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Unintended

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Shizuo had never paid much attention to Orihara Izaya. That is if you don’t (and Shizuo didn’t) count the countless times he chased the other boy around school, yelling about how he was going to kill him. Which was all that connected him to Izaya: mutual disdain. They never talked, never interacted in a way that didn't involve a thrown insult on Izaya’s part and a thrown object as Shizuo’s response. Other than that, they were complete strangers. Shizuo never even thought about Izaya having a life outside of school, never considered Izaya’s existence to extend beyond his mockery and their daily fights. To him, Izaya was a necessary nuisance he couldn’t avoid, much like maths and biology lessons.

The others around school whispered behind their backs, calling them rivals or even enemies, but Shizuo wasn’t sure if Izaya held enough importance in his life to become something as significant to him as an enemy. If Izaya didn’t remind him of his existence on a daily basis, Shizuo doubted he would even acknowledge the other at all. Izaya laughed too much and cared too little, in fact Shizuo had never encountered someone as one-dimensional as Izaya. Shinra once said that, if Izaya had as many friends as he had constructed personalities, he would be the most popular kid at school. Shizuo begged to differ. The only personality Izaya had was the annoying one, which was probably why the total of his friends amounted to zero (because Shizuo didn’t count Shinra’s scientific interest in Izaya’s personality as friendship).

Shizuo still remembered the day Izaya leaned against the wall when he left the classroom, giving him a taxing look which would normally irritate Shizuo to the point of throwing a chair at the other, or at least a book. But on that day Shizuo felt strangely calm, having spent the lesson staring outside the window and counting the seconds until he could enjoy the warm sun and fresh air on the school's rooftop. So when Izaya gave him that look and said “Today Shizu-chan looked like he forgot his brain at home. Did you pay attention to the teacher at all?” Shizuo just shrugged and sighed “Stop bothering me, Izaya. You’re annoying.”

When walking past him Shizuo briefly caught Izaya’s expression slipping, something akin to hurt flashing in the other’s eyes. But then Shizuo was already past him and on his way to the rooftop and about a minute later Izaya had completely vanished from his thoughts. He didn’t see the other for the rest of the (blissfully quiet) day.

Unfortunately, peace like that never lasted for too long, and the next day Izaya was back to his normal self, irritating Shizuo with well-placed taunts and too-fast legs.

But yes, other than that they had simply nothing to do with each other. Once Shinra had told him, “If you paid as much attention to Izaya as he does to you, the two of you would be best friends by now.” Shizuo had scoffed at that.

“I already pay way too much attention to the pest than I should.”

Shinra had given him an incredulous look, muttering “That’s not what I mean.”

But Shinra was strange and Shizuo had long since stopped trying to understand him, so he didn’t ask what it was he meant. He just shrugged and turned back towards his lunch. The conversation made him pause for a moment. He’d never seen Izaya eat lunch. Then again Shizuo wasn’t sure if the other ate at all, given how scrawny he was.

 

About a week later, again during lunchtime, Shizuo found himself rushing from the rooftop where he left Shinra and Kadota, back to the classroom where he had left his bento.  He barged into the room and skidded to a halt only moments later. On the chair in the very back sat Izaya, staring out the window as if he was lost in thought, only that Izaya was never lost, his thoughts were well mapped and Izaya’s sense of direction was impeccable. When he heard someone enter the room his head whipped around.

Izaya’s composure was quicker to recover than Shizuo’s brain had time to process, so he wasn’t sure if the unguarded look on Izaya’s face was something he just imagined.

“Izaya…kun. What are you doing here?” he asked dumbly.

Izaya’s face adopted the usual look of someone who had a conversation with a very stubborn 5-year-old.

“I’m contemplating the meaning of existence while waiting for the next lesson to start. What do you think?”

Shizuo narrowed his eyes at the other and chose to not grace the remark with an answer (partly because he wasn’t sure how to reply). Instead he stomped over to his desk and grabbed his bento box from his bag. And then, because his curiosity demanded to be fed, too, he asked,

“Why aren’t you eating lunch?”

For a split second, which was a spit second longer than usual, Izaya did not reply. Then,

“Well, not everyone has the infinite amount of time on their hands you seem to possess, Shizu-chan. I happen to be a very busy person, I can’t prepare some fancy lunch-box for myself every morning.”

Shizuo felt his frown intensifying with the irritation Izaya handed out like candy.

“Doesn’t your mom make something for you?” he asked, because he had no self-control.

And there it was again, that brief moment where Izaya seemed to lose control over his facial expression. The corners of his mouth fell ever so slightly, and his left eyebrow twitched. Then he stood from his chair and spread out his arms as if he wanted to turn the evidence of human emotion into a performance.

“Please, Shizu-chan, why would I bother my dear, hard-working mother with something as trivial as making lunch for me. I can buy something myself, you know?”

“Isn’t that just something mothers like to do for their children?” Shizuo asked while a proud voice, which sounded suspiciously like Shinra, said: “Look at you having a proper conversation with Izaya!” in the back of his head.

This time Shizuo could clearly see emotion pass over Izaya’s face, and he realised that this was the first time Izaya regarded him with pure, unadulterated hatred.

“Why do you worry about my well-being all of a sudden? What’s it to you, Shizu-chan?” he said with enough poison in his voice that Shizuo could almost taste the bitterness on his tongue. There was something about Izaya’s posture that threw Shizuo off. The other stood there with his shoulders hunched forward and his hands curled into fists at his side, and then Shizuo realised. It was like looking into a mirror and seeing his own ever-present anger reflected back at him, only now in a much thinner form with black hair and crimson eyes.

Shizuo found himself unable to say anything, even though he felt like there were hundreds of questions rushing through his head at once. So he did the only thing that came to mind: he turned around and walked out of the room. He thought he heard Izaya scoff behind him, but he didn’t dare to turn around.

Later, when he was sitting together with Shinra and Kadota on the roof, he wondered why he didn’t throw anything at Izaya. Maybe it was because somewhere under all that hatred in the others face, Shizuo had seen genuine hurt.

 

---

 

Izaya glared at Shizuo’s retreating back. The brute’s comment had hit Izaya in a way his fists were never able to. Izaya’s mind wandered involuntarily to his empty home that always looked like it had just been moved into. Mairu and Kururi had probably returned from elementary school by now, sitting in their room and playing with their toys.

“Isn’t that just something mothers like to do for their children?”

Strangely enough it had been Kururi who had asked first. It was around the twin’s 5th birthday and they were sitting around the table, playing a game Izaya invented, and Kururi stared at the Shogi tile in her small hands.

“Mom and dad?” she asked.

Izaya was staggered for a moment, a slight sting of hurt in his chest.

“Ah,” he said. “They called this morning while you were still asleep. Unfortunately, they can’t make it, but they said Happy Birthday!”

“Liar,” Kururi smiled and squeezed Izaya’s hand on the table.

It was not like Izaya needed his parents. There wasn’t much of a difference if they were around or not. It was just that sometimes it would be nice to be able to talk to someone who listened.

Chapter Text

Some weeks had passed since Shizuo’s first real conversation with Orihara Izaya. It didn’t happen again. Instead, they had gone back to their usual routine: Izaya hitting Shizuo with words, Shizuo trying (and failing) to hit Izaya with things. Shizuo had almost forgotten about the incident in the classroom. He hadn’t told Shinra, so there was no one to pester him about it every other day. In fact, Izaya had returned to being something in the back of Shizuo’s head, maybe a fly he couldn’t catch, or better even, a flea he didn’t manage to squish. Even though they kept running through corridors and destroying school property, Shizuo couldn’t bring himself to waste more energy than he had to on Izaya. Especially now that winter was approaching with quick strides, bringing with it icy winds and covering the town in a layer of frost.

It was early in the morning, the sun just starting to rise on the horizon, tinting the world in soft colours and giving off an illusion of warmth Shizuo easily fell for. 

"Did you remember your scarf?" his mother called after him just as Shizuo was about to leave the house.

"Of course!" he yelled back, quickly grabbing it from the coatrack next to the door.

He had almost shut the door, his gloves not quite able to protect his fingers from the frost on the handle, when his mother came running from the kitchen, waving an envelope in her hand.

"Could you drop this off at the post office for me? It’s your aunt’s birthday in two days and I want this to reach her in time.”

Shizuo’s thoughts must have been written clearly on his face because his mother laughed and ruffled his hair. 

“I know it's a bit of a detour, but I forgot yesterday and,” she pretended an exaggerated shiver. “you wouldn’t want to send your poor mother out into the cold today, would you?”

Now it was Shizuo’s turn to laugh. “Sure, sure, I’ll do it! Just hand it over.” He took the letter carefully to not crumple it.

"Thank you, dear," his mother said, half hugging him, half pushing him out the door. "Hurry now, you don't want to be late to school!"

He did want to be late, Shizuo thought, especially since the first lesson today was history, but he caught the words before they left his mouth and just stepped into the winter-cold morning.

 

He fell into a jog as he made his way to the post office. The route was quite scenic, leading him through a small park that was coloured all white, where even the dark trees seemed to have been painted with frost. The morning was calm and the cold eased Shizuo’s temper to the point where he felt almost peaceful. He had always liked winter, the way it softened the world’s edges with snow and emptied the freezing streets of humans who preferred the warmth of their homes. He always destroyed less in winter.

Shizuo left the park and made it past the elementary school. Well, almost made it past. Shizuo was not a particularly attentive person. It was easy for him to zone out and his mother always said his head spent more times in the clouds than it did on his neck. But there were certain things that managed to catch Shizuo’s attention like no other. One those things was a certain sound that seemed to exist specifically to irritate him. It always set off warning bells in his head, making him want to grab the nearest throwable object. But that sound was confined to the school grounds, so when it reached Shizuo’s ears on this calm morning far away from school, it caught him off-guard. It was a laugh as sharp as the edge of a knife and twice as dangerous.

He turned, a growl ready at the back of his throat and his hands preparing to curl into firsts, but what he saw made him stop dead in his tracks.

There was Izaya alright, stranding in front of the elementary school and letting out that obnoxious laugh of his. But he wasn't alone. At his side were two little girls, clinging to his legs.

"We don't want to go, Iza-nii! School is so boring!" One of them whined.

"Boring." The other confirmed.

Shizuo felt his mouth hang open, unable to close it. Iza-nii?

The niisan in question patted the girls' heads.

"Come on now, every day it's the same with you two. We all know you'll go anyway in the end, so how about we cut this short today?"

"We want to go with you! Why do we have to stay here?" One of the girls said, the grin on her face that not unlike that of her brother.

"Because," Izaya knelt down in front of her and fixed her braid with nimble fingers. " I say so. And now off with you"

The girls giggled and finally moved towards the school.

"And eat your lunch today!" Izaya called after them. "I'm not getting up early and prepare a bento just so you can bring all of the food back home!"

The girls waved in response and Izaya was about to turn around and Shizuo knew it was too late for him to pretend he didn't hear any of that. And of course, as soon as Izaya turned his gaze landed immediately on Shizuo. Apparently Izaya was just as shocked seeing Shizuo in an environment that wasn’t a classroom or a hallway as Shizuo was. The other’s eyes widened, and his mouth opened slightly, giving him the look of someone who was caught committing a terrible crime. And maybe for Izaya, showing human emotions or worse, affection, was just as bad. At the least he had just murdered the image Shizuo had carefully constructed of Izaya in his head.

"Shizuo...chan," he said, failing to pitch his voice to its usual annoying tone. "Did you forget the way to school?"

By the time he finished talking he had almost recovered completely and Shizuo had to hand it to him, acting was really Izaya’s specialty. A smile spread over the other boy’s face, almost a perfect copy of his usual wide grin, but not quite reaching the level of mania.

"Aren't you cold?" Shizuo asked instead of answering, pointing in the general direction of Izaya's bare hands and throat.

Whatever composure Izaya had managed to gather up starter slipping away again, his face showing traces of the irritation that usually belonged to Shizuo. So instead of irritation Shizuo opted for deep and utter confusion today, bis brain trying to grasp the fact that he just witnessed Izaya acting like a caring brother. A large part of him wanted to believe that this was just another scheme, that the two girls had been hired by Izaya only to annoy Shizuo. Another part of him (the one that often spoke in Shinra’s voice) said Izaya has sister, so what? That's nothing special.

What was special, however, was that Izaya seemed to be at a loss for words. He just stared and unconsciously reached for his bare throat, as if his hands could conjure up a scarf. This was a very rare opportunity where Shizuo had the chance to utter more than just Izaya’s name and a growl, and Shizuo decided not to let it go to waste.

"Didn't you say you don't have time to make lunch?"

There he was, endless possible insults at his disposal, and he asked Izaya to clarify his morning routine. Izaya stared at him for what felt like Minutes, then he took a deep breath as if he could inhale coherency together with the frigid air around him.

"I'm so honoured that Shizu-chan is still determined to make sure I stay nourished, but I fail to see what gives you the idea that it somehow concerns you."

Shizuo decided not to play along and before he could ask other stupid things (like maybe Hey Izaya, do you get enough sleep? or Hey Izaya, do you ever realise how lonely you are?) he just shrugged.

"Well, whatever." He finally was collected enough to make his way towards the post office, but Izaya was having none of it. Shizuo heard him take some steps and oh, how the tables have turned now that Izaya was following after Shizuo.

"I mean," the other started with a faint trace of desperation in his voice that Shizuo wouldn't have noticed, weren't he so used to the complete lack of it in Izaya’s usual tone. "I mean, some of us have strong familiar bonds, Shizu-chan. We can't all be uncaring loners with no one to like them."

And that was such a strange thing for Izaya to say, so completely out of context, that Shizuo couldn’t help but turn and glare.

"You're the loner here, Izaya." He growled. "Family doesn’t even count, of course they like you, they’re family after all. That's nothing special about that. But I haven’t seen you around anyone who’d consider you a friend. You know why? Cause nobody does."

And there it was, Shizuo had said it after all, Hey Izaya, do you ever realise how lonely you are?

Izaya visibly flinched and Shizuo knew his words were cruel, but it was cold, and he needed to deliver the letter, and he was going to be late, and Izaya irritated him to no end. So he thought he was allowed a bit of cruelty. And hitting Izaya with words turned out to be so much easier than hitting him with object, Shizuo almost understood why they were Izaya’s weapon of choice. A second later he was shocked that he compared himself to Izaya.

"Iza-nii...?" Came a small voice from behind Izaya. The one with the braid stared at Shizuo with big eyes and all of a sudden he hated himself even more than usual. Izaya tore his glare away from Shizuo and turned to his sister.

"What is it Mairu?" He asked, his voice devoid of any traceable hurt.

"I forgot my umbrella. Can I have yours, just in case?"

Izaya looked at the clear sky overhead, nodded, and dug an umbrella out of his bag.

Shizuo took the opportunity to flee to the post office.

---

Izaya sighed. As the bell announced the end of school, Izaya had almost managed to store the memories of this morning away in a box at the far back of his brain. But before he managed to lock it and throw away the key he took a glance outside. Snowflakes tumbled from the sky and there was already a layer of white on the streets. Looked like Mairu’s request for his umbrella this morning wasn’t quite as thoughtless as he considered it to be. He half wished he wouldn't have granted it, but he knew how susceptible she and Kururi were to the cold. And he wasn't too keen on listening to them complain about getting sick because of him all evening. So slowly packed his bag, taking more time than necessary to put away his books. He couldn’t do anything against the unwanted thoughts that automatically came with the memories of the morning. Out of all people to see him with his sisters, it had to be Shizu-chan. Out of all people to make an off-hand comment that actually managed to sting a bit, it had to be Shizu-chan. It always had to be him. As he walked down the corridor, Shizuo’s words echoed in his ears.

Of course they like you, they’re family after all. That's nothing special about that.

You know why? Cause nobody does.

Izaya scoffed. Why would he need a couple of friends to like him if he had all of humanity to love? Why would he need his parents to care about him if he had his sisters to care for?

He shook his head as if the motion could derail that train of thought. When he reached his locker, he paused. There was an umbrella laying on the floor before it, seemingly forgotten by some unfortunate student. Izaya looked around, but he was alone, everyone else had already left (probably home to warm houses and welcoming families, and Izaya groaned at the thoughts that just wouldn’t stop bothering him). So he grabbed the umbrella and stepped out into the cold winter air, regretting that he didn’t take his scarf this morning. He’d put it on the coatrack the evening before and still managed to forget it. Probably because Mairu had been rushing him, the little devil.

On his way home Izaya fell into a run, remembering that he had to prepare dinner for his sisters. When he reached the front door, he closed the umbrella and shook the snow off of it. It was only then that he noticed the word Heiwajima written on the handle.

Chapter Text

On Christmas day Shizuo woke early to bright sunlight filtering through the blinds of his room and painting stripes of yellow onto his wall. Shizuo listened to the muffled sounds of clanking pots that came from downstairs as his mother was probably preparing breakfast. He kept lying down, staring at the ceiling, too comfortable to move. Today would be a busy day. People who called Christmas the time of tranquillity had obviously never experienced the holiday to its full extent. Maybe if Shizuo were to spend the whole day with his family it would be more relaxing. But since this year Shinra insisted Shizuo and Kadota visit him and Celty (probably because Shinra wanted to show her off, as if anyone would need a reason to like Celty beside her being genuinely great), Shizuo prepared for a very loud and kind of obnoxious Christmas.

He could hear his mother calling him to breakfast from downstairs and threw an arm over his face. He couldn’t bring himself to leave the warmth of his covers in exchange for the freezing cold that had undoubtedly been building up in his room overnight. Calm and content, still a bit drowsy with sleep, Shizuo’s thoughts drifted into unwanted directions. He had been so busy in the past days that he barely noticed the absence of one of the most reliable constants in his life. Sometimes, when he jogged through the school corridors, he heard a laugh and then he turned in anticipation of a knife-edged grin and cruel words. But nothing was there. The recent lack of Izaya in his life had been like an early Christmas gift, but sometimes Shizuo missed having an outlet for his anger. It had been about a week since he left his umbrella in front of Izaya’s locker and he still had trouble justifying the action to himself. Determined to ignore the Shinra-sounding voice in his head, which insisted it was because of his bad conscience (which he had no reason to have in the first place!), he resorted to more acceptable explanations. It must have been because he felt sorry for Izaya’s sisters – they probably would have blamed themselves if Izaya had come home all drenched. “What a lousy reasoning,” the Shinra in his head said. Luckily Shizuo’s thoughts were interrupted by a faint knock on his door, shortly after which it swung open, revealing Kasuka in his pyjamas.

“Breakfast, niisan” he said. “Come downstairs.”

Shizuo groaned and rolled himself out of bed. The cold air that assaulted him as soon as he threw the covers back made him shiver and he hurriedly got dressed to go downstairs where the heater would have created a more bearable atmosphere.  

The kitchen was pleasantly warm and filled with the smell of fried eggs. Shizuo took his seat at the table next to Kasuka, who was eating his breakfast with as much enthusiasm as always (which was none at all. His mother smiled at him affectionately).
Shizuo filled his glass with milk and listened to his parents talk about their extensive plans for the holidays. Apparently various other members of their family would come to visit during the next days, making it sound more stressful than festive. Briefly he wondered if Izaya was going to spend Christmas with his family as well. If he too was sitting in the kitchen with his sisters and his parents right now, having breakfast and pleasant conversation. Shizuo tried to ignore the small voice in his head which whispered to him that Izaya was doing none of those things. Shizuo hated how sure of itself the voice sounded.

"Are you looking forward to visiting Kishitani-kun this afternoon?"

It took him a while before Shizuo realised he was being addressed directly.

"Uhh, yeah, sure," he said distractedly, trying to get the image of Izaya sitting alone in a dark room out of his head.

His mother gave him a smile so warm that it managed to lighten up Shizuo’s thoughts.

"Make sure to pick up some snacks from the store before you go. You wouldn’t want to arrive empty-handed," his father reminded him. Shizuo nodded.

"I'm so happy that you're spending Christmas with your friends,” his mother said, her smile turning slightly melancholic.  “But we're going to miss having you with us."

Shizuo’s chest tightened.

"I'm gonna miss you, too," he murmured.

 

A few hours later Shizuo stepped out into the snow-covered front yard. He felt a slight pang of guilt at leaving his family behind on a holiday they’d always spent together until now. He closed the door, not able to shake the strange feeling that overcame him, almost as if the closing door opened a new passage of his life. He wrapped his scarf around his neck and made his way towards the convenience store. The sun was slowly vanishing behind the high buildings of Ikebukuro, colouring the snow in warm orange hues that made it look almost like lava. He didn’t encounter anyone on his way, but when he peered into the frosted-over windows he could see families sitting at tables for a meal or just for the sake of being together. Shizuo pushed his hands deeper into his pockets as if that could keep the cold air away from them.

Of course he looked forward to spending the evening with his friends. He did. They were important to him, and Christmas was the time people spent with the ones important to them, wasn’t it? But Shizuo just couldn’t shake away the memories that came up every time he thought of the words friends or family. Memories of crimson eyes, usually so uncaring and cruel, suddenly widening with hurt. Memories of his own words that were the cause of this hurt.

Maybe this was Shizuo’s punishment. Maybe he deserved the same kind of suffering he had inflicted on Izaya, the kind lurks in the back of your head, never quite going away, always ready to come rushing back. It seeped into his everyday life, made it harder to fully enjoy things. The knowledge that he inflicted pain on someone he always thought to be invulnerable had changed something in his views. And now it made him wonder if Izaya was all alone on Christmas while Shizuo spent it with all the people who cared about him as much as he cared about them.

Suddenly a cold gust of wind hit his face, making Shizuo stagger. Without realising, he had already walked past the store and now had to retrace his steps. The store was empty save for a young woman who was paying for a bottle of sake and a guy pushing a full cart in front of him. Shizuo muttered a greeting to the cashier behind the counter, briefly wondering if he, too, was alone on Christmas, if he rather spent his day in the company of a few customers than in the loneliness of his home.

Trying to focus on the happiness he was supposed to feel about visiting Shrina and Celty, Shizuo made his way over to the snack isle. The guy with the shopping cart seemed to have made a similar decision, almost bumping into Shizuo as he walked past. The other didn’t even stop, only muttering a “Sorry”, but Shizuo had already recognised the black hair and the skinny form that was clad in thin clothes entirely unfit for winter.

"I...Izaya?" Shizuo heard his own voice crack, as if it wasn’t used to uttering the name in any other form than an angry growl.

Izaya’s head snapped around and he was staring at him with the same incredulous expression Shizuo was sure was mirrored on his own face. But as usual, Izaya caught himself in a matter of seconds - he hadn’t even turned around completely and he was already offering Shizuo a wide grin. But Shizuo’s eyes were drawn to the movement to the other’s hands around the handle of the shopping cart, the knuckles turning white with tension.

"Shizu-chan, how unexpected to meet you in such an ordinary environment. Don't you have a family to be with?" The venom that coated Izaya’s voice on the last remark was unmistakable and Shizuo almost flinched at the sound.

"I have, actually," Shizuo muttered instead, as if the quiet of his voice made the words less uncomfortable. Izaya's smile didn't waver.

"Oh, so you were tasked with doing some Christmas shopping, yeah? How...domestic."

Shizuo didn't even bother answering, he just looked at Izaya’s loaded cart and pulled up an eyebrow. Izaya's smile didn't waver.

"Ah, you got me there, Shizu-chan... I'm afraid I have to do the cooking this year."

An image flashed through Shizuo’s mind before he could stop it; Izaya in an apron in front of a stove, preparing food for a faceless family that was gathered around a table. He didn’t know if he found it funny or deeply disturbing.

And then he said, because apparently he doesn't learn and he really didn't mean bad, he swears:

"Don't your parents have time to do that?"

Izaya's smile wavered, if only for a second.

"Well, maybe they just enjoy my cooking that much." He said, grin firmly in place and the words so obviously a lie that they were almost painful to Shizuo’s ears.

"Anyway, I have to head home. And just a helpful hint, Shizu-chan, maybe you should get out of the snack isle and buy some proper food, if your parents expect you to get groceries." Izaya was about to push his cart past Shizuo, but Shizuo couldn't stop the words that came rushing out of his mouth because of the opportunity to correct Izaya.

"Actually, I'm headed over to Shinra's, just getting some stuff to bring with me.”

Izaya's smile didn't just waver, it slipped all the way down into a frown, Shizuo could see it even though the other had almost moved past him.

"I see." Izaya said, his voice adopting a weird tone that didn’t indicate any emotion.

Something came to Shizuo's mind then, and why hadn’t he thought about it before?

"Aren't you...friends with him, too? Didn't he invite you?" Maybe Shizuo’s conscience would finally be at rest if Izaya came to Shinra’s as well. It wasn’t like Shizuo cared about Izaya being there, he was sure he could ignore him as long as Izaya didn’t act too annoying.

But when Izaya turned towards him again the shape of the smile he had forced his face around was so fake that Shizuo quickly averted his eyes.

"Even if he did, I really don't have time. I wouldn't want my sisters to be all alone and hungry on Christmas."

Maybe he had realised that his own words had betrayed him, because Izaya’s eyebrows twitched and the corners of his mouth turned downwards ever so slightly. "Anyway, so nice talking to you, Shizu-chan, but I have better things to do than chatting with you."

Shizuo nodded dumbly, watching as Izaya pushed his cart towards the till. He didn't leave the snack isle until he heard Izaya exiting the store and making his way home to cook Christmas dinner for his sisters.  

 

When Shinra opened the door, Shizuo absentmindedly pushed a box of chocolate into his hands.

"Great, thanks!" Shinra grinned, stepping aside to let Shizuo in. Kadota was already sitting at the table, a boy Shizuo didn't know next to him.

"That's Kadota's friend, Togusa." Shinra said and the boy gave Shizuo a nod and a wave. Shizuo returned a frown and turned to Shinra.

"Aren't you friends with Izaya as well? Didn't you want to invite him? " He demanded, noticing the accusation his voice carried.

But Shinra just grinned, as if he hadn’t noticed the urgency in Shizuo’s words, as if he didn’t question Shizuo’s sudden interest in Izaya’s absence.

"Of course I wanted to invite Izaya! But had I already asked you, and I know how the two of you don't get along, so I didn’t even bother with asking him.”

Shizuo wanted to grab the lapels of the stupid lab-coat Shinra was wearing and shake him until he took his words back. He didn’t want the blame Shinra so easily pushed on him, didn’t want to be the reason Izaya was lonely again.

 

---

 

Izaya closed the door behind him, letting the bags full of groceries drop to the floor and leaned his back against the door. The sigh escaped his mouth before he managed to swallow it.

Why?

Why did it have to be Shizuo? Out of all the many lovely, insignificant humans out there, why did it have to be the one monster that was always able to find him? The monster that had everything Izaya was denied. Some nights, when sleep yet again refused to grant him the peace of unconsciousness, Izaya sat in his room and the quiet around him felt so suffocating that he thought he must be the only person left on earth. Then he wondered what it would be like to be a part of the world he lived in. Izaya had long since made peace with the fact that he was an observer rather than a participator. That human relationships were something he enjoyed looking at from the outside, but didn't get to experience himself.

You’re the loner here.

Shizuo was undoubtedly sitting in a cramped room by now, next to a doting Shinra and a blushing Celty, eating Hot Pot and enjoying Christmas. Izaya wanted to scoff disdainfully, but the sound came out more melancholic than dismissive, and he involuntarily clasped one hand over his mouth as if that could take the sound back. He frowned into the dark corridor in front of him, focussing on the thin ray of light that came from under the kitchen door, and forced his feet to move. By the time he opened the kitchen door he had managed to pull his lips into a smile he hoped looked natural. Mairu and Kururi were sitting at the kitchen table in front of a game board that had Shogi pieces, chess figures, and Go stones on it. Izaya felt the strain leave the smile on his face.

“Iza-nii!” Mairu chirped, jumping up and scattering parts of the game all over the floor. “You’re late!”

“Late.” Kururi agreed. “But here.”

“Of course I’m here, where else would I be?” Izaya said, refusing to let any of today’s disappointments accompany his words. “Now get out of my way you devils, I need to make dinner.”

The two of them giggled and ran off towards the living room, where Izaya could soon hear voices coming out of the TV. If he focussed on the bubbling of the pot before him rather than on the content of the dialogue, he could almost pretend that there were guests in the living room.

Later, after they had eaten (on the couch, Just for once, because today is Christmas, Izaya had reminded his sisters), Mairu and Kururi fell asleep next to Izaya, one on each side. Izaya’s smile, which had stayed on the entire night, slowly melted off his face. The noises from the TV didn’t quite manage to drown out the silence that had taken a hold of the house again. Izaya stared at the flickering images unseeing, sensed his sisters next to him unfeeling. Despite their closeness, Izaya felt a strange kind of loneliness.

Just for once, because today was Christmas, Izaya allowed his thoughts to venture down paths he normally kept blocked off.

Just for once, he thought, he wanted someone to talk to, someone to listen to him.

 

Chapter Text

“How does it look?” Shizuo’s mother passed the ornament she’d spent the last ten minutes trying to hang on the front door a critical look. “I feel like it’s still a bit tilted.” She poked it with one finger, not changing its position at all, but seemingly happier with the result.

"It's fine, really." Shizuo replied after yet another quick glance. Every time his mother had asked for his opinion, he hadn’t been able to see any difference, so he had spent the last ten minutes repeating the same words while trying to rid their front yard of unsightly heaps of snow. Kasuka came from inside the house, carrying two large trash bags and stared at the misbehaving ornament.

"It's crooked," he said and their mother passed Shizuo a reproachful look. Shizuo expressed his annoyance by flinging a shovel full of snow off their property and right into the neighbour’s garden.

The whole family took part in cleaning the house for New Year and Shizuo had been tasked with the garden of all places. He would have preferred sorting through the shelves in the kitchen, or even thoroughly cleaning the bathroom. By now his fingers (despite being clad in thick gloves) felt so numb that he was sure they would crumble if he tried to detach them from the shovel he was holding. The cold wind was biting at his face, undoubtedly turning it an angry red. His mother, meanwhile, had been decorating the doorway, seemingly immune to the cold, completely committed to her work. She didn’t even wear any gloves (“How am I supposed to handle the filigree with gloves?”) and in that moment Shizuo seriously doubted she was really his mother. After adjusting the ornament for the umpteenth time (and successfully making no difference at all, Shizuo thought) she seemed happy with her work and clapped her hands.

"Fantastic, all done! Why don't you come inside with me, Shizuo, let's make some hot chocolate."

Shizuo, who had just been in the process of throwing another pile of snow in the general direction of their neighbour’s house, dropped the shovel instantly and hurried to the door, eager to exchange chilling wind for steaming water. The house was pleasantly warm and Shizuo felt the cold melt from his bones. He had always wondered how his oh-so-monstrous strength gave him protection from wounds of all kind, but not from the whims of winter.

While he had always loved New Year with all its traditions and food and the concept of starting over, he couldn’t say that he was looking forward to spending the afternoon in freezing temperatures in front of a crowded shrine. What he was looking forward to, however, were the early morning hours of the first day of the new year. It had been his own personal tradition to watch the first sunrise alone, starting the year with as much peace as he could possibly get.

 

A few hours later Shizuo had to drag himself out of the comfortable warmth of the living room to join his parents and his brother on their way to the shrine. The afternoon sun didn't manage to drown out the freezing temperatures that were emanating from the thick layer of frost covering the ground. Shizuo waked in peaceful silence next to Kasuka while his parents strolled ahead, talking about something that wasn’t relevant enough to get through the wall of anxiety that had been building up in Shizuo’s head over the past few minutes. It wasn’t like he purposefully directed his thoughts into dangerous territory, it was more like a loss of control, like an invisible force wrested them from his hands. He didn’t even know anymore when it started, just that it was driving him crazy. When did his indifference towards Izaya turn into something almost dangerously close to solicitude? Strangely enough it was worst when he was with other people. In the quiet of his room, where the silence created the illusion of loneliness, Shizuo’s thoughts were his to control. But in the company of his friends, or worse even, his family, he couldn’t help but wonder – was Izaya alone right now, wearing the same false smile he’d presented to Shizuo on Christmas eve? Did he lie to himself as he did to others, convinced that his solitude had a purpose? 

Shizuo still felt the sting of regret when his own words echoed in his head, was still convinced that he underwent a suffering of his own making. If only he had never spoken to Izaya, if only he hadn’t witnessed that the other was capable of emotion other than cruel mirth. If only he hadn’t seen that Izaya was human. And now he had to live with the consequences of making Izaya come to terms with his own vulnerability. Why should Shizuo be granted the peace of mind he had stolen away from another?

“Are you alright, niisan?” Kasuka’s toneless voice came from next to him.

“Yeah. Just – just thinking about…stuff.” Shizuo said because ‘stuff’ was the closest thing to the truth he dared to say out loud. Kasuka’s eyebrows were tilted downward ever so slighty; Shizuo was sure he wouldn’t have noticed a change in his brother’s expression at all, had he not been observing his face for so many years. But thankfully Kasuka remained quiet, focusing his gaze on the road ahead again.

They arrived at the shrine a few minutes later, the square in front of it filled with food stalls that seemed to have entered a friendly competition for the most intense smelling food. Usually Shizuo would have looked forward to some Mochi, or maybe Taiyaki, or anything sweet, really, but his stomach seemed to have been twisted into a tight knot that got rid of any feeling of hunger he might have felt. The whole space was filled with a brightly coloured sea of people, their voices crashing like waves around Shizuo. He felt lost among the noise, as if he didn’t belong to the joyous, laughing crowd. And then he felt a tug, as if someone grabbed his head and turned it into a certain direction, only there was no physical contact, just a magnetic pull that directed his gaze to a spot right in front of the shrine.

There, amidst the ocean of people and yet all alone, stood a raven-haired boy, the small space around him looking like an endless void in comparison with its surroundings.

Izaya was not praying, didn’t even seem to make an effort of getting closer to the shrine. He just stood there, staring straight ahead as if he could will the gods to grant his wish through the power of his glare alone. Then he turned abruptly, now facing Shizuo’s direction and Shizuo could see the expression on Izaya’s face, could see disappointment written clearly all over his features. Izaya didn’t notice Shizuo, he just pushed his hands into the pockets of his coat and moved away, all slumped shoulders and dragging feet. Shizuo was frozen on the spot, and it had nothing to do with the icy cold temperature around him. He barely noticed his parents behind him, pushing him towards the shrine so they could pray.

But when Shizuo clapped his hands, his thoughts were miles away from the request for a successful new year he was supposed to be making. He stared ahead unseeing, his thoughts still with the image of a lonely boy surrounded by families, standing in front of the shrine and looking so forlorn that Shizuo felt the urge to go over and stand next to him, just to give him the illusion of company.

And so Shizuo’s only wish for the new year was for someone to find Izaya in the lonely void he had created for himself.

The rest of the evening passed in a blur and Shizuo wasn’t even sure when and how he got home, all he remembered was the biting cold of the wind and the storm of his thoughts. When he found himself in bed, his alarm set so he could at least get some semblance of positivity from the first sunrise of the new year, he still reflected on the recent change in his views on a boy he wasn’t supposed to care about. And there it was again, Shinra’s voice in his head, as obnoxious and loud as ever, asking; Why is it that you keep stressing how little you care about Izaya and yet he’s everything you ever think about? Shizuo groaned and buried his head in his pillow. Maybe his first resolution for New Year should be to stop fooling himself – that was Izaya’s job after all.

 

It turned out that setting his alarm had been pointless - Shizuo hadn't closed one eye the entire night. Great start. When the clock announced 5AM Shizuo surrendered to his own restlessness and got up. His head felt strangely heavy and he didn’t bother with turning on the lights in his dark room, even managing to curse quietly when he stubbed his toe. He dressed in his most comfortable sweater and warmest coat, determined get back the optimism for a new start that had been stolen so brazenly by yesterday’s events. He quickly made himself a hot cocoa and filled it into a thermos bottle in an effort to get everything right.

This year would be good.

When he stepped outside and took a deep breath of the fresh morning air, he could almost feel the weight getting lifted off his spirit. The sky was dark and the world lay peaceful under a thinning layer of snow, and Shizuo thought he could still smell the faint scent of festival food.

He made his way through desolate streets still undisturbed by noise this early in the day, enjoying the feeling of serenity that overcame him. Here and there illuminated windows painted squares of light into the blackness and somewhere in the distance Shizuo could hear sirens, like the world wanted to remind him that he wasn’t alone. Even though that was the one thing he wanted to be right now. He made his way to the roof of an old office building, a spot high above the city that offered the best view of the rising sun. The old building looked almost dilapidated, it’s uninviting exterior ensuring that Shizuo would be the only one up there. He climbed the crumbling stairs, passing broken windows and brittle walls, and opened the door to the rooftop. Cold wind greeted him, and the dark sky overhead was void of light, still showing no trace of the rising sun. He let out a breath he didn't realise he had been holding. This was it; this was his new beginning.

"Shizuo?"

He spun around, his previously empty head assaulted by what must have been a million thoughts at once, all cumulating into one name.

"Izaya?"

Here, on the rooftop high above the city, Izaya was perched on a rusty railing and looked like this was where he’d always belonged. For a moment Shizuo was breathless, staring at the apparition Izaya had turned into, the wind ruffling his dark hair and letting his coat billow behind him. What made Shizuo stop dead in his tracks, though, was not the shock at seeing Izaya, or the worry that the next gust of wind might tip the other backwards over the edge. It was the look on Izaya's face. He looked at Shizuo with a kind of surrender in his eyes that Shizuo had never seen before.

A second later, because this was Izaya, and Izaya would never settle for surrender, a smile was pulling at the other's lips, but even that felt off, it was too soft, nothing there of the usual knife-edged sharpness.

"Usually I would ask what you are doing up here, but I guess my first new year's resolution is going to be to stop trying to understand you." Izaya said, his smile contrasting with the serious tone of his words. Shizuo didn’t know what to say. He wanted to disagree, but he couldn't find the words amidst the storm in his head. Instead he simply took a step forwards - physicality had always come easier to him.

“Then I’ll ask you. What are you doing here?” His own voice came out rough, not quite willing to obey him.

Izaya let out a sigh and leaned backwards and it took all self-restraint Shizuo had left to not jump forwards and grab Izaya’s collar to save the other from the abyss behind him. But Izaya didn’t fall – he just pushed himself off his high throne and landed on the roof in front of Shizuo.

“I’m starting the new year like I ended the old one.” Izaya said casually. “I’m a big fan of enjambments.“

Shizuo frowned.

“Also,” Izaya continued. “I’m a big fan of high places.”

Somehow Izaya’s honest words spoken into the open space around them made Shizuo more uncomfortable that Izaya’s taunting laughs in the cramped halls of school.

“Why the hell are you doing this?” Shizuo asked because it’s a new year and he wanted to start it with understanding instead of presuming. “Why are you…like this?”

Izaya’s eyes widend and his laugh came out breathless. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, Shizu-chan!” Except he did, his desperate expression belying his words, and maybe Izaya noticed it himself because he continued. “I have no intention of turning into a version of myself you would approve of.”

Except his expression stayed the same.

Shizuo sucked in a breath, the cold air burning in his lungs, but it was nothing like the burning in his veins, where his blood had apparently turned into lava. He moved forwards, past Izaya and towards the railing because he couldn’t bear looking into Izaya’s eyes anymore. Instead he leaned against the rusty metal, staring to the empty street below.

“A bit of loneliness every now and then can be nice, I guess.” He murmured, more a reassurance to himself than a statement towards Izaya.

He heard a sound behind him, something close to the manic laughter he was used to hearing from Izaya, but this one was laced with something that almost sounded like a sob. Shizuo didn’t turn around.

“You have never experienced true loneliness then, Shizu-chan.”

Izaya’s voice carried a rawness that begged Shizuo to turn and face the other, but he still couldn’t move.

“Why don’t you change it then? Why do you leave everything the way it is without trying to…I don’t know, make it better?” Shizuo said because he didn’t dare asking about Izaya’s parents.

And then he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, saw Izaya leaning against the railing next to him, only that he left a space between them large enough to still let Izaya to keep the loneliness he claimed he knew so well.

“I guess…some people just have to be lonely so that others can be together. And if it’s for the good of all my lovely human, I’ll gladly stay alone.”

“Bullshit.” Shizuo said before he could stop himself. When he turned his head Izaya was looking at him with a smile on his lips as if he was daring Shizuo to argue with him. So Shizuo didn’t. Instead he realised a truth about Izaya.

Izaya might be narcissistic, he might be arrogant, he might be conceited, but he was not egoistical. His parents had each other, his sisters had each other, and so Izaya stayed on the outside, letting others have what he desired.

Shizuo also realised a truth about himself. He didn’t want Izaya to be that miserable. Even though the other was doing it to himself, even someone as deliberately unlikable as Izaya deserved…deserved what? Someone to care about them? Someone to listen to them?

“You don’t have to be alone,” Shizuo said after a while. “Why don’t you spend more time with Shinra? Or Kadota? You could find a lot of friends if you’d just be more…you know.”

Izaya’s expression changed from melancholy to desperation to disdain in a matter of seconds. Then he scoffed.

“I don’t need anyone else, Shizu-chan. I’m perfectly content with the way things are. With the way I am. Why should I change for anyone?”

Behind Izaya the first rays of sunlight stretched over the horizon, painting the sky in soft pastel colours and outlining Izaya’s dark hair with a white glow. They stared at each other for a second before Izaya’s features softened as if he had seen something in Shizuo’s eyes that wasn’t there before.

“Look at us,” he murmured. “watching the first sunrise together.”

And with that he made his way towards the door, leaving Shizuo alone on the rooftop. But Shizuo didn’t watch the sunrise, he stared to where Izaya was before, not sure if what he truly wanted to see just had left his vision.

---

Izaya came home to a quiet house – as if he had expected anything different. His sisters were still asleep, and his parents were…somewhere. He walked into the living room, not bothering to go to bed again and stare at the ceiling before his alarm would tear through the silence in his room.

Life had been much easier when Shizuo was just chasing him, throwing objects his way and occasionally growling his name. Ever since the other had started talking to him all the illusions Izaya had so carefully constructed over the years had shattered like the glass windows Shizuo liked to destroy. Izaya had always prided himself on his self-control, his way of manipulating his own self-perception. But Shizuo had taken that from him with just a few words.

You could find a lot of friends if you’d just be more…you know.

If Izaya could actually change himself, would Shizuo regard him as something other than a passing nuisance?

Izaya sat down on the couch, hugging his legs. Despite everything today – despite his lonely visit to the shrine, despite Shizuo’s words – it had probably been the best New Year Izaya’d had in a while. He couldn’t get the way Shizuo had looked at him just as the sun was cresting over the horizon out of his head.

The first time Shizuo had looked at him with something other than indifference. Maybe his wish would actually be granted.

This year would be good.

Chapter Text

It had only been three weeks so far, but the new year already felt like a new lifetime to Shizuo. Things had changed in a way he still tried to understand and didn't bother trying to justify to others.

"Aww Shizuo, I thought now that a new year started you and Izaya would fight less!" Shinra had whined on the first day of school as Shizuo threw a chair through the hallway while Izaya dodged behind a corner. “Why are you back to the old ways?”

"Because this is the only kind of company I can offer to him." Shizuo hadn’t said, opting for an annoyed grunt instead, the sound of Izaya's laughter echoing in his ears.

At first Shizuo had expected that things would change after their conversation on the roof, considering the impact it had on him. He couldn’t sleep well for days, plagued by dreams of chases without a target through an unlit abyss. Luckily, he didn’t have much time to think as his mother kept him on his toes with housework and errands. But now he couldn’t rely on the peace and quiet of his room anymore, instead it provided him with enough opportunity to reflect on his state of mind. And that was something Shizuo absolutely dreaded doing at the moment, half annoyed by and half afraid of the way his perception of a certain someone had been altered.

But when school started again Shizuo had to discover that Izaya remained the same, an unchanging source of Irritation. And somewhere deep inside Shizuo was grateful. He tried to imagine a scene where Izaya ignored him instead of throwing an insult his way and he felt a strange sensation in his chest. No, Izaya staying Izaya was fine. Shizuo had changed enough for the both of them. He wasn’t able to look at Izaya with the same indifference as before. Whenever Izaya flashed him a grin and spun around to run away Shizuo had to tear his gaze away from the retreating back, wondering how many people had been faced with the same sight and just didn't bother with following Izaya. And then, before he could give it any more thought, Shizuo found himself chasing after the raven, making sure he wouldn’t be the source of Izaya’s loneliness again.

 

Today, something was different. He noticed it as soon as he passed the school gates without the sound of that stupid nickname Izaya always called him by grating on his nerves. He walked through the halls without a gaze on him so sharp it might have been a knife piercing through his back. He sat down in class without catching a glimpse of raven hair in the far back of the room.

Izaya’s absence irritated Shizuo almost as much as the other's presence, only that he couldn’t express his annoyance by throwing something at the source of it. Now that he thought about it, he couldn't remember a single school day without Izaya's constant attention on him. And it was attention, Shizuo now realised. Not malignity or cruelty, just attention. And now there was nothing, the peace he had always longed for feeling more like suffocating than relief. Most of the other students, aside from Shrina and Kadota, avoided him, afraid of his strength or his temper or just of him as a person. This was also Izaya’s fault, Shizuo had always convinced himself of, content with having found someone to push the blame on.

But was it really? Did Izaya force him to react to simple taunts with violence?

“Why should I change for anyone?”

Was it not with Izaya that Shizuo could truly be himself?

Shizuo groaned and let his head hit the table, undoubtedly causing some of his classmates to flinch.

Every time the door to the classroom opened Shizuo found his gaze being dragged involuntarily to the entrance, always met with the slight hint of disappointment at the lack of raven hair and crimson eyes. Izaya didn’t turn up for the first lesson. Or the second for that matter. And on the break, when Shizuo made his way to the roof, no one called after him or blocked his way. Shinra and Kadota, who had a different class in the morning, were already in their usual spot, Shinra babbling about Celty again. Kadota looked up when Shizuo slumped down next to him.

“Yo, Shizuo,” he said without paying any mind to Shinra’s scandalised huff at the interruption of his praises. “What’s up? You look kinda out of it.”

Shizuo shrugged, not at all willing to share his true feelings with Shinra right there.

“Just tired, is all. Don’t wanna go to maths I guess.”

They should have been used to him being sparing with words, but apparently his friends knew him better than he thought.

“You’re always tired, and we always have maths on Wednesdays and you never want to go. So, what’s so special about today?” Shinra asked inbetween two bites of the bento Celty had obviously prepared for him. Shizuo wasn’t quite sure what to say to that, so he opted for the easy way out.

“I have a headache.”

Kadota laughed. “Did Izaya give you a hard time again?”

Shizuo stared at him and was just about to ask if Kadota had seen Izaya around, when Shinra interrupted them.

“Aw come on, Kadota, don’t bring him up now. It was so nice and quiet.”

Luckily, the bell stopped Shizuo from aiming a punch at Shinra’s stomach.

They went to the next class together, Shinra continuing his ongoing hymn of praise for Celty and Shizuo feeling the strain of not being able to give an outlet to his annoyance. They were the last to arrive in class and Shizuo made his way to his seat in the front (assigned to him in order to get him to pay attention. A futile effort.) when he heard Shinra let out a surprised noise.

“Oh, no Izaya today? Hey Shizuo, is that why you’re so on edge, because you miss Izaya?”

Shizuo’s head snapped around and he glared at Shinra, the internal defence mechanism that still seemed to work well when someone addressed his insecurities taking over.

“Why would I miss that shitty flea, huh? Izaya can stay away forever for all I care! Maybe we all got lucky and he died or something.”

Someone in the direction of the door cleared their throat. Shizuo turned very slowly at the familiar sound. Their teacher was standing there, arms crossed and the look in her eyes so reproachful that Shizuo felt the implications of his rash words sliding down his throat like poison.  

“Oh my, oh my, Heiwajima-san,” the teacher moved towards his desk, her steps slow and deliberate, her expression almost frighteningly soft. “Is that the mature and compassionate attitude you are being taught at home?” she said, her words making Shizuo’s face heat up with shame. She had always been intimidating and angering her was not something Shizuo had ever intended.

“I would give you detention, but I fear that is not quite appropriate in this situation. Well, since you’re so curious to find out what happened to Orihara-san, why don’t you bring him the materials he missed after school?” The smile she gave Shizuo was drenched in insincerity.

Shizuo’s eyes widened with shock and he couldn’t stop his head from shaking.

“But …,” he started, already knowing that everything he said now would be futile.

“I wager he would be happy to have his caring classmate check up on him.” The teacher said and made her way past Shizuo towards the front of the class, where she turned in a fluid motion that made Shizuo think of Izaya. As if he needed another reminder of him right now. 

About an hour later the bell rang and Shizuo had even caught even less of the lesson than usual. In his mind he tried and failed to imagine Izaya’s reaction if he opened the door and saw Shizuo standing there. His self-inflicted torture was interrupted when the teacher called him to the front and handed him the worksheets he was supposed to bring to Izaya. She gave him another plastic smile and added “You better make sure to explain him what he is supposed to do, too,” as if Shizuo could explain anything to Izaya, as if Izaya would take anything Shizuo said seriously. As soon as the teacher left the room Shinra rushed over to Shizuo with the most aggravatingly gleeful smile on his face. Shizuo wanted to punch him.

“Oh wow, Shizuo, I can’t believe you…”

“You do it.” Shizuo said and pushed the sheets against Shinra’s chest – maybe a bit too forcefully because Shinra stumbled backwards. Still grinning, he replied, “Ah, I’m so sorry, but Celty offered to make dinner today and I can’t possibly risk coming late.”

Shizuo rolled his eyes and turned towards Kadota, the last beacon that could save Shizuo from drowning. But Kadota shrugged apologetically. “I’m meeting Togusa after school, so I can’t do it either.”

Shizuo didn’t even bother with turning to his other classmates. He just let out a low growl and stomped out of the classroom, desperate to get some fresh air.

 

When the bell announced the end of school and possibly Shizuo’s life as he knew it, he begrudgingly turned to Shrina, who was already halfway out the door.

“Where does Izaya live anyway?” he asked, unable to stop the frown appearing on his face that always came automatically with Izaya’s name.

Shinra beamed at him and gave Shizuo what had to be the worst description of directions known to mankind. After listening to Shinra trying to remember if he had to turn left or right after the 3rd traffic light, Shizuo left him standing in the doorway without further comment and made use of what he already got. When he left the school gate he turned left where he would usually turn right, making his way down the busy main road. After the first traffic light he turned right, as indicated by Shinra, entering a narrower road with small, quaint houses. A black cat was perched on a wall in front of a well-kept garden, eyeing Shizuo critically as he passed her. He gave the cat a glare, for the sole reason that her shiny black fur reminded him of someone else. When he didn’t know which way to turn next, he decided to ask a friendly-looking older lady, who was sitting at a bus stop, for directions.

“Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to this address?” he held up the note given to him by the teacher.

The lady squinted at the small handwriting, a friendly smile appearing on her face.

“Oh, are you going to visit young Izaya-kun? I haven’t seen many people around his house, aside from him and his sisters of course.”

Shizuo tried to supress a surprised expression, less startled by someone knowing where Izaya lived and more by seeing someone smile warmly while talking about him.

“It’s not far from here, just go straight over there and it’s the third house on the left side.”

She was much more helpful than Shinra and Shizuo muttered a quick Thank you before following her directions. The neighbourhood was quiet, and when Shizuo arrived at the house Izaya was supposed to live in he was confused for a second. He didn’t know what exactly it was he expected (maybe a house painted entirely in black, or better even, an old gothic castle), but this wasn’t it. The house looked neat, white walls and a dark roof, with a well-kept garden in front of it. But as he got closer he noticed a lot of weeds growing in between the flowers, and the wooden fence looked like it could use a new coat of paint. The garden gate creaked when Shizuo pushed it open. There was no light in the windows, even though the sun had already started to disappear behind the horizon. Maybe Izaya wasn’t even home. Shizuo contemplated just leaving the worksheets in front of the door, but the memory of his teacher’s stern expression made him reconsider.

And so he took a deep breath and pushed the bell button next to the name Orihara. The house remained quiet.  Shizuo could feel the frown reappearing on his face. He pushed the button again. And again. Suddenly light appeared in the small window in the door and he hastily took a step back, bracing himself for what was to come.

---

As soon as Izaya opened his eyes he already knew that something was off. It was the complete silence that surrounded him. Usually he was used to it, the house was always quiet and he had long since stopped trying to fill it with noise. But morning usually brought with it liveliness, the affirmation of company in the lonely confinement that posed as a home. Because no matter how early Izaya woke up, his sisters would awake before him and drive the silence away. They jumped on their beds, giggling so loud that the sound made its way through two doors and into Izaya’s room. But today everything was so still that Izaya briefly wondered if he had died and this was the afterlife. He quickly dismissed the thought – surely the afterlife would be noisier than this, especially if he was to believe Shizu-chan, who constantly prophesised that Izaya would end up in hell. At least hell was warm. Izaya padded barefoot through the freezing corridor that connected his room to his sister’s. There was no point in turning on the heater in rooms that weren’t being used anyway. He carefully knocked on his sisters’ door.

“Mairu? Kururi? Are you awake yet?”

No answer.

He pushed the door open. There was still the chance that they were playing some elaborate prank on him. At first there was nothing was of the ordinary. Mairu’s bed was empty and she was curled up next to her sister where she’s undoubtedly crawled yesterday after Izaya had tugged them in. But the two girls were seemingly fast asleep, no sign of their usual annoying early-morning cheerfulness. Izaya quietly made his way over to the bed. His sisters’ arms were curled tightly around each other, their faces showed no trace of the calmness that usually came with sleep. Instead they were scrunched up and damp with sweat. Izaya let out a sigh. Just what he needed. He gently nudged Mairu’s shoulder.

“Mairu? Hey? You okay?”

Mairu made a small noise and turned around, her eyes droopy.

“Iza-nii? We don’t feel so good,” she said unnecessarily and Izaya laid a hand on her forehand. She was basically burning up.  

“Alright. You two stay in bed, I’ll make you some soup and get the medication ready. No. Getting. Up. Understood?”

This was nothing new to him, there had been plenty of times where he’d taken care of his ill sisters. They got sick quickly and recovered slowly, mostly due to their refusal to stay in bed for recovery. Izaya made his way downstairs, contemplating calling their neighbour so she would look after his sisters again while he went to school, but he dismissed the thought quickly. He had her take care of the two devils on the weekend already, when he had to go out and collect information for a client of his. So it seemed like today was to be the first day where he missed school. Well, it was not like anyone would miss him. Unless, of course, Shizu-chan needed someone to take his anger out on, in which case he’d have to wreak some school property instead. Izaya grinned at the thought of him actually having an impact on Shizuo’s life. After the talk they had on New Year’s he had considered to stop messing with Shizuo. But in the end, he had been too afraid. He had no problem admitting that to himself. He was afraid that Shizuo would lose interest in him and that he wouldn’t even be worth the other’s anger anymore. And so he stayed the same, content with what he had.

 

A bit later that day, Izaya heard the doorbell. He stood in his room, sure that his mind played tricks on him. Who on earth would want to visit him? But after a few seconds, the bell rang again. And again. Izaya slowly made his way downstairs, not sure what to expect.

Chapter Text

After ringing the doorbell for the third time Shizuo stood in front of Izaya’s door, nervously shifting from one foot to the other and mentally bracing for the oncoming storm. Looking back though, he doubted that he could have found any way to prepare himself for what happened next. Someone on the inside unlocked the door and pushed it open with a little more force than necessary.

“I swear to god, if this is another-“

And then there was silence. Shizuo’s brain tried desperately to process the sight in front of him. Izaya’s hair was unkempt in an artful sort of way, he was wearing a black sweater so big he could have fit into it twice, and contrasting pants that tightly hugged his legs. Were it not for his expression, Shizuo thought, Izaya could have stepped right out of cover of a fashion magazine. But Izaya stared at him with wide eyes and an open mouth that had no words to offer. In the past months Shizuo had seen an array of different emotions on Izaya’s face, some of which he wouldn’t even have expected the other to possess. But Izaya had never looked as vulnerable as he did now, his too-large clothes making him seem almost fragile.

“I-,” Izaya started and didn’t finish, leaving it to Shizuo to provide a fitting explanation for his undoubtedly unwanted presence. Only that Shizuo didn’t really know what to say either, gesturing helplessly towards the worksheets and hoping they would do the explaining for him. 

“Our Teacher told me to give you the worksheets,” Shizuo finally muttered weakly in the general direction of Izaya’s feet.

“Okay,” Izaya said, more a question than an acknowledgement. They just stood there for a few seconds staring at each other, neither of them making a move.

“Well?” Izaya said, sounding calmer than he looked, and gestured towards the papers Shizuo was still clutching.  Shizuo took a deep breath, desperately searching for the right words.

“I, uh… I’m supposed to expl– “ and then here was a sound, a little cough, from inside the house, making both of them jump. A small girl clutching a large blanket stood on the stairs behind Izaya, staring at Shizuo like he was a blood-covered ghost.

Izaya let out an exasperated sigh and slowly turned away from Shizuo, finally breaking their eye contact.

“Mairu. I hold you to stay in bed, didn’t I? If I remember correctly, I actually told you about 7 times today alone.” He said and moved towards his sister. Shizuo almost reached forward to grab his arm because was he going to leave him standing here? But Izaya had already moved beyond his reach, still talking to his sister.

“Have you ever heard of recovering? That’s something you’re never going to experience if you keep running around at every opportunity.”

And with that Izaya scooped up the tiny girl and carried her up the stairs, leaving Shizuo in the doorway by himself, completely and utterly lost. He stood there for a good minute, two forces locked in a violent battle within him. Should he enter Izaya’s house, even though he had not been invited? There was no reason to do so, he could just drop off the worksheets and leave. Then again, the teacher had explicitly told him to explain the tasks to Izaya. But what even for, what was there for Shizuo to explain to the child prodigy, or whatever it was Izaya classified as. Shizuo’s thoughts ran rampant and he felt like his head was about to explode, when he felt a drop of rain hit his nose. And another. Shizuo looked up towards the dark clouds and shook his head – why was he torturing himself about this? He just had to get it over with – present Izaya with the opportunity to make fun of him, get laughed at for implying he could explain something to Izaya, and leave again. The teacher would have no reason to complain then. And so Shizuo stepped out of the gentle rain and into the cold entryway of Izaya’s house. The first thing he noticed was the smell – or rather the lack of it. He had grown accustomed to Izaya’s particular smell, something not as unpleasant as Shizuo would have liked, but there was no trace of it in here. The smell was as empty as the house itself seemed to be.

Shizuo was just in the process of slowly toeing his shoes off when he heard the quiet creaking of wood from behind him. Izaya stood on a stair halfway down and stared at Shizuo as if Shizuo had just uncovered his most terrible secret, and maybe he had done just that, discovered how Izaya displayed his human side.

“You came inside.” Izaya said in a toneless voice.

Shizuo took a deep breath and cleared his throat, postponing the inevitable.

“I, uh…I’m supposed to…well, explain the task to you,” he said, hearing a hint of defiance in his words. Izaya’s expression was unreadable. He just stared down at Shizuo as if he wasn’t sure that what he saw was actually real. Shizuo wished Izaya would start laughing, or mocking him, anything that took the unvoiced uncertainty out of the air. Then, to Shizuo’s greatest surprise, Izaya nodded.

“Alright,” he said, his voice sounding raw “You can come upstairs. At least it’s warm there.”

Shizuo didn’t bother asking why it wasn’t warm downstairs; in the living room or the kitchen, where warmth and comfort were usually implicit. He followed Izaya, who was fiddling with the overly long sleeves of his sweater while they were walking up the stairs. If Shizuo didn’t know better, if he wasn’t absolutely sure that Izaya was incapable of being nervous, he would say the other was exactly that. Why that would be the case, however, Shizuo didn’t know.

The corridor leading to Izaya's room was just as cold and bare as the one downstairs. There were no pictures on the wall, nothing that indicated a family was inhabiting the rooms. The harsh silence and lonely atmosphere of the house seemed to stand in stark contrast to the appearance Izaya had built up for himself, but maybe, Shizuo thought, maybe the house was a more accurate representation of the other’s personality. They passed a door with a small wooden plate on it, reading "Mairu & Kururi" and Shizuo wondered if their parents had named them in such a strange way so they wouldn't run the risk of forgetting their own children's names.

A bit farther down the hallway Izaya briefly paused in front of another plain wooden door, carefully reaching for the handle as if there was someone on the other side he didn't want to disturb. Shizuo’s breath caught in his chest because it felt like he was entering the den of his own personal demon.  Then, as if he wanted to get it over with, Izaya pushed open the door.

The room was simple. Nothing to see of the mess Shizuo would have anticipated from someone who created chaos like it was his divine domain. Instead it was plain, a bed, a wardrobe, a table and chair. Were it not for a stack of books Shizuo recognised as their school books, he would have doubted anyone was living in this room. Izaya turned towards Shizuo, giving him an exaggerated grin as if he was daring him to make a comment. Shizuo cleared his throat and crinkled the sheets in his hand. He couldn't think of a time he felt more awkward. Then Izaya let out a breath, almost echoing in the quiet room, and the smile trickled off his face. He gestured towards his bed and Shizuo stared at him with wide eyes. Izaya cringed.

"You can sit down if you'd like. I don't want you running around telling everyone I’m a bad host."

Shizuo almost said that he didn’t even want to come inside, that he just wanted to hand Izaya the papers and leave because surely the other wouldn’t actually need his explanations. But something prevented him from doing so. Maybe it was the barest trace of excitement he could see on Izaya's face. Maybe it was because if he left, Izaya would be all alone again and now Shizuo had a space to picture him in, quiet and abandoned.

And so he sat down in front of Izaya’s bed, in Izaya’s room, with the Izaya himself slumping down opposite of him. Shizuo finally offered up the worksheets he’d been holding the entire time, the paper crumpled where his fingers had clutched it too tightly. Izaya took the briefest of glances at the numbers before returning his gaze back to Shizuo.

“Well? You were going to explain something to me?” he asked, a small smile on his face that had nothing to do with his usual knife-edged grin. Shizuo glared at him.

"As if you need me of all people to- "

"Oh my, these formulas look so complex, I can’t possibly make sense of them on my own.” Izaya interrupted, grinning, without looking at the sheets at all. There was a strain in his voice that might have passed as sarcasm in simpler days, but Shizuo recognised it from their past interactions as desperation.

Shizuo narrowed his eyes at Izaya, not quite sure what to make of … well, all this. But something akin to a smile tugged at his lips because here he was, sitting in a room with Izaya, bantering like they were some kind of friends. And because it felt natural and because for once he didn’t feel like questioning his every action, he scooted over next to Izaya so they could look at the worksheet together. Izaya drew in a sharp breath when Shizuo leaned in close and their shoulders touched, but he didn’t flinch or move away. If anything, he shifted closer, but that might have just been Shizuo’s imagination.

Shizuo, of course, had absolutely no idea what the formulas were supposed to tell him. He stared at the numbers for a while, and when Izaya made no move to speak, Shizuo huffed.

“Whatever. I don’t even care about this shit.”

Shizuo only realised how close Izaya really was when the other let out a snort right next to him and Shizuo’s head whipped around. He’d heard Izaya laugh in a plethora of ways, but snorting had never been one of them. Izaya seemed to have the same thought because he clasped his hands over his mouth and his cheeks turned a faint pink, as if he was embarrassed by the slip of genuine emotion. In that moment Izaya looked so utterly human that Shizuo couldn’t fight the grin that spread over his face, and he shoved at Izaya’s shoulder; meant it to be a friendly gesture, really. But Shizuo wasn’t used to touching Izaya without the intention of inflicting hurt, so Izaya ended up tilting sideways and toppling over. For a second there was surprise on his face, then he regained control over his expression and shot Shizuo a glare from where he lay on the floor.

An actual laugh escaped Shizuo before he knew it, fully aware of the irony that the first time he actually managed to hit Izaya wasn’t even intended. But instead of calling out Izaya’s sudden defeat, Shizuo extended his hand.

"Serves you right, you light-weighted flea."

Izaya didn't reply, he was too focused on the outstretched hand, as if Shizuo offered him a vial of poison to drink. After five agonizing seconds in which Shizuo managed to build up an impressive amount of insecurity, Izaya reached out and gripped his hand tentatively, curling his long fingers around Shizuo's. Shizuo almost expected a knife to pierce through his skin, but Izaya’s hand was surprisingly warm and soft.

Shizuo tugged, gentler this time as to not accidentally dislocate Izaya’s entire arm. But apparently it was still not gentle enough, or maybe he just misjudged Izaya's weight, because the other was tipping forwards with more force than Shizuo anticipated. Izaya let out a surprised yelp as he was almost lifted off the floor and tumbled hard against Shizuo's chest. Shizuo reflexively grasped Izaya’s shoulders to steady him and they ended up in an awkward hugging position with Izaya laying half in Shizuo's lap.

For a few heartbeats everything was quiet. Shizuo felt Izaya’s elaborated breath warm against his chest, felt the other’s hands clutching at the fabric of his shirt. Izaya’s body was warm and Shizuo could feel the heat rising to his own cheeks as well. Izaya was the first to break the silence.

"Can't you control your monstrous strength for once?" He asked, the words coming out muffled against Shizuo's shirt.

"Sorry!" Shizuo muttered, helping Izaya to sit upright. The others face was coloured in a bright red and for some reason he refused to meet Shizuo's eyes.

Then he suddenly turned around and snatched the worksheets from where he had dropped them on the floor and waved them in Shizuo's direction.

"It's really not that hard, okay?” he said, his face still that ridiculous shade of red, and he actually started explaining the tasks to Shizuo, still refusing to look at him, his eyes firmly glued to the paper.

For a second Shizuo was speechless and not able to move. How did he even end up in this room, getting tutored by the boy he had always considered his worst enemy? At some point he decided to stop questioning it, to just go with it and see where it would lead.

And, looking back, Shizuo might have actually understood what Izaya explained to him, might even have paid more attention than in class, if it hadn’t been for the countless distractions Izaya presented him with. Izaya’s hair, all black silk, fell over his eyes and his expression relaxed into neutrality as he talked. His fingers roamed over the paper, pointing at the various numbers. He had elegant hands, Shizuo thought.

They spent about an hour like this, Izaya trying to explain maths to Shizuo and Shizuo trying to not get distracted by the peacefulness around them. At some point he felt Izaya lean against him and he was surprised to notice that it didn’t annoy him. Eventually he even managed to catch some of what Izaya was saying. While Shizuo tried to understand the final task on the worksheet, he suddenly felt Izaya shifting around next to him.

"You okay?" Shizuo asked like it was normal, like he had any reason to show concern for Izaya. Izaya looked up at him, his cheeks turning red again. He looked uncomfortable in his own room, as if he was the odd one out and not Shizuo.

"I have to... uh. Well, make dinner for my sisters." He gestured vaguely towards the clock.

Shizuo followed his hands and considered the clock. For the first seconds he just glared at it like he could erase the concept of time with his frown alone. Then the reality of the situation came rushing back all at once and Shizuo jumped up immediately. Izaya almost tumbled sideways again when his support moved away. Then he scrambled to his feet as well.

"You don't have to leave!" He said too quickly to not make it sound like a plea. And then, more collected:

"I mean...I could make something for you as well..." He trailed off at the end with a shocked look in his eyes as he realised what he was suggesting.

"Nah, I should… get home." Shizuo said even though he felt guilt well up in his chest. "My mom made dinner as well and is probably waiting already.”

The brief look of disappointment on Izaya's face tugged uncomfortably at Shizuo's heart. Then he blinked and the expression was gone.

"Sure, of course, I mean, yeah. Sure." Shizuo winced at words stumbling out of Izaya’s mouth, because it was supposed to be the other way around.

“Tomorrow our neighbour will take care of the two devils again, so I'll be back in school and you don't have to..." Izaya gestured around helplessly.

Shizuo imagined Izaya coming home from school, sitting in this empty room of his. And this was what he had been afraid of; not being able to see Izaya as an entity detached from the world around him, but as a human who had just never gotten the chance to fit in.

"It was no problem at all!" Shizuo blurted. "It was…,” he searched for a word that included all the thoughts that had been more or less torturing him the entire afternoon. “…okay.” How eloquent.

Izaya just stared at him, mouth hanging slightly open.

"Yeah. It guess it was," he muttered. "I'll show you to the door then." Shizuo followed Izaya down the hallway and when they passed the room of the twins, Shizuo could have sworn he saw a little face vanishing behind the gap in the door. When they reached the corridor downstairs with all its closed doors on the side, Shizuo got reminded of the house’s emptiness again. He wanted to say something encouraging, but he wasn’t sure if anything he said would make a difference. So he just put on his shoes while Izaya shifted nervously next to him like he wanted to say something but had the same problem as Shizuo. So they both kept quiet and when Izaya opened the door for him Shizuo was ready to depart without another word exchanged between them.

But when he was halfway through the garden, he suddenly heard a strangled noise from behind him. And then:

“Shizuo!” Izaya called. He was standing there in his too-large hoodie, a tortured look on his face and wringing his hands and Shizuo had never seen something so endearing his entire life. For a moment he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t wrap his head around what it was that was going on.

“I-uh…” Izaya started, looking anywhere but Shizuo’s face. Shizuo didn’t dare say anything out of fear of ruining whatever moment they were sharing. Then Izaya reached next to him and pulled something from behind the door.

“Your umbrella,” he said stepping outside on bare feet, seemingly unaware of the layer of cold rain on the stones. He extended the umbrella towards Shizuo who stared at him dumbfounded.

“Thanks.” Izaya said, even though that was Shizuo’s line.

Then, before Shizuo could reply anything, or even process what happened, Izaya flashed him a grin and turned back towards his house as if he had suddenly remembered that he was supposed to be playing a different role.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Shizu-chan!” he called and shut the door. Shizuo didn’t know for how long he remained standing in Izaya’s yard. He didn’t want to know either – it was probably an embarrassing amount of time.

---

Izaya leaned his back against the door he’d just closed. He could feel his heart beating in his throat, could feel the adrenaline rushing through his veins. When Shizuo had stepped out of the door it had felt like he had taken the warmth of the house out with him. Now all it had left was the residual heat that didn’t manage to warm Izaya up. Izaya let his back slide down against the door and flinched when he hit the cold floor. He still wasn’t sure what to make of the things that happened today. Or rather, of the way he acted. It wasn’t like him at all, to lose control over his body and actions like that, especially not with another person present. Especially not with Shizuo present.

Izaya had always been determined to be the author of his own life, to not relent to the forces of fate. Had he not sworn to never change himself in order to please others? He had kept that promise only in theory, because while he was sure that he wasn’t changing himself – he was being changed, by the boy who considered Izaya to be the bane of his existence. And it wouldn’t have been too bad, had it not been for Shizuo himself staying stubbornly constant, always a step ahead and unwilling to take Izaya with him.

Izaya buried his head in his arms. How frustrating. He simultaneously longed for and feared their past relationship, contained in the clear boundaries the word enemy laid out. Everything had been simpler then, easier to define. At the same time Izaya couldn’t deny the allure of their changing dynamics and the possibility of something like friendship it brought with it. What a pity, he thought, that possibility and actuality were worlds apart. He clasped his hand around the shoulder that had been leaning against Shizuo as they sat next to each other. All he could really hope for was that he wouldn’t lose sight of Shizuo as the other moved ahead.

Chapter Text

Shizuo felt a strange kind of anxiety when walked to school on the day after his visit to Izaya. He’d woken up early with some kind of restlessness having taken a hold of him that made it impossible to go back to sleep. It was that sort of feeling that made him think he had something urgent to take care of but just couldn’t figure out what it was. His mother, ever vigilant, had immediately noticed that something was wrong and her prying questions had done nothing to give Shizuo any kind of comfort. So he’d taken off early, desperate to let the fresh air clear his mind of the residual confusion. Winter reluctantly submitted its ever-present freezing grip on the city, making way for slightly more agreeable temperatures. Shizuo found himself a bit more at ease as he stepped out into the early morning and by the time he made it halfway to school he had almost managed to push his worries into the back of his head. Unfortunately they weren’t as agreeable anymore as soon as the school gate came into sight. There, perched on the wall that enclosed the school grounds, sat Izaya, swinging his legs and looking down at Shizuo like some kind of mischievous spirit.

“Good morning, Shizu-chan,” he called and his mouth stretched into a grin that looked almost convincing. “You’re awfully early today.”

Shizuo stopped right underneath him and granted Izaya the benefit of height he usually lacked when they were facing each other.

“So are you,” Shizuo grunted back because he didn’t want to disturb the early morning peace with the possibility of violence.

Izaya shrugged and jumped off the wall and Shizuo had to push his treacherous hands deeper into his pockets to prevent them from trying to catch Izaya.

“Maybe I’m trying to make up for lost time,” Izaya said and it didn’t feel like he was talking about the lessons he missed yesterday.

Somehow the two of them started moving at the same time and then neither backed down, so they ended up walking across the school yard side by side. Shizuo caught a look at Izaya from the corner of his eye. The other was staring straight ahead and from this angle his smile looked genuine. Shizuo cleared his throat.

“How…are your sisters?”

Izaya’s head snapped up and his eyes widened ever so slightly.

“They are better,” he answered after a few heartbeats. “At least they can annoy me again, so that’s something. Our neighbour is looking after them today.”

For a brief moment Shizuo pictured Izaya at the receiving end of irritation and wondered in which way his sisters managed to annoy him. 

"Are you looking forward to our math lesson today, Shizu-chan, now that you can show off everything I explained to you yesterday?"

Shizuo flinched and turned fully towards Izaya, unable to hide the surprise on his face. He had expected them to revert to their usual ways, pretending that the events from the day before had never happened. But then again, they were walking to school together at a pace others would consider normal and without Shizuo threatening violence.

"That didn't make much of a difference. I still don't get that shit," he said because not answering would be weird.

Izaya clutched at his chest and false hurt appeared on his face.

"I can't believe you're criticising my teaching abilities."

Shizuo tried to hide his smile and shoved Izaya, surprisingly not bringing the other to fall this time.

"Look at you, controlling your strength," Izaya said as if Shizuo’s thoughts had crossed the distance between them.

They reached the lockers and Shizuo almost expected to wake up now and find out it had all been a dream, that this Izaya was just a version his brain had conjured up after their last interaction. But Shizuo didn't wake up and Izaya was still there.

"Anyway, I'll see you later. I still have things to take care of. Bye, Shizuo."

And maybe it was a dream after all.

Even so, Shizuo would rather not know what Izaya still had to do - he had heard rumours about an information business the other was running, and Shizuo liked his own blissful ignorance, liked to pretend that Izaya was just another normal student. So instead he focused on the way Izaya pronounced his name, how the omission of -chan stripped it of ridicule and made it sound honest, how the perpetual smile on Izaya’s face dragged the syllables into something friendly. When Shizuo followed Izaya it was only with his eyes because that was all he allowed himself to do.

Shizuo made his way to class, content with the emptiness of the room that left him some space to calm down before the irritation of numbers would assault his mind. The peace was soon cracking however, when the first students trickled in. It got fully obliterated with the arrival of Shinra, dragging Kadota behind him and purposefully approaching Shizuo's desk.

"Hey there, Shizuo! How did it go?" He said without wasting too much time on pleasantries. "Does Izaya's house still stand?"

Shizuo didn't dignify him with an answer, instead he just nodded a greeting towards Kadota. Shinra was not in the least perturbed by Shizuo's forced ignorance.

"Did he even let you in? His parents were probably not there, right? I don't think they ever are." Shina said like it was not his friend they were talking about but someone he might have seen on TV once and never interacted with. Shizuo could feel anger building up inside him and where was it to go now that Izaya was no longer there to claim it for himself. 

"What's the thing about his parents?" Shizuo manged to grit out between clenched teeth.

Shinra's expression changed from interest to indifference in a matter of seconds.

"Oh you know, they're never home, I think they're on vacation or a business trip something? That's why Izaya always has to look after his sisters," he suddenly let out a loud laugh. "It's probably also why he has this constructed persona which he uses to conceal his insecurities. You know, because there is no one to teach him otherwise?"

And now Shizuo's anger was starting to boil over, he could feel a growl rising up in his chest, found himself getting up from his seat when his eyes moved from Shinra's face to the open door. His anger dissipated, dispelled by the figure standing there with poison in his eyes and defiance in his stance.

Shinra followed his gaze and grinned "Hey Izaya, you're here again!", unfazed by the repercussions of his words.

Izaya's expression changed to his usual sharp grin and Shizuo didn't know if it was that or Shinra's cutting remarks which had torn open his heart.

Izaya simply turned around and left the room, looking less like he forgot something and more like he was the one who had been forgotten. Shinra shrugged, turning to Shizuo again. He was saying something, Shizuo could hear the sound of his voice but not the content of his utterance, he was too focused on Izaya's retreating form and again he wondered if there had ever been one to follow him. Without paying any more attention to Shinra, Shizuo felt himself starting to move. On his way out he faintly realised that the lesson was about to start, but he couldn't bring himself to care. He had just spotted Izaya rounding the corner that led to the staircase, and Shizuo knew where he was headed because Izaya was a fan of enjambments and heights.

Shizuo pushed the door to the rooftop open and there Izaya was, sitting high up on the fence and staring down at the pavement. When the door fell close behind him Izaya turned his head and Shizuo wanted nothing more than to grab his narrow wrist and pull him away from the danger of the void underneath.

"Shizu-chan?" Izaya said hoarsely like he wasn't sure what he was seeing was real. "What –"

"Don't," Shizuo interrupted because he didn't want to explain, he wanted to clarify. "Don't do this."

Izaya laughed, the sound grating and dying away quickly.

"You have to be a bit more specific there, Shizu-chan. What am I not supposed to do?" He crossed his arms, letting go of the support of the railing and Shizuo almost fell for Izaya's trick, almost lost track or his original thought.

"Don't beat yourself up because of another's perception of your life." Shizuo said quietly, fully aware that he was in no position to give that kind of advice.

Izaya looked genuinely shocked for a moment, before he glared at Shizuo.

"What makes you think I care about whatever it was Shinra said?" He spat and Shizuo saw the defensiveness in the slouch Izaya had adopted and that was when Shizuo couldn't take it anymore. He crossed the distance between them in two long strides, ignoring the way Izaya stared at him, and grasped Izaya's wrist. For a second they didn’t move, Shizuo looking up at Izaya like he was a subject making a request from his king, and wasn’t this really how it was? Then, Shizuo tightened his hand and moved backwards, with no intention of letting go of Izaya.

He pulled Izaya off his throne and back down to earth, not caring about the strength he used in the process. Izaya fell forward but Shizuo still didn't let go, wrapping his free arm around narrow shoulders and holding Izaya against his chest.

"And stop that shit with the heights," Shizuo muttered without malice in his voice.

He felt Izaya's stuttering breaths warm against his throat and resisted the urge to tighten his hold on the other. Izaya remained still in Shizuo's arms except for the slight tremble in his shoulders Shizuo was sure he was trying to supress.

After an eternity that felt like a heartbeat Shizuo slowly let his arm fall from Izaya's shoulders to his side and took a step back. The other was still unmoving, but as soon as Shizuo stepped back Izaya's gaze sought his, frantically flicking between Shizuo's eyes as if he was looking for something. Shizuo made sure the only thing he would find was understanding.

Izaya looked like he was about to shatter and Shizuo clenched his fists so he wouldn't grab Izaya in a desperate try to keep him together. Then Izaya breathed out and some of the tension dissipated into the air around them.

"Look, I don't need anyone's pity. I never asked for sympathy either. I don't care about being alone any more than I care about your, or anyone else's thoughts. Just...leave me be, Shizuo."

For a second, Shizuo heart stuttered. Then his anger prevailed. Anger not directed at himself and even less at Izaya, but at everyone around them, those who tried to change others to fit into the moulds they created.

"This is not sympathy, you damned flea. And I sure as fuck don't pity you. If you don't care about what I think; then fine. I'm gonna tell you anyway. I think you're not as unlikable as you make yourself out to be. And I think you're not as content with everything are as you always pretend to be. Just get over it, Izaya, and accept that there are people who actually give a fuck or two about you." Shizuo breathed hard when he was done. He expected Izaya to react with defiant contempt at best and hateful ignorance at worst, but when his eyes finally found Izaya’s, all Shizuo could recognise was a plea.

"Why...why do you suddenly care?"

"Because. Because I stopped seeing what you want me to see."

Izaya choked out a laugh.

"I can't believe this. I never even - you're just doing this to spite me?"

"Why else have I ever done anything?" Shizuo grinned because they both knew it was a lie, but it was easier than admitting the truth.

“Ah, what a pity. We could have prevented so much property damage if …” There was a strange glint in Izaya’s eyes and Shizuo couldn’t convince himself that it was just a reflection of the sun, not with all the clouds overhead. Still Izaya tried to force a grin on his face and only when Shizuo lifted an eyebrow the other’s expression relaxed. It suited him – this human look. For a moment they stood in comfortable silence, letting the words settle between them. Izaya was the first to speak.

“What now?”

“Whatever,” Shizuo shrugged. “Let’s just make the best of it.”

Izaya grinned, open and honest, and Shizuo had never seen him look more beautiful.

“Maybe we should get back to class. It would be a pity if I taught you advanced maths for nothing.”

 

---

 

One week later, on a Saturday, Izaya sat cross legged on the low-hanging branch of a tree and watched different people who were taking a stroll through the park. It was getting warmer and the blue sky seemed to be enough to lure people out of their houses. A group of children ran past Izaya’s tree, yelling and laughing without a care in the world and Izaya wondered if he could have been like that too, had he been given the chance. He sighed and pushed himself off the branch and started to make his way towards the park’s exit. When he passed a young couple, arm in arm and with doting looks on their faces not unlike the one Shinra wore almost permanently, Izaya’s thoughts drifted to the reason he was headed towards Shizuo’s house today.  

-

It was the day before, class was about to start, and Izaya sat in his chair while trying more or less successfully to not fall asleep. He had gotten a spontaneous request for information the previous night, resulting in him getting a total of two hours of sleep. He was just about to use his bag as a pillow when a familiar voice came from the front of the classroom.

“Yo, flea. You have anything to do tomorrow?”

Izaya, not used to being addressed directly by anyone in class who wasn’t their teacher, almost flinched before he remembered that he was surrounded by people whose eyes were now all on him. So he turned his reaction into a performance, slouched forward in his chair, propped his chin up on the back of his hand and regarded Shizuo from behind the stands of hair he let fall over his eyes. He faintly noticed that the whole class had gone silent with tense anticipation as Shizuo called out to Izaya. Some looked like they were ready to bolt out of the room should the table in front of Shizuo turn into a makeshift projectile. Izaya felt excitement rise up in him, this new and completely unpredicted situation sending adrenaline through his veins. The grin that spread over his face was genuine.

“Why would you care about my weekend activities, Shizu-chan?” Izaya drawled and he was so eager to hear the answer that he had to actively stop himself from standing up.

“So you don’t. Wanna come over? My parents aren’t home.”

There were gasps coming from their classmates and it took all of Izaya’s self-control to not follow their example and gape at Shizuo, who was sitting halfway turned in his chair to face Izaya with that trademark frown on his face. Izaya only just managed to flash Shizuo a smile the other probably still recognised as fake.

“How could I pass the opportunity to observe my favourite monster in his natural terrain?” Izaya said, his voice strained from his effort to keep it indifferent. Their classmates were looking genuinely frightened now, with the exception of Shinra maybe, who looked like he was mentally preparing to write a thesis on this conversation.

Shizuo shrugged. “Cool. You can come over at 5.” And he turned towards the front again, leaving Izaya with the stares of everyone in class.

-

And here he was now, standing in front of Shizuo's door and considering to just leave and go back to the empty shell he was supposed to call home. To some, the windows of the house Shizuo lived in might have looked inviting, brightly lit and full of decorations as they were, but to Izaya they looked intimidating. He had just decided to turn around and take the easy way out when the door opened and revealed someone vaguely familiar. Izaya stopped mid-motion and blinked at the boy in front of him, who looked so much like Shizuo and not like him at all. This version was smaller, his facial features more delicate, and his expression the epitome of neutrality.

"Uhm..." Izaya started, not sure what he even wanted to say.

"You were standing here for a few minutes, so I thought you might have missed the bell button," the boy said tonelessly and pointed to a very obvious sign that had “Heiwajima” written on it. "I'm Kasuka. Do you want to come inside?"

Izaya, not sure if he could embarrass himself any more at this point, just nodded and accepted the invitation. The inside of the house was remarkably warm, and the smell of cooked food hung pleasantly in the air. For a moment Izaya stood in the corridor, looking at the fresh flowers that decorated a shelf and the countless framed pictures on the wall. His eyes were drawn to one particular photo that had two boys on them, one looking emotionlessly into the camera while the other had a large grin on his face. Izaya had to stop himself from reaching out to touch the bright smile the camera had locked permanently onto Shizuo’s face. Then the door to his right flew open and a slightly dishevelled Shizuo, the real and proper version this time, stepped out.

Upon seeing Izaya he stopped as if he had hit an invisible wall and gaped at him. "Izaya? How did you get in, I didn’t even hear the doorbell? Did you break–”

"I saw him arrive and opened the door before he could ring," Kasuka said casually without the slightest hint of inflection in his voice. Izaya was slightly impressed and immensely grateful.

"Oh, I see," Shizuo just said and shrugged. “Well, I was just about to make us some dinner, so come into the kitchen.”

“Have fun.” Kasuka said and Izaya thought that, with a poker face like that, he would make an excellent Yakuza.

Kasuka made his way up the stairs and Izaya, suddenly self-conscious about his every move, took more time than necessary to hang his coat on a free spot on the coat rack. He took a deep breath, gathered all the pride and confidence he had left and turned around. Just as he was about to say something, a sarcastic remark or a joke maybe, he felt a hand close around his wrist and the words got stuck in his throat.

“Come on, food’s gonna get cold if you take any longer.” Shizuo grumbled and everything Izaya could have said got blanked out by the electricity Shizuo’s touch sent through his veins. Shizuo pulled him into the kitchen and Izaya tried to think of something to say to get back a semblance of his usual self, but he couldn’t focus amidst the cordiality that seemed to fill the entire house.  

Dinner, as it turned out, consisted of rice with eggs. By the time they sat down Izaya had composed himself enough to plaster a grin on his face when Shizuo took the chair opposite of him.

“I see Shizu-chan is a real master chef,” Izaya announced as if didn’t feel a jolt of excitement every time he remembered that Shizuo actually made the effort to cook something for him. Izaya picked up the chopsticks and when he noticed Shizuo’s gaze lingering on the motion of his fingers, he made a show of spinning them around.

“I see you’re still a goddamn nuisance,” Shizuo replied casually and took a bite of fried egg.

They ate in silence after that and Izaya realised that there was another kind of silence besides the overbearing one that always suffocated him in his own house. This one was warm and pleasant, occasionally disrupted by the clattering of dishes or the creaking of wood. They finished their meal quickly and when he had picked the last grain of rice out of his bowl, Izaya couldn’t keep quiet any longer.

“Say, Shizu-chan,” he started, desperate to keep his voice light and detached, “why did you do this? I mean, not that I want to appear ungrateful for all the effort you undertook, but I’m still unsure as to why you would want me in your house. And proclaim that in front of the whole class.”

For a moment, Shizuo didn’t say anything, he just considered Izaya and it felt like the other saw right though his put-on indifference. Then Shizuo let out a long sigh.

“I thought we talked about this. You can stop the performance Izaya, I know you’re not the detached jerk you keep impersonating.”

Izaya tried to look indignant, but his resolve crumbled in the face of Shizuo’s honesty.

“Fine,” he said even though nothing was fine, even though Shizuo had unravelled his existence with his stubborn refusal to play by Izaya’s rules. When Izaya looked up Shizuo seemed to be in thought, his chopsticks hovering halfway between his mouth and the bowl.

“Do you think we could have been, I don’t know, friends or something?” Shizuo asked suddenly.

“You mean if you hadn’t decided to hate me on first sight?” Izaya said because the hurt of that day never quite left him.

Shizuo flinched as if Izaya had reached across the table and struck him.

“Yeah, I guess it’s kinda my fault,” He looked so dejected that Izaya felt the sudden need to ease the lines of worry that had appeared on Shizuo’s face.

“Whatever, it’s not like I didn’t enjoy your undivided hatred.”

Shizuo passed him a look that almost looked soft from this angle.

“Maybe we can…I don’t know. Start being friends now or something,” Shizuo muttered and turned his attention back to his bowl as if he hoped to find an answer in between the grains of rice.

For a moment Izaya considered the concept of friendship in his mind, trying to find an angle where he could fit it onto himself and Shizuo. But friendship was round, something soft and smooth, while he and Shizuo were all broken pieces and jagged edges. Wasn’t this what he had always wanted? Shizuo’s interest, his attention, his –

Friendship?

Izaya wasn’t even sure what it would entail, to be friends with someone. Were there expectations, general rules to ensure compatibility? But when he looked at Shizuo picking at his food, his eyes half obscured by hair, he knew that he wanted something from him, and friendship was probably the closes thing to it he would ever get.

“Sure,” he said, a rawness to his voice he was unfamiliar with. “Let’s be friends or something.”

Chapter Text

Three months later Shizuo stood next to his family the school’s gymnasium, observing the many different people around him. His eyes traversed the large space, searching for raven hair and crimson eyes, but Izaya’s obvious absence was almost as deafening as the loud voices all around. Next to him, Shizuo could faintly hear his parents talking about how proud they were of his graduation, that they couldn’t wait to see what the future held for him. And Shizuo wondered the same, wondered if his future held anything or if it was being held by someone who was not himself.  

As he stared at his classmates around him – people he had known for years and still didn’t know at all, smiling and surrounded by their families – Shizuo grew almost desperate to find the single lonely person among them. His friendship with Izaya (and Shizuo still thought it was weird to call Izaya his friend, the word feeling right in all the wrong ways) was something Shizuo had grown used to far quicker than he would have expected.

It had been strange at first; going to school with the knowledge that, instead of irritation, all Shizuo would get was a sort of comfortable calmness he hadn’t known before. Izaya’s voice no longer held malice or ridicule when he talked to Shizuo; instead Shizuo learned that Izaya’s favourite emotion was excitement, when the other went on for hours about topics Shizuo hadn't even considered before. Izaya loved sharing his extensive (and mostly useless) knowledge and Shizuo found himself enjoying the lengthy lectures. Where before he would feel annoyance at the sound of Izaya’s voice, he learned to appreciate the other’s particular way of speaking. Whenever he was passionate about something, Izaya's face would light up, his hands supporting the words with extensive and elegant gestures that always drew in Shizuo's attention.

Until one day Shizuo realised that it was not the detail of Izaya’s stories he enjoyed, but the simplicity of Izaya’s company.

And then, as if Shizuo wasn’t busy enough with coming to terms with his shifting perspective, there were the touches. For someone as detached from his surroundings as Izaya had always been, he was surprisingly drawn to physical contact. Maybe it was the lack of it that used to define Izaya’s life that heightened his need for it now, like a starved person who was given food for the first time in forever.

And Shizuo too was starved.

Izaya came to visit often now, like a stray cat that sought the warmth of a home, and Shizuo was happy to share. When they sat in his room together they would both sooner or later end up on the floor, with Izaya using Shizuo as a pillow in one way or another.

Shizuo didn’t remember exactly when it started, but it must have been on one of those quiet afternoons where Izaya came over not because of necessity, but because of the lack of it. They did nothing in particular, the simplicity of company enough to keep both of them content. Izaya was sprawled across the bed as if he owned it, and in a way he did, given how it seemed to be his second favourite spot in the room. Shizuo had become used to the way his pillow took on the faint smell of Izaya's shampoo each time the other came to visit.

"I just don't see any point in it, you know?" Izaya was saying, playing with Shizuo's blanket. "I think our education system has already taught me everything it has to offer. Why would I bother with university?"

"Because you can," Shizuo insisted firmly from his position on the floor, eyes locked on a cloud that was drifting past the window. "Others don't even get the chance."

Izaya went quiet. Then there was the rustling of cloth and shortly afterwards Shizuo could feel the air being displaced behind him, and with it the cold mood he had surrounded himself with. Suddenly there was nothing but warmth as Izaya leaned against him, back to back, comfort to comfort.

"Who even needs university?" Izaya’s voice was loud in the room, as if he hoped to reach a larger audience. "I thought we wouldn't let other’s expectations define us."

And it was the We that made Shizuo’s heart beat faster, the Us that took away his words, the implication of belonging that made him reach back. When he found Izaya’s hand he quickly covered it with his own, afraid that his anxiety would catch up to him before he got the chance to take the opportunity. He felt Izaya flinch against his back, like Shizuo’s touch had electrocuted him, and for a moment insecurity washed over Shizuo and demanded he pull back, as if that could make the both of them forget the sensation Shizuo had forced upon them. But as always Izaya was faster and instead of pulling away his palm turned upward, the fingers that curled around Shizuo's casting a memory in flesh. It was an awkward angle, their fingers interlaced but not quite, and yet to Shizuo it felt like completion. For some minutes they remained like that and Shizuo was sure, was afraid, that should either of them talk the words would drag them back to the reality of the situation.

And true enough, when Izaya opened his mouth he spoke small cracks into the make-believe they had created.

"It would be great, wouldn't it? If this never ended?"

And Shizuo wanted to turn and clasp his hand over Izaya's mouth to stop reality from spilling over his lips, to keep the illusion that Izaya was talking about this moment. But by the time Shizuo had withdrawn his hand from Izaya's, it was already too late.

"School, I mean. Suddenly, graduating seems like such a chore," Izaya's voice sounded hollow like he was not ready to leave behind a version of his self that was bound to the confines of school.

"Yeah. I...," Shizuo had to be careful to not choke on the words, they felt too heavy in his throat. "It would be nice if we had more time."

He felt Izaya shift behind him and when he turned to face the other he was met with crimson eyes and an unvoiced question. Shizuo was just about to say something, elaborate on what he meant maybe, even though he wasn’t sure if that would give an answer to the question Izaya didn’t bother to give words to, when the door to his room creaked open.

"Mom says dinner is ready. Izaya can come too if he wants," Kasuka said in the usual detached tone Shizuo had come to envy.

Shizuo’s eyes flicked towards Izaya – maybe this time he would stay, would accept the offer of a borrowed family, but as soon as Shizuo saw the expression on the other’s face he knew better. Perhaps Izaya was scared that the experience would brand him in a way that would not let him forget, that would weave itself into the loneliness of his own home and make it even more prominent.

 All Shizuo could do now was to accompany Izaya to the door and hope that the other had gathered enough warmth in Shizuo’s room to carry to his own house. When Izaya stepped into the darkening afternoon outside he looked back, but his eyes were unfocussed as if the view to Shizuo was blocked by a wall only Izaya could see.

"See you in school, Shizu-chan," he said, a sadness laced through his words that Shizuo couldn't hope to comprehend.

"Yeah… see you then, flea."

His own sadness, at least, Shizuo could understand.

 

And the closer they got to the day of the graduation, the more Izaya seemed to avoid Shizuo.

When Shizuo arrived at school in the morning, he no longer was greeted with a smile he once considered irritating and now found comforting. When class ended, Izaya no longer pretended to neatly pack his bag just so he and Shizuo could leave together. It was the silence in his room though, the lack of Izaya's distinct presence, that really got to him. Was this how Izaya felt in his own room, Shizuo wondered, all empty and left behind? Ever since Izaya had stopped visiting, there was a pain in Shizuo’s chest that hadn't been there before and that he was too afraid to examine more closely.

It was during the final week before graduation, Shizuo hadn't talked to Izaya in four days, that he grew sure that this must be the “true loneliness” Izaya had mentioned to him some memories ago.

Shizuo used to miss Izaya all the time, with his fists, with objects, but this was the first time he missed Izaya with something he couldn’t throw.

-

And now that he was standing in the large hall, surrounded by finality, it felt like his time was running out; if he didn't catch Izaya now he wouldn't get another chance. Suddenly there was a tug at his sleeve, a pull back to reality, and when he turned to the side he saw Kasuka looking up at him with a blank face. His other arm was pointing to the corner of the room furthest away from Shizuo.

"He's over there."

Shizuo stared at his brother for the fraction of a second, then his legs started to move even before his eyes had a chance to confirm the claim for themselves, hope alone dragging him to the location Kasuka had pointed out. He moved past former classmates, felt their stares as they followed him with their eyes, but for once he didn’t care about their perception of him, too focussed on the things that mattered.

As he get closer to the edge of the hall he finally spotted Izaya, half merged with the shadows that Shizuo had spent the last months trying to pull him out of. Izaya's eyes landed on Shizuo too late, an escape having been rendered impossible by proximity, unless Izaya wanted drag them both back to the simplicity of the past where a chase had already been enough.  There was a particular kind of conflict in Izaya’s eyes, one Shizuo knew all too well, but he didn't care anymore, the only thing he wanted now was to rid them of their shared loneliness for good.

"Shizu–," Izaya started on a lilted note, but Shizuo wouldn’t let him turn the situation into another carefully built imitation of normalcy. He brought Izaya's construction to fall with hands that had destroyed so many creations before – only that this time, he did it gently.

He grasped Izaya's hand, small and fragile, in his own.

"Come with me," Shizuo said because it wasn't quite enough to bare his feelings, but still enough. He pulled Izaya behind him, ready to make an enjambement of his own. Izaya didn't speak, didn’t resist, and after a while his fingers curled around Shizuo’s, a surrender in all but intention.  Shizuo tightened his hold on, trying to convey through touches what words denied him.

He brought them to the yard behind the gymnasium, a place that used to be a beginning and was now threatening to become an end. As they entered the court it felt like, after years of chasing, the past had finally caught up to them. He came to a halt in the middle of the space, the sport where he had stood lifetimes ago, and turned, as he did lifetimes ago. But Izaya wasn’t perched on the railing anymore, he was right next to Shizuo, and instead of a grin he wore a frown not unlike Shizuo’s from back then.

Shizuo let go of Izaya's hand and grabbed words instead.

"I don't know what you think. I mean, I never do, but this time I don't care. Because this is not the end, Izaya. No matter if it feels like it, we don't have to make it the end."

Izaya looked at him as if Shizuo had suggested they destroy each other right here and now, and to Shizuo it felt like he had done just that. But it was okay, because sometimes destruction is necessary, sometimes destruction is the only thing that permits growth.

"What do you expect, Shizu-chan? For us to stay friends, to meet for coffee every other day and talk about our work?"

Shizuo felt a sting of hurt in his chest at the dismissiveness that laced itself through Izaya’s words, even though he could hear the insincerity beneath it.

"This is not a story, Shizuo, and even if it was, we're not the happy protagonists, we’re narrative foils at best."

Shizuo nodded in acceptance, in the most insincere motion he ever made.

"If you don't want to...” he started, trying keep his voice clear of disappointment. “You know, you just have to say it, no need for some stupid metaphors. I just thought that may-"

"I'm not staying in Ikebukuro," Izaya blurted, so sudden it made Shizuo flinch. "It's not like I don't want to stay Friends or Something, it's just that I know how it plays out in reality. People choose different paths, they promise to stay in touch, they don't. It’s as easy as that. Let’s not fool ourselves."

And Shizuo couldn't help it, not when Izaya pretended that they hadn’t been fooling themselves for the longest time already. He let out a laugh, and it felt like it took with it all the anxiety that had settled within him. He had been worried for nothing, for the insecurities Izaya had grown in himself and  Shizuo was ready to tear out their roots once and for all. And he wanted to tell just that to Izaya, but when he met the other’s eyes his laughter died like a flame in a vacuum. Izaya's face showed a deep hurt and only then did Shizuo realise the implications of his laugh, and the inability of Izaya to read his mind. A false grin spread over Izaya's face, of the kind Shizuo had hoped to never see again. He nodded.

"Yeah, Shizu-chan. So I guess this is really an ending. What a fitting one."

And he walked past Shizuo to make his way back inside, into the crowded room that was a reminder of his loneliness.

This was all going so wrong, so horribly wrong, this was not what Shizuo had wanted, but words failed him as they had done so often. And Izaya was mistaken, if they parted ways now it was no ending but another beginning, and the story that would follow was not one Shizuo wanted. So he did the only thing he could still do, the only thing he had ever been able to do.

He chased after Izaya.

Shizuo cut the growing distance between them with a few steps and Izaya was too slow to react, weighed down by his own words. Shizuo reached him, reached out for him and grabbed his hand because actions were so much easier than words.

He closed his fingers around Izaya’s, relief rushing through his veins at the contact. Shizuo tugged, turning Izaya around so they faced each other and for a moment he stared, stared into Izaya's eyes and past them, trying to find the same certainty he was feeling, but it wasn’t there.

And so he stepped forward, letting go of Izaya's hand and taking his waist instead, pulling him closer until he could feel more of Izaya than he could see. Shizuo tightened his arms, holding the other firmly against him in a desperate try to let his hands do the talking for him, all gentleness this time. He felt Izaya’s uneven breath against his skin and the tension in his shoulders, but Shizuo didn't draw back, he needed Izaya to know that he had a choice, that loneliness was not his final state of being.

After long heartbeats that felt heavy in Shizuo's chest, as if his heart didn't pump blood through his veins but thick oil, ready to ignite at any second, Izaya gave in.

His body relaxed, slowly letting go of the tension it had been clinging to the whole time. In a way, he surrendered, surrendered himself to Shizuo's strength until it was the only thing that kept him standing.

His arms came up, carefully like he was afraid that even the smallest movement would cause him to crack, even with Shizuo right there to save him.

Izaya's fingers traced against Shizuo's chest, stopping briefly at his collarbones, before he wrapped his arms around Shizuo’s neck as if he didn’t really know how to return a hug. And he probably didn’t and Shizuo wanted nothing more than to show him, so he drew Izaya in even closer until he wasn't sure where his body ended and Izaya's began. It was ironic, he thought, that after so many years of tearing things apart he was now the one to keep Izaya together. Maybe they kept each other together. Maybe they kept each other complete.

Izaya rested his head on Shizuo's shoulder, breath warm against his throat and if Izaya wanted they could stay like this forever and Shizuo would not deny him.

But at some point Izaya moved backwards, keeping his head low as if hoping his eyes would keep him grounded.

"It's not easy, Izaya. But that's okay. Easy is for everyone, and that's not you."

Izaya's laugh sounded almost like a sob.

"So we're just two abnormalities keeping each other company?"

Yes, Shizuo didn't say, because no one else will. Because abnormalities and gods best stay among themselves. Instead he said: "Make sure to visit Ikebukuro. The city will be lonely without you there to irritate her."

I will be lonely.

---

The graduation party slowly began to dissolve. Izaya's classmates hugged each other goodbye, some of them crying, some making promises. The fools, Izaya thought, and I'm one of them. He could still feel the residue of Shizuo’s touch and he was sure that he would never be rid of it. He wasn’t sure if he ever wanted to be rid of it.

He stood to the side, there was no one who would really miss him and just as many who would remember him. People started to leave, families moving in unison as if they were a single entity. Izaya scoffed, because it was all he could do. He tried to determine the best moment for him to slip out of the hall unnoticed, to make sure his existence would fade from the other's memory as quickly as possible. He wasn't sure if he was going to miss school in the same way one wasn't sure if the dream they had was good or bad. School had been something secondary in his mind, always pushed back to passivity by the presence of the one person who saw him.

And now, too, Izaya was not granted the advantage of invisibility. He had just passed the double doors, stepped outside into the yard, and made his way towards the school gates one last time when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

The ending was right in front of him and he was ready to turn the page. But when he turned he found that there was no end, only a new paragraph, and Izaya felt relief rushing through him. Shizuo stood before him, backlit by the light spilling out of the gymnasium’s doors, and momentarily Izaya was breathless, and it was fine. Because in that moment he was grateful; for the warm smile he was offered, for the reassurance he was given, for Shizuo.

"Leaving before saying goodbye?" Shizuo said.

"I would never," Izaya replied, keeping his voice as light as possible ,which was difficult given the surge of so many different emotions at once.

"Tell me your new address as soon as you have one," Shizuo said, already writing their new paragraph.

"You'll be the first to know, Shizu-chan."

Shizuo nodded, smiling: "Good."

Izaya’s eyes briefly roamed Shizuo’s body and he wondered whether he would get burned if he risked another hug. And when he looked at Shizuo standing before him with that warm smile that spelled nothing but acceptance, he suddenly knew, with all the certainty in the world, that he didn’t want their story to end. He flashed Shizuo a grin so sincere it felt strange on his face.

“See you around, Shizuo.”

And when they went into different directions, Izaya knew that it was only temporarily.

Chapter Text

Sometimes Shizuo wondered how beginnings were supposed to feel - scary, exciting, desperate, hopeful. When the mundanity of everyday life caught up with him, he knew the one thing that truly defined beginnings was their brevity. And as the days went by Shizuo came to realise that he once would have been grateful for that – mundanity brought with it the peace he had never known earlier. Only that peace was the last thing he wanted, now that he had gotten a taste of the mess that was Friendship or Something.

It had been two months since their graduation. Two months since he had last seen Izaya. Shizuo took a job in a convenience store, more to keep himself occupied than because he needed to. His parents offered him to stay at home for as long as he wanted, for as long as it took him to figure out what it was he wanted to do in life. But Shizuo already knew what he wanted, just as well as he knew that he was not ready to admit to himself what that actually was. And as much as he loved and appreciated his family, he felt like it was time to find his own place. So he opted for the independence that served as a disguise for loneliness. He opted for Izaya's way of living, as if the act of imitation increased the chance for the other to stay in Shizuo's life.

It did not.

Izaya's last words still rung in his ears like a song without melody, copied onto a record that was playing on repeat in the back of his mind.

You'll be the first to know.

By now the words had lost their initial meaning to Shizuo. Know first about what, exactly? The home Izaya chose for himself, or the inevitable reality Izaya had threatened?

People choose different paths, they promise to stay in touch, they don’t. Shizuo realised that half of his thoughts belonged to Izaya by now.

The first weeks had been easy. Settling into a new life took time, so he gave it to the both of them. The first month was harder, and towards the end Shizuo felt hope slipping through his fingers like Izaya himself did all the time.

Shizuo tried to call twice, the first time because Why not? and the second time because he still hadn't got an answer to that question.

When he dialled Izaya’s number for the third time he was too afraid to get one, so he left it at that.

You'll be the first to know.

Now, two months and three days later, Shizuo stood behind the counter of the store and wanted to know. Know how Izaya was doing and what he was doing. He formulated questions in his head, How are you, Are you lonely, Have you found?

"How can help you?" he asked instead, not looking up when a new customer approached the counter.

"I-," and Shizuo's head snapped up because he wouldn't ever mistake that voice, the one that first tortured him with its presence and later with its absence. Izaya’s wide, sharp-edged grin hadn’t changed at all and the familiarity of it sent warmth through Shizuo’s body.  "-heard there was a new clerk in this store, and I wanted to see how he was doing."

Shizuo felt his own mouth drag into a smile, the last two months erased from his memory by Izaya’s presence alone.

When Shizuo spoke, his voice came out steady because it finally felt like he had solid ground under his feet again.

"Oh wow, look who decided to show up," he said in the best imitation of his usual annoyed growl he could muster. Izaya's grin widened.

"I'm a very busy person, Shizu-chan, you know? All kinds of important people want things from me, so you have to get in line."

Shouldn’t I be at the front of that line, Shizuo thought and kept to himself.

"But of course you're pretty far at the front." Maybe Izaya was tired of keeping things to himself. Or maybe he was tired of keeping to himself. Shizuo would like to think that he was the one who taught Izaya to seek company.

"Oh yeah? What kinds of important people are you dealing with?" Shizuo wouldn't have thought that Izaya's grin could get any wider, but Izaya had always made it his goal to defy expectations. He leaned in closer over the counter.

"Shinjuku."

"Huh?"

"I have an apartment in Shinjuku now. I said I'd tell you first. Not even my sisters know it yet."

Shizuo gaped at him. "Shinjuku?"

"I thought it would be more interesting than Shibuya. Maybe not as fancy, but with all sorts of different people," Izaya said as if Shizuo had just criticised his choice of neighbourhood. Shizuo wondered if Izaya knew some of those different people, if he had talked to any of them or if he was still happy with simple observation. He wondered if there was someone else who…

"Consider yourself invited," Izaya continued, as if determined to deny Shizuo the time he needed to finish his thoughts, and Shizuo had missed this. "I need someone to carry all my boxes into the apartment, and your monstrous strength came to mind first."

"Oh I see, so you only came because you need cheap labour," Shizuo said with mock indignation.

"I came because I need you," Izaya said, carelessness colouring his voice in honestly. They both went quiet, Izaya with realisation and Shizuo with shock. And then Shizuo waited for the inevitable clarification, for Izaya to justify himself, but when Izaya opened his mouth it was not on words but a deep breath, and before he could give voice to whatever it was he wanted to say, there was a different noise.

It was an impatient clicking of the tongue, when the patience of the four people in line behind Izaya had apparently been exhausted. Izaya suddenly seemed to realise that he was still in public because a pleasant smile spread over his features and he turned to give false apologies to the waiting crowd. It took Shizuo about two seconds longer to find his bearings, and those were obviously two seconds too many. An angry huff told him that his manager had appeared behind him and true enough, when he turned he was met with a look of exaggerated disappointment, as if Shizuo had just driven the entire store into bankruptcy.

"Your constant distraction is really getting out of hand, Heiwajima," the manager said, even though he had never had a reason to complain before. Out of the corner of his eye Shizuo could see Izaya directing an uncharacteristically malicious glare in the direction of the manager. But the old man was too focused on his misbehaving subordinate to notice the threat that was radiating off of Izaya.

"There are enough people who would be all too happy to work here, and probably more suited for the job."

At that Izaya stepped behind the counter, and suddenly there were cold fingers firmly around Shizuo’s.

"Why, isn't this fantastic news, Shizu-chan? That means you can get out of this grand establishment without having to feel bad about it." Izaya had adopted a tone so sickly-sweet that Shizuo could basically taste the poison in it. Stood between Izaya and his manager he wasn’t sure where to look; his manager's face which was rapidly turning an angry red, or Izaya's gleeful expression that looked even more dangerous than his previous glare. Finally, he settled for the point where his and Izaya’s hands were joint together, and noticed a ring on Izaya's index finger, plain and silver. But before he could give more thought to that, Izaya already moved and tugged Shizuo with him, and he thought that not even his strength would be enough to resist the magnetic pull of Izaya's presence.

"Don’t even bother coming back! You're fired, Heiwajima!" His former manager yelled after them. Izaya turned, already halfway out the door.

"I didn't know you could fire someone who just quit," he smiled and with that he left, Shizuo’s hand still firmly in his grip.

"Do you have to be so dramatic all the time?" Shizuo muttered, surprised that he was still able to form coherent sentences after what had just transpired.

Izaya chuckled. "You can admit that you missed me. I’m sorry I got you fired though."

"You didn't. I quit," Shizuo replied, just so he could keep the grin on Izaya's face. Now that they had left the store and entered the main road Shizuo had the opportunity to take a closer look at Izaya. He looked the same as always, shining black hair and eyes that were more red than brown. The black jacket with tan fur lining would have looked ridiculous on anyone else, but it looked just right on Izaya, who now skipped ahead and turned to face Shizuo.

"You can do better than that anyway. How about becoming a bouncer? Or better even, a bodyguard?"

"Where have you been?" Shizuo asked, not able to leave the question unanswered any longer.

"Does it matter?" Izaya returned cheerfully and spread his arms. "I'm here now."

"It matters to me," Shizuo felt the honesty heavy on his tongue.

Izaya's arms dropped to his side and for a second he looked young and lost, a boy wearing a fur-lined coat in early summer.

Shizuo felt a sting in his chest and forced a grin on his face as he moved towards Izaya. He spun him around and let his arm fall around the other's shoulders, delicately narrow under the large coat.

"Come on, I-za-ya-kun, let's get coffee and talk about our work."

Izaya huffed a laugh and almost stumbled when he tried to keep up with Shizuo's long strides.

-

By the time they arrived at a small café Shizuo had once been to with Kasuka, the tall buildings of Ikebukuro had almost swallowed all daylight. The windows in the upper floors lit up as if they were trying to make up for the missing stars. Shizuo held open the door for Izaya and, after a long time of silence, Shinra’s voice resounded in his head again; Look at you now, Shizuo, it’s almost as if you’re on a date with Izaya! Shizuo let out an annoyed growl and the young waitress who walked past gave him a startled look.

The café was fairly empty and Izaya claimed a table right by the window, where he plopped down without taking off his jacket.

“What a nice place you chose, Shizu-chan! I didn’t expect you to know such cosy cafés.”

Shizuo took the seat opposite of Izaya and grunted, “It’s one of Kasuka’s favourites.”

The young waitress came to take their orders and Shizuo didn’t miss how she kept a distance from his side of the table. Instead she focussed on Izaya, who gave her a wide smile that Shizuo couldn’t help but find irritating.

"I'll have a coffee, black. And a cocoa with extra cream for Shizu-chan here,” Izaya said in a tone that was more civil than anything Shizuo had ever heard from him. The waitress nodded and went behind the counter, not before returning Izaya’s smile with a little too much colour rising to her cheeks. But when Izaya turned towards Shizuo again, his expression relaxed into a more tender smile and Shizuo realised that the other had perfected the art of faking emotions.

"Did I get it right?" Izaya asked. "I was tempted to get you extra sugar, but I don’t want you do die from Diabetes."

"How considerate," Shizuo muttered and didn’t mention that Izaya’s order for him was spot on.

"So, Shizu-chan,” Izaya leaned forward in is seat and rested his chin on the back of his hand, giving him the look of a model about to partake in a photoshoot. “Tell me about your work."

"That's easy. I just became unemployed,” Shizuo narrowed his eyes at Izaya. “Your turn. What were you up to?"

Izaya sighed and looked out of the window as if he was hoping a to find a reason to change the topic amidst the bustling crowd on the street. The young waitress, already in Shizuo’s bad graces, picked this moment to return with their drinks. Izaya thanked her a bit too exuberantly, which turned the slight pink in her cheeks into a vibrant red. When she returned to the counter Shizuo frowned at her retreating form while Izaya snickered into his coffee and took a sip of the scolding hot drink.

“Well?” Shizuo said, slowly shifting his glare from the waitress to Izaya.

"Would you believe that I’d have to kill you if I told you where I worked?"

"Sure. Wouldn't believe you could actually do it though."

Izaya laughed at that, loud and clear, and Shizuo's heart stuttered in his chest as he realised how much he had missed that sound. Then the laugh transitioned seamlessly into a sigh.

"Well, if this were a video game, I guess you’d be the final boss.”

When Shizuo didn’t react to that Izaya had the audacity to roll his eyes.

“Gods, you’re so stubborn, Shizu-chan … Whatever. If you must know, I have a private business now.  I sell knowledge. If you wanted another maths lesson from me it’d cost you quite a lot of money.”

“So you didn’t answer my calls or call me yourself because you gave someone private maths lessons?” Shizuo felt heat rising into his face as he realised that he sounded like a scorned teenager from a romantic comedy.

But Izaya’s expression suddenly turned serious. “I would have contacted you sooner. I mean it. But… it took some time to set up an information network, and my main client, well… he can be pretty demanding, so I really had no time for anything else.”

His heart didn't so much stutter as that it stopped dead in its tracks as it dawned on Shizuo what Izaya was implying.

"What the fuck, Izaya?" he all but yelled. "You don’t just sell knowledge, you’re an inform-"

The rest of the words got trapped in his mouth as Izaya, quick as ever, leaned across the table and covered Shizuo's mouth with a hand.

"Can you not announce that to the entirety of Ikebukuro?" he hissed. Shizuo slowly nodded and, as soon as Izaya removed his hand, continued, trying to keep his voice level.

"You’re an informant! For whom? Like...criminals?"

There was a shift in Izaya’s expression; half amusement, half danger, all captivating. Shizuo stared at him, at his delicate fingers, loosely curled around the cup, at his red-tinted eyes, in part shadowed by long lashes, at the upward curve of his lips, almost an invitation. Shizuo swallowed hard and quickly averted his gaze, but nothing in the room was interesting enough do distract him from the allure that was Izaya’s presence.

When Izaya spoke, his voice was a cadence lower than usual. "Maybe. Why, is that a problem?"

Shizuo sat up straight, just to prove to himself that he was still in control over his body, and willed his voice into obedience.

"A problem? It’s dangerous Izaya, what if you get hurt?"

"Then you’ll come to my rescue. The dragon coming to save the prince."

The answer came so quickly, so devoid of any doubt, that Shizuo was at a loss for words. How could Izaya, one of the few people who actually knew him, believe with such certainty that saving was something Shizuo could do, that destruction wasn’t all he was cut out for.

But apparently to Izaya, Shizuo’s silence had marked the end of that conversation.

"Don't worry, Shizu-chan. I'll be fine. We should be more concerned about your future."

"Huh? Why? What about it?" Shizuo asked, caught off guard by the sudden change of topic.

"Why, we need to find you a proper job of course! You can't keep living in that small hovel some might call an apartment,” Izaya wrinkled his nose in disgust as if Shizuo’s choice of lodging had personally offended him.

"Hovel?”, Shizuo growled, half annoyed, half grateful at the surge of normality that came with the irritation. “Wait, how do you even…?”

Izaya lifted and eyebrow and gestured in the general direction of his face.

"Informant. I happen to be good at my job."

For a moment Shizuo allowed himself to dwell on the mental image of Izaya going out of his way to find out about Shizuo’s new apartment.

"Well, I happen to like where I live," he said, insincerity so obvious in his voice he might as well have told the truth. Izaya just passed him an incredulous look.

"What do you think of bartending?" He swirled his half-empty cup at Shizuo.

"You want me to become a bartender? Don't you need proper training for that?"

Izaya's expression shifted from danger to excitement and Shizuo was grateful that Izaya’s questionable business hadn't robbed him of that.

"Of course! Luckily for you, you have a very resourceful friend who happens to know the owner of a tasteful bar that is in search of a new employee.”

Shizuo couldn't help the scowl building on his face. "There has to be a catch."

"Well..." Izaya drawled. "Isn't there always? But I promise that it's nothing bad. Come on, I wouldn't want my best friend to end up in some ditch."

"Tch. You mean your only friend," Shizuo muttered.

A little frown appeared on Izaya's face and for a second Shizuo got scared that his thoughtless words had been too inconsiderate. But then Izaya leaned across the table and reached out with his arm and Shizuo’s thoughts went blank as delicate fingers tangled into his hair.

"Hmm...we might have to do something about this," Izaya hummed, his eyes slightly out of focus like he was deep in thought. Shizuo’s protest, that he was not going to shave his head, died in his throat when he felt Izaya’s nails gently scrape across his scalp, sending electricity down his spine. All Shizuo could do was stare at the concentrated face before him as Izaya’s fingers lazily played with his hair. It was as if Izaya had been caught in a reality where no one existed but him and Shizuo, where the other people in the café weren’t staring at them in confusion, and Shizuo was a second away from being trapped in that reality as well. Then someone cleared their throat, it must have been the waitress, Shizuo really didn’t like her, and Izaya snapped out of his reverie.

"You should bleach your hair," he said with finality in his voice.

"I...What?" Shizuo desperately tried and failed to get his bearings.

"Your hair. You should bleach it. Blonde would be fitting for a bartender. And it would look even better, in a dangerous sense, you know?"

"I didn't even... What, you already decided that I'm definitely becoming a bartender?" Shizuo said, trying to not dwell on the implications that Izaya had said he would look even better with bleached hair.

"Take a leap of faith and trust me on this, Shizu-chan," Izaya grinned.

And because Shizuo had taken that leap of faith long ago, he simply replied with “Okay.”

"Oh come on, it would be... what?" Izaya stared at him, his eyes wide. "You're... you're going to do it?"

"I'm gonna trust you."

Izaya looked like Shizuo had just told him that he was going to be an astronaut and live in space from now on.

"I-," he started, but the words seemed to have escaped him. Shizuo could tell; he'd been in the same situation often enough, and because he knew what it felt like he took pity on Izaya.

"First, I'm gonna take you up on that offer though. Give me your address. I wanna see if your apartment is really that much better than mine.”

---

Izaya had spent the last two hours cleaning his already pristine apartment. Given how Shizuo himself lived, he would hardly notice any grains of dust on the spotless surfaces, but Izaya wouldn't settle for anything less than perfection. Even though most of the things he owned were still tugged away in boxes in his old room, he was determined to make everything as presentable as possible.

Izaya’s biggest problem was that the only people who had ever visited were clients of his, so he had no idea how to accommodate a former-enemy-turned-friend. Just when he was brooding over whether he should prepare tea before or after Shizuo arrived, the doorbell cut through the silence in his apartment. For a second he froze, then he and all but stumbled to the intercom system.

"Hello?" He asked, keeping his voice as languid as possible, as if there were any other people who had intended to come over.

"It's Shizuo," a deep voice replied, almost dragged into unfamiliarity by the static.

"Oh, Shizu-chan. Come up, it's apartment 920 on the topmost floor." Izaya quickly pressed button to open the door so he wouldn't have to listen to the way his own voice bordered on hysteria anymore.

It took a while for Shizuo to arrive, and at some point Izaya realised that the other must be taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Finally there was a loud knock at his door. Izaya took a deep breath and when he exhaled he tried to push all the built-up insecurities out of his lungs. He opened the door

and faltered. Every single sarcastic remark he had prepared died on his tongue. The grin he had so painstakingly plastered onto his face slipped away.

Shizuo stood before him and the light from the corridor painted his yellow hair in a warm gold. One of his hands was pushed into the pants of a bartender uniform that clung strikingly close to his form. The faint trace of cigarette smoke hung in the air around him.

Well, this was a problem.

Somewhere in the back of his head Izaya could hear the clock ticking as he stood there and stared at Shizuo. Izaya felt colour rising up in his cheeks as Shizuo gave him a look that bordered dangerously close on realisation. He quickly stepped aside, one part to let Shizuo in and five parts to get out of the other’s line of sight.  When he felt confident that his rationality had returned, Izaya cleared his throat.

"You...," but it was in vain and the words caught at his throat.

For a brief moment Shizuo hesitated on the doorstep.

"Does it really look that ridiculous?" he asked and Izaya heard the uncertainty in his voice and he couldn’t help but stare incredulously at Shizuo's well-dressed chest. Izaya shook his head and cleared his throat again, willing his voice into obedience.

"What are you talking about? You look perfect," he said and the sincerity of it tasted a little too raw on his tongue, so he quickly added "You know, for a bartender. I wouldn't have thought you'd be so knowledgeable when it comes to fashion.”

“I’m not,” Shizuo grumbled while taking off his shoes. “Kasuka picked it for me.”

Izaya finally managed a grin again. “Hm, he does seem like a fashionable guy. I must say though, I’m a bit disappointed that you didn’t ask me, Shizu-chan.”

“Yeah well, then it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise anymore.”

Izaya wasn’t sure what exactly it was he wanted say in reply, but the assumption that Shizuo went out of his way to surprise him melded the words into a violent cough in the back of his throat.

“You okay there?” a soft voice asked and then there was a warm hand tapping gently on Izaya’s back.

“I’m fine,” Izaya spluttered and the embarrassment of it all was almost overwhelming. He heard Shizuo chuckling next to him.

“What’s so funny?” Izaya asked, his tone spelling defiance as if an argument would dissolve the discomfiture.

“Nothing,” Shizuo grinned. “It’s just like, if someone would tell 16-year-old me that I’d visit Orihara Izaya’s in his apartment one day, just as friends or something, I’d probably have beaten that person up.”

Izaya straightened back up, a smile threatening its way onto his face. “What a fortunate thing that you have matured so much. Well then, come on. I’ll show you around.”

And just because it was right there, just because felt right, he grabbed Shizuo’s hand.

Chapter Text

Shizuo wasn’t sure why exactly he had bleached his hair – he would like to think that it was of his own volition, but he knew that the truth hid away in a territory he was too afraid to enter. When the hairdresser had finished her job, presenting Shizuo with the first look of bleached-blond hair, he had made peace with the fact that he would be forever unemployed, now that he looked like a delinquent. But, as it turned out, Izaya had been very serious about the whole bartending thing.

One day, Shizuo was just preparing dinner in his small, dingy kitchen (the tab leaked, the light flickered and Shizuo thought that maybe Izaya was right and Shizuo really was living in a hovel), there was a knock at the door. He frowned, not sure who would visit him aside from maybe Kasuka, and his brother always called before he came over. Perhaps it was the landlord with yet another complaint. Shizuo sighed and abandoned his cooking project (rice and eggs) to find out whatever it was he did wrong this time. He opened the door, apology already perched on the tip of his tongue, and was greeted with a grin so familiar that it immediately dispelled all his worries.

“Izaya? What are you doing here?” Shizuo asked, the audible surprise in his voice only widening the grin on Izaya’s face.

“It had occurred to me that I never officially visited you here,” the other replied nonchalantly while taking off his jacket and then shoving it into Shizuo’s arms, “and I have to say, I was right. This place is a dump.”

Shizuo didn’t bother asking what he meant by “officially visited” and instead decided to defend the dump in question.

“Well, it’s cheap. And…” But there was nothing else redeeming about the place, so he had to settle for an annoyed huff. “What do you want, Izaya? If you’re only here to complain about my place, then-“

“Coincidentally,” Izaya interrupted, and the glint in his eyes warned Shizuo of imminent danger, “I’m here to provide financial support, Shizu-chan! I told you I’d get you a job as a bartender, and I’m a man of my word.”

And with that Izaya pushed past Shizuo and marched into the living room with a confidence of someone who had visited a thousand times already.  When Shizuo turned to follow, he became painfully aware of the messy state his flat was in, especially when compared to Izaya's apartment, which almost suffocated in its own air of luxury. But if Izaya noticed that as well, he didn't voice his complaints. Instead, he plopped down onto the couch and looked around with a small smile on his face that was miles away from his usual manic grin.

"Very homely," he said and turned towards Shizuo. "You truly made this dump your dump. Reminds me of your old room."

The warmth that welled up in Shizuo’s chest brought with it memories of days gone; him and Izaya walking side by side through the snow, him and Izaya sitting in a quiet room, him and Izaya–

So just for good measure, to complete this picture of the past, Shizuo sat down on the floor in front of the couch, almost expecting Izaya to give him a lecture on stylistic devices. 

But Izaya was surprisingly quiet, and when Shizuo turned his head to see what the other was doing, his and Izaya’s eyes met. Suddenly it was like they were in school again, unsure of what to do with each other that didn’t involve a chase and thrown objects. Izaya was the one to snap out of it first. He blinked, as if he could dispel reality by refusing to look at it, even if it was just for a second.

"Well!" he said loudly and crossed his legs, grin returning to his face. "As I was saying, I organised you an interview at a nice bar. Aren’t I just magnanimous?"

Shizuo snorted. “Yeah, almost as much as you’re humble.”

“I’ll take that as a Thank you. You’re welcome. The interview is in three hours, so you better freshen up a bit.”

Shizuo was just about to retort with another jab when the words connected with a portion of his brain that was not taken hostage by Izaya’s general existence.

“Yeah, you’ve always been – wait, what? The interview is today? And you’re telling me that now?”

Izaya’s expression changed into something reminiscent of his younger self, a mixture of mischief and mirth.

“Aw Shizu-chan, do you need more time to mentally prepare?” He scooted over on the sofa and put his hands on Shizuo’s shoulders. “Do you want me to give you a pep talk, maybe a massage to relieve tension?” he asked, unaware that his proximity and warm hands had the exact opposite effect on Shizuo.

“As if you could give a proper massage with those scrawny arms,” Shizuo grumbled and was about to get up to find interview-appropriate clothing, when a familiar sensation stopped him mid-motion and elicited a noise from the back of his throat that would have been embarrassing, were he not able to mask it as surprise.

He slumped down again, helpless against the slender fingers in his hair.

"You know, Shizuo..." Izaya muttered in a voice that lacked its usual smile-distorted pitch, "this was a good decision. Makes you more recognisable. Alerting others of the danger and so on."

His fingers trailed lazy patterns across Shizuo's scalp. Shizuo wanted to ask why it was that Izaya so readily accepted the danger he spoke of, but he couldn't bring himself to go through the effort of putting voice to his thoughts. Not when his focus was entirely wrapped around those slender fingers in his hair. And so Izaya continued, talking more to himself rather than to Shizuo, and in a way it felt like Shizuo was intruding on a private moment. It was frightening and exhilarating at the same time, to listen to the thoughts of Izaya, of someone who’s mind was guarded like a prison. Shizuo wondered if Izaya had handed him the key, or if Shizuo had broken through a wall at some point. 

"I never understood how it happened. How you could stop...how we could stop hating each other. One moment you chase me through school, the other we..." He must have bowed his head because Shizuo could feel traces of warm breath against his skin. Izaya brushed the hair out of Shizuo's face, gently tugging at the strands that were laced through his fingers. Then he went still, and the half-question hung in the air between them for Shizuo to answer. He cleared his throat in an attempt to regain speech, but Izaya, ever moving on, already took the chance from him.

"Not that I'm complaining. Isn't life so much more enjoyable like this?" His voice had gone back to its normal lilt and the words Shizuo had been holding dissolved like sugar on his tongue. The fingers vanished from his hair and Shizuo couldn’t help but feel deprived.  

"Anyway, you should really get dressed, Shizu-chan! And brush your hair, you look like you just got up after a rough night."

"And whose fault is that?" Shizuo muttered, trying his best to conceal his feelings behind usual irritation, hoping that denial would enable ignorance. But he couldn’t help the flush that was rising to his cheeks.

A few minutes later Shizuo was more or less presentable, after donning the bartender outfit Kasuka had gotten for him and brushing the traces of Izaya's touch out of his hair. His face still held a hint of red, but he could attribute that to the rising temperatures outside and be done with it.

"Let's get going, Shizu-chan, the sooner we arrive the sooner you can make a good impression." Izaya’s smile was the same as always, but Shizuo couldn’t help but notice a trace of something else in the other’s expression, something strangely akin to uncertainty. Or maybe he was just projecting his own feelings onto Izaya, hoping that they would be more bearable if they shared them.

-

As they made their way down the street, Izaya was speaking non-stop, like he was trying to make up for lost time. He was still talking with his hands as much as with his mouth, and every now and then one of his sentences physically struck Shizuo.

“ – so I didn’t think I would need a secretary, but since paperwork is the most boring thing on earth, I came to the conclusion that my time is way too valuable to be wasted on that.” The last word would have hit Shizuo across the face, had he not grabbed Izaya’s hand before it made contact.

“I see your reflexes have improved significantly,” Izaya said, making no attempt to free his hand from Shizuo’s grasp. “This will come in handy when you’re about to drop bottles of expensive liquor.”

“I see you’re still incapable of staying still,” Shizuo retorted, making no attempt to let go of Izaya. “Not sure that’ll come in handy anywhere.”

Izaya let out a loud laugh and let his weight tip forward, relying on Shizuo’s grip to keep him from falling. Shizuo reflexively tightened his fingers and pulled the other against him. The sudden backwards motion made Izaya lose what little balance he had left and he tumbled against Shizuo, almost knocking them both to the ground.

“What are you doing, Shizu-chan?” Izaya’s words came out muffled against Shizuo’s chest and whatever accusation they held got swallowed by the fabric of his vest.

“You’re a danger to yourself and others,” Shizuo said flatly and adjusted Izaya’s stance so he was standing upright again. The smirk on Izaya’s face bordered dangerously close on arrogance and didn’t quite fit the situation.

“If only you knew how right you are with that,” he said, and then he turned and skipped ahead. “Come on, we’re almost there!”

After that, Shizuo was too busy accommodating his thoughts into one coherent string, but when he finally became aware of his surroundings, he was glad that Izaya made him wear the uniform. They were entering a neighbourhood that flaunted its wealth in a way that made Shizuo almost uncomfortable. The storefronts displayed items Shizuo only needed to look at to know that he would never be able to afford them, and even the streetlights seemed more expensive than in the rest of Ikebukuro.

Izaya finally came to a halt in front of a smaller building with a door made of dark shining wood. It looked plain in a fancy sort of way, and normally Shizuo wouldn’t even have thought about entering a bar like that.

"Serena?" Shizuo read the ornate golden sign that displayed the bar's name.

"The perfect workplace for an even-tempered individual such as yourself," Izaya announced and pulled the door open with a flourish. Shizuo tried to show that even temper on his face, but he couldn't quite smooth out the frown that had been building there. 

The inside was tastefully furnished, all dark wood and red velvet, illuminated by warm light that came from shaded lamps.

Behind the bar stood a tall woman in an elegant suit, her short black hair styled impeccably, and polished a glass. Otherwise the room was completely empty, which didn’t make Shizuo any less nervous. When the woman heard him and Izaya enter she looked up and a smile spread over her face, and maybe Shizuo had spent too much time around Izaya, but he immediately recognised the careful fabrication of the expression.

"Hello Izaya," she greeted in a low voice that was just as velvety as the cushions on the chairs. "And…I assume this is your recommendation?" She smiled towards Shizuo, who forced himself to make eye contact.

"You assume correctly," Izaya replied, his voice level except for a little strain that told of his amusement.

The woman stepped forward from behind the bar to approach Shizuo, and he couldn’t help but notice that they were on the same eye level even though she wasn’t wearing heels.

"Asano Sayuri, incredibly happy to make your acquaintance."

"Heiwajima Shizuo. Likewise," he replied in an effort to appear professional. She sized him up, one perfect eyebrow cocked. "You weren't exaggerating, Izaya. He definitely has the looks"

Shizuo's head whipped towards Izaya, but the other's eyes were fixed on Sayuri and Shizuo attributed the red tinge on his cheeks to the low light.

"It's nice to see that Shiki finally works with someone…competent," Sayuri’s eyes narrowed for a second as she mentioned the name, but Izaya's smile didn't slip one millimetre. “Anyway, I’m grateful to finally have some help here.”

"Don't be too hard on Shizuo," Izaya said and Shizuo was eternally grateful that he omitted the chan for once. "I still need him."

Shizuo tried to keep a neutral expression as Saryuri's eyes once more came to rest on him.

"Oh, I can definitley see that," she all but purred and the neutrality trickled off Shizuo’s face like syrup. "Well, I believe you have places to be, Izaya? No worries, you'll get your…friend back without a hair out of place."

"You're leaving?" Shizuo turned fully towards Izaya now and didn't even bother to keep the hint of accusation out of his voice.

"Sorry, Shizu-ch- ... o. I’ll be back by the time your shift is over," Izaya grinned. "I have complete faith in your abilities."

At least one person had. Suddenly there was a hand on Shizuo’s shoulder and when he turned he was met with Sayuri’s smile, a little more honest this time.

“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” she said as if she wanted to add, and don’t you dare prove me wrong.

Well. Looked like Shizuo would be a bartender.

-

At first, he was terrible at it. He would drop glasses, choose the wrong bottles, and confuse orders. Luckily for him, Sayuri turned out to be the most patient person he'd ever met, and she didn't mind telling him for the 8th time that Gin didn't belong into an Old Fashioned. She had been intimidating at first, with her flawless looks and intelligent eyes, but Shizuo learned quickly that her unapproachable appearance was merely a façade, just as it was for Izaya. The two had even more in common than it had initially appeared, and Shizuo wondered who that Shiki might be, who acted as a connection between the two. He must collect perfection like other people collect art.

Izaya came around often, although he barely drank anything that contained alcohol. He seemed to be content with watching Shizuo work, or rather with "distracting her valuable bartender", as Sayuri always put it. Mostly, he sat on a stool in front of the bar, the low light illuminating his features in a way that made it impossible for Shizuo to look away, with Izaya’s eyes dipped in shadow and his silken hair impossibly black. Sometimes, when they were approaching closing hours and the bar was already empty, Izaya would jump behind the counter and insist that Shizuo teach him how to make certain drinks, until Sayuri told them to stop wasting expensive liquor. By the time the third week came to an end, Shizuo finally managed an entire evening without dropping anything or getting the various kinds of alcohol confused. Izaya was waiting for him outside as he was packing his things, but Sayuri held him back.

“You’ve improved quite a lot in these past weeks, Shizuo. I’m not going to lie, at first I really thought you were a lost cause. But considering the progress, I think we can think about properly employing you here. I’ll make sure to arrange it all with Shiki.”

Shizuo gaped at her, almost sure that he had misheard. The smile she gave him was the sincerest he had seen on her yet.

“Aren’t you going to join your…Izaya outside?” she asked, a certain kind of mirth in her eyes.

Shizuo closed his mouth, opened it, and closed it again. “Thank you,” he finally managed to get out.

“You’re welcome.” And with that she shooed him outside, where Izaya was perched up on a railing, dangling his legs.

“Congratulations, Shizu-chan! You’re officially employed again. We’re practically colleagues now, isn’t that exciting?”

“Great, I’m working for the fucking Yakuza,” Shizuo muttered without intending for Izaya to hear it. Of course, he did anyway.

“Aw, Shizu-chan, don’t say that like it’s something bad. Shiki is a really good employer.”

“I’m not sure I fit into his collection.”

“Collection? Do you know something about Shiki I don’t?”

Shizuo’s ears turned red and Izaya cocked his head, waiting for an answer. Shizuo wasn’t quite sure how to get out of this one, so he settled for a hint of truth.

“His pretty people collection. Have you seen Sayuri? She’s basically you, just female,” he grumbled, trying to make his voice sound as noncommittal as possible. The only good thing about this slip of the tongue was the expression on Izaya’s face. For a second he looked like he wanted to laugh but had forgotten how to do it, a blush that was visible even under the dim light of the street lantern creeping onto his face. Then he was in control again and let out the loudest laugh Shizuo had ever heard from him. Shizuo saw him tilt forward precariously, so he hurried over towards Izaya just in case he fell victim to his own sudden outburst of emotion. He supported Izaya’s shoulder, the fur of the hood soft under his palm.

“Pretty people collection. Oh, that’s grand, you should tell that to Sayuri,” Izaya said a little breathlessly and let himself tip forward against Shizuo.

“Wha-,” he managed to get out before he had to wrap his arm around Izaya’s waist to stop the other from falling. It was a brief contact, but for a moment their arms were wrapped around each other in a faint imitation of a hug. Then Izaya righted himself and the grin he directed at Shizuo held traces of the danger that had become more and more prevalent in his expression. 

“You fit into that collection just right, Shizu-chan.”

---

Izaya neglected his work. He knew he shouldn’t, especially considering how important it was for an information broker to make a good impression, even more so with a client such as Shiki. But he couldn’t help himself – five out of seven evenings each week that should be filled with work were instead spent at a certain bar. At times, he managed to convince himself that it was all for research, that bars were the perfect place to gather information, but more often than not did he sit at the counter idly, content with watching Shizuo work. Sometimes he would meet other associates of Shiki who used the bar as a meeting spot or as a place to wind down after a day of business.

Today was a quiet day. When Izaya came in, there were only three other patrons, all normal boring people, who sat at their table and quietly sipped their drinks. Izaya marched over to his usual spot at the counter and plopped down on a stool. Shizuo looked up from the glass he was polishing, a neutral expression on his face that changed into recognition when he saw Izaya.

“Good eveni- oh, it’s you,” he said and cocked an eyebrow, “How’s it going?”

Izaya grinned a bit too widely to mask the contentment he felt at the simple question.

“And a good evening to you, Shizu-chan. It’s going alright,” he let out a deliberate sigh, “although Ikebukuro seems to be attracting rather bothersome individuals lately.”

Shizuo snorted, “Yeah, as if you weren’t absolutely thrilled by that.” He then narrowed his eyes at Izaya. “I hope you’re not getting into trouble. Or worse – be the cause of that trouble.”

“Aw Shizu-chan, you know me so well,” Izaya said, the endearment in his voice only partly mocking.

 The door to Serena swung open, interrupting their idle conversation. A rhythmic tapping filled the sudden quiet. Izaya knew immediately who entered. He had met Akabayashi before, at several meetings with Shiki. He was a high-ranking executive, who always kept up a façade a bit too approachable for a yakuza.

Akabayashi took the seat next to Izaya and he saw the older man pass Shizuo a friendly smile as he ordered some kind of alcoholic beverage Izaya had never heard of before. Shizuo nodded, taking a glass and a few bottles and started to prepare the drink. For a moment, the bar was completely quiet. Then:

“Fancy meeting you here, Orihara. Aren’t you supposed to get some intel on the leader of that gang that has been causing trouble?” Akabayashi asked nonchalantly, tapping a wooden melody against the counter.

“Maybe I already found him out,” Izaya smiled, already expecting something like that. He wasn’t looking at Akabayashi and kept his eyes on the movements of Shizuo’s arms instead. Shizuo had gotten quite good at the whole bartender-thing, and Izaya couldn’t help but admire the way he handled the drinks. In addition to that, Izaya had noticed that Shizuo bit his bottom lip each time he was focussed, which proved to be a bit more distracting than Izaya would like to admit.

“Oh, trust me. I’d know if you had,” Akabayashi said next to him and let out a dark chuckle that betrayed his friendly tone, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re distracted, Orihara.”

Izaya tore his gaze away from the motion of Shizuo’s hands. “Then I’m glad you know better,” he said in a false tone of friendliness and Akabayashi laughed.

“I like you, Orihara. No worries, I won’t tell Shiki that you’re slacking off.”

Later, when Akabayashi had left and Izaya was alone with Shizuo, the other passed him a critical look.

“Who was that?” he asked.

“Another member of the pretty people collection,” Izaya grinned and downed the remainder of the drink Akabayashi had left behind. He didn’t let the bitterness of the alcohol reflect on his face.

Shizuo rolled his eyes, but Izaya didn’t miss the way the other followed on the motions of his throat for a second too long.

“And what’s the whole thing about gangs?”

“I’m sure you’ve heard that these weird colour gangs are emerging all over Ikebukuro. They’re a nuisance, really, nothing serious compared to…well,” he trailed off with a smile, “No need to worry about me, Shizu-chan, I’m miles ahead of those goons.”

“Who said I was worried,” Shizuo cocked his eyebrow, “Maybe I get lucky and they abduct you.”

“Aw, so mean, Shizu-chan. Who would keep you company then?”

“Hopefully someone who doesn’t keep distracting my valuable bartender,” a smooth voice came from the door and announced Sayuri’s presence.

“Honestly,” Shizuo grunted.

“You say that now, but you have to admit that it would be terribly boring without me to keep you on your toes.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of Shizuo’s mouth.

“Yeah. Guess you’re right with that,” he said in a quiet tone that immediately drew Izaya’s attention to Shizuo’s eyes. And there it was, that one expression of Shizuo’s Izaya couldn’t get enough of, like a drug he’d been addicted to since the first moment he’d taken it in. Shizuo’s face softened, the hard edges of a frown getting smoothed out by a tentative smile, as if it was something his face needed getting used to first. Sometimes, when Izaya failed to put up his guard soon enough, he would pretend that the look in Shizuo’s eyes was something like affection, that Izaya himself was the reason for the softness in Shizuo’s face. Izaya felt a familiar warmness in his chest, the one he got to know ever since Shizuo had shown him acceptance instead of annoyance.

Izaya had always been good at running, but he knew that at some point, he wouldn’t be able to escape his own feelings anymore. But for now, he was content with just grinning back at Shizuo.

Chapter Text

On Saturday Shizuo woke up earlier than usual, unsure of what it was that had stirred him from sleep when the sun had not quite made its way through the cracks in his blinds yet. It took him a while before he figured out that the distracting light that flooded his hazy vision came from the phone on his nightstand. He let out a groan as he reached over and blinked at the too-bright screen. 36 messages, all from the same unknown number. Shizuo was sure they were from Izaya, because who else would bother to send him a message at night and then follow it with 35 more when they didn’t receive a reply. Izaya had probably gotten yet another phone (that would be the fourth this month), and now wanted to make sure that Shizuo had his new number. But when Shizuo opened the messages, the frown on his face deepened and he propped himself up on one elbow, as if the different angle could somehow change the content of the texts before him.

[Hey Shizuo!]

[Haven’t heard from you in ages!]

[I got this number from Izaya]

[Are you two getting along now?]

[You should come to visit sometimes]

[We can catch up!]

[Celty would be happy to see you as well]

[This is Shinra by the way]

[You probably knew already when I mentioned Celty haha]

[If you want to come over let me know!)

It went on like that in 26 more texts, and by the time Shizuo reached the end he was ready to never hear anything from Shinra ever again. Why Izaya still kept in contact with Shinra was beyond him, and why he handed around Shizuo’s phone number was even more confusing. The only reason for Shizuo to even consider visiting Shinra was to see Celty again. At first, Shizuo had been reluctant to contact any of his friends from school, afraid to hear how well they were doing while he wasted his time behind the counter of a convenience store. Then Izaya had stepped back into his life and did away with Shizuo’s self-doubt. But, as was usual with Izaya, he left little room for anything else besides himself, so again Shizuo didn’t have the time or opportunity to catch up with other friends.

Now that the past had violently reclaimed its space in his mind, he felt himself wondering what Shinra and Kadota were up to. It wasn’t much of a guess when it came to Shinra – he was with Celty, the person he had constructed his entire existence around. Oh yeah? Shizuo could hear Shinra’s familiar grating voice in his head. And which person are you currently constructing your existence around?

Shizuo growled at his own thoughts and got out of bed because it was way too early to deal with shit like this. He stomped over to the fridge and emptied an entire bottle of milk before taking an ice-cold shower. While he let the freezing water wash away the unwanted thoughts, he considered the options for his day off. Staying at home doing nothing was definitely a tempting prospect, even though his flat was anything but comfortable. On most of his free days Izaya dragged him around town, and even though the other never seemed to have anything particular in mind, Shizuo found himself enjoying their simple time together. But Izaya had made no attempt to contact him today, which was a shame because then Shizuo could have told him exactly what he thought about Izaya passing around his phone number. Then again, Izaya was probably busy with whatever it was an informant was doing, and Shizuo wasn’t too keen on joining him for that. So he might as well busy himself with Shinra’s irritating babbling; at least he could be sure that Celty would be there to shield him from the worst of the doctor’s antics. He stepped out of the shower and put a towel around his waist, leaving wet footprints across the floor as he made his way back to the bedroom. He grabbed his phone and slumped down on his bed, not caring about the water that was now slowly drenching his covers, and typed a quick reply to Shinra.

[we can meet today if you want]

The answer came in a matter of seconds, as if Shinra had nothing better to do than to stare at his phone all day.

[Great, amazing, fantastic]

[I’ll let Kadota know as well and we can have a little class reunion haha]

Shizuo rolled his eyes and didn’t bother with another reply. He regretted his decision already - there would definitely be questions, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to tell a group of people from school that he was now working as a bartender for the fucking Yakuza.

When Shizuo made his way towards Shinra’s apartment, the sky’s colours had already reached the orange hues of sunset, giving the early summer evening the appearance of autumn. It was still warm and Shizuo had pushed the sleeves of his bartender attire up to his elbows. At first he hadn’t been sure if the outfit was the appropriate thing to wear, uncertain how Shinra would react when Shizuo showed up in a waistcoat. But then his eyes had landed on a little card on his nightstand, marked with elegant handwriting, and he had made his decision.

The card had arrived about a week before, together with a large packet that had contained about ten different tailored uniforms. Shizuo couldn’t help the small smile that came with the memory.

-

It was on a Monday evening and Shizuo was in the process of getting ready for bed, already wearing his sweatpants and a bleached-out shirt, when there was a knock at his door. When he opened, irritated frown firmly in place, he was faced with a man who looked so distinctly out of place that it was almost comical. His pristine suit stood in stark contrast to the dirty wall behind him, and judging by the look on his face he was still debating if he hadn’t made a wrong turn somewhere along the way.

“Delivery for, uh…Heiwajima Shizuo?” he asked nasally, pointing to a large packet at his feet.

Shizuo felt his frown intensifying and the man backed a step away.

“I apologise, Sir, it might be possible that I made an error with the address, is this- “

“No, I’m Heiwajima Shizuo,” Shizuo said and crossed his arms, noticing the slight hint of panic on the man’s face.

“Uhm, yes, Orihara-san … He said that-, “ the man started, and everything fell into place. Well, technically Shizuo still didn’t know what the hell was going on, but the mention of Izaya’s name alone was explanation enough.

“Alright, I’ll take whatever it is the flea sent me,” Shizuo sighed, lifting the packet with one hand and earning another shocked look from the man, “Well, tell the fl- tell Izaya he really shouldn’t have. Really.”

And with that Shizuo shut the door, leaving a very confused delivery man in the shabby hallway. He dropped the package in the middle of his living room and took a closer look at it. There was a little card pinned to the top.  

A little gift for Shizu-chan. A decent bartender needs a decent outfit.

Shizuo stared at the card for a good minute. Izaya’s personality was reflected perfectly in his handwriting, characters almost artistically painted onto the blank paper. Shizuo traced the lines with his finger, the packet and its contents forgotten on the floor next to him.

-

And now, as Shizuo was approaching Shinra’s apartment complex, he pushed one hand deeper into the pocket of his pants, feeling for the little card in it. The paper was slightly crumpled around the edges, but Shizuo could almost feel the deliberate words against his fingertips. Before entering the building he lit a cigarette to calm his nerves, a habit he’d picked up when the job hunt had been particularly discouraging. He closed his eyes and took a deep inhale, the bitterness of the smoke mixing with the mild air around him. He focussed on the familiar noises of the city, the faint chatter of people and the ever-present hum of traffic. He had almost gained a semblance of peace, when suddenly,

“Up here, Shizuo!”

Shizuo’s eyes snapped open and he crumpled the cigarette between his fingers. When he looked up the building, he spotted a waving silhouette in one of the windows.

“Come up already, we’re all waiting for you!” Shinra called and Shizuo hoped the other was too far away to see how he rolled his eyes.

A few minutes later Shizuo knocked against Shinra’s apartment door, trying to force a smile on his face in the best Izaya-impression he could muster. Shinra opened the door not two seconds later, beaming at Shizuo.

“I’m so happy you could make it! Oh, are you hurt, Shizuo? You look a bit pained. I can have a look at that if you- oof!”

Luckily Shinra was pushed out of the way by a shadowed cloud and a headless figure appeared in his stead.

Hello, Shizuo! It’s so good to see you again, I missed you! Celty typed at him.

Shizuo gave her an honest smile, “I missed you, too. I’m sorry for not staying in touch.”

No worries! Come in, Kadota and his…nice friends are here as well. Celty stepped aside to let Shizuo in, ignoring Shinra’s whined complaints in the process.

The apartment was nice, not quite as expensive looking as the definition of luxury Izaya called home, but certainly leagues better than Shizuo’s dump. The living room was already filled with people – out of the four Shizuo recognised Kadota and his friend Togusa. Next to them sat a woman and a man engaged in a heated discussion.

“Shizuo, good to see you,” Kadota said and stood to greet Shizuo. “How have you been?”

“Good,” Shizuo said, not quite sure how else to explain the state his life was currently in, “and you?”

“Oh, pretty good as well. Nothing much happened since school. Unless you count making new friends,” he said and Shizuo snorted because for him, that was the only thing that counted. Kadota passed him a questioning look, but when Shizuo didn’t react he shrugged and gestured to the other people around the table.

“I think you know Togusa already?” The quiet man in question gave Shizuo a short nod. “And these are Erika and Walker.”

Upon hearing their names, the two remaining guests immediately stopped their debate and turned toward Shizuo.

“Hey there,” Walker greeted, the smile on his face seemingly glued into place.

“I love your outfit,” Erika said and stared at him, making Shizuo feel strangely exposed, “very stylish. Makes you look like the protagonist of a light novel.”

“Uh,” Shizuo said, not quite sure if it was a compliment or not.

Walker hummed, looking Shizuo up and down, “No, he’s more like a well-loved secondary character. Too plain for a main character.”

“I’m not talking about Manga,” Erika rolled her eyes, “You don’t need flashy-looking protagonists in a light novel.”

The two started bickering again and Shizuo stared at them with an open mouth because compared to whatever they were going on about, even Izaya’s lectures were comprehensible. Kadota laughed and Shinra patted Shizuo’s shoulder in an attempt of sympathy.

“Don’t mind them, Shizuo, they’re a bit crazy,” Shinra said, which was rich coming from a guy wearing a lab coat in his own home.

Behind Shinra, Celty had crossed her arms and Shizuo was sure that, if she had a head, she would be shaking it by now.

Why don’t you sit down as well, Shizuo? Shinra and I are almost done with preparing the dinner.

Shizuo would have preferred Celty’s company, especially considering the alternatives in the room, but since he couldn’t say anything without sounding rude, he gingerly sat down next to Erika. His thoughts must have been visible on his face because Kadota chuckled.

“They’re not as scary as they seem. Well, Erika maybe, but you’ll get used to it.”

Luckily, Walker and Erika were too busy debating the different characteristics of various media to continue their analysis of Shizuo’s wardrobe. About half an hour later Shinra and Celty joined them at the table, both of them carrying plates laden with food. Shinra was talking about Celty’s amazing cooking skills, seemingly without the need to take a breath, and for once Shizuo was grateful because that prevented uncomfortable questions from being directed at him. But as soon as they all sat down and Shinra stopped talking to shove food into his mouth, the sudden quiet invited different topics of conversation.

“So Shizuo, what have you been up to after school?” Kadota asked. Shizuo’s chopsticks hung in the air halfway between his plate and his mouth.

“I, uh…needed a while to find a job. I’m a bartender now,” Shizuo said and took a large bite, but his hope that a full mouth might deter any further questions was promptly destroyed by Erika.

“A bartender? That’s amazing, do you ever get questionable customers? Like, Yakuza and folks like that?”

Shizuo choked on his rice, which made Erika all the happier.

“This is basically a yes, isn’t it? We totally have to visit you at your bar,” she shoved Walker with her elbow and mouthed “light novel” at him.

“Give him a break, Erika,” Kadota said calmly, “I’m sure it’s just a normal bar.”

“Oh, it’s most certainly not,” Shinra chimed in, a big smile on his face, “in fact, it’s even run b- mmmm!”

Celty had clasped a band of shadow around Shinra’s mouth and typed vigorously on her phone.

Let’s stop talking about work and focus on something more interesting!

Shizuo was immensely grateful. Until he saw Celty’s next message.

How did you and Izaya end up as friends?

“Oh, you and Izaya are friends now?” Kadota asked, mildly interested.

Shizuo shot Celty a glare and she gave an apologetic puff of black smoke.

“Who’s Izaya?” Erika asked.

“He’s an old classmate of ours,” Shinra explained in between two bites of food. “He and Shizuo used to hate each other – well, Shizuo used to hate Izaya, really. But now they get along quite well I hear.”

“How did that happen?” Kadota began, but his voice got drowned out by Erika’s.

“Are you telling me the two of them have a real enemies to friends to lovers thing going on?”

Walker let out a loud sigh and shook his head, “Come on, Erika, not this again. Is there no room for platonic relationships in your narratives?”

“Well, certainly not when the development is this obvious!”

And with that they started bickering among themselves again, leaving Shizuo with the kind of irritated confusion he thought only Shinra capable of inducing. The man in question seemed determined to defend that assumption as he casually stated:

“Izaya at least seems pretty smitten with you, Shizuo, you’re all he ever talks about,” he laughed, “Who’d have thought someone like him could keep his attention on one single person for long enough to start caring about them.”

Shizuo’s chopsticks clattered onto the table and he knew that the glare he directed at Shinra did nothing to deny the assumptions made about his and Izaya’s friendship. He also didn’t care. He had always considered Shinra to be the only person who really knew Izaya, the only person able to achieve a semblance of similarity to Izaya’s singularity. But now Shizuo realised that Shinra’s statements were pulled into truthfulness by the conviction he told them with, regardless of their accuracy. He was a scientist who formulated a thesis based off theoretical knowledge, paying no mind to reality. But it wasn’t Shizuo’s place to state this, least of all at a table full of people who still had a specific image of Izaya in their mind that was hard to sway with words alone. So Shizuo settled for an annoyed growl and a question that had been bugging him ever since the beginning of the evening.

“How do you even know that, are you still in contact with Izaya?”

Shinra looked up and smiled, oblivious or indifferent to Shizuo’s irritation.

“Oh, he didn’t tell you? I’m a doctor of sorts, you know, for people who are not really keen on getting their injuries checked at a regular hospital.”

Shizuo had spent enough time around Izaya to know how to interpret this kind of circumvented truth.

“Izaya comes by regularly,” Shinra continued nonchalantly, “He always has this or that little ailment. He was here yesterday with some weird cut on his shoulder, but I don’t know where he gets those kinds of injuries from.”

Shizuo stared at Shinra without actually seeing him. He had never seen any kind of cuts or bruises on Izaya. But then again, how should he when Izaya wore his long-sleeved, fur-trimmed jacket even in the heat of summer? Izaya had always insisted that he worked from behind the scenes, he prided himself on passivity rather than action, always deeming words the most useful weapon, but apparently his approach to fights had changed. In how far was Shizuo able to say that he truly knew Izaya? Over the course of their relationship, when indifference somehow turned into interest and then into something Shizuo didn’t dare to define, at which point did he decide that he knew Izaya? Was it when the other dropped the mask he used to differentiate himself from the rest of humanity, revealing a kind of uncertainty Shizuo himself knew all too well? Was it when Izaya spoke with honesty in his tone rather than mockery, when his words sounded like they were made from Shizuo’s thoughts? Was it when he started to see parts of himself in the way Izaya carried himself?
But how could he have assumed to know someone as layered as Izaya, someone who used his personality like a mirror for the people around him? Had Izaya not proved again and again that he was an excellent judge of character, and that he let others see only what he wanted them to see?

“Don’t worry, Shizuo,” Shinra’s voice cut through his thoughts like a knife through cloth, leaving Shizuo with a thread he couldn’t process further. “It’s just a part of Izaya’s line of work. And he’s never hurt badly. He’s always been good at running away.”

Kadota peaked up at that, “What exactly is his line of work? I’ve always thought he’d go to university and study psychology or something like that.”

“That’s not too far off. He’s an informant of sorts, so he deals with quite a lot of different people,” Shinra replied, and Shizuo stopped listening.

He wanted nothing more than to get out of Shinra’s flat and go to Izaya to get to know, to learn about, to clarify. To apologise for his past self that was so convinced that Izaya could be reduced to a single character trait, when in reality that trait was only a shell about to burst at the seams.

---

Izaya sat at his desk and swivelled his chair, switching his perspective between the expanse of his windows that offered a view of the city’s body, and the screen of his computer that so effectively displayed the city’s nervous system.

“Would you stop that,” an annoyed voice came from his right, “you’re driving me insane.”

“That would imply that your default state of mind was sane, and I doubt that is the case,” Izaya replied easily and shot Namie a grin.

“I’m beginning to doubt that myself, considering I’m working for you,” she said with poison in her voice.

“Such harsh words. I know you only want my best, Namie,” he said, waiting for the obvious reply, which promptly came.

“Yes, your money.”

Izaya grinned at her predictability and took it as a win for himself as he continued turning on his chair. Namie rolled her eyes.

“Why are you even here if you don’t intend to do anything productive? Don’t you have someone else to annoy?”

“Give yourself a little more credit, Namie, you’re my favourite company.”

She scoffed, “Do you enjoy lying to yourself and others? We both know that your current bleached-blond obsession is all you ever think about.”

Izaya used exaggerated fake-shock to conceal the true one that jolted through him at her casual remark.

“Obsessed? Me? Please, I’m simply interested in the more unusual humans of this city,” he said, the lie leaving a familiar taste on his tongue.

“If you keep saying that, maybe you’ll believe it one day. But you can’t fool me, I see how you jump every time he sends you a message. For which you have a separate phone by the way,” Namie said with pronounced disinterest.

Izaya tried to keep his face neutral, but he wasn’t used to other people figuring him out as easily as he did them. So he narrowed his eyes in put-on amusement and turned towards his computer.

“Of course I do, it’s important to separate private life from work life.”

Namie’s laugh was so devoid of humour that Izaya peeked up at her to get a glimpse of the corresponding facial expression, which was just as harsh.

“Is that why you visit his bar every other day and have me mark it as ‘information gathering’ in the schedule?” The corners of her mouth turned up in the forgery of a smile, “Don’t you think that’s a little pathetic?” 

It spoke for Izaya’s self-control, he thought, that he managed to supress the heat that was rising into his face. He turned towards the windows again.

“As an expert in the field of pathetic decisions made in the face of personal relationships, what would you say?” Izaya made a short pause to make sure his next words had the desired impact. “What would Seiji say?”

He didn’t need to face Namie to know the kind of expression she was making – he had seen it each time he mentioned her brother. And sure enough, there was a slam and the noise of chair legs scraping across the floor. He turned slowly and saw Namie walking towards the door with more grace than he would have anticipated.

“My shift is over,” she spat and took her coat, “Maybe you should consider visiting said bar again and ask its bartender for stress relief. Though I doubt that would somehow make you less of an asshole.”

“See you tomorrow, Namie!” Izaya called after her before the door slammed shut. He took it as another win for himself, knowing that she’d be back again tomorrow. He tried to ignore the small part of himself that admitted defeat as his thoughts jumped to Shizuo and the stress relief Namie had mentioned. Izaya shook his head, trying to get rid of the distracting mental image, and focussed on his monitor again, unfortunately unable to really process the words that ran across the chat room.

About five minutes later there was a knock at the door and Izaya looked up from his screen, wondering briefly if Namie had forgotten anything. But her dignity wouldn’t have allowed her to return, so there was only one possibility left. Izaya sighed and opened the door.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, the intended annoyance not quite making it past his tongue.

“Aw, aren’t you happy to see us, Iza-nii? We came all the way over to Shinjuku, just for you,” Mairu pouted.

“Mean.” Kururi added.

“I literally just got rid of Namie and now you two come barging in like you made it your mission to never give your brother a moment of peace.”

Mairu’s face adopted a nefarious grin and Izaya thought that maybe he shouldn’t have taught her so well.

“Are you expecting anyone else, Iza-nii?”

“Bartender,” Kururi stated matter-of-factly.

Izaya forced neutrality onto his face and swallowed the too-hasty denial that had almost made it past his lips.

“I have no idea what you two devils are on about again,” he said, but these were his sisters he was talking to, and unfortunately he had kept them too close when they were younger.

Mairu laughed, “I don’t know if you know this, Iza-nii, but when you’re lying your left eyebrow comes up,” she pulled at the corner of her own eyebrow, “like this.”

“Embarrassing,” there was the smallest smile on Kururi’s face.

Izaya rolled his eyes, “Why everyone is trying to set me up with Shizu-chan is beyond me, so would you give it a rest?”

“You’re different ever since he became your friend,” Mairu shrugged, her tone strangely serious, “I think you’re happy in a way you never were before. It’s okay.”

Her words hit him in a way he wouldn’t have thought possible from his younger sister. He had sworn to himself that he would never change for other people, that he didn’t need validation from those who deemed him undeserving of it. And, looking back, he never did change for Shizuo. In fact, he was the most honest version of himself when he was with Shizuo, it was the only time Izaya allowed himself to discard every single one of his myriad of masks and be real for a while. And that wasn’t something Izaya had changed by himself, out of necessity. He had been made to change it, out of acceptance. For a second his thoughts felt overwhelming, like they wanted to be spoken out loud, to be heard by someone else. But that someone wasn’t here, and that someone most certainly had no interest in Izaya’s messed up feelings, no matter how strong they were. He couldn’t deny the hurt he felt at the realisation, even though he should be content with the friendship Shizuo gave him. Suddenly, there was a pair of arms around him and dragged him out of his own mind.

“It’s okay,” Kururi said.

“And if he ever breaks up with you, we’re going to break him,” Mairu added behind her, “after all, we need our dear brother to send us money.”

Izaya laughed, the sound coming out slightly hoarse, distorted by the emotions that had made their home in his chest.

“Come on, I’ll treat you to some sushi,” he said, and then, even though he knew it was the farthest thing from the truth, “even though you don’t deserve it.”

Chapter Text

May arrived on a wave of sudden heat, and Shizuo was glad that he had declined Sayuri’s offer to take Golden Week off in favour of making a good impression as a diligent employee. So instead of sitting in his too-hot apartment, where the aircon hadn’t worked ever since he moved in, he could spend the stifling afternoons in the pleasant coolness of Serena’s barroom. Once Golden Week started it became significantly less busy, as if even Ikebukuro’s underground had decided to grant the city a much-needed breather. If Izaya was to be believed, then the alleyways of the town were bustling with gang activity at all times, but Serena remained largely undisturbed. Even though it acted as a meeting place for people who either dodged the law or bent it in their favour, there had never been any violence in the bar itself. Shizuo had long since gotten used to the questionable clientele – men with spatters of blood on their cuffs or deeps scars running though their faces didn’t make him nervous anymore, and woman who looked like their purses contained a large pistol at best and a small shotgun at worst didn’t make him stare in horror anymore. But he couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t nice to have a calm evening without the peripheral threat of violence faintly hanging in the air.

Shizuo still hadn’t met his employer, and from the way Sayuri reacted each time someone mentioned the name Shiki, he didn’t even want to. As far as he was concerned, he worked for Sayuri and he was immensely grateful for it. She used the quiet hours of Golden Week to teach him about the more complex drinks and he found that he was a better learner when there was no pressure involved. On the third of May, just before closing time, he approached Sayuri while trying to look as casual as possible.

“So, uh, Sayuri, I wanted to ask something,” he started and mentally cursed his inability to copy the careless tone Izaya adopted each time he wanted to appear especially indifferent.

“Oh my, judging from your expression you’re about to tell me you murdered someone and want me to help you hide the body,” Sayuri stated mildly amused, “I’ll have you know that I don’t tolerate fresh blood in my bar.”

Shizuo thought that, had he not put up with Izaya’s sarcasm for months, he would have probably relented by now. But he had built up a tolerance for his own awkwardness, so he swallowed hard and continued his quest.

“Sorry, I just – I know I agreed to work for the entirety of Golden Week, but I just remembered that I have somewhere to be tomorrow, so I … I wanted to ask if it was okay to maybe take the day off? Of course I understand if it’s too short –” He stopped himself when he saw the expression on Sayuri’s face. Her lips twitched and she looked like she tried very hard to contain the smile that was tugging at the corners of her mouth. When he stared at her helplessly, she finally let out a chuckle.

“I don’t know if I’m flattered or insulted by your obvious fear of my ruthless management. Come on, Shizuo, of course you can take a day off, it’s not like you haven’t earned it,” she lightly slapped his shoulder, “Have fun with whatever it is you’re doing.”

Shizuo ducked his head, thankful that she didn’t drag this on any longer, or worse, ask what it was he had planned. “Thank you,” he said, and meant it.

-

On May fourth Shizuo got up earlier than usual, despite not having to go to work. He used the gained time for a long shower in which he went over his plans for the day. He’d been planning this ever since that haunting dinner at Shinra’s, where the doctor had casually asked him whether he had anything in mind for Izaya’s birthday.

“I think it’s on the fourth of May,” Shinra had said, as if knowing your friend’s birthday was something praiseworthy, “Hm, I can’t remember ever celebrating it. At least Izaya never had a party or anything like that.”

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Shizuo, given that Izaya had built a thick barrier around everything that concerned his personal life, but it still sent a sting of hurt through him. And so he had made a decision his younger self would have beaten him up for: to surprise Izaya on his birthday.

That also presented the perfect opportunity for Shizuo to check up on him. Izaya hadn’t been to the bar in just over a week, and Shizuo was getting mildly concerned, especially after having heard that the other was apparently getting into fights on a regular basis. He had considered sending a message once or twice, but after deleting what felt like 20 drafts, he had given up. Hey Izaya, are you okay? I haven’t seen you in a while, had just felt somewhat weird to type. Two days ago he had actually considered asking Shinra, but that thought got scrapped quickly after he remembered what kind of relationship Shinra had with Izaya.

When Shizuo stepped out of the shower his phone announced an incoming message. Speak of the devil, Shizuo thought, and when three more messages followed barely seconds later, he knew his assumption to be correct.

[So are you going to celebrate Izaya’s birthday today?]

[Like, over at his place?]

[He’s gonna get a heart-attack when he sees you with flowers on his doorstep]

[Give him my best wishes!]

Shizuo groaned and was tempted to get a new phone, just to spite Shinra, but his pay as a bartender was not that great.

[do it yourself], he replied with one hand while towelling his hair dry with the other, and then flung the phone onto his bed.

He wondered if there was going to be anyone else at Izaya’s flat today, maybe his sisters, or his parents, or friends from work. He couldn’t quite decide which was the least likely, but he sincerely hoped to not run into any high-ranking Yakuza. Maybe Sayuri would show up and see the reason for Shizuo’s absence. She would definitely tease him about it, and Izaya would most likely join in. Shizuo smiled at the thought of spending an evening drenched in normality with the two people in is life who were the least normal. When he opened his closet, the smile slowly melted off his face as he was presented with a plethora of choices of what to wear. For a moment he stared at the different outfits and then Shinra’s voice in his head, ever-present and ever-irritating, piped up again, Ha, Shizuo, are you worrying about what to wear on your date?, and Shizuo almost ripped the door off its hinges. Colour rose into his cheeks and he hastily grabbed the nearest outfit and slammed the door shut.

When he stepped out of the stuffy air in the excuse of a foyer the outside greeted him with mild temperatures and vibrant colours, as if even the weather had decided to give a reason for celebration. He took one deep breath of early-summer air before reaching for a cigarette and a lighter. In the past, the fresh air would have been all he needed to calm his nerves, but too much had happened, too much had changed, and too much of it was related to Shizuo’s feelings, so he needed something more intense to overlay the ever-present worries in his head. He slowly made his way towards Shinjuku, taking a longer route that led him through several parks rather than through the thick of the city. It was quieter than usual, the absence of even a fraction of Tokyo’s population noticeable in the level of sound that had imprinted itself on the city like a watermark. For a second it occurred to Shizuo that Izaya might be taking a vacation as well, but the thought of Izaya staying still, leaving the world around him to its own devices, was so absurd that Shizuo quickly discarded the it. He clutched the small package in his hand, crumpling the wrapping paper he had so painstakingly taped around Izaya’s gift. It felt surreal, everything about this day was like a concept, a thought experiment more than an actual occurrence. Still Shizuo smiled, smiled at the prospect of friendship found in the unlikeliest of people. He was so deep in thought that he barely noticed his arrival at the destination, Izaya’s tall apartment building looming high in front of Shizuo. He halted for a moment, considering another cigarette, but excitement won over urge. Or maybe, Shizuo thought, it was just satisfying one addiction in favour of another. He entered the pristine lobby, entirely devoid of people, and made his way towards the staircase. Despite the long climb, he preferred the stairs over the elevator, always feeling the suffocation of the cramped space. When he reached the topmost floor, he immediately made his way towards the right and the door at the end of the long hallway. Shizuo couldn’t help the nervousness that was building with each step he took, as if what was waiting at the end of his walk was not his friend’s apartment but an unknown danger. He almost wished he would have smoked that cigarette. Just before the door, Shizuo took a deep breath, not even bothering with preparing something to say – that never worked with Izaya anyway – and knocked.

Nothing happened.

Shizuo frowned and knocked again. Nothing. Maybe Izaya was taking a shower. Maybe he was submerged in his work. Or maybe he was out, celebrating his birthday with someone else. Shizuo glared against the barrier the door was putting up between him and Izaya’s flat, as if he could somehow burn the wood through the heat of his anger. He knocked one more time, because maybe it had been too quiet before, but to no avail. So he let out a deep sigh and turned his back towards the door. Izaya had to come back eventually. What was an hour or two of waiting? Shizuo slumped onto the ground right before the door and closed his eyes. He had nothing better to do anyway.

---

Izaya had gotten up early on his birthday. Not that he was expecting anything to happen or anyone to show up, not when the only person outside of his family who knew about it was Shinra, who was about as likely to throw him a birthday party as his parents were. But Izaya’s self-sufficiency had always been his strong suit, and so he had decided to spend the day in the closest semblance of a celebration he could get – by visiting Serena. The past weeks had been nothing but work, with Shiki sending him one request after another. Izaya had either sat in front of his computer for hours on end, staring at the words rushing past in various chat rooms and trying to filter out important information, or he’d been outside staking out various gang-members who apparently posed a threat to Shiki. Izaya quickly learned that Shiki’s success came from precaution, even the smallest threat to his authority had to be investigated immediately, to be snuffed out before it could flare up. It mostly fell to Izaya to provide Awakusu’s executives with the necessary information, and that often meant he had to approach the gangs directly in order to get the full picture. Izaya prided himself on his ability to blend in and deceive other people, but even he slipped up every now and then. Even though his past chases with Shizuo had granted him the ability to escape most of the danger before it could come close enough to harm him, he sometimes couldn’t avoid minor injuries. Izaya didn’t know what bothered him more; the bruises he sustained or the fact that he had to go and see Shinra to treat them.

But there was no need to worry about that today, and instead of booting up his computer the first thing after getting up, Izaya took an unnecessarily long and hot shower, filling his apartment with a faint haze. He gave the thermostat a passing glance as he walked over to his wardrobe – the outdoor temperature was at 23°C – and grabbed a slightly thinner version of his fur-lined coat. He learned that recognisability was an important factor in his business, and since Shizuo had claimed the notoriety of bleached-blond hair for himself, Izaya opted for distinct clothing.

By the time Izaya was ready to make his way over to Ikebukuro the sun was already shining through the tall windowfront of his apartment, making him briefly reconsider the decision of a fur-lined coat. It was his day off, after all. In a bout of spontaneity, he returned it to the wardrobe and left his apartment in only his thin shirt. Golden week had rid the streets of many of its pedestrians, giving a strange illusion of calm to the still-bustling city. The walk to Ikebukuro was not long, but Izaya took his time and when he arrived at Serena’s dark wooden door, the sun was already hanging low over the tall buildings. He didn’t know why, but Izaya felt a surge of excitement run through him when he pushed the door open and immediately glanced towards the bar counter.

But instead of blond hair and a deep frown he was greeted with a friendly smile, the surprise in it so brief that Izaya might as well have imagined it.

“Izaya? What a rare but pleasant surprise. What brought you here?”

Izaya masked his disappointment with a wide grin, but he knew that any kind of deception was wasted on Sayuri – she was too well versed in it herself.

“Can’t I visit my favourite colleagues on my day off?” he looked around with put-on indifference, “Where is Shizu-chan by the way?”

The smile on Sayuri’s face stretched into ranges of mischief Izaya was all too familiar with.

“Coincidentally, he took the day off as well. I was convinced you two had plans together, but apparently that was a false assumption,” she took out her phone and typed something before returning her gaze to Izaya, “Does Shiki claim your attention all for himself these days? Not to get involved in your personal life, but Shizuo’s irritation seems to be exponentially linked to your absence, “ her smile turned into a smirk. “No matter what you do, you keep distracting him.”

Izaya didn’t bother with an answer – the colour he could feel rising to his cheeks would be answer enough for Sayuri. He briefly considered leaving and looking for Shizuo, but the other was probably spending his day off with his family, and Izaya wasn’t as desperate as to take that away. And so he let out a sigh and took a seat on his usual stool in front of the bar. Despite everything, he couldn’t ignore the harsh sting of disappointment in his chest. So it would be just another normal birthday after all.

 The glance Sayuri passed him carried hints of pity and that was really the last thing Izaya wanted now.

“How about I stay a little anyway? We can gossip about Shiki and talk about or favourite Awakusu member,” he grinned at her because if he had to pretend that all of this didn’t bother him, he might as well go all-out.

Sayuri seemed to understand his intention and her expression turned from pity to satisfaction and she set down a glass in front of him. Then she reached under the bar and pulled out a large bottle, and Izaya didn’t need to know what exactly the dark ember liquid was to know it had a high alcohol content. When Sayuri saw his critical look, she shrugged.

“Don’t tell me you’re such a light-weight that you can’t even handle a small sip of the best alcohol in the bar. I don’t get this bottle out for just anyone, you should consider yourself lucky.”

Izaya pulled up his eyebrow indignantly, as if her words didn’t carry any amount of truth in them.

“Please I can handle my alcohol well enough. I simply don’t like to pay for something that restricts the normal functions of my brain.”

“Good thing it’s on the house then,” Sayuri said and filled the lower half of the glass with the deep, slightly thick liquid. “Happy Birthday, Izaya.”

Izaya’s eyes snapped up and he wasn’t fast enough to hide the surprise that came with her unexpected words.

“What?” she chuckled and filled a glass for herself, “You think you’re the only one able to gather a little information?”

Izaya leaned back in a show of composure.

“You know from Shinra, don’t you?”

“That little underground-physician is the worst contact for someone trying to retain any kind of mystery in their life. You should consider switching doctors.”

Izaya sighed and reached for his glass, “I did. More than once. But I couldn’t bear to see the disappointment on his face when his only friend substituted him with someone else.”

Sayuri laughed out loud at that and lifted her drink.

 “To friends, then,” she said and Izaya clinked his glass against hers.

“To friends,” he murmured, thinking of a past coloured in gold.

-

About forty minutes later Izaya felt regret. Or he would feel regret, he thought, if his brain wasn’t preoccupied with grasping at the coherency that kept slipping away from him. Sayuri’s bottle of expensive liquor only held a sad puddle at the bottom, and the cheeks of the bartender were coloured in a pink that would have looked natural on those whose skin wasn’t usually the colour of desaturated ivory.

“Does my skin look like desaturated ivory?” Izaya asked, remembering that he was supposed to look like Sayuri, just male. Sayuri made a noise that was a bit too high to pass as intended.

“Does your skin look like what now?”

Izaya huffed, “Shizuo said so.”

“Oooh, I bet he did,” Sayuri purred and passed Izaya a look that went past suggestiveness and right to indecency.

The door was pushed open and Izaya flinched, a voice in the back of his head reminding him that he had an image to uphold.

“Speak of the devil!” Sayuri called and the voice in Izaya’s head panicked, although he didn’t know why. In the door stood Shizuo, his form-fitting uniform slightly rumpled, the warm hues of the dawn behind him turning his hair into liquid gold, and Izaya had never seen anything more beautiful.

“Shizu-ooo!” Izaya slurred even though he had made the conscious effort to keep his voice neutral. “How nice of you to join us!”

Chapter Text

[Your friend just showed up at the bar. Thought I’d let you know. He might be staying for a bit.]

It had been ten minutes since Shizuo got Sayuri’s text, and he was already halfway to Ikebukuro again. Why Izaya would choose the bar of all places to spend his birthday at was beyond Shizuo, but there was a warm feeling in his chest at the thought that Izaya finally decided to pay him a visit again, unprompted and unexpected. As much as he tried to ignore it, he couldn’t deny that he missed Izaya’s company, even his irritating speeches and his obnoxious laugh. Especially his obnoxious laugh. Shizuo shook his head and quickened his pace. He didn’t want to risk missing Izaya.

It didn’t take long for him to cross the distance between Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, and he spent the whole way trying to think of something witty to say when he met Izaya. But, of course, Izaya didn't give him a chance to use his any of his prepared remarks (and Shizuo should have known that there was no use in preparing anything for the chaotic force in human shape that was Izaya).

When Shizuo opened the door to Serena, there were many things he would have expected; this was Izaya after all. But not even Shizuo's resigned acceptance of the other's fickleness could have prepared him for the sight that presented itself to him when he entered the bar.

Izaya sat on his usual stool at the counter, if the low slouch he had adopted could be called sitting at all. He turned slowly when the door fell close behind Shizuo, the downward angle of his head allowing him to pass Shizuo a look from behind dark strands of hair. He was wearing a thin black shirt; the absence of his usual coat taking Shizuo somewhat off guard.

"Shizu-ooo," Izaya said and Shizuo almost took a step back because Izaya slurred his name in a way that bordered on sultriness. "How nice of you to join us!"

Shizuo gaped at him, unable to think, let alone say, anything coherent. Izaya’s face was coloured in a very noticeable pink, as if someone had decided to paint onto the white porcelain that was Izaya’s skin. Izaya lifted his hand, the slow motion carrying an elegance that stood in stark contrast to his uncoordinated speech. His hand hovered between them and he motioned Shizuo to take it.

"And now that you're finally here you're just going to stand there?"

Someone cleared their throat and Shizuo's eyes jumped away from the offering of Izaya's hand and to Sayuri behind the bar. Her cheeks held a hint of colour as well, but it was nothing compared to Izaya.

"You should probably get him home. I didn't expect his alcohol tolerance to be this abysmal," the smile on her face showed honest traces of amusement and the look she passed Izaya could almost be called fond.

Izaya, meanwhile, had not yet retracted his hand, giving him the appearance of someone desperately reaching out for a lifeline. Shizuo took a deep breath and took a step forward. And another. When he reached out to grasp Izaya's hand the other lunged towards him with a speed that shouldn't have been possible for someone that intoxicated. Izaya slipped right past Shizuo's outstretched arm and came to halt so close in front of him that Shizuo could smell the traces of alcohol on the other’s breath.

"You came," Izaya murmured so quietly that Shizuo wouldn't have understood him were it not for their proximity. Out of the corner of his eye Shizuo could see Sayuri crossing her arms, a smirk on her face.

"I heard exertion helps with sobering up," she piped up.  

Izaya turned on his heel, swaying precariously, and Shizuo grasped his shoulders to steady him.

"You," Izaya jabbed his finger at Sayuri, "be quiet! Not another word."

Sayuri shrugged, but Izaya already turned again, stumbling past Shizuo in the most ungraceful motion Shizuo had ever seen the other perform.

"Come on, Shizu-chan, let’s go somewhere nicer."

Shizuo shot Sayuri a last pleading glance before Izaya took his hand and dragged him out of the bar, Shizuo unable to resist the pull.

-

Luckily for Shizuo, the drunk version of Izaya was much more compliant than his usual unrelenting self, so it didn't take long for Shizuo to convince him that Izaya's apartment was definitely "somewhere nicer".

"Are you not calling me a cab, Shizu-chan? How inconsiderate!"

"Shut up flea, you need the fresh air," Shizuo grumbled, trying his hardest to ignore the way Izaya gazed up at him from underneath long lashes.  

"I do not," Izaya huffed and then there was an arm winding around Shizuo's and Izaya pressed himself bodily against him. At least Izaya stopped talking, because Shizuo was quite sure that he wouldn't be able to find a reply amidst the chaos of his mind. They were walking like that for a while, with Izaya stumbling every other minute because he couldn’t quite line up his steps with Shizuo’s. Each time he did, he tightened his hold on Shizuo’s arm, his thin shirt doing not much to act as a barrier between them.

At some point Izaya must have had enough because he let go of Shizuo's arm and skipped ahead. After a few swaying jumps he turned around and traded the safety of seeing where he was going for a look at Shizuo's frowning face.

"Why did you take the day off work, Shizu-chan?" Izaya asked with a pout on his face that made him look years younger.

"Watch where you're going," Shizuo said, "you're going to fall and I'm not going to catch you."

A grin spread over Izaya's face.

"Oh, you aren't?"

And Shizuo knew what was coming, so he bolted forward, his long strides faster than the tilting backwards motion of Izaya's body. He curled an arm around Izaya's back and pulled him against his chest, letting out an irritated growl in the process.

"Don't do this Izaya!"

Izaya's hands came up and Shizuo thought he was going to be shoved back, but instead Izaya's fingers clutched at his vest.

"Why? I knew you'd catch me."

Shizuo was dumbfounded at the casual expression of trust, but he quickly told himself that it was just the haze of alcohol that made Izaya act like this.

"You'll hurt yourself someday," Shizuo said, softness stripping his voice of all accusation.

"Hmm..." Izaya hummed. He righted himself and gazed up at Shizuo, looking like he wanted to say something. But instead his mouth stretched into a lazy grin and he swayed a bit.

"Didn't you want to take me home?"

Shizuo sighed, more out of habit than necessity, and took a step past Izaya, who immediately tilted to the side and leaned against his arm.

"Hold me," the words more a demand than a question. For a moment Shizuo didn't move, looking down at Izaya whose eyes were focused low on Shizuo's face.

And because denying Izaya was something that had become increasingly difficult, Shizuo tentatively slung an arm around Izaya's narrow waist, supporting the other's weight as Izaya leaned into his hold. Izaya’s head came to rest on Shizuo’s shoulder and Shizuo thought that, if anyone from their past was to see them now, they’d be shocked. But Izaya was warm against him, his soft hair tickling the side of Shizuo’s neck, and Shizuo couldn’t bring himself to care. He would be content with staying like this, especially when Izaya stopped talking and left Shizuo at the mercy of his own thoughts. This was not a situation Shizuo had ever imagined to be in, but here he was, body and mind claimed thoroughly by Izaya, and it was comfortable, despite its utter absurdity.

They arrived at Izaya's building earlier than Shizuo expected and faster than he had hoped. When they reached the door Izaya just stood there for a moment, staring at it as if he could push it open through force of will alone. He then seemed to remember the procedure necessary to gain access to his own apartment and pushed himself away from Shizuo, who had to bite down a protest that threatened to escape his mouth. Izaya fumbled with his keys and it was strangely endearing to see his usually so nimble fingers stumbling over the shape of the lock.

The foyer was still empty and Shizuo moved towards the stairs out of habit.

"Where are you going, Shizu-chan? I'm not going to walk up ten staircases, have you seen me?"

He made a show out of his slouched posture, spreading his arms to the side. His thin shirt was revealing in a way Shizuo didn't think possible, where even though Izaya's body was completely covered, he looked bare. But maybe that was just the lack of his usual black coat.

Shizuo realised that he was staring when Izaya slowly lowered his arms, a question in his eyes. Shizuo quickly averted his gaze and hurried towards the lift, punching the button. Izaya didn't say a word on their way up and Shizuo was most certainly not going to be the one to initiate conversation now, not with the danger of alcoholic honestly hanging in the air around them. When the ding announced the end of their ride, Izaya sighed.

"Don't spend the whole evening sulking now, Shizu-chan!" And with that he grabbed Shizuo's hand, tugging him out of the elevator and towards his apartment.

His steps were closer to their usual grace than before, but he was still more holding on to Shizuo than dragging him along. This time, Izaya managed to line up the key with the lock more quickly, and Shizuo thought that their walk might have actually helped clearing the alcohol from Izaya's system.

"Home sweet home," Izaya slurred flatly and toed off his shoes. "If that's what you want to call it."

He sauntered over to his couch and dropped down with as much grace as his current state would allow him. Shizuo followed, slightly unsure of what to do now. He was briefly reminded of the first time he had paid Izaya a visit in his old home, and a small smile stole onto his face.

"That's what I'm talking about," came Izaya's voice from the couch, slightly louder than usual. "You don't smile enough, Shizu-chan. Which is a pity, it looks so good on you."

Shizuo's smile immediately gave way to a frown. "Shut up flea, you're drunk."

Izaya's grin turned lopsided.

"Join me and maybe I'll be quiet," he patted the soft leather next to him.

"Yeah sure," Shizuo muttered, but did what he was asked nonetheless.

He left plenty of space between them, but Izaya scooted over as soon as he had sat down.

"You came," he said, every trace of smile wiped off his face.

"You mentioned that already."

"I didn't think you would."

Shizuo huffed in attempt to laugh, but the sound came out strained.

"It's your birthday isn't it?" 

Izaya looked at him with wide eyes, and he opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, but no words came out. Shizuo wondered if it had been the alcohol that had taken coherency away from Izaya, or Shizuo's simple declaration.

"I-" Izaya started, looking around as if the words he so desperately sought were hiding somewhere in his apartment. He didn't find them, but Shizuo did, concealed by the break in Izaya's voice.

"Birthdays should be spent with those important to you. I even brought you a present. Here, let me get-"

He wanted to stand, but there was a hand around his wrist and Izaya pulled himself towards Shizuo, their faced so close that Shizuo could count the individual lashes that framed Izaya’s eyes.

"Stay," Izaya said, desperation weaving his voice into a plea.

"I wasn't... I just wanted...," but whatever it was he wanted got drowned out by Izaya in front of him, eyes flicking between Shizuo's, mouth opening for more words.

"Do you remember back when we first talked? On that rooftop?"

Shizuo's low laugh was cut short by the waterfall of words spilling from Izaya's lips.

"When I told you that I wouldn't change for anyone?"

Shizuo could do nothing but stare into the crimson void of Izaya's eyes.

"Well, I didn't."

Shizuo opened his mouth, confusion like tar around a sentence he wasn't fast enough to drag free.

"I stayed myself. And you still came. You're still here. How is that?"

Shizuo swallowed and he knew he had to say something now, before the chance passed. And maybe the remainder of alcohol on Izaya's breath had given him the necessary courage.

"Because, Izaya!" He blurted out, making sure that Izaya didn't start with expressing another thought. "Because you're important to me, you shitty flea!"

His breath came heavy like he had chased Izaya through the city instead of expressed a simple statement to him.

And then, with utter shock, he saw Izaya's lashes dripping tears down his cheeks.

"You can't..." Izaya's breath hitched in his throat, "You can't just say something like that!"

"Well, I did. And I meant it," Shizuo said stubbornly, and because the sight before him was too unnatural and he needed to make sure he wasn’t imagining things, he lifted his hand and dragged his thumb over the wetness on Izaya's cheeks.

Izaya shook his head and pulled back, wiping at his face with both hands.

"Stupid," he muttered and turned away from Shizuo, still trying to get the traces of emotion off his face.

"This is just typical. For once I thought I had you figured out, that I predicted your actions, and then you," he whipped around and stared at Shizuo, accusation firmly in his eyes, "then you do this!"

Now it was Shizuo's turn to stare, but this time words didn't fail him.

"Well, that's entirely on you then! If you still haven't figured out that people...that I care about you, then maybe you should consider getting into another line of work!"

Every single conflicting emotion on Izaya's face turned into indignation.

"You!", he jabbed his finger against Shizuo's chest. "You..."

His anger seemed to die down and Shizuo couldn't supress the smile that came with the added volatility alcohol gave Izaya's personality.

For a moment Izaya considered Shizuo's face, eyes locked onto the upward curve of Shizuo's lips, and then he slowly nodded.

"I know. Of course I do. I...I shouldn't have taken those drinks from Sayuri."

Shizuo shrugged, "No, I think this is a good learning experience for you. Sometimes it's good to let go."

"Is it?" Izaya murmured, his expression unreadable, but eyes locked firmly with Shizuo's and then, determination steadying his voice, "I like the version of myself I am when I'm with you. I think it's the most me I've ever been."

"Izaya..."

It felt like Izaya had taken Shizuo's thoughts and handed them back to him in the shape of words, and for a moment Shizuo was stunned. He didn't know what came as a bigger shock - that Izaya's façade crumbled when he was with Shizuo, or that he didn't even like to put one up in the first place.

"Don't say anything," Izaya said and turned away again. "I shouldn't-"

"You should," Shizuo interrupted and grabbed Izaya's shoulder so that the other was facing him again. "If you want, I mean. I know how it is to limit yourself to a version you want others to perceive. It's draining. You don't have to pretend with me. I know I'm not when I’m with you."

Izaya was quiet. He reached out with one hand, then stopping short before Shizuo's chest. Shizuo carefully took the hand in his and drew Izaya closer, curling an arm around his waist.

"I mean it."

And he pulled Izaya against him, pretending to not notice the sob that made its way past Izaya's lips.

“Happy birthday, Izaya." He murmured.

Izaya said nothing - maybe he was too afraid of the emotion that would escape him if he opened his mouth.

Shizuo didn’t know for how long they stayed like that – it might have been minutes, it might have been an hour. He was reminded of the passage of time when suddenly Izaya’s head slumped against Shizuo’s shoulder, his body becoming slack. Shizuo was unsure of what to do, but when it became apparent that Izaya showed no sign of regaining consciousness, Shizuo pulled away ever so carefully, gently grasping Izaya’s shoulders so he wouldn't topple over. Izaya seemed fast asleep, his head lolling to the side when it lost the support of Shizuo’s shoulder.

"Izaya?" Shizuo whispered, not sure if he wanted to wake Izaya or just let him get his undeserved sleep.

Izaya made a noise somewhere low in his throat, but other than that he remained unmoving. Shizuo scoffed – of course Izaya would not make things easy for him. He looked around – there was a closed door at the far side of the room, presumably Izaya’s bedroom, and Shizuo was certain that he had no business whatsoever being in there. But then again, he couldn’t leave Izaya slumped on the couch, not when he was the one to get blamed if Izaya woke up with a stiff neck. And so he reluctantly got up and stared at Izaya’s limp body on the sofa.

“This is so typical. Torturing me even when you’re sleeping,” Shizuo muttered and scooped Izaya up in his arms a bit rougher than necessary, hoping Izaya would do him the favour of waking up. He did no such thing. And so Shizuo carried him over to the bedroom, trying his best to not look at Izaya in his arms, face relaxed and peaceful.

Izaya’s bedroom was just as big and just as blank as the rest of his flat, with only a bed and a wardrobe filling the emptiness. It might have looked unlived in, were it not for the rumpled sheets on the large bed. Shizuo took a deep breath and made his way over to let Izaya fall unceremoniously onto the soft mattress, but even then did the other not have the decency to wake up. For a second Shizuo’s brain thought it a good time to remind him that he should maybe dress Izaya in more comfortable clothes, and Shizuo determined he had been tortured enough for one day and hurried out of the room, but not before seeing Izaya clutching a blanket and curling into a ball.

He stood somewhat forlorn in Izaya’s living room, contemplating his next course of action. It was already late and had crossed the distance between Shinjuku and Ikebukuro three times already today. But the alternative to returning home would be staying the night in Izaya’s flat, and without the other’s permission at that. He didn't expect to spend a normal birthday with Izaya, but this was beyond everything he could have imagined. He should go home. Just leave the situation he was so overwhelmed by. But something held him back (and he knew exactly what that was, but that didn’t mean he needed to admit it to himself). And so he sat down on Izaya’s couch, one arm draped over his face, and wondered what he had done to deserve such a cruel fate.

---

 

Izaya woke up with a slight headache. This wasn't especially unusual for him – he always needed a while to get his systems to properly start to function in the morning. What was unusual, however, was that he could trace the reason for said headache back to one specific decision made the evening before.

The pain immediately intensified as his brain reminded him of his actions and, even worse, his words. Alcohol didn't seem to grant him the blissfulness of ignorance; instead the memories came rushing back relentlessly.

His strange remarks to Shizuo when the other entered the bar, leaning against him on the way home, being pulled into a hug, talking about feelings he hadn't even been sure he possessed. Falling asleep in the other’s arms.

Izaya sat up immediately, eyes wide in horror and every remnant of sleep purged from his system by the realisation that he must have gotten into his bedroom somehow. And if he didn’t walk there himself, the only reasonable explanation was that someone had carried him. Fantastic. All those years of building up a specific image had been undone in the course of a single night. But then again, his image had never been worth much in the presence of Shizuo. Izaya let out a groan and resisted the urge to fall back onto the mattress. The brightness that flooded into his bedroom from the living room told him that the sun must already be high up in the sky, and Izaya didn’t intend to let the alcohol take the last ounce of dignity he had left by having him spend the whole day in bed. He swung his legs out of bed, grateful to notice that he was still wearing the clothes from the day before.

Yawning, he made his way into his empty quiet of living room. Only that the room was not empty. Izaya stopped dead in his tracks and gaped at the person so calmly sleeping on his couch. Shizuo looked at complete peace with himself and the world, as if he was laying in his own bead instead of on the too-small couch in Izaya's apartment. His face was relaxed but his position looked uncomfortable, with his head against backrest at an angle that promised a stiff neck. As Izaya took in the image, his eyes were involuntarily drawn to the stretch of bare skin revealed by the shirt that that had ridden up Shizuo's stomach.

For a second Izaya was sure that he was still drunk, or better even, asleep, with his mind concocting a strange scene pierced together from some unwanted thoughts. But that didn’t matter now because Shizuo shifted on his makeshift bed and Izaya had to try and gather his bearings before Shizuo opened his eyes. He adopted what he assumed to be a lopsided smirk and placed himself on the armrest next to Shizuo. The other slowly lifted his head and his face immediately twisted in pain as he rubbed at his neck.

"Good morning, Shizu-chan. I hope you had a good night on my couch!" Izaya grinned, only slightly distracted by the way Shizuo's golden hair had been artistically styled by a restless night.

"Morning," Shizuo grumbled and blinked into the brightness that filtered in through Izaya's tall windows. Sleep slowly released him from its grip and his expression became one of horror.

"Oh shit, I didn't mean to stay, I just kinda fell asleep, I guess, and..." he trailed off stared at Izaya, the corners of his mouth twitching.

Izaya, suddenly very self-conscious, stared back. "What?"

"Your....your hair," Shizuo said and now he couldn't contain his grin anymore.

"What of it?" Izaya's tried to appear nonchalant, but his traitorous hands immediately went to correct whatever it was that was wrong with his hair.

Shizuo sat up fully and leaned forward, batting away Izaya's hands with his own.

"Here, let me." He ran his fingers through Izaya's hair in a sudden reversal of roles, and Izaya quickly shut his mouth to lock up any revealing sounds the soft touch might have elicited from him. When he was certain that no traces of embarrassing emotions were left in his throat, he gave Shizuo a sheepish look.

“Hey, Shizu-chan, about yesterday. So. I’m sorry, okay? I might have overdone it,” he said the words quickly, as if that could somehow make them less awkward.

Shizuo stared at him, then he grinned, “The great Orihara Izaya, apologising? Alcohol sure brings out the best in us.”

Izaya threw a pillow at his head, “Don’t rub it in.”

Shizuo shrugged. “Hey, it’s not my fault you don’t know your own limits.”

Then, in a softer voice, he added: “You do look like shit though. Do you want to go and, I don’t know, grab breakfast or something?”

Izaya felt his mouth drag into a familiar grin and he was eternally grateful for the feeling of self-control that came with it.

“Aw, Shizu-chan, first you sleep over and then you treat me for breakfast? How dreamy.”

He only realised the exact implication of his words when the colour of Shizuo’s face turned into a bright red.

-

When Izaya returned to his flat that evening, feeling infinitely better than in the morning, he found a small package right next to his door. He frowned at it, briefly wondering if Shiki had sent another request, and took it inside. He plopped down on his couch, faint traces of cigarette smoke still lingering against the fabric, and examined it closely. The wrapping around it was plain and red, but Shiki had never before wrapped his files in any kind of fancy paper before giving them to Izaya. Turning it in his hand revealed a small card that read

If kindness ever gets the better of you again.

Izaya immediately recognised the sloppy handwriting and he felt excitement rising up in him as he tore the package open with impatient hands. Inside lay a blue umbrella, stirring up memories from simpler days. Izaya’s eyes wandered down the handle and came to rest on a familiar engraving.

It was in that moment that Izaya realised that denying his feelings any further would be futile. There was only so far running could get you.