First Annual Otori Music Competition
The Otoris were not a musical family. They owned one recording company, had friends who were famous musicians, owned countless CDs and records, and generally enjoyed going to musicals and symphonies, but they were not gifted in the creation of music. They were masters of the business world; intimidating, intelligent, and ruthless. But not a one could sound a clear, true note.
Masahiro went through the piano, violin, and the clarinet, only to quit on the grounds that the eldest son should maintain some semblance of dignity rather than continue being berated by his music teacher about his complete lack of ability. Kyoya had managed to survive five years of cello lessons before he argued that the unnatural positions his hands had to be in would be detrimental to his health in the future; their father was so impressed with how much an eleven year old knew about the muscles in the human hand that he let him quit. It was only Fuyumi who could put her dignity on hold to go to karaoke with her friends, and happily suffered their teasing about her tin ear
Akito sat at the piano, a thoughtful expression on his handsome face. The Otori children, the boys in particular, looked a great deal like their father, but Akito differed from them in that he'd inherited their mother's golden eyes—a shade or two lighter than the chocolate brown of his siblings. Those golden eyes were now narrowed at a complicated array of notes that had baffled him as a child and still baffled him as a young adult. But after the Suo kid had blown them all away with his piano playing, Akito couldn't help but be inspired to try again.
He'd made sure his siblings weren't home, sure that they would have something to say about his picking up the piano again after having quit with enough enthusiasm to garner a sharp word from their father about embarrassing the family with his display. He hadn't been able to help it; as a pianist, he wasn't even on the same universe as Suo.
With visible hesitation, Akito put his hands on the keys and went through an easy scale as a warm up. The notes sounded well enough, strong and confident as he loosened his fingers, trying to remember what he was taught. First slow, then a little bit faster, then faster...but then his fingers began to trip up.
Gritting his teeth, Akito stared down at the keys, concentrating on getting the scale out without any mistakes before he could even thinking of attacking the piece he wanted to play. It had been nearly six years since he'd last touched the piano, and though he remembered where his fingers were supposed to be—he'd memorized the periodic table of elements on a dare once, so it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say he had a mind like a steel trap—his fingers couldn't remember what they were supposed to do.
"Are you trying to kill us?" Kyoya's mild taunt sounded from the doorway.
Akito shot a glare at his brother. Still dressed in his Ouran junior high school uniform, Kyoya walked into the room and tossed his jacket and bag onto the couch. Uninvited, he went to stand behind Akito, studying the sheet music propped up on the ledge.
"Well, I didn't actually think you'd need the sheet music to play a C Major scale," he remarked. "Although, if that's your warm-up, I'd advise you to practice perfecting that before moving on to the Mozart piece."
"Thank you for your wisdom. What are you doing home so early?"
"It's exam week, so I only have classes in the morning. I suppose you were counting on the house being empty. I apologize for coming home unexpectedly."
Akito wondered when his fifteen year old brother had learned to sound so...indifferent. On paper, Kyoya's words may have seemed sincere, but coming out of that face that couldn't care less, with a tone that could have turned hell into a ski resort, they barely seemed civil. It was impressive. Akito hadn't quite perfected that look until well into high school, but he doubted he could do it as well as Kyoya. Come to think of it, his brother had been manifesting certain characteristics that made Akito look at him closer. The Kyoya Akito had grown up with had been obedient, pleasant, and polite. This new Kyoya was still all those things—or seemed to be all those things, but alarms started going off in Akito's head just at the sight of him.
Kyoya crossed his arms and planted himself where he stood. Akito blew out a breath.
"What will it take to make you go away?" he asked evenly.
Pushing up his glasses to give him some time to think—a move trademarked by Masahiro—Kyoya literally looked down his nose at Akito, garnering some of his ire in the process. He didn't seem the least bit put off when Akito glared at him.
"I'm just curious to know why you've decided to start playing after all this time," Kyoya said. "I thought you hated the piano."
"I do, but after your friend played yesterday, I thought what a shame it was to leave this beautiful instrument alone."
"It might be more of a shame if you continue playing."
"Go away, Kyoya. Go out on one of your jaunts with Suo. I'm sure he's on his way over here now."
"All the more reason for you to keep playing. He'd make a wonderful teacher."
Golden eyes narrowed. Akito was patient but there was only so much he could take from his younger brother. Maybe it was time to remind Kyoya of his place.
"Maybe," Akito said pleasantly, though his smile had turned cool. "I did manage to get a little further on my piano lessons than you did with your cello. You didn't make it to the fifth level, did you?"
"My hands were beginning to freeze in that position," Kyoya said, tilting his chin up a fraction. "I thought that maybe it was time to stop since I was too young to be getting rheumatism."
"You don't think mine were? I used to be able to do these scales fast enough for the notes to blur together. It's a shame I stopped practicing."
"Mother used to tear up listening to my cello, even when it was only the scales. She said out of the four of us, I was the only one who managed to show any improvement."
"Mother also said that you looked good in glasses."
Akito had to bite back a laugh at the expression on Kyoya's face, the cool exterior melting away to reveal the teenager underneath. While there was no denying Kyoya's gifts, Akito still knew him in the way only an older brother could, which meant he knew just how to make that icy facade crack. It was gratifying.
"What does that statement have to do with our current conversation?" Kyoya retorted, pushing up his glasses with enough force to make the nose pads rattle.
"It proves that Mother doesn't always speak the truth."
"While that may be true, she was correct about my cello. Unlike yourself and Masahiro, my music teacher never sent notes home citing concern over my lack of improvement or my need for more practice. I may have been an average music student, but in this, I managed to surpass both of you. At a younger age, I might add."
"Masahiro is tone deaf, so he's not a very good measuring stick. Compared to the cello, the piano is a much more difficult instrument to master. I was, at least, blessed with long fingers, but had to work on my dexterity to be able to reach the keys fast enough. It takes more skill to play a set of scales on the piano than it does on the cello because of that very fact. Your teacher may have been pleased with your abilities, but when compared to what is necessary to play the piano, I am afraid I'd have to take issue with your belief that you surpassed me."
They stared at each other.
"What do you propose?" Kyoya asked.
Akito tapped his chin thoughtfully. Kyoya watched him silently, but his eyes were challenging, his very stance combative. Akito had had years of practice handling Masahiro, and so he was used to manipulating fragile egos. He smiled a slow smile when how he was going to manipulate this one some more came to him.
"Dust off your cello, Little Kyoya. In a month's time, on Mother's Day, we're going to have ourselves a little competition. Prepare a piece and we'll let the family decide which of us is the better musician."
To Akito's surprise, Kyoya smirked at him. He'd been expecting an argument to the contrary, but Kyoya had put away his irritation and didn't seem at all worried about this turn of events.
"An interesting challenge," he remarked. "I accept."
The doors to the music room burst open and Tamaki bounded in.
"There's a new French movie playing at the commoner movie theater in Ueno. Let's go! Oh, hi, Akito."
"Hello, Suo," Akito greeted dryly.
Akito watched as Tamaki yanked Kyoya by the arm and dragged him to the front door. He could hear his brother protesting the field trip, but his feet moved alongside Tamaki's anyway. It was just as well.
Stretching his fingers, Akito went back to his scales.
"Akito, you're going to have stop doing that," Masahiro stated flatly as he stood at the doorway.
Annoyed, Akito turned his head and shot an icy look at his older brother. Masahiro didn't look any happier than he did, his eyes narrowed behind his glasses. He held an anatomy textbook in a white-knuckled hand, and looked as if he hadn't slept in days, which was probably the case.
"I've got an exam next week that I'm trying to study for but between you trying to make that piano self-destruct and Kyoya trying to saw his way through his cello, I can barely hear myself think," Masahiro went on. "I thought you two had better things to do besides waste your time on pursuits neither of you will be able to see to the end."
"It's also cruel to put Mother through this," Fuyumi added, coming up behind Masahiro. "I'm not saying that to be mean, Akito, but it's her day and I think she deserves a little peace and quiet, not finding herself in the middle of one of your Otori Brothers Epic Battles."
"We don't have epic battles," Akito sniffed, looking away from them and staring at his sheet music. "This will be perfect in time for Mother's Day."
"You both said this year's Mother's Day, right?" Masahiro sighed tiredly.
"Yes. Go to the library if we're bothering you so much, or even the lake house. It's silent as the dead up there. You'll fit right in."
Rubbing his eyes, Masahiro walked away, leaving Fuyumi to lean against the door frame. Akito frowned at her, when she merely stared back at him, a smile on her face.
"What?" he asked.
"I want to listen to you play," she replied.
Blowing out an annoyed breath, Akito turned back to the piano. Doing his best to ignore his sister's presence, he focused his attention on the notes before him, reminding himself that he graduated top of his class in high school and would do the same in university in a year's time. He could sleep through physics class and still get the top grades, go outside unshaven and ratty but still manage to bring a woman home, and sail through life because the second son had the best position in the family—almost the same perks of the eldest child, but without the responsibility. He had all that going for him so one measly piano piece shouldn't be a problem.
A few minutes into his song, he heard Fuyumi sigh.
"Masa was right," she murmured, turning away. "The piano is going to self-destruct."
"Fine!" Akito exclaimed, throwing his hands up. "I'll take a break if it'll make you happy. Don't you have some shopping to do or something? Where's Shido?"
"He's studying," she answered, turning her nose up at him. "And I have other things to do besides shop."
"Fine, then besides bothering your dear brothers."
"No, I always have time for that. Let's go see what Kyoya's doing!"
Akito snorted but fell into step beside her. He could hear the cello screeching away as they neared Kyoya room, and with practiced silence, Fuyumi opened the door a crack and peeked in. Over her head, Akito did the same.
Kyoya sat in the middle of the room, holding his cello as if his life depended on it. While he held the bow with the tips of his fingers, even from where he stood, Akito could see the strain in his grip. However, his face was placid, nothing in his expression giving away the difficulty he was having. And he was having difficulties if the sound coming out of those strings were any indication. Akito now knew that it really was possible to make an instrument cry.
"Isn't he cute?" Fuyumi whispered, her eyes sparkling with adoration. "He's trying so hard and it's not working at all."
"Give me a break," Akito hissed back. "He's about three bars away from a hernia."
"He is not. How could you say such a thing?"
"Because I grew up surrounded by doctors and there are some things you just know. Look at him. If he swallowed a lump of coal..."
"I can hear you, you know," Kyoya interrupted, his bow coming to a stop. "Do you mind? I'm practicing."
Akito pushed the door open all the way without warning and Fuyumi stumbled in.
"Sorry, Kyoya!" she said bashfully. "We just wanted to see how you were doing."
"You might have, but Akito is here for other reasons. Let me guess: I couldn't beat you even if I practiced nonstop for the next ten years?"
"Something like that except ten times meaner," Akito said, walking up to him and tweaking one of the strings. "You could make a statue cry with that horrific playing, Kyoya. Mother was probably a piece of cake."
"Is it almost time to get the piano tuned again?"
"Maybe we should order another cello just in case this one runs away."
Akito yanked the bow from Kyoya's hand and ran it across all the strings with enough force to make them all wince at the sound.
"That was actually better than what you were doing to the piano," Kyoya observed coolly. "Maybe you should try the cello instead."
"And steal your thunder, or whatever it is you're doing? What kind of brother would that make me?" Akito retorted sarcastically.
The three younger Otoris jumped when Masahiro stormed into the room, his hair in disarray and his glasses askew. He was still holding his anatomy book but only by its cover, and the spine looked close to ripping from the strain.
"Let's just settle this once and for all," he said, jabbing a finger at them. "The servants are going insane, the foundation of the house—no—of the family is cracking, because of your incessant bickering and unspeakable musical...musical...I don't even know what to call that!"
"Catastrophe?" Fuyumi offered.
"Not good enough," Masahiro snapped. "Kyoya, pick that damn cello up and take it into the music room. We're going to have this over and done with now."
"We still have two more weeks to go," Akito said stubbornly, crossing his arms.
"We agreed on the date of our competition and it wouldn't be fair if it was moved up without warning."
"It would be fair to say that neither of you are going to get any better. Two more weeks of practice will result in nothing but half of the household staff quitting, and my failing out of medical school, not the two of you suddenly becoming musically adept. You're not asleep and this is not a dream. Pick up the cello, Kyoya."
Kyoya and Akito exchanged a look. Without a word, Kyoya set aside his cello and Akito moved to stand in front of him.
"Two weeks, Masa," he said. "We'll do it in two weeks."
Visibly bristling, Masahiro stood toe to toe with Akito.
"If you don't settle this today, you're going to have another competitor," he warned between clenched teeth.
"Who? You?" Akito said, chuckling.
Masahiro's eyes narrowed.
"No. Fuyumi. Singing."
Akito heard Kyoya's sharp intake of breath. His own shoulders slumped in defeat. Behind Masahiro, Fuyumi's mouth moved but nothing came out, her face bright red with embarrassment and anger.
"All I'm going to give Mother for Mother's Day is a diamond necklace. You three will blow that present right out of the water with your competition," Masahiro said, straightening and pushing his glasses up.
"Fine," Kyoya said, standing. "Let's go, Akito."
For a brief moment, Akito considered not following his little brother out of the room, just because he wasn't especially pleased about taking orders from a kid whose diapers he'd changed...or seen changed...but with a shrug, he went. There were some battles not worth fighting; besides, one battle a day was enough.
Akito felt the blood drain from his face when he saw the blond boy in the hallway, a big box of pastries in his hands. His timing could not have been worse.
"Tamaki," Kyoya greeted.
"Perfect timing, Suo," Masahiro said, clapping a hand on Tamaki's shoulder and turning him around. "You can be the judge. Fuyumi and I aren't objective enough to judge these two."
"Judge what?" Tamaki asked, eyes wide with curiosity.
"The First Annual Otori Music Competition," Masahiro answered, his demeanor going from irritated to mildly amused in the blink of an eye. "The first and onlyone of its kind."
In less than five minutes, Masahiro settled Tamaki on the couch, handed him a pad of paper and a pencil that came out of nowhere, and explained what was expected of him. Tamaki was staring at him like deer caught in headlights, which made Akito feel somewhat less nervous, considering he was going to have to play in front of a veritable virtuoso. Kyoya looked more annoyed than anything else with the prospect of his friend, probably his only friend, having to take part in this.
"Masa, can't you and Fuyumi just decide on your own," he said, a wrinkle between his eyebrows. "Tamaki probably has things he has to do. Right, Tamaki?"
"Actually, I just wanted to see if you wanted to go to this street fair in Asakusa today, but we can go after this," Tamaki said guilelessly.
The air around Kyoya practically crackled. Akito smiled.
"Just be fair, alright, Suo?" Akito said kindly, offering up a warmer alternative to his two brothers. "Don't let Masa and Kyoya intimidate you. You're a wonderful musician and you know what's best, more so than any of us in this room."
"Thank you, Akito," Tamaki said, practically sparkling at him. "I'll do my best to judge you and my best friend as objectively as I can."
"Best friend?" Akito echoed, not liking the sound of that.
"Please take your seat at the piano, Akito," Masahiro said smoothly, his gaze diamond hard.
"I thought Kyoya was going first," Akito argued.
"It might be better to get you out of the way first," was the firm reply. "Please."
Grumbling under his breath, Akito sat at the piano. He ran through a quick scale before starting his piece. He forgot the others were in the room as he poured all his concentration on the task before him, tackling it as he did a chemistry problem or other things of that nature. Music was science and math, that's all it was...
Before he knew it, he was finished. Feeling proud of himself since he didn't make a single mistake, he looked over to where Tamaki sat between Masahiro and Fuyumi. The boy was staring at him as if he were an alien.
He could feel the waves of amusement emanating from Kyoya, but not even a hint of smile was on his blank face.
"Uh...that was...very..." Tamaki was speechless for the first time in Akito's recollection.
"How about your hold your comments until after Kyoya plays?" Akito suggested frostily, his earlier warmth forgotten as temper spiked.
Tamaki cleared his throat and looked down at his paper. Fuyumi looked sympathetic, but Masahiro looked vindicated, his eyes gleaming with smugness. He gestured for Kyoya to take a seat, the MC of this impromptu concert.
Akito leaned his elbow on the top of the piano, cupping his cheek with one hand as Kyoya made a show of tuning his cello. He wanted to say that nothing could stop it from sounding like a shrieking bag of feral, dying cats, but held his tongue.
When Kyoya began, the notes started out strong and confident, as they always did. Akito saw Tamaki's eyebrows rise, impressed, but he tucked away a smile because he knew what was coming up next.
Tamaki's eyebrows rose higher but only because Akito was sure he had never heard a cello make sounds like that. For his part, he had no idea how Kyoya had come up with that technique, but he must have blown out an ear drum in the process for him to not realize that he was creating the musical equivalent of a nightmare. On the couch, Fuyumi winced and Masahiro poked at his ears as if he had an annoying fly buzzing around them. Tamaki was blinking rapidly, his pencil frozen over his paper.
When Kyoya finished, the room was dead silent. Then...
Akito gaped at the idiotic boy, who had jumped to his feet. Masahiro and Fuyumi looked as surprised as he felt. On the other hand, Kyoya beamed.
"I've never heard a cello make sounds like that!" Tamaki crowed, clapping. "Kyoya, my friend, I knew you were a genius in math, science, and all those common subjects at school, but I never guessed you'd added the sublime language of music to your repertoire."
"He's biased," Akito said flatly, shocked at what he was hearing.
"I'm not!" Tamaki protested.
"You insisted he do this," Kyoya pointed out, unable to keep the satisfaction from his voice.
"I assure you, Akito, that Kyoya's cello playing reached the very depths of my heart and the artist in me recognizes a kindred spirit in him," Tamaki added.
"I've been robbed!" Akito exclaimed. "I demand a recount."
"There's only one vote," Masahiro said amusedly. "Alright, Kyoya wins the competition. Great. Now, set the cello on fire and throw the piano out...or the other way around. I don't care. Just stop the cacophony and let me study in peace. Thank you for helping out, Suo."
"It was my pleasure," Tamaki said cheerfully, grinning.
Masahiro picked up his book, dipping his head, but not before Akito saw him roll his eyes. He left the room without another word. Fuyumi was busy congratulating Kyoya while Akito sat stiffly at the piano, feeling as if he'd gotten run over by a truck.
"Akito," Tamaki said, coming to stand beside him. "Your playing was also very beautiful."
"But not quite at the same level of sublime as Kyoya's," Akito said testily.
"Kyoya's playing wasn't as skilled as yours, but he felt his music," Tamaki explained thoughtfully. "You hit all the right notes but you didn't let them in. Music is about how you feel inside, not just what you can do on the outside. It's a beautiful language, and you must see it that way so you can use it to communicate your emotions with your audience."
Someone forgot to cue the violins, Akito thought wryly, but said aloud, "Thank you, Suo. I'll keep that in mind."
"Let's go, Kyoya. To the street fair! Do you two want to come along?"
"Yes!" Fuyumi said, clapping her hands.
"No, thanks. I've got some errands to run," Akito said dismissively.
"Alright. Keep practicing, Akito, and remember what I said."
Akito pasted a smile on his face and nodded. He glanced at his brother and saw that Kyoya's smile mirrored his.
"A fair win, wouldn't you say?" Kyoya asked.
"From a very fair judge," Akito said, his voice dripping with honey.
"Until the next time then," Kyoya said.
"You're still behind in the count."
"I'm catching up."
Akito shook his head at him, but knew it was true. Kyoya pushed his glasses up, a corner of his mouth going up as well. Then, Fuyumi and Tamaki each took a hold of his arms, and they trooped off, leaving Akito with the piano.
He'd heard it many times, from many people, all that about feeling the music. It just didn't make any sense to him. Granted, he'd gotten choked up hearing Tamaki play, but he'd stayed up all night working on a Japanese paper and was more vulnerable than usual. Besides which, when he played, he heard the the music, not felt it. How else was he to know he was playing the right notes? He was certain only romantic fools managed to put common sense on hold to feel the music.
"Then it's no wonder Suo's a genius," he mutttered, tapping out an errant key.
Standing, Akito covered the piano, and fought the urge to kick the cello over. He made do with savagely twisting one of the tuning knobs. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he pondered the merits of hiring a pianist next time he had an urge to make music. It would probably be more beneficial in the long run. His fingers ached and his pride was smarting. Not to mention, Kyoya managed to win one.
Sighing loud enough to draw the attention of a passing maid, Akito told himself that he should probably get used to it. He'd seen the expression on Kyoya's face when he'd won, the first time he could remember seeing Kyoya actually show pride and confidence in something he did—or maybe allowed himself to show it. Like music, those emotions meant nothing until they could be felt, could be shared. Akito had missed it, but at some point, his brother had started to open up.
Great. Another overachieving, egomaniac in the family.
Akito ran a hand through his hair. Yes, he really had to start getting used to losing to his little brother. Smiling, he comforted himself with the fact that Masahiro was going to take it a lot harder than he was.