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How to Feel Real

Chapter Text

Izaya isn’t in the mood to be interrupted.

To be entirely honest, there is never a good time for an interruption. The detective agency for which Izaya works is never lacking for cases to investigate or pursue, depending on the skills of those assigned to handle an inquiry and the desires of their clients, which can range from vengeance to information to simple curiosity. Izaya is one of the best on the investigative team, a fact on which he prides himself, and enough in demand that even long strings of all-nighters seem to have no effect at all on the backlog of work that piles up on him.

Not that Izaya minds the work, or the lack of sleep, for that matter. The hours he spends in front of the pale glow of his computer screen or tapping messages into the transmitter that gives him a constant link to the flood of information that courses through the city like blood through the veins of some enormous, unthinking animal are as much a pleasure for him as anything else he can imagine doing. There is only so much satisfaction to be gained from food, or sex, or any of the other blandly normal ways the residents of the city may choose to spend their time; for Izaya, the truest expression of his humanity is in drawing together the fragments of information scattered like clues through the data link and the offhand speech of witnesses or suspects alike, of weaving a tapestry of understanding from the threads of seeming meaninglessness that surround every living organism in the city. Sleep seems pointless, when he’s in the middle of the expansive, all-consuming work of fitting those threads together into the cohesive whole they were meant to be; and worse even than such trivial physical considerations is the shattering distraction that comes with the rap of knuckles at the door to Izaya’s office, and the need for him to separate himself from the play of depthless information to return to the flat light of the present.

Shiki doesn’t wait for a response from Izaya. He never has, that Izaya can recall; as the direct supervisor of all the investigators in the department, he is free to go wherever he will, and as free to demand privacy when he needs it himself. Izaya has daydreamed about taking on Shiki’s role at some future point, when retirement or politics forces the creation of a vacuum in the present power hierarchy, but Shiki seems as ageless as if he were one of the androids that handle the more mundane tasks within the office, and what lines his face may show seem to be strength carved into stone instead of the advance of any kind of weakness. Whatever shift in power Izaya might hope for is long years in the future, if it comes at all; and that means for now Shiki is free to push open the door to Izaya’s office and invade the peace of the space while Izaya is still blinking to free himself from the distraction of the train of thought he was chasing down.

“Orihara-san,” Shiki says, the slightly nasal tone of his voice giving even his polite words a suggestion of sarcasm. Izaya has never yet been able to determine if that is intention or accident; even if the former, the man applies it so consistently that Izaya can hardly take personal offense, even if he were prone to such. Shiki ducks his head into a brief nod before lifting the unreadable dark of his gaze to fix on Izaya. “Is this a good time?”

Izaya twists in his chair to pivot away from his computer screen and lifts his hands out so he can shrug with as much eloquence as words might be able to grant him. “Does it matter?” he drawls. “You can interrupt anything I’m doing for your own amusement and there’s not a lot I can do about it.”

“I would not do so for entertainment,” Shiki says calmly, as if Izaya’s words might have been meant sincerely instead of as the clear mockery they are. “I know how much you have to work on.”

“Which means it’s something really important,” Izaya finishes for him, grinning brightly enough to make up for the fact that Shiki never gives him more than a twitch of a smile in return. “Or really interesting.” He rocks forward out of the support of his chair so he can brace his elbows at his knees and tip into the seeming of devoted attention as he opens his eyes wide to gaze up at Shiki before him. “What do you have for me today, Shiki-san?”

“A change,” Shiki says, and turns to look out the other side of the door, where the mirrored glass that makes up the sides of Izaya’s office blocks any line of sight Izaya might have on the subject as thoroughly as it manages the inverse. Izaya frowns as his attention shifts to follow Shiki’s gaze and his mind flicks rapidfire through possibilities: a key witness? An interview with a potential suspect? An informant with vital enough information to merit a personal visit? He’s turning over a dozen options in the span of a heartbeat, his thoughts skimming over all his presently open cases in the time it takes the object of Shiki’s gaze to step into view in the doorway; and then a dark shoulder comes into sight, coupled with the crisp white of a shirt beneath, and all Izaya’s possibilities crumble to dust in the instant recognition he has of the uniform that matches the one under his own dark jacket in perfect detail.

“Heiwajima Shizuo,” Shiki says, lifting a hand to gesture over the newcomer’s shoulder as if he means to push him through the doorway, though he stops shy of actually making contact. “This is the detective you’ll be partnering with, Orihara Izaya. He’s the best investigator we have in the department and should be able to teach you a great deal about the work.”

Ordinarily Izaya would be flattered by the compliment, although he would hardly admit any such thing aloud. Shiki gives out praise with exceeding rarity and never for a purpose as trivial as polishing interpersonal relationships; even if Izaya knows the range and depth of his own skills, it’s pleasing to know that they are sufficient for Shiki to take note of them as well. He does memorize the statement, tucking it away in the back of his mind to be more thoroughly appreciated later, but at the moment he has more pressing concerns even than the unprecedented occurrence of Shiki praising him.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Izaya says instead, fixing his gaze on Shiki rather than on the gentle-eyed young man standing beside him in the doorway. “I work alone. I’ve always worked alone.”

“You do not,” Shiki says without so much as a flutter in his steady gaze to offer the least apology. “You regularly work with Yagiri-san in gathering information and Nakura-san has requested your help on the last four cases he’s worked on.”

“That’s because Nakura is hopeless on his own,” Izaya reminds Shiki. “I keep telling you you should throw him out and get someone better.”

“Which we are attempting to achieve,” Shiki says without so much as missing a beat. “Heiwajima-san is one of the newest additions to the roster and he needs an experienced partner to work with him.”

“Why me?” Izaya asks. “You’ve never asked me to partner with anyone before. Why can’t I work with that new trainee Ryuugamine? He looks like he might actually have some potential.”

“We’re taking into account your own previous requests on this,” Shiki says, still with absolute, unflappable calm. “You have multiple requests to go out on field work in your file, and the algorithms determined Heiwajima-san to be the best match for your weaknesses.”

Him?” Izaya blurts, and looks back to the man standing next to Shiki. The newcomer is scowling, now, his forehead creasing on frustration and his eyes going dark with clearly building temper, but his slender build and delicate features belie any kind of threat to back up the frown he’s turning on Izaya. “He’s better suited to seduce himself into information than fight for it. Do you want us to play at being hosts for the next case?”

“I mean for you to work together,” Shiki says, his voice steady enough to force Izaya’s gaze back to him. There’s no surrender at all in the force of the other’s eyes as Izaya looks at him; the focus in them catches and holds all of Izaya’s attention without allowing for so much as the possibility of any other subject. “That is an order, Orihara-san.”

Shiki looks back to the new recruit next to him. “You can make use of the other desk,” he says, gesturing to the table that Izaya has commandeered for his own purposes as a makeshift bookshelf and the chair pushed into the corner when he’s not kicking his feet up onto it. “I’ll have a technician come by to set up a computer terminal for you later this afternoon. In the meantime you and Orihara-san can get to know each other. Perhaps you might go to the cafeteria to eat lunch together.” His tone doesn’t clarify whether this is meant as a command or a joke before he turns back to the hallway. “I have great hopes for your partnership.” And then he’s moving away, retreating into the hallway to leave Izaya and his forced partner alone in the space of the office.

Izaya looks back to Heiwajima as soon as Shiki is out of sight, while the other is still scowling down the hallway watching their supervisor go. He has the advantage of height, Izaya determines, standing several centimeters above Izaya’s own not insignificant size, but he lacks the sturdier build that Izaya would expect from someone assigned to compensate for his own demonstrable lack of raw physical strength. Other than his delinquent-blond hair he looks utterly unremarkable, perfectly ordinary except for the relative beauty of his features; but even that is undermined by the crease at his forehead and the set of his frown, both dug in so deeply that Izaya wonders how often he ever lets them go. He remains standing in the doorway, still looking after Shiki for a long span of time, until Izaya has grown bored with watching unobserved and throws himself back into his chair as he sighs gustily. The motion and sound together draw Heiwajima’s attention back around to him, and Izaya is ready to catch the other’s lingering scowl with a smile he drags into lopsided teasing as he kicks himself back into comfort in his chair.

“Well then,” he says, dragging the words into lilting mockery. “I suppose I’m stuck with you, aren’t I?” He lifts a hand to sweep wide and gesture to the space of the office around them, large enough for two but filled with the collection of information Izaya has made for himself in the isolated years since he began. Heiwajima’s gaze follows the movement of Izaya’s hand, his forehead creasing deeper as he considers the rows of books and sheaves of notes, and Izaya grins wider and slouches into his chair.

“Make yourself at home, partner,” he says. Heiwajima’s attention leaps back to him once more, his mouth dragging like the corners are weighted with lead, and Izaya’s amusement spikes higher as if electrified by the other’s clear dissatisfaction. “I’m not used to working with someone else, but Shiki-sama’s wish is my command. I’m sure we’ll be the best of friends.” This gets him a hiss of air from the other as Heiwajima exhales hard into a frustrated growl, and Izaya’s grin breaks into a laugh that he doesn’t try to soften from the razor edges it finds on the whet of his tongue.

If nothing else, he’s going to find some amusement from his new partner, whatever Shiki intends.