by B. Cavis This story is a sequel to Caffeine Sunset, Adamah , and Ma'aminim.
by B. Cavis
It takes three months after the time that Kate is comfortable with her own skin for her to see Ari again. Three months, a great deal of thought, and half a dozen fantasies involving improbable scenarios and whispers confessions of need against skin that isn't there.
Waiting with bated breath while trying not to look like you're waiting with bated breath is quite... time consuming.
She has woken up on more than one occasion with her sheets wrapped around her legs and a name she's not allowed to say on her tongue and dripping down onto her pillow. She has known him a hundred different ways in a hundred different places, and each time, the illusion of her sleeping hours become more and more complex. She has traced her name into his skin with tongue and teeth, and he has done the same for her with trails of fire and affection.
She still doesn't know what she feels for him-- if he is a deep fascinating figure of lust and want, or if she can't live without him by her side, or some mixture of the two.
All she knows is that he makes her feel alive when he looks at her, and that she feels half dead when he's gone. And she decided at the end of the first month, sitting on her couch and sucking on an M&M absently, that that is enough for her. She needs him around to feel full and completed. No man has ever made her feel like she was lacking something in a good way, and until she sat on her counter top, nude and wet, with his eyes burning her and his kiss hot on her tongue, she had never thought she could enjoy that.
After that day in Hot Topic, Abby learned when the smiles meant "oh, I'm so happy" for relationship reasons, and when they just meant Tony had said something too stupid to believe. Kate has never told her Ari's name or who he is, and she probably never will (there are somethings that Abby is better off not knowing, for her own sake) but Abby has enough sense not to ask. If the information isn't given, there's a reason.
Tony ribs her the way he did before. Poking fun at her social life (or lack thereof-- since Ari left, she hasn't gotten a new boyfriend, and she has no desire too) he makes her feel as normal as she can knowing that any given day, he might show up. On any given night, he might be dead and lying at the end of someone's AK-47, his treason discovered and his life ended.
She tries not to think about it. Succeeds most of the time, and she thanks God for her ability to compartmentalize. She would never get anywhere during the day wondering if he was still alive and out there somewhere on his way back to her.
It occurs to her, when she lets it, that she cares a whole lot about the state of a man who she's still not sure what she feels for. And that scares her because it implies that on some level, she does know, and that on that very deep point in her mind, she knows he means something important.
And then sometimes she just smiles and thinks of the feel of his finger on her cheek, and feels completely at peace.
It's a nice feeling. Peace. She enjoys it when she lets herself, which now that she is at home in the idea of the two of them being a collective "us" is all of the time. Guilt is an emotion she hasn't allowed herself in long enough for it to be just a dizzy memory of a time passed and best forgotten.
She lets herself forget. Lets herself drift into fantasies without hesitation, and when he shows up again, she is ripe with ideas and anticipation.
Ari, on the other hand, has spent the last three months trying not to think of Kate. He has had no time to try and come to terms with the impending presence of the "us" pronoun. Undercover work of this magnitude, of this level, leaves no room for being distracted.
And Caitlin is most definitely a distraction.
Of course, nothing could erase the thoughts entirely. He would block her out of his waking moments onto to find her lurking in his dream space and calling him forward to make up for lost time. He never awoke from a dream calling her name-- he's much too well trained for that. He never found himself wishing she was with him at the moment-- he wouldn't wish what he has to do onto her for anything in the world.
He preferred to keep his memories of Caitlin and his thoughts of her in the nice white box in his head, untouched by what he had to do to make both of their world's safer places to live. When his subconscious would take her out to dance her around his dreams, he would allow it because he knew it couldn't be stopped. But he didn't allow himself to day dream about her at any time during his work day.
Some lines had blurred. He found himself with his fingers on his laptop on the plane rides to and from his duty, typing emails he could never send. Each one was deleted before it had a chance to be registered into memory, but he can see them still behind his eyelids, and he flushes every time he reads them.
Confessions of lust. Of need. Of how she felt underneath his mouth and tongue and how much he wants to feel that and more all over again. Some were sexual, most were not, and every single one of them was way too truthful for him to every deal with it.
He deleted them with a few seconds of hesitation, but an overwhelming sense of duty both to her and to his country. She has no place in your dirt, the ice cubes in his glass has fizzed, and he had swallowed down the vodka and nodded.
Work should be separate from Caitlin, he decided on the plane ride back to Israel. What he does in the sand and dirt is in no way a part of her, and he won't force her to accept it into herself, even in his own head. Among the few things his mother taught him, a firm respect for women was the most important lesson.
Still, she would come to him during the night. Clothed in skin softer than cream and flesh warmer than the sun on his back, she would float in on a breeze of scent and sensation and take over his body for those brief moments of blissful unconsciousness. In his three months away from her and the United States, he has felt her body in every way he can imagine but in reality, and he has a chorus of sounds and feelings in his ears to compare to the real thing.
And he has every intention of hearing her make every single noise he drew from her doppleganger. In triplicate.
Three months after she finds herself in a hemline and he catches himself between the cradle of her thighs, Ari returns to the United States and makes his black clothed way up to her apartment on formerly weary feet that suddenly have a spring and a half in each step. His toes are crushed, his hair is longer than he fancies, and he can feel the grit of salt and sand between his teeth when he talks or swallows. It send evil shivers up and down his spine.
In an effort to set goals for himself and this adventure he is embarking on, Ari spent the ten hour flight working over every conceivable scenario in his head, and decided in hour three that Kate would be much more likely to welcome him into her apartment after three months of no contact if he had an offering of fire and passion to smooth over any fluffed up female feathers. In his left pocket, pressed against his chest with every step he takes, there is a silver knit choker crusted with amber that he won't leave until he places around her throat. That is his goal for the night-- to ensure that she is safe and in one piece, and secure his gift around her throat with hands that he won't let shake too badly.
All in all, he feels confident. Secure. How hard could it be to get a woman to accept a gift, after all? He doesn't have much experience in the matter (read: none-- all of the women he's ever been with associate "gift" with a code name for dirty bomb) but every movie he's ever seen has lead him to believe this might be an easy prospect for a beginner.
He pats the necklace for the tenth time in five minutes, just to reassure himself that it's still there. Present and accounted for. Good.
Caitlin's door is a lighter shade of blue than it was the last time he came here. He wonders how he remembered that, and presses his ear against the door for a second. It's three AM-- there's little chance anyone else is here...
At least, he prays and hopes that there's no body else here. He doesn't think he's gotten his signals mixed up, and he's pretty sure she got his strong and clear as well. He wants her, she wants him, neither one is quite sure where this is leading-- that was all mutually understood, right? Right?
Ari feels the sudden irrational urge to cross himself, and settles for pressing the amber up against his breast once more with a firm hand. Stop thinking, stop listening to that voice on your shoulder. Just open the door.
And overthrowing the voice of logical dissection as he seems to do so very often when it comes to Caitlin, he kneels down and starts to work the lock over.
It takes a minute to hear the tell tale click of the pins setting into place, and he pushes the door open with his shoulder gently.
The security chain is off and the dead bolt hasn't been thrown. He wonders if that's a sign or just her forgetting the dark lurking dangers of the world. If it's a sign that he's welcome, he'll never mention it again. If it's her being lax in her own safety, he'll tan her hide red and raw with his words to enforce the point. When did I start caring, he wonders, and shrugs into the darkness.
Maybe he's always cared. Maybe he was meant to care.
The kitchen is dark and so is the living room. Sometime during the past few months, she's gotten a new couch, and the curtains are a different color. He absorbs it all through his eyeballs and smiles. It feels nice to have both a before and after picture in his mind-- nicer than he ever could have expected domesticity (even this limited, extremely skewed version of it) to feel.
She's turning you soft and you've never even seen her through a 24 hour period, criticizes the voice in her head that is just way too on the nose for him to be comfortable with it. He shrugs once more and the amber rubs his chest gently.
Maybe it's about time I was softer.
He listens again and hears nothing but the normal sounds of a city below him and the mild hum of the electronics in the kitchen. The air smells of Caitlin and lavender, and he can taste her scent on his tongue like a honey mist. His heart beat is steady and firm in his ears, and he can feel his entire body moving as one smooth collection of parts.
The bedroom door doesn't creak when he opens it, but he presses forward slowly and steadily anyhow, convinced that any second the door will start to protest and announce his presence before he's ready. The venetian blinds are half open (the window faces away from the sunrise) and the thin gauzy white curtains are drawn light and floaty over the cracked windows. Every now and then a particularly strong breeze pushes the fabric up and out to reach weakly for the bed and the figure encased there.
Caitlin's head is coated in moonlight, and she wears the crown well.
The white down comforter on the bed serves as a stark reminder of just how much time has passed since he last saw her through her window, standing on the street. It is not the lazy heat of a summer breeze that fills the air. He left, and in the time he was gone, a season went by. There's a hint of a tan on her arms and face.
God her face. Perfect by the light of the moon and glowing with the chill on her skin. He'd never imaged he'd get to see her like this-- so clean and soft under a bright night's sky. Her skin looks inviting and firm, like he could wrap himself around her and never need to move again. Dark hair swims on her pillow, thick and shining, and he is suddenly at her bedside without conscious movement of his feet.
Her breathing is soft and even against his thigh. There's a small rasping sound at the end of every exhale, and it takes him way too long to realize that it's coming from his throat, not hers. She sleeps the sleep of the emotionally satisfied. He breathes her in to soothe the burn that she places in his lungs whenever he sees her.
The carpet is soft underneath his knees, and he hopes he didn't wake the down stairs tenets with the dull thump of collapsing to them. His body is liquid and loose string, and he couldn't stay upright for anything in the world right now. Upright takes him farther away from her, and farther away is no where near where he wants to be.
She's more beautiful up close. His fingers reach out tentatively, and her thick hair calls him to it like his own personal Lorelei, and who is he to try and disobey? His hands tangle in her mane, in that darkness he loves oh so much, and he finds himself stroking it back and away from her face without knowing he's doing it.
"Don't make me leave," he whispers into the quiet, and she gives no reply. "I... Do not make me leave; ask me to stay, ask me to..." The words die painfully on his tongue, and the weight of the unspoken words push his head forward to the bed, eyes buried in the soft white of her blanket and nose cemented into her scent.
She is peace and home and he has no right to either one of them when he is who he is. The man who spends most of his life as Haswari has no right to touch what Ari wants. No right whatsoever, and he knows it too.
"I'm sorry," he gasps into her bed, and when the soft hand comes in contact with his head, he jerks away quickly enough for the words to splash into the air as well.
Kate has wrapped her fingers in his hair and fixed her eyes on his face with firm intent. She doesn't look surprised to see him, and there's no sign of rejection in her face. She just... smiles.
He finds his voice swimming in the pit of his stomach and pulls it up. "Caitlin." The smirk that he's had to use so often during the past three months spills onto his lips. "Did you-"
Her hand comes up and seals itself over his lips to stop the snide part of him that he tries to leave behind around her from coming out. He's not sure whether to beg her forgiveness or thank her until his throat turns to dust.
She smiles again, still half awake, but more alert than she was before. There's a look in her eyes that he's never seen on her before, but he can't look away from it just the same.
"The shower's clean," she says, "if you want."
He does want. More than she could know.
"There's a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt in the top drawer that should fit you, if you'd like to put them on." And that same strange smile appears on her face, and for now he's not one to question.
"I brought you a present," he offers lamely, and she giggles at some unheard joke.
He's never known he could be more thankful than he is now. He's never imagined that a shower would be the greatest blessing in the world. He never dared to dream that she'd be the one to give it to her.
She watches through half opened eyes as he strips down to his bare skin, and the smile grows sleepily. He glances over at her, but there's no heavy lust in her eyes, only pleased curiosity. She was wondering what he looked like, he realizes, and now she knows.
He wonders if he lives up to expectations, and heads into the clean, warm bathroom.
Heat on his back and water in his hair is deep ambrosia, and being brought back to life never felt so good. The role he's been playing, his alter ego, slips down the drain and off to parts unknown, leaving his skin clean and fresh and his reality new and focused. The soap he finds in the holder smells like nothing, but is clearly made for a male, and the fact that is has never been used before makes him smile.
Missing him. Very nice.
Dust and dirt stream off his body to stain the floor, and he cups water in his hands to make sure he leaves no mar on anything belonging to her. When he eases his head out of the shower, he finds towels on the window sill, and he dries himself while still in the stall to save her floor the drippings.
When did I become so... considerate?
The sweatpants fit him perfectly, and the t-shirt highlights all of the muscles he tries not to rely on to get through the day. He looks like the Gap took him into a closet and brainwashed him, but the clothes are comfortable and since he doubts she picked them out for him, he is content with their size. He looks at himself in the mirror-- stubble coated cheeks, hooded eyes, flushed skin. Is this what she sees when she looks at him? This... man?
He rinses his mouth out with Listerine for lack of a toothbrush, and by the time he spits he feels clean inside and out. He feels like he just left the dirt he's been rolling in for the past three months behind.
He feels like he just left Haswari behind to become Ari again, and that makes him feel more alive than he's dared feel for a while now.
The bedroom is still dark when he enters it. She glances over her shoulder, smiles, and rolls over to face him.
"You're not thinking of spending the night on the couch, are you?"
He blinks, slow and heavy, and wonders what he might have done to make him this lucky. "I had planned on it."
And helpless or unwilling to refuse, he finds himself standing by the side of Caitlin Todd's bed as she pulls the covers back for him and eases him into the space beside her with sheer force of will. He feels her fingers settling the pillow behind his head, and when a warm weight comes on his chest, it takes him longer than it probably should to recognize it as what it is.
She looks up at him, one arm thrown over his chest, her head and half of her body tossed gently across his torso like there is no other place in the world that she could ever belong in. "Hm?"
"Why are you doing this for me?"
She doesn't meet his eyes, and for a long time there is silence beyond comfort. It reaches a point where he's not sure she's going to answer at all, and he starts to think accordingly. While he's planning to slip out from underneath her half way through the night, she opens her mouth and the answer that her doppleganger used to whisper into his ear comes unbidden into the room.
"Because I want you here. I need you here." Her lips, those beautiful instruments of temptation and salvation and probably wicked sin press warm against his chest, and he can feel it burning through the thin fabric. "Because I have missed you so incredibly much that it's all I can do to think straight half of the time."
She smiles and presses her cheek against him once more. She can hear his heart beat strong and healthy in her ears, and she has never heard any Mozart or Palestrina to compare with the simple sweet music of his life.
"I'm glad you're here," she whispers softly, and his right arm is now around her and he can't make himself let go. His fingers tangle themselves in her hair once more, holding her head to him so he can feel her exhaling and inhaling across the span of his chest.
Ari closes his eyes in the warm safe hold that is her embrace, and sighs deep and fully before opening them up once more and gazing down on her raven painted head. "It is good to be home."
She drifts off to sleep with the beat of his heart in her ears, calm and safe on top of him; scars and all. He doesn't sleep. Can't close his eyes, can't look away from her, can't seem to let himself drift.
He wouldn't want to waste the time.
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