P.O.D --- Payment on Delivery
"He's rude and I don't like him."
They were woken up by knocking on the door. Schuldich roused first, blinking blearily in the direction of the entrance. Ken stirred just a few moments later but went still again as waking meant he opened his eyes to a close up of Schuldich's bare chest. They were still tangled together from the night before, and Schuldich idly wondered if Ken was going to revert back to his skittish mode as the reality set in. Ken didn't disappoint him; instead of recoiling, he pushed himself up and looked down at Schuldich. Schuldich couldn't read all of the emotions in his eyes but that was all right; regret wasn't among them and that meant he didn't have to start over from square one.
"Morning," Ken said.
"Yo," Schuldich answered, and knocking came at the door again. Ken started to push himself up to his feet but stopped, wincing as the soreness set in. Schuldich smirked, getting to his feet. He pat Ken's head as he passed, digging his sleeping pants out of the basket he'd brought along to Ken's apartment, and tossed the other his bathrobe. "Don't strain yourself," he told Ken. "I can get it."
"Is it supposed to hurt?" Ken asked through gritted teeth.
"Think again about what we did last night and answer the question for yourself," Schuldich told him, padding down the hall towards the door. He opened it up, propping himself against the doorframe. He expected Farfarello or Ran, or maybe even Tot. He didn't expect to see two scrawny teenage kids standing there with bags slung over their backs. His first thought was that they were trying to sell something for a local school's fundraising. They looked just as startled and confused to see him as he was them, and Schuldich arched an eyebrow at them.
"Uhh…" They looked at the number on the door. "We're looking for Hidaka Ken."
"Hm." Schuldich shut the door in their faces and went back down the hall. "There are some pipsqueaks out there asking for you by name. I think they're solicitors."
The knocking came again, and Schuldich did an about face and went back to the door. He pulled it open and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Umm… Have you lived in this apartment long?" the light haired one asked. "We were told our friend lived here."
"Omi?" a startled voice called from down the hall, and Schuldich rolled his eyes and stepped aside, feeling like gagging at the joy that lit up the child's face. The pair toed off their shoes and rushed past, careful not to brush Schuldich as they went, and he shut the door in their wake and followed after them. Ken had gotten his robe on but was still sitting on the floor. The light haired boy was buried against him in a hug while the darker one looked on, and Ken's smile was amazed.
"You'd told us you had Sundays off," the dark one explained. "We thought we'd come see how you were doing."
The light haired one leaned back to fix a worried look on Ken. "You'd said you didn't want people coming, but…"
"No, no," Ken assured him. "It's so good to see you guys again. It's been so long."
"Your kids?" Schuldich asked, and Ken just arched an eyebrow at him.
"This is Tsukiyono Omi and Naoe Nagi," Ken said, and they inclined their heads to the German. "We grew up together." He untangled one arm from Omi to gesture to Schuldich. "This is Schuldich. He's staying with me for a while."
"You're a friend of Ken's?" Omi asked. "Are you a coworker?"
"I'm his cousin," Schuldich drawled. "Second cousin, twice removed."
"Ha, ha," Ken muttered, and turned back to his friends. "So how have you two been, huh? Graduation's almost here, so I guess you've been really busy. You ready to finally get out of school?"
"Oh, it's horrible!" Omi sent back, grimacing. "I didn't realize how much work there would be. Half the time Nagi and I are so tired that we don't know up from down and it's a wonder we don't sleep through all of our classes."
"As opposed to just half of them," Nagi added, and Omi grinned and squeezed Ken's hands.
"The entrance examination was a nightmare," he told Ken. "There were crying kids everywhere- in the bathroom, in the classroom, out back… Everyone was so worried about it; the stress was finally making them snap. Nagi and I just hid somewhere and tried not to think about it, and ended up drinking at one of the karaoke places down the street when it was over so we couldn't keep ourselves up all night worrying about it." He shook his head. "But guess what, Ken!!" He exchanged a big, bright smile with Nagi and it was the dark-haired one to announce the supposed good news.
"Fukui University has agreed to accept us if we make a certain score on our test," the youth said, and Ken's eyes went wide. "It's part of some program, helping underprivileged kids who otherwise wouldn't be able to go to school. We can get a scholarship from the government to cover part of tuition and we'll take out loans to cover the rest… If we score right, that is."
"We're going to college, Ken!" Omi said, and his eyes were almost too bright with happy tears.
Ken started laughing, sounding a bit amazed, and pulled the other boy close for a bone-crushing hug. "That's incredible! I mean- wow. You deserve it, you really do. That's fantastic."
Schuldich idly thought that Ken should have been a little resentful that the other two were being offered a chance that he'd lost, but the younger man seemed sincerely and completely happy for his friends. There went that 'bleeding heart' thing again, he supposed. "You people sound far too happy about more years of school," he decided. "I haven't had enough coffee in me this morning for all of this rainbows and fluffiness shit."
The three just looked at him- Ken in a silent reprimand and the other two in surprise that he could shrug off university so easily. "Are you kidding?" Nagi asked. "You can't go anywhere in this country without a degree."
"Er, well, you can't go into the fields we want to go in without a degree," Omi said quickly, shooting Nagi a warning glance. Nagi's gaze flicked to Ken's face and he winced. "We like computers," the lighter one continued quickly. "We want to go into programming and information systems, and it's a very competitive field, especially when you're coming from absolutely nothing and don't have money."
"What, mom and pop don't want to give you money for school?" Schuldich asked.
No one answered him immediately and the silence was awkward. Omi looked down; Ken and Nagi glanced towards each other and neither looked particularly happy. It was as if his words had managed to squash the elation they'd brought into the room with them and Schuldich wasn't sure what he'd said wrong until Ken finally answered him. "We don't have parents," he said at last, and Schuldich just blinked at him. "We grew up together at Saint Mary's orphanage in Osaka."
Schuldich just looked at him and then at the other two, surprised by this revelation. Belatedly he remembered Ken saying something about not being a pet person because too many of "the kids" had allergies to them, and something about a "Sister Keiko". Then there was Ken's reaction to Schuldich's words yesterday when he'd been trying to justify Ken's lack of concern over Kitada's death. Ken hadn't been able to sentence the theoretical murderer to jail because it would orphan his kids, and had protested that no kid should know what it was like to be that alone.
"Oh," he said at last, because he wasn't sure how else to react.
So… no soccer, no life, no college, no family.
Ken's life was looking dimmer and dimmer by the second, and Schuldich found himself wondering yet again just what he was supposed to be doing here.
"Ignore him," Ken told his friends. "Schuldich never learned tact. But anyway, you came all the way here to see me; we should definitely go do something together. Anything in particular you feel like? It'll be my treat to celebrate your good news."
Schuldich thought about pointing out that Ken didn't really have the money to spare to make such an offer when he had bills just around the corner, but decided at the last moment to keep his mouth shut. He wasn't looking forward to having two tagalongs when he had so much work to do. "We had prior engagements. How long are you two planning on sticking around?" he wanted to know.
Ken gave him a look but Nagi didn't falter. "How long are you?" he sent back.
"I'm here for a week or so and I had first claim," Schuldich returned easily, propping himself against the doorframe.
"Schuldich, can I talk to you for a sec?" Ken asked, and Omi let go of Ken's hands so the other man could stand. Ken forgot that he was sore, however, and pushed himself up faster than his body wanted to go. He swore as he collapsed from a half-crouch, and judging from the way his face was screwed up, Schuldich thought he'd probably put his hands on his aching rear if he didn't have a wide-eyed audience. "God *damn*," he ground out.
"Problem?" Schuldich asked lightly, and Ken flipped him off.
"Ken?" Omi asked, grabbing at his friend's arm. "Ken, are you all right?"
"Yeah," Ken answered, but he didn't sound too convincing. "I uh, it's just my leg. It's been bothering me this week."
"Do you still take medicine for it?" Omi asked, trying to help ease Ken into a sitting position so he could get to the limb. "Do you have any here?"
"Uh… No… It's fine, it's fine," Ken said, waving off his friend's efforts. "It was just a muscle spasm. It's fine. I just need to get to my feet and I'll be fine." Omi beckoned towards Nagi and pushed himself to his feet, but Schuldich had already started moving and neatly pushed the younger men away. He saw a flash of annoyance on the dark one's face whereas Omi just looked startled by the rudeness, but Schuldich ignored both them and Ken's exasperated "Schuldich…"
"Like I said," he said, pointing a finger at Ken. "I had prior claim."
Ken gave him a warning look that had nothing to do with his rudeness and everything to do with their so-called contract and Schuldich chose to ignore it. It wasn't very intimidating when there was a plea in those eyes, and Schuldich just gave Ken a smirk that wasn't at all reassuring as he held his hands out to Ken. "Come on," he invited.
"I can help myself up, thanks," Ken said, mouth a thin line at the look Schuldich had turned on him.
"Of course you can," Schuldich said tolerantly. "But the purpose of this week is so that you're not alone in the things you do. Don't you think you've helped yourself enough?" Ken hesitated, eyeing him and forgetting temporarily about the two behind the German. Schuldich tried to get his smirk to soften but he couldn't manage it and he instead gave his hands a little wave. "Scared I'll let go?" he asked.
"Call it a bad first impression, but you seem the type to let go right when he'd need you most," was Nagi's retort.
"Nagi," Omi chided him.
Schuldich flicked Nagi a cool look over his shoulder, amused at how right the dark haired youth was. "I thought Ken asked for a moment alone?" he said pointedly.
"We'll… be out in the hall, then," Omi said, and he caught Nagi's elbow to pull the other boy with him.
"You're being rude," Ken said as soon as the door shut, and Schuldich grinned at the scowl on his face. "These people are my friends, Schuldich. I grew up with them. Can you at least try to be nice to them, or is that not anywhere in the contract?"
"Is that what *Ken-sama* wants?" Schuldich asked, and he lowered himself to his knees in front of Ken.
"I asked you not to call me-"
Schuldich poked his hands forward, slipping them easily between the loose folds of Ken's robe, and cut off the rest of Ken's annoyed words with a hard kiss. Ken shut up immediately; there wasn't even a muffled protest. His arms came up to lace around Schuldich's shoulders and the German pushed against him to get him on his back on the sheets. It was easy to get the robe open and he amused himself with newly exposed bare skin. Ken was more responsive than he'd expected and he allowed himself a triumphant little smirk.
"So," he said. "Before we were so rudely interrupted, I think you were going to tell me something."
"Mmm?" was Ken's unintelligible response.
"I think you were going to tell me that you take back every second thought you had about having me here."
"Ha," Ken retorted. "If you're waiting for that you've got a long while to wait."
"Then I'll settle for your opinion of last night."
Ken hesitated, thinking that over, and Schuldich contented himself with nibbling his way down the younger man's throat. Ken arched up against him, hands working their way down Schuldich's bare back, and he twisted to give Schuldich better access. "Last night…" he said at last. "I didn't expect to like it," he admitted. "Not that much, anyway…"
"And now that your faith in sex has been restored?"
"Restored?" Ken sent back, almost managing to sound amused. "There was no faith to start with."
Schuldich blinked, pushing himself up to look down at Ken. "Don't tell me that it was your first," he said, and Ken met his gaze steadily and said nothing. Schuldich wasn't entirely sure what to say to that; inwardly he was cursing Crawford and everything about this assignment. He didn't do virgins. It was a rule of his. He'd fucked a few men who had never slept with their own sex again and he'd assumed Ken had fallen into that category. He hadn't stopped to consider the alternative, especially considering the younger man's age and looks.
"Does that bother you?" Ken asked, seeing the change in Schuldich's expression.
Schuldich scowled and started to push himself up. "I don't do firsts," he said. He was more annoyed than he should be but he didn't have the time to wonder why. "Choice knows that; they should have asked when your order was put in." He remembered even as he said it that he'd been the one to take the call, and it didn't help his mood.
"Was I so bad?" Ken wanted to know, looking uncertain suddenly.
Schuldich pointed a finger at him. "Virgins have no clue what they're getting into," he said.
"Well, I'm not a virgin anymore, am I?" was the impudent response. "Now if you don't mind, I need to figure out how to get to my feet before they come back in."
Schuldich watched with a frown on his face as he carefully picked himself to his feet and Ken looked down at him. "Are you that mad about it, or is it worse because they're here?" he asked, closing his robe tightly around himself. Schuldich noted the defensive little gesture and pushed himself to his feet. "They won't be staying for that long, maybe a day or two. They know I'm busy."
"I talked you into taking days off so that you'd spend them with me, not some bright-eyed punks." Ken frowned at him and Schuldich reached out to give his brown hair a tug. He offered the younger man a slow smile that was perhaps a little too cold for comfort and turned away to let the unwelcome guests in. "This is the jealousy and possessive routine. It's a bitch; I hope you enjoy it."
"Schuldich…" was the weary protest.
Schuldich opened the door and headed back into the room without a spoken invite. The others took the open door for what it was and stepped back into the apartment, toeing their shoes off a second time. Ken met them in the hallway even as Schuldich slipped past him to the bedroom, and the German made his way to the window and cracked it open. It took some rummaging to find his cigarettes and he propped himself against the wall by the window to smoke even as Ken told his friends he needed to take a quick shower. They agreed to wait and accepted his offer to make themselves comfortable, getting water from the fridge and settling down on the floor in the room. Schuldich felt their stares on him but didn't bother to return the looks, content to study the view and think irritated thoughts.
He should have guessed. He should have seen the signs.
Omi and Nagi watched carefully until the bathroom door closed behind the bright haired man. The three men had been chit chatting about easy topics as Schuldich gathered his things up for his own shower, and as soon as the water started, the two younger teenagers turned expectant looks on their friend. Ken winced as he lifted his mug to his face, trying to figure out what to say. He'd been thinking it through in the shower, wondering how to get himself out of this mess. On the one hand, he had no clue what they would think if they knew who Schuldich was, and on the other, he wasn't sure he could get away with lying to them. He was a horrible liar and he didn't know if he'd be able to get all the way through a fabricated story before the guilt would get to him and make him come clean. He'd taken a slow shower to buy himself more time and it hadn't helped at all.
"Kind of rude, isn't he?" Nagi asked. "Typical of a foreigner."
"Nagi…" Omi chided him quietly.
"It's true," Nagi argued, sipping from his own mug. "They all come here and expect us to speak their language and cater to their cultural quirks, even though by being in our country it means they should conform to our society. Keh!"
Ken arched an eyebrow at Omi, who gave a helpless shrug. "At least he can speak Japanese," Omi said in an attempt to calm the other.
"That's a shock," was Nagi's answer, and he set his mug down on the small table Ken had pulled out for them so he could point at Ken. "What is he doing here? I don't like him."
"He's just here for a week," Ken said. "There was… a mix-up of sorts. Yohji- my coworker- invited him here, thinking that there would be a place for him. Big mess and some minor complications and it seems he has nowhere else to go this week, so I let him stay."
"Sounds like he's Yohji's problem, to me."
"Yohji's got enough problems of his own right now," Ken said, giving a helpless shrug of his shoulders. "He's not so bad once you get used to him."
"Where's he from?" Omi wanted to know.
"He grew up in America and Germany, or so he said. His father works in the German embassy here in Tokyo and Schuldich… Well…" To tell or not to tell? He wasn't sure what Schuldich would say today, so he didn't know if he should warn the two ahead of time or just hope for the best. Judging by the older man's behavior earlier, he wasn't going to make this easy for Ken. Maybe they wouldn't ask. "He, ah, he makes his way around, I guess."
"What's he do?" Omi asked, genuinely curious, and Ken thought it a blessing that his cheeks didn't color at the question.
"He… Have you ever heard of Choice Enterprises?" They offered him blank looks in response and Ken felt a small surge of relief. Somewhere in his mind he was kicking himself for ducking out of an explanation but the rest of him didn't care at the moment. "Well, he works for them. I'm not sure how long he's been with them, but he seems to enjoy it and I guess that's all this matters. But how's Sister Keiko doing?"
If the other two were startled by his abrupt change in topics, neither showed it, and Omi smiled. "She's doing all right, I guess, but she has more gray hair than black these days. We wrote to you that she broke her leg last year, right? It's still bothering her, we think, but she keeps going and doesn't let it slow her. She uses a cane sometimes when it gets too bad but she refuses to let it keep her from helping out around the place. She took all of us to Shirakawa-go last month and she went right up the mountain path without letting anyone else help her." The young man's smile was fond. "She's quite the woman."
"She is," Ken agreed quietly, trying to ignore the pain in his chest at the thought of the woman that had raised him. He'd been upset when Omi had written him to say she'd broken her leg when she fell down the rain-slicked steps of a subway entrance, but in some ways, it was almost heartening. She, like he, refused to let it slow her down. Maybe she couldn't do everything these days- like he couldn't play soccer anymore- but she kept going. Kept fighting. Fifty-nine years old in just two more months and she still had the energy of a twenty year old. Ken missed her. "I need to write to her," he mused, suddenly feeling guilty over his neglect. "It's just… I never had anything to say, you know? I work at a flower shop and a restaurant; how often can I write about *that*? I didn't want her to worry about me."
"Well, I'm not entirely sure you should tell her about your live-in boyfriend," Nagi said, scooping his mug back up. "It'd probably give her a heart attack and then she'd launch into one of her 'That's a sin and God will hate you forever unless you repent, repent, repent!!!' speeches."
"Nagi," Omi hissed, cheeks coloring as he watched the way Ken's mug had frozen halfway to his mouth.
"What? You know she's a kooky old bat, never mind her good intentions."
"Nagiii," Omi said again, and the younger man spotted Ken's expression then.
"We *are* right, aren't we?" he asked, refusing to be embarrassed. Ken just stared back at him, wondering how he'd tossed that out so easily. "I mean, we pretty much decided years ago that you were more likely to find a boy than a girl. What?" he demanded when Omi elbowed him. "You said it too, and you agreed with me out in the hall a minute ago. Ken trips over himself too much to be any comfort to a girl; he needs another guy to smack some sense into him first and give him some semblance of a backbone. But not that one," he said, pointing a finger down the hall towards the bathroom. "He's rude and I don't like him."
"He's only here for a week," Ken managed to get out. His brain was stumbling over itself, trying to understand what Nagi had just said, and he stared across the table at his friend in a numb sort of shock. What could he possibly mean, that they'd suspected for years that he was gay? He wasn't gay! He was straight. Schuldich was just… Something else. Schuldich himself had said that he didn't count. Ken was straight; always had been.
"He's just passing through, then?" Nagi asked.
Ken wasn't sure whether to be mortified by their assumptions or annoyed by their appraisal that he was too much of an emotional klutz to be in a relationship. It was probably that mix of emotions that made him offer up the prim response, "That's all that we paid him for."
He took some small measure of satisfaction in watching them both choke on their drinks, but Nagi's words would bother him the rest of the day.
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