbs' instructions about his back foot and follow through.
He nodded his readiness again, hearing 'ready' and 'pitch' from the pitcher. He swung his bat mightily, hearing the resounding crack as the ball flew off the bat and carried into the outfield. Within a second, Tony heard the loud buzzing to his right and he dropped his bat and ran full tilt for first base. His head throbbed with every step but he made the base in quick time and was called safe.
The crowd cheered wildly and Tony was a little disoriented until Palmer ran to his side to guide him back to the dugout.
"Wow, Tony, that was some hit!" Palmer enthused. "It cleared the infield and…that's weird…someone's actually measuring where it landed."
"If it travelled one hundred and eighty feet in the air, it's a homerun and adds two runs to the score," Tony explained.
The homerun was confirmed and the noise of the crowd drove the hammering in his head up several notches. He winced in pain and embarrassment as he heard Ziva's delighted call.
"Tony, you scored a touchdown!"
He arrived back in the dugout to the rowdy congratulations from his teammates and fell heavily into his chair. With only one out this inning, hopefully he had a little time to sit quietly before he had to take the field again.
The second and third outs came far too quickly for Tony and with little rest he found himself back in the outfield. The Bears were now leading 14-7 at the bottom of the sixth. Gibbs was pitching and the Bears' infielders were doing well, giving Tony a well-earned break at the back.
The crack of ball on bat sounded again and Tony instinctively started running to his right before Palmer called his player number. As he ran he found it difficult to hear the beeping of the ball over the pounding in his head. Diving full length to his right he flinched as the ball cannoned into his shoulder. Fumbling around for a moment, he grabbed the ball in his left hand and held it in the air, delighted to hear the umpire call 'out.' His teammates whooped with joy and he heard Gibbs' call of "attaboy, Tony," shouted from the mound before they turned their attention to the new batter.
Tony knew something was wrong the moment he tried to regain his feet. Dizzy to the point of nausea, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to sit up let alone stand. He took a few deep breaths and cautiously squatted on his haunches, then slowly straightened his legs to stand. The world tilted suddenly and Tony took several staggering steps before falling face first into the turf.
He heard McGee call his name from his spotter's position behind the baseline but was too focussed on regaining his feet to answer. He scrambled on all fours before trying to stand again; the world took another whirl to the right and his legs betrayed him again. He landed with enough impact to force the air from his lungs and this time he stayed down.
"Agent Gibbs!" Palmer yelled from the opposite base line.
Gibbs turned to see Tony lying face down in the dirt. He immediately called a time-out and he, McGee and Palmer converged on their prone friend.
"Tony?" Gibbs said as the younger man attempted to sit up.
"Hey, Tony, stay down," Palmer instructed. "Give yourself a minute."
"What the hell happened?" Gibbs growled.
"He fielded that last ball, tried to get up and couldn't stand, Boss," McGee replied.
Ducky and Coach Robinson arrived at that moment with a cold drink and a wet towel.
"Anthony, can you tell me how you're feeling?" Ducky asked.
"M'dizzy…headache," Tony replied.
"I don't suppose you thought to bring his medication, Jethro?"
"It's in his sports bag, Duck. McGee?"
"On it, Boss!" McGee answered before jogging off to the dugout to retrieve Tony's sports bag.
"What's say we help you from the field and allow the game to continue, hmm? Then we can have a better look at you," Ducky suggested.
Coach Robinson spoke briefly to Tony, offering some encouraging words, before calling a relief pitcher for Gibbs and a reserve fielder for Tony into the game and returning to his catching position.
As Gibbs and Palmer assisted Tony from the field, Abby, Ziva and Mrs Cantrell were already waiting by the sideline. Tony walked from the ground on rubbery legs and was seated in a folding chair near the spectator area.
Ducky squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. As Gibbs took a sports drink from Abby and placed it in Tony's hands.
"Drink it," he urged softly.
McGee returned with the sports bag and the meds, relieved that two other spectators had filled his and Palmer's positions as spotters.
Ducky's genteel voice sounded. "Now my boy, let's have a look at you."
The ME lifted the blindfold and removed it from Tony's eyes, causing him to hiss in pain and turn his head away sharply.
"I'm sorry, Anthony, I was…Anthony? Anthony, can you see?"
Tony's eyes were screwed tightly closed as pain contorted his handsome face. Gibbs' own heart pounded furiously and he noticed the instant the question penetrated Tony's pain-addled brain. He watched as realisation slowly formed on the younger man's features and, very slowly, Tony attempted to open his eyes. His mouth opened and closed as if to speak but no sound came forth. With his eyes opened to slits, Tony hissed again and closed them tightly. Gibbs was unable to remain silent.
"Tony, can you see?"
"Light, Boss, I…I see light and darkness," he replied, hearing the gasps and sharp intakes of breath from his friends.
"Keep your eyes closed now, Anthony, I think it's best if we get you back to the hospital post haste," Ducky said.
McGee rifled through Tony's bag to find the designer sunglasses and gave them to his friend as they lifted him gently to his feet and assisted him to his car. Ducky travelled with Gibbs and Tony to the hospital, calling Dr Colby on the way.
The next 48 hours passed slowly, as Tony underwent a barrage of tests confirming that his optic nerves and nerve bundles had begun to function and his vision had improved from total blindness to light perception. Although his vision was still severely impaired he could now determine the general source and direction of light. As Dr Colby had warned, with the improvement came frequent and almost crippling headaches.
Tony was released from hospital and ordered to take a week off from his rehab – he was staying at Gibbs' home once again. The strong painkillers caused him to sleep up to 16 hours a day and left him feeling lethargic and nauseous but, in his waking hours, he tried his best to pull his weight around the house.
With Gibbs unable to take any more time off, he would often come home to find dinner started or the laundry done and he felt ridiculously proud of the progress Tony had made adapting to a life without sight. Of course, he never bothered to mention that three of his white undershirts had inadvertently been washed with Tony's red Buckeye sweatshirt and were now rosy pink additions to his collection of polishing rags.
With dinner eaten and the dishes cleared away, they moved their coffee to the living room.
"How bout a game of checkers?" he asked.
"Sure," the younger man replied, stifling a yawn.
Gibbs retrieved the set and placed the box in Tony's hands.
"Never got a chance to give this to you on your birthday," Gibbs said. "Figured it was about time you owned a set."
Tony's eyes widened and his jaw dropped open until he finally found his voice.
"Boss, I…I can't take this," he said. "This was made for you by your father…Jack made this for you."
Tony's brow creased in confusion as he gently ran his hands over the highly polished and handcrafted box. His fingers found the ornately carved initials and he swallowed convulsively as he realised they did not read LJG but ADD – this was a different box.
With slightly shaking fingers, he opened the lid and felt the texture of the checkers. One set had ridging around the edges and the top while the others were completely smooth, making them very easy to differentiate by touch. Running exploring fingers over the checkerboard, he noticed that every second square had been raised by the tiniest margin to help him determine one 'colour' from the other. Although Tony couldn't see, Gibbs had chosen two woods - a deep, red mahogany and a creamy, sandalwood.
Tony cleared his throat to speak…then cleared it again…and found he had no words.
"I...I…thank you," was all he said but the look of gratitude was clear for Gibbs to read and the unspoken "for everything" was loud and clear.
The former Marine stood, picking up the coffee mugs to take back to the kitchen and, Tony suspected, to give them both a moment to collect themselves.
"Don't just sit there, DiNozzo, set-up the board!" he said giving Tony's shoulder a quick squeeze as he passed by. "I may not know how to play that computer cave man thing but I can still kick your ass in checkers."
He stopped at the kitchen door and looked back to see Tony placing the checkers in their starting positions. His eyes softened as he watched the younger man run his fingers over his initials on the box and smile.
One month later.
Gibbs hurried from the elevator and veered toward the nurses' station when Dr Colby called his name.
"What the hell happened?" he growled.
"Like I told you on the phone, Agent Gibbs, Tony experienced severe, nauseating headaches and was brought in by one of the staff at the centre."
"We've done some more tests and given him a strong painkiller, he's not in any discomfort at the moment."
"What about his sight?"
"I was just about to go in and see him," the doctor said. "Maybe you'd like to join me?"
His frustration at the doctor's obvious avoidance was temporarily overridden by his need to see Tony and he followed the doctor into the darkened room.
The younger man was dozing lightly as Gibbs walked to his bedside and placed his hand on Tony's forearm.
"Tony?" Gibbs spoke softly.
"Hey, Boss," Tony replied sleepily with his eyes still closed and a crooked grin that confirmed he was definitely feeling no pain.
It took three attempts but he finally managed to open his heavy eyelids and found he could now leave them at half-mast without too much discomfort. He turned his head toward Gibbs and gave him another goofy smile.
"Never thought I'd say this, Boss, but…you're a sight for sore eyes."
The look on Gibbs' face as the realisation struck, had Tony grinning like a madman.
"You can see?"
Tony looked directly at Gibbs.
"I can see," Tony replied, his voice thick with emotion.
His grip tightened painfully on Tony's forearm and he looked to the doctor for an explanation.
"From what we can determine, the optic nerves recovered sufficiently from their trauma and began to interpret the messages received from Tony's eyes. The change was so sudden that it caused a severe amount of pain but that should also subside over the next few days."
"You did new scans?" Gibbs asked.
"Of course. We can see no permanent damage to the visual cortex or posterior visual pathways of his brain," the doctor said, with a smile and a shake of his head. "He is a very lucky man. His pupils are dilated and he's extremely photosensitive at the moment, but this will also improve very quickly."
A high-pitched beeping sound caused the doctor to reach into his pocket for his pager.
"If you'll excuse me, I'm needed elsewhere," he said walking to the door. "I'd like to keep Tony overnight but he can go home first thing tomorrow. We'll need to monitor his progress over the next few weeks but, at this stage, I don't see why he can't return to work in two to three weeks."
"Thanks, doc," Tony replied, dropping his head back onto the pillows and sighing heavily.
"Get some sleep while you can. I need to make a few calls," Gibbs allowed a quick grin. "When this news gets out, you're not gonna have time to rest."
The team leader was right again! Within an hour of him making his calls, Tony's darkened room was a hub of excited chatter and laughter with Abby, Ziva, McGee, Palmer and Ducky all present to share Tony's wonderful news.
"So when are you coming back to work, Tony?" McGee asked.
"Um…in case you have forgotten, Probie, you've been sitting at my desk for the last few months. I resigned, remember?" Tony replied.
"No!" Abby said. "No, that's so not fair – things have changed now! You have to do something, Gibbs. Tony can come back now!"
"Spoke to the director a while ago about your verbal resignation," Gibbs said.
"And?" Tony asked apprehensively.
"Said to remind you that he's a busy man who can't be expected to remember every conversation he has with every agent. Said if resigning meant that much to you, you shoulda put it in writing."
"So…he never processed my resignation?"
"Nope…according to SOP you've been on medical leave after a work related injury. When you're cleared for duty you'll come back to your previous position."
"Well, technically, at the time of the accident I was doing your job," Tony added mischievously.
"Don't push it, DiNozzo."
"Not pushing it, Boss."
Tony looked thoughtful for a moment and glanced up at McGee. "Where does that leave, McGee?"
"Hey, the director made it very clear that filling your position was temporary and dependent on your recovery," McGee said.
"So…we're good?" Tony asked hesitantly.
"We're fine," McGee responded. "Although, Ziva and I were kinda hoping you'd lose all seniority and have to start again as a probationary agent."
Tony shuddered. "Don't even go there, Probie."
"Hey, what are you gonna do about baseball?" Jimmy asked.
"Gibbs spoke to Sam," Tony said. "Seems he's been looking for someone sighted to take over the catcher's role for him. So, whenever we're not working, we'll keep playing."
"Oh, I'm so glad," Abby replied, with a gleam in her eyes. "I mean, it would be such a shame to waste those uniforms."
Tony frowned as she and Ziva giggled at some private joke.
As the conversations continued around him he looked at the odd little group – there were no genetic or blood ties but they shared a bond that few hereditary families ever achieve. He felt an overwhelming sense of quiet gratitude that these people had come into his life, sharing their friendship, their quirky idiosyncrasies, their humour and their strong sense of loyalty.
Then there was Gibbs - with his gruff, blunt words, his don't-even-think-about-it glares and stinging head slaps, all camouflaging the depth of caring that went way beyond words. He was his anchor, his touchstone when his job and, on occasion, his life threatened to careen out of control.
The team leader was leaning against the far wall and listening to one of Ducky's colourful tales. For a moment their eyes met and they shared a knowing grin.
Tony leaned back against his pillows once more and allowed his friends' easy conversations and soft laughter to wash over him and lull him into a restful sleep.
Footnote: Acquired brain injuries that cause neurological vision impairment are not always permanent, nor do they always cause complete blindness – this depends on the severity of the damage to the optic nerve. Once the swelling subsides, sight may return either in full or partially or not at all – every case is different. In Tony's case and due to my overwhelming desire to have a happy ending, I have expedited the rate of improvement with his sight and placed him on the road to complete recovery. Sadly, for a lot of people, this is not always the case.
A/N I hope you enjoyed this story – thank you for taking the time to read it. L