Just thinking about that scene in "Boxed In" and the ambiguous "she", and this formed, so I had to get it out.
Please let me know what you think!
I don't own NCIS, The Godfather, Casablanca, OSU or a Steinway, but I wish I did. Mary is all mine though.
When Anthony DiNozzo thinks of the piano, he can't help but think of her. Very few people know that the NCIS agent even plays the piano, and no one, not even Gibbs knows why. His partner, Ziva, got the closest when he let just the slightest bit of information slip through. He'd been asked by the Israeli beauty if he was indeed any good at playing the piano. While the agent knew what he was saying, he let the confusing tidbit slip from his lips with a soft smile.
"Yeah, she was."
Freshman year of college at Ohio State University, and Anthony DiNozzo was excited. And nervous. But mostly excited. He was confident that he would quickly rise up the ranks of the student body hierarchy. He didn't have any plan to usurp others' power, nor did he want to, but he was certain that with his charm, good looks, way with women, and the status that came with the DiNozzo name, he would have no shortage of friends. He was right. He had plenty of people who liked him, even by that next month. The women he met, freshmen to seniors, were immediately taken with the charming, budding football star and the men genuinely admired his athletic ability and extroverted personality. Not necessarily the types of friends you make for the long haul, at least not yet, but he was having fun, and that's really all that mattered to him at this point, fresh out of military school.
That's when he met her. Mary. She was in charge of pulling together the pregame, post-game, and halftime music that played over the stadium's loudspeakers at all the football games. Tony, with time and age, forgot why he was in her box in the first place, but he still remembers meeting her. Physically, she was unremarkable. She wasn't obese or overly slender; she didn't have platinum blonde hair or movie star good looks. She was average, on the surface. But then he mentioned The Godfather. In seconds she had come back with a witty retort, so he chuckled to himself and threw another slightly more obscure reference out there, just to see if she would get it. She responded quickly and countered with an even more obscure reference of her own. Not long after, they were doubled over laughing, with tears streaming from the young Tony's eyes, and quoting Casablanca's famous line about a beautiful friendship.
And a beautiful friendship it was. There was lots of laughing in the beginning. And movies. The pair of friends, while seemingly so different, bonded over their mutual love of moving pictures. Although, while the football star and the team's tech girl seemed so opposite, they were so very similar. They both had such similar senses of humor, not to mention taste in movies, and both hid behind masks to shut out most of the world, though his was the mask of a playboy and she wore a mask of quiet. Slowly both masks dropped and they were able to see each other for who they really were. Things were good. Then as time progressed throughout the semesters, they became the closest friend either of them had ever had.
And one day she told him something that he never expected. She told the young Tony that against her better judgment and better efforts, she had come to love him, and not in the sibling way they had initially felt. She had fallen in love with him, and there was no turning back for her. Tony had no idea what to do, because he had never even considered her a possibility before. He wanted to be free to meet as many girls as possible and he wanted to sleep with as many girls as possible, to be honest. Monogamy was not a DiNozzo tradition, and he felt scared because he knew that if he got into any kind of relationship with Mary, there would be no other women. She was a woman who wouldn't put up with an unfaithful man. And, frankly, he was pretty sure that he would torpedo that kind of relationship pretty quick, and he didn't want to lose her. So he broke her heart and had to watch as her eyes that laughed with him, cried right in front of him, with only himself to blame. He told her that they'd never have a chance in that way. Then she told him something that stayed with him, even years later. She said that everyone else had it wrong. They worshiped the persona, the title, the scoreboard, or the charm. She looked right into his eyes and said, "I've never been able to stand Tony, the playboy, but I have known and I've loved Tony, the man. Let me know when he decides to make a permanent appearance."
And she walked out of his life, for a while. But they had to see each other, and eventually they got back to a comfortable friendship, though he still slept around and she still held on. They reached a normalcy that few thought they'd get back when DiNozzo blew out his knee, thereby ending his football career. And, of course, Mary was there smiling, laughing, and getting him back on his feet, even though it just about killed her to watch him with his harem. He felt terrible, he really did, even still, for the ass he was to her, but he didn't know what to do.
Almost from out of nowhere, though the pair had been friends for years and had covered all topics extensively, they began to talk music. While Tony had only dabbled in guitar and knew enough of the piano to know when the notes go up and down, he did have an acute appreciation, almost a closet love, of music in all its forms, though he never let on how much he was a nut for the stuff. Mary had been a proclaimed music nut from the start, and while they had mutually educated each other a little, he could have never known the depth of her knowledge. He could remember it so clearly.
"Hey, Tony, can we just pop into a practice room for a sec? I have to get something out of my head before it drives me nutso."
"Sure thing Bitty, I got nothing but time now." "Bitty" was a nickname he coined for her when they first met, because of the height difference between the two, almost a foot. This was his old football practice time, and while he was still bitter about it all, he was glad to spend some relaxing time with his best friend. The room was small, with a bench for the piano and a chair in the corner where Tony could sit. The Steinway that occupied the rest of the space was scratched, but taken care of, suggesting that it was well loved by students and faculty alike. Mary sat down and murmured an apology about how this shouldn't take too long and played a few stray notes, but finally began to play.
What poured lovingly from her fingertips was music that Anthony DiNozzo had never heard in his life. Maybe it was because she had kept her so secret, maybe because he was so close to it, or maybe because the tones that played were so sweet, yet so sad, but he was utterly taken over by it. It could have been minutes or hours that Tony sat there with his eyes closed, entranced by the music, but eventually the sounded yielded to silence, and he was pulled back into the world as he opened his eyes.
"Why did you never tell me?" He asked his best friend with shock and admiration in his voice.
"It's just always been something I do for me. It's easier to keep something like this to yourself. You don't have to fear rejection, that way. It can stay perfect." He could hear both the sadness and the double meaning in her voice, and he felt sorry, but he also needed her to know that he was so utterly blown away.
"Mary, I have never lied to you. I'm not going to start now. This is perfect. Absolutely perfect, and you don't need to worry about what other people would say, because they would love it too." He looked into her eyes and smiled slightly sheepishly. "Although I think you should share this part of you with anyone that can listen, I understand if you can't do that, at least right now. But, I was wondering, if now that you have shown me this, you might want to share it with me?"
With watery eyes and a broad grin, she looked at the man across from her, the man who was her best friend, and nodded.
That became their favorite way to spend an afternoon. Mary would fiddle around on the piano and Tony would either do homework or just listen to her play.
It was funny, because in that room, with him and her and the music, he could see it. He could see what she saw when she looked at them. He could see them together, and in all honesty, he could see their whole life, filled with laughter and movies and her playing the piano. Away from all the expectations, and the people, and the complications, it didn't scare him. It was simple.
He'd taken to thinking about it a lot. He thought maybe, just maybe he could try and hold onto that feeling from the little room, and it could make it simple for him. He could be the man she had been waiting for, for over three years. He thought about it a lot in the quiet of his off-campus apartment. Sadly, he was thinking about it then, too, right as he got the call from the hospital.
They said that she didn't feel a thing, that she didn't even see the car coming. She was gone before she could feel any pain. Guess they thought that it would comfort him after he had to identify her body, and maybe it did. He couldn't bear to imagine her suffering. But, then again, he couldn't imagine her gone, how life without her would be just so… quiet.
He convinced himself that night that it wasn't worth the pain again; he had been ready to fall in love with her when she had been stolen from him. He convinced himself that Tony, the man, was someone only she should know, as a certain honor to her life, and their life.
The day after the funeral, he got a phone call from Mary's mother that she had something for him, so he put on his best face and drove to the house where she grew up.
He sat on the couch looking at the family pictures on the wall, such happiness, such solidarity they must've felt. He saw pictures of her as a grinning child and a grinning woman scattered about the fireplace. Her mother came back down the staircase with papers in her hand and a look of anguish in her eye that Tony mirrored in his own. Her eyes were rimmed with red from crying and her voice was hoarse, but when she spoke to Tony, it was soft, as if she were talking to herself.
"I found this left on her desk at her apartment. I wanted to make sure that it found its way to you. She would never have tolerated it getting to you late, even under the circumstances."
He looked down at the pages and realized that it was sheet music. There was a note card attached to the front of the paper.
-Happy Birthday Tony! Hope you like your present! I'll have to teach it to you! Love, Bitty-
He looked up to the heading and saw the piece was entitled "For Tony" and written by her, herself. He stared at the page for a long hard minute and finally did what he swore he wouldn't do. He cried. Not for long, because he realized it was just making it harder on her mother, but enough to stain his face. He whispered a thank you as he stood to leave, wiping his eyes. Mary's mother stood as well, and said both the best and worst thing she could have.
"She loved you, Tony. She always loved you."
He looked up at the woman and prayed he saw no anger in her eyes, and he didn't. He saw compassion and shared sympathy. He simply returned her gaze and said softly, "I know. I wish I could have loved her the way she deserved. I wanted to. More than anything, I wanted to."
And he left. Tony then took it upon himself to learn that piece, in her memory, and once he had come far enough in his self instruction, he realized that the piece she left him was the same piece that he heard the first day she played for him.
He supposes that he had Mary to thank for many aspects of his life. The hit-and-run driver who killed her was caught, but some idiot cop contaminated evidence, so the bastard that did this to her was able to walk. He wanted to kill him with his bare hands, but instead the fire planted the seed that would eventually bring him to the police force, then NCIS.
More than that though, she was one of the first people in his life to really see him for what he was, beyond the persona, the good looks, and the masks, and accept him. She taught him how to trust another person. And, she taught him how to love someone, because although he never got a chance to love her like she deserved, she was the best example of real, unselfish love that he'd ever known. And while that took a while to surface, it changed him. It made him the cop, the agent, and the man he had and would continue to become.
So that's why every year on the anniversary of the first day they met, not of her death, he finds a piano, sits down and plays their song, sad and sweet and only theirs; he laughs, he cries, he watches The Godfather. He remembers. That is why whenever Anthony DiNozzo thinks of a piano, he can't help but think of her.