Hullo! If you've already read this on Mediaminer.org, my apologies. ^_^ Enjoy!
language. LOTS of language. Also angst, Schuldig POV, future citrus, and Asuka.
Yes, I consider Asuka a warning.
Disclaimer: I think I like the denial stage. Mine, alllll mine!
Archive: The Temple of Lunacy, http://lunatic.deep-ice.com .
Summary: Schuldig's POV as he copes with life after Schwarz and Estet. And then Yohji finds him, and things get interesting. Shitty summary, but the best I could come up with.
Counter fic for Karen from KanaDUH!
When I woke, I had the strangest sensation of silence.
Well, there's a novelty. Most of the time it's like being in a club with the volume set on 'Burst Eardrums' - not being able to hear yourself think is an understatement. I know humans never stop thinking, but goddammit, why do they have to do it so loud?
Eh, anyway. Like I said, when I woke there was silence. Well, comparative silence, not total silence - a quiet murmur in the back of my mind rather than a screaming cacophony. Which meant one of two things: a) I was dead, or b) there was no one around.
I opened my eyes and realised I was in a hospital. There is nothing in the world quite like a hospital. I think it was the smell that alerted me more than anything. Yeuch.
Well, there went the first theory. And since there were bound to be more people here than me, there went the second one, too.
So what the fuck. . . ?
I was jolted out of my thoughts by the emergence of a rather large nurse from . . . some adjoining room. She was humming tunelessly, bustling about and completely ignoring me. Which was probably just as well, since I was staring at her in shock realising . . . I had to strain to hear her thoughts. They should have been overwhelming me, but. . . .
Withdrawing my attention from the room, I started poking around inside my head. What I found shocked me more than anything had managed to do before in my life - I had shields. Honest-to-God fucking shields. I never have functioning shields. Crawford made sure of that, since he asked me to drop them every other minute. It wouldn't be a problem for a weaker telepath, who could whack up shields again instantly, but mine take days to build properly. I have a lot of power to contain.
But I had honest-to-God fucking shields.
How long was I out for, anyway?
"How long have I been out for?"
Ah. So strong emotion will seep through . . . most of it got blocked out, but I could still feel a slight echo of her sudden stab of shock. "Oh, you're awake!" she exclaimed.
Yeah, thanks for pointing out the obvious. Here, have a cookie. "Where am I?" I asked. Sure, I could just skim the information from the top of her thoughts, but that would mean letting down my shields and giving up my silence. I wasn't sure I quite wanted to do that, yet.
"Central Hospital in Tokyo," the nurse said, a sunny smile splitting her face in two now she'd got over her surprise. "We were beginning to think you'd never wake up! All your vital signs were good, and there was brain activity, but it was just like you decided you wanted to sleep for six months!" She laughed.
Okay, that explains the shields.
"Well now, I'll just go get the doctor, shall I?" the woman said, waddling over to the end of the bed to take the clipboard off it before shuffling to the door. She paused, her girth framed in the doorway. "Oh, and what should we call you? You've been the John Doe for all the time you've been here. No identification, see?" she smiled again.
Estet's leaders are gone, but it might have built itself up again. . . . "Johann," I told her. "Johann Ricke."
My own private joke. Translated from German-'John Doe.' Sure, to someone who knew me it wasn't that much less obvious than Schuldig, but it was better than nothing.
And anyway, it wouldn't stop Crawford finding me. . . .
It was just as well that the overly happy nurse had left, because I suddenly realised that I couldn't feel Schwarz any more. Crawford had insisted I set up a link between all of them, so that I could let them communicate with each other through me, and so that I would always know where they were and what was happening to them.
And the links were gone.
All of them.
Which meant. . . .
"Ah, Mr Ricke!"
The doctor's voice jarred me out of my thoughts, but the conclusion ate at me. No links. I didn't remove them. I couldn't remove them. No links. Only one other thing could have cut it off. . . .
"And how are you feeling, hmm?"
How the fuck do you think I'm feeling?!
They're dead. All of them.
They're gone. They haven't survived the fall into the sea.
It scared the shit out of me.
I bullshitted my way through the examination, and was discharged from the hospital that very day. They only part of my clothing they'd been able to salvage had been my shoes, which were just too damn solid to be ripped up by whatever the hell happened to me when I was tossed around in the sea. According to the overly cheerful nurse, the rest of my clothes had been ripped all to hell, and I spared a moment to mourn for my beloved green jacket.
But clothes are just clothes, and besides, they gave me some more anyway. I expected at any moment to have a hefty hospital bill dumped in my lap, but instead I was told that I had been one of the first patients they had taken in under the new NHS legislation - or in other words, the Government paid for me. Which was just as well, since I had absolutely no fucking intention of wasting the good money I'd squirreled away over the years on a fucking hospital. I hate hospitals. Any time I had to go in one was a sign that I'd failed a mission.
I got out of there as fast as I could, and was immediately faced with the problem of what the fuck to do now. The rest of Schwarz was dead. I had no idea about the condition of Estet, although I wouldn't have placed much money on their survival.
So what was there for me to do?
Uh . . . not a whole fucking lot.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Well, this is a nice shithole of an apartment. Actually, shithole's being generous. The ceiling's stained, the toilet leaks, there's graffiti on the walls from the last owner and the furniture which so generously came with the apartment looks as though it's gonna fall apart any minute.
I flop back on the bed, wincing at the harsh squeak of the springs. The bed needs oiling.
. . . what the fuck? The bed needs oiling?
I need sleep. I'll have to go out and find a job in the morning - Schwarz is gone and Estet is dead, so I don't have anything to go back to. Not that I would voluntarily - even if it has cost me the lives of my companions for the better (or worse) half of my life, I wouldn't trade it for anything.
I grin to myself, relishing everything that comes with that. Sure, I have a shitty little apartment, but it's my shitty little apartment. Not owned by whatever clown has enough money to buy my services at the moment, both as a bodyguard and a hired killer.
I drift off to sleep, earlier depression gone. Who gives a fuck if the others are all dead? Not me. I'm alive. I'm free. I don't care at all if they're all dead. They're gone, I'm here. I'm alive, they're not.
I'm alive. . . .
And they're not.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Well, here's something I never thought I'd be doing. Heh, Schuldig the Bartender.
I smirk to myself, tipping tequila into a shot glass. This is just about the perfect job for me now - working in a bar where people come to drown their sorrows. No speech, no contact, just delivering liquor for money. I didn't even have to prod the owner to hire me, he just checked I could make the drinks, told me the rules, and left me to it.
My shields keep getting stronger. The thought has me almost bursting with pride every time I think it. My shields. I have shields. I can block out myself from everything else - I don't have to wonder any more if what I'm doing is what I want to do, or what someone else wants to do.
There is one problem, though - a simple touch has my shields crashing back down around my feet. Just the simple touch of skin on skin - I'm practising celibacy for probably the first time in my life. Funny, seeing as how casual sex used to be part of my way to keep the voices from taking me over - now I've found the opposite is far more effective. No wonder Mr Stick-Up-The-Ass Crawfish never protested about my nightly activities - the bastard knew it was helping to keep my shields low.
Thinking about them brings back a pang now. I would've thought I'd feel like this in the beginning - missing them like a constant ache that recedes if you focus on something else, but grows until it's unbearable if you can't find anything else to think of. It never goes completely.
Funny, I never thought I would miss any of them.
Eh, live and learn.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
. . . okay, Schuldig, completely distancing yourself from everyone around you was okay in the beginning when you'd had your fill of human interaction, but in hindsight it was a really fucking bad idea.
Goddammit, I'm lonely.
I work in a bar, and I'm lonely.
Okay, so I work in a bar where people come to drink themselves into a stupor, but still!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My ceiling has water stains on it.
It's also covered in cracks, lumps, and peeling wallpaper. Why someone felt the need to put wallpaper on the ceiling I don't know.
Hands tucked behind my head, I lie on the bed (ooh, that rhymed) staring up at the brown, lumpy, cracked, stained ceiling. The window doesn't shut properly, letting a draft blow through the room. Every time I move so much as a millimetre, the bed creaks or squeaks or groans at me.
Sometimes I move just to get some noise in here.
You can tell I'm bored, can't you?
TV doesn't cut it. It's stale, drab, and boring. Books are marginally better, but I've yet to find the right combination of blood, drugs, sex and violence as well as a character interesting enough to keep me reading. Internet . . . feh. That was Nagi's domain, not mine, and even if I had enough money from this job I wouldn't go there. It just . . . reminds me too much of Schwarz.
And people. . . .
When I first got out of that hospital, I made it clear to everyone I met that socialising was the last thing on my mind. They leave me alone now, which I suppose is courteous considering that it's what they thought I wanted, but leaves me bored out of my tiny little mind.
Clubs are a big no-no. You go into a club and you're automatically subjecting yourself to skin-on-skin contact, which would shoot my shields to hell and back.
Funny, I never realised just how bad I am at human interaction.
It doesn't take much to get me bored, but it takes a lot to get me lonely.
Now I'm both.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Another day at the grind. Sigh.
I pour out another order and take the cash provided - I can take the money from his hand, since I've taken to wearing gloves - and shuffle over to the register. The boss insisted my hair be pulled back when I'm working at the bar - something about getting hair in the drinks. I was feeling too apathetic to argue with him, so now I'm stuck with the ponytail. I've got a bandanna, though. It's green. Bright green. It pisses off the boss, but it doesn't go against any rules so he can't yell at me for it. Today's the first day I've worn it in - I think tomorrow there will be a new rule against it.
I'm still lonely.
I'm counting out the guy's change when the door swings open. The bar is never very full, but any newbie always sits on the creaky black stool farthest from the door. Don't ask me why - I suppose I could find out fairly easily, but I think I've made it plenty clear I'm not doing that. I don't look up, just hand back the change.
When the stool creaks, I move towards it.
"What's your poison?" I ask, taking in the hunched shoulders and dirty blond hair. Everything about this guy screams 'drinking to die'.
Then he looks up, and I get the shock of my life.
He's not wearing his sunglasses for once, so I get treated to the unobstructed view of his pretty green eyes widening as he recognises me.
Out of the corner of my eye I see my boss's head turn, intrigued. I guess in this sort of place he would be wary of anyone he hired who didn't say much about himself and apparently gave the wrong name.
Feh. Screw that.
"Sorry, I think you have the wrong person," I tell him, praying (Farfie would kill me for that) that he plays along. "My name's Johann."
Kudou stares at me, so I take the opportunity to stare back at him. He's a fucking mess - his hair looks like it hasn't been washed in weeks, there are bags under his eyes, and his face is thinner than I remember. I don't need telepathy to read the defeat rolling off him.
I remember my role suddenly, and slip back into it. "What d'you want to drink?" I ask him.
Kudou shakes himself a bit, mouthing 'Johann' under his breath. "Whiskey," he says after a moment. "A whole bottle."
I lean casually on the edge of the bar. "You sure? It'll cost you."
Kudou just looks at me. I shrug and go to get his bottle. Looks like he's turning into a hardcore alcoholic - I'll give him something that burns a bit more than the usual crap. Hell, he's paying, not me.
I set down a shot glass and the bottle in front of him, and turn to leave.
Suddenly, Kudou's hand shoots out and clamps on my wrist. I clench my teeth, grateful for the gloves and the long sleeves. I see my boss watching us carefully from the corner; he's seen what's happened before when someone's touched me. I got a reputation. He's just waiting to break up the fight.
I turn, trying not to shudder as even with the thin layer of cotton between us I can still feel some of Kudou's apathy, despair and the more recent shock filtering through.
"Would you mind letting go of me, please," I say through gritted teeth.
Surprisingly, he does, and wordlessly points at the bottle.
I glance at it. Yeah, I didn't break the seal. Call it a peace overture if you like - I just don't want to have him wary of me poisoning him. Gimme a break, I'm trying the legal route for once.
"You look like the paranoid type," I tell him, and walk away.
I can feel him staring after me in surprise, but he says nothing. He sure doesn't talk as much as he used to.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He leaves just as the bar closes, having not said a word to me the entire night. I half-expect to find him outside, but no. Nothing.
I'm kinda disappointed, actually. And I don't know why.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He comes back the next night, and the next, and the next. He always asks for the same thing, never says my name - either Schuldig or Johann - and never tries to question me about everything I thought he would.
I start to relax after a while, welcoming the sight of him coming in at eight in the evening and start drinking solidly to the wee hours of the morning. It might not be good for his health, but after a while it's become almost comforting, to have him there.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There's still some part of me that doesn't believe it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
About a week after he first appeared at my workplace, Kudou gets up and walks out of the door, same as usual. When the bar closes in the wee hours of the morning and I finally get to leave after tossing out the last of the drunks and mopping up spillages (funny, he never spilled anything), he's waiting. "Schuldig," he says by way of greeting.
"Johann," I correct him. "What do you want, Kudou?"
He stares at me. "What the fuck do you think?"
I can't help it. All the tension of our first encounters springs to the forefront of my mind, and. . . . He stayed in the bar all night, which for some stupid reason relaxed me before, and now he's bringing back all my previous unease and acting like I'm the one avoiding the question. "I don't know what I think," I snap. "I don't know what you think. I don't know what anyone else thinks. And I really don't give a fuck any more, so is there a point to this conversation or can I go home?"
"What happened to. . . ." he waves his arm expansively. "You know. Estet. Schwarz."
I snort. "You'd know more about that than I would. About all I know is that there is no more Schwarz."
He peers at me suspiciously. "What the hell do you mean by that?"
God, I don't feel like an interrogation. I ignore him, turning my back and walking towards the rickety little shithole I like to call home.
He follows me, walking swiftly past me and stopping dead in front so that I have to stop if I don't want to either crash into him - and risk skin on skin contact - or walk out into the passing traffic. It's club area, so even though it's either very early or very late (depending on how you look at it) there's still a lot of cars about, being driven by very drunk and stupid people.
He gives me a serious look, which makes him seem all of twelve. His face was made for that infuriating 'I know you want me' smirk.
Come to think of it, so was mine.
"What. Do. You. Mean. By. That," he says, as though speaking to an idiot.
I glare at him, and manage to squeeze by without touching him.
He starts following me again. "I'm not leaving until you tell me," he says. I ignore him.
But he does follow me. All the way into the apartment building, right up to the fourth floor, right to the door of my little shithole. Key in the lock, I turn to him and say pointedly, "Aren't you going home?"
Kudou gives me the serious look again. Funny, this time doesn't make him look so young - now it's more quietly determined. Nagi had that one sometimes. "I said I wasn't leaving until you told me what you meant," he says.
Oh, for fuck's sake. . . . "Look, Kudou, I've been on my feet for the whole bloody night," I tell him. "What I want right now is to have the sanctity of my little shithole just to myself. What I do not want is you bugging me."
"I don't give a fuck what you want," he growls at me.
Okay, should've seen that one coming.
I shrug, and open the door. "Suit yourself, then." I walk in, yanking my hair out of that irritating ponytail. I hear him enter after me, and continue with my nightly ritual, ignoring him. First my coat comes off, then my gloves. Sighing and rubbing my hands from where they were encased in hot leather all night, I make my way to what passes as a kitchen in this place - a couple of counters by a wall with a microwave and a fridge. Not exactly something stellar, but at least I can make instant coffee. I used to hate coffee. It stank. Now look at me.
Kudou says nothing, just watches me as I grab a mug, tip in some cold water and coffee granules, then bung it in the microwave.
Okay, okay, so that's not exactly the best way to make coffee. So sue me, I have no money.
"Want some?" I say, back to him as I open the door as the microwave beeps. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what prompted me to ask him if he wanted any, but done is done.
"No, thank you," he says, impatience in his voice.
Fuck you. Don't get pissy at me in my own shithole.
I turn around, taking a gulp from the mug and trying not to look as though it didn't just burn off half my tongue. I think I'm failing.
Kudou's suddenly in front of me, glaring down on me as though I committed a crime.
. . .
Okay, scratch that, as though I've really pissed him off.
"Stop playing around, Schuldig," he growls out. "What the hell did you mean?"
I put the mug down and stand up straighter, glaring at him in return. "I mean it's none of your fucking business," I snarl at him. I try to move away from him - he's too close for comfort - and as I do so, he grabs my arm.
Except his hand slips along my sleeve until he's clutching my bare fingers.
The force of his mind hits me like a freight train. Dimly I hear myself cry out, but now-
anger hate anger despair depression Asuka anger Schuldig lies hate hate hate anger depression Neu Asuka love hate Schuldig anger anger anger
I pass out.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When I wake again, I find myself on my couch, my ratty old blanket covering me and I know Kudou's sitting on the floor opposite me, waiting for me to wake. I can feel him, feel his confusion, his slow-burning anger nothing more than a few cinders, feel the residual effects of drink and depression in his mind.
Okay, I had no idea he was that depressed.
But for fuck's sake . . . dammit, I have hardly any shields any more. I wince as thoughts from all those around me filter through into my mind.
"Thanks a whole fucking lot, Kudou," I say flatly.
I think I startled him . . . heh, what am I saying, I know I startled him. I can feel it.
He's hovering over me, not wanting to touch me in case I spaz out again. I force him to move away by sitting up, swinging my legs off the bed. I cradle my head in my hands, fingers digging into my skull in the hopes that maybe it can shut out the noise.
. . . he's lying to me, I know he is, he's been seeing her. . . .
. . . stupid bitch, won't give me a moment's peace. . . .
. . . rent's due in a week, what do I do? . . .
"Get out of my head," I whisper.
"What was that?"
I'm feeling malicious . . . if he doesn't understand what I mean, I'll make him. "You knocked my shields down, moron," I tell him. "Congratulations, you've now made me about as fucking miserable as I can possibly be."
I can feel more confusion seeping off him. It's almost tangible.
I sigh, lift my head and glare at him. "A normal telepath can whack up shields to keep out everyone's thoughts in a moment," I tell him. "But me? No. It's the difference between building a wall around this room and a wall around China. It took me six fucking months to get my shields just started, but any skin on skin contact knocks them straight back down again. Excuse me, Kudou, but as fascinating as your mind is, I prefer being able to hear my own thoughts." I turn away from him, determined to ignore him as I start fighting back the voices in my head. I still have some slight remnant of my shields left, so I focus on them, forcing them to build and bulge and make a barrier, however thin, between me and everyone else. It hurts to force my mind to do this, and sweat breaks out on my forehead. But any slight barrier between me and the world is better than nothing.
When I've finished my slap-dash job of cutting myself off again, I open my eyes to find Kudou still there, staring at me. I open my mouth to ask why the fuck's he's still here, but shut it again. Heh, stupid. I already know the answer. He wants to leave, but he said he wasn't going until he got answers, and some misguided sense of stupidity is making him stick to it.
I just want to be left alone.
I sigh, leaning forward and rubbing the tension creases between my brows. "Crawford, Farfarello, and Nagi are dead," I tell him flatly. "I don't know how they died, or when. They were dead when I woke up after being in a coma for six months. I know because I had a permanent mental link to each of them - I couldn't sever it if I wanted to, which means they definitely couldn't. The only way it would have been cut was if their minds had ceased to exist, which means they died. It's just me, that's all that's left. I've been hiding from Estet ever since I woke up, and trying to make my head my own again. Happy now?"
He doesn't say anything, but out of the corner of my eye I see him get up slowly, making his way to the door. The front door shuts with a click as he leaves, and suddenly I want to shout, to yell at him to come back even if he did knock my shields down, even if he never liked me, even if he made me remember that the people I was closest to calling friends are gone, just so I won't be alone any more.
Silence echoes in the apartment.
[End Part 1]