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method in my madness

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Evening has long since crept up on the city by the time Izaya sneaks into Shinra and Celty's shared apartment. Almost without any noise at all, he shuts the door behind him and pauses, barely allowing himself to draw a breath in fear of breaking the quiet. The living room is shrouded in darkness and after a moment of straining his ears, he notes that he can't hear Shinra's voice. Celty's not home, then, he deduces. Probably out on that job that he suggested Shiki should give her earlier that day.

The apartment is silent. A strange sense of relief thuds through him as he realises that Shinra is most likely asleep. He creeps forward until he's standing outside Shinra's bedroom with his fingers loosely wrapped around the handle. The door is already slightly ajar and the lights are out. Definitely asleep. Izaya takes a soft breath and tightens his grip on the handle. Pushing an already half open door shouldn't be so difficult yet his muscles feel as though they're locked in place. Frozen.

He clenches his jaw. No sound comes from the bedroom so clearly Shinra is asleep. All he has to do is push the door and—

"If you're going to come in then come in," says a good-natured voice loudly, and Izaya nearly jumps out of his skin. "Don't just lurk out there."

He grits his teeth, more out of frustration at being wrong than anything else. He miscalculated. Shinra is awake and now he's going to have to speak to him when he'd originally planned to be in and out of the apartment in no more than four minutes.

"I know it's you, Orihara-kun." Shinra sounds more amused than Izaya thinks he has any right to be. "No one else sneaks around like that. What do you want?"

Izaya pushes the door open with more force than necessary and steps inside. The room is dark but he can see Shinra's outline on top of the bed and the glint of his glasses in the pale moonlight.

"I don't remember giving you a key," says Shinra mildly.

Izaya forces himself to smirk. "Your locks are terrible, by the way. I picked it in under two minutes."

"Thanks for the advice," he replies. "And switch on the light. You're even creepier when I can't see your face."

Izaya does so and when he turns to look at Shinra he feels something he can only describe as horror well up inside of him.

Almost every exposed inch of Shinra is covered in bandages except from one arm and after a moment of studying him Izaya knows that they continue under his shirt. From the rigid shapes under the blanket he guesses that his legs are broken too. It's been two weeks exactly since the attack and Shinra still looks as though he can barely move an inch.

"Bad, isn't it?" says Shinra, smiling. "And as much as I love having Celty attend to my every need, I'm extremely bored."

Izaya clenches his fists around the sleeves of his coat and looks away.

"It's worse than you thought, then?" Shinra remarks lightly. "Didn't Celty tell you?"

"She said you were 'badly injured'," says Izaya shortly. "I assumed that coming from her she meant you got a paper cut."

Shinra grins. "Unfortunately this time she wasn't over exaggerating."

"You'll live," Izaya bites out, staring at the bedside table.

"Thanks to Celty, I will," says Shinra. "Your bedside manner could use some work though."

Izaya's eyes snap back to him and he grins, all traces of anger cleared from his face. "'If only the suspense would split open your chest so you'd die'," he quotes.

"I was on a trip with Celty and you were bothering me!" Shinra defends himself after recognising his own words. "You made undercover cops call me because you were bored!"

"I was stabbed," Izaya points out, eyes glimmering in mirth. Bothering Shinra was something that never grew old, especially when he always got the reaction that he wanted. "I could have been dying."

"You weren't," says Shinra dismissively. "If you were dying you'd have been far more dramatic than you were."

"You have a point," he concedes, though his grin becomes noticeably tighter at the edges and it fails to reach his eyes any more.

Silence falls over them for a moment before Shinra says, "Hey, Orihara-kun?"

"What?"

"You know… I told Celty about what happened in middle school."

"I guessed." Izaya narrows his eyes. "What's your point?"

Shinra pauses. Izaya thinks he's choosing his words very carefully so he can tread as lightly as possible around whatever touchy subject he's going to bring up. He's wise to do so. Izaya's already had one scheme foiled tonight and he isn't prepared to have an uncomfortable in-depth conversation with anyone, especially Shinra.

"There's something I've been thinking about lately," he says. "I don't have much else to do these days, you see. Ahh, how do I put this…"

"Just keep it to yourself." Izaya feigns nonchalance with a well-practiced ease. "I probably don't care."

Shinra ignores him. "Have you ever considered whether you would still be an information broker if you hadn't met me? If that hadn't happened?"

Izaya sighs and leans against the doorframe. "I haven't considered it, no."

"You shouldn't bother lying to me," Shinra says. "I can tell, you know. And I also know for a fact that if a possibility exists then you've thought about it from every angle until you're either bored or frustrated." He shrugs as best he can from the bed. "I'm not an idiot."

"Sometimes it seems that way," Izaya shoots back. Shinra's knowing look is enough to send his fingers skittering into his pocket to clutch the knife he brought just in case but he resists the urge for now. He settles for crossing his arms tightly and meeting Shinra's eyes with a level glare.

"You flatter me," says Shinra. "And you didn't give me an answer."

"Most people would have backed off by now," replies Izaya.

"I've never been most people," Shinra points out. "You don't want to admit that something out with your control could have such a large effect on the person you've become. But we both know the truth. Don't we?" He tilts his head.

Izaya grits his teeth. Every inch of him regrets coming here but he can't let Shinra know that because then Shinra would win so he quashes the feeling before it can evolve any further. He'd forgotten how easy Shinra finds it to push every button he has, how he's never satisfied with the answers he gets because he knows that Izaya is always, always holding something back, keeping something to himself.

He closes his eyes for a moment. "Do you pester Celty like this? I'm guessing not or she'd surely have left you by now."

"What are you so afraid of?" Shinra sounds genuinely curious now. Izaya can only imagine how fast the cogs in his brain are spinning trying to come up with ways to weasel information out of him. "It's just me."

"I'm not afraid," he says automatically, and he's not sure which one of them he's trying to convince. Fear is uncontrollable. Fear manifests itself physically in shaking hands and too-quick breaths, in scattered thoughts and a relentlessly hammering heart. Izaya is no stranger to fear – it's why he's survived this long in his line of work, after all – but admitting to feeling something that implies he can lose control even for an instant is unacceptable.

Even to Shinra.

"All right." Shinra sighs. "Fine. Have it your way. You know, one day you're going to push away even me."

Izaya clenches his jaw and allows his hand to slip into his pocket and curl around his knife.

"Did I strike a nerve?" Shinra taunts. "Is that what you're afraid of?" He's pushing it and he knows it. There's only so far he can go before Izaya loses control and snaps, though his fuse is generally longer than that of most people. Still, Izaya knows that Shinra knows if he keeps pushing he'll eventually get some kind of reaction. At this point, he isn't sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

His fingers curl tighter around the knife until the handle starts to bite into his skin.

"Let go of it." Shinra's glasses glint in the artificial light. "I know you're not going to use it so just let go of it."

Izaya allows his grip on the blade to slacken but keeps his hand in his pocket.

"You're no fun, Shinra." He draws out the last syllable in an attempt at playfulness but the grin plastered across his face looks more psychotic than it does self-assured. He's not sure what it is about this particular human that shreds every ounce of eloquence and charisma he has and strips his well-practiced mask bare but every time he thinks about it it feels like he's being stabbed all over again.

Sometimes he thinks he hates Kishitani Shinra even more than he hates Shizu-chan.

For a moment Shinra looks as though he's going to shoot back with something that would no doubt end up in Izaya waving his knife at him. Izaya waits, but then Shinra's expression softens and he sighs heavily. Silence falls over them and Izaya's fingers twirl loosely around the knife as he looks anywhere but Shinra. Every inch of self-preservation that he has is screaming at him to turn around and leave yet his feet remain rooted to the ground. He knows there's more to come. There always is with Shinra. He's never satisfied until he's dissected every inch of Izaya, pulled him apart until he's certain he's dismantled every lie Izaya's ever told.

In a way, nothing has changed in the last ten years. Shinra is still the same overly curious, terrifyingly cheerful weirdo with a dark streak as black as the night sky that he was in middle school. Izaya thinks that maybe it's a relief that, despite everything else changing, Shinra at least has stayed the same.

"So," says Shinra, breaking the silence at last. He shifts a little in the bed in an effort to get comfortable. "Why did you come here?"

Or maybe not.

Izaya narrows his eyes. "Stop asking questions you already know the answer to. I'm the only one who's allowed to play games."

Shinra raises his hands in a gesture of surrender before quickly putting them back down. Izaya doesn't miss the stiffness in his movements, notes the slight tightening in Shinra's jaw at the pain.

"I don't actually know the answer," Shinra says. His breaths come a little more heavily than they did before but he still manages to tilt his head and meet Izaya's eye. "I've got no interest in playing mind games with you. I just wanted to know."

"Hmm." Izaya surveys him, frowning. "Isn't it obvious? It is to me."

"Well, you're you," replies Shinra plainly. "Honestly, I've given up trying to work out what goes on in that mind of yours, Orihara-kun."

"Stop calling me that," he says impatiently. "We've known each other for ten years. If Shizu-chan of all people can call me by my given name without any honorifics then so can you."

Shinra grins sheepishly. "It would've been rude for me to do so if you hadn't asked me."

His frustration is gone as quickly as it came. Unable to help himself, he throws his head back and laughs so hard he has to clutch the doorframe with both hands for support. Between gasps he manages to exclaim, "You were waiting for me to ask? Shinra, that's so—"

"That's generally how it works," Shinra says, looking thoroughly amused as Izaya's manic laughter begins to die down. "Don't think you're getting away that easily, though. You didn't answer me. Why are you here? Because I've been trying but I just can't seem to work it out." He shifts again. "I didn't come to see you in the hospital when you were stabbed so naturally I assumed you'd stay away from me until I'd healed so you could have your twisted revenge on me. Actually," he pauses before continuing with a frown etched across his features, "you stay away from me most of the time anyway so you coming here is… quite honestly, baffling. I can't understand it at all."

"You think so little of me it's hurtful," Izaya lilts. "Maybe I'm just not as spiteful as you think I am."

"No, you are," affirms Shinra. "You definitely are."

"You really are a terrible person. Who says that kind of thing to their only friend?" He doesn't even need to add that coming from him that's a twisted compliment. Shinra knows.

"So are you," says Shinra. "You're also a master of dodging questions you don't want to answer."

Izaya's well-rehearsed smile falters. When he looks up, Shinra's eyes are boring into him. He knows, theoretically, that he holds all the cards in this situation. He could turn around and leave at any moment. Shinra definitely can't walk in the state he's in so Izaya would have no problem escaping back to Shinjuku. Shinra wants answers and Izaya has the power to either give them or withhold them. It's entirely his choice how everything plays out. The situation is his to manipulate. So why does it feel like Shinra is chess master instead of him?

He clenches his fists and pushes down the feeling of being out of control until it's buried as deep as he can manage. "You should know by now that I don't give free information to just anyone."

"I'm not just anyone though, am I?" Shinra says it like it's a question but Izaya knows it's anything but. He narrows his eyes, his hand creeping back to his pocket.

"Izaya… You know I—"

"Back off," he says warningly. "Don't finish that sentence unless you want to add a knife wound to your list of injuries."

"Backing off," says Shinra, not even bothering to call his bluff this time. "But you can't run from hard conversations all the time."

"I'm not running."

He sighs with the most exasperation Izaya has ever seen him show. He knows fine well Shinra isn't one to involve himself in the lives of others unless it's Celty so for him to be so openly irritated, surely he must—

Izaya cuts that thought off before it can go any further. He has no time for unfounded theorising. Reason redirects him to the conclusion that Shinra must just be trying to prove a point. Yet – yet – when has Shinra ever pushed something so far to prove a point? If it was something to do with science then he could assume that that was the reason but human emotions are the furthest thing from Shinra's hard, clinical reasoning.

"You spend most of your life running, in case you didn't notice." There's a new edge to Shinra's voice that he hasn't heard before. Annoyance, he realises. Shinra is annoyed at him. An thrill of satisfaction runs through him at the thought.

"That tends to happen when you get chased by a territorial monster every time you set foot in Ikebukuro."

"I'm not referring to Shizuo-kun and you know it." Izaya squirms. "When was the last time you had a conversation with someone that wasn't business-related or because you wanted to mess with them?" Shinra doesn't bother waiting for an answer he knows will never come. "Don't you get bored of it? Isn't it easier to just stop and face things as they are? Surely running from everything must get tiring after a while? You ran from your family, your sisters – you ran from me eventually—"

"Don't bother psychoanalysing me," Izaya says sharply. "You're a doctor, not a psychiatrist."

"I know, I know. I'm not trying to…" Shinra breaks off and pauses for a long moment. All Izaya can hear is the steady beeping from the heart monitor and his own breathing, not quite as regular as he would like. "I'm just… trying to understand." He frowns, staring at his hands on top of the white bed sheets. "I know you feel like you need to blaze through life by making as many imprints on people as you possibly can and the easiest way to do that is by hurting them in some way but that's not…" He hesitates before looking up. "You say you love all humans but do any of them love you?"

Izaya gives him what he knows is his most twisted, terrifying grin. "Their love isn't necessary to me. I don't need it. But they should love me. I do so much for them and they never appreciate it! I make them stronger. I make them more resilient. I show them themselves!" His smile is bordering on wild now, the volume of his voice rising with every word until it borders on mania. "What more could they ask for? But as long as I can love them then I don't need anything from them in return. Except," he tilts his head, eyes glittering, "amusement."

"How selfless of you," says Shinra quietly, but the sarcasm cuts as sharp as a knife.

"We can't all be like you and your monster girlfriend," Izaya shoots back, crossing his arms again and straightening his back. All pretenses of a smile are gone. "I'm perfectly happy with not guilting someone into loving me by forcing them to spend two decades of their precious life around me. Your love is selfish." He spits out the last word like it's poison on his tongue.

"Careful, Orihara-kun." Shinra's tone turns blood-wrenchingly cold but Izaya doesn't budge. "I may not be able to leave this bed but don't for one second think that I don't have other ways of making you pay."

A smirk twists its way onto his face. He couldn't hide it if he tried. The darker, more ruthless side of Shinra has always fascinated him ever since he'd said, "I want to love her even if it means hurting others," all those years ago.

"I know," he replies, and he wants so badly for Shinra to just do it. He wants Shinra to lay everything about himself bare so Izaya can dissect him piece by piece and see what he's truly capable of, what the most extreme lengths he'll go to are. Entertain me! he thinks manically. Ruin yourself! Ruin me! He'd let Shinra set the yakuza on him or personally torture him if that was what it took to see just how deep his darkness goes.

He can't imagine anything in this world better than that.

The corner of his mouth curves up dangerously. "That's what makes it so interesting, after all."

Shinra lets out a long breath and the tension in his shoulders seems to evaporate. "Everything is always a game to you."

"Not everything," Izaya counters. "But most things, yes."

"I meant what I said."

"You said a lot of things. Be more specific."

"Ruining people's lives isn't the right way to face your fear of death," says Shinra bluntly. His gaze never leaves Izaya and Izaya knows he's searching for a reaction that he refuses to give him the satisfaction of getting. "Try forging a real connection with someone some time. You'd be surprised at how rewarding it it."

"I don't need any more connections," says Izaya stubbornly. "I already have one."

Shinra's stare is so intense that it's starting to make him feel mildly uncomfortable but he refuses to be the first to look away. He refuses to be the one who loses here but his game is slipping between his fingers like water and this time he isn't sure how to seize control.

"You never loved me, Izaya," says Shinra so flippantly that it takes Izaya a moment to realise what he's actually said.

"Excuse me?" Against his will, every single one of his muscles freezes. His entire body is rooted in the one spot.

"Fascination isn't love," Shinra clarifies. "You never loved me. You say you love all humans but there are two outliers: Shizuo-kun and I. You claim you hate Shizuo-kun because he's a monster but you couldn't figure out which category you should place me in. So you decided that since you didn't hate me you had to love me in a way that was different from your love for humans in general. But you don't. You just thought I was interesting because I don't care about humans at all. You couldn't understand that so you made it your mission to find out why. You were fascinated by me, you were jealous of me, but you didn't love me." Shinra's glasses glint. "Am I right?"

Izaya is across the room in seconds, his knife pressing against the only part of Shinra's throat that isn't covered in bandages. His hand trembles but it only makes him grip the blade harder in determination.

Shinra looks down at it with what Izaya can only pinpoint as mild resignation and maybe even a hint of amusement.

"Don't you—" Izaya starts in a low voice, fury that he can't seem to control seeping into each word. It burns in the pit of his stomach and wells upwards, igniting every vein he has with its intensity. Even Shizu-chan messing up his plans has never made him feel anger like this. He's no stranger to the feeling but the intensity of it surprises even him. This is unmaskable. Every inch of him is screaming out to slash something so it hurts the same way he does.

And then, completely unflinching, Shinra says, "Do it."

"What?" Izaya asks, his eyes widening. His grip around the knife is so tight now that he can feel the design on the handle engraving itself onto his sweaty palm.

The rhythm of the heart monitor picks up a little but goes ignored by both of them.

"Do it," Shinra repeats. "If it'll make you feel better, do it. But," he raises a finger and Izaya stares at him in disbelief – how can he be so calm with a knife at his throat – Kishitani Shinra definitely has a few marbles loose – "if you do it, I'll know I'm right. That you deluded yourself into thinking you loved me because you didn't know the difference. So go ahead." Shinra smiles at him. Izaya can't tell from this angle whether it reaches his eyes or not.

His mind races. He's not going to kill Shinra, he knows that, has known it from the moment he drew the knife. However he's nothing if not thorough and his mind is already ten steps ahead of the rest of his body, working its way through every possible scenario.

If he kills Shinra, Shinra wins whatever twisted game this is. Killing him is admitting that he's wrong and he's never wrong. Not about something like this. And if he kills him then he knows he won't last long either because he's pretty sure Celty knows where he lives and wouldn't hesitate to run him over multiple times with that demonic horse of hers. If he doesn't kill him he admits that he's second-guessing himself, but he can't remember the last time a feeling like doubt ever plagued him. If he doesn't kill him Shinra still wins because he's proved that for all the rumours and his shady reputation, Orihara Izaya can't take another human's life.

He's starting to realise that this is a game of Shinra's own design which he can't win no matter how hard he tries. They'll both live on with the knowledge that Izaya could neither kill Shinra nor work out just what the hell kind of hold Shinra has over him.

What he thinks must be humiliation burns hotly under his skin.

He clenches his jaw.

He loses. How interesting, he thinks idly. Is this what it feels like after all? It's not as bad as he had imagined but the churning of his stomach and the unsteadiness of his own hands unnerves him. His breath shudders through his lips and his heart races like he's just ran across the city. How strange. Losing feels similar to fear.

He removes the knife from Shinra's throat and takes a step back.

"Oh, I'm so glad," Shinra says, sighing in relief. He touches his intact throat distractedly. "I mean, I was ninety per cent sure that you weren't going to do it but really, who knows with you. You could've… Ah, well. Anyway. At least I'll live another day."

Stunned, Izaya sinks into the chair beside the bed and fights the urge to run a hand over his face in frustration. "You were bluffing?"

"Well, yes," Shinra says as though it were obvious. "I do value my life, you know. Even though Celty would definitely avenge me and as much as I'd love for her to go on a revenge trip in my honour I'd rather be alive to witness it."

"There's something wrong with you," Izaya groans.

"Yes, probably," he agrees. "But Celty seems to like me either way so I can't say that I mind!"

"Predictable," chides Izaya, but there's no real malice behind it.

"So." It's incredible how much finality Shinra can pack into one word. Izaya knows now that he's trapped. His chance to smart talk his way out of the situation is long gone if it ever existed in the first place. The motivation to lie and run has vanished too, leaving him with a dull, hollow feeling he doesn't know the name for. He wishes he'd quickly lied earlier and just left. He wouldn't even have felt bad about it. Lying to Shinra is only difficult because he finds it easy to tell when Izaya is doing so. Guilt doesn't factor anywhere into it. They've lied to each other many times before and they both know they'll continue to do so as long as it seems necessary.

"Are you going to run if I ask?"

"Mm. I haven't decided yet. How exciting, right?"

"I'm being serious," says Shinra.

"So am I."

He sighs. "If you're just going to worm your way out of it or run off then I won't bother. I don't care enough for it to keep me up at night."

Shinra has always been better at lying to Izaya than Izaya is at lying to Shinra.

He looks out the window opposite. "Just spit it out if you're going to. All this suspense is boring me now."

Shinra closes his eyes briefly and Izaya can tell he's collecting every ounce of patience he has. When he reopens them he's looking directly at Izaya.

"Why are you here?" he asks for the final time. "And don't say that you're just visiting an old friend because we both know neither of us are gunning for the friend of the year award. I—"

Izaya cuts him off. "I came to see how bad it was. So I know how much I need to make Adabashi Kisuke pay." The grin he gives Shinra is feral, all teeth. "But first I'm going to get… full use out of him."

Shinra doesn't look surprised as he slouches back into the pillows. "I should've known. You're thinking of Nakura-kun, aren't you? That's what this is about."

Izaya frowns. "You don't look pleased. I thought you would be."

"I'm not displeased," Shinra assures him hurriedly. "He should definitely pay for all the trouble this has caused Celty!"

"Then why do you have that disappointed look on your face?"

"Why do I…" Shinra repeats quietly. He adjusts his glasses. "Maybe I had hoped you'd come to see me out of the goodness of your heart. Whether such a thing really exists or not."

Izaya's eyes widen. He opens his mouth to say something – anything – but nothing comes out.

"What's this?" teases Shinra softly, seeing his hesitation. "Have I rendered Orihara Izaya speechless? I can't wait to tell Shizuo-ku—mmph!"

"I'm not speechless," says Izaya, his hand over Shinra's mouth. The action is gentler than he thought himself capable of. "Just surprised. I forgot you always say embarrassing things."

"Mmph!" Shinra shakes his head slightly until Izaya removes his palm. "I was kidding. I won't really tell Shizuo-kun."

"I know, you idiot." He stands up, adjusting the bottom of his coat as he does so. "No doubt Celty will be back soon. I'd like to leave before she gets here." Try as he might, he doesn't think he could stand to be around her and her irritating kindness at the moment.

"Okay," Shinra agrees. Izaya hadn't really expected him to protest but the lack of it stings more than he'd like.

He takes a few steps towards the door before he pauses, possessed by a gripping bout of sentimentality. Unable to stop himself, he gives a short, sharp laugh that sounds bitter to his ears. He resists the urge to squirm in discomfort at the heaviness in his heart. Such a feeling is completely, utterly pointless. He curls his hands into fists. Nostalgia never gets anyone anywhere.

Behind him, Shinra says his name quietly. The question is evident in his voice.

Izaya keeps his back to the bed. To Shinra. Sometimes, even for him, it's easier to say things without looking someone directly in the eye. "Hey, Shinra…" There's a silence. Izaya bows his head. "If we were anybody else…"

He hears Shinra breathe in sharply in surprise. He can't blame him – he's surprised too. What a disgusting feeling, he thinks. How stupidly human of him to think that such a thing needed to be voiced aloud.

The silence is so long that he thinks Shinra isn't going to reply at all but then he hears, "I know."

He takes another step towards the door. The frustration curling in his stomach gives way to something new, something warmer.

"I know," says Shinra again, softer still. "Goodnight."

Izaya half-turns his head, a genuine smile curving up the corners of his mouth. "Goodbye, Shinra."

And that's it. He leaves as silently as he arrived and he doesn't see Kishitani Shinra again for a long, long time. And for some reason, he thinks that for now, he's okay with that.