Sereifah

Author: B. Cavis

Rating: PG-13
Category: Romance, Angst

Spoilers: Bete Noire, Reveille

Disclaimer: Not my characters, not my show, I make no money. Not on this or anything else.

Sniff.

Author's Note: You guys have been amazing throughout this whole thing, and I love you for it. I was so scared of rejection when I started this, and you proved me wrong. Thank you all for your feedback and help, and enjoy this last bit of the story.

I will be following this series up with another one, called the Pure Series. And if any of you can figure out why I titled these the way I did, you deserve a big brain cookie.

Cookie...

Title translation: death by burning




He sees it on the news and starts to worry.

A bomb in a rosebush. Death with a sweet aroma. Could it? Did it? Has her end been brought to her thanks to the incompetence of the White House security? Has her life been taken from him because of his own lack in vigilance?

I should have been there, he thinks darkly. I should have been there to protect her, and I should have been there in that group to stop them before they got that far. I should have...

He sees it on the news and starts to hate himself even as he tears helplessly through her apartment to try and find some semblance of peace in his destruction. Every station is blasting it non-stop, and he switches back and forth between all of them in search of a list of the names of the dead. No one is releasing the information. No one wants him soothed or comforted, and he screams into his fists in anger and frustration as he digs out his cell phone from under the pile of clothing on her bedroom floor and desperately tries to get into contact with everyone he knows.

His handler at Mossad tells him it was a small offshoot of Hamas that no one had on their radar. Tells him, "It is not your fault and it is not our fault, it is the fault of the system," and when Ari asks who the fuck he can kill for making the system that way, the man grows quiet and mutters a few preludes to a goodbye.

Ari hangs up and wishes he could throw it across the room without shattering his only way of helping her.

He tries calling her cellphone and finds no answer. He tries calling her desk at work and gets nothing but a small little man picking up and saying, "Kate Todd's desk, um... she's not really here--" and hangs up.

His world is being threatened. His world is being shattered.

He puts his hands on his scalp and rubs his knuckles angrily against his head, trying to stimulate thought or some magical answer. He stares desperately down at his hands and his shoes, wondering what the hell he is supposed to do now.

Clandestine relationship, he reminds himself sourly, and knows that there is absolutely nothing he can do without putting her or them both in danger. He wants the whole world to shrivel up black and small and then give a horrible scream; he wants the whole world out there that doesn't consist of him and her and dares interfere in their lives to die.

What am I going to do?

He swallows down his fear, only to have it bubble back up his throat. No matter how many times he tells himself that she is fine--that the bomb went off in a deserted section, outside the ballroom, and that few were hurt by anything more than broken glass--he can still see her dead and cold body in his mind's eye, hands crossed over her chest as her skin turns pale and waxy.

What if she's dead?

What if she's injured?

What if she needs him and can't find him?

And Ari is on his feet, clothed in his black and leather skin and heading for the door, when the doorknob itself starts to turn. His breath catches and he freezes. She's home, she's here, and she's completely one hundred percent--

Jethro Gibbs.

Ari takes a stumbling step back, and searches desperately through his emotional closet for the draping of Hasswari to hide the look on his face. He pulls on the Arab half of himself and spits out his love and fear.

Bright blue eyes meet his, and in less than a second, a gun is pointed at his chest.

Status quo.

"What are you doing here?" asks the man who is responsible for the round scar on his shoulder that Caitlin laved her tongue over last night. There's murder in his stance, and somewhere behind those eyes there is something Ari has seen in the eyes of the dying and hopeless.

He wonders which category Gibbs fits into.

"I am looking for Caitlin," comes the reply, and now he is Hasswari and nothing can touch him if he doesn't want it to. Gibbs kicks the door behind him closed and steps forward purposefully. Hasswari doesn't move.

"She's not here."

"I noticed."

"I am, though," comes the dark reply. "I'm here, and you're here, and hey, look, one of us has a gun."

"That does make things more interesting. I do not suppose you are hiding Caitlin in your jacket, so I--" Gibbs pistol-whips him across the mouth hard and suddenly there is the tang of blood to add to his taste buds tonight and he really did not want this to be the way his evening ended tonight.

Hasswari falls to the floor and puts his arm over his bleeding lips and teeth. Pain.

Gibbs' gun is on his forehead. Death. "Give me a reason," he hisses, and the eyes are red-rimmed and deep. He's been crying and trying not to let it show. "Give me a reason to do it."

Hasswari says nothing. His mouth fills with blood and it oozes thick with saliva down his chin. He feels dirty. Unclean. The pain helps.

"Caitlin," Hasswari says in a voice that is too soft, "would not want you to become a murderer for me."

Gibbs' eyes flash, and the gun wavers slightly. "No," he agrees, "she wouldn't. So I suppose I would just have to lie to her."

"You do not wish to do that, either."

The air is stale and stuffy. Gibbs' hand is shaking and his mouth is twisted up angrily against his face. The interaction is causing him pain--he wants nothing more than to be back by her bedside with Tony and Abby and Ducky, and talk with the doctors about her life and her future.

She has done the same for him, he knows, and he can't imagine not being there for her. His protege. His unspoken apprentice in the ways of the world. Her hair is caked with blood and her body is limp and fractured somewhere in a hospital bed.

He wants her alive. He wants her healthy. He wants this scum out of her apartment, out of her space, out of the air that smells so much like her that Gibbs volunteered to go and get the things from her apartment that the doctors said she would eventually need. He came here in desperate search of solitude and a place to perhaps let a tear or two fall unhidden from his eyes.

And he found Ari Hasswari standing in her living room.

Blasphemy.

The gun is an escape. The blood dripping down his enemy's face pollutes her space, pollutes her smell, and he hates Hasswari for it more than anything else he's ever felt.

"Why are you here?" he asks again, and this time it's a growl. Hasswari licks his bottom lip.

"I was going to attempt to recruit Caitlin for an operation I am working on involving your country and mine and corruption in the government. But since you are here, I take it that will not be happening."

"Damn straight."

"May I ask where Caitlin i--"

"No."

The tuxedo is chafing his skin and making him wish he could tear into his own flesh to feel more alive. The gun no longer shakes, but now his jaw is chattering. Hasswari doesn't look at him.

Silence. The fridge hums in the next room. Kate's bruises and blood burn into his head and make him feel like screaming out to God or the Devil to save her and take scum like Hasswari instead. I'll make it easy, he promises. I'll even kill him for you.

And maybe that will help, purrs his bloodlust. Maybe if he sheds this man's blood the way Katie's has been shed, some kind of sick equilibrium will be reached and she can live on while he dies in her place.

Maybe he can save her with murder.

His fingers are tightening on the gun and his eyes are narrowed and full of tears and sweat. There's a ringing in his ears, and his breath is coming soft and even now and that scares him because he's too worked up to be breathing like a normal person.

Only he is. Only Hasswari's death is coming for him.

And suddenly, a gentle warmth wraps around his mind and the softness of Kate's hand on his echoes through his body, and the gun is on the ground and so is he, and his hands are clutching at his face with a desperate need that he never thought he'd feel again with a woman.

"Get out of here," he chokes out. "Get... Don't contact her, don't ever come back here. Or I'll kill you where you stand."

The body in front of him rises and suddenly there is a warm hand on his shoulder that vanishes just as quickly.

Ari looks back at the man crumpled on the floor and feels the tears in his throat spilling out hot and slick.

One last gift to you, Caitlin. One last one.

"You must love her very much to act in such a way," he says, and his voice is steady and clean. "It is good to have love returned by the woman as well." He lets out a dramatic sigh as his insides shatter and blow into the wind. "You are a lucky man."

And he walks out of the apartment, leaving Gibbs on his knees on the floor.

The bike warms his thighs but his entire body is shaking, and he isn't sure how he gets to his apartment, but somehow or another he is just there when he looks up again. The couch beckons him, but the shower needs him, and he throws himself into it clothes and all, sobbing for the woman who he just gave up for her own good.

Caitlin, echoes his head, and her name is a prayer and a curse on his days and nights.

Caitlin, he whispers into the small confines of the shower stall and washes away the part of him that she made happy and sane and safe.

Caitlin, he sobs into his own hands, and thinks that death and torture would be less painful. That he should have let Gibbs kill him because damn it all what the fuck does he have to live for now?

His missions? His bike? The thrills of the world that will never be as heart-pumping as a single brush of his finger against her skin could be?

He wills himself to die.

And Ari, that part of him that knew a woman's touch and loved the woman responsible for it, dies.

Hasswari rises from the thick ashes and shakes the dirt of emotional attachment off him.

Caitlin.

****

Her eyes haven't opened in three days when she finally gets around to waking up.

The white light on her face burns like nothing she's ever known before, and the first noise out of her throat is a whine followed immediately by a string of long rough curses. She's shaking all over--why is she so cold? Why can't they give her another blanket?

God, this is so...

"Motherfucking cock-sucking son of a thousand-man whore's cunt--"

Tony jerks away beside her bed. Abby is laughing and crying at the same time while clinging to his hand, and she throws her head back at the beauty of it all.

Ducky just presses the button to give her more morphine, before poking his head out of the door and calling for a nurse.

Kate's eyes open, and she glances around at everyone who has suddenly manifested themselves into her world. Gibbs hasn't changed out of his tuxedo. There's a hint of her blood on his white shirt, and the sight fascinates her.

The little things seem important now. She's alive.

Her lips hurt something fierce, and her stomach is so incredibly painful that she doesn't dare move her body. Her fingers grasp for something, and when Tony takes one hand while Gibbs takes the other, she knows what it was.

"What happened?" she asks, and the words crack as they hit the air. Gibbs swallows and Tony can't meet her eyes.

"There was a bomb in the bushes. One of the groundskeepers was... recruited."

Her head is spinning. The bushes? Her teeth clench down furiously and she shoots up, only to be forced back down by the overwhelming pain and the hands of the two men on her shoulders.

Ducky presses the button again desperately.

"Fuck," she grunts. "I am the biggest fucking moron on the face of the--how could I not have seen that? I know policy--I worked with him, for shit's sake! How?" She closes her eyes and breathes in shallowly through her nose. If she could remember her numbers, she'd count back from ten to calm herself.

The world is fading back into darkness. She can feel Tony and Gibbs softening around her.

"M'sorry," she whispers.

"Don't be," Gibbs says back.

"Just focus on getting better," Abby tells her, and there are tears of happiness in her rough voice. "That's what matters."

Ducky presses a fatherly kiss to her forehead. "It shall all be all right, my dear."

And maybe if she just lets herself sink, it will be. Maybe all she needs is rest for the world to repair itself.

Maybe...

Her mind detaches and her body slips into darkness as one last thought drifts across her mind as the pain settles into blissful unconsciousness and stops the shaking in her limbs. Gibbs and Tony remain on either side of her, and she can feel the presence of the others surrounding her body in warmth and love.

Ari, she thinks desperately as her life gets simpler. Where are you?

****

The next time she wakes up, everyone but Gibbs has gone home to become presentable again. She glances around the room and sees him asleep in a chair beside her bed, and wonders how she ever went from being a Secret Service agent with a hard-assed boss who barely noticed her to getting this man who sits by her side when she's sick and carries her out of burning buildings.

Lucky bitch, she thinks to herself, and the chuckle that she lets out hurts her ribs so much that she groans just loud enough to wake him. His eyes scan her over for serious injury before settling on her face.

"When was the last time you slept?" she asks.

"How are you feeling?" he changes the subject, and she sighs. Same old Gibbs.

"Like a building fell on my chest."

His lips offer a brief smile before he leans forward in his chair and lets out a deep breath. "You freaked Tony out for a minute or so there. Was convinced you were going to die and leave him to be my only partner again."

She finds herself smiling. "Oh, yeah?"

"He started hyperventilating."

If she wasn't so aware of how much laughing would hurt her again, she would do it. "Really. But not you?"

His shoulders hunch. "Nah. Tony doesn't scare me that much."

And ribs be damned, she's laughing, and he's smiling wide and happy, and the world is a brighter place because of it.

"I had faith in you," he says quietly, and she feels herself start to float on the morphine in her veins. Nice and fuzzy, just the way to be after a bomb blows up at your back. "I knew you'd pull through."

"Hm. Thank you." She stretches gently, cautious of her bones and her aches.

"It's easy to have faith in you, Katie," he says gently. "You seem to inspire it in people." A thick lock of hair has fallen in front of her face, and he brushes it aside gently. She follows the movement of his finger across her skin with her nerve endings.

"No," she protests softly. "You picked me up."

He looks away. "Yeah."

"You carried me out. Thank you."

"You're not that heavy," he offers reluctantly, and she smiles again. He is drawn to the sight.

"Still. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"What time is it?"

He glances down at his watch. "Two-thirty." She raises her eyebrows. "PM."

"You should be at work. Why aren't you at work?"

"Didn't feel like it today, Agent Todd." She smirks at the out he takes. She hit someone's sore spot. "Abby and Tony should show up in about ten minutes."

"Go home and take a shower." She reaches out a hand to him, and when he leans closer, she touches his cheek instead of taking his palm. He jerks, shocked. She runs her fingers over the days of stubble. "You need a shave."

"I'm thinking of growing a beard, actually," he jokes. "Looking rustic and manly."

"Don't. You have a gun under your arm--that's manly enough." She smiles and he smiles back and for some strange reason her ribs aren't nearly as painful anymore.

Maybe the morphine has started working.

"I'm glad you're all right," he says softly, and she smiles in reply.

"Me too."

"Kate, me gel!" comes Tony's loud voice from down the hallway, and Gibbs and Kate pull apart quickly, not from guilt but from the knowledge of how this looks, and when Tony and Abby bounce into the room, they are a respectable distance apart and Gibbs is reading a four day old paper.

Status quo.

****

Kate examines herself in the mirror, stitches and plaster, and winces cheerfully. Could have been worse. Could have been much worse.

Her back is the result of many hours of fine workmanship by cosmetic surgeons and trauma specialists. Once her father had found out what had happened, he had flown to DC to sit by her side and fret over her condition. It had been endearing, if a little bit amusing and frustrating, but the end result had been the same.

He had asked the tough questions--would she be able to be the same person she was before? Would she have to be on any special medication or require assistance? Would she be able to look at herself in the mirror without crying?

Hence the work that had been done on her back. Hence the reason that her skin was covered in bandages, but underneath was smooth clean flesh. She will have the thin white spider webs of scars running up and down her body in certain places, but they are not the red angry ones that she would have had if left untreated, and in time they will fade.

She anticipates Ari running his tongue down her skin, soothing the burns that cream and time can't, and shivers happily.

Two days until she is released. Two days until she can go home and sleep for two more weeks, before being allowed back to work and life and physical therapy to restore full strength in her left arm.

She can't wait. She truly can't.

She's tried her home phone several times, but he doesn't pick up and she understands why. He never gave her his cell phone number--he was always there when she needed him to be, and if he was in the middle of an op and she was on the other end of the line, it could put them both in danger.

Ari hasn't come to see her. She's upset, but she understands.

She puts the mirrors that she had the nurse bring her down on the nightstand and sighs. When she stepped out of the warmth of his embrace last week to go to the ball, she hadn't intended on not coming back for over a week. He had wanted her to stay and be wrapped by him once again.

Smart man.

She lets her head roll back on the pillow and her eyes close. The world has shrunk around her to include only the anticipation in her veins and the satisfaction of finally being left alone for the first time in over a week.

Solitude is golden.

"Miss Todd?"

And broken.

Her eyes open, and the nurse who she hasn't developed a relationship with over the past week comes in with a piece of paper in her hands. An envelope.

"This just came for you by courier."

She sticks her hand out, and when it's in between her palms and the nurse is finally gone, she brings it up to her nose and smells it with all five of her senses.

...Ari...

She tears into it quickly and cleanly, and finds herself holding a small piece of paper that feels insignificant and limp in her hand. She searches through the envelope for the rest of it, finds nothing, and shrugs.

Maybe he was pressed for time.

She unfolds it.

"Caitlin," it begins, and she smiles to herself gently at the name that no one else uses but him. She hasn't been "Caitlin" since her Christening.

Caitlin.

"I can't."

And it ends.

Kate sits in quiet confusion on her bed, hands clutching a piece of paper the size of an index card. "I can't," she mouths quietly. "Can't..."

There is a soft burn in her chest and behind her eyes and somewhere in her, something is being killed with love and kindness and it hurts more than violence.

I can't.

A wail breaks free of her lips. Something is biting at her chest and her entire body is shaking like it was when she woke up from the sleep of the wounded and what the hell does "I can't" mean?

She loves this man, her heart thinks desperately. Loves him for who he is and who he isn't... and he can't?

Caitlin Todd closes her eyes, clutching the piece of paper between her fist and her chest, and lets the part of her that answers to the name "Caitlin" die alone and cold in her mind and her body.

And there is no one left alive to mourn that loss.



Crioch.


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