by B. Cavis
by B. Cavis
There are three vital elements for any successful heterosexual encounter, in Caitlin Todd’s book.
Oh yeah, she reflects cheerfully. I should crochet these on a pillow.
The hardest part is finding the man. Having been single for many, many years, Kate is fully aware of the hassle of going out and finding someone safe, clean, and sexy to have a sexual encounter with who won’t hog the covers or try and kiss you with morning breath. It takes a lot of time, money, and drinks to get someone into bed these days, and she’s scared more than one of them off when they saw the bulge of her weapon.
Finding the man takes skills and patience, neither of which are Kate’s particular strong points. She’s never been good at the flirtation game and she knows it-- she has neither the subtlety nor the brain for pussy footing around issues that are so obvious.
She’s not climbing up on the bar and screaming “FUCK ME!” of course, but she’s not the one who wants to lick her lips in the right ways or caress her throat just lightly enough to encourage lips to follow.
Which is probably what makes this whole situation that much more promising.
She is the woman, and she has the man already lined up. A gorgeous, sexy, tight bodied man with long fingers and rough palms is going to be coming back to her bed in a few short hours-- just a few more ticks of the clock. She’s going to exchange bodily fluids, finally put her birth control prescription to use, and mess up the pretty five hundred count cotton sheets on her bed with more than just a wet dream.
Things are finally going her way for her and her vagina, and she is not going to risk changing this for anything in the world. Hence the third item: sexy panties.
Call it vanity, call it seduction, call it programming by a male dominated society, but Kate always feels sexier when she’s wearing good underwear. More confident. She doesn’t wear thongs on a regular basis, and she doesn’t have a collection of lacy and beautiful garters and gadgets, but she doesn’t wear granny panties either. Her stomach is flat, her legs are taut, and when she wears a pair of underwear she needs neither a support top nor a slimming waistband.
She wants lace. She wants silk. She wants sex.
Apparently, the CIA didn’t stop to think about this before sending her on her way. They only gave her one pair of underwear that bear showing to someone else without an explanation of “it’s laundry day” coming first. White cotton seems to be their style of choice; plain and virginal.
She can’t wear them. She can just picture the look on his face if he found her waiting for him in a pair of white cotton panties and a matching bra. He’d raise an eyebrow, ask her if she still had her Catholic school girl uniform somewhere, and she’s not up for sex games tonight.
Tonight she is fucking Ari Haswari until he passes out. It’s a simple goal, really, and she intends to keep it that way. No distractions, no role playing, no interference. She’s getting laid.
End of story.
However, because life sucks, in all of its various forms, Kate discovers that the one pair of sexy black panties she has, the ones she used that first night for comfort and security when first meeting Mikel have a large blood stain on them from the last time she got her period. She washes them out in the sink, brings them hesitantly to her nose, and groans at the overwhelming smell of blood and crotch that invades her nose.
It is a well-known fact that it is impossible to be sexy when covered in blood and crotch reek. Kate debates the costs-benefits of trying to wash the panties out really quickly before he returns and then trying to hold him off until she can put them on. The bottle of Downy smiles at her from underneath the sink, and she looks at the pretty colors and happy flowers for all of two seconds before remembering that she is beautiful, young, and in possession of a black card.
Lingerie shopping is not precisely something Kate feels comfortable taking her new Muslim girlfriends to do, so she finds an upscale little boutique on her own and walks calmly around the store with her New Money face on and her best pair of heels. Sales women swoon over her, clerks fall at her feet, and she finds herself sitting on a lushly upholstered sofa, sipping coffee from a blue and white patterned Wedgwood cup, and watching as possible teddies and bras are modeled for her.
She thanks them kindly, gives the sales girl a tip, and leaves quickly, stopping after three more store fronts to collapse into helpless, uncomfortable giggles at the memory of those tiny little women strutting around in silk and satin, and pats her overheated face with the back of her hand until she feels up for walking again.
She’s not as uptight as she was seven months ago-- it’s pretty impossible to live with a man who is sex in a pair of black leather pants without losing a few of your Catholic guilt trip issues-- but she draws the line at mini-Victoria Secret shows being held only for her benefit.
She finds another place where the salesgirls know enough not to bother her, and runs her fingers down smooth fabrics and practically non-existent pairs of underwear. What’s appropriate for a first time when you’ve more or less done everything else, she wonders, and her fingers trail over a silk teddy with white trim for a brief moment before moving on. She’s never had to dress for a first time before. She lost her virginity after her prom, so her underwear was made to match the outfit, and ever since then she hasn’t really made an effort to dress special for the men in her life. She’s never wanted to give them the mixed signal by insinuating they were actually important enough to her to deserve it.
She has a clit, she has a sex drive. They had penises, they had sex drives. That was really all she needed, plus a little snuggle every now and then and maybe a movie or something.
Somehow the word “penis” sounds very lame when applied to Ari, and she runs her hand over her throat for a brief moment of weakness, fingers touching one of the many, artfully applied hickeys she woke up with this morning. She’s had six orgasm in less than twenty four hours. Six. He ate her out in the shower while she clung to the bar and trembled like she contained the San Andreas Fault, before she slipped to her knees and trailed her fingers and her palms over him until he groaned and came on her chest. He fingered her with one hand underneath her worn jersey shorts while they watched the BBC International News that night. He’d slipped his tongue, freezing cold with rainbow sherbet into her ass from behind and made her grumble about rug burn on her nipples until she couldn’t think enough to dislike him anymore. Then in bed, after she taught him all about the wonderful benefits of having your hands pasted to the bedpost while your girlfriend (God that word sounds weird even in her own head-- best never to say it aloud, she decides) sucks your dick, he had taught her all about the wonderful benefits of multiple, earth trembling orgasms until the flesh hurt, the body ached, and a woman became quite willing to do anything just to end/continue the torture.
He’d been quite proud of himself for that one, actually. She makes a mental note to take him down a peg or two by making him work for it a bit harder. It never hurts to keep them on their toes.
Ari doesn’t have a penis. He’s got a dick. She’s never quite grasped the distinction before, but she thinks she’s managing it pretty damn well now.
“Red,” she mutters to herself, “I look good in red, right?” She picks up something tiny and covered in violent crimson feathers, holds it up and tries to picture herself in it without laughing, can’t do it, and puts it back. Nope. She’s definitely not bird girl.
Her fingers find black for a moment, and she pictures him taking her skirt off, finding that she’s wearing black lingerie, and laughing at her for giving into the power that is darkness. The black thong is mocking her, she decides, and the last thing she needs it for him to too.
She steers clear of it carefully, and goes to look at something Barbie pink in retaliation. Twenty minutes later she’s back where she started, cursing her own nature, and picking the black thong and matching corset top off of the hooks before walking over to the counter with them and telling herself that the underwear is not laughing at her. I swear to God, Ari she thinks mutinously, if you don’t cream your damn shorts the second you see these, we are going to have a major problem and I am going to go find myself a big hot pink vibrator.
The panties snicker. Meanly.
The message she finds on her phone tells her he won’t be home for a few more hours, so she abandons her underwear in the bedroom, tags cut off and snickers firmly muffled by the application of one of her pillows. The punching bag in the basement is calling her name again, and she wraps her fists tightly and securely, methodical as counting on a rosary.
“I,” she announces to the quiet, still room, “am going to jump him tonight.” She beats the bag, twice. “This is a good night.”
Gibbs’s voice is strong in her head-- Romance Between Agents and all of the horrible things it implies plays across her brain for a second, and she gives into fear for a full minute before shaking it aside. Romance Between Agents is bad, yes. But she’s not an agent. She’s a partner. A comrade. Her job is to make sure he doesn’t end up with a bullet in his head, and his job is to make sure the world doesn’t end.
Romance Between Agents is a good rule because it protects both parties from feeling uncomfortable when it’s over, and it keeps fellow agents safe from the backlash. If your lover is trapped in a hostage situation, and you have to choose between saving some stranger and saving the man/woman who’s been sucking your dick and warming your bed for the past year, well then the stranger should have thought of that before he/she went and didn’t become your lover. Cases and challenges that require unbiased heads and solid decision making can be messed up monumentally by the involvement of feelings. By someone thinking with their heart and not with their head.
The heart, despite every Disney movie ever made, is quite bad at making decisions. It has no thought process, it has no ability to choose things. It pumps blood. That’s about it. It doesn’t know all of the answers, it is far from infallible, and to rely on it often brings nothing but pain. To entrust serious life or death choices to it is like telling your gallbladder that it’s time to do some Calculus.
Romance Between Agents is designed to keep women like her safe, and keep men like Ari from having clouded brains and gallbladders that are trying to pass a math test.
She has no illusions. If she was hanging over a molten volcano and an evil mastermind genius was making Ari choose between her life and the lives of innocent civilians, he would look straight into the camera, hero-type hair and torn shirt whipping appropriately around him in the heroic breeze, and let her be lowered into the lava.
She has no illusions. If the situation was reversed, she would do the same.
That’s the way it is-- that’s the way it has to be. Ari wouldn’t be the man she maybe-sorta-kinda doesn’t mind as much as she initially thought she would if he was the kind of person who could wake up one morning and decide “Oh, um, duty? Yeah, I really don’t care anymore. I’m getting laid now, you see, and my priorities have sort of changed.” She wouldn’t be the woman he seems to adore giving multiple, breath robbing orgasms to if she was the wimpy, girl for the hero type.
Neither one of them is going to suddenly turn into Indiana Jones, and neither one of them is suddenly going to become “the love interest.” She’s Kate. He’s Ari. They are not “one heart beating within two bodies” and they sure as hell aren’t “soul mates attracted to each other over time and space, across continents and vast oceans.”
Two people. Two hearts. Two souls. Caitlin Marie Todd and Ari whatever the hell his middle name is Haswari. End of story. Bye bye.
And when it ends? questions a small voice inside of her head, quiet and still. When it’s over and you’re still with him and all you can do is lie in bed at night and wish he wasn’t in his own room so very far away?
She pauses, swallows, and doesn’t have a witty answer to that one just yet.
What happens when he decides he’s had enough of you? Or when this is over and you go off to be an NCIS agent again? Have you forgotten about Gibbs entirely? About your real life? This is fun and games-- this is play time, not real life. High stakes, sure, but still just for fun compared to who you really are. Just a little vacation with more guns involved. What happens when you have to go back to the real world?
He promised not to leave her hanging. That doesn’t mean he won’t leave.
Kate pushes the thought aside as firmly as she can. He also told me he’d wait for me. Remember that? He wanted to wait until all of this was over. He’s going to stick around. Unless I kick him out, he’s going to stick around.
She has that same, traitorous flash of the little girl with a bright smile and charcoal eyelashes, and shakes herself forcefully.
One day at a time, she tries to appease herself. Don’t think about tomorrow, and don’t worry about the end of the mission. When it happens, you’ll deal with it. You’ll deal with it all.
In the meantime…
She hits the bag again, grinning to herself a bit less widely than before, but still honestly, and wonders if her underwear has stopped giggling yet. Best not to go and check for a little while longer.
She’s getting laaaaaid! Kate resists the urge to do a little victory dance, but hops to the other side of the bag eagerly and on the balls of her feet. She is going to have an evening full of sex and inventive positions, giggling underwear, and one fucking sexy spy wrapped up in her sheets. She is going to walk funny tomorrow, he isn’t going to walk at all, and this whole “we’re saving the world, yay!” thing is just going to have to live with that for a day.
She’d let herself be lowered into the lava, and she’d tell him she was sorry he was going to get burned, but there is no way in hell she is letting the universally evil Bad Guys interfere with her sex life. The terrorists can take care of themselves for a little while. She’s got an itch, and he’s got just the right sized fingers to do some scratching. She went out and bought underwear for the occasion. Black underwear.
Screw terrorism, she is going to fuck Ari Haswari till he falls apart in her sheets.
Oh yeah, she thinks smugly, hitting the bag with her knee and watching it jerk on its chain. He isn’t going to know what hit him.
About five seconds into his first beating in a really long time, three things become very, very apparent.
A man’s fist is heavy. Ari’s face is delicate. This is a bad combination.
“Son of a dog!” the older man hisses, spitting on him. “You and your whore are not welcomed here. Leave!”
When his father told him, all those many years ago, that being Mossad meant being a good guy and a figure of respect, he’d believed him. He’d stared up at the cultured, intelligent older man with wide eyes and a hopeful tilt to his mouth, hoping that one day he’d be able to be even half as much of a hero as he was for his country. For his brothers and sisters in Israel and all over the world.
Apparently, he thinks as his nose gives a sickening crunch, heroes aren’t allowed to be pretty. Someone should have told him this part before he signed up. Would have helped with that whole “dentist vs. secret agent?” dilemma he went through in high school.
Hey, wait a second-- how come Caitlin gets to be pretty?
…He really hopes this is blood loss or something.
The second man, the one holding him, smells like old shoes-- mildew-y and rank. Like he’s been left out in the rain and then worn without socks. Ari wants to break his neck, wants to snap him in half, and his well-trained, well-experienced, well-bloodied hands ache to bring out at least one of the Krav Maga moves he’s known for decades. To make these men pay.
If it weren’t for the accents these two men wear, he would do it. Quickly.
However, the only problem with being trained in the most effective, most deadly, most… coolest (hey, he’s being bounced between fists and pavement; diction isn’t high on his list of functions) form of self-defense in the world is that when you use it against a Palestinian, they tend to know what you’re doing. If he pulls out a Jewish form of self-defense, one taught to the army and the agents and the children of parents who breathe in danger and carnage every day, he is going to have some serious questions to answer.
He hates questions. He was always the quiet one trying to figure out how to sabotage the clock and convince Rachel Allen to go out with him for a slice in school.
Someone punches him in the ribs, hard, and he takes a long moment to regret the fact that he never let Caitlin teach him how to fight like a Marine; knowing five more ways to kill a man with his bare hands would probably come in useful right now.
Ari takes a moment to sigh, shifting uncomfortably as his lip is split and the pain starts to make his head go fuzzy. She’s probably sitting back in the apartment, naked in bed, waiting for him to show up. By now, she’s probably getting a little bit pissed that he hasn’t shown up and fucked her.
He knows the feeling. These guys are getting really, really irritating.
One of the men steps back, and the other follows. Ari curls into a ball and tries to look pathetic and weak. “Go home,” the older of the two snarls. “You are unwelcome here.”
The younger gives a kick; one last parting blow to give Ari something to remember him by. He moves with the blow and it does little more than brush his ribs before the two of them are off and running, far and fast.
Ari picks himself up off the pavement, touches his nose gingerly, and sighs. Great. In a couple of minutes the adrenaline will wear off, the pain will hit him with all the subtlety of a fist hitting and breaking a nose, and he’ll vomit and pass out, in that order if he’s lucky.
He shoves enough money at a taxi driver to make him mind his own business and makes his way back to the apartment, trying not to feel every ache and pain in his body. Every little bruise and bloodied piece of flesh.
There are a lot of them. It’s hard work.
Qassam is behind this, he has no doubt. The man is Saudi, but Palestinians are a dime a dozen for men like him; foot soldiers with a grudge. Sure, the rest of the Muslim world views them as a pain in the ass and the bottom of the barrel, but they’re devoted to the elimination of the Jews and if they think helping Al Qaeda or Hamas will get them that much closer to a Jew-free Palestine, they’ll do what it takes.
It wouldn’t do for a man of Qassam’s stature and height in the organization to be seen attacking a fellow soldier for the cause-- especially not one who, by all accounts, is the golden boy of Al Qaeda. The new wunderkind; the next great thing. The sun shines out of Ari’s ass according to his bosses. Qassam may be wealthy and prominent, but he’s not powering any solar panels any time soon and he knows it.
Hence the henchmen. Hence the broken nose and the bruised ribs and the scrapes and bruises. Hence the fact that Caitlin is going to have to wait a few days for him to come out of the drug induced unconsciousness he intends on putting himself in when he steps into the apartment before she gets to fuck him.
He tries to imagine her in a candy striper’s outfit but the pain in his nose is so bad now that he can’t even be a horny pig. He curses, the driver increases speed, and Ari wonders just what he has to do to make Qassam understand just how much of a pain in the ass this is; how much he is going to make the other man suffer.
When I own you and your little terrorism group, he thinks viciously to the older man, and you are sitting in jail because I am amazing at life, I am going to make sure your cell mate picks his feet while you are trying to sleep. And eat. And use the bathroom.
He must be bleeding from the head. Usually he can come up with at least a threat of dismemberment.
The apartment building takes him in like it always does, warm and dark, and the men and women hanging around barely give him another glance. Sexy bleeding man. Huh. Must’ve gotten into a fight with his lover, one of the men mutters as he walks past, and Ari keeps moving because if he stops he is going to pass out in the hallway and make a mess for the janitors to clean up.
The door gives way when he fumbles with the doorknob, and he stumbles in heavily. “Caitlin,” he rasps, and almost falls. His entire face is throbbing, his body aches, and she slips into his line of sight in the sexiest pair of panties he can ever remember seeing on a woman and a matching corset top (oh so much cleavage) and lets out a tiny little yelp at the sight of him.
He licks his lips, tastes blood, and blinks in confusion. Bleeding? Where did that come from?
Black lace. See-through.
God he hates Qassam.
She has him underneath the arms before he can say anything, and he does little more than groan as she moves him into his bedroom and helps him down on the bed. “What happened?”
“I was in a fight,” he mumbles around his thickened tongue as she puts a pillow under his head to keep the bleeding down. “I think I lost.”
“Yeah, I got that.” She looks around the room, slightly desperate. “Where’s your medical bag?”
He blinks. His stomach is starting to lurch unpleasantly as the darkness lurks at the edges of his mind; thinking is harder and harder as the seconds tick by, and certainly not one of the more fun things he’s ever had to do. He reaches out a hand to touch her panties.
Soft. He really likes soft things. Maybe he could just touch her for a while-- would she let him do that?
“Ari!” Kate pinches his thigh, hard, and he yelps gently. Apparently not. “Where’s your medical bag? I know you have one around here.”
Medical bag, he reminds himself. That thing with the needles and the rubber gloves in it. Caitlin wants to play doctor.
“Bad little girl,” he mumbles. “Top shelf of the closet.”
She moves away from him, and he examines the gently separated crack of her ass as she reaches up and pushes through Armani and silks to grab for the bag. It really is a nice thong. She sits down on the bed again, he blanches, and she moves just fast enough to grab him by the back of the neck and point him at the hardwood floor and not on the bed.
Such a nice thong. He hopes she forgives him for vomiting on it.
“’m’sorry,” he mumbles, coughing miserably. “Buy you a new one. Promise.” His nose is running, drooling down his face. She takes a tissue from the box on the night stand and drags it over his face gently, like a mother would a child.
His mother never wore thongs. Probably just as well.
“Not the reaction I was going for,” she admits softly, “but I’ll beat you up later. What do I do?”
He blinks, trying to focus again. She pinches his thigh, harder this time, but everything is falling into a fuzziness. Something’s buzzing in his head, and he’s really cold. “Wha’?”
“Ari!” But her voice is tiny, small and weak, and he slips into the sweet blackness even as she cradles his head in between her hands and tries to find some way to keep him with her. He wants to tell her that all she needs to do is hold his hand, be next to him, and possibly set his nose, but he can’t.
The darkness is nice. Calm. Peaceful. He stands no chance.
The message in Tony’s inbox is a sentence long and has no address at the beginning or at the end. The G-Mail notifier carries it all in the little yellow box that pops up, and Tony waits for it to go away before getting up and picking up the files that have to go down to Ducky.
He tries not to think about what it means that he keeps extra files; extra excuses to run down to the older man on a moment’s notice at any time during the day or night. He has a legitimate one this time, but it’s a rare instance and he knows it. Truth is not something he gets to indulge in very often, if at all. It feels nice, as panicky as he truly is, to be able to do something without being completely duplicitous.
His bottom drawer is full of lies and Silly Putty eggs.
“On it boss!” he states cheerfully, ignoring the mutinous look McGee sends him and the mouthed “brown noser.” Gibbs just nods calmly.
“Have him call me now” is highlighted on Tony’s eyes, glowing and wickedly dangerous. He clutches the folders to his chest and presses the down button on the elevator while trying not to fidget. He offers a flirtatious smile as a woman walks by the closing doors, and drops his outdoors face for just a second when he is alone in the steel box.
He thinks of Kate and the room that smelt of peppermint and lavender when he held her, and can almost recall the taste of the coffee and cookies on his tongue by the time the doors open again. He remembers telling her to be safe, the answering promise, and silently warns her of his wrath in his own mind’s eye.
If you’ve gone and lied to me, I’ll kick your ass.
Palmer is at lunch. Ducky smiles paternally at him, and Tony wants to believe the promise behind that smile-- that everything will be okay and everyone will be happy. Wants to believe the situation, the people, this life is not beyond redemption.
He‘s getting morbid in his old age. Ducky is still the bright spot he always has been. “Anthony,” he greets. “Do you have work for me?”
He offers the folders with a smile and nods. “Straight from Gibbs. Have fun.”
He accepts them and his hands are steady and firm on the cool cardboard. “I shall try. I was discussing the case with Mr. Palmer earlier. He seems to think that there were circus midgets involved.” His mouth twists wryly. “I’m debating whether or not to sell him to medical science.”
“Don’t they have to be dead first?” He fights the urge to shift, to scream, to do something. Hurry up, he wants to yell. I don’t have time to bicker and banter and be witty with you. Kate could be in a pool of blood right now!
“Actually, that’s a very interesting topic. In the old days, patients in insane asylums were used to-”
“Oh, before I forget,” Tony cuts off smoothly, sounding just as normal as he does every other time he tries to get out of a lecture. “I got a call earlier from your mother’s vet. Apparently she’s giving them my number again. Anyway, she wanted you to call her straight away.”
“Oh dear,” Ducky says, eyes betraying nothing, “I do hope it’s nothing serious.”
“Yeah,” Tony says, putting on the voice he has to use when pretending to talk about dogs named Kate instead of people. “I’m sure that’d be a tragedy; one less Yorkie to protect your mother.”
“Well, I’ll make sure to take care of it.” He waves a hand. “Thank you, Anthony.”
“Hm.” The doors open again, steel and coldness, and he listens to the elevator ding as it takes him in, trying not to feel anything but accomplished. But in control.
He can hear Ducky rushing for his cell phone, the one he keeps with him at all times, and takes a long, slow, deep breath.
Don’t say her name, Ducky reminds himself as he dials. Just keep it short and simple. Don’t say her name and don’t get emotional with her. Just clean and dry. Professional.
Professional, snorts the voice in his head that sounds oh so much like Gerald. Right. Like he can just keep himself business-like with her. An association, not a friendship.
He remembers her trying to tell him everything was alright when he was being stalked, when she was keeping him safe and trying to make sure no one touched him; wronged him. He remembers the look on her face when he found her down in this morgue, staring at the boy she killed and silently repeating “oh God, oh God, oh God” over and over again.
She sounds different than he remembers. Older. His first words are “What’s wrong?” and she takes a deep breath before beginning in a calm and organized fashion.
He’s impressed. To handle herself under pressure is one thing, but to do it in a situation like the one she’s in takes a level of skill she didn’t have when she left. Tony had said that she had matured a bit, he just hadn’t thought it would-- could actually be true.
To imagine her changing is to acknowledge that he hasn’t seen her in months. That he might not see her for years more. To imagine her changing, Ducky has to recognize the distance between them; the forces at work. He has an image of Caitlin Todd in his head, a solid belief in her core being. To hear that she might not be as constant as he originally thought makes him pause and shake himself.
She’s changing and he’s not there to see it. It makes him feel all the more sad that they had to toast to her existence instead of good life this year at Thanksgiving.
“Ari’s just come in. He’s been in a fight. His nose is broken, he’s vomited, and now he’s passed out. I have his medical bag, I have his head elevated and turned to the side. He’s breathing, there’s bruising on his ribs and legs. He was walking on his own, and he became less and less coherent until he passed out. What do I do?”
Ducky take a deep breath, closes his eyes, and tries to imagine the situation as best he can. “His nose needs to be set.” Is she sitting with him? She must have him in a bed or on a table; is she perched by his side like a nervous, loving relative waiting for their brethren to recover? Is Ari her newest brother?
Her newest lover?
Kate sure knows how to pick ‘em, his former assistant’s voice murmurs, coming back into his head, and he almost jumps at the thought.
Gerald’s voice in his head is not the best thing to have right now. He clears it with a quick Buddhist breathing technique, focusing, and does not permit himself to think of his wonderful lost assistant with the steady hands and the good heart. The man Ari Haswari more or less ended in front of him.
His arm still isn’t back to normal. He’s talking of going to work with Doctors Without Borders.
“Okay how do I do that?”
“It’s going to be very painful for him,” he warns. Her face was so pale when he found her down here-- her lips moving so quickly and shakily over those two words; a plea with a deity or a demon for forgiveness, salvation, peace. Her eyes hadn’t left the dead body on the slab, the boy with “suicide by cop” on his death certificate. The pain she caused made her fingers shake and her breath come faster. He knows she hated herself for hurting someone else needlessly. He closes his eyes again and tries to remember “professional” but can’t do it. Her name is on the tip of his tongue before he bites it back and tells himself not to be a total fool. “This is not going to be pleasant. Perhaps a hospital-”
“He needs this done?”
“How do I do it?” she asks again, calm and bullet cool. Strength drips from her voice, power in every word. This is not a woman who balks at causing pain. This is not a woman who is afraid of stepping wrong.
So this is Caitlin Todd the Spy. His first ever meeting with her and she’s already impressing him with the force she holds in her own two hands.
Gerald stays out of his mind. NCIS Special Agent Kate Todd keeps her predeterminations to herself. Ducky takes a deep, deep breath, clears his mind of everything but a patient and the healing a doctor must do, and finds his professional voice lurking in the corner of his mouth.
Blackness breaks, peace shatters, and Ari jerks to alertness in the middle of retching at the most unbearable pain he can ever remember having forced upon him, with two pencils shoved up his nose and the ghost of cool fingers on his face. His throat collapses on a half-gasped scream of agony, hands coming up to grab at the source of his pain. Caitlin gasps as his fingernails dig into her arms, but she doesn’t drop the phone pressed to her ear and she doesn’t take her hand away from the back of his neck.
“He woke up,” she reports, and the voice on the other end is just loud enough to reach Ari’s ears.
“His nose is straight?”
She examines his face, ignoring the way his bleary eyes are trying to link with hers, and nods to herself. “Yes.” She gently reaches out and slides the pencils from his nostrils, ignoring his wince and moan. He swallows down more vomit. Barely.
“There will be swelling and a great deal of pain. Is there any medication in his bag?”
Ari’s brain slowly reasserts itself, at least half-way out of the grave, and he leans back slowly. “Hydrocodeine,” he mumbles. “Big pill bottle.”
She repeats the name to the good doctor, who okays the medication, and Ari finds himself being half cradled, half propped up as Caitlin presses cool water against his lips, followed by the sour bite of the medication. He swallows, takes a couple more drinks of water, and leans his hot and swollen cheek against the cool muscle of her bicep as she keeps him upright to let the pills settle to his stomach. “Good,” she praises calmly, like he’s two and just used the toilet for the first time. “Very good.”
He mumbles something, but neither one of them knows what, and all he wants in the world is to find release from the pain and the agony of waiting for the pills to kick in. Wants her to let him find peace. He takes as deep of a breath as his ribs will allow, and presses his eye socket against her shoulder.
Kate sighs. “That did it, Ducky. He seems to be okay now. Thank you.”
Ducky takes a deep breath and blows it out through his nose. “You did wonderfully, my dear. It is hard to do something you are not trained for.”
Ari moans against her shoulder, face overheated and leaking more than one fluid from more than one hole. She tangles her fingers in his short hair, rubbing the back of his head with as much tenderness as she possibly can while he whimpers and sounds generally pathetic. Ducky breathes slowly, calmly, and she basks in the sound as she runs the words over her brain. She could take it as a double meaning thing if she wanted to, she really could. A statement about how she’s just an amateur playing with the Big Bond Boys; a little girl all alone in a very dangerous world.
She’s covered in vomit, wearing expensive sexy panties, and holding a man up as he tries to keep from passing out again. Her brain isn’t up for dissecting meanings.
“Look, Ducky, can I call you later? I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the help, but I have to get him into bed and clean up.”
The older man sighs. “I can’t talk with you later, my dear. I’m sorry. I should not even be talking with you now.”
The silence is unbearable. Painful almost. She licks her lips and tastes the sushi he fed her that first day to keep her from passing out in exhaustion. She can feel the cool metal of the slab underneath her shoulder blades, and the hairs on her body raise up in memory of that chill.
She finds her voice hiding in her chest, and when she speaks her words are choked but she doesn’t feel the urge to cry.
“I know,” she whispers. “Then I’m going to have to get this over with.” Deep breaths, she reminds herself. Breathing is all there is to it. “I’m fine, Ducky. I’m doing well. I’m healthy, I’m eating right, and he’s not hurting me. I went out and bought the complete works of Plutarch. He was fascinating. I’m listening to music from all over the world. I like Sudanese lyre work and Puccini. I love you, I miss you so much, and when I see you again I am going to hug you for a day and a half.” She clears her throat, takes a deep breath, and there is softness in her now; gentleness that she’s hidden in order to take care of a bad situation without shaking or second guessing herself. “I love you, Ducky. I’m sorry I can’t be there right now.”
A half a world away, in a cold sterile room, Ducky wipes away something from his eye that he tells himself is a bone fragment, and whispers “and I you,” before hanging up the phone so he won’t have to be the one to hear the dial tone and the abandonment of contact first.
He stands very still in the center of the room, cell phone in hand. When Palmer comes back from lunch, Ducky listens to him for a long minute or so before walking in to speak with Abby about test results and the reliability of eye witnesses throughout history.
She hugs him without really knowing why, and he accepts it with a little bit more desperation than is appropriate for a man his age. When she tells him she wants to go for coffee with him later to the bar he was talking about last week, he doesn’t fight her on it and he doesn’t know how to thank her for not making him be the one to ask for companionship first.
They set a date for seven on Friday before he goes back to his office. She glows quietly, sad and hopeful for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, and thinks of how Kate used to tell her that Ducky was the greatest man alive.
Once she’s moderately sure Ari’s not going anywhere (as in, he’s lying on his side, drooling heavily out of the corner of his mouth and whimpering) Kate steps into the shower and strips down under the hot water. She grabs his soap and covers herself until she doesn’t reek of vomit and blood anymore, then wets a washcloth and brings it in to the bedroom with her.
She doesn’t use the peppermint stuff she knows he hates, even though it makes her feel more comfortable in her own skin. She’s not sure if that’s important, but it strikes her as kind of lame in the long run so she decides not.
Soap does not equal commitment.
He stirs lightly when she drags the cloth over his forehead for the first touch, moaning softly. She finds herself shushing him gently without even realizing it, soothing him, and she’s not sure whether she’s more surprised that she does it or that he answers to it. She’s never considered herself particularly maternal or caring; it’s a weird and new feeling to go out of her way to make someone else breathe a little easier.
She’s not sure if she dislikes it. She doesn’t think she does.
His skin is bruised and battered underneath the layer of blood she cleans off. Beautiful skin, colored like dark coffee- she’d kissed him all over it last night. Laved it with her tongue like the flavor was sustaining her life. Keeping her.
Bastards, she thinks, and grits her teeth. She’ll kill Qassam for this. Screw her “I promise not to become a mean old murderer” promise. This isn’t about her being a killer, this is about Qassam being an asshole and a violent little prick who decided it was okay to hurt her and her own.
It’s not. She’s going to make him realize that if she has to break every bone in his body.
Kate takes a deep breath and tells herself that wanting to kill someone for hurting Ari is not overreacting.
When his face is clean, she gently dabs the bruised and battered skin of his nose and makes sure the swelling is under control. Ducky told her that if the skin started to turn colors that bruises shouldn’t turn she should take him to the hospital, but all she can see forming are purples and blues and two black eyes.
She sits naked by his side, slowly cleaning his hands and arms before cutting him out of his shirt and gently cleaning his chest. More bruises, more pain inflicted needlessly upon the man who was supposed to come straight home to her today and fuck her brains out until neither one of them could pronounce “secret agent” anymore. She drags the cloth over his stomach, remembers licking around his belly button last night, and sighs in exhaustion.
One of his eyes is open, barely, when she looks up at him. They examine each other calmly, taking in all the signs, and when he speaks his voice is slurred with drugs but still as poignant as it always is.
“You look beautiful.”
She looks down at herself, buck naked and smelling of his soap, vomit and blood covered washcloth in hand, and back up at him. “You look like crap.”
“Hm.” She reaches up a hand to cup his cheek, more to reassure herself that there’s no more blood, no more pain, no more sickness coating him. He pushes against her hand, eyes closing again, and if she didn’t know him any better she’d call the sound he releases a purr. She makes a mental note to tease him about it later.
“Get some sleep.”
“Yeah.” She strokes a clean patch of skin with her thumb, tracing slow circles on his flesh to soothe them both.
“I know. We’ll deal with it when you wake up.” He nods slowly and feels the bed wrapping itself around him, holding him once more. The darkness is coming again. He can give into it this time. She’ll be here to pull him out if he needs to be saved.
She’ll always be here. He’s not sure why that’s the most comforting idea he’s ever held, but it is and he’s too high to fight it. The drugs do their thing, he slips into unconsciousness, and her fingers keep tracing soft designs on his face, writing words and simple charms into his skin.
He passes out and she goes to get a cloth to clean the mess off the floor.
Kate can’t bring herself to sleep. She remembers the girl she knew in college who drowned in her own vomit after everyone thought she was fine, and it keeps her awake more than any amount of caffeine ever could. She picks up a good book (“By Way of Deception” by Ostrovsky. He’d pointedly ignored it when he found it on her nightstand.) and sits by his side, hand on his back to feel the warm beat of his heart through her fingertips.
The panties aren’t laughing at her anymore. She’s thrilled.
All in all, she admits as she turns a page idly, this is not the night she had in mind but that’s hardly surprising. Her life recently seems to revolve around a great deal of sudden and unexpected occurrences all happening at the least appropriate time and in the biggest pain in the ass manner possible. The good news is that he’s fine. The bad news is that her pretty undies are in the trash, her nerves are shot, and her clit is pointedly harrumphing about the fact that it is being ignored.
She turns another page. Her hands are still shaking too badly for her to take care of it, and as much as she knows he’d love that as a wake up call (she can practically feel his stubble against her palm as he suckles at her fingertips) she can’t bring herself to wake him up at all.
God he was in so much pain-- she’s never seen someone vomit from agony and she hopes never to again. It was like he was being gutted from the inside out, and there was so much blood and sickness all over him that it’s all she can bring herself to do now not to wrap herself around him to try and reassure herself that he’s actually alive and well.
That she hasn’t lost him to a small, angry man and his small, angry minions.
She slips further and further into the book, eyes crossing gently every now and then. By the time the sun comes up she feels like shit but he’s breathing without the whimpers now and her stomach isn’t in knots over it anymore. If she was at home, Tony would be on the bed with her, licking at her toes to try and encourage her to hurry up with breakfast.
…she wonders how Ari would feel about a dog…
She puts the book down and throws on a t-shirt and pair of his boxers, finding a curious intimacy in the smell of his body surrounding her, soft and worn cotton wrapped around her like a security blanket. She pads into the kitchen to make tea, finding solace in the comforting motions of pouring the water, grabbing a handful of loose leaves and applying the right mix. The sunshine coming in from the kitchen window bathes the tile floor in warmth, and she feels like she’s walking on a living, breathing thing. She opens Abigail on the counter while the water boils, and flips through her Inbox.
Tony has sent her three emails begging to know that they’re both alright, and she offers a quick “All quiet on the western front. Just going to spend the day in bed and get some rest.” She wants him here to hug him and kiss him for being the greatest friend she could ever ask for-- for keeping her centered and whole when she needed it and helping her to take care of Ari last night without freaking out.
She settles for a cheerful smiley face and a promise to talk to him soon. It’s cheap, it feels empty, but it’s what she has.
A moan comes from the bedroom, soft muffled, and she closes Abigail before walking quickly back in and pushing him back onto the mattress just in time to stop him from falling as he tries to stand and his knees buckle. “Yeah, like that’s happening.”
He curses a bit in various languages, eyes squeezed closed and face scrunched up in agony. She touches his forehead and wipes the light sweat from his skin with her fingertips. “What time is it?” he mumbles. His lips are swollen and bloodied. She grabs the glass off the nightstand and helps him drink a bit before answering. She feels useless and clumsy-- like she’s going to break him into a million pieces if she pushes him too hard.
This is why she’s never been the maternal type. She’d be the kind of mother who’d end up accidentally dropping her son or daughter off of a ledge before the first night was out.
“Around ten.” He groans. “You slept all night-- should I give you some more pain killers?”
“Either that or cut off my head.” He lifts his head slightly, peering out from matching black eyes, and his mouth softens. “You haven’t slept.”
She busies herself with digging at his medical bag and retrieving the same bottle as last night. “What do you need all these drugs for?”
“I am an addict. Pills and gummy worms.” She pops the top and he watches two white pills appear in her palm, salvation and unconsciousness. “You stayed up with me.”
“Take these,” she presses them into his hand along with the glass. He looks down at them, then back up at her.
“I have a meeting with Mikel tonight.”
“I’m calling and canceling it. I’ll tell him you were attacked, put on my best tearful voice. Idina will come over to confirm, look very sad about the whole thing, and when I kick her out to take care of you, Mikel will get a full report on how bad you look and what I tell her you remember.” She offers a flashing smile. “It’s a winning situation. And then I’ll drug you until you can breathe through your nose again.” He swallows the pills, and she takes the glass from him. “Can I get you something?”
“Are you taking care of me?”
“Would you rather I turn you out onto the street?” She’s getting bitchy. She takes a deep breath and tries to remind herself that she’s not mad at him, just at the fact that he stumbled in covered in blood and gore last night and almost gave her a heart attack.
“A bullet through the head would be more humane,” he mutters, and she gets up and walks out of his bedroom without another word, taking her book with her. She’s afraid she’ll hit him if she stays and do even more damage to a body that she’s petrified of destroying with a single touch.
He vomited when she set his nose. He vomited when she held him. He passed out in her arms and cried silently in his sleep. Agony in its purest form. She steps into the kitchen and grabs the kettle off the stove, dumping the water into the pot before going in search of a cup.
Her hand is shaking too badly. She drops it, it shatters on the ground in a pound of volume and a blossom of white and blue china, and she feels like screaming at someone to make the situation more manageable. She kneels down and tries to scrape the pieces together, tries to fix everything, and only succeeds in spearing her finger on one of the large shards and cursing loudly.
“You should sleep,” Ari mutters from the doorway, leaning heavily against the frame, and she looks up quickly.
“Get back to bed,” she gasps, shoving her finger in her mouth and sucking on the bloodied finger hard. “You’re going to hurt yourself even more.” He stumbles in, feet dangerously close to the glass, and she gets up quickly to usher him away. “Are you out of your mind? You’re recovering from a beating!”
“And you’re hurting yourself needlessly. One of us has to remain pretty.”
He grabs her by the back of the neck and shoves her out of the kitchen, surprisingly strong for a man hopped up on more pain killers than he knows what to do with. “You need sleep.”
He pushes her into the bedroom, and she snarls at him from the corner, eyes dark as he collapses back on the bed breathing heavily. “You need rest, Ari. You’re hurt.”
“And you are exhausted and shaking.” She shoves her hands underneath her armpits and glances out the window. She was really hoping he hadn’t noticed that part. It undermines her authority in the worst possible way. “Get into bed.”
Her stomach is hurting again. She rubs her abdomen with a fist and keeps her other hand firmly under her arm. Don’t shake, don’t shake, don’t freak out…
“You were bleeding,” she hears herself say, and closes her eyes. Great. So much for that plan. “You were bleeding and I couldn’t do anything about it but freak out and call Ducky. I… There was a lot of blood.” She looks over at the window again, imagining wrapping herself up in the gauzy curtain and disappearing like a magician’s assistant, smoke and mirrors and distraction.
“And you helped me,” he murmurs gently, hands and legs shaking in exhaustion. “You took care of me. Thank you.” She shrugs. Uselessly. “Now please, come here.”
“I need to call-”
“Come here or I will get out of bed and come and get you.” He pushes himself up, takes a deep breath, and groans.
She smiles crookedly without meaning to. “You’re too weak to get up and force me to do anything.”
“Possibly true. However, we will not know until I try. Of course, I may end up puncturing a lung. Or breaking my foot. Or passing out on the fl-”
“Impossible man,” she grumbles, throwing herself face down on the bed with a grunt and getting comfortable as her spine adjusts. His stomach is the perfect place for her face, her spine is the perfect place for his heavy palm, and she starts to forgive him for being dangerous and injured about half-way through the slow circles he’s pushing into her muscles. “I was scared,” she says, not bothering to whisper. The blunt honesty kills the air in the room and leaves him staring down at her back with confused eyes.
“I was alright. You helped me.”
“Yeah and I was scared.” She pushes her face into his stomach gently, feeling herself drifting off along with him. God bless sleep deprivation. Wonderful way to end an uncomfortable conversation like that. “I’m glad you’re okay, Ari.”
He pushes the circles again, eyes already dripping shut as the codeine starts to take effect. The world is fuzzy, and she is hot and solid against his abs. “I apologize for putting you in that position,” he says formally, and she grunts in amusement. “Thank you for taking care of me,” he amends, and she goes quiet.
“You’re welcome. Please don’t take that as an excuse to get hurt again.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, beautiful woman.”
She wakes up a few hours later and cries over the phone to Mikel about how two men grabbed and attacked Haswari last night-- how he’s in bed and she’s trying to keep him comfortable until he gets his bearings back and can breathe through his nose. She talks of bruised ribs, possibly cracked, and when Idina shows up the hug that the well-dressed, professionally made up woman wraps her in is tight and firm.
Kate sniffles against her shoulder, bringing out some of her real fear, and pulls back with a watery smile. “You didn’t have to come all the way over here, Idina. I didn’t mean to complain to Mikel.”
Idina’s hand is dismissive and elitist. “Bah. You have done nothing. Where is he?”
Ari is passed out in bed again, carefully drugged until he feels nothing and nobody. Idina hisses at the sight of him, and mutters something in Arabic that Kate isn’t advanced enough to understand. She dabs at her eyes with her sleeves, sniffling, and offers the older woman a brave smile. “I’m just glad he’s alright, you have no idea. I was in a panic last night.”
Kate watches as Idina takes in the state of the room surreptitiously-- noting Kate’s clothes strewn in and out of drawers and the pink bra on the floor by the chair. Kate’s own room is empty and the sheets have been taken off the bed. She sprayed the carpet in there with Windex and furniture polish to make it seem unlived in and stale clean. Ari’s room now smells of both male and female, and her hand lotion is on one of the side tables.
It’s really good to be a woman sometimes. A man would have simply messed up the sheets to make it look like two people used them the previous night. A woman knows what a shared room looks like. There’s just enough of her presence in every corner to leave no doubt that she lives here, but his own stuff isn’t overpowered, showing that he is not the kind of man who’s going to sit down and pick out curtains either.
When her eyes finally come totally back to the injured man in the bed, Kate’s stomach is warm and happy with pride. “However did you manage?” Idina asks, eyes wide and lips set in a firm line. She’s pissed, Kate reads easily. She knows it was Qassam too.
Oh, what she wouldn’t give to be a fly on that wall when the time comes.
“Haswari told me what to do. I would have lost it if it wasn’t for him-- I almost did anyhow. I’m not good with pain, and he was in so much of it.”
She serves Idina tea and cookies, head bowed modestly for the matriarch of the group, and Idina puts a warm hand over the back of hers when she sits down beside her. “Tell Haswari not to worry about the meetings-- Mikel will call tomorrow to make sure he’s feeling better, and they can make arrangements then.”
Kate smiles thankfully. “That’s a relief. He was so worried-- tried to get up and go this afternoon. I practically had to beg him to stay in bed.” She winces. “I hate to see him hurt like that. He’s such a good man; he doesn’t deserve to feel so much pain.”
Idina nods knowingly. “It is harder to watch your lover in pain than to be in it yourself. When Mikel has attacks, I joke with him that it is I who should take the medication.”
They sip tea for a moment longer, before Kate’s brow furrows gently. “Attacks? Is he alright?”
The hand again, dismissive and calm. A born gentlewoman. “Oh yes, he is fine. Mikel has a small heart condition that sometimes acts up under stress. I tell him to take it easy, but I fear my husband is not the easiest man in the world to keep in bed.” She smiles and sighs. “I know your pain, Caitlin. It is my own as well.”
Kate gives a tentative smile that grows, water in her eyes, and takes a deep breath. “Thank you for helping me, Idina. It’s so nice to talk to someone about these things sometimes. I have a happy relationship with Haswari, one I wouldn’t change for anything in the world, but every now and then it’s nice to express a little frustration. I just wish I could make him understand his limitations.”
Idina nods, sagely, and takes a cookie with two fingers. “It is the way of men. Full of power, strength, and few brains.”
They laugh, Idina proudly and Kate guiltily, and when the other woman leaves, she offers kisses and hugs with her kind words. “Just let him sleep. He’ll be fine with some rest and peace.”
“I intend on it. Goodnight, Idina. Thank you again.”
She watches from the window as her friend climbs into the chaperoned car and drives away, wondering what she’s going to tell her husband with the heart condition about them. The cookies go into the trash, the tea into the sink, and she slips back into Ari’s bedroom on quiet feet. He’s already awake, reading the paper blearily. The scanner is sitting on the night table, reporting that the woman did not manage to plant any listening or recording devices in the apartment during her brief stay. She puts it away for him and glances at the way he’s holding the paper. Every now and then he forgets to actually take in the words. He’s been rereading the same article for the last five minutes, but he doesn’t want to admit that to her.
“How did it go?”
“Mikel has a heart condition. He has attacks that he takes medication for.”
“That good?” he asks wryly, and folds the paper up with a sigh. “I can’t read it,” he reports sourly. He looks like he wants to tear it into little bits.
She grins. “I know. I was just waiting for you to admit it.” She takes the paper away and glances over the page he was trying to take in. “Someone is suing the government to allow him to own a leopard as a pet,” she reports. “There was a streaker at the site of the Bastille protesting fur.” She laughs. “Very nice.”
She leaves once more and comes back with a folded, wet washcloth. “Close your eyes,” she mutters, and he swallows once before allowing himself to be put into darkness. The cloth comes over his black eyes, soft terrycloth on his warm flesh, and he moans at the coolness that slicks across his skin. “That might help keep the swelling down a bit, right?”
He licks his lips. “It is worth looking into.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Stomped upon,” he reports, then pauses, the tip of his tongue pressed to his upper lip gently. The washcloth keeps the world hidden. “Bored,” he continues in a lower voice, and she leans in closer, hand on his upper thigh. “Sexually frustrated.”
Caitlin laughs merrily, other hand moving up to play across his chest for a teasing moment. His ribs are suddenly feeling a whole lot better. “Is that so?”
“Well,” she admits softly, “we did have plans last night that got sort of… interrupted.” The hand on his thigh moves up to cup him, teasing and gentle through his pants, and he pushes up at her with a grunt. “But I’m not entirely sure you’re up for what I had planned.”
“We might give it a shot,” he offers desperately, and she chuckles softly.
“We could. But I don’t want to hurt you again. I’ll have to wait even longer if I end up breaking you, and that’s not fair.”
It’s official. He is going to take Qassam and pluck every hair on his body out with a pair of tweezers, before rolling him in hot pepper and rubbing alcohol, then feed him to disgruntled sharks in a tank and laughing at his dismembered body while Caitlin gives him the best blow job a man has ever received.
He makes a mental note to get this down in writing, just to make sure he can remember it tomorrow.
“But,” she says, and he clings to that word. “There are other ways of appeasing your boredom.” And her teeth start to nibble on the curve of his ear, tugging and biting.
He’s grinning. A short laugh escapes his throat, and her teeth come harder, forcing him into silence. “What did you have in mind?”
“Right now?” she asks. “Just talking.” Her tongue finds his throat, and she trails down to taste his pulse point delicately. “Last night? Oh, there was a bit more than talking.” Teeth again. Heat again. He tilts his head back and doesn’t move to take the makeshift blind fold off. He’s always been the in control one-- the dominant one who seduces and unravels his lovers, leaving them panting and limp in his bed. He’s never tried it from the other end, but given the fact that he’s managed to get himself involved with another dominant personality, it’s probably about time he gave it a chance.
No complaints so far.
“You would have looked so pretty spread out in my bed,” she muses roughly. “I had it all planned. Remember that little scrap of nothing I was wearing when you came in? I went out and got that just for you.”
He does remember that little scrap of nothing. He remembers walking into the apartment and seeing her in it and wishing he had the power to throw her down on the mattress and rip it off her with his teeth. He remembers vomiting on it.
…Pretty little thing…
“Of course underneath it, well, there was something a little bit more special waiting.” She presses her lips underneath his chin, softness on stubble, and she is pulling this out of her ass but he doesn’t know that part. “It really is too bad you didn’t get to see me without it until that little thing had gone away. Because I was so ready for you.”
Teeth. No more breathing. His lips part, his throat expands. “You were-” his voice is that of a small child-- a whisper of weakness.
She’s going to kill him. When she eventually gets him into bed, she is going to own him like no other woman ever has. He’s entirely looking forward to it.
Her lips press into his ear again, hand stroking down his cloth covered dick with the edge of her thumb. “I was wet for you,” she whispers. “If you had stripped me down, you would have found it. Right between my legs…” The sound of her fingernails dragging over the linen is harsh in the silence of the room. “I was wet.”
He swallows. “You’re a wicked woman.”
“And it turns you on,” she answers back without taking a breath, blowing in his ear briefly before laughing softly and slipping her hand up to slide underneath his shirt. Her palm is cool on his stomach, fingernails gentle. “So who’s the bad one, hmm? If I told you that I lay in bed and pushed my fingers inside my pussy, while wishing it was you…” and the full body shudder that goes through him makes her roll her eyes and grin. Men are easy. “Who’d be naughtier? Me for doing it or you for getting hard about it. And you are hard about it.” She pushes her hand down his pants, shifts them aside, and pulls him out. His dick slaps thickly against his stomach, solid and heavy. “See? Bad man.”
“Just keep talking,” he grunts, and tilts his head back to bask in the sound of her. She glances at his throat, all too tempting, and her teeth are around his jugular before he can think twice about offering up a sign of submission.
She tells herself the gasp he lets out is satisfying because it’s about trust, and laughs into his skin at herself. Trust. Right.
Sometimes it’s nice to be in control. Sometimes, a lot of the time, it’s really nice to reduce another human being to begging.
“For an ass,” she whispers, “you can be incredibly hot when I get a hold of you. I was going to ride you, Ari. I wanted to push you belly up on the bed and ride you until you screamed for me.” She grips the base of his cock to get a feel for him. It’s been a while since she’s done this particular sexual act, and she needs a moment or two before she climbs back on the horse.
She gives an experimental pull and discovers that true to his tough guy persona, Ari enjoys a rough jerk rather than a smooth glide. His hips arch up, mouth opening in a desperate panting gasp. She brushes her lips over his collar bone.
“Of course, I wouldn’t want to be totally in control of you,” she murmurs sweetly. “What’s the fun in doing all the work, after all? And I can’t really imagine you just lying there and taking it. Unless of course, I tied you down.” His hips shove up at her, harder than before, and she grins. “Like that idea, lover? You really liked it last night when I had you grip the bars for me while I sucked you. I bet you’d put up a good fight, but if I tried to tie you to the bed, you’d go. Easily.”
His face contorts and she almost feels like taking pity on him until she reminds herself that he is Ari Haswari, he is a bad, bad man, and that he is totally enjoying this. Screw mercy-- it’s for the weak and sexually boring.
“Always so in control,” she purrs. “My big bad man. How would it feel to be out of it, huh? To be completely at my mercy? To have to wait for me to do whatever I wanted to you? No more worries and no thoughts, just me, my hands…” she slips her fingers up to trail over the oozing head of his dick and trail his precum over his skin. “My mouth, and every part of me that gets oh so very wet for you. I want to unravel you, Ari.”
Keep doing that, he thinks desperately, mouth open and breath coming in short choked gasps for air and strength. He can’t feel the pain anymore. He can’t even feel the soothing cool of the washcloth. All he knows is that his cock is drooling, his stomach is tensed up, and she is running work roughened fingertips over him like he’s there for her to play with or leave.
Who knew she had this kind of mouth on her? How the hell did he not know this? This is really the kind of information that a background check should include. It would’ve been a hell of a lot more helpful than knowing what high school she went to.
“But I didn’t want to tie you up last night,” she whispers. “That would have been too easy. I wanted you to fight me a little-- to push me a little. Being in control can get boring. Sometimes I want you to take it away from me. Last night, I wanted you to take it away from me.” She bites him. “I didn’t want to make love to you, Ari. I wanted you to fuck me. Hard.” Whimper. His, and she smiles against his flesh smugly. Oh yeah, he likes that idea. His hips are shoving up at her harder, more insistent by the second. She jerks him faster and slides her lips over the hard angles of his bones. “I wanted you to finish screaming for me and roll me over and bang me until I couldn’t walk. I wanted to be limping the next day, lover, and I wanted to see that smirk on your face that just screams ‘I got laid’.”
“Woul-would have,” he grunts. “I, oh God…” and he dissolves into what sounds like Hebrew, breathily delivering guttural consonants into the air. She licks her lips, jerks him harder, and moves in for the kill.
“God, Ari,” she whimpers, “it’s not fair. I wanted you so badly, lover. Wanted you to open me up and fuck me until I begged you. Wanted to beg you. Wanted to be your little toy…” She moans. “Was gonna be so good, was gonna beg so pretty…” She whimpers again, breathing heavily in his ear, and his own hand comes down to wrap around hers and give two rough, communal jerks before he groans and throws his head back, milking his cock hard as he spills over their joined hands.
He pulls the washcloth off just in time to see her licking her palm clean in satisfaction, and groans, putting it back down. “Remind me to never underestimate you.”
“Got it,” she says cheerfully, grabbing the washcloth and going to refresh it.
Ari’s nose hurts like a bitch. Qassam has a long, shallow cut on one cheek. Mikel looks tired.
All in all, Ari thinks to himself with a small lift of his lips, he’s had worse days.
The second he stepped into the meeting, Mikel had embraced him gently, and Abdul had clapped him on the back like a brother. Qassam had offered a forced tilt of his head, and the other two had sat back down and given him the most comfortable chair. The coffee was poured for him, the pillows had been adjusted, and he had offered an invalid’s smile.
“You are feeling better?” Mikel asks. “Idina was concerned that you might not be ready to be out of bed today.”
Ari waves a hand. “The work is far too important,” he says simply, and settles himself in with a noticeable wince. “I could hardly sit at home when I had the promise of something so interesting hanging over my head,” he teases gently, and Mikel’s smile grows while Abdul’s look of admiration is reinforced.
Qassam is murderous. He’s suddenly very glad he told Caitlin not to open the door to anyone but him today.
The folders come out, information and plans and plots abounds, and he accepts the first one handed to him. “France has been an avid opponent to the war,” Abdul begins. “Which means that America has gone out of its way to repair diplomatic ties with the current administration. Visits are scheduled for the next two years, one every third month at least.”
“You wish to attack the American diplomats on French soil,” Ari says, and Abdul nods. “That will allow for a strong statement. The French will be outraged that it happened on their soil and the Americans will not accept their apologies, only their submission. Diplomatic ties will break off and the French government will become more unpopular for losing the oldest supporter of the country while the Americans become the target of more criticism for being undiplomatic and crass.” He nods. “Admirable.”
Mikel waves a hand. “Diplomats are nothing,” he scoffs. “To attack them is to start a petty war over petty people. If we are going to attack someone, we must look further up the ladder for it.” His eyes light up gently. “Tell me, how long did Caitlin work with the Secret Service?”
“Two years,” Ari replies calmly, feeling his stomach swell with happiness. Perfect. “You wish to attack the President?” His brow furrows. “That will take a little more work. It is doable, but it is also difficult. A simple toss of a grenade or the planting of a bomb will not accomplish what we need.”
“But Caitlin will help us with that,” Abdul notes calmly, excitement building in his eyes. “She knows all of the weaknesses of the defense. She can tell us where to go in order to cause the most damage.”
Ari leans forward with a wince. “It is doable. It is… It will be brilliant,” he proclaims, smiling his maniac’s smile and laughing cheerfully. “I shall tell her at once and start making plans.” He bows his head. “Thank you for trusting me with this operation, Mikel. I will not fail.”
Mikel’s eyes are bright again. “I know, Haswari. Allah willing, this time next year, we will all be in a different world.”
“They want to take the President out?” Kate asks, head tilted to one side as the idea warms in her brain. Her legs are folded neatly underneath her and her eyes are scanning the papers in her lap. Her hair is wet from the shower and her face is scrubbed clean and soft.
Her stuff is still in his room. Ari hasn’t said anything about it yet, but she’s wearing something that looks suspiciously like one of his undershirts.
“Yes. It does seem to be a running theme, doesn’t it?”
She nods absently, flipping through the half thought out ideas about poison, chemical weapons, grenades, car bombs, suicide bombers, tanks, traitors, and snipers. “It does. You’d think they would have noticed that none of them ever manage to do it by now.”
“Everyone learns at their own pace,” he says sagely, and she lets out a quick choke of laughter before reading on.
“Yeah, well, these guys aren’t learning at all. They’re challenged. I think they should go to the Special Ed section of the terrorist school.”
He laughs and pours himself a glass of water from the conveniently placed pitcher on the table, still moving gingerly. When he woke up this morning, he flat out refused to have her tend to him anymore, claiming his nose was broken not his legs, and she had watched him stumble around to regain his footing without argument. She understands the need to feel normal-- to feel in control of oneself. Way of the warrior, she supposes-- uselessness is a death sentence to avoid at all costs.
Doesn’t mean she can’t make things a little bit easier for him. The sofa was fluffed and ready for him when he stepped in, pillows shifted aside to give him room, and there is a large bowl of grapes and cherries on the table next to the water. He hasn’t mentioned it yet. She likes feeling sneaky and subtle like that.
“They would prefer to think of themselves as ambitious.”
Kate flips through the pages in front of her. “No, this is just stupid. Do they think they’re the first ones to ever think ‘hey, let’s go kill the President’? I mean, not to blow my own horn or anything, but the Secret Service is a little bit smarter than that. They tried this three years ago and Gibbs pumped two bullets into their operative’s chest while I guarded the President.” She rolls her eyes. “We’re not going to be distracted by some guy waving his hands and yelling ‘hey! Look over here!’ really loudly.” She snorts and folds her arms over her chest. “This is just insulting.”
“Be insulted later. Work now.” She scoffs and throws the folder down.
“How am I supposed to find a weakness in a system that a) doesn’t have weaknesses and b) even if it did, I couldn’t find them when I worked there?” She looks disgusted. He understands the feeling. He once had to try and tell a Hamas group how to infiltrate the main building of the Mossad, and it had taken him three months and a lot of booze to work out something that sounded even half way believable. Dedication tends to blind-- he couldn’t see the weaknesses in the Mossad because he had been trained to believe there were none.
To find a failure in the defense of the President is to admit she let him be in harm’s way. The very thought offends her pride and her sense of duty.
He whacks her on the back of the head to stop her pouting, and she gapes up at him. “Did you just… Gibbs me?”
“The whack. You just Gibbs’ed me!” She stands up, eyes flashing. “You don’t get to Gibbs me. Ever.”
“You should have anticipated it coming,” he says unrepentantly. “You were pouting, and that does not help us.”
She glares, hands on her hips, and he looks up at her, aware that she could probably poison his food right now and he’d never know. He wonders why he’s not afraid, or at least nervous, and avoids thinking about the fact that it could have something to do with his trust in her or hers in him.
He’s not entirely ready to admit that he trusts her with more than he’s ever trusted anyone before. He’s not entirely sure he has it in him to tell her that holding him blindfolded and begging the other night might just have been the most intimate sexual encounter of his life.
That frightens him.
“I was not pouting. I was… okay, fine, I was pouting. But do that again and I’ll use one of the meaner moves he taught me, and frankly, I think I could take you.” She raises her chin, haughty and powerful. “Without mercy.”
He tells himself not to laugh at her; probably not the right reaction, and simply nods. “Okay.”
“Good.” She sits back down, apparently deigning to grace him with her presence again, and grabs a cherry to have something to worry with her tongue.
About twenty minutes later, eyes still on the page, she sighs and takes the cherry stem out of her mouth. Double knot, he notes calmly. The woman’s tongue is amazing.
“I couldn’t take you, could I?”
She sighs again and leans back next to him, throwing her arms behind her head to play with her hair idly. “I should be able to.”
“Not really,” he offers calmly. “You learned from a Marine. I learned from several dozen trainers in both the army and the Mossad, after a life time of being prepared. Krav Maga is the most effective form of defense invented. If you could ‘take’ me, I would be in a great deal of trouble.”
“And yet,” she mutters, “you’re the one with the broken nose.” She turns dark eyes on him. “I don’t want to set another part of your body,” she reports.
“I did not imagine so.”
“I’m going to teach you to defend yourself when your nose heals.”
He laughs. “Caitlin, I know how to defend-”
“And yet,” she repeats, firmer this time, “you are the one with the broken nose. Self-defense is no good if you can’t use it to defend yourself. And since I have the sick feeling we might just meet up with more Arabs and Palestinians in the future, I am going to teach you to defend yourself.” She narrows her eyes. “You can take your ‘most effective’ and shove it, buddy. Because I was taught by a Marine, and the whole point of his training was that your opponent was unconscious or dead before he could identify your fighting style.” She puts the folder down. “I can’t think tonight. Screw it.”
She leans back and stares up at the ceiling. Her tongue feels weird-- invoking the name of Gibbs too often does that to her. She doesn’t actively avoid saying it or thinking about him anymore, but she doesn’t go out of her way to do it either. Gibbs is a power; a force in her that will never die. She could be in China, living in a hut and cut off from everyone and anyone, and he would still live in her. He taught her. He trained her. He honed her.
Gibbs is a pagan god that she is proud to worship, and she wears her faith to him as she used to wear her cross.
“When this mission is over,” she asks softly, brain slowly putting ideas together to trickle down to her lips. “And you go back to being Mossad and I go back to being NCIS…” He doesn’t look at her, even though he can feel her eyes on his cheek. “What’s going to happen?”
He takes a deep breath and blows it out through his nose. He actually asked himself that question earlier today-- it’s one thing to think in the far off time before a mission actually has a time table, but now that he knows what he’s doing he is faced with the knowledge that, eventually, this will end. Paris will vanish into his memories, and the woman sharing his bed will go back to her life the way he knows he has to go back to his. His trust in her, this tentative, fragile thing he has fostered and raised up to stand on its own two feet will either leave with her or crumble.
He has a brief flash of simply handcuffing her to him and refusing to let her leave. His nose gives a disagreeable throb, and he smiles weakly at the knowledge that she’d probably break it again, more for the presumption of him telling her what to do than for his purpose.
“I don’t know.”
She nods. “Okay.”
“I imagine that Agent Gibbs will take you back on his team.”
She shakes her head. “No, he won’t.”
Ari lifts his eyes to her. “Why not? He was hurt by your death-- will he not want to have you back and alive?”
“He’ll probably kill me himself,” she says with a not funny laugh. “I betrayed him. Lied to him. Went off with his enemy and let the CIA keep him in the dark about the whole thing. Trust me-- I’ve profiled Gibbs before. When I see him again, all of that sadness about my death will turn into anger about me not actually being dead. It’ll take me years to convince him to maybe half-trust me again, but he’ll never put me on his team.” She tries to smile, fails, and sighs. “You don’t get the chance to lie to Gibbs more than once.”
She looks small; weak and sad like she did in the first few weeks, and he slips his arm over her shoulder without really meaning to, but she turns into his embrace without protest. “He cares for you. He will want you back.”
She shrugs. “Maybe,” she allows. “But he’ll hate me more.”
“Then he’s a fool.” He presses a hard kiss to the top of her head, trying to be soothing and comforting like all of the leading men on TV and movies manage to be to their emotionally distraught leading ladies, but it’s not his thing. All he has is strength, a broken nose, and a gun. He holds her harder and decides that’s going to have to be enough.
“Yes. But he’s stubborn, too. Morrow will offer me my job back, maybe even force Gibbs to put me back on the team, but it won’t be the same. I’ll be the pariah for him, and if Tony and McGee know what’s good for them they’ll avoid me too. Abby will have to keep from being seen with me so that he doesn’t yell at her, and Ducky, well, Ducky will do what he wants, but even he can’t protect me forever.” She pushes her face harder against his chest, breathing in the vibrations of his heartbeat, and trying to keep herself from falling into a pit of depression over something she has no control over. “It’s just the way things are,” she says out loud, not sure who she’s trying to soothe. “I knew it when I left.”
“If that is the way it is going to be,” he begins, pausing to take a deep breath and give one last chance for his brain to take this back before he says something totally embarrassing and screws himself over for a good long time. “You should not stand for it. If he does not want you back, and you are there only to be the whipping boy… There are opportunities for you elsewhere.” She lifts her head to look at him, and he licks his lips and looks down at the hand he has resting on his leg. “The intelligence community would be lucky to have a trained agent of your skill. The CIA. MI-6. FBI. All would wel-”
She starts to laugh softly and without malice, smiling at him with such tenderness that it makes him shut up and clench his teeth together. Her eyes are wet, but her happiness is real and it shines through gently to bathe him in her slowly growing contentment. “You’re sweet, you know that?”
He scowls. “I am nothing of the kind.”
“You’re a sweet, sweet man who likes to play at being a bad ass and think that no one knows better.” She grins at him, tears running down her cheeks silently. “You forget sometimes that I knew you for what you were the second I saw you, even if I didn’t have a name for it.” One hand comes up to touch his cheek and skim the bruised skin gently. “Kind eyes,” she mutters quietly. “You’re a mush, but I promise not to tell anyone.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he insists, and is silently as pleased as he can ever remember being. He doesn’t know how to say “stay with me if you want,” and he sure as hell doesn’t know how to say “I want you to stay with me.” The fact that he can’t even bring himself to list the Mossad among the agencies that would accept her proves that. The fact that she can read between his lines and decipher all of his uselessly male codes only makes him more sure of all of it.
He can picture himself with this woman in ten years. He can picture her in his bed and in his life and in his home. He wants to walk with her down a street (not holding hands-- not really their thing, after all) and talk about random, meaningless things with her. He wants her in Israel with him, risking her life along side him, because she will not be contented to live a life of luxury and peace and he would not trust anyone else to watch her back.
He has a brief, dangerously affectionate flash of a little girl with her hair and his eyes, sitting in his lap and reading aloud from a newspaper with pride, stopping only to ask him what “sycophant” means. He imagines watching the woman on his lap wrapping firm hands around tiny little ones and demonstrating how to use a gun.
His daughter would have excellent aim. Caitlin’s daughter could never have anything but.
Don’t be stupid.
“Sure,” she says cheerfully, and climbs off the couch to pop another cherry in her mouth. “Feel like Chinese tonight?”
Abby’s not… entirely sure how this happened.
Not in the drunken, one night stand sort of way, or even in the stoned one night stand sort of way. She can recall every moment leading up to where she is now, and she understands them clearly enough to know there’s nothing in them to be afraid of or make her squeamish.
Ducky didn’t force her into bed. He didn’t even take her out with the intention of getting into her pants, and she admits that while she’s held a vague curiosity about what the good doctor might be like when she got him out of the bowtie and into her black cotton sheets, she didn’t intend the coffee date to lead to anything other than a caffeine buzz.
Nekked man in her sheets. Huh. She glances over at the sleeping man next to her and takes a deep breath. Apparently, like a fine wine or a pair of leather pants, the British really do improve with age. She knew there was something to her crush on Alan Rickman beyond how very hot he made Snape and her little school girl fetishes seem.
Her skin feels warmer than usual. She runs her fingertips down her gently curved belly, feeling the muscles underneath bunch at her touch. He had muttered in Latin against her skin, murmuring endearments she recognized by tone. Called her a goddess, Persephone mounted on a throne in the darkness. She’s pretty sure Persephone was the one with the pomegranate who lived in the underworld after being seen and adored by Hades; grabbed and kidnapped to be the Queen of the Underworld.
She can’t remember ever getting a nicer lover’s compliment, and that includes when McGee told her that she looked like some sort of Byronic beauty come to life.
Of all the feelings running through her right now, guilt is blessedly not among them. She and McGee have an on again off again thing with the understanding that if anything better comes along it is to be taken without hesitation. McGee is not “the one,” and Abby is not sure if she will ever be “the one” for anyone. She’s not sure if she wants to be somebody’s whole world, or even if she’s capable.
She has her own world. She doesn’t know if she wants to share it with anyone, nor if anyone would understand that.
The kitchen calls to her. She gently slides out from underneath his arm, feeling a grin pull at her mouth when she sees him curl over into her warm spot and search for the comfort of her. The hunter green silk robe her aunt brought her back from China slips on her skin, so smooth it feels like liquid on her flesh as she pads barefoot out of the room in the darkness in search of something to ease her mind and make her brain stop making so much damn noise.
There’s an orange left over in her fridge, and she sits down on the soft leather love seat in her living room, staring out at the street as the cars move sedately below her. Her fingernails dig into the soft skin, coating her hands in the sweet citrus smell. She inhales, peels, and when she’s done her fingers glitter with scraps from the fruit’s skin.
Ducky looked sad. Honestly, that’s why she asked him to go with her. He looked so sad, so lost, and it made her stomach clench to see him like that. Not pity, far from it, just empathy. Pain felt for him because he was obviously in enough of it himself. She had looked at him, found him looking back like a child, and tried to find something to take his mind off of it.
They’d gone out, she’d drank until her stomach was filled and happy, and spent the night enjoying his charming, beautiful company. He’d held the door for her, pushed her chair in behind her, helped her get settled. He’d poured for her and held her coat for her, and when she had wrapped her fingers around his and asked if he would like to come back to her apartment for a little while, he had cleared his throat and declared it his honor.
His honor. Like she was the goddess he titled her. Someone special and cherished and worshiped. She doesn’t kid herself-- she’d not ugly, and she’s not unattractive. She’s also not stupid-- she’d never put up with being treated with anything less than the respect she deserves and demands. She is a lady and expects to be treated like one.
But men don’t hold doors anymore, especially not for the girl in black leather and a spiked collar. She accepts this-- she knows it. She doesn’t get mistreated, but she isn’t going to have a coat thrown over a mud puddle for her anytime soon and she really doesn’t want one anyhow.
Only maybe, from him, she might not mind so much.
The orange is tangy and smooth on her tongue, and she licks the juice off her fingers idly. She never intended on taking him to bed. In all honesty, she wanted a little conversation and perhaps a little booze. She’s been feeling lonely lately-- missing Kate, she supposes-- and she wanted to share that with someone else. Tony doesn’t like talking about it and Gibbs is single minded in his tribute to Kate’s death, not her life. McGee is too afraid of bringing up the memories again and falling back into the depression that plagued him for months after the funeral, and she’s too afraid to bring him back into that too.
She needed someone to talk to. Ducky was it.
Only she got him up here, sat him down, and instead of talking with him about Kate and how much she misses her, she ended up talking about just about everything else. She told him about her parents, about the origins of sign language, and about the crazy homeless guy who stood outside the building once and starting singing the entire score to “The Music Man” He’d listened, spoken back in length about the numerous things that only the two of them seemed to find fascinating, and when she had come back from the bathroom, she had taken his hand in hers and asked if he thought it would get weird between them if they tried something.
He had gotten to his feet, slipped an arm around her waist, and kissed her with all of the experience that an older man has and a younger man imitates, and told her he did not know, but it would not happen from his side.
She’d taken him to bed. She didn’t regret it then and she sure as hell doesn’t regret it now.
The orange is gone. She wipes her hands on her pale knees, smearing them with citrus, and lies down on the couch to stare up at the ceiling for a while. She has her best epiphanies when she’s trying not to think. It’s why she takes Caf-Pows like air; all that caffeine short circuits her brain and makes the “Eureka!” moments come faster and cleaner.
…She wishes Kate were here.
Guys are fun. She’s had guy friends her entire life and she doesn’t regret that. They’re better than girls in a lot of ways-- easier to deal with. They don’t have their own little dramas and issues, just guy things that are easily dealt with or ignored.
She even has other girl friends. Everything from a dominatrix, to several bi, homo, and transsexuals. She has everything and everyone in her rolodex; she knows them all and they all know her.
But that’s sort of the problem. All of her girlfriends are… extraordinary, reveling in extremes and explicitly different. They live on the edge, play and fuck on the edge. They are great for parties and great for a good night out, but when it comes to relationship information, they’re not the first she turns to.
Kate was normal. Not in a bad way, and not even in a bland way. Just normal. A woman trying to get by, nothing amazing about her, just normal. She worked, she played, and she drank, but all of them in moderation. She was the quintessential female; the all American girl. She knew Ducky, knew Abby, and she would know what to do right now.
Abby is weird, but she isn’t weird all the time. She’s bouncy, but she has off days. She isn’t always on, and she wouldn’t want to be. Kate understood that. Kate saw her as a woman trying to figure things out, who had experienced a lot in a short amount of time. She wasn’t Abby the Goth, she was just Abby.
If Abby called Kate up at two in the morning and told her she had just had sex with Ducky and now what, Kate would have found the solution; she’s sure of it. Kate always had something-- it was one of her great qualities. Even if she didn’t know the answer, she knew how to tide you over until it became clear.
Abby needs girl talk with a girl who didn’t have a penis at one point in her life or beats up on men for a living, and all of a sudden she doesn’t have it anymore.
She wipes away tears from her eyes and licks her dry lips. No point in this-- Kate’s been dead for a long time now and she has to let it go. Close to a year now. Feeling sad is okay, sure, but to cry about it as much as she does is just… pointless.
Weak and useless.
“You never grieved, did you?” Ducky steps fully into the room, eyes calm and mouth set in a thin line. He’s nude, comfortable in his own skin, and Abby sits up to let him sit down on the couch next to her. “Did you ever just take the time off to mourn?”
“I wanted to remember her life, not her death.”
“That’s good,” he acknowledges. “But that doesn’t mean her death didn’t hurt.” She wipes a few more tears away and offers a weak smile. “Would you like me to leave?”
She searches herself, and all she has left is “No.” All she is certain of is “I want you to stay, Ducky. Please don‘t leave.”
He nods and pulls her into his lap, hands soft and firm on her silk covered body. She hides her face against the crook of his neck, like a little girl in pig tails instead of a fully grown woman with them.
Her hair is smooth and soft against her back. His hand is rough and worn as it strokes her through it.
Tony knows exactly why this happened.
He’s brilliant after all. For all of the things he manages to do wrong and all of the people he pretends to misread-- he is brilliant. Testing has confirmed it, training has honed it, and he has a gun and a purpose to prove it. MI-6 does not hire stupid people, and they sure as hell don’t hire people who lose control of themselves and end up in bad situations.
Tony is brilliant. This is a good situation. Gibbs likes it when he rims him.
These three things, of course, don’t actually mean anything when looked at separately-- it would be like taking a frog apart and looking at it’s liver like a fully functioning creature. It doesn’t work, you’ll get a headache trying to do it, and livers are icky.
Tony is brilliant because he put himself in a good situation, narrowly averted a bad situation, and licked his boss’s asshole until he was so out of it that he wasn’t in the mood to do anything besides clench the sheets between his fists and beg for more. Tony is in a good situation because, as a brilliant man, he knows exactly when to shut up, exactly when to push forward, and exactly how to use his tongue. Gibbs likes it when he rims him because Tony knows what he is doing when he rims Gibbs; brilliant bisexual men who find themselves in good situations must know what they are doing, and Tony does.
It all fits. It all interacts in a beautifully fucked up machine.
Yesterday was not a good day for Gibbs and his self-assigned crusade to find and make Ari Haswari pay for his sins with an iron fist and a gun full of lead. After coming desperately, tantalizingly close to what he thought could have been a major lead (Ari Haswari, spotted in Italy buying massive amounts of Bubblicious), the bottom had rotted through and fallen out. Gibbs had tried to salvage something-- tried to figure out if any bit of the lead had been credible, and found that he couldn’t tell the shit from the salvation.
Tony had watched him sit at his desk, jaw set and eyes narrowed, and remember that promise Kate had drawn so many into before she left; the oath of protection and love. Gibbs must remain whole, he thought to himself. He must remain healthy and safe.
He’d waited until McGee had left for the day before getting up and grabbing Gibbs’s keys off his desk, telling him he was coming to Tony’s place to eat a real meal for the first time in way too long, and if he had a problem with that Tony would get Ducky up here to order him to do it as a medical doctor.
Ducky wasn’t there, of course. Since he started having the Thing with Abby, he leaves on time each night to walk her to her car or his; he hasn’t stayed later than she has in almost four months now. Tony was betting on the fact that Gibbs was too out of it with his mad search for Kate’s killer to have noticed that.
He was either right, or Gibbs was just tired of sitting alone at his desk night after night, because it worked. Gibbs had looked at him for a long, long time, daring him to follow through with this, and Tony hadn’t looked away. Once.
Dinner was easy. Tony sat him at the kitchen table and put Jeopardy on while he bustled about making pasta and searching for sauce. Gibbs had watched the whole process, strangely fascinated, and when Tony got off his hands and knees from searching for a strainer under the counter, he had caught Gibbs looking away and grinned quietly to himself.
Sexual attraction between supervisors and agents is nothing new to Tony. He’s pretty. Filthy fucking gorgeous, after all. He’s had more than his fair share of forbidden relationships, whether they were at school or at work (professors really like nineteen year old University students with nice eyes and smart, pretty mouths) and he has regrets, but not many. He’s not the slut everyone thinks he is (it makes it easier to excuse why he may not be at home at eleven on a work night when people think he sleeps around) but he’s not a blushing virgin either.
His had a man in his ass before, and he’s been in another man’s ass before. He doesn’t see a problem with either and he really doesn’t care much if everyone else does. MI-6 doesn’t care as long as he gets the job done, and NCIS isn’t under military control so court-martials aren’t on his mind. He’s had men since he came to the States.
The fact that Gibbs might enjoy a bit of fun wasn’t a surprise either. He’s not a moron-- sexual tension crackles between them like cheap sparklers and he likes it. It’s fun to flirt, however covertly, with attractive older men with nice eyes. It makes him feel at home; like he’s just a boy out looking for someone to make him happy and keep his bed from getting cold when he’s not in it, and he likes that feeling.
Normalcy is nice when you spend half of your time trying to save the world from the Bad Men and the other half trying not to be consumed by that fight.
He’d fixed two plates, they ate at the table and drank water from painted plastic cups. Gibbs was quiet, but Tony filled the silence without over speaking, and when they both finished, Gibbs muttered a “thank you” that made Tony grin wide and bob his head.
“Yeah, well, who else is going to make sure you don’t turn anorexic on us? No offense boss, but you’ll never be a size six.”
Gibbs had snorted out a laugh, they had gone into the living room and turned the game on. Tony moaned at the appropriate times and cheered with the successes, while Gibbs remained quiet and withdrawn, sipping on a beer Tony had dug out for him.
When the game was over, they watched the news. When the news was over, they watched crappy late night shows and tried not to look at each other.
When they gave up on that, Gibbs had grabbed Tony by the back of his neck, kissed him, then thrown him back across the couch and grunted, “There. Maybe now you’ll stop looking at me like you’re going to drug me and jump me.”
“Bi-curious, boss?” His mouth had felt thick and heavy, fat with temptation. He licked his lips, Gibbs shrugged and took another sip of his beer.
“Bisexual. After the first wife. A few distractions.”
“Ah. And what am I?”
“A pain in the ass.” Gibbs finished off the beer and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “You’re a bad idea, Tony.”
“Well, yeah, but I’m also pretty.”
Gibbs had laughed again, harder and for real this time, and Tony had grabbed him by the hair and tugged gently. “Yes,” the older man had agreed, “you are. Kate used to… Kate told me once that I should jump you and get it over with.”
His breath stopped for a long moment. Tony had stared at him, thought about the evil witch sitting and playing her little games in Paris with Ari Haswari, and swore he was going to tan her ass red and bleeding the next time he saw her. “She did what?”
“After the whole Marta and Pacci thing. Seemed to think you needed someone to keep you in line so you didn’t go out and get yourself hurt doing someone stupid. She was drunk as a skunk at the time, sitting on my back porch and trying not to break down, but still…” He licks his lips. “Was she right?”
“That you should just do me?” At this point his brain was sort of malfunctioning. He was finding this conversation hard to believe, and even harder to believe was the idea that little straight laced Kate Todd was a) okay with her boss taking her partner as a gay lover, and b) that she had actually recommended it. And then his brain had gotten caught up in the fact that he was being asked his opinion on something important, and that his prostate hadn’t been properly stimulated in a very long time. “Most definitely right. Do me.”
“It’s a bad idea.”
“So is everything we do. We’re the scrappy bad asses of the agency, boss. Do me.”
Somehow they’d ended up in bed. Tony had bottomed for the first time in way too long, Gibbs had been perfectly dominant and dirty, and Tony had enjoyed himself whole heartedly with a man he adored.
Gibbs had just… released it all. Gotten it out. All the anger, the angst, the pain-- Tony’s ass is sore and red from where it was slapped and pinched hard enough to bruise, and he’s sure he’ll have marks all over his body over the next few days, but it’s a good hurt. A satisfying hurt.
One fuck does not make everything better, of course. Tony’s good, but he’s not that good and he knows it. He will never be able to make all of Gibbs’s demons go away, and that’s the way it should be.
But his boss is sleeping soundly next to him, relaxed and lightly snoring. His eyes are closed, his breathing is deep, and when he sighs it is a sound of happiness and contentment. It’s not a permanent fix, but it’s something.
Tony strokes the silver hair resting on his pillow, smiling softly at the way the older man pushes against the caress in his sleep, and curls up next to him, arm over his waist, eyes closed. It feels good to be doing something to help for a change; to keep his boss satisfied and healthy as opposed to fucking with his mind and keeping him from reaching his goals.
He feels like a good guy again. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed that.
Caitlin grins when he comes around the corner, eyes alight with happiness and hip cocked to one side. “You started outside of the bank next to the outdoor market,” she announces proudly. “I lost you after the toy store, and you caught me again after the café with the gas station pump in front.” She throws her hair over one shoulder and the diamond studs glitter regally in her ears.
He’s grinning back, perhaps a bit too proud and wide, and applauds lightly. “Very good.”
“I was right?”
“All of it. You’re getting better. How did you get away at the toy store?”
She indulges in a quick squeal of happiness, and shoves her hands in her pockets, enjoying the spring air on her face. Her hair has gotten longer-- she’s decided to grow it out, and it slips down to play with the high curve of her breast as she does a short dance of glee and straightens her shirt. “I walked out with the group of nuns. I helped them put a kid on the bus, and by the time I was done you’d walked far enough down the street for me to head back the way I came.”
They walk back towards the apartment, lesson finished for the day. “Very good,” he tells her again, and she glows quietly with joy. Ever since the announcement of the group’s plans, he’s stepped up her spy lessons. She now knows how to conceal important papers where they’ll never be found, how to use a drop box, and how to fake an appreciation for just about anything. The lessons in following are her favorites-- she enjoys walking around the city and playing the ultimate game of hide and seek. She makes him chase her everywhere, and he does it eagerly. There’s a sort of harmless release in their little adventures.
The second his nose healed, as promised, she took him down stairs and beat him around for a while, before he got sick of hitting the mat and swept her feet out from underneath her a couple of times, bounced her around the room, and left her panting on the floor with her hands clutching her sides. “That’s Krav Maga?” she asked breathlessly, and he sat down with a groan next to her.
“That’s Krav Maga,” he confirmed.
She wears her bruises well, and he wears his with few complaints. He made a few adjustments to the movements in order to make it easier for her, and she has discovered that there’s a large part of her that really likes the ruthlessness involved in the craft. Gibbs would love it-- pain, effectiveness, no mercy and no rules. It’s the kind of thing that would make his paranoid “always be alert, everyone is out to get you, everyone is a threat” personality purr in contentment.
He’s been trying to make her more comfortable in her own skin recently, so she straightens her shirt before they walk in and sucks on her bottom lip to make it fuller. He watches as she performs a quick exercise in the apartment hallway, seducing their across the hall neighbor for a few seconds before moving on and leaving the man shaking and awed. Ari follows and offers the victim nothing but a wide grin and a cheerful tilt of his head. She collapses into nervous giggles when they get inside.
“I can’t believe I just did that,” she mutters to herself, stripping her shirt off and leaving it on the floor. He picks it up watches her walk three more steps and shed her bra as well, and drops it again.
Her hair strokes skin he licked clean last night, and she tosses a cheerful glance over her shoulder. “Join me for another exercise?”
“What did you have in mind?” he asks seriously, and she shrugs.
“I’m sure you can think of something suitable, sensei.”
She’s become particularly fond of nudity in Paris by night. Large bay windows, larger gauzy drapes, and a body that’s too opened from hours of fucking to have any hesitation or secrets left-- combinations make up her life now. She hasn’t worn clothes to bed in months. She hasn’t gone to bed alone in longer.
The curtains are soft against her legs, and the city is alive and beautiful underneath her, caught in the four AM hazy pause that comes over it each and every morning underneath her watchful eyes. She stands by the window, lets the moonlight and the cool breeze play over her, and understands the way God feels looking down upon all of Earth.
Paris is Earth. The most beautiful city on the planet is alive and breathing slowly underneath her, all around her.
What a way to spend youth, Kate thinks with a smile, and leans back against the man who keeps materializing behind her like a guardian angel without the feathers or the Christian morals.
“The bed’s cold,” he complains softly against the back of her head, breath tickling her scalp. She tilts her head to allow for an exploration of her neck, calm and complacent.
She never imagined herself as calm with a lover. It’s sort of weird to not have to be the dominant one in a relationship for once. Every boy she’s ever known before this needed her to be the one keeping order, making plans, telling them what to do when to do it.
The last time she told Ari to do something, he had pointedly gone to do the crossword puzzle with his feet up on the table, until she had come along and hit him with a pillow and forced him into a battle that only ended when she pinned him to the floor, buttons ripped off her shirt, panting and grinning down at him as he fumed and tried not to be obvious with his ogling of her cleavage.
He’d failed, she’d laughed, and he’d complained about the rug burn on his ass for the next three days while smirking in satisfaction.
“You do this every night,” he whispers against her throat. “Why?”
“I like Paris by night,” she answers. “It’s… peaceful.”
Two days after even the most cautious doctor would have pronounced him healed, Ari picked her up around the waist and flung her into the bed they’d been sharing for over a month now. She’d looked up at him, hair in her eyes, and taken a deep, slow breath.
“I don’t have any nice underwear,” she warned, and he had shrugged.
“Just as well. I’d hate to rip something so beautiful to shreds.” He’d pulled a knife out and lifted up her skirt, slicing through the light purple cotton panties with two swift motions before dragging the cool metal over her skin teasingly, bringing out the dark girl within her. “I am done with waiting.”
“Good.” She slipped her shirt off and sat up in bed, flushed and half naked, and he’d looked down at her without expression. “I’ve been waiting for this a long time, Ari. I’d appreciate it if you’d stop making me wait.” And she’d taken the knife from his hand, thrown it across the room, and pulled him down to play with her in the covers.
He hasn’t climbed out since. He doesn’t much want to either.
They go back to the bed, him leading her with few problems, and she following with few objections. The sheets take them again, warm and smooth on their skin, and she finds herself underneath his tongue and fingers once again, begging for a release she’s been granted so many times over the past few months. Her body is sore and exposed, her hands clench in his hair, and she howls as he plays her like a fiddle.
When they’re both done, and she’s wrung one more screaming orgasm out of him with the careful attention to detail that the Secret Service taught her (he’d never thought he’d have the United States government to thank for his great sex life), Caitlin rolls over to lie on top of him, lips pressing once against his chest before she folds her arms and rests her head on top of them. “Have you heard from Tony about the plans?”
“He needs to discus it with Fornell and the head of the Secret Service. There’s some disagreement as to which member of the presidential family will be visiting France on the next visit.”
“And since the security protocols are different,” she finishes, “we need to know which one. Okay.” She puts her ear against his heart, closing her eyes and letting the steady thunk bounce through her skull. She takes a deep breath and blows it across his chest. “I’m getting better?”
“Much.” His fingers find her hair and twirl gentle waves into tight curls. “You would give any agent a challenge.”
“More practicing tomorrow?”
“Hm.” He never imagined she’d be so eager to get her feet wet. Yes, he knew she had what it took to become an amazing spy-- she’s intelligent and powerful enough that her raw potential shines-- but that she would want to learn everything, know every trick, control every situation…
He should have known he’d end up finding a woman who could kick his ass. He never was one for doing the easy thing.
Her cell phone rings, buzzing across the nightstand, and she glances up it with a sour look. “I’m comfortable,” she warns the universe. “I don’t want to move.”
He grabs the phone and glances at the screen. “Agent DiNozzo.” She sighs and takes it from him, putting her head back down on his chest and flipping the earpiece up.
“Kate, where are you right now?”
She looks up at Ari, raises an eyebrow, and replies “In the apartment, why?” Ari chuckles silently, head dropping back to wallow in the down pillow. She grinds against him, more for fun than arousal, and he contemplates mock orgasming loud enough for Tony to hear it. Caitlin would murder him, yes, but it might just be worth it.
“We’ve gotten information-- Qassam’s put a hit out on you.”
The two of them sit up in bed, stare at each other in confusion, and Kate’s mouth keeps moving without her brain’s approval. “What do you mean a hit? He wants us out of the way, but if he kills us-”
“Mikel’s dead. Abdul has taken Idina and Jess into hiding and the cell is fragmenting. Qassam is coming for you.” His voice is tightly controlled and low. “We’re sending a team. The two of you will be surrounded by our agents and taken to safety.”
“Is over, Kate.” His tone goes hard, and she lifts her chin to meet Ari’s eyes, searching for reassurance in his face. “You’re in jeopardy and we’re coming to get you. Do not open the door for anyone, do not go near the windows, do not move.”
Her heart is pounding fast, adrenaline in her mouth tainting her tongue sour. She thinks about all the hours, all the time she has spent away from NCIS-- that the one year anniversary of her death is coming up. She thinks about how her dog is being kept by another man, how her car has been sold, and how very close to the edge she has been living. She looks up at the man who has kept her safe, kept her sane, and thinks about the lessons, the tricks, the knowledge. Thinks about the fact that she can break a man’s throat before he can take two breaths.
She has another test tomorrow-- he’s going to see if she can follow him for more than five blocks without him noticing. Her current record is three and she wants to push that up to at least ten before the end of next month.
She thinks about the life she left behind, the one she was forced into, and when she takes the phone away from her ear, she looks dangerous and deadly. She hands the phone to Ari, eyes narrowed. “He wants us to leave the mission. Apparently, we’re in danger.”
“I thought that was part of the job.” He takes the phone and listens to the furious man on the other end. “We do not wish to abandon the work,” he says calmly. “It has taken too much time and money for us to simply leave it now.”
“Haswari, if you won’t follow orders, we will make you follow them,” Tony growls. “You’ve done a good job, and Kate’s safe, but if you screw this up now I will take you out personally. Do you understand me?”
“I need to discus this with my partner,” Ari announces dryly, sounding oh so unconcerned with their lives. “I will call you back.” And he hangs up, shoving the phone underneath a pillow and climbing down to sit on the floor, back against the bed and out of range of the windows and any snipers who might be eying them. She does likewise, and they look at each other for a long moment.
“Well?” she asks. “What do we do?”
“We follow orders.” She scoffs. “You have a better suggestion?”
“We know Qassam. We know Abdul and Idina and Jess. More importantly, they know us. If you stepped in and kept the cell from breaking apart and going off to work with other organizations, you would have total control.” She licks her lips. “We could get them all in one place and taken them down without a problem.”
“We would be fugitives.” He tilts his head to one side. “We would be taken and put on every organization’s hit list. We could not show our faces or ask for help. No money, no housing, no food. Everything we have would have to be stolen or gotten through Al Qaeda.”
“And if we succeeded?”
“We would be traitors. Possible execution. Definitely jail time of some sort.” He sighs. “Not a pleasant existence, Caitlin. I will not lie to you-- I would much rather avoid that outcome if at all possible.”
She looks down at her own two hands, wishes she had the strength in her that Gibbs did-- that ability to defy all the rules and still come out smelling like a blue eyed rose.
He watches her think, the little wrinkles appearing above her eyes, and wishes he had a way to find the resolutions to everything she needed answered.
“What if we killed Qassam?” She pulls the vibrating cell phone out from underneath the pillow and rubs it in between her palms like she’s calming some dangerous buzzing beast. “If we killed him, would we be able to continue?”
“It’s defying orders,” he repeats. “If we do not sit here and wait to be taken into custody to be returned to our own lands, we are going against the wishes of the Intelligence community and our respective governments.” He sighs. “Becoming rogue agents is not nearly as glamorous as Thomas Clancy makes it out to be. I have contacts who might assist us, but there is no doubt that you would be immediately taken and thrown into jail when you returned.”
“What if we didn’t return?” she licks her lips. “I mean, there’s no guarantee we’ll survive. And even if we do, we don’t need to go back to the states. Or even contact them ag…” her voice dies and her lips press together in a thin line. “I’d never see any of them again,” she whispers to herself. “I’d never even get to talk to them again.”
The phone vibrates in between them, buzzing muffled by her hands.
“I have contacts,” he says again, slowly. “I can survive in this country and many others without the Mossad finding me, and I can find a place to go in the end to wait to die.” He folds his hands in front of him. “You can not. You have a home, Caitlin, and it is not with me.”
Kate’s face goes pale. “You think I’m going to let you go off into the sunset to fight this on your own? Like hell. I’m just as deep in this as you are.” She presses a hand against her lips, swallows hard, and shakes her head. “He would want me to do this.”
“Gibbs. I was thinking before that I wished I could be so sure in myself-- the way he was. And I guess…” She shakes herself, and when she meets his eyes again, there is no doubt there. “He would want me to protect innocent people, and if that means the cost of my own life or freedom, it’s just the way it works. It’s not about whether or not I’ll miss them or they’ll miss me. It’s about if I would be able to look them in the eyes when I was done.” She swallows. “Will you take me with you?”
Ari’s face is unreadable. “You would be a fugitive from the law. You would never see your home or your friends again. You would have to be willing to kill, die, and lie to reach your overall goal. You would be a spy.”
“And if you took me with you,” she continues, harder now, “would it endanger you?” She pushes her hands into fists to try and hold onto her resolve. “Have you been lying to me, or am I a spy now, Ari? Can I live like this or not?”
“Would you want to?” He narrows his eyes. “This is no game, Caitlin. If you come with me you will be with me. No one else will be there for you. You would have to trust me with everything, and you would have to be willing to follow orders to keep us both alive.”
She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes for a long moment, and nods. “I could do that.”
“Then go get a bag, throw only what you need in it, and leave everything else behind.” She crawls out of the room to grab a backpack from under her bed, and he watches her move with a lump in his throat.
What am I doing? he asks himself, and can come up with nothing but: Trying to save the world for her.
He grabs a duffle bag from his closet and shoves jeans and t-shirts into it as quickly as possible, socks and boots on top. He pulls on a pair of black jeans, not bothering with underwear for the moment, and the first sweater that comes to hand. Guns go on top of the layer of clothing, knives, brass knuckles. He empties his medical bag into the canvas and zips it up quickly. He pushes a weapon into his waist band and is just about to holler for her when she appears in front of him, dressed all in black and carrying her own knapsack.
“Do we bring the weapons in the hall closet?” she asks breathlessly, cheeks flushed. He remembers wondering what she would look like with an adrenaline rush in her system-- ravaged by energy and pumped full of bloodlust. Her eyes shine in the dim light.
Beautiful. Breathtaking. Dangerous.
“No. Tracked.” They go into the hallway, pressed against the wall and breathing heavily. He grabs two black leather jackets out of the closet and rips the ends of the sleeves off with his knife to let the tracking devices fall to the ground like bullet shells. She takes hers and accepts the helmet he hands her without comment.
They pause before opening the door, listening for any noise on the stairwell or whisper of an attack. He looks back at her, finds her focused and determined, and swallows.
“Last chance,” he whispers to her with dark and serious eyes. She looks at him, and he finds a matching set of eyes in her head. Another like him; a twisted doppelganger with a knife strapped to her thigh and the gun he bought her for her birthday on her belt.
“Open the door and let’s go.”
The bike purrs underneath her thighs, new and unfamiliar territory, and Kate swallows thickly and tries not to look down. “Arms around my waist,” he schools, and she wraps herself as tight as she can, legs tucked behind his and hands shaking. “Do not let go and follow my movements.”
They roll out of the parking garage and down the street, slow at first but then building speed as he becomes comfortable with her weight and she becomes comfortable with the movement. Her entire body is electrified and thick with tension-- muscles bunching up in terror as her teeth clench together and her eyes fight the urge to clamp shut and never open again. She has to be alert, she reminds herself. She has to be on the look out for threats of both the CIA and the terrorist variety. Her gun presses against her belly and her knife is an oil slick of pretty silver on her thigh.
They dive in and out of traffic, slipping between cars and trucks with ease, and he can feel her heart pounding against his back. She’s terrified. He decides today is not the day to be a reckless stunt biker and keeps both wheels on the ground.
He pauses at a traffic light, eyes scanning the horizon. “Alright?” he calls back to her, and she nods. He can’t seen her eyes through the mirrored helmet, and it’s probably just as well. She always manages to undo him when she looks at him; if he had to look at the terror or the loss on her face it would make his stomach knot up so badly he wouldn’t be able to focus on what he has to do right now to keep them both safe.
Trying to save the world for her.
He’s been on worse crusades.
Three minutes after Kate and Ari reach the edge of Paris, several things happen at once in various places all over the world.
Outside of the wonderfully eclectic apartment full of pretty rich people wasting their time until they die, five black cars pull up, full of men in black suits with black shoes. They stomp up the stairs, waking neighbors, overturning flowerpots. Brigette pokes her head out of her door and look blearily at the intrusion, and is told to go back inside or be arrested.
They knock on the door, shouting CIA sanctioned lies about being the police and about warrants and records. When no one answers and the leader starts to get a little bit nervous, two of the larger men come forward and plant size twelve shoes on the door until it cracks and gives under the pressure. They file in, pushing to be the first and pulling guns out of their belts.
One of them knocks over some of the prints on the wall with his haste, and they shatter on the ground but it doesn’t really matter.
They search the kitchen, looking underneath countertops and inside of fridges. There’s a plate of strawberries on the table that gets overturned when they lift it up to look underneath for notes or bombs or something. The bedrooms are torn to bits in a desperate search, mattresses gutted and closets turned inside out as the panic comes upon them, choking their throats tighter and tighter. Men throw pink bras and black boxers aside as they search through dresser drawers and pull open trunks and suitcases.
Calls are made, voices are low and fearful of retaliation. No one is in the apartment. No one has left any notes. There is nothing but silence and the smell of strawberries and hand lotion. One of them checks the shower and pokes through washcloths and peppermint body wash like there is a secret hiding underneath the terrycloth robes in the corner.
Fear chokes them all-- fear for their own necks and their own fates at having lost two agents. Were they taken? Did they run? Are they dead or alive? Questions are tossed out and answers are few.
Outside of the apartment, across the street on two roof tops, three men load up weapons and prepare to take something that doesn’t belong to them. Qassam has a gun full of bullets, his men have more, and they point without pity or mercy at the shadows inside the apartment windows, still unrecognizable in the early morning pre-dawn. The sun comes up in twenty minutes over Paris. The shop owners haven’t awoken yet and the flowers on the windowsills are still closed and tiny.
One agent walks very slowly past a window, examining the street below carefully, turns to say something, and gets a hole blown in his chest as the glass shatters and the bullets begin.
Half way across the world, a day behind it all, Tony waits by his cell phone for the “everything’s okay, we have them” call that isn’t coming. Gibbs sleeps in his bed, two rooms away, and knows nothing but the back of his eyelids and the warmth that surrounds him on a regular basis now-- secure for the first time in oh so long.
His computer beeps softly and his Gmail notifier pops up with a yellow balloon from Lamb45. He stares at the warning for a long moment before opening it up and putting his cell phone down.
I’m sorry. Take care of them.
The agents inside the apartment start to figure out what’s going on rather quickly. Qassam and his men don’t. Three of the agents take aim, fire four rounds, and by the time the smoke clears and the glass is done falling to the street below like shattered pixie wings there are five dead men, but only two of them belong to the CIA. Qassam stares up at the sky, eyes open and mouth slick with the metallic tang of blood, and there is a perfectly round hole in the center of his forehead, oozing blood onto the pavement, pillowing his head in sticky red.
No dye packs. No body bags.
The phones come out, the process takes hold. People are taken into custody to be questioned about what they know, cover stories are created and placed carefully over the whole situation. Bystanders are rushed away and ambulances pull up next to the black cars. Men in suits far, far away try to think of who is to blame and try and figure out who is responsible for the whole thing.
Kate and Ari pull into a bed and breakfast in Bordeaux around noon, explaining in slow, bad French that they’re German tourists to the man in charge and could they please have a room, yes, thank you, please, yes. Their hair has been dyed blond. His skin has been lightened dramatically with stage makeup, and his face is open and happy, grinning idiotically at anyone who will look. They take a room, close the door behind them, and sit and look at each other for a very long time without saying anything.
They have clothing. They have weapons. They have all of the cash she had on her and he has all of the money in the bank accounts he never told anyone about but that might just be compromised. They’ll move on in a couple of hours and head for a place where they can contact Abdul and tell them they’re alright and still alive.
They get into bed together, but don’t have sex. She lies still, facing him and looking inside of herself for answers she doesn’t really want, but she doesn’t cry. Neither one of them speaks, and neither one of them looks away from the other. There is no where to look but at each other. There is no where to go but with each other.
I’m sorry for dragging you into this, he tells her with his hands.
I’m not sorry for coming, she replies with a soft, tender kiss.
I should never have let you come with me, he winces.
I would never let you leave without me, she smiles.
Your life is over.
My life is safe.
He pushes her hair back from her face, jaw set grimly, and she lets him stroke her skin more to soothe his nerves than her own. The bed is soft and worn underneath them, the quilt loved. She closes her eyes and lets him lose himself in the sweetness of her lips and the softness of her hair; letting him take care of her for just a little while. He needs it-- in that gentle, certain knowledge of a woman, she knows he needs it. He can’t make her life what it was last year and he can’t ever make things the same way again, but he can keep her safe and he can keep her trust.
He can hold her in his own two hands, and for a man as in control and in power as her lover, this means everything in the world.
She breathes slowly and deeply, permitting his hands on her cheek and his fingers trailing down her throat, and he basks in her trust of him; in her ability to give herself over to him and know he’ll give her back still in one piece.
A very far distance away, Ducky and Abby sit up and watch a documentary on the invention of explosives. Yesterday she read aloud to him from Shakespeare’s Sonnets to prove him wrong about a sentence he recalled, and when he had admitted defeat and she had crowed properly, she cut one of the sonnets out of the book and posted it high on her blood red wall, unrepentant and proud.
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan
And mock you with me after I am gone.
It makes her happy. She’s not sure why, and she really doesn’t care. She looks at it and it reminds her of all of the people she’s lost over her life and how none of them were self-absorbed enough to want her to spend all of her time thinking and mourning over them. Last night she and Ducky laughed about a joke Kate had told her once, and the usual tang of bitter sorrow underneath the humor was absent. Vanished. She’s not sure if she has him to thank for that or if it’s just the healing process, but she’s growing and she’s happy for it.
In his apartment, full of hardwood floors and topped off shelving units, McGee holds a woman he’s too afraid to introduce to Tony and Gibbs and Abby in his arms, and wonders if she would be comfortable with meeting his parents as a build up.
Gibbs sleeps. Tony fears his own descent into darkness; fears that he has lost Caitlin Todd to the wickedness forever and that he will never again see her alive. He looks at her email and keeps it because he can’t bring himself to delete it. He won’t open it again for five years-- nor any of her correspondences with him, but it will stay in his inbox and on his mind.
Kate lets out a soft sound into Ari’s palm, dropping a kiss to the throb of his wrist. The arms that slip around his back and pull him into her body and into her warmth are the only solid thing in the world.
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