P.O.D --- Payment on Delivery

Seven: Freedom
" The problem with you is that you don't have enough me in your life."

    Schuldich and Ken stopped by Jusco again after work at Schuldich's request, and Ken followed the German around as he picked up a few items. Ken thought it to be a rather strange assortment of things, especially the temporary hair dye. Schuldich glanced his way at his small frown and Ken pointed to it. "What's that for?" he wanted to know, forgetting that he'd decided this morning not to say anything else to Schuldich that day. For the most part, it had been an easy vow to keep, as Schuldich had been completely absorbed in his computer from the moment they went to the Koneko to the moment they left Arabian Sea.

    "I told you this morning," Schuldich said, waggling the box at him. "The last case went really bad and we're trying to clean up after it. I'd rather not stick out like a sore thumb if he starts getting twitchy and wants to make trouble. It's kind of hard to fade into the background in Tokyo if you have orange hair."

    "And blue eyes," Ken pointed out.

    "You can't spot blue eyes from fifty meters out," Schuldich returned easily.

    Ken accepted this as truth and followed Schuldich over to the cash registers. The last thing Schuldich picked up was an application for an Aeon card, which he tucked into his computer case. He paid for his things and they made their way to the exit, and finally the curiosity got to Ken and he had to talk again. "What happened with the last case?" he asked.

    "Someone confused fiction with reality and wouldn't let go," Schuldich answered. "He wouldn't let one of our workers go at the end of her stint and started getting a bit heavy handed." There was a hard glint in his blue eyes and a razor edge to his smirk. "I beat the shit out of him and brought the girl back to Choice, and now he wants to press it."

    "But you were in the right, right?" Ken asked.

    "Apparently there are more diplomatic ways to settle things than spreading teeth across a carpet." Schuldich just shrugged, following Ken out of the sliding glass doors into the light. They were immediately confronted by the flashing lights of police cars and ambulances, and a van was back on the road a bit with a flashing "Accident" sign to warn oncoming traffic. A small crowd had gathered and the two glanced at each other before making their way forward. It didn't take long to spot what everyone was looking at; there was a car crumpled against the side of a concrete wall. The wall was for a bicycle parking lot and looked mostly unscratched, but the car was in serious shape.

    "Holy shit," Schuldich muttered beside Ken, and Ken was shocked to hear he sounded amused. "I'll be right back." With that he did an about face and went back up the stairs into Jusco. Ken looked over his shoulder to watch him go, and through the glass doors he could see Schuldich was laughing hysterically. His stomach twisted in something between dismay and disgust and he looked back towards the car, studying the shattered windshield. There was no way the driver could have survived such an impact, and Ken's heart ached.

    Teal eyes watched as officers walked around the car, and as they passed by the trunk, Ken caught sight of what was on the back windshield. A giant red cat had been painted onto the glass- a Manx. Ken knew that picture anywhere. It had been parked outside of the Koneko once a week for over a year now. He and Yohji had argued for weeks about what sort of cat it was before Yohji had finally given up and asked the lady who drove the car.

    Ken was staring at Kitada Hanae's car. His eyes were wide as this realization snapped into place. Just yesterday she had been in the shop, and now she was dead. Just like that, she was dead. She had to be; the front half of the car had been crushed into the driver's seat. Yesterday she had been breathing and moving, and now…

    Yesterday she had been looking at him as if he was worth less than the dirt that clung to her spiky red heels.

    Ken told himself it was horrible to feel a twist of satisfaction, but a glance back at Schuldich showed the other man had no qualms with feeling good about this. The German was propped against the glass entrance and grinned widely in Ken's direction as their eyes met. Ken was torn how to react. On the one hand, he was relieved and felt oddly avenged for her behavior towards him and Schuldich. On the other, a life was a heavy price to pay for rudeness. He told himself to grieve for her, but beyond the first layer of regret at a loss of a life, in the end, he couldn't stand her, and he couldn't be sorry that she was gone.

    It bothered him to feel that way, and he looked back towards the car as Schuldich stepped out into the night. The German came up behind him, taking hold of his elbow, and Ken felt warm lips at his ear. "Come on," he said. "Standing here staring won't change anything. Let's get out of here."

    Ken didn't want to look at the wreckage anymore, so he nodded, and he let Schuldich guide him home. Schuldich grinned a shit eating grin the entire way back and Ken tried to ignore it, warring between what he did feel and what he felt he ought to be feeling. Schuldich turned to him as soon as Ken shut the door, arching an eyebrow at him for the look on his face. "What's bothering you now?" he wanted to know.

    "It's just…" Ken wondered if he should really say what he was thinking, and then he realized there was no way Schuldich could think less of him when he had been laughing fit to sprain a rib over seeing that crushed car. "I should feel bad for her."

    "But you don't," Schuldich said.

    "Sort of," Ken said, leaning back against his door. "I mean, I don't think she deserved to die just because she was an awful person, but at the same time… She was an awful person, you know? I couldn't stand her. I want to feel bad for what happened, but I can't."

    "That's life," Schuldich told him. "You can't be expected to sympathize with every loser out there, or people wouldn't have it in them to convict criminals for the things they do. If someone robbed a bank and killed a few people, but it turns out he has three young children and no wife to look after them, would you still send him to jail and orphan those children?" When Ken didn't answer immediately, Schuldich gave an aggravated sigh and poked Ken's forward. "Yes," he said.

    "Yes," Ken echoed uncertainly.

    Schuldich just looked at him. "You really are hopeless," he decided. "Why wouldn't you? He killed people, after all. What about their families?"

    Ken thought he understood, but still… "What about his kids?"

    "Wouldn't they be raised better without a murdering father around?"

    Ken's heart twisted. "No child should have to know what it's like to grow up without his parents," he said, and it came out much quieter than he meant it to. "No child should have to know what it's like to be that alone."

    "I think you're missing the point here," Schuldich said. "What it all boils down to is that she was a bitch and that she got what was coming to her. I've known her for a long time now, Ken, and I can tell you she earned that crash. She was a bad person on so many levels that you'll never be able to understand. You don't have to feel obligated to mourn her when you didn't like her. It was an accident, after all. No one could have prevented it. Maybe it was just her time to go."

    He left Ken there and headed down the hall to the bedroom, and Ken stayed where he was for a few minutes, listening to Schuldich rummage around in his bag. When the German appeared in the hallway again, he was shirtless and carrying the box of hair dye. He wiggled the box in the direction of the bathroom. "I'm going to borrow this," he said.

    "Can you do that by yourself?" Ken asked.

    Schuldich's lips twitched into a smirk. "It's a pain, but I've done it before."

    "I can help," Ken offered. He wanted something to do to take his mind off of the conversation and the memory of that car. Schuldich held the box out towards him and Ken headed down the hall towards him to accept it. The bathroom was crowded with two people in it but they fit, and Schuldich sat down on the toilet seat lid as Ken read the instructions on the box. The German was sitting with his back to Ken, his arms folded across the top of the water tank, and Ken eyed the long orange hair that hung down his back. "I can't believe you have so much hair," he said, "especially when the summer gets so hot."

    "I'm working on setting a trend," was the lazy response. "By next year everyone's going to have long orange hair."

    Ken gave an amused snort. "I doubt I'll follow it. I'd look like a freak."

    That got a laugh, and Ken peeled open the box to pull out the dye and gloves. He broke the seal on the dye bottle and plugged the hole with his finger so he could shake it, and the white liquid slowly turned a dark brown. With the quiet hope that he wouldn't screw this up, Ken dribbled some of the dye through bright orange locks and set the bottle aside to work it in. The dye had a funny smell that made him wrinkle his nose. "Urg. It stinks."


    "Do all permanent hair dyes smell this way?" Ken wanted to know.

    "Perm-" Schuldich started, snatching up the box, and Ken laughed at him. "You're not funny," the German said, and Ken could hear a scowl in his voice.

    "Of course I'm not," Ken agreed easily, still amused.

    "Prick," Schuldich shot him, and Ken ignored the jibe. It took several minutes to get all of Schuldich's hair done and he could see the foreigner's shoulders relaxing as he worked his fingers along his scalp to get the roots. "Mmm," the older man purred, voice muffled through his arms. "Feels good."

    Ken rolled his eyes at the other man's back but didn't stop, pulling the dark hair up to keep the dye off his back when it started to slip again. The dye was sticky enough that it stayed in a weird pile on top of his head for the most part, but some chunks kept wanting to fall. At last he was satisfied with his work and he held the mound in place, looking over at the box to see how long they'd have to wait. It was only supposed to take a few minutes, so he amused himself with squishing gloved fingers through dark locks. A glance down at Schuldich's back to make sure no dye had dripped showed him a long scar across the skin. It was almost faint enough to miss, and Ken reached down to lightly touch a finger to it.

    "What happened?" he wanted to know.

    "Picked a few fights," was the response.

    Ken struggled to peel off one glove and threw it away before using a hand towel to wipe the brown fingerprint off Schuldich's back. "From a client?" he asked. Schuldich just shrugged. "Why?" Ken wanted to know. "Why this? Why did you choose this?"

    "Why not?" was the breezy retort.

    "Your father works at the embassy, you said. Why didn't you work there? Why not somewhere else? Why this? How can anyone want a job like this?"

    "What's so bad about it?" Schuldich asked. "I get paid to live with people and have sex. Doesn't sound too bad to me. It certainly sounds better than trimming weeds all day." Ken frowned at his back, though he wasn't sure he could argue. Neither job sounded particularly rewarding, in his opinion. "Besides, some clients have money pouring out their ears. I get to travel Tokyo and stay in all sorts of places. I must say that yours is the most interesting by far, though."

    "Why, because it's two steps above a cardboard box in an alley?"

    "Well, your landlord looks a bit freaky. How'd a foreigner get to be a landlord in Japan, anyway? You people don't like us foreigners."

    "That's not completely true," Ken said. "Don't stereotype us."

    "He still looks like a nut job. I can't believe anyone gave him clearance."

    "He does look a bit scary," Ken admitted. He wondered if it was all right to talk about Farfarello. In the end he decided it was okay; who else would Schuldich tell, anyway? And they were just rumors. "There are rumors that he used to be part of a yakuza gang," Ken said, toying with Schuldich's hair again. "I don't know if they're true. Someone might have just made them up because of his looks. Then again, who knows? Yohji's girlfriend used to be really close with him and she was always getting into all sorts of trouble. Farfarello was paying her rent and Yohji said he's the reason the police used to take it easy on her, but she's in jail now. Apparently she killed someone, and even Farfarello's scary looks couldn't help her out."

    "Interesting," Schuldich said, and Ken backed away so he could rinse his hair out. He did it by leaning over the side of the tub, holding the shower head in one hand and using the other to help rinse the excess dye free. Ken pulled his towel off of the rack for when he was done, and Schuldich wrapped his temporarily dark hair in it. Ken caught another glimpse of his scar and he hesitated, wondering if he had the right to ask.

    "Do you… do you only work with guys?" he wanted to know, remembering how nonchalant Schuldich had been when Nanami had been sitting in his lap.

    Schuldich offered him a smirk. "Of course," he answered, rubbing at his hair and then lowering the towel to get a look at his reflection. He looked really different with dark hair, and Ken reached out to poke the locks.

    "How long will it last?" he wanted to know.

    "A few weeks, maybe," Schuldich answered. "Long enough. This is a different shade than I usually get, though."

    "Did I do something wrong?"

    Schuldich flicked him an amused look. "No. I just picked up a different brand than I usually buy."

    "Oh." Ken thought that over. "So you do this often?"

    "Of course," was the breezy response. "How many people would order me out of a catalogue when I had orange hair? As fascinated as some might be, they'd still be too chicken to actually request such a bizarre looking foreigner. I guess you were just lucky." He poked Ken's nose and hung his towel back up, considering his reflection once more before turning back to Ken.

    "Lucky?" Ken asked dubiously.

    "You're a flower boy and a waiter," Schuldich said, hands on his hips. "You needed a little excitement in your life, and I'm as kick ass as they come."

    "Arrogant much?" Ken asked.

    "The problem with you is that you don't have enough me in your life," Schuldich informed him. "And you know…" he said thoughtfully, and Ken tilted his head to one side in a question. "I believe we were interrupted in the middle of a conversation this morning by my coworker."

    "Interrupted…?" Ken started to echo, and then he remembered. "No, I think we were done with that conversation."

    Schuldich caught him as he started to retreat, reaching past him to push the bathroom door closed. Ken was pushed up against it and Schuldich stood leaning against him, forearms pressed against the wood to frame Ken's head. "Tell you what," Schuldich decided. "Let's give your life a little kick start, shall we? Take the next few days off of work and I'll show you what it's like to live. I hear there's a lot to see in town this week. Takatori's got a conference coming up and the symphony he sponsors is putting on a show. Let's go there."

    "I need to go to work," Ken protested. "I have to pay the rent. I have to pay the bill for that car accident I was in. I can't just take a few days off."

    "Sure you can," Schuldich assured him. "Come on. The ends have always met before, haven't they? When you've worked yourself to death at the age of thirty, do you want to look back on these years and see only what you can see now? How depressing, don't you think, to remember only work? You wanted to get out and see the world and do things. So get out and do them. I'm your ticket; I'm your train. Are you going to catch a ride or are you going to be left behind with just this?" He gave a tilt of his head that Ken guessed indicated his cramped apartment and stagnant life.

    Schuldich's words touched a nerve inside of him and Ken looked away. "Come on," Schuldich encouraged him. "I have a card that's just for these expenses so you won't have to worry about it. It's part of the fee paid for a week of our time. We're supposed to be able to take our clients out on special trips. Generally it's to make them feel important; I think you'd settle for something worthwhile to remember."

    Something to remember… Ken could hear the distant roaring of a crowd, could feel dirt and grass beneath his cleats. The impact of a foot to the ball was still a sharp memory despite the years since he'd last taken a swing at a soccer ball. In that moment he felt an intense surge of resentment for what his life had become, for all of the dreams that had shattered. He resented the world for what it had done to the both of them: Schuldich, for having nothing else to do so that he was forced to live his life tending to others and being stared at as if he was a freak, and himself, for losing the only thing he'd had left to believe in.

    A few days ago he'd been thinking that he would take out a loan to help make ends meet. He could still do that. A few days just to try and live again couldn't be that bad, could they?

    "I want to take some time off," he decided.

    "Good," Schuldich purred. "See? I'm good for you, even if you're afraid of me."

    "I'm not afraid of you," Ken sent back.

    "You're afraid of what I represent," Schuldich corrected him easily. "But all I am is freedom: it's just that you're too scared to take it."

    Ken looked back at him, studying the bright blue eyes and the teasing smirk. He thought about Schuldich's words to him this morning and thought about last night. He thought about everything his life had become, a blurred routine of day after day of the same boring, exhausting shit. He thought about Schuldich saying that it was going to be all right, that it was all right to want more than what he had now. He thought about a hot hand and a hotter mouth, and even though he felt something twinge in his stomach, a fear he'd hotly protested that he wasn't feeling, he had to wonder.

    He wanted more than what he had now. He wanted back the excitement he'd had and lost. He wanted a chance to dream again that life was going to work out just fine, no matter how things were. And staring up at Schuldich, he had to wonder if the German was right. Regardless of the fact that Schuldich was being paid to say such things, he wanted to believe him.

    "I'm not afraid," he said again.

    He wasn't sure if he was doing it out of want or defiance, if it was because he'd been unable to deny that it had felt good last night or that by doing this, he was spitting in the face of everything his life had become. The world that should have been his had been taken away from him, and he'd be damned if the world thought he'd just accept it and stay where he was. So what if it was only for a week? So what if none of it was real? Maybe he could just pretend for a while, and that would be okay.

    Schuldich tilted his head down, and Ken squished his last bit of fear as the German kissed him. He reached up tentatively to lace his arms around the taller man, and Schuldich seemed to take that as the final cue. Two hands slid down Ken's back into his back pockets and he pulled him forward, grinding against him. Ken gasped, fingers digging into Schuldich's back, trying to pull back even as he wanted to push forward for more. Schuldich's mouth was hot on his and Ken was getting lightheaded from the kisses. Before Schuldich, the last girl he'd kissed had been that cheerleader in high school, and it had been nothing like this. He couldn't think of anything to compare to Schuldich's kiss.

    His body didn't care that it was a man. Pressed between the door and Schuldich, caught up between his hands and his body, Ken forgot why that thought had ever stopped him. He twisted against Schuldich as they rocked together, moaning deep in his throat as fingers caught in damp hair. His jeans were too tight; he wanted to stop to try and loosen them but he didn't want to stop this.

    Schuldich's mouth was on his throat and Ken tilted his head to one side to give him better access. The German pulled free just a moment later, catching Ken's wrist to pull him away from the door. He yanked it open and pulled Ken out into the hall, heading down to the bedroom. The table was pushed to one side with an impatient foot and Schuldich had to let go of Ken to tug the pillows and blankets down from their spot. The bed wasn't pretty, but it was better than the floor, and Schuldich caught Ken's hands to pull him down.

    Hands started pulling at his shirt and Ken tried to help him get it off. Fingers traced bare skin and fingernails left thin lines behind. Schuldich pushed Ken down, kissing him as his head hit one of the pillows, and his fingers began working at the button on Ken's pants. Ken had to lift his hips to help the German pull them off. He found himself reaching forward instinctively to cover himself, but Schuldich caught his hand and pushed it aside.

    "Why hide?" the German taunted him. "My mouth has already been on that."

    Ken felt his cheeks color, and the older man laughed at him and kissed him again. Schuldich sat back on his heels then and Ken knew his bright eyes had gone to the hated brace around his leg. He wished the German didn't have to see it. He'd shown it to the man already, but there was a crucial difference between Schuldich seeing it now and Schuldich seeing it just to sate his curiosity. But the German said nothing about it, instead leaning forward to find Ken's mouth again. Two hands to his shoulders helped pull him up so that he was kneeling with Schuldich at his back and the telepath pressed a light bite to the back of his neck. Fingers skimmed across his front and Ken's nails bit down into the other's denim pants as Schuldich tweaked at his nipples.

    Schuldich pulled him up onto his knees, rocking against his bare back as his hands skimmed down between Ken's legs. Ken had to reach up, tangling his fingers in Schuldich's dark hair, as a ragged gasp escaped him. One hand slid along the soft skin of his inner thigh as the other worked against his flesh, and Ken wasn't sure whether to push forward into Schuldich's hands or back into the hardness behind him. It took him just a moment to find and follow the rhythm Schuldich was offering, and he couldn't stop a whimper as Schuldich's hand slid up from his legs to his chest.


    "What you want and nothing more," the German reminded him, and it sounded like a taunt. "Tell me that you want this," he said, coming to an abrupt halt. Ken gasped at the sudden loss of movement from both sides, fingers twisting tighter in the foreigner's hair. "Tell me that you want this."

    "I want this," Ken gasped out, breathing ragged. "I want this. I want you." Ken wanted the freedom Schuldich offered, the freedom that he symbolized. He wanted the excitement Schuldich so easily talked about. He wanted this heat and this pleasure, and the promise that things would get better. "I want you," he said again, twisting to kiss him. "I want anything you'll give me."

    "Good," was the drawled answer. For a moment Ken wondered at the self-satisfied tone; for a moment he wondered at the edge of mockery he could hear. But the moment passed and was quickly forgotten as Schuldich started to move again, and then he didn't stop to worry about anything.

Part Eight
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