Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 3307
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs
Pairing(s): - No Pairing -
Summary: Gibbs and Tony both have ways of dealing with difficult cases
Author Notes: Con Affecto is a companion piece to Music and Memories. Not a sequel really, but the idea of Tony being able to play the piano very well continues from one story into the next.
I hate cases that involve children. Sixteen years with NCIS and they never, ever get any easier. In some ways that is kind of reassuring---because the day I can handle seeing the body of a child without flinching inside is the day I really will quit for good. But I’d give my right arm not to keep seeing young Eric’s lifeless face, hearing Mrs. Shaunassey’s choked and broken sobs as she voiced her grief over the loss of her husband and son.
It took us two days to verify what appeared to be a senseless accident was anything but. It was an act of deliberate malice that proved to be the culmination of a petty feud which began over a soccer game. Eric wasn’t one of the best players on the team, not even close. He was a little too bookish, a little too shy to really excel at sports, but he tried hard, and his mother thought the activity was good for him. Especially since the coach wanted everyone to have a chance to play---something another parent objected to, loudly and often. His kid was the star of the team, and he felt his child was being slighted by having to allow Eric time on the field. It was evidently more appropriate to cut the break line of the Shaunassey’s van and hope that kept them away from the game than to accept the coach’s decision. Jesus. People are just insane.
I really wish I was home. Need to work on the boat, do something constructive so I don’t find myself tying to kill some yuppie asshole who saw nothing wrong with endangering the life of Staff Sergeant Shaunassey and his son over a stupid game. Unfortunately, the weather isn’t cooperating. Sleet, snow and freezing rain have shut down the airport and the interstate. Nothing is leaving town tonight---except maybe by dog sled.
If I can’t work on the boat, maybe I can still get a stiff drink. God knows this day warrants one. Mini bar has a little bottle but it’s the cheap shit which isn’t enough for a swallow. The bar across the street has its lights on. It’s worth braving the bitter weather and walk over. If nothing else, it gives me something else to do than stare at four walls of my hotel room.
Inside, the bar is nearly empty. There’s one guy at the center table with his head down, snoring softly, his fingers lax around an empty shot glass, and the bartender. Any other regulars are probably all safe at home, where they should be. Works in my favor, so I’m not going to bitch. I don’t want company or conversation. I just want to drink in peace and forget for awhile.
I step up to the bar, ready to order a bottle of bourbon and find myself blinking in surprise. The short dove gray hair arranged in an attractive chaos of spikes had me expecting to find the bartender close to my age. But the trim figure, smooth skin of her face and youthful eyes tells another story. She can’t be more than thirty if that.
“You’re…younger than I expected.” I feel like an idiot for saying that, but then my track record with women almost makes the feeling seem normal.
“Yeah, I get that a lot.” She smiles, hazel eyes dancing with undisguised amusement. “My hair started going gray when I was in my teens, and was all the way there by the time I was twenty five.” She runs a long-fingered, elegant hand through her short hair, messing up the spikes even more. “Given how short I keep it, dying it just seemed like a huge waste of time.”
There is a hint of an accent to her voice, a brogue that makes me think Ireland or Scotland. It is a bit surprising even though the name of the bar is Patty O’Malley’s Pub. I mean, other than Ducky, I haven’t run into that many natives of the United Kingdom.
I clear my throat, drawing my attention back to what she actually said. “Most people aren’t that practical.”
“Most people are idiots.” Her smile widens. “And I’ve got better things to do with my money than cater to my vanity.”
I find myself smiling back at her. First time I’ve felt like doing that in days. “Can I get a bottle of bourbon and a glass, please?” Probably won’t have more than one drink, but this way, if I want more I won’t have to ask for it.
She arches a slender gray brow, eyes measuring me. “Must have been a bad day.”
I grimace. “Very.”
She dips her head, almost like a short bow, accepting my answer without asking for details. Wins her points in my book.
I notice a tattoo on her forearm when she reaches for a bottle of Woodford Reserve. Abby would probably know what symbol her tattoo is and what it means, but I haven’t got a clue. Looks like some sort of complicated spiral and knot work done in reds and greens.
“Might want to sit there.” She points to a booth in the back, nearly lost in the shadows when I pay for the bottle. “No one will bother you.”
“Thanks.” I’m very grateful she understands my mood. But then most bartenders get pretty quick with that sort of thing. Or at least the good ones do.
I shrug out of my damp wool overcoat, tossing it casually on the other seat. I pour myself two fingers of bourbon and sip it slowly. I sit back with a sigh, feeling myself relax a little.
The place is fairly quiet, but feels more alive and comfortable than my hotel room. The bartender is humming something as she moves gracefully around the room, cleaning up things. Probably just something to keep her busy since nothing looks dirty or out of place to me. The soft snores of the local drunk make for oddly comforting background noise. Glad someone can sleep so easily. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get a few hours that good.
I glance up when the door opens, and bite back a curse. Damn. DiNozzo. Don’t know if he followed me over here, but I sink further into the shadows hoping he won’t see me.
I just want to sit and wallow for a little while without having to explain or justify myself. I’ll go back to being the untouchable, confident bastard I usually am tomorrow. But I cannot sit across from him and see reflected in his eyes the same hurt, disappointment and anger that I know are in my own. Not tonight.
Not like he and I have ever had heart to hearts about a case---no matter how ugly, painful or brutal. We never talk about it. Ever. Never talked about White or Boone or Kate. I can’t see us talking about this one either.
I didn’t need to worry about him seeing me. He doesn’t even look toward my dark little corner. His focus on the one place actually well lit in the bar--the piano. Funny thing, I hadn’t even seen it until he walked in. I was a bit more focused on my own mission; he zeroes in on it like a moth to a flame.
Not sure why he would. I mean, it’s not anything special that I can see. It’s a basic upright that seems to be standard equipment in older bars---like having a pool table and a drunk asleep on a table.
Music isn’t a hobby I’ve ever heard him talk about. So I really don’t understand the hunger and longing I see in his expression as he looks at the slightly battered and ring stained instrument.
“Can I get you anything?” the bartender asks, approaching Tony. She probably expected him to make a beeline for the bar like I did.
I figure it’s the better light that keeps him from making the same mistake I did in assuming she’s older, because he wouldn’t have smiled like that otherwise. It’s the friendly, charming little boy smile he uses on nearly every woman his own age or younger. It seems to spark an interest from the recipients and the bartender is no different. I can feel her smile getting warmer from over here.
“May I use your piano?”
“My piano?” Her tone is light and teasing, not quite flirting but close. “Well, now that depends.”
I’m surprised to suddenly realize just how beautiful she is. Can’t figure out how I missed that before. Safe bet DiNozzo won’t miss it. He seems incapable of overlooking a beautiful woman. Although, recently I’ve noticed that’s slacked off on the whole flirting thing. He doesn’t seem to do it as much any more. Ziva said he’s got some new girl, someone he doesn’t talk about. I thought she was exaggerating how serious he is supposed to be about this mystery lady, but seeing how he’s acting with the bartender, maybe Ziva was right. He doesn’t turn on the charm—if anything he almost backs up a step, smile fading just a bit.
Tony’s eyes narrow. “Depends on what?”
She winks and smirks at him. “On whether or not you can play.”
He grins, bright and eager, once more charming her. “Oh yes, ma’am, I can play.”
The total confidence I can hear in his voice isn’t him bragging. That’s a statement of fact. And I can feel my eyebrows rising.
“Then by all means,” she makes a graceful wave with her hand. “Could do with a little good music tonight.”
Tony gives her a shy smile---That’s one I’ve never seen. And thanks her. Can tell he means it, although why such a simple thing would be the cause for such obvious gratitude I can’t figure out.
He carelessly tosses off his coat and sits at the piano. He raises the cover with more care than anyone has probably showed the thing in years. His hands hover for a moment over the keys, eyes closed.
I stifle a snort at all the drama. Like any of that is really necessary. I half expect him to play chopsticks or something equally stupid.
I am genuinely surprised when he actually executes a neat, fluid series of scales. I recognize them as a warm up routine because Shannon often did the same thing. She’d signed Kelly up for lessons, hoping our daughter had inherited some of her talent---lessons she never got to take. I tighten my grip on the glass I’m holding, wishing I could just banish forever the memories of things my daughter never got to do; memories that Mrs. Shaunassey will know as much about as I do now. Damn.
He pauses for a moment, letting silence take over and then begins to play for real. I smirk when he starts with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. My smirk fades when I remember Mrs. Shaunassey saying that was Eric’s favorite song when he was little. Betting Tony remembers that little detail. Sort of thing he would.
I really can’t dismiss his talent so easily now. He’s weaving that small melody into something more. Something with depth, complexity and color. This is more than a child’s nursery rhyme. Much more.
I am stunned to see just how lost in the music Tony becomes. It’s pretty clear the instrument is for him what my boat is for me. He’s pouring out all those emotions I was leery of seeing in his eyes. But there is more than just anger and disappointment in his music. There is also some sense of satisfaction and resolution, a bit of joy and laughter. It is just as paradoxical and confusing as DiNozzo himself some days.
The bartender is almost dancing around the room in response to his music. Her steps light and graceful as she continues what she was doing before DiNozzo entered. Her expression shifting to match the differing emotions being played out by what should be a simple melody and isn’t. At least I know it’s not just my imagination--everything I’m hearing really is there.
For as quiet as Tony is playing, the song moves about the room, almost filling the space. It makes the place feel more alive. I sip my drink and sit back, just letting it wash over me.
He ends it the same way he started, with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Find myself wishing he’d play it again, and I’m tempted to ask. Better sense keeps me in my seat. My gut tells me that if he knew I was here, he’d have never even considered sitting down at the piano. Last thing I want to do is embarrass him, or give him reason to get up just yet.
The bartender sighs and I know I’m not alone in my desire to hear him play more. She makes her way over to the bar. She grabs a bottle and two glasses before heading back to the piano.
“Can you play something for me?” She asks. Her voice is quiet but it carries easily in the now still barroom.
Tony gives her a slant eyed look, lips curling in a soft smile. “Well, now that depends.”
She chuckles, pouring a shot into one glass and then the other. “Depends on what?”
“On whether or not I know it.”
She sets one glass on top of the bar, saluting him with the other she is still holding. “Wiseass.”
He laughs, accepting the drink. “Thank you.”
She takes a sip from her own glass. “There was an Irish lad and his father killed here a few days ago.”
She nods; one of those abbreviated bows she gave me, accepting his answer without looking for more information. “Can you play Oh Danny Boy?”
He smiles in understanding. “Always liked that one better than Amazing Grace or Taps.”
Have to agree with him. I hate Taps. Well, more what it means than anything else. Song means another has fallen, and it hurts every damn time I hear it.
He starts to play. The melody is familiar to me, but I don’t know the words. Doesn’t matter the bartender does. And she can certainly sing. DiNozzo manages to match the piano to her lilting voice, adding the right blend of melancholy, promise and hope to the song.
Makes my throat hurt, but I think Staff Sergeant Shaunassey and his son would have appreciated the gesture. Know I do. Song has seems to have the right sentiment.
I finish my drink when they end the song, wiping at my eyes, not really surprised to find them wet. Very glad I’m still in the shadows and no one can see me.
The bartender pats Tony on the shoulder. “Thank you.”
“Was my pleasure.”
She moves to add more liquor to his glass, but he shakes his head. “I think I’ve had my limit.”
She gives him a considering look. And I’m noticing for the first time that he looks as tired as I feel. But his shoulders aren’t tight and he seems more at peace than he did when he walked in. Hell, for that matter, I feel better than I did when I walked in.
“Long day?” There is sympathy in her question. More than he’d likely get from me or his teammates, and that leaves me feeling just a little ashamed of myself.
He nods slowly. “Very.”
“You should get some sleep then.” She rubs his shoulder in a soothing gesture that seems more than a little familiar for two people who have just met, but then Tony’s shared something decidedly personal with her so maybe they aren’t any more strangers to each other than Tony and I are.
“What do I owe you?” he points to the empty shot glass.
“It’s on the house.” She smiles.
He rolls his eyes. “Giving away the good stuff like that you’ll go broke, lassie.”
“The good stuff needs a reason to be shared, not to be sold,” she tells him with a smile. “Go on then, and get yourself to bed. Sun will be up before you know it.”
He gets up, and then hesitates for a moment before leaning down to kiss her cheek. “Thank you again.”
“You are most welcome. Any time.”
She watches him leave, and I wonder what she’s thinking. Probably something romantic no doubt. They didn’t even exchange names that I heard. But it’s none of my business, so I’m not going to ask any questions or say anything. Would have to admit I was paying more attention than was polite if I did.
Time for me to head for my own bed. Feel like I can sleep now. I shrug into my coat. I stuff my bourbon into the deep pocket of my coat.
“You take good care of that one, you hear?” She calls out to me.
“The piano player, he’s one of yours, yeah?”
I frown. “How did you—“
“You had the same look about you.” She shrugs one shoulder as though making the connection was no big deal. Not sure what look she’s referring to, and I’m not sure I want to ask for clarification.
I get the feeling my being associated with DiNozzo raises me up a few steps in her estimation. A novel feeling that. Usually it’s the other way around.
“I’ll take good care of him.” I don’t know why I’m promising that to a total stranger, but my gut is telling me doing anything else was not a good idea.
She gives me another of those abbreviated bows. “Be careful crossing the road. It’s ugly out there.”
It’s ugly for more than the weather. People make it that way; God knows this latest case is a good example of that. But then there are these little unexpected pockets of decency, like this bar where people can become good friends without even knowing each other’s names. Suddenly all the emotions in DiNozzo’s music don’t seem like so much of a paradox. In the weird world we live in, joy and sorrow are right at home next to one another.
I find myself singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star as I head back to the hotel feeling better than I have in a long, long time.
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
But come you back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'tis I'll be there in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.
And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.
And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I simply sleep in peace until you come to me.