So this resulted from my drifting imagination and a slight freak-out I had at the beginning of Swan Song when I didn't see Ziva. I thought maybe I wasn't the only one. So excited for the finale! I had to put this up before then.
There was that boat again.
It sat calmly, slightly muddied whiteness gently rocking amidst a rolling, graphite sea. For a while, he only watched it from some undetermined place where he could faintly hear the growing churning of waves beneath his feet. But just like that, he was floating atop the water alongside the boat, his fingers brushing its enamel shell, grasping its edge on an impulse.
It wasn't the first time he'd dreamt of these unwilling escapades on the sea. In fact, the first time he'd seen the small craft, two summers before, it had been after spending the entire dream in a bright searing desert; when he'd seen it collapsed sideways in the distance, he'd thought it had been a mirage. He hadn't payed it much heed until he realized it kept reappearing from night to night. He'd never been in it, at the most had sat upon its edge under a mild, warm sun. That had been the day he'd noticed the chain binding his foot to the side under the veil of clear, blue liquid. For a second, he'd panicked - for quite a while actually - but eventually it had become normal, natural. A lifeline. Although, as it was, he hadn't had this dream in a while.
A rumble of thunder made the boat tremble a bit beneath his fingers. Little by little, rain began to fall onto the craft, sounding more like small, hollow projectiles hitting the glassy surface than drops of water. The ocean crested and waned to increasing extremes as the water fell harder. For a moment he thought the boat would capsize, pulling him under - until a flash of light illuminated the fuzzy view of a crinkled white pillow as he opened his eyes. He frowned in a haze of sleepiness, falling back into the vision to find a dark, widening crack developing next to his hand on the boat. He swung his other arm so that his two fists were grabbing the separating sides. Ah, that strange state in which he knew the dream was a mere production of sleep but still seemed of utmost importance to return to. The halves tore apart; water began gushing into the craft. Some part of him knew he could let go just as easily as he could awaken and avoid the heart-pounding fear of being dragged into the mouth of the ocean, but somehow that wasn't an option. He couldn't let it be destroyed, couldn't let it go...
In an instant, his eyes were wide open, staring at the wall next to his bed and belatedly realizing the loud noise that had awakened him was a thunderclap from outside. The rain continued to make its hail sound against his window pane as he sighed tiredly and rubbed his eyes, absently noting that his weather prediction had been correct after all. He'd rub it in their faces later. A dull buzz, however, made him pull his fingers away to glance at the cell phone he'd left on vibrate on his night stand.
Damn. He swiped up the phone and put it to his ear before he could comprehend what the letters on the caller ID translated to. "DiNozzo," he croaked out. Silence was his response. He looked down quickly to the glowing screen, figuring he'd missed the call, but a steadily increasing count of seconds and the name 'Gibbs' decried that theory. He tried to listen again, hearing what sounded like white noise in the background. "Boss?" He wondered if he wasn't just still dreaming.
The use of his nickname and the rather quiet voice made his heart start to pick up speed. He hoped he was wrong; that he was simply overreacting because he was still half-asleep. But he couldn't pretend he hadn't heard that tone of voice. Couldn't pretend that silence that ticked by hadn't woken him up more than any roll of thunder ever could.
"Get your gear and call Tim."
Suddenly, Tony's stomach didn't feel so great. "Port to Port?" Again, all he heard for a while was the steady patter of rain on the other end of the line. He tried to brush off the strangeness of the situation with a casual air. "Where to?" Spotting a pair of pants hanging off of the corner of the bed, he snatched them and stood up, trying to get dressed one-handedly. His limbs felt somewhat numb; he told himself it must be lack of sleep.
Tony froze. This time it was his lips that refused to reply.
"Fill you in when you get here."
The thunder outside sounded like a death sentence. He felt himself start to grow alarmed. It was one of those rains that washed everything that existed away into darkness, an abyss of memory that you either let go or drowned in. May rains always brought change he could live without and he wondered what it was this time. His mind restrained the question he knew he needed to ask. But then flashes invaded his mind: the boat, the ocean... two wavy brown haired women who were tied together by these rains yet were so diametrically opposed. The pull of those sultry eyes and the hands on his neck when she'd shown him the sun shining yesterday morning - the day before? And above all, the knowledge that May rains always had something to do with her. Her, and death.
"Is Ziva on her way?"
The line went dead in the middle of the query. Tony pulled the phone away and stared at it for a second before crushing the queasy feeling in his stomach and calling McGee.
He could just barely make out Ducky's hat against the night but Palmer was in clear view under a streetlight, kneeling beside a dark, prone form on the street. Mortality had already chilled him to the marrow yet he found he wasn't surprised when it hit him that Gibbs had mentioned nothing related to death. Voices said so much more than words.
McGee strode out of Tony's car and marched past the latter before losing his nerve and turning a needy face to him for strength. There was no use facing whatever this was alone. Ducky's van was the largest source of light. Gibbs stood still under the rain. In the only other vehicle, Tony could barely make out Vance. Tim was still staring at him with a question neither was sure he wanted to know the answer to.
They walked beside each other, facades of composure woven together by strings of dust. But when McGee turned toward Gibbs, Tony could only be magnetically drawn to the body sprawled in a blanket of wetness, soaking up rain like blood.
A strange mess of emotions plagued him when he saw the pale face of Mike Franks outlined by the cold black pavement. He was incredulous. He felt as if he were looking at something impossible; as if Mike had been some mythological god who had never been meant to die but did. Tony glanced up at Gibbs' face for a second, seeing that same vulnerability there that he had rarely if ever seen on either of these great men's features. It wasn't wholly that, though. He'd thought... thought that it hadn't been him. It had never even crossed his mind because it had seemed so insane while his growing fear had felt so real. The real emotion that plagued him, made him loathe himself was something he didn't want to - couldn't admit...
He loved and hated that his acute sense of loss had been preceded by a fleeting feeling of relief.
Ziva was different that night. Some strange metamorphosis was assaulting her because otherwise he couldn't explain why the sight of her made his survival senses start to kick in. Why he was struck with the possibility that he'd been fooling himself and it was, in fact, her lying open on the autopsy table, for the reason that she looked far more ghostly than alive.
She looked like the paradox she was, facing the moonlight, back to the darkened squad room. The edges of her form glowed in an ethereal lightness while the rest of her silhouette disappeared to sink into blackness. He couldn't tell if she was more likely to float away or melt through his fingers. All of these years, the last thing he would have ever described her as was fragile; and yet, something had been fading since he'd brought her back from the African desert. Something was blowing away her emotional padding and leaving this shaking shell of paper even though he knew she was a woman far stronger than almost any man he knew. At least as strong as all of them.
When she turned around, he knew she had seen him but saw little recognition in her eyes. He was less surprised to know she'd been aware of his presence beforehand than of that look in her gaze that made her scream empty and alone. His eyes had looked like that once, he remembered. When those boat dreams had started nearly two years ago.
There had been something dangerous about the Ziva back then, something painful; not because she could torture his body with a paperclip but because she had learned to tear through his emotions like a machine gun. It had killed him, knowing that he had incited her hate, driven his best friend away to the ends of the earth while she suffered alone in her pain. But there was something far worse now. She was right in front of him and yet she had made herself totally solitary, withdrawn in her bubble of experience and according hopelessness.
Her face, practically void of makeup, reminded him so much of the face of the Ziva he'd grown to accept after Kate. Yet, there was something so incredibly different. That Ziva had been young. It wasn't that she looked aged, that wasn't it at all. Instead, something within her had grown older, something that had replaced youthful obedience and resilience with the old consciousness of someone who had done and seen so much. It dawned on him that that summer in Somalia had done this to her; that she'd had a small eternity to do nothing but reflect, regret, repent. An endless cycle. And like all endless cycles, at some point, they stopped being worth it. That she seemed to have reached that point was scaring the hell out of him.
A crack resounded in his mind.
"It is not fair," she muttered to no one; him; anyone. "That only humans can be damaged goods." The last part was spit out in a harshness he could only describe as mechanical. "Damaged goods." Her weakened voice was only amplified by the hairline fracture he saw developing on her small frame. How to respond? She'd never shied away from the truths of life but then she'd never been so shaken by them. He wanted to grab her shoulders and pull her back to the sunlight of the day before, away from the banks of the River Styx she suddenly seemed to know so well. But this time, he hesitated. He wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't simply tumble in after her.
How rapidly could a soul sink irredeemably into death.
There was that ocean again.
It had hardly died down and he didn't know why. He didn't care. All he knew was he was swimming, one arm pulling forward, the other desperately following, legs kicking, mouth gasping up for air like his life depended on it. He still felt the chain but he couldn't see the boat and somehow that scared him more than the dark clouds alone ever could. This had happened before, he reassured himself. It would float back to him as it always had and rescue him. But a part of him knew where the boat was just as well as he knew what the insistent tug on his leg meant. It meant that if he didn't keep on swimming painfully, however aimlessly, the craft would forever be lost.
And that from that day forward, he would live his dreams eternally drowning..