"Do you take sugar with your tea?"

"No. I never cared much for sweets."

"Ah." He sets the tray down on the table as softly as he can, but the tea cups gently clank from the motion. He takes care with the tea pot, carefully pouring the liquid into the cups in equal measure. He hands a cup to the young lady sitting across from him. She stares at the cup, hesitant. Skeptical. "...Is black tea alright?" It's not what she's thinking about, he imagines. No. She's still worried that he may do her harm.

"It's fine enough." Alice takes the cup from his hands. She doesn't drink. She just sits still, her fingers wrapped around the ceramic cup, staring down at the liquid. Daniel sits across from her, wondering if he ought to say something. It's only tea. But, he doubts words alone will convince her, not with the way she's sitting. If she's any more on edge, she'll fall off the couch.

Instead, he takes his own cup, and drinks. He can feel her stare all the while, watching him carefully. What is she waiting for, exactly? For him to start convulsing? It's not poisoned. He glances up from his cup to see her looking down at her own cup. She draws it closer to her face, and takes a little sip.

Daniel sets his cup down. He brought her here to talk, but where to even start? The grandfather clock in his drawing room ticks on, the sound accompanied by the flames in the fireplace. A cackle of wood and a ticking hand. The only sounds to be had. It's almost maddening. He ought to say something, he knows. He brushes his hair back behind his ear, his hand lingering on the back of his neck. The silence is deafening. Crushing.

"I'm sorry. About this morning. I was out of line. I shouldn't have…" It's still fresh in his mind. Her singing, his desperation for answers, the fear in her eyes when he grabbed her. "I'm sorry."

"Yes, well, it wasn't the best approach to the situation." Alice sets her cup down. "Believe it or not, I've seen worse. Still, I'd prefer if you'd refrain from doing that in the future"

"I won't. I promise."

"Good."

"So…" Where to start? The girl sitting across from him is an enigma. "I… last night, I met you in my dream. You were… different, but it was you." Daniel sighs. "God, it sounds ridiculous when I say it out loud."

"Only if you believe it is, and it's not a dream."

"What do you mean?"

"It's…" She faulted, eyes dropping to her lap. "A bit hard to explain, really."

"Try to, please."

She toys with her apron, still downcast. "It's…" She looks up then. Her green eyes are just as piercing in reality as they are in a dream. "It's you."

Daniel sits there, quiet for a moment as he takes in her answer. He shakes his head. "That's too broad, I'm afraid I don't follow."

"I suppose." She shrugs. "Let's see… it might be easier to think of it as a collection of experiences. Your memories, the people you've met, every feeling you've ever had—all of it correlating into its own plane of existence in your mind."

He stares back at her, brow furrowing. Her explanation is hardly helpful. "But, that's just a nightmare, isn't it?"

"It's not." She insists. "It's a world in it's own right. You've been there more than one occasion, haven't you?"

"I—how did you…?"

"I've seen your world more than once. Though, both visits were hardly welcoming."

With his mouth slightly agape, he asks. "You've been there… before?"

"Twice."

He breaks away from her gaze, mind reeling. He leans back in his seat. Daniel starts to speak, but stops before words come. He stares passed her. What is he supposed to make of this? "You've been in my head more than once." It's not a question, but a statement. As if saying it out loud will make it easier to process.

"Indeed." Her calm in the face of his confusion may as well be a bucket of water to the face. "If it helps, yours isn't the first land I visited, though… I have to say, yours is the most tumultuous."

Daniel reaches for his tea. Heat still emanates from the cup, warming his hands. It's a small comfort. His own nervous reflection greets him. Hardly a welcoming sight. "This is all so strange." But he's seen stranger still, things far too horrifying to mention in the company of the young lady. "It sounds…" He struggles a moment, trying to find the right word. As he glances back to her face, only one word comes to mind. "Mad."

Her lip twinges. "To some, yes, it does." Her voice is a little too tense. Did he touch a nerve? It wasn't his intention.

"I… even if it is, I still want to hear what you have to say about it." He needs information, no matter how odd the source, and the girl is, for now, all he has to go on. "So, there's another world in my head?" God, if anyone else heard him talking like this, they'll think he needs psychiatric treatment.

"Yes, but it's not the sort of place you can waltz into." Alice leans forward, reaching for her tea cup. Her thin fingers wrap around the handle, bringing it close to her face. A brief glimmer of grace and manners. Perhaps there's a proper lady hidden under her drab appearance, after all. "I highly doubt you'll need to worry about anyone else finding themselves there."

"That's comforting, I suppose." Indeed. A world composed of his memories and perceptions? The idea of anyone seeing such a thing nearly makes him shudder. Still, this begs a certain question. "How are you finding your way there?"

Alice pauses, cup still in hand. Something flickers across her soft face. What is it? "I… I'm not sure." So it's doubt, then. A crack in her confidence. "This is all so new to me. I didn't know it was possible to travel to someone else's mind. I didn't even think other people had lands like…"

"Like what?"

"Nothing." It's something. His mouth presses into a hard line. She's hiding something, but is it wise to press her? Angering her will only be to his own detriment. Alice lowers her tea cup, setting it back down on the saucer. "You didn't bring me here to ask about me, did you?"

She's deflecting. His eyes narrow on her. She's quite different from the version he met last night. She's smaller, almost fragile looking, like she might snap if someone were to grab her too roughly. The bruise hued color lining her eyes are nearly as heavy as his own. A far cry from the fierce figure she cut in his nightmare. It's hard to believe they're one in the same. How does a thin, nearly ill looking girl go from what she is now, into a warrior? What's she keeping secret? "I—"

"Yours is the third Otherland I've seen." She interjects before he can formulate his own question. It catches his curiosity, of course. "But, yours is the only one I've been to more than once. I wasn't even sure if what was happening to me was real. I half wondered if it was just a figment of my imagination, that is, until I met you."

"Why is this happening to me?"

"I don't know—I don't even know how I'm doing it!"

"So, that's it, then? You can't tell me why this is happening to me?"

"No. I'm afraid I can't."

Daniel sinks further into his seat, his shoulders slump. He was so sure. So foolishly sure she'd have the answers he wanted. But no, she's just as in the dark as he is. His eyes drop, empty as he mindlessly stares at the floor. What now? He's back to where he started! With no idea what to do, how to help himself. His elbows prop themselves up on his knees, and he cradles his head in his hands. What is he supposed to do now?

"...Do you have nightmares often?"

"Every night." He answers her without lifting his head, his own voice sounding so hollow, he hardly recognizes it.

Alice is quiet, then. He doesn't hear her move, so she must still be seated there across from him. He shuts his eyes, trying to wrest away the strain. What a fool he was, thinking he'd find answers from one girl. If anything, she's given him more questions. The ticking of the clock fills the void once again, neither saying a word.

It's a heavy sort of silence. The kind that makes air feel as thick as mud. Oppressive. He ought to say something to her. Apologize for wasting her time, but nothing comes. He's still taking everything she's said in. It's a troubling notion—the idea of his own mind manifesting as a separate world, if he even believes it. Alice certainly seems to. The way she spoke suggests she's telling the truth, or what she thinks is the truth.

Weariness nearly overpowers him. More than a day's worth of exhaustion clouds his mind. Daniel forces his eyes open. If they stay shut any longer, he may drift off right there. The tea still sits on the table, but he's unwilling to take it, letting it grow cold. He should pull himself up, sit up straight, and finish the cup before it becomes ice. But he can't find the will to move, much less drink.

"You look exhausted." Alice's voice cuts through the stillness, much like a knife.

"You have no idea."

There's a scoff from her direction. "Funny. I could very well say the same thing." Why does it feel like she's frowning? He doesn't look, but can almost swear she is. "Although… I have an idea, if you're willing to listen."

He does lift his head at that. She's still sitting there, though not entirely still. Her hands keep fiddling with her apron. Is she nervous? "What is it?" Surely, whatever she has to say can't be worth such stress.

"Well, it's just…" A soft sound hits the window. A clatter. Rain drops. Both thick and heavy hitting the glass. Alice turns her head, attention momentarily stolen by the she frightened by storms? He quickly casts the notion aside. If she were, he doubts he would've found her scaling a bookshelf whilst soaked in rainwater. "I'm now sure that what I've been experiencing isn't a delusion. I don't know why I'm able to enter your mind, but I do believe I know how."

He forgets all about the rain. "What do you mean?"

Alice rises up. She strolls towards the nearest window, her back now facing him as she stares out the window. She's still ringing her hands. Still nervous. Though, it seems to slow the longer she stands there, her hands now only gently squeezing. "There's always an entrance." Alice turns. Her figure caught between the warm amber glow of the hearth, and the eerie glare from the storm just outside his window. "A rabbit hole of sorts."

His brow furrows with confusion. "A rabbit hole?" He parrots, hoping for further explanation.

"Not a literal one—not all the time. The point is, every time I go to someone's mind, there's a doorway."

"So, you just walk in…?" It's an odd thing to visualize.

"I fall, usually, but that's besides the point. I've never gone looking for a doorway on purpose, but perhaps in your case, that's something we should consider."

Daniel sits in quiet disbelief. The hint of what she's saying is there. Still, he asks."Are you saying you want to enter my mind on purpose?"

"Exactly."

It's a foolish idea. He wants to say as much, but words fail him. More than a day's worth of exhaustion finally catching up with his cognitive functions. He can't string the right words needed to form a sentence. His mouth hangs open a bit, struggling. Alice takes quick notice. She walks a short way forward, coming more into the light.

"I suppose I'm not the best salesman when it comes to my own abilities, but it's worth considering, don't you think?" When he doesn't answer, Alice just puts her hands on her hips. "You've been having nightmares every night, haven't you?"

He can't hide the weariness in his voice, even if he tried. "Yes."

"It's not going to stop until you get to the root of the problem. Take it from someone who knows." She's a confident one, he has to give her that much. Though, that last part she said was a little softer. Quieter. "I can help." Her tenacity recovers quickly. Like it never left her.

For a moment, she's different. Not the frightened young lady he met this morning. Something flickers when he closes his eyes. Blue. Her dress. A hallucination. It ends in the fraction of a second. He's, unfortunately, becoming familiar with these waking illusions. And that's all it is—a hallucination. Her dress is a dull mix of white and grey, not blue. Alice now stands only a short distance away, her face set in a serious expression. She means what she says. The way she stands cuts the image of authority. A side effect of her own self assurance.

She's waiting for his answer. Her hands move from her hips, instead clasping behind her back. He can't reply. Not right away. Daniel can't even find it in himself to fully look her in the eye. He's been here before, hasn't he? From his perspective, it'd only been a few months since the waking nightmare he trapped himself in. He can still taste the mildew lingering in the stone halls, hear the cries of so many forsaken souls, see the old blood caked under his fingernails… his head dips. If he drifts any further into his fractured memory, he might heave in front of the lady. He stops before his stomach flips, and breathes in deep. Focus.

His throat goes dry and tight. He can't shake it, the sense of deja vu. He's been in this position before. Lost, confused, and terrified. Haunted by something he's helpless against. Oh yes, he's been here before. The dressing is different, true, but it's too similar to shake. Instead of an old Baron, assistance comes in the form of an impoverished girl. Speaking comforting words he wants to hear. Freely offering help—the answer to his desperation. His shoulders tense. Now that he's made the connection he can't unsee it. His throat clenches so tight he can barely breathe. Again, her appearance flickers. Not blue, but red. A horrid, bright red.

Even the way she stands is too like Alexander. Looming over him, cutting an image of authority. She's so slight in frame. So harmless on the surface, but what does he know of her, really? Nothing. How can he believe a total stranger?

He can't. He won't make the same mistake twice. On some level, Daniel already knew his answer. Still, it took him too long to finally look her in the eye with it.

"No."

She wasn't expecting it. He can see the surprise play across her face. Some of her confidence seems to deflate, giving into confusion. "Why not?"

"I—" He can't give her his reasons in full. Not without going into details of things best left behind. "I have my reasons." Hardly a worthy answer. It doesn't satisfy her, that much he can tell by her frown. "Please, try to understand. There are… I just," Oh, lord, he's bad at this. Her stare doesn't help matters. "I'd rather sort this through myself."

"I thought you wanted my help." Alice crosses her arms, her tone pointed.

"Yes, well." Indeed, he did ask her here for that reason. It seems a bit silly, he must admit, to suddenly change his tune. But he can't ask for it, not anymore. It takes much of his will power to keep his own suspicion in check. "You've already given me plenty of information to work off of. Just knowing that, in some sense, this is real is enough. I still have my wits, I can handle it."

If she's real, then at least some part of his sanity is intact, isn't it? If nothing else, it gives him something to hope for, even if it's a faint one.

She's cross. Her fair face refusing to ease. Is the rejection really so bothersome? Offensive, perhaps? He hadn't meant it to be. Alice's arms stay crossed as she stares down at him with those sharp, green eyes. "You're a foolish man."

"I don't recall asking for a critique of my character."

"Then I suggest seeking out better company in the future."

His mouth twinges down. He is, indeed, a fool. He knows as much. A fool can learn from his mistakes, however, and take care not to repeat them in the future. The price is far too dear. How can someone, especially this girl who claims to not even fully understand her own situation, ask him to pay it? No, he's steadfast to his decision. He can't let her goad him into an argument.

"If that's the case, then I'd say we're done talking." Daniel pushes himself up. "Come, I'll walk you home."

"I don't need a chaperone."

He suppresses the urge to sigh. Must everything be a dispute? Instead of giving into the bait, he dryly retorts. "No cousin of mine is walking home by herself at night."

She huffs. She didn't forget her little fib already, did she? No, he doubts that. As stubborn and frustrating as she is, she doesn't strike him as an imbecili. "Besides, it's raining. You'll catch your death out there." He tacts on as he heads for the front of his home, trusting she'll follow soon enough. He keeps the umbrella near the door. Daniel pulls on his coat quickly, already missing the warmth of the fireplace. It's only gotten colder outside, no doubt. The rain only worsened the conditions. He doesn't relish the idea of going out into the cold, bitter black of night, but he can't let a lady walk home alone, either.

He catches the sound of footsteps just behind him. He glances over his shoulder. Sure enough, there she is, still looking rather unhappy. He can't fathom why his decision bothers her so much. His state of mind isn't her business, now is it? "Actually, before I take you home, there's one more thing."

"What?"

"You said there's a doorway to get to my mind. As in, you do have some choice on whether or not you enter, right?"

"Yes, there's usually some sort of sign. It's never clear what it is, not till I'm through."

He mulls over it a moment, wondering if what he's about to ask is even possible. Still, he has to. "From this point onwards, can you ignore it? I'd just… I'd rather keep my mind to myself, if at all possible. Please."

"It's not as simple as it sounds, but very well. You already said you don't want my help. I'll stay away from anything I suspect as being a way into your mind."

An unexpected weight dissipates from his shoulders. At least the curse of his own past may be kept safe from prying eyes. "Thank you." He unlocks the door, pushing it open. His umbrella opens with a soft click. When he purchased it, he hadn't thought of the possibility of needing to share it with another. It is, perhaps, a bit small for the task, but it will have to do.

He steps outside. Alice shortly follows. She stands at his side. A bit too closely for someone he's only just become acquainted with, but given the circumstances neither of them can complain. Other than brief directions, she's silent. He offers nothing in the way of conversation, letting the humid air fill the void. The sounds of their shoes hitting cobblestone and pattering rain the only sound, accompanied by the faint sense of warmth at his side.