Every year, millions of people die.
It isn't surprising to think that a major cause of the death toll is suicide.
Now how many of them, do you think, were the victim to the world's most well-known disease?
I know, I know . . . foolish, right? Heh, not that I mind.
Still . . .
Love be damned. That much I'm sure of.
A New Game in Town
Something flashed through the cafe window; Shizuo blinked on his seat, and had to do so a couple of times for the piercing beam kept on attacking his eyes. He groaned low in his throat, a cigarette dangerously dangling from his parted lips. His hand itched to grab for the sunglasses in his pocket, but instead he opted to glare at whatever had interrupted his peaceful time; his bangs in complete disarray as his forehead stubbornly refused to leave the sheer cold glass' surface. When he spotted a lone figure standing near a streetlamp at the opposite side of the road, obviously waiting for the green signal with a cell-phone on one ear, the flash blinded him again.
Fucking hell, he narrowed his eyes.
It was a ring, a silver one at that, curling around the guy's finger. Every time he laughed to the phone, shoulders shook under the fur-trimmed jacket, and his hand shifted along the movement, the ring reflected the glaring sunray in Shizuo's direction. A low hiss escaped Shizuo's lips.
Then the green light was on; the man wrapped in black and gray crossed the zebra crossing with such light steps, as if those scrawny legs didn't know what gravity was. With a hand shoved inside his jacket's pocket, the man laughed again to the phone. His features were now clearer to see; from the way his dark hair was cut too short, the skin that would put every Ganguro chick to shame, to the naughty smirk-like smile that tempted Shizuo to throw something onto that face. Shizuo unconsciously studied all of it with a hateful gaze, adamant, until their eyes met.
The first thing that came into Shizuo's mind was, the guy might be shocked and run for his life, knowing he was kind of glared at by the one person people would be freaked out over. Next, Shizuo was considering if he should chase the guy for attempting to blind his eyes with a freaking ring, or just throw the café table at him through the window so that he couldn't escape. Unexpectedly, though, the man didn't stop his journey crossing the road. Shizuo scrunched his brows together as he realized, for the first time since he crashed in Ikebukuro, there was someone who was brave enough to stare back at him with such obnoxious arrogance.
"The hell?" he subconsciously said, not at all used to receiving this kind of reaction. Flecks of ashes dropped off his cigarette.
As if on cue, the man widened his smile—all confident and taunting—before he lowered the black cell-phone from his ear. Stopping right on the opposite side of the glass window Shizuo had rested his head on, the man bent over slowly, putting his forefinger on his lips when Shizuo only continued glaring at him in bewilderment. Then, acting like it was the most natural thing to do, he planted a quick kiss on the thin glass that was separating them—right where Shizuo's lips were seen through. The cigarette did a free fall from Shizuo's mouth.
For a second, the man merely smirked, looking highly satisfied to Shizuo's reaction; the corners of his eyes crinkling into thin lines. And like everything was right in the world, he straightened himself in a swift motion, continuing to walk towards his destination, talking into the phone again casually.
Wide eyed and utterly confused by what the hell was going on, Shizuo was left frowning, boring a hole on the man's retreating back. Because something… something terribly wrong had just taken place here, in front of him, and directed at him. Puzzled, somehow entranced, but also enraged from being humiliated, he hissed through gritted teeth, glaring at practically nothing out of the window as the man disappeared at a corner. The frown on his face deepened as seconds ticked by.
What. The fuck. Had just. Happened?
A yell from behind pulled him out of trance. Slowly turning his head to the voice source, he growled, "What?"
Tom Tanaka, his senior in middle school who was supposed to come twenty minutes ago, was looking at him in alarm, his fingers clutched the coffee cup until they turned pale. "Shizuo, your pants." Tom shook his head incredulously. "They're burning."
"Huh?" Eyeing Tom as if he didn't hear the revelation, Shizuo tardily diverted his gaze to his lap—smokes trailing to the air from where it was his cigarette marking a hole on his black slacks. Instantly he cursed, turning on his heels and knocking the chair backward with a loud screech. "Shit! They're my last decent pants!" The others were either too worn out, or damaged from his countless fights, of course.
"What's wrong with you?" Sighing, Tom offered an ashtray across the table as he propped down the chair. "Put the fire out properly," he warned when Shizuo took the bent cigarette butt from the floor.
"As if I know what's wrong," hissed Shizuo, now positively sure he was pissed off at that guy. No other feelings involved. Fuck them if there were.
Tom scrunched his brows together. "Okay, if you say so. You wanna order something?" He decided to drop the topic. A worried looking waitress had stayed rooted on the floor not far from them, not sure whether she should help fixing up the mess, or just watch as the event unfolded—after all, no one didn't know who the guy with bleached hair, brown eyes and a bartender uniform was. Luckily, said guy put the chair back on by himself and sat.
"Nah, I'd rather finish the business quickly."
Nodding, Tom waved his hand in dismissal; the waitress let out a relaxed sigh as she made her way back to the kitchen.
"To the business," Tom said, handing a folded brochure he had slipped inside his gray suit's pocket. "This bar is my friend's. He said he can hire you as long as you don't fight there."
Shizuo let out a deep, exasperated sigh. Everyone knew it was the hardest condition for Shizuo to follow. Having been fired by almost twenty bars in a year for fighting, it wasn't surprising if his name were to be placed on the top of the list of 'Bartenders That Shouldn't Be Hired' in Tokyo—or perhaps in neighboring towns as well, judging from how fast the information travelled between bar owners. Well, it wasn't as if he couldn't work properly, in fact, his skills as a bartender was above average. But his temper was an entirely different story.
Monster, they said about him. He couldn't blame them; after all he'd indeed fought like one. Unbeatable, lacking human senses. He even couldn't remember what pain was like. Once he had snapped, control would slip out of his mind, and he'd be like a fighting machine. No one wanted their bar to be destroyed—and with the little talents he had, Shizuo doubted he could make a living from other jobs.
"The company I work at has refused to introduce you to other bars," Tom continued, threading his fingers on the table. His dreadlocks swung slightly as he hunched his shoulders. "I'm sorry, Shizuo, but this is the least I can do."
Scratching his head in attempt to drive away dejecting thoughts, Shizuo leaned back to his chair. "Yeah, thanks Tom. Don't make the company fire you just because you keep on helping me."
"And helping people to find the right job is the company's motto." Tom rolled his eyes in sarcasm; Shizuo smiled. "In any case, you can start working tomorrow."
Smiling, Tom started to pour a sachet of sugar into his coffee. That was when Shizuo's eyes drifted through the window again. He folded his arms across his chest, scowling as an image of a certain creepy guy crossed his mind. If he met that guy again, he'd be certain to strangle him dead. But now that he remembered how the guy's eyes held Shizuo's in equal fierceness, he couldn't stop himself from thinking . . .
When was the last time people had seen him as their equal?
"No way, Izaya, you really did it?"
The voice on the other line sounded too excited, but Izaya had predicted the reaction thirty seconds faster and had put some gap between the phone and his ear. Once he was sure it was safe enough, he pulled the phone back to his ear.
"What's so surprising? You challenged me to it." He knew the other couldn't see his smirk, yet he still formed one anyway.
"Yeah, because I didn't think you'd actually go kissing random people just to prove you're still an asshole even after nine years—"
There was a pause on the other line.
"Okay, maybe I should have known that nine years is too short of a time. You'd probably need a whole century to change."
Izaya couldn't hold his laughter, moreover because the one he talked to didn't sound as surprised as he wanted to be. If anything, Izaya could hear amusement in the voice, something resembling relief even.
"Still, I didn't kiss random people. And I never will."
"Uh-uh, but you did just now."
"Well, sorry to disappoint you, but I just kissed the glass."
Stopping in his tracks, the corners of Izaya's lips were tugged into a smirk when he saw a lady clad in a long-sleeved green turtleneck, gray mini skirt and a pair of fitted black legging standing not far from him. Her dark, long hair was set loose to her waist, while two black-suited men stayed still beside a black Toyota Camry, presumably produced in the year of 2010, like odd-looking statues. Keeping his nonchalant vibes, Izaya continued to walk lightly, eyes catching the rosy board that was hanging on top of a café's door to confirm that it was indeed the place.
"I have an appointment now. Talk to you later, Shinra," he said into the phone.
"Eh? But what about—"
Izaya had hung up. Flipping the phone closed, he tilted his head to the side in mock friendliness. "My, my. Never thought you'd really come, dear Namie."
"Liar," Namie said, her tone was flat yet it didn't understate its sharpness. Izaya snickered as if Namie's answer was the funniest thing he had ever heard. At Namie's silent, indifferent eyes, he then waved his hand in dismissal, not saying anything more as he led the way to the café. Rolling her eyes, Namie followed suit; her bodyguards keeping the door open for her.
Izaya chose the table at the far end of the western styled café, near a huge window. He took a seat, and gestured Namie to do the same with his eyes. Before she comfortably positioned herself on the chair, however, the words that had been on the tip of her tongue since days ago, had rolled out of her mouth.
"Why would you come back?"
Upon the question, Izaya leaned his back on the chair, casually knocking the table with his fingers. "Why wouldn't I? This is my hometown after all."
"That's not what you promised me nine years ago!"
A waiter came to ask for their order, and Izaya ignored Namie's heated retort. "I'll have a cup of hot tea." As the waiter took note of his order, Izaya shifted his attention to Namie, "I think your watchmen want some coffee, Namie." He pointed at the men standing besides Namie.
Annoyed for being ignored, but also knew that as long as her bodyguards were there, watching them, Izaya wouldn't want to talk seriously, Namie narrowed her eyes as she spoke to the waiter. ". . . I'll have a coffee, and," she turned to see her bodyguards, "go make your own order and sit at the farthest table."
As the men took their leave and the waiter hurried back to the kitchen, Namie arched her brows and waited for Izaya's answer. But said man only stared at her in fake-puzzlement, acting all innocent. She gritted her teeth.
"You promised to never come back to Japan," she hissed.
Sighing, Izaya put his elbows on the table, leaned his chin on top of his entwined fingers, then smiled. "Namie, you should have known better than to trust me."
"I didn't, which is why I wished you'd died in Russia. Preferably frozen."
Izaya chuckled, his voice smoothly mocking. "How cruel. You know I hate the cold."
"And yet you chose Russia."
"Can't be helped. Too many things happen in that country. Human trafficking being my most favorite subject."
"Still a sick bastard, I see."
"From the way you so . . . eagerly asked me to meet you here, I see that you're still hopelessly in love with your brother."
The words made Namie press her lips into a tight line while she tried to dig a hole on Izaya's forehead with her glare. Amused by Namie's reaction, Izaya faked a sigh, leaning his back on the chair. "Poor Namie, as much as I want you to marry your dear brother, it's still taboo to the world."
"Who says about marriage? Besides, you didn't even mean what you said."
Izaya laughed again. "Yes, yes, I guess everyone knows me so well."
It was only silence that embraced them afterward, before Namie asked in a low voice, venom thick in her words. "You could have rotten under the piles of your precious research of humans and crimes in Russia, yet you chose to come back here so suddenly. What are you planning?"
At this point, Izaya only stared past the window, a smile lining his lips.
"If I said I'm not planning anything, would you believe me?"
Namie didn't answer; Izaya trained his eyes on her again. "Well?"
"I'm breaking the engagement. I should have done that ever since you left Japan nine years ago," she announced.
"Yes, you should have. But you didn't," Izaya said, "why?"
Squinting her eyes, Namie's knuckles grew white as she fisted her fingers on her thighs. Of course she knew that Izaya knew the reason she couldn't annul their engagement. The bastard just had to act disgustingly clueless; the habit to play around with people's emotions had run thick in his blood. The fact she loved her own brother must be kept a secret, and she needed a perfect cover for her—Izaya's status as her fiancé. And despite herself, she kind of trusted Izaya's promise to not come back to Japan—she was sure Izaya was content to have completed his study in the US and work in Russia. Everything had been so perfect that she never expected him to return—
—yet, he was back now, leaving his beloved job behind and wanting to take the family business; following the family's order to marry the business partner's daughter was included in the list. What a joke.
The waiter came back bringing their orders, and Izaya took no hesitation in putting only a half cube of sugar into his tea. He stirred the tea a bit too long, expression bored, as occasionally soft 'clanks' sounded from the silver teaspoon stirring in the cup.
"Jet lag is the worst. I just got back two days ago, and although I want to feel happy to have you call me up this morning, disturbing my precious sleep, only to have this touching reunion between two fiancés, I still can't be happy."
Namie almost let out a snort. "You never said you were coming back. I had to call to your house to confirm the rumor about your return. Your twin sisters didn't want to tell me anything, and your parents couldn't be contacted. I thought I could take a deep breath until my men said they saw you in a hotel —"
"Your own fault for never asking about my plan yourself," Izaya pointed out, not letting Namie to finish her complaint. "And since when are my sisters considered reliable?" he added with a knowing smirk. Namie rolled her eyes.
"I hope you get hit by a truck. That way I wouldn't have to marry you," she said, standing up so fast that the chair almost knocked back. Upon her wish, Izaya offered her a laid-back grin.
"Expect a formal family meeting very soon." He waved as Namie headed towards the exit, calling for her bodyguards and ignoring everything that came from Izaya.
Once she and her men had disappeared behind the door, Izaya sipped his tea, then pulled out his mobile as it buzzed. "What now . . ." He murmured to himself, starting to type over the keys for a while. When his fingers halted mid air, he stared out of the window.
The smile was missing from his features.
It wasn't really as well-known compared to the other bars Shizuo had worked in, but it has its regular customers. The place was quite spacious, with its walls made of furnished woods and various colored guitars hanging on them. The lighting was dim and blue, a Marilyn Monroe poster attached next to the entrance. So far, only a handful of people—annoying old geezers who insisted on his number, or university students who thought they looked cool if they could try mixing their own drinks—were making Shizuo's blood boil. But remembering Tom couldn't help him finding a new job again, he succeeded in suppressing his anger. At least, it had been three days, and nothing major happened.
Shizuo had just finished making the seventh drink for that night, when Shinra and Kyouhei, his high school friends, suddenly sat at the counter right before him. It was Shinra, the one with brown hair, thin-framed glasses, and a long white robe that was patent for a doctor, who apparently had forced Kyouhei to come along. Said guy adjusted his gray knitted hat to cover more of his hair, as he grunted how Shinra had practically dragged him out of his house at an ungodly hour. Shizuo wanted to snicker at his friends' conducts, if only he didn't know that the true reasons they came was to make sure he was 'okay' with the current work place.
"You can just go home after you finish these." Shizuo passed two glasses of Manhattan. "The last thing I need from you both is distraction."
"We are still waiting for one more person to come, though." Shinra grinned, mouthing a 'thanks' for the drink nonetheless.
"We are?" Kyouhei raised one of his brows.
"Haven't I told you? My middle-school friend has come back from Russia. I think it's a perfect opportunity to meet up."
"No, you haven't told me anything," said Kyouhei with a roll of eyes. Well, it wasn't like he only knew Shinra just yesterday.
"I'm telling you now then. He moved to Massachusetts after middle school, and honestly I was surprised he transferred to Russia and became some kind of a researcher there, while the states could offer him more. Weird guy."
"Freaks stick to each other." Shizuo shrugged.
"Yeah, that's why we are friends!" Shinra said cheerfully, while Shizuo and Kyouhei gladly chose to ignore the statement. "Anyway, speaking of Russia, lately I've met the people from there more than usual."
"They want you to treat them?" Kyouhei asked, gulping down the Manhattan.
"Yeah, I'm an underground doctor after all. They're all illegal immigrants."
"This bar's security's a Russian. His name's Simon," Shizuo said, gesturing with his chin towards the entrance, where a tall, bulky figure with dark skin tone and white hair peeking under a blue hat, stood firmly. Shinra and Kyouhei eyed at said man, before Shinra asked,
"I call him Simon the Security."
"He can't remember his last name," Kyouhei stated with a shrug, which caused Shizuo to sniff in annoyance, busying himself with fixing more drinks while mumbling to himself something that sounded suspiciously close to 'shut up'. "So, what's this old friend of yours look like?" Kyouhei diverted his attention towards Shinra again.
"Hmm, these past nine years I never met him once myself. I was always the one who sent him pictures, so I'm not sure how he looks right now. He has this odd allergy to posting pictures online."
"Low self-esteem?" Kyouhei offered with a raised brow.
"Oh, no. That's the last thing that could happen to him." Shinra laughed louder than necessary, seemingly amused to the idea of his friend having such a humane problem. "But at least he's entertaining for me."
"Sounds like a real freak," Shizuo said in passing.
Ignoring whatever Shinra's reply was, he left the counter for a while to take lemon slices. When he was back, Shinra had started to talk about his so-called old friend's habits of creating disasters, which Shizuo totally tuned out for he had no interest whatsoever in the topic. However, at that time a new guest had come, passing through the entrance and smiling at Simon. Shizuo didn't normally keep an eye to every visitor; he didn't even remember any of them. But now, it was a different story. The fur trimmed coat immediately caught his full attention.
That scrawny guy.
A sudden rage, mixed with confusion and curiosity as to why the hell the guy came to this bar of all places, bubbled inside him. Then, like a déjà vu, it didn't take long before the guy noticed Shizuo staring at him. At first, he paused in his steps, looking somewhat surprised albeit it only lasted for a second. His eyes travelled around the place afterward, until he spotted what he was looking for, and diverted his gaze back to Shizuo. He slowly but surely formed a confident smile, walking in steady pace as though all the crowds had no effect on him. Shizuo instantly clutched the edge of black mahogany counter, nails digging into it. Yet, before he could say or do anything, the guy had yelled,
Shizuo froze. He almost wished he heard it all wrong.
Apparently it was fucking true.
Shinra spread his arms open as a welcome gesture for his friend, and the guy named Izaya laughed as they exchanged light punches, fist to fist. "You didn't change at all, Izaya!"
"I thought you said it'd take me a century to change?"
"Indeed, indeed, I said that," Shinra confirmed, beaming all the while. "Ah, right!" He turned towards Kyouhei and Shizuo—who was by now on the verge of exploding from both anger and confusion. "This is Kadota Kyouhei, and the bartender is Heiwajima Shizuo. Both of them were my classmates in High School."
Izaya replied Kyouhei's nod with a thin smile, before focusing his attention wholly on Shizuo; his eyes twinkling with amusement. Then with clear, moderate voice, he brightly introduced himself.
"Hi, I'm Orihara Izaya. Nice to meet you."
The wooden counter cracked under Shizuo's fingers.
~to be continued~