People of Interest
by B. Cavis
People of Interest
by B. Cavis
And just as easily as it begins, it’s over.
Things happen, events coincide. Some people get together, decide to change the world, and everyone else is left to deal with that. The various European cells of Al Qaeda join together in one huge, unprecedented act of unity and defiance of the Western invasion of their homelands. Hands join, weapons are handed out, bombs are made.
And then it ends, and everyone is left sort of… hanging. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. People go to jail, people die. Some live, some don’t, and no one is the same for it.
Some people go to hospitals. Some people go to funeral homes.
Some people sign legally binding contracts.
He looks down at the page, hands folded on the table. He can feel the eyes on him and the collective breathing of everyone in the room makes it smell foul and rough. Cigarettes and cheap coffee.
The chair underneath him is hard-- no padding for men in his position-- but he doesn’t give them the satisfaction of shifting around or showing his discomfort. His pain. The heavy silver watch he’s wearing is covered in dirt and grass from when he hit the ground and grabbed his gun out of his pants leg. There was a woman screaming behind him, clutching at her daughter and begging God for help and mercy.
He’d shot two men he’d spent years cultivating a friendship with, and she had looked up at him like he was a dark avenging angel descended from the heavens, come to save her, but hadn’t said anything. He’d wanted to take a moment to reassure her and her daughter that everything was going to be okay-- maybe give the child a meaningful look or something-- only to hear his companion in arms scream one short burst of breath.
One scream, and he was distracted enough for both the Mossad agents to take him without a problem, and to fail her. Miserably, horribly-- completely. He had turned, seen her hit the dirt hard with a blossom of red beauty behind her, and had found his throat closing up even as hard hands grabbed him around the chest and threw him into a car.
She went down. Apparently, she lives still but he has no way of knowing that.
He furrows his brow, as if he’s reading each word carefully and completely, and a man across the table from him clears his throat. “We have other business to attend to.”
“Then by all means,” he says tonelessly back. “You may leave.”
No one moves. He feels like grinning, but there’s really nothing funny about how very well he knows this situation right now. How well he knows what’s about to happen to him. He’s never heard of something like this-- not even gossip between recruits-- but he knows.
Books are one thing but experience is quite another, and for him there is a decent amount of that. A lifetime of that. A father who knocked up a woman in order to get a Mossad agent, not a child. A woman who spread her legs for peace and clandestine operations, not love.
He has lots of experience. The Mossad is predictable. He was raised to be their golden boy, their perfect agent, and when he came back he had dirty hands and a smart ass mouth. He knows what’s going to happen, knows how powerless he truly is to prevent it, and when he picks up the pen he knows he has no one but himself to blame for it.
His own heart. His own brain. He was a fool for not knocking her out the second she suggested it and waiting patiently for their ride. He was a bigger fool for not leaving her behind and going out to do it all on his own, claiming her dead or missing when asked and leaving her to be whisked back to America and the life she should have lived. He should have released her-- pushed her away; let her go off and date young pretty men who could wrap her in diamonds and bathe her in champagne.
He is not going to come out of this unscathed, and it is in large part because he’s spent the last three years with Caitlin Marie Todd, and he’s fallen in love with her.
A Very Bad idea. With a capital Bad.
He spares a brief prayer for her, the last he will be able to truly give her as himself. The man she knows is going to have to leave for a while; forever. He’ll never hold her again, never roll over in the middle of the night to wrap around her and keep her warm. The children he never told her about maybe, perhaps wanting will go unrealized and unreal.
Fantasies for a man who’s aging by the second. Dreams he can wrap himself up in in a lonely bed.
He tries to tell himself he’s doing the right thing, but it doesn’t really help. He’s saving them both, keeping her from harm, and that’s something, yes. He’s keeping her from being alone and in prison, eating meals a dog wouldn’t touch and suffering for her sacrifices; for all she gave for her country.
He’s going to make them both alone on the outside of a jail cell. It’s not much and it certainly doesn’t do a whole lot to soothe that admittedly selfish burn in his chest, but it’s something.
It’s a gift he can give her. The last one he’ll ever be able to give her, and if he does things right she’ll never know he gave it to her.
Don’t hate me, he prays to her. We all have to pay for our mistakes, but you should not pay for being forced into something you did not want.
It doesn’t matter. He’s not psychic and he can’t wish knowledge upon her. If he ever sees her again, she’ll be distanced from him so neither one of them can contact the other. If he ever steps foot in her presence again without being under intense scrutiny, she’ll probably be lying in a coffin and smelling of the funeral parlor’s perfume.
She’s going to hate him.
The pen is heavy against his palm. His face is still smeared with dirt and his hands reek of gunpowder. He looks down at himself, takes one last breath as a free man, and signs “Ari Haswari” on the dotted line with a flourish before pushing the paper across the table and folding his hands on top, fingers fiddling idly with the pen.
His face gives nothing. His eyes take in everything.
“So. What’s next?
She remembers a flash.
Honestly the whole thing is depressingly anticlimactic. No God, no white light, no nothing. Just a flash from Abdul’s gun as he tried to take out her and the hundreds of agents surrounding her, a thunk as the bullet hit her and pushed her back a few feet, and then nothing.
Well, not quite nothing, Kate admits. There was an awful lot of pain for nothing. Women have been told for generations that the worst thing they can experience is childbirth. Kate’s willing to go into maternity wards and start shooting people to prove that wrong.
Pain hurts. This much pain hurts bad.
All of the novels she’s read have always described being shot as one of those things that you can’t miss. Like the bullet comes out in slow motion, everyone’s moving through molasses, and you can count every heart beat in your ears, a number you never forget.
She’d never felt the urge to test this theory. It seemed like one of those things best left to every she got to shoot, as opposed to her. After all, did she really care if the world slowed down just because life was about to end? Did she even believe it?
She can state, firmly now, that they’re all wrong. There is no slow down, there is no silence. In fact, there’s nothing special at all to distinguish getting shot from every other moment of your life.
Except, of course, for the massive amount of bone grinding, teeth clenching pain that rolls through your body, takes you by the hair and holds you under water. Except for the agony that doesn’t let you gasp for breath, let alone listen for your heartbeat.
She remembers a flash. She remembers the pain.
That’s about it.
Ari was screaming. She’s sure about that part. Her lover is nothing if not familiar, and part of that familiarity means she knows when he reacts and when he holds it in. She felt the bullet enter her, felt flesh burn and peel apart and give in like an overripe peach, and she knows he screamed. The buzzing in her ears was probably him as opposed to the headset; probably his curse to God and the heavens above. Perhaps a curse to her-- a threat to make sure she survived.
The smoke cleared from the battle field, and she had just enough time to see things happen the way they were supposed to happen before the darkness collapsed over her vision.
The Mossad moved in. The CIA came in. She saw guns, she saw suits, she saw salvation and dreaded slavery once more. She remembers meeting his eyes, once, and the fear and desperation she saw there shook her to her core with more force than any threat ever could.
She saw the hands pulling him away, saw the men shoving him out of her eyesight even as she was lifted and put onto a gurney. She saw them separating him from her, taking him far away to be dissected and disassembled; understood. She saw the doors close on the ambulance, the oxygen mask placed over her face as pesky EMTs asked her irritating questions (“Do you know where you are ma’am?” “Do you know what year it is?” “You’ve been shot, do you understand?”), and she closed her eyes and saw nothing beyond the back of her lids.
All of her work, all of her time, all of her life leading to one moment, and even when she manages to pull it off it still screws her over in the backlash. Still fucks her hard and without remorse. He’d have something to say about that, she’s sure; about how life isn’t fair and the world isn’t smart. Logic takes a back seat to politics, politics to money, money to greed. Power. Fighting. Violence. He’d have something smart and snarky to say about how the bullet entering her leg was really representative of something much greater.
He’d try to make her laugh. She’d let him with a scowl.
She wants him to try and make her laugh again. Because all she has now is the pain; the horrible hurt that is slowly eating at her even as she tries to come back to herself. She takes a deep breath and starts shivering wildly as tears drip down the sides of her cheeks. She takes a long moment to try and get her bearings back, and only succeeds in letting out a weak, chest throbbing sob.
There’s a beeping beside her. A heart monitor. She listens to the sound of it and tries to cling to reality, feeling more salt coat her cheeks as the pain gets worse and worse. God, why is this happening to her? Doesn’t she deserve a break? Doesn’t she deserve a little morphine at least?
I just saved innocent lives at the cost of my own freedom and happiness, she thinks sullenly. My lover’s been taken away, I’m obviously in a hospital, and I’ve been shot. Come on, you big lug, give me a little bit of that good old charity I used to believe in when I was young and stupid. Give me some divine intervention.
A warmth settles over her and someone takes up the morphine pump from her arm and presses the little button to increase her pain medication. She’s still crying, still sobbing with each dull throb of her heart, but there is an edge now-- a bit of relief that lurks for her at the edge of reality. She has maybe five minutes left before she slips under again, if she’s lucky. She whimpers, head thrashing, and someone tangles rough fingertips into her hair, hand against her scalp.
“Kate, it’s Fornell, do you hear me?”
She presses her lips together harshly and tells them to stop shaking. Painpainpainpain…
“I know it hurts, kid, but you got to listen to me, okay?” Fornell, she thinks. He used to be a bastard and then he wasn’t anymore. What happened? Oh yeah. He died. Huh. Cool.
We’ve died before, her brain reports proudly. It’s not that big of an accomplishment.
“You’re in the hospital. You were shot, but you’re going to be okay and that’s the important thing. Can you open your eyes for me?”
His English sounds weird. She’s been speaking French and Arabic for so long that her native tongue makes her ears rebel. She thinks back to sitting with Idina, hands wrapped delicately around bone china cups as her tongue learned the soft consonants and practiced the rough vowels of the Muslim language. She remembers working sentences over in her head until her eyes crossed and her mouth went thick with cotton.
Idina. She’s either dead or in jail right now. Kate’s not sure which one she wishes for the older woman. Jail is no place for a woman, an Islamic woman none the less, and if she was interrogated she would not break until her fingers did.
Such elegant hands on that cup-- such beautiful nails and delicate knuckles.
Let her be dead.
Fornell’s still speaking, still encouraging her to follow orders and come back to a world that wants her dead. She tries to imagine herself in a cell and remembers thinking all those years ago that when she got back to her real life she would wear nothing but orange in defiance.
She laughs breathily for no reason Fornell can understand, and the tears come faster as she groans and clutches her ribs with one arm. The other is in a cast, strapped to her body. She tries to remember how the bullet hit her and comes to the startling and frightening realization that she can’t feel her right hand.
“It’s been anesthetized. It’s okay, trust me. Just open your eyes, okay?”
She whimpers and shakes her head quickly. “Hurts.”
“Can you try?” The hand is trying to be soothing-- to be a father figure. She bites down on her cheek and lifts her eyelids a fraction of a centimeter, and he smiles like she just cured cancer with one hand shoved up her ass. “Beautiful. Good girl.”
“Where am I?”
“Bethesda. You were stabilized in a naval hospital in Germany and brought over. You’ve been unconscious for about three days, but the doctors say you’ll be alright.” The hand doesn’t leave. She can’t open her mouth and tell him how grateful she is, but she tries to get it through with her eyes.
“My body hurts,” she whispers hoarsely. “Wha…”
“The bullet went through your upper arm and into your chest where, miraculously, it didn’t hit anything too important. Your spine was missed, no major blood vessels were nicked. You’ll have a nice little hole and a good story to go along with it.” He offers what she supposes it a reassuring smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.
“The mission… Did we stop them? The President-”
“All fine. The CIA and the Mossad got your information and moved in before any of the terrorists tried to activate their explosives. In fact, the only one who was hurt was you.”
She tries to find a brave smile for him. “Such a lucky girl.”
“Yeah.” He runs a thumb over the scar in between her eyes, a knife nick from a couple of years ago that healed into a thin white line where no hair grows. Ari had told her it made her look dangerous. She had told him he was an idiot, and desperately rubbed Neosporin on it while he laughed at her from their bed.
“I got shot,” she whispers, trying to wrap her mind around it for certain. Everything is sort of fuzzy, like the world is growing mold on it, and she is having trouble seeing where people and things definitely end and begin.
She closes her eyes again and tilts her head to get the most warmth from his hand. She’s cold and nothing seems to be helping.
“I know, I know.” He sounds truly contrite. Apparently death really softened him up. “You just need to know you’re safe. The cell was taken down, and you’re safe.”
She bites her bottom lip. The tears are coming faster now, and she replays that horrible sight of her lover being taken away to somewhere where she’s not; being taken from her. She starts laughing hoarsely and wishes she had something inside her besides fear and sadness; wishes she could really mean that cackle in his face. “Traitor,” she whimpers. “I’m going to jail. Fuck fine, Fornell.”
“You’re not going to jail,” he soothes. “A deal’s in place, and you’re not going to jail. Neither of you is.”
“Ari?” she gasps, brow furrowed deeply, and wishes she knew he was okay. Alive. Dead. With her. Anything is better than this emptiness-- this lack of information and the void it leaves within her. “He’s-”
“The Mossad has him. He’s okay.” The hand rubs the furrow in her forehead, thumb rough and worn. “Get some sleep, kid. You’re going to be just fine. You did good.”
The morphine increases. She wants to know more, ask more questions, and her mouth is open as she fights down the urge to cry some more, only to have all breath stolen from her and all thoughts dissolve into ash in her mind.
Former NCIS Agent and CIA operative Caitlin Marie Todd slips back into the black velvet of unconsciousness without a fight. She’s been fighting for too long to give one.
The doctors offer good news, the cafeteria offers cheap coffee. Tony offers nothing but silence, and Fornell keeps looking at him out of the corner of his eye like it will encourage him to speak; to give the answers to some question he doesn’t know yet.
He’s been in the world of spooks for many decades-- far too many to let it all phase him, but he’s never experienced something quite like this before. He’s seen missions go wrong, fewer go right, and to see one go both ways at once is sort of interesting to him.
In a very “thank God I don’t have to deal with this mess” way.
If the world worked the way it should, Kate and Ari would have been taken back to safe ground two years ago. If the world worked the way it should, she never should have had to fake dead on a tarmac and he never would have had to unzip a body bag with a living person in it. He could have spent many more years of his life sparing with NCIS’s best team, instead of the fractured ghost of it.
The world doesn’t work like that. He’s not going to pretend he doesn’t hate that, but he’s not going to sit around and whine about it either. The woman in the room across the hall deserves more than that. The man sitting next to him might just shoot him if he started, and firing weapons in a hospital is never a good idea.
“Gibbs know?” He judges the other man’s reaction, or lack there of, to the man’s name. A couple of months ago Fornell stopped by Gibbs’s place at three AM to tell him about a development in a shared case, and he wasn’t working on his boat alone. He didn’t say anything then and he doesn’t intend on it. Gibbs is smiling a lot more. Last time Fornell called him and demanded to be let into an investigation, Gibbs actually laughed before telling him to go jump off a bridge-- a real laugh.
The cheerful disposition he seems to have found hiding somewhere up Tony’s ass is sort of creepy, actually, but he’s willing to let it slide if it means the bastard isn’t going to go out and marry any more women to spoil for him.
“Soon.” Tony looks down at the cup in between his fingers. “He’s going to find out from your guys in a few hours. My cover is supposed to remain intact, but apparently the CIA has decided that they don’t need to hide her. Al Qaeda is smart enough not to come after her now-- she’s on US soil and she’s got a whole lot of people that are going to be watching her every move for a long time.”
Fornell’s forehead wrinkles. “Surveillance?”
“Until she dies. They can’t risk retaliation against her. For the rest of her life, Caitlin Todd will be a person of interest.” His lips turn up in a bare smile. “Then again, Gibbs might just kill her when he finds out. It might not be that long of a life.”
“So that’s it? She’s done?”
Tony shrugs. “She was done two years ago. The fact that she kept going doesn’t change that.” He drinks the sludge and licks his lips. He’s become accustomed to Gibbs’s coffee. It’s sort of weird to drink something that doesn’t corrode a hole in his stomach and leave his hands shaking with the caffeine rush.
“The Mossad has him.” Tony shrugs. “What they do with him…”
“What are they doing with him?”
“They’ve had him sign a nice legally binding agreement. He’s theirs until he dies.” He doesn’t meet Fornell’s eyes. He hasn’t slept for more than five hours in four days and he’s self-conscious about the bags underneath them. “Ari Haswari is a puppet. They’re going to use him to train recruits. He’ll be lucky if he ever sees another mission.”
“And her?” He thinks back to the fear in her voice-- the knowledge that she was going to have to be punished and banished to a federal prison somewhere for keeping her country safe; the inevitability. There’s a deal. He doesn’t know what, but he’s willing to be that nice legally binding agreement they had Ari sign might have something to do with it.
“No prison time. No death sentence. He… agreed to work her time off as well-- consulting for the CIA. He’ll translate for them, decode miles of meaningless Al Qaeda chat. When they need an agent trained, he’ll be the first one in the room. When they need a question answers he’ll be the one they get out of bed at four in the morning to go and drink shit coffee and answer it.” Tony’s mouth twists like his tongue has suddenly become coated with shit. “When they need someone to run for bagels, he’ll be the one they send.”
“An indentured servant spy,” Fornell mutters. “Nice.”
“Hm. It’s disgusting.” Tony gets to his feet and walks away for a few feet, not really sure why he has to distance himself from Fornell right now. When he comes back, the older man is still watching him. “Inactivity is a death sentence. They’re basically telling him he’s useless now that he’s been involved in something so high profile. They sent him out to take down a cell, and now that he has he’s going to be retired because he saved too many lives; because Al Qaeda won’t believe it just went wrong, they’ll believe he took them down.” He grinds his hands into fists. “This is shit detail-- the kind they give to you when they want you to quit, but he can’t. He’ll just be their bitch for the rest of his goddamned life. The man is reckless, irresponsible, and I wish he was dead. But he doesn’t deserve this. No one does.”
The words “no spy” go unsaid between them, and Tony’s gun is heavy against his side.
“He’ll kill himself before next year is out,” Tony predicts in a dead voice. “And she’ll slip so far into depression that it’ll take a thousand pills to get her out again. She’ll never be the same.” He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, getting rid of an imaginary bad taste and pushing his shirt sleeves up violently.
Fornell’s cell phone vibrates against his stomach, and he looks down at the window in silence for a long moment. “I think that boat pretty much sailed when she went off to fight Al Qaeda is Paris, don’t you?” He pulls the phone out and offers it to Tony with an outstretched palm. “Gibbs.”
Tony walks away quietly, in search of more coffee, and Fornell presses the little green button on his phone to put an end to three years of lying.
More pain. More exhaustion. She lies on her back and blinks in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware that there are more people now-- more intrusions in her room. Someone mentions the word “infection” in a low voice, and she is pricked and prodded by more needles, more hands, more invasions.
Kate tries to focus on breathing, keeping her strength up and her eyes closed to hide them from the hard light. Her forehead feels hot and when she becomes stable enough in her own mind to try and look at her surroundings, the world is swimming in front of her eyes with such force that she closes them again.
Morphine. You got to love it.
“Cold,” she whispers hoarsely into the air, but nothing comes to warm her. She whimpers, lets her head tilt to one side, and calls out “Fornell?”
No one answers her.
She takes a deep breath and thinks back to the various times over the years she’s gone under the surgeon’s knife-- or more specifically, Ari’s. There was an accident a few months ago with the operatives-- one of them was working on building a practice bomb and it went off prematurely in his hands. He died instantly, and she found herself with a very large piece of shrapnel in her thigh.
One of the younger men-- Ali, she remembers, the one with the acid burns on his hands and throat from an industrial accident several years ago-- had carried her into the kitchen of the beautiful sun drenched villa his family had left to him, and Ari had pumped her full of enough drugs that she wouldn’t know she was being cut into, then proceeded to clinically and calmly cut the leg off her jeans and prepare a scalpel. Abdul had come to see to them, then left quickly to deal with the dead man and the operatives freaking out outside, and her lover had looked down at her with the compassion he seemed to reserve for her lurking around his mouth.
“Lie very still and close your eyes.”
“And think of England, I know, I know.”
The room had been warm-- warmer than this, and he had anesthetized her well enough that she was in pain, but it was not overwhelming. His hands had been sure and swift, jerking her as little as possible. She had stared up at the beautifully crafted swirled ceiling, eyes heavy, and known that she would be okay. Known he would take care of her.
He brought her soup in bed for days. She’d accepted it without a word; praise of the little things makes him uncomfortable.
She shivers in her cold, surgically clean bed and feels like crying again in more than just pain.
Her arm hurts and her head is throbbing delicately. There’s a bedpan under her ass, a thin blanket over her legs, and a hospital gown on her body. All so very sterile. Simple.
Well, her brain argues, there’s really no point in being alone and in the dark, is there?
And since she can’t find anything wrong with that statement, Kate decides that that’s her new goal for the day. Two eyes, open and wide. She’s been looking at the world for years. It can’t be all that hard just because she’s wearing a crappy cotton gown now, can it?
After several minutes of deep breathing and a long moment of strain, she forces her eyes open and looks up at the white ceiling with supreme satisfaction in her own strength. “Okay,” she whispers, “one down.”
The room is bare. No flowers, no balloons. She’s not sure whether to be insulted or relived-- she always hated “Get Well Soon!” gestures. It made her feel like she had to write a letter back or something, and she has long viewed them as an empty gesture made by people who are too uncomfortable to actually come and visit their loved ones. Comfort by absentees is no comfort at all.
Still. She wouldn’t have objected to a bunch of daisies or something-- maybe she can guilt Fornell into bringing her some.
She tries to imagine the older, balding man weighted down underneath a large bushel of roses and offering a smooshy teddy bear that coos “I wuv you” when squeezed. Which, of course, leads into a mental battle between Fornell and the Care Bears.
She’s still debating whether Cheer Bear is bullet proof and Bedtime Bear knows karate when the doctors come.
More pokes, more prods-- she lets them ask her the same damned irritating questions they did before-- what year is it, who’s president, where is she-- and she answers without letting them all know she thinks they’re idiots. A doctor comes in, smiles charmingly, and she is more bored than she has ever been before in her life, and that includes her brother’s first piano recital.
Took him ten minutes to do the Minute Waltz, and then he still expected applause, the untalented little pain in the ass.
She tells herself the drugs are making her uncharitable, and grins like a maniac up at the ceiling for a long moment while the doctors try not to stare.
“Ms. Todd, you were shot and the bullet penetrated your arm and then entered your chest cavity.” She tunes them out and nods seriously, like this is all very fascinating and deeply meaningful to her and her life. She thinks about the tiny little scar on her leg, and feels the urge to crow.
My boyfriend is twice the doctor you guys are, her inner monologue informs them in a childish voice. And he’s prettier too. Nyah.
…definitely the morphine. Ari would kill her with his bare doctor’s hands if he knew she had called him her boyfriend, even in her head. It’s one of the many pieces of their relationship that she indulges him in.
Besides. He gets half hard whenever she refers to him as her lover. It’s proved quite entertaining over the past three years.
They talk, she pretends to listen, and when they leave she goes back to staring up at the ceiling and trying to keep from thinking. Two of the doctors are sleeping together, she notes idly, bored with the tawdriness. One of them was hiding a hickey, and three of them were hiding their laughter. She’s being treated like the most important person in the hospital-- a team of doctors.
One of them was armed. A team of doctors plus one CIA medical expert. Apparently she’s a person of interest. Running undercover anti-terrorism missions is obviously the way to get noticed in this world. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, the woman with the scars on her body and the hard look in her eye gets the medical attention.
Beats the hell out of the government funded health insurance she used to get.
One of the nurses brings her (surprise surprise) green Jell-o and a mushy peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a tray, and offers an encouraging smile. “It’s good to see you awake, Miss Todd.”
“Hm. Thank you.”
“The tall dark haired man-- is he your husband?”
Kate’s breath catches, hope starting to unfurl in her chest. Has he somehow managed to defy all odds and show up at her bedside? Is he here to make things interesting? Bearable? Will she not be doomed to loneliness as she originally thought?
By God, is she going to have to throw her arms around him and make a scene in the middle of the hospital? Because if he steps through the door right now, there is no other way things are going to play out. She isn’t in total control of herself right now-- hell, she’s not even allowed to get up to go to the bathroom on her own right now-- and if he steps into her line of sight she is going to jump upon him whole heartedly and kiss him until her stitches pop.
“Dark skin? Middle Eastern?” she asks calmly, revealing nothing, and the nurse pauses.
“Oh, uh, no. White. Dark hair, very nice smile. Expensive shoes-” Kate’s face falls and try as she might to hide her dismay the woman notices it. “I’m sorry if I-”
“No, that’s alright. That’s my friend, Tony. I thought you were talking of someone else.” She picks up the sandwich and forces herself to take a bite, offering a reassuring smile as her heart throbs and her throat compact. “Thank you.”
The nurse smiles again, confident again, and leaves with a little twist on her white tennis shoes.
Kate spits the sandwich back into the napkin and pushes the tray away with a sigh. Last week was the two year anniversary of when they started on their little rogue mission, and the cell was in a generally celebratory mood, while paying homage to the passing of Mikel. Later, when they had finished being leaders and caretakers, they’d retreated to their room and drawn the curtains and dimmed the lights. He arranged for champagne and chocolate, and she licked the last He’d laughed when she mountedof it off of his fingers with the very tip of her tongue when they were sequestered behind their door.
When his eyes had darkened and he had started to breathe heavily, she had offered her most innocent of smiles and flounced past their makeshift table, yawning hugely. “I’m tired,” she complained. “I’ll see you in the morning. Good nig-” And had gotten maybe two feet from him before he had grabbed her around the waist, pulled her back, and taken an ice cube from the bucket and dropped it in between her breasts abruptly, holding her still as she squealed and cursed him.
He’d laughed when she mounted him that night. She’d screamed with her orgasm.
Wonderfully satisfying. It makes her feel like crying even more, and she resolutely pushes her bed up and pokes at the green mass of death on her plate, determined to get the taste of chocolate and bubbles and sex off her tongue and out of her mind.
“I wouldn’t,” Tony recommends from the doorway. “I’ve tried those things before. Jell-o moves because it’s still alive here.”
She doesn’t know what to say to that, doesn’t know how to respond, so she pushes the tray again and sits very, very still. More information, Ari’s voice whispers in her ear. Never show a hand unless you know what game you’re playing.
His hair has gotten longer. It hangs down to curl gently around his collar, beautifully, and she is struck for a long moment at how truly lovely he really is. Dark eyes, gentle mouth, limber body. If she was the kind of woman who went for the jock time, Tony would be it. Her one and only.
As it stands, her one and only is either a) disguising himself as a cleaning man to come in and see her or b) being held by the Mossad (they would permit no others to claim him, she is sure of it) in some tiny little room while they throw bad coffee at him and demand explanations and expiations.
“Your hair looks nice,” she offers calmly, and he fingers it.
“Gibbs says I should cut it.”
“I like it.” He steps forward to invade her personal space, and she tilts her head up at him as his own hand comes to tangle in her hair. It’s longer now-- down to her waist. She usually braids it in a long, elegant plait to keep it both out of her face and out of her way.
Sometimes he brushes it out for her. His hands-- clever fingers and gentle palms-- tease out tangles and tension equally well.
Her braid is gone. The whole thing is one big tangled mess, and she may very well have to cut it off to get it all under control.
“You’re looking healthy.” He takes a seat by her bed, moving slower than he did the last time she saw him. Time takes its tolls on them all, she supposes. There are more lines around her eyes and mouth than there were three years ago. “He treated you well.”
“Hm.” She tilts her head to one side, eyes him for a long moment, and raises an eyebrow. “And Gibbs is good for you. Your diet has improved, and you’re getting more sleep.” She smiles wryly. “When he’s not biting you, that is.”
Tony doesn’t react. His face is calm and his eyes are dark. “How’s your arm feel?” He shifts, and she doesn’t comment on the fact that the move hides the hard bite mark underneath his jaw from her eyes. She’s never been more glad that she insisted Ari turn her into Caitlin Todd, Super Spy, and she licks her lips, enjoying the pain that lurks in the air.
She’s in agony. She’s in a strange place. She’s off balance. Her sharp tongue wants to do to someone else what has been done to her; wants to take away Tony’s defenses and show him bare and naked to the world.
She wants him to hurt. She wants him to know what this is for her-- how full of terror and pain she is right now.
“Like I got shot.”
“The doctor’s talk to you?”
She nods. “Apparently, I’m a lucky girl. I think Fornell’s going to take me to Vegas.”
“Has anyone else talked with you?”
His voice is rough, soft, and she leans back against the bed, eyes closing for a long moment, and takes a deep, steadying breath. It hurts, but it’s something to give her a moment to gather her thoughts. Never underestimate the benefits of distraction, she thinks, her mind mimicking his accent oh so perfectly, and sighs.
“The mission went down. The Secret Service, the FBI, the CIA, the Mossad, and MI-6 were all prepared. Your messages were received, and there were agents everywhere. We had a simultaneous raid on the villa. Everyone was captured or killed.” He folds his hands in his lap. “You were shot by Abdul Hassr when he realized what was happening. He aimed into the largest group of agents, and you just happened to be a part of it.” He shrugs. “The mission is over. Everyone is safe.”
“Ah,” she murmurs. “And yet, for as safe as everyone is, there are guards outside my door, my doctors are armed, and you and Fornell are the only ones who have come to see me.” She licks her lips, steadies herself, and looks him straight in the eye. “Where is Ari Haswari, Tony? And if you lie to me about this, we’re more than over.”
He gets to his feet and walks around the small expanse of the room for a long moment, before going to the door and closing it gently. She can see the agents give each other confused looks, and it would be funny if she had the presence of mind to look for humor right now. Her heart is beating so fast she can hear it in her ears, and it makes her want to get up and do something-- shake someone, beat something to a pulp, but all she can do is sit there. Waiting.
“Why did you turn rogue?” he asks in a soft voice.
“Are you avoiding answering me?”
She examines the tension in his back and the issue he seems to be having with posture. His feet hurt, she notes-- he keep shifting his weight from one to the other like a kid in church for too long. The Jell-o sweats on its little plastic plate, and she pokes it idly with her index finger.
“Because people would have died if I didn’t. We knew what we were doing. There was a terrorist cell we had spent a year infiltrating, and they were this close to doing something. Mikel died, and that meant Abdul needed a new second in command, while Idina and Jess needed a protector and friend. The opportunity was too good to give up just because you got cold feet.”
“You were in danger,” he reminds her, voice dead. She shrugs, wincing at the pull on her arm.
“I learned to live with it. Nothing happened to me; us leaving when we did saved us.” Kate swallows and takes a deep breath. She looks down at her hands, flashes a weak and tired smile at her fingertips and can’t stop it from coming out of her mouth: “Don’t make me beg you, Tony.”
“He’s with the Mossad,” Tony says calmly, eyes looking at her with all of the tenderness that she remembers from the Christmas visit when he ate cookies and held her in his lap. “They took him into custody, and now he’s back in Israel.”
“And what are they doing to him?” She tells herself there’s no desperation in that tone, and swallows thickly. “Tony, tell-”
“They’re turning him into a teacher,” he mutters, unable to look at her. His hands are apparently infinitely fascinating now. “They’re going to use him to train recruits. The mission was too high profile for him to be pushed back to Al Qaeda without risk of being killed or tortured. He’s alive. He’s fine. They’re treating him well and he’s not in any danger at all.”
She swallows, something hard and heavy lodged in her throat. Her hands are just as interesting now, and she looks down at the clean nails that Idina helped her paint the other day, a thank you for the cake she helped make for the older woman’s birthday.
The polish is chipped now. “And me?” she whispers. “What are they doing to me?”
“Nothing. He, uh, he worked you into the deal. He works for them, he works for the CIA, he does anything they want him to do for the rest of his life, and the two of you avoid jail and avoid punishment.” He shoves his hands into his pockets. “Nothing’s going to happen to you, Kate. I think Morrow wants to give you your job back, and even if he doesn’t the CIA will help support you. You’ll be under protective surveillance, of course, but beyond that your life is going to be the same.” His smiles doesn’t reach his eyes. “Everything’s back to normal.”
She sits very quietly for a long moment, eyes taking in the intricate pores in the ceiling tiles and the way the artificial light makes him look washed out and weakened. Tiny. Sick.
A worthless, de-fanged spy being given useless, safe, waste of time work.
“Oh,” she says calmly, and Tony’s hand covers her, eyes offering what she can only identify as a look of pity. She closes her eyes so she doesn’t have to see it, and hunches up her shoulders, mouth set in a thin line. “Can I have a moment?”
He nods, but she doesn’t see it. He brushes a kiss over her forehead, but he’s not the one she wants to kiss her. When the door closes she opens her eyes and looks down at her hands, clenching them into very tight fists and watching the skin stretch across her knuckles.
The tray makes a gloriously satisfying crash when she throws it against the other wall and she watches the food splatter like oh so much gray matter on the white paint.
The next time she wakes up, he’s there.
Kate watches the dark shape in her corner, eyes half closed, and tries to remind herself that breathing is important. The heart monitor stays constant, steady and smooth. She clings to the sound to keep herself steady in the quiet room. Her guards are still outside-- they haven’t seen him come in, and her morphine and call button rests by her hand quietly. She doesn’t go for it.
If he’s going to strangle her, she figures, he’s probably well within his rights. And if she’s going to spend the rest of her life being followed around by agents, denied the man she’s spent the last three years with and told to shut up and take it, perhaps she is better off dead.
It might be easier this way, after all. Suicide is a sin.
Suicide is a mortal sin, she thinks again, and wonders if she’s truly losing her mind to depression or illness already. How could a few days in a hospital have turned her into this? This insanely grinning fool who mocks the world inside her head and views everyone who approaches her as small and stupid?
He doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t move to push the bed up and she doesn’t move to open her lips. She can outwait him. If she’s sure of anything, it’s that she can outwait him-- she’s had time to come to peace with her decisions, he’s had less than a day to realize that all of his peace is shattered and weak.
She knows what it feels like to have your foundations shaken to the core. People who’ve experienced that don’t like being quiet for long.
She glances around the room. Still no flowers. Oh well. Perhaps she should consider dropping hints to Fornell in the form of glaring at him and pointing at the walls. She imagines the Care Bear battle again and grins to herself for real this time.
Okay. She’s probably losing her mind. Who can really blame her though? She’s stuck in bed, her lover is gone to God knows where, and she’s going to be under surveillance for the rest of her life. If she wants to start popping happy pills five times and day and dancing the Macarena in apple sauce, they should fucking let her.
The room is quiet. The nurses came in to clean her mess off the wall earlier, and she can see where a bit of Jell-o got on the ceiling. It’s like a giant green bugger hanging from the tiles.
“For a woman in a hospital bed, you’re pretty happy,” he notes quietly, and she feels the silence break and the room suddenly heat up a couple hundred degrees. She’s not sure if she should be more afraid of venting Gibbs or quiet Gibbs.
Apparently, it’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for, so she’s going to take this as a good sign for lack of any other indication.
Call button by the right hand. Okay.
“I’m imagining Fornell fighting the Care Bears,” she says quietly. “It’s actually pretty funny.”
“Hm.” He gets up, quiet and still, and comes into the light from the bedside light the nurse left on. His face is the same as it always is, his eyes are just as hard and blue, and he stands like a man on a mission.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs. It’s been three years, and he’s still the man he was when she drew him that first month. Still the beautiful, unexpressive man with one too many things on his mind and one too many pints of blood on his hands.
She looks up at him, and is still just in adoration with him as she was when she first saw him. He still inspires awe and loyalty. She hasn’t taken orders from him in three years, and she still feels like bowing to his will and trying to make him happy.
Of course, she’s spent the past three years fighting with a man with just as strong of a will. She meets his eyes calmly and doesn’t allow herself to think about when she thought of him as “Boss.”
“So apparently you’re had quite the time,” he starts off, picking up her chart to flip idly through the pages. Something to do with his hands, she knows. Gibbs wouldn’t know medicine if it attacked him with a pipe. “Paris. How was it?”
“Very pretty,” she says cheerily. “I really liked Notre Dame, but I was actually a bigger fan of this garden by the Louvre with-” He puts her chart back and crosses his arms over his chest, and she goes quiet for a long moment. “What do you want me to say, Gibbs? That I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
He bares his teeth in a not smile and shakes his head. “Oh, Katie, you’re going to have to do much better than that.”
“Good. Because I’m not.” She settles the blankets around her waist and resists the urge to scratch at her bandaged and wrapped arm. “You want me to apologize for the CIA approaching me? Okay. I’m sorry that they wanted me to save people’s lives. I’ll never do it again. Twenty whacks with your belt?”
“You think this is funny?” he hisses, and she licks her dry lips. “I’ve spent the last three years trying to find Ari Haswari to kill him, and now I find out that not only were you not dead, but you were with him? Do you honestly think this is the best time to joke?”
“I’m not joking,” she answers back, examining her nails carefully. “You’re right, there’s nothing funny about it. But you know what, that’s not my fault.”
“You faked your death,” he growls. “How is this not your fault?”
“You think I wanted them to come to me? Huh? You think I just rolled over and asked to be thrown half way across the world with a man I didn’t know and told to not screw up and end up with hundreds of dead civilians?” She’s snarling at him. “This wasn’t about you, Gibbs.”
“You made it about me when you joined my team and then betrayed my trust.” His eyes are colder now-- harder than she’s ever seen them directed towards her. Usually there was some odd hint of warmth-- a bit of affection from a mentor to a student.
There’s nothing there now. It makes her throat ache.
She takes a deep, calming breath, and rubs her eyes. She tells herself she’s tired, not crying. “This was about keeping Al Qaeda from hurting untold numbers of people, killing or capturing our president, and protecting civilians. You were never a part of it, and you know it. That’s why you’re so pissed at me.” She tilts her head to one side. “I did this and if you were asked to do the same thing, you would. That’s what’s gotten you so pissed-- you can’t even figure out if what I did was a betrayal or an honor on you as my teacher.”
“Don’t you dare turn profiler on me, Kate, or I swear to God I’ll hurt you.” She goes quiet. “You think you have the right to dissect me? Little Miss ‘Kind Eyes’?” He clenches his fists tightly and she’s almost afraid he’s going to put a hole in her wall. She’s not sure her new ex-rogue spy health insurance plan covers that. “I don’t ever want to see you at the office. Ever.”
She nods, slowly. “Fine.”
“I ever see you again, Kate, and you don’t talk to me. You don’t come up to me, you leave the room.” She swallows, and looks back down at her nails. If she looks at that coldness any longer she’s going to either freeze or bawl. She tries to find all of the training she’s had-- all of the calm under pressure and the emotional distance she’s spent oh so very long honing.
Only this isn’t an exercise anymore. Only she isn’t Ari’s partner, equal, lover anymore. She’s Kate Todd, former NCIS agent, former CIA operative, former Secret Service, and she’s in a bed while the man she spent two years of her life trying to please and three more trying to be true to yells at her and tells her he never wants to see her again.
It hurts. God it burns.
“If that’s how you want it,” she says gently, and her voice sounds distance and foreign in her own ears. “Fine.”
“I don’t want you contact-”
She forces herself to meet his eyes, careless of the tears slowly making their tracks down her face. “Like hell. You don’t get to make that decision for me, Gibbs, or for them. You want to pretend I’m dead and buried, fine, but I’m not going to let you take this away from me. Not again.” She unfolds her arms and swallows gently. “Please leave now. I want to sleep and it’s hard to do with you glaring at me like that.”
She rolls over, presenting him and the door with her back, ignoring the pain it sends shooting through her arm and chest. She can’t look at him, can’t even look in his direction anymore. Just leave, she prays. Please God, I just need him to leave.
Nothing happens for a long moment. She presses a fist against her mouth and bites into the side of it with as much force as she can muster, but she knows there are sounds escaping-- noises that a man with three unhappily ended marriages knows. The door opens, slowly, and she lets out one long, soft keen before it closes, unable to stop herself.
She’s weeping before he’s halfway down the hall. When Tony comes into the door, fresh from hiding in another patient’s room, he puts his arms around her and tries to calm her down with all of the love and affection he’d forgotten he had for her over the past two years.
“It’ll be okay,” he whispers to her, and she cries harder, hiding her face in his shoulder and clinging to his shirt. “I love you, he’ll get over it, we love you, it’s okay.” She shakes her head and hangs on him harder. He takes a moment, and stops offering words. Stops offering meaningless assurance.
He holds her, she cries, and he strokes her back because the man she wants here to do it is off being a lap dog.
I wish I had never come back from the dead, she thinks miserably, and hides her face in the crook of his shoulder.
It is insanely complicated, ridiculously expensive, and surely not worth his time, but when it’s done and he’s finished his first of many Herculean tasks, Ari feels a great sense of satisfaction within himself.
His information says her room is bare-- Tony and Fornell not thinking enough to get her flowers or cards. The bed is sterile, and she spends a great deal of time crying in it. Gibbs came to see her, and he left after telling her he never wanted to see her again. Tony tried to comfort her, and the success of such an attempt is uncertain.
Caitlin is lying injured and emotionally destroyed in a hospital in Washington, while he sits in an apartment in Tel Aviv and cleans his gun to have something to do with his hands. It’s not the way he wants it, but it might just be the way it has to be for the rest of his life.
Roses. He called the right people, put down the right information, and made sure everything was taken care of. When she wakes up, she’ll still be alone, but she won’t be forgotten. She will not be the only one in the hospital without visible proof that someone out there loves her and wants her to get well. He won’t permit it.
So. Roses. Red, simple, long stemmed. Lots of them. He’d thought of one sad little bouquet on her nightstand and found himself ordering three. He’d thought of her searching each bouquet for a message, and had to leave at least one.
Shakespeare was too cliché, he’s never been a man of poetry, and he couldn’t bear to leave her a greeting card piece of crap like “Get Better Quick!” He had sat very quietly for a very long time, racked his brain for something truthful and short, and almost come apart from the effort.
He couldn’t tell her-- couldn’t write to her in what very well may be their last communication the thing he wasn’t able to whisper into her hair during their time together. It’s cheap; worthless. What does she need with one more thing holding her back from readjusting? One more barrier in her way to leading a normal happy life once more?
He wrote five confessions of love, crumpled up five pieces of worthless paper, and then he went looking through the various books and random scraps he found in the boxes he’d put into storage before going to Paris.
“If I forget you, may my right hand shrivel. May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you.”
He supposes it’s blasphemy to use a Psalm as a symbol of your love for something other than God and Jerusalem, but he’s willing to take the risk. He may never see her again, but there is no way in Hell he is going to let her believe he just wandered off to never be heard from again; she was not forgettable. To leave her with a full mind and an honest heart would be impossible. Unthinkable.
He sent the note in Latin, trusting her to be determined enough to figure it out. She knows him and his sentiments; he doesn’t sign the slip of paper he faxes to the florist a block away from the Hospital. He receives his receipt, is told everything will be taken care of, and pours himself a large glass of bourbon.
The apartment smells of disuse and cleaning supplies. He sit and drinks until the sun comes up over the city, fumigating the room with light. Another day, another practice in penance.
His gun shines quietly on the table.
“You mean to tell me,” Kate mutters up at him from the wheelchair, “that not only do I have to wear this crappy paper gown, but I have to deal with you for the next week? Are you sure you can’t just put a bullet through my forehead?”
Tony grins to himself and glances down at her delicate brown head. One of the nurses agreed to help her comb it out yesterday, and it shines quietly in a long, thick pony tail. He tugged it gently when he saw her this morning, and the glare she gave him was almost like the old days.
She hasn’t cried in a while. He’s feeling like this is a good sign. Of course, Gibbs hasn’t been around to see her again either, and these two things seem to have a correlation of sorts.
He’d gone by Gibbs’s place last night to try and calm him down, and found the older man in the basement once again, resolutely working on his latest boat. The last one was built, painted, named, and sold at auction for charity, and he’d started on this one a few months back. Tony had teased him for it at the time, but the older man had just shrugged and said it wasn’t about actually sailing the boat, it was about the work involved to get it sea worthy.
He’d named it “Katie.” Tony held his own counsel, but that night he had kissed Gibbs with more tenderness than he knew he possessed.
He’d shown up, feet soft on the sawdust powdered stairs, and Gibbs had looked at him with such a sad, mortally injured look that Tony had grabbed him around the waist and hugged him for all he was worth, ignoring the heavy breathing and rough inhalations against his neck. Gibbs’s hands had clenched on his back hard enough to bruise, but he hadn’t pulled away.
“I’m going to take care of her,” Tony had told him with solemn eyes. “The doctors said she shouldn’t be left alone for a while, so I’m going to let her come and stay with me.” He’d licked his lips, uncomfortably aware that he was betraying the man he cared so much for in more than one way. “I’m sorry, Gibbs, but I have to do this for her.”
And instead of pouting, stomping his feet, glaring and snarling, Gibbs had simply murmured “Okay,” and gone back to breathing in the smell of his neck.
Tony brushes his fingers affectionately over the top of Kate’s head. There’s hope yet that the two of them will talk again like normal people, but he’s not going to tell her that. Best to let things develop. Best to stay far fucking away from it, too.
“Aw, come on, it won’t be so bad. I have cable.”
“Oh joyous rapture,” she mutters, disgruntled, and he laughs merrily.
He rolls her into a bathroom so she can change clothes, and when she comes out she has her hair braided into a long plait, with one of the roses that mysteriously appeared in her room the other morning weaved in at the base of her skull. Three more are peaking out her bag, stems wrapped in a wet handkerchief. She’d had it on her when they took her in, and he had watched her pick it out of her personal effects with a slight smile on her lips before shoving it away.
He didn’t say anything. They’ve found their balance and he is loathe to upset that so quickly. She’s been grouchy, yes, but her voice hasn’t been raised in anger at him in a long while now, and he hasn’t felt the urge to shake some sense into her in close to three days now. He doesn’t want her to slip back into the funk she was in when he first saw her, and even though he knows she will eventually, he’s trying to push that part off for as long as possible.
His grim prediction to Fornell will come true. It’s just a matter of how quickly.
He helps her into his car, careful of her am and buckles her in like a little girl. “Okay?”
They drive, him keeping up a soothing monologue of nonsense as they go. That place serves the best Italian. He once had a girl outside of that club, up against a wall. Hey, that clown is wearing your shirt. She listens, staring out of the window at the city she’s seen in dreams alone for far too long, and he shuts up about a block from his apartment.
“We’ll find you a place tomorrow and move your stuff in for you.”
“It’s still around?”
He helps her out and she stands on her own two feet for the first time in days, stretching her muscles and feeling her weight for the first time in too long. This is me, she thinks. My feet, my hands my body.
She tries to feel like her old self, like the nice little Kate Todd who used to tease Tony for being a horn dog and sigh when Gibbs gave her an order, and it’s so far beyond her reach that her stomach clenches as she follows him up.
There’s a painting on his wall that once hang in her beautiful Paris apartment, so far away from where she is right now. She traces her fingers over the glass idly, knowing he’s watching her, and moves on quickly. The roses in her bag need water, she reminds herself, and finds a slender vase under Tony’s sink to put them in. His kitchen is clean and small, used and loved, and she wants to pad barefoot across warmed tiles but leaves her sneakers on and her head in the present.
“Nice place,” she allows quietly, and he beams at the compliment.
“My room has a vibrating bed,” he says proudly, and she nods seriously.
“How nice for you.”
They hold it for five seconds before breaking into soft giggles, and it hurts her but she laughs. Her arm is still in a sling and the doctors want to see her in a few weeks. Her phone has been ringing in her pocket for days-- her parents and siblings not quite believing the news. She’s tired of people asking her “So, uh, not dead, huh?” and when he shows her to the guest bedroom she takes it gratefully.
The covers are warm, soft, and she’s looking up at the ceiling when a soft noise by the closet gets her attention.
“Tony,” she whispers hoarsely, and the small dog whimpers pitifully for a long second before jumping up on the bed with her and attacking her face with her tongue. “Oh girl, I’ve missed you so badly! Yes I have-- yes I have!” She coos happily at the creature, laughing at the saliva on her face and the tail that beats against her arm steadily. “That’s my girl, that’s my baby.” The tongue laps away the tears that fall, and when the animal tires and lies down next to her, she wraps her free arm around the tiny body with as much power as she can.
God she’s missed owning a dog.
She pulls the piece of paper she couldn’t let Tony or anyone else see out of her pocket and puts it underneath her pillow. Tiny, scribbled letters in a florist’s handwriting. His words on a scrap of cardboard.
Beauty. Sheer, distilled beauty. She has an image of him sitting over a bare coffee table, head in his hands as he tried to come up with something good, and laughs briefly, painfully to herself. She knew there was a reason she spent all those damn years learning a dead language. Trust him to make her teary eyed at the same time as making her brain hurt. Forcing her to conjugate Latin verbs before getting her bit of affection is right up his alley.
No one will take this from me, she tells herself. No one will ever take this away. They can force him into slavery, they can take her and put her a world away from him, but they can’t take any of it from her permanently, not really.
They can’t take Ari from Kate, and she knows it in her stomach. They can’t take him away, they can’t force her to forget him, and they will not stop her from trusting and adoring him. She’s never told him she loved him. Which means that she has at least one more thing to do before she dies, and she intends on doing it.
Ari Haswari may be off in some crappy little apartment, forced to submit to the will of the Mossad and his government, but Kate is lying in a borrowed bed and hugging someone who uses their tongue as toilet paper; no space of her own, nothing but her dog and uncertain friendships.
Frankly, she thinks, she has nothing to lose. The United States government obviously overlooked this, but that’s their problem, not hers. She has absolutely nothing right now-- no home, no close family, no solid friends but the two Tony’s, and she trusts in their love; their devotion to her is a constant she can look to when everything else is upside down and broken. She has two hands, she has the knowledge of the greatest spy the Mossad has produced since Malkim, and if they think she isn’t going to use both they’re dumber than she thought.
The only thing more dangerous than a woman scorned is a woman stolen from. She had a man. She has a man. Ari Haswari belongs to her, and she is sure as hell not going to sit back and be robbed. Gone are the days when she was nice and quiet and willing to follow all of their orders-- gone are the days where she would uproot her entire life and being to suit their plans.
Ari Haswari is her property. She owns his punk ass until the day he drops dead and even then she intends on owning him in the afterlife. She’s lived, slept, and breathed with the man for the past three years; she’s put up with his moods and solidified his sanity-- grounded him when he needed grounding and stroked him when he needed stroking, and that means that she has a claim on him, the same way he has one on her.
Nothing to lose means Very Dangerous.
He belongs to me, not you, she thinks with a clench of her nails into her palm. And if you get in my way none of you are going to be left standing.
She wraps her hand around the paper, takes a deep breath, and closes her eyes to get some sleep.
Morons, she thinks with a smirk, wishing she had theme song music playing in the background to underscore her power. I’ve been trained by great men and powerful women. You don’t have a chance.
Not a fucking chance.
Her hand on his shoulder. Her breath on his cheek.
He wasn’t sleeping and he doesn’t pretend he was. Her eyes are dark and her mouth is drawn in a tight show of pain. “What?” he whispers, and she swallows as he sits up in bed and runs his fingertips nimbly over her face and all bare skin, searching for blood or a tangible source of pain. “What is it? Does your arm-”
“I don’t want to be alone,” she whispers to him, and the silence comes for them.
She takes two shaky breaths. “I’m sorry,” she laughs gently. “That’s… I’ll go back to my-”
And for as much of an ass as he can be, as much of a bitch as she can be, they hold each other without questions or speech, drawing comfort for different reasons. She feels solid in his arms; real. Safe. He breathes in the smell of her hair and the harsh medicinal smell of the gauze on her arm, and brushes so many kisses across her forehead that he loses track.
She waits until he drifts off to sleep to let the quiet tears come.
Tony’s at work when she wakes up, and Kate climbs leisurely into her bed for another two hours of rest. When she wakes the room is more familiar and the smell of it is no longer a foreign entity in her nose. She lies very still on her back, Tony still by her side. The dog offers one whack of her tail, then rolls back over and groans. “I know the feeling,” Kate mutters. It feels weird to sleep in clothing again.
The apartment is silent and still. She moves through sunlit lines of dust particles and skims her feet over toasty carpets, burring her toes in the couch cushions and spreading a copy of the New York Times over her lap, slipping through the sections idly. She hasn’t seen a newspaper in English in a very long time. It’s sort of weird, actually.
Eventually Tony’s extensive movie collection calls to her, and she gets up to flip through the DVDs and box sets that cover the shelves of his living room. Half of them, she’s sure, he only has for their coolness factor among the movie geek population (“Soylent Green,” “Night of the Living Dead” “The Blob”) and she grabs the DVD of “Twelfth Night” she finds behind the “Honeymooners” collection. She needs to watch something that requires brain power-- if she lets her mind wander she is going to start thinking of methods of escape and rejoining Ari, and she really doesn’t feel like doing that quite yet.
She wants to see him again desperately, but there’s been an ache in her for a long time now-- a desire to see and love her friends and family again. She will see him again (and she has no doubt about this-- screw him and his little deals, she is going to get him back in her bed if she has to handcuff herself to him and push him down on the mattress) but until the need becomes overwhelming and painful, she is going to enjoy herself and live her life as a former NCIS agent, not an undercover agent of the Federal Government.
As best she can, at least. Until the ache becomes so bad she can’t breathe through it anymore.
The knock on the door comes about half way through Helena Boham Carter’s groping of Imogen Stubbs, and Kate pauses the movie to get up. Tony is still asleep on her bed, but she gets up as her true master walks by, intent on protecting her from any evil doers. Kate smiles down at her warning growl and peaks through the eyehole.
Ducky hugs her when she opens the door. Hard.
She melts into his embrace, breathing him in, and his arms are strong and without doubt around her back. Certain in his love for her. She hides her face in his shoulder, and when he pulls back to examine her eyes, she offers a smile that she actually feels.
“Good,” he murmurs to her, and brushes a kiss past her forehead, holding her tighter. “Welcome home, Kate.”
She’s crying again and not quite sure why, but he holds her through it and rubs her back like she’s not asking for anything major-- like she’s easily dealt with. He treats her like a loved one, not a burden, and she clings to him because of it.
A solid. A constant in her life. She has never fought with Ducky and she can never imagine doing so-- he is stable and concrete; permanent. She loves him for that alone.
They find themselves on the couch, her wrapped in his arms as he rubs a hand over her back. They watch to the end of the movie in silence, his hands still running calming lines down her flesh, and when the credits are running and Feste is done with his parting song of joy and sadness, he presses a paternal kiss to her forehead and she pulls back.
“You’re not angry with me,” she notes calmly, more of a statement than a question. He shakes his head just as calmly-- more to cement the fact with himself than for her.
“My dear, you have done nothing wrong.”
Her eyes fill with tears again, and she wipes them away with a hard hand. “I missed you.”
“And I you.” He wraps his arms back around her, letting her seek sanctuary in the crook of his neck and the warmth of his body. “You are unharmed and safe. That is the important thing.”
“I’ve done bad things,” she whispers. “They wanted to put me in jail, but he saved me.”
He doesn’t say anything. He’s never met Ari Haswari when he wasn’t pretending to be a terrorist, and he’s not sure if he wants to. The man has taken good care of Kate over the past three years-- maybe even loved her the way she deserved to be loved (he’s old, not foolish and certainly not stupid; the signs of a woman in love are obvious to the blind)-- but he still can’t attach that image of him to the name in his mind.
For him, Ari Haswari will always be the nameless man who put a bullet through his assistant’s shoulder and gently helped him up into the body cooler. He’s too old and experienced to let that bother him much.
“You are a good person,” he reassures softly. “And I love you for it. Tony loves you. Abby loves you, and so does Jethro.”
“He hates me,” she breathes, voice all too soft and low. Her eyes drift down to his tear stained collar. “I messed up your shirt. I’m sorry.”
“It’s only a shirt,” he dismisses. “You are more important by far. Trust me, Kate, Jethro will forgive you. He is angry, he is bull headed, and he will bark at you more than once before this time is through, but it will all be forgiven. It will be okay.” He nods, brushing his hand over her cheek like a doting grandfather with a favored granddaughter on his knee. She has a ridiculous thought of Clara and the Uncle who held her on his knee and gave her an adventure with a toy soldier; odd yet somehow soothing.
They sit in quiet for a long time, her head pillowed on his chest, and she falls asleep more than once but he’s always there when she wakes up; always her friend. When she shakes the sleep from her eyes and offers him a red-eyed smile, he beams back at her.
“That’s my girl,” he praises.
She makes him tea-- it’s become her calming method and she clings to it even now that she’s not boiling French water in the kettle. He watches her move around the kitchen with a new awareness of the fact that not only has she changed, she has done so for the better. The Kate Todd who left three years ago would be so uncomfortable with the comfort she found in his arms that she would hide from him and herself-- questioning her strength and her power.
This one knows the power of a woman; weakness is to deny your need and fight your humanity, not to give into it. This woman is a power to reckon with all on her own.
She needed a team before. She needed Jethro before. He watches her put two Earl Grey tea bags in the pot, fingers long and delicate, and feels like he’s lost something he can’t put his finger on.
He accepts the cup she hands him wordlessly.
“How is your arm?”
She looks down at the appendage, helplessly bound in a sling, and sighs. “No idea. They want to see me in a while for it. It hurts, but it’s not too bad.”
He gently leans forward to examine the bandages, and she looks down at the top of his head as he cautiously undoes her sling, and for a moment he disappears and her other doctor is in his place.
“You should be more careful,” Ari chastised her, forehead furrowed. The kitchen counter was warm underneath her legs, calves peeking out from underneath the skirt to feel the smooth metal and drag slowly across it to enjoy the texture. He pressed his elbow down on her thigh and muttered “Stop that” absently before gently placing the bottle of liquid stitches on the counter and wiping her clean with an alcohol swab.
She’d been in one of the various sections of the yard with Jess, and the woman had gotten the sudden urge to climb trees. Kate had joined her merrily, but forgotten to take the knife off of her thigh before they began. The Velcro holster had gotten caught on a branch and ripped off, and before she could do anything the knife had slipped out and sliced along the side of her arm. It’d fallen to the ground and embedded itself point first in the dirt, where it shined with her blood.
Jess had screamed, and Kate had spent a good ten minutes keeping the woman from a panic attack, before walking back to the house and finding him with Abdul and the others in the library. He’d excused himself from the meeting quickly, and no one minded. The resident doctor, he was responsible for patching up any number of people during the week, and none of the men seemed to mind Kate’s presence in their place of business.
Idina had been granted almost mythic regard as Mikel’s widow, Jess was Abdul’s consort and therefore beyond reproach, but the same way Ari had become the caretaker and the force that kept the cell from fracturing, Kate had become almost a mother. On more than one occasion she had found herself in a room with an Arabic man while Ari looked on cautiously to maintain propriety, reading a letter aloud to him from his wife, or helping him write one back. The men she worked with were not highly educated, they were the soldiers-- the dedicated ones who believed in sacrificing themselves for the good of the group. She sat and nurtured men who wanted everything she stood for dead, and she had stopped questioning herself for doing it.
The younger boys brought her flowers, small trinkets. There was a box full of jewelry on the bedroom dresser that overflowed with cheap stones and exotic bands of metal that had been brought to her in thanks for a kind ear, an understanding presence. She had lost track of the number of times Ari had been clapped on the back and offered a Man Chuckle-- the noise that spoke of “You lucky bastard, the second you drop dead, God forbid, I am *totally* moving in on this woman.” Ari had stopped glaring at the retreating backs of those that offered them.
She had knocked on the library door, a cloth wrapped around her arm, and been greeted with nothing but concern and an eagerness to help.
She pushed her head scarf back, letting the soft blue silk pool around her throat for a moment of freedom. The well worn medical bag opened, his hands appeared wrapped in white gloves, and he had played surgeon to her yet again.
She looked down at him, licked her lips, and shrugged. “But that’s what you’re here for. To stitch me up.”
“I like your skin the way it is,” he pointed out, running a hand over the sterile area gently. “Damage it again and I’ll have to beat you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she acknowledged, and he cleaned up a bit before looking her over and pressing a soft kiss to the corner of her mouth.
“Be more careful,” he said again, and she nodded this time. The worry left the side of his eyes and he busied himself with putting things back into the bag as she jumped down from the counter, readjusted her head scarf, and dragged a hand affectionately over the span of his back.
“I will be. Go back to your meeting.”
“You’re healing well,” Ducky announces cheerfully, and she smiles back. “Though I do detect a few more scars than there were a few years ago.” He purses his lips. “Have you been taking proper care of yourself, Kate? Mind you, it’s not polite to lie to your elders, young lady.”
She laughs with him and leans her forehead against his arm as he brushes a kiss over the top of her head. “Just a few,” she admits. “Apparently, I was in a dangerous line of work.”
“Perish the thought.”
His phone rings, and he pulls it out quickly, glancing at the caller ID before opening it up. “Yes?”
She cringes in anticipation of hearing Gibbs’s voice, but the tone on the other end of the phone is low and soft-- too soft to be overheard, and therefore not Gibbs. She tilts her head curiously to one side, and is about to open her mouth to ask who it is when Ducky hands her the phone.
She licks her lips nervously and presses it to her ear. “Hello?”
“Agent Todd,” Morrow’s voice reports brusquely. “How are you feeling?”
…Surreal? Heart broken? Slightly gassy?
“Better sir,” she says just as shortly. “My arm is healing and I’m not taking any painkillers,”
“Excellent. Then you will be able to come in and see me today. Come back with Doctor Mallard. I have some things I would like to discus with you.” There’s no question there. She swallows and tries to find the strength within herself to say yes, but can’t.
“Sir,” she begins cautiously, “I don’t mean any disrespect, but I feel that my coming to the office would disrupt the productivity of certain members of my former team, sir.” She runs the sentence over in her mind, and decides that you can never have enough “sirs” when dealing with authority. It makes them feel special.
Even if it does make her feel like Marcy from the Peanuts strips.
“I am aware that Agent Gibbs did not take the news… well.” Always the politician, she thinks with a smirk. “However, that is not your concern. If you are well enough, come in with Doctor Mallard. If you’d like to take a few more days, I understand.”
Translation: Get your butt in here or I’ll make you get your butt in here. Biotch.
“No sir, I’ll be in today. Thank you sir. Good bye sir.” She hangs up the phone before he can try and get her to agree to anything else, and hands it wordlessly back to Ducky, who puts it into his pocket. “Apparently, Morrow wants to see me. We have something to discus.” She smiles bravely. “Goody goody.”
“I’m sure it will be alright,” he says soothingly, and she sighs.
“Yeah. Right. Can you wait thirty minutes for me to shower and get ready?” And shoot myself in the bathroom?
“Take all the time you need,” he assures. “I will help myself to Tony’s collection of cookies, and wait here with breathless anticipation for your return.”
He coaxes a smile out of her, and she nods, grabbing a plastic bag from one of Tony‘s drawers to wrap her arm with. “Right. Twenty then,” and goes off to try and work her courage up and tame her hair into something manageable.
Fifteen minutes later, fresh and smelling of boy soap, Kate leaves Tony DiNozzo’s apartment on the arm of a much older man, wearing no makeup, her long wet hair in a tight braid behind her. Ducky settles her into the car with more care than she needs and turns on the radio to something soft and jazzy. She lets her mind drift, gazing up at the clouds through the sun roof, and it occurs to her that in two weeks is the three year anniversary of her death.
She wonders if she should go and visit her own grave. It seems sort of morbid, but still tempting as all hell. How many people actually get to find out who showed up to their funeral, after all?
Ducky chats with her gently, not in the manically desperate way Tony had the other day. He’s not afraid of silence, just of leaving her in it, and once he’s satisfied that she’s not stewing in dread or fear, he stops talking about his mother’s latest dog or how very nice her hair looks or where she got that necklace.
She reaches up to finger the pretty silver curl around her neck. Abdul gave it to her last year-- a present, he said, to thank her in small part for all of her help. The younger boys had been devastated when she had worn his present and not theirs, so she had started to take turns in wearing all of the ugly pieces in the box. Her wrists had turned green and her skin had itched (and Ari had cackled at her) but she had done it anyhow, and they glowed quietly with pride.
It’s a lovely necklace, she thinks fuzzily, examining the faint hint of her reflection in the car window. She can make out her own outline, dull and weak, and the shine of the smooth silver in the center of her throat.
She can see the car trailing them in the rearview mirror at the same time. Black, government issue Taurus.
The building comes up on them slowly, building in the horizon. The cannons that point out towards the street to intimidate and empower do their job. She finds her hands shaking on the seat, her stomach in knots. She reaches up to finger the necklace and wonders what they did with her cross; wonders if she could get that back.
Kate thinks of that box, probably still sitting on her dresser in France, and wants all of the gaudy pieces on her wrists and fingers right now.
They get out of the car, him handing her out, and she keeps her hand in his tightly. “Ducky,” she whispers, “I need you to do me a favor. I need you to not let me run out of here. Okay?”
“Yes.” And there is no judgment there, and she loves him more than she has ever loved anything or anyone on the planet.
They step into the lobby, the big bold room that she’s been in so many times, and walk through the metal detector. Ducky flashes his security clearance, and the guard looks at her with surprise.
She offers a weak smile, and clears a stuffy throat. “Yes. Hi. It’s nice to see you again.”
He grins. “Well I’ll be a sonavabitch, ma’am. How’re you doing? You’re looking great for a dead woman.” She opens her mouth to say something, she’s not sure what, and closes it again without words coming out. She has no idea what she’s doing. None. Give her a terrorist and tell her to take him down, done. Give her a bomb and tell her to defuse it, okay.
Give her life back and tell her to go and live it, and it’s all she can do to keep from curling up in the corner. She looks at the security guy, helpless and tired, and in that wonderful way that some men have he understands. She tries to open her mouth again to say something appropriate, and he has her pillowed against a meaty chest-- has her crushed into a soul pressing hug before she can say anything. She clings to him in shock, trying not to reveal just how confused she truly is right now-- how frightened.
He hugs her, this man she barely knows, and she breathes in the smell of his cologne until her lungs hurt, then backs away with a smile. “I’m doing well. Thanks.”
“Go on up,” the man says to the two of them, grinning broadly. “It’s good to see you again.”
“And you,” she says back, and Ducky takes her hand before the buzz can wear off and she can start to rethink what she’s doing. She finds herself in the elevator with him, holding onto him tightly as other agents wander past the closing doors and stop to stare at her. Shocked.
She knows how they feel.
“You’re doing fine,” Ducky soothes at her elbow, and she leans up impulsively and presses a kiss to his cheek. He looks at her, amused. “What was that for?”
“For being the greatest man I know,” she breathes softly, and leans her head against his arm while he blushes, quietly pleased.
Tony can’t remember the last time he was this bored, but he’s willing to bet it was in his high school calc class and that they were learning about something suitably useless for the real world. Maybe he was chewing on his pencil, maybe he was throwing pieces of paper at the guy in front of him to see how long it would take him to notice he had things in his hair.
This is worse. And he’s pretty damn sure he’s not allowed to throw things in Gibbs’s hair. It’s tempting. Oh God, anything to relive this ache in his brain is tempting. If he thought it would be more interesting, he’d strip naked and dance on his desk, shaking his dick at anyone who’d take a second look and moving his ass like he hasn’t done in years.
He used to be a moderately decent break dancer. Hm…
The problem with Tony’s brain when it’s bored is that it comes up with lots of ideas to make it all better, but most of them involve some kind of nudity or vanilla pudding. And since Gibbs happens to be sort of possessive about who gets to see his ass naked, and he has no box of instant mix in his desk drawers, instead he sits.
Abby is looking at him. He glances up from his hands, meets her eyes, and makes a face.
The corners of her lips turn up, her eyes flash to Gibbs quickly, and then she slowly and deliberately inflates her cheeks, pushes out her lips, and turns her eyelids inside out.
McGee clears his throat, and the two of them look at him guiltily for a long moment, before he sticks his tongue out, touches his nose, pulls on his ears, and crosses his eyes.
“If you’re all done?” Gibbs growls from his seat, eyes never leaving the computer screen. “Abby, don’t you have tests to run.”
“I ran ‘em all,” she announces cheerfully. McGee raises an eyebrow in shock.
“All of them?”
“I’m a talented lady, McGee. I’m like Super Abby. Question not the powers of the Super Abby.” She wiggles her fingers threateningly at him, like she’ll flick something out of her nail and turn him into a rabbit, and he wisely goes back to his computer screen.
“If you’re done with your tests,” Gibbs growls, “go bother Ducky for a while.”
“Can’t,” she says, not sounding particularly regretful. “He went out. Palmer hasn’t seen him all day, and since I took his tracking collar off last week to give him his bath, I can’t find him.” She sighs. “I think he went to visit…” her voice dies off as Gibbs raises his eyes to hers, questioning and pissed. Abby swallows. Hard. “I’m going to go run some tests,” she mutters, and disappears in a cloud of lace and leather.
Ducky was the one who told her.
The tea was hot, the couch was soft, and he sat down next to her, put his hands on her shoulders, and looked her straight in the eye. “Abigail, Kate’s not dead.”
Tony had heard of her reaction later. She did not take it particularly well, especially when she found out that Ducky had known about it the entire time. Apparently, she hasn’t gone home with him in a couple of nights. She prefers to walk herself to her own car at this point, and while Tony feels for the old man, he also knows it’s unavoidable.
Which is why if he has his way, Gibbs will never find out about the fact that he was instrumental in the whole thing. He enjoys being in the old man’s bed and life too much to risk it with something like that. He can’t imagine rolling over and not having company anymore. He doesn’t want to risk it.
Lying to your lover, he supposes, is not the best way to form a hardcore relationship. But neither is getting shot by him, and if it’s a choice between the two he’ll take the one that means he still gets to lie in bed with him at night and not be afraid of a bullet between the eyes if he snores.
McGee hasn’t said anything about it to anyone yet. Tony told him, sat him down and was very serious about the whole thing. McGee had nodded, rubbed a hand over his face, and walked away.
No explosions. No reactions. Tony is not relishing being around when the younger man actually does have a reaction to the situation, but he supposes it’s better him as opposed to someone else. Someone who knows what they’re doing.
He reminds himself to call his apartment around two to make sure she’s okay and see if she needs anything, and goes back to his work. The sooner he gets this done, the sooner he can go home and tend to her himself. There’s still more in her-- more anger and more frustration to be released. He’s waiting for it with a held breath and a prayer, and when it comes he will not let her down. Not again. He couldn’t save her all those years ago when she looked at him and begged him not to let her go. He can sure as hell save her now that he has her back for good.
For however long as that is.
Kate had forgotten how MTAC smelled; forgotten the way it felt to be in the center of this darkened, solemn room of technology and violence on the television. The room has always felt womblike to her-- soothing in a very strange way. You always knew where you were, what you were doing. You may be standing in the middle of a war zone, but your feet are on the ground and you are safe.
She breathes it in; stale coffee and rich electronics. The operator at the console doesn’t say anything upon seeing her, but he nods firmly to himself, like things are the way they should be now that she’s not dead anymore. Ducky stands by the door and watches her find her feet again, running her fingertips over the railings and the screens lightly.
“Director Morrow will meet you in here,” he says calmly. “I’m sorry, Kate, but Jethro is looking for me and I have to go and finish a-”
“Go,” she says calmly. “It’s okay. I’m fine now. I’ll see you later, Ducky.” She offers a smile that she doesn’t feel but she can sure as hell fake, and he nods cheerfully before leaving. She bites down a bit of disappointment that he’s just as easily fooled as the rest of them.
Like she can feel fine at all right now. Like that pathetic little word is even in her vocabulary.
She watches the news coverage for lack of anything better to do. Everyone is talking about the attack-- the narrowly avoided Al Qaeda mission gone awry. She watches the body bags get carried away, and wonders who among the dead gave her pretty pieces of silver and wild flowers to put on her bedside table. Who did she read to?
“Ma’am,” the operator asks calmly, and she turns to look at him, her braid a heavy reassuring weight down her back. “Is there something you’d like me to show you in particular?”
She looks at him, then back at the screen, and takes a deep, calming breath. “Yes. Show me the news from Tel Aviv.”
“Israeli or Palestinian?”
“Palestinian, please. No translation.”
She folds her hands at the small of her back, fingers linked loosely, and watches as the man with serious eyes and bushy hair talks about the attacks and how the United States government took many men into custody, before moving onto the latest news of schools and the budget vote that allowed a small school house to expand in size and modernize. A smiling Palestinian child looks at the camera, hands moving fast and loose over a keyboard of a computer, and an Israeli student sitting next to him grins and nudges his companion to show him a version of Bugs Bunny dancing back and forth across the screen. They squeal together with laughter for a split second before their voices are edited out so the announcer can keep talking.
The door opens, but she doesn’t turn around and she gives no sign of having heard it. Time to get to work. The announcer is still speaking, this time reporting the outcome of a major soccer match, and she sighs as Morrow comes up next to her. “Scotland lost,” she reports, and he looks at her.
“You understand that?”
“Yes.” She motions to the operator, who shuts the volume off. “I learned.”
She turns towards him and offers a brief, professional smile. “Director Morrow.” He motions her to one of the seats and she takes it. “I will admit, this is not the place I imagined you meeting me.”
“I thought it best. You expressed that you were uncomfortable being seen coming in.”
She swallows and looks away, putting a bit of distress on her face. “Agent Gibbs has made his feelings on my appearance in this building… clear. I’d rather avoid confrontation, sir, when I can.”
Morrow feels guilty, she reads easily. He wants her to say it’s all okay; for everything to be the way it was before. And since that’s not happening any time soon, he’s not going to leave happy.
But she can leave with one foot in the door. She licks her lips and bites her cheek hard, pulling her shoulders up and in to make herself appear vulnerable and tired. Guilt is a great motivator when coupled with a few others.
After all, why hire a translator from outside the agency when there’s a woman who speaks fluent Arabic and who has been screwed over by the system? Why go looking for anyone except the woman who makes your gut twist with unresolved angst every time you see her? When you can try and make it all better-- try to let yourself sleep at night-- it’s an easy sacrifice to make.
She never used to be this manipulative, and she knows it. But she used to be naïve too, and of the two, she’ll pick manipulative. It gets you farther in life.
They exchange pleasantries for a while, Morrow asking how her arm is doing again, poking into various questions he already knows the answer to. She humors him, knowing he’s trying to get a feel for her and knowing it’s just a matter of time before he cracks into a thousand pieces and she takes the upper hand for real.
He’s the one who called her back in. He’s the one who said “Hold!” and made her stop. She knows it, and what’s even better is that he knows she knows it. It makes his face contort and his mouth press into a thin, guilt ridden line.
He hates himself for forcing her into this situation. It doesn’t behoove her yet to let him know that he put her exactly where she was meant to be, so she keeps her mouth shut and answers his third inquiry about how fast the doctors think she’ll heal and what muscles were damaged and how permanently.
Ten minutes after she steps inside, he gets to the point. “I’m offering you your old job back,” he says calmly, and she shakes her head. “Agent Todd, you served your country well. You deserve your life back.”
“You can’t always get what you deserve,” she whispers softly to herself, absently, and shakes her head. The guilt within him grows exponentially.
“No sir,” she says calmly, shaking her head. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do but this won’t work. I can’t just step back in and pretend like nothing happened. He…” She pauses, closes her eyes for a long moment, and when she opens them again she doesn’t meet his gaze. “He doesn’t want me here, sir, and I can’t blame him. He’s spent the last three years trying to hunt down a killer who didn’t kill me, and now he discovers that not only was I alive, but I left voluntarily with his number one bad guy. He doesn’t want to deal with me.” She picks at the sling on her arm. “I have enough problems, sir, without worrying about him too. I have friends who may never speak to me again, no place to live, and no makeup.” She smiles and then lowers her head again. “I don’t need to add him to my list.”
“If I order him to take you onto the team, he will.”
“And so what? I’ll just end up sitting there while he shoves paperwork at me and leaves me behind.” She offers a bitter smile and swallows repeatedly. “He’ll never trust me again.” She stands up, brushing her pants off. “If that’s all you called me here to discus, Director, I have other business I should be attending to.”
The room is quiet. The operator hasn’t said anything and the video screens are muted and silent, glowing behind her and framing her with a digital halo of violence and shaky video recordings of terrorist camps. The effect is inspiring, and she doesn’t move out of the way of the soft glow.
He looks at her for a long, long moment, and clears his throat. “If I hadn’t called you back that day, would you have said yes to the mission?”
The operator isn’t looking at them. She takes a deep breath, like she’s preparing herself to admit something very big and bad to herself for the first time, and reaches a hand up to brush a loose strand of hair out of her face. “I don’t know, sir. But… No. I was walking away. If you hadn’t called me back, I would have kept walking.” She reaches out, hand going to his shoulder, and offers a soft smile. “But I’m glad you did, sir. It cost me, but it was the right thing to do.” She straightens her posture and takes her hand away like she can’t figure out why she touched him.
Audrey Hepburn, eat your heart out.
“I have to go.” She pauses, and licks her lips. “Um, actually, Director… could you lend me some money for a cab? I rode here with Doctor Mallard and he’s going back to work, and I know Tony’s not ready to leave yet.” She watches him gather himself together and when he stands up he’s her former boss, not a saddened and hurt man anymore.
“I’ll have an agent drive you to Agent DiNozzo’s apartment, Agent Todd. No cab.”
“This is not negotiable,” he says calmly. “You are under the protection of the United States government. Forget cabs.”
She offers a wider smile and a weak laugh. “Thank you, Director.”
He looks back at the television screen for a long moment, eyes taking in the scrawl of Arabic across the bottom of the screen. “Tell me, can you read and write this as well?”
“Yes sir. Agent Haswari taught me.” Best not to mention Idina and just how close they were. She draws back, as if she’s afraid of being asked to go on another mission. “Why?”
“You don’t want to take a job on your former team,” he acknowledges slowly. “That’s understandable. However, you are still an NCIS agent. And you may not want to work with Agent Gibbs, but you have a new skill set that could come in very handy to the agency.” He fixes her with a critical eye. “How would you feel about being a translator.”
Like I own the Universe and all who live within it? Like gold spins from my fingertips and drips from my mouth? Like I am going to have Ari Haswari back in my bed before the year is out?
She smiles, tries to hide it, and smiles again; a woman getting a second shot and not quite daring to believe it. “Really? I mean-- Sir. Do we have an opening for a translator?”
“We always have an opening for a translator,” he says calmly. “The big agencies get the hot shots out of college. We have to rely on the skills of our agents or outside contractors.” He sets his jaw. “You’d have to pass the fluency test, of course, but if you could prove that your knowledge of these languages is extensive enough, we could bring you back on active duty and simply change your focus. You would be working with every team in the agency when the need came. Any other languages?”
She nods eagerly. “Um… French, Italian, Arabic, Latin, English, and I learned Hebrew.” Her face glows. “I could really do this, sir? I mean…. you’re sure you need me?”
He claps her on the shoulder. “Agent Todd, welcome back to NCIS. I’ll call a car to take you home, and tomorrow you can call me to set up the details. I have a meeting now, I’ll talk to you later.” And he leaves without looking back.
The operator looks up at her paternally, bald head and kind eyes shining in the dim light. “Good for you, ma’am.”
She beams at him. “Thank you. I mean… thank you.” She grins and bounces towards the door, throwing one last smile over her shoulder at him.
When she’s out in the hallway, she slips down to the floor, hands around her knees, and breathes deeply and evenly.
Thank you, she whispers to God or whomever’s listening, and feels like crying in happiness. Thank you so much.
The agents walk around her, trying not to stare at the woman raised from the dead. Their own personal Lazarus.
She is getting what she wants. Getting what she needs. If she wants to find Ari, first she has to be in a position of power-- her clearance has to be activated and her fingers have to have access to the right keyboards and the right way to hide her actions. Once she’s in, she’s in. She knows how to lose a tail-- how to hack into a computer file and leave no trail.
God bless the Mossad. They’re so full of themselves that it never seemed to have occurred to them that having her learn all of this stuff and then trying to screw her over might not be the smartest thing in the world.
This makes everything much easier. Getting a job at NCIS means she’s not out of the loop and it means she is viewed as low risk; the CIA will see it as her doing what she’s supposed to be doing. Moving on and putting herself back underneath the thumbs of the men in charge. Using the skills she learned to solve crimes with her old agency will be seen as a reconciliation of sorts, and an indication on her part that she’s settling into her life and has no desire to return to the old one.
That she’s forgetting about Ari Haswari.
…God, sometimes she’s so sneaky it impresses even her.
Translation is a small world, especially Arabic and Hebrew translation. If they have Ari by the short and curly hairs, using him for dull linguistics work, he’s going to end up in Washington eventually. If she becomes an important member of the government’s multilingual work force, especially in the war on terror, her clearance level will not only increase, but so will her value. Morrow is a player-- she’ll be held up as an example of the fine people at NCIS who are making the world a safer place, which means she’ll be taken places.
Places with people of power. Places Ari might be.
Her fingertips are shaking again. She takes a deep calming breath and tells herself to cut it out and let it go; let herself relax. She is getting her way, she is going to be just fine. Everything is the way it should be in her world.
The world seems a lot more friendly now that she knows she can play it. Everyone seems a lot less threatening now that she knows she can fool them all into believing what she wants them to when the need arises.
She’s still shaking.
Ten minutes later, head still in her hands, Kate becomes aware of the fact that there is someone standing in front of her waiting to be acknowledged. She takes a deep breath, inhales the smell of sawdust and good coffee, and groans.
So much for good cheer.
“We had an agreement,” he says calmly. “You don’t come here.”
For all the people she can play and all of the things that she can fake, Gibbs and her reactions to him are unfortunately not among them. Maybe it’s the fact that this man gave her a fresh start, maybe it’s the power he’s held over her for the past five years-- she doesn’t know. But when she looks at Gibbs she feels small and young; as immature and inexperienced as she was three years ago. She sees him, and all of the pain she felt at leaving him comes back to her, overwhelms her, and makes her want to make the world a better place.
He makes her want to turn back time, and since that’s impossible, he just settles for making her feel guilty.
“The Director wanted to see me,” she says quietly, lifting her head from her hands and suddenly feeling all of her considerable joy vanish. “He called me and asked me to come. What was I going to say, ‘I’m sorry sir, but my former boss has threatened to shoot me-- how about we pass notes instead?’” She shakes her head and gets to her feet. “I tried to get out of it, I couldn’t.”
His eyes are still so cold; so empty. He hates her. God, he hates her.
She pushes past him and towards the elevator, aware that he’s following her with his gun exposed and his bad temper evident. She presses the button, taps her foot, and realizes that not only is this going to take too long but it is going to mean he’s getting in with her, and turns to dart out from underneath his arm to walk firmly down the hallway, eyes forward, shoulders straight, and jumble down the stairs.
The other agents pretend they’re not watching. For such highly trained people, they do a piss poor job of it.
“Leaving so soon?” he mocks her from a step behind, and grabs her braid harshly. “Don’t want to maybe catch up with some people?”
Her temper flares lightly-- the sorry, sad feeling in the pit of her stomach subsiding at this show of disrespect and the blatant invasion of her personal space. She has nothing in life but herself right now-- if he’s going to try and take that from her too, he’s going to be taken down.
She jerks around and tugs her hair free. “Don’t touch me,” she hisses. “You can be as big of a piece of shit as you want, but you don’t get to touch me.” She whirls back around before she can start screaming or crying, and keeps walking.
He keeps following.
She darts past their desks (hers isn’t there anymore) and McGee looks up at her as she passes with such a look of distress that she almost stops to hug him and beg for forgiveness, beg him to make it all okay between them again. Tony looks up at her, eyes serious and mouth set, and she knows that she he gets back to the apartment tonight he’ll hug her hard and strong so that both of them feel better.
“You think you can come in here and then just run away? Run back to him? Run back to hide?” Gibbs snarls at her, sneers, and she feels about three inches tall and just as strong. “You might have done us all a favor and stayed dead, Kate. Least then we wouldn’t have spent all that money on a headstone for nothing.”
Tony draws in a sharp breath, McGee’s face pales, and she keeps her eyes focused ahead of her-- forcing herself not to think, not to look, not to confront him. A memory, twisted and saddened from childhood, of hiding her head underneath her blankets because that was the only way to avoid the ghosts and the vampires that wanted her young flesh for demonic purposes. If she didn’t look, if she didn’t let them see her, she was fine.
She’s going to cry. Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.
Gibbs’s hand seizes her shoulder, hand, and there is no hesitation in her.
Months of training, months of working it through. Steps in a dance of ruthlessness and seduction; intimacy within the violence.
She remembers being bounced around that gym, how all of her skill was nothing compared to his, and knows she can take Gibbs with one hand in a sling. Knows it in her blood and it sings through her bones, reverberating through her; the purest note ever played.
One hand on his, one leg behind him, two quick movements, two hard grunts, and she lets out a short, focused push of breath in a tight, low pitched “ki-ya” of satisfaction as he is left lying flat on his back, wind knocked out of him, with her foot on his throat.
“That’s Krav Maga?”
“That’s Krav Maga,
The office is quiet. Tony is staring at them with disbelief and McGee’s mouth seems incapable of closing. The agents that were moving around them, trying to get sight of her, are still. Everything is still.
Because of her. So much for getting in and out without being seen.
“Don’t. Touch. Me.” She repeats slowly, and no one is breathing. Her other foot is resting in between his legs. If he flinches under her, she can shatter his testicles and break his pelvis without a problem, and there’s enough in her right now that she will. He knows it. He sees it.
She clears her throat, takes a deep and calming breath, and spills it all over him.
“I just got back from three years of having to pretend that I want you all dead. My apartment has been sold. My dog belongs to another man. I have no car, no clothes, no makeup, no jewelry. I haven’t had anything to eat over the past two days that qualifies as food. I’m sleeping in a guest bedroom. I have no money. I have no assets. There are federal agents that follow me to the bathroom. I’ve had the week from hell, I’m injured, I am about two steps away from snapping your pathetic little throat, and if you cross me right now, Gibbs, you’ll be a dead Marine faster than you can say Semper Fi, you got me?”
He doesn’t say anything. She presses her shoe down harder. “Do we understand each other?” Her teeth are grit and bared, snarling like an animal. She waits until she sees him nod to push once more on his throat, harder than before, and then let him go. “You want me to stay away from you? Well that’s not happening. You can either deal with that, or I can rip your tongue out so that you don’t have to worry about saying something mean and nasty.” She shoves her hand in her pocket and lifts her chin up high. “Your choice.”
And fuck waiting for a ride, because you can’t waste an exit like that. She pushes quietly past the agents watching her like she’s possessed by something supernatural, and presses the button for the elevator. She gets in, pushes the button for the lobby, and makes eye contact with anyone who dares to look at her while she waits for the doors to close.
Silence envelops her, pure and preserved in the metal box, and she leans back against the wall for a long moment, closes her eyes and gathers herself up once more.
She looks down at her hands, one shaking in the sling, the other just shaking, and nods to herself.
She feels the insane urge to laugh bubble up inside of her, pushes it down, and settles herself. The adrenaline is still rushing through her body-- still pushing her hands to tremble and her knees to shake. She can’t feel her fingertips and there’s something sour tasting in her mouth.
She gives through to an attack of nervous giggling as it all starts to sink in. Did that really just happen? Did she really just attack her boss? Hold her foot to Jethro Gibbs’s throat?
I need a drink.
Her sneakers are silent on the marble lobby floor, and she hands over her visitor’s badge to the security guy. “Thank you,” she breathes. “It was great to see you again.”
He glows, eyes smiling. “We’ll see you again soon?”
“Yes,” she says, and it is decreed so. “Really soon. Have a good day.”
The air feels so good on her face. Kate pushes past the agents smoking outside, breathing in the smell of it and letting it all wash over her. You’re out. You did it. You’re okay. She rubs her eyes calmly and moves down the walkway, wondering just how the hell she is going to get home. She has no money-- she didn’t think to bring her purse and even if she had, she has no cash in it. The only thing of value she has is the necklace, and she can’t get rid of that. It means too much for her to toss it aside just yet.
“Smart move, Todd,” she mutters to herself. “Make a wonderful ending, and walk your ass home. Cheery.”
“Yeah,” Abby notes calmly from her spot perched on the wall. “You didn’t think that part out too well.”
Abby’s apartment takes them in without hesitation, and Kate finds herself sitting on the same leather love seat she’s fallen into so many times before, looking down at the glass of wine the younger woman poured for her and trying to find her voice in the chardonnay. Abby takes a seat on the soft velvet bean bag chair, sinking in to her satisfaction and sipping from her own glass.
The sun has started to go down, and the dying beams slip across the floor to swirl at Kate’s legs. Her arm is hurting more than before-- exacerbated with the movement of the day, and her head is swimming from more than just the wine.
She remembers the feel of Gibbs’s throat rising and falling underneath her sneaker sole, how his face paled and went stone still and silent, like she had hit him through the heart and paralyzed all emotion in his soul. She can still feel the warmth of his exhalations on her ankle and the dampness against her skin.
She held his life underfoot for a long moment, and she’s not yet sure if she’s killed him.
Abby hasn’t spoken to her at all after the brisk sentence offering a ride, and she’s not sure if she’s killed something else as well. That delicate, wonderfully comfortable relationship she had with Abby before she left is a sour memory on her tongue; the taste of something lost and not yet recovered. A relationship whose fate is not yet known.
Will she hold this woman in companionship, or be held by her in animosity?
The sun goes into its grave, leaving them in darkness and the thin white glow from the Chinese lantern that hangs in the corner. The clock in the corner gives a groan as the time changes, and Kate looks up at it as Abby clears her throat and gathers strength.
“So,” she begins, speaking in that raspy, beautifully hoarse voice that Kate missed oh so much. “Paris.”
“Paris,” Kate admits softly.
“Did you have fun?”
And the question is so very Abby that Kate feels tears come to her eyes. “Yeah,” she admits. “I guess I sort of did. I was in a big apartment, I had nice clothes, and I was drinking good wine.” She rubs her mouth and the tears start to spill. “I had fun.”
Abby doesn’t say anything for a long time and Kate doesn’t know what to say. What could she say? How does she say that for as much as she missed them, as much as she pined for them, she found a new home? A new group of people to make the days go by and the time less painful? Is it abandonment or growth? Adjustment or transference? Kate sniffles gently, rubs at her eyes and presses the cool glass against her overheated cheeks. The apartment is silent, and Abby’s snake curls gently in his tank in the corner. The red walls remind Kate of the sweet local vintage that Abdul had in his cellar-- bottles upon bottles of beautifully dust covered wine.
So sweet on her tongue. Sour now.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked Idina, hands in her lap as she watched the older woman bustle around the room. “We could always send one of the men out for you. I am sure they could find something.”
Idina pulled back from one of her trunks, a long silk coat in her hands, and pushed her arms through the sleeves with a little sigh of satisfaction. “Men are helpless at shopping, you know that. I will be fine, Caitlin. It is only a small visit to town, and it needs to be done.” Her eyes sparkled and her tongue curled around the Arabic as gracefully as she did everything. “I am getting you a present.”
Kate’s eyebrows went up. “A present? Idina, I need nothing.”
“And yet you shall have something.” She smiled with all of her teeth. “You have been a good friend, and your relationship with Haswari is almost three years old now. A present is called for.” She stood back and ran her hands down her button down blouse, laughing at the light hearted dress up game. “How do I look?”
Kate got up from her seat and adjusted the wide brimmed hat on her head lightly. “Like a woman fit for a day on the town. I will come with you.”
Idina folded her arms over her chest. “I am trying to buy you a present, sister. You coming along defeats my purpose.”
“I will close my eyes and stick my fingers in my ears and hum,” Kate promised with a grin. “Come on.”
The memory disintegrates, melting away into nothingness and air, and she looks up from the red liquid in her glass and discovers Abby looking down at her own glass, tears in her eyes and lips bitten red and swollen. The sun is dead, the light is weak, and Abby looks like she will cry if Kate doesn’t beat her to it.
She finds herself on her knees in front of Abby, face in the younger girl’s lap, free hand on her waist. There’s something in her she has to get out-- a voice she has to let through, and she is begging before she knows that what she’s hearing is her voice.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to, but then I did, and I’m so sorry, I love you, you’re my best friend, and I missed you so much, I hated to leave, but I had to and I’m sorry!”
She’s crying, begging, wanting forgiveness and salvation and everything that she aches for. She can feel her limbs shaking gently, fingers trembling.
Abby stays quiet for a long, long moment. She looks up at her ceiling, eyes tracing the rough texture coated with white paint and thinks about her beautiful Thanksgiving turkeys and the toasts she presents to a woman who has not been dead for these past three years. She remembers Ducky holding her, innocently and not, and thinks about how she has exiled her lover for keeping her best friend from harm-- from a death half way across the world.
She thinks of the poem placed high, worthy, and lovingly on her wall, and how she knew that in death Kate loved her as she did in life.
As she loves her still.
Her fingers find Kate’s face, and she pulls the older woman’s chin up to make her look at her with steady pressure and a firm hand. Her cheeks are red and flushed, eyes puffy, and her nose is drooling down her lips like a five year old child having a tantrum. The necklace around her neck slips across her skin, slick metal on soft flesh, and Abby fingers it lightly for a long moment.
Once upon a time, this woman wore a cross. Once upon a time, this woman was her friend. When she speaks, she chooses her words carefully and her tone even more so, like she’s afraid of scaring a wild animal away, never to be seen after it retreats into the bushes to hide.
“I have one question I need to ask you, Kate, and that’s all.” Kate sniffs, nose running down her face, and nods jerkily. “Did you bring me anything?”
The next day is spent looking at plumbing and closet size; Tony takes her apartment hunting as a way to wind down from the shit day she had, and she accepts the distraction gratefully and with a whole heart. If she sits in Tony’s apartment she is simply going to sit around and be morbid.
Plus, Tony’s shower is skuzzy. She either has to get a place of her own or she has to get shower shoes, and she gave shower shoes up after college, along with pot (well, special occasions…) and binge drinking.
She looks at small, large, and ridiculous-- running her eyes over apartments that would put Liberace to shame with their gaudiness and places that make Dickensiene orphanages seem lush. The CIA car is parked outside-- eyes on their every move, but she hasn’t mentioned it to Tony and he hasn’t spoken about it at all to her.
Neither one of them has brought up yesterday-- brought up what he saw her do. To Tony, Gibbs will always be immortal; untouchable and godlike. To see his sister bring his deity down in two easy moves and hold him there has shaken something deep and meaningful inside of him, but he’s trying not to confront it just yet.
He doesn’t have the time to have a crisis of faith, and he certainly doesn’t have the luxury of questioning the status quo right now. There will be repercussions eventually. Until then, however, things that don’t bear talking about won’t be talked about and people who don’t belong in the conversation won’t be brought up.
The landlord opens the fourth place up for them-- a remodeled old building with heavy, beautiful red brick everywhere, and they wait for the third party to leave them to their lives before they speak again. Tony’s throat is choked with dust from the previous three places they’ve seen, and Kate’s feet are starting to hurt.
He swallows a sneeze and rubs his eyes. “You don’t have to move out so soon,” he says calmly as she moves through the bare spaces and touches everything she can get her hands on. “I mean, it’s only been two days. Am I really that bad of a roommate?”
She throws a smile to him easily. “I need somewhere to perform virgin sacrifices, Tony. Your coffee table gets in the way.”
“I’ll sell it. I’ve always wanted to have a virgin in my apartment.”
She laughs softly and twirls around. “I like this place. It’s got a good feel to it.”
“It’s an empty apartment,” he notes, eyes starting to water. “And it’s dusty.”
“Always so negative,” she chides lightly, running her hands over every bare surface. “Not so dusty,” she notes absently. “I could have it clean in a couple of hours.” Her face lights up. “And I haven’t seen any gold leaf so far. A sure improvement.”
He watches her flounce into the bedroom and examine the attached bathroom critically. “Seriously,” he protests, “I mean it. Are you sure you’re ready for this? I mean, you’re still injured and eve-”
“Tony,” she says dismissively, “I’ve been going to the bathroom all by myself for a long time now. I’m ready.” She bends down to examine the base of the toilet and the tiles. “I know your number and it’s not like I’m moving across country.”
She moves past him, hair slicking over his arm for a bare second, and wanders into the kitchen.
“You might want to just reconsider until you’re healed, that’s all I’m saying.”
“If someone wants to attack me,” she mutters. “They’re welcome to try me-- honestly, I think I get grouchier when I’m hurt. They’ll just end up getting shot in a worse place.” She pushes herself up to sit on the kitchen counter and look around, cocking her head to one side critically. “I dunno…”
“Well we could buy you chairs,” he points out. “That’s sort of the point of the CIA picking up the tab for this.”
She grins. “That and so I can get a new stereo.” She hops down, patting the counter. “I like this place,” she decides. “I want it.”
They wander back into the living room area, looking at the hardwood floors and bare curtain rods. She finds herself running a hand over the window ledge and glancing a the metal fire escape/balcony below. Trendy, retro-- gorgeous. Kate drags her fingertips across the sunset orange wall, feeling the texture of the paint right down to her bones.
Tony says nothing.
“I want it,” she says again, and nods. “Get it for me. It’s mine.”
Hiram’s forehead furrows and his lips press into a thin line. “I was not followed,” he protests roughly. “I would have known-- I watched very carefully. You were not behind me and neither were the other recruits.” His posture is certain and tall, eyes narrowed and sure. He knows exactly what he’s doing and exactly where he’s going in life. He is certain about everything he does.
Which, of course, just means that he’s certain about things he’s wrong about as well as right about, and quite vociferous about the whole thing. Irritating. Tiresome.
…twenty five across, he thinks with pursed lips. Stir, slangily.
“You were followed,” Ari says absently, pen pressed against his bottom lip. “You can accept it or not, but you still failed the exercise, and if you do not improve you will be removed from the training.” Whisk? No, too many letters… He wonders what he did with his crossword puzzle dictionary, and can’t help but think that Hiram would not respond well to him sending him on an errand for a new one. The other students in the room are rolling their eyes at their fellow classmate’s ire, but Ari pays them no mind. When their turns come and they find out that none of them are doing particularly well either, they’ll be up here yelling with him.
“I would know!” Hiram responds again, and snarls. “If you were half a the teacher you are supposed to be, I would never be followed at all!”
“And if your dick was half as large as you would like to pretend it is,” Ari responds without hesitation, “you would not have a sock stuffed down the front of your pants or a large inferiority complex. It is not my job to make sure you grasp every concept, Hiram. It is my job to present the information. If you are too dull witted to understand and commit the lessons to memory and then put them into effect in the real world, you are not fitted for this job. If such is the case, please leave. Otherwise, sit back down and focus on how to not make the same mistakes again.”
Silence. Ari bites on the edge of the pen and holds it in his mouth while he runs a critical eye over the scrap of newspaper balanced on his knee. His hand is smudged with ink.
Hiram sits down, Ari looks up, and inclines his head. “I thought so,” he mutters. “Next. Avram, you and Joseph. When did he start following you and when did you lose him?”
Avram swallows and rubs the edge of his jaw with his thumb. “Outside of the convenience store,” he says hesitantly.
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“Telling you,” he says, firmer this time, and his eyes lose a bit of the doubt that has been plaguing him since the first day he stepped into Ari’s presence. The boy doesn’t know what he’s doing here; Hiram suffers from the all too often seen flaw of hubris, believing he can do no wrong. Avram isn’t sure about his right to be in the program, and he is even less sure of his place in Ari’s presence.
It’d be cute if he was the sort of man who actually gave a damn what these students did or how they behaved. He’s heard of teachers who become fond of their pupils-- who look at them like they are the future and how wonderful that they get to be a part of forming that future, now in the present.
That’s not him. The only pupil he’s ever had that he was proud of is one he doesn’t let himself think about when he’s at the Institute. It tends to cloud his brain enough that even these dimwitted excuses for trainees notice.
No affection is spared for them. He has to train them, yes, but their issues are their own to work out. He’s not going to give any pep talks, and he sure as hell isn’t the kind of man to invite them over for meals or confidence building time. He trains them, presents the information, and then he goes home. What they do with their own time after that is no concern of his, and he doesn’t pretend otherwise.
He may be a prisoner, he may be a slave, but he will not teach the future generation of Mossad agents to go out and get themselves blown up and take everyone with them; he will not short change them, and the thought has not occurred to him. However, he will also not allow a weakling or a flawed little boy trying to be a man to go off and become a half-assed spy. There are enough of those-- he’s met several dozen in his lifetime.
You either have it or you don’t, in Ari Haswari’s class, and if you don’t, you don’t belong here.
Fuck pep talks. He’s not the hero of an underdog sports team movie and he can’t picture himself in a Welcome Back Cotter sweater no matter how drunk he gets.
Joseph confirms what Avram is saying, and Ari nods curtly. “Good. This is what you have to remember; you are always a target. You are always being watched, if not by your enemies then by us.” He lets that sit for a long moment, taking in the uncomfortable squirms of the young men in front of him. “You are the most fascinating bug under a very big magnifying glass, and if you screw up, you will burn. Either your enemies will do it, or we will, and neither one will do so pleasantly.” He looks around, takes in the half-frightened, half-hidden faces, and nods. “Go to your next lesson. Same drills for every night of this week. Next week we will travel around the city and have a practical exam. Practice, get better, or you will not pass.”
He leans back in his chair, one knee bent up to brace on the edge of his desk, and they file out quickly, Hiram throwing one last glare over his shoulder.
Kate passes the literacy exams on the same day she moves into her new apartment, and when she gets back from taking the certification exams (stepped up for her by the CIA and the NCIS offices respectively), she finds her things where they should be and her new couch being shifted into place by two bulky men in wife beaters. The furniture wasn’t taken care of in storage-- it molded and mildewed and had to be thrown out, so that was one more thing to charge to the CIA and the lovely, generous “Oh, We’re Sorry We Sucked Your Life Dry” grant they seem to have given her for the purpose of getting herself up and running again.
“Thank you,” she calls cheerfully, and offers them both cold beers before sending them on their way. The CIA officer is sitting out in the car that has apparently obtained a permanent place across the street from her apartment. He has the windows rolled down, and she can hear the radio with her window open.
He’s trying to win Steely Dan tickets. She didn’t know they were still alive.
Kate watches the young man from her window for a long moment, taking in how much of a baby he truly is. Barely a beard-- maybe five years out of college, and full of purpose and confidence. She read to men like him; children playing with the big boys and trying not to be brushed over by bigger, badder men who swarmed around them with larger weapons and more experience.
They looked at her like a mother. It brought a small part of her a bit of pleasure, and a bit more pain. A mother with children who murdered. A mother who was going to be their affectionate, caring downfall in the end, and was going to sleep well with her head on her pillow afterwards.
So young. So innocent. He thinks he knows what he’s doing, and he couldn’t be more wrong. He’s certain in all of his steps and he couldn’t be more off beat. What would he do if her life was in danger? What would he do if his was? She has an image of him throwing himself in front of a bullet to save her, instead of letting her take a hit in the arm and then shooting her attacker dead, saving them both.
They’re hoping Al Qaeda doesn’t come after her. Assuming so. In all honesty, they have no idea-- they’re just praying that the terrorists are too intimidated to come after a federal agent in the heart of DC, and they are probably right, but then again, when has a body count ever stopped Al Qaeda from doing anything?
It would be the perfect target, all things considered, if they could figure a way around the security. An attack that showed that not only was America not safe, but that leaders were easily destroyed; to blow her sky high in the middle of her morning commute, taking twenty or thirty with her would be enough. A big point, a large blood bath, and some very freaked out people running around with their heads cut off.
It won’t happen. She knows it even as she imagines herself blown into little untidy bits on the pavement. She of all people should know about behind the scenes actions; for as little protection as she sees on the outside, she has no doubt there is a large force keeping her from becoming the next body, if only to keep Ari happy. Pissed off Mossad agents are, according to what she can figure out, not something anyone likes to mess around with, and if what she’s been told is true there is some sort of deal in place to assure her well being in exchange for his loyalty. She stays safe and out of jail, he stays docile and willing to do all they ask.
Her lover is no fool, and he sure as hell is no naïve young thing. He’s been around the block more than she has; he has taken care of her protection. She’s not concerned.
Her foot is asleep. She kicks it against the wall a couple of times, waiting for sensation and a return to normalcy.
…God she misses him.
It’s been so long since she saw him-- almost a month now; her body is losing the stretched, open feeling that comes from having someone on a nightly basis. The other day she found herself braiding her hair, unable to reach the one little portion he always took care of for her, and was suddenly all too aware of the fact that she was alone in Tony’ s spare bed, not with him in their bedroom.
She can’t remember his smell. She feels like she’s going to cry when she admits that to herself.
Patience, she tells herself, and knows that she has to be, but there is a small voice inside of her that so closely resembles her niece’s tantrum tone, and it demands action. Satisfaction.
I want him. I want him Now. Bring him to me Now.
Kate sighs, runs a hand over her eyes, and wonders if she’ll ever hold him again for all of one second before telling herself forcefully to stop being stupid and morbid and looking back out the window at her protector. He’s examining his shave in the mirror, lifting his throat to run a hand down it and finger a bit of stubble with his thumb.
Wonderful. He gets to go off and cool his heels in Israel while she does all the work and gets watched by Howdy Fucking Doody. She is so going to beat the crap out of him the next time she sees him.
Irrational anger is her friend.
She contemplates bringing a beer down to her guardian, a peace offering to the man that she may not always be able to make things easy for, and is rustling through her fridge for one more when the knock on the door comes.
“Hey, I’m popular,” she mutters to herself, padding barefoot over freshly polished and scrubbed hardwood floors, skipping around boxes of pictures and books and succeeding in stubbing her toe for the third time since she’s gotten in.
McGee clears his throat uncomfortably, shifting and trying to find his confidence in her eyes. He tilts his chin up, adjusts his posture, and holds out the ugliest bouquet of flowers she has ever seen in her life with a little “uh” of discomfort.
“This-this is for you,” he says, blinking repeatedly. “I thought you could, um, use something to brighten the place up on your first night.”
She takes them with a wide smile, inhales the scentless air of them, and grins at him with her entire face. “They’re beautiful,” she lies. “Thank you, Tim.”
He gives a little jolt at hearing his name from her lips. She’s the only one who calls him by his real name, and it reminds him of the time when she sat next to him on the back of an ambulance and held his hand and then never brought it up again.
She watches him think, withdraw in on himself for a brief moment, and the pattern of his sadness plays over his forehead. The past three years have not been easy on Timothy McGee, and she sees it now. The boyishness of his face is edged with a hard age-- a gathering of laugh and worry lines that paint his skin with years she hadn’t realized he had on him. He looks like someone who a few years ago was a boy, and is now fighting to enter manhood and stay there. There’s a hickey on his throat and a soft smudge of lipstick behind his right ear.
Then again, maybe not so bad.
He steps forward and takes her lightly into his arms, awkwardly at first. She leans her head against his shoulder and lets him pretend to be the comforting leading male in his own movie. Sometimes men need to feel in control. Sometimes it’s best to let them.
She sighs against him, leaning her weight against his shoulder, and he takes it all in with a little sigh. Tony is the older brother, always trying to one up him, always trying to push him down, but snarling and beating the crap out of anyone else who tries. Kate was the older sister that looked at him like a pest, but who he could always trust to keep a confidence when it really came right down to it. To share the touchy feely moments with him that he wouldn’t realize he had needed until she brought them out in him.
She pulls back. “Want to come in for a bit? I think I have a beer in the fridge with your name on it.”
He steps in and she closes the door behind him, padding past and cursing as she hits her toe on the edge of a box on the way to the kitchen. “Nice place,” he offers, standing uncomfortably in the center of the living room. Orange, he thinks. Very… orange.
“Thank you,” she calls back, head buried in the fridge. “It appealed to me for its lack of Tony living in it.” She comes back in, grins at him, and hands him a beer. “You can sit down, you know. I don’t have the bad kind of cooties.”
He grins back. “Were you inoculated?”
“Had your cootie shot today, McGee?”
He sits down on the couch, sinking into the cushions and sighing. “That feels good,” he admits.
“Hard day?” She folds herself into a basket chair by the floor lamp and tilts her head to one side. “Bad case?”
He rolls his eyes. “I wish. No, cases I can deal with. At least then when we’re done everything’s better. Gibbs being…” His voice dies, and he licks his lips thickly, looking down at the dripping bottle of beer in his palm. He forgot for a moment, that she was on the outside looking in. Forgot he wasn’t supposed to be comfortable with her.
“He’s mad about what I did,” she finishes for him, a small smile gracing her lips. “I’m sorry about that, Tim. I know what Gibbs is like in a bad mood-- if I could get him out of it, I would.”
McGee takes a large swig of beer. He believes her, and that sort of scares him. Isn’t this the woman who has been living a lie for the past three years? Who has been lying to him and everyone she knows?
Gibbs hasn’t spoken to Ducky in days. McGee doesn’t know what to say. He remembers sitting down in the morgue and falling against the older man for comfort when he couldn’t distinguish murder victim from friend; random stranger from a woman he held close to his heart.
He believes her. This is his sister, a liar of massive proportions, but his sister.
“Are you sorry?” he asks about half way through the bottle, and she closes her eyes. “You’re not sorry.”
“No,” she says simply. “I’m not. It was the right thing to do.”
He looks back down at the bottle. Simpler. Easier than human beings and their issues. His nails peel underneath the label, shredding it into thin long peels of paper, and he drags his fingertips over the sticky residue left behind on the green bottle glass.
“The right thing,” he murmurs softly, eyes closing for a second. “We missed you, Kate. No matter what Gibbs said the other day-- we missed you a lot.”
“I know, McGee. He didn’t mean it.”
And she hits right upon his one sore spot, because his face tightens and his eyes draw inwards. “Then why did he say it?” he says in a hard, angry voice. She reads between his lines easily. How could his hero do something so despicable? How could he not be perfect? Be all-powerful?
Why did he do that to me?
Kate sighs and rubs a hand over her mouth. Becoming disillusioned with your parents is one thing. Realizing that a man you worshiped as a god with blue eyes-- one who has never proven himself to be anything other than good-- can fail? Fall from grace? It must be crushing. “It wasn’t-”
“No,” she says again, calmly, cutting him off and forcing him to meet her gaze with the steel in her voice. “It wasn’t right of him. But I’ll deal with that later.” She folds her hands in her lap and leans back in the chair. “But don’t be mad at him for it. I did something that for Gibbs is unforgivable, and I knew that when I did it.” McGee’s face pales. “I did, McGee. I knew Gibbs would be mad at me. He doesn’t understand why, you know, but he is. He can’t figure out why what I did made him so angry, and that’s what really pisses him off. I knew it would. And I did it anyway. I wasn’t afraid.” She grows quiet for a moment, and McGee is on the edge of his seat. “But I was afraid that I would lose all of you.” And she meets his eyes, defiant and feeling more like her old self than she has in weeks. “Thank you for being here for me, Tim. I was afraid I’d lose you because of it, and I’m glad I didn’t.”
“I’m glad you’re okay,” he offers in a soft voice. “I’m really, really glad you’re home safe.”
And he pulls her into a hug even as the horribly traitorous thought skims across her mind: this isn’t home anymore and she bites her bottom lip as hard as she possibly can, hides her face in his shirt, and whispers “Me too, McGee.”
McGee leaves, Tony is fed, and Kate stretches out on her new couch, flips on her new TV, and scoffs and snarls at the national news. Terrorism, anti-gay activism, women’s rights issues; she’s starting to remember why she didn’t make a habit of watching this over the past two years. She always ended up getting frustrated, Ari always ended up laughing at her while she yelled at the television, and then she would get mad enough with him to make the night uncomfortable.
She flips through the channels idly, wonders just how good her new connections are, and is answered when she turns one more channel and is rewarded with Al Jezera.
“Wow,” she mutters. “You boys don’t pull any punches, do you?”
She watches the news she’s become accustomed to, her ears taking it all in as her brain works to keep up. Soon, she tells herself, this will be her life again; this strange, oddly entrancing language and the way it rolls and jumps off of the tongue to bounce through the ears unevenly. There’s an old recording from a suicide bomber in Israel, and a story about how those who volunteer to blow themselves up are getting paid less and less in post-mortem compensation. She drops her head back to stare up at the ceiling for a while and lets the whole thing wash over her.
She thinks about Idina’s delicate fingers and Jess’s full cheeks, and then banishes the thought as too painful.
“Tomorrow night,” he whispered, “we may be in a very different position entirely.”
Kate lifted her head off of his chest and looked at her lover for a long moment. “Do you think we’ll die?”
He waved a hand. “Do not be morbid. We are well trained; we will survive.”
She nodded and sighed. “Yeah, probably.”
“We may not be together,” he continued slowly. “We may never see each other again.”
She swallowed and put her head back down on his chest, listening to his slightly elevated heart beat to keep her mind focused and clear. “Yeah.”
His fingers came on the back of her neck, strong and firm. “I would not trade you or this time for anything in the world,” he whispered. “You know that, correct?”
She smiled. “Yeah. I know. And you know that I don’t regret leaving to come with you. Either time.”
He nodded. “Yes.” The silence spilled over them for a long time, and they lay awake in the darkness, listening to each other’s breathing with a soft feeling of detachment. Like this wasn’t quite real, and they weren’t quite awake yet.
And then his lips parted again and she knew what he was going to say, and she couldn’t bear to hear it-- couldn’t bear to hear the words that always came before a parting of ways. Before she lost him. “I…”
She shook her head. “Don’t,” she whispered, and lifted her head up off of his chest to look him in the eyes. “You can tell me when we get back and we’re together again.”
He narrowed his eyes. “That is blackmail.”
She laughed. There were tears blurring her vision and they fell as her cheeks tightened and lifted, falling down on his chest. “What can I say, you’ve corrupted me.”
There’s a triple knock at the door and Kate wipes a tear off of her cheek angrily as she’s drawn out of her bittersweet recollections, pressing her hand on Tony’s back to stop the dog from growling at the intrusion into their lives. “Shh, girl, it’s okay.” The small dog keeps her eyes focused on Kate’s back, ears pricked for a noise of distress. The hair on her back doesn’t go down all the way, and it occurs to Kate just how very nice it is to have someone looking out for her, even if it is someone who uses their tongue for toilet paper.
Beggars can’t be choosers.
A delivery man looks her over, clip board in hand. “Ms. Cait-Ann Todd?”
He squints at the name. “Yeah, okay, I can see that. Sign here.” He shoves the board at her and she does as requested after a moment’s hesitation. He picks a large brown box at his feet, shoves it at her, and takes the clip board back. “Enjoy.”
“What is it?”
“I just deliver them.” He retreats down the hallway, and she pauses to wonder if her protection is so lax that Al Qaeda could deliver something through the mail and a scraggly looking delivery guy, before retreating into the comfort of her apartment and closing the door.
Tony follows eagerly at her heels, ears still pricked up. Kate retrieves a kitchen knife, taking a moment to mourn the loss of her beautiful serrated edge blade, and slices the paper off the outside. A plain white box lies underneath, large and square. “So girl,” she mutters, “what do you think? Am I going to be blown to bits?”
Tony wags her tail eagerly.
She retrieves a pair of yellow kitchen gloves and pulls them on, debating whether or not to call for her big strong protector outside to come and save her from the dangers of the United States mail. She probably should-- make sure nothing’s awry. Then again, unless she’s very much mistaken, letter bombs usually don’t come via courier. She knows Al Qaeda is updating their techniques, but this strikes her as an unlikely update.
Oh well, she thinks with a sigh as she lifts the cover off slowly, I’ve had a good life and I’m wearing clean underwear.
But nothing explodes. Instead, she finds herself looking down at a very simple, very delicate carved wooden box, wrapped in white cloth. She takes it out, wondering if someone has decided to play matryushka doll bomber with her, and lifts the lid.
The soft notes of “Someone to Watch Over Me” makes her heart stop.
“Oh,” she whispers softly, more a breath than a conscious word, and it occurs to her just what those bits of cloth are. She dips her fingers into the box and comes back with the softest of handkerchiefs; pure and clean white fabric on her palm, and smelling of him. “Oh,” she says again, and brings one hesitantly to her nose to inhale his presence in and hold him in her lungs.
She picks the box up, runs her fingers over it, and when she finds the false bottom she is not surprised, nor is she shocked. She knows how to hide documents so they will never be found. He knows that she knows how to look for them.
The thin layer of perfectly matched plywood falls away, revealing the true bottom of the box and a folded over piece of paper. She takes the gloves off and carefully picks it out with her fingernails, spreading it on the table and holding her breath as if she’s afraid a single exhalation will reduce the paper to ash and his words will go unread.
Cramped handwriting, pen pressing hard into the paper. She skims one finger over a word and the edges of the letters smear. Fresh. He wrote this recently-- less than five hours ago, and she bites the inside of her cheek to keep herself from jumping up and squealing out the window in happiness.
He’s here. He’s in the states. They’re keeping him on a leash, but it’s a leash that extends beyond Israel. This makes her life so much easier it isn’t even funny.
“Our ‘anniversary’ has passed and gone unnoticed. I could not allow that to happen. My various masters have taken to trading me across continents for their own amusement, then sending me back hours later. I live in a permanent state of jet lag from which I fear I will never recover. They are bright but not intelligent. Life is simple.
“If I know you, you are planning something. If you know me, you would assume the same, but in this one instance you are wrong. Your freedom and mine rests on my compliance and I can not risk being caught at disobedience.
“A present for you, beautiful woman. May you be alive and well to enjoy it.”
She flips the page over to see if there’s more, but discovers nothing but the leaked through ink, and sighs. Great. He sends her a present and a letter basically telling her that he’s not going to try anything. He always has been good at getting her worked up and then ruining her good moods in one fell swoop. Typical, pessimistic male.
Well, Kate sighs heavily, she knew she was going to have to do this all herself, after all. It’s nothing she didn’t know already, it just sort of sucks to have to be confronted with it. Ari’s hands are bound and hers are meant to be as well.
She glances at the wall and the newly framed pieces of paper that declare her fluent and good enough for government work in Arabic, Hebrew, French, and Italian, and shakes her head. “Damn it, Ari, you know better than that.”
She puts the paper back in place and pushes the false bottom in on top of it. The music box pops open again, and what she can only describe as their song fills the small kitchen with warmth and love. Suddenly she is back in an apartment in Paris, head on his shoulder, draped in red and his scent, and her heart gives a hard pang for him.
She closes the music box and puts it back in the white box along with the handkerchiefs. The brown paper goes into the garbage after she’s sure he left no further messages on it, and she takes the box and herself into the bedroom, Tony behind her. She lights a few candles on the dresser to get rid of the unlived in smell of the place, and slides the package underneath her bed, dropping the blankets back over it to hide it. She can’t look right now. She needs to clear her head, not start herself crying.
Tony climbs into bed with her, a poor substitute for the man she really wants there, and she turns the light out and settles in beside her, but doesn’t sleep. Instead, she finds herself staring at the rise and fall of her dog’s back for a very long time, her mind perfectly blank, and her hand wrapped protectively around the necklace around her throat.
I will get him back, she tells herself calmly. It’s just a matter of when.
And for as much pain as she holds, as much sadness that exists in her, there is no doubt.
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