Title: Race Through Dark Places
Author: Timothy Quinn
Summary: Ellis comes home …
Sylum Timeline: December 31st 2005
Author’s Note: This is a small snippet of the beginnings of the rework, which ties into Family’s rework.
Chapter 1 – ‘t was the night before New Year
December 31st, 2005 – Sylum Manor, New Orleans, Louisiana
“Well, this is not exactly…” Tony shrugged as he unlocked the door to the Art Gallery, still asking himself why he hadn’t shown Jethro either his works, or his collection earlier in the year. But then, so much had happened, almost all at once, and for a while he hadn’t exactly been sure what day it was, let alone how much he’d ever told his Mate about the many elements of his life’s experience. “I mean, I was going to do this, but I’m not all that sure how something like this is meant to happen. I was thinking maybe I’d let you see it a bit at a time…”
The New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball was just about to start downstairs, and the kilt he was wearing, itched in the most inappropriate places possible.
He wasn’t ready to give an art history tour.
Not even for Jethro, who had at least deigned to take off the Ray-Bans he was wearing in imitation of Horatio.
Tony couldn’t recall where the ludicrous idea of everyone dressing in ‘opposite’ fashion had come from, but as he flicked on the Gallery lights and stood scratching his wool covered bare ass with both hands, he was totally blaming Speed.
From Jethro’s perspective, it was akin to opening a box of the most gorgeously wrapped candies he’d ever seen, and though his Mate’s ass was certainly enticing, the display of fine art that was revealed before his thoroughly astonished eyes, left his mouth dropping open.
“I knew you were an artist…” he breathed, “but not like this.”
It wasn’t meant to be an insult, and Tony understood that well enough. “When the centuries start piling up, you realize there’s plenty of time to master your interests.”
He was dyslexic. There hadn’t been a proper explanation for it until the late 19th Century, but once it was recognized, and then diagnosed, he knew what his problem was with reading and writing, and why he preferred expressing himself visually. It was just something he’d always done, and something he’d never fully understood until Speed had turned his sullen Irish attention to helping him get a grip on the problem.
Yes, his annoying little brother had been the one to sit him down and work out the best way to get him reading and writing with a degree of fluidity that was actually quite surprising.
All that time Speed spent with books, hadn’t been lost in vain, and he’d made him a pair of old-fashioned wire framed glasses with yellow tinted lenses, that drew his eyes to the words, and kept them there on the page. Along with patient tutoring in the use of a pointer to run along the lines, and hours spent reading aloud to his Papa, to Warrick, and even to Thomas, none of whom would criticize him for his feeling like a boy at school, he learned to appreciate words just for themselves. Sometimes the necessity for crispy yellow-hued legal pads to write on, focused his pen, and Tony found his dyslexia grew increasingly manageable.
He could hide it too.
Computers with slightly yellow tinted screens were a big help as technology advanced.
And yet, there were times when he more than happily turned his NCIS report writing over to McGeek, especially if he was tired or had a headache, or hadn’t Fed quite right.
His Childe got it.
Which was more than a lot of people did.
Everything had changed with Jethro, who saw him always taking crime scene pictures, or drawing out the salient details he’d need to remember later.
Jethro, who had subtly ensured he wasn’t overloaded with too many files and documents.
Who got it.
And never judged him for it.
Tony had, in due turn, helped Speed learn to draw with proper perspective and a keener eye. It had hardly been simple, but if anything could be said to have been achieved in such a thing, it was that his brother’s crime scene sketches now looked less like Laurence Lowry and more like Keith Haring.
Jethro began at what he naturally assumed to be the beginning, moving slowly away from the door, taking a path around the walls just as in any other gallery anywhere else in the world.
Tony shifted nervously, watching his Mate pause and linger at each image he discovered, taking his time, learning to see and to appreciate with better eyes than he had used in the past. For the artist, such moments were always a marvel, revealing those insights that only an audience can provide for those whose work was generally a solitary endeavor.
Through their Bond, Tony could sense equal parts astonishment and pride, which gave him a peculiar glow somewhere in his chest he couldn’t properly identify. But it was one thing to show his family his paintings, and quite another to show Jethro.
They’d hardly even talked about art.
It wasn’t exactly the most frequently discussed topic at NCIS.
“I hadn’t taken you for an Impressionist…”
Tony had been just about to open his mouth and explain to his Mate what he was seeing, and what motivated each painting, but he snapped his jaw shut with an audible clicking sound. He wanted to make a quip about being French, and having Impressionism in his genes, though his genes had come several centuries before Monet ever picked up a brush. “You know about Impressionism?” No sooner did he say it, than he realized how ridiculous it sounded. “I mean…” he sighed again, “I found the Impressionists helped me get a grip on light. But I hadn’t taken you for appreciating much art. No, wait, that’s not… I didn’t know you knew about art.”
Knowing it was better to stop rather than have to dig himself out of a bigger hole, Tony wondered if he’d spent so much time trying to get Jethro to understand him, he’d forgotten the importance of understanding Jethro.
“Your work merits comment, whether from an approved source, or not.”
Tony blushed, but nodded anyway, and scratched his ass some more. “I don’t know why it makes me so nervous letting you see this. Lots of other people have seen this over the years, and I’ve been fine with it.”
He coughed, wondering if it sounded like he was bragging.
Jethro ignored him, and focused on witnessing through Tony’s art, many of the moments he’d been hearing about from his Mate’s own lips. Interspersed with them, were other works from both major and lesser known artists, each reflecting the themes on display. “I get the feeling this is just a fraction of what you truly have.”
Tony nodded with greater enthusiasm. “I’ve been collecting a while. And building experience. And, I should show you my Studio. I like to explore new ways to say things that words can’t.”
“I would like that,” Jethro smiled. “If you’re ready for me to see that much privacy.”
“Of course! I mean, it’s not like I’m asking you to pose nude or anything. Not that… Well, not that I wouldn’t mind. I mean, a sketch would be start. I know all your best bits after all…”
It was Jethro’s turn to blush. “In the summer,” he muttered, “when it’s warmer.”
Once he’d made his way around the room, he turned his attention to the spiral staircase in the center of the floor. It was all New Orleans wrought iron style, painted black, with treads that bore the Fleur-de-Lis.
“It’s okay,” Tony waved his left hand and gestured for him to go on up. “Fewer people are invited to see what’s there. I don’t mind.”
The second level of the gallery contained paintings of Tony’s closest family and Clan members, starting with a full length portrait of none other than Nicolaus Valerius Meridius in Roman Military Uniform, complete with segmented armor, wolfskin cape, and red crested helmet. It suggested the artist had been looking somewhat slightly upward at him.
Jethro stared at it longer than any other painting that night.
“It’s how I remember him,” Tony whispered from just over his right ear. “As Elena. This is my father.”
“So much about him makes sense when you see this. He was so young.”
“Modern people don’t usually appreciate that. We all grew up faster, the further back we go. It was just a part of living.”
At the very back of the second floor, there was an alcove, across which a black velvet curtain had been drawn. It could potentially have led anywhere, up to and including the bathroom, but it didn’t seem like something so mundane.
“You’re going to need a deep breath, even though you don’t technically need it,” Tony muttered as he tried to scoot around him. “Just pause for a second, okay?”
He wanted to reach for the curtain first, but Jethro beat him too it, even more intrigued by his Mate’s words.
Lights came on instantly inside the small space, that was big enough for just one person at a time to peruse the contents. LED bulbs that gave off no heat, and caused no damage, cast a strangely clinical atmosphere over what was in reality a positively spiritual moment.
There wasn’t a sound, save for the noises emanating from the Ballroom downstairs.
Jethro’s eyes widened, and he sucked in the breath his Mate had warned him he’d need, as his stomach felt like it was about to hurtle down toward the Herb Garden.
“Are you kidding me…?” he whispered.
Tony swallowed loudly enough to be heard two States over. “No. It’s all real. I guarantee it. Every piece.”
“How do you even insure something like this?”
“Oh…” It took Jethro a moment to realize he was still holding onto the curtain he’d moved aside.
It too hadn’t made a sound.
There should’ve been some Gregorian Chant playing on the speakers…
He blinked. “These are some of the most sought after… These are WANTED! These…”
Tony watched him flail.
“Did you STEAL these??” he demanded. “They don’t belong here!”
“Of COURSE they belong here!” Offended at the very suggestion that he’d had anything to do with the recent history of the pieces he kept most highly prized, and most secretly hidden, Tony was incensed. “And I’m not the thief here, HE is!” He gestured at what the world knew as ‘Portrait of a Young Man’ by Raphael Sanzio. “I had this liberated from Hans Frank’s chalet, by the artist, who right now is not going to have much use for it in a 6 by 6 prison cell!”
“What?” Jethro drew his shoulder’s back. “Raphael is still alive?”
“He’s in jail?”
“For being an idiot over a woman.”
The two men paused at that point, contemplating various memories that were indeed simpatico with such a concept.
“And Van Gogh?” Jethro pointed to ‘The Painter on his Way to Tarascon’. “This is one of the most sought after paintings in history!”
“Also liberated. From a salt mine near Magdeburg. And yes, Van Gogh is still alive. He’s not in jail. He’s in my Chateaux where he can live in peace.”
“You’re really not kidding.”
“Not one iota.”
There was also a Monet – a couple walking away across a cold snowy winter field. “I don’t know this,” Jethro muttered, “but I’m going to say it too was liberated from the Nazis.”
“Yes. It’s ‘Thaw’, and no, before you ask me. Monet is not a Vampire. More’s the pity. He wanted to be with Camille, and I wasn’t going to argue.” Tony sighed. “The mask over there on the pedestal, is Michelangelo.”
It was marble, only about 10 inches in diameter, but as far as Jethro was concerned, it qualified as the stuff of nightmares with its strangely twisted facial features and leering grin. “What is it?”
“A Fawn. It was stolen from Italy by Nazis. I ran across it by accident. And yes, Michelangelo is a Vampire. You’ve seen the ceiling in dad’s office. That’s his too, but he got paid for that one!”
“Doesn’t he want his Fawn back?”
“Actually he doesn’t remember carving it, and I’m not going to push. His Mate is one of the most long suffering people you’ll ever meet.”
“Is there any more of this stolen art here?”
“Why? You gonna turn me in?”
“These things belong in museums!”
“How very Indiana Jones of you,” Tony retorted. “Look, the stuff that belongs to families, goes back to them. Or at least to the heirs and representatives of those who first acquired the pieces. I don’t give back to museums. I donate from my own collection, but never permanently.”
“What the hell is wrong with you? These things ought to be enjoyed by people all over the world.”
“You mean enjoyed by tourists who don’t stop long enough to appreciate them?”
“Don’t be facetious.”
“What are you, my mother?”
Jethro snorted at him and turned away. “I would’ve expected you to have a better sense of responsibility.”
“I’m responsible for helping preserve objects the world is too callous to care about save in monetary terms. I’ve seen enough wars, and the destruction, desecration, and theft of too many beautiful, meaningful objects, to give a rat’s ass about who thinks what belongs where. Listen to me, Jethro, there’s no such thing as ‘giving back to museums’, okay? This is how it would go… Hello, I have your painting. No, I didn’t steal it, but I acquired it to give it back. Oh, okay, thanks. Let’s take the better part of a year – and that’s being conservative – to discover if it’s real or not. Then I get the reward, right? No, let’s argue over it’s validity and provenance a bit more. Let’s take this to court, because I want my reward money that you’ve been offering. Oh, no, we can’t do that, because experts aren’t entirely sure it’s real. Oh, I can assure you it’s real. Then you must’ve stolen it! We’re going to prosecute you! Meanwhile, the painting goes back into the museum and they make more than the price of the reward money by selling tickets like mad thanks to all the publicity this has generated. Meanwhile, I’m being prosecuted for generally being an all round nice guy, and no one is forking over the reward. Not now, and not ever. Do you understand?” He frowned at his Mate’s back. “Having these artworks here is a MASSIVE responsibility.”
“You don’t get to decide whether people deserve these things.” Jethro started to walk away, shaking his head.
“Yes, actually I do.”
“Because I’m a Vampire, and I know better.”
“I don’t understand.” Jethro hated admitting that, but he was pissed, and he wasn’t entirely sure why.
“You will. Give it a century or so.” Tony grinned at him sheepishly. “It’s not selfish, and it certainly isn’t stupid. If I can save just a tiny bit of what matters, while the rest of the world is off on a tear thinking it’s right when it’s not, then everyone wins in the end.”
“Now,” Tony chuckled richly, “that’s where faith comes in.”
Raised voices from the Ballroom, sharp, angry, and Irish, pierced the solemnity of the moment.
One was Speed.
Tony nearly choked when he recognized the other, and he made the Sign of the Cross to ward off what he feared would be coming next.
Jethro eyed him in concern. “What’s going on?”
“I’m gonna add to your list of confusing things tonight.”
“Ellis just came home.”