Teikou Academy of Music was a name synonymous with the utmost musical excellence in Japan, receiving thousands of hopeful applications every year and notorious for rejecting over three quarters of them. It was a school of the elites. It was where Japan's finest aspiring musicians gathered in one location and wandered the vast campus with their heads held high. It was…completely out of place for Aomine Daiki, who was slumped on one of the courtyard benches for an afternoon laze in the sun.
At least that was what he was intending to do until a shadow loomed over him and drew his curiosity enough to peak open an eye. The pink hair and disapproving stare was all he needed to spot before closing it again. There was only one person who matched that description on campus.
"Satsuki? Whatcha doin' here?" He slurred, a yawn quickly following.
Momoi jabbed Aomine's side, unamused by the display of laziness. "Dai-chan! Don't you have practice right now?" She jabbed again. "What are you doing lazing here, your exams are in two weeks!"
Aomine groaned and rolled over. "Don't wanna. Partner sucks."
"I hardly think anyone will believe that about Midorima-kun," Momoi said dryly.
"His music's too boring. Doesn't get me excited at all," Aomine huffed.
Needless to say, their first session together had not gone well at all. Aomine cringed at the memory of it. That bastard had the nerve to call his music crude.
"After all that trouble I went through to get Midorima-kun to agree to be your piano accompaniment," Momoi sighed. "Sometimes, I wonder how you even got into Teikou."
"Oi! You were the one who told me to apply in the first place!"
"Because I didn't want you to play street performances for the rest of your life!" Momoi yelled, her voice slightly cracking as she turned away.
"Satsuki?" Aomine jolted awake and grabbed her shoulder before she managed to run off. "Hey now, don't be like that. Don't you have an audition tomorrow? You can't ruin your voice over stupid ole me."
"I'm…I'm just worried about you," she sniffed as she brushed away the hand and fixed Aomine with a serious stare. "You don't study, you don't go to lessons...it's a miracle that they're even letting you stay. If you don't pass this exam, you won't be able to stay at Teikou with your current grades and then-"
"-I got it, I got it," Aomine sighed, holding up his hands in surrender from the inevitably long rant that he sensed coming. "All I have to do is find a new partner and ace this test, right? Piece of cake for the best violinist in Japan."
Pain blossomed on Aomine's shoulder as Momoi punched him hard, causing the violinist to flinch and back away defensively. "You idiot," she said, "I know you can play well, the problem is finding a partner! By now, you've probably rejected almost all the piano players here!"
" 's not my fault they all suck," Aomine retorted, rubbing his sore arm. "I don't see why I can't just play some other piece, or maybe…hey Satsuki, do you think I could play both parts by myself? I could be like a one man orchestra or something! Now that would be interesting!"
Momoi rolled her eyes with some fondness, but mostly exasperation. Now he was just being ridiculous. There was no way the judges would let Aomine play without an accompaniment, and there was no one in Teikou that could satisfy Aomine's fickle standards.
Their music had no soul, they couldn't keep up with Aomine's erratic playing, or they just plain sucked, so Aomine would claim.
"Who else…" muttered Momoi, stroking her chin thoughtfully as she expertly tuned out Aomine's increasingly ludicrous suggestions. A piano player, someone with soul…whatever that meant. A piano…
Momoi nearly jumped from the metaphorical lightning strike of inspiration that had hit her. "Ah! I got it!"
"Eh? Got what?"
"Your piano accompaniment! Well…maybe. Dai-chan, have you ever heard of the phantom piano of Teikou?"
"Phantom…piano?" Aomine asked in confusion.
Momoi smiled, eyes going distant. Aomine swore that he saw the beginnings of a blush on her face. "In the older practice rooms of the piano building, late at night, sometimes you can hear the sound of a piano coming from one of the rooms. But whenever anyone goes to check the room, they never see anyone there. No one's been able to figure out who the phantom player is yet. Some even say that it's a ghost."
"…ha? You want me to play my piece with a ghost from a bunch of rumors?"
"No! It's not a rumor!" Momoi exclaimed, cupping her cheeks with both hands and now most definitely blushing. Aomine raised a brow, more confused than ever.
"I heard it myself," she explained, "when my first audition last year went...poorly. The teacher was being particularly harsh, so I went to one of the old practice rooms to be alone and then I heard it. Pachelbel's Canon in D on the piano. It was soft, but full of sincerity, like a gentle encouragement to keep on trying. I've never heard it played so tenderly...I could have listened to it forever..." Momoi drifted off, staring into the distance with a smitten look which she quickly shook away after catching herself. "Anyways, I wanted to thank the player, but no one else was in the building, just like in the rumors."
"So…it really is a ghost?"
The response earned him another swift punch to the arm. "Ghosts don't exist, stupid Dai-chan! There definitely had to be a person! A kind wonderful pianist! Your future accompanist, and you better not lose this one!"
"Okay okay! Just stop hitting me already, geez Satsuki! I thought you wanted me to pass, not give me an arm injury!"
To be honest, Aomine still had his doubts about the story. The old practice rooms on the back side of Teikou's campus used to be one of his most frequent hang out spots and he had never seen or heard of this infamous "phantom piano." Admittedly, he didn't hear much of anything when he practiced with his headphones on, despite the badly "soundproofed" walls of the underfunded building.
But regardless of his doubts, Momoi had insistently shoved a lunch box in his hand and threatened to make a grand bonfire with his porn collection if he went home tonight empty handed, so here he was, waiting in a nearly abandoned building, poking a crumbling ball of rice experimentally. He should have known better than to rely on Satsuki to make his food, but really, how could someone screw up rice balls?
And asides from the sound of his grumbling stomach, the building was silent. No phantom music, no sound of life, nothing.
"Hey ghost? You out there?"
"Tch, fine." Aomine abandoned his half eaten rice ball for his violin case. It was bulkier than most other cases - a fine bludgeoning weapon, he would joke - if only because it accommodated a small portable speaker with cables in addition to his violin and bow.
His violin was smaller than most acoustic violins, one of the many benefits of owning an electric. The Yamaha SV-130 model was compact, sleek, and still made music as good as any other violin. Even better than most, in his not-so-humble opinion.
Aomine felt his pulse quicken as he plugged in the speaker in smooth, practiced motions and finished hooking up the cables with an efficiency few expected from his usual slothful demeanor. When he felt the familiar touch of the cool chinrest, he couldn't stop his face from breaking out into a grin.
It was show time.
His exam piece, Ravel's Tzigane, was technically for the violin and piano, but the piece started with only the violin. "How 'bout I show you how it's done, ghost? Listen to my magnificent music and be inspired!" The first note he played was loud, much louder than required, but Aomine wanted to make sure it caught the ghost's attention, if there was a ghost at all.
The initial boisterous riff dwindled into a finer, subtler manipulation of the tune with his fingers, drifting into highs and lows that Aomine swayed to like a drunken man high off the ale of the whimsical melody. For a classical piece with a near unpronounceable name, it wasn't so bad.
But it was rapidly coming to a close as he approached the section where the piano accompaniment was supposed to enter. He took a longer pause than usual on the rest that usually cued the piano accompaniment to begin, and then played on, letting himself imagine the missing piano.
To his surprise, it was quieter than he imagined. In fact, it wasn't even in his head.
That realization almost caused him to drop his violin in alarm then and there, but out of sheer muscle memory, Aomine continued his playing alongside the eerie music that echoed through the building.
His eyes fell closed as he focused on the music. Yes, this was definitely Ravel's Tzigane. Perhaps not as technically precise as Midorima's rendition of it, but there was a sort of playfulness to it that tickled Aomine's amusement.
The piano soon grew louder, steadily gaining confidence, and Aomine matched it note for note.
Yes, this was good.
This was exciting.
Aomine's excitement showed as he significantly picked up the tempo for the finale. To his delight, the piano did as well and they spiraled higher and higher, faster and faster, as if racing to their conclusion and then all at once...
It was over.
Aomine took a breath and lowered his violin. His pulse was still thumping fast in his ears along with the lingering echoes of Tzigane which filled him with a contradictory mix of satisfaction and want that he couldn't exactly explain.
No, this would not be over.
Aomine practically dropped his violin in a manner that would make most musicians cringe and bursted into the hallway of the building at record speed, nearly tripping over his own cords in the process, but there was only one thing on his mind right now and it was not the safety of his equipment. That music, repeating over and over again in his ears, was a burning reminder of the sheer thrill of their earlier performance. He wanted to feel it at least once more.
"That was amazing!" Aomine shouted as he slammed open the door to the neighboring practice room. Empty.
Undiscouraged, he darted to the adjacent room. "Hey! Are you there?"
"Answer me, damn it!"
Aomine swore that he checked at least half the rooms in the hall within the next minute, but it was only when he returned once more to the hallway, breathing heavily from the endeavor, that he heard that piano again. It began soft, as before, lingering on the first note before fluttering away into a soft melody.
Not Tzigane, Aomine realized. Something different.
He followed the music, back down the hallway towards where he first started his search. The piece itself was much slower in tempo and gave him the impression of a love song. A much more somber one than he would ever care to play, but the affection underlying it spoke to him. Before he knew it, he was at the entrance of the first door he had checked, staring at the grand piano in the center of the room that towered over its player.
As the last notes of the song faded away, Aomine immediately blurted out, "Hey, what song was that?"
"Liebesträum no. 3, by Lizst."
"What the-?!" Aomine was not expecting the sound of a voice from so close in front of him. He nearly fell backwards in alarm, but managed to catch his balance in time and only stumble two steps before he spotted a pale-haired boy staring at him with an expression as calm as his voice, as if he didn't just appear out of fucking nowhere. "Where the hell did you come from?!"
The boy blinked once, tilting his head to signal his confusion at the question before he decided to indulge the violinist and made a small motion towards the piano. "I was playing there just earlier."
"You? But- the piano- how did- wait, it was you?!"
"Yes, that's what I just said," he repeated. Though his tone was flat, Aomine could see the glint of amusement in his eyes. The bastard was getting a kick out of this.
"So what's your name?" Aomine asked, changing the topic. "I don't think I've seen you around here."
"Kuroko Tetsuya," he answered. He scanned Aomine once over with his eyes before he added, "I know about you though, Aomine-kun."
"Oh?" Aomine's ego visibly inflated. " So you've heard of my great-"
"A lot of students in the piano department have been complaining about you," Kuroko said, popping Aomine's ego with ease. He didn't even bother to take in the aftermath, having already returned to his piano's side as if by magic. There was a sense of fond familiarity in the way Kuroko lightly stroked the keys, knowing the exact pressure needed to avoid incurring a sound.
"I guess you're the reason why everyone's been playing Tzigane. I've heard it so many times now that I've almost learned it myself." Aomine leaned in with interest as Kuroko began to play the first few notes of Tzigane again. "But I'm happy I got to hear it." Kuroko's eyes closed, the slightest of smiles forming on his lips as he dove right into one of the more complicated sections that would make most pianists sweat with caution. But Kuroko held none of that fear. "This song...is lively, like the notes just want to jump off the piano..."
"How poetic," Aomine teased, but earned to response. Kuroko was too engrossed in the music. Now listening with more focus, Aomine realized that there were more mistakes than he initially thought - Midorima would have been appalled. But Midorima could just fuck off, because underneath the half-hazard playing, Aomine felt it - a tingling sense of adventure that gave life to the whole piece in a way no other pianist had managed.
"Hey Tetsu," Aomine tried once more as the piano reached a section designated to switch off with the violin. "You like this song, right?"
This time, Kuroko paused, though Aomine wasn't sure if it was because of his question or his jump to a much more informal nickname. "Yes, I do," he answered.
"Then," Aomine threw his arm around Kuroko's shoulder, "be my accompaniment partner for my exam!"
Kuroko stiffened. "I refuse," he replied immediately, much to Aomine's shock.
Kuroko turned away, keeping his expression hidden. "I don't want to make Aomine-kun fail. I have trouble learning new pieces and I...I haven't even managed to pass the first round of a competition. Aomine-kun would be better off-"
"Idiot!" Aomine roughly grabbed Kuroko's head, ruffling the light blue locks to be even messier than they already were. "As if I'd settle for someone else! It has to be Tetsu, the only one I want to play this song with is Tetsu!"
This time, Aomine didn't even need to see Kuroko's face to notice the shock in Kuroko's rigid shoulders. Once again, Kuroko tried to protest weakly, though Aomine remained insistent.
"And anyways, someone who enjoys playing so much can't be bad, that's my pet theory."
The shoulders relaxed, and slowly, Kuroko turned to meet his gaze. Once again, that phantom smile greeted him again. "That's a strange theory. Now who's being poetic, Aomine-kun?"
Aomine grinned back. "What can I say? You're pretty contagious, Tetsu."
That night, Momoi fell asleep to the sound of bickering boys interspersed with a flurry of notes that she's sure would anger their neighbor next door, but as for her, she rested in ease knowing that finally, finally, Aomine was in good hands.
Their schedules were largely incompatible with each other, but neither Kuroko nor Aomine were against late night practices, and new rumors spread about the phantom piano gaining a companion.
The first thing Aomine learned about Kuroko Tetsuya was that his stubborn streak rivaled Aomine's own. They played from 5 to 8 PM, never stopping, never wanting to stop, even as Kuroko was practically falling over the keys in exhaustion.
At that point, Aomine found himself, for the first time, to be the one to back down from a contest of wills. Their practices always ended in Aomine literally flinging Kuroko over his shoulder to cart him to the closest fast food joint for an emergency milkshake refuel.
The second thing Aomine learned about Kuroko Tetsuya was that the pianist seemed to live off milkshakes to the extent that Aomine questioned if they were the real source of the boy's pale skin. Not that he had any right to judge unhealthy eating habits, seeing as he usually ordered a tray stacked with burgers during their late night food run. Next to Kuroko's single milkshake, his order drew far more attention.
However, the most important thing about Kuroko Tetsuya was something that Aomine already knew: Tetsu was absolutely amazing.
His playing wasn't flashy by any means - it was the opposite, if anything - and his learning curve was so steep that correcting the smallest of mistakes took a whole day's worth of practice, but when Kuroko fully grasped a song, he played it with a breathtaking mastery.
"Your repertoire is pretty sad though, Tetsu," Aomine commented in between mouthfuls. "Most pianists have played at least double the amount of songs as you. What gives?"
Kuroko blinked, thinking briefly on the question before answering with the most logical explanation that came to mind. "I didn't have much formal training before I came to Teikou."
"Bullshit, neither did I."
"Perhaps Aomine-kun is just extraordinary," Kuroko pointed out.
"No, Midorima is my fucking neighbor so I know they give you pianists a lot of work."
Kuroko sipped his milkshake, face cautiously blank. "Midorima-kun is not ordinary either."
"Okay then, how many pieces have you learned this year?" Aomine asked, hitting the topic from a different angle as Momoi would often do to him.
"...I'm learning Tzigane," Kuroko said.
Aomine waited for Kuroko to say more, but to his surprise, nothing else came. "That can't be it...you're basically learning that on your own!"
"Excellent observation, Aomine-kun," Kuroko deadpanned, though Aomine did not find the comment funny in the slightest.
"Tetsu...who's your piano teacher? Aren't they supposed to...you know, actually teach you?"
"He..." Kuroko hesitated, putting down his drink. "During my first lesson, I was asked to sight read a new piece, but I couldn't even get through the first two lines by the end of our lesson. He had listened to my audition pieces and thought I wasn't taking his classes seriously."
"But that's not true-"
"We haven't been on good terms ever since," Kuroko continued, ignoring Aomine's outburst with a sad, knowing look. For a second, Kuroko was even tempted to mention that his teacher had, on several occasions, suggested that he drop out of the school despite his decent grades in his theory and history classes, but he didn't.
Instead, he added, "Still, as long as I can play the piano...that's enough for me."
Aomine's fists were clenched so hard to the point that the whites of his knuckles began to show. It was obvious that he was only a few steps from an outburst that would surely get them kicked out of the fast food joint.
"Tetsu!" Aomine called, barely managing to keep his voice at an acceptable level. "They must all be blind, or deaf, or both damn it. Your music...I...I really admire it."
Once again, Aomine's sincere honesty took Kuroko by surprise. Much more quietly, he replied, "I...I really admire Aomine-kun's music as well."
"You look happier than usual," Momoi commented with a knowing look.
"Really?" Aomine said, entertaining the farce for a moment. He's more than sure that Momoi's been the one sneaking around their practice area leaving behind tidbits of thoughtful, if not inedible, snacks around the room.
"I guess it's because..." Aomine stretched, looking up at the vast expanse of the sky that reminded him all too much of a certain pianist. "I might have finally met someone who loves music more than me," he admitted.
Damn, he really was getting poetic these days.
With the increasingly absurd amount of time the two spent in their practice rooms (their practices had stretched all the way to 10 PM these days), Aomine took it on himself to make the place more "homely." Their usual practice room found itself refurbished with a mini fridge and a couch dyed in a fluorescent shade of pink that most males would not dare to be caught dead carrying.
("It was a present!" Aomine defended himself. "At least no one would want to steal this thing." )
The color did nothing to deter Aomine from sleeping on it like he would on any other surface, which is how Kuroko found the violinist when he returned from his last class of the day. Today his classes had run late due to exams, running all the way until 9 at night. A part of him was amazed Aomine would even be willing to wait this long.
"Aomine-kun," he said, nudging the drooling violinist. "Let's start practice."
"Mmm..." Aomine swatted away the hand. "Play me something first, Tetsu. Something good."
Kuroko backed away and took a seat at the piano, indulging the request. "This piece is called Clair de Lune, part of Debussy's Suite bergamasque," he explained as he set his fingers on the keyboard. He knew his words were all lost on the half-asleep Aomine, but he continued nonetheless. "It was based on a poem by Paul Verlaine, and also...it was the first piece I was requested to learn at Teikou."
Like many of the pieces Kuroko prefered, the piece started off softly, barely audible. Each note seemed to float in the air, mixing in with the moonlight that poured through the windows of the practice room to live up to the piece's name. Clair de Lune, moonlight, a piece with an ethereal quality that Kuroko drew out perfectly with his playing.
What kind of expression did Kuroko wear when playing such a song, Aomine wondered absently. Although Kuroko tended to hide behind a polite mask of neutrality at all times, when he was playing a piano, his emotions broadcasted on his face loud and clear.
What would he see now?
The image grew clearer in his mind: soft, half lidded eyes staring down with something short of sorrow, and yet, his lips were curved upwards, serene despite the turmoil Aomine could feel boiling inside.
The sound of clapping, not of his own and far too loud to be from Tetsu, startled Aomine awake. At the entrance of their doorway stood an all too familiar figure. The newcomer was none other than Akashi Seijuurou, the headmaster's infamous son, still dressed in a formal suit as if he had come right out of conducting a performance. He probably had, to be honest.
"Interesting," Akashi said, encroaching into the room and Kuroko's personal space with a few swift steps. Red eyes fixed upon Kuroko with an intensity that caused even the normally composed pianist to back up a step. "I've never heard someone play like you before."
"Ah...thank you?" Kuroko said with a small bow, manners kicking in as if by reflex.
"However," Akashi turned to Aomine, raising a brow at the eyesore of a couch. "It is against school regulations to keep your own equipment in the practice rooms, Aomine."
"Not like anyone is using it anyways," Aomine said unrepentantly.
Kuroko cut in. "We'll clear out after Aomine-kun has finished his violin exams. Until then, please let us practice here as we wish."
A tense stare off lasted between Aomine and Akashi before Akashi broke away. "Very well," he said, giving Kuroko one last glance. "I will look forward to your performance, then."
Three days a week, Aomine had something akin to a part time job at a small bar within a few blocks of his apartment. The owner, Imayoshi, allowed him to play for the customers so long as the music was good, an expectation Aomine always met with ease. The bar's regular patrons tended to be middle age, in their 20s, so they were perfectly receptive of Aomine's preference for more modern rock songs adapted to the violin.
Today though, the notes of Pagini's Caprice, No. 24, graced the patrons of Touou. Often considered one of the most difficult solo violin pieces, Aomine played it as he would any other piece, not even showing the slightest sign of exertion. The identity and difficulty of the piece was lost on everyone in the room, all except one.
"A classical piece? That's rare," Imayoshi commented just loud enough for Aomine to hear him from across the bar, but casual enough to slip by the notice of the rest of their customers.
It was a Tuesday, a slow day at Touou, so Aomine knew Imayoshi didn't actually give a shit about what he played at the small bar. His wage for today solely consisted of tips, but money was never what he was after. "Let's just say I felt inspired," he said vaguely when he put down his violin at the end of the song.
Imayoshi looked up, radiating with curiosity underneath his usual freakishly foxish poker face. "Oh? And what could have possibly inspired the great Aomine Daiki?"
"A friend." Aomine said curtly.
There is a brief pause before, from the corner, Wakamatsu - the other bartender in training - bursted out laughing. Imayoshi was equally amused, but he prefered to elaborate in words. "My, my, so full of surprises today, aren't you? Color me impressed, I didn't know anyone but Momoi could deal with you on a day-to-day basis." Aomine snapped his violin case closed with more force than necessary. "Oi, what's that supposed to mean?"
"Just what it sounds like," Imayoshi said unapologetically, "but do bring your new friend over here sometime, I would like to meet this new saint."
"As if!" Aomine scoffed, sticking Imayoshi the finger as he left the bar.
His exam was on a Friday, the last obstacle that stood between Aomine and the weekend. Tzigane was, of course, not Aomine's only exam piece, but it was the only piece that required an accompaniment and coincidentally, it was the last piece on his performance list. So until then, Kuroko was required to wait outside, listening to Aomine's performance through the door.
His playing was unmistakable, so full of energy and flourish that Kuroko could feel it even through the barrier of a door. It made sense now, more than ever, why Aomine was (grudgingly) considered one of the stars of Teikou. From technical precision to passion, Aomine had it all.
Really, Kuroko would even consider himself a little jealous, if it weren't for the fact that both Aomine's music and demeanor put him so at ease that it was impossible to think ill of the friendly boy who had noticed him when no one else had given him a second glance. Who had put so must trust on him, a complete stranger, to help pass this examination.
Lost within his thoughts, Kuroko didn't even notice when the door opened. Aomine stretched his fist into Kuroko's line of sight, catching Kuroko's attention. It was time. "Let's show them our music, Tetsu."
Their fists connected. Now was not the time for hesitation. Kuroko wanted to live up to Aomine's unwavering belief in him, he would live up to it.
The examiners typically did not care about who the accompanist was so long as it was not another examiner, but their curiosity in Kuroko's appearance was not well hidden. Everyone on campus had heard of Aomine's long search for his partner, and needless to say, Kuroko was not who they were expecting at all.
Neither Kuroko nor Aomine paid any attention to curious glances. Instead, Kuroko exchanged a nod with Aomine, signaling that he was ready.
Ravel's Tzigane, a song inspired by gypsy romanticism, though nothing like traditional gypsy music. Still, it was meant to be free-willed, unrestrained, and fervid, all of which Aomine incorporated perfectly into his playing.
Right next to him, Aomine seemed to shine brighter than ever. It almost felt like they were in a whole different league.
But Aomine would have none of that. He turned to Kuroko, smiling expectantly - their cue for Kuroko's introduction, as if offering a hand for a dance.
It would be rude to reject such a gesture, so Kuroko acquiesced, taking that proverbial hand and joining in on the dance of sounds. His nervousness quickly melted away under the pace of the music that he threw himself into wholeheartedly. It was just as before, more refined, yet still as capricious as ever.
Their eyes met once more, and twin smiles were exchanged. This was Tzigane, one that uniquely belonged to them, and as Aomine would say, it was "fucking awesome."
Meanwhile, listening from across the hall with sharp ears, Akashi allowed himself to close his eyes and relax in the sound of their playing. They were unpolished gems, but shining so brightly already. This was a good sound, he thought approvingly, a sound that he wanted in his orchestra.
He would have a long day of arrangements to make, but for this, it would be worth it.
"The while they celebrate in minor strain
Triumphant love, effective enterprise,
They have an air of knowing all is vain,—
And through the quiet moonlight their songs rise,"
-"Clair de Lune," by Paul Verlaine
A/N: This was inspired by several twitter conversations between me, Mina, and Vi who also helped me a lot with choosing some of the music for this fic and making sure I didn't make any horrible musical mishaps. It's also loosely inspired by Nodame Cantabile which is one of my favorite music series.
Please go to my profile page to check out some of the sketches Mina did for this fic and also her mini comic, they are super nice!
And as always, feedback is appreciated, especially while I will be going through finals hell the next two weeks :')