“It’s a formal kind of event,” Tom had said over the phone. Shizuo barely recalled Tom’s apologies after that, whispered in his hoarse, sick voice. It was a wonder Tom had called at all rather than using texts, with how much his throat must ache. “Ah, don’t forget to dress a little smartly. It’s not a big deal but the big boss wants us to.”
Shizuo had spent most of the firm’s anniversary party standing silently in a corner and wearing the one pair of dress pants he owned that hadn’t come from Kasuka.
He had bought it for his aunt’s funeral a year ago, but no one needed to know that.
He could feel his colleagues’ wary looks like glue on his skin. Not one of them except for Vorona had bothered to talk to him. Shizuo didn’t know why Vorona had come either—he wasn’t sure she was an employee, exactly. She just followed him around with a frown on her face.
She was frowning right now. Right by his side. An untouched flute of bad champagne in one hand, the other hovering by her hip, where she must have concealed a knife. She was receiving looks too, he thought, because the other women present were all wearing dresses, but the most she had done to make herself presentable was switch to pants instead of shorts and wear pretty heeled shoes.
Vorona glared at him. Brought the champagne to her nose, sniffed it, and took it down again. Shizuo watched her fidget for another minute without knowing what to do.
“I wish I could fucking smoke,” he muttered.
“Denied,” Vorona replied lowly. “We cannot leave this place until ten.”
“I know that.”
He didn’t even feel hungry. The dining room had been rented for the evening and the chairs and tables displaced. Rows of appetizers and pastries were aligned against the wall opposite theirs, but if Shizuo considered the pastries for a moment, he didn’t feel like crossing the distance to reach them and subjecting himself to colleagues he never talked to shuffling away in fear.
It pissed him off to even think about it.
“What do they think is gonna happen?” he asked no one. “I’m not going to punch open a wall. No one’s given me reason to.”
“Uncertain whether they are aware of this,” Vorona said. She hit her nail against the glass, and the sound it made sounded bad even to Shizuo’s ears. Her face didn’t change, but her eyes grew colder and more disgusted. “You have a reputation, senpai.”
“I wouldn’t if it weren’t for—” Shizuo shut his mouth. His nerves were alight, making him feel as though his skin was ready to jump off his body, and it took several long breaths before he managed to reign in his anger.
He did know why he had a reputation. He knew he couldn’t blame Izaya for all of it either.
“Shit,” he whispered. “I wish Tom-san wasn’t sick.”
“Only with a cold. Estimated time before recovery is five days.”
“That’s five days too long.”
It was only nine. They had only been here for half an hour. Shizuo kept his eyes locked to the wall’s old-looking clock until the room around him blurred out and he had to blink, and still the silver pointers never moved. He brought a hand up, lost an eternity playing with the knot of his bowtie and threatening to undo it.
And still the silver pointers never moved.
“The clock is broken,” Vorona offered.
In the end, Shizuo lasted until ten minutes before ten. He downed half of a bottle of coke—set next to the pastries for the very few children brought here by their parents—and stuck a cigarette between his teeth before he was even outside, lighting it quickly. The smoke tasted weird on his tongue after this amount of sugar, making him feel as if his mouth was dry again, and hot, angry blood took off in his veins at the thought.
He took off his bowtie and popped opened the first buttons of his white shirt.
It wasn’t even cold. There was no reason Tom should have fallen sick at this time of the year. The night was still bright at the edges despite the hours, the sky never truly dark because of the city underneath. Shizuo hadn’t realized quite how sweaty he was. When the first cool breeze hit his face, he felt the skin of his damp neck shiver.
Someone put a hand on his shoulder briefly. Shizuo turned his head and saw Vorona, who was apparently as inclined as he was to follow protocol. She was opening her collar as well, and Shizuo had to look away again before his eyes could linger on the skin she was baring.
He cleared his throat. “Let’s go home,” he said.
“Require sustenance,” Vorona replied. “It has been ten hours since my last meal.”
“You want to find a restaurant now?” But Vorona was already walking ahead of him, taking a tie out of her pockets and gathering up her hair. Shizuo’s eyes lingered onto her nape, which looked as damp as his own. “Vorona,” he called. She didn’t look back. “Whatever. Let’s just go to Simon’s.”
She walked quickly, despite the needle-like heels of her pointy shoes. Shizuo kept going back to the shoes. He never noticed what she wore usually, because she was so fast on her feet and he didn’t have much reason to look at her other than because she was looking at him with that weird, focused glow in her eyes. Shizuo wasn’t in the habit of ogling his coworkers.
He did like the shoes, though.
The way to Russia Sushi was quiet. Vorona didn’t say a word or do anything other than fan herself slightly with one of the fliers that had been around the appetizers. The strands of her hair that were too short to be tied back with the rest flew around her face when she did that.
Shizuo was still trying very hard not to look to his side when he pushed open the doors to the parlor. “Welcome,” came Simon’s voice, and he was immediately in front of them, one of his hands crushing Shizuo’s shoulder.
Shizuo smiled tightly. “Simon. Can we get something to eat quickly?”
“Of course,” Simon replied. He was smiling at Vorona, but his eyes were amused rather than kind when he looked at Shizuo. “One private booth for the bird lovers.”
“You mean lovebirds,” Dennis commented from the counter.
Simon shifted on his feet, too quick for Shizuo to parry once he was behind him instead of in front—and Simon pushed him and Vorona forward and toward the booth at the very end of the dining room, right by the kitchen’s entrance. “I can walk,” he muttered. He had to manually stop his pace with his hands pushing against the side of the table. Simon looked like he was ready to throw him onto it if necessary.
Simon left them with a couple cryptic words, probably meant to tell them that they should decide on their order. Shizuo closed his menu card without looking at it—he already knew there was nothing here for him to eat.
He hated sushi.
Vorona took a long time to browse her own card. “Haven’t you worked here?” Shizuo asked her. There was a tiny red mark on her face. He thought it might have been from the punch she barely avoided earlier during the day.
“I did not. There was no pay involved.”
“Simon said he had you do a bunch of things around the place.”
Vorona closed the menu slowly. “You should trust Simon less,” was all she said.
Whatever that meant.
Simon himself was quick enough to come back, eyes so heavy with suggestion that even Shizuo couldn’t ignore it. Vorona’s order came in with little wait—and it seemed to be way more food than she had really ordered. Shizuo stopped counting everything after Simon informed them that dessert would be coming soon.
It was late. The restaurant was mostly empty. The ridiculous chandeliers above their heads painted everything gold, and their light shone the sharpest on Vorona’s hair as she ate. It looked almost white save for the streaks of bright yellow that hit Shizuo’s eyes when she moved.
“Enquiring after your status,” Vorona said all of a sudden.
It took a moment for Shizuo to understand that she meant, Is there something wrong?
“Uh.” He knew his face was hot. “No, I’m alright. Just keep eating.”
Vorona took something from one of the plates in front of her. He almost jumped out of his skin when she touched his hand—he opened it by instinct, as if his body knew better than his brain that he was safer when open-palmed—and she put cookies into it.
“For you.” Her face looked warmer now, but he couldn’t be sure.
Shizuo’s hand closed around the food slowly. “They make cookies here?” he said, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Dennis is adept at them.”
Vorona raised a hand to brush aside a lock of her hair. Her eyes went back and forth between Shizuo’s hand and his face for a second; then she let out a sound, closer to a light-hearted scoff than he had ever heard from her before, and she ate again.
The corners of her lips were raised. It wasn’t a smile, exactly; but her entire face looked softer because of it.