Izaya is many things, but one thing he isn’t is lonely, and one thing he never will be is desperate. They call him informant and they call him ruthless, and he is. He’s worked toward this appellation until he was shrouded in it, thick as armor on his skin, long before Yodogiri Jinnai uttered it in his low-lit office and the word caught on camera and spread like dust on drapes. He’s thirty-three now. He’s solid as a rock. When they say his name it only comes after the comment, like ruthless is what his parents called him and Orihara Izaya is only an afterthought.
There’s a man waiting in line at the mediocre coffee shop Izaya’s been sitting in for hours, and he’s the most beautiful person he has ever seen.
Mikage snaps her fingers in his face when he doesn’t answer her chatter for too long not to be insulting. Izaya rips his eyes away from veiny forearms and long-fingered hands to look back at the frown she’s wearing.
“Earth to Izaya,” she says, irritation clear in her voice. “You could at least fucking pretend to listen when I’m talking to you.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” he answers. His hand is warm around his cup, a second service long cooled by time and lack of attention. If he tightens his grip he can still imagine the painful tingles of heat into his palm.
She scoffs at him. “You never have fun.”
“I do,” he protests. “The proof is right here, in my spending an afternoon per month with you as if we’re friends. That’s easily the funniest thing of my week.”
There’s an old trace of hurt on her face; for a fleeting second she looks like the teenager he remembers, brash and boyish and utterly unattractive despite her best attempts to catch his attention. Then it’s gone, caught into shadows at her thinner chin and now lined face. She looks infinitely more terrifying now.
Izaya glances back at man in the line. He doesn’t fidget on his feet despite the twenty minutes he’s been standing, doesn’t play with his hands or take out his phone to check idly through apps and messages. His hair is bleached a very light blond, fitting for a student more than an adult, but Izaya sips his lukewarm tea and thinks to himself that nothing about him screams of immaturity. Quite the opposite.
“I wanted to know how you’re doing,” Mikage says.
Izaya puts down his cup. “I’m doing fine, Mikage-chan.”
“Drop the chan. And you always say that.”
He glances at her, but she doesn’t look disappointed so much as unsurprised.
“I’m not lying,” and then, because she rolls her eyes, he adds, “I’m really not. I don’t know why you keep expecting me to break into tears every time you drag me here.”
“You haven’t kept in touch with anyone besides me,” she replies instantly, rehearsed and familiar. “From whatever I can bribe out of Yagiri you never see anyone, period. And even after all this time, you still refuse to call me your friend.”
“We’re not friends,” Izaya says. He toys with the unused spoon by his cup with the tip of a finger.
“Then what are we?” she asks.
He smiles. “Something that never happened, but which you still cling to in the hope it does.”
She reddens a little with anger. The line advances, and the man steps forward all the way to the counter at last. There are too many people around for Izaya to hear his voice—the shop is crowded at this hour, with salarymen taking their breaks and mothers arriving en masse to pick up their progeny at the school on the other side of the street. The line extends all the way outside and further still along the sidewalk, so that the view is blocked from all windows by strangers rocking back and forth on aching feet. The food may be bad, but the owners couldn’t have picked a better spot. There’s no shop of the same kind around to attract better-advised clientele.
“You should let go of this,” Izaya says, looking at her once more. She’s managed to control the surge of blood that always paints her red with frustration, but her eyes are dark, her shoulders tense. “You think I’m not serious when I say this, but I’d much rather have you out of my life than in.”
Pity tenses the corner of her mouth. “I’m not pining for you, asshole. I finished mourning about that way before high school ended and you dropped off the surface of the Earth.”
“I was busy.” He leans back in his chair and looks at the greenish ceiling. The paint is flaking in places from humidity.
“For eight years?”
The man with bleached hair is paying now, and wrapping a hand around the plastic cup the woman at the counter gave him. He winces a little at the heat, pulls the handle of his bag back up his shoulder in a fluid movement; Izaya makes a noise of appreciation low in his throat, and Mikage finally catches onto what’s been stealing his attention away from her.
“Is that—is that Heiwajima you’re ogling?”
Izaya stares back at her. “Who?”
She gestures to the front of the line where the stranger is gathering his change one-handed. There’s no mistaking who she’s pointing to. “Heiwajima. His daughter trains at our dojo.”
Disappointment runs through Izaya like ice, instantaneous and a little dizzying. “Oh.”
Mikage watches him intently for a moment. Then she smiles. “This is great, actually,” she declares.
“What is?” he tries to reply, but she’s leaning away from him and to the side, and she calls, “Heiwajima!” sudden and loud so the sound carries to where the man in question is standing.
Any remnant of hope Izaya might have mustered vanishes when his head turns whip-fast in answer to her voice, too pinpoint to belong to the curious patrons blinking around in surprise after Mikage’s outburst. Heiwajima grabs his cup again and walks to them carefully, sidestepping stray feet and the odd baby chair on his way to their table. This close Izaya can see the blue veins inside his wrist where his skin is paler than the rest of his arm and the way fabric stretches across the breadth of his shoulders.
“Hey,” he says to Mikage. His voice is deep and soft, as if it wouldn’t know what to do with a scream if ever it came upon it. Izaya feels his stomach tense on warmth.
“You here to pick up Akane?”
Heiwajima looks above their table to the glimpses of street he can catch between the people queueing outside. “Yeah. I got here early, so I figured I’d get something warm to drink. It’s still cold out there.”
“Best time of the year,” she replies amiably. “This is Orihara Izaya, by the way.”
Heiwajima looks at him with a start. “Oh, sorry. I’m Heiwajima Shizuo.”
He takes his hand out of the grip he has on his bag to grab Izaya’s, and Izaya feels shivers run up his arm to the crook of his neck under the controlled pressure of his fingers. “Pleasure,” he says, perhaps too honestly. Heiwajima stares at him a little too hard, shakes his hand a little too long.
He has a daughter, Izaya reminds himself.
Mikage smiles, taunting, behind Heiwajima’s back.
“Stay with us for a while?” she offers. “It’s not four yet.”
“That’d be great.” He grabs unseeingly at the unoccupied chair next to her and sits down with a sigh.
“Bad day at the office?” Mikage asks kindly.
Heiwajima doesn’t look like he belongs behind a desk, Izaya thinks. From how tan the skin of his arms and face is, he would’ve guessed construction.
“Sort of. Had to redo my entire run this morning because the new intern fucked up the order.” He catches the confusion on Izaya’s face and smiles briefly before explaining, “I’m a postman.”
“Fascinating.” He’s not even trying to hide how true that is, at this point.
“Isn’t Akane supposed to come by the dojo today?” Mikage says. “She’s there Tuesdays and Fridays, right?”
“Nah, I’m taking her to see her dad today.”
Izaya’s hand tightens around his cup, cold tea spilling over the edge. “What?” he says eloquently.
Heiwajima makes a face, like the memory of embarrassment is pulling his features along even without actual feeling behind it. “She’s adopted,” he says.
“Her real name’s Awakusu Akane,” Mikage adds. She twirls her spoon inside her empty cup, and her eyes never leave Izaya’s.
There’s no way for Mikage to know exactly how much this information carries to Izaya. If anything she must think he knows of Awakusu Mikiya’s fall by fame, because his name had been all over every newspaper for almost three months between his arrest and his trial four years ago. There’s no way for her to know the part Izaya played in it.
Still, he feels something foreboding spread through his veins in stead of his blood, and with sudden clarity he can remember the pixellated picture of a child in an online article, clad in a black dress and standing alone in a sea of adults at the courtroom, as if she was on her way to a funeral. For someone this young, the difference might not have been obvious.
Izaya never cared to know what became of Mikiya’s only daughter. Clearly, he thinks, eyeing the open collar of Heiwajima’s shirt and the soft-looking skin of his throat, he should have.
“So what do you work in?” Heiwajima asks him, probably taking his silence for malaise.
“Career advice,” Izaya replies. Mikage chokes slightly on her breath.
Heiwajima looks confused, but he doesn’t ask any more questions about Izaya’s job after that. The next few minutes are spent without Izaya’s incentive, Heiwajima and Mikage chatting softly about Akane’s friends and Mikage’s family, a background noise soothing enough for Izaya to focus on filling himself with the sight of a very attractive man he will never approach again. When the worn clock on the wall beside them hits five to four Heiwajima stands up to leave.
“It was nice seeing you,” he tells Mikage. Then, to Izaya: “Nice meeting you, Orihara.”
“Nice meeting you too,” Izaya smiles, with too much honesty not to be blatant.
Heiwajima’s mouth fits itself into a grin, rips the skin around his eyes into tiny lines of happiness and warmth like his entire face was made for the single purpose of translating joy unto others, and Izaya flushes all at once, body and mind and heart, tongue dry in his mouth and fingers shaking lightly in his lap.
This is, he thinks, what being desperate feels like.