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Out of the Dark

Chapter Text

Shizuo never thought that he would reach his thirties.

For some reason, he always thought that he would die before twenty-five. He could have been gunned down by a countless number of gangs. He could have succumbed to his countless injuries, accumulated too much damage, or faced enough people to finally take him down. Or he could have been killed by a falling boulder, or a lightning strike, or some other terrible misfortune. It could have been any of those things.

Shizuo supposed that he could still get killed in the line of duty, but honestly being a cop wasn’t all that dangerous or exciting. His life was more peaceful now than it had ever been. Most of the people he met on a daily basis were sweet and friendly. Any of the criminals he met were too terrified of him to put up much of a fight. That was a slight advantage, he supposed, to having a reputation for violence when you were younger.

It was a surprise to look back and realize - for the hell that his childhood had been, that Shizuo had actually ended up okay.

All of his injuries had healed, leaving him stronger and more durable than before. His constant fights with the gangs in high school somehow never landed him in jail. He hadn’t even been arrested, which he supposed was lucky, given his current profession.

So here he was, growing older by the day, with a stable job. He hadn’t even lost his temper in years.

I’m becoming a proper adult, he thought, and brought his cigarette away from his lips, blew out a curl of smoke into the empty air. I’m even reflecting on my past.

The smoke had felt warm in his lungs, but now that it was gone, he felt a hollow ache in his chest. He had taken up smoking after high school too, a bad habit, he knew, but it had helped with his temper. And after that, he just never found the time to quit.

The wind picked up, carrying the smoke away. Shizuo drew back a little into the wall. There was a tinge of icy cold in the wind, a bitter reminder that warm 90-degree days were over, and that the temperature would plummet steadily during the coming weeks.

With a sigh, Shizuo decided that it was too cold to be standing outside like this. He put out his cigarette on a nearby ashtray, cast one last look out into the empty street, and went back into the police station that was now his workplace. 

 

.

 

This particular police station wasn’t the main Ikebukuro office - the main one was downtown, a fancy glass building, skyscraper-tall, next to some horrible traffic. There were at least fifty other police stations spread throughout the city, more local, housing two to fifteen on-duty police officers at a time. This one was on the smaller side, just Tom Tanaka and Shizuo Heiwajima, and the occasional third whenever they needed technical support for something.

It was a blue-collar job, shitty pay, but decent hours if you didn’t mind the monotony. Shizuo was grateful for it. Not everyone got second chances like this. And if not for Tom, who had offered him that second chance, Shizuo would surely be dead or worse by now.

The man inside was tall and thin, with light brown skin with dreadlocks that came down to his chin. He was bent over a computer, the light from the screen reflecting off his glasses. He raised a hand absently as Shizuo came back in.

"How are you doing?" Tom asked.

Immediately, Shizuo grimaced. "Same as ever, I suppose." He settled in at his own desk, with its outdated computer, its nonfunctional phone, a stack of old reports that he hadn’t gotten to yet and a bowl of hoarded sweets. "It’s been a shitty day."

"It’s been a while since I’ve heard anything happy out of you," Tom frowned at him, concerned. He tabbed away from his window on the computer and swung around in his chair. He was in a meddling mood. "Have you been doing anything fun outside of work? How long has it been since you last went on a date?"

Instantly, Shizuo felt all of his calm evaporate like dry ice. He felt the empty loneliness from outside return a hundredfold.

Something must have shown on his face because Tom immediately backed off. "Right, right, I know, touchy subject." His voice softened with sympathy. "What happened?"

"Nothing," Shizuo responded immediately, defensively. Tom was only one out of two people in the world who knew about Shizuo’s disastrous dating history. He knew it was a sore point, and he didn’t judge, but he kept bringing the topic up.

Shizuo reminded himself that Tom was just looking out for him. He blew out a frustrated breath. "Just busy, I suppose."

"What happened to that last girl? Yama - Yama-something?"

"She dumped me a long time ago." Shizuo didn’t mention that things had never progressed beyond that first date, and he had never quite caught her full name either.

"That sucks," Tom said with a wince.

Shizuo slumped forward onto his desk and tried not to wallow in self-pity.

Another thing about approaching your thirties - if you weren’t married and planning to have kids, then society deemed you as a failure. Shizuo didn’t mind that part; he had a late start on life as it was. But it hurt to realize that he was no longer young. He had wasted his early teenage years fighting, and his twenties trying to make up for his childhood, and somehow during all that time, he had never fallen in love.

Sure, a lot of people approached him, in bars or on the street. Even with his blonde hair warning away most people, he supposed he shared more features with Kasuka than he wanted to admit.

At first, he had been flattered by the attention. After years and years of being ignored and rejected in high school, Shizuo had latched on to any form of affection he could find. That meant a string of older women who had ended up using him for sex, and after he had wised up to that, a series of one night stands that had left him feeling even worse.

Shizuo wished that it could be attributed to bad luck, but after the fourth or fifth or sixth time, he started to feel like nobody wanted him past his looks and his strength and that the only attractive thing about him was skin deep. 

Eventually, he had stopped trying altogether. When it got too bad, or he felt so lonely that he couldn’t sleep, he ended up going to a bar and getting so blasted drunk that he would go home with anybody and anything that moved. Even if he was horrified by himself in the morning, and even if he did things he was too ashamed to admit, it was the only way he could cope. Then he could forget, for a while, that he was approaching thirty and had never dated anyone seriously before. He could forget, for a while, the voice in his head that whispered: it’s because nobody can love you - you’re too unlovable.

"You’ll find somebody," Tom said confidently. He patted Shizuo on the shoulder.

"I’m probably going to be alone for the rest of my life," Shizuo replied sourly. Dammit, why did Tom always give him the worst things to think about in the mornings?

"You’re not," Tom said immediately. "You’re too great a guy. I can see it. Everyone can."

"Not me," Shizuo replied bleakly. After that, Tom took one look at his face and decided to shut his mouth, and they spent the rest of the morning in silence.

.

Izaya never thought that he would die before twenty.

But now, staring at the eviscerated body hanging from the ceiling, tongue hanging out, purple and thick, bloated and disgusting, Izaya had a sudden premonition of his own fate. The dim lighting in the room made it hard to see the man’s face clearly.

Mikiya Awakusu is a paranoid man, he had heard. Give him a reason to distrust you, and you’ll never earn your way into his good graces again.

Izaya did not swallow. He did not look away.

He kept staring, keeping his face blank and expressionless, as the men moved about the room. That was a skill he had learned early on - keep your head down, keep your presence small, keep yourself useful. Powerful men did not kill useful people. Correction: powerful, sane men. Mikiya was not in that category.

"Do you know of any places where we can dispose of the body safely?" A voice came up next to him. Izaya turned, grateful to have something else to look at, and managed a smile.

"I know several," he replied, keeping his voice smooth. He found himself looking into an older man’s face, craggled and well past middle age, thin and harsh. "Shiki-san, is there a reason why you had me come here in person?"

Haruya Shiki was studying his face. As a response, he just shrugged. "I just wondered if you recognized this man.” Quick, snake-like, his hand came up to settle around Izaya’s neck. His thumb dug in hard under Izaya’s jaw, right next to the artery that pulsed there, giving away his heartbeat.

Izaya smiled at him, slow and understanding. "I see," he replied, and deliberately relaxed. "You think I might have known him? I don’t. Is he someone important?"

The older man shrugged but kept his hand on Izaya’s neck for a moment longer. Izaya fought down a disgusted shiver. "You’re a clever kid, Izaya. But you need to stop asking so many questions."

Izaya lowered his eyes. "Of course," he demurred, and finally Shiki took his hand away.

"I need you to make sure no one finds out about this man," Shiki said. "Make him disappear, and you’ll be paid in full. If anyone starts asking about him, bring us their names, and we’ll deal with the rest."

The other men were cutting the hanged man down. The body fell to the floor with a wet thud. Izaya tried not to flinch. Already, the black plastic was being rolled out, and the man was being stripped of all of his identifying features - phone, wallet, teeth, nails. Izaya didn’t want to watch, but he forced himself to.

This would be his fate, once they caught up to him. It was better to know.

 

.

 

When he got home and closed the door behind him, Izaya leaned against it for a long while and tried to think of a way to stay alive.

Now that he no longer had to keep up appearances, he realized that he was shaking like a leaf. His limbs felt so exhausted that he could barely move. His heart, which he had kept steady and controlled when with Shiki, now felt like it was going to explode. Time slid past him in fits and spurts, and he lost at least an hour thinking over and over: I’m going to die.

Back at the start of high school, before everything had gone wrong, Izaya had always imagined himself living out an ordinary life - going to college, finding someone to marry, getting a job and spending the rest of his days in a blur of sixty-hour work weeks, only to find himself old and grey-haired, and to die anyway.

He had spent his entire childhood trying to avoid thinking about that eventual fate, chasing after adrenaline highs, getting into fights with the local gangs. He discovered how easy it was to crack other people’s passwords, to gather up their secrets, to throw out bombshells and watch them dance.

Then, one day, he dug a little too far, stumbled on a secret that was too dangerous. He got caught.

He had been given a choice: work for the yakuza as their personal information broker, or die. It had not really been a choice.

But he had made the best of it, since then. Their demands had resulted in him dropping out of high school, sure, but Izaya hadn’t been learning anything there anyway. All of his more marketable skills, he had taught himself. They learned that he could be useful if he was paid well. They paid well.

Until recently, Izaya had been kept on the fringes of their group. Even now, he wasn’t trusted with any more information than necessary. But snooping was a hard habit to break, and Izaya had never really known when to stop. So, over the course of the past few years, Izaya had slowly teased out more and more secrets, things that he was not supposed to know, things that would get him killed if he was caught.

Things like this: Mikiya Awakusu was paranoid and insane. The Awakusu-Kai was a breath away from falling apart.

The hanged man was just the beginning, whoever he was. With Mikiya becoming leader, there would be bloodshed in the weeks to come as he solidified his position and power, getting rid of everyone in his way.

And now, with this witch hunt going on within the yakuza, it would only be a matter of time before eyes turned on him. Izaya was an outsider, even after all these years. He had no protection if someone suddenly decided that it would be convenient for him to disappear. A single pointed finger, and Izaya would be done, just like that. They wouldn’t even have to prove anything.

Shit. He was next. Mikiya had already decided who to trust, and Izaya was not on that list.

Could he run? Leave this city and its inhabitants far behind, go live in another city. He had sent Mairu and Kururi away. He had bet their lives on this too. Could he get to them before they came back? How far would they all have to run? Overseas with their parents?

None of his family knew about his job. They all still thought he was going to college on a scholarship. Would they believe him if he told the truth? That he had been blackmailed into working for the yakuza, and that he was now in deep shit, and had gotten them all in danger.

He could pay for all of this with his life, Izaya knew. If he sat here and did nothing, the yakuza would come for him eventually and kill him. But they wouldn’t touch his sisters.

I don’t want to die, he thought. He forced himself to stand up, even though his breathing was still irregular and his heart still jittered in his chest. He had to think of another plan. There had to be another way.

 


 

The body on the tarmac was heavy and bloated and waterlogged. When the water seeped out onto the black plastic around it, it created a dark puddle that looked like blood.

Shizuo shoved his radio back into his belt and tried not to look at it for too long. What a way to start a morning.

He hadn’t even made it to the police station before getting a call from Tom, asking him to go to the riverbank near Setagawa Station, to help out a team of policemen who were dragging the river for a corpse, based on an anonymous tip.

It was a grey morning, drizzling lightly, and way too early. The sun hadn’t quite made it over the horizon yet. Its rays of light were weak and washed out. The rain made a fine sheeting of mist in the air. It turned the road into a slightly darker shade of grey than the sky and turned the black plastic into a dark stain.

Shizuo moved aside to let the coroner and his team take over. He had pulled the body out of the river. His job here was done. The stench of death still lingered in his nostrils, and he couldn’t get the slimy cold feel of dead skin out of his mind. He couldn’t wait to get back to the office and take a hot shower.

Bodies weren’t unusual in Shizuo’s line of work. Old people died every day, and if they lived alone, sometimes it took days before they were discovered. People died in traffic accidents. They died from freak accidents. And every now and then, maybe once or twice a year in this area, they were killed.

But usually, those murders were simple - if murders could be called such things. A lover taking revenge. A case of domestic abuse. A game of betting cards gone horribly wrong.

This, though. This was foul play.

His radio crackled and spat loudly. It broke the solemn morning silence and pulled Shizuo straight out of his reverie. With a startled jerk, Shizuo brought it up to his mouth.

"Three-six-six to five-forty," Tom’s voice came over the line, buzzy and warbled.

"Five-forty. Code five, go ahead."

"I need you to come back down to the station," Tom said.

Shizuo glanced at the dead body again. "You want me to just leave the body here?" The coroner and his team would take care of it from here, but Shizuo had been asked to help lift it later. The dead man was easily two hundred pounds or so soaking wet, and Shizuo was the only one on-site that could handle that weight easily.

Tom’s voice came over the line again: "Kid just came in. Said he reported the body, and says that there’s more coming. I’d like you to interrogate him."

Shizuo was already moving back toward the main road. He caught the coroner’s eyes and got a curt dismissal. He moved the radio to his other hand, shoving his hand into his pocket, searching for his car keys.

The gravel of the riverbank crunched loudly under his feet, but he barely heard it. He was suddenly aware of something huge unfolding, just out of reach. This situation was getting stranger and stranger by the minute.

"Why me?"

Tom’s voice on the other end of the line was grim. "He asked for you."

 

.

 

As soon as he saw the kid in the interrogation room through the one-way window, Shizuo’s first thought was: fuck, he’s trouble.

He was young, in his late teens, maybe, with dark hair and light brown eyes. He was tall for his age, and lean in a way that kids after a growth spurt usually were. He was unusually eye-catching. Shizuo was certain he had never seen this boy around before. The sight of him felt like a weird chill going down his back. Like he had seen a loaded gun, or a drop off of a cliff.

This kid was dangerous, Shizuo decided. He didn’t seem like the type that randomly stumbled across dead bodies. He seemed like the type who knew where all of them were were buried.

Shizuo opened the door.

The boy sat up and straightened out of his slouch. His wrist was handcuffed to the table. Apparently, Tom hadn’t wanted to take the chance that he might run off. 

"So," Shizuo said. "How did a kid like you get involved with the yakuza?"

The boy’s smile grew pleased for an instant. When he spoke, his voice was a smooth drawl. "What a horrible thing to say."

Shit, just one sentence out of this brat was enough to make him feel like there were nettles stinging under his skin, riling him up. Shizuo drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Well, this morning’s events were enough to put anybody on edge.

He’s still just a kid, he thought. He’s not a member of the yakuza. He’s just a delinquent.

Shizuo himself had been a delinquent, but that was all in the past. Tom had pulled him out of that rut, with this job offer, and a scholarship to the police academy. But Shizuo still remembered the bitter ache of loneliness and anger and pain from that part of his life. He studied Izaya’s expression, the curve of his smile and the shadow in his eyes, and wondered how much of it was a mask.

"What’s your name?" He asked, to get his thoughts back on track.

"Izaya Orihara, and yours?" From boy’s cynical grin, he already knew Shizuo’s name and was just playing along.

"Shizuo Heiwajima. You asked for me?"

"I did."

"Why?"

Izaya’s eyes flicked to the doorway and then back to him. The humor disappeared from his face.

"I need your help," he said.

A startled shiver ran down Shizuo’s spine. He had not been expecting honesty.

"Are you in trouble?" he asked roughly.

The boy smiled ruefully. "Yes."

"How much?"

"Probably enough to get me shot," Izaya shrugged as if it didn’t matter to him, but Shizuo wasn’t fooled. That glance towards the door had been entirely involuntary.

"Enough to get you shot," Shizuo repeated dryly.

In his experience, there were three ways that kids got involved with the yakuza: 1) through the drug cartels, former users turned dealers, 2) as prostitutes, usually after being thrown out into the streets or 3) in some cases, being hired to assault a person or vandalize property.

This kid was a high school dropout. Unemployed. He had no criminal record. He seemed to be a complete nobody, except he knew where to find one of the bodies that the yakuza tried to dispose of without a trace.

That meant two things: First, that he had been involved with them somehow. And second, that he was here to sell them out.

Izaya seemed content to just sit here and remain silent, though. He studied Shizuo as if trying to decide something.

"What makes you think you’re going to get killed?"

Izaya considered him for another moment. "How much do you know about the Awakusu-Kai?" he asked.

"They’re one of the oldest mafia groups in the city," Shizuo said. He didn’t specialize in gang investigations, but this stuff was all public knowledge. "What are you doing with them? I thought they didn’t work with kids."

"I’m not a kid," Izaya said.

Shizuo nearly rolled his eyes before stopping himself at the last second. He had not expected such a childish line. He motioned for Izaya to continue.

"Their previous head was Dougen Awakusu," Izaya said. "He died in the beginning of October. His son, Mikiya Awakusu, is taking over."

There was a moment of dead silence, and then Shizuo understood what was going on. His skin prickled.

Transitions of power in the underground were almost always bloody and violent. A lot of business dealings were done based on trust, and trust did not transfer easily, not even from father to son.

Mikiya Awakusu would not trust the same people that his father did, and would by systematically cleaning house in the next few weeks. Shizuo felt his adrenaline spike. This was the first time he had heard of a power transition before the bloodshed, and not after.

"I see," he said. Then he gave Izaya a startled look. "How the hell do you even know all this? Who even are you?"

Izaya grinned at him, pleased by Shizuo’s reaction.

"Option 1," a slim finger raised, and the boy’s amused eyes never left Shizuo’s face. "I’m a drug dealer, one who has never done drugs. Option 2, I’m a gigolo that entertains older closeted gay men with just my charming wit and personality. Or Option 3, I’m secretly stronger than you think - strong enough to, say, snap these handcuffs in two just with my finger, or throw a vending machine across the street."

At the end, he had three fingers raised in front of his face and his smile had become sly and knowing. But by the end of Izaya’s little game, Shizuo had already figured it out.

"Option 4," Shizuo replied dryly. "You’re an information broker just out of high school, in way too far over your head, running to the police for help."

Informants were in an incredibly dangerous position in the underworld. They were the ones that relied most heavily on trust.

Shizuo had never seen an information broker this young. The only other one he’d seen was middle-aged and half-retired, but they had both known about Shizuo’s past, and had both dangled that information in front of him like bait.

Izaya looked surprised. He folded his hands away and made a moue of disappointment.

That still left more questions than answers though. "What did you do for them?"

"I found people," Izaya answered. He looked down and his voice took on a slight edge. "People who had attacked their members. People who had stolen their money. People who tried to leave the country to escape." He swallowed. "People who tried to leave their organization, like me. In this day and age, it’s nearly impossible to disappear without a trace. As long as they kept any part of their online identity, I would be able to track them down."

Shizuo was surprised by the relief that swept through him.

"Good," he said without really meaning to say it out loud.

In the awkward silence that followed, Izaya gave him a puzzled look.

"It means that you weren’t involved in their human trafficking business, or their drug dealing business," Shizuo clarified, although he wasn’t sure why. "It means that you were someone who cleaned up internal messes, not someone who found them more victims. The people you tracked down were criminals already. You didn't drag innocents into it."

He wasn’t sure if he could deal with Izaya if that had been the case - if innocent people had gotten hurt because of him.

But hurting those who had brought that misfortune down upon themselves - if Shizuo judged him for that, then he’d be a hypocrite.

Izaya was staring at him with open surprise now, and a slowly dawning understanding. His mouth quirked into a pleased smile. All of a sudden, he began to laugh.

His laughter had a tinge of suppressed insanity to it, like someone who had been completely unhinged. Izaya threw his head back and laughed until he couldn’t breathe, the sound bubbling out of his throat and filling the locked interrogation room with vibrations that Shizuo could almost feel against his skin. He stared at the boy, wondering if this had all been too much - the pressure had been too great and he had finally cracked.

At last, the laughter stopped, just as suddenly as it had started. Shizuo only realized what had happened after a moment of ringing silence had passed, and it jolted him out of his reverie. Izaya was smiling at him - a helpless, genuine smile that finally reached his eyes. Shizuo’s heart thudded hard in his chest as he realized what a difference that made.

"I like you," Izaya said. "I think I can trust you after all, Shizu-chan."

Chapter Text

The sky was a cold, pale blue, the kind that the color white could wander into and get lost in.

Shizuo leaned against the side of the building, staring out at nothing through a haze of cigarette smoke. His cigarette filter was damp, he had a headache, and his skin still felt cold and clammy from the river this morning. He felt like the air was getting heavier. He felt a storm coming on.

Behind him, the door swung open and Tom stepped out. There was the slight rattle of metal frames and the door swung shut again.

“What happened?” Tom asked. “I thought you were doing pretty well, until you suddenly decided to storm out. What did he say?”

“Nothing,” Shizuo took a deep breath. “It was nothing. I just needed a break.”

For a moment, Tom looked like he wasn’t going to let that slide. His lips compressed and he shot Shizuo a searching look. Then, to Shizuo’s surprise, he took out a cigarette as well. There was the faint sound of a click. After a moment, Tom put away his lighter.

“It happens,” was all he said.

No, Shizuo thought. This sort of thing never happens.

He held his cigarette in between his fingers, looking down at it. “He’s an informant,” Shizuo said without any preamble. “He’s - or he was - an informant for the Awakusu-Kai.”

There was a beat of frozen silence.

“Oh, shit.”

“It gets better,” Shizuo said. “He’s turning himself in. He’s coming clean, he’s going to give us everything he knows.”

“That’s good,” Tom said immediately. Then he asked the question that had been on Shizuo’s mind ever since the very beginning. “But why?

“He’s scared.” That much was obvious, even if the boy hid it behind false bravado and taunting arrogance. “The head of his organization, Dougen Awakusu, passed away last month. His son came into power, except no one knows who he is or what he’s planning. And last night, they killed a man and told Izaya to hide the body.”

“And that’s the body we fished up from the river,” Tom said. Shizuo nodded. “That’s good,” Tom said encouragingly. “That means we have proof of a crime - a witness.”

Shizuo’s clenched his fist so hard that the cigarette stick crumpled in the palm of his hand. “Not just a witness,” he growled. “They made him dispose of the body himself. He had to drag the body over to the river and dump it in. Tom, they got a kid involved with cleaning up their murder.”

The silence was even colder this time. Shizuo fought down the burn of anger inside him, fought to regain control of his temper.

Policemen were used to dealing with corpses, but it was still something that unsettled normal people. That kid would probably remember that moment for the rest of his life.

Shizuo had thought of Ikebukuro as a rather peaceful place, recently. It was busy, sure, and there were always things happening. But overall, the people were kind and cheerful, and treated each other with respect. Violence like this used to be a thing of the past. It sickened him to realize that it was still going on, right here, right under his nose.

And for some reason, he had always thought of the yakuza as old men, a dying breed. But apparently they were still operating, even in this day and age. Or at least, they had found Izaya somehow, and brought him into their organization. How many other kids were getting involved with the yakuza?

“Did he say anything about the body?” Tom asked carefully. “Did he know who it was?”

“No,” Shizuo shook his head. “He’s pretty sure it was someone from the organization, but he doesn’t know who.”

“A traitor?” Tom suggested. “Maybe someone who tried to leave, and got caught?” Gangs usually dealt with traitors swiftly, and quietly.

“No idea,” Shizuo said. “Without a name, we don’t have much to go on.”

Tom sighed in agreement.

Identifying corpses was a pretty routine task for policemen. Usually, they looked for wallets with photo ID cards or tags. If there were none, they took fingerprints. And if that didn’t work - and it was an important case - they looked for medical records that matched the state of the body. If none of those worked, they relied on missing persons reports.

Shizuo doubted that a missing persons report would be filed for this man, so that left the DNA test. DNA tests could only be run if there was a name to guess with - it couldn’t be done blind. And so they were right back to square one. Without a name, it would be a lot harder to prove that a crime had been committed.

“At least we still have his eyewitness account,” Tom said, but Shizuo was already shaking his head.

“He won’t say anything in court. He’ll tell us everything, but he won’t testify. That was one of his conditions for giving us anything.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Tom said after a moment. “If he does testify, nothing short of witness protection would keep him safe.”

“I’m not sure even that would keep him safe,” Shizuo said. He felt sick even thinking about it, but he had to say it: “Apparently, there are several people in the police force on their payroll.”

Tom made a disgusted expression, but all he said was: “I guess that’s only natural. Did he know of anyone in particular or was it just rumors?”

“I’m not sure,” Shizuo said.

“We can deal with that when it comes,” Tom said. “In any case, good job getting him to trust you.”

Shizuo shivered a little. I trust you, the boy had said. Shizuo still hadn’t figured out how to feel about that yet. No one had ever said that to him before.

Time shifted forward slightly, leaned the sky to one side, and made the shadows stretch a little longer. Eventually, Shizuo stubbed out his cigarette on a nearby ashtray.

“So,” Tom said at last. “What do you say? Do we take him as an informant?”

“We don’t really have a choice,” Shizuo said. “But damn, this is going to trouble, I just know it.”

Tom barked a humorless laugh and clapped Shizuo on the shoulder. “Then it’s time to get back to work.”

.

.

.

In Izaya’s experience, cities went to sleep just like humans did - slowly and fitfully, disturbed by artificial lights and the occasional, lone, noisy car driving by on empty streets.

Some parts of the city, however, sprang to life at night. In those places, it was always loud. Jazz music blared. Glasses clinked. Women shrieked with laughter. The pleasure district was packed as always, with neon lights and air filled with the stench of booze and sweat.

The woman wore a revealing purple dress, with curly blonde hair styled to her shoulders and smokey eyeshadow. She ran the pleasure district for the Awakusu-Kai, or rather, she paid them a share of her profits. Her position in the organization was a little akin to Izaya’s - not a full member, but a valuable resource. Someone to own.

“How’ve you been, kid?” Earthworm asked, lighting up a cigarette and bringing it to her lips. She leaned against the second-floor balcony, making an unthinking arch with her back.

“Same as ever,” Izaya replied, looking down into the mosh pit of human bodies on the dance floor. Flashes of colored light revealed shapes and curves, an arm raised above the crowd, bared shoulders.

“Just between you and me,” Earthworm said, her voice barely audible over the music. “What do you think of Mikiya? What’s he like?”

Izaya turned on her with a small, enigmatic smile. “I’ve never met the man,” he said. “Shiki speaks very highly of him, though.”

Earthworm snorted and flicked her cigarette ash away. “Shiki is a soulless cock-sucking ball-licking son-of-a-bitch,” she said venomously. “He doesn’t give a shit about the rest of us. What I’m asking is -” she looked around nervously, wet her lips.

Her pale, violet eyes fixed on his. “Can we trust him? I thought he’d come around to meet me, or give me a way to show my respects, but he’s been impossible to find. His men came around last week to collect their money. Demand it, more like. But they brought no word from him. I know he’s busy, but I’m - ”

She cut off with a scowl. She was a prideful woman; she did not like to beg for attention.

“You know just as much as I do,” Izaya told her.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“I think I’ll wait and see,” Izaya replied.

Earthworm rolled her eyes.

“Typical,” she said. “You don’t need to worry - you’re under Shiki’s protection. You’re his little pet.”

You know that isn’t true, Izaya thought. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have called him so many names in front of me.

Eventually, she turned around to face him, crossing her arms under her breasts. “Do you have a picture of him?”

Izaya raised an eyebrow at her. “Of Mikiya?”

“Yes. I want to be able to recognize him if he ever stops by. Imagine how awful it would be if one of my bouncers tried to kick him out, or if one of my girls refused him.”

“He’s a married man,” Izaya said. “I think he has a daughter too.”

Earthworm shrugged. “So?”

Izaya dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out a photograph. It was small, square and ringed in white paper, one of those analog-printed photographs that came out of older cameras. He didn’t dare keep information this sensitive on his phone.

“Bless you,” Earthworm said, taking the photograph.

She studied the picture for a long time, pursing her lips, her cigarette dangling in between her fingers. She didn’t even ask any questions. She just looked at his face, looking for any hint of unnecessary cruelty, or paranoia, to see if a life lived in the shadow of immense power had warped him in any way at all.

Her cigarette had burned almost to her fingertips by the time she tucked it away.

“What do you think?” Izaya prompted.

“I’m not sure,” Earthworm said hesitantly. “He doesn’t look much like his father.”

But he is his father’s son, Izaya finished for her mentally.

Earthworm tapped the photograph his hand. “What do I owe you for this?”

“Nothing,” Izaya said. “You helped me track down the last few people I was looking for. It was about time I repaid the favor.”

“Consider it repaid in full,” Earthworm smirked at him, then ran a finger down his chest. “Are you sure I can’t interest you in something a little more?”

As Izaya blinked at her in surprise, the tall woman threw her head back and laughed so hard that it turned several heads from down below.

“Oh, you little crowlet,” she laughed, wiping tears away from her eyes before they could smudge her makeup. “I always forget. You’re so innocent sometimes.”

“I knew what you meant,” Izaya said to her, annoyed.

“But you swing for the other team,” Earthworm finished for him.

Izaya felt his body temperature drop several degrees. He fought not to react, but it felt like his body was being wracked with cold shivers.

This was the reason why she felt so comfortable trusting him, why she barely hesitated before calling Shiki a cocksucker in front of him. She had taken one look at him before figuring out one of his secrets, something he actually wanted to hide.

“I wouldn’t say that so loud if I were you,” Izaya made his voice cold. The Awakusu-Kai were even more conservative than normal society was. If any of them found out that he was gay, it wouldn’t matter how useful he was, or how fast he ran. Nothing would matter, then.

Earthworm put a finger to her lips and smiled at him conspiratorially.

“Our little crow has so many secrets,” she made the word lush and velvety. “But then again, little crow, remember: knowing too many secrets can get you killed.”

.

.

.

Izaya woke up with a start.

He shook himself out of his dream. He could still feel cold shivers running through him in tiny echoes. He rubbed at his arms absently, only to find that they were covered in goosebumps. The metal handcuffs jangled, reminding him of where he was - in a police station, giving all of his secrets away.

This would work. This had to work.

Nobody would expect him to go to the police. Honestly, even the Awakusu-Kai avoided interacting with the police. They had the law on their side. And they had a lot of money. The recent gentrification of Ikebukuro’s downtown district had resulted in a lot of taxpayer money going towards the police department. There was even a new building going up, all shiny glass windows and gleaming steel, right in the city center.

They were, if one looked sideways at them and squinted, basically just another gang. Forget the Awakusu-Kai, they were the most well-funded, equipped, and organized armed force in Ikebukuro.

He had chosen this police station on purpose. Tom Tanaka he knew very little about, but Shizuo Heiwajima was a legend. Everyone in Ikebukuro, at least everyone who paid attention to such things, knew about him. If there was anyone in the police force less likely to be a dirty cop, secretly on the yakuza’s payroll, it would be him. Dirty cops wouldn’t be famous for their tempers. Dirty cops wouldn’t be hated so vehemently by the local gangs.

But still, it had been a surprise to meet Shizuo Heiwajima in person. For some reason, Izaya had imagined Heiwajima as a middle-aged man with a persistent scowl and stubble, and a cigarette dangling from his lips. Not as this tall, clean-shaven, straight-laced, pretty-faced officer.

I trust you, he hadn’t meant to say that out loud. He wasn’t even sure that he meant it. But he had no choice, now.

The door opened, jolting Izaya out of his thoughts.

“You okay?” Shizuo asked, poking his head in. “Sorry that took so long.”

Another policeman entered on his heels - Tom Tanaka - long-limbed and lanky-haired. He had a manila folder tucked under his arm and two cups of coffee, one in each hand.

“Hey,” Tom greeted as soon as he had shoved the door open fully. He maneuvered his own coffee and the folder onto the table and dug out a set of keys from his pockets.

Izaya held out his wrist expectantly. The silver chain jangled loudly.

“What are you doing?” Shizuo asked as Tom began unlocking the handcuffs.

“He’s not exactly under arrest,” Tom replied. The key turned, and the cuffs popped open. “And I thought we should get off to a better start.”

Izaya flexed his wrist gratefully and settled back into his chair. He smirked at them both. They did not need to know how badly he needed them.

“I have the paperwork here,” Tom said to him, opening up the folder. He flipped it around and pushed it over to Izaya. “You sign your name, I file it under lock and key, and that’s it - you’re our informant.”

Izaya pulled the folder toward him, flipping through the pages. “Will anyone else know?” he asked. He fixed Tom with a level look. “If it gets out that I’m your informant, I won’t have an easy time of it.”

“Nothing leaves this room,” Tom promised. “Even after the investigation is over, your involvement will be kept a secret.”

“Good,” Izaya said. He signed and gave back the folder, feeling oddly lighter. This was it, he realized. He was in this until the end, now.

“Do you need anything from us?” Tom asked. “Protection, money, immunity. Usually, this is where you can make any plea deals, and we negotiate it here and now.”

“I’d like some paper, actually,” Izaya said. “And a pen, if possible."

Tom blinked in surprise. “Sure,” he said.

Shizuo got up and found some paper from a printer and a pen in his jacket. When he handed these over to Izaya, the boy twirled the pen in his fingers and began to write.

“What are you writing?” Shizuo asked, curious. Izaya had an incredible air of concentration about him. He almost looked like a diligent student, taking a test.

“Information,” Izaya said. “You need to figure out who that dead body is, right? I can’t give you his name, but I can narrow it down for you, into a list of possibilities.”

Shizuo had been expecting a list of twenty or so names. He did not expect Izaya to flip over the back of the page, and keep writing.

He frowned in confusion. “Are these all members of the Awakusu-Kai?”

“No,” Izaya replied. “There are only fifty-ish official members of the Awakusu-Kai.”

“Then what are these other names?”

“Their contacts,” Izaya said. He took another blank sheet and began writing.

Shizuo took the first page and felt a chill wash over him.

Some of these people had multiple names, usernames, or aliases. Some were just online usernames, and not given names at all. Some had contact information - email addresses and phone numbers - listed in parenthesis next to their names.

He passed it to Tom, who began scanning it too. A thoughtful frown appeared on his face.

“How are you remembering all this?” Tom asked.

Izaya didn’t stop writing. He had a rhythm going now, scribbling names down from a list in his head. “Like I said, I was in charge of finding people. Not just people who had been running away. People, or gang members, who were doing business in Awakusu-Kai territory. People that we could potentially do business with.”

He moved on to the third page. It felt like he was going faster now, unloading something.

“Don’t you have this information stored anywhere?” Shizuo asked. “It might be faster to -”

“This information doesn’t exist anywhere except inside my own head,” Izaya said in a rush. He stopped writing, just long enough to meet Shizuo’s eyes. Then, after a moment, he looked back down and began writing again.

This was the reason why the yakuza had used Izaya as an informant, Shizuo realized. Apparently, he could remember things with startling clarity - entire conversations, names, dates, faces of those involved. Having him on their side could be a game-changer.

Izaya tapped his pen against the paper, finally slowing down. He was thinking, now. “I think that’s everybody,” he said at last. “The only people that are left are the leaders.”

“You should write those down as well, just so we have a complete list,” Tom said absently, his eyes scanning down the third page that Izaya had just finished. Izaya took another sheet of paper and wrote down several more names as he spoke.

“There are three big names holding the Awakusu-Kai together right now,” Izaya said, raising three fingers.

He counted them off. “First is Haruya Shiki, who used to be Dougen Awakusu’s right-hand man. Next is Shu Aozaki, their enforcer. And finally, Mizuki Akabayashi, one of the strongest fighters I know. They’re all extremely well-known and highly respected. They’ve been doing this for a long time, so as long as they support Mikiya Awakusu, he will be untouchable.”

He shoved the last piece of paper towards Shizuo with a sigh. Shizuo glanced down at it, only to find four names written down: Haruya Shiki, Shu Aozaki, Mizuki Akabayashi, and last, underlined twice - Mikiya Awakusu.

“Here’s another thing,” Izaya said. “These three hate one another. Akabayashi and Aozaki have been at each other’s throats for as long as I can remember. Shiki thinks Aozaki is an idiot, and that Akabayashi is hiding something. Both of them think Shiki is a snake. The only thing keeping all of them in line was their respect for Dougen Awakusu. That respect may not necessarily transfer over to Mikiya.”

Izaya got up and started to pace. His long strides took him from one end of the interrogation room to the other. He turned, and in three long steps was back where he started. “I thought that the cracks would start to appear immediately,” he admitted. “But so far, they’ve presented a solid front, and nothing seems to have changed.”

“What about Mikiya Awakusu?” Tom asked. “What is he like?”

“Paranoid,” Izaya said. “Secretive, so much so that he won’t show his face and tries to keep his life as private as he can. For a while, before Dougen Awakusu died, people suspected that he didn’t want to have anything to do with the yakuza. He’s never done anything notable, he’s never really stood out within the organization. That’s all I know. He’s a bit of a mystery to me.”

“That’s alright,” Tom said, gathering up all the paper into a stack. He flicked through them and Shizuo could see the gears turning in his head. “This is good. We have a lot to work with.”

Shizuo leaned against the one-way window and watched Izaya pace. The boy had a nervous energy that seemed to vibrate out from his bones.

Tom looked up at Izaya with a grimace. “Then the only thing left to do is to make sure you make it alive to the witness stand. Without you, our entire case falls apart.”

“I won’t testify in public,” Izaya replied immediately. “If I do, I know some people that won’t rest until they’ve put a bullet in my head.”

“He won’t testify,” Shizuo said right on his heels. “I promised him, earlier.”

Tom was taken aback, but he recovered quickly. He grimaced and opened up the manila folder in front of him. “That’s right,” he said. “But are you sure? You have several options even if you do testify in public, but I’d recommend the strongest one - take your sisters, go into the witness protection program. You’ll leave the city, be given different names.”

“No,” Izaya said, softly but clearly. His mouth was set and determined. “This is my city as much as it is theirs. I won’t run away.”

Tom regarded Izaya with an exasperated look on his face. “Okay,” he said finally. “Then we’ll work with what we’ve got. You’ll remain anonymous throughout all of this. We’ll need to keep track of you for the duration of the case, but after that is over, you’ll be free. Does that work for you?”

“Yes,” Izaya replied quietly.

“Good,” Tom snapped the folder shut. He fixed Shizuo with a hard look.

“I’m making him your responsibility,” he said. “He’s your informant now. Keep him alive, and unharmed, until the investigation is over. Can you do that?”

“Yes,” a heavy weight settled itself on Shizuo’s shoulders. This was his specialty, after all, but he had never been asked to protect someone against the yakuza before. He wondered if that was what it felt like to be responsible for someone’s life. He wondered if he would ever be able to forgive himself if he failed.

.

.

.

The sky was black and starless by the time Shizuo got out of his car and entered his apartment. The air still had the slightest hint of rain to it, cold and icy. He pushed open his door and was greeted by a dark, lonely hallway.

"I'm home," he said.

He slowly worked through the events of the day as he took off his shoes and jacket, threw his bag over the side of the couch, and turned on the lights and heater, in order to ward off the late-autumn chill that had permeated the apartment. A dead body, a criminal organization in turmoil, a boy caught in the middle of it all, with nowhere else to turn. Tom was pulling a late-night shift, doing what he could to figure out the identity of the dead man. Shizuo had ended up giving Izaya his phone number, in case anything came up.

“Call me if you’re in danger,” he had said. Before entering the police academy, he had been a bodyguard for several people. Rich people, mostly, or famous musicians. He almost considered telling Izaya about it, until he had realized that Izaya probably already knew.

There was an odd silence that rang in his ears. The apartment was quiet, so he turned on the TV just to have some noise in the background. He didn't pay much attention to what was playing. As soon as he chose a random channel, he threw the remote back onto the couch and went into the kitchen.

In his kitchen, the plates from last night's dinner were still piled up in the sink. He ignored them and went to the fridge, pulling it open and spilling its yellow light onto the tiled floor. There was a half-stick of butter, some eggs, a couple half-rotten vegetables in the bottom corner, and nothing else.

With a sigh, he closed the fridge and went to the pantry. There was still some rice left, some canned food and a slew of ramen packets.

Tamago gohan, he recited in his head. Rice - 15 minutes in the rice cooker. Raw egg, five seconds. Salt, furikake, soy sauce. He checked, but there was no furikake left.

Ramen it is, then, he thought ruefully. Ramen - 5 minutes, one packet, boiling water, one egg.

He was glad that Tom wasn’t here to see him now. The other man was living the married life, with a woman he had dated for over six years. He often invited Shizuo over for dinners, for holidays and weekends. Shizuo had accepted, on a few occasions, but eventually, he had stopped going. It hurt too much to experience that warmth, only to come back home to a cold and empty apartment.

He leaned for a moment against shelves, trying to figure out if there was anything else he could make. Nothing came to mind.

I could go down to Simon’s bar, he thought. Eat some of his overpriced sushi and drink all my money away. For a while, he had been the bar’s resident alcoholic, or at least, he had pretended to be an alcoholic. It had been much easier than admitting that he had just been lonely.

But he was trying to turn a new leaf now, or at least, trying to improve his habits. And drinking just to find an escape was not the answer, not anymore.

He wondered what Izaya would think if he saw Shizuo now. Behind the uniform and the badge, there was someone who barely had the strength to make dinner for himself when he got back home. He was a mess. Shizuo knew this already, but he didn’t like being reminded of it.

What am I going to do about him? He wondered. I can barely hold myself together. How am I supposed to be responsible for another person?

“What am I going to do about him?” he asked the empty air, just in case he got an answer. But of course, he was only met with the muted voices from the TV in the living room.

.

.

.

In the dim lighting of the interrogation room, Izaya felt the policeman’s eyes on him like a physical weight, holding him down and shackling him to his chair. He wanted to move, but he couldn’t even look away from the man’s eyes. They were light brown and incredibly expressive. He couldn’t bring himself to look away.

“Did you think I didn’t know?” The man’s voice was a silver chain, wrapping around Izaya’s body and dragging him closer. His eyes were magnetic, his voice was low and soothing, lulling Izaya into a false sense of security.

“I didn’t mean to keep it a secret,” Izaya said to him. He tried to look away. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you everything. I was just - ”

“What?”

Izaya found himself looking back, and then he knew he was caught, like a fish on a hook. “I was afraid,” he whispered. A confession. That seemed to please the officer enough for him to smile, and that smile seemed to yank at Izaya’s chest, drag him forward.

Izaya let himself get pulled in until the man’s face was inches away from his, and then they were on each other, skin pressed to bare skin, heated movements that ran up against the cold bite of chains against his wrists and torso. Izaya didn’t care. He pressed forward hungrily, desperate for more. He threw his arms around the man’s neck and fell into a blaze of heat that seemed to consume him.

There were hands on his face, on his neck. Izaya tilted his head up, felt an amused breath of laughter against his lips. “You think you’re so clever,” the man said softly, and then his voice was suddenly sharp and mocking. Izaya pulled back a little, frightened by the sudden hostility, the way the warmth radiating from those hands suddenly turned freezing cold. “You ask too many questions, Izaya.”

The pressure around his neck increased. Izaya blinked out of his heat-dazed trance, looked up into Shiki’s face, harsh and lined and cruel, holding one end of a rope in his hand. “You should have known better,” he said, and pulled.

The line went taut, and the pressure around Izaya’s neck squeezed tight. His body was flung up into the air like a rag doll, flailing around like a flag in the wind, held in place only by a thin rope around his neck. Izaya’s choked off scream filled his entire body with ice. His entire body twisted in the air, but he had no control. Nothing would respond to him.

He felt himself flattening, saw his skin turn purple and bruised from the lack of oxygen. He realized he was dying, or already dead, and was now just watching the effects appear on his body from a distant outside source. He tried screaming again, but now that he was a ghost, nothing came out, just a distant tremor that rattled the windows and filled the room with darkness…

.

Izaya woke up screaming.

He found himself tangled up hopelessly in his sheets. With a shudder, he kicked himself free and wrapped his arms around himself, trying to chase away the unpleasant chill that had dug its way straight through his spine and calm the racing of his heart. He could still feel the indents of the rope around his neck, the rough texture of braided straw. He knew exactly how much his skin would give, and what marks would remain.

It’s okay, he told himself repeatedly. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.

He wished that he had left the light on. In the dark, he felt utterly and completely alone, in a house with no other people in it, on a quiet and empty street. The silence pressed down on him like a physical weight. He suddenly wished for someone, anyone, to be there.

“I’m not alone,” he whispered out loud, if only to convince himself of the lie.

.

.

.

Here’s a joke for you - three men walk into a bar. The first asks the bartender for a beer. The second scoffs and says: “How tasteless,” and orders a bloody mary. The third flickers an eyelid at both of them with disdain and orders a shot of vodka.

“To the death,” they all say, and clink their glasses together, but not a single one of them means it.

Chapter Text

The passage of time always seemed to be more obvious in fall, where it could be measured in the way the temperatures dropped, the gradual turning of leaves into a reddish shade of maroon and sunset orange and dead brown. In an empty parking lot dotted with dead leaves, the wind gusted again, blowing through the trees and taking down an additional smattering of victims.

Shizuo stepped out of his car and picked off several leaves that had fallen on the windshield. He stared up at the three-story brick building, with its curved brick arches and dirty glass windows.

Everyone wears three faces, he thought. The first, you show to the world, the second, you show to your friends, and the third and last is who you really are.

With a sigh, he stubbed out his cigarette and started inside.

Past the glass doors, past the empty receptionist desk, and up three flights of stairs, there was the office of a certain private investigator. Shizuo had worked with him on occasion, in the past. This man refused to work with any police officer from the main branch, but that reservation didn't seem to apply to Shizuo and Tom. Shizuo had always believed that to be just some strange quirk of his, an odd idiosyncrasy of an eccentric man, but now he knew better.

He knocked on the door, next to the letters that said: KINE, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR.

After a moment, the door opened, revealing a tall thin man with a bald head and mud-colored eyes. Kine's expression betrayed the slightest hint of surprise as he took in the sight of his visitor.

"Shizuo Heiwajima," he said. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Hello Kine," Shizuo offered him a polite smile. "I was wondering if you had some time to answer some questions."

Kine looked straight at him, and for a moment Shizuo half-braced himself for a door slamming shut in his face.

Then the moment passed. Kine sighed.

"Come in," he said. "I always knew this day would come, sooner or later."

.

Kine's office was crowded with books and papers and filing cabinets and newspaper clippings. The mess was piled all the way to the windows. The window slats slanted just enough light to make the room dim instead of dark.

Shizuo had been surprised to find Kine on Izaya's list, and even more surprised to find out that Kine had apparently defected from the Awakusu-Kai on his own terms. Out of all the names on Izaya's list, Kine had been the only one to be marked as an ex-member, and still alive.

"It's been a while," Kine said amiably. He was a quiet man, normally, but he held a cigarette in between his fingers and studied Shizuo over the red-hot tip as he smoked. "I thought I'd answered all of your questions last time, officer."

"I came up with more," Shizuo replied neutrally.

"Well," Kine said dryly. "Shoot. What part of my past have you dug up?"

"Do you know a man named Mikiya Awakusu?"

Kine's lips compressed into a thin line. "Yes."

Shizuo waited patiently. A huge part of being a policeman was just listening, sometimes.

Kine stubbed out his cigarette. If Shizuo didn't know Kine, he would have said that the man was almost nervous. His fingers ground out the cigarette with slightly more force than necessary.

"What made you start looking into the Awakusu-Kai now?" Kine asked suddenly. "They've been rather quiet recently. They've always skirted right on the edge of the law."

"They killed someone," Shizuo said. He was tempted to say - Body in a river, dumped three days ago. We're lucky we found it as fast as we did, or it would have been unrecognizable. But he left the details to Kine's imagination.

There was a moment of silence as Kine processed this.

"Shit," he said finally. "Sounds like they fucked up."

Shizuo shot him a hard look. Kine shrugged. "Don't give me that look, Heiwajima-san. The yakuza are usually more careful than this. They don't kill unless absolutely necessary. Too messy, not gentlemanly, gets the police involved." He tilted his head toward Shizuo as he said the last bit, which Shizuo accepted with a dry nod.

Kine heaved a sigh. "Mikiya Awakusu is Dougen Awakusu's son," he said. "I never met him. He never wanted anything to do with the yakuza. Tried his hardest to escape that life, in fact. Wanted to become an artist, didn't want anything to do with his father. The old man wouldn't take that, though."

"Do you keep in contact with anyone from the Awakusu-Kai?"

"No," Kine laughed, a short bark. "I've tried to put all that far, far behind me."

Shizuo checked his mental notes. "Then, do you remember anyone called Haruya Shiki?"

Kine's expression hardened. "Oh yeah," he drawled. "I know that sonofabitch. He's a bigshot now, isn't he? Yeah, that one's a psychopath if I've ever met one. He's as cold-hearted as they come."

At Shizuo's questioning glance, Kine added: "He collects young boys for a living, lost souls with no one else to look after them. Most of them end up dead, in prison, or worse, taking the fall for his crimes. He gains their trust and uses them up."

He fell silent for a while, blowing out a white lungful of smoke, staring at nothing. Shizuo felt a sudden chill. How many?

"There was a boy," Kine said suddenly. "He followed Shiki around like an imprinted bird. He was a creepy kid, never really spoke much."

The chill deepened into something that hurt. "Do you remember his name?" Shizuo asked sharply.

"Izaya Orihara," Kine said. "It was an unusual name. He was a really unusual kid. Apparently, he had been involved in illegal stuff even before Shiki found him. Really gruesome stuff too, the kind that would turn your stomach."

Even before he joined the Awakusu-Kai, Shizuo thought with a sinking feeling in his stomach. He must have been fourteen or fifteen when they found him.

"I told him to come find me if he ever wanted out," Kine said. "But I guess he forgot."

Shizuo blinked at him in surprise. "What?"

"What?" Kine shrugged. "I don't owe anything to Shiki. It was Dougen Awakusu that I worked for, not any of those upstart power-hungry fuckers. When we went our separate ways, I hoped that I would never see them again."

"I see," Shizuo forced down the questions that he wanted to ask. "Would you be willing to testify as a witness - and repeat everything that you just said here?"

"Sure," Kine said. "The old man's dead. And all that's left are vultures and traitors, and a son who spat on his grave. I'll testify."

"Thank you," Shizuo said, relieved. He had been right to come here after all.

"Don't thank me yet," Kine replied.

.

Nighttime fell earlier than Izaya was expecting. It seemed like one moment, the sky had been light blue and cloudy, and the next, it had been gone.

Izaya shivered a little as the wind picked up. Dead leaves swirled around in circles beneath his feet, then settled again. The door to Earthworm's nightclub closed behind him, shutting out the warmth, but he had no desire to go back inside, into the pounding music and the smell of sweat. He was beginning to get a headache.

As he started off, someone collared him from behind. Izaya jerked free instinctively, only to relax once he saw who it was.

"What are you doing out so late?" Akabayashi asked.

"Nothing much," Izaya said, slamming his guard up, then cursing himself silently. That had sounded too casual. He should have said business, but no - then Akabayashi would have asked him what that ‘business' was.

Izaya cursed his luck for running into Akabayashi here. Out of all three higher-ranked officers in the Awakusu-Kai, Akabayashi scared him the most.

He wasn't sure why. The red-haired man was easily the friendliest one of the lot. He always had a smile on his face. His jaunty cane and his slight limp made him seem like a friendly uncle rather than a cold-blooded yakuza member. But out of all three officials, Akabayashi was clearly the strongest fighter, the most dangerous one by himself.

"Don't get so scared," Akabayashi laughed. "I just happened to be in the area. What are you doing in a place like this? Not running one of Shiki's errands for him, I hope."

Izaya shrugged wordlessly, relieved that Akabayashi had provided an explanation of his own.

Akabayashi seemed to take it as confirmation, though. He sighed irritably and snuffed out his cigarette against a nearby ashtray. "Should've figured. You should go back to school, kid, while you still can. If you keep taking Shiki's jobs, you'll land yourself in more trouble than you can get out of."

"I'm fine with things the way they are," Izaya said neutrally.

Akabayashi snorted in disbelief. "Yeah. Well, if he does anything to you, you just come to me, got it? I'll set him straight."

"Got it," Izaya said. What?

That seemed to satisfy Akabayashi. He smiled and leaned against the brick building of the nightclub. 

"May I ask a question?" Izaya asked hesitantly. He rarely had the chance to speak with Akabayashi alone. Akabayashi seemed to view him as a harmless kid that had to be kept out of the way of the real business. Another person who just saw him as Shiki's pet, Izaya supposed.

"Sure, ask away." Akabayashi felt for his cigarette. It would seem unfriendly for him to refuse to answer, and after he had gone to this much effort to seem friendly -

Izaya had a chance. He just had to push his luck.

"Why do you and Aozaki hate each other so much?" Izaya asked.

Akabayashi's hand froze halfway to his mouth, where he had a new cigarette clamped in between his teeth. For a moment, he looked startled. Then he laughed softly and lit his cigarette, cupping his hand around it to shield the flame from the wind.

"We used to work for rival gangs back in the day," Akabayashi said, his lighter clicking shut. "Actually it was more than ten years ago. His gang and my boss often got into territorial disputes, and we ended up fighting it out several times. We had bad blood, I suppose. But it all ended once I turned on my boss and Aozaki's gang got absorbed into the Awakusu-Kai. So it's all just an old story, now. Memories don't fade that easily, though. I suppose he'll always hate me."

"You don't hate him?" Izaya asked, surprised.

Akabayashi shrugged. His mouth quirked in a wry smile. "Not as much as I used to. You learn to let go of those things, once you're a bit older. Or they stop mattering as much. You'll see."

Izaya's head spun. Aozaki and Akabayashi had been in rival gangs? They had fought each other in the past? How many of Aozaki's scars had been from Akabayshi's knife? Was Aozaki the reason for Akabyashi's limp? How deep did that hatred run, to have lasted more than ten years?

He was silent for so long that he didn't realize that they had been standing there in silence for a couple minutes. On the far end of the street, a group of men tumbled out of Earthworm's club, laughing and leaning on each other, clearly drunk. One of them saw Shiki and called out to him, then laughed uproariously at something his friend had said.

Akabayashi smiled at Izaya, amused, then flicked his cigarette butt away.

"Lots of things are changing around here," he said, turning back the way he came. "Don't trust anybody, and look out for yourself, got it?"

He didn't wait for Izaya's answer. He just strolled off, his coat flapping in the wind, humming to himself like nobody else was there.

.

.

.

Shizuo pulled into his driveway just as the street lamps turned on. He shut off his radio unceremoniously, and cut it off in the middle of some jazzy, melancholy love song. The melody got stuck in his ear, though, and he found himself humming along to it as he went up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs, though, he stopped dead. A shadow detached itself from the side of the building. Even in the darkness, it was easy to make out the tall shape and lean frame. Pale skin glowed in the moonlight under a hooded jacket, and Shizuo's breath caught.

"Hey, officer," Izaya said with a grin. "Fancy meeting you here tonight."

For a moment, Shizuo considered completely ignoring him, going inside and shutting the door in the boy's face, then heading straight to bed and calling it a day. He wasn't sure he could deal with this right now, not after what Kine had said. Then he caught sight of Izaya's thin jacket, and the way the boy shivered in the wind.

"How long have you been waiting here?" Shizuo asked finally.

Izaya shrugged. "I had some time to kill," he said. "I thought I might drop in on my favorite police officer."

Shizuo gave him an exasperated look as he went to unlock his front door.

"You should have called," Shizuo said. "I was working late tonight."

"I know," Izaya said simply.

Shizuo herded him inside, found the thermostat, and turned it up several degrees. Izaya hovered near the doorway. In the brighter lighting, Shizuo could see that he looked even paler than he remembered. "Have you had anything to eat today?"

"No."

"Really? When was the last time you ate?"

Izaya thought for a bit. "I'm not sure," he said at last.

"What do you mean, ‘not sure'? How can you not remember the last time you ate?"

Shizuo shook his head as he went further inside, taking off his shoes and jacket. Izaya trailed after him.

"I was busy," he said a little defensively. "And besides, I have news. I didn't think you'd be at the police station this late, so I thought I'd catch you here."

Shizuo sighed heavily. He was too tired and hungry to even think. He wasn't sure he could stay on his feet for much longer.

"I'll make you something to eat," he said.

Izaya followed him in, through the small entryway, past the living room, and into the kitchen.

"Don't you want to hear my news first?" Izaya asked.

"Not right now." Annoyed, Shizuo stalked into the kitchen and opened the fridge.

Two sad cartons of eggs, milk, and rotten vegetables stared back at him. He was tempted to close the fridge and go to the pantry, but it wasn't like more food would magically appear somehow. With a sigh, Shizuo pulled out the eggs.

"Are fried eggs good with you?" he asked. In his head, he mentally calculated how long it would take. Heat the stove with oil, crack the egg, salt, flip over. He could spare five minutes for this.

"I'm not hungry," Izaya said.

"Well, I'm fucking starving," Shizuo said a little irritably. "Sit the fuck down, won't you? If you waited outside for that long, then you can wait a bit longer, since it's clearly not that urgent."

Izaya wavered for a moment before taking a chair. "Alright," he said, a bit sulkily. "I'll eat. But then you'll listen, won't you?"

"Deal," Shizuo said.

Surprisingly, Izaya actually stayed completely quiet as Shizuo cracked six eggs into the pan. He leaned his elbows on the table, chin in his hands, watching Shizuo cook. He didn't even comment when Shizuo found bread in the pantry and put them in the toaster, and then after a moment, pulled out the milk as well.

The quiet spell was almost broken after he accepted a glass of milk, though. He took a small sip, and then opened his mouth as if to burst out with something, but Shizuo just looked at him. Izaya closed his mouth without saying anything.

Shizuo fought down a small burst of satisfaction as he went back to the stove. It was hard to think of Izaya as a creepy yakuza child when he was hunched over at Shizuo's kitchen table, drinking milk slowly out of his glass.

"I talked to Kine today," Shizuo said, as an offering, to break the silence. "I knew him, actually. I had no idea he used to be a part of the Awakusu-Kai."

"Really?" Izaya asked, surprised. His shoulders eased, and he seemed to relax a little in the light. "I thought Kine hated the police."

"He does," Shizuo admitted. "But I ran across him a couple times when I was working. We got to know each other. I pulled him out of a bar fight. He gave me his card. He's been pretty useful on certain occasions."

Izaya bit back a smile. "You were in a bar fight?"

"Kine was in a bar fight," Shizuo corrected. "He wasn't at fault either. Some drunk decided to pick on him and found out he'd chosen the wrong guy. Why am I telling you about this?"

Izaya grinned up at him. "I don't know. It's interesting though."

That was the first sincere grin he had shown Shizuo all day. At the last moment, Shizuo decided not to mention what else Kine had said. That was a part of Izaya's past that he had no right to pry into.

"What about you?" he asked. "Please tell me you stayed home all day and kept yourself out of trouble."

"I talked to Akabayashi today," Izaya said.

Shizuo froze in the middle of sliding the eggs out of the pan. They landed hard on the plate, and hot oil splashed onto his arms, but he barely even noticed. "You what?"

"He just ran into me," Izaya said. "On the street."

"How does he even know who you are?"

"A lot of people know who I am," Izaya said arrogantly.

Shizuo shut his eyes briefly - fucking troublesome brat. I fucking knew it - then opened them. "Well? What did you end up talking about?"

"Well that's the thing," Izaya said. He folded his hands neatly on the table and waited for the food to arrive. "I thought you said that it had to wait."

Despite himself, Shizuo laughed. He brought both plates over, along with the table salt.

"Fine," he said. "Eat first, talk later."

He was actually pretty proud of how the eggs had turned out. Or maybe he was too hungry to care.

Once, he had accidentally burned eggs into a charred crisp on one of the new nonstick pans Kasuka had given him for Christmas. In cleaning the gunk off, he had accidentally warped the whole thing into the shape of a bowl. Compared to that incident, any fried eggs that did not cost a pan and a fire extinguisher was a success in Shizuo's eyes.

Later, when the milk carton had been completely emptied and the plates cleared from the table, Izaya looked at Shizuo expectantly.

"Alright," Shizuo said. "Tell me. What did you find out?"

Izaya cleared his throat and repeated his conversation from earlier that evening, almost verbatim.

Shizuo waited a moment. When Izaya didn't continue, he asked: "So?"

Izaya shot him an offended look.

"So," he said grumpily. "Aozaki is in the middle of shaking down all the waterfront businesses for money. People are gonna be real pissed at him for a while. Akabayashi is looking to retire, but can't until people stop getting pissed at Aozaki. Shiki is also interested in checking up on everyone allied to the Awakusu-Kai, probably getting assurances of their loyalty, probably through blackmail or subtle threats. And all of them have their hands way too full right now. None of them even remotely consider me a threat."

He lifted his gaze to Shizuo's face, oddly defiant. Shizuo stared back, trying not to let anything show on his face, trying not to imagine getting a call that a boy's body had been fished out of the river, tall and dark-haired, pale and dead.

Do they realize how much he knows? he wondered. Do they have the faintest clue how dangerous he is to them?

"You're not supposed to be a threat," Shizuo said sharply. He pushed away his plate. "Izaya, your job as an informant is to tell us things that you already know, not to go out and find out things for yourself. It's our job to draw up the charges and find evidence, not yours."

"I know," Izaya started sullenly, and he was back to being a clueless kid again, one who had to burn his hand twice on the stove in order to convince himself it was hot.

"Do you?" Shizuo glared at him. "Because it seems like you're just going out and looking for trouble. I can't protect you if you put yourself in danger like that."

"I wasn't in danger," Izaya protested.

"You're trying to leave a gang," Shizuo shot back. "You're always going to be in danger."

Izaya shut up, drawing back and folding his arms around himself.

Shizuo tried to rein back his temper, a little. He wasn't sure where that sudden burst of anger had come from. He tried to focus on something else, the slow tick of the clock, the quiet sounds of the night. Izaya had gone completely silent, even more so than he had been earlier. How could someone see so much and so little? Did he really not know how much danger he had put himself in?

"I'm sorry," Izaya said quietly, just as Shizuo said: "Look, Izaya -"

Izaya raised an eyebrow at him.

"Oh, so it's ‘Izaya' now," he said with a grin.

Shizuo tripped on what he had been about to say. "Could you - look, you little brat, could you please make my life a little easier and stay out of trouble? You've given us more than enough to work with, so now you just need to lie low, understand?"

Izaya made a face at him, clearly displeased at being relegated back to brat again. "Fine," he said.

"Promise me," Shizuo said, holding his gaze and not letting it go.

Izaya looked as if he were about to make a joke, but he stopped once he saw the expression on Shizuo's face. A strange look flickered across his face and he hesitated.

"I promise," he said at last. Sincerity did strange things to him, it seemed. It made the bitter cynicism in his eyes melt away, which took years off of his face and finally made him seem his age. Shizuo had seen it before, but now he was sure. Is that the face you make when you're alone? Or is that just another mask, when you're too tired of pretending to be brave?

Izaya only lost the mask for an instant, though. In the next moment, it was firmly back in place - a crooked smile, one that never reached his eyes, and an arrogant tilt to his head.

"It's getting pretty late, isn't it?"

Shizuo checked the clock. "Shit," he said, startled. "I didn't mean to keep you here so long."

"It's alright," Izaya gave him a cheeky grin. "It just means that you enjoy my company."

Shizuo ignored that. "Do you need to be anywhere tomorrow morning?" He would have to set two alarms for himself, in order to get to work in time. He hoped that would be enough.

Izaya shook his head.

"What about school?"

"I don't have school," Izaya reminded him in an offended tone. "I'm a working adult, with my own hours and everything. If I wake up a little later than usual, nobody will mind."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure." Izaya's mouth twisted in bitter amusement. "Us criminal types, we like to work late, you know?"

"You're not a criminal anymore," Shizuo reminded him. "And you can still get mugged on the street, just like any other person."

"I can still take care of myself," Izaya said.

Shizuo nearly growled in frustration. All teenagers thought they were immortal, and clearly Izaya was no different.

"You could crash here for the night," Shizuo offered. "All your efforts will go to waste if you get hit by a car on your way home."

"I'll be fine," Izaya said lightly. He got up to leave.

Shizuo went with him to the door, held it open as Izaya put on his shoes.

"Be careful," he said.

"Yes sir," Izaya said teasingly. His hand came up to pat Shizuo on the cheek. "I'll look both ways before crossing the street. I'll keep an eye out for troublemakers. And if I get mugged, I'll throw my wallet and run the other way."

"That's not funny," Shizuo said. "I'm being serious."

"So am I," Izaya said, removing his hand.

Shizuo watched him go until he had disappeared down the street, his black jacket fading into indistinguishable darkness.

Even afterwards, he hung out on the balcony, wishing for a smoke, but not reaching for his coat pocket. Finally, he turned around and went back inside, to catch whatever sleep he could before morning.

.

.

.

Here's a riddle for you: a man in a black trenchcoat walks into a private investigator's office.

There's no one inside, so he searches the desks, drawers, cabinets, pulling out stacks of folders and neatly indexed files, rifling through them before throwing them on the floor. Within moments, the entire room is a mess of scattered papers.

The light turns on, and the man turns to find the doorway blocked. Long shadows are cast against the floor. The private investigator says: "You're too late."

"I hear you've been talking to the police," the man says.

"That's why I said that it was too late," the private detective says.

"Too late for the both of us, then," the man says coldly, and shoots him.

Chapter Text

The sky turned blue like a sapphire gem, cut with straight-edged clouds that seemed to make lines of a graph above his head, like a sheet of graph paper had been inverted in color and pressed down onto the world. Shizuo found a lot of people pointing up and staring. Unnatural things happened often in Ikebukuro, but none so unnatural as this.

When he got home, for some reason, he wasn't surprised to find Izaya there. The boy had taken to coming and going as he pleased, like a stray cat that knew you had good food, but was too skittish to come too close.

Izaya leaned against the balcony outside, elbows against the railing, head tilted up to watch the sky. All pale skin and shadows, that one. For some reason, he looked troubled.

"Is the world ending?" Shizuo asked.

"No idea," Izaya replied. "Would you be glad if it did?"

Shizuo shrugged. He supposed it didn't matter to him; life went on even when strange things were happening and the sky was turning into graph paper.

"This is still the strangest fucking thing I've seen," Izaya said thoughtfully. "Really makes you realize how much you don't know, huh?"

"Watch your language."

That got a raised eyebrow.

"I'll say whatever I damn well please," Izaya stuck out his tongue. His grin was back, warm and teasing. "I'm in my rebellious stage."

"Well you better grow up fast," Shizuo said, "Or you're not welcome to stay for dinner."

That made Izaya drop all of his attention from the sky, made him straighten. All of his earlier insolence faded away completely. "What are you making for dinner?" he asked, somehow sounding like he had grown younger instead of older. Shizuo just bit back a smile.

"Pho," he said. "Vietnamese. You've ever tried it?"

"From restaurants, yeah."

"Fun fact about pho," Shizuo said, sliding the door further open and inviting Izaya inside, sky forgotten. "Traditional Vietnamese families can make enough pho to last them a month, in these huge pots that take up the entire kitchen. You're supposed to reuse the broth over and over. That's what gives it its flavor."

"Is that so?" Izaya grinned. "Where did you learn something like that?"

Shizuo shrugged. "I don't really remember."

Izaya came in from the back door. The screen door clicked shut behind him. "You know way too many useless facts."

Shizuo brandished the ingredients as a warning. Izaya ignored it for the empty threat it was.

"Did you know why your phone doesn't work near microwaves?" Izaya asked. "It's because the microwave sends out the same kind of electromagnetic waves that your phone does. It mixes up the signals, so you shouldn't use your phone next to your microwave."

"I wasn't intending to." Shizuo said dryly. "Is that the extent of your knowledge when it comes to kitchen appliances? You know the electromagnetic radiation spectrum of a microwave but you can't use a rice cooker?"

"A rice cooker doesn't give off electromagnetic waves," Izaya pointed out.

Shizuo bit back a smile. He thought Izaya might have seen it anyway.

"Help me with the side dishes at least," he said. "If you're going to be this annoying with your chatter, you should at least use your hands during it."

Izaya complied rather readily. For a while, the kitchen was silent except for the sound of vegetables being chopped. Within moments, the pot was boiling with beef stock, fresh onions and ginger and choked up with so many bean sprouts that they popped over the edge and took up just as much space as the broth, if not more.

"How much do you want?" Shizuo asked, after tasting the soup and deciding that it was good enough. Longer would be better, but longer also meant waiting.

Izaya leaned on the counter, standing up to look over the edge of the pot. His shoulder bumped against Shizuo's wrist, which also happened to be attached to a hand carrying a large spoonful of hot liquid.

"I don't - agh!" That had been the from the splash. Izaya flinched away from the stove, hand coming up to cover his face.

"Sorry," Shizuo reacted automatically, dropping the spoon and backing away. Suddenly, his heart was jackhammering in his chest, loud and painful. Hurting people wasn't something he did, not anymore, but -

Izaya glared at him past a sleeve covering half of his face.

"Ow," he said plaintively.

Shizuo let out a breath. Went over to pry Izaya's wrist gently away from his face. "Sorry," he said again, a little quieter than he meant to. There was no visible mark. His heart slowed a little.

Then he saw Izaya's pleased grin. Little brat.

"Stop whining," he chided, but he kept his touch gentle, wiping the last of the moisture off of Izaya's face with his thumb. "This happens all the time when you're cooking. It should just sting a little, it shouldn't burn."

"I know," Izaya replied easily. He leaned a little playfully into Shizuo's hand, "But it still hurt."

"Okay, now you're just -"

He was interrupted by the sound of Izaya's phone going off.

Instantly, Izaya tensed, his hand going to his phone, his eyes going to Shizuo's face. His grin disappeared as if it were never there.

Shizuo went still. It must have been one of Izaya's contacts from the Awakusu-Kai, or he wouldn't have reacted like that. Removing his hand, Shizuo sat down in a chair, gesturing for Izaya to pick up.

Izaya picked up the call.

.

"Izaya," the woman's voice was tight-strung and nervous. Izaya recognized it immediately.

"Earthworm," he said, glancing over to Shizuo. "What is it? I told you not to call me unless -"

"I need you to meet me," she interrupted him. "In an hour, at the nightclub. The one on the waterfront, you know what I'm talking about, right?"

"I know it."

"Good," she said. For once there was no lingering sweetness in her voice, no cloying aftertaste. She sounded like a completely different person. Scared. "Meet me there in an hour. Don't be late. Don't bring anyone."

Shizuo's eyes caught Izaya's and held. I'm going with you, he mouthed. Izaya grimaced, but accepted. If Earthworm was in trouble, then Shizuo might be able to help.

"Okay," he said. "Meet you there." But Earthworm had already hung up. Shizuo had an arm slung around the back of his chair. His eyes were fixed on Izaya's face, sharp and steady.

Izaya lowered the phone slowly and looked at Shizuo. Waited.

"Who is Earthworm?" Shizuo asked quietly. "And why wasn't she on your list?"

Izaya took a deep breath.

"I can explain," he said.

.

In the car, Izaya kept looking over at Shizuo only to find him stone-faced and silent. He had grown used to Shizuo's emotions being worn openly on his face - a cocky half-smile, a worried frown, an exasperated sigh. It was jarring to see Shizuo return to being coldly professional.

"Are you angry at me?" Izaya asked in a small voice, dreading the answer.

Shizuo kept his eyes straight ahead. "You lied to me."

"I said that she wasn't a part of the Awakusu-Kai," Izaya protested. "I knew she wasn't involved. She's more of a business owner. She pays the Awakusu-Kai for protection. They go to her nightclub exclusively for deals."

"That's already sounding a bit more involved than just a business owner," Shizuo pointed out. "Why did you never mention her at all? Were you protecting her?"

"No," Izaya said quickly. Shizuo was upset. He had to be. There was a line of tension in his shoulders that hadn't been there before. He felt betrayed. "No, it's not like that. I don't think of her as a member or a partner of the Awakusu-Kai because she's just like me. She was forced into dealing with them."

If anything, the strain in Shizuo's eyes just wound tighter. Izaya felt a sharp stab of panic. He was losing Shizuo's trust, and he couldn't afford that.

"Please," he said. "She's not a threat. To you or anybody. I completely forgot about her when I was making the list, I promise. Please don't be mad at me."

"I'm not mad at you," Shizuo said. Finally, he looked over at Izaya. When he caught sight of Izaya's worried face, he sighed, and the strange tension seeped out of him.

"I'm sorry," he said, reaching out and ruffling Izaya's hair. "It's not that big of a deal. Forget it."

When Izaya didn't relax, he added: "I'm not mad at you, I promise."

.

The woman who met them at the door of the nightclub was dressed in a thin purple gown that clung to her skin. Her expression froze upon seeing him. Shizuo was used to that reaction, but only from the guilty.

"Izaya," she said sharply. "I told you to come alone."

"Don't worry," Izaya said. "He can help you. Earthworm, meet Shizuo Heiwajima."

He watched as she mouthed the words silently and her eyes grew huge. Shizuo Heiwajima. And there was his reputation at work again. Strangely, however, Earthworm didn't look reassured.

"Come inside," she said after a moment's pause. "I need to show you something."

Shizuo didn't want to go inside. Alarm bells were ringing in his head like crazy. Izaya had explained on the car ride over - that they were more like coworkers, that she was the cowardly sort, the type of person that preferred to sit back and be a bystander. If she had called for a meeting, something must have happened.

Still, Shizuo felt a twisting sensation in his gut whenever he looked at the woman. She did look nervous, shooting glances his way and herding them jerkily into the dark nightclub. For some reason, he wanted to keep her as far away from Izaya as possible.

"What's going on?" Izaya asked, picking up on Shizuo's suspicion and trying to slow down. The nightclub had a small ticket line indoors that led to a glass-covered booth, and past that was a wider area that must have served as a dance floor and bar. "Why did you call me here so suddenly?"

Earthworm spun on him, lowering her voice to a whisper that was only intended to reach Izaya. "This is your fault," she said tightly. "You never should have showed me that picture."

Izaya blinked at her. Stopped dead in his tracks. "What?"

"Don't lie to me," Earthworm hissed. Her voice was shaky and furious, like a harp string stretched to the point of breaking. "I know how good your memory is. The picture you gave me! They found it."

Shizuo followed them reluctantly, dragging his footsteps. Earthworm was speaking faster now, almost on the verge of tears.

"They came last night and turned the whole place upside down. Some of my girls still haven't come back. They found the picture, and they forced me to tell them where I got it."

"Who did you tell?"

"Aozaki's goons," Earthworm replied hysterically. "Who else? I don't know what you've gotten into, but why did you have to drag me into this as well? How could you? And not only that, you've brought THE FUCKING POLICE HERE."

With that, she just turned and ran, incredibly quickly despite her heels, disappearing into a side door next to stage. For a moment, Shizuo and Izaya just stood alone in the empty nightclub, stunned. It all happened so fast.

"Wait!" Izaya had barely gotten the words out before the door clicked shut.

He looked to Shizuo. His eyes went wide with sudden unease. They seemed to gather up every scrap of light in the room.

"Izaya," Shizuo said sharply.

The air went taut with sudden tension, and behind Izaya, from the dim area just behind the stage, Shizuo heard the click of a magazine being shoved into place. It was a sound he had heard far too many times before, and his body reacted on instinct.

"GET DOWN -"

Glass shattered in a cacophony of sound, blowing out several feet into the hallway as the ticketing booth exploded. Shizuo lunged for Izaya and brought them both down to the ground. In the next instant, he had rolled them both over behind the bar. Bullets whizzed by overhead, thudding with sharp cracks against the wall and destroying bottles on the shelves, wall hangings, posters. One bullet buried itself into the floor a foot away from Izaya's outstretched hand.

Izaya flinched violently, and Shizuo pressed his head down, tried to cover as much of Izaya's body with his own as he could.

The firing went on for about twenty more seconds, but it felt like an eternity. Izaya had his eyes squeezed shut and pressed himself flat against the floor. After that first involuntary flinch, he had drawn in his hands and feet. Shizuo could hear the empty clicks of a pistol chamber out of bullets. He wished desperately for some better cover, but it was too late to move now.

Without thinking, he grabbed the heaviest object he could reach, and hurled it over the bar - there was an explosion of shattering wood and the screech of bending metal. Shizuo felt a brief flash of satisfaction. There was the sound of distant, panicked yells.

Shizuo fumbled out his radio, turned it on. "Code eight," he said into his radio. "Calling all units. Shots fired. Nightclub in Hitotsubashi, Rokugatsu-Chome."

The response, as he'd hoped, was immediate.

"Copy that," a voice replied.

Bolstered by the sound of backup, the sound of his radio suddenly coming to life as every policeman within twenty-five blocks turned on their sirens, Shizuo began yelling at the top of his lungs - he was the police, they were all to drop their weapons, put their hands up. Most of it was just an act, to scare them and make them think twice about shooting again.

A quick glance told him that people were running. Not a lot of gangsters had the courage to actively shoot at a police officer, and the sound of sirens was slowly approaching. The door that Earthworm had gone through slammed shut with a loud bang. There must have been a back door there, somewhere.

It still felt like the ringing in his ears hadn't stopped. Shizuo waited a moment to clear his head before looking down to check if Izaya was still alright. The boy had curled up into a ball, bloodless and pale. When Shizuo helped him up, he couldn't help checking to see if the boy even had a pulse. Izaya flinched when Shizuo's hand came up to the side of his neck. Shizuo snatched his hand away.

"Come on," he said. "We've got to get out of here."

When the boy didn't move, Shizuo grabbed Izaya and pulled him up, away from the back door and towards the way they had come in. Izaya stumbled along, more by instinct than by controlling his own two feet.

As soon as they were out in the street, Shizuo spun on him, searching for injuries. "Did you get shot anywhere?" he asked, steering him over to a nearby alleyway, out of sight from the main street. Izaya did not answer. He didn't seem to be responding to anything. A jolt of alarm made the temperature of the air seem to drop several degrees.

"Are you hurt?" Shizuo asked insistently, trying to make Izaya step back, so that he could check if there was blood anywhere. Izaya was staring at him, wild-eyed and incoherent with fear. His eyes were huge, disks of light brown that couldn't seem to focus.

Something painful tightened in Shizuo's chest. He had made a mistake. He had been so fucking stupid, so fucking careless. He hadn't been careful enough -

He reached out to take Izaya by the shoulders. Shook him. Izaya's eyes finally focused. For some strange reason, Shizuo was caught by the color of Izaya's eyes, the way they reminded him of spilled wine or dried blood. "Izaya, are you hurt?"

Mutely, Izaya shook his head - no. But he was still shaking, like little earthquakes were going on under his skin.

"I know you're frightened," Shizuo said. "But I need you to talk to me. Are you hurt?"

Izaya shook his head. Shizuo let out a breath that he had been holding.

"Are you sure?"

For a moment, he thought that Izaya would answer him, but no sound came out. Izaya shook his head again. It was a reflexive movement - not that he didn't know, he just couldn't say it out loud. His terror was all too apparent now, without the thin veneer of calm he had been wearing all this time. Shizuo grabbed Izaya's face, forced the boy to look up at him. 

"Izaya. We need to get out of here. The police are coming soon, but I can't let them see you. I need you to focus. Can you do that for me?"

A flash of panic went through the boy's eyes. "Yes," he whispered, and suddenly everything seemed to hit him all at once. He staggered, and would have fallen if Shizuo's arms hadn't come up to catch him. Shizuo was shocked again by how thin Izaya was, how there was barely anything for his arms to wrap around. Izaya made a broken sound, and curled his fingers against the front of Shizuo's vest as he finally came out of his state of shock.

"I don't want to die," his voice was muffled. It sounded like a ragged plea. Shizuo instinctively squeezed tighter. He wasn't sure why he could suddenly hear his heartbeat in his ears, could suddenly feel every second of time like raindrops falling on his skin. Izaya burrowed into him, like a small animal trying to escape. His shoulders were trembling. "I don't want to die, I don't want to die, I don't want to die."

"You're not going to die," Shizuo told him. His hand came around the back of Izaya's head. He clutched the boy protectively to his chest. "Not while I'm here. I'll protect you. I promise."

.

.

.

After the rest of the police force found out that there had been a shooting, and even better, a shooting at a police officer, everyone showed up for the party.

The entire street in front of the nightclub was sectioned off with stanchions and yellow tape. Police cars had their flashing lights turned on, and were parked neatly in a semicircle around the block.

Everyone was in an oddly cheerful mood. It wasn't every day that one of their own got shot at. Even better, it had been at Shizuo Heiwajima, their own local legend. Whoever the shooters had been, their strategy had backfired. The entire police force in Ikebukuro was going to be out for their blood now.

Shizuo Heiwajima, however, was nowhere to be found on the scene.

After the whole incident, Shizuo had promptly bundled Izaya into the car. Then he had fucking floored it. He didn't want to take any chances that the yakuza would come back for round two. He intended to be far, far away by the time that happened.

On the road, Shizuo kept the radio on, listening to the police make a full sweep of the area. After calling in and confirming that he was uninjured, however, he went radio silent.

He glanced at the figure in his passenger seat. Izaya was sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest, curled up tight, one hand covering the side of his neck. He still seemed shaky.

The yakuza just tried to kill him, he thought. Then: the yakuza just fucked up.

.

.

.

The problem with Izaya was that he fell in love too easily.

This had been the root cause - or the common thread - of all of his misfortunes. He didn't know why he was like this; he had been this way ever since childhood. He fell in love too easily, and always with the wrong people.

At first, it had been a classmate, one who shared his distant detachment and haughty indifference. Only, he did it with a bright self-satisfied grin instead of a sullen blankness. He wore that smile all the time - while rejecting girls and reducing teachers to tears, even after being labeled a freak and a loner. Shinra Kishitani hadn't even seemed to notice.

Izaya had wanted to know everything about him, had wanted to be him. His only logical conclusion for these feelings were - it must be love.

So he had watched the boy like a stalker, had studied his habits and his mannerisms. When that wasn't enough, he figured out the boy's password, hacked into his email account. That was when he discovered something incredible: the boy was truly someone special, someone extraordinary. He was the son and apprentice of a famous underground doctor - Shingen Kishitani.

Izaya realized much later, looking back on it, that he should have stopped there. But then again, Izaya had never quite known when to stop.

He was fascinated by the discovery. When he confronted Shinra about it, Shinra had just laughed. Izaya fell in love all over again. It took him a while, several years, to realize that Shinra had not been laughing out of pleasure. It had been a mocking laugh. Shinra had merely been amused by Izaya's blatant interest, amused that Izaya had even thought it worth mentioning.

Then, one hot summer day in junior high, Shinra asked out of the blue: "Do you want to see a dead body that's still alive?"

"Yes," Izaya said immediately. Not because he actually wanted to see a dead body, but because he wanted to spend more time with Shinra. It pleased him greatly that Shinra had asked him, and no one else. He had been a fool.

Shinra took home, led him down to the basement. The Kishitani residence was all glass walls and white ceilings, stainless steel furniture. Modern looking equipment was scattered all across tables where there would normally be baskets of fruit or TV stands. The basement had been outfitted as a lab, with white hallways and ceramic floors. All of it led to one room, which looked as if it had been lifted right out of a hospital ward.

In the center, on a long table with a white sheet spread over it, was a naked woman with a cut off head.

"Izaya, meet Celty," Shinra said proudly. "Celty, this is Izaya Orihara. See? I do have friends."

Izaya had taken one look at Shinra's face as Shinra gazed at the woman on the table and had known instantly: Shinra was never going to love him back, because he loved this thing instead.

It was the first time he had suffered such a blow. He hadn't known how to react. All he could do was stare at Shinra's face, and think: so that's what he looks like when he's in love. I wonder if I ever looked at him like that.

And just like that, he had been introduced to the famous underground doctor - Shingen Kishitani, Shinra's father.

"Would you like to work for us?" Shingen asked. "We've been needing an extra pair of hands for our experiments. You don't seem squeamish, and Shinra already blabbed out Celty's secret. I'll pay you well."

At that point, saying no would have felt like running away.

So, Izaya stood there and helped as they cut the headless lady apart over and over, drew her blood, probed her organs, measured her physical reactions. She really did seem alive, with a beating heart and everything.

Sometimes, Izaya wished that he could hate her. But she seemed so trapped and helpless on that table. He couldn't bring himself to.

Half a year passed, like this, and honestly Izaya wasn't sure if he enjoyed the whole ordeal or not. He was finally doing something out of the ordinary, breaking free of the study-work-sleep-die path that he had originally been set on. But eventually, even the novelty of being near an dullahan, a fairy, a creature straight out of old Irish myths, wore off and became boring.

And that was how he had met Haruya Shiki: with his arms covered in blood up to his elbows, hands deep into the guts of a not-quite-dead human body.

Haruya Shiki was one of Shingen Kishitani's associates. They weren't colleagues, exactly, but they worked together occasionally. Shiki had gotten curious about Shingen's pet project in the basement one day, and Izaya had coincidentally been there, helping out.

By then, Izaya's feelings for Shinra had died. He didn't know why he kept coming back to help, whenever Shinra asked. He supposed that he hadn't wanted to admit to himself - that his love was a shallow thing, not like the endless thing he saw in Shinra's eyes when Shinra looked at the headless woman. He didn't want to admit that his feelings, for all the world-shaking change it had wrought in him, had ultimately amounted to nothing in reality.

So when he had realized that Shiki had started to watch him, in the dark corners of that lab room, smoking a cigarette and weighing him on some imaginary scale, Izaya grew obsessed with meeting whatever expectations Shiki had for him.

He figured out who Shiki was - a yakuza member. He dropped hints and teased out truths until Shiki stopped telling him to stay away for his own safety. At first, Izaya had thought that it was a test, a challenge to overcome. He thought: If I can make myself useful, then maybe he won't stop watching me.

He started to look up to Shiki a bit too much. He admired the cruel efficiency of his language, the aura of danger that seemed to surround him wherever he went. He thought: this is who I should be, if I want to be somebody. So he learned how to seem cold and calculating, how to adopt a persona that others took seriously as a threat.

By this point, Izaya was less sure that these feelings were love. He was older now, and more wary. But it felt close enough, and he was glad to have something, at least, to replace what he had once had and lost.

Around three weeks later, Shingen Kishitani defected from the Awakusu-Kai. He took Shinra and Celty with him, booked a flight to America, and disappeared without a word.

Shiki had been tasked with cleaning up the mess that Shingen had left behind. That had included Izaya.

"I've been told to deal with anyone who knew about Shingen's work," Shiki told him. "And for some reason, since they dragged you into their work, that includes you. But I think it would be a waste to kill you, so I'm giving you a chance. Find Shingen for me."

It had been a test, and it had not been a choice.

So, through Shiki, he had become a part of the Awakusu-Kai.

And it had been so unnaturally easy to betray Shinra. Izaya barely even thought of the other boy, and the fact that he would be separated from the woman he loved. What the Awakusu-Kai wanted was the headless woman's body, after all, not Shingen Kishitani. They would be able to sell it for an extraordinary price on the black market.

All Izaya had been thinking at the time was: It's not like she would mind. She doesn't have a brain to process any of that pain anyway.

He did end up finding Shingen Kishitani, but by that point, Celty's body was gone. Sold, probably, to another company. But the Awakusu-Kai had exacted their punishment on Shingen anyway. There had been no news of Shinra either. Izaya had heard that much through Shiki, and then had been told to move on to his next assignment.

And as the years passed, Izaya realized that Shiki's coldness went completely through him - there was never anything warm underneath all those layers, was never any hidden kindness. There was just a swirling pit of malice and disregard, eyes that looked at Izaya and barely ever saw a human being. Izaya had never really given Shiki any indication of his feelings, but Shiki had figured it out over time anyway. Izaya supposed, in a twisted way, that this was probably why Shiki had trusted him so much. But feelings were a fickle thing, and that trust could easily be betrayed. Shiki must have known that, which meant Izaya's protection was a fickle thing as well.

Looking back on the absolute disaster that was his love life, Izaya thought he should have learned better by now.

He should have learned not to fall for brief hints of kindness, should understand that all of his value came from the information he provided and how useful he was. As a person, he was a pathetic wreck, unable to be anything more than a mask, unable to be anything more than a tool. Nobody would ever love him back. No one would ever feel as intensely for him as he did for them.

In the passenger seat of Shizuo's car, Izaya buried his head in his arms, trying to ignore the world around him, trying to hide from everything. He felt as if eyes could touch him, and if he ignored Shizuo's concerned gaze, then anything else that could hurt him would go away too.

I'll never be so stupid again, he thought. Look at where I am. Look at where it's gotten me. I've been thrown away. He had always known that it would happen, but not like this. And Earthworm had betrayed him too. So much for keeping each other's secrets.

I'll never trust anyone again, he decided. I'll never love anyone ever again.

But at that, a voice in his head burst into hysterical laughter. Too late, it said, giddy and terrified and despairing all at once. Too late, too late, too late.

Chapter Text

The sound of screaming got louder and louder, until finally the door to the room burst open. Aozaki dragged Earthworm in by the hair and threw her onto the ground. The woman collapsed to her hands and knees. Her face was bruised, her makeup smeared, and she sobbed inconsolably.

"Quiet, woman!" Aozaki snapped. Earthworm’s teeth clicked together with an audible sound. The screaming stopped, but she did not stop shivering.

In the room, Shiki and Akabayashi stared at Aozaki coldly. Both men had taken time out of their busy day for this, and neither was pleased about it. But Aozaki matched their cold glares, furious.

"The Orihara kid is the mole," He said fiercely. "He’s the one who betrayed us. And he’s the one who gave that picture to Earthworm."

"Where is he, then?" Shiki asked, cold and calm to match Aozaki’s tone. "We sent you to bring him to us. He’s nowhere in sight."

"I don’t have him," Aozaki snapped. "Couldn’t kill him either."

Shiki’s eyebrows raised, but Aozaki barrelled on. "He brought a fucking policeman with him to the meeting place. Fucking Shizuo Heiwajima."

"How badly did you mess up?" Shiki asked, his eyes narrowing. "Don’t tell me you let them both get away."

Aozaki lost his temper. "Have you ever tried facing that monster? He’s fucking bulletproof! No! He fucking grabbed the kid and brought down the entire police force on our heads! You try shooting straight in that fucked up situation!"

Shiki scoffed. "Cowards," he said under his breath. "All of you."

"What did you say?"

"You know," Akabayashi said casually. "I never said I’d be okay with murdering kids. I think that’s where I’d usually draw the line."

It was as if the entire room had frozen solid. Shiki looked as if he had just bitten down on something venomous, and was deciding whether or not to spit it out. Aozaki’s face darkened slowly as he realized that Akabayashi was here.

"You can’t back out now," Shiki said to him coldly. "You’re in too deep."

"Am I?" Akabayashi gave him a sharp, dangerous grin that held no humor in it. "Name one thing I’ve done that has betrayed Dougen’s memory. Name one act. I’ve been cleaning up your mess this entire time, Shiki. You too, Aozaki. A lot of people saw you ransacking the nightclub. Who do you think was responsible for dealing with that?"

Aozaki’s lips were beginning to draw back into a snarl. "You -"

"And Shiki, you and that boy. What the fuck were you doing with him in the first place? It’s not my place to deal with your personal life, but really? A kid?" Akabayashi’s voice was a whip crack. "Both of you have fucked up. And now what do we have? A fished up corpse, a mole, and a fucking horde of policemen right on our tails."

"You said there wouldn’t be a problem," Aozaki accused. He divided his hatred between Akabayashi and Shiki. "All we needed was a couple weeks for things to settle down, and you said you had it handled. What happened to all of that? While I’ve been busy actually running the business, you two have been fucking up all over the place."

"You mean milking our assets for all they’re worth," Shiki scoffed. "And lining your own pockets the entire time."

Aozaki was on his feet. "What did you say?"

Akabayashi flipped his cane in his hand. He seemed to consider using it.

"You know what?" he said abruptly. "Fuck this. I’m done with this shit. I’m not cleaning up this mess for you."

He flipped his cane back over, and tapped it on the ground, getting up to his feet.

"You walk out that door," Aozaki growled, "And I’ll send every last one of my men after you. I’ll kill you the next time we meet. I’ll kill any traitor -"

"Ha!" Akabayashi laughed. "Me, a traitor? With what I know? With what you’ve done? Send them all, if you want. See if you dare."

At the door, he stopped, suddenly grinning. He looked as if he had just realized something incredibly funny.

"If you see Mikiya before I do, tell him I said hi," he said. "I’m sure he’ll be very pleased with you when you meet again."

.

.

.

When Shizuo woke up, his left arm felt strangely numb. He tried to work his fingers, but nothing responded. Puzzled, he turned his head.

He was met with the sight of Izaya, fast asleep, wearing a long white shirt that was several sizes too large for him. His head was pillowed on Shizuo’s arm, and he was curled up on his side. They were on the couch. The little band of sunlight coming in from the gap in the curtains hadn’t reached him yet.

Memory came back to him in little flashes. Izaya, clinging to him for protection, too terrified to let go. The boy had barely said five words during the entire car drive back. It was like being shot at had removed some outer mask, and all that was left was this terrified shell of a child. Even after having a mug of hot chocolate shoved into his hands, even after being wrapped in blankets, he had barely responded to anything.

I’m sorry, he said, after he had spent too long staring at Shizuo’s face, as if trying to find the answer to a question there. Fuck, he had almost looked to be on the verge of tears.

You have nothing to be sorry about, Shizuo told him, but somehow he could tell that Izaya didn’t believe him. Then their gazes had caught, and held. He had wondered, distantly, if Izaya would ever smile again.

When Shizuo told him to sleep, Izaya clung to his shirt and wouldn’t let go, but this time wouldn’t look at him either. Shizuo figured that he had been too terrified to be left alone, for once afraid of the dark, and had settled in next to him.

Now, in the soft morning light, Izaya looked more relaxed than yesterday - no tense shoulders, no fingers curled into tight fists, his expression slack with unconsciousness. 

What am I going to do with you? Shizuo thought.

Izaya shifted a little uncomfortably in his sleep, and Shizuo blinked. The long bright band of sunlight from the windows had reached Izaya’s face.

He managed to extricate his arm. As soon as he did, pins and needles started up, painful stabbing sensations as blood began to flow again, and his oxygen-deprived muscles started up their complaining.

Shizuo gritted his teeth and endured it, went to the window, and closed the curtains completely.

.

Izaya did not wake up.

Shizuo went about his day as he normally would, making calls to Tom, to Kine, who did not pick up, to his parents, to tell them that he was okay. He ended up leaving a note and going out to buy groceries, but when he came back Izaya was still asleep on the couch. The slow rise and fall of his chest was the only indication that he was even alive.

In the end, Shizuo left him alone, other than covering him with blankets in case he got cold. He kept the lights off, kept the radio in the kitchen at a low volume, listening to updates as he ate.

The police caught a couple stragglers from the shooting, men who hadn’t been smart enough to blend into crowds or throw away their weapons. They were definitely Aozaki’s men, most of them career criminals that had been in the system before.

Tom called him - or rather, Shizuo finally picked up when Tom called. Most of the police knew about their investigation now, but not about Izaya.

"He’s safe," Shizuo said quietly, and heard Tom draw a relieved breath. "He seems a bit shaken, and he’s been sleeping for fourteen hours straight, but other than that he’s uninjured."

"He’s nocturnal," Tom said after a pause. "Didn’t you notice? He’s only ever up at night."

It shouldn’t have come as a shock, this realization that Izaya was pale because he never saw any sunlight, that he was comfortable walking outside at night because he always walked outside at night. But Shizuo felt stupid for not realizing it before.

"Did you check up on Kine?" he asked. "I haven’t been able to get in contact with him."

Tom was silent for so long that Shizuo began to dread the worst. The funny thing about expecting a blow was that it still hurt when that blow came.

"I found him last night, in his office," Tom said quietly. "I’m sorry, Shizuo. Kine’s dead."

.

The sound of a full-armed slap filled the room, followed by a high-pitched shriek.

The last two of his men paused at the door, giving each other hesitant looks. They very carefully did not look back at the scene behind them. Then, deciding that it was not their problem, they left, leaving Aozaki and Earthworm in the room alone.

Aozaki stared into Earthworm's face. She stared back, fearfully, unable to look away.

"You've made things very difficult for me," he told her. "You had one job, just one, lure Izaya Orihara in and deliver him to us. But then you panicked, and that made all my men panic too. They've been punished accordingly, but I still haven't decided what to do with you."

She tried to be brave. "I'm not one of your goons," she said. "You don't get to decide my fate. I pledged my allegiance with the head of the Awakusu-Kai, not you. Where is Mikiya? I demand to see him, right now! This treatment is unacceptable!"

Aozaki laughed. "I highly doubt that you’d want to see him right now. I gave you one job, and you’ve fucked up spectacularly. But -"

His eyes studied her, and a slow smile crept onto his face, one that sent cold shivers through every bone in her body.

"You might still have some uses. We’ll see, won’t we?"

.

Izaya came awake with a start, pushing all of his blankets to the floor. He looked around wildly, trying to get his bearings, until Shizuo walked in from the kitchen, drawn by the thump of something falling to the ground.

"Hey," Shizuo said. "So you’ve finally decided to wake up."

Izaya felt his heart rate double, then triple. "Where am I?" Oh god, he was a mess. What had happened? Where was he? Why was he waking up in Shizuo’s apartment? And why was Shizuo walking around in a soft white-cotton shirt that looked slept-in and comfortable, instead of his uniform? What had he done? What had he said?

"You’re at my place," Shizuo reminded him. "I’m keeping you here for the time being, since the yakuza are out looking for you. Tom called earlier with some bad news. He says your place was broken into and ransacked. It’s probably not safe to go back there."

Izaya kept staring at him, pieces of himself slowly coming back together and clicking into place. "What time is it?" He asked. "What happened?"

"It’s eight, and a lot happened," Shizuo said dryly. "You were outed as an informant. The yakuza tried to kill you. Earthworm lured both of us into a trap. They didn’t expect me there, though, so they botched the whole thing. I expect your higher-ups to be pretty pissed about that once they find out."

Izaya took a moment to process this. Shizuo leaned against the doorframe, watching him. He looked tired. The light from the kitchen made him a shadow, quiet and strangely reassuring.

"You saved me," Izaya said quietly. "Why?"

"You’re my responsibility," Shizuo replied.

"No, by bringing me here - " Izaya looked around at his surroundings, the blankets piled up on the ground, the dark living room. If he had gone home last night, he would have been found and killed. He had been saved twice. "I’m putting you in danger, just by being here."

Shizuo cut him off with an annoyed sound. "Listen, you don’t need to worry about that. I’ve been doing this for a while now; I know what I’m getting into. You, on the other hand, are allowed to ask for help once in a while. Let me help you. Stay here for the time being, and we’ll try to get this resolved as quickly as possible."

He didn’t wait for Izaya to answer. Pushing himself off the doorframe, he disappeared back into the kitchen, leaving Izaya alone with his spinning thoughts.

Wow, Izaya thought, distantly, remembering all those police reports about a yellow-haired policeman who everyone was terrified of angering. So the legendary delinquent of Raijin High school became a good person after all. Who would have thought?

Fuck, he shouldn’t get his hopes up. He shouldn’t even be thinking about this, about Shizuo. In that way. Izaya squeezed his eyes shut, trying to remember what had happened. It was no use. It was all a blur. All he had wanted was some physical warmth, some comfort, to distract him from the fact that his life as he knew it had all gone up in smoke. Maybe that was what this was. Maybe that was why he -

"Come over here," Shizuo called from the kitchen. Izaya lost his train of thought and looked up. "There’s something you need to see."

Izaya got up and made his way over to the kitchen, dreading a thousand possibilities. Had he said too much yesterday after all? Had the yakuza done something again? Had he been found out? But Shizuo was just at the kitchen table, with Izaya’s phone sitting alone next to some metal machine.

His first instinct was to freeze. Back in his old life, a life that had ended yesterday, his phone had been his lifeline. No one would dare touch it, and he would never have let it out of his sight. But dimly, Izaya remembered taking it out and setting it on the kitchen table, thinking it’s useless now. Nothing in there is worth any protection at all.

Still, habit made his voice sharp. "What did you do with my phone?"

Shizuo just pointed wordlessly to the screen. There were nearly twenty voicemails on his phone. Izaya came closer, then flinched when he saw who they were coming from - Shu Aozaki.

"Do you recognize that number?" Shizuo asked, watching him carefully. He had the phone hooked up to a recording device, a small, outdated box with a confusing array of dials. "I’m not allowed to listen to these calls without your permission, so I had to wait for you to wake up."

"It’s Aozaki," Izaya drew in a shaky breath. Fuck, he shouldn’t have fallen asleep. He should have - "They’re going to try to threaten me, to get me to show up."

"Do you want me to listen to them first?"

Izaya shook his head. He started with the oldest voicemail, and started playing it.

For a moment, there wasn’t any sound on the other end of the line.

Then, faintly, Izaya thought he heard quiet, muffled sobs, belonging to a girl. It sounded like it was far away from the speaker. Izaya’s blood went as cold as ice.

"You’re not picking up," a man’s rough voice said over the phone, much closer and much louder. There was a lazy anger in his tone, a dangerous sound. "So, unlike my other colleagues, I’ve got no mercy for you. You’ve betrayed us, and now you’re going to pay. We’ve got your sisters here, Orihara. They’re going to lose a fingernail for each call you don’t pick up from now on. I’ll make sure to record their screams for you. Here, this is just a sample."

There was a dull thunk as the phone was set down on the table. Izaya listened, horrified and fascinated, as the girl’s screams started up in the distance again, loud and shrill.

Shizuo’s reached impulsively to hit the pause button, but Izaya’s hand shot out to stop him.

"It’s fake," he said. He was amazed at how steady his voice sounded. "It’s a common scam. Those are just stock screams, they don’t have anyone there."

Mairu and Kururi were safe, he reminded himself. There was no way the yakuza had them. But the screams still chilled his blood.

They listened, in silence, for the ten or so minutes that the voicemail went on. The screaming never stopped.

Only one set of screams, Izaya thought to himself. If it were the twins, unless they had been separated, there would be two sets of screams. And if they had been separated - 

Izaya forced himself to stop thinking. When the recording ended, he automatically went to start the next one. Shizuo stopped him.

"They’re all going to be more or less the same," Shizuo said gently. He set Izaya’s hand carefully on the table, away from his phone. "We’re not going to find anything useful from the rest. Let me record this."

"Why?"

"It’s evidence," Shizuo replied. "He’s delivered himself right into our hands, with this. As soon as I give these recordings to Tom we can have an arrest warrant out."

Izaya barely heard him. It took him a while to realize that Shizuo had stopped speaking.

"I’m sorry," he said. "What was that?"

At first, he thought Shizuo would say something reassuring, but no words came. Shizuo just sat there, watching him. There was a considering light in his eyes, one that made Izaya feel like he was being seen, not just as a tool, but as a person.

Shizuo stared at him for a moment longer and Izaya shifted uncomfortably. Useless thoughts, again. Would he never learn?

Suddenly, Shizuo pulled out a phone that Izaya had never seen on him before. It was a flip-phone, simple and red. When he spoke, his voice was soft.

"Do you want to call them?"

Izaya stared at him, taken aback. "Can I?"

"They’re your family," Shizuo replied. "From what I’ve heard, they only have you."

"They have each other," Izaya muttered under his breath, but he took the phone when Shizuo handed it to him. It was a burner phone, one with those SIM cards that you could buy in gas stations. Untraceable, as long as you only used it once. Izaya looked up at Shizuo.

"Did you buy this for me? Or was it on the police department’s budget?"

"Don’t worry about it."

After another moment of hesitation, Izaya dialed in a number he had memorized by heart.

In the silence that followed, Izaya couldn’t help but be incredibly aware of Shizuo’s eyes on him. He hadn’t expected Shizuo to know about burner phones. He wondered if Shizuo knew how often he had been given burner phones, for one-off jobs or to contact people on their own terms. He had never been given one just to call his sisters before.

Before he could start thinking about useless things again, the call connected, and Mairu’s voice came through the other side. "Hello, who is this?"

Izaya couldn’t stop himself from smiling at the sound of her voice. Some sliver of cold inside him melted, where it had been lodged in his chest. The relief swept over him like a warm tide, relaxing all his tense muscles, making him feel slightly giddy.

"Hey Mairu," he lilted into the phone. Shizuo was watching him, his elbow on the kitchen table, leaning on his hand, but for once Izaya didn’t mind having an eavesdropper on his call. He almost laughed. So many things had changed overnight.

"Didn’t I tell you not to pick up calls from unknown numbers? I could have been a scammer, you know? ‘Help, help, your brother is at gunpoint right now, and I’ll shoot him if you don’t pay up’. What would you do then?"

"I don’t have money," Mairu said instantly. "Iza-nii? Is that you?" There was a clatter, and then another voice came over the line, quieter but just as insistent.

"Gunpoint?"

"I’m kidding," Izaya laughed. "I guess I’m just doing an experiment, seeing if you two have been following my instructions. Clearly you haven’t been, or else you wouldn’t have picked up."

There was another brief clatter. "Well," Mairu said. "If you really are being held at gunpoint, we’re sorry Iza-nii. It was nice knowing you."

"It was nice knowing you too," Izaya replied. He caught Shizuo smiling at him, realized it was because he himself was smiling, and hurried to make his expression blank.

"Listen," he said into the phone. He gripped it a little bit tighter, and lowered his voice, even though Shizuo would have been able to hear everything anyway. "Stay with your tour group. Don’t wander off on your own. Don’t follow any strangers. Don’t pick up any phone calls from unknown numbers unless they come one minute apart, three times."

"Game?" Kururi asked, with a slight hint of exasperation in her tone.

"Yes," Izaya replied with exaggerated pride. "Good girl. If you pick up before the third call, I’ll win. Otherwise, you win. Sounds fun?"

"Sure," and after that, Mairu took over the phone, and began to talk about how their trip was going, the places they had been to and the food they were eating. Izaya let her blabber on for a long while, smiling at the sound of her voice.

Kururi interjected the occasional word, when Mairu forgot a detail or a place they had gone to. Eventually, however, Izaya started to lose the train of the conversation, as Mairu and Kururi started to talk to each other, in their own little language, about the things they had enjoyed doing during their trip.

After they had burst into a fit of giggles about something Aoba had apparently done, Izaya decided it was probably time to end the call.

"Do you remember the rules?" he asked.

"Pick up on the third call, one minute apart. Stay with the group. Don’t follow strangers."

"Good enough," Izaya told them. He hesitated for a moment and glanced up at Shizuo. "Love you," he said. "Bye."

"Love you!" the two of them replied easily, even though they never signed off this way. Izaya ended the call.

The ambient sound of the machines around them made a low hum throughout the room, but other than that, neither of them spoke for a long time. Izaya was lost in his thoughts, trying to sort out what had come over him.

They’ve never said that to me before, Izaya realized. He had been looking for love for so long, only to be met with lies and shallow feelings that barely qualified as ‘like’. To hear his sisters say love you as easily as breathing, as an automatic response, was incredibly strange.

Izaya put the phone down into his lap, and drew in a surprised breath. He suddenly felt like crying, although he didn’t know why. Things really did change overnight, and he had no idea where he would end up. 

"What’s wrong? I thought that went well."

Izaya shook his head harshly, but that just made it worse. It was hard to breathe. He brought his hands up to his face, and was shocked by arms suddenly wrapping around him. Shizuo had scooted forward in his chair, and now his chin settled on top of Izaya’s head. His arms were so large that Izaya felt like he could disappear in that embrace, could hide away and never be found again.

"Thank you," Izaya whispered, and then the tears came. He managed to keep them silent, though, and with his face hidden in Shizuo’s chest, there was still the chance that Shizuo wouldn’t be able to tell. "I needed that." He didn’t know whether he meant the call or the hug, but then Shizuo squeezed him tighter, and the rest of Izaya’s thoughts flew out of his head.

He realized that his tears were soaking through Shizuo’s shirt. He realized that Shizuo had probably expected this to happen in the first place. A burst of shame streaked through him. I’m not a child. I don’t need this.

But he couldn’t bring himself to push Shizuo away. He wished desperately for the cold detachment that he had grown used to, the cloak of indifference that had made everything that happened to him seem small and insignificant. But the gentle motion of Shizuo’s fingers carding through his hair did things to his composure that death and bullets had not, so for the first time in forever, Izaya let himself cry.

Chapter Text

Shizuo suddenly had someone to come home to.

He hadn't realized, until now, how much he had hated coming back to a dark and empty apartment. Before, he used to turn the TV on just to have some background noise, even though he only had shitty channels. And when the apartment got too quiet for him, or when he needed to not be alone anymore, he would wind up drinking at Simon's bar down the street, and wasting time and effort on strangers who never stayed.

He had never realized until now how different an apartment felt when there was another person living there. Little things changed - the remote would move from one end of the couch to another, things would disappear from the fridge, the air would taste different, the suffocating loneliness disappeared.

Now, when he came through the door, he could yell out “I'm home!” and instead of silence greeting him, there would be an off-handed “welcome back!” from the living room. Izaya would sometimes poke his head into the doorway and ask what was for dinner. Shizuo would hang up his coat and realize that it wasn't cold.

In the first few days, Izaya had constantly complained about freezing, until finally they had negotiated setting the thermostat to sixty-eight degrees. Shizuo still suspected that Izaya set the temperature to something higher when he was away, but he silently resigned himself to the higher heating bill. It wouldn't be that much anyway, and before long he had gotten used to it.

“I'm starving,” Izaya whined, hanging off of the doorframe, keeping the rest of his body in the living room where it was warmer. He flashed Shizuo a quicksilver grin. “Guess what? I made rice already.”

“You made what?” Shizuo asked in alarm. He hurriedly hung up his coat. “Please don't tell me you broke my rice cooker.”

Izaya shot him a scandalized look, all put-on hurt and feigned pouting. “I'm not stupid. I figured it out eventually.”

Shizuo ruffled his hair as he passed by, knocking Izaya off the doorframe.

“If you broke it, you're buying the next one,” he warned.

As it turned out, Izaya had not broken Shizuo's rice cooker. Shizuo didn't bother to hide his sigh of relief. He closed the lid over the steaming white rice, and Izaya gave him a triumphant “ha!

Izaya was still hovering around him, like an annoying little fly, grinning madly. “What did you get?” he chirped, then caught sight of the plastic bag of groceries that Shizuo had set down on the table. He zipped over to it as soon as it tipped over, and within moments was pulling out its contents. Shizuo fought the stupid urge to hold him down for a little while, to stop him from moving around so much.

“Wash your hands first,” he ordered. “We're making curry.”

.

The pot boiled over cheerfully, rattling its glass lid off of its hinges, spilling bubbles over its sides in a froth of steam that sizzled loudly once it reached the stove.

Shit,” Izaya yelped, lunging out of his chair. “It's burning! Shizuo, what do I do?”

“Take the lid off and pour some water on it!” Shizuo yelled from the living room.

“Won't that ruin the sauce?”

No, it's just water!”

The kitchen became a frenzy of activity as Shizuo came in, found Izaya gingerly filling up a glass with water at the sink. Shizuo rushed to the stove, took off the lid, and coughed as the spices all billowed up in a cloud of steam and made his eyes water.

“Here,” Izaya said, and tossed the water into the pot from about three feet away.

Later, with the crisis averted, somewhat, and with the pot back down to a simmering boil and with the spills cleaned up and the glass swept up neatly into the trash, Shizuo looked at Izaya and said: “Maybe you should be the one cutting stuff after all, and I'll make the curry sauce.”

“Sounds good,” Izaya said a little shakily. “I'm good with knives.”

In the end, the curry turned out great - a glossy sheen of sauce, perfectly cut potatoes and cubes of beef over freshly made white rice, all steaming gently on a plate. Shizuo set both plates on the table, Izaya found the silverware.

When it was time to eat, though, Izaya hesitated.

“So, this is a little late,” he said. “But I've actually never eaten this before.”

“It's just curry,” Shizuo said past a hot mouthful, already eating. “You made it. You know what went into it.”

“I know,” Izaya poked at it suspiciously.

“Trust me, it's good.”

Izaya took a careful bite, and his expression cleared into amazement. “Oh, it is pretty good.”

“Thank god,” Shizuo muttered under his breath. He got up to get some more rice. He was starving. He felt as if he could eat five plates of this stuff.

When he came back, Izaya was holding his sleeve up to his nose. His eyes were scrunched tightly closed, and his face was red. His plate was clean, but he looked like he was in a massive amount of pain. Tears were streaming down his face.

Shizuo set his plate down and sighed.

“Too spicy?” he asked.

Shit,” Izaya spluttered through his tears. “I think my tongue is going to fall off.”

Shizuo laughed. “It's not going to fall off, don't be silly.”

“That's a lie,” Izaya said, muffled. His voice had become a plaintive wail. “Spicy foods destroy your taste buds. The reason you have a high spice tolerance is because your taste buds have been destroyed.”

“I'll get you milk,” Shizuo said reassuringly, and stood up to go to the refrigerator. He poured a glass of milk as Izaya continued to complain, and set it down in front of him. “This should help with the spiciness.”

Izaya gave him a baleful stare. “The last thing you fed me burned off my tastebuds. How can I ever trust you again?”

“You brat,” Shizuo pushed the milk toward him. “Just drink it. Trust me, milk is better than water in this case - ”

Izaya didn't wait for him to finish. In the next instant, he had grabbed the glass of milk and was gulping down its contents gratefully.

“Don't just -” Shizuo sighed with exasperation. “Don't just gulp it down. The whole point is to hold it in your mouth for a while, to counteract the capsaicin.”

Izaya looked down at his empty glass, and then held it out to Shizuo for a refill. He looked at Shizuo miserably.

“Get it yourself,” Shizuo said.

“Get it for me,” Izaya countered. Shizuo was almost impressed by the audacity of it all. He crossed his arms, stared back at Izaya impassively. Izaya's face went, if possible, even redder.

“Please?”

Shizuo sighed and went to go get the milk again.

.

.

.

“Try this on.”

Shizuo threw him a sweater, light blue and puffy-looking. He was wading, knee-deep, in the closet of his bedroom. Boxes of winter clothing were opened all around him, spilling their contents onto the white carpeted floor.

Izaya looked down at the sweater in his hands, almost surprised by the fact that it was there. It felt like it was made out of wool, and when he brought it up to his face, it had the comforting smell of well-worn fabric and particle dust. “Are you sure this is okay?”

“You were the one who kept complaining about the cold.” Shizuo sat back on his heels, surveying the destruction around him. He gave Izaya a brief, fond smile. “And besides, this gives me an excuse to dig out all of my winter clothing. I needed to do that sooner or later.”

Izaya pulled the sweater over his head and found - unsurprisingly - that it was too large for him. The hem went all the way to his thighs, and the sleeves went several inches past his fingertips.

“Too big?” Shizuo shrugged helplessly. “That's the smallest one I have.” He began rolling up the sleeves, folding the cuff back up until Izaya's hands were free.

Izaya found himself staring down at the top of Shizuo's hair - blonde, with just the slightest hint of brown showing at the roots. He lost all of the words that he had been about to say.

I'm not a kid, he remembered at last. But by then Shizuo was already done, and had turned back to the closet to dig out more boxes.

Not all of the boxes had clothes. One, to Izaya's surprise, contained stacks and stacks of notebooks and textbooks. He bent down to examine it as Shizuo started packing away some stuff.

“Oh,” Shizuo said, noticing what he was looking at. “I keep meaning to donate those. They're from school.”

“Raijin High, right?” Izaya pulled out a thick, glossy yearbook.

“How do you - ” Shizuo's words trailed off as Izaya opened it up. “Right,” he muttered under his breath. “I keep forgetting. You already know everything about me.”

“Not everything,” Izaya corrected, flipping through the pages. “For some reason, it was really difficult to get a picture of you. Granted, kids didn't bring their cell phones to school back then, but ...”

“I'm not in there,” Shizuo said.

Izaya paused and looked up, his fingers going still mid-flip. “You're not?”

Shizuo gave him a searching look, then went back to putting the boxes away. “I missed picture day,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I wasn't in any clubs, either. My parents got that for me, as a gift, but to be honest I don't remember much of that year.”

Izaya closed the book slowly. Something, some instinct told him not to push it, to stop, that this was dangerous territory. It was the same gut feeling that told him when there was more to a story.

“Why?” he asked. “Were you too busy being a delinquent?”

“No,” Shizuo replied dryly. “I was too busy being hooked up to an IV at a hospital.”

Izaya flushed, horrified with himself. It was one thing to pry when it was his job, but another thing entirely when he was just being nosy. He hadn't thought about it before, the fact that Shizuo must have hated missing school so much because of his injuries, must have hated being the target of gangs and bullies that went after him simply because of his famous strength. Hell, Izaya had gone to him because of those rumors. It must have gotten incredibly tiring.

“I'm sorry,” Izaya said stiffly. “It wasn't - I wasn't -”

Shizuo took one look at his face and burst out laughing.

“It's okay,” he said, coming over and taking the yearbook out of Izaya's hands. He flipped through it a little, then put it back. “It's all good now. I put my fair share of people in the hospital too, all because of my stubborn pride.”

“How … honest of you.”

“I have no reason to lie,” Shizuo took Izaya's sleeve, which had come undone, and began rolling it up again. “I've made a lot of mistakes. I've hurt a lot of people. When I was your age, I thought I might never see a peaceful day again in my life. Gangs were coming after me all the time, people were seriously trying to kill me. I thought - to be honest - a part of me thought I deserved to die.”

Izaya looked up, lightning-startled and suddenly wide-awake, his skin tingling as if Shizuo had touched him, but Shizuo was still looking down, fiddling with his sleeve, making sure that it would hold tight. Suddenly, it was a struggle to breathe, like all the air he could suck in was coming through a straw that was too thin.

“I - I didn't know,” he said honestly. I had no idea. He suddenly felt dizzy with the revelation, and only got dizzier when Shizuo finally looked at him, and smiled.

“Well,” he said. “Now you do.”

.

.

.

"Next time you get shot," Tom said, "Remember to invite me, okay?"

The pavement was wet with rain, the sky was patchy with clouds, but Shizuo half expected lightning to strike and singing frogs to start raining down into the muddy street, because Tom had just made a joke.

After he was done staring in total shock, Shizuo laughed so loudly that the other people on the street scattered in surprise and stared.

“What?” Tom asked, annoyed. “I was serious.”

"I know,” Shizuo said. “But hell no. You're not bulletproof."

Tom groaned. "Just because that stupid rumor has been going around for the past few days doesn't mean its true. I'm your partner. You should have had backup."

Shizuo sobered quickly. "You're right, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking."

"At least you're both safe," Tom rounded the corner into a seedy-looking street, with big neon signs that flashed out into the main street, advertising from the murky darkness of the alleyway even though it was still midday. "Did Izaya say if he remembered anything?"

"No," Shizuo shook his head. "He still can't remember the specifics. It seems like there was a picture involved. That was the reason why that woman was so angry with him."

“It's not a big deal,” Tom said easily. “Most people can't remember times of extreme stress, or block it out afterwards.”

“I don't blame him,” Shizuo said wryly. He would not want to relive that moment ever again, even in his memories.

The crowd slowly thinned out as they continued walking deeper into the alleyway. Tom shot Shizuo a concerned frown. "Have you been getting enough sleep? You look tired."

"I'm fine," Shizuo laughed. "I just have a nocturnal brat running around all night when I'm trying to sleep."

“I see,” Tom gave him a sympathetic shrug. “What has he been up to?”

"Reading, mostly. He found a bunch of my old textbooks. I told him that, since he skipped school, he might as well catch up on some of what he missed."

"I'm making him fix his sleep schedule by going to sleep one hour earlier and waking up one hour earlier each day. He's started to talk a bit more."

They reached an ugly wooden door, with one of the most unwelcoming, unused handles Shizuo had seen in a long while. Ignoring it, he reached up and rapped his knuckles against the door.

“That's good,” Tom said, just as the door opened and a woman poked her head out.

To his surprise, Shizuo recognized the woman who opened the door. She recognized him too. An expression of pure panic filled her expression, her eyes going wide.

"Fuck," Earthworm swore. She looked awful, in far worse shape than when Shizuo had last seen her. There was an uncovered bruise on one side of her face, and her hair hung down messily to her shoulders. She was no longer wearing the purple dress, just a white blouse and a long skirt, but her features were instantly recognizable.

"Hi," he said, with all the false cheery friendliness he could muster. "I'm here to arrest Shu Aozaki. Do you happen to know if he's in today?"

The door slammed shut in his face. He heard the click of a lock being turned, pounding footsteps as the woman ran. She was quick to run, that one.

He looked over to Tom. Tested his fist against the palm of his hand. “Can I?”

Tom eyed him warily. “Will it help take the edge off your temper?”

“Yeah.”

Tom shrugged. “Then sure,” he said generously.

With a grin, Shizuo smashed the door off of its hinges.

.

Izaya lay on the carpeted floor, staring up at the ceiling, counting each beat of his heart.

Sixty seconds. One hundred and twenty four beats. He rolled over, came back up sprawled on the white carpet, and took a deep breath. He began counting again.

The apartment was silent, with the kind of emptiness that came from no one being at home at two in the afternoon. Working people with their working hours. Would he become one of them, eventually?

Izaya kept counting, even though he had lost track of time. His heartbeat still wasn't slowing. Fuck.

He used to be able to do this. It was a trick that had come in handy more than once, whenever Shiki tried to make him nervous, whenever he had been in danger. He had been able to make his heartbeat slow with conscious will, had been able to see the world slow down around him, come into sharper clarity.

Izaya sat up abruptly. It was no use. He was panicking, and he couldn't stop it.

Too late to panic now, he thought to himself. I've already fallen in love. Now I just need to figure how the fuck to fall out of it.

With that thought in mind, he began searching through the entire apartment, from top to bottom, leaving no cabinet unopened and no corner untouched.

He already knew the layout of the living room inside and out, had already inspected all of its cabinets and bookshelves, so he started with Shizuo's bedroom.

He found a laundry basket full of his clothes, mostly spare police uniforms, then sweatpants and jeans and plain white shirts. Another closet revealed fancier looking outfits, a bartender's uniform, an official-looking suit, dark slacks that looked like they had only been worn once. He moved on to the cabinets next to the bed, found socks and shirts and underwear organized semi-messily into their drawers, found a lot more ties than he'd expected, some still wrapped in plastic and untouched. Gifts, maybe, that had never been opened.

Feeling guilty, Izaya inspected the desk, a simple metallic plastic thing, with unopened letters and junk mail scattered on it, bits of ticket stubs and grocery store receipts. Some of them were from more than half a year ago.

He wasn't sure what he was looking for. A ring? A photograph of a beautiful woman? Something incriminating? There was nothing of the sort here.

Then, in a small drawer next to the nightstand, he found a picture in a fancy frame, shoved into the back corner. It turned out to be a family photo. Shizuo, younger and dark-haired, next to a boy with a slightly rounder face and slanted eyes, a woman with kind eyes and a man with a strong jaw.

His heart slammed painfully in his chest. He was surprised that his fingers weren't shaking.

Despite himself, he pulled the photo out of the drawer. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he studied Shizuo's face. He was good looking even as a teen, all solemn and serious. No hint of a smile. Izaya almost wanted to laugh. It seemed that not much had changed.

.

Aozaki, surprisingly, turned out to be a coward.

He was a rough-looking man with knife scars all across his face. Shizuo caught him fleeing out the back door, wild-eyed and panicked. He stopped dead when he saw that Tom was blocking the exit. Tom stood there imposingly, drawing himself up to his full height, face as expressionless as stone. Aozaki briefly seemed to be considering pulling out his gun. In the end, however, his cowardice won, and he dropped his hands to his sides.

“What do you want with me?” He rasped, eyes darting from Shizuo to the exit and back to Shizuo again, as if he could somehow teleport past those few feet and through Tom and disappear into that shrinking sliver of freedom.

Shizuo ignored him in favor of Earthworm, who had collapsed in a corner, holding her arms around herself. She was weeping silently. He knelt down next to her. A week ago, he had hated her, a little, but now he could find nothing but pity for her.

“Are you being held captive here?”

She nodded shakily.

“And this is the man who was holding you captive?” Shizuo was beginning to get a bad feeling about this, one that had started ever since he had seen her by the door. “Has he threatened to hurt you?”

She nodded again, tears spilling down her cheeks. “He - he told me to scream,” she said hoarsely. “Or he would do horrible things to me.”

The bad feeling solidified into certainty, and then into anger.

“Don't listen to that bitch!” Aozaki was yelling furiously, as if the volume of his voice could drown out hers. “She's a liar! She'll say anything to get me in trouble! Don't listen to her!”

Shizuo held out a hand. When Earthworm reached out to take it, he collared her wrist with a handcuff.

“We'll have to bring you into custody as well,” he explained. “Last time I saw you, you seemed to be leading one of your friends into certain death. I hope you don't mind if we ask you a couple questions.”

Earthworm gaped at him, bug-eyed and speechless, until he attached the other ring to a nearby pole.

“Tell me if that gets too uncomfortable,” he said, then stood up to go deal with Aozaki.

Aozaki had fallen silent. He hadn't tried to make a run for the door, but Shizuo knew how he wanted to.

“Now,” Shizuo said pleasantly. This was the fucker that had made Izaya cry? This woman-beating, sniveling, cowardly low-life?

Aozaki cringed back as Shizuo advanced on him. “You - you have the wrong person,” he said. “That - it's all that Izaya Orihara's fault!

Shizuo stopped in surprise. Aozaki took that as a positive sign, and continued in a rush. “I don't know what he's told you, but he's a liar too! Don't believe anything he says. He works for Shiki! That's it - he's Shiki's informant! His little errand boy, his pet. He'll do anything for Shiki, even make up evidence to frame me. Whatever he's told you about me, he's wrong.”

It was almost too much to believe. Here was a large man, a career criminal, folding over like a house of cards, trying to throw someone half his age under the bus. Shizuo had never felt so sickened by anybody in his life.

“You know, half of the Awakusu-Kai think that he's gay,” Aozaki said with a nasty smile, gleefully thinking that his ploy was working. “In fact, I bet Shiki has been banging him on the side, the pair of filthy -“

Shizuo remembered very little of what happened next, but found himself kneeling over Aozaki's body. The world had tilted. They were both on the ground, his knuckles were bloody, Aozaki's nose was smashed in -

“I'd be careful if I were you,” Shizuo said calmly. He drew his fist back. “I listened to your voicemails, you sick - ”

Aozaki's fist took him by surprise. His head went back, and he was only spared from biting his tongue because he had his face contorted into a snarl. There was an animal-like rage consuming him, overwhelming him, just like the old days. When Shizuo wiped the blood and saliva away from his mouth, he felt his lips draw back in a feral smile.

Aozaki was scrambling, fingers digging into Shizuo's face, scrabbling for purchase. It was all frightened-animal instinct, backed into a corner, trying to get away. Shizuo swatted Aozaki's hands out of the way, and in the next moment, had the man facedown. His elbows dug into Aozaki's back, and with his other hand, he dug out another pair of handcuffs.

“You're under arrest,” Shizuo said calmly. His blood was pounding in his ears. An ocean to drown out everything, even pain. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way, it's up to you.”

All the fight went out of Aozaki, or it might have been the pain, finally slicing through all that adrenaline.

“Good,” Shizuo said. Then, he bent down, kept his voice low enough so that only Aozaki could hear. “You're going away for a long time, Shu Aozaki. There's no place in the sun left for you. But if you ever get out, remember this: If you ever go near Izaya Orihara again, I'll kill you.”

.

Flopping backwards onto the bed, Izaya let the photograph fall to his side and stared up at the ceiling again. He counted his heartbeats. His thoughts drifted.

He felt jittery, and strangely warm. It smelled like Shizuo here, in this room. A little like coffee and smoke and a bit of aftershave. It made him feel safe. 

Everything about Shizuo made him feel safe. His apartment, such an unlikely hiding place that no one would think of it. His rough-edged sincerity, too painfully honest to be anything but. His gentle acceptance, even though a month ago Izaya never would have seen him as gentle. But there it was - fingers against his cheek, checking for burns, soft, fond smiles when he thought Izaya wasn't looking.

It had started after Shizuo had pulled him out of the nightclub, like something had happened in the vague blurry transition from night to day, and Izaya had fallen asleep to the gentle touch of Shizuo's hand on his back, lulling him to sleep.

A startling shiver went through him. Shit, they had slept together, hadn't they? On the couch, when they got back. That wasn't a trick of his imagination, right? That wasn't something a police officer would normally do, right? A spark of hope, more painful than the despair from before, flared to life in his chest.

Maybe Shizuo could like him back after all. Izaya closed his eyes, tried to think back on all the times Shizuo had touched him. Maybe there had been something more in those embraces, something more than reassuring protection. He could feel Shizuo's fingers on his face again, warm and gentle. He hadn't been touched like that in forever. Strangers didn't do that to each other, did they? Whenever Earthworm had touched him, it had felt cold and unpleasant, but Shizuo's touch had been - nice.

Izaya burrowed under the covers, blushing, his face pressed to the pillow. He shouldn't get his hopes up. This was all just him fantasizing about the best case scenario. Reality wouldn't be so kind.

But still - he lost himself in imagining what it would be like, Shizuo returning his feelings, or even half of them. Maybe Izaya wouldn't be able to get his love, but maybe something in between, something like caring. That should be enough, right? Just, someone to hold him when it got too cold, someone that would care if he lived or died. 

He was warm now, too warm, but Izaya didn't move. The heat trickled through him slowly, making him feel sleepy and relaxed.

The pillow in his arms was soft but firm, and it had the right width to seem like a person. Izaya squeezed it tighter, without thinking, and for a while he just rocked back and forth, the pillow between his knees, imagining the heat of Shizuo's body instead.

He wasn't sure why he suddenly felt so restless, like something had buried itself deep under his skin and was writhing inside him, warm and burning and coiled and hungry. Trying to soothe that sudden hunger, he moved one arm away from the pillow to press his fingers against his stomach, slowly tracing downward.

This was insane. This was complete madness. He had never felt like this before, not while thinking of another person, longing for their touch. A flare of satisfaction ran through him at the way the pillow shifted in between his knees. Suddenly it felt too real, and it felt too good to stop.

Surrounded by Shizuo's scent, he felt so dizzy that he could barely open his eyes. He was shivering despite the warmth, his skin feeling too tight, a pressure building up in his stomach. A whimper escaped him as he wrapped his hand around himself under the loose sweatpants that he borrowed from Shizuo. 

Slowly, he stroked up, and at the sensation curled up tighter around the pillow. His stomach clenched with anticipation, and he whimpered again, unable to stop the sound from leaving him. Everything was burning, hungry, dizzying heat, too much for him to handle, too much -

With a gasp, he cried out, his eyes squeezing shut, his toes curling as he came.

For an eternity, he just lay there, panting into the pillow, counting his heartbeats, listening to them slow.

He could feel the sweat gathering at his back, where his body had trapped the heat into the mattress. When he opened his eyes, he was greeted by the harsh ceiling light overhead. It seemed cold, and impartial, an unforgiving witness to what he had just done. The cold air hit him finally, and Izaya shivered.

Fuck, he thought. Fuck, I'm so fucking screwed.

.

.

.

When he heard the latch of the door being turned, Izaya bolted upright. He had somehow fallen asleep on the couch, even though he had been trying to stay awake all day. There were books scattered all around him, and blankets in a messy pile at his feet. From the sound of the footsteps coming in through the door, Shizuo had come back.

“I'm home!” he called out.

Izaya jumped to his feet. He suddenly felt nervous and jittery. His throat closed up around the words “welcome back!”

He had cleaned the entire apartment in a fit of guilt, afterwards. He'd done the laundry, mopped the kitchen, wiped down the stove and vacuumed the living room. But still, none of it prepared him for Shizuo's return.

Shizuo came into the living room, looking chilly and windswept, and slightly worried. All of Izaya's thoughts flew out the window once he caught sight of Shizuo's face.

There was a new bruise on the left side of his face, red and shiny, recently made. A gash ran its way almost from the corner of his eye to his cheek, a thin line that had been papered over with a bandaid that didn't even cover most of it. There was a bruise on his chin, too, purple and slightly darker. He looked as if he had gotten into a fight.

Shit,” Izaya nearly stumbled on his way over to him, hands going to Shizuo's face, gingerly inspecting these new wounds. “What happened? Who did this to you?”

Shizuo grinned at him, amused. The injuries didn't seem to bother him, or at least he didn't show it. “Hello there,” he said. “I was beginning to wonder where you had gone.”

Izaya's mind was still racing. He studied the gash on Shizuo's face. It looked as if it had been cut by a ring on somebody's finger. The wounds looked like they were all were from fists. He had gotten into a fist fight.

“Don't tell me,” he said, heart sinking. “You got into a fight with one of the yakuza members. Who was it? Akabayashi? Aozaki?”

“Aozaki,” Shizuo answered. He let Izaya do whatever he wanted, leaning a hand against the doorframe. His grin suddenly had an edge to it. “We found Earthworm with him too. They're both under arrest right now. We got him, Izaya. That sonofabitch is locked up now.”

For an instant, he looked just like the monster of Ikebukuro that Izaya had heard about - tall, fierce, dangerous, with a bloodthirsty grin and a presence that loomed over an entire city and swallowed all of his challengers in his wake. Aozaki must have caved instantly under that kind of pressure. One of the top executives of the Awakusu-Kai, and he hadn't stood a chance.

Izaya could almost feel Shizuo's presence on his skin. With the cut on his face and blood so close to the skin, he looked like he must have in his younger days, when he was wilder, the source of all those rumors Izaya had heard about. How long had it been since Shizuo had last gotten into a fight, let alone a fistfight? Something must have gone terribly wrong.

Izaya felt a sudden lump in his throat. "You got hurt because of me."

"A lot of people got hurt because of you," Shizuo said bluntly, still smiling. "I intend to make you live long enough to make it up to all of them."

"Including you?"

"Including me."

"How?" Izaya tried. Suddenly he felt dizzy again, with the magnitude of it all. Shizuo, with his overwhelming presence, doing all this for him, when he didn't deserve it. He thought of what he had done today, and guilt stabbed through him. "I'm not a good person. I don't know how to be. How do I even begin to make up for all the bad I've done?"

"Easy," Shizuo grinned at him, eyes bright and alive and incredibly magnetic. "You just start with being nice to me, like tending to my wounds. I heal pretty fast, but this cut still stings."

"Okay," Izaya couldn't help but grin back shakily, caught up in Shizuo's eyes and his smile. "You should be pretty easy to deal with. After all, all I did to you was get you beaten up."

"Oh, I'm easy, aren't I? That's not what you say to someone who just got beaten up for you. First thing to becoming a good person is to have good manners. Now, what do you say, Izaya?"

“I love you,” Izaya said.

“You're welcome,” Shizuo replied, then froze.

Chapter Text

The problem with Shizuo was that he had never been in love.

It wasn’t actually that strange, if one thought about it.

His first experience with it had been in school - girls who confessed to him on dares, terrified, then ran away in tears. He himself had been too distracted by physical pain and anger to really focus on anyone else. His only friends had been people like Tom or Kadota, people with more bravery than sense. It was hard seeing anyone in a positive light, back then.

After that, he had tried to make up for lost time, tried to put his life back together, get himself back on track. He thought that physical affection was a guaranteed way to get close to someone. He jumped into relationships too fast, with anyone who showed the slightest bit of interest in him. Women who tried too hard to be intrigued, but flinched away from him. Freaks who liked getting hurt, masochists who thought that because they had heard the rumors, they knew everything about him.

Then, after he had wised up to that, it was an endless string of faceless one-night stands, in an effort to fill a seemingly ever present hole in his life.

It hadn’t worked.

All of his experiences with love ended up being painful and bitter. He had learned his lesson, though. Or, he thought he had.

He was all too aware of how easy it was to say “I love you” by accident, without meaning to. He knew how easy it was to think you needed someone, especially when you were alone, and scared.

In front of him, Izaya’s eyes widened, his face draining of color, and the half gasp he made rang in Shizuo’s ears. I didn’t mean to say that, was written all over his face.

He thought back on everything that had happened since he met Izaya, the interrogation, the shooting, all of their meetings that had started out as work-related and then shifted into something not. He realized with a sinking feeling that it was probably the first time anyone had ever shown Izaya anything resembling warmth or caring. It would be easy to latch on to that, and to be afraid of losing it.

After all, he had been the same.

Shizuo reached out, pulling Izaya into a hug.

“It’s okay,” he said gently. “I get it. I’m not going to kick you out just because Aozaki’s locked up. The rest of his people are still on the streets, and the investigation isn’t over yet. You can stay here for as long as you need to.”

Izaya stiffened in his arms but Shizuo just squeezed him tighter. “I know how you feel,” he said. “But it’s alright. You don’t have to give me anything in return.”

Shizuo just held Izaya close for a while, but when he moved back Izaya didn’t look at him. Deciding to give him some space, Shizuo went into the bathroom to get the first aid kit and take care of the cuts on his face and hands himself.

For the rest of the day Izaya would only give him one word replies and during dinner he still wouldn’t look at Shizuo.

.

The next morning, he found Izaya standing outside his bedroom door. It made him stop short, as if he had come face-to-face with a two-headed dragon, breathing fire and poison. Not many things scared him, but for a brief moment, the look on Izaya’s face did.

“I love you,” Izaya said. His glare did not waver, and he raised his chin defiantly, as if to say see? Not a spur of the moment thing.

Shizuo blinked. “Good morning, Izaya.”

.

“You have to stop calling me that.”

“What, Shizu-chan?”

Shizuo covered Izaya’s face with his palm, and pushed him away from the hot stovetop. “Get off me,” he said irritably. “I’m cooking.” When Izaya didn’t respond, he snapped: “Don’t just ignore me whenever you feel like it! Down, Izaya!”

Izaya buried his face in Shizuo’s arm and just clung on tighter. “The same goes for you,” he said, his voice muffled and strangely subdued. “You can’t just ignore me too. What about your answer to my love confession? It wasn’t a joke, you know.”

Shizuo ignored the streak of panic that ran through him, and finally managed to set down the hot pot on the table.

When he spoke, he desperately tried to keep his voice steady. “Stop messing around, Izaya. Sit down already. Do you want breakfast or not?”

He was excruciatingly aware of the way Izaya stiffened with rejection and disappointment. His heart hammered in his chest. He couldn’t deal with this. It was too much.

Sit,” he ordered instead, glaring. “Or you’re not getting any food at all.”

Izaya huffed. “Fine,” There was no other word for it - he flounced over to the dinner table and threw himself into his chair. When he crossed his arms, he looked every bit the bratty teenager that Shizuo remembered being.

.

He got back home in the evening, and instantly knew that something was wrong. When he opened the door there was no light coming from under the door to the living room. When he called out, he got no answer.

The apartment was empty.

Shizuo toed off his shoes and hung his coat on the hanger. Izaya’s shoes were gone. He padded quietly into the living room and the kitchen, checked the bath and bedroom. Everything was dark and quiet. There was no sign of Izaya anywhere.

His first instinct, like a punch to the gut, was panic. Then, on some level, resignation. He wondered if he hadn’t been expecting this. He had rejected Izaya after all. No, worse, he had ignored him. Maybe that had driven him away. It would only be appropriate, for Shizuo to destroy this small happiness that he had finally achieved.

He thought about calling Tom, informing him that he screwed up, that he couldn’t protect one single kid, and that it wasn’t the Yakuza that was the biggest threat in the end, but Shizuo himself. The thought of Izaya, out there and alone in the city, made him incredibly uneasy.

He slid open the door to the balcony and almost took a step outside, then stopped in his tracks.

Izaya was lying on his back, on the bare ground. Stretched out, his body took up nearly the entire length of the balcony. His shoes were next to him. He startled upright when the door opened.

They stared at each other in silence. Shizuo folded his arms and leaned heavily into the doorway, trying not to collapse with relief.

“What are you doing?” he asked at last. Izaya considered him for a moment before lying back down.

He nodded to the empty space beside him. “Come over here,” he said quietly. “You’ll see.”

After a moment of hesitation, Shizuo complied. He knelt down and Izaya shifted aside to give him some space. The concrete floor of the balcony was cold against his back, and a bit damp from the afternoon rain. Shizuo didn’t care, though. He had been out in these clothes all day.

When he looked up, he saw what Izaya had been staring at. Straight overhead was the moon, bright and round and a soft golden-white. With skies this clear, Shizuo could make out the individual craters on its surface, little pockets of darkness that were dotted all over it, stars sparkling around it.

“Is this why you came outside?” Shizuo asked softly.

Izaya didn’t reply.

Shizuo let the silence fall. It was strangely peaceful, staring up at that beautiful moon, letting the sounds of the night wash over him. Izaya was a steady, warm presence beside him. Shizuo could have closed his eyes and fallen asleep right there.

“Today’s the Autumn equinox,” Izaya said. Shizuo turned to look at him, but Izaya was still gazing up, pale and serene in the moonlight

“I see,” Shizuo replied, and turned his gaze back up to the sky. His heart was pounding hard in his chest, although he didn’t know why. He suddenly felt like the balcony was too narrow for the both of them.

“I’m sorry for worrying you,” Izaya said quietly. "I just needed to get out a bit."

Shizuo shook his head, “It’s fine.” He looked over at Izaya, added softly: “It’s a beautiful moon.”

.

.

.

Typical weeknights saw them sitting on the couch, chatting after dinner. Izaya had from the beginning designated himself as the one responsible for cleaning up the dishes, while Shizuo chilled on the couch and surfed through the crappy TV channels he had. Often, after Izaya was done, he would curl up on the couch beside Shizuo, and give a ceaseless stream of commentary about Shizuo’s chosen evening entertainment. Today, one of Shizuo’s favorite old detective movies was running.

The wind and the rain lashed against the windows, and light flickered in sick blue flashes followed by thunder that rattled the slats and made the wooden boards shake. It was raining hard outside. It would be pouring all night, which made huddling on the couch in a warm home all the more appealing.

Shizuo supposed that it was a bad idea, to cuddle with a kid that he was technically responsible for. But he was naturally a cuddly person, and it was nice to have someone close, and Izaya always seemed to relax a little bit more in his arms.

Izaya was talking less, that day, which was unusual. Instead, a good bit into the movie, he pushed himself upright and looked Shizuo straight in the eyes.

“Give me your hand,” he said.

Shizuo’s hand stilled, from where it had been playing with Izaya’s hair. “What’s this for?”

Izaya took his outstretched hand, pulled it to his cheek. “I’m cold,” he said shortly, but his hair had covered his eyes, and he didn’t look up to meet Shizuo’s smile.

Shizuo tried to catch Izaya’s expression, but he was looking down. He seemed nervous. Quiet. “What’s wrong?”

Izaya’s fingers tensed around Shizuo’s. “Give me a hug,” he said, still in the strange tone of voice. “I -”

Before he could finish, Shizuo had wrapped arms around him, and pulled the boy onto his lap. He went a little dizzy at the sudden closeness, the way Izaya’s weight settled in against him, the way the ends of his hair still held traces of damp moisture from his shower. Izaya did feel cold, just a little. He had buried his face in Shizuo’s neck, and there was something in the hunch of his shoulders that reminded Shizuo of an animal trying to hide away. He stroked a hand down Izaya’s back, trying to soothe him.

After a long time, when Izaya still didn’t seem to be relaxing at all, Shizuo turned to press a kiss into his hair.

“Why are you doing all of this?” Izaya asked quietly. Shizuo’s hand stilled on his back.

“Doing what?”

“This. Being so nice to me.”

“Because I want to,” Shizuo replied. He hoped that he could keep his heartbeat steady. Izaya’s arms tightened around his neck.

“Will you do anything I ask you to?”

“What?” Shizuo tried to make a joke out of it, “Was all of this a ploy to get a police officer on your side? Was that your game after all, Izaya?”

“No.”

A moment of silence fell, and Shizuo felt worry grow inside him like a twisting cloud. He tried again to see Izaya’s face. “Izaya - ”

“Kiss me.”

Shizuo felt his blood freeze in his veins, felt it crack and shatter into little icicles that dug in under his skin. At the same time, he felt his skin flare with heat. He ignored both reactions.

“Sure,” he said, and pressed a kiss to Izaya’s forehead.

Izaya was silent for a long time.

Eventually, Shizuo resumed stroking a hand along his back. There was a strange buzz in the back of his head, like he was drunk or something. He wasn’t sure how long they stayed there. When he checked the time, he was startled to find that it was already past midnight.

“You should sleep,” he said quietly. Izaya stiffened against him, a silent refusal. Shizuo forced his heart to solidify, and made his tone hard. “Come on, it’s past midnight.”

“I’m cold,” Izaya said in a last-ditch attempt, but it was obviously a lie. His entire body was warm now, after being wrapped around Shizuo for so long. It still almost worked.

“Then you should be in bed,” Shizuo shot back. “It’ll be warmer under the covers.”

He thought he heard Izaya say it’ll be warmer with you, but it was so quiet that it was barely a murmur.

.

Shizuo threw back his fifth shot of tequila that night and desperately tried to forget everything that had just happened.

Maybe this was running away. Maybe this was him trying to clear his head. All he knew was, if he stayed in his apartment with Izaya for one moment longer, something was going to break. So, he had grabbed his coat while Izaya was using the restroom, and had sneaked out of his own home. Pathetic.

There was a bar down the street from his apartment, not the fanciest place, but with the hardest fucking booze in town. Probably because it was run by a large Russian man who knew where to get all the hard liquor, and knew what the good stuff tasted like. Shizuo hadn’t been there in ages, but he was back now.

Simon had taken one look at him, coming in from the pouring rain, and gave him the stiffest drink he had.

“Broken heart?” he asked. He looked surprised when Shizuo shook his head.

Fuck, what had he been thinking? Cuddling Izaya like that, stroking his back, kissing him on his forehead. And that after Izaya had confessed to him- Fuck, fuck fuck fuck!

“Slow down,” Simon told him, taking the empty shot glass back. He was a large man, dark-skinned and looming tall enough to nearly reach the top rows of the cabinets behind him. He gave Shizuo a wide, concerned stare. “It been a while. How have you been, Shizuo?”

“I fucked up,” Shizuo told him bluntly.

They were in a dark bar, and Simon was one of the few people that Shizuo considered to be someone closer than an acquaintance. There were little red lights on the walls, and the whole place was too dim for shadows to be thrown anywhere. It just seemed like the whole place was filled with shadows and smoke.

Simon threw his towel over his shoulder and then poured him another drink.

“On me,” he said, trying to sound quiet, but Simon trying to be quiet was still loud enough to fill the entire bar. “Talk, tell me what’s on your mind. It is not good to drink your worries away. You should talk about it too.”

“Pour me another one,” Shizuo told him. He wasn’t drunk enough for this yet. “And then I’ll tell you.”

Simon gave him a look of consternation, but after a moment, passed him another drink.

Shizuo downed both shots, one after another, and finally felt the buzz hit him. He let out a shaky breath.

“Talk,” Simon ordered.

“There’s this kid,” Shizuo started abruptly. His mind flew to Izaya’s face, those dark eyes. Fuck, I have to stop thinking about him. “He’s been under my protection for some time. He got himself into a little bit of trouble, and I've been helping him out.”

Ohhhhh,” Simon said, now with a great amount of interest. “So no broken heart. A crush?”

No,” Shizuo gave Simon a fierce glare, but it was wasted on him. Simon was probably the only person in Ikebukuro who could take Shizuo head on in a drunken rage. In the past, that had been part of the reason why Shizuo liked coming here.

“Not crush?” Simon raised an eyebrow.

Shizuo buried his face in his arms and groaned. He was well aware of how pathetic he was being right now. Shit.

“He’s trouble,” he said. “Shit. I knew he was gonna be trouble, but I still couldn’t leave him alone.”

Simon was enjoying this. “So, troublesome crush.”

Shizuo was not enjoying this.

“I’m too old for crushes,” he said looking up again. “Stop it, Simon.”

“I can’t help it,” the larger man said. “You stopped coming here. I was wondering what you were up to. You used to tell me everything. So tell me about this new boy.”

Shizuo gave Simon a baleful look. “You really want to know?”

The man just grinned back at him, his teeth a startling white in the darkness.

“I want to spoil him rotten,” Shizuo said, feeling it pour out of him. “I want to give him the world. This kid, for his entire life, has never had anyone to look out for him. He’s always had to do things himself, and so he’s become this cynical brat who thinks he has to take care of everything himself, even if it means taking down twenty or thirty adult men who are twice his age. And the horrifying thing is, he’s smart enough to actually pull it off.”

Simon was listening intently now. Frowning. “Sounds more serious than simple crush,” he said. “Sounds like not normal kid too, with so many men as enemies.”

Shizuo barked a short laugh. “Like I said, trouble.”

“Trouble enough to take down twenty men?”

“Not without putting himself in danger.”

“Ah, so you’re worried for him?”

Yes.” And that was the problem. What were these feelings, inside him? Love, or protectiveness, or a strange mixture of both? He wasn’t sure.

He didn’t know what he wanted from Izaya, if he wanted anything at all. If he could want anything from Izaya.

It was nice, having someone to come home to, someone who was there, but this couldn’t last. Wouldn’t last. Izaya was his responsibility, at least until the investigation ended, but nothing more.

Izaya couldn't hide out at Shizuo’s apartment forever. He had his own life to get back to, once the Awakusu-kai were dealt with. A brighter future ahead of him, with his smarts and looks, than being the roommate to some deadbeat cop.

Shizuo could never expect Izaya to stick around.

He groaned, and put his head down on the bar. Fuck. He was in trouble.

.

Shizuo came home drunk, stumbling into the entryway, catching himself on the first step. He hadn’t gotten this blasted drunk in ages, and for once nobody had tried to pick him up and bring him back home. Maybe he had talked about Izaya too loudly after all. God. He hoped that he hadn’t spilled any classified information. Like Izaya’s age. Fuck.

Izaya met him at the end of the entryway, looking increasingly concerned as Shizuo kept missing steps.

“What’s the matter?” he asked, raising a hand to touch Shizuo’s cheek. Shizuo brushed his hand away. He wasn’t sure he could handle the sensation of Izaya’s cool fingers on his face, just at that moment.

“Aren’t you supposed to be asleep?” Shizuo slurred.

Izaya pulled his hand away. “I couldn’t,” he said simply. His eyes were steady on Shizuo’s face, but Shizuo couldn’t bring himself to look up and meet Izaya’s eyes.

“Sleep,” Shizuo told him, but it lacked the force of a command, without eye contact.

“You still haven’t answered me,” Izaya insisted. There was a stubborn streak in his tone, impetuous and demanding. All of a sudden, Shizuo couldn’t take it anymore - these games, these thoughtless confessions.

He slammed a hand against the wall, trapping Izaya in the corner, caging him in.

He could feel every breath that Izaya took, could hear the strain in his throat, the way it sent fire into his intoxicated veins.

Enough, Izaya. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Izaya’s chin raised defiantly. He didn’t seem to be aware of the danger at all. “Yes, you do. Shizuo, I know you’re drunk, but you’re not deaf. You heard me.”

“No I didn’t,” Shizuo insisted, even though this conversation was becoming ridiculous, now. He finally looked into Izaya’s eyes.

Everything inside him seemed to still. His drunken, swirling thoughts all seemed to settle down. Izaya’s eyes were dead serious, dark and despairing. Shizuo wasn’t sure he had ever seen anything so mesmerising.

“Izaya,” he said. You deserve better than me. You’re just clinging on to me for protection. This isn’t love. That isn’t what this is. But instead, what came out was: “You have really pretty eyes.”

Izaya’s expression changed to one of complete bewilderment. That had been a complete non-sequitur.

Shizuo raised a hand to brush against Izaya’s cheek, the side of his neck and Izaya flinched hard against the wall, almost cringing away from him. The moment shattered, as Shizuo realized what he had just done, realized his mistake.

Shit. Shizuo felt reality crashing down on him. This was Izaya, the real one, in front of him, looking at him with eyes that were wide and dark with terror, as if he were looking at a stranger. At someone who could hurt him.

Fuck. Shizuo staggered past Izaya into the apartment. “Go to sleep,” he said again, calling back over his shoulder. He tried to ignore the sight of Izaya, his hands curled defensively around the side of his neck, huddling against the wall. He tried to ignore the devastating guilt that lanced through him.

He made a beeline for his room, closed the door. For a long time, his back against the door, closing his eyes, Shizuo tried to forget what had just happened.

.

Unfortunately, with Shizuo, the more he tried to forget something, the more he ended up thinking about it.

He tossed and turned in his bed, unable to sleep, afraid to dream. The events of the day repeated themselves over and over in his head.

Then, some combination of exhaustion and dreaming and alcohol started to fuck with his head. Slowly, almost inevitably, his thoughts started to slide towards Izaya and that moment in the hallway, the look in Izaya’s eyes.

It shouldn’t have been like that. Izaya should never look like that, ever again. He should be carefree, all the time, with nothing to worry about and nothing to fear. Shizuo should have comforted him, instead of running away.

Shizuo imagined kissing Izaya on the lips, like Izaya had wanted, pressing their bodies together in the dark, feeling the thrill of pleasure that would have filled him from his shoulders to his toes. Silently, he turned to one side, and tried to breathe past the sudden ache in his chest.

Fuck, Izaya had looked so irresistible, with that open expression on his face and that tremor in his voice. Shizuo had no idea how he had managed to walk away, to shut the door to his bedroom, instead of kissing Izaya right there and then. Fuck, this was bad. This was really, really bad.

The alcohol in his system was doing the opposite of what he had intended it to do. Instead of forgetting the feel of Izaya’s body in his arms, Shizuo was starting to fantasize about it, unable to think of anything else.

He imagined Izaya under him, on the couch, on the bed - fuck - anywhere, just close enough to touch. He imagined Izaya’s voice, his movements, the way he would feel, the way he would taste. The sounds he would make. A shocking heat bloomed inside of him, consuming him.

Shizuo was achingly hard, but he hadn’t moved a muscle, not outwardly, not yet.

For a moment, he entertained the idea of taking some twisted moral high ground, stopping here and going no further. He couldn’t act on this. Jerking off to a fantasy of Izaya had to be some kind of last straw, some line he mustn’t cross. But Shizuo knew he was just kidding himself. He had crossed that line a long fucking time ago, probably when he first brought Izaya into his home.

Shizuo reached down to wrap a hand around himself, stroking roughly. He groaned raggedly into his pillow. It had been a while. The sensation was all jagged and sharp from the recent heat in his veins, a little too intense. It took effort to settle into a steady rhythm. Out of practice. He hadn’t brought anyone home, hadn’t done this in a long time. He had been busy with work, and not in the mood to deal with the shitty lonely mornings afterwards.

He was going to wake up to a hell of a shitty morning tomorrow, though, Shizuo realized distantly. He hadn’t done this in a while, which meant he hadn’t drank this much in a while. No wonder he was feeling so drunk. His damn alcohol tolerance had gone down in the past few months.

Shizuo hoped that he would forget this - this rising pleasure in his veins, these fantasies - in the morning. But he never did forget, no matter how blackout drunk he got.

But right now. Right now, he reveled in the up-down strokes of his hand around himself. He imagined Izaya lying next to him, close enough to touch, close enough to do the same to him - how Izaya would react, how he would shiver and gasp. Shizuo fought back a groan at the thought, felt his dick twitch and jerk in his hand.

He wasn’t used to this level of intensity, not just from fantasies. He had never felt anything like this before. All of his one night stands had always been drunken, hurried and impersonal things, his partners only interested in getting off. Shizuo didn’t blame them, he had been doing much of the same.

But with Izaya it was different. With Izaya, he would take his time, would map out every inch of the boy’s skin with his hands and mouth and tongue. Shizuo felt his blood spike with heat, until it was almost boiling underneath his skin. He was jerking himself off harshly, now, close, too close. He found himself wondering if Izaya had ever been with anyone before. Not that it mattered. He would make sure that Izaya never even considered being with anyone else. He would show him things that no one else could do, would make him understand that only Shizuo could make him feel that good. Shizuo imagined Izaya’s eyes glazed over with lust, imagined Izaya gasping his name.

Shizuo moaned, and came into his hand, with the echoes of Izaya’s cries still ringing in his ears.

For a long moment, he just waited for his heart rate to settle. He would forget this, he told himself. He was drunk. If he stared at the wall, and thought of nothing, then maybe tomorrow he wouldn’t remember this, wouldn’t remember what he had just done.

Thankfully, by then, the exhaustion finally hit him. It weighed him down into the blankets, where he could feel the cool pillow against the side of his cheek, and watch the curious emptiness in his head. He curled up a little, wishing for some warmth, some presence to soothe the ache that had started to unfurl within his chest. His arm went across empty air and smooth sheets. Then, with that last little jolt of loneliness going through him, Shizuo finally fell asleep.

.

Staring at the closed door to Shizuo’s room, Izaya felt the cold panic in his veins settle and transform into aching despair instead.

I fucked up, he thought. This was the first time since he had arrived that Shizuo had shut the door to his bedroom. The message was clear as day.

He hated himself. He wanted to hate Shizuo more. Fuck him for running away like that, after being so gentle with his hands, after taking him in, after making Izaya trust him. Fuck him for being so unreasonably kind, for teaching Izaya what decency looked like. And then rejecting him like that.

Or had that been a rejection? Izaya couldn’t tell. He couldn’t understand Shizuo’s behavior at all.

Izaya turned off the lights, forcing himself to look away from the door at last. He absentmindedly rubbed at his neck, trying to forget the feeling of cold hands, of ropes. He curled up on the futon, deliberately facing away from Shizuo’s bedroom. He tried to go through all of their interactions since they met, and since he came here. Had he misread Shizuo? Had he mistaken ordinary kindness for attraction, open affection for something more?

Maybe he had gone too far, pushed too fast? When his confession had slipped out the other day, his first instinct had been to run, to deny. Then, when Shizuo talked to him as if his feelings weren’t real, when Shizuo refused to give him a proper answer, he had felt so angry. So he kept pushing.

Because Izaya didn’t know what else to do. It had felt so good, to be taken care of, to have someone who looked out for him. Maybe that should have been enough, but Izaya had never known when to stop, after all.

Now that he had a taste of this, he wanted more. He wanted to be special to Shizuo, wanted it with every fiber of his being, wanted it until his chest threatened to burst with all that wanting.

Izaya curled up tighter, feeling cold. He wished he had Shizuo hold him again, some warmth to gravitate towards, but the room was empty, and he was alone.

Chapter Text

Shizuo woke up 0 for 2 - he had a pounding headache, and he still remembered everything that had happened last night.

Fuck.

When he finally found the courage to open the door, he was met with bright morning light coming in through the living room windows. Izaya wasn’t there. His futon was folded up in the corner, neat as ever. There were sounds coming from the kitchen.

Steeling himself, Shizuo dragged himself over to the bathroom. His throat was killing him. His head was killing him. A lot of things, Shizuo decided, were having their go at him today. He also supposed that he deserved it, after all the shit he pulled yesterday.

He gulped down what seemed like a gallon of water, straight from the faucet. He managed to find a new shirt and pants that weren’t completely filthy. Then, having stalled long enough, he went into the kitchen.

I messed up, he was going to say. It won’t happen again.

The words died on his lips as he was met with the sight of Izaya, cooking eggs on the stovetop.

“Hey,” Izaya said without turning to look at him.

“Hey,” Shizuo stammered out. His heart was hammering in his chest. What the -

Izaya turned and set two plates of scrambled eggs onto the kitchen table. His face was carefully closed. Guarded. Shizuo couldn’t get a read on him at all. In Shizuo’s usual place there was coffee and a bottle of aspirin. That said everything it needed to.

Shizuo sat down gingerly, popped open the bottle, and took two pills. Then, just as gingerly, he tried some of the eggs. They tasted as if the entire contents of a salt shaker had been dumped over them. Shizuo couldn’t tell if Izaya had done it on purpose, though.

Still, this all had the strange effect of making his hangover go from something awful to something slightly bearable. Shizuo hadn’t eaten someone else’s cooking in years. It felt weirdly nice to be taken care of, even though he didn’t deserve it.

“I’m sorry about - ” he started, just as Izaya asked: “How’s your head?”

“Oh,” Shizuo decided to lie. “My head’s fine. Don’t worry about me.”

Izaya didn’t respond. He settled in with his own plate, and began eating. His face blanched.

Shizuo decided to start being honest. “This isn’t the first time that I - that I got this drunk. I’m sorry you had to see that.” Shit, that just made him sound even more pathetic.

“Wow,” Izaya said, with just the barest trace of humor in his voice. “Who’s the human disaster now?”

.

After that, they managed some semblance of normalcy.

Little things changed, though, like the way Shizuo kept noticing things about Izaya. He had never really allowed himself to pay attention before. It took him a while to realize - shit, Izaya was gorgeous. How the hell had he managed to survive in the yakuza for so long, looking like that?

Sometimes, when Izaya was curled up in a blanket, knees drawn up to his chest like he was used to being cold, he looked so much like a child that it hurt. But then when he woke up and stretched, Shizuo would have to force himself to look away. He could never be sure if Izaya was doing that on purpose or not.

Izaya stopped confessing, which made things even more confusing.

Sometimes, Shizuo wondered if had all been a dream. Izaya’s confession - or confessions, plural. The thing about his eyes. That night he had gotten drunk. Izaya was giving him space, now, a respectful distance, only now it felt like him pulling away, pulling back. Maybe Shizuo had scared him off. That would be fitting, wouldn’t it? He had scared off so many people before.

But Izaya stayed.

When Shizuo came back from work, Izaya would still be there, reading or working or studying, always doing something quietly. He didn’t seem to hate it here. And even though Shizuo wanted him to stay, he knew that was something completely selfish, something he didn’t deserve to want.

So, eventually, he decided to offer an olive branch.

“Izaya,” Shizuo leaned over the couch, where Izaya had been whiling the Saturday morning away. “I feel like making a coffee run. Do you want to come with me?”

Izaya set his book down, surprised. He was wrapped up comfortably in a set of blankets. “Can I?”

Izaya hadn’t gone outside ever since the shooting at the nightclub. It hadn’t seemed like a good idea to wander around when a gang was actively looking to kill him, but now that Aozaki was behind bars, his men were no longer the threat that they were.

“Sure,” Shizuo said, already grabbing his coat and heading out the door. He waited for Izaya to catch up. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

.

It was a rare sunny day, bright enough to burn off most of the rain from last night. People were enjoying their weekends, finally free of their suits and school uniforms and business clothes, chatting amiably and filling the street with a low clatter of sound. Izaya couldn’t help but walk slowly, marveling at the way the sunlight shone through the trees and made bright lights in puddles. Shizuo led him to a small cafe at the end of their street, one with transparent glass walls and a modern looking bar.

“Welcome!” A server called as they entered. Then: “Shizuo, you bastard, I thought you’d died or moved away! Haven’t seen you in a while!”

Shizuo offered the young man, blonde-haired and fashionable with his one earring and cashmere sweater, a wry smile. “Work got busy.”

“That’s what you always say.”

“Extra busy, then.”

“Yeah, yeah. Excuses. Now tell me, what can I getcha?”

“Could I have hot chocolate, extra milk, please? Izaya, what do you want?”

“Tea,” Izaya said, watching Shizuo pull out his wallet. “Green tea, if you have it.”

“Who’s this?” The young man asked, smiling at Izaya. “A friend?”

For some reason, Izaya blushed. He hid a little behind Shizuo as the server smirked at him.

“Yeah,” Shizuo said, completely oblivious. “He’s a friend.”

Men, the boy mouthed at Izaya. So dense, amirite?

Shizuo and Izaya ended up taking a table next to one of the glass walls. Izaya was surprised to find that the tea came in fancy porcelain here, with actual tea leaves instead of tea bags. As he fingered the edge of the cup, Shizuo found several packets of sugar and began dumping them into his drink.

“You should probably stop before you get diabetes,“ Izaya said.

“You should probably drink your tea before it gets cold,” Shizuo shot back, as if their drinks were less than a hundred degrees hot. Then, as Izaya watched, he took a gulp right out of his cup.

When he set his cup back down, then caught sight of Izaya’s expression. “What?”

He just doesn’t have any tastebuds left, Izaya told himself. First the capsaicin, then this.

“Nothing,” he said with a laugh. “Just wondering if you’re even fully human.”

Shizuo kicked him lightly under the table. “Rude.”

Izaya kicked him back, unable to hold back his smile. “I’m joking, I’m joking.”

There was a moment of comfortable ease, like finding an unexpected patch of warm sun in the grass, soft and quiet. Then, Izaya opened his mouth, to ruin the moment.

“So, how’s the investigation going? Or can we not talk about that here?”

Shizuo glanced around, but they were alone in a corner next to the wall.

“I have good news, actually,” he said.

“Oh? What is it?”

Shizuo gave him a wry smile. “Remember Akabayashi? Apparently, he’s defected from the Awakusu-Kai.”

Izaya was glad that he wasn’t holding his cup just then. All of his amusement drained away into shock.

What?

“This is still pretty recent. Tom’s pretty certain about it, though. Akabayashi left the city several days ago. He liquidated nearly all his assets, said goodbye to a couple people. He left his house to a widow and her daughter, and now he’s gone without a trace. I doubt we’ll ever see him back in Ikebukuro again.”

Izaya was still stunned. “What happened?” he asked. “What does that mean? Why did he suddenly decide to leave?”

Shizuo gave him a long look. “You were the one who gave us our best guess - he retired.”

“But - that can’t be. He can’t retire. Not now. Not while Mikiya Awakusu is still in the middle of taking over.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Shizuo agreed. “But it’s also good news.”

Izaya suddenly realized - no wonder Shizuo had brought up a coffee run, today of all days. They were celebrating.

“So, does this mean that we’re winning?” Izaya couldn’t hold back his slightly hopeful tone, the way his eyes lit up. It was still uncertain, but there was a possibility.

“There’s no winning or losing here,” Shizuo laughed. “But it means that finding Aozaki, and arresting him, dealt a much bigger blow than we expected. We’re close to finishing this. I can feel it. All we have to do is figure out who the dead body is, and then bring the charges to the leadership of the Awakusu-Kai. Maybe they’ll all run like Akabayashi did, but I doubt it.”

Izaya leaned back in his chair, still a bit stunned.

“That’s great,” he said honestly. “I never would have thought - I thought Akabayashi would be here forever, like some old guardian of the underworld. I never thought he would leave.” He could feel every breath coming easier, like a stone had lifted from his chest. The air felt less dark. It was difficult to imagine scary men lurking in shadows anywhere, out in this bright sunlight.

Shizuo smiled at him, a warm smile. With a small shock, Izaya realized that he had been the one responsible for finding all this out. Both he and Tom must have been doing a mountain of work, behind the scenes, things that only policemen could do, and would probably never get credit for.

“I don’t know how to thank you enough,” Izaya said.

“You don’t have to thank me,” Shizuo replied seriously.

“But -”

They were interrupted by a sudden whump against the glass next to them. Both of them looked out at surprise at a girl who had her nose pressed to the glass, with short purple hair and still dressed in a school uniform despite it being the weekend.

The girl stared at Izaya, then pulled out a photograph. After looking down at it and up at him, she suddenly beamed and gestured excitedly for him to go outside.

“Do you know her?” Shizuo asked.

“No,” Izaya said. He set down his cup of tea, sliding off of his seat. “But it seems that she knows me.”

.

They left their drinks on their table. The girl bounced on the balls of her feet, looking anxious and pleased all at once. Shizuo followed Izaya outside reluctantly. When Izaya reached the girl, he knelt down and extended a friendly hand, palm up, towards her.

“Hello,” he said brightly. “I’m Izaya Orihara. Who’re you?”

“My name is Akane Awakusu,” the girl said, pulling something out of her jacket. “I need you to die, please.”

Shizuo felt the world slow down. Without thinking, he grabbed Izaya and jerked him out of the way, just as something bright and glowing blue struck him in the leg. There was a crack that resounded through the entire street, making people look up.

Shizuo felt a jolt run through him. It tore him to his knees.

The stun gun flew from the girl’s hand, its thin blue line of electricity crackling as it bounced across the concrete.

Izaya screamed something, Shizuo couldn’t hear. In the next instant, the whole street was looking at them. The girl had fallen backwards on her butt. Distantly, he realized that he had knocked the stun gun out of her hand, without thinking.

It took forever for his head to clear. He realized that he had been stunned, but it was slowly fading now, a receding tide, like a tsunami that had struck him and now was slowly slinking back to sea.

Shizuo forced himself to stand. Then, all of his police training took over.

“Grab the gun,” he said to Izaya, who had fallen back, eyes wide and shocked by the sight of Shizuo standing back up. Shizuo realized that a mob was forming, concerned onlookers that had been drawn in by the sight of a young girl on the ground, apparently hurt. He realized how menacing he looked, towering over her.

In the next moment, he had scooped the girl up, keeping her away from the stun gun.

“I’m the police,” he told the onlookers. He was already moving away, herding Izaya along. There was no telling if there were more attackers nearby.

Who the hell would send a child -

“Shizu-chan -”

“We need to go.” Out of the corner of his eye, Shizuo saw movement, a shadow darting into an alleyway. People were starting to gather. Izaya snatched up the stun gun.

They ran.

.

.

.

The girl was light enough to carry under one arm. She had gone completely lifeless, like a sack of potatoes, as soon as Shizuo had picked her up. Distantly, Shizuo remembered to be grateful for that. He recalled that picking up a child or a cat that did not want to be picked up was an awful experience.

They ended up in Shizuo’s apartment, mostly because it was the closest available place to regroup. They might’ve been followed, but Shizuo wanted to question the girl first, before they went to the station.

What the hell was Akane Akakusu doing here, not only a child, but the daughter of the very man they had been trying to find for so long.

Beside him, Izaya picked up the stun gun off the table and was turning it around over and over in his hand. It was a heavy thing, custom-made and lethal. When he looked up, his expression was strange.

“I’ve seen this before,” he said. “This belongs to Kine. Why does she have it?”

Shizuo’s breath caught. “What did you say?”

Izaya was staring at him too, reading the dawning realization on Shizuo’s face. “What is it?” he asked. His voice sharpened. “What do you know that I don’t?”

He had wanted to keep it quiet, for as long as possible. So much had happened; he didn’t want to burden Izaya with more bad news. And as the days slipped by, it had gotten harder and harder to say the words.

“A couple weeks ago, the day after the shooting, Kine was found dead in his office. We never figured out who did it, but we figured that the yakuza was involved.”

Izaya paled.

“That’s impossible,” he said. “He couldn’t have - he was a legend in the Awakusu-Kai. Everyone looked up to him. Why would they kill him?”

Then his incredulous expression faded, and he looked up at Shizuo with a flat realization, having finally caught up.

“It was Shiki,” he said at last. Shizuo nodded.

Shizuo was already reaching for his radio. This was a break in their case, a big one. Shiki was the one who killed Kine. They just needed some proof, and now they had it.

A burst of anger almost made him crush the radio in his hands. Kine had been a friend, of sorts, and this entire time, Shiki had been walking free.

Akane was scrunched up on the couch, her legs drawn up under her, eyes darting from one person to another with an odd resignation. She had reacted to the mention of Shiki, her shoulders twitching briefly, but not much else.

Once Shizuo was sure that she wouldn’t run off, he told Izaya to watch her, and went off to make his call.

In the living room, Izaya and Akane eyed each other warily.

“Why did you try to kill me?” Izaya asked. It was unreal, talking to her. He had known about Akane, knew that she existed, but confronting her was like seeing someone from a book that you read.

"My father is in danger," she said.

"Your father, Mikiya Awakusu?" Izaya's brow furrowed. Mikiya Awakusu was still one of the biggest mysteries in all of this. What the hell had he been doing all this time, while the Awakusu-Kai fell apart around him?

"Shiki said that you're going to kill him," Akane said solemnly.

"I'm pretty sure he's trying to kill me."

Her face fell with guilt, and then hardened into a determined expression. "I have to kill you, so that you don't kill him. He is my father, after all."

“Where is your father, then?”

Akane bit her bottom lip. Suddenly, she looked to be on the verge of tears. “I don’t know,” she said. “Shiki said he’s gone on a long trip. I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

It felt like the earth dropped out from under him.

Izaya leaned over heavily, until his palm caught the side of the couch. Realization struck him like a hammer blow.

Shizuo,” Izaya’s tone was horror, disbelief, and something else. Shizuo came back instantly from the other room, pulled over by the sheer panic in Izaya’s voice.

“It was Mikiya Awakusu. The man on the rope. The man in the river.”

He looked at Akane, her young features, still innocent. His heart twisted. There was no way Mikiya Awakusu would ever let her get into such a dangerous situation if he was still alive.

“I’m so sorry, Akane, Izaya said. “But your father is dead.”

.

.

Here’s a question for you - what do you get when you cross a traitor, a coward, and a blind man with the death of the only thing that frightens them?

You know the answer, don’t you?

You’ve known for a while.

.

Shiki sat in his study, writing.

There was a list set in front of him, drawn up from memory. Every tenth name was crossed out. There was a strange pleasure to striking out a name. Aozaki and Akabayashi might believe that their power was equal, that they balanced each other, but Shiki was the only one with this information. And information was power.

He drew a line. Another man died.

“What are you doing?” Aozaki asked. He was pacing. He was nervous.

“I’m deciding who to trust,” Shiki replied, neatly drawing another line. He liked things precise, and tidy. He did not like being interrupted while he worked.

“Where is Akabayashi?” Aozaki turned again. He was a large man, and the study was too small for him. “He was supposed to be here with Mikiya already. What if he betrayed us? What if he told Mikiya?”

“Shut up, Aozaki.”

Shiki paused, his pen hovering over Izaya Orihara’s name.

Izaya Orihara. That was going to be an interesting choice. What to do about him? He was clever, but he asked too many questions, saw too much. Most people who ended up in this life were damaged some way - they came from broken homes, or had lost their way. Izaya was different, though. He was drawn to a life in the dark the way a moth was to a flame.

But that didn’t mean he would be loyal to the Awakusu-Kai, not when it mattered.

His eyes ran down the list, until it snagged on another name, a woman who ran a nightclub. There was another interesting choice. What happened to those in her position? Could they be trusted?

“Aozaki,” Shiki mused. “How can you tell if someone will betray you or not?”

“Ya can’t,” Aozaki said. “Unless they’re blood, or you own them. That’s the way we’ve always been.”

And that’s why you’ll never rise any further than this, Shiki thought.

“Wrong,” he said, more to himself than to Aozaki. “You give them a test, and see if they pass it.”

Just then, the door banged open. Akabayashi came in, mouth tight, eyes like dim red coals. He was wound up, tense.

“He’s in the other room,” Akabayashi said.

Shiki stood up, giving his whitelist one last glance, and nodded. At the very end, with his name already crossed out, was Mikiya Awakusu.

.

.

.

With the identity of the dead man, they finally had a watertight case against the Awakusu-kai together. Tom had been brilliant, throughout it all. Weeks worth of investigating had turned up every dark secret, every covered-up crime by the Awakusu-Kai.

Everything was in place.

But when Shizuo started out the door, he found himself blocked by Izaya was holding his radio with a stubborn expression on his face.

“Let me help,” Izaya said. “Let me go with you.”

Shizuo stopped in the doorway, too horrified to even consider the idea. “No.”

“I’ll be helpful,” Izaya insisted. There was a stubborn set to his jaw, a flash of defiance in his eyes. “I know these people. I know their habits, where they’ll go, where they’ll try to escape.”

Shizuo put on his coat, hoping that by ignoring Izaya, the conversation would end there. It didn’t work. Izaya glared at him. He glared right back.

“You’re going to stay here,” Shizuo demanded. “You’re going to wait here until all the arrests have been made, and you’re not even going to listen in on any of our radio communications. That’s how this works, Izaya. You know that.”

“I started this,” Izaya pointed out. He was leaning forward into Shizuo’s space, intense and focused. He was beginning to take on a reasonable tone, like he knew everything, and just needed Shizuo to see the truth of it. “I started this whole thing by coming to you in the first place. I should be there to see the end of it.”

Shizuo was done with this. Having Izaya this close to him was making him dizzy and irrational. He moved forward, taking Izaya up on his dare, and in the next moment Izaya was shoved back against the wall, out of his way.

Listen to me,” he growled, caging Izaya in with his arms, forcing him to hold still. Izaya’s eyes swung to his face, startled. “You are just a kid. You are a civilian, and you are under my protection. I’m a police officer. I was trained for this, and this is not the first time I’ve had to arrest gang members. Let me do my job, Izaya. Trust me.”

Izaya stared at him for another defiant moment and then slumped. All the fight went out of him.

His hand was inches away from Izaya’s hair. He wanted to tangle his fingers into it. If Izaya spoke up again, Shizuo feared he was going to shut him up with a kiss.

He needed to go, now, before he did something he regretted. Shizuo took a deep breath, and forced himself to relax.

“You’ve done enough,” he said, trying to keep his voice gentle, trying not to let the emotion show. “You’ve done more than enough, Izaya. Promise me you won’t do anything stupid. Promise me you’ll wait for me here until I’ve come back.”

He knew that Izaya could slip out from the apartment, knew that Izaya was still considering it. He looked Izaya straight in the eyes, trying to make him understand. Trust me. You don’t have to do everything yourself.

Finally, Izaya dropped his gaze and sighed.

“I promise,” he said.

.

The actual arrests went smoothly. That was the good thing about bureaucracy. Once it got going, it was like a huge wheel that couldn’t be stopped. Slowly, inevitably, the hammer of justice came down.

Most of the police were incredibly hyped. Their normal days were filled with paperwork and standing around and talking. For this, they had been cleared to use all necessary force.

Of the fifty-three members of the Awakusu-Kai, forty-seven had been identified by name. Most had come from Izaya’s list, but others had to be tracked down from online aliases or fake names. They were all in the city, luckily. The Awakusu-Kai didn’t seem to really believe in leaving their home turf.

Against these fifty-three gangsters, a hundred and fifty policemen came out in force to arrest them. It wasn’t even a contest.

They caught up to Haruya Shiki in his study, sitting with a gun on the table and a flipped coin. The coin had been on heads, and Shiki had gone quietly with them.

.

It was all over before anything really had the chance to begin. Shizuo had hardly done a single thing. He had mostly been sitting in the police car, in case something went terribly wrong. He was more than happy to leave the more exciting stuff to the younger policemen. He, for one, was exhausted.

It will be over soon, he thought to himself. His job was done. The case was over.

All he wanted to do was go home, and relax in Izaya’s company again. But with a sinking feeling, Shizuo realized that those days were over.

He tried to comfort himself with the reminder that it had never been permanent in the first place. It had always been a temporary thing. He would just be going back to how things were - the empty apartment and the cold nights, cooking alone and leaving the TV on.

He had done it before, he could do it again.

.

.

.

The man in the chair woke up with a silent jerk as the rough hemp bag was torn off and dropped to the floor.

“Hello,” a voice said in the darkness, young and familiar. The man jerked with recognition.

You,” he hissed. Then, as if the name tasted like poison in his mouth, and he was spitting it out, “Izaya Orihara.”

“Shiki,” Izaya greeted, but it was a cold greeting.

“Oh, this is perfect,” Shiki said disgustedly. “Of course it would be you. You really do never know when to quit, don’t you?”

Izaya fought down a shiver.

“What are you doing here?” Shiki asked, tilting his head. It was hard to see in the dark, but Izaya could see his sharp-edged smile. He had never really been able to see Izaya as a threat. “I thought you’d be long gone by now.”

Out of the city, or dead, Izaya thought. It would never occur to you that I might fight back, right, Shiki?

“I just have one question,” Izaya said. “What made you decide to kill me?”

Shiki considered him for a moment.

“You know what’s one of the hardest questions to answer in our business?” he asked.

“I don’t have time for your - ”

“Trust,” Shiki interrupted him. “Who do you trust? Family, sometimes, but nowadays kids don’t treat elders with as much respect as they used to. Too many dreams, too preoccupied with what they want instead of what’s good for the whole. And then, for people like you -”

“I never gave you a reason not to trust me.”

“But I never had a reason to trust you either.”

Izaya fell silent, so Shiki continued, warming up to his lecture, now. “The way to tell, at least for me, was to set up a test. Did you know what test you failed?”

He waited a moment to see if Izaya would answer, and smiled when he saw Izaya’s blank look.

“The picture,” he said at last. “I had Earthworm ask you for a picture of Mikiya, then set up a trap to see where you were getting your information from. If it was from Aozaki or Akabayashi, it would have been fine, I would have been pleased. But, alas, you were stealing information from me.”

“I knew what you were all along. You were never loyal to us. Useful, to be damn sure. But not loyal.”

The air felt cold against Izaya’s skin. He fought not to shiver, fought to keep his face blank. But Shiki saw the dread on his face, and smiled with grim satisfaction.

He leaned back, settling comfortably into his chair.

“After that, the only other thing I needed to confirm was what else you knew. Specifically, if you knew what Mikiya Awakusu really looked like, and if so, who else knew.”

“So you had me come look at the dead body,” Izaya said tightly. “And not only that, you made me drag him to the river myself.”

Shiki shrugged. “I might’ve been a bit angry. You had betrayed me after all, after four years of working together, all that I’d done for you.”

Working together?” Izaya asked in disbelief. “You were going to kill me. You told me to either find Shingen Kishitani for you or get cleaned up as part of his mess. If anything, you used me like a tool.”

“That’s right,” Shiki said easily. “You were a very useful tool. Did you know? After you joined, after that first year, the number of deserters dropped down to zero. Whatever you did to track down all those people who left, it worked incredibly well.”

These were the kind of backhanded compliments that had been so devastatingly effective at keeping Izaya on a leash, making him feel like he was worth something, meant something.

Once, Izaya would have grinned with pride after hearing that. Now, he just felt faintly sick.

“You were never going to let me live long, were you?” he asked. “You were always planning to get rid of me, one way or another. Even before you came up with this stupid test of yours.”

“What do you want me to say?” Shiki shrugged.

“You sick fucker,” Izaya said before he could stop himself. “So everything I did, and you just kill me for it?”

“That’s how this business works.”

“Then what about Mikiya?” Izaya asked. “You can’t say ‘oh, I have to kill you because you’re untrustworthy’, then turn around and kill the head of the Awakusu-Kai. You hypocrite. Why kill Mikiya Awakusu, out of nowhere?”

“Mikiya was a fucking idiot,” Shiki said disdainfully. “I killed him because he would have run the Awakusu-Kai into the ground, would have destroyed everything I’d build up over the years. He was always an embarrassment. I should have known that he would be just as troublesome dead as he was alive.”

Izaya took a deep breath, slowly regaining his calm. Suddenly, he smiled.

“Thank you,” he said finally. “I never told you, but you did save me back then. I thought my life was over, but then you showed up and gave me something to do. It’s funny, sometimes, how life goes on even after you think it’s over. I hope you remember that.”

He went to the side of the wall, flicked on the lights. In an instant, the room was flooded with a harsh white light, turning the gritty floor into solid white tiles, the walls into the walls of an interrogation room, and one into a one-way glass window.

From Shiki’s expression, Izaya supposed that he had forgotten all about his surroundings, and was taking things in for the first time.

His eyes fixed on Izaya, suddenly cold as death.

“I’ll remember this,” he said. “When I get out, I’ll find you, Izaya.”

“No you won’t,” Izaya said, sounding calmer than he expected. “Akabayashi doesn’t know what you did to Akane yet. If I ever see you again - if I ever hear about your presence in this city again, he’ll find out.” He smiled, slow and vicious. “Now, given how he feels about kids, that wouldn’t be good for you at all, wouldn’t it?”

Shiki’s face twisted in fury, but he said nothing.

“Goodbye, Shiki,” Izaya said, opening the door. Two policemen rushed in, dressed in blue and professionalism, men that Izaya didn’t recognize. As Izaya left, they began reading Shiki his rights.

.

.

.

As always, after the end, there was more work to be done.

Shizuo ended up spending the rest of the night finishing up the last of the paperwork. Bringing Izaya in to get a confession out of Shiki was not something Shizuo had liked or agreed with, but Tom had insisted, and he couldn’t argue the results.

Akabayashi seemed to be well and truly out of their hands now. He had disappeared. The widow did not know anything about him or his whereabouts, and all indications pointed to the fact that he had meant to leave the house to her forever, and never return.

Akane Awakusu was a separate matter altogether. She would be under police custody for a while, at least until they found her mother, and made sure that the remnants of the Awakusu-Kai wouldn’t try to capture her.

But there was nothing Shizuo could do about those loose ends now, so he decided to call it a night. It had been a long, exhausting, terrifying case. They had taken down the Awakusu-Kai, one of the oldest criminal organizations in the city. He should have felt pride, or something, but honestly, he was just glad it was finally over.

He found Izaya outside, gazing out at the dark, empty street. He stood with his back against a street lamp, one that flickered with yellow light. There was a slight drizzle, and with no wind, the rain just formed little particles of mist in the air. Shizuo felt as if everything in the world had slowed to a standstill.

He wanted more than anything for time to stop right there and then. He had never been good at saying goodbyes.

Izaya turned and noticed him, just as he came out onto the street. For once, he didn’t react with a smile or a greeting.

“Is it over?” he asked, sounding just as tired as Shizuo felt.

“Yes,” Shizuo said, letting the weight of reality settle. He drew in a deep breath. “I can drop you off at your house tonight. I brought all your stuff with me. It’s in a box in my trunk right now, if you want to get it right now.”

There was a moment of stunned silence as Izaya registered what he meant.

“Wait a second,” Izaya sounded panicked, as if he hadn’t realized that this would be coming. “What do you mean?”

“Now that the Awakusu-Kai are gone, you’re not an informant any more.” Shizuo was glad for that, if nothing else. Izaya would be safe. He was out, he had escaped. “There’s no reason for you to need my protection any more.”

Izaya was still staring, dark eyes wide and endless. Shizuo wanted to tell him that everything was going to be alright, but he couldn’t say that without wanting to hug him, so he wisely kept his mouth shut.

“What am I supposed to do now?”

“Go to a college, any college,” Shizuo said. “You’re smart, Izaya. You’ll do well wherever you go.” He wanted to give more advice, like: stay out of trouble, but this was Izaya, after all. He might as well try to tell water to stop being wet.

“Shizu-chan, please, wait.”

The strange note of pleading in Izaya’s voice made Shizuo stop short. He wished he had never heard that sound, but it was too late now.

Then he saw the look on Izaya’s face, and all other thoughts flew out of his head.

“I love you, Shizu-chan,” Izaya’s eyes were huge, brimming with unshed tears. “Please, you’re the only thing in my life that isn’t rotten to the core. You’re the only person I actually like being around, who doesn’t treat me like a tool. Don’t ignore me, please. Don’t walk away. Please don’t treat this as a joke!”

Shizuo suddenly felt so lightheaded that he could barely breathe. Inside him, some truth snapped into focus with unyielding certainty. Without realizing it, he had taken several steps forward, until they were both in the little yellow circle made by the streetlight.

He reached out for Izaya’s face, collected the feel of Izaya’s skin against the palm of his hand. He wiped the tears away before they could even form.

I was a fool, he realized. I am probably the biggest fool in the universe, right now. Here is the one person whose smile I wanted to protect forever, and I’m making him cry.

“Izaya,” he said, “I’m not treating this as a joke.”

He stepped in closer, holding Izaya’s face between his hands like a precious thing, and kissed him.

It was like the world narrowed down to just the space between his hands, like it started and stopped with Izaya’s mouth. His entire body went drunk with satisfaction at the way Izaya felt against him, the way he tasted. When Shizuo pulled back and opened his eyes, he felt steady and certain.

“I love you,” he said back. He couldn’t lie to himself, not after this. Then, because he couldn’t get enough, he ran his fingers into Izaya’s hair, and kissed him again.

When he was done, Izaya was clinging on to him with an expression dazed with heat.

“Do you mean it?” he asked. “Really?”

“I do, really.”

Izaya stared up at him, ecstatic and afraid and disbelieving and hopeful all at once. “Say it again,” he pleaded.

“I love you,” Shizuo said, ducking his head down to kiss Izaya again, tangling his hand in Izaya’s hair to hold him close. “Do you believe me?”

“Yes,” Izaya said, a little stunned. His eyes never left Shizuo’s face. Shizuo smiled helplessly at him.

Over them, the streetlights flickered out and the first rays of the morning sun made the sky a gorgeous shade of light blue and yellow.

“Come on then,” Shizuo said. “Let’s go home.”