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The Gift of Hands

Chapter Text

You once told me that the human eye is god’s loneliest creation. How so much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing. The eye, alone in its socket, doesn’t even know there’s another one, just like it, an inch away, just as hungry, as empty. Opening the front door to the first snowfall of my life, you whispered, “Look.”

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

Whenever someone mentions Izaya, Shizuo growls something about how he better not set foot in Ikebukuro again, but at night he wakes from nightmares about Izaya’s bones and no amount of milk and cigarettes can calm him and carry him till morning.

“Do you ever sleep?” Tom asks him one day, and after that Shizuo is careful to always have his shades on, lowered so that they cover the bruises under his eyes.

No, Shizuo doesn’t sleep, and the reason why he hesitates before passing Orihara Mairu on the street is because she doesn’t look like she sleeps much either.

It’s not the first time he sees her, after. He’s bumped into the twins a few times over the past few months, and they always seemed their old selves, Mairu talking too fast to pause for a breath and Kururi speaking even more in all her silence, the both of them needling him about Kasuka, and it might have been paranoia that every time Mairu’s eyes seemed that tiny bit colder than they ever had before and that Kururi would look away from him sooner, as if she couldn’t bear his sight.

Now, Mairu is nothing like herself – alone at a crossroads, hands in pockets, eyes rubbed red and something more resigned than hatred in them as she stares into space. Resentment, maybe, and Shizuo’s never seen someone this young make a face like that, not even himself at his own reflection after those first few broken bones and after hearing his mother apologize over the phone on his behalf and cry into her pillow later.

“You’re too young to be out so late,” he says, almost stuttering on ‘young’ because, more than that, she looks small. Maybe it’s an Orihara thing, he thinks, trying not to remember Izaya spread on asphalt with his arms all wrong and how it was already too late, how Shizuo couldn’t stop himself from destroying him even as something inside him broke and cried and cried and cried.

Mairu smiles a tired smile without looking at him, and tilts her head back to stare up at the sky, even though there’s too much light pollution over Ikebukuro for her to see any stars. Shizuo sees Izaya in her the way the lines of a painted-over sketch might be spotted on a canvas if you just look hard enough – the shape of her ear, the corner of her mouth, the red-tipped nose – and he wonders if everything would have gone differently, had Izaya spent more time looking up than watching from above.

“Shizuo-san,” she says, only an echo of her usual enthusiasm in it. “Long time no see.”

“It’s not safe to be out alone like this,” he tries again, and he doesn’t know why it feels so important to have her go home, back to safety and out of his sight. She reminds him of a pigeon he saw once, pecking at nothing in the middle of the road, not bothering to fly away even as cars sped towards it.

Maybe that’s an Orihara thing, too.

“Right,” she says, smile widening but shoulders falling. “I should be careful now, shouldn’t I, with no one in the city to send help were I in danger and pretend he didn’t later.”

“Well, at least you know how to defend yourself,” Shizuo says, as if girls good at throwing punches can hold their own against Ikebukuro’s worst monsters.

“Say, Shizuo-san, do you have a cigarette to spare?” Mairu says, and there’s no way he can say no with one lighted and caught between his teeth.

“You’re too—”

“Too young, yes, yes,” she says, and he doesn’t know when she reached into his pocket, but she already has his lighter in hand, cupping her hand around the cigarette even though the city’s too dense here for wind. When she’s done, she slips the lighter back into his vest, and smiles so wide that he almost forgets about how she shouldn’t be alone, and about how Izaya shouldn’t be God-knows-where, and about how he himself shouldn’t be talking to her at all, after all that happened. “I don’t smoke, so don’t worry about me getting lung cancer or something. I’m strong, anyway, even if I don’t look it. Nothing will kill me that easily, you know?”

She seems sad about it, somehow.

“If I were sick, I’d call—”

She cuts off, and chokes on the smoke, smiling at him sheepishly. She looks ridiculous with the cigarette, like a child trying to walk around in her mother’s high heels.

“If I were sick, I wouldn’t have to go to school, but I actually like going a lot,” she says.

If I were sick, she doesn’t say, I wouldn’t call anyone.

Back when Shinra first mentioned the twins in high school, Shizuo was so surprised that he stopped fighting Izaya just to ask him if he really had sisters. He still has the scar Izaya’s knife left that day below his collarbone, closer to his heart and deeper than even the most vicious of the other’s later cuts.

It’s never occurred to him before that it might have meant something.

If you’re ever sick, Shizuo doesn’t say, you should call him.

It’s not his place.

After, it took weeks before he thought of the twins – really thought of them, two teenagers whose brother he almost—

It took him weeks to wonder how they must have felt, and now he wonders again, wonders if, just like him, Mairu inhales smoke so she doesn’t have to breathe in the lack of Izaya. God knows there seems to be more of it than there’s oxygen in the city.

God knows cigarette smoke is nowhere near as bitter.

“Do you know,” Mairu says, crashing her cigarette with the heel of her shoe. “I never wanted to grow up into missing him.”

Shizuo reaches out to put his hand on her shoulder, only there’s instantly a flash of a blade, the knife slashing into his sleeve and keeping his arm in place, suspended between them. Mairu smiles at him like she knows he could shake it off any moment, and he wonders what it took for her to learn wielding a knife so easily, if she ever cut herself while trying.

“I found it under a loose floorboard in his old room,” she explains, voice bright. “He must have forgotten it, or maybe he left it for us? Anyhow, I don’t mind you touching me, but I think it’d kill Iza-nii if he saw you doing it, so I won’t let you.”

Shizuo stares at her, and almost tells her that he didn’t want to grow up into almost missing Izaya, either, but before he can make up his mind to do so, she’s already walking backwards and waving goodbye, and all of Ikebukuro’s neon lights aren’t enough to keep the night from swallowing her.

*

Once, after, Shizuo stared at his hands, and wondered who decided whether bones should grow stronger or weaker after a break. It made him think there must have been a god after all, the fortuity of it – as if someone bored up there would decide those things by rolling a die.

Die, die, die, and Izaya almost did.

Shizuo would have broken his own fingers in three places each, back then, if he’d believed it would make him too weak to hurt anyone ever again, and not the opposite. Instead, he had to live with himself and with how he’d destroy things every time he remembered destroying Izaya, a lamp, a phone, a mug breaking in his hands, the blood from the shards of porcelain so red that for a moment, he could never be sure if it was even his own.

He couldn’t decide, the first few weeks after their fight, if Ikebukuro was calm, asleep, or dead. It took him months to realize that it was as awake as ever without Izaya there, and the only reason why it didn’t feel so was because Shizuo himself wasn’t. He would go to work, go for sushi and go to Shinra and Celty’s meet-ups, and he’d use these hands of his – the hands that broke and broke and broke bones – and he’d think about marrow.

He must not have had it, he’d think, remembering how easily Izaya’s bones gave under his knuckles. His bones must have been hollow.

He’s been trying to forget Izaya for months and all that the effort did was make him remember and remember and remember.

“Hello,” he says, then, when the twins open the door the next day. “I want the two of you to tell me about your brother.”

 

Chapter Text

(…) You’re also a monster. But so am I – which is why I can’t turn away from you. Which is why I have taken god’s loneliest creation and put you inside it.

Look.

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

“Where do you want us to start?” Mairu asks him, kicking her legs under the table they’re sat at, the stools too high even for Shizuo’s shoes to reach the ground, and three cups of hot chocolate between them because he was too self-conscious to order a glass of milk. “If you want us to tell you when he went nuts, I’m pretty sure we were too young to remember it.”

Mairu smiles at him and Kururi blows on her sister’s drink instead of her own.

It surprised Shizuo when they agreed to talk to him, and it never stopped being surprising, not even when they made him promise he’d arrange a meeting with “Yuuhei-san” for them in exchange. He didn’t argue, because sure, they never said it, but it was there in their eyes all the same.

We’ll give you our brother if you’re ready to give us yours, and it had nothing to do with Kasuka because it had everything to do with Izaya and how they wouldn’t let Shizuo have him for free, not even in words.

“Start at the beginning, I suppose,” he says now, and wonders what beginnings they might have had. He imagines Izaya playing hide-and-seek with them, never bothering to look after they hid somewhere, the two of them waiting for hours and hours and hours, and they would, too. If any kid were to wait for hours just to win a game, it’d be them.

“With our parents, then,” Mairu says, and she kicks him under the table. He can’t tell if it’s an accident or not. “How boring.”

“Boring,” Kururi echoes, nodding her head. When Mairu reaches for her hot chocolate, Kururi raises her hand to stop her and goes on blowing on it. “Too hot.”

“You might be thinking that they were abusive assholes, or something of that sort, but they’re actually quite nice, our parents,” Mairu tells him cheerfully. “They’re busy, that’s all.”

“Does— Did— Does Izaya talk to them?”

Shizuo regrets knocking on their door for a moment, because surely this won’t work, surely there’s no space in him for all those feelings, for how he hated himself when he saw the twins surprised on their doorsteps and tangled together in a mess of limbs as if they could never stand upright one without the other, holes in their socks and sauce stains on their shirts.

For how he still hates Izaya, and doesn’t know what he’d do, were he to see him.

Would he kill him this time?

Would he break him into even smaller pieces?

Would he cry?

“I don’t see why he should,” Mairu says, smile warm but stare all ice. “What would he say, and who knows if they’d even pick up if he called. I think that’s why he stopped calling. When we were small, three or four, he used to ring them all panicked, you know? Something like, mom, mom, Mairu’s forehead is warm, what do I do? Of course, it would always go to voicemail so he stopped bothering one day.”

“Izaya doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who’d stop calling someone just because they didn’t pick up a few times,” Shizuo says, and he knows it might make the twins hate him, but oh, how he himself wants to hate Izaya, how he wants to cling to the only thing he’s ever known.

Mairu and Kururi glance at each other, and then Mairu shakes her head.

“You know, Shizuo-san, I don’t think you have any idea what your fight with Iza-nii was all about.”

And Shizuo grabs his cup hard enough for the porcelain to crack, because he does know. Their fight was all about Izaya wanting to prove him a monster or Izaya wanting to go to heaven or some other such bullshit, and it had nothing to do with a kid calling his parents for help and them not picking up.

“We don’t know either,” Kururi says, and Mairu blinks at her like she’s forgotten about her, but Shizuo knows it’s all a play because under the table their legs are tangled and they’re sitting close enough together for their cheeks to touch were they to puff them. If they ever forget about each other at all, it must be like forgetting your limbs.

“Our parents are really great, you know?” Mairu goes on, all manic smile and jittery fingers. “Our dad always tells us he loves us over the phone, and he worries about us so, so much. Of course, he only calls once every odd month, and he doesn’t worry enough to come and check on us, but hey, we’ve never needed checking on before, not with Iza-nii there.”

Shizuo remembers Izaya in high school, rubbing his hands in delight as gangs died and were reborn at his feet, smile sharper than his knives and oh, how sharp his knives were, how many scars Shizuo had to show for it. He remembers putting his mouth to the marks after they’d heal, and hating, and hating, and hating, and how, surely, Izaya was too busy fueling that hate to care about two whiny girls. He imagines the twins in elementary school, waiting for Izaya to pick them up, the hems of their skirts fisted by their small, small fingers, and he finds it hard to believe that Izaya, for all his observing, ever paid enough attention to notice them grow up.

“Oh-oh, it’s all over your face now,” Mairu says, leaning towards him, her nose almost touching his and Kururi’s hand on her shoulder, ready to pull her back down. “All the shitty things you imagine him doing.”

Shizuo doesn’t move away, because he thinks they might not bother with him anymore if he does the easy thing. It’s strange to see them like this, wary and ready to anger, Mairu’s words cutting and not just sharp, something stern in Kururi’s eyes, as if their childhood is over, and it’s never occurred to him before that a childhood with Izaya could be a happy one, but look at them grieving it as if it was.

“No need to strain your brain! I can tell you all about the bad and the messed up and the fucked up! How he found a porn magazine under my pillow once – purely for scientific purposes, don’t make that face! – and bought me a different one the next day because ‘the models were nicer’ instead of confiscating it, how he’d call us names, how he’d say his life would have been so much easier without us, how he’d burn our dolls just for laughs.”

And Shizuo thinks yes, yes, yes, and at least he has that – this one moment of certainty before Mairu ruins it all.

“So those awful things you imagine him doing? They’re probably all true. The problem is that you don’t ever imagine the good, do you?”

Shizuo remembers Izaya laughing as he set fire to the world, and he can imagine him crying as he got burned by the flames, but he can’t imagine him kind. Mairu must see it in his face, because she leans away, and it seems final, like when someone disconnects a call and doesn’t pick up when you ring back.

“Mairu,” Kururi says, so quiet that in the crowded café, Shizuo barely hears it. She seems impassive as always, but her fingers are tight around her cup of hot chocolate, knuckles strained white. “We should tell him about the phone calls.”

Mairu looks at her, and for a moment, it seems like everything will be alright, like they’ll finish their drinks and go on swimming in the past without drowning, but then Mairu pushes her chair back, the screeching of its legs loud enough to turn heads.

“He doesn’t deserve to know about the phone calls,” she says, the words vicious and caught between her teeth like something tasty she won’t share. Shizuo stares at her, this angry thing that used to smile even when threatening someone, and he wonders if that’s what happens to people when they break – smiles cut in two and falling away from their faces, something they can put back on but can never have back. He wonders if that’s what happened to Izaya, after. “You want us to tell you about Iza-nii, but the truth is, you’re too good to listen.”

When she leaves, she shuts the café door so hard that Shizuo’s surprised the glass never breaks. He wonders what it’s like, to be so much like a shell grown around anger, cracking around the feeling, and yet have wrists too weak to destroy everything in sight.

“What about phone calls?” he asks Kururi, wondering if she’ll stay. She shakes her head, and blows on Mairu’s chocolate, even though it must be lukewarm by now and no one will finish it anyway.

“She always burns her tongue, you know,” she tells him, tasting the liquid with her finger. “Izaya used to laugh at her every time, back when we were small.”

It makes Shizuo want to kill something, how they keep giving him reasons to go on hating Izaya and then get angry with him when he does.

“But there’s something I remember him doing when we were even smaller,” Kururi says, then, and Shizuo holds his breath, because he has a feeling that if he makes even the smallest sound, she won’t tell him a thing. “Once, I hit my forehead on the kitchen counter’s edge so hard that it bled. I barely have a scar, now, but back then there was a lot of blood. Izaya was very calm when he cleaned the wound, and he said it was nothing and called Mairu a cry-baby when she worried about it, but the very next morning, one of our parents’ pillows was torn open and the stuffing was taped to all the sharp edges and corners in the house.”

When she looks up at him, there’s nothing to read in her face, and it makes the words hit all the harder. It’s the most Shizuo’s ever heard her speak, and, in a way, he wishes she’d never have spoken at all.

“He said it was because he didn’t want us to bleed all over mom’s fancy carpets, but he taped the stuffing in the kitchen, too, and there was never a carpet there.”

Shizuo almost says that Izaya’s too smart for such a misstep, but then he remembers that he knows nothing about fourteen-years-old Izaya. It’s hard to imagine him young enough to ever overlook something or lose a chess game, but he must have lost once or twice, to learn winning.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Kururi says, and when she leaves the café, Shizuo wonders if the twins will ever talk to him again.

*

Sometimes, when Shizuo walks through Ikebukuro, he looks for Izaya. He will turn around when he spots a fur-lined coat, and he’ll startle when he hears someone laugh too loud. He’ll glance into the alleyways they must have chased each other through, and he’ll look both ways before crossing the road, but not to check for cars.

Now, he looks for Izaya more than ever, kicking rusty doors open, staring up at rooftop edges, and checking train stations.

If he’s so fucking amazing, he thinks, remembering how distrustful the twins looked when he asked them to tell him about Izaya, Mairu’s fingers shaking even after Kururi kissed them calm, then why isn’t he here with you?

He lights a cigarette, and remembers how sometime between “Goodbye” and “Do it, monster,” he started thinking of what ifs.

When Shizuo calls Shinra, the sunset is like the fried eggs he used to make for himself and for Kasuka on the days when their mother had to work double shifts, and he wonders if for Izaya, the sky was ever simple things, too, and not all heaven and hell.

“Shizuo-kun?” Shinra says when he picks up, and he sounds too far away for someone who lives two blocks from where Shizuo’s smoking through his cigarettes, but then, nowadays, everyone sounds too far away to really be anywhere near him. “Now’s not the best—”

“Hey, Shinra,” Shizuo says, and makes a promise to that bastard of a god that must laugh at them all somewhere that he won’t smoke for a week if he learns something new today. “Have you heard from Izaya at all?”

The silence is an echo of every time they’ve seen each other and tried their best not to mention Izaya at all, all their high school days do-you-remembers swallowed back down halfway through, and it suddenly feels like a sin, that they went on with their lives and talked about everything and nothing, ignoring the screaming memory of Izaya’s bones giving under Shizuo’s knuckles.

“Oh,” Shinra breathes at last, and Shizuo braces himself. He thinks he’ll take anything, the way city dogs settle for digging food out of the trash, and he puts out his cigarette already, bargaining with God like someone playing poker without any savings to offer if they end up losing. “Now that you mention it, I don’t think I have.”

It’s not the lack of news that makes Shizuo kick a streetlamp until it snaps like Izaya’s radial bones did that day. It’s the “Now that you mention it,” as if Shinra’s never bothered to think about it before. It’s the “I don’t think I have,” as if he can’t be sure. It’s all the city’s roaring, as if Izaya leaving didn’t deserve even a minute of silence, it’s Shizuo smoking more than he used to but still threatening people as if nothing’s changed, it’s Mairu and Kururi screaming inside themselves and pretending to be the same as always, because who would understand if they stopped pretending? Even they themselves wouldn’t.

Shizuo finds it ironic how now that he’s sure Izaya wouldn’t call him a monster again, he feels like one more than ever.

Chapter Text

Ma. You once told me that memory is a choice. But if you were god, you’d know it’s a flood.

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

In the nightmare it goes like this: Izaya talking and talking and talking because God, he just never shuts up, does he? There’s a spot of shadow under his jawline, something Shizuo tries to focus on so that he can keep himself from breakingmanglingrippingmaulingkilling him, and Izaya doesn’t make it any easier. Do it, monster, and his mouth is too cruel around the words, like a first kiss you imagined would go different, and oh, Izaya should have been careful with his wishes because there’s no stopping himself now, this time Shizuo will kill him for real.

When he breaks Izaya’s bones, the crack sounds like a question and it’s all wrong, it’s too soon, the sky too pale above them, a not-quite-sunset and people in school uniforms gawking from afar. Somehow, they’re in their teens again, and Shinra has just introduced Izaya to him, and Shizuo is already breaking, breaking, and breaking him, two girls clinging to each other and watching him ruin their lives on the edge of the schoolyard.

“Nice to meet you, too,” Izaya says, grin all smudged blood, and his arms bent in too many places. Shizuo wonders if he’s ever changed diapers with those hands, and thinks, no, wait, this is all wrong. “I’ve heard so much about you, Shizu-chan.”

When Izaya stands up, it feels like it’s the last time he ever will, and Shizuo wants to tell him to turn around, just turn the fuck around, they’re standing right there, but Izaya’s too busy staring at the wreckage of all the times they’ve hurt each other scattered between them, and Shizuo’s not sure if this is the first or the last time they meet, but then, he doesn’t really want to know.

When he wakes up, he stares at his hands, and even though they’re clean, in the dark he sees blood smeared all over them anyway.

“I ruined my own life, too,” he says as if the twins are there and can hear him. “Mine, too.”

*

At first, he tries to go about his life as he always did – a glass of milk in the morning, a cigarette before work (and during, and after), a short call to Kasuka once a week so as not to disturb him – but it all feels like pretend to the point where it makes him self-conscious, how the world around seems to be a film set more than real, and how he stumbles over words as if he hasn’t memorized them well enough just yet.

It’s like Ikebukuro’s lost all its edges, now Izaya’s not there to sharpen his knives on it.

He visits Shinra and Celty, because, unlike him, they can afford central heating, and it’s nice to have someone make you coffee and smile fondly when you break something instead of backing away in fear. Shinra disinfects the gash Shizuo’s made on his arm on purpose with an old tin can lid – just so Celty wouldn’t worry that he visits so often because of loneliness, or some other such nonsense – and it feels like old times, only the wound is so much more messy than Izaya’s knife would leave it.

Shizuo’s not lonely, anyway, or at least no more so than usual.

Do you have a fever?, Celty asks, checking his forehead when he tilts his head back and tries to think of nothing. You feel warm.

“I’m fine,” he says, and wonders if it’s a lie. “Do you have any more coffee?”

He gets up to go and check, but Celty pushes him back down on the couch and goes get it herself. Later, Shizuo will regret never arguing with her over it, because as soon as she’s gone, Shinra asks him about Izaya.

“Why are you trying to find him?”

No introduction, no nothing, straight to the point like a needle going into a vein, and fuck coffee, he’d rather have a cigarette.

“I’m not trying to do anything,” he sighs. “I was just curious.”

Searching for Izaya? He’s too scared of what he’d find to ever bother looking.

“He was trying to kill you,” Shinra says, matter-of-fact. “There’s no use feeling guilty about it.”

“Oh, but wasn’t he just trying to get me to kill him?”

Shinra smiles at that, something fond about it, as if it’s a joke he hasn’t heard in a long while. “In any case, he was asking for it, wasn’t he?”

What Shizuo doesn’t say is that maybe it matters why someone would be asking for something like that in the first place.

“Now, I should check your throat,” Shinra says cheerfully, too close to Shizuo, a stick in his hand. “Open your mouth and say—”

“For God’s sake,” Shizuo sighs and gets up to leave. He pats Celty on the shoulder in lieu of apology and closes the door behind him more softly than ever before. It’s not his throat Shinra should be checking, anyway. What worries Shizuo more is the constant pressure in his chest, like there’s always somebody’s cold hand cupped around his heart, threatening to squeeze.

Must be all the cigarettes, but he won’t quit with God still hiding Izaya up his sleeve and unwilling to share.

*

Vorona tells him that he seems sad, and he tells her that no, he’s not sad, just pissed off, but he thinks that if anyone recognized emotions as an objective fact manifested by the body, it would be her.

When he kicks somebody’s car until it rolls over, he tells himself it’s because he hates Izaya and not because he hates the empty space he left behind, cut into the world like somewhere a door had once been, before Shizuo kicked it in and ruined that, too.

“Shizuo-san should drink vodka,” Vorona tells him then, watching him with as much concerns as one can get from her. “Vodka helps.”

Shizuo laughs, because he doesn’t need vodka – he’s already drunk on the past.

*

At night, when he can’t sleep, he will count the cuts Izaya’s given him over the years, fingers tapping on each one, and every now and then he’ll catch himself smiling.

After that, it’s always hard to keep from crying instead.

It’s not that he misses Izaya throwing knives at him. What he misses instead are those moments right before the blade would slice his skin, when he’d think, just for a second, that maybe it would feel like touch.

With Izaya gone, no one’s touched him for months.

*

“You’ll never forget me, no matter what you do,” Izaya reminds him in his dreams, as if Shizuo doesn’t remember, and it’s laughable, that. Izaya hasn’t put his hands on Ikebukuro for months, but even the most careful of crime scenes have fingerprints that won’t smudge somewhere, and there was never anything careful about the way Izaya played with the city, anyway.

“I won’t forget you because you won’t let me,” he says, but it’s lie. The only person who won’t let him forget Izaya is himself.

*

When he decides to try and talk to the twins again, he does it properly. He buys groceries, and knocks on their door with a paper bag under each arm, leek leaves tickling his chin.

It’s Kururi who opens, school uniform still on and eyebrows going up the tiniest bit, as if, for a second, she forgets that she’s supposed to keep her guard up.

“Hello,” Shizuo says, adjusting the bags. “I’m going to make you soup.”

“Mairu might kill you,” she says, all calm. “She has Izaya’s knives.”

He lets himself in, anyway, and lines up his shoes as neatly as possible even though the twins’ own are kicked carelessly all over the hall. He finds the kitchen by trial and error, making his way through a mess of tangled stockings and empty takeaway containers, and searches the cupboards for a cutting board, hoping they’ll think of the soup as a peace offering and not condescension. God knows they must have had to grow up self-reliant enough to cook, with no one there but Izaya to take care of them.

Or did they?

By the time a knife pins his sleeve to the cutting board, he’s already sniffled through three onions and peeled most of the potatoes.

“Oh,” Mairu says somewhere behind him, and Shizuo hates himself for the disappointment that hits him stronger than all those trucks ever did, hates himself for how, for a second, he thought it must have been Izaya throwing knives at him, because how familiar the blade looks, curved, polished and sharpened enough to dig into things like they’re butter. “I was going for the other sleeve, but that’s fine, too.”

“Mairu,” Kururi says quietly, all warning. “Behave.”

“If Izaya was here, he’d tell you we hate leek,” Mairu says as Shizuo grabs the knife and stares at his own eyes reflected in the blade. The shame in them. “He used to put it in everything, but whenever we’d dig it out of food and hide it in our laps, he pretended not to see.”

Shizuo takes a breath and turns around to face them.

“I want to know more.”

“Fuck you!” Mairu says cheerfully, and Kururi doesn’t even scold her this time.

Shizuo takes a long breath, and it feels nothing like smoking.

“I think he kept your baby teeth,” he tells them, and he sees it in how their eyes widen and how their shoulders relax – that no matter what, they’ll listen to him now. “It happened back in high school.”

It was the one time that Izaya folded his sentences the way he never folded his knives, the blades still there but not meant to cut. Shizuo was skipping a lesson after a fight he might have started or not, smoking a cigarette up on the roof when something clicked, skipped, and rolled to a stop right next to his shoe. He picked it up before he realized it was a small tooth, and he turned it over in his fingers, wondering if someone was already asking for another fight when the rooftop door banged open behind him.

He knew it was Izaya – he always seemed to know, somehow, as if he could feel it in his bones the way some people felt upcoming storms in theirs – and so he turned around already bracing himself for the breach of a knife, only Izaya was empty-handed, eyes wide as if he hadn’t expected Shizuo there. He looked down to where Shizuo was holding the tooth between two of his fingers, and when he smiled, it was more panic than mania.

“Oh,” Shizuo said, tossing the tooth in the air and catching it. “Why the hell did you throw it up here?”

Izaya looked like he had all his knives slipped down to the hem of his sleeves and like it was taking everything in him not to throw them. His smile widened, and it was so sharp that Shizuo expected to see him cut himself on it.

“Didn’t you do the same with Kasuka’s baby teeth when he started losing them?”

It would take Shizuo years to realize that it might have been the closest Izaya ever got to being honest in all the time they’d known each other.

“Your sisters,” Shizuo said, and stopped tossing the tooth. “I didn’t take you for the superstitious type.”

“I’m not,” Izaya said, all indulgent smile but fingers clenching on nothing like he’d forgotten what it was like to not have a weapon in his hand. “I find traditions interesting, is all. Now, Shizu-chan, would you be so kind and give that back to me?”

“What do you need it for?” Shizuo growled, because it had never occurred to him that Izaya simply wanted to keep it. It wouldn’t occur to him at all until that day in the twins’ kitchen, Mairu complaining about leek and Kururi’s shoulder lonely-looking as if Izaya’s hand should be there.

“Why, I’m going to use it to clone the twins, of course! I’ll create a whole army of bratty sisters and have them help me take over the world. What did you think?”

Shizuo felt that they wouldn’t fight that day, somehow.

“Excuse me?”

“I didn’t do the same with Kasuka’s teeth,” he explained, impatient, and wondered if their mother had, lower teeth up on the roof and upper teeth down to the dirt, an icepack to Kasuka’s cheek and they always had a lot of icepacks back then, just in case, for when Shizuo would— “I didn’t do anything.”

There were few enough occasions when Izaya stopped smiling that Shizuo could count them on the fingers of one hand, and that had been the first one.

“Here.” Shizuo sighed and threw the tooth. He expected Izaya to catch it with one hand, as nonchalant as he was in everything else, but he fumbled instead, a mess of fingers and a half-step forward. “Clone them all you want.”

After that, Izaya left without a word and it was easy to forget anything ever happened later, with no knife scars to show for it.

“You’re not lying, are you?” Mairu asks him now, all fear, all hope. “Tell me you’re not lying.”

“I’m not lying,” he says, folding one hand over his useless, useless heart, and he takes the twins in – socked toes curling on the cold floor, hands fisted as if they’re trying to hold on to what he’s just told them, and mouths tilted open like they’re about to ask him if he’s not lying again – and he thinks they must know it now – that he’s not too good to listen about Izaya at all.

“You can put the leek in, too,” Kururi says, and Shizuo smiles at her, because he knows that, out of the three of them, he’s the only one with enough strength left to do so.

Chapter Text

I’m not telling you a story so much as a shipwreck – the pieces floating, finally legible.

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

“He’s smart, Iza-nii,” Mairu says, tapping her fingers on her knee as if she’s impatient about something. “Too smart for his own good.”

They’re sat on the floor of the twins’ room, clothes in piles around them and objects gathered between them – three of Izaya’s knives (“One from inside an old pillowcase, one from the back of a framed photo, and the last one was buried in the cactus pot. What? We got good at finding them at some point, so he had to be creative”), an old Monopoly board, Jenga game, a chessboard, a box of matches, two pairs of small mittens on a string, a die.

No pictures, ten minutes prior Mairu with her finger on a photo album and Kururi shaking her head no.

“I never did get why he needed so many,” Shizuo says, picking up one of the knives, and the twins eye him distrustfully as if they expect him to break it in half. Instead, he presses the blade to his finger and remembers how whenever he smells iron, he thinks of Izaya because of all the times he had to lick his own blood off with the other smiling at him like Shizuo was an amusing joke.

“You did break them like toothpicks,” Mairu says, defensive, and he smiles at her to show her that he doesn’t mean any harm. He hands her the knife and she puts it away, oh-so-careful. “When he first taught us to play chess, he had us playing against each other,” she tells him, pushing the chessboard towards him, inch by inch. Shizuo opens it and starts placing the pieces on it, trying to remember which go where. He did try to learn how to play once, after Izaya called him stupid one time too many.

“Why didn’t you just say no?” he asks, and the twins look at each other like it never occurred to them before that they could.

“He seemed entertained,” Mairu says, thoughtful.

“We liked it,” Kururi adds.

“Once, halfway through the game, he turned the chessboard around and had us swap sides.”

“Who won?” Shizuo asks, and pairs the pieces up on the board, black with white.

“We never finished the game, that day,” Mairu says after a minute. “He said it was getting boring and that we should make pancakes instead. I think he didn’t want to do it to us – force one of us into winning just to make him happy.”

“That’s…”

Shizuo never thought anything through when it came to Izaya and so he didn’t know he would break his bones beforehand, and he didn’t know that he’d break the world in two either.

“Don’t get me wrong, he was still pretty awful,” Mairu says, and stretches her legs out, placing her feet in his lap, pretend-casual. He remembers her saying that it’d break Izaya’s heart if he saw Shizuo touching her, and wonders if it’s some quiet revenge on Izaya for what she’s about to tell him. “He used Jenga to show us ‘how little you need to make something crumble,’ and he had us win Monopoly against him only to set all the money we earned on fire. He told us that if we stayed in the bath for too long, a kappa would crawl out of the drain and drown us, and when we said that the drain was too small for a kappa to squeeze through, he told us that it didn’t matter because, just like an octopus, kappa could squeeze through very small holes.”

She sounds bitter, but when she smiles, there’s something sweet about it, as if she wouldn’t live through those years again if she had the choice, but misses them anyway.

“He even showed us an encyclopedia fragment on it – how the octopus could get through any passage wider than their beak, and then he also pointed out that their arms could detach and had a mind of their own, and said one would come from the local aquarium and strangle us in our sleep. Then he said that if we ate octopus, it would try to crawl back out through our throat one arm at a time and – well, you get the picture.”

“And then, this,” Kururi says, rolling the die towards Shizuo, and the little intuition he has keeps him from picking it up.

“It’s the die we used to decide who’d have which personality,” Mairu explains. “And now here we are.”

“And now here you are,” Shizuo agrees. “Is it all an act, then?”

He imagines it, two girls waiting with bated breath for their fate to be decided by uneven floorboards, their brother smiling as if he already knows the outcome or doesn’t care about it, two personalities waiting for them, ready to wear, like something freshly ironed.

And the most heartbreaking thing of all – how Mairu smiles at him, now, and how Kururi tilts her head the way a bird might do when its mother leaves the nest.  

“We don’t know anymore.”

For a second, just one, Shizuo imagines getting up and apologizing. He imagines trying to put his shoes fast enough but without making it seem like he’s in a hurry, and then leaving, no running, never to come back. For that one second, he imagines himself guilt-free and convinced that Izaya has always been bad and nothing else.

Just look at all the harm he’s done, and what do broken bones have on it?

Then the second passes, and Shizuo stays, because he’s wasted hundreds of chances in his life and has always been given one more. Izaya might have wasted more of those, but he was hardly ever offered another.

“He would set things on fire, but he used the matches for good things, too,” Mairu says, striking one against the side of the box and smiling at the flame.

“Storm,” Kururi says, and Mairu’s smile widens.

“Yes, like that time there was a storm. We were really scared because they power went out, so Iza-nii lighted a dozen candles, wrapped us in a blanket and made a shadow theatre with his hands. It was all murder and gore and scary people, but it passed the time and before we knew it, the storm was long gone.”

Shizuo imagines it, a horror of a story whispered into the twins’ hair, but a story nonetheless, and he feels warm as if he’s there with them, inside the memory, a blanket around him.

“He got us the string mittens after I lost my normal pair,” Mairu says, trying to put them on, twice too small and dirty as if they never washed them after one muddy winter. “First, he looked for them all over, complaining all the while and digging through snow. Later, he had chapped hands, and couldn’t open the front door because his fingers were too stiff to hold the key. He had to hoist Kururi up so she’d open it, and then I started crying because I wanted to be hoisted up, too, so Kururi had to close the door back just so I could open it again!”

Shizuo wonders how heavy all those memories get at night – if they weigh on the twins’ chests as they sleep, the way people believed demons would. Shizuo doesn’t know much about it, but he’s learning fast, and by now he’s starting to understand that memories don’t hurt based on whether they’re good or bad, only based on how likely they are to repeat themselves. The ones they’re offering him are one-time things, and he hopes he can be more careful with his words than he is with his hands – careful enough to keep himself from ruining the one thing of Izaya’s that they have left.

“They were an early birthday present, he said, the mittens, and it seemed weird, because he never got us any birthday presents, not before and not after, or so we thought.”

“When is your birthday?” Shizuo says, wondering if he’s already missed it.

“Valentine’s Day,” Kururi supplies, and for a moment Shizuo can’t remember when that is. He’s never had to, before.

“Oh. In three weeks, then?”

“Yes!” Mairu says, folding her hands together. “All those hearts every year, too! Isn’t it cute?”

“Couples’ thing,” Shizuo says slowly, and Mairu’s smile widens at that for a second, only to fall a moment later.

“Anyway, it wasn’t the only birthday present we ever got from him at all, those mittens. He would give us something every year, only we never knew.”

“Every year,” Kururi repeats. “Circus, and paintball, and fireworks.”

“We were so stupid!” Mairu laughs. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupidstupidstupid—”

Kururi folds her palm over Mairu’s mouth, and Mairu blinks at her like she’s just woken up.

“Yes, right,” she says, sheepish, once Kururi lets her hand drop, and she moves her feet in Shizuo’s lap. “We were just barely nine – it was our birthday – and suddenly two tickets to a circus show fell to the sidewalk, right at our feet. When we looked up, there was no one there, and when you’re nine, you overlook those things. A coincidence!” she makes a pause, and smiles at that lonely die on the floor. “You know, Shizuo-san, I don’t believe in coincidences anymore.”

“Paintball,” Kururi says.

“Yes! We were eleven, walking down a street, and there was a model with giraffe-legs on a billboard, but then the picture changed to a paintball advert! We went to the address to check if it was expensive, and some guy mumbled that his date stood him up and shoved two tickets into my pocket, just like that!”

“Fireworks when we were seven,” Kururi says, crossing her legs over Mairu’s. “All over the sky.”

“He was running late, Iza-nii. He promised us we’d watch a movie and order pizza, but it was already dark out and we were still alone,” Mairu says. “And then boom! Fireworks in all colors out the window, and we had a perfect view, somehow. They went on and on and on and we thought it was people celebrating, but who celebrates Valentine’s Day like that and in a quiet neighborhood like ours, too?” When she smiles, it’s self-deprecating, and Kururi puts her hand on her knee.

“When he came home, we told him,” she says softly, and Mairu laughs, the sound scratchy as if she has a sore throat.

“Iza-nii, Iza-nii, there were fireworks!,” she sings in a little-girl voice. “And he smiled all wide, the way I bet you’ve never seen him smile. Less malicious than with you. Not warm, exactly. Nothing about Iza-nii was ever warm, but—”

“His side,” Kururi interrupts, and Mairu stares at her like, for once, she has no idea what her sister’s talking about. “His side was always warm. He’d let me sleep on him whenever I was sick. Remember? You too, but you never wanted to.”

Mairu keeps staring at her, and then she kicks her legs off Shizuo’s lap, and hugs herself with her arms, so much like a snail seeking the safety of a now-gone shell that Shizuo gets that pain in his heart again, the one that always makes him think he smokes too much.

“I wanted to,” she mumbles. “I wanted to.”

Kururi reaches out, but Mairu recoils from it, and Shizuo wonders if it’s ever happened before. Kururi, staring at her palm and flexing her fingers, looks like she’s wondering too.

“I wanted to, but I wanted him to think I was strong more,” Mairu says, eyes filling and like two candles, and shit, they’re sixteen already, why the hell do they both have to be so small? Shizuo needs to break something so bad that he almost snaps his own finger in two. “I wanted him to think I was strong, and now I’ll never know—”

She hiccups, and gets to her feet like a baby deer learning to walk, all graceless fumble. When she leaves the room, Kururi stays put, and the two of them sit in silence for a minute. There’s something scary about the lack of sounds – no kids yelling outside, no cars honking on a crossroads– as if the world itself is at a loss of words.

“Maybe you should—” he starts, and Kururi gets to her feet.

“Alright,” she says, and leaves him there, the memorabilia of their childhood all over the floor, and aren’t they scared he’ll break them? He wonders what Izaya would say if he saw Shizuo like this, putting his hands where they don’t belong, sneaking into Izaya’s past like a Christmas robbery, walking through it like it’s a deserted house – picking up this and that, turning memories over in his hands, all the time in the world at his disposal because no one’s coming back to chase him away.

Shizuo wonders if Izaya rolled a die to decide on his own personality, too.

He expects to hear muffled voices, and decides to leave the twins alone for now, but Kururi comes back before he can get to his feet, that photo album she wouldn’t show him before in her hands now. When she holds it out towards him, he thinks that he hasn’t done nearly enough to deserve it.

When he opens the album, there’s a photo of two adults there, each with one girl in their lap and no teenage boy in the frame. The mother all business, the father all optimism – they look like they’re smiling at some bright future instead of at the camera about to go off, and Shizuo wonders if that’s where they are now – in that better place – because they sure as fuck aren’t here. He flips the pages and smiles at the collection of the twins’ photos, no parents after that first picture, but he stops smiling halfway through.

“There used to be a few photos of him in it but he got rid of them,” Kururi explains. “We had one taken together, the three of us but I don’t know what happened to it.”

She talks more when Mairu’s not there, as if, with Mairu, she doesn’t need to, and Shizuo wonders if the effort is painful, if all those sentences she forces out are like testing muscles one hasn’t used in ages.

Aside from the first few pages, the photo album is empty.

“About the phone calls,” Mairu says, appearing in the doorway, eyes red but she sniffs once and that’s it, brave girl, face all determination. When Kururi smiles at her, it’s like thawing, even though that’s not for another month or two. “He used to be gone a lot of the time. Messing with the wrong people and learning how to sell information, I guess.”

It makes sense – Izaya, whose parents were always away, learning how to be gone, too.

“Yes, yes, just like them,” Mairu says irritably, waving her hand at him like she can read Shizuo’s thoughts. “Only not at all.”

Shizuo leans back and tries a smile – see, I’m listening, I’m here, just tell me.

“He’d pick up the phone whenever we called, right away, always, without fail.”

“Always,” Kururi echoes. “Without fail.”

“Always, always, always,” Mairu goes on. “He’d ask if something was wrong, and it didn’t matter how many times we called to tell him that butter melted or to say hi or to describe our new teacher’s ugly nose – he’d still always pick up on the first ring, no matter what, like if something ever happened, he wouldn’t miss it. I think he had a separate ringtone set for us, you know?”

She gives it to him the way a girl might push a handmade Valentine’s Day card a boy’s way, like she half-expects him to laugh at her, but is determined to go through with it, anyway, and Shizuo has to thump his chest with his fist to get a proper breath in.

“And then what?” he says, because it sounds like the kind of story that doesn’t have a happy ending, and he hates how strangled he sounds, as if words hurt, and they do, who would’ve thought?

“And then we ruined it by telling him we knew,” Mairu says, and when she leans on the doorway, it’s like she does it because she’d collapse otherwise. She curls her hand around it just then, straightens, shoulders back, chin up, and Shizuo wonders if strength like this ever runs out, and if that’s why Kururi acts like she’s storing her own for later. “One day we made fun of him for it, see. Well, I did.”

“We,” Kururi corrects her, and Mairu smiles at her feet. “We.”

“We laughed at him. All, Iza-nii cares about us~, he always picks up because he loves us so~, he’s a huge softie who’s scared someone will be mean to us~, ne, Iza-nii, you should have a superhero cape~ and other such things,” she explains. When she looks up, her eyes are so wide that Shizuo barely keeps himself from looking away. “You should have seen his face.”

“Naked,” Kururi says.

“He looked scared, for fuck’s sake.”

Shizuo can imagine it – Izaya too smart for his own good indeed, but not smart enough to fool two little girls, how they saw his love for them all over everything he did and how, when they pointed it out, he was forced to see it himself.

“After that, he never picked up again, you know,” Mairu says, a wry smile and fingers curled into fists. “Not even if we called a dozen times in a row.”

Shizuo sighs.

“Of course he didn’t.”

And there it is— trust shuttering like the twins gave him a Valentine’s Day card after all and like he crumpled it in his fist without bothering to read it. He wants to tell them that it’s a mistake, that he’s too clumsy, that he’s too strong, but he’s already lost them, their eyes have already gone cold.  

“Shizuo-san,” Kururi says, walking up to Mairu and wrapping her arms around her. “Do you want Izaya to come back?”

Checkmate, laughs God somewhere.

Do you?” Mairu asks, and Shizuo doesn’t lie to them – not because he thinks he couldn’t fool them, but because it’d be too cruel to do so.

“I don’t know,” he admits, and it scratches his throat on its way out like a bad cough would. You can’t get more honest than that, he thinks, smiling wryly.

“Alright,” Kururi says, and there’s something dramatic about quiet – how you never hear hearts break even though you should. “It’s late.”

He gets the cue and stands up, blood rushing back to his legs.

“For what it’s worth,” he says, and already aches for all the cigarettes he’ll smoke tonight. “I do miss him, in some fucked up way.”

When he leaves, the January air slaps him about as hard as he deserves.

*

When he calls Kasuka, it’s because he can, and because even if his brother won’t pick up, he’ll call back later, like he always does.

“Say,” Shizuo breathes into the speaker after a minute of silence and two minutes of small talk. “Do you think I was better, before?”

Kasuka is quiet for one, two, three seconds, and then, “Before what?”

“Ah,” Shizuo sighs, and laughs the way people do when they’re too tired to cry. He’s forgotten that others’ lives weren’t ripped in two by his fight with Izaya like an old calendar. He’s forgotten that it was just him, again. “Never mind.”

They only breathe for a moment.

“I don’t think it matters, anyway,” Kasuka says. “Whether people are good or not. Whether they’re better or worse.”

“How so?” Shizuo laughs, and no cigarettes for him after all, because he’s still far from home and it’s raining like someone up there’s crying. Tough luck, he thinks, they’re crying down here, too, so why won’t heaven just shut up?

“It’s not important if they’re good, is all.”

“What’s important, then?”

“That they’re good for you,” Kasuka says after a moment, like even now he has to give it enough thought. “Or not even that. Just that they are.”

“Right,” Shizuo says, because of course that this is the one important thing – that people are, and Izaya—

Izaya isn’t.

He thinks of all those times he tried to kick Izaya out of Ikebukuro without bothering to hear him out, and no wonder, when everything Izaya ever said was bullshit. No one could blame Shizuo for not giving out second chances left and right with all the fucked-up shit Izaya did, but then, no one is.

The one thing they could blame him for – the thing he’s starting to blame himself for – is how in the face of all that bullshit, he should have asked others before almost killing Izaya, not after. Just imagine, a high school uniform still loose around his shoulders as he asked small Mairu and small Kururi if Iza-nii was taking good care of them, and what a shame he hadn’t, what a strange world they’d be living in now if he had.

He wonders if, in that other world, it would also be raining.

Chapter Text

“Have you ever made a scene,” you said, filling in a Thomas Kinkade house, “and then put yourself inside it? Have you ever watched yourself from behind, going further and deeper into that landscape, away from you?”

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

When Shizuo calls Yagiri Namie, she laughs and laughs and laughs.

“Haven’t heard that bastard’s name in a while,” she says, even though Shizuo’s barely said hello.

“I haven’t mentioned anybody’s name yet,” he mumbles, lighting a cigarette. He’ll need one for this.

“No, you haven’t,” Namie admits. “But you will.”

When he does ask about Izaya, she hums and then stays quiet for a while.

“Life here is so much calmer,” she says at last, more philosophical than she ever seemed to him before. “Anyway, you’ve got it all wrong.”

“Excuse me?”

“Izaya’s younger sisters, what poor girls, boohoo, and was he really a good brother to them?” She mocks him, and Shizuo considers hanging up. A phone call to America is hardly worth being laughed at. “I know exactly what you want me to tell you.”

“Oh? And what’s that?”

He keeps himself from kicking a hole in the building he’s leaning on, somehow.

“You want me to give you some proof that he was either a loving older brother or a piece of shit. You want me to say, oh, that one time someone kidnapped the twins and called for ransom, and Izaya ran rescue them, a knife in one hand and a gun in the other, ready to shit himself! That, or, oh, that one time someone kidnapped the twins and called for ransom, and Izaya laughed and laughed and didn’t care.”

Shizuo doesn’t break the phone just yet because that is what he wanted to hear.

“Neither of those is much like him, you know,” Namie sighs into the speaker. “He did— does care for them, there’s no question there, but if you’re hoping for some dramatic story of his heroic deeds, no luck. The thing with Izaya is that you can’t say what he’d do if someone kidnapped the twins, and you don’t really have to, because he wouldn’t let them get kidnapped in the first place.”

Shizuo thinks about it instead of getting angry, really thinks about it, Izaya who raised himself on playing chess, always trying to predict the next three, six, nine of the opponents’ moves, dozens scenarios splitting into hundreds in his mind, possible futures unfolding all around him, and if anyone could keep track of it, it’d be Izaya, but what about chance? Mairu might know better than to believe in coincidences, but Shizuo knows better than to doubt them.

“It’s impossible to keep someone safe by preventing them from getting hurt.”

It’s impossible to keep someone safe, in other words.

“Of course,” Namie agrees. “After all, it doesn’t matter how many times he’ll send someone there when one of his sisters gets attacked by a gang. There will always be things no one could ever predict, right? They could be walking down the street and just in that moment, for no reason other than chance, a potted plant would fall off a windowsill right above them.”

“Yes,” Shizuo breathes, and tries not to imagine it – all the small, stupid ways in which someone can die.

“But what if you can prepare for fate’s whims, too?” Namie says, her voice crackling like the connection is bad. “All those ideas Izaya planted in their heads – their very personalities – and do you think the martial arts weren’t one of his, too?”

“What does that—”

“Imagine him throwing things at them, for instance. I bet he used to. Harmless things, of course, things that irritate but won’t hurt you – pillows, socks, shoes, tennis balls, plums, anything really. Imagine him throwing and throwing and throwing until they got good enough at dodging everything even with their backs to him. Imagine him throwing some more after that, just in case. Sure, you can’t predict everything, but there’s no way in hell Mairu and Kururi wouldn’t see a potted plant coming soon enough to step aside in time.”

Shizuo covers the speaker with the flat of his palm before he exhales, because he doesn’t want Namie to hear how loud it is.

“If that’s true—”

“It’s true.”

If it’s true,” he continues stubbornly, “then the inside of his head must be a nightmare.”

He’s never thought of that before – what it must be like inside that mind of Izaya’s, all those possibilities stuffed there crumbling to pieces, futures never-to-be collapsing even as ten others are born in their place, all those— all those.

“I think he’s convinced himself it’s a beautiful dream instead,” Namie says, too cold to be a consolation. “But then, who knows, you might have beaten that out of him.”

He can’t even get angry about that one.

“Anyway, if you ever see him, tell him…,” she trails off like she hasn’t thought this through, and that doesn’t add up, either. Cold and logical, Shinra said, handing Shizuo a slip of paper with her number scrawled on it. Colder than hell, and Shizuo had always thought hell was supposed to be hot.

“That you miss him?”

“Oh no, not that, God forbid,” Namie says, and, for a moment, he expects her to laugh again. “Tell him not to die, maybe.”

Shizuo would smile, but he can’t stand the ‘if’ of her request. If you ever see him, and if Shizuo ever does, indeed. He wonders if now that Shizuo’s mangled him so, Izaya is fit to avoid falling pots himself, and oh, how many small, stupid ways to die there are in the world, and oh, how Shizuo hopes that fate will forget Izaya while testing them all out.

*

They’re not at their place in the afternoon, and they’re not at school, either, so Shizuo looks all over and yells their names every once in a while.

He doesn’t think they’d come out if they heard, but it’s worth trying, anyway.

When he finds them at last, it’s because he hears whispering coming from a wide tube slide in some park’s playground. The place is deserted, the carousel and the swings rusty, every surface covered in bird droppings, and there they are when he peeks into the slide – Orihara sisters curled up together like a hide-and-seek gone on for too long.

“Shizuo-san?”

“What the hell are you two doing?”

Mairu scowls at him, and Kururi frowns as if she disapproves of him.

“Move away, move away, or we’ll miss it!” Mairu screeches, shoving at his face. He yelps and steps aside, glaring at her.

“Miss what?”

They look at each other, and whatever conversation they’re having with their eyes, Shizuo can’t make sense of it.

“If you must know, we’re waiting for the first star,” Mairu says, indignant. “You can see stars inside here, like a very bad telescope.”

“Ah,” Shizuo grunts, nodding his head. “What do you need the first star for?”

The twins glance at each other again.

“Izaya,” Kururi says.

“To wish on it, for Iza-nii to come back,” Mairu explains, and stares at him like she’s daring him to say something. “I know, we’re too old for it. Let us be, will you?”

He nods, stupidly.

“Now, if you’ll excuse us—”

“Scoot over, then,” he blurts out, and Mairu gawks at him with her mouth half-open while Kururi smiles shyly like she already understands.

“Sorry?”

“I said, scoot over,” he repeats. “Scoot over!”

He climbs up the slide and near crashes the two of them as he squeezes inside. It’s a tight fit, but the slide is wide like someone guessed the three of them would look for stars inside it one day and designed it accordingly. Mairu scowls at him again, but smiles when she thinks he’s not looking, and Shizuo stares up at the sky darkening like a bruise spreading under skin.

“Alright, then!” Mairu says, hands curled too tight on the edge of the slide’s opening. “Shizuo-san should look left, and you right, Kuru-nee. I will look right up.”

It gets too hot too fast, and Shizuo keeps having to spit Mairu’s braid out, but he scans the sky anyway, wondering if the twins do this every day, chasing kids away with sticks and trying not to cry as the sunset dies out.

“You have too much hair,” he complains, and Mairu laughs like the devil itself.

“I’m keeping it like this forever, so you better get used to it!”

Get used to it, as if this isn’t temporary.

“Forever?”

He tries to imagine it, Mairu growing up and never going even one day without a braid, no matter the occasion.

“It was after that coin flip,” she tells him, her breath smelling of salmon. “After we were assigned our new personalities, Iza-nii cut Kururi’s hair and braided mine. He taught me how, you know? That you need to split your hair into three even parts and so on. He taught Kuru-nee how to cut hers, too.”

“Nice,” Kururi says.

“It was,” Mairu agrees, excited. “A brand-new personality, learning to wear it like it was high heels, a brand-new hairstyle, a brand-new outfit. He said you had to know someone to be like them, and wore our father’s suit to show us. It was too big on him, and you’d think Iza-nii wouldn’t know our father at all, with how often he was gone, but for a second, he really fooled us.”

“He pretended to be mom, too,” Kururi says, and Shizuo chokes on his spit. “Beautiful.”

“We helped him choose lipstick!” Mairu laughs. “We didn’t like it that much, though. It was fun to see him dressed-up, but we wanted him to go back to being Iza-nii. You know. There. Familiar. Ours.”

They miss the first star, after all, and the twins sulk for a minute, but Shizuo thinks that if stars weren’t just rocks on fire, surely they’d like listening to stories about Izaya more than they’d like being wished on, and if not, then to hell with them.

“Do you want to hear it now?” Mairu says after they’ve crawled out of the slide, tugging at Shizuo’s sleeve. “About the phone calls?”

He doesn’t say that he wanted to hear it then, too, because back then it didn’t even occur to him that there could have been more to the story. It took him three days of old routine and one carton of milk gone bad in the fridge to even consider that there might have been things he hadn’t heard yet but should.

“He stopped picking up, and then?”

“Nothing,” Kururi whispers.

“And then nothing!” Mairu repeats, her smile like something politicians wear when they don’t mean it, but there’s ten cameras pointed their way. “We were small, and we didn’t know any better, so we thought— But you know, I bet that whenever we called him, after, Iza-nii would sit somewhere and listen to the phone ringing, and I bet that it was killing him every time.”

“He should have picked up, then,” Shizuo says, too gentle for anger. He doesn’t know where it’s gone, all that fury. Maybe it poisoned Izaya’s bones, infecting their marrow through the break, and what an awful thought.

“He couldn’t,” Kururi says, tugging on his other sleeve as they walk towards the dirty carousel. “Not Iza-nii.”

“He couldn’t stand the thought of what it would say about him, I bet,” Mairu explains. “It just about killed us, every time we called and he wouldn’t pick up, but now I always think of how it must have killed him, when we stopped calling.”

“There was no point,” Kururi explains, as if Shizuo’s going to judge them for it, of all things.

“Only there was, maybe. If we’d known that he was there every time, on the other side, listening to the phone ringing— And he was, I’m sure, he must have—”

“Why not call him now, then?” Shizuo says, and when Kururi trips on her shoelace, Mairu barely catches her in time. They stare at him, both with that deer-in-headlights look, and Shizuo feels so fond that it hurts – hurts so much that he knows now that this pain he always has in his chest doesn’t have anything to do with smoking.

 “Different ringtone, maybe,” Kururi says, shaking her head. “Different phone.”

“Do you really think that?” Shizuo says, because don’t they see? Here they are, making a case for Izaya like they’re in court and like they believe in him more than they believe in themselves, and they dare get scared like this. “Do you really think that’s true?”

“He wouldn’t pick up, anyway,” Mairu says, toes together and eyes cast down as if she’s ashamed of wanting to try.

“But he’ll listen, won’t he?” Shizuo says. “He’ll listen to the phone ringing, and you’ll listen, too, and it’ll be almost like—”

“Something,” Mairu says, taking out a flip phone. “It’ll be something.”

She hands the phone to Kururi, and Kururi starts scrolling through the contacts, her fingers almost but not quite steady. She puts the phone on the ground, and then lies down next to it like she can’t bear standing for one more second. Mairu blinks at her, and then lies down, too, back to the ground and limbs starfish-spread.

Shizuo thinks of his past-self, throwing stop signs at Izaya somewhere and unaware of how terrible everything would become if he managed to hit him with one.

“I’ll just—” he starts, because this is private, and it’s not his, but when he takes a step back Mairu trips him up so that he crashes to the ground next to her, dirt in his mouth.

“Shizuo-san, too,” Kururi says, and Shizuo turns over until they’re all on their backs, the phone between them and about to go dark. When none of the twins move, he reaches out to start the call, and the way they exhale when he does, he thinks they must be grateful for it.

As they listen to the call, everything is quiet, and the ground seems harder beneath Shizuo’s body than it did a minute before, as if Ikebukuro itself has its muscles tight and straining in anticipation. He smiles at himself, because it must be him – all that tension as if he’s getting ready for a blow, and he doesn’t know what would make him fall apart faster – if Izaya picked up, after all, or if he didn’t. On his sides, the twins shudder like they have the flu, and as they lie there, he knows they must be imagining Izaya somewhere, listening to that old, old ringtone with wide eyes.

It’s almost, they don’t say but must think, like we’re listening to each other.

It’s almost, they might not dare think, like we’re talking.

They don’t cry as the sound travels through God knows how many miles of nothing, and Shizuo wonders if, when they were small, they wouldn’t cry at the dentist’s just to make Izaya smile, and if now they keep themselves from crying in case Izaya—

But he doesn’t pick up, and they don’t leave a voicemail.

“Signal,” Kururi says, folding her sleeve over her eyes. “There was signal.”

After that, Mairu does cry, ugly and loud and into Shizuo’s shirt, and Shizuo thinks of an almost empty room and a trembling hand. Bare walls, no heating, a calendar, blinds, a cup of tea gone cold and eyes too wide for Izaya’s face to fit a smirk there, too.

Oh, Shizuo thinks, closing his eyes. There you are.

Chapter Text

I know. It’s not fair that the word laughter is trapped inside slaughter.

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

Back in high school, two things happened, one expected and one surprising, and Shizuo latched onto one in order to ignore the other.

The first thing was something Shizuo put together all clumsy, puzzle pieces jammed together by force more than fitted smoothly, but a picture forming anyway. How their math teacher – always stern, always lipstick, always high heels clicking in the hall and causing them to go quiet more than a bell ever would – started acting strange one day, bitten nails, wobbly smile, hand shaking as she wrote equations on the board, and the equations all wrong – even Shizuo, who could barely multiply, could see that.

Izaya, in his desk by the window, an appreciative smile on his face and head tilted to the side like he was a fox having just sniffed a henhouse.

“What the fuck did you do?!” Shizuo yelled once, shaking him by the collar, because that teacher would always say, if you’re having troubles, we can go over this together after class, and smile at him kind like his mother.

Izaya only laughed.

Soon, students who used to get bad grades started getting As, and those who knew all the answers, Cs or Fs. Someone went with it to the headmaster, and, after, the teacher was said to be on holiday. She came back three weeks later, all back to normal, only after a week of peace there was an anonymous tip from a ‘concerned’ student, photos of the teacher and a boy from class 1-B kissing in an empty classroom spread like a deck of cards, just pick one.

You scoundrel,” Shizuo growled later, throwing a trash bin Izaya’s way.

“Oh? And what about her, then? Letting an underage boy slide his hands up her shirt, and at school no less,” Izaya said, all casual, all smirk, a crushed can of coke rolling to a stop next to his shoe. “What did you think she wanted, anyway, Shizu-chan? All those times she offered to help you with homework~”

“Like fuck you did it for the greater good! What, were you that bored?”

“Bored?” Izaya said, tilting his head like he’s never heard the word before. “I was only curious.”

Like a kid setting things aflame because he wanted to know what scorched earth looked like, and Shizuo would never forget it, how Izaya would strike matches just to see what would happen.

The second thing, the one Shizuo took care to forget, was something he stumbled upon by accident. Raijin, after classes, empty and sunlight pouring inside as if seeking warmth from the November chill, Shizuo still there to smoke through one more cigarette before he’d have to go home, hoping his mother wouldn’t smell it on him. That’s when he heard the retching.

He’d have ignored it, normally. He had never been all that good. Kasuka had called him decent once, but that was it. No checking up on everyone who pukes their guts out at school, and Shizuo didn’t need that shit all over his uniform, anyway.

Only there was no one else at school, and what if the fucker was dying, or something?

He kicked the bathroom door open in time to see Izaya stumbling out of one of the stalls, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, his face a weird mix of pale and flushed and his hair all sweaty. Eyes widening, like he hadn’t expected Shizuo there for once, and Shizuo frowned. How does that feel, eh?, he thought, only he felt out of it himself. Never before had Izaya looked like that – eyes blown wide, sickness all over him and his collarbones the only sharp thing about him, like he was watercolors left out in the rain. He seemed human, of all things, and for once Shizuo didn’t feel like hitting him.

He felt like killing him, instead, just to make all that vulnerability go away. He was used to thinking of Izaya as a flea, but not used to seeing him like the kind of rat a well-trained cat might leave on your doorstep, limp, its neck bitten through, and soon to die.

“Shizu-chan,” Izaya rasped, voice something unoiled, as if he hadn’t used it in a while and let it rust, when Shizuo had heard him talk shit just that morning, leaping from railing to railing like a ballet dancer. “What a pleasure.”

He tried to grin, but it came out all crooked, and when he took a step forward, he stumbled. Shizuo didn’t mean to catch him, but it was either that or letting Izaya crash into him, and he didn’t want to learn if Izaya was warm, so he reached out and curled his fingers around Izaya’s collar to keep him upright. When he breathed in, Izaya smelled like a snuffed-out candle and bad decisions.

“What’s wrong with you, huh?” Shizuo growled, shaking Izaya by the collar, and oh, how easy it was, how light Izaya seemed, like if you tossed him up in the air, he wouldn’t be heavy enough to come right back down. So much like those toys Shizuo’s mother would always tell him to put back on a shelf, quick now, before you break it.

Only she wouldn’t have to pay for it later, would she, if he broke Izaya?

“Just your regular food poisoning, Shizu-chan,” Izaya said, and then tried to lean forward and breathed in Shizuo’s face with a nasty smirk. “Careful, or you’ll catch it.”

“Like fuck it’s food poisoning,” Shizuo growled, and refused to lean back. “You don’t ever eat, do you? And you look half-dead, too.”

“Enjoying it, are you?”

Shizuo wasn’t. Everything seemed too soft for his liking, even the ground beneath his feet so much like mud, as if, were he to take a step back, his shoe would leave an imprint in the concrete, a proof of how he didn’t know where to go or what to do, faced with Izaya like this – all strange colors and shallow breaths, his skin like something that wouldn’t tighten or redden were Shizuo to try and break it.

“What the fuck have you done?” he whispered, and hoped – he hoped that Izaya, all human now, would whisper back, a conspiracy of a sort, a confession that gods wouldn’t have to hear. “Izaya, what the fuck have you done?”

Izaya licked his lip and frowned.

“Have you ever heard of Mithridates of Pontus, Shizu-chan?”

Shizuo pretended to think, even though he knew Izaya would see right through him.

“Doesn’t ring a bell, no?”

When Shizuo slammed Izaya’s back to the wall, Izaya laughed the way people cough, like it was choking him on its way out.

The next day, Shizuo asked Shinra about it, and Shinra frowned for once, instead of smiling.

“He keeps asking me for harmful substances,” he told Shizuo, shaking his head. “Something this Mithridates person would do: taking sub-lethal doses of poison to develop immunity to them. In a way, calling it ‘food poisoning’ is not that big of a stretch.”

“He’s taking poison? What the fuck for? And why here?”

“I assume he doesn’t want his sisters’ to know. And, well, there’s going to be many people that will want to kill Izaya, now.”

It was their last year of high school, and the sun seemed to have more of a rusty tint to it than ever before when Shizuo spoke the most ridiculous words of his life.

“Why would someone want to kill him?”

Oh, the look Shinra gave him.

“Alright, yeah, fair, but I— I don’t actually—”

He didn’t know how to explain it, that he did want to kill Izaya, but didn’t want him dead, because what if he’d look even worse than the day before, then, all pale and no smile? And sure, fuck that smile, but—

“You should get him to stop,” he said instead, infuriated. “You’re the one getting him that shit, anyway, aren’t you? It’s fucked up.”

Those stupid eyeglasses glinting, like Shinra was some mad doctor with the physics of light under his control, and maybe he was.

“I’m not his mother, Shizuo.”

That polite smile.

“You’re his friend, though, aren’t you?”

It pissed him off something awful, Shinra all la-la-la about it, supplying Izaya with poison, as if curious to see what would happen, and they were both worth each other, weren’t they?

“You’re not, though, as far as I know, and look at you, all worried.”

That day, Shizuo’s mother got the bill for six broken desks and a blackboard snapped in two.

After, it was easy to forget, and Shizuo had to forget, because Izaya was someone who never got choked-up, and never got sick, and never stumbled. He had to forget, because it scared Shizuo, what it did to him when he remembered.

*

They don’t really go out together, him and Kadota, but Shizuo makes an exception when he catches sight of the other without the rest of his bunch.

“Izaya’s sisters, huh?” Kadota says, sipping a cheap beer while Shizuo downs his glass of water. No milk, in the place they went to, and, in the dim light, he wonders what Kadota can see on his face. “And they talk to you? You almost killed the guy.”

“I think—” Shizuo starts, and wonders if he’s reading too much into it. He remembers Mairu and Kururi months and years ago, cheering on him as if they half-wanted Izaya killed, and how it all must have been an act. “I think it got to them, how I hurt him, and then asked them about him. I guess they think they’re similar, a bit.”

“That’s… something,” Kadota says, and laughs awkwardly. “Man, in high school it was all so much simpler, wasn’t it?”

“That it was,” Shizuo agrees. “Getting hit by trucks instead of getting arrested. Much less hassle.”

Kadota grins, and shakes his head, but there’s something nostalgic about it, anyhow.

“Do you think you could ever not hate him on spot, in some other reality?”

Shizuo thinks about it, and shakes his head. It’s not that he believes that he was always meant to hate Izaya – it’s just that Izaya is someone he could never walk past if he first saw him on the street. Someone he’d have to, well, hate or something.

Or something.

“It seemed like nothing all that serious, back in school, you know?” Kadota says. “Just two kids chasing each other, only one super strong and the other like a fucking prima ballerina. Still, for all his self-defense skills, I don’t think Izaya has any self-preservation instinct, always prodding you and prodding until you’d take notice and get angry. His pupils would blow wide, then, too, like when you’re attracted to someone, only I don’t think he was, not really, no matter what Erika says…”

“Huh?”

“No wonder he never did drugs, with you there.”

Shizuo doesn’t want to make sense of it, so he lets it go.

“I never wanted it to get this bad,” he confesses, and by now the memory of Izaya’s bones breaking is worn so familiar that he doesn’t even flinch.

“Oh, man,” Kadota sighs, downing his drink. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think he did, either.”

*

It’s the twins’ birthday in a week, and Shizuo has no way of getting them the one thing they really want, so he looks for something small they might like instead. After an hour of visiting shops in which the sales assistants stare at him as if he’s a criminal, he gives up and pays the sisters a visit with a bag of sweets in hand instead.

“Let’s go feed birds!” Mairu says, and frowns at his bartender uniform. “Gee, Shizuo-san, do you want to catch your death?”

She searches through a cupboard, and then goes still.

“Oh,” she breathes, and Kururi takes a red scarf out of her hands. She climbs to her tiptoes and winds it around Shizuo’s neck, then pats him on the chest where it trails to. “Are you sure?”

Kururi nods, and Shizuo doesn’t ask, because he can smell it in the wool, the aftertaste of burnt wood and a sharp detergent scent. Izaya, all over that scarf, and Shizuo wouldn’t know about the albatross around one’s neck, only Izaya told him once, between two lampposts flying his way.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Shizu-chan,” he laughed, climbing a fence, and Shizuo knows that no wool should feel this heavy.

“It’s alright,” he says, the words thick in his mouth. “I don’t get cold.”

Mairu shakes her head at the lie, and drags him outside.

“What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” she says, only she sounds like she doesn’t believe it. “Birds, birds, birds!”

They end up in a park, throwing torn-off pieces of bread to pigeons.

“Iza-nii used to take us bird-feeding,” Mairu says. “He said they were so stupid, pecking at the ground and throwing themselves at food even if their wings were broken. Some look strange, don’t they? Like the wings don’t fold quite right. I guess Iza-nii thought it was some metaphor for humanity, but what wasn’t, for him?”

“Humanity,” Kururi whispers, sneaking one piece of bread into her mouth. “Always.”

“I used to get so angry about it! Him repeating how he loved all humans but he wouldn’t ever tell us that he loved us!” Mairu says, throwing a confetti of bread chunks up in the air. “I should have known it was the very proof that he did.”

“Does,” Shizuo corrects her, but too quiet for her to hear. “Does.”

“Shizuo-san, do you still hate him?” Mairu asks, then, her back to him and no warm smile to soften the blow. “If he appeared now, would you try killing him again?”

If he appeared now, and oh, how Shizuo wishes Izaya did. How weighty the lack of Izaya is – the only time that something gets heavier once it’s gone, when you miss someone.

“I don’t know that I would,” Shizuo says. “He’d try to kill me, though, wouldn’t he?”

For being there with the two of them, for wearing Izaya’s old scarf, and if Izaya tried to kill him now, Shizuo wouldn’t even stop him.

Mairu glances at him over her shoulder, and instantly starts laughing.

“What now?” Shizuo says, confused.

“You’ve got—” she tries, and bursts out laughing all over again. “Bread, all over your hair!”

Shizuo scowls at her, and then Kururi lets out a small noise, and starts laughing, too. In the end, he’s to helpless not to join them, and it’s so loud that the pigeons scatter, bread forgotten.

“Oh, your face—!” Mairu shrieks, bent over, her hand on Kururi’s shoulder for support, and then she stops laughing, just like that. “Oh.”

Shizuo stops, too, and stares at her – how wide-eyed she is.

“He’d hate this, wouldn’t he?” she says, quiet, and Kururi’s shoulders fall like she’s a small kid that never got a promised toy.

“Mairu—” Shizuo starts, but she cuts him off.

“We should have gone to see him in the hospital, back when he got stabbed.”

Shizuo barely remembers it, the news just a background noise and how he had more important things to worry about at the time. He imagines it now, Izaya in a hospital bed and only a drip-bag for company.

He almost tells the twins that Izaya wouldn’t go see them if they were in the hospital, either, only he knows it’s not true by now. He knows that Izaya would never let them land in a hospital in the first place. He never did let them.

“How cruel of us,” Mairu says, and shakes her head as if it doesn’t matter, even though her eyes are all grief. “And all the birds have gone, too.”

When Kururi carefully picks all the bread chunks out of his hair, Shizuo doesn’t say a word.

 Later, the twins run off without mentioning the scarf, and he takes it home, folding it over the back of a chair and pretending to forget about it. Only much later, when he can’t sleep at night, does he reach for it and bury his face in it, because if Izaya always smelled of bad decisions, the red wool stinks of the worst of them.

Chapter Text

You who crawled from the wreck of summer like sons leaving their mothers’ bodies.

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

“Are you upset?” Shizuo asks Celty over a counter with flour and egg residue all over it. It’s Valentine’s Day at last, and he’s trying to bake the twins a cake. “I know that you hate Izaya—”

“You hate him, too,” Celty types, shoving her phone in his face.

Oh, how Shizuo wishes he did. How, in a way, he does, but how it’s more an echo of a feeling than the real thing.

“He had me save Kururi once, you know,” Celty admits, and Shizuo smiles at the bit of baking powder on her neck. In the end, the cake comes out crooked and a bit slumped, with too many layers and too much icing, but Shizuo decides the twins might like it anyway. He’s seen all those candy wrappers in their house, always stuck to something and strewn about the floor, and thinks it might be sugar and not just a roll of a die all those years prior that makes Mairu act like a chipmunk with rabies sometimes.

“Who’s Malnu, anyway?” Celty asks, pointing at the name covering half of the cake in pink icing, and Shizuo glares at her until she raises her hands palms-out in a placating gesture and offers to go find a box for the cake.

“Can I have a slice?” Shinra asks then, appearing in the doorway with a cup of coffee he made two hours before and still hasn’t finished. “Since it was made by Celty with love, and all that—”

“Hey, Shinra,” Shizuo says, without turning around. He thinks it’ll be easier like this, with his back to those glinting glasses, to that smile. “Why did you let Izaya do all that shit back then, poisoning himself and so on?”

He wonders if Celty is listening, in the other room, deciding to let him have this.

“I already said I wasn’t his mother,” Shinra whines, as if it’s all a game, as if they haven’t grown up yet, and, in their mid-twenties, maybe they haven’t. “And he did have a point, you know, dramatic as it was. Would it surprise you, people trying to kill him left and right? Like I could keep Izaya from getting what he wanted, anyway, and why should I? Scientific curiosity, let’s call it that—”

Shizuo leaves without waiting for the box, and remembers another thing that happened in high school that he’s since taken great care to forget – Izaya up on a roof, once, almost dying. Shizuo, almost killing him.

Izaya was there first, standing on the edge and watching the sidewalk like he was on drugs and like it seemed something wonderful to him – something that wouldn’t kill him were he to fall. The only time Shizuo managed to sneak up on him, and oh, the surprise on Izaya’s face, the widening of his eyes, how the pupils kept growing and growing like a universe about to be blown to shreds. How he tripped – Izaya, who never tripped, because by then Shizuo had already screamed the memory of him retching and stumbling out of his head – and how Shizuo caught him by the collar. How he hung there, suspended, shoes on the edge but body tilted above concrete, and how he smiled when Shizuo said,

“What if I dropped you?”

How the smile had never been quite that fake before.

“I could drop you.”

How it widened.

“I could. I might.”

How it fell.

“Alright, then,” Izaya said, and patted his pocket as if checking for something. Then he spread his arms to the sides, and closed his eyes – the only time he’d ever done so with Shizuo watching. “Drop me, then.”

The readiness of it.

Now, years after Shizuo threw Izaya across the roof and watched him slam into a metal door instead, he thinks it got to them at last. It smelled their blood somehow and it came for them – the inevitability of how Shizuo would kill Izaya in the end, or at least come close to it.

It wasn’t that much different, that hot evening with Izaya’s bones breaking – both of them down in the streets but didn’t it feel like Shizuo let go of Izaya, and didn’t it feel like Izaya was falling?

And that sidewalk down there—

Where did you fall to?

Shizuo almost gets hit by a car, and who cares when it wouldn’t do any damage, anyway? He hugs the cake close and doesn’t think about Izaya anymore, because all he can see in his thoughts is Izaya’s back as he’s leaving, leaving, leaving them all behind and half a year later, God knows if he ever stopped or if he’s still walking away.

*

When Kasuka calls him, it smells like snow. There are heaps of it on the ground – a rare thing – and Shizuo wonders if more will fall tonight for couples to call it romantic.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on a date?” Shizuo says into the phone, and he hopes Kasuka hasn’t ruined it with Hijiribe Ruri, because he seems happy lately, and God knows Shizuo himself is a lost cause. At least one of them should—

“In half an hour,” Kasuka explains. “What about you?”

“Oh, I have a date alright, with two midgets. I’m sure they’d rather it was you, but I’ve got cake to bribe them with.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Kasuka says, impassive as always. “Don’t you have anyone you could go out with? You’re getting old.”

Shizuo laughs at that, and, ridiculously, almost says, they’re out of town.

“Have fun tonight, yeah?” he whispers instead, as if someone will overhear. “I will, too,” he adds, then, even though he won’t, not exactly.

He’ll be too busy not making phone calls and not listening to the connection to have fun, all the things he could do but won’t dead around him, and it’s tasteless to laugh in front of a corpse, after all. 

*

When he gives them the cake, Mairu near shoves her face in it and, five minutes later, she has frosting all over her mouth, fingers and sleeves. There are crumbs of marzipan on Kururi’s cheek, too, and Shizuo doesn’t tell any of them about it.

“If we make a wish now, will it come true?” Mairu says, licking chocolate off her fingers. “And you should have brought alcohol, Shizuo-san. As a minor, I’ve been exposed to far worse things. If you want, I can show—”

“Just make the wish and stop talking!” Shizuo yelps, because he knows about the stash of porn magazines Mairu keeps under the bed and doesn’t want to have them shoved in his face again.

“Should we?” Mairu whines, glancing at Kururi. “I say we’ve grown out of wishes.”

And then, even though they never say it, their wish comes true.

A noise, something like a key in the lock, but clumsy. The two of them would never make such a racket while opening it and now even Shizuo, who has the movements of their wrists memorized, wouldn’t.

“Is someone trying to break in?” Mairu says, half-curious, and Kururi walks out into the hall. Shizuo and Mairu glance at each other and follow.

“Maybe it’s Santa Claus—” Mairu whispers.

“Two months late?”

“Don’t be rude, Shizuo-san.”

In the end, they must know before him, because they grab his arm each, huddled around him and staring at the door like they half-want it to stay closed forever. No luck, though, because the lock turns once, and the door creaks open, no mother, no father, the only person who’d remember their birthdays – circus, and paintball, and fireworks – on the doorstep.

The first thing Shizuo notices is Izaya’s eyes – how they look all wrong, too glassy and all soft lines, as if they’ve been rubbed worn and then rubbed smooth. Then it all comes together, the hair that’s an inch or two longer than Shizuo’s ever seen it, as if Izaya hasn’t bothered to get it cut in a while, the pale skin and how that old coat seems bigger on him than it used to, how the fur lining is dirty as if it hasn’t been washed in months.

The crutches.

There’s something rising up in Shizuo’s throat, and he doesn’t know what it is – a cry, a wail, a groan of pain, a whimper – but he knows that he mustn’t let the sound out, no matter what.

“Iza-nii?” Mairu chokes out on his right, Kururi’s grip on his arm tightening until it hurts, and opposite to him Izaya’s eyes widen and widen, an empty black that looks cold and that Shizuo wants in some scary way – as if he couldn’t care less for warmth. “Iza—”

And oh, how something melts on Izaya’s face, his whole self, maybe.

“Get the fuck away from my sisters,” he says, voice breaking on it – all of Izaya breaking again, and how many small parts he must be by now, a Picasso painting of a man – and before Shizuo knows it, there’s a knife flashing past him and burying in the wall behind him.

That breaks his heart more than anything else – this bad aim, Izaya’s arm shaking and his eyes helplessly widening still, how he’s left hopeless in the wake of what Shizuo’s done to him.

Shizuo wishes, more than anything, that the knife had hit him.

He opens his mouth to say something – hi, Hello, Izaya, Please, Thank you, You, you, you again – only Izaya is reaching for another knife already, and Kururi is stepping forward, and Mairu is opening her mouth faster than Shizuo.

“No!” she yells as Kururi stands in front of Shizuo and spreads her arms to the sides the way Izaya did that day up on the roof, as if she’s ready to fall and crash into wherever gravity takes her. “Don’t hurt him!”

The betrayal of it spills on Izaya’s face, and when he smirks, Shizuo wonders how come he’s never seen it before – that whenever Izaya smiles, it’s like there’s always that bit of bitter poison in his mouth.

“No, wait—” he mumbles, but Izaya’s already shaking his head and stumbling back, and if this is what breaking feels like, then Shizuo doesn’t know how Izaya’s survived it.

It’s spectacular, really – how they’ve ruined each other and how much the rubble hurts when you’re reminded of it and have no choice but to look.

Chapter Text

Why did I feel more myself while reaching for him, my hand midair, than I did having touched him?

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

Once, after the first street signs torn out of the ground and before the first motorbike scratching an arc in the air, Shizuo’s mother found him in his parents’ bedroom closet. She pushed aside the armchair he dragged in front of it, complaining about her back, and then opened the closet slowly, the way people do in horror movies and oh, how it never helps one damn thing.

She was soft, his mother, the way a cotton candy is soft – touch it and it’ll rip to shreds.

Shizuo had made sure to learn not to touch her.

“Would you look at that,” she said, then, whistling quietly, and Shizuo curled up even smaller, his hands trapped between his knees and chest, because they’d never done any good and so he’d decided to keep them hidden and to keep himself from breaking the world to pieces ever again.

“Go away,” he mumbled. “Go away, go away, go away, go away—”

She wouldn’t. She crawled into the closet and curled around him like a blanket, and wouldn’t let go, not even when he elbowed her – it would bruise, later – and not when he scratched her cheek. She laughed instead, like it was no bother, and kissed his fingers one by one – the only reason why, later, he could never convince himself to smash them to a pulp.

“It will go away,” she said, and he was so stupid, thinking she’d misunderstood him. “Someday it’ll be like this,” she promised, her fingertip barely touching the inside of his palm. “I swear. You just wait, and see.”

*

The door shuts behind Izaya, and Shizuo should go after him, but he can’t move, somehow.

Maybe he shouldn’t move. Maybe it’s for the better if he never moves again.

The crutches—

Mairu makes a choked sound at his side, and Shizuo thinks she can’t move, either. Good. At least he’ll have company, stuck to the floor like a toy, and maybe they’ll gather dust like this, and maybe he’ll never have to hurt anyone ever again.

Maybe it’ll feel like he won’t have hands.

“No,” Kururi says, voice breaking, and it feels so wrong – the emotion in it, the real thing for the very first time. “Not like this.”

Her arms drop to her sides like she’s a bird that can’t stand air for one more second, and she walks to the door, all resolve. Mairu whimpers and stumbles after her, legs shaky, and Shizuo watches them go, thinking that from now on, he’ll only ever watch.

When Kururi pulls the door open, he shivers in the winter air she lets in, and stares after them as the twins stumble out of the house just in their socks, and it feels like it must be the first time, like they’ve never left before.

Even through that rectangle of a door, Izaya is nowhere to be seen, and how, when he—

When Mairu yells Izaya’s name, her voice cracks on every syllable, and Shizuo can’t just stand there after all, the weight of everything that he owes them too heavy to let him stay upright. He walks towards them, and the snow is so cold and so wet under his socks, but it doesn’t matter, not really.

He doesn’t care for warmth anymore, after all.

“You’ll catch a cold,” he says, stopping just behind the twins, his voice raspy. “Better get back inside.”

He wonders if they’ll kill him now, and wants to tell them, don’t do this to yourselves.

“I knew this would happen,” Mairu says, shaky, shaky, shaky, and look at that moon above her, white like the lack of something bit into the sky, and, even with Izaya still somewhere near, Shizuo knows all about lack now. “I knew it.”

“Iza-nii?” Kururi says, quiet, as if she too knows he must be hanging around somewhere close, as if she can’t get herself to speak up. The hope in it, like a stupid kid saying mom?, only the mother never there. Shizuo stares into the shadows between houses and it’s the biggest joke of all – how he thought he’d always notice Izaya, and can’t see anything at all.

“I knew that it’d break his heart if we talked to you and liked you and trusted you!” Mairu says, turning to face Shizuo, glasses crooked and eyes all gasoline. “And now it did break his heart, because he has one, he does, he does, he does!”

Stubborn little thing, and Shizuo wonders if it’s the worst birthday they’ve ever had.

“You should go back inside,” he says, and he sounds far away, like a phone call from some place where it’s still light outside. “You’ll catch a cold,” he repeats, and stares at his soaked socks.

After Kururi drags Mairu inside and closes the door behind them, Shizuo hangs around and wonders if they’ll throw his shoes out the window, or won’t care at all.

“How many times do you have to leave,” he says to the winter air, “before it feels like there’s nothing to come back to, anymore?”

 He imagines Izaya behind a wall somewhere, closer than Shizuo would expect and hurting, because you can’t close your ears the way you can do with eyes, and Izaya wouldn’t cover them, either, since he needs his hands for knives. Shizuo almost lights a cigarette to drag it out – this silence they’re sharing or not – but he has a promise to make, so he walks up to the twins’ door instead and knocks.

It feels like he has to knock, now.

It’s Kururi that lets him in, and Shizuo doesn’t think Mairu would. He watches her rub warmth back into her toes, and watches Kururi too still to bother even to take her wet socks off. He remembers how he used to want to be so many things when he was a kid – a firefighter, an astronaut, an explorer.

Now, all he wants is to be good enough.

“I will find him, alright?” he says, and remembers the feather-light touch of his mother’s fingertip at the center of his palm, now-there, now-gone. “I swear.”

They latch on to it, and look at him like he’s hung the moon, and he doesn’t tell them what he’s just discovered – that the moon is a lie, just a hole torn in the sky – because he’s already missed truth once and doesn’t trust himself anymore.

*

It takes a while.

He checks Shinra’s place first, and doesn’t trust Shinra’s surprise, looks under the couch, anyway.

“He wouldn’t fit in the cupboard, I don’t think,” Shinra says dryly and that, more than anything, convinces Shizuo that Shinra hasn’t seen Izaya – how he has no idea that Izaya is all skin and bones now.

He calls Yagiri Namie again, and it takes her a while to react at all.

“Back, is he?” she breathes into the phone at last. “He’ll crawl out from somewhere, sooner or later, hungry for a fight.”

Shizuo doesn’t tell her Izaya’s not fit to fight, because he thinks she likes it overseas, and he’s not going to fuck it up for her.

He walks all over, and it’s stupid, but he used to be able to smell Izaya, once. That stink of blood and the beginnings of a fire, and he was always already looking left and right for a smirk to punch off of Izaya’s face.

Now, all he can smell is the same old Ikebukuro, all car fumes and cheap sushi, all buzz.

At night, he ties the red scarf around his wrists, and no matter what complicated knots he makes, it doesn’t change the fact that he could rip the scarf to bits with just a bit of pressure.

He doesn’t. Instead, he starts keeping it under his pillow, so that he won’t destroy it in his sleep.

He ends up asking Vorona for help. Vorona, and Tom, and Simon, and everyone he can think of. Kadota, too, waving at him from across the street, and have you seen…?

But no one has seen Izaya, and Shizuo wonders if it’s because, after all these months, it got easy not to look.

Celty searches for him, too, and Shizuo hates himself for it.

“No luck,” she will text him, and he never quite forces himself to text her that she doesn’t have to do that for him.

He checks Izaya’s old place, but it stands empty, and when Shizuo breaks in, the lack of things and the stale smell hit him harder than the pathetic state of his own cheap apartment ever does.

No milk in the fridge anymore, and he doesn’t go shopping.

He leaves anonymous messages on random sites.

I just want to talk.

Please.

Where are you?

Where have you been?

He doesn’t think of how Izaya’s supposed to figure out the messages are from Shizuo, doesn’t wonder if he’s seen them at all.

“You should let it go,” Shinra tells him, and Shizuo imagines his teeth breaking on Shizuo’s fist. “He’ll show himself when he’s ready.”

Shizuo keeps looking, and, in the end, it’s sentiment that has him find Izaya.

A station where most trains don’t stop in the evening, and Shizuo chased Izaya there, once, both of them out of breath and too many birds staring at them from the power lines. Shizuo remembers it now – how he grabbed Izaya by his shirt, and how the shirt was tight enough that he could feel Izaya’s erratic heartbeat under his knuckles. How he almost ground them into it, because he wanted something, only what was it that he wanted?

Izaya’s face too close, and his breath that smelled of salmon, and his eyes that had words in them, only Shizuo couldn’t read them, not without leaning in—

Later, he’d tell himself there had been something wrong with the sun that day, that it was too big in the sky, as if it had crowded closer and had people do strange things, just to laugh at them.

How their noses were almost touching when Izaya drove the knife into Shizuo’s side, and how Shizuo thought, thank God.

He finds Izaya there now, the sky all sunset again, and he makes a prayer that it’ll go alright.

No more smoking, he bargains again. Just let me have this.

Izaya’s leaning on a pole, his crutches folded next to him, and it near kills Shizuo how his eyes widen when he sees him, and how he stumbles back.

How he falls to the ground, and how he tries crawling backwards even then.

“Get away from me, you monster—” he says, voice rough like never before and eyes wide enough to fit everything Shizuo’s felt these past few months tenfold.

He realizes it the way he realized there was a knife in his side all those years before – that Izaya’s scared of him now.

Scared, even though he never was before, not even after his bones snapped in two.

Here’s something Shizuo knows: all their fights, back in the day? Those were the good times. All that anger, all those death threats, and yet, somehow, they’d both grin all the while. The hem of that stupid jacket in Shizuo’s vision, and maybe he’d be fast enough and grab it this time, only – who would have thought? – he’d never wanted to catch Izaya at all.

The two of them running and running and running and how it should have stayed that way.

You bastard, Shizuo thinks. Why would you let me catch up with you?

There’s a past, somewhere behind them, where Izaya is running away, laughing, and the sun laughs, too, but that past is dead now and somehow, Shizuo’s never let himself properly mourn it. Maybe, he thinks, it’s because only now – Izaya scared, Izaya unable to stand without support – does he know there’s no going back.

“I won’t touch you,” he says, slow, and he brings his hands up, palms out, but even that makes Izaya flinch.

Shizuo flinches, too.

“Just leave me the fuck alone,” Izaya says, voice all broken pieces, and Shizuo wants to shake him, because Izaya’s the one who came here first, as if he missed what they’d never had, and wanted to see if there was still some of Shizuo’s blood left dry on the concrete, but he keeps himself still, because he’s not going to touch Izaya ever again.

“Never again,” he said to himself all those years ago, shutting himself in the bedroom closet, and it took him years, but he’s old enough to keep promises now. “Never again.”

“I just want to talk.”

Please.

Where are you?

Where have you been?

“Fuck you,” Izaya spits, and he’s shaking, still trying to crawl back. “Leave or I’ll kill you.”

Shizuo sighs, tired of it all.

“Have dinner with me, Izaya, how about that? Just one dinner,” he offers, and ignores the snort it earns him. “I’ll pay you.”

“I don’t need money.”

“I know,” Shizuo says, and takes a step back, wondering if that’ll help. “I’ll pay you with information.”

There it is, that spark in Izaya’s eye, that little tell that something bad will happen, and Shizuo will take bad. He’ll take anything.

“Why should I care about whatever it is you—”

“I’ll tell you all about your sisters,” Shizuo says, and it’s only fair to hurt Izaya like this in the same place where Izaya buried a knife in Shizuo’s body. “Mairu and Kururi, after you left.”

For a moment, Shizuo expects Izaya to pretend he doesn’t want it, and remembers what the twins told him about the phone calls.

He expects a how dare you, even.

What he gets is one of those manic smiles he hasn’t seen in ages – half bitter, half gleeful, all wild.

“One dinner,” Izaya agrees, reaching for his crutches. Shizuo refuses to look away as Izaya struggles to his feet, no matter how much he wants to. “Touch me once and I’ll make sushi out of you and sell it to Simon, cheap.”

“Deal,” Shizuo says, and if there is any of his blood left in that concrete under their feet, it must be singing.

Chapter Text

The bullet was always here, the boy thinks, older even than himself – and his bones, tendons, and veins had merely wrapped around the metal shard, sealing it inside him. It wasn’t me, the boy thinks, who was inside my mother’s womb, but this bullet, this seed I bloomed around. Even now, as the cold creeps in around him, he feels it poking out from his chest, slightly tenting his sweater. He feels for the protrusion but, as usual, finds nothing. It’s receded, he thinks. It wants to stay inside me. It is nothing without me. Because a bullet without a body is a song without ears.

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

Half an hour early, Shizuo’s already there at a window table when Izaya arrives, early himself. He watches Izaya collapse into the chair opposite to him, and Izaya’s always seemed to move so effortlessly – as if he was only succumbing to gravity’s pull even as he broke its laws – that Shizuo can’t tell if it’s his old habits, or if Izaya can’t sit down properly anymore.

It’s a cramped café they’re in – Izaya’s choice, because, in spite of what they agreed, it seemed a ridiculous idea to actually get dinner. Him and Izaya, eating together, when Shizuo hasn’t seen Izaya eat in years, when even back in high school, it’d only ever be onigiri stolen from Shinra’s lunchbox, two bites and then left untouched.

There’s a candle on the table, oh-so-romantic, and thank God no one’s lighted it before they came.

Izaya folds his crutches across his lap instead of putting them away, and reaches for the drinks’ menu, all without sparing Shizuo even one glance. Shizuo’s jittery, and wants to move his legs under the table, but the thing’s so small that he’s too scared his knee would bump into Izaya’s own.

He wasn’t joking when he promised himself that he wouldn’t touch Izaya ever again, and he doesn’t think Izaya was joking about turning him into sushi if Shizuo did, either.

“Hey”— he starts, but Izaya raises his hand palm-outwards, frowning as he reads through the menu. That’s all it’d have taken for Shizuo to throw the table at him, he realizes, back in the day. He stays quiet now.

A minute later, Izaya orders black coffee for himself and a glass of milk for Shizuo – Shizuo glares at him for that, but doesn’t argue – and when the waitress is out of earshot, he speaks at last.

“So how come you’re all chummy with my sisters now, invading the family home and so on?”

Eyebrows up, like he’s already unimpressed, even though Shizuo hasn’t said a thing yet. His hair is still an inch too long, and the shadows under his eyes look like something bruised into the skin, as if someone pressed their thumbs there until it must have hurt.

“Where have you been?” Shizuo blurts out, and leans closer to Izaya over the table, but keeps his hands in his lap. Izaya recoils and scowls at him.

“I thought you were supposed to be selling me information, Shizu-chan, not the other way around?”

How it used to drive him crazy every time, that stupid nickname, and how it only makes him feel lonely now – just another thing that should mean something but doesn’t.

“I just want to know,” he insists.

I need to know, he doesn’t say.

“Here and there,” Izaya sighs. “Still in Tokyo, but about as far from Ikebukuro as you can get.”

It almost knocks the breath out of Shizuo, that all this time Izaya was far away but close enough to find. He thinks that, after a few more months of his absence, he would have looked.

“Alright,” Shizuo says, and tries to get his fingers to stop shaking. Good thing Izaya can’t see. “What’s with the crutches?”

Izaya laughs at that, nothing joyful about it, head tilted back and his throat smooth – the one thing Shizuo’s never broken.

“What do you mean, what’s with the crutches? Don’t you remember?”

Shizuo wonders if he’d have been better off, had he never talked to Mairu that day at a crossroads.

“It was your arms, though, wasn’t it? Back then—”

“Right,” Izaya says, grin like something forced into his face with a knife. “That’s all you did, sure. Just my arms—”

“I don’t mean that,” Shizuo said, putting his elbows on the table and shoving his hands in his hair. “I— God, I never— Can’t you walk without them?”

“I should, at some point. It’s a good thing I can walk at all. It was wheelchair before this.”

Shizuo makes a sound before he can stifle it, a horrible, pathetic sound.

“How are you not healed yet, after all this time?”

Izaya tilts his head to the side and smiles wider, as if he’s enjoying this.

“It’s not that I’m not healed. Everything hurts, is all. It’s mostly psychosomatic, but.”

So goddamn flippant about it, Izaya is, and Shizuo knows better than to trust it by now. He knows better than to ask what psychosomatic means, too, because Izaya would just laugh at him for not knowing, wouldn’t he?

Or maybe he wouldn’t, and Shizuo thinks that’d be worse, in its own way.

The waitress brings their drinks, and Izaya smiles patiently in her general direction, but his eyes are somewhere else. Shizuo wonders if that’s what he himself looks like when he’s chatting with Tom and Vorona but not really there, lost remembering how when he was a teenager, he didn’t know one damn thing and how when he became an adult, he didn’t either.

The waitress leaves a small basket full of packets of white and brown sugar on the table, and Shizuo tears one open just to do something with his hands. Izaya watches his fingers, smirk ready on his lips, and so Shizuo dumps the sugar in his milk in order not to look stupid.

It doesn’t do much good, judging by Izaya’s expression.

“It was an accident,” Shizuo says. “I didn’t mean to… corrupt them or anything.”

Izaya’s smirk widens at that, but his eyes go cold.

“Oh? Corrupt them how?”

“I didn’t.”

Shizuo would bet that they’re both remembering the same thing in the pause that follows – how the twins tried to stop Izaya from hurting Shizuo, and the irony of it all.

“I met Mairu one evening, and she looked sad, so—”

Shizuo keeps catching himself tearing the sugar packets open, and keeps dumping them in his milk. Izaya drinks his coffee black, only to call it drinking is a stretch – he’s taken one sip and then pushed the cup aside, as if it’s an inconvenience.

Shizuo doesn’t know what to say to make it all right, somehow, and he wonders if this is what first dates are usually like – all self-consciousness, all minefield. The whole thing is as far from a date as one can get, but Shizuo can’t shake the feeling it must look like one from the outside. Not that he knows much about dates, what with always having been too scared of hurting every girl who seemed interested.

Funny, how he was never scared of hurting Izaya. How, whenever they ended up hurting each other, it felt like a game and not real, up until it got so real that it was too late to stop.

“So what?” Izaya says, impatient, and Shizuo understands what he has to do here – tell Izaya all about how he was hungry and lonely and cold, how guilt was gnawing on him the way rats do with corpses, and how he used to turn around whenever he spotted a fur-lined coat at the edge of his vision. He knows that he has to tell Izaya all about asking the twins to tell him about their brother, and all about how he’d hoard every little piece of information he learned, and would save it for his worst nights– all alone in his apartment full of mold stains, and the fridge buzzing too loud.

He doesn’t know how. All those years his bones were breaking and rebreaking and growing stronger, all those years his skin was hardening, and he ended up stuck somewhere inside himself, the only soft parts he has too deep to do any good.

“Do you know,” Izaya says, propping his chin on his hand. “I wanted you to hate me, back in high school.”

Shizuo stares at him, and he knows that in chess, it’s one move each, but he thinks that maybe whatever game Izaya’s been playing with him ever since they met might be a bit more complicated than that, so he stays quiet and waits.

“Since you hated me the second you saw me, and all. I thought if I couldn’t have anything other than hate, I’d make you hate me more than you’d ever hate anyone,” Izaya explains, and leans forward so suddenly that Shizuo chokes, trying to breathe in and breathe out all at the same time. “That I’d make you hate me more than you’d ever love anyone.”

“What does that mean?” Shizuo whispers, not because he wants to keep quiet, but because his voice’s just not there when he says it, as if he’ll have to cough a few times to get it back.

“And you did hate me oh-so-much for a couple of years, didn’t you? Not enough, though. Never enough, Shizu-chan, and then you said goodbye and decided that was it, eh?”

We should have gone to see him in the hospital, back when he got stabbed, Mairu said, and she was right. Shizuo should have gone, even to try and finish Izaya off, because it was the sort of thing that’d have made Izaya happy.

He knows now why Izaya’s grin looks like something cut with a knife – it must be because it hurts.

For a moment, Izaya stares at him with too-wide eyes and too-wide smile, and Shizuo wants to swear that he still hates him more than he loves anyone else, he wants it so, so bad, only Izaya’s right in thinking it’s not true anymore.

Still, he’s got it all wrong, anyway.

“I thought so,” Izaya scoffs, and Shizuo thinks back to that fight of theirs, how he’d been so tired and how that hate for Izaya felt so heavy, how he thought that maybe he could shrug it off his shoulders and toss it Izaya’s way to have it gone for good. “Now, you don’t seem to have much to say about my sisters, so if you’ll excuse me—”

As Izaya props himself on the table to stand up, it hits Shizuo all at once – how Izaya told him all these truths just to learn about his sisters, and how it doesn’t explain why Izaya would tell him this last thing if he was always going to get up and leave right after.

One more thing he realizes in that instant when Izaya’s struggling to his feet: that if he leaves now, then he’ll never agree to listen to Shizuo again, will say no over and over again, will go somewhere where Shizuo won’t find him to ask even one more time.

He thinks of saying, they sleep with your knives under their pillows.

He’s sure it wouldn’t change a thing.

“I know that you think it didn’t affect me at all, that fight,” Shizuo says, and keeps himself from reaching for Izaya’s wrist. “But it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like—” 

—like all the other times they fought, Izaya seeking Shizuo out and hardly ever the other way around.

“That hate, whatever it was, it was important to me, alright?”

Here’s something Shizuo’s never told anyone: he’d always felt like he swallowed something disgusting at one point, and like this small thing lodged somewhere inside him to stay. He’d tell himself it was separate from him – all those times he hurt someone, destroyed something – a curse, a sickness, something he’d cough out sooner or later if he tried hard enough.

A black, terrible morsel of a thing.

And then Izaya was there, and this thing Shizuo carried inside him fell into place, like a puzzle turned around and snug between the others, and Shizuo wouldn’t ever hack it up, but he didn’t have to, because he could hate Izaya all he wanted and it wasn’t even a bad thing, giving into whatever that tiny curse wanted.

And how could he ever admit it to anyone, that what he’d thought was foreign was actually rightfully his all that time, and that trying to kill Izaya always made him feel good about it?

Izaya laughs now, arm across his stomach, and Shizuo almost tells him.

You brought out the worst in me, and I didn’t mind.

You brought out the worst in me, and made it feel like the world would survive it.

You brought out the worst in me, and so what, when even then you yourself were at least twice as bad?

And then he got fed up with it, and it stopped being fun, and hey, maybe he had been right when he was a kid, maybe he could get rid of that part of himself after all? And so what that it’d mean getting rid of Izaya, too.

“Important, was it now?” Izaya says, smile all mania. “If I died in some gutter, you would never know, Shizu-chan.”

He doesn’t sound like he feels sorry for himself, but like he’s just stating a fact, something he used to have opinions about but is bored of now.

“Don’t go and disappear again,” Shizuo sighs, helpless, and he doesn’t think he’s ever been this honest with Izaya, but Izaya shakes his head like he doesn’t realize.

“I have things to do, Shizu-chan, I’m a busy—”

“I miss what it felt like to have your knives in my skin,” Shizuo says, slow. “I miss it so much.”

Izaya starts smiling, caught off guard, and then falls back into his chair. Shizuo breathes out, because he has him, he still has him, and Izaya leans forward over the table and frees another sugar packet from Shizuo’s fingers, all without touching him.

“You’re a real piece of work, aren’t you?” he says, and dumps the sugar in his own coffee, because he’s going to drink it, because he’s still here, because he’s staying. Shizuo remembers the twins telling him about how Izaya would wear lipstick and pretend to be their mother, and how it was fun but they preferred it when he was himself. Shizuo thinks that he’d do a lot more than one should, to have that Izaya they wanted more than anyone else, just for a moment, in any way he can.

*

In the end, he admits to having asked the twins to tell him about Izaya, and Izaya looks something between doubtful and reluctantly interested. Shizuo knows it could branch off from there – the conversation running in circles around how Izaya matters and how Shizuo missed him – but he keeps it concise and only tells Izaya about the twins.

“Whatever did you do with that picture?” he asks after telling Izaya about how the twins showed Shizuo the photo album and how Kururi mentioned the photo of the three of them.

“Maybe I burned it,” Izaya says, flippant, and then frowns in pain as he moves in his chair. Shizuo watches it – the lines of Izaya’s face tightening into something he’d never known he wouldn’t want to see – and suddenly cold milk spills all over his hand, the glass cracked broken and splinters of it buried in Shizuo’s skin.

Izaya stares, indifferent, and then pushes his coffee away again.

“We best go,” he says, and stands up, faster than before, as if to prove something. You have nothing to prove, Shizuo wants to say, but he doesn’t think it’d go over well. “There’s only so much time I can spend with you over coffee and not need to throw it all up.”

Shizuo fumbles to catch up, even though he’s the more-mobile one, and feels strange when Izaya throws a few bills on the table and starts making his way to the exit.

Outside, they lean on a railing, and when Shizuo offers a cigarette to Izaya after picking the glass out of his hand and wiping the blood off on his pants, surprisingly, Izaya takes it. Shizuo raises an eyebrow and is about to hand his lighter over, only Izaya reaches for his own, and of course the fucking pyromaniac has one.

“That phone call,” Shizuo starts, because he knows now that Izaya being here is no accident, and no star-wishing aftermath.

“You were there?” Izaya asks without looking at Shizuo, and smiles wryly. He coughs a bit after the first drag of the cigarette, and it’s so human that Shizuo’s heart twists like someone’s just stepped on it. “Good thing I didn’t pick up, then.”

“Izaya,” Shizuo says, “Go see them with me, just once.”

“Or what?” Izaya snorts. “You’ll break me some more?”

“Go see them once, and I’ll leave them alone for good, alright?” Shizuo offers, and it doesn’t even fucking matter, he’ll go on smoking too much and sleeping alone and chatting to people about the weather like there’s a point to it, and so what? He’s been doing it long enough to know he’ll survive it. “I’ll leave you alone, too. I promise.”

And Izaya, who didn’t go and burn the whole world to the ground after seeing his sisters defend Shizuo from him, smiles.

“I go once, and you better stay away from them, and from me, and far enough that I don’t have to smell you.”

Shizuo smiles, too, then, a bitter thing, because it’s never occurred to him that he, too, might have a recognizable smell.

Chapter Text

The cruelest walls are made of glass, Ma.

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

They walk side by side but three feet apart, and Shizuo can feel the distance breathe and generate its own energy like a person would. Izaya won’t look at him, and he hasn’t smiled once since they met up at a random bus station – it makes Shizuo think of how he must have been this excitable child, and how later he distanced himself from everyone and everything, how, later still, the excitement came back but the distance stayed.

Shizuo wonders if he’s beat the mania out of Izaya for good, and hates it, wants Izaya to laugh at inappropriate things and for once laugh with him, not because the joke’s funny, but just for the sound, for the relief of it.

He starts pretending there’s a wire pulled up and through his body and kept taut somewhere above him, preventing him from reaching out and poking at the crack he thinks must be there in that quiet wall between them.

“Breathe, Shizu-chan,” Izaya tells him, still without looking at him. “I imagine even you must need to.”

Shizuo doesn’t say anything to that, and remembers a dream he had a few days before – him, trying to cut his left hand off with a kitchen knife and how by the time he woke up covered in sweat, he had just gotten to the bone.

*

When Izaya opens the door with his key – Shizuo can’t help but think that there must be some purpose to it, like it’s a ‘look, I still belong’ of a sort – the twins are in the hall as if they’ve been waiting, and maybe they have been.

Shizuo can see it in every tight line of their bodies, then, how they want to throw themselves at Izaya but won’t.

“Hello,” Izaya says, no smirk, no teasing wave of his fingers, no pretense. Kururi’s eyes are so wide that Shizuo couldn’t tell their color now, and Mairu’s lower lip wobbles like she’ll cry.

“We made soup,” she says, and Shizuo hangs back, deciding he’ll see what Izaya wants. He doesn’t mind leaving – in fact, he’d rather be away from here, where it’s all raw feelings he shouldn’t be privy to.

Izaya sighs, glancing at Shizuo over his shoulder and raising an eyebrow – I’m being good, see? – and kicks his shoes off. When he doesn’t bend down to line them up neatly against the wall, Shizuo can’t tell if it’s because he doesn’t want the hassle of putting his crutches away and struggling to his feet after, or if he still thinks of this place as somewhere he’s not just a guest. It takes him a while to take his coat off, and he has to tug at one sleeve with his teeth and lean on the wall with his shoulder. Shizuo aches to help him, but somehow keeps himself still.

“I’ll just—” Shizuo starts, pointing at the door behind him.

“A lot of soup,” Kururi interrupts, tilting her head at him.

“How nice,” Izaya says, all venom. “Do you happen to have alcohol?”

When Mairu smiles, Shizuo can see the familiarity, and it hits him more than it should that he’ll probably never see Izaya smile like this – that the best he’ll get is Mairu’s smile slapped by his imagination onto Izaya’s face.

“Of course!” Mairu says. “Enough to kill three people!”

Izaya glances at Shizuo as if to ask, enough to kill him?, and he can’t know it, but it makes Shizuo more happy than anything has in months.

After that, it’s less awkward than Shizuo imagined it’d be – Mairu speaking so fast she must not be taking enough breaths in between, Kururi filling in the gaps, and Izaya eating the soup and listening, expression bored but eyes alive. There’s one empty seat at the table, and Shizuo thinks that’s where all the unacknowledged, unmentioned things must be sitting, but he’s happy to ignore them if the rest are, too.

And yet – the distance between Izaya and him is still too condensed for air, and Mairu and Kururi are still sitting too rod-straight in their chairs, as if they too imagine having wires pulled through them to keep them from touching Izaya.

God, but how they must want to.

“They still call, then?” Izaya asks once Mairu mentions their parents, and he puts his bowl away so quietly that, weren’t Shizuo watching his hands, he wouldn’t have realized.

“They do,” Mairu nods. “Every month, or two.”

Something flashes in Izaya’s eyes then, like when you catch sight of a fish in a pond, all that cold, cold skin, and viciousness pulls the corner of his mouth to the side. Hate, Shizuo would have thought it once, but now that he knows better, he sees it for what it is. Hate, as if Izaya would bother hating his parents after all his time, high as a kite on disconnection, and it’s all about how his sisters still care, isn’t it? So then here’s the biggest lie they ever taught Shizuo: that love is not ugly.

“Do you ever call them?” Izaya asks, and Shizuo wonders if, when the twins shake their heads in tandem, Izaya’s thinking of how he wouldn’t pick up whenever they called him.

“International connections are so expensive, after all,” Mairu says with a brilliant smile, waving her hand, and Izaya’s chopstick fall to the table with a quiet thud.

“What does it matter?” he says, leaning forward, hunched over the table. “You don’t have to worry about that, do you?”

Mairu tilts her head with a frown, but Kururi opens her mouth on a breath, eyes widening.

“It’s okay,” she says, and picks the chopsticks up. When she holds her hand out, it takes Izaya a moment to take them from her. “She was just joking.” 

Izaya relaxes after that, and of course he must be throwing money at them, a transfer every month, or maybe every week.

“Yes, yes, we’re still rich and all,” Mairu supplies, catching on. Shizuo tries not to stare at Izaya’s clenched knuckles too much, at how they loosen.

“Are you going to move back to your apartment?” Mairu says, and Shizuo thinks she’s too old to hope that Izaya would move in with them, but he’d swear he can see a tiny chip of that hope in her eyes, anyway.

“Who said I’m not just visiting?” Izaya says, as if this is just a holiday, as if Ikebukuro hasn’t always been like sirens, calling them all to the death of its rocks.

As if he hasn’t fucking gotten here on their birthday from wherever, just because of a single phone call.

“You never ‘just’ anything,” Mairu says. “You’re too dramatic for that.”

And for a moment, Shizuo almost, almost glimpses that smile Izaya must have lost around the time children stop believing in Santa Claus.

*

Later, Shizuo stays in the kitchen and washes the dishes, listening to the drone of the tv and the hushed voices coming from the living room, a where, a when, a how, so many questions and Izaya answering-but-not in a monotone voice as the dark outside folds around the building as if none of them ever have to leave.

It’s strange to see them all together, strange to be in one room with three people who want to be so much closer to each other but keep pretending they don’t. Strange to feel so, too, when you were never supposed to.

“Shizuo-san is actually pretty shy, huh?” Mairu says from behind him, and he hasn’t heard her coming, but he doesn’t jump. When he leans back and cranes his neck, he can just see Izaya sprawled on the couch and Kururi leaning over him in a curled shape like an apostrophe, and he thinks that, in a way, Izaya’s absence must have been even harder on her than it was on Mairu. It’s how, instead of letting the need for him out, she kept it inside, something there clenching painfully the way a stomach does when you haven’t eaten in too long.

“Me? Shy?” he says, distracted. “I guess you could say so.”

When Mairu says the next bit, he can hear the smile stretching her lips.

“If he asked me to, I’d still kill you with a knife,” she says, like a band-aid over how she and Kururi tried to protect him from Izaya the other day. “I wouldn’t even hesitate.”

“Alright,” Shizuo says, and smiles, because just like her, he wants to believe it – this beautiful thought of her ready to hurt him just because Izaya said a word. “Alright.”

“Thank you, anyway,” Mairu whispers then, and the pressure he suddenly feels at his back must be her forehead. He counts through it, and doesn’t dare breathe out.

After that, he wants to stay in the kitchen so as not to disturb them, but Mairu drags him to the living room by hand, and what a sight – Izaya asleep on the couch and Kururi upright over him like a church candle guarding a thought of a prayer.

“Oh,” Mairu says, and leans over Izaya, too, so close that, were she to breathe with her mouth open, the warmth would surely wake him up.

It fits somehow, the thought of Izaya being someone who wakes from warmth.

“He looks like a kid,” Mairu says after taking a step back, and it makes sense, because she smiles as fondly as people only ever smile at children.

Shizuo stares at Izaya, all too-long eyelashes, all slack mouth, all quiet skin, and he’s never felt it so clearly before – that he’s in pieces.

“Shsh,” Kururi says, and folds a blanket over Izaya so gently that, even though he must wake from touch, too, he doesn’t even stir.

After that, Shizuo leaves, because he can’t stand staying. He walks through the city as if it’s one he’s never been to before – doesn’t recognize the streets, doesn’t know the neighborhood. All he knows is Izaya gone quiet and how he’d always been buried under all the noise, how Shizuo, for all his strength, never bothered to move the rabble of it away and dig him out.

Later, he’ll think that he had that at least – the sad calm of knowing Izaya somewhere safe for a couple of hours.

“He’s gone,” Mairu tells him on the phone sometime before midnight, as Shizuo’s standing in the middle of a road he’s walked a million times but doesn’t remember.

“He’ll be back,” he lies, and there it is already, that old itch to find Izaya starting in the tips of his fingers, that old itch to find Izaya and—

And what?

“Only, you know,” Mairu says, voice like something small and alive bitten open. “He’s left his crutches here.”

When Shizuo hangs up, he looks around himself and remembers the road at last. Good thing, too, since he has to get back somehow.

Chapter Text

Who will be lost in the story we tell ourselves? Who will be lost in ourselves? A story, after all, is a kind of swallowing. To open a mouth, in speech, is to leave only the bones, which remain untold. It is a beautiful country because you are still breathing.

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

Once, Izaya talked to him about falling.

“Even you would die, Shizu-chan,” he said, arms spread. “If you stepped off this roof.”

Stepped off, as if it’d be an afterthought.

“What if I survived?”

Izaya looked over his shoulder then, and his eyes were all wine, and wine was for getting drunk, but Shizuo was sober, sober, sober.

“Then you’d be a monster, of course.”

“I thought—” he started, and his voice caught like he was a kid asked what three times three is in class, about to blurt out six. “I thought I already was one.”

Izaya smiled wider than wide, and Shizuo thought that if the wind blew strong, it’d blow Izaya right off that roof. A more disturbing thought still: how Izaya looked half-ready to step off it himself.

“You’re the real monster, you know that?” Shizuo said then, because there was nothing human about this careless disregard, nothing human about Izaya’s toes over the concrete light years below and his body loose as if he was a slip of paper that’d end up wherever gravity would take it. Nothing human about his eyes, either, not wine after all, but blood.

Now, all these years later, Shizuo thinks that it’s not that Izaya didn’t care, just that he wanted not to have to care. He imagines he must have wanted to be a god of a sort, who, were the wind to force him to take that step off the roof, wouldn’t really fall. For the first time ever, he understands the urge, because for the panoramic view and for the omnipotence – for being able to find Izaya with the snap of his fingers – Shizuo would give himself up in exchange for godhood, too.

He won’t find Izaya anywhere meaningful or familiar this time, he doesn’t think, not with the bloody fingerprints from how Shizuo almost killed him all over those places, not with how Izaya must know to avoid them now.

“He tried singing a lullaby to me once,” Mairu says, tapping her thigh with three fingers like a pianist might. “His voice all— broke right on the first line, and can you imagine Izaya singing? I guess he couldn’t, either. I hate everyone so much, you know? How I hate everyone!”

Yeah, Shizuo knows. He fucking hates everyone, too.

They’re standing on a street corner with no idea where to start, and Shizuo can’t help but imagine Izaya sneaking out of the house without his crutches, all hesitant steps, or maybe he tried to run? He imagines his arms spread and his steps measured, imagines his arms wrapped around his middle and his steps stumbling, imagines him laughing and imagines him crying, imagines him jumping and imagines him falling, imagines him crawling and imagines him skipping, imagines him going left and imagines him going right, imagines him cheating and going up somehow.

Imagines him looking over his shoulder at where his sisters are sleeping, and imagines him unsure if he’ll ever come back again.

“I think that if we find him,” Mairu says, all choked up, “you should tell him something honest.”

“Anything honest I tell him, he’ll think it’s a lie,” Shizuo sighs, but scans the streets anyway, and looks for cigarette butts even though Izaya doesn’t smoke, because he can’t stand the thought that it’s not another game and that Izaya hasn’t left a trail behind.

“Newton was a liar,” Kururi says. “The third law is all a lie because he must have fallen a lot, but the street is not bruised anywhere.”

She looks at a lamppost like she’s considering kicking it, but in the end she stays put, and Shizuo thinks of all that violence bent into uncomfortable shape somewhere inside her, growing resentful and God knows what it will do to her.

Izaya has a smell, but Shizuo, for all the bad he’s done, is not enough of a monster to trace it.

*

“I will kill him, kill him, kill him—”

“Think about it, though,” Shinra said, arms stretched behind his back. “He’s a menace, I’ll give you that, but he’ll never be anything else. It’s quite sad.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Shizuo growled, a lamppost twisted into a ribbon in his hands, and it wasn’t enough, wasn’t Izaya’s neck, hadn’t spilled blood when it cracked.

“Well, you know what I mean,” Shinra said, and oh, those fucking glasses, all glint, all I’ve-read-encyclopedias-so-be-quiet-and-listen. “You and me, we’ll have spouses and jobs and so on. Izaya will only have the ruin of whatever he’ll set fire to.”

Shizuo still felt hungry for death, and the dream of breaking bones was still echoing in his head, but he did think about it for a moment. It was something about the sunset sky, how it was just like Izaya’s eyes, not for the red but for the empty.

“What about his sisters?” he said, remembering that tooth Izaya tossed up onto a roof.

“What do you mean, what about his sisters?” Shinra said, all surprise. “They hate him already, I think.”

Oh-so-empty.

“Anyway! That’s why I always make sure to think of him as a friend, even though he’s nothing like one. Just so he can fill that one normal role for someone, you know?”

Shizuo nodded, and couldn’t decide if it meant that Shinra was a bad or a good friend himself.

“I still want to kill him,” he said slowly.

“That’s alright,” Shinra laughed. “I’m quite sure he likes it that way.”

Oh-so-empty and oh-so-red.

*

“Not here, not here, not there, either,” Mairu says, eyes shielded with the palm of her hand even though there’s no sun.

“Call him,” Shizuo says, and Kururi glances up at him before looking back down at her shoes.

“He won’t—”

“Call him until he picks up, or until we hear the ringtone coming from somewhere.”

Kururi takes her phone out and they all pretend that Ikebukuro is small enough for this.

*

In between the fateful coffee date and the dinner with the twins, Shizuo had tea with Kasuka for the first time in months.

“So, in the end, he is someone to people, not just a menace,” he said, leaning back in his chair and thinking of how simple everything had been before he tried to throw the fridge his brother’s way that first time. “He’s still a brother to them, you know?”

Kasuka just watched him for a moment.

“What about you?”

“What do you mean, what about me?” Shizuo asked, staring at the patterns on the ceiling, his cursed hands in his lap and oh, how he didn’t want them at all.

“What is he to you?”

Izaya, drinking poison, Izaya, keeping his sisters’ teeth, Izaya adding fuel to the fire of Shizuo’s hate, faithful like a fucking Vestal.

An enemy, a victim, someone Shizuo used to know—

A daydream of a sort.

“Your special person?” Kasuka asked then, impassive, and it took Shizuo a while but when he understood, he laughed.

“My special person, huh?” he sighed, and wasn’t that just perfect? “Yes, I suppose you could say that.”

“You should tell him,” Kasuka said, misunderstanding.

“I think he knows, though.”

“You should remind him, then,” Kasuka said, and Shizuo wanted to, he did, but all the special things he could remember were broken and malformed like Izaya’s bones.

“My special person,” he repeated that night and laughed and laughed and laughed himself to sleep.

*

They walk and walk and walk all over, and Mairu and Kururi keep taking turns, dialing Izaya’s number.

“I will tie him with a rope and he will never go anywhere ever again,” Mairu says, and Shizuo adjusts Izaya’s crutches under his arm so that passersby won’t bump into them while shouldering their way past.

It’s been three hours already.

“The moon is so thin,” Kururi says, frowning, and shudders as if she’s cold. “I didn’t know it could be this cold.”

“Hey—” Mairu says suddenly, stopping mid-step. “Can you…? Is it just me or…?”

Oh,” Kururi breathes, and then they look at each other, and they’re off, wide-eyed, clumsy as they run and bump into street signs and look left and right.

“What’s going on!?” Shizuo yells after them, and Mairu makes a strangled sound.

“That melody! It’s his ringtone for us! After all this time… I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!”

Shizuo follows them, and hears it now, an upbeat jingle that would be irritating as a morning alarm, and probably the saddest thing Izaya’s ever heard.

The saddest thing he’s hearing—

And then they turn a corner and there’s Izaya, huddled on the ground next to some dumpster, staring at his phone with eyes wide and empty like the sky again, but it’s the kind of empty that’s full of things. His fingers shake around the case, and Shizuo’s heart can’t take it, he’s never learned how—

“Iza-nii,” Mairu breathes, and Izaya startles so bad that the phone falls out of his hands. “There you are, there you are, there you are.”

When the twins tumble to Izaya’s lap, Shizuo realizes two things: that they will be okay, and that he himself will never be able to touch Izaya like that, not with his spoilt, ruined hands.

That he wants to.

Oh, how he wants to.

Chapter Text

Isn’t that the saddest thing in the world, Ma? A comma forced to be a period?

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

“You shouldn’t smoke so much,” Kasuka tells Shizuo as he’s wont to do sometimes, and Shizuo wonders if the twins tell Izaya similar things.

You shouldn’t love fire quite that much, maybe.

Shizuo doesn’t tell Kasuka that even in the ruin of his scorched lungs, the breaths he takes feel strong enough to be mistaken for some creature that hatched there, or maybe even for Izaya standing there with his arms spread, tempting the inhales to knock him over and down into Shizuo’s heart as if he hasn’t pried it open out of curiosity already anyway.

“You’re too young to worry about me,” Shizuo says, stretching in his chair. He enjoys these weekly meetings – the only thing he has to look forward to, now that Izaya won’t talk to him anymore. “I’m too young for you to be worried about me.”

It’s not true, that, but Shizuo’s as indestructible as it goes – he should know, since he’s been flirting with his own demise for months. He stood on top of a rooftop even, once, and half-wanted to jump, Izaya’s voice in his head but not in his ears, only when he looked at the sidewalk, he knew all he’d achieve would be an indent in the concrete, and he suddenly felt too tired to move either forward or backwards.

“I’m not good at feelings,” Kasuka says, impassive. “But it seems to me that’s what one does when one has someone. Worry, I mean.”

Shizuo doesn’t even laugh, because he doesn’t have Izaya but worries anyway, and he thinks of how he’d kill the whole world for Kasuka, and how, once, it was only Kasuka that he’d do it for.

“How’s your girlfriend, anyway?” he asks, and for the first time in a long while, small talk feels like a blanket.

*

“He’s alright, I think,” Mairu tells Shizuo on the phone. “A bit out of it, but he’s talking to us and all. Talking about everything from fishing to Monopoly strategies, can you imagine? I think he wouldn’t mind seeing you, he’d just pretend to mind—”

*

“Those things you know about Izaya now,” Shinra says, switching the channels with a bored pull to his lips. “I don’t think he knows half of them himself.”

“What do you mean?”

“He took so much care to pretend all the soft wasn’t there, I think he pretended himself into forgetting it, too.”

Shinra’s right, of course, but Shizuo hates him so much in that moment, all prophecies and doctor coat even though there’s no patients, and so he fists the collar of Shinra’s shirt and picks him up off the couch.

“It’s a person you’re talking about,” he says, and Shinra smiles like he’s just cut a frog open and found an organ that shouldn’t be there.

“My, my,” he says slowly, the smile growing wider. “Is it?”

*

Shizuo thinks about it later – Izaya, a person.

Izaya, a monster, but even monsters—

All those teeth, all those bones, all those sharp edges of what he grew into, and Shizuo, aware of them, longing for his soft parts anyway. It makes him think of those shrimps, still with legs, still with eyes, how everyone’s ready to tear the shell off and get their fingers dirty just for that bit of soft meat.

Izaya, a monster, and Shizuo, giving up on fairy tales.

He breaks a glass at night. He doesn’t realize it’s slipped out of his hand until cold milk spills all over his legs.

“What do you want from me?” Shizuo asks, and Izaya doesn’t answer because he’s not there, because he doesn’t want anything.

*

Once, Shizuo’s mother told him, you will be a good husband.

Shizuo laughed.

Him, a good husband? Flying fridges and why paint the picket fence when he’d break it sooner or later, anyway? Still, he imagined some lovely girl who would be patient enough to like him, and thought of it whenever he got too lonely, unless he got so lonely that he’d go chase Izaya all over the city.

Then, he wouldn’t think about it at all.

“I had a dream the other day,” he tells Celty one night, the air sharp like a knife, only so much colder than one. “In it, I was cutting off my hand.”

“You have nothing to feel guilty about,” Celty types on her phone, but Shizuo doesn’t know that it’s guilt. He thinks it might just be grief instead.

He remembers carrying Izaya’s crutches, and imagines Izaya’s own hands curling over Shizuo’s fingerprints, the closest Shizuo will ever get to all that soft of his.

*

They meet in the end, and it’s Izaya calling him into some blind alley, and Shizuo following that lilting voice of his, because isn’t it how it always goes?

That flick of Izaya’s wrist, and how the bones regrew all wrong but still yield to it, as if they know better than to take that away from him.

Daylight everywhere, but Izaya all in shadow, and it’s the only cold Shizuo enjoys, this murder of the sun.

“How have you been, Shizu-chan?” Izaya sing-songs, and Shizuo tries to memorize it for later, sound after sound, that breath of his because he’s breathing, he’s breathing.

“I thought you didn’t want to see me,” Shizuo says, uncertain, and Izaya laughs like an emperor dropping a lighted match, like he’s always laughed, like Shizuo doesn’t hate him laughing anymore.

“I’m too smart to not understand you,” Izaya says, shrugging, “and yet I don’t.”

“What are you—”

“You had me out of Ikebukuro at last,” Izaya explains with a pained sigh. “Why make me come back?”

And Shizuo remembers that phone call yet again, him, Mairu and Kururi spread around the mobile on the ground like a mangled star with missing arms.

“It wasn’t about me,” he lies.

It was all about him.

Selfish, selfish, oh so selfish.

“I won’t kick you out of here,” Shizuo says. “I won’t touch you. I won’t talk to you. You’re safe.”

Izaya laughs at that, like a too little too late, and Shizuo wants to argue, wants to tell him, but just look at you, just look at how you’ve grown around the ruin of yourself, only he doesn’t think Izaya would listen.

“To be safe, I’d have to leave again,” Izaya says, quiet now, like the show is over.

“But you won’t,” Shizuo says, and when Izaya raises his eyebrows at that, Shizuo crosses the short distance between them, and, ignoring Izaya’s yelp, slips his hand into Izaya’s pocket without touching him at all. “I thought so.”

Inside the pocket, his fingers curl around two small teeth.

“You—” Izaya starts, but doesn’t finish, suddenly at a loss for words, and Shizuo almost laughs at how different and yet similar they are, at how he proudly wears the clothes his brother gave him for all the city to see and at how Izaya hides his sisters’ teeth as if in shame, but always has them on him, close. At how Shizuo would kill everyone who’d try and lay a finger on Kasuka, and at how Izaya wouldn’t let anyone try and lay a finger on his sisters in the first place.

How they could be that for each other, too, in some other world—

And then Izaya finds his words, and the world as Shizuo knows it ends anyway.

“You know, just because I thought hate was the only thing I could get from you, it doesn’t mean it was the only thing I would have from you.”

That sharp smile, and Shizuo almost breaks all his promises and kisses it. He restrains himself somehow, but, in the end, Izaya breaks all those promises for him, fisting Shizuo’s shirt with his clever, clever fingers, and Shizuo’s supposed to be strong, but he’s so, so very weak.

“I would have anything,” Izaya whispers, and Shizuo falls where Izaya’s fingers take him the way people fall to Hell. Suddenly, it’s all warm breath on his neck and cold lips on his jaw, and fingertips scaling his ribs, and hair tickling his cheek, and his leg between Izaya’s legs, and all that skin and all those bones that have been keeping Shizuo upright and together all his life go to sleep so that he can melt into it, and oh, how he melts.

“Izaya—” he tries, only it’s like he has a cold, and it’s nothing but a half-sound. “Wait—”

But Izaya doesn’t wait, and says something against the skin of Shizuo’s neck, and it feels too good for Shizuo to try and recognize the shape of the words. All the hard things in life, all the sharp edges, all the weight, all of it running like water—

Only Izaya, between all those touches, still like a coiled spring, the one thing that’s not melting, and Shizuo realizes it in a blink, how it’s all a crime.

He stumbles away, putting all the strength he has left into those three steps, and there’s a vicious kiss bit into the corner of his lip that he doesn’t remember getting, a peeled-off bit of skin and a drop of blood that’s all iron.

“I’m sorry,” he chokes out, because he should have remembered how desperately Izaya can beg for things that will destroy him. “I’m sorry, I’m s-sorry, I’m so sorry.”

Izaya stares at him, wide-eyed, disappointed, scared, confused, wound-tight, pleading, and Shizuo doesn’t know what it means, but he knows that when they both fall apart, the pieces don’t touch.

That’s how it should stay anyhow – no touch – unless Shizuo fixes what he’s done somehow, only sometimes it’s too late for fixing, even before the break.

When he leaves, he thinks Izaya hates him for it, but it’s alright. He can’t possibly hate him any more than Shizuo hates himself.

Chapter Text

Did you ever feel colored-in when a boy found you with his mouth? What if the body, at its best, is only a longing for body?

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

Once, Shizuo saw a girl offer Izaya a love letter, her body bowed, hair spilling and covering her face, arms outstretched, hands shaking.

How Izaya smiled, the son of a bitch—

But in the end, he took it. He made a paper crane out of it in class later and sent it out the window – as if it could ever fly – but he took it.

*

 “What if I dropped you?”

 “I could drop you.”

“I could. I might.”

Only he couldn’t, and didn’t, not even then. Still, Izaya with his arms spread, telling Shizuo to drop him, patting his pocket, and all those years later Shizuo knows he must have been checking for his sisters’ baby teeth.

Half-convinced Shizuo would drop him, then, and they’re not teenagers anymore, but Shizuo still doesn’t know how to make those eyes – all wine – widen as Izaya realizes that Shizuo will never kill him, is too weak to do so.

He stares at his hateful, hateful hands instead and smokes twice as much as usual, laughing at how love is an ugly little thing indeed.

*

Once, after a fight with a bunch of wackos Shizuo didn’t know and wouldn’t bother remembering, he smelled Izaya only a second before the man appeared, grabbing Shizuo by the wrist, and Shizuo still doesn’t know why he didn’t shrug him off.

“There’s nothing quite as red as blood, is there?” Izaya said, staring at Shizuo’s split knuckles. “Except for when it dries brown, but that’s not blood anymore, that’s just death.”

Years later, Izaya’s bones broken, his eyes would lose some of their red in the streetlights, and Shizuo would think, no, not yet, not like this.

“Does it not hurt, monster?” Izaya said, then, even though the wound was pulsing, and when he almost put his mouth to it, a hair’s width space between Shizuo’s blood and his lips, it felt like someone heard the sound the flesh there must have made.

Shizuo punched Izaya then, with that fist, and later he saw Izaya’s lip split, saw him laugh, saw him lick the blood off with no way to tell whose blood it was.

No way to tell anything about it except that it was red.

*

“What the hell have you done to him, Shizuo-san?” the voicemail goes. “He keeps staring at walls— Anyway, he says he’ll get a new apartment, somewhere close. What do you think?”

*

“How do you fix everything?” Shizuo says, and Kasuka stares.

“How do you know that everything needs fixing?”

Shizuo’s too tired to laugh by now.

*

“He is back, isn’t he?” Namie says on the phone, all excited. “Hell, I might send the bastard a fruit basket after all—”

*

“Iza—” Shizuo starts when he sees someone walking like they’re on good terms with gravity only because they feel like it, and it’s a good thing that the word dies in his throat, because the man is not Izaya at all.

The next ten people he mistakes for Izaya aren’t him either.

*

Shizuo throws a streetlamp up, up, as high as it’ll go, hoping it’ll rip a hole in the sky and reveal God to him, so that he can ask him what the fuck he wants in exchange for making it all better.

Mom, he said once, five-years-old, is the sky empty?

The streetlamp crashes into an abandoned building, and he’s never thought about it with such hatred before – that when she said no, she was lying.

*

When Shizuo looks at chairs, he imagines Izaya fitting himself into one, bones weak but body all old grace. When he looks at doors, he imagines Izaya opening them, crutches crossed under his arm. When he looks at walls, he remembers smashing Izaya into them and how he’d laugh every time, how he’d trick Shizuo into thinking that such laughter couldn’t be a sound of pain.

“Pining, are you?” Shinra says, smile wide, and Shizuo stares at him. Pining, as if it’s a romantic comedy and not a story about how people ruin each other that doesn’t even deserve an ending.

*

At night, he keeps remembering that dream he had about cutting his own hand off, and tries not to think of all the knives waiting quietly in his kitchen drawer.

*

He tries not to think about the blind alley – about the two of them out of breath, and how Izaya’s chest kept rising and falling, alive, alive, alive, how he was more human than ever and how Shizuo was getting drunk on it against himself.

He tries not to think about it and fails, his skin crying for what he wouldn’t let it have, hungry after that one taste.

People die from hunger like this, Shizuo realizes, and starves and starves and starves.

*

He looks for the devil sometimes, ready to sell his soul, or what’s left of it, anyway.

“Hello?” he says into darkness, and wonders at how he hasn’t grown out of hoping for a reply just yet.

*

He dreams of Izaya, folding that love letter into a crane and sending it flying even though it would never fly.

He dreams of it and wakes up knowing what to do.

*

“I miss you,” Kururi tells him on the phone, and Shizuo closes his eyes, and doesn’t break the phone in half.

*

“Izaya,” he says up on some empty bridge, and Izaya’s eyes slant his way, lazy, as if he’s been waiting for long.

Maybe he has been.

“I thought that was it, back then?” he says, feigning disinterest, and Shizuo’s heart closes around the words the way people double over after someone kicks them in the stomach.

“I have something for you,” Shizuo says as a train rushes past beneath them. “A gift of a sort.”

“Oh?” Izaya says, eyebrow arching like he doesn’t have time for this, but Shizuo sees interest pull his body taut even as he remains leaning on the railing. “And what might that be?”

Shizuo bows, head tilted down, body bent in half, the tips of his shoes dirty and the leather there worn. When he stretches his arms out, it feels like he’s swimming through self-hatred and like maybe one day he’ll swim out of it.

His shaking hands, when he presents them to Izaya palms-up, are empty.

Shizuo hears a rustle of fabric, an exhale, a step, and he knows Izaya must be facing him now, no longer pretending, but he doesn’t dare look up.

Can’t look up just yet.

“It’s a poor gift,” he half-laughs. “But my hands, they’re all yours.”

All those times he threw things, all those times he grabbed things, all those times he broke things, and Shizuo doesn’t want it anymore.

“So do whatever you wish with them,” he goes on, his throat dry. “Cut them off, smash them to a pulp, have me strangle myself, have me— I promised not to touch you, but it’s not for me to decide anymore.”

Shizuo feels sudden warmth, and finally looks up, still bent in half, and there’s Izaya, closer than he expected, oh-so-close, forearms folded on top of his crutches and chin propped where they cross, eyes wide and no dead brown in them, lips tilted open as if there’s some impatient word perched on the tip of his tongue.

He looks surprised, and defenseless, and— charmed.

Shizuo would kill for him.

“Who would have thought, Shizu-chan?” Izaya says, his breath warm on Shizuo’s face, and gently grabs Shizuo by the wrist. “A love confession, after all these years.”

When he smiles, it’s like a fuck-you to the February cold, and when he brings Shizuo’s knuckles to his mouth and kisses them, Shizuo’s skin pulses more than it ever did split on a cut.

Later, Shizuo will remember that this might not change anything, and he’ll break all his cigarettes in half, and he’ll have a panic attack over it, but for now he’s quite happy with staring at the most wonderful mistake of his life.

Chapter Text

(…) kipuka. The piece of land that’s spared after a lava flow runs down the slope of a hill – an island formed from what survives the smallest apocalypse. Before the lava descended, scorching the moss along the hill, that piece of land was insignificant, just another scrap in an endless mass of green. Only by enduring does it earn its name. Lying on the mat with you, I cannot help but want us to be our own kipuka, our own aftermath, visible.

~Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

Someone whistles on the street, and Shizuo for once doesn’t think it’s color gangs looking for a fight, and whistles back.

*

“Can I meet him?” Kasuka says after a long, half-awkward silence.

“You’ve met him.”

“Properly meet him.”

Shizuo looks out the café’s window where the city sleeps, calm, not quite aware that Izaya has his hands back on it again, and imagines introducing Izaya to his parents, something normal. When he laughs, it’s so loud that someone on the sidewalk outside startles and looks around, lost.

*

“Let me get this straight,” Shizuo says, and there’s a permission softening the sharp space between them, but he doesn’t move to close it just yet. “You’re getting a top floor apartment in a building where there’s no elevator.”

Next to him, Izaya smiles. They’re lying on Shizuo’s mattress, and there’s something odd about it – the strange intimacy of being horizontal with someone and it having no purpose – clothes on, the time midday. Shizuo wouldn’t have been able to imagine it once – Izaya on his back and calm, a reach of a hand away and that reach something he might ask for – but then, he wouldn’t have been able to imagine Izaya many things, once.

“What’s life without a bit of a challenge to it, Shizu-chan?” Izaya says. “And besides, I want a city view.”

Shizuo takes a breath, and Izaya reaches out to put his forearm on Shizuo’s chest – something he does every now and then, asking Shizuo to trace the veins there, tap them with his finger until he finds a pulse. Shizuo realized it after the first three times – that it was all for his benefit, a ‘I’m alive, see?’ of a sort, because it figured Izaya wouldn’t just say it.

I’m alive, see?, and usually it’s enough to have Shizuo breathe evenly.

“All for myself, how wonderful!” Izaya says, excited like a kid over a toy, tugging at Shizuo’s fingers, and even with all the nightmares and all the times Izaya will stare off into space, eyes empty, there’s still a line of small bruises pinched into the skin of Shizuo’s forearm from making sure he’s not in a dream.

*

“I always knew it would happen,” Shinra says, a self-satisfied smile on his face. “From the moment you two first laid eyes on each other.”

“Wasn’t it fists?” Celty types, and Shinra laughs like the uncorking of champagne.

“It was fists later,” he says excitedly. “First, it was all eyes.”

*

The first time Izaya stays at Shizuo’s place overnight, he sleeps under two blankets – after making fun of them and poking his fingers through each and every one of the many holes – and wakes in the middle of the night, tugging on Shizuo’s sleeve.

“Sometimes I hear it pulsing,” he whispers into the quiet between them, and Shizuo aches for a cigarette more than ever.

“What’s pulsing?”

“The bone,” Izaya says. “It didn’t grow back right, and now it – hear, listen.”

Shizuo puts his ear to Izaya’s forearm, and he can’t hear it, but he can imagine it, like the ticking of a clock, like second after second after second and like it will never end.

“Now that your hands are mine,” Izaya says, “what would you do if I asked you to break my bones again?”

And maybe Izaya can imagine the sound Shizuo’s heart makes as it stops, because the wicked grin softens, and he drops it. Shizuo curls up around him, and he doesn’t trust himself, and he doesn’t trust Izaya, and he doesn’t trust fate, but he trusts the lovely sound one of the mattress springs makes when Izaya turns towards him, trusts how, always having slept on the left side, he’s never heard it before.

*

Sometimes, a full day will go by without Shizuo touching Izaya, and Shizuo spends that time staring at the shape of space between them until it stops looking like the lack of something.

*

“Shinra didn’t know a thing,” Izaya assures him, peeling an orange from a fruits basket Namie did end up sending him. “He just likes to pretend he’s omniscient.”

“He’s not the only one who does,” Shizuo says, and catches the strawberry Izaya throws his way before it can hit him on the head.

“Well,” Izaya says, smile widening, widening, and it’s one of those days he’ll let Shizuo kiss it. “I didn’t know you liked me quite so much, for one, and I have no problem admitting it—”

Shizuo laughs and throws the strawberry back, making it miss Izaya on purpose.

*

“It’s not like my old apartment,” Izaya tells him one night, his skin cold but sheets kicked aside as if he can’t bear anything – even fabric – touching him, and Shizuo knows now that there are days like that. “It’s smaller, and a bit less modern. It has a fireplace, even.”

He giggles, half-sweet, half-crazy.

“I bet the window’s still huge, though,” Shizuo says, and Izaya laughs like Shizuo’s never hear him laugh before – like all is almost good and like he has butter inside his bones.

“I’m getting the twins a key,” he says softly, so quiet that the night almost swallows it. “I’ll make you a copy, too.”

*

“What if I dropped you?”

 “I could drop you.”

“I could. I might.”

He doesn’t.

He won’t.

He wakes up, and Izaya kisses the nightmare off his eyelids.

“Imagine what a sight it would be if you had dropped me, though,” he says, conversational. “All that red.”

“I already imagined it,” Shizuo whispers. “Even back then, I didn’t like it at all.”

*

“Apparently Kururi told you about when she hit her forehead when we were small and it bled?” Mairu says on the phone. “And how, later, Iza-nii taped pillow stuffing to all the sharp corners in the house?”

“Yes,” Shizuo breathes, and breathing’s been a bit harder ever since he stopped smoking, but it feels good, like even by doing nothing he’s making an effort.

“You know what pisses me off?” Mairu says, and sounds all too happy about it. “How he spent all those years preventing us from getting hurt, and who almost died in the end? What an idiot, I swear— You know, I stopped waiting for him to leave, so don’t let him do it, because if he does now, I think I won’t ever be okay.”

“I won’t let him,” Shizuo lies. He won’t let himself, he thinks, and that sounds more like the truth.

“Anyway, Kururi has an idea—"

*

Shizuo makes coffee, makes breakfast, helps Izaya get up and doesn’t help him whenever it seems like it would break Izaya to pieces, he gets it right, he gets it wrong, and he collects Izaya’s smiles like stamps.

Only imperfect things are real, someone told him once, and he smiles fondly at the hollow spaces inside them where it’s scary and dark and quiet.

*

“I can’t believe there’s no elevator—”

“Yes, yes, you said.”

Shizuo helps Izaya up the stairs, up to the tenth floor, and it takes ages, but they have time.

“Are you okay?” he asks, and Izaya breathes a laugh. None of them mention how he’ll have to do this every day, alone.

“I’m better.”

By the time Izaya opens the door to his new apartment, Shizuo’s already smiling.

“I thought I had more boxes,” Izaya says, struggling over the doorstep on shaky legs. “Oh, and— Hey, what’s that?”

Shizuo steps forward, too, because he doesn’t want to miss it when Izaya realizes and it spills all over his face, how inside the apartment, there’s pillow stuffing taped to every sharp corner in sight.

“Oh,” Izaya breathes, and then laughs, and it’s so much different than when he used to laugh over games and fire.

“You did give them the key,” Shizuo says, and when Izaya’s phone rings, they both jump.

“What timing,” Izaya says, mock-impressed, and the ringtone is the same like that day they went looking for him.

“How about you just pick up?” Shizuo says, and Izaya, hands shaking, takes a cellphone out of his pocket.

“You know, I think I will,” he says, voice breaking, and then he does.