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“Beware, my body and my soul, beware above all of crossing your arms and assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator.”

 

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“It was so wonderful to make your acquaintance.”

 

“The pleasure was all mine.”

 

A woman he barely knows smiles endearingly as they vote on their phones, then part ways. She smiles like she means it, and Light tucks away her expression so he can use it for another time. If he uses the same one too often it starts to feel stale. Sayu has called him out on it before, and he doesn’t want anyone else to pick up on it.

 

Condescension incites resentment, and Three Star votes from too many people will start to chip away at his progress.

 

That is unacceptable, especially when correction and new habits are cultivated so easily.

 

-

 

Sayu giggles, obnoxiously loud, at something that the waiter says at dinner. The other patrons grimace and glower at her, but she doesn’t take any notice. After the third time, even the more polite customers have downvoted her for disrupting their meals.

 

Both of his parents are gently disapproving, but less than appropriate for the level of disruption she has caused.

 

Didn’t they notice they’ve been ranked lowly as well? He has too, but he also makes an effort to toss secret, apologetic expressions to the offended, and so he is left mostly unmarred.

 

Light sighs softly and swipes his thumb over to the Five Stars, and she manages to maintain her 3.4 standing, just barely. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. She’ll never get above a Four with that attitude, but neither of his parents have either.

 

He does not understand them, but empathy is a staple of a society entrenched in sociality, and so he must pretend to.

 

-

 

The admission office at To-Oh calls him the day after he hits 4.2 Stars to let him know that his second year will be at a discount. Even a perfect score on the entrance exam and top scores in every class were not enough accrue such benefits.

 

It’s tedious, he knows, but it’s so easy . Why wouldn’t he play along if it means he has more impact on the world around him? The higher his ranking, the more his votes are worth.

 

To the world, not to him, but the higher he climbs the more conducive to success it is to assume the same standards in himself.

 

-

 

In Japan, Children are issued their phones and coordinating display contacts when they are fourteen, officially, but parents are allowed to give them to their children at any age. This means that children of parents who can afford the system earlier have a head start.

 

It isn’t fair, but Light is beginning to realize that few things are.

 

A few months after receiving his own phone, Light has memorized the rankings of everyone in his school, an organized social pyramid forming in his head.

 

Takahashi is a known bully in his class, and they have clashed over the years on the occasion that Light catches him at his bad behavior. Despite his low class demeanor, has one of the highest rankings in school. His feed shows pictures of him in his luxurious home, his high end gaming system, his father’s garage full of souped up cars.

 

On the way home one afternoon, he watches Takahashi shove Ito into the brick wall of the science building. He pauses instinctively, and Takahashi meets his eyes. He stills too, eyes narrowing. Ito seems to relax when he sees Light there, swallowing hard.

 

Light’s eyes flicker to Ito’s ranking (disgracefully low) and then away. He keeps walking.

 

Takahashi gives him Five Stars a few minutes later, and Light returns the favor with barely a glance. He gives Ito a Five Star Ranking too, but he knows it won’t put a dent in his subpar votes. Ito is awkward to the point of being a little creepy, and most girls in his glass find his presence alone to be a detriment to the environment. His best hope for moderate success in life is to find a group of other unsociable outcasts to Five Star him frequently to keep a semblance of decency.

 

Ito gives him Five Stars back. Light is briefly perplexed, but eventually comes to the conclusion that he is likely the only person of a higher Ranking to give Ito Five Stars. It wouldn’t be smart to ruin even that tenuous tie to someone like Light.

 

The system makes sense to him, so he thrives, and there is no reason to question it.

 

-

 

No matter how elite the University, there are still only a handful of students on par with his rank. Light is kind enough to fraternize with a few of the higher Threes, especially those with the potential to be more, but if he’s going to make it to 4.7 by the time he graduates, he has to start mingling with those above him.

 

Kiyomi Takada was born to parents that maintain a steady 4.8 Rating, and as such her own score exceeds even Light’s. He learns that she received her phone when she was ten, though she only says so after they’ve known each other for several weeks, and with a modesty that is very close to genuine.

 

She likes it when he compares her to other girls, especially when it comes to her intellect. He tags her in photos when he visits museums or libraries or coffee shops, appealing to the part of her that wishes they were there together. Takada is infatuated with him, but seems to have a rule about only dating those above her station. She looks at him sometimes, patient and warm, like she’s egging him on, encouraging his climb. Light pretends to chase, and doesn’t push, both of which she appreciates.

 

In turn, he appreciates the consistent, almost religious, nature of her votes.

 

He hits 4.3 in the middle of the night, the celebratory chime waking him. He can’t manage to get back to sleep that night, too full of plans to keep and secure his new status.

 

-

 

There are three foreigners sitting at one of the tables outside of a cafe. A glance at their Rating is almost unnecessary given how odd they look, together and in contrast to their surroundings. One is in all leather, another in some sort of striped punk attire, and the third in pajamas . None of them look particularly happy to be there, even though Light happens to be fond of this particular cafe.

 

Not as much anymore.

 

What they’re doing here Light doesn’t know, but he doesn’t linger on them. He walks passed them, intent on ignoring them, but ends up nearly tripping on one of their boots.

 

If they’d had their legs beneath the table where they belong -

 

“Watch it,” the blond one snaps, before pulling the cigarette out of his companion’s lips to take his own drag. The display disgusts Light to a degree even he thinks might be overdoing it.

 

Light briefly narrows his eyes, before letting his face falls slack, apologetic.

 

He apologizes, gives a curt bow and turns away, heading inside for his coffee. He won’t let a group of Sub Two delinquents intimidate him out of it. While he waits for his order, he aims his phone at the back of the leather-clad one’s head.

 

Mello Keld, his Bio says. There are a few pictures of him with a cat, on a motorcycle, with the goggled man who he’d stolen the cigarette  from. Somewhat sparse, and nothing of interest. Probably a criminal.

 

He hears the blond mutter, “the fuck? ” behind him when Light gives him a 3 Star Rating on his way out. It isn’t low enough for him to complain about, and reflects the less than pleasant interaction. It also raises Mello’s score minutely, which is just as condescending as Light intended.

 

Mello rates him One Star back. It’s rude, but it does almost nothing to Light’s Rank.

 

-

 

It’s a wonder that Matsuda has made it as far as he has in the NPA, and a large part of it is due to Soichiro taking him under his wing. His father has always been something of a sucker for the stupid, earnest sort.

 

“Ahh, Light, you’re so lucky to have been born with this system in play,” Matsuda laments, his mouth pulling into an exaggerated frown.

 

Light asks if he’d been a teenager at the time, though he knows Matsuda was actually twenty when the Rankings started. Matsuda likes being known for his youth, and he always responds well when Light treats him like he’s younger than he is. It’s a trick that works with women almost across the board, he’s learned, and Matsuda responds in much the same pleasantly surprised way.

 

“Errr, something like that? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but it’s just so hard to keep up! It’s like, I spill one coffee on the wrong person, or I’m too awkward on a date, or - or - I don’t know, anything. I almost got up to a Four this time but…”

 

He nods, having already noticed the low Three that Matsuda had fallen to in just the last few days. Apparently he’d messed up some paperwork that had ended up collapsing a case that the rest of his team, mostly Fours Ups, were rather unhappy about. They had managed to get most of the office in a disgruntled mood about it.

 

“It happened so fast...I’m kinda dreading work tomorrow.”

 

Perhaps if you hadn’t made such a grade school error -

 

He’ll recover from the damage. At least, that’s what Light tells him. He mostly believes it, but it could take a year or two to regain the progress he’s lost, especially if the other officers are intent on holding a grudge rather than just warped discipline.

 

Matsuda comes over for dinner at least once a week in the following months, more often than he had previously. He doesn’t say it’s for Light’s consistent Five Star Rankings.

 

He doesn’t need to - that’s just how these things work. Light can’t blame him for trying.

 

-

 

The coffee shop loiterers are there again. Not that they are often, but when they are, Light can’t help but notice. This time they have a fourth member, one who is just as strikingly weird as the rest. Slovenly, long legs crunched into his seat with him, barefoot.

 

“Looks like someone learned to put one foot in front of the other.”

 

The new one tilts his head, curious, when Mello drawls the adolescent remark. Light holds in a sigh. It’s Autumn, and too cold to sit outside. He has to stand near the table they’re sitting at to wait for his coffee.

 

He merely inclines his head in answer, but his jaw tightens. He gives Mello another Three Star, and he isn’t surprised by the One Star he gets back. The pale one doesn’t look up from his phone at all, and the one with goggles looks away, securing his earbuds. The new one has the lowest ranking of them all, and Light isn’t even sure he’s seen a Sub One outside of soon-to-be-prisoners.

 

The tall, hunched one, Hideki Ryuga, rates him with Five Stars, and gives him a little grin when Light’s eyes flicker to him in surprise. He’s holding his phone between his thumb precariously, as if he has no worry that it might fall and break.

 

Since this means so much to you, that smile seems to say, and Light has never wanted to feel someone’s nose on his knuckles more than right that moment.

 

He smiles back, a bit too sharply, and swipes over to Five Stars in turn before he leaves.

 

-

 

It starts as such a stupid mistake, although he doesn’t think of it in such terms at the time.

 

“Excuse me, could you point me in the direction of the - ?”

 

Light doesn’t even look at her, just her Rank, then her name. A low Two, not worth his time. He’s only been working at the NPA for a half a year, and has no interest in being late for some Two asking for directions. Her motorcycle jacket and boots do nothing to win his favor.

 

He keeps walking, and doesn’t listen to the rest of her sentence. He’s too busy ranking one of Kiyomi’s black, white, and red photos. Her entire Page is full of them, from shots of her home and campus and other people’s photos of her ( as she finds Selfies ‘rather gouache’ ). Light sort of hates them, but he gives them Five Stars anyway. She remains a few points ahead of him, and she will expect to cash in on this prolonged courting soon, no doubt.

 

For now, it is easier to remain single as they cultivate their Ranks. Flirting with the right people, or even offering an occasional date with someone in a higher echelon can go along way for people as attractive as Light and Kiyomi are. It is an unspoken agreement between them for now, but Light supposes that soon he will have to marry her. He’s calculated the progression of his score and suspects he will pass her up within the year, even with the boost she gets from working in entertainment journalism (though she would not appreciate him calling it that).

 

The Low Two woman doesn’t relent, having the nerve to follow him down the street until he stops.

 

“Oh, ah, sorry, I know, my Rank looks low, but actually -”

 

Light only looks up to smile at her, charmingly enough that she blinks several times at the sudden change, only for her face to fall when he ranks her One Star for her constant interruptions.

 

She should know better than to approach someone of my Rank with trivialities -

 

Her noise of outrage barely reaches him, and he forgets about her before he turns the corner.

 

-

 

He wakes up to a phone chime he has never heard before, an hour or so before his alarm is set to go off.

 

You are suspected of being hacked, or other Ranking Related Fraudulent Activity. In Accordance with FBI Protocol, your account has been halved, and Negative Ranks will be Doubled until the issue is resolved. We are working hard on your case!

 

While your Half Rank will be restored in 72 Hours, points lost by Double Negatives will not be restored, so please try to avoid negative feedback!

 

We apologize for the inconvenience.

 

Light nearly bites through the skin on the inside of his lip and convinces himself that the sudden wave of nausea is due only to sitting up too quickly, rather than the lump of cold, heavy panic in his stomach.

 

-

 

His father is the one who tells him that he isn’t likely to be a suspect in the case that the FBI is working on, but that’s all he can say. He does look at him with a subdued disappointment that makes Light want to knock something heavy over. Something that would shatter.

 

Light hacks into his father’s computer, into the FBI Agent files. Minimal searching later, he finds one named Raye Penber. His wife is familiar, so he digs further.

 

Naomi Misora, a 4.2, not a 2.1. A little more digging, and he finds that her own score had been temporarily halved as a result of her motorcycle accident. It was since found to be the other driver’s fault, and it was now restored.

 

If she’d come out and said as much like a reasonable person -

 

Light scowls and taps his fingers frantically on his desk for moment before leaning back in his chair. So, this was some kind of lesson. That’s all. Some overcompensating Low Four trying to prove to his newlywed that he can protect her.

 

Fine. He can learn it, or at least appear to.

 

-

 

The train to work is a nightmare. He has to ride in the Sub 2.5 Car, which is smelly and crowded. The pole is slippery with someone else’s sweat when he grabs it.

 

Arriving to work isn’t any better, though he suspected it would be. These people know and like him after all, and will understand that this is in no way due to his own negligence. His direct superior seems too smug about the dramatic drop. Most people do, in fact, and their reassurances are smarmy platitudes that only seem to make the buzzing behind his eyes more unbearable.

 

“It’s only -”

 

“Temporary,” Light fills in curtly, “I’m well aware, don’t you think? Thank you.”

 

It doesn’t sound like gratitude, it sounds like ‘ shut up’. He apologizes, but to his own ears it sounds like a pitiful manipulation. Please don’t rank me badly, the apology says, and he wonders when it will just be an apology again. Surely when his points go back to normal.

 

His phone chimes with the downward oscillation of notes that is familiar to him, and yet not, really, because when was the last time he’d gotten a One Star from anyone but that blonde bastard?

 

Not only the officer’s Three Star Vote, but he must have told his wife, who happens to be the daughter of a 4.5+ politician. She apparently told a few of her friends too.

 

Light hovers at barely a 2.2 by the end of the day. He decides to call out of work the next day, which in itself gives him several One and Two Star Rankings from those on his team who have to make up for the extra workload. They’re all Sub Four though, he tells himself, but it’s hardly a comfort when it strikes twice the blow that it normally would.

 

He drafts an apology message carefully to the officer he’d insulted, but decides to wait to send it. It will seem more genuine if he waits until his status is restored. He’ll lie, tell him that the pressure of the loss of points got to him. He would never have been so rude otherwise.

 

Yes, that’s best.

 

-

 

“Light?”

 

He tells Sayu he’s busy, but she only knocks again, relentless. He no longer lives in his parent’s house, but it’s close enough for Sayu to walk to, and so she bothers him shamelessly, and often. Even now, when he made it clear that he had no interest in socializing while his Rank is so low, precarious . He explained his Rank on his Page, assured his Circle that it was a mistake that would be corrected shortly.

 

It was all very professional, and most of his messages were supportive. Several people had already Ranked the explanation with Five Stars, which was reassuring.

 

He tries to ignore her, but the sound begins to grate on his stress headache. Not that he’s stressed. There’s no reason to be stressed. This will all be over in less than two days.

 

“Light, come on, open up!  We came all the way over. It’s not so bad.”

 

He opens the door, walking toward the kitchen immediately after to put on a cup of coffee.

 

“I’m fine. It’s temporary. They’ll fix it,” Light tells her, and is annoyed by how stiff he sounds. He rolls his shoulders and forces the tension out of them.

 

“Light, it’s okay, Kiyomi will -”

 

Kiyomi.

 

The name inspires a jolt of hope. He’d been hoping to avoid her seeing his Rank, but now that doesn’t appear to be an option. Of course, she would be able to undo much of the damage. He’ll just have to spend more time with her, to compensate.

 

Finally a return on that investment,” Light says, more emphatically than he’d meant to, half forgetting that Sayu had stepped into the apartment behind him.

 

“Don’t say that -” Sayu starts.

 

“Sayu, don’t. Do you know the effort I put into responding to every one of her boring anecdotes? Do you think I care about Murakami? She better -

 

“Oh, I better ?”

 

His heart pounds once, hard.

 

Kiyomi’s voice is a hiss, anger vibrating through the timbre of her voice. Light spins around to see her in the doorway, and Sayu looks guilty and scared and shocked and - and -

 

Light cannot stand to feel helpless, and so instead he lurches into righteous fury.

 

“Yes, you fucking better.

 

Kiyomi’s eyes widen, her own anger collapsing into shock on the verge of distress. Light can feel the gears in mind rewinding, and he pinches the bridge of his nose.

 

“That isn’t what I meant. Wait, let me -”

 

His phone chimes, a distant failure (another, another ) swarming the present one, and Light feels despair claw at his throat. He looks down at it instead of at her and she snarls something in outrage before her heels click out of his line of sight.

 

-

 

Light remembers adults cursing more when he was a child, in the same way that he faintly recalls his mother having to rewind VHS tapes. His father had never partaken in crude language, as far as Light was aware, but plenty of other adults had casually, back then. At the very least, they would let something slip when they dropped something or stubbed their toe.

 

The transition wasn’t apparent. It was gradual, with the prevalence of Eye Phones and Rankings becoming more and more commonplace and eventually written into law. Light imagines that people realized their Rating was lower if they used foul language, and adapted accordingly. By the time he was in high school, only delinquents would dare to curse openly.

 

Any offensive language, even the most generic. Recently an article Light had read described a law that had just been passed about the use of profanity in public. If someone is feeling particularly rebellious, they might whisper or mouth the foul word - but even that could result in a Low Rating from peers.

 

There had been something satisfying about cursing at Naomi. The word had come out like a stretch after a deep nap, an inhale after holding breath, a piss after -

 

Vulgar , Light chastises himself, irritated at the lapse. Snapping at Takada couldn’t have been more satisfying than the low rating was horrible.

 

He’d apologize, be vulnerable with her, tell her that the loss of points has been more difficult to deal with than he let on, lead her to believe he would have never said such things if it weren’t for the unfair loss of Rank. It is only natural that his head is in the wrong place after such an unexpected occurrence.

 

If he can manage that much then he could turn this around, he is sure of it.

 

-

 

If he’s going to Takada’s home across town to make a show of apologizing, he will need a plan of action. He’ll need to dress immaculately to counteract the fact that he’s now a Low Two. If he looks the part, surely he can avoid some of the backlash from walking through a 4.0 Plus neighborhood.

 

But it’s dark and rainy and the cabs don’t stop for him. Under his umbrella and through the condensation on their windows, his carefully constructed ensemble is apparently lost on them.

 

The Uber and Lyft options are blocked off to him, except for drivers with a similar Rank. He can’t bring himself to let someone like that drive him - if they can’t even drive properly enough to earn half of the stars available, they must be dangerous, possibly drunks or full of road rage. They probably use the kind of language that he had with Kiyomi, but more often, and not at all by mistake. He can’t be seen with someone like that.

 

The bus is the best option, even if the Two Bus less than ideal. He won’t be on it long.

 

A fancy car speeds passed him as he moves to cross a street, splashing him with a mixture of rainwater and mud. They hold down their hork as they hurtle around the next corner, as if he doesn’t have the right of way. To add insult to injury, he hears his phone Chime negatively as he stumbles back. Then a few more from other pedestrians and drivers who assumed he was in the wrong.

 

He can hear his heartbeat in his ears as he dries his face off with a dry spot of his sleeve.

 

Coffee. He needs coffee before he can go any further. His favorite shop is just a few blocks away.

 

-

 

“Holy shit, what happened to you?”

 

Light holds back a sigh and doesn’t look up from where he’s waiting for his cup of coffee. The barista takes much longer with his order than usual, making drinks for anyone with a higher Rank first. It’s been more than ten minutes, and Light is almost fed up enough to leave. Especially when he’s joined by one of his least favorite people. What’s worse is that Light’s Rank is only slightly above Mello’s now.

 

“I’m not in the mood for you today”

 

Mello’s eyes flicker wider and they snort nastily. “It speaks!”

 

“What?” Light bites back, rolling his eyes. “I’ve spoken to you before.”

 

“You shat platitudes in my fucking face, if that’s what you mean,” Mello answers, raising a chocolate bar to their mouth and sinking their teeth into it unceremoniously.

 

Disgusting, he should be breaking the pieces off evenly -

 

The thought feels almost out of place in his own mind, however much it sounds like him. It’s his voice, the same tone of distaste he has for those around him that don’t follow the rules in place, but it sounds wrong somehow.

 

“You need a place to go?”

 

Light narrows his eyes, finally looking up at him. “I’m not homeless .”

 

“Yet,” Mello snarks viciously as they are handed their coffee just before Light, which may be the biggest insult of all. Light inwardly swears to never return to this place. That will show them.

 

They end up on the street together with their coffees in hand. Light isn’t sure why Mello is lingering and he avoids looking at them entirely, but is fully aware of their eyes on him.

“You can come, if you want.” Mello turns on their heel, “Unless you want to try to get a cab. As such a Low Two though, you’re asking to get fuckin’ trafficked.”

 

“You might very well traffic me, by the look of you,” Light mutters.

 

Mello tosses a sharp smile over their shoulder, hideously honest in a way that is starkly unfamiliar. Light is almost stunned by the animosity in it, begging for conflict.

 

“Speak up,” Mello mockingly cups their hand around their ear, “You nearly got it.”

 

-

 

Light does not follow him, doesn’t even consider it. He has not fallen that far and never intends to. He just needs to speak to Kiyomi, to apologize and explain. He drinks his coffee on the bus ride, thanking whatever luck that is left that it isn’t crowded. He sits near the front, and as far from the few other travelers as possible, and doesn’t make eye contact with the driver or anyone else.

 

Takada’s family home is in such an upper class part of the city that the closest bus stop is nearly two miles away. He walks, using the time to rehearse his apology.

 

-

 

Light uses the intercom on the elaborate gate outside of the Takada home. The house is entirely white and grey, squared modern architecture, the lawn crisp and mowed, the bushes and trees sculpted.

 

Kiyomi’s father answers.

 

“If you know she’s here, you’ve been stalking my daughter’s Page.”

 

It’s harsh, but Light attempts to reason with him as calmly as possible. They’re good friends, he was just checking up on her, not stalking. If he can just talk to Kiyomi, apologize, he knows he was out of line -

 

“Leave now, or I will call my security team.”

 

No, absolutely not, he will not be treated like some sort of criminal. His voice doesn’t sound like his own. It comes out too quickly, too sharply, but he can’t stop it.

 

“Just listen to me, this is all a misunderstanding -”

 

“No, it isn’t. I always knew you weren’t good enough for my daughter,” Takada senior’s voice curdles in Light’s ears. “As far as I’m concerned, your Rank reflects what I always knew to be true.”

 

The chime coming his pocket is different than usual. It starts the same, then morphs into a new, even lower tone that he knows - he knows it means he’s Sub Two. The buzzing behind his ears increases until everything is white noise, even his vision blurs like television static. His fist connects with the gate and it rattles through him, it hurts, but he still does it again.

 

“What are you going to do? Have me arrested? You really think that’s the right thing to do?”

 

The lack of answer, empty static that he can’t entirely pinpoint the origin of, only spurs him on. He can’t remember having so little control of his tongue.

 

“You can’t. Stop it now, stop it, just let me in, let me talk to Kiyomi or I’ll -”

 

As focused as he is on the callbox, he doesn’t see the approaching security guards, and so the baton to the gut knocks the wind out of him entirely. He falls onto his back on the wet ground, the turns over to vomit onto one of the guard’s shoes.

 

It’s funny, Light thinks, that they pause to Rate him poorly before they snap on the cuffs.

 

-

 

It isn’t like no one in the NPA has ever had a stint in a jail cell. Plenty of police officers are after-hours drunks that end up in one periodically due to rowdy behavior. There are extenuating circumstances in Light’s case. He can explain that to his superiors, to his father, to Kiyomi, when all of this is over.

 

It’s fine, everything will be fine. He can recover from this.

 

They book him and put him in a Sub Two cell with a two filthy men, one of whom is passed out on the floor by the toilet. He supposes he won’t be using it any time soon, not that he would have anyway. The second one has dark, deep-set eyes and smeared makeup around his eyes. He is chewing on his fingernails in a decidedly awful fashion, pausing occasionally to crack his neck. It’s an even worse sound than teeth on nails, which is impressive.



-

 

“Don’t I get a phone call?” Light asks the officer, and bristles when the man just snorts and walks away. “That’s illegal. I have rights, and as an officer of the law you should be upholding -”

 

He trails off and sighs in frustration, tapping his fingers against his knee.

 

“The thing is, they let all the upper scores go first,” the man on the bench across from him says, grinning widely and speaking through yellowed teeth. “So it’ll be a while.”

 

He stretches out long, lanky limbs widely. More of his joints crack unpleasantly. Although he looks foreign, perhaps Hispanic or Greek, his accent is immaculate.

 

“Get comfy with me, Yagami-kuuuun. We have so much in common. We’re both covered in dirt, Sub Two, devastatingly attractive -”

 

Light blinks, considers correcting the friendliness, but then decides the man is probably in here for murder or something similarly reprehensible. He’s had terrible luck lately, so he won’t push it.

Light doesn’t respond, but Rue Ryuzaki seems happy enough to talk for the both of them.

 

-

 

Something is wrong with him. He can’t sit still, which had been his intention. His companion has fallen quiet after talking at Light for something like an hour, then singing loudly and off key for several more. Light doesn’t know the languages of all the songs, and visibly cringes at Rue’s shrieking rendition of Sakura Tree. Somehow, their third cellmate does not stir through any of it.

 

But Light can’t be still. Sit quietly, be a model prisoner, and soon they’ll realize he doesn’t belong in a Sub Two prison. They’ll see him for who he really is, apologize, and free him.

 

“Feels like your arm is missing, don’t it?” The stranger says, grinning and stretching his arm up, spreading his fingers unnaturally wide before wiggling them. “You’re in a holding cell and you aren’t holding your cell.

 

Oh. Light looks at his hand, and it feels ...empty. Or something. Certainly wrong, if nothing else. He can’t remember the last time he’s gone so long without having it in his hand. Most people can’t even go five minutes without checking something or other, so he tells himself that it’s only natural. He’s not an outlier. He tries to find some semblance of comfort in that.

 

“You were a quick drop, weren’t you? Don’t bother answering, I can tell.” Light can only see his name and Rank through his Eye Phone connection without his phone controls, but it doesn’t suit him. “So, how does it feel?”

 

“What?”

 

“He speaks!” The second time in an evening that’s been said to him. “How does it feel, Yagami-kun? Not having that thing in your hand.”

 

“What do you mean, how does it feel?” Light snaps, closing his hand around nothing. “It doesn’t feel like anything. Will you mind your own business?”

 

Rue Ryuzaki smiles at him, softly, and then not softly at all. He laughs hard and long, and it’s worse than the talking or the singing. It sounds fake, and yet familiar, somehow. It seems to mock the concept of laughter, and in that way feels more genuine than most laughs Light hears at work or on the street. Not as real as a genuine laugh, but honest in its fraudulence.

 

-

 

“Is this a prank call or something?” Mello asks as soon as he picks up the phone.

 

Light scowls. “ No -”

 

“Butt dial?”

 

His scowl deepens and he ducks his head so that the officer waiting nearby won’t see it. It feels ugly on his face but the muscles there aren’t responding to him like they normally do.

 

“I’m speaking to you, aren’t I?”

 

“Fair enough,” Mello says, “Just trying to figure out why you’d be calling me, loser. Ha, you need to be bailed out of jail or something?”

 

His first response is a jolt of alarm, at the idea that somehow this had gotten out. Perhaps Takada senior had posted about him on his Page, and the only thing he can think for several seconds is FUCK FUCK FUCK -

 

“Oh my God. ” The sound of laughter is deafening. Their voice sounds farther away, as if Mello has tucked the receiver against their shoulder. “You guys will never guess which fucking fuck is in jail.”

 

Mello laughs for much longer than is appropriate. Light does not see the humor in it, and grows progressively less amused as Mello’s laughter continues. The only thing that keeps Light from hanging up is that he has no one else to call. Everyone else’s opinion will matter in the near future.

 

Except that your score has dropped so low now that even when the half comes back -

 

“Still there, fucker?”

 

“...Yeah.”

 

“Gonna need an address.”

 

-

 

It isn’t Mello that comes. Instead it’s the barefoot one, though he isn’t barefoot this time. His shoes are ratty enough that Light half wishes he were. His name isn’t the same either, now it says L Lawliet instead of Ryuga Hideki, and Light isn’t sure how he pulled that off. Rankings are regulated at a government level now to prevent identity theft, and changing the name on your account is a process drenched in bureaucracy. A criminal, then, as he’d suspected.

 

“L? Is that you? Old buddy? Old pal? You know my good friend Yagami-kun? If that isn’t just the damndest thing, we were just talking about how much we appreciate you for all that you do for us in our time of need-”

 

L sighs and shuffles his feet, looking at the guard rather than at either Light or Rue.

 

“I suppose you don’t have a two-for-one sale going on?”

 

Light supposes this is no worse than anything else that has happened the last couple days.

 

The car, or rather, the limousine is unexpected. It’s even driven by an unseen chauffer of some kind. He considers the leather seats a reward for making it through today in one piece.

 

-

 

“Mind if I smoke?”

 

“Is that wise?” L says to Rue after a pause. Light had hoped he’d say ‘ absolutely not’ but it’s probably too much to ask from these sorts.

 

“Definitely not,” Rue says, rolling down the window and pulling out a lighter. Light feels his nose wrinkle, and catches the corner of L’s mouth tugging upward out of the corner of his eye. “I already have lung cancer, there’s not much else they can do to me.”

 

Light doesn’t want to hear this. He’s just glad to feel the weight of his phone in his pocket, even if he isn’t quite brave enough to check what his score has sunk down too. He doesn’t want to have to deal with this deranged, sickly smoker and his cryptic stories and questions.

 

“I’m sorry,” he starts, reverting to politeness in spite of himself. “...Is there -?”

 

“Anything they can do?” Rue finishes for him, cheerful in a manic way that continues to set Light on edge. “Not at this point. Stage Four. I’m dying proper. But it’s alright, I did it to myself.”

 

“Ah,” Light says, like he understands. He doesn’t. “Surely there’s something -”

 

“Friend of mine needed a heart transplant, was on the list for like, two years. He was a 4.3, fucking goodie two shoes motherfucker.” Rue Ryuzaki takes a long drag of his cigarette, his head half out the window like some sort of mutt. Light wishes they were going faster so that the air would obscure his voice. “They gave the heart to a 4.4 who’d been waiting for a few months. I’m fucked, but everything is, so, you know, the force is balanced and whatnot.”

 

Light doesn’t care about this. He hates sob stories. He empathizes, but can’t do anything more than that, especially in this instance. He wishes he’d never heard those words in that order. They don’t seem to stop even after he apologizes to Rue for his loss, even after they fall into an awkward silence.

 

“Drop me off here,” Rue says. Before he leaves, he puts his cigarette out on the leather seat and coughs out a vicious, "Toodle-losers."

 

A minute later, he’s gone, but the lingering headache that throbs behind Light's eyes has a very Rue-like presence.

 

-

 

Everything about the lot of them is inappropriate and anti-social. Near greets him lowly, without looking up from some tower he seems to be constructing out of sugar cubes, and Matt blinks a few times before telling him to rifle through the fridge if he wants anything. Not exactly exemplary hospitality.

 

That being said, they also live in a mansion. It’s almost cathedral-like in its elegance, though the decor is a mismatch of styles from one room to the next, interesting things next to tacky things next to leather things next to a variety of toys, surrounded by a multitude of large flat screens. It smells faintly of marijuana down the hall, and there is a dartboard attached to a column.

 

Despite the stunning architecture, high ceilings, and marble countertops, it is a mismatched horror of different styles. Light can’t stand the place, even if it’s more expensive than he could ever hope to afford - at least without marrying Takada. Which is probably out of the question now.

 

“What do you do?” He finally asks.

 

Light hovers in the doorframe to what must have been intended as the living room. Instead, it’s all couches, desks, computer chairs and screens. Instead of playing host like a normal human being, L sits down in front of his computer like he hasn’t just welcomed a stranger into his home.

 

“You want to know why I live in a place like this despite my Rank.” L only pauses briefly to regard him before turning back to his computer. The sound of plastic unwrapping grates on Light’s nerves.

 

“Yes,” Light agrees, “It’s uncommon that Sub Ones and Twos would -”

 

“I’m a private detective.”

 

Well. That does explain it. Detectives outside of official police forces are not held in high regard, considering their entire position is inherently anti-establishment and usually anti-social. They tend to work alone, or even with criminals. Although there are always fools willing to pay a price for some case or another, they are usually paying a hefty price just to be told bad news.

 

“My job is to find the truth, but the problem with people today is,” L chews obnoxiously on hard candy while he speaks, and Light hates him a little more. “They don’t want it.”

 

Unsurprising. Light figures it probably isn’t uncommon for a private detective’s clients to rate him badly just because they’re upset with the results.

 

Light defends himself on instinct. “Well, I do.”

 

“You liar,” L grins at him in that patronizing way of his as Light straightens up defensively. “You like the arbitrary rules because you’re better than anyone else at following them. Almost a 4.8, weren’t you? And you’re only twenty-five.”

 

“Twenty-four,” Light corrects without thinking, and his stomach turns over immediately. He isn’t sure why, but he suddenly feels sick to his stomach.

 

“Ah, what’s that sound?” L suddenly cups his hand over his ear as if straining to hear someone. “Did you hear it? Sounds like...bells, or...perhaps the distant ding of a Low Rating … or the shattering of a self-righteous prick’s worldview?”

 

L blinks innocently at him, “Could be either one. What do you think?”

 

This time, Light does punch him, and L looks stunned and oddly delighted.

 

“...Decent form for someone who's never thrown a punch in his life.”

 

The rage he feels doesn’t seem fitting for the childishness of that jab. He can’t explain it, and although part of him feels as though he might be able to contain it, he realizes that L is such a low class person that he doesn’t need to bother. The entire interaction is more gratifying than it has any right to be, and the smile on Light’s face feels prickly, and mean, and real, and -

 

Sorry , let me try again .”

 

-

 

That time, L responded by putting his foot in Light’s face, citing something about being unable to let it go a second time, no matter how bad Light’s form was. The ensuing scuffle brings them both to the floor, and each time they find their footing, within a few blows they’re back on the ground.

 

“- if you don’t get your dirty feet and long-ass toes off of my face, I swear to -”

 

“-  my toes are within the realm of normal length for someone of my height, and aren’t crooked from being shoved into an Italian crook’s leather codpiece -”

 

“ - and my shoes are Bestetti’s, so clearly you have as little taste as I suspected, perhaps even less -”

 

“-and perhaps you should examine the level of neuroticism implicit in this apparently deep-seeded hatred of the human form, Light-kun -”

 

“Who the hell said you could be so familiar with me? We barely know each other, and I’d never be on such friendly terms with -”

 

“You’re currently trying to pummel me into silence, so I say we’re on fairly close terms, you pretentious fuck -”

 

“ -better pretentious, better to fucking try, than be a brooding degenerate who whines about the truth while he sits in his own misery and filth -

 

“- high and mighty for someone with your Rank, although getting high might actually make your personality more bearable -”

 

“- as if someone who revels in their social bankruptcy could possibly hope to grace the fucking floor I walk on -”

 

“- can only imagine how boring it must be, trapped alone in that head of yours, I almost feel bad -”

 

“- the only thing deserving of pity in this room is your abysmal hair, what exactly are you going for with that choppy mop of grease riddled -”

 

“ - can only thank whatever higher power there may be that I don’t put hours of effort into my appearance only to end up looking like a pop idol -”

 

“ -as if you put any effort into anything. ‘Look at me, I don’t care what people think, so that means I’m better than you somehow’, what absolute bullshit -

 

Ow . Did you - did you just pull my hair? Who even does that? Fucking childish, is what it is -”

 

“Childish? You just gave me a fucking Indian burn a minute ago, you juvenile piece of -

 

-

 

“What is wrong with them?” Mello grouses, “Do they ever shut up?””

 

“Fuck if I know,” Matt says, “L only shouts when he’s proper pissed, though so -”

 

“It’s foreplay, I think.” Near sighs.

 

Mello snorts, “Weird foreplay.”

 

“Says you,” Matt snickers and elbows Mello playfully.

 

“Fair enough. Speaking of -”

 

-

 

They only stop fighting when they’re out of breath, and mutually decide to eat something afterwards. They stand at the counter in silence while Light eats an instant Ramen cup and L spoons a large piece of  tiramisu into his mouth. They only make eye contact a few times, as Light can’t entirely bring himself to admit that he’d just participated in a fist fight. He aches all over and can’t quite figure out why he doesn’t regret it.

 

Light falls asleep on their couch, though he doesn’t remember doing so.

 

-

 

Because apparently nothing matters and conventions are a lie, according to his hosts, Light tosses his clothes in the wash and uses their shower at three in the morning without asking permission. When he finishes, he dresses the white robe hanging from one of the towel hooks and switches his clothes to the dryer. He looks at his phone while he waits, and wishes he hadn’t.

 

“How presumptuous of you,” L says, peeking his head into the laundry room. He eyes Light up and down and Light leans back against the dryer, waving his hand dismissively.

 

“It’s not like you were using it,” Light retorts, “Do you even know how?”

 

“That’s my robe,” L tells him instead of answering. Light looks down at himself, then back at L.

 

“You weren't using it either.”

 

“Looks better on you,” L tells him, his smile still condescending yet also flirtatious. Light is so charmed, and so outraged by how charmed he is, that he hits L again.

 

It devolves again, though all the vicious words seem to have been spent before. Now it’s just growls of ‘bastard’ and ‘fuck you’ and various other vulgarities that don’t make sense in this context. Light hits his head on the wall during the scuffle and L pauses as if he might be concerned. Light is annoyed by the courtesy of it, and wants to slap the expression off of L’s idiot face.

 

Instead, he grips the front of L’s shirt and bites the man’s lip hard. It only takes L a moment to keep up, teeth clashing against his almost violently. They grind against one another through layers of fabric and pant hard into one another’s mouth in sloppy, hungry kisses, already half exhausted. They get better, less of an attack and more like real kisses, enough that Light realizes that he’s enjoying them.

 

He pushes L back and keeps his hands on his shoulders, looking away to collect himself, when he hears a Five Star Chime come from where his phone. His eyes snap up, and L looks at him guiltily.

 

“Did you just -? While we were -?” A laugh cuts him off. His own laugh. It doesn’t stop until his already bruised ribs ache, and he pulls L down onto him again.

 

-

 

Light scratches L’s back and doesn’t mind when L swears into his ear, doesn’t even mind when the hands on his thighs dig in bruisingly in return. It’s honest, it’s good , like the way curse words feel on his tongue and snapping against his teeth.

 

Afterwards, he lies awake and tries to remember if there was ever another time in his life he’d had sex just because he wanted to.

 

When you’ve done anything -

 

He isn’t sure. No, that’s a lie. He is.

 

-

 

L tags along when Light leaves. That’s one way to phrase it, anyway, and one that Light decides to commit to. He needs the ride, and if L walks him to his door, then proceeds to kiss him against it until he’s breathless yet again, it’s not really Light’s fault if he lets him inside.

 

-

 

“What did you do?”

 

Light holds his phone up. A new musical set had played, muffled from where he’d left it in the pocket of his trousers, and he’d peeled himself out of bed to fetch it. “Even with two full points restored, the message said that the points I lost would remain in effect.”

 

“Matt is good with computers,” L says by way of explanation, shrugging. “We could all have higher ratings if we wanted to. Sometimes we do, if the case calls for it.”

 

“Why don’t you then?” Light asks, frowning. “Wouldn’t it be easier?”

 

“You must have figured out the answer to that by now yourself.”

 

Light looks down at the phone in his hand, feels how heavy it is in his palm. As relieved as he is to be a 4.8 again, the prospect of reverting to his usual pretense is

 

“...Yeah.”

 

“Come on then. Back to bed with you, 4.8-kun,” L teases him, but shifts awkwardly onto one foot. Light realizes that he isn’t sure that he’s welcome anymore, now that there’s a four point disparity between them now.

 

Light hits the power button on his phone, tosses it onto a pile of clothes, and complies.

 

-

 

He answers the door to his apartment the day after his rating is restored. It’s morning, early enough that there is still a wetness in the air from the lingering dew. Light is already dressed for the day, though he has already called out of work for the day, via L’s phone. His attire consists of a dark grey sweater and black, cotton pants - much too dark a palette and too comfortable for public, but it suits his needs for his plans today - or lack of them, rather. He expects that it’s someone in his family coming to check on him, or congratulate him after checking his Rating this morning.

 

Instead, Kiyomi stands before him in a pristine white dress and pale pink blazer. She has her hands clasped in front of her, and she inclines her head gingerly when he makes eye contact.

 

“Kiyomi,” Light greets, copying the tilt of her head.

 

“I tried to call.”

 

“Oh,” Light blinks, “My phone is off. I apologize.”

 

She looks a little thrown off, but only momentarily. Light can feel the disorientation too, realizing he hasn’t checked his messages in hours.

 

“Oh. I thought - I mean, my father told me what happened,” She tells him, looking politely distressed and appropriately apologetic. Light feels sorry for her, and he’s only just beginning to understand why. “I was angry with you, but that isn’t at all what I intended to happen.”

 

“Don’t mention it, really, it was my own fault. I should have never spoken to you like that.”

 

Takada’s face relaxes and grows a little warmer. Neither of them quite apologize, and Light supposes that suits them. They’re both Upper Fours now; while cordiality is expected, there’s no reason to genuflect.

 

“Perhaps a bit. I can’t imagine what it would be like, to suddenly drop -”

 

“Light! Do you have coffee in this place or not?”

 

Light cringes at Takada’s surprised expression. He’s only ever had her and his sister over, to her knowledge, and the familiarity in L’s tone is telling.

 

“Who -?”

 

“You must, somewhere, I see an overpriced espresso machine, so -” L walks in from the kitchen, completely naked. He pauses when he sees Takada, but doesn’t move to cover himself up. Instead he tilts his head and waves.“Oh, hello. I’m -”

 

She holds up a hand, “Not interested, thank you.”

 

“Works for me,” L shrugs and disappears back into the kitchen.

 

“Well,” She mutters, color rising into her face. “I won’t interrupt. Though you could have just said something, Light, even with…We’ve been friends long enough.”

 

She’s gone a moment later, leaving Light feeling somewhat mystified and a little bit relieved.

 

“A friend?” L asks, appearing once more.

 

“I suppose,” Light admits, shutting the door behind her.

 

“Well, whoever that woman was,” L begins, draping his arm over Light’s shoulders and nodding toward the bedroom, where the positive chime has only just faded. “I think she just gave my dick Five Stars.”

 

“What? She did not.

 

Light laughs in disbelief but just drags L toward the kitchen without bothering to check.

 

-

-

-

 

“A man screaming is not a dancing bear. Life is not a spectacle.”

 

-

-

-