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Exposition

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Tony leaned against the doorjamb, idly thumbing through three octave arpeggios. First day of school was next week, but the quartet was scheduled to meet and rehearse today, to prepare for convocation. It was especially important this year, since Kate had graduated and gone on to Yale; you never knew who the new scholarship player would be.

Last year it had been McGee, replacing Pacci from Tony's freshman year. Tony guessed he was lucky; he and Abby started together, and barring anything huge, they'd finish together.

Speaking of, here she came round the corner from the bank of elevators, dragging her highly decorated case behind her. Tony grinned. It had become a sort of homecoming to see her every year.

Abby looked up and smiled, her pigtails almost shaking with excitement. She left the case standing in the hall and headed towards him at a dead run.

"Tony!"

He had barely enough time to move his fiddle out of the way before Abby's arms were around his neck, nearly cutting off his air supply.

"Hey, Abs." Tony's voice was getting constricted, embarrassingly quickly. "You know how Gibbs tells us that breathing together is very important?"

"Oh." Abby didn't look terribly repentant, but she released his neck. "Good summer?"

"Meadowmont didn't suck. You enjoy the kiddies up at Interlochen?" Tony laid his fiddle on the table, and went into the hall to bring Bert and his black and red plaid case into the rehearsal room.

Abby grinned as she propped her rear on one of the tables, letting her legs swing. "You're such a gentleman, Tony, and the kiddies and I got along absolutely famously."

"That's because everyone likes you." Tony smiled and pulled on her pigtail. "I'm just wondering how you stayed so pale, my goth princess."

"Amazingly high spf sunscreen, gloves, and a parasol." Abby's nose wrinkled in delight. "Oh, look! Tim's here!" She dashed out of the room, clutching at McGee, though not, Tony noted in some pleasure, not as tightly as she grabbed him.

"Hey, Abs. Tony." McGee drug himself, his viola and Abby bodily into the room. "Welcome back to our hallowed halls."

Tony frowned. Something was different. "You do something to your hair, McGee?"

"I let it grow a bit." Tim set his case down. "Anybody hear from Kate?"

"I did!" Abby raised her hand and sprung away from McGee. "She's liking New Haven so far, but classes start a bit later for her."

Tony rolled his eyes. "She only applied there since that guitarist Doctor Haswari got that tenure-track position."

Tim snorted and Abby elbowed him as she glared at Tony. "Yale has a very good program."

"And you could tell she had a crush on Haswari a mile away." Tony put a slur on the name; he really hadn't gotten along with the slick guitarist, possibly because Kate Todd had paid more attention to Haswari than Tony.

Abby just rolled her eyes. "Be that as it may, she's happy and she's fine, and if you two ever stop acting like twelve year olds, I may actually say nice things about you to her."

"Whatever." Tony waved it off. "Who do you think Gibbs has gotten to be the second this year?"

Tim shrugged. "If he's found anyone, there aren't any rumors."

Abby smiled wryly. "And everyone tells me everything. Cynthia had no clues."

"That's the new Dean's secretary? Dean... Shepard?" Tony started rosining his bow, as Abby began undoing the clasps on her case.

"Yeah. I haven't gotten a good read on her. But then, Ducky's not back from Zurich yet." Abby knelt and got Bert out. "Oh! Want me to show you guys Bert's new trick?"

McGee shook his head. "I still can't get over the fact that you've named your twenty-five thousand dollar Guadagnini copy 'Bert.'"

Abby's head popped up. "What's wrong with the name 'Bert?'" She looked distressed until Tony placated her.

"It's a good name, isn't it, McGee?" He made a serious face at the sophomore, who swallowed and agreed quickly.

"It's great."

Abby brightened immediately and got her bow and cello out, placing the endpin between her toes. She loosened the bow even more and pressed it against the back of the instrument. "Now, listen."

The two guys watched, then winced as a creaking, cracking noise came from Abby's cello.

"Ow! That's ..." Tony blinked, considered, then continued. "...actually kind of cool."

"Isn't it?" Abby laughed. "Farting cellos!"

Tony got his bow set up and Tim was following suit. Soon, the three of them were creaking their bows across the wood of their instruments.

"Look at this!" Tim pretended to take a bite from his scroll, then stopped when he noticed Abby and Tony had stopped. "What, wasn't that at least a little bit funny?"

"I'm glad the three of you learned something useful over the summer." Professor Gibbs' voice was arch as he entered the room. McGee closed his eyes and went pale.

"Sorry, sir. We were just..."

"I know what you were just. And stop calling me 'Sir,' McGee. Next time, I dock your grade a point." Gibbs put his case by Tony's, shoving the other one closer to the end of the table.

"Um, Gibbs?" Tony kept his case from spilling onto the floor. "It's hard to practice quartets without a second."

"You've got a second, DiNozzo." Gibbs began setting up his violin, checking the angles of his bridge and shoulder rest before playing a quick scale.

Tony looked at Abby and Tim, who shrugged in confusion. "Um, Gibbs? Are ... you..."

Gibbs snorted inelegantly. "You really think I'm playing second fiddle to you, DiNozzo? You may be a hot shot, but I can play rings around you. No, for convocation, you're playing second." He pulled a pile of music out of his case. "Here, pass the parts around."

Tony tried not to let that announcement sink too far into his stomach. He knew there was no particular guarantee that he would have had the first violin spot, but after Kate ... well, he knew that none of the other current students came close to his skills. Abby grimaced in a sympathetic manner and he shrugged to defuse the pity as he gave her her part to the Dvorak.

Tim at least had the grace to look stoic as he got his part and Tony settled in next to him. Gibbs sat down, flipped through his part and looked at Tony. "The new kid is a transfer from the University of Tel Aviv. Until she shows up, you're playing second."

Tony bit his lip and decided it was time to risk his life. "And when she shows up?"

Gibbs smiled. "What did you think, DiNozzo? You're my pain in the ass student, but you play well enough. In return, you get to prepare the Sibelius and the Beethoven for concerto competition. We'll figure out the best choice when you've had some time to work on them."

Tony just barely managed to keep his mouth shut. Both concerti were going to kill him. Abby and Tim gaped for a whole six seconds before Gibbs tapped his stand.

"We'll open with the first movement, naturally." He lifted his violin, dipped the scroll, and they were off.


Receptions sucked. There was food, to be sure, but Tony couldn't actually eat any of it yet, because, hello, hired help. Plus the string trio repertoire wasn't nearly as cool as the quartet stuff. But Gibbs was doing his usual mingle routine with the other faculty members--which meant glaring at the ones he didn't like and tolerating those he did--and the new student hadn't shown up yet.

Tony supposed it made sense. Classes didn't start until Monday, and even convocation wasn't until Sunday, plus Israel was a hell of a drive. He wondered if the new girl was pretty at all. Kate had been, of course, despite her occasional snippy attitude. Oh, man. What if this girl was another Kate?

Kate had had her good points, but the last couple of years had been stressful. Something about Tony had rubbed Kate wrong the very first time they met, and Tony had to admit that he had only fanned the tension from that moment on. It had been fun, in a sort of twisted way, but exhausting. He wasn't sure he could survive another two more years of that...

He was brought out of his reverie by the final note of the Haydn and the sense of being watched. Tony grinned at Abby and Tim, and turned to see Gibbs guiding a very attractive red-headed woman in their direction. Something about the way he held her arm had Tony thinking very inappropriate thoughts about his teacher and the stranger.

Gibbs glared at Tony, as if he knew exactly where his student's mind was. "Dean Shepard, this is most of the Presser quartet. Anthony DiNozzo, Timothy McGee, and Abby Sciuto." Gibbs nodded to each of them in turn as they all shook hands with their new Dean.

"It's good to meet you." Shepard smiled and Tony grinned back. "Jethro has told me wonderful things about all of you." Abby's eyebrows shot up at that and Tim blinked. Tony wasn't sure what shocked him more--the idea of Gibbs saying nice things or anybody using his first name--besides Ducky, of course.

Speaking of--there was the old man. "Jethro! It's good to see you!" Gibbs smiled and gave Doctor Mallard a brief hug.

"Hi, Duck." Gibbs always had a genuine smile for the cello player. Abby grinned widely and waved her bow at him. Ducky smiled back, then turned to Gibbs and the Dean. "Have you met Jenny Shepard yet?"

"Of course." Ducky bowed slightly and kissed her hand. "We met briefly in Switzerland while I was teaching."

Dean Shepard smiled warmly. "It's good to see you again, Doctor Mallard. We should dissect that Shostakovich sonata some more."

"Anytime." Ducky laughed. "Jethro, you would have loved it. Arguing phrasing over a cup of coffee with a beautiful woman..."

Gibbs' smile was a bit tight, but Tony was pretty sure he was the only one who caught it. Then Gibbs tapped Tony's music stand. "Get back to work. And watch your intonation in the slow movements, all of you."

Tim winced and the three professors walked away. Tony grimaced, but signaled to begin the next movement.