by B. Cavis. This story is a sequel to Freddo and Sostituto.
by B. Cavis
The darkness of her apartment covers her the second she steps inside, and she opens her eyes wide and pauses for a moment to let her vision adjust. The low grade head ache she has had all day only got worse once the plans about the next two weeks had become finalized, and no matter how many pills she popped, it remained.
Her shoulders slump as she steps inside the relative safety of her space and she can feel the professionalism flake off her like so much dead skin as she leaves the office behind her. The shoes are removed, the jacket dropped, and she lets out a deep sigh. The persona she's been wearing all day is thrown over a chair as she steps further into her den, and there is a low hum from the fridge to welcome her home as she slips into the kitchen.
The vodka she pours for herself is tradition. The portion is a window into her need for relief and comfort after the day she had, and she doesn't fight the little voice in her head that says she should be above and beyond such things as she puts the bottle away.
Maybe it's true and maybe she could care a little bit more. Perhaps it is weak, what she's doing right now-- letting them get to her. If she was really the woman she wants to pretend she is, these little men and their distractions would not touch her. If she was he kind of powerful woman Gibbs has remarked (never in her presence, of course) about her being. If she was as perfect as he thinks she is, she wouldn't be bothered by any of this. She would just go and... sleep. Prepare for tomorrow's work. Call a boyfriend for a quick screw.
These are the things that Caitlin Todd does to occupy her down time. She doesn't have a boat, or a basement for that matter, and the last time she tried to take a page from Abby's book and be artistic, she had acrylic paint in disturbing places for close to two weeks.
I need a hobby, she tells her first sip of the drink, and shrugs in reply to her own criticism. There's an answer building behind her teeth, and she lets it poke its head cautiously out of her mouth when the time comes. Her soul's response comes gently into the world, and she watches the birth with the detachment that comes from having a glass of vodka in one's hands.
And when her own heart's answer straightens up and shakes itself off, she knows what she needs to do and knows what she has been doing wrong, and it makes her laugh at the simplistic nature of it all.
Not being touched by the daily skirmishes at work was a good thing. Forgiveness and turning the other cheek was a good thing. Being at peace was a good, good thing, and she knew it to be true. Peace was so... peaceful. So easy. So calm.
Fuck transcendence, she tells herself. It takes too much work anyway, and no body's perfect.
I don't need to prove myself to anyone but me and those I respect, and that's been done a hundred times over. She throws her shoulders back and straightens her spine. I am Caitlin Todd, and just because I had to bow out today doesn't make me any less of the woman I was raised up to be. I don't do anything I don't want to do just to make someone else happy. Fuck pity and fuck responsibility-- this is a job and that means I do what I have to do get paid at the end of the day and pay my rent.
Fuck them all, she thinks mercilessly, and laughs gently into the still air of her apartment. "Fuck them right in the ears," she tosses out, and feels much better about the whole world in general.
The dark laugh that comes from the corner offers little support. She takes a swig of her drink with practiced nonchalance. I totally knew you were there, her posture sneers.
I so totally did not know you were there, her desperate sucking at the clear sanity in her glass contradicts.
"Now, Caitlin," Ari Haswari murmurs from the corner, "is that really productive?"
She can feel her skin tightening. There's a memory in her flesh, and it remembers him fondly even if she can't bring her heart to do the same. The disgust she feels when she looks at him and sees the three word letter in her head eliminates all hope her body had of finding him attractive.
Her heart steps on her clit angrily, and the urge to return her body to the place it fit in so well is overcome easily.
"I was wondering when you were going to show up," she comments quietly, and he cocks an eyebrow while grinning. There's still kindness in his eyes, even though she knows it's all bullshit now.
"Waiting for me with bated breath, Caitlin?"
"No. Wondering how many bullets I should put in my gun before I go to bed." She puts the glass in the sink and turns back to him. The darkness pulls at his face, and even though he is still two yards away, she can feel the warmth of his presence burning a hole through her body.
He shifts, and his hands go to his pockets gently. She can see a thin scar running up his wrist. Nothing compared to my patch work quilt of a back, she thinks sourly, and fishes the last of the vodka flavor out from the corner of her mouth. She has no idea how to start a conversation like this-- maybe she should have another drink?
"We need to talk," he says, shifting, and she leans back on the counter, hands pressed against the edge. She can feel it digging into her palms and doesn't really care. The pressure and the pain keep her balanced in between her will to escape and her fear of showing weakness. Women who show weakness in front of men like this end up lying in hospital beds, bleeding and cursing and half way towards death as their souls get torn into shreds and devoured. Women who have weaknesses around this man end up the way she did just three years ago-- the way she swore she would never be again.
"I have nothing to say to you," she responds calmly, and even though that sounds calm enough, she's so afraid of showing fear to this man that she folds her arms protectively over her chest and sits on the very edge of the counter top. He watches her shifting, and the dark look in his eyes is vaguely familiar to a part of her that's been dead for years.
"I have a few things to say to you," he says, "and I really do not care if you speak or are silent. The novelty will be most amusing." He glances around the kitchen, before raking his eyes down her body. "You have... changed."
"Part of the job."
"I was glad to hear that you were not severely injured in the White House attack. I was almost certain for a time that God was calling you to him early." His lips turn up. She wants him dead-- fucking pleasantries.
"Look," she says, "are you here to actually say anything, or is this just a trip down memory lane? Because I won't be fucking you tonight, or any other night for that matter, and talking about the good old times of Caitlin and Ari is just a little bit too stupid for me to indulge you. Say your piece, and then I'm going to bed."
He is silent for a long moment, and at first she is almost certain that he is going to simply turn for her door and vanish into the night and her bad dreams, but his feet plant themselves firmly on her carpet, and she can feel resolve radiating off of his skin. "You resent me running this investigation. You resent working with me."
"Wow. Did you have to conduct a seance for that one or did it come to you in a dream?" She snipes, and his jaw clenches.
"You will need to get over that if this investigation is to be successful. There cannot be any-"
"If you have something of any importance to say," she interrupts, "this might be the right time to actually come out and say it-"
"You have to be able to trust me!" he snaps. Her hands make two fists, and she paces away from him as she digs them into her sides. He is holding his temper in check by pressing his teeth together as tight as his jaw will let him. "I am the one in charge of this operation, and if you are not able to follow instruction you will put the entire team in jeopardy. That includes your lover and his side kick!"
"And you have to be able to pull your head out of your ass long enough to recognize the situation and the people in it. And who the fuck do you think you're calling my lover? Gibbs is a man who has earned your respect, if not your approval. Refer to him like that again, and I will snap you in half. Tony as well."
He takes a step towards her, and she is braced for battle instantly. His teeth are exposed. "I will run this investigation and this operation the way I see fit. And if you have a problem with that, Agent Todd, I suggest you take it up with someone who gives a whore's cunt."
Her stockings are rubbing the insides of her thighs. She wishes he would just drop dead on the floor so she could get around to taking them off and slipping into her comfort zone.
"You will trust me and do what I say is necessary to make this operation successful," he continues, "or you will have no part in this operation. Do I make myself clear?"
And the numbness in her back is suddenly a deep burn. She remembers being in the hospital and thinking how nice it would feel to have him lick her wounds for her.
"You want me to trust you?" She can feel her teeth itch. The desire to take her pound of flesh from the man in front of her-- to eat his face in place of the one she really wants. "Trust you?" And she's pushing him back and he's stumbling, and the urge to hurt each other is there and sucks all the air out of the room. She is choking on the remembered pain of a three year old wound, and it presses against her from all sides.
"You don't deserve my trust!" And the room is red or maybe that's just her vision. "You fucked and ran, lover. You HAD my trust, and you used it to blow your nose in." Her face is very close to his and he refuses to give up any more ground, so she is breathing in his exhalations and he is breathing in hers. They play ying and yang for a moment longer, when her hissed emotional agony comes in his face. "I can't trust you, Ari, because I know exactly what you would do with that trust, and that frightens the hell out of me!"
"I did not betray your trust," he spits back, and she throws up her hands and pushes away from him because if she stays she is either going to shoot him or start crying. "I did not betray your trust, Caitlin!"
"You turned tail, Ari, and sent a note to me in the hospital consisting of nothing of substance." She wants him to feel the pain she was introduced to that day. Wants him to suffer the way she had after he left. Sitting there in that hospital bed, letting the part of herself that had held him in her arms die the slow death of the broken hearted and swearing that she would never be able to take a deep breath ever again without choking on her own bile; she wants him to feel that and then turn around and tell her that he did not betray her trust. That he didn't break her heart under foot and feel nothing about it.
The dark look on his face is absent of the ever present smirk. She doesn't know if that's a good sign or not. "I did what I had to do in order to protect you, Caitlin. I did not, as you so eloquently put it, 'turn tail'."
"Bullshit," she hits. "You did what you did because you were scared and unsure about what the hell you were doing. You didn't know how to deal with a woman who wasn't trying to end the rule of the infidels or bring about an Islamic holy war, and you got fucking scared." All of the hatred she has never allowed herself to feel is coming up and it's coming quickly. His arms are shaking, and he is clenching his hands into fists. He wants to hit her to stop the flow of words coming out of her mouth, and she knows it, but doesn't stop. Can't stop.
Some things need to be said. Some things need to be heard.
"You came to me and told me I was the most beautiful thing you had ever seen." She is steady and still, and that is more threatening that the pacing of before. Her arms are at her sides and her face is set in stone. "And because I wasn't lying to you and I didn't let you lie to me, you turned into a chicken shit and ran hard and fast away from me the first chance you got." Her hair is dark and poison. He remembers thinking it was fire and perfection, and wonders why even when it looks like pure distilled hatred, that's still true. She throws it to one shoulder and pulls the corner of her shirt down. He can see the first hint of a white line.
"Wanna see my back?" she offers spitefully. "Huh? Wanna see what I was doing while you were writing cute little notes and catching the latest flight home to your Goddamned homeland and all of your fucking responsibilities?"
His jaw is clenching again. His close cut nails are digging into his palms. "I left because of what happened to your back, Caitlin."
"I knew that, ass wipe. I didn't think it was the sudden realization that I took my coffee differently than you took yours that set you off-"
He takes two steps forward and grabs her around the arms and shakes her twice to silence her. "I left because I knew that if I stayed, it would happen again, you foolish little woman!" The anger he felt towards the world for all of these years is transferring itself onto her. He is powerless to stop it, and he doesn't really want to in his current mindset. "I left because what happened to your back could have happened to your skull the next time if I hadn't!"
"What are you talking about?" she demands. When did she turn breathless.
"It is my job to protect the people of your country and mine from things like that-- to keep you safe from the bombs that the disgruntled and biased want to plant. Don't you understand? It is MY job to keep you safe! And being in your bed and wanting nothing more than to stay there until the world outside reached Armageddon was a failure on my part!" He shakes her once more. "I am here to keep you safe, Caitlin, and that is why I left!"
She blinks up at him. "To keep me safe?"
"Yes!" Has he gotten through to her? He searches her posture for some sign that she is understanding, and finds only a hand against his chest, pushing him away once more. He doesn't release her.
"Well who the fuck asked you to? Huh?" She tilts her chin up, and she is quite intimidating for a woman in bare feet and a thin shirt. "I wanted you to fulfill your promises to me-- to be there, always. I could care less about your fucking sense of duty." Her other hand comes up, and she's pushing him back and away angrily. "Fuck you, Ari Haswari. If you want to wallow in your own guilt and pity, that's your problem. I'm done with you and your issues. I'm just... I'm done."
She throws her hands in the air. "I trust nothing about you but your own desire for self preservation. And that desire is going to be making a big cameo on your part of the investigation," she leans in closer, the strength and blood lust she has gathered over the past three years alight in her eyes. "Because if either Gibbs or Tony comes back to me with so much as a scratch, let alone a real injury, I will use my knowledge of your body to take you apart in the most painful places, for as long as you can gather enough breath to scream. I will make you suffer the most excruciating torture I can find, and with Ducky's massive amount of knowledge of other culture's practices open to my fingers, that's saying something."
The air between them is thick and humid.
"And you will do what you are told on this side of the investigation," he says, "or I will find just the right way to share with your new lover just how well you know my body." And some part of her must show her disbelief, because he smiles grimly. "I will, love. Do not make the mistake of underestimating me. This operation has lives in the balance and my own is among them. I can not allow your distrust of me to result in a loss of Mahmed and his group. If you start to endanger the mission, I will give Gibbs a reason to take you off this case so I do not have to argue with him over it."
"He'll kill you," she says confidently, and knows it's true. Knows that even though the older man has never been inappropriate or let it interfere with their work, he is in love with her. He hates Ari Haswari already on a logical level, mixed with a touch of wounded pride. If he was given an emotional reason to hate the man she sees before her, he would commit murder.
Gibbs is in love with her. She sees it when he doesn't know she's looking, and it makes her feel like the whole world is swelling up inside her and spinning. Like she isn't touching the ground any more and never wants to again. And she's not sure what that is-- what it means, but she knows enough to know that it is something powerful. Something... strong.
She doesn't know if she's in love with him, because the last time she thought she was in love, the man has left her in the dirt just when she needed him the most. The last time she thought she loved someone, she ended up here.
She's not sure what the hell she feels for Gibbs. But she knows it's there.
Haswari knows it to. And when his lips turn up, it's bittersweet but still mocking. "He might," he says, "but if you screw up this mission, I am as good as dead no matter if he knows or not. And even though I die, he might live on and come back to you. With questions that you are not willing to answer, but are just painful enough to shatter the both of you in the asking."
He pushes past her, towards the door, and she follows him because she can't just sit still. "I have spoken my piece," he says calmly, "and now I leave the decision up to you. Can you work with me on this, Caitlin, or should I have you removed now?"
And because it's a decent question, and because it deserves answering, she opens her mouth and closes her eyes. "I will do what I have been asked to do for my country and my President," she sighs gently, and her spine is shattering under the weight of all of the words spoken this evening.
"Good," he says, and doesn't sound happy or satisfied. Her door opens, and there is a pause.
She can feel her breath coming slow and even and defeated. He is still standing in the doorway, and when his voice comes it shocks her so much that she opens her eyes and blinks at him.
"If I had kept you in bed that morning, would we be here now?" he asks, and the voice is the closest thing she's gotten to Ari since seeing him in the elevator less than 24 hours before. Her body is shutting down under the emotional pressure. She sighs and rubs the bridge of her nose.
"I honestly don't know," she responds softly. "But I can tell you, it would have been a trip while it lasted."
His shoulders hunch and release, and she feels like she was just sucked through a straw and spit out in a pile. Empty. Somehow... lessened.
"Perhaps that would have been enough," he says softly, and she folds her arms over her stomach and hugs herself.
"Perhaps," she agrees.
"I will see you tomorrow," he replies, and when the door is closed, her knees leave her sitting on the floor and running her hands over her scalp in frustration. The carpet is rough against her stocking coated feet, and she grips her hair and pulls to keep from screaming.
Don't throw shoes, throw email. They do more damage.