Disclaimer – I think the piano might belong to me. Everything else is copyrighted to other people.
Gibbs knew that he was just waiting for time to pass. The familiar ritual of passing the fine sandpaper over the hull of his boat was not as soothing as it should be. Alert to every car that drove by and every ambient sound he couldn't loose himself in the work the way he usually did. Tonight, even the sound of his daughter's laughter as she played the piano could not entirely claim him. And the shot of Jack sitting almost untouched on the up-turned hull was just another stab at pretending that tonight was like any other night.
Where the hell was DiNozzo?
He resisted the urge to look at his watch. He knew dammed well that it was less that five minutes since he had last looked at it. But he'd been waiting on DiNozzo for almost seven hours now. He knew he would come. Whatever else happened, eventually this is where he would end up. Like a storm tossed ship looking for safe harbour. Still, if there was a hard way to do something you could bet DiNozzo would find it. Gibbs had learned that lesson all too well over the years.
Although, If he got another phone call from the bar like last year, anniversary or no anniversary, he was going to kick his ass.
At last, he paused for a moment in his sanding, as he heard the sound of the front door opening. Standing utterly still he waited until he heard the familiar measured tread pass overheard before he could finally allow himself to relax. He knew that they weren't out of the woods yet. Seven hours could account for a whole lot of surprises. And DiNozzo was nothing if not original when it came to finding trouble. Gibbs didn't turn around as DiNozzo appeared at the top of the stairs, letting his senior field Agent set the tone. The Italian wasn't always looking to talk. Sometimes, it was enough to sit silently on the stairs and watch him work.
"Hey Boss, I bought Pizza. Pepperoni, Sausage and extra cheese, I would have been here sooner but I had to wait for them to make it. You have to special order the extra cheese."
Tonight he bounded down the stairs and tossed a flat Pizza box onto the workbench, flipping it open with an almost theatrical flourish. Gibbs tracked his movements out of the corner of his eye taking in the formally crisp white shirt, now rumpled and un-tucked, the smear of pink lipstick on his collar, the silk tie hanging loose around his neck and the fact that he was only wearing one shoe.
"Your fly is undone."
"Oh." Tony hastily zipped up. "Sorry about that, Boss."
Straightening up, Gibbs passed in front of him using the excuse of picking up a slice of pizza by the crust for a chance for a closer inspection. He could tell the Italian had been drinking, but not enough to be intoxicated, from what Gibbs could tell most of it had gone down his shirt. He smelt of expensive perfume. And sex. That wasn't good. Usually either the buzz of alcohol or the comfort of a woman was enough to banish the dark, glittering edge, from his eyes. But not tonight, Gibbs could see DiNozzo was still a little brittle and edgy, working too hard at being someone having a good time. Gibbs chewed thoughtfully on a piece of sausage before nodding at the Italian's stocking foot.
"You better hope Metro don't find that shoe in some flowerbed or other because you had to make a hasty exit out of a bedroom window or I will personally ensure you are going to be singing Soprano from now on."
"It wasn't a bedroom. It was a convertible. And you know I don't sleep with people that are married, engaged, co-habiting or otherwise attached. I think the shoe fell off when I was ..," DiNozzo frowned. "Actually, I don't remember when the shoe fell off. But I'm almost certain that there were no flowerbeds in the vicinity."
"What about photographers?" Gibbs asked, as he took his slice of Pizza back towards the boat. DiNozzo hopped up onto the workbench, removing his remaining shoe before he settled himself cross legged and took a slice of Pizza for each hand as Gibbs continued. "Because I'm not so sure the Director will be as understanding a second time."
"I still don't see why Sec Nav got so upset," Tony huffed. "Its not like my picture was in the National Enquirer. It was a very high class society magazine. Everyone at that party was in tuxedos and cocktail dresses. The President complimented me on my vest. And it wasn't like she was an actual Senator."
"She was a Senator's daughter, DiNozzo."
"No photographers," Tony assured him, around a mouthful of Pizza. "No fist fights. No strippers. Not even a nightclub or two. My conscience is clear. I can sleep like a baby knowing that I had done nothing tonight which might in any way besmirch the good name of NCIS or the honour and integrity of the enlisted men and woman which it serves."
"Is that so?" Gibbs gave him a level look. "So, what the hell have you been doing for the last seven hours?"
"Well, I spent some of that time getting ready. You know how long it can take me to get my hair just right. Then there was dinner and some dancing. After that we took the convertible out for a spin if you get my meaning," Tony paused, reaching over for the bottle of Jack which Gibbs had left uncapped on the workbench and, sniffing at an empty mug, poured himself a shot, taking a healthy swallow before continuing. "And when that didn't make me feel better I went back to NCIS, made a few calls and got a copy of the Police Report on my mother's death."
"Tony." Gibbs stilled.
"When I was kid all I ever wanted was some answers. It was one of the reasons I became a cop. So I could help other people like me would couldn't get answers for themselves, find out the truth. Funny thing was, in all the time I've been in law enforcement I've never actually had the guts to look at it before. I guess I was always worried that I might find out something that I didn't like."
"Did you?" Gibbs asked gently.
"Nothing I hadn't already worked out for myself," Tony scrubbed at his face, trying to ease the burning behind his eyes. Looking down into the depths of the amber liquid he swirled the alcohol around in the glass. "She was younger than me when she died. I only have the one photo of her and I can't always remember exactly what she looked like. But I remember how soft her hair was. And the way she sounded when she laughed. But mostly I remember the way she smelled. Like roses and vanilla."
"Yeah?" Gibbs encouraged. "Anything else?"
Tony tipped his head on one side as he caught the sounds of the piano music drifting through the air and a small smile hovered on his lips as he recognised the melody.
"I remember this. I was learning it for a piano recital to surprise my mother. I must have played this over and over until it was perfect. Even my piano teacher thought I was in with a chance of wining and she hated my guts. Thought I lacked commitment. Of course, it helped that my partner was her star pupil, Susie Anderson, the hottest girl in grade school. You do know, this is supposed to be a duet, right?"
"Yeah," Gibbs didn't elaborate. "How did you do?"
"Ah," Tony made a face. "My mother died the week before the recital. Music had really always been her thing. My father thought it was sissy and wouldn't pay for the lessons. I'd spent hours practising this, over and over, thinking of the look on my mother's face when I played it to her. We were at her funeral the day of the recital. I haven't really played much since then."
Thoughtfully, Gibbs moved across and pressed the rewind button on the tape, once it got to the beginning he pressed play and his daughter's clear voice filled the room.
"This one is really supposed to be for two people. It's called a "Duet". I've been practising it with Tommy Wilson, but I don't like him very much. When you get home, I'll teach you the other part and we can play it together. Won't that be fun, Daddy?"
Tony didn't need to ask. He could tell by Gibbs expression. Words didn't seem to be enough. He met the ex-marine's gaze squarely and raised his glass slightly in acknowledgement. Sometimes, he thought about what his life would have been like if he had never met Gibbs and it scared the crap out of him. He didn't think that he would ever be able to repay this man for all that he had been to him.
"I could teach you," he heard himself saying. "I mean, if you like?"
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he winced in anticipation of a head slap. What the hell was he thinking? This was Gibbs' daughter they were talking about. Most people didn't even know she existed. Gibbs was real private about personal stuff and Tony knew how privileged he was to be among the few people in whom the ex-marine might, once in a blue moon, confide.
"I have a better idea." Gibbs' voice said softly.
Tony didn't ask any questions as Gibbs picked up the tape player. He simply hopped down off the workbench and followed his Boss' lead, padding up the stairs in his stocking feet and into the lounge room that Gibbs rarely used. Moving over to a corner, the ex-marine pulled a cover off a highly polished upright piano and set the tape recorder on the top. Then he turned around and looked at the Italian.
"Think you could play it for me?"
Tony felt a wash of emotions at the implications of that request. Suddenly, he wasn't sure. Could he remember it? Would he mess up? But looking at the ex-Marine's calm and expectant expression he knew there was no way in this earth he was going to let him down. Pressing his lips together he surveyed the instrument, before settling onto the piano stool and raising the lid. With his thumb he found middle 'C'.
"You keep it tuned." He was surprised.
"Yeah," Gibbs looked a little bashful. "Seemed like the right thing to do."
Frowning a little in concentration, Tony played out a scale or two, followed by a few simple exercises, his tongue lolling slightly over the edge of his lip as he focused absolutely on making the notes smooth and unhurried, the way his mother used to play them. When he was ready he lifted up both his hands, before flexing his fingers and nodding at Gibbs.
"You ready?" Gibbs asked.
"Keemosabee, always ready." Tony forced a thin laugh.
"DiNozzo." Gibbs sighed, in that way that said, stop trying so hard.
It wasn't an order Tony thought he would ever be able to follow. Trying was what he did. Trying to please his Mother. Trying to win his father's approval. Trying to be true to himself. Trying to catch the bad guys. Trying not to loose his way in the darkness of it all. Trying not to let others see how close he was to falling apart. Trying to be like Gibbs. Trying not to seem like he was trying so hard.
He tried to remember his mother's face.
"I'm ready, Boss."
As the first note rose from the tape player, Tony carrasses the keyboard so that the notes rose togeher as they were suppoosed to do. Tony's fingers drifted tentatively across the ivories as conjured up the long remembered tune. Gibbs listened, breathing in slowly through his nose and out through his mouth as for the first time ever he heard the complete duet as his daughter had intended. A soft smile hovered on his lips as he watched DiNozzo gaining in confidence as memory returned, fingers fluent as they recalled well practiced moves.
All at once, it was like he was ten years old again. Sitting in the summer room, doors open onto the garden as he diligently practised, knowing that his mother was just across the hallway, so close that he could jump up and see her, throw himself in her arms and be pulled into that scent of roses and vanilla. In that moment, it was as if she had never died. As the last note died away Tony was mortified to realise that a lone tear was spilling down his face. Swiping an impatient hand across his eyes, he sucked in a breath, desperately trying to regain some control before he completely embarrassed himself.
He was surprised to hear that Gibbs own voice was rough with emotion. Looking across, he saw that the ex-marine's blue eyes were damp, his expression soft with an affectionate pride. Reaching out, Gibbs grasped the back of his head roughly, pulling him into a fierce embrace, even as his hand carded gently through his hair. They stayed like that for a while until Gibbs spoke, without letting go.
"Spare room's made up."