A/N: One of two Ficathon 2011 entries (the other is Two Truths and a Lie). Check out Shitennou Forums for reveals and zipfile!
I'm pretty happy with how this one turned out; it's kind of how I would have liked Love at Fifth Sight to have turned out, so for anyone out there still holding out hope, please accept this offering in its stead. Even though A/Z is my favorite pairing, it surprises me how few A/Z-centric fics I've written, so it was also quite nice to focus entirely on them. I picture Zak to be 26 when they first meet, while Ami has just turned 21.


Virtuoso


November

Thank God for books and music and things I can think about.

Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes


Today we'll work on something new – it's time you learned how to play with vibrato."

In one quick moment, all her worries about deadlines, lab research, and classes fell away, like the tide rushing from the shore.

"You seem excited," Zak observed, watching as her eyes lit up.

She gave him that lovely, shy smile which was rarer than a clear day in February. "Oh, yes. Vibrato is what gives the music its fullness. Without it, the sound can still be pretty, but it doesn't evoke the same richness of feeling."

More softly, she added, "You have a beautiful vibrato."

If the compliment had come from anyone else, he would have taken it as a statement of the obvious – he was a master flautist, after all, a true virtuoso. But since she had been the one to say it, he felt absurdly pleased. "I'm glad you think so. But it's not easy, and it takes time to develop, so don't think you're walking out of here with a vibrato like mine today."

She nodded seriously, used to his casual arrogance by now. It was no worse than what she faced from many of her fellow students and the professor whose lab she worked in, and in many ways, it was easier to stand.

"Think of it as a series of pulsations being produced by your muscles. It begins in your stomach and moves to your throat and diaphragm."

Without warning, he took her free hand and pressed her palm flat against her stomach. She nearly dropped her flute.

"Um–"

Ignoring her fierce blush, Zak ordered, "Cough."

"What?"

"Cough! You know." His demonstration made her wonder if he had contracted tuberculosis or the debilitating flu that always seemed to be going around the dorms.

"Eh-eh," she coughed in a thin echo. He still hadn't removed his hand, and the texture and warmth of his skin were distracting her.

He raised his eyebrows. "Do you spit like a girl, too?"

She glared at him and coughed harder.

"Better. Do you feel that? Your stomach muscles contracting?"

"Yes."

He took his hand away, and she stepped back, her cheeks still flushed. "Keep doing it, but without coughing or using your throat at all. Vary the speed – start slow, then speed up the rhythm, and then slow down again. You're in very good shape, so it shouldn't be too hard. I didn't realize sit ups were required of lab slaves."

"They're not. I used to be on my high school swim team," she explained. "I still swim from time to time."

"Intelligent, athletic, and musical – what can't you do, Miss Mizuno?" he asked, putting the distance firmly between them as he stepped away and picked up her music books.

Get your attention.

"Well, at the moment, play with vibrato and get by on less than six hours of sleep a night," she responded, striving for the same light tone that he used.

He turned around again. "You only sleep six hours a night? Every night?"

"Well, sometimes I allow for seven and a half on Saturdays."

"How are you still alive?" he demanded.

Ami glanced at him bemusedly. "Plenty of people do the same or get by on even less sleep than that. I think by definition, college students are chronically sleep-deprived."

"Most of them can get by on six hours or less on any given night because they crash for fourteen hours on the weekends."

She shrugged, undisturbed. "It's perfectly fine. A normal sleep cycle lasts about ninety minutes on average, so I always make sure to get some multiple of that. I would feel more tired if I slept for eight hours, for example."

Zak shook his head, thinking of the glorious days when he allowed himself to sleep past noon. Even when he was on tour, his manager knew he had to be allotted at least one day out of seven where nothing was scheduled before three in the afternoon.

It had been two years since his last tour. One year, nine months, and ten days since he had last performed in front of an audience. He swore it wouldn't be his last performance. He always feared it might be.