Author: B. Cavis
Spoilers: Bete Noire, Reveille
Disclaimer: These characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: "Are you just going to stand there all day and... look?" Third story in the Lion Series.
Title translation: ground
He's gone the next morning, and she feels strangely okay with that. The blanket is folded and left carefully placed on the edge of the sofa, and she brushes by it with a strange feeling of contentment in her chest.
Sometime during the night he'd taken his pillow and returned it to her bed. She'd woken up with her face pressed into the smell of the two of them combined, and when she realized it was a pillow, her entire body had flushed red and hot.
Her half-awake brain had thought it was his chest. She had snuggled deeper into the softness and wondered if life could get any better than it was when she was held in his embrace, her face against his warmth.
The fact that it had proved to be a pillow had been a letdown on more than one level. One, the lack of a man there had been... anticlimactic. And two: without him there to keep her honest and grounded, she had immediately found herself in the pit of self-loathing for even thinking like that.
Cold shower time had followed. A long, frigid cascade of water on her body, without movement and without singing was not Kate's favorite way to start the day. In fact, on her list of good ideas in the morning, it's pretty low.
By the time she got out, her thighs were shaking and her whole body was a light shade of sky. There were veins visible everywhere, and she sighed at the lack of a tan on her skin.
He would still think you were beautiful, came the uninvited, soft voice in her ears, and she roughly dragged the towel through her hair to silence it under the beat of her rubbing. Don't think, don't think, don't think.
She padded naked out of her bedroom, and tried to convince herself that she was glad he was gone. What do you say to a man who slept on your couch after you bandaged his wounds and kissed him? Want coffee? She snorted at the banality of the statement, and passed into the kitchen. The edge of the blanket touched her legs, and she found herself hating something for some irrational reason.
Kate sits on her countertop, naked and clean, sipping at a cup of black coffee and trying hard not to think about just how warm she felt this morning when she woke up to find his air around her.
Failing. Her brain never shuts off when she needs it to.
Her entire body had felt buzzed--like she had electrodes attached to all of the sensitive spots on her skin. She felt warm and safe as she had ever been, and the idea that this man who has killed in front of her and (she's sure) out of her presence could make her feel safe is a little... primal.
When did she start to see him as a guardian of her being? As someone who could protect her no matter what the scenario? It's true--there's no doubt in her mind that if she was in need of him, he would come. If she found herself weak or too exhausted to fight, he would be able to keep any outside threat away from her.
And that idea does appeal to the basic parts of her that still remember living for the hunt and needing an alpha to make sure you lived through the year and produced strong offspring. Maybe, she thinks, as the heated air coming from outside the apartment window dries the water on her thighs, that's what makes him so attractive to me.
That must be it, she decides. It must just be... hormonal.
...Except last night he wasn't an alpha.
She had held his life in her hands, and he had let her. If she had felt threatened by him, she could have snapped his neck without a second thought, and he was too weakened to do anything about it. Last night he was... weak. Under her power, and laid subservient to his own pain. She'd been the alpha when he let her unbutton his shirt and part his hands.
She'd been in control the whole time. From the choice to lower the gun to the choice... the choice to kiss him.
God, had that been a kiss. Soft and chaste and everything that usually did absolutely nothing for her, she hadn't been expecting much. An offer of support. Possibly understanding. She had meant to silently connect with him just long enough for him to know he was safe on her couch and she wasn't going to call Gibbs or whomever else he was afraid of having to deal with tonight.
And her entire being had melted down into the carpet. She'd had to grab onto his shoulder to keep her kneecaps from losing sensation and strength and buckling to the floor. And he had just laid there, calm and unassuming and not demanding anything from her at all. He had... bowed to her decision.
Oh Jesus this is complicated so far beyond her comfort zone it isn't even funny. Kate lets her head fall forward to her palms, and rubs her eyes with the heels of her hands. Last night she dressed the wound of a man who shot out her friend's shoulder and ended the life of a beautiful blonde woman in front of her eyes on a warm summer's day.
This man is a Mossad agent--someone who will never be able to tell her everything, and a man who uses death to feel alive.
Is she a near-death experience? Or just the ultimate risk? After all, if Gibbs found out what she was doing--what she had done last night--her career would be over and Ari's life would be forfeit. Is she just a way of tempting that fate? Poking fun at that version of death and risk?
If her boss finds out, Ari is dead. And no matter how confused she is right now about this... thing that is there no matter how hard she might try not to think about it, she recognizes enough of it to know that it has to be explored. It has to have time to grow before it can define itself.
She wants him here to help her define it. She does not want him dead, in fact she actively wants him alive and (if she's honest with herself) wants him near her.
Kate looks over at the blanket through the kitchen doorway and sighs hard to no reason she will admit to herself. She pours more coffee down her throat and draws one bare leg up to rest her chin on. This is too complicated for her to face at 10 AM on a Saturday morning.
Her legs feel smooth and she rubs her hands down them absently. The benefits of waxing. When she feels this smooth, her own skin becomes a touchstone of sorts, and she uses it now as her mind fills with images of the man who once touched her lip with a handkerchief and cleaned blood off her like she was going to shatter if he touched her too hard.
What is this that she's embarking on? What will this mean to her present and future?
What is she going to do if everything falls around her feet and everything crumbles into dust? What--
There's a noise off to her right, and she grabs the knife out of the sink and holds it at the ready. Her heartbeat increases, and she can feel the adrenaline dripping thick and powerful through her bloodstream. Is this someone who followed Ari here? Who thinks he might still be around, betraying his Arab brethren and fucking Hamas over as many times as possible?
Is she going to have to kill someone today?
Ari's black-coated body appears around the door frame, and the knife freezes in her hand. "Caitlin?" he calls out, and the only response she can give is a weak little "eep."
He turns. The knife drops from her hand to clatter wickedly on the floor, and she watches his eyes widen as he sees her naked legs. She can hear his shuddering gasp for air from here.
"I, uh," she smiles weakly and feels that somehow she is losing the struggle for clarity in her own mind. If anything was going to make her feel less complicated, this wasn't it. His nostrils flare, and while the polite (awkward) thing to do would be to look away, he doesn't seem to be able to. "I thought you had left."
He swallows and his gaze licks its way up her calves and to her thighs. Ari's hands are suddenly fists. "I had forgotten my coat." The bent leg offers him a view of both the dark brown hair between her thighs, and the gentle beginning swell of her ass. His eyes can't detach from her, and his breathing is rough and shallow in his own ears. "Moomkin almiss bizazeek?"
Her head turns to one side, and she runs the words over in her head. "That's Arabic, not Hebrew." He swallows and nods. His eyes have worked their way up her stomach, pausing briefly around her belly button, before trailing up to her breasts. She wonders why her hands haven't come up to protect her modesty, and sighs. He follows the movement of her chest with a slightly parted mouth.
She cocks her head to the other side.
"Are you just going to stand there all day and... look?"
His throat works roughly, and the words come out sounding hard and dark. "And what else would you have me do, Caitlin?"
She swallows. "I..." His eyes have made it to her face, and there is a look of a man desperate for water after a crawl through the Sahara in his eyes. He keeps blinking like someone has rubbed the area behind his ears, and each movement is one of pleasure and need.
What does he need? she wonders, and shivers at the thought.
Ari's eyes close tightly, and she can see him running his tongue around his teeth. "I have to go now."
"Why?" Why go? Why stay? Why don't you come over here and take me off the counter?
God this isn't helping. She thinks she might be getting the counter damp.
He opens his eyes again, and his smirking control is back, but his need is still there. "Bedi hotak ala ras airy."
Her brow knits in frustration. "Stop talking Arabic--I know Hebrew, but all I know how to do in Arabic is ask where the restroom is."
"That," he says, "is not what I just told you."
"I didn't think so. Are you going to be okay?" She blinks, and the reality of what she just said hits her all at once with all the subtlety of an anvil on her head. "I mean, with your stomach and all, and the op and..."
He smiles. Soft and real, and the words meet and early death in her throat. Oh...
"Yes, Caitlin," he says softly, and picks up his jacket off the chair where he tossed it the night before. "I will be fine." His feet make no noise on the tile floor, and if she wasn't so attached to his eyes, she would retreat to keep some distance between the two of them.
Oh God he's getting closer. Oh God why won't my body move.
And then he's there--right there in front of her, body between her legs and hands resting heavy and dark on her thighs. Her other leg drops down to rest on the other side of his hips, and she looks up into unreadable, but trusting eyes that are so much closer now than they have been in years.
The feel of him up against her in the morgue echoes through her body, and she swallows down the nostalgia.
"You're beautiful," he whispers into her face, and when his lips come down upon hers this time, she's ready for it.
The heat she had felt the last time returns, and her hands come up to try and grab hold to something stable. His hair is short and thick, and her handhold in it makes him press more firmly against her. She feels bare hands on her bare back, and there's a pressure against her center that wasn't there a moment ago and she hopes to God never leaves.
There are little noises coming from one or both of them, and her lips part just as his do the same. Her mouth tastes better than he could have ever dreamed--like destiny and fresh reality. There's a second chance at a life he never knew lurking underneath her tongue, and when his own makes contact, she lifts it up to let him taste it all.
The woman stunned him into changing languages. The woman controls the part of him that answers to Ari over Hasswari.
She might just have the ability to own him, and that scares and excites him.
They break away mutually, and he looks into her face to meet her eyes. Her lips are parted, and he can see the confusion lurking in the corner of her mouth, and he knows that if he stays here another moment, he is going to do something that he won't regret, but that she might.
And he doesn't want that.
"You're beautiful," he tells her again, "and never believe otherwise. Ever. I saw it that day in the morgue and I see it now--you are beautiful." She watches him move, and as he pulls away from the little pocket of air between them, he can smell her drifting up at him, and he really need to get out of here right now. "I will come back."
She nods and offers a quick smile from under soft brown lashes. "Okay."
"I..." What is he supposed to say? What can he say?
And she just smiles wider, pulling her fingers out of his hair to trail a line of affection down his cheeks. He feels her through the stubble, and she grins wide and forgiving.
Baruch atah Adonai, eluhenu melach haolam...
"I know, Ari." And maybe she just might be his salvation after all. "Go and do what you have to do. You'll be back when you can be." She lets him go, and he nods like a child.
She watches him all the way out to the street, smiling as he stumbles over his own feet before climbing on the bike. The helmet is firmly attached, and she sees his head tilt up to find her window before he starts up the bike and speeds off into the day.
Kate shakes her wet hair and jumps down off the countertop. Some therapy is seriously in order, and since she hasn't been to a shrink in over a decade, the next best thing is to go out and blow a part of her allowance.
One of the perks of being the child of a media mogul and a successful lawyer (not including the love she gets in various degrees from both sides) is the large trust fund she received when she was 21. Money will never be an issue for Caitlin Todd, and that's exactly the way she likes it.
Shopping therapy. The best kind of treatment.
Abby flips through a row of dark colored jeans to find the pair of red ones, and holds them up to herself with her eyebrow cocked to one side. "Are they me?"
Kate puts the bondage skirt back on the rack and contemplates the bodice dress with zip on layers. "I think so. Brings out the hair."
"Cool." She tosses them up over her already loaded arm and picks the skirt up off the rack. "Try it on--it would look so cool on you."
"I'm too old for it."
"You're never too old to be drop-dead fuck-me sexy." And they both laugh together in shared wanton humor. Saturdays are made for shopping therapy, and they both love the idea. Later, they have plans to go to a club that wouldn't let Kate in if she looked her age.
Hence the bondage skirt. Hence the four-inch heeled hooker boots she has tucked under one arm.
Abby drags her back to the dungeon like dressing rooms, and the two of them trade "uggs" and "this looks so horrible" and "you gotta see this" comments to each other over the barriers. Kate puts the bondage skirt on and zips the boots up and looks at herself in the mirror.
"Come... come see this." She steps outside of the stall to get a larger image, and Abby pokes her head out, before whooping and stepping into the room. Her dress has multiple layers of netting on it, and she looks every bit the young goth on the town.
Kate stands in front of the mirror and stares. Eyebrows furrowed, mouth twisted, worry in every inch of her posture.
Is this what he saw this morning?
"You are beautiful," chimes in her ears, and it takes her a moment to realize Abby is still talking to her.
"...of course, you have to get it. It's just too perfect for you--where have you been hiding your legs, Kate?"
"Abby?" she asks softly, and the goth stops her mouth quickly. There's darkness in the older woman's voice, and not the pseudo-grim darkness Abby clings to. This tone speaks of a haunted existence and a painful period of time between yesterday afternoon and this morning when they met up.
Abby fingers the dog tags around her neck for comfort, and presses forward like the good friend she knows Kate would be to her if their situations were reversed. "Yeah, Kate?"
Kate finds her courage in the short hemline, and she turns to look at the way it floats around her thighs. "Have you ever been... attracted to someone you really shouldn't have been?" Dark searching eyes turn on her. "Like, really shouldn't be attracted to?"
Abby pauses, and her hem itches her legs. "Yes. Nothing happened."
Kate touches her damp hair. "Oh." She glances over at her and winces. "What if something's... already happened. Like... he's seen me naked. And... I might have kissed him. Three times. On the mouth." It doesn't sound nearly as bad when she actually says it. Maybe Gibbs won't murder her if he finds out.
Abby's eyes have grown serious, and her mouth isn't smiling anymore. "Look, Kate... Gibbs won't do anything to hurt either of your careers. Just because you find him attractive--"
"It's not Gibbs," Kate inserts, and it might just be her imagination, but Abby's eyes flash relief for just a moment. "No, Abby. Not Gibbs. It's... someone else. Someone worse than Gibbs on the 'this will severely fuck me over' scale."
The bondage skirt does look good on her. She wonders if he'd like it, then kicks herself for the thought. She will not be one of those women anytime soon.
Abby bites a black lip and tilts her head to one side. "Do you really like him?"
Kate can still feel his hands on her now bare thighs. She wonders if it shows--like she is Lady Macbeth and her skin will never get rid of the mark of his touch. "He makes me feel... like I'm right next to a black hole. Like everything is just... sucked into him. Like I can't look away from him for a moment whenever he's nearby because I don't want to miss anything."
Abby has perked considerably up now that she know her friend is not going to try and become wife number four in the near future. "Sounds intense."
"He is. He's got these eyes and they look at me like... like I'm the only thing in the world that he wants to see." She shakes her head. "I don't think anyone's ever made me feel the way he does just by looking at me."
"Is he good in bed?"
"I haven't slept with him yet?"
Abby's eyebrows go up to scale her forehead, and her smile grows. "He makes you feel all hot and bothered with just his eyes? You want him all the time, and you haven't even had him yet?" She grins wide and cheerful. "This sounds like a man to tie to your bedposts and never let up."
Kate laughs with her, and the tension breaks. Abby's eyes are smiling and happy, and she twirls in the dress to feel the hem tickle her thighs again. "You can't control who you're attracted to, Kate. It's not worth trying. Just go with it. And tell me how the ride is."
Kate smiles, feeling just a little bit better in the pit of her stomach. "Yeah."
"Are you going to buy that? You had better buy that--it's perfect and it makes your ass pop."
Kate turns to look in the mirror and grins over her shoulder. "I guess I have to, if it makes me go pop and all."
"He'll love it, too." Abby's grinning voice trails off as she unzips her dress in her own stall, and Kate stands in front of the mirror for a moment longer before sighing and letting herself feel content without the chain of guilt around her neck.
Yeah, she thinks to herself. He just might. But he just might like what's underneath it a little bit more.
Fuck them all, because she has absolutely nothing to prove to anyone but herself. And she's already proved more than enough to let her head drift easily on a pillow that smells like him into a grounded sleep.
I am Caitlin Todd, she tells her reflection, and turns to go back into her stall. I am Caitlin Todd, and I am the only one who can hurt me.
And it's not true, but it's a fallacy she's happy to live with.