Kia Ixari & Aventria
(2008.11.14) So since the trip to the whole foods store was aborted, I have decided to spend my Friday afternoon lounging around with a mug of hot chocolate (it's freezing out, ah, love~) and the trusty little Mac on my lap. (Be grateful, slaves. XD)
As a reply to one of the reviews we have received from the previous chapter, we ARE going to have this TezuRyo. Ultimately. But that doesn't mean we can't have some fun along the way, right? You've got to set a balance. It can't all be just one thing. No one is all about just one thing. Such is life.
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applies.
A note to those who want to hear the piece performed: the link to a page named Music of Concerto is on our profile. Click on it, and it will lead you to a page that has the links to music downloads (or videos, if we can't upload/don't have said piece). I highly suggest listening to the pieces while reading. Or at least, listen to it once. It gives you an idea of why we describe said pieces as we do, why we picked said pieces for Ryoma and Keigo, and why they are considered… well, quite difficult by normal standards. (You might want to take note of the names of the pieces, too. You'll have to know which one you want. The list is organized by composer.)
On the character chart request (2008.11.22): I have published a characters & instruments chart for you readers to refer to whenever you feel lost and cannot recall who played which and which played who. Sadly though, the information released will be tightly monitored. We do like spoilers, but only when we're having them. We don't like sharing, see. We're egotistical that way. XD The link is on our profile. Feel free to clicky~.
Things to look forward to (read: Warning): Quasi-smecks~! XD
Op. 10: Appassionato
(1) shomin – Lit: "commoner." Someone of relatively lower rank/low social status. Ordinary people. To Keigo, they're literally the rest of the world.
The first day of Intraschool Concours was welcomed with much merry fanfare from students, teachers, and guests alike. It was a much celebrated event, well-ingrained and plenty useful for the university, most certainly deserving of the sizable crowd it gathered.
Students from other universities milled around, scouting and investigating, most likely to gain possible leverage against their guaranteed fellow competitors for the nearing Interschool Concours. In retaliation, students of residence were trying their hardest to thwart in any way possible said wayward attempts, and at the same time make it look like they were simply being the kind welcoming committee they were supposed to be. (Of course, it did not help that Yukimura and Fuji were the first ones of the higher echelon to show and man the preparations for the long day.)
There were fans, of course, a mix of elated faces, young men and women alike, faithfully stalking their stalkee of choice. A horde continually followed—or at least tried to follow—Fuji around, as if they were wildebeests in heat and Fuji was the zebra leading them through the terrain. Enthusiasts who were either new to the classical scene or complete novices to music in general were curiously rifling through pamphlets, trying to get their heads around the names of the performers, as well as the frighteningly long names of the pieces to be played.
The media was having a field day, for today was most certainly a special day. Several well-known musicians were actually spotted walking around before they could be ushered into an especially commissioned VIP suite, where they were to wait until the time of viewing. They were to be guided much later to their ideally situated VIP boxes; for now, all they had to do was relax. Reporters were already scratching away on their handy little flip notebooks as they rattled questions to the university chancellor and provost. The moment Ryuuzaki emerged from within the inner offices, she was also immediately swamped by reporters with a basketful of questions, most of which regarding the new resident celebrity.
However, for the said celebrity, such a day was most definitely not a happy one.
Tugging on his tie, Ryoma grumbled. Having somehow impossibly escaped the persistent tagalong horde, Yukimura was now fiddling with his hair from behind, while he was forced to face a mirror and quietly endure the torture. The cellist insisted on some very mild styling gel in order to "accentuate" his hair. Ryoma had been all against it, but did it really matter? No, of course, it didn't.
The past two weeks had flown by in a blur of incredibly taxing practice sessions (the bloody ape was harder on him than his own father!) and a multitude of sleepovers at the hideously luxurious manor, most of the time accompanied by either Fuji or Yukimura. The audition for the concours was at best uneventful; the Twins were the only ones there, and they'd already heard him play the piece just about a million times during those accursed practice sessions. He couldn't help but entertain the very possible possibility that the Twins had orchestrated things to be such and pushed everyone else out of the audition hall once it was his turn. They probably wanted to reserve his first performance in front of the people who mattered for later. The rest of it was formality; he didn't even bother lingering to listen to the rest of the people who were auditioning.
And alas, before he knew it, the concours were upon them.
Heavens help me.
He hated the noise outside; it was upsetting Karupin. It was the concours, not the bloody commoner fair! They were supposed to behave and be sensible adults, for heaven's sake. Adults behaving like mindless little flailing children seemed to be the fad these days, he mused. Common sense apparently was not common at all.
"Nyanko-chan, if you keep on scowling like that, it'll freeze onto your face and ruin your lovely charm," Yukimura murmured as he happily wiped his hand on a towel and took Ryoma's tie. With gentle fingers he rearranged it into a presentable knot, the creases Ryoma's fiddling fingers had made seemingly disappearing into thin air.
"Who cares," grumbled the boy. "They can all go burn."
"Oh?" Fuji echoed faintly from where he was perched comfortably by the bed. "But if they all go burn, the concours will be cancelled. And if the concours are cancelled, then there will be no judging for the Chamber. And if there's no judging for the Chamber, you won't be able to play with Tezuka. And if you—"
"Alright, alright, I get it, I need to be nice and charm them and play!" Ryoma burst out loud, red and fuming. "Just please, shut up."
Giggling delightedly like gossiping high school girls, Yukimura and Fuji convened into a huddle of whispers and sly glances. Ryoma's eye twitched, a habit his muscles seemed to have taken an immense liking to for the past two weeks. He did not like it when those two did that huddle-and-whisper-and-giggle thing. The back of his neck prickled, and his instincts screamed 'DANGER! EVACUATE!' so loud he was tempted to think it really was coming from outside and not inside his head.
After a moment more of hushed whispers Ryoma's sharp ears could barely catch, the Twins separated. The benevolent smiles™ were back on their similarly innocent faces once more, which could only mean a great deal of trouble (and a great deal of clean-up work afterwards).
Ergo, instead of gracing them with acid words of reproach, Ryoma simply took his violin and strode towards the door. He made sure to pet Karupin and coo the gentle words of a temporary goodbye before he left. He had already locked the balcony doors and closed the blinds to ensure no one would be peeking into the very last vestige of privacy he had within this godforsaken soy-addicted maniac-infested country.
Slamming the door behind his back, he (very intentionally) hit Yukimura squarely in the face.
That felt good.
Nursing what promised to be a gigantic migraine by the evening, Tezuka strode through the lobby to drag Keigo away from the squealing mob of fangirls (and the occasional boy). He proceeded to haul a (still gloriously awesome but horribly) miffed Keigo towards the secluded and relatively quiet Student Council meeting room.
The moment they were in, Keigo tugged his arm out of Tezuka's firm grip and readjusted his cuffs. "You did not have to bodily drag my glorious self from my loving admirers, Tezuka," he informed his fellow pianist with a deigning sniff. "I can very well walk on my own. I am not a cripple."
"And I am not stupid," Tezuka sighed irritably, sinking into one of the chairs. He nursed his temples, a roaring pain now unraveling behind his eyes. "Please, Atobe. Try not to make a scene. The media are already a handful as they are."
Keigo raised an eyebrow. "Who do you think you are talking to? Ore-sama was not trying to make a scene. Ore-sama's presence simply demands one by Itself," the diva very graciously informed him.
A mental groan was all Tezuka could muster as a reply to such a statement.
"You do know that you are given subordinates so that you can delegate the work, do you not, Tezuka?" Keigo sighed gently. He sat himself down in his favored chair with grace that could only be perfected through years of merciless practice under his mother's watchful guidance. "You overburden yourself when there is no need to. Let people do the work for you sometimes."
"Not a very reassuring prospect, considering the people we have around," Tezuka dryly remarked. It would be absolute disaster if Yukimura and Fuji were to be left alone to deal with the event, and Inui and Yanagi were completely out of the question. Such things were too volatile to entrust within their very irresponsible wander-prone hands.
In all honesty, Tezuka could still not understand how Keigo could completely entrust his on-goings within Yuushi's hands. Perhaps he was not aware of the dubbed Shadow King's tendencies? But then, he reasoned with himself, the two heirs grew up together and were practically brothers in every sense but biological.
Perhaps that's why they can trust each other so easily despite their… shortcomings.
In an effort to clear it, Tezuka shook his head. He took a deep breath. "In any case, please refrain from showing yourself too much if you will attract attention. I assure you there will be plenty time to... showcase yourself much later, but for now, please, Atobe. I ask for a little cooperation."
The request wrung a wry smile from said multimillion dollar heir. "Well, since you asked so nicely…"
One last warning glare and Tezuka stood from his seat. He was just about to go through the doors when they were pushed open and a very harassed and aggravated Echizen Ryoma stormed in, followed by a very cheerfully harassing and aggravating Fuji and an evidently mildly miffed Yukimura rubbing a red cheek (but still smiling amusedly nonetheless).
Inwardly, Tezuka groaned.
"Ah, Atobe-kun! Good morning!" bid Yukimura, eyes brightening with delight. He ushered the handful of potty-mouthed hissing little bundle of joy he had as his charge into one of the comfortable chairs. "I do hope you've had a restful sleep? Today's the first performance, and first impressions always last the longest. You don't want to disappoint the hefty crowd we have out there."
"Of course," the diva haughtily sniffed. "Ore-sama will not disappoint. Ore-sama never disappoints."
Ryoma, sat across Keigo, gave an aggressive hiss, ruffling like an enraged cat. It was evident that the word 'loathed' did not even begin to cover the extent of dislike Ryoma harbored for said diva and the performance they were forced to pull together.
"Gather all that negative energy of yours and channel it into your music, brat, if you're that angry."
"I'm afraid that will desecrate Brahms," Ryoma frowned. "I am not so angry that I would stoop to such a thing."
"Then channel it somewhere else and quit hissing at every person you see," Keigo heatedly shot back. The irritated diva turned his eyes away from his irritant and instead towards the steadily ticking wall clock. They were only a mere fifteen minutes away from the beginning of the entire event. Though it was not really much of a worry for them, for they were the very last in line.
Remembering how he and the brat were both vetoed when they'd insisted to go first in line, Keigo's eyebrow twitched in apparent annoyance.
A smattering of council members sat around the table, sipping tea while poring over requests from students, most wanting to be either at the very top or at the very bottom of the roll. Today they were to decide the order of the participants, and they were already more than halfway, for the first ones were really easy to place. Since all the participants wanted either first or last, they simply put them in alphabetical order in the middle, leaving the last two spots at the top and the last two spots at the bottom vacant. (In hindsight, giving the participants the option to request for their preferred spot was actually pretty pointless considering how they overrode the submitted requests anyway.)
"Oh, what's this?" Yukimura faintly voiced, plucking a piece of paper from the mess that was the request forms from the other participants. The cellist's sharp eyes immediately recognized the very familiar handwriting on the sheet. It was from Ryoma. "Ryoma-chan wants to be the first to perform?"
All eyes immediately gravitated towards Yukimura, expectant and wanting for a substantial explanation. The cellist, however, simply glanced over to a nonchalant Keigo.
Meeting the cellist's gaze, Keigo sighed. "Ore-sama agrees with the brat. It would be ideal for us to go first."
"That's not the word Ryoma-chan used," Yukimura smiled, reading off the paper. "He said it would be convenient for him if the two of you to go first. Apparently, he's eager to get this over with."
"No surprise there," Fuji chuckled. "He seems to be at the very end of his wits dealing with you, Atobe-kun."
Keigo resisted the very strong urge to retort acidly that he too was at the very end of his wits dealing with the Infernal Brat. Why the brat had to be brought forth into this blessed world, Keigo did not know, and he figured he did not want to know. He just wanted the brat gone.
"Shall we skip the prelude and simply decide?" Keigo snapped irritably. His irritation towards the impertinent child was like a recurring rash—whenever he thought about it, it itched more.
"Now, now, 'To-Be-To-Be-chan," Yukimura cooed sweetly, the same benevolent smile™ once again on his deceptively angelic face. "You are as much a man of music as I am. You should know the purpose behind preludes! You, of all people, should be able to appreciate a little foreplay."
"Ryoma-chan has been real nice and behaved these past few, you have to admit," Yukimura continued without heeding the blaring warning signs of a nearing diva explosion. "He doesn't struggle as much anymore. He's a lot more docile and easy to handle. Oh, of course that takes half the fun out of it, but I guess we've got to do what we've got to do…"
Tezuka's warning tone effectively (but only temporarily) stemmed the cellist's advances, for which Keigo was immensely thankful. He was all but wheezing from the intense anger management boot camp the brat forced him under for the past two weeks, and he was almost down to the last straw. Almost there. And Yukimura was a thorn in his already painful side.
He was, however, broken from his internal hissy fit when Tezuka spoke.
"I do not think putting Atobe and Echizen at the top of the list is a good idea," the former-violinist-turned-pianist remarked thoughtfully.
Keigo was floored.
"Because it would not be fair to the other contenders," Tezuka answered, reading the unspoken but blaringly obvious question splattered all over Keigo's face.
Crossing his arms, Keigo sat back against his chair with a set and unconvinced frown. "I do not see your logic."
With a great sigh, Tezuka began. "The competitors are clearly very… different from the two of you. You are one of the university's best pianists, and Echizen is an international superstar. Those are most certainly things to consider, since they will affect the… well, they will affect everyone who will be joining and performing alongside of you."
Keigo's stare remained evidently unconvinced. "Wouldn't that be more reason for us to go first?"
A faint frown put delicate wrinkles upon Tezuka's forehead. He seemed to be struggling to find the right words to say, his rigorous politeness holding fast and strong despite the message he wanted to carry across.
Finally taking pity on him, Yuushi expertly stepped in (and the others let him, for he was most capable of dealing with any type of Atobe-mood, PMS and whatnot, that Keigo could unleash upon them, the unsuspecting flock). He very boldly stated, "The essence of what he is saying, Keigo, is that if you and Echizen go up there, perform first, and blind the living souls out of everybody in the hall, every person coming after you in the list will be, suffice to say, scared shitless and scarred for the rest of their lives. Tezuka here is trying his best as a responsible leader to keep that from happening. It would be disastrous to have all of them drop and disappear out of thin air. They are profit for the school, after all."
Keigo's eyebrows raised in sympathetic understanding. "Ah."
Reluctantly, Tezuka nodded in confirmation. That wasn't exactly how he would have put it, and that also wasn't exactly why he wanted to stop Keigo and Ryoma, but so long as the point was carried across, he figured it was fine. Yuushi and Keigo were both born and raised businessmen—they were all for the profit. (His concern was actually along the lines of ethics, for it surely would have been inhuman to let such innocent people suffer eternal scarring that can otherwise be circumvented.)
Yuushi then turned towards Tezuka and remarked, "You should have simply skipped the fancy words and gotten to the point. He won't be offended if you tell him that he scares people. In fact, he takes it a complement."
Tezuka nodded once more, taking note of given advice.
"But ore-sama fails to see why ore-sama should inconvenience ore-sama's brilliant self in order to make space for such... unimportant shomin (1)." Flipping his hair away from his eyes with a regal (and completely extraneous) flair, he settled the rest of the table's occupants with a daring glare. "The needs of royalty must be addressed first in order to meet the needs of the shomin, after all."
Tezuka sighed, forehead crumpling in pain.
"Think of it this way, To-Be-To-Be-chan," Fuji spoke for Yukimura, who was currently still under reprimand by Tezuka. "If you go last with Ryoma-chan, then you'll be able to finish the day and go out with a bang. You'd be the highlight, and everyone will surely remember you and your performance, since you'd be the last to go. The media, I'm sure, would painstakingly stay a day to wait for the two of you. I mean, what's a few more hours to wait when they've already waited a month, right?" He gave a benevolent smile™.
"Indeed," Yukimura agreed, nodding with the very same benevolent smile™.
Inwardly seething, Keigo had no choice to surrender. Not when the Twins, Yuushi, and Tezuka were all vetoing him. Brilliant though he was, he knew his (impossibly high) limits. Truthfully he could still push for what he wanted—there is always more than one way to skin the cat, after all—but he knew where to stop. If he pushed any further, it would only result in the Twins bearing down on him like the plague that they are. Tezuka, too, would be incensed. Yuushi would simply make his workload for the rest of the month even heavier than it already was.
"Fine," he sniffed as delicately as he could, without appearing annoyed. "Ore-sama will grant His magnificent grace to the shomin for them to prepare for ore-sama's glorious spectacle."
As such, it was decided that they were to perform last, shortly after six o'clock in the evening, right before the reception party for the VIPs.
The night after the said meeting, the Infernal Brat was a hellcat on his ass.
Suffice to say, there wasn't much of restful sleep that night.
Trying to stop himself from grinding his teeth too hard, he loosened his jaw and took a deep breath to relax. It would not do to appear ruffled and messy in front of people. Appearances and reputations were of utmost importance and were to be guided with one's life, for so much depended on them. This was the basic of the very basic of all Atobe family creeds. He'd learned this creed and had been upholding it for the past eighteen years; he had no intention whatsoever of stopping anytime soon. It had served its purpose, and it would continue to. So long as it did, there was no point in letting go.
"Nervous, monkey?" Ryoma smirked. "Don't tell me you're getting cold feet now."
Keigo raised an eyebrow, the well-practiced condescending glare directed at its newest favorite target. "Do you realize who you are talking to, brat?"
"Why, yes, I do," the young virtuoso replied, the same smirk still confidently plastered on his face. "I'm talking to a piano-playing monkey who's now getting cold feet and does not want to go up the very scary stage."
"I'm talking to a monkey who, in a short while, will be shaming himself in front of hundreds of people by stumbling on notes through his nervousness," Ryoma continued, ignoring Yukimura's light giggles from a corner and Fuji's gentle voice against Tezuka's deep one outside the door. "I'm talking to a monkey who will mess up my performance because of his ape-brained ill-conceived antics. That's who I'm talking to."
"Or should that be a 'what'?"
"You ungrateful infernal excuse of a—"
"Now, now, now, 'To-Be-chan!" Yukimura hurriedly stepped in, holding Keigo back. "Let's play nice. We don't want the two of you sporting identical and awfully auspicious panda black-eyes on stage, do we?"
"That's easy enough to cover with concealer and make-up, though," Fuji thoughtfully remarked as he reentered the meeting room. "Maybe you should just let them vent for a while before they go up there and perform."
Tezuka, who was leaving for the event's initiation, sighed and called out, "Fuji, Yukimura, don't bait them."
"Oh, we won't!" Yukimura cheerfully bid. "We need them alive, after all!"
"I shall have you know that ore-sama will be flawless today, as per usual," Keigo sniffed, his hardest glare trained upon the petulant boy who bounced it right back. "If there's anyone who will be messing up, it'll be youand your stubby fingers."
Ryoma smirked. "We'll see about that."
"Yes, we will, won't we?" Keigo's frown very slowly morphed into a smirk as he registered the challenge to his authority and gloriousness. He couldn't possibly refuse any such thing, could he now? He rested his elbows upon the table and leaned forward, lowering his voice as he muttered ominously, "Are you prepared to lose a third time, brat?"
The boy's eyes narrowed the fraction of an inch. "Oh, no. I'll be having you on the losing side this time. That I swear on my violin today, ape."
"Oooh, a third round?" Fuji grinned. "Lovely."
Yukimura's gaily laugh echoed through the room, making Ryoma scowl in displeasure. The Twins were once more pleased with the turn of events, and were having the times of their lives being spectators to the collective human race's suffering (namely Ryoma and Ryoma only, for the ape was not to be considered human). He simply knew, by instinct or whatnot, that this entire thing—everything about this fiasco waiting to blow in their faces—was the Twins' elaborate plot to get their more-than-fair share of entertainment. He could not help but ponder how differently the Twins' brains were wired from the rest of the human race. They were wired to have endorphin rushes whenever someone else was suffering within their immediate proximity, even more so if the suffering was somehow—directly or indirectly—brought upon by their own hands. Quite literally speaking, they were getting off on others' suffering.
Reminded once again of The Competition That The Thrice-Damned Dolphin And His Twin, The Fox, Forced Upon Them To Get Them To Decide A Bloody Piece To Play Which The Infernal Dolphin and The Cursed Fox Helped The Monkey Cheat At So It Really Shouldn't Be Called As Such, Ryoma grimaced.
Even now, two weeks and a day later, he still couldn't wrap his head around the idea that he'd lost.
To the ape.
He didn't even dare try and remember what the bloody competition entailed, not now that he'd already finally managed to forget it. (He had already successfully—and very painstakingly—accomplished suppression, which was not very easy to do when there were certain pests who kept on rubbing salt into the wounds. Now he was well on his way to the complete denial of said competition's existence. Soon, he would be blissfully free.)
The ultimate results of the competition? Keigo ended up getting to decide (and rather frivolously too, might he very honestly add) the rest of their pieces. To think of it, Ryoma mused, Keigo ended up choosing all of their pieces. His grimace simply deepened when he recalled how he'd been conned into agreeing to Brahms as their first piece. Now he was stuck with two more utterly apish pieces to play.
"Lighten up, nyanko-chan," Yukimura smiled. The cellist reached over and patted the boy's cheek gently. With a sweet, sugarcoated voice, he said, "Don't worry, it'll all be over before you know it."
"Right," Ryoma murmured under his breath. "And I'm supposed to believe that."
Slamming the door in the cellist's face, Ryoma now realized, was a grave mistake. It might have felt awfully good at that point, but he was inclined to believe that such a minute moment of pleasure would be enough to make up for all the suffering he might have to endure for the duration of the concours. He was entirely sure Yukimura was up to something, a something that would surely only make the entire experience hurt all the more. How that was possible, he didn't really know, but he didn't dare put it past the cellist to figure something out. The Twins weren't dubbed demon incarnates for nothing.
"Would you like to get breakfast, Ryoma-chan? Oh wait. It would be brunch, wouldn't it?" the cellist said, checking the wall clock. "It is a bit late."
"Ryoma-chan slept in," Fuji quipped. "No stress at all for the superstar."
"Nope, no stress." Ryoma reclined in his seat as Yukimura borrowed Keigo's phone to borrow Keigo's servants and have them bring up some of Keigo's food. It wasn't currently advisable for any of them to leave the safety of the meeting rooms, for they would surely be swamped by the crowd. Their best chance of slipping past was to wait for the event to begin and sneak out when the crowd was preoccupied.
Yukimura returned Keigo's phone and rose from his seat beside Ryoma. "Well, we'll be heading out now."
"You're not staying?" Ryoma voiced in surprise.
"We do need to be present at the concours to judge, Ryoma-chan."
"But—but—who am I supposed to eat with?" Ryoma sputtered.
The cellist gave him a small peck on the cheek coupled with a very sweet smile™. "Why, 'To-Be-To-Be-chan is here, isn't he?"
With that, the Twins strode out the open doors, both carrying blue folders for their judging duties, headed towards the Performance Hall. Ryoma was left gaping after them, while Keigo merely gave a sigh.
"Close your mouth, brat. It's uncomely."
"No. 5, the girl who played the violin, she was rather good," Oishi remarked to Inui as they made their way back into the hall. The intermission had just ended, and the latter half of the list was now due. "Do you think they'll let her in?"
"There's a forty-five percent chance," Inui replied calmly. "Therefore, it is not very likely."
Oishi gave a small sigh. "I've always thought our standards were a tad too unrealistic." And it was true, for the university's First Chamber Orchestra was one of the hardest orchestras to get into in the whole country, coming only second to Toudai's very finicky First Symphony. (Then again, Toudai's First Symphony was one of the only orchestras in the country who could actually rival Ondai, so he figured that was reasonable.)
"I think that's because we have such mean people on our panel, nya." Eiji suckled peacefully on a lollipop as he walked alongside his beloved aibou. He was a little sedate today, if only because Fuji had reprimanded him earlier and Tezuka had threatened to ban sweets from the Dormitory for a week if he didn't calm himself and stop his unnecessary flailing motions.
"You only say that because you've been scolded, Eiji," Oishi blandly said.
"No I don't!" Eiji said heatedly. He turned to Inui, who merely kept walking stoically. "Inui, Inui, tell him! Fuji really is mean! And then there's Yukimura-kaichou too!"
Inui cleared his throat. "There is a ninety-nine percent accuracy to Eiji's statement."
"Which means it's true!" Eiji triumphantly declared. He threw his arms out to emphasize his point, but only hit his hand against the wall, and proceeded to howl in pain. Oishi rushed over in his usual worry, half-admonishing the redhead and half-calming him (in vain).
Inui, meanwhile, stood by and watched. He adjusted his glasses, pulled out his companion, the Green Notebook, and started scribbling. "Eiji can actually understand percentages. Ii data. I didn't expect that. There was only a thirty-four percent chance…"
"Oi! I am in college, you know! And graduating too!" the redhead indignantly retorted. "You're being mean again! I hate all of you! You're all mean to me! And I've done nothing to earn it!"
Inui once more adjusted his glasses and opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, a very familiar voice came from where they were headed: the hall entrance.
There stood Atobe Keigo in all his glory, having only arrived from where he and the resident celebrity Echizen Ryoma had allegedly been hiding in the council room. The said celebrity stood right beside the diva, radiating a high-and-mighty atmosphere that immediately called attention and drove away anyone unable to handle such high-and-mightiness (which incidentally meant everyone else not Yukimura or Fuji or Keigo—who was, by the way, radiating the same high-and-mightiness, thus doubling the original dose for any blissfully ignorant yet very unfortunate body who dares enter the ten-foot radius).
The Twins were currently hovering around the young virtuoso, while Tezuka tried to convince the petulant teenager into something he obviously did not want to do. Or at least, that was how it looked to Inui.
Deciding that this was most definitely worth his time and attention, Inui strode past a whimpering Eiji and a still worried Oishi. As he drew closer, he began to pick up the conversation. Thankfully, almost all of the viewers were already inside for the second half of the first day.
"…just want to watch, that's all," Ryoma insisted, petulant. "Is that really so bad?"
"It—will not do good for the other competitors' psyche," Tezuka sighed, crossing his arms. Stern eyes looked down upon the unmoving boy.
"Come now, Tezuka," Keigo coaxed. "They wouldn't even know we were watching unless they actually looked. I doubt they would look. They'd be too busy with their sheets or with trying to remember what comes next. And even if they did look, they'd have to have really good eyes. The spotlights are quite blinding."
Tezuka remained unmoving.
Ryoma frowned. "I'm bored. I can't sit in that room all day until it's my turn. I don't care if my ears bleed—it's already been bleeding for a week with the ape's… music. I doubt it can aggravate any further." He sniffed derisively, earning a glare from said ape. "Let me in. I promise I'll behave."
"The second half starts in two minutes, Tezuka," Fuji pointed out. "We don't have time to argue. Just let Ryoma-chan in. He won't do anything disruptive."
"But there's no guarantee that the audience won't do anything disruptive," Inui inputted with a nod of acknowledgement to the four of them. Oishi and Eiji pushed past them and slipped into the hall, the redhead sneaking a raspberry at Fuji (who merely gave a menacing smile™).
"Ah, give them a little warning and they'll calm themselves," Keigo waved off.
"The media will be there too," added Inui.
"Not like we haven't faced them before," Keigo shrugged.
"Besides, if they didn't feel confident enough, then they should not have joined," Ryoma snorted. "It wasn't as if my joining the concours was a big secret. They knew beforehand that they would be pitting against me."
"Ryoma-chan's got a point," Yukimura said.
Giving a deep sigh, Tezuka relented. "Fine. Just please, try not to call too much attention." With that, Tezuka strode into the hall, shaking his head as he went along. More and more often he was caving to their celebrity's whims, but there was really nothing much he could do, not when Ryoma was backed by both Fuji and Yukimura (and on this rare occasion, by Keigo as well).
Ryoma followed, muttering to himself, "Sure. 'Try' being the keyword."
Smirking, Keigo fell into step right beside the violin prodigy, and together the two of them, bored musicians they were, strode into the hall. The moment they stepped within the crowd's line of sight, gasps of surprise and whispers of excitement rippled through the hall.
"It's him, it's him! Look!"
"Echizen Ryoma, he's really here!"
"Look, he's walking with Atobe Keigo!"
"Aren't they performing together?"
"Is that Yukimura with him?"
"I heard he's been real close with Yukimura."
"Take a picture, hurry, hurry!"
"I wonder if we could—"
"Oi, move your ass--"
"Let me see, let me see—"
Before the gathering crowd could press around them, the media swooped in with a chaotic swarm of flashes and a confusing tangle of questions. Protectively, Yukimura ushered Ryoma behind his back, while Fuji stepped forward to stem the reporters' inquiries.
"Echizen-kun and Atobe-kun have come to observe the competition, and will not be humoring any questions at this point," Fuji spoke clearly over the loud and utterly incoherent babble. "The media will have to wait until later this evening at the reception party, where questions will be answered in an orderly manner. Now, if all of you would sit down? We are on a schedule."
Stymied, the reporters reluctantly backed away. The veterans, those with the sharpest preservation instincts, moved away very quickly the very second Fuji's smile turned razor-sharp. Soon, their way was cleared, and they were able to proceed further down the aisle. Ryoma merely gave all of them his usual bored and passing gaze, while Keigo held his head high and strutted as he usually was wont.
The moment they were seated two rows behind the judges (and nestled comfortably between several of Keigo's subordinates and several of Tezuka's subordinates), the proceeds began. The whispers did not abate, though; not until the first competitor began playing and the people realized the performance had already started.
The moment Keigo and Ryoma entered the hall, Tezuka realized what a horrible mistake it was to have relented to their whim. The current competitor, one of the newer and better cellists of the university, played her music, but none was listening, for the entire audience was currently gossiping (and not very quietly, at that) about the arrival of their newest celebrity. In all honesty, he was quite impressed with how well the girl on the stage took the inattention. Surely she would have already noticed the not-so-silent whispers by now. And yet her notes did not falter. Perhaps she was worthy of letting into the Chamber?
Now even he was getting distracted by wayward thoughts. He forcefully returned his mind towards the performance and diligently scored as the competitors came and went. The same pattern of distraction and return of attention repeated for about five or six times until the third to the last competitor finished his piece. Polite applause pattered through the hall, but before the competitor could even exit the stage, the applause abruptly stopped and loud whispers started to spread like wildfire once more.
"Yuki," Ryoma called from his seat as he stood. Beside him, Keigo was already clearing the way for the two of them, asking (or, more accurately, ordering) his subordinates to stand and make way. "We're going."
"Alright, Ryoma-chan," Yukimura smiled, turning around in his seat. He didn't look bored at all, despite the very boring and unimpressive performances they'd just gone under. The eager smile on his face was a dead give away; the bastard wanted to bear witness to the pinnacle of Ryoma's suffering, and soon. "I'll be looking forward to it."
Rolling his eyes, Ryoma followed after Keigo. "I know. No need to remind me. I'm already dreading it as it is."
Amidst whispers, the two of them quickly ascended the Hall and exited as quietly as they could. Wordlessly they headed to the prep room beside the backstage, where they were to wait until it was their turn. The halls were blissfully devoid of obstacles (otherwise known as fans and media), hastening their walk.
By the time they reached the prep room, whoever it was on stage was already midway through a (marginally presentable) rendition of Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 8 Movt. II. Ryoma merely shook his head, catching sight of Keigo's similarly offended grimace. Some people really did not know when 'trying it' ended and 'pushing it' began.
Ryoma went into the prep room first, but paused when he found people lingering inside. The quiet chatter hushed the moment they stepped in, all the other contenders looking up and noting their very hard-to-ignore presence. Most of the contenders were either shy or uncertain, though there were a number of them showing some semblance of a backbone by giving them either measuring stares or defensive glares.
Pushing past Ryoma, Keigo merely raised an eyebrow at his only-while-it-lasted partner. Ryoma followed after, wordlessly settling his violin down on one of the side tables and looking up at the wall mirror. He gently rearranged his tie, careful not to tug it out of the knot Yukimura had made it into. He flexed his shoulders and rolled his neck, making sure to relax his muscles and ready them for the nearing vigorous exercise. For the next five minutes he went through his usual preparatory exercises, flexing and warming his fingers, his arms, his shoulders. He could see Keigo going through the same motions through the corner of his eye.
Soon, the person on the stage finished the nine-or-so minutes of excruciatingly boring Mozart rendition. Applause once more rang through the hall, and the person—a very ordinary-looking girl in a plain blue and white dress—descended off stage.
One more, and then it's us, Ryoma mentally started prepping himself. Instead of how other musicians do it by going through the sheets in his head, Ryoma simply preferred to listen to it, let himself ride the melody instead of bothering to remember thousands of notes he would probably forget the moment he stepped onto the stage. With ample practice, his fingers would remember the melody as well as his ear would, and there would be no problem.
Determined, he steeled his resolve. This would be his first real performance in front of Tezuka Kunimitsu, and it would be a piece Tezuka had already played in the past. He knew there really was no need to compare, for each musician was unique in his or her own way, but really, could he help it? No, he couldn't; not when he was up to the gills with infatuation for the man. He would be sure to not just come up to expectations, but to go way above and beyond them, blow through that glass ceiling holding him in place, and let the shattered pieces rain like diamonds on the people watching him.
All the while, Keigo watched Ryoma as the boy closed his eyes and relaxed against the edge of the table, quiet and unmoving as if in meditation. By now he was familiar with this routine. He knew that this was the young prodigy's way of focusing himself inwards and tuning out the outer disturbances. Echizen Nanjiroh taught the boy well, that was for sure.
"Your violin, brat," Keigo prodded as the lady on the microphone started calling for the next performer, the last one before their turn. "Get it ready."
Slowly, as if hypnotized, Ryoma's eyes opened. Behind the golden veil was a strongly burning fire of determination only the stupidest of the all the world's fools would miss. A smirk lingered on the corners of Keigo's lips as he watched the boy retrieve the violin quietly and prepare it for the performance. It was obvious that the boy would be all seriousness tonight. He almost felt a tiny bit of remorse for the other participants, for they surely wouldn't taste any sort of victory for this year's concours.
Ryoma gradually regained awareness of his surroundings once more as he finished his five-or-so minute mental rerun. His annoyance started mounting as his ears registered the microphone lady calling out the name of the next participant again.
Rounding at the other lounging musicians in the room, he snapped, "Whoever's next, get up there already!"
The other students, surprised and a tad intimidated, shrugged blankly, except for the one girl sitting by the wall, the one who'd been playing the Mozart just a while back.
"Kawasaki-san just went out a while ago just when I went to play," she said. "He hasn't come back yet?"
"Well, obviously, since he's not here," Ryoma rolled his eyes. "Are we playing 'State the Obvious'?"
Keigo absently pushed back a lock of his hair. "He's going to be disqualified if he doesn't show himself in three minutes."
Ryoma merely shook his head and turned back to his violin, testing each string to make sure they wouldn't break on him while he played. He'd only experienced that once, but once was enough. It was horrifyingly painful to have it snap against the fingers, and he wasn't eager to try another one and have it snap against his face. His face was his investment as much as his fingers, thank you very much.
Moments passed, and still no sign of Kawasaki person.
"One minute." Keigo impatiently crossed his arms, his fingers tapping an unknown melody.
"First round and somebody already gave up?" Ryoma incredulously voiced. "I thought everyone would have at least lasted until the second day."
"There are sane people in this world, you know," Keigo offhandedly remarked. "The kind that knows not to mess with something they can't handle."
Shuffling whispers from the Hall carried through, indication of the audience's impatience. After a while more of waiting, the microphone lady finally announced the Kawasaki person's absence and disqualification, before moving on to introduce the next performer.
Keigo motioned quietly, and Ryoma followed as they made their way out of the prep room and to the backstage. They waited for the microphone lady to finish introductions, of them and of their piece.
Right before they were to walk out to play, Keigo asked, "Nervous, brat?"
Ryoma scoffed. "You wish."
Gracing Keigo with one last challenging glare, Ryoma strode proudly onto the stage.
A shower of enthusiastic applause from the now very awake audience welcomed them as they stepped on stage. Ryoma immediately took his position and inclined his head into a polite but restricted bow, while Keigo had the decency to give a proper sweeping bow before sitting himself on the piano bench.
They had to wait a few moments for the applause and the (quite improper) cheering to die down. Keigo adjusted his seat, Ryoma adjusted his stance.
And, with a single glance exchanged, they played.
If there were any remaining spectators whispering to each other in excitement or shuffling around noisily, they were surely and very abruptly silenced by the explosive opening. The media and the critics, eager for actual music, leaned forward in their seats, delighted to find that they would not be disappointed tonight.
The tempestuous nature of the piece very much suited the personalities of the two musicians playing. It was truly more of a duet than an accompaniment, for the piano and the violin gave not a single inch and struggled as valiantly as the other for space. Tension was ferried by the tumultuous notes as smooth and abrupt as a gust of wind would carry a leaf from a tree. Yet this very same tension never overflowed, simply swaying, teetering on the brink. Climbing, mounting, almost falling, but still there, still hanging, still pulled tight and taut.
The frenzied struggle between the two instruments continued through the piece, a display of ferocious passion between the two musicians. Not even a single eye contact was given between the two of them, yet the exchange was flawlessly perfect that even the normally detached Inui and similarly emotionless Yanagi were mesmerized.
Sanada watched carefully, noting how typical it was for Keigo to pick a piece that would not allow the piano to be overshadowed by the violin. He also kept an eye on a very eager Yukimura beside him. The cellist was leaning forward on his elbows, utterly hypnotized. Those deep blue eyes were trained only on the violinist, however. Like a hawk, he watched his new obsession, noting every little flick of a finger, every slide and slip of the bow, every bend and twist of the wrist. Sanada could not help but wonder if this obsession was the obsession for Yukimura. It seemed so. Perhaps this one would be the one that would last a lifetime. He could only wonder.
Tezuka, who was carefully observing, turned his eyes towards Ryoma's fingers. They were immaculate and precise on the fingerboard, applying the right pressure at the right moment, faltering not a single note. The music flowed, simple, effortless, and natural. The prodigy's eyes were closed in concentration, his forehead slightly creased. Tezuka had to give a small smile. Despite the boy's very outspoken disinclination towards the concours and towards Keigo, Ryoma took the music seriously. That was a sign of a good musician, Tezuka knew—to be able to play despite undesirable circumstances.
Gently, the chaotic music, suggestive of a tarantella, slowed and gave way for the piano's statement of the second subject. Shortly after, however, the violin returns the stormy, impassioned nature of the piece. There were two contrasting subjects, aggressive and passionate yet distinct and unique, linked together by interludes of melodic fragments and modulations. It was most fitting of Keigo and Ryoma.
Ryoma was greatly similar to Keigo, and yet at the same time, they were worlds apart. Ryoma's music was chaotic and impassioned, and so was Keigo's, but they were of different kinds, of different expressions. Yet despite these differences, they were tied together, if not by their similarities, then by the essence of music itself.
As the piece approached its end with the two instruments still pulling violently at the melody tying them together, the first subject was reinstated, this time with twice as much the tension and passion. Tezuka could no longer make out Ryoma's fingers clearly, for they were now too fast and frantic to follow.
The black and white of the piano blurred as Keigo's fingers gave the very last of the few notes, accompanied by harsh yet still miraculously lyrical notes from Ryoma. The two pushed to the ultimate end, the notes tumbling and cascading over one another into an electrifying conclusion.
And then, it was done.
For a few heated heartbeats, there was nothing but stunned silence.
As soon as the audience regained their bearings enough to realize that the music was over, however, thundering applause rang and echoed through the hall, amongst enthusiastic cheers from some of the students. The other participants lounging behind the stage and curiously listening despite their dread were startled, for the applause was so loud it sounded as if they were actually standing on stage and not backstage.
Keigo rose fluidly from his seat, standing beside Ryoma. Together, they gave a proper bow, before turning and heading out. Keigo purposefully lingered a few extra moments to savor the flashing lights and the clapping hands, before he too slipped silently backstage.
At the judging table, Ryuuzaki sat smugly as she soaked in the awed remarks of her colleagues. There really was nothing in the world that could beat watching the Echizens perform in person. It was pure music, stripped and bare, nothing else.
Behind her, she heard Yukimura remark, "Most certainly a worthy performance. We're letting him in, no?"
"Of course," Fuji replied, and Ryuuzaki could just see that conniving smile on their faces. "Where would the fun be if we didn't?"
"Fuji, you're not supposed to say such things," Tezuka admonished. His resigned sigh and half-hearted frown, however, said otherwise. Even the Tezuka Kunimitsu approved.
"A very unique performance," nodded Shiraishi, marking his paper. "He's in. It'll be interesting working with him."
"I was under the impression that he hated Atobe, though," Tachibana remarked. "I didn't expect such flawless coordination." He paused. "Wait. It probably is my mistake by not expecting flawlessness, especially since Atobe is involved."
"Well, there's that," Yukimura chuckled. "But there's something else." He rose from his seat, having already rearranged his papers in his folders. He was eager to give his pet a… reward for a wondrously stunning first performance. Ryoma was sure to be the following morning's headline-grabber. Upon Tachibana's curious glance, however, he turned to them and quoted, "Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life."
"And one of the many things Atobe and Ryoma-chan have in common," Fuji continued, "is that their life is music."
With a smile, the Twins handed Tezuka their folders and swept towards the Hall's exit in rapid escape.
Shiraishi chuckled. "Better go hurry after them, Sanada, Tezuka. You don't want them wreaking mayhem on us until the concours are over." He would have wanted them to never wreak mayhem at all, but then that would have been boring, not to mention quite literally impossible.
Merely nodding, Tezuka started to gather the blue folders that contained the tally for the first day. His mind was still quite caught up with the music, and he felt the beginnings of an urge to listen to it once more. He would have to ask Inui for a copy of the recorded version later.
Now that he had finally witnessed Echizen Ryoma's performance, he could begin to believe the things he'd read about the boy. Certainly, he had talent. And potential, there within the prodigy was mountains more of potential, lying still and dormant, waiting for something, someone, to awaken it.
There were certain things, certain habits, that needed correcting, but from what he'd heard from Fuji, Ryoma was quite the fast learner. From this performance he hadn't seen any problems with the conveyance of emotions and tension, but perhaps that was because this type of music fitted Ryoma best. If he was made to step out of his comfort zone, the tiny dark spots would be revealed in the otherwise pristine and pure techniques. Hopefully, Yukimura had enough foresight to help Keigo and Ryoma pick a piece for the second day that would do so.
As the walked out of the Hall, he passed by several critics giving their comments to the eager and now awake reporters.
"This was by far Echizen-kun's most passionate performance, if my memory does not fail me," one of the female enthusiasts, a follower of the Echizen family from the looks of it, remarked. She looked familiar to Tezuka, perhaps one of Ryuuzaki's old colleagues. "True, his previous performances were very moving, but there was something about this particular piece that caught my attention. The tension between him and his pianist, Atobe-kun, was very real. And did you see that drive, the determination, in his eyes? I've never seen him like that before. I'm tempted to think that he's found a purpose. He looks exactly like his father did when Echizen Nanjiroh found his wife Takeuchi Rinko."
Tezuka had to stop and give the lady a contemplative glance, before going about his way. The lady's words were stuck in his head, prompting him to think.
Indeed, whenever he used to watch Echizen Ryoma on records long ago, he couldn't see a trace of actual passion beneath his music. That was probably the reason why he did not pay that much attention. This time, however, it was different. This time, he could very well feel the passion reverberating within each note, each slide of the bow against the strings, each press and flick of a finger. This time, it was there, clearly present, and it left a palpable mark on the people who saw, the people who heard.
Echizen Ryoma was raw ore, unpolished. The young prodigy knew the techniques and the dynamics of playing music, but he still does not know how to utilize that newfound passion to further fuel his music and raise it to higher ground. Tezuka's skin practically crawled in anticipation of the legend they could create within the boy. With enough experience, proper guidance, and ample support, he would grow, strong and steady, into a pillar that would secure the world of music, change it into something much better than it currently was now.
A small smile flickered upon his face.
He now felt a dash of eagerness for the first meeting for this year's Chamber. He marveled at how long a time it's been since he's felt anticipation brought about by a new member. It wasn't very often, really, for talents like Echizen Ryoma were rarer than blue moons. It would be a unique experience to play with the Echizen Ryoma, especially now that the prodigy had found his purpose.
As the lady's words once more echoed within his mind, he couldn't help but wonder what single event set off the burning passion he saw earlier in the normally stoic and uncaring Echizen Ryoma's eyes.
Another mystery to ponder for him, he gathered.
"A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown. To live is to be slowly born."
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
To Be Continued
Kia Ixari / Aventria
First Draft: 2008.11.21
Last Revised: 2008.11.22