by B. Cavis
by B. Cavis
He's done it.
By some twist of fate, some joke of the Gods... he's actually done it. Gibbs has never really believed in luck before--best to make your own luck happen if you really want to be able to depend on it. But he is considering going out and buying a rabbit's foot.
Because he has Arat Mahmed, unconscious and tied, lying at his feet.
Alert the fucking presses.
No, actually, don't, because that might mean that someone would demand he stop. That he act like a "good" or "moral" member of the United States law enforcement community. Someone else might take Mahmed and put him in the back of a black government car, then pat Gibbs on the back and mutter something about him being a hero or doing a good job or some other meaningless bull of the sort.
He can live without the pat. And Mahmed looks much better, in his personal opinion, spread out on the concrete with his hands and ankles bound behind his back and linked together. Hogtied. At the mercy of another.
He hadn't started out today planning on this happening, actually. Today had looked very much like it was going to be exactly the same as yesterday. Looking through folders, interviewing people who were not at all important about events that were way too long ago for them to remember them with any degree of accuracy, eating intaglio from the place down the block from the base and quietly swearing to himself that when he got back he was going to step up his morning exercise routine to burn off of the bad things one eats while abroad.
Abroad. Huh. Almost makes it sound like a vacation. Like someplace with little umbrellas in the drinks and a happy waiter who would come around and offer suntan lotion on a tray.
This place has no paper umbrellas. This place and this mission have nothing to do with suntan lotion. This is a mission of blood--of revenge. And the fact that he had been spending this mission of blood in an office building, fanning himself with an empty manila folder had really been starting to tick him off.
But then, in that way that apparently luck has, Private J. Williams had missed his appointment with Gibbs and Tony. And when they had gone to find him, they had been quite surprised to spot him in civvies and a civilian car, leaving the base.
And, since they are both paid by the government to be nosey and persistent, there was really only one thing for them to do--follow him.
And when they had found him, conversing in Arabic with a man in a small shack in the middle of nowhere? Then there was really only one thing to be done about that as well.
Tony took Williams, handcuffed him tighter than necessary, and shoved him into the back of the car before threading another pair of handcuffs into his bound pair to bind him on a short leash to the car door. Gibbs had watched quietly, his fist throbbing from when it had made swift and unrelenting contact with Mahmed's head, and kept his foot on the unconscious man's back.
"He's not going anywhere," Tony said calmly, motioning to Williams who was, even now, trying to profess his undying love for Allah through the rolled up windows. No one paid him any mind.
"I'm going to go and find Ari and the spooks," Tony had added. His hands were steady and shoved in his pockets. The knees of his jeans were faded practically white. "However, I think, boss, that it might be best if you stay here with Mahmed. We can't really fit two suspected terrorists in one car, after all." And here, he had looked up, eyes clear of guilt and shame, and there had been a small spasm along his jaw. "And we want to make absolutely sure that he is handed over, right?"
Gibbs had offered a brief flash of teeth. It wasn't a smile. "Yes, Dinozzo, we most certainly do."
"Good. I'll be back in an hour or so." He had leaned in closer, drawing his keys out of his pockets smoothly. "Make him scream," he whispered, brief and violent, and when he stepped back both of them offered one more look before heading their separate ways.
Tony closed the door behind him.
Understanding is a beautiful thing. So is friendship. Tony saw Gibbs that night. Saw the blood on him and the look in his eye. Saw the months of rehab Kate went through and the days when she would literally be unable to get out of her chair after working herself too hard. He remembers it all; he never forgets things that hurt the ones he loves.
Gibbs used to lift her out of her chair and carry her to his car after everyone had left. Tony saw that too.
So. Understanding is beautiful. So is friendship. And revenge, dark and fleeting and all too imperfect, is one of the most beautiful things of all if it is enjoyed properly.
Gibbs knows how to enjoy revenge. Pound of flesh. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, pain for pain. Factor in the Marine in him that tells him to never leave a man behind and never forget his comrades, and Mahmed is in serious trouble.
Kate screams inside his head, blood on her face and on her back and dripping down his arms, and God there was so much blood. His arms still feel sticky with it. Slick and dirty.
This will make them clean. This might just make a whole lot of soiled things clean.
He undoes the rope from Mahmed's ankles quickly, drags his body over to the thick post in the middle of the one-roomed house, holding the roof up, and rebinds him. He needs the man still for this.
And he needs the man to have the splintering, hard, uncomfortable hunk of untreated wood rubbing up against every single wound he causes tonight. Every red line he will create, everything that will be white and numb in a few years, must be the most painful cut ever inflicted upon one man by another. Gibbs is going to personally see to it.
This back will be a doppelganger of Kate's; a living, breathing monument to her pain and what he does to those who cause her pain. His Taj Mahal of flesh and blood.
A replica of her pain...
Kate doesn't know that he's seen her back. He knows it's a fear of hers--that she has somehow been rendered disgusting and beyond repair due to her scar tissue. If she knew he had seen her, she would have been... upset.
When she was in the hospital--the first time they brought her back from the grafts to repair the damage, he had stood by the doorway and watched her shoulderblades rise and fall with her muted sobs as she lay on her stomach. Unable to turn over; unable to do anything but lie very still and feel pain in every inch of her skin.
Lots of pain. It takes a lot to make Kate cry. And he had seen more tears in that one sitting than he had thought could be hidden in a body that small. Where the hell was she keeping them all, he had wondered numbly after a time.
He hadn't been able to find his voice to ask her.
He'd left quietly after that, heart and head telling him two very different things about what to do. They often do when Kate is involved, actually. It's a little bit disturbing. One whispers things that have to do with duty and honor and respect, and the other howls about love and romance and need.
Lately, they've started to blend together--started to meld into one solid voice. He's not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
On that particular instance, it had been particularly bad. His selfish side fighting against his honorable self. To stay and to comfort himself with her presence and the feel of her face, sticky and salty under his palm, versus to go, and allow her the time she needed to mourn for her life as she knew it; the two sides tore at him with claws and teeth, gnashing their jaws together in anger at each other.
He had left. Not because either side had won, or because he had been called away. He left because he was a coward; he was undone by the sight of her tears, and the idea of seeing anymore of them left him feeling physically ill.
So he had left. Fled into the safety of solitude and tried to ignore the image of her bare shoulders rising and falling, blistered and patchworked skin stretched tight over bone and muscle. He had taken his tail and tucked it in place... and escaped into the fresh air outside.
It had taken a week to be able to look at himself in the mirror again. He remembers that quite clearly.
He hasn't forgotten what he saw; the image of her on that bed. He can recall every swollen bruise, every bump underneath gauze and surgical tape. There were more colors than skin should be, and it was the first image he has as being definitively Kate's body.
He saw her a few months ago--pulling her shirt off (the fact that it was on fire notwithstanding), and though the colors have faded, the stitches have disintegrated, and the bandages have long since disappeared into the trash, the sentiment remains the same. The pain that she felt remains the same. He had looked at her once he was assured she was all right, traced the white and red lines, and known her as beautiful. Known her as battle-scarred and beautiful.
He knows that she views herself as imperfect and marred. That she thinks her back detracts from her beauty and her femininity. In her eyes, it is not as much of the badge of honor and strength it is to him. For her, it is ugly. It's a morbid, grim image of violence.
A violence that will be repeated here today.
He knows that she is beautiful. He knows that his heart will fill and pulse at the sight of her no matter how many scars she has; knows that she is the most perfect thing in his life. This violence is not for him; it is not his way of getting revenge upon Mahmed for marking her or making her less radiant.
This is for her. This is for her and her perceptions and her own lowered self-image and the fact that she is afraid to take lovers now who aren't less perfect than herself--who aren't marred just as badly. This is for Caitlin Todd, his friend, his agent, and his something else.
This is for her. And he is certain of himself and what he is doing. Is certain of this revenge in another's name.
Because he's not afraid anymore. Not of his love for her and the very ground she walks on, not of her tears, and not of having more blood on his hands. Not of anything.
He is unafraid. And, frankly, that is a very bad thing for Mahmed.
The man is starting to come around. He goes around to the front of him, crouches down so that he is in sight and out of range for a thick glob of spit launched at his infidel head, and waits.
He doesn't gag him to stop the screaming. Logically, he knows that screaming is a bad sound to have emanating from inside a shack, but at the same time he can't bring himself to put an end to the sounds.
Kate had screamed in his arms and tried to throw herself forward to keep her back from making contact with his arms. It didn't work, and any movement just pulled at her flesh more. There was blood in her mouth. She'd screamed and it splattered on his face and her blush highlighted cheeks.
Arat's shirt is gone now. Bare flesh on wood is much more uncomfortable. More uncomfortable is good.
Gibbs takes the shirt off the dirt floor, spits on it, and wipes some of the blood away. It's plentiful--he can't see what he's doing through the blood, and he doesn't want to mess this up. A copy of flesh. A copy of scars.
An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. No more, no less.
The cloth catches on the open wounds, and Arat is pleading with some God Gibbs doesn't believe in now--pleading for help, salvation, death; anything to stop the pain.
He wipes harder. The skin hasn't gone clear yet.
Gibbs reviews his mental map, examines the back in front of him, and drags the knife up between the shoulderblades of the man before him, twisting at the last moment to the left. The flesh parts, thick and red and raw, and more blood squishes out of the tear.
When the paramedics had taken Kate out of his arms, the pressure of his arm on her back had been released, and the blood he had been holding in started to come out. One long squirt of red death had hit him in the face before they had gotten her into the ambulance.
Tony had looked at him like he was the most frightening thing he had ever seen. A man, fully grown and fully in shock, hands sticky and coat sleeves black with a thick coating of blood and the final parting kiss of red on his cheek; this being was beyond Tony's comfort zone. Perhaps beyond his comprehension.
Gibbs hadn't known how to answer that look.
Arat's voice is gone now. He's screamed himself hoarse. Gibbs remembers Kate's raspy whisper when she woke up, the result of her throat being abused in her final moments of consciousness. Good.
There's a white mark on her back that follows the curvature of her left shoulderblade.
A large flap of Arat's skin and the layer of fat directly underneath it comes off as he completes the slice. The blood is everywhere now. The lines in his palms are defined in red and sweat.
He had been able to see flecks of Kate underneath his fingernails for weeks after he held her. He had scrubbed his hands with Ajax, scrubbed until his cuticles bled. It hadn't come out.
Eventually, he had dragged his teeth underneath his nail, and sucked the essence of her into his mouth. She tasted metallic, and he had thrown up for an hour afterwards.
But his nails had been clean.
There's one last cut that needs to be completed. A piece of shrapnel had brushed by the small of her back when the explosion had occurred. The cut had been shallow but long.
Gibbs takes the hilt of his blade and holds it with the ends of his fingers, firm but less forceful, and drags it slowly across the skin in front of him, from hip to hip. It teems with red, but the blood doesn't spill out onto the dust.
Kate doesn't wear low-cut pants anymore, or shirts that risk riding up in back when she bends over. He hasn't seen the small of her back in that teasing yet clean way that happens a lot with today's fashions in years. She wears long shirts, jackets, and high-waisted slacks. She is fashionable, she is tailored. And she is covered.
Arat is gasping for breath, and his chin is shiny and wet with saliva and tears and mucus. Gibbs wipes his knife on his pants legs, shoves it into the sheath, and puts it in his boot. Arat follows him with his eyes as he crouches down in front of him for the second time today.
"Her name is Caitlin Todd," Gibbs says softly in the tongue of his grandmother and her homeland, and the younger man is trying so hard to get air now that his back is shaking and his jaw is trembling. "And once upon a time, her back was whole and perfect. And so was her strength." He shrugs. "And now, my friend, it's like yours."
And he stands now, knowing full well that Ari and his men and everyone else who he doesn't want to have to deal with is on their way. He cleans his hands on the shirt. There's blood underneath his fingernails again.
Symmetry. He really, really likes symmetry.
"You've had nothing taken from you that you haven't taken from her," Gibbs adds conversationally, squinting out the window and wondering when Ari is going to arrive and take this man off his hands. Is he walking here, for God's sake? "It's only fair."
Arat growls out something through all of the fluid in his mouth, and there is curse in there that Gibbs hasn't heard in years. Back-street Italian; dirty and graphic. He laughs lightly.
"Yeah, I probably am," he admits. "But you took something from a beautiful, whole, loving woman that you had no right to take. And for that, you will always be worse off than I could ever be." He sets his jaw and looks off to the right.
He's done it. He's finally, finally done it. He has repaid the debt--evened out the score. He can finally look at Kate without seeing another mark on his record of protecting the people he loves, and maybe now he can go to her and let her know that he has managed to solve her biggest problem. That he has solved something for her.
He pictures her, soft-skinned and dressed in green as he gets into the airport, smiling gently. Her weapon by her side, her hair pulled back, and her eyes calm. He imagines walking up to her and pulling her to him in that way that all of the romance movies glorify but has never once worked for him, and she laughs at him when she steps on his foot.
He imagines the taste of her mouth on his tongue, her lips on his lips. He closes his eyes for a long, long moment and breathes in the fantasy, breathes out reality, and loves being alive.
Behind him, Arat lets out a long groan. Gibbs doesn't bother looking back at him.
That is his first mistake. That is his biggest mistake.FIN
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