Rainy days, Saiko and Chiaki stay inside and do jigsaw puzzles. Neither of them are particularly are particularly good at this, but they do it anyway, grimly determined, as if to stop would be an admission of defeat, incomprehensible. They hate losers.
"Why are there only three corner pieces?" Saiko huffs, frowning faintly in displeasure. Saiko-for as long as Chiaki has known her-never scowls, never grimaces, never contorts her face in grotesque fashion. Every expression is understated. But this, thinks Chiaki, is understandable. Saiko is not the unintelligent sort. She well knows the demands of the opera stage, that no singer, however talented, can advance far without beauty. At the end of the day, they-he and her and their ken-they are performers first and foremost, more imitation of life than life itself.
"Shinichi-kun? Did you find it?"
"No," says Chiaki, head bent over the cardboard box, long slender fingers rifling through the puzzle pieces. He has nothing more to add.
Chiaki remembers this most, afterwards: him and her at the breakfast table, with a box of 1000 pieces jigsaw puzzle and the rain pounding on the windows. The skies are gray.
The first time Chiaki kisses Nodame is not that January day at her parent's house, nor afterwards when they return to Tokyo. Summer passes, and then Europe, France, Paris: he takes her out to dinner, takes her shopping, takes her on a whirlwind of sight and sound and taste and experience, just like he promised, but always, he returns her to her hotel, stops outside her door, kisses her on the forehead and wishes her good night. Chiaki is surprised to find himself the chivalrous sort.
"Why?" Nodame whines piteously, "did Nodame do something wrong? Did Chiaki-senpai meet someone with better boobs? Why are you so slow about this? -I can get breast implants! I can put on make-up, too-Mine-kun taught me, see? See?"
"Urrrgg," Chiaki groans in reply, eyes squeezed shut and hands held out to ward her off. Nodame is the stuff of nightmares, sometimes. "Take it off, you idiot. Take if off right now."
"Senpai!" Nodame squeals in excitement, and he opens his eyes in time to catch her unbuttoning the top of her blouse.
"THE MAKE UP, DAMMIT! I MEANT THE MAKE UP. PUT YOUR SHIRT BACK ON!"
Saiko does not meet Chiaki's mother until well past their second year anniversary. "She's busy," Chiaki always ends up saying, to one or the other; and he, who is busy as well, does not much care for and never insists on these formalities.
He never really meets Saiko's parents. He runs into her brother once at some holiday party, and they have a pleasant conversation together. Neither of them really remembers the incident.
iv. peu à peu
Nodame is not beautiful. Nodame is not even pretty. In fact, if Chiaki had to describe her, she would barely qualify as good looking. Her hair is plain and mousy, a fact not helped by her refusal to wash it. Her eyes are too large, her face is too wide, she constantly practices making horrifying faces in the mirror-in, as he understands it, delusional preparation for the kindergarten teacher job she is never going to get, not if he has any influence in Japan. (Which, to clarify, he does. A lot. He could call up the Ministry of Education and have Nodame blacklisted from the entire education industry. Chiaki doesn't, of course, but that doesn't mean he can't.) Her teeth are unexceptional, the left canine crooked; her smiles stretch too broad across her face; her eyes crinkle narrow and black. She dresses with no style, does not know how to put on makeup, owns dreadfully tacky jewelry usually made of plastic. The kind he once found at the bottom of a cereal box.
And yet. Chiaki the Tyrant has no idea where to even start, if he were to change her, what he would alter. He figures this is because the task of improving her image is too gargantuan even for him, exhausting even to contemplate; so he gives up before he ever begins. None of it is intolerable, in any case. He can withstand it.
v. ma non troppo
They attend a disproportionate amount of parties, Chiaki and Saiko, for two college students: flitting from charity galas to company functions to public social events. Her father owns a company and his uncle owns another. They are a very conspicuous pair. And they look good together, tall and striking, dark-haired and beautiful. They are young and wealthy and glamorous; in love, the gossips say, so in love, so in love.
Somewhere between the fourth and the tenth shot of sake, while Saiko makes nice with some shareholders across the room, Chiaki looks fuzzily up at the chandeliers. They wink at him in all their multi-prismatic brilliance, asking whether he's using her or whether she's using him.
No, no, thinks Chiaki, in French, in Italian, in German, in Dutch, the beautiful languages of his childhood that he has learned to leave behind-no. He is half-tipsy on sake, so much stronger than champagne, and chattier for it; but there is no one to talk to. There is no one he wants to talk to. So he talks to himself, a strange conversation conducted in piecemeal languages bound together only by faint undertones of a Viennese accent.
That's not what this is all about, he tells the lights. We are good together. In any case, it's not about what he likes or wants: after all, what he likes best, what he likes only-is music.
That, at least, has never changed.
His first Christmas together with Nodame is an utter catastrophe. Afterwards, Chiaki labels it as such, though Nodame insists that they had merely been "airing out some dirty laundry". He reminds her that she had full-body tackled him in the middle of a Parisian street, then tried to strangle him, then repeatedly bashed his head against the sidewalk concrete-etc, etc. Nodame smiles with disturbing nostalgia, and very kindly says nothing about his own form of tough love that more often than not masquerades as domestic abuse.
"Maa, maa," she consoles him, in that blithe manner of speech with which she delivers most aphorisms. "Love has counterpoints too, mm?"
Chiaki stares at her. There is a brief, furious, irrational moment in which he hates her: how easily she understands him when he himself doesn't; how casually she reaches in to tinker with the inner workings of his heart; how she finds all the chinks in his armor that no one else does and, with utter disregard for his own preferences, pries open those gaps, as if to make a hole and climb in with him. He doesn't know what to do with her; and-more horrifyingly-he doesn't know what to do without her.
"You-" he says, but there is too much to say. "What?"
"Well," she says, matter of fact, like he is the slow one here. "The important thing, of course, is not to lose the harmony, entirely; but neither melodies would be so interesting without the other." She cups a hand around her chin, and ponders, "I wonder if we're one of Bach's Sinfonias? Maybe the second-"
"Sinfonias!" he exclaims. There is a bright wet feeling in his chest, like night rains after a hot day. He scowls harder to make up for it. "Who else are you involving in this relationship-this, this three-part contrapoint, are you confessing something? Inventions! We're Bach's Inventions! There is only the two of us! Get your metaphors correct. Just us!"
"Senpai is so clever! How do you remember all this?" she marvels at him, bypassing what had basically been him vomiting his heart out to her. Chiaki dutifully mumbles something about her not keeping up with her composition lessons. In truth, he has never been more grateful for her oblivious sort of tact. What had that outburst been? he wonders. A vow of monogamy? A claiming? Had he promised that there would only be her, forever from now on?
He shudders at the sickening sappiness of such a statement, and satisfied that he has sufficiently disgusted himself, dismisses the idea as absurd. Why would he promise her such a thing? Ridiculous. There's no need to. He might as well promise her that tomorrow his hair will still be black and she'll still need to breath air and the ability to read sheet music is not some magnificent achievement but a basic skill. Ridiculous. Ridiculous.
The other thing Chiaki remembers about that first Christmas: he hadn't been alone.
vii. con fuoco
Their first time is not his first time nor her first time, but Chiaki hadn't really expected any prior chastity from Saiko anyway. It goes with the usual sort of romance, roses and candlelit dinner, and both of them knew what was to come but the conversation was not stilted. He hadn't been nervous. Later, they stumbled up the steps to his apartment, wordless though not silent. He remembers vividly the clack of her heels on the stairs-and then he'd unlocked the door-and there'd been a tumble of limbs and keys and coats and-things blurred, he doesn't know if that was because he had been drunk or not paying attention or paying attention to the wrong thing; but she was beautiful, he remembers, beautiful, and clever with her fingers, and she was good, she knew what she was doing, where to touch and where she wanted him to touch, and the bedsheets were soft, and he had strained, against her, against himself, reaching for something, grasping at it in lieu of other things-and then there had been a cold, brilliant, exquisite moment of Shinichi-before everything shattered.
Then it was just Chiaki and Saiko, collapsed on a bed, sweaty limbs and slick skin, panting.
He looked at her for a few moments, held her gaze, and then rolled off her, and went to sleep.
Nodame doesn't understand him a lot of the time, his bouts of moody silence and brooding darkness, the quiet pangs of heartache that are remnants of his lonely childhood. She writes to her mother about this, and they coo over how stoically and heroically Chiaki-kun bore such a tragic past, and then her mother replies that-all musicians being temperamental-the more bipolar Chiaki is, the greater he is destined to become, so Megumi is to encourage such behavior.
"Shut up," he snarls when she presents her theory. "I'm not bipolar."
"Mmm," she nods agreeably, "Senpai is right. They call it manic depressive these days-"
"I'll kill you," he threatens, but the phrase has worn thin over the years, fading and fraying. He is horrified to hear an undertone of fond. In possible over-compensation, he flicks her on the forehead and pointedly turns back to his score sheets.
"Ne, Chiaki-senpai," nudges the parasite that never leaves him alone, "Are you all right? Do you want to talk to Nodame about it? Nodame is an excellent listener-"
"No. Chiaki-sen-" He clenches his jaw, presses the heels of his palms against his eyes, growls low in his throat. "No. No, Idon't want to."
"Okay," she says, and leaves it at that. He goes back to his score, and Nodame, after a moment, wanders off into the kitchen. Distantly, he hears the rush of running water, and the faint rustle of rice grains-steaming the rice, a part of his brain recognizes. Footsteps and the opening of the kitchen door and the clink of china bowls; he listens to these, and feels a little more tethered by their familiarity. In this, at least, he knows what he is doing, always a part of his attention on what Nodame is doing, lest she kill herself or burn down his kitchen while cooking. It's not inconceivable.
A little later, Nodame wanders back to him, and perches on the sofa arm next to him, peering at the score over his shoulder. He bears with it for a few minutes, but smelling something sharp and unpleasant, looks up to find her coloring her nails with a Sharpie.
"What are you doing?" Chiaki barks, reaching out for her left hand. "Stop it," but the admonishment loses its edge, as he threads his fingers through hers. He still tries: "That smells terrible. It's bad for your nails."
"Heeee," she squeaks, gleefully, and claps her other hand over his mouth, as if that does anything to hide her grin. He rolls his eyes and goes back to the score, but keeps her hand in his, just for a bit, just temporarily. Nodame, still giggling to herself, seems to content to sit next to him, as he puzzles out the chord progression motifs: quiet and mostly not fidgeting, a bright familiar presence among all the bright familiar things of Paris, the brightest and dearest and most familiar, like a melody brought out from accompanying harmonies, like-
Ah, realizes Chiaki, blinking at his score, ah, cantabile.
He holds her hand a little tighter, just for a little longer. He remembers: good things have been happening to me.
ix. prima vista
When he first meets Saiko, Chiaki's Japanese still has the faintest accent around the edges. He hasn't yet determined its type, French or German or English or Dutch, and he's not sure how to fix it. Saiko finds it endearing.
"Your voice," he returns, slightly breathless. His eyes are wide and wondering, and he thinks that there are beautiful things in Japan too, aside from all the Asian aesthetics about sakura and dying young and misshapen tea cups. "Your voice is very pretty."
"Oh!" she says, one hand flying to her throat, fluttering there. It is a gesture with which he is familiar, one he has seen among old European ladies. Chiaki feels a sudden rush of good-will for this pretty girl with the pretty voice, a sudden rush that is half nostalgia and half affection.
"My name is Chiaki," he tells her, forestalling her bow by offering his hand. "Chiaki Shinichi."
"Shinichi-kun," Saiko practices, dimpling at him. She bypasses formality the way middle schoolers are encouraged to; but Saiko won't ever revert to "Chiaki-kun", won't ever allow that distance between them. He will always be the strange boy with the endearing accent; and she will always be the pretty girl with the pretty voice. She tells him, "I'm Saiko."
"Do you want to buy something?" he asks, sighing, because she's already loaded him with potato chips and pastries and ten different kinds of candy. Most girls like to go to the mall. Nodame likes to go to the grocery story. "Something else?" he amends, which is far more accurate.
Nodame browses through the shelves, as they pass the box games displays. "Hmm," she hums, "what do you think, senpai? Everything is so colorful. Though I don't really like puzzles. "
"Don't you?" he asks, mostly disinterested, but not entirely. This is his default state with Nodame. She could read the population records and address books of Fukuoka-shi to him and he will only ever be mostly disinterested.
"I used to eat the puzzle pieces when I was younger," she explains, offhandedly. "So my family doesn't do puzzles anymore."
Chikai wonders where he went wrong in life. "Did you?" he offers, weakly, more rhetorical than not. Of course Nodame used to eat puzzle pieces.
"Also," she says, continuing down the aisle. "We never buy puzzles because they're whole, do we? The value of puzzles is in their broken-ness. It's kind of sad, so I don't-Kazuo-kun!" So sudden is her halt that he almost crashes the shopping cart into her. "Senpai, it's Kazuo-kun!" Nodame exclaims, looking at the clay figure with sickeningly dreamy eyes. She whirls on Chiaki. "We have to find Gorota! And-and Riona-chan, you're so pretty!" She dives for Riona, on a lower shelf.
"H-how abou igo?" Chaiki asks desperately. "I can teach you igo, do you want to play that?"
"Don't be ridiculous," she sniffs at him, sounding disgusted. "We're still missing Puririn, how can you think about board games right now?"
"I am ridiculous?" thunders Chiaki, and launches a bag of chips at her head.
Packing for Paris, Chiaki comes across his old workbooks of composition analyses. Grade-school Chiaki's handwriting had been a rather ungraceful scrawl, and he smiles to see it again. The pages are a little worn, but the writing is still well-preserved. Chiaki flips one open, and reads: "-especially, however, those desirous of learning-are shown a clear way not only (1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress-"
He is interrupted with by a banging on his front door. "Senpaiiiii," wails a piteous voice. "It's dinner time! Feed me! There is something weird and flaky in my fridge, and I think it moved when I-"
Chiaki clatters out of his chair, leaving his old exercise books. When Nodame drags him away to inspect the 'something weird' in her kitchen, he goes with relatively good grace. The books will remain there: he can always pack later. For now, there is Nodame, complaining as usual about being hungry and suggesting sukiyaki. He kicks her out of her kitchen, and tells her to go play some piano while she's waiting, and while she's at it, stop bothering him.
"Senpai will make sukiyaki?" Nodame beams at him.
"Fine, fine, all right."
"Sukiyaki!" cheers Nodame, and skips away to the piano, happy.
Chiaki shakes his head a little, at himself, getting thin beef slices out of the freezer. He rummages in the fridge for eggs, and then pauses a moment. The music coming from the other room is - Chiaki stands still in front of the refridgerator, and listens for several long moments. He thinks, I woke up to this once, which is the sort of thought Nodame inspires in him, nonsensical and pointless and true.
He closes the fridge and goes to sink, listening as Nodame-like usual-pays no attention to the sheet music; listening as Nodame-like usual-makes things up; listening as Nodame-like usual-expresses the soul of Beethoven better than anything he has ever heard before. Still, that doesn't mean-
"FORTE, FORTE, FORTISSIMO!" he shouts at her, through the open door. "Read the music!"
"Yes, senpai," floats her reply, and he can tell that she is laughing at him again. Chiaki looks at the cast-iron pan in his hand, considers for a moment, but puts it back down. He'll at least let her finish this piece.
There is some sentimental value to it, after all.