Not Justice (Chapter 7)

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Not Justice
Chapter 7

Shiki was tired.

He wasn’t the kind of man to use the word lightly. His job and activities, whether they be monitoring the gallery or the less upstanding trades and negotiations he was a part of, required a great deal of energy. His strength since the very start had been that he was undefeated by fatigue; Mikiya called him inhuman, Akabayashi called him ruthless, Aozaki had stopped watching for him to give in and show weakness a long time ago. Shiki never minded the job and never minded the watching.

The situation was a bit special, however. As machine-like as he liked to appear, a friend’s disappearance was still a friend’s disappearance. With every new morning he expected Kine’s body to show belly-up in the bay or abandoned at the gallery’s glass doors with blood crusted at the mouth. The Black Rider texted him every evening with a glaring lack of update and an apology, and Shiki smoked more than he liked to, just to abate the nerves keeping him awake at night as he wondered why Kine was still gone.

He could only think of a few reasons why someone would take Kine. One was vengeance against the man himself—he was a private detective, and ties to Awakusu non-withstanding, someone who made enemies as a professional hazard. Another was vengeance against Awakusu, but then, why keep the body? There was no point to be made in secrecy.

The last was ransom, and no one had asked for anything. Not for Kine, and not for any of the other people that Shiki had soon learned were being taken in similar circumstances.

He had a folder full of the names of the gone, now. It sat open on the low table in front of him, stained with ashes and half-buried in the shadow of Akabayashi’s body.

Which brought him to the second reason he felt the necessity to admit to fatigue.

“You’ll hurt yourself with that,” Akabayashi said, in that murmur of a voice that should sound over-the-top to any of them but which only served to cool the atmosphere of the room.

They all knew that the weight of Akabayashi’s posturing was very real.

Kazamoto’s grip tightened on his blade. Already a few inches of the sword were unsheathed and gleaming cold and blue in the light. “Want to test that, Akabayashi?”

Aozaki wasn’t here to put a leash on his dog, so of course, Kazamoto had taken up the role of antagonizing them all with sheer delight. Shiki sucked in the very last of his cigarette’s worth, until the foul taste of burning plastic coated his tongue and he was forced to crush the filter into the dirty ashtray next to him.

Any other day of the week he could’ve dealt with his colleagues’ antics. Not today.

“Kazamoto,” he said lowly. The man perked up, throwing him a glance. “Get out.”

Akabayashi let out a pleased sound, which made Kazamoto’s face redden with anger the way the excitement of a fight hadn’t. He seemed to hesitate for a second, looking between the two of them and wondering if it was worth disobeying the orders of someone who technically couldn’t order him, but who had the sort of backing that he lacked.

With a disgusted click of his tongue, he left.

Shiki’s phone chose this moment to ring, which suited him, because now Akabayashi was looking at him with curiosity in his eyes, and Shiki didn’t have the energy to deal with that.

“Shiki,” he said curtly, shoving the phone against his ear.

He heard nothing in answer except for static.

Akabayashi, still watching him, gestured with his hand in askance. Shiki’s lips thinned. He was about to either speak again or hang up when he heard breathing, and then, “I heard you lost Kine, Shiki-san.”

Shiki stilled, blood turned to ice and muscles to rock.

He didn’t know what face Akabayashi made at his reaction, because he didn’t think he could have seen anything and understood it in that very moment.

“Orihara,” he said. He couldn’t tell what sort of voice had left his lips.

Akabayashi’s body went immobile atop the armrest of the couch.

“It’s been a while,” Orihara said, playful and alive“You should think about changing your number from time to time. You’ve had the same since I’ve known you. Not terribly careful of you.”

It took a second too long for Shiki to be able to answer. “You should be thankful I haven’t,” he managed, and he could only hope that the distance and distortion would be enough to mask the heavy emotion in his voice to Orihara himself, because Akabayashi was missing none of it.

“I suppose so. I’d spend more time on catching up, but we’re a little short on time, wouldn’t you say?”

“When did you come back?” Shiki asked nonchalantly. As nonchalantly as he could.

“Just this morning. I would’ve called earlier, but I ran into some trouble on my way.”

He wanted to ask. He really wanted to ask. He wanted to know where Orihara had gone and why he had come back, wanted to ask to see him for no reason but to neaten the memory of his face and of the full scope of his voice and smile—but Akabayashi was staring at him, anchoring the situation to reality rather than some far-off dream Shiki could’ve had, must’ve had, over the last year and a half.

His wits were returning to him now. The ache in his neck, the weakness in his legs. Shiki uncrossed them and didn’t wince as pain flared under his right thigh from an old pulled muscle that had never really mended. He cleared his throat.

“I suppose there’s something you want, then,” he said.

“There is,” Orihara agreed. “You must know that Kine is only one in a string of missing people.”

Shiki flicked a glance to the files spread over the coffee table. “I do.”

“The latest of them is my sister.”

This time he leaned forward, rummaging through the papers. He found Orihara Kururi’s face inside; she stood squeezed between—Mairu, he read over the associated file, who couldn’t be anyone but her sister indeed, and a boy with blue hair that he knew from Akabayashi’s tight-lipped musings.

“I hadn’t realized that she was your sister,” he said lowly.

“Orihara isn’t an uncommon family name, and we don’t look much like each other,” Orihara said, sounding bored.

Shiki disagreed. The selfie was recent—taken a week before the girl disappeared—and if anything he was wondering how he hadn’t made the connection beforehand. Orihara Kururi looked something like her brother had the first time they had met. The hair color was wrong and the shape of her face softer—younger—but the resemblance was striking now that he was looking for it.

She’d been missing for almost two days.

“None of them have reappeared anywhere, either dead or alive,” he said, because he didn’t know what else to say. He didn’t know if Orihara would want or accept anything more than this. “She’s probably alive.”

Orihara, it turned out, ignored his words. “I’ve been asked to help look for them,” he said briskly, and God, Shiki hadn’t realized how much he wanted to hear his voice until he had it pressed against his ear. His longing to meet face-to-face with Orihara again was ridiculous. His mouth didn’t shake only because Akabayashi was watching.

He looked at the faces of the missing again, trying to regain his focus.

“I’ve asked for the Headless Rider’s help with finding Kine,” he said, doing his best to ignore the weight of Akabayashi’s eyes. “So far she hasn’t found anything.”

“Neither has my secretary. This is a strange case, isn’t it?” Orihara let out a huff, something close to laughter but a little less controlled than Shiki remembered it. “I’ve heard of a few other strange things happening here since I’ve been gone.”

That answered a question Shiki had been asking himself, then. “So you’re not involved with that Snake Hands… whatever it is.”

“I’m afraid not. I never planned to involve myself with Ikebukuro again.”

Shiki didn’t linger on the sting he felt at those words. “There’s nothing I can tell you about those kidnappings,” he said. “Except for what the courier told me, which I’m sure you already know.”

“I’ve heard some accounts,” Orihara replied vaguely. “Well, either way, thank you, Shiki-san. I wasn’t expecting more than to let you know I’m working on this. Let’s stay in touch while I’m in town. Hopefully we can both find who we’re looking for.”

“Do you think it was them? Snake Hands,” he added for clarity.

He didn’t think it was, but he didn’t want the call to end just yet. While I’m in town sounded too much like Orihara planned to disappear again, gone like a wisp of wind.

“The only thing I know,” Orihara replied, “is that whatever took Kururi wasn’t human.”

There was fear in his voice, mixed in with the loathing.

“Orihara,” Shiki breathed. Damn Akabayashi. “I’m glad you’re alive.”

He wasn’t surprised when only the flat tone of a cut call answered him.

For a moment longer he kept the phone against the side of his face, as if to keep the sound of the man’s voice stuck there. Eventually he let it slide against his neck and put it back in his jacket.

“So,” Akabayashi murmured, interest burning bright on his tongue. “Things are looking up for you, Shiki-no-danna.”

Shiki met his eyes levelly.

The whole apartment was dusty. Izaya had snapped out of the weird dozing-on-and-off sleep he’d fallen into at the station up by the time they reached it. Namie spent the way resenting the tone with which Sozoro, as he’d introduced himself, told her not to wake him.

She wasn’t stupid.

She hadn’t cared to tidy up the place when she had left, so long ago now. Izaya’s things were still spread across the wide living-room, laptop screens invisible through the layers of dust, windows dirtied on the inside even if clean outside. Put in stasis until he returned. The air was stuffy, unbreathable, with a stench that told her with no words that something had been left to rot in the fridge.

Izaya didn’t seem to care much. He made a face when everything he touched clung grey to his fingers, but he chased off Sozoro’s grip on his chair to wheel himself near the windows and take out his phone. He didn’t address more than a look to Namie herself before he was speaking, lowly, into it. His long fingers tapping softly against the armrest.

Sozoro took a laptop out of the bag he was carrying. “I’ll arrange for cleaning,” he told Namie.

“I can do that,” she replied, annoyed for reasons she didn’t know.

The only thing she got in answer was an irritating twist of his lips.

Izaya’s call didn’t last long, but he was hunched over his contact list before Namie could put in a word, still not looking at her, mouth opening only when whoever was on the other side of the line answered.

He did this for most of the day. Barely an hour in two women rang at the door, carrying cleaning supplies and dressed mostly in white, and Sozoro let them in with an agreeable smile. They started cleaning up the place and emptying what needed emptying, gently asking Namie to move when she was in their way, making rage swarm inside her until her throat was stiff with it.

There was nothing to be done, though. She sat down once one of the couches was usable, took out her own laptop and stared at the screen without knowing what to do. Izaya’s Wi-Fi was still running, and the device connected itself to it with no need for her to input the password again. Her inbox was full of messages from Shingen and Emilia, which she ignored.

Seiji had sent her a message to. She stared at it for a long time without understanding why it was there, before she remembered—she hadn’t told him she was leaving.

He wanted to know where she had gone.

Not so long ago she would’ve relished in the sight of it, in the mere concept of Seiji contacting her on his own for nothing more than to know where she was. No messes to clean up or half-dead bodies to hide. Now all Namie felt was the tightness in her chest, regret and shame and something more vulnerable and childish. She closed her laptop with shaking hands.

Izaya was done making calls.

She walked toward him slowly. Sozoro was in the kitchen with the cleaning staff, maybe making a list of things to buy to keep himself and Izaya fed, acting the part of some sort of an outdated butler. Namie stood next to Izaya and watched his face intently as he raised his eyes from the phone in his lap to take in the sights of the city. The sunlit sky was kind on his face; it soothed the imprint of sleeplessness where the station’s harsh lights had exposed it like a raw wound; it burned in his black hair with a hint of red, made his skin look healthier.

“You look like crap,” she said.

He looked at her tiredly. “Pot, kettle.”

She couldn’t help the stretch of her lips at that any more than he could his.

“I told your sister you were back,” she said then, and the light fluttering of a smile on his lips died down promptly. “I don’t think she wants to subject herself to your company, don’t worry.”

“No,” he replied. “I don’t think she does either.”

It almost made her want to tell him how mistaken he was in his assumption of Mairu and Kururi, but she refrained. She didn’t want to be subjected to assumptions about herself and Seiji in return.

The simmer of anger inside her quieted as they watched the city side by side. Namie felt no kinship with Tokyo, no burst of love or rage for the city itself. If anything she had felt more emotion stepping into the stifling air of the apartment than she had landing in Narita. Izaya was different. There was nothing to be seen on his face as he observed the comings and goings of bug-sized people in the streets below, but he must be feeling something.

Anxiety, if nothing else, she thought. She hadn’t spent too long thinking of what she knew of his physical and mental state now, but, well. Heiwajima’s presence earlier had given that away. Perhaps it would’ve surprised others—Kishitani’s son, or the Dullahan—to see him demonstrate such textbook suffering. Choking on his own lungs and passing out from the panic. Heiwajima himself had barely seemed to notice in his fury. But it hadn’t surprised her.

She’d never seen Izaya as anything more than pathetically human.

“I need to work,” he said in the heavy silence.

She nodded. “All right. I’ll let you delay talking to me until you find your sister.” The look he gave her was a warning; she smiled in answer, satisfaction rumbling in her belly, foul and comforting. “Don’t think I’ll let you escape feeling every bit as uncomfortable as I feel, Izaya.”

“You’re so cruel, Namie-san,” he sighed, leaning back with a flourish. “And here I thought the sight of my person would be enough to deter you from… whatever it is you’re trying to do.”

“I did forget how unsightly you are. Physically and otherwise.”

“Does the wheelchair make it worse?” he teased, glancing at her from the corner of his eyes.

She laughed, humor as nasty on her tongue as sugar. “Somehow, it suits you.”

It was even true. The thing looked nothing short of a throne with the way Izaya sprawled in it.

Izaya’s amusement cooled after that. The way he turned his head to look at her had a sort of finality to it, and Namie tensed, knowing that she wouldn’t like whatever was about to come out of his mouth.


“Drop the honorific,” she cut in.

He startled, eyebrows raised. Namie’s hand clenched around the hold she had on her opposing elbow, fingers pressing against bone through the soft of her shirt, and she steeled herself for the poison he was sure to deliver in answer.

She never knew what he would’ve said—perhaps neither of them did—because someone knocked on the front door right as Izaya opened his mouth.

Mikado wasn’t trying to collect information. What he got out of Aoba on a good day was enough to satiate the part of him that he thought would always crave more than what he had; meeting far-eyed Mizuchi Yahiro, seeing the scars on his hands and the videos taken of him fighting Heiwajima Shizuo and leveling a whole group in one night, had also soothed him. Mikado contented himself with talking to the boy and talking to Aoba. He filled himself with the stories Anri told of her rare clients and Masaomi of his travels to find things for her to sell. School occupied the rest of his time.

Maybe pushing Mizuchi forward had been a bad idea. But seeing Izaya’s name on the boy’s phone and a glimpse of their conversation… he couldn’t have resisted if his life depended on it. Aoba hating him was an unfortunate outcome, but not one he regretted entirely.

He didn’t think Aoba could stay away from him for long anyway.

Now, however, and despite his best attitude, there was a piece of information at the front of his thoughts that he didn’t know what to do with; and with it, the echo of a rumor online, of Heiwajima Shizuo making a ruckus at Narita train station this morning in a way that had become uncharacteristic for a year and a half. Putting the pieces together was any fool’s job, he thought.

Mikado had never actually gone to see Izaya in person. He had the man’s business card, old as it was. He had kept it in his wallet ever since he’d met the man for the first time. It held an address and phone number; the phone number had been dead, so.

Address it was.

He walked the way from the underground station on jittery legs. Shinjuku was less busy with activity during working hours, but more people were outside because of the warm fall sun. The building he found at the address was nondescript enough, if a bit on the expensive side, he mused, eyeing the tall glass windows on the uppermost floors. He entered the lobby with no need for a code. A guardian was there, sweeping the floor, and when Mikado asked her, she said, “Saw him get back this morning. Wonder where he was all this time.” Then, in a curious-suspicious voice: “He’s in a wheelchair now.”

Mikado didn’t know what to make of that except try and calm the shaking of his hands.

He’s really back.

The person who opened the door to him was an old man with gentle features; his eyes swept over Mikado’s body with the intensity of an x-ray machine for a few seconds too long before he stepped aside to allow him entrance.

“You’ve got a visitor, Izaya-dono,” he called lightly.

Mikado stepped into a wide-lit living room that smelled a little strongly of detergent and lemon; he found Izaya sitting by the window, his face struck dumb by surprise, open-mouthed and, as always, striking.

And then he glanced sideways and met the furious eyes of Yagiri Namie.

You,” she spat out, and Mikado tensed all the way to his nape, swallowing nervously. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I—er,” Mikado said. He looked back at Izaya before he could help it. “Is this a bad time?”

Izaya was still looking at him as if he’d seen a ghost, which did nothing to appease the surge of wonder in Mikado. Eventually he regained his countenance, because his lips thinned into a white line and his gaze became sharper, and Mikado felt all of a sudden as if he were fifteen and standing in front of a helpful stranger. Masaomi tense as a bow beside him, the light of midday shining in Izaya’s hair and on the young, amused lines of his face.

“Mikado-kun,” he said lowly—Mikado swallowed again, for the shiver than ran up his spine, joy or fear or something similar.

“Ah, I really hope I’m not interrupting,” Mikado answered. His voice was shaking, but there was nothing to be done about it.

He looked between Izaya and Yagiri hesitantly; Yagiri was glaring murder at him, arms crossed in front of her chest. She looked more disheveled than he remembered her to be. The shirt she wore was rumpled, her hair in disarray. Her eyes sunk deep and the skin around them bruised.

“I don’t know how many more surprises I can deal with today,” Izaya muttered almost inaudibly.

It made Yagiri snort.

“Sorry,” Mikado tried again. “I just… heard that there was an altercation with Shizuo-san this morning—” he saw the line of their shoulders tense, Yagiri’s face growing even darker, and he hurried to add, “and, with what I’ve heard of the situation… I thought you might be here, Izaya-san.”

Izaya examined him for a moment. Mikado tried not to shuffle on his feet and to ignore the glee tensing his stomach into inextricable knots, almost more potent than nausea. Behind him the old man was moving, his steps light onto the wooden floor, and he made no comment at all.

Finally, Izaya exhaled. He leaned back into the wheelchair—which Mikado was only now noticing. His forehead was still marred by a single line of tension, but when he spoke, his voice was even. “What do you want, Mikado-kun? I’m a little busy.”

“I heard about your sister,” Mikado said too fast, and watched attentively for a sign of anything on Izaya’s face. He didn’t find it. “And… I knew Mizuchi-kun was trying to contact you, so…”

Izaya’s attention sparked at this, and Yagiri’s as well. “Mizuchi Yahiro?” he asked.

Mikado nodded, nerves alight. He pushed his glasses up his nose. “He’s my junior at Raira.”

Izaya and Yagiri exchanged a look.

“Anyway.” The scars on Mikado’s torso were starting to ache, a stretching sort of burn, as they always did when he stood for too long. “I’ve come across something… I’m not sure how useful it’ll be, but, it’s come up a few times. Maybe it’ll be useful in finding her.”

“Are you offering me information?” Izaya’s smile was sharp enough to cut.

Mikado blushed. “Sort of?”

“Are you for real?” Yagiri commented, disgust evident on her voice. “Do you still not realize—”

Izaya raised a hand in her direction, and she shut up with a snarl. “I’m simply wondering, Mikado-kun,” he said. His voice dragged softly over the words in a way that used to make Mikado’s face warm and still now threatened to. “Why would you offer information to the person who ruined your life?”

“Izaya,” Yagiri seethed.

“You didn’t ruin my life,” Mikado said, blinking. Yagiri shot him a white-hot glare, but he paid her no mind. “I think I mostly did that by myself.”

“Maybe,” Izaya replied. He dragged a leg up, crossing it over the other, some flicker of discomfort running over his face as he did and disappearing just as fast. “What of Kida-kun’s life, then?”

Mikado couldn’t help the downward twist of his mouth. “I…”

“I’m sure you know by now,” Izaya continued. “Saki has never minded talking. If he didn’t tell you, then she must have.” His smile was cold. “Or are they still in exile together, afraid I’ll come running?”

He laughed loudly at his own joke, and Mikado stood there awkwardly, not knowing how to react. Should he laugh too? He didn’t think it was appropriate, considering the wheelchair.

Thankfully, Yagiri seemed to have reached her maximum tolerance for humor, because she snapped her fingers into Izaya’s face. He jumped in his seat, breath catching; for a second his face seemed lost between joy and utter disbelief, and then he looked at her with a frown.

Mikado cleared his throat. “Masaomi is… dealing. I think. He’s not back, no.” He gave a shaky smile. “Actually, this is also part of the reason I’m here.”

“I don’t have time to deal with any more of Kida-kun’s troubles,” Izaya said.

“Not even when you caused all of them?” Mikado asked.

“Not even then.” Izaya looked amused but bored.

The fact that Mikado felt no more animosity for the man after this admission must reflect poorly on him as a person, he thought vaguely. “Well, I’m still going to tell you what I know.”

“You’re an idiot,” Yagiri muttered.

“Now, Namie,” Izaya said without looking at her. “You heard him. He doesn’t think I ruined his life.”

She chuckled dryly. “Sure. How are the stab wounds, Ryuugamine?” she asked snidely.

Mikado’s chest flared with pain as if to answer her. “I could tell you something else if you don’t believe me,” he said quickly. “What I have is only a name—a nickname, even, not a full name or anything—it’s just.” He swallowed. “It came up in Aoba-kun’s own search. I don’t think he would want me to tell you that.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Izaya drawled.

“But if it’s not enough…” Mikado paused. That was the part he wasn’t too sure about, but if it ended up giving him what he wanted, he was willing to make the sacrifice.

He looked up at Izaya again. “You’ve heard of Snake Hands, right?” he asked. When Izaya nodded, he continued: “I could tell you who it is.”

There was interest there, he thought, looking at the handsome lines of Izaya’s face, the flutter of excitement at the corner of his mouth. His eyes were almost cutting. He didn’t know who Mizuchi was yet, then. That was good. It gave Mikado some advantage.

“You’ve been busy,” Izaya said airily. “Planning on taking up my mantle?”

Mikado blushed furiously. “No! I’m staying out of all of this—”

Izaya laughed again, bright and curt. “Of course you are,” he said in good humor. “Still, giving me twice the amount for nothing in return? Your flair for business is terrible, Mikado-kun.”

“It’s not business,” Mikado muttered, face still warm. “And it isn’t for nothing either. I just need you here for a while.”

“What for?”

“To draw Masaomi back.”

Izaya was silent.

Mikado licked his lips, and worried the bottom one with his teeth for a second, latching onto the bitten-raw skin there. “He’ll come back if you’re here,” he continued. “Because he’s terrified of you, and he thinks I’m ready to follow you everywhere and let you spin me around like a toy or something.”

“Good thing he doesn’t know about your attempt at making me follow you,” Izaya said quietly, and Mikado’s face flushed once more, though the man’s tone wasn’t mocking. “I’m not going to contact him,” Izaya went on with no hesitation. “Or any of your little friends.”

“You don’t need to,” Mikado urged. “The news of you being here—alive—he’ll know soon enough.”

The old man’s voice rang behind him, making all three of them jump: “Too bad for your plans of staying unnoticed, Izaya-dono.”

Izaya was looking up in annoyance now, fingers tightening over the armrest of the chair.

“Did you really think no one would notice you being back?” Mikado asked after a second of stupor. “I know some people were expecting it.”

“Is that the idea behind all of this?” Izaya replied, irritated. “A bunch of teenagers bullying me into dealing with their issues?”

“Serves you right,” Yagiri commented.

“You should be kinder to the disabled, Namie.”

She threw him a look so loaded with disgust that Mikado felt it crawl up his back in a shudder.

He had known that Yagiri Namie was working for Izaya, but he hadn’t met with her since that day in the crowd of the Dollars’ first meeting and hadn’t been contacted by her since the mess with the gun either. He made use of the uneasy silence to look between the two of them and wonder at the sort of relationship they had. They didn’t act like lovers or friends did.

Yet there was awareness between them, in the way they slipped glances toward each other as if to make sure the other hadn’t vanished into thin air in the seconds they weren’t looking.

In the end Izaya was the one to speak again, leveling a gentler stare with Mikado. “I’m not interested in that new urban legend of yours. I’ll take the name for now, Mikado-kun.”

“And you’ll stay?” Mikado asked hopefully.

Izaya sighed. “Long enough to be noticed by a few more people, I’m sure.”

“Okay.” His nerves seemed to settle at last. “The name Aoba-kun heard of was Lizard. I’m not sure how much help it’ll be, but…”

He trailed off. There had been a glimpse of understanding on Izaya’s face for a fraction of time, barely perceptible.

As if to mask it, Izaya smiled mockingly in his direction. “Very well. Sozoro will see you out, Mikado-kun, and I hope you don’t take it personally when I ask you not to come by again.”

“Of course,” Mikado replied hesitantly. “I hope you find your sister, Izaya-san.”

His chest was hurting badly now. He was thinking of the way back as he turned around and met the eagle-sharp eyes of the man named Sozoro, wondering if he’d manage to find a seat on the train or if he would have to spend the ride hunched over and trying not to pull at the sensitive scars littering him. The night promised to be painful.

“Mikado-kun,” Izaya called.

Mikado stopped and look back.

Izaya’s face was… maybe not pensive. Far-away. Like a veil had been placed between them. “A word of advice,” he said softly. “You give away more than you think. I’m letting you off easily because I’m fond of you, but don’t think next time I won’t take advantage of how green you are.”

I haven’t let the truth about Mizuchi-kun slip out, have I? Mikado thought, queasiness gripping him in the stomach. “I’m not an information broker, Izaya-san,” he replied as pleasantly as he could.

“No, you’re not,” Izaya replied. “But it’s always a good idea to keep what you know under lock and key. And you know a lot.”

He didn’t.

Mikado wasn’t into the thick of things anymore. He was happy at school, happy with Anri, content with watching Aoba sink deeper into a world that Mikado had realized was not meant for him. He sated the bottomless hole in himself with the margins of the unknown and grabbed life with both hands, day after day, goal after goal.

He just thought it might be easier to fool himself into believing it if Masaomi was by his side.

Thinking of the push he had given to make the present situation happen—something Izaya didn’t have an inkling of—he said: “Welcome back, Izaya-san.”

The smile on his face was plump with nerve and delight. It was the kind of smile that had made sweat shine on Aoba’s brow, once upon a time.

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