Aches Like Nothing
His mother fell in love the moment she laid eyes on the transparent crib of the intensive care unit. She braced herself on the railing outside the window and stuck her forehead to the cold glass, and when she breathed out, “Oh,” Shizuo felt it glow warm in his heart.
“Oh, Shizuo,” she said. “She’s beautiful.”
Kasuka stepped to stand next to her and look inside as well, face completely unreadable. Shizuo himself didn’t need to—he had stood there too many times already, for too many hours, hands growing damp on the railing and eyes stuck to every move she made under her white blanket. Sometimes he thought he could hear the beeping of her heart monitor through the wall separating them, every beat unmaking him again.
“She’s small,” Kasuka said after a while. “Even for a baby.”
“Yeah,” Shizuo replied. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, she, she came out way earlier than expected.”
“That must’ve been terrifying,” his mom deplored.
It had. But Shizuo didn’t think he would ever be able to translate into words the sight of Izaya breaking down in rage and fear or the endless minute of expectation as their daughter fought for her first breath.
“She’s fine, now,” he said, eyes irresistibly dragged to her little face relaxed on sleep and the shiny trail of drool around the tube going into her mouth. “They’re feeding her and helping her breathe. The doctors said she’ll probably have asthma all her life, though.”
His mother looked at him kindly. “Take this as incentive to stop smoking, then,” she admonished, familiar and light-hearted.
And Shizuo felt his face warm as he admitted, “I already have.”
He had given every pack he owned to Tom the day Izaya said he would go through with the pregnancy. The following day he had bought some again, a night spent awake and jittery enough to make his will crumble; but Celty had helped him reduce his consumption week after week, and he hadn’t touched the pack of American Spirits bent into the pocket of his jacket at Izaya’s home since they had slept together last.
His mom pressed a thin hand against his forearm, squeezing briefly. “I’m proud of you,” she said, voice heavy with emotion. “And I can’t wait until the little one is out of the hospital and we can greet her properly.”
Shizuo glanced at the white bundle in the clear plexiglass box. “Me too,” he replied softly.
“Is Orihara-san up for visits?” Kasuka asked.
“We can come back,” their mom immediately added. “If he’s too tired to—”
“No, he’s awake,” Shizuo cut in. “His grandmother is with him now.”
“She’s the one you two named her after, right?” she asked, and her face was kinder now. Shizuo nodded. Her thumb stroked the skin of his arm softly. “We’ll come back tomorrow, or the day after, or whenever Orihara-kun feels well enough to see us. God knows I’ve been through the process of sitting through endless family visits while literally bleeding my guts out.”
Kasuka gave a very, very faint disgusted twitch of the lips. From the end of the corridor a nurse was looking at him in wonder.
Shizuo walked them out of the hospital and all the way to the parking lot where Kasuka had parked his car. It had gathered a crowd of onlookers and tabloid reporters already, although thankfully none of them seemed willing to try and deface it.
“Who did you visit, Yuuhei-san?” a man yelled as soon as they were within shouting distance of him. Shizuo felt irritation lick up his spine and growl low in his throat, but his mom beat him to it.
“Can’t a man spend time with his family in peace?” she yelled as loud as the journalist had.
“She’s going to rip him a new one,” Kasuka commented idly, over the sound of the shouting match starting in front of them. Then he turned to Shizuo and said, “I was thinking of buying my niece a cat.”
“She’s two days old, you can’t fucking buy her a cat.”
Kasuka nodded. “I understand. The cat can wait for later.”
Shizuo rubbed a hand over his face, and his skin tingled softly, exhaustion tearing a yawn out of him before he could help it. “Just buy her a cat plushie or something,” he groaned. “Not like she’s gonna be able to tell the difference for a few years.”
Their mother was all the way to the car now, two feet away from the shouting man and hands raised as if to grab the lapels of his coat and shake him.
“I should probably stop her,“ he said slowly.
“Let her have at it for a moment,” Kasuka replied. “She’s been restless.”
Izaya and his grandmother both stopped speaking when Shizuo set foot inside the hospital room again. Izaya only glanced at him shortly before looking back to her, but Orihara Natsu stared at him long and hard until he was seated on the other side of Izaya’s bed.
“As I was saying,” she started slowly, eyes never leaving Shizuo’s. “I went to see my great-granddaughter earlier, and you lot come out scrawnier with every generation.”
“She’s perfect,” Izaya replied in a dry voice.
“That’s what your mother’s mother probably said when she birthed that harpy,” Natsu commented uncaringly.
Izaya choked on his breath, lips fluttering into a smile. He grimaced immediately after and pressed a hand against his belly. Natsu scoffed at him. “Look at you, flailing around for this,” she said, patting her own stomach in demonstration. She had a soft voice, slow on the words, as if she had to repeat them several times in her head to make sense of their order. They slurred with each other when she spoke. “They didn’t inject me with a miracle painkiller when I had your dad.”
“It’s a wonder you made it out alive,” Izaya smiled. His face was paler now than it had been before Shizuo left, and his brow shone with sweat in the light. Shizuo took his hand and rubbed over the skin of his knuckles, mapping out each joint and bone.
“You okay?” he asked.
“You mean besides the fact that I’m wearing adult diapers?” Izaya drawled. “I’m spectacular, Shizu-chan.”
That wasn’t what he meant. But if Izaya hadn’t realized that over the course of the past few months then he wouldn’t while he was hurting like this, so Shizuo squeezed his hand and didn’t ask again.
When he looked up Natsu was smiling at him.
She grabbed her cane as she stood, leaning heavily on it to her left side. “Well I’ll be gone, then,” she said. “I’ll be back tomorrow to thoroughly take advantage of your state and make you actually wear the clothes I knit you.”
Izaya groaned. “I don’t want them.”
“I know you don’t. But how are you going to stop me like this, I wonder?” She nodded at Shizuo. “You take care of my grandson, Heiwajima.”
“Yes ma’am,” Shizuo replied.
“Don’t be so pathetic,” Izaya snarled softly. “She’s all bark and no bite.”
Natsu laughed low in her throat and patted him on the cheek. “You take care of yourself, Izaya. And of my namesake too.” She limped out of the room, waving off Shizuo’s silent offer to help her walk. The door slid close behind her with a very soft thump.
Izaya sagged against the pillows keeping him upright. Then he let go of Shizuo’s hand to grab the collar of his shirt instead, and Shizuo let him tug him down into a kiss with his lips already parted.
Izaya tasted like salt, like the cold sweat he couldn’t yet shower off as often as he wanted to, but he was warm and slow and giving even with weakness in his body and soreness in each of his muscles. When they parted he sighed against Shizuo’s lips. Shizuo had to restrain himself from kissing him again.
“How is she?” Izaya asked, leaning back against the pillows. His hand stayed on Shizuo’s torso, fingers hooked into the breast pocket of his vest.
“She’s good,” he answered. “Coughing a little. But she’s breathing fine with the machine.”
“I heard your brother came by.” Shizuo shot a quick glance to the phone on Izaya’s nightstand, and Izaya chuckled. “A nurse came in and told us while you were with him. I’m not actually all-seeing, Shizu-chan.”
Shizuo cleared his throat, face warm. “Yeah, he was here. My mom too.”
Izaya didn’t say anything. Shizuo knew neither he nor his sisters had called any family besides their grandmother, who had traveled all the way to Tokyo in less than a day to visit. There were two cards on the beside table, though, arrived this morning with Izaya’s breakfast and still rigid with lack of handling. One of them Izaya had told him was from his secretary, the strict-looking woman he had crossed paths with on occasion. The other had no signature.
“From a regular client,” he had said after putting it down, “who should not have the knowledge to send it in the first place.” But he hadn’t seemed unhappy about it.
Now he looked paler with fatigue as the afternoon drained by, white in the face even against the sheets of his bed and the light from outside bathing his half of the room. His hair was damp with sweat and there were bags the color of bruises under his eyes.
He shifted against his backrest. “Will you take me to see her?” he asked carefully.
Shizuo’s breath caught in his chest.
He helped Izaya into the wheelchair on the other side of the room, eyes fixed onto his face for every wince of pain. When he pushed him outside a nurse gave them an encouraging look, glancing at the plastic bracelet Izaya wore. Izaya shoved his hand under his thigh in reply.
He didn’t stop in front of the window this time but wheeled Izaya all the way to the automatic door at the entrance of the ward where a nurse was standing guard. The man helped Izaya put on blue scrubs and a blue mask while Shizuo was changing as well, gave an apologetic look at the chair they had to leave behind. Shizuo sneaked an arm around Izaya’s back to help him wobble the rest of the way.
Shizuo may have come here several times already, but Izaya hadn’t. And he knew what they were thinking, he knew the look on the face of the therapist they had sent in when Izaya woke up the first day and refused to go to the ward Natsu was in, knew the shape of the pills Izaya had been offered and had refused to take as if he had seen them before.
They didn’t know what he knew, though, and what he knew was this: that although Izaya hadn’t gone to see her, he asked about her every time Shizuo did. That he bore with the pain, with the doctors and the nurses who wrote the wrong name on a piece of plastic and put it around his wrist like a tag on an animal. That Izaya taking two days to regroup after seven months was the healthiest he had ever seen him react to something.
Izaya braced himself on the table the box was resting on. Shizuo looked at Natsu’s face as she blinked under the soft light of the ward and wiggled her legs slowly.
“She really is scrawny,” Izaya said after a while. He tapped against the glass with a finger. Natsu blinked.
Shizuo breathed in and said, “You can hold her. If you want.”
“I thought she couldn’t be outside of that thing for now?”
“You can put your arms through there,” the nurse pointed to the opposite side of the box where gloves were attached to two holes in the surface. “It won’t feel the same as really holding her, but you can touch her.”
Izaya looked unseeingly at the box. “Have you done it?” he asked, turning to Shizuo. Shizuo shook his head.
“No. I wanted to do it with you.”
It had been an evidence to him, and he said it lightly, as such; but Izaya breathed as if he was only now remembering he could breathe at all, and for the first time in days blood colored his face to something that looked alive.
He let himself be dragged to the other side of the table, and neither of them listened to the explanations the nurse was giving them now about the machine’s different aspects.
Shizuo put one hand into the hole near Natsu’s head. After a few seconds, Izaya did the same with the one near her legs. Like this they were pressed close together from their ankles to their shoulders, and Shizuo wrapped an arm around Izaya’s back to keep him upright at the same time he slid his hand under Natsu’s head and lifted it slightly.
He felt the breath Izaya sucked in like a shudder through his entire body. Natsu squirmed atop the blanket she had kicked away some time before, eyes opening and closing as if it could help her vision sharpen to something human-like. Her skull didn’t even completely fit his palm.
“I can’t touch her,” Izaya said hollowly.
“You can,” Shizuo replied. “Look, I’m doing it.”
Izaya shook his head. Shizuo lowered Natsu’s head back again and slid his hand from under it slowly, until it rested against the soft of the mattress again. He brushed blindly against the wall of the box until his fingers found Izaya’s.
“Just her foot,” he said softly. “You won’t hurt her. Trust me.”
Izaya let him guide their hands to Natsu’s leg, to the folds of skin hiding her ankle and to the sole of her foot moving jerkily against the sheets. Shizuo pressed Izaya’s index finger to the arch of it and felt the entirety of Izaya’s body tense in answer against his side.
Natsu didn’t react very much. She squirmed some more, and her face scrunched, and in the end Izaya wrapped his fingers around her leg and pressed softly against her heel with his thumb.
Ten years ago Shizuo had been asked by Shinra if he would seriously relish in Izaya dying. He had gotten creative at the time in his answer, spoken poetry of watching Izaya bleed with the single-mindedness of a child’s grudge taking away every possibility of nuance. It would be years before Izaya first bit into his lips and his heart at the same time, and years more until he found himself sitting on the floor of Izaya’s apartment with Izaya lying down on his side next to him—one hand on Izaya’s neck where his pulse beat steady and no thought inside him except for how much he wished this heart would never stop. He had looked at Izaya’s back glistening in the dark and remembered each nook of his spine like an echo in his fingers. Inside him only the bright burn of affection shone where resentment had once shivered.
Now Izaya stood pressed against him with pain on his face and in the slouch of his body, and his fingers shook around the ankle of a child they had named after summer; and Shizuo thought if he could send the knowledge of this moment to himself as a child his words of hatred would’ve turned to words of love.