Summary: Violin virtuoso Ryoma Echizen goes to Japan for a break from his career and meets Sakuno Ryuzaki, a piano prodigy with whom he'd made a promise nine years ago.
Pairing(s): RyoSak, FujiSak, AtobeAnn
Warning(s): AU, musical jargon
Disclaimer: Anything recognizable is not mine.
Note: It is advisable to listen to J.S. Bach's Chaconne in D minor and Beethoven's Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 5 (First Movement) on the respective parts in which they are mentioned in this chapter.
A short piece originally preceded by a more substantial work; also an orchestral introduction to opera, however not lengthy enough to be considered an overture
Sakuno Ryuzaki was seven years old when she fell in love with Ryoma Echizen.
She was too young to even comprehend what love was, but she knew, right then and there, that she had met someone whom she would never forget in a thousand lifetimes. Her friends had ignored her, having no interest whatsoever with such icky, 'grownup' things, and the adults had just laughed it off as some sort of puppy love she'd soon forget about. Sakuno was not to be swayed, though; if she was anything, she was resolute, and once she had decided that she liked something, she liked it a lot, and it would take a lot of time before she got over it.
Only her grandmother could understand how she felt for the boy, and for that, Sakuno loved her even more.
She had come from a musically-inclined family. Her mother was a cellist, her father a violinist, and her grandmother a world-renowned pianist. She had taken after the great Sumire Ryuzaki and became her apprentice at age three, and so by age six, Sakuno was already surprisingly good in the piano, bagging First Place in a national competition and even once performing for the Prime Minister of Japan with a whole symphony orchestra as her accompaniment. Her grandmother didn't want to rob the girl of her childhood, though, and so had made it a point that Sakuno had enough time for both piano and her social life. She didn't pressure her to become a prodigy – actually, she didn't have to, as it had come to Sakuno quite naturally – and let her have fun like most kids her age. The girl was shy and demure, only gaining a few but reliable friends, but she was a happy, and that was more than enough.
A few days after she turned seven, Sakuno had gone to a vacation in the States with her grandmother. She was the one who volunteered herself, because the last time she rode the plane was when she was four, and she could barely recall anything from the firsthand experience. Also, her grandmother was supposed to stay over at the house of an old friend, whom Sakuno was told to be also Japanese and an acclaimed pianist around the world. Overtly curious and longing for some adventure, she had decided to go, even if it would mean missing her best friend Tomoka's recital (she had heard her piece a million times during practice anyway).
Once they arrived at the airport, they were welcomed by a chauffeur holding a placard with Sakuno's grandmother's name. They were ushered to a silver car that drove to a huge mansion in the suburbs, in a place called Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sakuno stared out the car window, her doe-like eyes even wider in awe as the house loomed over them.
"Are you okay, Sakuno?" Sumire asked, once they were dropped off by the door and was immediately assisted with their baggage by two maids who had been waiting for them.
Sakuno nodded, pulling on her twin braids nervously.
"Smile, darling. You look like you're having a stomachache."
The front doors suddenly burst open, and a middle-aged man came out, looking disgruntled as he carried with him a stack of curious-looking magazines.
"I told you not to touch my private closet!" he was yelling in English at someone from inside. "I will never let you burn my collection again, my dear wife!"
Sumire loudly cleared her throat, and the man snapped his head towards their direction, his mouth opening to form a small 'o' when he recognized them.
"Oh, hey!" he said, suddenly in Japanese. "I was expecting you'd arrive by now." He peered down at a scared-looking Sakuno, a huge grin on his face. "Are you lost, little one?"
In response, the little girl squeaked and hid behind her grandmother's legs.
"Hello, Nanjiroh," the old woman said, sounding tired all of a sudden. "I see that you have never changed."
"I can say the same with you, old hag," the man called Nanjiroh said, sneering at her. "You're as old and vile as ever."
Sumire's eye twitched violently. Before she could say something back, though, a woman came rushing out the door, carrying with her a bottle of kerosene and a matchbox.
"Now give me the magazines, dear, or else you'll burn into ashes along with them!" she threatened rather vehemently. She paused in mid-action when she spotted Sumire and Sakuno standing awkwardly on the doorstep, her expression changing from enraged to delight.
"Hello, Rinko," Sumire greeted once more, cautiously eyeing the dangerous objects in the other woman's hands.
"Ryuzaki-sensei! It's been a long time!" Rinko came up to her and gave her a peck on the cheek. "I'm really sorry that you have to see us in one of our…discussions." At that, she threw the man a dirty look, which he returned by childishly sticking out his tongue.
"It's not like I'm not used to it," the old woman chuckled. She then pushed her hiding granddaughter for the younger woman to see. "I believe you still haven't met my Sakuno?"
Rinko crouched down to Sakuno's level and smiled at her. "Hello there, Sakuno. My name is Rinko Echizen. I've heard so much about you from your Obaa-chan!"
"H-Hello, Echizen-san…" Sakuno stuttered, blushing at the attention.
"Oh please, just call me Rinko-chan!"
"Why can't I call you Rinko-chan?" Nanjiroh cut in crossly.
She shot him another glare before smiling at Sakuno once more. "And that evil-looking man who'd just spoken is Nanjiroh-chan, my husband."
"Uwaaaah, so adorable!" Nanjiroh gushed, before turning to Sumire enviously. "How come you have a very cute granddaughter? All I have are two very un-cute sons, and they both think I'm stupid!"
"Because you are stupid, Nanjiroh," Sumire spat.
"Let's go in, shall we?" Rinko said, taking the twin-braided girl by the hand. "I'm excited to hear Sakuno play!"
Moments later, they were seated inside a cozy sitting room, stuffed with tea and cake. As the grownups exchanged news about each other's personal lives, Sakuno stood and looked at the various objects displayed on the walls and the tables. There were several framed certificates of participation in recitals around the world, while the rest showcased professional shots of performances done by the Echizen couple in their younger years. There was a particular blown-up photo hanging on the wall, depicting the husband and wife in a violin concerto. Nanjiroh was in a black suit, brows knitted and forehead shining in sweat as he played on a Steinway & Sons grand piano, while a little ways ahead of him was a stunning Rinko in an evening gown, eyes closed and a small smile on her face as she fiddled with her violin. Printed in small white letters on the lower-right-hand corner of the photograph was the date and location of the concert it was taken from, which was - If Sakuno counted correctly - eight years ago.
There was a tall glass shelf at one corner, encasing numerous trophies and plaques from various piano and violin competitions. Sakuno patiently read the label on each one of them, growing more amazed in each second that passed. She looked back at the rowdy man on the couch, wondering if she could ask him to play the piano for her. With the number of competitions Nanjiroh had won, Sakuno could say that maybe he was even a better pianist than her own grandmother – which was a feat, for Sumire Ryuzaki was a prodigy and currently one of the most sought-after piano teachers in the world. She was about to return to the old woman, bent on telling her discreetly that she wanted Nanjiroh to play for them, when another set of photos caught her attention.
On the first picture was a boy in his early teens, the photo freezing the moment when he appeared to be singing onstage. He had dark hair, and eyes the same color as that of Nanjiroh's. The next one was that of a boy with dark-green hair, obviously younger than the one from the first picture. He was frowning, his eyes – which were also like Nanjiroh's – glaring at the direction of the camera. In his left hand was a 3/4-sized violin that was too big for him, but Sakuno could see that his fingers were bandaged, most probably from trying to play such an ill-fitting instrument. The last one was a family photo containing the Echizen couple and the two boys. Rinko was sitting on an armchair, the younger of the two boys placed on her lap. Nanjiroh and the teenage son stood side-by-side, identical naughty grins on their faces.
What really caught her attention, though, were not the people in the picture, but the sleek white grand piano peeking in from the background. Judging by the windows and wallpaper caught in the frame, it was also taken inside the Echizen household.
"Obaa-chan," Sakuno called out, running back to her grandmother.
"…was telling him he should just accept private tutoring—Oh yes, Sakuno?" the old woman said distractedly.
"Piano," she said in her little voice, trying to point her at the picture.
"Later, okay? After this." Sumire turned back to the two adults and resumed her story, not minding when her granddaughter pouted and looked around her listlessly.
As a maid entered the room with a trolley of deserts, leaving the door open behind her, Sakuno saw her opportunity. Making sure that the others were too busy to notice her, she slipped out into the carpeted hallway, suddenly feeling excited to venture out on her own. The mansion was overwhelmingly big, but it didn't seem to faze the little girl as she began going room-to-room, in a valiant search for her object of desire.
Before she knew it, she was on the third floor, and she found neither the piano nor the way back to the sitting room where the others were. Feeling alone and scared, she hoped that someone would come her way. No one did, and, feeling remorseful, she stayed inside one of the rooms she had stumbled upon, curling herself up on a soft couch and staring at the barren walls. Gradually, her eyes began feeling heavy, and she allowed herself to drift in a light slumber.
She didn't know how long she had been asleep. All she knew was that she was woken up by a beautiful melody, one that seemed to transcend even the thick walls of the mansion. She rubbed her eyes blearily, wondering if it was a part of a dream. It wasn't, and the music that was unmistakably coming from the violin reverberated all over her being, making the hair at the back of her neck stand on end. As if hypnotized, she walked her way out of the room, trusting her sharp ears to follow the source of the intricate string of musical notes.
She had ended up before a pair of tall, white doors down on the second floor, slightly ajar so that the music had a way out right into Sakuno's soul. She stared, transfixed, at the boy responsible for the bone-chilling sensation, amazed by the long, pale fingers that travelled over the strings in a blur, moved by the interpretation of the piece that was being played. She recognized it in a whim as Bach's Chaconne in D minor, one of her father's favorite pieces of all time.
She closed her eyes to savor the slow, precise pace of the music, the vibratos tickling her musician's ears. She smiled at the tender but calculating technique employed on the piece, noting that whoever was playing had really understood the mood and nature of the composition. The tempo began increasing, and the notes picked up a pitch, and Sakuno's thrill heightened and –
Blinking in surprise, Sakuno secretly urged the good music to continue, the characteristic pout appearing on her face.
"Who's there?" the young boy suddenly said, in accent-free English. Squawking in embarrassment, Sakuno froze on her spot, her brown eyes stricken with fear as a moment later, the doors were fully opened, and someone stepped out.
The live version of the younger son from the pictures earlier was standing before her, regarding her with a bored look on his face. He was at least two inches taller, and that was enough height difference to intimidate any normal seven-year-old girl caught eavesdropping in a practice session.
"Who are you?" he asked her, still in English.
"S-Sakuno," she found herself murmuring.
The boy's golden-brown eyes widened a fraction of an inch. "You have a Japanese accent," he said, this time in Sakuno's native tongue.
She nodded numbly, unable to form coherent words.
"Are you Ryoga's friend?" he queried in a commanding tone.
Sakuno shook her head wildly, her twin braids flapping around her. She had no idea who Ryoga was.
That seemed to satisfy him, somewhat. "What are you doing here, Sakuno?"
"I…" The young girl flushed. "I was lost and I fell asleep…then I heard you playing…"
"Hmm." With that, the boy turned around and went back inside, and Sakuno, despite her apprehension, followed him, peering up curiously at the wide practice room.
"Ah!" she suddenly gasped, pointing an excited finger at the center of the room. "The piano!"
The green-haired boy, who was in the middle of returning his violin to its case, watched her curiously as she ran up the white grand piano and openly admired it.
"You play the piano?" he asked her, a little interestedly.
"Yes," Sakuno said, smiling to herself. "This is a nice piano."
"It's my oyaji's. It's especially made for him."
Carefully, the small girl lifted the fall, her face lighting up as she inspected the spotlessly clean black and white keys. She turned to the boy with a pleading look in her eyes, silently asking permission to touch them.
He shrugged his consent.
After a moment's hesitation, Sakuno tapped a white key, and she marveled at how perfectly tuned it was.
She jumped slightly at the boy's sharp voice. "Y-Yes…?" she said, thinking that she had done something wrong.
She blinked, but he just continued staring at her. "Oh..uhm…okay." She gingerly took her seat in front of the piano, leaning a bit closer so that her feet would reach the pedals. "What should I play?"
Sakuno thought for a moment. "I thought of a piece where you can play with me," she told the boy. "If you don't mind." This was one unusual thing about her. In the presence of the piano, she would mysteriously overcome her shyness and be as assertive as anyone else.
"Hehh," the boy said, a smirk playing on his lips. "And what would that be?"
"Beethoven's Spring Sonata. First Movement."
The boy's smirk widened. He then lifted his violin and rested it on his shoulder. "Make sure to catch up," he said, sternly but not unkindly.
Sakuno gently rested her hands on the keyboard, took a deep breath, and glanced at her partner. He met her eye, and, with a nod, they began.
Immediately, the room was filled with a myriad of jolly, overlapping keys and strings, and Sakuno's consciousness flitted along with the music. Surprisingly, they caught up with each other's pace as if this was not their first encounter; on the contrary, it felt like they had been playing together for ages, with the way the piano fell in synch with the violin like two matching puzzle pieces. In a passing moment, Sakuno glanced at the boy, and saw (with a jolt of surprise) that he had his eyes closed, as if enjoying himself. She, too, smiled to herself. She had not met anyone of her age who could play on par with her, and this boy was certainly an exception.
They had continued playing, unaware of anything but of each other's music, until they were interrupted by a sharp gasp coming from the open doorway.
The two children looked up and met the amazed stares of Rinko, Nanjiroh and Sumire.
"That was…" Rinko started, at a loss for words. Then, before anyone knew it, she had imploded on the spot. "That was so amazing!" she squealed, clapping her hands ecstatically. "Tres bien!"
"That was superb, Sakuno-chan!" Nanjiroh nodded in approval. "And since when can you play happy music, seishounen?" he snapped at his son, who only grunted and said something like "Stupid oyaji" under his breath.
"Nothing less can be expected from my granddaughter," Sumire said proudly, standing by Sakuno's side and resting a hand on the little girl's shoulder. "I see that you've just met Ryoma, ne, Sakuno?"
Sakuno blinked up at her grandmother, then looked back at the grouchy boy. "Oh, so you're Ryoma-kun…"
"Oh yes," Nanjiroh said, ruffling his son's hair affectionately, much to the young boy's annoyance. "Getting a little cozy with the young lady, eh, you sly brat?"
Eight-year-old Ryoma rolled his eyes. "Stupid oyaji. She still has lots to work on."
His words had cut sharply in Sakuno's heart. "W-What?" she asked, her stammer resurfacing once more.
The boy cocked his head to the right, avoiding her imploring gaze. "You still have lots to work on, Sakuno."
She watched, crestfallen, as the boy picked up his things and left the room without so much as giving her a second look.
"Oi, you rude little-" Nanjiroh started angrily, but the door had already closed behind his son's back.
The little girl looked up at her grandmother, tears forming in her eyes. "Did I not play well, Obaa-chan?" she asked, her lower lip trembling.
The old woman gave her an encouraging smile. "Don't you worry Sakuno. I'm sure Ryoma didn't find you bad. That's just his way of telling you that you can still improve."
"Don't cry now, Sakuno!" Rinko supplied helpfully, clapping her hands together in an apologetic gesture. "I'm really sorry about Ryoma, too. He doesn't really know how to say most things the proper way." She leaned in and started to whisper. "To make you feel better, I'll tell you a secret. It's the first time I've seen him play with another person aside from Nanjiroh – and with such pleasure, too!"
Sakuno stared at the beautiful woman. "Really?"
"Yes," Rinko said, winking. "It means you must be really really good, Sakuno!"
However, the seven-year-old shook her head. "If Ryoma-kun says that I still have lots to work on, then maybe it's true," she mumbled, not noticing when the two older women exchanged a mildly worried look.
Later that night, as she was tucked in bed in one of the guest rooms of the Echizen household, Sakuno couldn't help but recall the wonderful music that she had played earlier with the boy named Ryoma. She closed her eyes, the image of a boy with dark-green hair playing the violin resurfacing in her thoughts, and she couldn't help but smile as sleep slowly overtook her.
Someday, when I'm good enough, I will play that wonderful music with Ryoma-kun once again.
If Sakuno was anything, she was resolute. True enough, even after nine long years, she was still holding on to those words as if her own life depended on it.
What she didn't know, however, was that if Ryoma Echizen was anything, he was always serious.
True enough, even after nine long years, he, too, had not forgotten Sakuno's final words.
Since I really fail in trying to be funny, I will just redeem myself by writing a challenging AU fic. Tell me how I fared so far by kindly leaving a review. Your comments will be highly appreciated.