This was an experiment of sorts, from a prompt/challenge by Samarkand over on LiveJournal. For anyone who's confused, Ari is/was Ziva's brother, Mossad double agent. Marcie is the invisible girl from the Season 1 BtVS episode 'Out of Mind, Out of Sight', who was taken away for assassin training by a government organisation.Warnings
for smut and dark themes. Marcie Ross and Ari Haswari are the creation of Joss Whedon and Bellisario et al respectively, and are not my property, nor are they being used for any profit other than to satisfy my own twisted curiosity.
Dark eyes search without appearing to search as he moves through the crowd like a ghost. He is there, and yet he is not. A necessity of his current occupation, the ability to remain unseen. Ari Haswari is a master of the game of subterfuge, an ace up someone elses’ sleeve.
He is oddly proud of this skill, and yet he is not.
“We are all born mad,” a female voice says evenly to his right, her accent as good as any native, though subtly shaded with a familiar inflection that marks her near-instantly as American.
Ari is seldom caught off-guard, and the feeling is unfamiliar to him, the faint beating of paper-thin wings in his chest. He pauses amidst the sea of chattering tourists seeking welcome respite from the sticky mid-summer heat and studies her, his face carefully set in an expression of studied indifference.
She is the kind of person that you would pass in the street without a second glance, and he almost does this very thing the first time he meets her.
He spent much of his adolescence straining for approval, wanting to be noticed; and so in turn he has made it part of his modus operandi to notice everything about others, and yet his gaze – hooded, fleeting and seemingly casual – slid from table to table and somehow skipped over her, only to turn sharp and decidedly not casual at the sound of the designated phrase.
“Some of us remain so,” he answers silkily, the pre-arranged key to unlock the coded door to someone else’s destruction, and for a brief moment her mud-brown eyes flash in a way that reminds him of a memory of Ziva as a child, wild-eyed and indignant at being accused of entering their father’s study and tampering with the glass-fronted case that held his weapons.
***** “It was not my fault,” she had countered, her tiny chin lifted in the defiant way that only the truly innocent – or the truly skilled – can manage. A counterpoint to the memory of the wide-eyed curiosity etched on her face as he had watched her run a delicate finger along the cool barrel of the revolver not an hour earlier.
Ziva has always been curious, has always been quick to defend herself and those she loves. Ari is not sure whether this will be her greatest asset or the instrument of her eventual destruction.
Still, he – who taught her to ride a bicycle, pressed his lips to her skinned knees when she wobbled and fell in the absence of his steadying hands – cannot bring himself to teach her this lesson; that loving someone does not absolve them of their sins.
He would like to think that his motives are good and pure, that he is shielding her from the realities of life, but such lessons are woven into the very fabric of their lives, their work, the David blood that pumps through the tapestry of their deceptively fragile veins. She will learn them eventually – it is inevitable.
In truth, he is not protecting her but himself (for he is under no illusion that there is anything good and pure left in him), or at least the reflected image of himself that he sees when she looks at him. The stone that shatters the unmarred surface of her clear affectionate gaze will not be cast by his hand, if for no other reason than that the panes of his own glass house are smeared and muddy, coated with blood.
When Ziva looks at him, he feels human, feels something other than a monster, even if he cannot distinguish what is real and what is part of his act – dutiful son, beloved brother, loyal double agent – anymore.
He is, after all, a realist; and it is real enough, what he feels for her.
**** When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.
This is the thought that springs into his head when he first watches the enigma that is Marcie Ross fade in and out of existence right before his disbelieving eyes. More a memory, really, of steel tables and the cloying scent of formaldehyde, too-loud voices echoing across bare tiled floors that had borne the brunt of too many timid halting strides.
The scent of lingering death creeping into nostrils and twining sly tendrils around lab coat cotton, until the clean bright smell of starch was drowned by the darkness as effortlessly as the nervous chatter of his fellow students was silenced by the unveiling of the corpses that once were clean and bright and alive.
He would like to say that his fingers did not falter over gleaming steel and blue-tinged flesh that first time, but he would be lying.
“A useful skill,” he says evenly, thrust back into the present by the tap tap tap of her impatient foot. She is waiting for his judgement, for his approval, or for something else. Ari, weary of giving the responses that are expected, simply stares at her evenly, bloodlessly. Her eyes flit to the ground like a chastised child, like she has been tested and found wanting.
“You can do this at will?” he asks, understanding now why they have been forced together.
Her eyes darken with the weight of old grudges. “You could say that.”
For the first time in months, he does not dream of ruined buildings and blood-spattered ground, of the screams of his mother – desperate and anguished in death as she seldom was in life – and the acrid smell of flesh turning to charcoal amid the flames.
Instead, he dreams of his sisters, of days gone by. “When I grow up," Ziva says in his dream-memory, "I'm going to be like Aba and stop the bad guys." Her lips are stained purple from the plums they have stolen from the neighbour's tree, stealthy and cat-like, playing at being rotse'akh. Baby-faced assassins, clutching scraps of paper in their hot little hands, sanction orders justifying the death of the fruit.
Behind her, Tali waits patiently, tiny plump hands filled with sweet ripe fruit. “Stop d’ bad guys,” she parrots, looking to her brother for approval with shining eyes, as if it was something to be proud of, and perhaps back then it was, because they were too young to know that one's parents are anything less than perfect.
Ari wakes up wondering if Ziva still clings to such childish illusions, and the weight of Marcie’s gaze hangs heavy on his skin (a cloak worth drowning under) in the darkness.
“To every man his little cross,” Marcie murmurs on the third night, her lips pink and wet from the ouzo she had swiped from behind the bar at the tiny Greek tavern where they had feasted on dolmades and rivthia in the fading light. “Until he dies, and is forgotten.”
“You have studied Beckett?” Ari asks with mild surprise, and her lips purse in displeasure. The scent of anise lingers in the air as she leans toward him as if to capture his lips with her own. Ari does not move as her hot breath floats over his skin like angry wings that pause for a fleeting moment and then beat a hasty retreat.
“I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a soulless killer,” Marcie says bitterly. “You have plans, have your future laid out before you, study hard and turn in your assignments on time, and one day you wake up and you can’t see your own reflection for a second. Your dreams fade as your outline does.”
She pauses. Shakes her head. Her hands twitch, fingers pale in the moonlight like dancing silver fish, as though she’s itching to wrap them around wrists, around necks, around hearts. “I never asked for this.”
He knows something about that.
For all their careful planning, the long hours of studying blueprints and timing entrances and obtaining untraceable weapons, the job is done quickly, the threat eliminated with little fanfare and even less resistance. Death creeps on invisible paws with polished toenails. Marcie is silent for hours afterwards, not quite remorseful, but certainly regretful. For their target or for herself, he does not know and honestly does not care.
Ari has long since stopped feeling remorse or regret for those that die at his hand.
If nothing else, each whip-crack of silenced gunfire only makes him think about the beating drums that signify his own slow silent march toward the end.
Later, when Marcie reveals the full extent of her somewhat unusual skills, it seems fitting that she can literally render herself invisible at will. It’s as though the very fabric that shapes her unremarkable being was twisted and melded by external forces to suit their own nefarious purposes.
You become what you are expected to be.
Perhaps it is this idea that tips the scales, for Ari has bedded many women in many countries, beautiful and wild and hungry for him, and Marcie Ross is none of those things. Mostly, she is indifferent to him, another mission completed, another cross to bear on her young bony shoulders as she moves on to the next target with a nod and a bloodless smile.
Ticking off the next marked man like a checklist one would take to the supermarket. Honey, don’t forget the milk, and while you’re out, would you pick me up a few other things?
Eggs. Butter. Traitor.
The CIA are nothing if not thorough in their training.
The heat of her skin sears his flesh, sweat beading as they moan and writhe and tumble in a tangle of frenzied limbs. Ari does not make a sound, as though her unexpected power over him is bound only by the absence of pleasure-soaked moans. He will not bend nor break, will not allow himself even this small moment of weakness, of allowing her to see through the mask of icy control he has so carefully constructed.
That honour is reserved for one, and one only, and she is far away on a mission of her own. Beyond his reach, and perhaps that is for the best.
He is Rumplestiltskin and she is the miller’s daughter, thrown together by necessity, by the promises of foolish old men. He has not told her his true name – she calls him Michael – and for one brief moment as heat pools and gathers like magma in the depths of a volcano, pushing upward and out to coalesce in a dizzying whirl of sparks and flowing lava, he is taken somewhere beyond himself into another life.
He could be a Michael, he thinks in the split seconds just before he shatters.
Like the Rivkin boy, Ziva’s childhood companion; dreaming of nothing more ambitious than serving the blue and white as is his due, marrying a good Israeli girl and settling down in an untainted house by the shores of the lazy Haifa sea.
Salt-streaked hair and burnished golden skin, untainted house and untainted heart.
“Oh, Michael,” Marcie cries as she shudders beneath him and stills, and just like that the spell is broken and he is thrust back into himself even as he withdraws from her.
Marcie’s nails rake across his chest as if she means to draw blood, to scar the smooth flesh so that he will remember her every time he stands shirtless before the mirror. Brown eyes bore burning pinholes into caramel skin as she surveys his still-trembling flesh, laughs wildly at the raised red marks that she has left in her wake.
“Something to remember me by,” she says with a twist of thin lips, arrogant and yet oddly hopeful. He wonders if she can disappear inside minds, if that is her ace in the hole.
Ari does not mention that he has not met his own gaze in the mirror for years.
It does not do one any great service to look too closely into the black bottomless depths of hell.
She tells him a little about her beginnings. About the Hellmouth – La Boca del Inferno
– now no longer a twisting maw of evil hidden beneath the unthreatening surface of a sleepy Californian town, but the gaping hole that remains in its stead.
A legacy of the fallen, and a warning to those who remain behind. Do not tread too heavily on the crumbling path, nor look too closely at the destruction that is caused by forces greater than one small insignificant man.
Forces that he does not fully understand, and does not want to.
She tells him (as she packs her bag, ready for the next assignment, ready to fly from this place like a bird flying in search of warmer weather) that she recently returned to the place that set her on the path to what she is today, not out of any need for resolution or revenge – she is what she is, and for the most part she is happy – but out of curiosity.
“I wanted to see what it had become,” she says thoughtfully, “I thought it would be filled with trash and black at the bottom, that it would be something evil. Instead it was calm, peaceful even, and there were wildflowers growing along the edge of the cliff.”
Ari thinks idly that should he ever find himself in America, he would make time to visit what the locals call Sunnydale Canyon, to stand at the edge of the sun-soaked crater and marvel at the thought that such evil could leave behind something so beautiful.
She shrugs at his silence, no longer surprised by his lack of expected responses, and shoulders her bag like it is just another cross to bear. She brushes long light fingers across his cheek and he does not flinch.
“Have a nice summer, Michael,” she says with a fleeting smile, and fades from his view like she was never there at all.
Hope you enjoyed, and I'd love to hear your thoughts if you have the time...