Warnings: dysfunctional family, implied homophobia.
One of Izaya’s cellphones rings at exactly two o’clock on a Sunday morning. Irritation finds time to swell at his temples before he even jumps to complete awareness as if dragged by the neck; it’s pitch black in his room, and he was sleeping exceptionally well for the first time in about a month, so when he breathes out the smallest noise of anger and extends his arm to search blindly atop his bedside table, he is well and truly furious.
“Orihara,” he grunts at the receiver. He shifts to his side completely and pushes himself up in a sitting position in time for what he thinks will be the voice of whichever entitled client thought it okay to call him in the middle of the night.
But there’s only breathing at the other end, rapid-fire and too soft to belong to the kind of men Izaya deals with. And after a handful of seconds his fingers finally stroke over the back of the phone and recognize the flip one he uses for personal matters only.
He frowns, and starts asking, “Who-”
“Did I wake you up?” comes Mairu’s voice, cheerful and uncaring, and Izaya’s breathing comes to a startled stop. “Who could’ve thought unsavory guys like you have a respectable sleeping schedule!”
“Mairu,” Izaya says. He drags his free hand down his face in the hope that it will ease him into wakefulness instead of sluggish annoyance.
“The one and only,” she replies airily. “Did you miss me, brother?”
“As much as I miss blisters, or mosquito bites.”
Izaya sighs in exasperation. “Is this your version of teenage pranking? Because I don’t feel like indulging you. If that’s all, I’m going back to sleep.”
“Wait,” Mairu says, a little too fast. “Can’t I just talk to my beloved older sibling? It’s been so long.”
No, Izaya thinks. He has never been Mairu’s beloved older brother, and he will never be. He holds off answering, though, because with growing awareness comes the realization that this is weird, even for her; and that there’s something lacking here that never is usually.
“Where’s Kururi?” he asks her instead. Her breath stumbles at his words. It’s enough to make him understand that whatever this is—it’s anything but a prank.
“She’s asleep,” Mairu says. Her voice sounds normal enough, if a little quiet. “It’s just you and me.”
For a moment Izaya stays silent. He’s frowning at the dark sheets still spread over his legs. His eyes have matched themselves to the dark enough that he can make out the edges of furniture and windows, now, can let his eyes linger to the clearer rectangle where his wall opens to the inside of his silent apartment. Mairu is still breathing over the line wordlessly, not filling the time with words as she always does. It’s as though she’s waiting for him to ask something.
“Are you…” he starts. Stops. There has never been a need for him to ask her about how she is, and it feels wrong to now. He’s long past the deadline to fix his relationship with her, even if he wanted to. “Do you actually have anything to tell me?” he settles for; it would have to be enough for her.
He can hear her humming lowly, and if he focuses he can catch the staticky sounds of a television or radio playing in the background. She must’ve made a move then, because there’s a crisp noise of fabric rubbing on fabric before she speaks again.
“We start high school in a few days,” she says.
Izaya frowns harder. “I know.”
“You always know everything,” she moans then, louder than before and so obvious an attempt to delay the conversation that Izaya has to roll his eyes.
“I know when school starts, and I’m not yet senile enough to forget how old you are,” he replies tersely.
“You do try,” Mairu mocks.
He brings his hand back up to rub between his eyes. His lower back is starting to ache from sitting with his legs outstretched with no support for his spine. “If you’re done,” he says, “I’m hanging up and turning off my phone.”
Her reaction is more immediate than he could have expected. “Don’t,” and it’s almost like a cry for help, except it can’t be. Mairu would never come to him for help.
“What is it?” He’s more tired than he was before going to sleep.
She hesitates. “There is actually something I want to… to talk to you about.”
Izaya’s chest knots itself into self-consciousness. Her words have trailed into silence at the end as if she lost her strength to speak on the way; and now he can’t ignore that nothing about this feels real so much as a peek into a reality where he’s not allowed—one where he actually talks to his family.
It’s not a feeling he enjoys. But sitting alone in the dark and picking up on the distress she’s trying to hide he enjoys even less, and maybe it’s a faraway ground of affection or morals he has yet to turn away from pushing him into it, but he opens his mouth before he can stop himself and repeats, “What is it?”
Mairu makes a small noise too close to a whine. She clenches her mouth shut so hard he can hear her teeth connect, and she breathes in, out, twice in a row. And then she says, “I like girls.”
Izaya straightens his back. His throat closes on assent he’s not convinced Mairu can pick up or understand.
It makes sense, now, he thinks. Why she would’ve sought him out, of all the people she knows.
“I like boys too,” Mairu says hurriedly, probably taking his lack of immediate reply for indifference or something worse. “I just think I like girls a little better.”
Izaya’s feet hit the floor on the side of his bed, relieving some of the tension in his back, and he pushes himself to his feet. “That’s fine,” he says as he makes his way to the window. He presses the button to the electric blinds, and they move up with a burst of noise to let in the yellow street lights. “Nothing wrong with that.”
Mairu is breathing hard over the line. He knows she expects something else—something more—but Izaya feels too close to reeling, too close to exhuming memories of personal struggle he has long put to rest. He doesn’t know what else to give her. It’s uncomfortable. Like hurt, just less of it.
But then, “Really?” she asks, and he knows she didn’t mean to, he knows she understood him the first time, but he finds himself replying either way: “Yeah. Boys, girls, it’s all fine. Not that anyone’s going to be interested in a weirdo like you.”
“You’re one to talk,” she says hotly. She sounds like she’s smiling.
“As a matter of fact—”
“God, shut up, I don’t want to know.”
His lips twitch on amusement. He looks down onto the courtyard at the back of his building; there’s no one there at this time of the night, only a blinking orange glow from the old lamp no one has bothered replacing for years. The door to the room with the building’s trash bins is ajar. He knows the old lady on the third floor keeps it that way so that the homeless can come fetch the leftovers from her meals she stashes there in large coolers. It’s been a while since he reported her for it.
“Mom said…” Mairu’s voice is small, now. Like a whisper.
Izaya takes a breath. “Yeah?”
She takes a while to answer. Her end of the line has gone silent, so he knows she must have turned off or muted the TV. It makes something clench above his stomach, warm and unfamiliar.
“Mom called me a ‘more manageable version’ of you the other day,” she says at last.
Of course she did, Izaya thinks. Kyouko wasn’t half as good at being a family woman as she pretended to be. “I’m pretty sure she wasn’t talking about this,” he replies.
“No, yeah, she wasn’t. She said that because I broke another plate. I guess it just got me thinking.”
“And your thinking brought you to the conclusion that you should call me in the middle of the night to tell me you like girls,” Izaya deadpans.
“People like you don’t deserve sleep,” Mairu says, cheerful.
“Hmm.” Izaya puts his free hand into the pocket of his sweatpants. He rubs the fabric between his index and thumb slowly, until his wrist stops aching from the tension.
He doesn’t want to hang up anymore.
“I just thought… I’m starting high school, now. And Kuru-nee too. And I didn’t really want to hide it anymore.”
“Have you told anyone else?” Izaya asks.
“No.” She pauses, and he can hear her swallow. “I thought—you, you’re also.”
Izaya bites his lip. “Yes. I like men.”
She chuckles nervously at his words. “Sorry,” she aborts immediately. “I mean, I know you do, but it’s weird to hear you say it, I guess?”
“I don’t hide it.”
“I know you don’t. Grandma still cries about it when we visit her.”
For a while they both stay silent. There’s no sound at all except for Mairu’s breathing and the occasional rush of water through pipes in the walls. Izaya is still standing by the window, still looking down to the open door outside where a man has come in and out, hands heavier with unopen pizza boxes now. He finds it easier to breathe when he doesn’t focus on his reflection in the glass pans, so stark against the dark of the cityscape.
“I like girls,” Mairu repeats at one point. “I really do.”
He doesn’t doubt it. Part of him wants to turn in a joke, to drawl I really don’t see the appeal and lighten the heavy weight over his chest to something easier to carry. But the words stay in his mind.
He’s way past his chance for this sort of relationship with her.
Mairu inhales quickly and says, “Well, thanks for listening. Maybe there’s 0.0001% of you that’s recuperable.”
“You have so little faith in me,” he shoots back. He ignores the sudden tightness in his lungs from knowing that she’s going to end their chat.
“Thank you,” she says again, more softly. “Good night, Iza-nii.”
“Good night,” Izaya replies.
He should really leave it at that. He knows this isn’t a chance she’s giving him, and he knows even if it was that he wouldn’t take it—nothing can fix what he made of her and Kururi before leaving them behind as he would childhood toys. He doesn’t even want to. The things he destroyed are best left in the past.
Still, he can hear how she doesn’t move; he can hear how her breath holds in expectation of something else. He hasn’t seen her in a long time, but he can picture her face tense on half-hope in the dark.
So he says, “Thank you for telling me.”
She hangs up with what Izaya thinks is a smile. He’s back to himself now, alone in his room with the knowledge that he won’t be able to find sleep again for a long time. There’s work for him to do at all hours of the day and night. He is never in need of it, and he should get started on something if he’s not going back to bed. But he stays where he is. He doesn’t drop his phone.
He’s never felt this responsible in his life.