AN: The flashbacks take place after Episode 16, and the story takes off from there, so this is slightly AU. This is going to be Len x Kaho, just so you know, although there will be some one-sided Kazuki x Kaho and Ryou x Kaho.
Disclaimer: Kiniro no Corda is the property of its respective owners (Koei, manga by Kure Yuki-sensei, anime by TV Aichi). The OCs Taniyama Haruka and Edward Kaufman, as well as this story, plot and all, was created by me.
Summary: Because of her family's circumstance, a chance was revealed to Kahoko to quit the concours. She took it, leaving behind Seisou Gakuen and all the friends she met inside the academy. Now years later, she once again crosses paths with the one man who was closest to finding out the truth about her and her violin, Tsukimori Len. Will her secret be finally revealed? And now that Kahoko is no longer playing the violin, what would Len's reaction be?
Aria, Con Amore
n. (a-ri-ah) 1. Lyric song for solo voice with orchestral accompaniment, generally expressing intense emotion;
adv. (con a-mo-re) 1. with love, tenderly
"Ten minutes! I can make it in ten minutes!"
Twenty two-year-old Hino Kahoko was about to be late. Running through the afternoon crowd barefoot, with her high-heeled sandals clutched in one hand, while the other held her purse to her chest, the red haired young woman was a sight to behold. She glanced at her watch again: 1:54 pm
"Six minutes! I can still make it!"
One of the waitresses at the café she worked part time at had had to go home early due to illness, and while Kahoko waited for a replacement to be called in, the usual lunch crowd had come rushing. Her boss had only been able to let her go an hour after she was supposed to go home. It usually took thirty minutes to get to her apartment from the café, while the restaurant for the two o'clock meeting was about the same distance, which left her practically no time at all to get ready. By sheer force of will (she ran very very fast), Kahoko was able to get home in twenty minutes, her fastest record as of yet.
She'd had no time for rest, though. The place Taniyama Haruka-sensei, her music professor, had told her to go to was a high-end establishment, which called for dressing up in more than just the white dress shirt and black skirt that was her waitressing uniform. It had taken her fifteen minutes to take off her uniform, put on a simple cream colored summer dress, some make up and jewelry, and then she was off again, grabbing a pair of sandals and her purse on her way out.
She had missed the train she needed to take, and the next train leaving was stopping five blocks away from the restaurant, as opposed to two blocks away if she'd caught the first train. Kahoko took it anyway. She'd taken off her sandals and had been ready to sprint the moment the train doors hissed open and had not stopped ever since. It was a good thing her breathing had gotten significantly better than back when she was in high school.
Amber eyes looked down to find her wristwatch showing three minutes before 2 pm. Kahoko rounded the next corner and immediately saw the restaurant. Stopping at a bench, she quickly rummaged through her purse and pulled out two packets of wipes and bent to clean her feet before slipping her sandals back on. Ignoring the strange looks that people had been throwing her way since the train station, she took a deep breath and composed herself.
The weird looks were unimportant. This meeting was. She could not afford to be late, especially since her professor had specifically requested- no, demanded this of her. That, plus the fact that whether or not she can graduate this year was depending on this.
'Really, that woman... She just does whatever she feels like doing, even with my grades!'
Smoothing off the annoyed twitch from her eyebrow, Kahoko strode into the restaurant. After waving off the maître d', she made a beeline for the corner booth at the back of the room, as per her instructions, which hadn't been much, really. She could still hear the brunette's nagging voice in her head...
"Look presentable! And most of all, do not be late!" A pause, then a manic grin. "Otherwise, I'll flunk you."
Kahoko didn't even know why she was meeting her teacher here, but to say this was unusual would be lying. Her music teacher had very unorthodox methods of teaching after all.
Kahoko mentally scoffed. ''Unorthodox' is putting it lightly.'
Putting that thought aside, the redhead was really curious about today's meeting. She didn't know what they'd be doing at such a high class restaurant. Will she have to perform at the stage in front for her final project? Are they just here to eat? She didn't even know if they were going to be alone or-
"Ah! You're finally here!" Haruka-sensei exclaimed happily, twisting her entire body around to face her. Sitting just across the table from Haruka-sensei, in full view, were two men. One, a man with sandy blond hair and striking green eyes, Kahoko didn't recognize at all; the other, she'd have given her left arm to not have recognized.
His hair may be a bit more tousled and a bit longer than before, his features leaner and more mature, but there was no mistaking the blue hair and the usually stoic gold eyes that were now slightly wide with shock.
"So how do you know each other?"
Haruka eyed the girl sitting beside her like a hawk, noticing the almost choking sound from the redhead who was trying to drink some of the iced tea in front of her. Ever since the awkward introductions, her student had looked at nothing but her iced tea.
Kahoko was hesitant in replying. "We went to the same high school during second year, although Tsukimori-kun was in the special music department while I was in general education."
The man, who was introduced as Edward Kaufman and Haruka's childhood friend, laughed.
"Hear that, Haruka? My student was already involved in music even before yours was!" He winked at Kahoko. "Not meaning to snub you, sweetheart. Haruka and I had been competing about pointless things like this since we were kids. We've been boasting about you and Len-kun to each other for some time now, trying to see who's better. Besides, if you were so involved with music like this ice block, I doubt you'd still be as social as you are."
"A-ah." Kahoko smiled nervously.
Haruka pinched her friend's hand. "Stop flirting with my student, Edward. And Tsukimori-san isn't even really your student, you dumb ass. Maestro just entrusted him to you after all the major techniques and lessons had been passed on. You're more his agent than anything, really."
"Nuh-uh! Papa entrusted Len's life to me! I'm his big brother!" Edward tried to wrap an arm around the blue haired violinist's shoulders only to be shrugged off.
"You're an idiot."
Edward's eyebrow twitched. "Geh! As cold as always."
Bouncing quickly back into happy mode, he switched his attention to Kahoko. "Well, I hear you're a very good singer."
"N-no." Kahoko waived her hand in embarrassed dismissal. "I'm no where close to professionals."
Haruka gave an annoyed sigh. "Still going on about that? Sure you're not cut out for operatic singing, but your range is wide, and your voice is steady. Seriously, if you don't become just a tiny bit more ambitious and less modest you'll never get to the level where Tsukimori-san is."
She prodded said guy with a straw.
"Isn't that right, Tsukimori-san? You've already released two widely acclaimed albums now, right? And you have a lot of concerts in line."
The violinist gave the straw a disdainful look. "I believe Hino had stopped being ambitious long ago, if she had ever even been one in the first place."
The brunette raised an eyebrow at that. Kahoko said nothing in response, although from the corner of her eye, Haruka could see her clenching her hands around her glass of iced tea.
"Well, there's also nothing wrong with being content with simple things. I'm not one to berate Kahoko-chan for wanting to become a music teacher when I am one." She reached up to ruffle her student's red hair affectionately. "I just think you're wasting your talents, is all."
Edward leaned forward in interest. "If you're really as good as Haruka claims, then why not be my client? Come on, I'll be your agent, and we'll give it a try."
"I just want to be a music teacher, Kaufman-san," Kahoko declined, smiling politely to her iced tea. "If it weren't for the fact that the college required me to minor in either voice or any instrument in order to teach music, I wouldn't even be singing."
Haruka grimaced at her student's negative attitude, then made a shooing motion with her hand to Edward. "Besides, aren't you too busy handling Tsukimori-san's agenda? Wouldn't having two talents to worry about be too much for someone with such a tiny brain like you?"
The blond man scoffed and jutted his chin out with dignity. "I'll have you know! I'm willing to let go of a talent like Len-kun if I get to be with such a pretty girl like Hino-san."
"Idiot!" Haruka exclaimed, throwing her napkin at him. The blond ignored her and leaned towards Kahoko in a conspiratorial manner.
"Sooo... Tell me all about Haruka's teaching habits!" He giggled maniacally, rubbing his hands together in glee. "What horrors has she made you go through? She seriously sucks at teaching, doesn't she?"
Caught between the deranged sniggering of the blond man in front of her, and the intense glare of her teacher to her right, Kahoko could only laugh nervously in reply.
Somewhat ignored by the trio chatting amiably (or more like, Edward teasing Hino mercilessly as Haruka slapped the blond man around every once in a while), Len took the opportunity to study the redhead sitting right across from him. In the five years he had not seen her, she had changed little. Her face was more finely defined now, having lost the roundness of youth. Her hair was longer, reaching down to her waist. The even cut of it at the back, as opposed to the messy, layered style of before, lent her an air of maturity. She was also less exuberant, although Len chalked that up as a result of their current circumstance.
He had never thought that he'd see her of all people today. When she had left five years ago, he had never thought he'd see her again at all. He could still remember that day when he found out she had gone without saying even a word of goodbye. He had been on his way to practice but had decided to stop by Kanazawa-sensei's office to ask a question regarding the concours when he heard Hihara-san's voice. Even through the thick walls, the trumpeter's exclamation had been loud and clear enough to stop Len from his tracks.
"What do you mean Kaho-chan's gone?"
A sigh. "Exactly that. Her family had to move because of her mother's employment situation. It was all really abrupt."
"But, but what about the concours? Couldn't she have stayed long enough for that? Didn't she have a relative or a friend she could have stayed with?"
"I don't know if she could've stayed here with a relative or a friend. Although Hino is the strong-willed type, I'm not privy to her situation so I can't say with certainty if she could've stayed or not. As for the concours... It's unfortunate, but she didn't have any choice but to drop out."
"...She didn't even say goodbye..."
"Ah, she said she didn't want you guys to lose focus on your training because of her." A thoughtful pause. "She's right you know. You should be worrying about yourself instead, Hihara. Anyhow, isn't it better for you to have less competition?"
Right outside the room, Tsukimori's hand clenched, her words to him during the second selection echoing in his mind.
"...I... didn't really care about winning or losing."
"Hey, hey, cheer up. It's not like you won't see her anymore, you know. You might meet each other in the future. You never know. Besides, I think Hino really needs this right now. She's been really down lately, hasn't she? A change of pace would do her good."
He hadn't stayed longer to hear more. Completely forgetting about the question he had wanted to ask, he had gone on instead to practice. At the time, the thought that Hino was the type of person who would do everything she can to stay if she wanted to, and that she didn't, was proof enough for him of her dedication to music. She had ran away. He had refused to dwell on thoughts of her anymore after that. He focused completely on his violin with a fervor, desperately polishing his technique. His efforts paid off, earning him the first place on the third, then also on the final selection of the concours. Later on, he left for Vienna at the end of the school year, leaving to further his studies abroad.
He had tried to concentrate on nothing else but his violin on the years following his arrival in Vienna. Mostly, he had been successful. Under the tutelage of Maestro Kaufman, his talents grew until he was able to achieve the same fame and world-wide acclaim as his parents. Every once in a while, though, thoughts of her would come unbidden. Sometimes, upon finishing a composition, in his mind he'd see a vision of amber eyes slowly opening to reveal utter joy and satisfaction... When listening to others play, he would remember that honest sound only she could seem to make... And whenever he heard or played Ave Maria, memories would come up of that one surreal afternoon when he woke up to the sound of her violin and had been enticed to create beautiful music with her...
Even with all the training he had undergone and all the experience he had gained, he was still unable to recreate the music that had come out of him that one afternoon, or the feeling of utter contentment from playing. Always, he found himself lacking. Though now more famous than his parents, he still could not let himself agree to perform with them on the same stage. He built his days around improving his playing. His daily routine comprised strictly of practicing for concerts, going to interviews, practicing for recordings, meeting with the record company, and practicing to refine his techniques.
And so time passed without him barely even noticing, especially since his social life only consisted primarily of his parents and grandparents, Edward, and his Maestro. For someone so popular, his world beyond music was ironically small, and he had been content that way. He had not been interested in meeting anyone new or contacting anyone from his past until he had heard Edward talking about his childhood friend's student one day.
"I'm actually quite surprised Haruka had taken on a student. It seems like she's pretty good though. The way Haruka described her... She's a complete amateur with absolutely no voice training, but the sound she makes... She has a pure voice. Well, I'm sure anyone Haruka decides to take on would be pretty damn good for them to catch her attention."
Len had been completely intrigued. The description Edward had given reminded him too much of Hino, an amateur with no technique but was still able to create such beautiful music... The only reason why Edward had even succeeded in dragging him to this meeting was because of sheer curiosity. He wondered what kind of person would be able to create the same music as the red haired violinist.
One could only imagine his shock to actually find himself face to face with Hino herself.
He couldn't believe his eyes. She had arrived at their table with flushed cheeks and slightly heavy breathing, long red hair streaming down her back, and an unmistakable surprise and then hesitation that flashed in her eyes. No doubt she was thinking of the last time they had seen each other, five long years ago. They had parted on unfriendly terms, with him questioning her dedication and attitude towards music. She never really answered his question, but when she left he concluded that her running away said it all.
Now he didn't know what to think anymore. She was apparently a music student, but she was in the voice department. Did she quit the violin then? Why? Why is she learning how to sing now? And most importantly, why didn't she stay for the concours?
Len discreetly rubbed his temple to get rid of the developing headache from all the questions plaguing him. He wanted to ask, but the redhead opposite him had refused to look his way since she first saw him. And Len had not initiated a casual conversation for quite a long time now, so he had no idea how to go about asking.
He watched her concentrate on the glass of iced tea clutched in her hands, sipping it every couple of minutes. Beside them, having decided to cast aside their respective charges in favor of catching up on each other's lives, Edward and Haruka-san chatted animatedly. Every once in a while, Hino would look up to Edward or Haruka to answer a question politely or to nervously brush off Edward's flirting, only to go immediately back to staring down at her drink. He could tell that she was definitely avoiding him.
Really. She should know by now that if there was something he wanted to get, he will do everything he can to attain it. One way or another, Len will get Hino to answer his questions.
Their little lunch meeting had lasted for about two hours, with only Haruka and Edward doing all of the talking, having silently come to an agreement to shove their unsocial, uncooperative students to the side. Tsukimori had been quiet for the rest of the meeting, but Haruka had noticed him staring at Kahoko for the entire time while her protégé had studiously avoided looking anywhere near his direction.
Needless to say, it sparked her curiosity greatly.
She'd exchanged contact information with Edward and the two older adults happily forced Tsukimori to pay the bill. "Don't be stingy! You hustle all that money from your adoring fans from all those albums and magazines you've sold and you don't even use it!" Edward had wheedled. Kahoko had tried to pay for her iced tea, but a cold "All you had was iced tea. I can easily pay for that" had silenced her protests. They had parted after that with a promise to try to meet again.
Now it was just the two of them, having to walk the same direction until they had to part at the station Kahoko was getting on. Haruka really wanted to know the redhead and Tsukimori's past. This was as good a time as any to ask.
She glanced at the younger woman walking beside her, trying to gage what the other was thinking. Kahoko had kept her head down the entire time, substituting the ground for the iced tea she'd been staring at.
"That went well."
"It was nice seeing Edward again and meeting Tsukimori-san for the first time."
"And since you showed up on time and looking quite presentable, I've decided not to flunk you."
"I'll just give you a C instead."
That seemed to snap Kahoko from her daze. "What! That's passing grade! Why?"
Haruka raised an eyebrow at her, outwardly affecting an air of aloofness. Inside, she was relieved to finally coax an emotion from the girl. "You were barely participating. You were more interested with your iced tea than the conversation."
"Why does my grade have to depend on this anyway? The main purpose of that meeting was just so you and Kaufman-san could compare students!" Kahoko rumpled her hair with both hands in frustration. "I've gone through all your brutal training and satisfied all your unreasonably demanding criteria. I definitely, without a doubt, deserve more than just a passing grade!"
The brunette hummed in thought and decided to cut her student some slack. "Fine fine. I'll just have you do a brutal final project like normal teachers. You really are no fun."
Kahoko harrumphed in reply.
After a moment of silence, Haruka decided to finally say the question she'd been itching to ask. "So, I didn't know you were actually acquainted with your idol," she commented in a nonchalant voice, head tilted towards the afternoon sky.
The young woman beside her choked. "I-idol? What made you think he was my idol?"
"Hmm, well, I've seen you listening to his albums, and whenever someone within the vicinity talks about him, I can see you trying to eavesdrop."
"Out of all my friends back at Seisou, he was the only one I hadn't seen or heard from since I left..." 'Heck, even Yunoki-sempai I saw just a couple weeks ago.'
The music teacher glanced at the redhead from the corner of her eye. "Don't deny it. Anyway, if he was from the music department and you're from gen ed how did you two ever meet? I know how they do things at Seisou, and those two departments have barely anything to do with each other, if ever."
Kahoko stared back down at the ground in front of her, voice growing soft. "We were both participants in a concours."
"Oh?" Interest peaked, Haruka turned to address her fully. "But when you came to me, you had absolutely zero training. You're voice was great, but unpolished. How were you ever able to get in?"
A small smile graced Kahoko's lips. The brunette thought it made her look oddly wistful. "I wasn't participating as a singer... I was a violinist."
Eyes nearly popping out of their sockets, Haruka exclaimed her surprise. "Wow, seriously? So that's why it was easier to teach you music than if you were a total amateur." She paused, debating on whether to ask the next question or not. "What happened?"
"I quit." Although the tone of voice was carefully kept light, Haruka could hear the slight tremble. She decided to not press any further than that.
"Well, if you hadn't, I doubt I'd have such an adorable student to teach now." Being taller than the younger woman, she was able to easily ruffle the singer's red hair easily. "Singing is a lot better than playing the violin anyway. You could really express yourself and let go!" She stopped suddenly, raising her arms high up above her head and sang out a note loudly into the air.
Kahoko laughed at her teacher's antics. "Sensei, you should be glad there's hardly anyone out on this street right now. Otherwise they'd think you're a weirdo and I'd have to disassociate myself from you."
"Who cares what other people think? If they can't appreciate good music, then they're below me," Haruka haughtily replied, nose turned up in a snobbish manner.
Giggling still, Kahoko stopped on her street. "This is where I get off, Haruka-sensei. The station's not far from here."
"Okay. You take care, yeah? I'll see you in class tomorrow."
Waving goodbye, the redhead took her leave. Haruka turned to see her go, eyes growing soft as she watched the back of the student she had grown to love and care for like a little sister slowly disappeared into the crowd.
She couldn't help but wonder if she'd finally hit on the reason why Kahoko's singing sometimes held a hint of desperation in it.
'Whatever it was you'd gone through, Kahoko-chan, it must've been really hard on you.'
Eyes glancing up to the darkening afternoon sky, Haruka turned to leave, a plan slowly taking shape in her head.
'If Tsukimori has anything to do with your past, then I'll need to enlist Edward for his help. I'll do whatever I can to help you find your peace.'
A fond smile appeared on her lips.
'After all, you'd given me mine.'
The 'click' of the door's lock echoed in the empty apartment. Tired and emotionally drained, Kahoko trudged through the small hallway, slipping off her sandals and dumping it anywhere on the floor along with her purse.
Unconsciously, her feet moved, the soft footfalls muffled by the carpet, bringing her to a stop in front of her open closet.
In the far corner, bathed partially in shadows and in the soft late afternoon light that streamed through the window behind her, a red violin case lay.
It had been a few days after Tsukimori-kun had confronted her. Heart heavy with self-loathing and doubt, Kahoko was walking home after practice, her violin case gripped in one hand. She had been pushing herself again today, but she still couldn't be satisfied. Nothing she did ever seemed good enough...
Lost in thought, she didn't hear her name being called until after the person was almost behind her.
"Kahoko! My, I've been trying to catch your attention for some time now!"
Surprised, Kahoko stopped to let her mother catch her breath. "Okaasan! Why aren't you at the office?"
"I was at your school. I've been trying to find you!"
"I was practicing..."
Her mother waived her hand in dismissal. "Anyway, I've talked to your teachers and I explained the situation to them. They were all very understanding. I also got your transfer papers and transcript all ready to be filed. You just need to stop by the administration office tomorrow after school to pick them up."
"Have you forgotten? We're moving the day after tomorrow." Her mother looked at her worriedly. "I know it's a bit abrupt, but I've been talking about it for five days now."
"I-" Kahoko shook her head to clear it. "I've been busy practicing..."
Her mother nodded. "About that, actually. I wanted to ask if you'd rather stay and finish the school year. There's only two months left anyway. We can set you up at the dorm and-"
"No, Okaasan, that'd be too expensive!"
"Your sister is already living with a roommate, though. I doubt you can stay with her."
"Then what about your contest?"
"The concours? I-" Kahoko stopped. Her mother was giving her a choice. If she stayed, she will have to keep pushing herself to continue her masquerade, training night and day to cover up the fact that she was a fake. Here, finally, was her way out!
...Way out? When had music and playing the violin become her prison?
'I used to enjoy playing the violin... But then I was never really playing the violin, was I? Not without help from Lili's magic.' Kahoko closed her eyes, her decision made. 'I respect Tsukimori-kun and the rest too much to keep on deceiving them like this.'
'And I... I love music too much to continue lying like this.'
"I'll stop by the administration office tomorrow after school to pick up my transfer papers and transcript."
Her mother laid a comforting hand on her shoulder and smiled at her. "I'm sorry we have to move so suddenly, but it's not like you have to stop playing, ne?"
Kahoko smiled back at her mother. "Ah."
This time, she will pursue music with her own effort and skill.
'This is my answer to you, Tsukimori-kun.'
The next day, she formally backed out from the competition, speaking to Kanazawa-sensei before going home. He had bid her good luck and had given her his contact information just in case she needed anything. After saying goodbye to Amou-san, Mori-san, Mio and Nao, she went to the secluded clearing behind the school grounds to talk to Lili one last time.
"You really are leaving. Was it because I forced you to join the concours?"
"No, Lili. Actually, I'm glad you gave me the chance to join the concours." She smiled up at the Fata, holding out her hand so he could land on it. "You were the one who helped me develop my love for music, through this magical violin that you gave me. I was also able to meet so many wonderful people because of this precious violin. For that, I can never thank you enough."
"Then, the violin..."
Amber eyes looked down fondly at the red violin case in her other hand. "I'm here to return it."
"Why don't you keep it? It had been yours the moment I gave it to you."
Kahoko shook her head. "I'm thinking of quitting the violin, Lili. I want to stop pretending and relying on the violin's magic."
Lili's face fell at that, feeling the guilt at having forced her in the first place. Kahoko lifted the hand he was on, and smiled at him from eye level. "This time, I'm going to pursue music my own way, using my own strength. I want to be a music teacher, Lili, so I can teach others to love music just like how you taught me."
The Fata smiled back at her, albeit a little sadly still. He flew down and touched the hand that was holding the violin case's handle. "I want you to keep the violin." As the redhead started to protest, he shook his head and pressed harder. "Please. It's my gift to you. Besides, it might bring you luck when you start pursuing music at your new place."
Kahoko gave him a brilliant smile, marred slightly by the tears flowing down her cheeks. "Thank you, Lili. I'll try my best to make you proud."
"Of course you will! You already have! I didn't choose you for no reason after all."
Kahoko dropped to her knees, her arms automatically reaching for the red violin case and holding it close to her heart.
"I've been doing so well up until now, Lili," she whispered into the hardshell case.
"Now that Tsukimori-kun is here, what am I going to do when he asks for an explanation? I doubt he'll accept what I've told the others. ...Should I tell him the truth?"
She clutched the case closer to her. "More importantly, will he believe it?"
AN: And there you have it. It's a little bit choppy, but I'm finding it hard to make everything flow well right now. My mind has fast forwarded to those scenes I want to write, and those don't come untilway later, so my editing function is somewhat useless. (I've re-done this first chapter over three times now. T-T My brain refuses to do any more.)
I was planning on a more angst-filled Kahoko, but she just wouldn't cooperate! Ah well, Len's got plenty of angst to go around. Also, I hope this chapter wasn't very confusing, especially since the fact that Kahoko's now a singer instead of a violinist came up all of a sudden. I decided to jump to five years later and just flashback to what happened five years ago since it would move the entire story faster this way. Well, more details on Kahoko's past will be revealed next chapter and expect a lot of Len x Kaho (sickeninglywaffy!fluff) interaction!
Until next time!