Disclaimer: Unfortunately for me, the characters from the show belong to someone else. No copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: Tweeter's writing again... run away, Tony, run away! Blessings upon my lovely beta Rinne, who's being inundated by the fruits of my manic writing.

Sacrificial Rites – Chapter Five

Tony lay in the hospital bed, looking fragile and vulnerable. His eyes were bandaged, mostly for protection from light and particulates floating in the air. The corneas had been scratched from the thread used to sew his eyelids shut. There was a very real threat that the expressive green eyes were permanently damaged, but there was hope that they were not. The physical damage imposed on the young agent was hidden by bandages and blankets. The emotional toll was evident by the tense set of the shoulders, the startled jerks when an item was dropped, the hoarse voice on the verge of breaking whenever the patient spoke. A member of their team was always at his side, providing a familiar voice in the darkness, a comforting hand for him to cling to, a gentle hand brushing through his hair.

Gibbs sat in a chair, silently observing the pair on the bed. Abby Sciuto was lying next to Tony, her body pressed up against his, absentmindedly running her fingers through his hair while chattering on about some article she had read. Gibbs had been spending most of his free time at the hospital, even when it wasn't his turn to keep company, unable to stay away from the young man's side. Deep inside, the older agent felt he had failed somehow, failed to protect his agent from the sick people who put him through so much physical and emotional horror.

Logically, he knew there was nothing anyone could have done. Fate had stepped in and made Tony fit the profile of the victims the cult was picking as sacrifices to their demonic ideologies. Gibbs remembered the worry he had felt when Tony first went missing, the fear of what was happening to the young man growing stronger as he found out more information about the kidnappers.

Gibbs' sharp blue eyes studied the figure of the young man on the bed, relieved to see that he was relaxed, apparently dozing, surrounded by the comforting warmth of the young woman cuddling next to him. Tony's skin was losing the raw, red color and was no longer painful to the touch. He thought about the past few days, the interrogation sessions spent with members of the cult, including the leader, Robert Cresswell.

Cresswell was an enigmatic figure, arrogant and disdainful of the agents questioning him. Gibbs wanted to reach across the table and throttle the man, to wipe the smug expression of his face, but he maintained his temper. Despite his contempt for the law, Cresswell was smart enough not to say anything incriminating. He simply sat there and smiled at the senior agent, occasionally uttering obscure, irrelevant quotations. Finally, Gibbs had had enough. They had the man on kidnapping charges. Tony had been able to get a look at the faces of most of his captors, before they began preparing him for the sacrifice. The description of the man he believed to be the leader had matched Cresswell. It was only a matter of formality for the young man to make an official positive identification from a photo. Gibbs hoped that Tony's eyes would be unscathed, allowing him to not only make the ID, but to continue with his life.

Gibbs was pulled from his reverie by the sound of Abby's voice.

"Sure, Tony," she said, reaching over to the bedside tray to grab a cup of water. She took Tony's hand and gently placed the cup in it, helping him guide it to his mouth. Tony murmured something softly.

"Bossman's sitting right over there, lost in thought. He's all broody. Either that, or he's sleeping with his eyes open."

"I am not brooding," protested Gibbs.

Tony turned his head in the direction of Gibbs' voice.

"Shouldn't you get some rest, Boss?" he said softly. "You've been here a lot. You don't have to sit there all the time."

"I know, DiNozzo," replied Gibbs. "I can think just as easily here as I can at the office or at home."

Abby took the cup of water from Tony's hand and put it back on the tray. "Gibbs has been here every day."

"And night," added Tony.

"How do you know?" Gibbs asked in surprise.

"I can tell," Tony shrugged. "And I remember you being here when I had nightmares."

"I didn't think you'd remember, you didn't seem to wake up completely."

"I remember. I don't know if I remember your voice, but I remember feeling safe, and knowing you were there." Tony sighed and reached up to touch the bandages covering his eyes. "I want these off."

Abby kissed the top of his head. "Tomorrow, Tony," she said consolingly. "It's getting late and tomorrow is almost here."

"And then I can go home."

"After you've seen the psychiatrist, get a final clearance and set up a schedule to see him," agreed Gibbs.

"Do I have to?"

"Yes," Gibbs and Abby said firmly.

Tony sighed. "Okay Mom, Dad." Abby smacked him lightly on the arm. "I am in no way old enough to be your mother, Anthony DiNozzo!" she scolded. "Now Gibbs…"

"I'm not old enough to be his mother, either," argued Gibbs. He was pleased to see a ghost of a smile on the young agent's face.

"Older brother?" asked Tony.

Gibbs thought about it. "You do remind me of what a bratty little brother would be like, if I had one."

"Thanks, Boss."

"Don't mention it, DiNozzo."

The next morning Gibbs was back at the hospital, standing anxiously by the window, watching as the doctor began removing the bandages from Tony's eyes. Dr. Greenway began unwinding the gauze bandage from around the young man's head, revealing two heavy pads taped over his eyes.

"Could you please close the curtains," the doctor said to Gibbs, who quickly complied. "Okay Tony, I'm going to remove the pads, but I don't want you to open your eyes right away. We need to clean the ointment from your eyelids."

"Okay," whispered Tony.

The doctor carefully pulled the tape off and slowly removed the pads. He placed them in a metal bowl, reaching for the wet washcloth the nurse held. Gently, he wiped Tony's eyes, drying them with a clean towel.

"Tony, I want you to open your eyes, slowly. Don't worry if your vision is blurry at first; they've been closed for a while and some of the ointment may be coating the surface of your eyes. Just keep blinking to clear them."

Tony carefully opened his eyes, blinking slowly a few times, then more quickly.

"Do you see anything?" asked the doctor.

Tony let out a shaky breath, a relieved smile slowly developing. "Yes," he said softly. "Everything's blurry, but I can see you, and Nurse Rita," he turned toward the window, "and my boss." He smiled at Gibbs. "Hey, Boss, good to see you."

"Good to be seen, DiNozzo."

"Excellent," Dr. Greenway exclaimed. "Your eyes will probably be sensitive for awhile. I want you to wear special sunglasses when you're outside in the bright sunlight. Regular sunglasses should be okay for when you're inside, under fluorescent lighting. You'll need to limit your reading, computer work and television watching for a few weeks, to avoid eyestrain."

"How long before I can go back to work?" asked Tony, anxiously.

"If your job requires computer work or heavy reading, you'll need at least a month off, possibly six weeks."

"Six weeks?" Tony's dismay was evident.

"If the doctor says six weeks, DiNozzo," Gibbs cut in, "you'll be out for six weeks. I want you back at the office at full strength, no screwing around."

Tony looked at his boss anxiously. "You won't replace me, will you?"

"What did I tell you before, DiNozzo?"

"I'm irreplaceable?"

Gibbs growled. "Don't make me say it again. You'll get a swelled head."

"Yes, Boss. When can I get out of here, Doctor?"

Dr. Greenway looked over at Gibbs, then back at Tony. "If Dr. Hoffman says you're fit to leave, you can be released at any time."

"Yesss," Tony cheered, softly. "Dr. Hoffman said I could go home."

"But you're going to be staying with me for awhile," Gibbs reminded him.

"You sure about that?"

"Don't start."

"What am I going to do when I'm there? You have no TV, no radio or stereo…"

Gibbs huffed. "You can't watch TV anyway, and I have a perfectly good radio."

"AM only!" whined Tony. "And I can listen to the TV."

"We'll manage," Gibbs cut him short.

Tony pouted for a minute, but Gibbs could see the smile threatening to break out. "Okay. I suppose I could watch you work on the boat. It'll help me go to sleep."

"You could always help with the boat, DiNozzo, it'll help you work off some of that hospital food."

Tony looked down in alarm. "Huh?"

Gibbs laughed. "You'll stay with me, I'll drop you off for your weekly appointments with Dr. Hoffman."

"How long do I have to see him?" grumbled Tony.

"As long as it takes for you to stop having nightmares and stop jumping at every little sound. You've got things to work out, DiNozzo. They get worked out before you go back to work. You got that?"

"Yes, Boss."

Later that day, Tony was surprised and pleased to find that Gibbs had set up a small, but powerful CD system and television/DVD combo in the living room.

Tony settled himself on the sofa, closing his eyes to the comforting sounds of his favorite jazz CD. He still had irrational moments of panic and fear, but he was working on them with Dr. Hoffman. He had a way to go before he could put the events of the past few weeks behind him, but he knew he had the support of his teammates, his friends.

It wouldn't be long before Anthony DiNozzo was back on the job, irritating Ziva, harassing McGee and exasperating his boss. Well, at least six weeks.

The End.

Author's final notes: I want to state for the record that the idea for sewing eyelids closed did not come from my twisted little brain. It came from a program I saw years ago, Millennium, I think, where victims had their eyes and mouths sewn shut and were buried alive. I can't remember the plot or the outcome, and am unclear on the details, but obviously that image stuck in my head. Very creepy.