P.O.D --- Payment on Delivery

Four: Day One
"No, I did not sleep with him, and fuck you for asking."

    Ken had been telling the truth when he'd told Schuldich he was tired, but for as worn out as he felt, he couldn't fall asleep. It was just too weird to have someone else stretched out on the floor beside him, especially because Schuldich was sleeping so very close to him. He'd passed out at Yohji's place a few times after they'd been drinking and had woken up flopped against each other once or twice, but Schuldich was a stranger. The other man was breathing softly at his side and Ken wasn't sure if he had fallen asleep or not. He didn't want to call his name to see, half out of fear that he would wake him and half out of fear that he was indeed still awake.

    He sighed, rolling onto his left side to present his back to Schuldich, and shifted to try and get comfortable. He had just gotten settled when someone pressed against his back and he went still, wide eyes staring at the darkness ahead of him.

    "Schuldich?" he asked quietly. Maybe the man was just moving in his sleep. It was his job to go around sleeping with clients; it was most likely a subconscious movement.

    Schuldich crushed those thoughts when he spoke. "That's the sigh of a troubled mind," he said. "Someone should tell you to stop thinking when it's time to go to bed."

    "Let go of me," Ken said. "If there's not enough room over there, just tell me and I'll move."

    "There's plenty of room," Schuldich assured him, sliding an arm around his waist. "But you said you needed your sleep, and it is my job as your assigned companion to make sure you can go to work well rested tomorrow."

    "I really don't think your arm around me is going to help any," Ken said, turning his head to try and look back at the other man. His cheek brushed Schuldich's nose and he froze again as he felt Schuldich's breath ghost over his ear.

    The other man laughed at him, somehow amused by his honest answer. "Maybe not. Or maybe I'm just touching the wrong spot of you. You know, some people go run at the gym or lift weights to keep themselves from thinking. Others will do the same repetitive motions over and over, like wash dishes at the sink. Some of us, however, have a much better solution to such problems."

    "Schuldich, *please* go back to your own sleeping mat."

    "Ahhh, 'please'. The wonderful magic word. It sounds better on your lips than it probably ever will on mine. I'm not the begging sort, you know. Your friend requested someone that would work well with your personality and I can see why they sent me. You'd never get anywhere if they sent someone just like you. You're a little too uncertain and you pause a little too often. Don't worry・A few days with me and you'll be a new person."

    "I don't want to be a new person," Ken said through clenched teeth. "There's nothing wrong with me as I am."

    "Sure there is," Schuldich assured him. Ken felt the blankets shift as Schuldich kicked at them, and Ken could feel the cool air of the room against his skin. He was suddenly a little too keenly aware that he was only wearing a cotton pair of pants and that Schuldich was dressed similarly.

    "Hey, uh・quot; he started uncertainly as Schuldich's hand slid against his abdomen. "What do you think you're doing?"

    "You ask too many questions," Schuldich decided. "Just shut up for a little while."

    "I told you I didn't want you to touch me."

    "I heard you," Schuldich assured him, sliding his fingernails lightly up Ken's chest. Ken caught his hand and Schuldich shifted, twisting his hand in Ken's grip to flatten it against the blanket. Ken tried to tug it free and went still for a cold moment when he realized that he was pinned in. Schuldich was leaning on him and his own body weight kept his other arm trapped beneath him and his pillow. The German laughed quietly at him, sounding amused, and carefully moved to pin Ken's right hand down with his left arm instead, freeing his right once. Fingertips and nails skimmed down Ken's side and Ken twisted against him, mouth open to protest. "Just be quiet for a while," he insisted again. "You've had a bad day. It's my job to make the bad day a bit better."

    "This is not my idea of making a bad day better," Ken sent back, tugging again at his right hand. When that failed, he worked on his left arm.

    "If you can say that with a straight face, one wonders when the last time is that you actually had sex," Schuldich said, and Ken had the distinct feeling he was being mocked. "I'm a companion, not a rapist," Schuldich informed him. "I'm not going to fuck you unless you give me the say so. But that doesn't mean I can't touch you. It's what I was paid to do; it's why I'm here. What's holding you back? The fact that I'm a man? Who's going to know unless you tell them?"

    "*I'll* know," Ken sent back.

    "Fuu," Schuldich breathed, and Ken could hear the smirk in his voice. "Such a twitchy little child."

    "I'm not a child," Ken snapped at him. "Not liking you touching me doesn't make me a child."

    "Of course not," Schuldich assured him, and Ken settled down to glower at the shadows. Schuldich's hand started moving again and he clenched his teeth tight enough that the muscles in his jaws ached. The German laughed at him again, amused by his silence. "Good," he purred, pushing himself upright. "Now sit up." He tugged at Ken, pulling the man's back up against his chest. Two arms laced around his waist and he propped his chin on Ken's shoulder before lifting one hand to poke at Ken's face. Ken twisted his face away from the brush and he heard Schuldich give an amused snort behind him.

    "You're going to break your jaw if you keep making that face," the man told him. "Just try to relax a little."

    "If I'm the client, then why won't you just listen when I say to stop?" Ken demanded.

    "Because of the two of us, I'm the one that knows what's good for you." He slid his hands up Ken's chest, offering the younger man's shoulder a small bite. Ken gave a startled little jump and started to pull away, but Schuldich wouldn't let him get far. "Oh, just relax," the man said again, sounding a little annoyed. "I'm not going to kill you."

    "I'm straight," Ken insisted. "I have the right to not want to be felt up by another man."

    "Aren't you just the slightest bit curious?" Schuldich asked. "See, that's the beauty of Choice Enterprises. Anyone can be curious about anything. We have solutions for every walk of life, and no one has to know. You think your friend Kudou is really going to ask you if you fucked me tonight?"

    "I'll still know," Ken said again, pulling Schuldich's arms free. The man gave an aggravated sigh and didn't reach for him again, and Ken buried himself under his blankets. "Now let me go to sleep," he said. "That's all I want from you, is for you to let me go to sleep."

    "How boring," Schuldich muttered behind him.

    "I like being boring," Ken sent back, annoyed by the man's persistence. At last Schuldich settled down behind him, but it was a long time before Ken could relax enough to go to sleep.


    Yohji was waiting for them at the shop when the two men showed up the next day. Ken went straight to one of the stools and sat down, burying his face in his arms on the countertop. Yohji looked from Ken to Schuldich before approaching his friend, reaching out to touch a hesitant hand to his shoulder. "Hey," he tried quietly, and Ken sent him a Look. "You doing all right? You look a little tired."

    "No, I did not sleep with him, and fuck you for asking."

    "Er・quot; Yohji drew his hand back. "I wasn't going to ask, Ken. I know you better than that. Look, I just wanted to say sorry again." He glanced Schuldich's way once more as the German approached them, and Schuldich helped himself to the second stool and busied himself flipping through his flash cards. "I did specify that I wanted a girl."

    "You also said that we were the experts and that you'd leave it up to us," Schuldich pointed out, and Yohji grimaced.

    "It doesn't matter that they screwed up the gender," Ken said, and Schuldich arched an eyebrow at him. Ken scowled at him and Yohji both. "I mean, it does, but it still doesn't mean that you had the right to do such a thing. What were you thinking, Yohji? Did you think I'd be all excited when a stranger showed up on my doorstep?"

    "That's what I was hoping," Yohji admitted.

    "Then you don't really know me that well, do you?" Ken asked.

    Schuldich smirked, and Ken scooted his stool a little further away from where the German was perched. Yohji decided not to say anything else and instead moved to check on the plants, and Ken contented himself to sit and sulk at the counter until the first customers arrive.

    For as pushy as Schuldich had been the previous evening, the German seemed content to stay out of the way today. He moved the stool into the corner and watched for a few hours, and Yohji and Ken explained to their customers that he was an investor who was trying to decide whether or not to buy the flower shop. The girls were all too happy to help the illusion that the shop was a profitable investment by buying little plants for their rooms at home, and Ken and Yohji were kept relatively busy through the day. The German dozed off now and then when he was too bored to stay awake any longer, and finally Ken had calmed down enough to pull Yohji aside.

    "Look," he said. "I'm sorry about what I said earlier. It's just・It was really bad timing."

    "I know, I know," Yohji agreed. "It's my fault and I'm sorry. I just thought it would be good for you."

    "It was nice of you to think of me," Ken said, offering Yohji a small smile. "I'm sorry you had to spend that kind of money on me."

    "Hey, you're my friend," Yohji assured him, giving his brown hair an affectionate ruffle. "What else are friends for, if not to provide booze and whores?"

    "I prefer the term 'companion'," Schuldich spoke up from the corner, and the two sent startled looks his way. He hadn't moved from the position he'd been resting in for the last hour and his eyes were still closed, but apparently he was still wide awake.

    "I meant no offense," Yohji said.

    "None taken," was the easy response. "You mentioned booze?"

    Yohji looked back at Ken, who gave a helpless shrug. Yohji took just a moment more to think it over before approaching the other man. "Fridays are usually drinking days," he told the foreigner. "Ken comes over to my place or I go over to his and we drink away the week. Since you're here, you're invited to join us."

    Schuldich cracked open a blue eye to study him. "I thought Ken said he worked Saturdays." Ken was a little surprised that he remembered, but he told himself he shouldn't be. It was the man's job to be a companion to people; how well could he do his job if he couldn't retain simple facts about how the client lived and worked?

    "We both do," Yohji agreed, "but the flower shop doesn't open until eleven on Saturday mornings."

    The bells above the door jingled before Schuldich could answer that, and Yohji turned to greet their customer. Ken saw her first and he hid a grimace, pasting on a smile. "Welcome back, Kitada-san. It's nice to see you again."

    The redhead sent him a cool look, reaching up to pull her sunglasses off her face. She was dressed in the usual "Here I Am!!!" shade of red with her fingernails and lips painted to match. She had been a shop regular since before Ken had gotten the job and Ken couldn't stand her. Yohji had a better chance at tolerating her because he'd slept with her once or twice, but even Ken's friend said that she was a prickly annoyance.

    She froze with her sunglasses halfway to her purse, staring across the shop at Schuldich, and Ken's first thought was that she was just blown away by the fact that there was someone else out there with shocking bright hair. But when her expression curled in disgust and a quick glance Schuldich's way showed the man's smile was icy, Ken decided there was something else going on. "You," Kitada said. "What are you doing here?"

    "Hey, Hanae," Schuldich greeted. "I'm working. What brings you here? Celebrating winning another round with the judge?"

    "That's none of your business," she said flatly.

    "Of course it is," he assured her airily, "seeing as how I know the guy that's involved."

    "Keh." She stuffed her sunglasses into her purse with almost enough force to break them. "Working, you say. What does a worthless rat like you have to do in this part of town? Has he got you out on another run for him?"

    "That isn't any of your business," Schuldich said, arching an eyebrow at her. "But I see you're still a frigid bitch. Here I was hoping that you'd melted some in the many months since I last had to tolerate you."

    "What is he doing here?" Kitada demanded, turning a sharp look on Yohji.

    "He's, uh, he's a friend of Ken's."

    Ken found himself the sudden target of a very bright green glare. "I knew he wasn't good for anything," she decided. "Running around with people like *him*. Well, you've just lost yourself a customer. I won't buy from a shop that houses such people."

    With that, she turned around and stormed towards the door. Yohji and Ken were a little too taken back from her abrupt visit and departure to react immediately, but Schuldich lifted his voice to call after her. "Don't let the door slam your ass on the way out, you worthless bitch! He's much better without you around!"

    Ken wasn't sure the woman could hear him, but it must have done Schuldich some good to say such things, though there was still a fierce scowl on Schuldich's face when Ken looked back at him. "You know her?" he asked.

    "How do you?" was the immediate return, and Schuldich sent him a cool look.

    "She's been coming here on a weekly basis for at least a year now," Yohji answered. "I dated her for a little while but things never worked out."

    Schuldich's eyebrows shot up to his hairline. "Did you fuck her?"

    "Did you?" Yohji asked.

    "Hot damn," Schuldich said, sliding off of the stool. "He really is better without her around. That bitch happens to be the boss's soon to be ex wife. Hmm~ Just wait until he hears that you actually fucked his wife. He's going to be pissed."

    "She didn't tell me she was married," Yohji said defensively.

    "Yeah, I just bet she didn't."

    "It's the truth," Yohji protested.

    "I believe you," Schuldich assured him, jamming his hands in his pockets.

    Ken was still a little unnerved from the disgust in the glare she'd sent him. "She, ah, she doesn't seem very fond of you," he said.

    Schuldich just shrugged, apparently unbothered by her absolute disdain. "She is fond of herself and little else," he said. "But she'll get what's coming to her one of these days. I pity that child if she wins custody of it, though. Worthless bitch・quot; His smooth expression slid once more into a scowl before he could control it again and he dug his phone out of his pocket. "I'm stepping out for a call," he said, and didn't wait for a response before heading for the front door. Ken watched through the glass front as he stood on the curb and dialed a number.

    "She thinks I'm gay," he said to Yohji. "Did you see the look on her face when she realized Schuldich was connected to me? She looked at me like I was a *bug*."

    "Don't let her get to you," Yohji assured him. "What she thinks means nothing to anyone that matters. You and I know differently and that's what counts, right?"

    "I guess," Ken answered, still unable to take his eyes off of Schuldich. The man couldn't seem to hold still for a phone call; the hand that wasn't holding the phone was making sharp gestures and he paced up and down a small length of the curb. His expression was annoyed when Ken caught a glimpse of it, and while Ken couldn't make out his words, the angry tone of his voice carried through the glass. Ken wondered what he was so angry about. The acid greeting he and Kitada had exchanged made him think that they had a rather bitter past between them, and Ken guessed it was because of the nature of Schuldich's work. How would it be to have to live with that sort of disgust on a day to day basis? Ken felt sick just from her glare, but Schuldich worked for Choice Enterprises because he needed a way to put food on his table. How could he stand having people look at him like he was nothing day after day?

    It was a while before Yohji spoke again and he sounded hesitant. "So・Are you going to be okay? With him, I mean."

    Ken wasn't sure, but he decided not to say that. "Yeah," he answered quietly. "I explained to him that I don't need anything from him. He didn't believe me at first, but things will be just fine. It is kind of weird having a roommate, though."

    Yohji accepted this in silence. Outside Schuldich finished with his phone call and snapped it closed with a vicious jerk. It was another minute more before the man returned inside and he seemed to be perfectly under control again. All traces of annoyance were replaced with a breezy attitude and he greeted them with a smirk as he tucked his phone into his pocket. "So what do you guys do for lunch around here?" he wanted to know.

    "One of us usually runs down the street to Yoshinoya to pick something up," Yohji answered, glancing towards the clock. Ken followed the look and was surprised to see it was half past one. "I can go get it if everyone's hungry."

    Schuldich just held up a flash card in response. Yohji blinked, a little confused by this method of communication, but obediently read the message aloud. "I'm so empty," he read, and he gave a quiet little cough. "Those flash cards come standard?" he wanted to know.

    Schuldich just shrugged and smirked. "They're more guideline than anything else."


    Crawford had just gotten out of a meeting when his secretary hunted him down. Her expression was pale as she came to a stop beside him, and her knuckles were white on her clipboard. "You have a guest," she told him. "He is waiting in your office for you and says that you are expecting him, but he's not on the schedule to be seen today. He would not give me his name."

    "Why did you let him in, then?" Crawford wanted to know.

    "He wouldn't leave and I・quot; She faltered. "He was very insistent. I did not know what to do."

    Crawford moved past her, ignoring her apologies, and started down the hall towards his office. A wave of his hand kept his secretary from following him and he pushed the door closed behind him, staring across the room towards his desk. His chair was turned to face the window, but at the sound of the door clicking shut, a boot pushed off of the window frame to turn the seat around. Slouched low in the chair was a man with deathly pale skin and whiter hair, and a single yellow eye was hooded as he stared across the room at Crawford.

    Crawford knew who the man was immediately and he was not at all pleased to have such a guest. "You are seated at my desk," he said.

    "The chair looked comfortable. I invited myself to sit. Is this a problem?"

    Crawford crossed the room towards him, giving the other man a cool look. "What business do you have here, Farfarello?"

    The man gave him an eerie little half-smile. "So you know me."

    "I've heard of you," Crawford corrected him, "and you can be no one else."

    "I suppose not. I've heard the stories. They are a little embellished, but it serves enough to make this a recognizable face." The other foreigner was playing with a letter opener and he reached up to touch the flat of the small blade to his cheek, letting the tip brush against his eye patch. "Have a seat."

    "I will not be asked to sit," Crawford sent back.

    "I did not ask. I told. I want to know what your Mastermind is doing associating with one of my tenants."

    Crawford went still at the words, hazel gaze narrowing. "Pardon?"

    "Don't 'pardon' me when you know who I'm talking about. He's a loud-mouthed foreigner with orange hair who calls himself Schuldich. It took only a few minutes to figure out who he really was; he can be no one else but your precious Mastermind." When Crawford didn't answer, Farfarello pointed the letter opener at the chair across from him. "Now sit down, Crawford. You and I have a lot to talk about."

Part 5
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