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Playing the Heartstrings

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“Though if we’re talking about hobbies…” he says it in the most nonchalant way, maybe with a tinge of admiration and curiosity, but for Kyouka, it’s the most stressful thing she has ever heard that morning.

Not that Kaminari praising her is stressful in itself, but her sharp senses know where the direction of this conversation is going, especially when his golden eyes make a pass on her and his index finger points at her like accusing her of sinning against the gods.

“Kaminari…!” she hisses in the most lethal way she can to warn him. Yet her features remain looking not as deadly as she had wanted.

Truthfully, she really didn’t have much anger in her when it is fear that is making a home inside her. She doesn't even have the energy to let her lips come up with the usual snarky comments to counter Kaminari.

Earlier, it was Mina who was in the spotlight, letting the class get a full view of her hobby of breakdancing. Sure, it’s just a hobby , but it clearly aids her in her movements and fighting style. So Kyouka is just flabbergasted to suddenly be included in the conversation that she only participated in as a bystander a while ago.

It is only a matter of seconds when she realizes that she wasn’t really able to call his attention and only called him in her thoughts. Crap!

“…Jirou’s is pretty impressive too!”

Maybe it would have been better if she did commit the biggest crime, instead of being the subject of the very thing that Kaminari is currently pressing on.

She doesn’t notice her hanging jacks rising in panic, just like the hairs on her back. Her horror just started and she didn’t even have the chance to escape it even when she had assumed it happening.

“Hey! Stop it!” It wasn’t as sharp as she had wanted it to, but she hopes that Kaminari would still understand the lack of verbal explanation. Except he doesn’t.

Kyouka knows that she and most of the class often joked of him being on the side of… well… using Bakugou’s term – dunce-ness ;  especially when he goes way way , but isn’t he capable of at least picking up the sign? Her sign?

“Actually, that room of yours looks like a music store! That’s beyond the scope of just a hobby.” Guess not.

She could almost see his Quirk’s lights sparkling in his eyes with the way his orbs shone brightly at her. Those speckles wouldn’t convince her to be swayed though.

“Hey! Enough already, okay!? Don’t you guys remember the room king?” Temperature rising on her cheeks, she attempts to change the subject. Call it lame or whatsoever, but she has to escape. Now or never.

“Nah! That’s gotta be a music pro’s room, right!?” He dismisses her as if she didn’t say anything relevant at all and she grows more frustrated as the conversation continues to roll onto more uncomfortable territory.

“How often do you practice? Do you serious-?”

Like water reaching its boiling peak in a kettle, her emotions get the better of her as a jack extends swiftly, cutting through the air of excitement between them, ready to stab Kaminari if he doesn’t stop.

"...!"

And he does. Finally.

“I mean it!” She would wonder how she looks right now with the way fear and shock suddenly filled his face, but she doesn’t.

This is why Kyouka hates emotions. She hates how it can be exhausting. Unlike most people who just feel emotions, her senses are heightened because of her hearing. She hates how uneven her heartbeats and how sharper breathing becomes. It knocks on her consciousness, emphasizing and flaunting to her whatever it was that she was feeling. And it always pushes her to feel more uncomfortable.

It isn’t like music. Music lets her heart sway to the melody that she forgets what blood-pumping sounds like. Music lets her take control, adjust the tempo, unlike emotions that come in for sneak attacks.

The look distorting Kaminari’s face may be enough to trap her into guilt, but now, she just hates the fact that she’s put in an uneasy spot.

Stupid Kaminari.

Kyouka returns to her seat, stomping with her head down. She really hates it when he is like this.

But maybe she just really hates herself more for being like this.

You’re so dumb, Kyouka.

She really isn’t the type to blame and beat herself up this way. However, right now, she just couldn’t help it.

She lets out a scuff of breath, while behind her back she misses it when Kaminari looks at her with concern and maybe guilt. Yaomomo smiles at him to communicate that she would be fine. Kyouka also misses Kouda’s worried gaze, watching her with the same concern.


“If we’re talking about music…” Hagakure starts saying and even without seeing her lips moving, Kyouka swears she is smiling in delight.

“Uh… What?” Only a word leaves her but the uneasy vibration of the speech as it hits the air annoys her. She’s shaking again for god’s sake!

“A live performance with Jirou-chan’s instruments!”

Not this again.

Kyouka thought she already sealed the deal in the morning. But when Aizawa-sensei broke the news that they will be having a cultural festival and a dance performance led by Mina is their best choice currently, it looks like she is back in the hot seat.

She liked to sigh but she didn’t have much time when all eyes are on her again. Hagakure comes closer, piles of casual clothes walking to her as if moving to an imaginary upbeat tune (based on her ecstatic movements). Kyouka can suddenly feel breathing on her face and realizes how close Hagakure's face actually is.

“Wait a minute…!”

“What for? Not only are you really good at teaching music but when we were playing together, it was so much fun!”

Right. She did that. Playing with Uraraka and Hagakure, or with all the girls in her room to rid themselves of stress in some of their most tiring days. It was her comfort zone. Just letting herself fall to the play of music, letting her consciousness land to every beat, the melody letting her drift, the tunes massaging her temples. The laughter and awes that encircle them in those sessions serve as the best part, she has to add.

She lowers her gaze. In a heroic world where only Quirks mattered, a part of her feels embarrassed for her love of music. That’s the truth.

Yet, even with invisible eyes, Kyouka could sense the light in Hagakure’s, mirroring that of Kaminari’s earlier.

“Ashido and everyone else. It’s not exactly a hobby rooted in heroism you know? For me, it really is just a simple hobby… Honestly, it’s not something I could be proud enough about to perform.”

She holds onto her jacks, letting the ends meet, trying to calm the fidgeting of her hands with the act. Somehow her voice has stopped its shaking, thankfully, yet she still couldn’t bring herself to face any of them.

Is she afraid to be swayed by those sparks in their eyes and disappoint them later?

For the second time that day, Kaminari points at her.

“So that was it. That thing today...”

She couldn’t help but jolt at the sight of that finger of his. His quirk is electricity but it isn’t like he’s shocking her, yet she could feel her shoulders jerking to the very gesture.

But Kaminari wasn’t done yet with shocking her when he comes closer and closer, this time his gaze pointed toward her. “It’s so cool that you’re so good with instruments!”

Her jacks hanging in the air because of the surprise, slowly goes down, drooping.

Really? But… It’s not even related to Quirks and being a hero… How is it even close to being a cool thing?

Kyouka purses her lips. He isn’t saying that just because they don’t want her to feel bad right?

However, Kouda also steps closer, and as silent as he usually is, here he comes mustering all that voice he didn’t let out for hours and speaks to her.

“Jirou-san, it’s a skill that may put a smile on people’s faces. I think it’s well suited in the work of a hero!” He says, eyes boring into hers, similar to Kaminari’s, his fists pumping in front of him.

Kyouka feels the need to scratch her head as if such action will clear all these feelings in her. As if on cue, Yaomomo comes in between her and the two guys, like a boundary, protecting her from more of that brightness she couldn’t take.

“I understand both of your requests, but it is completely up to Jirou herself,” she hears her say and not seeing her face doesn’t hide from Kyouka the concern through her gentle voice. She really appreciates Yaomomo who seems to understand her whenever she tries to hide everything.

However…

“If I don’t do it, after this much commotion…”

She peeks at them from under her lashes, seeing their waiting faces.

“It wouldn’t be very rock and roll of me right..?”


Kyouka holds on her guitar’s body that is already so familiar to her hold. Yet whenever her fingers tap on the strings for a pluck, the sound makes her cringe. Her fingers are so out of sync and her hands’ shaking are making the sound worse than it should be even though she’s sure she tuned the instrument right.

“Why did I agree to this again?”

In the middle of her room, surrounded by her music instruments as her audience, she stands with her guitar hanging from her shoulders. She silently thanks the inventor of straps as it wraps the instrument against her body, securing it as she looks at her trembling hands. Her shoulders slump and that isn’t because of the guitar’s weight at all.

Usually, when instruments come under her touch, she is able to make music. It isn’t perfect, but it calms her and lets her fly. It isn’t related to Uraraka’s Quirk, but music has this effect on her that encases her in a bubble and makes her float in her own world.

“So… why?” Her dark eyes continue to blink at those hands of hers.

Amidst the silence of her room, she hears light footsteps hitting the carpets outside, as well as some clangs of ceramic.

Before the owner of the voice speaks, Kyouka already knows that it’s Momo, who's kind enough to most-likely check on her.

“Jirou?”

Kyouka is already by the door to open it for her friend who has a tray with cups on it.

“Hey,” she greets meekly, letting the taller girl in and settle the tray on her table.

“I brought tea,” Momo says before letting herself sit atop Kyouka’s bed, hands folded on her lap.

“Thanks.”

Momo just looks at Kyouka who remains standing awkwardly in the middle of the room, letting her fingers pluck on the strings continuously. Her figure cowers despite standing, almost curling into a ball and hugging the guitar to protect it, instead of playing it proudly like she used to whenever she touched it. She may look like she’s practicing, experimenting with the vibrations emitted by the instrument, but Momo’s narrowed onyx eyes remain focused on her hands that randomly pull on the strings.

Kyouka’s neck is bent downwards, her fringe curtains the upper half of her face as she watches the strings twang by her thumb. Her other hand lets go of the fret as the sound morphs to a disgusting tune with the release.

Music always eases her nerves after a long day. Music knows how to soothe her soul despite being inanimate and intangible.

Yet, why is music the very thing that is pulling her chords of anxiousness to a full acceleration?

Fingertips not touching the frets, Kyouka tightly grips on the guitar’s neck as the frustration comes back. Each sound just feels so wrong. The strings dig to her hand as she holds it tighter.

“Jirou?”

“Ye-Yeah?” She looks at Momo as she snaps out of her trance upon remembering that she has company.

This is bad. She is already glued to the spot, unable to play anything decent with someone she's close to right in front of her. What more if it’s a bunch of people she doesn’t even know?

She’s been into gigs and concerts, but only as part of that sea of people waving to the music. But being on stage…?

“Why do you play music?”

A simple question, really. But somehow that simple question is the very thing that clears all those coiling question marks in her mind, digging into her skull.

She has all the reasons to not play. As she said, it’s not even part of heroism. It’s not a necessity or a stepping stone to this path that she has chosen the moment she decided and dreamed to be a hero. Her parents are also inclined to music, but they never forced her to fall in love with it too.

So, why?

“Because it’s fun.” When the words leave her lips, she almost hears a choir singing in the background, an organ ringing complementing the heavenly voices. Her eyes slowly go wide. 

Fun.

Did she actually forget that music can be fun?

“Then play it for fun,” Momo tells her with a smile.

She’s right… “But—”

“Just do it, Jirou.” Momo isn’t the type to cut people off, and of course, Kyouka isn’t the type to see the act as rude as she understands the meaning behind it. Being interrupted by her means that she wants her point to come across. That determined face of Momo confirms that.

This time, Kyouka allows a dense breath to be released from her.

For fun.

She closes her eyes. Air enters her nostrils as her shoulders rise, with her hands feeling the instrument hanging from her body. She hears her heart beating, a bit faster than the usual pace, but she tries to ignore it and feel the guitar more instead. Contrast meets her senses, some of her fingertips hovering over the smooth surface, while some of her calloused finger pads press on the strings on the frets. As Kyouka exhales, she lets her hand drop for a strum.

Without any particular in mind, she lets the produced sound ring for a moment in the air, this time, allowing her emotions to be her core for the next chords of the unwritten song and undecided rhythm.

For fun.

Just like that, a range of harmony fills the room as she lets her fingers translate it to music.

She lets those digits drop a succession of strums and the sound of nylon strings come together for that sweep of a tune filling her ears. It makes her feel good. Like it’s her heartstrings that are being played as she feels her chest swell.

Her hands work like magic, starting from slow strums of major and minor chords, playing with up and down movements, then adding plucking techniques and power chords. The guitar feels like a part of her, singing to the sound that her heart desires to hear and make.

At first, Kyouka focuses on nothing but herself, just imagining herself in the middle of the darkness, only a spot to light her. Just her and her music. Nothing else.

But as she continues, the light embracing her expands, slowly bringing her to another place she has never been to.

Seconds later, boldness fuels her as she goes for fingerstyle, combining the melodies she formed earlier. Now, she's soaring in the air then diving into the depths of the rhythm, threading on a journey, travelling to a place unknown. Then she's up again, aiming for the sky, letting both light and the breeze bathe her.

Soon, more chords come naturally for a scale of rhythm that sounds more consistent than just a random compilation of sounds. Kyouka just lets her fingers do the work, adding a mesh of tunes she both heard and haven’t. But a smile paints itself across her lips, as she starts humming, letting herself fly with the music she is playing.

Kyouka opens her eyes as the smile gets possibly bigger. Her hands turn rapid in changing chords, then sliding to ace a perfect hammer. Her earphone jacks dance around her, bouncing to the sound, and eventually tapping on the wooden body of her guitar to serve as faint percussion. Her head starts banging, foot-tapping, and shoulders swaying. She doesn't even feel the ends of her hair tickling her skin. She just lets herself be taken away.

She is still in her room, but the feeling inside her speaks something else.

Feeling bolder, she starts singing even without lyrical words.

It really is just a “Na na na na,” but the way this music – her music – is touching her right now, it’s like she was never that mess earlier in the first place.

Meanwhile, Momo watches, smiling wider as she sees the beam and light in Kyouka’s features. She also finds herself swinging to Kyouka's music, feeling her fun transcend to sound.

A good number of minutes pass, with Kyouka ending the impromptu performance with a slow downward strum. Her chest rises and falls as she pants but that smile on her face cannot be erased by anything.

That was so much fun!

Clapping hands enter her ears and once again, for a second, she forgot that someone is in her room with her.

Momo holds her hands together when she finally looks at her. “Jirou, I know I was telling Kaminari-san and Koda-san earlier that it is really all up to you. But if you will allow me to be honest, I really wanted to see you play too. Hagakure-san and Uraraka-san were right. It really is fun when we listen to you play.”

Still panting lightly, Kyouka just calls her nickname, unable to react in another way.

“And you know why? It is because you also have fun when playing.”

Kyouka looks at her first before looking at her hands. Her hands are still trembling, but this time, it isn’t because of the heavy feeling eating her from the inside. This shaking is that of excitement and thrill, loving the feeling of the strings responding to her and being one with her. It's like her hands are itching for more.

“Yeah… It really is! Thanks, Yaomomo!” This time she faces her again, the smile probably even brighter than any grin she has shown.

“But I gotta admit… I still can’t get rid of the feeling completely… I played for you guys and for myself. But it’s really different when we’re talking of a crowd.”

“Then consider thinking that we are playing together, instead of you playing for us. That would be more fun would it not?”

Kyouka nods. “That’d work,” she says, flashing another grin.

Momo stands as she curls her hands into a fist. “I am really excited for the class. We are going to be working as a team! I hope I can be of help!”

“Of course, you will. Now, we just gotta know who else knows how to play. I’d really like to play bass,” Kyouka starts saying before settling down the guitar on her bed. She goes to the table for a sip of the tea Momo brought and pulls out a notebook from a pile of musical charts.

“What are those?” Momo follows her, peeking at her shoulder.

“Well, I sorta started listing down some songs or styles that’d be nice to play.”

Momo plops a hand on her mouth and looks at Kyouka. “You really prepared for it,” she teases a bit, but it still sounds so elegant.

“I-I…! I-I just thought it’d help or something… Anyway! I’m fine with planning all these, but whatever happens, I won’t sing. I’m sure we have someone who can in class.”

What Kyouka didn’t know is that she eventually ends up as the vocalist the next day.

But it’s going to be fine. Because she’s ready to rock and roll.