by B. Cavis
by B. Cavis
She expects to find him. Even though the "situation has been resolved" and is therefore no longer his concern, she knew the moment she got on the plane for Italy that he wasn't going to hop on the jet that was surely just awaiting his word to take off for Israeli soil.
Ari was going to wait for her. Because she would wait for him if their situations were reversed.
So no, she isn't surprised to find him in the hospital, a bare hundred yards from the man she came here to see.
But finding him in the hospital chapel is a bit of a shocker, no doubt about it.
His head is bowed in exhaustion, not prayer, but his hands are linked together in his lap. He is breathing deep and even, and if it weren't for the small signs that a former lover knows by heart, she would think him asleep. She kneels down and crosses herself out of habit before entering the room on quiet feet. The heft of her weapon is familiar and thick against her side, and she slips into the dusty room on soft feet.
Ari moves over on the pew for her, but when she sits down beside him, he doesn't say a word.
The room smells like sadness and decay and mildew, and she fills her lungs with the aura of old tears and new pain. No one believes anymore. The few that find themselves in need during a crisis are more likely to step down the street to the fashionable little bistros and the darkened pubs. This room is kept clean for those who still do, but they are few and far between, and therefore it isn't kept that clean.
Kate closes her eyes for a moment, tries to hear God, and is filled with nothing but her own breath and the sound of the man next to her.
"Do you think He's really up there?" he asks softly, eyes still closed, and she opens her own once again, looking him over. There's wear and tear on his face--exhaustion. She understands that feeling.
She's been feeling it for a really long time.
"I was raised Catholic," she says.
"Shall I take that as a no?" Ari asks with a smirk, and she fights down the urge to laugh at the jab. This probably isn't the appropriate time for laughter. "If you want to kill me," he says conversationally, "perhaps we should leave the hospital. It seems somewhat inappropriate to take my life when so many others are fighting for theirs just down the hall."
The gun is heavy. She takes a deep breath in and thinks of the man lying down the hall, tubes coming out of various parts of his body, pristine white gauze wrapped around his head.
"I don't know," she says quietly in reply, and he opens his eyes up to glare down at his hands. "I honestly have no idea. If He is up there," she begins, "He's not really doing that great of a job, now is He? I mean... He seems to be failing us all.
"How can I believe in a God who lets this kind of stuff happen? Who lets your country get torn apart by fighting and turns mine into a bunch of paranoid, duct-tape-buying freaks?" She shrugs, and suddenly there's something a lot heavier and a lot more pressing in the room, squeezing her throat and pushing on his chest. "God's sort of screwed us over, hasn't He, Ari?"
He grunts and links his hands together. "We managed to do that ourselves," his lips turn up at the edges in a sad little smirk. "Though I will admit, He did make it pretty easy." She tucks her hands under her arms, warming her fingers. The elephant in the room can't be ignored any longer--it has jumped and stomped and buckled the floorboards underneath their feet, and now they are tumbling towards something dark and dangerous.
And they can't stop the descent.
"Did we ever have a chance?" she asks softly, and he sighs, leaning forward and rubbing his temples. His hair is messy. "I mean... did we ever have a chance?"
"I don't know, Caitlin. Perhaps, if things had been different... we could have been great together." He turns to her, and now her cheek is in his hand, and she looks at him and feels his warmth. "I could have been wonderful to you."
She sniffles, nods, and takes a deep breath. "I was in love with you. I would have made you a good wife."
"And that is why we did not have a chance. Because I could not let you be a good wife to me. And I could not be a good husband to you. A good husband does not disappear and leave his love to wonder if he lives still." He rubs his eyes, and the water on his fingers mirrors the waters following gravity down her cheeks. "We had a chance, Caitlin. But not here, and not now, and not in this world."
She chokes on something in her throat, and the sound is pathetic in the still, dusty air, and she tries to shove her fist in her mouth to muffle the sound. He takes one of her hands in his and squeezes, hard, and she gasps until the sobs are back far enough in her throat for her to breathe.
Breathe, she tells herself. Just keep breathing. That's all there is to it. That's the only trick you have to master.
"Do you believe in God?" he asks again, and she makes a shuddering whimper. Her fingers are shaking slightly, and she feels cold again. So cold.
"I think I might just have to."
"What if there's no one up there?"
"Then I guess I'll have to pray to the surgeons."
He swallows and nods. "They say he'll be all right."
"Yeah. He'll have a few scars, though."
"Who doesn't?" She shifts, hand limp in his. He squeezes harder, trying to will some of his strength into her. "Mahmed was able to catch him off guard, but he was fighting against a Marine. And what had been done to him befo..." he trails off, looking down at his own bloodless hands. Her skin is soft and pale against his.
"Tell me," she whispers, and he looks up at her with doubt in his eyes. "Don't. Tell me about my pound of flesh."
He closes his eyes for a moment, and when he opens them again, he is reading off of a cue card that only he can see. Clinical. Detached. "Mahmed was tied, shirtless, to a beam in the middle of the room. He was then slowly, methodically, cut in several places. No set design, but there was purpose in each slice. There was a lot of blood. Mahmed lost his voice from screaming." He straightens his back fully. "The wood was jagged. There were splinters in his bare flesh. There was a rock underneath his right knee, and when Gibbs turned, Mahmed retrieved it and used it to fray his bounds. He then attacked from behind and managed to get&na handhold of the knife, with which he inflicted a good deal of injury in a moderately short amount of time. However, Agent Gibbs was not idle during the attack, and he fought back. Hard. When we found them, both had passed out on the floor."
She blinks, and he knows that she is recreating the scene in her head, playing through the variables and figuring out just how things worked. Her fingers have stopped shaking, and her eyes are calm and relaxed.
"The pattern," he whispers, "the one he carved... it wasn't random, was it?"
She closes her eyes, banishing the image of Mahmed in the shack in her mind, and takes a deep breath. "No."
He nods. "No. I did not think so." And he has that look again, the one that she saw all those years ago as he lay on her couch and had her bandage his wounds. When she had her hands near his throat. She stares up into those eyes for a long, deep moment, and when she slips her jacket from her shoulders, he takes a deep breath and straightens his back.
Her shirt is soft and silk and made for someone a few inches taller than she. She has it rolled and tucked in back--she dressed haistily in order to get on the plane. The well-tailored Caitlin Todd is lying back home in bed; jet-lag free and sleeping. Her fingers are nimble and quick on the buttons, and they give up the fight to keep her dignity without much effort.
She has dignity no matter what. To him, she is class and beauty and dignity in one untouchable package of skin and muscle and bone.
She slips the shirt down her shoulders, and when she frees her self from it entirely, she leans forward in her seat, bracing her arms against the back of the pew in front of her. Her back arches towards him, skin burning in the still air. The dust swirls are visible in the beams of light that drip in through the high, small windows.
His fingers running over her scars are a soft penance. Touch after touch, gentle and unassuming, he patches her up. She feels him placing emotional bandages over her skin, over her wounds, and there is no more blood. No more pain.
Nothing seeps from her anymore. For the first time in years, she is without holes.
And when he pulls away, those holes remain closed.
"You are beautiful," he tells her for the second time in what some would consider "their" life. "And never, ever, ever believe otherwise. I saw it in our bed. I saw it in that cafe. I saw it when you stood in front of me and promised me death." And then he kisses her, just once, closed-mouthed at the top of her back, where the sensation starts to melt into numb white lines.
"You are beautiful," he says again. "Believe me. You are never more beautiful than when you believe."
He helps her back into her shirt, and when she moves to button up her front, he beats her there. His fingers slip her pieces back together; rebuild her. She pulls her jacket on over it, and they look at each other for a long, long time.
"Go and see him," he whispers, and her lips form a thin line. The sobs are climbing their way back out of her stomach. She doesn't want to cry. She hates it when she cries. "He deserves to see an angel when he wakes up from his rest. Go."
She rubs at her face. Her makeup is all gone now, and he loves her bare and clean. "I would have stayed with you," she whispers. "After the attack... I would have stayed."
"And that is why I had to leave. You will never suffer to be by my side, Caitlin. I will not permit it. I left because you would have stayed." He cups her face between both of his hands this time, holding her eyes with his and forcing her to understand. To believe. "And I couldn't permit you to do that."
She chokes again, this time on her own tongue because the sobs are trying to hard to push their way out of her that they don't care if they kill her in the process. The sound is weak and painful and fragile, and she closes her eyes as the warm salt spills out from between her lashes and slips onto his skin as well. There is pain, there is pain, and she wails softly into the air between them, a plea without words (hold me, touch me, human contact please, please, please) and somehow he understands without the letter and the syllables and the words.
He pulls her into him, and she presses her sorrow up against his shoulder, and he lets it slide down between them to pool, useless and dead on the ground. His hand runs up and down her scalp, pulling the pain out of her hair and dropping it next to the sorrow.
She sheds it all.
"God, I don't want anything to happen to him," she whispers, and he takes the words too because he knows she needs to say them. "I'm in love with him," she whimpers, "I don't want anything to go wrong, I don't want him hurt, I don't want him dead, I need him, Ari, I need him!"
And he keeps stroking, keeps her safe and warm as he whispers back to her. "I know, Caitlin, I know. It's all right, it's all right. He'll be fine. We'll all be fine."
She is reborn in a hospital chapel, whole in a new way, breathing from new lungs. She enters the world a new woman, wrapped in the arms of a Jewish killer, with the man she loves fighting for his life down the hall. Fighting for survival.
And the man holding her plays witness to her second birth, and all he does is hold her tighter in response.
He is aware.
Not of a lot (because his eyes are still closed). Not in any great way or depth (because these are really good drugs). But... aware.
There is a beeping off to his right that he knows is going in time with his heartbeat. There is a soreness in his throat that he knows it the result of the air tube being yanked out earlier, when his lungs were deemed reliable enough to draw his breath for him. There is a chill running through him, and he knows from personal experience that that is the after result of being under a general anesthetic.
There is a warmth on his right side. He knows from the gentle mix of soft and calloused skin that rests on his that this is the woman he is lying here for. This is his woman. His light.
"Katie," he whispers, eyes fighting to open, and the hand in his squeezes tight and strong.
"I'm right here," she whispers back, and his ears appreciate that. His head feels like he just rode the Tilt-O-Whirl for twenty rides straight on an empty stomach.
Ah. College memories. How... inappropriate right now.
"Can you open your eyes?" she asks, and he considers it for a moment.
"Probably. Don't wanna, though."
"Then don't." He can hear the laughter in her voice, the soft tease, and it draws a weak smile from him as well. "I thought Marines were supposed to be so big and tough, but you guys really are just big wussies, aren't ya? I might as well go find myself an Air Force boss; that's where all the strength is--"
"Shut up," he growls, and when he forces his eyes open, she is grinning at him like a dog, hair falling in limp wisps around her face. She hasn't gotten much sleep in the past few days, he reads. And she's been wearing one shirt for longer than absolutely neccessary. He's turned the normally buttoned up, well-dressed, well-kept Caitlin Todd into this woman.
He feels ridiculously proud. He'd laugh, but he's afraid of what that would do to his body. God, his ribs are killing him. "You're in the hospital," she says, "We're still in Italy. What do you remember?"
Gibbs swallows down the sour taste in his mouth. "Not a hell of a whole lot..." He's slurring his words, his ears report, but she doesn't seem to have a problem with that. His eyelids feel ridiculously heavy, and he bites the inside of his cheek, numb to the pain, to try and keep himself awake and focused.
"Do you remember the doctor coming in and talking to you earlier?"
"There wa' a doctor?"
"I'll take that as a no. Do you remember the five-minute-long conversation you had with Tony about zebras?"
Dear God. "Tony's not a zebra," he points out, and she nods seriously. He really hopes he has a head injury. That's the only excuse he can think of for that coming out of his mouth.
"I do believe you're right," she says. "Do you remember propositioning that nurse with the tattoo and the six-pack? I think her name was Grace." She grins playfully. "You know, when you get your sponge bath, you might just get lucky there, Gibbs."
He is so glad she's here.
She whispers jokes to him to get the corner of his mouth to turn up, and he listens to her talk as the minutes tick by, aches and pains soothed by the sound of her voice and the tenderness in her tone. He looks up at her, loves her, and she looks down at him and loves him.
When his eyes feel so incredibly heavy that he can't keep himself from falling back into unconsciousness once more, he grips her hand tight, and she looks down at him seriously. "What is it?"
"I did it," he says softly, and she swallows. "I got him. I made him pay. He paid." He keeps looking up at her (God, his eyes are so heavy, why on earth are they so heavy?) and when looks back down at him, he doesn't see the hint of pain and anger in her eyes for the first time in a long time.
She is clean and whole. She is pure.
He did that. He made her this way. If he could dance, he would. If he could sing, he would. If he could scream his victory from the highest rooftops, he would holler it out for the world to hear.
"Yes," she whispers back. "You did."
"I did it for you," he says, and now he can finally spill those words that he has been holding in for too long. "I love you, Katie," his throat releases, and his entire body relaxes visibly. He closes his eyes entirely, and as the hospital bed wraps itself around him, her hand is cool and dry on his forehead.FIN
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