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[IC] Looking for Treble


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Winifred wasn't one to spend time in the common areas of Claremont Academy's dormitories unless she was on her way from place to place. It might have had something to do with the way common room emptied conspicuously quickly any time she sat down to read in one of the armchairs there or the way normal conversations turned into urgent whispers when she walked by in the hallways. For her part the alchemist liked to think that she was simply good at making efficient use of her time.


With that in mind her strides where swift as she made her way through the boys' dormitory with a worn but carefully patched saddlebag full of chemistry equipment. She kept her back straight and chin high but her eyes didn't waver from looking straight ahead no matter what looks she could feel aimed at the back of her head. Reaching her destination she rapped quickly on the door, calling, "Smith."

Edited by Fox
Adding ic prefix.
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There was a sound, muffled behind the door, that sounded oddly musical - it paused for a moment at the interruption, as if skipping a note, but picked right back up. "He's not here!" came the response, more informative than irate.


"What do you mean she probably couldn't--"

"Yes, I know their ears aren't great, that's--"

"I- for-...fine. Go check the door."


There was a beat of peace, a scrabbling sound, and the door slowly swung open. How, exactly, was something of a mystery: the only being near the door was a large, scruffy hound, looking very pleased with itself as its tail slapped the floor. Matt was still sitting on his bed, two more dogs in attendance, strumming something pleasant but unrecognizable on his guitar. "Guessing you're here for the Tin Man," he clarified, jerking his head toward his dorm mate's empty area; the motion dropped some hair over his eyes, but he tried not to let it bother him. "'fraid he's not here. 

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Winifred blinked at the open door for a moment before looking down at the hound with a pointedly arched eyebrow but not giving voice to any specific suspicions just yet. "Ah, Matthew. You do realize I don't understand whatever reference you may be making, yes?" she reminded him, accent as ever clipped and precise even as she allowed herself a faint smile. It faltered briefly as she looked back down the hallway to see one of Smith and Rivera's neighbours elbowing another boy and doing a poor job of pretending they weren't watching her. She in turn did only a slightly better job of pretending not to be bothered. "Would you mind if I came in for a moment? I have some things to drop off."

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"Yeah, sure," Matt invited, stopping his guitar fiddling long enough to wave a hand; the dog didn't turn to look, but it somehow knew to get out of her way to let her into the small room, trotting back to jump up onto the already-crowded bed to Matt's grumbling discomfort.


"Fred, right?" he asked, pushing himself back a little to make room; his dog cheerfully claimed that room with a satisfied sigh. "Seen you around, but haven't talked to you since the Halloween thing. I don't, uh, hang out much, I guess. How're things?"

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"Winifred, though consensus seems to have settled on the diminutive, yes," the alchemist confirmed as she stepped inside the room and closed the door behind herself with a soft click. Moving over to Smith's side of the room she placed her bag down on the end of the bed and opened its flap, looking over to the desk to judge the optimal place to leave the equipment she's brought with her. "I, ah, realize I didn't make the best of first impressions at Faretti's party." She stopped what she was doing long enough to look over to Rivera and try to judge his reaction from his expression. Embarrassment flickered over her own features, though she did a good job of maintaining her composure. "That was not how I make a habit of comporting myself, I promise you."

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"Got nothing to prove to me," Matt diplomatically pointed out, settling back with his guitar, which he went back to strumming. "Besides," he added, "I didn't...uh. See anything."


One of the dogs made a noise suspiciously like a snicker, and Matt reached out to poke it with his foot. "You shut up. Tryin' to be nice, here." It playfully bit at his toes, but otherwise seemed undiscouraged. "What're you bringing him, anyway? 'cos if it smells or explodes, the dogs 'n I would probably not want it in the room with us. They knock things over sometimes, and I barely get away with having them here as-is. Mostly because nobody can stop 'em from showing up, but, y'know. Tryin' not to cause trouble."

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"Of course it isn't," Winifred huffed, giving Rivera a withering look over her shoulder before pausing and considering the sloshing contents of the pair of stoppered beakers in her hands. "...well. I suppose these technically could react rather violently but only if the ratio were just right so the chance of a catastrophic accident seems vanishingly small. I wouldn't spill them on anything one wished to keep, mind, but--" She stopped mid-sentence and pursed her lips as she caught his expression. "I'll just put them on the higher shelf out of reach then, shall I?"


She carefully deposited the bottles on the ledge above Smith's desk, held upright by wire stands to reduce the likelihood of any mishaps. "I appreciate the effort toward politeness," the time-displaced teenager added as she turned around to retried her bag. "I gather the practice has fallen largely out of fashion. It would be pleasant to prove something to someone, however." In the awkward silence that followed she adjusted her saddlebag's strap over her shoulder self-consciously and searched for a graceful way to change the topic or excuse herself.

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There was only guitar strumming, for a moment, while Matt tried to figure out how conversations with people his own age worked. Little kids were easy; ghosts he at least had an easy conversation-starter with. But peers? "So, uh, are you--"


"Howl wishes to know what was popular in your time," one of the dogs casually interrupted in a voice like warm smoke and gravel, rolling onto its side to get a different perspective on their visitor. "We are not old enough to tell him, and the culture is not in our memories. We were doing other things."


Matt bore the expression of anyone whose friends had jumped into a conversation on one's behalf uninvited, but he knew it was a losing fight. "Yeah, okay. I'm not big on, uh, history, I guess, but some stuff makes me kinda curious. Music and theater and whatever."

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Winifred went rigid for a moment as the hound spoke, back perfectly straight and gaze intense. She looked briefly for signs of some sort of legerdemain but after what she'd seen about the Academy already it ultimately seemed a reasonable thing to take a face value. "That is a terribly clever trick, dear hound but poor manners does that cleverness a disservice," she chided primly, straightening her long white coat over the unflattering, bulk-bought blouse that came from the wardrobe the Academy provided. Privately she congratulated herself on neither lobbing a smoke grenade at the talking beast nor transforming into a twisted mass of personified fight instinct.


"As for music, I suppose there was quite a lot of talk about Herr Wagner in the months before I... hmm. He was staying London for the purpose of conducting a series of concerts, you see. I doubt I would have had opportunity to attend even had things gone differently, though." She considered thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. "Mostly we enjoyed parlour music, of course." She gestured to Rivera's guitar by way of example. "Listening from adjacent rooms more than playing, in my case. Never devoted the time to be more than a middling pianist."

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"Huh. 'Middling' is more'n most people, I guess," Matt noted, frowning down at his guitar. The dog, meanwhile, responded to its scolding by completing its roll, looking at Winifred upside-down with a canine expression completely free of shame. "Wagner's...hrm. He was the, uh...."


He strummed a few chords of Ride of the Valkyries - an acoustic guitar was probably not one's first pick for that particular piece, and he wasn't going to admit that he didn't know much more than those few notes, but at least it was recognizable and the dogs seemed pleased. "That guy. Never did any piano - can't take one around with me - but if you ever feel like practicing again I think there's an old one gettin' dusty in one of the storage rooms we're not supposed to get into. High notes have gone out of tune, but you can fix that. But that's it, huh? Wagner and parlors? No....what, uh, records? Wax, I guess. You probably didn't have vinyl."

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"Wax...?" Winifred questioned with a frown and quizzical look. It took a moment's consideration of the context to puzzle out roughly what the dark haired boy was talking about. "That was a form of automated music? After my time, then, so far as I know." It was an odd thing not just to be behind the latest events and advancements but to be so far behind as to have skipped over significant intermediary steps entirely. "I don't recognize that song either. I suppose he would have continued to pen music, assuming we're even talking about the same Wagner." Her shoulders had fallen forward slightly as she'd begun musing aloud and her back straightened abruptly as politeness reasserted itself as a priority. "Ah, it sounded quite good, though? Smith never mentioned you played an instrument. I'd imagine that makes you quite popular with the-- uhm." She managed to course correct the phrasing of the sentiment at the last moment though not as smoothly as she might have liked. "...other... students?"

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"Yeah, well, that's the dream, right?" The teenager's voice was filled largely with self-depreciating humor, but there was the tiniest vein of bitterness there, too. "Learn the guitar, learn to sing, get all the girls. Turns out it doesn't really work that way - never had much time for it, and now I'm just the weird scruffy poor kid with too many dogs."


"We try to give him advice," said one dog. "Very good advice," chimed in another. "He should be very successful."


"Sure. If I ever need to date a dog, I'll be really good at it. And, uh, sorry," he apologized, turning his attention back to his guest. "Didn't realize how new that stuff would be, I guess. But, yeah, at some point they figured out how to record music on wax cylinders and play it back, and then the cylinders became disks, and the disks became vinyl - kinda like plastic? - and then the disks got really small and plastic, and now we don't really use them at all, it's all just electronics and computers if you can afford it. It's pretty convenient to take your music with you wherever you go."

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"It's been the better part of a year, I have seen your telephones," Winifred assured him with a cough, glancing to one side at his frank phrasing. It wasn't as though she didn't understand the desire to increase one's standing and become a more attractive partner but she couldn't recall ever being alone in a boy's room - save for canine companions - while he aspired to 'get all the girls'. Forging ahead she added, "Granted, I still can't afford to purchase clothes for myself let alone luxury devices so we may find solidarity in our scruffy destitution." The first part of that was a bit of a stretch given her fastidious attention to personal grooming but the declaration of poverty was certainly true.


The alchemist hesitated, glancing toward the door. She'd dropped off the supplies she'd promised Smith and she wasn't thrilled by the prospect of giving the students who'd seen her enter the room another subject to whisper about behind her back but within earshot if she stayed much longer. That line of thought quickly ended with a choice bit of profanity for the gossipmongers that she wasn't likely to voice aloud. There were, after all, any number of unpleasant stories about her circulating but only a handful of people at the Academy willing to have an actual conversation with her without acting like they were handling reactive chemicals without safety equipment.


She took a seat on the foot of the other bed and gave the last hound to speak a skeptical look. "Smith also never mentioned your ability to speak. Given his attitudes toward unnatural beasts one might question the wisdom of toying with him."

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Winifred had the dogs' casual interest ever since entering the room, but now she had a few moments of their direct interest, several pairs of too-keen eyes turned her way in curiosity and better-than-animal amusement. "Intuitive," one commented, most turning their attention back to lazing around the bed. "Perhaps not wise, no. But it's fun!"


Matt rolled his eyes, but they either didn't notice or didn't care. "Besides," the dog added, grinning a dog smile and with all the casual certainty of discussing snow in summer, "he cannot actually kill us. Not for very long. He could try, but he lacks the means. Perhaps instead he will learn that this world does not live by his world's rules."


"Or he just goes crazy and tries to kill me," Matt pointed out, poking the animal with his foot.


"He cannot kill you either," it responded, turning its head to playfully nip at his toes.


"No, but it'd hurt. Sorry about them," the hook-nosed musician said, shutting the dogs up by offering a friendly ear-scratch. "I think they just get bored. If they thought they were actually hurting anyone, they'd stop. 'sides, Tin Man isn't really stupid...he'll figure it out eventually."

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Crossing one leg over the other primly Winifred pursed her lips. "Setting aside whether you do him an unkindness," she chided the hounds, "I would not be nearly so confident that Smith can be made to follow the rules of this or any other world." She couldn't pretend to know exactly what the odd beasts were or why they were secure in their own immortality. Certainly she intended to make much closer observations of them going forward if only to return the favour after that bit of scrutiny. She thought she knew the temperamental survivalist reasonably well by then, however, and suspected that if there were things he could not find a way to kill there were very few things he could not make regret crossing him. 


Sighing, she raised one hand briefly in a small wave. "That's between you, of course and I don't mean to be a busybody. You asked about the music I enjoyed before all of this but I never asked in return. I'll admit I haven't set aside much time to acquaint myself with the current styles."

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"Eh, he's your friend too. The dogs need some sense talked into them sometimes - even they'd admit it."


He grinned, giving the dog at his foot another poke; this time it did get his foot in its fangs, but the growl was playful. "As for music...eh. I dunno, I guess it depends? I listen to a lot of stuff. Bunch'a rock, some electronic stuff. Metal, sometimes, but it's not always my thing. The dogs like country, 'cos they've got no taste, and....and you have no idea what any of these are."


Matt ran a hand back through his hair, brushing bangs out of his eyes as he tried to remember what his guest would and wouldn't know. He wished he at least knew music history better. "Rock's...uh, high-energy, mostly, loud. Electronic's pretty....broad, but it's all computer instruments and sounds you couldn't make without 'em. I guess. It can be really for dancing or for chilling out, depending. Country's slower, sometimes just a dude and a guitar, but it's got some stereotypes attached. Metal's...really loud and kinda harsh. And there are all these sub-genres, and...."


He shook his head, pulling his foot free from its toothy canine prison. "I dunno. It's gotta be rough not knowing this stuff, but I kinda almost envy you. You get to hear all this stuff for the first time, figure out what you like. You only get new ears once, right?"

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"I'm sure there's a joke there regarding my periodic bouts of metamorphosis but I'll spare us all having to sit through it," Winifred drawled, absently running her fingers over one ear to ensure that her hair was still in place. "It's less ignorance of the music itself that's troublesome than not knowing the context. A person's choice in entertainment ought to reveal much of their character but all of that is largely hidden to me. I'm sure the piece you were practicing earlier should have told me something terribly revealing and yet." With a sight she made a gesture that suggested something going up in smoke and drifting away. Her tone remained dry but her shoulders dropped very slightly at the admission.


She looked away for a moment, lips pressed into a thin line with thought before she added, "Not to... impose but would you have any suggestions for where to start? I feel as though a basic working knowledge of modern music might make me... more approachable? Better able to converse normally, at least." She cleared her throat and pulled her posture back into perfect alignment. "Should you have the time, of course. I realize I'm already interrupting."

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"Naw, it's fine," Matt assured her, shrugging. "Promised the dogs I'd take 'em out by Lantern Hill later tonight, but I'm pretty much just chilling 'til then. Besides, it sounds fun - can't promise it'll help you talk to people, but music is good for the soul. Where's, ah...." He put his guitar aside, casting around for something - but one of his dogs had gotten there first, dragging an oblong wooden box out from under the bed by one worn leather handle. "Aha, thank you, Fang," the creature's master said, giving the (barely distinguishable from the others, but perhaps Matt simply knew them better?) beast a friendly ear-rub.


"So." He pulled the scuffed container up onto his lap, unlatching the lid to reveal several rows of hand-labeled plastic cases, each containing a disc - presumably, his music collection. Like the rest of his few worldly possessions, it was old, second-hand, out-of-date, and well-loved. "Any idea what kind of thing you're looking for? Stuff you'd like to avoid? Relaxing music is always good. Something with some power and noise to it would probably be...whatsit...."


"Cathartic," supplied a dog. 


Matt had his head down, distracted as he thumbed through the disks - a few already set aside - but he recognized the creature's contribution with one pointed finger. "Right, sure. But I've only got a real basic understanding of your, uh, 'metamorphosis' thing, and if you want to avoid stuff that gets your blood going I get it. Might be nice, though. "

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  • 2 weeks later...

Winifred's initial interest was more for the disks themselves, having a cursory familiarity with the concept from her studies but not having had opportunity to see their like in person before but she quickly refocused on Rivera's explanations. She shifted uncomfortably on the bed before catching herself and straightening, forcing herself to make eye contact despite the awkward topic. "Stress," she clarified. "Anger or panic are the typical triggers, it seems, though there is a maddening lack of consistency." That wasn't actually surprising; there were any number of factors that might affect one's overall mood, the severity of one's reactions. In her case those differences simply had much greater consequences. "I wish I could be more specific but as Smith says, 'this thing didn't come with a manual'." She hoped she was using that in the correct context and that editing out some of the more colour word choice didn't alter its meaning.


Distractedly she chewed the corner of her lip, looking vaguely toward the room's window while she tried to recall any specific auditory triggers which might have proven problematic in the past, gauging the associated risks. Her nose wrinkled and the expression made her fine-boned features less severe for the moment. "If I might persuade you to... experiment with me," she spoke up again with a note of hesitation at asking for the favour, "perhaps we could start with something less extreme and work from there? I can always let you know if I feel the need to stop."

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The dogs seemed to find something extraordinarily amusing about Winifred's phrasing, but it only got a confused glance from Matt, who glanced up at the nearest one with a well-articulated "...whuh?"


They shared a look for a moment, some unseen communication running between them before the boy blinked and barely suppressed a groan. "That's..uh. Right. Okay," he said, running a hand back through his hair as he turned back to the dual-natured scientist. "You should know that "experimenting" with someone is....it doesn't mean what you think it means. Or it implies something else, I guess; a thing you didn't really mean. So, there's that. But, music, though, I've got...."


He held up his selections, a fan of surface-scratched disks in only-mostly-labeled jewel cases. "So, found the classical. Worth a listen. Got some OceanLab, they're trance...kinda good chill-out music, a taste of electronic. This one's just a cheap mix of classic rock - one of those "best hits" things, which are kind of crap but it might help you catch up a little. Figured I'd start you on Nightwish for metal - they've got a lot of symphony and opera stuff mixed in, and they've got power without being rough on the ears. The last two are...the labels fell off," he admitted, holding a case up to peer through its mostly-transparent surface as if it would give him answers. "One of 'em's some punk pop, kinda trash but I like it, gets the blood moving. The other one's....I dunno. Swing, I guess? Might've been Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Ain't really my style but I figure you gotta listen to as much as you can to find what you like."

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  • 1 month later...

Winifred blinked a few times as she processed the apparent faux pas before fixing the closest hound with a glare that was no less acidic than some of her bottled concoctions. "Is anything not a vulgarity here?" she grumbled folding her arms and seriously considering walking out lest there be any further misinterpretation of her words. Ultimately she was less inclined to be run out than she was to succumb to embarrassment. Her lips twisted into a sour expression while she folded her arms. "You should know that the last time someone presumed to tell me my business in... such matters it ended quite badly."


Her face clouded over even further at that train of thought and she looked dour and distracted through Rivera's entire list of options. "Mmph. Whichever you think best to begin with, then. When I said I intended to be rigorous I meant it."

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The dogs seemed no less amused by Winifred's opinion on their opinion, a problem Matt solved by shoving a sock-covered foot onto one of their heads to pin it to the mattress. "Don't take 'em seriously. For whatever it's worth, they don't really judge people, they just think they're funny and enjoy messing with folks. I don't think they'd actually care if you were, uh, experimenting, it'd just be one more way to mess with you if they got it into their stupid furry heads that messing with you was a good idea. Never seen 'em do any actual harm they weren't told to do."


The dog's head had given him better leverage to scoot back on the bed a bit, the animal making decidedly canine grumbling noises while suffering no apparent real distress as Matt shoved backwards to pull large, heavy-corded headphones off one bed post. These he offered to the young alchemist, plugging the other end of the long cable into a severely beaten cd player. "Classical might be boring, don't wanna hit you too hard, so let's meet somewhere in the middle I guess," he shrugged, popping out a disk and, with some percussive maintenance, convincing his old player to play it. "It's some of their newer stuff, Tarja left a while ago and the new girl's not the same, but she's not bad and that means nothin' to you so, uh, here you go," he shrugged again, hitting play.

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Winifred accepted the headphones with only a minor hesitation, looking them over and musing on what she could deduce of their construction before deciding that was an exploration for another day. Taking a moment to adjust them until they sat somewhat awkwardly atop her pinned up hair, she looked blankly on Rivera's extended explanation until he started the song.


As soon as it began to play she sat bolt upright on the edge of Smith's bed, startled by the comprehensive illusion of instruments playing all about her, unlike the sounds she'd heard from phone speakers or the television set in the common room. When the heavy drums kicked in the Victorian ripped the headphones from her head and held them at arm's length, holding her breath reflexively. She stood stone still until the young man across from her moved to stop the track. "No," she insisted tersely, seeming shaken but showing none of the telltale signs that preceded a transformation. Cautiously she placed the headphones back onto her ears, brow furrowed with concentration for the rest of the track.


Once it finished she slid them back far enough to better hear the room around her and met Matthew's eyes. "Again."

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The dogs had made no signs of aggression while the music played, one even beating its tail to a drum beat its canine ears could hear even through the heavy-set headphones, but they also took no steps to hide their protective streak. When Winifred looked up, she met not just Matt's eyes, but another three pairs that had set up a casual but protective ring around the boy.


At her request they settled back down, flopping heads back into the mattress (or, for the unlucky mutt on the floor, the hard ground - which it immediately and audibly regretted), and their pack leader barely seemed to notice. "Uh - sure. Sorry about not warning you about headphones; guess they're weird to you. Pressing the 'again' button," he announced, and he did.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Staring into space and gnawing at her lower lip Winifred was completely silent until the track had played to completion a second time. Slowly removing the headphones she placed them in her lap before holding one palm against her chest. She focused intently on her own heartbeat; it had accelerated, certainly but she didn't detect any of the too-familiar strain of muscle tearing itself apart and reweaving all wrong that started there when she lost control. 


"I... have questions but I am not sure now to best articulate them. I lack the words," she admitted softly once she was sure the hounds were not going to have to demonstrate their purported durability. "I'm not sure what I was expecting. Ah, I must seem the ignorant savage being shown printed word for the first time." The teenager's cheek's coloured perceptibly and she instinctively tucked her chin downward to hide them. She seemed a little stunned by the experience, eyes unfocused as she tried to decide whether or not she'd actually liked the song and found she lacked the framework.

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