It started at a typical Saturday night party, with Dicro face-down on a piano and completely wasted.
“That was a nice sound,” Dicro thought to himself. He tentatively fingered two of the keys, pressing down back and forth as though going for a walk. It was a mindless act, really, but it was an act that he found himself enraptured by. For about an hour. Maybe more. It was all sort of a blur and when he woke up the next morning the imprints of the keys were firmly dug into his face, so he assumed he had been there for quite some time.
Today, though, he couldn't even bring himself to do something so simple. He just sat there, one hand frozen in an awkward hover just above the keys while the other shook with the desire to pull the first back. Every so often a finger would twitch slightly, like he was really going to go for it, but in the end his anxiety won out. There were too many people around, anyway. They didn't deserve to be subjected to that. Yeah, the whole thing was a really silly idea from the start.
And yet, the next day he found himself peering into the music room in hopes that it was empty. He checked again and again, pacing the halls and becoming increasingly familiar with the pattern of the floor tiles.
It was 4 AM on a Wednesday when he finally got his chance. But, once again, he froze up before the piano, consumed by the trepidation of what would come from touching it. Why was this piano the most intimidating thing at Hell College? Why did he even care? Why did he ever bother trying? Why was he trembling so badly?
It wasn't an unfamiliar feeling. He had foggy memories – things he only had the faintest recollection of due to meticulous journal-keeping – of being a child and hearing the sound of a piano, of feeling his fingertips at the keys of a cheap keyboard, of a handful of hours per week dedicated to nothing but those sensations. And then there was Soleil, of course, and all her interest in music, all of her talent in instrumentation and her willingness to teach... but the Competition came and went time and time again. It never felt right to open his mouth if he wasn't discussing death and morals and fateful decisions and everything else he hated. There was never a time or place for anything else. Not for him, at least. It was okay if anyone else had other interests or sought happiness, but he was the exception. He had obligations, decisions, and only he was deserving of the punishment of carrying the world's weight.
A little voice in the back of his head disagreed, asserting that there was time now. He was far from home, in a place where few people had any expectations in place for him. At last he had the luxury of pursuing interests and forming hobbies, of wanting anything other than what everyone else needed him to want. As usual, however, the voice was drowned out by a chorus of doubt and self-loathing that quickly devolved into a cacophony of shouting and pointlessly spiteful words.
He hated it. Hated it, hated it, hated it. He wanted them all to shut up, for everything to be quiet even if only for a moment. He ran his hands through his hair, pulling at his roots like he really believed he could drag out every intrusive thought by force.
In an abrupt act of defiance, he slammed one hand down onto the piano and dragged the other across the keys. His hands quivered as he played with an uncommon aggression, exploring each new sound with a fervor that chilled his skin and blurred his vision. He felt as though his body was moving of its own volition, tearing itself from his thoughts with a dizzying crack. It was far from an elegant melody, but it was his and his alone. It was beyond his mind's control, an arrangement purely composed by his heart and soul. It was angry and loud and more of an experiment than a song, more of an attempt than an effort. Each note was primal and ugly, but that was precisely what drew him to continue. He resonated with each touch of each key so vividly and with such earnesty that by the time the door swung open he was exhausted inside and out.
“Goodness, Mr. Corrune! I had no idea you played! Really going off on that thing, aren't you?”
With a starkly contrasting air of nonchalance about her, Aranaea Bishopi – one of Hell College's music professors and a very familiar face for a number of reasons – sauntered into the room, arms full of paperwork. Dicro stared at her in horror, feeling his soul crawl out of his body and die in the corner alongside the single discordant note that echoed throughout the room as a result of his rigor mortis.
“Oh! I haven't interrupted something personal, have I? Ooh, I know how that can be. Sometimes you've just gotta spew on those keys, you know? Works like nothing else!”
Expression still locked into a wide-eyed stare, it took a moment for Dicro to become conscious of the red stains trailing down his cheeks, even as he regained enough control over his hands to absentmindedly brush the tears away.
“I was... I was just...” he mumbled pathetically, like he had just been caught with a smoking gun. “I wasn't really...”
“No worries, love! I know your type! You're one of those shy ones, ain'tcha? Seen it a thousand times!” Aranaea interrupted, unceremoniously plopping herself down on the bench next to him and swinging a free arm around his shoulder.
“You know, the sort that can't do it with people watching, the super humble sort you never think much of until you hear 'em play and it's the most gorgeous thing you've ever heard, something really one-off! Thousand times,” she continued.
“Listen, thousand-one, you just swing by my office whenever and I'll give you an in. Got a private piano in there, you know! No one to bug you! Nice, right?”
Dicro jumped, suddenly feeling more alert than ever before in his life. “Oh, I don't...! I mean, Professor Bishopi, I couldn't-”
“Alright, wonderful!” Aranaea exclaimed, giving him a friendly slap on the back before springing out of her seat and whirling over to the opposite end of the room on the journey toward her office. “Be seeing you, then!”
As Aranaea's merry humming disappeared into the hallway, Dicro's senses began their cautious and awkward return. He sat there in a stupor until the usual visitors began entering the room, at which point he quietly shuffled out of the room and resumed his day as though nothing had happened.
Against his better – or perhaps worse – judgment, Dicro wound up taking Aranaea up on her offer. He did so with his gaze cast downward, of course, and with the same hesitancy he approached anything that aimed to please him, but there was a little spark of determination within him that resisted every effort made to snuff it out. That little voice in the back of his head who believed he had the right to be happy was growing louder, clearer, bolder, and ever more stubborn.
He supposed that to anyone else all of this would mean very little, but for Dicro it was the beginnings of his manifesto.
No act of mine is truly pointless.
I am an arbitrary exception to no rules.
I am worthy of frivolous joys.
I have the right to be selfish.
I am my own person and I make my own decisions.
I will do as I please, and no one will stop me – not even myself.
These declarations and more gushed from him in the form of unrelenting arpeggios and merciless crescendos. They came to him so naturally that when he closed his eyes, he forgot who he was. With time he could even play in front of Aranaea without stumbling, and even though he knew it was more meekly than how he played alone, it made him feel stronger.
It became a habit of his to play whenever he could sneak off from everyone and had no other obligations. He was pleasantly surprised to find out how easy it was to do so. Ignis and Celethia mostly kept to themselves anyway, Thyx would just hang out with whoever was closest, and Ansaiele was good at telling when Dicro was going off to do something private. He found himself developing a talent for pinpointing exactly when he'd have the time to go practice and took advantage of each free moment. With each outing he became more enthusiastic and more eager to come back. For reasons he couldn't capture and never sought to, playing the piano felt like home. It felt so right somehow, like he was made to do it, like in another life it was all he ever did. With a single touch of a key he felt as though everything within him detangled and every wrong in the universe was beginning to right itself. Whenever he began it felt delightfully impossible to stop, and when he finished he felt like he was making a silent, private promise to the piano that he would return soon.
A month to the day from that first Saturday found Dicro playing as usual, alone in Aranaea's office. He settled in and lost himself without hesitation, not even stopping to berate himself when he caught himself humming along. Maybe it would be fun to come up with some words someday, but he was in no rush. When he was playing it felt as though the world had come to a standstill, where he and only he knew what it meant to live.
Several hours passed without his notice, and reality only grabbed his attention when it came to him in the form of a door that creaked just too loudly. He stopped suddenly and whirled around, the blood draining from his face. Standing in the doorway was Ansaiele, who under any other circumstances he would be delighted to see. Instead, all of the blood returned to his face at once.
“Oh! Sorry, Dicro, I didn't mean to interrupt! I didn't know that was you!” she apologized.
“I, um... it's okay! What... what are you doing here?” Dicro stuttered.
“Oh, right! Well, you weren't responding to any of my texts, so I was getting kinda worried and started asking around to see if anyone knew where you were! Aranaea said that you were probably in her office,”
Right, he... hadn't really mentioned that he'd have preferred all of this to be a secret, had he?
“So when I heard the music, I just figured you were helping her with evaluations or something!” Ansaiele rubbed her chin, “Though, I guess that was all the more reason I should've knocked, huh... sorry about that!”
“It's okay! Don't worry about it! It's not really that big of a... deal...” Dicro frantically insisted, voice trailing off as Ansaiele approached and sat down next to him. He felt his heart skip a beat.
“I didn't make it weird, did I?” she asked with honest concern, “You don't have to stop playing! I can leave if that would make you feel more comfortable! It wasn't really anything urgent, anyway, I just wanted to make sure you were okay!”
“N-No, it's okay! You're fine!” he insisted with an unintentional amount of urgency. “I just... I don't know if you'd really want to... I mean, I'm not really that...”
He always hated when this happened, when someone said something nice about him and he couldn't just accept it, when he made himself try to shoot it down like it didn't mean the world to him. Then he'd feel guilty mid-sentence, and then he'd feel guiltier for thinking he could even consider accepting praise, and then he'd lose his words and forget what he was even saying.
“I thought what you were playing was really beautiful!” Ansaiele interjected with a cheerfulness that was impossible to defend himself against. “You know, Dicro, I didn't even know you played the piano! But you're really good at it!”
She looked up at him with starry eyes, tail flicking excitedly back and forth. She took his hands gently and gave him her sweetest smile possible. Her ultimate technique...!
“If you're okay with it, I'd love to listen to you play!”
Dicro couldn't break eye contact with her, no matter how flustered he became. She was too cute and too nice... how was he supposed to say no to a face like that? But, still, he had a hard enough time getting himself to play in front of Aranaea, and that was something he had done multiple times by now. He had never played in front of anyone other than her before, and suddenly he felt like he was back at square one.
Just once. Just once, he wanted to believe in himself.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Ansaiele was someone he loved and trusted with all of his heart and soul. She'd never be cruel to him if he messed up, she'd never find him embarrassing for something he cared about, and, most importantly, he really wanted to make her happy. Even if there was a part of him that made him doubt the possibility, if this secret hobby of his was something that could bring a smile to her face, the face he loved so much...
“Okay,” he forced himself to say, too fast to be stopped, squeezing her hands and giving her a quick peck on the forehead.
“Ha! You're cute!” she teased.
“Y... You're cute...” he mumbled, embarrassed, turning around to face the piano again.
“I know,” Ansaiele agreed, scooting so close to him that he could feel her against him, “but so are you!”
Dicro couldn't help but smile, taking one more breath and letting his contentment fuel him. He felt his unease slip away as he searched for a key to begin with. Ansaiele's presence rapidly shifted from being a source of anxiety to becoming something reassuring. The warmth of her body, that sleepy expression, the way she cuddled up to him so casually, so comfortably... it made him want to look harder, to find something that really suited her.
Settling for a medium note, he closed his eyes and began to play something that began minimally and slowly and evolved into something gentle but sweeping. There was a certain peace he always felt around her that he wanted to reflect. The way he felt when he fell asleep next to her, feeling the rise and fall of her chest against him, wondering idly what she was dreaming about; the way it felt to have his fingers laced between hers; the indescribable safety that came with having his arms wrapped around her; the way his heart fluttered when he saw her face light up; every emotion burst forth with an impossible tenderness. They intertwined with effortless grace, dancing about to a rhythm with both lightness and decadence: a fantasia born from the exhilaration that bloomed in his chest.
He let himself get lost in the garden she created within him, ambling across the keys with a pleasant wanderlust he hoped would never be satisfied. He played deep into the night, long after Ansaiele had fallen asleep on his shoulder, hoping that even in her dreams his feelings would be able to reach her.
For the first time, Dicro felt confidence.