Caffeine Sunset

Author: B. Cavis

Rating: PG-13
Category: Romance

Spoilers: Bete Noire, Reveille

Disclaimer: They don't belong to me. I just have the clones.

Author's Notes:First in the Lion Series-- a whole mess of stories dedicated to Ari/Kate ship and romance.

I know. I'm on acid right now. I apologize in advance for straying from the course of my Kate/Gibbs-ness, but it had to be done.

I have such a thing for bad boys.

Summary: "This will not end well if he takes a single misstep. And there are so many places to stray along the road."




There's a smudge of dirt over the bridge of her nose, and her fingers are covered in ink stains. Her hair is in a messy ponytail, pieces falling out and forward to kiss her face in all those ways he wishes she would allow him to. There's a strand of dark raven tangled in her lip gloss, and she licks her lips reflexively to try and dislodge it. She holds her coffee cup like it's an extension of her arm, and there's a run in her left stocking that goes from ankle to knee.

Stunning. In a word, stunning.

She is easily the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, and the idea would scare him if he was the kind of man who indulged in fear for fear's sake. There's terror here; sheer panic lurks in his bones at the idea of being out of control-- of being forced to his knees and a subservient position from the beauty of a woman.

Any woman who could put him on the ground without raising a finger is scary. This woman, who would know what to do with him once she got him there, is scarier. If he let himself, he could shake at the very sight of her; at the first poke of those emotions she instills into his stomach. She could make him beg for everything holy, if he let her control him.

The fact that he might not have a choice in the matter is scarier than anything else. Caitlin is a bringer of fear, and he can't get that thought out of his mind for anything in the world.

It arouses more than his curiosity.

He swallows a mouthful of thick dark coffee and watches the sun make love to her. His own seat, behind her and off to her right, offers shade and celibacy from the sunlight, and he watches the taboo of nature wrapping itself to fit her image from behind his Raybans.

The sun and the sky adore her image as well. He wonders how many other competitors for her attention he would have if he allowed himself to fall into the category of devoted worshipers.

Too many, he decides, way too many.

The edges of her hair catch fire and burn brown and red for everyone to see. His throat has stopped working--the coffee scorches the top of his mouth, before starting to turn cold and sickly on his tongue. Kate lifts the hair our of her face with a single finger, and it falls back anyway. She burns the color of his home--has caught a fire reminiscent of a sunset or a sand storm whipped up in the late day.

He imagines an Israeli blood red sunset as seen through that hair, and it makes his stomach tremble. Brown on red, red on brown, accompanied only by the thick gold of his fingers tangled up with no intention of getting free. He pictures her head on his chest, hair slipping across his skin in thick drifts of fragrance and silk, and shivers and the coffee dribbles down his throat.

If she would let him do something like that--if she would let him close enough to make contact--he would become the first Jewish priest in thanks to God.

His mouth twitches up against his will, and he wonders what Adonai would think of that one. If you let me have the wonder and privilege of making love to her, I'll be celibate for the rest of my life.

Sort of defeats the purpose, he reflects, and chuckles into his cup. Her head picks up, and he holds his breath. Did she hear him? He seals his lips together and bites down on them tightly to prevent further transgression.

Don't look over here. Don't look over here. Please ELOHIM, don't let her look over here.

Her ears prick up and her head cocks to one side. He can see her sniffing the air--trying to get any hint of danger or threat--and when he head tilts back down, he lets out a long breath he hadn't intended to hold in.

Good. She's good, but she's not all-knowing just yet.

Very good. Thank God.

He pauses in his thoughts for a moment, takes and deep breath in and out, and tries to regain his nonchalance. You have faced scarier things than Caitlin Todd, he tells his body.

Yeah, it replies, but this is the first time that scary hasn't involved a couple of terrorist threats and a scream of Praise Allah!

He grabs his briefcase off the ground--best to run now. Best to leave before she can cause his entire world to come crashing down in a pile of rubble and pain and want. Turning tail is a good survival instinct, and he values survival over all else. Survival allows one to live to fight another day.

If he is discovered, he will be dead. With or without the CIA's protection--he has a bullet hole in his shoulder to prove that.

He wonders if she would be the one to punch the hole in his this time, and grits his teeth. Gibbs has been teaching her for two years now--she'd probably throw him to the floor and beat him until he couldn't laugh at the irony anymore.

Caitlin has become something more dangerous. Something more deadly.

His knees collapse from underneath him and drop him back ass-first onto the chair. She has become a force. A deadly weapon in and of herself.

...Oh, this is such a bad idea, groans his common sense--the part of him that screams he shouldn't even be considering what he's thinking about now.

This will not end well if he takes a single misstep. And there are so many places to stray along the road.

If he was smart, he wouldn't even start down the path. If he's smart now, he won't veer off the path.

Damn.

Her fingers are the things that draw him out of it. Slender, powerful fingers that are flying over the sheet of paper in front of her like demon-possessed digits, and it takes him a moment to realize she's drawing, not writing. This is an exercise of pleasure, not duty, and that alone fills him with more hope than he should allow himself to feel.

She creates with the very hand she uses to kill. The juxtaposition makes him lightheaded and happy. Caitlin can take a man twice her size and make him bleed; she will take a bullet for loyalty and country and idealism, and then go home to sketch a sunset that would dazzle when seen through her hair.

Enchanting.

He wonders what she's drawing--person, place, or thing--and wonders if it's a pretty image in her head. Is she using this to share the warm memory wrapped around her brain? Is she drawing her happiness into lines and shades?

Or is this a sort of therapy? A release? He understands the need to release energy and angst into victimless forms of creation or destruction. After particularly hard operations, he does the same.

Harah, during particularly hard operations he does the same thing. He uses, or actually, used to use the red motorcycle and the black road. When he bid a hasty retreat, laughing as his shoulder bled onto his shoes, he had to leave that machine behind. He misses it, in his own way, and when he returned to Palestine (always in character, always in character, always in character) he had purchased a black one of the same make and model.

Still, it never handled as well as the original, and it felt differently on his roads back home that it did on her roads, on her turf.

He saw a nice, very familiar-looking red motorcycle parked outside of the cafe not ten minutes ago. It's still there. He smiles to himself and wonders how Gibbs reacted to seeing her pull into the NCIS parking lot on it. He hopes she enjoys it--hopes that she loves the feel of the road under her tires and the wind in her hair.

A gift, as it were, to this woman who he holds in a higher respect than any other.

Over at her sun-kissed table, Caitlin tilts the cup to her mouth absently, hand still moving. Nothing comes out and she jumps in surprise--a release of pencil and paper distracts from the lesser parts of life. His eyes laugh behind his sunglasses at the sight. She had been so focused on her work that she had forgotten about the rest of the world, himself included, and the idea is charming. Endearing, almost.

That could be a very helpful quality if developed. Focus is something that is extremely valued in their world, when tempered with the right amount of paranoia. If she could manage to keep that single-mindedness while tempering it with a hint more alertness, she would be a commodity. A valued worker in the world.

This is a woman who has grown, but who remains someone in need of more. He could offer her that more, if she let him. He could--he could show her how to become herself, but better.

She would be a wonderful...

Her fingers move over the pad, and he watches as her leg reaches out to wrap around her purse strap and pull it towards the table. A waitress walks by less than a moment later, trampling over the very area the leather lay, and his eyebrows go up as he feels the grin pull at his mouth and eyes once more.

What he had mistaken for a lack of awareness had been prioritizing. Figuring. She is aware of everything she views as important, and nothing could distract her from what she knows needs to be on her radar.

People over coffee. Picture over graphite-stained hands.

Gibbs has been training her with a firm hand, he can tell. She's changed since he last saw her--grown into herself and her possibilities, but there's still more in her that needs developing. He looks at her and sees someone who is the same but different, and likes what he finds in the steady hold of her hands and the state of her posture.

This woman could handle explosives. This woman probably does.

He is drawn back into his reflection on her hands as she sweeps some eraser scraps away. He wonders what kind of thought she's transferring into paper and lined images, and hopes it's a nice one. He hopes it's beautiful and harmless and wishes, even as he realizes how foolish such a wish is, that she never had to see anything but harmless beauty.

It's stupid--a worthless wish he doesn't really mean--because if she saw nothing but beauty, she wouldn't be the same woman. The pain that her eyes absorb and convert makes her who she is. The agony of others and how she deals with it keeps her the woman he wants to believe he knows--the woman whose loyalty towards her country and her duty blinded him that day at the farm. The way she deals with her work keeps her that woman.

If she didn't have that knowledge in her eyes, he could have turned her. He knows it--given enough time and no audience, he could have convinced that version of Caitlin Todd that he was fighting against the pain the Palestinians had been suffering for decades, and that he was saving innocent lives by doing what he was doing. He would have taken her and made her the enemy without those experiences of hers.

Her eyes keep her who she is. Her eyes had seen traitors--seen the pain they caused themselves and others--and her heart had interpreted. She had known what siding with his supposed team would have resulted in, and because of it, she was immune. Because of it, she tilted her head back to let it be blown away by an insane blonde and showed no fear in her eyes.

If she had put her head against his chest and listened to his heart beat, the carefully planned facade would have crumbled. If she had only heard how hard his heart was pounding when Marta held that gun, she would have looked at him with new eyes.

If she had heard his fear, he would be able to sit at her table right now. If she didn't have that pain in her past, she would be in someone's custody right now, and she wouldn't be the woman he holds on the level he does today.

Still... He has the image of blood reflected in her eyes flash in his head for a moment, and he sighs. Not the happiest thought, if a necessary one. Not the most settling idea, if a valued one.

Kate brushes her fingers down her side to pull her cell phone out. She glances at the window to check her messages and nods before putting it back on her belt. Her fingers continue on with the genesis of graphite and paper freely. Her eyes flash a look of longing at her empty coffee cup, and he sees her judge the distance between himself and the nearest waitress, weighing the effort required to get more, and sighs.

Little obsessions consume her waking hours.

He wonders if she suspects she is his Little Obsession, and hopes she knows that she is more to him than a distraction of the morning.

The waitress comes at his beckoning eyes. His cup is still full and steaming.

No doubt the CIA has him on their radar, and no doubt NCIS does not. If Gibbs were informed, he would know about it by now--Caitlin never would have been allowed out for coffee and air. He would have her under lock and key and his supervision.

Besides, the CIA never would have told Gibbs about him anywhere near DC. They fear that man will find him and render him incapable of carrying out his missions. They will never volunteer information that freely to any other agency, and he knows it.

You've been doing this job for too long, he tells himself, and sighs as he indulges in the exhaustion and weariness he's not really allowed to feel but does at times like this anyway. He wonders if she ever feels like this--like her entire life just takes so much out of her--and prays she doesn't.

Even for the sake of his misery having companionship, he would never wish this disillusionment on her. Never.

Don't let her feel this. I will keep moving through this for the both of us, but I ask that You not make her feel this.

He hopes He's listening. He knows He always is.

The fresh coffee comes to his hand as he pays the waitress. If he had slipped a smile in with her tip, he could have had her tonight for as long as he wanted too, and he knows it. He doesn't smile--he doesn't dare, and she leaves disappointed but safe.

He has little energy for weak women tonight. He would hurt her--intentionally or not--and he does not wish that on his conscience.

If he's going to try and hurt someone, they had best be able to hurt him back.

He stands and this time his legs hold. The briefcase is in his left palm, the coffee in his right. His pride is in his throat and his hope is in his eyes. He doesn't dare remove the shades.

Step.

His path is carefully formed, paced and tried, and he knows she hasn't spotted him because he is moving to keep from being spotted.

The gun against the side of his ribcage defines no part of him in this sun. The paper back copy of the Quran against his chest means nothing to him but a job and a paycheck right now. The cup in his hand is salvation and heat. A solid force on his body. His focus.

He lives for the sound of it on her table--the sight of her hand wrapped around his offering. Needs it.

Her hand smudges a something to add shading, and he can see some of her movements from here. He keeps walking forward--can't stop and doesn't dare. He moves forward, pace steady, and her subject appears over her shoulders.

Two pairs of eyes stare up at him--light and intense versus dark and kind, and it takes him a moment to realize that one of the stares meeting his match his own eyes. He is anchored on her page by a lead mirror.

She's drawn him the way she sees him--eyes only, smile in the corners--and even though some part of his recognizes the other eyes, he can't quite place them.

Her fingers are industrious and stained; innocent and idealistic. He hasn't looked like that in his own mirror in years--the smile vanished after his fifth op.

He wonders if he looks that way in her eyes, and the thought is disturbing and overpowering. She saw the hope in his eyes years ago.

The cup hits the table with a dull cardboard clunk; the sound of his own personal shofar in the thick morning. She looks up quickly, and the light in her eyes is quickly absorbed and converted. Shock. Unease. Confusion. Her fingers have stopped moving on the sketch, but she doesn't move to cover up her obvious traitorous thought on his eyes.

He feels himself smiling wide and swelling with joy. He can't remember telling himself to do that, and when he tells himself to stop, it doesn't happen.

"Ari," her lips birth his name soft and powerful, and he shivers at the sound of her giving him her mouth. She has no way of knowing that no one calls him Ari. She can't know that "Ari" is a name reserved for the trusted ones.

Ari is what a wife would call him. Ari is what she could call him if he saw the sunrise through her hair one full morning in Israel.

He almost sounds peaceful and beautiful when she speaks him like that. Like flakes of sun and cream clouds in his ears. He wonders if this is the Heaven he doesn't believe exists--if he has found perfection in the wet softness of her lips and mouth.

Caitlin has offered him nirvana in a word. He wonders if she knows that.

Probably not. He doesn't know if he wants her to.

"Caitlin," he greets, and hears that same tone echoing back to him from a year and a half ago when it was cut short by the sight of red pain on her lip and the horror that filled him unexpectedly. "You're looking well." He motions towards the cup. "Please, drink."

She doesn't. He's not surprised, but it still hurts in that place he doesn't admit exists in him. He can see her gathering her defenses--searching for her wits, and he can hear the banal questions building involuntarily in her throat--What are you doing here? Does anyone know you're here?

He can't hear them from her. Not today.

He leans down, quick and without thinking (because thought would stop him right now, and he can't stop) and seals his mouth to hers for the first kiss he's ever taken as himself.

Hot and soft and wet and slightly stale with coffee. Her lips are damp with evidence of her surprise, and even though he can feel them parted slightly (invitation or shock?) he doesn't press forward.

His first kiss as Ari. His first kiss that wasn't to gain an edge or release some anger or prove himself invincible to the group of violent homophobes watching his every move for some sign of weakness.

Caitlin Todd is giving him his first kiss in the sun on a quiet DC street, and the thought nearly undoes him.

He breaks contact softly, and pulls back up. She follows him with her eyes, lips slightly parted. When her head tilts up to see him, he can see a flush that has built up the column of her neck.

"All in due time, Caitlin," he reassures, and she swallows thickly. "It will all be clear eventually. I will be back to discuss with you all of the questions undoubtedly blooming in your mind." He smiles--he can't help himself, he's never felt this surge of joy in his stomach before. "Please, enjoy the coffee. My treat."

He sticks one hand in his pocket and cocks his head to one side. She takes him in as a whole. "I would stay and chat, but I'm afraid I must attend to some things before I indulge in free time."

Ari leans back down in her space, and a lesser woman would flinch away in response, expecting either another kiss or a physical invasion.

Caitlin stays still. He's never been more pleased in his life, and he's never wanted anything more.

More.

The back of his pointer finger is on her cheek, soft and noncommittal, and as he traces her image from cheek bone to jaw, she takes a quick draw of breath in and holds it.

He will remember this. Always.

"Oh, and I do love the bike," he whispers to her before turning and sauntering away into the street. Her eyes follow him the whole way, and he doesn't have to look back at her to know it.

He knows. With some part of him--heart, gut, something--he just... knows.

The black bike takes him easily, and he gives one last parting look at its earlier brother before starting his way down the street. Her eyes are still on him. He is steady--the thrill he just had is more than the motorcycle could ever offer him.

He stays on his side of the road.

His wheels are both on the ground.

Caitlin Todd swims around in his mouth. And he holds her in his head and in his eyes the whole time.


Ma'aminim
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