Satoru approaches the door nervously, rehearsing one more time. He’d spent the last hour going over what to say with Tsubaki and now he finds himself in front of Kousei’s door. He’s going to pretend to be a talent scout interested in Kousei, to provide the reason for why he should compete. The rest will be up to the others, as he doesn’t want to involve himself too deeply. Taking a deep breath, he knocks on the door. “Excuse me, is there a Kousei Arima-san here?”
No one responds for a long minute and Satoru starts to wonder if he’s even in, or maybe if he’s ignoring him, but then the door opens slowly. “Yes?” Kousei peeks out from behind the door.
“Hello, my name is Satoru Fujinuma and I’m a scout who looks for the most promising musicians and you Arima-san are who I’m interested in the most. Your performance at the Spring competition was absolutely superb and so I was looking forward to seeing you shine once again at the Summer competition, but then I was quite shocked to see you hadn’t signed up as of yet. It’s because of this that I felt inclined to visit you personally and say that I believe it’d be an absolute shame if you were not to compete. If you were able to give another outstanding performance there, you would certainly be accepted into the Musical Arts High School, I represent, one of the most prestigious in the country. I assume you’ve heard of it?”
Kousei doesn’t look very enthused, but he’s also not sad, just indifferent. “Of course, even beginners know of the school you speak of, it’s truly prestigious. However, I’m sorry Fujinuma-san, but I have no desire to compete or attend the school. Thank you for your interest.”
He begins to shut the door, but Satoru stops him. “Wait, just a moment! Please hear me out.”
“What is there to hear? I’m not interested. I’m sorry.” He again starts to shut the door.
“There’s something I think you should know. It’s in relation to Kaori Miyazono!”
The door comes to a sudden halt and Kousei’s expression visibly changes for the first time. “Kaori? What does this have to do with her? How do you even know of her?”
“Perhaps it’d be better if I came inside. May I?”
Kousei seems a bit wary at first, but then opens the door wider. “Ok, just for a bit.” Satoru bows and then enters the house, closing the door behind him. He follows Kousei to the living room.
“Thank you for hearing me out, I really wanted to speak with you about this.”
“Sure, is there anything I can get for you? Though I don’t have much.”
“No, I’m fine, but thank you. Please join me so we can speak.”
Kousei sits across from him and looks at him expectantly. “Ok, so now what about Kaori?”
“Right. Well, the truth is, Miyazono-san was also very high on our list of potential students for our school as we’d been following her performances and they were superb as well. We were also hoping to see her compete in the Spring competition alongside you again, and so we were deeply saddened by her unfortunate death. Please accept our condolences on that as well. I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through, but there’s no doubt you two were an amazing duo.”
“I appreciate your condolences, but what does that have to do with anything? All that does is remind me that I’m nothing without her. She was the one who really deserved to attend your school, she was the real talented one, not me. I’m just a washed up prodigy. I’m useless now.”
“I don’t think that’s true. There’s no doubt she was talented and together you two were unbeatable, but you were performing solo in the last competition and that very well may have been your best ever, even from your prodigy days. Your love for her and for the music spread throughout that hall and even if she helped to push it out of you, it was always there. Therefore, I believe you can do it again and even surpass that level, if you just believed in yourself more.”
“Thanks, but I still don’t see where she comes into this. Do you really want me or her?”
“We wanted you both. We’d approached her early on and expressed our interest in her coming to our school, but she said point blank that she wouldn’t consider attending unless you could too.”
His eyes widen. “She really said that? Why would she say something like that?”
“Well that’s simple, she really believed in you. She said that you were actually even better than her, but you just hadn’t found your song yet. She said you inspired her to become who she was and that without you, there would be no her and so she wouldn’t accept unless you went too.”
Kousei looks like he may cry, but he holds it back, thinking silently. “She really was amazing.” He chuckles to himself. “She had such faith in me, yet I’ve done nothing to deserve it lately.”
“Well, this is your chance. Enter the competition and do your best. Win it and prove her right.”
“You make it sound so easy. I don’t even know where to begin with being ready. I haven’t touched the piano in months and the deadline to enter is tomorrow. I have no chance at all.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that!” Suddenly Tsubaki comes in, her enthusiasm high. “Surprise!”
Just behind her, a familiar face enters with a frown. “Wow, what a pig sty. You’re so lame.”
“Emi-san?” Kousei is surprised to see his distant old friend and biggest rival. “What are you-.”
“What am I doing here? I’ll tell you. Tsubaki called me and practically begged me to come bail you out. I refused, but she kept pestering me and so I decided I’d do it, but just this once.”
“Yea, I’ll have you know I had to go through great lengths to find her number and get her to agree. So you’d better treat me to something nice one of these days. I tried to recruit Aiza-san as well, but he was too busy and said he wasn’t going to help his competition.”
“Well, that’s understandable. Truthfully, I don’t know that it’s smart to be helping my rival either, but I’m doing this as a favor. I’m only helping you find your song though, I won’t help you master it. You’ll have to do that on your own. There’s no time to waste though, so now everyone needs to leave. When I train, I get serious, which means there’s no time for fun.”
“Wow, you really don’t mess around do you Emi-san?” Tsubaki laughs out loud.
“That’s Igawa-san to you and no I do not, so please leave at once!” She shoos her out the door.
“Ok, ok, I’m going. You better fix Kousei or I won’t keep my end of the deal, got it?”
“I never fail when I make a promise, so don’t worry about that. Now goodbye.” Once Tsubaki is out the door, Emi turns to Satoru with a glare. “That means you to Scout-san.”
“Oh my, well I can see you are quite serious. I suppose it’s time to take my leave then, I’ve said all I needed to say anyway.” He turns to Kousei. “I’m really looking forward to your performance Arima-san, so I really hope you’ll do your best. Please take care.” Satoru bows again and then exits. He takes in a deep breath, happy things seemed to be going right according to plan. Now all that’s left for him to do is wait and hope that it’ll all turn out ok.
“Emi-san, are you really intending on starting right now? It’s already evening time.”
“Music stops for neither person nor time, so neither can we. I’m going to work you hard.”
Kousei can see that she’s very serious and that she’s not going to back down and so he braces himself and gives it his best effort to keep up. They begin by having him play various cords and strings as a warm up and then progress into simple songs, all of which he does well. However, once they move into full compositions, things begin to unravel and his pressure mounts.
“Are you even trying?! What is that? Even on my worst day I could never be that bad!”
“I’m sorry ok! I just can’t do it. Every time I think that I can get into the flow of the song, I freeze up. Unlike before, I can hear the music now, but to make my fingers actually move and play is another thing. It’s like every time I start, I keep expecting to hear her violin come in behind me, but when I don’t, I can’t move forward. I’m trapped in this cage and it’s like she held the key. She set me free and gave me my song. With her gone, I can’t get out of this cage and my song is lost. I’m sorry Emi-san, but I don’t think I can do this.” He slouches down.
It’s silent for a moment and he expects her to give up and leave him be, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, she cuts into him, deep. “Well then, you’re a disgrace to musicians everywhere.”
Kousei feels genuinely stung by her harsh words. “Huh?”
“I’m sorry, was I not clear? I said you’re a disgrace to musicians everywhere!” She shouts.
“Hey, isn’t that a bit harsh? I am human you know. Am I not allowed to have feelings?”
“Of course you can have feelings, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be a musician at all. However, those feelings should serve to motivate you, not hinder you. Musicians don’t speak with words, they speak through their music, using instruments as their tools to convey those emotions. When a musician hurts, is in pain, is angry, is sad, is anything at all, they don’t sit at home and pout. They don’t sit alone and cry. They don’t look to others to come and save them and make everything ok. No! They play their music, lose themselves in it and let everyone know what they feel. They use all those emotions to enhance their music and move others so that they can feel as they do. That’s what making music is all about! That’s what you need to be doing!”
Kousei can’t believe how harsh she just was. “I know that ok? Don’t you have compassion?”
Emi frowns. “I’m not here to give you compassion Kousei, I’m here to give you help. I know that Miyazono-san was gentle with you and persuaded you with compassion, but I’m not her, sorry. This is how I do things, so you either take it or leave it. It makes no difference to me.”
Kousei almost allows himself to say that he’s done and she can leave, but then he suddenly thinks back to the times Kaori was helping him train. She was gentle and she never made him feel like a disgrace even when he felt he was. She babied him to an extent and that’s exactly what Emi is saying. During that time, it may have been what he needed and it was a method only Kaori could’ve used. However, Emi is a realist and tells him exactly what he needs to hear, even if it hurts. She’s not afraid to say he’s a disgrace, because right now he is. He’s no longer that lost bird whose wings had been clipped. Kaori helped him mend those wings and soar again. However, now he’s a caged bird that’s too afraid to leave the comfortable cage his last caretaker provided for him. Thinking it was trapped and couldn’t venture outside without them, when really, the door has been unlocked the entire time. A key is no longer needed and it’s always been up to him to leave. All this time he’s been waiting to be saved by someone, when he’s always had the tools to save himself, if he simply takes that first step. Realizing just how stupid he’d been, he decides at last that he’s not going to keep himself quiet. He’s going to sing louder than anyone has ever heard a bird sing as he soars through the sky. He will be someone that Kaori can look down on and be proud of, so that all the effort she put in for him wouldn’t have been wasted, in her short and beautiful life. He looks at Emi. “Emi-san, I’m ready now.”
Emi is surprised for just a moment, seeing the newly lit flame in his eyes. He’s finally awoken. “Well good, perhaps you’re not so hopeless after all. Let’s get this done then. By this time next week, you’ll be playing like a real pro and then on the next day, we’ll be enemies again.”
Kousei smiles. “Of course. I’m sorry Emi-san, but now that I’ve found my resolve, I’m not going to lose this. I’m going to win it all! I hope you won’t think less of me after helping me so much.”
“Please. I’d think less of you if you didn’t say this. I’m not going to go easy on you either, so you better be ready. I don’t intend to lose, so give me your best shot.” They share a competitive smile and then get back to work. They work hard together, late into the night and beyond.
A week passes quickly and it’s finally the day of the competition. Satoru finds his way to a seat, towards the back, in an effort to not stand out too much. He didn’t want to chance running into anyone and making them think he really was a scout and get in any trouble with the real ones that might be present. He’d spent the last week in a cheap inn, waiting for this day, hoping his efforts would pay off. He wonders how time is passing back in the present time and if Homura is ok. If this goes well today, he should be able to get back there later.
The host opens up the show and introduces the first competitor, Takeshi Aiza. Satoru recognizes the name and realizes he must be the other friend Tsubaki had mentioned. He looks serious. He begins and right out the gate, his music explodes through the hall and no one is left untouched. Once he’s done, Satoru finds himself at a loss for words at his powerful performance. There is a roar of applause as he exits the stage. A few more competitors go after, but don’t quite measure up. After, it’s Emi’s turn. She comes out with confidence and once she starts to play, they all can see why. She’s got such an alluring aura that leaves the listener entranced in her piece. She’s quite certainly matched with Aiza-san, perhaps just a smidge better. She smiles confidently and exits. A few more inferior performers go and then at last, the final contestant is Kousei. He comes out with a nervous confidence, but looks far more engaged than he did the day Satoru saw him. He sits, prepares himself and after a moment of silence, he begins. What they hear next is almost too much to handle. His song, his melody reaches to the heart of each and every one of the audience members, shattering their very souls. The pain, anguish, sadness is stifling, but then comes the joy and treasured memories of happiness, to ease the sensation. It sends them all through an emotional journey, even Satoru finding himself recalling his times with Airi and Saori, even bringing tears to his eyes. This, without a doubt, was the most moving piece.
The results are soon announced and just as expected, Kousei won by a landslide. Satoru did not wish to involve himself further, so he only watched from a distance as he and his friends celebrated their win. Aiza-san looked disappointed, but honorably accepted his defeat, vowing to win next time. Emi also came to vow for a comeback, but she also took a moment to speak with Kousei alone, while the others went to go buy a drink at Tsubaki’s persuasion.
“Well you really did it. Here I was expecting you to fail, but you proved me wrong. Congrats.”
Kousei rubs the back of his head. “Well, it’s not like I could’ve done it without you Emi-san.”
“Enough with the Emi-san, I think we’ve become familiar enough for you to call me Emi now.”
Kousei blushes and fidgets nervously. “Oh…um, ok…Emi.” He can’t look her in the eye.
Suddenly, she finds herself feeling flustered, only now realizing the implications of that. “What are you thinking? Idiot! It’s just a name, what are you getting all flustered for?” She says this, but her face is getting redder by the second. “If that’s the case, then it’s only fair I can call you Kousei too.” They both fidget nervously, unable to make eye contact, until a man arrives.
“Hello, you must be Igawa-san and Arima-san right?” A professional looking man asks them.
“Yes, that’s right. Who are you?” Emi looks suspicious. Kousei is simply curious.
“I’m a scout for a certain prestigious Musical Arts High School, I’m sure you’ve heard of it?”
Now they both look interested. “You mean…that school? The best in the country?”
“Well one of them yes. I’ve had my eye on you two for a while and after having seen both of your performances today, I would be absolutely honored if you’d join us as our students starting in the Spring. It would be under full scholarship of course and you will be trained by the best.”
They look at each other excitedly and without hesitation Emi says, “yes! I would love to!”
Kousei hesitates a bit, but after looking up and seeming to consult with his heart, he finally says, “yes, I’d like to attend as well. Thank you very much Sir.” He bows and Emi follows suit.
“Very good. I’ll be in touch with you both very soon. Until then, please take care.” He walks away and suddenly they look like any other 14 year olds who’ve just found out great news.
“We did it Kousei! We actually got accepted to that school! I’m one step closer to my dream!”
“We did! But it was all thanks to you Emi, I couldn’t have gotten here without you.” He smiles and Emi blushes. They also realize that they’d clasped hands in the process, making them both become even more flustered. All their competitiveness is gone and they look like normal teens crushing on each other. Satoru smiles and feels that the future really will be bright for them.
“Ah…looks like I’ve lost to someone else once again.” Satoru is startled by Tsubaki’s sudden appearance. “Oh well, it’s like you said Satoru-san, I have to be willing to accept that the person to save him and open his heart again may not be me right? It still kind of hurts though.”
Satoru sees a few tears escape her eyes and he again comforts her. “It’s never easy, but you’re doing the right thing. He may not need you by his side in that way, but he’ll always need his friend. That’s the one thing no one can ever take from you, never forget that, ok Tsubaki?”
“Mm.” She nods with a pained smile. Watari is suddenly beside her and also comforts her, putting his hand on her shoulder. She’s surprised, but accepts it graciously. Satoru smiles, knowing that those two also have a bright future ahead of them. The Caged Birds have been freed and have found their songs. With nothing left to do, Satoru is pulled back once again.