The little chapel was packed. Outside, an autumn rain persuaded the first leaves off the trees, but inside it was warm and quiet, the silence broken only by hushed voices and the murmur of the organ. A few late arrivals shed dripping coats by the door and were ushered quickly to their places, nodding acknowledgement to others as they passed.
Gibbs and his team were there for the funeral of NCIS Special Agent Pete Fielding, who'd been killed in a drive-by shooting a few days earlier while on a week's vacation. Sitting three rows back from Pete's wife Sally, her family and Director Morrow, Kate could just see past them to the flower-covered casket. She eyed the floral arrangements approvingly and felt herself relax as she took in the atmosphere. Catholic churches always made her feel at home.
She'd been to a funeral here once before, when Ellie, younger sister of her best friend from college, had been killed in a traffic accident. The polished wood, the arching roof and the stained glass had all somehow given her comfort, she remembered, and it was the same today.
The Steinway sitting at the front near the casket hadn't been there then, though … Someone jostled her arm as they brushed past down the narrow aisle, distracting her. Her eyes widened as she looked up at the man now bending to murmur his condolences to Pete's family.
"Tony!" She leaned across McGee. No response. "TONY!" Someone in the pew in front turned around to look at her and Kate coloured slightly at her faux pas. "Tony!" she whispered again.
DiNozzo remained oblivious, his eyes resting on his hands clasped in his lap. McGee tugged his sleeve and pointed to Kate.
"Kate?" He seemed ... not confused, exactly, more as though he'd been off somewhere else in his head.
"Simmonds". She jerked her head towards the newcomer. "I didn't think he'd be here, wasn't he just posted to Gitmo? He looks like hell".
Tony's sudden intake of breath surprised her. She glanced at him questioningly, taken aback by the expression on his face as he stared at Agent Simmonds.
"What's wrong?" Kate bent closer, causing McGee to shrink backwards to make himself smaller. Tony, his eyes fixed on the man near the front pew, didn't answer. Simmonds, who did indeed look less than well, straightened and made his way back to a seat somewhere behind them.
Tony had come back from a break two days ago with bags under his eyes and, unusually for him, no interest in pilfering any food left lying unguarded on her desk. Frat brother holiday, Kate thought; they never know when to stop. Eighteen or older, I hope, she'd teased Tony, but he'd let it go.
This morning he'd remained uncharacteristically subdued, head bent over his desk, not speaking to anyone much except about the Fielding shooting, their current case. Gibbs had snapped at him twice for inattention, but Tony hadn't seemed to care.
Kate had put it down to the funeral. Tony and Pete Fielding had been friends, and he'd come back from his vacation to hear his friend was gone. The death of one of their own was always hard to take, and they were all here now to pay their respects, Gibbs and Ducky included. Abby, with the Director's approval and no urgent work on hand, had finished her caseload early to attend the service, and Jimmy Palmer had been left to staff the morgue.
Now Kate noticed the lines of tension around Tony's mouth. She opened her mouth to speak to him again but shut it as the organ swelled and the priest began to make his way down the aisle. As the familiar strains of the ritual took hold of her, she put other thoughts from her mind. When the eulogies began, she retreated into a reverie of her own, oblivious to the cadence of the voices around her.
A sudden silence brought her back to herself and she became aware of a ripple of movement along the pew. The rest of the team were staring at Tony, who'd risen from his seat at the other end of the row and was making his way to the front. Even Gibbs lost his poker face for a moment.
"McGee! What's happening?" She elbowed Tim gently in the ribs.
"I … don't know, exactly". McGee glanced at her, frowning.
"Where's Tony going?"
"Didn't you hear? They called him up front. Sally's asked him to play some special piece of music, apparently".
"Tony?" Kate's voice rose slightly in amazement. "Tony's going to play something? I don't see his guitar".
"Caitlin, dear, please …" Ducky murmured from the other side of Gibbs. Beside him, Abby's mouth had dropped open slightly.
"Sorry, Ducky". Kate composed herself. At the front of the chapel, Tony sat down at the Steinway, facing the congregation across the broad expanse of polished wood. His face looked serious and worn, quite unlike his usual sunny self, even allowing for the fact of the funeral. Why hadn't she noticed before?
Because you don't look closely enough, Kate, whispered a little internal voice. You're so keen to make sure he's not putting something over on you that you don't see anything other than that surface act he's so damn good at putting on. Whatever it happens to be.
She pushed the thought to one side as the priest continued, "Janet's asked for a piece of music that was a special favourite of Peter's. They heard it together the night they met at a Kennedy Centre fundraiser".
In the front row, Sally Fielding nodded. She leaned back momentarily against her brother's supporting arm but straightened again quickly.
Tony took a deep breath and raised his hands to the keyboard. The first subdued notes of Wagner's beautiful Liebestod filtered through the chapel, rising and falling with a crystal purity made somehow more poignant by the sound of the gentle rain outside.
Kate stared as Tony, his face lit by the flickering candles at each end of the piano, drew from its depths the grief of a breaking heart. He kept his eyes on the keyboard, never looking beyond it at the watchers. The cadences rose and fell, circling from afar at first, drawing closer and closer to a building outpouring of emotion, speaking of love and loss and eternity in the great rhythms of the heart. Impossible to reconcile this man with the bouncy, brazen flirt she saw across the bullpen every day.
"Did you know about this, Jethro?" Ducky breathed. "That Anthony could …?"
"Can't say I did, Duck", Gibbs murmured back. Beside them, Abby sniffled quietly into a large black handkerchief.
The music flowed out beneath DiNozzo's fingers, its powerful crescendo of love and longing rising to the old rafters of the chapel. Kate felt her throat tighten and her eyes sting. Sally Fielding sat staring straight ahead, tears coursing unchecked down her cheeks. In time, the majestic conclusion subsided to a level plain of emotion recollected, drawing them with it from the contemplation of pain too great to bear.
The last lingering notes faded into silence. Nobody spoke or moved. Then Tony rose from the piano and fell in beside the coffin with five other men who joined him from different parts of the chapel.
"What the hell …?" Gibbs' voice was soft, but penetrating for all that. The organ began a rendition of "Amazing Grace" as the pall bearers lifted the coffin and started on their way to the doors of the chapel, the family and the Director falling in behind. "Did any of you know about this?" He hadn't known Tony knew Pete well enough to be included among the pall bearers.
"Ah … know about what, boss?" McGee was staring at Tony's retreating back.
"Well, sure, Gibbs. Tony and Pete were friends. You didn't know?"
Gibbs scowled, and Kate felt sorry for Tony. Gibbs didn't like to be wrong-footed. Not knowing what was going on – and worse, being seen not to know – was bound to rile him. She filed out of the pew with her colleagues and fell in behind the procession.