Written for KidonDarkAngel as part of NFA's 2009 Secret Santa Exchange
Disclaimer: NCIS and all related concepts do not belong to me; I have just borrowed the characters for my own enjoyment. And the title 'Defying Gravity' is ripped, obviously, from the song of the same name from the musical 'Wicked'.
Genre: Romance, Drama, Angst
Summary: Fifteen years ago, seventeen year old Caitlin Todd met a man. After a whirlwind romance that spanned the three weeks Caitlin was in Paris, Caitlin never saw him again . . . until now. Fifteen years later, Kate Todd is an NCIS agent and when a new case comes in, Kate is shocked to learn that her lover, Ari Haswari, is in the middle of it all. Will Kate betray her heart and turn in the man she has loved for fifteen years? Or will she follow her heart and let love triumph?
A/N A total AU! Kate still joined NCIS as per 'Yankee White', but the Ari arc and subsequently 'Twilight' never happened. Ziva David never joined the team in Kate's place, though Jenny still succeeded Director Morrow as NCIS director.
"I don't want you getting lost, Caitlin," Ainsley Todd told her seventeen year old daughter, wagging a stern finger in her face. She was sitting on the bed in their Parisian hotel room, while Caitlin was standing near the door.
"Mu-um," Caitlin groaned, embarrassed. "It's not as though I'm going by myself. Rory is coming with me," she assured her mother, referring to one of her older brothers who were in the room next door.
"Humph, yes." Ainsley did not look too convinced. Rory, while he would do everything for his little sister, was a bit of a flake and if she wanted to, Caitlin could easily throw him off and wander off to explore the city herself.
"Don't worry, mum." Caitlin walked over to her mum and placed a reassuring hand on her arm. "I'll be fine. Rory and I will be fine. You go and enjoy your wine tasting with dad." Caitlin kissed her mum on the cheek. "You deserve it."
With a bright smile, Caitlin bounced back over to the closed door. "I'll just go and see if they're ready." She pulled open the door and Ainsley heard her daughter pad next door and knock rapidly on the wood.
The door to the room housing her husband and her sons opened with a squeak. There was some quiet chatter and then two sets of footsteps retreated back into her and Caitlin's room. Rory, her third eldest, poked his head into the room while Caitlin waited outside.
"We'll be fine, mum," Rory echoed Caitlin's earlier sentiment. "Don't worry. Our Katie will be safe with me."
"Don't call me Katie," Caitlin's muffled voice barked and Ainsley heard the tell-tale sound of a fist hitting a shoulder.
Rory laughed and rubbed his shoulder out of habit. "It seems the queen has spoken. We'd best be off before she tries to take my head off again. I won't keep her out too long and if anything bad happens, I will whisk her back here immediately and lock her up in the tallest tower!"
"Hey!" Caitlin protested.
Rory laughed again and blew a kiss to his mum. "See you later, mum." He said to Caitlin, "Say goodbye to mum, Katie."
"Don't call me Katie," Caitlin shrieked again. Then she lowered her voice and said sweetly, "I love you, mum. We'll be back soon, promise."
"Oh, go on then," Ainsley laughed, giving them a haphazard wave. "Go have some fun and leave us old dears to ourselves."
"Yes, ma'am," Caitlin saluted and bounced down the hallway. She glared at her older brother as he took some last minute instructions from their mum. "Rory, come on."
"Coming, little missy." Rory threw one more wave at his mother and then closed the door with a quiet click. He reached the spot where Caitlin was standing and put his hands on his hips, grinning.
"So what did you have in mind?"
Without saying anything, Caitlin grabbed her older brother's hand and dragged him down the hallway and all the way to the elevator.
It had taken less than ten minutes to ditch Rory. Caitlin felt that it had broken a new record. She knew her mum would be angry if she ever found out, but Rory was unlikely ever to tell because he'd get in more trouble. As long as they could synchronize their stories, they'd be fine. It wasn't the first time Rory had "conveniently" forgotten about her; the pair had been doing this since she was fifteen. Every time she did feel bad for defying her parents, but sometimes in order to experience life, she had to do things differently. It wasn't as though what she was doing was illegal.
Now, she was carefully carrying a cup of coffee she had bought with some of the loose change her parents had given her. From their hotel and this small outdoor café, Caitlin could see the Eiffel Tower. She couldn't imagine anything better than sitting back, relaxing and watching as . . . she hit something solid.
Caitlin yelped as she lost her balance. Her carefully carried coffee toppled to the ground and the force of the impact threatened to do the same to her. But instead of following the same path as her coffee cup, two strong hands were wrapped around her waist, pulling her upright.
"Are you okay?" The voice who spoke those words was deep and exotic, though it definitely wasn't a French accent.
Slowly, Caitlin looked up and found herself gazing into dark brown eyes. She squeaked and mentally cursed herself for making a fool of herself. Caitlin immediately extracted herself from the man's grip and stepped back, without ever taking her eyes off him. Now that she saw him in full, she deduced that he was in his mid twenties and definitely foreign. It wasn't just his eyes that were dark, it was all of him. He was tall and handsome and . . . Caitlin immediately snapped out of those thoughts. No, she wouldn't.
"Are you okay?" he asked again in that rich accent of his.
Caitlin started to shake her head, and then remembered what shaking one's head meant and quickly changed it to a nod. With it she offered a meek, "Yeah."
He grinned at her. At first it made her uncomfortable and she considered getting out of the situation pronto, but after a moment it started to feel warm, though Caitlin was still wary. His dark chocolatey eyes met hers and she found herself blushing. And this wasn't something Caitlin Todd did often. She knew she wasn't unfortunate looking, but she wasn't used to attention from boys.
"May I buy you another coffee?" he offered, gesturing to the spilt one.
"What?" Caitlin said dumbly without thinking. "What? Oh. No. That's not necessary." She tried to give him an easy grin, but it came out more a weak and pathetic smile.
"Surely you wouldn't deny a man the chance to by a beautiful woman a drink," he said smoothly with an almost twinkle in his eye. Caitlin was captivated.
"Um . . . um . . ." She was full on blushing now. The boys back home never oozed this much charm, this much sophistication. She thought back to all the times her mother had warned her never to accept a drink from a stranger and especially not one from someone that was significantly older than herself.
The man smiled again, the smile reaching all the way to the corner of his eyes. At that moment, Caitlin threw away everything her mother had ever told her and warned her about and said, "Sure."
Caitlin chose a table near the blooming spring flowers while the man she didn't even know the name of ordered them two new coffees. It was a little chilly, but the sun was shining brightly and the sky was crystal clear; it was a perfect Parisian day. Caitlin soaked up the sun as the dark haired man weaved his way through the other tables to reach her. He paused for a moment when he reached the table, and gave Caitlin a coy smile. She blushed again. He laughed and pulled out a chair.
"Do I really intimidate you that much?" he asked in his accented voice as he sat down. There was no malice in his words or a condescending tone; it was simply an observation.
Caitlin shook her head quickly, almost too quickly. She wasn't used to such attention and such piercing gazes from a guy, especially since she went to all-female Catholic schools for the duration of her education. "No . . . no," she squeaked out.
He laughed again. He reached over to pour himself a glass of water from the glass bottle sitting on the table. As he did, his fingertips lightly brushed over the back of Caitlin's wrist. She shuddered slightly as his fingers made contact with her skin. A warm, spine tingling rush of pleasure exploded in her chest and time stopped. Even the man in front of her seemed partially dazed for a moment.
Then just as quickly as it happened, the contact between them broke. He grasped the water bottle and lifted it over to his side of the table. Caitlin blushed again, watching as he poured himself some water, and then some for her without even asking. He popped the lid of the bottle back in place and pushed it away from him. The man picked up his glass and brought it to his lips. Caitlin watched, fascinated.
"So," he started with a charming smile as he placed the glass back onto the table, "I don't believe we have been introduced. I'm Ari."
"Caitlin," she blurted out in response. "Caitlin Todd." She failed to notice that she was the only one out of the pair to revel her last name.
Ari murmured something she thought was French, but couldn't quite make out, and lifted her hand with a delicate tug. He kissed the back of her hand in true gentlemanly fashion and if Caitlin hadn't been smitten before, she was now. "A pleasure to meet you, Caitlin." His words, especially her name, just seemed to roll off his tongue.
They were cut off from any further conversation as the pretty young blond waitress brought them their coffee. Ari grinned at the waitress, almost flirtatiously, and nodded his thanks as his ordered coffee was set in front of him. Caitlin offered a small, meek smile and a quiet "thank you" as her's was placed on the table.
At a loss as what to say next since Ari seemed quite content sitting and sipping his coffee, Caitlin blurted out, "How much do I owe you? For the coffee, I mean."
Ari shook his head and brushed off her offer to pay. "Nonsense. Consider it a welcome to Paris offering."
"I've been in Paris a week already," Caitlin replied and was glad to note that she didn't blush at all this time.
"Well, then consider it a gift for a beautiful woman," Ari amended with that smile of his. He was so utterly charming and captivating with those dark eyes of his and his foreign accent that Caitlin couldn't tear her gaze away from his face.
There it was again, the whole beautiful woman thing. Caitlin couldn't remember a time when someone other than her mother in the past year had ever called her a woman . . . a girl, a lady, a kid . . . sure, but never a woman. Now he had said it twice. And Caitlin knew she wasn't plain, but had never really considered herself as beautiful before.
"So, Caitlin," Ari asked as she sipped from her coffee, "may I ask why you find yourself in a beautiful Parisian café on a Tuesday?"
"Holidays," Caitlin replied. "School holidays, actually. I've just finished my senior year and so my parents thought it would be nice to drag us kids off on one last holiday before I go to college next year."
"You are eighteen, then?" Ari asked casually.
For a moment, Caitlin thought it just a teensy weensy little odd that he was asking her age, but she brushed it off as a valid question to move the conversation along. She almost, almost considered lying and upping her age a few years because deep down she wondered if there was a very specific reason as to why he wanted validation of her adult status.
"Seventeen," Caitlin replied before she really had a chance to stop and think about it. Then she added hurriedly, "But I'm turning eighteen next month."
Ari said nothing and there was a quiet lapse in conversation. Caitlin could feel the heat rising to her cheeks again so in an effort to ward it off, she asked, "What brings you to a Parisian café in the middle of the week?"
"I was in the neighborhood," Ari replied cryptically. At Caitlin's confused look, he laughed. "Really, I was. But I am also here on a working holiday."
"Where do you work?" Caitlin was curious. Although she had already decided to study psychology at college next year, she liked hearing about the occupations of others just in case she ever changed her mind.
"I work for an import and export company," Ari replied smoothly and convincingly, and in such a way that Caitlin would never know he was lying through his teeth.
"Oh? Interesting. What do you import and export?" Caitlin asked, hoping like hell she wasn't pressing too deep into what was considered "personal".
"Precious gems," Ari replied immediately. "Diamonds, stones, that kind of thing. I will have to show you some one day; beautiful stones for a beautiful woman."
Caitlin stilled. That last sentence implied that there would be another one day. Did she want that? Did she? She had only just met Ari and she knew what her mother would say. But she had already fallen hard and fast for the handsome man in front of her . . . she really didn't have much experience with these kinds of matters.
"I . . ." Caitlin opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off by a shrill, screeching sound. Caitlin looked around dazed, while Ari fished in his bag and pulled out a large brick thing that Caitlin identified as a cell phone.
He put a finger to his lips to indicate quiet and then pressed a button on the phone, bringing it to life. Caitlin could not understand a word of the rapid-fire words coming from Ari's mouth; it definitely wasn't English and definitely wasn't French. The call lasted less than thirty seconds and once Ari had hung up, he stood.
"Caitlin, I am sorry," he apologized, "but I have to go."
"Emergency at work," he replied swiftly, grabbing his bag from its position on the floor. He leaned over, picked up her wrist delicately and kissed the back of her hand again. "Don't worry, Caitlin," he said laughing as he took in Caitlin's rather devastated face. "I am thinking we will meet again."
"Huh . . .?"
But Caitlin didn't get a reply because the handsome man who called himself Ari was already halfway across the café. Caitlin watched, almost longingly, as he departed. She had never met anyone like him before and she regretted that they didn't have a chance for a longer conversation . . . he seemed fascinating as well as charming.
Because really, did she actually expect to see him again?
Caitlin flicked through the television channels. She was reclining on one of the beds in the hotel room. She was wearing a pair of sweatpants, a tank top and her newly washed hair framed her face. Her ankles were crossed and she watched the television blankly.
Caitlin was bored.
It was early evening, the day after she had met Ari. Her parents had gone out for dinner and had instructed her to stay put and watch some television. Unfortunately, most of the shows on the TV were in French and Caitlin's French wasn't good enough to be able to follow more than a few sentences. The couple of channels that were in English held repeats of TV shows that she had either seen or had no interest in seeing.
She grumbled to herself and flicked the channel. Instead of the news, she found a soap opera that was even less exciting. Her brothers had gone out as well, and since she was the youngest and the only girl she had to stay behind because it was "too dangerous". Besides, they wouldn't have wanted their little sister hanging around with them. The thought made Caitlin stick out her tongue.
There was a knock at the door. Caitlin started. Who on earth would be knocking on her day this time at night, let alone in a foreign country where she knew absolutely no one. Hesitantly, she turned down the volume of the television and cautiously approached the door.
"Who is it?" she called.
"Room service," the very un-French reply came.
Caitlin could practically hear the grin in the voice behind the door. It took her a second to place the familiar accent, but when she did, she gaped at the door. Seriously? He was here? On the doorstep of her hotel room? Caitlin had never been overly fussed with following the latest and greatest fashion trends, but looking down at her sweatpants and tank top right at this moment made her wish she had something nicer on. Getting changed into something more decent would take too long so with a deep breath (and a quick glance through the peephole just to make sure it was who she thought it was), she clicked open the door.
"Caitlin," Ari commented lightly when she finally pulled open the door. He looked pretty much the same as he had yesterday, though he looked a little more tired and had some slight stubble on his chin.
She could feel his eyes caressing her body. Awkwardly, she hugged her arms and squeaked, "Ari? What are you doing here?"
"I was in the neighborhood," he replied, using the same line as he'd used yesterday. He grinned charmingly at her. "Are you going to let me in or must I stand out here?"
"Oh, what? Right." Caitlin was flustered. Boys . . . well, men . . . did not just appear on her doorstep and especially did not ask to come it. This was all new territory for Caitlin. Despite this, she stepped backwards and out of the doorway, gesturing to Ari to step inside the hotel room.
He did, wiping his feet on the doormat. Once he was in the room, Caitlin closed the door with a quiet bang. She thanked the Gods that all the rest of her family were out and would stay out for another couple of hours. Caitlin didn't even want to think how her parents would react if they had found Ari on their doorstep.
"What are you doing here?" she asked again, slightly more composed this time. Just to be on the safe side, Caitlin put some distance between her and Ari. He remained hovering nearby the door and she moved around so that one of the single beds was now in between her and the older man she'd only met yesterday, but who was standing and grinning in her hotel room.
"I wanted to see you," Ari replied simply.
Well, that was all well and good, but how on earth did he find her? She distinctly remembered not telling him much about herself other than her name, age and the fact she was on holiday before college next year.
"How did you find me?" Caitlin asked, warily.
Ari tapped the side of his nose and replied cryptically, "I have contacts."
On some level, that creeped Caitlin out a little, but that feeling was overruled by the warmth that had engulfed her upon seeing Ari again. Did he really mean what he said? That he wanted to see her?
"Would you like a drink?" she finally decided to ask. The silence that had overcome them after Ari's contact comment was only slightly less awkward than the conversation from yesterday. At least she wasn't blushing constantly, though now that she thought about it . . .
"No, I'm fine," Ari replied, declining Caitlin's offer of a drink.
"Right. Okay." Well, this was awkward, Caitlin thought.
But Ari didn't seem to think so. As though he owned the place, he took a seat at the small circular table. He shucked off his coat and draped over the back of his chair. Keeping her distance, Caitlin sat down on the bed. Self-consciously, she tugged at the hem of her blue tank top.
"So," Ari said casually as though he did this every day, "how are you finding Paris? It must be different from the U.S." She hadn't told him she was from America, but it must have been obvious with her accent.
"Yeah, I guess," Caitlin replied. "But I like it. I like the history and the culture, and I especially like the food." She gave him a tentative grin.
"I agree with you on the food," Ari said, looking completely relaxed and at ease sitting at her hotel dining table. "But nothing beats one of my mother's full dinners."
"I'm guessing you don't mean burgers and fries," Caitlin noted.
"Where is that accent from anyway?" Caitlin blurted out before she had a chance to stop herself. This time she really did blush deeply. The accent had been tugging on her nerves since she'd first heard it, but she hadn't planned on asking about it in such a blunt way.
Ari laughed. "You are not subtle, are you?" At Caitlin's horror-stricken face, he added with a shrug, "I like women who are direct. And yes, my accent is Israeli."
"From Israel?" Caitlin clarified dumbly. She cursed herself and then mentally headslapped herself. What a silly question to ask.
Ari laughed again. "Yes. Israel."
"So your family's in Israel, then?" Caitlin asked curiously.
Ari paused and gave a stilted reply, "Yes. But my mother is deceased. And I have two younger half-sisters; the eldest is a few years younger than you."
Caitlin was regretting ever asking the question. "Oh, I'm so sorry."
Ari shrugged. "It was a while ago. And my stepmother is not too bad, though I believe her health is deteriorating." He gave her a bitter smile. "Not that my father cares all that much."
"Surely . . ."
Ari cut her off, saying, "My father is a complicated man, Caitlin. He is what you call a workaholic." He shrugged again. "My stepmother struggles, but I do what I can for my sisters."
"I have a sister," Caitlin said randomly, though it did pertain to the topic at hand, "an older sister. And three older brothers. Samantha did not come with us this time, since she's the oldest and busy and has a family. My three brothers are here, though. Rory, the youngest, is meant to be looking after me, but I know how to work him."
"I bet you do." The suggestiveness in Ari's voice was all but lost on innocent, young Caitlin. "I'd better be careful then," Ari continued smoothly. "We wouldn't want your brothers to go all brotherly on you."
"What? Yeah. Oh dear." Caitlin hadn't thought about her brothers and how they might react after finding out that she was keeping the company of an older man. It wouldn't be pretty, she summarized.
Suddenly, Caitlin heard footsteps and approaching voices from the hallway. With wide eyes, Caitlin recognized the muffled voices as belonging to her brothers. But they weren't meant to be back for another hour or so! If they were coming back, it was 99.99% likely that they would come up and check on her.
"You have to hide," Caitlin hissed quietly. Gone was the carefree and laid back face Ari was wearing, and instead a look survival appeared across his face.
"My brothers are home early," she clarified. "If they find you here . . ." Caitlin didn't need to finish her sentence because they both knew how it would end.
The footsteps stopped and there was the telltale sound of the keycard going into the electronic lock of a door. Through the walls, Caitlin could hear a muffled, "Someone go and check on Katie."
"Hide," Caitlin hissed again.
This time, Ari heeded her warning. He stood up and moved swiftly across the room, and lay down around the side of the bed that wasn't visible to the door. Rapidly, Caitlin threw back the covers on her freshly made bed and dove in, pulling the covers up so that she'd hide her tank top and her sweatpants. As she heard the keycard slipped into the lock, Caitlin reached over and killed the main lights. She closed her eyes and waited for the door to squeak open.
"Caitlin?" Rory's whispered voice echoed around the darkened room. "You awake."
Feigning the act of waking from a short nap, Caitlin blinked twice and looked over at the door. With her best morning voice, she snapped, "What? I was asleep, you know."
"But it's early." Rory looked skeptical.
Caitlin shrugged. "I was tired so I decided to go to bed early. It's not as though I could understand what was on TV."
"Hmmm, well, you have a point," Rory mused. "Okay. Since you're so tired, I'll leave you too it. I was going to ask if you wanted to come back to our room and watch a movie, but obviously you're not up to it."
"Obviously," Caitlin muttered. It was rare these days that her brothers would do anything with her out of their own free will. She would have loved to have gone, but she'd dug herself a hole and now she'd have to deal with it. Plus there was the small matter of the man hiding behind her bed.
"Well, good night," Rory said cheerfully, blowing his little sister a kiss.
"Night." Caitlin rolled over and pretended to snuggle up. She heard the click of the shutting door. She counted to thirty before reaching over and turning on the lamp.
Ari rose from his position on the floor and grinned at Caitlin. "That brought back memories.' He looked pointedly at Caitlin. "That was a little close."
Tell me about it, Caitlin thought darkly.
"Ari, you didn't have to do all . . . this." Caitlin gestured to the rug, the picnic basket and the small, secluded spot in a park. She was wearing a yellow sundress and sat cross-legged on the rug. Ari lay beside her, stretched out on his side.
He shrugged. "A Parisian holiday is not complete without a Parisian picnic," he replied in the accented voice Caitlin had gotten so used to over the past week.
"Well, whatever it is, I love it." Caitlin grinned dazzlingly. It was late afternoon and though it had been lovely and warm earlier, it had gotten a little chilly . . . not that Caitlin had noticed that much, her attention had been focused on Ari.
"Good." Ari stretched his legs and yawned. Empty containers that previously held food were scattered around and empty plates were stacked up in a pile near the wicker basket.
"I've never had someone take me on a picnic like this before," Caitlin continued, almost dreamily. She cocked her head to the side and remarked, "Well, I haven't exactly been on many dates before either."
Caitlin nodded sheepishly. She had gotten better with her blushing, but still some of the comments made by the older man meant that the heat rushed to her face.
"I don't believe you."
Caitlin nodded again.
"Their loss," Ari shrugged, sitting up. He leaned in and kissed her quickly and chastely. He'd started doing that on their second "date". At first Caitlin had been surprised, but she had quickly come to love the quick kisses. Despite all his charm and flirtations, Ari had never done anything untoward to her and the brief kisses were as physical as they got.
"Mmmm, totally." Caitlin uncrossed her legs and stretched them out in front of her. She raised her arms and stretched them too. Even though it was still relatively early, Caitlin felt lazy and tired. A gust of chilly wind rippled past and with her uncovered arms, Caitlin shivered.
"Here." Ari sat up and slipped out of his jacket. He placed it around Caitlin's shoulders and she pulled it tight, thinking how very teen romance movie the gesture was.
"Thanks," Caitlin replied softly. The jacket smelt like him, like liqueur, coffee and something . . . a little dangerous?
Ari lay back down and rested a warm hand on the bare skin of her leg, near her ankle. It sent a warm tingle throughout Caitlin's body. "When do you have to be back?" he asked.
Caitlin looked at the delicate watch on her wrist, a Parisian present from her parents for finishing high school. "Soon, I guess. I'm meant to be meeting Rory around six thirty and then we'll head back in together."
Ari laughed. "And what, exactly, does Rory think you've been doing?"
"Hanging out with some friends," Caitlin shrugged. "He knows I can look after myself. And really, if I wasn't with you, I would be with him anyway. It's not as if I'm going to clubs and bars."
"So nobody knows about us?"
"Nope," Caitlin shook her head. She knew her parents would go right off at the thought of Ari, even though he was kind and gentle and totally not a sleaze.
Ari leaned in for another chaste kiss and Caitlin swore she heard a "good" somewhere in there, but she couldn't be sure. Ari smiled charmingly at her and looked at his own watch. "The sun should be going down soon. You have time to watch the sunset?"
Caitlin nodded and the little girl inside her who'd dreamed of a prince coming to sweep her off her feet bounced around happily. Ari was no prince, granted, but he was everything else her young heart had dreamed of; she could scarcely believe it was real.
She wanted it to last forever.