Aches Like Nothing (Part IV)

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Aches Like Nothing
Part IV

twenty-fifth

“I see,” Shiki said, static cutting his words into sizzling sounds over the line.

Izaya shifted on his back, trying to fit the pillow into the curve of his spine to alleviate the soreness in his hips. He had one hand under his belly where kicks kept coming every time he spoke as if in fearful surprise to the sound of it. He could hear Namie walk behind him and the whispering sound of paper in her hands with every folder she put into place. There weren’t many left now.

“And where can I find this woman now?” Shiki asked. He took a silent breath, then exhaled loudly, and Izaya could almost feel the sweet-smelling tobacco he preferred tickling his nostrils from habit.

He smiled faintly. “Probably in any of the hospitals in Toshima,” he replied.

There was a pause. “Did you hurt her?”

I didn’t. But it was absolutely my fault. In my defense, she tried to hurt me first.”

Shiki took a moment to frown over his words, probably before deciding they would be better left alone. “I’ll look this up on my own, then, and take it out of your payment for this time.”

“That’s fine by me,” Izaya said airily. “I did botch it up after all. As an apology, I can give you everything I have on Heaven’s Slave at half my price.”

“I told you not to look into them,” Shiki growled.

“Ah, but, you see, the two are extremely related. They originated with the same person, and grew apart over the years without even knowing about it.”

“And who’s that?”

Izaya hummed. The fetus kicked into his palm in answer. “An old childhood acquaintance, as it turns out. I’m sure you can imagine how surprised I was.”

For a moment there was only silence as Shiki drew the conclusions on his own. Then a sigh, and his voice again, threat and warning at once even with distance and electronics to dissipate the raw edges of his words: “You’re playing dangerously, informant. I may tolerate your little games for now, but don’t think I’ll allow them to continue forever.” And, more softly: “The world won’t always do your bidding.”

Izaya felt his lips quiver, and didn’t know whether to smile or let fatigue droop at his chin the way it did at his shoulders and back. “Yes. I’m starting to realize this, I think.”

It was more than he had meant to say; but Shiki didn’t comment on it, only let the quiet take over the almost-inaudible sound of his car’s engine in the background.

“I’ll take the info about Heaven’s Slave, then. As well as the name of your friend,” the man said lowly.

Izaya turned his head to the coffee table where his laptop stood. It was awkward to extend his arm to the mouse this way, the angle a strain at his shoulder. He only needed to send the message, though, not write it. “It’s sent. Don’t be too harsh on poor Nakura, I doubt he meant for this to happen.”

“Your concern is noted,” Shiki replied dryly.

Izaya chuckled. Then he winced, because the following kick came higher this time, into the stretch of his belly where his skin was taut and tender. “I’ll be taking my break from work starting today,” he said once his heartbeat became manageable again. “I’ll contact you as soon as I’m available.”

He heard leather creak over the phone, as if Shiki had suddenly straightened in his seat. “How long do you think you’ll be out of action?”

I’ve got plenty of action coming up, Izaya thought, in a weird sort of amusement. “It’s hard to say. Six months, at least. Not more than a year.”

“This is a long time to go without an informant.”

“I know,” he replied, and this time the smile on his face was genuine in humor. “Which is why I can put you in contact with someone I know if you so wish. He authorized it.”

“Do you trust him?”

“I don’t trust anyone, Shiki-san.”

Shiki let out a rough laugh. “Fine. Send me his contact info.”

Izaya lifted a second phone above his face. He squinted at the too-bright screen until he could read over the text he had written in advance before sending it away. Shiki’s phone buzzed loudly in his ear a moment later.

There was a brief span of silence as Shiki clicked the link he had sent and then no doubt tried to make sense of what he was seeing. This time Izaya had to actively refrain from laughing.

“This leads to a chatroom, Orihara.”

“Yes,” Izaya replied jovially, and then, before hanging up: “Have fun with Tsukumoya.”

He threw the phone over the side of the couch perpendicular to the one he was lying on. His aim was off, but Namie caught it before it could bounce off the back of it and crash to the floor.

“You’re not nearly as serious about this as you should be,” she scolded, and Izaya waved at her lazily.

“He only threatened me once this time,” he replied. “Plus, he’s going to have a hard enough time dealing with that cyber soul-sucker without spending his energy taking revenge on me.”

There was a wrinkle in the middle of her forehead. It was always here as far as he could remember, but this time his attention caught on it and on the rest of her face, and she looked older than she was—thirty more than twenty-five, so tired was she of dealing with him. Strangely, the thought didn’t make him feel as satisfied as he would’ve expected.

“I’m done putting everything away,” she said after a brief silence. “There’s nothing more for me to do before your pet monster arrives.”

“He’s not my pet,” Izaya said.

She snorted softly. “Boyfriend, pet, baby daddy. Whatever you wanna call him. I’m gone.”

She stepped away, but Izaya raised his arm and managed to catch the sleeve of her sweater between his fingers. The back of his knuckles brushed against her dry skin.

She stopped in her tracks immediately.

“You’re not coming back, are you?” he asked.

The look she gave him was a lot irritation and a little regret. “As I said, there’s nothing more I can do. Not until you start seeing clients again.”

“I could hire you as a nanny.”

“Not on your life, Izaya,” she growled immediately, and he laughed despite the lack of amusement he felt. He let her sleeve slip from his fingers as she stepped away from him.

The sound of the door closing behind her felt like finality.

Izaya only moved a long time after she was gone. The fetus had grown silent and still inside him, as if to honor the feelings he didn’t know how to name. Summer light burned on him from the blinding-bright windows, making sweat dampen the skin of his back crushed against the sleek fabric of his couch; but he didn’t stand up, didn’t cross the few steps separating him from the stairs and the promise of a cold shower above. When he looked up he could see the new walls built around the nursery. They were lighter-colored than the rest of the place, as if the paint was still fresh and sticky to the touch.

Shizuo knocked after about an hour of his brooding. Izaya pushed himself to his feet with self-consciousness stuck to him like a second skin. The other didn’t have a key, yet.

“Hi,” he said, looking briefly over Izaya’s sweaty forehead and the slouch of his shoulders. “I brought food.”

“I’m not hungry,” Izaya replied, and as Shizuo was about to protest he smiled and added, “not for food at least.”

It was always amazing to watch the rush of blood to Shizuo’s face so fast and colorful, the bright red staining his cheeks and burning his ears. He would never tire of it, he thought.

“We’re eating,” Shizuo declared before pushing at Izaya’s shoulder to step inside.

He half-expected to be left aside during the cooking process; put at the table to wait patiently as if handling pots and cutlery was too taxing an effort now for his heavy body and stress-riddled mind, as Namie liked to call it; but Shizuo took him by the wrist when he made as if to drag away a chair, and Izaya couldn’t have buried the relief he felt if his life depended on it.

Their elbows bumped as they worked. With every brush of Shizuo’s bare forearm against his Izaya felt a shiver of something familiar and new, a different kind of desire than the one that had taken him as January died with the heat of their naked bodies.

They had ended on the floor, that night. If he shifted his gaze from the sting of the broth boiling in front of him he knew he could find exactly where Shizuo had sat once they were done, smoke pouring from his mouth to graze Izaya’s skin like the sharp end of a knife.

“You okay?” Shizuo asked. Izaya smiled tightly to himself and said, “Yes.”

The food was good. Better than he’d had in a long time. But even it lost to the sight of Shizuo’s lips wet and warm from the steam of his bowl, or the sheen of sweat on his brow from the heat; and when Izaya touched their feet together he flushed even further, eyes turning dark under the hair falling down his face. He didn’t think either of them were paying much attention to what they were eating. He couldn’t. Not with liquid want inside him, as sudden and overwhelming as a rogue wave on the sea.

He drank tea to soothe it afterwards, and watched Shizuo fold his body at the hips to clean their dishes, hands itching to grab, to pull.

“Can I see the nursery?” Shizuo asked after he was done. Izaya had to blink himself back to reality before he could even process his question.

“Sure,” he said.

Shizuo watched him insistently. And then—He wants me to come with him, Izaya thought. He wants me to take him upstairs.

He put down his lukewarm tea before the faltering grip of his hand could betray him.

Shizuo followed him up the stairs, his eyes burning Izaya’s nape with every step. The door to the nursery was closed, and the inside empty. There were only walls, and a few cardboard boxes left behind by the workers Namie had hired when they left weeks ago. A thin layer of dust had settled on them.

“I haven’t bought anything yet,” he said after a brief silence. “I thought we could—” but he didn’t know how to say it, or didn’t know for sure that the words would come out.

Either way, Shizuo seemed to understand, because he nodded calmly. “We can take care of that later. There’s still time.”

“You’ll be at risk starting this week,” Shinra had said over the phone. Izaya swallowed. “Yeah, there’s still time.”

He watched Shizuo run a hand over the off-white paint of the walls, thin knuckles unfolding carefully, as if he was afraid of breaking just by touching. It was the same way he had started handling Izaya after a few months, after too many bruises not finding their echo on his own skin despite Izaya’s many attempts. Open-palmed and sincere as he had always preferred to be. As Izaya had told himself he didn’t prefer him to be.

Izaya looked at the pads of Shizuo’s fingers whitened by dust and sunlight, and opened his mouth again.

The fetus kicked.

He winced reflexively, bringing up a hand to rest where the sharp pain of the blow was already fading, and Shizuo’s eyes zeroed in on him.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Izaya replied immediately.

“Izaya—”

“It’s really nothing.” He licked his lip habitually. “It kicked, that’s all.”

In the moment it took for Shizuo’s face to clear of worry and dip into stricken wonder, Izaya’s heart had time to go up his throat, fast and bruising and absolutely unstoppable.

“It’s moving?” Shizuo said shakily.

Izaya should make fun of him for this. He should laugh at the childish surprise painted on him and push him to discomfort and shame, but the fetus kicked again, and—“Of course it is,” Izaya replied, but his voice fell flat on panic. It wasn’t like having Namie see him like this. Shizuo had no business witnessing him lose his composure over something as insignificant.

It never felt good, feeling it move. It never brought him bliss or happy apprehension. And in front of Shizuo all it did was drag fear to the front of his mind and dig in deep to revive Celty’s words, and his sisters’, and his mother’s.

Izaya licked his lips again, grabbed Shizuo’s hand harshly, and slid it under the hem of his shirt to the base of his belly, just above his pelvis; Shizuo’s fingers relaxed all at once to flatten against his skin, and when he breathed it was only a gasp close to Izaya’s face, a rush of hot air on his cheek as he regained his balance from the sudden movement.

For a moment they both stood still in expectation and fright. If he bothered to turn his head Izaya knew he would find Shizuo looking like a statue of himself. He murmured, “Come on,” through gritted teeth, like a dare or an insult; and when another kick came into Shizuo’s palm he almost sobbed as if his own self was being ripped out of him.

Fuck,” Shizuo let out, palm immediately pressing to Izaya’s skin in answer. “Oh, shit.”

He waited a few more moments as Shizuo stroked over his belly in search of more movement. Then his grip tightened around his wrist and he tugged it forward and away from him.

Shizuo let go immediately. “Izaya?”

“Just a moment,” Izaya breathed in answer. He made himself inhale through his nose and exhale through his mouth as every website said he should.

“Do you need…” but Shizuo’s voice trailed into nothing. Izaya forced his hand to relax and his fingers to stop digging so much into the pulse beating at Shizuo’s wrist, quick and strong.

“I’m fine,” he said at last.

“You’re full of shit, is what you are.”

Izaya gritted his teeth and raised his head to look at him. “I said I’m fine, Shizu-chan. Shouldn’t you be happy you got to feel your kid moving? I hear this is the pinnacle of fatherhood.”

Shizuo frowned, then, lips falling into a grimace instead of a smile. He rotated his wrist inside Izaya’s grip so he could wrap his fingers around Izaya’s forearm instead, and if his touch didn’t burn as it had on the skin of his belly it still felt unnaturally warm, as if Izaya had been cold his entire life until now.

“What is this about, Izaya?” Shizuo asked.

“Why does it have to be about anything?” And he meant it as light-hearted as it wasn’t, with a smile on his lips he knew could drive to rage the calmest of clients.

But Shizuo looked at him and said, “I’m not Celty.”

Izaya’s felt his chest throb in a long and painful stroke. “What does she have to do with—”

“Please,” Shizuo said, voice soft. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking I can’t tell when you’re trying to hurt someone.”

“I’m always hurting someone,” Izaya replied truthfully. He scratched the inside of Shizuo’s wrist lightly, and pulled him closer again. “Are you coming to that realization now, Shizu-chan?”

Shizuo looked at him in silence. Izaya’s heart flung itself at his ribs with every breath he could feel caressing his face.

“A shame,” he added. “If you wanted a good family you should’ve knocked up someone else. A woman, maybe.”

“We were two having sex that day,” Shizuo said, and Izaya clenched his teeth once more.

“You’re not going to fix me,” he growled. “You, or Celty, or my mother. None of you is up to that task.”

“I’m not trying to fix you,” Shizuo replied, and though there was a pleading edge to his words it was lost under the weight of—everything else, inflections and feelings Izaya didn’t have a name for. “God, Izaya, what is it gonna take for you to understand that I love you?”

Izaya’s breathing stopped dead in his chest.

Shizuo’s hand squeezed his forearm briefly. “I didn’t fall in love with a woman,” he said. “And I didn’t fall in love with some picture-perfect version of you I made up for myself. I fucking know you. I’m not Celty.

“Please,” he repeated, and his hand was sliding up his arm now, wrist moving out of Izaya’s grip so he could grab his upper arm instead and press his thumb into the crook of his elbow. “I’m not trying to patronize you. I’m worried about you, that’s all.”

Izaya looked at the fit of Shizuo’s hand against his arm. Thin knuckles and careful fingers. As gentle as Izaya preferred them to be.

“When the—when it kicks,” he said. He stopped for a moment, struggled to find his words; in the end they came out of him inaccurate and lacking. “I don’t feel so manly.”

Shizuo raised his free hand and fit it to the curve of Izaya’s neck.

“There have been plenty of times recently where I didn’t feel like myself,” Izaya continued. “But the worst is when it moves. I feel like I want to run back in time and prevent it all from happening.” He leaned across the space separating them and pushed his forehead against Shizuo’s shoulder. “I don’t regret it. I had plenty of time to decide this before the deadline for abortion was up.” He closed his eyes, and breathed in the smell of cheap tobacco soaked inside the fabric. It wasn’t as strong as it used to be, and with a start, Izaya realized that he hadn’t seen Shizuo smoke even once in front of him in months.

Of all things, this made heat gather at the base of his spine again.

“I want to scream when I feel it,” he ended with a tense smile. “Like an animal. Just howl and howl and howl.”

“You should try it sometime,” Shizuo said, and Izaya snorted unattractively.

“And turn into you? No thanks.”

Shizuo hummed in approval, his hands stroking over the back of Izaya’s neck slowly. “Look at us both,” he replied quietly. “We were always hurting people and always hurting each other. But now I hardly get violent at anyone, and you’re not even working anymore.” Izaya shifted his head to look up at him; Shizuo’s eyes were turned downward, gold in the sunlight. Freckled with black. “Even monsters can change, Izaya.”

“It’s too late for some of them,” Izaya murmured.

“It’s too late for the people we’ve already hurt. It’s not too late for the ones we haven’t.”

Izaya straightened from his slouch. When he raised his head his mouth brushed against Shizuo’s chin. “Maybe that’s true for you, Shizu-chan. You hate hurting people. Keep working at it and you’ll turn into a real boy one day.”

“What’s that from, Pinocchio?” Shizuo mocked.

“I’m surprised you even know that.”

“I used to imagine your nose growing every time you lied,” and he laughed, then, when Izaya frowned in distaste. “I pictured you coming to school with a goddamn fishing pole stuck on your face.”

“Fantasized about me during class, did you?”

“For sure,” Shizuo said. Izaya’s smile faded at once. “I was too confused to realize what it was, though. You were cute, and you were an asshole, and I didn’t know how to deal with those two things at the same time.”

“A dilemma you must’ve solved early enough,” Izaya completed.

Shizuo looked at him with kindness. “Let’s not go there, yeah?” His thumb pressed behind Izaya’s ear. “Maybe one day you’ll tell me your side of the story, and we can sort it all out then.”

I love you, Izaya thought, and when Shizuo leaned down to kiss him he dragged his teeth on the other’s bottom lip until he could taste blood.

Shizuo opened his mouth to welcome it, to lick into the part of Izaya’s lips avidly, sun-hot and vibrant. He always looked more solid, more real than others whenever he was nearby; but it was only like this, with their bodies pressed as close together as they could with Izaya’s belly in the way, that he felt real. Izaya sneaked his hands up Shizuo’s back, tugging his shirt free of his pants to press directly to scalding skin stretching over hard muscles and harder bones. Shizuo was a thin man, skinny even around the joints of his limbs, but Izaya could see and feel the promise of immeasurable strength inside, and when he fit his hand between Shizuo’s shoulder blades and touched the shift of his back on tension and want, he felt fire shoot through him.

“Take me to bed,” he ordered in a gasp. “Shizuo, if you don’t fuck me now I’ll—”

“Yeah,” Shizuo cut in, but he was speaking against Izaya’s mouth as if he needed it to be able to breathe, “yeah, let’s get out of here.”

They stumbled out into the hallway without really letting go of each other. Izaya was clawing at Shizuo’s back, and one Shizuo’s hands was fisted into the collar of Izaya’s T-shirt as if he was barely restraining himself from tearing it off his body altogether. Izaya wouldn’t have minded. He hated the damn maternity clothes.

Shizuo took a second to delicately close the door to the nursery behind them. He watched the grey door with solemn eyes, and then turned back to Izaya with pupils blown wide enough to hide the brown of his irises. He tugged Izaya closer by the collar, until he could fit their mouths together again, more slowly.

“What will you do?” he breathed against Izaya’s lips. Then he kissed his chin, and stroked his thumb to the hollow of Izaya’s neck before licking down the same way, and Izaya took a few seconds to understand he had spoken at all.

“What?” he said. He scratched along Shizuo’s spine when Shizuo bit lightly under his chin.

Shizuo chuckled against his neck. “What will you do, if I don’t fuck you right now?”

“Potentially die,” Izaya drawled, but it fell flat, what with Shizuo’s other hand finally letting go of his arm to slide under the elastic waist of Izaya’s pants all the way to his ass. “More likely make you regret it later in extremely creative ways.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Shizuo growled, and then they finally moved to the bedroom door. It stood open a way from them, like a promise.

Izaya got rid of his clothes as soon as he stepped inside. With how often they had been here there was no time wasted to Shizuo looking around the place, but when he turned back to face him Izaya found that there was much else for Shizuo to wonder at.

His eyes ran down the length of Izaya’s body with care, taking in the changes the pregnancy had made in him. The red marks under his belly and to the side of his breasts, the parts where skin sagged and where it stood taught and aching; the excess weight at his hips and his thighs and his ass if he bothered to look, but Shizuo wasn’t looking anymore already. He was meeting Izaya’s eyes with softness and worry and desire in his, and disgust or reject nowhere to be found.

“Stop being so damn emotional on me,” Izaya said lowly. He took Shizuo’s hand and pulled him along toward the bed.

“I can’t,” Shizuo replied behind him. “I can’t believe I finally have you.”

Izaya felt his eyes burn. He inhaled shakily before pushing Shizuo down on the bed and tugging down the other’s pants and underwear until they fell around his ankles uselessly.

He sat atop Shizuo’s hips, and wrapped his hand around Shizuo’s neck. The heel of his hand pressed against where Shizuo’s pulse was beating steadily. “If I tell you I love you, will you shut up about it?”

Shizuo looked stricken. His heart throbbed under Izaya’s hand.

Izaya smiled and leaned down over him until their lips touched again. “I love you,” he breathed, so that the words felt like touches instead of sounds. “I love you so much I could destroy anything you ask me to. I could make it all crumble to dust.” He kissed Shizuo’s lips. They opened sweetly for him, with the barest of nudges. “If you knew how much I love you, Shizuo, you would run so very far away from me,” he whispered.

“Izaya,” Shizuo said, but Izaya put a hand on his mouth.

“There’s time for you to learn all about the mistake you made in loving me back,” Izaya replied gently. “I’m a hurricane, Shizu-chan. Everything I touch suffers irreparable damage.”

Shizuo didn’t say anything in answer. He turned his head slightly, though, just enough to press a kiss to the center of Izaya’s palm, and when he blinked his eyes open again it was to stare back at him with a challenge in them.

Izaya’s chest collapsed in on hope.

He bit at Shizuo’s lips when he leaned down again, and then he moaned, because there was a hand running up the inside of his thigh and pressing wetly against his sex, long fingers rubbing delicately over the folds and making long slow waves of heat run up his spine. Izaya threw an arm behind him and grabbed blindly at Shizuo’s cock, satisfied to feel the hitch in his breath under him at the contact.

“Do you feel like a getting to the main amusement now and keeping the foreplay for a second round?” Izaya gasped, and Shizuo shuddered as he slicked his palm down and up again on his shaft.

“Yeah, yes, definitely.”

“Good.”

There was something to be said about hormones. Izaya more often than not required additional lube during sex, alongside slower minutes spent stretching him to comfort instead of pain starting six months into their trysts, once Shizuo had figured out that Izaya’s pain-to-pleasure ratio fell in the negatives. But now, as he shifted backwards and braced a hand against Shizuo’s cock, Izaya thought he wouldn’t need either. He could feel how wet he was, could see it on the shine of Shizuo’s fingers resting on the flat of his stomach, and he was burning with need brighter than he had ever felt before. He almost sobbed in disappointment when Shizuo said, “Wait,” and he caught himself with a trembling arm on the sheets.

“Do you want to st—”

“No,” Shizuo replied softly. “I just—please, I want to hold you.”

Izaya looked at him, not knowing whether shock or embarrassment translated through the slackness of his expression. Either way, he ended up nodding his assent and falling to the side of the bed, turning his back to the room so Shizuo could fit himself behind him and push his knee between Izaya’s thighs. Izaya groaned harshly when it rubbed at the crux of his legs, when Shizuo slid an arm between the almost-gone dip of his waist and the mattress to brace the span of his belly, the other sneaking over his hip to press two fingers into him slowly.

“I don’t need this,” Izaya exhaled. “Please—”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Shizuo said against his nape. He kissed it, then, as if to soothe the unsatisfying stretch of his fingers and the rushes of hot blood shaking Izaya’s body every time a thumb brushed his clit. “You’re so fucking wet,” he added after a pause.

“I know. Just put it in already.”

But he didn’t, not for another few minutes, not until he could move three fingers into Izaya with ease. When he took them out at last they left a wet trail over Izaya’s thigh, shiny in the daylight, and then, finally, Shizuo hunched behind him and pushed forward with his hips.

“Fuck,” he breathed against Izaya’s hair, and Izaya almost laughed, almost said, Indeed, would have if not for the sharp pain of his second thrust. “Not so deep,” he said tightly, and Shizuo slowed down in sync, lips pressing against the base of Izaya’s skull and breath stroking shivers over the thin skin there.

“God,” Izaya moaned. “That feels—”

He only heard Shizuo’s hum in answer, only felt the flex of his arms around him before he moved again and Izaya lost his ability to speak.

It was so easy to lose himself into the slow rocking of Shizuo’s hips, to let the heat of the day wash over them almost unfelt for the raw scorch of nakedness and pleasure licking along his back and the core of his body in tandem. Shizuo braced his belly against the movement and pushed into him with the same carefulness, even as he breathed and mouthed against the damp skin of his nape something that felt like swears, something that felt like love; and throughout it all Izaya could only fist a hand into the bedspread, and link his other fingers with Shizuo’s over his thigh, and try to breathe.

It felt and it didn’t feel like the last time they had done this. Like every other time they had done this. Izaya wasn’t flat on his back on the floor of his living room, and his shoulders only suffered the pressure of cloth rather than the burn and bruises of hard ground, but Shizuo handled his body with the same care he had in the midst of winter chill; and when he moaned against Izaya’s skin and bit more harshly into his shoulder it felt the same, his hips pushing one last time, off the bed and directly into him, rippling orgasm through them both and pulsing heat inside Izaya where he would feel it for days.

Izaya sucked in a breath as if he had just come out from underwater. For a moment they stayed suspended in time, bodies aching with leftover tension before shaky weakness came and forced Shizuo to pull out, to let his hips fall back onto the bed and Izaya fall back onto him, heavy and satisfied.

Shizuo’s arm beneath him started feeling uncomfortable after a short while, but Izaya didn’t move. He stared at his ceiling with unblinking eyes and waited for the low warm tugs inside him to stop.

Shizuo did move, though. He extracted his arm from where it was crushed between the bed and Izaya’s back and moved onto his stomach instead, bringing his other hand to rest atop Izaya’s collarbones.

“We should take a shower,” he said lowly.

Izaya chuckled. There was another jab of heat inside him, more aching than pleasurable. “I know I talked about round two, but I’m gonna need some more time to recover before that happens, Shizu-chan.”

Shizuo pinched him in answer. “I meant an actual shower. With showering involved. Round two can happen tomorrow.” Izaya turned his head to look at him, and Shizuo amended, “If you’ll let me stay, of course.”

“Stop this,” Izaya said, and then he winced, because his belly was starting to truly ache. He breathed in slowly. “You can stay. You can stay for as long as you want unless I explicitly tell you to get out.”

“I’ll wait for that, then.” He fell back onto the bed, head near Izaya’s shoulder and yellow hair tickling softly against his upper arm.

Izaya stayed as still as he could, waiting for the throbbing inside him to alleviate and sweat to turn to salt on his skin.

“Shizu-chan,” he said slowly after a few minutes had passed and his belly constricted again painfully. “I think there’s something wrong.”

Shizuo pushed himself up with his forearms to look at him. “What?”

“I think you need to call Shinra,” Izaya smiled tightly. He pressed a hand above his pelvis right as it cramped, familiar and terrifying at once.


Shinra came over within twenty minutes. He examined Izaya. And then he laughed at them until his glasses slid down his nose and tears gathered at the corners of his eyes.

“I can’t believe you called me over post-coital cramps,” he sobbed out at Shizuo’s crimson face, which he was trying to hide behind his hand.

“Shut the fuck up,” Shizuo replied half-heartedly. “How the fuck was I supposed to know? He said there was something wrong.”

“Oh, this is one for the family reunions,” Shinra said happily as he took off his gloves. “I’m never going to pass up on the occasion to talk about it.”

Izaya stayed where he was, too low on energy both mental and physical to put up much of a fight against Shinra’s laughter. The world appeared to him behind a pale veil of relief so immense it pumped him of all his ability to care for something other than the fact that he wasn’t giving birth yet.

“Just go home,” he said tiredly. “I’ll pay you to shut up myself if I have to.”

“You don’t have enough money to buy my silence, Orihara-kun.”

Izaya flipped him off.

Shinra snorted loudly, and then he strolled out of the apartment and to the hallway outside where Celty was probably waiting for him. He paused at the entrance, one hand holding the door open.

“Joking aside,” he announced more loudly. “If this happens outside of you two fornicating, you should immediately go to the hospital.”

“I know,” Izaya answered with a frown. “I think I’ve memorized your ‘warning signs’ pamphlet by now, Shinra.”

“Good. One thing you know that’s actually of use to anyone.”

He waved at them merrily before stepping out and letting the door close behind him. Shizuo rubbed his face one last time in the vague hope of erasing his furious blush.

“Fucking Shinra,” he mumbled.

“I certainly hope not,” Izaya said lightly.

Shizuo shuddered. “God. Let’s just stop talking about Shinra. And about fucking.” He sat down on the other couch, and put a hand at the crown of Izaya’s head hanging over the arm. “How do you feel?”

“It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

“That’s not what I asked.” He didn’t insist, though, only tread his fingers through Izaya’s damp hair and rubbed against his scalp.

With the overwhelming reassurance that nothing was wrong it was all too easy for Izaya to doze off to the tingles running along his neck every time Shizuo’s blunt nails scratched against him lightly. He was almost all the way into sleep when Shizuo spoke again, and then he had to take a few seconds to come back awake and blink his eyesight into some sort of focus.

He craned his neck to look behind him. “What did you say?”

Shizuo smiled briefly. “Sorry. I said we should start thinking about names. For the baby.”

Izaya’s heart tried an awkward little misstep inside his chest, but he felt too drowsy and unreal to pay it much mind. He fell back against the couch. “Oh. Just name it whatever you want.”

“You don’t want to have a say in this at all?”

“I’ve had way too much say about way too many things regarding this,” Izaya replied with a vague hand gesture. “And I’m terrible at making up names anyway.”

There was a short silence.

“Izaya is a good name,” Shizuo said thoughtfully. “A bit pompous and irrational.”

Izaya closed his eyes, and his lips quivered. “Fitting in every way,” he answered with pride.


twenty-eighth

Celty texted Izaya as August rolled in, stifling and unbreathable. Though it was late in the night he hadn’t had a lick of sleep, had spent hours atop the bed covers with his phone open on emails he wasn’t reading and one hand holding his swollen right ankle above his left knee. Shizuo had been asleep for ages. His hand rested by Izaya’s shoulder, palm up and fingers curled vulnerably in his slumber. The heat had won over even his tendency to kick around in his dreams; he was still as a rock, in the same exact position he had fallen hours before. Only Izaya had moved aside and away from the weight of his arm above him in the hope of a cooler spot.

He watched the notification light up dazedly. When he slid the message open his thumb left a sweaty trail on the screen of his phone.

Shinra asked me to check if you were sleeping well, it said. No punctuation and no flourishes.

She had always been rather achingly straightforward, when she wasn’t acting like she was better than all of them.

I am, he replied.

If you were you wouldn’t be texting back at 2:30am, she sent back, and he felt irritation crawl up his spine in immediate response. He blocked her number.

His back throbbed when he curled over to his side to put the phone on the table next to him. Nowadays there wasn’t a moment where he wasn’t in some kind of physical pain—and now he was having trouble standing up for too long or even wearing shoes for extended periods of time, and his lower back screamed if he ever stood still instead of walked for more than a minute. He ached like a giant sore, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Another of his phones rang inside the drawer of his bedside table, and he jumped.

“You have to be kidding me,” he growled. He took a breath and pushed himself to a sitting position before opening the drawer and touching blindly for the source of the incessant buzzing. When he found the responsible one, a green slide phone so old some of the keys had been smoothed and erased, he put it to his ear immediately. Next to him Shizuo let out a louder breath. “Can’t you take a hint already?” Izaya hissed into the receiver.

He heard the soft taping of fingers, and then the mechanical voice of a woman, cold as ice: “I want to talk to you.”

For a second Izaya blanched in surprise; but when he looked at the screen again it was indeed Celty’s name, Celty’s number. “Are you using some kind of reading-aloud app?”

“Yes,” said the awful voice.

“Just text me,” Izaya sighed, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his free hand.

Celty typed something else, for a longer time, and the voice said, “There’s a lower risk of you blocking me while we’re calling. And this way you don’t get to just listen to the sound of your own voice.”

“My voice is less grating than that thing,” he replied.

“Not by much.”

Despite himself he felt the hint of a smile at his mouth. “Fine. Be quick about it.”

Typing, again, like soft little footsteps. The voice said, “Shinra didn’t ask me to check up on you. I was worried.”

Izaya lied back down slowly, the pillow under the dip of his back taking away some of the tension.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about our last talk.” It truly was awful, the way the halted speech of the reader took every bit of feeling out of the words it said; Izaya thought hearing the voice of Celty’s head might have been less agonizing. “Actually I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“And what is your brilliant conclusion, then?” he asked tiredly. He felt the lack of a headache the same way he would the lack of pain in a still-bleeding wound. As if his body was just too tired to create additional discomfort for him.

“I’m jealous,” the voice said, unfeeling.

All of Izaya’s drowsiness evaporated.

He heard her type through the heavy beat of blood in his ears, hurried and stumbling, like the written equivalent of cutting him off before he could even speak. “Don’t take this the wrong way.”

“How am I supposed to take it?” Izaya said. There was rage like liquor on his tongue, sweet and heady and nauseating. “What exactly are you jealous of, here? Do you have any idea what you’re even talking about?” This time he heard a louder noise, like flesh hitting hollow wood.

“Shinra and I can’t have children,” the voice replied. It lingered, off, on the wrong words; in the end it sounded like boredom more than anything else. “Even if we managed to adopt despite me being an immortal creature with no legal ID, I wouldn’t want them.”

“Because Shinra doesn’t have the ability to care for anyone?”

“Because I’m immortal,” Celty answered.

Izaya closed his mouth.

“It’s going to be hard enough outliving him, and Shizuo, and everyone else I know. I don’t want to outlive my own child.”

“You have your head,” Izaya said slowly. “You could just kill yourself once they’re all gone.”

“You don’t understand,” the fake voice replied flatly. “I don’t want to live a single second feeling grief over their death.”

A car rushed under his window, moving little dots of light along the corner of his ceiling through the blinds. Celty’s fingers tapped softly against the screen of her phone.

“I’m selfish. I’d rather spare myself pain than risk having happiness.” Izaya felt his breath catch at her words, but she wasn’t done: “And then you come along, and you’re the most undeserving person I’ve ever met. And you and my best friend are having a child.”

“This isn’t a fucking contest,” Izaya spat out, eyes shutting as if to parry the rise of anger inside him, hot and venomous.

“I know,” Celty replied, monotone. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize to me.”

“I’m not. I’m sorry for myself, for stooping so low as to feel jealous of someone like you.”

Shizuo’s hand moved on the bedspread, crawling to Izaya’s shoulder and then resting above his chest. Izaya turned his head and watched him blink slumber out of his eyes and relaxation out of the turn of his mouth.

“You don’t deserve him,” she said robotically, like an echo of his own thoughts.

“You don’t deserve Shinra,” he replied.

Shizuo winced, but didn’t move otherwise. Izaya put his free hand into blond hair, treading his fingers through the messy strands and scratching lightly against Shizuo’s scalp. Celty’s end of the line stayed silent for so long he wondered if she had decided to cut the whole thing short herself.

“I do want to be your friend, Izaya,” she said at last. “I went about it the wrong way before, but that’s still true.”

Izaya fisted his hand into Shizuo’s hair. “I’m glad we agree on this.”

“I also expect an apology for my head.”

“Which of you should I deliver it to?”

He heard her shift in her seat, and he could almost see her shoulders hunch on laughter and exasperation alike in the dark of her home. Her body covered in shadow, intangible and solid and weightless all at once. She blended in the night so very easily, she might as well be made of night itself.

Shizuo’s thumb pressed against his neck. When Izaya looked at him again, he was smiling.


thirty-second

“We’re taking you shopping,” Mairu announced during her and Kururi’s now biweekly visit at Izaya’s apartment.

“The last time you took me shopping ended with a store closing for good,” Izaya muttered into his breakfast. He sat straighter in his chair to make way for Kururi’s hands sliding over his belly; she made a face at the absence of movement, but Izaya wasn’t complaining. The fetus had been blissfully still all day long.

“I can’t believe her room is still empty. You haven’t even bought a crib. A crib, Iza-nii.”

“It can sleep on the couch.”

“You monster,” she gasped dramatically.

Izaya put down his chopsticks and stood up. “At least let me take a shower,” he told her, and then he raised a warning hand when her face lit up in joy. “And if I start feeling tired I’m going home immediately.”

“Don’t worry!” she said brightly. “Shizuo-san will join us at the mall. He’ll carry you if you get too tired to walk.”

“He’s nice,” Kururi added.

“I don’t even want to know how you managed to get his number,” he muttered.

It took him longer than usual to drag himself up the stairs. While standing under the spray of the shower head he had to brace one hand against the wall and another under the weight of his belly, as if it could ever lighten the pressure in his pelvis. In the end he barely washed himself at all.

Izaya put on the loose-fitting maternity clothes with distaste, and when he couldn’t delay any longer, he followed his sisters outside.

He didn’t like being out at all anymore. He had long since given up pretending he wasn’t pregnant, but now he was heavily pregnant; the swell of his body was unmistakable as any other kind of weight gain, and if it wasn’t how it stretched into the elastic band of his pants or the way his breasts lay heavy and visible below his throat then it was the way he walked, and the arch of his back, that made people stare.

Having Shizuo by his side once they stepped out of the cab made little difference. Salespeople surrounded them as soon as they set foot anywhere, and in their glassy eyes Izaya could see himself as they thought he was.

He had to sit down right after they chose a crib. There were still the mattress and sheets to buy, and clothes, and toys, else Mairu and Kururi would never be satisfied.

“You can go home,” Shizuo said lowly above him. “I can take care of the rest myself. I’ll treat your sisters to ice cream or something so they leave you alone for today.”

“I don’t need you to bribe them for me,” Izaya replied tiredly.

“I actually like spending time with your sisters.”

Izaya made a face. “You’re unbelievable,” he said, and Shizuo laughed.

His pelvis throbbed briefly. He put a hand there by reflex.

“I told my parents,” Shizuo said after a brief silence. “And Kasuka.”

Izaya looked up; but Shizuo wasn’t looking at him, was watching far into the aisle of baby things instead, over rows of colorful blankets and cushions and their bright-orange price tags.

“I don’t mind,” he replied. “I wasn’t expecting you to keep this secret from your own family.”

He saw Shizuo’s shoulder sag ever-so-slightly in answer, and he caught himself before he could smile.

“They want to meet you,” Shizuo continued.

Izaya’s belly ached again. “I see.”

“They already know you, sort of,” and his eyes only betrayed fondness when they met Izaya’s, sweet and clear under the store’s glaring lights. “Because I talked about you so much in high school.”

There was dryness now in Izaya’s throat, and a knot-like obstruction when he tried to breathe. “Do they know me as—”

“I’ve only ever known you as Izaya,” Shizuo cut in. “And I don’t think they understood when I tried to explain, not completely. But they won’t mind. They don’t mind, Izaya. It’s okay.”

Izaya took a deep breath. “Well,” he rasped. “That’s one issue out of the way, then, and about a hundred more to go.”

Shizuo laughed again, lively and loud, so ill-fitting against the ordinary splattered all around them for sale.

Izaya tried to push himself to his feet; and then he fell back down, because his belly cramped again wildly.

“You all right?” Shizuo asked.

“I’m good,” he let out, as steadily as he could.

He waited for a moment. The pain lingered but didn’t flare again, and when he stood up slowly nothing else seemed forthcoming. He nodded curtly at Shizuo to walk ahead into the clothing area of the store.

Ten minutes later, his water broke.

Izaya stood still and horrified as liquid gushed down his legs, sticking the seam of his pants to his skin and then dripping to the floor, and he barely felt the contraction this time for the sheer nausea running up his throat and beating against his palate and his lips.

“Shizuo,” he heaved.

He was too far away to be heard. Shizuo was a too far ahead, with an employee talking to him and Kururi stuck to his side, but somehow he must’ve known, or maybe it was coincidence alone that made him look back at Izaya trembling on his legs in the middle of the aisle. He pushed the salesman aside with too much strength; all Izaya could do was watch the stranger fall into a wall of newborn-sized onesies and take the entire shelf along with him, and then Shizuo was here.

“It’s too soon,” Izaya told him helplessly.

“Come on,” Shizuo replied in a tight voice, hands bracing against Izaya’s shoulder to push him forward.

“I can’t.” He inhaled, and it sounded like a sob. “It hasn’t been long enough. I can’t—”

Izaya.” Shizuo’s face was pale, creased on worry and panic, and his hand shook against Izaya’s skin even as he tried to hide it. “We need to get you to the clinic. Please, you need to move.”

So Izaya did. He unstuck his feet from the wet floor and tried to ignore how the sound of it made him want to retch, he dug his fingernails into Shizuo’s hand so hard he drew blood, he walked out of the store as his belly tightened with every step like an echo.

The ambulance only took five minutes to arrive. To Izaya they sped by like a second. He hadn’t even noticed Mairu calling it and he barely felt the foreign hands lying him down on the bed inside. Shizuo climbed next to him and grabbed his hand again, and when he squeezed it carefully Izaya thought this might be the only thing that was real at all.

The nurse wiped his legs of the fluids with towels, and though he saw them come out stained with pink it wasn’t until Shizuo drew in a shuddering breath that he realized he was bleeding. “It’s too soon,” Izaya said again, wind-soft.

“How far along are you?” the man asked.

And Izaya tried to think back to the careful count he had kept of every day and every week and every month, but he couldn’t. He only knew that it wasn’t time. Shizuo squeezed his hand and said, “Thirty-two weeks and four days,” his voice rough as sandpaper.

“You’ll be fine,” the man replied kindly. He looked grey. Almost transparent. Like the blocky shapes of the ultrasound.

Inside the clinic he was directed to the machine itself again, with a different doctor this time, a man with grey hair and thin eyes and hands made rough from practice. Izaya didn’t look at the monitor at all. Shizuo didn’t either.

The doctor talked a lot. About not stopping the labor, about epidurals and caesareans and health risks and pain factors. Izaya watched him for a while before he had enough.

“Yes to the epidural, no to the c-section,” he said. “I don’t care about the rest.” He thought the man must look unhappy, but it was hard to tell with how greyed out the world looked next to Shizuo’s lopsided smile in the corner of his vision.

They injected him in the ache of his back, and though the awful pressure inside him didn’t slacken at least the pain faded to less. To forgettable.

Izaya was more than familiar with out-of-body experiences. If he bothered to look back on the last seven months he knew they felt, as a whole, as if he hadn’t quite been himself, or in control of himself. The heavy dissociation between his body’s state and who he was had kept him in a state of hazy time skips, more like he was watching things happen rather than living them to the full. But he couldn’t think of a situation more stark than that of intimately knowing pain was crushing him without his feeling it—only the results of it, only the flex of muscles he hadn’t known he possessed at all and the sweat drenching him as he drowsed in and out of consciousness. As he bled. He watched Shizuo go out and come back in scrubs as through a camera’s lens that was only able to focus on the brown of his eyes above the blue mask he wore. His sisters had their faces pressed to the window giving onto the corridor, and the glass was misty around their mouths, and their fingertips left little white trails everywhere they touched. Nurses went and were replaced by midwives. Izaya was changed from his clothes to a blue gown, and through it all chemicals blunted his touch and gapped over the hole stress was digging in him, more terrifying than anything he had ever felt.

“Mom texted me. She says she’ll be praying for you, and that you need to breathe,” Shizuo murmured next to him, three hours into their wait.

“Does she have more enlightening advice to give me?” Izaya slurred, too late, too slow. His hand was clammy. Shizuo never let go of it.

“Just breathe,” Shizuo said again. “It’ll pass. Everything’s gonna be all right.”

He pressed his forehead to Izaya’s overheated one, and Izaya could’ve damned the mask and the whole world for a hint of the same kind of certainty.

“I’m doing this for you,” he said breezily. “All of it. You’re the only reason I’m going through with this.”

Shizuo’s eyes shone. “I know.”

“I’ve never wanted kids. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“I know.”

Izaya’s throat closed on a sob, and he ripped his damp hand from Shizuo’s grip only to grab at the collar of his scrubs instead. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing,” he rasped out. “I saw the opportunity and and I took it because I can’t fucking stop myself, and even when this is over I’m going to ruin it all, I’m never going to be able to go back—” he stopped, because he not-ached again, belly contracting and muscles tensing and sweat dripping without any real pain to go with it expect for a low thrum around his middle.

Shizuo crushed Izaya’s head against his shoulder and ran a hand into his wet hair. “It’s okay. It’s fine.”

“It’s not,” Izaya said, damp on his skin. The hand at the back of his head pressed harder against him.

“We’ll figure it out.”

Izaya laughed. Every poisonous cell of his body shook with it.

Eventually the contractions turned into sharper pain than the dull throb of his body, and when he started moaning from it Shizuo called the doctor in.

It wasn’t a quick affair. Minutes turned to hours and still he pushed, and all that seemed to come out was more blood than he thought he could have, warm on his thighs and sticky on the sanitized sheets spread beneath him where it mixed with sweat and whatever was left of amniotic fluids. It was a vain effort, as unrewarding as it was vital.

When the head appeared Izaya could’ve cried if all of his energy wasn’t directed at getting it out, Shizuo’s hand still crushed in his as if he could draw the inhuman strength out of it to finish the job for him. But he couldn’t. So he breathed, and he didn’t weep, and he dug inside himself for every crumb of will he could find.

He never stopped panting when the man hunched between his legs pulled the baby out of him. “A girl,” the doctor announced, and waited, and waited.

And waited.

“She’s not crying,” Izaya said.

Shizuo didn’t answer. One of the midwives took something from the doctor’s hands, turned her back on Izaya and hunched over a table in silence, hands busy in front of her.

“She’s not,” Izaya said. “Oh, God.” He tried to shake his hand out of Shizuo’s but Shizuo didn’t let him, linked his fingers around the span of Izaya’s wrist instead to keep him in place. “Oh my God.”

The doctor came to look at what the midwife was doing, and though he was whispering Izaya caught No response from his lips and felt his entire body open as if to scream.

“What did I do wrong,” he panted. “What did I do—” and then he choked, face turned as far away from Shizuo’s as he could and rubbing into rough sheets as if the burn could make him feel alive again. “Please,” he sobbed into the fabric. “Please, cry.”

She did. She wailed high and strident and wonderful, a howl that shot through Izaya like an arrow and seared him to life as if he was the one taking his first breath. Time crystallized into infinity, settled into sharp-edged relief, and cut into him with every sobbing breath he took, until no one in the room could’ve told who was crying louder between him and the newborn.

Previous chapter | Index | Epilogue

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