by B. Cavis
by B. Cavis
They were concise, she’d give them that. No one beat around the bush with her and no one treated her like a stupid little girl; like she was a pawn in someone else’s game.
No. That feeling was just implied.
We’re lying to your boss, they told her. We’re lying to you all. You’re all stupid, and we’re going to do what we want with or without you, and part of that means that you are going to go and do what we want. They told it to her flat out, and she respects that. At least they didn’t patronize her. At least they didn’t make her their puppy dog, wide eyed and innocent.
Ari hadn’t looked at her throughout the entire meeting. Hadn’t looked at anything but his own fingernails, actually. She had watched him examine his cuticles and wanted nothing more than to jump up and blow a large, gaping hole in his forehead.
Later on she acknowledges that the whole thing is deliciously ironic, in a strange, sick way.
“So let’s see if I have this down,” she said calmly in the middle of it. “He’s not evil.”
“No,” one of the suits proclaimed. “Mr. Haswari has proven himself to be still in the employ of the Mossad and no one else. He’s informed us where the cell is and we are ready to take it down at a moment’s notice.”
“I see, “ she said. “So basically, what you’re telling me, is that he’s just an asshole.”
“Yes,” Ari growled at her, and she smiled sweetly.
“As long as we’re all clear on that point. What does any of this have to do with me, and when is Gibbs going to be informed that this whole thing has been one giant sham?”
They told her of the bomb Haswari had planted under the table in the cafe, the remote controlled one with the pretty count down clock for show. A way of showing his loyalty to Al Qaeda, they said, without betraying the Mossad. A way of remaining a good guy. She sat, listened politely, and started to get the idea that Ari was actually smarter than he looked.
So she started playing with her nails too. She needed a manicure like nobody’s business, and made a mental note to schedule an appointment when this whole thing was over.
That had, apparently, not been the best response, because when she looked up next, the FBI men were glaring at her while the CIA rolled their eyes. “I’m sorry,” she offered charmingly, giving her best smile, “have you said anything interesting yet? I’m afraid I spaced out sometime after bomb and loyalty.”
“We need you to go undercover,” one of the CIA men had told her. “We need you to play a traitor for a while.” And they’d proceeded to explain, in great and very dull detail, exactly what they wanted her to do.
Al Qaeda was getting restless for results, they said. The Mossad was unable to get another man inside to undermine them. NCIS was the only agency that had had direct dealings with both in the past year, more especially with Ari.
Come and play the traitor, they told her. Come and be the woman who listened to her heart instead of her head and is now the girlfriend of a terrorist. Come and sit pretty with a pistol in hand and work to undermine the most dangerous terrorist organization currently on the public radar.
Ari hadn’t looked at her. She hadn’t blamed him.
“Gentlemen,” she said calmly, “it sounds like a wonderful plan. I’m not taking part in it. Good day,” and moved to get up and walk away.
Only to find Fornell blocking her way and looking seriously down at her. “You’ll be saving countless lives.”
“At the cost of my own,” she hissed. “I save lives now, Fornell. I’m damn good at it. I don’t need to go off and play his woman for however long you tell me to in order to save lives. I’m not going.”
“We can’t put a CIA or FBI operative in this situation,” he argued back, voice lower and calmer than hers. “We need someone who Al Qaeda knows has had contact with him. We need someone believable, and you’re what we’ve got.”
“And what? Tell Gibbs and the others that I’m taking a vacation? Just walk away for a few months and then come back and say ‘hey, what’s up, miss anything big?’ I don’t think so Fornell. Gibbs would never approve this and I won’t go along with it.”
“This is above Gibbs,” Morrow said from his seat around the table. “Trust me when I say, Agent Todd, this is bigger than Gibbs could ever get.”
“And how would I explain this to him?”
“He wouldn’t know.”
Her heart clenched, her teeth bared, and Caitlin Todd started yelling. “There is no way in hell I am doing this, let me out right now!”
“Let her go,” Ari spoke up, and the room grew silent. “If she wants no part in it, it is foolish to try and convince her otherwise.”
“The fucking voice of reason,” she snarled, and pushed to go past Fornell. They’re out of their minds, she told herself. They’re all fucking nuts. What exactly did they expect her to do? Just leave? Just let go of her life and her friends and her family? Just walk away from all of it with a “Oh, see you in a few years, maybe” tossed over one shoulder?
This is bullshit, she snarled to herself, and she was halfway down the hallway before they got her back in the room with the simple act of Morrow standing up, hands in fists, and snarling “Agent Todd, hold.”
She’d found herself back in the room, eyes on the floor mutinously, fists grinding together angrily. This was such bullshit, she thought to herself. Gibbs was going to eat these bastards alive when she told him.
“I am only going to say this once Agent Todd,” Morrow said, “and then you can make your decision.” He took a deep breath, rubbed his temples like a man much older and much more worn than himself. “Al Qaeda has started going after soft targets.”
Her stomach dropped out, and her head jerked up swiftly. “What?”
“They’re planning to hit the naval pier when the ships return this weekend.” He said. “We’re managed to pin down enough details that we should hopefully be able to stop them, but this is a new move for them, one that will likely continue.”
She’d turned towards Ari, heart in her stomach, and gaped at him. “Can’t you do something? I mean… you’re the guy on the inside-- can’t you do anything?” He had turned away from her, jaw clenching and knuckles white on the table. “Come on!” she’d hissed. “You’re Mossad! Are you telling me-”
“Agent Todd,” Morrow continued, and she jerked back. “As competent as Agent Haswari is, he is only one individual, one whom your boss has an axe to grind with. If Agent Gibbs’s actions against him continue, his cover may very well be blown and we will lose all hope of preventing future events like this. Al Qaeda wants him dead. They’ve sent him here to kill him.”
She stared at the dark man in the corner, eyes wide. “Are you kidding me?” She pulled her weapon out, took the safety off, and pointed it at him, not at all surprised or nervous at the sound of the ten other guns being drawn in the room, all of them pointed at her. “I’ll kill him where he stands and take his place as a grieving widow, how’s that sound? I’ve been able to fake cry since I was three. It won’t be hard.” She cocked her head at Ari. “How’s Al Qaeda’s dental plan? Competent?”
“Lacking,” he admitted with a small smirk.
“Ah well. I’ll just have to make sure to brush.”
Fornell had continued, aware of the lack of patience in this room. “We want to fake your death. The Mossad has the technology to make if happen. Al Qaeda will view it as Haswari making the best of a bad situation and working to promote their agenda; the disruption of NCIS and the emotional destruction of Gibbs when it was made clear he wouldn’t be able to take him out. As for you, we’ll give you enough information to feed them for them to view it as a severing of ties with NCIS that leaves them shattered and welcome you as a traitor with open arms.”
She hadn’t dropped her weapon. “You want me to die.”
“And Gibbs won’t be told of it.”
“We need his reaction to be believable.” Fornell shifted uncomfortable, and she had a brief flash of pity for him. He and Gibbs were tight-- well, as tight as they could be.
“I can’t do that to them. I refuse to do that to them. Gibbs, Tony, McGee, Abby, and Ducky are my team. I won’t do that to my team.”
“The team won’t all be in the dark,” one of the faceless nameless G-Men spoke up, and she looked towards him with a raised eyebrow. “In order to keep your cover, Agent DiNozzo and Dr. Mallard will be informed.”
“So I’d only be emotionally destroying half of my team with a lie,” she snarled. “Wow. What a fucking incentive.”
Ari didn’t move out of range and the guns around her didn’t lower. She felt her arm getting heavy and her stomach swelling uncomfortably-- the way it used to when she would put off homework in high school to go and make out with her boyfriend. Guilt.
She had the sudden image flash through her head of a pier, scorched black, and covered with dismembered body parts. A little girl’s arm, lying bloody and stumped off to the side held a teddy bear, burnt down to a hard lump of plastic and synthetic fibers.
“How many people are going to be on that pier this weekend,” she’d asked Ari quietly, and he took a breath.
“Over 500. Mainly women and children greeting the troops as they return home.”
She closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and when she opened them again, she was looking down at the floor, gun drooping not an inch. “Tony and Ducky would know?”
Morrow nodded. “Yes. Agent DiNozzo will be on the scene when you are shot, and Ducky will be the one to forge the autopsy report. A closed casket funeral will be held, everyone will be very sad, and you and Mr. Haswari will go to work.”
“It’s impossible to say. It could be months, it could be years.” She wiped her eyes like a little girl, swiping her sleeve across them and smearing her eye shadow.
“Years,” she whispered. “Huh.”
“You would be permitted contact with Agent DiNozzo,” Morrow offered softly, and she looked at him. “To make the adjustment easier as well as to pass on any information we need you to receive.”
“Tony’s a spook,” she whispered, and it wasn’t a question. No one denied it, and she sighed deeply. “Of course. Because if you’re going to take a good man down, I suppose there’s no better way than to kill one agent and leave another around to manipulate him. You guys really are good at what you do.” She’d wiped her eyes again and put the gun away. “I hope you all burn in hell for it.”
“You’ll do it?” Fornell asked quietly, and she pushed her gun into her holster, thought of that little girl’s arm, and nodded, trying not to cry in front of the big boys. “Good. Stay here while we make the appropriate arrangements.”
They filed past her, she supposed to give her some privacy, and she kept her eyes on the carpet, wondering if they would be able to get her vomit out of it if it came to that. She’d hate to make too much work for the janitorial staff, after all.
Ari hadn’t said anything as he walked past her, motorcycle helmet under his arm, but the warm handkerchief he’d pressed into her hand had been as shocking as anything. She looked up at him, eyes rimmed in red and bottom lip bleeding from her teeth marks.
“Dry your eyes,” he said, not unkindly. “You’ve just done the hardest part.”
“I just did my duty,” she said, steel infusing itself against her spine, improving posture and strength. “That’s all.”
She thought back to all of those days, standing up in her classroom as a child and reciting “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands…” She used to watch it up there, waiting for lunch to roll around, and wondered what it would be like to dedicate her whole life to something greater than herself.
Well, she thought, I just got an answer.
“As you wish,” he said, and walked past her.
The room had felt unbearably empty. She had pulled a chair out of the table and sat down, looking at the handkerchief and thinking about crying for a long time.
She hadn’t protested when Fornell had come to get her.
It’s almost like waiting for a new puppy, she decides, only a lot darker. She and Tony haven’t made serious eye contact all day, and she soothed Abby’s fears with a quick hand and a quicker tongue.
Tony won’t be covered in blood today, she knows. Just her life.
She has to hand it to the Mossad. They know how to make a device. The man who had fitted her with the tiny dye pack against her forehead had been about half her size and didn’t speak more than five words of English, but he spoke fluent Italian, and she conversed with him for a long while about politics and the Sunday Fashion page in The New York Times.
It’s barely noticeable, she thinks as she stands in front of the bathroom mirror, fixing her makeup. Thinner than a band aid-- a tiny circular adhesive dye pack the size of a penny on the center of her forehead, perfectly matched to her complexion. There’s one hidden under her hair in the back of her head, bigger and thicker. An exit wound waiting for the signal.
The things she does for fashion, she tells herself with a sigh and a grimace that even she can’t turn into a smile.
“Kate? You in there?” comes a gentle voice at the door, and she turns to see the man she called brother step inside with more seriousness lingering around his mouth then she’s ever seen him produce. He looks at her, playing with her lipstick at the bathroom mirror, and his eyes turn sad. “Oh, Kate, honey.”
And now she’s crying again, hands wrapped around his neck, face in his lapel, and he’s stroking her back (not her hair, she notes-- might dislodge the dye pack) while she whimpers her plight to him and begs him to make it all better. “I don’t wanna go,” she chokes. “Please don’t make me, I don’t want to go.”
Tony closes his eyes and focuses on the living, beautiful woman in his arms, and prays that when he gets her back she’ll be just as alive and just as pure, despite all odds to the contrary. Don’t let it touch her, he asks God, and hates the fact that it will. No one goes into a spook’s life without ending up dirty. No one can. He’s proof of that.
“It’ll be okay,” he tells her, holding her through it and wishing he could mean that. “I promise you,” he whispers, as if somehow that makes him more powerful or her more safe. “I promise you it’ll be okay. I’ll look out for you. If he tries anything, you tell me and I’ll come and get you. We’ll run off into the sunset together, Katie doll, and drink little drinks with umbrellas in them all the time.”
She laughs through her tears, choking and horrible to listen to, and he pulls back to kiss her on the mouth just once, closed mouth and soft. She looks up at him, eyes rimmed in red, hopeless and emptied. He picks her up and puts her on the counter, then goes about fixing her makeup.
“Where’d you learn to do this?” she asks him half-way through, as he applied her eyeliner with a steady hand and pinpoint accuracy.
“I used to be a woman. It was great, I got to feel myself up in the shower.”
She laughs and he grins at her, relieved at the sound. His Kate’s back.
Good. She can’t go into something like this emotionally empty. She has to be ready for anything and everything.
“So who are you?” she asks quietly, and he paused in his application of her lip liner. “I just…. I mean, if you don’t want to tell me I understand. I…” She looks lost again. He continues with the lip pencil and takes a deep breath.
“I’m MI-6,” he says, and she growls.
“Do all of the agencies just spend all their Goddamned time spying on each other?”
“The good ones, yeah.”
“Where’s your accent?”
“Want me to put it on for you?” She watches him for a while, then sighs.
“Nah. I’d rather not have things more complicated right now. So apparently, you and Ducky are my only friends for the next few years.” She shrugs. “That’s kind of sad, DiNozzo, no offense.”
“None taken.” He finishes with her lips and rubs some of the foundation into her cheeks to hide the red flush. “So I take it you’re not all that hot on the whole Haswari part of this deal.”
“Me or him?” he grins at her.
“Pick one. God, Tony, I don’t know what to do. I can’t play this guy’s girlfriend for the next however many years of my life if I hate him this much, but I can’t ignore this assignment. They want me for it and I can’t turn it down.” She rubs her neck, feeling the tension gather. “What do I do?”
He stands back, examines her, and takes a deep breath. “Try and compartmentalize. Create two separate people for yourself. One is Agent Kate Todd, NCIS, servant of the United States government, and a woman who could kick my ass any day of the week.” He coaxes a smile from her and continues. “And the other is just Caitlin. Just a woman with a man, trying to make him happy while not giving too much of herself up. You ever been in love, Kate?”
“Yeah.” She thinks of the boys she’s known, the men she’s been with, and the few who have made her feel like the Earth beneath her feet was aflame and her stomach was full of razorblades whenever she opened her mouth to talk to them. She’d fallen like that for her first Chem professor in college.
His hands had always been cold when he’d touched her, and it was one of her first sexual experiences of her life. She’s since associated cold hands with sex, but she supposes that she shouldn’t think of him right now. He broke her heart eventually.
“Keep that feeling right here,” he puts a hand over her stomach. “Hold it in your belly and when you need to keep yourself believing it, just pull it out. You are in love with this man. You have to believe it in order to survive. The first part of convincing anyone of anything is convincing yourself first. It’s hard, I know it is, but you can do it. You’re strong enough to do it.”
“What if I’m not?” she whispers, and it lets all of the little fears out. What if I fail, something inside her has been screaming for the past twenty four hours, desperate and frightened, and she tells it to Tony and watches as he absorbs all of her fear in on himself.
“You are,” he orders her, and she feels her back straightening again. “I know you. You are strong enough for this. You can pretend without falling in, and if you get scared that you might be, tell me about it. You’re not going to be alone, Katie. I’ll be there every step of the way, and if you need someone, you can come to me with it.”
“What if you’re not there?”
“Then go to Haswari.” She balks, and he sticks his hands up. “I know, I know, I wouldn’t suggest it in any other situation. But despite all evidence to the contrary, Kate, he’s not the boogey man. He’s not even a bad guy. Anyone else, and I include a lot of people I’ve known and worked with, would just shoot Gibbs and get it out of the way. They work to keep us all safe, and even if you can’t understand his actions, you need to try and trust him. It’s the only way either one of you are getting out of this moderately unscathed.” He touches her cheek softly. “He won’t hurt you, Kate. He’s not the enemy.”
“I know,” she says, but it sounds hollow in her own ears. He brushes the hair back behind her ears.
“Do you trust me?”
“You know I do.”
“Then trust what I’m telling you. You have to trust Haswari. Honestly, if the guy lets anything happen to you, he’s as good as dead too. You think he wants that? If you can’t trust that he’s a good guy, trust that he’s got one hell of a survival instinct.”
She thinks about it for a moment, and he makes sure that the dye packs haven’t been unsettled by their actions. “I think I can do that.”
“Good. You’ll be briefed on the plane, and they’ll give you your method of contacting me, as well as the things you have to learn.” He grins at her, and she knows that no matter who he works for, this is Tony. Her Tony. Her friend. “Try and go easy on the guy. He’s gotta live with you for the next God knows how long. I’d have thrown myself screaming from the top of the building by now.”
She elbows him. He uffs appropriately, and they walk out.
He keeps his eyes trained on the back of her head, and offers another desperate prayer that that won’t be the last time she elbows him.
Jesus, Kate thinks to herself, as Tony mourns on top of her and the FBI swarms the rooftop, it’s fucking hard not to blink. It’s like being told you have to think about anything except for a giant pink and blue armadillo walking across the lawn and vomiting up coins.
Gibbs is still staring at the rooftop where her newly appointed partner in life is packing up his “gun” and escaping. His mouth is open, gasping breaths are coming from him, and she meets Tony’s eyes for a quick moment, still staring blankly upwards, and warns him psychically that he had better fucking take care of the older man or he is going to be in serious trouble when she gets back.
The FBI grabs her body and zips her into a body bag, and she feels a tug at her ankle as Gibbs comes back to himself and tries to grab onto her. “No,” he’s hoarsely saying, and she feels her heart break. “You can’t take her-- why are you zipping her up, what’s… No,” he hisses as the nearest Agent tries to tell him he has to let go. “I swear to God you bastard I’ll shoot you if you don’t let go of her right now!”
Tony talks him down, or tries, and she feels the grip on her ankle be forcefully removed. Her entire body aches, longs for him to be okay again, and the knowledge that she can’t get up and hug him hurts her worse than she ever thought it could.
Take care of him, she wills Tony to know. Please God take care of him. He’s your responsibility now. Don’t let him do anything stupid and don’t let him get hurt.
She wants him whole and solid when she gets back. She prays she gets what she wants.
They load her onto a truck, and she’s just starting to get slightly afraid that she’s going to be shown to the wrong morgue and discovered as a living person when Fornell unzips the body bag and hands her a towel to wipe the blood of her forehead. She lifts a finger to taste it gingerly. It’s real, and she has absolutely no desire to know where the hell it came from.
Some things are better left in the realm of THINGS NOT KNOWN. This is one of them.
“Ducky’s waiting for you,” Fornell says, offering a grim smile. “You’re not done with the blood and makeup part yet today, unfortunately.”
“You guys can fake autopsies?”
“Sure. Haven’t you seen all those videos floating around with the aliens in them?” She laughs mildly and lies back down on the stretcher. Her back hurts from being jostled with all of the care they show the dead around here. “It sounds like Gibbs took it hard,” he offers quietly, and she looks up at him, suddenly very aware that despite the fact that he is one of the men who has put her in this position, he’s not a bad guy. “Almost shot a couple of my agents.”
“You’ll take care of him?” She pushes an arm underneath her head, the way she did that first day on Air Force One, and he nods firmly. “I need you to promise me, Fornell. You can’t let him do anything stupid to himself or anyone else.”
“Gibbs isn’t that kind of guy.”
“You haven’t seen him when he feels like he’s failed us,” she says calmly. “I have. You have to promise me, right now, that when I get back I won’t find him dead and buried because he swallowed a bullet or put himself in a place where he wanted one pumped into him.” He looks uncomfortably at his shoes. “Promise me,” she says in the voice that Tony used yesterday on her to make her back straighten and her own strength apparent again.
It works. She’s contemplating using it on a daily basis from now on. “I promise.”
“Good. Where’s Ducky meeting us?”
“CIA Headquarters. Officially, he’s helping us with some of the terrorists you guys killed today so that NCIS won’t be shut out of the investigation. Unofficially… he’s the only one Gibbs will trust if he says you’re dead and there’s no point in bothering.”
Ducky smiles at her when he sees her. “Kate, you look surprisingly good for a deceased.”
“My back hurts,” she offers with a smile.
“Well, we can’t have everything.” He gives her a cup of hot chocolate and a box of sushi that he picked up from the neighborhood Korean grocer. She wolfs it down as he prepares to fake his first ever autopsy. One of the CIA men is standing by to help, and he offers her a dry smile.
“Mr. CIA Man,” she says, channeling Abby for comfort, and Ducky laughs merrily.
“Now then, Kate, lay back on the table, please, and remove your clothing.” She shifts, and he turns the other way respectfully, but she still finds her hands shaking as she undoes her pants and pulls her shirt off. The CIA man has followed Ducky’s display, but when she lays down on the table, an arm thrown over her chest and a sheet pulled over her body, she still feels more naked than she ever has in her entire life.
Ducky turns back around and smiles as her, dressed in the blue scrubs she has seen him in a hundred times before, and she tries to smile back but it sticks in her throat. He eases the prosthetics on, pulls the sheet off at the same time, and she is naked but not. The fake chest that’s been pulled over her is spilt, ribs cut on either side, and she looks down at the surprisingly realistic shot of the inside of her body with a wince.
“Put these contacts in, keep your eyes open, and do your best to look dead,” CIA man volunteers, and she looks to Ducky for confirmation before she does anything. She stares up at the ceiling, the flash of a camera blinks, and she takes a deep breath through her nose as Ducky puts something around her mouth to make her appear more dead, and rubs some makeup underneath her eyelids. The flash comes again, and she stays as still as possible.
“You’re doing wonderfully, Caitlin,” Ducky offers, and she winces as a needle is stuck in her blood. “Sorry, we need a blood sample. Standard.”
“I know,” she whispers, and goes still again to let another picture be taken. The CIA man is relentless, and she doesn’t want to be difficult-- she doesn’t have the energy. It’s been a long day, she’s fucking tired, and she wants this over with.
Ducky touches her hair, brushes it aside to put some of the pre-prepared makeup on her, and she wants it to never end. She doesn’t want him to leave, she doesn’t want to leave herself, she never, ever wants to go. “This reminds me of an incident when I was a young medical student at Edinburough,” he begins, and she closes her eyes to let him talk, breathing in as she tears slip down her cheeks and are wiped away by clean sterile wipes.
Her last lecture. How fitting that she’s the one on the slab for it.
The final picture is taken, the final flash done, and Ducky places a fresh pair of clothing in front of her along with (miracle upon miracle) a hair tie, and the CIA man leaves the room as he turns away. She dresses in the soft linen, ties her pants tightly, and buttons up her shirt. She looks like she belongs in warmer climates.
Soon, she thinks sadly to herself, shudders, and touches Ducky’s shoulder gently. “I already told Fornell this,” she says gently, “but I want to cover all bases… You’ll take care of him? Make sure he’s not doing anything stupid?”
“I promise. Rest easy, my dear. I’ve been dealing with Jethro for years, and I will for years to come.” He smiles, fatherly and warm, and she’s all cried out but she wants to give him a few tears. An emotional epiphany to remember her by.
“I’ll miss you,” she whispers instead, eyes dry but heart weeping. He takes her into a hard, long hug, and she breathes in the smell of him with her eyes closed. The contacts are killing her, and she wants desperately to take them out, but she can’t bear to let him go. “I’ll write through Tony, I promise.”
“I’ll miss you too,” he offers weakly, hugging her tight and close. He means it and he knows it; Caitlin Todd is one of those women that his mother warned him about-- the kind that steals a little bit of your heart and holds it until the day you die, tight and strong in their fist.
They may never notice you, but you notice them.
“I’m sorry I have to leave,” she says, and the door opens to reveal the men who are going to escort her to her destiny. He touches her cheek and strokes her until she calms down. “I don’t want to, but I have to.”
“So I am,” he whispers. “But I will keep a candle lit for you every night, Kate. Until you come back to us, I will wait for you.” `
“It’s time to go,” one of the men announces. She pulls back and kisses the old man’s cheek.
“I love you. Take care of them?”
“Always. Be brave.”
“Always,” she replies, and the two of them give each other one last, long look before she picks up the bag that’s been prepared for her and walks out with the men, not daring to look back. She’s afraid she’ll throw herself at Ducky’s feet and never let go-- never release him and beg him to do the same.
There’s a void in her.
Ducky watches her back, watches her walk away, and closes his eyes and rub them. He feels old-- older than he has in years. He is fully his age at this moment, all cricked bones and arthritic joints; worn.
He is old. She is gone.
Fornell kisses her on the cheek before she gets on the plane, and she tries not to stare at him in shock. “Be careful,” he warns, not smiling and not cheerful, and she nods, the same seriousness taking her over as well. This isn’t a time to joke, she supposes, but she wishes it was. She deals with uncomfortable situations by smiling, and being unable to grin makes her feel awkward and nervous.
He hands her a cell phone. “It’s an unlisted, untraceable number. Secure. If you need anything, the two of you, my number is speed dial one.”
“On the plane you’ll find out how to contact him. MI-6 has its own protocols.” He nods. “Take care of yourself.”
He nods and walks away calmly. She watches his back until he goes inside, and then turns to walk up into the private plane, pushing through the black suited men and the different languages to find herself a seat off away from the others, a place alone in quiet.
She breathes in, closes her eyes, and takes out her MP3 player and a copy of the crossword puzzle. She’s caught in Beethoven and 32 Across, “Public Image Briefly” when she becomes aware of another person sitting across from her.
Ari offers a smile a lift of his hand to wave a few fingers. “Rep,” he says.
She takes her headphones out. “What?”
“Rep. The answer your looking for-- Rep. R-E-P.”
“I know how to spell rep, thank you.” She doesn’t fill it in immediately, not wanting to give him the pleasure in proving him right, but when her pen moves he smirks and looks away from her quickly thrown up glare. “Did you want something?”
“Not unless you’re offering something.”
“Then I want a nap. Please be quiet.” He leans back, closing his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest.
“I am not the one making the noise,” she stutters, feeling like she’s dealing with a more evil version of Tony. “Your- Your cronies are the ones doing all the talking.”
“Says the woman currently speaking,” he drawls, and she contemplates throwing her bag at his head for all of three seconds before deeming him unworthy of her conversation and attention and looking away calmly. “No more quips for me, darling?” She pointedly says nothing. 37 down is a problem, and she’s busy biting on the end of her pen eagerly. He opens one eye, looks at her, and closes it firmly again. “You don’t like me.”
“Wow. Psychic as well as evil. Your mother must be so proud.” His face closes down, eyes going dark. She wants to bite her tongue, rip it off, but she can’t force herself to say “I’m sorry.” She’s leaving it all, she thinks, glancing out the window, watching as the runway starts to go by at an accelerated pace. She’s going away from it all, and he’s the cause of it. She sets her jaw, bites down her regret for a low blow, and hopes he chokes on his own spit.
He closes his eye again firmly and she goes back to her crossword.
When she’s sure he’s asleep, sure she’s alone, Kate puts her crossword down and looks down from the clouds, watching the United States fly by underneath her and feeling very vulnerable all of a sudden. She’s so small, she thinks. In comparison to it all, she’s so very small and everything else is so much bigger than her.
This whole thing-- he is bigger than her. She glances at him, bites the inside of her cheek, and lets a few tears go as a goodbye to her life. To Special Agent Kate Todd, NCIS. She hopes that Tony will take care of his namesake, and that the dog food she bought the other week is enough to keep her fed for a while.
Maybe, by the time she gets back, she’ll be dead. Maybe she’ll have to buy a new dog. She thinks of the way the lovable runt warms her feet, the way she keeps her company, and pulls out a handkerchief and wipes her eyes clean.
It takes her a minute to realize it’s his, and she puts it away like it’s a betrayal of herself before closing her eyes and trying to breath deeply. The plane is making funny noises, the sounds of a large hunk of metal struggling to stay in the air, and she’s not afraid of many things but those sounds always do it for her. She puts her headphones back on, turns the volume up on “Cello Sonata in A, O.”
Don’t think of it, she tells herself, with a deep breath. Don’t think of any thing.
The plane reaches it’s cruising altitude, the noises stop, and she can’t bring herself to watch as her home flies by underneath her for possibly the last time; can’t bring herself to say goodbye like a child waving at a home before a vacation.
Ari opens one eye, lazily appraises her, and closes it again.
The MI-6 man gives her an email address and a new laptop that’s coated in enough codes and protection to make McGee orgasm upon sight. She grins at the thought, runs her hands over the cool metal back, and decides to name it (her, she supposes) Abigail. The man gives her an odd look at the affection she shows the machine, and she raises an eyebrow at him until he goes away.
Ari is being briefed at one end of the plane, her at the other, and their collective entourages of spooks are making so much noise that she wishes she had her weapon to shoot a couple of them dead. The CIA takes out several, and she starts salivating. Ooh, she thinks, I get to steal one and kill everyone on the plane. I could head to Hawaii. I’ve always wanted an all-over tan.
Only to be told that, hey, not only does she get a weapon, but she gets any of the ones she wants.
“Wait, I get to choose? As in… all of these are at my disposal?”
Ari grins across the plane at her, wicked and laughing. “One of the larger perks of the job.” She glares at him for listening in on her conversation, then declares him not worth of her irritation and sets about ignoring him. Pointedly.
She looks down at the shiny deadly weapons, licks her lips, and selects a knife, a 9MM that’s a chrome plated version of her NCIS weapon, and a smaller, tiny little pistol that’s just discrete enough for her to hide it in a clutch, though her Quentin Tarantino bone almost pushes her towards one of the larger, more intimidating models. She loves the idea, in the part of her that is adventurous and violent, of standing over her enemies, guns blazing, an avenging angel with nicer weapons.
She runs her finger down the blade of the knife, and whispers “Rule number nine” to herself before slipping it into it’s sheath and rubbing her hand down the smooth leather.
The Mossad agents tell her that Al Qaeda is of the opinion that she and Ari faked her death so that she could help his cause and be by his side. They believe that Ari is using her for the sex and the information; that she is expendable, and therefore he has loyalty only to them, not to a woman. One of them informs her of etiquette and proper behavior in front of such men, and another presents her with a large supply of very plain head scarves and one long, dark abbaya that she tries to imagine herself in and can’t.
Clothing is waiting for them in the apartment, and she clears her throat to ask in a soft voice “Where exactly are we being taken?”
She blinks and pauses. “France?”
“It’s a growing center of Muslims and anti-Semitism. Al Qaeda has assigned Ari to the cell in Paris to investigate possible targets and look into turning possible agents towards their cause. You’ve been put up in an apartment, and you have a meeting with the proper members of Al Qaeda tomorrow afternoon.” They hand her a watch set to Paris time and a set of keys and credit cards. She looks down at one of them, wondering what she has gotten herself into if her new career comes equipped with a Black Card.
A folder is handed over. “This is all of the information you are to pass on to Al Qaeda about NCIS and the inner workings of the Secret Service and the FBI. All of it is appropriate to your clearance, and most of it is harmless. The bits that aren’t are good enough to convince them that you’re on their side, and that’s all that you need to do.”
“What if they want to know more?”
“Do what you have to do to keep your cover, but remember to tell anything you have to let slip to Agent DiNozzo. Anything you do can have grave consequences if not done properly.” The man calls something to Ari in Hebrew, and he answers back. She glances at her agent, feeling like she’s not only in the dark, but that she’s bound and gagged in it.
He continues without noticing. “Your main job, however, is to simply keep your eyes and your ears open. The men you’ll be dealing with think women are inferior, and that you are not capable of betraying them or your lover. They’ll send you to spend time with their women, and those women will be talking of things in front of you that they wouldn’t talk of in front of a man. Be aware of it and use their weaknesses to your advantage; you’re a profiler-- you are trained to read subtext and that’s what we need here.”
She nods and flips through the contents of the folder. “Alright.”
One of the CIA men offers a smile and pats her shoulder patronizingly. “You’ll do fine, ma’am. Just keep your head in the game and your brains in your skull.”
She smiles back dryly and shoves her new wallet and keys into the Italian leather messenger bag they’ve given her. She looks down at herself, knows that nothing she’s wearing or carrying is her own, and feels suddenly very alone for some reason.
She sticks her hands in her pockets, feels the handkerchief crumpled underneath her fingertips, and sighs.
“Okay,” she says, more to gather strength than for any other reason. “Okay.”
She shoves the folder in the computer bag next to Abigail and rubs the back of her neck for a moment.
They show her how to tie a headscarf to keep it from blowing away in the wind, and she looks at the dowdy collection of linens they’ve brought her sourly as she practices wrapping them around her head. Great, she thinks, I look like a beggar woman with nicer makeup.
They take the gold cross from around her neck and lock it away, unclasp the silver bracelet she’s worn around her wrist since she was 19 and take it from her, and she watches as they remove more and more of her from her very being. Who the hell am I now, she asks herself, and gets no answer from anyone, nor any notice, and decides to stop being melodramatic.
Eventually, finally, they stop bustling around her. She walks to her seat, reclines it back, and picks up her folder to try and memorize as much information as possible before they arrive. She can never sleep on planes-- it was always discouraged on Air Force One for a Secret Service agent to fall asleep on the job, and she hasn’t been able to break herself of that habit yet.
Ari comes to sit across from her a few minutes later, reading the latest best seller for sale in airport gift shops. She glances up at him and then looks back down.
Apparently, she can tell them about which areas in the building require handprint identification to get into, about how many cars and how many levels and how many agents there are in the DC office. She’s permitted to speak of Gibbs as a hard ass who made her life miserable, as Tony as a sexist pig with little respect for women or other people’s cultures, and McGee as worthless. She can talk about how they’re under funded and understaffed, how they need new ventilation systems, and how they react slowly to threats inside the office.
A nice piece of fiction, she thinks, with just enough truth to flavor it with validity. She can make this work.
Always be specific when you lie, echoes in her head for a brief moment, and she smiles honestly. It feels weird on her lips.
She puts the folder down and rubs her eyes. “You should get some sleep,” he advises, and she shrugs.
“I’ll sleep when we get there.”
“How’s your French?” She shrugs. “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”
“Non,” she says with a glare, and he grins wide.
“Bien,” he replies and puts the book down. “We’re going to be spending a great deal of time together for a while, Caitlin.”
“I know.” She licks her lips. “I’m working on that part.”
“If you are uncomfortable with me, you need to get over that. You’ve signed on now. If someone sees you rebuffing me or acting oddly with me, they’ll think your loyalties are in jeopardy and that my hold on you is weak.” He tilts his head to one side, eyes dark and hooded. “Can you do this?”
“Yes.” She rubs at the back of her neck again. She knots up when she’s tense. “I can’t promise I’ll always feel like it, but I can always pretend. I won’t put your life in jeopardy because I don’t like you.”
“Don’t be. Your duty is to protect the people I care about. My duty is to protect you.” She meets his eyes evenly, and if she is sure of anything in the world right now, it is what she’s saying. “I won’t let this mission fail, Ari.”
“Good,” he says again, and picks up his book. Silence settles in again, and she examines him out of the corner of her eye as he flips through the pages quickly.
He looks worn and tired, and she opens her mouth to suggest that he get another nap, but closes it again quickly. That sounds too sweet-- too caring. She may not be willing to endanger this mission for her dislike of him, but she hasn’t started to actually give a damn about him outside of that scope quite yet.
Maybe not ever, she thinks with a small sigh of loneliness. Trapped indefinitely with one individual, and fate has decreed it be one she can’t stand to be near for more than ten minutes at a time without wanting to kill him.
She tries to read some more to prepare herself, but the words are swimming and thrashing in front of her eyes. She stares at them, tries to make them behave, and is slowly aware that she isn’t looking down anymore, but rather at a very fuzzy, light place very far away.
Something warm comes over her, soft and gentle, and she sighs, thrashing a bit in her complacency. “Sleep,” the warmth orders, and she whimpers quietly.
The hand on her shoulder wakens her, and Ari’s voice sounds hard in her ear. “We’re landing.”
She grunts out something unintelligible, rubs the sleep dust from her eyes, and touches her hair gingerly. The blanket over her falls away, and she looks down at it in confusion. When did she fall asleep? She can’t remember grabbing the blanket before she crashed. She glances at Ari, but he is busy shoving things in his carry on bag, and she shrugs and stows it.
The spooks are double and triple checking everything, making sure that the two of them are prepared for all foreseeable problems. One of them checks the phone and Abigail, just to make sure that they’re secure or not going to blow up in true Mission Impossible style, and she retreats to the bathroom to wash her face and scrub herself clean.
Ari hands her a headscarf wordlessly when she comes out, and she looks down at the ugly fabric with a sigh. “I guess I’ll get used to these eventually.”
“You only have to wear them when other members are around in private residence. Not being identifiable as a Muslim when you step outside is a covert action many of them view as a distasteful necessity. You’ll also be allowed some leeway as a lapsed Catholic.” His lips turn up at the edges, and she glares at him in preparation. She’s started to recognize that smirk as a sign of upcoming snarkiness, and something that, if Tony said, she’d elbow him for. “They expect it’ll take me some time to train you.”
He’s not worthy of her elbow, she thinks, and growls at him angrily. “Fuck you.”
“Not until I have you trained not to bite or piss on the carpet, lovely.”
She throws her face cleanser at his head and he laughs as he ducks, sitting down to buckle himself in as the start their decline. She picks the bottle up and sits across from him, doing the same. Reluctantly.
“There’s a car waiting for us.” He says, packing up the book in the worn leather backpack at his side.
“No bike?” She’s never seen him in a car. It doesn’t seem to fit to see him in something so… safe.
“I haven’t ridden with someone on the back in quite some time,” he says, eyes still searching her face for something she doesn’t know how to give. “I thought it safer to request a more… traditional method of transportation.”
“I don‘t mind,” she says quickly, and his eyebrows go up. “I mean, I’ve never ridden before but it doesn’t scare me. I‘ve always… Never mind.” She feels weird talking to him for extended periods of time-- like the more she offers the less she has left.
Like he’s going to suck some part of her dry and she’s not strong enough to fight it.
“I can arrange for one, if you’d like.”
“No,” she says quickly, “that’s okay. So the car’s waiting for us.”
He watches her for a long moment, then nods. “Yes. We’ll take the car to the apartment and get settled. You can rest and I’ll contact the operatives here and we’ll set up the first meeting for tomorrow.”
“Do you need me to talk to anyone?”
“No. It’ll be a phone call at the most. We won’t have to talk to anyone in person until tomorrow night. Do you have something appropriate for dinner at a restaurant?”
She glances down at her bags. “I have no idea.”
“You can shop if need be. The cards you’ve been given are paid for by the Mossad.”
She opens the messenger bag and pulls out the wallet and her new life. “Am I getting paid for this whole thing? I mean, it’s not like I can really say no now, but-”
“A nominal sum,” he allows. “But considering you are not being charged for food, housing, clothing, it’s not inconsiderable.”
She shrugs. “Honestly, if they weren’t paying me to deal with you, I’d be pissed.”
The wheels touch down and she grips the armrests until the plane stops moving. She’s always slightly terrified that the wings are going to sear off, the plane will explode, and she’ll die about sixty years before her time. The spooks are still bustling, still talking, and she grabs her bags quickly to get as far away from the noise as possible, Ari right behind her. His hand falls automatically to the small of her back, warm and heavy, and she glances over her shoulder at him.
It falls away, and she takes a step to put more space between them.
“We can leave, right?” she mutters, suddenly extremely uncomfortable, and he grunts in agreement.
The spooks evaporate, the air clean and freshly scented of pine cleaner, and they walk hand in hand through the airport, bags following. Kate has the scarf wrapped around her head, body leaning towards Ari, head tilted in a expression of deferment. Her spine is straight but her eyes are evasive and submissive.
No one looking would know they were anything but the perfect, loving couple. No one looking would know that he eyed her ass when they stepped down the plane and she’s been digging her nails into the back of his hand in retaliation ever since.
It’s not an elbow to the solar plexus but it’s the best she can do under the circumstances.
“Anyone watching?” she whispers into his ear with a smile when he pulls her closer, rolling down the escalator.
“By the rent-a-car window,” he purrs back, brushing her cheek with the back of his hand while she blushes appropriately. She glances out of the corner of her eye, laughing and hiding her mouth behind her hand like he’s said something flirty and sexy, and he follows her movement with a quick kiss to her cheek. Two men are watching their every move, trying not to look too out of place. She grins at Ari, eyelashes dark and heavy, and it occurs to him that he is walking in public with a beautiful woman who actually knows his name and the truth about his life, and he isn’t concerned about her exposing him for a fraud and a double agent.
It’s quite… refreshing, actually.
They move past the two men, neither one of them acknowledging the scrutiny, and Kate smiles adoringly up at the man on her arm, murmuring something sweet and meaningless to him. The men share a look and he grins at her, hand drifting own from hers to skim her ass. She smacks his arm playfully, and he wraps it around her lower back, hand on her waist.
A lover’s caress.
She remembers the hell he put Gibbs and her team through and wants to bite his hand off.
The car is waiting for them, a wicked looking black BMW convertible, and she stows her bags in the trunk, slipping her sunglasses on. “This is a nice car,” she says, walking over to the passenger side door.
“Yes it is.”
“Who’d you have to kill to get it?”
“A little old woman and a couple of orphans,” he deadpans. “Don’t worry, no one will miss them.” She pauses, hand on the door, and he climbs in the car, glances over at her, and grins widely.
“Caitlin, get in the car.”
“Don’t do that to me,” she huffs, climbing in and slamming the door. He’s laughing, and she glares at him. She seems to be doing this a lot today. “I mean it!” He laughs harder, and she buckles up violently, pounding her hand against the doorframe. “I am so going to kill you before this whole thing is over,” she promises, and he starts the car and cackles merrily, wiping his eyes before slipping his sunglasses on.
“It is a possibility.”
Her French is slowly improving as she reads the passing signs and it’s coming back to her with each second. The radio is playing something smooth and pop-y, and she listens with half an ear, trying not to look over at him. She’s been threatening him since they met, glaring at him all afternoon, and somewhere in between doing that she’s started to feel the development of that second person Tony was talking about.
Someone comfortable with him. Someone comfortable with Ari Haswari.
It makes her more nervous than she was on the farm-- more nervous than she was when she thought he was evil and all too willing to blow her away.
The apartment they pull up to is more fashionable than she could afford if she became a kept woman for Hugh Hefner, and she gapes up at it while he finds the perfect parking space (handily kept free for them by a Mossad agent in an ugly, forgettable car). “This place is… big.”
“And very, very expensive.”
“Ari… is that the Eiffel tower?”
“No. It is a supermarket. You need glasses.”
She picks up her bag and follows him up inside. Ironwork, clean tiles-- the place is the kind of pseudo industrial apartment building the young and rich love to play in; she had a boyfriend who had a place like this once. He’d had a thing for Miles Davis and coke. Hadn’t lasted long.
She passes the usual assortment of Euro-trash in the hallway, a couple of the men (and the women, she notes with an uncomfortable shift) check her out as she passes, watching the smooth column of her throat as she swallows. Ari seems unaware of the scrutiny, but she knows that’s not possible.
Men like this-- men like him-- are just that comfortable, she supposes. That at ease in their own skin. It’s the kind of thing she used to secretly envy Tony for; his calmness in any situation with any sort of person. She was raised with enough good little Catholic school girl guilt to make that kind of thing impossible.
Maybe it’ll rub off on her, she thinks, and shivers at the idea of Ari Haswari rubbing off on her. The dreams she had, the ones that plagued her before and after the farm for a long time aren’t far enough in the past for her to forget them totally yet.
…he had the most incredible hands when she dreamt of him…
They step inside the apartment walking on a hardwood floor past recreations of famous art works, the door locking behind him, and she stops in the middle of the living room, looking out at bay windows onto the greatest view in all of Paris, and breathing in through her nose sharply. “Jeez…”
“Like it?” he breathes in her ear as he passes by, and she jumps aside, berating herself for not being more aware of where he is.
This man is dangerous, she reminds herself. Never forget where he is, never forget who he is. Ever.
“Yes,” she says breathily. “I mean… it’s lovely. I’ve never seen a view like this.” She walks slowly through the furnished room, glancing at the fully stocked liquor cabinet and the impeccably clean furniture.
“It makes up for the lacking dental plan,” he says dryly, and she pushes a door open to find an impossibly large bed covered in white sheets and blankets. “Do you want it?”
She glances up at him. “What?”
“The room. Do you want that to be the bedroom?”
“Well,” he leers cheerfully, “we are lovers, after all. We should get to know each other in the biblical sense, don’t you agree?”
“Are there two bedrooms?” she asks calmly, trying not to kill him before the first day is out.
“Then this one’s mine.” She drops her bags on the bed and unzips it, grabbing her toiletries off the top and plopping Abigail’s carrying bag on the bedside table. He comes to lean in the doorway, arm braced against the frame and body relaxed and calm.
“You are sure you don’t want to share? I don’t hog the blankets.”
“I do,” she bites off, and draws the curtains of the room closed. “I’m taking a nap.”
She has her shirt half-unbuttoned before she realizes he’s still there, and she glares at him over her shoulder. “Do you mind?”
“Not at all.” He doesn’t move, and she scowls at him, walking over and throwing the door closed in his face. “As disheartening as this is, I am going to assume that you’re threatened by the overwhelming power of my sexuality and leave it at that,” he says through the door. “I’ll wake you for dinner.”
She takes everything off the bed and pushes it away, putting it in the category of Things She’ll Deal With Later. The sheets are fresh and clean, and she strips down to her underwear and slips underneath the blankets. The silk blue panties and bra are the only thing she has right now that actually belong to her-- the only remnants of a life she’s been told to leave behind.
She feels for the cross she usually wears around her throat, finds nothing, and lets a small whimper out into the pillow. Her father gave her that at her first communion, and it’s been the only jewelry she’s worn constantly for years. The bracelet, the necklace, the clothing…
She glances down at Abigail’s carrying case, wishes the real thing was around, and starts to feel the walls get closer to her. Pressing in on her.
Kate pulls one of the pillows off the bed, wraps her arms around it, and takes a deep, shaky breath.
Don’t cry, she tells herself. He’ll hear it if you cry. She presses a fist against her mouth, face against the pillow, and feels her cheeks flush red.
Ari pours himself two fingers of bourbon and sits down on the couch with his laptop. There’s an email from someone promising to make his penis bigger, one telling him he can lose 20 pounds in 2 hours, and a message from MWTyrone. He opens it up, saves it, and replies that yes he and his new woman will be more than happy to meet him for a drink tomorrow night to get acquainted. Mikel is the leader of the Paris cell and the man that Ari has to prove himself to.
The familiar rush hits him-- that pulse of energy and life and adrenaline-- and he grins at the ceiling idly. This is why he does this; this is why he keeps moving forward through the sludge of his life and the pain it causes. For this feeling; power and pride.
He wonders how Caitlin will look high on adrenaline; how her cheeks will flush, her nipples harden, her skin electrify, and smiles to himself softly, the grin leaving. She’s more suited to this life than she thinks she is. He’s seen women like her before-- both afraid of the danger and longing to be near it at the same time. She’s got everything in her necessary to make her into a wonderful spy.
Now he just has to help her find it.
The Mossad gets a copy of the email along with a copy of his response. He drops a quick email to Tony to let him know that yes, he is taking care of Caitlin, no, they aren’t dead yet, and yes, they have arrived safely. He contemplates throwing something in there about how very cute Caitlin’s bum looks in linen, and how she purrs when he grabs it, but reconsiders at the last minute.
He’s a bastard, but he’s not a heartless bastard. At least not all the time.
He’s in the middle of checking the cricket scores when he hears it. Small, soft-- like a bird cooing or a siren coming up at him from behind. Low, smothered but building, and it takes him all of ten seconds to identify it and know it’s source. Know that pain.
Ari slips his shoes off and leaves the glass on the table, steadily and slowly making his way across the living room towards the closed bedroom door. If she hears him, she’ll stop, and the last thing he needs it an emotionally distraught female trying to deny that she’s emotionally distraught.
He tells himself it has nothing to do with actually wanting her to feel better as an individual, and presses his ear against the door slowly.
She’s got a pillow pressed against her face, he can tell-- maybe biting a mouthful of down to smother the sounds she’s making-- and he has a sudden flash of her wrapped in a small ball, trying to make herself as tiny a target for the world to hurt as possible.
This won’t do. He straightens his back and bites down. Are you a man or aren’t you? his father’s voice asks in that irritating and strong tone it has when Ari faces situations like this. Do your duty and make it better.
And do what? he asks himself. Somehow make her life back into what it was last week? What it was before she met you? He takes his hand away from the door, cursing at himself for letting it wander there in the first place, and closes his eyes for a long moment as she starts crying harder, gasping for air and trying to stop herself. Trying to calm down and make it all more manageable.
She has to deal with this, he tells himself as he backs away and goes back to the couch. This isn’t something he can help with, and she wouldn’t want his help even if he could.
He lies down on the couch, stares up at the ceiling, and tries desperately not to hear her. The sun is going down, the sky beautiful and orange, and he watches the colors change slowly and steadily. He’s asleep before he knows it, eyes closed and mouth open, and when he dreams there’s the soft, sad undertone of Caitlin crying in the next room.
Kate wakes up around midnight, blinking and dehydrated, unsure for a moment of where she is. Her mouth tastes sour, her eyes feel fuzzy, and she takes a deep breath to clear her lungs. Her stomach hurts from crying herself to sleep and she feels empty and weak.
Best to get rid of that feeling as soon as possible, she decides, and pulls some clothing on.
The kitchen is empty except for a few bottles of water in the fridge and a box of Cheerios in the cabinet. She grabs a bottle and wanders into the living room, idly fingering the bottle label. Ari’s asleep on the couch, snoring lightly, and she feels her lip curl in amusement at the sight of the big bag Mossad double agent, mouth open, drooling as his fingers twitch in his sleep. So much for Mr. In Control, she smirks and contemplates being mean and petty for a long moment and squirting him with cold water as a wakeup call, before sighing and walking over to touch his shoulder. Sometimes she really hates this whole “good person” thing she’s spent her life trying to achieve.
The grip that wraps around her wrist instantly is hard enough to hurt, and she lets out a quick gasp, dropping the bottle of water in shock and pain as another arm wraps around her neck and twists her around to catch her in a choke hold. She eyes the coffee table in front of her, glass and dangerously fragile, and knows that should could break this hold and his back on the table, but can’t bring herself to wish that much pain on anyone right now.
Weakness, she berates herself, and closes her eyes in more pain than he could ever cause her. What would Gibbs think of her now? The newest spook; the newest addition to Ari’s world, unable to hurt the man who’s hurt them all so many times?
Unable to do anything but feel sorry for herself.
She’s released a moment later, a jerky gasp her only apology, and she rubs her throat and breathes through her nose, slumping down to sit with her back to the couch and him. “Jeez…” she whispers, feeling oddly invigorated; more like herself.
Ari’s hand comes on the curve of her back, hesitantly looking for reassurance that she isn’t seriously harmed, and she waves him away. “I’m fine. Let’s get some food,” she says, pushing to her feet and trying to rush the whole process of moving on along. The last thing she needs is a “oh, Gosh did I hurt you” from this man.
She’s afraid she’d try and snap his neck if he asked her that question, and not because of the fact that he almost just snapped her windpipe when she tried to wake him up.
He slips his feet back into his shoes, runs the back of his hand over his mouth and stands up blearily, looking more than half-dead. Jet lag, she thinks to herself. You never truly get used to it.
“Food,” he grumbles, a demand, and she rolls her eyes.
“Unless you want Cheerios for dinner, I don’t think it’s that easy. Are there any good take out places? You’d think these people would leave us a menu or something.” She digs through the drawers, pushing pens and pencils aside and moving cheap plastic cups and plates by the dozens. He watches the whole process, leaning up against the mostly empty fridge and blinking to try and get his bearings.
He can see the red on her throat where his sleeve chafed her skin, and winces. Great. She tries to wake him up and he almost strangles her. They’re off to a wonderful start already. He has a sudden flash of her standing over him, rubbing her sore throat and holding a weapon, and makes a mental note to lock his door before he goes to bed tonight.
He’s pretty sure she wouldn’t kill him. But blowing off a finger or two isn’t something he’d put past her.
“Ah ha!” She cries out in victory. “I rock.” She pulls a phonebook out from one of the cabinets and plops it on the table. “What’s good in Paris?”
“Indian food,” he offers, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand and sniffing. “And Japanese.”
“Indian,” she says, thinking back to the sushi Ducky brought her as her last meal, and flipping through the phonebook without meeting his eyes. “Do we have cash?”
He hands her a couple of bills and rubs his cheek. “Shower,” he mumbles and she watches him stumble out of the kitchen towards the bathroom with a smirk that she quickly wipes off her own face.
Great, she thinks. I’ll come away from this whole thing with his smile permanently attached to my mouth. Wonderful.
She orders more food than they can eat and asks the man to bring plastic utensils along with him. She hasn’t done a thorough investigation of the kitchen yet, but she has no desire to do dishes on her first night in Paris. She walks into the living room and flops down on the couch, turning the television on and flipping through the badly dubbed English sitcoms and European sporting events to find BBC news with French subtitles.
There’s something about MI-6 and their recruiting efforts, and she thinks of Tony and the way he spoke like the rich kid from Long Island, not the British kid from God knows where. She tries to imagine him in a tuxedo, calling himself “DiNozzo. Tony DiNozzo,” and is giggling madly when the food arrives.
She breaks out some paper plates and takes a generous portion of everything before plopping herself up on the kitchen counter and starting the process of fitting it all inside of her. She’s engrossed in the lamb and mushroom combination when Ari pads in, hair wet from the shower. He raises an eyebrow at her.
“There are chairs.”
“I like the counter.”
He mutters something about her brain and grabs a bottle of water from the fridge before sitting down, grabbing a plate, and shoveling food into his mouth. She watches, fascinated for a long moment at the sight of him doing something so… human, before looking away and going back to satisfying her own hunger.
The man’s just eating, she tells herself. Everyone does it. He doesn’t bleed green slime just yet.
She finishes, tosses her plate into the trashcan, and takes a deep breath. “I need to get out of this apartment.”
He wipes his mouth on his napkin and takes a drink of water. “I could hang you out the window by your ankles for a couple of hours if you’d like.”
“I’ve never been to Paris. I want to go out. Tomorrow, I have to start being all spooky for a living, but tonight I want to do something fun.” He looks at her like she’s lost her mind, and she crosses her arms over her chest defensively. “Hey, it’s not like I’m asking you to go out and get matching tattoos or something. Don’t look at me like that.”
“What would you like to do?” he asks mildly in between bites of nan bread.
“You know Paris, right?”
“I’ve heard of it. A city, isn’t it?”
“What’s fun in Paris after midnight on a,” she checks her watch, “Thursday night that wouldn’t totally blow our cover if we were spotted?”
He sits back, a wicked gleam in his eyes. “I could take you to a sex club.” She chokes on her water. “They have lovely furniture there,” he offers cheerfully. “I swear I only go for the upholstery.”
She wipes her mouth on her hand. “Other options?” she prompts.
He tilts his head back and thinks for a moment, working the cricks out. “There are bars. I’m known as one who, while not an infidel, doesn’t follow many of the rules of the faith. There are several bars that you might enjoy.”
“We could just stay in and get drunk if that’s the only option,” she says with a sigh. “No, I need something… more exciting. I could go to bars in DC.” She leans close. “I want to do something I can only do in Paris, and I want to do it tonight.”
He meets her eyes for a long moment, mesmerized by the flashes of excitement and adrenaline he can see playing in her irises, and is aware on some level that he has more or less agreed to spend the rest of his life as a Mossad double agent with this woman and that she won’t make it easy on him if she can help it.
He’s intrigued, frankly. And more than a little suspicious.
“I might know some places,” he offers, and she brightens. “You might want to change into something more… appropriate.”
She glances down at the plain white t-shirt and the pair of acid washed jeans. “Like what?”
“Something black and sexy,” he offers with a leer, and she rolls her eyes instead of hitting him or seeking retribution, sliding off the counter and walking back into her bedroom and closing the door.
He takes a deep breath and finishes what he’s eating. It’s time to see what Caitlin Todd is really made of.
Kate paints her eyelids silver and shiny, metallic and slick in comparison to the entirely black outfit she’s put on and the clunky leather combat boots she found in one of the pieces of luggage, gloriously militant and all too reminiscent of Gibbs for her to leave them in favor of a pair of sneakers.
She glances in the mirror, and the ridiculous thought “I’m primping for Ari Haswari” flashes through her head. She takes out the dangly earrings and puts in simple silver studs to compensate, pulling her hair back into a sleek pony tail. She looks dangerous. Deadly.
Wow, she thinks to herself, examining her butt in the black jeans. I look fucking hot. She pushes her boobs up and grins at the result.
God it rocks to be a chick sometimes.
Ari is waiting for her in a pair of slacks and a black silk shirt, looking every bit the bad boy, and he takes in what she’s wearing with an approving nod before tossing her a black leather jacket. “Compliments of the Mossad.”
She puts it on and rolls her eyes. “Is there some kind of spy dress code out there that says we’re only allowed to wear black and leather? Don’t you people like color?”
“Tracking devices in the sleeves,” he says calmly, “and I happen to like black. Come.”
The bastard takes her sightseeing.
She looks sourly down at her all too cute outfit and wants to shake a fist at him in disgust but refrains. Honestly, when he’d said something black and sexy, she had pictured him taking her into some sleek gallery or a private club full of eccentric artists and starving musicians. She’d imagined herself walking through an emptied, closed down garden or something, the only person playing witness to the beauty of the sleeping flowers.
Fucking sight seeing at one in the morning.
Well, she supposes it beats walking around with a fanny pack and a map during the middle of the day, and to his credit Ari isn’t a bad tour guide. He doesn’t rant like Ducky would about the history of each thing and its namesake and how it was built and how many people died while doing it, but he’ll occasionally point out something like “I knew a man, David, who was once slipped acid by an enemy spy. He jumped off that building because he swore he’d never felt the oxygen feel so good. Shattered both kneecaps, the fool.”
He has his arm around her shoulder, but it’s more for show than anything else, and he hasn’t tried to grab her ass to make her squirm so far tonight. She’s feeling more and more comfortable around him, and when they sit down at a table outside of a bar and he orders two beers, she thinks nothing of it.
The city is too bright to see stars and she’s sort of glad for it. She fears that would make it all hit home-- that that would underscore just how far she is from all she knows right now. She’s reaching a place of tentative peace within herself. She doesn’t need that emotional upheaval at the moment, and she certainly doesn’t need it in front of him.
“What do you think of Paris, Caitlin?” he asks half-way through the beer, calm and non-threatening, and she smiles.
“I love it. It’s beautiful.”
“I prefer it by night. The tourists are too much fuss by day and even though the city never dies, it quiets somewhat by night.” He leans back in his chair, taking a healthy swig from the oddly colored bottle as he does.
She looks up at the sky, imagines the stars of home somewhere up there, and smiles a small but truthful smile. “Thank you for showing me this.”
“Hm,” he says, all too non-committal, and orders two more beers and a few shots of something she’s never heard of.
“Should we really be drinking?” she asks.
“We don’t have to meet anyone until eight tomorrow. There’s no reason not to. Are you afraid I will get you drunk and take advantage of you?” he leers, and she downs one shot in defiance if nothing else.
“See, that’s your problem. You can actually be a nice person in certain moments. But most of the time you’re an ass.”
“Part of my charm,” he says with the same wink he gave her that day as he tried to tempt her with chardonnay, and downs a shot himself.
He’s holding her up, working the key in the door, and she’s leaning against him, red faced, giggling like she’s three years old and he just produced coins out from her ears.
“Arrrri…” she purrs, “I shouldn’t have had that last shot. You suck for making me.”
He laughs, stumbling along with her. “We shouldn’t have had those last five,” he says happily, slurring the letters where it suits him and making his way towards the couch with her. They collapse, heads lolling back, and he finds the strength to pull himself straight and her as well. She bounces forward and sprawls across his chest, giggling into his ear and breathing lightly against his neck. He grins with her and accepts her head on his shoulder with a lazy flop of his arm over her back.
“We’re drunk,” she announces, and he’s giggling with her again, and actually starting to enjoy it now. “We’re drunk, we’re drunk, we’re drunk,” she sings, “and I don’t care!”
“Hmmm…” he rumbles, and she settles in on top of him, apparently having no intention on moving anytime soon. “Katie, Katie, Caitlin,” he purrs, “can I ask a question?” He slurs “question” and tosses a hand in the air to pontificate with the skill of a drunk. “Why’re you here?”
“Hm…” she purrs, smelling his shirt and wrinkling her nose. “’Cuz you made me have that last shot. I don’t wanna move. You suck.”
He giggles. “No, stupid, in Paris. Why’re you with me? Doncha wanna stay with Gibbsy and Tony and gothy?”
“Name’s Abby,” she corrects with a snort. “And duh!” She sighs, suddenly going very quiet, and he lets his head loll a bit to make sure he looks drunk enough to excuse her telling the truth to him. “I don’t wanna, but I gotta.” Her bottom lip trembles momentarily. “I miss home. I miss my friends and I want my doggy, but instead I gotta come and help you ‘cuz the CIA told me so and ‘cuz Gibbs would want me to help people and make the world all safe and stuff.” She nods seriously, eyes drifting closed. “Plus your butt is hot,” she purrs, and he bites his lip to keep from laughing.
“Ah. ‘Kay. Sleep time now,” he yawns, and she’s already gone, passed out on top of him with out so much as a goodnight.
He looks down at the silver on her eyelids, the pale pink of her cheeks, and finds that he is lying on a couch with a drunken, honest woman on top of him, and it scares him more than anything else in the world.
He wraps his arms around her, shifting to get comfortable, and takes a deep breath.
So where does that leave me?
He’s undercover, he’s working to bring down a terrorist organization from within, and he is currently holding a woman who’s thought to be dead-- who’s more or less attached to him until a) his/her/their death(s) or b) his work is completed.
He’s been given a partner. An unwilling, tragically torn partner who misses her home and her friends more than life itself, but a partner none the less. She’s been given to him and he to her in order to enable them both to better keep the world safe from the Bad Guys and Al Qaeda.
They’re in this together; they have to trust each other to survive.
…He should probably stop getting her drunk to get secrets out of her, he thinks and grins to himself as sleep starts to tug at his heels.
One step at a time.
Tony closes Gibbs’s door as the older man finally succumbs to a drugged sleep, and shares a grave look with Ducky.
“He’s finally out.” Finally being the operative word. Ducky had to slip enough tranquilizer into his food to knock out a small cow, and by the time they convinced him to actually eat something and stop sawing away at that damn boat, he was bloody knuckled and grouchier than usual.
They wouldn’t have done it-- mourning, especially for Gibbs, is a very private action; a private time, and they respect that. Ducky would never think to interrupt the solitude of this man, and Tony would normally be too afraid to even go near the house.
Except Gibbs hasn’t slept since it happened, and God knows for how long before that. And as two men who love him dearly for being a father, a son, and a friend, they did what they had to do to ensure he’d be around tomorrow and the next day and the next.
“So I gathered.” Ducky pours them both large classes of bourbon and they toast each other without smiling. “Any emails from our friends?”
“He dropped one to let me know they were settled. Haven’t heard from her yet.” He runs a hand over his face and looks at the closed door with a sigh. “What the hell have we gotten ourselves into, Ducky?”
Ducky sighs hard and deeply, eyes closing briefly. It occurs to Tony just how old the other man looks right now, and he wishes that he had never gotten involved; wishes he could spare him this pain too.
Tony’s strong. He could hold this burden alone.
…though he’s insanely glad he doesn’t have to.
“I don’t know, Anthony.” He offers a grim smile. “I just pray she is taking it better than we are.”
“She’s brave,” Tony answers firmly, not permitting doubt to enter into his voice. Doubt is dangerous in situations like this. “She always has been.”
“Brave is one thing, my boy, but she has been transplanted half-way across the world with a man she barely knows, told to have no contact with anyone but you, and thrown headfirst into a deadly situation. It is enough to shake anyone, even the most unflappable.” Neither one of them have said her name yet, he notices. Gibbs is passed out, the house is quiet, but they can’t bear to mention her by name. It somehow makes the whole thing much more poignant and real if she’s mentioned by name. Like she’s going to walk through the door any minute and berate them for talking about her behind her back.
“She’ll be okay,” Tony says, and forces that steel into his voice that always convinces people he’s right. “She’s not alone and she knows it. You can worry, but she’s probably handling the whole thing better than we are, and you know it.”
Ducky nods, sips at his drink, and makes a face. “Which, I must say, wouldn’t be very difficult.”
And to that, Tony has no reply.
She's trapped, but then again she's not really trying all that hard to get free.
Odd, that. Caitlin Todd isn't that kind of girl and she knows it. She was always the one moving as a child-- the one to figure out how to get out of the playpen, the crib, the stroller, the locked room. She was always the one that her mother had to call store security for, and she was always the one the rent-a-cops found padding along in the areas marked off as PRIVATE like she owned the place.
Just the fact that she can’t seem to move should be enough to send her wailing, screaming, snarling towards the exit.
If one even exists, but that’s not really an issue she wants to think about right now.
…God, so warm…
It’s all around her, squeezing and holding and keeping her from the outside world like a spun glass cocoon. She can't see what it is, can't smell or taste it-- but it's there. God is it ever there, and good God it’s such a feeling. So fresh. New.
She once read a book about a man who spent his entire life trying to escape from a glass box; to be free of the scrutiny of his captors and his constant audience, only to discover that the box hadn't existed in the first place. Her “Teachings of Buddhism” professor in college had made them read it in order to give them a better idea about their own power and the weaknesses the mind imposed upon the body. She hadn't been able to get through it without yawning-- she'd borrowed the notes from a classmate.
It is entirely possible that this box doesn't exist, but then again, she was always better at Physics than Eastern Philosophy.
Everything is perspective. Perspective is all there is. Her perspective.
And according to her perspective, she is warm and safe and completely cared for the very first time she can remember in her adult life.
Fuck Buddha, she thinks petulantly, snuggling up into the warm strength she's suddenly found herself in. He's been dead a long time, anyway.
She's trapped, but then again, it's cold out there.
And oh, oh, oh it's so nice and warm in here. She can feel her skin practically radiating with the heat, cooking in a most comfortable way, and she can't help but indulge in it. So warm, so safe, so comfortable. She can barely remember the last time she was simply comfortable, and now that she's found the opportunity she really does not want to waste it.
Somewhere outside of her cocoon, there’s a harsh and unwelcoming world-- some hard truths waiting for her and snarling at their inability to reach her. Eventually she’ll have to face them. Eventually, she’ll have to deal with them.
But not yet, she thinks gleefully, and buries herself in the warm trap she seems to be caught in.
When one has been sleeping alone for thirty some-odd years, Ari discovers as he slowly drifts towards consciousness, one becomes accustomed to certain things.
Movement is unrestricted. Breathing is free and said breath can smell as bad as it wants. Temperature is your own, and can be regulated easily by either kicking off the covers or seeking more out. Simple. Easy. Solitary.
He’s been an island for a very long time; he’s forgotten, if he ever knew in the first place, how to be something else. Something… communal.
Solitary rights are simple. Easy to understand. It all comes down to him and his desires and his wants and what he’s willing to do to make the whole thing work. To suddenly discover that he has not only had these rights taken away, but that he can’t bring himself to complain is a new and intriguing experience.
Caitlin Todd is cuddling with him.
He says it again to his own brain, trying to make sure that it grasps the full importance of this statement. There is a woman on his chest, body wrapped around his, nose pressed against his pulse. This woman is Caitlin Todd.
Caitlin Todd is cuddling with him.
He thinks some part of his cognitive thought process must have broken, because try as he might to understand this, it doesn’t seem to be happening. He searches for his arms, finds them both wrapped around her, and swallows nervously.
Caitlin Todd is cuddling with him.
…She is going to kill him when she wakes up.
His mouth tastes dry and dead from the alcohol but his head is pleasantly clear and is therefore fully capable of understanding just how horrible this situation is for him and his prospects of one day passing on his genes to continue the family line. She’s going to kill him, castrate his dead body, and then rejoice. He just knows it.
And he’d had such hopes of terrorizing the world for years to come-- he’d even had a little movie playing in his head of a mini-version of himself poking a mini-version of Gibbs with a stick over and over again, then stealing his lunch money. Of course, then mini-Caitlin would come and beat him up for making her boyfriend cry, but didn’t you always beat the crap out of the boy you secretly liked?
He tells himself to stop being stupid, fails miserably, and goes back to panicking silently.
How the hell did this happen? The last thing he remembered was her admitting he had a cute butt, him realizing that he had to learn to live with her, and then becoming unreasonably fascinated with a bug on the ceiling. It had been green, slightly metallic looking, and he’d been watching as it crawled slowly yet steadily across the paint, a bright spot on the white.
And then he woke up like this.
Somehow he doesn’t think Caitlin will be half as impressed with the bug story as she needs to be in order to permit him to continue living.
What the hell did I do to deserve this, he asks, silently wailing, then pauses.
At approximately two in the afternoon, an hour after he wakes up, Caitlin stirs sleepily and lets out a little moan of “uuuuhhhggg…” which he will never admit that he thinks is just about the cutest sound he’s ever heard a woman make. Ari shuts his eyes quickly, breathing deep and gentle, and when her eyes open he is, by all appearances, passed out underneath her.
“Great,” she moans, “I get drunk and decide to molest Ari Haswari. This is just perfect.” She plants her hands on either side of his chest to push herself up, and he is aware that she is now straddling his waist for about two seconds before she climbs off and sits down on the edge of the sofa, rubbing her eyes. He hazards a glance at her back from underneath his eyelashes.
She looks like she just rolled out of bed with someone. He wonders idly if she looks like that every morning, and grins quietly to himself.
He just slept with Caitlin Todd. If he wasn’t so sure that brining this up again would result in her killing him with a spoon, he’d gloat.
“You’re a cheap drunk,” she complains to herself. “Especially with shots. God what the hell was he making you drink?” She licks her lips. “Don’t do that again,” she orders herself. “It’s bad for you. You know you get bad when you get drunk.”
He files that away for further reference and lolls his head to the other side of the sofa with a little groan, as if searching for her weight. He can feel her eyes on him as he furrows his brow, adjusts his position, and settles in once again.
“And God, jumping on Ari when you get back is a bad one, girl.” She rubs her neck, and he watches again. She seems to have trouble with that spot. He wonders if she’ll ever trust him enough to let his hands near her neck-- he’s been told he gives a half decent backrub. “He may be hot, but he’s also sort of evil.”
Bad is better, he tells her psychically. He stirs again, she glances at him, and he settles once more.
“Okay,” she allows, “really hot. But it’s a bad idea and you know it. Even if you do just want to ruffle his hair sometimes when he’s trying too hard to freak you out, the little bastard.” She sighs. “God I want to jump his bones so bad.”
He’s glowing. He clamps down on his tongue, trying hard to not grin and start to crow. He has the sudden urge to call someone up and gloat, but since he can’t move (and because, considering all the things Gibbs wants to kill him for at the moment, poking him with this one is probably a bad idea) he satisfies himself with clenching his butt cheeks together in pleasure and moaning softly in his “sleep.”
She likes bad boys. All evidence to the contrary, she likes it when he snarks her, she likes it when he flirts with her. She likes him! She wants him, she wants him she waaaaaaants him!
Ha! Take that all evidence to the contrary!
Oh, he thinks to himself, speak again angel. I have nothing to do for a couple of hours-- making all your sexual fantasies come true would be a great way to pass the time.
“I hope I didn’t do anything with him,” she murmurs. “God, I’ll never live it down if I deep throated him last night. I’d know, right?”
He doesn’t know whether or not to feel insulted that she thinks a sexual encounter with him might be forgettable by the next morning. He doesn’t care. His brain is still trying to wrap its poor abused self around the words “deep throat.”
It’s official. He is only sleeping with Catholics in the future. Apparently all that guilt means they don’t have a gag reflex.
She sighs and he hears the rustle of fabric. “Well, at least you didn’t come back with anything pierced,” she says to herself calmly. “Remember last time? God, you couldn’t masturbate for days. Had to put the shoot on hold and everything.” His eyes fly open and she looks down at him, smiling wryly with her head tilted to one side and her eyes dancing. “Good morning Ari. Sleep well?”
He grabs a pillow and wings it at her head before rolling back over on the couch and ignoring her while grumbling in Hebrew about demonically possessed women who feel it is their duty to make good, honest, hard working men miserable for a living. She laughs merrily and slaps him on the ass with the palm of her hand before walking towards her room with “I’m taking a shower” tossed over her shoulder. “Try to keep yourself occupied while I’m gone.”
She grins to herself as she shampoos her hair, laughing out loud merrily as she shakes the water from her hair and does a little dance of victory. Sometimes it feels good to get the upper hand; sometimes, it feels really good to make other people suffer just because she can.
Besides, she thinks, he shouldn’t have spent to much time last night trying to get her wasted and probe her for state secrets. He might have noticed that she only drank half of each shot before slamming it down on the table and spilling the rest everywhere. He just took the lack of motor skills as a sign that she was drunk from two beers and didn’t question.
Kate took it as a sign that he was trying to get her shit faced, and played along. She’s the daughter of Irish and Russian immigrants, with a liberal sprinkling of Italian on the side. She can drink more booze than he can throw at her and still walk herself home, but he doesn’t need to know that. She’s found that people are more open when they’re convinced you won’t remember anything in the morning, and that you are permitted to be much more truthful than you would normally be when you’ve had a couple of drinks in you to circumvent the rules on politeness and tact.
She can say he has a cute butt when he’s convinced she’s shit faced. Red hot pokers shoved up her ass couldn’t get her to admit to it sober.
Well, not unless she was trying to make him suffer.
She laughs again and reaches for her body wash.
He jumps into the shower as soon as she’s out, grumbling something at her about how he’s going to toss her out the window if she stole all the hot water. She brushes past him merrily, feeling more like herself than she has in what feels like forever. There are clothes laid out for her on her bed, and she contemplates being difficult for the sake of keeping him on his toes when she sees them, but decides against it. Honestly, she has no idea how to dress to meet Al Qaeda. She just didn’t want to have to admit that to him.
Black is apparently the color of her new life, she decides with a sigh, missing the pink she used to wear and love for its soft femininity. The dress is long sleeved and modestly cut, but fashionable, and she puts it on and adjusts it until she looks… nice. Better than she normally looks, actually. She has never been hugely into dresses, but she had her fair share to attend White House affairs, and as simple as this is it’s ten times nicer than anything she has at home in her closet.
She resists the urge to put the combat boots underneath it and takes the sandals laid out her, also fancier than she usually goes for. She sighs and crosses herself, more out of habit than any religious intent-- it was a nervous twitch she had as a child; before going into any uncomfortable situation where she’d be on display for her multitude of relatives, she’d do it about ten times in a row, until her hand was a blur and every saint under the sun must have been on her side.
“Tony, if you’re following through on that I’ll be with you every step of the way thing, now would be a good time.” She pulls out Abigail, starts her up, and finds the email addy in her memory.
“I’m going out to be the perfect girlfriend,” she writes, choosing her words with the knowledge that every secure line can be broken if the individual is intent enough on discovering the secrets hidden within. “I could use a little advice, and perhaps a little pep-talk.”
She sends it and does the math in her head. It’s around noon back in the states, and Tony’s probably at home; the director must have given them time off to deal with her untimely end at the hands of an enemy of the state. She leaves the laptop open on her bed and resists the urge to use the high-tech, lovely connection the CIA has given her to download lots of illegal music and blast it at all hours of the day and night.
Probably not the best use of government property, she thinks with a grin.
She’s not sure if she’s supposed to wear makeup but supposes that if she gets in trouble for it, Ari can say he doesn’t have her trained so well yet. She settles for a thin veneer of concealer, covering the little faults and imperfections of her skin and evening her tone gently. She’s always loved this part; she knows many women who view makeup as a pain in the ass and a waste of time and money, but she’s always been a girly girl where this was concerned.
It makes her feel like she’s wearing armor-- like she’s protecting herself a little bit more, and it’s a feeling she’s always relished. She is secure, she is safe, and if a little bottle of Cover Girl can make her feel like that? So be it.
Abigail beeps and she flies back to the computer in time to see the little window pop up that informs her she has a new message waiting for her from OeKeLe. She opens it hurried, sees the amount that’s been written to her, and takes a deep shaky breath.
God, she thinks, I’m like an addict waiting for my fix.
Well, I’d recommend wearing a set of good underwear. That always does it for me when I need a little boost of confidence-- a good bra makes everything better.
As for being the perfect girlfriend, just be yourself.
…Or, you know what? Don’t do that. That was a stupid suggestion. Forget it.
Try looking at him like he’s got your panties in his pocket and you’re about three steps away from jumping his bones, but try and temper that with the knowledge that you’re in front of people. Treat it like you’re meeting his parents. Be as feminine and sweet as you can be, and smile a lot. People like it when you smile.
The bitch is doing well. She doesn’t like me and she makes no bones about it, but I’m not afraid she’s going to pee in my bed anymore so I guess that’s an improvement. We’re reaching a slow compromise.
She misses you. I do too.
Hope you’re having fun and everything’s well. Tell lover boy hi for me.
She rereads his words about twenty times, debates sending something back while she knows he’s around and playing email tag to combat the loneliness that settles in on her at the strangest of times, but bites her cheek and closes down Abigail instead. She has a dinner to go to, she tells herself. She has a job to do.
…but first she has to change into the lacy black panties and matching bra she saw in one of these bags.
Ari’s waiting for her when she comes out of her bedroom, and she twirls for approval. “Do I pass inspection?”
He walks around her slowly, fixing little things and picking lint off her before nodding critically. “I suppose you’ll do.”
“How kind,” she says back, and bats her eyelashes flirtatiously. “Oh, sir, you do flatter so!”
He tosses her a different coat than yesterdays, just as wired she’s willing to bet, and she puts it on without complaint. Black again. She makes a promise to herself that when she gets back to her real life, she is never touching the damn color again.
Orange, she thinks in disgust. I’ll coat myself from head to toe in orange.
The familiar rumble of the BMW underneath her is comforting, like a giant cat purring. She throws her arms over the back of the seats and tries to look as nonchalant as possible. “So!” She announces cheerfully. “Who are we meeting?”
Tony was right, she thinks, this bra is doing wonders for her.
“Mikel Tyrone. He’s the head of the cell, and possibly his right hand man Abdul Hassr. The two of them are the most powerful leaders in Europe, and my new bosses.”
“Right. No pressure or anything.”
“Mikel has a wife, Idina. It is possible she will be there as well. They met in school in London, where he changed his name to something more European sounding.”
His lips turn up. “She wanted a better table when they made reservations. Tyrone sounded better than Jahahib in her opinion.” She grins and he realizes that he is trying to get her to smile and puts on his sternest face. That won’t do at all. “There will probably be a point where the women are dismissed from the table-- you are not yet known to the group, and I do not expect them to talk freely in front of you for sometime. Do your best to integrate yourself with Idina.”
“Right.” She nods to herself. “Girl talk. Gotcha.”
“I would not recommend that,” he reprimands, but his lips pull up in a smirk. “Idina is from old money-- her father is cousin to one of the many offshoots of the Saudi royal family. She’s not likely to have heard about the latest gossip, nor care about it. However, she is educated and moderately intelligent. You should have no problem holding her interest.”
“So basically you’re saying I should talk macroeconomics, not what her husband’s favorite sexual position is. Got it.”
He closes his eyes for a brief second and sighs. “I did not need that thought in my head before meeting my new target, Caitlin.”
“It’ll make it easier to not be nervous.”
“I am not nervous.” He sounds like a pouting child. “This is my job. Being on display for these men is part of it. I do not like it, but it is duty.”
“Makes you wish you could wear a bra, doesn’t it?”
The restaurant is upscale and quiet, and Kate is suddenly very glad that Ari dressed her for this. The amount of money being thrown around by the people in here on tipping the waiters alone makes her uncomfortable-- if she had attempted to outfit herself, she probably would’ve been kicked out and told to enter through the servant entrance.
She has her arm wrapped through his appropriately, and he’s smirking like a man with a beautiful woman at his command while she looks surreptitiously around the rooms they pass through and the people who occupy them. “I feel like everyone’s staring at us,” she whispers to him, and he looks at her with an honest to God twinkle in his eyes.
“That’s the point, Caitlin.”
They’re led into a private room full of only five people around a low table, and all of them look up and smile at them when they step in. The waiter leaves, and “Haswari!” is greeted with a triple kiss on the cheek while she tries not to feel too awkward waiting on the sidelines.
Handshakes, back pats, manly shows of affection all around; the two women still sitting at the table exchange amused glances.
A man who looks surprisingly like Santa Claus smiles at Caitlin paternally. “And this must be Caitlin.” She smiles shyly at him, having already been told that he won’t touch her, and almost chokes on her own tongue when he seizes her and hugs her tightly as she tries to get her footing. “Wonderful! Exquisite! Haswari, a lovely woman for you to bring to us.” He pulls back and she clears her throat.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr-”
“Oh, where are my manners,” he says in a cultured, barely accented voice. “Mikel Tyrone, at your service, mademoiselle” he bows low, and one of the women at the table laughs at his antics merrily.
Caitlin looks at the man who wants her country, her government, and her friends dead, and smiles like a woman charmed out of her shoes. “Thank you Mr. Tyrone.”
Ari sits down on one of the cushions placed around the table, and she goes to sit next to him but one of the women has her hand and is tugging her insistently. “Oh, no, darling, not over there. Over here with us. We’ve claimed you for the night.”
She sits and the elder of the two women coolly appraises her as she folds her legs politely underneath her, nodding slightly at the motion. Caitlin thanks God and the Mossad for informing her of how well mannered people act at a table. She may be their new meal ticket, she thinks with a smile, but if she had sat down, started eating with her left hand, and shown them the soles of her feet, she would have been treated like the poor, stupid cousin at the family reunion.
She gets enough of that from her family, thank you very much.
The younger of the two, bubbly and cheerful, looks at her and grins, showing white capped teeth and pink gums. Her nose is perfectly straight, face tightened by a plastic surgeon, and the earrings she’s wearing are so crusted with diamonds that she looks like a boat covered with barnacles. “I am Jessenia. I know,” she says laughing, “it’s a horrible name. My parents were fools. Call me Jess.” She kisses Kate on both cheeks, arm going automatically around her shoulders with a comfort that Kate has never seen before, and she tries to smile back half as brilliantly.
“Caitlin, and it’s a wonderful name. My father wanted to name me Bluebell until my mother told him it sounded like a name for a cow.” Jess laughs loud and hard, grinning in true humor, and it occurs to Caitlin that this woman is the accomplice to a multiple murderer, and she’s only a few years older than herself. Witty, beautiful, and all together likable.
She never thought she’d associate those words with the consort to an Al Qaeda terrorist. It’s more than a little shocking, and she offers her brightest smile to cover up her confusion at the contradiction present here. Mikel embraces her like a father and then Jessenia holds her like a sister.
It’s not like she imagined they’d have horns, but still…
The older woman smiles at her calmly, reserved and dignified. Caitlin feels her spine straighten under the scrutiny, and is suddenly very glad that she is wearing lacy black underwear. “Caitlin,” the woman says. “An odd name for one who has already proven herself to not be pure of heart to one cause.”
Kate tilts her head to one side, lips pressed together. “Or maybe it’s fitting considering my pledge of full loyalty to the right cause, as opposed to offering a portion of it falsely to the wrong one.” She raises an eyebrow. “Usually, I know the other person’s name before I start discussing the inner most workings of my soul and motivations.”
Idina’s lips twitch, eyes light with humor, and she lets out a bark of rough laughter that seems out of place coming from one so dignified and perfectly preserved. Kate accepts the cool dry hand that’s pressed into hers without hesitation. “Idina,” the woman offers. “And you, my dear, are promising to be much more intriguing than anyone I’ve met in a very long time.”
And there’s really nothing she can say about that, so she shuts her mouth like her mother always told her too and takes a sip from a water glass she assumes is hers.
The men finish up their introductions in Arabic, and Ari draws her attention with a quick “love.” She looks over quickly, obedient and sharp, and is aware that everyone at the table is watching her with different motivations each.
“This is Mikel,” he indicates, and she smiles brightly at the man who hugged her when she came in. “Abdul,” and the small man to Mikel’s right nods his head and offers a tight smile. She repeats the action gently. “And Qassam.”
The name’s the same as the man who once lay in the morgue with a double tap to the chest and a Mossad agent holding three people hostage over his blood, but she doesn’t let her good humor falter, even when Qassam gives her a mere nods and goes back to his menu.
Mikel smiles at her in a manner oddly reminiscent of Ducky. “It is wonderful to have our table brightened by a new face, and one who has come so far to be true to herself.” He bows his head. “Allah be praised for bringing you to us and enabling your happiness with the man you love.” He pats Ari on the back. “He is a fine man and you will make a good match.”
“Thank you,” she says, intoning just the right amount of shyness into her voice to make herself appear the uncertain newbie, not entirely clear on what she’s doing, but trying anyhow in order to please her man. God, she thought she got out of this mindless puppy-dog thing in college, but apparently it’s like riding a bicycle and she seems to have climbed back on. “It’s nice to meet you all. I know that I’m the new one here, but I feel, this is probably the corniest thing I’ve ever said,” she laughs self-derisively, “but I feel like this is where I belong. Like… I’m welcomed here. Thank you all for that.”
She looks down, imagining Ari walking in on her in the bathroom in order to cue a blush, and Jess throws her arms around her with another kiss. Idina smiles maternally at her, and by the time the waiter shows up, has her engaged in a passionate discussion on the failures versus the successes of Ghandi. The woman doesn’t care for small talk, Kate recognizes, and she can appreciate that. Jess may be the more genial of the two, but she’s also the less intellectual, and while manners dictate that the two of them make an effort to include Abdul’s girlfriend in on the conversation, they have found equals in each other.
Ari told her to endear herself to this woman. She’s pretty sure she’ll be getting an invitation to tea pretty soon.
The food comes, and they eat, Kate making an effort to make sure to use her right hand, but making sure to slip up a couple of times to show that she’s not yet polished. No one says anything, but Ari gives her an approving tilt of his lips when she picks up her cup with one hand and then quickly changes it over to the other with a small flush.
It occurs to her, about half way through the dessert, that she is actually enjoying herself a great deal with a group of people who have more blood on their hands than anyone can tally. Jess offers her the last chocolate covered mint, she accepts it, and decides that this is going to have to be something dealt with later.
She’s fitting a lot of things into that category these days. Maybe, eventually, it’ll get too full for her to put any more in that corner.
“Ladies,” Mikel announces cheerfully, “I’m afraid we have business to discus that is not for your delicate ears. Perhaps you two could show our new friend around town,” he suggests, only it’s not a suggestion and Idina nods, getting to her feet. Kate and Jess do the same, the betas in this pack, and Ari touches her leg as she brushes past him.
“I shall see you later tonight.”
She smiles down at him. “I’ll leave the light on for you. Thank you for dinner.”
The three women leave calmly and Ari turns to find three approving sets of male eyes upon him.
“A fine woman,” Mikel says calmly, and Qassam clears his throat.
“She has knowledge of the Secret Service as well as NCIS and the FBI?”
Abdul nods thoughtfully. “Perhaps our plans on Bush’s life should be redeveloped. It was risky at the time, and it failed, but with this new information we might be able to kill or even capture the man.” His eyes glow from within, and the small man nods eagerly. “This might be worth thought, effendi.”
Mikel waves a hand. “In due time. I’m sure that our young friend and his woman will be around long enough for us to make plans that take full advantage of the knowledge Caitlin has.” He brushes his fingers over his regretfully short beard and moustache, feeling his upper lip as he thinks. “And she has severed her ties with NCIS. Interesting.”
“Yes,” Ari says. “They are convinced that she is dead and buried. She has left behind everything her old life had to be with me.” He smiles. “Her loyalty is to me, and mine is to you, effendi. Her information will serve you well.”
Qassam takes a drink of water and clears his throat. “And how do we know we can trust you?”
Ari raises an eyebrow. “I have proven my loyalty. I have brought you a woman who worked side by side with the President of the United States for years. If there is still some doubt as to where my alliances lie, I would ask only for a chance to put them to rest.” He hardens the edge of his words, anger mixing with his tone. “As I would grant any man who’s loyalty I questioned.”
Righteous indignation is a great tool at times. Mikel waves a hand disapprovingly. “Bah. Qassam, you do a dishonor upon yourself and me to call Haswari’s loyalties into question. He has proven his loyalty or he would not be here, and as such he is worthy of better than those questions.” Qassam bows his head and offers the appropriate apologies, which Ari accepts with a nod and a casual dismissal of the dishonor.
He puts Qassam on the list of people to keep an even closer eye upon, and proposes a toast to their future success as a team.
The hired car that takes them around town drops Kate off with an armload of packages she didn’t actually intend on buying around midnight, and Ari is waiting for her when she steps in with the bags and a grin on her mouth.
“Jess insisted,” she offers mildly when he cocks a brow at the packages, dropping them on her bed and changing into some loose gym pants and a tank top before stepping back out to talk with him. He holds up a finger for one more moment of work, and she takes a seat in the white upholstered arm chair that she’s terrified of spilling something on, folding her legs underneath her like a cat.
“Idina’s smarter than you’d think. If anyone will suspect something, it’ll be her.”
“Hm.” He finishes working on whatever it is he does when she’s not looking, closes his laptop, and leans back on the couch. “And Qassam?”
“Fears you as competition and me as an unfair advantage. Mikel is in charge and Abdul and the women have secure positions as second in command and consorts, but Qassam has only his own merits to go by, and you’re at least five years younger than him-- the rising star of Al Qaeda. You’ve entered with a woman who comes in offering state secrets and asking nothing in return. He hates you for infringing upon his chances of making himself irreplaceable with Mikel.” She sits in the plush armchair across from him and conjures information like coins from thin air. “Watch him.”
He nods, and she tells herself that it’s just stupid misplaced value-- that she only feels that rush of happiness at his approval because Gibbs isn’t around to give it and he’s the closest thing she’s got right now to an In Charge Person.
“But you don’t think he’ll suspect something?”
“No,” she says firmly. “There’s a reason he’s the low guy on the pole. He’s a hard worker and determined, but he’s not bright. He’ll work to find something on you and try to bring you down with it, but he won’t sniff it out unless it’s right under his nose.” She shrugs. “I’d worry about what he might assume, not what he can prove.”
He nods again and rubs his eyes, before pulling his hands away and smirking. “Did you bring me a present?”
“Not unless you want to get stoned for wearing women’s clothing.”
“Just as well. I need a size 16.”
She laughs lightly and rubs at her neck again, and he’s up and behind her before she has her mouth open. His hands come down on her shoulders, tight and firm, and she shifts nervously. Her throat is still sore from where he tried to choke her in his sleep the other night. “What are you doing?”
“I am tired of watching you do that. It is an irritating habit. Sit still.” He runs nimble fingers up and down her spine, sighs in exasperation and snaps. “You’re entirely knots. Lie down face first on the floor.”
“I am going to crack your back. Lie down on the floor.” He tosses a pillow down, snaps at it, and she gives him a look like he’s just grown another head and it started whistling Dixie. “It doesn’t hurt,” he assures with an eye roll. “I promise you will not have to take your meals through straws when I am finished.”
She touches her throat for a long moment, eying his hands and his face, and then remembers that at any point at dinner tonight he could have had her killed by telling everyone she was really still loyal to her government and he had brought her there to be tortured and executed as an example to the rest of the infidels, and lies down.
She tries to breathe deeply, and finds two strong hands on the very base of her spine, palms spread flat on either side, and then there’s somebody sitting on her ass, knees pressed into the floor. She swallows.
“Breathe in,” he coaches, and she inhales shakily. “Breathe out,” and no sooner is the air out of her body than he pushes down with a sudden jolt of force that pushes a groan out of her and releases a wonderfully satisfying popping into the air. His hands move up, she breathes in again, and when she exhales he does the same push downward, forcing her to sink into the floor, and releasing two more pops from her body.
“Good,” he mutters, and rubs the heel of his palm up and down her back with a great deal of pressure, reminding her nerve endings that the last time someone paid this much attention to them was all too long ago. “You are retaining tension all along your vertebrae. It’s not healthy.”
“Uuuh…” she moans, and he chuckles at her before moving his hands up and pushing down on her again. She pops, she groans, and he moves on.
“Jeeeesus,” she whimpers.
Pop. Groan. Shift.
“I’m slowly forgiving you for being… you,” she informs him after her the space just below her shoulder blades lets out so much noise that even he groans.
“Good to know,” he replies seriously, and shifts again. She is starting to forgive him for a whole lot, actually. Being himself, almost choking her the other day, sitting on her ass like she’s a throne-- these are all minor details compared to the wonder he’s turning her muscles into. He pushes one final time, popping her all the way up to her neck, and she goes limp underneath him as he starts to rub her shoulders with slow even motions. “You were good today.”
“Hmmm…” she purrs, tilting her head to the side to expose her neck muscles for treatment. He obediently rubs, showing a bit more care to the areas that are bruised from his impromptu attack last night. He catches a rough spot a bit too hard, she hisses through her teeth, and he shushes her with something soft in Hebrew.
She settles. She has no idea what he just said, but the tone is calming enough to make her listen and obey.
“You would have made a competent actress.”
She snorts. “I don’t like being on display for others.”
“You would never know it. You worked the room like a natural tonight. I was proud of you.” He keeps going, not permitting his hands to still or slow on her back and thereby punctuate his statement. The last thing he needs right now is Caitlin Todd pinning him to the mat with those dark eyes of hers.
It almost doesn’t work. She pauses, moves to turn her head to the other side to try and catch his eye and hold him responsible for that statement, and he almost panics-- almost loses it. His hands keep moving, fingers finding a knot that she has had for weeks, and then she’s moaning, hands pressed flat and sweaty against the floor.
He keeps breathing steadily, pressing the knot with the tips of his fingers, and listening to the purrs she makes with a sense of great self satisfaction. He’s a control freak and a half-- knowing that he has another human being reduced to clawing at the hardwood floors and moaning into a pillow sends a unique rush through him that he has a feeling she would understand if she got half a chance.
Not like he’s going to allow her to straddle his back anytime soon. He doesn’t trust himself enough to put his body through that. He doesn’t think she’d hurt him-- hell, she’d probably make him melt-- but there’s always the remote chance that he’ll do something incredibly stupid like roll over and grab her by the ass until she’s grinding against him and making it a massage with a happy ending.
And since that chance isn’t exactly so remote as he’d like to pretend it is, he isn’t going to roll over for Caitlin any time soon.
“You’re too tense,” he chides her, and she swats a hand back at him weakly. “I refuse to sit across from you and watch you rub your neck all day. It is distracting and irritating. I don’t care if I have to bind and gag you and do this when the day is through from now on, you are not going to sit there and rub yourself like a cripple.”
She moans into the pillow. “You think I’m going to-- oh, God, right there.”
He digs in harder. “There?” he taunts, and the sound she lets out is so close to an orgasm that his own eyes roll back in his head in response and he closes them to try and maintain some composure. God she’s so… alive underneath him. So fluid and responsive-- he hasn’t reduced a woman to this in too long, and the power it sends through him is edged by the heady temptation of her and his desire for her.
How easy would it be, he wonders as she moans and thrashes underneath him, to slip his hand down the back of her pants and grab her ass? To slide his fingers through the slick heat of her and find that little spot that would start her screaming? She’d be responsive-- he’s nothing if not persuasive when it comes to women. He could have her begging for him in a matter of minutes.
He’s been dreaming about making her beg for over a year now. The fact that he now has her in a position where it could happen-- where he could possess her the way he did in wet dream after wet dream-- is tempting as all hell. He bites his lip hard to keep from doing something incredibly stupid and tells himself that the last thing he needs to do is get involved with his “partner” when their assignment could last indefinitely.
He pushes down into the body underneath him, venting through his fingertips, and she plays a happy recipient to his frustration with himself and his situation.
When he stops, his muscles are shaking in exhaustion and hers are loose and firm. She purrs like a cat with an endless supply of cream, and he allows a small smile at the sound before getting off of her and patting her on her lower back. “Better?” She giggles and rumbles in reply, and he nods. “Good. Come on, time for bed.”
She pushes herself up on shaky arms and gets slowly to her feet, rolling her neck in contentment. “God that was better than sex,” she mutters to herself, and when he lets his infamous smirk out to play, she turns deep red and swallows. “Um…”
“You haven’t had sex with the right people if you think that a back rub could compare,” he says mildly, and moves to go into his bedroom. Given the recent turn of his thoughts, he’s not entirely sure he can trust himself to discus Caitlin Todd’s sex life with her. It might just cause his dick to circumvent his common sense. He’s a trained spy, not a eunuch.
“I’ll have you know that my sex li- I am not talking about my sex life. It’s none of your business.”
“Well lover, I suppose it is now.” She rolls her eyes at him and picks the pillow up off the floor, brushing it off and putting it back on the chair.
“Yeah,” she mutters under her breath, “like you’re the ‘right people’.”
He’s behind her before either one of them knows what’s happening, hard and solid. One hand curls around her arm, the other around her waist, and she opens her mouth to ask him what the hell he thinks he’s doing when he pushes her up against the wall, pulls her hips against his, and licks a long, slow line up her throat that suddenly makes her knees a little shaky.
“Shush,” he orders, and the rumble of the word travels through her skin, into her throat, down her front, and plunges headfirst into the fashionable, sexy black panties that she is so going to get Tony for convincing her to wear.
Teeth over skin, tongue over nerve endings, she tilts her head back against the door, breathing shaky, as he sucks and pulls and works her. His hips grind against her belly, knee pushing between her legs to rub the crotch of the fabric against her in …ohmygodrightfreakingthereyesyesyes
She’s whimpering, begging with slow rotations of her hips and the desperate clenching of her palms into fists against the wall behind her, and he keeps going until she is about two steps away from the first orgasm she’s had at another’s hands in way too long… when he stops.
She pants, hips still moving, still searching for completion, and she looks up at him with desperate eyes as he examines the flush building over her and the way her body is shifting to try and stay closer to him. He nods to himself and offers one more press of his thigh against her that sends her head back into the wall and her eyes squeezed closed as the precipice gets just that much closer.
“Consider this an impromptu lesson in one of the greatest weapons a spy has,” he says in a calm, normal voice. “The underestimation of him or her by their targets. You assume I am not ‘the right people.’” A brief smile touches his lips, “And yet if I had kept that up I could’ve had you.’” The smile vanishes, replaced by a dark look that’s not quite lust, not quite anger, and she’s not sure who the later is directed at. “You assume I throw innuendo at you to hear myself talk. That is a false assumption.” And he pulls back from her and walks into his room, closing the door behind him.
Kate takes a deep breath and rests her weight against the wall too keep from turning into one gigantic Kate-Puddle on the floor. Her knees feel like they were created in a Jell-o mold by a housewife and she doesn’t trust them to carry her to the bedroom just yet.
…God she was close. She knows it too, and so does he, which is worse. There is only one thing more dangerous than losing control in front of Ari Haswari, and that’s him knowing you’re doing it. Tony told her to trust him, and she does to a certain extent. If she was ever in a fire fight, she’d trust him to have her back. If she was ever facing down an Al Qaeda operative and trying to save her cover, she trusts that he’d keep her secrets and back her up where she needed backing.
But when it comes to the balance between her brain and her clit, Ari Haswari is the enemy. In fact, Ari Haswari is like clit-Hitler. She knew it before he touched her and she knows it now; her better senses were temporarily overwhelmed.
Best not to let that happen again.
She pinches herself to get her legs back and pushes away from the wall with a held breath. Get a hold of yourself. The bedroom is a calm, dark sanctum, and she closes the door behind herself with a soft snick of the doorknob before tossing herself on the bed, ripping her shirt and pants off, and laying in her underwear in the soft, warm air that Paris floats up to caress her with.
Her heartbeat thrums through her clit and her head, her body voicing its disagreement with how things have turned out. Her orgasm is still looming, still there and lurking, and she has her hand down the front of her panties before she has time to talk herself out of it, the other pushing her bra aside to pinch a nipple hard, and she’s good for all of three strokes against her clit before she comes in one of the weakest, most dissatisfying orgasms of her life.
She touches herself a bit more, but her flesh is over sensitized by its previous abuse, and she is left, wet and unsatisfied, in the sexiest panties she owns. Alone.
“God damn you,” she mutters. “You son of a bitch. I hope your balls turn blue.” She pulls one of the pillows down and shoves it between her legs and squeezes hard, imaging it’s his head and she’s squishing his brains out of his ears as he begs for mercy and she laughs like an Amazonian warrior.
Too many Xena reruns, she tells herself, and stares up at the ceiling until sleep takes her around 3, ending the repeating question of What the Hell Am I Going to Do Now that’s been running through her mind like a four year old on a sugar high.
The man in the bedroom next to hers gets no such release.
Kate looks at the offering on the table, lips pursed suspiciously, and listens to the crinkling newspaper of the man sitting in the living room, shower fresh and perfectly groomed, as he pointedly does not speak or move towards her little sanctuary. She came out this morning, full intent on reaming him a new one for treating her like a fucktoy last night-- she was going to rail and rant and throw things at his head, and he was going to bleed for her, in order to make her feel better about getting all revved up with nowhere to go.
She’s been practicing particularly hard hitting parts of her tirade in her head since she woke up this morning. It goes better and better each time, and his reaction is more and more repentant with each pass through. She had thought it sounded so perfect that she had skipped pussyfooting past his door and using the bathroom, and chosen to storm out in a dramatic huff to give him a piece of her mind the second she heard movement in the apartment, only to find him sequestered in the shower and herself waiting impatiently for him to get out so she could kill him.
Her hair is poofed out beyond belief, her face is imprinted with the seam of the pillow, and she has morning breath that would put Oscar the grouch to shame.
And there are fresh strawberries on the table.
Kate leans back against the cool metal counter, looking at the white and blue china plate resting on sunbathed wooden table. The place has become livable overnight-- the coffee is brewing in a new coffee machine, the fridge is polished and gleaming, and she opens it to find a large supply of both food and drink, all of it fresh. There are plates in the cabinets, forks and spoons in the drawers, and she looks through the large windows to see a green, leafy plant soaking up sun and fresh air on the ledge.
The place is warm, loved; her own kitchen at home was never this comfortable, no matter what she did to it. She didn’t spend a lot of time in it, but what little time she did devote seemed to make no difference. The place was cold and unwelcoming.
She looks down at the plate on the table, picks up a fresh strawberry, and brings it to her lips, smiling as the cool red juice spills over her tongue and drips down her fingers. She licks it up cheerfully, and when she moves to take the next one, she knows he’s in the room.
This spy sense thing rocks, she decides.
“Thank you,” she says, and offers him a quick flash of her teeth.
“Hm,” he says in reply, and steals a strawberry from her plate. “I thought a peace offering might go far.”
“You’re still an ass,” she offers, but she’s grinning wide and her eyes are alight with happiness.
He smiles back, surprisingly gentle, and she feels her anger subside a little bit more. “Not that far, obviously.”
“If we’re stuck together,” she says calmly, “we’re stuck together. We should try and make the best of it.” She pauses, not sure where to go from here, and the silence is uncomfortable because she can’t seem to look away from his face and he can’t seem to let her eyes go even as her mouth flaps silently, desperate for words.
“I agree,” he says softly, and she swallows, closing her lips gratefully. “I acted in the wrong; it was beneath me and you are worth more than me treating you that way.” He straightens his back, as if forcing himself to have resolve. “It will not happen again.”
She tells herself this is what she wanted, smiles too brightly, and pops another strawberry in her mouth. “Good! So, what’s on the agenda for today?”
He watches her for another moment, somehow aware that something isn’t being said by one or both of them, and nods. “We have the day off. Mikel is looking into some background information.”
“You most likely. He wants to make sure that everyone thinks you are as dead as advertised.” He shrugs and moves past her to pour himself a cup of coffee, brushing her hip with the side of his arm. “We can do whatever you like today.”
A thought occurs to her, something they haven’t dealt with quite yet, and considering how damn important it seems, she can’t believe the Mossad or the CIA or somebody didn’t cover it with her earlier. Little boys with big boy toys, she thinks with a roll of her eyes. “Do they know you’re Mossad? I mean, as far as everyone else is concerned, you’ve turned-- are they aware you ever were in the first place?”
“No.” He picks up a strawberry and bites into it, chewing thoughtfully. “There have been no APBs put out for my capture. The official story is that I am too dangerous to risk approaching without a body count being eminent. I am officially listed as a terrorist, but no out beyond the highest among high know anything about the Mossad.”
“What about Gibbs?”
“Agent DiNozzo is monitoring the situation. He has his orders as we have ours.” He swallows the fruit in his mouth. “Think only of your own mission. To think of others is to be distracted. Prepare for anything, yes, but assume that the others will do their part.” He smirks. “There are already escape plans for us, Caitlin, if anything were to happen to compromise our positions. We will be taken care of.”
She tries to imagine Mikel, Abdul, and Qassam waiting for their CIA car to come and get them before they start shooting or killing, and sighs. Another thing for the corner.
Us, she thinks quietly to herself, and swallows hard.
“Should I try to call Idina or Jess?”
“I think not. You’re still an outsider. It is better to have them come to you; it makes you seem more lacking a personal motive.” His lips turn up. “Why? Do you not wish to spend time with me? I’m wounded, Caitlin.”
She throws a strawberry top at his head and he laughs as it sticks to his cheek, brushing it into the sink. “I should throw you down a manhole,” she scoffs, moving towards the bathroom and ruffling her hair as she walks.
“But then who would buy you strawberries?” he calls back as the door closes, and grins quietly to himself as he drinks his coffee.
The building has a gym in the basement, a perk for the very wealthy and very bored, and Kate wanders downstairs around noon to find no one working out or wasting space. It’s the first time she’s been truly alone in way too long, and she closes the doors behind her quietly. She is a woman used to living alone and sleeping with others only on occasion-- solitude is something she values.
She does a few quick laps around the gym, counting her circuits and pushing until her legs get that familiar burn again, before settling into the center of the mats, taking a deep breath, and getting into the first movements of her yoga workout. Her thinking slows, her body working on its own, and she comes back to herself with her shoulders against the floor and her legs over her head, feet planted flat on the floor as she breathes slowly and evenly.
Peace, she tells herself. Calm everything down. Slow everything down.
Her world shrinks, focusing on the deep, slow moments of her chest and the fluidity of her muscles and joints. It’s like dancing, she thinks-- another thing she hasn’t done in too long-- and each step brings her a new sense of balance. Of center.
She finishes with her muscles shaking and her body feeling like a worn out rubber band, but the troubled mess that has been her mind since she stepped on that plane less than a week before is starting to organize itself; her thoughts are orderly and gentle.
She lies in the corpse position, thinking about her breathing and nothing else, and her new life seems more manageable than it ever has before.
Gibbs would want her to spar for a bit, she knows, so she gets up and stretches her legs out before digging a pair of wraps out of the equipment closet that look and smell like they’ve never been used before. She wraps her knuckles, stretching the fabric evenly, looks down at her bound hands and feels like Special Agent Kate Todd again.
It’s a good feeling.
So, her brains asks, what’s going on right now?
She approaches the punching bag and goes into the first few movements, dodging and striking as her feet get accustomed to the steps again.
Well, she’s in an apartment for the rest of her life with a Mossad agent who makes her panties wet while giving her the overwhelming urge to smack him at least twice a day. She’s trying to learn to be a spy while not killing him, and she’s becoming fast friends with the wife and girlfriend of the most dangerous men in France.
She has no personal space, she has no dog, and the only friends she has are an ocean away. Her closet is full of expensive, designer clothes, her wallet full of cash and limitless credit cards, and she can have anything she wants if she takes steps to get it.
She is playing a kept woman in the city of Paris, and both the good guys and the bad guys are willing to bend over backwards to keep her happy.
So what’s the problem?
Kate pauses, looking at the still swinging punching bag, and waits for her mind to work this out.
Problem One: She’s in a city with no friends.
Answer: There’s email, and her friends are safer without her nearby anyhow. Tony is her lifeline, Ducky speaks through him, and if she really needed any of them, she could make a few phone calls and have it arranged. If she wrote Tony tomorrow and told him that Ari had tried to take advantage of her and she was afraid for her safety, he would come and get her, the Mossad and MI-6 be damned.
She still has her friends; she just has to adjust to not being able to see them everyday.
Problem Two: She’s far away from home, far from everything she knows, and far from her life.
Answer: Well, not that far. She’s fighting terrorism, she’s keeping the American people safe, and if Gibbs knew about it, he’d be proud. She has no doubt-- he’d be fucking proud of her for giving up everything to do her duty.
Gibbs understands duty.
It’s still her life, her gut tells her. It’s just a new interpretation. A new part of it; this is the next step, and now that you’ve taken it again, all you have to do is get used to it for a while and it will become as easy as breathing.
She’s feeling progressively better by the second, and she grins to herself and poses the next question.
Problem Three: She’s stuck with Ari Haswari, playing the ultimate game of Look, But Don’t Touch.
Okay, her brain says calmly, so we haven’t quite got that part figured out just yet.
Kate groans and goes back to work on the bag.
Ari is on the phone with Mikel when she gets back in, and she closes the door quietly behind her, waiting in front of him patiently with her arms linked behind her back. Her tank top is soaked through with sweat, hair clinging to her forehead, and she feels alive and fit. Untouchable.
He finishes up, offering the traditional praises of Allah at the end, and hangs up. “Mikel wants us tomorrow to discus the information you’re bringing.”
“Then we have just enough time for you to take me out tonight,” she notes cheerfully, and walks into her room to grab her shower stuff. “Find a club. I want to go dancing.”
“I haven’t done it in too long,” she says calmly. “We’re going to dance. You said we could do whatever I wanted to.”
“That was more of a figure of speech.”
“Well, that’s your fault isn’t it?” She brushes by him and waves a hand airily. “You don’t have to dance if you don’t want to, but I’m going to. Make it happen.” And she closes the door behind her with a grin on his astonished face, feeling like maybe she might just be able to make this work after all.
And hell, if I can’t, I can always shoot him.
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