Foolish Measures

Rated: T

Length: 6,800

Warnings: underage drinking, internalized homophobia.

Foolish Measures

As far as he could remember, introducing Celty in concept if not in name had been one of the ways Shinra introduced himself. Because she would eventually be part of his life she could as well be part of his person, so his name when he said it to others had to come with hers in tow—either first or second, it didn’t matter.

Shingen knew it. Celty was aware of it—even if she didn’t understand it yet. Izaya had grown to resent it over the years, and all of Shinra’s small group of acquaintances knew Celty in some way, by name or for the way Shinra talked about her as if she was always present. And if they were skeptical of her existence they never denied Shinra’s commitment on the matter.

So it was a surprise when Kadota knocked on Shinra’s door the day before the opening ceremony of their last year of high school. He came in with the last of winter’s chill clinging to his skin, gave a shiver at the temperature rise when he stepped into the hallway leading to the living-room where Izaya lay spread over the couch.

“Hey, Izaya,” Kadota said before addressing Shinra himself. From the corner of his eyes Shinra saw Izaya shift on his back, raising a shoulder to peer over the arm of the couch and blink surprise at Kadota.

He could have left them to stare at each other for a while and waited for Izaya’s embarrassment, or Kadota’s, or both. But curiosity was rare enough in the span of Shinra’s emotions that he wanted to indulge.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Kadota let out a shaky sigh, body still caught between cold and warm, but his attention turned to Shinra once more. “Ah. Sorry. Actually, I came because I got a favor to ask you.”

“Hm,” Shinra replied eloquently, thoughts slipping through alertness to disappointment. Behind him he could hear the brush of cloth on leather as Izaya moved again, no doubt sitting up to observe them more easily. “What sort of favor?”

“This is going to sound really weird,” Kadota muttered, rubbing his nape so hard his hat fell sideways over his head. He took a sharp breath. “We’re missing one person for a mixer this weekend.”

“And you want Shinra to come?” Izaya laughed immediately, voice light but attention so fast on them Shinra could feel it at the back of his head like heat.

“I wasn’t going to ask you to tag along and steal all the attention away,” Kadota replied patiently. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Izaya drawled. Shinra smiled.

“Look,” and now Kadota was taking a step forward, and aborting a movement to take off his shoes before thinking better of it. Shinra was still standing in front of him after all, deliberately making no move to allow him passage. “Look,” he repeated, “the girls who are coming are from an all-girl school. Chances are they won’t be too picky.” Izaya made a faint disgusted noise at that, but Kadota closed his eyes very slowly and ignored him. “You know Togusa, right?”

“He’s your delinquent friend,” Shinra said, and Kadota pulled a face.

“He’s trying. Well, anyway, Togusa can’t come with us anymore, so I need someone else because the girls said they’re only going if there’s three of us.”

“I’m engaged to be married,” Shinra replied easily.

Kadota rolled his eyes. “No you’re not. Come on, Shinra. You’re not too shabby-looking but not pretty enough to get all the attention. You’re perfect.” Leather creaked from the mouth of the hallway where Izaya was sitting. Kadota’s eyes lifted away from Shinra’s face to look over his shoulder as soft footsteps fell toward them, right behind Shinra.

“Why don’t you ask Shizu-chan?” Izaya was saying now, leaning against the wall to Shinra’s left, voice trailing taunt on mockery. “I’m sure he’ll be spectacular.”

“You know Shizuo-kun doesn’t feel comfortable around girls,” Shinra chided lightly.

“Indeed,” and the other boy’s voice was soft and cruel, so Shinra opened his mouth again and said, “This sort of comment is really funny, coming out of your mouth.”

Kadota blinked at them in confusion. Izaya unclenched the fists of his hands so slowly Shinra thought he could hear the creaking of every individual bone moving under tension; but he still wasn’t looking, still thought better than to find out what sort of expression Izaya was making now.

“It’s not like I’m asking you to marry someone else,” Kadota said after a short, uncomfortable silence. “Just come, and try not to be morbid, and then say bye and never talk to the girl again if you don’t want to.”

“I’m sorry,” Shinra offered with a placating smile. “But I don’t think I will.”

Izaya was still nursing his wounds to the side, head turned to Kadota; the cross of his arms slackened to look more like relaxation than nerves, though, and temptation struck Shinra again, bright and appealing, without any will in him to resist it.

“Actually,” he said, right when Kadota was bowing his head and turning around to grasp the door handle, “maybe I will.”

Kadota shifted on his feet again. “Really?” he asked, disbelieving.

“It could be a great occasion to test Celty’s jealousy.” Shinra tugged his glasses higher on his nose, pressed a hand against his own heart. “Though it tears me apart to have to go to such lengths—but I have no intention of ever betraying her, so it’s okay!”

“Great,” Kadota replied, lips twitching into a smile at the corners. “I’ll give you the details tomorrow at the ceremony. Please keep this sort of comments to yourself while we’re there, though.”

“See you, Dotachin,” Izaya chimed in. The door closed behind Kadota with a sharp noise. After the lock slid into place and the muffled sound of his footsteps faded away in the distance, Shinra turned to the side.

Izaya was looking at him, as expected, with the same unsatisfied glint in his eyes that he had whenever Shinra did anything.

“I never thought you would agree to something like this,” he said after a while. Shinra hummed, and slid his slippers on the varnished wooden floor so that they made the smallest noise with the friction, and walked back to the living-room without answering. Izaya followed wordlessly.

He settled back over the couch as Shinra took the armchair and opened the book he had been reading where his pen kept it marked. For a while there was only silence while Shinra flicked through the pages. He wasn’t paying attention to the words so much as letting the flow of paper and ink stifle some of the boredom he felt. Celty hadn’t been home all day; neither had Shingen, but then again Shinra thought his father was probably gone for the week and had simply forgotten to tell him again. It wouldn’t have been the first time. It was night out, too late for Kadota to have come out of anything less than the absolute necessity of planning—too late for Izaya to still be here, reasonably.

“Are you actually going to do anything?” Shinra asked finally. His book closed with a thud and he looked over his glasses at the blurry shape of Izaya’s body sprawled over leather cushions.

Izaya turned his head around and smiled. “Are you by any chance finding my company lacking, Shinra?” he grinned.

“Yes,” Shinra replied, and Izaya chuckled.

“So rude.”

He sat up, then, and plucked from the pocket of his jeans the cellphone he had been fiddling with on and off all afternoon.

“Maybe you will end up marrying one of the girls at that mixer,” he said. Shinra raised his head. “Maybe you’ll fall in love at first sight, and then you’ll find that she would make the kind of wife your infatuation could never be. How exciting.”

“You sound absolutely thrilled.”

“I am,” Izaya replied. His eyes were glinting even through his unlit half of the room, more black than brown; Shinra hadn’t bothered to light up more than a tabletop lamp as hours crawled by and the sky outside darkened. Izaya was sitting a way from him, and though he was visible there was a fitting shadow over his face, the promise of night clinging to him somewhat dramatically.

Why are you here, Shinra thought, but didn’t ask. The prospect of peeling off his own skin inch by inch was more appealing than that of trying to untangle Izaya’s reasons to do what he did.

But Izaya wasn’t looking at him anymore. His face was washed out by the glow of his phone’s screen and his eyes were settled somewhere around Shinra’s feet. He was still smiling as lightly as if anything more than a fleeting grin threatened to tear his face in two.

“Think about it,” he continued. “What would you do, if you had the choice?”

“What choice?” Shinra said tiredly.

Izaya waved a hand. “Would you rather marry this girl, and give up on your lifelong dream of being with the woman you love?” His eyes came up to meet Shinra’s again. “Or would you rather stick to the one you think is your one true love, and miss all your chances at experiencing something that could be even better?”

There was a breathlessness to his voice, the depth of true meaning within reach if only Shinra bothered to reach at all.

So Shinra rubbed his thumb and his index together and smiled and said, “Of course I’d stick to her. I love her.”

Izaya laughed.

The welcoming ceremony took place on the very last day of March. After weeks spent lounging in comfortable winter clothes the grip of high school uniforms felt almost foreign on Shinra’s skin. He had grown, too, pushed past the inch he and Izaya had in common to loom over him the slightest bit. Izaya had frowned when he noticed. Shinra could only grin and appreciate the irony.

For the first hour of the ceremony Izaya stayed away—Shizuo was sitting by Shinra’s side, and Kadota had gone somewhere outside with Togusa Saburo rather than sit through the speeches of expectation for their last year of school.

Izaya might have gone out, too. There was no way to know, no way to differentiate his black hair against the black hair of dozens of others even with the light browns and blonds strewn in-between.

Kadota caught Shinra as he exited the building with Shizuo in tow.

“Meet us here tomorrow at seven,” he said hurriedly. Togusa was standing away from them, sunlight catching on the ring at his eyebrow when Shinra looked.

“Do we have to come back to school before classes start?” Shinra asked.

“It’s the most convenient rendezvous spot. We’re not actually holding the thing here, Shinra.”

“What thing?” Shizuo asked distractedly. His eyes were fixed on the cigarette over Kadota’s ear.

Kadota hesitated. “Nothing much,” he said at last, and then, when Shizuo frowned in disappointment, “Look, I just invited Shinra to a thing instead of you because I figured you wouldn’t like it.”

“Why wouldn’t I like it?”

“It includes girls, Shizu-chan,” came Izaya’s voice behind Shinra. Shinra turned around in time with Shizuo—except Shizuo did it with clenched fists and a growl in his throat, skin prickling with fury from the proximity with Izaya alone. Izaya smiled and taunted, “Down, boy,” before walking up to Kadota’s side. Kadota watched him warily.

“I like girls,” Shizuo said, voice hurt. Shinra hummed to himself, neck tense with the imminency of conflict between them both—he wasn’t really in the mood to patch up either of them. He was never really in the mood for that.

Izaya gave Shizuo a glance full of pity. “I’m more worried about the girls than you. Who knows what kind of danger they’d expose themselves to in your presence.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Shizuo said, and Izaya laughed slow and easy as he stepped back from Kadota and to the edge of the low wall surrounding the school grounds. “Make me,” he replied.

“Don’t you guys get tired of this?” Kadota sighed. “God knows I do.”

Shinra thought Shizuo might very well be tired of it, and since a long time ago. But he also thought Izaya would never tire so long as he could get an edge out of it to break himself onto.

“We’re already in our third year,” Kadota continued despite the way both Izaya and Shizuo ignored him for their staring contest. “Izaya,” he insisted. “Come on. Let off already.”

“I’m hurt, Dotachin,” Izaya said. Shinra’s eyes caught at the bend of his wrist when he shook his free hand in their direction. Thin skin over thin muscles over thin bones. They clenched under his look as Izaya kept going, “To think you’re lecturing the one being physically assaulted almost weekly.”

“I wouldn’t assault you if you didn’t piss me off so fucking much,” Shizuo growled. He was stepping forward already, restless with an anger Shinra knew he would regret later; even with the edge of guilt blunted by years of Izaya proving again and again how much he deserved it, Shizuo still had enough in him for remorse at his own actions—for himself if not because he cared about Izaya.

Shizuo was, without a doubt, the best person Shinra knew.

Sunlight poured over them unbothered by clouds, but all Shinra could feel when Izaya glanced at him was the crisp spring air over his forearms where he had rolled up his sleeves; the damp of recent rain still clinging to the breeze and to the trees’ leaves and falling drop by drop over his hair and nose as he and kadota walked to the gates of the school and away from a chase neither of them wanted to witness. They had witnessed it too many times.

Still, Shinra kept his ears alert for the moan of cement and metal bending to Shizuo’s fists. And for Izaya’s bright taunts to turn to painful rasps as he always thought they would, one day, inevitably.

“Are you really okay with this?” Kadota asked, surprisingly. When Shinra turned his head the other boy wasn’t looking at him—rather, he was staring at the road in front of them with a frown. Kadota’s face was always rather more unreadable than Izaya’s or Shinra’s could ever hope to be.

“Okay with what?” Shinra said evenly.

Kadota glanced at him; Shinra thought there was pity there, for a second. The premiss of sympathy. And Shinra’s heart jumped awkwardly in his chest with the sudden certainty that whatever Kadota wanted to ask, he didn’t want to hear it—but then Kadota sighed, and looked in front of them again, and said, “The mixer, of course. What else.”

Togusa was walking silently on Kadota’s other side. What else, Shinra thought, heartbeat shivering with every step he took and Izaya’s voice the day before ringing through his ears with more clarity than he could wish to recreate on his own. What would you do, if you had the choice?

“Like I said,” he replied with a smile, “this is a great occasion to test Celty’s jealousy. See if she already considers me a man worthy of her love or if I need some more effort to get there.”

Togusa snorted.

“Well, it’s not like it’s a big commitment or anything,” Kadota continued more softly. “You just have to be there. No need to talk to the girls after the mixer if you already have someone else. You know.”

“I know.” Shinra’s chest ached now, and his knees shook with the need to run, but he locked his own breathing and made himself keep walking. Row after row of trees blossomed over his head until they reached Kadota’s turn and Shinra couldn’t see the edge of Togusa’s coat after he walked in his friend’s steps, away from Shinra and the wealthier part of Ikebukuro.

The way home after that felt longer than usual. His breathing only soothed itself into normalcy when he opened the door of his father’s apartment to Celty’s tall, dark body and her hands fiddling with the ridiculous helmet she loved.

She paused when she saw him kneel to take off his shoes. When Shinra lifted his head again she was holding a phone, Good day at school? written on it. She looked uncomfortable.

“Great!” he lied. “I can’t wait to start classes again.”

Her shoulders dropped out of tension. That’s good, she wrote. And then, after putting on her helmet, I’m going out to work. You’ll probably be asleep when I come back, so see you tomorrow.

He wouldn’t be asleep, but she didn’t need to know that. “Good luck at work, Celty,” he said. “I’ll miss you.”

She only faltered for a handful of seconds at his words. He counted it as progress. Celty hunched forward and walked past him to the still-open door, which closed behind her with a soft thud. Shinra leaned against the wall of the doorway and let his eyes wander to the pair of guest slippers he hadn’t bothered to put away since Izaya’s departure the night before.

Kadota was waiting for Shinra on the sidewalk opposite to the school gates the following day. He had foregone the loose clothes he usually wore outside of school days for jeans and an ironed shirt, hadn’t bothered wearing a hat or slicking back his hair; it fell loosely around his face and over the small, silver ring at the edge of his right ear so that it was hidden from sight. In the elongated shadows of sunset he looked a couple of years older than he really was, and for a brief second Shinra felt a lick of self-consciousness at his own unremarkable attire—until he saw the blush over Kadota’s cheekbones.

Kadota-kun,” he laughed then, “you really do look desperate.”

“Oh, shut up,” Kadota replied. “At least I’m trying.” He glanced over Shinra’s old and worn-soft sweater, at the edge of the white shirt collar peaking at his neck, ruffled and unkempt, but Shinra was past embarrassment already.

“Where’s the third guy?” he asked curiously.

Kadota made a face. “Yeah, about that. He called me earlier, he can’t make it.”

Shinra’s breath caught for a second.

“Don’t worry,” Kadota assured, thankfully misguided about his reaction. “We’re not canceling. I called Izaya, he’s on his way to the karaoke right now.”

“So this is why you’re dressed so smartly,” Shinra joked, but it felt flat even to his own ears. Kadota grunted, “Can’t let him have all the attention,” and took a step toward the busier streets ahead of them without looking back to Shinra’s face. Shinra followed at a slower pace.

He heard Izaya before he looked up to see him. It seemed he had found the group of girls they were supposed to meet without need for Kadota’s introduction—they were standing next to him with shy smiles and attentive eyes as he spoke in a low voice, only breaking away from him when he straightened his back and waved at Kadota’s fast-paced approach. Shinra met his eyes for a second before looking back at the three strangers next to him.

He barely listened to Kadota’s wavering greetings and his invitation to come inside, only fell in step with him and sat down unthinkingly at the far right of the bench in the cramped room they had reserved for the evening. Kadota sat between him and Izaya, and the girls took the opposite bench with whispered laughs and interested glances.

They made introductions. Shinra said his own name mechanically, part of him tied to boredom and part of him fluttering awake under the feeling of being looked at more intently than he wished—or not intently enough for his wishes. He wasn’t really sure he wanted to know. Silence reigned until their drinks came, and Shinra pushed his foot harder against the solid feeling of beer cans inside Kadota’s bag next to him, hoping they would get the chance to open them before it was time to leave. The haze of alcohol, though he had little experience with it, seemed like a better prospect than that of embarrassment and awkward ice-breakers.

“Are you all right, Kishitani-kun?” said the girl in front of him. Shinra blinked slowly, a few seconds too late to realize she was talking to him. No one called him by his last name.

“I’m just fine,” he said. He toyed with the idea of not saying anything further; but she looked sweet, with striking clear eyes and a kindness to her voice. “Um, I’m sorry. I think I forgot your name.”

She giggled softly. “Call me Nao,” she replied with a smile.

“Nao-chan,” Shinra repeated. He smiled back. “That’s a pretty name. Call me Shinra, please, I don’t really care for my last name.”

She reddened at his words. Her hair was shorter than his, cropped close to her head and dyed a light brown, and he thought she might be as out of place here as he was, because she lacked the enthusiasm her friends displayed for all the ways she made herself look at him and engage in conversation as if she truly wanted to get to know him.

Shinra’s fingers slipped on damp glass when he grabbed his drink. “So, Nao-chan. Why are you here?”

He wondered if maybe that was too direct, or too intrusive; but Nao made a face before replying, “Actually, my friends put this evening together for me as a late birthday present.”

“Really?” She nodded. “Happy birthday, then.”

She blushed again. “Oh, no need,” she waved awkwardly. “My birthday was ages ago. We just didn’t get around to doing this until today.”

Shinra hummed in what he hoped was agreement. The two girls sitting next to Nao were already deep into a conversation largely encouraged by Izaya if not directly led by him. Kadota was included, and as Shinra watched they all burst into laughter, high pitched over the lower rumble of Kadota’s voice, and Izaya turned his head to meet Shinra’s eyes over their friend’s bowed head with a thin smile at his lips. His eyes glowed in the purplish light of the booth.

“Tomorrow is my birthday,” Shinra said. It was a realization to himself more than something he actually wanted to say, and it came out as a whisper he thought no one else could hear; but Izaya’s mouth twitched on amusement and Nao let out a quiet, “Oh.”

“Happy birthday,” she said. She was smiling hesitantly now.

“Thank you.”

They finished their drinks in silence after that. Shinra didn’t look to his left and to the sight of Izaya’s hands clenching on thin air anymore. After a while the girl sitting in front of Kadota took hold of the mic while her friend picked a song for her to sing. She had a nice voice, and judging by the color on Kadota’s face he probably thought she had a nice everything else as well. Shinra hid his smile behind his almost-empty glass when he took his next sip of lukewarm soda and ignored the burn of Izaya’s eyes on the side of his face.

“We should do something to celebrate your birthday, Shinra-kun,” Nao said once the first song was over. She was smiling at her friend, who turned around to beam at her and exclaimed, “Yes! What do you want to do, Kishitani-kun?”

“Not sing, for one,” Shinra laughed. “I can pay for the next drinks, though, if any of you wants one.”

“You’re not supposed to buy things for other people on your birthday, Shinra,” Izaya drawled from his end of the bench. “We can pay your share of the evening for you instead.”

Shinra pressed his palm against the warm plastic of the table with a hum. “I don’t mind. The only gift I want is my loved one’s affection.”

Kadota made a face. Izaya didn’t. He linked his hands together in his lap and turned to the bright television screen in the corner, and now Shinra was the one looking at the side of his face, bled out white by the harsh lights over their heads as if color couldn’t hang to Izaya’s skin at all.

“You have a girlfriend, Shinra-kun?” Nao asked in a small voice. When Shinra looked back at her there was shyness on her face and not a small amount of relief. Her question ought to have brought in him the warmth and anticipated pleasure of Celty’s eventual conceding to his advances; but it didn’t, and Shinra’s hand flat on the tabletop was gathering sweat now at the hollow of his palm. He made of fist of it and dragged it back to his lap.

“I have someone I love.” The words didn’t taste as foolproof and certain on his tongue anymore. “We’re not dating at the moment, though.”

“Oh… I hope it works out for you both. You seem like a nice person.”

He had to grit his teeth so he wouldn’t laugh.

Nao wanted to sing next, and Kadota joined her. It left the space on the bench between Shinra and Izaya too empty and too small, too easily closed if either of them wished to—and Shinra didn’t think about this, turned his back on the room to walk out of the door and order their drinks to be refilled. The hallway was less stifling even without moving air. For a while he stood there alone, blinking colorful spots out of his vision to adapt to the less glaring yellow lights of the off-white ceiling. There were slow vibrations on his skin from his contact with the wall, from heavy basses in neighboring booths pouring into his body despite soundproofed doors. He came back inside with the waiter and held the door open for him to cross the threshold before Shinra did.

“You shouldn’t have,” Nao said with a frown once a new glass of the drink she had ordered before was placed in front of her, but Shinra waved off her concern. “Really,” she insisted. She was already digging into her handbag for her purse. “It’s your birthday. I can’t let you pay for everyone’s drinks.”

“He won’t listen, Nao-chan,” Izaya said—she flushed at the easy way he said her name without her permission, with embarrassment or anger—”You’ll just find your money back to you some way even if you give it to him.“

“You say that like it’s a bad thing, Orihara-kun,” Shinra replied without heat. It was true, after all.

Izaya smiled tensely. “It is. You don’t really know how to accept presents, do you?”

He didn’t know what Izaya meant, exactly. There was no memory associated with gift-offerings between the two of them, no birthday or celebration they didn’t ignore or meet with platitudes and sarcasm, but still Shinra’s chest swelled with hurt and the air stung coming out of his mouth, and his next words were lower and meaner than he probably meant them to: “Better this than longing for presents you won’t ever receive, don’t you think?”

Izaya blinked slowly. With how washed out he looked there was no way to see if he paled or blushed, but he licked at his lips absently, and his hand hit against the edge of his glass, its content threatening to spill sticky-sweet against his end of the table. In the end he jerked his head away to look at the empty spot in front of him—the girl seated opposite him was singing again, alone this time—and Shinra stopped holding his breath, let it out in one shaky sigh Nao could no doubt make out. His blood rushed past his ears; for a second all he could hear was the beat of his own heart drowning the whine of the music.

“Is everything okay?”

Shinra lifted his head. Nao was staring at him with a frown.

“I’m fine,” he said. His hand was shaking a little when he grabbed his drink. “Everything’s just fine.”

Kadota brought out the beer an hour after Shinra stopped talking and Nao had turned completely sideways to participate in the others’ chats. He grabbed a can with relief, forced the disgusting taste past his lips despite how warm it was and how it made nausea flutter high in his throat. He downed half of it like this, without pause, so that when he finally breathed again heat flooded him. He was dizzy all at once for a stifling minute. When he finally blinked out the worst of it calm settled on him like a blanket, heavy and warm on his brow.

Shinra sipped the rest of his drink slowly. His tongue never quite numbed itself to the horrid bitterness of it, but with how hazy he was he was too tired to even grimace. He lost track of time after that. Part of his mind registered the louder and more unrestrained singing taking place around him, the selection of songs driving away from innocent pop music to more conspicuous lyrics and the odd anime opening theme. Kadota sang a surprising amount of enka to the girls’ greatest joy, and then Nao joined him for a duet full of laughter and terrible theatrics, and Shinra’s knee bumped Izaya’s under the table just as he realized how close the other was to him.

Sorry, he wanted to say. The word was at his mouth with a violence he would have never expected from himself, ready to push past his surprise and reach out to soothe the frown Izaya wore like a badge of honor. He didn’t know what he was apologizing for. He had nothing to apologize for; but truth felt like lies, felt like blows against his ribcage in tandem with his heartbeat, and when Izaya turned to look at him with darkness in his eyes Shinra thought he might as well have been physically struck.

“A little tipsy, are we?” Izaya teased. His voice should’ve been too soft to be heard over Kadota’s howls.

“Not really.”

Izaya hummed. He shook off the sleeve of his jacket to look at his watch—and since when did Izaya wear a wristwatch, Shinra thought, panic flowering in his chest and over the layer of drunk haze he was in.

“Well,” Izaya continued, and Shinra had to lock in a breath to be able to hear him over the rush of his own blood, “we’ll be out of here in a moment anyway.”

There was a beat, before Shinra opened his mouth to say, “What do you mean?”

Izaya smiled. The shadow of his lashes made his eyes look cruel. “I sent an anonymous message to the owner. Apparently a few minors are getting drunk in one of the booths.”

They looked at each other in silence. Beer cans were open all over the table—even if Shinra reached out to tuck them all back inside Kadota’s bag and hope they didn’t spill everywhere in the process, the acrid smell was already sticking to the walls and the low-hanging curtains. There would be no way to erase the evidence before a waiter inevitably came to check up on them, no time to futilely warn Kadota to straighten his act for a stranger’s inspection. Izaya asked Shinra, “What are you going to do?” with condescension on his lips and concern in his eyes, and Shinra bumped their knees together again and said, “Nothing.”

He had never been really good at taking action. Or at receiving presents.

A waiter did come some few moments later. It was a different one from the man Shinra had ordered their drinks to, and his nose twitched at the smell and the sight even as he politely invited them to leave under threat of contacting the police. Kadota spluttered, and Nao and the other girls put up a shaky front of protest before relenting. Only by walking out of the building and into the chilly night air did Shinra realize just how much time they’d all spent together. He flicked a glance to Nao as he struggled to find remorse for not entertaining her better; but she looked happy, flushed and smiling as her friends talked to her. She had found her enjoyment on her own—and with Kadota’s help, apparently.

The wind helped with Shinra’s own daze. It slapped against his face and shook off the last of the booze-glow, though his insides still felt warm and his movements sluggish. He regretted not taking a jacket with him. He didn’t feel cold, but with awareness back to more or less full potential he knew that was due to the beer more than anything else, and that he ran the risk of catching a cole right before classes started.

Izaya gave him a smile, looking irritatingly composed despite his own illicit intake of beer. But then, Shinra thought Izaya might be ahead of them all for these things, considering who he seemed to be hanging around. The bald, ill-shaven man who sometimes waited for him after school didn’t look like the most upstanding of citizens.

“I’m going to-” Shinra started. He gestured to his right where the street opened bright and noisy. Izaya glanced above his shoulder.

“We should all be getting home,” said Nao’s friend with a grin. She had her arm hooked with the other girl, and Nao was standing beside her. “It’s almost midnight.”

“See you,” Izaya offered. The he pushed lightly at Shinra’s back to start him walking away.

Shinra tried to look back, confused. “What about Kadota-kun?”

“Probably asking for Hiromi-chan’s number as we speak,” Izaya replied. “He gave me the most interesting pleading look before we left.”

“Oh.” Shinra wouldn’t have thought Kadota would actually get anywhere tonight.

“You’re acting as if you didn’t notice how much fun they had.”

“I didn’t, really,” Shinra said. He pushed his glasses back up his nose and inhaled a breath of icy air. “I’m afraid I’ve been a very poor guest.”

Izaya snorted, but didn’t add anything else.

They walked in silence until the crossroad where Izaya and himself should have parted ways. But Izaya didn’t show a sign of turning away or stopping to say goodbye, didn’t so much as glance in the direction of his own home; he stepped in front of Shinra when Shinra stopped, hands in his coat pockets and head turned front. All Shinra could see of his face was the side of his jaw and the slow sway of his hair.

He wanted to ask, Aren’t you going home, or, Are you coming over again? But as he caught up to Izaya and matched his stride to his all he found himself asking was, “Why did you tell them we were getting drunk?”

“Why do you think?” Izaya turned to smile at him.

Shinra sighed. “Probably to sabotage Kadota-kun’s chances or something equally petty.”

“Come on, Shinra,” Izaya protested pityingly. “If I truly wanted to interfere with Dotachin’s love life I would’ve let him get truly drunk and do the job himself.”

That… actually sounded true. “Don’t pretend you were acting out of friendship and caring,” Shinra still said. “Even I would have to laugh at you.”

“Yes,” Izaya replied evenly. “Because you have so many qualms about making fun of me the rest of the time.”

It stung. It wasn’t any different from their usual banter, but it burned bright for the longest second after Izaya’s words stopped coming—as if Izaya hadn’t meant any hurtful comment he had made before this one, as if Izaya wasn’t just stating the truth of things anymore. Shinra had no qualms about making fun of Izaya. Of his cruelty, of his jealousy, of his aching loneliness.

Shinra stopped walking. It took Izaya a few seconds to notice and slow down himself, and when he turned around he looked confused and faintly surprised.

“You’re always at my place lately,” Shinra said.

Izaya stared at him wordlessly. His shoulders tensed a little, as if he was making fists of his hands inside his pockets and the tension was running up all the way to his neck.

“So what?” he said at last.

“So, you didn’t use to do that before.”

“If it bothers you I can stop,” Izaya snapped predictably. He made as if to turn on his heels and walk away. Shinra shifted on his feet and planted himself into the ground so he wouldn’t walk after him.

“What do you want from me,” he called, and he meant for it to be light and half-hearted, because he didn’t want to know, not really, but the words came with the edge of despair and the dark of anger. “You’ve always been bad at this, Orihara-kun.”

“At what?” Izaya hissed in answer, but Shinra gestured wildly and said, “This,” as if it was enough.

“You act like you expect things of me, and then like I’ve disappointed you,” Shinra said, heated. “It’s starting to take its toll, even on me. You know better than to think I have anything to offer you. What is wrong with you?”

The warmth of the beer was truly gone now, leaving nothing in its stead to counter the harsh cold wind raising goosebumps through the layers of Shinra’s clothes. His skin felt electric, felt jittery on him as if he didn’t fit it quite well anymore. In front of him Izaya was clenching his jaw and gritting his teeth even as he tried to smooth himself over the rise of anger he never managed to hide.

“I don’t expect anything from you,” he replied lowly. “I don’t expect anything from anyone.”

“Liar,” Shinra said.

“It’s true,” Izaya retorted hotly. “I’m only here to observe. Expecting things would defeat the purpose, don’t you think? You know this. You know me.”

I do know you, Shinra thought. He knew Izaya as much as he didn’t want to know him.

“I think there is something you want very much,” he said. His heart was beating at his throat, and when he spoke the words came with tendrils of white vapor. “I think it’s the reason why you made it so you’d be here tonight, and why you stopped us before we could get drunk.”

“I stopped you because I was bored.” Izaya sounded defensive now.

Shinra shook his head. He stepped forward slowly, watching Izaya for signs of rejection; but Izaya stayed right where he was. His mouth closed abruptly and his face shifted from anger to apprehension, but he didn’t move.

“What are you doing?” he asked slowly.

“It’s my birthday,” Shinra answered. The electronic watch at Izaya’s wrist glowed, greenish and feeble, but enough for him to make out the blocky numbers on it. April second, it said. Twelve hours and thirteen minutes.

“Happy birthday,” Izaya breathed. From this close Shinra could make out where the bright flush on his cheeks melted back into pale skin and the raw parts of his lips where he had bitten too much.

“Mmh,” Shinra replied. “Thank you.”

He leaned down to press their mouths together.

He felt Izaya breathe all the air out of his lungs through his nose and his throat catch on unidentified sound. It rushed over Shinra’s face like a warm tickle, made the hollow of his chest constrict on nothing. Izaya’s lips were dry and rough, and Shinra thought his own might not be much better; but he saw Izaya blink, slow and overwhelmed, felt fingers clench tight over the bone of his shoulder. They pressed into his skin to the point of pain with no intent to push him away. Izaya stayed where he was, and fit himself into the kiss better, and through fluttering lids his eyes never broke away from Shinra’s.

Izaya was the one who stopped first. He turned his face so that Shinra’s lips slid to the corner of his and the first inch of his cheek before leaning away. For a moment neither of them spoke, and the faraway rush of cars washed over them to fill in the silence.

“You shouldn’t be giving presents on your birthday,” Izaya said. His voice was strangled.

“I’m not,” Shinra replied.

Izaya jerked backwards, and made a small sound from the back of his throat. His hand was still at Shinra’s shoulder, fingers tense but not hurtful. “This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind what I said that you don’t know how to accept gifts.”

Liar, Shinra thought. “Orihara-kun,” he said. “The only gift I want is my loved one loving me back.”

In the night shadows Izaya’s eyes always glinted softer. When he smiled it was without edge, shaky from hope rather than anger.

Shinra wondered what truth felt like. If it was opposite to lies, sweet and harsh. Or if it was this, sour and invasive, something he wanted to shake off like the worst of crawling bugs.

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