It was a very comfortable couch. It was huge and overstuffed, the kind of couch that swallows you the minute you sit down on it, covered in some soft and yielding fabric. Kiryuu Touga was lying sprawled across it, one leg dangling off and resting on the floor, the other leg slung up over the back of the couch. It was a familiar position, and one that he was utterly comfortable in.
"That was Faith and the Muse with 'The Unquiet Grave', here on 81.4, JSPR. You're listening to Shadows of the Underground, with yours truly, Tsuchiya Ruka, occupying your airwaves until such time as they pry me out of this seat with crowbars, or at least until six AM knocks on the door and tells me it's time to go home and get some damn sleep already. Which, considering that you all are listening to me right now, you've decided to postpone as well. Smart people. This really is the best time of day, isn't it?"
Not everyone decides to postpone sleep, Ruka. Touga's lips quirked in a private smile. Sometimes it's not your idea at all. Sometimes the insomnia just sneaks up and bites you on the ass. He'd tried to get some sleep, stretched out alone in the bed that always seemed far too large when he was occupying it alone. He'd given up on that idea after a few hours of tossing and turning. Ah, well; he had work to do. He usually had work to do, somehow.
"So I'm going to assume that if you're all listening to me right now, you're either one of the longtime listeners, or you've just wandered in to see what all the fuss is about. If you're one of the former, welcome back; if you're one of the latter, well, you should probably run screaming into the night now, before you get hooked. It's been a long night, and it's only getting longer."
The game system's controller was smooth and comfortable in his hands; he spent a lot of time with it. This month, the title that the game company he worked for was developing happened to be a complex and elaborate roleplaying game. It was going to be a good game, Touga mused, as soon as they managed to figure out why it was crashing half the time. Normally, by the time they got to Touga's area -- quality assurance testing -- these games had their bugs pretty much stomped out. Didn't matter; this one, like all of the games he played, would be all the better for his insomnia. Insomnia meant more time working on things.
Touga had been working for the game company since just after he got out of college; when he'd started, the development platform of choice had been one of the old 16-bit systems that everyone now remembered with such fondness. Now, four years later -- where did that time go? -- they'd moved on to bigger and better platforms. One of which was currently hooked up to his PC, ready to capture information on what caused the crashes. He never paid much attention to it. All he ever did was keep a notepad by the side of the couch while he was playing, to jot down a few lines about things that could be improved or changed. His memory handled the rest for him.
People whispered behind his back now and again, he knew -- not the people he worked with, but others. Daddy got him that job. It's all about the money. Can you believe that he could hold down a steady job? For God's sake, the man can barely remember to tie his shoes in the morning.
Touga didn't bother listening to them. He knew better; he knew the truth. No one had ever complained about the quality of his work, because he actually enjoyed his work. It was easy for him to concentrate on something he enjoyed. It was only the irritating things that tended to slip his mind.
"At any rate, my last caller suggested that I've been playing stuff that's too loud for his tastes, so it's time to haul out some of the less-played CDs. I don't remember where I picked this one up, actually. I have a vague memory of a used-record store in Tokyo, but I might be thinking of something else entirely. At any rate, here's Filter with "Take a Picture", here on Shadows of the Underground."
Saionji had said to him once, only half-jokingly, that the universe just loved Touga. He hadn't wondered why, not at the time; it had seemed to make perfect sense. Things just worked for him. He should have been flying on top of the world -- good job, good house, good friends, good hobbies.
Why was he still up at four in the morning, scowling as the game he was playing threatened to lock up?
"Awake on my airplane, awake on my airplane, my skin is bare, my skin is theirs. Awake on my airplane, awake on my airplane, my skin is bare, my skin is theirs. I feel like newborn, and I feel like a newborn, awake on my airplane. Awake on my airplane, I feel so real...."
Fuck. It was going to be one of those nights, one of those nights when Ruka's music seemed to be speaking directly to him. No matter how often he listened to Ruka's show, the music always seemed to be far too applicable. If he didn't know better, he'd accuse Ruka of doing it deliberately. Except he couldn't have told anyone why the songs hit so close to home. They just ... felt like something that should hurt, like little arrows of words in other languages aimed directly at his heart.
"Could you take my picture, 'cause I won't remember..."
Touga's English was excellent. It had resulted in him being chosen, more than once, to work with the American branch of the company he worked for, and no matter how many times that happened, someone always got their feelings offended by it. Touga didn't care; he liked America. There were no uncomfortable sets of memories associated with things there. He never had to stop and wonder why he thought he remembered something, or why he had the nagging sense that somebody was watching him, or why his skin crawled every time he saw a rose. America was a fresh slate to him, and he didn't have to cope with the little twitches of false memory.
Sometimes he wondered if he was going crazy.
Other times, he knew he already was.
"I don't believe in, I don't believe in your sanctity, your prophecy. I don't believe in, I don't believe in sanctity or hypocrisy. Can everyone agree that no one should be left alone? Can everyone agree that they should not be left alone?"
And the song was taunting him again. He knew that he was alone in the house; he didn't need the music to remind him. Dammit, he hated nights when Kyouichi wasn't home. It wasn't that he wasn't able to function without Kyouichi's support, all unflattering comments from certain other people aside; it was just that he felt so much more ... solid when he had his friend there to lean on. When they'd been twelve, everyone had smiled at them and commented lightly at how wonderful it must be to have such a close friend; by the time they were twenty, sharing a room at university and never far out of each other's sight, everyone who knew them just assumed that they were lovers. They were, of course, but that wasn't the point. That was never the point.
The point was that even when Kyouichi wasn't awake, even when he wasn't in the room, even when he wasn't saying a word, Touga always knew when he was there. Always knew when he wasn't. He hadn't met Kyouichi until he was seven; he didn't really remember what things had been like before that. And now, years later, there was no real question of Eternal Love or Perfect Devotion or hearts and flowers or any of that; there was just, quite simply, Touga and Kyouichi.
They had other lovers, of course. Both of them did. It wasn't a question of commitment. Sometimes, Touga thought that two human beings couldn't be any more committed to each other than they were. It was simply a question of things feeling right. It simply was, like an accepted fact of the universe: Touga and Kyouichi, run together, overlapping. TougaandKyouichi. Like it had always been.
"And I feel like a newborn, and I feel like a newborn kicking and screaming..."
Except sometimes he woke up in the middle of the night and it hadn't always been like that. Sometimes he woke up in the middle of the night and saw Kyouichi lying next to him in the bed and all he could think about was turning his head in the backseat of a car and seeing Saionji looking back at him, startled and wary, and knowing that he was using Saionji and not caring whether or not his friend got hurt because he wasn't really his friend but just one of his pawns...
And he always had to stop and blink, because that had never happened. Or had it? Had he just forgotten?
"Could you take my picture, 'cause I won't remember..."
When Touga was seven, he had woken up in the middle of one night with the scream caught in his throat and knew that he'd been dreaming about something. Even all these years later, he could still remember the way his heart had been pounding, the desert in his mouth, the cold sweat he hadn't been able to shake. He couldn't remember the dream itself -- something about butterflies -- so much as the feeling, during the whole dream, that he'd actually been awake and conscious through it all. That when he was awake, he was really dreaming, and the dream had been the only truth. He'd woken up feeling empty, drained, unreal. It had been the most terrifying experience of young Touga's life.
"Could you take my picture, 'cause I won't remember..."
By the time he was sixteen and dreamed of drowning in an elevator or riding in a convertible down a road that didn't go anywhere, it was almost commonplace. It was almost as if he was living someone else's life in his dreams. Or a number of someone elses. Each time, he was himself, that much was certain; but each time, that self was subtly different.
"Hey, Dad, what do you think about your son now? Hey, Dad, what do you think about your son now?"
He'd mentioned it once to his mother, when he was eleven, and dreaming of coffins and princes. He'd thought maybe everyone dreamed like that, that everyone else woke feeling that their lives were being rewritten internally while they slept. She'd looked at him warily and not commented, but he'd overheard her talking to his father later on that night about talking to the psychiatrist about increasing the dosage on Touga's medication.
He hated the drugs. His mother had first brought him to the psychiatrist when he was eight and couldn't sit still, couldn't concentrate on anything, couldn't stop fidgeting. The doctor had diagnosed him with something with a long mumble of words that basically boiled down to 'hyperactive", and placed him on medication to alleviate the symptoms; hyperactivity disorder, the doctor had patiently explained to Touga's mother, was, paradoxically, treated with stimulants. Touga hated them. They didn't do any good; they made it harder for him to sit still.
Explaining that to the psychiatrist had been nearly impossible. Touga didn't know why he couldn't concentrate on anything, couldn't stop himself from running with every impulse that crossed his mind. He just couldn't. The drugs made it harder to control himself, not easier, which made his mother worry more, and made the doctor increase the dosage, which made it harder still. When he was fifteen, he'd gritted his teeth and just stopped taking the drugs, without letting anyone else know.
And he'd gotten better. Whatever was wrong with him, it wasn't what the doctors thought it was.
"Could you take my picture, 'cause I won't remember..."
When he'd been seventeen, the dreams had stopped.
Or maybe his other self had stopped dreaming of him.
"So, yeah, that was Filter with 'Take a Picture', and yes, I know, the damn song is about two minutes longer than it needs to be. Don't blame me, folks; I didn't write it. I just play it. At any rate, it's now four-nineteen this glorious morning -- I use 'glorious' cautiously, as there aren't any windows in this cave and it could be pouring rain for all I know -- and you are listening to Shadows of the Underground. I'm your host, Tsuchiya Ruka, blah blah, you all know who the hell I am by now. Or you should, anyway."
Ruka's voice broke Touga's concentration, just a little, and he picked up the game controller again; but the game had crashed while he'd been lost in thought, and he didn't feel like getting up to reset it.
Somehow it hadn't helped when the dreams had stopped. He no longer woke up feeling like someone else was trapped in his skin, or like someone else kept changing his mind and pulling his strings. But he still caught glimpses of that feeling, from time to time. He still felt washed-out, worn-down, swept away. He still didn't feel real.
Awake on his goddamn airplane, indeed.
"I actually met this next artist, when he wandered through our happy islands a few years back. He played some of his songs for me, and we chatted a bit -- through an interpreter, of course, but we managed to get most of our thoughts across just fine. Probably since the interpreter was my housemate, who I managed to drag along for that express purpose; he's used to interpreting for me to people who speak Japanese, too. Especially when I've just woken up, and can only communicate in Primate. At any rate, this is Tory Cassis, with 'Leaning on the Stair', here on 81.4, JSPR."
His first year at university, Touga had been pretty damn happy. He and Kyouichi didn't have to think twice about sharing a room with each other; it was just taken as a given. (And if more than one person had quietly expressed gratitude for the fact that Kyouichi would be around to rein in some of Touga's more unbridled enthusiasm, well, what of it?) It had been a few moments' work upon move-in to un-bunk the two twin beds and shove them together; neither one of them had needed to ask the other for permission. The makeshift addition of two neckties used to tie the adjacent legs together had come along several days later, when Kyouichi had complained about being shoved in the hole caused by the beds slipping apart. The others on their floor had been amused, if a little uncertain about the two.
That was just the way things were. Always had been. From the time that he and Kyouichi had first touched each other, really touched each other -- well, that was simply the way things had to be. The way things always had been.
Even if sometimes he rolled over in the middle of the night and expected to see someone else's face, and he didn't know why.
"It's the strangest little moments you remember in the face of all the times that you forget. The ones you wish the most were gone are never ever gone for long, and they're certainly not finished with you yet. And you're leaning on the stair, but do you really wanna go down there?"
God damn it, he had to stop listening to Ruka at this time of night when he was already melancholy. He'd asked Ruka once how the man did it, and Ruka had just shrugged.
"I heard the sound of something being broken as the light off of the bedroom mirror shone. It didn't seem quite real, but there was something I could feel in the silence shortly after he was gone."
Touga always needed to be the one driving. He'd tried, once, to nestle into the passenger seat of his car, one night when he'd been too sleepy to drive. He'd given Kyouichi the keys. They'd had to pull over the car after two or three kilometers; Touga had been shaking and starting to panic, and he didn't know why.
It was the little things.
"Well for years it's been a sleeping kind of anger, like the patience of the power in the wall. It'll snarl, it'll grin, it just depends what you plug in -- that is, if you've got anything to plug at all. And you're leaning on the stair, but do you really wanna go down there?"
The little things. Sometimes he turned and looked at Kyouichi, and all he could think of was how to strike quickly. Sometimes he looked at Tenjou's friend Himemiya, and found the words rising to his lips: you, you are my bride, you will do what I command. Sometimes he looked at Ruka and thought, with crystal clarity, you bastard.
Sometimes he wondered who the man he saw in this dreams was.
"Something scary underneath the ground, practice to deceive. Don't you know that the final blow is when there's nothing left that you can believe?"
He shivered. It was cold in here. It was always cold in here at this time of morning. He didn't know why he didn't just go up and go to sleep.
Yes, he did.
"Some people leave the driving up to Jesus, and some will learn to use their lovers well. Some in their youth simply learn to tell the truth, and some will find there's no one they can tell."
He could remember the feeling, sometimes, of going to sleep and not knowing how he would wake, not knowing who he would be. Sand castles can only be constructed so many times before the tide washes them away. He was the oldest, out of all of them. He was the one who had been reshaped so many times that --
the name of your coffin is "obsession"
He shook his head. Where had that voice come from? Clear and distinct, like a memory, or the ghost of one. Maybe it was the drugs; maybe he should be taking them. Hearing voices was a sign; that much he knew.
the name of your coffin is "arrogance"
He'd asked what the name of his coffin had been. He remembered that much. And he hadn't gotten an answer.
"So you'd better hurry up, the family's waiting. You'd better sweep that soiled faith into the hall. Yes, you'd better shake your head, I can't believe what you just said. If you don't move soon you'll be dead, and that's all. And you're leaning on the stair, but do you really wanna go down there?"
He didn't think he wanted to know.
And dammit, why didn't he just turn the radio off?
The music faded away, to be replaced once more by Ruka's voice. There was a strange sort of calm urgency in it, as if Ruka were trying to get the words out, as if there were something horribly important he had to say. No station identification, no call sign, no comments on the show or his music or anything but his philosophy. Just the thoughts. And Touga froze. The controller slid from his hands and slipped to the floor as he closed his eyes, wondering whether he should just turn the radio off before Ruka managed to say something that would keep him up for the rest of the night thinking about it.
"Have you ever actually sat down and thought about memory? Not what you remember, but the process of how you remember. Memory is a funny thing, you know? Some things stay with you for years, and some things just slip out of your mind before you even realize it.
"I was thinking about it this afternoon. Memory. What it means to remember things. What it means to not remember things. You know how it works; you wake up in the morning from a dream, the most beautiful and perfect dream you've ever had, the kind of dream where you cling to sleep for as long as you possibly can to keep from slipping into being awake, the kind of dream that you want to remember forever and take out when you're having a bad day to remember and bring just a little bit of warmth back. You swear that you're going to remember it; you run over the details in your head over and over to fix it in your mind. And by the time you've had your first cup of coffee, all you can remember is that you dreamed, and that it was beautiful; a little while later, you don't even remember that much. You think that you've always been awake.
"And life is like that too. Things change all the time, in life. We're creatures of change, all of us. It breeds around us, follows us around, knocks on the door and nags at the windows. And when something changes, at first we're uncomfortable with it; it's not what we always knew. We resist it. We try to cling to what things were like before, and we try to make it the way it used to be, and we keep reminding ourselves about what used to be. But as time goes on, it starts to get like a dream, and before you know it, you never even realize that things weren't always like that to begin with.
"And then, every now and then, something swims out of the depths of the ocean of memory, and broadsides you when you're not even looking, and you have to sit there for ten minutes and try to figure out what the hell you're being reminded of, because it's almost like a message from the person you used to be. The person you're not anymore.
"Or maybe it's just me.
"We're all connected, you know. Not in the way that those American new age people would have it, with everything being part of the same living world, or whatever it is that they're babbling about this week. No, we're all connected because every single one of us touches other people -- when we move, when we walk, when we talk. We all influence each others' decisions, each others' changes. We all carry little bits of each other with us, and they surface in strange ways.
"I got an email the other night from someone who said that he just wanted to thank me. Totally anonymous -- a webmail account, no name, no signature. Just a few paragraphs, a bunch of words, some of them badly spelled. I won't read it to you, because they're not my words to read; they were a present to me. This person told me a little bit about his life, about his problems, and went on to say that something I'd said, by total chance, had wormed its way into his ear and sparked a few thoughts, which prompted a few more, and so on. And that's how he figured out that life might just very well be worth living after all. It was the sort of message that just floors you. It's someone saying to you: yes. You did something. You touched someone. You made a difference.
"A few months back, I was at a convention appearance -- God, I hate those things -- and ran into Yamashita Taworu, the guy who works the same shift I do, over for JKWZ. Which is a damn fine station, for the record, and if you guys ever get tired of listening to me babble, go over and listen to Yamashita-san for a while. We were hiding out in the lounge, smoking a few cigarettes, drinking some coffee. He said that sometimes he feels like he's talking to no one but himself, alone in the control room in the middle of the night, with only music to keep him company. And he said it in such a way that I knew he expected me to agree with him.
"Except I couldn't, really. I know what he's talking about -- when you're your own producer, your own sound engineer, the only one in the building, it's easy to think that you're the only human in the world. Particularly at four AM, which seems to be good at inspiring those kinds of thoughts. Except I always know that you're out there listening to me. Even when I'm not making any sense.
"Sometimes I wonder. I wonder what I know, what I think, what I'm saying. I wonder who's listening. I wonder why some of us can cope with change more easily than others. And then I remember that I'm never going to know the answers, and I just shut up and keep playing my music.
"Sometimes you can't control change. Sometimes you can't control memory. Sometimes you wind up thinking that you're not the person that you're supposed to be, that you're not the person you were yesterday morning, that you're someone new and strange and different. And you know what? You're not the person you were yesterday morning. None of us are. We all change every time we breathe; the very molecules that make up our bodies used to belong to someone else. But above all else, at the core of things, there's always one part of you that never gives up. One part of you that's always you.
"Nothing more to say, really. Except this: even if you forget the dream in the morning, it's okay. You'll always dream another one the next time you fall asleep.
"Here's October Project with a song called 'Bury My Lovely'."
The song played on in the room as Touga's breathing slipped over the edge and into sleep.
"Cover the mirror, hide in your dreams. Forget what they told you, forget what it means. A picture worth a thousand lies, the memory and the mirror; nothing but what came before, nothing but a closing door. A picture worth a thousand lies, a thousand words, a thousand eyes. Bury my lovely, hide in your room, bury my lovely, forget me soon. Forget me, forget me now, forget me not..."
"Cover the madness, cover the fear. No one will ever know you were here. A figure in the hallway light, returning like a ghost; something that was left behind, something in a child's mind. A picture worth a thousand lies, a thousand words, a thousand eyes. Bury my lovely, hide in your room, bury my lovely, forget me soon. Forget me, forget me now, forget me not. Bury my lovely, bury the lies, bury me under a thousand goodbyes..."
Maybe he'd dream. Maybe he wouldn't. But it was nice to know that even if he didn't, he'd wake up in the morning and still be who he'd been when he fell asleep.
"A shadow from another time is waiting in the night. Something happened long ago, something that will not let go. Bury my lovely, hide in your room, bury my lovely, forget me soon. Forget me, forget me now, forget me not..."
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