Aches Like Nothing (Part III)

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Aches Like Nothing
Part III

nineteenth

If there were two things to say about Orihara Kyouko, one would be that she was punctual to a fault. When she didn’t cancel an appointment she arrived in the nick of time, right when the arrow of any clock was about to jump from one minute to the next, as if she willfully strained to make it to that one second of timeless expectation that separated on time from late.

The other was that her timing was always terrible.

Izaya had woken up this morning from a night of fitful sleep with his legs burning, shaking from hour-long cramps, and on the table by his bed his personal cellphone lit with an incoming message from his mother. I’ll visit you at ten, it said. There was an emoji at the end of the sentence, some bright face with sparkles she had learned from daily texts with Mairu and probably thought would reassure him about her intentions.

Izaya stayed in bed until even his blinds couldn’t block sunlight from filtering in. June had come dry and warm, with only the city’s smoke to blur the sight of clear sky and clean air when the sun rose to its highest; at nine in the morning its light already arched to rest close to the window in straight little stains, bright spots blending into one another from his hazy eyesight.

He felt the first sharp kick of the day a few minutes later. His back tensed on already aching muscles and bones, and he gritted his teeth and made himself breathe through his nose until he didn’t feel like the panic was going to swallow him whole anymore.

The exercise didn’t become easier with time. He still honed it in the hope that it would.

Eventually he shifted to his side and rose to stand, knees buckling sore and feeble but still able to support his weight.

He made himself go through the motions of showering and getting dressed, briefly considered breakfast before looking at the time and simply putting some water to boil. Namie was gone for the day, and so were the construction crew she had hired, leaving behind only the white dust upstairs where new walls were being finished and cleaned up.

Kyouko knocked five seconds before ten turned to ten-and-one. Izaya put the tea leaves to steep and pushed himself upright once more.

“Oh, darling,” she said with damp eyes once he opened the door and she got to see him completely, from toe to belly to face and then back to belly. She looked pristine as ever, her hair only shy of reaching the length of Namie’s and far darker, sleek and shiny at her back. When she embraced him Izaya touched it with one hand between her shoulder blades.

It was soft, and thick, like his sisters’. Unlike his own.

Kyouko pushed away after a minute. She must have come wearing waterproof make-up, because it didn’t smear around her eyes even after she wiped the tears away firmly.

“You’re so big already!” she breathed.

Her hands were around his hips, heels brushing the edge of the swell and fingers digging into soft flesh. Izaya grabbed her wrists gently to put them away. “It’s been four months. Of course I’m getting bigger.”

“How should I know?” she replied immediately, stepping backward to properly take off her shoes. “You never even told me. I had to learn from Kururi, of all people.”

Weeks ago, Izaya thought. “Do you want tea?” he asked instead, nodding toward the pot steaming softly by the window.

“Yes, please.”

She walked to the pit in his living-room, sitting down on one of the leather couch with a blissful sigh. When he brought her a cup she drank from it immediately, no stress on her features to betray the burn of scalding tea on her tongue.

“I really should visit more often,” she said. “You have such a nice place. A little messy, though.”

“I had to move a lot of things downstairs while the nursery is being built,” he replied curtly.

Her eyes watered again at that, and she grabbed his hand. Her skin was dry and smooth as a child’s.

“Your father and I are so proud,” she said insistently. “So happy for you.”

Izaya swallowed and asked, “Where is dad?”

“Out of the country. He’ll be back in time for the birth. But he sends his love.”

“Of course.”

Kyouko was still looking at him with a desperate kind of relief, so Izaya tugged his hand away and grabbed his own cup of tea. He didn’t drink from it, though. The reddening skin of his knuckles was enough for now.

The silence was awkward for a while, broken only by the wind whistling around his open windows and the soft tapping of Kyouko’s fingers on porcelain.

She cleared her throat quietly. “Have you reserved a room in a hospital? And how is the baby?”

Izaya relaxed. This was easy. “Yes,” he said. “Yesterday, actually. And it’s fine. No problems, so far.”

“I remember when I was pregnant with you,” she smiled gently. “You were a quiet baby. I hardly felt you kicking around at all, it actually worried my doctor at the time. But you were fine. Just very still. And so beautiful when I saw you the first time,” she added, eyes bright in the soft light of day.

Izaya thought of the tugs and blows inside him daily, the jerky movements of the greyscale shape inside that woke him up at random during the night. “I see.”

“Nothing like your sisters,” and now Kyouko put down her cup so she could gesture freely, voice dry and amused at once. “God, what a pair of troublemakers. Sometimes I thought they were having a duel in there.”

There was nausea now, stuck inside Izaya’s throat, crawling and terrible.

Kyouko patted his arm, and he stayed still despite the awful shivers over his skin. “Be glad you aren’t expecting twins. That was an awful pregnancy.” And then: “Do you know the sex?”

Izaya tensed like bow. “No.”

She waved a hand, dismissive. “There’s no way you’re having a boy. Family tradition.”

“You know this isn’t actually true.”

Her gaze was sharp now, her smile in place but a tremor at her chin like the passing of a wave. “It was for me,” she said.

There was condensation on the glass of the table. Little rings of mist around the heat of the cups sitting there as gas turned to water on the chilly surface. Izaya watched them expand and shrink, Kyouko’s hand on his arm a burn more painful than that of boiling tea.

He swallowed. “Do you want to know who the—the father is,” he asked, but his words died almost to nothing when he noticed his stumble. Other father. He had meant to say, “other father,” and for a second his heart throbbed in his chest and his mind turned to paralysis instead of actual thought.

“If you want to tell me,” Kyouko replied, unknowing or uncaring of the blood rushing away from Izaya’s face. “I’d be happy to meet him, if he’s the man you choose to spend your life with. But you know I don’t really care about that.”

“No,” Izaya said weakly. He breathed in harshly and pressed his fingers into the bruise on his right knee where he had bumped into a door the day previous—“No, you can’t stand having me for a son, but it doesn’t matter that I’m having an unplanned pregnancy as long as you get to call it proof in your favor.”

Her hand left his arm, delicate fingers rubbing together above her lap before she put them down slowly. “Nozomi-”

“Izaya,” he cut in.

Kyouko’s eyes shone with tears, angry ones this time, ones that made Izaya feel like a hole instead of a person. “You’re still going on about this,” she said with pain on her voice.

“I told you,” he hissed. “I told you multiple times.”

Her hand clenched on the opening of her handbag, leather creaking beneath her fingers. “Forgive me for assuming that you being pregnant meant you’d changed your mind.”

Izaya’s phone buzzed loudly on his desk. They both turned to look at it for a second, willing it to quiet or willing it to keep going.

“You’re going to give birth,” Kyouko said after a beat. “Men don’t do that.”

He pushed himself to his feet, breath cutting short inside his lungs with the first drafts of real panic. “This one does.”

The text was from Celty, but that was as far as he managed to read with old heartache crawling into him and disappointment and anger thrumming colder than ice inside his veins. He heard the glide of Kyouko’s silk socks on his floor as she walked toward him, felt the painful breath she took to speak as if it had come from his own lungs. He braced himself open-palmed against the surface of his desk.

“You always act like this,” she said, loud behind him. “Making me feel like a terrible mother, like I’ve done something wrong to you. Like I’m the worst person on earth.”

Maybe you are, he thought viciously, but he squashed the words before they could leave his lips. “That’s not what I’m saying at all,” he replied.

She sniffed loudly, and a small, helpless noise escaped her mouth. “I’m trying, N—Izaya. But you have to understand that it’s hard for me.”

“I know.”

She stepped beside him and leaned until he couldn’t ignore her face in the corner of his vision even when he refused to look her way. She cupped his chin with her hand. Izaya clenched his jaw so hard he could feel the beginning of pain at its joints, just below his temples.

“I love you,” she said with fervor, turning his face around to make him look at her. He towered over her by an inch or so. She looked older than he had ever seen her, her mascara still in place but her foundation smudged by her tears, exposing little lines around her eyes. Her other hand pressed against his cheek. “You know that I love you, right?” and she sounded so febrile now, so unsure.

“I know,” he repeated before he could help it.

This made a smile shiver at her lips. “I gave birth to three daughters,”—his stomach clenched weakly through the hollowness, as if dwindling in determination—“you know I can’t change that. No one can.” She waited, but he said nothing, only looked at the dip above her lips and the flare of her nostrils.

She stroked through his hair softly. “I love you, no matter what,” she said again. “Even if we disagree on this.”

With anyone else Izaya would have said, This isn’t about disagreement. He would’ve been scathing instead of hurt, would’ve grown angry and loud instead of silent and meek. But this wasn’t anyone else. This was his mother, with his sisters’ eyes and his hair color, and memories to her face, and her voice like an echo, like words said over and over again until he surrendered and retreated. No strength for protest when emptiness gaped in him like a terrible mouth, swallowing all of his insides, guts and muscles and bones alike.

“I love you too,” he tried to say.

His apartment door opened, and Celty stepped in, black and tall and faintly surprised—the unlikeliest of knights.

He bit his tongue when he closed his mouth on the words, and he tasted blood.

Kyouko looked at Celty in surprise. She patted Izaya’s head one last time before stepping away from him.

“Friend of yours?” she asked.

Izaya took a few seconds to muster enough energy to answer. “She works for me.”

“I see.”

Celty jumped lightly in place, taking out her phone to type hastily on it. Izaya put a hand on Kyouko’s back and pushed her toward the entrance. “You should leave,” he said. “We’ll talk later.”

She frowned at him, eyes still bright, cheeks still flushed from upset, and he felt the echo of her distress like a bell ringing inside him slow and deep and nauseating.

“Shirou will call you soon,” she warned.

“That’s okay. I’m always happy to talk to him.” And he was. His father wasn’t nearly as exhausting a person to be around.

Her face softened. She sniffed for a second, straightened her back, and when she turned to Celty it was with a smile on her face as charming as it was tedious. “I’m sorry I can’t stay to make your acquaintance. Please take care of my—please take care of Izaya,” she said, and Izaya looked out through the window to avoid the hopeful glance she shot at him as if to ask, See? I am making efforts.

She closed the door as quietly as she could on her way out.

Izaya traveled back to the dip of stairs in the room, took hold of his abandoned cup and swallowed the leftovers as he would alcohol if he hadn’t been alone and if he hadn’t been pregnant. The tea didn’t even have the decency to scorch its way down his throat. It was tepid now, almost cooled to staleness over the last few minutes.

He heard Celty shift on her feet behind him, processed her light footsteps down to his level and the phone she thrust before his unseeing eyes.

Was that your mother? she was asking. He nodded. She typed again, slower this time: She’s beautiful. You look a lot like her.

For a second he stared at the yellow screen, not knowing how to answer her. “Thanks,” he settled for as he put the cup back down. It clicked loudly against the table, and the sound traveled like an ache in his teeth. He inhaled deeply. “Why are you here?”

I texted you on the way, she said immediately. I thought I’d come up and see how you were doing.

And, finally, anger broke through the murky apathy he felt, like starlight needling the night sky.

He turned to face Celty and said, “So you think you can just come and go as you please, do you?”

She didn’t move away from him. He hadn’t expected her to.

Izaya took a step forward and into the personal space she carried around as if she had any right to it. “What do you think you’re doing, courier?”

Her helmet leaned down as she typed her answer. Izaya looked at the lightless void inside, and then at his own reflection, stretched by the curve of the visor so that his eyes stared back at him, wide and bloodless.

He grabbed the hand holding her phone and didn’t flinch when her shadow immediately cuffed his wrist, sharp enough to cut if he bothered to struggle against it.

She typed, What’s wrong with you?

“What do you get out of this, I wonder?” he asked for all answer. “Are you getting your kicks out of telling yourself you’re gonna fix my own life for me? Is that what this is about?”

She would be staring if she could, he thought. But she couldn’t. She didn’t have eyes to see or a mouth to frown with.

She was just a monster.

“You told Shinra to be my doctor,” he said, and he stepped farther toward her—the manacle around his arm tightened, skin breaking where bone stretched it thinnest. “And you told Shizu-chan to come with me to the ultrasound, because—because you think you know better than us how we should deal with all of this? Is that it?”

I told him because I knew you wouldn’t, she replied, the coldness of the screen enough to rip away every emotion he thought he had ever imagined her to have. This is his child, too.

“It’s also none of your business!” he yelled.

He was breathless, now, air rushing into him like a last effort to fill the hole where his control should be. He could feel blood drip from his wrist.

“This stops now,” he said after a brief silence. “Your little friendship charade, your intrusions into my personal life… I want all of it to stop.”

This made her react. It’s not a charade, she said. I wouldn’t manipulate someone like that. I’m not like you.

He laughed, harsh and painful, until tears spilled over the corners of his eyes. “You don’t want to be my friend,” he declared. “You despise me.”

I’m trying, aren’t I? she shot back.

He snorted. “Of course. Everyone does try so hard. It’s too bad it never seems to go past the trying stage.”

Her shadows’s hold tightened again, if possible. By now Izaya knew that the warmth along his forearm was a steady stream, that the fabric of his sweater would start sticking itself to his skin any moment.

When I took you to the party a few weeks ago, she wrote, you seemed happy to be there. You didn’t look like my attempts at friendship were bothering you so much.

“Oh, please,” he scoffed, hands turning to fists. “If you think having me over for hotpot is enough to make me palatable to your tastes, you’re even more gullible than I thought.”

I could’ve left you here to brood alone all night.

He tugged against his restraint. “And I’m ever so grateful. Really, what would I have done without you to drag me to spend the night in the company of people I can barely stand? I’m sure the experience was enough to change me for the better.”

By the end of his rant her shoulders were hunched over in distress or anger. When she lifted her phone again, her hand was trembling, and there were typos among the characters cut black-on-yellow: I’m trying, Izaya. Shizuo is my best friend, and he loves you. I want him to be happy. If it takes the two of us being on friendly terms, I’m willing to try. Aren’t you?

“Pathetic,” he spat out, even as he reeled from the message, even as his heart felt like it was being pressed on by the heaviest weight. “You’re pathetic.”

Celty started typing again in a frenzy; Izaya took a step back and kicked the phone away. It bumped against a wall, battery falling out and screen cracking under the shock. This time he winced when her shadow cut further into him and when he felt hot sticky blood spill over the length of his forearm.

“You’re just a monster,” he continued, uninterrupted now. He knew that if she bothered to look down, to stare at his breasts the way so many people did, she would see the rise of his skin with every beat of his heart, as if it was trying to jump off his bones.

“You can keep playing at being human, at being a woman and a friend, but we both know the truth. You’ll never be human. And eventually, even Shinra will leave you behind.” He leaned in closer, ignoring the beginnings of the dizzy spell blurring the room around them until all he could see was his own crazed look on the surface of her helmet. “One day, he’ll return to humanity,” he said. “One day he’ll realize that you can’t love a monster.” The words drew little mist rings on her visor.

She extended an arm, and for a wild second Izaya tensed in preparation for a blow; but all she did was spread her shadows again, bringing a pen to her hand and holding up what he recognized as one of his notepads. She ripped out the page once she was finished writing and shoved it in front of his eyes with slow, shaky movements.

Are you talking about yourself? she said.

Izaya felt his throat close down. He turned away from Celty and blinked against the burn of his eyes, ripping his wrist out of her hold at last—she let him go, maybe out of pity, maybe because she had noticed the dark, wet spot on his sleeve. She followed him all the way to the ladder of his bookshelf, and she made a move as if to brace him when his newly-relocated gravity center made him buckle while climbing the first step. He pushed her away. He shoved off his files once he reached the next-to-last shelf, making papers fly messily to the floor, snowflakes of intel he had spent years gathering and organizing now laid bare for her eyes to see. For her lack of eyes to see.

He closed his hand around the grip of the case hidden against the wall. He tugged it free, the weight almost enough to make him lose his balance on the ladder, and then he threw it to the ground where it landed with a loud noise. The reinforced glass didn’t break under the impact. The head inside rolled over in its greenish liquid prison, open blue eyes catching the light of day.

Celty dropped the pen and notepad.

“Still want to be my friend?” Izaya asked.

She didn’t move for a while, and he knew that it was because of fear. When she finally did it was only to take a step backwards, and then to stop, because of course the appeal of something she had looked for for two decades was stronger than the terror of losing herself to it. He scoffed.

“Take it,” he said. He hooked his other arm around the ladder when his legs shook beneath him as if all strength had been sapped out of them. “You’ll be fine as long as you don’t make direct contact with it.”

She did, slowly, bending down first to brush her fingers against the glass and retreating almost immediately. But the head didn’t move. It didn’t blink. It kept staring at the ceiling with empty eyes.

Celty looked back at him, and though she didn’t write anything down Izaya knew she was asking him Why.

So he smiled, and it hurt, and he said: “Now you know what it’s like when the only thing people find valuable about you is something that isn’t even you.”


Shinra came in later that day to collect Celty’s broken phone.

“If you talk to her like that again,” he said conversationally, crouching to retrieve every bit of broken plastic and fiddling with the battery until the device turned on again. When he stood back up the row of scalpels inside his coat shone in the sunlight. “I’ll kill you.”


twentieth

They couldn’t be called nightmares, not really. The dreams were too inconspicuous to warrant the title, too normal, devoid of the elements of horror that had occasionally made him jerk to wakefulness as a child.

It was more like waking up from a long, long sleep. Like dribbling out of a slumber so deep it left him paralyzed, limbs like bodies of still water, mind dragging back to life with fear at its front and loneliness gripping his heart through the early morning hours.

So he sat still until the sun was high enough to pierce the blinds of his bedroom. Until the smell of fresh paint had become unnoticeable from habit. Until he felt the kicks of the fetus inside him like sharp little tugs, and his brain freed itself at last of the bright flares of anxiety they caused him.

It ached like nothing he had ever known before.


twenty-third

Izaya didn’t go out a lot anymore. If he did, he stayed in Shinjuku, strolled the streets at sunset when they were too busy for him to be singled out. People barely knew him here. People barely knew him at all aside from a special few in Ikebukuro and the ones who evolved in playgrounds where his services were required. That had always been his advantage.

Namie took one look at his face that day and ordered him outside. He whined for a front, complained about his back, and as she laughed at him he felt some sort of content, enough to bring himself to put on shoes and leave his coat behind.

It was warm outside, now. Flowery and damp. He walked to the border where streets spilled into Toshima and the entertainment there, skirted the edges until he had been out for more than an hour and most of the light around him was artificial rather than natural.

“Orihara Izaya,” said a voice behind him.

He didn’t react at first, not until wet cloth was shoved under his nose from behind and he mistakenly breathed in the sick-sweet smell of chloroform.

He elbowed the woman behind him, aiming for the chest, and she cried out sharply, stepping away until he was free to turn around and face her. The cloth fell to the ground silently.

“First rule of any successful broad daylight kidnapping,” he slurred, blinking fiercely through the fog in his mind until his sight finally settled on the face of the one they called Earthworm. “Don’t announce your presence.”

She frowned, and took a step forward. Her heels clicked on the asphalt of the deserted street.

“I do believe we haven’t properly been introduced before,” Izaya continued casually. He hadn’t inhaled enough to pass out, but his alertness was gone for sluggish consciousness. His fingers slipped against his phone in the pocket of his jeans. “I am, indeed, Orihara Izaya. It’s nice to meet you.”

“You’re as slippery as our Owner told me,” she said, her voice melodious in the silence.

Izaya laughed briefly. “You mean as whichever informant you hired told you. Or was it dear Shijima-kun from Heaven’s Slave?”

Her nostrils flared, and she bared her teeth to him like an animal. “Never mind. If you don’t come with me quietly, I’ll take your sisters instead.”

“If you’d bothered to do your homework on me you’d know this is unlikely to work as a threat.”

For a second she looked as if she was about to lean backward and talk some more. Instead she kicked at the ground and flew at him, ripping a knife out of the silky vest she wore above her dress.

With his mind still working through the burn of her knock-out chemicals he barely managed to avoid the blade; it sizzled next to his cheek like a hot trail. He elbowed her again, but she avoided him—stepping aside to safety as he dragged himself back up and just managed to avoid stumbling.

“You can’t fight like this,” she mocked. “I can hear you heave from where I’m standing.”

She was right. He was tearing every move out of the forced relaxation in his muscles, and his vision couldn’t quite match the speed he was aiming for; the street was turning around him as if he was standing on a top.

“Maybe I’ll aim for your stomach next time,” she said sweetly. Her knife was glinting in her hands with little specks of yellow light. “Stab right through it.” She licked her lips.

His mind was too slow to process much emotion on his face at the moment, but it didn’t stop his slowed heartbeat speeding up as if he was running up a hill and warm liquid dripping from his nose to his lips, acrid and metallic.

She walked toward him again, thumb stroking the handle of her knife.

And then she flew into the wall of a house with the sound of cement crackling and bones breaking to crumbs, and Shizuo stepped into the light, letting the pole he was holding clatter on the ground.

“Is she going to fucking stand up again?” he growled at Izaya, and Izaya had to close his mouth sharply at the sight of fury not directed at himself, rip his eyes away from shiny sunglasses to look to the wreck of Earthworm’s body on the ground.

He swallowed. “No. She’s done for.”

Good.”

Shizuo raised a hand to Izaya’s face, and if he weren’t half-unconscious on his feet Izaya would have flinched back, feelings relenting to decade-old habits. But all Shizuo did was wipe the blood away from Izaya’s lips and mutter, “You’re bleeding again,” uselessly.

Izaya almost laughed. He almost cried, too.

He gave himself a couple of seconds to bask in the feel of Shizuo standing in front of him, within easy reach of his body and lips if he bothered to reach at all. With his eyes closed he breathed in the scent of tobacco, of mint and sweat, and then he pressed a weak hand to Shizuo’s torso to push him away.

“How much did you hear?” he asked.

Shizuo frowned. “Enough to bash her head in.”

A chuckle escaped Izaya’s lips. He wiped his bloody nose again, and fought for balance as he tried to step toward the end of the street.

“Are you all right?” Shizuo asked, following him. His hand came around Izaya’s shoulder as if to brace him in case of a fall. “You’re not steady on your feet.”

“I’m a little drugged, right now,” Izaya drawled. Tried to drawl.

“Shit. What with?”

He flicked a glance to Shizuo’s other hand as it came up to take off his glasses. “Probably a very bad mix of knock-out chemicals, made by an amateur. I smelled chloroform,” he said.

Shizuo’s hand did press to skin then, holding just below his shoulder. “Okay. I’m walking you home.”

“’M fine.”

“You were drugged. What if you collapse and get mugged on the way?” Shizuo said softly, and Izaya pushed him off again, no matter that he was the one stumbling aside instead of the solid wall of Shizuo’s body.

“I’m not a damsel in distress,” he groaned.

“I never said you were.”

He looked so painfully earnest. Brow creased in worry and hands open in surrender, as if that was needed—as if he had done anything but surrender for half a year now, every time they saw each other. And Izaya was so very tired. So very tired of swimming against the currents trying to drag him to the remembered light and furnace of Shizuo’s body opening to his in the dead of night or under the slow beat of the sun, so exhausted of telling himself he didn’t crave this with every inch of his being.

He clenched his hands inside his pockets so he wouldn’t try to grab at Shizuo’s shoulder like a drowning man. “Fine.”

Shizuo didn’t touch him all the way home. He matched his speed to Izaya’s uneven steps on the sidewalk, took it upon himself to check for green lights when they had to cross a street because he knew that Izaya was too focused on not falling to do much else—or because he wanted to. Because he was fussy like this, when he loved someone. Izaya’s heart was too doused in fatigue now to try to dance, but each beat felt like a hammer was ramming his insides and rattling his ribcage and tearing open his lungs.

He collapsed on his couch when they arrived, the lit lightbulb on his ceiling drawing black spots in his visions that carried around when he tried to look elsewhere. Shizuo sat down on the other couch and took out his phone, dialing slowly before putting it to his ear.

“It’s me,” he said after a while. His fingers brushed lightly against Izaya’s neck before settling on the pulse beating at the hollow of his throat. “Izaya was drugged earlier. Can you come check up on him?” A pause, filled with Shinra’s voice turned to distant static, words blurring into each other. “Yeah, he’s conscious. Kinda unsteady, though. I’m pretty sure he’s been on the verge of passing out for half an hour.” Izaya grunted at that, but all Shizuo did was press the flat of his hand against his collarbone in reassurance. “Okay, thanks. See you in a few.” He hung up, and threw his phone over the rest of the couch.

“They’re coming over,” he said after a brief silence.

I gathered as much, Izaya wanted to say, but neither his mouth nor his brain seemed willing to obey him, because all that came out was, “Celty too?” weak and unsure, like a child’s plea.

Shizuo looked at him in surprise. “Yeah. Of course.”

It was harder to focus on not falling asleep with Shizuo’s hand still spread over his chest, putting pressure over his heart. His skin was rough there despite slender fingers and delicate-looking joints, callused from years of ripping itself and everything around it apart. Izaya didn’t have to imagine, now, to know what those hands felt like when they touched with kindness and pleasure in mind.

It had been so long since that January night. Izaya closed his eyes and allowed himself some memory of warmth, some inklings of shallow breaths and damp skin and opened-mouth kisses like a rush of hot air over his body, flushing his face and tightening his belly.

It was okay. It was all right. He wasn’t risking anything, because Shizuo would never agree to touch him while he was drugged out of his mind anyway.

He jerked to awareness what felt like a few seconds later. When he opened his eyes Shinra was kneeling next to him, a needle already perched at the crook of Izaya’s elbow.

“Welcome back,” Shinra said lightly. Izaya barely felt the prick of the needle through the haze in his mind. “Don’t worry, you’ve only been out for about fifteen minutes.”

“Where’s—” but Izaya’s voice was more of a rasp, almost inaudible.

Shinra still nodded in understanding. “He went to get you some water.”

Behind his shoulder, Izaya could see the dark of Celty’s body hovering at the entrance of the room like a terrible ghost. She didn’t move to approach him even when he stared at her, and the tightness in his chest didn’t relent at all.

“The baby’s heartbeat sounds fine,” Shinra said after a brief silence. “I’m gonna do some blood tests to make sure you didn’t inhale anything too dangerous, but I’m pretty sure that was mostly chloroform, seeing how you’re still, well, alive. I’m going to give you some iron supplements, though.”

“What?” Izaya breathed. “Why?”

Shinra touched the side of Izaya’s nose where his skin was still crusted with blood. “I’m confident the tests are going to tell me you’re anemic. And you haven’t gained enough weight either.”

“I’ve gained a lot of weight,” Izaya protested, batting Shinra’s hand away heavily.

“Not enough,” Shinra replied.

Shizuo appeared behind him, and put a glass full of clear water on the coffee table. He glanced at Izaya briefly before stepping toward Celty at the door, and from the corner of his eyes Izaya saw her entire body relax at his approach.

“Orihara-kun,” Shinra said softly. “You should probably prepare yourself for a preterm birth.”

Izaya’s breath came to a stop.

“I’m not saying this to make you panic,” he continued. “But it doesn’t take a genius to see that this pregnancy is extremely stressful for you. And that you’re not really the most stable person around even without this amount of pressure.”

“What does this have to do with—”

“Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Izaya raked his teeth over the bite marks on his lips. His throat felt dry. “So you’re saying,” he tried. “You’re saying that because I’m—that this is going to hurt the fetus.”

Shinra shook his head. “The only thing I’m saying is that your mind is under a lot of stress, and your body too as a result.” He stood up, knees cracking under the movement. “Just, try to avoid sources of anxiety, okay? And get yourself some pregnant yoga classes or something.”

“Never,” Izaya hissed. Shinra laughed brightly.

He joined Celty and Shizuo in the hallway, whispered something for their ears only. Shizuo was nodding along with a vague frown to his mouth, but Izaya wasn’t looking at him this time.

Celty’s helmet was turned in his direction. He couldn’t read anything from her posture or the black tendrils of shadow hovering around her where her neck met the opening of the useless protective gear.

She left with Shinra a few moments later, and when they were gone Shizuo walked back to the couch and sat down behind Izaya’s head with a heavy breath.

“Shinra said I should stay with you while you sleep. Make sure you don’t choke or something.”

“He is ever so cheerful.” Izaya pushed himself upright. His limbs felt like lead, but he didn’t want to stay horizontal while Shizuo looked over him.

“He did sound like he was joking,” Shizuo said when their eyes finally met. “I can go, if you want.”

Izaya surprised himself with how much he didn’t want that. “Just stay,” he replied, too tight and too fast. “It doesn’t make any difference. You can take my bedroom.”

“Don’t be stupid.” Shizuo rolled his eyes. “Come on, I’m helping you upstairs.”

He did, with one arm braced around Izaya’s back and his hand pressed beneath his armpit, the other holding Izaya’s spread over his shoulders. The stairs seemed steeper than they really were. To his credit, Shizuo only marked a brief stop at the sight of the newly-built walls closing the mezzanine from view.

“You can use the shower,” Izaya breathed once he was sat on his bed. He took off his shoes and jeans, too exhausted to feel embarrassed by the softness of his thighs or the red marks below the swell of his belly. “If you don’t mind I’ll allow myself to sleep in my own filth.”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Shizuo replied, annoyed. But he peeled his vest off his back and set it on the chair by the window, and once Izaya was lying down he walked to the bed and touched his fingers to warm skin above the collar of Izaya’s shirt.

Izaya passed out with the sound of running water for all lullaby.


The disgusting taste in his own mouth woke him up far into the morning, and he groaned, dryness keeping both his lips and eyes closed until he managed to bring up a hand and rub his face. He stumbled his way into the shower with the weakness of fasting rather than that of drugged numbness. He only bothered to shed his clothes once water was starting to run down his body.

He felt better, after that. More alert, even if still physically weak, but at last his mind was running at full speed, and once he had brushed his teeth under the shower spray and towel-dried himself to something presentable, it was only a matter of answering the hunger growling in his stomach.

He almost missed the note stuck to the door of his fridge when he opened it. Have the decency to warn me after a wild night in, said Namie’s scratchy handwriting, followed by something that looked like a drawing of Shizuo destroying his furniture.

He peeked his head outside the opening of the kitchen. Shizuo was asleep on the couch, facing away from the room, and a blanket was thrown over him too precisely to have been here for more than an hour. He always moved around in his sleep.

“You’re getting soft, Namie-san,” he muttered. The note crumpled in his fist.

Shizuo woke up from the rumble of the kettle. He was still wearing his clothes from the day before, open shirt creased by sleep and belt undone for comfort. Still, he looked infuriatingly well-rested for someone who’d slept on the couch.

“I don’t imagine you have anything sweet in there,” he mumbled, blinking sheepishly at the cupboards around him.

Izaya snorted. “I have enough for you to make yourself an omelette, and you can even sweeten it if you want. I’m almost certain there’s some of my grandmother’s raspberry jam hidden somewhere if you prefer toast.”

“Your grandma makes you jam, and you don’t even eat it? You’re so fucking ungrateful,” he scolded. But he was looking around the kitchen with the hint of a smile at his chin rather than true irritation.

Izaya watched him lean over the sink to reach the depths of the supplies stocked in the cupboard. He brought his mug to his lips even thought he knew the tea hadn’t finished steeping, even though he knew the water was too hot still to be drunk without pain—but it was better to pretend that the heat in his face was from steam dampening his skin rather than the sight of Shizuo’s shoulders stretching beneath white cloth.

He cleared his throat, and took a sip of scalding, tasteless tea.

Once they were both finished Izaya stalled by cleaning the dishes until not a spot of grease or dust could be found on them. Shizuo fixed his appearance in the bathroom upstairs, but once he was done he didn’t leave. He sat down at the table behind him and waited.

Izaya turned around slowly.

“There’s a new room upstairs,” Shizuo said. He was staring at the surface of the table, running short-cut nails over it so that it made a faint, scratchy sound.

“Yes. It would become necessary anyway once… well. Once it’s here.”

Shizuo nodded. Then he swallowed, visibly, and turned in his chair so that they were directly facing each other. “Izaya,” he said, with what could be a threat but sounded a lot more like yearning under his voice. “We need to talk.”

Izaya sucked in a breath before acquiescing. Shizuo’s face relaxed all at once. He stood up.

“I wasn’t…” he started, then stopped. “I told you that I’ve always wanted kids.”

“You did,” Izaya said.

“Yeah. Well.” He scratched the back of his head, looked up to the white ceiling above them. “Obviously, this isn’t really how I expected it to happen. I’m a little old-fashioned. Always thought, if it happened, it’d happen once I’m married and settled with someone I love.”

Izaya felt his chest tighten to the point of pain. “Nothing’s stopping you.”

Shizuo bared his teeth, frustration rolling off of him like a wave. But he breathed in instead of lashing out, and closed his eyes, and when he opened them again Izaya had to make himself stare, had to stop himself from looking away from them. “You know that’s a lie,” he said. “I know you do.”

Izaya closed his hands on the angle of the counter behind his hips, until his palms ached like bruises.

“Listen,” Shizuo said more quietly. “This isn’t how we both thought it would go the first time we slept together.”

“An understatement.”

“Yeah.” He laughed, bitter. “I hated you so much. I thought that was just one more fucked up way for us both to interact. One more way to hurt ourselves and each other.”

He winced softly, no doubt remembering the ever-lasting dissatisfaction of those encounters, of Izaya goading him into a different kind of violence, once he was even more loath to forgive himself for. Skin stained to red and blue and nails gouging blood out of whatever place they could find, as if pleasure between them necessarily had to come out of pain.

“Anyway,” Shizuo said heavily. “I never thought at the time that I’d be having a child with you. And even when I started feeling—” he hissed out a breath, and Izaya felt it like a stab between his ribs. “The thing is,” he continued, “this situation is a mess. And to be honest, I’m terrified of messing it up further. I want to have my place in this child’s life, but I don’t want to make it so you or they get fucked up in the process.”

“I’m not going to prevent you from seeing your own kid,” Izaya said breezily.

Shizuo blinked at him, face pale but determined. “It’s what I want to think,” he admitted at last. “And if it was just the kid maybe this would be easier to deal with, but it’s not just the kid.” He stepped forward then, hands coming up to either sides of Izaya’s face in askance. His thumbs stroked over Izaya’s cheekbones before coming to rest at his temples. “I’m bad with words,” he whispered, like an offering.

“Yes,” Izaya replied, heat like the sun’s flaring inside him, “you really are.”

Shizuo kissed him as if he was on the brink of death. As if he had to drink the air directly from where Izaya breathed it, his hold as delicate as if he was handling porcelain, with the taste of raspberries on his tongue and his lips wet and warm like daylight on dew. Izaya grabbed yellow hair to stop the spasms in his hands, ignored the pain in his lower back from being pressed into the counter in favor of the angle of his neck pulsing with tension and want. In the end it wasn’t the press of their mouths that did him in so much as the feeling of Shizuo’s eyelashes growing damp against his cheeks and the caress of his hand trailing down from his face to the hollow of his neck, fingertips hovering over his pulse as it to make sure it was still here.

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