A/N: Can in parts be seen as an interpretation. Anything else that happens after the episode´s final scene is just my wishful thinking. Maybe Gibbs is a bit OOC at the end of this story, but to be honest, I think he might be able to do that ... somewhen ... maybe.

Oh, by the way, maybe I should add that I refuse to accept a termination of Hollis´ and Gibbs´ relationship!!

Spoiler: Ex-file (who would have guessed, with such a summery?)

Disclaimer: If I owned them, they would stay together till the end!


-x-

The Piano

His heart skipped a beat as he entered his house. How could he have forgotten to put it away?

Down from the basement came the sounds that he had listened to unrelentingly earlier that day. Over and over again. Reluctantly he had retrieved the player, much more reluctantly the cassette. He hated himself for this feeling, yet he knew he had to do this.

It had not played out the way he had wished it would, this afternoon. He did not even know if he had ever intended to tell her. He knew, he had to. He knew he should already have done so. But he had not known how. It never had seemed to be the right moment. So he had just repressed it for as long as possible. And today he had to pay for it.

This afternoon, in the elevator, Hollis had asked him about Shannon, about Kelly. "They are dead," he had told her, knowing fully well that this was not new to Hollis anymore. "End of story," he had added - too fast, matter of factly. "I have put it behind me," he had pretended upon her questioning look. "Have you?" she had asked him to confirm what he had just said. Her eyes told him, she was convinced that he had not put it behind. And she had been right. He had refused to continue the conversation, which was confirmation enough.

He had repressed it and Hollis had to make that clear to him. He had then understood that he had to face his demons for Hollis and – not to forget – for his own sake. Otherwise, there would not be any chance left for the two of them to carry on their relationship.

So when he had come home after work he had taken the player and the cassette down to his basement, had placed it onto the working-bench and had stared at one of the rare pieces of memento, that were hidden everywhere and nowhere at his place.

Running his fingers over the dusty cassette case he had tried to remember the sounds, the noises, the voices; and he had brought a hand up and he had run it over his face and it had come to rest upon his half open mouth as he had found with utter shock that he almost could not remember. All those years he had never listened to it again.

With trembling hands and eyes that were brimmed with tears, he had put the cassette in the player and after many countless minutes of hesitation he had eventually pressed the play-button and had listened to the voices that came drifting to him from a time long ago. Once, twice … and then once more, over and over - and silent tears had found their way to the surface and he had let them, had not even tried to fight them, had not stopped the source that were responsible for them to fall, until he could not cry anymore and he somewhen must have fallen asleep for a brief moment, exhausted and haunted by the nightmare of his past.

He had been woken up by someone calling his name. Hollis had called him from the corridor upstairs as she had entered his house and he hadn´t thought of packing away the player as he had rushed upstairs. They had arranged to meet in the evening, had spent a wonderful night on the town, in the course of which he had completely forgotten about the cassette. Hollis had not adressed this afternoon´s incident anymore and neither had he.

He could not blame her for listening to the tape, she was free to do whatever she liked to do at his place. And besides, how should she have known what was on the tape that he had left on the work-bench, openly visible for everyone who would have entered his basement. But he did not curse himself either. Maybe this wasn´t even that bad. How, he wondered, how could he have told her other than that way that she had been right, that he had not put Shannon and Kelly behind him. Couldn´t. Wouldn´t. Ever.

He also knew that now it was up to her. It was up to Hollis to decide whether to take up the fight with his demons or to let him deal with them on his own. He knew Hollis well enough to be aware of the fact that this might turn out in a way he didn´t like.

Slowly and in complete silence he entered his basement, took a few steps down the staircase and sat down. Eyes downcast he once more listened to Shannon´s and Kelly´s voices, Kelly´s "I love you daddy," Shannon´s "bye Jethro," their laughter, their "we miss you".

And in all his pain and grief he sensed another feeling. As the voices faded, Gibbs inhaled deeply and along with the air that filled his lungs he let out a sigh that was carrying the freeing feeling of relief. Relief of having finally "told" Hollis about this part of his past, though unintentionally and not really in his own words. He turned his head to look at her.

Hollis was staring at the player. The crackling noises on the tape were filling the else silent basement. She had not heard him enter, had not heard him stepping down the stairs. But now, now she heard him breathe heavily and she felt his look resting on her. Hollis turned towards him.

Wide eyes were watching her, showing grief, sadness and helplessness.

Neither one of them spoke for an immense amount of time.

She could tell he was not mad at her. He would have told her to stop the tape immediately.

She could tell, he was not ashamed of letting her see his emotional pain. He would not have come back down to the basement the instant he had heard the piano playing.

Tears were welling in her eyes. Slowly she walked towards him.

He kept sitting on the staircase, kept looking at her and did not move.

She came to a halt right in front of him, peering up to him through the banister.

"Jethro, I´m so sorry," Hollis said lowly.

"Yes," Gibbs said after a while, and it sounded sad and it mirrored the grief she could see in his eyes.

But the grief was not only about his dead first wife and his dead daughter. He knew, he had to take the consequences of his inappropriate behavior. "I am sorry I did not tell you. You are free to leave, of course."

With this, he lowered his head and stared down at his hands. It hurt. It hurt him to not being able to hide his feelings from her. And it hurt her, that he seemed to be able to let her go just like this.

After another long and silent minute Hollis slowly turned and step after step walked over to the staircase and – letting her hand limply glide over the banister – she went up the stairs, step by step, slowly and cautiously, until she reached the step beneath Gibbs´ feet.

Without lifting his head he had shifted aside the moment she had started to walk up the stairs, giving her room to pass by.

She didn´t walk past, though. Hollis just stood and watched him for a while and when he still didn´t look up at her, she eventually sat down right beside him.

"And ... if I don´t want to ... leave?" she asked calmly.

Gibbs looked at her incredulously and in a voice that sounded exhausted and as if he had already given her up, he asked, "Hollis, why wouldn´t you want t..."

It was then that he felt her place two fingers softly upon his lips to make him stop speaking. She searched his eyes, that first tried to avoid her gaze but when she finally succeeded in catching hold of them, she only said, "Because..." She then leaned in, not taking her eyes off his, and she briefly replaced her fingers by her lips, kissing him softly and immediately putting her fingers back upon his lips afterwards.

"Listen," Hollis said firmly, "I do not want you to tell me you are over it when you are not. I do not want you to leave them behind you, to forget about them. And I do not want you to hide this from me. They are part of your life. They deserve to being remembered!"

Gibbs lowered his gaze, his jaw was trembling.

Hollis let her hand slowly drop down, gently resting it upon his for some moments before she began to talk again.

"She was pretty good, playing the piano! But I bet she hated to take lessons regularly instead of playing outside with her friends. She would try to convince her mom that she might as well first play with her friends and practice playing the piano afterwards. And when mommy did refuse to discuss this, she would try her dad." Inwardly Hollis was shaking terribly while saying this, fearing she would hurt Gibbs even more. Thus she was pretty much surprised when she noticed the corners of his mouth were twitching and his eyes blinking, as the expression on his face softened, a smile settling upon it as he remembered scenes exactly like the one Hollis had just described.

The walls that he had built around his memories were falling apart.

"Yeah, yeah that´s right. She could nag and beg until ..." he fell silent. "How can you tell?"

Hollis smiled at him. "I had to learn to play the piano as a child as well," she revealed.

"You are kidding" Gibbs smiled and he tried to imagine Hollis playing the piano. He couldn´t and thus shook his head in disbelief. He even managed to laugh at this thought.

"No, really!" Hollis insisted and laughed as well. "And I remember this nursery rhyme very well. It is an usual exercise for playing the piano. They used to tell us once you know this piece inside out you would never forget how to play it for the rest of your life. I doubt that."

"Ever tried?" Gibbs wanted to know.

"Yeah, but that was years ago," Hollis replied with a laugh.

"Did you remember how to play it?" he asked.

The expression on her face showed that she was thinking of a former time and another place.

"Yes. Yes, I did indeed. Took me a few tones that sounded incredibly terrifying, but yes, I did." She laughed again.

Minutes of silence passed until Gibbs slowly switched the position of their hands, taking hers in his now. When Hollis looked at him again, she saw something in his eyes that made her smile fade away. Whatever decision Jethro was about to come up with, he was fighting bitterly to make it and to not keep it from her.

Gibbs slowly got up, not letting go of Hollis´ hand and with this making sure she would follow him. They left the basement, walked across the entrance hall. Gibbs paused slightly as they reached the staircase that led to the upper floor, he took a deep breath and continued to walk upstairs, Hollis following closely behind.

Halfway down the corridor of the upper floor Gibbs let go of Hollis´ hand. He was still fighting to carry out his decision. Hollis could tell from the look on his face. His eyes were moving about incessantly and he pinched his lips relentlessly.

Looking up at the ceiling his hands reached up to fumble about for some seconds. Hollis´ gaze wandered to the ceiling as well and she found she had never before recognized the hatch that led to the attic.

The hatch opened and into sight came a foldaway ladder that soon came into contact with the floor, now giving everyone who intended to get up to the attic, the chance to do so.

Gibbs looked at her, his face more relaxed now. He suddenly motioned up to the attic with his head, making Hollis look up into the darkness.

He reached for a switch somewhere at the wall behind him. Hollis had never before become aware of it, it was almost invisible.

Weak light lit the room above them.

Gibbs once more motioned upstairs and for the first time since they had left the basement, he spoke again.

"Go. Go, before I might change my mind." His voice sounded husky and thick.

Hollis approached him. She didn´t say a word as her eyes searched his face. The unspoken question Do you really want this? settled upon her face and could clearly be read by the person opposite.

"Go," he nodded again, placing his hand at her back, pushing her slightly.

A sneaking feeling took hold of her stomach as she started to climb the ladder. Whatever she would find up there, she was sure it was another well hidden piece from his past that he hadn´t shown to anyone until now.

Step after step she took, slowly, feeling Jethro´s hand still on her back as he followed her.

When it came into sight, she wanted to stop, but Gibbs pushed her up one additional step.

Hollis gasped. Whatever had come to her mind the few seconds she had climbed the ladder, she had definitely not expected that! She briefly wondered how, but then again, he had removed the boat from his basement in one piece and by now she had not found out how, so he would somehow have managed this a well.

Gibbs let her take in the sight for several minutes.

"Would you?" It was merely a whisper that reached her mind, although his lips was almost touching her ear.

"Huh?" Hollis was still fascinated from what she was looking at across the room.

"Try? Again?" he reminded her.

"Huh?" Hollis abruptly whirled around. "You mean...? You want me to...?"

Gibbs nodded.

Now it was Hollis´ turn to tell him, "You are kidding!"

He held her gaze to show her he was absolutely honest about it. "Please," he whispered.

His comment made Hollis swallow hard. She wasn´t sure she could fight back the tears any longer.

"Maybe not today, but...," Gibbs looked calm and he seemed to really mean what he had just asked her for.

"Somewhen. If you really want me to...," Hollis promised him.

She then turned her head and they both looked at the piano that was evenly covered with an almost 16 year old layer of dust.

The End

-x-


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