Tokyo, 2004.

Without Yamaguchi-sensei’s exhaustive and exhausting criticism of her thrumming approach on the piano, she might never have met Nagisa. They weren’t in the same year and didn’t attend any classes together, but during those initial evaluation sessions in her second semester’s piano module, Yamaguchi-sensei happened to have addressed her technique so vehemently that Shiori, somewhat deterred, had agreed to drop by at least a couple of the university’s free student concerts, in the name of inspiration. It had been one of those days when she had solemnly sworn never again to touch the instrument. Ever. Finally satisfied with her attitude, Yamaguchi-sensei had noted down a list of the composers on the billboard, had asked her to pick whatever was to her taste, because she wouldn't improve without passion, after which he had sent her off to lunch early. Over one of the cafeteria’s pre-packed sushi boxes, she swallowed down her gut reaction of severe disappointment along with her highly wounded pride, choosing instead to study the names she’d been given, mostly out of obligation.

Two weeks later, a couple of days into February, a to her still unknown Ihara Nagisa was to play a Gershwin medley and seeing how one could never fail with Gershwin, if you asked Shiori, she had hesitantly found her way into the Music Institute’s smallest concert hall, just in time and as one of the few, she could tell when looking around. She claimed a seat on the front row, next to a young man she would later come to know almost as intimately as Nagisa, waiting for the performance to start.

The ironic part was how, as soon as Nagisa began to play, Shiori quickly stopped listening to the music completely. Not because she played it poorly, rather the opposite - and suddenly Shiori fully understood why Yamaguchi-sensei called her own playing some basic thrumming. In comparison. Nagisa played with a great freedom and a great strength, her sound was deep and all-consuming, resonating like a huge temple bell and blowing Shiori off her feet, despite the fact that she, naturally, remained right there in her seat with her back straight and her hands in her lap. This was all she could think of Gershwin as Nagisa played him, because never before had Gershwin sounded so incredible and instead of focusing on the music, she focused acutely on Nagisa’s fingers flying across the keys, reaching wide and hitting hard. They were slender and long, the truest definition of piano fingers Shiori ever found. She wanted to kiss them. Worship and adore them. Those fingers.

Not until Nagisa got to her own arrangement of the Funny Face Overture, at the very end of the already 30 minute long program, did Shiori realize that she was in love with the girl. The girl at the piano. The girl with the perfect hands and the expression of an almost melancholy focus. Not until that point did she realize that she wanted to run her fingers through Nagisa’s neatly styled hair, just to see the long, black locks come tumbling down around her shoulders, as freely as her sound and that was before Shiori had even heard the other woman speak a single word, but she felt that she nevertheless knew what kind of voice Nagisa would have. Light and maybe just slightly shrill, the kind of voice that could reach across distances and travel around any given room. The kind of voice that turned lighter than air when she moaned.

She tried desperately to breathe normally.

“She’s sublime, don’t you think,” the guy next to her asked when Nagisa had taken her bows in front of the still meagre audience and descended the stairs at the front of the stage. Shiori stared at her, couldn't possibly look away, she could feel her palms getting sweaty. Would the girl disappear back into the crowd now?

“Sublime,” she repeated somewhat breathlessly, allowed herself to be so impolite as not to turn towards him. He laughed and held up one hand, waving Nagisa over and an overwhelming nausea built up in Shiori’s throat when she understood that they already knew each other. Please, let them not be dating, please, please, let them not be dating…

“You’ve gained a new admirer,” he told Nagisa, the guy Shiori would soon come to know as Jun, and stood up so slowly that it was pure nonchalance, while she paused next to them. The girl. Nagisa. Shiori got to her feet as well, stepped a bit nervously from one foot to the other. Over and over, until she remembered how stupid she would have to look and stopped herself. Nagisa smiled in a wholly understated and wholly sexy manner, observed Shiori in silence for a long moment before speaking in the exact type of voice Shiori had imagined all along that she’d have, light and slightly shrill, lighter than air if you could make her moan, she felt sure.

“Thank you for coming,” she said. So simple.

And like this, it was actually because Shiori wasn’t an amazing pianist, because Yamaguchi-sensei didn’t pretend that she were that she met Nagisa who was amazing and sublime and altogether perfect. That she met and fell in love with Nagisa’s fingers, with her voice and with her hair. That she met and fell in love with everything Nagisa was. Like this, Shiori finally went from thinking she’d most likely never find a man to live with which was okay, too, she could handle her own loneliness - to believing and knowing with the greatest certainty that she’d die, if she couldn’t one day be allowed to kiss Nagisa’s lips, one pair or the other, maybe both. Like this, Shiori fell in love for real and also for the first time, still happily ignorant about the way this love would send her in exile for the rest of her life.

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