Warnings: mentions of suicide, grief/mourning, mildly graphic description of Izaya’s injuries.
It only took one look at Shizuo’s body for Shinra to feel a part of his history close cleanly. He read the sad end to Izaya’s last and longest feud in the cuts on Shizuo’s torso, the dislocated shoulder he was carrying with no pain, and the way his eyes moved. Slow and unseeing. Shinra didn’t think Shizuo even realized he was in shock, but it didn’t matter.
None of that mattered anymore.
Shizuo didn’t understand what he asked, and Shinra didn’t try to explain it to him. It was enough that Shizuo had such trust in childhood promises, that he expected that allowing Shinra to go after Celty was enough of a punishment. He would never know what he had participated in doing to hurt his own best friend that day. He threw Shinra at a sky darker than night, so dark that every light of the city was swallowed by it, so dark that the only thing Shinra could make out against it was Celty’s silhouette and her horse’s.
In that moment everything left his mind. The bloodied children on the rooftop, the possessed masses in town, his own physical pain and instinctive fear. Shizuo and Izaya and the latter’s unavoidable fate. He did what he had come to do with no joy but no regret, his heart in free-fall as he rose and then came back down. Saika slithered out of his palm as if he had been born to wield it, the malicious energy coursing through him so weak in the face of what he wanted that he barely heard any of its whispers. He cut Celty’s head clean off her body and didn’t watch as the light left her blue eyes. Shinra smiled, and he closed his eyes, and didn’t hope that Celty would catch him.
He knew she would.
His injuries screamed when he landed onto the net of shadows that she had made to prevent his death. He chuckled despite the awful pain in his broken arm and leg, because she could have simply held him close until they hit the ground but she hadn’t—she had wanted to make it as painless as possible, despite what he had just done to her.
He felt no shame at the thought.
Shinra didn’t see Shizuo again that day. He didn’t see anyone but Celty. Shizuo had people who would take notice of his injuries both physical and mental, after all. Shinra rode on the backseat of Celty’s bike with his arms wrapped tightly around her middle, and the lack of tangibility of her suit was comforting in a way nothing else was except her cool, soft skin. When the sky cleared of clouds around noon he felt as though he was waking up from a good sort of dream; when he glanced around he saw people blink tiredly, confused and scared. They were waking up as well, possessed or not.
“We can go home now, if you want,” he said softly. There was no need to raise his voice. Shooter didn’t make any noise, and Celty’s hearing was better than any human’s. “We can rest.”
She didn’t answer, but Shinra knew what she was thinking. He knew that she was struggling to find her own anger through the sheer relief of having saved him, and the thought made him giddy.
She finally drove out of the maze of streets they’d been exploring for the better part of three hours and in the direction of the highway. Shinra’s ass was aching and his stronger painkillers had long since worn off; he could feel just how much of a distance he had crossed on his way to Celty in the morning with no help except for a crutch and the sound of his own voice. He knew that if he stopped to think about it, the raw edges of the bond he had lost today would come back to hurt as well.
He threw back his head to feel the wind surround his throat, and imagined that it was a blade instead.
Celty had to help him dismount when they reached the underground parking lot of their building. Shinra didn’t complain about the pain as he usually would. He focused on taking step after step, his uninjured arm supporting most of his weight across Celty’s shoulders. When Celty opened the door to their home and finally put him down onto the couch, he could’ve cried.
She fidgeted in front of him, her helmet still in place. He felt the first sparks of her anger as well as if it were rising through him too, and his heartbeat slowed down from the familiarity of it.
The following was just a matter of telling her that he would do it all over again—as many times as needed—and letting her decide for herself what she wanted to do.
Shinra felt that his chances were pretty good.
He slept for a long time. He had dozed off on the couch sometime around four and woke up in his own bed at eight the following morning, sweaty and aching all over. He would need a new x-ray of his arm and leg, and new casts as well, he knew.
Shinra stared at the ceiling of his bedroom groggily. There were painkillers on his bedside table but he didn’t reach for them. He couldn’t hear or feel Celty in the apartment, could see no sign that she had come back since she had left after their conversation the day before. Saika was murmuring weakly inside him, as if it were tired too. As if it felt the aftermath of birthing so many children at once, even though Kujiragi’s blade hadn’t been the one to do it at all.
His phone buzzed quietly. Shinra had to turn on his side to grab it with his good hand, and when he unlocked the screen, the number he saw in his notifications was unknown.
You were wrong, the text said.
He slipped a few times while typing his answer, even dropping the phone on top of his sheets once. It took him an embarrassingly long time to be able to write, Who is this?
Mamiya Manami, the reply came, and Shinra wasn’t groggy enough not to react to the sudden burst of cold deep in his chest at the sight of her name.
He didn’t message her back. He didn’t need to, though, because she sent him an address with her following text and before he could decide to block her number.
Celty came back around ten and found him in the same position he had been when he woke up. “Good morning,” he said gently.
She came around the bed to sit next to him. She typed a quick message and turned her PDA toward him, though she didn’t need to. He could always tell what she wanted to say. How are you feeling?
“I hurt everywhere,” he answered with a smile. “But the sight of you, as always, is better at soothing away the pain than any medicine out there.”
She didn’t blush at his words. Instead she took back her PDA to type again, for a long while. The whole city’s in shambles. People are talking about a bomb going off and mass hypnosis… I saw Kadota and met with Shiki-san. They seemed okay, at least. It looks like Saika didn’t possess anyone we know.
“That’s good to hear.” Shinra pushed himself upright with his left hand and crawled backward on his ass, arranging his pillows behind his back so he could lean against them. Celty watched him without reaching forward to help. “Anything else?”
She shook her head. Then, after a moment spent in thought, she wrote again. Shinra watched her do it and felt the air turn to ice in his chest before she even had time to show him her reply.
Izaya is probably dead.
His smile didn’t leave his lips. “Really.”
I didn’t hear anyone say his name. But I know he was badly hurt.
It surprised him, how little he wanted to hear it. “Did you see him?” he asked reluctantly.
She hesitated. While I had my head, she finally admitted. Shinra thought anyone would have felt the longing and fear in her at those words. He tried to talk to me, but I ignored him. And then when I was trying to fix everyone’s injuries, I felt him too, but there wasn’t much I could do besides stopping the bleeding.
Shinra didn’t answer. Celty didn’t seem very interested in pursuing the topic either, and, seeing his lack of reaction, she stopped talking about it altogether.
Celty went about her job for the rest of the day. It wasn’t any different than life had been a week ago, two days ago. Shinra kept the TV on mute in his bedroom and watched the sky grow lighter and lighter in color, the sun rising high over the city and spreading tiny flecks of light on the metallic edges of buildings around. Every car on the highway was a flash of the same light in his eyes. Shinra stayed still for so long—head turned to his side—that his neck started aching from it. He let out a groan when he finally looked back ahead of himself and pain shot up his nape and shoulder.
He smelled disgusting. The breakfast Celty had brought him wasn’t enough to sustain him anymore, and his stomach had started growling. He knew there would be something microwavable for him to eat since he couldn’t cook with one arm immobilized; but all of a sudden all he could feel was the grime of the last forty-eight hours stuck to his skin and hair, and all he wanted was a shower.
He dragged himself to the bathroom. As much as he had enjoyed abusing Celty’s willingness to help him keep himself clean, he had to admit that he was glad he could do it by himself now, even if it hurt. He took off his pajamas without bothering to lock the door, wrapped plastic bags over his casts, and turned on the water.
He didn’t know how long he stayed under the spray. The heat kept his breathing slow and his heart quiet. He had to unstick himself from the plastic stool to be able to lather soap over himself, shampoo left for too long in his hair. He felt tired despite his long night. Unable to order his own body around. He could barely see anything through the steam that had risen around, and though he knew, distantly, that the water would soon turn cold, he couldn’t bring himself to actually turn it off.
When his hand finally grasped the faucet, it was with tremendous effort on his part. The tiled floor was wet under his feet—slippery. He almost fell twice before reaching the door and stepping onto surer wood.
He crossed the apartment naked as the day he was born, shedding the plastic along the way and throwing it in the garbage. There was instant ramen at the back of a kitchen cupboard; Shinra put water to boil for it without thinking.
A new noise came right as the kettle starting whistling. A slow, steady hum, ringing faintly through his home, that took an embarrassingly long time for him to recognize as his own phone. Shinra made his way to the bedroom as fast as he could, but the call stopped as soon as he touched his fingers to the screen. The name of the caller had remained behind, though.
Shinra called back without thinking about it for too long.
“Hey,” Kadota’s voice said over the line.
“Good afternoon,” Shinra replied. He reached blindly for his glasses on the nightstand and shoved them onto his nose unceremoniously. “This is exceedingly rare, Kadota-kun.”
“I know. Sorry about that.”
“It’s not as if I couldn’t have called myself. No need to apologize.”
“Yeah. I just—sorry, just a sec.” Shinra heard another voice, most likely Karisawa’s; he didn’t catch what Kadota said to satiate her, but he must have moved locations anyway, as the background filled itself with the sounds of cars running and wind blowing. “I’m back. As I was saying, I know we’re not really the kind for calling and stuff. I just thought I should.”
Kadota was silent for a long while. Shinra sat down on top of the bed, massaging his aching hip thoughtlessly, and looked out through the window once more. The sun was still up high, the city still gleaming.
“I’ve been calling around, after yesterday,” Kadota said lowly. “Just to make sure everyone’s okay.”
“You’re always so thoughtful,” Shinra commented.
Kadota huffed. “Shut up. I kept you for last because Shizuo told me he saw you with Celty.”
“She protected me with all the strength of her love!”
Kadota continued, ignoring him: “No one has any idea what happened. I thought Izaya might, but I haven’t been able to contact him.”
Shinra licked his lips, heart stilling.
Kadota took a breath over the line. “So it’s true,” he said.
“Manipulating information out of me, Kadota?” Shinra tried. “That’s a little unlike you.”
“I didn’t manipulate anything. I actually spent all day wondering how to tell you, damn it.”
Shinra’s fingers wiggled in the opening of his cast, digging into his own side lightly. Just enough to feel the shower-flush of his own skin. “No need to worry about that. Celty’s already taken care of it.”
“I figured.” Kadota fell silent, his breathing lost to the city sounds permeating whichever street he was in. “Shit. I’m not even… sad, or anything. I just can’t believe it.”
“I’m more surprised that you got anything out of Shizuo-kun than anything,” Shinra replied. He thought his phone would start burning the side of his face, he was holding it so tightly. Mamiya Manami’s messages kept coming back to him, as if she had branded them direction onto his brain.
“I didn’t,” Kadota answered, unaware. “I’m not stupid enough to ask him. Rokujou told me.”
“Never mind.” Kadota sighed. “He was there for the end of their fight. If you can call it that.”
Shinra hummed, and wondered which word Rokujou had used. Murder or suicide.
He heard Kadota shift something over his end. Maybe sit down somewhere. “I had a dream last night,” he said. “Not a nightmare or anything, just a dream. About when we were kids.”
“I’m sorry to say that I can’t return the feeling. I only dream about Celty.”
“I never thought things would go this far between them,” Kadota continued, unhindered. “I mean, I know it already went pretty far. But I didn’t think you could hate someone this much. Or for so long.”
Shinra stayed silent.
“I guess I just assumed they’d let go of it once high school ended. That it’d turn into a funny story we’d all tell over beer. Maybe even that they’d, I don’t know. Become acquaintances, or friends.”
It was a familiar fantasy. One he had entertained himself, loftily, in passing. Shinra had spent too much of his life thinking about Celty and detaching himself from other bonds; he couldn’t prevent them, but he could make it so they would always come second to him. He liked Shizuo. He never minded Kadota. They were both securely away from the center of his attention, and spending time with them never challenged this fact in any way. It was a comfortable system.
Izaya always rose up to the challenge for Shinra’s attention, however. Each and every time Shinra sought his presence.
“Do you hate me?” he asked Kadota.
“For always saying that they’d up killing each other and not doing anything to stop it.” The air he breathed burned.
“No,” Kadota said after a pause. “I don’t think you were being serious at the time. And I didn’t try to do anything to stop it either.”
“You weren’t as close.”
Kadota must have shrugged, because Shinra heard fabric scraping over the receiver. “I don’t quantify stuff like this. I can’t even accept that Izaya is dead, right now—it all feels so surreal. Nothing’s changed yet.”
“Nothing will, probably.”
“Yeah. It feels like it should, though.” In the breath that followed, Shinra could almost taste the realization creeping into Kadota’s brain and making its way out of his mouth. “ Shit. Shizuo killed Izaya.”
You were wrong, Mamiya Manami had said. It was as if her voice were ringing through Shinra’s head. His heart was beating in his throat, bruising, relentless.
Shinra listened to the sounds of Kadota’s confused misery and didn’t hang up. He heard him suck in a breath, and then another, and no doubt take his phone away from his mouth so that he could preserve his dignity as his body manifested his grief in a completely natural way. Shinra put the call on speaker and rested his phone against his sheets, and with his now free hand, he dug his fingers into the soft of his bed until he felt something tear.
Kadota was quick enough to speak again, considering. If Shinra weren’t feeling so much about the whole thing, he would’ve commented on how hoarse his voice sounded.
He didn’t, though.
“I can’t help but feel guilty.”
“Don’t,” Shinra replied immediately. “It’s fruitless, and you couldn’t have done anything to change things anyway.”
“Does telling yourself that help you feel better, then?”
Shinra chuckled. “I feel fine, Kadota-kun,” he lied. “In every way except the physical, of course.”
“Right, you’re still injured. I should probably let you rest.”
They both fell silent. Shinra wasn’t someone who did phone calls—the only person he’d want to call wasn’t able to answer like this, after all—and he thought Kadota might be just as awkward with finding a way to say good bye. He toyed with the idea of hanging up without another word, just to spare them both the pain; but then his thoughts shifted again to the texts in his inbox, the address sitting there in stark letters, and before he could think about it, he said, “Actually, I have a favor to ask you.”
“Yeah?” Kadota still sounded shaken..
Shinra’s mouth was dry. “If you’ve got about five hours to spare, I’d like you to drive me somewhere and then back.”
Celty found him as naked as he had been an hour ago, coming out of the shower. He was satisfied to see her shake in embarrassment as she typed at him to wear clothes inside the house, and he got dressed with her affectionate lecture in mind.
It was the first time in weeks that he wore something other than pajamas: loose pants to accommodate the cast on his leg and a white shirt, his jacket stuck between his forearm and the handle of his cane. Are you going somewhere? Celty asked when he finally came out of the bedroom. She still sounded angry.
“Kadota’s driving me. I need to go somewhere a bit far from here, so I’ll be home late,” he replied cheerfully. “Don’t wait for me before bed, my love.”
She threw a cushion in his direction.
Kadota was waiting for him in the underground parking lot, leaning against the side of Togusa Saburo’s van. Togusa himself was in the driver’s seat, looking smug.
“What’s gotten into him?” Shinra asked in stead of greetings.
Kadota made a face. “He ran over someone.”
“Ooh. Is your fanclub finally escaping the morality you’ve been trying to teach them?”
Kadota gave him a light hit on the head with the back of his knuckles, the way he did when they were fifteen.
Shinra refused the help they both offered to get inside the van. He sat in the second row of seats; all three of them were free, allowing him to rest his cane across the width of the van and even to stretch his broken leg sideways if he wanted to. Togusa started the engine before Kadota got in, and as soon as the door on the passenger’s side was closed, they were off.
“So why d’you need to visit a clinic so far away?” Kadota asked. He was hunched over the dashboard and typing the coordinates that Mamiya had sent Shinra into the GPS with a frown. “It’s going to be a two-hour ride to get there at least.”
“Someone asked for my help with a difficult patient,” Shinra replied.
“Can’t you do that with emails and video calls nowadays?” Togusa mumbled.
Shinra smiled, and said nothing.
He spent the relatively quiet ride meticulously not thinking of where he was headed and what he might find there. His mind gravitated toward Celty without much effort, and a good hour was lost to the thought of how she had saved him the day before. How she had looked atop her horse, with her head in her hand, nothing like the woman he loved and yet the same entirely. His father had told him that the head had been secured and Yagiri Namie hired to study it—they would take it to America with them.
Too far away for Celty to reach without difficulty. Celty hadn’t seemed especially bothered with the fact, no matter how much her being longed to be made one again.
Kadota and Togusa’s conversation in the front seats was soft-spoken. They fell silent when a song they liked played on the radio; they exchanged news from high-school acquaintances that they had been able to reach the day before, when Kadota was making sure everyone was alive and safe. Kadota got a call from Karisawa or Yumasaki at one point. It was difficult to tell, because he used the same exasperated tone of voice while talking to both.
Shinra watched the city stretch into the windows, seemingly endless. Night was falling and the streets’ illuminations coming alive, drawing colorful lines into his eyes that he had to blink slowly away. Apartment buildings made way to offices and entertainment skyscrapers made way to apartment buildings. Little by little, the skyline lowered, until no rooftop rose above a couple floors. They never left for a rural area, but everything around was so unrecognizable that Shinra knew without needing to check that they weren’t in Tokyo anymore.
“That’s the place, I think,” Togusa said eventually.
He parked the van in front of a three-story white building. The night was darker here than it ever was at home. No hospital ever slept, though, and this one shone from various windows, its entrance hall lit softly.
Shinra slid open the car’s door and stumbled out on one foot, grasping his crutch firmly from the bottom of the van. “I’ll be going, then,” he declared.
“Need any help?” Kadota offered. Shinra glanced at the dark bruise around his eyes and the arm he still had held in a scarf, not broken but undoubtedly sprained.
He gave a brief smile. “Oh, no need. It’s all doctor stuff from now on, you’ll be bored out of your mind.”
“I was just offering to walk you there…”
Shinra waved at him lightly before walking away on his own.
There was nothing here that could be of worth to someone whose healthy mourning process was already underway.
Shinra hadn’t thought of what he would say to convince the clinic’s personnel to let him in outside of visiting hours. He realized it when the two women sitting behind the lobby’s counter stopped chattering softly to look at him instead. He stilled once he was past the automatic doors, staring into the dimly lit face of the one on the left, his hazy brain struggling to find words.
“Kishitani-san,” another voice called.
He and the two women turned their heads toward the back of the hall. Mamiya Manami was sitting in one of the chairs, still wearing the clothes she had when they last talked. When he had recalled, vividly, the end he had set for Izaya, and told it to her without knowing why his guts ached with misery.
Mamiya walked to the secretary on the left and murmured something to her; the woman’s face painted itself in practiced sympathy. Shinra’s stomach churned.
“Come on,” she declared then. “Let’s take the elevator.”
“I’d find it difficult to take the stairs anyway,” he tried to joke, but Mamiya didn’t laugh. She didn’t look like someone who smiled often, if at all.
The elevator ride was too short and too heavy. Shinra always found summer relatively uncomfortable, and with a third of his body wrapped in plaster, he was prone to overheating. He felt hot sweat gather at the back of his neck before they even reached the third floor and walked out into the dark hallway. The white walls looked endless if he didn’t focus on the end of the corridor where a faintly familiar man was sitting, an empty paper cup in hand, smelling strongly of coffee and smoke.
“Kishitani Shinra,” he said lowly once Shinra reached his level. “It’s been a while.”
Shinra smiled tightly, at a loss for words, and the man stood up and chuckled. He extended his hand for Shinra to shake.
“I didn’t expect you to remember me. The last time I saw you, you were in high school.”
“Oh,” Shinra said. He took the man’s hand weakly, released it after only a second. “You’re the one who…”
“Yeah. Name’s Kine.” Kine turned his head to the door in front of him. Shinra watched the stripe of light coming out of the room at its bottom and, for the first time, wondered what exactly he would find behind it.
How close to being a corpse it would be.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Kine said, polite and unaffected. “I don’t know what Mamiya told you, and I’m sorry that you came all the way here, but I don’t think he wants to see you.”
“Has he told you that?” Shinra asked mildly.
Kine shot a dark look to Mamiya, who stared back with the same unfriendly expression on her face, completely unfazed. “He hasn’t woken up yet,” Kine replied. “The surgery for his stab wound went fine, and it looks like his arms will recover too. His spine… well, we can’t know until he wakes up. I thought there was no way we’d get here in time, but that Headless Rider kept him alive long enough, at least.”
The man shifted, placing all of his weight onto his heels and looking up at the ceiling, one hand picking a silver case out of the breast pocket of his suit. When he opened it, there were three cigarettes aligned inside.
“He knew he’d have better chances of survival if he went to the closest place,” he continued. “But he still ordered us to take him as far away from the city as possible.” He opened the window at the very end of the hallway, as far as it would open—not very wide—and lit a cigarette. He spoke while exhaling the smoke into the night air next. “Said he didn’t want a monster at his deathbed.”
Shinra waited until Kine turned his head back to the interstice between window and wall before looking at the hospital room’s door once more. He could feel Mamiya’s eyes burning the side of his face, growing hotter with every second he stood unable to make himself open it; and Shinra found that for once, he didn’t have the will to stare back.
The handle of the door was cold between his fingers. He had to stick his cane under his armpit awkwardly to be able to open it, and neither Kine nor Mamiya offered to help. As it opened—as the light from inside the room hit him and made him blink—he regretted for a second not having brought unsuspecting Kadota with him, not letting him open the door himself so that Shinra simply had to follow him inside. Not having him deal with the emotional load so that he could stand by passively, the way he had on the phone earlier that day.
Izaya was laid flat on his back on the bed. There was a mask above his mouth and nose, and some nurse had stretched a clean white sheet all the way up to his unbound chest. Both of his arms were cast, elbows included, and Shinra found himself looking down at the information on his injuries that was attached to the end of the bed before his eyes could wander to the incrust of blood at his hairline and the many cuts and bruises on him. His face was swollen and blue. He had stitches in his left cheek and tinier cuts everywhere else, healing slowly in the open air.
Mamiya came into the room with him, to his irritation. “Do you need a moment alone?” she asked, even but still vicious, and Shinra stared unseeingly at the letters on the pad and didn’t answer.
Kine called her name from outside. She left reluctantly, the fire of her eyes flickering between Shinra and Izaya as if begging for a scrap of something from either of them.
Shinra had had all of middle and high school to learn how to deal with people who tried to get a rise out of him, though.
He sat on the armchair beside Izaya more because his leg was hurting than anything else, pad still clutched between the fingers of his cast hand.
A head wound had to be sewn shut and there was swelling on the spine. The doctor who had written the report hadn’t been able to put words onto the extent of the injuries—blunt trauma over the entire body, was what they had settled for. Shinra didn’t blame them. It was hard to envision Shizuo’s sheer strength even after spending most of his life knowing him.
Most likely, Izaya had been thrown at something. Maybe through a wall. Even more likely, he had driven himself into such a battle-haze that he kept going despite it and only made things worse; Izaya got high off adrenaline like no one Shinra knew. It was the only thing he had considered remotely interesting in Izaya, physically speaking. He remembered fixing injuries that Izaya hardly felt. Injuries he didn’t notice until someone pointed them to him. He knew Izaya could punch with a sprained wrist and run on pulled muscles, when he was lost enough into the thrill. It made sense that he would keep trying to fight fate even after damaging his spine.
The broken arms were due to blunt trauma, too. The bones had shattered instantly and messily. There was no way Izaya hadn’t felt those.
“You’re an idiot,” he said to no one, putting the pad back onto his knees. “Just slit your wrists if you want to die so badly.”
Of course, Izaya didn’t answer. The IV in the back of his right hand was probably administering enough painkillers to keep him under despite the anesthetics having worn off hours ago. Reducing the dosage would wake him up faster, but it would allow for a tremendous amount of pain to be felt. Shinra wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
He shifted in his seat, sitting deeper into the armchair and fitting his back to the curve of it. Some of the tension along his shoulders lessened, the ache in his nape abating with it.
“I wonder if you took what I said literally,” he murmured. “About Shizuo outliving you as a legend. With how single-minded you are, it wouldn’t surprise me.”
He could smell the tobacco on Kine even with the door closed. He wondered what the man had done to be allowed to smoke inside a hospital without reprimand. To be allowed to even be here, and allow in visitors, despite how late it was. He probably paid off the entire night shift with Izaya’s money.
Shinra didn’t have a watch, and his phone was turned off inside his pants’ pocket. There was no clock on the wall, the wall TV wasn’t on, and he didn’t look at the heart monitor Izaya was hooked to either. All he had to base his estimation on was the darkness outside the window and how badly bruised with lack of sleep Izaya’s eyes were.
“You almost had the perfect send-off. Making Shizuo kill you. You didn’t really think you’d be able to kill him, Orihara-kun.” His throat was aching again, his heart fluttering like a bird. He coughed lightly. “You’re not stupid enough to think that.”
Togusa’s van was visible through the window. Shinra couldn’t see any lower than the highest of the windows, but the inside was lit, and he saw smoke rise through the light, white and yellow.
“It’s fine with me if you want to die,” he continued in a whisper, staring outside. “I already have everything I wanted. That must really piss you off—I’m just as bad as you, after all. You must be thinking, ‘If Shinra can have it all, then why not me?’ I’m okay with you dying if it means I get to keep Celty with me. Now, if the choice was between Shizuo and Celty, maybe I’d have a harder time accepting that I’d prefer him dead, but, well. I don’t think anyone alive can kill Shizuo.”
Time froze around him. The beeping of the heart monitor stopped ringing; the smoke above Togusa’s van stilled in the shape it was in like a painting; if he breathed, Shinra thought he might be able to see the air coming out of his mouth, so cold was he.
Izaya was blinking tiredly at him, eyes unfocused and face slack with the drugs. Shinra saw the time it took for his brain to register the pain anyway, how the light flickered off his irises as strongly as if he was moaning with it. When Izaya found enough strength to simply frown, Shinra felt it like a blow.
“You are such a freak,” Shinra interrupted—his voice was unsteady. He put his shaking hand on the mask covering Izaya’s face and tugged it away gently. “No one in their right mind would wake up now, but you’ve always been a bit of a masochist, haven’t you?”
Izaya was predictably too confused to reply. He contented himself with looking at Shinra’s face and blinking, his frown and the soft, wheezing breaths he took the only sign of the strain that this was on him.
“I should call a nurse,” Shinra muttered. His chest was pulsing with every heartbeat, almost painfully.
Izaya struggled for a moment. He licked his chapped lips, and then he said, “Where am I?”
“A hospital in the middle of nowhere. Your guard dogs are just outside the room. Can you feel your legs?”
Izaya closed his eyes. “They hurt.”
“Mmh. Better than not feeling them.”
He kept his eyes on Izaya’s face. His hand was still outstretched, hovering above Izaya’s torso needlessly. For some reason, he didn’t feel like drawing it back toward him. He thought Izaya might fall back asleep immediately, but Izaya opened his eyes, taking a second too long to settle them level with Shinra’s again.
“The biology club,” he declared.
For a moment, Shinra didn’t understand what he was talking about. Then the old classroom they had occupied for a few weeks came back to his mind, with its white walls and potted plants, and he laughed, all nerves and no joy. “What about it?” he said lightly.
“We never… did anything. Biology.”
“And whose fault is that? You were always off bullying some other kid into betting their parents’ money.”
Izaya licked his lips again. Shinra shot a glance to the pot full of water on the nightstand and the assorted glass and straw, but before he could offer some, Izaya spoke. “I never said sorry..”
His face was still very slack. Very unmoving. With how hard he was fighting off the liberation of sleep, it could only have come, of all things, from a place of mental necessity. “You didn’t push me in front of the knife,” Shinra replied softly.
His skin was pale under all the bruising and the cuts. The stitches in his cheek must be pulling painfully when he spoke, and Shinra looked once more at the dry skin of Izaya’s lips before deciding that some hydration could come before anything else.
He brought a glass full of tepid water to Izaya’s lips. Izaya sucked from the straw without commenting on it, and if his expression didn’t change, at least his voice was less breezy afterward.
“You’re all beat up too,” he said.
Shinra smiled. “You already knew about that. Celty was mad that you didn’t even message me.”
“You hung up on me.” Izaya attempted a smile after saying it, but Shinra found that he couldn’t pretend to be amused.
This wasn’t what he had come for. He hadn’t come here after everything only to repeat the same conversation that they could’ve had when they were twelve. Maybe Izaya was satisfied with putting himself through more pain than necessary just for the same pretend-closeness that had made him cling to the idea of their friendship long after they had stopped being friends—but Shinra wasn’t.
“You won’t even remember this conversation,” he said hoarsely. “You’ll fall back asleep and forget I was ever here. I could tell your pets outside not to tell you I came, and you wouldn’t even think to question them about it. How does that make you feel?”
Izaya’s eyelids lowered slightly, satisfaction shining over his face. “I’ll remember,” he replied.
“You won’t. And the worst thing is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether I was here or not, or what I said. You’d keep being the same anyway.” Shinra’s arm had started shaking from the strain of keeping itself above the side of the bed—above Izaya—neither touching nor drawing back. He thought it must be what he felt like inside his mind as well. All those years. Neither touching nor drawing back. “You’ll keep thinking you and I are caught in a little world of our own that no one else is privy to, and it’ll be enough to make you call yourself my friend.”
Izaya smiled at him. It was lopsided, because of his wounds. “Isn’t that enough?”
“No,” Shinra replied, his own lips stretching into the most miserable excuse for happiness that he had ever offered. “We’re not friends, Orihara-kun.”
Izaya looked at the ceiling pensively. His pupils were so dilated from the drugs that his eyes looked entirely black. It was a wonder he managed to be so coherent.
“You know me,” Izaya said slowly. “Not just my name. You know how I am.”
“A lot of people know how you are. You tend to shove that in everyone’s faces.”
But Izaya shook his head—or tried to, at least. “You know me. You knew it would end like this. I’ve always liked that about you. Proving you wrong, proving you right… I like it either way.”
Shinra’s hand fell onto Izaya, fingers grabbing his shoulder too tightly, and Izaya let out a grunt of pain so stark that it left Shinra shaking. “Do you like this?” he hissed, tongue burning in his mouth. “Do you enjoy the thought of having almost died? Of having almost made a murderer out of Shizuo?”
“It’s fun because you don’t care if I live or die,” Izaya said through his teeth.
“But I do care!” Shinra snapped back.
Izaya’s chest stilled under his forearm. Shinra felt his eyes dampen, saw the mist gather on the lenses of his glasses, and he took them off harshly, letting go of Izaya’s shoulder. He spent the next few seconds wiping them with the edge of his shirt as best as he could one-handedly. When he put them back on, his face was still too warm. The mist spread again just as quickly.
He took in a painful breath. “You think I’m like you, and you’re wrong,” he said. “I’m not better than you, but I never wanted to see you in this state. I was a kid and I joked about it, and I kept joking as an adult, but I never seriously—”
He had to stop, gasping. His side was throbbing from the fall the day before, his hip especially. He didn’t have any medicine on him to help.
“You need to stop taking everything that comes out of my mouth as prophecy,” he added, in the end. “You need to stop thinking about me like this.”
“How should I think about you, then?” Izaya asked in a weak voice.
Shinra almost replied Figure it out. If not for the shine of sweat on Izaya’s face and the drug-confusion in his eyes and voice, he would have.
He placed his hand where Izaya’s neck met his shoulder. Despite the warmth, Izaya’s skin instantly prickled with shivers under his palm, and when Shinra brushed the hollow of Izaya’s throat with his thumb, Izaya’s breathing stilled.
“I came here to say goodbye,” Shinra said. “That’s all.”
He felt Izaya’s neck move as he swallowed. Shinra moved his hand further up, until the heel of his palm was against his ear and he could dig his fingers into his damp, unwashed hair—until he could touch the crusted blood there and imagine what Izaya must have looked like when it was still running down his face.
He doubted Shizuo would remember. He doubted Izaya himself had any inkling of the sight he must have provided, lost enough in his own despair that he would fight with his entire body in shock.
Izaya’s hair was soft, even as dirty as it was. Shinra hadn’t touched it since the day Izaya had come to school in a boy’s uniform and with his long locks cut down to nothing. It had been done professionally, probably with the money he had gathered from all the gambling.
It was the only time Izaya had asked Shinra to touch him.
“I missed you,” Izaya said. “Since high school.” His voice was heavy with sleep.
Shinra reached up awkwardly with his injured arm, just enough to wiggle his fingers under his glasses and get rid of the wetness there. “I know. I’m sorry.” The words came out of him rougher than he had ever known.
“Don’t apologize if you don’t mean it.”
Shinra wouldn’t have meant it hours ago, when he was still sitting naked on his bed and listening to the sound of Kadota’s tears. He did now.
“I have to go,” he told Izaya, and Izaya’s mouth shook for a second. “I know you won’t remember this, but… take care of yourself. Go to therapy. Physical and otherwise.”
Izaya let out an amused breath. “Really.”
“Yeah,” Shinra replied. “Really.”
His fingers stroked through greasy strands of hair with no concern for the grime and blood. The touch seemed to make Izaya feel drowsy; when Shinra started pulling back his hand, Izaya’s eyes opened wider, looking red from the light and from the tiny crimson lines that burst blood vessels had drawn into their whites.
“If this is goodbye,” Izaya said slowly. “Then let me have one thing, before you go.”
He looked at Shinra, suggestion clear on his fear; and Shinra’s blood rushed to his head, leaving warm, tingling trails all through his body. Breathing in and out became a harder task. “This isn’t a good idea.”
“Do you care?” Izaya replied, a little more harshly. “Be honest, Shinra. Do you truly care about something like this? Have you ever?”
Shinra licked his lips and looked away. The translucent plastic glass on the nightstand was still almost full, and the light above his head bounced off of it to rest on Izaya’s pillow, a couple inches away from his head. His eyes focused on this tiny speck of fractured light as he thought about it. When he rose to his feet and then leaned forward, it was this one stripe of yellow and blue that he was watching—but still he saw the way Izaya’s breathing stopped, the way he closed his eyes in expectation, either for a kiss or a blow.
Shinra pressed his lips to Izaya’s forehead for a few seconds. Just long enough that his lips grew warm from the contact. Just enough to feel the difference between skin and injury. When Izaya breathed out, at last, the air moving out of his lungs parted around Shinra’s throat.
“You’re drugged out of your mind,” Shinra said. He didn’t move back as he spoke, simply looked down at Izaya’s face right beneath his. “And you stink. Not very appealing.”
“Whatever, Shinra,” Izaya said. His breath brushed over Shinra’s face as he spoke. “You just said no to the only person willing and able to kiss you. Have fun with that.”
He was smiling, though, the stitched wound in his cheek dangerously stretched.
Shinra waited until Izaya was back asleep after that. It didn’t take long. The few minutes they had gotten were already miraculous, almost enough to make him think Izaya would remember them.
It wouldn’t matter if he did. Shinra didn’t think he would ever see Izaya again anyway, or hear from him. He opened the window to let fresh air into the stuffy room, and music came in too, scratchy, from Togusa’s van’s radio. He filled his mind with the sight that Izaya made on the bed, hurt beyond anything he had ever experienced; he let the sound of Izaya’s voice wash over his mind, flat and joyless, still struck dumb by shock and medicine. He had no doubt that Izaya would experience a much greater emotional backlash from all of this later on.
One he would have to bear alone, through no fault but his.
Shinra stood up from the armchair. The fake leather had become uncomfortably warm and sticky from prolonged contact, and he felt no regret in leaving it despite the flaring pain in his hip. He placed his arm in his crutch and hopped around the bed, making sure not to jerk it around.
“I’m glad I met you,” Izaya mumbled.
Shinra’s hand slipped on the handle of the door, face burning, chest bruised from his own beating heart. He couldn’t see much through the misty stains on his glasses—they came either from the sweat or from the tears, he couldn’t tell anymore.
For a very long second, he considered looking back. He thought about texting Kadota and telling him to leave him here. He thought about sitting by Izaya’s side until the sun rose and Izaya himself awoke again.
He thought about Celty back home. He thought about Izaya here.
“Yeah,” he replied, the word so heavy on his tongue that he almost sobbed with it. He tugged the door open to the darkness and silence of the hallway. “Sleep well, Izaya.”
Kadota was asleep across the last row of the seats when Shinra got back. Togusa was sitting on the ground with his back to the driver’s door, smoking a cigarette, his other hand busy playing a game on his phone.
“Hey, Kishita—” he interrupted himself when he looked up to Shinra’s face, the stub falling from between his fingers. “Wow, are you crying?”
His voice seemed to rouse Kadota from his sleep. He sat up on the back seats, taking off his beanie and ruffling his own hair. The surprise took a longer time to reach his face when he noticed Shinra.
“Are you all right?” he asked, stunned. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Shinra laughed. He took off his glasses, sticking them between the fingers of the hand he couldn’t move because of the cast. With his other he wiped the wetness from his face. This time, when he blinked, no new tears came. “It seems the patient died after all.”
Kadota and Togusa exchanged a look. “Well,” Kadota said. “I guess even you can get upset by stuff like this after all. Sorry, man.”
“We’re all tired, after yesterday,” Togusa added with an empathetic nod. “Or the day before yesterday. What time is it?”
“One, I think.”
“Fuck. We won’t be back until four if we have to drive the doc all the way home…”
Shinra sat down on the edge of the seat right behind the driver’s, legs spread in front of him, toes touching the asphalt of the parking lot. From here he could see Izaya’s window on the third floor, right at the corner of the building. Kine and Mamiya most likely hadn’t come back yet, because the light was still on inside.
The night air felt good on his face. It was cool despite the hot heaviness of summer; cooler than the hot blood painting his skin red from inside and gentler than the misery and regret gathering inside his chest. They ached right to the left of his heart, as painful as a stab wound. The tiny scar at the lowest of his belly was throbbing as if to echo them.
So this is grief, Shinra thought. He didn’t remember feeling like when his mother left him. He couldn’t recall thinking of anyone with the same urge to sob, with the same knot in his throat and hole in his stomach.
“Let’s go home, then,” Kadota said. He had hopped out of the back and was stretching as much as he could with one arm still out of service. Togusa patted his back and went inside the van, the key entering the ignitor with a soft, metallic sound.
Shinra tore his eyes away from the window of Izaya’s room. “Let’s go home,” he repeated in confirmation.
Even that wasn’t enough to lighten the weight in him. Even the soothing sound and feeling of the van’s engine running over smooth roads wasn’t enough to lull him into sleep. Shinra thought about home, about Celty, and still the ache remained, pulsing with every breath like a physical wound.
Home would always be tinged with longing, now. Stained with blood.