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Carmine Coffee

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Shizuo hadn’t made it into college.

That was a no brainer. It was pretty much expected when he graduated high school. He could see it in the smug eyes of his classmates. He could see it in the pitying eyes of his teachers. He could see it in the sad eyes of his parents. Not a single one of them had expected him to pass his college entrance exams, not even to the closest community college that he’d been interested in with notoriously low standards for accepted students. And they definitely hadn’t expected him to make it into the college that he actually wanted to go to: Rikkyo University.

It was a college in Ikebukuro with an esteemed liberal arts program, close to his home and ranked fairly high among Japanese universities in the Ikebukuro area. He’d wanted to enter the Department of Letters and study literature there, maybe even get some kind of degree and earn a nice quiet job involving books and a distinct lack of social contact.

But…he hadn’t gotten in. To either of them. Or to the three others that he tried applying to as a last ditch effort. He just wasn’t a good test taker. He couldn’t handle that sort of pressure very well. And if Shizuo was being honest with himself, he wasn’t very smart.

He knew all of that though, damn it! He had known about all of those things before signing up for those stupid exams! But he’d tried taking them anyway. Tried and failed. Tried and failed. Tried and failed. He was nothing but a failure in life!

His brother Kasuka was going to make it far. He already had a part-time job with a modeling agency and his grades were all top marks. He was popular and attractive and smart and good with people and he knew how to get things done. Kasuka was the perfect child. Compared to him, Shizuo…well, Shizuo barely passed as a human being, let alone a decent child.

Now Shizuo wasn’t jealous of his little brother. He was happy for him, truly happy, and he couldn’t be prouder that his sibling was doing so well for himself when there were people like Shizuo struggling to figure out which foot went in each shoe in the morning. Shizuo did sometimes wish that some of Kasuka’s talent and fortune had gone to him, like maybe a tad bit of brains or social skills, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Kasuka was going to travel down his paved path of success and Shizuo was going to trudge blindly down a dirt road of failure. It was just a matter of who hit the end first.

“Shizuo!” A deep voice shouted, jolting the blonde teen out of his reverie. “Stop daydreaming! We’re going to have customers soon!”

“Yes sir!” Shizuo called back, shaking his head to clear it of the constant unhappy thoughts and grabbing the stack of cups in front of him once again.

He took them over to the counter, arranging them as usual into stacks of small, medium, and large cups and making sure the corresponding lids were set up beside them. He could smell the coffee pots beginning their morning brews for the regulars who’d be coming at any moment now, and behind him, the row of gleaming dispensers for various coffee toppers and boosts stood waiting to be used. He could even smell the small bakery starting up off to his right, the few workers in there getting ready for the long day of work.

Shizuo couldn’t help the small smile that crept over his mouth at the familiar sounds, smells, and sights of his current workplace. He’d been lucky to land this job as a high school graduate unable to enter college, and as a full-time worker no less. It was a little local coffee and bakery shop, one close to a couple of the universities in this area, and one that was just far enough from his neighborhood so that no one had heard of his monstrous reputation.

Shizuo worked as a barista for the shop, making drinks for customers and delivering them pastries if they ordered those on the side. It was a steady, easy enough job. Kind of like being a bartender, but with non-alcoholic drinks. Something even he could do, and as a teenager to boot. Plus, if he did well enough, he could move into a job as a bartender once he was old enough. It was, for him at least, the best option for his future.

Shizuo looked at the sign hanging outside their door, one he knew so well at this point, and smiled at the little gold star they kept next to the curling font of their name. They were called the Firefly Brew Café. It was a peaceful little name for a peaceful little shop. Shizuo really did like it here. As much as his old peers and the majority of the world around him may look down on him for working in a coffee shop instead of going to college, Shizuo knew that this was his best option. At least this way, he could save up money for eventually moving out and starting his own working career, even without a degree.

Yep. Shizuo had a pretty good gig here. And the school year had just started up for the universities around him which meant coffee-addicted college students would be pouring in, along with extra money for the shop. If Shizuo did well during these early morning rush hours, he might even get a promotion.

“Sir, the cups are all set up and everything is ready for the day.” Shizuo called over his shoulder towards his boss’s office in the shop. “I’m going to open the shop now.”

“Thanks, Shizuo!” His boss responded from the back, a single thumbs-up poking out from the behind the wall. “You’re the best!”

Shizuo could feel a warm buzzing starting up in his chest at the compliment as he walked around the counter and to the front door of the shop, a small crowd of teenagers, young adults, and a few others already milling around the door.

Shizuo waved at a few that he knew and then flipped the sign to open, unlocking the glass door to let the stream of customers inside.

As Shizuo gently pushed his way through the crowd of shouting people demanding their morning fix of coffee, he could see his morning co-worker already standing at one of the cash registers, grinning goofily as he took orders.

“This is going to be a long day, eh Shizuo?” Shinra asked cheerfully as he copied another order, humming to himself as he hung it up on the line beside the others. “You better get started on some drinks!”

“Sure, sure. Don’t tell me what to do, Shinra.” Shizuo grumbled, smacking his friend upside the head. “This is only a part-time job for you, but it’s full-time for me. While we’re in this shop, I rank higher than you.”

Shinra chuckled at the light rebuff from the blonde and continued taking orders, cheerfully asking the next screaming person if they would like a pastry with their coffee.

Shizuo started pulling the orders off the overhead line, shouting the pastry orders in the direction of the bakery as he began formulating various coffee drinks.

He glanced over his shoulder at Shinra, noting the happy way that the pre-med school student did pretty much everything. Shizuo kinda envied his optimistic cheer and enthusiasm. But Shinra was going to Rikkyo University right now as one of their prized medical students, so he had a lot to be happy and enthusiastic about.

Shizuo wished he could say the same.

Shizuo shook his head again and returned to preparing all the drinks, trying to stay focused and keep his head in the game. The bakery needed to know what pastries to make and these crazy college students demanding coffee needed their daily fixes. Shizuo had to make sure both were provided.

He was able to lose himself in the feeling of work, loud shouts and scents of coffee and baked treats mingling in the warm air around him, drowning out all of his other problems, if only temporarily. The movement of his hands over the coffee machines and the shouts of his voice towards the bakery became his only concerns, letting him waft away on a daze of coffee and sweets as he handed off cup after cup and bag after bag to the customers at the counter. It was a peaceful routine, and a pretty good morning of work despite how busy they were from these soon-to-be-regular university students. Shizuo was actually feeling pretty good about himself and about his life.

Then that euphoric haze came crashing down.

“Hey Shinra.” A tired voice sighed from the cash register behind Shizuo, somehow cutting through the happy haze Shizuo’s brain had fallen into. “How are you doing this morning?”

“Izaya!” Shizuo’s happy friend cried in delight. “I didn’t know you came to Firefly Brew!”

“I don’t.” The second voice admitted as a rustling sound filled the air, probably money coming out of a pocket as this new person got ready to pay Shinra. “But you said you worked here in the mornings and you keep preaching about it to me like the pastor of a coffee church so I figured why not? Want me to get you anything before we head off to class?”

“Aw, you’re so thoughtful before your evil brain kicks in in the morning.” Shinra said cheerfully, typing something into his cash register. “I’d love a caramel latte if you don’t mind keeping it hot for me until I get off work. Should only be about thirty more minutes.”

“Okay.” The Izaya person sighed. “Once my “evil brain” kicks in, I’ll be sure to poison it.”

Shinra laughed at the comment, printing out another receipt and handing it to the person that Shizuo had yet to turn around and see. “Thanks, Izaya. Your total is 3,500 yen. I’m assuming you just wanted the black coffee, right?”

“You assume correctly.” The voice said smoothly, a crinkling sound filling the air as the person took the receipt from Shinra and handed him the appropriate amount of money. “I’ll just wait for you in the corner or something while you finish up.”

“Thanks!” Shinra chirped, immediately turning to the next customer.

Shizuo spared a quick glance from the current drink he was making over his shoulder, watching a figure that he didn’t recognize drift over to the waiting line for already ordered drinks.

Its back was turned to him so Shizuo couldn’t quite make out its face, and its voice had been this strange mixture of high, silky, and rich notes that Shizuo couldn’t quite pin down as male or female. It was a beautiful voice, slightly annoying in the smug undertones it carried, but beautiful nonetheless. It sounded confident, sure of itself.

And when Shizuo watched the way the person walked, head held high, steps confident and proud, a sort of powerful aura radiating from him despite the exhaustion filling his body, Shizuo could feel a keen jealously bubble up within him.

That was the voice and walk of a successful person. Some other person who knew what they were doing with their life, and had a paved path set out for themselves already.

Shizuo hadn’t even seen the guy’s face and he already disliked this friend of Shinra’s.

Before the guy turned around to no doubt reveal some smug, haughty, confident features, Shizuo turned back to making the current coffee cup that he was on, trying to catch up on the time he’d wasted in watching that guy. There was no point in continuing to do so. It would just piss Shizuo off more and that was the opposite of what the blonde wanted right now.

He needed to get these orders done and move on with his life. Learn to ignore the successful guy if he became a regular here, and let him move in and out of Shizuo’s life as nothing more than another successful person making him feel bad without even trying.

“Have I ever introduced you to Izaya?” Shinra asked cheerfully as he passed Shizuo another order, apparently unaware of Shizuo’s current feelings towards the guy.

“No.” Shizuo said gruffly, grabbing another order and checking it. Damn. It was Izaya’s. Just when he was trying to push the guy out of his mind, here Shizuo was, staring at his name.

…What a weird name that was, now that Shizuo was thinking about it. Orihara Izaya. Who in their right mind would name their kid that? Shizuo stared at the kanji for a bit before shaking his head and starting on the caramel latte. Just get it over with, Shizuo. Get it over with.

“Would you like to meet him?” Shinra asked next, adding another order to the line with a happy hum. “You two might get along pretty well. You’re both the only friends I made in the school system!”

“I ain’t never seen him before and I went to school with you from grade school to high school.” Shizuo muttered, adding the whipped cream that he knew Shinra liked before going for the caramel drizzle.

“Oh, well I only just met him at orientation.” Shinra said cheerfully. “He’s my roommate at Rikkyo! A comparative psychology major, I think. Ridiculously smart. You know, the guy supposedly could’ve gone to any university he wanted with a full ride? I hear he had perfect marks on his entrance exams! Perfect marks! That’s genius right there.”

“How wonderful for him.” Shizuo growled, feeling more anger rise up in him as Shinra babbled. Man. He was just hating this guy more and more. Still hadn’t seen his face, but Shizuo was already loathing him.

“Yep!” Shinra continued happily, oblivious as usual to Shizuo’s feelings on the matter. “Your total opposite. But I think you should meet. My only college friend and my only other friend have to get together!”

“Not interested.” Shizuo grumbled flatly, grabbing another cup and shoving it under the coffee machine a little harsher than necessary, beginning on the straight black coffee.

“Why not?” Shinra whined, pulling on Shizuo’s arm a bit. “You might really get along. And he could help you study for exams next ye-”

“I said not interested!” Shizuo snapped, glaring fiercely at Shinra with his golden eyes flashing as he grabbed the cups and spun around to the counter. “Now just get out of my hair, got it?”

“My, my. What terrible customer service.” An amused voice said from right in front of him. “And here I heard Firefly Brew was famous for being friendly and courteous.”

Shizuo’s head snapped from Shinra to look at the guy waiting for his order, an apology ready on his lips for the misunderstanding, but it died immediately once he saw who was there.

A smug smirk was plastered onto an equally smug face, freakishly red carmine eyes glittering like jewels right above it. Perfect and glossy raven hair swept around smooth, fair skin, contrasting sharply from black to white. Soft lips perked themselves up into a wider smirk when they noticed Shizuo looking at them, pink and delicious and just as perfectly formed as the rest of his face. The overall features were rather feminine, with high cheekbones and soft facial curves taking up most of Shizuo’s attention, but the sharpness of the eyes and smirk ruined the dainty image instantly. The face was gorgeous but the personality was awful. Shizuo could already tell. Plus, he recognized the confident manner in which this guy carried himself, and the small frame hidden underneath a thick black trench coat that he’d seen earlier.

This was Izaya.

Shizuo’s apology flew out the window upon seeing Mr. Perfect up close, and he simply shoved both the latte and the black coffee into the guy’s hands, trying his best not to touch fingers with the guy as he pulled his hands back as quickly as possible.

“I don’t like you.” Shizuo growled flatly, glaring hard at the beautiful teenager in front of him.

Izaya’s carmine eyes blinked in surprise, then a maniacal gleam entered them as a grin slowly crept up onto his face. “Oh yeah?” Izaya purred, cocking his head slyly at Shizuo as he looked the angry blonde up and down. “That’s too bad. I thought we could have a lot of fun together.” Izaya peered at his nametag and then looked up at Shizuo with one of those shit-eating grins that Shizuo could already tell he would come to hate. “Shizuo-kun.” The boy purred, using Shizuo’s name in a manner that was way too familiar for Shizuo to be comfortable.

“Don’t call me that!” Shizuo snapped, his fists clenching tightly on the counter as he resisted the urge to punch this perfect asshole all the way back to his fancy comparator psycho studies, or whatever it was he was doing.

Izaya merely laughed at the response, his eyes glittering brightly as he looked Shizuo up and down once more. “Shinra?” The boy called, still looking right at Shizuo as he smirked.
“Yeah?” Shinra asked, looking back and forth between his friends with a happy smile that definitely didn’t belong on his face in this situation.

“I think I might just become a regular here after all.” Izaya said casually, winking at Shizuo before sauntering over to a corner table, plopping down, and starting on his disgusting black coffee with a hum.

Shizuo glared at the annoying newcomer, trying his absolute best to burn the bastard to the ground with his eyes.

“Yay!” Shinra said cheerfully from beside him. “The two of you are getting along so well! You can’t even take your eyes off him!”

“I don’t think you’re getting the true reason behind why that is.” Shizuo growled, turning away from the smirking raven and back to the line of orders that had started piling up. And even while he tried to lose himself in the work of shouting out pastry names and mixing coffees, he felt like those carmine eyes were burning a hole into his back, like rubies equipped with laser beams for the sole purpose of blasting him.

The burning feeling of being watched only subsided once Shinra’s shift was over and he left with that annoying bastard Izaya, the latter blowing Shizuo a distinctly loud kiss before slipping gracefully out the door.

At that last action from Mr. Perfect, Shizuo nearly smashed the coffee machine he was pouring black coffee out of right there and then. He managed to take his hands off it and grab a cup instead to take his anger out on, crumpling it in his fist and smashing it underneath his foot. Unfortunately, that cup happened to be a customer’s recently finished order and so coffee exploded all over him and his uniform. He’d had to apologize to a sweet old lady whose coffee had to be remade, change his uniform, and clean up the mess on the floor all while angry customers demanded their coffee while orders piled up.

Scratch his future plans as a bartender: Shizuo was going to become a murderer long before he made it to the age of twenty-one.

Orihara Izaya was going to make sure of that.

Chapter Text

Orihara Izaya had made it into college. He was the perfect student, after all. He got perfect grades, he was always on time (when he wanted to be), he already knew almost everything brought up in class, he learned quickly for the things he didn’t, and he could probably teach the teachers’ lessons for them more often than naught. With his incredible grades and academic prowess, you would probably think that he’d be a completely unpopular nerd with no social life or status to wield within the school. You’d be dead wrong there.

Everybody knew Orihara Izaya. Everybody loved him, too. He was a heartthrob for most girls in his school, and even some of the guys too, thanks to his graceful features and natural beauty. He could hold conversations with anyone whose path he crossed, no matter what they did or where they came from, and he was a powerful speaker who commanded near instant admiration from those who listened to him. He was athletic, intelligent, handsome, confident, charismatic, and talented. He’d been known all throughout the public school system in his old hometown of Shinjuku before coming to Ikebukuro. In short, Orihara Izaya was a nerd, but the most popular nerd in all of Shinjuku.

Despite all that, though, Izaya had always been painfully lonely. He didn’t have time for personal relationships, romantic or otherwise, and so while he had many acquaintances who liked to brag about being his friend at school, he knew no one outside of his academic life. He had no true friends whatsoever. He was too busy with acing his tests, winning competitions, and getting ready for college to worry about any of that. His parents expected him to excel in everything he did, as he always had, and so great pressure was riding on him to continue that trend as he approached college, no matter what aspects of his life he needed to sacrifice.

When he got perfect marks on all his entrance exams to the schools he applied for, his parents had rejoiced. They’d thrown a party and invited all of their relatives to see their successful son. They’d all made predictions about how much money would be filling his wallet when he got older. They lavished him with praise and expectations. Only his little sisters kept treating him as they always had, and for that, Izaya was eternally grateful. Even if they did treat him like the trash beneath their feet.

Izaya selected to go to a college that had offered him a full ride but still had the psychology program he was after, and that ended up being Rikkyo University. He joined the ranks of their incoming freshmen, much to the delight of the college board, and quickly became the star of their comparative psychology program.

It was there, at Rikkyo University, that Izaya made his first…friend.

The word “friend” was essentially a foreign concept to Izaya. He was still getting used to the idea of even having one. Of having enough time to have one. But he did have one now. Kishitani Shinra.

Shinra was a pre-med student at Rikkyo and Izaya’s roommate. They’d met first at orientation when both discovered that they were looking for an apartment near the college to rent unlike most of the other students who were going to live in the dorms or stay with their parents. Their reasons for doing so had actually been their first bonding moment.

“I’m trying to get away from my father!” Shinra had said cheerfully when he gave a short bow to introduce himself. “Think you can help me escape? I promise to pay my half of the rent!”

Izaya had merely stared at the strange boy before him, already wearing a lab coat like he thought he’d graduated, and slowly bowed back. “I’m trying to get away from both my parents.” He responded flatly, both boys returning to their original positions and watching each other. “I’ll happily accept your offer if you help me escape, too.”

And thus, the ultimate friendship was born.

Izaya, the psychology student who loved to analyze Shinra’s brain and test his responses to various things that ranged from salt in his drinks instead of sugar to blackmail calls that threatened his girlfriend’s life. And Shinra, the pre-med student who loved performing experimental and probably illegal procedures on Izaya and repeatedly asked him to injure himself so that he could try them out.

Yes, those were the signs of a healthy relationship. But…Izaya had to admit…it was nice having a friend.

Shinra was someone he could talk to if he felt like ranting, about anything. He was always there to listen to Izaya’s existential theories and monologues on humans. He was willing to hear Izaya talk about something exciting that had happened in his classes, including the parts where Izaya analyzed the psychologies of the people involved and came up with theories about how their social upbringings, circles, and stimuli had provoked the interesting event. He even gave feedback on Izaya’s theories if they ever jumped into areas involving his medical knowledge and let Izaya bounce ideas off him.

In return, Izaya was someone that Shinra could talk all day to about his girlfriend Celty (whom Izaya was still uncertain about the existence of or at least doubtful about the actual status of their relationship) and wouldn’t judge him for it. Izaya didn’t even flinch at Shinra’s crazed fantasies about the headless woman, even when they got pretty explicit, and Shinra loved being able to just ramble aloud for hours about her without someone smacking him across the face to get him to shut up. He also loved geeking out with Izaya over various things, from new medical procedures to random facts about body farms, and they could have conversations for hours that revolved around strange and exotic advancements in the medical field.

In general, they were a pair of mismatched weirdos that had never been able to let themselves be truly themselves with anyone else before in their lives.

Izaya was honestly happy to have found Shinra.

Sure, the instant school started everyone found out his name and he’d risen to extreme popularity among the ranks of the students, but Shinra was his first true friend. Izaya was pretty certain that he’d never been more grateful about meeting someone in his life.

Which was why when Shinra got that part-time morning job at the Firefly Brew Café and asked Izaya to start becoming a regular there so he could make more money, Izaya couldn’t turn the crazy future doctor down.

Well, not for a long time anyway. The first few months that Shinra had worked there, Izaya had totally ignored his requests to come, choosing instead to buy his coffee cheap and bland from vending machines along the road on the way to Rikkyo. He didn’t want to have to go to some random café just to get his coffee every morning, especially since coffee was so ridiculously overpriced at some places. But Shinra kept insisting, kept promising that the coffee was actually affordable where he worked, that it all tasted delicious, that there was even a bakery, and that the barista was hot, until Izaya eventually agreed to try it.

Just one morning, he had said to himself that day, wrapping himself up in his coat with a yawn before heading out. Just one morning he would go to this Firefly Brew place and see what was so great about it, if only to get Shinra off his case. Then he would go back to his usual routine of waiting for Shinra at Rikkyo itself, vending machine coffee can in hand, and wallet still securely full.

And it was a great plan that Izaya fully intended on sticking to…until something threw a massive wrench into it.

That something happened to be the “hot barista” that Shinra was always babbling about.

Considering how Shinra was definitely straight (or at least in love with a headless woman’s body), Izaya had been expecting the barista to be some kind of pretty girl or female supermodel. He’d pictured some long legged, big chested, still-somehow-skinny chick with a nice smile and a nicer body, probably with long wavy hair thrown into the mix and perfect make-up adorning her face. In short, the kind of person Izaya’s parents would have wanted him to end up with, and that most of the world expected him to end up with. What he saw instead was…someone quite different.

He saw a tall, broad-shouldered man with messy bleached-blonde hair that made it look like he’d just rolled out of bed and couldn’t be bothered to brush it. He saw intense golden-brown eyes and the kind of gaze that trapped you within itself and refused to let you go, no matter how much you struggled to breathe. He saw lean muscle hidden underneath a Firefly Brew uniform, and when the sleeves of the uniform rolled up those strong arms, he saw how that muscle worked and stretched as the man moved around. He saw a strong jaw and set shoulders, not to mention what appeared to be a perfect backside when the guy turned around to start making coffee. In short, he saw the most perfect specimen of the male species that had probably ever graced man’s wide earth.

Now considering the fact that he and Shinra had never discussed sexual orientation before, and that no one else he’d ever met had seemed to even fathom the idea of it, Izaya had no clue how Shinra had figured out he was gay. Maybe he hadn’t figured it out. Maybe he thought that the barista’s utter sexiness was enough to convert straight men to the gay side without hesitation. Izaya had to admit that if he’d been straight, he would probably be jumping that gap right now after seeing this guy.

Now the coffee had been stupidly expensive and Izaya suspected Shinra had raised his price while Izaya was distracted with staring at the blonde, but the pre-med student had at least been telling the truth about one thing: the barista was hot.

He didn’t like Izaya very much for some reason, but damn he was hot.

Izaya hadn’t been able to take his eyes off Shizuo the entire time that he’d waited for Shinra to finish his shift, and he could tell from the tension in the blonde’s shoulders that Shizuo was all too aware of whose gaze was on him the entire time. Izaya was thrilled by how his gaze seemed to be affecting the blonde so much when none of the other patrons eyeing the attractive male did anything. Even if the only outward response was anger, anger was often an excellent disguise for sexual attraction, both emotions stemming from a basic source of passion. And even if it was anger, anger could swiftly be turned to attraction if the sexual tension was raised high enough.

So Izaya’s little experiment with the blonde began to develop in his mind. He would see just how much he could tick this guy off by coming here on a daily basis, and subtly slip in little sexual innuendos and flirtation devices into their interactions, increasing the amount that he used as time went by. He’d build up the sexual tension between them himself, along with the anger, and then see how long it took for the blonde to cave in to Izaya’s efforts.

It was all in the name of science, of course. Nothing more than a little psychology experiment to keep Izaya entertained while he waited for his coffee. It certainly had nothing to do with Izaya’s…personal desires. That was just absurd.

Even so, he couldn’t resist blowing Shizuo a nice big kiss as he left with Shinra, and imagining what kind of ticked off reaction that would have gotten him from the blonde. Just the thought of Shizuo boiling over with anger, maybe even throwing a coffee cup against the wall or something, had Izaya giggling with delight as he and Shinra headed to Rikkyo University.

And Shinra didn’t miss this reaction at all.

“So…” The brunette began slyly, pushing his glasses up his nose and grinning at Izaya with sparkling eyes. “What did you think of Shizuo?”

“Who?” Izaya asked innocently, taking a sip of his coffee and refusing to look his smirking friend in the eye as they walked along the sidewalk. “Shizuo? I don’t remember anyone named Shizuo at all. Just some idiot at a cash register and the blonde version of an orangutan manning the coffee machines.”

“Oh, you like him!” Shinra sang, cackling in delight as he slapped his knee. “You never insult people right off the bat like that unless you like them!”

“W-What? I do not!” Izaya protested, punching his friend in the arm and glaring at them as they walked along, his face flaming a little despite the chilly bite of the fall air.

“Yes, you do!” Shinra laughed, looking over at Izaya with a wide grin. “Don’t lie to me, Orihara-kun. I saw the way you were eyeing him. You couldn’t take your eyes off him, could you?”

“I was simply planning out my latest experiment.” Izaya sniffed, looking away from Shinra stoutly and trying furiously to get rid of the blush on his cheeks. “It’s just a psychology study with a fascinating subject. Nothing more.”

“Uh huh. Sure.” Shinra teased, poking Izaya in the side with a snicker. “And that’s why you were tittering like a schoolgirl with her first crush just a few seconds ago, hm?”

“I was not tittering like a schoolgirl!” Izaya hissed, spinning around and glaring fiercely at Shinra. “I-I was just laughing at the thought of how angry he must be right now!”

“You think he’s hot and you’re fascinated by the way he seems to hate you.” Shinra said flippantly, smiling at Izaya as they turned the next corner. “And you’re right! Well, about the hate part anyway. My Celty is far hotter than he is! But anyway, he doesn’t like you very much. Not sure why…well, you are a bit of an asshole. That might be why.”

“Oh please, Shinra.” Izaya snorted, waving a dismissive hand in the air as he rolled his eyes. “No one knows I’m an asshole aside from you. Everyone else meets me and thinks I’m an angel from above. How on earth would he be forming such a negative opinion of me based on my behavior already? He hasn’t even known me for thirty minutes.”

“Shizuo-kun is very good at judging people’s personalities.” Shinra said with a nod, smiling brightly at Izaya. “It’s like he can see through them, right as he meets them! Not as analytically or completely as you can, but he’s got a good sense for these things.”

“Hmph.” Izaya huffed, turning away from Shinra and taking another sip of the coffee. “Whatever. So he doesn’t like me. Big deal. It’s a huge part of my plan, anyway.”

“And what plan is that?” Shinra asked curiously as they walked along, waving to some of the other med students that he could see on the other side of the street. “And better be quiet about telling me. We’re entering the zone of your popularity. Gotta keep up your façade.”

Izaya smacked Shinra upside the head for that comment, scowling at him as they neared Rikkyo. “Shut up! Just because everyone likes me and thinks I’m nice doesn’t mean I have to be nice all the time.” He snapped, glaring at his friend. “I am perfectly capable of being exactly who I am, thank you very much.”

Shinra shrugged nonchalantly, his eyes sparkling with delight as he grinned at Izaya some more. “Alright. Whatever you say, Orihara-kun. Now what’s your plan for Shizuo-kun?”

“I’m going to make him as angry as possible while increasing sexual tension and then see how long it takes him to snap and fall for me.” Izaya said plainly, looking right at Shinra as if daring him to defy Orihara Izaya’s plans.

Shinra paused for a little bit here, taking in the idea of Izaya’s plan, and then busted out laughing. “Oh my god!” He cackled, bending over and clutching his stomach as tears began to roll down his cheeks in delight. “That’s just precious! Oh lord, that’s too much! That’s too good! I can’t! I can’t even! Ha ha!” Shinra couldn’t seem to stop laughing at the idea of it, falling clumsily against Izaya and stumbling alongside him as the raven struggled to keep them moving towards class.

“It’s not that funny.” Izaya muttered defensively, his cheeks flaring in embarrassment at his friend’s utter amusement with his plot. “It’s a perfectly fine experiment! You don’t have to laugh so hard at it.”

Shinra laughed for a long time, cackling like a madman and drawing quite a bit of attention to the pair from the freaked out students around them.

“Uh, Orihara-kun?” A deep voice asked hesitantly, and Izaya’s head snapped around to see Kadota Kyohei, one of the other students in their next class, staring at Shinra in concern. “Is Kishitani doing alright? I mean…he looks kinda…crazy.”

“He just didn’t sleep well last night and his brain is finally beginning to snap under the pressures of staying awake.” Izaya responded sweetly, smiling brightly at the architecture major beside him. “Don’t worry. There’s nothing majorly wrong here.”

Kadota hummed lowly as if uncertain about the truth in Izaya’s words, looking down at the still-cackling Shinra. “Well, if he starts acting even weirder, let me know.” The stoic boy finally said, looking up and meeting Izaya’s carmine gaze. “I’ll help you get him to the nurse’s office.”

“Thank you, Dotachin.” Izaya replied with a bright smile, earning himself a scoff and a small glower from the serious boy at the usage of the hated nickname. But despite his brief flash of discontent, Kadota eventually sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, evidently deciding to just brush it off. “Don’t mention it, Orihara-kun.” He said tiredly, nodding once in respect to the popular boy before walking off towards class.

Izaya glanced around and noticed all the girls beginning to materialize in the space around them, their eyes glinting greedily as they watched Izaya, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Oh great. His fanclub.

“Come on, Shinra.” Izaya grunted, trying to ignore the giggles and whispers from all around him as he hefted his friend up and kept dragging him to class. “Quit laughing and get moving. You’re going to make us both late.”

“A-Ah yes.” Shinra managed to get out in between his cackles, taking a few deep breaths to calm himself down despite the joy still burning bright in his gaze. “And I’ll g-give your girlfriends time to c-catch you, hm?”

“Shut up.” Izaya muttered, flashing the girls around them a charming smile even as he started dragging his friend’s limp body off. “You know I wouldn’t date any of them.”

Unable to hear his words, all the females around them in the hallway instantly started giggling and shoving each other at Izaya’s smile, some of them beginning to break into arguments over who he was smiling at.

“Yes, yes.” Shinra responded, taking one more deep breath and managing to steady himself back onto his feet, laughter finally dying down somewhat. “Which is actually why I decided to go out on a limb and introduce you to Shizuo-kun.”

“Huh?” Izaya blinked, staring at his friend as the med student started walking by himself, heading to class with a new spring in his step. “What do you mean, Shinra?”

“I mean that despite the hundreds of girls literally throwing themselves at you, you told me before that you’ve never had a girlfriend.” Shinra said calmly as he walked, shooting Izaya a bright grin. “Now even someone as goal-oriented as you might find some time to get yourself a pretty girlfriend if you liked her enough, despite your so-called love for all of humanity, so I began to wonder if you even liked girls at all.”

Izaya’s cheeks started to flush red, the raven looking around nervously to make sure no one was around to hear them as he ran to catch up with Shinra, glaring fiercely at the brunette. “Th-That’s ridiculous!” He hissed, punching Shinra in the arm and marching along next to him. “Of course I like girls! I-I mean they’re…girls.”

“Uh huh.” Shinra said doubtfully, shooting Izaya a skeptical look. “Tell me one thing you like about women sexually.”

“W-Well there’s their, uh, their…boobs.” Izaya said lamely, wincing a little about how absolutely weak that sounded.

“Riiight.” Shinra snickered, patting Izaya on the back as they reached the door to their classroom. “And yet you turned down Himizu-san when she tried to get you to go out with her, despite the fact that she had at least a triple D. Sure. You’re definitely a boob guy.”

“S-Shut up.” Izaya muttered, cheeks practically burning as he and Shinra walked up to the top seats in the lecture hall, sliding into the empty space on the right side that they always took. “Maybe I like…small boobs.”

“So when Yoko-chan asked you out, the girl known famously for being flat-chested around school, your love of small boobs just wasn’t feeling it?” Shinra sang, plopping down in his seat and propping his head up on a hand, grinning at Izaya mischievously.

“No.” Izaya said coolly, hooking his backpack underneath the desk and sliding into his seat, refusing to look over at his friend. “It wasn’t.”

“Hm.” Shinra hummed in amusement, patting Izaya on his shoulder with a small chuckle. “I don’t mind it, you know. The fact that you’re gay.” He said in a mercifully low voice that only the two of them could hear, causing Izaya’s gaze to slowly turn back to look at him.

Shinra was smiling gently at Izaya, a caring look in the brown eyes that Izaya really didn’t see very often from the usually so goofy boy. “Really.” The future doctor insisted, squeezing Izaya’s shoulder comfortingly. “I think it’s fine. And honestly, you would look much better with a guy than you would with a girl.”

Shinra snickered at something that crossed his mind, the sparkle of amusement returning to his eyes as he grinned at Izaya. “I mean, if you dated a girl that would just be way too much femininity in one place, you know what I’m saying?” He teased, poking at Izaya’s notoriously high cheekbones and feminine facial structure. “Everyone would think you were a lesbian couple and that you just happened to be the tomboy of the relationship!”

“Oh can it!” Izaya snapped, slapping away Shinra’s hand with a glare, carmine eyes flashing. “I do not look that girly!”

“Meh. Depends on who you’re asking.” Shinra shrugged, not even the least bit concerned by the rage in Izaya’s eyes. “Most of the girls here would say you’re the most handsome boy out there. The guys would probably go with most beautiful. I like to think of you as an ambiguously exotic specimen that could swing either way. You’re just all around pretty and attractive.”

“I don’t know whether to be insulted or flattered by your perspective.” Izaya muttered, crossing his arms on his desk and directing his gaze downwards as the teacher walked in. “And can we please drop this for now? The teacher is here.”

“Sure, but can I tell you why I was laughing so hard earlier real quick?” Shinra asked, his eyes sparkling again even as the teacher ordered them to take out their textbooks and turn to the last page they were on.

“Fine.” Izaya sighed, dutifully reaching into his bag and pulling out the pristine book, setting it on the table before him with a thud. “Why were you laughing so hard at my plan?”

“Because in all my years knowing Shizuo-kun,” Shinra began, flipping through his textbook with a little hum, eyes scanning each of the pages to find the correct one. “I’ve never met a single person who would be willing to spend an indefinite amount of time with him in order to seduce him.”

“I’m not trying to seduce him!” Izaya shrieked, instantly burning bright red as all the students in the nearby seats looked over at him in surprise.

“Orihara-kun?” The teacher called from down below, frowning up at him through her glasses. “Is there something you would like to share with the class about today’s lesson?”

Izaya’s eyes quickly flicked to the board and spotted the name Sigmund Freud under the spot of the ideologist they were comparing their literature piece to that day.

“Yes ma’am. I was just wondering if we were going to incorporate Freud’s seduction theory into the main character’s behavioral hysteria.” He said smoothly. “Since that theory states unconscious memories of sexual abuse as a child leads to the shaping of the mind later on in ways that change the way they view sex and also provides ample cause for various mental disorders including hysteria.”

The teacher smiled brightly up and Izaya, nodding in approval at him and making a few notes on her clipboard to display to the class. “We are indeed going to do that, Orihara-kun. As usual, I am impressed with your ability to connect ideology and literature so effortlessly. Would you like to lead the group discussion on Freud’s principle and our theories for the character’s past today?”

“Of course ma’am. I would love to.” Izaya smiled brightly, praying that the redness of his face wasn’t obvious to the people around him.

The class began to whisper around him about how smart Izaya was, plenty of the students wishing they could understand this stuff so easily, and plenty others (mostly girls) sighing over how wonderful Izaya was.

Izaya released a low breath of relief, shooting Shinra a glare out of the corner of his eye. “You are so lucky I was able to fix that mess.” He hissed, jabbing the skinny doctor in the side.

“How am I the lucky one?” Shinra grinned in amusement, eyes sparkling even as he rubbed his side where Izaya had jabbed him. “You’re the one with the reputation to uphold here, not me.”

“You’re lucky because if my reputation had been tarnished, I would’ve thrown you off the roof of the school.” Izaya said sweetly, fluttering his eyelashes at the boy. “I need followers to perform all my basic social experiments, Shinra.”

Shinra laughed at this, joy once again present in his face. “Ah yes. And I’m sure throwing me off the roof would’ve gained you back all those followers you lost by blurting something embarrassing in class.” He taunted, snickering at the idea.

“I would’ve gotten someone else to do it.” Izaya said casually, pulling out his notebook and starting to copy down when the teacher had written. “It would’ve been easy.”

“Oh, I’m sure it would’ve.” Shinra said cheerfully, not in the least put off by Izaya’s behavior. “But you are definitely trying to seduce Shizuo-kun.”

“I am not!” Izaya argued, glaring at his friend and jabbing him again. “I’m simply trying to see how long someone who seems as stubborn as him who has such an intense dislike of me will take to change his viewpoint. Anger and lust both stem from passion. It’s a perfect set-up.”

“Uh huh.” Shinra snickered, also copying down the teacher’s notes. “But you have to admit that you hold some sexual attraction for him otherwise you wouldn’t even be willing to try this “experiment” on him.”

Izaya stared at Shinra for a few seconds, completely silent. He had no clue what to say to that at all. Because…well damn it! It was true!

“I hate you.” Izaya said flatly, scribbling his notes down with a huff.

“I know.” Shinra sang, unrepentant in any way, shape, or form. “I’m glad you like him so much though, Orihara-kun. You need to increase your social circle beyond me. And Shizuo-kun needs to increase his social circle beyond me as well. You two are lonely, attractive, smart in your own ways, and definitely invested in each other in more ways than one. I think you make a good couple.”

Shinra paused here and looked over at Izaya with a grin. “Once he gets past his obvious hatred of you, of course.”

“Shut up, Shinra.” Izaya muttered, the tips of his ears pink as he tried to focus on the class. “I’m not looking for a boyfriend. I’m just…”

“Trying to make a hot guy like you in a sexual or romantic way?” Shinra finished, giving Izaya a knowing look. “I think that sounds like the first step in looking for a boyfriend, don’t you?”

“Did anyone ask for your opinion, Mr. Completely-Alone-In-His-Romantic-Life?” Izaya responded, finishing up his notes and getting ready to head up to the front of the class to lead the discussion. “I don’t need to hear this from someone who thinks he’s dating a headless woman.”

“You can’t hide from the truth forever, Orihara-kun!” Shinra called after him as he marched down to where the teacher was beckoning him. “And neither can he!”

Izaya dearly resisted the urge to flip his friend off as he came down, but the thought of Shizuo not being able to “hide from the truth forever” as Shinra put it, did bring an unwillingly soft smile to Izaya’s lips. He would forever deny that it had done so, of course. But…it was still there.

Heiwajima Shizuo was going to be filling quite a few of Izaya’s thoughts from now on.

Chapter Text

Shizuo spent his lunch break in the same way that he usually did.

He said goodbye to all of his coworkers, he used the back door to get out since it was always hard to pass the blockade of female customers in the front for some reason, and he took the bus to downtown Ikebukuro where his younger brother Kasuka was working part-time as a model for Jack O’Lantern talent agencies, mostly in the magazine department for things like clothes and a few minor products.

Shizuo loved visiting Kasuka at work. His younger brother was a very talented model (just like he tended to be talented at everything else) and it made Shizuo very proud to see him doing so well for himself at such a young age. Sure, it also made Shizuo feel a little guilty that he was doing so poorly and being such a sorry excuse for a role model, but it was still good to see Kasuka when he got the chance.

After all, Shizuo was gone at work pretty much all day and only really returned home later on in the evening when Kasuka was typically hanging out with friends, and Shizuo always went straight to his bedroom and passed out. He didn’t really have much contact with his parents or brother despite the fact that he still lived with them, and it was almost like living in a ghost house for the tall blonde. The fridge and pantry were always stocked, dishes were always washed, things were always clean, but he never saw a single person doing any of these things. If Shizuo ever stopped and gave himself time to think about that, he might admit that it was pretty creepy.

But Shizuo didn’t really stop to think about anything, so that wasn’t a big deal.

As Shizuo sat on the bus and stared out the windows as the scenery rolled by, thinking of what he would say to Kasuka when he saw him today, he could feel a peaceful smile creep over his face. Yes, despite the stupidly annoying morning he’d had that day thanks to the lovely visit from Mr. Perfect, Shizuo’s day was starting to look up. Going to see Kasuka always calmed Shizuo down.

“Heiwajima-kun, this is your stop.” The bus driver announced from the front as the large machine screeched up to a stop, the old man smiling kindly at Shizuo in his mirror. “I’ll see you tomorrow, same time.”

“Yes sir.” Shizuo said politely, smiling back at the man as he waited for the few other people who shared his stop to get off. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The bus driver tipped his hat respectfully to Shizuo, waiting for the blonde to get off before shutting the doors and driving away. Shizuo watched the bus head around the corner with a soft smile, already feeling a little better. He and the driver knew each other pretty well, especially considering how that man always drove this route and Shizuo always took it at the same time. It made Shizuo feel good to know that someone who knew him decently well still liked him. It was one of the few bright points of his day.

But that wasn’t the point right now. Right now he needed to get to Jack O’Lantern and greet his younger brother. Kasuka should be getting off work here shortly and then they would have lunch together before going their separate ways. Shizuo didn’t intend to waste even a second of that time with his younger brother.

Shizuo set off at a brisk pace for the agency, eager to see what project Kasuka was working on now.

Little did he know that when he actually made it to the talent agency, his good mood would be spoiled faster than the milk in Shinra’s fridge.

He walked around the agency building when he reached it, right over to the back entrance where the employees always entered, and headed up to the guard standing there. It was the same guard that Shizuo always saw standing there at lunchtime, another person that Shizuo knew pretty well.

“Hey Shizuo.” The guard at the door nodded his head, shooting Shizuo a friendly smile as he moved to open the door for him. “Here for Kasuka again?”

“Yep. Nothing else here for me.” Shizuo nodded in response, thanking the man for opening the door before slipping inside. “Have a good day.”

“You too.” The guard called after him before shutting the door, returning to his duties without another word.

Their interactions were always short, but that didn’t make Shizuo any less glad about being able to have them. Any person he could find who wasn’t afraid of him was a welcome person to talk to.

Shizuo slipped around the back halls of the building that he knew so well, around all the cameras and bright white screens and technological equipment that marked Jack O’Lantern as the rich agency that it was. He walked past the bright lights illuminating the fancy artwork hung up on the walls and the shiny floors cleaned to perfection underneath his feet, everything looking professional and clean and reeking of money.

Everything, in short, made Shizuo feel like an absolute failure.

That included the preening models littering the areas all around him.

Beautiful women, handsome men, even gorgeous children were running around all over the place, posing in front of cameras with confident smiles and laughs, flashing lights surrounding them as they showed off whatever was adorning their bodies at the time. Some of the other people were actors, aspiring or professionally employed, heading off to other parts of the building to audition for movies and music videos and such. There were a few singers sprinkled here and there, rehearsing for auditions of their own as they walked around to whichever destinations were calling them, voices lovely and prepared for their next undertaking.

Everyone here was gorgeous, talented, and knew what they were doing with their lives.

Shizuo hated it so much.

He felt like he stuck out like a sore thumb, one embarrassingly ugly person walking around in the midst of superior people all around them, dirtying the place just by being there. Awkwardly shuffling around those who moved with grace in all their actions, just trying to get to his brother while everyone else moved with purpose to their next photo shoot, audition, or interview.

This was the one part of his lunch break that brought everything else down. He needed to keep pushing through it. Keep pushing past all the reminders of his failure until he finally got to the reason that he’d come here in the first place.

“Nii-san.” A calm voice called from somewhere off to his left, relaxing the tension in Shizuo’s shoulders immediately.

And there it was.

“Kasuka.” Shizuo said with a smile, turning to the young model as he walked up to Shizuo, trademark flat expression plastered over his face.

Kasuka’s short brown hair was combed to perfection as always, emphasizing his handsome features effortlessly and adding to the overall image of “calm, cool, and collected” that he portrayed. His clothes today were navy blue in theme, with a gray vest set over the dark blue button-up shirt, gray gloves covering his hands, and dark blue pants leading down to black loafers covering his feet. He looked fashionable and confident.

It was why the company loved him.

“It’s good to see you, Nii-san.” Kasuka said calmly, looking up at Shizuo blankly. “How was work this morning?”

“Pretty good.” Shizuo shrugged, trying not to think about it for too long. “Met some annoying bastard who’s apparently one of Shinra’s college friends, but other than that, it was fine.”

Kasuka nodded in acknowledgement of Shizuo’s feelings, pointing briefly in a certain direction before leading Shizuo off into the agency building. “I am sorry for the trouble that you had this morning, Nii-san. But there is actually a friend of mine that I want you to meet as well, today.”

“Alright.” Shizuo shrugged, following his brother without a second thought. “Any friend of yours is bound to be less annoying than that red-eyed prick.”

Kasuka seemed to pause at this comment, a flicker of uncertainty passing through his gaze as he glanced back at Shizuo. “Red-eyed, Nii-san?” He asked calmly, eyes unreadable.

“Uh, yeah. He had some weird red eyes.” Shizuo responded, frowning as he saw the uncertainty in his brother’s face. “Kinda pretty but…weird. I mean, what kind of eyes are that shade of red?”

“Hm.” Kasuka hummed, turning away from Shizuo and leading him off into the building. “Well, I hope red eyes won’t put you off too much, Nii-san.” He said smoothly, walking right up to the side of another bright white screen, where some other model was posing for pictures. “Because this is the friend I want you to meet.”

Shizuo’s confused gaze slowly slipped away from his brother to land on the model next to them…and he nearly choked on air.

It…it…it couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. The universe didn’t hate him that much, right?! What had Shizuo done to deserve this fresh hell?!

“Beautiful! Now I want another with that expression. Look over to your side this time.” The main photographer ordered the model, gesturing with his hand to where Shizuo and Kasuka were standing.

Oh shit. Oh shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! The guy was going to look over at them. He was going to see Shizuo!

“Alright be cool, Shizuo. Be cool.” Shizuo told himself in his mind as the model’s head slowly turned in their direction. “Be calm, be cool, be collected. Be like Kasuka. Pretend you don’t even recognize him. Maybe he won’t recognize you. You were just a passing face in his morning, after all. He shouldn’t recognize you.”

But when the model’s face turned to look at him, and those unique carmine eyes met his, Shizuo knew he was dead wrong.

“Nii-san, this is my new partner.” Kasuka said from beside Shizuo, unaware of Shizuo’s inner turmoil. “We will be working on many of the same magazine covers now and a few other projects as well once he finishes this last shoot. His name is-”

“Orihara Izaya.” Shizuo growled out, the name slipping unbidden from between his lips. “That’s fucking Orihara Izaya.”

Who else could it be? Shizuo had never once met another man as graceful and beautiful as the one lounging in front of a camera right before him, stretching out his body for the world to see. And with those lights illuminating him from all angles, the white screen helping to emphasize his figure in front of the cameras, and the flashes from the cameras themselves lighting his skin in a white glow, Shizuo couldn’t help but notice the grace and beauty himself.

His raven black hair cascaded evenly around his face, an inky waterfall shining against flawless white skin that Shizuo had never thought was possible in a normal human being. Lightly pink lips that looked as soft as silk were set in a seductive smile, bringing a shine to his glittering carmine eyes that contrasted elegantly with the rest of his face. His head was lifted confidently, revealing the high cheekbones and feminine features that made Shizuo honestly doubt the guy’s true gender, a gorgeous throat exposed for Shizuo’s eyes to behold. It led down to delicate collarbones slipping underneath the tight black shirt he was wearing, showing off the subtle curves of his body. His arms were bare, aside from a strange black length of fabric that twisted around them, cutting deep black ribbons over the pale skin. The tight black skinny jeans he had on showed off the lean muscle of his legs, disappearing underneath high black sneakers laced perfectly on his feet. The only hint of color other than black in the gothic-teenager-looking outfit was a white belt that sat sideways over his hips, more for fashion than functionality, drawing Shizuo’s eyes to the way his hips curved his sides almost like a woman’s. No doubt if the perfect model turned around, Shizuo would be treated to a nice view of an even nicer butt.

There was no doubting it or hiding it. Orihara Izaya was beautiful. Gorgeous, even. But every single inch of his lovely perfection made Shizuo’s anger and self-loathing flare up to new heights. Every flawless detail on that smug face made Shizuo all too aware of the ugly details about his own, and every graceful move Izaya made in the air taunted Shizuo about his own clumsy, destructive habits. Everything Izaya did reminded Shizuo of what a pathetic excuse for a human being he was, and threw everything in his face that told him he would never be as good as anyone else. He would never catch up. He was doomed to be a failure.

“I don’t like him.” Shizuo growled, unable to stop himself as those carmine eyes stared at him, exposing every insecurity with their simple pass over his body, the delight that filled them not even registering in the blonde’s mind. “I really don’t like him.”

Kasuka was looking back and forth between Izaya and Shizuo, clearly trying to make the connection between his older brother and his new coworker, realization dawning in his eyes a few seconds later.

“I see. That’s unfortunate.” The blank-faced boy said flatly, looking over at Izaya as he changed positions yet again, facing away from the camera to expose his perfect backside and then turning his head over his shoulder to shoot the photographers a sly smirk. He planted one hip on his hand, throwing his head back with a mischievous grin and holding that pose for a bit before leaning to the other side and crossing his arms in front of his body, twisting slightly as he looked at the camera so it could get the angle of his arms.

“Beautiful!” The main photographer cried again, his counterparts eagerly snapping pictures of the gorgeous man. “Stunning as always, Orihara-san!”

Izaya didn’t respond other than to wink at the man, cameras flashing with a flurry of excitement to catch the look before he turned to face them fully, tipping his head down to the side and tangling his hands in his deep black hair, closing those carmine eyes halfway and parting his lips dramatically.

Shizuo watched each pose with hatred boiling through every vein in his body, wishing he could march over there and slam Izaya’s perfect little head into the ground until it exploded, getting rid of the “stunning” man as soon as possible.

Too perfect. He was too, fucking perfect.

It made Shizuo sick to his stomach.

“Kasuka, I’m going to the bathroom.” Shizuo growled under his breath, spinning on his heel and marching away with the blood pounding in his ears, unable to wait and see what his brother would say in response.

He needed to get away from that damn photo-shoot. He needed to hurl up the lunch he hadn’t even eaten yet in a bathroom stall like the loser he was. He needed to drink away the images of Izaya that were swirling tauntingly, torturously, in the back of his mind.

Every time he squeezed his eyes shut on that march to the bathroom, trying to banish them from his thoughts, they only came back with more clarity, highlighting every flawless feature of Orihara Izaya and comparing it to every fuck-up that created Heiwajima Shizuo.

He hated himself. He hated himself so much. He hated Orihara for making it so obvious how much he hated himself. He hated the universe for doing something like this to him as if seeing his brother in a place like this every day wasn’t enough. He hated that he was too stupid to go to college while his only friend was off having the time of his life becoming a doctor. He hated it. He hated everything.

Shizuo kicked open the door to the bathroom, storming inside and slamming his hands against the porcelain sink, the delicate material cracking and crumbling beneath his powerful grip. But he didn’t care about the way he was destroying someone else’s property on accident yet again. He’d done it so many times, the feeling of guilt was already second nature and hardly needed to be brought up again.

He was a monster, after all. A hideous, stupid, pathetic, worthless monster.

Shizuo glared at his reflection in the mirror, disgusting by the fake blonde hair lying like a coarse mop on his head. The harsh eyes that scared everyone away once they saw them like this. The thin scars marring his stupid face as evidence of his aggressive childhood. The tense jaw that made it seem like he was always on the verge of attacking someone or something. He was filthy and disgusting.

“Why?” Shizuo muttered, his fingers trembling in the crumbling porcelain they were still clutching even as it fell through his fingers to the ground. “Why?”

But the mirror only stared back at him, his ugly reflection watching him just as accusingly as the gazes of those around him whenever they witnessed his destruction.

“WHY?!” Shizuo screamed when no answer came, the deep roar echoing through the bathroom and probably scaring the shit out of anyone unlucky enough to be in there with the monster.

He pitied them for having to be near him. He pitied Kasuka for having a brother like him, and his parents for having a son like him. He was a mistake.

And compared to Mr. Perfect, his image still swirling around in Shizuo’s mind like a phantom of the person he could never be, he was worse than just a simple mistake.

He was utterly pointless trash.

As Shizuo stared at his reflection, wishing that by smashing the mirror into pieces he could smash all his problems into pieces with it, he knew he had to leave. He couldn’t stay in the modeling agency today. He’d skip lunch and just work an extra shift at the café.

That was all he was really good for anyway.

Chapter Text

Izaya spent his free time between classes in the same way that he usually did.

It was typically a hassle, having to walk all the way off campus and then take a fifteen minute train ride downtown just to get to a part-time job, but after what felt like endless hours of Shinra’s poking and prodding about his (apparently fascinating) sexual orientation, Izaya had been more than happy to run away for an hour or two.

He took the bus line that ran outside his college, relaxing in the general quiet of the public transportation device. There were just a few voices in the back from a mother trying to hush her complaining child and two high school girls chattering to each other about some club activities they had planned, but the rest of the patrons were silent like Izaya, lost in their phones or books or thoughts.

Izaya stared out at the foliage blurring by his window, pondering what the next few hours of his life would be like.

He’d just taken this part-time job a little while ago. Only a small something to help pay his bills and tuition. In fact, he’d barely worked six hours a week doing this gig before – practically not even long enough to call it a part-time job – and he’d never even considered pursuing it further.

But he’d gotten a call yesterday about increasing his hours and his paycheck, moving into larger projects with the Jack O’Lantern company, including a partnership with one of their more famous models. Supposedly, the company was thinking about putting this model in one of their acting divisions soon – real blockbuster movies and shows – but they wanted to make sure he could work with other people first before they did so. After all, his general attitude when he wasn’t on camera was…a little odd, to put it mildly.

That was where Izaya was supposed to come in.

If Izaya – the ever so perfect, friendly, wonderful, talented, dashing new model of theirs – could get along with this Kasuka person, then Kasuka was all set to move into the film business. Clearly, his ability to interact with one person for a few hours a week qualified him to interact with a whole crew of people nearly twenty-four seven for months on end.

Yeah. That made sense.

But Izaya would only have to work about two to three extra hours each week and his pay rate was more than doubling, so who was he to complain?

And he’d chatted with Kasuka before in passing, mostly on their ways to photo shoot areas and occasionally the lunchroom if they had breaks at the same time. The guy spoke very formally and in an exceptionally dull voice, but he seemed easy enough to work with. Izaya was more than willing to take the job.

But shortly after he arrived, ready to finish up his last photo shoot with one of the clothing lines before he started work with Kasuka…something crazy happened.

He’d turned to the side as the cameras flashed, ready to show off another angle of the new clothes he was wearing, and his eyes had landed on a tall blonde man, standing over to the side of the room. The tall blonde man was watching Izaya with an unreadable expression in his golden-brown eyes, fists clenched tightly at his sides, muscles tensed up beneath a Firefly Brew uniform that Izaya had seen for the first time just this morning. The man had almost looked like he wanted to run away, but he was staying in place nevertheless, watching Izaya.

Their eyes met, and Izaya knew without a doubt that both of them had recognized each other, despite Izaya’s different appearance from when he’d gone into the little café a few hours ago that the man worked at.

Shizuo Heiwajima. The hottest man Izaya had ever met. Shizuo was suddenly watching him work his body in front of a dozen flashing lights, done up with his best make-up, dressed to kill, and smiling his best smile.

Could life have set the situation up any better than this?

It was perfect! All Izaya had to do was show off to the angry man for a couple minutes, really put himself into these next few shots, and his plan to seduce Shizuo – er, his social experiment to twist Shizuo’s anger into attraction – would be underway!

Yes, the situation was perfect…except for one minor detail.

Shizuo left.

Izaya stared after Shizuo in confusion, his head tipped down to the side with his fingers in his hair, gaze flicked up subtly so he could watch the blonde’s stiff back as he left. What? What was going on? Hadn’t Shizuo found him attractive? Hadn’t he been watching Izaya with the same level of rapture as everyone always did?

It made no sense. Why would he just leave like that?

Or maybe…Izaya wasn’t his type?

Izaya thought numbly about this for several seconds as he switched positions yet again, planting his hands on his hips and smirking at the camera, although his heart really wasn’t in it anymore.

Why wouldn’t Shizuo like him? Izaya knew perfectly well that he was a pretty attractive male. He’d converted more men than he could count to the gay side of life, and Shizuo should be no different. The man was a protozoan monster that ran on emotions and adrenaline, for the love of humanity! His base emotion was rage and rage was one of the most passion-filled feelings out there. Converting it to desire should be a cake-walk.

Izaya turned his body to the side to allow the photographers a new angle, mind racing with reasons and possibilities as to why Shizuo had left.

Did he just not care about how good Izaya looked? Did he honestly not find Izaya attractive at all? Did Izaya’s clothing turn him off? Was he just uncomfortable with all the flashing lights and people? Or maybe…he’d been disgusted by what he’d seen.

Izaya had caught a glimpse of Shizuo’s face as the blonde had left. As usual, it looked angry. But it was a different kind of anger. It looked more like loathing than the annoyance and frustration that Izaya had seen before. A keen, deep loathing for whatever he’d seen. There was a sense of disgust and revulsion in those golden-brown eyes, the more Izaya thought of them, and that created a sinking feeling in Izaya’s gut that he refused to acknowledge.

Perhaps…Shizuo was disgusted by him. Perhaps he was looking at Izaya’s modeling and thinking he was selling his body like some kind of whore. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had thought that after seeing Izaya work or hearing about what he did. After all, Jack O’Lantern liked to put him in the skimpier clothing lines or the more edgy fashion designs. Izaya’s body made them work. His facial expressions matched the mood they were going for. He really did look…like some kind of whore.

Izaya felt a pang in his chest that he immediately shook off, grinning at the camera over his shoulder as he slowly ran his fingers through his hair.

No. No, that was just ridiculous. Izaya did not look like a whore. He was just an attractive male modeling some slightly out-of-the-box clothing. Just because Shizuo was disgusted by it didn’t mean a thing. Izaya didn’t need Shizuo’s approval. No matter what that small, aching hole in his chest said.

“Shake it off, Izaya. You’re better than this.” Izaya told himself, taking a single deep breath that no one could see and finishing off his poses with both hands on his hips, a confident stance aimed right at the camera, and a self-righteous smirk that screamed of his superiority plastered all over his face.

He was better than this, Izaya told himself as the cameras flashed eagerly around, photographers screaming their usual words of praise and appreciation. He was a successful psychology student at a fantastic college, a top-of-the-line model, someone who was steadily moving up the ranks in their job position, and he was independent and self-sufficient. He didn’t need Shizuo’s approval.

He didn’t care about it. He didn’t care about what Shizuo thought of him at all.

The man was just a social experiment.

“Screw you, Shizuo.” Izaya thought in his mind, nodding his head despite himself to help reaffirm the statement. “If you don’t like me like this, then screw you. You aren’t better than me. And if you think you are, just wait a few years and we’ll see which one of us is doing better in life.”

Yes. Confrontation and confidence was much better than wallowing in self-pity or self-doubt, any day of the week. He didn’t know why he was letting Shizuo’s rejection get to him so much. Normally, things like this wouldn’t bother him at all.

“Alright Izaya. That’s all we’ve got for you for today. You’re free to go.” One of the modeling directors called, urging the photographers to turn their cameras off and leave Izaya alone now since the raven’s shift was officially over.

Izaya bowed in respect to the man, walking away from the white screen and ignoring the cameras still flashing after him, heading for the changing room at top speed.

His social experiment wasn’t going to change because of this little hiccup. He was determined, now more than ever, to sway that stupid protozoan over to his side. He’d even make that idiotic jerk fall in love with him if he had to, and then crush his pathetic heart into the ground. Yep. That sounded nice.

“I don’t care what you think of me, Shizuo.” Izaya muttered to himself as he reached the changing room, dropping all the honorifics for Shizuo’s name as easily as dropping something rotten into the trash can. “I’m going to seduce you and crush you, you jerk. Just wait and see.”

The changing room was a large room tucked away in Jack O'Lantern's modeling department building that contained all of the modeling outfits that weren't currently in use, being wheeled out on gleaming racks from model to model for them to try on. Since the models didn't really care about changing in front of each other - something many of them had done several times at fashion shows - and since Jack O'Lantern was too cheap to actually install real changing rooms, the models just changed their clothes in there once they were done with their shifts, using the many mirrors scattered about the room for reference if they wanted to.

There were little cupboards in the walls that the models kept their regular clothes tucked away in like school lockers, and each of them had their own designated cupboard that no one else touched, usually marked by a name-tag or a sticker of some kind that the models put on them. Izaya's cupboard had his name painted in traditional calligraphy along the side and a large sticker of a black cat placed in its center. It was in the back corner of the changing room, next to one of the largest mirrors and a rack of Halloween-themed costumes that they were going to start modeling in October. Izaya liked his little corner. Not a lot of people came into it, so he was pretty much guaranteed some alone-time while changing and despite the open-changing attitude he was supposed to hold as a model, he didn't really like the idea of stripping down in front of other people. That wasn't the job he'd signed up for, thank you very much.

Izaya opened his little cupboard in the back, pulling out his Rikkyo University uniform and polished black loafers, humming as he set them on the floor before him.

He swiftly changed out of the tight black outfit he was wearing, throwing it all into a hamper laying on the floor beside him, except for the white belt which he tucked into an accessory rack by his head. Then he picked up his school uniform, slipping into the looser black fabric that somehow still managed to conform to his curves, deftly tying the striped silver and black tie around his neck, and readjusting the gold and red patch on his chest displaying the insignia of the university. He stepped into his shining black loafers and dusted off the straight black pants last, marveling at how much of the clothing he wore was black.

It was like the universe was determined to drown him in funeral colors and shadows. Not that Izaya minded; black was one of his best colors and he far preferred darker things to their lighter counterparts. But still, he did wonder what he would look like in a white uniform or modeling outfit from time to time.

“I think pink would serve your complexion better.” A flat voice said from right behind him, startling Izaya out of his thoughts.

He jumped in place and spun around, eyes wide and heart pounding in his chest, as his carmine gaze landed on one of the flattest expressions he’d ever seen in his life. Dead eyes stared at him from an expressionless face, completely unreadable with all emotions drained from every inch of it. The stare was unblinking and unchanging, more like the stare of a serial killer than a curious passerby with a good-intentioned suggestion, and it didn’t exactly help the man look any more welcoming. His body posture was slack and placid, a robot that had been shut down and plopped in place behind Izaya for the sole purpose of scaring the life out of him.

Despite all these creepy factors of the man’s sudden appearance, Izaya immediately relaxed once he took them all in, recognizing who the serial killer giving him fashion tips was.
“Heiwajima-san.” He breathed out a sigh, slumping in relief against the wall behind him. “You freaked me out.”

“Clearly.” Kasuka said flatly, watching Izaya with those unreadable eyes. “I apologize for doing so.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Izaya assured him, waving a dismissive hand in the air as he pushed himself off the wall and turned to the mirror beside him, fixing his slightly disheveled tie with a low hum. “It was only a momentary thing. Did you need something?”

“Not in particular. I simply wished to speak to you.” Kasuka said smoothly, his reflection staring unblinking over Izaya’s shoulder in the mirror as Izaya fixed his tie. “In regards to what happened a few minutes ago during your photo shoot.”

Izaya frowned at that, pausing briefly in his adjustment as his carmine eyes flicked to meet Kasuka’s in the mirror. “What do you mean?” He asked tersely, feeling a slight chill run down his back as that flat stare bored right into him.

He watched the mirror, not daring to turn around as Kasuka approached him from behind, never breaking eye contact with his reflection as he stopped right behind Izaya, barely two inches from his back. Izaya could feel the heat of Kasuka’s skin radiating through his uniform, and he could hear the soft breaths coming from his fellow model as Kasuka leaned forward, his lips brushing the shell of Izaya’s ear.

“My older brother, Shizuo.” Kasuka said in a low voice, the flat tone crawling into Izaya’s ear like a snake as the warmth of Kasuka’s closeness buzzed over his body. “He saw you and seemed upset. He also knew who you were. Do you and him have any…bad blood?”

The way Kasuka paused and weighted the words “bad blood” made Izaya wonder if there was a possibility of something more behind that phrase than Kasuka was willing to let on. Had Shizuo been a part of a gang a few years ago? Did he have enemies coming after him or something? Izaya wouldn’t doubt it based on the guy’s anger management issues and delinquent appearance.

…Well crud. Now he was curious about Shizuo’s past. What could he have done to warrant this kind of suspicion from his younger brother whenever he came across someone he didn’t like? It was a tempting subject to pursue.

But Izaya couldn’t focus on that right now. He needed to alleviate Kasuka’s concerns about his relationship with Shizuo, or it might be the end of the line for his future partnership and promotion.

“No, we just met this morning.” Izaya said breezily, finishing up with his tie and turning his attention now to his patch, adjusting that as calmly as he could with the stoic-faced boy literally breathing down his neck. “At the coffee shop he works in. I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot somehow. He didn’t seem to like me very much. But beyond that, we have no past history together whatsoever.”

Kasuka watched Izaya’s face for several seconds as if judging his honesty, eventually humming in satisfaction with the answer and nodding his head. He remained where he was behind Izaya though, his presence still far too close to Izaya’s body for comfort.

“I see.” The flat-faced boy said, his warm breath sending goosebumps over Izaya’s skin. “I apologize for thinking otherwise. Nii-san has something of a short temper and it can cause occasional problems.”

“So I’ve figured.” Izaya said coolly, dropping his hands to his sides and staring at his reflection, resisting the itch to move around in place like a cooped-up bird as Kasuka remained right where he was, watching Izaya in the mirror. “He seems like the kind of man who has issues controlling his emotions.”

“That is correct.” Kasuka responded, gaze unchanged. “I hope this won’t cause problems in our partnership. Nii-san often likes to visit me while I’m working and I would hate it if he got into a fight with my new co-worker while he visited.”

“It shouldn’t be a problem.” Izaya chirped, silently thinking about his plan to seduce the man into falling in love with him. “Not unless he starts one.”

Kasuka nodded in understanding again, still not moving from his spot. “Thank you for answering my questions, Orihara-san.” He said flatly, their eyes locking in the mirror. “I hope we have a long partnership ahead of us.”

Izaya wasn’t sure how he felt about that phrase. He wasn’t getting any creepy stalker-vibes from Kasuka, nor a sign of attraction and lust despite the model’s close proximity to him. But with the emotionless face this guy had, it might be hard to tell if the man was genuinely aroused by something or if he truly had no interest in it whatsoever. That phrase could be taken platonically, as a wish for a good working dynamic between the two…or it could be something else that Izaya had absolutely no interest in.

He honestly wasn’t sure.

But he decided to just give Kasuka the benefit of the doubt here. He was an emotionless weirdo who probably wasn’t interested in Izaya at all. He probably liked girls, just like the majority of the men in this tiny country. No need to worry about unwelcome advances. Yet.

“Me as well, Heiwajima-san.” Izaya said smoothly, smiling at Kasuka’s reflection in the mirror. “Although hopefully we can start that partnership off with a little bit more space between us?”

The tiniest hint of a smile flickered like a ghost over Kasuka’s face before the model nodded and stepped away from Izaya, finally allowing him room to breathe once more.
Izaya nodded in thanks to his co-worker, hoping his relief didn’t show as plainly on his face as he thought it did, and turned around, ready to leave the changing room, head back to his apartment, and eat his lunch in the privacy of his room.

A bit of a wrench got thrown into those plans however as he and Kasuka exited the changing room together.

“Would you like to dine with my brother and me today, Orihara-san?” Kasuka asked flatly, both of them pausing just outside the room. “I have a spare lunch with me in case you need one.”

Izaya glanced at his new partner, the unfeeling man staring back without a care, trying to figure out what he should do.

Turning down his co-worker on the first real day of their partnership probably wasn’t the best idea for a good working relationship. But he wanted more time to establish his next strategy before seeing Shizuo again. His school uniform wasn’t exactly the best thing to wear to make a man swoon for him. He needed time!

But if he wanted to build up his relationship with Kasuka, then now was the perfect time.

So which was more important: building a good working relationship or successfully seducing the blonde he wasn’t supposed to care about?

Curse his impeccable logic.

“Of course. I’d love to join you.” Izaya smiled dazzlingly, praying this wouldn’t come back to bite him later. “Would my uniform be acceptable for the occasion?”

“It’s a simple lunch. Nii-san often shows up in his work clothes.” Kasuka replied calmly. “You may wear whatever you like. Although if you do change your clothes…” His eyes flickered a little bit here, almost looking meaningful as he stared into Izaya’s carmine gaze. “I really would select some kind of light pink shirt. Nii-san likes cute things.”

Izaya blinked in shock at that statement and opened his mouth to say something (what exactly, he wasn’t sure) but Kasuka brushed past him and began heading off towards one of the break rooms without a glance back.

“We eat together in the third break room.” The emotionless boy called over his shoulder. “If I were you, I’d dress up cutely so I wouldn’t upset Nii-san further. That’s all.”

Izaya stared after Kasuka in bafflement, watching the stoic boy vanish around the corner without a trace.

Was that really all? Was it? Because it had honestly sounded like he was trying to hook Izaya up with his brother two seconds ago. Despite the fact that he’d practically been grinding on Izaya in the changing room just two minutes before that.

What was wrong with the Heiwajima family?

Izaya shook his head, trying to get thoughts of the strange boy and his strange suggestions out of his head. He didn’t need another Heiwajima clogging up his thoughts. He still had classes to pass and plots to hatch. He didn’t have time for any more distractions.

Still…

Izaya looked back at the changing room, thinking of all the different modeling outfits that were in there, waiting for the models to use them for various photo shoots and videos. They were free to grab at any point, and as long as you didn’t leave the building with them, there wasn’t a problem.

“Dress up cutely, huh?” Izaya murmured aloud, a certain outfit he’d seen a few weeks ago slowly popping into his mind. “Well…only to diffuse the situation, of course. Can’t have Shizuo getting mad at me in front of his brother, now can we?”

Izaya looked down at his black school uniform, taking in the usual monochromatic colors that established so much of his daily wardrobe. Dress up cutely.

Izaya sighed, yanking open the door to the changing room and stepping back inside.

“I hope no one gets any pictures of this.”

Chapter Text

Shizuo hadn’t expected to run into his brother outside of the bathroom. He would’ve thought that Kasuka had some kind of business to attend to outside of his pathetic elder brother. Kasuka should’ve gone off to do something important and left his brother to wallow alone and sneak out while no one was watching.

He should’ve known that Kasuka knew him better than that.

Shizuo looked down at his brother, and his brother looked up at him, face as flat and expressionless as always.

“I was going to come right back to have lunch with you.” Shizuo lied, his face beginning to feel hot under the intense pressure of his little brother’s eyes.

“No you weren’t.” Kasuka said calmly. “But you are now. Let’s go.”

Shizuo grumbled a little bit about annoying little brothers but begrudgingly followed the future-actor through the modeling agency building, wishing he’d left before Kasuka had come to find him. He couldn’t run out while his little brother was with him. It just wouldn’t feel right to him. And Kasuka knew that all too well.

Conniving bastard.

Still…Kasuka’s efforts to keep Shizuo sane and interacting with other human beings managed to bring a smile (even if it was just a slight one) to Shizuo’s face, and lift some of the dark emotions clouding his heart away for a short while.

They reached the third break room where they always ate, Kasuka sliding his employee ID card through the lock and letting them both in, holding the door open for Shizuo while Shizuo walked over to one of the few tables scattered in the break room and claimed it. The fluorescent lighting flicked on overhead due to the movement as Kasuka walked over to a line of gray lockers on the right side of the room, using his ID to open one of the lockers over there, too.

Inside the locker were two bento boxes, one packed with a lunch for Shizuo and the other for Kasuka. Kasuka grabbed them both, shutting his locker with his shoulder and strolling casually over to the tiny table Shizuo had picked in the corner of the room. He set both lunches down and pulled over a chair for himself to the table…actually…he pulled over two?

“Kasuka.” Shizuo said with a frown, staring in confusion at the empty chair resting in the space between he and Kasuka as Kasuka settled into his seat across from Shizuo. “Why is there another chair here?”

“You’ll see.” Was Kasuka’s only reply, the emotionless boy unwrapping his bento box with deft precision and gesturing for Shizuo to unwrap his as well. “Go ahead. I know you’re hungry.”

Despite his confusion about the extra chair, Shizuo shrugged and grabbing his lunch, unwrapping it eagerly to see what their mother had made for them both.

Inside he found a nice serving of rice, some pickled vegetables, a small rolled omelet, and a side of salad tucked into the corner. In the second hidden layer of the box he could see the sweet peaches and mochi dessert that his mother had thrown in for him. She still remembered his sweet tooth, even though he hadn’t seen her in what felt like months.

Shizuo smiled at the gesture from his parent, slipping the travel chopsticks out of the bento box lid, and preparing himself to eat alongside Kasuka, who had a very similar meal (minus the sweet desserts hidden at the bottom – he had pickled plums instead).

Both of them had just begun saying the customary line to thank their mother for preparing the food, when a soft knock sounded on the break room door.

Immediately, Kasuka set down his chopsticks and rushed to the door, face giving away nothing as usual while Shizuo sat there in utter confusion. Was someone at the door? Was Kasuka expecting them? Had Kasuka…invited someone to eat lunch with them?

That made no sense. They always ate lunch alone together, just the two of them. Kasuka would’ve told Shizuo beforehand if he’d planned on inviting someone to give Shizuo either ample time to emotionally prepare for it or to prepare an excuse as to why he could no longer come (more than likely, he’d pick the second option).

What was going on?

Shizuo turned in his seat to face the door as Kasuka opened it, greeting someone politely with the ghost of a smile on his lips as he looked that person up and down, stepping aside to let them enter the room.

Okay, so they were some kind of friend of Kasuka’s that he’d invited. Who was it? Did Shizuo know them? And why did Shizuo have such a weird, fluttery feeling in his stomach, like he’d eaten something funny when he hadn’t even touched a bite of food yet?

There was a smell in the air, a very certain smell that felt so familiar to Shizuo as his heart pounded in his chest, golden-brown eyes locked on the door to see who was coming through. He felt like he knew who it was. He was denying it inside his mind, but in his gut, he somehow already knew.

Then the figure stepped into the room itself, surveyed its surroundings carefully and hesitantly, eventually locking eyes with Shizuo, and the world itself stopped.

It was Izaya. Shizuo had known that from the moment the raven had walked in, or maybe even before that. He felt like even though he’d seen the slim man for the first time barely a few hours ago, he’d already be able to pick him out of a crowd of hundreds of people, fifteen miles away.

But this…this was a different Izaya from the monochromatic model of perfection Shizuo was used to seeing.

This Izaya was pastel.

He was wearing a light, cherry-blossom pink sweater that stopped exactly at his wrists and waist, its sleeves patterned with tiny diamond-shaped holes that ran across the top of his arms, exposing the pale skin underneath. His pants were spotless white leggings, tucked inside of pale pink winter boots lined with tufts of soft fuzz. He had a single pink flower clip pinning some of his deep black bangs away from his face, making it look more honest and open. And when his eyes met Shizuo’s, Shizuo could see the light dusting of pink he’d added to the top of his eyelids that somehow made his carmine eyes seem gentler than they usually did.

Overall he looked…ridiculously cute.

How was it possible for someone to look vomit-inducingly attractive one minute and cute and unassuming the next? The magic of models, Shizuo supposed. They could make anything look good and natural on them.

But despite Izaya’s outward perfection, Shizuo could see some tension in the smile he sent Shizuo’s way. He could see anxiety in the soft carmine eyes, and his slender fingers kept twitching at his sides like they wanted to grab something for protection. He was nervous about coming in here, and joining Kasuka and Shizuo. He hid it very well, and Shizuo probably would’ve missed it if he hadn’t been glaring and scowling with a microscopic gaze of hatred from the second Mr. Perfect walked in the door. But it was there. Undeniably.
And it was that imperfection, that anxiety in Izaya’s otherwise flawless face, which stopped him from picking up the table right then and there and chucking it at the small man with all the strength in his body. That kept his anger to a light growl and a dark scowl instead of physical violence.

Izaya was unsure of himself, too. Just like Shizuo.

That didn’t make Shizuo feel exactly better about being unsure and a failure, whereas this guy at least managed to be successful, but it was something. He could try to be a little civil because of that.

“What the hell are you doing here, you bastard?” Shizuo snarled, his fists clenching on the table as he glared with all his might at the smiling, pink raven.

Okay…so civility wasn’t working out too well. It was the thought that counted.

“I’m here to eat lunch.” Izaya replied breezily, brandishing a black bento box Shizuo hadn’t noticed before in his hands and nodding his head at Kasuka. “Heiwajima-san invited me.”

“You can call me ‘Kasuka’, if you’d like.” Kasuka said flatly, walking past Izaya to sit back down with Shizuo. “It’ll get too confusing otherwise with two Heiwajimas in the room.”

“Or I could come up with a nice nickname for Shizuo-kun besides just Shizuo-kun to set him even further apart from you.” Izaya purred with a smile, sliding gracefully into the third chair Kasuka had pulled over and setting his lunch down on the table.

Shizuo growled in response to that sentence, glaring at Izaya while he calmly unwrapped his bento. “Don’t you fucking dare.” He threatened darkly, pointing his chopsticks harshly at the unconcerned raven. “I’ll murder you if you do.”

“No you won’t.” Izaya laughed brightly. “You’d have to catch me in order to murder me!”

“You don’t think I could?” Shizuo snapped, hatred boiling in his veins along with something else. “Just try me!”

“Maybe I will.” Izaya said slyly, shooting Shizuo a quick smirk before giving his own thanks for his meal and popping a bite of rice into his mouth. “It’d certainly be more interesting than having you stare at me all day.”

“I’m not staring!” Shizuo yelled in protest, his cheeks flaming despite themselves at the accusation. It was from rage, he told himself. Obviously.

“Oh? You’re not?” Izaya asked in mock surprise, looking up at Shizuo with falsely widened eyes. “My mistake then. I assumed that when people’s eyes locked on other things for extended periods of time, that was known as ‘staring’. Perhaps I was wrong.”

Shizuo growled again, so tempting to go back on his initial reaction to Izaya’s appearance and flip the table right at him, nervousness or not. This piece of shit needed to go die in a hole somewhere.

“Let’s talk about something nicer, shall we?” Kasuka cut in flatly, giving Izaya an oddly pointed look for some reason. “How about some of our interests? Maybe we can find common ground in the things we like.”

“I doubt I have the same tastes as a protozoan.” Izaya said instantly, popping something else into his mouth. “But it would be fun to see.”

“Prissy Princess.” Shizuo muttered under his breath, trying to ignore the graceful crane of Izaya’s neck as he chatted with his brother. Man, he wanted to snap that neck so badly.

“Nii-san. You start.” Kasuka said out of nowhere, looking across the table at Shizuo without emotion.

“Huh?” Shizuo blinked in shock, chopsticks frozen in the air halfway to his mouth. “Me?”

“Yes you.” Kasuka said calmly, taking his own bite of food and nodding encouragingly at him. “Tell us something you like or like to do.”

“I don’t know.” Shizuo muttered, hating the embarrassment he was feeling from being put on the spot like that. He wasn’t good at coming up with things without advance warning. Kasuka knew that! Why was he trying to make Shizuo look like more of an idiot than he already was?

“Think of something.” Kasuka pressed, and Shizuo scowled, his eyes darting nervously around the room for inspiration.

“I, uh…” He mumbled, golden orbs darting over plain lockers, chairs, and tables uselessly, his brain not finding anything at all to catch his interest. “I like…” His eyes finally landed on the pastel raven beside him, head cocked slyly to the side with a slight smile on his pinkish lips, those weirdly soft eyes watching him…fondly?

It had to be the make-up making his eyes look like that. There was no way Izaya was staring at Shizuo with a fond expression on his face. They barely knew each other. Still, seeing Izaya sitting there in his weirdly cute outfit gave Shizuo something to say.

“I like cute stuff.” He blurted out before he could doubt himself, staring down hard at his food and shoveling another bite of it roughly into his mouth. Hopefully, Izaya wouldn’t look into the reason Shizuo had only come up with that after seeing him. The blonde refused to admit, on any level of human communication, that he thought Izaya was cute right now. No way.

There was silence at the table for a few seconds. It made Shizuo extremely nervous. Did he sound like a weirdo for liking cute things? Was Izaya going to take it the wrong way and assume Shizuo was some kind of pedophile who liked children? Or a girly man whose room was secretly decorated in pink sparkles and shit? Or maybe he thought Shizuo was some kind of cross-dresser who liked wearing dresses and frilly skirts when no one was looking. Oh God, there were so many horrible ways Izaya could take that statement. Why had that been the only thing Shizuo could’ve come up with? Why was he so stupid?!

Shizuo’s gaze flicked up briefly towards Izaya to see what his reaction was, dread curling in the pit of his stomach. He fully expected to see a look of disgust or horror on that perfect face, a look he was used to seeing as a result of his freakish strength, but now for an entirely different reason. There was going to be some form of rejection on Izaya’s face as a result of Shizuo’s oddness. He could feel it.

But Shizuo’s expectations were quickly shot down as soon as he registered the look on the raven’s face. There was a light blush on Izaya’s cheeks right then, almost as if he were embarrassed or shy, matching the pink makeup he’d put on his eyes. The model tried to hide it immediately once he noticed Shizuo’s eyes on him, covering one cheek subtly with his hand and turning his head so Shizuo couldn’t see the other one. But there had definitely been a blush there.

What?

“I’m not that big a fan of cute things.” Izaya announced to the room, still refusing to turn back to Shizuo as he hid his face. “But…a few are acceptable every now and then.”

“See? Common ground.” Kasuka said, the ghost of a smile flickering over his lips as he turned to Izaya. “Now you say something.”

Izaya’s hand slowly lowered from his face, revealing his pale, blush-free skin as he cleared his throat, ready to speak.

“Well,” He began, carmine eyes flicking over to meet with Shizuo’s. “I like new things.”

“New things?” Kasuka repeated, thinking about that for a few seconds. “Like shiny and expensive sort of new?”

“Those are nice too, but no.” Izaya said with a smile, his gaze still never leaving Shizuo’s. Shizuo felt trapped in that knowing carmine gaze. Like the college student had total control over his body and was refusing to let it escape the electric net he had cast over it.

“I mean new things that I’ve never seen before or expected to see. New styles. New attitudes. New places. New food. New people.” His tone dipped a little lower when he listed off the last one, dropping almost into a seductive purr as his dark eyelashes lowered suggestively at Shizuo.

Shizuo felt a weird thrill run through his body at the look, immediately tamping it down before it could become a problem. This stupidly cute model was trying to mess with him. Shizuo could see that. Well, he wasn’t going to fall for a silky voice and some pretty eyes, thank you very much.

“Sounds great.” Shizuo said roughly, pointedly ignoring the raven as he stared at his food, taking another overly-harsh bite. “Moving on. Kasuka, something you like?”

“Modeling and acting. Next.” Kasuka answered bluntly, not giving either of them even half a second to respond before turning the spotlight back on Shizuo.

“Mom’s cooking.” Shizuo managed to mumble, his face getting hot from the stares directed at it as he ate another bite of rice. “Next.”

“Sausages.” Izaya said in a sing-song voice, nearly causing Shizuo to choke on said rice as he pounded on his chest, gaping at Izaya in shock.

The raven was watching him with a wicked glint in his eyes, holding up a piece of sausage from his lunch. “What? I was just talking about the sausage here.” He said innocently, slowly putting it into his mouth. The suggestive shape of the sausage and the way Izaya’s pink lips wrapped around it made his message all too clear.

“Bullshit.” Shizuo managed to get out before averting his eyes, fidgeting in place as the thrill in his body grew a little more. “You’re just a pervert.”

“Shizuo-kun is the one thinking with the dirty mind.” Izaya replied, a little giggle in his words making it clear he’d been thinking exactly the same thing. “All I want to do is eat my lunch.”

“Bullshit.” Shizuo said again, face flaming as he intentionally avoided the small rolled omelet he’d been saving for a while now. It was shaped too much like Izaya’s sausage for him to be comfortable eating it right now.

“Watching you two.” Came Kasuka’s flat voice, and it took a few seconds for Shizuo to remember that they were currently saying things they liked.

He shot his little brother a glare, but the emotionless boy merely shrugged, gesturing at Shizuo to indicate that it was his turn once again.

“Punching people who annoy me.” The blonde growled, driving his fist into his palm none-too-suggestively, golden glare locked on his brother. “Man, I love doing that.”

Kasuka merely smiled at that, turning to Izaya again. “Nii-san likes punching annoying people. Now it’s your turn.” He said smoothly, completely ignoring the threat in Shizuo’s words.

Sometimes Shizuo worried about how desensitized Kasuka was to the threats and dangers that surrounded him. It made him wonder about what would happen if Kasuka was ever mugged or attacked – would he be able to recognize what a dangerous situation he was in? Would he know what to do with himself or how to act? Thoughts like that often ran through Shizuo’s mind whenever he saw how unafraid his little brother was of him and his monstrous rage.

And then other times it just pissed him off. Honestly, why couldn’t Shizuo scare his brother at least a little bit? Just the tiniest bit of fear would be so great right now.

“Sitting in comfortable chairs.” Izaya sang suddenly, pulling Shizuo out of his thoughts and (thankfully) moving the conversation away from the perverted direction it had been going. “I love it when I can just sit down on something and relax instantly.”

“Same.” Shizuo said aloud before he could stop himself, his eyes looking up to meet Izaya’s once more. “Comfy chairs are the best.”

An actual smile passed over Izaya’s face, his carmine eyes glittering a little bit as he and Shizuo watched each other. “Common ground.” Izaya said teasingly, patting the hard plastic chair he was currently sitting in. “Looks like we found some.”

Despite the awkwardness of the situation, Shizuo found himself smiling back at the raven. “Looks like it.” He agreed, distracted once again by how damn cute Izaya looked in that outfit.

Kasuka, of course, ruined their moment of peace.

“If you like sitting on comfortable things,” He said to Izaya, a strange glint coming into his expressionless eyes that Shizuo did not like. “Then you should try Nii-san’s lap.”

“W-What?!” Shizuo choked out, gawking at his brother with wide eyes, unable to believe what he was hearing. “What the hell are you talking about?!”

“Shizuo-kun’s lap?” Izaya repeated curiously, carmine eyes flicking down to stare at it. Shizuo got the uncomfortable feeling that he was really staring at something else though and he crossed his legs immediately, glaring fiercely at his little brother.

“We are not going to talk about my lap.” The blonde hissed, gripping his chopsticks so tightly they were bound to break any second now.

“Try it, Orihara-san.” Kasuka encouraged, once again ignoring Shizuo’s obvious threat as he smiled at the raven. “You won’t be disappointed.”

“Don’t you dare try it!” Shizuo growled, pointing accusingly at the wolfishly-grinning Izaya, keeping his legs firmly crossed. “I will deck you without a second thought.”

“I just wanna know if Shizuo-kun’s lap is comfortable.” Izaya said with that same false innocence from before, eyes flicking down to Shizuo’s legs. “Come on. Only for a few seconds?”

“No way!” Shizuo yelled, his face burning up with embarrassment. “You’re fine in your chair! Right where you are!”

“Let me try!” Izaya whined, scooting his chair closer and grabbing Shizuo’s arm. “I wanna try!”

The unreal situation wasn’t helped any by Izaya’s pout and the outfit he was wearing, both of them seemingly designed to appeal to Shizuo’s inner weakness for cute things. The raven hung off Shizuo’s arm like some adorable lover, pouting pathetically with those delicious pink lips as he peered up at Shizuo. “I wanna try.” He whined, rubbing his cheek affectionately against Shizuo’s arm. “Let me sit on Shizuo-kun’s lap for five seconds. That’s all I ask.”

This was a plot. A ploy. A scam. Shizuo could smell it in the air. No model that looked as gorgeous as Izaya would be this interested in someone as plain as Shizuo. Not to mention the vast gaps in their intelligence, financial situations, and levels of success. Izaya couldn’t be actually invested in Shizuo at all. And he definitely seemed like the manipulative sort who would be after Shizuo just to get something out of him or drop him like a rock later in order to break his heart.

But for some reason…because of that damn pink sweater and flower clip, Shizuo couldn’t look at Izaya and suspect him of anything evil at all.

He was going to regret this on so many levels later.

“Fine.” Shizuo grumbled, slowly uncrossing his legs so that his lap was open again. “But only for five seconds. Got it? Then I’m shoving you off.”

“Yay!” Izaya chirped, jumping faster than Shizuo’s mind could comprehend right onto his lap, wrapping those slender arms around Shizuo’s neck and resting his cheek comfortably on top of Shizuo’s head.

Shizuo sat frozen in place, unable to move from the shock pounding through him at having been so openly and quickly accepted as Izaya snuggled right up against him, cradling the blonde head in his hands and running delicate fingers calmingly through his hair.

His butt fit nearly perfectly into the curve of Shizuo’s waist, the two of them fitting together like puzzle pieces as Shizuo’s hands hung uselessly at his sides, unsure of where they should go. Izaya’s body felt so warm, like a little mouse nestling up against a large dog to seek comfort. And all the while, those fingers ran gently through Shizuo’s hair, effortlessly brushing out tangles and soothing Shizuo’s racing mind. The raven began to hum lightly, the sweet sound reminding Shizuo of days long past when his mother used to sing to calm him down.

It felt so…nice.

Shizuo could feel his eyelids drooping as Izaya’s humming soothed him, the gentle and steady motion of delicate fingers pulling him down into the realm of sleep.

All he did was sit there, and Izaya sat on him, the both of them connected in what felt like a far more intimate moment than any random sit on someone’s lap had a right to be. Shizuo let Izaya’s hands and voice soothe him into relaxation, his own hands slowly moving up to land on the curve of Izaya’s waist, slotting themselves to the gentle slope of Izaya’s pink-clad body like they were made to be there.

Izaya hummed a different tune once Shizuo’s hands landed on his body, almost purring as he ran his fingers even deeper through Shizuo’s hair. Shizuo stroked his hands slowly up and down Izaya’s body in a daze, his eyes fully closed now, as he breathed in the scent that had first alerted him to the raven’s presence. It was strongest at Izaya’s neck, where Shizuo’s nose slowly turned to press against, the blonde inhaling it deeply with a low growl.

Izaya giggled a little in response to the growl, the sound reverberating through the smooth neck Shizuo buried his face in, still breathing in that dizzying scent. Somehow, it pissed him off, but it also smelled…strangely magnetic. Like something so vile you had to sniff it again just to be sure your brain had actually comprehended something that could smell like pure evil. But at the same time you couldn’t help but be drawn to that evil. Shizuo was in equal parts disgusted by and attracted to the strange, beautiful man sitting on his lap.

What was wrong with him?

His fingers dug a little deeper into the smooth skin of Izaya’s sides, the smaller man’s hums jumping a bit in response and then relaxing back into their soothing lull, spidery fingers twirling and threading his blonde hair.

It was almost like Izaya was an instrument in Shizuo’s hands, responding to his every touch and keening out the different notes Shizuo’s fingers teased from his petite body. Beautiful melodies were coaxed from inside the raven’s lungs, up through his throat at the will of Shizuo’s touch. It made Shizuo wish Izaya’s mouth was open to let the sounds through unobstructed, rather than being reduced into muffled hums. He was certain that somehow, no matter if it was singing or shouting or laughing or screaming that came out, he’d find it utterly beautiful.

“Five seconds, huh?” A slightly smug voice suddenly asked, shattering through the calm that had settled over Shizuo. “Seems to me like you’re giving him a lot more than that.”

Shizuo’s golden eyes flew open, his head jerking up in shock to meet the smug gaze of his younger brother Kasuka, watching them with a glint in his eyes from across the table. Instantly, he surged to his feet, shoving Izaya off his lap and onto the floor. “It’s not like that!” He started yelling, then the realization of what he’d just done hit him, and he looked to his side in dread.

“Ow!” Izaya hissed from where he’d landed on the ground, wincing at the harsh impact and shooting a glare up at Shizuo. “Stupid protozoan!” The raven snapped, a large red spot beginning to form on his cheek where Shizuo’s head had smacked him. “I’m literally on top of you! Think you can stand my existence for two seconds before you go flailing around like a gorilla?!”

“Hey, shut the hell up!” Shizuo growled in response, his tiny inclination to help the smaller man up to his feet evaporating instantly. “I got distracted, you asshole!”

“You’re the asshole!” Izaya yelled back, jumping elegantly to his feet and dusting his white pants off with a furious expression. “I thought we were having a nice moment but no! You’re brother says five words and suddenly you just can’t stand to be in the same breathing space as me.”

“That’s not it!” Shizuo protested, clenching his fists at his sides as fury began to take over, red swirling in his vision uncontrollably. “You even said I was flailing like a gorilla! I didn’t mean to shove you off! It was just a knee-jerk reaction!”

“I’m going to be bruised for a week.” Izaya muttered, turning his back on Shizuo and gingerly touching the red mark on his face. He winced a little as he pressed his tender skin, shooting another spiteful glare at Shizuo. “I’m never going to sit on your lap again.” He snapped, red eyes angry.

“Like I’d ever want someone like you sitting there!” Shizuo roared in response, changing the tune of his argument before he could even think about his words. “You’re a disgusting piece of shit and I wish you hadn’t come here!”

A brief look of hurt flashed through Izaya’s eyes before they narrowed, even more fury boiling in them than before.

“I’ll see you at work tomorrow, Heiwajima-san.” He hissed venomously, and it took Shizuo a few seconds to realize he was talking to Kasuka before he stormed over to the lunch room door, not even bothering to grab his bento box on the way, and kicked it open. The heavy metal door slammed loudly into the wall on the other side, the pissed-off raven sweeping out of the room and slamming it shut behind him with just as much force.

“Orihara-kun? Are you alright?” Shizuo heard a confused voice ask just before the door closed, cutting off the audio from outside.

Then it was only Shizuo and Kasuka alone in the lunch room like usual, Izaya’s scent of magnetic evil still lingering tauntingly in the air. It burned. It soothed. It made the room feel empty even though this was the way Shizuo had wanted it.

Why did it feel so wrong now?

“Well.” Kasuka finally said, his flat voice breaking the silence, followed by a sigh of disappointment. “That could’ve gone much better.”

“No, it couldn’t have.” Shizuo muttered, dropping back into his seat and pulling his lunch over to him, refusing to look Kasuka in the eyes. “Me and that guy…we don’t work. I told you I hated him this morning when I met him. That hasn’t changed. You bringing him here…that only made it worse.”

“Did me bringing him here make it worse?” Kasuka wondered aloud, taking another calm bite of food. “Or did what you say to him do that?”

Shizuo didn’t answer.

Chapter Text

That stupid, insolent, ignominious, protozoic, troglodyte! What the hell was wrong with him?! Izaya felt like screaming in rage as he burst out of the room, eager to leave the blonde idiot far behind him. He refused to acknowledge the nice moment they’d been having barely two minutes before this. That was completely ruined now, tarnished by the memory of Shizuo’s stinging words.

“Like I’d ever want someone like you sitting there!”

The words rang tauntingly in Izaya’s mind as his hand landed on the door, ready to slam it shut behind him.

“You’re a disgusting piece of shit and I wish you hadn’t come here!”

“Fuck you.” Izaya snarled under his breath, slamming the door with as much force as he was able and marching off. He shouldn’t have to take that shit. Whether Izaya was experimenting with his feelings or not, Shizuo’s rejecting attitude at the slightest provocation was a bit of a damaging blow to Izaya’s ego, more damaging than Izaya cared to admit.

Fucking blonde gorilla. See if Izaya ever sat on his filthy lap again.

Izaya had barely made it one step away from the door, too wrapped up in his pissed-off thoughts to focus on the world around him, when he slammed right into someone’s chest, bouncing off them with a cry.

He would’ve landed hard on his rear end if two hands hadn’t grabbed his forearms, dragging him forwards into the same chest he’d just collided with and holding him there securely.

“Orihara-kun?” A deep, confused voice asked from above him, those hands still gripping his arms for stability. “Are you alright?”

“Thank God the door was probably shut before I nearly busted my ass open.” Izaya thought to himself before responding, shaking his head to clear the brief flashes of shock at his near-accident out of his mind. “Um, yeah.” He managed to get out, wincing a bit and pressing a hand to the side of his head as a small headache began to pound. “I’m just peachy.”

“You sure?” The voice continued, concern filling it now as a gentle hand pressed over Izaya’s forehead. “You look a little sick. And…pissed.”

Alright, who was talking to him so familiarly?

Izaya finally looked up at whoever had caught him, his eyes landing instantly on short, spiked white hair and pale grey eyes. There were two silver star stickers followed by a light sprinkle of glitter at the corners of the eyes, bringing a strange sparkle to the grey orbs. The man’s face was masculine and handsome, with a strong jawline and a kind smile, all set atop a toned, muscular body.

“Shinichi.” Izaya blinked in shock, a slight smile of relief coming over his face when he saw who it was. “It’s just you.”

“Who did you think it was?” Shinichi laughed, stepping away from Izaya now that he was sure the smaller man was stable on his feet, letting his hands rest casually in his jean pockets. “Another wacko trying to get you to go out with them?”

Izaya shrugged, smiling at the friendly man that he’d often worked with on photo shoots before. Their bosses loved pairing them together because Izaya’s dark beauty and Shinichi’s light handsomeness contrasted so well. Izaya often portrayed a more seductive, dark, feminine role while Shinichi handled the friendly, bright, masculine figure, making for extremely well-rounded photos that appealed to multiple audiences. They’d once done all the modeling for an entire magazine together, the whole issue themed in black and white with the start of the magazine covered by Izaya in dark colors, the middle covered by Shinichi in lighter shades, and the end done up in dual-photos with them both in it, mixing and matching the black and white clothing they wore. That magazine had been a massive hit with the public, and Izaya had to admit that it might’ve been the project that gained him his current opportunity working alongside the star model, Kasuka Heiwajima.

“What are you doing on this side of the building?” Izaya asked aloud, pulling himself out of his thoughts as he ran his fingers his dark hair. “Normally you’re shooting in section C right about now.”

“I’m touched that you know my schedule so well!” Shinichi sang happily, clasping his hands together dramatically and batting his eyelashes at Izaya. “You really do care, Orihara-kun!”

Izaya laughed at the sight, his anger with Shizuo all but washing away in the face of Shinichi’s antics. “I’ve told you before, you can call me Izaya.” The raven smiled, slipping his hands into his pockets with a relaxed air. “We’re friends, after all.”

Shinichi dropped his dramatic act, giving Izaya a sheepish laugh instead and scratching the back of his white hair. “Yeah, it’s just hard to drop old habits. You were so cold when we first met!”

“I don’t really…open up very well.” Izaya admitted, feeling a little guilty for all the suspicions he’d had about Shinichi when they’d first started working together. He’d been just as friendly then as he was now, and Izaya’s mind had taken Shinichi’s constant hugs, smiles, pats on the back, and greetings as a method of getting Izaya in bed with him. He hadn’t trusted Shinichi half as far as he could throw him, and the nice way he treated Izaya only made things worse. It had all felt like a ploy, a set-up to get him to lower his guard.

But as the days, weeks, and months had passed, Izaya had come to realize that Shinichi really was just as friendly and respectful as he seemed. He always asked Izaya if it was okay to do certain shoots that involved more intimate touching, if Izaya was uncomfortable with the way they were touching or how close they were, whether Izaya wanted his hands lower or higher, or if Izaya needed a break from all the photos. He was kind, considerate, and always kept his hands to himself if Izaya asked him to. He really was a great guy. Izaya enjoyed doing photo shoots with him. Other models tended to get a little grabbier, revealing the truth behind their friendly grins and greetings, but Shinichi was just a sweet cinnamon roll all the way through.

He was probably the only person besides Shinra that Izaya would consider a true friend.

“That’s an understatement!” Shinichi laughed, pulling Izaya back into the present as he grinned widely. “You flat-out hated me at first!”

“I just didn’t trust you, is all.” Izaya protested, punching Shinichi lightly in the shoulder. “It’s different now.”

“Alright, alright.” Shinichi conceded, smiling brightly at Izaya as his grey eyes sparkled. “Izaya-kun, then. Or…could I call you Izaya-chan? Would that be too much?”

Izaya felt his heart flutter a little in his chest at the second nickname, prompting him to quickly squash those feelings down, plastering a fake grin onto his face instead. None of that nonsense, heart. He couldn’t follow one of those pathetic paths of love right now. He had things to do. Career goals to set up. A life to lead. He couldn’t let himself get distracted by something like love.

Not to mention the fact that Shinichi was a boy. Going out with him or admitting that he had a crush on the guy…if anyone found out about that at school, who knew what might happen to Izaya’s reputation? The one he’d built up so carefully over his years in the school systems.

Experimenting on Shizuo was one thing. That Izaya could easily pass off as something he had absolutely no attachment to, and it wasn’t like Shizuo would ever come near his college anyway. There was no chance of his little flirtations here and there coming out in his school life. But Shinichi…Izaya knew he’d never be able just to flirt with Shinichi and cut him out of his life whenever he needed to.

He was too nice of a person to do that to, even Izaya knew that. He couldn’t do something so horrible to someone who’d been so kind to him. So the best thing to do if he wasn’t able to jump into a full relationship with the guy was just to keep them at a friendship level. Purely friends. Nothing more.

“I think I would prefer 'kun'.” Izaya said tightly, smiling through the lie as he looked at Shinichi’s hopeful grey eyes. “It’s just a little less…intimate.”

“Ah, of course.” Shinichi laughed, embarrassment tingeing his cheeks pink again. “We’re not that close yet. What was I thinking? Izaya-kun, then. Sorry if I mess it up later.”

God, this guy was too sweet for this world. How could people like him even exist?

“It’s no problem.” Izaya chirped brightly, smiling at his friend. “But I need to get going. Back to my classes and all that.”

“Right! I hope those are all going well for you.” Shinichi said cheerfully, smiling at Izaya with that kindness no one had ever shown him before. “But…are you sure you’re okay? You really did look a little angry earlier.”

“Oh that.” Izaya waved a dismissive hand, surprised at how quickly his argument with Shizuo had been forgotten. “I just got in a little spat with Heiwajima-san’s older brother. Nothing serious. Just a little frustrating.”

“Heiwajima-san’s brother?” Shinichi asked in surprise, his eyes widening. “The angry blonde who comes here around lunchtime every day?”

“He comes here every day?” Izaya frowned, the unpleasantness of that fact sinking in. That might botch Izaya’s new plan of eating lunch at the modeling agency before returning to school.

“Most days, anyway.” Shinichi shrugged, trying to think about it. “They’re pretty close, but I think the older one works all day so they barely get to see each other beyond these lunches. I honestly have issues seeing how they’re related sometimes. What with Kasuka being so quiet and calm all the time and that guy just screaming ‘I am a ticking time bomb! Don’t come near me!’”

Izaya laughed at the description, thinking of Shizuo’s inhumanly gorgeous and angry golden eyes. “That’s the truth. He’s got a pretty powerful vibe about him.” The raven agreed, smiling at the thought of Shizuo’s rage despite himself. “It makes him interesting, though.”

“Hmm…well, whatever floats your boat.” Shinichi hummed, doubt filling his grey eyes. “Personally, I’d prefer an interesting person who was dark and mysterious instead of pissed-off 24/7. Someone more like you.”

Izaya blushed at the comment, trying to hide it as he ducked his head, breathing quickly to get a hold of himself. “T-Thanks.” He managed to get out, praying he wasn’t being too obvious here. “W-Well, I’d better get going before I’m late.”

“Oh yeah! Sorry to keep you.” Shinichi apologized, stepping aside so Izaya could continue on his way. “Say hi to Kishitani-san for me. And stay out of trouble, Izaya-kun!”

Izaya nodded and said a quick farewell, hurrying off down the hallway before his blush could spread further. It was really easy to allow himself to fall into the comfort of Shinichi’s presence, to keep up that dynamic of good, close friends instead of a one-way crush situation, until Shinichi said things like that. Then Izaya’s heart would start doing flips and freaking out, unsure of how to handle the genuinely kind compliments from the only person who spoke to him so honestly.

It was so confusing sometimes! Izaya felt like they were the best of friends and that everything was peachy and dandy one second, and then Shinichi would give a gentle comment like that about liking Izaya and everything would go downhill the next. Izaya would be a flustered mess, blushing like a schoolgirl and trying not to show it as Shinichi stood there with his kind smile, not comprehending a single thing. Then they could slip back into friendship. Friendship, crushing hard, friendship, crushing hard, friendship, it was too much for Izaya’s heart!

He needed to get back to school. And hopefully hide his blushing face from stupid Shinra, poking at his insecurities like they were playthings. The crazy future-doctor would pounce on them like a starving man onto food, prying them apart until he discovered Izaya’s newest secret.

Sometimes Izaya hated having a friend like Shinra who was close enough to him to see through all his lies and masks. It made things like secret crushes on colleagues so much more difficult to ignore.

As Izaya ran out of the modeling agency, giving quick goodbyes to everyone he passed that recognized him and heading for the train station, his thoughts began to drift around, centering on two things: Shinichi and Shizuo.

They were both very different people, that was for sure.

Shizuo was aggressive and easily flustered, the sort of person who jumped to conclusions and let his anger take control of him before he thought anything through. He was tall, broad, and intense, and he gave off the general vibe of a delinquent with his dyed hair and sour attitude. However, after that little moment they’d had with Izaya on his lap (the one Izaya was still going to try and ignore), Izaya had seen that the monstrous man could cave under something as simple as human touch. He’d been so tender when he’d held onto Izaya, and his little sighs of contentment had made Izaya’s heart race in a way he wasn’t used to. The monster had a powerful aura of rage, but he definitely wasn’t like that all the way through; there was a seed of humanity and warmth tucked down deep within him. Izaya’s little experiment had been proving that so far.

And then there was Shinichi on the total opposite end of the scale. Shinichi was kind and compassionate, the sort of respectable person that everybody knew and loved because he never caused any problems. He was the sort of man you took home to your parents because he treated you right and he loved you like a fairytale prince. He had a bright smile and laughing eyes, and he understood boundaries and personal space better than any man Izaya had ever known. Shinichi was handsome and adorable at the same time; a cinnamon roll in a gorgeous body. And from what Izaya had seen from him over the months of work they’d done together, he was like that all the time. There was no real dark side to Shinichi. Short of having weird kinks in the bed (which Izaya had a hard time picturing as it was), Izaya couldn’t even think of a single thing that was weird or twisted that could apply to the man.

Completely different people, yet both had a strange magnetism to them that Izaya just couldn’t deny.

He reached the train to take him back to Rikkyo University, settling down into one of the familiarly hard seats and glancing out the window as the train started to move.

It picked up in speed, pulling out of the clean station of bustling people, dragging itself down the track that would take it deep into the heart of the city. Izaya watched as everything got faster and faster, the train slowly picking up speed until it was finally rocketing off into the distance, reaching a comfortable pace as it headed towards its next destination. The scenery blurred by, buildings and people blending in a mash-up of abstract shapes that made no sense to Izaya’s distracted eyes.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, pulling his attention away from the blurs of imagery outside, and Izaya glanced down to see a new text message from the devil himself.

Shinra: [Hey! You coming back soon or what? You normally don’t stay over there for lunch. :) ]

Izaya huffed a slight laugh at the format of the text message, Shinra being one of the only other people besides himself that he knew who texted with semi-proper grammar and full sentences.

A man sat down next to Izaya on the train, apparently having come over from another seat or something as Izaya began his reply to Shinra. He ignored the newcomer, attention focused solely on the small screen in his hands.

Izaya: [Yeah, I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes; just got on the train. Stressful lunch over here thanks to my lovely new coworker. (҂⌣̀_⌣́) I’ll tell you about it later.]

The man next to Izaya scooted a little closer, their knees bumping together as the train jostled on the train. Izaya frowned at the contact, his eye flicking over to the guy’s knee for a half second as he scooted closer to the window. He’d ignore it again for now. It happened sometimes on trains. He could let it go. If it happened again though, he’d start having an issue.

A buzz in his hands dragged Izaya’s attention away from his slightly suspicious seatmate, the new message from Shinra glowing on the screen.

Shinra: [Haha, nice emoticon. Did something bad happen? Who’s the new coworker?]

Ah, that’s right. Izaya hadn’t told Shinra about his new job offer yet.

Izaya: [Right. I forgot to tell you. I got a job offer to work with one of the top models before he goes off and becomes a movie star or something like that. That’s who I’m talking about.]

The man bumped against Izaya again, this time it was their arms touching, and Izaya shot the guy a quick glare. It was a tall man in a business suit, looking down at his own phone like nothing had happened, completely ignoring the glare Izaya was sending his way.

Oh, he better not be trying to play this off as innocent if he kept bumping into Izaya like this. Izaya wouldn’t take this for much longer.

The buzz grabbed Izaya’s attention again, the raven giving the man next to him a lingering, hateful scowl before looking back at his phone.

Shinra: [Oooh, fancy!~ So is he one of those prissy movie divas? Thinks he’s better than you?]

Izaya laughed at the idea. He couldn’t imagine Kasuka cracking a smile or a smirk, let alone being prissy and acting like a diva. The guy didn’t display enough emotion for that.

Izaya: [Haha, no way. It was his brother that caused the issues.]

The train rocked a bit and the man next to Izaya took the opportunity to completely press his body against the side of Izaya’s.

“Hey!” Izaya snapped, shoving the guy off him with a glare. “Watch where you’re leaning, asshole. Some people enjoy personal space and respectable boundaries.”

The man snickered, breaking out of his false innocence act as he shot a nasty grin at Izaya, his eyes filled with lust that made Izaya want to puke.

“Sorry, babe.” The man smirked, setting his hand intentionally on Izaya’s thigh and squeezing it suggestively. “Just couldn’t help myself.”

“Forces above, restrain me from giving this man a lobotomy with my bare hands.” Izaya thought to himself, breathing deeply through his nose as he smacked the hand roughly off his thigh. “I’m not interested in perverted old creeps.” He said coolly, giving the snickering businessman a sharp glare and scooting even further towards the window. “So cut your shit before I yell for the conductor to throw you off the train.”

“Oh c’mon, babe.” The man purred, evidently not getting the message as he pushed up against Izaya again, creeping his hand up Izaya’s thigh once more as he pressed his nose towards Izaya’s neck. “This is just some simple fun.”

“GET OFF ME!” Izaya shouted, slapping the man across the face as loudly as he could. When in tight situations with annoying people, call as much attention to yourself as possible.

Multiple heads on the train turned in their direction, eying the businessman with the red hand mark across his face in disgust and disapproval.

The man’s face burned in shame, scowling at Izaya as he scooted towards the far end of his seat.

“Is there a problem here, sir?” The conductor asked, walking over to their seats and giving the businessman a harsh glare. “Do I need to have you removed?”

“Fuck you.” The businessman muttered, looking down at his feet with a scowl, no longer interested in flirting with someone who was willing to call him out on his shit.

The conductor glared at the top of the man’s head, giving Izaya an apology for the trouble and a free ticket for his next ride as compensation for his poor experience.

Izaya accepted the ticket gleefully, smirking smugly at the businessman glowering at him from the other end of the seat.

“Serves you right.” The raven hummed to the businessman, turning back to his phone as the conductor settled everyone else down on the train. “Freaking pervert.”

Izaya hoped the man’s wife would see that handprint when he got home and figure out what had happened. He’d be happy to help her get some revenge on this loser if she ever went looking for it.

He saw two new text messages on his phone this time, one from Shinra and one from Shinichi.

Surprised, Izaya opened Shinichi’s first.

Shinichi: [Hey, Izaya-kun! I was going thru the locker room and I found ur school uniform. The black one w the cute silver tie? Want me to bring it to u? <3]

“God, why does he have to sign some of his texts with hearts?” Izaya muttered aloud, trying to stop the furious blush rising on his cheeks. He was such a dork.

But sure enough, Izaya looked down at himself and realized he was still wearing the freaking pink pastel outfit from before. He’d been so mad with Shizuo and then so distracted with Shinichi that he’d forgotten to change before heading back to school. Crap. If anyone at school saw him looking like this, he’d never hear the end of it. Especially from Shinra.

Izaya: [Can’t believe I forgot! Please bring it if it isn’t too much trouble. I really need it! (o´д`)o]

Izaya had to wait barely three seconds before his phone buzzed again with Shinichi’s cheerful response, the friendly man as prompt as ever.

Shinichi: [Np! Lol, cute face. Where do u want me to meet u?]

“Would you quit saying cute?” Izaya hissed, the red in his face only growing even brighter. “It’s not helping!”

He bit his lip and thought about it for a few seconds. He didn’t want to risk going back to his dorm and having Shinra or anyone else seeing him. Plus, it felt like a little bit too intimate to have Shinichi knowing where he lived. He needed to come up with some other place that wasn’t too far from Rikkyo but would be easy for Shinichi to find, especially since he didn’t come to this area often as far as Izaya knew.

Then an idea popped into Izaya’s mind that he hoped to God wouldn’t be a horrible one later.

Izaya: [How about you meet me at a little café called Firefly Brew? It’s within a few miles of Rikkyo University. You can probably Google Maps it.]

Firefly Brew. The same damn place Shizuo worked. If Izaya was lucky, the blonde brute would still be chatting with his brother Kasuka and Izaya could get in and get out before he went back in for another work shift. Hopefully. Izaya did not need another confrontation with that idiot when they were probably both still mad at each other. Also, he didn’t want Shinichi to see him flirting with Shizuo…for some reason.

The buzz in his hands from Shinichi brought Izaya’s thoughts back to reality, his red eyes anxiously flickering down to the phone screen.

Shinichi: [Sounds good! See u there. Btw, u look really cute in your pink outfit rn. Sure u wanna change? ;)]

“Winky face?! What does the winky face mean?!” Izaya asked in a panic, glancing down at his outfit. Was Shinichi flirting? Oh God, Izaya wasn’t equipped to handle Shinichi flirting with him! This was a joke right? It had to be a joke! Shinichi and Izaya were just friends. Shinichi knew that better than anyone! Oh, please let this be a joke!

Before Izaya could text anything though, another message from Shinichi popped up.

Shinichi: [Lol, just realized how creepy that could’ve sounded. Ignore my suggestion. You look cute.]

Izaya breathed out a sigh of relief, slumping back in his seat as the train started to come to a stop. When Izaya glanced outside, he saw that is was his station. Alright. Time to head to the café. And hopefully tamper down the butterflies swirling in his stomach at Shinichi calling him cute. And using proper grammar and spelling while doing it, even. Shinichi was always switching around between things like “ur” and “your” or “u” and “you”. Usually whenever he was being serious or trying to get a point across, he typed the full words.

Which only made his compliment all the worse.

“Just type a normal response, Izaya.” Izaya told himself, trying to calm down as the conductor called out the name of the stop, the side doors opening. “Ignore the compliment, type a normal response, and get off the train.”

Izaya: [Haha, thanks. But I’m still going to change. Please bring my uniform to Firefly Brew. I don’t wanna get caught breaking dress code.]

Izaya shoved his phone in his pocket after he sent the message, scooting past the perverted and grumpy businessman as fast as he could to exit the train alongside the flow of passengers, a new pathway already set in his mind for the best way to get to Firefly Brew without being spotted by any Rikkyo students.

As Izaya headed down the street, very much aware of the extra appreciative looks being sent his way by females and males of all ages (curse his idiocy for wearing a modeling outfit outside the actual agency), he felt another buzz in his pocket.

Shinichi: [Okie dokie! Heading over now. See u soon, cutie! ( ˘ ³˘)♥]

Face burning, Izaya decided to end the conversation there and switched over to Shinra’s nearly-forgotten message, trying to get his brain back on the track of that conversation.

Shinra: [Sorry you had issues with his brother. But maybe you won’t see him very often! Hey…now that I think about it, Shizuo-kun has a younger brother that does some modeling, too. Could it be…DID YOU HAVE LUNCH WITH SHIZUO?!]

Ah shit. Izaya had forgotten that Shinra freaking knew the blonde beast. They were friends!

“Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” Izaya cursed aloud, smacking himself in the head as he walked along, gaining even more looks from the passerby as he went. “I completely forgot! Dang it! Should’ve thought about that last text before I sent it.”

Could he lie? Was it possible to fool Shinra into thinking he’d had lunch with someone else’s big brother? But what if Shinra came to his work to meet Kasuka and ended up recognizing him as Shizuo’s little brother? Or worse, seeing Shizuo himself? This wasn’t something Izaya could easily cover up.

Izaya got another text from Shinra just as he was about to try typing out some random response to change the subject.

Shinra: [Since you have refused to answer the question, I must assume that you did. OOOOH! You had lunch with Shiiiizuooooo! Did you fight? Why would you fight?! I ship you two so hard! (o≧д≦)o]

“Stupid doctor.” Izaya glared at the screen, wishing he’d seen the text and come up with an excuse before Shinra could jump to any conclusions. Now he had to somehow dissuade the delusional freak before anything got out of hand.

Izaya: [I don’t want to talk about this right now. Yes, I had lunch with him. It went horribly. It was all HIS fault, might I add, and that is the end of this conversation. Now goodbye. I’m meeting with Shinichi right now so he can drop off something I forgot at work.]

Izaya sighed as he headed around a corner, watching the street with careful eyes for Rikkyo University uniforms that he needed to avoid. So far, he was looking pretty good. Not a lot of students came down the back roads like this. They preferred the main, busy ones that led directly to the university. He’d be at the café in a few minutes, Shinichi would show up, he’d get his uniform back, and be on his way before his next class was even within half an hour of starting.

When Shinra’s response came back, Izaya was almost dreading what it would say.

Shinra: [Aw dang it. Well, please tell me all about it later so maybe I can clear it up if it was a misunderstanding. Oh! Tsukumoya-san? I forgot you became friends with him. Onto a first name basis now, huh? You better not be blowing holes in my ship.]

Shinra: [Remember that he used to annoy you! Keep that in mind!]

Shinra: [He’s got an unsavory past! Everybody knows that!]

Shinra: [Actually, that just came from an internet gossip magazine so it might not be true…]

Shinra: [Still! Tsukumoya-san is not the one for you!]

Izaya rolled his eyes at the spattering of dramatic text messages from Shinra. The last few in particular were just ridiculous. “Unsavory past”. Everybody had seen that article when it had come out about what Shinichi had used to do for a living. It was complete nonsense. That article had been factually disproved within three days of it coming out, there had been only two weeks’ worth of paparazzi and press pestering before they’d all dropped the subject, and the author had taken the article down and sent a formal apology to Shinichi for making things up about him within a month.

Throughout the whole affair, Shinichi had remained his usual calm, cheerful self, laughing off all the questions from the eager reporters and being just as open with his private life as he’d been before. He’d cooperated easily with the police, given a brief testimony in a publicity event, and even allowed some reporters to come into his apartment to look around and film live for a TV show famous for exposing celebrities’ dark pasts. At the end of it all, he was the same, sweet, honest person everybody knew and loved. If anything, his popularity had gone up after the fiasco because everyone got to see firsthand what a great, respectable guy he was and how willing he was to cooperate with the law.

Izaya admired Shinichi for his level-headedness and seemingly endless supply of cheer and optimism. It got him through so much in life, and everybody loved him for it. On top of that, it was all real. None of it was fake.

Izaya wished he was strong enough to have a will like that powering him through life. All the happiness and success he portrayed to get people to follow him was fake. Izaya drew people to him through deceit and lies. Shinichi drew them to him because he glowed like an angel.

Izaya sighed, lost in thought as he tucked the phone into his pocket, deciding to ignore Shinra’s messages as he continued his march to the café. When he turned the corner of one street and spotted the tiny building, glowing like a gentle candle in the middle of the busy city, he could almost feel himself dreading the encounter with Shinichi that was to come. He didn’t want to be so envious of his friend, but he couldn’t help it. He was just going to have to paste on another bright, sweet smile to fool the world while he faced down an actual example of goodness and light.

It made him feel so disgusting.

Izaya slipped inside Firefly Brew without ordering anything and found a quiet corner in the building to sit in by himself, pulling up a chair and staring outside the window as he waited for Shinichi to arrive.

If he’d known about the confrontation that would follow in just ten more minutes, Izaya wouldn’t have cared who saw him in pastel pink as he went to school that day. He would’ve been out of that café, uniform or no uniform, faster than a bolt of black and pink lightning.

Because that confrontation was the beginning of the end.

Chapter Text

Shizuo and Kasuka finished their lunch in silence after the fiasco with Izaya. There wasn’t much to say to each other – which was what usually happened since nothing really changed with them – but for some reason, today felt more awkward than usual. It was like Kasuka thought Shizuo ought to be saying something, like there was an elephant in the room that needed to be addressed, but Shizuo couldn’t see what it was. The elephant was just standing there, and Shizuo was blind to it and hopelessly confused.

When they finished their lunch, Shizuo wished his little brother good luck with the rest of his shoots for the day and headed miserably out of the modeling agency. He didn’t bother greeting the guard on his way back; he was pretty sure his sour attitude would’ve turned that into an unpleasant encounter as well.

No one deserved to talk to Shizuo Heiwajima when he was in a bad mood. It was an experience Shizuo himself wouldn’t wish on anyone. And it often ended in somebody flying up into the air and sustaining near permanent damage.

“I just have to get to work and try to forget all of this even happened.” Shizuo muttered, shaking his head and hoping to clear his mind of the unpleasant afternoon. “Just get to work, start my next shift, and go home. That’s all I need to do.”

Shizuo huffed once to himself in agreement with his statement, and his footsteps sped up, propelling him towards the café that would soon be his salvation.

Or at least he thought it was going to be.

When Shizuo flung open the front door to the restaurant and marched inside, he froze immediately.

There it was. That magnetic feeling from before. It raised the hairs on his arms and gave him goosebumps all over his skin. It…It couldn’t be. It just wasn’t possible. The universe couldn’t be this fucking cruel to him, right?!

Shizuo tried not to look. He really did. But it felt like his head was being pulled by that force, dragging harshly over to his left without his control, only to anchor on the one thing he’d been dreading more than anything else for the past hour.

There he was. Orihara Izaya.

Still dressed in those same pastel pink clothes (that Shizuo still refused to admit were cute on him) as before, he was looking out the window of the café, seated in one of the corner booths. His carmine eyes were completely focused on the passerby rushing by outside, the young model seemingly unaware of the intense glare settled right on his neck.

He shifted a bit, as if to turn around, and Shizuo’s head instantly snapped forward again, the blonde marching straight for the back and hoping that his burning cheeks weren’t showing as much as he thought they were.

How could he be here? Why was he here right now? Had he literally come to the café right after blowing up in Shizuo’s face just to torment him?!

Shizuo scowled as he ran into the back and grabbed his usual apron, pulling it harshly over his head and tying it even more harshly around his waist. He didn’t want to deal with this shit right now. As it was, he wasn’t even sure he understood just what this shit even was.

Who was the one at fault for the argument they’d had at lunch? Shizuo had been pretty sure at the time that it was Izaya but now…now that he replayed the conversation in his mind, he was beginning to doubt that. Was he the one who caused Izaya’s massive blow-up? He had dumped the guy – quite literally – on the floor, and insulted him in almost the same breath before the raven had exploded. Maybe Izaya had had a right to be angry. But then again, he’d purposefully intruded on the lunch that Shizuo and Kasuka always shared together! Even if he’d been invited by Kasuka, he was still interrupting their daily schedule of peace with his aura of evil and that in itself should be a crime!

Shizuo sighed as he ran his fingers through his hair, staring at his reflection in one of the coffee machines they kept in the back. Was that really a good enough reason to blame Izaya for everything that had happened, though? It probably wasn’t. But when Shizuo got angry, anything seemed like a good reason to pin all the blame on one person. Heck, with Izaya, he felt like he could pin every problem in the world on him.

Global warming? Izaya started it. Politicians? He was probably whispering in all their ears. The gender wage gap? Izaya was laughing out loud at the struggles it caused. Nuclear warfare? Guilty as charged.

But that probably wasn’t fair. It was too much blame and hatred all directed at one person. It was like Izaya had become Shizuo’s sole outlet for rage in just the single day he’d known the guy. That definitely wasn’t fair to him, even if he was an evil little prick who was only hiding behind some pleasant mask.

“Maybe I should apologize.” Shizuo muttered, almost scowling at the thought of it. His parents had raised him to be the bigger person in situations like these…but they’d been talking about arguments with friends and in his mind, Izaya certainly didn’t qualify. He was an acquaintance at best, and an unpleasant one to boot. Did he deserve an apology anyway?

“Damn.” Shizuo growled, punching the wall in frustration. He held himself back so that his fist wouldn’t go through it; only a small indent was made where his fist had landed. He stared at his hand, thinking about all the jobs he’d lost before because of his anger issues throughout high school. This was the only one he’d managed to keep his temper in check during. His boss and coworkers probably weren’t even aware of his super-strength. He couldn’t let a grudge against some random guy spiral out of control to the point where it got him fired from here, too. He loved his job too much.

“I’m such a piece of shit.” Shizuo sighed, tipping his head back and closing his eyes. “The only reason I’m apologizing to this guy is because I like my job, even though he might deserve the apology.”

No time to think on how horrible that made Shizuo, though.

His boss was already poking his head out, eyes lighting up when he saw Shizuo standing there, and hand gesturing eagerly towards the front counter.

“Shizuo!” The man cried in delight. “Right on time! Just step up and take your shift, okay? We’re kind of slow right now, but Takashi left a while ago to take care of a family emergency so I really need someone on counter duty.”

Shizuo nodded in mere acceptance of his responsibility, moving to the front counter and checking over all the coffee equipment up there before begrudgingly facing out towards the rest of the café.

He tried to keep his eyes locked on the door, waiting for customers to come in, but they kept straying slightly to the right where he knew Izaya was sitting.

He caught himself each time before his eyes actually landed on the raven, but he was pretty sure there was a scowl on his face that could stop a charging rhino in its tracks as a result of his internal moral struggles.

The struggles only increased when a new customer walked in…and walked right over to Izaya.

Shizuo frowned in a mixture of confusion and some other ugly feeling swirling in his chest, his golden eyes locked on the new figure as it moved confidently towards the young model sitting in the corner.

The guy was good-looking, far more so than Shizuo, with short white hair done up in casual spikes, pale grey eyes that complimented the colors of his body, this strange starry glitter stuff at the edges of his eyes, and a pretty decent body. He was toned and muscular, with a nice smile thrown on top of all his masculine perfections.

In short, he made Shizuo feel like crap, just like Izaya had done earlier.

Shizuo’s eyes narrowed instinctively as the guy walked over to Izaya and placed a gentle hand on the raven’s shoulder. He didn’t like this guy just as much as he didn’t like Izaya. He didn’t seem trustworthy. Or maybe it was just the fact that he oozed confidence and success like Izaya had earlier. Either way, Shizuo didn’t like him, and the fact that he was over there talking to Izaya was even worse.

It was like the douchebags were uniting, or something. Maybe they were in some kind of evil manipulators club together. They both seemed to fit the part.
Izaya turned around in his seat with a suspicious look – probably because he didn’t want anyone touching him – but….those wine-red eyes lit up once he saw the silver guy standing there.

“Shinichi!” Izaya said in delight, standing up and…and giving the guy a hug?! What?! Izaya didn’t seem like the type of person who’d be willing to give out a fucking handshake, let alone a hug! Who was this asshole that had just come up to him?

“Hey, Izaya-kun.” The silver guy said cheerfully, wrapping his arms easily around Izaya like they’d hugged a million times before. “Long time no see.”
Izaya laughed a little at the comment, a sound that make Shizuo’s fists clench instantly at his sides as he watched the exchange, and sat back down, urging the silver guy to sit with him.

“Did you bring it?” Izaya asked nervously, his eyes darting around the café like he was worried who might overhear.

Okay, that sounded illegal. Maybe this guy was Izaya’s partner in their drug dealing enterprise. Yeah. Yeah, that was probably it.

Despite the fact that this would mean two wanted criminals were conspiring in his café, Shizuo could feel himself calming down. These guys were only coworkers. That was it. He didn’t know why that calmed him down so much, but that was it.

Shinichi laughed, a casual and pleasant sound, and reached into a bag slung around his torso. “Izaya-kun, you make it sound like some drug exchange.” He said jokingly, pulling out a bundle of clothes and passing them over the table to Izaya. “Yes, I brought your uniform for you, cutie. Even though it means sacrificing this adorable image of you in my mind.”

Izaya blushed a little at the comment, taking the uniform and forcefully directing his attention on it instead of the smiling guy across from him. “Th-Thank you.” Izaya got out in as dignified a manner as he could. “I appreciate it.”

“The uniform or the compliment?” The silver guy asked cheerfully.

Izaya’s blush deepened and he ducked his head a little, still holding the clothing in his hands. “Both I guess.” He mumbled, widening the smile on the silver guy’s face.

“Yay! We’re at the point where I can give you compliments now!” He sang happily, punching his fists up in the air in victory. “I’m never gonna stop calling you cute now, cutie.”

“Please don’t!” Izaya said instantly, hiding his burning face behind the clothes. “We’re in public, idiot!”

The silver guy laughed again, pushing the clothes gently down so he could see Izaya’s face. He smiled kindly at the flustered raven, brushing some hair gently out of his eyes. “I know. I won’t do it if it makes you uncomfortable.” He said softly, smiling that same impossibly-kind smile. “But I do want you to know that I think you’re one of the most adorable things to walk this earth, Izaya-kun.”

Shizuo’s hands, which he hadn’t realized were clenching the counter, snapped shut, crumbling the bit of counter he’d been holding onto beneath them. He glared at the two evil shits sitting in the corner, laughing and talking like best friends. Or…something more.

Was this Izaya’s boyfriend? What the hell was he doing in Shizuo’s café? What right did Izaya have to flaunt himself at lunch and sit on Shizuo’s fucking lap for fifteen minutes when he had a boyfriend?! And then Izaya was blatantly showing the guy off to Shizuo, knowing that Shizuo was going to feel inferior to the perfect man he’d selected as his actual partner?

No way in hell was Shizuo going to let this one slide.

Ignoring some lady who’d just walked up to the counter, Shizuo marched around the barricade between him and Izaya, growling like the beast he was as he marched in a direct line for the booth in the corner.

Izaya must’ve sensed all his rage or something because his carmine eyes flicked over to land on Shizuo and widened in a mixture of shock, horror, and rage, like he had completely forgotten Shizuo worked here. Well, that was complete bullshit. Izaya’s little scheme wasn’t going to get by Shizuo. The raven wasn’t the kind of person to forget some little detail like that – even Shizuo could see that from the few interactions he’d had with him.

“Izaya-kun?” Silver guy asked in confusion, leaning towards Izaya in concern. “Is something wrong?”

Before Izaya got a chance to respond, Shizuo came up to their table and slammed his hands harshly on its flat surface, drawing the attention of the entire café.

He didn’t care at that moment in time, though. His insides were boiling over with rage and his vision was tipped with red. It was only a matter of time before he completely snapped.

“What the hell, Izaya?” Shizuo demanded angrily, spitting out the name like it was a disgusting piece of spinach. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Izaya looked at him coldly, not a hint of fear in those eyes as he responded. “I’m meeting up with a friend in a coffee shop. Is that so wrong?”

“Don’t fuck with me like that.” Shizuo growled, getting in Izaya’s face and glaring fiercely at him. “This is your boyfriend, isn’t it? Why the hell did you bring your boyfriend here after the shit you pulled with me at lunch? Huh? You think it’s okay? It’s funny?! It’s fucked up, that’s what it is!”

Shizuo turned his glare on the silver guy next, who was sitting there with a completely baffled look on his face, eyes switching back and forth between the two of them in confusion.

“And you don’t play innocent either!” Shizuo growled, grabbing the front of the guy’s shirt and yanking him harshly into his face. “I know you’re just as twisted as he is.”

“Shizuo, knock it off! He’s just a friend!” Izaya yelled, grabbing Shizuo’s arm and pulling him back from the silver guy. His other pale, delicate, perfect hand came up to try and pry Shizuo’s fingers off the silver guy’s shirt, a surprising amount of force going into the action.

“Like hell he is!” Shizuo snapped, glaring at Izaya again and refusing to relinquish his grip. “I heard you two from over at the counter. You’re all lovey-dovey and shit. He’s calling you cutie. You’re blushing at everything he says. Don’t tell me that’s not a fucking relationship!”

Izaya’s jaw dropped and his eyes narrowed in anger, the raven fingernails digging into Shizuo’s hand and arm. “I can’t believe you, Shizuo.” He hissed, carmine eyes flashing. “You were not only eavesdropping on us, but chose to make your own assumptions about our conversation then come marching over like you have a right to interfere? Fuck off! I haven’t even known you for a single day! How I act around my friends is none of your business!”

Some part of those words made sense, even Shizuo knew that, but his anger levels were just too high. Everything was turning into a reason to get pissed.

“Don’t give me that shit!” Shizuo yelled back, his fist tightening on the silver guy’s shirt and almost ripping it and he turned the glare back on Izaya’s boyfriend. “You were rubbing up on me all throughout lunch, you sat on my fucking lap, you flirted with me, and now you’re bringing your actual boyfriend in here right in front of me. That’s messed up and you need to be confronted about it.”

“Dude, we’re not dating.” The silver guy spoke up, looking at Shizuo in bewilderment. “Me and Izaya-kun are just really good friends. We work together at the modeling agency.”

Shizuo froze at that, his rage stopping in his veins as the words processed in his mind. “You…work together?” He repeated hesitantly, a feeling of doom settling over his shoulders as Izaya’s glare burned into his back.

“Yes.” The silver guy insisted with exasperation, nodding his head at Izaya. “Me and him team up for photo shoots all the time! We’ve been doing it for a while so we’ve gotten really familiar with each other. He forgot his uniform at work today so I brought it to him so he wouldn’t be breaking dress code when he goes back to class.”

He pointed at the uniform resting in Izaya’s lap, Shizuo’s mind distantly recognizing the black and silver outfit Izaya had worn this morning.

“See? It’s right there.” The silver guy said, sighing a little. “Me and Izaya-kun aren’t doing anything wrong here. You just jumped to conclusions and acted like an asshole.”

Shizuo’s ears burned with shame when he heard that, all his words slowly replaying in his mind. He really had acted like an asshole, hadn’t he? He’d saw them together, heard their conversation, and assumed the worst right off the bat. Then he’d come over here like some jealous boyfriend who’d caught his partner cheating and went off the handle.

On some poor guy who wasn’t even connected to the awkward situation from earlier that Shizuo had spilled his guts about at full volume. The whole café had probably heard them.

God, he was a piece of shit.

Shizuo instantly released the silver guy’s shirt, taking a few steps back and looking pointedly at the floor. “I’m…sorry.” He muttered in embarrassment, red coating his face as he stared at his feet. “I jumped to conclusions and I just…never mind.”

“Hey, I don’t care.” The silver guy said gently, his tone almost laced with amusement. “I actually sort of like it that you assumed I was dating Izaya-kun. It’d be an honor to date him, in my opinion! But it’s Izaya-kun that you need to apologize to.”

Shizuo’s eyes slowly moved up to meet the carmine glare looking at him in pure vengeance, its owner probably pissed beyond belief.

“Sorry, Izaya.” Shizuo mumbled, trying not to look away as those red eyes bored into him. “I shouldn’t have gone off like that.”

“Damn right you shouldn’t have.” Izaya growled, glaring at the blonde with venom. “Who the hell do you think you are? Do you think you’re my boyfriend, huh? What gives you the right to come barging over here and picking a fight over my personal relationships? Even if you jumped to conclusions about us, that still doesn’t excuse that it wasn’t your place to yell at me about it.”

Shizuo bit the inside of his cheek, trying not to punch himself for being such an idiot. “Sorry.” He mumbled again, unsure of what else he could do as he looked guiltily back at the front counter. “I’ll just…go back to work now.”

“Thank you.” Izaya grumbled, still obviously pissed but at least a little mollified. “Get out of here, amoeba-brained asshole.”

…At least Shizuo hoped he was mollified.

“It was nice to meet you, Heiwajima-san!” The silver guy called after him with a hint of amusement in his kind voice. “A real pleasure!”

Shizuo didn’t like the way he said that. It sounded almost smug like he’d planned the encounter or something.

He glanced over his shoulder at the silver guy, who was back to smiling kindly at Izaya and chatting with him like they were lovers, clearly taking some kind of joy in the way he was in charge of calming Izaya down now after that disaster.

His hand had taken hold of Izaya’s, and he was drawing smooth circles on the back of it with his thumb, speaking soothingly to Izaya all the while.

Izaya’s shoulders were tense but under the silver guy’s attention, he was beginning to relax again, letting out a heavy sigh and slumping back in his seat.

Shizuo didn’t like there. It was like the silver guy was taking advantage of Shizuo’s mistake to get closer to Izaya. He reeked of manipulative asshole, just like Izaya, even though it seemed like no one else saw anything but the nice guy mask.

Shizuo didn’t trust him. Not one bit. But, as Izaya had so logically pointed out, it wasn’t his place to say anything. What Izaya did was his own decision. Shizuo needed to stay out of this.

As the blonde returned to his position at the counter, apologizing in embarrassment to the shocked lady standing there and beginning on her order, he was hyper-aware of the conversation over to his right.

The silver guy told Izaya to change and head to class as soon as possible, standing up as if to leave, and Izaya jumped up to give him another quick hug. Izaya apologized for the fiasco, a line that made Shizuo’s shoulders tense up, but the silver guy just laughed and gave Izaya a quick kiss on the forehead. He said it was totally fine and that if he’d gotten the treatment from Izaya Shizuo had at lunch, he would’ve been upset seeing Izaya with some other guy, too.

Izaya blushed at the comment and shoved the silver guy away, mumbling something else that Shizuo couldn’t hear, but the silver guy laughed at and called Izaya a cutie for saying. Then he waved cheerfully at the raven-haired model and swept out of the café, nodding briefly to Shizuo with that same possibly-smug amusement before slipping away.

Shizuo finished the lady’s order and handed it to her, again apologizing for the show he put on. The lady placed a reassuring hand on his arm, smiling gently at him.
“I’d have been upset if I’d seen my own love interest apparently dating someone else behind my back, too.” She told him, bringing a red blush to Shizuo’s cheeks.
“H-He’s not my love interest! It’s not like that!” Shizuo insisted, praying that Izaya wasn’t watching him right now.

The lady raised an eyebrow, a knowing smile on her lips as she wished him a good day and headed out the door, coffee in hand.

Shizuo stood there at the counter, thinking about what the lady had said. It wasn’t possible, right? He hated Izaya. He’d hated him from the moment he’d seen him for the first time just this morning. There was no way that sheer anger and hatred was hiding something else beneath it.

Was there?

Shizuo hesitantly looked back over at Izaya, noticing that the raven was glaring daggers at him from the booth table and instantly dropped his gaze, pretending to check something on the cash register. There was no way that was possible. And even if it was, Izaya clearly hated him now.

After what he’d done, could he really blame him? Shizuo would hate himself, too. He already did, but that really wasn’t the point.

He watched Izaya out of the corner of his eye as the raven gathered up his things, tucking the uniform under his arm and heading quickly to the bathroom in the back of the café to change. Not even a minute passed before he was out again, dressed in the silver-black clothes he’d worn that morning, fixing his tie with an air of professionalism as he headed straight for the door.

He paused when he got there, glancing back once at Shizuo with something that seemed almost like disdain.

“See you tomorrow, Shizuo-kun.” He called across the café, though he seemed a lot less happy at the prospect of returning to piss off Shizuo than he had that morning, slipping out the door without another word.

A piece of paper fluttered down from his hand as he left though, and Shizuo frowned as he saw it hit the floor. What was that? Was that intentional? Accidental? Should Shizuo get it and try to return it to him?

Shizuo shook the thought of the paper out of his mind, focusing on the customer in front of him and deciding not to look at the paper until his shift was over and he was leaving for the day. If it was still there by then and it seemed important, he’d keep it and return it to Izaya next time he saw him.

The fact that Shizuo felt like he knew there’d be a next time made his stomach do a half-uncomfortable-half-pleasant flip flop. Maybe next time he could redeem himself. Or fuck up even worse. Or discover the true reason he hated Orihara Izaya’s guts so much.

As the action in the café wound down, most all customers now ignoring Shizuo and his outburst as they drank their coffee and left, Shizuo’s boss poked his head out of the back.

“You can probably start closing now, Shizuo.” The cheerful man said, apparently unaware of the customer Shizuo had threatened fifteen minutes ago. “I don’t think anyone else is going to be coming in for today.”

Shizuo nodded in understanding and began to clean up everything out front, the sounds of the workers in the bakery behind him doing the same wafting out to him. They all wished him a good night as they swept past him, done with their portion before he’d finished cleaning the floors, and Shizuo nodded back to them all as he silently continued his work.

When everything in the café was spotless like usual, all the machines were turned off, and all the chairs were stacked up on the tables, Shizuo wished his boss a good night and told him he’d see him tomorrow morning.

As he walked out the café, he saw Izaya’s paper still resting lightly on the floor, a tantalizing scrap of white that probably meant absolutely nothing.

But Shizuo’s fingers nonetheless reached down to grab it, and after a moment’s hesitation, he put it in his pocket. He’d read it when he got home. No need to do so instantly.

The entire train ride back to his parents’ place, Shizuo felt like the paper was burning a hole in his pocket. It felt impossibly heavy, like he couldn’t help but be aware of its presence as it lay there, crying out for attention. The paper was almost like Izaya himself – impossible to ignore not matter how small, slight, or delicate it seemed. His fingers kept fluttering into his pocket to touch it, almost like he was assuring himself that it was still there and hadn’t run off like Izaya seemed so fond of doing.

He practically ran home once the train stopped, dropping all his stuff and greeting his parents the quickest he ever had as he darted into his room. Once there, he slammed the door shut, locked it tightly, and grabbed the paper out of his pocket.

He stared at it for a long while, hands shaking, and slowly opened it.

On the paper was written one simple line. That was it. A single line of text and numbers, which made no sense to Shizuo’s brain.

〒168-0062 Tōkyō-to, Suginami-ku, Hōnan, 2 Chome-5-29.

What the hell did that mean? It looked like an address. An apartment address of some kind. Why would an address be on a slip of paper in Izaya’s pocket? More importantly, why would he let it fall so that Shizuo could pick it up?

Maybe this was where he wanted to end Shizuo once and for all. This could be a location where he’d set up a deadly trap that Shizuo would never escape from. Or it could be the address of Izaya’s actual boyfriend or some kind of lover and the sadistic raven was trying to set up another shithole for Shizuo to fall into.

Whatever it was, Shizuo couldn’t bring himself to look it up or to throw the paper away. He tucked it carefully into his wallet, hoping this wouldn’t come back to bite him later, and threw himself down on his bed. He wasn’t going to shower or change into pajamas today. He just wanted to get right to sleep. There was another long day coming tomorrow, and Shizuo needed all the energy he could get for the fresh hell it would no doubt bring.

He had no idea just how right he was.

Chapter Text

“Shizuo-kun did what?!” Shinra asked in shock, gaping at his best friend as they walked to psychology class together.

“He interrupted a conversation I was having with Shinichi at the café yesterday!” Izaya repeated, gnashing his teeth at just the thought of it. “I mean, can you believe the nerve?! Shinichi was just dropping off my uniform and chatting with me like we always do, then that blonde bastard came marching over like he was my jilted ex or something!”

“Jilted ex?” Shinra echoed, an edge of amusement creeping into the voice. “Describe the jilted ex's actions, if you don’t mind.”

“He came over, slammed his hands on the table, grabbed Shinichi by the shirt, yelled at me for messing with his mind, and seemed pissed beyond all reason that Shinichi even dared to exist in his presence.” Izaya said flatly, not a trace of emotion in his voice. “You know. The works.”

“Wow.” Shinra snickered, his crazy eyes sparkling in delight. “Shizuo-kun really can get jealous after all!”

“I’m not sure if I’d called it ‘jealousy’.” Izaya snorted, opening the door to their classroom and letting Shinra pass before walking in himself. “It was more like ‘incomprehensibly-and-maddeningly-possessive-obsession’.”

Shinra laughed at this, the two of them heading straight for their seats in the back. “Well, I guess you two have some personality traits in common, then!” He said cheerfully, patting Izaya on the back. “Maybe you can bond over them.”

“What common traits?” Izaya demanded, baffled as he glared at his friend. “What about acting like a total dick is so common with me?”

Shinra just gave him a long, flat stare.

“Aside from the fact that I’m a total dick.” Izaya stated flatly.

Shinra sighed and shook his head. “Izaya, you and I both know that you get pretty upset when something in a relationship of yours doesn’t go right.” He said, giving Izaya a pointed look.

“I’ve never been in a relationship.” Izaya retorted with a huff, setting his things down and planting himself in his seat heavily. “I don’t have the time.”

“I’m not just talking about dating here.” Shinra pointed out, sitting down beside him. “I’m talking about any kind of relationship you have! Friendships, family connections, classmates, teachers, all of them. You hate it when people don’t do what you think they should and you get extremely nervous when you can’t predict what their actions are. You begin to feel unsafe, and you pull away from them instantly.”

“That’s not true!” Izaya argued immediately, the tips of his ears going red as he glared fiercely at Shinra. “I’m good acquaintances with everyone in every single school, club, or outside event I’ve ever participated in!”

“Notice how you said ‘acquaintances’.” Shinra sighed calmly. “You’re too worried that one of them would smash your expectations that you refuse to get closer to them than that. You’re nice to everyone and you attract everyone’s attention because you want to pretend to be perfect and keep absolutely all your relationships artificial, superficial, easily breakable, and perfect. You create your own little bubble.”

“I don’t do that.” Izaya muttered, although a little voice in his mind was telling him otherwise. “I’m just nice to everyone because everyone expects me to be nice.”
“You aren’t a people-pleaser, Izaya.” Shinra snorted, shaking his head. “You could care less what their expectations of you are and whether or not they’re happy with the way you act. You just found that the easiest way to keep everyone at arm’s length is to never show your weaknesses, never let them show theirs, and keep everyone happy and content with your false idea of perfection.”

“You know, it’s pretty ironic that you’re saying all this in psychology class.” Izaya smiled sweetly, slamming his textbook on the table perhaps a little harder than was necessary. “I’d almost think you were giving me a psych evaluation for your final project.”

“That’s not a bad idea!” Shinra chirped excitedly, pulling out a planner and writing it down. “You’re so screwed up in the head that I could literally take any approach I wanted! Abusive childhood, long history of neglect, repressive depression, inferiority complex, problems with intimacy, perfectionism, OCD, multiple personality disorder-”

“I don’t have that last one.” Izaya frowned, staring at his friend.

“You change the way you act so much depending on different situations that I bet I could scientifically prove otherwise!” Shinra said cheerfully.

“Idiot.” Izaya sighed, flipping open his notebook as the teacher began their lecture up front. “Just pay attention to class.”

“This is your last class of the day, right?” Shinra asked, humming happily as he began to take notes. “And you don’t have any clubs after this either?”

“I’d normally have a student council meeting but it was canceled today because the president got sick.” Izaya informed him, scribbling down his own notes even though he really didn’t need them. “And it wasn’t going to be that important of a meeting, anyway. Just discussing and approving the budget for the other clubs.”

“That sounds important.” Shinra commented. “Was anyone upset that the president canceled it?”

“Oh, without a doubt.” Izaya said breezily, pencil scrawling flawlessly over his paper. “Hence why I accepted the position of vice president. I’m one of the faces of the organization, I have more power than most other members, I’m seen, heard, and respected by everyone, I make the policies and plan the events everybody loves, but when it all comes down to it, the success of the council depends on the decisions and actions of the president. He takes all the bad rap for whatever goes wrong. I’m the angel who swoops in and supports the club to make things go right.”

“So even though you seem humble by accepting a lower position, you’re really only doing it to guarantee your popularity in the school and then raise it.” Shinra nodded in understanding. “You, Orihara-kun, are definitely an asshole.”

“Indeed.” Izaya shrugged. “But only you know that.”

“Anyways, moving on from the extensive topic of your dubious morals!” Shinra said cheerfully. “How about you and I go somewhere together after class? I’ve only got one more after this and it’s a lab so I should be done in twenty minutes, tops.”

“You want to do something?” Izaya asked in surprise, looking over at his friend. “You never want to go anywhere after class. You’re always begging me to drop my clubs, ignore the events I’m supposed to attend, and stop being popular so that we can just laze about at home.”

“And as nice as that sounds, today we should try something different.” Shinra nodded in determination. “In fact, I’m certain of it. Today’s the day you and I go out to do something and bond!”

“Like what?” Izaya asked skeptically, raising his hand to answer one of the teacher’s questions. “Karaoke? Bowling? Lunch at a café?”

“Don’t be so dull.” Shinra scoffed, waiting patiently as Izaya rattled off a graduate-level answer to the delight of the class.

“Okay then.” Izaya sighed as he sat back down, smiling sweetly at all of the people around them who were looking at him in awe and admiration. “What did you have in mind?”

“I was thinking maybe we should go to a science museum, or a forensics exhibit!” Shinra grinned, eyes sparkling.

“Yes. Because those sound so much less dull than what I suggested.” Izaya said flatly, rolling his eyes. “You and I both suck at this friendship thing, don’t we?”

“Yeah.” Shinra admitted, scratching the back of his head. “Maybe we should just go somewhere nearby with good food to eat so we can plan what to do next.”

“Sounds fine to me.” Izaya shrugged. “And I don’t have any photo shoots today so we should be good for the entire day; we don’t need to rush things.”

“Speaking of photo shoots,” Shinra looked at Izaya pointedly. “How’s the new deal with Heiwajima-san going?”

“Well, we haven’t actually done anything together yet.” Izaya admitted with a frown. “Our boss is saving everything for some stupid twelve-hour shoot this weekend.”
“Twelve hours?!” Shinra shrieked, gaping at his friend. “That’s gotta be illegal somewhere!”

“Hey, I’m getting paid good money for those twelve hours so I’m cool with it.” Izaya shrugged again. “And Shinichi promised to bring me lunch and act as moral support if hanging out with Kasuka gets to be too much.”

“Of course he did.” Shinra muttered, rolling his eyes. “Shinichi always swoops in to the rescue, doesn’t he?”

“Why do you hate Shinichi so much? He’s a great guy!” Izaya insisted, glaring at his friend.

“He’s too great, that’s why!” Shinra huffed. “It’s sketchy! And I don’t know anything about his past or personal life, which makes him even sketchier!”

“You’re just paranoid.” Izaya muttered, raising his hand again.

“Maybe a little. But I think my suspicions are well-founded when it comes to that silver-haired snake.” Shinra scribbled down some more notes as Izaya smoothly answered the teacher’s question. “I’m kinda glad Shizuo-kun ruined your little meeting with him.”

“Don’t say that.” Izaya snapped, glaring harshly as he sat down again. “It was humiliating and unwanted. I had to apologize to Shinichi so much after that.”

“And yet, you still visited Shizuo-kun at the café this morning.” Shinra commented, giving Izaya a pointed look.

“I was visiting you, not Shizuo.” Izaya growled, refusing to look back at the wannabe-doctor. “I was pissed with that blonde gorilla.”

“He told me this morning that you left behind some kind of paper when you left yesterday.” Shinra announced, still staring at the raven. “He didn’t tell me what it said. I don’t even know if he’s looked at it yet. What was on the paper?”

“Nothing important.” Izaya snapped, cheeks turning red. Stupid protozoan, spreading that around. “It was just a simple address.”

“Address to what?” Shinra wondered, a bit of a grin creeping onto his face. “I think I know already, but I want to hear it from you.”

“I will tell you nothing.” Izaya said immediately, slamming his textbook shut as the teacher called for volunteers to demonstrate something to the class. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to do this thing no one else wants to do so that they all love me even more.”

“And the conversation has come back full circle.” Shinra chirped cheerfully, grinning as Izaya stalked around him and down to the front of the classroom, brilliant smile firmly in place on his face. “That’s Izaya for you.”

As Izaya began to copy the teacher’s movements up front, demonstrating some weird Freudian principle with his body, Shinra began to think about where he would take Izaya after class. He didn’t want to go somewhere average. He also didn’t want to go somewhere that would make it seem like a date. And he certainly didn’t want to go somewhere in the city because that meant they were nearly bound to run into Shinichi somewhere.

Shinichi always managed to pop up out of nowhere whenever Shinra and Izaya went someplace together, usually on grocery trips or shopping sprees. It was like he had an Izaya-detector that told him where the raven was at all times and informed him of the best possible moment to appear. Like Shinra said, too perfect.

So they needed to leave the city, but not go too terribly far, and find something that would entertain both of them. After they visited a nearby café or something to discuss the matter, of course.

Or wait…maybe they wouldn’t even have to leave the city. Maybe all they needed was something that would deter Shinichi from showing up. A Shinichi-deterrent! Something that could make him stay away as long as possible! Something to keep the wild Shinichi from appearing!

Another grin crept over Shinra’s face as he pulled out his cell phone, ready to send a text that Izaya would’ve no doubt ended him for if he’d been there.

Shinra: [Hey! Wanna hang out later today around 3? I’m not busy and we haven’t hung out together in so long…]

Shinra waited, eagerly staring at his phone as he waited for the response that would either ruin his day or make it one of the best days he’d ever had.

Only about two minutes had passed, and Izaya was still up at the front as a demonstration for the teacher, when the text arrived.

Shizuo: [Sure. My boss just gave me the afternoon off because I’ve been pulling too much overtime lately. What do you have in mind?]

Many people would probably be shocked to hear that Heiwajma Shizuo texted in complete sentences. He didn’t seem like the intellectual type, after all, and his words in real life were always gruff and blunt and as short as possible. But that was exactly why Shizuo did it. It was one of the few places he felt safe speaking in clear, concise sentences without getting angry at the drop of a hat. He could always put down his phone and send a reply later if the conversation was starting to annoy him. It was perfect.

Also, Shinra was pretty sure Shizuo had no idea what texting language was and would probably butcher it horribly if he tried to start using things like “lol” and “2” instead of “too”. It was best to just leave him thinking everyone texted in sentences.

Shinra: [I’m not sure yet. Something interesting and nothing that makes us seem like we’re on a date, you know? XP.]

Whoops. He probably shouldn’t have sent that last emoticon. It might’ve confused Shizuo. But he got a response just a few seconds later which thankfully didn’t seem too focused on it.

Shizuo: [XP? Are we talking about video games now? You know I don’t understand those references.]

A few seconds later, there was another text.

Shizuo: [Anyway, how about we go to an arcade if you feel like playing games. There’s a few cool ones I’ve been wanting to go to.]

An arcade? Izaya might not be so into those. And Shinra wanted Izaya to be so into what was going on that he wouldn’t ditch them once he saw Shizuo’s face.

Shinra: [You sure? An arcade sounds pretty mainstream…]

Hopefully, Shizuo would get the hint and come up with a better idea. Shinra didn’t know what else to do.

Izaya was wrapping up the demonstrations down at the front. There were only three more activities the teacher had listed for him to do. They needed to figure this out fast!

Shizuo: [Not this one in Kawasaki. I’ve seen pictures online and it’s awesome. Plus, I’ll fit right in with the usual crowd.]

What? An arcade where Shizuo was willing to say he’d fit in? Shizuo, the near-high-school-dropout delinquent who worked all day as a living, had dyed hair, and superhuman strength? What sort of arcade was this?

Shinra: [It’s not some yakuza hangout spot, right?]

He just had to be sure.

Two seconds later, he got his answer.

Shizuo: [What? No!! Look, it’s a cool place. I promise. It’s called Anata no Warehouse. Please?]

Ah…he used the “please” card. Shizuo rarely asked Shinra for anything. He preferred to be independent and self-sufficient on all levels of his life. More often than naught, Shinra was the one asking Shizuo for help while Shizuo demanded nothing in return. On those precious few occasions where there was something Shizuo really wanted from Shinra, he would ask with these rare pleases…and Shinra could never deny him what he wanted.

Shinra: […Fine. I’ll meet you at Tokyo Station.]

The response was almost immediate. Shizuo must’ve really been looking forward to this.

Shizuo: [Great! It’s a fifteen-minute ride to Kawasaki station, and then a ten-minute walk. I’ll see you there.]

Shinra wished his friend a quick goodbye, slipping his phone into his pocket right as Izaya slid back into the seat next to him.

“What were you doing? I saw you on your phone the entire time.” Izaya asked curiously, peering at the device in Shinra’s pocket. “What secrets are you hiding?”

“You’re a nosy little thing.” Shinra huffed, pretending to be invested in the lesson below. “It doesn’t matter. I made some plans for our trip, is all.”

“Oh. Were you looking up places to go?” Izaya asked in surprise, cocking his head at Shinra. “That’s unusual. Normally, you hate preparing for anything.”

“Well, this time I had a change of heart.” Shinra responded, not meeting the carmine eyes boring into the side of his face. “We’re going to an arcade in Kawasaki.”

“An arcade?” Izaya repeated, wrinkling his nose a little. “You sure?”

“Positive.” Shinra nodded, writing down some fake notes since he wasn’t really paying attention to their teacher anymore. “It’ll be fun.”

“Hm…” Izaya stared probingly at Shinra for a few more seconds, but shrugged and returned to the lesson soon enough. “Alright. You picked it. I’m sure it’s not normal and that’s good enough for me.”

An arcade where Shizuo would blend in probably wasn’t normal at all. Izaya had that right. Hm…and if it was a place where Shizuo blended in…then Shinra highly doubted he’d see that silver snake of perfection anywhere in the vicinity.

A new grin stretched Shinra’s face as delight filled his body. This trip might turn out even better than he could’ve hoped! The only potential problem he could see was if Izaya and Shizuo tried to kill each other the instant they saw one another.

But Shinra was sure that wouldn’t happen. Shizuo wasn’t a murderer at heart, no matter what anyone said, and Izaya was way too head-over-heels attracted to the blonde to try anything, no matter what he said.

Everything would be just fine. A little tense perhaps, but just fine.

…Right?

Chapter Text

Carmine Coffee will not update on the 15th of March; this is an early release for the chapter. The next chapter will be out on April 15th. See above note for more details.

Shizuo frowned at the text he got from Shinra, waiting just outside Tokyo Station for his crazy, doctor-wannabe coworker/friend to show up.

Shinra: [Sorry about this last-minute notice but something really urgent came up just now! You head to the arcade without me - I’m gonna be about fifteen minutes late.]

What the hell? Wasn’t Shinra the guy who always had a plan for everything? It was weird for something to come up last-minute like this that he hadn’t already planned for and figured out a way to get around. Was something wrong? Some kind of family emergency? Or was it his imaginary girlfriend Celty again?

Shizuo scowled at the thought – he wouldn’t put it past Shinra to ditch him for that fake girlfriend he seemed to be obsessed with – and angrily typed out his responding message.

Shizuo: [Seriously? This better not be about Celty again. I swear, if you cancel on me one more time because of this imaginary girlfriend of yours, I’m calling someone to get your head looked at. Mainly because I’ll have just bashed it in!]

Alright, maybe that had been a bit much. But still. Shinra shouldn’t just ditch his friends like that all the time. Shizuo sighed, leaning his head against the wall behind him and staring up at the sky as people filtered in and out of the station next to him. He’d really wanted to go to this arcade, too. Was it even worth it now that Shinra wasn’t coming? Shizuo didn’t want to go by himself and feel all awkward standing there. He was so bad at fitting in with normal people! Even in a place like Anata no Warehouse, which actually looked more his speed than so many other hang-out spots, he still might mess up somehow if he didn’t have someone there to calm him down.

A buzzing in his hand alerted Shizuo to his friend’s response and the blonde looked down at his phone immediately, hoping he wasn’t about to murder Shinra today.

Shinra: [No! It’s not about Celty (and she’s not imaginary) this time! There was a family emergency that came up and it’s going to delay me for a few minutes. I’m not cancelling on you! I’ll make it there – you’re just going to be there on your own for a little while first. Alright? Please don’t kill me…]

Shizuo scowled, running a hand through his dyed hair as he glared at the phone. So it was some kind of family emergency. Well, Shizuo supposed that made things a little different. At least it wasn’t the (definitely imaginary) girlfriend. And Shinra did say that he wasn’t cancelling – he was just going to be a little late.

Shizuo really wanted to go to this arcade. He was willing to wait a few minutes if it meant he’d be able to go.

Shizuo: [Alright, alright. I won’t kill you. Do you want me to just wait at the station for you, though? If it’s only going to be fifteen minutes, I have no problem waiting.]

The reply came back in about two seconds, much sooner than Shizuo had expected.

Shinra: [No! No, you go on ahead without me. I’ll catch up. Really. It’s fine.]

Shizuo frowned at that. Shinra’s texting almost seemed hurried right there. Like he was trying to cover something up…

Nah, Shizuo was probably just being paranoid. He was too stupid to actually pick up on anything like that on his own.

Shizuo: [Whatever. I’ll see you there.]

Shizuo slipped his phone into his pocket before he could see Shinra’s reply, deciding to ignore the idiot from now until he was actually at Anata no Warehouse waiting for him. Hopefully, that would assuage some of the irritation he had for his friend before they ended up spending several hours together.

As Shizuo walked down into the station, pulling out his wallet and checking to make sure he had his train pass on him, his phone vibrated in his pocket with Shinra’s reply. Had Shizuo looked at his phone then, he might’ve seen something that would’ve made him second guess this sudden trip to the arcade with Shinra, no matter how excited he was to go.

Shinra: [Also, when I get there, I have a little surprise in store for you, Shizuo-kun. ;)]

But Shizuo remained oblivious to this ominous message, ignoring the buzzing in his pocket in favor of slipping through the crowds of people traveling to and from areas all over the country, sliding his train pass out to get through the busy gates of Tokyo station, and finding the correct platform that his train was departing from.

He didn’t check his phone once on the fifteen-minute ride to Kawasaki, choosing instead to watch out the windows of the train as it sped along through the city. He rarely got to travel by train after all, despite how common it was for people in his country to commute by it. Everything he needed to get to was in walking distance, and he only ever went to his house, work, and the grocery store. That was pretty much it. There wasn’t anything else Shizuo did in his life, and certainly nothing that required the use of a train to get from one point to another.

Actually, he might want to cancel his train pass at that rate. No sense in paying a monthly fee for unlimited access if he never used the train.

“I’ll have to do that later today or something.” Shizuo muttered to himself as the train sped along, his golden eyes flickering over the blurred scenery outside. “It’s not like I’ll suddenly find myself going out all the time anytime soon.”

As the train made its way smoothly down the tracks, stopping at various stations for a brief exchange of passengers, then continuing on in the typical efficient manner of Japanese transportation, Shizuo found himself thinking about something that had been on his mind for a while now.

The address Izaya dropped at the café.

This morning when Mr. Perfect had come in to buy himself some coffee, Shizuo had been meaning to ask about it. Play it cool and pretend he was just returning a customer’s lost item of course, but still ask about it. He’d been fiddling with the damn thing in his pocket all throughout his shift, head snapping up whenever someone walked through the door, heart pounding as he waited to see a flash of silky, raven hair or glittering carmine eyes.

Shizuo told himself it was just because he wanted to know what the stupid address even was and if Izaya had dropped it intentionally or not. It was fucking weird and it had kept him up for a good portion of the night before, just trying to think of what it could be. He’d put the address into Google Maps and all that had come up was some weird alleyway on a tiny street somewhere. It wasn’t even a proper building. Just an alleyway. What the heck was up with that?

Why did Izaya have an address to some random alleyway in his pocket?

Shizuo frowned as his fingers slipped into his pocket again, holding onto the strange paper still resting there. When he’d seen Izaya this morning, the raven had shot him such a murderous glare that Shizuo hadn’t even been able to bring it up. He’d been too busy trying not to punch the glare off Izaya’s perfect face. So here he was, the paper still in his pocket, with not a single clue as to what it was. And it was still bugging him just as much as before.

Shizuo supposed that was part of the reason he’d been so eager to go somewhere with Shinra today. He had the afternoon off from work and nothing else to do, and that paper would’ve absorbed nearly all of his attention if he’d just gone home. Hanging out with Shinra instead, especially at a place that Shizuo really wanted to go to, was the perfect distraction from that stupid paper and all things Izaya.

When the automated voice on the train announced Kawasaki station, Shizuo smoothly stood up from his seat along with a rush of passengers, exiting the vehicle in the swarming sea of commuters. He made his way out of the train station, half his mind still preoccupied with the mysterious paper burning a hole in his pocket, and began the ten-minute walk that he’d looked up on his phone and memorized before heading out earlier.

It didn’t take him very long to reach the place. The more he’d walked, the more excited he’d become to finally see it, and soon barely five minutes had passed before Shizuo found himself turning a corner filled with shining skyrises and corporate buildings, and coming face-to-face with the most rusted, dirty, run-down looking place he’d ever seen.

It was right in the middle of all the nice, new buildings beside it, each of them soaring up into the sky with their glittering windows all over. Their expensive look made the run-down building in their midst stand out even more, its brown rust and stained streaks of ruin making it look like it had been built nearly a century ago and had never been cleaned. Faded letters in Japanese and English painted across the front of it declared it Anata no Warehouse: Amusement Game Park.

There it was.

Shizuo stopped in front of the rusted building, gazing up at it with a huge grin. It looked so much more run-down in person! All the pictures he’d seen online looked like this but standing in front of it, Shizuo could actually smell the rust, feel the age of the building, and just know that this was a bad place to be.

It was perfect.

“Now all I have to do is wait for Shinra.” Shizuo told himself aloud, still staring at the daunting building. “Man, I hope he shows up soon.”

Shizuo spent his time gazing at the ruined “warehouse”, just admiring the incredible quality of the absolute rubbish building before him, and lost in a world of his own. People went in and out of the warehouse around him, some of them giving him strange looks as they passed, most of them just glancing at him and moving on with their lives. They minded their own business. They didn’t bother anyone for being different or weird or for standing on a street and gazing up at a run-down building.

They didn’t treat him like a freak. They treated him like just another person on the street.

Shizuo liked this place already.

“…zuo-kun. Shizuo-kun!”

Shizuo blinked in surprise and turned around, shocked out of his happy reverie by the sound of his name.

He saw a grinning, scrawny boy standing right behind him, glasses glinting in the sunlight around them and framing sparkling brown eyes. Ah. So he was finally here.
“About time you turned around!” Shinra chirped, punching Shizuo cheerfully in the shoulder. “I’ve been calling your name for a few minutes.”

“That’s not so bad. I’ve been waiting for you a lot longer.” Shizuo muttered, rubbing his shoulder more out of a need to do something with his hands than any pain at the weak punch. He frowned at Shinra, who was grinning suspiciously wide and still just standing there. “What are you doing? Shouldn’t we go inside now?” Shizuo asked in irritation, his eyes narrowing at the wannabe-doctor. “What are you waiting for?”

“For you to notice your surprise!” Shinra sang as though it was obvious, leaning towards Shizuo with glittering eyes. “Didn’t you get my text?”

“Your text?” Shizuo frowned, pulling his phone swiftly out of his pocket and checking his messages.

There it was. A single missed message from one Kishitani Shinra.

Shizuo’s frown deepened as he read the message, his confusion only growing when he looked back up at Shinra. “What surprise?” He demanded. “What the hell are you talking about, Shinra? I don’t see anything.”

“Try looking a little to your left, you protozoic gorilla.” A sharp voice said haughtily, making the very blood in Shizuo’s veins begin to boil at just the sound. “It’s a wonder you haven’t been stabbed already like the delinquent you are with the level of observational skill you possess.”

Must not look. Must not confirm. Must not accept this nightmare.

“Now, now, Orihara-kun.” Shinra said cheerfully, shattering Shizuo’s attempt at self-delusion. “Let’s play nice here! We’re all here to have a good time!”

“A good time?” The sharp voice asked incredulously. “How am I supposed to do that with this asshole in the near vicinity?”

“Speak for yourself!” Shizuo growled, his control snapping as his head turned sharply to face the perpetrator of his misery as of late. The very person he’d been trying to get away from with this stupid arcade trip.

And there he was, clad in simple blue jeans and a slightly loose, dove-gray long-sleeve shirt. There was one black ball earring in his right ear as well. That was it. That was fucking all Mr. Perfect was wearing – jeans, a plain gray shirt, and an earring – and he still managed to make it look like he should be strutting on the front cover of some fashion magazine.

Orihara Izaya. Why couldn’t Shizuo get away from him?!

Those carmine eyes locked on Shizuo with that fury from this morning still present in them, a scowl marring the beautiful features of the raven’s face.

“You want me to speak for myself?” He asked Shizuo, making it sound like the very idea was even more ridiculous than saying the earth was flat. “What the hell did I do to warrant your disgust and anger? You’re the only one who’s been a complete jerk in the whopping two days we’ve known each other!”

Had it really only been two days? Shizuo felt like he’d known and loathed this guy for years.

“That’s bullshit!” Shizuo roared, deciding to push that matter aside for now as he grabbed the front of Izaya’s shirt, pulling the raven into his face. “You’ve done your fair share of tormenting me!”

“How?” Izaya demanded, not even flinching away from Shizuo’s rage as he stared the blonde coolly in the eyes. “How have I tormented you at all? All I’ve done is exist in your presence.”

“You did a whole lot more at lunch yesterday.” Shizuo growled, recalling the incident with Kasuka with unfortunate clarity.

“Oh yes. Pardon me for sitting in your lap and petting your hair.” Izaya hissed, a lot blunter than Shizuo had expected him to be. “Next time, I’ll rip it out. Would that help your conflicting feelings towards me?”

“What conflicting feelings?” Shizuo growled, his fist clenching even tighter in Izaya’s shirt as he pulled the raven closer, pressing their foreheads together. “I don’t have any conflict in the pure hate I’m sending your way.”

“Oh, keep telling yourself that.” Izaya smirked smugly, his eyes glittering with some kind of sick delight as he pressed his own forehead harder against Shizuo’s. “I was right there when you rubbed up against me like some lovesick puppy after I pet your head for a few seconds. You were into me.”

“I was not!” Shizuo growled, unable to help the childish tone his voice took on. God, he sounded like some fucking kindergartner arguing about whether or not he’d pissed himself. “You were into me.

“Yes, I was.” Izaya said flatly, still staring Shizuo straight in his eyes. “I thought you were sexy, Shizuo-kun.”

That…that did not sound like a kindergartner at all.

Shizuo’s brain short-circuited for several seconds, the blonde simply holding Izaya in the air as he tried to process exactly what had just been said. In the meantime, Izaya just hung there, still giving Shizuo that stupid, smug smirk.

And Shinra was watching them both with a happy grin, apparently thrilled that their interaction was going so well.

Eventually, after two minutes of pure emotional and mental turmoil, Shizuo’s brilliant mind finally came up with a response.

“The fuck?” He asked dumbly, staring at Izaya.

The raven stared back, red eyes looking into Shizuo’s golden orbs searchingly as though he was trying to figure out if Shizuo was playing dumb or seriously didn’t understand what he was saying.

“I thought you were sexy.” He repeated slowly, as if talking to a child. “But now I’m beginning to have second thoughts, what with that dumb look on your face.”
Shizuo blinked again, then swiftly set the raven down on his feet, backing a few steps away as his “dumb face” turned red.

“S-Shut up.” He growled, turning away from Izaya and looking firmly at the warehouse. “Look, I may seem like the dumbest guy on earth to you, but I’m not completely stupid. I know you’re just screwing with me. You can’t possibly be attracted to me.”

“Wait what?” Izaya sounded confused from behind Shizuo, and Shizuo swore he could feel the red gaze looking him up and down. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m a delinquent-looking rounin (*term used in Japan for people who are unable to get into college after graduating high school and enter the workforce instead) who works at a café and is about as physically appealing as a gorilla.” Shizuo said harshly, keeping his back turned to the raven as his cheeks burned with fury and shame. “Someone like you…you stupidly perfect asshole…can’t possibly be attracted to someone like me. So don’t fuck with my emotions like that.”

Before Izaya could say anything else – like some other obvious lie or sharp comment – Shizuo began to walk towards the entrance to the warehouse. “Come on, Shinra.” He called over his shoulder. “I don’t even care if Mr. Perfect comes along at this point. I just want to go in here and relieve some stress.”

“Okie-dokie!” Shinra chirped cheerfully. “Just one second!”

There was some rushed murmuring behind Shizuo from the crazy duo behind him, and what sounded like a cry of shock or disbelief from Izaya followed by Shinra’s frantic whispering, before he heard two pairs of footsteps following him in.

“Orihara-kun is going to be on his best behavior now!” Shinra sang, popping up on Shizuo’s left side as they entered the rusting building and found themselves in some kind of parking garage. “He promised.”

“I promised nothing.” Izaya muttered, appearing like a phantom on Shizuo’s right and refusing to look up at the blonde as he walked gracefully beside him. “But I’ll try not to offend you with my existence while we’re in here.”

“How do you plan on doing that?” Shizuo muttered back, genuinely curious to know the raven’s plan. The three of them stopped at a strange door painted with a seemingly ancient yin-yang symbol, right beneath big English letters that spelled ‘WAREHOUSE’. It looked almost ominous, and Shinra started to fidget at Shizuo’s side, eyeing the ancient, rusting door skeptically.

“Simple.” Izaya said in a breezy voice, stepping past both of them and right in front of the yin-yang symbol. The door opened with a hiss in front of him, revealing a long, dark corridor lit by eerie red light.

The raven turned back to look at Shizuo with a smile, the red light reflecting in his inky hair and illuminating his figure like it was his own personal aura. And it was weird, but for some reason, creepy red light made Izaya look…friendlier.

“I’m going to pretend this is the first time we’ve met.” Izaya finished his statement, pulling Shizuo back into the present. “And hopefully, we’ll make a better first impression on each other.”

So saying, Izaya stood there in the entrance to the arcade, holding his hand out to Shizuo with a friendly smile. “Hi! My name is Orihara Izaya.” He chirped, carmine eyes sparkling like gems. “It’s a pleasure to meet one of Shinra’s only other friends.”

“Hey!” Shinra complained, but he was looking with rapt attention back and forth between the two of them, almost like he was holding his breath for what Shizuo was about to do next.

Shizuo stared at the outstretched hand bathed in red light, wondering if this was a good idea.

After all, this guy was the culmination of everything Shizuo hated. He was everything Shizuo could never be, and he flaunted it so proudly. Not to mention he seemed set on convincing Shizuo that the blonde had feelings for him. As if! This guy was just a prick who didn’t know how to handle people who didn’t bow at his feet the instant he walked by. All he was doing was playing with Shizuo’s emotions, and then he was going to drop him like a rock the instant Shizuo fell for his game.

Still…the idea of starting over did sound kind of nice. Even if it was just pretend. Even if it wouldn’t erase all the stupid mistakes they’d both made within two freaking days of knowing each other. It’d be nice to hit reset, and just try again.

“Hey.” Shizuo said flatly, grabbing the slender hand and looking the smiling, fake, lying, perfect boy straight in his fake, lying, perfect eyes. “Name’s Heiwajima Shizuo. Let’s not kill each other this time around.”

Izaya’s eyes filled with mirth as the friendly smile twisted into something of a sly grin. “Heiwajima-san…” The raven said teasingly, giving Shizuo’s shoulder a light shove. “You’re already messing up the game. We’ve never met before, remember?”

“It’s okay to mention it at the start.” Shizuo said flippantly, unable to help the small smile that crept over his lips at Izaya’s playful behavior. “After this, the game starts.”

“Oh?” Izaya’s eyes filled with laughter at that even if none escaped his lips, and he glanced over his shoulder at the eerie corridor. “How about once we all pass through this hallway it starts?”

“Deal.” Shizuo agreed, giving Izaya’s hand a firm shake before letting his own drop to his side. “After that, you’ll be Orihara-san.”

“What am I now?” Izaya laughed, shooting Shizuo a big grin. “I actually don’t think you’ve called me anything besides Mr. Perfect, asshole, bastard, and piece of shit.”

Shizuo winced as he heard those, thinking back to the few conversations he’d had up until with Izaya. Unfortunately, the raven seemed to be right. Never once had Izaya’s name fallen from Shizuo’s lips. He hadn’t even realized that.

“Right now you’re…still Orihara-san?” Shizuo said slowly, although the syllables sounded wrong on his tongue.

Izaya made a face as well, clearly indicating his thoughts on the title. “Ew. No. Sounds wrong.” He said instantly, glancing over at Shinra. “Shinra, what should he call me?”

“Heck if I know.” Shinra sang with a shrug, his eyes glittering with absolute delight as he looked back and forth between his friends. “How about you pick friendly nicknames for each other now before we go inside and do this thing?”

Friendly nicknames? Shizuo wasn’t too good with those. All he could think to say when looking at Izaya was still Mr. Perfect.

“How about since you’ve been so rude to me up until this point, and you’ve only insulted me whenever speaking to me, I get to make your nickname something super informal and insulting about you.” Izaya suggested, his eyes glittering as he pointed at Shizuo. “That’s fair, right? I’ll make it something that people would normally say to each other, but it’ll demean you in some way, shape, or form. Got it?”

Shizuo grumbled at this, not really liking the idea of agreeing to be demeaned, but judging by all the things he’d called Izaya up to this point, the model probably had a right to do something back.

“Fine.” Shizuo muttered. “But I’m picking your nickname first.”

“Fine!” Izaya sang back. “What is it?”

Shizuo thought for a few moments, long and hard. Nothing really came to mind. “Your name is…” He started to say, mind racing to come up with something as Izaya and Shinra both watched him expectantly. “Is…Izaya…kun?”

“That’s it?” Izaya pouted with brief disappointment. “Izaya-kun? That’s the best you can do?”

“Hey, shut up!” Shizuo snapped, glaring at the raven as his fists clenched at his sides. “It’s a perfectly normal thing to call someone!”

“Okay, okay. Don’t get mad.” Izaya said breezily, waving a carefree hand at Shizuo as if blowing away his anger. “I’m now Izaya-kun. It’s nice. Not a lot of people call me that. Even Shinra still calls me Orihara-kun.”

“That’s true.” Shinra admitted, giving Shizuo a big smile. “It’s not often someone gets the rare permission from Orihara-kun to use his first name! Consider yourself honored!”

Shizuo almost, almost mentioned that the silver guy from before had called Izaya by his first name, and that he’d actually called Izaya Izaya-kun as well. But he managed to hold his tongue for once in his life, simply nodding and accepting the weird form of praise from his friend.

“Izaya-kun.” Shizuo said again, and let the syllables roll of his tongue. Those felt a lot more natural. Yeah. Those ones felt right. “Izaya-kun.” He said with confidence, nodding his head firmly and looking Izaya in the eyes. “You’re definitely Izaya-kun.”

“Yes, yes. I know my name. Don’t wear it out.” Izaya said teasingly, although Shizuo could’ve sworn there was a red blush creeping over his pale cheeks that wasn’t from the light behind him.

“Anyways!” The boy chirped, snapping Shizuo’s attention back to their conversation. He grinned evilly at Shizuo, planting his hands on his hips as though he was about to make a grand declaration. “I now dub thee to be!” He paused for dramatic effect, then clapped his hands loudly and flung them out towards Shizuo like some kind of game show host gesturing at a new car. “Shizu-chan!” He cried dramatically, eyes sparkling like he was about to kill himself with laughter. “It fits you perfectly!”

“What the fuck? That’s a nickname for girls!” Shizuo yelled, glaring at Izaya as embarrassment tinged his own cheeks red. “I’m not a fucking ‘chan’!”

“You are to me.” Izaya sang, giggling as he spun gracefully on his heel and faced down the red corridor. “And ‘chan’ doesn’t have to be used with girls, you know. Couples use it together all the time! For pet names and such. My sweet, little Shizu-chan~!”

“That’s not any better at all!” Shizuo yelled, his face officially flaming at the sing-song, sugary tone in Izaya’s voice. “And don’t refer to me as yours!”

“Mmhm. Sure thing.” Izaya agreed in a tone that told Shizuo he had no intention of listening to the request at all. “Now come on! Let’s head inside this dingy joint and see what kind of arcade they keep inside.”

Shinra laughed as he walked past Shizuo, following Izaya down the eerie hallway. “Come on, Shizuo-kun!” The wannabe-doctor called back, grinning as he waved at Shizuo to follow. “This was your idea, after all. Time to check this place out!”

“Hurry up, Shizu-chan!” Izaya’s voice echoed back to them, the raven apparently moving further and further away with no signs of stopping. “Or I’ll have to break up with you and find someone else to give my pet name to!”

“We’re not together, Izaya-kun!” Shizuo called in response, walking in after the two weirdos. “…And don’t you dare give that nickname to anyone else.”

He could hear a light giggle from up ahead of him, one that sounded like some wandering demon spirit was slipping through the corridor and laughing at them. It echoed creepily in the tight space around them, made even creepier by the creaking sounds and hisses around them as they traveled down the long hallway.

Shinra shivered in fear, backing up closer to Shizuo as he looked around himself in fear. “T-That’s not funny, Orihara-kun!” He yelled down the hallway, his voice echoing. “D-Don’t laugh like that again!”

Another giggle rang out in response, this one turning into a short, bright laugh at the end that rang even more powerfully, bouncing all around them and wrapping them in its sound.

“Orihara-kun!” Shinra yelled in response, glaring up ahead and then looking at Shizuo as if expecting some back-up. “Please tell him you think it’s creepy, too…Shizuo-kun?”

At some point as they had walked through the red corridor, Izaya’s laughter echoing eerily all around them, a smile had crept its way onto the tall blonde’s normally-furious face. A peaceful smile. A happy smile. A fond smile.

“Cute.” Shizuo said softly, quiet enough that the word wouldn’t echo down to the raven they could see waiting for them at the end of the next turn, waving them over excitedly. “…He’s cute.”

Shinra watched his friend for a few seconds as they walked towards the impatient model bouncing in place in front of the next door, a slow smile making its way onto the future doctor’s face as well.

“Yep.” Shinra said to himself in a low voice that nobody but he could hear, watching Izaya complain about how long his Shizu-chan had taken to catch up to him while the blonde walked up and met him at the next door, blaming him for being too impatient.

“You two are definitely cute.”

As the trio opened the next door to explore the next part of the arcade, Shinra couldn’t have been happier that he’d introduced Shizuo and Izaya to each other in his life.

If only something hadn’t happened in the next few hours that completely ruined everything.

Or rather…someone.

Chapter Text

Izaya needed to keep his cool. Keep his cool, keep calm, keep collected, stay in control. Those basically were all the same thing, but that only showed just how devoted he was to the mantra of control in his life.

The mantra of control that Heiwajima Shizuo seemed designed to break down.

Izaya didn’t know how their conversation had shifted so quickly. One second, they were at each other’s throats like usual (funny to think of it as usual when he’d only known the guy for two days) and then all sorts of new information had popped up that had forced Izaya to rethink his position on the male species.

He wasn’t even joking when he said that. How was it even possible for someone who looked as fine as Shizuo to have self-esteem issues? It was crazy to think of! Usually, a guy grew a mustache and suddenly thought he was the king of the freaking world. But Shizuo? The guy was the walking definition of masculine perfection and he had called himself “as physically appealing as a gorilla”. Not to mention he’d bashed on the fact that he hadn’t made it into college and that he was working at a café. This guy only saw the flaws in himself and Izaya couldn’t wrap his head around it.

And when Shinra had pulled Izaya back for those few seconds before they’d started following Shizuo inside the arcade, letting him know that these sorts of things weren’t even half of the horrible things Shizuo said and thought about himself, Izaya had nearly fallen over in shock.

His psychology-student mind had started racing, trying to come up with theories for how Shizuo could’ve possibly turned out like this. Did he have mentally-abusive parents who told him he was never good enough? Did he have some kind of sibling complex and was set on comparing himself to his much more successful younger brother? Perhaps he compared himself to the people around him in general, always feeling that since he didn’t fit the status quo, he wasn’t good enough for it? There were so many things Izaya just wanted to grill Shizuo on now, to dig deeper into this baffling psychosis that he never would’ve labeled Shizuo with, but he knew it was a terrible idea at this phase in their “relationship”.

It only helped further prove Izaya’s opinion that humans really were some of the most fascinating beings on earth, though. They could have the bodies of supermodels and still delude themselves into a mindset that shamed their own self-worth.

This new development that Izaya had learned about Shizuo made the raven consider his little experiment with Shizuo in a new light. He’d been planning on turning the barista’s anger for him into attraction, and he’d thought that it had seemed promising what with the dumbfounded and almost bashful response he’d gotten from Shizuo after insisting that the blonde was sexy. But since Shizuo’s anger towards Izaya was now potentially stemming from anger he held towards himself…it might complicate Izaya’s psychological methods.

He couldn’t very well keep flirting with Shizuo, knowing that the blonde was a ticking time-bomb of self-esteem who might explode if he felt too inferior next to Izaya at any given moment. Izaya needed to approach Shizuo differently now. He couldn’t waltz up to the blonde and flaunt his looks or his talent to make Shizuo fall for him. That would drive the blonde farther away. He needed to approach Shizuo as more of…an equal. Just an average guy, trying to become friends (with benefits) with another average guy. He needed to let Shizuo know he was still flirting, but keep it to a minimum and avoid his usual flaunting tactics. Flirting with Shizuo needed to subtle, simple, and genuine. Anything else would make the blonde highly uncomfortable. At least until he gained some more self-esteem.

Geez. Why was Izaya putting so much effort into this stupid experiment?

Izaya shook his head, trying not to stray down that line of thought, and instead choosing to focus on the moment once more. They were walking through the weird sewer-room now, up a set of stairs, about to enter the second floor of the famous Anata no Warehouse arcade, where all the arcade stuff began.

Izaya was actually pretty excited. It definitely didn’t seem like your average, boring arcade.

When their little trio exited the sewer-room, Shinra bringing up the rear as Shizuo and Izaya walked beside each other, Izaya was treated to the sight of a rundown alleyway.

There were fake apartments designed into the walls around them, rundown and rusted with old appliances sparking inside them and wilting plants hanging outside their windows. There were some sketchy food vendors littered around the floor, with fake food hanging from their stalls that looked surprisingly realistic. The ground was designed to look like old concrete, and pieces of rusted metal were littered everywhere. Izaya actually saw ivy climbing up the walls in certain places, and the special lighting of the room made it feel like they were walking around at night underneath some old, flickering lamps, even though everything was still well-lit. Add the final touches of graffiti on the walls, a terrifyingly unhygienic-looking bathroom off to the side, rusted catwalks suspended in the air above them, flickering neon signs, and untrustworthy wiring hanging from the ceiling for everyone to see, and you had yourself the perfect atmosphere for a slummy apartment neighborhood at night.

“I love it.” Izaya said immediately, staring at everything around them with wide eyes. “This is absolutely incredible.”

“The detail is amazing.” Shizuo agreed, staring in awe at the worn concrete pillars around them showing signs of decay and age. “There had to be a lot of money put into all this to make it so life-like. Just look at the subtle shading they used on the architecture to give it the texture of age without actually aging it.”

Izaya glanced briefly at Shizuo, noticing the way his golden eyes were lit up as he observed all the details of the room.

“And the plants are real, but they waited to display them until the plants were in the process of wilting so they would have the ideal, dull color to accent the room.” Shizuo was continuing, pointing up at one of the hanging plants above them. “See? You can tell because they’re hung upside down. It dries them out and preserves them longer, even though they remain in a wilted state.”

“Uh huh.” Izaya agreed flatly, still staring at Shizuo.

Shizuo paused at the tone in Izaya’s voice and then looked down at the raven beside him, a bit of an embarrassed look on his face. “What?” He asked defensively, his cheeks turning a little red. “It’s cool.”

“Oh, I know it’s cool, Shizu-chan.” Izaya agreed, smiling at bit at the tall blonde. “But I think it’s cooler that you can actually identify all the effort that went into making it so cool.”

Shizuo’s eyes widened at the compliment, the blonde seemingly not knowing what to do with himself after hearing something like that.

“Shizuo’s an artist at heart!” Shinra sang before the embarrassed blonde could come up with an adequate response, slinging an arm around his tall friend’s shoulders happily. Shinra shot Izaya a wide grin, his eyes sparkling with mirth. “He’s always excelled at art classes and visual stuff. It’s why he was originally hired as a barista, actually. He can make all those cute little foam patterns and stuff when people ask for them. Plus, he decorates the café for all our holidays and designed our logo and stuff.”

“Shinra.” Shizuo hissed, his ears turning bright red as he looked sharply at his feet. “Shut the hell up.”

Izaya stared at Shizuo in amazement, taking in that angry, delinquent, bad-boy appearance that had drawn his interest at first sight. Now he was taking interest in Shizuo for whole new reasons.

“You’re an art guy.” Izaya said in surprise, watching how Shizuo jumped at the accusation. “You’re an artistic, thoughtful guy.”

“It’s not a big deal. I’m really not that artsy.” Shizuo muttered, gripping Shinra’s arm and flinging it off his shoulders. “I just…like art stuff.”

“And apparently you’re very good at it, too.” Izaya refused to let the subject go, stepping right next to Shizuo and peering up into his shocked face. “Your café really does have a cute, cozy atmosphere, and the colors you put up compliment each other really well. I never cared about it before, but now that I know you’re the one doing it instead of some professional designer, I’m actually really impressed.”

Izaya smiled at Shizuo, his red eyes glittering under the flickering lights. “You have a lot of talent.” He said honestly, which was something he never thought he’d be saying to the blonde so soon. “Really. I wish I knew what other kinds of art you do, Shizu-chan.”

Shizuo seemed absolutely dumbstruck by the idea of someone calling him talented. His face lost nearly all its color, and his eyes glazed over like his brain had stopped working.

“I’m…talented?” He asked slowly, the words sounding almost rusty on his tongue. “That’s…that’s not true.” He shook his head fervently, trying to pull himself out of his daze. “No. I don’t have any talent. I suck at everything.”

Izaya pouted (that damn self-esteem issue was bigger than he’d thought) and flicked Shizuo on the forehead. “You’re good at art. Deal with it.” He said petulantly, spinning on his heel and marching off into the warehouse. “Stupid Shizu-chan. Just take the compliment. It’s true.”

“It’s not.” Shizuo muttered to himself, but didn’t say anything else afterwards. He and Shinra simply followed Izaya off into the warehouse.

They looked around at some of the arcade machines that were scattered around the floor, commenting on the high scores on the racing and shooting games and puzzling over what some of the weirder games even were, trying to decided what they wanted to play first. There were all kinds of different things, from UFO catchers to rhythm games to classic arcade games from the 80s and 90s. There really was a lot to go on, and the sounds of the games beeping and playing all around them made it feel even more overwhelming.

“There are more floors of this place above us, too.” Shizuo informed them, pointing to an escalator over in the corner built underneath some rotting concrete. “I think there’s like five levels in total. But you need some kind of membership to use the fourth floor, and the fifth floor is just an internet café.”

“Ooh, let’s see if I can-” Izaya started to say, then caught himself, coughing into his hand as Shizuo looked at him.

“See if you can what, Izaya-kun?” He asked, frowning a little.

“Ah, nothing!” Izaya said breezily, heading for the escalator. “Let’s just check out the other floors!”

He had been going to suggest that they see if he could flirt with the staff to let them hang out on the fourth floor anyway but…that wouldn’t have worked out so well. No flaunting, Izaya. No flaunting.

They headed up to the next floor, which was already a big difference from the second floor. This one looked more modern, and was filled with things that looked like slot machines from Vegas. “What the heck is this? Is it like a gambling floor?” Izaya asked curiously, walking over to one of the blinking slot machines and squinting at it.

Shizuo laughed at Izaya’s comment, joining him at the machine with a warm smile that made Izaya’s heart involuntarily skip a beat.

“Nah. These are medal games.” Shizuo explained, planting a hand on the top of the machine and leaning over Izaya to peer at the screen.

Izaya stared pointedly at his hands, trying furiously not to blush or react as Shizuo’s body pressed lightly against his, heat radiating from the blonde’s skin as he inadvertently trapped Izaya in place against the machine.

“Uh…medal games?” Izaya managed to ask in a not-so-strangled voice, pulling himself out of his mind. “What are those?”

“Sorta like slot machines, I suppose.” Shizuo hummed, looking down at where Izaya’s hands were and gently grabbing one of them. Izaya nearly jumped at the unexpected contact from Shizuo’s hand, staring at their joined hands as Shizuo moved Izaya’s fingers up to the screen, guiding him through the controls on the game. “You put in money to play and then you can win these little coins called medals.” Shizuo explained as he showed Izaya what everything on the screen did, totally ignorant of the bright red color Izaya’s face was becoming. “They don’t really do anything. They’re just medals.”

“O-Oh.” Izaya stammered, trying not to focus on how close Shizuo was. Had he gotten closer? Izaya could swear that Shizuo was pressing up against Izaya more than he’d been before. “Cool.”

He heard a snicker off to his right and his head immediately snapped over to spot Shinra, filming the two of them gleefully on his phone.

“Don’t mind me”, the crazy doctor mouthed, gesturing at Izaya to keep going. “I’m not here!”

Izaya shot him a fierce glare, mentally resolving to wipe Shinra’s phone after this. “I’m gonna kill you.” He mouthed back, drawing a not-so-subtle slit across his throat with the free hand that Shizuo hadn’t grabbed. The blonde was still using Izaya’s hand to play the game, a small frown on his face as he added money and tried to win some of the weird medal things. He had no idea that Izaya and Shinra were busy making death threats.

Shinra snickered again, ending his video and creeping over to Izaya, putting his lips to Izaya’s ear. “Just think: Shizuo’s got you pinned up against an arcade machine right now. You’re bent over the top of it, and your rear end is all lined up with his crotch. I’m only seeing so many ways this can go if he notices what position you’re in.” The pervert whispered, grinning maniacally at Izaya.

The raven’s face turned beet-red and he instantly jumped up from the medal game, startling Shizuo and sending him stumbling back from the game just as some medals started spitting out of the machine into the dispenser.

“Oh look! You won!” Izaya said with fake cheer, scooping up the little coins and handing them to Shizuo with an equally fake grin. “Fantastic! Let’s move on to the next floor.”

“Uh…okay?” Shizuo said uncertainly, pocketing the medals and giving Izaya a weird look. “You alright? You look a little off.”

“I’m fine!” Izaya sang, marching with a purpose to the escalator. “Next floor, Shizu-chan!”

He was definitely going to murder Shinra later.

“Uh, Izaya-kun! Wait!” Shizuo called after him, but the raven was practically running up the escalator, darting around some of the other people on it to reach the next floor. His face felt so hot from the situation he’d just been in. Figures Shinra would have to show up and say something perverted to ruin a perfectly platonic moment! Gah!

Izaya hurriedly exited the escalator onto the fourth floor, marching right inside the next area without thinking.

When he looked up at it, he was surprised by the classy atmosphere of the place.

The lighting was dark with small, elegant lights lining the ceiling in various places. There were red velvet pool tables scattered throughout the room, some table tennis sets next to them, and dartboards lining the walls. There were mostly men on this floor for some reason, and no teenagers, and Izaya could clearly see some of the men drinking beer as they shot pool or set up table tennis games with each other. A few of them peered curiously at Izaya, their eyes raking him up and down in a way that made his skin crawl before they turned back to their own games, whispering to each other.

Ugh. Men.

Izaya suddenly felt self-conscious in his outfit, even though it was one of the simplest things he’d worn in a while aside from his school uniform. Plain blue jeans and a slightly loose, dove-gray long-sleeve shirt. That was it. That was the whole outfit. Unless you counted the black ball earring he’d randomly added to his right ear on a whim. He was definitely dressed-down, but these men were still eyeing him like he was the most delicious thing on the menu.

Well, judging by the fact that they were grown men hanging out alone in an arcade, there might not be much of a menu out there.

Izaya was about to turn around and meet Shinra and Shizuo on the escalator when he felt someone tap his shoulder.

He spun around, already prepared to slap a pervert in the face if he had to, but he was greeted by the friendly smile of a young man holding a pool stick instead. “Excuse me.” The young man said, giving a slight bow to Izaya as an apology for scaring him. “But do you happen to be Orihara Izaya?”

“Yes. Yes, that’s me.” Izaya said with a fake smile, his nerves calming down somewhat as he realized what was probably going on.

“Oh my gosh. I thought it might be but I didn’t know for sure.” The man said excitedly, pulling out a magazine from the bag he had slung over his shoulder. Yep. This guy was a fan.

“I just got the latest issue of the Jack O’Lantern fashion magazine.” The man continued, lifting it up and showing Izaya the cover.

Izaya squinted at it, recognizing it as one of the photo sets he’d done a few weeks ago. He was wearing a rose-red spaghetti strap shirt with a maroon jacket, but the jacket had been made to slide down his arms so that his shoulders and upper arms were exposed. Maroon skinny jeans adorned his legs, and his feet were bare, toenails painted dark-red. He was laying on his stomach, facing the camera with a mischievous smile on his face as he propped himself up on his elbows, holding a rose in his fingers. There were rose petals falling around him and the caption on the magazine listed it as the Valentine’s special.

Oof. He gave off quite a message in that photo that was not very accurate at all.

“Ah. Yes, that’s me.” Izaya laughed lamely, praying that the guy was just going to ask for an autograph or something and leave. “I’m a little embarrassed that you recognized me so easily. I’m not even wearing make-up or anything!”

“You don’t have to be all dressed up for me to recognize you.” The guy said excitedly, his eyes almost sparkling as he leaned in. “You’re so beautiful that no one else could ever compare to you, no matter what you’re wearing.”

“Aw. Thank you.” Izaya said politely, smiling and trying to take a subtle step back from the man. He was getting too close for comfort.

Where the hell were Shizuo and Shinra? They’d been right behind him before, right?

“I can’t believe I get to see you in person.” The man said, taking another step forward and moving even closer to Izaya. His eyes looked Izaya up and down almost greedily, drinking in his appearance. “You’re even more stunning in person. Cameras don’t do you justice.”

“That’s very nice of you to say.” Izaya let the smile drop from his face as the creep factor in the situation amped up. This guy was giving him bad vibes. He needed to stop sending positive signals to get him to back off. “But I’m really not comfortable with those kinds of comments. Sorry about that. Could you please stop?”

“You don’t have to apologize for anything!” The man cried, still stepping forward and now barely two feet away from Izaya, completely ignoring the request. “You’re like a god or an angel on earth. You shouldn’t ever have to apologize for anything.”

“Alright. Please stop, sir. You’re getting too close.” Izaya said firmly but politely, taking several steps back this time and eyeing him warily. The situation was getting worse now. Izaya would have to get some help here soon if this man kept harassing him.

“I worship you.” The man said dreamily, pulling his phone out of his pocket as if he wanted to take pictures of Izaya. “Could I please have some pictures of you? Just a few?”

“No.” Izaya’s voice dropped an octave, the raven giving the creep a stern glare. “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t want you taking pictures of me.”

“Just a few.” The man insisted, holding his phone up anyway and eyeing Izaya with that same crazed, greed. “I need them.”

“I don’t even want to know what he needs them for.” Izaya thought with an internal shudder, his hand automatically coming up to shield his face from the camera as he stepped back again. “Sir, it’s illegal to take pictures of someone without their consent. Stop now.”

“Lower your arm.” The man said in response, his hand darting out and gripping Izaya’s wrist in a flash. His grip was tight, almost desperate, and he pulled down on Izaya’s arm with surprising force. “I need to see your face.”

“Let go of me!” Izaya shouted, dropping all the niceties now that it had moved to physical harassment, and fiercely yanking on his arm, bringing his other hand up to continue shielding his face. “Go away!”

The other men in the room were beginning to take notice of the commotion, and a few of them were giving Izaya looks of concern, setting down their things as they came over to help. Thank God chivalry wasn’t entirely dead yet.

“Hey!” One of the men shouted, glaring at the crazy creep. “Let go of him.”

“No. I need these pictures.” The nutcase insisted, pulling harshly on Izaya’s arm as the raven struggled against him. “I need them!”

“Get your fucking hands off Izaya.” A deep voice snarled, a blonde blur slamming into the side of the man and shoving him away as easily as if he’d been a child. The man cried out and fell onto his back, wincing in pain as his magazine and phone skittered away across the floor.

Izaya looked over in gratitude to see Shizuo standing protectively in front of him, glaring at the man with fire in his golden eyes.

“What the hell gives you the right to touch anyone else like that?” The blonde barista demanded, practically gnashing his teeth at the man on the ground. “You fucking asshole. Don’t ever do that to anybody.”

“Izaya!” Shinra’s voice called frantically, the skinny man running up to them as he looked at the creep on the floor. “There you are. Sorry we took so long to get here. This is the fourth floor that you need a membership for and the security people stopped us at the door a ways back.”

“I didn’t even notice a door.” Izaya said flatly, glancing back the way he’d come in surprise. “Did I walk past it?”

“I guess.” Shinra sighed. “The security guys said you looked familiar so they assumed you had a membership and let you in. It took me a while to convince them that you were a model and that was probably where they’d seen you before instead.”

Shinra laughed a bit as he gave Izaya a grin. “I ended up looking you up so they could have proof. Shizuo-kun’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw the picture of you that came up.”

“I don’t even want to know what picture that is.” Izaya groaned, although he was a little curious as to what had gotten a reaction out of Shizuo.

“Shut up, Shinra. My eyes didn’t pop out of my head.” The blonde snapped, his ears turning a little red with embarrassment as he glared the creep on the floor right out of the room. “And that’s not important right now. What’s important is whether or not Izaya wants to sue that guy for harassment.”

“It’s fine.” Izaya sighed, placing a hand gently on one of Shizuo’s broad shoulders. “He’s not the first creep I’ve ever met and he won’t be the last. My boss said there’s no point trying to sue them all. Unless he actually caused me visible or serious physical harm, it’s not worth the hassle.”

“That’s bullshit.” Shizuo muttered, still glaring out the door. “You shouldn’t have to deal with all that.”

“It is what it is.” Izaya said breezily, although his chest felt a little warm and fuzzy from Shizuo’s words. “Anyways, let’s leave. We can’t be on this floor anyway.”

He gave a quick thank-you to the other men who’d been coming over to help him, bowing respectfully to them all before walking out with Shizuo and Shinra.

None of them really felt like heading up to the internet café (although Izaya was a little curious about the statues of Greek and Roman gods he could see up the escalator that apparently decorated it) so they decided to head back down to the second floor to start playing some good old arcade games. Just forget the whole creep-incident and lose themselves in games. That was the plan.

But of course, something happened once they were down there that was an even bigger deal than the creep.

While Izaya and Shizuo were having a dance-off on one of the dance-mat games, and Shinra was filming them gleefully, someone unexpected decided to show up and join the party.

Izaya had just won the dance round – to his great joy – and was in the process of rubbing it in the scowling blonde’s handsome face when he caught a glimpse of silver out of the corner of his eye.

“Huh?” Izaya froze immediately, glancing over in shock as he saw a familiar figure bending over an arcade game just a few rows away from theirs. “Is that…Shinichi?”

“What?” Shinra practically shrieked in horror, spinning around to search for the fashion model. “Where? Let’s make sure we avoid whichever half of the room he’s on.”

“Shinra.” Izaya scolded, hopping off the dance-mat and staring at the back of the head that he was becoming more and more certain belonged to Shinichi. “He’s a good friend.”

“He’s an evil snake.” Shinra scowled, looking nervously at Shizuo and then back at Shinichi. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Shinichi is the guy I yelled at before, right?” Shizuo asked, hopping off his own mat as well and glancing uncomfortably at the silver head in the distance.

“Yes.” Izaya said tightly, the unwelcome memory rushing back into his brain. So much for pretending he and Shizuo had never met before today. A stark reminder of why they hated each other was standing right in front of them. “That’s him.”

“Prime reason not to interact with him now!” Shinra chirped, clapping his hands sharply. “Let’s leave.”

“Shinra.” Izaya said again, glaring at his annoying best friend. “Shinichi is a good guy.”

Before Shinra could come up with another insult to refute Izaya’s statement, a flash of silver suddenly caught their eyes, a new figure coming to a stop in front of them.

“Izaya-kun!” Shinichi said brightly, smiling his usual dazzling smile at Izaya. “Fancy seeing you here!”

“Yeah. It’s so convenient.” Shinra muttered at Izaya’s side, glaring at the silver-haired model. Izaya elbowed Shinra in the side, smiling back at Shinichi just as brightly. “Yeah! I didn’t know you hung out at arcades, Shinichi.” He responded, feeling his heart flutter a bit as Shinichi laughed.

“On and off.” The friendly man smiled, his eyes flickering over to Shizuo. “And I see my good friend Heiwajima-san is here as well. Hello again.”

“Hey.” Shizuo said lamely, scratching the back of his head with a guilty expression. “Look man, I’m sorry I overreacted last time we, ah, met. I was totally out of line and I-”

“Don’t worry about it.” Shinichi cut him off breezily, smiling at the blonde with a glimmer in his eye. “I understand. You just didn’t know how close Izaya and I were and you jumped to conclusions because you were jealous.”

“I wasn’t jealous.” Shizuo scowled, a glare settling onto his face instead as a dark look entered his eyes.

“Mmhm. Sure.” Shinichi smiled kindly at Shizuo, patting his pityingly on the shoulder. “You don’t have to admit it if you aren’t mature enough. It’s fine if you want to pretend like it was something else.”

“I’m plenty fucking mature.” Shizuo snapped, his fists clenching tightly at his sides as though he wanted to punch the guy. “You just need to shut your mouth.”

“Shizu-chan!” Izaya glared at the tall blonde, getting a little angry with the big idiot for being so aggressive. “Knock it off.”

“Shizu-chan?” Shinichi repeated the nickname, a bit of amusement filtering into his voice. “That’s a cute nickname.”

“Don’t call me cute.” Shizuo growled, taking a threatening step towards Shinichi.

Shinichi didn’t move at all, as calm and friendly as he always was, and simply continued to smile. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I was talking about the nickname.” He explained himself, giving Izaya a look. “This guy has a bit of a short temper, doesn’t he?”

“A bit.” Izaya agreed with a nervous laugh, and the growl that came from Shizuo’s throat didn’t exactly help the blonde’s case. “Shizu-chan, seriously! Cut it out!”

“Why should he?” Shinra demanded, glaring at Shinichi. “This snake is obvious trying to make Shizuo-kun look bad in front of you. I think Shizuo-kun should rip his head off.”

“Kishitani-san!” Shinichi looked at Shinra with hurt in his eyes. “I never understand why you hate me so much.”

“He doesn’t!” Izaya said quickly, trying desperately to salvage this train-wreck of a situation before it got any worse. “He’s like that to everybody! Um, so how long have you been at the arcade?”

“Just a few minutes.” Shinichi shrugged, smiling brightly at Izaya and ignoring the fierce glares he was getting for no reason from Izaya’s stupid friends. “Mind if I hang out with you guys a bit?”

“Not at all.” Izaya said at the same time that Shinra said “Hell yes we mind” and Shizuo growled “I’d rather choke you to death”.

“Fantastic!” Shinichi chirped, positive as usual as he beamed at Izaya. “I have some things to talk to you about anyway.”

He walked over to Izaya, smoothly looping an arm around his shoulders and steering him away from the seething idiots behind them. “I don’t really want to walk with the people who seem like they’re plotting my funeral.” Shinichi whispered good-naturedly in Izaya’s ear. “Mind if I just walk with you?”

“I don’t mind.” Izaya smiled, heart skipping a beat at how close Shinichi was. “And it makes sense, anyways.”

“Great!” Shinichi laughed, eyes glittering as he led Izaya over to a different set of dance games. “I’m glad you agree, Iza-chan.”

Izaya wanted to point out the nickname that he hadn’t agreed to let Shinichi use, but the guy was probably just a bit nervous about having Shinra and Shizuo following them with death threats in their eyes. Izaya could let it slide for a day.

He just hoped nothing would get out of control as Shinichi helped him up onto the dance-mat, courteous as always, and then climbed up on the one next to Izaya. Shinra and Shizuo stood behind them, whispering to each other, as Shinichi flipped easily through the selection of songs, selecting a pop love song.

As Izaya got ready to dance, he thought about Shizuo’s eyes on him from behind, watching him with Shinichi, and a small blush of shame crept over his cheeks.

Wait, shame? Why did he feel shameful? He didn’t owe Shizuo anything. He hadn’t promised to spend the day with Shizuo. Heck, he hadn’t even known Shizuo was going to be here. He shouldn’t feel any kind of shame over this at all. Besides, he’d known Shinichi longer – it was natural to dance to songs like this with him.

Shizuo would just have to suck it up and watch if he had a problem with it.

Izaya shook his head to clear his mind and started dancing to the first notes alongside Shinichi.

If he had known how many more problems were going to arise from letting Shinichi, Shinra, and Shizuo stay in the same place as each other, he might not have been so quick to set his fears aside.

Because once those three were left alone, all hell broke loose.

Chapter Text

Shizuo was going to blow his lid.

There was no doubt in his mind about it. There was no question about the possibility of the event. He was going to explode in a blast of fiery rage and destroy everything in front of him. Armageddon was coming and it was coming in the form of a pissed off blonde barista with superhuman strength and a sweet tooth.

And why might that be?

Oh, simply the fact that a silver-haired snake had crashed the middle of what had been shaping up to be one of the most relaxing days of Shizuo’s life, had insulted him and rejected his attempts to apologize for his behavior earlier, and had set him up to look like a complete asshole in front of Izaya.

Not that the last one should really matter all that much (there was no reason for Shizuo to care what Izaya thought of him anyway) but for some reason, it did.

And it didn’t help that the snake had essentially whisked Izaya away in a flurry of smooth-talk and dazzling smiles, bringing him up to a dance game and playing songs that were obviously love songs just to rub the entire thing in Shizuo’s face.

And Shizuo knew he was rubbing it in his face, too. The asshole kept looking back at him as he and Izaya danced and smirking. He was smirking at Shizuo, blatantly and unabashedly, as though daring the blonde to even try getting between him and Izaya.

It was pissing Shizuo off to no end.

“It’s all a misunderstanding. He’s probably not that bad of a guy.” Shizuo muttered to himself, fists clenched tightly at his sides as his arms trembled with rage. “He’s not that bad of a guy, he’s not that bad of a guy, he’s not that bad of a guy…”

“What are you talking about? He’s the worst guy in the world!” Shinra hissed, glaring daggers at the silver-haired boy’s back. “It figures he would show up here. It just figures!”

Shizuo frowned at that, glancing over at Shinra as the future-doctor fairly bristled with rage.

“Why do you say it like that?” Shizuo asked, cocking his head at Shinra. “Does he have a habit of popping up or something?”

“Habit?” Shinra scoffed, crossing his arms with a scowl. “More like an obsession. He’s always, always, been able to conveniently appear whenever Orihara-kun and I are out somewhere. Or sometimes when Orihara-kun is out by himself, he tells me later about how he saw Shinichi at the mall or how Shinichi popped up while he was eating at a café or how Shinichi magically appeared at the movie theater for the exact same movie Orihara-kun was going to watch.”

Shinra looked at Shizuo with a fierce glare, but Shizuo knew it wasn’t directed at him. “That snake is always following Izaya.” Shinra hissed. “I don’t know how, but he is. He follows Orihara-kun everywhere, pops up at the most opportune times, and basically acts like Orihara-kun’s knight in shining armor while he makes everybody else look like idiots, assholes, and freaks.”

Shinra turned his glare on Shinichi’s back now, glowering with the darkest expression Shizuo was pretty sure he’d ever seen on the scrawny boy’s face. “He’s a menace.” Shinra growled. “And Orihara-kun has no idea.”

Shizuo’s frown deepened and his gaze inadvertently flicked over to the raven-haired model he’d been slowly coming to tolerate as the day had worn on.

Izaya was dancing to yet another love song selected by Shinichi, laughing and joking with the silver-haired boy as he spun elegantly through the dance steps. His glossy hair gleamed under the lights of the arcade, his ruby eyes sparkled like the jewels their color was so similar to, and each movement he made seemed to be a carefully perfected motion designed to trap Shizuo’s attention and take his breath away from the sheer beauty of it. He looked stunning, even as he danced in a grungy-looking arcade, sweating and huffing from exertion.

But Shizuo shouldn’t be focusing on that right now! Right now, what he wanted to do was pulverize the unfortunately equally stunning model beside Izaya.

Shinichi was every bit as graceful in his movements as Izaya, hitting each step flawlessly and moving through the air like he’d been born to dance in this arcade. His smile was confident and his eyes taunted Shizuo whenever their gazes connected, broadcasting the message that he was so much better than Shizuo would ever be.
Like Shizuo needed a reminder of that. He knew how useless and hopeless he was, thank you very much. That asshole didn’t need to show off to prove it to him.

“What are you gonna do about it, Shizuo?” Shinra asked, dragging Shizuo’s attention back to their conversation.

“Huh? What?” Shizuo looked at Shinra in confusion, trying not to let his gaze travel back to the dancing duo. “What are you talking about? What am I supposed to do? Actually, why am I supposed to do anything?”

“Because!” Shinra growled, glaring viciously at Shinichi. “That jerk swooped in and messed up your time with Orihara-kun! The two of you were getting along great. And I personally think Orihara-kun was warming up to you in a decidedly romantic way.”

“R-Romantic?” Shizuo practically choked on the words, his face turning beet red. “No. No, you’re way off the mark. There’s no way someone like…like him would be into someone like me.”

“Are you kidding me right now?” Shinra looked at Shizuo in astonishment. “Orihara-kun had literally told you to your face that he finds you attractive. He thinks you’re super hot and now that he’s been hanging out with you all day, he knows a little bit more about the personality behind your hotness. And. He. Likes. It.”

“He does not!” Shizuo hissed, glancing at Izaya swiftly and praying the raven couldn’t hear all this.

He seemed absorbed in his dancing game, however, twirling on the dance mat and hitting each of the notes perfectly, a little bit of sweat trickling down his forehead from the effort of the dance.

“He’s not stupid.” Shizuo continued, looking back at Shinra with a firm glare. “He knows better than to even begin to like a loser like me.”

“Shizuo-kun!” Shinra said in exasperation, glaring right back. “Stop putting yourself down! You have way more good qualities than you ever let yourself believe! Just open your eyes, stop beating yourself up, and you’ll see that good things don’t just happen to perfect people.”

Shinra pointed harshly at Izaya, fire in his eyes. “That successful, intelligent, sassy, beautiful boy up there has the hots for you, Shizuo-kun. You. He’s head over heels for the ronin (quick reminder that this is a term used in Japan for people who were unable to get into university after high school), delinquent-looking, aggressive, part-time barista at Firefly Brew who makes his favorite coffee every day.” Shinra jabbed Shizuo harshly in the chest, the fire never losing an inch of its ferocity. “He likes you. And if you could just open your eyes and admit that you deserve him, you would see that.”

Shizuo fell silent at those words, his golden eyes slowly moving over to look at Izaya again.

He’d finally finished the song with Shinichi and was wiping his forehead with a sigh of relief, laughing as he pointed out how high his score was compared to the silver-haired boy’s. Shinichi said something in response, probably a smooth-talking compliment designed to make Izaya fall in love with him, and the raven giggled happily, his eyes sparkling. For the briefest moment, those eyes flicked over to Shizuo, freezing once they locked with his gaze.

Red looked deep into gold, and a small blush crept over Izaya’s cheeks as he swiftly looked away again.

Shizuo could feel his heart skip a beat in his chest, blood pounding hotly through his veins as his mind raced with the possibility.

Could…could Izaya like him? It was crazy. It was insane and impossible. Izaya was way out of his league. There was no way he could like someone like Shizuo. Shinichi was more up his alley.

But as Shizuo continued to watch Izaya laugh with Shinichi, he saw his red eyes continuously flick over and steal glances at him, then look back to Shinichi in embarrassment at being caught. He kept looking at Shizuo, even though he was talking to Shinichi.

Was it possible?

“Get in there and steal Orihara-kun back.” Shinra muttered lowly, giving Shizuo a light push towards the dance mats. “He wants you and Shinichi is trying to make him forget that. So put a stop to it!”

Shizuo froze in place, staring up at the dance mats and the dancers on them as his heart pounded in his chest. He wanted to. He definitely wanted to steal Izaya away from the snake who apparently stalked him and was apparently not as good a person as he tried to seem around Izaya. He wanted to go back to him, Izaya, and Shinra hanging out in the arcade, the three of them relaxing and chilling without some snake making things awkward and tense. He wanted to keep forgetting that he and Izaya hated each other, and keep starting over.

But he didn’t have a clue for how to jump in between the smooth-talker and the raven, or even if Izaya really wanted him to. After all, he seemed to be having a good time up there with Shinichi, and Shizuo didn’t want to ruin anything if Izaya was having a good time. He was probably stressed quite often thanks to his job and college, and based on the encounter with Izaya’s “fan” earlier, he probably didn’t get much of a chance to relax outside of those things either.

If Izaya was happy and relaxed for once, Shizuo didn’t want to ruin that.

But damn did he want to get Shinichi away from the raven!

Thankfully, his internal dilemma was solved by Izaya himself.

“I’ve got to use the restroom.” The beautiful boy announced, hopping down from the platform and glancing again at Shizuo. Although this time instead of looking back at Shinichi, he turned his gaze to Shinra. “I’ll be right back.” He promised, pulling out his phone and checking the time. “Probably before 3:45. Just…wait here, I guess? Please don’t fight.”

Now he looked at Shizuo as he said that, his red eyes practically pleading. “Please.” He said again.

Shizuo scratched the back of his head, looking down in shame, but nodded nonetheless. “I’ll try.” He muttered, hoping he’d be able to keep his anger in check.
Izaya beamed at him despite the noncommittal promise, grabbing Shizuo’s hand and squeezing it gratefully. “Thank you.” He said brightly, seeming truly thankful as he smiled at Shizuo. Shizuo could feel his skin tingling where Izaya’s was making contact with his, and his face turned red as the model looked at him like he was his sole source of happiness in the world.

“Go to the bathroom.” Shizuo mumbled gruffly, looking down in embarrassment. “We’ll be here.”

“Okay!” Izaya chirped happily, squeezing Shizuo’s hand once more before heading off. “I’ll be back in a few!”

All three of the remaining boys watched Izaya go, waiting until he’d slipped out of sight before turning their attention on each other.

“So good to see you again, Kishitani.” Shinichi said in a shockingly nasty tone, giving Shinra a self-righteous smirk. Shizuo couldn’t help but notice how he’d also dropped the honorifics from earlier when talking to Shinra. He was just being plain rude now that Izaya was gone.

“Can’t say the same, Shinichi.” Shinra practically snarled, glaring like a demon. “I wish you’d been locked up after that investigation.”

“They didn’t find anything on me. I’m clean.” Shinichi said sweetly, patting Shinra’s head condescendingly. “So sorry, little doc.”

“Even if you’ve fooled Orihara-kun and the rest of the public, you won’t fool me!” Shinra snapped, smacking away the hand. “You’re a criminal, Shinichi. A rotten scumbag who deserves to be kept in jail for a very long time.”

“A criminal?” Shizuo asked slowly, looking over at Shinichi in a mixture of shock and confusion. “What are you talking about?”

Shinichi glanced at Shizuo as if the blonde was something that had come off the bottom of his shoe. “Right. The amoeba-brained gorilla still exists.” He shot Shizuo the same smirk, silver eyes flashed tauntingly. “How does it feel to meet someone who actually is the kind of person Izaya-chan should end up with?” He asked, taking a step towards Shizuo. “Do you realize how inferior you are? Do you realize that you’re nowhere near Izaya-chan’s level? Back off, you piece of shit. You’re not even worthy of breathing the same air as him.”

Shinichi looked at Shizuo in triumph, his gaze mocking. “Your own little brother is more suited to courting Izaya than you are. At least he’s got a career track and a successful job. He’s also talented and good with people and fairly intelligent. And for everything that your brother is, Izaya-chan is one hundred times more.”

He leaned in, shoving his face into Shizuo’s with a snarky grin. “What makes you think you could possibly come near Izaya?” He asked sweetly. “You’re soiling him with your very presence.”

“Get away from Shizuo-kun, you asshole!” Shinra yelled, his fist flying at Shinichi’s face.

Shizuo, who up until that point had been losing himself in Shinichi’s words, spiraling back into a hole of self-hatred and self-doubt, now found himself starkly distracted by a sight he never thought he’d see: Shinra punching somebody in the face.

His fist made direct contact with Shinichi’s cheek, sending the model stumbling a few steps away from Shizuo with a red mark slowly appearing on the flawless skin.
He put his hand against it with a scowl, glaring fiercely at Shinra. “How dare you!” He hissed, eyes flashing like a snake. “You little twerp! I’ll snap your spine in two!”
That brought Shizuo out of his daze of shock entirely.

“You sure as hell won’t do anything of the sort.” The blonde growled, stepping protectively in front of Shinra and giving Shinichi a dark glare. “No one touches my friends.”

“Oh yeah, tough guy?” Shinichi grinned nastily, readying his fists for a fight. “Let’s see about that.”

Shizuo snarled angrily, lifting his own fists as he felt his strength surging through his veins. He was very capable of smashing this guy’s head in or punching him halfway across town. Normally, he kept his anger fiercely in check in order to prevent such calamities from happening to the people who pissed him off. Sometimes, he’d even let them beat him up if that was their goal, just to make sure he didn’t accidentally kill them.

But this time, Shizuo was totally ready to let loose.

But Shinra realized something. “No Shizuo-kun! Don’t!” The future-doctor cried, grabbing Shizuo’s shirt desperately. “This is what he wants! Remember you told Orihara-kun you wouldn’t fight! He wants you to fight so that you look bad in front of Orihara-kun!”

“Shut your mouth, you little punk!” Shinichi snapped, glaring at him. “I’m coming for you next.”

“Like hell you are!” Shizuo roared, pissed off beyond belief that this guy was threatening his friend.

“Shizuo-kun, stop!” Shinra yelled desperately, gripping his shirt. “He’s saying this to get you angry!”

“Well, he succeeded!” Shizuo shouted, tearing out of Shinra’s grip and letting his fist fly right at Shinichi’s face.

The silver-haired snake dodged the fist easily, grinning widely at Shizuo with a glint in his eyes. “That the best you can do?” He taunted, spinning around and sending his own punch right into Shizuo’s side. “You’re pathetic!”

Shizuo growled like an animal and spun around, whipping his leg at Shinichi’s head at lightning speed.

Shinichi hopped backwards gracefully, landing on top of the dance mat and gesturing at Shizuo to come get him.

Shizuo, blinded by rage, raised his fist in the air, roaring as he ran for the machine and the snake sitting on it, ready to destroy both.

“SHIZUO!” Shinra screamed, his voice practically piercing Shizuo’s ears. “STOP!”

“I’ll tear your friend to pieces!” Shinichi shouted right after the doctor spoke, fueling the fire. “He’s dead meat the instant you leave!”

Shizuo shouted angrily and drove his fist right at Shinichi, a look of ultimate triumph passing over the silver-haired boy’s face as he leapt out of the way, letting Shizuo’s fist plow straight into the metal platform.

It sparked and fizzed around his fist, creaking horribly as he punched through it. The metal snapped and the machine sputtered pathetically, dying instantly under the onslaught of Shizuo’s fist.

“What a monster.” Shinichi snickered from behind Shizuo, backing away from him. “Punching straight through metal? And you think you’re worthy to be with someone as beautiful and delicate as Izaya-chan? Don’t make me laugh.”

Shizuo spun around to shout at Shinichi, ready to tear into him for what he’d said - about Shinra, about himself, about Izaya being delicate - but he froze immediately as he saw something on the other side of the arcade, past Shinichi’s shoulder.

Red eyes looking at him. Red eyes watching him. Red eyes watching him in shock, confusion, disappointment and worst of all…crushing betrayal.

A pit instantly appeared in Shizuo’s stomach as he and Izaya stared into each other’s eyes, the evidence of Shizuo’s rampage sparking and smoking right behind him.

Shinichi stood off to the side, smirking triumphantly at him. Shinra was looking at him in exasperation and disappointment, his gaze asking how Shizuo could’ve been so foolish. And Izaya just watched him, looking for all the world like he’d just caught Shizuo cheating behind his back or lying straight to his face.

“I win.” Shinichi said in a soft, sing-song voice, smirking at Shizuo. “Better leave now before Izaya-chan gets here. Wouldn’t want to see his face when he realizes you’re a monster that can punch through metal, now would we?”

It wasn’t that Shizuo wanted to listen to the snake’s words. It wasn’t that he didn’t know they were a manipulation technique, designed to get him to leave so that the snake would be all alone with Izaya and his only obstacle would be Shinra. But his words were true. They hit home in Shizuo’s heart.

He didn’t want to see Izaya’s face twist with horror and revulsion. He didn’t want to know how Izaya would react when he discovered the monstrosity that was Heiwajima Shizuo. He wanted to leave before any of that happened, and never come back.

He would come back and pay for the damages to the arcade later. Right now, he just wanted to get out of there.

Without another word, ignored Shinra as the future doctor tried to say something to talk Shizuo out of it, the blonde turned away from Izaya’s betrayed face and ran.
He ran straight for the exit, refusing to look back even after shouts of his name rang after him. He ran right out of the arcade and down the straight, ran right past the train station, ran through the familiar streets of his city, ran all the way home, ran into his room, and slammed the door shut behind him.

He grabbed the paper from Izaya with the strange address on it that he’d received so long ago, the one still sitting on the table by his bed, and tore it up immediately, throwing the pieces in the trash.

Then he threw himself down on his bed and closed his eyes, wishing desperately that he could fall asleep now and never wake up again.

Chapter Text

Two weeks. It had been two weeks since the incident in the arcade.

Izaya could still remember standing there in shock, watching as Shizuo’s fist punched straight through solid metal – as easily as it would have punched through a paper wall – right into the heart of the arcade machine. He could remember his utter confusion, trying to figure out what could have made a man angry enough to give him the strength to punch through metal. And then some deeper confusion as to the unsurprised look on Shinra’s face at this crazy display of strength. Finally, he remembered the betrayal he’d felt at seeing Shizuo’s destruction of the arcade after he’d promised not to start any fights.

It was all a big, chaotic, disastrous tangle of emotions that Izaya didn’t know how to deal with. They fought and wrestled inside of him like their own separate being, prying his mind from the pursuit of knowledge that he should’ve been focusing on during his classes, and continuously dragging it back to that day. He couldn’t get past it. He couldn’t get it out of his head.

Izaya groaned and lowered his head to the desk in front of him, not even caring that he couldn’t see the lecturing professor’s presentation anymore. He knew everything on the slides already. It didn’t matter that much. His messed-up head was more pressing right now.

“Orihara-kun?” Shinra whispered from beside him, a concerned hand resting on his shoulder. “Come on. You’re doing it again?”

“Yes.” Izaya muttered without lifting his head, eyes closed as his emotions and thoughts swirled madly inside him. “There’s nothing else for me to do.”

“What about your reputation, huh?” Shinra pointed out, the future doctor probably looking at all the confused, concerned heads directed Izaya’s way now. “Everyone’s noticed how different and unmotivated you’ve been these past few weeks. They’re gonna start saying things soon.”

“I’m more interested in what you had to say about that fight at the arcade.” Izaya muttered, still not looking up. “I was already so confused about what had happened when I saw it. Then Shizuo ran off. Then you ran up to me with this frantic story about Shinichi being an evil snake taunting Shizuo into a fight. Then Shinichi told me something else about you and Shizuo ganging up on him while I was gone. Shinra, I was in the bathroom for less than two minutes! How could so much have happened in two minutes that I don’t understand or know what to think about?”

“I don’t see what’s so hard for you to understand.” Shinra said stubbornly, the same attitude he’d been taking towards this subject since Izaya had started asking about it. “Shinichi is pure evil. He threatened to attack me in order to get Shizuo angry. Then he intentionally led Shizuo to an arcade machine so that Shizuo would destroy it just in time for you to see. Then he manipulated Shizuo into running away, calling him a monster and saying he should leave before you reacted to the monster. Then he lied to your face about what had happened. Why are you even in denial over this?! You should trust my word – not his!”

“Shinra, Shinichi had always been good to me, ever since I met him years ago.” Izaya snapped, sitting up and glaring at Shinra darkly. “I’d known Shizuo for two days and we only had about one hour of decent relations before he destroyed an arcade machine with his bare hands and ran off. Can you blame me for being so hesitant to choose one’s story over the other’s?”

“Shizuo’s not the one giving you the story. I am.” Shinra said in exasperation, pointing to himself as the teacher droned on. “It’s not Shinichi’s word versus Shizuo’s, here. It’s mine versus his. Who do you trust more?”

“I…I don’t know.” Izaya directed his head down again, the chaotic beast swirling in his chest again. “I’ve known him longer than you. I’ve never heard an evil word come out of his mouth. But you’re my closest friend. I trust you more than anyone else. It’s just…I can’t wrap my head around it.”

“Maybe that’s because you’ve bee avoiding the problem.” Shinra sighed, lowering his hand from Izaya’s shoulder and turning back to the front. “Maybe since you haven’t seen either of them since the arcade, you haven’t been able to clear things up for yourself yet.”

“I need to clear my mind before I go see them.” Izaya said stubbornly, clenching his fists tightly under the desk. “I can’t waltz in on either of them with my emotions so out of control. I need a definitive persona to use and an unchanging stance to take on the matter or I’ll just mess up.”

“Or you can admit you’re human, walk in with all your fucked-up emotions, and just try to figure out for the love of all that exists in this universe what is going on!” Shinra snapped, slamming his hands on the table forcefully. “Just own up to your problems, face them, ask the other people involved, and figure out the truth for yourself without a damn plan of attack! Get out of your head, Orihara-kun. It doesn’t do shit in this situation and you know it.”

“Kishitani-san.” The teacher growled harshly from the front of the room, eyes glaring daggers at the boy above her. “That outburst was quite enough. Get out of my classroom. Now.”

Shinra muttered angrily under his breath, gathering up his things and shooting Izaya one more pointed look that the raven could feel burrowing into his shoulders.
“Just…think about it.” The future-doctor grumbled, slinging his backpack over his back and leaving the room.

Everyone watched him go in shock, looking over at Izaya like they were debating whether or not they should approach him and try to figure out what was going on. “Orihara-san?” The teacher asked from down below, concern filling her voice. “Are you alright? Kishitani-san hasn’t been…causing problems for you these past two weeks, right?”

Ah. So everyone thought Izaya was acting different because Shinra was bullying him. Well, that was just stupid. Izaya couldn’t have that rumor floating around and causing problems in his school life with well-meaning classmates and teachers. He better put that to rest.

At least his brain was still working enough to tell him that.

“No, ma’am.” Izaya said with a dazzling smile, sitting up in his seat and looking down at his professor. “I’ve been dealing with some things of my own and my poor roommate is getting tired of trying to help me with them. I just don’t listen very well, see. It’s nothing important. Please don’t concern yourself with it further.”

The teacher nodded slowly, Izaya’s usual smooth speech flowing into her like a reassuring dose of alcohol. She probably saw his usual behavior and thought: “Oh good. He’s back. No need for me to poke my nose in his business now.” Or something along those lines, anyway.

In the meantime, the other students seemed relieved that Izaya was smiling and playing the perfect boy again. They all grinned and turned their attention on the front, waiting for the teacher to ask her next question so that Izaya could answer it.

Which he did, with precision, detail, and confidence, closing out the class for the day and having already finished half of the set of homework problems he’d predicted the teacher was going to give. And where had his old spark come from?

Well, as much as Izaya hated to admit it, it had come from Shinra’s words. Words which were undoubtedly right. In this situation, Izaya shouldn’t be so focused on clearing his mind before clearing it up. His emotions were what he needed to lead with, not suppress, since logic had no part in it. Everything was all based on how he felt – how he felt about everyone’s words and actions on that day, how he felt about both Shizuo and Shinichi, how he felt about Shinra and Shinichi, how he felt about seeing the two men he’d been avoiding again. His feelings determined everything. And he’d spent way too long trying to suppress them.

If only Shinra had cussed him out in class sooner. Izaya’s turmoil might’ve ended a lot quicker.

As the raven picked up all of his things, effortlessly fielding questions and advances from his fellow classmates and reestablishing his prior popularity with them in seconds, he thought about what he was going to do next.

He’d been pouring all his effort entirely into the modeling gig with Kasuka and the shoots with the budding celebrity, avoiding Shinichi’s area of the agency like the plague. He’d impressed his bosses and garnered some unexpected attention from some of the bigwigs that had had their eye on Kasuka as a result. Kasuka had told him the other day that if he kept up his passionate devotion to these last few photoshoots, the director of their agency was probably going to try and make him debut as an actor alongside Kasuka. Really, all Izaya wanted to do was run away from Shinichi, not throw himself under a spotlight.

But what’s done is done. The point was that he’d successfully managed to avoid Shinichi by spending all his time with Kasuka.

And it was even easier to avoid Shizuo. The blonde barista was a full-time employee of Firefly Brew, after all. All Izaya had to do was avoid the café and he was golden. Shizuo didn’t even come to the agency to have lunch with Kasuka anymore. He was probably avoiding Izaya as well.

Which left Izaya with a choice. Which of the two did he want to see first to clear things up?

As Izaya headed out of the classroom with his things, smiling and chatting with all the people he passed without actually paying attention to them, he tried to figure out what he should do.

Shinichi would be happy to see him. He’d texted Izaya several times over these past few weeks, asking if the raven was okay and apologizing for his actions at the arcade. No doubt, he would have some kind of story or explanation for them that would put Izaya’s mind at ease immediately.

But…that was the problem. Even if he didn’t personally think Shinichi was manipulating him, there was always the chance that he was. And if he was, then a perfect story to cover all of Izaya’s doubts was the last thing Izaya wanted. It would hide the truth, and hide it so perfectly that he would never consider an alternative option to it. If Shinichi had everything planned and taken into consideration, then the wool could be pulled over Izaya’s eyes almost instantly.

And Izaya didn’t like being fooled. He was the one who did the fooling.

Which left Shizuo as his other option. Passionate and aggressive, Shizuo seemed like the type to bluntly blurt out the first thing on his mind – which would probably be what he considered the truth. The blonde wasn’t smart enough or manipulative enough to weave a perfect lie. He would probably tell it like it was, or at least like he remembered it being, in an explosive, desperate, potentially-angry manner. Izaya would get the truth from Shizuo. He was certain of that.

The issue with going to Shizuo was that the blonde had the strongest emotional pull over Izaya out of anything Izaya had ever experienced. He made Izaya’s heart move in ways it never had before. He made Izaya do crazy things and go to crazy lengths to be around him. He made Izaya actually accept a friendly nickname, for goodness’ sakes. And just thinking about the blonde now caused the chaotic maelstrom to rear up in full force all over again.

He had no clue if he would be able to face Shizuo and actually figure anything out, or if it would only confuse his emotional state even more.

So what did Izaya value more? Control, perfection, and logic or chaos, passion, and the truth?

Izaya gripped the straps of his backpack tightly, walking the familiar path to the Jack O’Lantern modeling agency. It was a tough call. He knew what Shinra would tell him to do. He knew what his mind was telling him to do. He had no clue what his heart wanted.

He needed to lead with his emotions but he couldn’t even distinguish them from each other. What a massive mess he was in.

Izaya walked in through the front doors to the agency, walking straight to the changing room where his clothes for the shoot tomorrow would be awaiting him. He didn’t actually have a shoot with Kasuka today. He could come in and do some extra shoots for extra money, though. But it would put him back with Shinichi on that side of the modeling agency.

Izaya hadn’t come to the agency in order to do that.

He walked over to the back of the changing room, grabbed a new set of clothes he could change into instead of his school uniform, and sat down. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

What should he do? Where would his feet take him? Where did his heart want him to go?

He slowly reached a hand into his pocket, fingering the cell phone that was resting in it. Shinra had given him Shizuo’s number a few days after the arcade incident in the hopes that Izaya would call the blonde to clear things up. He’d never actually touched the digits on his keypad. In fact, he’d barely looked at the name itself on his phone. He’d been avoiding it just as much as he’d been avoiding the man who owned it.

But he still hadn’t deleted it. It was still resting there, in his contacts, waiting to be accessed.

Izaya slowly lifted the phone to his ear, finger raised over the dial button after he’d pulled up Shizuo’s information. He held the phone in place for a while, staring straight ahead of himself without moving a single inch.

His heart beat like a racehorse in his chest. His blood pounding violently through his veins. The air felt hot and stuffy in the perfectly air-conditioned changing room. Everything in the world around him seemed to be boiling down to the phone in his hand and the man he was about to call.

Izaya didn’t even pause to consider whether or not Shizuo was on a break right now. He just wanted to call and get this over with.

If Shizuo picked up, then Izaya would ask to see him again, probably some time this weekend. If the blonde didn’t respond – and Izaya knew Shinra must have given him Izaya’s number as well – then Izaya would march straight over to the other side of the agency and go to Shinichi.

One or the other. It was all dependent on Shizuo.

Izaya nodded slowly. Yes. This was the correct way to do it. This took just enough pressure off Izaya to remove the guilt of any decision he ended up making while forcing him to make a choice here and now. No more delaying. No more procrastinating. No more annoying Shinra and avoiding the two men he was drawn to most in life.

He was figuring this out and he was figuring it out now.

Izaya’s finger pressed down and his heart skipped a beat in his chest.

He held the device to his ear, listening to the ringing dial tone with his heart in his throat.

It rang once.

Izaya waited and sat in the changing room.

It rang twice.

Izaya’s foot tapped the ground nervously.

It rang a third time.

Izaya’s eyes flicked around at all the clothes around him, seeing but not comprehending them.

It rang a fourth time.

Izaya’s heart started to beat a little faster in his chest, nervousness overwhelming him.

It rang a fifth time.

Izaya’s fingers began fluttering along with his foot, now.

It rang a sixth time.

Izaya began to consider hanging up.

It rang a seventh time.

Izaya could tell the voicemail option was coming up soon.

It ran an eight time.

Izaya pulled the phone away from his ear and let his finger hover over the hang-up button, heart pounding in his chest.

He saw it click to voicemail and pressed the button immediately, slipping his phone into his pocket.

The air in the room cleared immediately. A huge weight lifted off Izaya’s chest. Izaya breathed deeply, trying to steady his heartbeat as his body shook frantically. He was so freaked out just because of a simple phone call? Seriously?

He looked at his palms and he could tell that the shaking fingers were sweaty and clammy. His heart was still pounding. He almost felt sick.

Maybe it was a good thing that he hadn’t ended up going to Shizuo first. If the man could pull this big a reaction from Izaya just by ignoring the raven’s call, he had no clue what rejection in person would have done to him.

That blonde had way too much power over Izaya’s emotions. Shinichi was definitely the safer option.

Izaya nodded slowly, having already convinced himself of this as he began to change into a new outfit. He’d selected a rose-red tube top with a small, black leather jacket to cover it, set over tight, leather pants of the same shade as the jacket. A red belt slipped through the pant’s loops, and some smart, black sneakers went over his feet. The jacket didn’t reach all the way to his hips; it stopped around the same length as a crop top would. He ran his fingers through his hair, letting the glossy strands fall into his eyes a bit and examining his reflection in the nearby mirror.

Everything about him screamed “style” right now. He looked cool, collected, and confident. Nothing like how he felt on the inside. It was the perfect mask to head over to Shinichi with. It allowed him to prepare for actually feeling this way, feeling like he had everything figured out, after the upcoming conversation with Shinichi.

Yes. The conversation with Shinichi would sort everything out for him and Izaya would be able to actually return to feeling as confident and collected as this outfit made him look.

He blew a sigh of relief at the thought, smiling a little at his reflection. It was a good thing Shizuo hadn’t picked up the phone. At least Izaya now knew what he was doing.

As Izaya spun on his heel and headed to the door, placing his handle on the knob so he could leave and head for the area where Shinichi would be doing a shoot right now, his phone buzzed in his pocket.

The raven-haired model ignored it, assuming it was probably another text from Shinra or Shinichi, and opened the door, swiftly exiting the room.

Then it buzzed again, rather insistently, and Izaya paused in his tracks. Was it a call? No. No, probably just two texts in short succession to each other.

Izaya shook his head to get himself to focus and continued walking, head held high.

Then his phone buzzed again, seemingly even stronger this time.

Three texts? Even Izaya had to admit that seemed a little unlikely.

When the fourth buzz vibrated against his hip though, Izaya decided that was enough.

He reached a hand into his pocket and pulled out his phone, glancing at the screen to see who was calling.

His heart stopped when he saw the name on the screen.

Heiwajima. Heiwajima Shizuo.

He was…calling Izaya back?

Izaya stared at the screen in disbelief, the phone buzzing over and over in his hand. How? Why? Hadn’t he just ignored Izaya’s call seven minutes ago? Seven minutes was a long time to spend mulling over whether or not you should call someone back. What had taken so long?

No, more importantly, should Izaya answer the call?

Izaya looked ahead of him, his previous anxiety slipping back over him like a glove as his heart pounding wildly in his chest. He could see the door that led to his usual shooting area, beyond which he would undoubtedly find Shinichi.

He’d already decided to go see the silver-haired model instead of Shizuo. He shouldn’t turn back on that. Shizuo should’ve picked up the first time if he wanted to talk to Izaya. That was just how it worked. You don’t wait another seven minutes before deeming it alright to call back. That was like playing hard-to-get. It was just stupid.

Izaya looked down at the phone, lifting his finger with every intention to hang up the call and turn it off so Shizuo couldn’t call again.

But for some reason, when his finger was coming down, it changed directions before Izaya could stop it, hitting the green button instead of the red one. Instantly, his hand brought the phone up to his ear, blood pulsing in his veins as the world shrank back down to the size of the phone in his hand and the voice he hoped to hear on the other end.

“Hello?” Izaya asked aloud, gripping the phone tightly as his heart pounded in his chest. Stupid emotions. They had too much control over him.

There was silence for a few seconds on the other end. It was just long enough for Izaya to begin to consider hanging up in case the blonde had just accidentally butt-dialed him or something. Then a deep voice sounded on the other end, making the raven’s heart skip another beat for no reason at all.

“Izaya-kun. Is…is that you?”

“Be cool, Izaya. Be cool, be cool, be cool.” Izaya thought frantically in his mind, taking a deep breath. “Yes. What do you want, Shizuo?”

Shizuo paused on the other end. Maybe because of the cold note in Izaya’s voice. Maybe because Izaya had dropped the “Shizu-chan” nickname. Either way, he had paused, and it was enough to freak the raven out.

“D-Don’t hang up.” Izaya said swiftly, wishing he hadn’t stuttered as he gripped the phone tightly. “I, uh, I’m aware you’re probably calling because you want to know why I called.”

“…Yeah.” Shizuo’s voice said on the other end. “Is something wrong?”

“No, I…” Izaya’s mind completely blanked on what he’d been planning to say. Stupid, stupid emotions! What the heck were they doing to him?!

“I wanted to ask if we could meet up later.” Izaya said quickly, forcing the words out of his mouth as quickly as he could. “Like at the café. To talk about what happened.”

He heard Shizuo suck in a breath on the other end of the phone, clearly not expecting that response. “Oh.” The blonde said in a surprisingly meek voice. “You want to talk about…that?”

“Among other things.” Izaya said quickly, practically crushing the phone in his grip now. “Can I? I mean, can we? Meet up and talk?”

Shizuo sounded like he was fiddling with something on the other end of the phone. His deep voice mumbled something in the background, and another voice responded, the two of them having a quick conversation before Shizuo’s voice returned.

“I’m working all weekend for a party the café’s putting on so I can’t meet up then.” Shizuo said flatly.

Izaya felt his heart sinking in his chest at the words. “O-Oh.” He managed to get out, trying to snap himself out of his disappointment. “I see. Well, I’ll just come up with some other time next week or-”

“You can come over today, though.” Shizuo interrupted him. “I mean, I’m still working but my boss is willing to let me take an hour or two off to chat with you. Is that okay?”

“Yes! Yes, that’s fine!” Izaya breathed out, much faster than he would have liked. “I-I’ll be over later.”

“You can come now.” Shizuo responded casually. “There’s a lull in customers so my boss doesn’t mind. Are you busy? You’re working, right?”

“No! No, of course not!” Izaya whipped around to face the exit of the agency instead, marching as fast as he could towards it as his feet and heart spurred him on. “I-I was just out walking around. Nothing important. I’ll be over in about fifteen minutes.”

“Great.” Shizuo’s voice was flat but Izaya felt like he could hear a note of excitement in the tone. “Um…I’ll see you in a bit, Izaya-kun.”

“Okay. Bye, Shizu-chan.” Izaya didn’t even notice that he’d slipped back into the nickname as he hung the phone up and dropped it into his pocket. He hoped he hadn’t sounded too happy at the end of the call. His heart was fluttering like a schoolgirl’s and he was practically skipping out of the agency. If that had come across in the phone call, he’d be mortified.

Izaya grabbed the handle to the agency exit and yanked it open, eager to run the entire way to Firefly Brew if he had to. Nothing was going to stop him from seeing Shizuo and finding out the truth.

Shinra had definitely been right. He’d really needed to get his rear in gear with this.

Now Izaya did feel a little bad about leaving the agency after deciding that he was going to talk to Shinichi instead but…he just couldn’t help himself. That stupid blonde had way more pull and power over Izaya than he probably knew.

But no matter. Izaya was about to go see the barista for the first time in two weeks. He was about to get some answers for the questions and chaos boiling in his brain. He was about to finally get off the hook with Shinra for having put this off for so long.

He was also potentially going to hear about a new side to Shinichi that he wasn’t sure if he was ready for.

But that was okay. Because he was still going to see Shizuo.

Izaya dashed outside the agency and swiftly turned to run down the street in the direction of the Firefly Brew café. He could feel a large grin spreading over his face at the thought as his black sneakers pounded down the sidewalk. He barely looked where he was going, barely paid attention to all the looks he was getting as he darted down the street, beaming from ear-to-ear and running at top-speed.

He was about to see Shizuo. He was about to see Shizuo!

Izaya spun around the corner at the end of the intersection and slammed right into someone who’d been walking around it.

“Sorry! I’m sorry!” Izaya gasped, getting to his feet and making a big show about caring for the other person’s well-being as he offered to help them stand. Internally, he was annoyed that they’d gotten in his way and was wishing that they’d be hit by a car later, but that wasn’t the point. He had to keep a good image.

The person took his hand and stood up, standing several inches taller than him and looking down with wide eyes.

When Izaya’s red eyes locked with the ones above his head, he felt himself freeze in place.

This…was not the person he was supposed to be seeing.

“…Izaya-chan?”

Chapter Text

“He called you?” Shinra blinked in shock, staring at Shizuo like the barista had just grown a second head. “He called you?”

“Yes, he called me.” Shizuo said for the millionth time, eyebrow twitching in irritation as he poured the last bit of coffee into the cup of the newest customer glaring at Shinra for obstructing the line. “Now can you please move? At least away from the counter? Hell, come back around here to talk to me. You work here, for God’s sake.”

Shinra huffed and slipped around the corner of the counter, standing right beside Shizuo and staring at him pointedly as the blonde shot a forced smile at the next impatient customer who was probably railing curses on Shinra’s head right now.

“What would you like, ma’am?” Shizuo asked as politely as he could, ignoring the glare burning into his head. He would deal with the crazy med student later.
“Large caffè macchiato.” The lady said stiffly, reaching into her purse to pull out her credit card. “And make it quick.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Shizuo responded, turning to the coffee machine and beginning the order.

“Oh come on, Shizuo-kun!” Shinra whined, grabbing Shizuo’s arm and tugging on it like a toddler. “You can’t just tell me he called you and not say what he called you about or how the call went. Especially not after I told you all about the incident in psych class! This could be important!”

“Not as important as my job.” Shizuo snapped, preparing the coffee and glaring at Shinra. “Seriously man. I’m working right now. I don’t have time for gossip.”

“Orihara-kun works a lot too and he always manages to find time for it.” Shinra muttered, crossing his arms with a huff.

“Well, I guess I can’t multi-task as well as him then.” Shizuo rolled his eyes, yet another aspect of Mr. Perfect that he could never live up to slipping into the conversation. At this point, Shizuo felt like he would be numb to them soon. “Or maybe his modeling gig requires less of his focus and time than my barista gig does. Now go sit down and stop bothering me, Shinra.”

“I need to know, though!” Shinra shouted, stomping his foot and pouting just to complete the image of the toddler that he was already imitating so well. “Where does Orihara-kun stand in this whole situation?”

“Hell, if I know.” Shizuo snapped, grabbing the lady’s coffee and beginning the foam design on it. “Just go away for now! Either wait at a corner table until my shift is over or talk to the boss to see if you can get it to end earlier than I already asked it to end.”

“You asked to end early?” Shinra asked in shock, mouth gaping. Then a sly glint came into his eye and he pointed at Shizuo triumphantly. “This must have something to do with Orihara-kun! Is he coming here? Is that what the phone call was about? Is he visiting you at work?”

“Drop it, Shinra.” Shizuo growled, handing the impatient lady her (finally) finished drink with a nod and a small apology for the wait. “Now get.”

Shinra huffed and walked off, heading straight to the back to talk to the manager.

Shizuo sighed, shaking his head and turning his attention on the next customer. He really needed to focus on his job now, before he got fired.

It was already hard enough with thoughts of Izaya bouncing around his head. Thoughts of his demonic laugh, his devilish-red eyes, his perfect smile, his way of looking at people as though they were fascinating experiments, basically everything about the man he hadn’t seen in weeks.

He almost felt a little guilty for tearing up the address and trying to cut the raven out of his life. But he was pretty sure Izaya had been trying to do the same. Except now, after Shinra’s “talk” with him in their psych class, Izaya was trying to bridge the gap that they’d both built for some reason.

Shizuo ought to give him a helping hand in rebuilding that bridge.

Even if that meant his entire mind would be flooded with thoughts of the beautiful, perfect man he couldn’t stop thinking about.

And sure enough, after no more than five minutes, Shizuo got his chance to think about the man even more.

Shinra had gone to the back and practically pleaded with the manager to let Shizuo off his shift an extra half-hour earlier. He’d promised to work a double shift on Friday, he’d promised not to talk so loud he disrupted the rest of the café, he probably sold his soul at some point in the conversation, and the manager had finally agreed to let Shizuo off and bring up one of the bakery employees to run the counter for a while.

So Shizuo finished up the drink he had been working on, handed it to the customer, and then headed over to a corner table where Shinra was waiting for him with a triumphant, happy grin on his face.

“You’re killing the money I’m supposed to make today.” Shizuo muttered, glaring at the future doctor as he settled down into a seat across from him. “I work on an hourly wage, you know.”

Shinra waved a dismissive hand in the air, clearly not caring about the matter as much as Shizuo. “Not the point right now.” He said breezily. “Now tell me about what Orihara-kun said!”

“It’s not much.” Shizuo said grumpily, hoping his cheeks weren’t turning red like he thought they were as he recalled the conversation. And how cute Izaya had sounded over the phone.

“He just said he was going to come over so he could talk to me. I offered to meet up with him today so he agreed to come today. End of story.”

“End of story?” Shinra repeated, scowling at Shizuo. “With Orihara-kun, there is always more to the story! Did he say anything about the snake? About which one of you he trusted more than the other? About whether or not he was trusting me?”

“No.” Shizuo said stiffly, running a hand through his tangled blonde hair with a sigh. “We just made plans for him to come over today and chat. That’s it.”

Shinra sat back in his seat, folding his arms with a frown and staring intently at the center of the tablecloth.

“I wonder what he’s thinking.” Shinra muttered, his fingers tapping rhythmically against his arms. “Maybe he’s finally doubting the snake for once. Or he came to his senses and realized how bored he should be with Mr. Perfect by now.”

It took Shizuo a few seconds to realize Shinra was talking about Shinichi and not Izaya when he said “Mr. Perfect”. He was so used to using the sarcastic nickname on Izaya in his own mind that it had never occurred to him it could be used for someone else.

“What do you mean by that?” Shizuo asked, trying to hide his embarrassment at misinterpreting the statement. “Why bored?”

“Orihara-kun doesn’t do perfect.” Shinra said simply, looking up at Shizuo with a frown. “I mean, I’ve only known him since we started rooming together, but he did have a couple of short flings in that time period and I could see a definite pattern to them.”

His fingers tapped his arm anxiously as he continued. “Orihara-kun doesn’t choose perfect people. He firmly believes that no one is perfect, and that if anyone seems like they are, then they have something to hide. Like himself.”

Shinra snorted a bit and a small smile came over his features. “And in his mind, Orihara-kun is the only one allowed to have any secrets to hide.” He said. “If someone is perfect, he won’t trust them. In fact, he digs into their past to figure out what they’re hiding and exploits it against them in the present to break their outer mask of perfection.”

Shinra held up a finger, looking at Shizuo as though he was delivering an important lecture or speech that the blonde had to pay attention to. “Then he gets with them. He’ll only date a perfect person if he’s broken them down to imperfection and insecurity because it gives him more security. Or because he thinks it’s more interesting to date someone with obvious issues than it is to date someone with no issues at all.”

Shinra sighed and shook his head, turning his gaze back on the tablecloth again. “In the short time I’ve been rooming with him, Orihara-kun was with five people. Of those five people, two were addicted to drugs, one was in a gang, one was married and sleeping with seven other mistresses, and one was a scandal-free, rising politician that he later exposed for buying child pornography online.”

Shinra sighed again, fingers still tapping his arms. “My point is that Orihara-kun doesn’t trust perfect and he thinks it’s boring. If he sees a perfect person, he breaks them down for pure enjoyment. If he’s actually choosing someone to date, he’ll find someone with some kind of messed up life and screw with it even more. If he’s feeling benevolent, he helps them out of their problems before breaking their heart and dumping them once they’d become better people. If they piss him off somehow, he makes their lives even worse and then dumps them.”

Shinra shrugged and gave Shizuo a flat look. “It’s just who he is.” The future doctor said simply. “And there are only two people I’ve seen him break that pattern with.”

He pointed at Shizuo, who jumped in place at having been brought into this semi-disturbing conversation. “You’re one.” Shinra declared. “Orihara-kun thinks you’re interesting enough on your own to not mess around with. And he also genuinely likes you rather than liking the idea of what he can do to you. He stutters when he talks about you, he turns red if I mention you in a sexual light, and he refuses to talk about any future plans he has for you, which means he isn’t thinking about ways to screw with you. The fact that he actually left you alone for two weeks after you ran out of that arcade in shame is proof enough. Usually, he’d be jumping on a person whenever they hit a state of vulnerability like that and driving them closer to the edge.”

Shinra beamed happily at Shizuo, his finger still pointed. “You got Orihara-kun to like you as a person.” The doctor said cheerfully. “And he doesn’t know how to handle that situation, so he’s probably really nervous around you. But trust me, he’s head-over-heels. He just hasn’t realized it yet.”

Shizuo’s face turned red and he quickly looked down at the tablecloth like Shinra had been earlier. His heart pounded in his chest as his fists clenched tightly. Izaya liked him? And like…liked him liked him? More than other people? How was that even possible?

Izaya was Mr. Perfect. He was a successful model for a huge talent agency. He got top marks at school and was the star student of the psychology program. He made tons of money without having to work all that many hours. He was a minor celebrity thanks to his modeling work. He was the most beautiful man that had ever walked the earth. He was confident, stylish, smart, capable, talented, charismatic, and had a bright future ahead of him.

Why would he ever fall for a loser like Shizuo who’d almost dropped out of high school, couldn’t make it to college, worked a full-time job as a café barista, had anger management and self-esteem issues, and was far too rough and rugged to be attractive?

Then again…if Izaya liked guys with messed-up lives and tons of problems, Shizuo might be his fucking prince charming.

But still. Why was Shizuo the messed-up freak special enough to gain Izaya’s…affection?

If no one else could, even after they turned themselves around with Izaya’s help, what made Shizuo different?

Shizuo truly had no idea.

“…and I’m totally fine with him liking you!” Shinra was saying, pulling Shizuo back into the present as he continued his rant about Izaya. The future doctor waved his hands in the air erratically, looking at Shizuo with almost-desperate eyes. “I want him to like you so you can help get his crazy ass on track before he ends up working for the mafia or something!”

Shinra leaned back in his seat, a troubled look passing over his face. “But then there’s the second guy Orihara-kun hasn’t screwed with.” Shinra muttered, eyes nervous. “Shinichi. Which makes absolutely no sense.”

“Why not?” Shizuo asked, although he already had an inkling of the answer.

“Because Shinichi is perfect!” Shinra burst out, waving his arms in the air again. “Shinichi is everything Orihara-kun hates in a person. He’s scandal-free, overly kind, rich, and always knows just what to say. Orihara-kun should be breaking Shinichi down, trying to find his weak points, or just straight up tossing him aside. But he didn’t even lift a finger during Shinichi’s press investigation. He trusts everything the guy says. He acts like Shinichi is his knight in shining armor.”

Shinra slammed a fist on the table, scowling angrily and ignoring the irritated looks the other café patrons were sending him. “Orihara-kun doesn’t do knights. He doesn't need a knight! He’s the dragon that eats them!” The doctor fairly shouted, grabbing his hair in his hands in frustration. “I don’t understand! You, I can understand. He was drawn to you because of your issues and your looks, and then he stayed drawn for a very simple reason.”

Shinra pointed at Shizuo again, glaring at him fiercely. The glare startled Shizuo even though he knew it wasn’t really directed at him. “You throw Orihara-kun for a loop and he can’t get a read on you, which both terrifies and excites him." The doctor said firmly. "He likes the unknown because he likes conquering it, and you’re one big, blob of unknown. But he doesn’t want to conquer you. He wants to understand you and get to know you. He’s so fucking into you because you’re the most unique, interesting, unpredictable person he’s even met. Orihara-kun is probably secretly obsessed with you and is trying not to acknowledge it.”

Shinra slammed his fist into the table, again, and Shizuo couldn’t help but think that if this kept up, the two of them would probably get kicked out of the café for disturbing the peace. “But his attraction to Shinichi doesn’t make any sense! He should be done with Shinichi! He shouldn’t even trust the guy! So why is he so attached?”

Shinra frowned, settling back down into his seat and staring at the tablecloth again, lost in thought. “Every time it seems like he’s getting close to distrusting Shinichi, something happens.” The future doctor murmured. “Every time he’s mentioned not being sure what to think of Shinichi in the past, the next day he wakes up with every trace of his doubt erased. I don’t get it. The instant he starts doubting that snake, his trust of that snake shoots up within a few days.”

Shinra rubbed his forehead, clearly thinking hard. “Why?” He whispered to himself. “Why does Izaya go back and forth like that? Why is he like a totally different person with Shinichi? Why does he put all his faith in Shinichi just as he’s about to lose it?”

Shizuo shifted uncomfortably in his seat, checking the clock on the wall to see how long it would be until Izaya arrived. They hadn’t really agreed on a time, just said they’d see each other in the afternoon. Knowing Izaya, he’d probably pick some really random point in the afternoon to pop up just to mess with Shizuo’s head. Like instead of showing up at 3, he would show up at 3:27 or something like that.

It was about 3:12 right now. Izaya might arrive soon.

“I don’t get it.” Shinra muttered, rubbing his temples slowly. “It’s just so weird. Something is so off there, and so out of character for him. Why? Why?”

“Look Shinra,” Shizuo began, looking at his troubled friend. “I can’t figure that raven out any better than you can. He’s a total mystery to me. It astounds me that you know him this well after living with him for less than a semester. So while you can theorize about what’s going on with him and his personal life choices, I’m stuck just trying to guess what his last text meant. I won’t be much help to you here.”

“I know, I know.” Shinra sighed, sitting up straight and frowning at Shizuo. “I was just thinking aloud. Ignore all that if you want.”

“Okay.” Shizuo shrugged. He wasn’t sure if he could ignore all that, but he’d definitely try.

“Izaya-kun might show up soon so I want to get ready for his arrival. Would you mind heading out if you don’t have anything else to say? I sort of…” Shizuo looked to the side, refusing to meet Shinra’s curious eyes. “Want to talk to him alone.”

“Ooh.” Shinra said teasingly, poking Shizuo in the arm with a snicker. “Looks like someone else is also falling head-over-heels, too.”

“Wanting to talk to someone alone does not mean you’re falling head-over-heels for them!” Shizuo snapped, his cheeks burning red as he glared at Shinra. “It just means I want to talk to him without some idiot butting in with unnecessary comments!”

“Okay, okay.” Shinra snickered again, holding up his hands in surrender. “I’ll be going now. I have to start packing tonight, anyway.”

“Packing?” Shizuo asked in confusion, tilting his head to the side. “Packing for what?”

Shinra rolled his eyes, sighing heavily. “Oh, my dad has research and technical issues with his labs about once a month and he usually asks me to help him sort them out.” The future doctor said flatly. “I hate having to go visit him, but he pays me for helping and pays for my tuition so I can’t really say no.”

Shinra checked his phone to see what the date was. “My flight leaves tomorrow morning.” He announced, looking back up at Shizuo. “I’ll probably be back in a couple of days. The issue usually sorts itself out by then. In the meantime…” Shinra frowned and his face took on an unusually serious note as he looked at Shizuo. “Keep an eye on Orihara-kun for me.” He said softly. “And keep an eye on Shinichi. I just…I really don’t trust him.”

“I get it.” Shizuo nodded, putting a comforting hand on Shinra’s shoulder. “I mean, it’s not really my place to monitor all of Izaya-kun’s relationship choices. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have a say in who he chooses at all. But since you’re my friend, I’ll at least try to make sure he’s safe for the next few days.”

“Thanks, Shizuo-kun.” Shinra smiled, a bit of the worry leaving his shoulders and eyes as he watched Shizuo. “I’m glad you two met.”

He glanced at the clock on the wall, noting the time at 3:16, and then stood up from the table, giving Shizuo a wide grin. “Good luck with your upcoming talk!” The future doctor said cheerfully, giving Shizuo a bright wave. “Hope it all goes well!”

“Thanks.” Shizuo nodded in gratitude, watching the med student slip away from the table and stride towards the door. “Have a good trip, Shinra.”

“Will not!” Shinra chirped, giving Shizuo another jaunty wave before exiting the café.

Shizuo shook his head, then stared out the window beside him, lost in thought.

Izaya liked him. Izaya also liked Shinichi. His liking of Shizuo was understandable for his best friend, but his liking of Shinichi seemed totally unrealistic and out of the blue. His best friend didn’t trust Shinichi one bit, and the arcade incident had only gone to prove that Shinichi was a two-faced jerk that deserved to get decked in the face for being so untrustworthy. But for some reason, that jerk was the picture of an upstanding guy whenever he was around Izaya.

What was going on here? What was the truth?

Shizuo was so lost in his musing that he didn’t even notice the figure standing beside him at the table until it said his name.

“Shizu-chan.” A voice said in amusement, something tapping on his shoulder. “You in there?”

Shizuo jumped and spun around immediately, looking at the figure with wide eyes.

His golden eyes met sparkling carmine ones, and his shoulders immediately relaxed while his heart began pounding faster than ever.

“Izaya-kun.” Shizuo managed to say aloud, smiling at the beautiful raven before him. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Izaya said simply, smiling back at him. “We need to talk.”

“I agree.” Shizuo nodded as Izaya slipped into the seat across from him where Shinra had just been, every movement more elegant and more graceful than the last, as though he was dancing through life. “We should definitely talk.”

“And to ensure that we talk in the most efficient means possible,” Izaya began grandly, steepling his fingers together as his red eyes glinted. “I’ve devised a simple method of communication which ensures we reach our most important conversation points in a timely manner.”

Shizuo blinked, staring at the proud man across from him total confusion. Yep. Yep, he was pretty sure he could figure out what had just been said. Izaya had invented some special way for them to communicate so they could get their points across efficiently. That was so freaking weird but somehow it just seemed so much like Izaya that Shizuo wasn’t weirded out by it at all. The “method of communication” itself wasn’t confusing Shizuo.

The thing that was confusing Shizuo right now was how Shinra had ever come to know Izaya as well as he did. Half the shit that came out of the raven’s mouth was like a passage from a textbook. How did anyone glean any kind of personal information from statements and phrases like “ensures we reach our most important conversation points in a timely manner”?

“Right.” Shizuo said aloud, nodding at the beaming, red-eyed man across from him. “How does the method work?”

“We ask each other three questions at a time and answer them in turn.” Izaya said promptly. “Simple. That way, we can prioritize what we speak about and receive direct answers to the questions we have without beating around the bush.”

“And it’s simple enough for me to understand.” Shizuo huffed gratefully, folding his arms over the table and smiling at Izaya. “Fair enough. You first.”

Izaya held up three slender fingers, looking Shizuo directly in the eye. “I have two sets of three questions for you, Shizu-chan.” He declared confidently. “This is the first set: why did you attack Shinichi, how did you punch through the arcade machine, and why did you leave the arcade?”

Great. Straight to the hard-hitting questions, then.

Well, guess the only thing to do here was answer them as straightforward and honestly as possible.

“I attacked Shinichi because he threatened to hurt Shinra after Shinra punched him in the face for insulting me.” Shizuo said bluntly, summing up the entire unpleasant experience in a single sentence. “He pissed me off by threatening to hurt my friend. So I tried to hurt him.”

Izaya’s face didn’t change after hearing this news. He merely put one finger down and nodded, his eyes focused and intent on Shizuo’s words. They seemed slightly troubled, as though he was thinking about something from earlier or was having doubts about that something, but he seemed to be accepting Shizuo’s words as the truth.

That was probably a good sign. Hopefully.

“I punched through the arcade machine by punching it.” Shizuo answered the second question in an even more simple manner than the first, wishing he could just gloss over this one. “I have…abnormal strength. When I get angry, I sometimes lose control of it.”

He was a little worried about what Izaya’s response would be to that one. He was basically a monster, after all. There were only so many responses people could have to that.

But there was a glint of curiosity and interest that crossed Izaya’s carmine orbs instead before he nodded, lowered one more finger, and waited for Shizuo’s last response.

Shizuo breathed out a low sigh of relief – no doubt Izaya would question him more about his strength later – and then provided the final answer to Izaya’s questions.
“I left the arcade because I was ashamed to let you see me as a monster who’d broken his promise to you. I was afraid Shinichi was right about me and that I didn’t deserve to be around you. So I left.” He stated, looking Izaya directly in the eyes.

The red eyes filled with an edge of amusement and a small smirk quirked up over Izaya’s lips. “God, you’re stupid.” The raven snickered, grinning at Shizuo with sparkling eyes. “It looks a lot worse if you run away, you know. You should’ve stayed to explain yourself. Anybody who’s ever watched a crime drama on TV knows that, protozoan.”

Shizuo glared at the snickering man, both wanting to smack him upside the head and grab him in a tight hug at the same time. “You don’t have to be an asshole about it.” He grunted, growling as Izaya’s laughter only increased.

“Oh, but I do!” Izaya giggled, wiping away a tear of amusement from the corner of his eye. “I love being an asshole and screwing with my friends.”

Friends. So Izaya really did consider them friends now. Not just acquaintances. Not friends of friends. Actual friends.

“You’re a depraved lunatic.” Shizuo said aloud, smiling at the giggling raven. “Now shut up and let me ask my questions.”

“Okay, okay.” Izaya wiped away a few more tears, letting one or two more giggles escape him before turning his attention on Shizuo and nodding.

Alright. Shizuo’s turn now.

“Have you talked to Shinichi since all this, if you did then what did he say, and why do you trust him so much?” The blonde listed flatly, praying he wasn’t stepping over any unspoken boundaries with these questions.

Izaya frowned a bit when he heard them, but pursed his lips and got ready to answer them nonetheless.

“Yes, I talked to Shinichi. Just before I came here, actually.” The raven admitted, pressing the pads of his fingers together. “I’d been avoiding him up until now, but he bumped into me on my way over here. As for what he said…”

Izaya fell silent for a few seconds, as though trying to recount the conversation and summarize it into a few sentences like Shizuo had done.

“Basically, he just asked where I was going, offered a few reasons that I shouldn’t see you or trust you, and then…then he said something kind of weird before he left.” The raven said in a low voice, staring at the center of the tablecloth.

Geez. He and Shinra were way more alike than Shizuo had first thought. But that wasn’t important right now.

“What did he say?” Shizuo asked with a frown. “What weird thing?”

“He said…” Izaya’s frown deepened, like he was still confused about the weird thing himself. “He said that it’s about that time of the month. Then he gave me this weird smile and left.”

“That time of the month?” Shizuo repeated, his brow wrinkling in confusion. “What the hell does that mean?”

“No clue.” Izaya admitted, his thumbs twirling slowly in the air around each other. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. Nothing’s coming to mind.”

“That’s…really weird.” Shizuo said slowly, trying not to sound too pushy.

Izaya snorted in amusement, giving Shizuo a small half-smile. “Tell me about it.” He said softly.

The two of them sat in silence for a few seconds, Shizuo trying to figure out if he should say something or lock his mouth down with an iron padlock before he said anything stupid. Eventually, Izaya flicked a strand of his glossy black hair behind his ear, smiling brightly at Shizuo.

“And for your last question,” He said cheerfully, his false composure back in place. “I… I don’t know why I trust Shinichi so much. He’s just never given me reason not to, and he’s always supported me.”

He looked down at his hand, fiddling with them as his eyes grew slightly cloudy. “I…I feel like I shouldn’t trust him this much, though.” He admitted with a frown. “Why do I give in to him so easily? Why did I accept his explanation for what happened and blow off Shinra’s, even though Shinra has literally no reason to lie to me? I should doubt him more. I think I am doubting him more…But at the same time, it’s like I can’t. Not completely.”

Shizuo frowned, thinking about Shinra’s words earlier. About Izaya’s usual types and his strange exception towards Shinichi.

“I wouldn’t have…pegged you for the type to go for good, honest guys.” Shizuo tried to move the conversation on as casually as he could, tugging on his fingers beneath the table. “I mean…you…you’re hanging out with me.”

Izaya smiled at that, his foot playfully kicking Shizuo under the table. “What’s this? Is Shizu-chan getting jealous because I have more than one type?” The raven said teasingly, the toe of his shoe poking Shizuo’s leg. “You really need to give yourself more credit. You’re a good, honest guy, too. You’re practically the same type.”

“I’m a loser with anger management issues whose greatest accomplishment is a full-time gig as a barista.” Shizuo said flatly, staring right at Izaya. “I’m a loser and he’s a winner. We’re not the same type at all.”

“You weren’t kidding about those anger issues.” Izaya pulled his foot back, the glimmer of amusement fading a bit from his eyes. “What’s going on? Why so hostile?”

“It’s…It’s nothing.” Shizuo looked down at the table, his hands clenched into fists on his lap. “It just seems so weird that you can want to hang out with someone like me while you clearly like someone more like him.”

“Who said I liked him?” Izaya asked, his voice a little tighter than before. “Don’t go putting labels on my feelings, Shizu-chan. And who are you to judge who I feel like hanging out with?”

“I’m not.” Shizuo said immediately, already regretting trying to work any of that into the conversation. “I shouldn’t have gone there. Forget I said that.”

“Alright. I will.” Izaya said calmly, leaning back in his seat and watching Shizuo with careful eyes. “Let’s just move on to my last set of questions.”

“Sounds good.” Shizuo nodded in agreement. “Ask away.”

“I’ll make it quick.” Izaya said with a smile. “What is your shift schedule, did you ever look at the paper I left you, and would you like to come to a party on Saturday?”
Shizuo’s heart skipped a beat in his chest.

“O-Okay.” He managed to stammer, trying to get his thoughts under control as he focused on Izaya’s words.

Confident, collected, almost flirtatious words.

“I-I change my schedule all the time.” Shizuo got out, closing his eyes tightly and then opening them again to focus on Izaya’s smiling, perfect face. “I really work whenever I can. Whenever my boss lets me. Weekdays, weekends, sometimes on Sundays if we’re not closed. Just whenever I can.”

“Wow. That doesn’t leave much time for fun.” Izaya teased, raising an eyebrow at Shizuo. “Do you ever get out and relax with a schedule like that?”

Shizuo changed his mind. The sultry look in Izaya’s eyes. The playful tone in his voice. The way his foot was poking Shizuo’s leg again, but slowly and sensually now. He was flirting. He had to be. For some unknown, unfathomable, incomprehensible reason, Orihara Izaya was flirting with Heiwajima Shizuo.

And he was making it blatantly obvious so that even a thick-headed idiot like Shizuo couldn’t deny it.

“N-Not often.” Shizuo heard himself say, shifting in his seat uncomfortably as his blood began to pulse hotly through his veins. Every time Izaya’s foot touched his leg, it felt like a crack of lightning was shooting over his body, heating everything up.

And Shizuo meant everything.

“And the paper you left!” Shizuo said loudly, probably too loudly, trying to get himself out of the hole he was rapidly falling into. “I, uh, I did look at it. It was an apartment address, right? For some place in Honan. But I didn’t look it up. I actually ripped it up and threw it out recently.” He said the last part with a hint of shame, his voice lowering a bit as he avoided the raven’s eyes.

“Well that’s just rude.” Izaya pouted. “I don’t normally give my address out to people and you threw it in the trash!”

“That was your address?” Shizuo asked in shock, his jaw dropping as his eyes shot back up to the pouting man. “W-Why the heck did you give me your address?!”

“Because I wanted you to take a hint and come see me.” Izaya said bluntly, rolling his eyes. “What did you think it was? A trap I was setting up for you to get jumped?”

“Honestly, that was close to what I was thinking the first time I saw it.” Shizuo thought, although he didn’t say anything out loud.

Izaya saw the guilty look on Shizuo’s face and laughed, his carmine eyes sparkling. “Well, I suppose I can’t blame you.” He said with a grin. “We didn’t exactly start out on the best of terms. I’ll just text it to you later. Hopefully, you won’t get rid of it this time.”

Shizuo turned red and looked down again, scratching the back of his head. “Uh yeah.” He mumbled. “I’ll try not to.”

Izaya giggled again, sending another bolt of lightning skittering through Shizuo’s body, and his foot rubbed Shizuo’s leg playfully. “Right. Now answer my last question. Are you free to go to a party on Saturday, Mr. Overtime?”

Oh lord. Izaya was not doing healthy things to Shizuo’s lower regions.

The stupidly sexy raven lowered his foot from Shizuo’s leg, allowing the poor blonde a brief sigh of relief for his sanity, but it returned barely a few seconds later, pressing right up against Shizuo’s calf and rubbing sensually up and down.

And this time…this time there was no shoe on it.

Shizuo could feel the curves of Izaya’s foot through his pants, molding around the curve of his calf muscles, pressing in deeply against them and slowly dragging upwards, then down. His toes flicked playfully against Shizuo’s leg, curling up and rubbing against it like some playful cat nuzzling its nose against him. His foot dipped down to Shizuo’s ankle, working its way like water under the lip of Shizuo’s pants.

Shizuo sucked in a breath, his face growing hot and his heart pounding like a racehorse’s as one of Izaya’s bare toes pressed against his ankle. He fairly jumped in place at the contact, his hands gripping the café seat he was sitting on for dear life.

Izaya paused for a few seconds, his toe simply resting against Shizuo’s ankle, right on one of his veins, as if the raven was taking his pulse. Then it rose slowly up Shizuo’s leg, pulling Shizuo’s pants up with it, the soft, smooth appendage practically melting into the muscles of Shizuo’s leg as it went up.

Shizuo breathed in sharply, the seat groaning underneath his white-knuckled grip as Izaya’s foot teased higher and higher, eventually stopping a few inches below Shizuo’s knee.

The blonde’s head felt dazed and fuzzy. His whole body was on fire. He couldn’t even think straight right now. All he could focus on was the feeling of Izaya’s soft, sensual, sexy, smooth, perfect foot pressing against his body. Would the rest of him feel like that? Would every bit of Izaya’s body be this incredible? If a single touch from the raven’s foot could drive Shizuo this wild, what in holy hell would the rest of that beautiful creature do to him?

“Shizu-chan.” Izaya’s silky voice slipped into Shizuo’s ears, jolting the blonde in his seat and snapping his gaze up to the man sitting across from him. Izaya’s lips were perked into a knowing smile, his lashes lowered seductively over wine-red eyes. His head was resting on a single, elegant hand, his fingers curled in against his cheek. He was the picture of beauty, mouth-watering beauty, and he was looking at Shizuo in a way that said he knew exactly what he was doing to the helpless barista.

“Are you going to answer my question?” The raven purred, his foot beginning its agonizingly slow trail down Shizuo’s leg. “About the party?”

“P-Party?” Shizuo’s voice was more of a whisper of air escaping between parted lips, all his attention riveted on the seductive path of fire burning slowly down his body.

“Yes. A social event where many people gather for personal enjoyment.” Izaya’s sultry voice seemed amused as his foot reached Shizuo’s ankle again, one of his toes pressing against Shizuo’s pulse once more.

“There’ll be drinks, loud music, food, tons of people, dancing…” With each aspect of the party that Izaya listed, his toe drew a small circle on Shizuo’s pulse, dancing teasingly across it as Shizuo’s blood raced hotly beneath it. Shizuo began to fall back under the spell of Izaya’s movements again, his mind growing fuzzy as pleasure ricocheted through his body.

Shit. Was he deprived or something? How was Izaya’s foot turning him on this much? It was a foot. A foot! He didn’t have a foot fetish or anything, right?

No. No, he didn’t.

He probably just had a fucking Orihara Izaya fetish.

“And probably a few quiet spots for people to sneak off and have sex.” Izaya threw it in so innocently that if he hadn’t been torturing Shizuo under the table, the blonde might’ve assumed he was just listing it as another normal party element.

But since Shizuo was currently closer to the state of sexual arousal than he’d been in years, and he knew Izaya was very much aware of the state he was in, he knew that the raven was putting it out there as much more than just another “party thing”.

“Th-They what?” Shizuo choked, shifting in his seat and trying to pull his leg at least a few inches away from Izaya’s dangerous foot. Any more of this and he wouldn’t be able to get back to work after Izaya left.

“They have sex.” The raven said calmly, moving his foot smoothly down to play with the hem of Shizuo’s sock. “No big deal, right? Doesn’t mean we have to.”

“I’ll be damned if I don’t get to after this!” Shizuo wanted to yell out, his golden eyes locked on Izaya as his fists closed even tighter over the poor seat beneath him. “R-Right.” He said aloud instead, trying not to pay attention to the soft, tiny toes digging under the edge of his sock. “Uh…I think I’m g-good on Saturday.”

“Really?” Izaya feigned surprise, his eyes wide and his lips parted in shock. “You aren’t working that day?”

Shit. Actually, Shizuo had been planning on pulling a double shift this Saturday. He still needed to save up enough money to move into his own apartment at some point, or at least get the down payment on it, and the faster he got to that point, the better. A double shift would help him out a lot.

Maybe he should turn Izaya down. Just this on-

Izaya’s other foot suddenly joined his first one, the two of them playing with Shizuo’s sock and massaging his ankle together.

And if that feeling didn’t shoot straight to Shizuo’s groin then he was no longer a man.

“I’m totally free.” Shizuo found himself saying, voice a little too breathy for his own liking as the devilish feet danced seductively over his ankle and lower leg. “I can make it.”

Izaya beamed happily at him, no doubt pleased to get his way, and his feet gently squeezed Shizuo’s leg as a small reward before they pulled away, slipping back into his shoes and over to his side of the table where they should’ve been the whole time.

“Great!” The raven said breezily, standing smoothly up from the table and winking at the dumbstruck barista. “I’ll text you my address when I get home. You can come pick me up at 7 on Saturday and we can head to the party together. I’ll see you then!”

Izaya slipped away from the table, saying something about letting Shizuo get back to work now, and then paused, staring at the exit to the café in silence.

“…Shizu-chan.” He said after a few seconds, looking back over his shoulder at Shizuo. Their eyes met, and for probably the first time since he’d met the raven, Shizuo saw a genuine softness in those red orbs.

“Thank you for being honest and up front with me about what happened.” Izaya said softly. “It really means a lot to me that I didn’t have to dig it out of you.”

Knowing Izaya, if Shizuo actually had lied, the raven would’ve been digging out a grave for the blonde as well.

“No problem.” Shizuo managed to say, his blood cooling a little now that Izaya was being more serious. “I’d never lie to you unless you gave me reason to, Izaya-kun.”
Izaya smiled at that comment, turning away from Shizuo once more. “I see. I’ll try not to give you one, then. But I can’t promise anything.”

“I don’t expect you to.” Shizuo responded, watching the raven as he swept gracefully towards the door, heading out to who-even-knew-where. “Thanks for getting my side of the story, Izaya-kun.”

“I like getting all the sides so I can rewrite the story to be more interesting.” Izaya shot him a grin, red eyes sparkling mischievously. “I’ll let you know how the plot goes when it’s ready to be published.”

He sent Shizuo one more wink and then slipped out the door, gone like a figment of Shizuo’s wildest imaginations.

Shizuo sat at the table for several minutes after that, letting his blood cool down, letting one of his other problems sort itself out, letting his mind comprehend the fact that Mr. Perfect had just asked him to go to a party with him and that he’d accepted, and just generally trying to get his life back on track.

“But really,” Shizuo muttered to himself, staring at the table in front of him. “Has my life ever been on track since I met Izaya?”

The answer: no. Not even a little bit.

Shizuo felt a smile flicker across his face and he finally stood up from the table, heading back over to the counter to take over for the relieved and overwhelmed bakery worker standing there.

The fight he’d had with Shinichi two weeks ago and his shameful exit from the arcade seemed so far away now. Izaya had heard his story. He’d accepted it. Hell, he even seemed to be doubting Shinichi’s version of that story in lieu of Shinra and Shizuo speaking out against him. He was doubting Shinichi, which was a massive milestone in the blonde’s mind.

And he was going to a party with Shizuo, not that fucking, two-faced snake, which was even more massive.

Yep. Those negative memories definitely seemed pretty far away now. And they could stay that far away for all Shizuo cared. He was quite content with the way things seemed to be going now.

If only they had stayed that way, just a little bit longer.

Because unfortunately, the snake was finally ready to strike. And no one was prepared for the venom it was going to inject into their lives.

Chapter Text

Shinra hated going on trips to see his father.

Yes, the man willingly paid for his tuition and housing. Yes, he had supported Shinra’s (sometimes strange and borderline illegal) medical ambitions all throughout his childhood. Yes, he gave Shinra his space and didn’t bug him at school per their agreement. And yes, he even paid Shinra to come over and help him out from time to time whenever something went wrong instead of just making him drop everything and head over.

But the man was a psychopath with a medical degree who worked just as eagerly for the yakuza as he did as a volunteer at a children’s hospital, and he had the worst moral code of any human being Shinra had ever known.

And Izaya was included in that competition of depravity.

Shinra sighed as he rested his cheek on his hand, staring out the window of the plane as it slowly began its descent. It didn’t help that his father’s lab was in Germany of all places, which meant Shinra had to pack for a three-to-four day overseas trip about once a month. It made it pretty hard to keep up with schoolwork and the flight wasn’t exactly comfortable.

After all, he was usually crammed in economy class with a bunch of German tourists who were returning home from vacations to Japan and liked to try talking to him in the “Japanese” that they had picked up while traveling.

Shinra wasn’t exactly skilled at acting impressed by heavily-accented Japanese, and random phrases like “Thanks for the food” and “Where is the bathroom?” could only hold his attention for so long.

He was relieved when the plane’s wheels finally bumped against the ground of the landing strip, the cloudy skies and droplets of water on the ground outside immediately telling him that it was a good thing he’d kept his umbrella in his carry-on bag this time.

Shinra waited with the other passengers for the seatbelt light to go off, then scrambled to get his luggage and depart the flying tin-can of tourism as fast as possible.

He walked to the baggage claim and grabbed his checked luggage (which was really just a massive suitcase full of spare lab equipment in case his father let him try any experiments in his free time over here) and then headed to the taxi area like he always did.

His father never bothered to pick him up at the airport. Shinra had learned long ago to stop trusting the man when he said he’d come over “this time for sure” and to just fend for himself as soon as he landed. Shinra hailed a cream-colored taxicab and asked the grumpy driver to take him to the address of his father’s lab. He’d used this particular phrase so many times that his German sounded practically fluent at this point.

The driver barely nodded in response to Shinra’s request and began a long, one-sided conversation in German with him, to which Shinra only muttered half-hearted ja’s every now and then, all the way to his father’s lab.

He thanked the driver as he got out and turned a bitter glare on the large building that he’d come to dread seeing every month.

It was a massive, gray structure, with brown stripes running horizontally across its walls, huge smokestacks blowing white clouds into the air of varying sizes and smells, and only one door in and out that required an ID, a keycode, and a fingerprint scan to open.

Shinra sighed as he dragged his two suitcases up to the door, letting go of the smaller one to dig around in his pocket for his stupid lab ID. After about the fifth trip he’d made out here, his father had decided to give him one so he didn’t have to keep opening the door from the inside.

Shinra slid the ID through the scanner and punched in the code in quick succession, laying his thumb on the scanning pad with another sigh a few seconds later. After a quick beep, the heavy door slid open – just like in some stupid spy movie – and Shinra shoved his ID back in his pocket, grabbing both his suitcases and pulling them through.

He nodded to a few of the familiar workers, giving a few pained smiles in response to the attempts they made at Japanese greetings, and made his way over to a small room on the far side of the lab. It was the only room in the entire facility with a bed, and it was probably used for human experimentation whenever Shinra wasn’t here. When he was here, it became his bedroom, and his only private space away from the rest of the lab since he always reprogrammed the door to only open to his ID.

Shinra slid his ID through the lock beside the door and swept into the room, throwing his luggage down and pulling out his phone to send Izaya a quick text letting him know he’d arrived safely.

The raven may seem like the kind of guy who wouldn’t care about whether or not his best friend had arrived without incident in a foreign country, but Shinra knew Izaya well enough to realize that the control freak inside the black-haired model couldn’t stand not knowing if Shinra was doing alright.

Shinra: Made it to Germany. Again. Back in my bedroom. Again. Regretting my life choices and wishing I’d been switched at birth. Again.

He sighed and slipped his phone into his pocket, knowing that Izaya was probably in the middle of a photoshoot or something and likely wouldn’t answer for a few minutes. Or wait. Taking into account the time zone difference, wouldn’t it actually be nighttime back in Japan?

Geez, no wonder Shinra was so exhausted.

The future doctor let out a loud yawn as he sat down on his bed, blinking blearily at a clock on the wall across from him. It was 4:54 pm right now. His father would come get him at 5:00 to begin working on whatever had gone wrong this time. Japan was seven hours ahead so it was 11:54 for Izaya right now, almost midnight.

Yeah, the raven should definitely be asleep right now.

“At least he better be asleep.” Shinra muttered, rubbing at his tired eyes in an effort to keep himself awake. “He stays up until freakish hours sometimes.”

That was one of the not-so-nice qualities of having Izaya as a roommate. The guy sometimes came home at ungodly hours or stayed up late into even worse time territories, clacking away at his computer or texting on his phone, probably screwing with someone’s life for his personal enjoyment before getting a nice cup of coffee and heading to bed.

He was quiet enough while doing these things, only letting out a few happy hums here and there, and he was respectful enough to slip into the apartment without turning on any lights so Shinra could sleep. But every now and then, a random noise the raven made would wake Shinra up, and he’d look over in sleepy confusion to see a wide-awake Izaya, humming cheerfully as he stared at a brightly glowing computer screen.

Then Shinra would grumble unintelligibly at him, the raven would dim his screen with a chuckle and play some relaxing music off Youtube, and Shinra would pass out in the next ten minutes.

It was a decent system. Shinra just wished he didn’t have morning classes so he could sleep in on those days when his precious sleeping times were disrupted.

“I don’t understand how he does it.” Shinra mumbled, stifling another yawn as he planted his arms beside himself to keep from laying down like he so desperately wanted to. “What unholy energy keeps him operating on such tiny amounts of sleep?”

Then again, Izaya made up for his minuscule sleeping hours by randomly picking a day to come home and pass out in his bed for a solid twelve hours, catching up on every nap he’d deprived his body of for the past several weeks and allowing the poor thing to recharge. It was probably more out of necessity for his looks than an actual desire the raven had to sleep. After all, he was a model. He couldn’t come to work with bags under his eyes and still expect to get paid. He needed some beauty rest every now and then, like it or not.

Shinra pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked for any new text messages. None. Today was definitely a beauty rest day.

“Well, I’ll complain to him tomorrow then.” Shinra sighed, tucking the device back in his pocket. “If I text him around 11 am, it’ll be 6 pm for him and he should be done with work. But I also kind of want to know how his conversation with Shizuo went the other day. We didn’t get a chance to talk about it and if I wait too long to ask, he won’t feel the need to discuss it with me.”

Shinra hummed for a few seconds, wondering if there was a way he could get wind of the gossip he’d missed out on. “I could always try texting Shizuo, but there’s no way that hibernating bear is awake at this hour.”

There was a loud knock on Shinra’s door that interrupted his tired musings, and a cheerful voice shouted at him through the heavy metal.

“Shinra? You in there? Get ready to work, son!”

Shinra sighed, rubbing his eyes once more and standing up from his hard bed. Looked like he'd have to take a rain check on catching up with the gossip. “I’m coming!” He called. “You realize what hour I’m living in, right? Don’t expect peak performance from me on the first day.”

“Right, right, right.” His father called happily through the door. “Now hurry up!”

Shinra rolled his eyes and opened the door to his room with a glare, staring at the iconic gas mask his father always wore whenever he came over for a visit.

“Dad, just because I’m coming here from Japan, doesn’t mean the radiation and smog you’re so paranoid of followed me.” Shinra said flatly, glaring at the eccentric man.

“You can never be too sure.” The man chirped, spinning around in his lab coat and marching off. “Now come on, son! I want to see your medical enthusiasm as you help me figure out what’s going on!”

“My medical enthusiasm is sleeping in a bed thousands of kilometers away.” Shinra grumbled, trudging after his father with another yawn. “My sleep-deprived, grumpy, morning attitude is what you’re going to be getting right now.”

His father ignored the muttered comment, leading him off to the surveillance room of the lab.

“Some of the cameras stopped working.” The doctor called over his shoulder to his son, whipping out an ID card and swiping it through a lock by the door as he simultaneously punched in a keycode and stared into an eye scanner. “They’re turning on and off randomly and we’re losing valuable data in our overnight experiments because of it.”

“So why are you calling me?” Shinra demanded, following his father into the room full of huge TV screens and monitors. “Shouldn’t you be hiring some IT guy to look at it?”

“You’re young so you should be in tune with computers and technology.” His father responded simply, patting Shinra on the shoulder as he gestured at the array of controls around them. “And besides, I can’t pass up this chance to check in with my estranged son and see how he’s doing.”

“We’re hardly estranged.” Shinra scoffed, shaking his head as he walked over to one of the flickering monitors and frowned at it in frustration. “Not when I visit you once a month for a new technical issue.”

“Check back in with me when you’re done here!” His father chirped, again ignoring his discontent. “Then I’ve got some incorrectly extrapolated genetic data for you to look over and correct.”

“Why couldn’t I start with that?” Shinra groaned, glaring at his father over his shoulder. “I actually know how to do that!”

“And then there are some microbial samples you can sterilize for testing and some chemical solutions I want you to test the solubility of before saturating.” His father called teasingly, giving his son a jaunty wave as he disappeared through the door.

“I hate that man.” Shinra growled, his vicious glare burning into the shut door. “How dare he drag me over here to act like a technician and then buy my loyalty with promises of genetic experimentation?”

Shinra let out another sigh, his anger deflating as he turned around to face the monitor again. The sooner he fixed the monitors, the sooner he could get to more interesting things that might actually keep him awake and get him acclimated to this time zone.

Shinra spent a solid fifteen minutes just banging the monitors around, scowling at them and ordering them to work. Then he actually logged into the surveillance system with the password his dad had stuck to one of the larger screens and started shutting down the monitors entirely.

After they were all off, he waited a few seconds, and then turned them all on again, one by one. A few of them flickered once or twice, but then they all remained on, giving him a steady visual stream of the dozens of scientists scurrying around his father’s lab, working on anything from examining DNA helixes to splicing genes.

“Just turn it off and turn it back on again.” Shinra muttered, recalling the age-old tech advice Izaya constantly gave him whenever his computer stopped working. “And if that doesn’t work, hand it to me and I’ll figure out what you’re doing wrong.”

Shinra gave a wry smile at the thought of his mischievous, prideful friend who was definitely too smart for his own good.

He hoped the raven really was catching up on his much-needed beauty rest right now. God knew his brain needed it if it wanted to keep up with the excessive demand Izaya constantly put on it.

“And speaking of excessive demand,” Shinra sighed aloud, glancing at a monitor where he could see his father milling around, peering at the results of various experiments around the lab. “I probably have about twenty more things to do before I can go to bed. But at least these ones should be entertaining.”

His eyes flicked over all the monitors one more time, just to make sure they were all working before he headed out. But his eyes stopped on one of the monitors in particular, a frown passing over his face like a storm cloud.

“What the…” Shinra muttered, walking over to the monitor and squinting at it critically. “This is my apartment, isn’t it?”

It was! He could see his bed right there with his books and forgotten homework strewn across the sheets. His backpack was leaning against a bedpost, and a few boxes of clothes rested against the wall near his bed. He could see his primary lab equipment stacked neatly in the corner, polished and sparkling thanks to a quick clean from Izaya that Shinra had requested before leaving. And speaking of Izaya…

Shinra tapped a few controls on a keyboard connected to the monitor, moving the angle of the hidden camera in his apartment towards Izaya’s bed.

The number one in the corner of the screen changed quickly into a number two as the camera turned, and Shinra frowned as he experimentally swiveled the camera back to its starting position. It went back to number one. Shinra moved the camera to face his and Izaya’s kitchen and the number went to three.

“Presets?” Shinra wondered aloud. He tapped the corresponding numbers on the keyboard and watched as the camera automatically moved to the position that matched its number. “He has preset viewing angles for the camera he hid in my apartment? That depraved lunatic! How often does he watch me?”

Wait…one of the presets was for Izaya’s bed. Shinra knew very well that Izaya had placed his bed far away from any windows or doors so he could change by it without anyone seeing him. And he always changed by his bed because their tiny, cramped bathroom was too tight of a space for him to comfortably change in unless he wanted to step inside the shower stall. Had Shinra’s father been peeping on Izaya while he changed and slept?

“What a pervert.” Shinra scowled, making a mental note to scream the ear off his deranged father later.

But nevertheless, Shinra did want to make sure his friend was sleeping. Almost guiltily, Shinra hit the preset number two on the keyboard and watched as the camera swiveled to a full view of Izaya’s bed, the eternally-neat, sleek black sheets coming into focus.

Shinra could see the smooth, alabaster-like skin of Izaya’s arms contrasted sharply against his black sheets, the fingers of his hands curled gently in sleep as they rested atop the dark bed. The outline of Izaya’s body was clearly visible beneath his thin sheets, with one pale foot poking out from under them where it had slipped off the edge of the bed. His eyelashes fluttered against his skin every now and then, the only sign of movement from the sleeping man aside from the gentle rise and fall of his stomach. Everything about him seemed so peaceful.

Even his notoriously sharp and sly face was relaxed into one of the gentlest expressions Shinra had ever seen him wear, his lips parted slightly as he breathed in and out. He looked so open and unguarded while he slept, all his defenses down, that too-smart brain finally powered down for once. He was almost like an angel.

How deceiving appearances could be.

Shinra stared at his sleeping friend for a few seconds longer, marveling at how childlike and innocent that devilish face became when he slept, before he realized the creepiness of the situation.

“Yeah, I should stop staring at him now.” Shinra said quickly, trying to figure out how to unhook the monitor entirely so his father couldn’t stare at Izaya anymore, either.

Just as he found the power cable plugged into the back of the screen however, a shadow of movement that the camera picked up caught his eye.

Shinra frowned and looked back up at the camera in confusion.

Izaya was still sleeping peacefully on the screen, deep in the sleep he so rarely got, and the apartment seemed just as still as the raven. Where had that shadow come from?

Shinra peered closer at the screen, an uneasy feeling rising in his stomach.

When nothing happened after several seconds, he was about to look down again when something moved across the screen.

Shinra’s heart jumped into his throat as he saw a figure move in front of Izaya’s bed, its hands carrying some of Shinra’s lab equipment.

His lab equipment? What? What the hell? Who was busting into Shinra and Izaya’s apartment and stealing his lab equipment?!

Shinra’s hands squeezed the edge of the table, his blood pounding in his ears as he watched the figure settle down in front of Izaya’s bed, humming lowly as it began setting something up.

No. This person wasn’t stealing Shinra’s equipment. It was using his equipment for something.

A cold feeling began to trickle down Shinra’s spine like ice water as he stared at the screen.

“Two pipettes. A beaker. A vial of butanol. A litmus paper strip.” Shinra muttered, staring at the equipment the invader had spread out in front of it. “What is this person doing?”

The invader reached inside the pocket of its coat and pulled out a small tin. There was no label on the tin. The person just slipped some gloves on and popped its lid off, revealing a white powder inside.

That was never a good sign.

Shinra watched anxiously, frozen in fear as the person set the white powder down and took the vial of butanol, pouring some of it into the beaker. Then it took one of the pipettes and began adding some of the white powder to the butanol. Whatever the powder was, it must’ve been soluble in butanol, for it began dissolving into the clear liquid almost immediately.

After the figure had placed quite a large amount of the powder in the butanol, turning it a murky white color, it used the other pipette to add some more butanol to the mix. It went back and forth, adding some powder, then some butanol, then more powder until the mixture in the beaker was mostly clear, albeit with quite a bit of that powder dissolved into it.

The figure held up the beaker and examined it for a few seconds, tapping its sides to make sure all the powder had dissolved. Then it set the beaker down and dipped the litmus strip inside its homemade mixture for a few seconds. Testing the acidity of what it had made.

It checked the results of the strip and nodded its head in satisfaction. It had been a blue litmus strip, and the strip had stayed mostly blue, which meant the acidity of the solution was low.

It set the strip carefully aside and put the lid of the tin back on its powder before slipping it into the coat.

Then it pulled something else out of there: a spray bottle.

Shinra watched as the figure uncapped the spray bottle and carefully poured the beaker mixture inside it. It filled the rather large bottle up with the solution, and then set the beaker down, carefully twisting the cap back on its spray. Shinra could see a small hole in the cap, one that would allow whatever liquid was inside the bottle to escape. That little hole gave him a very bad feeling.

The figure finished screwing on the cap and set the spray bottle down by Izaya’s bed, proceeding to clean up all the equipment it had used and keeping so quiet that Shinra wouldn’t have been surprised if a mouse made more noise than it did as it snuck around. Then it placed everything back where it had found it and headed over to Izaya’s bed.

Shinra pressed his hand against the screen, watching in panic and horror as the figure picked up the spray bottle and bent over Izaya, pulling a strange green patch out of its pocket now. It placed the patch on Izaya’s cheek, smoothing it down onto the pale skin, and then slipped the end of the spray bottle into one of Izaya’s nostrils.

It gently pressed his other nostril closed, and Izaya’s mouth opened a little further to compensate for the new lack of air.

The figure waited patiently for Izaya’s breathing to adjust, the gentle breaths becoming a little deeper but still staying just as relaxed as before as Izaya remained trapped in his slumber. He should be waking up now, shouldn’t he? Izaya was a very light sleeper! How was he sleeping through this?!

But when Shinra peered closer at the figure on the screen, he could see a blue patch stuck to the figure’s neck, one he recognized. It was a special type of patch that released a vaporized version of chloroform when its cover was peeled off. His father used it when talking to particularly nervous experiment subjects, steadily peeling off more and more of the patch as needed to release the sleep-inducing chemical into the air. This person had the patch all the way uncovered, releasing a maximum dosage of the stuff into the air directly around it, knocking out any living creature within a few feet of it.

Izaya wasn’t going to wake up anytime soon.

Shinra’s horror with the situation only increased. Whoever this person was, they had experience with doing this sort of thing and they had some fairly rare resources at their disposal to complete their task. This was not looking good.

And as Shinra watched, the person squeezed the spray bottle in their hand, sending some of their mixture up into Izaya’s nose.

The raven twitched a few times, his forehead scrunching in discomfort, but the blue patch on the invader’s neck kept him under as the spray entered his nasal passage.

He stopped twitching after a few more squeezes of the stuff, settling down on the bed once more and just accepting the massive dose of whatever was being given to him.

The figure stopped spraying after what felt like a paralyzing eternity to Shinra, pulling the spray out of Izaya’s nose and placing another cap on top of it to completely seal off the liquid inside. Then it slipped the spray into its coat and gently pulled the green patch off Izaya’s cheek.

It tucked the patch away with the bottle and then stepped back to watch Izaya’s sleeping form for a few seconds.

It turned around to face the camera, and Shinra saw a gas mask just like the one his father wore covering its face. A black hoodie that it was wearing under its coat was covering its hair. It wore black gloves over its hands and thick black boots on its feet. All its distinguishable features were hidden, even though it was directly facing the camera.

It looked up at the camera, its gas mask covered face staring right into the hidden lens that even Shinra hadn’t been aware of. Then it gave the camera a jaunty wave and walked casually over to the apartment door. It slipped a white sheet out of its coat as it left, slapping it on top of the blue patch on its neck and covering up the chloroform vapor. The white sheet made it look like the figure was wearing a simple nicotine patch instead of a highly dangerous and illegal substance on its neck.

Then the stranger left the apartment, as easily as it had entered.

Shinra’s heart was pounding like crazy. Someone had broken into their apartment. Someone had drugged Izaya in his sleep. And that someone had seemed to know that Shinra was watching them do it. That someone was positive they wouldn’t get caught for doing it, even with video evidence of them sneaking into the house.

Shinra had no idea what to do. Hell, he didn’t even know what that bastard had drugged Izaya with! He was freaking out and sweating like crazy, his panic and fear rising to unmentionable levels. Izaya could’ve just been poisoned and had started slowly wasting away for all Shinra knew. He had to figure out what that drug was, and fast!

“If these are Dad’s cameras,” Shinra said quickly, his tired brain racing faster than it should’ve been able to at that point in time. “Then he probably installed sensors on them to track for chemicals in the air. He loves tracking chemical reactions, even in private spaces like apartments. He’s gotta have some chemical sensors on here somewhere!”

Shinra hurriedly re-winded the recording on the cameras, stopping at the point where the figure had placed the green patch on Izaya’s cheek and was getting ready to spray the unknown solution.

He started fiddling with the controls on the keyboard, trying to find a chemical filter like the ones he’d seen on some of his father’s other monitor screens.

He finally found what he was looking for tucked away on a list of various camera filters, from blue light detectors to heat sensors. A functional magnetic resonance imaging filter. This was it. This could track chemical signatures in the air and give him visual data of them.

Shinra activated the computer’s resonance imaging mode, throwing the entire recording under a low blue tint, and revealing small clouds of chemicals bouncing around the air of his apartment. They varied in colors, from deep reds to bright yellows, and a whole lot of them were concentrated around the spray bottle, the green patch on Izaya’s cheek, and the chloroform patch on the invader’s neck.

Shinra focused first on the clouds of chemicals seeping from the chloroform patch, using the mouse to trace the chemical clouds and residue that had been spilling from that patch and infecting the whole apartment. He highlighted them and told the computer to ignore them in the search, making about 58% of the chemical traces in the air vanish immediately.

There were other chemicals, natural ones emitted by Izaya’s body, floating in various points around the apartment, and those Shinra began to ask the computer to ignore as well. He was a little interested in a puff of deep red that seemed particularly heavy around Izaya’s phone, set on a table near his bed. It seemed Izaya had been feeling some strong emotions while texting someone earlier and had left telling chemical residue in the air.

Shinra almost paused to check that one out – his inner urge as a wingman kicking in with the desire to see if that emotion cloud had anything to do with Shizuo – but he forced himself to push that desire aside, focusing solely on Izaya’s safety.

He blocked out all natural chemicals in the apartment, leaving him with only the green patch on Izaya’s neck and the faint but telling chemical emissions from the nasal spray.

He had the computer analyze the green patch first, its cloud being more prominent than the spray, and quickly identified it as a heavy conglomeration of natural scents and chemicals. A weird, unique mixture of perfectly normal chemicals that any human being would give off, along with a few chemical traces that matched up evenly with a popular cologne brand.

Shinra examined the chemical make-up of the patch for a few seconds, trying to spot any chemical formations that would do something to Izaya. But he saw nothing. The chemicals in the patch were harmless and didn’t react to each other in any way. All they would do was emit certain scents. It was a patch designed to emit a very particular scent, and probably the scent of a particular person since there was such an exact combination of natural chemicals mixed in there.

Shinra blocked out the green patch and focused all of his and the computer’s efforts on the nasal spray now. This was the real thing that had concerned him. He wished he could go back and analyze the powder itself, just to get a straight sample of whatever was in that spray, but a powder wouldn’t give off as heavy a chemical cloud on the camera screen as a liquid or a vapor would. He needed to be as accurate as possible in his calculations, so he needed to use the spray footage.

Shinra watched the video carefully, making sure to stop it when the spray was actually being squeezed into Izaya’s nose and thus giving off its highest concentration levels. He tried his best to find matches to the faint chemical traces he was picking up, poring through the chemical database on his father’s computers frantically.
Finally, after several heart-pounding minutes, he found a chemical that was almost an identical match.

Oxytocin.

Oxytocin?

Shinra racked his brain, trying to remember what exactly oxytocin was. It was along the lines of a more famous chemical, he knew that. It was something even mainstream doctors and scientists used from time to time. Hell, you could buy the stuff online from Amazon in a nasal spray instead of making your own covert version of it. It wasn’t toxic or anything.

And while that knowledge in itself was a relief, Shinra was still concerned as to what exactly oxytocin did. He needed to know what it had done to Izaya.

Shinra pulled out his phone and typed in a quick search for oxytocin on Google. He needed to know what it came up with.

He immediately got back thousands of results in the form of articles on a chemical that had been dubbed “the love drug”.

The love drug. The love drug…

Right! Oxytocin was a chemical that the body naturally produced during moments of social connection. When a person cuddled or hugged or had sex with someone, they released oxytocin. When a baby suckled on its mother’s breast, the stimulation triggered an oxytocin release in the mother that increased her lactation and milk flow. Oxytocin was also used by doctors when mothers went into labor to increase their contractions and the intensity of those contractions. It was a chemical that strengthened social memory and the feeling of connection between humans.

Izaya had been given a love drug? A drug to increase his feelings of connection? That made no sense. Oxytocin worked best when another person was around to actually stimulate the feeling of connection. Just getting a massive increase of oxytocin would only make Izaya a little happier and a little easier to get along with. He needed a stimulant to actually foster a connection.

Shinra suddenly paused, his eyes moving slowly to the green patch on Izaya’s cheek. The scent patch. It was releasing a scent, wasn’t it? An environmental stimulant that would draw a direct connection to a single person. That would draw Izaya’s increased sense of social connection to that single person.

Whoever matched the scent on that scent patch would be the person that Izaya’s body would associate his increased oxytocin levels with. That would be the person he would feel a stronger pull towards.

Shinra was starting to get a deep, sinking feeling in his gut that went way beyond his fear from before. Someone – and he was quite certain that he knew who – was drugging Izaya into developing a deep, social connection and attraction to a particular person.

“Oxytocin, huh?” A cheerful voice suddenly said, causing Shinra to spin around in shock.

His father was standing there with his typical gas mask (although the sight of it now made Shinra sick to his stomach), watching the monitors Shinra was looking at.

“They did a new study on oxytocin recently.” His father chirped happily, turning to face Shinra. “Turns out, it’s not just a love drug.”

Of course. Just what Shinra wanted to hear at this point in time.

“It’s not?” Shinra asked slowly, his heart thumping in his chest. “What else is it?”

His father leaned in conspiratorially, hands deep in his lab coat pockets. “A trust drug.” He said smugly.

“A trust drug?” Shinra repeated, gulping. “What do you mean by that?”

“Oxytocin cancels out the feeling of betrayal in those who produce it.” His father said casually, wandering past Shinra to the screens and looking at Izaya intently. “It forces the oxytocin-producer into experiencing intense feelings of trust. That’s why people fall in love so easily after they have sex, especially females. They produce more oxytocin during that act and thus lose their ability to doubt their sexual partners, while gaining intense feelings of attraction and connection to them. Oxytocin is powerful stuff.”

“How trusting does it make a person?” Shinra asked hurriedly, thinking of Izaya’s naturally distrusting nature. The nature that always seemed off with a certain silver-haired snake.

“Let’s put it this way.” His father shrugged, glancing at Shinra over his shoulder. “A group of scientists did a study where they injected oxytocin into some volunteers and had them give thousands of dollars to human investors. These volunteers were told that the human investors would steal the money they received from investees 50% of the time it was given to them. A control group without oxytocin almost unanimously refused to give over the money after hearing that. But every member of the oxytocin group gave all of their money willingly over to those investors with barely a second thought.”

His father looked back at the screen, giving a little chuckle at the thought of the study. “Oxytocin makes people act totally out of character and blindly trust those around them for no reason at all.” He said casually. “Even the most suspicious and jaded people will lose their edge and drop their guard when given high levels of oxytocin. That’s why most nasal sprays don’t contain high amounts of it.”

“That’s why he made his own using the raw powder form of it.” Shinra muttered to himself, thinking of the custom oxytocin spray that had been created using his lab equipment. “If a person were given a large dosage of oxytocin combined with a stimulant that gave them a direct association to one person…what would happen?” Shinra asked his father, his fingers twitching nervously at his sides as the frozen image of Izaya rested on the screen.

His father thought for a few seconds and then shrugged, his hidden gaze still directed at Izaya. “They’d probably develop an out of character, almost unhealthy sense of trust for that person.” He said calmly. “Along with an undeniable attraction to them, even if that person isn’t usually their type. And the oxytocin would block out any feelings of suspicion that a person might have about the way they’re acting towards that individual. They’d be confused about why they trusted that person so much, but they still wouldn’t question it. They’d probably just say something along the lines of ‘well, I don’t have any reason to distrust this person, so it makes sense’.”

…Shinra felt like he understood everything now.

Izaya’s unnatural trust of Shinichi, and refusal to look deep into Shinichi’s past.

His deep attraction to Shinichi, even though he usually hated perfect people like him.

The way he would start to distrust Shinichi, and then immediately trust him more than ever just a few days later.

The way he avoided talking about why he trusted Shinichi, and always summed up his reasons for doing so by saying he’d never been given a reason to distrust him.

The intense connection he’d formed with Shinichi even though they were just co-workers and hadn’t even known each other that long.

The way Shinichi himself always seemed so certain that Izaya would trust him and choose him over anyone else.

It all made sense.

Izaya was being given high doses of a custom oxytocin spray combined with a stimulant of Shinichi’s scent to make him trust and love Shinichi without any good reason to. He was physically incapable of distrusting the silver-haired snake, and was being chemically-induced into feelings of attraction and bonding towards him.

This was bad. This was really, really bad.

“I wonder who’s giving Izaya oxytocin.” Shinra’s father said casually, unfreezing the footage on the screen and watching the invader spray the love drug into the sleeping Izaya’s nose. “And in such high dosages, too. Also, it’s pretty convenient that you aren’t there when this is happening.”

Shinra froze when he heard those words, watching the screen in slowly-dawning horror. It was convenient, wasn’t it? That he always had to leave to go help his father out just when Izaya was starting to doubt Shinichi. That he was gone like clockwork about once a month, around the time when Izaya’s oxytocin levels would be returning to normal. That his father always had mysterious technical issues that required him to pull Shinra out of school.

That Shinra was in a whole other country with no way of contacting anyone in Japan for at least five or six hours to tell them the horrible thing he’d discovered.

“Shinichi’s behind it all.” Shinra whispered in shock, stepping away from the monitors. “Those press reports that were being done on him were true. They have to be true. He’s not some perfect model after all. He’s…he’s…”

“A black-hat hacker who frequents the dark web?” Shinra’s father asked calmly, turning around to face Shinra, hands still in his coat pockets. “Yeah, I read those articles when they were coming out. Interesting stuff. Claimed that Shinichi guy was a professional hacker and a criminal mastermind who’d been planting viruses all over and selling information on the dark web since he was a kid. A genius hacker, a master at social engineering, and the kind of guy who knew how to cover his tracks so expertly that no one could find a trace of his crimes.”

He glanced back at the screen with Izaya, watching as the figure waved cheerfully – almost tauntingly – at the camera before slipping out of the apartment.

“Do you think Shinichi’s actually a secret hacker who procured some drugs and is trying to make Izaya fall in love with him?” His father asked, looking back at Shinra. “That’s a pretty big stretch. And if Izaya really is under an oxytocin stimulant towards Shinichi, then he’s not gonna believe a word of it. No matter what evidence you put in front of him.”

“He has to be.” Shinra snarled, glaring at the screen that was now merely watching a closed door. “Everything makes sense if he is. And I don’t care if Izaya won’t believe me. I just need to go behind his back and get enough evidence to incriminate Shinichi himself. If I can get Shinichi locked up, he can’t drug Izaya anymore and then Izaya will come to his senses.”

“Sure, sure.” His father sighed, scratching the back of his head. “That’s if Shinichi really is the one drugging Izaya. And if Shinichi actually is a supermodel leading a double life as a pro hacker. Which is the sort of thing that only cheesy gossip magazines like the ones from a few years ago would ever say.”

“When I’m through with Shinichi,” Shinra growled, his fists clenching at his sides. “Everyone is going to be talking about his double life. Because everyone is going to know the complete truth about him and what an evil person he is.”

Shinra brushed past his father to the monitor, switching the view back to Izaya and watching the raven’s peaceful, innocent, oblivious face.

“He messed with my best friend.” Shinra said darkly, anger coursing like a living force through his veins. “He’s fucking with his emotions and ruining his chances of happiness with a great guy that he has genuine feelings for. He’s ruining my best friend’s life. And I don’t know why he’s doing it, but he won’t get away with it.”

The surveillance room was silent for several minutes. Then Shinra’s father gave a deep sigh.

“I supposed this means you’ll be wanting to head back to Japan tomorrow instead of splicing some genetic samples with me?” He asked, disappointment heavy in his voice.

Shinra didn’t care. He could always do stuff with his father some other time. He had to save Izaya as soon as possible. Before Shinichi did something even worse to him.

“Yes, Dad.” Shinra said firmly, glaring at the image of sleeping Izaya. “I have a genius asshole to incriminate in order to save my genius asshole best friend. And I have to make sure neither one of them finds out what I’m doing.”

Chapter Text

Izaya woke up with a strange scent in his nose again.

The raven-haired man sighed, rubbing absently at his nose as he slid out of his bed, padding softly over to his dresser. He pulled open the top drawer, blinking the bleariness out of his red eyes as he examined his shirt options for the day. He always packed an extra set of clothes for once he was done with classes – something to change into real quick before he headed out to work or a café or generally anywhere more casual than his uniform-loving school.

He was thinking maroon tank top and black skinny jeans, but the weather was starting to get a bit too chilly for that.

“Besides, if I go visit Shizu-chan after class, then he’ll see me in the tank top.” Izaya mumbled sleepily, still rubbing at his nose in a half-hearted attempt to get the scent to go away as his other hand sifted through his shirts. “I don’t want to show him too much skin before the party. My outfit will lose effect if I do.”

Izaya smiled lightly at the thought of the blonde barista. The sexy blonde barista that was going to a party with him this Saturday.

It was the first time in a while that Izaya had been genuinely looking forward to a date. Usually, he just went on them out of necessity – they were a means to an end to find some good dirt on whichever idiot had caught his fancy that month. But with Shizuo…he was actually excited. Excited to see the blonde in a different setting than the café, someplace away from Shinra and other prying eyes, in a place where he’d be able to learn more about the man he couldn’t stop thinking about these days.

Shizuo stirred something in him. Izaya wasn’t sure what. But…it felt so good. Just being around him seemed to set Izaya’s blood tingling with electricity. He felt jolted, awake, alive, just by being in that overwhelming presence the barista gave off. Izaya liked clashing with that presence, seeing who would win out in the end, seeing what tricks it took to poke at the seemingly indestructible barrier and make it give way. It was fun. It was exciting. It was new.

And it was all Shizuo.

Izaya’s phone buzzed from over on his nightstand.

The raven frowned and glanced over his shoulder at it, wondering who would be messaging him so early in the morning. Was it Shinra? No – Shinra was on Germany time right now. He’d be asleep. Shizuo?

Izaya’s heart skipped a beat in his chest at that possibility, but his brain swiftly pushed the silly organ’s urges down.

Shizuo was many things, and there were probably many more things that Izaya needed to learn about him, but there was one thing Izaya was pretty certain about even without having known the blonde that long: he was not a morning person.

His hair was always messy and tangled, like he’d rolled out of bed with the intention of doing something with it but had rolled out too late to get anything done. He usually had his own cup of coffee hidden behind the register that he took sips from as he made other coffee brews. That cup was constantly refilled throughout his shift. When Shinra had showed Izaya pictures of Shizuo from their morning shift together, Izaya had seen noticeable bags under the golden eyes and a look of tired irritation that attested to how much Shizuo didn’t want to be there. And finally, Shinra had mentioned casually before to Izaya that once, he’d said the words “waking up early” around Shizuo, and the blonde had visibly recoiled.

Yeah. If there was one thing Izaya was certain about, it was that Shizuo was not a morning person.

Which meant it couldn’t be him texting Izaya at roughly 6 in the morning.

So who was texting him?

The scent in Izaya’s nose seemed to get stronger as he stared at his phone, and the raven wiped at it in annoyance, turning back to his dresser so he could finish getting his clothes for the day.

He usually started to smell this weird scent maybe once a month, most of the time for only a few hours, and always when he’d just woken up. It wasn’t that big a deal – it was more annoying than anything else. In fact, Izaya always took it as a sign that he needed to wash his bedsheets, and would end up doing a quick laundry run later in the day. It was a useful reminder of a chore he often tried to skip. But damn did it seem extra strong today.

After Izaya had gone through all of his clothing, selecting the final outfit he wished to wear once he was done with his three classes today, the raven folded the outfit up and placed it inside his backpack among the rest of his school supplies. Then he gravitated towards the bathroom, ready to begin his general hygiene prep and officially acknowledge this morning as the start of a new day.

A few minutes later, he came out and headed right back to his bed, the scent still in his nose even after he’d washed his face, quickly changing into his school uniform. Izaya glanced at the clock on the wall as he fastened the last few buttons on his crisp-pressed shirt, noting that he had a solid hour before his first class. That was enough time to either eat his breakfast here and hang out for a while before making the trek to Rikkyo…or to visit his new favorite café and grab breakfast there before heading over.

Izaya smiled. Yes. He was feeling like grabbing some black coffee and maybe one of those red bean cakes that Firefly Brew had marked as “bitter” on their menu. It sounded like a nice breakfast.

And it was a nice opportunity to see Shizuo again. Just to keep him on his toes and make sure he didn’t back out of the party this Saturday. No other reason Izaya would be going to see him, of course.

The raven hummed happily, dusting off the front of his clothes and finally turning to the phone on his nightstand, swiftly unlocking it and scrolling through his messages to see who’d texted him.

His eyes widened when he saw the name on his screen, the smell in his nose fading a little bit.

Shinichi: Good morning, Izaya-chan!~ How did you sleep last night? There was something I wanted to ask you about involving a rumor I heard from one of your classmates (I ran into him at the store and he recognized me from our last photo shoot together).

A rumor from one of his classmates? What kind of rumors would his classmates be spreading about him? They all thought he was the incarnation of perfection on earth. He was the star of the psych program, the heartthrob of the school, beautiful beyond compare, and pointedly kind to the people around him. There was no one who would even think about gossiping about him behind his back.

Izaya frowned as he got ready to respond, wondering who would’ve been talking about him. He didn’t doubt Shinichi for a moment about whether or not the silver-haired man had actually run into one of Izaya’s classmates. Which was admittedly a little strange since he’d been doubting the man’s honesty just yesterday after speaking with Shizuo…but now that Izaya was thinking about Shinichi, there was no way he could ever doubt the model.

It was like Izaya said all the time: Shinichi was a supportive friend who was always there for Izaya and had never done anything to hurt him. He could be trusted, more than anyone else. Why would he lie? Yes, Izaya trusted him whole-heartedly.

Izaya nodded and typed in his response to Shinichi, smiling as he hit the send button and waiting eagerly for Shinichi’s response. His heart was fluttering now, the more he thought about the silver-haired model. Just yesterday he’d been fawning over Shizuo and losing interest in Shinichi, but something was different today. Izaya could remember all the things Shinichi had done for him in the past. He could see the man’s handsome face and beautiful, entrancing eyes. Shinichi was the true incarnation of perfection of earth. How had Izaya forgotten how attracted he was to Shinichi?

His phone buzzed in his hand and Izaya immediately opened the text message that had arrived, scanning it hurriedly as his heart pounded in his chest. A text from Shinichi.

Shinichi: Great! I’m glad you’re up to listen. Well, long story short, he said that you’re taking Shizuo to the party this Saturday.

Izaya’s stomach dropped into a pit when he read that. Had he made Shinichi upset? Was Shinichi reaching out because he felt jealous about Izaya going with Shizuo and not him? Izaya hadn’t even thought about that possibility! He felt so stupid! Before he’d met Shizuo, he’d been doing everything in his power to stay in Shinichi’s good graces so the man would notice him. It had seemed to be working. Heck, the guy had gone on an impromptu date with Izaya at the arcade after Shizuo had ditched him. Izaya had been making progress!

Had he thrown it all out the window by losing his cool over Shizuo?

Biting his lip, Izaya nervously typed his response to Shinichi, praying that the situation wasn’t as bad as he thought.

Izaya: Yes; I’m taking Shizuo.

He shouldn’t leave it at that. Maybe he should make it sound more like they were going as friends.

Izaya: Yes; I’m taking Shizuo. He doesn’t get out much, so I thought dragging him to social event would be good for him.

But Izaya really didn’t know Shizuo that well, especially not to the point where he was a close enough friend to be taking Shizuo to parties. And Shinichi knew that, too. He’d see right through this excuse. Plus, Izaya had definitely had romantic connotations in mind when he’d invited Shizuo. He’d massaged the guy’s leg under the table in a family-friendly, public café so those connotations would be easily understood, for goodness’ sakes! He couldn’t keep that from Shinichi. He couldn’t keep anything from Shinichi.

Guiltily, Izaya deleted what he’d been typing and started over.

Izaya: I invited him yesterday. He seemed like he wasn’t going to come at first, but I made sure he’d want to. Is that a problem?

That was as close to the truth as Izaya was willing to get. He didn’t want to push Shinichi away after finally managing to get so close. He hoped this didn’t cause any problems.

Izaya hit the send button and waited with his heart in his throat for Shinichi’s response.

It came just a few seconds later, Shinichi’s name glowing brightly on Izaya’s screen.

Shinichi: Hmm, that could be a problem… It’s a school party, isn’t it?

Huh? Why would Shinichi be asking that?

Izaya stared at the screen, confused. Was Shinichi not upset after all that Izaya was taking Shinichi to a party? Was he more upset that he was taking Shizuo to a school function? What did this text mean? Confused as he was, he still replied.

Izaya: Yes. The psychology department is throwing it, but we were allowed to invite outside friends so there should be way more people than just psych students there. Why?

Shinichi responded within a few seconds after that text was sent again, sending a message that shell-shocked Izaya more than the rest of Shinichi’s texts up to this point.

Shinichi: Well, it’s your classmates that make up the majority of the party crowd. I thought you didn’t want them to know that you’re gay.

Izaya…hadn’t thought about that at all. He hadn’t thought about that in a while, as a matter of fact. His thoughts had been so preoccupied with Shizuo lately that he hadn’t realized what sort of effect being around Shizuo would have on his reputation.

Izaya was the perfect man at school for many different reasons. One of those reasons was the impression that everyone had of him as a regular, women-loving male who would eventually become really successful, find a girl he loved, get married, and raise a nice, rich family with her. They expected him to fill that stereotype. They believed he would live up to all of society’s usual standards and then exceed them. His parents had believed that, too.

But…Izaya wasn’t going to live up to that one standard. He’d never been able to. He hadn’t even been able to get a girlfriend during high school to perpetuate the image. The thought of it repulsed him. He wasn’t into girls. He didn’t want to force himself to like them. He didn’t want to force himself into a relationship that he’d be faking his way through.

He’d tried when he was younger. He’d bought porn magazines and stared at pictures of naked women for hours, touching the provocative images on the page, placing them in different spots around his room so he’d associate different stimuli with them that might trigger something, staying up late into the night, trying desperately to feel any kind of heat for the beautiful women he could plainly see. Heck, part of the reason he’d actually become a child model for a brief period of time in middle school was so that he’d be able to go to a place where lots of beautiful women were strutting around everywhere, and hopefully see one in person that could help him find what he was missing.

But it hadn’t. Izaya had left the modeling business, dejected. They didn’t spark a single thing. He just…he just didn’t like them. And he couldn’t make himself like them. By the time he’d hit high school, Izaya had resigned himself to the fact that he was gay, and that that wasn’t going to change anytime soon. He wasn’t perfect, after all. Not in the way his parents wanted him to be.

He was gay. He liked men. But he wasn’t ready to tell the world that.

Izaya stared at Shinichi’s message, his heart racing in his chest.

Shinichi: Well, it’s your classmates that make up the majority of the party crowd. I thought you didn’t want them to know that you’re gay.

He didn’t want them to know. Shinichi was right. Izaya still wasn’t ready for that. If he took Shizuo to the party, a guy that wasn’t from their school, that he didn’t have any work connections to, that was clearly just someone out of the blue that Izaya had felt like taking…even if not everybody knew, there would definitely be some rumors going around.

According to Shinichi, there already was one! But who would’ve known that he was taking Shizuo? Izaya didn’t think any of his classmates had been in the café when he’d asked the blonde. How had someone found out?

Izaya shook his head trying to focus on what was important. It didn’t matter who. If Shinichi had found that important, he would’ve told Izaya. And Izaya needed to trust Shinichi. More to the point, Izaya needed to figure out what to do about this new problem.

Izaya: I didn’t even think about that… What should I do? I still want to take him. But they can’t know.

Shinichi would have an idea, right? Shinichi always had an idea.

Izaya didn’t know why he was relying on Shinichi so much – usually he’d be coming up with his own solution right now – but Shinichi was right here talking to him and that scent was still curling in his nostrils. It just made sense to go to Shinichi for some reason. Everything should revolve around him.

A few minutes later, Shinichi’s reply came.

Shinichi: If the two of you go alone, everyone will know. It’ll be so obvious that it’s a date of some kind, and if I’m being honest, you two look like you could be a couple when you’re together.

Izaya bit his lip again, freaking out over this new issue. No one could find out. No one could know. Would it really be that obvious that he was into Shizuo? Couldn’t they pass as friends? No…no, Izaya couldn’t do that to Shizuo. He’d wanted the party to be romantic. He’d made Shizuo believe it was going to be a sexy, romantic night. He couldn’t just friend-zone the blonde like that after setting the mood so firmly in the café.

What should he do?

Another text from Shinichi popped up, right beneath the last one.

Shinichi: If you bring someone else with you, though, then it would look like you’re going in a group. No one would suspect a thing.

That was true. When people traveled in groups together, everyone generally assumed that unless proven otherwise, everyone in that group was friends with one another. It wasn’t an initial thought that two of them could be together. But…

Izaya: Would going in a group cover up moments that I try to make kind of…romantic?

He felt so embarrassed asking Shinichi about this. He felt like he should be hiding the fact that he was into Shizuo from the silver-haired man. After all, Shinichi was a really nice guy. He might back off if he thought Izaya was into someone else, and Izaya would lose all the progress he’d made getting Shinichi to like him. But he just couldn’t hide anything from the model right now. It was all coming out.

Shinichi: I think you should minimize the straight romance. But if you casually flirt with everyone in your group, people might think that’s just how you act with your friends.

So he couldn’t be overtly draped on Shizuo at this party. He had to keep things casual. And he had to transfer that casual flirting to whoever he brought with them. It wasn’t quite the steamy night he’d been planning…but it was safer.

Izaya: That sounds like a decent idea. Who should I take?

Not even a second passed before Shinichi responded.

Shinichi: Why not me?

Izaya’s heart skipped a beat in his chest again. So…so he was going to a party with both of the guys he liked?! Oh no. No, no, no. Izaya didn’t think he’d be able to control himself around the two guys he found most attractive on this earth. Everyone would see him drooling over them and they’d know instantly!

Shinichi sent another text before Izaya could say anything.

Shinichi: I’m the only person besides Shinra who knows about your sexual orientation, and Shinra isn’t here right now. Plus, I’m your coworker and people have seen us on magazines in semi-sexual poses. They’ll assume we’ve flirted a time or two. You can just flirt with me more than Shizuo and it’ll seem more natural.

That was true.

But…but Izaya was supposed to be going with Shizuo. How would the blonde feel if Izaya took him to a party, promising to show him a great time and flirting with him like his life depended on it back in the café, then ditching him for Shinichi once they were actually at the party? That would be such a jerk move.

Izaya: I need to ask Shizuo if he’d be okay with this.

He should probably alert the blonde as to what was going on. It was only right. And he wanted to tell Shizuo about this because he genuinely cared about the blonde’s feelings.

God. This was such a mess.

Izaya tried to remember the time when being around Shizuo was supposed to be nothing more than an experiment to piss the blonde off and use the anger to make Shizuo fall for him. A time when Shinichi was the only guy who’d legitimately made Izaya’s heart skip beats.

He honestly couldn’t.

Izaya’s phone buzzed in his hand with Shinichi’s response.

Shinichi: Don’t tell Shizuo. He won’t understand that you need to hide this about yourself and he’ll hate the fact that I’m coming. You need to keep it from him as long as possible.

What? Why did he have to do that?

Izaya stared at the message with his stomach flopping uncomfortably, trying to understand Shinichi’s intentions. Yes, he could see where the silver-haired man was coming from. It made sense that Shizuo wouldn’t understand the need to hide anything about yourself from your peers. He’d probably never had much of a reputation to uphold in his life. But would it really be that hard for him to learn to understand?

All Izaya needed to do was hide the fact that he was gay, or at least make it less obvious until he was comfortable enough to come out to the people who praised him like a god. Shizuo could pick up on that and go with it, right?

Another text came from Shinichi.

Shinichi: Trust me on this, Izaya-chan. Don’t tell him.

Izaya paused. Well…he did trust Shinichi more than anyone else. There was a sick, awful feeling in his stomach about lying to Shizuo like this. But he had told Shizuo that he couldn’t make any promises about giving Shizuo a reason to lie to him. He’d left that door admittedly open to betrayal.

It wouldn’t be that big of a deal to lie about something like this. Especially since Shinichi was the one asking him to lie.

Right?

As Izaya typed his response, he hoped he was right.

Izaya: Okay – I won’t tell Shizuo. But I still want to flirt with him at the party since he was the one I was supposed to take.

Shinichi responded a few moments later.

Shinichi: :) Sounds like a plan! I’ll see you then.

This sounded like a terrible plan. This sounded like something Izaya shouldn’t be doing. Shouldn’t he be using this as more of an opportunity to finally come out to the people around him? It was his first year of college, after all. He was in a different part of Tokyo where no one had spent years building an image of him in their minds as the perfect boy. He could rebrand himself here, come clean with his sexual orientation, and people would probably adjust. Shizuo would support him; he knew that for sure. And of course there was Shinra. Shinichi would support him, too.

This was an ideal chance for Izaya to finally show who he was. To be himself and let the world know that he wasn’t the golden standard they thought of him as. Heck, maybe it was a way to let the world know that he could still be perfect even if he was gay. Being gay didn’t mean he was any less successful or smart or beautiful. It could be a way for him to show that gayness wasn’t a flaw – it was a different layer of his perfection.

But he was terrified of that. He hadn’t prepared himself to open up about this at all. That was something he needed to prepare for. He couldn’t just jump in head-first.

Or maybe that was how he should approach it? Get it over with so he didn’t think about it too much and convince himself not to? Do it as soon as possible so people would accept him sooner? But what if they didn’t accept him at all? It was either four more years of hiding or four years of acceptance or four years of rejection. Which was he supposed to do?

He didn’t know! This was all so confusing and hard!

But…but…but Shinichi seemed to think now wasn’t the time for it. He seemed to think Izaya should keep hiding a while longer. He was probably right. He was usually right. And he had Izaya’s best interests at heart. Izaya trusted him.

He shouldn’t come out yet. He needed to hide a while longer. Being seen alone with Shizuo like that was too big of a threat. He couldn’t face everyone yet.

With that sick feeling still rolling in his stomach that Izaya tried to ignore, the raven typed out his response to Shinichi.

Izaya: We’re leaving at 7 and we’ll get there around 7:30. See you then.

He didn’t know if this was the right thing to do. He didn’t know if he was actually making a huge mistake. But if he was, he had to be as safe about making that mistake as possible.

Izaya looked at the calendar on his phone, pulling up the events that he had marked for the week.

He stared at the date of the party. This Saturday. Two days away. A day that was meant to be his first real date with Shizuo. He’d been so excited for it just minutes ago. It had been something he was looking forward to, an event that he wished he could speed up time to get to early so he didn’t have to wait all week for it to arrive.

Now…now it was more like a dreaded doomsday event resting at the end of his week that he’d do anything to avoid.

Izaya closed his calendar, glancing at the clock on the wall so he didn’t have to look at his phone anymore.

He had about forty-five minutes left before his first class. That was still enough time to slip over to the Firefly Brew café if he felt like it. Enough time to grab a coffee and a red bean cake. Enough time to see Shizuo for a while and relax before all of his classes started and his perfect persona had to kick in. Enough time to think about what was going to happen at the end of the week.

…Izaya really didn’t feel up for it anymore.

Chapter Text

Shizuo was going on a date in ten minutes. Or rather, he was arriving at his date’s apartment in ten minutes and then heading out to the actual date. Or maybe the instant he actually met up with his date the date began?

Shizuo had no clue. He’d never been on a date before. All he knew was that now he was about to go on his very first one and it was with a super-model who had the brains of an astrophysicist and seduction skills powerful enough to make him take the weekend off.

Shizuo thrust his hands into his pockets, his heart pounding giddily as he walked along the busy sidewalk. He kept his head down as he walked, trying to hide the stupid smile that was probably stretched all over his face right now. Lord only knew how much Izaya would tease him about that if he happened to see Shizuo coming up the sidewalk.

“I have to be cool, calm, and collected.” Shizuo whispered to himself as he walked along, his legs taking longer strides than usual as they brought him eagerly towards his destination. “This is my first date. I can’t mess it up. I can’t say anything stupid. I can’t get angry and destroy things. It has to go well.”

Then again, with Shizuo’s luck, the more he tried to make it go well, the more likely it would become a train wreck later.

Shizuo shook his head vigorously, trying to banish the thoughts of self-doubt before they could form fully in his mind.

He couldn’t let himself be brought down by things like that today. He needed to focus on what was actually happening. Because, for once, it was something really great, and Shizuo didn’t want to taint a second of it.

Shizuo’s phone suddenly buzzed in his pocket, the blonde pulling it out to see the notification that he’d arrived at his destination.

He glanced over at the tall building on his right, noticing the multiple balconies and sliding doors decorating its side that marked the different apartments it housed. He couldn’t tell if any of them were Izaya’s just by glancing at the outside. None of the decorations on each of the balconies reminded Shizuo of the mysterious raven.

Then again, Izaya was probably the type who would change his decorations every day just to screw with people and see if they noticed.

A dry smile crossed Shizuo’s lips despite his valiant struggle to maintain a passive face as he walked up to the main door. He entered a small lobby and headed right to the equally-small desk tucked away in its corner, asking which room an Orihara Izaya lived in.

The woman at the desk promptly informed him that “the beautiful young man” Shizuo was talking about lived on the third floor with “a strange little twig in a lab coat”, one that she wished would move out before all his crazy experiments scared away her other tenants.

Gee. Shizuo wondered who Izaya’s roommate could be.

Shizuo thanked the woman for the information and began to head up, holding a slip of paper with the room number the woman had given him. His heart was pounding as he climbed the slightly-rickety apartment stairs. His excitement and anxiety shot up at the same time. He could practically see the silky black hair, and hear the taunting voice teasing him alongside sparkling carmine eyes. He could imagine the raven so vividly in his mind’s eye that it was almost unbelievable that he hadn’t seen him in a few days.

Not since the raven’s last visit to the Firefly Brew about two days ago before he’d suddenly gone radio silent.

Shizuo paused as he reached the third floor of the apartment, his anxiety overtaking the excitement just a little bit. He didn’t know why Izaya had suddenly stopped talking to him. He’d half-considered that maybe the raven was having second thoughts about the date. But he’d sent a text this morning asking if he still wanted Shizuo to come over and the reply had been an almost immediate yes.

So the date was still on but…something felt off.

Even now, as Shizuo stood in the hallway, his eyes staring at the rows of doors that could be hiding a pair of glittering red eyes, he felt like something had changed about the date. He was still excited for it, and he felt like Izaya was, too.

But there was a feeling that Shizuo just couldn’t shake nonetheless.

Shizuo huffed and ran his fingers through his hair, once again forcing the unpleasant thoughts from his mind. It was probably nothing. More than likely, he was just having first date jitters, which was pretty understandable considering how his first date was with a manifestation of perfect itself.

He needed to focus on the now. Calm, cool, and collected, Shizuo. Calm, cool, and collected.

Repeating this mantra silently to himself, Shizuo walked down the hallway of doors, checking the numbers on each one as he went. His heart kept pounding in his chest. His breathing was coming a little harder the closer the numbers got to the one in his hand. If he hadn’t known better, Shizuo would say he was in the middle of a heart attack.

Finally, his eyes landed on the correct combination of digits.

He didn’t pause to give himself time to freeze up. He didn’t even check what time it was to see if he was obscenely early or late. He just let his finger reach out and jab the doorbell as quickly as possible, the sound ringing clearly through the door as Shizuo stood in place, waiting.

A few seconds later, he heard scuffling on the other side of the door.

“Do you know how impolite it is to show up on someone before they’re expecting you?!” A smooth voice shouted through the wood, putting Shizuo’s tensions to ease almost immediately.

He smiled at the door, listening to the frantic scuffling of the man on the other side. “Sorry!” He called, still waiting to see what was going to happen. “I was excited, so I got here early.”

“Sorry doesn’t cut it!” The voice responded immediately, as confident and as sharp as ever. “I was not emotionally prepared for this.”

Shizuo laughed at that remark. If there was anyone who was unprepared for this date in any way – emotionally or physically – it was probably him. Of the two of them, Izaya definitely seemed more like the kind to have experience with relationships and socializing.

Shizuo was about to call something else through the door, ready to carry on the conversation, but it suddenly flung open before him, revealing the subject of all his thoughts over the past few days.

Glittering red eyes glaring at him from pale, ivory skin. Silky black hair brushing his soft cheeks, tempting Shizuo to brush his own fingers against the smooth surface. Another perfect outfit that Shizuo honestly didn’t even bother to look at as much as he looked at the man wearing it; he was merely aware of the way it hugged the smaller man’s curves and complimented the color of his eyes. A lithe, graceful figure that could just as easily belong to a professional dancer as it could a psychology student. And an air of attitude and sass that Shizuo knew no one else on earth would ever have the guts to give him straight to his face like the raven was about to.

“Honestly, Shizu-chan!” Izaya huffed, flicking a strand of his black hair out of his face as he stepped out into the hallway with the blonde, turning around to lock the door to the apartment. “I can understand your excitement since you’re going on a date with utter perfection, but did you have to show up twenty minutes before we were even supposed to leave for the date together?”

“I’m that early?” Shizuo asked in surprise, glancing at his phone. Whoops. Looks like he’d read the time wrong. “My bad. I thought I was only about ten minutes ahead of schedule.”

“Definitive proof that cavemen didn’t have a unit of measurement for time.” Izaya sighed, shaking his head mournfully, although the playful glitter in his eyes eased away all frustrations the jab might’ve caused.

The raven turned to Shizuo with a smile, graceful fingers wrapped around the strap of the bag slung over his shoulder. “So are you ready to go, then?” He asked, voice smoother than honey.

“Yes.” Shizuo blurted quicker than he’d anticipated, looking down at Izaya in embarrassment. “Uh, if you are, that is.”

Izaya laughed at the blonde’s elegant reaction, looping his arm through Shizuo’s and grinning up at him brightly. “I’m ready. I’ve been set to go for a while, but I was throwing on some final accessories when you showed up.” He said casually, body pressing lightly against Shizuo’s. “We can head out now.”

Shizuo nodded, praying that he didn’t do anything else as stupid as that on the rest of their date. So much for making sure everything went well.

As he and Izaya walked towards the stairs of the apartment building, ready to leave, Shizuo noticed something strange. And it didn’t have anything to do with the strangeness of the fact that Shizuo was officially on his first date now. It didn’t have to do with the strange feelings shooting through Shizuo’s body each time Izaya pressed into him a little more. It didn’t even have to do with the strange fact that Shizuo had all but forgotten about the work shift he’d been supposed to take this weekend even though losing an opportunity for that much money would’ve usually been blocking out all other thoughts.

No. This strange thing was a kind of…smell. A smell that seemed to be coming from Izaya.

Shizuo tried to place the smell as he and Izaya walked down the stairs together. It wasn’t a bad smell. There wasn’t anything wrong with it. It was just weird, and it didn’t smell like Izaya. And yes, it was weird of Shizuo to be able to place Izaya’s scent, but he’d always had the nose of a bloodhound since childhood. He could place a scent on anyone from his seat partner in the third grade to the woman who always came into the Firefly Brew at 11 am after she finished a morning jog.

Everyone had a scent, and even if they put something on over that scent, usually their primary smell overpowered it. At least in Shizuo’s mind, it did. He associated them with that initial smell, and he always looked for it underneath whatever extra scents were covering it.

But Izaya’s primary scent – a bitter almonds sort of smell mixed with strawberries – was practically nonexistent under this new smell.

“Hey…” He said slowly, trying to think of how he was going to make this sound unoffensive as they walked through the lobby. “Was one of the accessories you were putting on some kind of cologne?”

“Cologne? I almost never use cologne.” Izaya remarked, glancing up at Shizuo as they left the apartment building, turning down the street. “Why?”

“Nothing, nothing.” Shizuo said hurriedly, scratching at the back of his head with his free hand as he looked awkwardly up at the buildings around them. “It’s just that…you smell funny.”

Izaya snorted immediately at the comment, giving Shizuo’s arm a light squeeze with his own. “That’s a very charming thing for you to say on the start of our first date together, Shizu-chan.” He said in amusement, the two of them walking along. “I’m practically swooning over you already.”

“I mean it!” Shizuo insisted, although his ears burned with shame at the fact that he was even bringing this up. “Usually, you smell like strawberries and bitter almonds. But there’s some weird…pine tree thing covering it up now. It’s different, and it’s really strong for some reason.”

“You’re telling me I usually smell like cyanide-laced strawberries?” Izaya asked flatly, staring at Shizuo. “And now I smell like pine trees and that’s a problem?”

“That’s not the point I’m getting at.” Shizuo sighed in frustration, wishing he wasn’t so awkward with words. “It’s just weird to have your scent get covered up so completely.”

“I think it’s weirder that you have such a strong opinion about my scent.” Izaya chirped brightly, pulling Shizuo along. “Or better yet, that you picked up a scent on me at all. You’re like a hunting dog, Shizu-chan. A hunting-dog with super strength! We should talk more about the things that make you abnormal. They’re fascinating!”

“I’d rather not.” Shizuo muttered, now wishing that he’d never even spoken in the first place.

“Maybe if we find enough strange qualities of yours,” Izaya was continuing, oblivious to (or more likely not caring about) Shizuo’s sullen attitude on the topic. “We can create a whole superhero identity for you! With a nice, angsty backstory and everything. We’ll give you a code name, too.”

“I’d rather not.” Shizuo repeated, sighing heavily.

“Would you rather be a supervillain?” Izaya asked cheerfully, clearly enjoying the torment he was putting Shizuo through. “Normally, I’d take that for my own role, but if you insist, we can switch it up.”

“Can we just talk about the weather or something?” Shizuo groaned, wondering how he ended up falling for this sadist of a man.

“Weather is boring.” Izaya laughed, pulling Shizuo around a new corner with a spring in his step. “I’m having much more fun talking about this.”

“All I did was bring up your smell.” Shizuo huffed grumpily, stalking along. “Did it really warrant all this torture?”

“It didn’t warrant it. It inspired it!” Izaya sang, giving another bright laugh.

“Yeah, yeah.” Shizuo rolled his eyes, pulling out his phone as it buzzed in his pocket. He frowned when he saw the number on it, confusion racing through his mind.
“It’s not nice to get distracted by your other lovers while we’re on our date.” Izaya said teasingly, peeking at Shizuo’s phone. “Who’s texting you?”

“Shinra.” Shizuo said flatly, wondering what that was about. “I thought he was in Germany right now, though.”

“He is.” Izaya tilted his head curiously, red eyes locked on the number. “And usually he doesn’t contact anyone while he’s away. I wonder what happened.”

“He sent me twenty-three texts and called me five times.” Shizuo blinked in shock, staring at the insane numbers on his screen. “Why didn’t I notice that?”

“Maybe your phone was on silent.” Izaya suggested with a shrug. “You gonna call him back?”

“Nah. He’s probably being overdramatic.” Shizuo sighed, turning his phone up to vibrate just in case before slipping it back into his pocket. “I’ll call him after the party.”

“Oh good! I take priority!” Izaya chirped, hugging Shizuo’s arm. “Glad to hear that you still have some common sense, Shizu-chan.”

Shizuo smiled at the playful jab, relaxing into Izaya’s grip as the pair walked along.

Despite the unpleasantness of the topic behind the superhero-supervillain banter earlier, Shizuo had to admit that talking with Izaya like this was pretty nice. He felt comfortable bickering with this feisty raven. Having Izaya walk so close to him and hug his arm so freely made him feel more accepted and normal than he had in years. Even though they got some disgusted stares on the street as they walked together, the conservative nature of Japan shining a spotlight on them, Shizuo didn’t feel like he had anything to be ashamed of here. He didn’t feel an urge to pull away from Izaya because of a few stares. He liked being with Izaya like this.

It was the most peaceful he’d been in a very long time.

But as they got closer to their destination, it began to seem like Izaya didn’t feel the same way.

His chatty conversation became more clipped and less playful. He stopped pressing his body into Shizuo’s flirtatiously, and actually pulled away from the blonde a little bit. His easily flowing speech was tinged with a buried undercurrent of anxiety. He kept glancing around like he expected someone to pop up at any second.

Finally, as they approached the building Shizuo could tell the party was in, the music blasting down the street and lights flashing through its windows, Izaya let go of Shizuo entirely. His arms dropped to his sides, hands slipping into his pockets, and he moved at least a foot away from the blonde. He kept talking to Shizuo, but his words sounded distant and forcibly casual. Like he was trying to friendzone Shizuo now instead of whatever he’d been doing before.

Shizuo frowned and looked at the raven in confusion as they slowly approached the loud building. Now the memories of Izaya’s radio silence were flooding back to Shizuo, bringing back the old doubts about whether Izaya actually wanted to be on this date or not. Bringing back the feeling that something was wrong here.

“Is everything okay?” Shizuo asked, drawing a slight jump from the raven as they stopped in front of the door to the party. “You’re acting odd now.”

“What do you mean?” Izaya asked calmly, shooting Shizuo a false, perfect smile. “I’m always like this.”

“Bullshit.” Shizuo said immediately, staring right into Izaya’s eyes. “You’re acting like a preppy, polite, popular kid who got stuck walking next to the school loser but doesn’t want to lose face by being rude and ditching said loser. You’re being super distant, Izaya-kun. What are you doing?”

Izaya looked guiltily up at Shizuo, some of that strange, buried anxiety flickering through the depths of his carmine eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, but a loud voice cut him off.

“Orihara-kun! You made it!”

Shizuo looked over as a young man ran over to them, smiling at Izaya. His hair was dark brown and his face was a little on the rougher side, but he still emanated a “nice guy” vibe.

“Dotachin.” Izaya responded with a bright smile, the fakeness of it so damn obvious that Shizuo was surprised the raven wasn’t turning to plastic. “Yes, I was able to come.”

“That’s great. You’re usually too busy to make it to parties like these, so no one knew if you were coming.” The brown-haired man responded, still smiling at Izaya as if he hadn’t noticed a thing. “Everyone will be thrilled to hear the prince of the school turned up.”

“Won’t they, though?” Izaya laughed, but the laugh wasn’t at all like the fiery, smug, somewhat sharp and demonic laughs Shizuo had come to know. It was cold, distant, tinkling like a perfect bell chime that gave off just the right level of noise before fading out pleasantly. So fake. It seemed so fake.

“If Hiroyuki-san is here, tell him that I took notes for him at the last student council meeting.” Izaya said smoothly, his voice perfectly controlled. Not pushy, not demanding, just pleasant to a T. “I’ll email them to him in the next two days.”

“It must be nice for Hiroyuki to have such a responsible vice president as you helping him out.” The boy sighed, looking at Izaya wistfully. “Wish you were in the architecture club to take notes for us.”

“I know. It’s rather unfortunate.” Izaya’s words were accompanied by a perfect expression of pity. Not enough to insult. Just enough to sympathize. “Perhaps next semester if I have more free time on my hands.”

“Don’t push yourself, Orihara-kun!” The boy said instantly. “I wouldn’t want you to stress yourself out. You do so much already.”

Now the boy finally glanced over at Shizuo, as if noticing his presence for the first time. “I’ve never seen you around campus before.” He remarked, looking Shizuo up and down. “And I don’t think anyone invited you. Why are you here?”

“Izaya-kun invited me.” Shizuo bit gruffly before the boy could piss him off further or Izaya’s fake perfection would do the same. “I’m his date.”

“Date?” The boy looked confused, glancing over at Izaya. “Like…like a romantic date?”

There was almost a disturbed look in his eyes as though the concept of two boys on a date creeped him out. And Shizuo knew what he wanted Izaya to say. He knew what Izaya probably wanted to say. But Izaya was in the middle of some kind of fake “Perfect Boy” mode right now. He couldn’t possibly say a single thing to creep someone out.

So Shizuo wasn’t exactly surprised when Izaya gave another perfect laugh and said, “Of course not! We’re just good friends.”

…He wasn’t surprised.

But he wasn’t happy, either.

Shizuo’s fists clenched at his sides, his anger and hurt boiling as the boy’s face immediately relaxed. “I should’ve known.” The boy said with a smile, turning to head back into the party. “Well, I hope you have fun with your friend while you’re here. And maybe I can introduce you to some girls later! There’s a few pretty hot ones that might catch even your eye!”

“I look forward to it.” Izaya smiled politely. “Please give Hiroyuki my message, Dotachin.”

“Will do!” The boy vanished inside, leaving Shizuo and Izaya alone on the porch in front of the party building again.

Everything was silent for a few minutes, despite the raging music coming from the structure right in front of them.

And then Shizuo broke it.

“Good friends. Didn’t realize that’s what I was signing up for here.”

He didn’t mean for his voice to come out so bitter. He knew it was probably harder for someone like Izaya to be themselves when there were so many expectations riding on him to be perfect and to please everybody. Revealing information like this wasn’t as easy for Izaya as it was for the eternal loner Shizuo. But in Shizuo’s mind, there wasn’t anything wrong with what he and Izaya were doing. It didn’t lessen Izaya’s perfection at all.

In fact, seeing the way Izaya thought perfection ought to be portrayed in front of his classmates…that side of the raven honestly seemed like more of a mistake than any other part of him had so far.

Shizuo hated that.

“Look, it’s not you.” Izaya said softly, looking down at the ground with uncharacteristic hesitation and guilt. “I…I wanted to come here and do more with you. I really did! I’d practically forgotten that I was even hiding this in the first place. I wanted to screw everything I’d built up so far and just…be with you. In that kind of way.”

“Then why did you change your mind?” Shizuo asked sharply, refusing to look at Izaya. “Was it two days ago when you suddenly stopped texting me? Did you remember that your classmates were going to be here, or something? Did it finally hit you that they might not like it? What changed?”

“Someone…someone reminded me of the consequences of a romance with you.” Izaya admitted, rubbing his arm. “Or at least, the consequences of people finding out about a romance. Someone I trust a lot.”

“More than you trust your own judgement?” Shizuo still looked straight ahead. “Izaya-kun, you said you wanted to screw everything. You even said you’d forgotten you were hiding it. You sounded like you were ready for this.”

“Maybe I was…but now I’m not.” Izaya said fiercely, his hand clenching his arm tightly. “I-I’m not ready for the consequences.”

Izaya looked up at Shizuo. Shizuo could feel the red gaze on the side of his face. He still refused to look down.

“I’ll still flirt with you and everything.” The raven said hurriedly, almost like he was worried that Shizuo was going to leave if he didn’t. Or like he was trying to convince himself that he hadn’t completely killed whatever they’d had going on before this development. “I wanted to come to this with you, and I’m not going to let go of that. But…but I took precautions.”

“Precautions?” Shizuo asked incredulously. “What precautions are necessary here, Izaya-kun? Why do you need any?”

“To make sure we don’t seem overtly romantic.” Izaya sounded like he was losing steam. His voice was gaining a hint of desperation. He sounded like he wasn’t even sure about what he was saying anymore. “To keep protecting myself and my image, but to still allow us to be together.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Now Shizuo finally let himself turn to look at Izaya, a boiling glare of rage directed right at the small raven. “You don’t need to protect anything, Izaya-kun! You’re perfect just the way you are! This piece of shit preppy act is a bunch of fucking nonsense! You’re so much better when you act like yourself!”

He grabbed Izaya’s shoulder, holding the raven tightly in place. “Seriously, Izaya-kun. You shouldn’t feel like you need to protect that crappy image. You’re amazing enough already. You’re even more amazing when you’re actually being yourself.”

Shizuo didn’t know if he was going to scare Izaya off with this sudden rant, but he was pissed after seeing that fake Izaya, he was pissed after hearing Izaya’s lame excuses for trying to hide what they were, and he was going to let Izaya hear all about it.

“You’re a spunky, smart, beautiful, irritating asshole!” Shizuo practically shouted, glaring right into Izaya’s wide, red eyes. “You’re confident and talented, you have a comeback for everything, you’re bold, you take control of any room you walk into, and if I was half as incredible as you, I wouldn’t feel even the slightest bit insecure next to my younger brother.”

Now Shizuo’s other hand reached up to grip Izaya’s other shoulder, his strength pinning the raven in place indefinitely. Although it didn’t feel like Izaya was trying to run away. He was just staring at Shizuo with wide eyes, frozen in place as the blonde ranted like a madman.

“You’re the kind of person,” Shizuo began, hoping he could finish this up before he completely embarrassed himself by letting some kind of weirdly pissed off love confession slip out of his mouth. “Who would walk into a public, family-friendly café and turn on the head barista by playing footsie with him under the table without a hint of shame.”

Izaya’s lips twitched a little at that, like he was fighting back the smug smirk Shizuo wished he’d show the rest of the world.

“You’re amazing, Izaya-kun.” Shizuo said honestly, golden eyes locked with carmine ones. “And I don’t think you should be hiding any of that amazing person from anyone else, no matter what they think you should be.”

Wow. Shizuo had sounded like a legit motivational speaker or something just then. Maybe he wasn’t as dumb as he’d always assumed. He could actually say a few smart things here and there without utterly embarrassing himself.

Izaya stared at Shizuo, his carmine eyes regaining a bit of their glitter from earlier. A slow smile began to spread across his face. It was sharper than the perfect smile he’d given that classmate. It was more familiar to Shizuo. As it grew more prominent on the raven’s lips, sharpening further and further into a smug, mocking grin by the second, Shizuo felt like he was watching some kind of rare flower bloom.

The cruel edges of Izaya’s face and the demonic tint of his eyes had never looked more beautiful.

But just as the grin almost reached its full manifestation, and Izaya opened his mouth to speak, two hands suddenly grabbed Shizuo’s and flung them off Izaya’s shoulders, replacing his grip on Izaya with their own.

“I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.” A smooth voice cut into their conversation, as perfect and collected as Izaya’s fake voice had been. “But seeing as you’ve never formed any relationships before, or had any kind of positive image to maintain whatsoever, I supposed I can’t blame you for almost ruining Izaya-chan’s life.”

The grin immediately dropped from Izaya’s face. A blank, cool expression replaced the fiery sass that had started to rekindle. His mask of perfection was back on.

“Yes. That probably would’ve ruined my life.” Izaya said calmly, his voice wholly trusting of the newcomer’s speech. “You’re right, Shinichi.”

Shizuo’s eyes flicked over Izaya’s head to glare at the silver-haired man who was now standing behind the raven, his hands laid possessively on Izaya’s shoulders as he smirked at Shizuo.

“Shinra was right.” Shizuo growled, glaring fiercely at the scumbag. “You do manage to show up wherever Izaya-kun is and ruin everything.”

“Izaya-chan invited me here, actually.” Shinichi said smoothly, smiling down at the motionless Izaya. “He wanted me to make sure that being seen with you didn’t screw everything up.”

“Fuck that!” Shizuo shouted, glaring at the snake-like man. “As if Izaya would-”

“No. I invited him.” Izaya said calmly, looking Shizuo dead in the eye. “He said it would be better if he came along, so I invited him.”

“You…you what?” Shizuo was almost stunned. “Are you serious, Izaya-kun? You honestly believed that your image would be protected if he showed up?”

“I trust Shinichi.” Izaya shrugged, sending a practically adoring smile up at the silver-haired man. “More than I ever have before, actually. Shinichi knows what’s best.”

“He doesn’t know what’s best for you!” Shizuo shouted, wondering how the hell Izaya’s attitude had turned on a 180 like that with Shinichi’s arrival.

“And you do? How presumptuous of you to assume so.” Shinichi pointed out with a raised eyebrow and another smirk.

“I don’t know what’s best for him, either.” Shizuo snarled, wishing he could deck the asshole in the face. “No one knows what’s best for Izaya-kun except for Izaya-kun himself. It’s his damn life. Let him live it.”

“Well, he wants to live it trusting me and my word.” Shinichi said calmly, slinging an arm around Izaya’s shoulders. “And no one will find out about your ‘relationship’ with him if I’m here.”

“How? How the hell does this make any sense?” Shizuo grabbed a handful of his hair in his hands, glaring down at Izaya. “Izaya-kun, does this really make sense to you?”

“Yes. Shinichi said so.” Izaya said firmly, glaring back at Shizuo. “And I trust Shinichi. He’s never led me astray before.”

“I don’t even think you should flirt with him at this party, Izaya-chan.” Shinichi said almost gleefully, grinning at Shizuo over Izaya’s head. “He seems way too volatile. He’ll do or say something stupid and reveal everything. Trust me. Just flirt with me.”

“Maybe it’s better if I just flirt with Shinichi.” Izaya muttered, a troubled look crossing his face as if he was genuinely considering the idea.

Shizuo was about to lose it.

“You fucking brought me to this party! Not him!” The blonde roared, anger and confusion overwhelming him. Izaya seemed like a totally different person now. He was so sucked up by whatever Shinichi was saying. He believed every word coming out of that guy’s mouth like it was a sign from above.

It reminded him of his conversation with Shinra about how whenever Izaya seemed to start doubting Shinichi, he’d suddenly firmly believe in Shinichi more than ever just a few days later.

It looked like Shizuo was getting to see that firm belief. And it made no damn sense.

“But I have to trust Shinichi.” Izaya insisted, although his red eyes were filled with doubt. “Don’t…I?”

“No! You don’t!” Shizuo shouted. “Trust yourself, Izaya-kun!”

“Don’t listen to him.” Shinichi said sharply, glaring at Shizuo with flashing eyes. “You need to trust me, Izaya-chan. You’re too unsure of yourself when you try to think on your own.”

“He doesn’t need you at all! He’s perfectly capable of thinking on his own!” Shizuo lifted a fist into the air, ready to punch straight over Izaya’s head and send that silver snake flying. “Stop demeaning him like that!”

“Shizu-chan, stop.” Izaya said firmly, the dark glare he sent Shizuo’s way freezing the blonde in place. “Shinichi is right. I’m really unsure sometimes. And I usually go to him for help during those times. Right now, I’m unsure about whether or not I should still flirt with you, and I think I should trust him on this.”

It made no sense. Izaya’s sudden change in demeanor made no sense! He was acting like Shinichi’s parrot! Why was he so subservient to this man?

Shizuo’s arm dropped to his side, shaking with rage. He didn’t understand what was going on. He couldn’t wrap his head around what was happening.

At that moment, Shinichi finally let go of Izaya’s shoulders, walking confidently around the raven and right up to Shizuo. He leaned into the blonde’s face, smirking smugly at him.

“Izaya-chan is going to listen to me now.” Shinichi’s taunting whisper drilled into Shizuo’s ears. “And there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Shizuo opened his mouth to respond, ready to shout the ears off this guy, but something froze him dead in his tracks.

A smell invading his nostrils. A smell he hadn’t registered before now. One he’d been smelling all the way here that he’d brushed aside as unimportant.

One that now overcame the rest of Shizuo’s senses, blocking everything else out because its owner was so close to him.

Pine trees. The distinct scent of pine trees. Just like the ones that had been covering Izaya’s scent.

The scent that was covering Izaya…it was identical to Shinichi’s.

Shizuo stared at Shinichi in utter shock, unsure of what that even meant. How could Shinichi’s scent be coating Izaya so thoroughly? People’s scents were never that strong.

Shizuo’s own parents, even though they slept together every night, had always had distinct scents from each other. Their smells might mingle a bit, but they never coated each other. There was no natural way for Shinichi’s scent to be so overpowering.

Shinichi took Shizuo’s silence as a sign that he’d won. His smug smirk turned into a triumphant grin and he leaned away from Shizuo with a nod.

“Just remember that.” He said smoothly, turning around to face Izaya. “Now me and Izaya-chan are heading into the party. Feel free to join us if you want.”

Izaya’s face looked a little confused that Shizuo wasn’t coming with them. He kept looking back at Shizuo with a questioning gaze as Shinichi led him up to the door, seeming just as baffled about what had just happened and how the situation had switched so thoroughly as Shizuo was.

But in the end, he followed Shinichi through the door nonetheless, ready for the party. And Shizuo stood outside in shock, trying to think of the implications behind what Shinichi’s scent could mean. He had a sinking feeling in his gut like he was about to throw up. Something was very wrong with this situation, even more wrong than Shizuo had initially thought.

Shizuo’s phone buzzed in his pocket, reminding Shizuo that he’d put the thing on vibrate.

Not knowing what else to do, he pulled it out, looking at the name on his screen numbly. It was Shinra again.

Well, it wasn’t like Shizuo planned on going in there anytime soon. Not while he was still trying to figure out exactly what the heck had just happened.

He pressed the green answer button and put the phone to his ear.

“Hey Shinra. The most annoying thing-”

“Have you seen Izaya over the past few days?” The wannabe doctor’s frantic voice cut him off, a sound like labored breathing coming through the phone’s speaker. Shinra sounded like he was running pretty hard.

“Uh, sort of. We just got together today to go to a party.” Shizuo frowned, a little annoyed that Shinra had cut him off but concerned enough by the panic in his voice to let it go. “But we’re a little separated right now.”

“Was he acting strange? He was, wasn’t he?” The desperation in Shinra’s voice was rising fast. He sounded like he was about to start hyperventilating. “About Shinichi? Was he acting strange about Shinichi?”

Shizuo blinked. “Yeah…yeah, he was.” The blonde said slowly, the sick feeling in his stomach growing. “He completely trusted every word the guy was saying out of nowhere. It was like he was brainwashed or something. He did a complete 180 on how he’d been acting the instant Shinichi showed up.”

“It is him. Holy shit, it is him.” Shinra muttered to himself, fiddling with something on the other side of the door. “I knew it. I mean, I really, really knew it. He’s evil. That man is evil!”

“Shinra, slow down. What are you talking about?” Shizuo asked as calmly as possible, trying to stop the panic that was rising in his own body now. “Who’s evil?”

“Shinichi!” Shinra practically screamed through the phone. “Isn’t it obvious? He did something to Izaya!”

“He what?” Shizuo looked at the door to the party, heart pounding in his chest. “What do you mean?”

“I can’t explain.” Shinra said in frustration, a door slamming in the background. “But it involves a sort of…well, a sort of trust drug. And his scent.”

“His…scent?”

The world seemed to drop out from under Shizuo’s feet.

“Yes, his scent.” Shinra continued on the other side of the phone, oblivious to Shizuo’s turmoil. “I can’t prove it, though, and I can’t tell exactly what the scent is like. I just know its chemical signature. I can’t compare it to anything to make sure I'm getting the right scent. I-”

“Pine trees.” Shizuo said abruptly, cutting Shinra off. “The scent is like pine trees.”

Shinra was silent on the other side of the phone.

“…My god.” He whispered quietly. “He’s there with you, isn’t he?”

Those words sent a chill down Shizuo’s back like nothing else ever had before. “Yeah. He’s with Izaya right now.” Shizuo told Shinra, eyes moving to the windows to see if he could spot Izaya or Shinichi inside. “I could smell him on Izaya. Like literally all over him. It was like he’d been coated with it.”

“Or like a strong patch of it had been placed on his body to cover up every other scent around him.” Shinra said on the other side, voice heavy with meaning.

“I guess so.” Shizuo’s heart was beating faster now. “Shinra…what did Shinichi do to Izaya? What is he going to do now?”

Again came the nerve-wracking silence.

And then Shinra responded.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do.” The future doctor said softly. “I feel like he’s going to do something big soon. But I can’t do anything about that right now. I need to focus on making an antidote for Izaya to stop the effects of what Shinichi’s already done. Could you help me?”

“How can I help?” Shizuo asked, his fist clenched at his side.

“Tell me if I get his scent exactly right.” Shinra said smoothly. “And I mean exactly. I can do all the chemical testing I want, match the signatures as closely as possible, but I won’t be able to smell the thing and tell if it’s truly working. You can.”

Shizuo nodded slowly, his eyes still locked on the windows. “Yeah. Yeah, I can do that.” He said numbly, his mind going into shock over all this. “I’ll come help you out, Shinra.”

“Don’t tell Izaya that you’re coming over here.” Shinra said hurriedly, glass clinking as he set things up in the background. “He’ll tell Shinichi and then Shinichi will know we’re onto him. And he’s too smart not to have an immediate back-up plan for what to do if we find out. You need to leave now, as discreetly as possible.”

“I don’t want to just ditch him here with this creep.” Shizuo snarled, anxiety twisting his stomach uncomfortably. “Who knows what’ll happen to him?”

“He’s at a party with lots of people who know him and who’ll be watching his every move for as long as he’s there.” Shinra said on the other end. “Shinichi can’t try anything there. It should be okay to leave. For now.”

“And what about after the party?” Shizuo demanded next, still not convinced of Izaya’s safety. “What then?”

“Shizuo, we can’t fix everything right now!” Shinra roared. “You just need to use the spare time we have now to help me make this antidote as quickly as possible before Shinichi gets the chance to try something! I’ll tell you exactly what he did when you get here so you understand the gravity of the situation. But get over here now if you want to help Izaya.”

Shizuo gritted his teeth, utterly despising the idea of leaving Izaya with a snake-like creep who’d apparently fucking drugged him. But he needed to help Shinra make this antidote. And as much as Shizuo hated to admit it, Shinra was right. They didn’t know what was coming next, so they couldn’t protect Izaya against it.

“…I’ll be there.” Shizuo said grudgingly, clutching the phone tightly in his hand. “Where will you be?”

“Mine and Izaya’s apartment.” Shinra said immediately. “I’m starting the experiment now. And I’m also going to be doing some more research on Shinichi to maybe get an idea of what he’s planning. Get here as quickly as possible.”

“I should make it in twenty minutes. Ten, if I run.” Shizuo responded, slowly turning his back on the party building.

“Run.” Shinra said flatly, hanging up immediately after.

And before Shizuo could stop himself, before he let his thoughts and paranoia keep him hanging around and potentially alerting Shinichi to the problem, he bolted away.

He ran down the street and around the corner as fast as he could, heading for Izaya’s apartment at top speed.

Shinichi’s scent was stuck in his nostrils. Shinra’s desperate words were echoing in his ears. Izaya’s confused, torn face was flashing through his mind. His feet pounded over the pavement as he tore along, praying desperately that Shinichi wasn’t going to try anything. That he wasn’t leaving Izaya in danger like he feared.

That he’d make it to the apartment before anything else went horribly wrong.

Chapter Text

Quick Warning: There are no intense scenes written out in this chapter, but intense topics and themes are touched upon towards the end. Please be prepared, or skip them if you believe you have to. Thank you.

 

“He left?” Izaya frowned in confusion, face pressed against the window as Shizuo’s blonde head sped around the corner. “Why is he running off like that?”

“He probably so upset that you weren’t going to be all over him at the party like he wanted you to be that he ditched.” Shinichi said breezily, sweeping up to Izaya’s side with drinks and a smile. “Just let him go. The guy’s a jerk if he’s only willing to stick around you as long as you promise to rub your body all over him.”

“…He doesn’t seem like that kind of person, though.” Izaya muttered, his red eyes locked on the street corner as he absently reached for the drink Shinichi was offering him. “He really doesn’t.”

“Well, everyone’s wrong about their impressions of people sometimes, Izaya-chan.” Shinichi said next, grabbing Izaya’s shoulder and gently spinning him to face Shinichi instead. He smiled at Izaya, an adoring look in his silver eyes. “Even you.” He said teasingly, poking Izaya on the nose.

Izaya smiled at the action, a faint blush creeping over his cheeks, but his body’s reactions felt weirdly detached from his thoughts, still circling in confusion around the tall figure who’d run away from him. Why had Shizuo left? It didn’t make any sense. He’d even quit his weekend shift to come to this party with Izaya and Izaya knew, even after only two weeks of knowing the guy, that he did not quit his shifts for no reason.

Had it really all been a ploy to get Izaya all over him? But Shizuo was so unsure of himself. When Izaya had flirted with him in the café, his face had gotten beet-red in an instant. He’d showed up ridiculously early at Izaya’s apartment today, like any nervous teen on their first date. And he’d been really uncertain about how to talk to Izaya at the start of their date, until Izaya had gotten him to warm up through some friendly banter. The guy wasn’t exactly the shining image of a Casanova.

But…But Shinichi was saying it…

Why did Izaya believe it because Shinichi was saying it? Why did it seem so believable? They were just words, with no basis to them beyond circumstantial coincidence, but they felt so real.

Izaya took a sip of his drink, turning slightly away from Shinichi’s smiling face, hoping the action wouldn’t look too out of place when combined with his blush. He stared at the floorboards under his feet, ignoring the pounding music that had just started up and observing the flashing lights dancing across their smooth panels.

Shinichi moved closer to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. He was so close. Izaya could feel the taller man’s body pressing into his. His presence was overpowering.

“Izaya-chan,” Shinichi said smoothly, his voice deep and sensual. It sent shivers down Izaya’s spine as the raven turned his head further down, blush deepening. Shinichi’s other hand – somehow void of a drink now – gently grabbed his chin, tilting his head to face his silver eyes. “Are you okay?” Shinichi asked in concern, looking Izaya’s face over in worry. “You’re not thinking about that jerk, are you? He’s not worth it.”

He’s not worth it.

The thought echoed in Izaya’s mind instantly, reaffirming and agreeing with Shinichi’s words almost desperately, like his mind was starved for food and Shinichi’s words were providing him with a veritable banquet.

He’s not worth it.

Izaya found himself nodding, even though he hadn’t registered the action or his feelings yet. His thoughts were aligned with Shinichi’s. His body was reacting to the other model’s motions. His feelings were irrelevant to the matter.

He’s not worth it.

The words were true, like a mantra, as Shinichi pressed closer to Izaya, his scent wafting over the raven like a comforting blanket. Something about the scent calmed Izaya down immediately. It made him think of safety. Of trust. A warm place he could fall into without hesitation.

Shinichi’s hand traveled from Izaya’s shoulder, trailing lightly up Izaya’s neck and through the silken strands of his hair, eventually settling on the back of Izaya’s head. The hand on Izaya’s chin brushed down the front of his chest, moving smoothly to the raven’s waist and holding him tightly.

As Izaya blinked dreamily, Shinichi’s warmth slowly seeping over him, the tall model pulled him close, subtly pressing Izaya’s face into his chest. Izaya turned his head to the side, cheek resting against Shinichi as his red eyes closed, the raven breathing in the comforting scent deeply.

It was such a nice scent. So familiar, like a favorite childhood memory. Izaya had known Shinichi for years, since he’d started modeling part-time in high school. The scent practically was a childhood memory.

Izaya sighed in contentment, hands curling against his chest, one still around his drink, as he melted into the warmth and the comfort Shinichi always offered him.
Warmth that reached all the ways down to his bones, heating him up from the inside out. The subtle scent of pine trees that Izaya could only catch if he was right up against Shinichi like this. Those nice, calming, pine trees…pine trees…pine…trees?

Izaya’s heart suddenly skipped a beat in his chest.

His red eyes opened slightly, and stared straight off into the distance as Shinichi casually stroked his hair.

A few of the other students at Izaya’s university came up to them, asking what Shinichi was doing to Izaya, and Shinichi smoothly told them that Izaya was upset about a friend of his that had ditched him here, so Shinichi was providing a friendly hug of comfort.

The other students all seemed to relax, laughing about whatever they’d previously thought was going on, and offering their sympathies to the still-silent Izaya.

Usually, he would’ve smiled at them with his usual dazzling smile, thanking them for their kindness and sending them on their way. Now, he wouldn’t even turn to look at them, his unfocused eyes staring at nothing.

A little thrown-off by the behavior, the other students patted Izaya’s back, muttering about how it was worse than they’d assumed, and leaving after tossing out a few more sympathies.

Izaya ignored them all. The thought of pine trees was circling around his mind. The thought of Shizuo, which had still been there the entire time, was mingling with it. Shizuo had said something about pine trees, hadn’t he? He’d been really concerned about it. About Izaya smelling like them instead of those cyanide-laced strawberries he apparently usually smelled like.

He…he smelled like Shinichi? Like Shinichi’s pine trees? Considering he saw Shinichi all the time, and they modeled together in close proximity quite often, that wasn’t really too much of a surprise. But Shizuo had been very insistent that the smell was an odd thing. That the pine trees were overpowering, and they shouldn’t have been.

He’d seemed worried by the scent. Shinichi’s scent on Izaya.

Suddenly, the all-enveloping warmth and scent wrapping Izaya’s body seemed suffocating. He felt torn in half by it. Half of him was ringing with warning bells, telling him to trust Shizuo’s instincts and think about what the overpowering scent could mean. The other half was still curled up calmly against Shinichi, telling him to relax and tell Shinichi everything about what he was thinking so the silver-haired man could clear it up.

Be wary of him. Tell him everything.

The two instincts clashed in Izaya’s brain, more powerfully than they ever had before. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, the scent closing in on him like the thick, curling fog it had become.

Why? Izaya had never had problems trusting Shinichi before. He’d known Shinichi for years. He’d known Shizuo for just over two weeks. That pitiful amount of time shouldn’t be enough to shake Izaya’s trust in the man he’d always adored. The man who was too good for him, but seemed to like him anyways. The kind, considerate, smart, talented man who Izaya could find no faults in and had never bothered to. A two-week sort-of-relationship that had gotten off to a rocky start with a man plagued by severe anger managements issues and inhuman abilities should not be messing that up.

But the thought wouldn’t leave his mind. It was crushing him, just like the warmth and the scent. If he just told Shinichi, everything would be fine and this crushing feeling would go away. Shinichi would explain all of Izaya’s doubts away, just like he always did. It was a tempting option.

Izaya’s fingers pressing tightly against the plastic cup in his hand, his eyes opening again to look around the room nervously. The sounds and flashing lights and laughter and dancing and drunk singing and warmth and closeness and smells were all getting to him now. Everything was closing in. He didn’t know what to do. He wanted to be calm like before.

Shinichi could calm him down.

“I’m going to the bathroom.” Izaya announced, pushing away lightly from Shinichi’s chest and looking up at the man with a flushed face.

“The…bathroom?” Shinichi asked in surprise, tilting his head in his usual cute way as he looked Izaya up and down. “For what? Usually you don’t want to leave after we start hugging like that.”

Izaya laughed, forcing the laugh between his lips and praying it sounded as natural as he was trying to make it. “Yes, but I’ve been holding it for a while so I really need to go.” He explained flippantly, offering Shinichi a bright smile. “I’ll come right back! Do you think we could hug more then?”

He didn’t want to. He wanted to. Get away. He wanted to get away. No! He wanted to be close. He…He wanted. Wanted.

To throw up.

“Please?” Izaya added in a slightly-strangled voice, still sending that bright smile Shinichi’s way.

Eventually, after a few seconds of staring at Izaya with an unreadable expression, Shinichi smiled and nodded. “Of course, Izaya-chan.” He said calmly, dropping his hands from Izaya’s body and tapping his nose once more. “I’ll be right here when you get back, cutie.”

Usually, the word “cutie” would’ve made Izaya blush uncontrollably. As it was, his body still reacted in that manner, a small, embarrassed-but-happy giggle slipping from Izaya’s mouth without his control. But his mind was being ripped apart, and the giggle felt both genuine and fake at the same time.

He offered Shinichi a little wave, gripping his drink tightly, and made a quick beeline for the restroom in the back of the pounding house.

His stomach was rolling. He needed some time alone right now. He smiled at people he passed, thanking them for their concern about his friend ditching him (apparently that rumor had spread like wildfire) and assuring them that Shinichi was just a friend. A very close, dear friend. Nothing more there, no. Of course Izaya was straight. Why wouldn’t he be?

The usual niceties and lies spilled from him like grains of rice out of a gaping hole in the rice bag, Izaya making his way to the restroom as fast as possible.
The bathroom. He needed to get there as soon as possible.

As Izaya finally reached the tiny door tucked away in the back corner, sweeping inside without a second thought, he was completely unaware of the dark, silver gaze settled on his back, suspicion, anger, and lust mixing ominously in their gleaming depths as Izaya vanished from their sight.

He was also unaware of the owner of said dark eyes reaching into his pocket and pulling out his phone, making a quick reservation at a restaurant he knew very well. Of a smile creeping over his face as he put the phone away and watched the bathroom door like a predator stalking its prey with sadistic delight.

He was unaware. And it would cost him dearly.

***

“Shinichi is an evil maniac.” Were Shinra’s first words when Shizuo burst into the unlocked apartment, barely six minutes after he’d started his run.

The med student was already fiddling with lab equipment, strange liquids flowing through them as he checked readouts on a strange monitor at his side.

“I’ve always thought it was kind of suspicious that I had to leave once a month to help my father with something, but I had assumed it was just Dad messing things up so I’d have to visit.” Shinra said next, pressing some buttons on the monitor with a furrowed brow. “I was wrong. So, so wrong.”

“What did Shinichi do?” Shizuo asked breathlessly, standing in the doorway and watching Shinra with a racing heart, trying to get over the adrenaline from his run as he also tried to figure out the least invasive way to be in Izaya’s apartment without permission.

He hadn’t even gone inside when picking Izaya up earlier. It felt like a pretty serious intrusion of privacy to be here now. But Shinra had let him in so technically it was fine.

Shizuo knew immediately which things were Izaya’s in this room: the orderly, elegant, usually black objects that were tastefully arranged in various places around the apartment. The black bookshelf against the wall crammed with books of all kinds. The refined-looking laptop and desktop settled on a dark-wood desk in the corner, both of them plugged in and glowing with soft screensavers. Even the silken black bedsheets that were obviously Izaya’s, Shizuo’s eyes drawn guiltily to them despite the dire straits of the situation they were in.

He could see Izaya laying there, his pale limbs entangled with the inky sheets, just as beautiful in sleep as he was awake. He was always perfect no matter how Shizuo pictured him.

Shizuo’s quiet, guilty reflection on Izaya’s sleeping space was shattered quickly when Shinra finally responded to Shizuo’s question after having calibrated something on his monitor.

“He has a plan set in place to keep Izaya in love with him that will probably turn into an unsolved missing person case if we don’t stop it.” Shinra said smoothly.
Shizuo’s head snapped immediately over to the doctor, thoughts of sleeping Izaya vanishing from his mind as horror replaced it instead.

“What do you mean ‘missing person case’?” The blonde demanded, marching over to Shinra and looming over him. “You’re exaggerating, right? I didn’t seriously leave Izaya in that much danger, right?”

“Shizuo, sit down somewhere.” Shinra said sharply, spinning a few knobs on his lab equipment and turning to face the tall man. “I’m going to tell you everything I know about Tsukumoya Shinichi and none of it bodes well for Izaya.”

Shizuo froze and looked around the room for a place to sit. There was one chair in the entire apartment, a simplistic black one slid neatly into Izaya’s desk, and Shizuo pulled it out and settled himself into it, pushing all thoughts of Izaya sitting here out of his mind and focusing on the far more alarming topic at hand.

Shinra stood by his lab equipment, eyes on Shizuo, letting the liquids bubble behind him as his monitor beeped loudly.

“First off,” Shinra began, crossing his arms. “Do you know what the dark web is?”

“The evil Internet.” Shizuo said immediately, wincing right after the words had left his mouth. He was such an idiot, sometimes.

“Pretty much.” Shinra admitted, not even taking the chance to tease him like usual. “It’s the regular web’s shunned, psycho cousin. Criminals usually populate the place, selling anything from credit card numbers to human limbs and slaves. You can also hire assassins, order drugs, buy child pornography, basically anything depraved that you can think of is accessible there. There are certain passwords you need to know to access it, and different servers with different passwords lead you to different areas in it. It’s a wild place.”

Shinra’s fingers began to tap his arms, the doctor shifting nervously in place. “Hackers use it, too.” He said softly. “As kind of an information hub on the targets they’re going after, as well as a place to sell the information they pick up on targets, and as a backdoor escape route to hide in before making hits.”

Shinra made direct eye contact with Shizuo, gaze dead serious.

“Shinichi is a dark web hacker.” He said bluntly.

Shizuo’s eyes widened. “W-What?” He stammered, palms getting clammy. “No way. I know you hate the guy, but that’s a pretty serious accu-”

“I’m not the only one who believes it.” Shinra cut him off firmly, reaching into a deep lab coat pocket and pulling out an old-looking magazine. He tossed it Shizuo’s way and the blonde caught it, staring at the cover page in disbelief.

It had a modeling photo of Shinichi poised on it, his charming smile directed right out at the audience as his silver eyes flashed seductively. The caption underneath it was in all-caps, bold letters: SHINICHI’S DARK PAST UNCOVERED? SPIES, LIES, AND CRIMES!

“It can’t be.” Shizuo muttered, flipping numbly to the page the cover told him about. There was a huge article there done by a reporter accusing Shinichi of being a dark web hacker.

“He had tons of evidence, but it was all circumstantial.” Shinra said stiffly, glaring at the magazine. “And when a full investigation was launched on Shinichi, they couldn’t find anything on him. None of the evidence seemed true anymore. He was cleared of all charges very quickly and his fame practically doubled as the poor model who’d been accused of such heinous crimes, but had turned out to be innocent in the end. Everyone had raved about how polite he’d been to the police, how forgiving he was in his public statement about he reporter who’d “harassed” him and “slandered” him. Everyone loved him.”

“He was found innocent.” Shizuo said, looking up at Shinra with confused, golden eyes. “So he’s not actually a hacker, right? If the police didn’t find anything, then there isn’t anything to find.”

“You can be so naïve sometimes.” Shinra said in frustration turning away from Shizuo to fiddle with the equipment some more. “The police are absolute shit at finding things sometimes. Especially if the person they’re looking into has dirt on them that would ruin their lives if it got out.”

He looked over his shoulder at Shizuo, a meaningful look in his dark brown eyes. “And do you really think that a professional hacker wouldn’t have any dirt on the people looking into him? Or wouldn’t have known that they were going to look into him beforehand?” He asked bitterly. “He knew. And he planned accordingly.”

“Y-You don’t know that.” Shizuo said weakly, setting the magazine down on his lap. “I mean…that’s a serious accusation, Shinra.”

“And the charges behind it are true.” Shinra said stubbornly. He marched towards Shizuo, his feet slamming on the apartment floor aggressively as he drew near. Shizuo leaned back slightly, almost thinking that Shinra was about to deck him in the face, but Shinra just leaned past Shizuo and woke up Izaya’s desktop computer.

He switched Izaya’s desktop to a different user, someone called Lotus S, and banged in a quick password.

Shizuo stared at the screen, confused as to what was going on as the desktop hummed and logged in.

The home screen was a blank black screen with a large lotus flower in the center of it, a single internet icon pulsing in the center of the flower. Shinra clicked on the icon.

Instantly, the whole computer screen began to flicker ominously. A dark green window popped up over the screen, with two nameless boxes on it. Shinra typed “LOTUS” into the first one and another fast password into the second.

A black window opened after a verification symbol appeared, covering the screen. A notification popped up in the corner of the screen, listing a username and a small bio that included an appearance, place of birth, career and…crimes committed?

Before Shizuo could check to see if he’d read that right, Shinra minimized the notification. A message appeared on the black window left, welcoming Shinra to the Lotus Server.

“This is the dark web, Shizuo.” Shinra said calmly, moving his mouse to the search bar at the top. “I’m going to take you on a short tour of it.”

Shizuo felt sick to his stomach. “Shinra,” He said lowly, staring at the top of his friend’s head. “Why do you…how are you…why?”

“Izaya.” Shinra said simply, fingers banging on the keyboard. “He’s never told me how he got access to the Lotus server. He tells me it’s one of the ‘safer’ dark web servers, though. Mostly an information hub, a sort of meet and greet with other criminals. You can buy and sell dirt on here and you can find all kinds of sites that direct you to different services for hire. He even told me that there’s a dating site for criminals where you can filter what sort of criminals you want to get matched with.”

He navigated to a site called CATalog, with a weird upside-down cat head taking the place of the capital A.

“Izaya uses the dark web a lot.” Shinra continued in a bored voice, watching as a rather lively chat room started scrolling across the screen. A list of names appeared on the side of the screen, with ranking numbers by their names. The list changed periodically, displaying new names with a new job title at the top of them.

The last one had been listed as Drug Dealers. This one was Art Forgers.

“He likes finding information here. Says he meets lots of interesting people and he can always learn stuff that he wouldn’t find in a million years among the ‘normies’.” He rolled his eyes as he moved to a search bar at the top of the screen. He typed in hackers and hit enter.

“He comes here for fun, too, sometimes. He started to build a bit of a reputation since he came here so much, actually. That notification you saw in the corner of the screen is a randomly generated criminal bio that Izaya wrote a program to create for him each time he logs on. That way he doesn’t leave as much of a trail since he’s a different person each time he shows up.”

Shizuo’s head was reeling from all of this. Yes, he knew Izaya was a little mischievous and sly. Yes, he knew that there was a little bit of corruption behind that sharp smile. But…but a denizen of the dark web? Izaya? Was he really that sort of person?

“Don’t freak out about this, Shizuo.” Shinra suddenly said, glancing back at Shizuo like he’d read his mind. “Izaya loves information. I mean he seriously, seriously loves it. He loves it because it teaches him more about people and he loves people. That’s why he’s a comparative psychology major. That’s why he’s minoring in anthropology and sociology. Everything that involves the study of humans is something Izaya has his hands in at our school. The dark web is no different to him than a textbook on modern human culture. He uses it for information. Nothing more.”

Shizuo nodded slowly, still a little troubled by this newfound knowledge about Izaya that he wasn’t sure how to react to.

“He’s never touched anything severely illegal.” Shinra continued, turning back to the screen. “He just looks around at all this stuff to find out things he finds interesting and to study these people. He stays away from the unsavory sides of the web and he never lets his guard down while he’s here. It’s actually pretty useful to have a roommate with this sort of interest, too.”

“Why?” Shizuo demanded, looking at Shinra in shock. “You’re not some kind of creepy criminal, too, are you?”

“Of course not.” Shinra snorted, scrolling through the list of names that had popped up on the screen. “But it’s nice to be able to look into shady people and find out just how shady they are, you know? And Izaya gives me free access to his Lotus account so I can generally hop on whenever I want to check people out.”

He paused, his eyes narrowing as they landed on a certain name on the screen. “People such as this guy.” Shinra muttered, clicking on the name and moving aside so Shizuo could look at the profile that came up.

“Makin.” Shizuo read aloud, his brow furrowing. “Average horse? There’s some guy whose username is Average Horse and you’re worried about him?”

“It isn’t read kin.” Shinra scowled, pushing past Shizuo and glaring at the name. “It’s read hito.

Shizuo frowned and stared at Shinra in confusion. “Alright. So the character for average can also be pronounced hito. Big deal. It should be read as Makin here.”

“But it isn’t!” Shinra insisted, still glaring at the screen. “So think about that. We have two characters here. One for horse and one for average. They are read in this case as ma and kin, but kin can also be read as hito. That leaves us with two characters read ma and hito.”

Shinra finally turned back to glare at Shizuo. “There are two characters in Shinichi’s first name. They’re the characters for truth and one. Read shin and ichi respectively.” He said brusquely. “Do you know any alternate readings for the characters of truth and one?”

“No. Not off the top of my head.” Shizuo said in frustration, scratching at his blonde hair. Why was Shinra quizzing him on kanji of all things? First a drug accusation, then a proclamation about Shinichi being a hacker, then a tour of the dark web, and now a kanji quiz? What was even going on?

“How would you read the word for alone, which contains the character for one?” Shinra pressed, still not relenting in his quiz.

Hitori.” Shizuo responded gruffly. “The character for one is read as hito.”

Suddenly, he froze in place.

Shinra looked at Shizuo meaningfully. “The character for truth can be read not only as shin but as ma, in the same way the character for one is read as ichi and hito.” He said gravely. “The character for horse is read ma. So instead of reading Shinichi’s name as Shinichi, meaning one truth, we read it as Makin and change the characters to ones normally read as ma and kin.”

“Horse and average.” Shizuo said aloud, his eyes flicking back to the screen. “So you’re saying…Average Horse is Shinichi?”

“Yes.” Shinra said firmly, turning back to the page and scrolling through the profile. “The cops didn’t find a profile under his name online because he changed the reading and characters of it and didn’t use his last name. But Average Horse is an information broker and hacker stationed in Ikebukuro and surrounding areas. He’s extremely good at what he does, he’s got listed experience in chemistry and infiltration, he’s reputed for his good looks, and one of his primary skill sets is that he can get anyone to trust him.”

Shinra stopped scrolling and just stared at the screen for a while. “He’s also one of Izaya’s most frequent contacts on the dark web and Izaya met him online only two weeks before he met Tsukumoya Shinichi, who suddenly appeared at the modeling studio out of nowhere.” Shinra said quietly. “Izaya told me all about it when he was first introducing me to the dark web and when we started chatting about how long he’d known Shinichi.”

Shinra backed away from the desktop computer, returning to his lab equipment once more as the monitor displayed the results of his last chemical test.

Shinra checked them, a slight frown on his face as he scrolling through their results. “There is no doubt in my mind that Average Horse is Tsukumoya Shinichi.” Shinra announced, his eyes locked on the monitor. “The infamous dark web hacker who’s known worldwide for his incredible hacking and information-gathering skills. And one more thing.”

He added some new chemicals to one of the tubes, cranking a few knobs on the tube as he spoke this next bit. He tried to say it as calmly as possible, but his voice still ended up shaking.

“He sells dead bodies.”

Shizuo stared at Shinra’s back. The whole world was frozen. There was a strange ringing in Shizuo’s ears. He couldn’t trace the source of it. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. Everything had just…stopped.

“Dead bodies?” Shizuo repeated, his voice sounded warbled and distant to his own ears.

Shinra still wouldn’t look at him, instead focusing on the liquids traveling through the tubes before him. “Yes.” He said flatly, that slight tremble still shaking the undertones of his voice. “On a different server than Lotus, although people talk about it on Lotus. He sells bodies, typically of extraordinarily beautiful women and men, to necrophiliacs online. Other information brokers who gossip about Shinichi say that the bodies he sells are always…violated in some way.”

Shinra’s fists clenched at his sides.

“As in…as in there was some kind of sexual interaction between Shinichi and this body, although it isn’t clear if it was before or after the body was dead. The…the rumor is that Shinichi tricks these people into falling in love with him and trusting him, violates them in some way, murders them, covers up their disappearances, and sells their bodies online once he’s bored of them.”

Shinra’s head slowly turned to the side. He still wouldn’t look at Shizuo, but Shizuo could see the frightened look in the brown eyes staring off into space. “Go back to the group chat at the home page of CATalog.” He said in a dull whisper. “Ask how many missing persons cases are connected to Average Horse.”

Shizuo slowly turned back to the desktop computer. He reached his hands out, feeling like they were being pulled down by heavy weights, and clicked back to the chat screen. He typed out the question in the chat and waited.

Five seconds later, a user named Green-Eyed City delightedly sent him a link to an information brokers’ chat room. Green-Eyed City said the brokers were talking about it right now. There was a password to the room included in the message.

Numbly, Shizuo copied the password and followed the link. When he logged into the chat, he saw a sickening amount of missing person posters littering the screen. The brokers were sending in all the pictures they had of them. One of them was counting as they went along. Another was moderating the chat to make sure there were no duplicates. A few were commenting on the victims as they went along, trying to find similarities beyond the striking beauty each of the victims seemed to possess. Every now and then, someone would casually mention that they’d just seen this body or that body get sold on some other server.

The broker who was counting the reports was up to 48.

And counting.

52.

56.

57.

59.

Duplicates, back down to 57.

61.

Shizuo looked away from the chat, his stomach rolling even more horribly than when he’d arrived here.

He covered his mouth with a hand, trying to breathe as steadily as possible. His whole body was shaking. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“Shinichi has been drugging Izaya with oxytocin, a powerful chemical that causes people to devote insane levels of trust to those around them.” Shinra said, his voice distant and echoey. “It also releases endorphins in the body that stimulate feelings of love, making one fall in love with those around them. When combined with a scented pointer, all feelings of trust and love get directed to the owner of that scent. Hence, Izaya unconditionally loves and trusts Shinichi, even though he has no reason to.”

Shinra tapped at the monitor again, observing new results scrolling across the screen. “Whenever the drug starts to wear off, about once a month, Shinichi remotely causes a technical issue in my father’s lab, forcing me to fly over the Germany for several days. During that time, Shinichi breaks into our apartment, using a chloroform patch to keep Izaya asleep, and drugs him with oxytocin. At the same time, he places a scent patch with his exact scent on it on top of Izaya, so that Izaya associates the oxytocin with Shinichi.”

Shinra looked back at Shizuo, who was still staring at the floor, shaking horribly, hand over his mouth.

“Izaya then trusts and loves Shinichi more than ever before, even though his own thoughts would be warning him against it. For the last few months, he’s probably become totally unaware of the conflict with his thoughts. He’s been drugged so often that he probably assumes he has a natural crush on Shinichi and trusts everything the guy says as a result of it. I think your presence in his life is giving him a taste of the old conflict again.”

Shizuo looked up at Shinra finally, still reeling over all this information. “Why?” He asked hoarsely, keeping his hand over his mouth just in case.

“He likes you.” Shinra said immediately, shrugging. “He genuinely likes you, Shizuo. And I think he likes you a lot. So his true feelings for you, and especially your advocacy for him to think for himself, are creating conflict in the false feelings Shinichi drugged him with that make him want to have Shinichi think for him. He’s torn for the first time in a long time, and…” Here he trailed off, looking back at his lab equipment.

Although he didn’t seem to be checking the equipment itself. He seemed more like he was avoiding something. After a few seconds of silence, that something became clear.

“Shinichi’s going to notice, isn’t he?” Shizuo asked, lowering his hand. “He’s going to see that Izaya’s acting different.”

Shinra didn’t say anything. He keep watching his equipment.

“And since he’s losing his hold on Izaya, even with the drug,” Shizuo continued, horror settling over him again. “He’s going to…he’s…he’s going to make his move.”
Shinra nodded. “Probably very soon. If not right now.” Shinra said softly.

There was silence in the apartment.

“I can’t believe you let me leave him.” Shizuo said, his own voice abnormally soft, even as raw rage pulsed through it. “You let me leave him with a complete and utter psycho who wants to rape him, kill him, and sell his body online.”

“We have to get this antidote done!” Shinra cried out, spinning around and glaring at Shizuo. There were tears in his eyes, which make Shizuo blink in shock. He’d never seen Shinra cry before.

“If we don’t,” Shinra was shouting, letting the tears roll down his cheeks. “Then Shinichi is just going to convince Izaya to come with him somewhere, even if we take him away from the party and tell him everything! You being there makes no difference. Shinichi still has a hold on Izaya and he’s still going to get Izaya soon! Unless we break the hold entirely!”

“I could’ve stalled for time!” Shizuo roared angrily, surging to his feet. “I could’ve kept Izaya safe and away from Shinichi while you made this fucking antidote, and then I could’ve tested it when I was bringing him home from the party! If something happens to Izaya, I-” Shizuo’s voice broke in the middle of his sentence.

His vision began to blur as tears filled his eyes. “I…I would’ve been responsible for leaving him there.” Shizuo whispered, shock and horror racing through his veins, freezing him in place. “I left him. In danger. And Shinichi is going to hurt him. Maybe…maybe kill him. And I. Left. Him. There!”

Shizuo unfroze, storming towards the door to the apartment in a rage.

“Where are you going?” Shinra asked desperately, looking at Shizuo with wide eyes. “I need you here!”

“Fuck off!” Shizuo yelled, glaring at Shinra over his shoulder. “Make the antidote yourself and try to get it as close to the scent of pine trees as you can. Make multiple versions of it if you have to. Do all the sciency shit you like. I’m getting Izaya and I’m bringing him home. Then if we have to chain him to the goddamn bed so he doesn’t go see Shinichi while I smell all those antidotes to see which one will work, then that’s what we’ll do. But I’m not leaving him in the hands of that psycho for one more second!”

Shizuo burst out of the room before Shinra could say anything, running straight for a window at the side of the apartment building. He crashing through it, not even bothering to unlatch the damn thing, and dropped down to the sidewalk below, his powerful legs absorbing the impact. He took off at full tilt towards the party house, moving even faster than he’d moved when he’d come back to the apartment.

He was going to make it to Izaya in time. He was going to make it to Izaya in time. He was going to make it. Going to make it. He was going to. He had to!

Shizuo tore like a madman through the streets, praying to whatever sick god was watching over him that he was going to make it in time.

As he ran, the images of the missing persons files floated through his mind, one by one. Each time a new one floated into his memory, their picture was replaced by an image of Izaya.

Shizuo ran. And ran. And he could only hope he was running fast enough.

Chapter Text

“A restaurant?” Izaya asked in surprise. “Why are you taking me to a restaurant?”

“You look like you’re getting a little tired of this party.” Shinichi said smoothly, smiling at Izaya. “And it is dragging on quite a bit. So I figured I would take you somewhere else to get away from it all.”

“That sounds nice.” Izaya admitted, glancing around himself at the rest of the party, still unwilling to meet Shinichi’s eyes directly. Something still felt off, and that pine tree scent was still stuck in his nostrils like some foreboding aura of doom. He really did need to get away from this party. It was making him paranoid.

“Excellent. I have just the place in mind.” Shinichi said smoothly, looping his arm through Izaya’s and swiftly leading him out of the poundingly loud house. Izaya walked beside Shinichi, enveloped in the scent of pine, carmine eyes directed at his feet as they moved through the streets.

His thoughts were circling like mad, cycling between paranoia and pine trees and Shizuo’s words and Shinichi’s assurances. A headache had formed in the base of his skull, as though the thoughts in his mind had donned boxing gloves and started going at it, bashing up the inside of his head in the process. The urge to vomit was fainter than it had been before, but it was still there, resting heavily in his stomach and the back of his throat.

Everything felt so wrong right now. Izaya didn’t even know where to start.

So he just let Shinichi lead him gently through the city, a comforting, confusing arm placed on his back the entire time.

It only took about fifteen minutes, although Izaya hadn’t been keeping close track so he wasn’t terribly sure, before Shinichi was bringing him to a halt before a strange building that Izaya had never seen before.

“Here we are.” Shinichi said cheerfully, placing a finger under Izaya’s chin and lifting it so the raven was looking up at the building. “It’s called the Ich Lüge. German, of course.”

“Ich Lüge.” Izaya repeated numbly, his red eyes taking in the sight before him. It was a low-roofed building, painted a deep red color like dark wine, with a black lattice trim and windows blocked with velvet curtains. Its name was painted on a wooden sign in gold letters, hanging above a simple wooden door. It was a strange mixture of elegance and simplicity that seemed like it was trying to keep quiet and unnoticed. Just looking at the building made Izaya feel like everything around him was being muted. The building seemed to encouraged eyes to slide over it, seemed to pull silence towards itself and cloak itself in an unassuming air.

“That’s where we’re eating?” Izaya asked, glancing up at Shinichi.

“Yep!” Shinichi said cheerfully, smiling down at Izaya with sparkling silver eyes. “I’m friends with one of the waiters. He’ll give us a nice, quiet booth in the back. It’s a perfect place for us to wind down from that obnoxious party.”

A quiet booth sounded pretty nice to Izaya’s pounding head. And Shinichi’s happy smile was causing those old flips in Izaya’s stomach just like it had before, even though the nausea was swirling persistently around the flips.

Yes. Relaxing with Shinichi in a quiet booth was just what he needed to get rid of those unsteady feelings.

“Let’s go in.” Izaya said with a weak smile.

Shinichi’s smile widened. He gave Izaya a dramatic bow and swept in front of him, opening the wooden door with a flourish. “Let’s go, Iza-chan.” Shinichi said sweetly. “I promise you’ll enjoy it.”

Izaya walked inside the dark restaurant, glancing around himself at all the dark-red, cushioned booths scattered throughout. The lighting was provided by pleasant chandeliers, casting a candle-like glow over everything in sight. The floors were simple wood, and a few paintings hung here and there on the walls as decoration.

“It seems nice.” He said aloud, turning to his side as Shinichi came up beside him. “Pretty quiet and cozy.”

“I’m glad you like it.” Shinichi’s silver eyes glittered. “It looks like there’s only a few patrons here right now. Once someone comes to bring us to a seat, I’ll show you to the quietest booth in the house.”

As they stood there talking, a young man in a clean-cut black uniform walked up to them, a nervous look on his face.

“Sh-Shinichi.” The man stammered, his dark eyes looking Shinichi up and down. “Y-You’re…back.”

“I sure am, Tomoko-san.” Shinichi said pleasantly, smiling at the weirdly anxious man. “Could you please lead me and my friend here to my regular booth?”

The man jumped at that request, a few beads of sweat pooling on his forehead. The reaction was strange. When the man’s eyes flicked over to meet Izaya’s, the horror that filled them was even stranger. Especially once Izaya realized who the man was.

“Tomoko-kun!” Izaya said in surprise, his automatically-pleasant smile coating his face instantly. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you outside of the modeling studio. How are you?”

“O-O-O-Orihara-san?” The man croaked in shock, his face pale. His eyes flicked back to Shinichi and then back to Izaya, the man looking like he wanted to throw up. “I-I-I’m doing f-fine.”

“You know each other?” Shinichi asked, glancing at Izaya with a surprised look.

“Yes.” Izaya responded easily, returning the look with a smile. “He’s an intern at the modeling agency. He sometimes brings us water or snacks after shoots. Haven’t you seen him around?”

“I guess I’ve missed him.” Shinichi said casually, turning his attention back on the man. “I only know him from here. Isn’t that right, Tomoko-san?”

“R-Right.” Tomoko squeaked, his eyes locked on Izaya. “J-Just from here. U-Um…I’ll take you to y-your booth now.”

Izaya nodded in thanks, keeping his pleasant smile on his face as Shinichi wrapped an arm around his shoulders, the two of them following Tomoko over into the corner. Izaya stared at Tomoko’s back as they walked along, wondering what was up with the young man.

He didn’t act like this at work. He was usually fairly cheerful and active – that was why so many models liked him. He was easy to talk to and always willing to fetch anything you asked for. Sure, sometimes he got this distant look in his eyes, and a guilty, sick look would enter his face, but people said that was because he’d gotten the intern position when a bunch of his friends hadn’t. It was understandable, considering it was a high-paying internship where his job was simply to hang out with a bunch of beautiful people.

But he’d never gotten this…nervous before. All the stammering, the sweat, the pale face. Izaya had never seen Tomoko like that. He wondered if the man was sick or something.

As he and Shinichi slid into their booth, sitting across from each other in the shadowy, quiet corner table, Tomoko cleared his throat.

“I-I’m sorry but there’s a n-no cell-phone policy here.” He squeaked apologetically, looking at Izaya with weirdly-frightened eyes.

“No problem.” Izaya slid his phone out of his pocket and handed it easily to the intern, hoping his cooperation would put the man more at ease. “And by the way, thank you for bringing me those pickled plums the other day. I was worried I was going to have to snack on those trail mix packets like everyone else.”

It was intended as a compliment to settle the man’s nerves, but it only seemed to rile the man up further. He nodded hastily, slipping the phone into his apron pocket with a face even paler than a bleached sheet. “N-No problem, Orihara-san.” Tomoko squeaked. “I know you don’t like sweets and the t-trail mix was all sweet fruits and ch-chocolate, so I f-figured you’d prefer something else.”

“I think we’d like to look at menus now, Tomoko-san.” Shinichi cut into the conversation, offering the nervous man a rather sharp smile as he held out his own phone. “And we’ll be ordering from today’s specials.”

Tomoko was shaking like a leaf now as he slipped Shinichi’s phone into his apron, pulling out two small menus and placing them before his customers. “I-I assume you want the special…sauces, too?” Tomoko asked, his voice fearful.

“Of course!” Shinichi said brightly, looking at Izaya with glowing silver eyes. “The sauces here are some of the best in the city. You’ve got to try some on whatever you order.”

“Alright.” Izaya smiled at Shinichi, the flips in his stomach growing stronger along with the nausea. “I’ll try it.”

Tomoko opened his mouth immediately, like he wanted desperately to say something, but Shinichi shot him a look that Izaya couldn’t read, and his mouth closed.

“A-Alright. The sauces.” The waiter said quietly. “Do you…know what you’d like to order?”

“We’ll take a few minutes to look everything over.” Shinichi said breezily, waving Tomoko away. “Give us a little bit.”

Tomoko nodded, hurrying nervously away from the table.

Izaya watched him go, his stomach still unsettled by the whole situation for some reason as Shinichi hummed happily and began looking the menu over.

“They’re usually pretty good at checking back on their customers, Iza-chan.” Shinichi teased gently, his silver eyes scanning over his menu. “You might want to start looking for what you’ll be eating soon.”

“Right.” Izaya said quickly, laughing apologetically and looking down at his menu. “I’ll get right on that. I’ll have something picked out soon.”

He looked over the items on the menu, noting the German names of each dish, mumbling to himself as he tried to think past the pounding of his head and the swirling of his stomach. All the while, Shinichi’s silver eyes looked up from his own menu, watching him with the same dark glee as they had before.

And another pair of eyes was on him too, now. The eyes of a nervous, frightened, guilty waiter, who knew exactly what was about to happen to the unsuspecting raven.

***

Tomoko watched Izaya and Shinichi read their menus together, Shinichi’s eyes resting on Izaya the entire time.

He pressed a hand against his stomach, the violent thrashing of his stomach even worse than it had been in the past when this had happened.

Whenever Shinichi got his eye on someone new, after he’d spent enough time getting that new someone to fall for him, he brought them here. Tomoko knew he brought them here. He always messaged Tomoko right before he brought them over. He always took them to the same booth. He always ordered the special menu. And the last thing he always did that tipped Tomoko off to the evil that man had planned was ordering the “special sauces”.

In reality, Ich Lüge had no special sauces. There was nothing on any of their menus that involved special anything, aside from daily specials. The sauces Shinichi was talking about…were a specialty blend of drugs that the silver-eyed snake himself provided to the restaurant. Or more specifically, to Tomoko.

Tomoko’s hand clenched into a fist, a hard fist shoving itself deep into his stomach as sweat dripped down the sides of his head. He was going to have to do it again today. He was going to have to help Shinichi drug another unsuspecting person.

“It’s the same. Always the same. It’s no different than before.” Tomoko whispered to himself, shuffling away from the crack in the curtains that he could peer at Izaya and Shinichi through. He turned around to face a stack of crates, each labeled with a different kind of food destined for the kitchen. He pushed aside the crates of potatoes, carrots, and various other food supplies, stomach rolling as his eyes landed on a small, unassuming crate shoved into the far back corner.

He bent over and pried the lid of the top of it, grabbing one of the vials inside. They were labeled as olive oil, and they smelled like it too, but Tomoko knew better. Shinichi was simply an expert at covering his tracks. He knew how to create any kind of drug to serve any one of his purposes as well as he knew Japanese. And making those drugs seem like harmless kitchen ingredients was mere child’s play thrown on top of that.

These vials were full of potent sleeping drugs, the sort that could knock out a mid-sized moose if need be. Shinichi used Tomoko to slip them into the food of his unfortunate dates so that they’d pass out during the meal, and then…then he took them away.

Tomoko’s hand clenched around the tiny vial. Nothing good happened to the people Shinichi took. Tomoko knew that.

He’d seen the news reports every time. The people he’d drugged – people who were always incredibly beautiful, sometimes famous, and usually very talented and intelligent – now categorized as missing. Missing without a trace. Presumed dead in some cases. And in other cases, they later would actually turn up dead, or would be found in the house of some freak who’d claimed to have bought their body online.

Tomoko knew Shinichi was responsible for all that. He kidnapped those people, he might even be the one killing them, and Tomoko was his accomplice in doing so. They used the restaurant to cover everything up. The no-phone policy meant his dates couldn’t call anyone when they started feeling ill, or if they began to realize something was up. The quiet booth in the corner was out of sight of any of the restaurant’s security cameras. The crates of food were only handled by Tomoko, being the part-timer that he was and the sole person who brought the chefs their ingredients. Tomoko was also the only waiter who handled that corner table, so no one else would be coming over to check on the isolated couple. And the restaurant itself was the sort of unassuming place that people passed over easily unless they were out looking for it. Not a single cop had ever come here looking for a trail left by the missing people who vanished.

It was foolproof. No one suspected a thing.

Tomoko shook as he stared at the vial in his hand. He didn’t want to do this. He hated doing this. Sometimes, when he was working at the modeling agency, he would be overcome by his guilt because he would see pictures of the lost models he’d helped get rid of. The models who’d caught Shinichi’s eye and had suffered for it.

Anyone who caught Shinichi’s eye would suffer. Models. Actors. Regular people working part-time jobs at flower shops or aquariums. If they were beautiful enough, and interesting enough, then they’d suffer. Male or female. Younger or older. Shinichi was indiscriminate. He’d capture them all.

Tomoko couldn’t stop him. He couldn’t fight that silver snake. Not when he was making Tomoko himself suffer as well. Because Tomoko had caught Shinichi’s eye in the past, too. He’d wandered onto a website he should never have touched. He’d gotten involved with people he never should’ve talked to. Shinichi had covered his tracks back then, sent out Internet decoys and shaken those deadly people off Tomoko’s trail. He’d gotten Tomoko out of a situation that would’ve ended his life, and in return…in return Tomoko had to help Shinichi end the lives of others.

Or else Shinichi would sic those same people back on Tomoko, and he’d be dead by next week.

Tomoko looked back out through the curtain helplessly, his eyes on Izaya.

The gorgeous raven was smiling at Shinichi, red eyes glittering like jewels as he laughed at something the silver demon had said. He looked a little sick, as though he had a bad stomachache, but he seemed like he was enjoying himself. He had no idea what was coming.

Tomoko liked Izaya. He always had, ever since the raven had first appeared as a model in the agency. He was kind to Tomoko, always chatting with him and thanking him for going the extra mile as an assistant. Izaya was someone Tomoko actually enjoyed interning for, because he was the sort of person you could talk to and not feel like they were putting you down even though they were so much better than you.

He’d never thought of Izaya in a romantic way, of course. He was gorgeous, sure, but so were the hundreds of other models and actors that had Tomoko running all over the place day after day. But he was still special, somehow. The only person there who didn’t feel fake. Who felt like a person and treated Tomoko like a person, too.

Tomoko had no idea Izaya had gotten involved with Shinichi. If he’d known…if he’d known, he would’ve done everything he could’ve to keep them away from each other.

But the damage was done. They were sitting together, in that damned table, waiting for the damned sauces. Which meant Izaya was damned to hell, and that Tomoko would be seeing his picture on the news any day now.

Tomoko squeezed his eyes shut and hid behind the curtain again, the urge to vomit rising quickly. He didn’t want to do this. But Shinichi would know if he hadn’t drugged the food. He’d proven it to Tomoko before, by having Tomoko drug some dishes and not others, and then pointing out exactly which ones were drug-free. He’d wanted Tomoko to know he could tell, in case something like this ever happened.

Tomoko had to drug Izaya’s food, or they’d both end up dead. But…but he couldn’t let Izaya get hurt!

A phone buzzed in the pocket of Tomoko’s apron, pulling the waiter out of his conflicted thoughts. One of the phones he’d just taken. Either Shinichi’s or Izaya’s.

On instinct, Tomoko reached into the apron and pulled out the phone. He recognized the smooth red and black case of Izaya’s phone and registered that someone was calling him. Someone named Shizuo.

Tomoko’s heart skipped a beat in his chest. Someone was looking for Izaya. Someone…could save him.

Tomoko glanced back through the curtain. Shinichi was beginning to frown, his head moving in the direction of the curtain. Tomoko pulled his head quickly away from the crack, heart pounding even faster. Shinichi could tell this was taking a long time. He’d excuse himself to go check on the food in a few minutes, and demand to know what was going on.

Tomoko didn’t have very long.

Tomoko looked down at the phone in his hand, buzzing with that single name, that single chance of salvation for Izaya and for himself.

His thumb pressed the hang-up button before he could stop it.

And the curtain swept open.

“What’s going on?” Shinichi asked kindly, but the chill in his voice froze Tomoko to the core.

“Nothing.” Tomoko responded, showing Shinichi the phone quickly before slipping it back into his apron. “S-Someone was calling Orihara-san. I h-hung up on them.”

“Hmm…” Shinichi hummed doubtfully, his silver eyes formed into evil slits. “I want you to come take our order soon, you hear? I’m running low on time. And if we don’t get our order taken and our food doesn’t come out in the next thirty minutes, you will be too.”

The demon vanished from the small storage area, returning briskly to the table with the smiling, unsuspecting Izaya.

Tomoko’s heart pounded. His stomach heaved. He clapped a hand over his mouth to stop himself from throwing up as he watched Shinichi head back, his other hand still gripping the vial. Then he pulled back around and lowered his hand from his mouth, grabbing Izaya’s phone from his pocket.

He held it in front of his face, staring at the locked, black screen. Praying. Praying that this Shizuo person would call again.

“Call back.” Tomoko whispered, staring at the screen pleadingly. “Please. Please call back.”

He couldn’t do anything else. He didn’t know Izaya’s password. He could only answer the call if it came. And if it came in the next few seconds.

“Please come.” Tomoko could feel tears forming in his eyes. “Come on. Call. Call.”

He stared at the screen, black and unresponsive. A weight began to settle on his heart. It was going to happen again. The same as it always did.

His hand slowly lowered back towards his apron pocket. That was it. He had no other options. He could call the cops, but that wouldn’t do anything. Shinichi had fooled them before already and they’d signed an agreement with him promising not to prosecute him without solid evidence for another ten years. And if Tomoko offered to give a testimony as evidence, Shinichi would have him killed long before he could give it, and would get off scot-free. Tomoko could tell his managers, but they’d just call the cops and the same scenario would occur. He could refuse to drug Izaya, but then Shinichi would have him killed right away and would somehow end up killing Izaya anyway.

Only a direct friend of Izaya’s, some determined connection who’d be willing to go after Shinichi no matter what, could bulldoze their way into saving him. And they weren’t calling back. Izaya was dead.

Just as Tomoko’s fingertips left the phone in his pocket, though, it began to buzz.

Tomoko’s heart skipped a beat in his chest. He quickly fumbled for the phone again, pulling it out of his pocket to stare at it in shocked disbelief.

Shizuo. It was Shizuo. He had called back.

Relief crashed over Tomoko like a tidal wave. Tears filled his eyes. He didn’t care if he was jailed for helping Shinichi all these years. He was going to get Shinichi arrested for what he’d done and he was going to make sure nothing happened to Izaya. Nothing would happen this time. Not this time. It was going to be different.

Tomoko answered the call, holding the phone up to his ear.

“Izaya?” A deep voice on the other end asked, sounding panicked and labored as though its owner had been running frantically. “Where are you? Where are you right now? Are you with Shinichi? He’s a psychopath! You have to get away from him! You-”

“I’m not Orihara-san and I’m not Shinichi.” Tomoko said quickly, cutting the man off. His voice comforted Tomoko somehow. He sounded like a big, angry, potentially destructive guy. The perfect person to come in and rescue Izaya. “I’m a waiter at Ich Lüge, a German restaurant in Ikebukuro. Shinichi is going to drug Orihara-san here and kidnap him. You have thirty minutes to get here before that happens. Maybe forty, depending on how fast the drugs kick in.”

Shizuo was silent on the other end. Tomoko bit his lip, praying the unknown man would believe him. He didn’t have time to convince him.

“Alright.” The gravelly voice responded after a few seconds. “I’ll look it up and be there as soon as I can. Stall him if you’re able to. Please.”

“I’ll try.” Tomoko’s eyes squeezed shut. The tears were running down his face now, his hand squeezing the vial so hard he was surprised it hadn’t burst. “Get here and save him.”

“I will.” Shizuo promised, the call ended immediately afterwards.

Tomoko slipped the phone back into his pocket. His body was shaky again, but for a whole other reason now. He felt like the biggest weight that had ever been placed upon him had been lifted. Shizuo. Shizuo was going to save him and Izaya.

He looked at the bottle in his hand. He could drug the food like usual, but he’d use less of the drug so it would take longer to kick in. It would still kick in no matter what – it was a powerful drug – but it would take longer. Maybe long enough for Shizuo to arrive.

Tomoko swept out of the storage room, trying to hide the relief on his face as he stood before the silver demon and the red-eyed beauty. Waiting for the beast to arrive.

“May I take your order now?” He asked calmly, holding up the notepad and looking at Izaya first.

It was the first time he hadn’t stuttered all night.

Chapter Text

A German restaurant in Ikebukuro. That was where Izaya was being held captive by the absolute psychopath that was Tsukumoya Shinichi. Shizuo could feel his heart pounding as his fingers hurriedly tapped the keys on his phone, searching for the restaurant that waiter had mentioned on their phone call. Shizuo really hadn’t had the time to memorize the name after the guy had said it. He’d been too focused on the limited time frame he had to get to the place.

“It sounded like Ick Luje, or something.” Shizuo muttered, sweat beading on the side of his head as he looked up German restaurants. “Or Ick Lube? No, that’s stupid. Ick something. Ick something.”

Finally, Google turned up a few restaurants in his area. He wasn’t that far from the party house since he’d run right back to it after meeting up with Shinra, so in theory, he wouldn’t be that far from whichever place Shinichi had taken Izaya to. He just had to find the one that looked or sounded like what the waiter had said.
Shizuo scrolled through the names on the screen, struggling to pronounce them out loud as best as he could, hoping he’d hear something that sounded about right.

Finally, as the seconds ticked by and Shizuo’s anticipation racked ever higher, his tongue stumbled over a few vaguely familiar syllables.

“Ikku Luji.” Shizuo read the Japanese pronunciation guide aloud, fingers unconsciously tightening around the phone. That sounded more or less like the name the waiter had given. It was a German-themed restaurant, tucked away about fifteen minutes from Shizuo’s current location. There was only one picture of the place presented online, and it looked like a shady, inconspicuous spot – perfect for the silver-haired snake who’d taken Izaya.

This had to be it. Shizuo’s gut was screaming at him that it was.

“And I can always smell him on the way.” Shizuo muttered aloud, trying to calm himself down as he set the restaurant as his destination. “He still smells like pine trees and that bastard Shinichi will be with him stinking up the place as well. It shouldn’t be too hard to track the smell of pine trees in a city.”

After what felt like agonizingly long seconds of waiting, Shizuo’s phone beeped with his updated destination. Before Shizuo could even register his body’s decision to move, he was bolting along the street, shoving past innocent and disgruntled pedestrians on his way to the restaurant.

He stared at his phone as he ran, nostrils flaring unconsciously in an attempt to catch the vomit-inducing scent (he was never going to buy pine tree air fresheners again after this was over), sending a text to Shinra as he ran.

Shizuo: [He’s at a German restaurant called Ich Lüge. Get there with the antidote in the next thirty minutes.]

Shizuo hoped the copy-pasted name would work for Shinra as he took a sharp turn, hopping over a young girl bending down to play with some small animal, much to the chagrin of her shouting parent. He barely waved a hand over his shoulder in acknowledgement of the reprimand, far too focused on the response he hadn’t received yet.

A few seconds later, the notification popped up on his phone.

Shinra: [Got it. I’m using your air freshener pine tree things for reference for the antidote. If those are close enough to the scent, the antidote will be ready in 10.]

Shizuo couldn’t recall the exact scent of his fresheners in comparison to Shinichi’s scent right now, but they should be about the same. Shinichi’s seemed a bit stronger, but that could easily be Shizuo’s nerves highlighting the scent or amplifying it due to stress.

His fingers banged out a quick reply, the blonde bolting across an intersection like a streak of lightning just before the crossing light hit red.

Shizuo: [Should work. See you there.]

He turned all his attention on the map now, watching as his blue dot steadily approached the destination he was praying was correct with every fiber in his being.

About five turns away from the final straightaway, Shizuo caught a whiff of something that almost stopped his heart.

Something fresh. Slightly minty. A little earthy. Way too overpowering to be a natural scent in the downtown portion of Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

Pine trees.

Shizuo’s feet stumbled in place, the blonde’s head snapping instantly in the direction of the scent. A man behind him on the street slammed into his back and yelled at him, huffing as he dragged his suitcase around Shizuo’s frozen body.

Shizuo cared even less about that guy than he had the other pedestrians. He could deal with a slight obstruction for a few seconds. Shizuo had to make sure he was locking onto the correct destination. This was a life or death matter.

The pine tree scent became stronger as Shizuo’s nose honed in on it, sharpening in the air like a crisp line pulling him to the left. Shizuo glanced at the instructions on his phone, noting that they were indeed directing him left as well.

He shot off to the left, breathing like a wild animal on the hunt, nostrils flaring and feet pounding hard over pavement as the scent of sweat, panic, and pine trees swirled in the air around him.

He hopped a curb towards the end of the street, taking a shortcut based on the scent in the air and watching as the map rerouted him to match his new path. Yes. He’d found it.

Shizuo slipped his phone into his pocket and poured on his final burst of speed, sweat dripping down the back of his neck as the scent trail stifled his other senses.

He skidded around a corner, breathing heavily, golden eyes taking in the subtle, dark building from the picture. His phone beeped in his pocket to let him know he’d reached his destination. Shizuo was already at the door by the time the beep had gone off, flinging open the dark wooden entrance with force that almost snapped the thing off its hinges.

His head turned immediately towards the corner of the restaurant, to a small booth tucked out of sight of the others. There were a few patrons elsewhere who looked up at him in surprise and a bit of discomfort, like they didn’t know why a sweaty, pissed-off, blonde gorilla had suddenly burst into their eating establishment, but knew it couldn’t be for a good reason.

A waitress tried to hurry over to him, asking what was wrong and insisting that he relax a bit before stepping further into the restaurant. Shizuo ignored her entirely. The scent of pine trees might as well be a laser line directing him towards that booth now. Nothing was going to keep him from following it for even another second.
Shizuo brushed the woman out of his way, marching towards the back as though possessed.

He made it to the booth in a blur of meaningless time, hands snapping out to grab the flash of silver that appeared in his vision.

He barely registered an uncannily perfect face set with silver eyes, and the start of a smug comment from a voice he didn’t want to hear ever again before his fist smashed into the face, sending it right back into the seat he’d grabbed it from.

“Shizuo!” A new voice yelped in shock, a set of hands grabbing his elbow. “What the hell are you doing?”

Shizuo looked back and his heart seemed to settle in his chest for the first time that day. Despite the horror and utter confusion filling the carmine eyes directed at him, a sense of calm fell over Shizuo’s body.

“Izaya,” Shizuo began to say, reaching a hand out to the baffled, beautiful face. Something hard smashed into the side of Shizuo’s temple before he could get another word out, knocking the blonde a few steps to the side.

Something warm and sticky coated the side of his head, a ringing filling his ears immediately as he hissed in pain.

“Holy shit!” Izaya’s voice snapped next, muffled by the ringing in Shizuo’s ears. “What is going on? Did you just hit him with a pipe?!”

“I told you he’s dangerous!” Shinichi’s snake whispers wormed into Shizuo’s hearing next, the blonde aware of the silver-haired model grabbing Izaya by the arm and moving him behind his body. “He’s one of those anger-management nut cases who doesn’t know when something doesn’t belong to him!”

“L-Look I’m sure there’s a good reason he’s here.” Izaya said hurriedly, looking back and forth between Shizuo and Shinichi desperately. “Granted, I have no idea why it involves punching you and I have utterly no idea why you need or have a pipe on hand, but there must be something going on!”

“There is something going on.” Shizuo growled, spinning around and glaring down the silver monster. “Izaya-kun, Shinichi is a fucking psychopath.”

“Says the man who barged into a restaurant unannounced and punched a random man in the face without warning.” Shinichi scoffed, although Shizuo could see the silver lining in his eyes sharpen dangerously.

He’d caught on. Shizuo didn’t know how much he’d caught onto, but Shinichi was definitely aware Shizuo knew what he was doing.

And he was going to try to stall until he’d figured out something to do about it.

Shizuo wouldn’t let him.

Punch first, answer questions later. Izaya would understand.

Shizuo roared and drove another fist at Shinichi, the silver-haired man hopping backwards and narrowly avoiding the plowing force of destruction. A fist-sized hole dug straight into the bench where Shinichi had been standing before, right between him and Izaya.

The raven fell backwards into the booth, staring at Shizuo and Shinichi in pain and confusion as he lowered a hand to his stomach. His face was pale, like he was trying not to throw up, and his eyes were abnormally wide. Shizuo could see that his pupils were dilated and he was panting heavily.

The drug was kicking in.

Shizuo didn’t know how lethal the damn thing was, or whether it was only designed to put Izaya to sleep, but he wanted to get Izaya out of this place and to a fucking hospital before it sank further.

Which meant getting rid of Shinichi.

Shinichi took advantage of Shizuo’s distraction with Izaya again to smash the pipe across his shoulders, driving a foot into the small of Shizuo’s back right afterwards.
Shizuo crashed into the table, his fingers tearing welts in the metal as he snapped around with a roar, ripping it right out of the floor and hurling it at the traitorous snake.

Shinichi dropped to the floor with way too much grace and poise for an average model, smashing the pipe into one of Shizuo’s legs.

It messed up Shizuo’s footing a little, but not by much. The blonde reached down and grabbed Shinichi’s hair, lifting him up into the air and smashing his face forward into the model’s. Shinichi’s fingers flashed by Shizuo’s ears and Shizuo became aware of thin needles smashing into the sensitive areas behind his ears, driving a hot liquid harshly into his veins.

It burned like hell and Shizuo shouted in pain, clapping his hands over his ears as he stumbled backwards. His vision swirled with abstract shapes and glows, an urge to vomit rising in his stomach as his already-heightened senses were overwhelmed.

A silver blob with spidery limbs shot past him, reaching out to a wavering pile of black and red stones that shifted nervously before it. A weird mumbling sound echoed from the spider, with a bell chiming in response from the stones. The stones morphed into ribbons, the ribbons into a face pale and drowsy with pain and exhaustion before they melted back into indiscernible shadows.

The spider wrapped its limbs around the ambiguous clouds of red and black, pulling it into a metallic embrace. Shizuo spun in place, throwing a clumsy fist at the glimmering monstrosity. He felt his fist drive into a length of metal that seemed to buckle under the unconditioned punch, the spider letting out a harsh screech before something incredibly sharp drove itself into Shizuo’s face.

A bell chimed in panic and a butterfly wing sprouted from the shadows, reaching towards Shizuo’s amorphous body with scarlet tendrils. The spider’s metal formed a cage over the tendrils, trapping their smoky form in place and releasing another screech into the air. The bells raked painfully against Shizuo’s ears, now sounding more like they were splitting instead of chiming, and the tendrils began to melt onto the floor in small, scarlet droplets.

Shizuo struck out with his foot this time, head spinning and all sense of reason lost as his head pounded in pain, his foot slamming the metal spider away.

The spider crashed a few feet away, its body shattering and reforming with a vindictive shine, seeming sharper than ever as it crawled back onto its spindly limbs.

The dark shadows fell over in a pile, red butterfly wings retreating feebly into a miasma of black. A ribbon streaked over a deep hole in the miasma, revealing two eye-like shapes looking at Shizuo, dull and glassy like two dead garnets. There was no light in their centers. They seemed completely drained of life.

The miasma swirled over the eyes, and the shadows stilled into an immobile pile, crumpled on the floor.

The screeching filled Shizuo’s ears along with a new roar of anger, the blonde lurching to his feet to meet the spider right as it launched itself at him. Knives cut over Shizuo’s skin, the cold taste of metal burning against his heated body. He wrapped his fingers around the spider’s neck, hefting it into the air.

But the spider writhed unbelievably in his grip, and a final smash to Shizuo’s flaring head knocked him to the ground.

Shizuo roared and the spider screamed, plain blossoming behind Shizuo’s eyes as something smashed into his face again. He couldn’t hang on much longer.

And then, out of nowhere, Shizuo found himself vomiting onto the floor.

As bile exited his mouth, burning and disgusting, his vision began to clear. He became aware of warmth dripping down his face. He became aware of his face again, and his body reforming back into a visibly human shape. He stared in shock and incomprehension as his fingers reformed and a floor formed beneath them.

His legs ached painfully. His head hurt like hell. He kept vomiting, warm blood dripping down his face as his senses resettled.

Sight returned first, and then sounds, with muffled voices trying to shove themselves into his ears. They sounded desperate.

Shizuo blinked, focusing on a face nearby his that seemed familiar. It eventually formed into an unconscious, beautiful face, one far too pale to be healthy and far too still to seem like a living creature.

“Izaya.” Shizuo spat out, a little bit of vomit trickling from his lips as he reached a hand towards the face.

“Don’t touch him.” A voice croaked, screechy and metallic. “He’s…my prey.”

“He’s no one’s prey.” A new voice joined the fray, whiny and reedy. “And he’ll be awake in a few minutes, hopefully aware of what is going on.”

Shizuo’s eyes rolled up in his head to spot a glasses-wearing boy hovering over him, cleaning his head off with a towel as he frantically injected something behind Shizuo’s ear.

“Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.” Shinra mumbled frantically under his breath, pulling the needle away from Shizuo’s ear as he nervously checked a weird device in his hand. “I can’t believe he had a neurotoxin that strong. On hand. Why would anyone carry something like this on hand? What kind of psycho does that?”

“The beast was hunting me.” The screechy voice snapped. “I would’ve killed him with that if I’d had to. But you showed up.”

Shinra didn’t respond to the raspy spider, turning instead to Izaya and waving the device over him. “The antidote is kicking in.” The doctor muttered to himself. “The toxin will be working its way up soon and the anti-oxytocin will cancel out the final vestiges of his mental manipulation.”

“S-So he’s going to be okay?” A nervous voice asked, some form Shizuo didn’t recognize hovering nervously above him.

“If you called the hospital like I said to, then probably. We need to get all three of them on actual life-support. Izaya is the best off physically, but his nervous system is in shock from the insane amounts of drugs swimming around in him. He might even have irreversible damage to a few of his organs, and he’ll definitely have some damaging side effects on his cognitive processes. The other two need blood transfusions and stable IV drips.”

Shinra’s voice was surprisingly calm as he glanced over at Shizuo again, pressing another towel to his forehead.

“Shizuo-kun, can you make any sense of what I’m saying?” He asked, the cool water seeping down Shizuo’s forehead. “Are you conscious right now?”

Shizuo pushed himself onto his hands and knees, shaking his head slowly, as the world spun. “…More or less.” He mumbled out, glancing over at the silver snake crumpled by his side. “What…what happened?”

“Shinichi stabbed you with a hyperactive neurotoxin.” Shinra explained. “It totally overwhelmed your senses and threw your nervous system into fatal overdrive. Most people would’ve experienced organ failure from their body not even knowing what their body was anymore. He also hit you several times with a lead pipe which did some head trauma and he stabbed you a few times in various places around your body.”

“Izaya.” Shizuo croaked, glaring at Shinra. “What did he do to Izaya-kun?”

“Moose tranquilizer.” Shinra said smoothly, glancing at Izaya’s still-unconscious body. “But since his body was still processing so much oxytocin flow, the sedatives in the tranquilizer gave him a horrible reaction. There’s way too much medication swarming his system right now. He’s in shock.”

“Is he…okay?” Shizuo demanded, watching Izaya unflinchingly.

“He isn’t right now. But he will be.” Shinra nodded firmly. “The waiter guy, Tomoko-san, called the hospital. There will be an ambulance soon to take all three of you away. Shinichi is mostly just bashed up from your physical attacks. You broke his legs so he can’t run. Otherwise…”

Shinra glanced at the hissing snake off to the side. “He probably would’ve escaped with Orihara-kun by now.” He said quietly. “You were barely conscious when I showed up and he was crawling towards Orihara-kun. Orihara-kun wasn’t mobile. Shinichi…would’ve escaped if you hadn’t gotten his legs.”

Shizuo felt his stomach heave again. He would’ve gotten away. He would’ve gotten away with Izaya.

“Had anyone else been fighting him,” Shinra continued, looking at his monitor. “Anyone with a slightly less stable constitution than yours and any less of your superhuman strength, they would’ve been out and probably dead by now.”

Shizuo breathed heavily, his golden eyes slipping to Izaya’s unconscious form.

The raven’s fingers were twitching, and his forehead was scrunched in agony. He wasn’t waking up.

“Izaya-kun…” Shizuo mumbled, crawling towards the raven.

“Don’t touch him.” Shinichi hissed again, his voice grating on Shizuo’s ears. “Mine. He’s mine!”

“He’s not yours and he never was.” Shinra said firmly, breathing deeply. “And he’ll be realizing that soon.”

Shizuo reached out a shaky, clammy hand, touching Izaya’s pale cheek hesitantly.

It was sticky with sweat, and cold to the touch. But Shizuo could feel veins pulsing weakly under his fingertips. Izaya’s blood was flowing. He was…still alive.

Shizuo just kept his fingers pressed against Izaya’s face, refusing to look at anything else as the time ticked by.

The raven eventually heaved a shaky, unstable breath, his dead eyes fluttering open. They were the same glassy orbs as before, from the miasma, directed pointlessly at Shizuo’s face.

They stared uncomprehendingly at Shizuo, blank and dull. Izaya blinked a few times, his lips flapping open and closed. He couldn’t make sounds. His pupils were ragged. He looked pretty shocked.

“You okay?” Shizuo whispered, brushing his thumb against Izaya’s cheek. “Can you…understand me? Do you…know me?”

Izaya stared at Shizuo, face hopelessly lost and dull. His clammy fingers lay on the ground at his side, unresponsive to the world around him. His lips flapped a few more times, head rolling over to look at Shinra now.

The red-eyed raven still couldn’t say anything to the doctor, strange gurgling noises forcing themselves out of his throat mindlessly.

“Don’t try to speak.” Shinra advised, looking down at Izaya with a worried frown. “Your mouth doesn’t even know what it is right now. You’re barely conscious.”

Izaya shook his head from side to side, slowly and clumsily. It looked more like he was throwing his head from one side to the other, letting it slam against the floor with sickening thuds in an uncontrollable effort to move the heavy body part.

“Stop that.” Shinra ordered, bending down and holding Izaya’s limp head in place. “Don’t move.”

Shizuo kept staring at Izaya, his fingers still touching the sweaty, clammy face despite its jerking movements. The raven wasn’t even looking at him now. There hadn’t been an ounce of recognition in those red eyes when they’d looked at Shizuo before.

A sick feeling started to curl up in Shizuo’s stomach again, and it wasn’t from the neurotoxin.

“…I…” Izaya managed to force a coherent sound from his lips, directing his gaze right at Shinra despite the disapproving glare on the future doctor’s face. “…smell…pine trees.” He looked slowly at Shizuo, a dazed, weak smile filtering over his face. “Is that…you?”

Shizuo shook his head, still touching Izaya’s face. “No. Don’t worry. It’ll go away soon.” He promised, trying to push down the panic rising in his body.

“…Good.” Izaya breathed heavily. “It…makes me…want to throw up.”

He blinked slowly, his glassy eyes moving around to land on Shinichi’s silver form.

“…Shinichi.” He got out. “What did…he do?”

“All this.” Shinra huffed, waving his device over Izaya yet again. “Oxytocin. You know it?”

“Trust drug…Love drug…Bullshit drug.” Izaya responded, blinking again. “Am I…do I have that?”

“A shitload of it.” Shinra replied, nodding his head. “But it’s being flushed out. You’ll start vomiting soon.”

“Goody.” Izaya huffed immediately before he rolled over, retching miserably onto the restaurant floor.

“Or now.” Shinra sighed, pushing his glasses up his face and smiling weakly at Izaya. “I was getting worried. He needs to vomit all that up.”

“The…oxygen?” Shizuo asked numbly, rubbing Izaya’s back as the raven heaved and moaned.

“Oxytocin. And tranquilizer.” Shinra nodded. “I gave him something that makes his system reject them. The quickest way to reject something is by throwing up or excreting. I’m glad he can still vomit. Means he hasn’t processed it too deeply.”

Shizuo rubbed Izaya’s back as the raven shook, not even pushing himself off the floor as he vomited. The throw up rolled over the floor, a sick mixture of chemicals and stomach fluids that made Shizuo’s stomach turn worse than the pine trees that seemed to be mixed in with them.

Shizuo managed to reach out his other hand to grab Izaya’s shoulder, scooting closer to the raven and pulling him back against his chest as the smaller man continued to heave. Shizuo clutched Izaya against him, the raven clinging to his hands weakly as he shook and moaned.

Shizuo simply held him, holding the frail body, smelling the sickness and drugs everywhere around him, letting his mental processes slowly return.

Izaya still gave no indication that he knew who Shizuo was.

Another blur of time later and more forms appeared around them all, swarming their battered group like flies.

Izaya’s eyes were fluttering open and closed, the raven all emptied of vomit as medics gently heaved him out of Shizuo’s arms and onto a stretcher. They grabbed Shizuo and Shinichi as well, a set of police officers hanging back and asking questions of Shinra and Tomoko.

Shizuo could see Shinra pulling out his medical device as he spoke, waving around the restaurant and gesturing at Tomoko, who was nodding and agreeing with various statements the future doctor was making. It seemed like they were both ready to jump on testifying against the hissing, restrained Shinichi as he was wheeled away.

The officers looked severely disturbed by what they were hearing, but they seemed to be taking it seriously enough as Shizuo himself was finally hefted onto a third stretcher and pulled out of the restaurant. They’d have to take it seriously after seeing all this.

No average restaurant fight Shizuo had been in before had included deadly neurotoxins, moose tranquilizers, trust drugs, lead pipes, and knives. Shinichi…Shinichi was a dangerous bastard.

But…he was a bastard who was going to be behind bars soon. Shinra had enough physical evidence right there to give the police pause over whatever shit alibi that snake had. His accomplice Tomoko was testifying against him. Shinra already had that whole file built up of suspicions connecting Shinichi to that Average Horse guy online. And once Izaya’s oxytocin had been expelled, Shizuo had no doubt the raven would be the most spiteful, determined witness to ever speak out against the silver model.

Assuming he remembered what had happened.

Shizuo tilted his head as he was lifted into the back of an ambulance van, his eyes focusing on the red-eyed beauty beside him.

Izaya was speaking numbly with a paramedic, eyes ever-so-slightly focusing as their conversation continued, tubes being inserted smoothly into Izaya’s nostrils. Maybe they were flushing out the smell of all the vomit and the drugs, trying to help Izaya calm down and clear his mind.

The medic turned away from Izaya, fiddling with something else on a stand beside him, and Izaya’s head slowly turned to look at Shinichi.

Shizuo felt his heart skip a beat in his chest when he saw Izaya looking at that snake. He knew Izaya’s attractions to the man were because of the drug. Shinra had said so. But still…still, had it really only been drugs? Shouldn’t have Izaya liked Shinichi at least a little to be so taken in by him? What if the oxytocin wasn’t completely flushed?

What if Shinichi started talking to Izaya and convinced him that this was all some crazy plot by Shizuo or something?

Shizuo’s fists clenched at his sides, the blonde’s body too tired to move as Shinichi began speaking calmly to Izaya, smiling that stupid, perfect smile and spewing those comforting, perfect words.

Izaya mumbled back a few responses, his voice still dazed and uncertain.

The two continued to speak as the medic rummaged for an eternity in his supplies and Shizuo watched helplessly.

Finally, Izaya lifted a single hand in the air. He moved it towards Shinichi’s face, lightly trailing his fingers down Shinichi’s cheek.

Shizuo’s fingers twitched and panic jumped in his throat.

Shinichi smiled at Izaya, that smug light back in his eyes as he met Shizuo’s gaze. His eyes seemed to be bragging to Shizuo already. I won, they seemed to say as their molten silver melted into Shizuo’s gold. I won again, no matter what you say or do.

And then a scream filled the air instead.

Half the silver gaze pooled with blood. Shinichi jerked away from Izaya with a screech, the medic jumped and spun around frantically, demanding to know what was happening.

Izaya lowered his hand from the air, smiling peacefully at the medic. His dazed gaze seemed more perfected somehow, just the right level of dullness that excused his actions as a result of drug confusion. His voice was still meek and frail, but it sounded crafted to be so, inciting the medic’s sympathy. His fingers, which had been so shaky before, were dripping with blood and were resting perfectly still beside him on the stretcher.

“I was only poking it.” The raven said calmly, his face tired, perfectly weak, and pale. “That’s all.”

The medic looked at Shinichi in shock and then back at Izaya with the same expression, as though trying to judge the truth behind the raven’s words. Eventually, he seemed to give in to Izaya and nodded, advising Izaya that he shouldn’t try moving or touching anything again because he probably had very limited control over the strength behind his body at the moment. Izaya nodded in dazed, dutiful understanding and the medic began to patch up Shinichi’s face as the snake continued to screech, howling obscenities that certainly didn’t match the good-guy persona he’d been building up for so long.

Shizuo looked at Izaya’s fingers again. He looked at Shinichi’s face, and the eye that the medic was swiftly bandaging. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what Izaya meant by “poking”.

Shizuo relaxed onto the stretcher, weirdly at peace with the action. There must be something badly wrong with him.

Shizuo loved the sharp lines of Izaya’s face that looked like they could cut him any second. He loved the despicable streak of lies that permanently painted his smile. He loved the evil glitter in his demonic, red eyes. He loved the untrustworthy, bitter laugh of bells that rang from his lips. He loved the instability in the wild mind that he knew he’d never be able to pin down or understand. He loved a manipulative, lying, chaotic, toxic, little raven that had just gouged out a man’s eyeball and played it off as an innocent eye poke to the paramedic next to him.

Yeah. Yeah, there was a lot messed up with Shizuo. He was a stupid idiot who completely hated himself and all the mistakes that he’d made of himself over the years. He felt like a freak who couldn’t ever fit in properly and didn’t work in normal society.

But that felt right next to Izaya. Next to Izaya, in the raven’s messed up world, Shizuo had never fit in more.

Izaya finally turned to look at Shizuo, that dazed smile still on his lips as Shinichi hissed in the background. Shizuo smiled back at Izaya, their eyes of red and gold meeting across the van. His heart began to calm down for the first time in a while.

Then Izaya opened his mouth to speak to Shizuo, and the world stopped.

“And who are you exactly?”