P.O.D --- Payment on Delivery
"Insert smart ass remark here."
Schuldich was almost back to Ken's place when he got a call from Crawford, and he was happy to tell the man what an excellent job he'd done. Crawford listened to it in silence and Schuldich propped himself against Ken's apartment building, continuing on in his explanation. "The week is looking good," he said. "Ran got the card approved in Takatori's name and he'll open a new one tomorrow for Tsuchiya Bank. I took the paperwork for an Aeon credit card out of Jusco the other day, and I bet you anything the credit limit will be through the roof considering what it's supposedly going to be used for. Takatori's going to need all the help he can get to put tonight's mess back in order and the banks are going to love to be the ones that get to help him. They won't stop to wonder why Takatori needs an outside bank's help."
"Yes, well, continue to be pleased with yourself tonight," Crawford said. "Farfarello bought a favor from us and you're not going to like it."
"There's a lot I'm not liking about him right now," Schuldich sent back.
"So I've heard from Ran, and I want an explanation."
"It's really too long to get into right now," Schuldich answered, "but if you can turn up anything on Kudou or Hidaka, then you won't really need an explanation from me. Trust me that it's vital we find out just what they're doing in the middle of all of this."
"Kudou Yohji is easy," Crawford answered. "He has a file on him because he happens to be involved with Murase Asuka."
"That means absolutely nothing to me."
"It would probably mean more to you if we called her by the name Farfarello gave her: Neu." Dead silence followed that; Schuldich stared at the street without really seeing the cars that were waiting on the light to change. "Schuldich?" Crawford pressed after a minute had gone by.
"Insert smart ass remark here," Schuldich said. "Tell me that you're joking."
"You've known me long enough by now to come to understand my sense of humor," Crawford returned.
"And lack thereof."
"I have the weight he lacks to get people of her reputation moved out of prison," Crawford explained. "He wished to take advantage of that and he paid a considerable sum to get her freed. You'll feel better about working around her when you see what's been wired into your account." Schuldich just scowled and Crawford didn't wait for a response. "He claims to need her and I don't doubt it. Takatori's not going to take what you're doing to him sitting down and there's going to be a full out war in the underground. He wants his army ready to go."
"So how much does this Kudou know about what's going on?" Schuldich wanted to know.
"That's questionable; no one's really sure. He visited Murase at least once a week the entire time she was in jail and you're there to see how he interacts with Farfarello, so you draw the conclusions."
Schuldich thought that over, trying to think of the few times he'd seen or heard Yohji and Farfarello interact. "He's on the inside," he decided at length, "but he's not inner circle and he's not part armed. He's just there as an errand boy of sorts and something to keep Neu's bed warm. And," he decided after a few moments of thinking, "he's there to baby sit Ken. What have you found for him?"
"Nothing yet," Crawford answered. "We're still working on it."
"Farfarello doesn't trust us, Crawford, don't you get it? We moved in on Ken, this little bleeding heart that he's got right under his thumb. Ken's place here was all arranged; he was being watched back in Osaka and he's being watched here, and Farfarello just moved his pieces out of Osaka to Tokyo because I'm here. I don't know what or who Ken's supposed to be but Farfarello really doesn't appreciate us butting in here."
"Farfarello will have to deal with it," was the American's smooth answer. "He's the one that decided you should stay and work for him. Now I have to go. Ami is crying. Ran wanted me to tell you that your phone is behind the vending machine on the corner by the apartment. I want to know why you demanded two new phones."
"Farfarello doesn't know about Ran," Schuldich answered easily, glancing towards the vending machine. He pushed himself away from the wall and started towards it. "Call it a back-up plan."
Crawford just sighed. "Work fast, do what he wants, and then pull out of there as fast as possible. We do not want to get caught up in this more than we have to."
"You just hope Farfarello's side wins," Schuldich sent back, "because it's really going to suck if Takatori finds out we helped him." With that he hung up and dug his new phone out from between the wall and the machine. He wiped it off on his shirt and made sure it was set to silent before digging his remaining cigarettes out of their pack and chucking them to one side. The new phone was stuffed into it and he returned the pack to its pocket. He carried the other in his hand as he let himself inside and he took the stairs up to Ken's floor.
The door was locked; it was always locked. Ken locked it whether he was home or not, very fixated on having a place that he could consider safe. The boy was odd about it, to the point that he wouldn't unlock the door when he got home until he'd first jiggled the knob to make sure it was still locked. Schuldich rolled his eyes at the memory and unlocked it with his own key.
The apartment was crowded when he stepped in; he counted four heads in the bedroom. The TV was set to a music station and the bedroom was a mess of bottles and blankets. Schuldich arched an eyebrow at it before locking the door behind himself and kicking his shoes off by the rest. Ken was sitting so that he could see the front door and he lifted one arm in a wave, smile a little lopsided.
His words stopped Schuldich in his tracks halfway to the bedroom.
"Schuldich! Welcome home!"
"Back," Nagi corrected him flatly, and Ken blinked and considered that. "Welcome *back*. He doesn't live here."
Blue eyes narrowed slightly and Schuldich looked away from them, forcing back a frown that he could feel at his face. "Starting a party?" he asked, eyeing the dishes on the small kitchen counter as an excuse to not look in the living room. Omi was hissing at Nagi to watch his words but it wasn't Nagi's words that had bothered him. He shrugged out of his suit jacket and turned towards the bedroom once more, moving forward to join the small group there.
"Yohji's friend is coming home tomorrow," Ken explained. "Here…" He looked around at his three friends as if trying to figure out where to put the German, and in the end he decided it was safest to move closer to Nagi and let Schuldich take the spot between him and Yohji.
"Ah. Many congrats," Schuldich said, not even trying to sound pleased. Yohji didn't seem to notice; he just tilted a bottle at Schuldich in a toast and proceeded to drink from it. Omi was watching him in a small sort of fascination whereas Nagi's eyes were locked on Schuldich. Ken was torn between trying to get Yohji not to drink quite so fast and talking to Schuldich.
"How did it go?"
"Better than planned," Schuldich answered, "but it's not over by a long shot." He tossed the jacket down beside his small pile of things and plucked up his pajama pants to change into them. Nagi looked away, either out of respect or a lack of interest, whereas Yohji didn't even notice. Omi wasn't sitting at the right angle to see that the German wasn't bothering to head into another room to change, and Ken… Well, Schuldich and Nagi both noticed that Ken seemed to forget about Yohji's drinking in favor of watching.
"So, Ken," Nagi started loudly, and Ken jumped and turned back to him. "What are your plans for tomorrow?"
"Uhh…" Ken looked back at Schuldich. "What are our plans for tomorrow?"
Schuldich tied the strings around his waist loosely and tossed his pants over to where his jacket was. "Do you want the PG rated answer or the R one?" he wanted to know.
At that, Ken decided to improvise. "Well, why don't we all go out to dinner together?" he suggested brightly. "You and me and Omi and Nagi and Yohji," he pointed at each as he said their name and then finished counting on his fingers, "and Asuka and Farfarello and Tot. It'll be one big party to welcome Asuka home."
Yohji hesitated between swallows and looked over at Ken. "Farfarello's not much of the socializing type," he said.
"Yes, but this is different, isn't it? You always said he and Asuka were good friends."
"He wouldn't socialize with us in public," Yohji said.
"Why not?" Schuldich asked, offering Yohji a lazy smile. "Tell him that I'll pay and we can go to the most expensive restaurant he can think of."
"A foreigner that knows generosity," Nagi muttered, and Omi pushed him with a socked foot, hissing at him to be quiet. Nagi just shrugged and Schuldich offered him a cold little smile. "I know that whatever Ken's paying you isn't enough for you to be able to afford eight of us."
"*Nagi*…" Omi looked as if he wanted to kick him.
"I'll have you know that it would take ten times as much before I ever considered fucking you, you mouthy little upstart."
"I'd pay you three times as much as that if I just never had to see you again."
Schuldich pushed himself up to his feet, moving his hand out of Ken's reach, and started over towards the basket he'd brought with him from Choice Enterprises. Yohji was looking back and forth between the two with interest whereas Ken looked like he wanted to beat their heads together. "This is a party," Ken said, exasperated. "As in, people are supposed to be *happy* party. Can't you two just leave each other alone?"
Schuldich found what he was looking for in his basket and carried it back over to the group, stopping in front of Nagi and leaning over to hold it out. He ignored Ken's words to answer Nagi's retort, giving the youth a cool look and a sharp smirk. "Poking your eyes out is one way of accomplishing that, but Choice Enterprises believes in healthy alternatives. Here. Put this on, be happy, and shut up."
Nagi just gave the blindfold a disgusted look and Ken reached out to take it out of Schuldich's hands. "What are you doing with this?"
"It's part of the deluxe package that Choice delivered you," Schuldich answered, propping his hands on his hips. Ken just gave him a blank response, not getting it. "Here," he said, kneeling in front of the other. He plucked it back out of Ken's hands and tied it around the other's face, putting the knot just snug enough to keep it from slipping. "See?"
Schuldich rolled his eyes at the impudent response and leaned forward, amused by the way Ken jumped at the sudden kiss. Yohji choked on his rum and began coughing off to the side and Schuldich could only guess at the change on Nagi's face. Ken had had enough to drink by that point to not really think twice about getting kissed by Schuldich; he seemed to have forgotten that Yohji was sitting right there. His hands came up, waving through the air for a moment before they managed to find Schuldich, and his fingers curled in the German's dark hair. It was a lazy kiss and Schuldich leaned further into Ken's space, propping his hands on either side of the other's hips. They weren't touching anywhere lower than his hair but he could feel the warmth of Ken's body against his bare chest.
He took his time before pulling back and told himself not to take so much satisfaction in the look on Ken's face. Ken's mouth was still open slightly and what little of his cheeks weren't hidden beneath the blindfold were flushed. He looked fuckable and Schuldich wished they didn't have so many guests. He wondered if he could get away with fucking him anyway.
"Mm," Ken finally said.
"Mm?" Schuldich sent back.
"I like that."
"Thought you would. I suggest you fix the hinge on your jaw before attempting to drink anymore, Kudou. It'd suck if that expensive alcohol just dribbled out that gaping hole on your face and soaked into the carpet."
"Schuldich…" Ken reached up and pushed the blindfold further back on his head. He very carefully did not look in Yohji's direction, as Yohji was still staring at them.
Ken gave him a weak scowl. "I've told you time and time again not to call me that."
"Of course you have," Schuldich answered, giving his head a little pat. He leaned forward to undo the blindfold and pressed a kiss to Ken's ear, taking advantage of the position to murmur "Stop drinking so much," in his ear. Ken gave him a questioning look when he pulled back and Schuldich just smiled.
Ken stopped drinking so much.
Yohji was the first to pass out. He had the highest tolerance of the lot but he was also chugging down an insane amount, and he ended up sprawled on the floor by the TV. Nagi was the next to go, leaving just the other three. Ken got up to use the bathroom as Omi finally started to slip away, and the light haired boy beckoned to Schuldich as he slumped against the table. The German decided to humor him and leaned closer, and the blue eyes that considered him were clear when they focused on his face.
"If you hurt him," Omi said calmly, "I will kill you. Do you understand me?"
Schuldich's first reaction would have been to laugh off such a threat from such a youthful face, but he wasn't really in a laughing mood now that he knew who the fair-haired child was. He didn't answer but Omi didn't seem to be waiting for a response, and as soon as blue eyes closed, Schuldich plucked up the blindfold and headed down the hall. He met Ken as Ken was leaving the bathroom and a hand against his chest pushed him right back into it.
He locked the door behind them.
The explosion at Tsuchiya Bank was really the only story played on the news the following day and the only thing anyone was talking about no matter where they went. The authorities said it seemed to be caused by an electrical problem and were estimating in the billions of yen in damages. Takatori's official statement was that he had no statement but there'd been a visible twitch in his cheek when the cameras were shoved in his face. The four of them- Nagi, Ken, Omi, and Schuldich- sat up and watched the news while they ate brunch. Yohji had vanished sometime before they'd woken up and Ken wasn't sure when he'd be back.
They took their showers in turns and got ready for the day, and the last one had just stepped out of the bathroom when they got a call from Yohji to say that he and Asuka were on their way back to the apartment so she could see Farfarello. He suggested that they all wait down there and while Ken wasn't sure what Farfarello would think if the four of them showed up on his doorstep, he murmured an agreement and hung up.
Omi was still getting dressed, so Ken helped himself to a glass of water and set about putting the room to rights. It only took a few minutes and the four wandered out into the hall. They had to wait for him to lock the door and he led the way downstairs to Farfarello's room. The Irishman answered just a few moments after the knock and Ken found himself shifting uneasily under his landlord's stare.
"Uh… Yohji's on his way back and he said maybe we should come here so we can meet Asuka." Farfarello's gaze slid from Ken to the two teenagers behind him and Ken turned to motion to them. "These are-"
"Whatever," Farfarello said, interrupting him, and Ken faltered as the other man turned and started away. He left the door open but Ken was hesitant to be the first to step through. The others weren't moving, though, so he gathered his courage and stepped inside. He'd warned Nagi and Omi about his landlord and they seemed to be hiding any shock over his gruesome appearance well.
"Um. These are my friends Nagi and Omi," Ken tried again, but Farfarello didn't acknowledge the words. Instead he sat down on his couch where Nanami was already sitting. The blue-haired girl was playing with a cigarette lighter and her painted lips curved into a smile when she took in the group at the doorway. She lifted one finger, pointing in their direction.
"She says that she-" she started, but Farfarello calmly pushed her hand back into her lap and she went quiet. Ken shut the door behind the last one in and they lingered by the door as Farfarello considered them. Ken supposed he should have warned the two that Nanami Hibino was a little odd but he hadn't really been expecting her to be present. Hopefully Nagi would watch his mouth around her. He was a little curious as to what she'd been going to say, though. She didn't seem at all bothered by Farfarello's interruption and instead lit herself a cigarette. She took just two drags off of it before turning it over to Farfarello and he arched an eyebrow at the group as he took it.
"My furniture doesn't bite," he said. "I haven't taught it that trick yet."
Nagi and Omi started forward, ever fearless, and managed to share the chair that was closest to Nanami's end of the couch. She offered Nagi a smile and Ken wondered at the secretive, pleased little edge to it. It was a familiar smile, not the look of one who had just introduced to someone. But then, that was probably a side effect of her personality. He didn't know; he didn't really understand what was going on in her head.
"Have you been watching the news?" she asked. "It all fell to pieces. Pretty, pretty, like stained glass going boom."
"Takatori must be furious," Nagi answered.
"He must be."
"He probably had it coming to him."
Ken glanced towards Schuldich, wondering if the German wanted to sit, but the man seemed just fine standing near the door. He was watching Nagi and Nanami through hooded eyes. Ken forced himself to look away from the other's face and decided to focus on something safe, like Farfarello's boots. Silence had settled over the room and he fished around for something to say before finally remembering what he'd said to Yohji the previous night.
"So, I was thinking… Why don't the lot of us go out to dinner tonight?" he said, looking up from Farfarello's shoes to his face. "Us and those two, you know. Give everyone a chance to meet and just hang out."
Farfarello tilted his head to one side. "One wonders how you'd be able to pay for your own meal, seeing as you've already bought a one-week whore and are in the middle of some vacation days."
Ken almost choked on the response he wanted to say to that; it took an effort to force the words back and down. It turned out he wouldn't have had the chance to answer, anyway, as Schuldich was talking. "I'm going to pay for it," the German said, giving a shrug and digging out his wallet. "Put it on the Choice Enterprise's tab, and all." He started towards Farfarello, rummaging through his cards. "Just tell me if this card is accepted in Japan."
He held it out towards Farfarello and Ken saw the cigarette come to a stop just a short distance from the Irishman's face. Farfarello reached up and took the card away from him and Nanami's eyebrows rose on her forehead. Omi and Nagi exchanged curious glances, unable to see from their spot, and Farfarello quirked an eyebrow up at Schuldich. "Do you want me to think this is authentic?"
"Do I look like a crook to you?"
"Less now than you did with orange hair," was the answer, and Farfarello held the card back out to him. Schuldich tucked it inside his wallet and Farfarello looked over at Nanami. She stared back, tilting her head to one side, and they communicated silently for a bit longer before she smiled. "She thinks it'll be fun," she decided.
Ken tried to be curious over what about the card was so special, but he couldn't feel anything except resentment towards Farfarello's callous words. Knocking at the door cut off further speculation about the strange card and Farfarello stood, moving around Schuldich to answer it. Ken just took a step further away from the door, not interested in doing his landlord any favors by opening it himself. The white-haired man caught the knob and pulled the door open, and Ken heard Yohji's content "Yo." Ken's coworker was the first in the door; he led his female companion in by the hands that were locked together.
Yohji had to let go of her to shut the door and she reached up, plucking huge sunglasses off her face so she could see Farfarello. One hand reached up to push her bangs out of her face and that's when she noticed that someone was standing just a short distance off to her side. She flicked a glance in Ken's direction, half-instinctive, half-curious, and their gazes locked.
Blue hair, blue lips, a beauty mark… And a haunting shade of liquid gold-brown eyes that was unmistakable.
Ken felt the floor drop out from under his feet. "You…"
She hesitated, then turned fully to face him, shoulders back and head tilted to one side. He remembered that there had been a time when she was taller than him, but now, she was the one looking up at him. He thought he was going to either scream or be sick at the sight of her; his stomach was shredding into a thousand pieces and there was a fierce pressure building in his chest.
"It's been a while," she said.
She said it as if they'd parted on good terms; she'd said it as if she was commenting that the weather was fine that day. She said it as if it wasn't really her standing there daring to say such things to him.
Blood, smoke, and the smell of crumbling wood.
Ken almost remembered hitting her. He almost remembered seeing her go stumbling back into Yohji, not bothering to stand her ground against a blow she apparently had expected. He almost remembered that Farfarello held his hand up at Yohji and that that was all it took to keep the other man from saying anything about him decking his former lover.
Mostly he just remembered almost tearing the door off its hinges as he pulled it open and the slap-slap-slap of his shoes against the floor as he fled.
At twenty-four years old, Schuldich figured he pretty much knew the way the world ticked. The good died young, the faithful were betrayed, and those that weren't interested in fucking others over were always fucked over themselves. Not everyone like it, but those that didn't were usually those that weren't strong enough to become something that could survive. Schuldich had been and out of enough in his life to understand this pretty well, and he generally thought that he had things under control. Yeah, this last week was way off the scale in terms of things he didn't really want in his life, but whatever. He could deal with it and then he'd move on. The target was interesting even if working with Farfarello's group made him expect a knife in his back. And Ken? Yeah. Ken was fun. He was entertaining with his belief in humanity and the greater good and he was a good lay. So overall, Schuldich supposed the week was something he could explain.
What he couldn't explain was why he was the one running after Ken, or why he'd even started running after him in the first place.
Curiosity, perhaps. Intrigue. A desire to not be left in that room full of Farfarello's inner circle. Who knew?
Maybe it was seeing those last seconds happen in slow motion in his mind, where Ken and Neu locked gazes. Seeing the blood go out of that expression, seeing a twist of hatred and revulsion in the eyes that had previously seemed incapable of such emotions… Or was it the way Nagi's jaw had tightened at the hit but the way he'd said nothing when Omi had turned a significant look on him? The way Yohji had said nothing about the blow to his lover just because Farfarello didn't want him to say anything?
The only one in that room that had been surprised by that blow had been Schuldich. A quick, startled glance around the room as Ken fled had told him that, and that had been all Schuldich had been able to recognize before he was already moving, slipping past the three at the door to chase after Ken.
He wasn't really sure how someone with a brace on his leg could move so fast. Maybe it was desperation. Either way, he caught up with Ken just as the other reached the doors, and Ken twisted out of his grip with a strangled sound and stumbled out onto the sidewalk. Schuldich jerked the doors closed behind them and caught Ken by the shoulder to sit him down on the outcropping cement of the apartment building's foundation. Ken sat hunched over with his face between his knees and his fingers clenched in his hair, and they drew stares from curious pedestrians. Schuldich offered one a dirty look when she seemed about to step forward and ask if something was wrong and the rest were happy to stay away after that.
"Hey," he said, leaning over to prod at Ken's shoulder. There was no response and he poked harder. "Hey. Ken."
There still wasn't an answer and at last Schuldich crouched in front of him. None of the others came out of the building to check on them and it was several minutes more before Ken stirred. He slowly pushed himself upright, wiping at his cheeks to smear away moisture. Teal eyes looked past Schuldich to stare up at the sky and he slouched against the side of the building with a fractured look on his face. Schuldich pushed himself up from his crouch and settled for sitting down at the other's side.
"It's so… hard sometimes…" Ken mused quietly, studying the clouds. Schuldich quirked an eyebrow at him, not understanding, and Ken lifted his hand into his line of view as if watching the way his fingers looked against the sky. "There's so much of them I don't remember, you know. It's not all forgotten, and the doctors say that nothing is forgotten forever, just repressed, but still… I used to think that I never wanted to remember."
Ken lifted one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. "My parents," he said. "Good riddance, and all." His smile was bitter. "I remember… I remember standing in the doorway looking in at my father and thinking 'Oh God, I hate you, I hate you so much, I just wish you would die'… I didn't think it was possible to hate someone so much."
Schuldich gave him a sideways look, trying to digest the words that seemed so strange coming out of bleeding-heart-Ken's mouth. "It's natural for kids to hate their parents or else they'd never leave home."
"Yeah," was Ken's answer, but he didn't sound convinced. "But one day he did what I wanted, you know? He died. They all… died…" He considered that in silence and finally lowered his hand back to his lap. "I don't… I don't really remember it. I remember that there was a fire. There was…" His expression twisted slightly as he tried to concentrate. "There was something…" His hand moved in his lap; fingers traced something that wasn't there. He lapsed back into silence and Schuldich said nothing else, waiting on him to put his thoughts in order. At last he sighed and dropped his gaze to the sidewalk. "Let's go out," he said. "Not them, just us."
Schuldich blinked, and Ken looked towards him. There was a fractured look in the back of his gaze and Schuldich had the feeling the other man wasn't really looking at him. "Just us," Ken said again.
"All right," Schuldich answered at length, deciding a real explanation was going to have to wait. He wished Crawford had been able to give him something on the brunette last night; he wished he knew just what he was getting into here.
"Good." Ken pushed himself to his feet and started down the sidewalk.
Schuldich looked from him to the door and then stood and followed after him, lengthening his stride to catch up to the shorter man. "You're not going to go back inside and tell them you're leaving?" he said, though he didn't really have a problem with that. Well, the problem was that Farfarello seemed protective and possessive of Ken in his own offhanded way. Whatever and whoever Ken was, he was important enough that Farfarello didn't trust Schuldich around him. He supposed it would be Farfarello's fault for not coming after Ken himself. Ken hadn't answered him, so Schuldich spoke again. "Apologize or anything?"
"No," Ken answered evenly. "I'm not."
Schuldich thought that over and decided he could accept this little change in Ken's personality. "Sounds good. What do you feel like doing?"
Ken gave a little snort and that half-shrug again. "This is your train," he reminded Schuldich. "I'm just riding it. I didn't set the tracks."
Schuldich laughed and caught Ken by the back of his neck, turning the other's face towards his. Ken said nothing about them being in public, nothing about them standing in the middle of the sidewalk on a workday. It made Schuldich wonder just how hard of a mental blow Ken had taken in seeing Neu- again?-and why he had cause to be so shaken by it in the first place. Schuldich was going to have to be more careful around him for a little while until he knew what was going on, but he'd worry about that in a little bit. Ken tasted good and willing, and it was a little too easy to forget the whole Farfarello mess while kissing him.
"In that case, I think I know where we can start…"
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