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i could write it (better than you ever felt it)

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Overhead, the fan wheezed while Light tried to read. Between his fingers was a worn cover photo of a man holding a magnifying glass in front of his face. A decrepit house stood behind him with another man on the porch looking soulfully toward a forest. Rubbing the corner of a page, Light scanned its contents. With a defeated air, he flipped to the end of the novel and read the last page.

Hm, he thought. Well. That’s not what I expected to happen.

He sat with his legs crossed on a swivel chair at the check out desk and leaned forward onto his elbows. Everything was quiet except for the occasional whispered conversation between friends at the computers. Light went back to his original page, disenchanted but still interested, and continued to read. Around him, the To-Oh library existed in stillness and dust.

“Hey. Quit reading on the job.” Light’s attention flickered away from his book and toward Kiyomi. She held a stack of papers in the crook of her elbow and smiled at him. There was a thread of seriousness stitched into her voice between a strange joking tone. It didn’t suit her.

“You caught me.” He slipped his bookmark into place and set the book aside. “What’s that in your hand?”

“Something that will make you very happy.” With one hand, Kiyomi slipped a paper from the stack and handed it to Light. He took it, careful not to touch her fingers despite the fact that they reached to brush his. “It’s that author you like. Eraldo Coil. He’s going to be doing a reading and book signing at the library next Tuesday.”

“Hm.” The flyer was a purple and blue gothic mess not unlike his book cover. There was no picture of the author which didn’t surprise him. There weren’t any photos of Eraldo Coil anywhere in his books or on his website. “That’ll be interesting. How did they get him to come?”

“Probably promised him all the money in our Christmas party fund.” Kiyomi laughed, a tittering little sound like a bell blown around on a string. “Maybe more. Is that one of his books you’re reading now?”

Light dropped a hand to cover the book and protectiveness welled up in him. His Eraldo Coil books were his own secret, his own indulgence. He liked to keep their contents a mystery to those around him as though they were being written just for him--as though Coil was his personal corespondent. Yet Kiyomi’s gaze needled him until he relented and handed over the book to her.

House of Sharp Objects? Huh.” She flipped it over to read the back cover. “A romance novel?”

“It’s a mystery novel.” Light crossed his arms and squeezed his fingers around his bicep. “With, yes, a little romance.”

“Never expected you to be reading a romance novel.” A cloying smirk crossed Kiyomi’s face. “I guess you’ve got a little bit of a guilty pleasure here.”

“Like I said.” Light spoke in a tight, snipped tone. “It’s a mystery novel with a small amount of romance. Coil alway has interesting twists.”

“Well, I’ll have to read him someday.”

“I don’t think you’d like him.” Kiyomi made a choked noise and Light shrugged. He schooled his features into a bored expression. “There’s a lot of difficult passages. He can get wordy. You might get tired of it after a while.”

“Do you get tired of his wordiness?”

“No but I’m used to it.”

“Uh-huh.” Kiyomi gave him a look of disbelief but didn’t push the topic. Instead, she handed Light a couple more of the flyers. “Here. Put these on the check out desk and try to get some people to pick some up. We need a good crowd. And, seriously, don’t read so much on the job. It makes us look lazy.”

“Of course,” Light said. Patting the papers after he set them down, he waved her off and, as soon as she rounded the corner to the children’s section, picked his book back up. His bookmark, a gift from his father’s co-worker Matsuda, was a peeling plastic picture of Garfield saying “I hate Mondays.” He flipped it around between his fingers while he continued to read. Within the hour, he finished four chapters and devoured another two by the time his shift was up.

His arm popped as he stretched out in his chair, arms up and back arched. Ducking below the desk, he started to toss his water bottle and notebooks into his bag when a thud made him peek over the desk’s edge. A stack of three books blocked his vision so Light sat back on his chair, annoyed and dizzy from coming up so fast.

A man stood hunched over with his hands stuffed in his pockets. In a white sweater that hung loose on his body and light blue jeans, the man cut a disheveled figure. Unable to come up with anything to say to him, Light stared. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, the man coughed into one hand and rubbed his nose with the back of it.

“Can I help you?” Light asked. The man rolled his shoulders and pointed to the books on the desk.

“I’d like to check these out,” he said. Flicking his wrist, Light checked his watch. It was two minutes past his clock out time. With an internal groan, he took the books and booted up his computer.

“Do you have a library card?” he asked. Large dark eyes blinked at him and then the man rummaged in his pocket, tongue poking out from his mouth from his effort. After a few seconds, he pulled a crummy looking card and handed it to Light. Flipping it over in his hands, the card holder name stood out to Light. He looked from the name to the man and then back to the name.

“This is your card?” The man nodded. “You’re Misa Amane?”

“Yes.” Thumb pressed to his lips, the man didn’t flinch at the sharp gaze Light leveled at him. “It’s an odd name, I know. But my parents were very odd people.”

“Interesting.” Light scanned the card and then went through the books, checking each one into the system. As he did, he looked at the titles: two Poirot novels and a little book of Richard Siken poems. He handed them over to the man along with a receipt listing out their return dates. “Well. Enjoy your books, Mr. Amane.”

“I will.” The man stopped, eyes touching on where Light’s book sat, and then leaned over the desk. His face was close enough to Light’s that he felt the hot brush of his breath. “What is that you’re reading?”

“A book." Light pulled back but didn’t break eye contact with the man. The man gave out a tight chuckle. He reached over and snatched the book before Light could stop him. Pinched between his thumb and forefinger, the book dangled in front of him as he read. A curious expression formed on his face and he flipped to where Light’s bookmark lay.

“Ah,” he said. “You’re at a very important part.”

“Give me my book back.” Light held out his hand. How dare this strange man with his strange name start taking Light’s things? If he messed around any longer, he might make him lose his place. The man let out a tsk and rolled his eyes.

“So demanding.” He dropped the book into Light’s palm. “You should be nicer to me.”

“You should be less assertive with strangers.” Light bent back over to retrieve his bag and hurriedly stuffed his book inside it. “Well. I need to go. I hope you have a good day, Mr. Amane.”

“Mm.” The man nodded. “You as well, Mr?”

“Yagami.” Typing in his username and password to clock out, Light didn’t look up as he heard the man walk away. “Light Yagami.”

“Good bye Light Yagami,” the man shouted. When Light glanced up, he saw him waving over his shoulder. With a tentative hand, Light waved back.

...

Eraldo Coil novels always featured two types of men: one man with a troubled past and another with a troubled present. There were a few deviations such as A Doll’s Game which centered around a woman in the FBI investigating a series of brutal murders and Memories, a strange outlier novel written entirely from a cat’s perspective. But for all the best of his novels there were two men, each with their own internal struggle.

Light went back and forth over which novel was his favorite. He enjoyed Bone Rattle for the difficulty of the mystery, which he struggled to solve right up until the reveal, and Little Sister also had its fratricidal charms. However, House of Sharp Objects took up his attention just as much if not more than Coil’s other novels. Something in how Coil’s descriptions twisted themselves around the characters and settings kept Light hooked. Especially in House of Sharp Objects. In this novel, everything was weighted in slick prose and dripped with double meanings.

Yes, maybe there was also romance. Light didn’t often read any of the erotic scenes closely. They distracted from the plot and Coil got flowery in his prose when it came to sex. This was another part of why House of Sharp Objects stood out to Light; there was hardly any romance. Not once did some unnecessary woman come in to steal the protagonist’s heart. Instead, the novel’s axis spun on the relationship between two men. Their tightly wound dance of antagonist and protagonist made them leap from the page and pull on his thoughts. Every difficult conversation or hissed disagreement brought him further into what promised to be a spectacular story.

Light turned around again to see himself from another side. In his mirror he noticed every crease in his shirt and pulled on it in an attempt to straighten it out. The fabric bounced back into wrinkles the minute he let go. Frustrated, Light went to his closet and felt around until he caught hold of a sweater. Dark blue and thickly knitted, the sweater covered his wrinkled shirt and kept the October chill away from his skin. This was a good outfit: nothing offensive about a nice blue sweater and a clean pair of khakis. He looked ready to attend a reading.

Tuesday had come on quick feet and Light didn’t feel ready. During his classes his attention rolled over the event without regard for anything his professors said. What would Coil look like? Light imagined a mysterious man of a statuesque build--man who looked like the swift prose he wrote, well dressed and graceful in his movements. The thought of seeing Coil excited him and that excitement was further stoked by the idea of hearing his voice. Such emotions embarrassed him to even have. He held them to his chest and buried them deep between his fingers.

Dropping back onto his bed, Light pulled his shoes out from underneath and slipped them on. He tapped the toe of each shoe to the floor after putting it on and then started to pack his bag. Sounds of his mother’s cleaning echoed through the floorboards as did the tinny sound of the television. His hand paused over House of Sharp Objects. The cover stared back at him with its long painted shadows and old house. Quickly, before he changed his mind, he threw the book into his bag and slung it over his shoulder.

Light checked his watch and saw the little hands click to four forty five. Coil’s reading was at five thirty. Before he left, he took one last look at himself in the mirror. A long thin figure with worried eyes looked back at him and he smiled, attempting to soften the hardness of his features. The feeling on his lips was plastic and cracking but he did look better--a beast with a welcoming jaw.

His loud footsteps thudded down the stairs and his mother shouted for him to slow down.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” In the kitchen, she held a sponge in one hand, a dish in the other with her hair held back by a plain headband. Her eyes squinted in suspicion but Light met them with a clear gaze. On the television, a newscaster shuffled her papers and spoke rapid-fire about an ongoing murder case.

“As many of you know,” the newscaster said, “the detective L has been contacted by the NPA and is currently at work on the case. His history of solving the world’s most difficult criminal cases gives us hope that he’ll soon stop this massive wave of heart attack related murders.”

“I’m going to a library event.” Hand twisted around his bag strap, he studied the lines on his mother’s face. She looked young and smooth faced except for a slip of purple beneath her eyes. There wasn’t any mistake on where his good looks came from. “There’s an author doing a reading today.”

“Don’t stay out late,” she said. “You still have school tomorrow.”

“Mom,” he said. “I’m in college. I know I have classes tomorrow. I had them today too. I won’t be out on the town all night.”

“I don’t know what you get up to.” Her voice went high with playful irritation. “You might take that Takada out.” She winked at him and he groaned--a forced reaction. “Don’t be so shy about it, Light. She’s a very pretty girl.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He made his way to the door. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back in time for dinner.”

The train ride into the city gave him time to dig back into House of Sharp Objects. While children screamed and adults in dark suits carried on tedious conversation, Light fell deep into the pages. Within them, a mystery continued to develop amidst the swirling tension of the main characters. They danced around each other in every argument and held his attention in their typeface fists. He checked how much more he had left and frowned. There were only four more chapters before he finished. Slipping his bookmark in, he shut the book and tucked it away. The hour hand on his watch clicked over to five fifteen.

When Light walked into the library, Kiyomi met him at the door with a pained expression. Her arms crossed over her chest, the usual slick shine of her hair was overshadowed by a harried cowlick. He looked over her shoulder and saw a plethora of people gathered at the library’s small stage. Chairs, too few to accommodate all the patrons, were arranged in neat rows. On the stage was a podium, a little worn from disuse, and at it’s side was a fold out table. Kiyomi made a frustrated noise and Light’s attention switched back to her.

“I didn’t think this many people would come.” She tucked a stray hair behind her ear which did nothing to tame the mess. “I can’t find anymore chairs. This is a disaster.”

“They can stand.” Light shrugged. “If they really want to see Coil, they’ll stand.”

“But this is such a big event.” Kiyomi’s hands clawed in frustration. The fabric of her white button up seemed to puff up as her stress increased. “I didn’t realize it before but this could really bring people into the library. But do you think the guy will be insulted that we weren’t prepared? What if he’s so insulted he just leaves?”

Light checked his watch. Five thirty on the dot. All the stood between him and Coil’s reading was Kiyomi, whose face begged him to take care of her problem. He patted her shoulder in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.

“It’ll be fine,” he said. “He’ll probably think its some kind of preemptive standing ovation.”

He used the hand on her shoulder to gently push her aside. Most of the crowd fought against each other for a chair so Light slid as quiet as he could into one of the outer seats. With casual interest, he noticed that most of the attendants were young men like himself and a couple women. They all held one or two of Coil’s novels. The commotion heightened and Light observed the stage. Anticipation made his stomach turn over itself in clumsy somersaults and the longer the podium remained empty the more erratic the somersaults grew. Maybe Kiyomi was right and Coil blanched at how ill prepared the library was. Would he leave? Light refused to believe Coil would be so vain.

A loud cough came from the edge of the stage and Light swung his head to see a white sweater and jeans. Light frowned as the man from the previous week shuffled up toward the podium. Anxiety started to itch in his fingers. The man came to the podium and tapped the microphone. Everyone silenced themselves and stared back at his unkempt hair, baggy clothes and wide, intelligent eyes.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m Eraldo Coil. Thank you for coming.”

At his back, Light sensed Kiyomi and her hand dug into his shoulder. Deep cold shot through his body at Coil’s voice, a plain and simple tone that matched his clothes. Coil pulled a wad of crumpled papers from his pocket and spread them onto the podium. He continued to speak in long strokes while thanking the library for having him and commenting on the large crowd.

“So many people.” He scratched the side of his nose and scanned the crowd. His eyes fell on Light and a riot broke out over his skin when Coil’s mouth flinched into a smile. “I’m glad to see I have any amount of fans. Ah. Well. We might as well start with what you’ve come here for.”With thin, tree branch fingers, he picked up the papers in front of him and adjusted the microphone. “This will be from a short story I’ve recently published. I considered reading from a novel but I’m quite proud of this story. It’s called The Bells.”

The room stilled as Coil began to read. His words lifted and fell in graceful Japanese while together weaving a story about darkness. Prose slipped from his lips like a waterfall that threatened to drown Light and take him completely into the story. Kiyomi’s hand loosened and he looked behind to see her face composed in focus. Spiraling into the conflict of a man searching for himself, the story flew from deep introspection to sharp aggression. When the ending came, it’s abruptness left Light stumbling.

“‘How sad,’ Leim said.” Coil glanced up to all his eager listeners. His eyes once more touched on Light as he read without looking at his pages. “‘We’ll soon part.’”

A long pause followed the sentence and then thunderous applause. Kiyomi winced, her arms twitching with a need to quiet everyone. Light was elsewhere. All he saw was Coil and his dark gaze singling him out. It was both petrifying and wonderful to be seen by Coil. Once everyone settled, Kiyomi made her way to the stage where, at the podium, Coil folded up his papers and stuffed them in his pocket.

“Thank you so much for that reading.” Kiyomi pulled the microphone toward herself. “Now Mr. Coil will be doing his signing here at the table. Please form an orderly line with your books ready. If you don’t have one, there are a few of his newer novels available for sale here as well.”

Coil waited for Kiyomi to leave the stage and then climbed into the chair at the table. He sat in a crouch with his knees bent against his chest. No one spoke but a collective expression of confusion said more than enough. Light held back as everyone milled about and gathered into a line. He situated himself at the end and spent his time wondering what to say. Options scrolled through his head and he played out each scenario in an attempt to find one that fit. Yet they were trite or pretentious or ridiculous. None of his opening lines had the spark he wanted. These words wouldn’t be the first he said to Coil but they would be important anyway.

The line shortened quicker than he anticipated until one person stood between he and Coil. Leaving with a short wave, the person’s back moved and nothing was between them anymore. To avoid looking at Coil, Light dug into his bag for House of Sharp Objects. He placed it on the table where Coil took it without saying a word. Pen poised over the blank first page, he flicked his eyes up at Light. Silence created a limbo and, in his haste to fill it, Light said the first thing that came to mind.

“Why did you steal someone’s library card?”

“Oh.” Coil moved back and his absent expression cleared into one of surprise. “So you remember me?”

“Of course I do,” Light said. “There aren’t a lot of men in the world named Misa. Although I’m sure now that’s not your name.”

“How do you know that isn’t my real name?” Coil tapped his fingers on his knees. “Eraldo Coil could just be an alias. It’s very rude of Light to make fun of a person’s name.”

“It would be if you were telling the truth.”

“The truth is subjective.” With one hand, Coil held Light’s book open and bent over it. He wrote with swift, broad strokes. “Although with such powerful deductive skills, Light should be a detective instead of a librarian.”

“I will be one.” Light resisted the urge to peek at what Coil wrote. “Eventually.”

“Ah. So it seems I also have good deductive skills.” Coil’s hardwood monotone hid a quiet playfulness. He smiled at Light when he gave the book back, keeping it shut in his hand. “We must be very similar people, you and I.”

For a brief moment, their fingers touched and Light bristled. He tugged the book free from Coil’s grasp and held it fast to his side. His mouth dried of all the words he knew.

“Thank you,” he said. “This means a lot.”

“Oh. I’m sure it does.”

Light’s face burned. Nodding with a practiced pleasant expression, he stalked off to where Kiyomi wrung her hands over and over again. Her face was a mix of incandescent joy and the barest sliver of fear.

“Do you think it went well?” She looked at Light with wild eyes. “I think that went well. I was a little worried, you know, at the beginning but I really think it pulled together. And there were so many people.”

“Yeah.” An echo of what Coil said to him reverberated through Light’s skull. “So many people.”

“We should have more speakers like this. More authors. We could get them, I mean, we are one of the most prestigious college libraries.”

I should go talk to him, Light thought. Before he goes, I should go over there and strike up a conversation.

He didn’t move. Instead, Kiyomi’s voice became white noise as he watched Coil pack up the few books he hadn’t sold and clamber out of his seat. Every part of Light screamed to move, to say something. Kiyomi shook him by the shoulder and Light gave her his still distracted attention.

“Are you listening to me?” Her mouth was a thin line. “You seem like you’re not listening.”

“No. I’m listening.” From the corner of his eye, Light caught Coil’s back as he disappeared into the bookshelves. His heart swelled and then sunk. Kiyomi continued to talk until Light begged off citing a family dinner. She saw him to the door and waved goodbye. Light nearly forgot to wave back.

He resolved not to read what Coil wrote until he was home but his hands got greedy. Hunched over the book, Light created a wall around the pages so he, and he alone, could read them. In thick, black script, Coil signed his name and underneath was a series of numbers. Confused, Light puzzled over what sort of code the numbers represented before their meaning struck him. Oh. That was Coil’s phone number.

A forest fire paled in comparison to the flushed heat that reached across Light’s cheeks. He snapped the book shut and then reopened it to peek at the phone number. It challenged him with its bold font. Closing the book again, he looked around to see if anyone noticed. The three other passengers showed no sign of awareness, buried in either newspapers or their phones. How could they not know that what he held was a bomb, an explosive device meant to destroy him.

The walk from the train station to his home was a journey. His inside shook with the earthquake of his mixed emotions. Hadn’t he wanted to speak to Coil again? But no. This situation wasn’t how he imagined it. He came through the door, unlaced his shoes and set them in neat lines next to his sister’s. These actions were thoughtless; his movements were robotic, trained into him. Throughout dinner, he sat, eyes glazed over, turning over every syllable, word and sentence that Coil said. His mother fruitlessly grilled him about Kiyomi and his stockpile of bland responses earned him strange looks.

He stumbled up to his room and locked the door. Alone, Light sat in his desk chair and threw his face into his hands. A scream clawed out of his throat made of frustration and embarrassment. What sort of man went and gave other men his phone number? At a book signing as well? His hands clenched into fists. Another, rougher scream built up in his mouth but Light only let out a hot exhale.

He wasn’t going to call that number. To call Coil would fan flames that would eat Light alive. Emotions this strong hadn’t hit him in so long and Light’s body squirmed trying to figure out what to do with them. No. Calling wasn’t an option.

Unless. Unless this sort of reaction was what Coil wanted. Did he want to rile Light up and leave him twisted inside? Did he think Light would be too scared to pick up the phone, dial his number and respond to this act of war? Light scoffed. Now that behavior was markedly more like the man Light imagined Coil to be--calculated and near cruel. Wheels clicked away in his head and a plan formed. As he went through his nighttime routine, the plan grew arms and legs until it could walk right out into the world. A smile curled on Light’s face as he laid in his bed and fell over into a dreamless sleep.

...


Light had a few Eraldo Coil novels he didn’t like. A Doll’s Game left him bored and he hated the main characters. He was on the fence about Figure of a Star, one of Coil’s stranger works written in non-linear narrative style and in second person. However, the good novels outnumbered the poor ones and Light read them all despite their quality.

He shared a kinship with the characters. Coil wrote people with a quiet darkness--people at odds with the world around them. Light never said so aloud but he carried a secret disinterest in the rotten society he existed in. These characters often said things that echoed his own thoughts and pulled at his heartstrings. Yet Coil never neglected to put the shine of hope in his characters and that held Light fast more than any sad musings. Optimism lurked in the characters’ shadows.

A part of him longed to have the simple connection that Coil’s main characters had with each other. The two men who always carried the novel tangled together in captivating shapes and knew each other deeply. Of course, these relationships were platonic and Light appreciated the chase interactions. But still. Something in him wanted to have the string that tied Coil’s men together wrapped around his own wrist and connected to some other person who wanted him as well.

Outside the classroom, the wind blew skeleton fingered tree branches off balance. Light propped his head up with his hand and turned back to his doodling. The lecture left him bored, especially when his phone burned in his pocket. With a loose wrist, Light sketched a cat and then an apple on top of the cat’s head. Beside him, Kiyomi peeked at his work.

“Hey,” she whispered. “Aren’t you going to take notes?”

“I will.” Light gave her a small smile. “Once he says something worth noting.”

The last twenty minutes of class dripped molasses-like and Light caught none of what his professor said. His attention focused instead on what he planned to say to Coil. What he said would have to reveal nothing about his breakdown the night before and present him as an upright, intelligent person. Along the margins of his notebook, Light drew what he thought was a fair approximation of Coil’s face.

“Who’s that supposed to be?” Kiyomi pointed at the drawing.

“The author from yesterday,” Light said. Kiyomi’s eyes widened and then squinted in a sad attempt at indulgence.

“Wow,” she said in a voice too high to be truthful. “It really looks like him.”

Light accepted the compliment and then, when she looked away, scribbled out the drawing. The angry black cloud of pencil lead glared back at him--a reminder of failure. He flipped to a clean page and looked back out the window. Students wandered around in groups and pulled their coats tighter. From where he sat, they looked infinitesimal.

Class ended with the professor’s loud sigh and a reminder of their essay due in a week’s time. Gathering his belongings, Light left the classroom and headed for the library. It was busy for one thirty on a Wednesday but he slipped through the small crowds toward an open study room. A scattered few of the students spoke with each other in hushed voices.

“Did you hear about those murders?” The speaker texted as he talked, not looking at his friend. “I can’t believe they really called in L for it. You’d think he wouldn’t be so interested in these small potatoes case.”

“A hundred people have been killed in the last three weeks.” Disgust colored the friend’s face. “Of course they’re gonna call him.”

“Well.” The first speaker made a frustrated noise. “It’s not like it matters. ‘S just criminals the guy is killing.”

Light’s shift wasn’t until two thirty but he planned to keep the phone call short and private. Calling Coil at his home wasn’t an option; Sayu might burst into his room or his mother would overhear and make a fuss. The quiet of a library study room was perfect for his purposes.

After he changed the “open" sign out front to “in use", he shut the door behind him and tossed his bag onto the table. His belongings clattered as they hit the table. Dropping into a chair, Light crossed his legs at the knee with one hand stuck in his pocket. He pulled his phone out by his Kuriboh phone charm. Holding the phone in one hand, he reached into his bag and pulled out House of Sharp Objects. He pressed the book open and dialed the number with his thumb, looking back and forth to make sure he got it correct.

Phone to his ear, a dial tone drilled through Light while he waited. What if Coil didn’t pick up? He hadn’t considered that possibility. In all his schemes, Coil answered the phone but what an idiot he’d been! To not even think that Coil might be busy? They might as well rescind his To-Oh acceptance letter and kick him out. A sharp click stopped Light’s panic followed by a cough and a grumble.

“Hello?” Coil said.

“Hi.” Light smoothed his hand on his pants then remembered Coil couldn’t see him. He followed the motion through anyway. “I believe you gave me your number.”

“Ah. Hello, Light.” Underneath the bored quality of his voice, Coil sounded near affectionate. “So you decided to call me? So soon?”

Light clenched his fist. So soon? How dare Coil act as though Light were the one being forward when he was the one giving out his number.

“I thought you’d appreciate a quick response.”

“Is there a reason for Light’s call?” Coil spoke with a mischievousness that both agitated and intrigued Light. Either way, it invited him to come and play. Settling further into his chair, he let his shoulder cradle the phone as Light opened the book, tracing a finger over Coil’s signature.

“Why did you give me your number?” He tried to sound disinterested but knew Coil could hear past his efforts. “It doesn’t seem like someone as secretive as you would do such a thing without a reason.”

“Light has caught me. But I’m afraid you won’t like the answer.”

“Try me.”

“I gave Light my phone number because I wanted him to call me,” Coil said, “so I could ask him on a date.”

“Oh.” He couldn’t let Coil phase him. Light held steady and kept himself moving. “I should tell you that I’m not gay.”

“Hm?” A crunch sounded over the phone and then a series of similar chewing noises followed. Disgusted, Light held the phone away from his ear.

“Are you eating right now?”

“Yes.” Coil spoke around the wet noise. “You’ve caught me at my tea time.”

“Seems late in the day for tea.” Light shifted in his seat with discomfort. The conversation wasn’t going as he wanted.

“I hold different hours than most people.” Another crunch and then a slick noise, almost a slurp. “Does this bother Light?”

“Why would it bother me?”

“If we go on a date,” Coil said, “you might have to deal with it being at a difficult time.”

“I told you I’m not gay,” Light said.

“Can’t a person go on a date with someone else without romantic intentions?”

“You have to understand the implications that come with giving me your number and then asking me on a date.” Light’s voice grew heated. “I mean, how would you feel if someone just asked you on a date when you had no interest in them romantically?”

“Um.” Coil paused and then spoke in a dry tone. “That would feel terrible.”

“Are you making fun of me?"

“Perhaps.” A smile wormed its way through Coil’s voice. “I’m sorry if that’s made you upset.”

“I’m not upset.” Light crossed one arm over his chest and clutched the inside of his other elbow. Irritation spiked through his shoulders. What sort of conversation was this? No one ever spoke to him so quickly, so rudely. “I’m only saying that if you ask someone on a date, it has romantic overtones whether you meant them or not.”

“Ah. Well.” Coil sucked on his finger and the moist sound of it made Light roll his eyes. “I suppose Light will have to come on the date with me to see what the overtones truly are.”

“I--,” Light started. He paused and considered what he could do. Saying no was always viable but saying yes was more, what was the word? Fun. “I guess so.”

“Good,” Coil said.

“Great,” Light said tightly.

“Excellent.” Coil responded with equal tightness.

“Wonderful.” A screw would have been jealous at the tightness of Light’s tone.

“When does Light work until on Friday?” Coil made another noxious wet sound with his mouth.

“I get off at eight.”

“Good. I will meet Light at eight in front of his library on Friday.”

“It’s not my--” Light started but Coil cut him off.

“I’m excited,” he said, “to see Light again.”

“I’m excited to see you too.” He was telling the truth; his body itched to see Coil again in the flesh. “Until then.”

“Until then.” Coil repeated and then hung up. For a moment, Light sat with the quiet phone still at his ear as though waiting to be called back. Dream-like, he cleaned up his belongings and went to start his shift. Something about Coil left him blurred to the rest of the world, sharp only for the other man.

Friday was such a long time away.

Chapter Text

Light laced his fingers together and leaned forward on the dinner table. Across from him, his father gave his full attention to his meal. Sayu chatted to the side of Light about the newest Hideki Ryuga movie and his mother chided her for caring more about movies than school work.

“Well we can’t all be serious students.” Sayu punched Light’s arm. “Even Light’s not all focused all the time, right?”

“Oh,” he said. “Yeah.”

Over and over his mind spun around his conversation with Coil. All the important, witty things he’d meant to say remained dormant--his plans, ruined. He couldn’t help his anticipation for Friday and the chance to rebuild himself. With enough preparation, he could answer back to whatever Coil threw at him.

“How’s that new case going, Dad?” Sayu grinned at their father. “I saw on TV that L guy is working with the police. That’s pretty exciting.”

“I’m not allowed to discuss the case outside of work.” Light’s father coughed and shook his head. Sayu shrunk back in her chair with defeat. “I can only say what has already been told to the public.”

“Light,” his mother said. “You seem distracted tonight. Are you doing alright?”

“I’m fine.” Light waved off her concern. “But I do need to let you know I won’t be at dinner on Friday. I'm going out with someone.”

“Oh?” The sly look in her eyes bugged Light. “So you and Takada are making it official then? You two are very cute together, you know.”

“No. I’m just hanging out with a friend.”

“Who?” Sayu scrunched her nose. “Are you going out with someone we don’t know? What’s her name?”

“It’s not a girl.” Light picked at his dinner without looking at his family although their eyes burned on him. “He’s someone new I met at the library. We’re just getting to know each other.”

An uneasy silence filled the room as Light tried to eat and not panic. His chopsticks shook with his hand.

“Well,” his mother said. “If the hang out goes well, you should bring him over so I can make sure he’s good for my son.”

The tense strings binding Light’s body broke and he looked up from his plate. His father said nothing and his eyes were unclear. They were faded over by confusion and the sight returned unease to Light’s stomach. At his side, Sayu laughed and slapped Light on the back.

“No wonder you’ve been so distracted!” Her grin split her face in two. “Thinking about this new friend, huh? What’s his name?”

“Um.” Light’s mind scrambled around for an answer. “Misa.”

“What?” A wide look came over his mother’s face. “That’s an interesting name.”

“Yeah. That’s what I said to him.”

“How’d you meet him?” Sayu’s voice slipped into genuine interest and Light told them all about how he met Coil, carefully editing out the fact of that he was a semi-famous novelist. His father remained silent through all of dinner until everyone finished and left the table. He stopped Light before he went upstairs with a hand on his shoulder.

“Light.” His voice was rough and Light saw the stubble on his face, the bags under his eyes. “I know I haven’t been home much lately but I want you to know that you can always talk to me.”

“I know, Dad.” Light shifted under his father’s hand, unsure how to wiggle out the affectionate gesture. “It’s really not like that. He’s just a friend.”

“Of course, of course.” His father sighed and looked Light in the eye. “But still. If you need me, I’ll be there.”

Under his father’s gaze, Light froze. His body stretched between anxiety and relief. He patted his father’s hand and discreetly moved it off him. In a quiet voice, he thanked him before running up the stairs to his room. Shutting the door behind him, Light pressed a hand to his chest which heaved from his hyperventilating.

It wasn’t a date. He wasn’t going on a date. He wasn’t gay and he didn’t think about Coil that way. His family was reacting to something that wasn’t real. Light crawled into bed fully clothed and wrapped his duvet around himself. Squirming, he tried to get comfortable but his khakis dug into his legs and created imprints of the seams.

At any other time, he would have pulled out an Eraldo Coil novel to distract himself with but that only served to aggravate the current problem. Instead, he clutched the covers tighter and thought about nothing. But his mind didn’t go quiet; it got louder and louder until he buried his face into his bed and screamed.

Eventually he fell asleep and dreamed about a house, a dark forest and a man holding his hand.

...

The main character of House of Sharp Objects, Latrell LeMott, was a private detective who, despite solving case after case, never seemed able to hold down a steady paycheck. Second in a series about Latrell’s investigations, House of Sharp Objects followed him as he tried to solve the murder of a family with secrets as dark as their brutal deaths. A good bit of the novel’s start covered the aftermath of the previous Latrell novel where he discovered his ex-wife Miren had an affair with his primary murder suspect. Light had never liked Miren and while he wouldn’t say he snored through the romantic parts of the first Latrell novel, he did enjoy it a lot better once the couple divorced.

His enjoyment of Latrell wavered. At times, he found him too morally grey and unreasonable. Light’s heart instead belonged to the second main character of the series--Peter Denault. He was a police officer with a strong belief in the justice system who often butted heads with Latrell over his actions. In the thick of things, however, Peter always chose Latrell over the law. Despite their difference in thought, they worked together as gears against each other and solved their cases.

That relationship was the reason his heart jumped when he looked at the end of House of Sharp Objects to find Latrell dead in Peter’s arms. Sure, he didn’t know what lead up to the event but that fact made him puzzle over the image even more. He hoped to go and finish the novel that night so he would have something to talk to Coil about. A dizzying amount of scenarios played through his head as to how such an ending happened and they all worried him. Perhaps this feeling was because he hadn’t read the rest of the book but he wasn’t ready for Latrell to die.

Outside of the library, the air was crisp and bright. Light stepped out, locking the door behind him, and surveyed the courtyard. A sharp whistle caught his attention and at a bench sat Coil. Positioned under a cherry blossom tree, the bench was surrounded by flower petals. He raised one hand to motion Light over. The sting of obedience bit Light as he walked to where Coil was but he said nothing to his feelings. Instead, he adjusted his bag strap.

“How was your shift?” The toes of Coil’s dilapidated shoes curled over the bench. He sat with his knees to his chest--an echo of how he’d sat at the book signing. Light rolled his shoulders and looked at the tree above them. Scraps of pink filtered his vision as flowers fell down.

“Uneventful,” he said. “Mostly people studying for exams.”

“Did Light read anymore?” With a popping sound, Coil got up and shook his legs out. His posture curved over into an almost question mark-esque stature. Hands shoved in his pockets and elbows stuck out, he took up as much room as possible. “You looked close to finishing last time I saw.”

“I’m close." Light shook his head. “But I only read a few pages today. I was a little distracted.”

“Ah.” Coil leveled Light with a sideways look. “Anxious about our date?”

“I wish you wouldn’t call it that. I’ve already told you--”

“Yes, yes.” A hand waved in front of Light in unhurried swoops. “Light isn’t gay. This isn’t a date. I’m aware of your concerns.”

“Good.” Light inhaled and let his breath out slowly. “Then what do you have planned for us?”

“You’ll have to follow me.” Coil started off toward the administrative building without waiting. Light jogged after him. “I have very specific ideas for tonight.”

Those words inspired fear in Light, not of Coil but of what could possibly be a “specific idea” for him. Despite the way his feet shuffled, Coil walked at a fast speed and Light had to take long strides in order to keep up.

“So,” he said. “What brought you to Japan?”

“I had business here.” Coil’s gaze remained forward.

“Writing business?” Light couldn’t help the question in his tone. “Why come all the way to Japan just for that?”

“Because I like Japan.” With a tilt of his head, Coil glanced at Light. “Why do you work at the library?”

“Oh. It’s only a part time job.” To be honest, Light often forgot why he took the library job other than Kiyomi being adamant they work together. He didn’t mind the work or the long stretches where no one came in. Surrounded by books for the whole day, he felt like he was in the quiet center of the world. “I took it because a friend told me about it.”

“So you don’t have any interest in the library sciences?”

“Me?” Light huffed out a laugh. “No. I enjoy reading but I’m studying criminal justice.”

“Oh yes.” Coil nodded with an almost mocking solemnity. “You did tell me that you wanted to be a detective before. Do you follow a lot of current cases?”

“Some of them.” Hands tucked into his pockets, Light shook his head as though rattling his brain for cases he knew about it. “I keep tabs on the important ones at least. If L’s involved, I’ll look into it.”

“Do you admire L then?”

“He’s a good detective.” A soft inflection shaded Light’s response. “World’s greatest, right? Even though I think he’s rash at times.”

Coil grumbled. Light filed the reaction away into the small but growing pile of information he had about Coil. Around them, other students walked past without paying either Coil or Light any attention. Sharply aware of his position next to Coil, Light let his shoulders relax a bit. The gentle footfalls of their conversation kept themselves in a safe zone of easy questions. Although Coil hadn’t answered quite as clearly to Light’s inquiries. His bag smacked against his side and he felt House of Sharp Objects like a brick inside it. Here he was, right next to Coil, and he hadn’t mentioned a single thing about the novel. Swallowing, Light flipped through a rolodex of questions until one caught him.

“Can I ask you something?” Light waited for Coil’s absent nod and continued. “In House of Sharp Objects , why does Latrell forgive Miren? She betrayed him and it’s not like she’s of any use to him.”

“Do you only care about people who are of use to you?” A knife, not unkind but still sharp, slipped under Coil’s tone and held itself at Light’s throat. He gave out a nervous laugh but didn’t know what to say to defend himself. Instead, Coil spoke before he could.

“Latrell forgives Miren because he has to.” Coil’s untied shoelaces skidded on the ground as he walked. “She needs to be forgiven in order for him to move on and focus on the case. Are there any other questions Light has about a book he hasn’t finished?”

“Well,” Light said. “It’s not like I don’t know the ending.”

“Hm?”

“I read ahead.” Light shrugged. “I saw the ending. I didn’t expect it but I suppose that’s just how most of your endings are.”

“How interesting.” They arrived at a curb where a long, dark car was parked. An older man dressed in a black suit and wide brimmed hat got out from the driver’s seat and went to open the side door. “Seems a bit impatient to not just wait to find out the ending when you finish the whole book.”

“I’m not impatient.” The claws of embarrassment dug into Light’s neck. “I was just curious.”

“You don’t need to defend yourself.” One leg at a time, Coil climbed into the car and then motioned for Light to follow him. “I do the same thing. I told you before that we are very similar. Didn’t you believe me?”

“I didn’t know you.” Light slid in and put on his seat belt. Coil did not. “I still don’t really know you. All that I have to go on about you is that you are a writer and what books you’ve checked out. That’s not very much to judge a person on.”

“And yet I have the feeling Light has already judged me.” Thumb to his mouth, Coil gnawed on his nail. “Am I correct?”

Light opened his mouth and then shut it. He settled back in his seat, arms folded over his chest, and tried to convince himself he wasn’t pouting. Coil smirked behind his thumb and the car began to move. The tinted windows revealed little but neon purple street lights as they passed. Restless, Light fiddled with the zippers on his bag.

“Where are we going?”

“A bookstore.” Coil tilted his head. “How far are you from finishing the novel?”

“Hm?” Light blinked. “Oh. I’m three chapters away. Latrell and Peter keep fighting and it’s frustrating. Everything would be easier if Latrell would just see Peter’s point.” He paused and then looked down, embarrassed. “Of course, you already know that.”

“I did write the novel.”

“Yeah. But I still don’t understand why Latrell is so stubborn.” Dark skies blurred the outlines of buildings until they were shadows. “Peter is right; the murderer should die.”

“That’s not Peter’s decision to make.”

“It is.” Words with harsh edges tripped out of Light’s mouth. “It became his decision when the murderer killed that family.”

After he spoke, silence suffocated the backseat. He folded his hands on top of his bag and avoided looking at Coil. At the front, the old man made no noise but the occasional muffled grumble. Light wished someone would turn on the radio or even tap their fingers against something. The quiet sucked all the energy out of him and spat out anxiety. A question started to form in his mouth when the car slowed to a halt outside an older building. The question disappeared.

The cream painted brick building stood tall with two long windows on either side of a green door. From his window, Light spied a neon sign in the window that said “OPEN” but the inside was blocked from view by bookshelves. Light pushed the door open but jumped back when the old man appeared in front of him. He tried to get out around him but the man wouldn’t budge. Coil leaned over and waved a hand.

“Move, Watari,” he said. “Light needs to get out so I can.”

Watari stepped aside and Light stepped onto the sidewalk. While he came closer to the store, examining what he could see through the shelves, Coil unfolded himself from the backseat and nodded at Watari.

“Head back to the hotel.” His hands returned to his pockets, elbows stuck out at either side. “I’ll contact you on the second phone when we’ll need to be retrieved.”

Second phone? Light’s mind sunk its fingers into the phrase and refused to let go. Another mystery about Coil to unravel. He stood close enough to the window that his nose was nearly pressed against the glass. Coming up beside him, Coil put a hand on his shoulder. Sparks went off around where his hand was but Light stayed still. Under his sweater, a bright spike carried over his skin as though he stuck his finger in an electrical socket.

“You chose an interesting place,” Light said. “Seems crowded.”

“Good bookstores usually are.” Taking his hand away, Coil reached over held the door open. Light ducked under his arm and into the store. Once inside, a warm, dusty smell met his nose while soft music played. Milling around the shelves were various other patrons all with stacks of book held in their arms. A few had unusual hairstyles--green mullets and blue undercuts. Others looked as though they hadn’t slept in weeks but his library work made him used to that sight.

“Where would you like to start?” Coil swept an arm in front of him. The store was arranged so that there were seven rows of bookshelves facing them but through the aisles was the promise of an even deeper treasure trove toward the back. Above a few shelves were hand-painted signs with the genres written in curt capital letters. Light considered his options. To start with mystery would be too obvious yet his interests didn’t often venture past that genre. Maybe literary fiction was the better bet. Bland enough to not say anything about himself beyond being well read. Glancing at Coil, he worried that his decision making begged too much patience and landed on a choice as quick as he could.

“Poetry,” he said, thinking of Coil’s borrowed Siken book. With a nod, Coil started off to the back. While he slipped through the shelves, he looked over his shoulder at Light and talked in a low voice.

“Does Light enjoy poetry? I didn’t expect that of you.”

“I just thought--” Light coughed. “I remembered the books you checked out. There was a poetry one, right?”

“Yes. There was. Fascinating.”

“What?”

“Do you remember all the books people check out?” Coil gave him a sideways look. Light forced a laugh out and shook his head.

“Only the people who end up being my favorite author.” Inwardly, Light cringed at his unexpected candor while a grin came across Coil’s face. As they reached the gold lettered sign reading “Poetry”, Light thought more and more about bolting out of the store. He knew where the nearest train station was and he could be home within the hour. Coil stopped in the middle of the aisle and Light skidded to a halt next to him.

“You flatter me.” Coil looked over to Light with a strange expression. His mouth pulled to the side and his eyes were searching. What they were searching for Light didn’t know. “Is it often that you’re so candid?”

“I tell the truth, if that’s what you’re asking.” Light resisted the urge to bite his nails. “I try to, at least. I just didn’t think before I said that.”

“It was very kind of you to say.”

“Well.” With a sigh, Light gave Coil as open an expression as he could muster. “I have read most of your books. That’s more than I can say about any other authors.”

Turning to the bookshelves, Coil rubbed his finger over the spine of a Walt Whitman book. He tugged on the top of the spine and pulled the book out. Licking his pointer finger, he flipped through the pages while Light dithered over whether to continue the conversation.

“So,” he said. “Are you a poetry fan?”

“Only of certain poets.” Coil spoke in an absent tone. “I enjoy Siken. His diction cuts deep, don’t you think?”

“I’ve never really gotten the point of poetry.” With a lazy gaze, Light looked over the titles on the closest shelf. “It’s too disconnected for me. I like a clear story. There’s too much ambiguity in poetry.”

“You have been reading the wrong poems then.” Stopping at a page near the end of the book, Coil pointed a poem. “Here. Listen to this stanza:

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin

of all poems,

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions

of suns left,)

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look

through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres

in books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,

You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”

Both deep and soft, his voice silenced Light’s thoughts and carried him off into a different place. Under the orange light of the bookstore’s aging bulbs, the peaks of Coil’s hair were illuminated in small curls that left him divine. Light’s vision blurred as he listened to the poetry that Coil siphoned from the book. Part of his body was tight from the worry that someone might come by and discover them. The rest of him was easy.

“Do you hear the connection?” Coil asked.

“I don’t,” Light said. “But it sounds wonderful.”

“Of course it does.” Snapping the book shut, Coil put it back on the shelf in a short, sharp motion. “I was reading it.”

“You’re very full of yourself. Some people find that unattractive, you know?”

“Do you?”

“What? Find arrogance attractive? It doesn’t matter what I find attractive.” Light ran his finger over the dusty wood surface of a shelf. A thin layer of grey covered it when he brought his finger up and he rubbed his thumb against the dust. It turned tacky and Coil mumbled something. “What did you say?”

“I said that whatever Light finds attractive does matter. If you’re going to be my friend, I want to make sure you’re not some pervert.”

“Me?” Light spoke steam whistle sharp. “I’m not the one going around giving my phone number to college students I don’t know. If anyone’s a pervert, it’s you.”

“You shouldn’t be so loud.” Coil stuck a finger in his ear with a put-upon expression. “And I’m not a pervert. After all, you did call me, didn’t you?”

“Only because—” Light shot back but came up short to finish the sentence. He lingered in the space between his next words and his last. Nothing came to him.

“Because what?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Coil sighed loudly and Light wanted to toss him into a river. “I mean that. It doesn’t matter. I only wanted to get to know you better.”

“I want the same thing.”

“No, you want something else.” Voices from the aisles next them quieted to nothing and an unpleasant song crooned over the speakers. The air around them became warm. “You keep prodding me like you want some sort of reaction and then act like you don’t know what I’m talking about when I call you on it. Stop. Just be honest. What do you want from me?”

The scattered shuffle of footsteps flew past between the other bookshelves but where Light and Coil stood no noise arose. A hollow feeling crept up in Light’s stomach not unlike the kind he had before a confession in a Coil novel. Soon the answer would be revealed and fill the hole its absence dug. But Coil stayed silent, chewing on his thumb nail. Singing from his pocket, Coil’s phone glowed through his jeans. He pulled it out using only his thumb and forefinger and answered the call.

“Hello? Oh. Interesting.” He glanced at Light. “Can it wait? Well, alright. Let me know when you arrive.” Coil closed his phone and looked at Light apologetically. “I’m afraid I’m being called away.”

“Of course.” Light nodded with a tsk . So that was what the universe wanted, then? He wrenched up a pleasant smile to cover his disappointment. “That’s too bad.”

A strange but disquieting expression crossed Coil’s face. He took a step forward into Light’s space and stretched an arm up to the top shelf. In his reaching, Coil stood at his full height with his face level to Light’s. Caught between Coil and the bookshelf, Light pulled his shoulders back and met Coil’s gaze.

“Would you like to come with me?”

“What?” Light blinked. “Where?”

“To my work.” Above Light’s head, Coil pulled a book out. Excuses brought themselves out to display their various appeal while Light grasped for something to say. When he stopped and breathed, there was nothing he wanted to say more than yes . Things were more complicated, though, than what he wanted and what he didn’t. He had to consider everything from the way the wind blew to how early his classes were. Coil covered the title of the book with his long fingers. His posture was relaxed but Light saw how the silence struck a tense chord through him.

“I don’t know.” Light put a finger to his lips and pantomimed contemplation.  “I’ll be busy tomorrow morning with school. I shouldn’t be out so late.”

“You don’t have to come. I’m only asking if you want to.” Sharp eyes danced their way over Light’s face. “If it changes things, I’d like to have your help.”

“On what?”

“Ah,” Coil said. “You’ll have to come with me to find out.”

Held still by his own thoughts, Light closed his eyes. If he looked hard enough, he saw Coil as a mess of string. He took the string into his mind’s hands and put his fingers through the loops.

“Yes.” Light pulled the string tight and opened his eyes. “Let’s go.”

...

Light did most of his reading right before bed. A few studies he’d seen said not to be on the computer too soon before sleeping and he respected that. But his mind ran too fast to halt the moment he got under the covers. Instead of flipping through the internet to keep himself occupied, Light read. Lamp on so as not to ruin his vision and pillow behind his back so he didn’t ruin his posture, he dug into whatever novel he was on at the moment. House of Sharp Objects was almost too thrilling to be read before sleeping so he kept a few safer novels in his bedside table drawer. Nothing too exciting-- The Hobbit, which he dipped in and out of, and Middlemarch . His bedtime ritual was strict and punctual--in bed by ten at the latest but nine thirty was preferable.

As Coil’s car glided through traffic, Light checked his watch. Nine o’ clock on the dot. An entire hour, spent in that bookstore fussing with Coil over poetry--he couldn’t believe he’d allowed such a waste of time. Worse still was the elation which bubbled beneath his skin, all because of whatever lie ahead.

“What did you buy?” Light pointed to the paper wrapped bundle in Coil’s hands. Before they left, Coil waved Light out of the store, stating that he had business to finish. He said nothing when he came out holding the package but looked pleased with himself. “Is it the book you were had before? The one you read from?”

“It’s a surprise.” Coil tapped his fingers on the bundle’s surface making a hollow noise like a footstep in snow. “I don’t like to leave bookstores empty handed.”

“Hm.” Upfront, Watari’s wrinkled white hands curved over the steering wheel and Light thought, not for the first time, that he ought to get his own driver’s license soon. The act of driving didn’t seem that hard. All a person had to do was pay attention and mind the rules--two things Light excelled at. He imagined himself in a nice car, much like the one he was in right then, behind the wheel and playing what he liked on the radio. “Well. It was childish of you not to let me see what you got before we left.”

“It’s childish of Light to be so put out over not knowing things,” Coil said. “Don’t you read my novels? Don’t you like mysteries?”

“This isn’t a mystery.” Light slid his gaze to Coil. “You’re just an asshole.”

Coil wiggled his dirty tennis shoes on the seat and set his package to the side. Pulls of light crossed over his face as Watari drove and carved dark angles on his face. His expression appeared distant but hidden beneath that was an alertness as though he knew danger lurked everywhere.

In the dark car, Light allowed himself the passing thought that Coil wasn’t horrible looking. Handsome wasn’t the right word. To say that would imply something classical about how he appeared. Striking was a better descriptor—a tree bent crooked by lighting.

They came to a stop at the front of a hotel. Coil nodded to Watari, who nodded back, and then waved at Light.

“If you could please get out,” he said, “then I can follow you.”

Light studied the front of the hotel. Tall and glowing, the building reached up a long elegant stretch. The entry way to the lobby was a faded pink accented by gold lining over the archway and around the glass doors.

Inside the lobby was much the same color scheme except now a white flower pattern covered the pink background. A few people lingered on ornate sofas set near a fireplace that wasn’t lit. Hotel staff hurried around with towels in hand, holding suitcases for guests who looked tired from long trips. Light and Coil made their way to the elevators in a quick but confident stroll. Once there, Coil pressed the up button and stood beside Light in silence.

“Peter is my favorite character,” Light blurted out. “Of the Latrell novels, I mean. I have other favorites too.”

“Oh?” Coil’s voice drooped over his words. “That’s unsurprising. Most people like Peter.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing." The elevator dinged as its doors slid open and Light stepped inside first. Coil shambled in after and pressed the top floor button. “He’s a good person. That’s why everyone likes him.”

“Is that the only reason you like him?” Words turned cotton-like, Coil spoke around his thumb as he chewed on the nail. It made a wheezing sound between his teeth. Light looked around the elevator, all chrome and nothing like the pink flowers of the lobby. He molded an answer in his head with fingerprints pressed in thoughtful places.

“He wants to change things,” Light said. “Peter supports the law, upholds it, but he knows there will always be flaws that allow the unjust to go free. He works to make sure that people get the punishment they deserve.”

“Do you think Latrell doesn’t want to change things?” Underneath his lazy tone, Coil sounded interested. A warm feeling spread through Light. He loved when people listened to him.

“He doesn’t.” Light closed his eyes and imagined an open copy of House of Sharp Objects. He flipped through it and scanned the pages. He considered the words. “Latrell only does things if he wants to do them. He says he supports justice but he refuses to work with the police. Peter is the only one he ever works with and even then, he acts like Peter is too strict. Just because Latrell has the moral fiber of a sugar wafer doesn’t mean he can act like anyone who believes in the law is wrong to do so. He doesn’t want to change things because if he did then he wouldn’t get away with half of what he does.”

Light took in a deep breath, unaware until that moment that he hadn’t taken one once during his speech.

“You seem to have more feelings about Latrell,” Coil said, “than Peter. Why do you think that is?”

“I just—,” Light started but was saved by the elevator door opening. He hurried out and Coil trailed behind him. Down the hallway was pink and white striped wallpaper and an ornate flower patterned carpet. At the fifth door, Coil stopped Light’s momentum with a hand on his elbow.

“We’re here.” Coil’s hand fell away. “Sorry. I don’t remember what pocket my key card is in. Will you hold this for me?”

He pushed the brown package into Light’s hands and then patted down his jeans. Slapping wildly at his ass, Coil nodded to himself and yanked out a plastic card. With that card fell out two other items: another card and a note pad.

“Oh.” Coil bent down and collected his things. Light caught a good look of one thing--a sleek black credit card--but only saw the worn edges of the notepad. “I forget everything I keep in these pockets. Alright. Let’s go in.”

Coil opened the door to a room both luxurious and antiquated. The fixtures, furniture and walls looked like ghosts out of black and white film. Light slipped his shoes off at the door and his feet sunk into the cream carpet--a contrast to the complicated pattern in the hall. Meandering further in, Coil left his shoes on and left little imprints as he walked. He looked over his shoulder and his mouth hitched up at the corner.

“You have nice socks.” He pointed at Light’s feet. “Does Light like sushi a lot?”

“What? Oh.” Light crossed one foot over the other as though trying to hide the little sashimi that covered his socks. “No. My sister got them for me for my birthday. She thinks she’s funny.”

“She is.”

Light sighed. He set the brown package onto a vanity next to the door and took a better look around the room. At the center was one long sofa in the same style as the furniture in the lobby and one single seat chair. They surrounded a glass coffee table covered with various papers and manila folders. Every stack of papers had the neon colored post it notes sticking out from the sides. A laptop sat open on one stack with a screensaver of a white snowy mountain. To the side was a large grid paper pad set up on an easel with Coil’s blocky script spelling out fragmented sentences.

Coil climbed onto the couch and patted the seat next to him. Dropping his bag next to his shoes, Light came over. When he sat down, the couch sunk with his weight and Coil slid down close to him. Their hips touched and Light strained to think about anything but the soft contact. His attention turned instead to the papers on the table. A few of them were paper clipped together with small photographs--mostly of men but a few of women. He took one to examine while Coil typed in the password to his laptop. The screen changed from a mountain to a desktop covered in file shortcuts. The background wasn’t even visible beneath all the pixelated folders.

“Do you ever delete any files?”

“Why would I?” Coil said. “I need all of them.”

A snide response floated through Light’s mind but he focused on the paper instead. The more he read, the more he realized what he held was a criminal profile. Grabbing another paper, he found a different profile listing off personality analysis and suspicious behaviors.

“What are these?”

“Case files.” Coil shrugged. “Profiles I’ve been making of suspects.”

“Suspects?” Light held the paper tighter and studied the picture clipped to it—a driver’s license photo of a dark haired man in glasses and a suit. “Are these suspects in one of your novels? But there’s real people’s pictures on these.”

“Yes, they are real.” Coil rubbed his eye and rolled his shoulders. “I’m leading a current criminal investigation.”

“A criminal investigation.” Light breathed and his fingers shook. “Are you—are you working with the police?”

“More like,” Coil paused and tapped his finger to his mouth, “the police are working for me.”

“What?”

“If I tell you something,” Coil said, “will you not tell anyone else?”

“Uh.” Light scrunched his face in confusion. “Yes?”

“I’m L.”

Air rushed out of Light’s chest until he was a hollow bird cage for his pounding heart. L? The world’s greatest detective? Something rubbed raw on the inside of Light’s mind as he tried to put the man next to him together with both the title of Eraldo Coil and L. He couldn’t possibly be both. His empty hand clenched and unclenched around the very concept that he sat next to L. No. He couldn’t believe Coil the instant he said something. To do so would prove him an idiot both in his and Coil’s eyes. No, he needed to push for more evidence. With an unsteady breath, he sat up straight and shook his head. Air flowed back into him and his thoughts readjusted themselves.

“Oh.” Light tried to hide the strain in his voice. “Really?”

“Yes.” Curiosity perked up Coil’s voice. He looked over at Light with questions in his eyes. “Do you believe me?”

“Can I be honest?” Coil nodded and Light tilted his head up, turning his gaze up to the ceiling. He dropped back and folded his arms behind his head. The casual effect was successful but he wished the sofa might have been a little more comfortable. Its hard gold edging dug into his arms. “No. I don’t believe you. There’s no proof.”

“Are these case files not enough proof for Light?”

“Pfft.” Light shut his eyes. “Anyone can fudge some files and pictures, you know that. I accept that you’re Eraldo Coil, but L as well? You’ll have to convince me.”

He peeked one eye open. Next to him Coil smiling as though thinking of a private joke and he tapped on his laptop. Light sniffed and looked away, still waiting for a response. Instead, silence stretched between them until something crackled awake on the laptop.

“Hello?” A gargled voice spoke and caught Light’s attention. That was his father’s voice. “Ryuzaki?”

“Hello, Mr. Yagami,” Coil said. “I’d like to make a request of you. I apologize for the hour but this is most urgent.”

“Is it related to the case?” Light’s father’s voice was hurried. “I can be at headquarters as soon as possible.”

“In some ways, yes.” Finger to his lips, Coil cast a sidelong glance at Light. “In other ways, no.”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“I’ll explain later. Right now, I’d like if you could confirm that I’m the detective known as L.”

A brief pause followed and then Light’s father took in a deep breath.

“I can confirm this,” he said. “But isn’t it a bit dangerous for you to reveal yourself over the phone?”

“Perhaps.” Light met Coil’s gaze and something warm surfaced in it. He hadn’t seen such a look directed at himself before—a look of curiosity. Like Light was a puzzle worth solving. “But I have a good reason.”

“I trust you.” Light’s father coughed. “I need to go now, Ryuzaki.”

“Of course. Have a good evening.” L clicked out of the video file. He gestured with his hand toward the laptop as Light continued to stare wide eyed at him. “Do you believe me now?”

“I—,” Light started. “I suppose I do.”

Too many thoughts swirled in Light’s stomach and sickness swelled. Leaning down, he put his head between his knees and breathed heavily. A hand patted his back which made him breathe even harder.

“Don’t be so startled,” L’s hand stilled at the center of Light’s back and radiated heat through his sweater. “I’m sure this is a shock but it’s no reason to hyperventilate.”

“I’m not hyperventilating.” Light spoke between shallow breaths and realized as he did so that he was, definitely, hyperventilating. “Okay. I am. But there’s a lot I need to process right now.”

“True.” Softly, L’s hand lifted and the place it had been felt cold. “Should I leave?”

“No. I’ll get over it.” Light imagined a pen and then the pen writing out the word “black.” He followed the looping scroll of his mind’s hand until his insides stilled and his breathing evened. Back cracking as he uncurled himself, Light settled his elbows on his thighs and stared at the wall. Beside him, L shifted his legs until he faced Light.

“Do you feel better now?” His voice was cautious in a way Light hadn’t heard before. Exhaling, Light looked out at the table of files.

“I’m still a little freaked out,” he admitted. “But I’m better. So, you’re the world’s greatest detective and a great novelist? It’s almost unfair you get both titles.”

“While we’re here, Light should refer to me as Ryuzaki.” L held up one finger. “You should also know that whatever we discuss within this room shouldn’t leave it. Some details of the case can’t be shared with the public. Do you understand that?”

“Of course.” Shaking his head, Light scanned L’s face for signs of acknowledgement. “Why are you telling me this? What can you gain from me knowing your identity?”

“I find Light to be a man with interesting perspectives,” L said. “You’ve got a sharp mind. Your help on this case would be beneficial to me.”

“How would you know if I have a sharp mind?” Light scrunched his nose. “We’ve only just met.”

L went silent, eyes darting back and forth like a tennis match over whether or not to say what he wanted to say. Both of his hands were set on his knees and his fingers bunched the denim.

“You’re at the top of your class in university. You obviously have an interest in deduction and have confidence in your skills. You have strong convictions.” L shot his eyes to the left of Light. “Also I’ve been observing Light for longer than I’ve been formally acquainted with him.”

Light widened his eyes and then narrowed them. A little parade of frustration popped through his thoughts.

“Observing is a strange way to say spying on me.”

“I had to investigate every member of my taskforce, which your father is a member of, and their families,” L said. “To ensure none of them were possible suspects. Of course, I realize my observation of you was a bit closer than I came to my other subjects. But Light should remember I am trying to catch a murderer.”

“You came to my workplace,” Light said. “You gave me your number. Did you suspect I was a murderer then?”

“No.” A flat tone covered up a reedy note of embarrassment in L’s voice. “That was after I concluded my investigation into the Yagami family.”

“Then why meet me at all?”

“I liked you.” L said. “I thought I might get to know you face to face. That’s all I want to do.”

Light twisted his hands together. Having attention paid to him was no new occurrence. People tended to like him as a good and attractive young man should be liked. Why then did the feeling of L looking at him cause a tremor up his spine? Nothing came to mind except an errant thought about how elegant L’s fingers looked on his knees—how Light wanted to reach and brush against them.

“You said you’d like my help on this case?” His voice was thin even to his own ears. “What have you got so far?”

L started to sift through the papers on the table and point out what information was relevant. Light nodded when appropriate and swept his more sentimental thoughts under a rug. L picked up a print out with statistics listed in English. He handed it to Light, who squinted at the tiny font as his vision blurred with drowsiness. A quick glance at what hour it was sent visions of his parents panicking through his head.

“That’s peculiar.” Light yawned. “Is this a list of the attorneys who prosecuted the murdered criminals?”

“Yes.” A little enthusiasm invaded L’s voice. “Do you see anything worth noting?”

“Yeah.” Blinking slowly, Light started to slip down the couch with his mind starting to warm over. “There’s one guy who’s worked on every case.”

“Exactly.” Light heard L smack his hand on his knee but lost the rest of what was said. Sleep closed all the windows in the house of his mind and he slid further down the couch. His cheek fell on something both soft and hard but it faded as the last window fell shut.

He didn’t dream of anything.

Chapter Text

Aggressive beeping woke Light up. He groaned, slapped his hand at the sound and hit his phone. It vibrated unhappily. Eight panicked text messages from his mother and father glared at him through his parted fingers. Light buried his head into the pillow. His mind got up on sleep shaky legs and assessed his situation.  

Light opened his eyes achingly to an opulent hotel room. Indents sunk into his skin from yesterday’s clothes and sweat made each layer sticky. Sunlight filtered in through thin curtains to cast gold stripes over the carpet. He snapped his lips together. Ah. He was in Coil’s hotel room. No, wait. L’s hotel room. And L’s bed, apparently.

He remembered the night before having fallen asleep past his usual bedtime but didn’t recall the move to a bed. At some point he’d been carried from the sitting room into the luxurious mattress he curled up in now. Had L taken him? Light tried to imagine bird-thin arms hoisting him into the comfortable cup of duvet and then tucking him in but the thought was too ridiculous. There was no way L would leave him alone. 

His back clicked as Light sat up and looked to his left. Creamy piles of duvet lay next to him with folded paper mounted on top like a small party hat. He took the paper—a weighty sheaf of grid-covered parchment—and unfolded it. Although the note was short, L’s handwriting took up most of the page including a small smiley face splotch at the end.

Dear Light,

I hope you’ve had a good rest. After so many revelations last night, I imagine you’re quite exhausted. I stepped out to deal with a separate case as well as find someplace with good croissants. My absence is not permission to snoop so please keep your hands to yourself and don’t pry into my writing desk. However, the files in the sitting room are free for you to look over and familiarize yourself with, if you choose.

Yours, L  

Light set the note on the bedside table and took up his phone. His missed texts were a nightmare—a shifting amalgamation of the same frantic question about his whereabouts. As he flipped through all of them, guilt seeped from his pores. How could he have been so careless, so selfish, as to not let his family know where he was? He was a terrible son.  

Another, more frightening thought struck him. He didn’t have any good reason to give them for his disappearance. What was he going to do? Just roll out the fact that he fell asleep in the great detective L’s bed? Light flopped back onto the pillows and squeezed his hand into a fist. A poor situation if he ever saw one.  

Eventually he swung his legs over the bedside and made his way to the adjoining bathroom. Light splashed water on his face and used a fancy towel to dry off. His mouth was still soft from sleep but without a toothbrush all he could do was swirl water in his mouth. He spat it out and gave himself a once over in the mirror. Creased but not disheveled, he sported a new messy hairstyle where his bangs stuck this way and that. The collar of his shirt was rumpled. Light gingerly straightened it and ran a hand down his front. He noticed then that someone took off his coat from the night previous.  

Popping out of the bathroom, Light took a quick glance around the room. He found his coat draped over a chair that sat in front of a closed wooden secretary desk. Light thumbed his coat with a slow consideration before pulling open the desk. As the cover rolled up, it displayed a cacophony of stationary—all loose paper, ballpoint pens and various colored sticky notes. One thick notebook with strained binding sat to the side of L’s half-closed laptop. Light slipped on his coat and began to sift through all the papers. No sense of guilt touched him. L’s own privacy violations left him no right to forbid Light’s peeping.  

Light struggled to read L’s looping English which wasn’t as clear as the note L had written him. However, he made out enough to tell these were outlines of Eraldo Coil novels. Character names stood out as he took up paper after paper until finally his hand rested on the notebook. Held closed by a frayed elastic band, the notebook busted with sticky notes and stained edges. A few pieces of paper stuck out as well, their corners worn down as though rubbed too many times. Light lifted it, took a breath and put the book into the inner pocket of his coat before his common sense caught up.  

Imbued with urgency by his petty theft, Light rushed out from the bedroom. He scooped up his bag where it still laid at the front entrance while maintaining a brisk jog. Light hit the hotel lobby with tunnel vision toward the double doors. He peeked around furtively for a sign of L returning from his croissant quest and tried not to catch any other guest’s eyes. No one looked at him yet he assumed they all glared once his back faced them. That strange man in the penthouse hired a lazy prostitute, they must’ve thought or—worse—they thought he was some personal assistant in over his head. The implication that he might be incompetent proved more loathsome to Light than assumed promiscuity and his wait for the train was torturous. 

He chanced a call to Sayu and laid the seeds of an easy lie—drank a little too much with his new friend, lost track of time—in the hopes sibling sympathy made her cover for him. Their connection crackled along with the click of the midday commuters, who bumped against each other after every rattle of the car. Light studied their faces, drawing his gaze through the cavernous wrinkles on them, and closed his eyes. A headache tapped at his skull but remained on the doorstep outside. 

“So you weren’t robbed last night?” Disappointment colored Sayu’s voice. “Dad thought you might’ve been robbed.”  

“What? No.” Light shook his head. “Why would he think I was robbed?”  

“Why else wouldn’t you come home? Besides being robbed or killed. Although if you’d been killed, Dad would’ve known.” 

Sighing, Light pinched the bridge of his nose. “That’s morbid. Will you tell them what I told you? That I fell asleep at my friend’s house while we studied?” 

Sayu gave an exaggerated cough and Light felt sure she was going to demand more information. Instead, she laughed. 

“Sure. I’ll just tell them you didn’t want to come home too late and wake everyone up.” 

“Can you?” 

“For the low price of two thousand yen,” Sayu said. “Pay up this evening and you’ll be covered.” 

Light rolled his eyes and his hands unclenched. “How generous.”  

After a short good bye, he hung up and tucked his phone into his coat. His fingers bumped against the notebook and he jumped as though shocked. He dropped both hands to his lap but couldn’t ignore the weight against his ribs. Every shake of the train pressed it closer to him and refused to let his mind wander far from its rumpled pages. 

Desperate thoughts curdled his mind as Light jumped off at his stop and walked home. What sort of strange magic had L given this notebook? Some kind of cruel charm infected his limbs with insufferable anxiety so Light fought to keep them steady. He walked up his parent’s driveway, one hand in his pocket as he thumbed L’s black notebook and the other one swinging. The door was unlocked so he went inside without knocking. His sister’s pink slip-ons were the only shoes at the front so he dropped his own next to them.  

For a moment, he stood motionless in the front hallway and flexed his toes. Second-day sock gumminess set in and a thousand touches—L handing him a poetry book, giving him a case file, whatever mysterious finger brushes he’d left behind when removing a sleeping Light’s coat—hit Light until their weight tilted him forward. He held a hand to his chest and felt his rapid heartbeat. What an inelegant sensation to be so arrested by imagined touches.  

Light ran upstairs, ignored his sister’s shouted greetings and shut his bedroom door. The lock hissed shut right as his phone vibrated. He took a slow breath and answered without checking the caller id. He knew who was calling him.

“I told you not to snoop.” L’s brusque tone was off-set by his obvious chewing. “Are you illiterate? The library ought to know they’ve hired an illiterate thief.”

“I’m not a thief.” Light frowned. “Stones and glass houses. You’ve been spying on me for who knows how long and know more about me than I know about you. I think this just evens things out.”

“I only had you followed for two months. By my standards, that’s nothing.”

“Two months is a very long time to spy on someone and then ask them on a date,” Light said. “You had two months to watch me do every little thing and I’ve only had a few days to know you.”

A frustrated sigh was followed by L taking another loud bite out of what Light assumed was a croissant. “I want my notebook back,” L whined. “I can’t do any work without it.”

“You’ll survive.” Arms folded over his chest, Light dropped onto his twin bed with angry grace. “Why don’t you just trust me? I’m not going to put photocopies on the Internet.”

He picked at his coat sleeve while listening to L sip tea in annoyed slurps. Light wished he had his own breakfast to pointedly eat over the phone just so the conversation were leveled. Part of him was petulant about being caught but another part of him burned for a piece. If L consumed two months of his life, wasn’t it fair that Light get this small piece of L’s? Like a brick, the notebook weighed in his pocket and dragged him down. He reclined flat across his bed still with L chewing in his ear.

At last, L swallowed. “Alright,” he said. “Read it if you want. But I expect it back with no written additions or spills.”

Light uttered a short agreement and hung up after L got called away by echo-voiced room service. Phone closed, he laid one hand over his stomach and the other on his coat pocket. Before any deep thoughts arouse, a hungry gurgle came from his stomach that reminded Light he slept through breakfast.

He removed his coat, fished out the notebook and put it on his desk. Before leaving to the kitchen, he gave it one last look. The black leather appeared less expensive in his room than it had at the hotel. Now it looked mundane with crinkled paper edges and cracked binding. Yet Light knew he wasn’t just holding a notebook; what he had was a key to a door he wanted to unlock.  

His mind stuck over whether or not he’d like whatever was behind that door as Light went downstairs. The thought vanished once he entered the kitchen as hunger took over instead.

…  

Sayu, true to her word, covered for Light best as she could but he wasn’t saved from a serious talk with his father. It was uncomfortable for both of them. Light was a Good Kid and his father repeated that phrase during the talk while his mother shouted frequent additions about his Future Responsibilities chopping onions in the kitchen. After agreeing to be more open in his communication, Light shook his father’s hand with full knowledge he had an even bigger secret to hide.  

Parental disappointment dealt with, Light dedicated his weekend to reading L’s notebook. It accompanied him on Saturday when he covered Kiyomi’s shift at the library after she got called to an unexpected journalist club meeting. He hunkered down at the front desk and spent hours reading the tight bold English.

The demand that Light not muss L’s precious notebook became ludicrous from the first page. L spilled often on the pages and whole plot diagrams were tea-stained. None of the notebook gave any hint about House of Sharp Objects’ plot which suited Light fine. Instead, he found thoughts written in the margins about the investigation that brought L to Japan. His own name had a pink highlight surrounded by various notes about his comings and goings. Light searched for any upsetting details but became flustered when he found every note was about some new quality L enjoyed. Recordings of his home and college activities flourished by comments of dedicated, charming and independently intelligent as well as some trivial observations about Light’s habits—fastidious, enjoys sports television, feeds stray cat after his mother said not to—filled three pages. At the end of the third page beneath L’s conclusion about Light’s lack of involvement was an uncertain note—next move: unknown.

Light tried not to grin too widely at the library desk but found it difficult. He couldn’t contain how nice knowing L marked their relationship as a question felt in his bones. Confusion didn’t belong to Light alone.

Another name—Teru Mikami—had a yellow highlighted square around it and had been in the attorney files from L’s hotel room. It was surrounded by a few dates and locations linked with branches of ink. He recognized one location as a store some blocks from To-Oh’s campus known for custom furniture—Divine Designs. Light took a few sticky notes, jotted down information that struck him and folded them up in his coat pocket before he left his shift. 

He reached more scandalous sections while in his own room. Contained between grease spots were notes written on sex positions, erogenous zones and public indecency laws. Before when reading the Coil novels, Light found the eroticism to be trite—a cliché of what someone would want. His disinterest shifted as Light read the notes now with cheeks flushed. He bit his tongue gently, sour that he knew exactly why the writing affected him as it hadn’t before. Every scrawl about where to touch and kiss whispered to him in L’s voice—the same languid tone that read Light poetry and revealed the detective’s true identity—until he had no choice but to enjoy it. 

One such section was a quiet moment between two characters from Little Sister. From his bare recollection, the novel’s protagonist Bintie killed her brother after he stole a Rembrandt etching from her private collection and her lover, a cautious dancer named Heaven, helped to cover the murder up. The short paragraph scribbled beneath a larger note to remove the scene captured Light’s entire attention.

Through red curls, Bintie stared at her Heaven and his long tan body in her bed. His mouth sunk into a terrible frown even as she straddled him. Silk pulled thin across her chest as her sheer nightgown revealed alert nipples and sloped breasts. Bintie bent over Heaven and kissed his forehead.

“Do you regret what you’ve done?” Heaven blinked as a red curl brushed his face. He tucked it behind Bintie’s ear with a tender touch. “Or are you too happy to have your art back where you want it?”

Her answer wasn’t a word or sound. She trailed a long fingered hand down his chest until it rested right at his waist. With the same smile she wore when stepping over her brother’s corpse to reclaim her painting, Bintie dragged her palm over Heaven’s clothed cock. A hiss escaped him but she said nothing. Instead she laid another greedy stroke to the hard ridge beneath her.

Light rolled a finger over the word cock and imagined L saying it—the elastic bend of his mouth and caustic click of the last k. A shiver trickled down his spine as he read further descriptions of heaving chests, labored kisses and something L described as the spiced scent of attraction. It burned to read and not be physically touched, to exist outside the sensual.

Once he finished, Light locked the notebook away in his desk drawer and opened his balcony doors. Sunday evening made the outside air heavy and dark which shocked his warm cheeks and neck. He had on a thin sweater that didn’t keep out the chill. When he pulled it tighter to him, Light realized its familiarity—the sweater was the same he’d worn the first time he met L.

Without thought, he pressed his sleeve covered wrist to his nose and inhaled. Logically, Light knew there could be no aroma left over in the fabric from that brief encounter many days before. Yet, after his eyes shut and he sniffed again, Light conjured some cinnamon and clove sharpness to his nose. The spiced scent of attraction, he thought and drew his wrist away. What a stupid trick to play on himself. He smelled the sleeve once more, to prove his own foolishness, and inhaled instead the oaky perfume of old books. 

“I smell like a library.” Light frowned and dropped his arms to the balcony railing. “I smell like my stupid job.” 

…  

His next shift wasn’t until Tuesday so Light spent Monday in and out of classes. Kiyomi stopped him for lunch at a small sandwich shop where she gave him her “big news.”   

“They’re assigning me to cover those heart attack murders.” She slurred the word murder around a bite of katsu. “Big time senior editor rewards!”  

“Very thrilling.” Light pulled the bread off his beef sandwich and thought about L at his laptop, L at a crime scene. “Your portfolio will look really good with that story in it.” 

That night Sayu made the family sit and watch an actor she mooned over received a cheap gold statue for best kiss. Light sunk into the couch next to his father, who asked dutiful but detached questions about each celebrity. With two fingers, Light traced his own lips in a compulsive circle without hearing anything but his own heartbeat. He continued to touch them once in bed, staring at the ceiling with his hand’s weight substituting a familiar mouth. His tongue slipped out to lick his lips before Light rolled from his bed and grabbed L’s notebook. 

He crawled back beneath the covers and flipped to find a kiss scene just to stroke the words. The pages opened to an unused section from A Doll’s Game, an erotic thriller based on a real LA murder spree, that Light devoured eagerly. 

Nomi pressed Rambler to the wall by his wrists and kissed him, pressure against his lips stronger than all the fire that once consumed him. He smiled and let that curve open his mouth to hers. Their tongues interlocked but Nomi didn’t kiss for battle. Even as she bore down on him, Rambler felt her gentle licks, her easy rhythm, until she released his hands and he grasped her by the hips.

“If you try to set yourself on fire again,” she said, “I’ll put you out. I’ll always put you out.”

  Rambler pulled away and stared at Nomi—her face flushed, hair wild and pulled from her ponytail. He reached up and pushed the dark strands away, brushed them behind her ear.

“My hero,” he said.

Light traced the words and closed his eyes. He conjured the image for himself as a close up: two mouths together as soft as the ones L wrote about and their shared tremble.  Slowly, as Light dropped his hand from the book and touched his own lips again, the image widened to show it was himself and another man engaged in a ferocious kiss. Fingers tugging his lower lip, he trailed his hand down his chest as this dream man shifted into L’s bent figure. A yearning melted his skin until it was so sensitive that he shuddered when his covers brushed him, sure their touch was the bare graze of L’s fingers. 

Despite his buzzing skin, Light went no further than his hand against his briefs’ waistband. His body ached, but the final inch toward the warmth between his legs was too far for him. With a storm in his stomach, Light forced himself to sleep and jittered all the way down. The most difficult eroticism besieged his dreams wherein pleasure he couldn’t articulate siphoned strength from his limbs as an unknown mouth kissed him. Tuesday began with the need for fresh underwear and a shower. 

His shift at three was tearfully boring. Only a handful of students came into the library and most of them did nothing more than have covert conversations. Light witnessed at least two love note rejections and one acceptance. He told all three parties they were too loud and enjoyed the crestfallen expressions as a sort of sand over the romantic fire building in his head.  

Light settled back at the desk with a sixth left of House of Sharp Objects, satisfied by telling another white-faced freshman to pipe down his love confessionHe read one sentence before a stack of books dropped on the desk and startled him. The book fell from his hands and revealed L staring down at him. His tangled hair struggled to stay in a ponytail. Escaped strands curled over his temples and cheeks. A brown satchel strap twisted in his right hand and his left one picked his lip. 

“You made me lose my place.” Light collected House of Sharp Objects and shoved his bookmark where he thought he’d been. “Don’t you super detectives learn anything about stealth? Or manners?” 

“Super detectives don’t have to be taught stealth.” L pinched his chapped lower lip and a dot of blood appeared. “I was born predisposed to sneaking and snooping. Manners, on the other hand, don’t apply when I’m talking to a known thief.” 

Carefully, Light set his book aside and folded his arms across the desk. “Did you want to check out these books?” He gestured to the stack of hardcovers with an innocent smile. “Or just accuse me of crimes?”

L sighed and pushed his library books forward. “Do your job then.” As Light started to scan the books, L leaned in and kept speaking in a lower tone. “I didn’t just come for my notebook. I wanted to discuss the case with you.” 

Light tapped the spine of an Agatha Christie novel to the desk with unearned impatience. “I don’t have your notebook here.” 

“Light ought to keep better track of other people’s things,” L said. “Especially important things like my writing.” 

Rolling his eyes, Light held out his hand for L’s library card. The plastic had a deceitful weight when he flicked it around in his fingers and checked the name. Misa AmaneGod, he’d heard that name before. Was it a celebrity? He handed the card back and L caught his wrist. Light swallowed as fingertips haunted by faded ink skated across his palm.   

“I’ll give you the notebook back soon.” He took his hand away, still vibrating at the touch, and turned an expression of measured disinterest at L. “It wasn’t even that interesting.” 

L fixed Light with a doubtful look. “I’m sure you were plenty interested.” His hand flexed around the satchel strap while he spoke. “Did you even read it?”

“I read enough.” An anthology of mystery science fiction dropped onto the scanner as Light swallowed his heart down from his throat. “You have an awful lot of notes about sex. And me.” 

“I was investigating you. And my books are erotic mysteries, if you’ll remember.” L shook his head with a whistling inhale. “Didn’t you find the details eye-opening?” 

“They were fine.” Light nearly bit his tongue to keep the truth inside. “I’m not that interested in the erotic parts of your novels, to be honest, and I skipped over those notes. Kissing isn’t what I read your books for.”

Disbelief in L’s expression quickly turned smug. “Really? Then what do you read them for?”

Light spoke in a bone-dry tone. “The mysteries, usually.”

“Oh.” L appeared to be put out like a smoking candle. His big eyes caught Light in their gaze and held him fast, an odd vulnerability marked in their darkness. “Do you know me, now that you’ve read my notes?”

Light took a hard swallow. He fiddled with the book in his hand while his heart thudded.

“I don’t know.” He couldn’t meet L’s eyes, afraid that to look at him would mean L would know the lie between his words. Reading the notebook threaded a type of trust through Light’s defenses but not completely. Whatever key contained therein opened only the slimmest of doors and through that door came in small pieces of L which inspired disquieting emotion in Light. His hands clenched these thoughts into submission until L sniffed and spoke again. 

“There’s a lead on the case I’d like the two of us to follow up on,” L said. “Before you fell asleep, you correctly deduced a connecting factor between all the criminals killed so far besides the heart attacks—a particular attorney on the prosecuting team for every accused.” 

“Teru Mikami.” Light whispered the name and L nodded. “Is there anything besides his profession you’re suspicious of?” 

“Here isn’t the place to discuss this,” L looked over his shoulder and then back to Light, “but an investigation done previous to your involvement has told me he has a touch of religious fanaticism.” 

“A touch?” 

“Yes.” Dark eyes glinted with a wry humor. “He's joined at least five different churches over two years but left each after a few months. He also keeps a list of names locked in his work desk, many of which match our victims.” 

The hair on Light’s neck prickled. “A list? Do we have that list?”  

“An agent tailing him was able to break in and make a photocopy.” L frowned and dug into his satchel. He handed a glossy picture of a full notebook page to Light. “Take some time to go over it and this week I’d like us to meet and discuss.” 

Light squinted at the small handwriting and his eyes widened. “Wait.” He pointed at a line and held the paper for L to see. “This isn’t written all in the same handwriting.” His expression fell as L grinned. “You already knew that, didn’t you?” 

“Yes,” L said. “I like to see you figure things out, though.” 

Materials clattered in the bag as L continued to rummage. Hair slipped from his ponytail and laid in an unruly stripe down his face. Light fidgeted, glanced around the library to see it mostly empty and reached up. He tucked the dark curls behind L’s ear with his finger grazing the shell. L froze the moment he was touched and panic rippled through Light, who pulled his hand back.   

“Sorry,” he said. “Your hair. It fell.” 

“Yes. Thank you.” L flashed his gaze from his bag to where Light’s nervous hands folded over each other. “It’s your birthday soon, right?” 

“It was my birthday several weeks ago.” Light tried to sound playful but only managed a strained smile. “Didn’t you spy on the party?” 

L shook his head. “You didn’t have a party.” He stopped and removed what he’d been looking for—a small wrapped package. “You stayed home. Your mother made your favorite dinner and you got a set of watercolors you still haven’t used. I remember now.” 

Encased in brown paper, there was no doubt this was the same package L brought from the bookstore. Light held out his hands and L slipped the parcel into them, careful not to let their fingers touch. It didn’t weigh as much as Light expected but somehow an emotional heft made his hands dip once he took the package. Thumbing over the folds, his mouth went dry of politeness.

“You left too quickly the morning after our date,” L said. “Your gift felt abandoned so I had to bring it today.”

Light peeled back the brown paper until a book bloomed from it. The hardcover was white with small green leaves spun into a circle around the title—A Song of Myself—and, below that in fine print, the name Walt Whitman. He traced his finger around the leaves and felt their detailed imprints like insect legs.

“The gift felt abandoned?” He smirked at L. “What did it say?”

“That it had to meet you. Begged me night and day too.” L nodded with an affected stoicism. “Too annoying to let it keep whining.”

“This is beautiful.” Light’s smirk melted into a genuine smile. “Thank you.”

There wasn’t a response. Instead, L gathered his library books and slipped them into his satchel. He paused, hands stilted over the bag, and licked his lips. In his face was the same yearning Light knew from his own skin. Setting his gift down, he leaned forward. When their eyes met, Light saw within L a door creak open. 

“I hope you enjoy the poetry,” L said finally. “Savor what you read.”

L’s departure from the library was quick after that. However, Light felt as though someone shut off all the library’s lamps and he wandered through a benign darkness during the rest of his shift.

… 

That evening, Light locked himself in his room again to the protests of his mother, who wanted the family to play Parcheesi together. He flipped through A Song of Myself with gentle fingers, afraid almost to press too hard and bend one. They skittered against his fingertips until resting together with the front cover open to L’s scrawled inscription under the title page. It was a sparse note that still set an uninvited fire in Light’s stomach:

For someone full of multitudes I’d like to know. Please tell me if you like the book but keep it a secret if you don’t. All the best, L ⸙⸙

Beside his name, L drew a splotchy set of leaves. Had he used a fountain pen? Certainly the ceremony of the note spoke to the use of some old-fashion implement. Had L written the note while Light slept? He would have been at the desk, probably, not more than a few feet from the bed. Had he glanced at Light while he wrote and seen something in his face to inspire the note? Had L hidden a message within the words?

Light lost his breath to the intimacy and shut the book before holding it close. Against his chest, the weight was solid. When he slept that night, his dreams were full of twisted leaves and heavy kisses. 

Wednesday and Thursday saw the library closed for a carpet cleaning and Light in his room analyzing poetry. Library work had not left him any better at literary criticism than he’d been when he started the job. However, Walt Whitman was an engaging writer whose work got a boost from housing whatever secret message L wanted Light to find. Lines of pink, yellow and blue highlighter blocked out whole pages with notes written to the side guessing at contexts.

He said one line to himself again and again, his voice a quiet tracing of each word: “I am large. I contain multitudes.” Light tasted the delicate tack of Whitman’s poem but couldn’t mark the exact flavor beyond its flat interpretation. He didn’t want to believe there was nothing more than just an acknowledgement of human fallibility. Sighing, Light pinched the bridge of his nose and drew a spindly question mark next to the line. When the author provided no murdered body for him to investigate, Light didn’t have much luck in solving the text’s mysteries.

After another twenty minutes reading senseless comments about nature, Light stepped back and looked around his room. Grey tones painted every piece of furniture which appeared to him, for the first time, as indifferent. Compared to the rich colors of the hotel room he fell asleep in and the worn sepia of the bookstore, Light’s room appeared too Spartan, too impersonal.

He couldn’t possibly have lived here, could he? In a room that looked like no one owned it? He studied the two metal bookshelves filled with, of all things, architecture books. For the life of him, Light couldn’t think of anything he enjoyed about the books beside their admirable weight next to his tennis trophy.

Light turned and sat on his bed, elbow bent on his knee and chin propped on his hand. Eyes closed, he thought of the many weeks L spent spying on him and pretended he too was looking at himself as a stranger. After a deep inhale, he looked again at his room. He traced the clean lines of his desk, muddied only by his computer and a stack of physics worksheets, until they connected with the hard jut of his bookshelves. Skipping over the blurred together book titles such as Early Modernist Architecture and Kengo Kuma: Geometries of Nature, Light touched the blank walls with his gaze. L wrote about wanting to get to know who Light was, that he wanted to know the multitudes within him. But the more Light looked at how empty his room was of personal touch, the more he wondered if whatever multitudes existed would be at all what L wanted.

He leaned over and took House of Sharp Objects from his bedside table. Flipping to the title page, he found the number L left for him. Light was surprised, to be honest, that the ink hadn’t faded from how often he opened the book to look at L’s writing. Next he grabbed his phone and dialed, hoping the number hadn’t changed.

The phone rang twice before L picked up. No chewing was audible, but his silence tasked Light with starting conversation. Struck by stubbornness, Light waited for L to speak first. Behind his breathing, Light heard tinny conversation on the other side and a long sigh before L spoke.

“Do you like the book?”

“It’s good.” Light stood and began to walk around his room, phone bunched between his ear and shoulder. “There’s something else I want to talk about.” 

“Oh. But I’d rather talk about the book.” L lowered his voice. “I’ve been discussing an ongoing investigation most of the day with several ignoramuses. Literature would be preferable.”

“Maybe later.” Light took a deep breath. “I’d like you to buy me something.”

“Didn’t I just give you a gift?”

“You did.” Light folded his arms and took a wider stance. “I don’t want anything huge. I’ve been thinking I need something nice for my room and I want you to come shop with me for it.”

“I’m no interior decorator,” L said. “You can ask Watari. He thinks my taste is poor and you will too.”

“I don’t care.” Light said. “I would just like something nice. Good quality. I saw your hotel rooms. I think you know what a well-made piece of décor looks like.”

“Fine, fine.” The flat tone in L’s voice made his surrender clear. “Do you have an idea of what you want?”

Mouth dry, Light scrambled around his mind for what he desired. His mind struck upon the sticky notes folded in his coat and he ran to his closet. After finding the coat, he rummaged through the pockets until he found the purple note bearing the furniture store address Teru Mikami had been to.

“I don’t know what I want,” he said. “But I know where I want to get it. Do you know the place, Divine Designs? I think there’s a client there who both of us have an interest in.”