Sonata for Two: The Sound of Music

An NCIS:LA fanfiction


Maxie Kay

A four part story, inspired by the season 3 episode Patriot Acts

First Movement: Allegro

"I grew up playing the violin."

I also grew up not knowing when to keep my big mouth shut. Now, while it's debatable that I ever truly mastered the violin, I still haven't learnt when it's better just to stay silent and say nothing at all. Right now is a case in point. I regret the words the moment I say them, not least because of the interested look on Kensi's face. You see, there's something else about my past you need to know: I don't talk about it. Not ever. Well, generally not the truth, and definitely not the whole truth. There are some things that should stay in the past. So I rush to do some damage control, because I just know that Kensi is going to start asking some questions. Too many awkward questions which I'm not in a mood to answer right now. Time to change tempo here and throw her off the scent.

"I'm not a complete Neanderthal, you know."

I'm careful to say this with a grin, to make a joke of it, just like I always do. Everybody knows I'm always joking, that I've got a quip for all occasions, that I'm rarely serious. And with that statement I make my escape, leaving Kensi in that room with the blinds filtering the sunlight into horizontal stripes, the cello sitting in the corner and the Vivaldi on the music stand. The smell of rosin fills the air, that unforgettable scent of pine sap and beeswax that transports me back to another time and another place, another sunlit room from long ago and the sound of music.

I remember that piece of Vivaldi, remember struggling to play the violin part, working at it for months and I wonder if Mia loves it as much as I do – the complexities that gradually reveal themselves, the subtleties that suddenly emerge with startling clarity, the way your heart suddenly lifts free as the music soars up, freed from its static existence as a series of printed notes upon a page into something with a life of its own, eternal and yet ephemeral. You see, music is a serious thing. I don't joke about music.

Like I said, I grew up playing the violin. Over the years I must have put in hundreds of hours practising until I got to the stage where people's ears didn't start bleeding as I scraped my bow across the strings. Music is a hard taskmaster. You start off with scales – major and minor. And then there are inversions and chromatics, just to complicate matters. A series of variations on a theme, designed to instil muscle memory, so that after a while you can produce a glittering arpeggio, a series of notes that sounds effortless. Which it is – after a few years' worth of practice. At the same time you are learning to read music, that universal language. No matter what language you speak: English, French, Serbo-Croat – musical notation is the same the world over. At first, you look at the notes on the page and then try to work out where they are on the instrument. Your teacher tells you that one day you will just look at the music and your fingers will know where to go automatically. You don't believe her. And then one day it just happens and you realise you are starting to understand this instrument and, more than that, you discover that you are hooked. There is something about making music that is strangely addictive, for it takes you into another world. It's a refuge in a lot of ways.

Of course, it's not cool to play the violin when you're a kid. Especially if you are a boy. You know that as well as I do. The guitar is cool, but the violin is just plain sad. Which is why I always made a point of trying out for every sport I could, even the ones that ran a high risk of physical injury. Hey – breaking a couple of fingers playing football is preferable to having your head kicked in because you're the skinny kid who plays a violin. And then later on, when I got into hockey, my physical safety was virtually reassured. Everybody knows hockey players are a) seriously tough and b) slightly insane. No-one messed with me once I was on the hockey team. And the gloves actually did a pretty decent job of protecting my fingers. Of course, by then everybody had just about forgotten I played the violin and I wasn't exactly about to remind them.

"I never thought you were a Neanderthal. Just not fully housetrained, that's all." Kensi has followed me, just like I knew she would. It was too much to hope she wouldn't follow this up.

"That's good to know. You've been a civilising influence on me. A few more years and I might be able to go out in polite company."

Kensi ignores that witty remark. She's like a dog with a bone – there is no distracting her from the subject of me and my hidden musical talent. "You really play the violin? Seriously?"

"I didn't say that. I said I grew up playing the violin. There's a big difference." And yes, I did play it seriously, if you call playing two hours a day minimum – every single day – seriously. Which I do. That's about as serious as I've ever got about anything. Only it wasn't enough, not if wanted to be really good. Two hours a day was barely scratching the surface.

"How's it different?" Kensi is just not going to let go of this. What is it about the idea of me playing the violin that intrigues her so much? Is it so very hard to believe that I might be vaguely cultured?

"I used to play. I don't any more. Not really."

Yet again I've said too much. She'll want to know more but at the same time she won't get it, not really. I know that, because I know pretty much everything there is to know about Kensi, right down to the number of pairs of she owns. That's because I've spent literally hours looking at her in each one of those jeans and mentally rating them in terms of how long they make her legs look, how tight they are around the butt and the overall wow! factor. Believe me when I tell you that this current pair are right up there at the very top of the list.

"Why not?"

"You wouldn't understand."

And that was the entirely the wrong thing to say. It was probably the worst thing I could possibly have a said when rated on a scale of mildly idiotic to certifiably insane. Telling Kensi that she can't do something or that she wouldn't understand is like lighting the fuse on a string of Chinese crackers. I wait for her to explode, or thump me or even just give me one of her looks. Except Kensi doesn't look pissed or anything like that. She doesn't even smack me upside the head. She just looks – I don't know how she looks, because I've never seen her look like this. Concerned? Intrigued? Kind of sad? All of the above? How can one woman be so many things at the same time? It's like she not just one instrument, she's the whole orchestra. The complete works.

"Why don't you try me? Maybe you could help me to understand?"

That floors me. We don't work like this. Not normally. Usually I flirt with her and Kensi repels my advances with barbed comments. Of course, I only flirt with her because I know it's safe – because I know she's going to push me away. I say 'yes?' and she says 'no' and that's the way things are between us. It's only when things are really bad that we get beyond our normal joking. Like the time when Kensi asked me to look after her mom – because I was the one person she could trust. Of course, at the time Kensi kind of thought she might be about to die, which might have accounted for the sudden letting down of defences. So now maybe I should trust her too? I reckon I owe Kensi that much. It's just that it has become second nature to me, this wall I've erected around myself: the jokes that distract people, deflect attention away and stop anyone finding out about the real me, who once upon a time played the violin, and what's more played it quite well. I've done a good job keeping that secret hidden, because even Kensi found it hard to believe, and she knows me better than anyone. Despite my best efforts I've let Kensi get closer to me than anyone else has done for a very long time. So I relent and give her a brief synopsis.

"I used to play. Classical music mainly. I started when I was seven and I took lessons for years. I got to the stage where I was quite good, but that was a long time ago. I don't have the time anymore."

Music doesn't just happen. Music takes a lot of work and you never stop learning. Every single time you play a piece, you always know it could be that little bit better. And when you play a familiar piece, one that you've known for years, there are times when your fingers are playing almost of their own volition and your mind is freed up, almost as if you are meditating so that you become aware of a deeper reality. It's the hard graft you put in that occasionally flares out into a moment of sheer brilliance that almost brings tears to your eyes as the music just sings out, as clear and fresh and true as the day it was written, sounding out across all the long years. Only I can't say any of that out loud. That sounds pretentious and phoney and nothing like the image of Marty Deeks I like to project. The good old boy who has a joke for everything, who likes surfing, and girls who can pole-dance and mud wrestle, and who was so darn tough he shot his old man when he was all of eleven years old. Let me tell you that my hands shook so much after that little episode that it was nearly six weeks before I could hold the bow properly again.

"Maybe you should make the time?" Kensi suggests.

That's my girl. She has all the best ideas. And she fills a pair of jeans insanely well. "That's an idea."

"And then maybe you could play for me?"

I'm not so sure about that. It strikes me that might be taking things a bit too far. "We'll see."

When was the last time I played for anyone other than myself? I can tell the exact date, time and place. It's not like you can ever forget something like that. I grew up playing the violin, you see – I started playing when I was a little kid and I continued all the way through school, in between all the sports and fooling around. But the last time I played in public was the day I had to grow up for good and officially leave my childhood behind. That was the day when I didn't need to say anything at all: I just let the music speak for me, because I knew I would never be able to find the right words. I wasn't even sure I'd be able to say a word, unlikely as that might sound, but I knew I could play and that the music would come straight from my heart.