Title: Transformation of Things
Category: Drama, Character Study
Characters: Ari Haswari, Ziva David
Spoilers: Through 3x02 "Kill Ari Part II." There is a mention of something from 6x24 "Semper Fidelis," but it's not really a spoiler.
Disclaimers: Neither NCIS nor any of its characters belongs to me.
Summary: A character study of Ari.
Notes: Thank you to Rose Wilde Irish and Pierson for betaing and for title ideas.
There is only one photograph that Ari owns. It's very old. The image shows three children standing next to each other - one boy, the eldest, and two girls. The boy is close in age to the first girl, perhaps only three or four years older; they are both much older than the second girl. The younger girl's hand is tightly grasping the older girl's.
Ari carries the picture with him everywhere. It's sentimental, stupid, but in a way, it's his last connection to humanity. He gave his life to his father; his father, in turn, sold it to the devil. Despite all of his education; his love of classical music, cigars, and fine cars; and his medical training, Ari knows he is more monster than man.
There is only one person left in this world for whom he feels anything. Though he likes to think of those feelings as pure and selfless, some days he suspects that they, too, have become corrupted, just like his soul, and that his love for her has become self-serving.
He worries that she will follow in his footsteps, that their father will ruin her just like he has him. His sister should never live through what he has lived. Though she is an excellent liar, a skilled interrogator, and one of Mossad's best assassins, there is still something untainted in her, something good and genuine. It is fragile but strong; she is strong, but all things eventually break with enough pressure. He can see the cracks already, faint as they are.
Despite her youth, she becomes his control officer; not a joke, as sick as it is, but a quiet warning from their father: if you step out of line, it is she who will suffer. She is their father's bargaining chip, an effort to control Ari. She remains ignorant of this father-son power play, of course; she loves their father unquestioningly and still sees him as someone who can do no wrong. Ari knows better; but as her brother, he does nothing to dissuade her of her illusions. He knows not to waste his breath - though she loves him, her loyalties lie with their father and with Mossad.
His silence is his way of protecting her, he thinks at first, but eventually he realizes it is really a way of protecting himself. When she looks at him, he wants to see nothing but affection in her eyes; he wants always to be her beloved brother, held close to her heart. At least then, one person in the world will think of him fondly; there is, after all, no one else left to love him.
His father collected butterflies. His specimens came from different parts of Israel and from his missions throughout the world. He captured all of them himself, killed them all himself. At home, he would spend hours relaxing, pinning, and mounting each butterfly; it was careful, painstaking work, and he was a perfectionist. Once finished, the insects were set in glass frames and displayed on the walls of his study. Eli David was very proud of his butterflies; yet when he spoke of them, there was something cool and calculating in his eyes.
Ari always felt sick whenever he saw them, for reasons that he could never explain. They were beautiful, of course; but some intangible, nameless quality about them, their dead, dried bodies encased in glass, their wings extended, as if killed in mid-flight, terrified him. It began as an uneasiness in the pit of his stomach, ended as a clawing sensation in the back of his mind, in his chest. Once in a while, he woke from nightmares of furious beating, paper-light razor-sharp wings. He rarely entered his father's study; when he had to, he avoided staring at the walls.
He was eleven when he realized that the way his father looked at the butterflies was the same way he looked at Ari.
They meet in Spain at Ziva's insistence. It has been two years since he has last seen her; despite everything, she has changed little since then. Sadly, the same is not true for himself.
The dossiers she has prepared are detailed, thorough. He commissioned them after his break-in to NCIS. In his hotel room, she lays the files out on the table in front of him. He examines each of them individually, committing them to memory, being careful to note the information about Gibbs' first wife and daughter, which should prove useful. However, it is Caitlin Todd's file that he pays the most attention to. Ziva notices.
"Ari," she says, her voice an admonition.
"Special Agent Todd is interesting, isn't she?" he says casually.
"You need to look out for Special Agent Gibbs," she says, tapping Gibbs' dossier. "He is dangerous, Ari. He means to kill you, if he can. Don't underestimate him."
Ziva sometimes worries about him like a mother would, though she remembers little of her own. In a distant way, it reassures him, even pleases him, though her worry is ultimately unnecessary. Whatever his father uses as a threat, be it carrot or stick, no one can control him, not even his little sister. He wonders if she unconsciously senses this, though he plays the dutiful double agent well; or perhaps she still sees the boy who kissed her forehead when she fell down, stroked her hair when she cried. He is sorry to say that that boy no longer exists; that boy died the day his mother was murdered.
"I will handle Gibbs," he answers.
He understands men like Gibbs; men driven by pride and revenge, their own personal ideas of justice, by obsessions; men like his father. They are easy to manipulate. Ari is self-assured, confident. He does not believe he can be beaten. After all, he is the best. This, even his father knows - his father most of all. His father created him, molded him from the second he was born (no, from even before his birth, even before his conception). The prized mole, the product of a man's ambition and lust for power, could not be anything but the best.
Ziva's fingers toy with her necklace, a nervous habit that she does only around him, though she is not aware of it.
Ari gave her that necklace for her eighteenth birthday. The Star of David, though he no longer believes in God. He fastened it around her neck, pressed a kiss in her hair. She thanked him, her eyes bright, not knowing that he was secretly mourning; at eighteen, she would be conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces for two years; after that, inevitably, she would join Mossad, like her father, her uncles and her cousins before her. She would not escape their father's web.
Seeing her quiet distress, Ari touches her face with his hand. Whether it is the automatic reaction of a brother comforting a sister, or the automatic reaction of a liar pretending remorse, he does not know. She smiles, looking up at him, but her dark, expressive eyes remain troubled.
Tali was sweet and good-natured; youth gave her an endearing, endless optimism. Ari was not as close to her as he was to Ziva, having become a sleeper agent when Tali was still a child, but he loved her; Tali would always be his little sister. Ziva, of course, adored Tali. In some ways, Tali was more a daughter to her than a sister. And Tali was their father's favorite.
Ari did not learn of Tali's death until three months after it occurred. He was not there to comfort Ziva, to grieve with her; he was not there for her when, thirsting for revenge, blinded by anguish and rage, she spent every waking moment of her life, for five months straight, tracking down the Hamas cell responsible for the bombing; he was not there when she finally found and executed each member, one-by-one.
It is one of his few regrets in life.
Killing is natural to him, as it is to all of Mossad. He gains a professional satisfaction from each kill, will even admit to some sort of primal, primitive gratification, hardwired into mankind since the dawn of time; however, on a conscious level, there is no enjoyment. Sometimes there is a type of regret, a kind of intellectually-based sadness that is fundamentally meaningless; but normally, he feels nothing at all. To Ari, death is death, no matter whose death it is. He has killed many innocents before and will do so again, over and over; if this ever bothered him before (surely it did), it does not any longer. He does what he must.
That is not to say that he doesn't have his own moral code. He does not like needless death, for example, and he will not harm a fellow doctor if he can help it, in honor of when he, too, once saved lives instead of ended them. But these principles are not based out of any genuine feeling or emotion; it is a purely cerebral exercise. Monsters can be rational, even reasonable. It is not always what people do that makes them monsters; it is also why.
For Ari, there is only one kill that he looks forward to; there is only one kill that he wants. The desire consumes his thoughts when he lies awake at night, imagining how it will taste. He is sure, that when he is standing over his father's body, looking down at his father's dead face, that it will be the first and only time that he experiences pleasure at having killed.
He does not deny that he is attracted to Caitlin. She is lovely, undoubtedly, but he has met and bedded women more beautiful. No, it is her defiance, her strength that intrigue him. Unusual, certainly - there are so few people who stir anything within him.
He is skilled at the art of manipulation; he is a consummate actor capable of faking, with complete sincerity, believable, convincing emotion. Whatever is necessary, he delivers; he is who he has to be, whenever it is required. He alternates between the primary roles of devout terrorist, patriotic Mossad officer, dutiful son, even (he can admit it; admit it to himself) loving brother. Truthfully, however, he feels little of what he pretends. People, other than his sister, other than his father, are nothing to him; at most, they are mere flies, annoying but easily killed; usually, they are even less than that - abstract things to be used and discarded.
But Caitlin. There is some unseen force that draws him to her. He thinks that she would like Ziva, that Ziva would like her. In another life, perhaps he might have even been able to love her. But this is the reality that he lives in, and nothing like that can ever occur.
He would like to blame his downfall on his fascination with the American woman, but he knows that this is not true. His descent into hell began long ago, the smell of burning strong before he ever knew of her existence.
Sometimes he dreams of a happier time, when his mother still lived, when Tali was alive, when Ziva smiled with eyes unclouded by suffering.
Sometimes he dreams of red, of blood, of himself drowning in his hatred for his father.
Usually, he dreams of nothing.
When the opportunity presents itself, he cannot help but take it.
Gibbs is one of the few people who has managed to get under his skin. Like Caitlin. But rather than fascination, Gibbs evokes a calm, cold hatred. In Gibbs, he has an enemy perhaps worthy of his interest. In Gibbs, he sees his father. Killing Gibbs will not be as satisfying as killing Eli David, but he will take what he can get - for now. Of course, for this to be effective, he cannot do it in cold blood. That would be too obvious; it must look like suicide. Fortunately, he knows Gibbs' weakness - the women in his life.
Caitlin's death is (intellectually) regretful but necessary. At least she will make a beautiful corpse - he has ensured that much.
He calls Ziva hours later. He is certain that, by now, Mossad has learned of what has occurred.
"Ari, what have you done?" his sister demands.
"I did not kill Agent Todd," he lies smoothly, sincerely. "Believe me, Ziva."
She takes a deep breath, considering his words, his voice. He knows how to play her, his sister; he does not worry, any longer, about whether he is using her - he knows that he is. For father and son alike, she is a chess piece, to move and place at their will; she is the queen - strong, deadly, with a fluid grace, but ultimately expendable, and she will lay down her life for the king.
Ziva slowly releases her breath. He hears relief in that sigh, belief. She says, "I am being sent to D.C. I don't know how much I can do. Gibbs wants you dead; he demanded your head from Mossad."
Ari remembers the bullet to his shoulder, a memento from a year earlier; he remembers laughing as Gibbs walked away; he remembers the look on Gibbs' face as Caitlin's body fell to the ground; he pictures Gibbs' expression in death. Unknowingly, he is smiling. He feels confident - no, it's much more than that. Exhilarated. He's excited in a way he has not been in years.
"I will be out of the country before he can find me," Ari says, careful to keep his voice controlled. "Bring the papers, Ziva."
"I will." She pauses, then says, voice soft, "Ari, be careful. I love you."
"And I you." The words flow effortlessly, carelessly from his lips. "Until then, Ziva."
The stage is finally set, this play for two. All that is missing is the second player, the other audience.
He sits in a basement that smells of wood and sawdust, sweat and bourbon, looking at an old, creased photograph against the light of a small flame. Once, at the sight of the three innocent faces, he swears he could feel something. What, he is no longer sure. The scene in the photograph was a lifetime ago, so far away he could easily believe it never even happened. Perhaps it never did.
He folds and tucks the picture into his pocket where, two hours later, his sister will find it. When she holds it in her hand, she will cry - for him, for their sister, for herself.
But she is not on his mind any longer.
Now, there is only a thirst for blood, a hunger. His fingers grip the rifle tightly, not in fear but in anticipation. The monster that has always dwelt within him has risen, drawn to the surface by the temptation of sin. He embraces it. He understands, accepts, that this is who he truly is. Whether by nature or nurture is irrelevant; such philosophical contemplations are for men, and he is not a man.
He waits, biding his time. In the air he imagines the intoxicating, bittersweet fragrance of death.
He does not realize it is his own death that he smells.
Things do not work as he planned.
He has underestimated his sister's strength; he has underestimated her. Perhaps, in the recesses of his heart, in the part of him that still loves her unconditionally, he would be relieved to know that, in killing him, she may find the escape she so desperately needs; she may break free after all. But he does not know this, and he never will.
He barely feels the shot, the final kiss from his sister. Death is fast, fleeting, near instantaneous. The bullet passes through his brain, as gentle as a mother's caress, like the delicate brush of a butterfly's wings.