P.O.D --- Payment on Delivery

Six: Mixed Success
"Who gives a fuck what the world thinks?"

   By three a.m., Yohji and Ken were both trashed and Schuldich was still watching how much he drank. He sat in the corner, wedged between the foot of the bed and the wall, as the other two had an argument of some sort. The television was still on but they'd muted it a while ago, and Ken looked like he was on the verge of throwing whatever was left of the chips at his friend. Schuldich rolled his eyes at their immaturity, tugging a bottle closer and considering it. He'd had enough to drink that he could feel a buzz, but he knew better than to get drunk here. He tended to ramble when he was drunk, and it had long since become dangerous for him to talk. That was how he had formed a partnership with Crawford, actually; he'd gotten a bit distracted by the man's looks and had kept drinking and talking.

    Crawford could have turned Schuldich into the authorities easily when he'd found out everything Schuldich could do, but instead he'd done something that Schuldich had since learned to identify as the typical Crawford way of thinking: he thought about how he could twist his new knowledge to his advantage. Since then Crawford and Schuldich had busied themselves making a mess out of people's lives to their own benefits, twisting the underworld on its head before it knew what hit it. Almost no one knew who was behind it; Schuldich had heard the "Mastermind" name pop up a few years back, but as far as he knew, no one had been able to trace it back to Crawford and the tacky foreigner at his side until Farfarello came along.

    His conversation with Crawford before dinner hadn't been pleasant, per se, but it did make him feel better about everything that was going to happen. Crawford seemed content with his deal with Farfarello, and Schuldich decided that Crawford knew best. Farfarello had told Crawford he would deliver the details of the job the following day, so Schuldich didn't have to worry about it until then. He did have to figure out he was going to juggle work and pleasure, though, between Crawford's job and Farfarello's, but Crawford had promised he would deliver his equipment. As long as Schuldich was going to be sitting on his ass all day between a flower shop and a restaurant, he might as well see how much he could get done through his laptop.

    But that was for tomorrow. Blue eyes watched as the argument ended and the two quieted. Yohji's apartment was bigger than Ken's but the man had said three people lived there, and Schuldich had to think it was worse off than Ken's cramped single place. The other two roommates were missing and Yohji didn't expect them back until the morning, so the three men had the run of the place. The big plus of the room was that Yohji had a real bed, and they'd been sitting on it earlier to watch a movie. Schuldich's back hurt from sleeping on the floor the previous night and he wasn't looking forward to doing it again. He brushed orange hair out of his face as Ken slowly leaned back to flop on the floor, watching the way the other's shirt slid up in the movement to expose nicely toned abs.

    Schuldich slowly unscrewed the cap from the bottle and held it up, just out of Ken's reach. "Ken," he said, and the boy tilted his head back to smile in his direction. It was a loopy sort of grin and teal eyes were almost too wide. "Here."

    "There's some left?" Ken asked, reaching for it. The shirt slid up further as he stretched his arms for it, and Schuldich's smile grew wider. Yohji pushed himself up, muttering something about using the bathroom, and Schuldich could have laughed at the perfect timing. He scooted forward out of his corner as the other man stumbled off, resettling himself on Ken's thighs. One hand immediately went to touch exposed skin and he held the bottle over Ken's face when the man started to rise.

    "Ah-ah," he chided Ken. "Lay still or you're going to spill this all over your friend's nice rug."

    "What are you…" Ken started, but Schuldich tilted the bottle and poured some drink into his mouth, and Ken had to quiet to swallow. Schuldich pushed his shirt further up. "Schuldich," Ken started, and Schuldich began a slow stream of liquor into Ken's mouth as he scooted back and leaned down to touch his lips to smooth flesh. Ken hummed a protest in the back of his mouth as Schuldich ran his fingers over smooth planes of flesh to tweak at a nipple. Ken made a startled sound and abruptly inhaled some of the alcohol, and Schuldich laughed as he coughed and set the bottle aside. "Schuldich, sto-" Ken said, and Schuldich muted him with a kiss. Fingers caught at his arms but Ken couldn't seem to find the strength to do more than curl his fingers in the shirt material; too much alcohol had killed the signals between brain and body.

    Schuldich took advantage of the new silence to work at the buttons on Ken's pants, getting the zipper down to slip a hand inside. There was a muffled "Hey!" into his mouth and Schuldich flexed his fingers, shifting to get a better grip. He forced the kiss deeper, working his other hand across Ken's chest, and was rewarded with a throaty moan.

    In the distance, the toilet flushed. Schuldich sent an annoyed look down the hall as he pulled his hands free, and he leaned down to murmur a warning at Ken's ear before sliding off to his side. "Yohji's coming back. You might want to hide before he sees you like this."

    Ken was muttering curses as he rolled over, and he grabbed at the door handle for the balcony. He had just made it outside into the cold night air when Yohji came stumbling back, and the man blinked at the balcony as Ken slammed the door shut.

    "Where's he going?" he wanted to know.

    "He needs some fresh air," Schuldich said. "He's feeling a bit queasy. I'll keep an eye on him."

    "Want I should get him some water?" Yohji asked.

    "No, you're looking a little unsteady on your feet. Just lie down somewhere."

    "Oh. Okay." Yohji dropped onto his side on the bed, and Schuldich watched him for a minute to see if he stirred. The man's eyes were closed and Schuldich decided he had fallen asleep. With a smirk on his face, the German tugged the curtains into place before slipping past them out onto the balcony. Ken was draped across the railing, staring out at the dark city, and Schuldich closed the door silently and moved up behind him.

    "Enjoying the view?" he asked, pressing against Ken to pin him between his warm body and the cold railing. Ken jumped, startled out of his thoughts, and Schuldich was amused to see that Ken was so drunk he hadn't even thought to close his pants again. "You're unzipped," he said, biting lightly at Ken's ear. "Let me help you with that."

    "Get off of me," Ken said, trying to push off of the railing to shove Schuldich back. He almost lost his balance in the move and Schuldich hooked a foot between the bars to keep himself from moving. A hand slipped around Ken and he found warm flesh, smirking at the gasp it earned him. Fingernails caught at his hand and Schuldich pushed his other hand under Ken's shirt, pulling the material up.

    "Just relax," Schuldich shushed him when he started to speak. "Stop worrying so much and just feel. If you didn't really want this, I would know."

    "But you don't know," Ken said, stuttering as fingernails raked over a nipple. Schuldich gave his neck a lazy suck as he toyed with the sensitive flesh, and Ken reached up to catch at his hand. Schuldich took advantage of the distraction to start moving the other hand, and Ken twisted against him.

    "If you didn't want this, it wouldn't feel good, right?" Schuldich asked, and Ken couldn't think fast enough to come up with an answer. In a sober state he might have been able to come up with a defense, but Schuldich didn't give his drunk mind long enough to figure things out. He leaned harder against Ken, forcing him up more against the railing, shifting slightly to get a better angle through the bars. "Your hands are in my way," he informed Ken, and the other man hesitantly lifted his hands to tangle them in orange hair. "If you didn't want this, it wouldn't feel so good," Schuldich purred again at his ear, darting a tongue inside to make Ken squirm.

    "But I don't…" Ken started, and trailed off. Schuldich laughed, reaching up to catch his chin. It was awkward kissing him but worth the trouble; for all of Ken's protests, he wasn't bad at the kissing thing. Ken was trying to move against his hand and the feel of him squirming against Schuldich had the German wishing his pants were a little looser. He rocked against Ken's back and heard the other man gasp before he swallowed that sound in another kiss. Fingers worked harder and faster; Ken's fingers tightened in his hair and he whimpered as he twisted against Schuldich. "Nnnn…"

    "Still want me to stop?" Schuldich asked, twisting a nipple almost cruelly between his fingers. Ken cried out, almost jerking some hair loose, and Schuldich let go of him. The younger boy twisted his fingers free and Schuldich caught his wrists before he could reach down and touch himself, pulling his hands back out of the way as he continued to rock against the younger man. Fuck, his pants were way too tight. It almost hurt to move.

    "Let go," Ken choked out. "Oh God, let go."

    Schuldich pulled Ken's arms up, twisting them so that he could hold both wrists in one of his hands, and planted them against the back of his own neck. His free hand raked over Ken's front, teasing at his nipples before dropping down to tickle at his navel. "You sure you want me to let go?" Schuldich asked.

    "Hnnn," was all Ken could out, twisting almost desperately against him. "Almost… I'm almost… Let me go…"

    Fingernails skittered across his waist and Schuldich dropped a hand to caress one thigh. "You look like you've got a small problem, Ken," he informed the younger man, pressing a kiss to his jaw. "I could help you out with that, you know, but you might be disgusted. I'm another man, after all." Ken just panted, and Schuldich slid the flat of his hand along Ken's erection, flicking his hands whisper light over the head before going back to rubbing at his thigh. Ken cried out, bucking against him, and Schuldich had to bite his lip at the feel of Ken grinding against him.

    "God," Ken choked out. "Schuldich-"

    "I'll let you think about it," Schuldich assured him, rocking lazily against him. "I could stand here all night. That's my job, you know: to do only what you want and nothing more. So you think on it and I'll wait here."

    "Schuldich," Ken pleaded. "Fuck, just- let go of me. I need-"

    "There we go again with that 'let go' bit." Schuldich blew lightly in his ear, sliding his hand back up to Ken's chest. Ken's fingernails were leaving marks in the back of his neck.

    "Schuldich… I want…"

    "Yes?" Schuldich purred, but Ken didn't answer. "Damn, you've got a homophobe's resolve," Schuldich muttered. "Make up your mind and make it up fast before your friend comes out here to check on you. Can you imagine him walking in on this?" He pulled back, turning Ken around, and flattened the boy's hands against the railing. Ken was struggling for breath and he seemed to have trouble focusing on Schuldich. Blood trickled down his chin where he'd bitten his lower lip and Schuldich leaned forward to lap the blood off. Ken moaned.

    "Schuldich, please…"

    Schuldich decided that was the best he was going to get this early in the game, and it annoyed him a bit to admit failure. He lowered himself to his knees, holding onto the backs of Ken's legs to steady him, and didn't give Ken a chance to figure out what was going on before he swallowed the younger man to the hilt. It got a hoarse yell from Ken that more than made up for the other man's resolve, and it didn't take long to push Ken over the edge. He came with his hands in thick orange hair and a cry on his lips, and Schuldich smirked to himself at the victory. He used the railing to help pull himself to his feet, kissing Ken to let the other man taste him on his lips, and fastened the younger man's pants for him.

    "See?" he said. "That wasn't so bad after all."

    Ken just stared at him, lifting one shaking hand to his mouth. Schuldich rolled his eyes. "Go back inside before you catch a cold," he said, and Ken retreated immediately. Schuldich listened to the door slam shut and he could hear Ken's muffled voice through the door. A smirk pulled at his lips as he wondered what excuse Ken could come up with for the noise, and he leaned back to rest against the brick wall of the apartment building. Blue eyes stared out at the dark city as his fingers worked at the buttons on his own pants, and it was hard to get them open.

    He licked his lips to get the last taste of Ken, tilting his head back to stare up at a cloudy sky as fingers slid against his flesh. Ken's ragged breathing and harsh pants echoed in his ears, and Schuldich closed his eyes against the city. Let Ken resist for a day; whatever. Schuldich was still going to win this little game.


    Crawford kept his word; Schuldich had a visitor the next morning as Ken was hurriedly trying to get ready for work. The pair had spent the night at Yohji's because Ken didn't feel safe going home to be alone with Schuldich, and Ken hadn't wanted to get up when the alarm went off. Schuldich was betting on one or both of the flower boys to be late to work. Ken hadn't looked at Schuldich since he'd gotten up this morning, which was either because he was nursing a hangover or because he remembered what had happened the previous night. Schuldich smirked as he watched Ken move back and forth, waiting for his chance, and finally cornered the other man in the bathroom when Ken was brushing his teeth. The other man had just finished wiping his mouth and hands off on the towel when Schuldich pressed up against his back, and Ken went rigid at the touch.

    "Tell me that you hated it," Schuldich drawled. "Tell me that it disgusted you."

    Ken shoved at him, twisting in his grip to face him. "I'm not gay," he bit out hotly.

    "Of course you're not," Schuldich assured him, arching an eyebrow at him.

    "I'm *not*!"

    Schuldich rolled his eyes, reaching up to poke Ken in the forehead. "It's a natural reaction to physical stimulation, Ken. You don't have to be gay to be turned on by another man's touch, and getting off by another man doesn't automatically make you gay. It's just a fact of life."

    Ken stared at him, perhaps a little startled by the words and carefree reassurance. "People don't always order the male model from Choice Enterprises because they're gay," Schuldich informed the younger man. "Sometimes they're just curious. People wouldn't fuck if it didn't feel good, and they're just exploring all their options. I'm just helping you explore yours since you're too scared to."

    "I'm not scared," Ken snapped at him. "I'm just not *interested*."

    "Am I that ugly?" Schuldich taunted him.

    "That has nothing to do with this," Ken said, folding his arms over his chest. "What matters is that I'm straight and I'm happy being straight, and I don't want to explore my options. Did you see her yesterday, Schuldich? She looked at me like I was the most disgusting thing she'd ever seen, just because she thought I was gay. She's been shopping at the Koneko for over a year now and she's never looked at me that way before."

    "Why does that bother you?" Schuldich wanted to know. "Is she your friend?"

    "No, I can't stand her."

    "Then why do you give two shits what her opinion of you is? If you don't like her, then why do you care so much what she thinks of you? The only people you ever have to stop and worry about are the people that actually mean something. Everyone else? Who gives a fuck what the world thinks?"

    "*I* do."

    "Why?" Schuldich demanded, and Ken didn't have an answer. Schuldich let him flounder for a bit before continuing. "Even if you were gay, then what? Does that make you less human? Why? There are documented cases of animals in zoos and in the wild humping their own sex; it's not something unnatural that humans came up with because they were bored. It's not something anyone can change, so why worry about it? People don't wake up one day and think 'Okay, now I'm going to be gay so that everyone else will think there's something wrong with me.'"

    "But how can you stand it?" Ken wanted to know. "How can you stand them looking at you like that? You say that you don't care, but you had to care once upon a time."

    "And how would letting it get to me change anything? Worrying about what people think wouldn't make me stop looking, so why should I bother myself with what they think so that I feel dirty all the time?"

    Ken said nothing to that, and Schuldich offered him a smirk and reached up to brush brown hair out of his face. "Why?" he asked. "Do you want to look at me with disgust in your eyes because of last night? Does it disgust you that it was fucking hot to get you off last night and have you panting and pleading?" Ken's cheeks colored red at the words and he looked away, but Schuldich caught his chin to turn him back. "I would have bent you over that railing if I'd thought you wouldn't have completely freaked on me," Schuldich told him, "and fucked you like you'd never thought you could be fucked, until you couldn't even walk straight. Does that bother you?"

    Ken's mouth moved, but no sounds came out, and he could just stare at Schuldich. Schuldich kept his gloating to himself, tilting his head down to kiss Ken, and he offered himself a mental pat on the back when Ken didn't fight it. Instead there was a hesitant return to it, and Schuldich took it as an invitation to deepen the kiss. "Tell me that you liked it," he murmured by Ken's ear, sliding his hands down Ken's back to dip them in his back pockets.

    "I…" Ken started, and then there was a knock at the door.

    Schuldich offered his reflection a dirty look. Ken went still against him as the knocking stopped, and silence fell over the apartment. Ken was the first to react, reaching up to push at Schuldich's chest. "Farfarello?" he guessed. "The rent was supposed to be due today, but he said I had an extension."

    Schuldich sighed and pulled his hands free, preceding Ken out of the bathroom and heading to the front door to answer it. A slender redhead stood there with a black bag on his shoulder and his hands tucked into the pockets on a floor length black trench coat. Schuldich's annoyance evaporated at the sight of the other man and his smirk returned. "Ran," he greeted. "Since when are you the delivery boy?"

    Ken was leaning past him to see, and Ran glanced his way before arching a thin brow at Schuldich in question. Schuldich looked back at Ken. "Fujimiya Ran," he said. "He works for Choice Enterprises. He's just here to drop off a few things for me."

    "Oh?" Ken asked, looking back and forth between them.

    "There was a little trouble with one of the last jobs. Very messy. We're still trying to clean up behind it." Schuldich jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "You're running late."

    Ken looked down at his watch and swore before vanishing back into the apartment, and Schuldich heard him rummaging around in the bedroom as he stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him. Two hands reached out to snag Ran by the collar of his coat and he pulled the redhead forward, catching his mouth in a lazy kiss. He was grinning when Ran leaned back. "Crawford said he'd send me assistance if I needed it for this job. He didn't say he'd send you."

    "I was the only one free," Ran answered, shrugging the bag off his shoulder and holding it out. "And you *will* need help."

    Schuldich slipped the bag over his own shoulder, digging through the outside pocket to find a file that he guessed contained information about his next hit. Satisfied that it was there- and that he would have plenty of time to look it over at the flower shop- he turned his attention back on the redhead in front of him. It had been months since he'd last seen Fujimiya Ran. He'd met the redhead through Crawford; the man was Kitada Hanae's brother. The two had had a falling out years ago that had driven Ran to changing his name, but he'd never lost contact with Crawford and had followed Crawford into the underworld when Schuldich appeared to kick the door open for them. He had Hanae's frosty attitude and arrogance, but to a much more tolerable degree than Crawford's ex-wife, and he was worth his salt as Crawford's lead assassin.

    Despite all that, Schuldich's best memories of the man didn't involve work, but tangled sheets and sweaty skin.

    "Who is he?" Ran wanted to know, and Schuldich wasn't stupid enough to think Ran was jealous. Ran had been Schuldich's best investment in a lover in that there had been absolutely no strings attached to their relationship, no emotions besides raw lust and desire.

    "Hidaka Ken," Schuldich answered, relaxing against the door once more. "Crawford tell you about him?"

    Ran lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "He showed me his car."

    "Pretty, isn't it?" Schuldich asked with a smirk. "He was pissed. This is a personal favor for him." He tapped his head against the door.

    "You'll need the stress relief," Ran told him.

    "Oh? You looked at the file?" Schuldich twisted his fingers around the strap of his shoulder bag, itching to pull the papers out and see what he would be working with this time. Ran nodded and Schuldich's fingers tightened on the strap. "Where are you going to be today?" he wanted to know. "I have to follow this kid around but I'm taking the job with me."

    "About," Ran answered, which Schuldich decided meant he'd be with the Tomoes. He chose not to say that because he wasn't supposed to know, but he'd dug around into Ran's past back when he first met him. Apparently Ran and Hanae had an illegitimate sister named Aya. She lived on the other end of the city with the mother's family and another daughter named Sakura. Schuldich had seen them once and it had been obvious there were shared genes between them; the two girls could practically be twins. Ran visited them as often as he could, which Schuldich found to be amusingly sentimental of him.

    The redhead held out a piece of paper, and Schuldich accepted it from him to eye the numbers on it. "Finally got a new cell?" he guessed, and at Ran's nod, stuffed it into his pocket. It occurred to him as he did so that that meant Farfarello didn't know about Ran. The redhead had gotten rid of his cell phone after the last run he and Schuldich had done together, and Schuldich had erased the useless number from his phone. It was petty, but it made him feel as if he'd somehow one-upped that blue-haired prick of a girl that had picked his pockets the previous day.

    The door opened behind him; Schuldich heard the knob twist just in time to straighten away from it and then he moved out of the way so that Ken could step out into the hall. "Well then," Schuldich said. "I'll take a look at the papers and give you a call."

    "Nice meeting you," Ken offered politely, and then Schuldich shooed him down the hall. Ran let them leave first and Schuldich knew he wouldn't leave until they'd cleared the building. Ken led the way to his piece of junk excuse of a car and Schuldich plopped the bag down in his lap before fighting to get the door closed. Ken's squealed loudly as it pulled back into place but the man didn't seem bothered by the noise; apparently it was nothing new.

    It was a short drive out to the Koneko no Sumu Ie and they ended up getting there only a few minutes late. Yohji was there and nursing a Styrofoam cup of coffee when they showed up, and he'd thought to bring two other cups for them. Schuldich made himself comfortable on the stool in a corner as the two started getting the shop ready to open, and he waited until they were distracted with customers before pulling his laptop out of his bag and opening it in his lap.

    He read the file twice and he could feel his smirk widen with every word he read. The target was perfect; the objective was perfect. It was going to be a bitch to pull off but Schuldich found no entertainment in easy jobs. Even so, he'd never have considered the target on his own. Takatori Reiji was a monster, the biggest name in the underground next to Farfarello's, and the man was hoping to be elected prime minister of Japan this year.

    Apparently Farfarello didn't like someone else having a bigger chunk of the pie than he did, or perhaps he just was wary of what new power Takatori would get if he were to ascend to such a prestigious position. Either way, Farfarello wanted him completely ruined and he'd decided Schuldich was the man for the job.

    Schuldich's week was looking better by the day.

Part 7
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