gaisce: (こんなに近くで)
Flourishing Verdantly ([personal profile] gaisce) wrote2008-12-20 02:47 am

[Nodame Cantabile] Chopsticks Etude

Title: Chopsticks Etude
Series: Nodame Cantabile
Warning/spoilers: Spoilers for the Paris special, set between the Christmas argument and right before Nodame’s first recital.
Wordcount: 2,805
Summary: Nodame and Chiaki play scales on something larger than a grand piano.
Author’s notes: For [livejournal.com profile] mikomichan because of lots of things like icons and that request from long ago but also subtle incentive since she decided not to throw me out into the wild Canadian wilderness when I visited.




In retrospect, Chiaki knew this would end in disaster. It was obvious as soon as he let resolve set in and common sense seemed to vanish. Previous experience and the impending feeling of dread, suspiciously timed with the symptoms of an oncoming ulcer, told Chiaki that by conceding to take Nodame to the Au Bon Marche he was relinquishing a day of peace and quiet for himself. And what he was trading it in for would cost him time, money, and probably a good chunk of his patience to get through the ordeal.

However, after a three month international tour when everything was transitory except for old man Stresemann and the sounds of the orchestra, Chiaki found himself missing life back in Paris. Even more he found himself missing Nodame—if only in the peripheral—a clattering sound next door, an errant worry that she would be late to her eleven o’clock Music Theory lessons, a thousand moments of flickering concern before he went back to concentrating. Suddenly they all added up to a realization that he thought about her more than not. And while it would have been easy enough to fall back in the old routine of living near but not with her, he remembered that night at Christmas when her hands were gripping his shoulders like if she let go she would never see him again.

Tugging at his shirt collar as if to physically loosen the vividness of the memory, Chiaki mulled over his resolution to make amends for that argument. If Nodame was hurt and afraid he would abandon her, Chiaki needed to prove that he wasn’t waiting to run away, that he was going face her as seriously as he learned to face his music. Except he didn’t know how. At the time he said he understood, but she was choking the life out of him and he probably would have confessed to anything short of denying Mozart’s music to get her to let go of his windpipe.

Understanding Nodame, really attempting to understand her was far more complicated than the most abstract of symphonies for him. How could he take someone like that at face value? More than half of what came out of her mouth made no sense whatsoever, and quite a few of them weren’t technically words. But if he thought about it the time spent with her drew out a longer sense of predictability in how she would act, where he could tell from the slight downturn of her mouth or shift in her hands that something was affecting her like a note out of key. Bit by bit he could coax a somewhat logical progression, but the details were still far beyond him.

So, since Chiaki did not know how to face her like a woman (and sometimes it was hard to reconcile the two anyway, she was just Nodame to him) he thought of facing her like a particularly troublesome symphony. Which ironically meant the only thing he could do was to wait and listen.

Of course when he set aside his pride in coming to her for advice, his debut for treating their relationship in an honest and mature manner, Nodame’s reply was to go to a toy store so she could pick up the new deluxe versions of the Puri Gorota figurine collection.

That, Chiaki thought, should have been the obvious warning sign.

The hesitation plagued him all the way through the metro, causing him to drag his feet against the antiquated cobblestones. And Nodame didn’t help ease his worries as she gripped his hand too tightly along the rue de Babylone, ignoring the cultural landmarks to comment on the smells of the street vendors and odd quirks of inhabitants that had nothing to do with majesty or history of Paris and more to do with whatever caught her eye at the time.

“Fuuoh, this will be fun now that Chiaki-sempai is here to share it!” Nodame giggled. “Poor Sempai had to miss the anime festival to play at his Panini competition instead of going to that pretty castle...”

“It’s Platini and how are they even comparable?”

“Nodame thought you said the Au Bon Marche had a castle in front...”

“A castle front, not in front of it. It’s a toy store so they dress it up to attract children,” he grumbled, looking askance as she merrily cuddled up to him, “or the immature.”

“Ooh, so it’s like that. How romantic! Sempai, will you carry Nodame across the drawbridge like a good husband?”

Chiaki groaned. “That’s a threshold of their home, not a castle.”

“A man’s home is his castle, isn’t it...” Nodame mused before the first display caught her eye. There was no warning as she practically tugged his arm out of its socket to press them both against the window. “Look, they’ve made a village for those dolls to live in. Isn’t it pretty?”

Managing to pull his cheek from where it had suctioned itself to the glass, Chiaki glanced down at the toy display. Small porcelain figures were arranged as if caught in the middle of daily life. There were shopkeepers, children posed as if fishing in the blue background of a river, and even a few couples strolling down the avenue of the constructed town. He remembered being four and looking down on a scene much like this one from his balcony, thinking the people were as small as they were represented here.

“Aah, it’s something,” he replied noncommittally.

Chiaki kept his gaze on the display, mulling over how fine the details were. There was a delicate kind of elegance in the craftsmanship that made him question why a toymaker would focus on things that would surely escape a child’s attention. They couldn’t fully appreciate the work that went into it. And yet he paused, wondering if a child’s overlooked but sincere appreciation might be worth more than the most eloquent praise someone like him could give.

His thoughts drifting about introspectively, Chiaki turned to ask Nodame for her opinion on the scene only to find her vanishing into the doors of the toy store. He started after her immediately but brightly wrapped boxes and giant teddy bears loomed between them, giving him pause. At a loss for what suddenly caught her eye, Chiaki stood on his tiptoes and peered over the Spanish-tile dollhouses to follow her. She darted out of his vision briefly at times but from the alleyway of two chateaus he managed to spy her kneeling by a child of maybe nine or ten years.

“What is she up to now?” Chiaki said to himself before hurrying inside.

Nodame was speaking animatedly with the young boy, completely ignoring Chiaki as he walked up to them.

Chiaki felt a pang of jealousy to watch them, which he immediately dismissed because there was no reason for him to be jealous of some child who probably thought she was going to give him directions back to his mother. In fact, she was probably giving him the wrong directions, he surmised with new resolution to go up to them and set the situation straight.

However, when he approached Nodame didn’t even turn around to acknowledge him. It took the tow-headed boy tugging on her shoulder and pointing at him to get her to turn around.

“Sempai,” Nodame smiled brightly at him right before she turned back to the boy, “this is Lucas Baudry-kun. He was going to meet us here and be our guide for the Au Bon Marche! He’s a count and talks about music like you do!”

The young man, Chiaki thought it was wrong to think of him as a child now that he noticed a certain maturity about him—at least compared to Nodame, bowed in the European style and grinned at him. “She’s said you’re a great conductor.”

“Ah, that’s what I’ve been trying for,” Chiaki fumbled, trying to remember his manners and giving Nodame an expectant look to explain the rest.

Lucas pulled back to inspect him better. “Mostly she said you were handsome and grumpy, but those I’m supposed to tell from meeting you.”

“What else have you been telling him?” Chiaki started, but Nodame had already scampered off down an aisle, leaving both Lucas and Chiaki behind.

“She looks excited.”

“I thought she wanted a guide, you’re supposed to let them lead. This is just like when we went sightseeing!”

“I can still guide you. Have you ever been in this toy store before Monsieur Chiaki?”

“No, but it can’t possibly be large enough to need two people to keep an eye on her. I’ve kept track of her on the Champs-Élysées without any problem.”

“Not large, but it is a toy store,” the young count said as if that explained everything.

A loud discordant clanging came from beyond the wall of merchandise and Chiaki rolled his eyes up heavenward. Instead of sky, a collection of kites and motor airplanes hung in the air, swaying lazily in the air conditioned store. Another clang and they trembled on their wires, almost as if they were convulsing with laughter at his predicament. Nodame. Again.

By the time he had finished Lucas was already gone and the clanging sound had suddenly become less chaotic and more, dare he suggest, orchestrated? An unnatural twang in C major echoed through the store, then again, building on a rhythm. Chiaki knew it was the precise sound of a quarter beat, but that could be an accident even the most bungling of drummers could stumble on once or twice. It was only until he heard the music cascade and the electronic notes suddenly finding footing to transform into a C chord that he began to accept this was intended. Although the G note was still just a fraction slower than the rest. Strange, since a pianist’s hand was trained to hit them all simultaneously.

He knew this tune. Chiaki ventured forward as he tried to recall anything beyond the next few notes. This part would go up in the simple melody, bouncing back to the original placement, he analyzed. No sharps, then a two quarter pause for an E chord. Something deceptively simple. Perhaps a lullaby he’d forgotten from his time away in Europe...

When Chiaki found Nodame and Lucas they were skipping as if playing invisible jump rope side by side. He looked around for some sort of toy or machine to explain their coordinated movements but could only see more children arriving to watch the spectacle. Midway through, Lucas twisted to avoid stepping where Nodame had set her feet. His balanced crumpled without his arms to keep him from tumbling and she landed awkwardly on one foot, causing a clang as G and F rang out together.

Chiaki looked down. It was a piano, he finally noticed, stepping back and examining the wider picture. A giant step sound piano. One of those toys for people to jump on and make a huge racket.

Lucas and Nodame had stumbled on it. Judging from the first notes the stumbling was quite literal in Nodame’s case. But once they understood the nature of their discovery the two of them began an unspoken agreement to play something. And knowing that strange impetus, at last Chiaki recognized the melody of “Heart and Soul.” It was an obvious choice to decide upon for a Convervatoire student and a young count to dance and skip to. Easy enough to reach the half measures, laughing for each note they stepped on.

Lifting her head up from her mistake Nodame smiled wildly when she spied him in the crowd, easy enough since he was twenty centimeters taller than the rest of the gathered audience. Throwing her arms open she began waving frantically. “Chiaki-sempai, come play this part with Nodame!”

“What part?” Chiaki stuttered, “What are you even doing? I thought you wanted to go to the Puri Gorota section!”

“Nodame found this on the ground, isn’t it amazing? Gyabou, if you play Mozart on this then everyone will feel his music!”

Unwilling to play with her but eager to avoid making even more noise, Chiaki ventured closer to keep her from shouting. “Not even Liszt could play something that large.”

“That is true. Which is why I cannot play with Nodame in the next part, Monsieur Chiaki. My legs aren’t long enough so if you would be so kind to accompany her?” Lucas argued solemnly before stepping down off the platform.

“I didn’t agree to thi—” Chiaki’s protest leapt in his throat and Nodame effortlessly yanked him up onto the platform, causing him to grind and twist on half of the keys. That had to have been rehearsed, he thought in accusation. No ten year-old would be that polite and that quick to dodge Nodame’s whims without knowing in advance what was going to happen.

But it was already too late. The kids made noises, inarticulate coos of rising to the challenge and staring at Chiaki with expectant eyes. They had the same expression watching him as he did when examining the miniature town structure, he surmised. They wanted a show, it didn’t matter the size of the piano as long as the performance was grand enough for them.

“This is easy Sempai, just follow Nodame!” she grinned and tossed back her hair before jumping up in the air and bringing her two feet down. Almost like a jackrabbit she was up and down again, bouncing on her feet in such enthusiasm he had to stop and appreciate it. A second later she jumped again, her stance widening as she landed on different notes and repeated the process.

Nodame waved to him distractedly again, telling him to jump in. After all, the frantic noise of the tune didn’t make it any harder to follow with such a simple outline.

“Chopsticks,” Chiaki murmured, a faint grin slipping over his face. The most rudimentary piano “lesson” to be learned, where even the most tone deaf and music illiterate souls could mimic the motions with an air of absolute expertise the way master pianists worked years on classical compositions. Nodame wanted him to play, not use the piano as an instrument, but as a toy. Play.

Chiaki jumped with her the next time, measuring his height so he wouldn’t overreach her and send them into mismatched beats. He rolled on the balls of his feet, trying to gauge just how the soles of his shoes would hit the keys for the best sound. And Nodame showed a surprising awareness of him as he felt her subtly, imperceptibly shift her stance to match his better even as she continued on like he wasn’t there at all.

The only times she paid attention at all was when their fingers would accidentally collide as they balanced themselves on the widest gap of the keys, Nodame taking longer to recover and Chiaki waiting with his arm out in case she fell.

It was impossible for him to do this without thinking of Katahira Hajime’s jubilant conducting. The shorter Japanese conductor had the same approach and all of his music had a certain bouncy quality. At first Chiaki dismissed it, appreciating his technique for its reservation but now he could see how...freeing it was. Not simply a technique of expression but the expression itself was liberating.

Just as they both sprang into their last chord, Nodame’s hand struck his shoulder. One of the many trinkets from her bag had fallen out for her to slip on, and she did right into Chiaki. She rammed into his chest without a hint of grace that might have been seen from the earlier recital but all of the vigor, sending them both tumbling to the ground by a musical accompaniment of what sounded like a sledgehammer on grand piano.

“Are you both okay?” Lucas asked, peering over the tangle of limbs. He blinked, realizing there was less of a tangle and more of Nodame taking the opportunity to nestle into Chiaki’s arm at the rare chance that presented itself.

Nodame snuggled further, sniffing his shirt collar and quite content to not get up. “Like a knight in shining armor catching his princess from the castle tower.”

“Ow,” said Chiaki.

He smiled consolingly. “That looked like a lot of fun.”

“It was until she fell on me.”

“Chiaki-sempai thought it was fun? Fuooh! Nodame will take you to more toy stores from now on! Then you can pay for Nodame’s Puri Gorota in exchange for learning from her on how to enjoy yourself!”

Chiaki groaned, his head hitting a piano note and letting the F sharp ring out through the bustle of the store. If she was going to "teach" him how to act like a child again, who was going to be the responsible one?

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