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Scene Title Reverie
Synopsis On this eve of Dr. Miller's birthday, there are no gifts given, no lessons learned between these two— only a path between them that continues to diverge.
Date October 20, 2019

Miller Residence, Providence

Sitting surrounded by bookshelves, the upright piano that stands in Zachery's living room looks almost out of place - like a guest on an extended stay. Its polished wood is a little warmer and its shade a more saturated reddish brown than the dark furniture that surrounds it. Bathed in the dying light of a nearby window, both it and Zachery look somehow apart from the rest of the space.

He's seated on the stool, hunched slightly forward in the way he tends to be when no one's watching, sleeves of his crinkled dress shirt shoved partway up. Staring downwards at his hands moving gradually across the black and white, he plays a slow melody. Claude Debussy's Rêverie. It's a melody played a little slower than might be intended, but for which he does not need the sheet music, fingers pressing down on the keys with a gentle patience that he has had few opportunities to practise of late.

This song, though, bears an amount of familiarity that allows him to forget about that for a moment. The rhythm is not accurate to the source, but it is sound, guided by mostly faded recall of times past, muscle memory filling in the blanks. Still, with the song barely out of the gates, his left hand moves outward to hit a key further down the line and his pinky finger - leaving his sight - hits the wrong note.

Harmony destroyed, he stops, moves his hands back toward the center, breathes sharply out while running his tongue over his molars and and rolls one of his shoulders with an amount of tension that seems more suited to someone just having barely escaped death rather than having made a minor musical mistake.

He starts over. Patience, eye on his fingers. He does not repeat his mistake, instead turning his head slightly so as to ensure he sees his fingers hit the right keys. It's a melody that many might consider sombre, even if his right hand imparts undertones of something a little more uplifting, if only just.

Until he gets to a part of the song where his hands, once again, part. This time it's his right hand that betrays him, finger coming down squarely on two higher notes that should have been one.

The room goes still. And, hands still on the keys, so does Zachery.

Thus broken, the chords jangle away into nothingness.

In the aura of hushed, reverberant stillness that follows, as though in expectation of something unspecified to happen, Yi-Min is there. Just as quiet. Watching, in her indecipherably calm fashion, as though in truth from a large distance away.

In point of fact, Yi-Min had been there for probably a good while now, one shoulder of her little figure leaning gently against one frame of the doorway leading in. Exactly how long is a more difficult figure to pin down, as her arrival had been unobtrusive and her continued presence thereafter even deliberately moreso, as though she were less a live audience and more a particularly bright-eyed painting melding into the foreground of things. A metal clipboard is poised in the crook of her forearm in a manner suggesting there is something on it that she had come to consult Zachery about, but she had clearly placed that set of thoughts off to one side in favor of simple, silent observation, a highly musing lilt to her expression as she looks on.

There had been several key moments where she might have interceded with an interruption. Lulls in time, in concentration, where she could have easily reached out with but a conveniently stray word or two and destroyed the resonance of the scene. But instead she has so far chosen to interrupt none of it: not the beautiful procession of the melody, nor the painstaking care Zachery has been taking to mend its strains.

Out of respect? Hard to say, but she is certainly being a respectfully restrained audience member. Even when he stops for that final time.

But it isn't the final time just yet. His fingers find the right keys and…

He begins again.

"I know you're there."

How long he's known is unspoken, though the fact that he's playing even slower now might do enough to hint at the fact that his attention is split, now, as opposed to before. "I can't quite seem to nail the intro. Muscle memory will only carry you so far, I suppose."

The top of the clipboard dips a trace further, allowed to rest in a half-forgotten cradle. Above that, Yi-Min smiles what can be termed a wan smile at the acknowledgement, an expression at once containing many words and leaving them unsaid. "It may carry you further than you think," she offers to him out loud now that Zachery has broken the silence between them first: an invitation accepted freely, if still with a gracious sort of conscientiousness. "There are some things not so easily forgotten."

Perhaps this introduction of his would be like that. Even if not, Yi-Min does not seem really concerned by the prospect of him failing to get the notes down eventually one way or another.

She does not seem concerned by much at all right now, when it comes to it, as though this were a moment entirely divorced from the requirements of a more fraught reality.

It’s nice.

Context exists for a reason, though. And Zachery has always been too eager to remind people of what darker threads still pull in spite of interludes.

"How are things below deck?" From where she stands, Yi-Min can just see him turn his head again. It's time for the part of the song that was giving him trouble the first time, on the left side of the marbley whites. He makes it through, even if the slow pace robs it of almost all natural rhythm. A checklist of a melody, notes ticked off as correct as they come but otherwise too stilted to be anything but a dead thing.

As the notes trend higher again, in a humourless tone so dry it might crack, "Or did you come up here so you could antagonise me even on my break."

Whatever darker waters Zachery wishes to tread, whatever direction he may wish to pull her in with his latest conversational focus, Yi-Min is untroubled by the tugging. Unaffected, even. It is an old song and dance to her that she is seemingly all too happy to acquiesce to.

"Things are going about as well as can be expected," she informs him sans care or pause, her still-unlifted voice carrying well over this new, more intensely labored progression of musical phrases without requiring any expenditure of effort on her part. "But antagonizing you, is this what you think I have been doing? Trust me, no: the task of researching how to bring about near-global genocide is a little too important to stoop to such petty concerns." Well. So one would have thought, anyway. A sprinkle of levity has entered into her tone, almost unnoticeable for how slight the change is.

The song, or what's left of it, slows. Every note left hanging longer than the last until finally, no more of the song arrives.

"That is what we're doing, isn't it." Zachery's own voice is one too untroubled for this subject, and the way he swings his legs around the side of the stool and turns to face Yi-Min is certainly devoid of any real visible concern. "I'd like to play a game I used to play. It's simple. We ask each other questions, and we have to answer honestly. The only way to lose is to refuse to answer. I'll go first."

He leaves no pause for arguing, his eye trained on Yi-Min's face while a thought pulls his mouth into something between grin and grimace. "Why is this project important to you, then?"

A game.

Yi-Min has to laugh then, in the glittering manner of someone not deliberately trying to be evasive (really, believe it or not) but with a little matter of amusement in hand that takes priority. She spreads her slender hands before her, metal clipboard still held fast in one. The trimly labeled diagrams attached to it become visible to him in the window of that moment.

"Ei, such curiosity. And what makes you say it is important to me? I may be but a steadfast employee, following the orders of my employer. Perhaps I am not concerned at all by such things as moral consequences, and this is why I am here." It is a notion definitely lent merit by the unsettling lightness of her tone in addressing this whole topic, matched quite neatly in shape by Zachery's own apparent apathy about it.

But then possibly as though to assure Zachery of her intent to follow the rules of his impromptu game, she casts about for a place in the room to sit as well, still with a subdued glimmer of amusement written deep in her expression. She soon finds one in the form of a spindly-legged wooden chair settled askew by a nearby assortment of bookshelves, and pulls it towards herself to sit, zigzagging it across the floorboards to avoid obstacles in the way.

Zachery watches Yi-Min with the same amount of skeptical attention he might give to a stray animal that's wandered into his home. Only when she claims a chair does he relax slightly, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, hands loosely folded over one another. "Alright. Maybe that one was on me. Let's stick to questions that are less likely to be immediately unraveled by bias."

He wrinkles his nose, and lifts his chin over to his guest. Colleague. "You start."

"Very well."

Leaning into the bowed back of her new seat with the languid insouciance of a cat, Yi-Min meets her colleague's dubious stare with an evenly arched brow of her own. There is a mirthful surprise in her that Zachery is granting her the freedom to ask a question straight off instead of just continuing to barrage her with an onslaught of his own, but her eyes are aglow with something else entirely.

"In a similar vein. Why have you involved yourself with this project?"

"I was offered it as something to do." It is the truth, in spite of its brevity. Zachery fixes Yi-Min with a narrowed stare, the slack in his own posture such a stark difference from the times he'd pretended to be someone else in her presence. This version of him is much more genuine, fingertips idly brushing over his knuckles in thought.

There are so many questions he could ask, so many subjects to dig into, boundaries to push.

"Favourite colour?"

"Orchid purple," Yi-Min answers back with idle automaticness. Alright, but really. "You've asked me this before, you know." Her eyes flicker for one short second to the piano looming just behind Zachery's shoulder, dark lines still bathed in a fast-fading glare of sunlight, before they are back to the doctor.

"What is your favorite piece that you have performed?"

"Answers change, sometimes. People do, too."

Zachery's focus does not waver. The glare of the light might bother him if it wasn't hitting his worse side. His answer does not come quite so easily this time, his fingers interlocking. "I never enjoyed playing," he replies, more to fill the silence than as an actual answer, inhaling slowly and searching his mind for something more concrete.

It leaves him a little coldly, considering the habitual grin. "Heart and Soul. Do you play?"

"No, actually, I'm not sure people do," is an apparently overly thoughtful reply from Yi-Min after several empty beats pass by, first, but she is also cryptically firm about it.

Change, that is.

Leopards with their spots. Etc.

The next thing Yi-Min offers to Zachery is a half-smile that speaks, with surprising but also characteristic openness, of regret. No— regret isn't quite right. A bittersweet remembrance, maybe. "I do not. My little brother did, and I never had an ounce of his musical talent. So why do you play, then, if you do not enjoy it?"


Zachery starts to answer, but though his own thoughts interrupt it, it only seems to further amuse him. He lifts a hand to rub the back of his neck, and it falls back into his lap as if with added weight. "It was a gift," is the answer he finally settles on, "from Garza. I've never been awfully fond of things existing purely as decoration." Carrying on in the same casual tone comes his next part of this ongoing trade: "'Did', you said. Your brother. Still alive?"

"Nope," comes the prompt, inordinately blithe response. No volunteered details follow, because the wording of Zachery's particular question had not necessitated any. Yi-Min pauses in a passing moment of intrigue at the mention of the name Garza.

"A rather thoughtful gift for someone to give," she remarks of the gesture, reflecting idly on the import of it. A whole-ass piano, delivered all the way out here to the boonies.

"You have a brother yourself, I know. A twin. Are you on good terms with him?"

Amusement plays on Zachery's lips like he'd almost rather it didn't, somewhat suppressed already by the time he looks to the side and shoots a sideways glance to the aforementioned instrument. It is there his gaze lingers, swept absently across the empty side of the wide piano stool, when another question comes.

Silence overtakes just enough for the din provided by generator that powers the basement to start feeling a little too loud. "We are on no terms."

Then, straightening his back and angling his head upward, his focus snaps back to Yi-Min and stays there, unwavering. Back to business. "You don't strike me as the right sort of person for this project. How am I supposed to think that I can trust you?"

"You may wish to reconsider that, if it is in your power to do so." Out of anything Yi-Min has said so far, this sounds genuine in a degree that is difficult to dispute. The look in her eyes is one of wistfulness, but it is a version that is quite matter-of-factly meant to be informative. "You never know how much time you have remaining with someone, until it is too late."

Her reaction to the sudden but not unexpected shift of the topic is a look of clear amusement that crawls subtly across her face, still with that same mellowness.

"What is it you think you cannot trust me with? My ability to carry out the project to its conclusion? In truth I am probably among the most logical of choices to have been given this task. I said it before, I do have a history with this kind of thing, you know." Well, she hopes he knows. Zachery hadn't really been good lately for proving himself in the loop.

On the subject of brothers, Zachery has little more to say. At the very least, not to Yi-Min.

Very little leaves him in the time between her words and his. Though he breathes, it's with the same steady control of someone who does not want to be heard doing so. The keen and still patience of an animal waiting to see if it sees friend or foe beyond the reeds.

Except that somewhere, he enjoys this. Her look of amusement is met with one of his own - a rare smile rather than grin - and movement returns to him for the purpose of swinging back around and laying his hands back onto the piano's keys. Turning his back on whatever this animal in his living room might be. "I'm not sure yet," he answers, glibly, over his shoulder. "But there's time yet. Also," he pauses, beginning to play the song all over again, more confidently this time, "I win."

"Mmmmmm," says Yi-Min, in the manner of someone pretending to ponder this very, very deeply, a mock-thundercloud of heavy thought clouding her visage. "Actually, what you said was, 'the only way to lose is to refuse to answer.' I have not refused to answer. But if you refuse to hear my answer, I do believe that amounts to the same thing."

An indelicate smile grows as she watches him spin right around and return to whatever he was doing before.

Does this mean Yi-Min is actually the one who wins?

Yes. She would believe so.

"Enjoy your practicing." She rises from her perch, gracefully, content to take that promised answer away with her without a second thought. Or, for that matter, a first.

Not too long ago, Zachery would have had to object to this conversation ending. Maybe the part of him that would have felt it incomplete has been silenced by recent events. Or, maybe, by anticipated ones in the future still ahead.

As his smile fades and posture sinks back into something less alert, he begins to play again. The song is not flawless, not by a long shot, but it's the right notes in the right order. Another hitch is inevitable, but memory, confidence or a combination of the two manages to carry it a little further than before. Maybe that's all one can hope for, in the end.

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