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Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

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Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter One, Dammit

Tekichu Sosa: She That Manipulates

Though I normally don’t care for this sort of thing, I suppose that if you’re going to read this, I should at least let you know that my name is Tekichu Sosa.

The characters that make up my name can be read as Keizokuuta Sosa, or Continuing Song’s Manipulation. And it’s in that manipulation part that I would like to start this story, considering that manipulation is what has made up most of my life. You see, I’ve always possessed the ability to bend others to my will and have always taken advantage of that fact.

The things I’m about to tell you are simply to get them out of the way.

I only discovered this skill on accident. I was in elementary school at the time, and I wondered why my parents would name me such a thing. I guess you could say that it was an omen of the talent to come. You could also say the only reason I had any ability concerning this particular facet of life was due to the fact that holding a name like that practically demanded it. But I digress. The truth is, I never found out the reasoning behind it, nor do I longer even care. As far as I’m concerned, being given this name was simply an added bonus.

Being a narrow-minded child at the time, I had no real clue as to what I could accomplish with a skill like that. Some say that kids are far more open to the possibilities in front of them, and in several cases that is true. But in my case, being young only limited my ability to think in terms of practical uses of my talents. Looking back on it, I honestly only manipulated out of instinct, such as getting myself out of trouble for something I had done.

Age was kind to me, though, and I started to think in terms of how I could benefit myself through this. Still being young, I only pulled out the stops for things that were relatively small in scale, but important to me back then nonetheless. I could convince my classmates to help me out with homework assignments I didn’t particularly feel like wasting time on doing myself, or con them out of a piece of their lunch while making it seem like a harmless request.

It was during my years of middle school that I had started taking an interest in the makings of the human mind. I analyzed books on psychology and sociology in my spare time (my parents had a good amount of their old college texts hanging around, and after that the reference section of the local library satisfied me), and soon found out that people holding my particular mindset weren’t exactly common in society. By that point in time I had taken to toying around with the personal lives of people simply because I could. Even more research showed me that I wasn’t really accepted even as a minority classification, meaning if anyone knew about my antics, I would more than likely be shunned, quite possibly detained in a facility of some sort or put into some form of therapy.

Not that it mattered to me. I was a pretty self-sufficient type of person and didn’t need anyone’s approval. And if no one was going to accept me, then they weren’t really worth even viewing as others that held any form of importance. They were useless unless I made use of them, making them no more substantial as toys in my eyes.

But toys needed to be played with, so I spent the break between my last year in middle school and my freshman year in high school on developing a scheme. My goal was only to see just how much I could get away with in terms of bending people’s wills. The final result was pretty spectacular: the senior class that had formerly been filled with friends, couples, and otherwise acquaintances collapsed in on itself, leaving only a warring mass of humans. One could say it was a wonder any of them made it to graduation, but then again, I prefer happy endings.

Feeling satisfied (and definitely more than a little stuck-up), I went on to repeat the process for my sophomore year. My grand finale as a senior was to treat the staff in a similar manner as the senior classes before them. While probably not the best decision in terms of my educational value, it did keep me amused, though I was a bit disappointed by the employees of such a high class school. If anyone had any inkling that I was behind it (because I know there had to be at least one person), no action was taken to apprehend me. Who would believe them anyway? I was smart enough to keep my abnormalities hidden from the public eye. As far as everyone else was concerned, was just your typical high school student with a high GPA.

Graduation, as haphazardly thrown together as it was, left me with an issue. I really had no desire to fall into a menial job, but no particular career paths called out to me. The obvious choice then seemed to be going to college until a suitable occupation could be found. Not feeling like staying within the same boundaries, I asked for enough funds to supply for a particular trip.

My parents have always been the easiest to manipulate, though I’m pretty sure that has to do with the fact that I’m their daughter. Nevertheless, they agreed to my desire of wanting to attend school in America.

I took advantage of the time gap between the American and Japanese school systems’ runs, using the five months to locate a school in a decent area as well as expand upon my high school garnered English vocabulary. It took me while, though I did eventually decide of being a math major, only for the fact that working my way through complex equations reminded me of controlling a person’s mind. Both could be solved by going through a set of steps that would ultimately give a result. I would have gone into psychology if it weren’t for the fact that I found those around me a much better way to study human decisions and influences than a classroom. Besides, what more was there to learn than what was in the textbooks I had already read anyway?

The years went by, and I still found myself with a sense of incompletion. While it had been an interesting experience, there was nothing left for me at the end of this particular path. I could have continued on with my education; my parents were more than ready to pay for it, but I couldn’t take it. Sure, I had toyed with the people there, causing small riots and even tweaking the results of a few elections, but nothing seemed substantial. It was nowhere near practical, but I wanted to live a life that provided entertainment through the people involved, toys as they may be.

I left without attending graduation, not even bothering to pick up my diploma before doing so. A few days, a plane trip, and a couple of impulsive decisions later, I found myself taking up residence in Ikebukuro. Once again, my parents’ money was behind the affair, procuring me a decent sized apartment in the middle of the city. It wasn’t exactly the safest place in the world, especially with the recent gang activities that had developed, but that was exactly the way I liked it.

However, I took a break from live humans for a while, instead focusing on the groups of people that spilled their lives out on the Internet. People will bitch about absolutely anything on the net, their supposed anonymity allowing them to say whatever they desire without fear. I hated the way they interacted, only complaining to each other, but doing absolutely nothing about it. There were even communities for people who wanted to meet up with others to commit suicide, and that inspired me.

It would be fun to toy around with someone who held those intentions, and I went about getting myself involved through the motivation of Let’s teach someone a lesson, shall we?

I presented myself as Kakkoii_chan, buying a new cell phone to front the email account to boot. For a while, I only found people that weren’t really interesting. It wasn’t hard to tell through their words that they were simply frustrated, and not a single one of them held the real intention to kill themselves. Not that I particularly wanted to have someone die with my involvement, but I at least wanted to play with someone fun.

Not long after the start of the New Year, just when I was getting ready to give the whole thing up for broke, I found Nakura.

He was a lot like the others, only that I almost felt a form of sincerity when he told me about his story. He had lost his girlfriend to an accident, and some people went as far to blame him. He talked about not being able to come to terms with her death, particularly since almost every week his classmates presented new ways to torture him for something he had held no control over. I could see how the points from this to depression to suicide had formed in his mind, but still held on to my determination that taking your life was a pointless maneuver. All it that ended in was a person running away with no chance to come back.

I didn’t say that, though. Instead, I fed him the story I had prepared for this persona. I weaved a tale of a girl who had led what she believed to be a perfect life. Her grades were near perfect, she had plenty of friends and was well liked in general, and her boyfriend had been with her for close to three years. However, her boyfriend was cheating with one of her friends, and the rest of her friends knew about it to boot. Unable to deal with it, her grades dropped and she became a recluse, though her parents showed no sympathy towards her situation.

I’ve never had patience for boring toys, even if that toy was a fabrication I produced.

It took a few months to get this all out in the open, and we traded off banter on how much life sucked often. Eventually it came to the point where I felt satisfied with how things had progressed, and couldn’t resist the urge to propose a double suicide. Nakura willingly agreed, though I honestly had other plans. My intention rested in meeting up and playing along for a while, then forcing a nice little game of mindfuck on the poor boy to get my point across. I would just wing it from there, and could honestly care less what he did afterwards as long as I got to have my fun.

So when I was lied to straight off about the identity of the man in front of me and later kidnapped, I had the feeling the joke was on me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

In preparation for the meeting, I had gone shopping, and presented myself in attire suitable of the role I was playing. My figure was the only things that may have seemed a bit off, but otherwise I looked just like any other third-year high school student. It felt a bit odd to be wearing a skirt that didn’t serve as part of a uniform, but I dealt with it, reminding myself that it would pay off in the end.

We had chosen Nishiguchi Park as our meeting place, and crowds moved around me paying no real attention. The sky was already dyed into black, and I waited patiently, making little nervous movements every now and then. I held no real apprehension; I was just having far too much fun playing the part of a girl ready to commit suicide. There was actually a pattern to the whole concept, but I’ll spare you the boring details.

“Ah, excuse me,” a voice said, and I turned to its owner. Before me stood a man barely a centimeter higher than me, and his hair was cut close, not to mention tackily dyed into a ridiculous shade of red. I felt suspicion upon contact, even though the possibility of Nakura being older than I expected had been there from the start. I mean, I was personally far beyond my high school years. The use of the term “classmates” from his story didn’t necessarily apply to high schoolers, but college students as well. Even so… “I’m Nakura. Would you happen to be—?”

“Yes, I’m Kakkoii,” I filled in, mostly because his shitty acting was starting to irritate me. People that couldn’t lie well shouldn’t even bother in the first place. I reminded myself to smile, though, because there was some form of entertainment to be gained from this situation. “It’s very nice to meet you.” I completed my own lie with a bow, and we lapsed into the basic pleasantries of conversation to be expected from those meeting for the first time.

After a few minutes of that, we dismissed ourselves to get moving. He told me that he had been thinking about it, and he knew a good place to go for what he intended to do, so I followed. The wheels of my brain where already turning as to how to handle myself if the situation went sour, which I knew it would. There was even a blatant difference between this man’s speech patterns and the words I had read off of my phone screen so many times. I just had to wonder how things had gotten to this particular point.

I was led down a dark alley that went to an unlit back road. I was told that others were there waiting, and my practical brain started giving me a lecture as to how much of an idiot I was being. Rumors about human traffickers weren’t hard to find these days, and I had no doubt that that was where this whole thing was heading. I wasn’t doing anything about it, though, only because a morbid curiosity told me to roll with it and see where I ended up at.

I stared down the van with its trunk popped, and some dirty blond kid sat there. It didn’t take a genius to pick out the odd smell in the air that obviously belonged to something bad, and I recognized the tang of chloroform soon enough. I considered running, but my lack of any real means of defending myself stopped me. I could definitely outrun one of these guys, maybe both, but I knew the van would catch me without difficulty. And starting a fight didn’t seem too favorable, either. So I did what seemed most logical at the time.

I let my legs collapse underneath me, feigning unconsciousness, and allowed my kidnappers to take me with them.

The trip was boring, particularly since I had act like I wasn’t awake and the people carting me along were obviously assholes with nothing of interest to talk about, so I’ll skip that. Besides, things don’t get interesting until we reached the drop off point. My kidnappers stopped the vehicle, popped the trunk, and waited for whoever they were going to hand me off to. The smell of cigarettes stained the air, and I waited, hoping I wasn’t a total idiot for getting myself into this situation.

Then a bunch of things happened, but since I was kind of keeping my eyes closed, I can only give you the sounds they made as a description: pounding footsteps, cursing, some unknown weight landing on top of the van, breaking bones, bodies collapsing. Whoever was in charge of the wheel started up the engine (trunk still open mind you), and a heavy footstep landed in front of my face. The smell of chloroform made itself known again, and the next sound I could hear was that of struggles, which ultimately died down to submissive groans. The engine was shut off.

The following silence stunned me, but then I realized that this was a pretty damn good time to try to escape. I opened my eyes to parking garage, which was definitely disadvantageous for me, but at least I only had to deal with one person in this case as opposed to three. Then again, this one person had taken down said three in a matter of minutes, but still. It wasn’t like they were guaranteed to be an enemy, since they had for all purposes just rescued me. So I silently sat up, turning to look at my savior—

—and instantly knew this was real. I didn’t have to see his face; I knew this had to be Nakura. I didn’t really know what to do, but if he had gone through all the trouble to put something like this together, he was at least worth talking to. I stared at his back for a moment, finally deciding on reaching out. My fingers slowly closed around the fake fur lining of his jacket.

“You’re the real one, aren’t you?” I asked, but he didn’t even jump. I waited for a response, hoping that I wasn’t about to get myself into even more trouble. Eventually he raised his hands like some guy in an old western movie. Sure, it was more of a mocking gesture than anything, but I still held a fleeting sense of control over the situation. That’s right. Put ‘em up, dammit.

“Looks like you caught me,” he casually remarked, his tone light. I felt the lilt in his words, and it matched up so perfectly with memories of text on the screen. “Shall we go somewhere more accommodating? That is, if you’re willing.” I pulled my hand back, and Nakura turned around, propping himself on the back of the car seats, leaning across them.

His face was the kind that probably made most people squirm uncomfortably. That wasn’t something you could describe in features; it was just what you knew it did. His hair was black, short, and slightly choppy, and his eyes were an off shade of brown. A lazy smirk was on his lips, and he seemed more amused than anything, like he was happy that I was challenging him like this.

I know I shouldn’t have trusted him at all, but the odd thing was that I did. Anybody else would have had some alarm going off in their head telling them that he was dangerous. And I supposed that I had that going off as well, the difference being that I didn’t care. He sat there, waiting for my reply, taking no hostile actions towards me. So of course I was going to accept his request. There was one main factor that influenced it all, taking my rationale far from the realms of normality. A single thought that inspired me beyond what any other person in the world could feel.

He’s just like me.

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter Two, In Succession

Orihara Izaya: He That Retaliates

I really shouldn’t bother, but for the sake of consistency I will introduce myself as Orihara Izaya.

I won’t bother talking about my past. I won’t bother bringing up any of the nitpicky details that lead me to this point in my life. All you need to know about me to continue the telling of this story is that I hold a job as an information broker, I also share an interest in playing around with humans, and my original plan for the girl I only knew then as Kakkoii-chan took more than a few diversions along the way.

At the risk of sounding like a “creeper” (as she would so blatantly state to me on many an occasion later), I will admit that I watched the entire thing. I watched as Kakkoii waited with her timed nervous ticks, and I watched as she acquainted herself with the person standing in for me. I followed when they left their meeting place, and I listened as the girl was taken hostage. And it was at that moment I had a consideration.

I had no plan to pick her up myself, but the moment pushed me into it. The way she had regarded the man posing as Nakura with suspicion had piqued my interest, and I felt a much more personal touch was required. And while it was really much more of a hassle for me overall, I figured it would be worth it in the end. So instead of calling an associate of mine to run pick-up, I made my way to the drop off location myself.

Anything she didn’t account for in detail was of my doing: it was really a simple process of taking out the kidnappers. The first two I dispatched with basic melee (which really wasn’t my style, but I digress), and the driver was drugged by his own chloroform that had been sitting idly on the back seat when I entered the car. It was at that point that my focus shifted to Kakkoii-chan herself, mostly on the issue of where to take her that wouldn’t mind an unconscious body for a while. I could have gone to my apartment, but that was far too much travel time for something like this. That concern was negated when fingers took hold of the hood on my jacket.

She inquired if I was the real Nakura, and I told her as such. I even extended an offer to relocate ourselves, but she gave no answer, only released me from her hold. I turned around to make myself comfortable against the back seat, and looked down at her. Her dark brown bangs were haphazardly tossed together, parts of her forehead visible in the gaps. The two locks that fell off either side of her head extended slightly past her chest, but the rest of it was cut off so that it barely made it to her shoulders. Her eyes stared up at me, and in the parking garage lights I perceived them to be orange.

I really questioned the type of idiots they were hiring to traffic humans nowadays. She had obviously faked passing out to be conscious now, though depending on her acting skills they may not have noticed. But natural fainting was nowhere near as reliable in terms of time, and I would have drugged her anyways for safety. They hadn’t even restrained her, and I considered telling their employers to really think about who they put on payroll. By the time this was over, these three would need to find some other illegal way to make their living.

“I’m okay with going somewhere else,” she answered in response to my offer, and I launched myself over the back of the seat, past her head, and landed smoothly on the pavement. She turned around and slid out of the trunk with grace. If she was impressed by me at all, her expression gave no indication. Nor did she react to the unconscious kidnappers on the ground, let alone the small puddles of blood that formed around them. I would make sure the bodies were gone by the next morning, but the stains would definitely give the office workers something to talk about.

I began the assent up the side stairwell, and she followed me without question. Eventually we reached the top level of the parking complex, and I spun in a circle on my way over to the edge. I leaned against the small cement wall, and Kakkoii took a spot against the side of the structure that sheltered the stairs. She looked me over in earnest before asking the question.

“Well then, care to tell me why you did it?” Her voice held no hostility or even fear towards me, which was unusual. This definitely wasn’t the first time I had done such a thing, but no one had ever taken it so calmly. In fact, the only emotion I could even place on her at the moment was a morbid form of curiosity.

“Judging from how you’re taking things, I’ll assume you’ll understand what I mean, so I won’t mince words,” I stated. “I love humans, every single one of them, no real exceptions.” I neglected bringing up the exception, since I highly doubted she would care. “I love them because they’re fascinating. The way they react, the way they cluster together, the way they fall apart… The list goes on and on, really.” I shrugged as Kakkoii paused to consider what she had just heard.

“Well, that’s my reason in a nutshell. But you obviously had some other intention since I highly doubt you want to kill yourself. So then, why’d you do it?” She tilted her head, thinking some more. Eventually, she replied.

“Well, if you love humans, I guess it’s safe to say I hate them,” she said, no real hesitation. “I mean, they’re fascinating from afar, but once you get into close range, they’re truly disgusting creatures. They claw over each other for their own desires, and then when things fall out from under them, they wonder why. When things get bad they collapse and whine and bitch, but they hardly ever do anything about it. I honestly can’t stand how useless they are when you break it down.

“They’re still fun to mess with, though, I’ll admit that. They’re toys; it’s as simple as that. So in answer to your question, I did it to have something to play with.”

She wasn’t lying, or if she was, she was pretty good at it. But I believed it, because who would want to lie about having a mentality like that? Who would want to pretend to be something so obviously out of even the deviant bounds of society? Not even someone desperate to be different would go that far.

“What’s your real name?” I asked. I held my own curiosity about this woman, and calling her by a name given through a false relationship didn’t do her justice.

“How rude,” she remarked, “tell me yours first.” I could feel my smirk turning into something more like a smile and took no means to stop it.

“Orihara Izaya,” I provided without hesitation. I didn’t particularly enjoy the thought of being called by my false name either. That was a name for people to remember when I had destroyed them, not when there was a form of similarity. Besides, I wasn’t about to let the owner of that name take credit for this. “Forgive my impatience. May I have your name now?” I wasn’t irritated in the slightest; I was having far too much fun for that.

“Tekichu Sosa,” she told me, and I blinked. Was she serious? Who had a name like that? It just seemed far too convenient with the circumstances. But she must have had that reaction quite often since she was giving me a highly stern look; almost like question me, I dare you. I did no such thing, only testing it out in my brain, taking the name to the person.

“Well, that’s only a bit unusual,” I commented, and her eyes narrowed in my direction.

“Look who’s talking,” Sosa shot back. “‘Orihara Izaya,’” she repeated, rolling her eyes. “Let’s just get the fact that we both have weird names out of the way and deal with it. By the way, I’d wash that chloroform off your hands; it seriously stinks.” I gave no response, just stared, because I had gotten adjusted to it by now, not to mention there was a slight breeze that should have blown all other traces of the scent away.

I was just about to question what kind of unnatural sense of smell she had, but there was no time. Sosa had already started to walk towards the stairwell, tossing a small wave in my direction before she turned the corner. I thought about following her, but the sound of the door slamming deterred me. I remained where I was, my initial concern being that the kidnappers many floors down might have started to wake up, but I doubted it. I slumped down against the wall, exhaling a heavy sigh into the night air.

“Who names their kid manipulation, anyways?”

Within Ikebukuro, all of Tokyo really, there are groups known as “color gangs.”

The concept is relatively simple. They’re just like gangs you can find anywhere. They use a color as their symbol, and that’s how you know who they are. They essentially died off after two gangs faced off in what could be considered war between their heads. I’ll admit that I had a little bit to do with that one, but that’s a story for a different time. Not many gangs gather anymore, mostly because the police are more than a bit wary of groups of people hanging around in the same color. But that’s not really a problem if you’re colorless.

There is a gang known as the Dollars, though calling them a gang is a bit crude. When you get down to it, the Dollars is a group of people who predominately know each other only through their website. It’s a password protected thing, but once you get that, you’re essentially in. They don’t go around trying to expand their power. They don’t take on other gangs. Most of the members don’t even know who the leader is, and that leader doesn’t give orders. Even so, rumors go around that say a number of untrue things about the organization, and they’re quite a formidable force in the eyes of many people.

It wouldn’t be untrue to say I had something to do with that.

It started off as a small organization, but soon enough plenty of people found their way to the password. The member count went up as people passed the information along to their friends. It can almost be considered as its own society; the members act as parts of the Dollars because they want to. They aren’t forced into membership. They accept of their own free will. They can leave of their own free will. No one is stopping them from doing otherwise. But most people stay, and the amount of members continues to grow to this day.

It wouldn’t be untrue to say I had something to do with that particular detail either.

I say this because, as an active member of the Dollars, they’re obviously going to play a part in this. Not to mention, if it weren’t for them, there really wouldn’t be a story to even tell.

Decent amounts of the people I associate with personally on a regular basis possess Dollars membership. This isn’t really a coincidence, but what can I say? Putting them in the Dollars ultimately benefits me, so why not? That was the reasoning behind the invitation that I sent to Sosa roughly a week after our meeting.

The invitation is a relatively simple one. It poses the question of Do you want to join the Dollars? and you have your choice of answering yes or no, or just ignoring it altogether. It does almost seem like a practical joke when you look at it, but people respond to it, so it doesn’t really matter in the end. If the person answers “yes,” they’re given the link to the site and the password. If they answer “no,” I send their reply to the trash.

Which is why when I came back to the email interface I had sent the message from after going through some work, I was utterly confused to see Sosa’s reply of one word, and it wasn’t an answer to the question.


I stared down my own name written on the screen, not knowing how to react. It was true I used the same email as the Nakura account for most of my Dollars affairs, but I had taken into account that she already knew of it and used an alternate account. It wasn’t that I particularly cared if she knew about my membership. I had been planning on meeting her through the message boards anyway, assuming she would have the same username as our previous talks. And even if she didn’t, I still used the same name, anyway. She’d be bound to recognize me.

I tried to think of a suitable reply, and while I failed at that, another message presented itself on screen.

What? No response? I know it’s you, Izaya. You’re the only one that has this address, and anyone else I’ve talked to through it has been blocked.

I picked apart the logic in her statement. If no one else had the address, that meant she had started a new account to do things from. That was reasonable, but from our talks I knew she had used the text interface, meaning she had probably purchased a new cell phone to front it. I didn’t understand why she would bother. Why would you go through so much trouble for something only considered a game?

After a moment’s consideration, I realized that I would have done the exact same thing if I had thought about it differently.

Are you not going to talk to me until I answer your question? Fine, I’ll join the Dollars. Happy now? Now respond to me, dammit.

I sent her the Dollars information, then logged out to re-sign in as Nakura.

This time, I was the one standing in the middle of the crowd waiting for her to show up.

She had caught me, which in relative terms meant that I had lost. And if you were talking about things with that logic, I guess you could say I had lost our first meeting, too, since she had gotten the last word. And now I was waiting for her because she had insisted that we meet again. She wanted to talk to me with no other prerequisite than we were of similar minds, the rest of our former lies forgotten.

I had complied with this because I did want to keep in contact with her, though I hadn’t planned on doing so this soon. But the opportunity to get into this woman’s mind was there, so I took it. Plus if I needed her assistance in anything else, even if that assistance was just using her to further something else, making some more of association with her definitely wouldn’t hurt.

“Oi!” a voice called, and I turned to see Sosa running over to me. My eyebrows shot up on sight, mostly because her attire was completely different than what I had seen before. Sure, I had expected something different, but I didn’t understand where this came from at all.

Her top was a dark purple, sleeveless and form-fitting, the thin layer of cloth covering two-thirds of her neck as well. Her pants hugged her hips in black, the entire ensemble giving me a better view of the figure she had tried to conceal in our previous encounter. The odd thing was both her torso and legs held host to bright red cords that twisted their way around her form. Her lower arms also sported smaller versions of the accessories, marking crosses on dark blue backdrops.

“What are the cords for anyway?” were the first words out of my mouth, skipping straight over the greetings. Sosa kept hold of her smile, but I figured she was probably used to that question.

“What do you think the cords are for?” she cheerfully asked, avoiding giving me an answer.

“I’m not answering that.” I wasn’t about to give her something she could use against me. I had enough of being at a disadvantage around this woman from the last two sets of interactions. She may not have fully viewed things with the same air as I did, but I wasn’t about to go home without being overall victorious.

I refused to lose at my own game anymore.

I watched as her smile turned into smirk much like my own. “Why not? I already know you’re an ass, Izaya-kun.” I ignored her casual use of my name and the “kun” that followed in favor of observing her bluntness. Depending on how she used it, she could really hurt someone like that. Not me, of course, but there were plenty of weaker humans that would fall apart if forced to face down something like that.

“I don’t know why, but I actually think that’s an attractive quality,” she continued, and I must have made a face since she cocked her head to the side. “What? Oh, I get it; you’re used to people being afraid of you, so when someone compliments you it’s a surprise. Darn shame, considering you’re an attractive man. Then again…” She trailed off as her hand reached towards me, though I think it was subconscious. When I stopped her hand in mine, she stared at where they met like she didn’t know how hers had gotten there.

“Enjoying yourself picking me apart, Kakkoii-chan?” I questioned, the nickname coming from my lips with ease. Her expression automatically soured, and her eyes narrowed at me. I still had no idea where that orange could have possibly come from; it had to be colored contacts.

“That’s not my name.”

Her tone actually seemed angry, which was a first. It appeared as if I had the upper hand at the moment.

I did consider her name, though, and wondered what it was that stopped me from saying it. Her parents had obviously been mental to name her that, but I knew that was nowhere near the issue. It was just its meaning that threw me off, the thought of giving someone a title like Manipulation that almost signified that she was better than me.

And that was ridiculous. Not calling her by her name because it seemed like I was admitting she had won. My competitive side was taking things way too far.

“Sosa-chan…” I relented, mostly because I couldn’t take the thought of having a name stop me. Her expression lightened up instantly, her features smoothing out, just like nothing had happened. I decided to keep conversation moving as to stay in control. “What were you saying?”

“Oh, not much, really,” Sosa stated, and I watched as a grin formed that probably unnerved lesser people than me. “I was just saying that with that horrible personality of yours goin’ on, I’ll probably be the only person willing to put up with you.”

I suddenly remembered that my hand was holding hers and pulled it away.

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter Three, I Suppose

Tekichu Sosa: Coinciding Interest

So by some standard, apparently the next stage in this… relationship-thing or whatever the hell you want to call it was for me to visit his home.

Well, I didn’t originally intend to end up at his home. But one of the things I had forced Izaya to talk about the previous meeting was his work. I had learned about his business as an information broker, and held some interest, particularly when he explained that it allowed him to keep tabs on most of the going-ons in Tokyo. I automatically could see the possibilities a job like that held, and asked no questions concerning his inspiration to take part in such a profession.

Of course this led to inquiry about my line of work, and I was forced to admit my actual lack of a job. I explained how nothing captivated me enough to even attempt it, and how my parents both held professions in the medical field, leaving me with no pressure to obtain one. Even if they didn’t supply me money, I was pretty sure I could extort any necessary cash off of some suckers. Somehow the conversation had ended in him offering me a job.

He gave me the address for his office at the end of the night, telling me to stop by the next day if I was interested. I ultimately ended up at a multi-story building all the way in Shinjuku the next morning, and entering the door with the number he had given me granted me admittance to a penthouse, which also happened to be his home.

So yea, the next stage was me visiting his house.

I frankly gaped at the place because there really was nothing else I could do. The ceiling rose high enough to accommodate for two floors, and a second tier rested above my head with various doors lining one of its walls, which I assumed held bedrooms. To the right was a small kitchen lined with a nice set of appliances, and a large black couch that formed an “L” shape, accompanied by a few other chairs, sat comfortably by a small coffee table. The other table I assumed served as his desk had three parts to it, the center part perpendicular to the other two ends. There rested a none-too inexpensive computer set, as well as a small laptop. Bookshelves lined the walls, with the exception of the one that rested behind his desk. It was entirely panels of windows, from the black carpet to the high up ceiling. The view was nothing to scoff at, especially since this particular residence was on the top floor of the building.

I wondered where a single man in his early twenties got enough money to afford a place like this, and then I remembered the extortion option. I decided not to even bother asking.

“Ah, so you decided to come,” Izaya’s voice remarked from behind me, and I turned from where I was standing in the middle of the room to see him descending the stairs. He was dressed in all black like before, but the absence of his fur-trimmed jacket let me see that the long-sleeved shirt he wore clung to his body. “I thought you would, though I’ll admit I didn’t expect you this early. You’re just full of surprises, Kakkoii-chan.” By the time he had finished he was standing beside me, and he spread out his right arm in an overdone gesture. “Welcome to my office and, as you may have guessed, my home.”

“That’s not my name,” I stated, just like I had done the previous night when he had called me that. “No offense, Izaya-kun, but if you’re seriously considering my employment, would you at least put some effort into learning my name? I think I deserve at least that amount of respect.”

“‘Respect,’ she says,” Izaya remarked, strolling over to his desk and depositing himself comfortably on the expensive looking chair there. “Please, take a seat wherever you like.” The offer was accompanied by another gesture that indicated the rest of the room. I walked over to a small table that was shaped the same as the couch and settled myself on one of the stools there. Izaya sat with his elbows on the table in front of him, chin resting on a small bridge formed by his intertwining fingers. “So let’s see if I understand what’s going on here. A woman who skips over the most common courtesy of referring to those she has just met by their family names and ‘san’ is now requesting that someone treat her with respect.”

“Such measures are done out of habit and because they are perceived as right, just like the majority of actions taken en masse by society,” I remarked, sprawling across the table. “Referring to people as such only shows a simulation of respect, and there are few people who would do so if they weren’t raised to do so.” My left hand twirled through the air as I spoke. “Take the Americans for example; they have no such pretenses. They go for a sense of familiarity right of the bat. I’m not saying which way is right, but since I hardly associate with anyone that I don’t have an interest, I treat them with supposed familiarity from the start. I don’t like being treated with false respect, so I don’t treat people as such, even if they’re no better than trash.”

“So you’re saying nothing I tell you otherwise will deter you from referring to me as ‘Izaya-kun.’” I formed my raised hand into a thumbs-up towards the information broker. “And I’m the enigma of society?”

I let out a small laugh, not meeting his gaze. “I never denied being an enigma, Izaya-kun, I just pointed out the fact that you were first. Would you rather I call you ‘chan’?”

“And I’m to understand that you only want me to refer to you by some form of your real name as opposed to your online alias and since ‘Tekichu-san’ is clearly out of the question… So ‘Sosa-chan’ it is,” he deduced, ignoring my question. I flashed another thumb to show my approval before dropping my arm back down. “Now, about this job…”

I straightened up in my seat, trying not to totter off the edge as I did so. I ultimately resorted to taking my elbow to the table and resting on my palm since there was no back to lean against. “What do you want me to do, fill out a résumé?” I asked in monotone. There wasn’t too much I could do if he did, considering the only thing of merit I could note would be the few small acting jobs I had done out of boredom back in the States. I couldn’t even cite my education since I had never officially acquired my diploma.

“No offense, but I don’t think I could find what I’m looking for on a résumé.” Izaya’s features held a smirk, and I realized it must have been his default setting. “What I desire out of an employee is something I’ve never really considered, mostly because I’ve never had a real need to properly hire one before. Honestly, I’m all there more than willing to give you the job on the spot, simply because it would allow me to study you better.” He paused here, and I figured he was only being melodramatic. “Does that bother you?”

“What bothers me is that you don’t think I’ll realize that you’re lying,” I responded, and he didn’t reject my statement. I kept going. “We’re similar, Izaya-kun. Part of me is taking this job because I need some form of occupation. The other part of me is taking this because you interest me. And while I want to watch you, I want to play with you, too. I assume you have similar motives.” The way his smirk grew let me know that he was aiming for a response like that from the start. “But I’m okay with that as long as you permit me the same opportunity.”

“Are you really just viewing me as another…? I do believe people are ‘toys’ to you, correct?” Izaya asked, mock hurt lacing his tones. I considered it.

“Yes, but you’re a much more advanced and engaging model than the rest.”

“Another question, Sosa-chan. I have intentions for this city that are currently beyond the scope of anything you can imagine. Granted, these intentions are nowhere near pure, but you probably didn’t expect them to be. By hiring you, I’m trusting you keep any pieces of information I ask you to keep secret as such. I’m fairly certain you can manage that; I just want to know you agree to do so no matter what the situation is.”

He seemed fairly serious, and I wanted to know what he could possibly be planning that required a secure agreement like that. Curiosity was its own enticement to agree, but there was one thing I wanted to be sure of before I got myself involved.

“Izaya-kun, do these intentions of yours allow some space for me to play with the humans as well?”

Izaya paused to consider it. “If that’s your deciding factor, I’m quite sure that could be arranged.”

“Well then,” I remarked popping off of the stool and practically skipping across the meter that separated me from the front of his desk, grinning. “If that’s the deal we got going on here…” I placed a palm on the smooth surface and leaned down to look my potential employer in the eye. “…you’ve got yourself one half of the contract taken care of considering I really don’t give a damn about perceived the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ taken on by society.” Izaya smirked before speaking the words that made up the other half necessary to get this show on the road.

“You’re hired.”

Just because I had a job that gave me insight to the majority of workings in the city, that still didn’t mean I couldn’t find out some things by myself. The fact that Izaya’s residence was in Shibuya as opposed to my lodgings in Ikebukuro presented the fact of what a pain it was to travel back and forth all the time. The compromise was that I only had to go in every other day with the exception of having Sundays off and that he could call me in whenever he saw fit if the situation called for it. Considering the pay I was getting, it was a pretty sweet deal.

However, not even two hours into my first day off, I found myself in perpetual boredom with nothing better to do in my home than lie on the floor in the middle of the living room and stare at my rather uneventful ceiling. This was nowhere near a satisfactory use of my time, so I forced my lazy ass up with the intention of exploring the city for something fun.

Despite how many months I had spent there, I had wasted most of my time as a shut-in parading the Internet. Thus, my immediate knowledge was limited aside from the paths that took one from my apartment to any of the closest restaurants and convenience stores. Aside from that and the main attractions anyone would know about, I lacked familiarity with the city that now served as my home.

After realizing I had no clue where I was when I had barely started my excursion, I decided I should probably memorize the place before getting myself into any more trouble.

There were plenty of teenagers that made up the crowds, and I suddenly realized that it was indeed March, and they must be on break before the school year started up again. That meant I had spent nearly a year in that apartment, taking advantage of nothing in the real world around me. Ikebukuro buzzed with an energy that I had been missing out on. I hoped whatever Izaya had planned was good enough so I could make up for the lost time.

“Well you’re an incredible sight!” a voice exclaimed, and I looked to see a blond boy beaming at me. His brown eyes were flecked with enthusiasm, and there was no way he was any older than high school age. “Such a way to stand out, not that your fantastic looks don’t do that already! It’s a miracle that you’re alone. Must be my lucky day. So what do you say we stop for some lunch so I can get to know this fascinating lady, huh?” The speech was completed with a wink, and I came to the insight that he was hitting on me.

It just so happened that it was time for lunch, and I had been wandering for a couple of hours. I was pretty hungry, too, and I figured that this boy was worth one run before he bored me. I smiled. “Lunch sounds good,” I lightly remarked. “Did you have a particular spot in mind?”

The boy stared at me, and I guessed he had probably been attempting to pick someone up for a while. He must have had limited luck, so me agreeing was a surprise. He broke back out into a smile in no time, extending his hand in an offer. “Of course! If you’ll follow me I can show you. Oh, but could I have your name first? I’m Kida Masaomi.”

I considered it, figuring that the chances of be running into this kid again were low, so it wouldn’t hurt to give him my real name. Not to mention he had enough manners to introduce himself first. “It’s nice to meet you Masaomi-chan, I’m Tekichu Sosa.” If he had a thought about my name he didn’t voice it, instead choosing to sporadically lead me off through the streets.

We eventually stopped at a small café, and took seats at one of the outdoor tables. We both placed our orders, and I only smiled up at the waiter when I caught him giving me an odd look. Apparently that was enough to discomfort him since he did his best to run away after that. Masaomi began animatedly talking once again, and I humored him by actually responding.

“So, Sosa-san, are you new to Ikebukuro?” he asked, never once dropping his smile. “Or maybe you’re on vacation? I’ve never seen you around before, because I definitely would have remembered. You’re too amazing to forget.” I internally winced at the “san” he attached to my name, though I skipped over repeating the explanation I had given Izaya. It was too much of a pain to repeat in the course of so few days, plus I didn’t feel like scaring the kid off. I instead opted for a simpler reason to oppose it.

“Oh, don’t call me ‘san,’ Masaomi-chan, that just makes me feel old,” I almost whined, tapping my fingers along the table in a small dance. “And I’m not exactly new here, but I haven’t gotten around much. If you did see me that would have been one amazing coincidence. Things look like they’re changing, though. I’ll probably be able to see more of this place now.”

“Did something big happen?”

“I suppose you could say that.”

Masaomi studied me for a moment, and then the waiter came back with our drinks. I freed the straw I was supplied with from its paper cover and plunged it into my drink. “By the way, I don’t understand how you could ever feel old, Sosa. You don’t look a day over eighteen, much less twenty.” I swallowed the drink I had taken beforehand and let out a small chuckle.

“I’m actually almost twenty-four,” I remarked, causing Masaomi to gape at me. “What?”

“I don’t believe you. You’re lying.”

The rest of the conversation was filled with mundane things like that, but I was actually amused by it. I had never actually tried to get to know people since none of them would have understood. But not showing that side actually made me seem like I was normal enough to talk to. I wasn’t particularly happy with the lie, but a game was a game, and if that was the rules I had to play by just once, so be it.

Things eventually died down around the time the check was placed on the table. By then I had a decent idea of what the kid was about, from how old he was (fifteen) to what school he was attending in the next couple of weeks (some place called Raira). He even waved me off when I went to pull my wallet from my pocket, gesturing his own through the air.

“Now, now, now, Sosa,” he lightheartedly scolded. “What kind of guy would I be if I asked a girl to lunch and didn’t front the bill? You don’t have much faith in humanity do you?” He pulled the yen bills out and placed them with the table as I made the Not particularly response I wanted to give die inside my throat.

I stood up, stretching my arms up as I did so. “Well, it was definitely nice to meet you, Masaomi-chan,” I stated, not even having to force my smile. “Maybe if we’re lucky we’ll get the chance to meet each other again.” Masaomi stood up as well, bill in hand.

“Well, I’d hope I get to meet you again,” he responded. “Call me up if you ever need someone to show you around, okay?” I didn’t bring up the fact that I didn’t possess any of his contact information, let alone the cell phone number necessary for that statement. I did consider it though, and I realized I hadn’t been lying when I told him I wanted to meet him later. I had this feeling…

I essentially launched myself across the table, landing on the table set in my haste. I think I might have knocked over the centerpiece, too, but it was a cheap one, so I doubted anyone would really care. My hand dove into one of Masami’s pockets, but I didn’t find what I was looking for. I transferred my search to his other pocket as the teenager protested loudly, probably drawing the attention of any passerby. “H-hey! So-Sosa-san, knock it off! What are you even—” My hand closed around his cell phone and I retreated with it in hand. Masaomi could only gawk.

I flipped the yellow-orange device open, flicking the teddy bear charm that danged off its side away. I played around with it idly, and Masaomi took no action to get it back. Satisfied with what I had done, I slid the phone across the table to its owner. He only stared down at the screen that showed the latest addition of my contact information to his friends list.

“I told you not to call me ‘san,’ Masaomi-chan,” I lightly chided, giving him a small wave before walking away.

I decided to find my way back to my apartment. I didn’t particularly feel like walking around with the last traces of Masaomi’s desert on my shirt all day.

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter Four, Continuing

Orihara Izaya: Definitions of Occurrence

“So what are you typing away at there, anyway?”

Sosa had taken up a position leaning against the back of my chair. This resulted in me being made to tilt slightly back since the chair had gone that way, and I looked up to her expectant face. I hadn’t necessarily seen the action coming because she was pretty stealthy in her movements, but wasn’t really surprised. She had done this a number of times over the previous days she had been here, so I was fully prepared to take it as a norm.

“That doesn’t look very official, you know,” she commented, squinting at my screen. “Hey, who’s this ‘Magenta-san’?” I sighed and sat up, taking the chair with me. Sosa stumbled, but only came back to rest at her former station. I read over the newest line of text that appeared on the email’s interface and typed out a response.

“It’s not official; it’s for fun,” I remarked. However, Sosa remained undeterred from figuring out what was happening, her eyes scanning the screen when I looked back up to her.

“You’re honestly going through with this scheme again?” Her voice was incredulous, and I sighed. “I’m in for replay value and all, but doing something like this twice in such a short amount of time just seems boring. I mean, yea, in a few months feel free to go for it, cause then it’ll be fresh. Eh, you’re not gonna listen to me, so why am I bothering? Hey, what are you gonna do if you get another heretic like me on your hands, huh?”

I didn’t really listen to her small tirade, though I understood the sentiment. Sosa was only a bit more impatient than me on certain aspects, seeing as I had the tolerance to go through with a plan more than once if it didn’t work out the first time. Sure, my plans usually did work out the first time, but there was an exception to everything.

Last time, that exception had been her.

“Well, considering you decided to change things around a bit, I figured I’d give it another shot.” Sosa giggled lightly above me. I continued my correspondence as I explained. “There’s a whole other half of the game to be played. I’m sure you had similar intentions.”

“Well, yea, I had other plans, but I’m quite satisfied with the detour,” Sosa agreed, laughter evident in her tones. “You didn’t answer my other question, though.” She paused to think it over. “Ah, never mind. The fact that two people like us came together in the first place was an extreme coincidence; the chances of it happening again are minimal. Besides, I doubt the world can host that many highly deviant minds at once, anyway.”

I looked up again to see Sosa smiling, though she seemed highly serious at the same time. Her logic was correct, of course, but she had flipped between the two points without as much as a glance back. I didn’t let it slip from my mind, though, because previous conversation from her had yielded the result of jumping back to a prior topic when you least expected it. I soon realized I was staring, and my focus had been the impossible orange color of her eyes.

“Don’t you ever get tired of wearing those contacts, or do you actually need them?” I asked, meaning no harm. Sosa found reason to frown, though, and I’ll admit I didn’t expect her response in the slightest.

“I don’t wear contacts,” she stated, all playfulness gone. I typed out another response as a space filler.

“So you’re telling me that’s natural,” I deadpanned. “I know your parents are in the medical field, but pulling that off couldn’t have been easy. How much bribing did it take to convince some underground genetic specialist to do that for them?”

“You’re so skeptic! I swear I was born this way!” Sosa whined, slumping down on the back of the chair in exasperation. I had wondered when one of her mood swings would happen, and there it was. “And don’t pester me about my parents’ eye colors and all that junk. I’m quite aware of how genetics works and apparently it’s some weird insistent recessive deal. Hey, you think I could get a chair like yours?”

“Can you afford it?” I went along with the change in topic because it was fun, in its own way. The unpredictability of the situation kept things interesting. That was why I was willing to put up with her mood swings as well. I would get into experimenting with her later. For now, I had other priorities.

“That’s not fair. Can’t it just be an office gift? Oh, that’s a new lie.” Sosa’s hand appeared in vision and pointed to my newest words on the screen. “I was dating this girl and… She hooked up with my dad…” she read off, sending another giggle through the air in the aftermath. “That’s a real good one, too. Speaking of this game you’re playing, what exactly are you gonna do? I mean, you’re gonna go through the kidnapping thing again, right? Are you gonna save her? You gonna just let her rot? You’re pretty horrible, Izaya-kun, you know that?”

“To be fair, I wasn’t exactly planning on saving you, either,” I commented. “Well, not personally. There’s an associate of mine that will run pickup if I ask them, though she won’t know exactly what I’m planning. She wouldn’t agree to help if she knew.”

“Wow, there are people who you haven’t scared away? I’m surprised.” I ignored the comment. I had put effort into keeping certain people around me, even if it was only for my benefit. “You keep leaving questions unanswered. That’s just bad taste. Never mind, don’t tell me. I want it to be a surprise. Can I watch? Promise I won’t get in your way.”

I sighed and spun the chair around. Sosa backed up and gave me a curious expression. “Will you actually get some work done if I say ‘yes’?” The next thing I obtained from her was a nod. “Fine, if you want. Just take note that I only started talking to her about a few days before the incident with you. This might take a bit of time.”

“If you were talking to her while you were still getting ready to play with me, does that count as cheating?”

“Sosa, get to work…” I commanded, trying to keep my tone steady. For some reason, even though I was enjoying myself, I could feel the beginnings of a headache forming in my skull. Sosa, on the other hand, was far more alert than she had been previous, a smile forming on her lips.

“Yes, sir, yes, sir!” she sang.

The situation could be defined as thus:

I had come across a woman named Tekichu Sosa who was clearly not bound to the normal perceptions of society. Not only was her mindset similar to mine (didn’t that say enough), I could definitely pick out some psychological afflictions she possessed. There were the mood swings, though that didn’t exactly classify one as mental. The way she jumped from topic to topic implied some form of ADD, but I wasn’t convinced on that one. She could just very well be thinking far too much for her own good.

It wouldn’t have surprised me if there was some other ailment running around in that head of hers.

But I didn’t care. As said, I found it to be fun. And I wouldn’t have held it against her even if it wasn’t. After all, I did love humans, and she had given me no reason to hate her. Only one person had really done that, and I still put up with him, even if his death wouldn’t affect me in the slightest.

“What’s got you grumpy?” A giggle followed the question as Sosa observed me. I realized I must have frowned at the thought. I didn’t elaborate like she requested. She would find out about Shizu-chan when the time was right. Warning her would have just taken away the fun.

The current position could be defined as thus:

We were out and about as I made my rounds. Sure, I could work everything from my office, but going around gave things a more personal touch. Not to mention you could find things you didn’t even expect on accident in reality. I had chosen today to bring Sosa along in my trek through Shibuya, figuring I’d introduce her to clients in the process. That was more of a professional action. When you came down to it, people didn’t give their information to those they didn’t know, supposed informants or not. Not to mention most people knew my reputation, and it wasn’t like someone hadn’t tried to pretend to be my associate before in an attempt to learn new details from their enemies.

Sosa’s last question left us standing in the middle of a sidewalk, as we traveled between two locales.

“I’m not grumpy,” I declined the concept. “You need to better your skills at determining emotions, Sosa-chan; otherwise I may have to reconsider your employment.” Sosa only stuck her tongue out at me, to which I chuckled. “By the way, have you ever deconstructed your mentality?”

“What kind of question is that? Of course I have.” Sosa opted to propping herself against one of the trees that lined the sidewalk. “Through that I have found that I clearly have Antisocial Personality Disorder, which I doubt I need to explain to you of all people, I also hold a case of something terribly close to OCD.” She paused in her words to spin around the tree. “You just haven’t seen it ‘cause nothing’s set me off, but I can be real anal about the positions of chairs and stuff like that. I’m just a few disruptions of functionality to qualify for a proper diagnosis. I can kind of put myself in an ADD state, too, ‘cept that it’s not real.”

I raised an eyebrow. Sure, it went along with my own theories, but I was still skeptical about the concept. “Either you have ADD or you don’t, Sosa. There is no in-between.” She laughed.

“No, no, no.” Sosa shook her head as the resumed her lean, arms crossed behind her head. “You must’ve noticed, Izaya-kun. I’d be disappointed if you didn’t. I’ve been playing leapfrog with subjects of conversation. I just haven’t been around someone interesting on so long that I keep thinking about all the things I wanna say. I can’t keep it all bottled up, so all the things just spurt out.” One finger rose into the air, and her head tilted to the side. “So it’s a self-induced mental condition that resembles ADD, got it? Oh, I guess if it makes you feel better you could count it as manic episode, too, cept I lack the ‘depressive’ end of that agreement to be considered bipolar.”

“Most people don’t take having mental issues so lightly, but I suppose you are a bit odd,” I commented.

“Only ‘a bit,’ Izaya-kun? You insult me.”

I was about to respond when a sound resounded through the air. It wasn’t loud, simply distinct above the chatter of the masses. A sound that I would know anywhere. The sound of a horse braying, echoing almost unnaturally. Sosa’s expression read “What the hell was that?” though my own face formed a smirk. I ignored her desire for information in favor of retrieving my cell phone.

I skimmed through my contacts, stopping on the number I desired. I placed the device next to my ear and listened to the rings. There was the sound of the line being picked up, but only silence afterwards.

“Hey there, Transporter,” I greeted. “You should have told me you would be in Shibuya. Have time for a visit? There’s someone I’d like you to meet.” The silence persevered, but I continued on, undiscouraged. “We’re a couple streets over from you, you know. It’ll only take a few minutes.” The line stayed connected. “Is that a yes? You’re so difficult to talk to like this. Well, I’ll be expecting you anyway.”

I slid my phone shut to disconnect the call, paying no mind as Sosa’s expression screamed for details. Only when I had returned the mobile to my pocket did I turn back to her. She waited patiently, which I hadn’t expected.

“Sosa-chan, I assume you’ve heard of the Black Bike, correct?”

Her face flashed from waiting to confused, though it settled out quickly. “Is this another one of those questions that is capable of terminating my employment?” she asked, serious, at least in terms of tone. I considered it. That hadn’t been my intention, but I supposed it was a fair consideration. If you lived in Ikebukuro and didn’t know about said bike, you were either a shut in or far too oblivious to the world around you. Those weren’t exactly qualities one wanted in this line of work.

Sosa continued without any feedback from me. “The Black Bike is a motorcycle often spotted throughout Tokyo, mostly Ikebukuro,” she explained. “The bike itself has no headlights and makes no noise. According to the few threads I went through on the Dollars’ forums, rumors state that the rider has no head. Satisfied?”

“Quite,” I confirmed. “So, do you believe these rumors?”

“Rumors are often stemmed off of truth,” Sosa stated. “While I’m a bit skeptic, it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.” She gave a wry smile. “Of course I’d have to see proof first.”

Sosa didn’t see it because her spot against the tree left her back to the road. However, since I was facing her, I could see the Black Bike and its rider pull up next to the sidewalk. “It’s nice to see you, Transporter. Is business treating you well?” I only caught a glimpse of the surprise on Sosa’s face before she whipped around. She hung off one side of the thin tree, and I could only imagine her face.

The rider herself (for she was female; you couldn’t hide gender with a tight suit like that, despite how people always missed it for some reason) had settled her bike and was tapping away on the touch screen of her phone. I walked up to stand beside Sosa.

[What do you want, Izaya?] the screen read, and I chuckled. Sosa continued to stare down the rider, expression mixing awe and consideration together. I could understand her feelings: seeing the rider clad in black with the slightly contrasting yellow and blue helmet topped by cat ears was an interesting experience fully capable of inspiring amazement.

“I thought I said what I wanted: a mere visit, then you can be on your way,” I assured, though the rider didn’t seem convinced. “I simply wanted to introduce you to my newest employee. It’s quite possible that I’ll send her to execute business in my place.”

Sosa seemed to realize I was talking about her because she took initiative to introduce herself. “Hello. I’m Tekichu Sosa, you are?” There was no hesitation, but it was such a lifeless delivery that I suspected she was feeling slightly nervous. She ignored my glance in favor of watching the rider type up her response.

[Celty Sturluson. It’s nice to meet you.] Sosa muttered as she read the words, testing the name on her tongue. The next line of text was obscured from my view by the angle at which the screen was presented, and I had a feeling that it was on purpose.

Sosa laughed, grinning. “Don’t worry, Celty, I’m well aware that this man is nowhere near safe. That’s what makes him interesting.” Celty cocked her helmet as a form of questioning. Sosa dropped the overabundance of amusement from her tone. “I know what he’s like. I think I can handle myself. Fire with fire, and all that.”

Celty shook her head and turned to me, and all I could do was smile. [Is this really all you wanted me for?] I nodded, saving the sarcastic remark. Sosa bristled with excitement beside me, and I was personally looking forward to explaining this. [Then I’m going. Try not to burn Tokyo to the ground, would you?]

“How rude, Transporter, I have no such intentions,” I protested. “Have you no trust? I haven’t even done anything yet.”

“You not doing anything seems even scarier than you doing something,” Sosa commented, resisting the urge to laugh. “At least then people have something to react to.”

The headless rider drove away without commenting further. Apparently my employee had taken the words out of the former’s nonexistent mouth.

Her expression could be defined as thus:

Sosa positively beamed at me, grinning exceptionally. I could see the excitement dancing in her eyes at the realization of what had just happened. I could also tell that she was trying to dissect my intentions, as if knowing about the existence of Celty was enough. Even more than that, she was trying to build her own plan for amusement, because who wouldn’t want to play with a “toy” as unusual as that? Celty was a one of a kind model.

“What is she?” Sosa asked. She had probably been trying to figure that out, too, just wasn’t patient enough to conclude it for herself. Her expectant face requested answers.

“I expected more eloquence out of you, Sosa-chan,” I chided. “Saying it like that makes her sound like a thing. She isn’t human; she’s not your toy.” Sosa frowned, wanting to challenge me, but instead took the abuse for the sake of knowledge. “She’s a type of fae, the British fairies if you’re unfamiliar with the term. To be specific, she’s a dullahan.”

“If she’s a fairy, why is she acting as a human?”

“Are you familiar with the concept of a dullahan?” Sosa’s head moved in the negative. “I guess it is one of the more obscure legends,” I conceded. “Dullahans are specifically Irish fairies, though some say Scottish, ones that visit the dead. They carry their heads with them as they are pulled in carriages by their headless horses.” I moved my hands in the air, imitating playing with the handles of a motorcycle. “You already saw her horse…”

“She’s missing her head…” Sosa muttered. She took a few more moments, though I wasn’t sure exactly what she was thinking about. Eventually she tilted her head, and I could see the question coming before her lips even started to move. “So she’s looking for it?”


Sosa nodded, accepting it on the spot. I suddenly felt satisfied with my choice in a worker.

The situation could be defined as thus:

Tekichu Sosa was nowhere near knowing the full extent of the possibilities this opportunity presented.

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter Five, in Soviet Ikebukuro

Tekichu Sosa: Plethora Affected Chance

The next exhibition that I was taken on happened to go through Ikebukuro.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic as hell about meeting Celty. The fact that something like a Dullahan could even exist would have been enough to put me on a proverbial sugar high, but meeting one was almost too much. It was probably good that I didn’t see her without the helmet, cause that much excitement would have probably killed me on the spot. My heart would have exploded, or something.

No, the point is that I was now in the middle of Ikebukuro, Izaya long gone out of sight. We had accidentally gotten separated earlier due to my lack of attention, and I was still roughly in the same area. I had contacted him via text to bring up the situation. He had pointed out that it was nearly time for lunch and that we should just meet up at Russia Sushi. I actually knew where that was, having eaten there multiple times, but there was only one more problem.

I had no idea where I was.

So, essentially, I was lost again. The rational thing to do would have been to text Izaya and ask for his help, but I wasn’t exactly inclined to the idea of having him save me from my own stupidity. Sure, he would do it, though if I had hired me, I would have been fired for not knowing my way around my place of residence.

I didn’t know why I cared so much about the damn job, but there was no denying I did. I didn’t need the job, I didn’t need the money. I could probably still hang around with Izaya anyway, though the job made that easier. Plus it was the essential equivalent of getting paid to hang around with someone. But the truth of it was that I actually liked having a job, just because it gave me something to do all day. And I liked this job because it gave me much more options than any other profession I could think of.

Not to mention I had way to much pride to admit that I was lost.

My pride did go a little too far, I will admit, mostly because I refused to ask anyone for directions. I was more miffed at myself than anything, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this. Even so, I almost wished that I would run into Masaomi so he could show me the way. Or at least I wanted to run into someone nice that would help me without really having to ask.

The Universe did grant me my wish, albeit it was only the running into part. I literally bumped into someone, distracted by my internal bitching. I pulled back and bowed, quickly stating my apology. I may not have liked humans, but at least I would apologize when my own humanity got in the way. Then I thought that maybe I had gotten my entire wish and just might be able to get some help out of the situation. So I straightened myself up to look at the person I had encountered.

He didn’t seem happy, and I couldn’t blame him. Having someone run into me for apparently no reason would have pissed me off, too. But at least I had apologized, right? That should have been worth something. He was a big guy as well, and I wouldn’t be lying if instinct wasn’t acting up, sending fear through my brain. This was the type even my deviant mind couldn’t dismiss, no matter what logic I applied.

Something about him just oozed animosity.

I shook the thoughts off, actually taking an observant look at him. His hair was blonde and slightly tousled, the almost wavy strands going wherever they pleased, but not sticking up. Brown eyes rested under the yellow, and I vaguely wondered if dye or bleach was involved. The pair of dark blue tinted sunglasses that had formerly adorned his face had been tucked into the collar of the man’s… bartender uniform?

I blinked, the odd choice of attire giving me pause. Just because it was unusual didn’t make me consider him as a weirdo, cause, hell, who was I to talk, but it piqued my curiosity. Anyone that went around dressed like a bartender in the middle of the day had to be interesting. Either that or it was some weird ploy to attract customers to a particular bar. I turned my head around, seeing no such establishments in the area. My immediate reaction was to grin.

This place was like a market for fascinating toys.

Then I remembered I had a certain sushi shop to get to soon, and tossed the ideas in my brain. Both reaching my destination and gaining entertainment could be done together, though it almost seemed far too easy to do. Even so, I decreased my grin to a normal smile, figuring I’d scare him off otherwise.

“I really am sorry,” I said, making sure my voice sounded apologetic. I had to tilt my head back in order to look at him properly; he was at least ten centimeters above my height. “I wasn’t paying too much attention to where I was going. You see, I’ve kind of gotten myself lost, not that wandering aimlessly was helping.” I performed a nervous laugh in an attempt to dissolve any tension. “I know I’m in no situation to ask favors since it was my fault, but would you mind telling me how to get to Russia Sushi?”

I stared at his face, considering running away if things went bad. “I could tell you, but I’m not sure that’s the best idea,” he remarked, voice deep. I gave a slight glare at the comment, because I had even asked nicely and apologized twice. Then I realized his brown eyes were different from Izaya’s, the comparison coming from apparently nowhere. Not only was their color deeper, but they gave off a friendlier vibe than their unforgiving counterparts. All former traces of annoyance were gone from his expression. “If you have no idea where to go now, you’d probably just get lost on the way there. I’ll take you.”

“That’s not necessary,” I retorted, reigning in my own irritation. If I wanted to accomplish either of my intentions, I had to keep calm. It was just his choice of words that irked me, not his tone. “I mean, I’ve caused you enough inconvenience. No need to go out of your way.”

“Nah, it’s no trouble. The place is just a few blocks from here.”

I ignored his smile, which made him look pretty attractive, to be honest, in favor of my internal turmoil. Just a few blocks? Just a few motherfucking blocks?! I was that close and I didn’t know it! I decided on the spot that I would spend my days off memorizing this goddamn town, no exceptions.

“Well, if it’s not too much trouble…” I agreed, no acting required to make my voice come out as pathetic. I was far too exasperated with myself to even try to handle things on my own. Plus, the travel time (short as it may be) would provide an interval to further acquaint myself with my subject of interest.

“Not at all,” said subject of interest assured. He then turned around, gesturing for me to follow. “Come on.” I tailed closely behind, determined not to get separated again. At least this time I had an easy target to focus on; the blond hair stuck out above other’s heads with ease due to its owner’s height. In comparison to Izaya, who had probably perfected the art of melting into his surroundings, this was a definite improvement.

I started to recognize where we were, familiar buildings lining the streets. I also realized that I still knew nothing about my escort, which put a damper on my second set of intentions. Any worry I had about this man was gone, since he seemed a nice enough guy. I mean, he was helping out someone who had bumped into him. I figured trying to attain his name wouldn’t hurt.

“Um, thanks by the way,” I said, now walking beside him. He shrugged it off, signaling that it was no big deal. “I’m Tekichu Sosa. That is, if you give a damn.” I watched as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, taking one of the items to his mouth. Smoking wasn’t my favorite habit in the world, but I didn’t say anything as the small flame from his lighter lit it up. He took a drag, exhaling the smoke before answering.

“Heiwajima Shizuo.”

I blinked in recognition of the name, though I was unsure of the source. After mulling on the topic, I realized I had come across the name on the Dollars message boards, subject of many rumors. However, I couldn’t remember any of the rumors for the life of me at the moment. That and I knew I had heard it somewhere else. Just where was the question…

“Shizu-chan!” I exclaimed, the pieces coming together in my brain. Izaya had been muttering to himself earlier about how ‘Shizu-chan would just have to deal with it’ earlier, albeit I had no idea what “it” was. Obviously the two knew each other if a nickname like that had come into existence. I was just about to ask the connection when I noticed Shizuo’s expression.

There was no denying he was angry—utterly fuming, really—and I wondered just what I had said wrong. Shizuo was glaring at me with such intensity that it was a wonder I hadn’t combusted yet. He opened his mouth to speak, but another voice interrupted him.

“Sosa-chan~!” Izaya sang, and I whipped my head around. Shizuo and I had come to a stop in front of the restaurant, and Izaya was now hanging out the door. “Took you long enough to get here; I’m already done eating. What’d you do, get lost?” He laughed before appearing to finally take hold of the scene in front of him. “Oh, looks like you met Shizu-chan, now doesn’t it?” His smile didn’t waver in the slightest.

Shizuo’s expression, however, had definitely altered significantly. If he had been angry before, he was lucid now, though his gaze had shifted to Izaya. The cigarette he had barely begun to smoke had been subjected to torture: snapped in half before being crushed under Shizuo’s shoe. I stared in morbid fascination.

Instinct told me to run, but I told it to fuck off.

“Hey…” I started when I realized Shizuo was talking to me. “You… Sosa is it? You know this bastard?” All the earlier friendliness has dissipated, and the words were growled. However, I remained confused.

“Yea, why?” I asked innocently, mostly because I technically was. I had done nothing wrong towards this man. All I could consider was the fact that if I was going to be hated simple for being associated with Izaya, he must have done something overly horrible. I wasn’t surprised in the slightest by that concept.

“That’s not a good idea, Sosa-chan,” Izaya remarked. Before I could even get my mouth open to question his statement, he spoke again. “Catch,” was his command, and I fumbled to grasp the take out box he had just hurled at me. By the time I finally had a decent hold on it; Izaya had taken off in a run down the street. Shizuo rushed past me to follow.

Get the hell out of Ikebukuro!

“Take a lunch break, Sosa-chan! I’ll find you when it’s safe!”

I stared in awe at the scene before me, particularly because Shizuo had chosen to pick up a sandwich board that had been idly advertising one of the nearby shops. The poor thing was now being hurled through the air, its target seeming to be Izaya’s head. Izaya dodged and soon turned a corner, Shizuo following out of my sights. The only remnants of the sandwich board were the scattered wooden fragments sprawled across the sidewalk.

I soon realized how hungry I was and ignored the commotion in favor of sitting my ass down on a nearby bench to eat my free lunch.

Long dark brown hair that was the same shade as mine and reached to the waist, straight short bangs. A highly unusual dress-looking piece of clothing, probably homemade, though no less appealing than anything you would see on a department store rack. A hemline that went in a low-angle diagonal cut across the chest to below the opposite shoulder, and pastel dies of yellow, green, and purple in defined chunks of color. Highly contrasting black ballet slippers with their ties extending up to the knees, and yellow eyes as impossible as the orange ones I held.

Izaya was still nowhere to be found, but at least I still wasn’t lost. I had actually taken to memorizing some of the nearby streets after eating my sushi bento (which oddly mostly consisted of otooro, but whatever; food was food), and was progressing quite nicely. And on the latest street that was mostly devoid of people, I had happened to find this.

The young girl, who couldn’t have been no older than fifteen if her height and breast size were any indication (which wasn’t exactly fair, but I digress), appeared to be waiting for someone. She leaned against one of the railings that surrounded a grouping of plants, wistfully staring into space.

I never took it for granted that I would find someone of interest every day, because that was a mentality that would only lead to my disappointment. But that didn’t mean I wouldn’t take advantage of discovering more than one fascinating subject per day, either. In my eyes, something like that enticed a feeling akin to that of a child receiving extra presents long after the initial occasion was over.

But anyway.

The young girl was most certainly interesting, and I wanted to play. It was a natural reaction considering that my first new toy had effectively been stolen by Izaya.

I thought about how to get myself involved without seeming like a creeper or something along those lines, but eventually decided to be straightforward. I was going to be viewed as “odd” at the least, and I had stopped caring what people thought about me long ago. Even if she had a more extreme reaction to me, what did it matter? One little schoolgirl’s opinion really didn’t matter.

“Hey,” I greeted, simplicity at its finest.

The girl paused and considered me, obviously surprised that I was speaking to her. “Hello,” she calmly answered back, and said nothing more. No ‘Should I know you?’ or ‘Who the hell are you?’ was uttered. Only an abnormal combination of calmness and curiosity was reflected back at me. Sure, I gave the own reaction often myself, but seeing it from someone else seemed surreal. Like someone was stealing my lines or somthin’.

“Tell me something,” I requested casually, though I was waiting for something to go wrong any second. The people I had tendencies to encounter seemed to share the factor of quirks that went far beyond the imagination. “Are you interesting?”

Her head cocked in a fashion similar to my own, and I wondered if I was looking into some odd form of mirror. Then again, if she was anything like me, that would have been fantastic. I had always wanted to play with someone even similar to me (meaning Izaya was a terrific discovery), but if there was some other entity that embodied all of my intentions, I could only be dreaming. At least that was what I thought. Her cool voice didn’t waver in the slightest.

“What do you mean?”

What did I mean? When people were interesting, I knew it, but explaining it was hard. If you asked a child why they liked a particular toy, they would more than likely come up with a nonsensical reason, meaning they just did. That could be used to describe my preferences in people. But I felt a need to apply logic to the situation, if only for the reasoning that it would make explaining things easier. The only questions I didn’t truthfully answer were the stupid ones. This was no such question.

“Well, let’s start off simply,” I stated, feeling like I was about to give some form of lecture. “What I say may waver into my personal opinion rather than fact, but that doesn’t really matter. Sometimes the things you conclude can be viewed as fact simply for that reason, depending on your mentality. But where was I? Oh, that’s it. Anyone that’s human holds the potential to be interesting!”

Her face showed consideration, but she spoke much quicker than what I thought she would. People usually took a little bit to get adjusted to what I was talking about, granted I hadn’t given too many people this explanation. “What if you’re not human? What if I’m the little white rabbit that leads you down a hole?”

Her honesty was audible in her voice, meaning she was actually curious. Whether this marked her as something un-human (my experience with Celty ultimately had made me consider the possibility) or simply someone with a different consideration process, I didn’t care. Either way, even both, would have been just fine with me. All the more fun that way that was what I thought. That and hearing a reference to Alice in Wonderland so casually like that was naturally going to confirm my initial suspicions and catch my attention.

Figures when I went to open my mouth to say so, my conversation interrupted again. In the exact same manner as before, nonetheless.

“Sosa-chan!” Izaya’s voice resounded again, happy as usual. There were no angry shouts or flying objects trailing after him, and he wasn’t even bothering to run, so I could only guess that he had safely escaped from Shizuo. I was about to tell him to go away so I could continue playing, but then I remembered something.

He got it. Why was I thinking that he needed to be shoved out of it?

“Izaya-kun!” I replied with a brightness to rival his. I turned the girl around quickly, a sound of surprise coming from her throat. I swung around her thin form; hand on one of her shoulders to support myself in the process before leaning most of my weight on her. Despite its slight build, her body supported me fairly well. I grinned at my boss. “I think I found us someone interesting!”

My little girl’s face had gone from apathetic to some form of terrorized. The yellow eyes were open wide as she stared at Izaya like he was the worst thing on Earth, which may or may not have been true. I pouted. Why did he have to know about all the fun people before me? He could have at least told me. No, it seemed like he didn’t know her, since he was looking her over as I had done none too many minutes ago. So why...

“You think so?” Izaya remarked casually, as if we were discussing dinner plans, and I was set to nod when it happened.

The word I think she screamed was “Senpai,” though I honestly had no clue what that had to with anything. The other point was that she had disappeared as my support, running away with a speed that would probably have her tagged for the track team in an instant if a recruiter saw it. Her form had jerked away without my expectation, leaving me collapsed on the pavement with no other option than to just watch her desperate sprint in the opposite direction Izaya had approached from.

“You wouldn’t happen to be dead would you?” Izaya questioned at my lack of movement, no real concern in his tone whatsoever. So he wouldn’t care if I died, huh? I nonchalantly flipped my employer the bird. The concrete felt exceptionally comfortable at this point in time. “Get up…”

Hai…” I complied, quickly regaining my position in the vertical alignment of the world. I stretched my arms into the air, feeling the bones slide into place. My fall hadn’t really made anything dislocate, just ended in some less than comfortable positioning. “She seemed really scared of you.”

“Indeed she did,” Izaya remarked, shrugging afterwards. “It beats me what that was about, though. I’ve honestly never met her in my life. I just suppose something about me inspired a form a fear. It’s odd; people usually don’t run away from me until after I’ve done something.”

“Smart girl…” I muttered.

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter Six, With Feeling

Orihara Izaya: Smaller Implements of Information

If you were to keep things focused on the girl Sosa had found on our previous excursion, there wouldn’t be much to talk about. I hadn’t been lying when I said I knew nothing about her, which almost went to unsettle me in its own way. While it was impossible for me to know every little thing in the universe, I prided myself on knowing anything I could. But apparently my appearance had prevented Sosa from finding anything else out either, not even a name. So we were mutually clueless in the end.

Not that it really mattered to me. Sosa showed far more interest in the girl than I did, so it would bother her much more. Was that my competiveness again? I had Shizu-chan to blame for that one. It was all the years in high school with him around that gave birth to that sort of behavior.

If the subject of Shizu-chan was your transition, that gave you a slightly wider range of things to discuss. While she withheld her curiosity as I continued showing her certain establishments, Sosa chose the next day she had work to question me. She walked into the penthouse before I had even gotten settled at my desk, took the chair that I had supplied for her own purposes (though not nearly an expensive model as she had hinted that she wanted), and placed it opposite of where I usually sat.

Her body language screamed determination, from the serious expression to the arms folded across her chest. Sosa waited the good five minutes it took me to finish cleaning up after my breakfast without twitching a muscle. She just sat there, and I wondered what was so important that these particular methods were being used.

“My, my, you’re sure looking serious this morning,” I lightly commented as I settled down. I wondered exactly what part of the universe she was trying to relate to with that look, and chuckled at the concept. “I’m assuming there’s something you want, yes?”

The seriousness on her face didn’t suit her at all. Now don’t get me wrong, Sosa had a certain level of sex appeal to make her almost some form of attractive, no matter what emotion was going on. But I had already adjusted to the much more natural carefree expression, so this didn’t necessarily appeal to me. Not that I really had a type, nor was there any specific form of attraction. I did love all humans after all, supposed charm and other points aside. Playing favorites just wouldn’t have been fair.

“Tell me the names of the primary figures of interest that reside in Ikebukuro,” Sosa requested, though it was a fraction off from being considered a command. “The names of any other people you may think are relevant to this topic would be nice as well.” Her expression didn’t waver, not once. I admired that willpower.

“Oh, so you want information!” I happily stated, leaning back in the process. My left elbow came to place on its proper armrest, and I smiled at my employee. “I should have expected as much, considering recent events. Shizu-chan made you curious, huh? By the way, I can’t just give out information for free.” My words produced no physical change, and I could only imagine what was happening inside Sosa’s head. “You’ve obviously decided to approach me as a customer, so I’m going to treat you like one. But depending on later situations, I may just tell you things if you ask nicely. Do you accept that?”

“As long as I get an employee discount, feel free to just subtract the amount from my pay,” she replied calmly. “Do you treat all your clients with this same lack of efficiency? For shame.” I ignored the comment in favor of consideration. I decided to see if my theories about her motivations were correct.

“You want to know this because you’re going to view them as toys.” Sosa’s expression slid into a smile, but you couldn’t classify it as your normal brand of happy. This was a bearer of sick intentions, and the amusement was only the under-bearing layer. I had held that same type of expression plenty of times before.

“Is it not natural for one to know all their options?” she asked. One hand went to the air beside her, palm facing upwards. “You have a set of options and then you pick the best one. And then the smart ones don’t bother going through the lesser options, just find the best and choose from the best.” She paused as if something new had just occurred to her. “Of course, that could be viewed as its own brand of stupidity, since the lesser options may have potential, but that’s beside the point. So yes, I would like to select from the elite brand of fascination this city so obviously contains.”

Her explanations were almost as lengthy as mine, and close in complexity as well. She delivered them with an ease that showed just how accustomed to her own state of mind she was. Most people when asked their motives gave some ridiculous answer without realizing the impulses beneath it. I bet even if I questioned such an action, she would probably break it down to “just an impulse, nothing more. That’s something that happens to everyone,” or something along those lines.

If she broke it down like that with effortlessness, that meant Sosa held an opinion on her mentality, or at least would have been able to construct one. The last speech implied having some sort of affection for humans, the very beings she had declared to hate. Naturally, I wanted to see how she could explain that.

“I’ll cut you a deal,” I stated, causing Sosa to tilt her head in curiosity. “If you tell me how you can supposedly hold both hatred for humans and yet hold such an interest in them, you can have the answer to your request for free.”

“It’s because they’re toys!” Sosa lightly exclaimed without hesitation. Her former somber air had dissipated into an obvious excitement. I assumed that this was a topic of interest. “For example, let’s say you have a male child who receives a doll as a present. You could place a girl female an action figure, or whatever. Seemingly sexist approaches aside, let’s just say a child comes into possession of a toy they dislike, or even despise.

“However, this toy just so happens to be the only one they have. So they put up with it. They play with it because they have no other choice, and thus have an attachment to it. If people can find something to do with what they have, even if they hate it, they can be interested in it.

“And when you get into my case, I hate humans because they can be truly disgusting. I won’t deny what makes them repulsive to me also interests me.” Sosa laughed, enthusiasm abound. “Nothing else in this world fascinates me as much as the workings of the mind, predictable as they can be. Nothing gives me more pleasure than bending fragile emotions to my will, my advantage. Well, save for finding someone that’s a challenge. And because nothing else can give me that, I will be play with these toys, hate them as I might.”

Her head tilted as she continued to smile at me, though this one did come from happiness. As if telling me that was something she had wanted to do for a while, even though we had known each other for a few weeks. “Does that satisfy you, or do you want to hear more? I can keep going, though I topic will probably diverge after a while.”

I shook my head, signaling the negative option. While I did want to hear more, I now knew what I had requested in the first place. There would be plenty of other opportunities in the future for that. Right now Sosa wanted information, and she had earned it.

So I told her.

I told her about anyone that may have fallen into that category. I restated both Shizu-chan and Celty, since they most certainly were “primary characters of interest,” as she had so eloquently put it. Then there were both Simon and Dennis, the proprietors of Russia Sushi. The list was simple from there, and I went across the board, naming everyone I could think of from Kishitani Shinr to Kadota Kyohei. I kept details sparse for the sake of time, but Sosa didn’t complain. She had only asked for names, anyway.

And clearly satisfied, Sosa smiled at me before picking up her chair and returning it to its rightful spot. She didn’t sit down, however, instead choosing to walk back to the front of my desk. Her palms were placed on the surface, and Sosa leaned down, but remained at a level that was slightly higher than me. “Can I ask you something as an employee, then, Izaya-kun?” She paused. “As in, also free of charge?”

I chuckled at the extra addition, simply because it wasn’t from mistrust. It was a form of precaution, because she probably would have extorted that loophole herself in a heartbeat. “Have at it,” I stated my permission, making a small sweeping gesture with one hand as I did so.

“Are there any other particular things of interest you haven’t told me about yet?” she asked, putting up a finger to indicate she wasn’t done as I went to respond. “I don’t mean in terms of nitpicky details. Sometimes things are more fun without those, as long as the lack of knowledge doesn’t hinder your overall performance and execution. I mean like sources of information, places to watch for reliable updates of interesting things. I don’t particularly care about your professional sources, either. But you have something like the Dollars, though, so it’s safe to guess you have something else hidden up your sleeve, yes?”

“That description doesn’t exactly scream ‘reliable,’ you know. Anywhere I send you with those requirements can be easily influenced by personal opinion and rumor.”

Sosa grinned at me. “Personal opinion and rumor are still based in fact, plus gives you a better look at the psychological and sociological standings of the people giving the information. In my opinion, that is. Reality’s just subjective, you should know that.” She let out a slight giggle. “Besides, the Dollars is a lot like that right? And you’re avoiding my question, too. But I’m not paying you, so I guess I can’t complain much.”

I considered it, but not what she had just said. I was considering the pros and cons of introducing her to a particular chatroom I frequented. It was a small group, only four including myself, but we did talk about interesting enough topics. So in essence, it fulfilled what she was seeking. Plus having someone else around would change things up a little bit.

“You can bring your chair over here, if you’d like. There is something I’d like to show you, now that you bring it up,” I told her, and Sosa sighed dramatically. I ignored her and turned towards the dual computer set-up, pulling up the necessary link on both systems.

“This’d be a lot easier if you got me a new chair…” Sosa muttered, dragging the wheel-less seat back across the carpet.

“So if you’re going to use that as your handle, does that mean I can call you ‘Kakkoii-chan’ without being glared at now?” I asked, watching as Sosa filled out her minimal registration for the chat room. I thought it was an innocent enough question, but it only earned me a light punch in the arm. “That’s no way to treat your boss, Sosa-chan.”

“You can call me that in text only,” she stated seriously. “I really don’t want that name being associated with me otherwise. I like having people call me ‘manipulation’ with no other choice.” Then she laughed. “I suppose I’m a bit sadistic in that aspect. Not that it’s all too surprising, considering the things I’ve done to people over the years.”

I instantly wondered about her past. It wasn’t a new thought to me, as I had looked a bit into her background not long after learning her name (which still surprised me that it was real). Both her parents seemed like stable enough individuals, taking away my half-hearted theory that only some less than sane individuals would name their kid that. As she had told me herself, they were both doctors, giving her a pretty decent lifestyle. But records of her early years weren’t particularly fascinating, and there wasn’t much on her in recent times either, considering her excursion to America. What really intrigued me was that, while she had clearly gone to high school, according to their records, aside from the fact that she had enrolled and graduated there, she didn’t exist. Granted, the three year period she should have been there was poorly documented, but still.

“And Izaya-kun’s definitely a sadist, too, right?” Sosa stated with no remorse. “I mean he has to be since he’s a lot like me.” She said it as if I wasn’t sitting right next to her. “He plays with people ‘cause they’re fun, especially when he can put them in sorrow. He likes making it so their lives are miserable. Which is kinda odd for a guy who claims he loves them, right? But still, he’s really bad about it. Just sits there and watches with enjoyment as his own loyal, loyal, loyal employee suffers with this piece of crap chair…”

“Enough about the chair already.”

Kanra has joined the room.
Kakkoii_chan has joined the room.

Kanra: Hello~~!
Kakkoii_chan: Hey.
Kanra: Ah, no one else is here yet!
Kanra: Not fair, Kakkoii-chan, I want you to meet everyone!
Kakkoii_chan: Why’s your avatar a girl?
Kakkoii_chan: You really are a creeper huh?
Kanra: That’s just mean!
Kanra: Am I not allowed to be a girl?
Kakkoii_chan: It’s just creepy, okay!
Kakkoii_chan: What are you gonna do, act like a girl and use that to your advantage?
Kakkoii_chan: It’s probably easier to drag people in when acting like a girl as opposed to a boy, huh?
Kanra: Must you assume everything I do involves kidnapping people?
Kanra: Besides, who’s gonna think it’s me in here if I’m a girl?
Kakkoii_chan: I guess…
Kakkoii_chan: Still creepy, tho.
Kakkoii_chan: Ugh, where are these people?
Kanra: Well, I did log you in with me a bit early than usual.
Kanra: I wanted to make sure you were used to the system, you know?
Kakkoii_chan: I know how to use a chatroom.
Kakkoii_chan: Hey, does this mean I’m supposed to call you “Kanra-chan?”
Kanra: Only in text.
Kakkoii_chan: Hilarious.
Kakkoii_chan: Seriously, people should show up, tho.
Kanra: You’re a bit impatient, aren’t you?
Kakkoii_chan: You can’t tell me you aren’t.
Kakkoii_chan: Besides, it’s a bit lame to be talking to each other on the net when we’re sitting right beside each other.
Kanra: It won’t always be like this.
Kanra: You can get on when you’re at home, you know.
Kanra: Then you won’t feel as lame.
Kakkoii_chan: Hey, this was your idea.
Kakkoii_chan: That makes you even lamer by default.

Tanaka Taro has joined the room.

Kakkoii_chan: Ah, ah, someone’s here!
Tanaka Taro: Hey there.
Tanaka Taro: Oh, has someone new joined?
Kanra: Hello, Taro-kun~!
Kanra: Ne, ne, this is Kakkoii-chan!
Kakkoii_chan: Heyo~.
Kakkoii_chan: It’s nice to meet you~.
Tanaka Taro: It’s nice to meet you, too, Kakkoii-san.
Kakkoii_chan: “San,” he says…
Kanra: It’s just an honorific, don’t let it get to you.
Kakkoii_chan: Oh, fine…
Tanaka Taro: Has Setton-san not gotten on yet?
Kanra: Not that I know of…
Kanra: Usagi-chan’s nowhere to be seen either…
Tanaka Taro: They’ll probably just get on later then.
Kakkoii_chan: Man, I just wanna meet new people…
Kanra: Can’t you be glad that you just met Taro-kun?
Kakkoii_chan: Ah, you’re right, that’s probably a bit rude, huh?
Kakkoii_chan: Sorry, Taro-chan, I wasn’t thinking.
Tanaka Taro: No, no, it’s fine.

The rest of the chat was filled with nonsensical things like that, but Sosa seemed happy enough about it. I had apparently satisfied her request (in excess, even, considering she had only asked if there were such places), if the smile on her face was any indication. After logging off, she closed the lid of my white laptop and pushed it away from her. This was apparently so she would have enough room to lie down on the table, head resting on her folded arms.

I considered asking her if she had some sort of dispute, which wouldn’t have surprised me with her mood issues. But she turned her head to the side to look up at me, expectant light dancing in her eyes. “So, you know who they are, I suppose,” she said. “Or at least have some guesses. May I hear them?”

I leaned back in my own chair, exiting out of the chatroom and pulling up my email interface in its wake. I scanned through my messages, and finding the one I was looking for, clicked on it. I typed out a response before finally returning focus to my employee. “As odd as it may seem, Setton is Celty,” I started. Sosa’s eyebrow rose slightly, and I chuckled. “I know, a mythical creature spending time in something as mundane as a human chatroom. I am unaware of Tanaka Taro-kun’s real name, but he clearly doesn’t live in Ikebukuro. He is a Dollars member, though, since his handle is often on the boards.

“Usagi-chan’s the only one that escapes me, but she’s a relatively new addition, just like you. I haven’t had too much time to look into her, considering recent events, but I do know she isn’t a Dollars member.” I paused when a new alert showed on my screen, grinning. “At least she isn’t a Dollars member under that handle. Well, that is if she’s a she. You know how inaccurate these things can be.”

“I still say you’re a creeper for that, you know,” Sosa remarked, standing up and stretching her arms up. “Eh, whatever, that’s not the point. I’m sure this whole thing will be loads of fun. I can feel it. Man, nothing’s even happened, but this is the most excited I’ve felt in a long time!” She turned back to me, a smile radiating eagerness. “I just can’t wait for whatever you’ve got hidden up your sleeve to fall out and start rolling!”

“Well, you’re in luck, Sosa-chan,” I stated, and she cocked her head. Then she seemed to have a realization, because she moved as to look at my computer screen. Her choice of positioning, however, was nowhere near what I expected, since she had leaned over and put her arms around my shoulders as means of support. I let it slide, since there really was nothing wrong with it, as long as you ignored the fact that we were boss and worker. Of course, I really didn’t care about things like that, either.

“Oh, man, this is awesome…” Sosa giggled. “I didn’t know I could get any more excited, but man this sure does it. You sure are somethin’ if you can do that without barely saying a thing, I hope you know that Izaya-kun.”

I took the compliment in stride, smirking at the text on the screen. “Looks like our little ‘Mazenda-san’ is finally ready to be played with, don’t you think?”

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter Seven, in Anticipation

Tekichu Sosa: Locating Amusement

We had finally gotten ourselves into April by now, for the record, and it was almost time to start the game up with the lovely little Magenta-chan. Oh, and if inconsistency in names is bugging you, I was opting to refer to her by the English of her email address I had seen on the screen, while Izaya was using the katakana pronunciation. I had simply chosen the English out of habit from all my time in America.

The only problem I had with this whole situation was that things weren’t going down until tomorrow night, leaving me desperately looking for time to kill. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I had gone out again, though this time I had the goal of visiting Izaya’s intended location to pull off the final stage of operations. It was a nice rooftop of an abandoned building in one of the less frequented areas of Ikebukuro. The only issue I had with the place was its lack of spots for me to hide.

I had been serious when I had told him I only wanted to watch. As said, repeating the same experiment in such close proximity didn’t particularly interest me (part of why I wouldn’t have made a very good science major, despite my level of understanding), but I did have ulterior motives. I really wanted to see more of how Izaya handled those he was trying to toy with. So it was essentially another experiment, just a different one than what Izaya would be doing.

“I could just hang up here, I guess…” I muttered, standing on top of the small structure that housed the stairway. A light breeze stirred the air, and the wind was actually warm. I looked over the rest of the rooftop, though it wasn’t exactly fascinating: a few small sets of stairs leading to the main part of the roof, all concrete, and a guard rail set up as to prevent people from toppling off the edge. “I highly doubt she’s going to be looking for people, so even if you can see me, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Besides, if he does this right, she won’t even be able to focus enough in the event that she catches a glimpse of me.”

Satisfied, I went to leave the rooftop behind. I was still bored, though, and instead wandered aimlessly. I didn’t have the focus to try and memorize another chunk of the city, though it would have been better for me if I did. But the truth was that I didn’t, but I at least exerted enough effort to not go into territory I didn’t know. I just walked, killing time by thinking.

Of course I was thinking about Izaya’s plans for Magenta. My brain wouldn’t go anywhere else. He had told me the basic outlines of her past: normal, except for the fact that her father was having an affair. Then you got into the fact that when she gave the evidence to her mother, nothing changed. Obviously that affected her mental state to the point of wanting to disappear to show them that they hadn’t realized how that had affected her. Sure, Izaya prodded that last thought along, but that was the point.

It was a simple and pathetic reason like that.

Since I looked passive enough, that was apparently some clue that I was hungry. And when Semyon thinks you’re hungry, you can guarantee you’re going to get an offer to come in to Russia Sushi. And while he really is a nice guy, and seriously means no harm, a lot of times Semyon comes off as scary. Of course, you can’t blame people for running away. A seven-foot black man handing out flyers isn’t exactly a common sight in Ikebukuro.

Yes, I’m serious. Since I’ve brought up Russia Sushi before, it only stands to actually go into it now. Semyon Brezhnev was one of the two owners of Russia Sushi, along with another man named Dennis. They were both of Russian decent, though I wasn’t sure of exactly why you would move to Japan to set up something like a sushi restaurant, but I wasn’t one to judge.

Ah, I guess that’s important. Semyon may have been his real name, but most people called him Simon. I just thought Semyon sounded cooler.

So, long story short, my wanderings had led me in front of Russia Sushi, and Semyon had convinced me to come inside. This was just fine with me, because eating lunch was time consuming. So I sat at the bar portion of the restaurant, choosing dishes at random. Considering that the chef held no form of Japanese descent, the dishes were in really excellent quality, if not a little strange.

“For the last time, you two, would you at least hold off on that stuff when we’re in a restaurant?” I overheard, even though the voice came from inside one of the private compartments where the door was closed. I leaned back on my stool, gripping on the edges as not to fall off. I waited in anticipation to see if I could figure out exactly what “that stuff” was.

“Aw, come on, Kyohei, we’re not even getting into the deep stuff this time!” a second voice protested in response to the first. It was partially nasally in comparison to the deep baritone that had preceded it.

“Kyohei, Kyohei…” I muttered, trying to find the source of yet another name. I figured this would be quite commonplace until I finally took the time to look into and learn the names of all the people Izaya had told me about. “Hey, what kind of argument’s goin’ on in there?” I stared at the paper door like it would present to me the infinite cosmos, though it obviously didn’t.

“Yumachii’s right, you know!” another voice chimed in, and this one was decidedly female. “We’re only skimming over the surface on this one. You and Togusachii never let us have any fun, Dotachin!” There, I had it. Kadota Kyohei wasn’t name that would capture itself in my brain, but something like Dotachin most certainly would.

What was it with Izaya and all his nicknames, anyway? Shizu-chan, Dotachin… Hell, even Celty got treated to being called “Transporter” a good chunk of the time, though that wasn’t really anything overly odd. I just wandered what he would do to my name, even though you couldn’t do far too much with something that only had two syllables. And if he had really wanted to do something, he probably would have done it already.

This would probably be a good time to mention that I had walked over to the door of the compartment and slid it open, observing the four people inside.

“Ah, so you’re the infamous Dotachin,” I remarked leaning against the doorway. The small argument (that I still didn’t understand what it was about, but whatever) came to a halt as they all turned to look at me. One of the three men stared, before breaking the short lived silence.

“I don’t know who you are, or where you heard that name from, but can you please not call me that?” he remarked, his voice that of the first I had heard from my stool. Dotachin himself was a bit more, ah, the word I wanted to use was “manly” than one would have expected from such a nickname (then again, “Shizu-chan” wasn’t too accurate either). There was a black knit cap adorning his head, and a relatively dark green jacket housing broad shoulders. I only chuckled, though.

“Sorry, sorry, that’s just how I learned it,” I half-heartedly apologized. The half part had to do with the fact that “Dotachin” was going to stick in my brain forever, nothing to be done about it. “I’m Tekichu Sosa, by the way, and I’m a…” I paused to consider it. How would you even define the relationship between Izaya and me? Friend didn’t seem accurate, though I wasn’t exactly happy with the terms employee or associate either. “I’ve heard of you through Izaya-kun, which is why the name came out that way.”

“Oh, so she knows Iza-Iza, that makes sense!” the only female in the room stated, and I focused my intention on her. Her name was Karisawa Erika, based off my memory bank. Her dress was all black with long sleeves, and a small hat was upon her head. But still…

Iza-Iza? Does she honestly mean…?

I laughed at the name, mainly because it was far too ridiculous. Well, at least far too ridiculous to be applied to that man, under any circumstances. Of course that laughing fit just brought about more stares from the group (and probably some at my back from the rest of the restaurant).

“He was right, you guys are fun.” I flashed a grin at their confused expressions. “Hey, I’ve been wanted to talk to you since Izaya-kun mentioned all of you a few days ago. Would you mind if I joined you? Just for a little bit?”

“Whoa, Erika, check it out!” one of the other males exclaimed, standing up in his seat. I recognized his voice as the nasally one from earlier, but was suddenly distracted by his close proximity to my face. His dirty blond hair directed his attention to his face, where I felt myself distracted by the fact that he wasn’t even bothering to open his eyes. “Check out her eyes! These are some seriously legit contacts!”recognized his voice as the nasally one from earlier, but was suddenly distracted by his close proximity to my face. "

Erika was at his side a second later, staring into my eyes with the same enthusiasm. “Whoa, these are awesome!” she said. “I can’t even tell they’re cosplay! Where did you buy these?!”

“Um…” I managed, caught off guard by their outbursts. “No, this is my natural eye color…” The pair’s jaws dropped in unison, and I wondered if I had broken them or something.

“Really, that’s so cool!”

“You think she’s an incubator or something? A denizen from a foreign land come to earth to select those that will save the universe through their noble sacrifices! In which case I volunteer!”

“No, no, Yumachii, she has to be a princess in hiding! Trained from birth to defend herself but forced to flee her country once it was betrayed from within! How much you wanna bet these weird accessory things are actually weapons?”

“Ah,” I said, deciding to dismiss their chatter and take it as a compliment, “I guess that means you’re Yumisaki Walker.” I pointed to the blond first. Afterwards I pointed to the last of the group, a man with slightly long brown hair and a red vest. “So by process of elimination that makes you Togasa Saburo.”

“How’d you—?” Saburo started.

Walker recoiled in surprise, but I could tell that he was still excited. “Whoa, a beautiful esper that knows my name!” he said. “Is this fate? Destiny? Is it even real? Kyohei, we gotta let her hang out with us so we can figure out if one of us is actually the being that controls the universe!” Walker and Erika looked to Dotachin, like kids asking their parents if they could keep a puppy they found on the street.

So I guess that makes me the puppy?

“Yeah, whatever, just stop making a scene will ya?” Dotachin said. “Sit down and shut the door.” I couldn’t tell if he was alright with my presence or against it. Before I could comment, Erika and Walker had taken possession of my arms, dragging me into the seat between them. The door slid shut, way more ominous than I had ever thought was possible.

I was bombarded with questions from there on out, but it was an entertaining enough end to the day.

Kanra: I just read that last part. You’re moving to Tokyo?
Kanra: Congratulations~!

Kakkoii_chan has entered the room.

Kakkoii_chan: Eh, who’s moving?
Kanra: Read the logs yourself.
Kakkoii_chan: But that’s just a distraction!
Kakkoii_chan: I wanna focus on what we got goin’ on now!
Kanra: As I was saying…
Kanra: Wanna get together in real life?
Tanaka Taro: Yea, let’s. That would be fun.
Kanra: Totally~.
Kakkoii_chan: Especially if all three of us do it.
Kakkoii_chan: Tho I dunno if you really wanna meet Kanra-chan in person…
Kakkoii_chan: I’d say knowing her online is enough.
Tanaka Taro: Kakkoii-san, I’ve been wondering, do you know Kanra-san?
Kakkoii_chan: You mean outside this box?
Kanra: Yea, she does. That’s why I introduced her to the room.
Kanra: Oh.
Kanra: That’s right.
Kanra: Ever hear of suicide pacts?
Setton: Yea, those were popular for a while.
Setton: People meet online and commit suicide…
Tanaka Taro: Horrible, isn’t it?
Tanaka Taro: You don’t really hear much about that happening anymore, do you?
Setton: They probably couldn’t kill themselves…
Kanra: Maybe there were lots of suicides.
Kanra: Just that no one’s found out about them yet~.
Kanra: Like they haven’t found the bodies or somethin’…
Kakkoii_chan: Sounds about right…
Tanaka Taro: (;°Д°)…
Setton: Don’t be creepy.
Kakkoii_chan: But Kanra-chan can’t help but be creepy!
Kakkoii_chan: That’s just the way she is!
Kanra: I’m just going to pretend like you didn’t say that…
Kanra: You know, a lot of people have been disappearing lately.
Tanaka Taro: ?
Tanaka Taro: You serious?
Kanra: Well…
Kanra: Mostly it’s illegal aliens, but not just them.
Kanra: Runaway kids, too.
Kanra: They disappear between Ikebukuro and Shibuya…
Kakkoii_chan: Told ya she can’t help but be creepy.
Kakkoii_chan: I betcha you could go around on Halloween without a costume and people would still be afraid of you.
Kanra: You’re nothing less than horribly cruel, Kakkoii-chan.
Setton: Can we talk about something besides the disappearances then?
Kanra: Fine.
Kanra: So guess what I saw today~?
Kanra: The Black Bike.
Kakkoii_chan: So you surfaced form your lair and didn’t tell me?
Kakkoii_chan: Looks like you’re the mean one.
Tanaka Taro: What Black Bike?
Setton: Huh…
Kanra: You haven’t heard of it~? (° °)
Kanra: Everyone in Shinjuku and Ikebukuro talks about it.
Kanra: It’s this urban legend that’s been around for a while. I guess a lot of people have been taking pictures of it lately.
Setton: Yea, I’ve heard of it.
Setton: it’s probably with one of those bike gangs or somethin’.
Setton: Although, I don’t think anyone’s seen the thing riding around with a gang.
Kakkoii_chan: You just don’t see too many bike gangs period, tho.
Kanra: If you’re riding one of those things without your lights on, you’re an idiot.
Kanra: Unless you’re not human…
Tanaka Taro: Wait, what’s that supposed to mean?
Kanra: Yea… You see, it’s sorta like…
Kanra: A demon, or a monster…
Tanaka Taro: Wait a sec, demon? Monster?
Kanra: Dotachin calls it the grim reaper.
Kakkoii_chan: Does he really?
Tanaka Taro: Dotachin?
Tanaka Taro: Who’s Dotachin?
Kanra: Anyway, about the Black Rider…
Tanaka Taro: But who’s Dotachin? (‘°ω°’)
Kakkoii_chan: I love your priorities, Taro-kun.
Kanra: It doesn’t have a head…
Kanra: The head’s cut clean off, but it’s still moving…
Kakkoii_chan: Like somethin’ outta Sleepy Hollow, man!

Tanuki Usagi has entered the room.

Tanuki Usagi: Sleepy Hollow? Sleepy Hollow?!
Tanuki Usagi: What’s Sleepy Hollow?
Kakkoii_chan: It’s this American folktale with a headless horseman.
Tanuki Usagi: You had me at headless~…
Kanra: How do you even know about something like that?
Kakkoii_chan: I didn’t tell you? I studied overseas so…
Kakkoii_chan: I know a bunch of useless stuff like that…

It had been kind of surreal, watching Magenta as she waited for Izaya (tho he wouldn’t show up), just because only a week or so ago it had been me standing there. The only difference was that Magenta was more than likely not in our mindset, giving her no special treatment. She would be kidnapped and saved by Celty, and then she would be dropped off at aforementioned building, where Izaya would be waiting to mindfuck her, and I would be waiting to watch.

At least the person acting as Nakura this time around was a better liar than mine had been, since he seemed much more at ease at what he was doing. At least, that’s what it seemed like from where I could see them. Izaya and I had taken up surveillance in a café that gave us a nice aerial view of the square below from a few floors up. He had pulled out a small pair of binoculars, while I just nonchalantly sipped at my drink, keeping tabs on things in my peripheral vision.

Next came the stalking part, which definitely seemed odd. Following Izaya as he trailed after Magenta and her Nakura made me realize he had done the same to me, probably with the same grin on his face. What really got to me was that to him, I had seemed like any other person. There was nothing special about me until… Until what? What had made me different in his eyes?

“The coast couldn’t be clearer.”

“Sorry to trick you like this, doll face. Kidding!” The voices of the traffickers dragged me back into the reality, as the sounds of struggle filled the air. Izaya and I remained hidden behind pillars of a nearby building as it went on. Eventually the van drove away, and we walked out into the alley.

“Ugh, they seriously left the damn cigarette lit?” I asked, noticing the small red burning object on the ground. Izaya essentially skipped his way across the pavement, settling out as he walked forwards. I followed behind, stopping beside him as the cigarette was extinguished beneath his shoe.

“Heh. The coast isn’t exactly clear,” he stated, smirking all the way. And when he pulled out his cell phone, Izaya’s expression transitioned into a grin. He gestured for me to come along with his shoulder when he started walking again, and I did as I was told. I could see the screen as he shifted through his contacts and selected one. I didn’t bother to try to listen to the other line since there wasn’t any point. He was calling Celty after all.

“Hey, I don’t think I need to remind a talented transporter such as yourself how to do their job. Just do what you’re told, and nothing more. Throw a scare into them, kick ‘em around a bit, and that’s all. Okay? Have fun.” Izaya hung up and turned the conversation towards me. “So tell me. Are you excited?”

I giggled a little bit, my grin being present for a minute or so by now. “Just a little bit. What was your first clue?” He gave no answer, and we walked through the Ikebukuro streets in silence.

All former considerations of things gone by were gone, and the only thing I wanted was for what was coming up to be nothing less than fun.

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter Eight, Presenting

Orihara Izaya: The Act of Decimation

I suppose you could say the annoying part was the waiting.

Well, not annoying, per se. More so it was boring. You had to consider that, in this case, without going to retrieve my target on my own, all I really could do was wait. It wasn’t a short one either, as Celty was going to have to go from her house to the drop-off area, intercept the traffickers, and then drop Mazenda-san off at the base of the building where Sosa and I were lying in wait.

Sosa didn’t seemed too bothered by the delay, as she was laying idly on top of the structure that housed the stairwell we had come through not too long ago, a lazy smile on her face. Her head dangled off the edge in an upside-down fashion, and every now and then she would spout off nonsensical fragments of conversation without really demanding a response. I almost wanted to classify it as annoying if it weren’t for the fact that it passed time.

Overall, Sosa appeared to be psyching herself up for the coming event more than simply waiting for it. I understood the value of doing so, but often refrained from the concept in the event of disappointment. Not to say that I wasn’t excited by the idea of what I was about to do, but I already knew that it would be the sort of typical event that I had already concocted all the potential scenarios for in advance. But Sosa was a slightly different classification than me, so to her an event could be all the more enjoyable by an act of pure willpower.

Besides, I most certainly knew that her perception of the event and mine would be different. I was doing this for a little bit of fun, while Sosa was here not for her own personal sick kicks, but for the sake of watching me in action.

The only reason we knew things were about to begin was the sound of Celty’s motorbike, the ethereal neighing of a horse as opposed to the typical sounds of machinery serving as the signal. Sosa obediently rolled to her stomach before shuffling behind the cover of what appeared to be some sort of air vent on her perch. True, this would limit her overall ability to actually view the event, but she was doing it for the sake of security (“Cause it’s more so about listening than seeing. I possess plenty of imagination to fill in the blanks, Izaya-kun.”).

I was almost impressed by her determination to not interrupt me, just like she had promised.

I didn’t waste much time after Sosa had gone into hiding to prepare my own position. I did an unnecessary parkour jump over the railing I had been propping myself up against prior and dropped down past the small sets of stairs. I almost expected some sort of commentary from Sosa until I remembered she couldn’t see me, and instead went to take shelter in the shadows of the very stairs I had just bypassed.

There was a space of a few minutes as I waited for Mazenda to complete the trek to the roof of the building. Soon enough the sound of the door opening came through the air, followed by another pause of silence that could be attributed to an observation of surroundings—at least she had that much common sense. The noise of light footsteps being taken down the stairs, although they sounded slightly louder due to the vantage point I had placed myself in, and ultimately I was rewarded by being able to see my prey.

I gave her another moment to look around, body language screaming anxious, before calling out. “Mazenda-san.” The name lightly popped out of my mouth in much friendlier tones than I would generally use towards anyone else. She gave a slight jump before turning around, and I chose to step away from the shadows so she could get a better look at me. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Nakura.”

For a moment, I couldn’t help but compare her to Sosa. It wasn’t that they were similar in looks—Mazenda’s hair was a far lighter shade of brown, and pulled into pigtails at that; her eyes were nowhere near that exotic orange; and their figures would have been impossible to confuse—but it was the fact that the two had dressed significantly similar to each other in high irony. I wondered if it was a popular look at the time and that had been why Sosa had chosen it: a jacket made of very light material, open in front to show the undershirt beneath, and shorts that were hardly any longer than the bottom hem of the jacket, although in Sosa’s case it had been paired with an everyday, almost school-issue skirt.

But what was the most fascinating part of that association was just how highly contrasted their expressions were. Sosa had been unperturbed, defiant even, while the best words to describe Mazenda had to be apprehensive and scared. There was some slight trace of suspicion, but the overall desperateness—the type of face that said no more of this, I can’t take it, please don’t let anything else go wrong—canceled the latter out, diminishing any effect.

I felt an unmistakable urge to find out what it would take to get that mixture of emotion on Sosa’s face, and made a mental note to put some serious thought into the process later.

“How do I know that for sure?” Mazenda ultimately asked, her voice quiet and uneven. I put a smile on my face, though Sosa would have remarked about it not being reassuring in the slightest if she could have seen it.

“Because I’m the Nakura who wants to disappear with you.”

Her face shifted in an instant, along with an audible intake of breath, and while she still looked tired, I could tell she was relieved. Of course, that really was the point of it, give her a false sense of security and then destroy it all in one fell swoop. “It is you.” Mazenda’s voice was still quiet, but it had slightly picked up volume and had become an almost unperceivable step in the steadier direction. “So then, I guess you’re the one that saved me back there?”

By then we had both drifted slightly closer to each other, enough so that the distance between us was one typical of casual conversation. “Right, that’s me,” I stated, and watched as Mazenda lowered herself down into a bow.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” she replied, words sounding as genuine as they could be.

“Were you really scared?” I inquired, and her response was in the affirmative, the statement accompanied by a nod. I vaguely wondered if Sosa was resisting the urge to laugh at the moment. I dismissed the thought by adding in faked sympathies of, “That must have been rough.”

“It was,” Mazenda said, almost seeming to grow a bit weary at the thought of what had happened to her. Then she tilted her head to the side in a slower version of Sosa’s general movement before asking a question. “How did you find out about the kidnapping, though?”

That question meant all bets were off, which was perfectly fine by me. I highly doubted that I would ever be as excited about it as Sosa probably was in that moment, but I definitely couldn’t have classified as unhappy about the concept. Even so, the next words out of my mouth were as smooth as the others had been. “Easy. I’m the one who had those three losers kidnap you.” And then, because I couldn’t resist, “Clever, huh?” A slight gasp was the only response I felt like allowing at this point in time. “Oh, and that rescue was arranged by yours truly as well.”

I gestured lightly to myself as Mazenda’s expression went through a much more drastic change than the previous one. It was clearly shock, and confusion mingled in with her words as she forced the question out. “You arranged it…?”

“Let’s recap the last few moments of your life, shall we?” I proposed, walking forward as I did so. My face held an expression akin to a smile, although smile really didn’t have the right connotations for the emotion coming across. “You were scared when you were kidnapped, despite the fact that you wanted to die in the first place, and that made you mad. Now if you fought back against your kidnappers, you would be denying the part of you that wanted to die, so you decided to give up and accepted your fate. But now that you’re safe and sound, you’re thrilled that you didn’t die.” I had walked past Mazenda during the first part of my tirade, not even bothering to watch her, and now stool in front of the guard rail on the side of the roof. I leaned down against it, arms crossed in front of me. I ultimately turned my head back to watch, because this was the fun part.

“I wanted to see the look on your face when I told you that.” Absolute shock, greater than the last, was painted across Mazenda’s face, and I could hear her breath starting to hitch. “I wanted to see what you looked like when you came face to face with someone who could see right through your pathetic intentions,” I continued as I turned around to lean backwards against the railing, albeit dropping myself down a bit to do so.

“Wh… Why would you…?” Hesitation and fear stained the sentence, but it was enough for me to give roughly the same response I had given Sosa when she had asked me the same thing. I figured I could mix it up a little bit though, so my little observer wouldn’t get bored. Besides, there was a different approach required when one ultimately considered the people listening to the explanations.

“Why would I?” I repeated without mocking tones, though they weren’t really needed. The intention was clear enough. “Let’s see. It might sound philosophical, but you look like a smart girl, so I think you’ll be able to understand. Anyway, I’ll try to explain it to you. Simply put, I love humans.” My hand went into the air with a series of small gestures as the words came out. “Think about it; human beings are the most interesting creatures you could ever hope to find. Oh, and when I said I love humans, I meant all humans, not you specifically. Important detail.”

Her cheeks went red for a moment, and she probably waited until the sensation of heat was gone before speaking again. “So then…you lied…?” Mazenda asked, and her tone told me she was hoping for a different answer than the one she was sure I would give. I walked back over to her, shoving my face in a highly close vicinity to hers.

“You’re getting the picture; how wonderful,” I remarked. Then I grabbed hold of her wrist for the purpose of pulling her towards the railing I had previously been leaning against. “Come here.”

A few minutes later I had forced her over to the other side of the railing and stood on the far edge, admiring the view of the concrete below as the wind whistled. Mazenda had chosen to remain as close to the rail as I would allow her without going over it, and I decided the situation called for some commentary. A little lesson, if you will.

“Many people have jumped to their deaths from the very spot you’re standing on,” I started after taking one step back. “It’s not really famous for it or anything, but it’s high enough that the fall will kill you. Look! See that stain down there?” I gestured with a point, and Mazenda surprisingly had enough guts to take a look over the edge, though she was clearly afraid.

“Tell me something,” I requested, “you think you’re special?” My words caused her to redirect her gaze toward me, and I kept up my role as the one who did most of the talking. “You’re not. Everyone’s the same.” I returned my foot to where it had been on the siding of concrete that was slightly higher than rest of the roof beside it, proceeding to walk on it casually, despite the potential fall. “Everyone lies, everyone hides things… No one makes it through this life being completely honest. I bet you’ve got a couple of juicy secrets you wouldn’t tell even your best friend. So explain this:

“How come it’s okay for you to have secrets but not your parents?” I turned back around as the question left my lips, keeping my balance all the way.

“Well, I…”

“You wanna know what my thoughts are on this?” The question wasn’t really necessary, as I was going to give my opinion anyway, but that didn’t really matter either. I started the walk back the way I had come, keeping up conversation all the while. It was time to make things personal, and I alluded to the situation she had poured her heart out to me about to drive the point home. “I think if you’re having an affair, if your spouse knows, at times you still laugh at the same dumb jokes. You keep eating the same sweet stew. You just keep going.

Something had sparked in Mazenda’s brain, turning her despair into anger, which was a common enough reaction. I had her disposition figured out quite well by this point, so I didn’t expect it to last long, though I still had to dodge the slap she aimed in my direction. Using her momentum against her, I took a firm grasp on her wrist before pulling ever so slightly that she was now in danger of falling off the edge, the only things keeping her from doing so being my hand and the chance that her shoes had hooked against the very siding I had been standing on until not too long ago.

“You see? Whatever problems they had, they’re just a big old stain on the pavement now. Everyone’s the same, no exceptions. All of them, equal before ‘God’…” Not that I particularly believed in something as ridiculous as an all-powerful god that ruled over all. There were gods, but no such a powerful existence as that. Nonetheless, I let Mazenda dangle there for a few moments of desperation. “Want me to let go?” I asked. I got no response though, and ultimately just pulled the girl back up.

She fell towards me, and I stabled her before we both slightly backed away from each other. “You get it now?” Once again I was rewarded with no response, although I really hadn’t expected one in the first place. All in all, I felt quite satisfied with my work this go round, and had hopefully provided Sosa with the entertainment she had been expecting. Then again, she could be filled with endless prattling of suggestions and commentary on how I could have done better, which was a possibility. Of course, I was willing to put up with that if it resulted in her actually participating in future events, which would most likely turn out to be an interesting experience indeed.

With these thoughts on my mind I prepared to make my exit, but Mazenda said something far too quiet to hear. I paused, replaying the moment mentally, telling myself it was wrong, because there was no way, and it didn’t make sense, it had almost sounded like she had said—

“Help me!” This time she actually shouted the words, though her naturally soft voice was still quieter than the general volume expected from such a statement. It took a moment for my brain to process, but I soon realized where her gaze was directed and turned. Sure enough, Sosa was sitting up, a deer in the headlights type expression on her face as she stared back down at us. It took me a moment, but I soon realized that she must have moved around to get a better look at what was happening when Mazenda’s back was most definitely turned and hadn’t gotten back into hiding in enough time to not be seen.

I couldn’t tell if she was looking to me for guidance or not, but I wouldn’t have had anything to say if she had been. My brain wasn’t quite there in formulating a way to use this to my advantage, though it would be in a minute. The problem was that I wasn’t stupid enough to think Mazenda would seriously stand around and do nothing in that period of time.

No, that was a lie. I had enough of a plan to go with until the rest was fully structured in my subconscious, but I just didn’t want to use it. The truth of it all was that I wanted to sit back and relax and see how Sosa ran the show on such short notice.

Just as I expected, emotions reconfigured after a quick pause. The same exact cool and calm she had presented to me when we first met reasserted itself as she stood up and walked over to the edge of her perch and halted there for a second, like she was judging the distance.

Tekichu Sosa executed a casual jump and her feet made small tapping noises as they hit the concrete. She straightened up, dusting herself off as she did so, ultimately leaning herself across the railing after smoothly walking there. “‘Help’ you?” she asked, cynicism dripping off her words. Her expression had trailed back into the same smile she had held when we were conversing about her intentions for the people of this city. “‘Help’ you?” And then there was laughter. “Now why in the world would I want to do something like that?”

I heard Mazenda’s breath hitch behind me and turned my head for the sake of seeing her expression. It was truly wonderful, the face of one whose hope had been shattered far too many times to be fixed again.

“Oh, I get it, you have much more faith in humanity than what I do, isn’t that right?” Sosa continued, as if she had been planning this speech from the very start, even though I knew that wasn’t the case. “You were thinking something along the lines of ‘There’s no way there’s anyone else like this,’ now weren’t you? Well, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re wrong.

“There’re some minor distinctions, but I’m quite sure you don’t care about those. So as far as you’re concerned, let me shatter what little optimism you have concerning this and let you know that there’s no way I’m going to do something as ridiculous as help you. After all, I’m just like him. Hell, I’d say I’m even worse than him if you think about it. At least, you’ll very likely see it that way. Don’t worry, though, I’m quite sure we’re the only two of our kind, at least for now, so you can keep the little spark of hope you have in the rest of humanity for as long as it takes you to realize how disgusting they are. Then again, I’m quite sure you’ll fit right in nicely, so looks like you have no worries after all, once you’re rid of us! Now isn’t that a nice feeling!”

It was a wonderfully executed speech for having to come up with it on the spot. Then again, I wouldn’t have doubted it if you told me that it had been a structured presentation of all of Sosa’s subconscious thoughts as she had listened. “Ah, I better shut up; I don’t wanna steal the spotlight. He’s the star of this scene anyway, I’ll have you know. I just came to watch. But then again, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little audience participation, so I’d say we’re all good. Oh, screw it, I gotta say one more thing and then I’m done for sure. I can’t stand the thought of you misconstruing me that way.”

Sosa took a deep breath and pointed back to Mazenda, hardness setting her voice in contrast from the lighter tones she had just been utilizing. “I recommend you keep your mouth shut from now on and toss any faith that you’re gonna be saved by me off the side of this building. The fact that you just assumed that I would do that really pisses me off. And if I hear anything else like that, it won’t be good. He could find it amusing because he loves you creatures, but as for me—

“I absolutely hate humans, especially ones like you.”

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter Nine, For Realz

Tekichu Sosa: Evaluations of Capture

In the aftermath of my words, the only thing I could think to do was keep my mouth shut. I resolutely held on to that thought, because I had already broken one of my promises, no need to do that to another I had just made. I hadn’t done too badly for an improv job—the look on Magenta’s face was more than enough to prove that—but I was still only the slightest bit dissatisfied about the whole deal.

Because watching Izaya had been an absolute work of art, beyond anything I could have ever imagined coming from someone else. That was the product of someone who did this sort of thing regularly enough and broke down people instinctively that they could plot out all the moves and words and emotions of their prey to prepare for any situation thrown at them. And when the unexpected happened, they were able to handle it with such skill that it was like they had planned out the entire thing.

Improvisation was the key to handling these sorts of events, because nothing was ever as predictable as it seemed. Izaya could have handled the whole thing if I had let him, but we both had hesitated. That was where my dissatisfaction came from, the fact that I hadn’t been able to deal with it immediately. I had been brilliant at improvising ever since high school, but nothing had immediately come to mind when Magenta saw me. And to me that meant I was far out of practice, and particularly way too far for my comfort.

“Well, we’ve gotta bounce,” Izaya remarked, and I snapped out of my inner monologue. I hadn’t really been focusing on him at all, so I couldn’t even guess at his thoughts on my intervention. Instead I watched as he smoothly launched himself over the railing and continued to address Magenta-chan. “Thanks a lot for proving just how ugly and immature you are; it’s been real. And just so you know, I don’t really care about your problems. I just wanted to see how you handled yourself. You didn’t let me down, though; you were just as boring as I imagined you to be! I knew you never really wanted to kill yourself.”

The speech was accompanied by a set of unnecessary acrobatics as Izaya worked his way up the stairs. He opened the door back to the stairwell, gesturing for me to go inside. I did so, tossing a wave over my shoulder in the process. “Thanks again! We had an excellent time, Mazenda-san!” Izaya finished.

The door closed and I dropped the smug expression I hadn’t even realized I had been holding on to. The instincts from previous experiences in situations like these must have acted up during my own speech, which meant I wasn’t a lost case in terms of handling myself. Even so, I looked back to Izaya, trying to figure out his opinion. Even if he wasn’t mad, I still felt like I owed him an apology. “I’m so—”

“Not now, Sosa-chan,” he interrupted. “You don’t want to waste time and miss the best part, now do you? All you need to do is keep quiet and follow me and we can end this show with an interesting finale, if I do say so myself. We can discuss your performance afterwards, too, but now it’s time to focus. Come along now.” And without giving me anytime to object, Izaya opened the door, lightly tugged on my arm to get me to follow, and closed it back up, all without making a sound.

I nervously looked back over to Magenta-chan, but she apparently hadn’t heard a thing as she was standing in the same exact spot we had left her in, although she was staring off the edge of the building now. I followed Izaya back to the top of the stairwell structure, where he was sitting on the edge. He patted the spot beside him, and I sat down like he wanted me to. I vaguely considered what would happen when Magenta-chan decided to leave and happened to see us watching her like hawks, but my concerns were quickly dismissed.

She let herself fall.

I felt no sadness at that occurrence, though there was a slight tug at my chest that could only be surprise. I had expected her to ultimately go home, maybe go into depression for a little while, but for her to actually go ahead and commit suicide…

Izaya’s expression let me know that he had been expecting this from the start, and I supposed it made sense. After everything that she had gone through and been told tonight, jumping off a building wasn’t too out there of a reaction. Dealing with both me and Izaya in such a short period of time wasn’t exactly an experience for the weak-hearted, either. There was also the chance that she was doing it just to get back at us, to prove that she did have the ability to kill herself.

“Whoa,” I whispered, because there was no way I could have seen this coming. It was just so goddamn surreal, one minute she had been falling, the next the shadows had sprung to life to form a net that caught Magenta-chan before she even hit the ground. And a supernatural phenomenon so out of the realms of the basic imagination could only mean one thing.

Celty Sturluson issued a command in the form of a hand gesture, and the shadow net lowered Magenta-chan to the ground before dissipating. We were too high up to hear anything, but the presence of light from Celty’s cellphone indicated that there was some sort of dialogue occurring between the two. I was only vaguely curious, as whatever Celty said was enough for Magenta-chan to ultimately pack up and decide to go home.

“Once again, she goes above and beyond…” Izaya commented, taking what looked like an almost rusty nail from his pocket to scratch a line into the concrete. I could see there was already a complete set of tally marks when I looked down, indicating that he had done this multiple times before, not like that was a surprise. “Now, let’s talk about your performance, shall we?” he proposed, turning to face me.

I turned as well, pulling my legs up from the edge and sitting cross-legged. Since I had been oh-so-rudely interrupted during my last attempt at an apology, I decided to pick that back up. “Yea, I’m sorry about that,” I said. “I really didn’t mean to screw things up that much. I probably should have let you take care of it, but you weren’t saying anything so I just decided to do as much damage control as possible, you know?”

“You’re apologizing,” Izaya stated, amusement present in his voice. “For some reason, that seems so out of character and yet so you at the same time. So, care to tell me exactly why you feel the need to ask for forgiveness? I don’t particularly feel like getting on your bad side, and misconstruing your intentions is the quickest way to get there, right? So go ahead, explain.”

I almost wanted to gape, but resisted the urge. Not only didn’t he understand, but he also was trying not to make me mad when he had all rights to be pissed off at me, by my standards. Hell, I was expecting punishment, and all he wanted was to talk. “I’m apologizing because I screwed up,” I started. “I told you I wasn’t going to get in the way and look at what I did. I did something stupid, acted without your permission, without your input, and you’re trying to figure out why I’m apologizing. I respect you, dammit, so I shouldn’t have done any of those things. Are you honestly telling me that you’re not the least bit irritated?”

I had leaned forward a significant amount during my explanation/outburst; I returned back for the sake of space, propping myself up on my arms. Izaya chuckled, earning himself a small glare on my part. “That’s exactly what I’m telling you, Sosa-chan,” he replied. This time I actually did gape, and he just kept talking. “If I hadn’t wanted you to do something, don’t you think I would have made a move to stop you? Actually, I quite enjoyed your performance.”

There was a pause as he gave me the closest thing to a smile I had seen on his face, though it was still more of a smirk than anything. “You respect me? That’s not something I hear every day.”

I looked away instinctively, not really wanting to sustain eye contact for what I was about to say. “Come on, Izaya-kun. Did you ever think that there was someone like you out there; someone that you’d ever actually get the chance to meet? The way my brain takes it is that there is someone like that and that they’re willing to keep living that way despite all the things in society that tell them they shouldn’t. I think that’s kind of worthy of respect; don’t you?”

I heard movement and redirected my focus to Izaya, only to see him standing up. “No offense, Sosa-chan, but you think too much,” he commented, offering out his hand to help me up.

I tried my best not to pout and stood up on my own.

Two days later, I found myself with another day off, and wandered about as usual. I didn’t take me too long to notice that the streets were void of the usual clusters of teenagers. Thinking about the date, I came to realize that it was the start of the school term. My next train of thought went to Masaomi-chan and how I hadn’t seen him since we had met, so I felt like visiting him again.

This lead to me spending the morning actually trying to locate Raira Academy, though I was much more willing to actually ask for directions this go-round. As such, it didn’t take me too long to get there, and just in time. As it turned out, Raira was one of those schools that started and (presumably) ended their trimesters with half-length days, meaning I showed up just when students were beginning to file out of the gates.

I leaned back onto the partial wall on the other side of the street as the entrance, lying in wait. I could see pretty much everyone from this vantage point, plus it would have been hard to miss Masaomi’s blonde hair, even in this crowd. Of course, that had been the initial plan, but my eye was caught by something much more interesting first.

Oi!” I shouted, running across the street without looking for traffic first. I didn’t hear any horns, motors running, or curse words aimed in my direction though, so I made it across safe enough. A few kids were staring at me, but that was normal, and I ignored them in favor of relocating my target. Spotting her, I trailed after her at a light sprint. “Hey, hold on; wait up, will ya?!” My hand finally got ahold of the thin shoulder, and she turned her head to face me.

It was my girl from about a week ago, the one who asked questions about being human and ran away from Izaya without any provoking. I totally would have missed her if she hadn’t been walking on the far end of the sidewalk, still wearing her ballet slippers. Part of me wanted to call her “Usagi-chan” due to her own White Rabbit reference, but that would have conflicted in my memory with the Usagi-chan that was part of Izaya’s chat room. Not that it mattered; I would be learning her real name soon enough.

She wasn’t focusing on me, though, instead frantically looking around the area. It took me a moment to realize that she was looking for Izaya, and subconsciously increased my grip on her shoulder in case she decided to bolt again. “Don’t worry about it, he’s not here, you know,” I reassured, causing her head to jerk in my direction. “He’s all the way in Shibuya today, so you can relax.”

She stared up with me with those yellow eyes of hers, almost discerning if she wanted to believe me or not. Ultimately she gave a small nod, and I grinned, dropping my hand from her shoulder in the process. “I didn’t get to introduce myself properly last time. I’m Tekichu Sosa. Whaddya say I treat you to lunch?”

There was a pause, and then I got two soft-spoken words as my answer:

“Susanuma Aiako.”

Practically pulling my prize of sheer luck behind me, I wandered my way through the streets on the verge of bouncing. I probably got off track a few times, but Aiako-chan didn’t say anything about this, so I kept going. Ultimately I found my intention, the same café that Masaomi-chan had taken me to our first meeting. I had been intending to come here anyway, so I didn’t see why that should have changed just because my company did.

I took the liberty of sitting at the same table as last time, too, seeing as it was clear. We both ordered our drinks, and the waiter retreated back into the shop (it wouldn’t have surprised me if someone who had been on shift last time I was here was whispering warnings to the poor guy as they passed). Aiako-chan stared intently at the menu, while I chose to watch her instead.

“So, Aiako-chan, have you always gone to school here?” I asked, and she looked up, that cute little deer in the headlights expression on her face. “I’m gonna take a shot in the dark and say not. After all, you were walking home alone, right? I get loners and everything, but you don’t strike me as the type. Surely someone in the system would have tried to befriend you already. Some class rep or something, you know. Sure you could have turned them down, but you don’t like making waves, huh? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Hell, I didn’t make my first real friend ‘til I was twenty. So, I’m curious; what’s the story?”

Aiako-chan took a moment to process the information and closed her menu. She looked down to her hands in her lap, and I almost thought she wasn’t going to say anything at all. But speak she did, voice even quieter than usual, “I went to the same elementary and middle schools, but switched my second year… But since I was planning on going to Raira instead of that place’s high school, I tested in and came here instead… There were… a lot of problems in my first school, so my family wanted me to transfer out…”

I nodded in understanding; I wasn’t about to pry any deeper than that straight off, since I didn’t feel like I had the right as a practical stranger. I had more than enough time to learn things, too, so I wasn’t really worried either. “How come you didn’t have any friends until you were twenty?” The question caught me off guard; that was for sure. But what was even more disconcerting was the look Aiako-chan was giving me, like she felt sorry for me…

“I’ve never really been a people person,” I stated, resting my chin on my hand. “Hate ‘em, really, people.  Guess you could say they were my ‘friends,’—” air quotes for emphasis “—but I most certainly wasn’t one to them. So I never really opened up to anyone ‘til college. I didn’t really even want to, but he practically made me.” I could feel myself smiling slightly, a real one for once, and Aiako-chan seemed a bit fascinated. “He was probably the first person I never hated to some degree, which sure threw me for a loop.”

“Was that person Scary Guy-san?” she asked to my confusion, and then I realized she was talking about Izaya. I laughed.

“No, no, I only met him a month ago. Though I guess he’s my third friend. The other two are both Americans, since I went to school there. Hell, they’re all so different, comparing them is enough to make me wanna laugh for hours. But enough about that, I wanna ask you something, Aiako-chan,” I lightly transitioned the topic, and she went to attention. “Have you ever heard about the Dollars?”

Aiako gave a small nod. “People talk about them at work all the time. Some say they’re a lot of trouble, but I’ve actually met people who are members, and they don’t seem bad at all. It kind of makes me wanna join, but I don’t know how… I’d ask people at work, but it seems kind of rude when you’re supposed to be providing them service to go ‘Excuse me, would I be able to join the Dollars?’”

“Well, my dear Aiako-chan, today is your lucky day,” I remarked, holding my free hand out across the table. “Cell phone, please.” I didn’t feel like doing the same thing I had done to Masaomi-chan to her. Besides, I wanted to at least eat before causing a scene. Aiako rummaged through her school bag before placing the object in question—a brick red slider—in my hand. It was one with the separate number pad and keyboard, so I slid open to the latter, toying with the web browser. I typed in the all-too familiar Dollars URL and returned the phone to its owner.

“The password’s ‘baccano,’” I informed. “You know, like the novels. Oh, it is the English spelling, not the katakana. There’s no exclamation point either. And don’t capitalize it; that bar’s case sensitive.” I watched as Aiako-chan tapped away at the keys, looking as happy as I had ever seen her. “Your username pulls from your email, but you could change it if you wanted. Also, put a greeting on the main page; you’ll make some friends in no time.”

It didn’t take long for my own phone to go off in my pocket, and I pulled the dark blue device out. I slid it open to make it easier to hold, then opened up the newly arrived text. I was about to read what a quiet girl like Aiako-chan would put as her greeting, but stopped when I saw the username. I re-read it a few times to make sure I got it right, and lo and behold…

You’re Tanuki Usagi-chan?!” I shouted, causing heads to turn our way and the newly arrived waiter to try not to drop the tray that held our drinks. (He had been looking a bit worried beforehand anyway, so I guessed my earlier theory to be true. I decided he deserved a decent tip so I wouldn’t ultimately be banned from coming here.) Aiako-chan merely nodded, not knowing how to respond. “Oh my god, this is awesome, you really can be my little Usagi-chan!” I laughed before turning to the now frozen waiter. “Oh, we’re ready to order, whenever you are.”

I stated my choice and Aiako-chan stuttered her way through hers while looking to the menu for assistance. After that was over, we both took to our drinks, though I did so to wet my throat and Aiako-chan just looked like she wanted to avoid speaking.

“I’m Kakkoii-chan, by the way,” I said when she didn’t. “That’s how I know.” I gave a slight smile when she removed the straw from her mouth, but still kept silent. “‘Scary Guy-san’ is Kanra-chan, for the record. You’d be surprised how much he acts like a girl IRL, too.”

Aiako-chan only let out a small “ah” in response, then referred back to utilizing her straw for all it was worth. I considered her, then the conversations involving Tanuki Usagi-chan online. That, and there was still the matter of her past to dig up, which certainly interested me as well. The deciding factor was a thought in the back of my mind, reminding me in such a cliché manner that it was always the quiet ones.

“You know, Aiako-chan, I’m going to be your new best friend.”


Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter Ten, Informing

Orihara Izaya: Observatory Inquiry

“I know a bunch of things you don’t know~!”

That was how I was greeted when Sosa called my cell phone, her voice singing through the device. It was night, but not yet seven, so it wasn’t like I could get irritated at her for calling late or anything. And she most certainly wasn’t interrupting my sleep pattern, either. I spent far too much of my time at night playing around on chatrooms or the Dollars, or collecting information (sometimes, the two were the same thing, really). But in all honesty, it wouldn’t have bothered me if she did happen to call me if I was sleeping, as long as it was worth it.

I would have criticized her unnecessary performance if it weren’t for the fact that I was prone to doing the same thing, albeit with different methods. So I leaned back in my chair and let her have her moment. “Oh, yea?” I lightly remarked, wondering if she was excited about the supposed new information or merely the potential chance of getting one up on me.

“Oh my god, Izaya-kun, this is so awesome!” Sosa exclaimed, voice over-bubbling with pure joy. “Okay, so here goes! Susanuma Aiako-chan, i.e. Tanuki Usagi-chan, i.e. one the newest members of the Dollars, i.e. my new protégé, and i.e., most importantly, the girl who ran away from you screaming for apparently no reason about a week ago! What cha think?!” I processed the information, pulling up a new web browser on my computer. Before my spare hand could reach the keyboard, though, Sosa kept going. “Oh, and I could save you a web hunt by just telling you everything, you know?”

I pushed away from my computer, though my home page held its place on the screen. “Ooh, you’re all excited to share with the rest of the class, I see,” I playfully commented. The sound that came from the other end of the line made me suspect that Sosa had stuck out her tongue. “Alright, I’ll bite. Go ahead. Impress me.”

“Eh, right here and now?” Sosa whined. “Over the phone? Really? Come on, Izaya-kun, why don’t you hang out with me in Ikebukuro for a while? Shizu-chan’s probably still out working, but who cares as long as he doesn’t see you? Eh, you’ll never go for a lame offer like that. Oh, I know, I’ll give you prizes, too! I’ll take you out for sushi and I’ll let you in my apartment without calling the cops. How’s that for a deal? Do it, pretty please? Oh, and I suspect you already know my address, so don’t play innocent on that one.”

I considered the offer, not seeing any harm in it. I was beyond used to the trip to Ikebukuro by now, plus Sosa was practically holding the information hostage from me. Not that it would have been hard to find things out now that I had a name to go off of, but why waste the effort when someone already knew? It also saved me the trouble of having to think of a way into Sosa’s apartment later. That and free sushi was always a bonus. I smirked even though my conversation partner couldn’t see, but chuckled so she got the general idea.

“Well now, Sosa-chan, you’ll find out if I know your address soon enough.”

Because I was naturally curious due to the nature of my work (the words Sosa would debate about using there being “creeper” and “nibshit”), I had already scoped out the building Sosa lived in beforehand. Sure, I hadn’t gone in, despite knowing her room number from my previous information search, having not been in the mood to break into the place even when I could guarantee she wasn’t around. But overall, it was a great place to live, though nowhere as upscale as my penthouse. The way her parents apparently continued to throw money into her back account, even when she had a job like the one I was giving her, meant she probably could have afforded one if she wanted, but that seemed so against her style, so I didn’t question it.

She lived on the fourth floor. I knew which room was hers without even having to remind myself of the number; there was a small sticky note beneath the number plaque labeling the door with the very Sosa-like message of “If you know who you’re supposed to be, don’t bother knocking” in slightly blocky handwriting. I considered taking the small bit of paper in with me, but figured it would confuse at least a few passerby. I left the memo where it was, opening the door without a second thought.

Since I hadn’t been planning on making this excursion until a much later point in time, I had yet to put some serious thought into exactly what Sosa’s living space would look like, so I had nothing to anticipate as I entered. The door opened straight up into the living room, which was to be expected. On the right was a desk with three different laptops, sitting in perfect alignment. Now that was something I had seen coming; there would be certain little things that would be perfect, product of an incomplete case of OCD. The chair sitting at the desk was nowhere as cheap as the one I made her use at the office, and I assumed she was only badgering me about it for a freebee. Which wasn’t going to happen, for the record.

I noted the absence of a TV, even though there was plenty of room for it. Instead there were various art pieces, hanging from walls and on stands alike. I hadn’t really seen Sosa as the artsy type, in either terms of appreciation or practice, and figured those could stand to be asked about later. After all, they were certainly unique, things I hadn’t seen on any local market. I would have looked at them longer if I hadn’t been distracted by the kotatsu still sitting in the middle of the floor, despite the fact that it was spring. There were also the cords she commonly wore, including arm ornamentations, rolled up in coils on the couch.

To the left was the kitchen, which appeared to run along the entire left edge of the apartment, carpet turning into tiles. There was clearly more space around the back wall of the living room, where I presumed her bedroom to lie. Figuring that was forbidden territory, at least for now, I instead chose to busy myself with the bookshelf that sat on a chunk of wall not taken up by kitchen next to a small dining room table.

It was filled with a ranging selection of things in print. Her manga collection was no more than ten series, the good ones I had actually bothered with reading, although a few mainstream titles I hadn’t taken to for their predictability were also present. Mixed in with these were a few light novel series, matching up with their respective tankobon. After that was an independent novel section, hosting a rather impressive complete works of Nisioisin. There were a few more prominent works after that, some of the volumes in English, most notably works by Oscar Wilde. The entire next section was English, too, and they were textbooks, apparently ranging across the subjects. Each respective section was kept in alphabetical order by their Romanized titles in the English alphabet, saving the textbooks, which seemed off since I really couldn’t find a pattern to it.

“Well, I guess you’re gonna have your fair share of questions already, so let’s get those out of the way first,” Sosa remarked without greeting. I turned around to see my technical hostess displaying both a tea pot in one hand and two stacked tea cups in the other, barely catching a glimpse of the rest of the kitchen behind her. “I really wish it would wait, but there’s no real harm in getting it over with, so whatever.”

She made her way into the living room, placing the tea set on the kotatsu, which only made sense since she didn’t appear to have anything else to serve as a coffee table. She sat down with her back facing the door, giving me the option to be seated on the couch if I wished. I decided to humor her by joining her under the kotatsu.

Sosa kept up with the good hostess behavior, pouring tea without missing a beat. “So, I think I’ll just go through my guesses first, then you can pick things up from there, okay?” I nodded at the proposal, accepting the tea cup from her in the process. “Right, so which side of the room to start with? Eh, it’s usually the right from the entrance so I’ll go from there.”

Sosa took a sip of her own tea before pointing over to the computer desk. “The big one is Atemiya-kun,” she stated, and I blinked at the fact that she had given names to her pieces of technology, and presumably genders to boot. “I generally use him for video and such; you know, the things that need a nice, big, HD screen. He’s kind of why I didn’t bother with a TV, since pretty much anything that goes on TV ends up on the web, sometimes at the same time. Not that the billing difference really matters, but hey.

“The red one is Rochelle-chan.” Sosa continued without pausing for consideration. I decided to rest my eyes on the netbook sitting in the middle of the triad of computers. “She’s an American model, so she runs an English OS. I got her while I was in the States, just to make things easier when my roommate needed access to my files. And the little one is Piku-chan.” The micro laptop’s dark blue lid sat there, hardly even visible. It was easily dwarfed in comparison to the industrial gray “Atemiya-kun.”

“I keep him around mostly for portability reasons. I prefer running my own systems whenever possible, and both Atemiya-kun and Rochelle-chan really don’t do it for me when I’m out and about. Plus I’ve been running both your little chatroom and the Dollars off him lately, since you don’t need anything over the top for that. Lessee…”

This time Sosa actually did pause, refilling her own cup and offering the same to me. I politely refused, content with letting Sosa go about her explanations. After muttering a few things under her breath, she nodded before starting back up again.

“None of the art’s mine. I, apparently, lack anything necessary in the mind for art of that nature. It’s all stuff my roommate back in college made and let me have. This tea set’s actually one of those, for the record.” I looked down at my cup, actually paying attention to the design for once. The paint style did resemble that of some of the works I had been looking at earlier. “Handmade all the way. Oh, and the reason we’re sitting at my kotatsu is because I got rather attached to it this winter while playing around with you and others, and as such never motivated my lazy ass to put it away properly.”

She downed her teacup without grace, only refilling it to swirl the contents around as she went in for another round. “So that really just leaves the bookshelf. Since it was probably bugging you, the textbooks are all my college ones and arranged in the order I took the classes in. As for why I read a few mainstream manga titles when they’re practically all doomed to be the same story at the core, I do it to play around inside the heads of the antagonists since they’re generally much more interesting.

“Also, the bathroom is in the first door down the small hallway around the corner, and no, you are not allowed to see my room,” Sosa seemed to finalize, smiling as she did so. “So feel free to ask about anything I missed, and welcome to my home, Izaya-kun. I hope you enjoy your stay. That being said, I’m not inviting you to stay the night. No thank you, I’d probably let a stranger sleep in my house before you. Yup, yup, much safer.” She completed this rationalization with a few nods. I decided to ignore the insults in favor of taking up her offer of questions.

“I only have one question, Sosa-chan, then we can move onto the real thing you want to discuss,” I said, noting her face as it flickered into disappointment. I guessed she was looking for a debate on what she clearly didn’t trust about me from the previous statements’ contents. “This is really a senseless inquiry, but I might as well get it out of the way since I’m sure it’ll sneak its way into conversation later. So, is blue actually a favorite color or did the apartment come like this?”

Sosa stopped her transition back into a carefree expression as it went its own way to show her confusion. It wasn’t like a question like this was unwarranted—no, the walls, carpet, furniture pieces when logical, and even the kitchen tile were variations of blue, and anything that wasn’t went along with the color well—but it served to reason she hadn’t expected that to be what I wanted to ask. Generally I wouldn’t ask something of that nature, seeing as it didn’t really matter, but the sheer abundance of the color in an apartment setting seemed unnatural.

“Wow, Izaya-kun, way to throw me for a loop.” Sosa laughed lightly as she spoke the words. “I mean, yea, it’s a legitimate concern, but still.” She absentmindedly ran her finger along the rim of her empty tea cup, a smile back in place, although not necessarily a jubilant one. “I’ve never really gotten into the concept of ‘favorite this/least favorite that,’ to be honest. For me it’s really a concept of ‘like/dislike,’ tho it’s pretty much the same thing. So I guess you could say, yea, it’s my favorite color. Though I prefer to look at it in terms of ‘it’s ascetically appealing to me,’ which is why I did spend a decent chunk of money on both people to do the work to refurbish the place and bribes to the landlord to actually let me get away with it.”

Then the usual peppiness was back, though I wasn’t exactly sure what the differentiating factor was between the two states. “But, man, Izaya-kun, you’re probably the only person that’s gotten me like that. I wasn’t even vaguely expecting that one. Then again, you’re way different than anyone else I’ve ever been around, so it’s to be expected, you know? Of course, that’s kinda why I wasn’t expecting it in the first place… So is that really all? Can I start talking about Aiako-chan, now? Huh, huh, pretty please?!” Sosa had pulled herself into a state similar to that of an overactive puppy, and it was far too easy to imagine her diving across the kotatsu for approval (she was already leaning half way over it, not even taking care for her specially designed tea set), so I took the safest route.

“Have at it, Sosa-chan,” I permitted with a small gesture of my hand.

Sosa grinned, and I was assaulted by another torrent of words.

To save you Sosa’s rambling version, I’ll summarize what I learned in a much more structured format than how it was presented to me.

Susanuma Aiako could very easily be seen as your typical girl in her last year of middle school, being at age fourteen, birthday being in July. She was currently living by herself in a small apartment in Ikebukuro as she went to school at Raira, a very common situation considering she had been raised out of the city. She had an older brother, who wasn’t on the best of terms with her, and the same seemed to hold true for her mother. Her father had passed away a few years back, but unusual family structure wasn’t anything to work yourself up over nowadays.

I was frankly surprised Sosa had gotten this much basic information out of the girl considering just how much more interesting her past was in comparison.

It had started out as your basic bullying. After all, Sosa had described Aiako to me as being highly quiet and soft-spoken most of the time, which had apparently led to the starts of being antisocial in her childhood. Not to say she didn’t have friends, but it was still enough to start out the typical cases of bullying that were so common. That had been almost from the beginning of elementary school.

One of two things happen to cases of bullying in middle school: either it gets better or it gets worse. And Sosa would only have interest if the latter was the case, so that can tell you were this story was going. The bullying intensified to including almost her entire class, even those that hadn’t met her before (peer pressure continues to be a powerful motivator), and it was more than pranks and the like. She was subjected to abuse, physical and sexual alike, and was even sexually harassed by one of her teachers, leading to the coup de grace of this little tale.

She had been raped.

Her father had still been alive at this point, and while she never told anyone the details, he still knew something was wrong. Thus, he set it up so that Aiako would transfer schools, in a different environment where bullying was almost unthought-of. And since she was a smart girl, Susanuma Aiako entered into a school generally reserved for the children of rich families due to impressive scores on the scholarship exam. And there she had her happy rebuilding of herself and ultimately made the decision to come to Ikebukuro on her own due to her intentions of attending Raira Academy in the future.

Only two things ruined the happy fairytale ending that seemed to be just on the horizon: the death of her father and the night terrors.

The extreme case of nightmares plagued the girl’s brain from sometime during the course of the bullying and every day since. Though the contents varied, they were all filled with reenactments of her previous torture or new events that could only occur in dreams. But no matter the torture, the constant was the voices, a horrible mixture of both those who had bullied her and those who hadn’t, and even voices of those she had never met but only accidentally overheard and captured in her subconscious, with the occasional original that seemed to have never heard otherwise in her life.

To be more specific, there was only one voice like that, and apparently it sounded like me, which explained the reaction to run away in terror.

Sosa had told me all of this with that same happy expression on her face as always, as if it wasn’t a slightly common, yet tragic tale that would have had the majority of the human race expressing some form of sympathy, if not in tears. But I wasn’t hanging around with this woman for her human sensibilities, so it didn’t really matter.

Sosa reached for the tea pot again after she concluded her explanation, only to find it empty from the constant refills she had provided herself (it seemed she would drink something as long as it was there, which probably provided an interesting scene when going out to drink, if she did the sort of thing). She instead stood up, stretching in the process, and regarded the tea pot for a moment. After a brief moment of consideration, two words escaped her mouth.

“Fuck it,” Sosa declared, the very definition of inelegant. I took this as a good time to get us out of the house and stood up after her. While it had been an interesting and enlightening experience, we had most certainly spent far too much time under a kotatsu. I made a mental note that if Sosa ever wanted to tell me anything again and there was no choice but to use her house, I would personally force her to put away the damn kotatsu, or at the very least be intelligent enough to sit on the couch.

“I’ll take that as ‘okay, Izaya-kun, we’re going out to buy you that sushi I promised,’” I said in a pretty decent imitation of her voice, starting to smirk in the process. “Because, trust me, Sosa-chan, that’s exactly what it sounded like.” Sosa stared at me for a slight moment before breaking out into her own smile.

“Fine, fine, but since I’m using my paycheck, it’s kind of like you’re buying your own sushi, you know?” she remarked, walking over to grab the neatly coiled sets of cords off the couch behind me. “Hey, don’t give me that look, Izaya-kun, I’m just kidding, sheesh. Hey, maybe the voice thing didn’t have anything to do with Aiako-chan running away from you; your face is kinda scary when it looks like this.”

I considered retaliating physically, but didn’t have the motivation. Instead I watched Sosa twirl the cords around her body as simply as getting dressed, hooking the ends underneath that the boundaries of fabric. The small metallic clicks that were made indicated that they stayed in place due to magnets. “Keep talking like that and I might just fire you. Come on, would you?”

Sosa quickly pulled on the arm bands as I started to walk towards the doorway. “Aw, come on, you know you keep me around for my witty sarcasm and asshole style comments. You like having someone that’s just as bad as you around to make you feel better. I know that’s part of the reason why I stick around, except neither of us really has that second chunk of feeling. If we felt bad about what we were, we’re the type of people that would actually do something about it. Thus you just like me ‘cause I’m like you. Your argument is now invalid.”

Despite the light glare I tossed over my shoulder, Sosa still followed me, the cheery expression never leaving her face.

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

Chapter Eleven, With Parallels

Tekichu Sosa: Marking God

“Sosa-chan, I’d like to pose a different kind of question, if I may.”

Izaya and I walked side by side as we exited my apartment complex, taking to the streets. I felt some form of pride in the fact that, due to the fact of my many trips to Russia Sushi from my apartment in the past, the chances of me getting lost on this particular trip were minimal. Thus I kept the casual pace with Izaya, glad I wouldn’t have to trail after him like some duckling following its mother. I gave him a quick glance for his previous statement, along with some consent. “Go for it.”

“When you called me earlier, you mentioned something along the lines of Susanuma Aiako-chan being your new protégé,” he stated, not bothering to look at me, instead focusing on the street we were about to cross. “I’m quite curious as to what you mean by that, not to mention how you came to such a conclusion in this first place.” Deeming the pavement in front of us safe to walk upon, Izaya moved forward after a short pause. Trusting his judgment, I followed, turning the question over in my brain. Although it seemed like a good one to have asked after my last explanation, I couldn’t blame him for holding off on it. My own legs were appreciating the actual work after being stoic for quite some time.

“Have you ever looked at someone and seen yourself in them?” I asked, jumping up onto the target sidewalk and spinning around to face Izaya-kun. I took the expression on his face to mean he had just taken the statement in a different way than I had intended. “And I don’t mean in terms of hobbies or similar interests, tho those often come into play for people in realizing what I’m talking about. Every person has a core focus, but people in the ‘Interesting’ category often have much more unique focuses than those in the ‘Not Interesting’ category.

“Not that that’s my point either, ‘cause that’s something you make for yourself. But underneath that is your genetic predisposition for personality. And while your personality forms on how you were raised and outside influences, you still have these little core ticks that most people don’t realize they do. And a lot of times, that’s where people get the feeling of ‘I could have been like this person if I lived their life.’” I smiled at Izaya-kun, moving ahead and turning around so I could walk backwards while I talked. “Course, you probably knew all that already, or at least something similar.”

“So what you’re telling me is that you could have been Aiako-chan?” He had that smirk on his lips, though I had never seen it directed to me with such amusement. It was the face he had when we had discussed Magenta-chan, which meant the idea of me with Aiako-chan’s past was an appealing concept to him. I decided to ignore that notion and focus.

“Well, not exactly.” I folded my arms behind my head and looked to the sky. “I have a slightly differential tick from her, one that made me think in terms of practicality for my situation long before I should have. But without that, I most certainly would have been the little recluse she ended up being, ‘cept I probably would have told anyone who tried to reach out to me to go away. But yea, without that, I could have easily been Aiako-chan, given the environment was filled with the same types of people.” I pulled my arm down, pointing at Izaya-kun in the process. “And that, right there, is exactly why I wanna make her my protégé.”

Izaya-kun gave a chuckle almost immediately after my proclamation, and I couldn’t help but smile. There was an air to that laugh that let me know he understood what I was getting at. “Many people think in one direction, even when most ideas work just fine in the opposite,” he remarked, and I nodded. I kept my mouth shut, though, just for the sake of hearing him state the idea. “And since you could have been Aiako-chan, it also means that she could have been you.”

I grinned. I wasn’t fully used to having someone who followed my train of thought, let alone could understand, complete, and even expand upon it. It was almost too good to be true, and I was loving every second of it.

“Exactly!” I chirped. “Aiako-chan has a similar set of ticks to me, but she hasn’t picked her focus yet. I’m not exactly going to force her to live a life like mine, or maybe even yours Izaya-kun, but I do intend to give her an opportunity to experience some things other people can’t even dream of. And maybe she’ll decide to have a similar core to us or one that’s the complete opposite. All that matters is that she’ll have a core and be all the more interesting for it!” I flashed one last smile to my employer before turning to face the direction I was walking and hopping a bit back so we were beside each other again.

“Well then, it looks like we’re both going to benefit from this little venture of yours…” Izaya-kun muttered, almost to himself. “You’ll get someone more interesting while I get a better piece to use. Of course, you get a slightly bigger reward in that you’re most certainly going to have a large amount of fun doing it, but you’re making the bigger investment, so it’s only natural…”

“So you’re going to use Aiako-chan in whatever your big plan is?” I asked without even thinking. I tried to ignore the fact that there were tiny traces of concern on the edge of my voice. Hoping he wouldn’t notice, I chose to make a second comment. “And you’re using me so you can use her, too, not to mention the fact that you were gonna use me in the first place…”

“I thought that was part of our agreement from the start, Sosa-chan,” he taunted, giving a smirk that actually let the slightest traces of humor into his eyes. I nodded in response. “Besides, what you’re doing for me is essentially the equivalent of protecting a pawn on its way to the other side of the chessboard. And while I won’t be able to get a queen out of her, I’ll most certainly end up with something more useful, like a rook, or maybe even a knight if we’re lucky. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”

His chess referencing wasn’t lost on me, and it made perfect sense with the odd chess/shogi/Othello game he seemed to be playing on the side table I had sat at on my first visit. “Of course not, Izaya-kun.” I gave a last scoff for the sake of making him think I was insulted. Not that it was a very effective strategy considering the light tones my voice came out in. “You’re letting me use your town and people for the purpose of my own toys. The least I can do is let you play with mine.

“But your analogy seems off. Judging by that board of yours, you already have chess pieces on there, so saying Aiako-chan is a pawn ain’t right, since you actually have some use for those. I say she’s something that’s not even on your board, like a checker, or a Monopoly piece, or maybe even one of those Connect Four chips! Or a Chinese checker even! She’d have some value on the right type of board, but all she can do right now on this one is roll around aimlessly!”

Izaya-kun chuckled at the same time I let out a giggle, and our laughter collectively mingled in the air. “So then you understand, Sosa-chan,” he said, hand sweeping in my direction. I almost thought he was going to put his hand on my shoulder, but he bypassed the action completely. Instead his arm came up from behind me when I was least expecting it, and draped itself around my shoulders. “It is your job to work hard for the benefit of us both by turning Susanuma Aiako-chan into a game piece worthy of both our exploits in a timely manner!”

His arm pulled away after that small declaration, and Izaya-kun went on to say a few things to himself that weren’t spoken out loud, but enough above a whisper that I could hear without straining myself. “Then again, if I take part in things, I would have a chance to tailor her slightly to my own needs…” I noticed a slight absence of the warmth that had built up between my shoulders and his jacket sleeve in such a short amount of time. Izaya-kun raised his voice back up to normal levels. “Correction: You’ll be in charge of said operation, since you found her first and it’s your right. But you can guarantee I’ll be there to help push things in my favor.”

“Ah, but we still don’t walk out of here with equal benefit, you know,” I pointed out, tapping a finger on my chin. He gave me an almost unnoticeable look that I caught out of the corner of my eye by pure luck. “I mean, I think I get more because I get to see what you’re doing to her, too, which’ll give me hints at exactly what you’re aiming for in this town.” I started to shrug, but an idea hit my brain halfway through the motions. I redirected my energies into lightly hitting one of my palms with the opposite fist. “Oh, you think it’s ‘cause I found her first? Hah, the Universe rewards those who show initiative, I guess.”

“Now, now, Sosa-chan,” Izaya said with the tone of a parent scolding a child, “don’t tell me you believe in something like ‘God.’”

I let out a small laugh, because the concept is just so ridiculous. “Not at all!” I declared without the slightest bit of hesitation. “But I won’t completely reject the concept, either. An all-powerful entity that has a purpose for everything is bullshit to me, but if things like Natural Selection and the like exist, then that was created by the Chance that let us exist in the first place. And that Chance is what’s favoring me right now. It’s not a god, it just is what it is. And since it isn’t all-powerful and just is, yet still controls our lives in a sense, if only through limitation, then that is the Universe!”

I let the smile fall onto my lips. “Izaya-kun doesn’t believe in God either.” There was no verbal response, just Izaya temporarily raising his arms in a “guilty-as-charged” manner. “Ah, what I believe in might be pushing it for you, but oh well.” I dismissed the thought, since it really didn’t matter. I could have been the Pope and Izaya’s atheist nature probably still couldn’t have bugged me; I liked being around him too much.

“By the way, concerning Aiako-chan, I’m going to have to speed up my plans thanks to your new declaration…”

The next instant left both of us with our mouths partially open: me, about continue my point; Izaya, probably about to inquire and comment on said point. My own focus shifted, and I was pretty sure Izaya’s did, too, all because of that one sound.

I had to say that I was probably in love with the sound of Celty’s bike by now. It was just so unique when it cut through the air. I could feel a shudder run up my spine at the sound of it, one I hadn’t experienced on the rooftop two days ago. Then again, that night I had been waiting for that sound, but now it was completely unexpected and refreshing when it hit my ears.

Neither of us even had to say anything; I diligently followed after Izaya-kun in the direction of that beautiful, ethereal sound, feelings of being a duck aside.

We stopped once we came to a sidewalk, Celty approaching from up the street. There was a bit of traffic, but things were looking pretty slow. Taking a few glances at the cars, Izaya stepped into Celty’s direct path, and the dullahan braked to a stop before hitting him as I took a seat on the railing between the road and some bushes.

“So,” Izaya commented, sounding as casual as always, “nobody told me you switched positions and became a defender of the innocent.” He didn’t even look at her, which I guessed wasn’t exactly necessary because Celty didn’t have a head, and, as such, she didn’t have eyes either, but it still was kinda rude. “I didn’t expect that. You see, I thought I hired you for your skills as a courier.”

I, on the other hand, didn’t let my gaze waver too much. There was still a part of that was completely entranced by the fact that Celty was a dullahan, so I didn’t miss it when she went to sit up. For a second, I thought she was going to hit Izaya—I mean, he had made her rescue Magenta-chan after intentionally getting her kidnapped and then letting the girl throw herself off a roof—but instead she only typed on her PDA, and I had to lean forward a bit to see the words on the screen.

[Were the others that jumped also your fault?]

Izaya’s eyes widened, and he partnered the sentiment with several overdone gestures with his hands inside his pockets. “No way!” he denied. “I’m just Orihara Izaya, the info broker, not some evil villain.”

“You sure about that?” I commented. Good and evil wasn’t exactly a favorite topic of mine, but I knew for a fact that Izaya wouldn’t ever be considered on the “good” team in any story. Besides, he had left those stupid tally marks on the roof. Liar, I thought, keeping it to myself because I didn’t want to start some argument. Izaya wasn’t the only hungry one here.

If Celty could form an expression, it would have been unimpressed. I guess she could read him better than I had thought.

“But,” Izaya continued, “if someone wants to go out like that, who am I to tell them they can’t, you know?” This time I followed his gaze, only to realize he was staring at the rooftops. It took everything I had to repress a snort. Really, he was just trying to push Celty’s buttons wasn’t he? He had even succeeded in some form, too, since she didn’t bother to type out a response and just drove off.

Izaya smirked, watching her go. “It was a lot of fun, my talented courier,” he said as a means to send her off.

He watched the road for at least a minute, even after Celty’s shadow disappeared from sight. Up the road, there was some traffic approaching—slow, since we were in a more residential area, but approaching nonetheless—so I jumped up from my seat.

“Izaya-kun,” I almost sang, grabbing onto his sleeve and tugging. He hadn’t been shy about dumping his arm around my shoulders earlier, so I guessed physical contact wasn’t an issue unless things got a bit too touchy. I had to stifle any urge to puke at the thought. “You’re gonna get run over if you just stand there. Now come on, sushi, sushi~!”

Izaya blinked at me then shrugged, taking the few steps necessary to get back on the sidewalk. “I guess you do have a point,” he conceded. I pouted. He guessed, huh? At this point, whose idea it was to get sushi wasn’t really an issue; the fact of the matter was that we were going out for his sake anyway. “Let’s keep going, then.”

That was all it took for us to continue down the streets. Since I didn’t need Izaya to lead me around this time, we walked side by side. Out of habit, I kept checking in with his expressions out of the corner of my eye. He must have been doing the same thing because our peripheral gazes met up, and Izaya raised an eyebrow.

“What’s that grin on your face for?” he asked.

True to his word, I was grinning. I hadn’t really realized when it had started, but that didn’t matter. He was asking for the reason, and that I knew.

“Just enjoying your little conversation with Celty-chan,” I provided. “I mean, I guess I should have figured out what you were really trying to do earlier, but that can’t be helped now.”

A smirk I was all too used to by now was stretching across Izaya’s face. “And what was I really trying to do, then?”

“‘There’s a whole other half of the game to be played,’ huh?” I posed, letting it sink in that I was quoting his own words back at him. In the meantime, I let out a laugh. “I can’t believe I got caught up in that. ‘Similar intentions,’ my ass, you didn’t care about what happened to Magenta-chan at all.” Allowing a smirk of my own, I raised one finger. “What you really wanted to do was to mess with Celty.”

Without any warning, Izaya burst out into his own laughter. For a second, I thought I was wrong. I didn’t like the idea. I thought the exchange I had just watched was all the evidence I needed, but maybe I had jumped to conclusions way too fast. Izaya took a long breath—somehow keeping the sound completely to himself—then had the courtesy to look at me properly.

“Very good, Sosa-chan,” he congratulated, and I indulged in a small burst of pride. “Of course, I wasn’t trying anything big. Just a little bit of ground work is all.”

“Ground work?” I parroted before I could stop myself. Sure, I knew Izaya had some big plan cooking up, but I figured he would at least share with me when we worked on it. Then again, I had made the failure of not thinking there could be anything else attached to the Magenta-chan incident, so it was kind of my fault. Since the act of subtlety was out of the question, I went for it. “Ground work for what?”

Izaya waved a ringed finger at me. “Ah, ah, ah,” he scolded, making me feel like a child for not the first time this night. “All in due time. Besides, we’re out in public now, you know. No sense in letting vital information slip out. We can discuss this in a far more private location.”

From the way he stressed private, I knew a booth at Russia Sushi wasn’t going to cut it, and my apartment probably wouldn’t, either.

Izaya rounded the corner, and Russia Sushi was waiting on the other side. It wasn’t all too late, so the lights were still on, even if Semyon wasn’t outside doing his normal advertising deal.

“Let’s talk about something else important,” Izaya said before I could get a word in otherwise. “I have some unofficial business to take care of in Ikebukuro tomorrow afternoon. Since you’re scheduled to work then, would you care to join me? Unless you actually enjoy pushing papers in the office all alone.”

“Just the afternoon?” I asked as we walked through the doors. Semyon perked up at the sight of us, rambling on about customers and seats and all the wonders of sushi, but I ignored him. “Why don’t you come in earlier? I have an idea that could kill some time.”

Izaya’s eyebrows raised. “Oh yea? And what might that be?”

I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket, grinning. “Come now, Izaya-kun,” I teased, in what was definitely some petty form of payback, “if I told you that, it’d spoil all the fun.”

Kakkoii_chan [Private Mode]: Hey there, Aiako-usagi-chan, how do you feel about skipping school tomorrow?

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

By: Aviantei

Chapter Twelve, Fully Enveloped

Orihara Izaya: Setting the Field

I met up with Sosa at the front of her apartment, springtime sunshine starting to break over the tops of buildings. True to her offer, the something interesting she had offered was present as well in the form of Susanuma Aiako-chan. She was in a different dress today, one that looked less like it was made from patchwork materials, though her sleeves were still long enough to cover her hands and ballet slippers remained her choice of footwear. She also screamed and hid behind Sosa the second she saw me.

There would be some work to be done, but I would have to live with that sort of reaction for now.

“You didn’t tell me Scary Guy-san would be coming,” she hissed to Sosa accusingly. My employee only stepped aside, removing Aiako’s shield without hesitation.

“You’re gonna have to get used to him eventually,” Sosa declared, pushing to keep Aiako from entering hiding again. “He’s my boss! Plus, he’s like, one of the only fun people in Tokyo. Emersion therapy is the way to go for fears like this!”

Aiako stood in one place without trouble, though she still trembled. Her eyes finally locked on me, and she let out a whimper. It was probably for the best that Sosa had chosen math over the psychology department; I could only imagine the chaos she would wreak in out-patient practice. “Can he at least not talk any?” Aiako asked, panic staining her voice. “I told you what he sounds like.”

“Now I’m afraid I can’t comply with that request,” I said, finally at a personable distance to the two. It was a miracle didn’t bolt off at the sound. She at least had some guts buried under the fluff. Either that or Sosa had made this outing sound incredibly worth it. “Not talking interferes with my job, not to mention my basic human rights.” Sosa snorted. “I’m sure you’ll adjust, Susanuma Aiako-chan.”

Aiako looked to Sosa for help, the older woman draping an arm around the small girl. “Now, now, Izaya-kun,” Sosa said, wagging a finger at me, “even I can’t make someone useful if you go straight for the gut like that. This is, like, Aiako-kun’s level one! No way she can take on a boss raid like you!”

I supposed there were worse standings to be considered than a boss raid and shrugged. Sosa nodded and patted Aiako’s back. “Alright, then, proper introductions,” Sosa urged. “Hop-hop!”

Maybe Sosa’s definition of a boss raid was pretty skewered, but Aiako took a deep breath, looked significantly like she was about to fall over, then whispered her name even though I had clearly just said it within the past minute. She even added a bow. It was so polite it was almost adorable.

“Orihara Izaya,” I said, skipping the physical formalities. Aiako was too busy staring at the ground to be bothered and Sosa wouldn’t care about my lack of manners anyway. “I normally wouldn’t encourage skipping school like this, but when you’re young is when you have to have adventures, so I’ll allow it. Heck, I’ll even defend you if the cops notice, so no need to worry.”

“Based on your psychological profile you’ve probably run away from home at least once,” Sosa remarked. “With my estimate of your level of ingenuity, you probably did multiple times. And were successful to boot! But why waste time running around when living off your parents at that age is so much more comfortable?”

Well I wasn’t about to confirm or deny that curiosity for her. “And I assume you did?”

Sosa shrugged. “Nah.” There wasn’t really a point to her lying in this situation, so I would take the words as truth and confirm them later. “I dunno about you, but my folks were loaded. Running off into the streets just to get some kicks didn’t really appeal to me. Nah, messing with my school was more my style, you know?”

Ah, I did remember reading that particular anecdote in her basic profile. As appealing as the topic was, however, we had gathered for a completely different reason today. “What about you, Aiako-chan?” I asked. “Ever run away from home before?”

To her credit, the girl only flinched this time, not try to hide in terror. Either she was adjusting incredibly fast or was trying to perform well for Sosa. “N-no,” she stammered. Well, Sosa probably would have mentioned it otherwise. She had been pretty thorough. “Though I did miss a bunch of school before…”

I smirked. I knew the reason, and the effect it would produce was more than worth it. “Alright, as much as I love listening to my second- and third-most-favorite people, we didn’t come here to talk all day!” Sosa said, stepping into the literal middle of our exchange. And who was her number one favorite person then? “I promised Aiako-chan fun and adventure, so I’m counting on you to deliver, Izaya-kun!”

“So I have to cover for your failure to plan anything?” I asked with a mock sigh.

Sosa only grinned. “Don’t tell me you didn’t plan for contingencies anyway.” Aiako looked like she didn’t like the sound of that at all. “Don’t disappoint me now; we’re only just beginning!” Sosa’s expression dropped to a pout.

“Well, if you insist.” Sosa nodded, completely oblivious to Aiako shaking her head. “I was planning on saving this for when you were on official duty, but there were a few clients you could check up on. Remember that lending agency we were looking at?”

All work and no play makes Izaya-kun a lame employer,” Sosa muttered in English, as if I couldn’t understand her.

“What was that?”

“Pay me overtime for unexpected work hours!” she said, like that had been the point the whole time. “In fact, pay Aiako-chan, too! She’s pretty much gonna be an intern at this point. Ah, does Raira allow part time jobs?”

“Yes,” Aiako said, “but I already have a part time job…”

Sosa gasped in excitement. “You didn’t tell me that.” While that had missed her initial information sweep it certainly hadn’t missed my follow up one. Sosa had provided most of the interesting stuff, but had a tendency to skip over more mundane facets of detail. “Oh, where is it, where is it? I wanna visit Aiako-chan at work!”

The proclamation was ended with a hug, leaving Aiako smothered. “It’s a cosplay café… Ransom… If you come by you gotta help out, okay?” Given Sosa’s structure, she probably could drag in a fair amount of customers and bring in a decent profit margin.


“Sosa-chan? Your assignment? Hayashi-san is a very impatient woman you know,” I reminded.

“Which brings up the question of why you’re sending me solo, right?” Sosa grinned. I hadn’t thought it was possible for Aiako to go any paler, but there it was. Tossing a middle schooler directly at a loan shark wasn’t the kindest move, but it would do her good. “Alright, Aiako-chan, you get to watch and learn, okay? You’ll be a top-notch protégé in no time!”

“Wait, I’m a proté—uwah!”

Sosa jerked Aiako’s arm, rushing away from her apartment at breakneck speed. Despite being a fraction of Sosa’s height, Aiako was able to keep up on those quick legs of hers, though her ballet slippers were still questionable footwear. I gave them a maximum of ten minutes before they collapsed on each other. That combined with the travel time to Hayashi’s front gave me at least a few hours to kill.

I reached for one of my phones. Might as well pay Shiki-san a visit then…

“You’re usually not one to initiate unscheduled meetings.”

“And you’re not usually one to accept unscheduled events without an emergency, Shiki-san.”

Shiki kept me in his same deadpan expression as always. Outside the car windows, Ikebukuro skylines floated past streaks of highway. While I’ve been inside Shiki’s meeting office on a number of occasions, it’s much more common to hold our discussions in a car, armed driver included.  There have been a number of people who’ve entered Awakusu-kai cars and never stepped out of them.

In my five years of service, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid such a fate.

“I was heading towards a negotiation anyways,” Shiki answered, turning his gaze to the back of the seat in front of him. The only reason he was letting that slip was because I already knew. The Fujimoto-kai had been looking to expand their territory, but they were at least doing it the smart way. It would take a lot of guts or stupidity to directly oppose the Awakusu. “I assume you had something interesting to share that you’d make a request like this?”

I looked out the window to a relatively peaceful mid-morning in Ikebukuro. Of course, when it’s most peaceful things can be set up to their full capacity. You need concentration to line up dominos, after all. “I take it you’ve already heard of the Dollars?”

“Not interested.” Shiki shot me down with precision. If we were sitting across from each other at a table, he’d probably light up a cigarette. A long time ago he had told me he doesn’t smoke in cars out of courtesy to the client and to whoever else in the group might use the vehicle after him. Personally, I was grateful. “I don’t have time for a bunch of kids playing around. I have real business to take care of.”

It was just fishing, but that confirmed what I knew: the Awakusu-kai didn’t consider the Dollars a threat, and, in their current state, he was correct. They were nothing but an undefined nebula.

Of course, the undefined things always have interesting ways of defining themselves.

“Like the Fujimoto-kai, huh?” I asked. “I hear their heiress is something else. Still in university but helping run the family on the side. She even takes part in major negotiations. You think you’ll see her today?”

“The Yakuza Empress, huh?” Impressive title for someone not even my age. “I haven’t met her face to face, but that’s what her family calls her. If she’s done half the things they say she’s done, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the future. Right now, though, she’s still a child. I’ve been in this business for more years than she’s been alive.”

“Well, if she has that high of a rating from you, Shiki-san, I’ll have to keep an eye out for her.”

“I’m not paying you if you’re not going to tell me anything interesting.”

I shrugged. Sosa was working on the contact that would cover her and Aiako’s pay for the day—ah, I’d have to work Aiako into the documentation then. Sosa seemed to like numbers enough, so maybe I could convince her to play bookkeeper.

“Think of this as more of a courtesy call,” I mused, making eye contact with the driver. He didn’t even shift his gaze away from mine. That one has definitely been around a while. Newbies were a lot more fun to mess with.

Shiki sighed. “So you’re wasting my time,” he assessed. As if he was doing anything productive with his car ride. “You’re in good graces right now, Orihara. Don’t push it.”

“Then I shouldn’t tell you about my new assistant?” Shiki raised an eyebrow. I grinned. “I managed to pick up a new employee a few weeks ago. She’s still learning the ropes, but I think she’ll be helpful in the future. I might even send her on a few errands.”

Shiki rotated a ring around his index finger. “I never pegged you as the type to actively expand your internal network,” he remarked. “You’re not worried this assistant of yours isn’t gonna run off with your information are you?” His tone deepened just a bit. The risk of his organization’s personal data was enough to get serious over.

“Sosa-chan isn’t stupid enough to make an enemy of a group like you,” I reassured. She had even referred to Shiki as -no-danna when I had mentioned him before, which was a lot more than she had given anyone else. “If you’d like to see her information and set up a meeting with her, then I’d be more than happy to comply.”

Shiki grunted. “Try coming back during open business hours,” he said.

I snickered. “If that’s what you’d like, Shiki-san. Though it won’t do you good to be so serious.” Sosa would probably need some etiquette reminders before I took her into Awakusu territory, though. Even if she was actively ignoring social standards, that didn’t make her frequent disrespect any less dangerous.

And this is the woman insisting I give her overtime?

The car slowed down as it exited the highway, then further as it approached an empty bus stop. Making sure to stay out of the illegal parking zone, the driver stopped the car and even unlocked the doors for me. “I take it I’m not invited to your little meeting then?” I asked.

“You’ll get your usual input report by the end of the evening,” Shiki answered. “You’ll get the rest of your payment once you give us the usual intel.”

“Much obliged, Shiki-san.”

“Don’t slack off too much.”

“I would never.”

I stepped out of the car. The door was barely closed before the driver reentered traffic, and I took steps to the sidewalk. Dropping me off at a sizable distance from the negotiation had been quite the detour for them. The driver would be scolded for a lack of courtesy, but his attention to timeliness would keep him in good standing.

Though that kouhai’s grown up quite a bit. Yakuza Empress, huh?

What a ridiculous title.

At least the meeting notes would keep me busy this evening. My contract with the Fujimoto-kai dictated roughly the same thing as the Awakusu-kai’s: internal information and reflection on what the other organization was looking at. All things considered, the Fujimoto-kai probably wouldn’t get any big payoff from this one, but the long-term benefits were worth it.

Now, I just had to be sure to tip those benefits so they were also in my favor.

The downside to my side trip was that it had taken me farther from Hayashi-san’s place that I intended; thankfully Sosa had run off without establishing a rendezvous place or time so she couldn’t complain too much. Considering the time, she should have finished up the meeting by now, and had probably mandated her own company lunch break. With that in mind, I settled down at a nearby sushi restaurant to tuck into my own meal.

Not even two bites of otoroo in, Sosa called me.

“Izaya-kun,” she sang, “I’m taking Aiako-chan out for some KFC. You want any?”

“Sosa-chan,” I sang in turn, “I didn’t expect you to offer to treat me, so I decided to eat on my own.”

“Again, is it really treating you of you’re the one who signs my paychecks?”

Not bothering to justify the recent output Sosa had managed to carve from my income, I took a bite of my sushi.

Otoroo’s the best, hands down.

“Okay, keep your weird foodgasm away from my ears, Izaya-kun.” Honestly, had the woman even heard herself once sugar was involved? “Anyway, lunch aside, I figured we could meet up soon. I can tell that you’ve got something else planned for the day way more exciting than which loan shark is scamming who, so I want in!”

“How is Hayashi-san by the way?” I asked. Considering the din of the restaurant, I wouldn’t have even had to worry about being overheard if Sosa was running her mouth in person. “Business seems to be up lately. Debt collectors all over the place.” At least I had avoided Shizu-chan today. It really was the little things that made life good.

Sosa mumbled something to Aiako. Was she really ignoring me because I had brushed off her own question? “Hayashi-chan says that she needs some new location hits on a couple of debtors,” the woman reported, sounding bored in the process. “I already sent the text over to your third email. She also is really good at hiding the fact that she hates my guts under professionalism and wouldn’t let Aiako-chan into the room. Plus, she refused to tell me her given name. It’s lame, Izaya-kun.”

“Maki,” I supplied. Hayashi-san would definitely glare at me net time we met, but I was too valuable a resource for her to replace. “And that’s a shame you couldn’t bring Aiako-chan along. Hayashi-san certainly loves seeing what kids she can scam.”

“Isn’t giving loans out to minors illegal?”

“Hayashi-san is a very creative woman.”

“Roger that.”

A few minutes passed with general eating noises coming from both ends of the phone. Since it was lunchtime, too, that meant afternoon was coming. All the half-day schools would be letting out at this point. The city would get little bit more crowded as schoolkids enjoyed their temporary freedom. Aiako could rest easy that her little truancy from school had passed without much trouble.

“You know, Sosa-chan, about that something interesting you mentioned,” I said, taking a drink of tea to reset my palette afterwards (“I knew it!” she hissed), “it’s probably going to happen in the next couple of hours. You wouldn’t want to miss that, now would you?”

“Not for the world, Izaya-kun! Aiako-chan is up and ready to roll, too!”

“Then be sure to meet me at…” I rattled off a rough location in the central shopping district. Sosa agreed, asking Aiako for directions in the middle of hanging up, and I returned to my meal. Within thirty minutes we had reconvened, Aiako looking as wary of me as before. They both followed me dutifully enough, though, Sosa chattering in excitement.

It took a little bit of time, but ultimately we found them crowded around an alley: a girl with curly dark hair I didn’t recognize, one boy I had met before, and the one I had come to meet. Standing as our own triad on the other side of the street, Aiako let out a small gasp:


Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

By: Aviantei

Chapter Thirteen, Gathering in the Streets

Tekichu Sosa: Witness to Evil

I couldn’t tell what was more interesting: the trio of Raira students clustered around the edge of the alley or the spectacle going on inside it. I recognized Masaomi’s dye job and voice to notice him in the first, but bullying could go in interesting ways if the perpetrators were the tiniest bit creative. Considering the three girls had surrounded their singular target, plus had an older yet stupid-looking guy with them the result could be anyone’s guess.

While Aiako-chan fidgeted beside me, glancing to the trio of students and twitching to cross the street, I tried to catch any words I could from inside the alley. Something mundane about clinging to some other girl beforehand and getting out of her position. Jealous trifles, then. I almost tugged Aiako away, but I caught Izaya’s smirk first.

Flicking his eyes forward in a gesture to follow along, Izaya strolled across the street, inserting himself into the trio’s conversation like he’d been waiting for the precise moment to do so.

“Bullies, huh?” he said, and caught the attention of Masaomi’s small crew. The blond traced his eyes across Izaya, myself, and Aiako—all times with recognition, but the conflict that came from not knowing which of a maelstrom of emotions to express. The dark haired boy with him stared at Aiako, while the unidentified girl in the party locked her eyes on me—a startling red. “You wanna save the day, don’t ya?”

And then Izaya grinned the widest I had ever seen him, with just enough politeness to be creepy.

The dark-haired boy stammered, which got more and more unintelligible as Izaya led him into the alley, right towards the bullying event that had continued while we piddled around. “S-Senpai,” Aiako muttered without much force, then looked between me and Masaomi with all the pathetic muster of a sopping wet kitten.

“Sosa-san?” Masaomi asked, a warble to his voice. I smiled and put a finger to my lips to hush him up. Izaya’s show was starting, and I didn’t want to miss this one, either. The red-eyed girl propped a hand on her hip and raised an eyebrow, but I saved trying to figure out where I had seen her face in my memory for later.

Izaya got into range, and pushed the stammering kid right towards the bullies. He controlled his progress with a few hops. As he tried to find any words to explain what was going on, I hooked my hand into Aiako’s and pulled her into the alley behind them, close enough to hear, but not enough to get in anyone’s way.

This time, no matter what happens, I’m gonna stay out of it.

The ganguro trio didn’t look impressed, their redheaded backup looked more like he was hurling up his guts at a frat party, and the victim of the bullying went wide eyed through her glasses as her unlikely savior froze up at the lead ganguro’s demands. I would’ve liked to figure out just how everyone knew each other, but that would’ve taken more than a few seconds to unravel.

“Bullying people is lame,” Izaya declared, drawing everyone’s attention.

“You’re kind of a bully yourself,” I called from my vantage point next to the vending machines. Aiako’s hand trembled in mine. I fished in my pocket for my wallet and dug out a few spare coins, picking out her and myself drinks. I made sure to keep at least one eye on the situation at all times.

Izaya unraveled a few trails of insults, not that the ganguro gang seemed to process any. I had to push the soda into Aiako-chan’s hands to get her to take it, and even then she just stared on with worry. Considering she’d been bullied before, it couldn’t be a happy scene to watch. But she’d have to get used to conflict if she was going to stick around. From the way her eyes stayed locked on the boy Izaya had kidnapped, I guessed her worry was more for him than anything else.

Is he the Senpai with the weird dragon name? Or is that the other girl? Ah, no wonder Aiako-chan walks home by herself; the people who reached out to her were high schoolers. But when—

The train of thought became much less important as a knife whistled through the air. I had just caught Izaya’s hand moving, not the moment of the throw itself. No blood was spilled, so he hadn’t been aiming for damage.

Just for the ganguro lead’s bag.

Her purse strap split, upending makeup containers on the ground. But Izaya didn’t focus on those. Running his mouth without any sign of stopping, he retrieved the girl’s cellphone, stepped back a few steps, then sent the thing clattering right back to the pavement. And that was before he stomped on it.

Repeatedly, to be clear.

Orihara Izaya smashed a high school girl’s cellphone, laughing the entire time. The trio of girls gaped. Maybe-Dragon Boy might have wanted to run away if he wasn’t too busy trying to process what was happening. Aiako-chan trembled beside me, and I found that I was shaking, too.

Just not like her.

Not from fear.


I knew a lot about Izaya. Not everything, no. Not even close to that. He was such an enigma that getting an accurate read on him was difficult, and that he could control a lot of his output aided that edge of mystery. But the things I knew were the things we shared. Finding someone that could embody those traits had been a miracle in itself. But finding someone who didn’t just embody those traits, but also lived that reckless, whimsical lifestyle that disregarded others at every turn—that right there was something beyond a miracle.

I didn’t care what parts of the Universe had aligned to bring us together. I was just glad I got to watch.

And with the same reckless abandon that he had started with, Izaya stopped, his foot hovering above the tattered pink cell phone. “And now I’m bored,” he declared. “I guess that’s enough cell phone smashing for one day.” As if he did that every day.

Now, now, that would ruin the charm, Izaya-kun.

The punk guy—Hiroshi, it seemed—was called into the scene. In a torrent of slang that would’ve made even my college friends embarrassed, Hiroshi declared his intent to fight. Dragon Boy had put out an arm in an attempt to keep Megane-chan safe, and I put myself between the thug and Aiako. The chances of the guy getting through Izaya were slim—this guy had avoided having a sandwich board hurled at him and outran the Strongest Man in Ikebukuro without much problem—but I was a firm believer in preventable problems.

Sure enough, within five seconds, Izaya had dodged Hiroshi’s first punch, knife whistling without me catching sight of it, and the punk was on the ground.

With a large portion of his hair gone, I might add.

He screamed, the ganguro gang screamed, and they all ran for the hills, half-baked threats filling their wake. Aiako slumped to the ground, still gripping to her unopened soda bottle. I patted her head and took a long swig from mine, grinning around the drink. Izaya laughed, sounding as pleased as could be.

I rattled my wallet and found that I still had a fair amount of coins left. “Hey, you kids want something?” I called, knocking my elbow into the vending machine. “That was kinda rough, so this one’s on me, alright?”

No one gave me their opinions in sodas, so I just punched buttons at random. No one seemed rude enough to turn down a free drink, so they accepted the offer. We all ducked out of the alleyway, and Izaya wasted no time in claiming a stranger’s bike as a seat while the Raira kids gathered around. I tried to push him out of the way for Aiako, but she shook her head, insisting on standing by Maybe-Dragon Boy’s side. Megane-chan was too busy staring into space to notice me, but Red-Eyes-chan snuck glances at me more often than not. Having more time to look at her, she seemed familiar, but I was pretty damn sure I’d remember someone with an unusual eye color like that.

It was also hard to focus with Masaomi glaring at me.

I had thought he would try to contain it a bit around his friends, but suspicion filled every corner of his face. He’d been more than happy to hit on me before, and we’d even traded off a few messages since our last encounter. So it wasn’t something I’d done.

Sheer association with Izaya then.

I didn’t blame him. Izaya’s little list of names of interesting people in Ikebukuro had included quite the cast of characters—down to the ex-leader of the busted up color gang known as the Yellow Scarves. With that sort of information in my pocket, it was impossible to look at him as just a flirty high schooler any more, just as it would be impossible for him to look at me like a random quirky woman.

I smiled back at Masaomi until Izaya called him by name and dragged him into the conversation. It was a set up to pull Maybe-Dragon Boy into the conversation and pull out his name. As guessed, he was Aiako’s Ryuugamine Mikado-senpai.

Mikado-chan it is. Wonder why Aiako’s so hooked to his hip. Young love? Mundane, but adorable.

“So then, what brings you out this way?” Masaomi was much less subtle about his grabs for information, but I could guess concern for his friend dulled his usual wit.

“I came to see somebody,” Izaya answered. That was news to me. He stared at Mikado long enough to further unnerve the poor kid. Izaya had been willing to come out to Ikebukuro to get a look at this kid? He hadn’t been in the list of interesting people, so what was so special about him? He looked plain, but judging by appearances was a fool’s move. “And now I have.”

Any further conversation was interrupted as Izaya took a convenience store trash can to the head. The kids flinched, and I snatched Aiako over to my side, even though I had a pretty good idea of who the sudden attacker was. Heiwajima Shizuo hadn’t seemed like the type to attack little girls for no reason, but having Izaya around didn’t make him a rational thinker, though.

“Hooooly shiiiit,” Masaomi said, sounding way more amused than scared.

Izaya got up like he got hit by full trash cans every day and did what he did best: run his mouth. The conversation lasted longer than the one I’d see on our defunct Russia Sushi trip, but it was still filled with the expected insults. Izaya did pull out his knife, though, and Aiako trembled in my arms.

When Hiroshi showed back up with friends, she ripped herself out of my grip. “Senpai!” She ran across the street back to Mikado (through the middle of the brewing conflict; what was with that girl?) and clung to his arm. As high as a priority keeping my protégé safe was, Shizuo wouldn’t be bothered going through me to get to Izaya.

“Still, calling themselves the Dollars,” I muttered, surveying the ramshackle men around us. They looked like they had the collective intelligence of an elementary schooler, and that was pushing it. “As if.”

My theory was proven when one of them swung his plank of wood at Shizuo’s head. The blond doubled over, blood pouring down his face, and set about beating the shit out of the pseudo-Dollars in a display that would have looked unbelievable even in a shonen fighting manga.

“Sosa-chan, we’re going,” Izaya called. I pulled my eyes away from the free show as he tossed a wave in Shizu-chan’s direction. “Well, have fun!”

It was a good thing I didn’t move to follow him because Shizuo had torn a vending machine up from the ground and had hurled it down the street after Izaya within seconds. Or maybe it would’ve been okay, as Semyon dived down from the heavens, landed on his feet, caught the mechanical missile, and still had enough breath to start preaching pacifism. Either way, I was glad I had stuck around to witness the show. In the direction Izaya had gone, I saw his black form dart down an alleyway. Shizuo went to take Semyon on, and Mikado got enough wits about him to grab Aiako (easy since she was still clinging to his arm) and Megane-chan’s wrists and haul them to safety.

“What the? Mikado!”

Red Eyes-chan snagged Masaomi’s wrist before he could complain any further and hauled his ass down the street after the trio. “Come on!”

Good, all the kids had bolted for it. They had just enough interesting components to them that it would have been a shame to see them get hurt. The downed gang of Hiroshi didn’t even begin to count in comparison. And Shizu-chan and Semyon both had proven they could take more than heavy damage as they grappled with each other in the middle of the street, so there wasn’t any need to worry about them.

It was my turn to bounce, then.

Hopping over the line of bushes lining our little hub on the sidewalk, I melded into the awestruck crowd and headed in the direction that Izaya had gone. Once I was sure I was out of Shizuo’s immediate hearing range, I let my laugh out into the sky.

“What an awesome city!”

The safest place for Izaya to run off to would be anywhere outside of the immediate range of Ikebukuro. That was where Shizuo’s “territory” so to speak ended, after all. That also meant it would be the most obvious direction, and when the hell did Izaya ever go in the most obvious direction?

I wouldn’t have, that was for sure.

So it wasn’t very hard to find him checking into some internet café a few blocks down. He smirked when he saw me, flashed some plastic, and rented a room big enough for two. While the machine inside paled in comparison to the custom model Izaya had in his office, it was pretty decent for what it could do. Not that you needed a complicated OS to run the Dollars site or anything.

I plopped down into one of the provided chairs, bouncing on the cushion. Giddiness had taken over all the blood in my veins. Humans were disgusting; I wouldn’t change my mind on that. But Izaya sure new how to find the good ones, plus he wasn’t half bad himself.

I spun in a circle before kicking my chair across the room, zooming towards the compartment wall behind me. “You know, this chair is even better than the one you let me have,” I said.

“It’s also built for people to spend as much time in these places as possible. You’re the more active type,” Izaya said, typing away to add a few messages to the Dollars site. He even logged in and out a few times. My phone buzzed in my pocket at the appropriate times, but I let it go. I could see what was happening in front of me well enough. “You didn’t bring Aiako-chan with you? I wasn’t expecting that.”

I shrugged, placing my empty soda bottle on the table. Too bad I had drunk it all before running around. A drink would have been nice, even if it would’ve just been fizzy from the running. “She left with Mikado-chan. You heard her—kid’s her Senpai.”

“Yes, yes.”

Izaya didn’t even look to see the glare I was shooting him. Distracted, much? No, he knew that already. He knew and he hadn’t told me. What a stingy bastard. “So if you wanted to meet him so bad, why didn’t you just ask Aiako-chan to introduce you?” No way was I gonna let him know I still hadn’t figured out why the kid was so important.

“Now, now, Sosa-chan, do try to show more ingenuity than that,” he scolded. I rolled myself towards him, but Izaya just pushed my chair back across the room. It was too cramped in there to have much with it. I needed to get on obtaining one for the office. Izaya’s penthouse had plenty of space. “Aiako-chan can hardly form a comprehensive sentence around me. As if she’d let me get anywhere close to her precious senpai.” He hummed a bit and struck a few more strokes on the keyboard. “Not that she’s gonna have much choice in the matter.”

“A new piece, then?” Izaya grinned, tapping out emails on his phone. I’d have to pay attention to how his Chessboard on Crack changed when we got back to the office. “You still haven’t told me what sort of game you’ve got planned here.”

Izaya shut down the internet browser and shoved his phone into his pocket. “All in due time.” I was getting sick of his teasing. “This should be enough time to throw Shizu-chan off. Things got cut off a bit earlier than I’d hoped, but you can have the rest of the day off, Sosa-chan. I’ll be sure to process your overtime accordingly.”

He hopped to his feet and headed to the door. I did the same, keeping on his tail. He was gonna go digging for information without me. Like I’d let that opportunity pass me up. “So then if I’m off, who I hang around with is my business, right?”

“Suit yourself. You’re not gonna get paid if you don’t work, though.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m gonna work hard, so get ready to give me a bonus when I show it off, okay?”

After all, it’s not like I had to rely on Izaya for information. That was just the easy way.

Kakkoii_chan [Private Mode]: So, whatcha think about today, Aiako-chan?
Kakkoii_chan [Private Mode]: Ready to be a protégé yet?
Kakkoii_chan [Private Mode]: I’ve got your first assignment for you~
Kakkoii_chan [Private Mode]: Why don’t you tell me about those friends of yours?

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

By: Aviantei

Chapter Fourteen, Parsing Data

Orihara Izaya: Inverse Loneliness

Tanaka Taro: You guys have got it all wrong.
Tanaka Taro: I was there, I saw it all. That isn’t how it went down. Those guys weren’t part of the Dollars.
Tanuki Usagi: Me, too…
Tanuki Usagi: I saw it, too.
Kanra: No, no, not that~
Kanra: Just now, some guys calling themselves the Dollars rolled some pedestrians for all their cash…
Tanaka Taro: What?
Kakkoii_chan: That sounds messed up if you ask me.
Kanra: Isn’t it scary~? It scares me~
Kanra: I’d steer clear of the Dollars~
Kakkoii_chan: It’s hard to take you seriously when you use all those tildes.
Kanra: Huuuuh~?
Kanra: But I’m being serious right now~~~~
Tanaka Taro: …okay.
Kanra: The Dollars kinda
Kanra: freak me out.
Tanuki Usagi: The Dollars wouldn’t really do something like that, would they?
Kanra: Oh? Usagi-chan, you a fan of the Dollars?
Tanuki Usagi: Ah, it’s…
Kakkoii_chan: Lay off, ya freak.
Kakkoii_chan: You gotta admit it’s strange, tho.
Tanaka Taro: Yeah, I’ve never heard of the Dollars doing stuff like that before…
Kanra: Didn’t you just move here a bit ago, though?
Kanra: Stories like this happen all the time, you know.
Kanra: Gangs are scary~
Kakkoii_chan: I’m half tempted to tear that key off your keyboard.
Kanra: Those sorts of threats don’t work when it’s a touch screen, Kakkoii-chan!
Tanaka Taro: Sure, but they might just be stories, right?
Tanuki Usagi: I agree with Taro-san.
Tanuki Usagi: That sort of stuff doesn’t sound like the Dollars at all.
Kanra: Whoa!
Kanra: You’re both secret Dollars fans!
Kanra: Or maybe…
Kanra: You’re both part of the Dollars?!
Kanra: My mom was right, the internet’s a scary place.
Tanaka Taro: It’s not like that!
Tanuki Usagi: I’m not, though…
Kakkoii_chan: Who cares if you are and if you aren’t?
Kakkoii_chan: Either way, Dollars or not, there are a lot of punks out there who like to use powerful names to sound powerful.
Kakkoii_chan: So be careful when you go out, okay?
Kanra: …what do you think you’re doing sounding so responsible?
Kakkoii_chan: Hm? Me?
Kakkoii_chan: Someone has to sound rational
Kakkoii_chan: To combat all that nonsense coming out that mouth of yours.

Kanra [Private Mode]: What’s the point in playing devil’s advocate to me?
Kanra [Private Mode]: You know as well as I do
Kanra [Private Mode]: Who all we’re dealing with here.
Kakkoii_chan [Private Mode]: I’m sitting not even three meters away from you. Do use your words, Izaya-kun.

Sure enough, Sosa was still in my office, even though evening had fallen a few hours ago, and she had made no indications of moving. She had just taken to tapping away on her phone the whole time. Even when I had turned away, she still typed, though less messages from her showed up on the chat than would be expected. She had to be private messaging someone—Aiako was the best option.

“You do know you have your own apartment to hang out at,” I said. Sosa flicked her eyes up to mine for a moment, but turned back to her phone. She smiled, but it was such a default hyperactive reaction for her that I didn’t read any meaning into it. “Unless you’re worried about being lonely.”

“I’m more worried about you, Izaya-kun. In this big space all by yourself with no one to talk to,” Sosa said, grinning a bit wider. “But that’s not what you wanted to talk about just a minute ago. Don’t tell me you forgot.”

I kept an eye on the string of the chat, which had transitioned over to pestering Tanaka Taro-kun of how he’d seen something so crazy after having just moved into the area. Nothing I needed to prod along. “I’m not the one with the intentional ADD attention span.” Sosa stuck her tongue out. “But, yes, you’re the one who invited Aiako-chan to the Dollars. Defending her doesn’t have a point.”

“And Tanaka Taro’s a name I’ve seen on the message boards before.” Sosa stretched out a bit, sighing as her shoulders popped. She had noticed. I thought such a common sounding name might have deferred her interest. She caught my skeptical expression. “I do have attention to detail, you know. Like how since he saw your little show today plus just moved to Ikebukuro, that means Tanaka Taro is Ryuugamine Mikado-chan.”

We had reached the same conclusion. It also meant that, for all his innocence, Ryuugamine Mikado was part of the Dollars, too. Not that you had to be intimidating to be part of the Dollars. They were a gang in nothing but name, a community of people enjoying a secret forum.

“How much of today did you plan out? Don’t think I didn’t notice the interest you took in Mikado-chan.” Sosa put her phone aside and sat up straight. Tanaka Taro and Tanuki Usagi continued to converse among themselves regardless. “Seeing him was your errand, right? So how much did you plan?”

“Who me?” I stood up to pace across the room. Even though my job consisted of staring at a computer a good amount of the time, I knew to let myself stretch. It was what let me stay out of Shizu-chan’s clutches after all. “I didn’t plan the whole thing out…just parts.”

Sosa pouted, though a flash of seriousness remained in her eyes. “That’s cool and all, but you’re being vague.”

“You’re the one claiming to have—‘attention to detail,’ was it? Figure it out on your own.”

Not that I minded sharing information with her, as she was my employee. But even as my employee, I didn’t have to tell her everything. We were allies, but we were the same kind. If she got it into her head to turn on me, or if I had a similar whim, having a distinction between who knew what was critical. Not that she was incapable of finding things out on her own.

If she couldn’t figure that much out, then there were limits to how much I could use her.

But I know she can perform to and beyond the expectation.

“‘Please hack into my computer, Sosa-chan,’” she said, hopping over the back of the couch. I still couldn’t figure out how she could be so comfortable lounging around with those cords wrapped around her every which way. “Got it. Should I start while you’re here, or wait until you leave?”

She strolled towards the computer, but I caught her arm and spun her around to face me as we passed each other. “You’re forgetting whose home this is again. Mine, not yours.”

Sosa shrugged, but didn’t resume heading to the computer. “Eh, I know you don’t keep info like that in physical form. It’s all up here.” She tapped her own temple. “But you don’t have to play polite with me. Why don’t you just tell me to get out if that’s what you want?”

That she could say things like that with full amusement instead of any sense of irritation was a wonder in its own right. In fact, when she said it, I wasn’t sure if that was what I had been intending. She was fun to have around, and it wasn’t like we had a curfew or anything. But I was still planning the upcoming events and trying to figure out where the string of life in the city was taking things. That was the biggest importance of all, beyond just sorting out the information for the Awakusu and Fujimoto-kai.

“What I’m saying is that I need some fresh air and you do, too.” I gestured to the door, and Sosa’s soft steps padded against the carpet. I shrugged my jacket onto my shoulders and Sosa returned her phone to her pocket while slipping into her shoes. “Let’s talk while we walk, alright?”

I enjoyed evenings in Ikebukuro because they had their own charm to them. Of course, the city was an exception that some of its most fantastical events unfolded even in midday where in other places they would wait until night. The little encounter with Mikado, Masaomi, and friends earlier was a prime example of wonder without filters. That just meant that the nightlife had to be even more spectacular in comparison.

But for the evening we stayed out of the drinking and club districts, taking back roads and bridges from Shinjuku all the way back to Ikebukuro. Sosa and I alternated picking out turns, trying to find the most convoluted and interesting path back to her apartment. It was a wonder that, even in one of the most dense populations in the world, there were still areas devoid of any people, with minimal streetlights to illuminate the path.

“You were right in that I planned to meet Mikado-kun today—or rather, Tanaka Taro-kun,” I said, skimming through a few data files on my phone as I skipped through the night. Sosa skipped in time with me, but based on her frown, she couldn’t keep up with what I was reading. “That was my big mission, really, so I planned to wander around until I found him. The rest was the city being kind enough to be entertaining.”

“Yeah, okay, I got that,” Sosa said, giving up on hopping and just keeping pace beside me. I tucked my phone with Ryuugamine Mikado’s profile on it back to my pocket. “But how did you figure out who Tanaka Taro was in the first place? Lots of kids transfer into the city to go to school. Not that I did.”

Yes, she had attended the local college prep school near her parent’s home. And I had been enrolled in Raira since elementary school, so my choice in high school was obvious—not that I would have wanted to leave the city anyway. Even back then it was interesting.

I waved a finger in the air, the cold beam of a streetlight glinting off my ring. “Now, now, I’ve been chatting with Tanaka Taro-kun for a long time.” A few years, in fact, back when the Dollars had first started up. He’d been a member since the early days, though there I interacted with him as Nakura. “I’ve heard a lot about the town he came from—a lonely middle of nowhere farm town. There aren’t too many kids who come from there, so I just had to compare transfer records for all the schools in Ikebukuro.”

Sosa snorted. “Should I call the police? You taking such an interest in high schoolers and all that.”

I returned her feigned concern. “I’d say you’re worse—Aiako-chan’s just a middle schooler, after all.” We shared a smirk. As if age had anything to do with whether or not someone was interesting. “And beyond that, I’ve seen that town name before, so it was easy to figure out.”

“Where was that?”

“It’s where Kida Masaomi grew up.”

I selected our next turn—one that went in the opposite direction of Sosa’s place—as the woman processed the information. It didn’t take long for her to nod in understanding. They came from the same place and they were together today. Having Tanaka Taro say he’d seen the day’s “Dollars” attack just confirmed it. It was as simple as that.

“Hm, I wonder how Mikado-chan’s doing then,” Sosa mused, running her hand alongside the guard rail along the side of the road. She stared up to the sky, not even concerned for the direction we were going. I considered seeing if she would get lost if I disappeared, but there wasn’t a crowd to blend into. It was easy enough to find your way when you were in residential districts, anyway, even if most people were asleep. “You have to admit that whole deal is beyond the scope of what normal people deal with, even if he is a Dollar. Think you scared him?”

I shrugged. If he got scared so easily, there wasn’t much that could be done for him. But if he didn’t… Well, sharing unrefined instincts wasn’t my job. “What about that protégé of yours?” I asked. “She looked pretty freaked out to me. Don’t tell me you’re not even going to try to get Aiako-chan into working condition.”

Sosa danced ahead to a street lamp and circled it once. Even in dim light, her eyes stuck out as beyond normal. “Don’t you worry about that, Izaya-kun,” she sang. “Now I have a good idea of what she’s capable of. The real work starts soon.” Her grin let me know she was withholding information, too. “Now you just don’t disappoint me when things start getting real, okay, Izaya-kun?”

I stopped at the street intersection and waved out a palm, gesturing for Sosa to take her pick in the road. “I could say the same for you, Sosa-chan.”

“Oh, don’t be like that. I’m sure I’ll be enlisting your services again,” I assured as Celty counted the payment I had just handed her. “I just want to stay on your good side. For as long as that may be.”

[Am I wrong, or did that sound creepy?]

“You’re wrong; I’m simply misunderstood.”

I waited for Sosa to toss in her usual crack at my image, but she stayed silent. Leaning against the same railing I was, she continued to tap away at her cell phone. She’d been hooked onto messaging for the past few days, even though someone like Aiako-chan should have been in school at the time of day—no, they were almost done. I had my curiosities, but I saw Sosa on a regular basis. Giving Celty snippets of information in person where I could watch her reaction was a much rarer occasion.

So I kept my focus where it was supposed to be, and Celty drove off in a matter of minutes. It was quite a bit of a trek to Yoyogi park from where we were, but that bike of hers surpassed most other vehicles by a long shot.

“You told her about that painter?” Sosa asked, still tapping away at her phone. I nodded once she looked up to me. “You’re just messing with her again. You know that guy’s not at Yoyogi anymore.”

I raised an eyebrow as the train clattered past on the rails above us. “You seem to be questioning my intentions a lot lately,” I remarked. “Don’t tell me you’re getting bored already.”

“No, no, of course not!” Sosa shook her head, sending her hair in all directions. It was a good thing she had it cut short, otherwise she’d be left with a tangled mess to deal with. “This is fun. Tons of fun. Between you and everything else I’m having so much fun I don’t think I can stand it.” She blew her bangs out of her eyes, though they didn’t fall anywhere close to back in place. “I’m just saying if I were her, I’d be a lot more suspicious that you know what a Dullahan is.”

“Celty isn’t stupid, but she doesn’t think anywhere near in the same directions you do.” I crossed my legs and leaned backwards on the railing, holding onto the top to keep my balance. The street was empty, so leaning out into it didn’t pose any danger. Sosa hummed in response, still tapping away. I swung myself back up and scowled. “Can’t you put that thing down while you’re working?”

Sosa laughed, sliding her phone shut. “Okay, Mr. I-have-twenty-different-cell-phones. No, wait, there’s twenty-three of them.” She snickered again, stuffing her own back into her pocket. “One for each year of living. Does that mean I should get you a twenty-fourth here in May? To continue the tradition?”

Given that I kept seven of those phones hidden for special contacts or for emergency situations, I was impressed she had found them all. It was better than having just one and letting all your info rest in one place—like a certain employee of mine. “Your birthday’s sooner, though. Should I get you a second phone, to up your status as an information broker?”

“Seems like a bit of a stretch for a guy who won’t even buy me an office chair.” A girl whizzed past on a bicycle. Sosa and I watched her pump her legs for a moment, then looked away at the same time. No one interesting. “Well, that was our last errand for today. I know I have to break tradition and come in tomorrow to work that job for Maki-chan, but we’re all clear for now, right?”

“Yes, though you seem eager to get going.” I stood back up, and Sosa kicked her legs in a silent rhythm. “You sure you’re not getting bored? You haven’t even seen anything good yet.”

Sosa grinned. “You getting worried?” she asked. She hopped to her feet, too. Being close to my height, she didn’t have to stretch much to pat my head, mussing my hair into a similar state to hers. “Don’t worry, Izaya-kun, you’re still one of my favorites. I just like playing with toys by myself sometimes, that’s all.”

So she was acting on her own. Not that I had expected anything less. “That’s a bit unfair. Do you plan to share?”

“You’ve played with this toy by yourself plenty. It’s my turn now.” Sosa’s phone chimed, and she pulled it out. “Ah, I’m gonna be late if I keep standing around here, and that’s a no go. Permission to head out?” I waved Sosa on her way. She tipped a bow in my direction. “My date thanks you.”

It was my turn to snort. “A date?” I asked. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking of settling down with someone. I know you’re at that age, but you have so many more interesting things to do before you have to resort to that level of mediocrity.”

“Don’t be gross, Izaya-kun,” Sosa said, tossing me a wave. She ran off in the same direction the bike had whizzed by in, tossing glances at her phone as she went. Whatever she was doing, she seemed to be amused.

But saying it’s someone I’ve already played with enough doesn’t exactly narrow down the list of suspects.

Well, I could follow her, but there wasn’t much need. If it was something interesting, Sosa would either tell me in excitement or I would see the results. I would have an evening to myself at any rate.

“Bring back something good for the rest of the class, won’t you, Sosa-chan?”

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

By: Aviantei

Chapter Fifteen, Connecting

Tekichu Sosa: Gravitational Attraction

“Sosa!” Semyon called the moment he saw me approaching the store front. “You here to buy sushi? Sushi good.”

I tossed him a wave. Cutting through the crowd was easy as most passerby avoided Semyon’s immediate radius. “Yeah, I’m meeting with a friend.” If he still was willing to consider me that. He’d agreed to meet up with me, so that had to count for something. I shrugged it off and patted Semyon’s thick arm. “We’ll eat lots, so mind me we use a booth?” I flashed him a smile. Semyon was kind enough that I didn’t need to manipulate a damn thing to earn his favor.

“No problem!” the man declared, ushering me inside. Dennis nodded at us from the counter, then went back to his work. The weather wasn’t enough to warrant massive A/C, but fish had different priorities than the living. Funny how they took more maintenance when dead than alive. “Having friends is good. Close friends even better. Oh, but friends! Sosa, you should teach yours not to start fights. Violence doesn’t help anyone.”

No doubt he was referring to Izaya and Shizu-chan’s aborted melee. I snorted and slid open the booth door on my own—the very same I had met Dotachin’s lovely group at. A bit much space for two, but I had my limits to what conversations I would hold in public. I dropped into my cushion. “You expect me to get between those two monsters? You’re the only one who could do that and come out in one piece, Semyon-chan.”

Semyon hummed at the honorific, not bothered in the least. I considered switching to diminutives, but didn’t know Russian anywhere as well as English. “Fighting still bad,” Semyon said, edging out of the room. “You may not use strength, but you use words, Sosa. Talk some sense.” With that cheerful proclamation, he slid the door shut.

He came back a few minutes later with the customary Russian Sushi tea, of course. It was the bitter sort of green stuff used to kill your taste buds as to better appreciate each bite of sushi. Semyon didn’t even flinch when I asked him for sugar. Not having any packets on the table, as the establishment didn’t call for that, he dragged out an entire bag of sugar from the kitchen and set it in the middle of the table for me.

The next time the door opened, it was Masaomi on the other side. Whatever serious expression he’d been trying to maintain crumbled the moment he saw the table. I had already emptied at least an eighth of the bag into my mug and set about folding the corners back into place.

“You didn’t come here to stand around and stare at me, Masaomi-chan,” I said, flashing him the newest smile. He paused for a moment, taking a deep breath. Satisfied with my work, I went to tuck the sugar bag on the other side of the table. “Wait, did you want some, too? I didn’t mess with your mug ‘cause I didn’t know how you liked it, but I’m willing to share.” Masaomi just shook his head. “Come on, take a seat. And do close the door behind you, okay?”

I hadn’t let any serious notes into my voice, but Masaomi still snapped to attention like he’d been sleeping in class and I was his disappointed teacher. In reality, I wouldn’t have cared less if that were the case—but there were plenty of reasons why I shouldn’t be in any educational position, much less a high school instructor.

Having followed instructions, Masaomi sat across from me and continued taking slow, measured breaths through his nose. I propped my elbows on the table and rested my chin atop my hands. “No clever pickup lines this time? Have I disappointed you so much that you don’t even want to play around anymore?”

“I—” Masaomi shook his head and shut his eyes. When he opened them again, his expression had set into the sort of mask I hadn’t seen since I was in America—of someone trying too hard to stand in a position they didn’t want. It was a shame we were taking this approach, but I’d allow it. “Sosa-san, did you know Izaya-san when we first met?”

I closed my own eyes, not bothering to watch his physical reactions. “I did.”

“So,” Masaomi said with the slightest of trembles. He could play tough all he wanted, but there were some things you just couldn’t hide in your voice. “Did you know about me, then? Is that why you went along with me?”

“Is that what you’re worried about?” I asked. Masaomi’s metered breaths broke for a second, and I opened my eyes a fraction just in time to catch his flinch. “I met Izaya-kun before I met you, but I hadn’t heard anything. I just thought you were interesting, so I decided being your friend would be fun.” I gave Masaomi a small smile, but it didn’t do much to settle his nerves. “What are you really afraid of?”

“Don’t you know the answer?” Masaomi said. I did, but wasn’t in the mood to bring that sort of conversation up. I gave him a vague smile. The kid may have had some good instincts, but reading someone like me was far beyond his league. “Sosa-san, I don’t wanna be your enemy. But if you’re close to Izaya-san, I…”

His voice faltered, and so did his will to keep eye contact with me. Masaomi stared at his no longer steaming mug of tea. Semyon had read the mood well and hadn’t come to ask us for our order yet. I’d have to leave him an extra-large tip for that; Izaya wouldn’t object to the money filtering into his favorite sushi place, after all.

I downed the rest of my tea, dregs of sugar coalescing on my tongue. A second round might have been in order. Bored of the silence, I put my mug down, knocking into the surface of the table. Masaomi jumped. Glad to have his attention, I leaned across the table at him. “So, what are you planning to do with Aiako-chan?”

“Me?” Masaomi spluttered. “What are you doing with Aiako-chan? She’s, like, fourteen and takes ten thousand years to talk to—how did you even meet her in the first place?”

His flustered ramblings told me all I needed to know: he had been worried about his friends. Not himself, not that he’d have to live through anything like the Yellow Scarves again, but that Aiako-chan and Mikado-chan and Glasses-chan and even the girl I partway recognized would be dragged into some mess. And while I couldn’t guarantee that they wouldn’t, it was nice to know where Masaomi’s priorities lied.

So I put a hand on my chest and did my best impersonation of Masaomi’s flirtatious tone. “Why, just like you and me, fate brought Aiako-chan and I together,” I said. Masaomi fought down a laugh. I reached across the table to poke him in the forehead. “She’s my precious protégé and that’s what I’m doing. I’d never let anyone hurt her—even if it was Izaya-kun. So don’t go doubting me, you got it?”

“That explanation is full of things to doubt,” Masaomi said. He caught the smile before it formed on his face, but I knew he was getting pulled into the banter. “First off, what do you even do for a living?” I opened my mouth, but Masaomi waved a hand to stop me. “Never mind, forget I asked.” I shrugged, still grinning. “You’re not gonna drag her into anything dangerous, are you?”

“Oh, you think the other day wasn’t dangerous?” Masaomi grimaced, breaking eye contact again. Saying that getting into the middle of an Orihara Izaya-Heiwajima Shizuo fight wasn’t dangerous would be out of anyone’s mind, even mine. I traced the rim of my tea mug with my ring finger. “I can’t guarantee that things might not get dicey, but I will protect her. She’s coming along with me of her own free will; I can at least do that much.”

Masaomi looked me over again, sizing me up. I may have gotten a bit out of shape in the past year by just sitting around, but I could protect a girl from some lame punks. Hell, Aiako-chan could run faster than most of them, anyway. Given that Masaomi himself looked all the world like a twig but could pack a punch (or so I’d heard) meant he should have known better than to judge on appearances.

He sighed and hit me with one of the hardest dead-on stared I’d received in a while and said, “I want your word.”

I snickered. “Now, now, Masaomi-chan,” I said. “Even if I did that would you believe me? ‘Cause I know you wouldn’t.” He didn’t deny the accusation. “Besides, if I promised that, I’d want the same deal from you. I mean, you’re running around with two other girls at your school, plus have a poor little kouhai who doesn’t know better. You’re not planning on taking advantage of that, are you?” I dropped my voice low. “Because if you are, then we really would be enemies, Masaomi-chan. And forget Izaya-kun; you don’t want to be on my bad side.”

Color drained from Masaomi’s face, making his skin almost match his white shirt. I could’ve thought all day about why I was so protective of Aiako-chan, but at the end of the day it boiled down to one simple fact:

I didn’t take it well when my toys were damaged by anyone’s hands but my own.

“But,” I said, clapping my hands together, “I don’t think that you’re all too serious about your flirting, so it’s alright.” Masaomi said something that got lost in his breath. “And I think you’re delightful. So, since you’re not planning on hurting Aiako-chan, and I’m not planning on hurting Aiako-chan, then we can be friends.” I flashed him a thumbs up, but Masaomi still looked like he had just watched a cat get run over in the street. “Damn, you look pale. I think you need some food in you. Oi, Semyon!”

The man must’ve been lying in wait with how he opened the door seconds after I spoke. “We ready for sushi? Oh, Kida, not look so good. Need food to be strong. Full special platter for Kida, coming right up!”

“Two please,” I added, holding up the appropriate number of fingers. “Oh, and more tea, Semyon-chan. Talking so much really dries out the mouth, you know.”

“Yes, yes.” Semyon accepted my mug, then looked back to Masaomi. “You no drink, Kida? No good. Be hydrated! Be full! Ah, double order of special sushi for Kida then.”

That shocked the blond into awareness. “Wait a minute,” he said, not stopping Semyon as the man shut the door. Masaomi groaned, slumping onto the table. “I can’t eat all that. And I wanted mackerel instead…”

I reached out to pat his shoulder. “No worries, I’ll help you eat it.” Masaomi looked at me with one eye almost twitching. Izaya had had a similar reaction when I had eaten the special without issue. Sure, it was unorthodox, but it was delicious. “And you can order extra, too. I’ll front the bill this time, Masaomi-chan, so get whatever you like.”

Masaomi’s next look was one of suspicion. “What’s the catch?”

I grinned. Smart boy. “The catch,” I said, twirling a lock of hair around my finger, “is that you’re gonna tell me every last detail of how you and Mikado-chan met Aiako-chan.”

I’d naturally asked Aiako-chan for the same information, but it was always interesting to see how people viewed the same events in their own personal lenses. One long conversation, multiple sushi platters (including Masaomi’s requested mackerel), several mugs of tea, and almost the entire bag of sugar later, I had gotten the information I had asked for and then some.

Even though Raira’s high school and middle school buildings weren’t in the exact same place, they were still roughly close enough. Masaomi had been on the prowl for girls to hit on, happened to drag Aiako into it, and Mikado had been the one to save her as she’d gotten beyond flustered. Despite the awkward introduction, Aiako had become rather attached to her precious Senpai. Judging by the sound of it, there hadn’t been too much time between then and her initial encounter (and subsequent fleeing from) me and Izaya.

“Going after middle schoolers, Masaomi-chan,” I said, sending a smirk over my latest mug of tea. While I was stuffed to the brim with sushi, liquid followed their own set of laws. As Masaomi’s mouth flapped, I tutted in my best impression of a disappointed mother. “I expected better of you.”

“Look, it’s not what you think.” Masaomi scrambled for an answer, even though he must’ve known I wasn’t serious by now. His flailing was pretty cute, though, so I let him at it. “She was all dressed up—not even in her uniform or anything.” I thought Aiako-chan still looked like jailbait, even out of uniform, but whatever. “Besides, she’s still only a year younger than me. Stop making this sound worse than it already is!”

I snickered. “You’re way too fun to tease, Masaomi-chan.” His entire face had turned beet red, which just made it even better. “But we both already know that you wouldn’t dare do anything to hurt my precious protégé, right?” He nodded so fast I had to applaud his performance. “Then there’s nothing to stress about! Still, I was wanting to ask you something else, since I have you here…”

Masaomi sat up so his back was ramrod straight. “What’s that, Sosa-san?”

“Ugh, stop calling me ‘-san’ already; I can’t take it!” Sure, it was better than Tekichu-san or some other nonsense, but still. I’d threaten him to stop, but I get the feeling that would have the opposite effect. Picking myself up from my sprawl across the table, I got back on topic. “Anyway, I was gonna ask about the other girl with you.”

“Huh? I think her name’s Anri-chan. I don’t know her too well; Mikado’s the one—”

I held up a hand and shook my head. “No, no, not Megane-chan.” Masaomi blinked, trying to process my nickname. While it was nice to have a name to the face—or, in this case, name to the glasses—Megane-chan didn’t give me any sort of weird déjà vu feeling. “The other girl. The one you ran off with. You know, the one with the red eyes.” You would think, having such a distinctive feature like that, I wouldn’t have a hard time recognizing her, but my memory wasn’t cooperating, even days later. If I admitted such a thing to Izaya, he’d question my capacity as an information broke for sure.

Thankfully, Masaomi had no such issues, his eyes lighting up in recognition. “Oh, you mean Linda-chan!” The previous stiffness had vanished from his posture, leaving only an overexcited puppy in teenage boy form. “She’s in my class with me. She’s a transfer student from America, but she’s not half bad at Japanese. Now her—she’s totally on my list, along with Anri-chan.”

Wait, from America? The gears were turning in my head, but I knew better than to jump to conclusions, especially when I had a ready source of information right in front of me. “What’s her family name?” I asked, some of my urgency from slipping into my voice. Masaomi didn’t notice.

“Huh? Oh, it’s something weird. I always suck at pronouncing it. Aido—Eito—No, gimme a sec.” He screwed up his face, as if he was trying to unravel a complicated tongue twister. After a few seconds of misspoken syllables, he put the pieces together in his mind. “Aiderucarno? Ah, dammit, I can never get the Ls right. Aide—”

“Eidelcarn,” I finished for him, patching over the characters into romanization.

Masaomi snapped his fingers. “Yeah, that’s it!” he said before blinking. “Wait, Sosa-san, how did you—?”

“Are you shitting me? She’s a fucking Eidelcarn?!” I grabbed onto the sides of my head and shouted my frustration toward the ceiling. Why the hell hadn’t I noticed? More importantly, why hadn’t he told me? “Linda-chan’s going to school in Ikebukuro? What the fuck is hap—”

The door to our private booth slammed open, and I slammed my mouth shut, fearing the ire of a certain sushi chef. Masaomi had also frozen in his frantic attempts to console me, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. Izaya had given me plenty of warnings about Semyon and Dennis, and I fully expected to have a chef’s knife flying at me any second. But that didn’t happen, because—

“Linda Eidelcarn, reporting for duty!” said an alto voice, thick with a faked Russian accent. Sure enough, the figure standing above us was the red-eyed girl, though she’d changed into a Russia Sushi uniform and had pulled her thick hair back into a ponytail. “No yelling in restaurant. It bad for business!” The more she spoke, the more obvious it was that she was imitating Semyon.

Wait, that’s not the main point at all!

“Linda-chan!” Ignoring the instructions not to shout, I pointed a finger at Linda for good measure. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you were coming to Japan? Wait, scratch that! Why the fuck didn’t you say hi to me the other day?”

“Ah, Sosa!” Linda dropped her fake accent in an instant and launched herself towards me for a hug. “I didn’t know you were gonna be in Ikebukuro. And when you didn’t say anything to me, I figured you were doing something top secret so I kept my mouth shut.”

Yeah, she could just go without me telling her that I had totally failed to recognize her—though in my defense she’d grown up quite a bit these past few years, and I’d never expected to see her running around Tokyo in a high school uniform. “Still, you could’ve told me.”

“I know, I know, but—”

“Wait, wait, wait, hold up,” Masaomi said, looking beyond flabbergasted at the impromptu dogpile Linda had trapped me in. He pointed a finger between me and Linda, like he had no idea who to accuse first. “What’s even going on?”

“Oh! Hey, Masaomi!” Linda said, waving to her classmate like she’d just noticed he was there.

“Hey, Linda-chan, you’re looking as lovely as ever—no, that’s not the point!” Masaomi slammed his hands on the table, rattling our empty dishes and threatening the swift intervention of Dennis eyeing us from behind the counter. “You guys know each other?”

“Well, yeah, of course we do,” I said. Linda released me from her hold to sit back up, and I smirked, even though I tell my hair was sticking out in every sort of direction. “Linda-chan is my college roommate’s little sister.”

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

By: Aviantei

Chapter Sixteen, Gathering

Orihara Izaya: On the Prowl

“Hayashi-san, your most humble and loyal information broker has arrived.”

“Orihara-kun, I would incredibly appreciate it if you spared me the utter drivel from your mouth.”

Hayashi Maki’s office was much like her personal appearance—simple including the bare essentials, but with a hint of deadliness. In regards to the room, she only had a pair of couches with a table in them for business talks, and carefully polished decorative weapons hung on the walls. The woman herself kept her hair cut short, dyed to a foreign looking auburn since we’d last talked, and her dark blue business suit looked crisp, from jacket to skirt. Manicured nails flashing, she waved me in towards the couch, peering at the doorway behind me.

“I see that you left the pain in the ass at home,” Hayashi said, no doubt referring to Sosa. They had yet to speak after I’d told Sosa Hayashi’s given name, so I was safe from that tirade, but Hayashi relented her composed expression for narrowing her eyes. “Where did you even find someone like that? She’s a nuisance in the office.”

“Lucky for you Hayashi-san, it just so happens to be Sosa-chan’s day off.” Considering that I had a fair share of meetings to run, it would’ve been nice to have the extra help, but an agreement was an agreement. I sat myself down on the guest couch, which was just comfortable enough to catch any weak-willed person off guard. From what I understood, Hayashi-san excelled at making people far too comfortable to think twice about her offers. “However, my work never ends, it seems. Don’t tell me that you called me here because my last batch of work for you was unsatisfactory.”

“No, it’s nothing like that. Your info was spotless as always. We took care of the stragglers in no time.” Hayashi smiled in a way void of anything most people would consider happiness. “We appreciate your assistance, so we’re willing to give you some more work. That is what good business partners do for each other, isn’t it?”

“Well, I certainly know better than to argue with a loyal customer.” In terms of threat level, Hayashi wasn’t too far up on the list of people who could potentially put my life in danger, but I’d provided her with info long enough to know that getting on her bad side wasn’t worth the trouble. Crossing my legs, I folded my hands atop my knee. “What sort of work can I assist you with today?”

Sure enough, Hayashi produced a sheaf of papers and passed them to me. “I’d rather not waste my business hours, so I trust that you can figure out your homework on your own, Orihara-kun.” I flipped through the packet, finding several client profiles there. Aida, Katsuki, Mukuro, Nasujima, Sugawara…  “Most of these people aren’t trouble yet, but I’d like to have some collateral to use if you don’t mind. For the rest that are marked, you know the drill.”

Based on a quick skim, it seemed like most of the work would just be basic information gathering, while there were some poor suckers who had gotten to their payment dates and thought it would be wise to run away. Funnily enough, running away from Hayashi-san was both the best and worst thing to do in that situation. I folded up the papers, tucking them away in my jacket. “I’ll be sure to take care of it. Was there anything else you needed, Hayashi-san?”

“Down payment is in the usual place. I expect a speedy delivery time.” Hayashi waved her hand at me, shooing me out of the meeting room. “I have another appointment in five minutes, Orihara-kun. Make yourself scarce. Oh, and one more thing.” Already halfway out of the room, I paused, looking back to my client. “Stop with that fake pleasant attitude every time you come in here. I hate to say it, Orihara-kun, but you’re not fooling anyone.”

Despite her words, my smile grew wider. “I could say the same to you, Hayashi-san.”

Without waiting for a response, I excused myself from the building, nodding to the poor soul that was Hayashi’s next client as I passed by.

As much as I liked working with wired money, it had its risks, and some clients just preferred working in plain cash. Hayashi-san just happened to be one of those clients, which meant she’d dropped off her advance payment for my services in one of my deposit boxes throughout Tokyo. Picking those up was another task I’d been delegating to Sosa, but her off status prevented that for the day. Since I didn’t fancy walking around with that much money when I still had errands to do, I added the task to Sosa’s schedule for the next day on my phone and got back to work.

Hayashi had put her office rather close to the train station, so I hopped on the next line and set my course. The ride lasted a few minutes, and I disembarked, keeping tabs on the humans around me all the while. Every now and then, there would be a gem in the crowd, from hushed arguments between couples to looks of despair from college aged students. Sometimes, it was hard being punctual with so many interesting things around me, but I’d learned to control myself somewhat.

However, my next route on foot was one I had taken many times in the past, which meant I didn’t have to focus too much on my path. After all, I’d once ridden that train and walked this path to get to classes not even a few years ago.

Raira University had gotten some renovations since I’d graduated a few years ago, but overall it looked the same in structure. Several different buildings made up the various offices and lecture halls, with plenty of space outdoors for students to mingle. The cherry blossoms hadn’t yet disappeared all the way, and there were still flutters of pink here and there, making what had to be an optimistic start to the school year for many.

Whether that applied to my next appointment or not was a different matter altogether.

“You’re looking well, Senpai.”

“And you’re looking all dressed up for the part.” In contrast to Hayashi’s deadly type of beauty, Fujimoto Momō’s appearance equated to little more than an unassuming but somewhat well put together college student. She kept her brunette hair long and tucked back into a tight twist, and a yellow cardigan rested over her white blouse. She even had a pair of semi-frameless glasses on, though I didn’t remember her ever needing them back in high school. Sitting down on the other side of the picnic table she’d been studying at, I mimicked the gesture of tapping at a set of frames. “Trying to make it so that you don’t seem as scary to the other kids now?”

Considering that not being able to make close friends had been one of Momō’s sore spots in high school, I expected her to break composure, but she just passed me back a pristine smile. “Oh, is that how you talk to my father, Senpai? I’m impressed.” She closed up the textbook she was reviewing and folded her hands together. Even with the pleasant look on her face, Momō did a good job of keeping a hard glint in her eyes. “Do remember that I am going to be the next head of the family. Senpai or not, I’d hope you at least show some form of manners.”

It had been easy to brush those sorts of comments off when she was a scrawny kid a few years below me in school, but given the recent changes, it seemed that she was getting fairly serious. “Well, don’t count on me calling you Fujimoto-sama anytime soon. Or would you prefer I used that nickname you picked up? Yakuza Empress, hm?”

“I’m honored that’s reached your ears. Once our resident information broker hears of something, that means it has some merit, doesn’t it?” I’d expected her to get worked up over not talking about such things so carelessly in public, but she smiled at me, as if anticipating it. I wouldn’t put Fujimoto Momō on the same challenge level as Sosa by any means, but she’d learned some extra tricks in the past few years since I’d graduated. I wasn’t wrong when I thought she was a troublesome kouhai. “Still, I didn’t bring you here to talk rumors.”

“I was wondering. You bothered to make me come all the way to your school instead of a traditional meeting at your home—and without your father at that. Don’t tell me you’re keeping secrets from the rest of your family now?”

Momō sighed, brushing away a stray flower petal as it fluttered towards her pile of school supplies. “I was under the impression that you put a little more thought into your guesswork, Senpai. You’re not slacking off that much whenever you work for us, are you?” Since her airy tone suggested she wasn’t being serious, I didn’t bother to reply. “In any event, I know you’re aware of the collaborative talks between us and the Awakusu-kai. I just want to make sure things are going smoothly.”

None of the other Raira students in the courtyard were close enough to hear her words, but Momō’s willingness to even talk in that much detail in public was still uncharacteristic. Troublesome or not, it seemed like she’d provide some fun soon, if nothing else. “Don’t tell me you’re asking me to cheat on Shiki-san, now.” I held a hand to my chest in mock conflict. “Your family may have been one of my earliest customers, but Shiki-san takes priority over even that, you know.”

“I’m well aware about that, Senpai,” Momō said, not missing a beat. Still looking like nothing more than a university student catching up with a former upperclassman, she tucked a lock of hair back behind her ear. “I don’t want you to sell out the Awakusu. I want them to be our allies. But what I would like is some extra services. I simply want to gauge how their perspective of us and make sure it stays favorable. That’s all.”

“A smart but boring request.” Even Sosa could handle something like that, assuming she stayed serious for long enough. Then again, it wasn’t like she was only good for running errands. Regardless, I started calculating the appropriate price in my mind. “Still, Kōgō-chan, you know my services don’t come cheap. Are you planning on paying for that all by yourself?”

Momō cocked her head. “You say that like I’m going behind my family’s back to hire you.”

“Aren’t you?”

“Why would I even bother to do that? Father put me in charge of making this merger successful.”

Definitely troublesome. While the Fujimoto-kai hadn’t even batted an eye when their heir turned out to be a girl, Momō was still much younger than other comparable yakuza children who were next in line to succeed their parents. She’d picked up autonomy incredibly fast.

Of course, that just means that whatever she’s planning might just be interesting…

“Should I say congratulations then? I’m almost impressed at how you’ve been able to keep things under wraps from me.” It was only halfway true, but I couldn’t deny that—unless I exerted some effort—picking up intel on the exact internal workings of the Fujimoto-kai wasn’t a simple task. That just meant I needed to fix the holes in my own approach. “Still, you know well enough that I don’t have much reason to turn down work. I’ll bill you the costs, then I’ll get to it.”

“I appreciate it,” Momō said, followed by a long pause. “You know, Senpai, it’s disconcerting how you act like a semi-decent person whenever you’re doing work.”

I scoffed. “You know, you’re the second person to say that today.” Momō’s smile widened as she managed to suppress a giggle. “Of course, I’d say it’s disconcerting how you act like you have it all together these days. Whatever happened to that kouhai who always got worked up over the littlest things?”

Momō shrugged, her smile becoming more pleased than superior. “I finally decided to stop being ashamed of who I was. Being the next head of the Fujimoto-kai, being the Yakuza Empress… That’s all me, and I’m tired of hiding it.” She pulled up the sleeve of her cardigan to check her watch. “Well, I have class coming up, Senpai. Thanks for coming to meet me here. I’ll be back in contact for the information.”

“You can expect it in three days.”

Without so much as a farewell, Momō stood and headed towards one of the nearby lecture halls, her skirt fluttering behind her. Since my business was done, there wasn’t much need for me to stay, either. Pulling out my phone to doublecheck my agenda and add the newest tasks to my list, I worked on clearing away other notifications en route to the train station. Sosa had messaged me a selfie of her picking up lunch, which happened to be more sugar than anything substantial—complete with a line of text reminding me to eat in the middle of work. It seemed that every day we were around each other, she had some new strange fixation to add to the pile.

Well, it’s not like I have anywhere to be for a couple of hours. I wasn’t about to go out of my way to join Sosa for lunch, but I’d come close enough to Russia Sushi that it would be a shame to pass up the opportunity. Just as I was about to lock my phone and return it to my pocket, the chatroom notification flashed on my screen—several times in quick succession.

Saika has joined the room

Saika: strong
Saika: human
Saika: wish
Saika: love
Saika: wish love human
Saika: Is wish I do strong person so human love is. Wish is is I do so so so
Saika: I
Saika: I, so, wish
Saika: …
Saika: strong human wish
Saika: wish
Saika: I, love
Saika: so

Saika has left the room

Now then, what did we have here?

Saika has joined the room

Saika: stronger
Saika: strong love wish
Saika: wish is want
Saika: more strong love want
Saika: want to love strong person
Saika: want I mom mom
Saika: mom mom mom
Saika: mom mom mom mom
Saika: mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom
Saika: mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom
Saika: mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom
Saika: mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom
Saika: mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom
Saika: mom mom mom mom
Saika: mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom

Saika has left the room
Kanra has joined the room
Kakkoii_chan has joined the room
Setton has joined the room
Tanaka Taro has joined the room
Tanuki Usagi has joined the room

Kanra: Was that a troll just now?
Kakkoii_chan: The only troll I see here is you
Setton: More like an alien
Tanaka Taro: Maybe they were laughing…
Setton: Sounded pretty scary…
Tanaka Taro: Then! What’s with the “haha”
Setton: No I mean aliens are scary
Setton: Not the other guy
Tanuki Usagi: The invasion is coming down upon us!
Tanuki Usagi: We will soon succumb to our new alien overlords!
Setton: Don’t say things like that!

Setton has left the room

Kakkoii_chan: I think you scared them off, Usagi-chan
Tanuki Usagi: My bad
Tanaka Taro: Still, that was a weird troll
Kanra: The logs say they were in here earlier
Kanra: But I’ll work on that sometime soon
Kanra: I’m about to meet up with someone so it’ll have to be later
Tanaka Taro: Take your time
Kakkoii_chan: No, no, no, Taro-chan!
Kakkoii_chan: You can’t give Kanra any leeway like that!
Kakkoii_chan: You’re supposed to be like
Kakkoii_chan: “Oh, look, you’re doing something useful for once!”
Kakkoii_chan: And, and
Tanuki Usagi: I’m surprised you have anyone willing to meet up with you, Kanra-san!
Kakkoii_chan: Yes, exactly!
Kakkoii_chan: That’s my Usagi-chan!
Kanra: Stop trying to teach other people your bad habits, Kakkoii-chan
Kanra: Anyways, I do actually have work to do~

[Private Mode] Kanra: Unlike some people who have a day off
[Private Mode] Kakkoii_chan: You’re the one who gave me this schedule, Izaya-kun

Kanra: So I’ll be off!
Kanra: Bye-bye bi~!
Tanaka Taro: Taro-chan?

Kanra has left the room

Thanks to my schedule for the day, it was some time before I did make my way home for the night. Most people with such schedules would end up exhausted, but I was still feeling rather good. I’d had a nice chat with Saki-chan before taking the train back to Shinjuku. I had almost forgotten what it was like to go around that much on my own. Sosa, for all her faults, was speeding up business.

With dinner and coffee in hand, I sat down at my desk. Night had already fallen, leaving the lights of buildings to fight away the darkness outside my windows. It would be some time before those lights went off, and I suspected that—given my fresh workload and personal projects—I had something like an all-nighter on my hands. No matter how impressive phones were, some things I needed to take care of on my desktop.

Not that I was complaining. Not in the slightest. Because of the job I had and the people around me, I was able to experience so many different things, see so many different stories unfolding within the cacophony of the city. Knowing all that made it easy to give my all to my work—

—because I loved humans so very much.

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

By: Aviantei

Chapter Seventeen, Curiosity Reigning

Tekichu Sosa: Tactical Investigation

Kanra: So, I banned that troll that was bothering us~ ♪
Kakkoii_chan: But you’re still here, Kanra!
Kanra: Very funny
Setton: So things should go back to normal.
Tanaka Taro: Let’s hope so…
Kanra: Have you heard the latest about the Yellow Scarves? They got hit by the Slasher yesterday.
Tanaka Taro: What are the Yellow Scarves?
Kakkoii_chan: Oh yeah, you moved here not too long ago, right Taro-chan?
Kakkoii_chan: The Yellow Scarves are a color gang that fell apart last year

Sitting on the morning train to Shinjuku with my fingers still poised over my phone’s keyboard, I considered my next words. Since Tanaka Taro-chan was Ryuugamine Mikado—Aiako-chan’s precious senpai and Masaomi-chan’s friend—I wondered if it would be mean to mention his close friend had once been the Yellow Scarves leader. Before I could even start typing, Izaya had swiftly switched the topic.

Kanra: I wonder if the Slasher’s part of the Dollars?
Tanaka Taro: They can’t be!
Tanuki Usagi: I don’t think the Dollars would be a part of something like that
Kanra: There might be a war brewing~
Setton: I agree with Usagi—I don’t see the Dollars doing something like that
Kanra: You guys are no fun!
Tanuki Usagi: Oh, crap, is it that time already?! I gotta get going
Tanaka Taro: I should actually be going, too
Tanaka Taro: Busy day ahead!

Tanuki Usagi has left the room
Tanaka Taro has left the room

I chuckled a bit. It was far too easy to imagine both Aiako and Mikado getting so caught up in chatting that they almost forgot to leave for school on time. Not wanting Izaya to think I wasn’t being punctual, I excused myself from the chat as well. Sure, it was a nice distraction from the clusterfuck of a train around me, but I needed to get my brain in the zone. Based on Izaya’s hyper mood in the chat, I had a busy day ahead of me, too.

No sooner than I was about to tuck my phone back into my pocket, the screen lit up in a call. I answered it before my ringtone could even kick in. “‘Morning, Linda-chan,” I said, switching into English for a moment. We’d quickly traded numbers after meeting at Russia Sushi the other day. “If you’re skipping out on school, I’m gonna have to tell your brother—you know that, right?”

“I’m on my way to school right now, thank you very much!” I could just picture the indignant pout on her face. Still, having Linda’s response in English implied that she wasn’t calling me for a way to pass the time on her commute. Taking advantage of the space I’d been able to secure, I leaned back into the seat cushion. “But, look, I wanted to ask you something, Sosa. Do you know anything about someone named Harima Mika?”

Harima Mika? I repeated the name in my head, but nothing came to mind. “It’s not familiar. Why? Did something happen?”

“Ah, yeah, she’s a friend of a friend who apparently went missing recently. I talked with Masaomi, and he said you know that Orihara Izaya guy—the info broker? I just wasn’t sure if you heard anything from him or not.”

From the sounds of it, Masaomi hadn’t quite told Linda the whole story, but that wasn’t any of my business. “Gotcha,” I said, taking a moment to think it over once more. I handled so many nonsense papers that I’d lost track of the names on them all, but I didn’t think I’d read something like that. “I mean, we’ve messed with some missing kids cases before—” the incident with dear old Magenta-chan in particular “—but this Mika-chan wasn’t one of them.”

“Damn.” Between Linda’s grumbles, there was a sound like clicking fingers on the other end of the line. “Well, there goes that option. Thanks for putting up with me, Sosa.”

“Not a problem. You at least gave me something interesting to think about, so it’s not like you wasted my time or anything.” He’d probably scold me for talking that way around his sister, but Linda herself didn’t seem to mind. “Hey, how about this? If I hear anything, I’ll let you know. Feel free to mail me some info and I’ll look into it.”

“You mean it?” Even though we weren’t talking face to face, I still nodded. Linda seemed to get the message. “You’re the bomb, Sosa! Thanks a bunch!”

Before I could even give a response, Linda had already hung up the phone in her excitement. Hopefully she would remember to switch back over to Japanese by the time she got to school. Well, even if she didn’t, she’d be able to roll with it. Just like her brother, she had some pretty thick skin.

As the train pulled into the station, I pulled myself to my feet and went to work.

When it came down to my usual work routine, it tended to be a mix of picking things up from the city, comparing data sheets, and going out on visits—with or without Izaya in tow. Some days were full to the brim with tasks, while others were more relaxed, allowing for plenty of indulgence in personal projects. I’d been hoping for the latter so that I could look into Linda’s Harima Mika case, but that didn’t seem to be in the cards. Izaya had easily stocked me up on miscellaneous tasks for the morning, so I didn’t even get a free moment until lunch.

“You’re pretty popular with the ladies, aren’t you, Izaya-kun?” I asked as I opened up my can of coffee. Izaya stopped mid-slurp of his udon (I know, it’s shocking to think he could eat something besides otoroo) to raise an eyebrow at me. On the kitchen table beside me, I flipped through the stack of papers he’d given me related to his meetings from yesterday. “I’m just saying, you did nothing but hang out with girls yesterday.”

Izaya made a flawless transition between slurping up his noodles into a smirk. “Don’t go getting jealous, Sosa-chan.”

I rolled my eyes as I popped a bite of karage into my mouth. “If anyone’s going to be jealous, it’s Shiki-no-danna. Taking on extra work for the Fujimoto-kai like that.” Not that Izaya had let me handle that one. I got stuck with Maki-chan’s intel gathering, which wasn’t awful—just significantly less fun. “But, hey, I’m just the hired help. Don’t mind me.”

“It’d be much easier if I didn’t have to mind you,” Izaya said, though his voice didn’t have any malice. He picked up another bite of udon with his chopsticks, letting the noodles cool off for a few moments. “But if you bring up topics like that out of nowhere, I don’t know what else you expect me to assume other than you’re jealous.”

“Can’t someone make small talk?” I asked, even though we both knew well enough that the only point of such conversations was to try and get some useful information. “I was just thinking that if you knew your way around the ladies then you might happen to know about someone named Harima Mika-chan.”

It wasn’t a subtle grab at information in the slightest, but there wasn’t much of a point in trying to talk circles around Izaya, either. No matter how well Izaya controlled his expression, I still caught the flash of recognition in his eyes. “Now, now, Sosa-chan, where’d you happen to hear that name?”

“I told you that I’m capable of digging into things on my own, Izaya-kun.” I hummed a bit, taking my time in slurping up my own udon. Familiar with the conversational control tactic, Izaya just watched. “I heard an interesting rumor is all, so I figured that I’d see if you knew anything about it.” I grinned as I held up a finger. “And it looks like I was right. Pin-pon, it’s a point for Sosa!”

“Yes, yes, congratulations, Sosa-chan. Not bad.” Setting aside his chopsticks for a moment, Izaya leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. “Let me guess. You happened to hear that Mika-chan’s been missing for a bit, hm?”

Considering that Izaya’s whole job consisted of knowing things, it wasn’t too surprising that he knew that. Linda-chan had mentioned that she went missing ‘recently,’ but that could mean anything in Linda time. “I take it this is old news to you then, Izaya-kun.”

“Something like that.” Just like my earlier tactic, he wasn’t being subtle about keeping things from me at all. “Before I go too far, I guess I should be asking what you plan to do with this information. Are you planning on adding Mika-chan to your little haphazard collection of toys?”

“That depends on if she’s worth it.” Unlike Izaya, I had no intentions of stopping eating just to have a conversation. Izaya glanced back to me, looking amused even as I chewed through my latest bite of karage. “All in all, I’m just curious. Missing kids aren’t that uncommon in the city from what I take it, but it can be interesting to see what happened. Besides, if she’s on your radar, there needs to be at least something amusing involved, am I right?”

“You’re not wrong.” Izaya sat up again, shrugging as he went. “Personally, I’ve been hoping that things work out well, so we might have something fun on our hands.” I leaned forward, almost dunking my hair in my udon broth. “Knowing you, you won’t be satisfied at all unless I tell you the whole story. Go ahead and eat up. We’ll take a little field trip together.”

I pumped my fist, setting to work on devouring the rest of my lunch in record time.

From the outside, Yagiri Pharmaceuticals looked like any other boring business operation. The grounds had several different buildings, all painted pure white, with afternoon sunlight reflecting off their windows. I did my best to hop up high enough to see past the concrete fence surrounding the premises, but all I got was a blur of green from the trees planted around the area.

“Hey, hey, Izaya-kun. Why do I feel like I’ve heard the name Yagiri Pharma somewhere before?” I asked, still bouncing, even though it wasn’t getting my any results.

Izaya sighed. “Honestly, does everything you work on go in one ear and out the other?” I pouted a bit, turning to Izaya as he stepped up to my side. With the clean street and white concrete wall, his all black attire stuck out like a sore thumb. “Yagiri Pharmaceuticals routinely comes to us looking for recommendations of people to pick up. Then again, they do it through others, but still. Remember the guys I had kidnap Mazenda-san?”

I tapped my fist against the palm of my hand in recognition. “Ah, yeah, I got it!” I’d kind of forgotten about them because they’d been so insignificant, but once Izaya said it, I could at least remember that they existed, though not necessarily what they looked like. “So those losers are running around doing work for Yagiri Pharma? What the hell do they need kidnapped people for?”

“Human experimentation.” Well, that was just delightful. As far as I was concerned, though, they could cut up as many humans as they liked. Even with his whole “I love humans” thing, Izaya didn’t look too concerned by the concept, either. “They have a bunch of different projects that are pushing the bounds of rationality a bit, so they need some extra bodies—usually unwilling ones.”

I crossed my arms and looked back to the buildings. “So you’re telling me that Mika-chan was one of those experiments?” Thinking back, the bunch of fucks who had handled kidnapping Magenta-chan seemed to think she fit nicely into their targets. I didn’t know what Yagiri Pharma was doing, but Harima Mika couldn’t have been too far off from what they were looking for—and I wasn’t looking forward to telling Linda if that was the case.

I mean, if I have to give her news like that, then—

“You’re getting ahead of the story, Sosa-chan,” Izaya said, pulling me from my thoughts. He wandered back towards one of the nearby trees, leaning against its trunk. “Harima Mika-chan wasn’t meant to be an experiment. She was just the product of unfortunate circumstances—or, I guess, with her point of view, she probably thinks she’s rather fortunate.”

I frowned, feeling even my forehead scrunch up in the process. Izaya was enjoying talking in circles a little too much. “If you start saying things like that, Izaya-kun, it’s going to sound an awful lot like you know Mika-chan.”

“And another point for Sosa-chan.” Izaya gave me a short burst of golf claps, and I dipped forward in a bow with one arm crossed over my chest. By the time I straightened myself up, Izaya was gazing over my head, looking back at the pharmaceutical buildings behind us. “Would you like the full story or the abridged version?”

“I mean I get paid, so go for the long version!”

Izaya shrugged as I skipped over to his tree perch and leaned against its side. A passing breeze stirred the tree leaves above us on the otherwise quiet street. I watched the branches rattle against each other for a few minutes, then closed my eyes as I listened to Izaya tell me the story of Harima Mika.

About the stalking.

About the way she’d been attacked for seeing something she shouldn’t have.

About the surgery to look like someone different, so that she could be with the one she loved.

And about how Izaya was keeping tabs on her, giving little pokes and prods whenever he thought it would make things more interesting. And while that whole story was well and good, I found myself more interested in another detail that Izaya had mentioned in the process.

“So these guys are the ones who have Celty’s head, huh?” All of a sudden, the dull-looking office building seemed a lot more interesting. If I actually had the capacity to break into the place undetected, it would be a no-brainer what my next day off would look like. Sadly, though, since I lacked those skills, even I had to scrap that plan. “Sheesh, what are they even trying to do with something like that? You don’t think you can convert a Dullahan into medicine or anything do you?”

“If that were the case, it would be a complete waste, don’t you think?” Izaya asked. Even I had to agree. Sure, I wasn’t even remotely sure what you could do with a part of a Dullahan (other than make Celty panic), but there had to be a much better use than that. Izaya’s gaze followed mine, and we both stared down the peaceful buildings. “No, as far as I can tell, the head’s there simply because of fascination—or because they’re trying to keep it safe from someone who’s too fascinated with it.” Izaya snickered. “Well, that about sums up what’s going on with Harima Mika-chan. Does that satisfy you?”

I nodded, hopping away from the tree so that Izaya and I were facing each other again. “Yuppers! You’ve proven once again to be a great source of entertainment, Izaya-kun!” It probably wasn’t the kind of story that Linda wanted to hear, but I thought it was great. Sure, the actions of those involved were foolish when you looked at it from a critical lens, but even I could see that there was a chance for something interesting to come from it all. “Now, lemme guess, we have some business to take care of? Or you need me to go bother Maki-chan again? I can do that.”

Izaya pulled out his phone to confirm the time, and I let him take care of all the organizational stuff. Sure, I was good at it, but things were a lot more fun just going along for the ride.

“Oh, Orihara-kun, what are you doing out here?”

I didn’t recognize the voice, but Izaya (big surprise) did. Heading out of the Yagiri Pharmaceuticals compound was a man with glasses and dark brown hair cut just above his shoulders. He was wearing a lab coat over a button up and a tie, and the bag at his side suggested he was a doctor, though I didn’t see any ID card that identified him as one of Yagiri’s. In one of the strangest reactions yet, the man actually smiled as he approached Izaya, one hand raised in a friendly wave.

“Shinra,” Izaya said, and I automatically attached the face to the name. “I’m simply conducting some business out here. I’m guessing that the same holds true for you?”

Shinra nodded, gesturing to his bag. “When duty calls, you know… Oh, but I don’t think I’ve met you before.”

He was looking right at me, so there wasn’t any doubt as to who he was talking about. “Tekichu Sosa.”

“Kishitani Shinra,” he said, even though I didn’t have much use for his family name. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m an old friend of Orihara-kun’s and an underground doctor.”

Someone was actually willing to call Izaya a friend? He didn’t even look like an underground doctor.  I glanced Izaya, eyebrows raised. Izaya whacked my arm. “Since this one doesn’t have any real manners, I guess I’ll have to say it,” he said, gesturing to me. “Sosa-chan here is my new assistant at work. We were just having an instructional lesson.”

Shinra nodded, not even bothering to question the statement. “Well, maybe you should be careful. I hear that Shizuo-kun’s been in a bad mood lately.”

“When isn’t Shizu-chan in a bad mood?” Though he kept his voice calm, I still caught the slightest twitch of Izaya’s expression.

“Well, that’s fair,” Shinra said a with a laugh. He checked his watch, then his face lit up in excitement. “Oh, I know! We haven’t gotten to catch up in a while, Orihara-kun. Why don’t you two come over to my place for a bit?”

“We’re in!” I said before Izaya could even start to think the offer over. I had to know about this person who was willing to put up with Izaya like that. Izaya grimaced as my raised hand almost whacked him in the face, but he didn’t protest. “We’re in your care, Shinra-chan! Oh, oh, would it be alright if I invited a friend along?”

“Sure! The more the merrier!”

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

By: Aviantei

Chapter Eighteen, Wayward Encounters

Orihara Izaya: Taking the Backseat

I didn’t think I had seen Susanuma Aiako look so terrified before, and that was saying something since I tended to remind her of her night terrors. As you may have guessed, she was Sosa’s requested extra guest to Shinra’s place.

Having been acquainted with Shinra since middle school (and, unfortunately, having required his doctoring services before), I was no stranger to Shinra’s residence. Sosa, on the other hand, had no such experience, and she was having a grand old time running around the entire apartment, from the kitchen to the living room and even the balcony—leaving her dear protégé to fend for herself. Shinra didn’t mind in the slightest, letting Sosa do as she pleased while our host worked on preparing tea. That left myself and Aiako-chan seated in the living room, though we’d taken up different couches.

“Sorry, it’s been a while since we’ve had actual company over,” Shinra said, bringing the tea tray over after a couple of minutes. “Usually when we have guests, it’s because of work-related things, but feel free to make yourselves at home. Tekichu-san, the tea’s ready if you want to come sit down!”

“Sosa,” Aiako and I said in tandem, and the girl buried her face in her hands, trying to look away from me. Considering she hadn’t even had time to change out of her school uniform before Sosa swiped her up, Aiako looked all the smaller. Shinra didn’t even bother to comment on her behavior as he placed a teacup in front of her.

Hearing heard the summons, Sosa emerged from the hall that held the bedrooms. She hopped over the back of the couch to sit next to Aiako, then proceeded to add most of the sugar bowl to her tea without hesitation. “Izaya-kun and Aiako-chan are right, Shinra-chan. I’d appreciate it loads if you don’t waste your time with formalities, kay?”

Shinra scratched at the back of his head, having taken up the seat on the other end of the couch from me. “Well, I guess that would be alright,” he said. “I mean, we just met each other, so I don’t want you to think I’m being rude or anything…”

“Just get over it and call her Sosa,” I said, sipping at my own non-doctored tea, “your life will be much better for it, Shinra. Trust me.”

“Yup, yup, Izaya-kun’s got it!” Sosa beamed and went to sucking down her drink of her mostly sugar and tea abomination, sighing like a weary office worker enjoying the first drink of beer on a Friday. I didn’t even want to consider what Sosa would be like with alcohol in her. “Manners are bullshit anyway, Shinra-chan. Just go for it!”

Shinra held his hand to his chin, looking lost in thought. I could just hear him worrying over some nonsense like I don’t want Celty to think I’m getting too familiar with another woman I just met, though. “Oh, I got it! How about Sosa-kun? That work for you?”

Sosa nodded, setting down her already empty teacup on its plate with enough force to make the whole assemble rattle. “It’s been a while since anyone’s called me ‘-kun,’ so it’s kinda refreshing. I’ll take it!” And then she proceeded to laugh with all the aplomb of a 90’s anime villain. Shinra nodded, looking satisfied with himself for averting a nonexistent crisis.

I may have made a mistake in letting these two anywhere near each other.

“Um… It’s not that I’m against you inviting me, Sosa-san, but why am I here again?” Aiako asked, her tiny voice not sounding much louder than a squeak. Helping herself to second serving of tea, Sosa glanced over to her protégé, and Shinra’s attention immediately focused on his other last-minute houseguest. Squirming under the sudden attention (and my own gaze certainly couldn’t have been helping), Aiako flushed a deep red. “I mean…this doesn’t seem like work, so…”

“Huh, you’re still worried about that?” Sosa said as she completely emptied out Shinra’s sugar bowl. “Listen, if I’m on payroll for the day, you can be on payroll, too, Aiako-chan. And besides, networking is part of an info broker’s work, right? This so counts!”

Sosa looked to me for confirmation, and I gave her the nod she was seeking. “You’re not wrong, though your logic needs a little work.” Sosa shrugged it off and gave Aiako a reassuring smile. Considering that I had my own fair share of plans unfolding behind the screens, I was more than content to see where Sosa’s intentions ended up. “I don’t often do work directly with Shinra, but it’s never a bad idea to have a doctor like him on your side—even if he is a bit of a weirdo.”

“You’re one to talk, Orihara-kun!” Shinra sat up as straight as he could, the light reflecting off his glasses. “Besides, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have had any friends in middle school, you know.”

“Did you ever consider that was maybe by choice?”

Sosa slammed her hands into the table, sending the whole tea set rattling. “Yes, that’s just it,” she shouted with no concern for volume—as per usual. “That’s what I wanted to hear! Shinra-chan, I humbly request that you tell me all the embarrassing stories you have about Izaya.” Beside her, Aiako had scooted forward in her seat, adding a “Please, Sensei,” to the request. It seemed she was growing a backbone through Sosa’s unrelenting “immersion therapy.”

“Hm, I guess I can do that,” Shinra said without hesitation.

I clicked my tongue. “Hey, now.”

As he did with most things in life, Shinra didn’t back down at the warning. “I mean, I don’t know if there are really any super embarrassing stories about Orihara-kun, but I can do my best. Let’s see, which one’s best to start with? Ah, I’ve got it! There was this one time he got stabbed…”

Knowing interrupting wouldn’t do much good, I went back to sipping at my tea, thinking of all the boring work I could shove on Sosa the next day.

Kanra: Oh, but what’s this you were saying about a missing person?
Kakkoii_chan: hit us with your best shot!
Tanaka Taro: The girl who went missing was a classmate of mine
Tanaka Taro: Well, the friend of a friend to be exact…
Tanaka Taro: To be honest, I’ve never actually met her at all
Tanuki Usagi: Same here
Tanuki Usagi: I heard that a senpai went missing, too
Setton: What? You’re saying you had a friend go missing?
Kanra: It seems
Kanra: A lot of people have been disappearing lately
Kanra: Rumors about these cases are everywhere right now~ ♪
Setton: You sure like rumors Kanra-san
Kakkoii_chan: And spreading rumors
Kanra: Ahahahahaha
Kanra: Don’t act like you’re any different
Kanra: All the rumors I’ve heard are about illegal foreigners
Kanra: Or maybe a runaway new to the big city
Kanra: Basically, they’re nobody that can people can trace when they disappear
Kanra: For some reason, most of these incidents occur between Ikebukuro and Shibuya
Kanra: And once they’re gone, that’s it!
Kanra: They’re gone for good
Setton: You serious?
Kanra: Oh, but there’s another rumor that’s even scarier!
Kanra: Get this: They say the reason that they’re never found is that they get taken by the Dollars. When they’re done with them, they eat them!
Tanaka Taro: What?
Setton: You don’t think that’s true, do you?
Tanuki Usagi: I really don’t think
Tanuki Usagi: the Dollars would go and do something like that
Kanra: You’re sure acting rather certain!
Kanra: There’s all sorts of scary things going on in Tokyo, you know
Kakkoii_chan: Cannibalism aside, why would you want to bother going through the trouble of preparing to eat another person?
Kakkoii_chan: Too much work
Tanaka Taro: Maybe we should talk about something else
Tanaka Taro: Sorry I brought it up, I just wasn’t sure what the best way to handle something like this is. People didn’t really go missing where I moved from
Kakkoii_chan: No, no Taro-chan, it’s Kanra’s fault for bringing up stuff like that
Kakkoii_chan: Though even if it isn’t the Dollars
Kakkoii_chan: Maybe something wild would happen.
Kakkoii_chan: Cannibalism isn’t the only option. Don’t forget the classic of ritual sacrifice!
Setton: Kakkoii-san, I think you and Kanra-san have much more in common than you think…

“How rude!” Sosa said, pouting as she stared down her phone, as if it would provide her with a worthwhile retort. “I think my online persona is much more charming than Izaya’s Kanra. Don’t you agree, Aiako-chan?”

Standing beside Sosa on the train, Aiako glanced between her own phone and her self-declared mentor, as if trying to figure out the appropriate answer. Too bad Sosa’s brain ran in too many directions at once, making it impossible to reach the solution by any means of logic. “Well, I think that the way you chat is a bit less disorienting when you compare it to the real thing.” Since Sosa’s face broke out into a grin, that seemed to be the closest thing to a correct response.

“Right, right? No one reading that text would figure out who it really is unless you’re in the know. Though I guess that’s the point.” It was indeed. Taking a moment to recognize that I was too busy typing to participate in their little powwow, Sosa glanced back to her phone. “Hey now.”

Kanra: Though do you maybe think the person who went missing for both of you was the same one?
Kanra: I mean, sure, a lot of people have been going missing lately, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. Tokyo’s full of coincidences, isn’t it?
Tanaka Taro: Huh? I guess, maybe
Setton: You could be right, but still
Kakkoii_chan: Red card, red card!
Kakkoii_chan: Kanra, are you fishing for someone’s IRL info? That’s just bad manners!
Kanra: Whoops, busted~!

As if I didn’t know who everyone was already. Even Sosa already knew that the person in question was the same Harima Mika that she’d asked me about earlier—and that Ryuugamine Mikado and our own Susanuma Aiako were well aware of the fact. All things considered, Celty was the only one actually out of the loop.

Aiako glanced back to Sosa. “Is Orihara-san always saying things that he already knows the answers to in the chatroom?”

Not once looking away from her screen, Sosa bounced her head in a nod. “Always.”



High five!” the two cheered in English as they completed what would be something closer to a “high ten” if you were being picky. Standing outside of Russia Sushi, I watched the ritual, taking a moment to recognize the same dark-haired girl from the day of meeting Mikado. Despite being a regular to the shop, I hadn’t the faintest idea she’d worked there. It left me to wonder if Sosa would get upset if I took another shot at hijacking one of her so-called toys.

“Oh, you brought Aiako along, too,” Linda said, once she noticed the small girl nearby. Aiako-chan dipped her head in a greeting, and Linda’s red eyes flicked towards me. “And your creepy boss, too,” she added in English, as Sosa snickered (Aiako was mouthing the words, as if trying to translate them). Though there was no one around to reprimand the supposed part-time employee, Linda quickly shifted gears back to Japanese and threw on an affected Russian accent. “Well, no matter! It half-price sushi day. Time to come in and eat. Be full!” Waving flyers about, she started to push Aiako towards the restaurant’s entrance, and Sosa followed. I became the last in line, since I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to eat some otoroo at a good price.

While Russia Sushi certainly had its fair share of dedicated fans, it tended to not always have the best luck at attracting new customers thanks to Simon’s imposing presence, but the seats were a bit more crowded than usual for dinner time—even on half-price day. Tossing the less intimidating Linda into street side advertising duty was working out well.

“Simon, we have three guests! Make way!” Linda called, cupping her hand around her mouth as she marched us in. Aiako was trying to say something like “Linda-senpai,” but it wasn’t working out. Within seconds, Simon had noticed us approaching and he joined in on Linda’s shouts of welcome and advertising events. Linda had shoved a menu into Aiako’s hands, steering her towards the counter. Sosa hung back enough for me to catch up, and she beamed that far too innocent smile of hers.

“So since we’re coming her after work, it’s the boss’s treat, yeah?”

She interpreted my silence as a yes, and then went off to tell Aiako the good news.

As much as I would’ve liked to sit down and savor my sushi for a while, all the booths were already full, which meant the only option was sitting in the common area, and Simon and Dennis had long banned Shizu-chan and I from occupying the space at the same time, and I didn’t want to spoil a good meal with Shizuo happening to walk into the restaurant by coincidence. So with our respective take-out boxes In hand, our trio set back out to the Ikebukuro streets, where the sky had turned to night.

“Is it really okay for me to have this much…?” Aiako asked almost to herself, staring down at the box hanging from its haphazardly tied string (Linda had insisted on taking care of the presentation of her kouhai’s dinner). Despite Aiako’s near whisper, both Sosa and I caught onto it easily, with Sosa draping an arm over Aiako’s tiny shoulders.

“You worry too much, my dear Aiako-chan.” Aiako almost lost her balance as Sosa’s weight pressed down on her. Almost dragging her protégé along, Sosa waved a finger through the air. “The best part is getting to eat on Izaya’s bill, yeah? I mean, it’s one of the best per—hey, hey, hey, what’s that over there?”

Before anyone could register the change in Sosa’s topic and attention span, she had raced off ahead of us. Presumably not wanting to be stuck with me, Aiako sprinted after, and I once more took up the rear position. Soon enough, it was plenty obvious what had caught Sosa’s attention. Sprawled out on the ground atop some trash was a short man dressed in a pink hoodie and short cropped sandy blonde hair. Upon closer inspection, he was one of the human traffickers I regularly passed info to—Korozawa was it?—and he was knocked out cold, with the faint smell of chloroform still clinging to his clothes.

“You think he’s dead?” Sosa asked, with all the curiosity of a kid poking at a dead bird on the sidewalk.

Crouching close to her mentor and looking over the guy, Aiako shook her head. “No, it looks like he’s still breathing,” she said, managing to keep her voice steady. “What do you think happened here?” Aiako looked to Sosa, and Sosa then looked to me. Just as I was about to shrug, a phone started to ring, and it wasn’t any of ours.

It was the one in the pocket of our trafficker buddy.

“Dibs!” Sosa shouted, snatching the phone up. As she held it up in a victory stance, I was able to slip it from her fingers. She opened her mouth in what I guessed would be a protest mixed in with several curse words, but I’d already accepted the call and answered:

Sushi rabu~. Especially otoroo!” Sosa pouted but she leaned in curiously, Aiako still clinging to her side. I put a finger to my lips to remind them to stay quiet before fitting the speakerphone button.

“What the hell? Who’s this?” asked a voice that I recognized all too well.

“Oh, it’s you Dotachin!”

Sosa’s eyes lit up in interest as she leaned towards the receiver. “Hey, Dotachin! Long time, no see!” I don’t know why I thought she would even bother to follow directions. Pushing her off so I would have some personal space, I barreled forward before Dotachin could have enough time to process what was going on.

“I was just walking, so when I came across this guy sleeping and his phone rang, I answered.”

Dotachin made a strangled sound that failed to be a proper question. From the sounds of it, the rest of his gang was there, too, and they were into something interesting. Their fearless leader finally caught enough composure to ask, “Hey, where are you right now?”

“Hm?” I stood up from my crouch, wanting to pace around the area, but Sosa’s insistent stare kept me rooted in place. A quick glance was all it took to find the nearby ramen shop as a landmark. “I’m out in front of Taishoken in south Ikebukuro.” Befuddled, Dotachin could only ask why, and just as I was reminding him about Russia Sushi’s special, I felt that annoyingly familiar murderous intent creeping up on me.

Sosa must’ve felt it, too, because it didn’t even take her a second to snatch up Aiako and move her out of the way as I stepped in the opposite direction. Without any concern for rationality, a kiddie slide shaped like an elephant crashed into the concrete, courtesy of none other than Ikebukuro’s strongest protozoan.

The usual shouted reminder to stay out of Ikebukuro followed, and Shizuo bolted after me from down the road within seconds. I gave a short farewell to Dotachin, then hung up the phone and tossed it back towards our unconscious friend before bolting myself. Dodging Shizu-chan all the way, I kept my grip on my sushi, refusing to let go of my well-earned dinner.

By the time I shook Shizu-chan off and settled down on a nearby stone sign next to a tree, it was beyond obvious that Sosa and Aiako hadn’t bothered to follow me. More importantly, my sushi hadn’t fallen apart in the commotion, and I deemed it a well-deserved dinner time.

“Mm, otoroo really is the best~!”

On a night where someone else’s adventure was already in full swing, Celty zipped past, her black bike darker than the cloud-covered sky above.

Chapter Text

Jokes, Whims, & Coincidences

By: Aviantei

Chapter Nineteen, Tagging Along

Tekichu Sosa: Things to Be Seen

It took less than five minutes for Aiako-chan to adjust from her second close encounter with one of Shizu-chan’s projectiles, and then we settled down on the elephant slide to tuck into our dinner. If I was right, things would be getting interesting soon, and I didn’t want the sushi to go bad before we could enjoy it. Considering that Aiako still went into a near panic attack every time Izaya so much as opened his mouth, she wasn’t doing too bad at accommodating to violence.

“Um, Sosa-san,” she said (I’d need to break her of that “-san” habit; shit seriously made my skin crawl), “the blonde guy was there the last time, too. Does he always go after Orihara-san like that?”

Had I seriously not gotten around to telling Aiako-chan about Shizuo yet? Well, I guessed we still had a little bit of time left, so we could have a teaching moment. Swallowing my latest bite of Russia Sushi special rolls (I’m pretty sure this one had some sort of candy in the middle, which was excellent in my opinion), I nodded. “Yup! Shizu-chan and Izaya-kun have some weird rivalry going on or whatever, so anytime they run into each other, you can bet that they’re gonna try and kill each other.” I stuffed the next bite of sushi into my mouth, kind of wishing we had grabbed some drinks to go. “It’s funny, because I talked to Shizu-chan a bit on his own, and he seemed like an ordinary guy except for that bartender getup. He’s almost boring until Izaya-kun gets him to flip his switch.”

But people who are boring at first glance and go nuts at the weirdest things make for some of the best toys if you ask me!

Hunched over on herself, Aiako looked way less enthusiastic about the idea. “I see…” She didn’t stop nibbling at her sushi, though, the fish bringing a smile to her face. “Why are they like that, though? I mean, sure, Orihara-san is scary and a super bad person, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal to go throwing stuff like vending machines at him anyways.” She blinked, looking back down to our elephant perch. “Wait, how can he even lift things that are so heavy?”

“Sounds like a mystery to me! You’re asking just the kind of questions I like to hear!” Come to think of it, while Shizu-chan’s shows of hatred were pretty damn obvious, Izaya didn’t like Shizu-chan much, either. There was definitely some history there. Aiako blushed from the praise, and I threw my arm around her shoulder, almost knocking the sushi box from her lap. “I don’t work tomorrow, so we can go on an adventure tomorrow and investigate. It’ll be great practice, my little protégé!”

“Ah, S-Sosa-san, my sushi! No, wait, I still have to go to school tomorrow.”

“Yeah, but it’s a half day, right? I’ll pick you up, and we’ll go from there.” Headlights flashed from down the road, and I stopped jostling Aiako-chan around to get a better look at the approaching vehicle. Bingo. “But first, there’s still an adventure for us to have tonight!”

Dotachin was the first one out of the vehicle, with Erika and Walker close behind him. Saburo followed the moment he had the chance to kill the engine, and just like that, the lovely Van Gang had assembled. I raised a hand in a wave. “Yo!”

“Oh, hey, it’s Sosa-chan!” Walker said, returning my wave, though his smile was a little more strained than usual. “I guess we did hear you on the other end of the phone, huh?”

“Ah, and who’s this little cutie?” Erika asked, her eyes lighting up the moment she saw Aiako-chan. It took less than a second for Erika to wrap up Aiako in a hug. “You’re so cute! I bet you would look great in cosplay.”

Walker nodded. “For sure. She’s got the moe vibe going on. She reminds me of someone, but I can’t think of who…”

“Come on, you guys know this isn’t the time,” Dotachin said, his deep baritone cutting through the chatter. Erika released Aiako, and she sunk back to her seat on the elephant with an exhausted groan. “You were here with Izaya, right? Where’s the guy who had Kazutano’s phone?”

“I dunno who Kazutano is, but if you’re talking about the phone Izaya-kun answered, then it’s over there,” I said, offering a helpful point in the direction of the passed out body by the pile of garbage. “You guys probably know this already, but he’s part of some lame human trafficker group, so be careful.” As an info broker, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that without a fee, but at least I didn’t give up the real goods—like who they worked for and stuff. I had the feeling that Izaya-kun’s patience would only go so far if I brought of stuff like Yagiri Pharma without his permission.

Saburo was already cursing at the guy and shaking him, with Dotachin watching overhead with his body language stiff. The delightful otaku duo seemed way less zoned in, though. “Erika, Erika,” Walker said with the same enthusiasm he’d had talking about manga before, “look, if we count Sosa-chan and her friend, we score both a little sister and an older sister helper fairy character in the same move.”

Erika nodded, her head looking just about to pop off at any moment. “Whoa, you’re right, Yumacchi! I wish I had that good of luck when it came to gachas.”

Aiako looked up to me, on the verge of tears. “Sosa-san, who are they…?”

“Oh, it’s Dotachin and Van Gang,” I said, only half answering her question. If she was gonna be my protégé, she’d need to start introducing herself to people and figuring stuff like that on her own. “They’re super fun, and part of the Dollars, too. You can trust them.”

Aiako-chan probably would have believed me if Erika and Walker hadn’t whipped out some hardware, an obvious threat to the unconscious human trafficker. Dotachin scolded him like a stressed out dad would, to minimal effect.

“But the longer we wait to find Kazutano, then—!”

“She’s right! The longer we wait that means the closer they get to killing him!”

“Kill?” Aiako asked beside me, her voice a whimper.

I ruffled her hair. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head, Aiako-chan. These guys aren’t the type to let their friends get hurt.” They were earnest like that, pursuing their own ideal of justice—cool in its own way. And while I couldn’t care less if some stranger went and died (less humans around was okay with me), Aiako-chan wasn’t at a point where she’d be desensitized to that sort of thing yet. I’d have to bide my time or botch having her as a protégé altogether.

But that’s a risk I’m okay with taking.

Dotachin was the one that solved their little issue with no excessive violence involved, shaking out the trafficker and using a call on the guy’s cellphone to get the drop off location straight from the horse’s mouth. I wasn’t sure whether to be more impressed at Dotachin’s quick thinking, or at the dumbass trafficker for not realizing he’d been tricked.

Either way, the team had figured out how to find their missing friend, and that called for a celebration, all four of them bursting out into excited cheers and rapid-fire chattering. Even the normally deadpan and serious Dotachin started singing (I faintly recognized the melody from some opera or another, but his lyrics were a Kadota Kyohei original), and I took the opportunity to record what I could on my phone. Guy had a decent voice, plus it was powerful enough that I couldn’t quite make out whatever the pink-hoodied trafficker was saying when he blearily woke up. Their response, though, made it a bit easy to guess.

“We are—” Everyone together: “The Do-oo-laaaaars!


Su! And don’t you forget it!”

From my vantage point, Saburo had a pretty decent punch form, and then the unfortunate Yagiri lacky was back to the land of unconsciousness. Aiako-chan yelped, and I tapped the stop record button before hopping to my feet to join the team huddle. “You guys are goin’ after those guys, right? Can we come with?”

Walker was the first to nod, ushering me along to the van. “Having more party members totally means boosted stats, right?”

“For sure!” Erika said, corralling Aiako along in the same direction. After everything that had happened, my protégé didn’t put up a fuss, though her already pale complexion seemed to have lost what remaining color it had. “With all of us together, there’s no way we won’t get Kazutano back!”

“Can you two stop babbling nonsense for five seconds and take this seriously?” Saburo yelled over his shoulder as he unlocked the van and hopped into the driver’s seat.

“Let’s just focus, guys. We don’t have time to waste!” Dotachin said. Well, how was I supposed to argue with that. I joined Erika and Walker in the back of the van, helping them safely secure Aiako-chan into a seat, and the sound of several doors shutting in unison made an impressive echo. “Let’s go save Kazutano!”

And with a roaring shout from everyone, we set off.

“A-and I’m Susanuma A-Aiako! Nice to m-meet you all!”

She may have stuttered, but I had to give Aiako-chan some mad props for introducing herself to strangers without much of a hitch. Bonus points to her for doing so in a van that was racing along at a rate way above the posted speed limit. Saburo may have had an unhealthy obsession with his van, but he could put the pedal to the metal when the situation called for it.

“I absolutely cannot,” Erika said, grinning at Aiako. “She’s too adorable. I want twenty. Can I adopt her?”

“No can do,” I said, pulling Aiako into a hug. “She’s my protégé, and she’s not for sale. However, if Aiako-chan wants, I’m not against her being friends with you guys.” Considering everything she’d been through, it would be good for her to branch out a bit—plus these guys were fun, and they’d be a good way for Aiako to adjust so she could eventually act in full capacity as my protégé down the line. “What do you think Aiako-chan? I vote yes.”

Aiako squirmed a bit, but then relented once she realized I wasn’t letting go of her anytime soon. “Sosa-san, was that even a real question?”

“Well, yeah, but I still think yes is a good idea.”

“Um, I…” She glanced between Erika and Walker, who looked much less intimidating without their tools out and about. “I guess that would be okay?”

The otaku threw up their arms in a synchronized cheer, and I gave a satisfied nod of my own. Aiako-chan would do just fine if she kept going the way she was. If only I could get her to stop panicking whenever Izaya was in the immediate vicinity…

“Hey, Kyohei,” Saburo said from the front, “you see what I’m seeing?” That was enough for all of us in the back to spin towards the windshield. If I squinted enough, I could see the shadow of another van against the edge of the highway.

“Yeah, that’s gotta be them,” Dotachin said. “Let’s roll.”

With a vengeance, Saburo gunned it until it almost ran over the punks, and the Van Gang spilled out of the van in coordinated motion. Aiako-chan stayed behind, while I hung out of the open door, trying to get a good view of what was going on. It seemed the remaining two dumbass traffickers (who were, in fact, the same ones that had helped out with the Magenta-chan situation) were ready to throw down. None of the Van Gang seemed impressed, though, and I shared similar sentiments. These guys weren’t anywhere near good enough to win when they were outnumbered three to one.

And then it happened—

The sound of Celty’s motorcycle in the dark.

I knew it was a good idea to come along for this!

The grin stretched across my face as I stood up as much as I could in the van’s space, trying to catch sight of the shape of Celty’s shadow. Even Aiako had perked up, and in my peripheral vision, I could see her eyes going wide. “That’s the Black Rider…” she said, and the only reason I could hear her so clearly was because she’d also moved to look out the door with me, putting us shoulder to shoulder.

A position from which we had the perfect view of the trafficker duo panicking, scrambling to release the old foreign guy I presumed to be Kazutano, and then hightailing back into their van. Come to think about it, Celty had been the one to pick up Magenta-chan for us, so I guessed they had had a less than stellar first experience with her. Out of the van gang, Saburo was the first one to move towards their friend as the traffickers started to drive away.

“They’re running?” Aiako asked, but that would have been a super boring outcome, so I shoved my way into the front seat at about the same time that Dotachin was opening the passenger door and Erika and Walker were cramming into back. Lucky me, Saburo had left the key in the ignition and the car idling, so all I had to do was shift the gear and hit the gas. “S-Sosa-san?!”

As fun as it would have been to gun it and take chase, I could already see Saburo turning livid, so I just turned the car around before pulling up to him and Kazutano so they could join us. Walker helped the foreign guy in, Erika shut the backseat door behind him, Aiako scrambled to get out of the way, Dotachin managed to give me an exasperated look, and Saburo was already storming around the front of the idling van, his mouth shouting something that I couldn’t even hear until he practically threw open the driver’s door.

“—and who the hell said you could even get close to the steering wheel of my van—?!”

“I like drove for a grand total of five meters, calm your tits!” I said, not that it had much effect on Saburo’s ire. “Listen, Saburo-chan, I enjoy pissing people off on a regular basis, don’t doubt me there, but I also think tailing those guys is going to be way more interesting for me. ‘Sides, you don’t want to let people like them get away with kidnapping your friend, do ya? So let’s call a truce and get this show on the road, mmkay?”

Just like I’d been aiming for, Saburo’s rage slipped away from me and latched onto a much more worthwhile target, which quieted his ranting at me near instantly. His face turned into a determined glare. “Move to the back,” he said.

Since that matched up with what I wanted anyways, I didn’t protest and dutifully hopped my way to the back (almost elbowing Dotachin in the face in the process). I hadn’t even settled down in a seat before Saburo slammed his foot on the accelerator in a squeal of tires. The car shot forward, tumbled in the opposite direction, and it was Kazutano who managed to stop me from faceplanting right into the ground through a lucky catch.

“Dotachino!” he said with a heavy accent as I managed to slip into a spot between Aiako and Walker. “You no tell me you make new friends. Where did these beautiful ladies come from?”

Despite the dim lighting, it was incredibly easy to see that Aiako’s face had flushed a deep red. Walker held up a proud finger. “They’re the older sister and little sister helper fairy combo that helped us figure out where you were!”

“I see, I see,” Kazutano said with the air of someone who didn’t understand at all.

“Will you stop spouting nonsense in a time like this?” Dotachin called from the front seat. “Well, I guess you’re right that they helped us, but still… Let’s just say they’re some friends who wanted to make sure you came home safe, alright?”

Saburo, meanwhile, was laughing like a maniac. “You think you can just slip away? Wrong! Aaand turning right!”

The force of the sudden turn splatted Erika and Walker into the windows, and I halfway crushed Aiako-chan underneath me. That didn’t stop us from laughing, and the conversation around us became even more nonsensical—just the way I liked it. Aiako groaned as I worked on sitting us both back up straight.

Not that it lasted long, as Saburo’s next move after the trafficker’s van slipped down some alleyway that was too wide for ours to fit in was to drive his car down the next available set of stairs. “Oi! Where do you get off telling me not to drive your van when you’re treating it worse than I did?!”

“Shut up! What I do with my van is none of your damn business!” As if waiting for the perfect opportunity to do so, Saburo cranked the wheel, swerving us off the stairs and right into the path of the trafficker’s van. Erika and Walker went tumbling, making the perfect cushion for Aiako as she toppled back off her seat and on top of them, yelping all the way. I’d managed to keep my balance by snatching onto the back of Saburo’s headrest, and it looked like the trafficker’s had crashed their own vehicle into a nearby fence.

Dotachin was out the door before Saburo had even finished pumping the breaks, and the heftier of the two traffickers had gotten caught between his door and the fence. The skinny one was making a clean break, and I hopped out as well, sprinting off after him while Walker and Erika scrambled to follow behind me.

While the trafficker wasn’t out of shape by any means, it didn’t change the fact that I was faster. I snagged onto his jacket, he tried to worm his way out of it, and in the seconds he lost focusing on his upper body I was able to sweep his legs out from beneath him and effectively trap him under my body weight. He put up a decent effort at struggling, I had to give him that, but—

“You know,” I said, digging my knee into his back in the most painful way I could manage from my angle, “I happen to be friends with the Black Rider. If you don’t cooperate, I won’t have a problem calling her up to help us out a bit.” As expected, the guy’s struggling stopped in an instant.

I hadn’t been expecting him to faint, though. Bonus!

And while it may have looked like our little escapade had finished, I was pretty sure the fun had just begun.