Aches Like Nothing (Part II)

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Aches Like Nothing
Part II

eleventh

Shizuo says you’re keeping the baby.

“I don’t know why you’re so obsessed with this,” Izaya said, looking up from the phone screen to the sleek darkness behind Celty’s visor. “You’ve never talked to me this much before. You do realize I’m still the same person, right?”

He knew he sounded bitter more than amused by the time he stopped talking. This was supposed to be a brief interview, Celty joining him in front of a gas station so that Izaya could tell her about what he wanted to hire her for, but Celty had been distracted, sidetracked into attempts at small talk Izaya didn’t know how to answer, and now Izaya was brimming with what could be irritation but felt a lot like self-consciousness. Not that he could tell the difference anymore.

I know, she was writing now, shifting on her heels with excitement, he thought. But it’s hard to reconcile Izaya, the bastard I know, with Izaya, the guy having Shizuo’s baby.

“Frankly, it’s none of your business.”

She tilted her helmet to the side, and sunlight caught Izaya’s eyes blinding-bright for a second. He scoffed softly.

Her bike made a sound, like the whinny of a horse; Celty patted it as she would the flank of an animal. He watched her gloved hand make contact with what looked like gleaming metal but wasn’t, and had to tell himself once again that she wouldn’t let him touch it even if he wanted to.

She leaned against the thing, took out her phone again to type. Why isn’t Shinra your doctor? she asked.

“I’ve had a real doctor for years now,” he said. He hunched his shoulders, arms pressing tighter against his sides and the ache in his chest. “Surely this doesn’t come as a surprise.”

She didn’t move for a moment, her attention fixed on him in ways different from a human’s. It felt a little like being stared at by a lion.

Shinra told me all about you after I first worked for you, she said.

“He would do something like that,” Izaya replied tensely.

She shrugged. If it were anyone but you I’d feel more sorry about it, she typed, harsh as she always was—so much harder to deal with than Namie’s brand of merciless chitchats. To be fair, I still don’t get exactly what the big deal is about you being a man.

He laughed, tongue turned to acid in his mouth, and when Celty’s helmet lifted in a show of attention, he said, “Me neither. That’s what the big deal is about.”

She didn’t look like she understood, but he hadn’t expected her to. He never expected anyone to.

The thing is, she typed after a moment of confusion, he said not a lot of people would treat you right for it. I thought it meant he would.

Izaya had thought so as well. He had latched onto the evidence of Shinra’s continued presence in his life, onto his willingness to indulge Izaya’s quirks when they were young, taken it to mean that at least for this Shinra would always be available. For this, if nothing else.

He breathed in the cold smell of gasoline and metal and pressed himself further into the corner of the convenience store. Celty’s helmet was still turned to him in consideration.


twelfth

The text came as the last dregs of afternoon trailed by, slow, sluggish. Izaya had stopped taking in new clients; the woman who was leaving his apartment as one of his phones lit up on the corner of his desk was one he had been working with for a long time—and so he felt comfortable enough to only wave her off without the need for obsequious farewells, one hand in the air and the other reaching to brush plastic right as the vibrating stopped.

“I’m leaving too,” Namie called as he unlocked the screen.

Izaya raised his head. “So soon?”

“It’s almost six,” she replied with boredom. “There’s nothing more I can do today.”

“Yes. It is getting quite boring for you around here, isn’t it?”

She stared at him in silence, and Izaya waited.

He knew what she wanted to ask. He knew she had noticed the patterns of his closed contracts and obligations and could sense the end coming. She just didn’t know how to ask what it meant for her.

She made a move, sudden and hazardous, grabbing her forearm as if she had begun to reach for her elbow but got stopped halfway through. “You’re starting to show,” she informed him.

Izaya exhaled through his nose slowly. “Your point is?”

“You won’t be able to keep up the pretense for long—people are already starting to notice your little secret.”

“I’m not hiding it,” he replied.

She snorted. “So you tell yourself. How many people have you been upfront with about this, besides me and your childhood acquaintances?” she taunted.

He managed to fight off the need to snap at her, only because he knew that she was asking all this for a very precise reason. “You don’t care. You don’t mind.”

“I don’t,” she said, and she shook her hair back over her shoulder impatiently. “Because I don’t give a shit. But your clients, your sources, the Awakusu… they will care.”

Izaya looked at her face. She was frowning as if in pain, and he knew it wasn’t pain about him, but there was still a hint at the curve of her chin, like the lightest of trembles, something that made his stomach knot on itself with longing.

He clenched his free hand. “You don’t have to worry about yourself,” he said. He had to swallow back the nod in his throat before continuing. “I’ll be taking a break for a few months, but I’ll keep protecting you from Nebula—as long as you promise to keep working for me once I get back to it, of course.”

“You know I don’t have a choice.”

“Something I’m eternally grateful for. You’re such a big help, Namie-san.”

Her mouth tore itself on a grin, bitter and appreciative at once. But then it disappeared, and she said, “What about the kid?” and Izaya’s breath caught hard in his throat.

“What—” What about it? he wanted to say. The words never came.

Namie looked at him with pity. “You should’ve aborted it,” she said, her words like ice on his skin, freezing over him until he couldn’t move at all. “This is too much for a scheme, even for you.”

“I’m not doing this as a scheme,” he managed to get out.

“Please. We both know that just because you realize you shouldn’t doesn’t mean you’re not gonna do it.” He couldn’t find anything to reply to that, so she sighed, and spoke again: “I can’t think of anyone more ill-adjusted to have kids than you, and that’s disregarding who I suspect the other daddy is.” Izaya felt his soul flinch against the rigid block of his body, as if she had struck him from the inside, her long fingers digging into his entrails to rip them apart.

“You’re going to fuck this up,” she finished. He couldn’t have looked away from her even under lethal threat. “And this, it’s not going to be pretty. This one fuck up… it’s a fuck up you’ll be carrying with you your entire life.”

“You think you have any right to—” he breathed, but she cut him off.

“I have every right. I know a goddamn thing or two about growing up with awful parents,” she scowled.

Izaya rose up from his seat. You think I don’t? he tried to ask, but the words stayed on his tongue, crawled back inside him to shackle him down to the truth of her words, to the rotten core of himself where doubts lay alongside the overwhelming discomfort of the past few weeks—the hope crushed to ashes under resentment for the swell of his breasts and the beginnings of softness around his hips and belly. The hunger and the pain and the dizziness, and this was only the start of things, this was only going to get worse and never eventually better, all for something he didn’t know he wanted but had decided to keep anyway.

There was only silence around them now. Water dripped from the faucet in the kitchen, louder than his heartbeat.

“Do you see what I’m saying?” Namie asked softly.

Izaya closed his eyes. “Get out.”

“You won’t be able to run away from this forever,” she said, a warning and a threat. “You decided to go through with this, you decided to have the child of a man you hate—”

“Get out of my house,” Izaya said again, and as he stepped forward his hand gripped so tight around Namie’s arm that her face flinched in pain.

“Fine,” she said, and she ripped herself away from him, catching the fall of her motion with hurried footsteps. “Fine. Ruin yourself, and your own kid, and Heiwajima Shizuo too. See if I care.”

She bumped against a potted plant on her way out, and it broke on the floor, spilling dirt out like guts.

Izaya stood still long after the bang of the door slamming shut stopped echoing through his empty apartment. Outside the light had started to dwindle to red instead of gold, the sky turning to dark in the horizon.

The phone in his hand buzzed again. He hissed out a breath, and unlocked it with unsteady fingers.

I’m outside your building, the text said. It took him an alarmingly long time to look up to Celty’s name and understand that it was her talking, and longer still to bring himself to scroll up to her previous text: We’re having an unplanned hotpot party, do you want to come?

It vibrated again while he was staring at the screen, and this time Celty was saying, I just saw Yagiri Namie leave in a hurry. She didn’t even insult me. Is everything okay?

Izaya sucked in a breath, and his chest flared with pain above the hollowness he could feel clawing at his flesh.

I’m busy, he typed quickly.

Her reply came even faster. No you’re not. I’m coming up.

He groaned lightly and pressed a shaking hand to his clammy forehead. He let himself sink back into the soft of his couch, eyes trailing over the ever-lit television screen constantly running mutely in the background in the hope of anything catching his attention as he worked.

He heard Celty’s steps outside his home long before she made up her mind to knock and push open the door. She always sounded less heavy than humans, less substantial. He didn’t turn his head to look at her until she was standing next to him.

“I’m tired,” he announced, interrupting the soft tapping of her gloved fingertips on her phone. She lifted her helmet in a show of attention. “Long day. Pregnancy. All that.”

She shrugged, and typed again. A good meal would do you some good, and the baby too, she showed him.

“Hotpot is for the winter,” he replied, mouth dry. “Do you people have no sense of the seasons?”

I didn’t think you cared about things like that.

He scoffed. With how wrought and hollow he felt, it came out as a sigh.

Celty shifted on her feet, helmet shaking from side to side as she took in the inside of his apartment. There were open boxes on his desk, files spread over the dining table and the corner Namie used as a working place. He knew it looked as thought he was closing office for good.

For a moment he tensed in preparation for her questions. Thankfully, Celty was more tactful than Shinra if no less mean when she wanted to, so she simply crossed her arms, phone still clenched in her hand.

Izaya cleared his throat. “Hypothetically,” he started. “If I did go with you, who else would be there?”

Her shoulders shook once, and she hurried to write her answer. Shizuo, of course, she said bluntly, and Izaya gritted his teeth but kept reading, smoothing his face into neutrality. His boss, too. Kadota and his friends, Harima Mika and Yagiri Seiji.

Namie wouldn’t like this, Izaya thought distantly. His secretary’s words were still ringing at his ears like the deep echo of a church bell, grating, nauseating. “Is that all?”

Celty typed some more. Mikado-kun will be there too. And his friend Sonohara Anri-chan. I don’t think I’m wrong to expect that you know her.

Izaya smiled tightly. “She won’t be happy to see me. It might ruin the entire night for her.”

Celty moved her shoulders up and down, the closest to an eye roll she could manage. Maybe, she replied. But Shizuo’s evening will suffer even more knowing that you chose to seclude yourself here instead.

He tensed up all the way to his neck, an ache like a bruise coming alight on the entirety of his body. “I should think the reverse would be true,” he tried, but the words fell flat even to his own ears, and Celty stared at him with disbelief written in every line of her stance. “Okay,” he amended, throat tight. “All right. I’ll go.”

Wonderful, she replied.

She fashioned a helmet out of smoke deftly, and he almost let it fall to the floor as she threw it to him, surprise and reflexive apprehension stalling his movements. He caught it, though, his fingers hooked at the opening, and for a second stress rippled into childish curiosity for the texture of it. It didn’t feel like he was touching anything. There was weight at his elbow, and resistance different from air between his thumb and index, but nothing else to prove the existence of what he was holding to his senses.

When he lifted his head to look back at her she was holding up another message for him: Do you need anything else?

“No,” he said.

The clothes she wore had the same lack of actual feeling, Izaya thought dizzily once he was seated behind her on the Cóiste Bodhar. When he closed his arms around her he could feel the girth of her body, but no fabric under the pads of his fingers. As though he was grabbing at solid nothingness.

Celty rode carefully with passengers. He had seen her drive away in a flash, her horse’s neigh ringing like an omen into the minds of people around her. But with him she was slow, her lean body shifting against his only to bow carefully into every turn. No one paid them any mind. At one point she held out her phone again, the device shrouded in shadow against her back as they waited at a  red light. I know you haven’t talked to Shizuo in weeks, she said. Izaya swallowed, chill air flowing unfelt against his numb chin.

“Don’t text and drive,” he replied. When her shoulders sagged he couldn’t tell if it was from disappointment or to push her creature into motion again, green light rippling on her helmet but absorbed to nothing over the rest of her.

Shinra’s apartment building appeared soon enough, glinting in the setting sun, sleek and white against its greying neighbors. Izaya dismounted Celty’s bike with some lingering regret and followed her into the lobby and the elevator.

He started feeling tense as soon as voices rushed to his ears from the hallway of her home. He stalled for as long as he could at the door, taking off his shoes and stretching his shoulders, but Celty was waiting, helmet off and smoke hovering over her severed neck like a great eyeball watching his every move. He crossed the opening to the living-room.

It seemed a lot smaller than usual, cramped with people he knew directly or not. Conversations faltered once people caught sight of him, and when he skimmed through the people present he only had time to catch surprise and no small amount of suspicion—resentment, too, stark and sudden on the Sonohara girl’s face, before his eyes met Shizuo’s.

Shizuo didn’t smile. His face relaxed, though, all at once, the same faintly sad expression he had worn during their last talk wrinkling his brow and softening his mouth, and Izaya exhaled shakily and turned his head away.

“Welcome,” Shinra greeted him with a grin. “You look as grim as always. The embodiment of sinister.”

“You don’t sound surprised to see me,” Izaya said dryly.

Shinra hummed. “Celty was really adamant about you being here. I knew she wouldn’t let you slip away easily.”

“Your girlfriend does drive a hard bargain, for a monster.”

The man beamed as if Izaya had complimented him. When Izaya looked over the shoulder of his lab coat he met Sonohara’s stare. She frowned at him, before looking back to Mikado sitting next to her.

He sat down at the edge of the couch on Mikado’s other side.

“Izaya,” Kadota said from where he was sitting at the table by his left side. He flicked a glance to Shizuo’s quiet figure at the other side of the room, then back to Izaya himself. “This is a surprise.”

“I like to keep things exciting.”

Kadota laughed. “You got kidnapped by Celty, more like.”

“Why are you here?” Karisawa asked, chin resting on the heel of her hand, her bright eyes fixed to his. “Wait, let me rephrase that. How are you here, and still alive?”

Kadota made a face. Izaya made himself smile and said, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

She didn’t seem put off by his words in the least. She didn’t ask anything more, though; next to her Yumasaki whispered something, and she answered in kind, finally tearing her eyes away from Izaya’s.

Mikado was the one who handed him a plate, with awkward, jerky movements and a face full of curiosity. Izaya thanked him but didn’t engage him in a conversation. He pressed further into the couch and let the hot food rest untouched on the coffee table. It didn’t smell bad. He just didn’t feel like eating.

“I saw your sisters today,” Kadota said lowly.

“Yeah?” Izaya replied. He stared at the floor unseeingly.

“They seemed okay. Already made a friend in school and all that.”

Kuronuma Aoba, Izaya thought. He would be the kind of classmate his sisters would befriend.

Kadota was sat too far to the side for Izaya to see him unless he turned his head and shoulders around, but he still heard him shift on his chair, metal scrapping against the floor as he moved. “Why are you here, Izaya?”

“People are asking me all sorts of questions today,” Izaya replied, a smile on his lips but irritation creasing his brow. “I never thought you of all people would indulge in gossip, Dotachin.”

“Don’t call me that,” Kadota retorted. “And I don’t see why me asking about you is a big deal. I don’t hate you.”

Izaya let his neck rest against the back of his seat, let his eyes roam over the white ceiling and bright windows. “You don’t hate anyone,” he said. “In your case I’d find it more interesting if you did despise me.”

“Morbid guy,” Togusa Saburo commented evenly from his seat next to Kadota. Neither Kadota nor Izaya answered.

The smell of cooking meat was all around him, not unwelcome but not especially appetizing either. In the end conversations started again despite his presence, and if more or less everyone kept throwing him sideway glances at least no one tried to engage him directly. Izaya busied himself by staring at the windows and the darkening city outside, the golden hour gone to make way for purplish fog and clouds and the very first pinpricks of stars into mud-colored sky. Little by little he relaxed, Namie’s words fading into the memory of the Cóiste Bodhar silently carrying him through the streets of Ikebukuro, the vibrations and bumps of the road the only solid proof of its existence.

Then the back of a hand touched his nape lightly, and Shizuo’s voice said, “You should eat,” soft and slow above him, and Izaya’s eyes snapped open and his heart jerked inside his chest as if he’d suddenly been thrown into freefall.

He breathed in shakily, as quietly as he could. No one turned to stare at him that he could see—and to his left and back there was only the excited murmur of Karisawa’s conversation, the lower tones from Kadota and his friend, and in the distance a voice he thought belonged to Harima Mika, shrilly calling for people who wanted second servings.

Izaya looked at his own plate. The food wasn’t steaming anymore that he could see, was probably cooling already, soggy and tepid. He took it back to his lap, and ate.

His phone buzzed as he was finishing. Stay until everyone else is gone, Celty was saying now. I’m talking to Shinra.

He thought, faintly, that it ought to sound ominous, like everything he read and heard these days, just a further notch up the ladder of his stress. But with food heavy in his stomach and the comfortable angle of the couch at his back all Izaya could feel was drowsiness. He didn’t know he had fallen asleep until Shinra called his name what felt like a second later, and when he blinked himself into almost-awareness near everyone had left.

“Orihara-kun,” Shinra said again. “Everyone’s gone already.”

Izaya grunted and rubbed his face with his hand. “Yeah, I can see that,” he croaked.

In front of him Celty was putting away the dishes. Through the open balcony door Izaya could make out the dark of Shizuo’s silhouette cut against the night sky, the faint smell of tobacco slithering in despite the wind to carry it outward.

Shinra sat down next to him and cleared his throat. “Celty yelled at me,” he said.

It took a few seconds for the words to make sense inside Izaya’s head. He met Shinra’s eyes under the hood of his hand at his forehead, and the man was watching him pensively, with regret on his face Izaya didn’t know whether was imagined or real.

Shinra sighed, and said, “I admit I tend to just let the habits take over around you. I’ve always tried to avoid being close to you in any way, so you asking me to oversee your pregnancy was a bit much.”

“Is this supposed to make me feel better?” Izaya muttered.

“Just explaining myself,” Shinra smiled. And then, more seriously: “The thing is, I’m a very childish person. I see you asking anything of me, and the first thing that goes through my brain is, ‘Look, Orihara-kun is trying to get close again, time for us to get out of this situation’.” Izaya laughed, and Shinra winced, but took the mocking in stride.

It didn’t feel real. Not Namie’s outburst, not the living-room full of guests, not Shinra’s words sounding too close to an apology.

“I’m not going to forget this,” Izaya warned after a brief silence.

Shinra nodded. “I know. And I only have myself to blame, etcetera.”

Izaya lowered his hand, looked at him straight in the eye. “So what is it that you really want to say?”

“Well,” and Shinra fiddled with the sleeve of his coat, and brushed aside his hair jerkily, “what I meant to say is—when you do this, when you try to get close again, we both know how it goes. But this time, me refusing you… I didn’t realize how cruel it was. I let the habits take over, and it didn’t occur to me that keeping you away for my own peace of mind wasn’t the humane thing to do. Not in this case.”

“You’re never humane,” Izaya said around the tension in his chest. “Only human.”

“Yes,” Shinra said. “But you’re still one of the few people I call friends, horrible personality and deeds non-withstanding. And you’ve only asked me for the minimum of help in a complicated situation, because I’m the only person you can turn to in this case.” He smiled shakily. “If I said no, I wouldn’t be very deserving of Celty’s love, don’t you think?”

Izaya’s breath caught in his throat. Before he could speak Celty walked up to Shinra, put a hand on his shoulder, and though she didn’t have a face her body was turned to Izaya, and Izaya felt like he was meeting her eyes—and she looked like she was smiling.

“Oh, of course, I don’t have the equipment to completely take care of you,” Shinra added suddenly. “You’ll need to get your ultrasounds at a hospital, and the birth will have to happen there too. Knowing you there’s no way your baby will come out without a fuss, and I would actually feel bad if one of you died on my watch because I can’t perform emergency surgery on a newborn or you need a c-section.”

Shinra,” Shizuo groaned from where he was eavesdropping at the window, and Celty moved as if to walk away in exasperation.

Shinra grinned at Izaya. “I can do the lab tests you’ll need, though, and check on your general health, and answer the worries you’ve been hiding from your actual doctor. On the house.”

Izaya didn’t try to speak. Relief swelled inside him, filled in the hole stress had been digging for weeks now. When he risked a glance to the balcony Shizuo was back inside, leaning against a wall and looking at Izaya with a smile on his lips.

Izaya breathed out softly. “I’ll see you in a few days for all that, then,” he told Shinra, and Shinra nodded.

Do you want me to take you back? Celty asked.

“No. I’ll call a cab, or walk the way home.” He stood up—pressed a hand over his clothes to smooth out the wrinkles his sleep had caused—and as he walked around the couch and back toward the hallway he felt his steps falter in front of her.

There was nothing to see. No bones or blood or muscle at the clear cut of her neck. Only a pit of blackness, what could be a single layer of smoke or a gaping hole for all he knew—Celty’s shadows swallowed light like a starved animal. There were tendrils of it level with his face, moving  slowly in patterns she probably didn’t quite mean them too. She was high-shouldered, he thought. If she had her head—if Izaya were to hand it to her, or place it at the stump of her neck like a piece of some grotesque puzzle, she would be taller than him.

“Thank you for inviting me,” he said, and he didn’t look at her throat but at the puffs of black smoke above it instead. She touched his elbow gently in answer.

Fresh air felt good on his face once he stepped outside the building. Shizuo had the decency to wait for a minute before falling into step beside him.

“I’ll walk you home,” he said lowly.

Izaya glanced at him quickly, but Shizuo was looking at the ground in front of him. “This isn’t your way at all, Shizu-chan.” He paused. “Or do you want sex? Because I haven’t exactly been in the mood recently.”

In the dark he couldn’t make out the blush on Shizuo’s skin, but the sight of his stumbling steps was enough for satisfaction to run up his spine.

“Shit,” Shizuo cursed softly. “Why do you always have to—” he stopped, and breathed in harshly. “Never mind. I don’t want sex, all right? I just wanna make sure you fucking make it home.”

“Because I’m so in need of your protection,” Izaya mocked, but Shizuo didn’t answer. He did close the gap between them, though, and every time they stepped forward his arm brushed against Izaya’s and the knuckles of his hand bumped into his. Izaya felt his own face warm. “I’m just walking to the cab station anyway. It’s a bit far from here to my apartment by foot.”

“I’ve seen you run twice that distance before.”

“Well, I’m not exactly in top condition, am I?”

Shizuo tensed beside him. “Sorry,” he said, and Izaya saw red.

He stepped aside, lifting his arm so his elbow could hit Shizuo’s in the process. “Stop apologizing,” he ordered.

“I can’t,” Shizuo growled. He looked frustrated now, but not angry—he hadn’t been angry at Izaya, not for long, not for a long time.

It infuriated him.

“I could’ve stopped it all without you even knowing about it,” he said harshly, and Shizuo recoiled lightly but didn’t break eye contact with him. “I still could. Stop acting like you’re forcing me to do this—no one forces me to do anything.”

“But do you really want to?” Shizuo asked. Izaya bit his lip, and opened his mouth to answer, but he was cut off again, “We haven’t talked about anything. Shit, yeah, I am in board with this—I want to have a kid. I want to have several kids. I always have.”

Izaya’s heart was beating erratically now, hard and painful against his ribs, and Shizuo’s face had taken the color of longing again, and apprehension, and maybe fear.

Weirdly enough, Izaya’s first thought was We’re not having any more kids after this. But he closed his mouth instead in the momentum of surprise and horror. Shizuo either didn’t notice or didn’t comment on it.

“Izaya,” he said. He stepped closer. “We need to talk about this.”

“Not now,” Izaya replied automatically.

Shizuo swore. “You always fucking say that. You can’t run away your entire life, you know,” and then he marked a stop, because Izaya flinched bodily at this—Shizuo’s words superposed themselves to Namie’s like a horror recording, and his heart pumped blood like a man wheezing for a last breath—“Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Izaya breathed. And then, blinking himself back to reality: “Yes, I’m fine. Why is everyone acting like I’m about to drop dead?”

Shizuo considered him for a moment before sighing. “We wouldn’t if you weren’t always acting so dramatic.”

“Says the man who uproots public property at the sight of me.”

Shizuo’s gaze softened. “I don’t do that anymore,” he said. “You know I don’t.”

The only source of light in the vicinity was an old street lamp at the mouth of the alley. In its yellow glow Shizuo’s eyes looked lighter, gold instead of brown, with tiny flecks of black in them like the footprints of insects. When he breathed out Izaya could feel it on his face.

Shizuo raised a hand and put it at the back of Izaya’s neck where his hair was rising, where shivers came to life from the sweetness of his touch.

“I don’t want sex,” he said again.

“Pity,” Izaya let out. Shizuo laughed, bitter, and pressed his fingers into Izaya’s skin slowly.

He whispered, “God, Izaya.” The words came to tangibility on Izaya’s skin, a caress so light it tickled his eyelids into closing.

He was never supposed to sound like this. Izaya had yearned for the day Shizuo’s voice would turn to pleas, but not like this—not with him pressed so close Izaya forgot all about the cold night around them. Not with his nose brushing Izaya’s forehead and not with warmth on his words, as if he was dying from something other than hatred—as if he didn’t mind being shipwrecked so much as long as Izaya was the one to tear the hull apart.

You’re going to fuck this up, Namie said in his mind.

Izaya took a step back.

When he opened his eyes again Shizuo was in the process of closing off his emotions, disappointment starker on his face than outrage would have been.

“Not now,” Izaya repeated. His mouth was dry.

“Okay,” Shizuo said flatly.


thirteenth

“You seem healthy enough,” Shinra commented. “But you need to eat more.”

“I am eating more,” Izaya said, and Shinra shook his head.

“Snacking during the day isn’t enough. You need full meals, and healthy ones at that. I’ll write down some tips and you can get Yagiri-san to cook for you.”

Izaya paused with his head caught at the opening of his sweater; but Shinra had turned away to steal a post-it note from Izaya’s desk, so he didn’t say anything and pushed the cloth all the way down to his neck before sweeping away the hair that fell into his eyes.

“Have you done an ultrasound yet?” Shinra asked once he was done writing. He stuck the note to the corner of Izaya’s glass coffee table and sat down on the couch again.

“No.”

“Orihara-kun,” Shinra sighed. He pushed his glasses up his nose. “I can examine you, but I can’t examine the fetus. You need an ultrasound.”

“It’s just a bunch of fast-growing cells floating in mucus,” Izaya replied, rolling his eyes. “What could be wrong with it?”

“Trust me, you don’t want the answer to this.”

Izaya lay back on his couch, leaving his pants on the floor where he had thrown them after Shinra told him to strip. He had been feeling more energetic for the last few days. He slept peacefully, dreamed of nothing, and completed his work with easy focus. Despite Namie’s absence he hadn’t fallen behind on his schedule, but this could be due to his dwindling workload as much as his boosted energy levels. He was only working with Awakusu and a few other corporations from Shinjuku now.

“Shinra,” Izaya said lightly.

“Mmh?”

He turned his head. Shinra was already closing his bag and straightening his coat around his shoulders. “It’s… normal to bleed even while pregnant, right?”

The doctor’s head jerked in his direction. “What?”

“It was just a little,” Izaya explained, throat suddenly locked on air. “At the beginning. Like a period, but with a lot less blood.”

“You should’ve told this to your doctor as soon as you knew,” Shinra replied. Izaya’s heart was beating hard and fast now, sending blood to his head and blurring the edge of his vision. Shinra seemed to notice, because he frowned and said, “Calm down. We won’t know until you get an ultrasound.”

“Okay,” Izaya breathed. “All right. I’ll make an appointment.”

“Good.” Shinra stood up to leave, and Izaya made himself follow suit, pulling up his pants as he walked.

In the entrance his friend stopped again, one hand against the threshold and his eyes fixed unseeingly on the open kitchen door—from there Izaya knew he could see the edge of his fridge and the ridiculous things pinned there years ago by childish hands.

“You come from a family of twins,” he said softly.

It took a few seconds for his words to crawl into Izaya’s brain, gooey and awful.

Shinra looked at him again. “That might be why you bled.”

“What do you mean?” Izaya said slowly, heart still as a stone. “Did I lose—”

“No. No, that’s not it, stop making this face,” Shinra whined.

Izaya rubbed his forehead with shaky fingers. “Please, just. Tell me what I did wrong.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong.” He leaned against the door as he spoke, and Izaya focused on him instead of the fear clamming his insides. “Do you remember exactly when you had this period?”

Izaya counted in his head. “Three weeks in.”

“Then it was probably just a vanishing twin.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

Shinra raised two fingers. “Two eggs. Only one got impregnated. Your body simply got rid of the other as it did all the ones you didn’t make into babies before—do I need to go on?”

“I think I get the picture,” Izaya sighed. He tried to keep his relief to himself but it must have shown on his face anyway, because Shinra smiled.

“Do the ultrasound, Orihara-kun,” he said, and he opened the door to leave.

Izaya worked most of the afternoon after calling the nearest clinic. He ordered food from a Thai joint down the street, ate most of it in a few minutes and let the rest congeal over his dining table until the smell was faint enough as to be unnoticeable to himself. He really was getting low on work with all the contracts he was putting on hold; having had no new clients in weeks it was only a matter of getting rid of loose ends and keeping up to date with Shiki Haruya’s side-requests as he did his research on Amphisbaena and Heaven’s Slave.

His door opened with no warning around four. Izaya pushed his chair away from his desk, and by the time he was on his feet Namie was walking into the room and dropping her keys loudly in the platter near the entrance.

For a breath they stared at each other in silence.

“I didn’t think you’d come back,” Izaya said at last. Namie clenched her hands, but she didn’t move nearer, and she didn’t walk away.

“Well.” She sounded strained. “I still need you to protect me from Nebula.”

He wouldn’t have let them catch her. Even if she hadn’t come back, Izaya wouldn’t have let Kishitani Shingen’s group lay a hand on her—and surely she knew it. Surely Izaya was transparent enough for her to know this.

He licked his lips and turned his back on her. “There’s no work for you today.”

“You’ve been living in your own filth,” she replied immediately, probably looking at the cold takeout on the table and the disorganized files on her desk.

“I am capable of living alone, Namie-san,” he snapped, and when he looked back at her over his shoulder her body had slackened into habitual annoyance.

“Whatever. I’ll clean this up at least.”

She did so without another word to him. Izaya sat down again and listened to the rush of water in the sink as she washed his dishes, to the ruffling of paper when she sorted through the mess piled on her makeshift desk. All the while he stared at his computer screen, from the default wallpaper to the icon for a chatroom he hadn’t visited in weeks.

Namie approached him when she was done. She stood behind him in silence, the shape of her body cut black-on-white on the now unlit screen.

“You’re gonna need to do some construction work in this place soon,” she announced. He knew she was eyeing the floor plans above which his hand was resting.

“Probably.”

“Not probably. Definitely. Unless you want to have a baby screaming directly in your ear every night.”

He felt his lips shiver into a smile. “I’m sensing some experience,” he taunted, and he leaned back his head to look at her upside-down.

She frowned at him, her nostrils flaring surreptitiously. “Seiji was a bad kind of baby. Fussy. With karma like yours you’ll get all of this and more.”

“I’ve missed your kindness.” And then, lower: “You’re going to make me pay for this, aren’t you?”

Namie smirked. “You’ll see.”

Izaya looked back at his desk and the spread of obsolete papers on it. “I’ll let you oversee the construction, then,” he said.

He felt her hand grab the back of his chair as she breathed, her fingers pushing between the back of his sweater and the leather covering.

“I suppose I can do this,” she replied at last. “As long as I get to do something about that ugly corner up the stairs that you never even use, I don’t care if I have to build a nursery on it.”


fourteenth

Izaya woke up with a start, but it wasn’t because of the ache in his lower back, and it wasn’t from any kind of nightmare either. He lay on his bed with his eyes closed as he waited for the too-fast beat of his heart to quiet. From the open window chilly air slithered in, and this was his first hint that something was wrong. He found the second when someone rustled atop the sheets next to him.

He grabbed the knife under his pillow, and turned to his side slowly, and when he opened his eyes Mairu was staring right back at him.

“You’re having a baby,” she said in lieu of a greeting, and Izaya choked in answer, body relaxing all  at once but heart skipping inside his chest as if it wanted to break itself on his ribs.

“Shit,” he breathed.

“Bad word,” Kururi’s came softly from behind him. She was kneeling beside the bed, arms crossed on the edge of the mattress and her chin tucked into an elbow.

“You shouldn’t swear, Iza-nii,” Mairu added with a nod. “I can’t believe you’re already teaching bad things to our niece.”

Izaya sat up slowly, throwing off his blanket and regretting it as soon as their eyes zeroed in on the clothes hiding his torso from view. He dragged a hand down his face, wiping the evidence of sleep from his features as he tried to calm down.

“Just give me a minute,” he told them after a deep breath. “Go watch TV downstairs while I shower or something.”

“No way,” Mairu replied immediately. “You’ll just crawl out of here while we’re distracted.”

“Doesn’t Hanejima Yuuhei host a show every morning?”

“We’re recording it,” Kururi said. She fisted a hand into the fabric of Izaya’s T-shirt, her eyes still set on his belly.

He leaned against the wall behind him, crushing his pillow behind his back. “Fine,” he let out tiredly. “Ask your questions.”

Kururi pushed herself up and sat on the bed next to him, her shoulder pressed against his. She hadn’t let go of his clothes.

“When is she gonna be here?” Mairu inquired.

“There’s no ‘she’,” he replied in annoyance. “It’s the size of a lemon. Barely alive to speak of.”

“There’s no way you’re having a boy. It’s in our genes. Maybe you’re having twin girls!”

“I’m not,” Izaya said, thinking again of Shinra’s words.

Mairu made a face.

“She’s disappointed in you,” Kururi informed him.

“Tough luck.” He thought of his last appointment with his doctor, when she had briefed him on the lab results, and he said: “October. For the birth. I think.”

For a minute they both stayed blissfully silent, stuck to Izaya’s sides despite the sleep-sweat shining at his brow and the beginning of the day’s warmth seeping into the room.

“Who’s the other dad?” Mairu asked, then.

Izaya turned his head to look down at her. “Who told you?”

She took on a defiant expression, and on his other side Kururi straightened as if to solidify herself for a brutal interrogation—as if they were the ones being drilled instead of the other way around. Izaya shook his head.

“I hope this is the last of Namie’s revenge,” he muttered. The girls flinched, as good a confirmation as anything.

But then, “We told mom,” Kururi said, and Izaya had to breathe through the grit of his teeth and the tightness in his chest.

He grabbed the phone on his nightstand. The screen unlocked to two missed calls and a voicemail.

He felt like cursing again.

“If you tell us who the dad is we can tell her to stop calling you,” Mairu offered, gleeful.

There was no way Namie hadn’t disclosed her suspicions alongside the news of the pregnancy, Izaya thought distantly. More likely than not Mairu and Kururi knew but wanted the pleasure of having him admit it out loud.

“I don’t need you to control her for me,” he said at last. “But nice try.”

Mairu slid down into a lying position, swearing under her breath the way she had scolded him for doing earlier. On his other side, Kururi imitated her.

“Can we touch it?” she asked, her voice thin like vapor. Izaya felt his back knot itself up in tension.

“There’s nothing to touch,” he said tightly.

Her hand was tugging at his top insistently. Izaya raised an arm and then let it fall again, too tired or not feeling mean enough to bat it away.

“Fine,” he relented, heart thrumming loudly in his ears. “I’ll give you five minutes. Then you go to school where you’re supposed to be.”

Immediately Kururi’s cold hand crawled under his shirt, mapping the now noticeable swell of his belly and the softness around it.

“Too soon to move,” she said as if she was disappointed, but she was beaming, digging her fingers in as much as she could. They never pushed to the point of pain.

Izaya didn’t really touch the growth there. He skimmed it in the shower just enough to feel the contrast of soft from excess weight and hard from the actual pregnancy, just enough to identify the edges of that which now grew inside him and disturbed everything from his sense of self to his every day physical balance. He had risked looking at pregnancy websites only once. He had seen the articles and the women commenting them, had read over the things they were supposed to be feeling, the things they did feel, and how wrongly they fit with what he was experiencing.

He couldn’t connect with it. He minded having it here. He knew what he was getting into and he didn’t regret it, but there was no love shared for the lemon-sized addendum to his body, nothing tangible to link him to the possibility of the person it could become—the person it would become.

Izaya liked people already grown and already shaped.

Mairu touched him as well, with soft, careful hands, and through the discomfort Izaya hoped that this was enough. That it was enough that other people cared for the bump and its inhabitant instead of him.


Shizuo was waiting at the entrance of the clinic, hair turned to gold by sunlight and dressed in old, soft clothes that only served to smooth the edges of his face and body. He looked younger in them, somehow, brighter even if the look in his eyes was anything but. Izaya thought briefly of turning away and ignoring his appointment. But he had come here prepared for this possibility, had long since made up his mind about Celty’s unwavering involvement in trying to turn this particular mess into something less glaringly dysfunctional, so he stayed.

“Don’t you say a word,” he warned when they were level to each other. “Not one, during the whole thing.”

“I’m not going to make fun of you for this,” Shizuo replied with a frown.

Izaya breathed heavily, and his hands turned to fists inside the pockets of his coat. “That’s not what I’m worried about.”

He walked into the lobby and straight to the nurse at the counter to ask where he was supposed to go. “Third floor,” she answered with a smile. For a second her eyes wandered to Shizuo beside him, to the open collar of his shirt and the bare skin of his arms taunt on lean muscles and bones.

Izaya bumped into the mug full of pens at the corner of the desk when he stepped away. They spilled to the floor like a bright and colorful rainfall.

For all that he had dreaded coming here to do what he had to, he didn’t feel so tense anymore. The elevator ride up to the third floor was spent in complete silence. Though he could feel Shizuo’s eyes on him they didn’t provoke anything more than warmth at the memory of their last meeting and self-consciousness so deep and forgettable that he squashed it with barely a thought.

He never liked hospitals. He never liked the spotless-clean air inside or the blinding white halls, and most of all he despised the ones who worked in them.

The waiting room was almost empty. It was a corner more than a room, just a few chairs covered in fake leather in an alcove of the corridor. Only one person was there, a woman so heavy with child she looked about to give birth right there—and at the sight of her Izaya felt his skin shiver on his bones as if trying to detach itself from him.

Shizuo put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him toward a chair. Firm, and slow, and agonizingly controlled.

When he was called ten minutes later it was by a name he had almost never heard for more than a decade. It took a moment for him to link it to himself and understand that it was his turn, and longer still to rise from the hard chair and walk into the woman’s steps. Shizuo followed him in silence.

“Please use this room to change into a gown,” she told him once they were inside, opening the door to a small, closet-like space next to the ultrasound machine. Then, turning to Shizuo: “Are you the father?”

“One of them,” Shizuo replied. She blinked owlishly. He didn’t elaborate.

Izaya changed as quickly as he could.

“Lie down,” said the woman once he was done. She fiddled with a few things in a metallic plate next to the table.

“My doctor should’ve sent you my file,” Izaya said in a tight voice. The table was cold against his back, sanitized paper creaking when he moved to spread himself over it.

“Yes, yes. I understand that you haven’t gone to a gynecologist?”

“That’s right.”

She frowned at that, and tapped the end of her pencil against an aluminum shelf. Izaya braced himself for her words, but in the end all she said was, “You should,” before turning away to put on plastic gloves.

Shizuo stepped closer next to him, face tense and apprehensive as he looked over the tubes connecting the machine together and the black monitor in the middle.

Izaya sucked in a breath when the doctor came close again and her hands lifted the edge of the blue-white gown to just below his chest. “This is going to feel cold,” she warned, and he did flinch lightly when she spread gel over his skin—but it wasn’t from the chillness so much as the fact that she was touching him at all.

The machine whirred to life around him, beeps and growls and wild little lights.

When she first pressed the probe on his belly the monitor stayed black. Then it turned grey and blotchy, a mess of spots Izaya wouldn’t have known how to decipher to save his own life. There was a light he thought was his bladder at one point, and then something darker and smaller, and for a minute the woman didn’t say a word, stayed so focused on the screen that the first tendrils of panic settled to the back of his mind.

And then, “There,” she said, and Izaya shot a hand out to clutch Shizuo’s wrist, so tight he could feel the beat of his blood under his fingertips.

It was just another shape in the picture. Small, and curled on itself so that Izaya couldn’t tell body and head apart.

“These are the legs,” the woman said, pointing to the bottom left of the screen where the shape was pointier. “And that’s the spine… and the head. I’m not seeing anything wrong so far.”

Izaya let all the air in his body go at once. He sagged against the examination table, eyes fixed to the screen and the lemon-sized shaped on it until he thought he could make out its details. The shadow of a thigh, and undersized arms, and even at their end the relaxed curl of minuscule fingers.

Shizuo breathed in harshly. “Is that—” he said, and Izaya should be angry that he had spoken at all except he could hear it too now—the rapid-fire heartbeat almost drowned by his own, the way the shape shook every time it rang, and Izaya couldn’t do anything but fit his thumb to the pulse at Shizuo’s wrist and tighten his hold until he was sure he was bruising him.

“Oh,” the doctor said.

“What’s wrong?” Izaya asked, too loud and too fast for the breathlessness in him.

She shook her head. “Nothing. Do you want to know the sex?”

For a second her question didn’t even register. He looked at her unseeingly, the greyscale picture like a lighthouse in the corner of his vision. When he did understand—when her words took meaning inside his head at last, Izaya laughed.

He laughed, bright and nervous, and his chest shook with it as if taken by tremors. He opened his eyes again and blinked away the heat and dampness in them, and she looked as if he had insulted her.

“I don’t care,” he said.

Shizuo’s skin was warm under his palm. Little by little Izaya felt his own heartbeat match itself to the quiet one on the screen—quick like a bird’s, and only slightly less erratic than his own.

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