Kazuto tugged nervously at his tie while the elevator quietly powered its way up eighty floors. He checked his teeth in the reflection of the mirror-polished stainless steel doors for probably the sixth time since he'd brushed and flossed about two hours ago and made sure his hair wasn't sticking up in any embarrassing way as the numbers in the elevator's display blurred rapidly upwards.
Must be the new Otis "Olympus" hoist they were talking about in Engineering Monthly, he distractedly thought, trying to take his mind off of his nerves. The new counterweight they patented does make the ride fast and noticeably smoother. I'll have to-
The gentle ding of the elevator reaching its destination derailed his train of thought and sent his mind skittering. Making sure the bottle in the crook of his arm was still securely nestled, he stepped off the elevator and into the hall.
If the lobby hadn't convinced him that the Cardinal Luxury Tower wasn't appropriately named, the interior completely sold him. Plush dark red carpet ran the length of the hallway and the walls were paneled in immaculately worked mahogany and lit with clean white teardrop sconces that shone with an almost sacred light.
Kazuto looked around apprehensively, feeling superbly out of place even dressed in his button up and tie. He couldn't help but picture his own humble apartment with its secondhand furniture, his messy desk cluttered with circuit boards and stale cups of coffee crammed next to his narrow bed. Shaking his head, he padded down to the apartment door numbered 801 and knocked gently.
"Coming!" Asuna's muffled voice called from behind the door. A few seconds later, it opened to reveal her, resplendent in a warm cable-knit sweater and skirt with thigh-high tights. She gave Kazuto an appraising smile, her eyes flashing merrily behind her glasses. "Wow," she said. "You clean up well. Very well."
"Ah, you're too kind," he replied abashedly. He offered up the bottle to her. "Um, I brought wine. I'm no expert, but I went with white?"
"Oh, thank you! Please come in, come in." She took the bottle from his hand and stepped aside, ushering him in. "White wine is actually my favorite, plus we're having poultry for the entree, so it's a perfect pairing-" she cut off in a gasp as Kazuto was slipping out of his shoes and jacket. "-Selmburg Wineries? Kirito!"
"Oh no, is that a bad one?" he asked concernedly. "The salesman assured me it was one of the best they had, but he did have this weird smile…"
"Kirito, this wine costs 8,000 yen a bottle! He was smiling because he was probably trying to get you to buy the most expensive bottle in the store."
Kazuto furrowed his brow in confusion. "But isn't good wine supposed to be expensive?"
Asuna looked at him for a moment, then burst out laughing. "I'm sorry," she said with a gentle smile. "But I think you got taken advantage of. In any case, I'm flattered by such a gift. Dinner's still going to be a few minutes. Would you like a glass?"
"I think I would," he said, rubbing his neck sheepishly. Accepting the wine glass from Asuna, he sipped lightly as he went to walk over to the sofa. His eyebrows rose up in appreciation as the wine crossed his palette. Evidently the price tag was no gimmick, this stuff was genuinely the best wine he'd tasted in his life. The hole in his wallet seemed to feel a little more justified. Actually- he thought to himself as he glanced over at Asuna, who sipped from her glass in nothing short of pure bliss -completely justified.
"This place looks even bigger from the inside," he joked.
"I know, it's just so huge," she giggled. "Honestly, I was thinking about trying to find somewhere maybe a little smaller for the longest time, but I am glad I decided to go with this place."
"What did make you decide to live here?"
Asuna rolled her eyes as she turned the dial on a timer and came to join him on the massive sectional. "Mainly my father," she sighed exasperatedly. "He's so obsessed with the family's status that he wouldn't stand for anything less than having his daughter stay at the most luxurious condo complex in the city."
"Sorry to hear that you have to put up with that kind of stuff."
"Oh, it's not all bad. My parents simply just want the best for me, even if they are heavy handed in their efforts, and the living situation is quite comfortable after all. But enough about me! I want to get to know you more." She scooted closer to him on the couch and leaned in, eyes on him expectantly.
"Ah, well, there's not too much to tell rea-"
"Nonsense, you're just being modest. You said you studied robotics and engineering, right? Is there any particular reason why?"
Kazuto blinked, surprised by her genuine interest in him. "Well, specifically, I want to work on ways to integrate daily life and virtual reality."
"That's fascinating! Why do you want to do that?"
He stared into his glass for a quiet moment, marshalling his thoughts. "The world around us is made up of data. Everything from the heat needed to cook the dinner in the oven, to how fast the elevator brought me up, to how the light in your eyes looks right now," he said, glancing up at her with a smile. She nodded, flushing a bit. "Everything in virtual reality is the same, just to a lesser extent. If we can find a way to somehow figure out a way to equalize that data, we can mesh the two in ways never thought possible. Teaching could be taken to new levels, therapy would be afforded methods only dreamed of previously….the world would change for the better drastically."
He shook his head and looked up. "Sorry, that was a lot." He started when he found Asuna had moved right next to him on the couch, her copper eyes transfixed on his face.
"Don't apologize," she murmured. "Seeing how earnestly you want to change the world for the better in your own way...well, to put it simply, it's something close to my own heart."
The two of them sat there, the moment charged with electricity, their faces inches apart. Just as Kazuto was sure his heart was about to burst, the timer on the counter gave a shrill ring that made the both of them jump.
"Oh, the chicken's ready!" Asuna breathed, brushing her skirt off as she rose from the couch and bustled over to the oven. Kazuto gave a shaky breath and buried his blush behind the rim of his glass.
Soon enough, Asuna had laid out a meal that the smells of alone made Kazuto feel as if had truly never eaten in his entire life. Roasted chicken, fried dumplings, sautéed green beans- it was almost too much. They dove eagerly into their meal, delighting in idle small talk between bites. Kazuto told her about his exchanges with some of the other tenants while he was working while Asuna looked on, asking questions and laughing at some of the unfortunate mishaps he'd been through. They traded stories of their families, of Kirito's sister and Asuna's brother, bonding in the shared miseries of sibling life as they'd grown up.
Time seemed to almost stretch and warp into a dreamlike haze as the night went on, feeling as if it would never move forward while they were there, in that moment. Then all of a sudden, the bubble burst, and time caught up to them.
Kirito set his wine glass down next to the now empty bottle and glanced up at the clock. "Oh my God," he muttered. "It's so late. I didn't mean to overstay my welcome like thi-" He was cut off by a sound.
It began softly at first, as gentle as a feather falling through the air. A low rising chorus of strings, followed by another. It washed over him like an icy ocean wave, bringing goosebumps to skin. He turned slowly to look.
Asuna sat on a stool by the window, bathed in moonlight. Her coppery hair glowed, positively ethereal as her slender fingers worked the wide neck of the cello. Her wrist flowed in even, smooth motions as she dragged the bow faintly across the strings, and the great instrument sang its reply in a sonorous voice that reverberated into the air and seemed to supercharge the space.
Kazuto stood, transfixed. He watched her practiced fingers sweep the dust from where it lay along the warm colored wood along the neck. It was as if she were coaxing it back to life. Suddenly, something clicked in his mind and he began to recall snippets of sheet music he'd glimpsed between heavy-lidded blinks in the wee hours of the morning, half exhausted after work. He recognized the song and after a moment's hesitation, moved over to the piano.
The cushioned bench seat gave a faint squeak as he placed his weight on it, the sound almost putrid compared to the cello's song. He lifted his hands and held them over the ivory keys. His fingers floated mere inches away, but to him, in that moment, it felt like miles.
Move, he commanded himself. Just…...move. And as Asuna's cello swelled to a fervor pitch, he crashed the accompanying chord down on the keys, feeling his pulse begin to race as the sound of the cello trailed off. He threw a glance to the side to find Asuna's coppery eyes, glowing in the light of the moon, transfixed on him. They regarded each other for a moment in silence.
With her eyes still on Kazuto, Asuna began to play the cello again, but softer this time.
Kazuto returned her gaze, his hands still on the keys as she played, then when it came for his next part, he pressed down again, the somber sound of the grand piano adding itself to the sound of the cello. He could see a light almost radiate out from her in response; her eyes sparkling. She went on to play more and he accompanied her, quietly at first, but with growing confidence as the two of them began to sway in time with the music.
Asuna laughed out loud in delight as Kazuto's fingers managed to dance their way through a particularly tricky arpeggio and he grinned rakishly at her, loving the sound in ways he didn't even know were possible. They played on, the duet seeming to wax and wane between the two of them, the rhythm between them dancing back and forth in perfect harmony.
The freedom Kazuto felt swelling in his heart reminded him of those moments he would swing off of the ledge; the gravity giving him a headrush and the wind robbing him of breath. Still, this was better. Sitting perfectly at ease, he was breathless. In this moment, he was exhilarated. All because of what they were making- what they were sharing. He looked over at her again and branded the image of her washed in the light of the pale full moon by that window, gingerly playing the cello as though it were her sole purpose in life. He swore to himself he'd never forget the sight.
Eventually the song came to an end, and the two resolved the song in tandem, filling the air with the fading call of the instruments.
"Romance," Asuna murmured, almost to herself. "By Frederick Delius." She blinked up at Kazuto. "I didn't know you actually played piano."
"I didn't," he replied simply, a small smile turning his lips. "Someone inspired me recently, though and I've been cramming like a college freshman to make a proper impression."
She tilted her head back and laughed again, filling Kazuto with that sensation he could only think of as liquid silver; bright, beautiful and precious. "I'd say you passed."
"I've never heard you play the cello," he said. "Why haven't you before?"
"I've played ever since I was a little girl," she murmured again, her eyes far away. "But when I went to school for music, my father insisted I learn piano. 'Everyone wants their child to know piano', he said. 'There's more opportunities for work with the piano. Play cello in your spare time.'" She snorted softly. "He was right, I suppose. All the work I did and still do is for piano. But I haven't played that cello in years. I just...didn't feel right."
"Well, for what it's worth, I think that was some of the most beautiful cello I've ever heard in my life." Kazuto blinked in surprise as she glanced up at him, then quickly looked back down at the floor, heat coloring her face.
"Thank you," came the meek reply.
"Ah, look at the time, though, it's already midnight." He stood from the bench and crossed over to the couch, slipping his jacket on. "I really didn't mean to overstay my welcome like this, it's terribly rude of me. I should really be going, I'd hate for your neighbors to-" a firm tug on the sleeve of his jacket stopped him from walking to the door to don his shoes. "-ah?"
He slowly looked over his shoulder to find Asuna's delicate hand firmly pinching the material of his sleeve between her fingers. Following her arm up, he saw her face hot with blush as she looked at him with determination.
"Would you-" she asked shakily "-would you like to practice more romance?"
Kazuto's heart immediately jumped into his throat and began pounding a mile a minute. Somehow, he managed to swallow it down and choke out a question that made his pulse race even faster. "Do….do you mean the song?"
He saw her eyes shift down his face down a hair fraction. To his lips, he realized with a jolt. Then, almost imperceptibly, she shook her head and whispered. "No."
"Thank God," he sighed and turned to her, gently taking her face into his hands and brought her in for a kiss.
Their lips touched and in that moment, Kazuto felt his heart swell three times the size it had just been previously during their duet. He could climb the tallest skyscraper and leap off and nothing would ever come close to the rush of feeling her against him, the sensation of her silken lips on his. She left out a soft sound of pleasure and he immediately mentally threw out every sound he thought he loved before. That sound would be enough to fuel him until he died, surely. She tugged him by his tie down to the couch with a huffed, hot breath that filled the air between them. His veins felt like they were on fire. Kisses piled on kisses that piled on top of each other. He trailed a few down her neck, revelling in the sounds she made. She returned the favor, making Kazuto pant out a breath of surprise as he felt the gentle nick of her teeth undoing the top button on his shirt.
Abruptly, there was a sharp rapping sound that made them both freeze. The two of them craned their necks over to the windows to see a man in company overalls and a harness with a panic stricken look on his face as he quickly wiped a smudge from the glass and scampered away as fast as he could climb.
Asuna snorted out a laugh and gave a low chuckle as she dropped her head back against the sofa cushions. Kazuto couldn't help it, he laughed too, dropping his face into the crook of her neck.
"God, that is upsetting," he joked breathlessly.
"Least now you know how it feels," Asuna lashed back playfully. "At least there's one silver lining."
"Oh?" Kazuto asked, lifting his head enough to see a sly smirk on her face.
"The bedroom doesn't have any windows," she said, the light flashing in her eyes.
Kazuto stood in one fluid motion, lifting her with him as he snaked an arm around the small of her back. "Teach me the way, Ms. Yuuki?"