In-Out | Alongside series | Cherry
Shizuo pulls all the stops for their first anniversary. Part of him will always be the incorrigible sap that he was for every teenage romance he attempted, and what he has with Izaya feels so adult and responsible that it feels like a teenager’s dream in a way. So he cooks for the evening; what he can’t cook he orders in from a more expensive restaurant that he usually would; and Akane decorates the table with more enthusiasm that she strictly means to show. It makes him feel warm to see her like this—she has never taken to someone as well or as carefully as she does Izaya, and part of it might be the hint of willful manipulation that he feels in Izaya and ever manages to stop worrying about, but part of it is also remembering every single time he turned around to see them hunched toward each other and murmuring with a smile.
He thinks the turning point was having her friend Touka over for the first time. Since that day months ago she has never been reluctant to see Izaya, or to see Shizuo with Izaya.
He’s never been prideful enough to hide when something makes him this happy.
The phone rings while he’s washing some dishes. He half-expects it to be Izaya himself calling in late for dinner and has been preparing himself for this specific disappointment from the beginning. Izaya isn’t punctual most of the time, even for things he really wants, and Shizuo knows Izaya has been looking forward to spending the evening here, so the news won’t bite this much when it hits. But Akane is the one who picks up the phone from his writing desk and answers it, and though for a second after she speaks her face twists in confused recognition, she doesn’t look like she’s talking to Izaya.
Shizuo dries his hands. “Who is it?” he calls. She pulls the receiver away from her ear and shakes her head at him, so he walks toward her to take it from her hands. “This is Heiwajima,” he says. “Who am I speaking to?”
“It doesn’t matter,” says the voice of a man. It’s not Izaya. It’s not anyone Shizuo recognizes. He sounds a little winded, like he’s been running, or as if someone has just punched him in the stomach out of nowhere.
“I think it does,” Shizuo replies dryly. “If you’re calling to sell something—”
“I’m not.” He pauses. “I’m here to give something.”
Shizuo glances at Akane. He put the call on speaker when she handed to him because that’s what he’s always done except for private calls—because for so long she couldn’t trust any call he was receiving not to mean that she would be forced to leave. She’s still frowning but she shakes her head at him. Don’t know him, she mouths, a little theatrically. It makes him smile. “That’s nice,” he tells the stranger, “but I’m not interested.”
“Oh, I think you will be.”
“I’m sorry,” and now his voice is as hostile as he can bring himself to be without outright yelling, “but I think you’ve got the wrong number.”
“I don’t, unless you’re not the person who’s been seeing Orihara Izaya for the past few months.” The name tears itself out of the man’s throat like a growl. Shizuo turns off speaker with enough strength to make the plastic case of the phone crack audibly, and gestures to Akane to go to her room.
“What’s wrong?” she asks immediately.
Nothing, he mouths. There are prickles of tension in his back now like an old ache; like the elastic band of his relationship with Izaya has stretched too much at last and is ready to snap and burn him.
Shizuo is a careful man. He’s been expecting something like this. He had hoped Akane wouldn’t be around for it, though.
She looks a little scared and a lot disappointed, but she walks away obediently and closes the door of the hallway behind her.
“Is she gone?” the man asks. He sounds regretful, almost longing.
“What do you want with Izaya?” Shizuo replies, and this time his voice is loud enough that no one could have mistaken it for anything but anger.
For a moment the stranger doesn’t say anything. There’s a faint sound in the distance that most people would not have caught but that Shizuo recognizes as a sheet of paper crinkling between fingers. “I don’t want anything with him,” the man says at last. “I’m just here to give him a taste of his own game.”
“If you’re just here to involve my family in something—”
“Tell me, Heiwajima, has he ever told you what he does for a job?”
Shizuo closes his mouth. Yes, he thinks, and at the same time, No. He knows what Izaya has told him. He also knows that this is a lie, and that the only reason he’s let it go for so long is because he’s so desperately attracted to Izaya that he wants to fool himself into thinking Izaya hid it from him for his own sake. Maybe for Akane’s sake as well.
“I see,” the man says simply.
“Whatever your problem with Izaya is,” Shizuo replies between his teeth, “I’m sure you can take it up with him directly.”
“After what he did to me and mine, I don’t think he deserves this much from me.”
“I’m not interested.”
“But you haven’t hung up on me yet, have you?”
Shizuo finds that he has nothing to say in answer to this. His thumb has been hovering over the end call button for the past few minutes, but he hasn’t pushed it in and cut the other’s spiel short.
“You’re a fair man, Heiwajima,” the man says, and it sounds sincere. “I appreciate that greatly, I want you to believe me on this.”
“You haven’t even told me your name,” Shizuo cuts in. “I’m not believing a thing you say.”
“My name is Shiki. Six years ago I was in the employment of Awakusu Mikiya, who is today rotting away in prison, and whose daughter is in your care.”
There’s ice at the lowest of Shizuo’s back. It runs in shivers over his skin and twists to disgust in his stomach.
He breathes in tightly. “So this is why Akane recognized you.”
“I’m not here for Akane,” Shiki says roughly. “I know she’s happy.”
“She is.” Of this Shizuo can be sure. Akane smiles with ease and isn’t afraid to touch him or to be touched by him. She talks to him when she’s sad, she knows she can come to him for a request, for comfort, or for nothing. And she knows Shizuo loves her. The adoption papers are tucked neatly into his writing desk, where Akane takes them out sometimes to copy them using his inks and papers as if she can better commit their words to memory this way.
Shizuo lets out a shaky breath. He feels tense all over his body now, more than he was when the voice was just a voice asking after his boyfriend—because now the voice is a yakuza from Akane’s dad’s group, and he’s speaking as if Izaya has any link to this at all.
“I know what you want to ask, so I’ll spare you the pain of making the decision to ask it,” Shiki says. Shizuo can hear the sort of man he is all the better with the knowledge; and he sounds the kind of cold he’s only ever heard from his visits to Mikiya and from Izaya himself. “Orihara Izaya is an information broker. Until six years ago our association relied heavily on his services, because he is excellent at what he does. One day he decided that selling his information to one of our enemies would be more lucrative than pursing a working relationship with us, and, well. You know what happened next.”
What happened next was anonymous tips to the police, just enough to find evidence and put Awakusu Mikiya in prison for twenty years—and most of his gang there too for lesser sentences.
It’s scary how easy it is to fit Izaya’s sharp face into the silhouette of the anonymous tipster and to imagine him betraying someone like this. Shizuo knows he can’t trust the words of a stranger just because they evoque emotion in him or just because they feel right; even though he’s always known that Izaya was hiding more than he ever showed, since the first day they met—since the shadow of sleeplessness under his eyes like bruises and the way he smoothed in and out of honesty every meeting after that.
It shows even in how he kisses. Fast and deep as if he’s on the run.
“It’s regrettable that he chose you of all people,” Shiki says. Shizuo doesn’t know how long he’s been silent. Probably long enough that anyone else would have ended the call. “It saddens me that I have to disrupt your peace.”
“Then why are you doing it?” Shizuo lets out.
“It doesn’t sadden me enough to stop me.”
Shizuo hangs up.
He doesn’t know when he sits down. He doesn’t hear the scraping of the chair against his floor in the kitchen when he pulls it away from the table to make room for himself. It’s closer to seven than six but winter is at its end and light strikes the walls of his home enough that he doesn’t need to turn on the ceiling lamp; it’s a golden evening, a bright cold yellow that fails to bring life to the cream color of his wallpaper the way summer sunlight does. Shizuo feels numb. He watches Akane slither back inside the room with curiosity on her face and thinks about Shiki being someone she knows. The man probably doted on her when she was young. Maybe she would recognize him, if she met him face-to-face
Or maybe she wouldn’t, because Izaya sold out her family and upended her entire world in his selfishness.
The knowledge sits heavy in his stomach.
“I think the food’s burning,” Akane says.
Shizuo lifts his head to look at her again. She’s rocking back and forth on her heels; she’s hit a growth spurt recently, and he can see her ankles under the hem of her jeans. He’ll have to take her shopping for clothes soon.
“Yeah,” he says. He doesn’t think he’ll eat tonight but he makes himself stand up and turns off the stove. He goes as far as taking the pot off of it and putting it on the table for its content to cool.
“Shizuo?” Akane asks in a small voice.
“I’m fine,” he replies immediately. Then, with more strength: “I’m good. I think we’re going to have to postpone the feast, though.”
He puts a hand on her head and rubs it until she’s squirming away from him with a smile, wild strands of dark hair falling in front of her face. She really is taller now. With every day that passes she looks more like a teenager than a child. Even with how gooey he feels there’s a pang of pride and warmth at the sight.
He’s never loved anyone the way he loves her. This is still true. He’s never going to love anyone else this much, and he’ll do anything to protect her.
“Can you go to your room?” he asks. He knows he must look somber, because her smile fades when she looks up at him. “I’ll explain everything later. I need to talk to Izaya about—about something.”
“Is it about me?” she says with finality.
The thought of lying to her doesn’t even cross his mind. “Yeah. I’ll tell you everything once I have it sorted out.”
She observes him for a while longer before walking away. He can see her hesitate by the door to the hallway and turn around, and he’s not surprised when she asks again, “You’ll tell me everything?”
He’s not surprised, but he’s not happy. “I promise.”
It’s good enough for her. He’s never broken a promise. She closes the door softly, and he hears her do the same with her room’s door as well, as if she’s trying to tell him for certain that she’s not going to eavesdrop.
After that it’s only a matter of waiting for Izaya to arrive. Izaya isn’t the kind to text his whereabouts regularly—he’s never sent so much as an I’m on my way to Shizuo, but he does tell him when he’s going to be late. He hasn’t, so Shizuo expects him at seven.
Izaya doesn’t knock. The door is unlocked when he enters with his head bowed, already hunching over to untie his shoes at the mouth of the room and slid into the pair of spare slippers Shizuo leaves there for him out of habit. “Hi,” he calls in a tired voice and with the hint of a smile, and Shizuo finds that he doesn’t have it in him to tell him not to bother with the shoes.
“Hey,” he calls back. He doesn’t stand up from his seat at the table.
“I’m glad I could make it here in time,” Izaya muses as he walks around the half-wall separating the kitchen from the living-room proper. He doesn’t look as cutting as he did a year ago when they met in that mediocre café. The shadows under his eyes are less pronounced, and his shoulders don’t look like they could cut him if he touched them; and Shizuo has had the pleasure of touching them at length, so much so that he can feel every bump of muscle and bone in the hollow of his palms if he focuses.
Izaya doesn’t immediately lean in for a kiss, and Shizuo feels some gratitude for that at least. Instead he looks around and says, “Where’s your girl?”
“In her room,” Shizuo answers. It’s hard to push out the words at all. “I need to talk to you about something.”
He can’t read anything on Izaya’s face. Still Shizuo finally feels restlessness shiver alive inside him, so he stands up and takes a step forward instead of shaking his legs like a kid.
“I got a phone call,” he starts, but then he has to stop, because he doesn’t think he can explain everything. So he asks, “Do you know anyone named Shiki?”
The response is immediate. Izaya’s entire body shifts from open to close, and he’s good at it, he’s always been—it looks like relaxation but it’s not. “Yes,” Izaya says. And, without waiting anymore: “A former executive of Awakusu-kai, and a former client of mine. He got out of prison a month ago.” There’s a shaky smile on his lips now. “I see he’s already broken his parole.”
“A month ago,” Shizuo repeats, and tries not to let the pit opening inside him show. There’s no reason for Izaya to know all this if what Shiki has said over the phone is a lie. “So that’s why you’ve been avoiding me.”
“I didn’t want to give him reason to come after me,” Izaya says casually, one hand coming up to rest atop the counter and fingers tapping lightly against the wood there. “I see I shouldn’t have bothered.”
“Yeah,” Shizuo replies lowly.
For a moment they both stay silent. Shizuo knows what he has to do, and part of him is aware that Izaya is putting up a front in preparation for it and no doubt hiding now more than ever. Hiding every bit of hurt that could have shown on him and made this harder for Shizuo. He doesn’t know for sure that Izaya is doing this for him rather than for himself, though.
Shizuo rubs a hand over his face harshly. “You should’ve told me,” he can’t help but say.
“Oh, Shizuo,” and now there’s pity on Izaya’s voice, more cutting than anything Shizuo’s ever heard before, “what should I have told you, exactly? The part about my job being less than lawful?”
“I could’ve dealt with that. Izaya—”
“Or the part where I’m directly responsible for everything your daughter has been through?” Izaya continues unhinged. “Do you think I’m stupid enough not to play my cards well in this? You would never have looked at me twice if you’d known.”
“If you knew this then why did you date me in the first place?” His voice is loud enough that it probably carries through the thin walls of his home and to where Akane is waiting, but he doesn’t think he can keep it nice and quiet anymore. “Why did you bother, Izaya?”
There’s a darkness in Izaya’s eyes that looks like an answer. But Shizuo can’t afford to try to dissect him now—this is about Akane, not him. And Akane will always come first for him. It doesn’t matter that he’s letting go of something as fulfilling as his relationship to Izaya has been as long as she’s safe, and he will never present her with the choice of her happiness against his.
“Did you think you could just hide it forever?” he asks, still.
“No,” Izaya says.
Shizuo waits. He dares hope that Izaya will say something along the lines of I wanted to talk to you about it. But Izaya is silent, and his eyes look the rust-red of old metal.
“Go away,” Shizuo mutters. “Just go away.”
Izaya turns around slowly. Every step he takes back toward the door feels like slow-motion, and when he crouches to retrieve his shoes it is with precise movements. Shizuo stares at the pale skin of his nape and the v-shape where his hair parts to fall on either side of it. It’s longer now than it was when they first met.
Izaya looks at him again when he’s done, and Shizuo shouldn’t be here anymore to hear what he has to say, but he’s never been able to look away when Izaya is so close and to stop listening when Izaya speaks. “For what it’s worth,” Izaya says slowly, “thank you.”
Shizuo’s never heard him say these words.
It would be easy to cross the distance between them and pull Izaya upright, and easier even to kiss him good bye as if this were just any visit or date. Izaya looks like he would let him. There’s expectation written on every line of his body and every hollow of his face. He looks handsome even in the soft yellow light of winter that washes out color in everything it touches. Shizuo doesn’t know what it says about him that there’s nothing he wants more in this instant than to feel Izaya’s lips crushed under his, to be able to lick between them and taste some of the heat there to counter the cold in his belly. If he tries he doesn’t know that he’ll let go, and he’s already said his piece anyway. Anything more and he would be no better than Izaya himself.
Shizuo’s never been one to take advantage of something he knows he shouldn’t. And he doesn’t have very many good things to say about himself, but he knows this to be the truth at least.