A Life Dissected
by B. Cavis
A Life Dissected
by B. Cavis
The first time he shows up on her doorstep, eyes red and face rough with stubble, she gives him a hot shower and a weak cup of coffee. They sit together at her kitchen table, while she tries not to feel awkward about the fact that she is seeing him in so normal a setting. He belongs in the midst of a battle. Dark and wicked amongst the red sands.
He doesn’t belong at her table, and yet here he is. The room seems too small to hold him, and she resists the urge to apologize for… something.
His hands are clean and his fingernails are soft and white from the heat of the water. When he came in, there was blood under them. She saw some clinging to the back of his neck when he slipped past her into her sanctuary.
He swallows when he catches her looking at his hands, and folds his fingers up into two loose fists on the table top. “It… was someone else’s,” he says uncomfortably, and she doesn’t say anything. She pours them both more, and when he looks up at her from over the rim of his cup, she is carefully examining her own nails with clinical attention to detail.
He did the same thing when he came in. There was no blood underneath her fingernails.
When he finishes his cup, he takes it to the sink and puts it in the dishwasher without looking like it’s a big thing. She doesn’t jump up to play the good hostess with him, and when she finishes her coffee, she stares down at the bottom of the cup for a long time.
“Why did you come here?” she asks quietly after he has washed and dried his hands. He smells like the soap from her shower and the sickeningly sweet lemon dish detergent she has out here that the cleaning lady likes. He shrugs, and she nods absently. “Hm.”
She tries not to think about what it means that she can understand him without verbal communication.
He offers none of his own insights into this matter, but the thoughts running through his head are rapid fire quick and ferociously honest. She is like him. She is alone, yet not, and she fights for the same thing he does with the same dedication she does.
She would kill and die and fight and lie for her and her own. He would do the same. Has done the same. Maybe that means they have some sort of Way of the Warrior Clichéd understanding with one another. Maybe it just means that they are two lonely people in lonely lives.
He tells himself that his look at the couch as he leaves is not “longing.” She tells herself she’s not pleased that is was.
She smells him in her shower for days to come, even though she knows that a shower doesn’t maintain body smells. She doesn’t wash the towel he used. When she dries herself off, he leaves his scent on her and every now and then she’ll turn and catch the smell of him radiating off of her skin and feel strange about something.
She throws the towel into the laundry bin once it starts to smell like mildew.
The second time, he is covered in Armani and cologne. His eyes are dead and his body stutters when he walks. She watches him come into her space, sighs, and knows that everything is pushing on him from different directions at once, and none of it is healthy.
She tells herself not to be another pressure, and when he climbs out of her shower and into the set of clothes that she keeps her for visiting men (not like she gets a hell of a lot who stay the night), she offers him a trash bag in which to throw the suit. She watches the beautiful creation vanish under black plastic and doesn‘t say anything about it being salvageable of “a shame” the way her mother would have. She doesn’t make him sit at the kitchen table-- she’s scared he wouldn’t be able to hold himself upright, so she brings a cup of tea into him as he sits on the couch and stares at the world just beyond his nose.
He drinks deeply, hurriedly, and she pours him another cup with a small smile of self-satisfaction in being able to do something good for someone. He looks at her and tells her that she makes a very capable geisha, and the sarcastic glare he gets makes him grin wide and proud.
When he falls asleep in the middle of his third cup, she carefully takes it from its balancing act between his fingers and lap. The movement jerks him back to himself, and his hand is around her wrist tight and unrelenting before she can say anything.
His eyes seek hers out, he figures out where he is, and he swallows before nodding to her, once, twice. “Okay,” he whispers, “I…” He drops her wrist quickly, and when she brings her other hand up to rub it, he looks like the guilt in his stomach is corroding him from the inside out. She says nothing.
The cups go into the sink, and when she comes back out, he has fallen asleep again. His head is tilted back over the couch, and his mouth is slightly open. She takes a blanket from the chair by the window, and tells herself that she is not showing undo concern, she is just being a good human being.
She pulls one of her pillows out of her room and puts it against one of the couch arms. He moves sleepily into whatever position she sees fit to guide him into, no reflex actions this time, and when she has his cheek nestled against the soft cotton pillow case, she takes a moment to study the firm set of his jaw and think. No reflex actions.
He trusts her not to hurt him.
She doesn’t want to give that too much weight, nor ignore it either, but this is the kind of thing that she is really bad at judging and dealing with. So she goes to bed, her own bed.
She shivers during the night. When she wakes up the next morning, her bedroom window is closed all the way and there is another, heavier (hesitant) blanket on top of her. She has two pillows again, and one smells like his skin. There’s a small crusty white spot, and it occurs to her that he was drooling on her pillow.
She examines the white spot on her own pillow with interest, and goes to get ready for work.
They lose count after that. Sometimes he spends hours just sitting on her couch, staring at the walls or reading the newspapers he has missed. Sometimes they spend entire evenings conversing in Hebrew. He corrects some of her grammar, and she doesn’t make the mistake again in his presence. He starts to teach her Arabic, because sometimes when he forgets himself he starts mumbling under his breath in it. The first time she heard him do it she told him that mumbling was not permitted in her home and that if he was going to say something, he had to actually say it.
She now has the vocabulary of a three year old. He has found her a willing and quick student.
Sometimes they touch. More often than not, they touch. Small hands sometimes materialize on the back of his neck, rubbing gently at the agony his day leaves him with. Large hands sometimes pull and push and scour her back clean from the stress of her life, leaving her muscles loose and shaking. She’ll fall asleep after one of these sessions, and when she wakes up she’s in bed with her belt off and a soft shirt close at hand for her to slip on. He’s never there.
And every time this happens, she puts the shirt on and ignores the fact that she really wants him to be there.
It grows a rhythm. A pattern of behavior. She comes to expect him at least three times a month, and when he shows up more often than that she feels a little swell of happiness in her stomach. When it’s less than that, she tells herself that she isn’t looking around for him like he will show up in the darker corners of her apartment or walk out of her shower with a towel around his shoulders.
He has days marked off on his calendar with a blue “C” on them. When he leaves her, he marks the date down, and days later when he sits alone and needs something warm in his stomach, he pulls out the book and runs his fingers over the blue indents on the page. It’s a cold comfort, but it’s a comfort nonetheless.
Co-dependence is a word neither one of them dare to think. Affection is something they only play with in the dark.
“Do you ever think about a family?” she asks one night. This afternoon, a young father killed his wife and beat his daughter into a coma. She kicked his legs apart harder than necessary when she frisked and cuffed him. Gibbs had thrown him up against a wall when no one but he and his two comrades were there. No one moved to stop him.
He sips at his tea and plays with a lump on the back of his head. Was that from the hand to hand training with his sparing partner? Or from the “affectionate” whack Ali had given him with his thick knuckled hand? “I could not have a family.”
“You could hide them,” she offers thoughtfully, and he tilts his head to the side to think on it for a moment.
“They would be in danger if I came near them. A family is not a family if they are unable to be together.” He prods the lump, wonders where he got it, and sighs. “I am not a stable man, Caitlin. For me to have a wife and child is a pipe dream that I can not afford to indulge in. It is a selfish wish.”
“That doesn’t mean you haven’t thought about it,” she points out, and he pauses for a long moment, his eyes on her face, before acknowledging her point with a slight incline of his head.
“I would like to have a family, Caitlin, if my situation was different.”
“You are in control of your own situation, Ari.”
The weariness comes back into his eyes and posture, and suddenly the urge to hug him and make it better the way her father used to do for her when she got that look on her face as a small child is nearly overwhelming. “I pray that you never have to face how wrong you are,” he whispers. “Because it fills me with contentment to know that you still have that choice.” He smiles, and it is not a pleasant smile, nor is it a happy smile. “This is what I was created for, Caitlin. From before birth-- I am the product of the conflict that shapes my world. I am… I am Mossad. And that is all I have ever been and it is all I will ever be.”
She sits, still and quiet for a long moment, hands folded in her lap and eyes off to the side as she adds the words and their meaning to her picture of him. He closes his eyes and goes back to rubbing the bump. It hurts, but his mother always told him to rub something that hurt in order to make it better. So he rubs.
“I think you could be more,” she says quietly, and when he opens his eyes again she has retreated to her bedroom for the night. They don’t speak of it again, and it is another two weeks before he comes to see her.
She remembers thinking of “When Harry Met Sally,” but more because she’s always secretly hated Billy Crystal than for any real reason. When she was 15, she wanted hair like Meg Ryan’s, but no matter how many products she put in it, she couldn’t get it to look like anything but her own head.
She remembers that his hands were cold and trembled slightly when she let them touch her bare skin, and how odd she thought it-- that she could undo this man. This normally so reserved, so in control man. It almost seemed foolish to think that she could have this effect on him. Like she was giving herself more credit than she was due.
But he shook under her hands. She remembers that too.
A month and a half later, three visits later, she sits on the toilet, looking down at the thin strip of blue that might spell either doom or happiness, and probably is closer to the middle than being either one. She runs a hand over her flat stomach, feeling where he nipped her belly button on Tuesday night, and swallows.
She throws the test into her kitchen trashcan and washes her hands. The radio in the corner is playing something soft and Mozart-y. She’s always loved rainy Sunday afternoons and the way they seemed beyond time and space.
She makes herself a cup of tea and sits at her kitchen table and watches the rain slip down her windowpane. The tea is warm between her hands, the steam thick and heavy against her face. There’s a coiling thought in the back of her head-- something that’s much deeper than making tea and much more pressing. She goes to her drawer and pulls out the phone book.
She writes the number for planned parenthood in her PDA under “Rachel Morgan,” an old classmate of hers from middle school who once told the whole school that Kate wore boy’s underwear, and then sits and stares at it for a long while.
When she leaves for work the next morning, the phonebook is still open. She flipped it over the numbers of pizza places before she went to bed the night before. Just in case someone decided to watch. Just in case leaving it open destroys a part of her.
She tells Gibbs because, hell, he is going to find out anyhow. She has him come over to her apartment and she makes him dinner the way she has on several other occasions, and when she sits him down on the couch and says “I have to tell you something,” he gulps.
“Katie,” he whispers, “um, I’m sorry, but I’m not… That is to say, you’re a very nice woman and I respect you and care about you, but I-”
And she starts to laugh so hard that she cries, and when her cries turn to sobbing, he holds her and strokes her hair without really understanding what’s wrong, but knowing that it is his responsibility as a man and as her friend to make it better.
When she pulls back and rubs her eyes on her sleeves, she offers a weak smile. “That’s been happening a lot, recently. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Gibbs, I’m pregnant.”
And he looks at her for a long moment, takes a deep breath, and nods. “Okay. And I take it you’re going to keep it?” showing anything but support. His voice is serious, but steady, and he looks her straight in the eyes without wincing or...
It, she thinks, and nods slowly.
“Okay,” he says again, and his shoulders are lower and less tense now. “Okay. This is what you have to do,” he says, and she listens as he outlines her life for the next nine months. Maternity leave eventually. Limited work. Less field duty. She’ll ride a desk when she gets past a certain part, but she knew that already. He tells her all of this, writes a few things down on his PDA as a to do list, and when he’s all finished she pours him a cup of strong coffee.
He sips at it, before taking her into his arms and hugging her for all he’s worth. She’s shaking, slightly, but it’s not the shake of an emotionally wounded woman, just a nervous one. He understands that. He accepts that.
“We’ll be by you for this,” he says calmly, and she nods. “Every step. We’ll be with you. Ducky’ll probably be offering to help you pick out baby names.” She giggles, and he gives her a parting squeeze before releasing her. “Anything but ‘Jethro,’ I beg of you. Your future offspring will thank you.”
Tony’s response is just as pure, if a little bit less serious. He comes to pick her up the next morning (her car is acting like a bitch again, she tells him) and when he steps inside, she gives him coffee, he takes an Eggo from the freezer, and she swallows down her nerves.
I already told Gibbs, she tells herself. That was the hard part.
“Tony,” she says, “I’m pregnant.”
And he turns, blinks at her, and looks down at his pants. “Is it mine?”
She puts a hand on her hip. “Tony, we’ve never slept together.”
“I know. That’s why I’m confused as to how it’s mine. I didn’t know I was that good.”
Eventually, inevitably, she ends up crying onto his shoulder as well, and he runs his hands over the double protrusions of her shoulder blades. He swears undying allegiance to her and “Kate Junior-- God help us,” and when they leave he holds the door to the apartment building open for her.
Abby just grins and jumps up and down a few times. She likes the idea of having someone else to play with. “Other people’s children rock!” she proclaims. “You can spoil them all you want, and then they go home with some one else who has to change diapers and deal with all of the nasty stuff.” She finishes bouncing and hugs her too, before pressing a kiss to her cheek that has Kate’s skin gray for the rest of the day.
She stops grinning long enough to fix surprisingly serious dark eyes on hers. “I didn’t know you were seeing someone,” she says. “I mean… was it…” she swallows thick and hard. “Were you rap-”
“No,” Kate cuts her off simply, and Abby’s face goes back to being clear and cheerful. “I haven’t told anyone about him. He’s… a friend.”
A friend. She tells herself that that’s all he is to her, knows that maybe she’s lying to herself, and keeps on doing it.
The next time he comes to see her, she doesn’t let him in. She hardens herself in the mirror for hours before hand in preparation for his arrival, and when the knock comes at the door she is blank and cold on the outside.
She clings to him on the inside. But she doesn’t let that show.
Don’t come here anymore, she tells him. I don’t want to see you anymore. You have a life outside of me and I have one outside of you and that’s the way it should be. The way it has to be. She keeps her voice steady. She feels her stomach rolling and clenching.
She closes and locks the door on him, walks into the bathroom, and drops to her knees in front of the toilet before emptying herself into it.
He doesn’t want this, she reminds herself. A pipe dream he can’t indulge in. A family that is not a family. He told her he doesn’t want this-- can’t have this. She knows that he won’t let himself see beyond his title. He won’t acknowledge that he is something besides Mossad.
She rubs her stomach to try and soothe the savage beast, and wipes her mouth off with a cool washcloth.
She tells herself the stains on her pillow the next morning are drool and not tears.
She has a friend of hers take her from NCIS to the doctor’s office-- Ranji. She knows, logically, that when she gives birth (as far off as that date seems) that her child will not look Caucasian, and for this reason she takes shameless advantage of Ranji’s half-Indian background. She kisses his cheek cheerfully, and when they drive off, she can feel more than one pair of eyes upon her.
Ranji goes down the hall for a “soda or something”-- he’s afraid of doctors, so she doesn’t protest. The table is cold underneath her, and the doctor’s smile is mechanical and professional.
The ultrasound shows the life inside her. She has the picture printed out, even though she can’t see anything but a gray and black blurb, and puts it into her purse, next to her brass knuckles and knife. Her baby.
Ranji nods seriously when she tells him that she needs to use him for a couple of days. She and her long legs and well formed chest have helped him avoid or end more than one relationship, and he knows that he owes her more than he can pay back. She tells him that she became involved with someone with dark skin and hair, and that she needs him to look like a boyfriend for a week or so, before never showing up at her job again. He drives her back to work, offers her a breath mint, and kisses her on the cheek.
“He’s a fool,” he whispers to her, “if he doesn’t want to be the father of this child and the husband of this woman.”
She smiles, grim but wide, and sucks on the Mento.
Ducky recommends “Thomas,” after Sir Thomas Moore. She tells him that was the name of her first boyfriend, and he nods and pulls a long list out of his pocket and hands them to her.
“How do you know it’s a boy?” she asks patiently, but he just waves a hand.
“I’m particularly fond of ‘Bruce,’” he says proudly. “It means ‘woodlands.’” She tells him that she’ll keep it in mind and then leaves quickly because she’s afraid of crying in front of any more of her colleagues.
She still hasn’t told her mother that she’s pregnant. But she doesn’t tell her mother anything, so it’s no big deal. Her father sends her a large bouquet of white roses every Friday, and keeps emailing her new information about ways to make birthing less traumatic, breast feeding less painful, and what natal disease to watch out for.
Her heart quickens at the sight of the words “Tay Sachs” and she calls to schedule an amnio as soon as she can be seen.
Ducky takes her to get it done because he refuses to get out of her car so she can go alone, and when the needle goes in, he holds her hand tight and talks of Mark Twain with her. When the results come in, he gets into the car with her once more, and asks the doctor all of the questions she wouldn’t know to ask.
She cuts him off half way through and asks in a clear voice “Is my child healthy?”
“Yes,” he answers. “Your-- did you want to know the sex?”
“It’s a boy,” she says without hesitation, and the look on his face confirms it for her. She nods and Ducky helps her into her coat.
“So,” she says as they walk past the frightened women in the waiting room, who are still looking for either confirmation or denial of their deepest, darkest fears, “Bruce?”
“It was my Uncle’s name. He was quite the fascinating individual, actually. Claimed to have discovered a better method of automotive power than that of the combustion engine.” She lets him drive this time, and as her head lolls back against the headrest, her hands come down to rest on her lower abdomen. There’s a soft tickle in her throat, and she swallows it down hard as he continues his educational speech.
When the car stops, he opens her door before she can do it herself, and bends over to put his mouth very near her belly button. His eyes are shinning. “Don’t worry,” he tells her son. “You have three devoted uncles and an aunt waiting with bated breath for you to arrive. Between the four of us, we can take care of anything your mother might not be able to deal with using her own two very capable hands. And I’ll call you Bruce no matter what name she picks out for you.”
Abby does Lamaze with her because she gets a kick out of seeing so many pregnant women in one room, and the two of them spend more time theorizing on whose child will be really, really, really ugly than actually listening to the instructor. Abby is the only one in the room with more tattoos than dollars in the bank, and when the women walk around in their Gucci sweatpants, she makes a face with Kate.
“These kids are gonna be royally screwed up,” Abby points out, and Kate agrees. She’s been raised by money. It doesn’t help things.
Every now and then, she’ll just stop in her tracks, put both hands over her stomach, and feel the discontented, furiously trapped little being in her belly; fire in his veins as he tries to get loose in order to take his place in the world. Then she’ll smile in that soft little way that she has developed when she is all alone, and push on with her day.
She throws up rarely now. Her pillow cases are only good for two nights-- one night on either side-- before the stains become bad enough to require a wash. She has become very fond of the smell of fabric softener.
When her water breaks, she wipes the liquid off of her legs, puts on a clean pair of pants (taking a moment to bemoan the fact that she can no longer see her feet without sitting down on a bed) and calls Gibbs the way she promised she would. The car that shows up has Ducky in the driver’s seat-- Gibbs was so nervous about the idea that he spilled hot coffee on his hands and had to go and get them taken care of. She laughs hard, and when he escorts her into the Maternity Ward, she is the only pregnant woman with a grin on her face and a laugh in her voice when she gives her name and her situation at the front desk.
She’s willing to bet she’s also the only one with a gun at the small of her back, and when she hands it over to Ducky, one of the father’s nervously awaiting the replacement battery for his video camera (he sent his brother home for it) moves cautiously away from the both of them.
She laughs harder.
The contractions come full fledged soon after that, and she sits in her room with Abby by her side and really, really wishes that they had paid better attention in Lamaze class. “You’re a fucking bad influence,” she hisses at the peak of one of them, hands clenched tight around the bed sheets. “I am so never letting this kid near you.”
Abby grins, lips wide and black, and when she grips Kate’s hand in her own, the black nails shine dim in the fluorescent lighting.
Gibbs offers to give her a bullet to bite on. Tony offers his phone number to one of the nurses in charge of her. Both offers are declined, and she gets an epidural because, hell, that’s what drugs are for.
They sit and watch the National News with her. When the doctor comes in, Tony and Abby leave quickly, and Gibbs holds her hand because he doesn’t know what else to do with himself right now. Ducky is talking with the doctor about dilation and numbness and using extremely big words that aren’t in his “I watched two episodes of ER” medical vocabulary. He feels helpless, and he hates to feel helpless. She focuses on his eyes and nothing else, more to help him than her.
He thanks her for it with his weak smile, and she squeezes his hand hard and firm.
When it comes time to push, and she is feeling more exposed than she ever has before in her life, she closes her eyes and thinks of rainy Sunday afternoons, Tuesday nights, and the firm warmth of his touch upon her back. She thinks about the way his hands trembled and shivered on her thighs.
His eyes fill her head the way Gibbs’s filled her eyes a few hours before, and she lets that warmth take over her as she hears the nurse congratulating her and someone screaming like a child.
She breathes in, trying not to feel the agony between her thighs, and when she is again aware of what is going on, some nurse has laid a screaming, fist waving, angry little thing on her chest, and her arms are around it before she knows what she is doing.
He screams, she laughs, and when she closes her eyes, the tears that she is finally able to admit to flow freely and without shame.
Kate opens her eyes and blinks at her alarm clock fuzzily. Three AM. No crying fills the air or splits the silence.
Her son sleeps through the night. Always. She is extremely lucky, according to every thing she has heard and read, and she doesn’t take that luck lightly. She has a happy baby, a well adjusted baby, who is fascinated by the pretty colors of the bullet wound in Abby’s lab and the pretty bouncy balls that Ducky somehow manages to make appear from behind his very small ears.
She doesn’t play kid music, but when he starts kindergarten, he will be the only child in his class who knows every word to every Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Bob Marley, and Flogging Molly song. She thinks that’s a nice enough trade off for not being able to sing the song about how he’s too big to go down the bathtub drain; besides, the music made her teeth itch after the first minute. It joined the rest of her useless baby shower presents in the RETURN FOR MONEY pile.
Gibbs got her a very nice bottle of bourbon, and Abby and Ducky pitched in with Tony and McGee (who may not be as big of a loser as she thought before) to get her a very modern looking, very soft, very dark blue crib. Of course, then they paid one of McGee’s artist friends to cover the whole things with PROPERTY OF NCIS decals and baby appropriate street graffiti.
Hell. It beats Barney.
He hates peas and loves carrots. If he could, he’d live off of egg custard and cold apple juice. He chews on his feet. For some reason, she finds that the cutest thing in the world.
She can hear him babbling, and even though he sounds happy, the deviation from the norm jerks her awake instantly.
The extra blanket falls from around her shoulders as she sits up, and she feels herself start to simultaneously fill with panic and blood lust. God, is someone hurting her child? God, is someone hurting her child? She looks over at her cell phone, knows that she could call Gibbs or Tony for help, and ignores it.
Instead, she grabs her gun out from under the corner of her mattress, slips out from under the blankets silently, and makes her way towards her son’s room. She checks every corner, she makes no noise on the carpet, and when she steps into the room, she has worked up a healthy bloodlust.
“You do seem to like your toes,” Ari comments to her child, who gurgles happily around his feet at this new presence in his space. Kate puts the gun on the changing table quietly, but doesn’t move from her place in the doorway.
Her son is lying on his back on the soft mat on the floor (it has ducks walking across it, and apparently when he saw it, the good doctor was overcome with sentimentality and “just had to get this”), kicking at the air with both feet and staring, transfixed, up at the man with a carbon copy of eyes. His mouth is open, recently vacated by his foot, and when he realizes this, he sticks his fist up and grabs Ari’s hand and pulls his finger in to replace it.
Ari stares. Transfixed.
She takes a deep breath in, out, and in again. Her son gnaws harmlessly on the finger between his lips.
“What is his name?” Ari asks breathlessly, and she smiles to herself.
“Benjamin.” He works his lips silently around the word, as if testing it out, and when he sits back and looks at her for the first time in over a year, she can see that there are tears in his eyes. She steps forward and kneels down on the other side of her-- their son-- and they look at each other as their child laughs easily between them.
“Benjamin Aleksonder Todd,” she says.
“Son. And Protector of Men,” he whispers, and she nods.
“I considered Ben-Gurion for a while,” she admits, “but that was just asking for him to get beaten up in middle school.” He laughs, and the sound is hoarse. He has tears running down his cheeks, and she brushes them away because it seems like the right thing to do.
“Son of a Lion,” he chokes out, and she smiles gently.
“You didn’t tell me.”
“You said… You couldn’t have this,” she whispers. “That it was foolish to even consider it. But… I considered it. And I liked it. I like it.” She’s crying again. She hasn’t done that in a while. “I like…”
“Family,” he concludes, and she nods.
“Yes.” Their son makes a noise of disapproval, not liking the fact that he isn’t the center of attention, and when she moves to get him, he is quicker.
Ben settles into his father’s arms, wraps the man around his little finger, and presses his head against his heartbeat. Ari closes his eyes and the tears increase. “Even if…” And he pauses, swallows, and looks nervous for the first time since she has met him. “Even if it is an incomplete family.”
“I wasn’t going to ask you to do that,” she says and tries to sound strong and rational instead of needy and halved. “I still won’t. I’m not going to make you feel like you have some obligation to me, Ari. Because you don’t. You can do what you want.”
Ben lets out a soft whine as he slips into sleep, and Ari looks down at the dark head of hair on his chest. “And if this is what I want?”
She takes a deep breath, hackles rising and armor plating itself over her body as she draws air into her lungs. “Ari, I’m not going to let you take him away from me. I’ll fight you, and you won’t win. I’ll bite you and you’ll be dead if you try and tak-”
“What if you’re what I want?” He asks, and now those eyes are on her again. She swallows. “What if I want you as my family? What then?”
She looks down at her hands, at the scab on her left thumb from where a fleeing gunny sergeant pushed her into a brick wall, and swallows. “Then I suppose I might have to get used to sleeping besides someone again.”
His kiss tastes like salt and blood. His mouth tastes like peppermint.
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