by B. Cavis
by B. Cavis
It doesn’t take long for them to learn each other once more. Both of them are survivors and both of them are used to new situations dropping into their laps. She adjusts to sleeping beside him again with simple ease, only kicking him in her sleep on the first three nights. He’s never made a habit of leaving the toilet seat up, so they’re covered on that front.
When he’s there, he gets up with Ben. When he’s not, she takes care of it, grumbling cheerfully to her baby boy about his father’s absence. Ben chews on his feet no matter who picks him out of his crib in the morning. He’s a survivor in training.
She has a calendar on the wall now, one she makes down with tiny A’s for the dates when he shows up. He puts his own little A’s down on the days he plans to show up, and recently they’ve started to differ by less and less time. He has a key, though he doesn’t really need one, and she knows the number for the unlisted, unlicensed, untraceable cell phone he keeps with him at all times. Sometimes he’ll get on the phone with her after talking to the Mossad. Sometimes, he’ll get on the phone with her after talking to an Al Qaeda terrorist cell in training.
There’s a pair of his shoes in her closet. The camouflaged drawers in her armoire hold clothing that smells of him and holds the imprint of his body deep within its folds.
Above all else, they are discrete. Above all else, they are together.
There are fights, of course. Angry, hissing, spitting issues that they deal with by slamming things down on countertops and yelling in each other’s faces. Sometimes she has to leave the apartment, and sometimes he does the same, but neither one of them has ever left for good, nor considered it, and when they get back to each other they are scarred from each other’s tongues, but not mortally wounded.
Once, not too long ago, she got so angry with him that she called his mother a whore, and he raised his hand but never brought it down. When he got back from the hour long walk that drove him to, they were both so shamefaced and apologetic that later on that night, they found themselves in the living room together, both having assumed the other wanted them to sleep on the couch.
There are fights, but he’s never dropped a hand to her and nor her to him. He has never said “I’m out of here,” and she has never told him to leave and not return. They try not to fight in front of Ben, though sometimes it’s unavoidable, and when they do it the little boy has a way of making them feel so incredibly bad about their actions that they wrap him and each other in even more love and affection when they’re done.
They’re not winning any awards for parents of the year, but welfare isn’t coming to get him and throw them both in jail, either.
They create special days. One of the downsides to not being married by any court in any country is the lack of “important” dates it provides. No wedding anniversary. The first time they met, he was holding her hostage so that’s out too. He’s Jewish, she’s Catholic, so there are holiday neutral gifts and nondenominational candles lit and spread about the apartment.
Neither one of them understands the chocolate bunny on Easter, but Ben gets one all the same.
He brings her things for their declared anniversary, the day he first showed up on her door in search of sanctuary and salvation; small things that don’t have any meaning to anyone but her. The large calendar for her wall with a few days already marked down in dark, permanent ink. The family tree that had hung on his wall when he was a child, showing where he came from and what made him who he was. The silver ring his mother had worn on a chain until the day she died.
The first time, they didn’t have a big celebration, no fancy dinner at a five start restaurant. She came home to find the bed draped in Egyptian cotton, her son at the babysitters, and her husband wrapping his arms around her from behind.
It was enough. For them, it always is.
She wears a simple emerald encrusted band on the ring finger of her right hand. He wears the watch she got him, the one with a prayer for safe return written on a tiny scroll and tucked inside of it. The face has cracked three times (mishap in a training camp, fall from a moderately high cliff, a ricocheting bullet), but he keeps getting it repaired.
Kate’s told him she’ll buy him a new one, once or twice, a soft noise murmured into his shoulder, but he never takes her up on any of the offers. He holds her, denies her, and shakes his head steadily and calmly.
He will always get it repaired. Always.
When their son took his first steps, he was being stitched up in some country with too many consonants in it’s name. When he got home, he sat for an hour on the floor, arm in a sling, watching the small life form he was half responsible for creating make its way between him and the couch. She didn’t say anything about the various stains on his clothing and hands.
He started crying, and she picked Ben up and handed him to him, letting him hold his son as he rocked back and forth, whispering in a hundred languages that all meant the same thing. He had grabbed her around the wrist when she moved away to get a blanket, and she fell to her knees next to him, wrapped her arms around his neck, and whispered his name.
Ben had laughed, clear and carefree, and spoke his nonsense mix of French, Hebrew, English, and Arabic into the space between them.
The pictures of them are hidden in the fire safe box under the bed, along with the Wills and the other papers of importance. There’s one of Ari sprawled, sleeping and still on the sofa, hand thrown behind his head, while Ben lies on his stomach and sleeps. Both wear identical faces, sleeping and relaxed, and the hand not behind the father’s head rests on the back of the tiny life. Delicate and firm.
It’s one of Kate’s personal favorites. She keeps it next to her passport.
One of the benefits to having two kinds of blood running through his veins is the assurance that Ari will always be held accountable for his actions.
His father’s blood provides enough Jewish guilt to choke a horse, and like any good son he feels it like a fist against his chest whenever he does something that his inner morality policeman screams is wrong. He calls home when he can, he has a fund put aside to take care of his father should the worst happen to him, and whenever he breaks something in the apartment that it didn’t take long for him to view as half his, it’s replaced/fixed/being bemoaned by the time Caitlin gets home.
His mother’s blood, that thick Arab red that pours through his limbs with each pulse of his heart beat, gives him his sense of loyalty. Of brotherhood. The Arab family is built on obligation and ties that span blood and genetics to connect the most random of people. Blood is blood, but family is family.
Gerald blinked at him when he came to recruit him.
Arm still in a sling, shoulder being strengthened by daily physical therapy, he had sat in the pristine bed the physical rehabilitation center had provided and looked up at the man who had slipped a thick, hot bullet into him with narrowed eyes and an unsure posture. Ari had stood tall and still, the way he was taught to present himself, and when he laid out his case his voice didn’t shake.
It was only two months after the incident at the farm. He was no longer a terrorist, he was no longer on the most wanted list in Gibbs’s own mind.
He took the back way in on a day that all of the NCIS personnel who might have visited were testifying in a case. Just to be sure.
“I’ve read your file,” he had started as soon as he was moderately sure the younger man wasn’t going to pull out a hidden weapon and kill him where he stood. “You have a background in Hindi. Your aunt spoke it to you when you were very young. The CIA was interested in using you as a translator, but you turned them down. You thought you could make more of a difference at NCIS than behind a desk or at the other end of a telephone call.” He dropped the smirk that so characterized his face, and took a deep breath. “Hindi is similar to Arabic. With six months of extensive training, you would be speaking it like you were born in the heart of a Bedouin camp. Come work with me, and you’ll be able to make a difference.”
“You shot me.”
“I never said the work was without sacrifice. If you take the job, you’ll have to be willing to kill and to die and to do many other things you might see as distasteful. But it is not just a job, it is a calling. And I think you can do it, Gerald.”
The dark skinned man before him tilted his head to one side, face blank. A good poker face, Ari had thought. A rare and valued commodity. He still hadn’t gotten his down entirely. Caitlin had seen something in his eyes that first day in the morgue, he knew, and while that had kept him from a scalpel between the ribs, it was still a liability he couldn’t afford.
“I’m not Arab,” he pointed out.
“I’m aware of that. You don’t need to be. Black Muslims are hardly a rarity in this country or any other. If you allow me to set up a bit of a back story, to introduce you to the right people, they would not question. You would be allowed to move freely around, and your knowledge of American customs and security would be used to the advantage of the cover.”
“And if they discovered me?”
“Distasteful,” Ari had said simply. Slowly.
Gerald had taken a deep breath and a swig from the bottled water in his hand. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because you have what is required. You would be a good agent, Gerald.” He paused, shifted his weight to his other foot, and continued. “I did not want to do to you what I did. But I had no choice. I am asking you to understand that and to become a part of it.”
He rubbed the back of his head, and posed a question that left no doubt in Ari’s mind as to what he was doing. “Would innocent people have to get hurt?”
“More than required if you don’t join.”
A week later, Ducky had gone to see Gerald to ask if he was going to be coming back to NCIS. The sad smile he had given had been all the answer he ever gave anyone.
It was Gerald who let him know in the first place that Kate was pregnant. Ari had stepped out of a plane onto American soil, intent in looking into an associate who was purchasing a large amount of largely suspicious items, and the second he had turned his cell phone back on, Gerald was on the line.
“You wanted me to tell you about any major developments at NCIS,” he had said to start off the conversation, and those words were never good ones. He still had the memory of Caitlin’s door in his mind’s eye, throwing him out into the cold for a reason he couldn’t determine. “I think this counts. Kate’s gonna have a kid.”
It took Ari a moment to figure out just what the hell he meant by that. Was this like having a kidney stone? Did she just suddenly wake up one morning and discover a child in her closet? “Have a kid?”
“She’s pregnant. Some Indian guy she knows. Ranji Willis. Thought you might like to know.”
He had picked his bag up from the baggage claim, expensive Italian sunglasses still on, and felt his heart being squeezed in his chest. The fist tightened, and his aorta fell down to the floor, bloodless and dry. “Oh?”
“I just thought you might like to know.”
“I am not interested in gossip, Gerald. It is of little concern to me what Caitlin does with her life.”
And the irritating, smug bastard has taken a deep breath, very clearly accused “Liar,” and hung up the phone.
Ari has always been very good at what he calls “self-built avoidance.” By not acknowledging that he had any problems with his absence in Caitlin’s life, his over active, work focused brain had to come up with some other reason to watch her.
So, in all honesty, there was really only one option left. He got Gerald drunk and had him admit that he didn’t really know what kind of guy this Ranji was. And, being the good friend and work associate he was, Ari had decided that the best thing to do would be to check up on her.
Just to reassure his partner, of course. It wouldn’t do to have him distracted by outside influences. Worried about her and her baby. Not focused.
Ari is aware he is full of crap. He just tries not to focus on it too much.
Sitting in a café across the street from NCIS headquarters, he had sipped his coffee and watched carefully as a still flat stomached Caitlin had stepped outside of the office (just as beautiful as she had been the last time he saw her) and into the arms and the car of a dark skinned Indian man. He had kissed her cheek, she had smiled, and Ari had ordered another cup of coffee, black.
She’s moved on, he told himself. She has a new man, a life out in the open with him. She doesn’t need a covert boyfriend and she doesn’t need a lover she can never admit to going on a date with. She doesn’t need me.
He kept repeating it right up until the time she had given birth.
A boy, Gerald had reported. A beautiful boy with ten fingers, ten toes, and weighing in at eight pounds exactly. His hair was dark, his skin was soft and mocha creamy, like coffee with just a bit too little milk, and his eyes were always watching everything in the room.
A boy, Gerald had said.
Ari had drank himself into a stupor inside of the rented, sparsely furnished apartment he had in DC. And the next day, he had looked outside at the brightly shinning sun, closed the shades, and done it again. The conversation he’d held with Caitlin, the nature of family and love and off-springs, played over and over again inside of him, his tongue working random syllables of the conversation out into the air at points during the day. He took a mouthful of vodka in, the burn soothing his tongue, and mouthed “not a family” to the air.
Gerald hadn’t said anything when he found him there days later, simply threw away the liquor bottles and took the left over ones from the fridge before pushing Ari in the general direction of the shower with a terse “go.”
Ari had gone. Quietly.
When he had gotten back, the lecture had started. Don’t do this to yourself, don’t let this do this to you, don’t let it destroy you. Get back on the horse, get back into life, and get some fresh air in here. His new friend (brother) had touched his arm, and nodded when he saw something that satisfied him.
Before he left, Gerald had taken a deep breath, opened the curtains, and asked in that all too innocent voice of his “Is Benjamin a Hebrew name? Just out of curiosity?”
“Yes,” Ari had answered, asking the back of his companion’s head where this was going.
“Ah,” Gerald had answered. “Okay. Thanks.” And left.
Later on, Ari thanked him for being a manipulative bastard. Gerald had just given him the poker face and asked what he was talking about. He’s named as Ben’s legal guardian if something should ever happen to the both of them. He knows it without having to ask, and the wide proud grins he gives Ben whenever he sees him make his opinion on their choice clear.
He has a key to Caitlin Todd’s apartment on his key ring. If anyone else ever finds out about it, he is going to be suspected as a lover. It makes him grin into the darkness of his apartment when he thinks about it. When he tosses Ben up in the air and catches him with one arm, he wonders if he will even be looked at as a possible candidate for this child’s father. Gibbs, he knows, isn’t completely convinced that Ranji is responsible for the boy who knows how to steal his wallet without him noticing. He considers it a mystery for the solving-- who slept with Caitlin Todd? Who didn’t use a condom with Caitlin Todd?
Gerald has a poker face. No one finds anything out from him.
They spend Christmas Eve arguing over what to watch.
“It’s ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas‘,” she says, gravely affronted. “How can you not have seen ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas‘? You have to have seen this movie. I think if you haven’t, they throw you out of the human race at age thirteen.”
He folds his arms over his chest, one eye on the child who is finding sharp, shiny, hot, and dangerous objects more and more interesting as the days go by. “Caitlin, this is Touching Evil,” he points out, hand on the remote as Robson Green flips out on the screen. “This is a staple in mystery shows. In British television history. The acting is supreme, the story lines are amazingly detailed, and the cinematography is perfect.”
“So? ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’ is a classic. Ari, ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’ makes Christmas.”
“And Robson Green does not?”
She raises an eyebrow. “We’re watching the Grinch,” she says firmly, and steals the remote from him. “Besides, it’s better for Ben. Watching some guy get a drill through his head isn’t healthy for someone who’s only a year and a half.”
They look down at their son, who looks calmly back up at them. Last week he figured out how to stand on his tiptoes and open the doors in the apartment. “He looks fine,” Ari points out stubbornly.
“He’s hiding the trauma on the inside. Really.”
He grins and she starts laughing at herself when the phone rings. He looks at her-- house phone means it’s hers to get. She presses the button on the portable phone and puts it to her ear. “Kate Todd.”
Ben looks up at her, one hand on the toy gun Tony got for him, as if to protect his mother from whomever is on the phone. She smiles reassuringly at him, and he goes back to playing his new game of “Let’s See How Fast I Can Give Daddy A Heart Attack.” He catches his son as he tumbles headfirst at the coffee table, just for giggles, and the child with gunpowder and strength in his blood laughs. Hard.
“I fell,” he points out, cheerful and proud.
“I am aware,” Ari says, wondering if it’s possible that the child knows his heart rate right now and just gets a kick out of pressing the buttons to turn it up. He’d like to think not. He might just have a better chance of seeing his son turn eighteen if the answer is “not.”
He has created a child with Caitlin Todd, who knew him from the moment she saw him. Who slugged an Arab man in a barn because he hit her first, and then demanded to be able to hit him again.
His genes with this woman’s. God help him and the rest of the world.
“No, it’s fine,” his wife says off to his side, and he looks over at her calmly. The wrinkle in between her eyes says it is most assuredly not fine. “No, I’ll leave him with the next door neighbor’s daughter. She’s always looking to baby sit for me.” She puts her hand on the back of her head, rubbing at her scalp roughly. “Yeah, it’s fine Gibbs. It’s… that’s life, huh? I’ll be there in thirty.”
She hangs the phone up and looks down at the little boy who is trying to figure out a way to kill himself before age one and three quarters, and makes a sound in the back of her throat. “Just once,” she whispers, “I want to be able to tell someone that no, it’s not okay. That I’m spending some time with my husband and my child. My family.” She gives a weak smile, as if she has to appease him. “I love them all. They are my family. But you’re that too, and sometimes I think it would be much easier if all of you were just… mine. The same.”
He picks a protesting Ben up, but the young boy quickly crawls into his mother’s lap once he sees that it’s being offered. His fingers are preoccupied with a carved wooden elephant that Ducky gave his adopted grandson in one of his random (and extremely frequent-- Ben is especially good at manipulation) moments of gifting. She brushes her finger over the soft dark hair, methodically and absently, like she’s counting the beads of a rosary, and the look she gives him makes up his mind with more finality than hours of deliberation could have done.
He holds Ben in his lap when she leaves, stroking his son’s stomach until the boy falls asleep, and lets his mind play over the issue it has been contemplating since the woman he can’t picture not loving gave him his family.
Gerald has forgiven him. It took a while, and it wasn’t an easy process, but without the aid Ari provided, Gerald would not have been able to get through the training at the Mossad. On more than one occasion he helped him through his studies in Arabic, showed him the proper motion to kill someone, and lectured him on how to avoid detection. Ari helped him, but Gerald permitted him to help.
Gerald forgave him.
Ducky, he thinks, might be the way in. The easiest. Gibbs, of course, will be the hardest, but if he can get Ducky, he should be able to get Gibbs. Tony will go however Gibbs goes, and Abby will follow as well.
Ducky is the patriarch of the clan. If he gets him, he has a foot in the door.
Ari’s son stirs slightly, crying out “uh uh…” His father is going to be up for hours longer, but it is time for Ben to be put to bed. The boy hits the air with his fists, face scrunching up at the movement and the new intrusion into his rest.
“Bed time,” Ari mutters, laying his child down in the crib that bears the marks of his wife’s work and the conflict that shapes their relationship. Ben rolls over onto his stomach, blankets clutched in his fists. Soon he’ll be too big for it.
Soon, Ari will be too.
It is time, he decides, to come out of Caitlin’s closet. It is time to place a real ring on her finger and a bite on her neck. It is time to become her husband in every sense of the word, under the eyes of every court in the world.
He brushes his fingers over his son’s hair, makes sure that he is settled, and goes into the living room to wait for his wife’s return.
A month or so later, sitting in a French café, Ari buys his brother a cup of coffee and a croissant, and reveals his decision with a calm voice and still hands. Gerald, in the true test of a friend, listens carefully to his intentions, his needs, and his vague plans, then laughs at him. Loudly.
“Let me see if I understand this-- you want to make them forgive you for taking us hostage, shooting one of them, and then knocking up and more or less marrying the woman you kidnapped?” He shakes his head. “Man, Haswari, you got some balls, don’t you?”
Ari sighs and swallows his too hot coffee. “I understand that it’s ambitious-”
Gerald snorts, and waves a hand. “Look, Ari, trying to get Ben to sing his ABCs backwards in Hebrew would be ambitious. This is… a challenge.”
“I was aware of that, thank you.” Gerald laughs again, and Ari folds his hands on top of the table. “Gerald, I understand what I am trying to do is going to be difficult. This is why I haven’t told Caitlin yet. She is concerned enough about me. She doesn’t need to be wondering if I am lying dead because Gibbs shot me when I tried to go up to him and embrace him like a father.” He orders two more cups of coffee. “I am not going to drag you into this-- I wouldn’t do that to you, and you know that.”
“Yeah.” Gerald’s eyes drift off into space but his mind remains. Ari folds his hands on the table and speaks very deliberately, very slowly.
“But I am asking you for your opinion.”
A few tourists walk by, and they sit together in silence for a moment, watching as the obviously American family tries to wrap their minds around two men sitting together at a table with no woman in sight. One of them is wearing a baggy pair of cargo pants, and neither Ari nor Gerald calls out to alert them of the pick pocket that just stole three wallets from them.
They move on.
“You need to build up to Gibbs.”
Gerald is nodding calmly to himself, placing himself in the situation and evaluating each option like the consequences effect him personally. “I would say start with Abby, but if she wasn’t completely comfortable with seeing you, the guilt would get to her and she would tell Gibbs…” He shakes his head. “Let me think about this for a while, alright? I’ll get back to you on it.”
It’s more than he came here with. Ari nods quickly and gladly. “Alright.”
They sit in silence again, watching the world drift by. Gerald takes a deep breath and shakes his head to himself. “You’re really that in love with her that you’d risk getting killed just to make it known.” He looks like he’s just figuring something out. “You want to put your neck that far out on the line so everyone knows who the hell she is to you?”
He asked himself that same question earlier on today. He didn’t have to think about the answer. “She deserves a family, Gerald.”
Gerald squares his shoulders. “She’d say she already has one, man. Whatever you do with this I don’t want her hurt.” He doesn’t throw in any clichéd “I’ll kill you if you hurt her” or “I’ll break your face and no one will find the body” bits. It’s unspoken because it doesn’t need voice to be given to it for it to be there. It is between them, present and powerful.
Ari’s answering “I would kill and die to keep that from happening” is expressed in a simple, quiet “No.”
When Gerald gets up to leave, he clasps arms with Ari, strong and without doubt. Their eyes are locked, and both are serious but neither is sad.
“We’ll make this work.”
“Thank you, my friend.”
Gerald’s mother used to tell him not to interfere with the lives of others. A big, proud woman with strong hands and beautiful eyes, she had little patience for those who played around with the hearts and fates of others, and she had made that clear to him and his siblings from the day they were capable of understanding.
She had told him that meddling was not welcomed by anyone, and that anyone who encouraged him to do it was just hoping that he would take the fall when the trouble eventually came around and blame was waiting to be handed out. “And,” she had added, “there’s always some blame to be dished.”
One of her other favorite lessons was the one about family. About blood and bonds and how everything pales in comparison to the need to love and protect and help you and your own.
He would kill for the man who has become his brother. His brother would kill for him.
Ari is the second one he calls when Ducky goes missing on a blood kissed Sunday afternoon.
The security cameras capture his abduction, the bad man captures him. Gibbs watches the tape over and over again, has Abby run every sort of scan and test on it that he can, and forces Kate and Tony to stare at the footage for hours on end, looking for the clue. The way in.
She begs a break to the bathroom and calls Ari, half in tears, and tells him that she has to work late tonight because Ducky might be in trouble, and God what is she going to do if something’s happened to him? He murmurs something soothing and soft, and she snaps at him with displaced emotion before she takes a couple of deep breaths that really don’t help and apologizes.
“I need a hug,” she whispers softly, and he makes the soft noise in the back of his throat that she’s come to recognize as the “I am your husband and I love and miss you” noise.
“I need to give you one,” he whispers back, just as low, and she sighs. “Go be brave, Caitlin. I have work, but I will make sure Ben is taken care of. Everything will work out.”
“How can you say that? You don’t know-- what if he dies? What if he gets hurt-- God, what if he doesn’t come back from this? What if he’s never coming back?”
He talks her out of hyperventilating and loads up his gun silently, before swearing his love and adoration for long enough to appease her nerves and her fears, sending her on her way with a gentle “I love you” and the equally gentle reciprocation.
Gerald’s phone call had ended five seconds before she rang. His call to three men who owed him favors follow by ten.
It’s a simple operation, really. An easy thing for him to pull off, and even easier when compared to all it will get him in the long run.
Ari watches the convicted murder who is holding Caitlin’s adopted father figure hostage with an emotion close to boredom, and certainly not far from condescension. Holding a gun on a old man because he testified at your trial is a new low.
For all that’s holy, he thinks to himself with a grunt, it’s Doctor Mallard. Who could possibly hold a grudge against a man who calls himself “Ducky”? He rambles, he smiles, he makes obscure references, he lives with his mother.
Who on Earth could wish him harm, Ari wonders to himself, shakes his head, and sighs.
Holding a gun on an old man. He hated doing it when it was for the safety of Israel and the welfare of the free world. He can’t imagine doing it under any other situation. Respect for one’s elders was one of the things he was taught believing was paramount. To look down that cold metal at the man who had done nothing but his job made his insides quake and his skin tingle uncomfortably. Like his skeleton was going to try and escape.
Ari takes a deep breath and moves into position to take out the man that Gibbs wouldn’t be able to find for another two days if left to his own devices, and whom Gerald can’t lead them to without outing himself as Mossad. He prepares himself to do something incredibly easy, for him anyway.
And something that, for his family, might just prove to be the hardest thing of all.
Krav Maga is the deadliest and most effective form of hand-to-hand combat currently in use on the planet. There are no rules, there are no concerns about hitting below the belt or the soft cartilage of the face being bruised. There is only human weakness, human strength, and reaction time. Israeli’s have long since learned that in some cases, ruthlessness is called for-- even deserved. And you certainly don’t go through the two year mandatory army time, followed by a life as a spy without learning a few things about covert operations and rescue.
Ari has always been particularly gifted at Krav Maga. His father used to tell him he had a natural ability for the craft-- it’s adaptable to anyone, but he picked it up quickly and thoroughly.
He knows what he’s doing. Compared to a weak little man who holds a gun on an elderly doctor who lives with his mother, he is immortal and untouchable. The gun is gone in a second, the man unconscious in the next, and before he has taken a full ten breaths from the time he began, Ari is brushing himself off and trembling with the wasted adrenaline rush.
He leaves the man as an offering in the middle of the room, bound and gagged and helpless; a sacrifice to the blue eyed man who holds the fate of his family in his palms. One that he prays will suffice for the time being.
Let it be enough. Let it all be enough.
Ducky looks at him like he’s grown a second head when he ends up being the first one to show up offering rescue. Where is Gibbs, he asks, what have you done, why are you here, what are you doing with that knife, why are you letting me go-- the questions spill from him to try and grab Ari and categorize him; to understand and file his actions away under some easy to understand motive.
Ari defies him, answering just enough to make his non-threatening stance clear and his honest intentions visible. He puts the knife back down when he’s done with it and helps the man to his feet without comment, looking for all the world like this is just the way things are supposed to be.
He pulls the climbing rope out of the trunk of his car without comment, and Ducky watches from the door of the cabin he was being kept in, face contorted in confusion and worry. His head is throbbing from lack of food and water, and his whole body is sore from being kept on the floor for too long.
He thinks he might be hallucinating. Dreaming.
But he lets the younger man bind his captor with the second rope as well (overkill, perhaps, but of psychological benefit to the victim, Ari knows) and when he pops the passenger side door open for him, he takes a seat with a small grunt of relief. There’s a box of animal crackers in the backseat that he was going to bring to Ben, but he hands them to the doctor without a second thought. His son is spoiled enough, after all.
Ducky watches him openly as he tightens the bonds on his former keeper’s wrists, legs, and torso, and when the younger man reaches into the car and turns NPR on for him, he feels a brief smile steal across his lips.
He hides it behind a nose scratch, of course.
Ari lends him his cell phone and leans casually against the side of the car, arms crossed like he could give a damn less. Gibbs peppers Ducky with questions over the line for a minute or two before he can get a word in edgewise.
“I’m quite alright, Jethro.” He takes a deep breath, and Ari politely pretends to not be listening (and to not have noticed the look that the older man just shot him). “Young Mr. Haswari came to my assistance.”
Ari feels like he just won the greatest prize imaginable-- like the skies just opened up to pour liquid gold down upon his head and bathe his skin in wealth. He tightens his jaw muscles to keep from grinning like a mad man, and focuses on the feel of his heart beating rapidly in his chest.
Watch the clouds, he reminds himself, and follow the conversation.
“I can assure you, Jethro, I was as shocked as you were.”
His eyes are smiling behind his sunglasses. He’s grateful for them.
“Yes. No, actually. He’s being… quite the gentleman.”
His left butt-cheek clenches tightly in pleasure.
“No… No… I will.” He pauses, takes a deep breath, and holds the phone out. “Agent Gibbs would like to speak with you.”
Ari takes the phone without thinking about it, methodical and steady, and his face is carefully blank as he puts it to his ear and says “Shalom.”
“I hear you have one of my people in your custody.”
…Not the warmest of greetings, he supposes, but not a death threat either.
“I prefer the term ‘providing aid to’, but I suppose diction is not that important right now. Yes. Doctor Mallard is in my passenger seat, and the man who was holding him in is lying in front of both of us with several lengths of rope around him. Do you want them?”
There’s a pause as Gibbs’s razor edge mind slips through the logic and looks for traps or diversions. “What do you want?”
“World peace.” The answered growl makes him laugh gently. “You want the good doctor.”
“Well then come and get him. We are on the same side, Agent Gibbs,” he sighs, “I see no reason to allow a good man to waste away in captivity when I can aid him and I see nothing you have that I want. Come and get him and be done with it.”
The pause is longer this time, deeper and darker. “It can’t be that easy.”
“Agent Gibbs,” he sighs, “I have no use for a medical examiner. Do you want him or not?”
Kate doesn’t look at him as she piles out of the van with Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo, and when she flutters around the doctor with genuine concern, patching his wounds and touching his arms to reassure herself that he’s there, she’s careful not to touch any part of Ari with her body.
He can see the anger radiating off of her. Boiling He doesn’t think he’s ever seen her this upset, let alone at him, and his stomach churns quietly even as he watches over the proceedings in front of him.
Yeah. He’s on the couch tonight, he thinks without humor and sighs deeply. He doesn’t regret not telling her-- to worry her needlessly would serve no purpose-- but the last thing he wants tonight is to get a firm chewing out from a woman who’s fully capable of doing it.
It hurts when she eats his face off, and a very small part of him lives in fear of her one day not spitting it back up and viewing him as worthy of her bed and company and love.
Ari blinks and Gibbs is in front of him. He breathes in a short, calming breath, and the other man’s eyes are on him, and he is afraid
“Ducky says you didn’t mistreat him.”
“He is an old man. Respect your elders, Agent Gibbs.”
The baring of the teeth comes again. “Respect huh? Where was that respect when you put him in a body freezer and shot his assistant?”
“It was keeping me from shooting everyone in the morgue and getting my mission done fast and easy.” He takes his sunglasses off, rubs the bridge of his nose, and looks the older man straight in the eye. He’s always heard that eye contact is convincing. “I helped the doctor because he is a good man. As are you. There is nothing else to it.”
“I don’t buy that.”
“Then you’re going to have to come up with your own reasons. I did what I did, Agent. If you are unable to wrap your brain around that, there is little I can do to change that.” He puts his glasses back on and offers a tilt of his head. “Shalom.”
He walks over to where Ducky is sitting, careful not to make contact with Caitlin and raise her anger in front of witnesses. The older man looks at him, uncertain but trying not to show it, and Ari inclines his head gently. “You will recover?”
“Just a bit of an ache. I’ve experienced worse. I remember, there was this one match, back when I was at Eton-” he cuts himself off, sharp and hard, and Ari feels a little bubble of warmth grow inside of him. He almost got a lecture.
He’s almost there.
“That is good to hear,” Ari offers calmly, and Ducky’s brow furrows. “Perplexed?”
“Why?” The question is one that he’s asked himself before. Why visit Caitlin? Why sleep with her? Why lose his heart to a woman with dark hair and a clean soul and the child they created together?
Why is he this lucky and simultaneously this challenged by the world?
And since the answer might take a long time and several years of therapy to figure out fully, he shrugs, takes a deep breath, and offers a cop out of massive proportions. “Why not? You have done nothing to me, I have done something to you. Consider it a repaying of debts. Or a random act of kindness. Or a plot to take over the world. Think of it as anything you wish, Doctor Mallard.” He inclines his head. “I am glad you were not seriously hurt. Shalom.”
He turns to go back to his car and back to the apartment to pick Ben up from his sitter and hold him until his mommy comes home to kill his daddy. There’s a bounce inside of him. A light. He’s doing it. If he just keeps at this, he’ll have it, he’ll have it all, and there-
“Mr. Haswari,” Mallard prompt, and he turns again, almost expecting a bullet or a knife or a bit of sky to fall down upon his head and destroy his day. Is Caitlin going to shoot him? Is Gibbs going to permit her to?
The hand, the clean white dove of peace and friendship that’s offered to him makes him swallow hard and thick. The calm, anciently wise eyes of the man upon him make him shake.
He takes that dry, cool palm in his, squeezes, and feels like something has just shifted somewhere out there in the universe’s black fabric.
Caitlin watches his back as he leaves. He’d notice if he wasn’t so busy concentrating on not trembling.
Caitlin is furious, of course.
He closes Ben’s door carefully behind him, and then there she is, face red and hands in fists at her sides. Her eyes are narrowed.
He’s seen that look on killers before.
He listens to her rant and rave and scream at him for doing something like this without consulting her for a good half-hour, before she throws herself into the bedroom and slams the door behind her. He listens to her wail into a pillow for a good five minutes before sitting down outside of the door, making sure to make plenty of noise, and waiting.
She sniffles, and he feels the door push back against him. She’s sitting on the other side, and he wishes he could feel her, warm and solid against him. Wishes he could kiss her and tell her it’s all going to be alright and that he will never leave her and that nothing will go wrong.
He wishes for a lot of things.
Caitlin starts crying again, and he starts to whisper calming words in every language he knows, relying more on the tone than the meanings. She cries, he soothes, and they fall asleep like that, backs against each other, separated and alone, but together.
Around three in the morning, he stirs and looks at the door. The apartment is quiet and still, stale with the remnants of their fight, and he rubs his face with his hands.
He gently edges the door open, slips in, and almost trips over her in the darkness. Her hair is pooled around her head, hand curled by her face like a small child in a crib. He kneels down and gathers her up, careful as he is with Ben, and moves to their bed.
Dark eyes watch him when he backs away.
“You could’ve been killed. Gibbs might’ve shot you,” she accuses quietly. Her voice is rough from tears and exhaustion, and he listens with a sigh.
“He didn’t. I won’t let him.”
He strips down and climbs into bed with her, staring up at the ceiling for a moment or two to gather his bearings. Usually he’s wrapped around her by this point. Usually she’s welcoming that whole heartedly.
“Why are you doing this?” she asks softly, and he looks over at her. She has her eyes closed, hiding, and her face is drawn tightly. Tension and fire.
“I need to give you this. I need you to have a real family, I need to be a real family.”
The silence thickens, fattens. They lie side by side and feel more alone than they ever have in their entire lives, with another warm body less than a foot away.
He thinks she drifts off, and when the hand comes on his chest, hair clouding on his shoulder, he is so shocked that his arms are around her before he knows what’s going on.
His skin is wet. She’s crying again.
“I can’t lose you.”
His cheeks are wet, he realizes. So is he.
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