Warnings: children in distress, references to child abuse, self-harm
Shizuo’s doorbell was ringing.
He couldn’t parse how late it was, exactly. He didn’t own a watch because they were expensive and too breakable, his TV was playing a movie on mute, and his phone was in the bathroom. It was late enough that the sky outside had been pitch black when he fell to the sleepless grogginess that had plagued him for a week and it was still black now, as he blinked himself out of it. Too late for anyone to come with anything but ill intentions or bad news.
He lifted a weak hand to his head and wiped the stickiness of drying drool off the corner of his lips. His lower back was aching from his position on the couch, back to the cushions but legs thrown to the side and to the floor. His spine cracked ominously when he forced himself upright, and he groaned, tasting sweetness on his tongue as he did so.
Right. He had gone out with Tom to celebrate the other getting his stitches out at last.
The doorbell rang again. “Coming,” he rasped, and then made a face. He wasn’t tipsy anymore but the room was still a little rocky around him as he walked to the kitchen. He grabbed a bottle of cold water from the fridge to rinse the aftertaste of alcohol from his mouth and splashed some of it over his hands and over his face. The cold felt nice on his skin.
He only had a couple steps to take to get to the door. He pushed the fridge’s door close with his foot before taking them and unlocking it, not bothering to check who it was.
He hadn’t checked his door like this for a year and a half. There was no reason to anymore.
“Hi,” Mairu said before the door was even fully open to her.
Two years ago he would have thought about how he must look to her, hair mussed and face shining from the water, clothes sticking uncomfortably to his skin, and no doubt the smell of liquor clinging to him like a ghost. But Mairu cut his thoughts short before they could wander ahead and into Why territory. She bent over to walk under his arm and into his living-room as if she’d ever been here before—as if she and her sister had addressed a word to him since the day Izaya and himself tried to kill each other last.
The thought of Izaya’s name snapped him out of shellshocked silence. “Mairu,” he said carefully, voice rough from his half-sleep. “What… Uh. Sorry.” He closed the door to give himself a moment away from her. “Do you want… something to drink? I have tea, or—”
“Thanks, Shizuo-san,” she cut in. “I’ll have tea.” Her voice was full of something he couldn’t place. It wasn’t distaste and it wasn’t sorrow, but for some reason he felt it ring through him as familiarly as if he had heard it over and over his entire life.
He shuddered. When he walked back into the kitchen to put some water to boil, he didn’t look at her. She took a seat at the tiny table behind him as he prepared everything, her shoe tapping lightly against the foot of her chair but otherwise unnaturally still. Unnaturally quiet.
He placed the pot on the table in front of her alongside a clean mug when the tea was done steeping. He watched her pour it herself—her hands, not her face, just the purple nail polish she wore that had started to flake on her right thumb and index—and then he leaned against the counter opposite her. He didn’t feel right sitting down with her.
He had thought they wouldn’t talk to him again. Mairu and Kururi both. It hadn’t been an obvious thing, they were never close, they had just… drifted away. Smiling briefly in his direction when they crossed paths and then turning away without a word and without time for him to even smile back. Shizuo had resigned himself to this from them, and refused to think too hard on why.
“Where’s Kururi?” he asked, trying to soften the tension.
Mairu didn’t reply. She put the pot back onto the table and drank straight from the mug without waiting for the tea to cool; Shizuo looked at her face before he could help it, ready to offer cold water in case she burned herself, but she didn’t even flinch from the heat. She took a couple long sips without any sign that the tea was anything but lukewarm.
Shizuo exhaled slowly.
“How’ve you been, Shizuo-san?” she asked all of a sudden. Then, nose slightly twisted: “Besides the hangover.”
“Oh.” He scratched his chin, cheeks warm. “Uh, I’m good. Sorry about that, I was out drinking with my boss and I kind of just passed out when I got home.”
“That’s totally understandable,” she replied with a nod.
He hesitated for a moment. “Do… you wanna tell me why you’re here?”
“Can’t I just come see an old friend?”
Shizuo wouldn’t call any kid he knew his friend. It didn’t matter that he could see how much Mairu had grown since the last time they had talked or that she was closer to eighteen than nine, now. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to rid himself of the image of her at that age, with her knees bleeding and her mouth open on constant chatter, Kururi standing in her shadow in utter silence.
“What time is it?” he mumbled, patting his pockets uselessly for the shape of his phone. Mairu replied before he could get the excuse to go fetch it from his bathroom and compose himself on the way. “It’s three-fifteen in the morning,” she answered, lips caught against the rim of the tea mug. Her fingers were getting red from how tightly she was holding it.
“Okay,” Shizuo said in what he hoped was a neutral tone. “So, can I know why you’re here at three in the night, looking like your dog just died?”
She let out a high-pitched, nervous laugh, as insincere as it was ugly. “I’m a cat person! How dare you?”
Mairu dropped the empty mug on the table loudly and kicked her chair away from the table. It dragged onto the linoleum with a grating sound, and when she stood, it was with both her fists resting on the tabletop.
“Don’t you think it’s time you grew up, Shizuo-san?” she asked lightly.
Shizuo frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“Isn’t this the place you first moved in when you left the familial nest?”
And all of a sudden her face twisted itself on disgust, and she gestured wide around her as if to show everything to see at once, looking like her entire body was thrumming on energy, ready to explode. “This is a disgrace,” she spat out. “Hardly somewhere a proper adult should live, it looks like a college student’s nest.”
Shizuo felt irritation flicker inside him like an old lamp. He bit the inside of his cheek to choke it down before he answered: “Maybe so.”
Mairu grit her teeth at this, looking disgruntled. She tried again: “Your own younger brother is so far ahead of you in life, don’t you feel even the slightest bit ashamed of yourself?”
He did, but it wasn’t any of her business; if anything the only reaction her words created in him was surprise that she hadn’t mentioned Kasuka sooner.
He had thought Kasuka might be the reason she had come here. It had always been before—Kasuka, or Izaya, but Izaya was out of the question now.
“You’re exactly the kind of adult no one my age wants to become,” she continued passionately. “A bad job, a bad reputation, a bad, empty home. Do you even contribute anything to society, Shizuo-san?”
She walked around the table to stand right before him, and then she punched him, right into his ribcage. He hardly felt it though the disbelief clouding his mind; for a second Mairu stood as still as he was, shock bleeding into her young face; then he heard the sound of her teeth knocking together and of the rage-filled groan rising out of her, and he didn’t move when she struck him again.
And again, and again, and again.
“What the fuck, Mairu?” he said eventually. It took another moment before he realized that though he didn’t hurt at all, she might injure herself hitting him like this—he took hold of her wrists to stop her blows, wincing when he noticed that she had cut herself on a button of his shirt. One of her knuckles was bleeding.
“Release me,” she ordered through her teeth, breath coming short.
“Not before you tell me what the shit you’re doing—” Shizuo saw the way she hunched forward and his body understood before his mind did—he released her wrists before she could try to rip them out of his grip with all the strength of her body and break them while doing it. “Mairu!”
“Don’t call me that,” she hissed.
It was impossible to mistake what he had felt from her earlier, now. It wasn’t distaste and it wasn’t sorrow—it was anger, the likes of which he hadn’t seen on anyone but her brother. Vicious, inside and out, as if she was poisoning herself on it at the same time. Her face was red, her hair in disarray; now that he was looking he thought she must not have changed out of yesterday’s clothes either, and there were dark circles under her red eyes, as if she had cried herself awake, over and over.
“Don’t call me that,” she repeated, trembling and unaware of his thoughts.
“What should I call you, then?” Shizuo asked evenly.
She sniffed. Her face looked offended at that fact, and she grit her teeth at him again. “Call me Orihara.”
He couldn’t do that, and she knew it. She knew why. “Please, just—tell me what’s wrong.”
“No!” she yelled. “Go away! I don’t want to see you, or think about you, it was a stupid idea anyway—” she stopped abruptly, and her inhale sounded like a gasp.
“You came here,” Shizuo pointed out angrily. “Will you fucking tell me why already?”
“I hate you,” she replied, and he felt as if he had been punched this time, more physically than anything her fists had achieved. “K-Kuru-nee said not to, that it wasn’t your fault, that he asked for it, but she was being stupid, and now she’s—”
He saw her eyes shine with tears before they started rolling down her face, before she heaved in a breath through her nose wetly. His stomach felt hollow with horror and disgust and the first inklings of understanding. If he hadn’t had her at the brink of sobs in front of him he would have said Izaya’s name, or apologized, maybe—said sorry for something that he didn’t know he was sorry for but carried around in his nightmares and in his dreams alike, every day, every night.
But instead, all he asked was: “Where’s Kururi?”
Mairu made the most gut-wrenching sound he had ever heard. It was a whine and a sob at once, and it made her sound nine again, made her look as she had when they had met. Bloody knees and a big mouth.
But she had been smiling, then. Not howling in anger and pain in the middle of Shizuo’s home.
“She’s gone,” Mairu sobbed. “I can’t find her.”
Shizuo reached forward to grab her shoulder with his hand without thinking, but hers flew up even faster to stop it. Her polished nails dug into his palm in warning.
“What do you mean?” he heard himself say.
Her grip on him was shaky. “She’s gone,” she repeated, voice breaking on the word. “S-Someone took her away, and I can’t find her.”
“Ask your headless friend,” Mairu replied through her tears. She was looking at the ground with wide eyes, as if she wanted nothing more than to be swallowed whole by it. “She was too weak to stop them, and now because of her and you and Iza-nii, she’s gone!”
Shizuo’s head hurt and his throat ached. More than that, however, it was the nausea creeping up his throat that prevented him from forming any word in answer. When he breathed, he smelled fire.
“Iza-nii’s alive,” Mairu continued with a hiccup. She dropped Shizuo’s hand and wiped her face with her palm, like a child. “And somehow, he got her kidnapped. Isn’t that great, Shizuo-san? You’re not a murderer after all. You didn’t kill him. He’s scheming around like the filthy worm he is and he let his own family be harmed again, but at least your hands are clean.”
There was no white in her eyes when she looked at him again. Only red from burst blood vessels and black from her pupils. Her irises looked crimson too in the dim light of his home.
He swallowed painfully. His mouth was drier even than it had been when he woke up. “Are you—”
“Yes, I’m sure,” she cut in, acidic. “He’s alive. And he’s going to come back soon.”
Shizuo’s belly pulsed. His breath felt short, caught in his throat the way it had been almost two years prior when he stood on that rooftop, looking up at the sky and at Izaya’s empty eyes.
Mairu smiled at him. It wasn’t a happy sort of smile—if anything, it looked like she was trying to hurt him with it, like the edges of it had been sharpened to blade-like. “What are you gonna do about it, then?” she asked. “Will you try to kill him again?”
Shizuo remembered a time when she would eagerly ask him the same. When Kururi would shrug her shoulders at the suggestion of her brother’s death. He remembered a time when he thought himself in the same sort of stasis, forever stuck in a loop of aimless violence. No end and no beginning.
He never would have guessed what it felt like to live beyond the end. To have the violence take aim and strike true for once.
Mairu didn’t wait for him to reply any longer. “You’ve become weak too,” she commented. Her voice was soft now, her sobs abated. She looked exhausted. “You and the Black Rider and even Iza-nii… this isn’t your city anymore. There are better people around to take care of it now. Stronger people. You’d all be better off dead.”
Shizuo didn’t answer.
For some reason, it made tears gather up in her eyes once more. “Say something!” she ordered. “Grow up! Get over it! Hit me!”
“No,” he said. He blinked, willing the buzz out of his head. “I’m not going to hit you.”
“You’re pathetic, you’re so—”
She choked, standing in front of him and trembling through her entire body. The light above his sink was gleaming on her, shining off the wet trails on her face and the sweat along her arms. The blood on her fingers. She fell to her knees without another word, rasping out painful breath after painful breath and sounding like she was about to die. Her cut hand clutched the front of her dress, staining the green fabric an angry red, spilling more blood down her wrist and onto his floor.
“I hate that I need you,” she whined. “Celty-san said the thing that took her was stronger and faster than she is, and I can’t put Mizuchi-kun in more danger, he’s already bringing Iza-nii back, you’re the only one who can—”
“I don’t hate you,” she said, rubbing her face harshly. “I’m sorry, I’m a liar. I’m just like him. I never hated you and I’ll never hate you, Shizuo-san.”
Shizuo kneeled down next to her without knowing what to do. It didn’t matter, though; she crawled forward and buried her face in his chest, where she had punched him earlier, and her arms wrapped themselves around his torso, hands linked behind his back.
“Please help me,” she wheezed. “Please find her, please.” Her words became unintelligible, muffled against him or swallowed by her own sobs, he couldn’t tell. When she raised her head again her entire face was crimson, smeared with tears and snot, strands of hair standing electrified above it. “I’m sorry,” she repeated, with none of the anger she had displayed earlier, and all of the fear. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
Shizuo could only lift a hand and press it behind her back in a semblance of a hug. “I’ve been looking for hours,” Mairu moaned. He had never heard anything sound as broken as she did then. “Celty-san came to tell me and I ran out and ran everywhere, but I couldn’t find her.”
It’s okay, he almost said, by automatism, the way he would have if he were ten and Kasuka eight. The way he did whenever Kasuka was upset enough that it showed on his face. But Mairu wasn’t his sister. She didn’t work like he and Kasuka did.
He thought she might care very little for empty reassurances.
“I’ll help,” he said instead.
He didn’t know how he would. He didn’t even know if he could. But Mairu’s hold tightened all at once, her Thank you dying pressed against his clothes.
Her hair smelled like smoke.
The first thing Aoba did after Mairu called him was text Kuon, What did you do?
Kuon’s reply came back just as fast: I’m not responsible for K.’s kidnapping and I don’t know who is behind it.
Aoba pressed call before he even finished reading. “It’s useless,” Kuon snapped without bothering with greetings. “I’ve been looking for days already, and I have no idea who’s responsible for all the disappearances.”
“Did you or did you not put her in danger?” Aoba replied.
There was a moment of silence, brief, but enough to spread cold through Aoba’s lungs. He felt like he was drowning by the time Kuon took a breath to answer. “No,” he said. “Or if I have, then it wasn’t on purpose.”
“So she was collateral damage, then.”
“I’m worried too!” Aoba had seen little enough actual feeling out of Kuon that the volume of his voice cut him short. “I hold no grudge toward her or her sister. I like them. There’s nothing to gain for me in putting them in harm’s way.”
And though he regretted the words before they even came out of his mouth, Aoba said, “But you have a grudge against Orihara Izaya, don’t you.”
A pause, filled with breathless surprise.
“I’ve been watching the man for years,” Aoba continued, heart beating in his throat. “Long before he died. I know all about the girls he took in.”
There was a hissing sound from the other side of the line, barely human, and then Kuon’s voice, icy: “If you want to play this game, I think your sibling’s worse than mine, Kuronuma-senpai.”
Aoba’s throat constricted as if a hand was wrapped around his neck, slowly choking him; his ears rang with the notes he had gathered out of the mouth of the Blue Square member he had put in charge of watching over Ran’s activities in Awakusu.
His brother had contacted Horoda just a few days ago, after all. Right as Horoda came out of prison.
“Fine,” he grit out. “So we all have shitty siblings.”
Kuon didn’t take the bait about Nozomi, and Aoba tried not to seethe over how easy it seemed for him. Or for Mairu and Kururi, for that matter.
He could never think about Ran without feeling like a sinking stone.
“If anyone put her in danger, then it wasn’t me,” Kuon continued evenly. “Even if her kidnapping was collateral damage from something on my end, it wouldn’t make any sense to take her. You and I would be much more useful targets.”
Aoba couldn’t help but agree. Yet the Blue Squares had been absolutely unaffected by the ten-odd people who had vanished from all over the city; not one of them even knew the victims personally. No relatives or friends among them. Kururi was the first to mean anything more than that, and it made no sense to kidnap her—Kururi wasn’t linked to anything illegal that he knew of. She was just a high school girl. Her last bond to her brother’s world had been severed when Orihara died and Yagiri Namie fled the country.
The Black Rider was a possibility, but a thin one. She had been targeted in the past, even in recent memory, and Kururi had not once featured into the trouble she caused around her. Heiwajima Shizuo had pretty much retired from being a menace. Kishitani Shinra was all but a memory as well, though his business was still thriving, and Aoba doubted Kururi or Mairu ever thought about Kishitani much, no matter what he might have meant to their brother in the past.
Aoba bit the nail of his thumb absently. He chewed on the skin around it until sharp pain soared through it, and then he said: “If you and I aren’t the targets, and if we’re not even involved… then who is?”
“I hate admitting this to you, but I have no idea. IkeNEW hasn’t relented any useful information. I know you’re keeping an eye on Awakusu-kai, but since you haven’t said anything, I’m guessing they aren’t responsible either.”
“One of their men got taken,” Aoba replied. “Former men, I should say. But he’s not one of their enemies, and they’ve been looking for him.”
“His name is Kine.” Kuon’s silence after that made tension knot itself at his shoulders and his face twitch anxiously. “What is it?”
“Kine… this is someone related to Orihara Izaya too, right.”
Aoba picked at the stinging skin around his thumb with the nail of his index. “All of Awakusu-kai is linked to Orihara. And Orihara is dead anyway.”
Kuon stayed silent.
“Kotonami,” Aoba said lowly. “Orihara is dead. He’s not linked to any of it. Don’t let paranoia fool you.”
“I’m wondering if you aren’t letting just that happen, Kuronuma-senpai.”
Aoba’s grip on his phone was forceful, now. “I was there when Heiwajima Shizuo broke him down into pieces. I saw him get stabbed. I looked for him in every hospital, at every doctor’s, legal or not—he’s dead. There’s no way he could’ve survived those wounds without immediate help, he was fucking bleeding out.”
“I need to check something,” Kuon interrupted, voice strangled. “I need to ask—”
Either he stopped himself halfway or the call cut entirely; but the silence of the line rang as loudly as a bell in Aoba’s ear.
He dropped his hand slowly into his lap. His mother’s apartment was dark around him. The screen of his laptop was unlit from not being used in minutes, and barely any streetlight filtered in through the closed blinds of his room’s window. He could only hear the faint hum of the ventilation system and the rush of cars from the street underneath, almost like waves at sea.
“Mizuchi Yahiro,” he realized out loud.
He had directed Mizuchi to the twins days ago in order to crush the boy’s curiosity. To make him understand that Orihara was a thing of the past that he shouldn’t poke at, and with the hope that even if he did contact Yagiri Namie, she would be just as unwilling to cooperate as Aoba himself was.
Orihara Izaya was dead.
He had to be.
Aoba found Mikado’s name in his contact list without thinking. He pressed the call button despite the late hour, knowing that Mikado hardly slept now because of the pain and the nightmares. And indeed, Mikado picked up after only two long beeps had rung in the silence, his voice devoid of sleep: “Aoba-kun?”
“Hey,” Aoba said. “I have bad news.”
He heard Mikado shift on his bed and a small, pained groan escape him. “What’s wrong?”
You know what’s wrong, he thought. If Mizuchi is doing something, you know about it. “Orihara Kururi got kidnapped earlier tonight.”
Mikado didn’t immediately respond. Aoba heard him move some more, no doubt standing up from the bed and looking out of the window of his new apartment. Mikado always liked to stand by doors and windows in situations like this, as if trying to secure an escape route, be it running away or jumping to his death.
“Are you calling to ask about Mizuchi-kun?” Mikado asked.
Aoba ground his teeth together in rage and threw off his blanket. He sat at the edge of his bed, running trembling fingers through his hair as he spoke: “So you’re involved in whatever he’s doing.”
“I don’t know what he’s planning. You were the one who told me to keep an eye on him, remember? You’re the one who showed me that video of him fighting Heiwajima-san.”
“Don’t act cute now, senpai,” Aoba snapped back.
“You know, you don’t have to call me this anymore. We’re in the same grade now.” He sounded teasing, and a little bashful.
“You did way more than keep an eye on him, though, didn’t you?”
Mikado marked a pause before replying. “I just gave him a little push. I think.”
Aoba’s heart was beating hard against his chest, and the cold was spreading again, all the way to his fingertips. “What did you do?”
There was a sound on the end that he thought was the window’s latch being opened; wind brushed against Mikado’s receiver and cracked over the line gently. “You might hate me if I tell you.”
Aoba didn’t think he could ever bring himself to hate Mikado, but Mikado didn’t need to know that. “Just… tell me. I don’t care what it is.” Kururi’s face flashed before his eyes, gentle and quiet, and to his horror Aoba felt his throat ache and his eyes burn. He had avoided thinking about her so directly, but he couldn’t escape it now. She was gone. “Please.”
“I noticed that Mizuchi-kun was emailing someone this morning,” Mikado said softly. “I didn’t really try to pry, but he had his phone open on the messages, so…”
“Who was he talking to?”
Mikado hesitated. “Izaya-san.”
Aoba closed his eyes and pressed against his mouth with his closed fist. He tasted bile at the back of his tongue, felt a corresponding ache in his stomach; he hadn’t eaten since lunch, and in that moment, all he felt was giddy, nervous relief. He thought he might have thrown up on the spot if he had.
“Orihara Izaya is dead,” he said, for the fourth time that night.
He heard the small, well-meaning hum of pity Mikado let out through the buzz in his ears. “I know you don’t want to hear it. But from what I’ve seen, Mizuchi-kun is trying to get him to come back here. I’m sorry.”
Aoba exhaled harshly. “You’re sorry,” he repeated. “But you encouraged him anyway.”
“I did.” There wasn’t a hint of remorse in his voice. “I like to think that we see eye-to-eye on most things, Aoba-kun, and I’m staying out of your business. I’m not going to get involved anymore. But there are things I want as well.”
“The last time you followed your own agenda ended up with you bleeding out of multiple stab wounds for being an idiot.”
“I’m aware of that,” Mikado replied, annoyed. “Izaya-san was never responsible for what I did, though. And I need him here for other reasons.”
Aoba was shaking through his entire body by now. He knew Mikado would hear it on his voice, but he spoke anyway: “Orihara is nothing more than a glorified bully. The city went up in flames for his sick enjoyment, your friends ended up hurt and isolated because of him. He’s—” a terrible brother, a terrible person. Someone who could make Heiwajima Shizuo strike with the intent to kill. “He deserves to be dead. Even if not literally, he deserves to stay dead for this city. He deserves to have no one even say his name, ever again.”
“I understand how you feel,” Mikado said hesitantly. “But I don’t think he does.”
Aoba cut the call short. His palms were damp with sweat, his nape hot under sticky strands of his hair. If he were to look at himself in a mirror now he knew he would look feverish. When he swallowed it was to push back the bitter of the bile, mouth dry and eyes burning.
He could recall the last time he had seen Orihara Izaya as well as if it had happened only an hour ago. The quality of the memory was photographic, every speck of blood on Orihara’s broken body as stark as if sunlight was shining on them, the sound of his bones breaking so clear that Aoba could almost feel it physically. Orihara had already looked more dead than alive by the time Heiwajima Shizuo had dragged himself to his level, cold and quiet and more terrifying than anything Aoba had ever seen—a hundred, a thousand times more terrifying than Mizuchi Yahiro had looked clad in black from head to toe.
Orihara couldn’t have meant to survive this fight. He had engaged in it with the kind of bone-deep satisfaction that only the suicidal harbored.
Aoba had no doubt that wherever he was, Orihara hadn’t changed. Not in the ways that mattered—not in a way that would make him try to mend his relationship with his sisters, at least.
Not in a way that could make him care that Kururi was gone.
He bit his lips until he tasted blood. And, though it was childish, he wished that Orihara had died with the same taste of metal and salt on his tongue that day. Forgotten in the middle of an unseeing crowd.
Izaya woke up to pitch darkness and confusion. It was too early for even Sozoro to be up; the hotel suite was as silent as a tomb and almost as dark. His bed creaked when he sat up, and the disgruntled noise he let out when pain flared from his lower back and through his legs was lost to the quiet entirely. For a moment he looked around the room without understanding why he had woken up at all. He didn’t feel hot, or cold. There was no sweat along his back and no queasiness in his belly to tell him that he had just come out of a nightmare.
He patted the table by his side unseeingly, until his fingers reached the nearest phone he could find. He had to squint to make out the bright numbers on the clock—four in the morning.
Almost as soon as he unlocked the screen, the device vibrated between his fingers, and an email notification lit up to Namie’s name.
He looked at it for a second without knowing if he should read it or simply delete it. Namie had only sent him two messages since they had called, both of which had for theme the mysterious new urban legend that Ikebukuro had given birth to, as well as tidbits of information on people he had known back there. He had told himself not to read them each time, and he had read them each time anyway.
He opened the message without much curiosity. Namie was a good secretary but a poor information dealer. She couldn’t do much more than compile links to various websites and blogs that he could’ve found by himself if he cared to look.
He saw the name at the end of her email before he saw its content proper; for a second his heart froze at Mairu and not much more, before he thought to look up and see that Namie hadn’t written him. She had forwarded him a message from his sister.
He did get rid of the message right then, mind already turned ahead and to the full deletion of this email address.
Whatever insults Mairu wanted to hurl at him, he didn’t want to read them.
You really can’t follow the simplest instructions, he sent Namie. I’ll be getting rid of this account, so don’t bother trying to contact me again.
He didn’t let himself think about how much he would regret cutting Namie off, too. She wasn’t of any use to him anyway. He was being sentimental, and that had felt nice, thinking that he mattered to her in the space of a phone call. Hearing his own name come out of the mouth of someone who knew him better than most people. He had humored her because he had been weak.
Namie replied almost instantly. Read it, she said, with a copy of the same message from Mairu that he had just deleted.
So he did.
Namie-san, how are you? it started. Actually don’t tell me, I don’t care. I’m emailing you despite how much I abhor you to ask you to contact my useless brother and inform him that Kuru-nee is as of five hours ago missing. She was kidnapped! I’d find it cooler if it wasn’t my precious sister whose whereabouts and status as living or dead or in-between I can’t confirm. Apparently the person who took her was stronger than the Headless Rider and faster than her magic bike. No one knows where she is. I talked to every single unsavory person I know, and they’re all useless. I thought, how about asking the most unsavory person of all for help? Tell him to hurry up and find her, please. And tell him I hate him, and if he doesn’t find her, I’ll torture his location out of every person he’s ever breathed near to until I find him and succeed where Shizuo-san failed. Maybe I’ll even take Shizuo-san with me, to make extra sure that he’s dead.
Izaya’s thumb hovered over his screen. He couldn’t do more than read the message a second time before Namie called.
“Did you read it?” she asked as soon as he picked up. And then, when he didn’t reply: “I asked her if she could tell me anything more. Her little friend Kuronuma Aoba apparently estimates that eleven people have gone missing in weird circumstances in the past month.”
“People go missing in Tokyo all the time,” Izaya said.
“But how many kidnappers can outrun that headless freak?”
None. Or at least no one human. Namie didn’t need him to say it, though.
“All the victims are people you know,” she added quietly. “I have Kuronuma’s list in front of me, along with the dates. They started by taking one-time clients of yours, then regulars, then work acquaintances. And now family.”
“You think I’m being targeted?”
“It would make sense. It’s not like you didn’t leave any grudges behind. I’d be surprised if anyone you know doesn’t have a grudge of some sort against you. They must’ve found out that you’re alive somehow.”
Izaya dragged his legs over the side of the bed to rest his feet on the floor. He crossed them at the ankle despite the aches working up his spine at the movement. “So I should head back directly into the trap laid out for me, then?”
Namie groaned in frustration. “You coward,” she said, disgusted. “You’re just going to run away? To ignore your own family? What if they find out where you live anyway, wouldn’t it be better to at least know who you’re up against?”
I hate him, Mairu had written. She had never been short of expletives to describe how unlikable he was, how little she cared about him. Izaya couldn’t remember a time when those words had left her mouth so genuinely, though.
It made his chest constrict as if air was missing.
“If I take care of this,” he said quietly. “If I satisfy this lunacy of yours—going back to Ikebukuro, working with you again… will you be satisfied?”
“No,” she replied bluntly. “But at least it’ll allow me to decide once and for all whether you’re worth my time.”
“And if I’m not?”
She stayed silent for a moment. “If you’re not… then I’ll cut you off from my life. I’ll let you rot away as you damn well please. Don’t you win either way like this?”
Izaya looked up at the ceiling of the room he’d been occupying for a month now. It was as bleak as everything in this city was, as bleak as his entire life had been since the moment he had hung up on Shizuo after saying Goodbye.
“Fine,” he said. His heartbeat sped up, strong enough to feel bruising, and the breath he let out when Namie started listing the trains he could take during the day felt as cold as it was liberating.