Drowning On Dry Land
Written for the NFA Tearjerker Challenge
Genre: Angst, Tragedy, Drama, Friendship, Hurt/Comfort, Slight Romance
Characters: McGee, Ziva, et al
Warnings: Uh, well, I don't think it's particularly tearjerking, but anyways . . .
Word Count: 8,638 words
Chapter One: My Last Breath
"Tell me again why Gibbs decided it was a good idea to look for evidence in the middle of a storm," Ziva huffed as she and McGee gingerly exited the warm, and dry, car. She slammed the door shut with a little more force than necessary.
Immediately, drops of rain assaulted their faces and McGee awkwardly raised his arm to semi-cover his face from the downpour. It failed rather well. The rain continued to pelt down, soaking them in seconds. Ziva sighed and pulled her black NCIS jacket closer to her body.
"He, uh, wants us to get new evidence before it's washed away," McGee said through chattering teeth. He managed to take a step towards the trunk of car.
Ziva snorted and looked up at the dark clouds. "Well, I think that idea has gone down the," she paused before saying hesitantly, "drain?"
McGee offered her a small smile as he popped open the trunk. She smiled triumphantly in return, knowing that she'd gotten the phrase correct. But then she frowned as the rain continued to fall.
"Catch," he said, throwing her a small, cylindrical object. She reached out and grasped it clumsily; the visibility through the rain was low.
She looked down and saw that she was clutching a small umbrella. It was then that she noticed its pattern. Ziva looked at McGee, horrified.
"McGee," she started carefully, "why do you have a Disney Princess umbrella in a NCIS issued car." She looked warily at her partner.
Even in the rain, Ziva could see McGee blush. "Uh," he stuttered, cheeks going red from Ziva's look. "It's, uh, not mine," he tried weakly.
"I should hope not," Ziva smirked. "But that does not answer my question."
"It's Sarah's, okay," McGee muttered as he handed her a backpack. He then proceeded to disappear in the direction of their crime scene. He indicated for Ziva to follow, which she did grudgingly, popping open the pink princess umbrella.
"Yes, that may be so," Ziva said as McGee held back a wet branch to let her pass. She smiled at him. "Toda." Then she continued, "But it does not explain why it was in the car."
McGee sighed as he brushed past a wet bush. "Sarah left it in my car the last time she was in it, and I thought we might need it at the crime scene so I put it in the car. I mean . . ." He gestured to the sky and the falling rain. "We don't want the evidence to get wet."
"I think it is a little late for that," Ziva replied, grinning. She shook her head and little droplets of water tumbled off, even under the umbrella. She grimaced. "Gibbs is not going to be happy when we bring back soggy evidence," she sighed.
McGee shrugged. "Well," he said tentatively, "it's not really our fault. We can't exactly, you know, control the weather." He side-stepped a large puddle. Ziva followed his actions.
Ziva cocked her head to the side. "Good point, but Gibbs will still not be happy."
"I know," McGee sighed. "But we have a job to do, no matter what the results are."
Ziva nodded her agreement and fell silent. They continued to weave their way through the thick bushes of the woodlands where their dead Petty Officer had been found. It certainly had been a pleasanter experience that morning when it had been vaguely sunny. The rain was coming thick and fast, and both agents could hear the sound of the overflowing stream off to their left.
Suddenly, the piece of land where Ziva had placed her foot a moment ago slipped away. She yelped as she slipped in the mud, falling towards. The umbrella clattered to the ground as she lost her grip. McGee turned around at her yelp, and immediately felt a body skid into his arms. He instinctively steadied her as Ziva's face remained pressed to his chest.
"Oomph," came Ziva's muffled voice, and then a string of foreign-sounding words. She used his arms to pull herself upright and looked up to his face. She offered him a half-smile, half-grimace. "Sorry, McGee," she muttered.
"Are you okay?" he asked, concerned. He failed to notice that he was still gripping her shoulders where he'd grabbed her to steady her.
"I am fine," Ziva replied. "I slipped on some mud." Then she paused and a smirk found its way to her face. "You can let go now, McGee. I do not believe I will be falling down again."
"Oh, right." McGee stepped back hurriedly and let his hands fall limply to his sides. He blushed again, causing Ziva to chuckle. "Sorry."
"Don't apologise," Ziva said off-handedly. "You save me from some potential teasing by Tony." She smiled at him, and said, "I think I may have dropped that abominable item known as an umbrella." She looked around for the umbrella, even though it was basically useless in this weather.
"Here, I'll get it," McGee said as he spotted the pink umbrella. He strode over to the umbrella, picked it up and looked at it critically. It had landed in a mud puddle. "I think Cinderella may need a new dress," he deadpanned. McGee then shrugged and offered the item to Ziva.
"I am doubting it will do much good anymore, but thank you." She took the umbrella from McGee, but did not raise it. Ziva gave McGee a "come on" look and continued towards the crime scene. McGee followed, this time with Ziva in the lead.
When they reached the crime scene, the rain had let up a little. But it didn't make any difference to the two wet and soggy NCIS agents. And not only that, although the rain had let up, the wind had started to gather momentum.
"Well, this is going to be . . . fun," Ziva commented dryly, a little annoyed. Their previously contained crime scene was a muddy mess. McGee gave her a look that showed that he agreed with her.
"Let's just do it," McGee suggested. "The quicker we do it, the quicker we can get back to headquarters." Ziva nodded her agreement.
Thinking on her feet, Ziva opened the muddy umbrella and placed it over a patch of leaves that looked vaguely dry. She deposited her backpack on the leaves and underneath the umbrella, hoping that it would at least kinda keep the already wet bag dry. McGee copied, giving her a "smart idea" look.
They started pawing through the muddy location, looking for the evidence that Abby had vehemently assured them that they would find. Unfortunately, that prediction had been before the torrid of rain, and now their chances of finding the objects were slim and fading fast as the weather became worse. And they could see the stream off to their left at its bursting point, ready to soak what little they had left of their crime scene.
Five minutes later, the rain started getting heavier and McGee looked up as he heard Ziva's frustrated growl. She looked at him, a dangerous look in her eye.
"This is pointless," she huffed, storming over to where McGee was searching. "We are not going to find whatever Abby thinks we will find." She glared at McGee, making him flinch when it wasn't even his fault.
Ziva saw his face and sighed. "I am sorry, McGee. I am just fed-up with all this rain." She pulled a face.
"You and me both," McGee grumbled, mirroring Ziva's facial expression.
Ziva offered him a half-smile. "Well, at least it is not Tony. No doubt he would be making inappropriate comments about how my shirt is sticking to my body."
"Yeah, I guess." McGee didn't quite know how to respond to that comment.
Ziva looked thoughtful. "Do you think Gibbs will kill us if we give up and head back to base?"
"Yes," she sighed, "that is what I thought, also." She paused. "I say we give it another five minutes and then head back to NCIS."
McGee nodded his agreement as the rain continued to fall. "Sounds like a plan."
"Good. I will continue over here." Ziva indicated to the section of the crime scene about four feet away from the rushing stream.
"Okay," McGee replied, secretly grateful that he didn't have to scavenge the section closest to the stream. "I'll just finish up here."
He got a muffled response from Ziva, so he looked back down at the muddy dirt. McGee sighed. This was not how he'd envisioned his day. He would rather put up with Tony's teasing than be out here in the cold and the wet. He groaned internally, five minutes was going to seem like five years in this weather.
A moment later, something caught his eye in the pouring rain. McGee looked at it curiously, and then bent down to study it more closely. Even with the low visibility caused by the rain, McGee could just make out its shape to be . . .
Suddenly, a sound snapped McGee out of his inspection of the yet unidentified object. He looked up as he heard a female shriek. McGee stumbled to his feat and his eyes snapped to where Ziva had been canvassing. His eyes widened as he watched, with fascinated horror, her stagger and fall. Even from his distance, he could see the pure shock in Ziva's eyes as she fell backwards, her splash mixing with the falling rain.
It was like time stood still as he stood there in pure horror, unable to move. McGee was mesmerised by the spot where Ziva had just been standing. One moment she was there, the next, disappeared. His mind was void of all thought; the only thing he registered was the deafening pounding of the rain against his eardrums.
But then he heard a desperate female voice cry, "McGee!"
McGee jumped, as if he'd just been shocked back to life. Time started to move and McGee took off in the direction of Ziva's cry. He stumbled and the rain tried to trip him up, but he was working on pure adrenaline. He ignored the mud, and the rain, and the wind, and instead focused on her face, projecting an image of her into his mind. This gave McGee extra strength as he skidded to a stop at the edge of the stream, teetering precariously on its edge.
He gaped at the scene in front of him. The stream was alive. The water flowed furiously through the overflowing stream, making little rapids around Ziva's body. It was clawing at her, willing her to let go of the branch she was holding onto. She was defying the water, gripping the branch with every single ounce of her strength. Now, instead of looking shocked or horrified, Ziva had a look of determination on her face as she fought against the water.
She looked up at his gaping face and grimaced. "McGee!" she yelled, glaring at him. "Help! Do not just stand there like a brick wall. Do something!"
"Right, uh, help." McGee shook his head, trying to clear the pounding echo of the rain from it. It took him a few seconds to register that the branch Ziva was furiously hanging onto was within his reach. If he could just get her hand . . .
"Ziva," McGee yelled, reaching unceremoniously towards her. "Grab onto my hand. I'll pull you up."
Even with the water racing around her, Ziva gave him an exasperated look. "You cannot take my weight."
"Who says?" McGee snapped, a little put out that Ziva did not believe that he could do it. He stretched out his hand. "Grab my hand."
Ziva hesitated, so he yelled, "Grab my hand or you'll be swept down that godforsaken river." When she still didn't act, he yelled angrily, "Now!"
He was surprised at how steady his voice sounded. Inside, his heart was pounding in his chest and he was panicking big time. He honestly had no idea what he was doing; it was like unconscious thought had taken over. McGee was petrified, absolutely petrified, but still, he stretched out further, praying that Ziva would believe in him enough to grasp his hand.
She did, and he felt her smaller hand clasp onto his palm. Ziva still had one hand clutching the branch, but the other was now safely and firmly in his own, or so he hoped.
"Just hold on, Ziva," he called out to her, new resolve appearing with her touch. He tugged, but as she was still hanging onto the branch, it only resulted in McGee falling to his belly. He splashed in the mud, but he didn't even notice. The rain was still falling, making his daring rescue even harder.
"You'll have to grab my other hand," he yelled, steadying himself on his stomach before stretching out his right hand.
Ziva shook her head. "If I let go, I will slip and fall." She started to look just a little bit worried.
"No, you won't, I promise," McGee promised, gazing into her eyes, trying to get her to trust him. "I would never let you go, Ziva. Ever." Their eyes locked for a moment, connected by a common goal. Then Ziva nodded.
"Okay, I trust you, Tim," Ziva replied. "But if you let go . . ." She let the threat dangle mid-air.
"I won't, I promise," McGee repeated and braced himself for the extra weight.
He watched as Ziva took a deep breath and unclenched the branch. For a fleeting moment, McGee thought that it was all over, that Ziva would be carried away by the stream, leaving him alone. But then, a hand found his and he held on with every single inch of willpower he had.
Ziva's hands were cold in his own, but he gripped them as if his life depended on it. Actually, he noted humorlessly, Ziva's life did depend on his grip. So with that thought in mind, McGee gripped her hands tighter, and pulled.
Ziva was still dangling in the rapid water; he could see her trying to use her feet to push herself upwards. McGee tried again, using every bit of strength he could muster. And still it failed.
"It is not working," Ziva commented as she concentrated on holding McGee's hands.
'Don't you think I know that,' he snapped to himself before saying reassuringly, "It's okay, Ziva. I'll get you out of there. I promised, remember." She looked at him tiredly. McGee could see that that she was getting sick of fighting the frothy water.
"Let's try again," McGee shouted enthusiastically and tugged at Ziva's arms.
And to his absolute horror, he felt her hands slip slightly from his grasp. He panicked. It was wet, slippery, windy and muddy . . . It was rather surprising that he'd held onto her this long.
"Ziva! Ziva! Don't let go," McGee yelled, panicked. "Just . . ." he trailed off, unable to think properly or give a proper, coherent command.
"I am sorry, McGee," Ziva sighed weakly. The water was cold, the rain was clouding her vision and the wind was pounding in her head. Frankly, Ziva did not have much fight left in her.
"NO!" McGee yelled as Ziva's left hand slipped away. He used his free hand to grip her right one, begging the Gods to stop it from slipping.
They did nothing.
In perhaps the single worst moment of his entire life, Ziva's final hand, her final piece of life, slipped from his grasp. McGee felt her fingers slide along his palm, like slices of life draining away. He tried. McGee tried with every single fibre in his body. He grunted and pulled, gripping her fingertips with everything that he had. And in that fleeting second between life and death, he made a dozen promises to God, if only He would save her. He pulled on her hand . . .
And then, nothing.
Gasping, McGee found himself gripping thin air, Ziva's icy hand no longer in his palm. There was a moment, a single moment, as McGee watched in utter horror as Ziva was swept away by the ferocious water, when their eyes met. And McGee was certain, dead certain, that he could see the accusatory glare in her eyes, blaming him for her impending and certain death.
He had let go when he promised he wouldn't.
It was as simple as that.
As McGee's horrified screams of "Ziva" got lost in the blowing winds, as his tears mingled with the rains, there was only one thought that remained behind . . .
He had killed her.