Someone had claimed the practice room ahead of him; the plaintive notes of a violin filtered dimly through the closed door, flaunting his reserved 5:15 to 6:15 slot in Ohtori Choutarou's face.
He suppressed an irritated sigh--didn't anyone ever look at the sign-up sheets?--and hoped that he'd be able to evict whoever-it-was with a minimum of fuss. He crossed his fingers, prayed for Minami-kun instead of Arisagawa-kun, and knocked.
Whoever-it-was kept playing.
Choutarou did sigh at that point. Arisagawa-kun, then, who could be counted on to put up a fight for the room. Choutarou set his jaw and steeled himself for battle, and opened the door. "Excuse me, but I have this room--oh." That wasn't Minami-kun, or even Arisagawa-kun, perched in the window.
Rikkai's demon lowered her bow and looked at him. "One wondered whether you had planned to stand out there all afternoon," she said.
"Erm." After Nationals had ended, Choutarou had hoped (albeit without much conviction) that the summer's unusual events might be over. So much for that.
Rikkai's demon, Kantoku had said, is dangerous, and nothing but trouble. Don't have any dealings with her if you can help it, and leave her strictly to me.
Choutarou edged himself backwards; the demon smiled, eyes bright and amused. "If you're looking for Kantoku," he said, "he's generally on the tennis courts at this time of day. I can go get him for you."
Rikkai's demon laughed. "If one had wanted Israfel, one would have found him already, Ohtori-kun," she said.
The demon knew his name. Choutarou contemplated the implications of that, and didn't like them. Shit. "Ah. In that case, I'll--"
"One hears that you play," the demon said, and lifted her chin, indicating the case that he carried. "Would you care to play with one for a bit, Ohtori-kun?"
Say no, his common sense whispered, but the oddity of the request tugged at his curiosity. "Why?"
The demon shrugged. "Does there need to be a reason?"
"If it's you--yes, I think there does." Choutarou was proud of how level his voice was. "And probably a catch, too."
The demon tapped her bow against her thigh. "Israfel's stamp is all over you," she said. Tap, tap, tap, went the bow, until she came to a decision. "One wishes to play, and one's own mentioned that you play well, should one wish someone to play with. Which one does." She tipped her head. "Play with me."
"I'm not prepared for a duet," Choutarou hedged, turning her request (command? not quite, not entirely) over and examining it from every angle. There didn't seem to be a catch.
She smiled like she knew that he was wavering. "Let one worry about that." She set her bow to the strings of her violin again and played a quick run of notes, light and teasing.
"I'm not warmed up," he said, and was faintly appalled at himself for giving into his curiosity so easily.
Her eyes danced. "So warm up."
This was possibly the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. Choutarou found himself coming into the room and setting his case down, nonetheless, lifting out his violin and bow, checking them over and making small adjustments to them before tucking the instrument under his chin and beginning his warm-up exercises. He was conscious of the demon watching him all the while, and his fingers were clumsy at first. She didn't speak, nor did she offer to move from her perch on the windowsill to pounce on him and drag him off to perdition (or whatever it was demons did; Kantoku had been vague on the subject). He relaxed by increments and his fingers unstiffened, and soon he was running through scales in long, effortless ripples.
At first, he thought that the sound of the second violin was an echo, and wondered, puzzled, whether the soundproofing of the practice room had begun to fail, until a flicker of movement caught his eye. She had begun to play again, following his notes easily, until she caught him looking. Then she smiled and was off, fingers dancing over the strings, spilling out notes that were dark and wild and sweeter than he would have expected.
Choutarou found that he was veering away from the familiarity of his scales as the demon's melody coaxed him away from them, and chasing after the music that she played. The part of him that was standing back keeping a wary eye on the demon was impressed; he would not have thought it of himself, to be able to improvise like this, not with a partner he'd never practiced with (although perhaps that was less his skill and more the demon's). The rest of him leaned into the music, relaxing into the wildness of it the same way he fell into a good game of tennis, and he swayed with the beat as the demon's melody drove them on, faster and higher--
"What is the meaning of this?"
The question washed away the spell of the music like an ice-cold wave of water; Choutarou stopped short, mid-note, breathing hard and staring guiltily at Kantoku.
"One wondered when you would arrive, Israfel," the demon said, lightly, and hopped down from her perch. "One must congratulate you on having such a specimen under your wings." A hand settled on Choutarou's shoulder, hot through the fabric of his uniform.
Kantoku rocked on his heels, looking very much like he wanted to knock away that hand, or possibly tear out the demon's throat. "You have your own team, Hatter," he grated. "I won't let you steal from mine."
The demon (Hatter-san?) laughed. The sharpness of it ran down Choutarou's spine like ice. "If you say so," she murmured. "One finds oneself inclined to prove you wrong." Kantoku growled and took a step forward. Hatter-san laughed again, and held up her hand. "This one isn't inclined to be stolen, regrettably. One will respect that."
"See that you do," Kantoku said, as Hatter-san stepped away from Choutarou.
Hatter-san smiled. "Or else?" she asked, tone deceptively light. "Oh, very well." She tipped her hat to Choutarou. "Thank you for your time, Ohtori-kun. Do let one know if you ever feel like being borrowed." With that, she stepped into a shadow and disappeared.
Choutarou shook himself from his daze, and realized that Kantoku was swearing.
"That," he said, from between gritted teeth, "was a very foolish thing to do, Ohtori-kun."
"I--ah--yes, Kantoku. I suppose it was." Choutarou bowed. "Please accept my apologies."
"Stand up, boy," Kantoku said impatiently, coming to him and examining him, and frowning. "Did you make any agreements? Sign anything?"
Choutarou shook his head. "No."
Kantoku's frown deepened. "No? Nothing?"
"No, sir." Choutarou paused. "I think she just wanted to play."
"Belial never 'just' wants anything," Kantoku said, but he seemed to be calming down, and his tone was dry. "You would do well to remember that."
"Yes, sir," Choutarou agreed. He bit his lip. "I suppose I can't let myself be borrowed?"
Kantoku looked at him for a long moment. "Do you have time in your evenings for private lessons?"
Choutarou blinked, and ran through his schedule. "I could," he said, cautiously.
"Good. We'll begin tomorrow. Meet me in here at seven." Kantoku turned on his heel.
"...sir? Why?" Choutarou called after him.
Kantoku's smile was thin. "Hell doesn't have all the best musicians," he said, "but they certainly don't need any more. And Belial can keep her greedy hands off my team." With that, he left.
Choutarou took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "That was interesting," he said, finally, to the silence, and took out his sheet music. He still had the room for fifteen minutes and there was no sense in wasting the time, demonic interruptions or no.
And he told himself, as he lifted his violin again and began to work on the tricky sequence at measure fifty-four, that he was only imagining the purr of Hatter-san's laughter.