It wasn’t until the funeral that Shizuo realized he had never seen Vorona’s father in person. He hadn’t even known the man’s name until she handed him the invitation proper. It was written in Russian and Japanese both, for the colleagues and friends of Drakon’s that would be there; and it had a picture of a severe-looking man with an emaciated face on it that Shizuo couldn’t find Vorona’s features in, no matter how hard he tried.
She must have taken after her mother. Vorona had never talked about her. Shizuo had never asked.
He had known her father was very sick. For almost as long as he been her friend, she had mentioned that he was working from his hospital room. Shizuo knew, intellectually, that for Vorona the past two years had been spent in wait of Drakon passing away. She visited him twice a month like clockwork, never offering for Shizuo to come with her and meet him. Maybe she thought Drakon would assume like everyone did that they were together.
Vorona’s sexuality had been an open secret between them both since the start. The fact that Shizuo never asked her to disclose it and never disclosed his own in return was probably, he thought, part of the reason why she offered to move in with him in the first place. Now two years later she still hadn’t said the word, and he hadn’t, either. It didn’t matter.
Among the other people gathered at the crematorium, Shizuo saw Simon and Denis, the two Russians working at the sushi place that the Kadota household worshipped. Sharaku was there as well, although very isolated, almost hidden—and she wasn’t wearing a dress despite the looks she attracted. She wore a fitted black suit instead. Vorona nodded in her direction but didn’t approach her. She left to greet every guest, most of them in Russian, and Shizuo went to the back of the room where Sharaku stood shrouded in shadow.
“Hi,” she said to him pleasantly.
“I’m glad she invited you,” Shizuo replied.
It made her smile, sharp as always. “I’m glad she invited you, Heiwajima. She wasn’t sure how to do it, you know.”
He would’ve liked to question her on those words, but a man at the front requested everyone’s silence for the start of service.
Shizuo looked at Vorona’s half-shaven head two rows of chairs ahead. Her back looked like the only solid thing in the room.
It wasn’t a long thing. Shizuo wasn’t a religious person, and he knew Vorona’s family hadn’t been either; there was no priest or pastor, just city officials and members of Vorona’s dad’s company, thanking him posthumously for his work, commenting on his bravery in the face of illness. Vorona herself spoke at one point, but it was all in Russian—neither Shizuo nor Sharaku understood a word of it. It made the tiny old lady beside them weep more fervently, though.
All in all, it took maybe an hour. By that time they had all put a flower into the glass encasing the coffin and watched as it dropped below to the crematorium—and they stepped outside of the building and blinked tiredly at the expense of sunlit street ahead.
Sharaku patted Shizuo’s elbow briefly. “Come on,” she said, nodding toward the side of the building where a flower shop stood, sinister.
He followed her to the edge of it and leaned against the wall next to her. In the distance he could see Vorona talking to the guests, standing next to the person who had signed her half of the bail on their apartment—an old, portly man named Lingerin.
Shizuo recoiled a little when he saw her kiss some of the guests on both cheeks before sending them away.
“She’s been incredibly tough about the whole thing,” Sharaku murmured behind him.
He turned his head to look at her. “I know. I never even saw her cry.”
“Well,” Sharaku sighed, taking a pack of gum out of her suit pocket, “he wasn’t exactly Father of the Year. You know.”
Sharaku popped one piece of gum into her mouth and raised the pack toward him in offering, but he shook his head, instead taking his cigarettes out and lighting one as she shrugged. The first breath of smoke didn’t go down well. Vorona was taking a long time to say good bye, despite the small number of guests, and he knew that after that they would all meet for a meal. She hadn’t invited him for it.
When she finally came back toward them, Lingerin was hovering near the entrance of the crematorium, impassable.
Vorona looked a sort of ethereal with the sun at her back. Black was a good color on her, but the dress made her look like a different person altogether; when she stopped in front of Shizuo he had to take a moment before he could react, and she used it to slip a hand into his pocket and drag his cigarettes out.
She lit one in front of his face. It wasn’t until she breathed the smoke at him that he said, “What the shit, Vorona?”
Her lips stretched into a smile, whitening the outline of the scar crossing them diagonally, and Sharaku laughed warmly.
“She pickpockets you all the time,” she commented.
Shizuo groaned. “You better pay me back for that.”
“Awaited your noticing,” Vorona muttered. Then she closed her eyes and smoked again, her face looking as close to bliss as it ever had.
Sharaku looked like she wanted to hold her. Her arms were crossed tightly in front of her, fingers digging into her elbows. From the entrance, the man named Lingerin was observing them, his gaze almost a physical weight onto Vorona’s nape. It made confused, angry disgust spread through Shizuo’s veins for reasons he couldn’t completely explain, and judging by the way Sharaku stared at Lingerin, she felt the same way.
“I’m guessing he wasn’t too happy about your haircut,” she said tightly.
Vorona flicked the ashes of her stolen cigarette onto the pavement, and she replied, “Fuck him.”
Sharaku’s smile after that was the softest Shizuo had ever witnessed on her.
“Yesterday’s pizza was given to me by a very rude man,” Orihara said the following day. Like the last time Shizuo had seen him, he was waiting with his door open, sitting on the step leading into his living-room, elbow on his knee and chin in his palm.
“I took a day off,” Shizuo replied. “And stop lying, I know Tom-sam is good to clients.”
Orihara caught the pizza box Shizuo near-accidentally let fall on him with dexterity. His smile was as dark as it was inviting, but though he looked like he was having fun, there were dark circles under his eyes.
Before he could help it, Shizuo asked: “Bad day?”
Orihara looked at him silently for a second. In the end he chuckled instead of answering, pushing himself upright with his free hand and then deftly opening his wallet and handing Shizuo the money he owed, held lightly between his index and middle finger. Shizuo took it and tried to ignore the way his skin shivered at the contact.
“I should really think about tipping you,” Orihara said, cutting Shizuo’s growing blush short.
“You asshole,” he growled. “You should’ve been tipping me from the beginning.”
“I’m not sure you deserve it, though.”
Shizuo pointed behind Orihara’s head and to the inside of his home, where he had made sure Orihara didn’t accidentally die no more than a week ago. “I’ve been nothing but considerate and helpful to you since we met.”
“And yet this is the second time you insult me,” Orihara replied, delight on his lips. “I’m not really sure you understand this whole client is king thing.”
“The day I treat you like a king is the day I fucking—”
Orihara put his fingers against Shizuo’s lips, and Shizuo’s words died with a gasp. Eyes wide and heart caught in his throat.
“There,” Orihara murmured. “Before you make another terrible work-related mistake.”
They stared at each other without moving. Despite his efforts, Shizuo breathed out lightly, damply, against Orihara’s fingers and his own burning lips. He could feel the blood in his face and he could see the blood in Orihara’s, flushing it a warmer pink than he had seen so far, making the air coming out of the other’s open mouth tremble.
Orihara took back his hand, very slowly. “To answer your question,” he said in a breezy voice. Shozuo blinked, snapping himself back to reality; Orihara gave him a mocking smile, but his cheeks were still red. “I’ve had a terrible couple of days. Thank you for asking.”
And then he stepped back and onto the step without ever looking away from Shizuo’s eyes, and he closed the door between them.
Shizuo was so torn between frustration and a helpless sort of longing on the way back that he didn’t notice the time. His face was numb from the cold night when he got off the moped in front of the restaurant, his steps awkward from the ride. He looked at the door, and only the fact that Kaztano wasn’t waiting for him outside with the smell of tobacco clinging to his skin made him notice that the lights inside were still on.
“You’re early,” Tom declared with surprise when he stepped in. All the clients were gone from the restaurant, and Tom himself had his bowtie hanging around his neck loosely. He was busy cleaning the dining room. Shizuo heard the loud sounds the washing basin’s faucet made from the kitchen—they weren’t loud enough to cover Kaztano’s singing.
“Not too many deliveries,” Shizuo said. “Need a hand?”
Tom waved the broom he was holding with a lopsided smile. He laughed when Shizuo took it with a sigh, and then stretched his arm above his head until his back cracked audibly.
“That’s disgusting,” Shizuo observed.
Tom put a cigarette between his lips. “I don’t comment when you show up with a busted face, so don’t you talk trash about my fucked-up back,” he said. “Now work, kouhai.”
“I quit the boxing club a year ago, stop using it as an argument.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Tom lit the cigarette and sat on the edge of a clean table, running a hand through the locks of his hair.
Kaztano never minded them smoking inside the restaurant as long as the clients were gone and the windows were open. Shizuo opened one with his free hand and then took to mopping the parts of the floor Tom hadn’t gone through yet. They made up most of the room. At least all the tables were cleared and clean already.
Manami crossed the dining room on her way out, probably because Kaztano ordered her to leave the rest of the dishes to him. She didn’t stay to chat with them—she never did. She did stop for a second to stare at Shizuo, however, with a complicated expression on her face that made shivers crawl up his back as he remembered Orihara’s words. The lovely receptionist at your workplace tells me everything when I ask nicely enough.
But Manami didn’t speak to him. She huffed a little haughtily, tightened her grip on the pink dog-eared backpack she wore, and left the restaurant with a soft ring of the entrance bell.
“Weird girl,” Shizuo said. “I don’t think she’ll ever like us.”
He looked at Tom, but Tom didn’t look back. He was staring in Manami’s wake with distant eyes. “This guy,” he said.
Tom took a deep inhale of his cigarette. The end of it glowed bright and orange, dragging backward on the paper in a way that would have left Shizuo coughing; Tom took in the smoke without even a wince. When he spoke again his words carried it out like wind. “The one who keeps asking to be your last delivery. Orihara Izaya.”
Shizuo’s shoulders stiffened. “What about him?”
He realized too late how defensive he sounded. His mouth closed too quickly, his teeth hitting together and making the sides of his face ache with them.
Tom’s eyes slid back to him. His face was relaxed—Shizuo didn’t think he had ever seen so much as a frown on him—but his eyes weren’t wearing any sort of humor in them, the way they usually did. “He didn’t seem to like me very much yesterday.”
“Did he do something—”
“Hey,” Tom cut in, smiling once more. “Relax. I’m not scared of any client, and he didn’t even do anything. We said hello, he tipped me, we said goodbye.” He took another puff of his cigarette, eyes fixed onto Shizuo’s face. “He was just a bit cold, s’all.”
Shizuo’s hand loosened around the broom. “At least he tipped you,” he grumbled.
“That’s just my unending charm at work. Don’t beat yourself up about it.”
Shizuo felt his lips stretch into a smile against his will.
“Still.” Tom leaned backward over the table he was sitting on, to reach the ashtray on the one behind it. He dragged it back onto his lap and tapped the end of his cigarette with his index to dust off the ashes. “Is he bothering you?”
Shizuo almost turned his back to him and started mopping the floor again, saying, Who, Orihara? No way. He almost left the question hang unanswered like that, and only the twitch of actual concern on Tom’s face made him stay put and shake his head. “No. It’s fine.”
Orihara did bother him, but not in the way Tom thought. Only in the way of intruding into Shizuo’s mind at random during the day and with more precise purpose during the night; thin fingers brushing his, or the shameless way he had of showing his attraction, eyes painted red by the light of the hallway, mouth open as if ready to bite. As if the thought of endangering himself never even entered his mind—or as if he thrived on it. Soft hair and soft lips and a smile like a brick wall.
Shizuo swallowed. “He’s not bothering me,” he continued, heart beating fast. “He’s just—he’s something.”
Tom made a noise of quiet assent. He took another drag of smoke and crushed the stub into the glass ashtray, before jumping back on his feet. His hands ran down his apron, chasing imaginary cinders. “All right, then,” he said. His eyes were dark, and his mouth upturned.
“My boys!” Kaztano’s voice came as he walked out of the kitchen, booming, startling the both of them. “It’s time for you to go.”
“We’re not done cleaning—”
“Shush,” Kaztano cut, and Tom shut his mouth, bewildered. “We’ve been graced with the luck of closing early. I won’t have college kids waste this immense opportunity to engage in something they seldom do—sleep.”
“You’re one to talk, boss,” Shizuo replied with a grin.
Kaztano shook his fist in his direction. “Only Kadota gets to call me this. Now, out with the both of you.”
Tom raised his hands in the air with a defeated expression on his face, and Shizuo followed him outside with a laugh lodged in his throat. He lit his own cigarette on the way and closed his eyes to the feeling of soft, cool wind on his face, so different from the whiplash of riding the moped.
Tom was looking at him with a smile when he opened them again. “So,” he said. “Feel like doing what signor Kaztano ordered and getting a full five hours of sleep?”
“Maybe,” Shizuo replied. “Did you have something else in mind?”
Tom’s hand came up to rub his nape. “Well. I was thinking that maybe we could get a drink somewhere.” The light in his eyes had shifted with the night light to something open and suggestive, and when he smiled, it was half-hopeless and half-hopeful. “You know.”
Shizuo’s lips felt numb.
Instead of finding words to reply, his mind replayed for him the many times Karisawa had asked about Tanaka Tom with infuriating suggestion in her eyes, ever since his first day of work here.
“You,” he got out, unhelpfully.
And then he coughed from the smoke still caught in his mouth and had to lean against the lamppost beside him so he could hit his own chest with his closed fist and force the air out of his lungs.
Tom laughed at him as he hacked like this for about a minute. It was a nervous sort of chuckle, something that Shizuo noticed despite his burning face and painful breaths—and still it sounded open and warm the way no one else he knew did. When he straightened up again it was with a wheeze, and he knew his face was as red as Kaztano Pizza’s devanture. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I wasn’t expecting…”
Tom waved a hand in his direction. “It’s cool, man. Don’t sweat it.” He didn’t sound surprised, just disappointed, and Shizuo couldn’t help the regret swelling in him from the sound of it. “Not into dudes, then?” Tom asked.
“No! I mean, yes, I—shit.” Shizuo rubbed a shaky hand over his face, took a deep breath, and said: “I am. Into dudes.”
“Oh,” Tom replied.
Shizuo’s nape was damp with sweat, now. A familiar sort of queasy discomfort made its way through his limbs and through his guts; and though he told himself again and again that Tom wasn’t going to judge him for it after what he himself had offered, he couldn’t help but want to hide.
He couldn’t help feeling like his insides were being wrung dry.
He had no idea whether Tom noticed it—he was too busy shooting side-glances at the entrance of the restaurant and hoping against hope that not a word that they had said had reached Kaztano’s ears. In any case, Tom sighed loud and resigned, and said, smiling: “At least I didn’t spend all this time pining after a straight guy, then.”
“Yeah,” Shizuo mumbled. “Um. I’m sorry if I acted like—”
“Shizuo,” Tom cut in gently. “I said don’t sweat it. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Shizuo bit his bottom lip. His hands were closing and opening again, sweaty and useless, nails digging into his palms.
Tom let out a deep breath and walked toward him, one hand in his pocket and the other stretching forward to grasp Shizuo’s shoulder kindly. “I thought I’d try, but that’s all,” he explained. “You don’t need to feel bad.”
“It’s fucked up that you’re comforting me right now,” Shizuo replied lowly.
Tom laughed, bashful. “You look like you’re ready to pass out. And I thought I might be too late anyway, so I’m not too heartbroken about it.”
“What do you mean?”
He patted Shizuo’s shoulder briefly before releasing him and stepping back. “Nothing,” he lied.
He took another cigarette out of his pack after that and leaned against the flickering street lamp that they all used to tie the moped to. For a while he stayed silent as Shizuo watched, letting tendrils of yellow smoke escape his lungs.
“What about you, though,” Tom asked in the silence. “Got anyone in mind?”
And Shizuo was about to reply, No, like he had to the same question for years now. But before he could he saw the red hallway, with a fleck of green from a forlorn potted plant; and he recalled Orihara thanking him with a desperate sort of sincerity for showing the most basic of respect, cold fingers trailing down and away from Shizuo’s mouth with a shiver.
“I don’t know,” he replied. His throat felt tight again.
They both heard the sound of chairs scraping the floor from inside the restaurant. Kaztano was about to finish cleaning the dining room.
Tom let his cigarette drop and crushed it with the sole of his shoe. “Right. Five hours of sleep. It’s more than I’ve had in two weeks, I think.”
“I’ve only had more because me and my roommate drank ourselves into oblivion,” Shizuo said, and the thought brought a smile to his lips.
Tom groaned. “Don’t tempt me, I have a thesis deadline soon.”
They started walking toward the main streets where they would part ways. Shizuo tried not to focus too hard on Tom’s proximity and on how he must feel about it; he felt more awake than he had since the semester had started, as if every beat of his heart was a beat of the city around, pulsing in the air and against the concrete, making the lights around flicker. The silence between them wasn’t uncomfortable so much as pensive. Heavy. When they reached the tiny green park behind campus, Tom stopped.
Shizuo did as well, with a second of hesitation.
The other looked at him for a moment and said, “Don’t set your standards too low, Shizuo.”
He left before Shizuo could decide on a way to answer.
Shizuo sat through his morning lecture the next day with his mind in a daze. Everywhere he looked he thought he saw others looking, and the irritation that flowered in him every time was making it hard to focus. Yagiri drawled on at the front of the room, facing a good three empty rows, because no one wanted to be anywhere close to her; Shizuo himself was at the very back, sandwiched between Kamichika and a guy whose name he didn’t know. Neither of them was taking notes.
His phone buzzed not even a half-hour in. Shizuo stared at it uncomprehendingly—no one he knew ever texted him this early, not even Celty, who always waited before the time his classes let off to contact him, just in case.
Celty had a deep-set fear of bothering others, he knew.
Shizuo unlocked his screen. The number wasn’t one he knew, but his entire back knotted up at the message itself, and when he read it over, his own narration turned to Orihara’s liquor-like voice in his ears.
You know, for someone who insists that I call him by name, I haven’t ever heard you say mine.
It took him a moment to parse the fact that Orihara knew his number; for a wild second he imagined that maybe the other’s tendency to obsess ran as far as to research this sort of information—but then he remembered that he had given it himself, that very first night. That Orihara had already called him once. Some of the tension in him eased.
He typed back, I can’t fucking read your name.
I’ve told Manami-chan to tell it to you, Orihara replied, a few seconds later. Multiple times.
Shizuo grit his teeth together. His grabbed his phone with both hands instead of one and gave up on the notes spread in front of him. He hadn’t managed to focus on them anyway—he’d just ask someone else for them. But before he could find a way to sound appropriately pissed off, Orihara sent a third text that simply read: Izaya.
He remembered Manami saying that to him. Tom, even. It sounded to strange that he hadn’t even considered for a second that it might be Orihara’s actual first name.
There’s no way that’s a real name, he sent.
This is one thing I can’t be blamed for, Orihara—Izaya—retorted. Please limit your distaste of me to things I’m responsible for. There are many.
He sounded so arrogant, even in texting. As if he felt entitled to everyone and everything around him. The fact that self-loathing clung to his skin every time they met didn’t abate the anger this brought inside Shizuo—the fact that he had spent the night turning in his bed and thinking alternately of Tom’s proposal and Orihara’s fingers on his lips hadn’t abated it either.
I’m in class, he started writing, just order another pizza if you wanna talk so bad—
“Heiwajima,” Yagiri’s voice said loudly.
Shizuo’s hands squeezed around his phone, and the screen cracked in the middle with a very small sound. He raised his head.
“Am I bothering you?” she asked.
“No,” he replied carefully. Every head in the room had turned to look at him.
She smiled, then, a cold, distorted excuse for humor. Her voice was glacial. “Thank God for that, then. Seeing as you’re bothering me, however, please see yourself out of my class—and don’t think of ever getting back in.”
There was ice in Shizuo’s belly. “I—”
She slammed a hand down onto her desk, making most people in the room jump and Shizuo’s heart lodge itself just below his throat, beating furiously. “Get out.”
Kamichika slowly slid the phone she had been texting with for the entire class into her pocket. The three students in the row just in front of Shizuo stopped watching the video they had been stuck on for at least ten minutes. From the corner of his eye, Shizuo saw another close the sketchbook he was doodling in, and many more phones disappear from their respective owners’ hands.
The anger exploded inside him, hot through his veins, bleeding white into his vision. “Fine,” he growled, loud and uncaring. He stood up, letting the folding wooden chair under him snap back up with a loud clang, and he shoved his notes back into his bag. He almost kicked the guy next to him in the shins to indicate that he wanted to leave, but he didn’t need to—the other stood up quickly to make room for him to pass, and Shizuo did so without bothering to halt his steps into something more polite.
“Good luck finding a new college,” Yagiri said, face entirely white except for bright spot of gleeful red on her cheeks, “since I’m never passing you, you drive-less brat—”
“Shut the fuck up,” Shizuo roared in her direction.
He heard gasps and nervous chuckles from the others in the room, but they came to him as if lost in the distance, lost in the fog. The only thing he could hear and see was Yagiri.
“Who the fuck wants your shitty excuse for a teaching anyway?” He punched down on the empty desk at the end of the row—the wood cracked, and so did his skin, blood spilling wet and warm over his knuckles. He couldn’t even feel the pain. “I’m walking myself out, asshole.”
Yagiri’s beautiful face twisted itself into monstrous anger. No sign of restraint or intelligence anymore—just pure, unadulterated, vicious resentment, and with a bright flash of understanding, Shizuo knew that it must look how she felt and how she was under all the layers of poised arrogance she exuded. Her blood itself must taste bitter and almond-like on her tongue.
He turned his back to her as she opened her mouth and kicked the door open. The joints moaned once as he went out and once as it closed behind him, and the last he heard of Yagiri’s cyanide was incoherent white noise.
Shizuo hadn’t set foot into the gym for almost a year. His feet took him there by automatism, and he didn’t even change his clothes before wrapping his hands up—not bothering to take care of the crusting blood on his right knuckles or the splinters that must be there—and trying his best to punch open one of the sandbags scattered around the wide room.
His shoulders started aching within the first minutes, but he didn’t stop. The anger was alive in him and breathing fire into his lungs instead of air, melted iron into his veins instead of blood. His back ached, but he didn’t stop. He worked himself into a full-body sweat and didn’t stop. The gym was always emptier on Wednesdays because no classes happened on that day, and this morning it was deserted except for Rokujou’s presence by the locker rooms’ doors. Shizuo never stopped despite the wide-eyed looks he was sending him.
The only reason he did stop was because he felt something touch his shoulder, over his sweat-damp clothes, and when he breathed in he smelled Vorona’s shampoo. The one that always cluttered their entire apartment every time she took a shower. Lilacs.
So Shizuo lowered his bruised hands and winced at the pain running up his arms; and he turned around and looked directly into Vorona’s serious eyes. She had changed her clothes into something more appropriate for boxing.
“Hey,” he breathed. He was panting, he realized.
She threw him a pair of gloves wordlessly, and he caught them without thinking about it. Then she slid her own fingers into the ones dangling from her wrists, and she nodded toward the ring behind them, saying, “Requesting fight.”
Shizuo ran the back of a trembling hand under his nose. “All right.”
He heard Rokujou say, Yes, loudly from the back of the room. Vorona didn’t show any acknowledgement for it, so he didn’t either, and he followed her onto the ring, fixing the gloves around his hands as he did.
Vorona stretched for a few minutes, the way he should have done before. He watched her as he caught his breath, the way she had pinned back her hair and the lean muscles over her arms and stomach, and he smiled.
When she approached him, she was smiling too, the scar over her lips whiter than ever.
He lost track of time. He was rusty, his moves slow and hesitant, but Vorona wasn’t; she trained every day religiously, and he felt it in every punch she landed on him that would leave a bruise for him to wince over later. She had lost none of the reflexes she acquired when they fought on the regular. She avoided his right hand despite its injury and she attacked him from the left, relentless, implacable. He found himself grinning through it all despite himself and despite the one time she managed to hit his face. She slowed her pace after that to give him a chance, and though he tried to take advantage of it—though he felt the air sizzle around his fists—it was to no avail.
Rokujou was the one to call it off, and it wasn’t because they wanted to. He had his phone in his hand to record everything and five other people behind him waiting for their turn to spar.
“Man,” he said, eyes fixed onto his screen with wonder. “You have to come back.”
“Shut up,” Shizuo replied.
He was drenched in sweat, his jeans clinging to his legs disgustingly. Vorona’s face was red and her skin shining too, even before she used the bottle one of the guys waiting gave her to splash water on it. She didn’t say a word to anyone—she climbed off the ring and made a beeline for the girls’ locker room without looking back.
Shizuo jumped off as well and followed in her footsteps.
He hadn’t brought a change of clothing. Vorona gestured for him to wait outside the rooms and went in her own, coming back a second later with a plastic bag.
“Thank you,” he said, after staring at her a second too long.
She frowned and replied, “I will wait.”
He took a long time in the shower. His anger had become a languid sort of heat inside him, relaxed from the adrenaline of fighting Vorona again after so long, sated and warm. Shizuo let cold water wash over him and felt no shiver.
He changed into the sweatpants and T-shirt Vorona had brought over—realizing that those were probably clothes she had meant for him to wear while they fought. The embarrassment made laughter crawl out of him, and he let it out, ignoring the one other guy in the room who was looking at him as if he were a curious animal.
As promised, Vorona was waiting for him outside the gym. She was back into her own clothes—black cargo pants and a white tank top and sunglasses over her eyes—and as soon as he stepped out, she handed him her phone.
There was a text on the screen. It was from Kamichika Rio, and in it he read a report of what had happened during their one common lecture.
“Right,” Shizuo said. He gave Vorona her phone back and grabbed the water bottle peeking out of her bag. He drank about half of it in one go, and even after that, his throat felt parched.
Vorona sat down on the pavement, leaning her back against the wall of the building behind her. “Plans?” she asked.
He crouched next to her carefully. His back and shoulders seemed to scream with pain, and he tried very hard not to think of how that would feel later when he made his deliveries.
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
He half-expected her to look disapproving. But all she did was nod and turn her head to look forward.
Shizuo studied her profile in silence. When he eyes trailed over the scar on her mouth, he said, “I still feel bad for that.”
She didn’t ask him what he meant; her fingers flew up to touch her lips and trace over the thin white line there. “No fault but mine,” she replied.
“I should’ve been more careful. I hit you way too hard—”
She snorted loudly, interrupting him. “You’ve already apologized. It happens.”
Shizuo fell silent. Accidentally breaking Vorona’s front teeth during a spar had been the reason he quit boxing in the first place, and she was aware of it. He still remembered in stark detail the face she had made, dazed from the pain, touching the blood pouring out of her mouth as if she couldn’t figure that it was hers.
He had stayed with her all through her trip to the hospital and trips to the dentist afterward, apologizing every day for weeks, until she got angry one day and told him to quit it.
Vorona’s touched the scar again with a smile. “It has been described as a turn on,” she declared.
And Shizuo felt his face redden and looked away, and though she didn’t laugh, he felt her amusement ring bright into the air.
He took another sip of water; sunlight was beating over his face with no wind to balance out its heat. He was probably still red despite the shower, heat singing under his skin, his guts ready to spill over in his fury. He clenched his teeth and sat up straighter, one hand coming up to rub over his face. “Damn it.”
“Likelihood of Yagiri Namie being allowed to expel an attending student is close to none,” Vorona said quietly. “Likelihood of you undergoing disciplinary action—”
“I know,” he cut in, looking at the bright blue sky above. “I fucked up.”
A silence. “You did.”
Unexpectedly, he felt her hand on his shoulder, the way Tom’s had been the night before—and thinking of Tom made the embarrassment flare once more. He tensed but didn’t dislodge her.
“She deserved it,” Vorona said.
And thought he didn’t made anything better—he laughed. The guilt enclosing him relaxed all at once, making air pour into his lungs where before there was nothing but smoke. Vorona’s hand slid down from his shoulder and to his arm, and then to his own hand, linking their fingers together.
He squeezed it tightly.
“What happened to your face?” Orihara said as soon as Shizuo stepped into the hallway of his floor. “And your hand?”
Shizuo’s right hand was wrapped up in bandages, properly this time. Vorona had helped pull out the splinters he couldn’t get by himself and given him what he needed to clean it up. He used it to touch his left cheek where the outline of her glove was imprinted in blue and red. “Your pizza,” was all he said, holding the box in front of him—but then he looked at Orihara’s face and the unhappiness written tight into his features, and he relented. “It’s nothing. Boxing gone wrong.”
“Oh.” Orihara took the pizza from him and handed him the money, weirdly proper; Shizuo took it without comment. He was about to turn on his heels and leave when Orihara asked, “Any reason why you’re boxing again after almost a year?”
Shizuo blinked at the side of the door; then his jaw clenched despite itself, and he stepped forward, almost into Orihara’s apartment, his lungs burning bright hot in his chest.
“Stop digging into my life like this,” he growled.
Orihara looked amused again, which made him realize too late that maybe he was actually concerned before. “How else am I supposed to find these things out?”
“Just ask me!” Shizuo resisted the urge to punch into the frame of the door—he braced himself on it instead, bring himself closer to Orihara, who didn’t step back and simply looked up at his eyes. “Stop whatever you’re doing with my coworker, it’s creepy.”
“I’m not doing anything,” Orihara said. From this close Shizuo could almost feel his words against his face. “Who Manami-chan decides to confide in is her business.”
Shizuo leaned back a little, and he knew the disgust he felt must show on his face. “Whatever you tell yourself to sleep better at night. I know you said something to Tom-san, too.”
At this, Orihara’s face paled. His lips thinned almost to nothingness. “Do you,” was all he said.
“I don’t know what,” Shizuo added, a strange sort of anxious tension working its way inside him. “But he was acting weird, and he mentioned you.”
For a moment, Orihara stayed silent. He looked at Shizuo without blinking, his pizza still held in one hand and the other hanging still by his side. He raised it slowly, until it was level with Shizuo’s face—and Shizuo looked at it instantly with the right kind of expectation, still as a statue, breath caught in his chest.
Orihara smiled. His fingers brushed the bruise on Shizuo’s cheek and then retreated, running through his own hair instead. He looked satisfied. “Well, believe what you want,” he declared. Maybe you’re right—I should stop talking with Manami so much. She might become a problem otherwise.”
“Yeah,” Shizuo mumbled. His face was hot again.
“However,” and Orihara’s voice was lower as he said it, “I haven’t said anything to your other coworker—Tom—that could possibly be held against me. However he acted after meeting me, it was all his doing.” His smile widened. “Or maybe it was yours.”
Shizuo’s heartbeat spiked up. Orihara chuckled and turned away, but instead of closing the door without so much as a goodbye like he had every time before, he put the pizza box atop the cabinet in the entrance, and he faced Shizuo again.
He took his phone out of a pocket in his jacket and typed on it with one thumb quicker than Shizuo could ever manage. “I hope you’ve saved my number,” he said, looking at his screen.
The smile on Orihara’s face turned darker. Mirthless. When he looked up at Shizuo, his hand was clinging his phone tighter than necessary. “I was rather hoping that we could take this somewhere better than my apartment hallway,” he said carefully. “Seeing as you’ve already invited yourself in.”
Shizuo’s hand dropped from the wall.
He didn’t know whether he wanted to lean back or lean forward—and that was the first difference with Tom’s offer twenty-four hours earlier, the fact that his first instinct wasn’t to say No.
Orihara wasn’t looking at him with a peaceful sort of surrender, the way Tom had. His was as though he had opened the gates to a castle under siege; his fingers were clenched so tight around his phone that his nails were entirely white, and when he swallowed, his entire neck trembled with it. Shizuo saw his skin turn feverish, saw the darkness in his eyes that was screaming inward instead of out.
His surrender looked as if he was waiting for someone to strike him.
The same feeling that had risen inside Shizuo the first time he saw him, drunk and miserable, rose again. But it was with the weight of all their meetings behind him and with the knowledge of Orihara’s full-bodied attraction to him—the knowledge of Orihara’s smile and of his sincerity, and of the feeling of his fingers against Shizuo’s mouth, that had been shaking despite all appearances. It wasn’t pity that made him think of Orihara for hours after seeing him; and it wasn’t pity that led him back to this front door every night, with the half-baked hope that this time, Orihara would make a move.
No, Shizuo’s first instinct wasn’t to decline. Quite the contrary.
“All right,” he breathed.
Orihara didn’t move. The fright left his eyes, though, and the red his skin; and in the gleam of sweat on his forehead and the shaky turn of his smile, Shizuo read relief like he had never known before.