First of all, Shizuo had a lot of questions.
He had gone through a whole catalogue of emotions in the last thirty seconds, and he wasn’t quite sure where he landed – Panic? Confusion? Joy? Excitement? Panic again? On one hand, Celty was here. He hadn’t seen his best friend in months, and here she was!
On the other hand, his best friend was currently threatening to behead his own nemesis.
“C-Celty,” Shizuo started, moving to stand in front of her, “hold on a sec!”
Both Izaya and Celty glared at each other. Well, Izaya was glaring, but Celty’s rigid stance suggested her mood wasn’t exactly positive. Not that Shizuo blamed her for reacting to Izaya with such disdain, but he would still prefer that Izaya remain in one piece.
“Celty, don’t,” tried Shizuo, a bit calmer. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but don’t.”
Without both hands, she couldn’t speak to him by typing. She seemed determined to keep Izaya at bay, but she looked between the two of them, curious and calculating. Behind them, Shooter huffed and trampled on the ground anxiously. The Petrillo family appeared to have cleared the area, but in the next few seconds, the three of them were joined by another.
“You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding me,” growled Shizuo, turning towards the familiarly irritating voice.
Surely enough, bounding up the hill was Shinra Kishitani.
“Celty…!” Shinra doubled over to catch his breath. He was carrying enough luggage for two people, bent by the weight of it all. “Don’t just run ahead! You dropped your helmet! What if someone – Oh.”
He had finally looked up and adjusted his glasses well enough to survey the scene in front of him – Celty, headless, with her scythe around Izaya, and Shizuo between them with his arms outstretched like some kind of circus tamer.
“You found them!” exclaimed Shinra, elated.
Either he was completely oblivious to the tension around them, or he simply didn’t care.
“Hey Shinra,” Izaya greeted nonchalantly. “Can you call off your girlfriend? You may have a thing for headlessness, but that doesn’t go for the rest of us.”
The scythe dissolved out of existence, and Celty clenched her fists instead. She dove at Izaya with fury, but Shizuo caught her halfway. The ensuing struggle involved Shizuo keeping a scrambling Celty from clawing at Izaya, who ducked behind Shizuo. They were like a cat and a mouse, with determined dog trying to break them apart.
“It’s like we’ve stepped into another universe,” Shinra observed thoughtfully. “Roles have been reversed.”
“Oi,” grunted Shizuo, dragging Celty away from Izaya by the waist. “You gonna help?!”
“Celty, calm down!” Shinra pleaded, “We didn’t come all this way to fight!”
Finally, Celty relaxed against Shizuo. He let go of her, but Izaya remained positioned so that Shizuo stood between them. Now that Celty was more calm, Shizuo remembered what a joy it was to see her. He didn’t understand how this was happening – how Celty and Shinra had found their way all the way from Ikebukuro to this particular Italian villa – or why, but he couldn’t help but grin.
“I can’t believe you two are really here,” said Shizuo.
Shinra returned Celty’s helmet to her. She fitted it over her neck, whipped out her phone, and began typing.
[I’m glad to see you’re okay.] And then: [You are okay, right?!]
“Uh, yeah,” Shizuo frowned. Why wouldn’t I be? “Why were you attacking Izaya?”
“Yeah, seriously,” griped Izaya.
Celty bristled. [For kidnapping you!]
“Kidnapping?!” Shizuo blanched. “Is that what you think happened?!”
“It was a theory for a while,” Shinra interjected. He had dumped all their luggage to the ground and joined their conversation. “Then, after the last phone call we had from you, Celty was convinced.”
Shizuo groaned. “That’s not what happened.”
“I didn’t kidnap Shizu-chan,” Izaya said defiantly. “He’s a grown man and goes where he wants.”
[Then why haven’t you come home yet?!] Celty asked Shizuo, shoving the phone in his face.
“I – well…” Shizuo stammered.
He exchanged a look with Izaya, whose arms had crossed over his chest defensely. Izaya appeared significantly less thrilled to see Celty and Shinra than Shizuo did. Then again, Celty did just attack him. When Izaya met his eyes, he just shrugged. Apparently he was uninterested in explaining the events that had led them here. It seemed Shizuo was on his own, for now.
“It’s been… complicated,” Shizuo settled on.
[I want to know what happened.] demanded Celty. [Why have you been away so long? If you weren’t kidnapped, why are you still together?!]
“I…” Shizuo scratched the back of his head, stumped. All those questions had long answers.
“Celty, Celty! Slow down!” Shinra interjected before Shizuo could even begin to explain. He waved his hands as he tried to placate her. “We just got here! I’m sure they’ll explain everything. Let’s just take a breath, and –”
“What the hell is going on here?!”
The four from Ikebukuro turned to the new voice, startled.
Sawako had emerged from the house, frantic. She was holding up a frying pan like a weapon, ready to take on whatever was brewing outside. What she found was four arguing adults and a horse. Actually, Shizuo noticed that Shooter had at some point transformed into a motorcycle at some point, perhaps more aware of their surroundings than the adults.
“Where’d the horse go?!” Sawako demanded.
Izaya feigned confusion. “What horse?”
Sawako blinked. “There was definitely a horse.”
“I don’t see a horse,” said Shizuo.
“Fine,” Sawako huffed. “Then who the hell are these two?!” She pointed her frying pan menacingly at Shizuo and Celty.
“These are our friends,” Shizuo said, “from Tokyo.”
“Yeah,” added Izaya, “Shinra and Celty.”
“Nice to meet you!” chirped Shinra, waving. “Sorry about the intrusion.”
“But–” Sawako’s grip on the frying pan tightened. Her eyes narrowed at Celty. “Alfie said he saw a headless woman!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Izaya tactfully. “She’s just shy. She’s pretty ugly, too, so she’s always hiding her face. Don’t take it personally if she doesn’t say much. It’s the anxiety.”
A shadow whacked Izaya in the back of the head, but Sawako didn’t seem to notice.
She didn’t seem convinced, either.
“C’mon,” Shizuo forced a chuckle at Sawako. “A headless woman… That’s crazy, isn’t it?”
“Impossible,” Izaya agreed.
Celty crossed her arms in a huff.
Sawako gaped at them. Even Shizuo knew their group was a hard pill to swallow. It was kind of a miracle that a superhuman and a sociopath had remained in the Petrillo’s good graces for this long – a shady doctor and a shadow woman wouldn’t help. He felt they might as well have a neon sign over their head that said: Definitely Not Suspicious!
Eventually, though, she lowered the frying pan.
“You two… are some really strange guys,” Sawako sighed exasperatedly. “I still don’t really get it. Where the hell did these two come from?” She jerked a finger in Celty and Shinra’s direction.
“Ikebukuro,” answered Shinra.
“They surprised us,” said Izaya. “We had no idea they were planning this. What incredible friends they are!”
An eyebrow rose on Sawako’s forehead. “Wasn’t she just attacking you?”
None of them could deny it.
“That’s just their bit,” said Shizuo. “Like a… secret handshake.”
“Mmmmhm…” Sawako hummed doubtfully.
“We are sorry,” said Shizuo, “about the uproar.”
“We didn’t mean to frighten anyone,” said Shinra. “We were just excited to see our friends.”
Sawako put her free hand on her hip. “Let me calm down the others. I wouldn’t want to kick out your friends, but…” She looked behind her, towards the house.
Isabella, Alfie, and Alberto were peering, half-hidden, through an open window.
Sawako shrugged. “Not sure we have the room to put up anymore wanderers, but maybe I can convince them to have everyone for dinner tonight? It’ll be fine… probably. As long as you’re not leading crazy murderers this way, I guess.”
Shizuo and Izaya exchanged a look.
She was about to turn back towards the house when she fixed Shizuo and Izaya with a wry smirk and pointed her pan at them. “Oh yeah, by the way, you guys can clean your own sheets from now on.”
Both men paled.
[What does she mean?] asked Celty.
As Sawako left, Shinra and Celty studied them. For the first time since the couple had arrived, they gave Shizuo and Izaya a proper appraisal. Shizuo, personally, didn’t take a good look in the mirror this morning. However, Izaya had only managed to thrown last night’s sweater and a pair of ragged shorts before he had sprinted towards the earlier commotion. Neither managed to cover up the marks Shizuo had left with his mouth, on Izaya’s neck and inner thigh.
Shizuo hadn’t noticed, having been too focused on keeping Celty from killing him.
By the way Izaya was looking back at him, Shizuo wondered if he had similar evidence on his visible skin.
They looked back at Shinra and Celty. Shinra’s face twitched and contorted in ways that made the gears turning in his head very apparent. Celty was, naturally, harder to read. She had her hand to the chin of her helmet, thoughtful.
“Well, see,” Shizuo started clumsily, “there’s something you two should probably know…”
“We’re sleeping together,” Izaya finished plainly.
Shizuo winced, blushing fiercely.
It took a few more moments for the statement to register for the others, however. Then, at the same time that Celty’s helmet shot off from a geyser of aghast shadows, Shinra broke out into a grin and whooped, “I knew it!!”
They had no choice but to tell the whole story.
Having sat their friends at one of the Petrillos’ outside picnic tables, Shizuo and Izaya began from the beginning: the post cards. They recounted their journey from America, to Europe, to Egypt, to Europe again, to here. Nowadays, Shizuo and Izaya could play off each other quite naturally, and fill in the gaps that the other left out. There were bits that Shizuo knew well enough, and then there were details that Izaya had excruciatingly memorized.
Both opted not to include any of the cheesy bits, the parts where they had expressed any sort of feelings for each other. It didn’t cross Shizuo’s mind, first of all, because there had been so much else going on. Izaya was not jumping in to describe Shizuo’s grand confessions, either. The subject was skirted around, not entirely absent. A ghost of their emotional journey was present in their tale, because to have gotten to where they had, there was no denying how deeply they felt about each other. Regardless, they stuck to storyline of Josiah Hummel, Vulture, and the Kazbek Initiative.
The whole time, Celty was bent over as if she might be ill. Shinra, on the other hand, was beaming like a kid in a candy shop. His eyes twinkled as he watched his two childhood friends finally getting along. He practically glowed at the parts about Shizuo’s arm and Izaya’s Insight scars. Because if there was one thing Shinra was more of than a romantic, it was a sadistic freak.
Meanwhile, Shooter… was a horse, and didn’t have an opinion on the matter. The creature sat patiently by as a motorcycle, while Shizuo and Izaya wrapped up their tale.
“...So that’s when I remembered the old couple in Boston,” Shizuo was saying, “and thought, ‘What the hell?’ And here we are.”
“An eloquent finish, Shizu-chan.”
Shizuo frowned and rubbed his chin. “It sounds kinda crazy, when you say it all out loud.”
“‘Kinda’?!” Izaya guffawed. “If Shinra was a real doctor, he’d have us committed.”
Taking no offense to the last comment, Shinra gleamed and rose to his feet. “Incredible! Why didn’t you tell us sooner? We could have helped, don’t you think?”
“Didn’t want it,” said Izaya.
“All that stuff you mentioned,” began Shinra, “that technology, it’s almost supernatural! Vulture and – Insight, was it? Fascinating!” He may have not been currently dressed in his typical lab coat, but he had that manic look of a mad scientist that he got sometimes, approaching Shizuo and Izaya like test subjects. “Nevermind the hickeys, but these lines on your neck… Those are from that Insight machine? They actually contain information?”
Izaya swatted him away, glaring.
So Shinra turned his attention to Shizuo – “And how could you just completely gloss over the bit about your arm, Shizuo-kun!” He latched onto Shizuo’s arm, poking and prodding. “We have some of that science right here, and we could–!”
“Don’t touch me,” Shizuo growled.
Shinra immediately backed off.
“Anyways,” said Izaya, hands on his hips, “that explains how we got here. It doesn’t explain how you two found us.” His eyes narrowed. “Or why you came.”
Celty jumped up. [That explained nothing!]
Shizuo frowned. “What do you mean?”
[I mean that that doesn’t explain what he said before. About you and him!]
Shizuo scratched the back of his neck. “Oh. You mean us sleeping together?”
Smoke puffed out from her helmet. [Yes! He’s joking, right?]
Out of the corner of his eye, Shizuo noticed that Izaya was watching him with an air of apprehension. Shizuo didn’t know why; he thought the matter was rather simple.
“No,” said Shizuo firmly. “That happened.”
Celty leaned back as if she’d been slapped. As soon as she began to jab out a new message, Shizuo put his hand over hers. He already knew what she was going to ask.
“Because I’m in love with him, and I’m pretty sure he loves me, too.”
Both Celty and Shinra froze entirely.
Even Izaya, who knew this already, appeared shocked that Shizuo would profess his love in front of people they knew. Shizuo observed the color rise to the man’s face, his expression somewhere along embarrassed, amazed, or horrified.
Celty went rigid, but was impossible to read further. Shinra gawked. Neither said anything for a whole minute.
“Shizu-chan….” Izaya sighed, rolling his eyes despite the blush on his face. “As usual, you’re lacking in tact.”
“What?” Shizuo frowned. “It’s true!”
“Is it?” asked Shinra, awe-struck. “I thought you two might be messing around, but–”
Celty, evidently, wanted to hear no more of this. She turned on her heel, jumped on Shooter, and took off.
“Oi!” Shizuo hollered at the same time that Shinra whined, “Celty!!!!”
Shinra wilted. “She keeps doing that…” He perked up again instantly, though. “Well, in that case, I have my own questions for you two!”
“I’m going after her,” said Shizuo, already jogging.
“And leave me here with him?!” Izaya eyed Shinra skeptically.
The doctor was examining Izaya, particularly the scars on his neck, with eager interest.
“I’ll be back soon,” Shizuo promised. And with that, he took off in the direction of the tracks Shooter had left behind.
Shizuo searched around the outskirts of town for about an hour. He figured Celty wouldn’t be among civilians, and that she would have found as much isolation as possible. Luckily, Shizuo knew the town well enough to know where to look. A few times, he stopped to ask a local – in English – if that had seen a woman on a black motorcycle, and they pointed away from the town’s interior.
He quickly regretted not having thrown on shoes before he ran out of his room this morning, and for not returning for some once he had started searching for Celty.
Finally, Shizuo heard a familiar bray. He was in a woodsier parts of town. The area was too thin to be a forest but had more shadows than the majority of farmland surrounding them. Trees lent themselves as decent cover for a dullahan and her supernatural steed.
Shooter trotted up to him, leaned down and nuzzled him as best a headless horse could.
“Hey buddy,” Shizuo greeted him with a pat to his neck.
Shooter answered with a gentle whinny.
Next, Shizuo saw Celty crouched by a stream, staring into the water silently. He gave Shooter a parting pat and joined his friend.
“Hey,” he said.
They say in silence for a while longer. The ground was damp from last night’s storm, but the little creek was all the more beautiful for it. Little bugs glided across the top, and tadpoles and minnows swam past them.
Celty took out her phone and typed, [It’s beautiful here.]
“Yeah,” said Shizuo, looking around. A mild breeze combed through the branches around them. The earth was soft and mossy beneath him, and the shade was soothing on the otherwise hot day. “S’definitely not Ikebukuro, but I like it.”
She didn’t type anything back, but turned to the stream, as if pondering. Shizuo nudged her with his shoulder teasingly. He gave her an easy smile.
“I missed you, ya know.”
[Clearly not that much] said Celty, not matching his attitude at all, [if you’ve been settling down here.]
“Of course I did!” Shizuo argued, “And I haven’t been settling down here. This is only temporary.”
Shizuo hadn’t realized someone could type so bitterly until he observed Celty like this. [That’s not what it looks like.]
“Look,” Shizuo started, “Izaya really did want me to kill him a month ago. That’s not a state of mind you just bounce back from. He wanted me to go back without him, actually, but I love him too much to leave him.”
[Stop saying that.] Celty typed indignantly, [Of all the things you’ve said so far, that’s the craziest. Cyborgs, or whatever, and criminal masterminds – All that I can believe. But you? In love with Izaya? You two hate each other!]
“We did hate each other,” Shizuo corrected. “Sometimes I still want to throttle him, to tell you the truth. He’s an infuriating person to be in love with, so I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”
[Are you brainwashed?] she asked, genuinely concerned. [Like the cyborgs, maybe?]
Shizuo chuckled. He had always known that she would have trouble believing him. “Yeah, that seems more likely, doesn’t it? But no, I’m not. I’m sure of it. I almost was, so I can tell. This is real. I really love him.”
Celty’s fingers went still against her keyboard, and she studied him silently.
Shizuo shifted under her invisible gaze. “What?”
[You’re less miserable than I would have imagined,] said Celty.
When Shizuo merely raised an eyebrow, she continued.
[There have been times when Shinra has suggested that you two] – she hesitated – [get together. I didn’t agree. I could only assume it would be Izaya torturing you, and you would be miserable and angry all the time. You don’t seem that way, though. It’s confusing.]
“Shinra thought that?” Shizuo gaped. “Seriously?”
[Since high school, I think.]
“Since high school,” Shizuo repeated. The world suddenly got a lot smaller. He got to his feet, and Celty followed.
[I remember fending you off from murdering him the day you two first met. You almost killed each other again a few months ago. Now I’m supposed to believe that you’re in love with each other?]
“L-look,” Shizuo began earnestly. “It surprised me at first, too, but–”
[But what? What could possibly erase all the terrible things he’s done?]
Shizuo ground his teeth, frustrated. “Nothing’s been erased, but somethings have changed. You were listening to that whole spiel, weren’t you? He’s been through a lot of shit, and he–”
[He stole my head.] Celty held the message in Shizuo’s face, defiantly.
Shizuo snarled. “What?”
She jabbed the message in his face four more times – [He] [Stole] [My] [Head.]
“I’m not trying to defend what he’s done in the past,” Shizuo snapped. “And didn’t Shinra keep your head from you for years? While lying to you about it?”
Celty stumbled out another message. [That was different!]
“Was it? Because it sounds like you’re being hypocritical.”
[Shinra had his reasons. He loves me and didn’t want to lose me. I’ve come to understand that.]
“So how come you get to be in love with a selfish asshole, but not me?”
“Really? Shinra?” Shizuo retorted mockingly.
A hiss of smoke emitted from Celty’s neck. [Shinra isn’t Izaya! He hasn’t tried to kill you!]
“No, but him and his psycho dad tried to dissect me a dozen times when I was young. They did dissect you. But no, you’re right. Your boyfriend is a saint, comparatively.”
The shadows of the forest around them grew darker, and Celty seemed to grow bigger with them. They squared off tensely, neither backing down.
This wasn’t how Shizuo had seen reuniting with his best friend. He and Celty had never fought before, and he hated that the subject of their dispute was something that had been making him so happy. When he had woken up that morning, everything had felt perfect. He hadn’t been thinking of the future at all.
He’d been foolish not to.
[He’s rubbed off on you.] said Celty.
Shizuo huffed. “What?”
[I don’t remember you being this derisive. I miss your bluntness.]
That stung. “Well, sorry for not wanting to pound out every problem I have anymore.”
Celty recoiled. [That’s not what I meant…]
“Besides, did you really think I would want to fight you?”
[No… I don’t want to fight you, either.]
They had come to a deadlock, but Shizuo was less than satisfied.
[Still…] continued Celty, [what do you think is going to happen when you two come home? That everyone’s just going to accept this, or look the other way?]
Shizuo crossed his arms petulantly. “I don’t really give a fuck what others think.”
[Shouldn’t you?!] She typed rapidly, [What about Kasuka? You don’t think Kasuka will be disappointed? He knows your history with Izaya, and–]
Celty stopped typing when Shizuo snorted.
“Isn’t Kasuka dating a serial killer?”
“You knew she wasn’t all human, right?”
Celty typed defensively, [So did Shinra.]
“Yeah, well, whatever. I figured it out myself.”
[But a serial killer?!]
“It’s none of my business, and I do feel bad for almost killing her once, apparently. When you travel with Izaya Orihara, you learn a lot of shit.”
[Okay, fine, so maybe Kasuka wouldn’t care. But what about others? Tom? Varona? Varona almost killed him for you. What about Akane? Remember when he made a child believe you were going to kill her father, so that she would kill you isntead?]
A vein in Shizuo’s temple throbbed. Those were harder points to combat. He wasn’t sure who he was livid with – Izaya, for being so terrible in the first place? Celty, for rubbing Shizuo’s face in the man’s past mistakes? Or himself for not having seen the whole picture?
“I just figured…!” He stammered, his teeth grinding together, “that… I don’t know! I’d figure it out as I went along, like always!”
[That’s not fair, Shizuo. Other people count on you!]
Shizuo clenched his fists, blood beginning to boil. “I never asked them to! I’m not Ikebukuro’s personal protector.”
[This isn’t like you. You’re not this selfish.]
“‘Selfish’?!” Now Shizuo really did want to punch something. “For what? Wanting a relationship with someone?!”
[That someone is a man who’s done terrible things to people, and you don’t seem to care anymore!]
“It’s not like I forgot any of that! But it won’t be like that when we go back.”
[IF you come back!]
“Of course we’re coming back!” Shizuo began pacing, blood pumping too heavily to keep still.
Maybe he was selfish. He hadn’t thought he could ever be angry at Celty, but he was. He was angry at her for being honest. But Shizuo was as stubborn as Izaya had always accused him of being. He took a deep breath, attempting to calm himself, because he didn’t want to fight his best friend. He didn’t want to forsake the man he loved either.
“Celty, you don’t know him like I do. If he was the same bastard you knew before, I wouldn’t still be here.”
She read his change of demeanor and hesitated. [I want to believe you, but…]
“There you guys are!!”
Shizuo and Celty turned.
At the sight of Shinra skipping towards her, the shadows of the area retreated back to normalcy.
“We heard Shizuo yelling, and figured you’d be here.”
Shinra was followed by Izaya, who had changed into more reasonable clothing and put on some shoes. His expression was sour, clearly not having enjoyed Shinra’s sole company for past hour. He was also carrying Shizuo’s sneakers. Shizuo’s heart ached with his presence.
As he approached, Izaya noticed Shizuo’s frazzled state. “Alright?”
“Yeah,” Shizuo lied.
Izaya frowned, unconvinced, but he didn’t press it. He handed the shoes to Shizuo.
When Shizuo thanked him, he gave Celty a pointed look. There had even been socks stuffed into one of the sneakers.
Celty crossed her arms and looked elsewhere.
“Can’t believe you left me alone with Shinra,” Izaya complained. “Now he’s trying to experiment on me. You never told me how persistent he could be.”
Shizuo managed a tired smirk. “How awful. No idea what that’s like.”
“I can’t believe I’ve become one of Shinra’s favorite freaks,” Izaya pouted.
If this wasn’t something good, then why did looking at Izaya bring Shizuo such calm? “I’m starting to get the feeling that you always have been.”
Shinra was too busy fawning over Celty to pay attention. “So? How come you ran off, Celty?”
She was reluctant to type an answer. [Just caught off guard, I guess.]
“You were?” Izaya scoffed. “We were the ones ambushed this morning.”
“Now, now you two,” Shinra beamed at each of them, “let’s not argue. Are we really going to waste this beautiful morning at each other’s throats? Celty, we’ve come all this way. Don’t you think it’s about time we treated this like a proper vacation? We haven’t even had a meal today… And we’re in Italy! Where they have one of the most famous worldwide cuisines!”
At the mention of food, Shizuo’s stomach growled. Shinra had a point – they should eat. Maybe he’d even be less cranky about this whole ordeal.
Celty, who didn’t eat, just endured Shinra’s enthusiasm and shrugged in acceptance.
She must have shared Shizuo’s fatigue from their conversation, and at this point was looking for excuses to avoid the subject.
They found themselves at one of the town’s cafes, sitting outside at a quaint bistro table. The waiter was initially startled by Celty’s biker-chick appearance, but most in town were familiar enough with the Petrillos’ two house guests that he welcomed Shizuo and Izaya hospitably.
“Amazing!” Shinra crooned, “It’s practically like you’re locals!”
Celty sat in brooding silence.
Izaya ordered for them, and Shinra bloomed around the latte that was delivered to him. “This is delicious!”
Once they’d settled into their meal, Shinra finally began recounting how he and Celty had come to be there. After the last phone call that the couple had shared with Shizuo and Izaya, Celty had insisted that they find Shizuo, fearing that Izaya had pulled some sort of horrible trick. Of course, wherever Celty went Shinra would follow. However, it wasn’t so simple as buying a plane ticket for a headless dullahan.
“So we had to go through some really shady people,” Shinra shivered at the memories.
“I could’ve gotten you here easily,” Izaya said smugly.
“But you were here,” Shinra griped, “not in Tokyo! That’s the point. That’s why it took so long!”
Apparently, they’d even used Shinra’s father’s connections to track down their elusive friends. It was impossible to get a headless woman on a commercial airplane. Without proper ID or a passport, the only way for Celty to travel from country to country was through back channels. As for how they had tracked down Shizuo and Izaya, it all came back to the Petrillos.
“We knew some of the places you had been to in Boston, thanks to your e-mails to Celty,” Shinra was saying, “so we managed to find that old couple with the restaurant. The old lady was so friendly! And their food was amaaaazing! After that, it was just a matter of getting to her family’s villa, which is… Well, here!”
He capped off his tale with a hearty spoonful of risotto, filling his cheeks like a greedy chipmunk.
“Da foo ‘s reery goo d ‘ere too!” He added while chewing.
After brunch, Shinra insisted on getting a tour of the town. He acted like such a stereotypical tourist that Shizuo and Izaya often found themselves exchanging wry looks. Celty was far less entertained, but she humored the man she loved. There was an old Catholic church Shinra wanted to see, and he needed to try the gelato sold by a young woman by the plaza fountain.
Here and there were decaying statues of figures in old Roman myths or Christian scripture. Shinra snapped photos of anything that caught his interest. The other three followed wherever he went without complaint. Shizuo and Izaya already knew the town well enough, and their days of tourism were long past them.
Celty had yet to type out another word since her dispute with Shizuo, and their clash still weighed on him. They each put on a cheerful façade, but Izaya wasn’t as clueless as Shinra. Izaya frequently looked between the two, thinking but not commenting on the evident tension.
“Celty!!” Shinra called from beneath a church’s stained glass windows, “Look at all the colors!”
It was Sunday, so mass was in full procession throughout the day. The little town was a not a big tourist destination, so Shinra got his fair share of quizzical or perturbed looks from the Italian residents.
“I must admit,” Izaya mused at one point, “that this is not how I imagined this day going.”
Shinra had dragged Celty to pose for pictures.
“How did you see it?” asked Shizuo.
Izaya leered at him from head to toe, and Shizuo got the point. Shizuo had to admit that he had also anticipated more of that when he woke up this morning.
“Guess that’s off the table…” Shizuo grumbled dejectedly.
“We could always ditch them,” Izaya suggested.
Shizuo considered it.
When there was nothing left in the town for Shinra to capture in a photo, the group made their way back up the hill to the Petrillos’ villa. By the time they returned, the family had relaxed from that morning’s incident. They now received Shinra and Celty with much more curiosity than fear. Alberto paid them little attention and merely went back to his chores.
“You have a lovely home,” Shinra complimented them warmly.
Sawako stood by the whole time to translate for everyone. Bianca and Alfie were still wary of the two strangers, but Isabella followed them, particularly Celty, with fascination. She babbled at Celty in Italian, and Celty became flustered by the attention. When asked what they did for a living, Shinra and Celty kept it simple: A doctor and a courier, respectively.
In his nearby pen, Lucca began to fuss from all the activity in the house. Celty, who hadn’t yet realized there was a baby, was thrilled. She loomed over Lucca and flourished at the cuteness.
“Want to hold him?” asked Sawako.
Celty waved her hands in front of her in a means to say No no, I couldn’t possibly…!
“He’s chill,” said Sawako, scooping up the child and plopping him in Celty’s unwitting arms.
Celty clutched the kid and looked around anxiously.
“That’s fine,” Sawako chortled. “This one still won’t hold him.” She gestured to Shizuo, “Some people just hate kids.”
“I don’t hate kids,” Shizuo said defensively.
“Celty!!!” Shinra grasped his hands together and swooned, “I never thought that seeing you with a child would be so moving!”
Returning Lucca to Sawako, Celty jabbed Shinra in the ribs and stalked off.
“She okay?” asked Sawako.
Isabella followed Celty faster than anyone, asking if she was a superhero or science-fiction heroine. Celty had no method of answering besides shrugging. Isabella took this as a ‘yes’ and babbled on. Shinra was too busy rubbing his new bruise to respond.
“Tired from travelling,” said Izaya.
The four from Ikebukuro joined the Petrillos for an early supper. Most of the meal was occupied by Shinra’s jabbering, and the Petrillos humored him hospitably. He praised their cooking, their yard, their willingness to look after his two friends. Shizuo and Izaya tolerated his patronizing tone in that last bit. Nothing seemed to improve Celty’s demeanor, however.
Her and Shinra remained on opposite pages for the whole day – Shinra, ecstatic at everything, and Celty, wanting to get away from there.
“There were tons of places I wanted to stop and check out on our way here,” Shinra was explaining to the Petrillos, who barely cared, “but Celty was adamant on finding Shizuo. We had no idea they were shacking up together in such a way!”
The Petrillos turned towards Shizuo and Izaya, and the two of them glared at Shinra.
“I should have seen it coming, though,” Shinra nodded sagely. “I always had a feeling about those two.”
Once again, the shadows around them began to multiply. With the sun beginning to set over the villa, they were already more intense, but Celty’s gloomy presence made it all the worse. Thankfully, the Petrillos didn’t seem to notice, and Shinra continued to gab with them. For someone so in love with Celty, he seemed oblivious to her mood.
Dinner ended and the family cleared the table and returned inside. The other four remained outside, soaking up the last rays of sunlight on a pleasant evening. Shinra kept at the wine the Petrillos had offered with dinner, truly living like a man on a paradise getaway.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you drunk, Shinra,” Izaya observed delightedly.
“Am I?” asked Shinra with a subtle slur and pink-tinged cheeks.
All three across from him nodded.
“Well, why shouldn’t I be? This is a cause for celebration!”
[Is it?] It was the first thing Celty had typed since that morning in the woods.
Shizuo felt his gut seize up in anticipation for whatever sprawling argument was about to ensue. Though he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Shinra quirked an eyebrow. “Sure it is. We’ve reunited with our friends after a long journey, and after all their years of fighting, they’re finally getting along!”
He fixed Shizuo and Izaya with a sloppy leer. Shizuo grimaced.
[Izaya is not my friend] Celty countered.
“Fair enough,” Shinra chuckled. “No offense, Izaya-kun.”
“None taken,” said Izaya, bemused. “It’s not like I’ve ever been particularly fond of your very inhuman girlfriend, anyways.”
Celty’s fists clenched on the table’s surface.
“But that’s part of what makes Celty so alluuuuurring!” Shinra took another swig of wine and hiccupped.
[I thought you didn’t consider Shizuo to be human] Celty challenged, [and that’s why you hated him so much.]
Izaya rested his chin upon his knuckles, his elbow on the table. “Hmm… I guess after seeing Shizu-chan almost die a few times, I came to the conclusion that he was human enough.”
“Thanks,” Shizuo grunted.
“No problem. But then again, he’s not just human. He’s superhuman. In many ways, he’s more human than all the others because he gives into his emotions so willingly. And then the ways he superpasses them don’t bother me anymore.”
Shizuo cursed himself for finding this reason so damn endearing.
[How are we supposed to know that you’re not just manipulating Shizuo for your own sick enjoyment?]
Izaya smirked, “You don’t.”
Celty rose to her feet and shoved her phone in Shizuo’s direction. [See?! He’s taking advantage of how good a person you are!]
It wasn’t Izaya that Shizuo was insulted by, though. “Despite what some people might say, I’m not an idiot, Celty. I know when this flea is manipulating people, myself included. Remember? I knew before anyone else!”
Shaking her head, Celty deleted the previous message rapidly. [I didn’t mean that you were stupid. But I’m not convinced that this isn’t one of his ploys!]
Izaya rose to meet her. “Luckily, I don’t have to convince you of anything. Shizu-chan doesn’t need the blessings of a headless woman.”
They squared off: Celty radiating contempt, Izaya as provocative as ever.
Shizuo got up to stand between them again, his headache returning in full force. “Will you two fucking quit it? Celty, I don’t need you to try and rescue me – from nothing. And you...” he pointed at Izaya, “stop making this even more difficult!”
“Seriously, guys!” Shinra whimpered and followed them to where they were standing. He was still holding his nearly-empty wine glass. “You’re spoiling our vacation!”
[We’re not on vacation!] Celty reminded him fervently. [Why are you so okay with this?]
Shinra tapped his chin thoughtfully, his booze sloshing around in the glass. “Hmm… I always believed they should be a couple. The three of you are closest to me, and I wanted us all to be able to hang out together, just like today.”
[So you were thinking of yourself?]
“Mostly,” Shinra admitted. “I may have hoped that Shizuo and Izaya would be good for each other, but Izaya definitely got to a point where he wouldn’t really have been good for anyone.”
“Oi,” Shizuo snarled, “I thought you were on our side.”
“I am!” Shinra said, “but I must also side with my beloved. Besides, she has point, she just hasn’t gotten there yet.”
“That being?” Shizuo asked impatiently.
Even Celty looked at Shinra, unsure of where he was going.
“Contrary to Celty,” Shinra began, “I actually believe Izaya reciprocates your feelings. However, Izaya has always been good at seeing the obvious that no one else does and reading the future. No doubt he’s anticipated similar reactions to your relationship for when you two return to Ikebukuro. Shizuo-kun, you have many friends and family members who care about your happiness. These people will likely not be fans of Izaya, because few are.”
As Shizuo listened, he felt Izaya tense increasingly beside him.
Shinra continued matter-of-factly, “Izaya would have already considered the possibilities of the two of you staying together in such a hostile environment. Were you two to return home and proclaim your newfound love – you, Shizuo, would get an earful from those around you. Like Celty, they’d all probably try to convince you to end this relationship.
“Maybe you wouldn’t listen to them, Shizuo, but! Maybe you would! And the Izaya I know would never allow a possibility that could usurp his own interests. If, back in your natural habitat of Ikebukuro, you came to your senses and decided to leave Izaya, it would likely devastate him in ways he’s never experienced.
“The fact that he’s allowed anyone to get this close to him is astounding, and goes against everything he’s preached to himself for his whole life. I find it hard to believe, though, that he would leave himself completely vulnerable and hasn’t tried to find some safeguard against the chance of you rejecting him. Everything you two have had out here, alone, may be real, but this is a bubble. What happens when you come back to reality? So, I imagine your extended stay here is more to keep you away from that possibility Shizuo, than it is for both your benefits.”
He punctuated his spiel with another hearty gulp of wine.
“Am I right?” He finished drunkenly.
Neither Shizuo, Izaya, nor Celty knew how to respond. They stood across from Shinra, silent and overwhelmed. The only sounds amongst them were that of the wind and a distant helicopter.
Shizuo hadn’t realized his own pulse had quickened. The scenario that Shinra had just presented was one that Shizuo had never considered before. It was impossible, though, wasn’t it? He knew Izaya now, better than anyone, and the Izaya he was in love with wouldn’t keep Shizuo on a leash. It was simply impossible.
At the same time though, a nagging doubt in the back of Shizuo’s mind reminded him, But the Izaya you knew before… would totally pull that sort of shit, wouldn’t he?
Beside him, Izaya was shaking.
“That’s not… That’s not what he’s doing,” said Shizuo, but his voice came out as an uncertain murmur. He turned to Izaya, “...Right?”
When Izaya met his eyes, Shizuo immediately regretted his tone. Shinra’s rant may have made Izaya angry, but it was the doubt in Shizuo’s voice that did the damage.
Izaya said nothing.
Instead, he strode forward and punched Shinra square in the nose.
“OW!” Shinra wailed, stumbling backwards. He fell on his ass, clutching his face. “You broke my nose!!”
Izaya whipped back to Shizuo. “Well?!”
But Shizuo was dumbstruck. Even Celty didn’t react fast enough to save Shinra, nor did she go after Izaya when she regained her wits. She went to Shinra’s side, who was writhing in pain. Shizuo couldn’t take his eyes off Izaya, who appeared far more hurt than the man on the ground.
“For fuck’s sake, Shizu-chan,” Izaya gritted out, “if that’s what you believe, then fine. Just go back to Ikebukuro, like I urged you to in the fucking first place.”
With that, Izaya did what Izaya did best:
Shizuo was tired of chasing people today.
First Celty, now Izaya… He supposed chasing Izaya was always going to be a part of his life, but it didn’t make it any easier to find the damn brat, especially now under the cover of nightfall.
Unlike Celty, Izaya didn’t have a motorcycle to ride off on. Izaya was on foot, and Shizuo had wasted zero time in running after him. It wasn’t too long before Shizuo caught up, grabbing Izaya by the arm and halting him.
Shizuo spun the other man to face him. “Izaya–”
“Let go,” Izaya snapped, wrenching his arm free. He continued stomping ahead, with less speed but just as much determination.
They hadn’t gone far. They were still in the Petrillos’ orchard, surrounded by looming trees.
“Look,” Shizuo started, hot on Izaya’s trail, “I’m sorry I listened to Shinra of all people, but c’mon… You have to admit–”
Izaya stopped, finally, and faced him. “Yes?” He prompted, daring Shizuo to keep talking.
Shizuo took a deep breath. “Admit it. He had a point.”
“Of course he had a point,” said Izaya. “Shinra’s the person who knows me best, besides you. Or so I thought.”
“Oh, don’t give me that bullshit. I’m in my rights to consider that you might be up to something terrible. That doesn’t mean I believe that you have been!”
“Okay, so what if I have been?” asked Izaya menacingly.
Shizuo scowled. “You haven’t.”
“How can you be so sure? Aren’t I the terrible, awful person that all your precious friends want to save you from?”
“We both know that you’re not the same you that they knew.”
“I have thought about it, though.”
Shizuo blinked. “What do you mean?”
“I mean…” Izaya bit his lip, not as ominous as he wished he was, “that I have thought about what would happen if we went back to Ikebukuro…” He looked up at Shizuo, who stared at him openly. “That’s part of it, isn’t it? Why I haven’t wanted to leave here.”
“But you…” Shizuo took a step back, hesitant to hear the rest.
“Not like how Shinra said!” Izaya explained desperately. “He was right about me looking ahead, about me wondering how you would react to others telling you to dump me. If that happened, you would still have a life around you. I’d have nothing, not even the will to return to my old life.”
It was brutally honest, but that alone was enough to quell Shizuo’s rage. Perhaps Izaya was more upset at himself for thinking that way than he was at Shizuo.
“That’s wrong,” said Shizuo.
“I know,” said Izaya. “I’m sick. We both knew this already.”
“No,” Shizuo shook his head. “I mean – did you ever really think that I’d let anyone change my mind?”
“You can’t know that you won’t,” Izaya retorted. “Can you promise me that, if we go back, you’re not going to look back on these months and just go, ‘Geez, what a fucking mistake!’ Can you?!”
“I can,” said Shizuo, easily and earnestly. “I promise.”
It was Izaya’s turn to shake his head. “I want you all to myself but you could lose everyone else because of me. Did you ever consider that? Have you ever fought with Celty before today?”
“No,” Shizuo admitted.
“Because Celty was never the harbinger of chaos that I thought she was. It was me. I can’t help destroying everything around me.”
A buzzing in Shizuo’s ears nagged at him, but there was more to worry about than the damn bugs. Around them, Shizuo noticed small lights dance amongst the shadows – fireflies, most likely.
“You can’t destroy me,” Shizuo promised.
Izaya was determined to brush him off. “I don’t want to, but they’re right. This only works in seclusion, with strangers. Not around people that actually know us.”
“No,” Shizuo repeated desperately, gripping Izaya’s shoulders, “nononono. They’re not right. This is right. I know it is.
Much to Shizuo’s chagrin, the helicopter he’d noticed earlier had gotten closer. Shizuo couldn’t see it, but its chopping blades made it hard for Shizuo to hear Izaya and himself. The wind picked up from the force of its flight, making their hair whip into their faces.
Izaya’s eyes had gone wide, his face pale in the moonlight, his gaze somewhere over Shizuo’s shoulder. “Shizu-chan…”
But Shizuo had a point to make. “I don’t know a lot, but I know about us.” There was so much about Izaya that Shizuo knew he loved, from the sprawling conversations about anything, to the look on Izaya’s face when he was watching people go about everyday life, even to the way Izaya tasted. “There’s no way this is a bad thing, and I won’t let anyone tell me–”
“The trees!” Izaya gasped, and pointed behind Shizuo.
Straightening, Shizuo looked around them. Somehow, he’d failed to notice that the shadows of the trees had been moving. Not only that, but there were tiny pairs of lights surrounding them and closing in. It took Shizuo only a second to realize that they weren’t lights at all, but eyes.
Glowing blue eyes.
An explosion shook the ground, a pillar of fire and smoke rising from the direction of the Petrillos’ villa.