Guess what, I changed the song again! This time it is No-Name No. 5, still by Elliott Smith. Strangely I seem to be sticking to the same album. It would have been quite obvious to use 2.45 AM but then it might have actually made sense and we don't want that now do we? O.o Still all owned by Elliott Smith. I don't know how clear it is but just in case it's not then this chapter starts at the same time as last chapter started.

Tonight

The inn's room is shadowy and dim. Yuri Hyuga lies on one of the single beds, wondering and hurting,. Physically, not mentally. He's far too tired for mental pain. Fuck, this is the only time he's not in mental pain, when he's tired like this. Rest of the time there's Fox-Face, that's when he's asleep, or malice or whatever, when he's awake. Now he's too asleep to know what's going on, and too awake to dream. The aching muscles in his legs and bruises from countless battles that yell in pain whenever he moves are soothing. Yuri stretches out on the bed, out of half one eye he can see Alice sitting on the other bed, looking at the floor. Wonder what she's thinking, she's. . . He moves his head to one side, trying to observe unseen. . . . She doesn't look too happy but who can blame her in a now like this? Yuri moves his head back to a comfortable position. He doesn't want it to, but sleep's approaching. It won't go away sleep's the real fucking enemy I don't want to sleep. . .


But he can't even think straight anymore and

. . .sleep.


***



Got bitten fingernails
And a head full of the past
And everybody's gone at last
A sweet sweet smile
That's fading fast
Cos everybody's gone at last.


Alice looks over at Yuri. The pattern of bleeding flowers on the carpet continues onto him in red-and-purple bruises and wounds collected over years. He's been fighting every day for years. Yuri never seems to stop fighting. Every fight they get into, Yuri is at the front of it and most likely causing it. And this is the result. Torn face, a broken mask. The slopes of his eyebrows are mirrored below his eyes, with the dark circles that come from seeing dawn from the wrong side far too many times. There are bruises on his cheekbones, tiny rips in his skin, worry lines of old-before- time, unmistakeable air of live-fast-die-young, all that and more at the same time. Asleep, Yuri breathes so gently. He's so afraid when he's asleep. He's so relieved when he wakes up. Whatever does sleep do to him? Poor broken beautiful Yuri. Alice is in awe of him. She'd like to be like him. She'd like to be sure enough in her own self to seem as alive as Yuri, or as Margarete, even. Oh but I jump at shadows, she thinks, oh what hope have I got? I'd like to be , once, maybe not just the one being rescued. Maybe I could be the one who rescues someone. I want Yuri to look at me like I'm a woman, like I'm his equal, not like I'm a little girl he has to protect. But isn't that all I am, isn't that all I'll ever be?

Alice looks at his sleeping body, he's lying on top of the bed, all his clothes still on, even his coat and boots. Her breathing slowly adjust to the same rhythm as the rise and fall of Yuri's chest. He seems so imagined, lying there, that Alice wants to touch him just to make sure he exists. Yuri, can you really be real? Right now she feels she needs someone real, someone who's there for her because of who she is, not for protection's sake, not because a voice in their head is telling them to. She has been left alone. She needs to prove to herself she exists because she feels as if she might stop existing any minute now. She's seeming like the only one who knows she exists, and, of course, she would think that wouldn't she? She wants to reach out and touch someone and then she'd know that both of them exist.

Never never. It'll never happen.

Wishing, she watches him sleeping, and thinks about what there might be under the surface of it all.

A knock at the door pulls her away from wondering, and she's grateful for any company which might lend her a clue as to whose world she exists in (her own, or everyone else's too?).

Without waiting for an answer, Margarete opens the door.

Hey, you two, are-' She notices Yuri is asleep and stops, laughing. Sorry,' she says more quietly. Never saw he was asleep. I was just wondering if you were wanting to come out for a drink cos I'm getting kind of lonely. Zhuzhen's away with his old pal, and I'm all on my own propping up the bar. . .'

Alice thinks at first, I don't like pubs, they're crowded and noisy and I feel so out of place. . . . And we have to be up early tomorrow and. . . This isn't the sort of person I want to go on being. . .





The pub is mostly empty, with only a couple more people in. Alice notices that at least it doesn't have a carpet with flowers on it. It's just a plain stone floor. Today,, Alice is finding it hard to keep her mind on the present. She watches Margarete as she goes up to the bar, chatting easily to the barman, seeming so like she is really there. Alice would like to be like that, be like her. Alice always feels as if she isn't really there. She never seems to make any difference, she might as well not be. She feels so disorientated and can never be at home enough in her surroundings to feel at home in her own body. She never feels quite right. Surely everyone else can't be feeling like this? Cuz she doesn't really exist today. What a waste of time then.

Some days she feels on the edge of breaking through, but something happens and she goes right back into not existing. Back at home she often felt like she was too far away, just like now, but in a different direction. And when she found herself here she seemed to go all the way out in the other direction so she felt unreal and awkward, but in a different way. It's like she's watching herself out of the back of her own head. And when everybody else is in the middle of a conversation, around her, she might as well not be there, as she listens and tries to think and most of all tries to speak. But it's as if she's never heard her own voice and she's forgotten how to speak. And they'll forget she's there of course. . . She knows it's her own fault for not ever managing to say more that a few words in every conversation. No wonder she doesn't seem to exist. But it intimidates her. The way they all seem to know each other so well, even if they've only met a few minutes ago. The way they all talk so easily. She remembers back at home where she hadn't fitted in either. She hadn't seen the point of half the things that went on back there. There were a lot of confusing rules to a pointless . Alice's family had always viewed her as a strange child, because even as she grew up she seemed to have no interest in this society of theirs. She never felt she quite knew what to do with it. Talk about the right things. the right things were always boring. And talk to the right people. The right people were invariably boring too, they assumed she'd grow up and marry and be just like her mother really. They thought she was strange because she liked books, which was an unnatural thing for a young girl to like. Especially the kind of books she read.

Alice felt she couldn't choose choose what was going to happen to her, so she felt uncomfortable and at times panicky. And she felt, back then as well, that she might as well not exist, because how would it make any difference if one more nothing person not doing anything wasn't there?

But here, everything was the other way around. Everything she knew was gone and she hadn't a clue what she should do. There would have been a time, back at home, when she would have wanted an adventure. It didn't feel much like an adventure, more like someone chopping your like into little pieces, shaking them up and throwing them away, leaving her hopelessly searching for them. She'd wanted to go along with her father when he went travelling, because she'd always wanted to see more of the world, so she could know that something else did exist, as well as what there was at home. No one at home minded her going because if she wasn't going to fit in, she might as well go and do it in another country. But why did it all have to go wrong? Her father had always been there, though he'd been a distant figure. A lot of the time he'd hardly seemed to know her at all, but that was good because the less he knew her the less he could judge her. But now. . . Now he's gone. Everybody that was there before is far away.

And you don't get upset about it
No not any more
There's nothing wrong
That wasn't wrong before
Had a second alone
With a chance let pass
And everybody's gone at last.

Talking to Margarete is difficult. Alice isn't used to conversations with people who are listening to her answers. And she finds any conversation uncomfortable, it's something she was never particularly good at. Even if for once she is beginning to relax after a conversation, she'll hear herself and grow overly self-conscious. And she knows that no one else feels like that, otherwise no one would talk. Alice wonders what it feels like for everyone else, to be someone who knows who they are. But she wants to change, she wants to be like them, really she does. Well I have to change someday, I have to just get on with it and change. I wish it was as easy as deciding to be somebody else. How do they do it? It probably comes naturally to them but I really don't know how I can be like that myself. . .

For what feels like the hundredth time in her life Alice decides that she will change. This will be a new her, who can talk to people, who can fit in. Someone who they could look on as an equal, not someone who they have to look after. She's lost count of the amount of times she's meant that, but harbours faint hope that this time will be different. She'd love not to be trapped in herself.

'So, Alice, what do you want to drink?' Margarete is asking. After a moment's thought Alice asks for a white wine. She'd never really drunk alcohol before, but that had been either because she was never in pubs, or because she was still being treated like a child, which she assumed she would have been at home until she got married. She'd had wine a few times before and she liked the taste.



Alice?' Margarete was asking her. . . . How exactly did you get mixed up in all this? I know the basic thing with Bacon, but. . .

Alice begins to explain herself, wondering if she could become a new person with her old past or if she would have to leave it behind. She couldn't, though, she knew she couldn't leave it behind. As she talks, Alice unconsciously traces little circles on the table with her index finger. She feels like she's dreaming, the feeling you get when you have a dream and know all the time that you're only dreaming, that it isn't real. But if you get that feeling when you're wake, then how do you know that your dreams are just dreams? How do you know that your waking life isn't just a dream? How do you know any of this is real at all, because you get the feeling it shouldn't be?

When Alice reached the part of her story about Yuri turning up on the train, Margarete was incredulous.

So Yuri just turned up. . . because a voice told him to?'


Alice nods. Margarete shakes her head in disbelief.


That's insane. . .'

No, it's not. There actually is a voice, Alice says, quietly aware how crazy all this sounds.
I heard it too, later on.'

Yeah, well. Alice, you've got to admit Yuri's mental, even if that voice wasn't just in his head. Seems there's a lot of stuff that is just in his head.'

Considering this, Alice takes a larger-than-usual sip of wine, and half-heartedly examines the grooves in the wood of the table.

I kind of worry abut him,' adds Margarete.

Mmm,' says Alice non-committally. But how do we know how he is in his own head?'

You don't need to know the details, just that whatever goes on in there can't be too healthy. . . . Alice, I know that Yuri's kind of. . . protecting you. . . so I don't wanna be scaring you, but you know. . .'

Alice stares silently at the table for some more time, then she says, Yes, . . . I worry about him sometimes. . . but he always seems so strong. . .'

Yeah but just cos he seems it. . . I'm beginning to think you should be the one protecting him. Seems to me he's a nervous wreck.' Margarete sounds unsure about whether she should be telling Alice this at all. But it was dangerous not to, wasn't it? You can't depend on anything and Alice would need to know that, with all this going on.

. . . Don't know if you've noticed,' Margarete continues. Might as well fuck things up good and proper now she's started. . . . but Yuri gets so worked up about something. At night. In his sleep. Sometimes I've woken up nd he's been talking.'


I know,' says Alice, more quickly than she'd meant to but wasn't this the new her? The her who existed, then worried about stuff later. I've known since we very first met. . . and I was terrified of him then. . . but. . . on the first night, he was speaking. . . shouting. . . in his sleep. That scared me a bit but. . . he seems to know what he's doing when he's awake.'

Alice isn't thinking this because Yuri is her protector, more because he is her role model and if he's a psycho, then she's a socially inept good-little-girl aspiring to be a psycho. Alice thinks of him back worried and asleep and fighting dreams alone up in the little room. She wouldn't want to go back up and wake him because for all the times he cries out in his sleep there's a waking time when he's tired and zombified, and Alice want to tell him everything will be all right. She wants to lie down with him and soothe him back to sleep. Maybe, she daydreams, he'd sleep all right then.


I dunno what you think he thinks he's doing. . .' Margarete half-whispers. Oh well. He'll have us here whatever happens, eh?'

Yeah. . Alice looks up from the table and smiles at Margarete, very slightly and very slightly falsely. She feels strange. She hopes it's the strange of being a completely new person.

Margarete replies with a more convincing but equally small smile. Alice is confused because she doesn't feel so awkward any more. Maybe it's the wine.

Well you know, we can't be the craziest people here,' Margarete says reassuringly. There's always someone madder than you are.'
Alice would like to believe it.

Just take a look around,' says Margarete quietly. And imagine how everyone else must be more insane than the people you know.' She looks briefly over Alice's shoulder to a man sitting on his own, then leans back in her seat and looks up at the ceiling. Anyone who's somewhere like here by choice has to be even crazier than Yuri. . .'

Alice wonders what she meant by somewhere like here, because she can tell she didn't mean this particular pub, or this particular village. She has a feeling she knows the kind of thing she meant, but can't find the words to think it to herself and put it down in her brain.

Margarete looks back down from the ceiling to the table and sighs almost inaudibly, breaking a train of thought. Oh well,' Alice thought she saw her mouth to herself.
Want another drink, Alice?'

Alice nods, looking for the words inside her head.








Tomorrow morning


Alice's little travel alarm clock wakes her up at what seems like the middle of the night. She forces herself awake, exhausted but running on the triumphant feeling of being awake in the first place. Alice looks at the clock face, trying to work out how many hours sleep she actually had, but decides against it. It seems like it'd be a stupidly small number. Quickly, Alice gets up and washes her face, then goes to wake Yuri. He's still asleep, Alice doubts he'd woken up once since yesterday evening. He still looks as troubled as he always does when he's asleep, rolled over on one side, frowning intently. His mouth moves but no words come out. Alice watches him for some time. She doesn't like waking him, but she feels she has to if he's this upset.

. . . Yuri,' Alice says, not sure how loud to speak. He shifts over onto his back and the frown on his face disappears into blankness as he wakes up.


Not even light yet. . .' he mumbles.

Still,' says Alice, as much to herself as him, we need to get an early start today. We can be in Wuhan by tonight if we go quickly. . .'

Yuri gets himself out of bed and drags himself over to the bathroom, stopping to stare into space. He throws cold water on his face, ineffectually rubs a damp towel on his face and wipes his hands on his coat.

He smiles (as much to himself as her?) and says,' Right. ready to go.' Yuri heads for the door, quickly, as if he wants to get out of there quickly. Alice follows, dreamlike.


This is just a travelling day, and they've done a lot of travelling together already. Everyone in the group, through some kind of silent mutual agreement, slips into their own thoughts. Trying to keep a conversation up's just awkward, for that amount of time. Alice's thoughts keep slipping back into tiredness, sometimes her eyes drag shut without her really knowing. But most of all, her thoughts are with Yuri. Who is he when he's asleep, she wonders. His sleeping self seems far removed from the waking Yuri, like the former is more vulnerable, like a badly put together and falling apart version of the latter. Alice feels intimidated by him when he's awake- he's so intense, he is in himself like a dream, but she doesn't know how to take it. When he's asleep, she gets the feeling that she could cope with him, she could connect with him. . . but that wouldn't be him would it?

She doesn't know. Maybe when he is asleep that really is him, but the waking him is not. She didn't think of that before, and she wanted to become more like the waking Yuri so that she wouldn't be so nothingy herself, but maybe. . . maybe Yuri's waking self is like who she'd be if she succeeded in being like him. . . not the real person but a persona created by an unhappy personality. In that case, what would it be like to have a conversation with the sleeping Yuri? Would he be more far-away, more like somebody did imagine him? He might be a completely different person altogether, maybe his sleeping self would not even recognise his waking self.

Alice had never really watched anyone sleep before. Was everyone split into two people like this, asleep and awake? Maybe when she is asleep she turns into the person her waking self is forever trying to be. But how would she know that? When she dreams she doesn't feel like someone else. Does Yuri even know about his sleeping self? What does he think happens? So what's sleep? Why does this happen, Alice wonders, sleep can't be just for dreams. Sleep. . . she feels more tired herself. We need sleep, do we need dreams? What is the point of dreams? Are dreams just things that happen to us because we can't rest our minds at all? I don't know, i can't remember what I dreamed last night. . . she thinks, but I know I dreamed something. Would it have made me a different person, would it have meant anything at all?



Tomorrow night


Over the day's travelling Alice had had the feeling of tiredness worn into her mind to the extent that it barely bothered her. She was used to it, even enjoying the feeling that she was doing without much sleep. It made her feel stronger, like she was achieving something more in everything she did while she was awake. Over the course of the day, she had noticed, Yuri had been becoming seemingly less and less able to cope with his won tiredness, growing closer and closer to sleep and therefore more and more vulnerable as the day goes on. His eyes are never even mad as usual, they are empty. Their madness seeps out, bleeding from his heart into his talisman. By the time they've reached another inn, on the outskirts of Wuhan, his talisman has been silently, resolutely red for hours. In practically the first time he's spoken since the morning, Yuri mutters that he's going to go up to their room and clear his malice. He hates people watching him when he enters the graveyard, he always prefers to go there in private if he has the choice.

So Alice remains downstairs with the rest of the group, in the pub as they usually spend the evenings these days. She remembers that last night she had begun to feel like a different person, and regrets that tonight she can't call the feeling back; she is as distant as ever, feeling awkward around so many people in such an unfamiliar place. Nights like this last forever. Alice just listens to the conversation. She tries to imagine herself a different person. Tries to make it real. It's all in vain. She tries to make herself completely nonexistent. Maybe if she ignores herself enough she might not exist. All in vain. She feels the weight of the silence hiding behind the conversation. She feels it pushing her away.


Feeling that if she can't be part of this then she'll have to detatch herself, she makes her excuses- very tired, late night last night- and decides just to go to bed. Yuri must have finished clearing his malice by now and just gone to sleep. She hopes he won't be awake when she comes in.

Alice leaves the pub part of the inn and finds herself in the cool, empty hall, echoes of foreign conversation behind her. She heads for the stairwell, flowers on the carpet again, dark dusty green and red. Slowly she walks up the stairs, carefully, feeling ghostlike. Halfway up the stairs, at a turn, between up and down, there is a round window. She can see out into darkness, millions of unidentifiable silhouettes against a dark blue sky. There are only a couple of orange lamps lighting the foreground. The window looks out the way they have just come. It's just wilderness. It's a long way from the wide, cultivated streets of her home. As a place alone, she thinks she prefers it. But it scares her. Out past the lamps, out in the black and blue, an eternity she knows she'll see a lot more of soon. She used to think she knew where her world ended., because she thought that she'd never go anywhere. her life was contained in one city, and , as big as it might have been, it was finite. now she'd gone somewhere, like she'd always wanted to. The moment she regretted most out of it all was the moment she had got on that train with her father, the one that had taken her out of her home city. She'd seen some of the world, but she'd also seen a hell of a lot of nothing. The dark is never finite. She should have stayed at home like her mother said, she thinks. I'm no good at any of this far away travelling stuff. I should have left it to the people like Yuri and Margarete. . . and anyway it's all my fault. . . If I hadn't gone then none of this stuff would ever have happened. . .

I'm ust too tired,
the sensible, practical part of her mind replies. Get some sleep and it'll all be better in the morning. Her tiredness is coming on again, just by thinking that. She's falling all apart.



Well I hope you're not waiting
Waiting around for me
Cos I'm not going anywhere
Obviously.
Got a broken heart and your name on my cast.
And everybody's gone at last
everybody's gone at last.




Dazed, she walks up the rest of the stairs, along the corridor at the top, finds the door of their room. Thankfully, Yuri'd left it unlocked.

Yuri is outstretched on one of the beds, coat crumpled by his feet. He's so fast asleep. Alice is so tired she's moving before she knows, and her eyelids are dragging down for sleep. She wishes she hadn't admitted to herself how tired she was. It encourages. . . your brain. . . to. . .

Blankly staring at nothing, step by step, she makes her way to the bathroom to get washed, out of routine. On her way back over to the bed, she sees Yuri. . . So undisturbed, so. . . unusual, for a sleeping Yuri to be so calmly peaceful.

. . . He seems so imagined, lying there, that Alice wants to touch him just to make sure he exists. . . Like she often does when he is asleep, but this time's so different from all the others. She is less sure of his, and her own, existence. Her exhaustion, to a very slight extent, acts like a depressant drug. Alcohol, without going through the enjoyable earlier stages of drunkenness, she is melancholy and confused. And this time. . . just once, she'd like to reach out and know that they exist. . . . or that they don't. She's kneeling on the floor by the bed, as he lies sprawled, still oblivious . Alice reaches out and gently takes his hand. Cold, unresponsive skin. . .

. . . tiredness. . .

Alice rests her head very lightly on Yuri's arm, she's bent her head down so her forehead is against the inside of his elbow. Her hand is losing its grip on his. She moves hers up to hold it loosely around his wrist. Her fingertips sit over a softer area of skin, a vein that winds like an emergency cord (if unable to cope, please sever here with knife), a warm, gentle patch of skin. She should be able to feel his pulse at her fingertips, reassurance that even if they don't quite exist then they're here together. Even in her bewildered, tired state Alice knows there's no pulse there.




****



Somewhere, in an echoingly empty graveyard, it rains torrents onto a bloodied and battered corpse, sprawled meaninglessly on ever familiar grass. There's no trace of why he would be dead, or who was there with him. But there must have been somebody there for, even though he lies crumpled where he fell, he has been given a death mask. it's a splintered mess of a death mask, almost as bloody as the corpse. Once it might have been shaped like a fox.

He died with his eyes open. The mask has slits for eyes, and through them you could just see nothing, frozen like glass, frozen with their last sight forever.


And with the rain it fades.


****


Settling into a secure kneeling position, Alice grips a little more tightly onto his wrist. Without knowing at all, she begins to sway, very very gently, back and forwards.














O.o; That took so long to type. I started it at half past one, but I'd alreadly done two ppages of it the day before, and it's gone dark now. Can it really be four o clock? Sheesh. I type at about two words a year.

Thank you for reviewing last chapter, Kim. Thank you very much. Kind of made me nervous to upload this chapter though...