A/N: Some oblique spoilers for S7 finale. References to Harlan Ellison.
Warning: Dark as pitch, my friend.
He draws spirals on the ceiling from the centre point, the dimple right above his head. Archimedes spirals or equiangular, makes no difference; neither fit in the imperfect room.
It bothers him, though he can't think why.
The sound makes him blink. Must look like he is made of clockwork. Tick tock tap. For otherwise he is still, stretched out and staring up. His eyes are dry, as is his mouth, his skin. It hasn't rained—
—for days. The yellow dust is blowing in through the window from the desert storm, and he really should roll over or he'll be scoured away by this infernal razored dust. It's building in his lungs.
Dull sound of single water drops, echoing all the way down. He tried to time the fall of the single drops with his ear pressed against the burning metal pipe, but he could not catch the whisper of release from whatever heights they fall from. So there is no comparison to measure, and he can only estimate from between. It tells him nothing, really.
He has shut his eyes, and so does not blink this time.
He does not sleep; that would imply a change in state, and he has not changed for so very, very long. He ceases to think or remember for periods of time, and sometimes his eyes remain open and dry out in the heat. Whether he listens or not, he is confined forever to a dark room of dust.
But it's all a matter of patience.
He remembers a time when there was rain.
When he was wedged beside a car, looking through the V of the opened door. Sun was setting, light had no colour and it was just grey to grey to oncoming black. Rain in the distance and his head numb with the words.
Still waters run deep.
It's the feeling of floating on the waters surface, with blackness going down and down.
His hands are sweating. Gun will shoot from his fingers if he isn't careful.
The windows are dark. Sign is flipped over. They saw her go in, but there's been no sign yet. He can see Tony crouched by the door, listening with his ear pressed against the wood. There's two of them jammed by the car; he covers Tony while she points the heavier weapon through the glass, eye against the scope.
"She's moving." Somewhere a man with cold eyes is waiting with his finger clenched against the trigger.
He is becoming more and more uneasy of this patience.
Are you sure about this, Boss?
"I see." Her voice is soft, and the gun turns a little.
He cannot stand this waiting, this watching at the Honey trap.
Are you sure you want him in the trap, Boss…?
Shots from inside. Flashes through the windows. Tony leaps up, then straight back down as bullets rip holes in the wood by his head.
There are men on the rooftops.
Cracking of guns. The cannon shot of the sniper rifle usually makes him jump, but he hears nothing as he turns his own weapon up, the recoil slamming it back into his shoulder.
There's too many, Boss!
He can't remember if he ever got the chance to yell that.
He hopes he did. He knows he never got to say the last thought he had.
He sees her crumple out of the corner of his eye. She's just gone. He's fired at the flash before he registered it, and something falls across the roof. A smack to the side of his head as he turns to find her, and the world flashes with colour. He's suddenly on the ground, and he sees blood sliding past his nose gathering the dust in it's wake.
It's strange. He doesn't think he's bleeding. He cannot...
There's yelling in his ear as hands wrap around his ankles, wrench him back. He's thrown back into a dark space, and two thumps are tossed in limp either side. One is moving, the other is not.
Last thought, that he never said.
You said we'd be okay.
Then nothing. He was here. He still is.
He wonders if he died, and this is another place. But it seems real, in only that he sleeps and dreams sometimes and elsewhere would have no use for that. It does worry him, in any case.
Something tips his state.
He opens his eyes.
Thirteen days since the rain. The pipe will not carry sound in water; now, at last empty, he gets the echo. The sound of water hitting the curve in the empty pipe.
Three is the number he's waiting for.
Three was the first. When he could still drag himself around, and would press his back against the wall in the small slice of shade from the afternoon sun.
It had been a long time since he had woken with his head still bleeding from a bullet track and wearing the suit that's now in long shreds. It wore away through the time of shouting at walls, of pacing, of beginning to doubt. The days of dawning dread and fear that he would not be found, to the slow understanding that he was not being looked for.
So here he waits. Patience is the key, and life is so very, very patient.
He had been listening to far away thunder, letting it drive away the cobwebs in his head. Drumming his fingers on the pipe, random clicks on metal. Tap taptap tap tap taptaptap taptap taptaptap...
He'd stopped very suddenly. Regards the pipe.
There's a buzz in his head, odd feeling. Takes him a while to recognise it's fear.
I have gone mad.
That is his first thought. But it is the second his mind catches, brings to bear.
You are not alone.
He hits it once, and the pipe falls silent. He takes a breath, hits it again with his dried knuckles.
TapTapTap. Tap Tap Tap. TapTapTap.
The signal of dying sailors.
A moment later, he hears it back.
He laughs. Mad breathy sound like a collapsing bellows. Laughs with tears coming from his eyes. Taps it again, hears it again, weeps with his face pressed against the metal. Does it for hours until the rains come and wash away the sound, leaving his mind feverish with the one thought.
I'm not alone.
He had his hand still around the pipe, though it was just the sound of water.
Someone's down the bottom. Far down. One alive like him, who survived the guns.
Who are you? Where are you? Are you ok?
He has not asked questions for... He doesn't know. The idea of questions is gone, and here they are and god the world is burning.
He had tried to call, screamed down the pipe, but there was no reply. Just the feather vibration, the just below sound noise. It needed to travel through the metal.
He has a thought. It's been a while, but this is a good one.
You are not alone.
But you must find a way.
He has it. SOS is only two, but he knows twenty six in the language of dashes and dots, and with that he has everything. But they did not, for his small trials gave him only echoes.
But he can give it to them. He can.
But he must find a way to teach someone to speak with no voice, no hands, no eyes.
Doesn't recall the number of days between then and there because he's been floating since. The first wait was a dry time of little rain, growing mad at the days or weeks it took for the pipe to run empty.
A reply. Faint. He wept anew, but there was no time.
He tried pure letters first. A, B, C. They did not understand, and he could not say.
Rain, and twenty one days. He thought, feared they would be gone.
No. A reply. SOS, as before. But he doesn't have time to weep.
Words, one letter at a time. He has two; they must understand.
SOLO, OSLO. LOSS
Single tap. They do not. Random clicks, frustration. There is someone there to listen, but he cannot find a way.
Rain again, and it had been thirteen days.
I have no mouth, and I…
…I must find a way.
Perhaps this was the way.
The trouble was, they had no time. No time to learn. No idea of what he tried to do.
They just needed the flash of insight. Then it would be fast, and they would not be alone. Just something recognisable, distinct. Named.
So the last time, he had given it to them.
Frustration, but he was patient. Again and again, until the rain had fallen.
Eight days for them to think. For him to wonder if there was another way. He did not have much time left, his chest told him that. Time was falling away from him, now to taunt him when it's suddenly become precious.
He had given them the mark of Fibonacci. Soon, he would given them the word in taps. Maybe with the idea already in their head, they would understand the sequence of taps at last. Surely he must not be the only person who found it so wonderful, the numbers that were in the centre of flowers and in the shells of deep sea monsters.
What could they both do with eight letters?
A beginning, understanding. A prayer, of sorts. SOON.
Enough, for now.
He hears distant thunder.
But something else.
Car, outside. One person exits, walks into the house.
Not now, not yet...
The footsteps of a man he has never seen but has been outside all this time walks down the stairs, and he has a shadow behind him.
He does not move as the heavy door is unlocked and opened, closed again after someone steps inside. He looks up at her, as she stares down at him.
Sometimes he becomes aware he is self with physical presence; he does so now, as she looks at him. He sees the thick threads of tendons stretched across bone and the cricket balls of his knees bulging in his legs. Dried out and stretched skin, and his teeth are starting to fall out.
Her face is blank, but for the slight line between her eyes. Last time she was here, the expression was not so kind.
His own fault, really. He had told her her name meant Dove. He's not sure if it's true, though; Sarah used to play a song on the piano called La Paloma that sounded nothing like birds, and the idea had drifted through his head at the wrong moment. He was not quite with himself when he said that to her. Somehow it had been the worst blow he had given her, given what came after.
Doves are just pigeons, really.
He is suddenly terrified as her eyes move away, focus on the pipe. Is that why she's here? To stop him?
He would have to be moved; though he may not survive that. Or perhaps simpler - remove his hands. Or blind him, deafen him to the sound. But no - she would have to skin him as well, to stop the feeling of vibration.
He is sweating, but it's cold and he's shivering.
Her head is rigid, face turned to stare at him. No warmth in her. Looks down at him with those burning eyes, until she speaks.
"You are making noises, Agent McGee."
He has no words to give back. He has long understood she has no patience for begging or pleas of any kind. And he has nothing at all to give.
What do you want from me?
He doesn't think he'll ever really know. Perhaps to make someone suffer, but surely they are dead.
But he remains alive, he is sure of that.
"Why do you tap on the pipe?" she asks.
He says nothing. She takes two step to the left, to face it silent against the wall.
"He has told me you do. Every few weeks." She considers it, raps her knuckles twice against the metal pole. Presses her ear against it.
An echo. That is all.
Wrong code. He smiles faintly, and his lips split.
"You wait until it echoes. Why..." She steps back, pondering. He is not needed in the discussion, so is silent and watches with a sticky eye.
She nods after a moment. "Ah." She steps back. "You must wait until the water has gone."
He sees the rest begin to gather on her face, and shuts his eyes. He doesn't think he can take that.
They are in silence for a while as she thinks. His eyes open occasionally, and he sees that she looks out his tiny window at the gathering clouds.
"The rain that's approaching is the first of the late storm season," she says after a long while. "It rains almost everyday."
He turns his head into the dirt.
Doesn't matter. He doesn't need long.
"But I think you will stop, even before then." She rubs a fold in her skirt between two fingers. She has such coarse hands. They are almost hard to the touch, he remembers. Like rock. She is watching him process; she can out wait him. That he knows, how well he knows how deep a well of patience runs in her.
So he opens his eyes, looks at her and her eyes are so bright in the nothing face. No expression.
She has no mercy. She left him alone with no one to talk to for months on end although he was screaming for the why, the what end of it? Made of stone to torture a man for someone who is dead and someone else who might be, to torture him who did nothing to her. She hates so deeply that he stands no chance but to brace himself.
"I understand what you're trying to do, when you tap on that pipe," she turns her head at the rumble of thunder in the distance. "You think you are talking to them. The other agents of Leeroy Jethro Gibbs."
She watches him motionless on the floor. He has not stood upright in over eight weeks, and will not last past the storms. He's turning to sand before her eyes.
"But you are not."
His eyes remain shut.
"The other man bled to death on the way to this house. And the woman died of septic shock two weeks after." She tips her head towards the window. "They are buried not far from your window, out there in the garden."
No, he would have known.
She raps on the door, and outside there is the sound of keys. "You are a man alone, Agent McGee. Alone in a room, making your own company."
As she turns the handle, his head turns towards her. She shudders imperceptibly as he looks at her from eyes sunk deep in his head.
"Why are you keeping me?" It rasps, cracks. Voice of many pieces.
Her eyes are nothing.
"Because you live."
He is in quiet again. The sound of thunder is louder now.
There is a crumbling in his chest; it is the feeling of sand running down a well.
She could lie.
She has lied to him before.
But that truth does not matter. Because the more he thinks, the more his chest aches and he can't breathe with the single thought.
He cannot tell.
There is only the pipe, and he cannot see if his mind plays tricks. There is only the sound of metal, and he does not know which is which because he ceases to be sometimes and he might be sleeping...
Rumbling of far off thunder. The ceiling is made of nothing at all, and the sand is getting in.
The sound makes him freeze. Sweat starts to gather, and he wants to crawl away, bury his thumbs in his ears. But he cannot move, he has gone far beyond that.
He cannot move away from the pipe, and it's making sounds.