Riding
Schuldig. Graphic. Confusing. Sorry. M/M, M/F. The concept might be overdone, but that doesn't mean I can't write at least one.

There are days he forgets to take a sip of water before he puts pills on his tongue. Spit mixes with chemicals, puckering his mouth in automatic lemon-sour instinct. Soda or juice would mask the taste; a glass of anything would provide enough insulation, but sometimes Schuldig forgets.

Instead of narcotics, Schuldig prefers to fish through subways for his remedy. The station is cold. Schuldig's jacket is snug around his torso. There's a warm ball of fur where his heart should be, broodingly smug, but Schuldig can still feel his body heat leaking out through his black Armani pants.

Another glut of passengers spills out from the doors. The rush of their arrival caresses Schuldig's face; static from a dozen brains, electrical impulses that fade and die five seconds later, forgotten. They press around him. One jostles his shoulder, eyes-down, politely rude in the paradox of Japanese commuters, and Schuldig blinks as he remembers he has a physical body that can be touched.

Neat black characters hang slashed on signs above the exits. They declare the stops in Japanese and English. Multilingual xenophobia, helpful post-up explanations for which side of the stairs is appropriate to descend on. The mob that shoves around Schuldig is uniformed in three-piece suits and impassive faces, even while their minds crank forward at full steam.

Schuldig doesn't look up to see where he is. He hasn't since five trains ago.

He's riding the Yokohama Line. He's riding Keihin-Touhoku. As his knees lock stiff from immobility and belled announcements ring, Schuldig travels across Japan, stowaway to infinite destinations.

- - - -

When given the comparisons of flashier kinetics, telepathy rates low on the hazard charts. But when weeks in stifled cities have worn Schuldig down, and assignments to trawl suspect after suspect have left his brain wrung out like a wet rag, that's when the German's powers finally take their toll.

Telepathy is a gift that goes deeper than simple listening. The presence of crowds can stifle on more levels than one. Their impulses skip to his body, crank up the dials of adrenaline with their own homemade desires. His thoughts groan like an overweighed ship in a hurricane. So many needs, so many instincts, and Schuldig's body does not know if it should fight, flee, or fuck. Or all three.

He's been admitted twice for medical diagnosis when the strain completely overthrew his biorhythms, causing him to vomit for weeks at the slightest whiff of food. Inevitably, the nervous jittering of other minds invade past his ability to block them. Sensory overload, that's all it is--nothing pretty about it, nothing medically respectable. Stress. Cutting his life expectancy short by seconds pared off his body, just like a five o'clock shadow razored off his chin. Whiskers over the bathroom sink, that's Schuldig's lifespan. His chances of heart attack must be astronomical.

Schuldig's feet tap spasmodically as he sits through breakfasts he can only pick at, attention gnat-flickering. Crawford glares at him over the thin rims of his glasses. Farfarello hisses. Even Nagi pauses in his meal, chopsticks poised over the rice bowl.

Schuldig loves their combined annoyance even while he feels his wits shuddering.

When he takes too much aspirin, Schuldig only ends up with his throat being opened in sprays of acid over the toilet bowl, head still clogged with sheep-bleats of noise. No matter how far up the medicinal ladder he goes, eventually the side effects make him balk. Natural remedies do nothing. Herbal teas, ground spices--useless, all of them, every time.

Painkillers, muscle-relaxants. Sleeping pills. Medication that slows the neurons in his brain similarly kills Schuldig's other mental functions, and dullness is not tolerated by his superiors. None of the chemicals last long enough. None can compare to crashing out his own power.

When his brain is overcharged, humming electric, Schuldig can't hear himself. He's lost in the tides of others, buoyed along like so much driftwood. Reckless, the German rides sensation highs brought on from overstraining his talent, diving into mind after mind in a rollercoaster waltz of stimuli until he not only cannot distinguish his thoughts from another's, but no longer cares to try. He licks each drop of cognizance out of every passing skull, and his mouth is full of lazy satisfaction to their faces.

It's still not enough.

He listens more. He listens longer. All the noise in Schuldig's brain tangles together. Until finally--like rows of Christmas tree lightbulbs when the circuits overflow--the lights all explode and go out.

The oblivion is brief. For a short time, Schuldig sleeps dreamless, his mind trying to heal from a self-induced deafening.

Blissful. Unaware of the world and its million, million minds.

There are drawbacks to this method. Schuldig ends up at other apartments. He answers to the wrong name. He keeps a business card to remind him of bare-basic facts, a plastic-sleeved chit where an identification card should rest, listing his apartment block so he can work his way back home. Every time Schwarz moves, Schuldig dutifully writes down their new location, pretending ignorance of his own hands in order to excuse the security risk.

That's a dependency Schuldig never admits if he can help it. His sanity is block-printed in blue pen.

- - - -

September is no different than April. Autumn nights come and go. Missions click, each more boring than the last. Schuldig steeps his brain in client after client, feeling the sludge-thick rivers of their thoughts devour him whole, and then handling the cleanup afterwards.

Everything is present-tense for Schuldig; immediate, and nasty about it. Memory, after all, is only neurological impulse, perceived experience, which means that Schuldig has whored his own past out as indiscriminately as a wild bitch in heat. He mixes himself with random businessmen. Present-day is a combination of vicarious anecdotes, passed on by unfocused pedestrians.

He remembers more than actually happened. Sometimes Schuldig recalls his life clearly, and studies his hands when he does, examining the small nicks on the knuckles and walking through identification of every mark. Most of the time, he doesn't bother. It's useless to segregate his mind from his surroundings. As a telepath, Schuldig should always be ready to dip into others' thoughts, and so the German lets himself slip back into the purgatory of nameless subway stations.

The trains moan when they pass each other on the tracks, inches from Schuldig's nose; he does not flinch, not once.

Going home during his bad spells would be tolerated. Schwartz has its vices and they are tolerable to a point; obsessive order of the Oracle, the straightjackets to suspend Farfarello like a hock of writhing meat. Nagi's inanimate computer. Everyone has their own addictions. With the way that Schuldig acts on his stable days, no one would be surprised if he threw things around his room and howled with pent-up energy, victim to himself.

Which is precisely why he always goes elsewhere.

Shinjuku is as carefully filthy as the cardboard huts of Tokyo's homeless. Clean faces bob among the plastic-wrapped pornography. Schuldig visits bar after bar, abandoning his mind to the routine tawdriness of overworked salarymen. Wading past alleys and the love hotels, breathing in air that is too cold to smell of anything but stall vendors and moist meat-rolls--Schuldig listens to it all, trudging through the intersections. He swallows thirsty gulps, mind parched for a distraction. He picks through the night's offerings like so much wharf trash.

The office manager who fantasizes prepubescent breasts as he sweats away with his secretary. She had asked for a Christmas bonus and the extra vacation to spend it on. Not to mention the extra pantyhose; the last pair had that inconvenient run right on the inner thigh, and she'd had to mince the entire way home, rubbing her legs together to conceal the tear--

The overloud biker who thought spiking his hair was the penultimate rebellion. He had only returned home this time because it hadn't been worth the minimal effort of convincing the girl he'd found in Club Roppo-Roppo that she wanted to give up the warmth of her prim and hallowed bed to a stranger's intrusion. She'd been clingy; otherwise he wouldn't have cared, but for the fact that the morning after would have been too drippy even for melodrama. Also, he wouldn't be able to sleep in late. Aki and Koko would be waiting come tomorrow night and--

The company president who should have ended up in one of the bars and his adultery better suited to a faceless alleyway where the single-shot posters were flaking off the bricks, advertising better and better sex shows just around the corner if you had the right amount of spare change. Instead the hotel room cost--

Schuldig struggles out of the morass of cheap Lite tobacco; the flare of a lighter blinds him temporarily before he reminds himself he isn't the one smoking. He isn't the one with the taste of soy sauce on his tongue from leftover sashimi, and he isn't the one who's lost his way home.

- - - -

Lights flare.

Schuldig blinks.

He's standing in the subway again with his hands in his pockets, rocking faintly from pulses of air pressure. Trains rush in and out of the station; the express lines do not even stop, barreling along to their destinies of dropping some people off and running over others. The suicide rate in Japan is going up, so one newspaper claims. Death by transit.

Occasionally, people jostle him. Schuldig does not exist in their world; he is nothing, he is no one, automatically phasing himself out of their minds and leaving only blank impressions behind.

The trains roll back their doors. A teenager exits three carriages down from where Schuldig waits, entrenched in his game of pretending to be nothing. The German watches her step off in a gaggle of her friends, hemline of her waist-folded sailor skirt waving hellos to every voyeur. Pigtails bouncing, a contrast to the bowl-rounded haircuts of her companions. Like so many other high-schoolers, she escapes the regulation length of her clothes by rolling them up at the band. She pauses to do so again at the stairwell, frowning to herself when she thinks no one else can see.

Instead of coy flirtation, this girl's inner cynicism has nothing to do with how she looks.

There, he thinks to himself, to the hemorrhaging creature that is his mind. He thinks he recognizes the tang of satisfaction as his own, but isn't positive. You.

- - - -

--r name is Ritsuko. The last gulp of her Ramune soda makes her hiccup, and she rattles the glass marble around the neck of the bottle before dumping it in the nearest recyclables bin.

Home is an expedition drunk.

Schuldig's head swims with girl-impressions, like candies held first on the tongue and then savored later; gathered between cheek and gum, numbing the spot where they were imprisoned. Melting into flavor again when they were recovered, and sucked.

Ritsuko had walked away from her high-school gigglers without looking back. Schuldig did too, movements jerky as he puppeted himself onto the train she'd just left. He travels back to his apartment with his eyes closed, feeling the thread of her internal monologue bump against him like dolphins, or river-otters, or businessmen on trains. Swaying. One hand on the overhead safety ring, the other coming up eventually to join it, so that Schuldig hangs suspended like a saint.

He listens to her the entire ride home.

When he navigates successfully to the right address, Schuldig fumbles the key in the lock, dropping it as he unconsciously mimics the gestures being performed six cities over. The lights are off, so Schuldig bumps repeatedly into the walls, reeling forward in a wan desire for his own bed to collapse upon. In his delirium, the German walks into the bathroom before he realizes his mistake, and then winds up at the linen closet twice before he can pinpoint his destination correctly.

His window is overflooded by the moon. In contrast to the blackness of the hallway, Schuldig's room looks like it's on fire.

It's still not enough.

Stumbling over to the curtains, Schuldig yanks them back. His laughter bubbles, spilling out like liquid silver, branding everything it touches. Outside are the stars of a dozen blinking neon lights. Molten advertisements dance, mixing Japanese with English with errant French, and car lights wink by as drivers muddle their way home.

So much brilliance. Too much--but still not enough, not yet. The roads pulse with drivers, preoccupied with turn signals and the brake pedal. Schuldig can catch all their minds if he holds his hands out just wide enough. He can take them all, touch a hundred lives, string them all together and watch the chaos unfold.

A horn begins to wail outside. The glass of the window is cold against Schuldig's face. Then the German's body revolts in a sudden spasm that tears the strength out of his muscles; he's down on his knees without realizing it, gorge rising, throat spasming. Doubled over. Schuldig's breath is sand in his mouth as he pants against the floor. His face is getting rug-burn from the carpet.

Somewhere, a door opens.

"Stop it," in his ears becomes blurred with yes, here's fine, male tenor tripping into female dulcet. Across town, the girl has met her hotel rendezvous; she's trying to be as permissive as possible, but already she's impatient with her date. He's such a boor. "Now."

The speaker is somewhere across the room, melding into a background that whirls in transparent traffic-lights and sidewalks. Schuldig tries to pinpoint his visitor, and realizes that he's only staring dully at an inanimate chair. The realization causes him to laugh all over again, a noise that's acid-flecked, dying.

It sounds hysterical, even in his condition.

"You are giving everyone else in the house a headache."

The voice is disapproving. Hands seize his shoulders. The added contact ignites Schuldig's brain past its ability to translate stimuli and suddenly his world cracks open, illuminating itself in three layers of motion. Two moons, five beds, one hundred streetlights, three thousand cars. He is she and they are wrestling with her hair as she is trying to take it down, all the while as the boy pulls off her shirt. Schuldig tosses his chin back, shakes his head as the girl succeeds in yanking off the elastic. Her ponytail spins free to brush against the German's back.

And she'd been debating if she should actually sleep with him yet or not, but he did promise he was hooked on her, and even if she hadn't already been so callous so young she might have considered it. The holidays are coming up and she wants him if only for the New Year, when last time she'd had to attend all the parties alone, and aren't his hands a little hasty? Mariko would want to hear all the details from her later so she should probably start trying to remember them now. Let's see, his hair was just long enough to put my fingers into, but not enough to get a grip on--and his breath smells like his cigarettes, ew.

No. His breath doesn't smell like smoke, it smells like dinner. Easy to tell the difference when he's griping--panting--in your face. Crawford thinks that smoking was a disgusting habit so long as Schuldig is involved, which makes the German light up twice as frequently now.

Crawford? His name is Hisatsu.

Trademark smirk dissolving under adolescent joys; absence of a guilty life coming alive slowly in the lines of his body. Schuldig feels himself abandon his own brain and his pain with it, willingly immersing himself in another's juvenile life. His laughter is careless.

"Must you always insist on being forcibly silenced?"

So's his gasp when the ground disappears and his back strikes something that gives in an orchestra of squeaking springs. She'll have to remember where her bra had landed when Hisatsu threw it aside, the garment having given offense by how the hooks had frustrated his fingers.

That's a shame--she likes that one. Hopefully it isn't torn.

Hopefully he still has buttons. Someone's angry or maybe they're eager, or maybe he's cold because he doesn't seem to have a shirt on and then someone's trying to grind her nipple in his teeth in a confused idea of foreplay and she's busy trying to get his mouth away from it as politely as she can under the circumstances. Shit.

She thinks that maybe she should have gone to see a movie instead.

The act itself, when it comes down to it, is only a technicality. When he opens awareness to a pair of eyes, Schuldig sees red hair spilling out like bloody lace, attached to the head of a pale doll where it rocks limp upon its neck. He observes his own face from another's vision. Breaks himself, leaves bruises on his body with someone else's fingers. Passionless; whoever holds him does not perform out of lust, but a coolly disapproving duty.

Schuldig tries to grip the other's mind, and finds his own thoughts powerless to do anything save scatter in firework bursts.

Stiff hands clench around Schuldig's hips, cold intensity despite sweating palms. Sensation ratchets up his body, multiplied four times over. He is Hisatsu, still desperately trying to remember if he'd accidentally rolled the condom down inside-out and if that makes a difference. He is Ritsuko and biting his lip as bunched skirt-fabric grinds into the small of his back, uncomfortable already with the rhythm but distracting himself with thoughts of the latest pop CD. He is Schuldig and his leg is twisted up with his knee pinned to his chest and he is--distracting everyone in the house with your little problems. Again.

Confusion makes time jump from gropings to penetration. One minute passed is one minute Schuldig's lost, dragged along on another person's timetable. It probably hadn't been very important.

Schuldig tries to lift his head to understand where he's ended up, and finds himself with his spine arching back instead, eyes slamming closed as he fucks himself and forgets himself and hisses out his own name. There's a hand where there shouldn't be, a fingernail creasing a tense line inside his body, knuckles pumping. Back and forth; Schuldig's throat closes itself around a choked breath as he fails in remembering what's happening to whom. Again. Again.

The express line of subway cars screams by.

His body shudders. One ankle snaps against the bedframe in a hard crack of convulsion, and the pain blends in multicolored sparks. Across city districts, a girl is listening to the round-mouth gasp of the boy above her, the inner muscles of her body fluttering tight clenches in a quaint poetry that avoids the ludicrous face Hisatsu makes in the midst of orgasm.

Subway lights spin. Metal rattles; between the chuckles of sex, Schuldig can hear the digitized voice of the conductor counting off station after station.

Shinanomachi. Yotsuya. Ichigaya. Iidabashi.

Please watch your step when disembarking.

The noise gets louder. Systematic thump of train engines jam hollow stoppers in Schuldig's ears, plunging him underwater, surrounded by bass heartbeats. Hot mouths burn his skin, or maybe he's only taking a shower two blocks over, or maybe he's actually set himself on fire after falling asleep in bed smoking Crawford-hated cigarettes. They're all true at once. He's everywhere.

The smell of fading cologne wakes him up the next morning. When he smirks to say hello to the person sleeping on the other side of the bed, Schuldig finally remembers to let go of the ticket stub crumpled in the tight wad of his palm.