Chapter One: Scales
Author's notes: Hihi everyone! How are you? Thanks for clicking! I know no one knows who the hell I am in the Gravitation fandom, but I hope you give me a try anyway! I'm a seasoned fanfiction veteran in other fandoms, so I promise good spelling, grammar and characterization.
Anyway, this fic came from the blatant lack of good "How Nittle Grasper was formed" fics. I have yet to find one that truly satisfies me, so I decided to write my own version, in which Tohma isn't an abused little poor boy with a tragic past, Ryuichi isn't secretly falling apart under the childish behavior, and Noriko isn't expendable.
As far as the timeline goes: I placed the series in 1999 (yes, I randomly picked a year at around the time of the release of the OAV), and I have spent considerable time making sure everyone's ages are right during the fic. When we first see Tohma interacting, he's 17, then the year he graduates high school he's 18, he's just about to turn 19 when he meets Noriko, and 20 during the last scene with Eiri... yes. When we meet Noriko she's 15. That should give you ages.
This is a new note, added around the time of chapters 11 and 12: There are pairings in this fic, after all. Quite a few. Let me list everything for you. Tohma/Eiri is the underlying one, though, as I have said before, the fic is rooted in canon, so that isn't something that will last. There is also one-sided Ryuichi/Tohma, Sakano/Tohma, and Mika/Tohma (I swear I'll make that one make sense). Well, and Tetsuya/Noriko, but that is canon.
Final note: no Ryuichi in this chapter :sniffle: But he'll be in the next one, I swear! For now, enjoy Tohma, the Uesugi kids, and Noriko. And review! Review!
Disclaimer: I don't own Gravitation, but I'll buy Ryuichi for myself if anyone is selling...
Most of all, when I think about my childhood, I remember playing scales.
Summer, winter, weekday or weekend, it didn't matter; every day at exactly five o'clock I was seated at the piano, and I began with scales, over and over, starting with C major and working my way through the twelve keys around the circle of fifths, feeling my fingers slowly warm and relax. At first the scales were difficult, back when my hands were still too small to reach across an octave and my legs dangled off of the piano bench. Back then, Yamada-sensei came every week in her identical stark suits with her constantly pinched expression and sat on the bench next to me, and positioned my hands, and hit them with a pencil when they didn't move fast enough. As the years went by and my feet could reach the pedals, my hands became faster and my rhythm smoother, the pencil stayed tucked behind the sheaves of music on the piano, forgotten, and scales became just an excuse to let my mind wander.
Every morning I carefully brushed my carefully bowl-cut hair and my mother inspected my impeccable uniform before giving me a thoughtless pat on the head and forgetting about my existence until the evening. There was a driver in a big black car who drove me to my exclusive private school in the mornings and picked me up at exactly four so that I could be at the piano by five, playing scales to an empty house.
I didn't have many friends growing up, discounting the carefully polite children of my parents' carefully polite friends, most of whom must have sensed my natural aloofness and never bothered getting to know me. I was different, in more ways than anyone could quite say out loud. I hade pale hair and eyes, and perhaps I would have had trouble from the other children, had my father not been the one paying the salaries of half their parents. Instead, I was left almost fastidiously alone, earning nothing but a few odd looks from some of the newer students and a handful of whispers behind my back. I was short and slight, and I had a pretty face much more suited to a girl and lashes long enough to bump into my glasses when they were perched on the bridge of my nose. My speaking voice was soft and I said little, because others said little to me.
I didn't mind. I was content to be the quiet boy, the child of the corporate magnate, the genius, the little gentleman, whatever they called me when they patted my head and planned ways to get into my father's favor. Content, as long as I could sit down at the piano every evening, open a music book after my scales were completed, choose something at random, and let the music come alive.
It never mattered to me that no one heard me play. The house was empty until late at night, when my father came home from work or a rendezvous with his latest mistress and my mother breezed in with her hands full of shopping bags and smelling of strange cologne covered by her own expensive French perfume. At five, the house was still, and I played Bach and Mendelssohn to a silent audience of antique furniture and velvet curtains. Sometimes I would close my eyes and let the music come from inside of me instead of the sheet music in front of me. Then melody and rhythm took over, and sometimes I would open my eyes to see the clock on the wall said it was seven or eight, and my fingers were cramping.
One day when I had begun to wander off into my own imaginings in the middle of a Chopin ballade, there was the foreign sounding of applause from the archway into the parlor, and my fingers tangled and I struck a few discordant notes before I could forget my shock and turn around. It was a girl a few years younger than myself, perhaps in junior high, a slight smile on her face and her long brown hair pulled into a neat braid. She was dressed in a formal kimono, but her eyes were mischievous when she bowed to me. "Your playing is very beautiful, Seguchi-san," she said. "Your mother told me I could find you here."
It wasn't a particular surprise to me when the girl was introduced later in the evening as Uesugi Mika, my fiancée. As a family of means, it seemed sensible that everything, particularly the eldest and only son's spouse, be chosen with careful precision. I found Mika-san pleasant enough and her father found me polite and equally suitable, so my future was mapped out for me by the time I was seventeen. It never occurred to either of us to mind. We saw each other rarely for the next few years, in any case, barring my family's short flight to Kyoto upon the death of Mika-san's mother the next year.
"My brother isn't at all like you," she told me then, as we sat out on the back porch of her family's temple and I watched the fish in the small koi pond. "He doesn't like doing anything Otousan says, and does poorly in his classes. He gets into a lot of fights because he has light hair and doesn't look Japanese. Did you ever get into fights in school?"
It was late April and I had only just graduated, at the top of my class, naturally, but already school was becoming a concept of the past, though I would be starting at college in a few weeks. "No," I said, "I never fought in school." It occurred to me that perhaps I was simply too skin-deep to fight. Eiri-kun had been silent when I had seen him earlier that day, but there had been deep pain in his eyes at his mother's memorial. I couldn't imagine feeling an emotion deep enough to show on my face. "Perhaps he will learn as he grows up," I said to Mika-san in hopes of placating her. "He's still young."
"He should grow up to be like you, Tohma-san," the girl told me with a smile. "You are the perfect eldest son."
I accepted her compliment with a politely indefinite "Sou desu ne…" and we lapsed into silence, watching the fish in the pond swirl listlessly around, meaninglessly wasting their short lives.
I started at Tokyo University (nothing less than the top college in Japan would have been acceptable) that spring without a thought that my life was going to change in the least. I enrolled with a business emphasis, fully intending then to follow in my father's footsteps. A few people tried to approach me at first, girls, mostly, but I hadn't the slightest idea how to deal with them, and the novelty of my slightly exotic looks and impeccable manners must have worn off after a while, because I found myself alone more and more often. And still, I came home every night and sat down at the piano to play my scales and improvise on themes by famous composers, because the habit was too ingrained to stop at that point, even if I hadn't had any lessons in over a year.
There was a café near campus where I sometimes came for lunch. It was a quiet, sunny place, and very relaxed to be the kind of thing I usually chose. However, there was a piano in the corner, and because there was a piano school around the block, there was almost always music. Sometimes the players were good and sometimes barely passable, but I enjoyed their efforts, so I came and sat unobtrusively in the corner. It never occurred to me to ask to play the piano myself until the day I advised the bartender that the upper two octaves were slightly out of tune and offered the number of the man who came to tune my piano every month like clockwork.
"You play?" the bartender asked me, surprised. "How come you never take a turn up on the bench? Everyone else does."
"I never considered it," I replied with a small shrug. "I'm not from their school, and I don't want to be a nuisance."
"You should see it when the high school crowd invades after four," the man said, clearly hell-bent on having a conversation. "It's real cacophony then, unless it's Nori-chan playing. She's about the only one whose playing doesn't grate on my ears." He shrugged then. "The kids seem to like it. Of course, then the place takes on the appearance of a rock and roll joint, and I can't get them to clear out before closing…"
I had no idea why he was telling me all this. "Here's Maeda-san's phone number," I said, scribbling it down on a napkin.
"You should play sometime," the bartender called after me, "if you really come because you enjoy the music."
I didn't really pay attention as I left the café and hurried the three blocks back to campus for class.
A few weeks later I found myself at the campus library far past my usual time on Friday, and when my research was finished at nine I felt a little put out. My mother would be home by now, and I wouldn't be able to play the piano, because she had a firm policy against noise after eight. My mood wasn't at its best when I headed out of the library and towards the car I had recently purchased. It was Japanese-made, of course, because my father wouldn't have approved of a foreign car, and it started to a quiet purr right away, the radio spilling out the notes of a Haydn quartet. I pulled out of the parking lot and headed for home.
There was night construction going on along the main roads. After a few frustrated minutes of standing in traffic after dark, I swung onto a side street. For someone as even-tempered as I was, I certainly reacted badly to slow traffic; I would have done just about anything to get away from the snail's pace.
My detour took me past the café where I sometimes ate my lunches. As I drove past it, I glanced out of my window. The place was lit up though the shops on either side had already closed, and looked to be packed with people. Through my window, rolled down because of the warm night, I heard a few strains of music and laughter. On an impulse, I doubled around at the next block and found a parking spot. Without any clear idea of what I was doing or why, I headed towards the light.
The noise hit me like a tangible thing when I swung the door open. The café was bursting at the seams with young people, most of them my age or younger, and there were two girls sitting at the piano currently, pounding out something I assumed was the latest hit with a plethora of small mistakes mixed in. A few of the people in the crowd were singing along, but most of them were talking and laughing amongst themselves. Feeling a little self-conscious, I squeezed into a corner near the piano and lounged against the wall. I had no idea why I was here. However, I didn't have long to wonder.
The two girls finished their duet and received some scattered applause. They jumped off the small stage the piano was resting on and melted into the crowd, but the piano stool didn't stay unoccupied for long. There was a sudden cheer, mostly male, I noted, and a girl in a gray school uniform with a scandalously short skirt (I assumed she was one of the girls who rolled their uniform skirts up to appear stylish) and her pigtailed hair liberally streaked with neon green vaulted onto the stage. "I'm piko piko Noriko-chan!" she called out in a high-pitched, cheerful voice to more cheers. "Is everybody ready to party?" More cheers greeted this question. The girl did a little pirouette (making her already-short skirt whirl out and giving all assembled a very nice view of rather nice legs), curtsied to wild applause, pulled off her uniform jacket, and threw it into the crowd. Rolling up her sleeves, she plopped down on the piano bench, grinned at the public, whose full attention she had captured, and began to play.
She surprised me. While I didn't know the furiously fast tune she was playing, the audience clearly approved, and a boy in a similar uniform hopped up onstage to sing along, mostly on pitch, and cast suggestive glares the girl's way. She ignored him, continuing to play with complete abandon. That was what surprised me; she couldn't be older than fifteen or sixteen, but she played remarkably well for that age, and on the second verse she added a pretty soprano descant to the boy's wailing, never letting up on the devilishly complex accompaniment as she sang.
When the song was finished, the crowd erupted in cheers and tumultuous applause. Even I had to clap, as her performance, while a little rough around the edges, had been nothing if not captivating. She blew the boy who had been singing a smacking kiss, causing him to blush, and perched up on the bench, looking highly self-satisfied when a girl in the crowd called out, "You're going to be a star, Nori-chan!"
"Of course I am!" she giggled, shaking her colorful pigtails.
"And you're so modest about it!" called another voice.
Immediately, she hopped up to stand on the bench and crossed her arms in front of her. "I'd like to see someone in here disprove it. No one plays like Nori-chan."
There were a few catcalls from the audience. "Someday, someone will put her in her place," a girl near me grumbled.
"Oh, don't be so mean," her friend said. "I know you can't get Ajisaka in class B to pay attention to you because of her, but it's not her fault she's popular."
"I'd like to see someone outdo her, anyway," the first girl grumbled, "before her head swells bigger than Hokkaido."
"Well? Is anyone challenging my title of supreme piano champion of the world?" the girl on the piano bench called out with another infectious laugh.
And then I heard my own voice, quite clearly, replying, "I will."
Immediate silence greeted this statement as everyone turned to see who had made the outlandish claim. I myself was surprised, but it was too late to say anything now. "Well then," the girl said with a smirk, "come on up here, stranger. I haven't seen you before, so you aren't from Kaoru High School."
Feeling many eyes on me and cursing my face which made me appear at least five years younger than I really was, I shrugged. "I'm not," I told her shortly. Realizing there was nothing for it but to come up to the stage, I folded my own jacket, set it on a nearby table, and stepped onto the small stage to stand eye-to-eye with the girl, who looked very pleased with herself. "Does it matter where I go to school?"
She only grinned at me with a good dose of arrogance. "I only care if you can play. No one challenges Nori-chan and lives to tell the tale."
"So drastic," I demurred as I sat down at the piano and stretched my fingers. "Will I die if I outplay you, then?"
"No one outplays me," she said brightly. "Now then, do you know Nagareboshi?" I shook my head. "Perfect Romance? Himitsu?" I shook my head again, realizing I knew absolutely nothing about popular music. "What do you know?"
"Give me a melody," I said calmly.
She looked at me for a moment with narrowed eyes. "Fine," she said. She closed her eyes and sang a few bars of something in heavily accented English. It was quick, I noted. And of course, the chord changes which I could hear in my mind weren't simple, either. I hadn't thought she would pick something easy. "That suit?"
"Quite." I smiled my angelic little-boy smile, stretched my fingers once, and put my hands on the keys. I had only a moment to wish I had had a chance to play my scales before I was improvising, the pace of the music picking up as I gained confidence. For the first few moments, there was silence from the audience, then a few female voices picked up on the melody and began to sing. I didn't watch the people around me; instead I closed my eyes and let the music flow.
It wasn't a style I had worked in before, but I found the heavy rhythm and harmonic repetition to my liking. When I got to the end of the melodic fragment Noriko-san had sung, I began to follow the voices in the audience, who showed no sign of stopping their singing. When the song had clearly reached its end, I modulated to another key and kept playing in the same style with a melody of my own making. Then, just for fun, I swung into the last several bars of the piece Noriko-san had played earlier, playing them even faster than she had, before ending with a flourish of a roll up the keyboard before removing my hands from the keys. There were cheers starting already, many of them from girls, and I found to my great surprise that I was enjoying the feeling of being admired. I barely suppressed a foolish grin as I looked up at the girl who had been watching me critically. "Does that suit?" I asked in her own words.
Her face was unreadable for a moment. "What's your name?"
"Seguchi Tohma," I replied, wondering why she wanted to know this now. "You play very well, Noriko-san," I added, feeling a little guilty about showing up a high school girl in front of her peers. I stood from the bench, uncomfortable.
She was silent for another moment, then her face split into a grin. "Oh, go ahead, feel smug, Tohma-kun," she said with a laugh, never asking if she could use my first name, simply assuming. "You blew me out of the water just now." She stuck out her hand. "No hard feelings," she announced. I took her hand and shook it, feeling conspicuous now that everyone was staring at me and I wasn't playing.
Instead of releasing my hand, she tugged me back towards the bench, sitting on the right side. "But you have to play with me to make sure I don't change my mind and kill you," she said with mock seriousness, pulling me down on the bench next to her. Then she waved at the crowd and asked, "Well, now that I've been well and truly shown up, who has requests for the supreme piano champions?"
The crowd shouted names of songs. Noriko-san nodded, and started with the melody. A few bars in, I joined her with harmony, feeling remarkably comfortable for someone who had never truly been in public attention before.
By the time I made my way home I was drunk on applause and the clock showed an hour more suitable to waking up than going to bed. I was grinning as I plopped down into bed half-dressed.
"Come back again," she had said when the owner of the place had started chasing the crowd out near one. "It's more fun with you here." Uninhibited, she had squeezed my hand before running out after a gaggle of girls.
I never once doubted I would.
Looking back at that, it was Sakakura Noriko who turned my life around. I still had my daily life at the university, my classes, my lectures. I still played scales in the evenings, and people at school still avoided me. But slowly, the dial of my radio crept to a popular music station from the classical I was used to, and I began to look forward to weekends. Noriko-san seemed well and determined to be my friend, whatever I had to say about it. At first, I told myself I came back to the café Friday nights because I enjoyed playing with someone who knew what she was doing, but soon I came to realize I enjoyed playing with her in particular. I enjoyed her energy and her natural penchant for showmanship, something I lacked. Something about her made me more comfortable with myself. I found myself smiling, sometimes laughing, in her presence, and relaxing on stage little by little.
"Oniichan tried to kill me this morning," she informed me one Saturday afternoon when I had wandered into the café and found her there with a group of friends. She had waved me over to their table and I had sat down without protest.
"What did you do now, Nori-chan?" one of the boys asked laughingly. "Your hair hasn't changed colors lately. You haven't even pierced anything you're not supposed to. Unless it's someplace we can't see."
She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial stage whisper. "Oniichan thinks a dangerous college type is trying to seduce me and turn me on the path of darkness and debauchery," she said with an overly-serious face. "I have, of course, informed him that the only college type I know isn't dangerous in the least, unless he counts a fiendish ability at the piano." Everyone at the table grinned at me. "What do you say, Tohma-kun?" she asked. "Are Oniichan's terrors unfounded?"
Despite myself, I felt my cheeks turning pink. "I'm engaged to be married, Noriko-san," I responded. I realized my mistake when the table erupted in questions.
"Well, yes, but-"
"Is she hot?"
"She's very pretty, but-"
"Do we ever get to meet her?"
"Well, she lives in Kyoto, but-" I said, trying to get a word in edgewise.
The questions showed no sign of stopping. "When?"
"Not for a while; Mika-san is even younger than Noriko-san-"
"Oh, and so young, too!"
"Well, it was an arranged-"
"Are we invited?"
I gave up on answering the ensuing questions until everyone stopped expressing their surprise quite so exuberantly. "Well, I kinda guessed," Noriko-san said with a shrug.
"You did?" I asked, taken a bit aback.
"Well, sure," she said. "You never flirt with anyone." She patted my cheek. "If you can resist the irresistible wiles of piko piko Noriko-chan, you must have either a fiancée or a fondness for boys."
Her candor still shocked me sometimes, but I managed to answer with, "You're very perceptive, Noriko-san. And more than a little forward." After that, the conversation moved on from myself and Mika-san to other subjects, and I breathed a mental sigh of relief.
I saw Mika-san and her family again the next winter, right after I turned twenty. Her entire family had come to the overblown celebration of my father's fiftieth birthday which filled the house with strangers. Mika-san had grown very tall and begun to experiment lightly with cosmetics. Eiri-kun was just the way I remembered him; he came into the house with a smile for my parents and a black eye. "He's been fighting in school again," Mika-san told me with a frustrated sigh. "He's never going to change." Tatsuha-kun, the youngest brother, was only just toddling around, but he very quickly became the darling of all the women, charming them entirely within minutes with his halfway coherent babble and his wide eyes. "That one will be trouble too," Mika-san prophesied. "I'm not a suitable mother for a bundle of energy like him, and there's no one else."
The party lasted a noisy weekend, and I didn't get a chance to leave the house as I was accustomed on Friday or Saturday. I sighed in regret once, but I didn't think of it again. After all, I was the only son, and my place was most assuredly at home.
On the second night, I was looking for something upstairs when I spotted Eiri-kun seated in the curve of the staircase, looking lost and a little lonely. I sat down next to him. "Are you all right, Eiri-kun?"
He shrugged at me, but answered after a few moments. "I'm sick of everyone staring at me because of my hair. How come no one ever stares at you?"
"Perhaps they stare because it is such nice hair, and not because it is blond?" I joked. I was rewarded with a smile. "I have a friend with blue hair striped violet," I told him. "It was green before, and she's been thinking to make it red next. Everyone stares at her, too, but she doesn't seem to mind."
Eiri-kun sighed. "But that's different," he said. Clearly, this weighed heavily on his ten-year-old mind. "She wants weird hair. I just want to be left alone."
"You could dye it black," I suggested rashly, though I knew no well-respected family would let their child do any such thing. However, I had been picking up radical ideas from Noriko-san despite myself.
"Mikarin says that would be giving up, and a waste," he said. "Something about having a pretty little brother."
I laughed appreciatively. "I don't think you look odd, Eiri-kun," I said at last. "Your hair is just fine as far as I'm concerned." I offered him my hand, feeling a kinship with the lonely boy. "Now, come downstairs before they send someone out looking for you."
Eiri-kun stood and smiled up at me. "Thank you, Seguchi-san," he said.
"Just Tohma, please," I said. "I'm going to be your oniisan someday, and there are enough people named Seguchi-san for you to keep track of without me in the mix."
"You know," I said as I started down the stairs, "I didn't have friends in school."
"You either?" he asked. "What did you do?"
"I came home and played scales on the piano for hours," I confessed. "I guess I'm not all that cool either, am I?"
"I suppose if my new oniisan is a dork, I can't complain if I'm one too," the boy replied cheekily.
We went down the stairs hand in hand to rejoin the party, and Eiri-kun looked considerably more cheerful for the rest of the weekend, which earned me grateful looks from his family, particularly Mika-san. "You're going to be the best thing to happen to this family in years," Uesugi-san prophesied. "Maybe with a stable role model like you, the boy will learn some sense."
I thought of the nights I spent playing the piano in a club with a girl with blue hair, and wondered what he would think about my stability if I told him about it. But my well-trained face only smiled softly. "You are too kind, Uesugi-san," I demurred. "I can only hope I won't disappoint you."