The elevator doors close. The pristine brushed-metal walls box you in within a room devoid of sensation. The fluorescent light overhead flickers as if it is about to die.
Though this is the NCIS elevator, this is not the friendly representation of your other dreams. This is a cold, lonely box with a slightly bluish hue to its lighting--almost like someone has pressed the stop button and killed the power.
The elevator dings. It is a sad, lonely sound that reverberates in the silence on your eardrums like the shrill end of a title theme. The doors open. You look down a dimly lit corridor. A few steps in front of you, to the side, are automatic sliding glass doors.
They read, simply, AUTOPSY. Maybe they say more in reality, but in your dream that one word is all that is needed--if that.
The Medical Examiner--DR. DONALD MALLARD, affectionately known as "DUCKY"--pulls on surgical gloves as he walks by the doorway. He is an older gentleman, probably in his seventies by now, with a certain youthfulness and a merry twinkle to his eyes. A bachelor, possibly a heart-breaker back in his day. Although he appears here in surgeon-style scrubs, Ducky has the look of someone one expects to see in a tweed suit with a bow-tie and a nice bowler or flat-cap, probably tailed by a herd of corgi. When he speaks, he is soft-spoken, with a natural, but very subtle, Scottish accent.
He greets with a surprised smile, then a small friendly scolding.
You really should be more careful with your playthings.
Following behind Ducky is his eager and ever-present assistant, JIMMY PALMER. Although he has been with NCIS Major Case Division for almost ten years, sometimes it is easy to forget he is not a fresh-out-of-college intern.
As he passes you, following Ducky with a puppy-like perkiness, Palmer gives one of his classically awkwardly-cheery smiles. You frown at them both and trail behind. The door closes behind you.
You're struck by the eerie similarity to the wording of another conversation many days ago and a meaning for 'playthings' that Ducky--the real Ducky--would never adopt. As your mind wanders, it carries you over to the wall of drawers.
Yes. Miss Sciuto has been kind enough to tidy up after you.
--And I put them away in their drawers.
The drawers are about two feet wide, maybe a foot-and-a-half tall, and about seven feet deep, made of stainless steel. They are cold to the touch. Arranged in orderly rows and columns, they take up the entire wall. The first drawer opens with a drawn-out, heavy rolling clang. The body of a woman lays on the slab, mostly covered by a sheet. She is beautiful, red-headed, and still as bloody now as she was in death.
(reading from a clipboard)
He pauses and looks up at you, a frown of curiosity on his face.
Hey, you were assigned as her body-guard, weren't you?
Palmer looks earnestly at you from over the body, his face masked partly behind the reflection of the fluorescents on his glasses. Remember, Palmer never means to say these things. He has a worse brain-to-mouth filter than you do.
You feel a tight lump in your throat. You can almost see the Director's blood on the floor of that diner.
You were her bodyguard; you failed at that.
Moving along, Mr. Palmer.
Palmer's dumb smile is shaken off and he snaps to, closing that drawer and opening another.
Right! Moving along...
This body is covered completely. Her blood stains the sheet. It is clear her body is not completely intact underneath it.
(with sincere gravity in his voice)
I believe you will recall her death well enough. Paula Cassidy
. Victim of a suicide-bomber.
(a pause as he reconsiders his words)
Well, self-sacrificed, but a victim nonetheless.
Cassidy and the bomber disappear behind the closing false-wall. A moment later, you can feel the blast vibrate through your entire body.
You had been close enough--you might have done something...
The sound of the drawer shutting shakes you from your thoughts.
By the time the third drawer opens, you know who to expect.
Her eyes are still open, wide as they were when the assassin's bullet passed through her skull, into her brain. Your face feels sticky as if from her blood-splatter against your cheek all over again. The bullet wound through her forehead is dark red against her pale skin.
I believe Catlin
needs no introduction.
There was a time, and sometimes it feels like not that long ago, that it was Cate glaring at you from the desk across the aisle.
A familiar desk. One you have stared at and memorized more than you care to admit. A familiar desk that now has a blue and white Israeli flag in the pen cup.
Ducky and Palmer watch you silently.
There is a fourth drawer, and for the time being, it sits empty. I believe you already know who was meant to occupy it.
Ducky opens his fist. A slim gold Star-of-David pendant hangs from a thin chain.
The hand of Fate, Agent DiNozzo, is not always so obliging. I suggest you reconsider your choices this time as you may not get a second chance. ...I am reminded of a time when I visited Santiago...
You wake up before you can hear Ducky's story.