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Bodach Killa

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Hello Goodbye

2004

Kill a man, and you are an assassin. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill everyone, and you are a god.
Jean Rostand, Pensées d'un biologiste

***

As a rule, L only believed in things he could prove by hard fact alone. So when Mr. Matsuda came running in, talking in rapid jibber-jabber only this younger Japanese policeman was capable of, his hands shaking, L merely looked at him through the dense fog rising from his teacup.

"And this happened when?" asked L, as he sat Matsuda down on the couch facing him.

"Just this evening – and I swear – the apple was flying through the air!"

"I see."

L sucked the skin of his thumb. He needed some time to think. Suppose Matsuda was telling the truth, and this wasn't some kind of overwork-induced hallucination ... where did that leave him? Apples flying through the air in the Yagami house. It was ridiculous, really. But either way, it was no conclusive evidence of anything. Perhaps another scientific anomaly? It wouldn't be the first one discovered. Apples could levitate if thrown hard and fast enough.

"Gods of death love apples," said L, staring at the floor. What could Kira have meant by that?

"What?"

L looked up into Matsuda's bewildered eyes. "Nothing important," he said. "Can you increase surveillance of the Yagamis? I'd like to search the place, too – preferably around noon."

Matsuda nodded, starting up.

"And Mr. Matsuda," L called before the agent got to the door.

"Yes?"

"Make sure Inspector Yagami knows nothing of this."

A tad less confident, Matsuda nodded again before exiting the room. L was left to his own devices, with two cups of tea for company.



***

"Careful, don't touch anything," said L.

He'd wanted to go in alone, but Matsuda had insisted on following him inside the house. Which meant the NPA still did not trust him. L wondered if that was a bad thing. After all, L himself hadn't really trusted anyone else since his eighth birthday. This made them rather, what was the word? ...oh yes, 'Professional'.

"Anything moved even an inch will raise suspicion," L said, locking Matsuda in a challenging gaze.

"I may look dumb, but I wasn't born yesterday."

L shrugged. "Just a precaution."

He slouched off toward the stairs. Matsuda finished unlacing his shoes and hurried up after him. L paused before the door to Light's bedroom. One whole week of night-and-day surveillance had not revealed a thing. He studied the sturdy wooden frame as Matsuda produced a duplicate key and slid it gently inside the lock.

'What are you hiding, Light?' thought L.

Two things happened: The door swung open, and a piece of tiny rice paper fluttered to the floor. L caught it mid-flight. Calculating the angle under which it fell, it must have been wedged in the upper left corner of the door frame.

"Stay here."

"Hey, but we agreed, ― "

"You can come inside the house, but I won't let you enter his room. If Light notices our presence, this will have been a complete waste of time."

Matsuda sulked, but didn't argue further. He hung back and watched L from the hallway.

First step was booby traps. There were plenty. The hardest part was figuring out whether they could be reversed, before triggering them. Tinkering with the various bits and pieces took L about an hour. Two o'clock; time was ticking.

Next up were diary records and school work. Which gave him little more than a few anxiety-driven passages, girls' phone numbers, and algebra homework. He noticed an empty paper shredder in the corner. Figures. Three o'clock.

Hacking into Light's computer took no more than a second. He already knew the password. Erasing his own fingerprints from the keyboard took longer. The PC was empty. L reckoned the boy carried everything on a USB stick, with him at all times. He sighed. Quarter past three.

Matsuda pointed at his watch. L gave a nod. It was time to go ― Sayu Yagami would be let off from school at three thirty. A public high school on walking distance of ten minutes from the house. Mrs. Sachiko Yagami, taking a yoga class at a friend's every Tuesday afternoon, would not be home until five ― she still had to do her grocery shopping. Mr. Soichiro Yagami usually left the office at five, arriving just in time to enjoy a nice home cooked meal at six. But the Kira case kept him away longer. The last to arrive would be Light Yagami. Special exam preparation classes on the other end of Tokyo kept him busy till six. The commute was one hour, depending on traffic. Punctual to the dot, Light would slide his house key in the lock at seven o five, making no detours.

L began setting up the booby traps when something peculiar caught his eye. He wondered, briefly, how he hadn't spotted it before.

Ignoring Matsuda, L opened the top desk drawer. He felt the bottom. Matsuda was screaming now, but L didn't hear a thing. He closed the top drawer and opened the second. Feeling the bottom with his hands, closing the drawer, opening the first one, feeling. L's breath hitched and his heart was beating at a maddening pace. Somewhere he heard church bells ring.

He felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up. It was Matsuda, blabbing on about time. Why had he expected to see Light Yagami?

"There is a false bottom," said L.

Three thirty.

Carefully, L lifted all the entrails out of the first drawer, setting them down on the floor. He listened, knocked. The plywood sang an unholy bass under his knuckles. Standing by him, Matsuda had turned dead silent.

"Yes, this is certainly not part of the original design," L said, preparing to lift the back.

His fingers scuttled round the edges. He found two chinks large enough to let his fingertips slide through, one on each side of the board. It was easy. Almost too easy.

L stopped.

He went over the drawer again, looking for clues he might have missed. L crawled on his hands and knees, head askew, avoiding the papers and pens arranged around him on the floor. He could feel Matsuda growing impatient. It was five minutes past three thirty.

Then his fingers stumbled onto something.

It felt like an unevenness in the surface, an imperfection. L crept under the open drawer like a mechanic slipping under a busted truck. He reached deep in his baggy jeans. The bulb of a penlight suddenly illuminated this dusky space. L smiled.

"Mr. Matsuda, could you hand me your pen?"

Unscrewing the pen cap, L extracted the cartridge, and slid it up the hole. At first the cartridge moved freely, experiencing no resistance. Then it butted against something hard. L pushed further. He felt a heaviness against his arm, like he was lifting weight.

"Keep going, I see something!" said Matsuda.

L pushed the cartridge all the way up the shaft and Matsuda gasped.

"What is it?" said L.

"You...you should see this."

L poked his head around the table. Matsuda stood back, pointing at the open drawer. His face ashen with agony. Slowly, L crawled from under the table, not letting the cartridge go.

There was a false bottom. Underneath it lay something L had long suspected. An electric circuit ran up the sides of the original bottom. If anyone lifted the false bottom directly, a switch would connect the circuit, sending an electric current down a primitive explosive device. The drawer's contents were designed to self destruct. Under the false bottom lay a single black notebook. L carefully extracted it and replaced the lid. Rising from the floor, he flipped to the first page. Japanese characters carefully written in black ink caught his eye. L's ghostly face lit up. This was definitely Light's handwriting. The clocks struck three forty.

"I can't believe it," said Matsuda, reading over L's shoulder. "Those are..."

"All the names of Kira's victims?" said L.

"Yes."

L leafed back to the front. There was Kira's first victim. Name copied onto the page in neat Japanese characters. The next line had a name and date, the name did not look familiar. Beside it the inscription: "die of traffic accident". L gulped, but showed no other outward sign of distress. Inside, he was raging in turmoil.

"Ryuzaki, does this mean Light is Kira?"

"We cannot know for certain yet."

"Huh? But what about the creepy notebook?"

"It still doesn't provide a motive nor sufficient proof. Who is to say Light is not merely interested in solving the Kira case? Which is why he kept a log book of who was killed and when."

"With the words Death Note stamped on to it?"

L shrugged. He had to get out of here. He needed to go someplace, alone, gather all the evidence and think. He looked over his shoulder at Matsuda, who hovered over the notebook in frightened fascination: staring, but afraid to come near.

"It's direct evidence!" Matsuda cried.

Unblinking, L said: "Do you know of a way to kill people by writing their names on a slip of paper?"

***

Luck had it that Sayu Yagami changed plans on her way from school, and passed the time at the local mall with some friends. She came home at four, missing the detectives by about five minutes. By that time L and Matsuda were long gone, in a station wagon bearing a civilian number plate. Matsuda sat stiff as a rod, steering wheel clutched in both hands, eyes glued to the road. L studied the photos he'd taken on his phone. Among the rules "Death Note, How To Use" was this gem:

The human who touches the Death Note can recognize the image and voice of its original owner, a God of Death, even if the human is not the owner of the note.

L wondered if this was all a figment of Light Yagami's undoubtedly bright imagination, as he watched Tokyo's street lights flash by in the growing dusk.

***

L arrived early.

Sitting down on a wooden chair, he smiled at the proctor. The man pretended not to notice. L sighed. He glanced at the ceiling, the shabby old paint peeling off the walls... They actually claimed to be Japan's best university? More time passed. Sitting upright exhausted L. A throbbing pain pulsed through his feet. He wiggled his toes, but it only got worse. Sigh. This is why L never wore sneakers. Bending under his desk to adjust the laces, L watched the first candidates file in.

Most kids had their heads stuck in books or last minute crib notes. One guy with sweaty palms kept dropping his pencil and cursing. He didn't even notice the proctor glare at him. Nobody paid attention to L. Everyone was busy.

The minute-hand of a large overhanging clock edged towards nine. And there was still no sign of Light Yagami.

L fidgeted in his seat. His shoes were killing him. A cold February wind blew in through the open doors, lifting a couple of papers. The gymnasium grew quiet. Even the cursing guy stopped cursing. L filled his name on the answer sheet and sharpened his pencil. The proctor commenced his obligatory speech; and Light walked in.

Hands in his pockets, head held high, without a bag. Light met everyone with a congenial smile.

L gulped. He kept his eyes trained on Yagami, at all costs ignoring the monster that lurked behind. Flying two feet above the ground on tattered wings, hands like claws, feet the shape of deformed sticks. The monster looked so much deadlier now, in the morning light, compared to what L had seen five weeks ago, upon rewatching the Yagami house surveillance tapes.

"...wish you all good luck," said the proctor.

The doors closed as the proctor went out for a last minute smoke. L watched Yagami come closer and closer. L touched his pencils, fumbled with the paper, minding his own business, while actually scouring the gymnasium with his eyes. A staying sweat broke out on his back when he realized there were just two seats left. One at the back, and one directly beside him.

'Relax, it's fine. You can do this,' L said to himself as Light sat in the vacant seat right next to him.

The monster sat down on L's desk.

Sheets of exam paper were being passed down from the front. The first rows were already writing furiously. L took a chance and glanced over to his right. Yagami drew a Parker pen from his jacket. It was all good, he hadn't noticed yet. L breathed a sigh of relief. It was getting hard to keep his hands from shaking. Something inside him was trembling very hard, and his shoes were killing him.

The girl in front of L shoved a stack of exam papers on L's desk, before turning back to her work.

L stiffened. He mustered all his forces not to jump and run out of there screaming. It was getting tough to do so. The girl's hand had gone through the monster's pelvis, and come out again. L kept his eyes trained to the front, but still he noticed when the monster reached down and scratched its scraggly arse.

Something tapped his shoulder. L jumped. He looked to his left, then to his right, and his breath nearly stopped on its way out his throat. Light Yagami was smiling back. That was the first time L locked eyes with Kira.

Yagami pointed at something behind them. L turned in his seat. A row of unhappy faces glared back. L remained stuck in place for the best part of a minute; then pulled a copy off the stack, and passed the rest down the line. The unhappy faces muttered traces of "Hallelujah", and L swore he heard the monster snigger. He blocked out everything and concentrated on the exam.

When L's feet slipped out of his sneakers, trailing up to the chair, the boy behind L muttered "Weirdo" under his breath. Yagami cast a sidelong glance at L, then returned to his work.

***

It was a beautiful day in March, the winter chill no longer biting his face as L made his way across To-Oh University campus. He carried a small backpack in his hand, one shoulder strap trailing over the ground. Sakura trees were in full bloom and upperclassmen girls enjoyed their lunch underneath. L watched them from the corner of his eye.

Mentally, he rehearsed his speech.

Not the one he was supposed to give at the Opening Ceremony. No, he had memorized that one on his flight back from London. It was the other speech L worried about. The one he would give in private, to one person only. The whole investigation hinged on it.

L strolled toward the assigned lecture hall. Already a large crowd had gathered round its entrance, all talking loudly and bustling with energy. L joined the throng. He noticed a particularly pretty girl standing unoccupied by the window, and walked up to her.

"Hi. My name's Hideki Ryuga. What's yours?"

She laughed. "I'm Kiyomi Takada, pleased to meet you."

Kiyomi carried a small leather purse, she wore a short pleated skirt and a matching blue sweater. L took to biting his right thumb as he asked her where she was from. Her eyes lit up, pure white teeth showing as she spoke real fast. So fast even L had trouble catching up.

"Takasaki... " said L, trying to recapture lost memories. "Isn't that in the Gunma Prefecture?"

"That's right."

"Quite the commute, if you ask me."

"Oh, I've already rented a room in Tokyo. I'm living with three girls and splitting the rent. Can you believe that's cheaper than applying for official dorms?"

L shook his head.

"Well neither could I. My friend Yoko just set up the TV, and now ― after nearly two weeks ― at last we have something decent to watch. I got so tired of re-watching all the Matrix movies on DVD. So, what did you do during the vacation?"

"Vacation?"

If you counted the short time frame between the entrance exam and today, L had quite an eventful 'vacation', to say the least.

"Uh, yeah. You know, after school ended," Kiyomi readily supplied.

She looked at him strangely. L realized he was losing her. She began looking around... Outside the window, new students were coming in. The campus was growing crowded.

"Eh, sorry. Yeah, I went to London," said L, rubbing the back of his neck in what he hoped counted for a 'cheesy' expression. It's always easier telling the truth.

"London?" she exclaimed with a little gasp, hand clasped over of her mouth like a good little lady of Japanese 'society'.

"My father's way of saying 'Good job on passing', since he had no time to congratulate me in person," L said with a shrug.

Kiyomi beamed, eyes fully back on L. "Tell me all about it."

He had her in the palm of his hand. As L detailed to Kiyomi the delights of East Asian tourists on their first trip to London, the moving throng of students begun their way inside the lecture hall. Kiyomi and L followed along. There was no "L" anymore. He was just another student lost in the crowd, talking his head off to impress a girl. L thought that gave him sufficient cover.

"Welcome, " said a man on stage, once they were all seated. "Today is a beautiful day, the start of your academic lives. Many of you have been looking forward to this day, and now it has come. Your chance to prove yourselves, your chance to shine under the glory of your predecessors, your chance to show the world what you are made of."

L briefly thought how encouraging this speech might be for Kira. He recounted his Oxford days, and couldn't remember any speech of this kind. Must be a Japanese thing.

"I now call on two students, who ranked highest on this year's entrance exam, to give the student representative's speech," the man on stage cried, and a bunch of supportive hollers broke from the audience.

L slipped his feet back in his sneakers. With Kiyomi sitting beside him, he had tried sitting normally, but keeping his feet inside those pesky little sneakers was simply not doable.

"Come on over here, Hideki Ryuga, and Light Yagami."

L could see Light from a mile off. The flying monster was impossible to miss. L sauntered down the steps, hands in his pockets and a slouch to his walk. He rehearsed the speech in his head again. He did not look at Light, he did not think of the monster flying closely behind.

Light and L reached the desk. They faced each other and formally bowed. Light took this opportunity to offer L a friendly smile. L returned the gesture. He wondered who was being the more genuine here.

"Dear fellow students," Light began, "I congratulate you all on passing the entrance exam!"

Cue for loud laughter and roars of goodwill. L was listening, but only with half an ear. His main efforts were focused on observing the monster that currently prowled along stage.

"Let us all be good students and try not to annoy our teachers ... too much."

Light smiled, standing firm in the spotlights, not flinching an inch. The monster didn't bother him apparently.

"I'm very grateful that I could be here today, and I hope to meet many of you in the coming weeks. Best of luck to everyone! And with that, I give the word to my fellow student representative, Ryuga."

"Thank you Yagami, that was very entertaining."

The crowd laughed. L proceeded when the hollering dissipated.

"Sadly we live in an age in which we cannot afford merriment. We live in constant dread and fear of the future. And no amount of binge drinking or partying can wipe the daunting realization from our minds that once we graduate, there won't be any jobs for us. Those of you who will graduate, of course."

The lecture hall had gone eerily silent. And somewhere at this point, the man who had opened the ceremony wanted to stop L, but the Principal impeded him. L went on.

"We can only hope that five years from now the labor market will look better. But I don't think it will. The Bank of Japan is doing nothing to fight our country's mounting deflation."

L paused to let his words sink in. Everyone was staring at him, including Light.

"Despite the low birth rate, we cannot count on employment, since Generation X intends to hoard their jobs, leaving us with nothing. The influx into the labor market is virtually zero."

The man who had opened the ceremony placed his hand over the mike.

"I wasn't finished yet," said L.

He rummaged in his trousers, and revealed notes for a 30 minute long speech, composed in the most horrible handwriting imaginable. Another professor escorted him back to his seat. Kiyomi didn't speak to him after L got back. He didn't blame her. He sat out the remaining part of the ceremony, and went on to his afternoon classes, backpack trailing behind him on the floor.

***

Japanese History in Global context, half time. Most students had run out of the stuffy classroom for some much needed air.

"Hey. I'm afraid I forgot your name," said L.

The boy with the neatly combed hair looked up from his notes. "It's Light, Light Yagami."

"Oh, that's right. Yes. Yes, that was your name."

Light gazed back with nicely concealed frustration. "Can I help you with something, Ryuga?"

L's eyes lit up. "As a matter of fact, yes. You can."

L produced his cell phone, flipped it open, and handed it over to Light. He put on the cheesiest smile he could muster, flashed the Victory sign, and said "Could you take a picture of me?"

"Uh...sure." Light trained the cell phone at L, and a soft "click" came from the device.

"Thank you!" L snatched his phone from Light's hands and began tapping away at the keypad, completely oblivious to Light's incredulous stare.

"May I ask what you are doing?"

L looked up. "This?" He stabbed at his phone. The LCD screen shimmered at the abuse.

Light winced, "yeah."

L picked his phone up between thumb and index, staring at it as if the object were alien. Then he turned back to Light. "I don't know."

Light leaned back with a snort. "Ryuga, are you being sarcastic?"

"Oh no. No Yagami, I would never do that."

"Right... So why did you ask me to take your picture?"

L dropped his voice to a theatrical whisper, shoulders sagging lower than usual. "Everyone else has been avoiding me..."

Light smiled, doing his absolute best not to groan. It was kind of amusing. L wondered how long Light could keep that poker face up.

"What do you need the picture for?" Light asked patiently, so very patiently.

L raised his shoulders, uncurled a little, daring to smile and showing more of himself. Body language, it was all about body language. "Oh, sorry! Hehe. It's for my blog."

Light gaped. "You have a blog?"

"Honestfaces . com"

"What?"

L turned his cell phone so Light could read. A bright page flashed into view, with Hideki Ryuga's smiling face in the center. Above it was this line of text:

KIRA never harms the INNOCENT.

So if you're innocent, like me, post a selfie on my blog. Together we take a stand against crime!

Light saw that a couple of people had already responded. He leafed through the photos: a grand total of three. He gave L an incredulous look, and handed the phone back. "You're a Kira supporter? Actually, no, that doesn't surprise me."

L smiled. "You say that like it's a bad thing."

L pocketed his phone and stared at Light. They were looking into each others eyes. It was as if the whole classroom, all the others, and the monster looming over them had disappeared. None of it mattered. In this world there was only him, L, and Kira, the one he pursued.

"What's so good about killing people?" said Light.

L grinned, revealing a row of slightly yellowed teeth. He had prepared for this. If Light was Kira, he most definitely wouldn't praise Kira's actions. At least, ...not in public.

"I believe there is a difference between killing people, and doling out deserved punishment," said L.

Light smirked. "And who is to decide when punishment is deserved? Kira? Both judge and executioner!"

"Laugh as much as you like, Yagami, but Kira is markedly less corrupt than our official law enforcement services, and he doesn't waste a cent of taxpayer money."

Light shrugged. "I just don't think that all crimes merit death. Kira comes over as a cold and unforgiving bastard. If Kira actually exists, and these deaths aren't plain coincidental, he should be brought to justice," Light finished, folding his arms and gazing intently back at L.

L opened his mouth to say something in return, but he never got to, as a loud voice invaded their space. The classroom was full, all eyes were on them. The professor had crossed her arms, and was leaning against the blackboard.

"You two back there, Mr. Nice Suit and Mr. Sitting Strange, do I have your permission to resume my class?"



***

Author's Note:

wise guys and thugs, summerowl, TwistedGrim, gnarley, E. I. Lorelai, The Maxx, Warfang, Dotti55, SpeakWhenItRains,

Thank you so much for beta reading! You were a big help to me in writing this story. Couldn't have done this without you.

.

published March 4, 2016

Chapter Text

 

Into The Void

2004

Evening cherry blossom
strews her petals over me
whom no one loves.
Rōsodō Eiki

***

For the rest of the week L kept his distance. The only way he saw Light Yagami was through a monitor ― and the images were two months old. Each day L took the subway back to his crappy student dorm, where he slept off the remaining hours till eight pm. At which time he'd take the subway back, switch trains, walk up 1378 Street where a cab would be waiting, Watari behind the wheel. The cab went inside an underground parking lot, and they would take the elevator up. The hotels changed, the people stayed the same.

L was perplexed by the NPA Task Force ― they never asked any questions. Almost like they couldn't see the dew drops that still clung to his hair. Like they couldn't smell the unmistakably strong cotton candy scent on him from the 24/7 vending machine at Shinkoiwa station. And they called themselves 'detectives'. What a joke.

Sitting in a plush velvet armchair, L still shuddered from the cold. Watari threw a blanket over him as L massaged his puffy red feet in silence.

"Inspector Yagami has arrived. Shall I let him in?"

"You do so."

Watari left just as quietly as he had entered, leather shoes slipping over carpet floor. L stared at the purple velvet between his toes. His stomach growled, but he paid no heed to it.

"Hello Ryuzaki."

L looked up. "Greetings to you too, Inspector Yagami. How are you today?"

"I'm fine, thanks."

Mr. Yagami sat down on the couch opposing L, unlatched the buckle of his briefcase, and spread a series of papers along the coffee table. Customary decencies were exchanged. Then Yagami got down to business.

"We've been working on this case for three months now, Ryuzaki. Now, don't get me wrong, I know this is a complex case,"

Inspector Yagami paused. He looked like a man reciting words from a script he did not like, acting in a play he hadn't auditioned for. The inspector continued, a sigh drifting out with his words,

"but my superiors are expecting results."

L nodded. He twisted a sheaf of dead skin between his fingers. It had come off of his little toe, and smelled funny.

"If we don't catch Kira within the next five weeks, they'll find a scapegoat and close our investigation."

Unfazed, L held the piece of dead skin against the light. Inside he was boiling.

"How are they going to explain the recurrence of deaths after Kira has been captured?"

"As accidents."

L looked the inspector square in the face. "Nobody is going to believe that."

Yagami shrugged.

"So that's it...?" said L.

Instinctively L took to biting his thumb. He didn't care how childish it looked; things of a higher priority occupied his mind. They were cutting him off from the investigation. Matsuda had blabbed.

"Unless you have something new to tell me, yes, I'm afraid the Director's word is final."

"I don't have anything."

Yagami sighed. "Anyway, we still have one month left. Better to keep things moving. I've composed this strategy."

The Inspector held up a few papers. They were graphs and diagrams. L sat back in his chair, knees pressed tight to his chest. He hadn't felt this alone in years. Not since he'd taken Near into custody.

"The most recent deaths have taken place in China, Myanmar, and Yemen."

Yagami ticked the little red dots on the white page.

"Just yesterday, we had someone die from a heart attack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He was on a cruise ship."

A bald man in his late thirties, his eyes still open, expression of deep agony on his face. L wondered ― not for the first time ― what it must feel like to die.

Yagami continued. "Our conclusion is: these murders, if they are murders, cannot be committed by one person. A very large and powerful organization is behind this."

"You're right," said L. "One man couldn't have been on a cruise ship one day, then in China, Myanmar and Yemen the next."

Yagami swallowed his words. He dipped his head into the papers, frantically searching. Then resurfaced with two pages. His hands were shaking, lips carefully straight. "Here. The plan is to analyze conversations. If these mass murders are carried out by a group, they must communicate somehow."

L scrutinized the marked lines, committing them to memory. He handed the papers back to the Inspector.

"I'll get started on this right away," said L. "Is there anything you'd like in the meantime? We have walnut cake..."

"Thank you, I'm fine. I have to get going anyway; the others are waiting for me."

L could only nod. He walked over to his laptop, stationed on the floor, and ran the basic algorithm: a general sweep of all public conversations on the internet. Inspector Yagami still stood by the coffee table.

"Um. Ryuzaki, it's not that we don't like working with you."

Bingo.

"I understand."

"You do? I mean, ― "

"Inspector Yagami, it's perfectly clear you had no choice in the matter. Your superiors have decided to deal with this matter in a different manner. I respect that."

L watched the weight lift from Inspector Yagami's shoulders. It made a huge difference. Now the old man looked like he always did: wide chested, vigorous and strong. All worry drained from his being.

"Well, I'll be going now. Good night." A subtle smile rested on Yagami's lips.

'He doesn't know', L concluded. 'Or does he?'

"Good night," L replied while closing the door and watching the inspector call an elevator.

Did Inspector Yagami know that L suspected his son?

***

Monday morning had L up at four o'clock. He put on a clean shirt and rubbed his face. The mirror was cruel to him. Again. He shaved, squeezed the tube of whitening toothpaste, got it on his shirt, and groaned.

Off came the shirt. Second try.

His gums bled.

L gave up on his hair and sauntered back to his room, looking like something that had crawled out of a killer's grave, feeling worse. He had three classes today. Two of which were with Light. He unzipped his wardrobe ― an old sports bag Roger had lent him ― and pulled out an identical white shirt. At least these things stayed the same. L sniffed the fabric. It smelled like home.

In the ensuing hours L did his homework. His phone did not ring. Watari was asleep at the hotel, the task force didn't have this number. It was nearly 9 pm in London. He touched the shiny display, moving his finger over the single decorative bead attached to his phone. It was tempting. But he really shouldn't.

A phone call could be traced.

L got back to work. Two hours later he was pressed flat to the glass of a moving subway train, munching on a soggy flapjack. The doors opened. Once again they tried to jam more people in. A large man planted his hands on their backs, and pushed. Then he got inside. The doors closed. It was hotter than before. L swallowed the last of his breakfast, trying to avoid the large man's bouk. A woman's purse kept beating his legs.

Five minutes later they stopped again. This was the station Light got on. L looked out the grimy window, and actually saw Light standing by the soda machine, cell phone up against his ear and his other hand in the pocket of his designer trench coat.

The monster sat on the ground beside him. They were talking. To all the world it looked like Light was making a phone call, but L knew otherwise.

Light looked up once the train came to a halt. He pocketed his cell and started making his way to a car, but the doors wouldn't open. The train was full. People shouted and knocked and kicked the doors in rage. Light remained calm. He strolled back to the soda machine, resuming his conversation with the monster.

Hidden behind the large man, L watched him. He knew Light would be late to class. He knew Light cared. He watched Light until the train took off and he could watch no more.

'Brilliant self-control,' L thought to himself.

Two stops later, L got out and walked the fifteen minute walk to campus. Sakura petals crumpled underneath his sneakers, girls giggled lightheartedly, and the sun was painting the sky a bright orange. L hid his nose behind the collar of his jacket. When he came in, the computer room was already crowded. He wondered ― briefly ― how they would fit that many students in. All spots were occupied, and L was sent to another classroom. He bit back a yawn.

"We're short on equipment, so please pair up."

Then the teacher left. No instructions on what to do, no assignments, nothing. L thanked Watari that he'd gotten his formal education elsewhere. The other students formed groups and stared at their screens, not knowing what to do. Ten minutes later an instructor arrived. The man talked in a long drawling voice. He looked drunk. L simply stared as the man shuffled about, trying to explain the basics of CLI.

L gave up on the class and began typing whatever came to mind in the terminal window. He remembered the tennis court he'd seen on his way to class. It had been deserted, covered thickly by a layer of dew. White as snow. The grip of the racket, the pinching sweatband keeping his hair back, and most of all how the ball came racing at you, record speed. It was something L could never forget.

"Hey, teacher said to partner with you."

L looked up. He saw the monster, and cringed.

"Okay... I'll go ask someone else," said Light, moving away.

"No, wait. Sorry!"

L jerked out of his seat, hitting the wrong buttons on the keyboard. Error messages appeared on screen. "You can have my seat!"

Light frowned, but sat down. L went to get himself a new chair. He only found one folding chair, which looked like it had been folded one too many times. When he returned, Light was typing.

"You got the basic algorithm wrong, but the rest looks fine."

L unfolded his chair and looked at the screen. He couldn't believe his eyes. This was a kid, a kid seven years younger than him, and already programming on a professional level.

Smiling, Light turned away from the screen. "I corrected a few things here and there. This algorithm should run smoother, making the game faster."

L sunk into his chair.

"May I ask though, why tennis?" said Light. He pressed the Return key and the game started.

L pulled his legs up to his chest. The chair wobbled once.

"It's my favorite game," said L, biting on his thumb. It's always easier telling the truth. He hadn't expected Light to turn, and look him straight in the eye.

"Wait, you play tennis? As in, on a tennis court and everything?"

L's eyebrows raised themselves. "Uh yeah...that is how tennis is usually played. Why do you ask?"

"I play tennis too."

L was too stunned to form a coherent reply. "You do?" he finally said.

"Yeah. I used to play in tournaments all the time when I was in Junior High. Then schoolwork started taking too much time, and I kind of stopped."

Why hadn't Watari mentioned any of this after performing the background check on Light?

"I think there's a tennis court on campus. We should play some time, Ryuga."

L nodded. "We should." He shifted his weight and nearly fell. He stopped himself just as the chair threatened to tip over.

"Careful there," said Light, a smile playing on his lips. The monster emitted an unholy cackle.

L wondered who was being investigated here: Kira or himself.

***

They agreed to play on Thursday after class, and didn't talk much after that. L wondered if he'd made a mistake. He retraced his steps in his mind, repeating every single line he'd said. No, it was too soon, too fast. He had come on too strong. L bit his lip. Looking from the window of the subway car, he saw only black.

"I don't doubt your detective skills, L, but getting personally involved with Light Yagami is simply unwise," Watari had said.

"From what I've heard the boy has a natural talent for evading scrutiny. He's a brilliant actor, able to make everyone like him. You might experience some difficulty due to your limited communication skills."

L had huffed, and said he was going in anyway. Now, he was beginning to regret that decision.

"Can't you find anyone else to play this role?"

L could have. He should have. If not for his insatiable curiosity L definitely would have. The train slowed, and L walked towards the doors; slouching, dragging his backpack over the floor. He held on to a pole as the train stopped. When the doors opened he followed the stream. He was one of them now, engulfed in a sea of motion, a heedless, careless, sightless stream of life.

***

On Wednesday afternoon L bought a cheap tennis racket. It squeaked a little when bent, but that could be fixed. He spent the entire day adjusting the strings. In the evening at the hotel, L swung the racket. He smiled when it produced one clear whoosh. Just like in his childhood.

"Will you have dinner?"

Watari was dining himself ― roast beef with onions and a glass of red wine.

"No thank you."

Ignoring Watari's stern looks, L went back to fiddling with his tennis racket. The task force arrived half an hour later. Watari served them tea.

"Yes, that's what I think." L popped another sugar cube in his mouth, and continued talking. "They use old communication networks: land wires, telegram, letters. In normal circumstances, this would make messages go super slow. But for a large organization, it's doable. Better yet: it's impossible to trace."

"So there's nothing we can do?" said Ukita, leaning forward.

Yagami frowned as he stirred his black coffee.

"I wouldn't say that. There's always something we can do," said L, a contemplative finger on his lips. "I just have to think of it."

"Fine," said Soichiro Yagami. "In the meantime, I propose we continue monitoring all channels of communication."

The five men nodded.

"Excellent plan, Inspector Yagami. I saved my results on this."

L handed him a battered USB, which Yagami took with apprehension. L noticed the inspector's eyes narrow for just the tiniest fraction of a second. Then the inspector smiled convincingly. He had everyone fooled. Everyone but L.

"Good job," said Yagami. "We'll see you on Friday then? I'll send a text as soon as we're done analyzing."

"Thank you." L watched them leave. His tower of sugar cubes collapsed, scattering all over his lap. L sighed. He was losing it.

Watari came up behind him. "Are you staying tonight?"

"No."

"Because there's something I want to show you, concerning your match tomorrow with the younger Yagami."

L grimaced. "If it's about Light winning nationals two years in row, then thank you, I already know that."

Watari shrugged. "I didn't think that was so important. But this is."

Watari waited, in that gentlemanly fashion he was accustomed to. At length, L followed him into the other room. It held two separate beds and most of their luggage. L's new tennis racket stood propped against his backpack. A water boiler rested on Watari's night chest. Watari turned on the TV. They sat themselves on different beds and watched two teenagers play a game of tennis. One of them was Light.

"This was two years ago?"

"Yes." Watari looked at L and smiled. "I'll give you a hint: watch the hands."

L leaned forward. At first he saw nothing special. Light and the other boy held their rackets firmly in their right hand. Using the left for balance only, and at times to support the right. Light was all over the place: jumping, running along his side of the net. A determined glare was in his eyes; concentration. Just one thing confused L. The video feed was clearly from the 2002 Junior Championship of Japan. But he knew for a fact that was impossible. Light had not participated that year. In fact, since his last victory in 2000, there were no records of Light at all. He turned to Watari, but the man pointed urgently at the screen. With a sigh, L turned back to the match. He did a double take. Light was holding the racket in his left hand.

The ball came at him. L crawled toward the TV screen, staring open mouthed. Light prepared to parry. He jumped into position, and rammed the ball down over the net and into his opponent's field. L continued staring at the screen. The other boy swung, but missed by an inch. The ball bounced a couple more times, then rolled away, out of the picture.

Light had won.

Some men in suits and one of the referees walked over to Light. They temporarily blocked Light from view. L crawled closer to the TV, his nose nearly touching the screen. He watched as the suits ebbed away, the referee whistled. For some reason Light didn't look happy at all. L frowned.

"They disqualified him from that match. The other kid was supposed to win."

L looked up. Watari was smiling at him from beside the boiler.

"Will you have a cup of tea?"

***


Sunlight warmed his nose. L felt a cool breeze, but nothing that would impede their game. He watched as Light laid down his bag, unzipping it carefully. A used, but still new looking Prestige MP came out of it. L had always wanted one of those.

"I haven't played in a while," said L, walking over.

Light met him with a genial smile. "No problem. I'll go easy on you."

"One set of six then?"

"Fine by me," said Light, placing a green tennis ball in L's hand. "You start."

Despite the chilly air, Light wore a polo shirt, shorts and tennis shoes with long white socks pulled over his calves.

'You couldn't look more innocent,' L thought.

The monster stood by, watching them. Its haggard back bowed forwards, arms drooping over Light Yagami like a large ghastly shadow, ending in hooked claws that were covered in dust. L shuddered away from the monster. Then it began to speak. For a second L's neck hairs stood on end. He walked quickly to the other side of the court.

"What's the point in tossing a ball back and forth?" said the monster, sounding like a crowbar being scraped repeatedly over iron bars. "If you two enjoy balls to that extent, why don't you get yourselves a pair?" With a more than usually vulgar grin, the monster shuffled off to the sidelines.

Light ignored the monster with trained ease, while shivers ran up and down L's back. He bounced the ball, as Light got ready. L himself was in position. Knees slightly bent, racket firm in his right hand, the ball in his left. This was a friendly match, L reminded himself. 'Don't go full out, it's not about winning or losing.' But when Light flashed him the 'okay' sign, showing off a full row of healthy white teeth, L's heart said otherwise.

L narrowed his eyes. He dropped the ball. It bounced back, and L hit it full force. He breathed cool air through his mouth. His muscles strained, hurting and feeling alive. The soles of his sneakers scraped over the tiles. L gripped his racket tighter as he prepared to parry.

But nothing came. Light just watched him, stunned. The ball hit the fence and bounced back to L's side.

"Fifteen, love," L called over the net.

Yagami laughed nervously. "I didn't know you were that good, Ryuga."

"Should I go easy on you?" L asked.

Light ceased laughing. His eyes narrowed, as he took on the same position L had seen him in the video. Chest forward, arms rigid, shoulders slightly bent.

"Give me all you've got."

L smiled. Then he dropped the ball. The next two minutes were a harrowing ordeal, providing L more physical exercise than he'd had in the last five years combined. He panted once they were over. And Light, triumphantly raising his head, exclaimed "Fifteen, up!", like he had already won.

"We'll see about that," said L, growling the words. He wouldn't let this kid win, no he wouldn't, no matter what.

Light raised his Prestige in the air, and swung. L kept his eyes on the ball. It was coming closer. To the left, no, to the right of him. He pounced after it. Like a cat on both hands and feet. L had never played tennis like this. What was happening to him? He hit the ball in the nick of time, sending it into an unexpected angle. L smiled. He still had it in him.

'Light, you're going down.'

The ball flew over the net, with Light running to catch up. The Prestige whooshed through the air, beating the ball away. L had no time to think, but found his body reacting by itself, like it was hot-wired. Rolling over the ground, he hit the ball before it touched down on the scurfy tiles. He sent it flying back to Light; a defensive maneuver.

Light's response was merciless. His swing sent the ball far away to the back, while L was in the middle of the court, still squatting on the ground.

L jumped to his feet, making it to the back just in time. He swung his racket, and instantly felt the pain in his arm. Pang. He shouldn't have done that. L was beginning to think this whole match was a mistake. He hadn't played tennis in years. Moreover, for the last year or two, he hadn't walked much at all. He was so out of shape, he wasn't ready for this. L shut his eyes. Stupid move, but there was only so long a man could go without blinking. When he opened them, Light had parried.

L swung. His timing was perfect, but there was little force behind the pitch. The ball barely made it past the net.

Light lurched forward, going down on his knees, scraping them over the tiles. He hit the ball. L sucked in air. Then the ball hit the net, and bounced back on Light's side. L had won the game. He breathed the words "Thirty, fifteen", before collapsing on the cold cold tiles.

They watched each other, both exhausted. Light's hair was all messed up. His cheeks had flushed, and his knees were bleeding. He held the Prestige gingerly in his arms, careful not to damage it.

"Should we stop?" Light said.

L laughed. "I thought you'd be more keen on avenging yourself."

"I should be." Light shook his head, doing an effort to sit upright. The Prestige came to rest in his lap, its metal frame reflecting the setting sun.

"Let's do one more," said L, standing up with resolution.

He picked his racket up from where he'd dropped it. It looked even older now. Worn and battered, its wooden frame squeaking desperately. L stroked the plywood, promising to oil it once he got home. This was a cheaper design than the one he had in England, but not so bad. It was from the time before synthetic wiring and steel coated frames, from the time of craftsmen who cared about quality. L brandished his secondhand racket, turning to face Light.

"What school did you go to?" asked Light, brushing the dust off his shorts.

L swallowed. "Why?"

Light smiled. "You play so well, I wondered what team prepared you."

"Ah I see," said L.

He breathed a sigh of relief, hoping it didn't show on his face, and held Light's gaze. Breaking eye contact was the first sign you were telling a lie.

"I didn't learn to play tennis in school," he said. "I had private lessons." Well, that was the truth.

Light's eyes went wide. He then shook his head, laughed and said "Lucky bastard", before handing the ball back to L. And just like that, they were playing again. It was a tense match, but L didn't feel it. He just played. Having the wind in his hair, smelling the dust of the court, his own sweat, and feeling the force of the ball. The pain in his arm was gone. Eventually some spectators came to watch. L waved at them between games.

He was having fun.

"It's a deuce!" one of the spectators cried. The guy had taken up position in the judge's seat, as if this was a real match. L smiled faintly as he gave Light the ball. One more game. L was completely satisfied to capitulate after that. His heart was racing.

"May the best man win," said Light, looking him in the eye.

Light got in position and served. The ball soared through the sky, silencing everyone who watched. L felt his feet move. He was in a daze, going on his last reserves. He felt his forehead grow hot, though his body felt cold. And his mind was covered by a thick white fog, nearly as white as Light's socks, which were blinding his eyes. L hit the ball. He sighed. It was not nearly strong enough. The ball made a circular arc in the air, giving Light the perfect opportunity to finish him. L lowered his head in defeat.

The ball touched down on Light's territory, bouncing once. L frowned. What was he doing? Light struck the ball gently, parrying. L stared. How was that possible? Why? Where was the fatal blow he'd been expecting? Light smiled, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. Then it dawned on L.

Light pitied him.

With a decisive stroke, L hit back. The wind was in his hair, the earth pressed under his sneakers, and suddenly everything was crystal clear. The net, with the ball and Light behind it. The spectators, he counted ten in total. The monster; that ugly thing that never ceased grinning, as if there was something amusing about the death of thousands.

L straightened his back and attacked.

They were playing for real now. L remembered the many things he'd used in his tournament days. Sneaky tricks which were technically legal. He smirked. He was going to win this yet. With every blow, he pushed Light closer to the edge. And when it was time, he got ready to land the final swoop. It was his turn, the ball came rushing back. L stood strong, on both feet, two hands on the racket. He spit on the ground, and hit the ball. Yes.

'Should not rub it in', L thought. His goal was to befriend Light, after all, not to antagonize him. L stuffed the racket under his armpit, and massaged the palms of his hands. They were red and white where the skin had gone off. That was when Light switched the Prestige to his left hand. He hit the ball back, and managed to land a full score in L's court. When L grabbed at his racket, it was already too late. The ball bounced a second time.

"And it's a game, for Light Yagami!"

L could do little more than stare as the spectators flooded the court, surrounding Light in all his glory. One bespectacled guy put a hand on Light's shoulder. From across the court, L heard him say

"Great match out there! We definitely need you on our team."

With a smile, Light shook his head, and said something unintelligible back. L carefully packed his old tennis racket in his backpack as the street lights came on. He still felt the heat of the game, the thrill and the adrenaline radiating off his shoulders. His mind was reeling, his knees trembled when he rose to stand, and walked over to Light's side of the court.

"Hey nice game," said L, his voice incredibly weak.

Light didn't hear him. L cleared his throat and tried again. It came out like the bark of an asthmatic stray dog. L waited, but Light still had his back turned to him. There were several spectators between them. Then Light laughed. It was such a happy, such a carefree laugh.

L picked his jacket off the ground and walked away. His shoulders sagged as feverishly he fumbled with the zipper. It was cold. The last few steps toward the subway station were a nightmare. L wanted to call Watari, but he had to keep the charade up. In the subway car, he huddled near the heating element. Hands pressed to warm metal, teeth chattering. Several people raised their eyebrows at him. L saw them, but didn't care. When it was time to get off, he wrapped the jacket over his shoulders, and limped toward the doors. He shuddered when another passenger pushed him ― by accident.

'Home' was the one word on his mind. He just wanted to get back home and sleep off everything. Two blocks closer, L set his backpack on the pavement, and took some rest leaning on a lamp post. Cars passed, flashing their headlights in the dark, illuminating the dingy alley. L tilted his head to look up at the sky. Slowly he felt the cold of the lamp post sink in through his clothes, chilling him to the very bone.

A phone call could be traced.

With a shaking hand L punched in the number he knew by heart, the one he could recite in his sleep. His phone's screen lit up, and the dial tone started as L pressed it to his cheek. So close he'd only have to whisper.

But no one picked up.

He checked his faded Seiko. It would be morning there. Thursday morning...could they be sleeping still? L held on, listening to the long rings which strangely soothed him. He chewed the old flesh off his right thumb, tasting his own rubbery and salty skin. The sneakers pinched his toes, the jacket barely protected him from the vicious wind. He breathed into the telephone and shut his eyes. Slowly on his breathing returned to normal. A crack went down the line, abruptly disturbing the silence.

"Hello?"

L's eyes shot open. He gripped the phone, holding it closer to his ear, closer than ever. And he smiled. He grinned lopsidedly at the muddy fence and the purplish, smog filled sky. With a croaky voice he muttered

"Mello, could you give the phone to Near please?"

There was a short intake of breath on the other end of the line. And then, very loudly,

"L! How are you? Wait, no, how's the investigation going? Did you find something to arrest him for? A minor offense, maybe. Something that could keep him locked up for years! Maybe, maybe we should try provoking him? Oh, but you've already thought of that. Of course, sorry. What's the plan? Can I help?"

"Yes, you can help me, Mello."

"Really? What should I do? I'll get started straight away!"

"Let me talk to Near."

Static occupied the line. When Mello's voice returned, it was a lot more quiet. L liked it better that way.

"Near says he's busy. Would you rather talk to me? I can listen."

L sighed, sending a loud rattle down the line. On the other end, he heard soft mumbling.

"Mello, put Near through."

"But it's not fair! I never get to talk to you. Every time you call, you just want Near."

L hung up.

With a groan he got on his legs, and resumed his long walk home. Only it wasn't home. And when he'd be lying in bed, staring up at his life-sized poster of Kira, he'd be painfully reminded of that. Right now his sneakers were digging into the blisters of his worn out feet.

***

Author's Note:

Thank you for reading! :-) And thank you once again my faithful beta readers! Through storm and weather you have stuck with this tale and I have nothing but praise for you guys.

.

published March 11, 2016

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

Me and You

2004

I am going to destroy them. I am going to make them my friends.
Abraham Lincoln

***

L shivered. He'd kicked the blankets off earlier. Now he lay on his side, in nothing but his boxers and a T shirt, embracing his pillow. The open window brought noises of dimming engines and squeaking tires. Voices followed, opening and closing car doors, and the smell of rotting fish. L rolled over without batting an eye, and tugged the pillow closer. Now the pillow rested just below his chin; brushing his Adam's apple as he breathed in, out ― inhaling dust mites. L pursed his lips and smacked them over the pillow in a dry kiss. Then his breathing slowed and his body went limp.

Hollers from the marketplace wound their way up to his dorm. At the same time the door shuddered in its frame, and the whole building shook under the weight of stomping feet. Shower water hitting curtains, lewd words and grumbled good-mornings came from the corridor. L slept on as grey light filtered in through the blinds, leaving stripy shadows over the desk where his phone lay charging. The phone he kept on at all times, even during task force meetings, even in class, even now, as he slept.



"So come on baby do it to me good now," his phone sang.

L shook awake. The first thing he saw was Kira, staring back at him from a poster tacked to the ceiling wall. A black cloak with pale bony fingers protruding from the inky sleeves, wielding a three foot scythe that dripped with fresh blood. Kira's face was a shadow under the hood, hidden, his bare feet peeked out from under the cloak, chipped toenails covered in grime. L had downloaded the poster from a pro-Kira forum. This was what the world thought Kira looked like. L snorted. The blood red inscription beneath read: KIRA, OUR LORD AND SAVIOR.

"Do it to me slowly," sang his phone, "be the one and only."

Stretching his legs, L lurched out of bed. His pelvis hit the desk's edge – he held on to it, steadying himself. The phone gave out its last

"And do it to me right now! Oh baby,"

before L could pull the charger cord out. He punched Accept Call, and pressed it to his ear.

"Yeah," he said, not bothering to check caller ID.

The room spun in a haze of dirty brown wallpaper, with the words KIRA, OUR LORD AND SAVIOR projected over and over again on the walls in purple, in green, yellow, orange, blue, pink. L fell back down on the bed. Tugging the blanket off the floor he tucked his bandaged feet under it, waiting to get warm.

"This is a secure line," said the caller.

L's eyes bulged out of their sockets. He knew this voice. Tearing the phone from his ear and glaring at the screen, in place of the usual letter W, a hazy set of numbers swam before his eyes... The caller was not on his contact list. He pressed the phone to his cheek again, breathing hard.

"Who gave you this number?" said L.

"You did."

What? Blinking profusely, he watched a spider clamber up the opposite wall. A black dot moving over drab brown wallpaper. L frowned in the silence that followed.

"You phoned this morning," said the caller. "However it was intercepted. What did you wish to communicate?"

L found his jeans on the floor, where he'd stepped out of them last night. His wrist watch lay propped on the jeans. He cocked his head. The battered Seiko said 07:15 local. He recalculated for time zone difference.

"Roger lets you in his office after 10 pm?" said L.

"I'm not in Roger's office."

Shit. Grabbing the phone, L scanned the number ― this time he saw it clearly. It wasn't The Wammy House official line, not the number he knew so well and could recite flawlessly if woken at odd times of the night. Worse yet: it wasn't the number he'd dialed yesterday evening. How could he be this careless? Mentioning Roger by name? Shit shit shit. L placed the phone back to his ear, and softly spoke into it:

"Is that you, N?"

A sigh rattled down the line. "No. It's Linda," said the boyish voice.

L rolled his eyes. "Sarcasm?"

"Yes, sarcasm."

"Listen," said L, pinching his nose. "I don't know how you got this number or what voice modulation program you're using, but if you don't recite the second hundred decimals of pi right now, I'll hang up. And don't bother looking them up online, I will notice the delay."

"Eight, two, one, four, eight, 0, 8, 6, 5, 1, 3, 2, 8, 2, 3, 0, 6, 6, 4, 7, 0, 9, 3, 8, 4, 4, 6, 0, 9, 5, 5, 0, 5, 8, 2, 2, 3, 1, 7, 2, 5, 3, 5, 9, 4, 0, 8, 1, 2, 8, 4, 8, 1, 1, 1, 7, 4, 5, 0, 2, 8, 4, 1, 0, 2, 7, 0, 1, 9, 3, 8, 5, 2, 1, 1, 0, 5, 5, 5, 9, 6, 4, 4, 6, 2, 2, 9, 4, 8, 9, 5, 4, 9, 3, 0, 3, 8, 1, 9, 6," the voice quickly rattled off.

"Correct," said L. Under the blanket, he shifted to his favorite sitting pose and twisted some of his long black leg hairs around his fingers.

"Do you believe me now?"

"Quite frankly, no."

The caller gave an exasperated sigh. L said nothing.

"Fine. I'm not in Roger's office because Matt hacked the admin account. Matt's memory is so bad, he writes his passwords down on post-its and sticks them all over his room. He didn't even bother clearing them when I came over for our shared algorithms project. He thinks I'm still a technology twit; I let him believe that."

"This is no good," said L. "If Matt can hack the system, anyone can." Leaning over the edge of his bed, he stuck his hand inside the sports bag last used in 1987, and rifled through it for a clean set of jeans. Instead his hand came out clutching white woolen socks. 'Who packed these?' thought L, holding them up over his nose. They smelled of wash powder.

"It takes such a fiddly story for you to believe me?" said the voice.

L paused, hand dangling off the edge, fingers clenched round the socks. "Why? Did you make it up?"

"No!"

"If n balls are randomly placed in n cells," said L, tossing the socks back in the sports bag. "What is the probability each cell will be occupied?"

"n Factorial divided by n power n. Can we stop this? As much as I love doing brain teasers with you, this phone call is beginning to eat my allowance."

"Okay," said L. Cramming his phone in the crook of his neck, he stood, changed out of his boxers and into a new set of black briefs. The growing heap of dirty laundry in the corner now came to his knees. He lifted yesterday's jeans up from the floor with hesitant hands ...they were caked in sweat and vaguely stank of urine. Maybe no-one would notice?

L hastily pulled the jeans over his goosebump covered legs. "I need to close this case fast," he said.

"Why?" said Near, voice sharp as a knife.

L grabbed for the spray bottle of Ban Zero, tucked it under his T shirt, and rammed the nozzle down. He wheezed when a cloud of deodorant filled the air around him, and tried keeping his voice level as he spoke.

"The NPA are on to me," he said, voice shaky, as he closed and unclosed his eyes, staring at the opposite wall ― the one with the spider. The spider had gone. "I have three weeks left before they cut me off." He sighed. "There's no telling what these people will do without me. They're bound to find out about my undercover work if they continue investigating by themselves." L chucked some notebooks and a pencil into his backpack. "And if that happens, I'm 99 percent certain they'll do something stupid and let HIM get away."

L never mentioned his suspect by name. It didn't matter if the line was secure. You shouldn't rely on equipment. People are smarter. Then again, L only had the caller's word to go on. The NPA could be listening in right now. Hell, for all he knew it might even be the NPA calling him, rather than Near. Time to figure out just who he was dealing with.

"This soi-disant 'Task Force' the NPA cooked up is so useless they're like a bunch of preschoolers; running around bickering and tripping over their own shoelaces."

No reaction. That was strange ... if the caller actually was Near, it would make sense, but ― Outside, a loud splash after someone ordered to "Load the octopus crate". L pulled the blinds up and peered out. The pavement was now covered in a slushy goo and what looked like ... marinated tentacles? He shut the window and pulled the blinds back down.

"I can only think of one way to prolong my participation in their investigation," said L. "Inspector Yagami asked me if I had any new leads. I could always let them in on the identity of my primary suspect. I'm sure they would all think differently of HIM if they knew."

L dug through the sports bag in search of a new shirt. His old one just wouldn’t do. He changed out of his T shirt, and shivered in the cold morning air.

"But that would involve letting them in on my undercover identity," said L. "And they'd mess it all up." He sighed. "They've got me in a Catch-22."

L pulled a fresh white sweatshirt over his head; he looked down, at his own bare chest. He saw his ribs through the paltry pale skin there. His right elbow wailed when he pushed his arms through the sleeves. Placing the phone back to his ear, he sat in the office chair which occupied most of the space between bed and desk, cramming the room. He'd tried spinning the chair, but it would either butt against the desk or the bed. L sulked, remembering the spacious living quarters he'd shared with Beyond back in his Oxford days.

"Near, are you there?"

Silence. L frowned, leaning forward in the office chair so that his buttocks were perched on the seat's edge. His mouth opened to ask again, but then Near's lifeless voice returned on the other end:

"What do you want from me?"

L cringed. Standing on shaking legs, he flung the backpack over his shoulder and pushed the sliding door open, locking it after him. Taking wide steps, he stalked past the ludicrously long bathroom queue, back bent, phone in hand. His messy hair fell into his eyes. He'd have to cut it. 'Not now.'

"I'm sorry. I legitimately thought you might be able to help," L muttered into the phone. "How very very wrong of me."

Within seconds he was downstairs. He barged inside the kitchen and yanked a cupboard door open. Ripping a new pack of Koala's March, he shut the cupboard with a bang. The flakes clinked as they fell into the bowl. There was just enough soy milk left to cover the bottom; the top flakes were bone dry, and tore and chafed at L's gums as he munched on them.

"The term Catch-22 is used to describe situations where to achieve thing A, you must first perform thing B; but to achieve thing B, you must first execute thing A," Near said. "By definition your problem has no solution."

L tasted blood in his mouth and chewed on, roughly licking the soggy mess off his teeth. He leaned against the counter and set his eyes on the kitchen table ― two guys were playing rummy there. A mounting stack of bowls and dishes stood in murky water in the sink. Whitish light streaked in through the windows, barely brightening the room, so the guys had turned on the lights: a bare light bulb that hung from the cracked ceiling on a cord.

"So far, I can think of only one way out," said L, pressing his thumb to his lower lip. "This case has to be solved within the next two weeks."

"Good. Then do that."

L rolled his eyes. "It's not that simple. This is by far the most challenging case I've ever worked on. And the main issue is that my current strategy hinges on HIM spilling the beans, which seems highly unlikely. If I want to stand any chance against HIM, I may have to change strategy."

Near's grey voice went up half an octave. "Change strategy to what?"

"Scare tactics," said L.

Their prime suspect Light Yagami had been cautious so far, but he had blundered twice. First with the TV broadcast on which L made a cameo appearance, then with Raye Penber ― the officer who'd been tailing him. Each time involved the threat of being caught. Maybe Light responded well to threats. After all, many texts in criminology theory seem to suggest that the threat of retribution is what keeps most of us from becoming criminals. L smiled grimly.

"But you don't want to use this tactic," Near guessed correctly.

"Yes."

"Why?"

Setting his bowl down, L felt the sour aftertaste corrode his gums. He left the kitchen, plucked his cheap canvas jacket from a peg, and bent over to force his bare feet inside those pesky sneakers.

"It's a dangerous move," L said at length, outdoors and out of earshot of the other tenants, walking down the cracked asphalt path toward the station.

A rickety metal fence, littered with spray paint and old ads, ran along the footpath. Beyond it, an abandoned building project rose thirteen floors high. An empty carcass of a house, where no-one would ever live. Its bare apartment cells held vigil over the street, like hundreds of hollow eyes.

"If I tell HIM,"

Passing just inches off the curb, a battered lorry dumped a cloud of black smoke which swallowed L's next words.

"I'm L, and if my plan backfires, then I'm next on HIS hit list."

After a moment's silence, Near replied, "I see."

Some school children rushed by as L limped toward the station, his face pulled to a tight grimace, eyes wide, hand over his thigh ― where it still hurt. His bandaged feet screamed.

"So. If you have any pointers on how to befriend our suspect," L said, "I'd be happy to hear them."

"Have you considered challenging him to another game of tennis?"

L stopped. An overturned trash can caught his eye. He burst out laughing. Bent forwards, hand over his mouth, he half spoke, half snickered into the phone.

"You think my body can handle that? Near, I haven't actively played since 1999."

A knowing sigh came from the other end. "You turned it into a competition like you always do?"

L smiled guiltily, "...Yeah."

"Well then it's your own fault. You could have used this opportunity to get closer to him, but you didn't."

What? What on earth? L resumed walking, this time taking larger steps, no longer feeling the pain in his thigh, in his feet, no longer caring. What a nerve. His hands balled to fists, squeezing the phone, and L resisted the urge to smash his phone against the curb. The shiny plastic shards could decorate this sullen footpath quite nicely.

"Are you still there?"

Dammit. L glared at Shinkoiwa's slummy railway station up ahead. He'd have to answer now.

"Yes," said L.

"I didn't upset you, did I?"

L struggled to keep his anger from showing. He passed through the ticket wicket and took the escalator down. The noise of so many people around him scattered some of it.

"No. You did not," L said firmly.

"Good. I was only telling the truth. You had your chance, you wasted it."

At that point L terminated the phone call. Still fuming, he stepped inside a subway car. The doors closed upon him. And it was down, down, down the tunnel, inside the pitch black darkness that consumed them all. L was alone. His lips formed one taut line as he took the escalator up and walked out into daylight. Through the crowd, he saw the winged black feathered monster up ahead. L pushed through, walking at the fastest pace he could, slipping between people, till he was up to speed and walking in step with the younger Yagami.

"That was quite the match yesterday," L said, looking Yagami square in the face without blinking.

Yagami turned. "Hey you." At first he looked taken aback, but quickly recovered. A sleek smile appeared on Yagami's face ― one that covered everything.

L narrowed his eyes. "How did you do that, attack me with your left?"

"Wow." Yagami's eyebrows shot up, half a second later they dropped, his lips contorted to a cocky smile, and he tilted his head up. "You're forward."

"Fine. I want a rematch." L was certain he'd get a foot in, if he played the revenge card a little longer. But instead of backing down, Yagami surprised him by chuckling.

"You sure you're up for it?" Yagami asked. "I can wait for you to get better."

L's lower lip quivered. His thigh burned like fire. Yet he kept going at the same pace as Light, though he would much rather have crawled to a ball and taken a sedative.

"I'm fine," he seethed, sending an angry look at Yagami.

Yagami, in his designer trench coat, with his dyed hair combed to fall over his forehead, that smile of superiority still firmly in place, didn't look even one bit fatigued. While L was plodding on beside him, exhausted, sweating, and yet his mind reeling at a pace that would not let him sleep; Yagami took a leisurely stroll to campus, bag strapped over one shoulder, slip-on shoes gently touching the ground. On campus, they walked through the revolving door together. When L took his ratty jacket off, Light turned his nose up. And L smelled it too. Next to the perfumed, deodorized, pristinely ironed pale blue dress shirt of Yagami's, L's unwashed clothes stuck out as a sore thumb. L hung his head and followed Light to class, without taking his eyes off the floor. When they reached the classroom, it was quite lively. Light's friends waved him over. L noticed Kiyomi Takada among them ― wearing a pastel pink V-neck sweater with a push-up bra. Oh, that push-up bra.

"Are you even taking this class, Ryuga? I haven't seen you at the lectures."

L tore his eyes off Kiyomi, and gravely stared up at Light. Suddenly he felt such a powerful hatred for Light and all that he stood for. He wanted to grab that clean neck and squeeze squeeze and squeeze. L was certain the case would be closed if he did that, the Kira murders would stop. Kira would disappear into thin air.

"Because you don't bother to look," L spat out. He pushed past the monster, into the classroom, and plonked down in the first seat available. Extracting pencil and paper, he began taking one-sided limits.

***



L put the toilet lid down and climbed on top of it. With knees touching his chest he sat, hunched, staring intently at the magazine. He licked his lips, dipped his thumb in his mouth, and flipped the page. Softly he stroked his hurt thigh with his other hand. It was his own fault, he shouldn't have gone all out like that on the tennis court yesterday. He wasn't physically ready for it. He curled his toes round the toilet's edge, and let his back rest against cool stone marble. In Japanese bathrooms like this one, they had noises you could play to mask the fact you were peeing. Such a diverse selection as Gentle Ocean Waves, Spring Rain, Forest Bird, or Summer Night Cicada. Each track lasted about a minute. Apparently the Japanese were expected to pee quickly, not waste time in the bathroom.

With slow, patient motions, L petted his legs from the knee up. His fingers trailed an odd pattern down his inner thigh. He applied fuzzy touches to his trusty blue jeans, completely absorbed in Sabra's latest issue. The blonde model in the magazine was looking at him; she made him feel wanted, needed. L brought the magazine closer to his face. Up close, it felt as if she was right there with him. Like they were nearly touching. Her slender pale shoulders, and wide perky breasts under her leopard print lingerie. It felt so intimate.

L reached down and unzipped his jeans. The girl had a predatory glint in her eye, some ruthless streak she kept well hidden from the world. But L saw it, he noticed. It made his blood run faster.

A knock on the bathroom door startled him. Then he heard Watari's voice.

"L, the Task Force is here."

"Ok, give me a minute."

Standing up, L savored one last glance at the model called Misa Misa, before he closed Sabra magazine and stashed it away in the bathroom cabinet. He adjusted his briefs before doing his fly up and joining the task force in the sitting room. Baggy jeans were good for more things than one.

"Hello," said L whilst leaning on the door frame and scratching his leg with one of his bare feet.

Inspector Yagami looked over his shoulder, not getting up from the sofa. "Oh hi there Ryuzaki," he said. "I was bringing the group up to speed concerning our plans for next week."

L nodded. He remained in the door frame as Yagami turned back to the men, resuming his speech.

"We've traced all Japanese pro-K.I.R.A. websites back to only a handful of IP addresses, belonging to eight different people."

L scanned the room. Ide and Mogi both sat on the sofa facing away from him, on either side of inspector Yagami. Ide seemed tense ― he had his legs crossed, a stiff back, and he didn't move an inch ― like he was aware he was being watched. Aizawa, Ukita, and Matsuda sat in wooden chairs facing L. The comfortable armchair L liked so much was respectfully left vacant.

"Aizawa, can you call these people in?" said inspector Yagami.

"Gladly," said Aizawa.

"Umm ―" came from Matsuda's mouth as he opened it, and squirmed uncomfortably in his chair.

'Just like a child that needs the little boys' room', L mentally noted.

Inspector Yagami turned his slicked back head of hair, showing L a small part of his face. It was grim with tension.

"Yes, Matsuda?" the inspector said.

The rookie detective put on a serious face. "But technically speaking it's not illegal to build a pro-K.I.R.A. website."

Aizawa laughed. "Why? Matsuda, don't tell me you started your own pro-K.I.R.A. website."

Matsuda turned red in the face as the whole room broke into a cheer of laughter. Even inspector Yagami permitted himself a smile.

"That won't look good on your performance evaluation," Ukita added with a wink.

"Okay, that's enough gentlemen," said inspector Yagami. "But to answer your question Matsuda, we won't be arresting them. Merely asking questions which need to be asked. Someone out there knows where K.I.R.A. is located, how they communicate, who funds them, how they carry out these murders," spittle flew from Yagami's mouth. "We will milk these website owners for information. Because right now they are our only lead, and our best hope of catching K.I.R.A. . Call them Aizawa, bring them in. I don't care how many afternoons of playing Duke Nukem these people sacrifice before they squeal."

As they divided tasks among themselves, L remained in the doorway. He did not worry. There was nothing to worry about. Honestfaces . com, his provocation website in support of Kira, was not on their list. L had made sure of that using a Trojan script embedded on the USB stick he'd given inspector Yagami last Wednesday. There was an advantage to working on the task force: he could control their every move, and steer them in the right direction if need be.

Watari wheeled in a tray laden with delicious appetizers and a steaming pot of coffee. The detectives huddled round it, their meeting officially over. L was about to get a bite to eat himself, when Matsuda approached him.

"Ryuzaki?"

L frowned. "What is it Matsuda?"

"Remember that notebook we found in Light's room?"

Without a word L walked out of the sitting room, into the hallway, and motioned for Matsuda to follow. When they were out of earshot, L hissed:

"Did you tell anyone about the notebook?"

"What! No."

Matsuda shifted from foot to foot, hands burrowed deep inside his suit pockets. His irises fled to the upper left, then bounced back, pupils dilated. A moment later Matsuda rubbed his nose, the palm of his hand covering his mouth.

L looked dully at Matsuda. 'Liar liar, pants on fire,' he thought; instead he said: "Ok. Because Light Yagami is no longer a suspect."

Matsuda breathed an obvious sigh of relief. L scrutinized his ally from head to toe. Matsuda pointedly observed the textured walls, his hands twitched and a light rosy color showed on his cheeks.

"I realized I had an error in judgment," said L. "A teenage boy couldn't possibly be behind something this big."

At those words Matsuda visibly calmed. When he addressed L next he seemed to be back to his initial good humor. He smiled broadly and looked L in the eye as he spoke with misplaced confidence. "Ah yes, don't we all have errors in judgment sometimes."

"Why? Were you going to tell me something?"

Matsuda stopped, taken aback. "Uh ... no."

"Good," said L, turning away and walking straight back into the sitting room, where the appetizer plate looked miserably empty, leaving Matsuda to gawk after him.

L skulked toward the tray, picked up the last conversation tart, and gravely placed it in his mouth.

Watari smiled at him. "There's more where that came from."

But L wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said "I'm not hungry," before turning away and getting back to work. Of course 'work' was a liberal term. L didn't get much work done with the task force around. He was much too busy spying on their operations and pretending to perform the assignments they gave him, to be actually working on the real Kira case. As he perused the old case files ― just for show, to make it seem like he was doing something useful ― L stumbled on Raye Penber's final report. He clicked it open.

Subject: Light Yagami

Case File: XC798-JJ

Status: Open

Throughout three days of observation, the subject has shown no obvious sign of aiding the criminal Kira. The subject goes about his business in an orderly fashion, following a predetermined schedule without delay or deviation. The subject devotes sufficient time to his education, and leads a potent social life. The observation has been carried out in accordance with standard bureau procedure.

Preliminary conclusion:

Given current information, it seems advisable to drop all outstanding allegations on the subject.

Signed,

Raye Penber, code 11024U.

Scrolling down, L entered his password for the full length report. A few pages in, he halted. Mystified, L stared at his laptop. Leaning forward in the armchair, his nose now inches away from the screen, he read the words over and over. It couldn't be.

'What is this sanitized crap?' thought L, frantically tapping away at the keyboard.

His eyes flickered over the text. Jumping from sentence to sentence, searching for key words. There was no mention of the busjacking. The one element that had stood out most in Penber's report, the one thing that had drawn L's attention to Light Yagami all those months ago. Had he imagined it?

No way.

Penber had compromised his own security by exposing himself to his investigation subject, Light Yagami. That was the only lead L had, the only clue after Kira had murdered all FBI agents in a seemingly random order. None of the other agents had compromised themselves: only Penber. But now, reading his report once more, L couldn't find a trace of it, nothing at all. As if someone had gone through the whole file and systemically wiped out all incriminating evidence against Light.

But who could do such a thing? This file was classified, digitally signed, protected with a dynamic password. Only a select few outside the FBI were granted access, including L himself. L frowned; his mouth fell open, he gnawed on his left thumb.

"Ryuzaki," said inspector Yagami. "Sorry to take you from your work."

L looked across the coffee table. With a charming smile and weary face, inspector Yagami sat on the sofa, case files spread out around him.

"Not a problem. What is it?"

"Help me out with this. On several occasions K.I.R.A. has clearly obtained intelligence that was supposed to be restricted to the Task Force only. I've been wondering for quite a while now how K.I.R.A. could have obtained this intel right under our noses."

L stroked his chin. His other hand tapped absently on the coffee table, his eyes remained on inspector Yagami. "It certainly looks like someone from the police is involved with Kira. I was thinking Kira might even be in law enforcement himself, ...or herself ― for all we know, Kira might just as well be a woman."

Yagami frowned, the mustache bars twitched morosely down. "With all due respect, Ryuzaki, we've already established that K.I.R.A. is an organization, not a natural person."

"My apologies," said L, without changing the sharp, humorless tone of his voice.

"As to your first suggestion," Yagami continued, "if that indeed is the case, we have a serious problem on our hands."

L nodded contemplatively. "True. This person could be literally anyone. He or she doesn't even have to be on the task force, doesn't even need to be with the NPA."

Yagami raised his brows.

L went on. "As long as they have access to our files, any of the higher ups could qualify. They don't even need to be located in Japan."

"What are the chances we're dealing with a hacker?" Yagami said.

Without missing a beat, L prompted: "Less than 0,1% "

"How can you be so sure?" said the inspector. "A good hacker could certainly ― "

L interrupted him. "Our files are encrypted with AES-256. No hacker has succeeded in cracking that since its introduction 3 years ago."

"Well then," said the inspector.

L pointedly stared at him. "The only feasible way our files can be compromised is either by a fault in the implementation: corrupted hardware, sloppily written software. Or due to human error: if one of us was careless with their passwords."

L's breath caught in his throat, his toes curled round the edge of the coffee table between him and inspector Yagami. No, he couldn't have. That was impossible, L shook the thought from his mind, he was being paranoid. There was no way inspector Yagami could have edited Penber's last report. The man didn't know enough about code breaking and programming to even consider such a task.

And yet a little voice crept inside L's mind unbidden, as he nodded to what the inspector said, without paying attention to it. What if inspector Yagami knew people, people for whom cracking this would be a piece of cake? L's mind did cartwheels. Had DSA been broken yet? If they could copy Penber's digital signature, ...thank Einstein the inspector didn't know L's real name.

***

 

 

The blackboard was covered in faded white streaks. L looked on dully. A cold chill seeped into him. His fingers drummed on the desk, and he hugged his knees tighter to his chest. Kira had murdered 41 people over the weekend; 3 more on Monday. The History paper was due today, Tuesday. Which explained why Kira had taken less victims ― Light must have spent all Monday afternoon writing it. Students filed in the empty lecture hall; some excitedly chatting, others absorbed in their Game Boys. No-one approached L, all seats around him were vacant.

"Hi Ryuga," a lightly mocking, happy voice said from the right behind him.

L whirled around in his seat. He shrunk back, staring at the monster that flanked Light from both sides like a deathly shadow. He could not escape those beady yellow eyes with blood red pupils. Then he blinked and focused on Light. Light's lips were subtly upcurved, brows raised, his eyes narrow, guarded, the folds underneath his eyes creased, showing both mirth and a lingering menace. Light approached with an easy tread, gestured at the row of empty seats around L and said

"This seat taken?"

L shook his head. Light lowered his shoulder bag to the floor before sitting down beside him. The monster reclined itself on ten seats, one leg folded at the knee, and tapped two fingers to its studded purple lips, in a cigarette smoking gesture.

"So Ryuga," Light said with a friendly smile. "Where are you from?"

L stared back. The truth was gnawing at him, eating at his insides. And this was only the beginning. He'd have to keep up this charade for a lot longer to gain Light's trust, to get him talking. To pretend he was Hideki Ryuga and do it convincingly, over a sizeable stretch of time, he'd have to be Hideki Ryuga. L braced himself and looked Light straight in the face while answering.

"Oh, it's a small town, you wouldn't know it."

Still smiling, Light shrugged. "Perhaps not, but you could try. I had good grades for Geography in middle school, when we studied the prefectures. I could place all municipalities with a population over fifty thousand on the map."

L smiled back. "Ōkuma."

Light frowned.

"Ōkuma, ever heard of it?" said L, leaning forward, getting into Light's face.

"Oh no, I haven't. What prefecture is it in?"

"Fukushima, Futaba District," L deadpanned.

Light's face brightened. "Fukushima, isn't that near Sendai?" he said with scholarly excitement.

The professor moved his chalk across the blackboard. The lecture hall fell into a hushed silence. Light jotted the date down in his notebook: Calculus, 30 March 2004. They picked up their talk in a low whisper.

"Doesn't Sendai have any good universities?" Light said with a hint of skepticism to his voice.

"Actually Iwaki is closer, only an hour's drive from Ōkuma, and has many distinguished colleges."

"Why apply here then?"

"Wanted to see if I could get in. To-Oh is rumored for its impossible entrance exam."

Glancing up from his sparse notes, Light gave L a shit-eating grin. "That's funny. Entrance exams aren't an adequate assessment of educational value. The Iwaki colleges might yet outperform To-Oh."

L sent him a long hard stare. "That's a depressing thought. That means I wasted a lot of money coming here."

Light shifted in his seat. "Uh, that's not what I meant."

"What did you mean?" said L.

"Nevermind." Lifting his Parker pen, Light tuned to the lecture.

The sound of cars being crunched at a junk yard: the monster was laughing. L took a long steadying breath, he would get through this. His bandaged toes tingled. He took to nervously drumming his fingers on the desk. One more lecture, and he'd be out of here.

"What a bore!" said the monster, poking Light in the side and pointing at L. "This guy is dumb as a doornail. He probably passed that entrance exam by accident, or he's merely good at taking tests."

L's fingers clamped around the desk.

"I mean, look at him," the monster went on in its ugly voice. "He's positively retarded. His eyes are empty, he doesn't pay attention in class, his face doesn't express anything at all. He can't even make decent small talk."

L clenched his teeth and turned to Light. The monster stared right back at him. Light was intensely focused on the lecture, right hand scribbling away.

"Um, I noticed we have quite a few classes in common," said L, his voice a low whisper. "I opted for the Accountancy major. You?"

Eyes locked on the blackboard, Light whispered back. "I'm majoring in Crime."

In an excitedly hitched voice, L whispered as he leaned in closer: "You're learning how to become a criminal? They teach that at universities?"

The Parker pen fell from Light's hand. He stared at L with impossibly huge eyes. Then a smile formed at the tips of his mouth. The smile turned into a grin, the grin became a laugh, and soon enough his shoulders were shaking from laughter. Light did his best to keep his snorting down.

"No, of course not!" Light sent L an odd look. "Why would you even think that? That doesn't make any sense."

L shrugged, scratching his left ear.

The monster chuckled. "He's not far off from the truth. You are learning to be a good criminal ― it's scheduled in your extracurricular activities."

Ignoring the monster, Light elaborated: "My dad is a detective with the National Police Agency. He used to come home with stories about criminals they'd caught. Last year I even helped my dad's team out on a case: they were dealing with a hacker and needed a skilled programmer ― that's where I came in. I learned so much about criminal profiling from this experience: the models they use differ greatly from psychology models. But basically they explain the same thing: why these people violate the law, how they turned out that way, if nature or nurture drove them to crime ― it's fascinating."

L scrutinized Light. His passionate speech seemed genuine.

"Is that what you plan to do after graduating?" said L. "Research why people commit crimes?"

Light smiled at him warmly. "Well sort of. My dream is to become a detective with the NPA, like my dad."

'You will never attain that dream, Light Yagami. I will make sure you never do,' L thought, looking Light directly in the eye. L narrowed his eyes, pursed his lips in disgust. In a dejected tone, he said "Oh, you're one of them."

Light raised his eyebrows, still smiling in the afterglow of his speech. "Pardon?"

"You and your dad are part of the problem."

Light's smile fell; his brow shot down in alarm. "Excuse me?"

L calmly continued. "The reason Kira exists."

Light's eyes turned to slits, his lips formed one solid line. "What exactly are you implying, Ryuga?"

The monster rose behind Light like a dark aura. Its smoky black feathers stirred ominously.

L's mouth ran dry. "Like all our nation's law enforcement services," he said, talking fast before he could think better of it, "the police force has devolved to a seedy and corrupt organization. Policemen are only looking out for themselves, they no longer care to defend law abiding citizens. They let serial killers off with a warning, a slap on the wrist; as long as those murderers can pay a good bribe. Isn't that how an ordinary NPA detective can afford to send his son to the most expensive university in Tokyo, clothe him in the latest fashion," L gestured at Light, who stared back at him incredulously, mouth hanging open, "and buy him a Prestige MP to play tennis with? Yeah, sure ― I get why you'd want to be a copper just like your dad."

L narrowed his eyes viciously. Tight-jawed, drumming his fingers on the desk, he waited for Light to respond. The professor droned about using limits to determine derivatives. L didn't pay much attention to it, neither did Light.

Having overcome the first shock, Light sent him a dirty look, then snidely said,

"You don't look like a working student scrambling from paycheck to paycheck either, and yet you must be spending what? 30,000 Yen a month for a room in Tokyo, and that's the lowest estimate ― you'd be living in a dump. You're also paying To-Oh's ridiculous tuition fees. You still need to purchase your text books, that's 40,000 yen in total for the first year. And since you live near Iwaki, you have to go home some time, let's say twice a month, that's 5,500 yen in travel expenses. And I know you use the subway to go to school, Ryuga. Getting a monthly subway pass would cost you about 15,000 yen. Purchasing food, hygienic necessities, eating out once or twice a week, would cost you least 25,000 yen a month. Compounded it all comes down to 125,000 yen each month. And that's just a rosy estimation. Living in Tokyo isn't cheap. Your actual expenses are likely way higher than that. So what does your dad do to pay for all that, if I might ask?"

L smiled. "Impressive, you did all those calculations in your head in just under a minute," he said, waggishly peering into Light's eyes.

"Don't change the subject Ryuga. How does your dad finance your exorbitant expenses? Does he rip people off by selling them bad mortgages, does he run some sleazy lawyer practice, or were you just born filthy rich? Are you part of some degenerate smalltown nobility?"

L laughed ― he'd finally gotten under Light's skin, and it was surprisingly easy too. He started to doubt this kid was capable of being Kira. Perhaps the monster was pulling the strings. L looked over Light's shoulder, at the monster. It stared right back at him, crackled blue skin round its half chewed off ear. L shuddered and quickly looked away, the laugh fading on his lips.

"There's no need to be rude, Yagami."

Light stared at him incredulously.

"And my expenses are not that exorbitant," L said. "I can assure you. Either way, I'm proud to say my folks are in an honest line of work. They've never abused the system for their own needs," L nodded contentedly, smiling from ear to ear.

Light let out a deep breath. "What do they do, Ryuga?"

"They're engineers at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. And before you ask, Yagami, I'm not subsisting on my parents, like you ― I took a student loan."

Light snorted. "Psh, that's dumb ― you'll be stuck repaying that loan for the rest of your life."

"No, I don't think so," L replied, smirking mischievously. "That only happens when you don't know what you want. I made a conscious choice to go into Accounting ― I'm investing in my future. Given how well paid accountants are, I'll have no trouble at all paying off my loan."

Light smiled. "We'll see in five years, won't we? How many firms will hire you with that attitude of yours."

L grinned even wider. "Oh I believe finding employment should be no problem when I graduate as To-Oh's top student, significantly outperforming you."

Light returned L's toothy grin. "Like that will ever happen."

"Oh I don't know," L said, leaning forward, up close, going for sheer intimidation. "You mentioned eating out twice a week... I don't waste my time on such frivolous things. After a year of studying, I imagine, you'll become so embroiled in this hedonist pattern, your schoolwork will suffer. I don't have that weakness. While you will be out on dates, having fun, I will be studying. And even at the end of this term, my results will be significantly better than yours. From then on, the gap between us will only increase."

"You're on," said Light, his brow furrowed, a skewed smile plastered to his face.

L stared at him blankly. "On? On what?"

"Weed? Asperger's prescription pills? I don't know, but he's definitely on something, and it ain't primetime TV," said the monster.

L clenched his teeth, and assumed an expression which was perfectly blank.

"I mean it's a bet," Light said. "My average grade on the midterms will be higher than yours. And when I win, you'll go to all my classes and take lecture notes for me, for an entire month."

"Okay, I can live with that. But what if you lose? What if after all that studying, I am still better than you?"

Light flexed his arms, reclining in his seat. His head tipped back, and he watched L from underneath the cover of his bangs. "Then I'll pitch in for a week's worth of your subway fare."

L thought it over. The rules of their bet didn't seem quite fair to him. Light wasn't giving him much incentive to win; which was probably intentional. The rules would have to be changed. What could L ask of him? 'Show Kira's murder weapon' obviously wasn't among his options. But he could make Light's life a living hell. L smiled. Light frowned. Plans began manifesting in L's overactive mind. If he placed enough pressure on Light to perform well at school, then Light would have less time to play Kira. Yes! L smirked widely, and loved the look of artless fear that showed on Light's face. He would tire Light out, exhaust him, and watch Kira collapse to his knees.

"No. You will walk in my shoes for a month," said L, "and I mean that literally." He pointed at the floor below his seat. "You will wear these sneakers," L pointed at his knees, "these jeans I'm wearing right now," L tugged at his own sweatshirt, "and this same shirt I'm wearing today. And you won't wash or iron them, for a month. The clothes I'm wearing today will be your uniform. I reckon we're about the same size, so they should fit you perfectly."

Light stared at him. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down. For one spare moment Light's face turned pale white. Then he recovered, and, with renewed vigor said "Okay, you're on."

L spit in his hand and thrust it forward. Light gawked at him.

"We must shake hands to seal the deal."

Light stared at the hand L offered: spittle slowly dribbled down it. Then Light grabbed L's hand, and shook it firmly. The spittle squeezed between their hands and lathered onto both palms.

Still scowling, Light wiped his hand off a spare seat, and proceeded to focus on the lecture. L looked at the seat where his own spittle now glistened in the dim lecture hall. Some day someone would sit on that spot, unknowingly get L's DNA wiped all over their hindquarters. L pulled a face. What a nasty thing to do.

The professor chalked formulae on the blackboard. In a humorless voice, the man droned, "Next we take the derivative of f." The following thing was on the blackboard:

f(x) = cos ( tan^3 ( 2 x^4 - 3 x^pi + 8 x^2 + 67 x ) )

L stared incredulously at it. This was such a horrid example. So many beautiful functions to choose from, and the professor chose this? It looked awful. Absolutely awful.

"Using the chain rule," said the burned-out professor whose dazed face resembled a soaped up washboard, "we obtain,"

f '(x) = - sin ( u ) du/dx

"with u described as,"

u = tan^3 ( 2 x^4 - 3 x^pi + 8 x^2 + 67 x )

L shook his head. This formula was unsightly, this lecture was unsightly, and the teacher's attitude was just so bad! No wonder half the class was dozing off. L glanced sideways at Yagami. Light was still dutifully taking the derivative of a function half his class was too narked to care about. L rolled his eyes. This was going to be a long half hour.

"Then we substitute" tan ( 2 x^4 - 3 x^pi + 8 x^2 + 67 x ) "with v, and we get,"

du/dx = 3v^2 dv/dx

"Applying the chain rule again, now with w standing for,"

w = 2 x^4 - 3 x^pi + 8 x^2 + 67 x

"we have,"

dv/dx = (1 - tan^2(w)) dw/dx

"And now we can take the derivative with respect to x,"

dw/dx = 8x^3 - 3 pi x^(pi - 1) + 16 x + 67

"and substituting all these back into the original formula, we obtain," the professor said, completing a final stroke with the chalk, and stopping to look at the class.

f '(x) = 3 sin( tan^3(2 x^4 - 3 x^pi + 8 x^2 + 67 x ) ) tan^2(2 x^4 - 3 x^pi + 8 x^2 + 67 x ) (tan^2(2 x^4 - 3 x^pi + 8 x^2 + 67 x ) - 1) (8 x^3 - 3pi x^(pi-1) + 16 x + 67)

L frowned at the blackboard. Looking around, he saw all students were silent. Some slept, others wrote furiously, eager to get it all down before the professor wiped the blackboard. L glanced over to his right, and took a quick peek in Yagami's notebook.

L smiled. "The teacher's answer is wrong, but you got it right."

Light looked up.

"He made a negligent error taking the derivative of v with respect to w," L whispered. "Dropped a minus."

"That's not the first mistake he's made," Light grinned, showing him another derivative a few pages back in his notebook.

L shrugged. "I haven't been paying attention."

"Maybe you should."

"Don't you think he's making those mistakes on purpose?"

Light frowned. "Why would he do that?"

"To see who's hungover."

"Or the professor himself is hungover," Light said with a wink.

***

L sat out on the grass under a blooming plum tree. Warm rays of sunshine beamed down on his bare feet. Unwrapping a gummy Puccho square, L licked at it before tossing it in his mouth, resting his back against the tree trunk. Finally a moment alone. L had already forgotten what college life felt like.

"Having dessert before lunch?"

Yagami's prissy face came into view, framed by his dyed brown bangs that looked golden in the sun. 'Poser,' L thought, his one moment of peace ruined. L sat up a bit, surreptitiously peered over Light's shoulder ... no sign of the monster, for now.

"This is my lunch," said L, popping another Puccho square in his mouth.

Yagami carried a paper bag in his hands, and an opened fizzy water bottle. He wore a new dress shirt today, one with pale green vertical stripes. And ― without asking ― he sat down on the grass right next to L. It gave L the heebie-jeebies. From the corner of his eye, he kept watch on Yagami.

"That's your lunch?" said Yagami, taking a rice ball from his bag. "No wonder you're thin as a rake."

L's tongue swirled the cream soda flavored gummies around his mouth. He ignored the rumble of his stomach, as the scent of seasoned rice pervaded his nose. Yagami took a bite of his rice ball, and hummed contentedly.

"I have no use for calories," L pointed at his own forehead. "Unlike some, I work with my brain. So my body only needs sugar."

He took another Puccho square from his jeans pocket, and meticulously unwrapped it. Doing this calmed him, gave him time and space to think. L sniffed at the unwrapped gummy: green apple flavor. He opened his mouth to bite when Yagami tapped him on the shoulder. L jerked around. The gummy fell from his hand, to the ground. Breathing hard, L looked around for the monster, but it was nowhere to be found. His gaze settled on Light. He noticed Light was showing him the contents of his paper bag. L frowned.

"Hey, would you like a rice ball? My mom made too many this morning," Light laughed good naturedly, "and I've no clue how I could possibly finish all of them ― would hate to let them go to waste."

L stared dubiously at Light. Since when did Mrs. Yagami pack his lunch? Surveillance footage from one month ago had shown Light do everything himself.

"Try one," Light said, taking a triangular shaped rice ball from the bag, and holding it out to L.

The cellophane wrapped rice ball had that distinct home made arbitrarity to its form, slightly uneven ridges, not something you could buy at To-Oh's cafeteria or any other store. L took it in his hands. It was soft and light. He glanced at Yagami, at the rice ball, and back at Yagami. Light kept smiling at him encouragingly. Something about this seemed off. Why was Light being so nice to him? The same person who had thoughtlessly murdered 28 people yesterday, was sharing his lunch with a relative stranger on Wednesday. Was this some sort of trick? Split personality? L shuddered as he caught himself thinking he was actually starting to like Yagami as a friend. It was weird. Slowly, L unwrapped the rice ball. In the shade under the tree, Light kept beaming at him. The monster did not show its face.

L took a bite.

His taste buds erupted. He took another bite. This was heavenly. L was so lost in the rich rice taste and subdued seaweed flavor, he barely noticed when he got to the center of the rice ball, and a new oasis of taste exploded on his tongue. Pickled plums, sweetly sour ― L loved it. Whoever made this rice ball knew how to cook a good meal, L gave them that much. For a while they ate in companionable silence. Light was first to finish; he screwed the cap off his water bottle.

"So where in Tokyo are you rooming?" Light said between sips.

"Shinkoiwa."

Light nearly spat out his drink.

L assumed his trademark Cheshire grin. "Told you my expenses weren't exorbitant."

Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Light shook his head. "No, but that's slumming it. Shinkoiwa is a dump. I hear there's riots and shootouts every night, half the houses there are broken down. The rent must be super cheap, but no self respecting Tokyo resident would ever live there willingly. Half Shinkoiwa's denizens are alkies, druggies, washed out bums, and the rest are tied up with crime one way or another."

Swallowing the last part of his third rice ball, L looked at Light and said, "Wow Yagami, you speak so kindly of my neighbors."

Light shrugged. "What can I say? It's the truth."

A new shadow was cast over them, and two pairs of girly canvas shoes came into view. L trailed his gaze up two lovely pairs of slender legs. Two pretty girls looked down at him. L stared back, surprised. One of the girls had a kiddish twintail hairdo, the other sported a short boyish cut.

Twintails spoke first. "Hi," she said.

The boyish girl blushed, and turned as if to leave, but Twintails grabbed her wrist, and held her in place.

Light smiled at them. "Hello," he said easily, curiously glancing from one girl to the next.

"Kyoko and I were wondering if you could help our club out. We saw you play tennis the other week. You guys are awesome! I've never seen anyone that good before,"

Light laughed. "Oh God, don't tell me you saw that? We were just goofing off, that's all it was."

Twintails laughed with him, her lashes fluttering. "Well, goofy or not, that was a damn good game. So we'd like to ask you something,"

Light nodded. "Go on,"

L merely stared at the girls. The boyish one was looking at her own feet, hiding her face. Her feet pointed inward, she stood on nodding knees.

"Three years straight now, To-Oh has lost to Tokyo U, our biggest in-city rival. We always beat them at academics," said Twintails. "Our students have higher average grades than theirs, and our university's research is more highly acclaimed. But these last three years, To-Oh has consistently underperformed in sports, most notably Tennis. No matter what we do, Tokyo U beats us every time. And we never make it to Regionals. That's why, when Kyoko and I saw you play," Twintails shared a look with the boyish girl, "we thought your amazing talent could help us. There's this men's doubles meet coming up, it's in two weeks. To-Oh will be facing off with Tokyo U. How about it, Yagami? Will you and your friend represent To-Oh in the upcoming event?"

L eyeballed Kyoko and Twintails. They were like two porcelain dolls, fragile and brittle. L pulled his legs up to his chest, curled his toes into the fresh grass, and kicked himself off the ground. He soared through the air, and landed in a deep squat, just inches away from the flower print canvas shoes. The girls stepped back in alarm.

"I'd love to!" L said. To his surprise, Kyoko blushed even more.

Twintails laughed nervously. "That's great," she said. "Yagami, you in?"

"Well, ..."

L could hear Light's voice waver. He looked over his shoulder, and regretted it at once. Light's face had set into resolute lines.

"I'd love to help you out, Shiho, but I'm afraid I no longer do competitions." Light hid his hands in his pockets, and reclined against the tree. His shoulders remained rigid, his back stiff.

Shiho smiled with difficulty. "Could we do something to make you change your mind?" she said in a soft whispery voice.

Light pursed his lips. "Not much, I suppose. Competitions just aren't my thing, sorry."

Shiho showed them a drowsy smile. "That's a pity. You and Ryuga could have given To-Oh a real shot at making Nationals this year. I've been trying myself for two years now, but to no avail," she finished with a small self-deprecating chortle.

L looked up at Kyoko. From this angle, her face looked almost square. "What if I do the doubles match solo, without a partner?" L said. "Give me a ball and I'll do it."

Shiho pulled a face. "You want to play in a doubles match, all by yourself?"

Yagami was silent.

L lowered his head. "I don't want to."

Kyoko spoke up: her voice a quick staccato, like tennis balls bouncing off the walls of an empty court. "You will have a partner Ryuga, even if Yagami refuses. Our club has many players who dream of defeating Tokyo U."

"Naturally we'd love to see both of you play," Shiho said. "But Yagami, if you really don't feel up to it, you shouldn't feel like you have to. It would just mean so much to the club if you did."

Light shook his head, smiling. "Alright, you girls are tough customers. I'll think about it."

Shiho chuckled airily. "Okay, let me know when you change your mind."

Kyoko sharply looked at L. "We practice every day. Training starts at five. I suppose you know where the court is."

Then they were gone ― flower print canvas shoes flitting over the pavement to the main building. Yagami stared pensively at some distant point, twisting a young blade of grass between his fingers. L dug his knees into his clavicles, tipped his point of mass forward, and tried balancing on his toes. He spread his arms out, waving them about like a chick trying to fly. He see-sawed back and forth.

"I'm so happy," L said.

Light shot him a puzzled look.

"They actually want me on their team," L said seconds before tipping over and landing face-down in the grass. He heard Yagami's muffled laughter. He pushed himself off the ground, and sat up straight, at a safe distance from Light.

"Why wouldn't they?" Yagami asked when he was done laughing. "You're good."

"Not that good though, you beat me."

Light rolled his eyes. "You still bummed out over that?"

"I've never been on a tennis team before," L mumbled. "I've played competitions, but always alone: me against the other player."

Light quirked an eyebrow at him. "So what makes you think you'd do well on a doubles team?"

L looked down at his feet. Thick brown crusts had formed were wounds had bled, his nails had grown out again.

"I don't know if I'll be any good," L said, rubbing his feet. "I just want to try it." L looked at Yagami, and saw Light looking back at him. "It seems more fun to play on a team," L said hesitantly, his voice faltering.

"You pose a compelling argument," Light said with a hint of amusement.

L smiled. "I try."

"I just haven't played competitively in so long," said Light.

"You played me competitively."

"That was a friendly match," Light said, smiling broadly.

L grew bolder. "It started out as a friendly match."

"Okay okay, I'll think about doing a doubles match with you."

L pumped his fist, and screamed out a jubilant "YES!"

Light's shoulders shook with laughter. It was a natural laugh, nothing forced about it. L watched Light laugh. 'I'm going to destroy you,' he thought. And for the first time in months, this goal seemed more attainable than ever. L started to see the light at the end of this doomed dark tunnel of death. Befriending Light was far easier than he'd imagined it would be. If only he'd thought of this sooner: among hundreds of Kira victims, Beyond Birthday might still be alive.

"While we're on the topic of friendship," said Light.

"We were?" L froze. Had Yagami just read his mind? Was that one of Kira's powers? No, no, it couldn't be. He was being paranoid. Just paranoid.

"Yes we were," said Light, smiling brightly. "Why don't you come over some time?"

L was baffled. Was it that simple? They weren't even on first-name basis yet. Scooting a bit closer to Light, he whispered, "To your place?"

"Naturally."

"Don't your parents live there?" L said, frowning.

"They do."

"Won't they object?"

Light actually laughed at that. "Why would they object?"

"How would your father react to you having decidedly pro-Kira friends?"

"Well yeah, when you put it that way... you'd be the first of my friends to be an active Kira supporter. Just don't bring it up at the dinner table. As long as you do that, you'll be fine ― my mom will love you. Come over; you really need to eat something normal besides your neurotic diet of candy wrappers and gum."

L nodded. "Understood."

Light frowned. "What?"

"You're ordering me over. I have no way out."

Light stared at him, then opened his mouth and groaned. L observed all changes in Light's expression: it did change fairly rapidly.

"I'm not ordering you!" Light sighed with some sort of emotion L sensed was close to chagrin ― the same way Roger reacted when L insisted on pushing Roger's buttons to check if Roger was getting too old for the job.

"Fine then. Don't come. You're uninvited."

L blinked. "I want to come over though."

Light stared at him like he had grown a second head. "You really have a way of doing things, Ryuga."

"Sorry," L said in a small voice, shrinking back. He had ruined it, again. How did he always manage to do this? He hadn't even been trying to get on Yagami's nerves. He'd tried to be his friend. Now Light would probably never speak to him again. Why did the wrong things always come out of his mouth at the worst possible time?

Light took a deep breath and looked at L like someone would look at a scolded little child. "Don't be. So I don't have class tomorrow afternoon. How does that work for you?"

A sharp gust of wind blew through L's ratty jacket, scattering plum blossoms in his lap. L stared at Yagami. This was happening, for real. He was going to visit the Yagami house again, this time in the guise of Hideki Ryuga, Light's college pal. Ignoring the prickling sensation in his eye as another gust swept his hair apart, L sat there, stunned, unable to move.

"That's fine," L said, trying to keep his voice level. "I have a class that day, but I don't feel like going anyhow."

"Alright, we can go together after class."

Yagami clapped him on the shoulder. L felt like throwing up.

***

Author's Note:

L always struck me as a guy who listens to lighthearted pop songs. Due to the darker nature of his job and the things he has seen working cases (the terrifying bloodthirsty criminals he has put away) I bet he wouldn't want to relive those experiences on a daily basis. That's why I thought L would shy away from 'darker' music like Sadcore and Alternative Rock. Plus he seemed to enjoy sweet things in canon: sweet food, sweet girls (Misa), so I'm guessing he would like his music sweet as well. ;-) He'd probably enjoy those music videos with girls in belly-button showing shirts, sugar coated voices, and sensual dancing.

Which is why I chose the Atomic Kitten song 'Right Now' for L's ringtone.

Beyond Birthday is one year older than L in this fic. And Kyoko, the girl who had a crush on L in canon, is a third year student and a member of To-Oh's tennis club.

Light obviously dyes his hair in canon: his closest relatives all have dark hair, canon is known for its natural hair colors, and most Japanese have dark hair (black or a very dark brown). However, it is rather popular among modern day teenagers in Japan to dye their hair. So I think it's conceivable that both Misa and Light would dye their hair.

Oh, and thank you OneSerendipity, CtheChangeling, DrSurgeonGuy, and IamNoHere, for your help with editing this chapter!

.

published October 7, 2016

Chapter Text

 


Enter

2004

My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.
Michael Curtiz, Yankee Doodle Dandy

***

Flopping his untied sneakers off, L stood unsteadily on his bare feet; his sweaty soles stuck to the floorboards. Yagami kneeled on the floor nearby, fussing over his brown leather bluchers. L's head spun. Shrugging his jacket off, he tucked it under his armpit and took a wide view of the hallway: white plaster walls, a woodblock print featuring a pair of pink Japanese anemones swaying in the wind, a mirror ― which L avoided because the monster stood behind him, slippers lined up neatly on a teak shoe rack, and two coats hanging on pine cone coat hooks ― a faded yellow overcoat beside a frilly pink windbreaker.

Yagami pulled a face at L's muddy sneakers. He picked them up with care, and set them down on the shoe rack next to his bluchers. The monster's arm passed right through L: he saw it emerge from his chest in the mirror, but couldn't feel it at all; he could only smell the monster's foul breath on his neck. L wanted to scream. His arms were shuddering, he couldn't help it. The monster raked a claw through its midnight blue hair and grinned at its own reflection in the mirror.

"What's got you spooked?" Yagami asked, smiling at him.

This kid was scary.

"I'm not worried," L threw back in his best neutral voice.

A door creaked loudly. L spun around, breath hitching and heart hammering in his chest. This was a bad idea, such a bad idea, he should've never gone through with it. Field work wasn't his thing, L worked so much better behind a computer screen, safe, tucked away from the rest of the world, in his own private sanctuary where nothing could hurt him. He was no good at field work, the face-to-face, oh Feynman, he was so bad with people! Who was he kidding? Why was he even in the Yagami house? This was such a stupid idea.

Oh. It was just Yagami's sister. Phew. L breathed easier, readjusting the position of his legs.

Yagami's sister had her back to them; a pair of headphones strapped over her ears, she bounced her head to some tune L couldn't hear. Then she turned around, saw L staring at her, and froze.

They stared at each other for some seconds: L stared at Yagami's sister, Yagami's sister stared back. Finally she turned to her brother, pushed the headphones down her neck, and said

"Hey Light, who's your friend?" She tilted her head to the side, toying with her pink iPod mini.

Glancing up at her, Yagami grinned; and rising to full height, he gestured at L. "Sayu, meet my college pal Ryuga," he let a silence fall, "Hideki."

L frowned at Yagami: why was he being so formal? Yagami didn't usually act like this, it felt oddly distant... even though L wouldn't really consider himself Light's friend ― he was plotting to destroy him, after all.

Footsteps skidded over the floorboards.

Turning, L saw Sayu make a mad dash for him: headphones swaying wildly from her neck, and a bubbly smile plastered to her face. L froze to the spot. She stopped right in front of him, the toes of her pink elephant slippers inches away from L's bare feet. Clasping her hands in front of her heaving chest, she exclaimed with a look of pure joy:

"Hideki Ryuga is my favorite star!"

Huh. Oh ― that was it? That's why Light grinned at him like a maniac? L sighed. He should've chosen a different alias, not the name of a celebrity Yagami's sister adored. There ― more evidence he was unfit for his job. He was calling it quits after today. Tonight he would phone Watari and tell him the deal was off, that he wouldn't play Ryuga-the-Kira-supporter any longer. He was spent, utterly and completely exhausted. Watari had been right all along ― he wasn't made for fieldwork. He would get another agent to cozy up to Light until Light revealed all his dirty little secrets. L was done.

"I got like all his albums," Sayu said. "Been to all his concerts," Sayu said. "I even tried getting his autograph this one time," she made a sad face, "but the bouncer wouldn't let me backstage." Sayu shook her head. "He said I need parental supervision. Can you believe that?"

Light was nearly falling over, muffling his chuckles with a hand, trying and failing to keep a straight face. L made eye contact with him. So this is why you invited me over? So you could humiliate me in front of your kid sister? I see.

"So Ryuga," Sayu went on, "funny you have precisely the same name!"

"Yes," L said. "Funny."

"Did you know that besides his successful music career, Hideki is also an actor? Yes, yes ― he's playing the lead role in that movie coming out next month! What's it called? The thriller drama, ...ah, yes, Vital!"

"Aww fuck," L said in a bored tone. "Must they ruin another movie with that steroid-pumped bozo?"

Sayu stared at him, suddenly at a loss for words. L observed her critically; taking in her cream colored cardigan with upside-down printed black hearts, her childish high ponytail, and the mud brown band T-shirt she wore underneath, bearing the faded image of a duck-faced Hideki Ryuga, along with enormous letters spelling out his name.

"You know 'Ryuga' is his stage name, right?" L scowled. "Damn that overhyped piece of human trash for dragging my name through the mud! He can't even sing. His castrated voice sounds worse than a screeching cat getting mauled in the washer. They only cast him in that movie for his stupendous fan base of stupid little girls who will buy literally anything with his name on it."

Sayu's shoulders sank, her face turned pale as a corpse. L watched her closely: had he overdone it? He feared she might burst into tears, when suddenly Sayu snapped at her brother:

"Why do you always bring weird people home?"

Pivoting on her heel, she stormed to the kitchen, elephant slippers clacking on the floorboards. L watched her go. He wondered whom Sayu could be referring to. Who were these friends Light used to take home with him? And what made them so weird?

"Sayu can be a handful sometimes, but still. Just saying, you could've let her down gently," said Light, sniggering at him.

"You knew this would happen," L said coldly.

The persisting smile on Light's face said he did. He moved around L and stretched his arm, reaching for L's jacket. "You can leave that here," he said, "hang it on a peg."

L dubiously stared at Yagami's outstretched arm ― was this supposed to be a friendly gesture of some kind? All it made L think of was how dirty and cheap his own jacket looked compared to Yagami's designer trench coat. He didn't want to hang his familiar canvas jacket alongside Light's marvel of fashion 2003. L protectively hugged his jacket to his chest, relishing in the warmth it still radiated. Yagami kicked a pair of cotton slippers toward him and headed for the stairs. L looked at the slippers, stepped over them, and followed Light.

He felt stupid carrying his jacket around like some sort of safety blanket.

Stopping at the base of the stairs, L took aim, and flung his jacket into the entrance hall ― it landed on top of the shoe rack, covering Light's shiny bluchers and his own worn sneakers with army green canvas. L shot a look at Light; who kept climbing the stairs casually, as if nothing had happened. The monster, however, kept its beady yellow eyes on L, watching his every move.

L ran upstairs after Yagami.

Then, halting half-way up the stairs, he realized his big mistake: his total hare-brained blunder. He'd seen this house over a zillion times on surveillance tapes, he'd studied the floor plan late into the night, till his eyes were red and puffy, hell ― he'd even been inside this house before, walked up these very stairs. Hideki Ryuga hadn't. He couldn't, he wasn't supposed to be this familiar with these stairs. He couldn't have run up so quickly, so easily, without stumbling even once. And yet, here he was, just inches away from Light. Shit.

Light peered over his shoulder, a deep frown crawled over his nose.

So L tripped ― deliberately. He keeled forward and let himself fall face-first down the stairs, smashing his knee against the steps. Arms grabbing at air he tried to break his fall, finally slowing down he collapsed, shut his eyes and gasped out in pain. That had been one of his more stupid ideas.

Within seconds, Light was at his side, helping him stand. "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"

"Yes, I'm fine," L managed to say in a small voice as he took the hand Light offered him, and leaned heavily on Yagami who stood on a lower step of the stairs. Lowering his head, L mouthed a tentative "thank you".

Light shook his head, laughing. "No problem ― you're the first one to fall down these stairs," he said. "They're supposed to be the safest ones."

L bit his lip and without lifting his head, he peered up at Yagami. "There's a first time for everything."

"I guess."

L breathed a deep sigh of relief when Yagami briskly strolled upstairs without further inquiry. Ignoring the dull ache in his left knee, L shuffled on after him.

Yagami picked a copper colored key from his trouser pocket chain, and deftly slid it in the lock. Something cracked as he pushed the doorknob down ― the pencil lead hidden in the door hinge; had Inspector Yagami discovered it yet? L wondered. Light ignored the bit of rice paper that fluttered down, and stepped inside his room ― L followed, watching the monster from the corner of his eye.

"Hold on a sec," Light briskly walked out, leaving L in the middle of his room.

L watched him go; he didn't know what to do.

The monster lounged on Light's bed, watching L with a bemused sort of smile. Did it know? L frowned. Did the monster know L could see it? No, no that wasn't possible. L swallowed thickly, the moment of panic passed with a tremor over his limbs. It's fine, just breathe.

Minutes later Light was back, carrying a Doremi Harukaze chair flush against his chest; L recognized this chair as the one from Sayu's room. A small high-backed chair made out of plastic, it had three legs, images of a wide-eyed anime girl, and it was completely pink.

Light set the kiddie chair down by his desk, next to his own ergonomic gray office chair. He was grinning from ear to ear.

"Go on," he said, patting the pink chair. "Sit."

L simply stared at him. Light continued smiling back.

Grumpily L lowered himself on the girly chair. He tucked his feet under himself, folded his arms over his knees and rested his chin on them. Light nonchalantly leaned back in his office chair and grabbed the remote.

"How about some music?" Light directed the remote at the stereo behind L's back.

"Surprise me," L deadpanned. "What does a good boy like you listen to?"

Light snorted, and pushed play.

 


L started. He sat up straight, back stiff as a rod, nails digging into his knees. This was pro-Kira music: a pissed-off nasal voice of some guy who sounded like he suffered from a permanent cold, yelled

"Now go to sleep bitch! Die motherfucker die!"

Gunshots were fired. L watched Yagami closely ― 'do you really listen to this on a daily basis?' he thought. 'Or do you think I like this kind of music?' Or, worse yet, had Yagami figured him out? Did Light suspect him of spying for L?

Suddenly, a peer appears at the same university Light applies to, rivalling him in academics, matching his tennis skill, claims to be from a small town nobody has ever heard of, and says he supports Kira. Shit ― he couldn't have been any more obvious, could he? L had painted a blood red sign on his own back: I am L's pawn, don't trust me. He should have listened to Watari when he had the chance: he was not cut out for field work! Why was he even here? What in Euler's name did he think he was doing?

"What? Why are you still alive? How many times I gotta say 'Close your eyes!'? And go to sleep bitch! Die motherfucker die! Bye bye, motherfucker, bye bye!"

A chill ran down L's spine. He took some deep breaths to calm his nerves. No, there was no way Light could do anything ― even if he suspected him of working for L ― because, because Kira needed a face and a name to kill, and there was no way Yagami could obtain his legal name ― that was classified. L sat a little easier in the chair.

"So," L tentatively said. "What topic did you choose for the History assignment?"

Yagami responded with a mocking smile.

L frowned; but before he could figure out what Yagami found so funny, the smirk had gone and Light spoke to him in a lively voice, with open-hearted eyes.

"My paper's on the period of enlightenment following the Meiji reforms. It's a fascinating part of Japanese history: our nation had been closed off from the entire world for nearly three hundred years and pushed back in development by vicious warlords. We were far behind Europe and America in terms of government systems ― while all developed nations in the nineteenth century already had a centralized government, Japan still suffered under the yoke of feudal rule. We even had a caste system!

And yet, less than a decade later, our ancestors had transformed Japan into a modern civilization. They laid railways, built steam ships, greatly improving both transportation and communication; they revolutionized the textile industry with reeling machines ― and they did all that in under a decade. Japan industrialized itself faster than any other nation ever had: what took Europe and America over half a century to accomplish, we did in a matter of years. By the 1880s our ancestors had completely rebuilt their own society from the ground up!

The most brilliant feat however, is that our reformers managed to keep the transition from feudal rule peaceful. They convinced both the shōgun and his daimyō that change was vital to society as a whole, and would even benefit them in the end ― and so they avoided unnecessary bloodshed."

L yawned without covering his mouth. "How boring."

"Excuse me?" Light raised an eyebrow at him.

"Our history is war."

Light blinked; he uncrossed his legs, leaned forward, bringing his face closer to L's, and openly stared at him in what appeared to be utter astonishment. "What a cynical thing to say," he said at last, his amber eyes were wide and watched L eagerly; his pupils had dilated.

Without moving an inch, L scrutinized Yagami. "Not at all," he said. "It's simple fact; frankly I'm surprised you haven't encountered it sooner, or come to this conclusion by yourself. History is the study of war and armed conflict ― that's plain as day. Peace is merely the lull between two subsequent wars; an illusion. Sometimes peaceful periods hold on for quite a while, and people are lulled into the illusion that this peace will last forever, ...but it never does."

L paused for effect; Light sat on the edge of his seat now, actively listening.

 


L ventured a sly smile. "And all significant technological advancements are just preparations for the next war."

"Really?" said Light, smirking back.

"Evidently."

"Okay," Light tilted his head back and crossed his arms, "microwave ovens."

"Satellite and spacecraft communication, GPS, ship navigation, HPMs ― or high-power microwave weapons ― that's a type of e-bomb, a non-lethal electromagnetic weapon that kills the enemy's electronics."

"Alright," frowning lightly and sitting back in his office chair, Light nodded. The crooked grin was still firmly plastered on his face; he seemed to be thinking of something.

"Not to mention weapons based on the bio-effects from exposure to electromagnetic fields: they can be used to alter people's sensory perception and control their behavior from a considerably long distance, or to murder a large group of people silently, invisibly, without a trace," L said, looking directly at the monster which hovered beyond Light, just above his shoulder.

Light burst out laughing. "What? Where do you find all this baloney?"

"The US Air Force currently sponsors a project called 'Hello' which studies how the buzzing sounds created by microwave heating in the inner ear can be modulated to make people hear voices inside their heads.

An ongoing project called 'Goodbye' develops a crowd-control weapon which emits heat rays that give people second-degree burns, forcing them out of the way without causing any permanent damage.

Another project called 'Good Night' investigates how microwaves in the 1 to 5 GHz range that penetrate all organs of the body, can be used to damage vital organs, killing people from a distance, without a sound."

Recovering from his fit of laughter, Yagami leaned his elbow on the desk and rested his chin on the back of his hand. "How much of your time do you spend on pro-Kira forums and Conspiracies . net?"

"These aren't conspiracy theories, but real modern technologies," L deadpanned.

"Yeah right," Yagami shook his head. "So tell me what thrilling part of homeland history you wrote about."

"The Nanking Massacre," L articulated clearly, pronouncing each word slowly and deliberately staring Yagami in the eye. "The senseless slaughter and depraved abuse of entirely innocent Chinese civilians by ruthless soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army in 1937."

Light paled. "That's a highly controversial topic."

"It is," L said, leaning forward as he stared intently into Yagami's amber eyes. At this point Light began blinking rapidly, but L's eyes remained wide open. "Our government still denies it ever happened, and documents accounting for the death toll have been erased."

Light looked away, lowering his head; his lower lip twitched in obvious discomfort. The monster cackled with furious laughter that echoed through the room.

L grinned. "It's one of the most exciting episodes of our country's history, as it was excluded from school textbooks."

The monster leaned in and spoke into Yagami's ear. "The man has a point. Are you going to let him walk all over you?"

At this Yagami's lips twisted into an ugly sneer. He gradually raised his head, locking eyes with L.

A cold shiver ran down L's spine, his insides jangled, and a high pitched beep assaulted his ears. He frowned ― just what was Light up to?

"Yeah," Light said with a woeful smile, keeping his eyes firmly locked on L's, "I guess the 1936 Olympics didn't bring about the kind of peace the ancient Greeks had intended it to."

L blinked. That was unexpected. He should have known Yagami had more tricks up his sleeve. He had underestimated him yet again.

"Speaking of sports, you are impressively good at tennis," Light smiled a charming smile, and tilted his head to one side.

L felt a flush come to his neck. "Not that good," he stammered, curling his toes over the edge of Sayu's kiddie chair.

"Oh no," Light said, leaning forward and eagerly holding L's gaze, "I saw your technique ― you are very good."

Trying a small smile in return, L curled in on himself, embarrassed by the praise. He had expected Yagami to be heartless, unpleasant and scathing, even. He didn't know what to do with this 'nice Yagami'. Who was he? L watched Yagami, not knowing how to respond.

"Even though you lost to me," Light went on.

'Ah, there it was ― that insufferable Yagami pride; you think you're better than everyone else, don't you? You are no better than the murderers you kill. Who gave you the right to decide who lives and dies? What possessed you to take another man's life in your hands? You call yourself Kira, an activist for the greater good? You're nothing but a common killer to me, just another foolish criminal, ignorant of the way the world works; I deal with trash like you every single day. I won't let you get away with this, over my dead body.' Anger built inside of L, though he didn't let it show.

 


"But you're still rather good," Yagami paused, tilting his head back so the tip of his nose was up in the air. "I wonder," he said, taking his time to speak casually slow. "I've been competing at National level since I was 13 years old. Why haven't we met earlier?" Light looked at him for a long moment, then leaned back in his chair with a lazy smile. "I'd certainly have remembered you."

'Wait, did he just wink at me?' L thought. He felt his shoulders tense, and his heart contracted in his beating chest.

"What is that supposed to mean?" L said.

"Absolutely nothing!" Light laughed, he waved his hands. "Please don't get offended, you're just hard to forget ― that's all."

L let out a sharp breath. He had to get out of here; at his first opportunity to do so, he would. Luckily he'd saddled Inspector Yagami with a good deal of work today; there was no chance the inspector would be home sooner than seven. And by seven L would be long gone. It was a great relief not to worry about Inspector Yagami showing up and blowing his cover. He discreetly peeked over Light's shoulder at the timer on the stereo: four thirty-five, he had time.

His eyes trailed over the bedroom's pristine walls, the oddly bare walls, void of posters or pop art or any other knick knacks students generally put up. There was just one card congratulating Light on his high school graduation, and one photo of Light with some of his school friends ― three boys and one girl ― on his bedside table. The photo looked like it had been taken two months ago: they were all wearing warm clothing, Light didn't look that much younger, and this photo had not been in Light's room when the surveillance was underway. Together with the overall tidiness, Light's bedroom projected a maturity unbefitting an 18-year-old college boy ― this thought had occurred to L before, when he first chanced to see the Yagami house surveillance tapes. This was an adult's bedroom, not a child's.

Circling his head about, he made a point of looking at each object in the room. He took in the shelves... besides the Introductory Psychology textbook and a Probability Theory book Light needed for class, the shelves were empty and frighteningly clean, not a speck of dust on them. Where were those Tennis trophies Yagami bragged about? Why weren't they proudly shining on the shelves? He looked over the desk, also empty save for a sleek Parker pen and Yagami's personal computer, which was turned off, the screen black.

"Sorry," L started softly, looking at the floor. Perhaps if he asked this question cautiously, he might get a true answer. "I was out of line the other week, but ever since our tennis match this one thing has been bothering me to no end."

As he spoke, he scrutinized the wheels of Yagami's office chair; he gauged the angle and force with which he'd need to kick the chair to send Yagami flying through the room.

"Ask away," Light said easily.

Keeping his head down, he looked up at Light. "You turned our final game around in your favor, right when I was winning, too." L coughed, it was difficult to keep a straight face when Light regarded him with such an open, disarming smile. "I didn't see it coming," L confessed. "I thought I had that game in my bag," he let a harried smile to run over his lips, "and there you were, out of nowhere. How did you do it? What's your secret?"

He stared at Light, observing each little quirk of his facial muscles, each blink, each shift in body language, however slight. He was convinced the clue lay in the tiny details: no matter how strong Light's self-possession was, there had to be things beyond his control. Light was a good liar, but L had met many liars before... he wouldn't be discouraged or manipulated, not when so many lives were at stake.

"Ah, that," Light said, smiling sheepishly. "I didn't mean to do that."

"I noticed," L said in a disenchanted voice, it was not particularly hard to make his voice sound that way ― disappointment seemed to be his default mood these days.

Light furrowed his brows in fake concern.

With genuine hurt in his eyes, L raised his head till he faced Yagami, and locked him in a wide-eyed stare. Two could play at this game.

"You were going to let me win," L spat.

Light blinked.

"Are you actually surprised?" L leaned forward, pushing his chest out; his eyes didn't leave Yagami ― he was looking for a reaction. "Thought I wouldn't figure it out?"

"No, I ―" Light began, then stopped himself. He looked serious, without his phony smile, a deep frown settled over his nose. Pursing his lips, Light assessed L carefully.

L held his breath, this was the moment of truth.

Light didn't smile, he looked directly into L's eyes, and spoke in a clear, well-articulated voice. "It's refreshing to meet someone so disgusted by flattery," he said, "I forgot people like that existed."

L pouted. "So you thought to cushion my ego by losing on purpose?"

"Something like that, yes ― polite society seems to require that sort of thing."

L watched him closely, looking for a tell, some sign Light might be lying. He couldn't find any. It seemed Light was being honest for a change... and, had he just heard him sneer at the words 'polite society'?

L sat up higher in the kiddie chair. "Hmm," he rubbed his bottom lip with his thumb, "that still doesn't explain how you parried my last shot; you shouldn't have been able to."

"Do you need me to spell it out for you? I'm left-handed. That's how."

There was something frantic about Light's voice, he spoke fast, too fast, like he was in a hurry. Maybe he wanted to hurry past this topic? Had L finally hit on a sore subject?

"I've never seen you write with your left hand in class," L said.

Yagami groaned. "Do you need a demonstration?"

"That would be nice, yes."

Light jerked up from his office chair, pulled the top drawer of his desk open. L's eyes went wide ― that's where his Kira notebook lay, proof, the scoreboard where Light kept track of all the people he killed. 1,943 People to date. Yagami took a navy colored notebook from the drawer, and flipped it open on his desk. He picked the Parker pen up in his left hand. L couldn't stop staring at the desk's top drawer.

"See?" Light said, jabbing his right index finger at the open notebook.

L looked up: in a neat little scrawl of black ink, Light had written 'dead net cord' down on an empty white page. Light had written it so fast, L hadn't even seen him do it. Could it be he felt uncomfortable having this ability?

"Are you ashamed of being left-handed?" L said.

"It's hardly something to be proud of," Light retorted, glaring at him.

"Don't tell me you believe those old wives' tales about left-handed people being doomed, evil from the cradle, born to be bad." The corners of his mouth twitched up; L knew he was over-doing it, but it was just too much fun to pass up.

Yagami flinched. "It doesn't matter what I believe," he said, gripping the Parker pen tight in his left hand.

L stared at him, the smile gone.

With a bitter voice that sounded far too cynical for his age, Light continued. "It's what others believe ― public opinion ― that counts."

'How odd,' L thought, peering into Light's open, defenseless face, 'I almost feel sorry for you... almost. It still doesn't make up for all the awful things you did, for all the horrid crimes you continue committing.' L shuddered, taking a quick peek at the monster.

'So what if you've had a tough childhood?' he thought. 'So what if you've had to grow up early? So what if you had no-one you could really trust, no-one you could rely on?' L glared. 'Think you were the only one? That the hardships you've endured make you special? Excuse your many crimes?'

He bit his lip. 'No, there is no excuse for this.' What Light had done was inexcusable. L would stop him, he'd put an end to this. He couldn't afford to let Kira win. One way or another, L would stop him; he had to.

L crossed his arms. "Fuck public opinion," he said.

Light blinked at him, then snorted. "That's one of the things I like about you, Ryuga." He shook his head, chuckling softly under his breath, the tension leaving his shoulders. "You say things like that..."

Light leaned against his desk, but remained on his feet.

L scowled. "Things like what?" It annoyed him how easily Light saw through his confidence, how easily he picked apart his insecurities, and then had the gall to mock him over them.

Yagami laughed, slipping back to his phony friendly self. "Oh, it's nothing ― let's just forget about it."

 


L wanted to ask Light to clarify, to specify exactly what he'd meant with his last comment, when a woman's voice called from downstairs.

"Boys, dinner is done. Come join us!"

L looked at Light.

"That must be Mom," Light said, pushing off his desk and sauntering to the door.

L meekly followed after him, keeping his head down. A new song started playing as they walked out Yagami's bedroom, the monster hovering inches over L's head:

"And old men have heart attacks, and I don't wanna be responsible for that, so. Put the mike down and walk away. You can still have a little bitta dignity."

A shudder ran through L ― 'Keep it together,' he thought, 'it's just some stupid song. Nothing will happen to you, just sit through this dinner and you'll be fine.'

They walked toward the stairs, the monster floated ahead of them. It perched on the banister, and, raising its paws like a kid on a rollercoaster, it slid down with a loud bellow of "Yahoo!"

Staring after the monster, L nearly missed Mrs. Yagami who waited for them at the base of the stairs.

"You must be Ryuga," she said with a warm smile, "Light has told me so much about you."

Uncertainly nodding in her direction, L gave her a slight smile in return.

They followed Light's mother into the living room. A small square Western style table stood near the opposite wall, and four high backed chairs surrounded it. Sayu sat in one of these chairs, absorbed in her phone. Four square ceramic plates were on the table, along with four smaller soup bowls, and four juice glasses. To the right of each plate lay a pair of chopsticks and a small ceramic spoon. A stack of paper napkins, a jug of water, salt shakers and seasoning were arranged at the center of the table.

"Please, sit." Yagami's mom gave L a hearty nod and gestured at the chair closest to the wall, furthest away from the door.

L maneuvered around a potted plant ― a miniature palm tree ― and sat down. Light plopped down next to him, to his right. To the left of L, Sayu sat smiling into her phone. There was hardly any space left between Sayu's chair and a large wooden chest of drawers. L was now officially cornered.

"Sayu," Mrs. Yagami said, pointedly looking at her daughter. Sayu glanced up. "Phone." Mrs. Yagami stretched out her right hand.

Sayu blinked, sighed, and reluctantly put the light pink Nokia 7600 into her mom's open palm. Then she noticed L. Sayu cringed. She glared daggers at him, moved her chair away, crossed her arms, and drew her mouth into one taught line.

"Ryuga, do you like karē?" said Mrs. Yagami.

Sayu snorted. "Like he'd refuse a free meal."

The monster clapped Sayu on the shoulder. She didn't see nor feel it. A heavy feeling built in the pit of L's stomach. His appetite was gone.

Mrs. Yagami's mouth fell open in a tiny little 'o'. "Sayu," she said, when she finally found her words, "you don't talk that way to guests." She shook her head in dismay, facing L. "Well some people are allergic, you can never be too sure."

"I'd love to have curry rice, thank you," L said mechanically.

"Oh, that's wonderful. No vegetarian either, are you?"

"No Ma'am."

Mrs. Yagami chuckled. "Just call me Sachiko, it's easier."

Sayu made a disgusted face at her mother. As Mrs. Yagami disappeared into the kitchen, a waft of rice vinegar hit L's nose. He breathed the scent in, and it relaxed him, somehow it felt comforting... and safe.

Seeing no-one was going to offer him one, L poured himself a glass of water, and nervously sipped from it.

The monster held a casual conversation with Light, who looked at L, while secretly making hand signs under the table. L watched Light's hands flash from the corner of his eye. Dammit, he didn't know sign language. L cursed himself for never bothering to learn it before.

When the monster huffed, it sounded like the hiss of a slowing train. "Am I supposed to watch you eat?" it growled, sniffing Light's face.

Light's eyes sparkled with mirth. He looked down and chuckled at his plate.

L frowned. "What do you find so amusing?"

Light locked eyes with L. "Oh just, ...you know," he glanced at his sister, then back at L.

Without her phone to keep her busy, Sayu glared out the window, through the garden, at the passing cars. L bit his lip. ...Right, that was the most he would get out of Yagami.

The monster groaned, sounding like an untuned cathedral organ.

L hid his hands under the table ― his fingers were trembling. He watched the monster dissipate through the ceiling just as Mrs. Yagami returned with a steaming pot in her hands. A chunky vegetable soup with bits of omelet roll was inside. She used a handcrafted silver ladle to pour the soup, then sat down facing L.

"Light tells me you're from a town near Iwaki," said Mrs. Yagami, turning all her attention to L.

L nodded. Sayu started eating without saying 'itadakimasu'.

"What was it," said Mrs. Yagami, frowning in recollection, "...Hirono?"

"Ōkuma," L corrected her.

"Ah right, your parents work at the power plant." Mrs. Yagami looked at L with a sincere smile, her eyes shone. "That's an important job, and I hear you've chosen a sensible profession as well."

"It helps that I'm good with numbers and that I like Accounting," said L.

Light raised an eyebrow. "How can you like Accounting? Who actually likes Accounting? That's literally the most boring topic on the planet. Seriously, what do you like about it?"

Ignoring her son completely, Mrs. Yagami resumed. "Ah really," she covered her mouth with a hand, "my Light was so good at math in school."

L paused with a spoonful of carrot and shiitake mushrooms at his lips. "He was? I wouldn't have guessed with how he does at uni."

Light glared at him, and kicked him under the table.

L's hand jerked, he spilled soup over his shirt, but caught the mushrooms just in time. He chewed the juicy mushrooms slowly. Picking the bits of carrot off his shirt and stuffing them in his mouth, he glared at Light.

Mrs. Yagami's face fell. "Why? Is something wrong at school?"

"Nothing's wrong," Light replied with a steely voice while narrowing his eyes at L, "Ryuga's merely joking."

L put the spoon down. He calmly looked into Mrs. Yagami's disturbed eyes and said in a flat voice, "Ha ha."

Light kicked him under the table again. L didn't flinch.

"Oh," said Mrs. Yagami, "good to hear. I started fearing the worst." She laughed, and began eating her soup. "But Light has always been a perfect student," she said between bites. "I've never had to worry about him."

She smiled at her son with a warm, caring expression. Light smiled back. Sayu rolled her eyes.

"But I really hope you choose something a little more ...practical to study, Light."

L looked up from his soup bowl. Light sat frowning at his mother.

Mrs. Yagami turned and addressed L. "My Light wants to join the police and become a Detective."

L raised his eyebrows, but no-one at the table noticed, because his hair covered most of his forehead.

"I keep praying that you'll change your major later on Light, you still have time. There are so many other professions you can do, and they're a lot safer than being a Detective. I worry so much about your dad when he's working a dangerous case. Don't make me worry about you, too ― I don't think my heart could take it."

Mrs. Yagami nodded at L. "So hopefully Ryuga here will have a positive effect on your career choice."

'I doubt it,' L thought. His gaze crossed Light's.

Then Light looked down at his bowl, and swallowed a spoonful of yams.

L shifted in his chair. Sitting like normal people didn't feel comfortable, not comfortable at all ― he felt exposed. And he thought so much about how to act natural, how to move and what gestures to make, that he barely had enough brainpower left to analyze the other people in the room. He furtively glanced at Light. Something seemed off about him. Mrs. Yagami didn't pick up on it, but Sayu kept sending him these brief, concerned glares, which Light couldn't see because he only looked at his food and ate in silence.

Might now be the right time for an anecdote to clear the air? L pursed his lips. He didn't know that many jokes, at least, ones that were appropriate. He frowned. In fact, he wasn't certain this one was that appropriate either... but it involved policemen, lacked any overt allusion to female body parts, and didn't have any swear words. So he just went with it.

"What sort of animal has an extra arsehole in the middle of its back?"

Light dropped his spoon and looked L square in the face. Sayu burst out laughing.

Mrs. Yagami smiled faintly. "Wait, don't tell me, let me guess. It's an invertebrate of some sort, is it not?"

Light stared at his mother.

"Not quite," L said, stirring the soup with his spoon.

"Then, a marsupial?" Mrs. Yagami leaned forward in her chair, a small amused smile on her lips. "One with a pouch on its back?"

"Why would it need an extra arsehole?" L said. "To defecate on its young?"

Unable to hold it any longer, Sayu doubled over with laughter. Light wrinkled his nose at her.

"Okay, I give up," said Mrs. Yagami, "tell me, what animal has two assholes?"

L picked up one shoulder and casually said, "a police horse."

After a beat of sizzling silence Light's mouth fell open, his shoulders sagged and he stared at L in plain bewilderment. Sayu clutched her tummy, giggling, her shoulders shook with laughter. Then she collected herself, turned red in the face, crossed her arms and turned away from L with a huff.

Mrs. Yagami laughed L off gracefully. "That was a cheeky joke, Ryuga, you nearly had me there."

L cracked a smirk. "I meant no offence."

"Oh I know you didn't."

"Soup is wonderful Sachiko, what's it called?"

"It's just ordinary noppe jiru on a dashi base, nothing special."

L blinked. "Dashi? I didn't taste that."

Mrs. Yagami's eyes turned into half moons. "The taste is quite subtle, don't you think?"

She stood and cleared the bowls away, then returned for the heavy pot of steaming noppe soup. When the door to the kitchen closed behind her, Light nudged L with one foot under the table. L looked at him.

"Seriously, you calling my mom 'Sachiko' is the creepiest thing I've ever heard."

"She said to call her by her first name," said L.

A mysterious smile played on Light's lips. "She did," he said, tilting his head to the right.

Minutes later Mrs. Yagami brought in two large bowls: one with seasoned curry rice which L could smell from where he sat, and a bowl of cucumber salad. The salad had curious white bits in it that looked fishy, and snippets of dark green seaweed. Sesame seeds were scattered over the glittering, shining mass of fresh vegetables. Light helped his mom portion the rice over plates, while Mrs. Yagami dished the salad out.

There was a heavy chest of drawers to L's right. From surveillance tapes he knew it contained a spare set of dishes, clean kitchen towels and washcloths, a dustpan and brush, dish-washing liquid, bars of soap, and among other things, a first aid kit. To his left, a miniature palm resting on a low table, separated him from the long and stylish rectangular sofa. A delicate glass coffee table was set in front of the sofa, and cushions were strewn about on the floor. The glass table was covered in girls' magazines ― Sayu's magazines, her iPod still lay on the coffee table, on top of a lipgloss ad. The model had bottle blonde hair and luscious pastel pink lips, heavenly, full lips L just wanted to bite... This model reminded L of someone, ...someone he had seen before... He frowned, but who? He couldn't place her at the moment. Her name just slipped beyond his grasp.

A wide flat screen TV claimed most of the opposite wall. It was a relatively new Fujitsu model, one from 2001. Mrs. Yagami had purchased it two years ago on discount at a Yamada Denki warehouse in Akihabara and had it delivered home. The NPA men who'd installed the surveillance equipment said that rigging this TV had been a nightmare: its screen was incredibly flat, practically impossible to tamper with. Fujitsu still refused to disclose the manufacture scheme, on patent grounds. Fitting a camera inside this TV without breaking it was risky business, and they hadn't been able to remove the camera once surveillance was over. Albeit deactivated and no longer receiving signals from and sending footage to NPA headquarters, the camera was still there, its lens looking right at them.

Between the TV and the door to the hallway there was a cabinet with black lacquer drawers depicting lotus flowers. Photos of the Yagami family, smiling and hugging, hung in chromium frames over the cabinet. A photo of a much younger, dark haired Light Yagami caught L's eye ― L placed him at about six years old in the picture, he was dressed in a formal kimono and held a lit sparkler in his left hand on what appeared to be the Japanese New Year's eve. And above the door there was a fashionable square shaped clock, which had only lines to mark the hour, no numbers. The clock struck five, Mrs. Yagami seated herself. L snapped his chopsticks and brought a bite of curry rice to his mouth. He chewed, swallowed ― it tasted so good.

'But where,' he wondered, 'where could Light's Tennis trophies be?' They weren't on display in the living room... strange.

"So you're rooming near Shinkoiwa station?" Mrs. Yagami started conversationally.

L bobbed his head, shoving some salad into his mouth and humming lightly. He couldn't tell what the fishy bits were... they were stringy and salty, difficult to chew.

"I do hope you're careful," she sighed. "That place is awfully dangerous. It's not right for students to live there... But what can you do, really, with the prices of student dorms as they are now?" she shook her head. "It's not very fair on students coming from outside Tokyo."

Light cut in. "That's not the worst of it ― tell her what you eat for lunch, Ryuga."

L frowned at Light. "...why?"

Light shook his head at him, and turned to his mother, urgently gripping the edge of the dining table. "Mom, I found him on campus, eating Puccho gummy after Puccho gummy, for lunch. And that's it. That was his lunch."

"Oh dear," Mrs. Yagami's eyebrows shot up. "Ryuga, honey, I wouldn't want to teach you how to live your life, but so many young people nowadays keep unhealthy eating habits. And what a shame! You can't live off snacks, especially when your body is still developing, you really do need all those minerals and vitamins you can only get from normal food, to grow healthy and strong." She paused and glanced at her daughter, then focused back on L. "I keep telling our Sayu to have healthy snacks when she goes out with her friends to that local mall they recently built here round the corner ―"

"Mom!" said Sayu, slamming her palms flat on the table.

Light chuckled.

Mrs. Yagami continued talking, without bothering to react at Sayu's little outburst. "You should be really careful with what you eat, Ryuga. Those sweets are filled with toxic waste products that aren't even listed as ingredients. You are better off avoiding sweets altogether, if you don't want to develop gastric ulcers or gastritis, or one of those horrid gastrointestinal problems later on."

With a look of intense disgust, Sayu spit out all that was in her mouth.

Mrs. Yagami gasped. "Sayu, manners." She stared at her daughter helplessly, with widening eyes.

Sayu wiped her lips with a paper napkin.

"Light brought a guest home, you can at least try to show him some respect, even if you don't feel like it." Mrs. Yagami sucked in a deep breath of air. "How would it look if your brother acted the way you do now, when Erika or Yuki stayed over?"

Sayu crossed her arms and glared at her mother.

Light mischievously grinned at L.

Mrs. Yagami sighed heavily. "Really Sayu, you'd better help me in the kitchen. I've got a stack of dishes there that need washing up." She sent Sayu a meaningful look.

Sayu narrowed her eyes, but stood, grabbed her plate, and stalked off to the kitchen. The kitchen door slid shut with a bang.

Turning her attention back to L, Mrs. Yagami forced a smile. "Sorry about that, she's not normally like this." Mrs. Yagami shrugged. "Anyway, I hope you will heed my warning and take better care of yourself." She reached out and took hold of L's right wrist. "Dear Heavens, you're thin!"

When Mrs. Yagami let go of L's hand, it fell limply on the table. She clutched both sides of her face.

L grimaced. "Sometimes I get so busy I just forget to eat," he admitted. "But," he pointed at his plate, "this salad tastes very nice, the cucumber really brings out the fish. What sort of fish is it?"

Mrs. Yagami smiled faintly. "You like it? I'm glad. It's tako su, I made a slight variation by using regular vinegar instead of rice vinegar."

L stared at her. "Tako... su?"

"Yes, not all people enjoy octopus, but I'm glad you do." She beamed at him. "I was so worried you wouldn't like it."

Octopus, he had been eating octopus the entire time. "No, no ― I loved it," L said. He felt like throwing up. He clamped his teeth together and forced the rising bile down his throat. Octopus, or 'tako' was a gourmet dish in Japan, many impoverished Japanese would kill for a slice, he couldn't show his own personal dislike of it, he wouldn't.

Mrs. Yagami smiled. "Octopus salad is easy enough to make, you could even do it at home! The octopus is first boiled, then the tentacles are removed, and the head is sliced up in cubes. You'd better get rid of the eyes though, they aren't very nutritious. The brains are fine, they contain a great amount of useful minerals." Mrs. Yagami nodded happily.

"Then you only need to chop up some cucumbers ― a pair of cucumbers should suffice for one portion ― and you're done. Seaweed and vinegar can be added to adjust the taste, if you aren't entirely satisfied with the final result, and sesame seeds are my personal little touch. I came upon this octopus at our local fish market, but if you're only going to make tako su, you can just buy the octopus head ― they sell them separately in most supermarkets."

L felt sick.

He nodded dumbly without saying a thing. He looked down at his plate: he'd eaten all his curry rice, and still had five bites of the glossy green salad to go... The white bits of octopus head swam before his eyes.

With resolve, he clasped his chopsticks and prepared to wolf down the salad.

"Mom, don't you think it's time we had dessert?" Light said, standing up. He winked. "Sayu must be feeling all lonely in the kitchen."

Before L could convince himself to take a brave bite of tako, Light had lifted his plate off the table. "You're done with this, right Ryuga?"

L stared at Light ― how had he known? He gave a dull nod. The sick feeling subsided. Instead about a million other questions arose in L's mind: how had Light known about it? Why was he being so nice? If Light knew about L's dislike of octopus, then it must mean his own acting skills were a lot worse than he'd thought. If Light had seen through this act of his, then what else did Light suspect? What else did he know?

Light cleared all the other plates and vanished beyond the kitchen door. L stared after him.

Awhile later both Light and Sayu returned with a steaming plate of little pancakes. With a stoic face Sayu set four ceramic tea cups on the table. Mrs. Yagami hurried to the kitchen and back, before pouring a clear green tea into each cup. L asked for sugar. Then they all sat at the table, eating dorayaki pancakes and drinking their tea.

A sweet red bean paste had been spread over the pancakes, L licked his lips. Along with the rich green tea, it created a celebration on his tongue. In a mere matter of minutes his plate was empty. Mrs. Yagami poured him another cup, but there were no more pancakes...

L reclined in his seat. His feet itched to crawl up the chair, but he grit his teeth and forced them stay put on the floor. He needed something to distract himself, and ended up studying the photos on the opposite wall. Little Sayu wearing a bucket hat, posing under a sunflower; a picture of the whole family, taken about one year ago: Mrs. Yagami in a long evening gown, holding Sayu's hand, Mr. Yagami with a stiff arm over his wife's shoulders, a new haircut and a well-trimmed moustache, and Light in a badly fitting navy blue suit, standing off to the side, a fake smile plastered to his face, his dyed hair shining in the overhead lights.

L rubbed his thumb over his upper lip. Something wasn't right about that photograph, but for the life of him, he couldn't put his finger on it. So he filed the thought away for later examination, and turned toward Light, who had also finished eating by now. Light smiled back at him.

"I was just wondering," L said, twisting the little teaspoon around between his fingers. "Where do you keep your Tennis trophies?"

The smile drained from Light's face and he turned unnaturally pale. Mrs. Yagami set her teacup down, and cast a worried look at her son. Sayu grinned, while nibbling at her pancake.

Light's lips thinned, without replying he stared back at L. With his large, wide eyes he looked like a deer in the headlights, ...or a child caught in a lie.

L frowned, he didn't understand any of it.

"Light put all his trophies away in the basement two years ago," said Mrs. Yagami, "when he stopped playing."

L cast her a look, then turned back to Light.

Light's face took on a mask of indifference. He shrugged. "They started taking up too much space in the house."

Mrs. Yagami pursed her lips. L looked about the spaceous living room, he recalled how the shelves in Light's bedroom had seemed so empty. It didn't make any sense. Surely there had to be sufficient space for at least one trophy, or even two. Light could have left the most important ones on display. Why pack up all of them?

Light coolly sipped his tea, flat out ignoring all the worried looks his mother sent him.

L picked up two sugar cubes, and turned them around in his fingers. Just then the front door clicked, keys rattled, and heavy footfalls moved through the hallway. L froze, this could only mean one thing, but that was impossible. He glanced at the clock ― it was only 17:29. A cold sweat broke out on L's back, he shivered. Could the clock be wrong? No, L cast a glance out the window, it was still light out in the street, no, he couldn't have lost track of time, it couldn't be past six. So why? Why was Inspector Yagami home?

Dimples appeared in Mrs. Yagami's cheeks, and her shoulders relaxed. "Oh, that must be my husband," she said. She stood, and walked over to the door.

L crushed the sugar cubes in his hand. Like sand, the sugar grains slipped between his fingers and seeped onto the table, out of his grasp.

Mrs. Yagami touched the door handle.

L pulled his feet off the floor, and hugged his knees to his chest. His heart was pounding.

The door to the hall creaked open. L watched Mrs. Yagami cross the hall and stop at the hallway. There, dressed in his long khaki trench coat, with his back to them, L saw the inspector take off his shoes. Any moment now Inspector Yagami would turn around, walk inside the living room, and then he would see him.

L was trapped here, there was no escape. Just seconds later Inspector Yagami would walk in and blow his cover. And everything, everything he'd been building up to this far would be in vain. The whole thing, pointless. A waste of resources, a waste of time, a waste of lives ― all because of one little mistake. A stupid, childish mistake he couldn't have made, a mistake he was too smart to make. He should have stayed behind the monitor, where he belonged. He'd let his feelings guide his decisions. He'd wanted to meet Kira face to face, to feel the thrill of the hunt, feel the satisfaction of defeating him up close. To be the first to see the look on Kira's face when the sucker realized he'd lost. He had been arrogant, and childish, and ...stupid. And now he would pay the price: L would lose, Kira would win. And when that happened, he'd end up paying with his life.

"How was your day Honey?" Mrs. Yagami said in the hallway.

Inspector Yagami grunted. "Someone thought it would be funny to make me sign off all District reports of the First Quarter."

Mrs. Yagami stroked her husband's back, and helped him out of his coat.

With a breathy sigh, Inspector Yagami turned around and pecked his wife on the cheek. "Given that it's April Fool's, figured it was okay to put off till tomorrow. What's for dinner? Smells good."

Mrs. Yagami laughed softly. Inspector Yagami followed her down the hall.

L bit his nails.

And then it happened. Mrs. Yagami walked inside the living room, but Inspector Yagami did not follow, he stopped at the door frame, utterly still.

L stared at Inspector Yagami....

...the inspector stared back.

However, before they could say a thing, Mrs. Yagami spun on her heel and spread her arms. In a pleasant cheerful voice she told her husband:

"Oh Honey, Light brought a friend home from university," she inclined her head toward L, "this is Ryuga."

Silence stretched, the inspector said nothing in reply, a deep frown cut into his forehead. With a severe tight-lipped grimace, the inspector stared at L.

Light and Sayu exchanged a look. Mrs. Yagami likewise looked puzzled.

Inspector Yagami cleared his throat.

L gulped. 'This is it. He is going to out me.'

 


 

***

Author's Note:

I picture Light as a solid Eminem fan, from way back in the 90s. Eminem's songs mentioned in this chapter are respectively 'Go To Sleep' and 'Nail in the Coffin'.

Credit for the crass joke L makes in this chapter goes to Lars Kepler.

Light is definitely ambidextrous in canon. :-) Ever tried doing your homework with your right hand, and writing names inside a potato chip bag with your left? Not an easy task. And Light pulled it off with ease. With ease! And made it look like he was only eating potato chips... wow.

So yeah, inspired by that, I imagined Light could have been born left-handed ― which explains the ambidexterity, and adds more depth to his character.

Back in the 80s and 90s, many countries still supported the abusive practice of 'converting' left-handed people. Children who were born left-handed were forced to write with their right hand instead. In many cultures, including Japan, left-handed people were thought to be 'born evil', and friends with the Devil. In the past, most left-handed people were punished for who they were, and not accepted by society. To this day, the percentage of left-handed people in Japan remains lower than in most countries.

.

published July 11, 2017

Chapter Text

Backspace

2004

... it is a wise father that knows his
own child. Well, old man, I will tell you news of
your son: give me your blessing, truth will come to light,
murder cannot be hid long;
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

***

Don't quite know why, but Father looks displeased. He's positively scowling at our table, and stands there like a broken mannequin by the door. He hasn't even said hello.

Sayu checks with me ― have you done something?

No. Have you?

As siblings we've got the non-verbal dialogue down to a tee. I can tell apart about ten different wide-eyed stares Sayu makes. Her knitted brows with round, hard eyes tell me that no, she's done nothing wrong either... this time. Sayu is famous for getting on Father's nerves, and she usually tries to get away with it too, so she could be lying.

I raise my brows at her without lifting my eyelids ― really?

Really.

You swear on your pet hamster's grave?

I swear!

Okay... don't believe she got that one. I turn to Mom, who looks as surprised as I feel. When our eyes meet, she tries to smile ― he's had a tough day at work.

Well, that's what I think Mom's telling me. It's her favorite excuse. Whenever Father explodes at us, it's always his job that's at fault. Why does he still work there if he hates it that much?

Then I look at Ryuga.

It can't be.

Ryuga has shrunk in on himself, ducked his head between his shoulders. He sits there like he usually sits in class, all small and fragile... Ryuga's resemblance with a baby hedgehog is quite striking.

I subtly glance at Father without moving my head. No doubt about it: Father bares his teeth at Ryuga, and Ryuga has turned to stone.

Father's mustache twitches and he clears his throat, drawing everyone's attention, ...everyone's but mine. My eyes are glued to Ryuga's panicked face, I study his reactions, but his face goes blank and now, it tells me nothing at all...

Behind me, Father's voice utters one syllable and Ryuga shoots up from his chair.

Father falls silent. Mom gasps and stares at Ryuga who stands on the chair, towering above us. He points at my father, and yells at the top of his lungs:

"Bad Cop!"

I freeze. What? What does he mean by that? But I don't get much time to think, because next thing I know, Ryuga is climbing over the table, his bare feet narrowly avoid the teapot, teacups, the glasses of water and the plates. What is he doing? I mean, I knew he was a bit eccentric, but this is about the strangest thing I've ever seen... and I've seen a lot of weird things...

I watch Ryuga hop off the table on the other side, walk up to Father, and jab his index finger forcefully into Father's chest. Woah. I wonder if I'm dreaming this, ...blinking doesn't help.

Father steps back, his arms dangle limply at his sides. He gapes at Ryuga.

Mom backs up against the wall, as if we're dealing with a madman. And I can't help but wonder... Why is Ryuga doing this? Is he... is he really insane? Sayu watches him like it's time to call the men in white coats. I frown... just when I thought I'd finally met someone I could talk to, a man who thinks and sees injustice in our world, and isn't too cowardly or self-absorbed to ignore it, ...Ryuga goes and does this.

"You violated my human rights," he hisses at Father.

Huh? How? ...when? This, this is the first time they meet, ...right?

My eyes hurt from the strain of staring so long. Father... what have you gotten yourself involved with this time?

"At least Good Cop, dude with the afro and the goatee, was nice enough to offer me a cup of hot chocolate," Ryuga spits out in a nasty voice.

A police officer with an afro and a goatee, working with my father? That must be Aizawa. He's been to our house more than a few times, for quite some years now. I wouldn't exactly call them friends, but they do get along.

So Ryuga has met Aizawa...?

He, he's not crazy... him and Father have a history, they've met one another before... Well that explains a couple of things. It explains why Father looked so mad at him, from the very moment he walked in. For all his many faults, Father's not that quick to judge people.

"But you, you were so mean. You wouldn't even let me piss ― you made me pee all over my favorite jeans."

Mom's face turns scarlet, Sayu's jaw drops, Father narrows his eyes and glowers down at Ryuga, who's hunching before him, but it's different now...

Ryuga doesn't seem to be cowering, but rather, he looks like a panther ready to pounce. His low, crouching stance looks dynamic and quite... strong. That's odd, I've never seen Ryuga this way... Never thought he could pose a real threat to anyone. But now he's so mad he might punch Father in the face, or at least try to ― can't tell why, but that makes me smile somehow.

Father opens his mouth, but Ryuga isn't having any of it.

"No! Not a word from you," he screams.

"You pigs detained me against my will, all night, in a tiny interrogation cell, and kept hounding me with the same damn question. You wouldn't even let me make one phone call. And to add insult to injury, your cronies killed my perfectly legal blog."

Ryuga bites his lip, his chest heaves with long repressed anger. The way his unkempt hair hangs over his nose and how his heavy eyes flash, can only be described as 'scary'. Wow, I knew he has radical views, but he must really hate the police...

"Well since then, I saw my lawyer, and she's got news for you: I can say whatever I want online, it's my right to freedom of speech. You can't shut me up. Kira support is not hate speech. And you can't criminalize Kira's actions when you don't even know who he is!"

Got to smile at that one ― it's true, Father has no idea. And neither does Ryuga, he doesn't know he's defending me, my ideas, while I'm right beside him. My smile turns to a smirk ...it's really quite amusing.

Mom steps forward. Putting on a smile, she takes Ryuga's shoulder in her hand, and gently guides him away from my father.

"So ― uh, I take it you've met my husband?" she says, fawning over Ryuga like a day care nurse over a three-year-old.

"Damn right," Ryuga says in a hollow, bitter tone.

Father glares at him with contempt, and strides further into the living room, head held high. In a solemn, clipped voice he announces:

"Yes, the K.I.R.A. task force did call Ryuga in for questioning," Father pronounces the name 'Ryuga' with venom. "He's done nothing wrong, but since he ran a pro-K.I.R.A. website, we hoped he could assist us in identifying this K.I.R.A. group, whom we believe to be responsible for the murder of nearly two-thousand people to date." Father sighs. "Unfortunately, Ryuga had little to no real information concerning K.I.R.A."

Ryuga wrenches free from Mom's grasp and interrupts: "If I'd known anything about Kira, I'd never have ratted him out to you!"

Father turns to look at me. He says in that same detached, official sounding voice:

"We can use all information we can get. This case is unique considering so little is known about K.I.R.A. and their methods. That's why we're always on the lookout for new leads, even if they come from the least likely sources, ...every little bit helps."

Father stares at me for a long time, it makes me uneasy... feels like he can see through me, somehow. Like he knows, knows I hacked into his computer, knows I read his team's confidential reports on the K.I.R.A. case, knows I'm behind K.I.R.A., that I am Kira.

I bite my tongue. That's impossible, simply impossible. No, he doesn't suspect a thing. His gaze flickers and drops to the table. I'm safe, haha, I'm safe! Nobody suspects me... not yet.

"Oh dear," Mom twists her apron, "this case is taking such a toll on you," she takes Father's hand in hers and strokes his wrist. "I wish you would just quit, but ― but I know why you can't," she sighs deeply.

Sayu slumps back in her chair and traces her fingernails with her thumb, she doesn't look shocked or surprised... both Mom and Sayu seem to buy Ryuga's story ― I don't.

It feels off somehow... all I know is that Ryuga didn't meet Father this way. I can't prove it yet, and I can't explain why I know this for a fact, but the feeling is undeniable: Ryuga is lying, Father is lying, they're hiding something from me...

And I intend to find out exactly what it is.

Ryuga pivots on his heel, and facing the door he says brusquely, "I must be going."

Father squares his jaw, "that's a good idea, I think."

I push my chair back and stand, "I'll go see Ryuga off to the station."

All heads turn toward me, Ryuga's deep gray eyes widen.

Mom sends me a warm smile. "Yes Light, that's a wonderful idea." Then, looking over my shoulder, she calls out: "Ryuga dear, you're always welcome in our home. We're glad Light made such a studious friend in his first month at To-Oh."

Ryuga makes a long face at her. "Somehow I doubt that."

Well, that sure has both my parents rattled ― Mom doesn't even know what to say. I can see she's fighting back curses. Her lips ripple and her eyebrows twitch as she wrings her apron.

"Okay, okay," I say, moving direction door, so that Ryuga is forced into the hall, "let's go," to my parents and Sayu, "see you in a bit."

Then I firmly close the door to the living room. Ryuga stands in the hallway, chewing his thumb uncertainly and watching me like he's awaiting instructions. That makes me laugh ― he can be such a child sometimes. I pick Ryuga's field jacket off our shoes. He sourly sticks his angular bare feet in his yellowed sneakers. I slide on my Trussardi trench coat ― a classy sand-colored affair that comes to my knees, the belt is exceptionally well placed to fit me snugly at the waist and emphasize my broad shoulders ― and walk out over the garden stones.

As we stroll over the sidewalk at a leisurely pace, Ryuga with his head ducked down, studying the swept pavement tiles, me staring up at the sky, dusk starts to settle over this dull residential area. Another woman passes us with heavy grocery bags, heading home from the station. She must've done her shopping in Saitama where the prices are twice lower than here. Everybody wants to live here in Ikedayama nowadays, and they're willing to do just about anything to make it happen: forgery, embezzlement, even murder...

Rumor has it our next-door-neighbors, who moved here a year ago, were involved in the kidnapping of two teenage boys, and sold their vital organs on the black market. Their bodies were found in a dumpster, three kilometres away from where our neighbors used to live, hollowed out carcasses, even their blood had been drained. Our neighbors were never charged with the murder, because the police investigation hadn't delivered any clear results. Still, people talk, and whispers of foul play and corruption on the part of the NPA didn't raise any eyebrows.

...my father was the presiding detective on that case. Ever since the case was closed due to lack of evidence, my parents have been on good terms with our neighbors: Mom takes a yoga class with the neighbor's wife, last week Father went swimming with the neighbor, and they encourage Sayu to hang out with the neighbors' sixteen-year-old daughter...

I nudge Ryuga with my right shoulder. He jumps, startled, looks about him till his eyes finally settle on me. Then he stares back in silent curiosity, thumb trailing his lower lip, his other hand tugs the hem of his field jacket with jagged little jerks.

"It seems I've changed my mind," I say with a lopsided smile and a calculated carefree shrug. "I'd love to do the doubles with you, if you're still into it."

"Really?" he says, his voice hitches in hoarse surprise.

"Sure, why not? As Shiho said, we've got nothing to lose, and what's wrong with playing just for fun?"

The street lamps flicker on all at once, and give Ryuga's narrow face a pale, ghostly hue. He nods, then quickly looks away. It's too easy to play him ― I don't even have to try. Normally I wouldn't bother selecting such a weak target, but Ryuga knows something I don't, something he won't tell me, something I need to know, and as the old saying goes,

keep your friends close,
your enemies closer.

I intend to keep Ryuga very close indeed... he hasn't proven his loyalty yet.

***

Gazing out the long window of his dark hotel room on the 31st floor, over the shimmering Tokyo skyline, L felt ten years older. He sank through his knees and landed on the soft carpeted floor with a soul crushing sigh.

A glowing white-blue halo surrounded his laptop, stationed in front of him on the floor. L narrowed his eyes against the bright light. To the right of his mouse sat a saucer with a cake fork and an untouched mouth-watering slice of strawberry strudel with whipped cream.

L's mouth was dry.

He stretched out on his stomach, in front of the computer and started typing rapidly with his nose. Moments later, the admin page of honestfaces . com appeared onscreen. L's right index finger hovered over the left mouse button, the cursor positioned above a button that said "Yes".

Chewing on his left thumbnail, L moved the cursor back to "My Documents". There it was ― an encrypted zip file, created 04-01-2004, 20:40. He quickly opened his mailbox, saw the e-mail he'd just sent to Near, under the Subject: LEGO. He double-checked if he'd added the attachment, yes, there was the zip file, the one with the names and faces of everyone who had registered themselves at honestfaces in the past two weeks.

He checked once more before he took honestfaces down for good.

There was one other thing left to do before he could turn in for the night. L opened a draft and read it again.

April 1st, 2004 (not a joke)

Director Kitamura,

Please excuse me for approaching you this way, but I desperately need your help, and have no one else to turn to.

The situation in the K.I.R.A. Task Force has become unbearable. I have no personal issues with Inspector Yagami, but the competitive atmosphere he has created between himself and me disrupts the investigation. I fear we cannot go on like this, when Inspector Yagami does not trust my guidance, and stubbornly insists on following his own ideas instead.

This is not to say Inspector Yagami's professional qualities are in doubt. I do not question Mr. Yagami's abilities ― he has more than proven himself to be a worthy specialist on numerous occasions ― but rather his presumed and unshakeable negative mindset towards my person is likely to undermine the further development of the investigation.

Therefore I urgently request you to terminate Inspector Yagami's involvement with the K.I.R.A. Task Force. I am confident this decision will best serve all parties involved.

Signed,

L.

L sent the e-mail, shut his laptop, and yawned. He felt uncharacteristically tired.

***

It's ten past four, Friday April second, relatively warm in the students' cafeteria... a vanilla-latte ― with soy milk because I'm allergic ― rests on the table to my left, and tomes of Carl Gustav Jung surround my Psych notebook. I'm killing time before tennis practice; Ryuga got himself stuck in Microeconomics till half past four, and everyone else has gone home.

Our textbook made one reference to Jung, so I thought to check out some of his work. The librarian's face, when he saw me check out an entire shelf, was priceless... this Jung guy sure was productive... I'm barely even reading at this point, just skimming page after page, picking up peculiar sentences. Some of these books aren't even translated... my English is not that good.

The needs and necessities of individuals vary. What sets one free is for another a prison ― as for instance normality and adaptation. Although it is a biological dictum that man is a herd animal and is only healthy when he lives as a social being, yet the first case we observe may seem to upset this statement,

What was the first case study in this essay again? Don't feel like going back fifty pages for one little thing...

It is a terrible misfortune that practical psychology can offer no generally valid recipes and norms. There are only individual cases whose needs and demands are totally different ― so different that we really cannot foresee what course a given case will follow.

This sounds so scientific, it's like I'm reading Sayu's diary.

...

I haven't done that in years.

Admittedly I'm rather scared of what I might find in there now... After all, she'll be turning fifteen in two months!

Still got to find her a birthday gift...

Oh shoot, now I've lost my place on the page. Wait, this bit looks interesting:

...the personalities of the doctor and patient have often more to do with the outcome of the treatment than what the doctor says or thinks ― although we must not undervalue this latter factor as a disturbing or healing one. The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. We should expect the doctor to have an influence on the patient in every effective psychic treatment; but this influence can only take place when he too is affected by the patient. You can exert no influence if you are not susceptible to influence.

Influence... huh.

I wonder how that translates to using the Death Note... with it, I influence the world, but... does the world influence me? And in what way?

All of us are influenced by other people: the people we meet, people we interact with on a daily basis, the people who form our environment, and our environment, in effect, forms us. Our thoughts, beliefs and values are all shaped by our environment. But do the people I interact with signify the world?

My phone buzzes. I flip it open ― it's Ryo.

"Hey," I say, leaning back in the easy foam chair, "how's archeology treating you?"

I haven't heard from this fucker since we graduated high school.

"Good, good," he says in his slow, even voice. "We're going on a field trip next week."

"Field trip?" Can't help raising my eyebrows at that, ...seems too early in the year. "You're one lucky man!"

"To the Obama Castle Ruins, far away in Fukui Prefecture: we're going to dig up remains from the Edo period."

"Well, I'll be damned, your head's still stuck in a book. Have you done anything besides study your butt off?"

He laughs. "A girl I've been crushing on since Introduction Day will be there. I plan to show her Lord Sakai's katana on our trip, if you know what I mean."

"Oh!" My little Ryo has become a man! We really do need to meet up more often. I cross my legs, set my latte to my lips and sip from it.

His voice has a dreamy lilt to it. "She's an anthropologist ― the Marion Ravenwood to my Indiana Jones."

"I'll toss some coins into the saisen box at Meiji Shrine for your good providence," I say.

The coffee tastes bitter on my tongue, ...the vanilla does take some of the edge out of it, and the mushy soy milk covers the biting bitterness, but still. Should've added sugar. I got distracted reading, and now my coffee's cold.

"So," he says, rather awkwardly, "what's down with you?"

A smirk creeps its way onto my lips. "What's down with me? What's up with me, you mean."

"Yeah yeah Yagami, just tell me what you've been doing lately... what you're planning?"

"Well," I set my cup down and close Modern Man in Search of a Soul, since it's obvious I won't be reading it in the next quarter of an hour. "I don't seem to have your Don Juan luck, but I will decimate your uni's tennis team."

"Playing again?" he nearly shouts into my ear.

I wince, perhaps I shouldn't have brought that up... tennis is still quite the sore subject. "On a doubles team..."

He chuckles. "Some girls talked you into it, I bet."

That makes me smile. "How'd you know?"

"You've always been a sucker for girls Yagami, and they know it. Plus if you're unlucky in love, you're apt to agree to anything."

I nod vehemently. "That's a solid analysis."

The seemless shift in topic satisfies me, and that's surprising, coming from Ryo... he didn't use to be so suave. Come to think of it, he'd been one of my most thick-headed friends... I guess college does change people. Didn't think it would happen so soon though, ...it hasn't happened to me yet.

Which reminds me, "does Sudou still bother you?"

Ryo groans.

"Sorry... shouldn't have asked," I add quickly.

"No, it's fine. Well, he still bothers me, ...but ...not in the same way."

"Oh. What's changed?"

"Everything," Ryo hums. I hear a clicking sound that could be the typing of a keyboard ― that Ryo, he never stops working, even when he's on the phone with someone. "Everything and nothing," he says cryptically. Then, as an afterthought, he says more to himself than to me, "maybe I have changed."

He sounds surprised at his own words, and continues typing.

"Oi, Ryo, are you two-timing me with Tokugawa period research?"

The clicking abruptly ceases, and a muffled little laugh comes down the line. "Eh, no sorry, ...I was playing Pokémon."

I burst out laughing at that. Okay, that sounds more like the Ryo I know.

"LeafGreen or FireRed?"

"No..." he sounds really mortified now, "Yellow."

"Why?"

"Just... like to see Pikachu running around," he sounds self-conscious, "it makes me happy... But I can't seem to make it happy..."

I laugh into my hand.

"Don't laugh, it's not funny ― I've blown like twenty Potions on this pocket monster, and it still won't blow me a heart."

...Ryo really needs a girlfriend.

"Since you asked about Sudou... there's not much to tell. It's sort of predictable, in a way. But bothersome, nonetheless..." Ryo's voice says business, he's put his game away, and gives me his total and undivided attention. "It's really quite sad, though I suppose we all knew it would happen. Sudou got caught cheating at Tokyo U's entrance exam and was banned from there."

I blink. "What an idiot."

"Well, he wasn't going to get in without some help," Ryo says in a detached, far-off voice.

"And he thought he could cheat his way in?"

Ryo sighs. "Beats me ― at this point, nobody knows what he thinks. Every time we eat out at Sudou's take-out restaurant, his parents beg my parents for parenting advice... it's embarrassing."

"Wow. Sudou has sunk low."

"That's not the end of it. Remember when his dad got him that bike he was so proud of, showing off to everyone at school?"

I nod. "Second-hand Yamaha, bad paint job, all black with red flames spray-painted over the fuel tank."

How could I forget? That fucking bike annoyed me the most about Sudou ― he didn't need to pick on other kids for lunch money, he had a bike, he could get a job delivering pizzas or something.

"Well he lost the bike."

"What?" This bike had been Sudou's pride and joy, all throughout high school. Why would he get rid of it? He'd never let anyone lay a hand on his bike, that's for sure, not without a brawl. And if he couldn't handle it on his own, he always had his little posse to back him up.

"He's addicted to gambling now. Every last cent his family earns goes to that Chinese casino down the street."

"Shit..."

I don't even know what to say. When we were in high school I wished the worst on Sudou, but this is just sad... even death would be more honorable.

"But, why doesn't he get a job?" I ask, uncrossing my legs and leaning forward, till I'm on the edge of my seat. "Or help out at his family restaurant?"

"Puh-lease, if it was a job Sudou wanted, he would've started working when we were still at school."

I sit back in the chair and frown. Ryuk leans over me, scratching deep inside his right ear. It's sunny outside, the Sakura branches with their rotting flowers and fresh little leaves sway in the soft wind.

"Good to hear from you Ryo, I'm glad we finally got to catch up after so long."

"Yeah," he sounds distant and a little pained, "we all have such busy lives now."

I shrug. I guess you could call squeezing the punishment of criminals in between hours of self study, class and now, tennis, all while pretending to be a boring student drone that minds its own business, does the laundry and has dinner at five with the family, a 'busy' life, but I like it. I like to keep busy. If I didn't have something to continually keep my mind engaged, I think I'd go insane.

"Have a fun trip!" I say to buoy his spirits.

"Oh, I will!" he says. With that he hangs up.

Hanging up, I see Ryuga huddled by the cafeteria doors, his worn satchel trails over the floor, and he's got an outdated racquet under his armpit. He's looking at me. I wave him over and smile. When he reaches my table, I wink at him, lift three heavy books in my arms, and say,

"Help me carry these to the library, will you?"

***

After slogging through two unnecessary lectures just to keep up appearances, L was a bundle of nerves when he arrived at NPA Headquarters. He didn't know how he would be received: if his gamble had succeeded, or if he'd end up facing Inspector Yagami. He checked his phone ― 13:47, he was early... the scheduled meeting would start at two, but he couldn't afford to be late today. If his gamble worked out the way he hoped it would, he needed to make a good impression. And first impressions weren't his forte.

He slunk inside the conference room which was thankfully still vacant, and took up a spot in a dimmed corner of the room. Mere minutes later, the task force members filed in. L watched them through his mirrored aviators ― they hadn't noticed him yet.

Matsuda paced around the long oval shaped table, making wild grasping motions with his hands.

"What's this 'emergency meeting' we've all been called for? Will someone tell me what's going on?"

Mogi shrugged, then offered him a sympathetic smile.

Aizawa pulled a chair back, and sat down at the table, near its head. Folding his arms he said in a calm, dignified voice:

"I suppose the Chief will be here soon and lay it all out."

L gulped.

Matsuda stopped dead in his tracks. He turned toward Aizawa, looked at him strangely, then gave a grim nod, with his mouth drawn in one thin line.

Ukita sat down beside Aizawa, casually leaning back in his chair.

"And if he doesn't show up, I suppose it's high time we fire that new lunch lady," said Ukita, rubbing his stomach. The back of his hand brushed against his gun holster. "Man, today's lunch tasted like something a homeless man threw up!"

Matsuda shook his head, "I haven't seen him all morning."

Ide stood by the window, peeking through the blinds, his hands clasped behind his back. After a while he said in his soft, barely audible voice, "he's not coming."

Matsuda whirled around. "What do you mean, 'he's not coming'?"

Ide regarded Matsuda for a moment, before saying: "if Yagami had organized this meeting, he would have been here by now."

Matsuda's mouth fell open. He didn't notice how the door opened and the stately figure of the Director of the NPA announced itself. Aizawa stood, Ukita sat up straighter, and Mogi gave a silent salute. Ide remained facing the window, but kept an eye on the Director as he entered the conference room.

Director Kitamura noticed L straight away. He held L's gaze for a few seconds before taking broad steps toward the table's head, and parking his hindquarters in the main chair, which squeaked miserably under his weight.

"So," Kitamura said, steepling his fingers under his second chin, "dare I say everyone's present?"

Matsuda jumped, then turned around to face the table. His cheeks flushed bright red when he saw the Director had entered the room without his knowledge. He took a step back, almost collided with Ide, and performed a series of furious bows in rapid succession.

By side-stepping at the right moment, Ide avoided Matsuda. Now he stroked his chin thoughtfully, and his hawk-like eyes strayed to the dark corner where L was standing.

Aizawa nodded, addressing the Director. "Nearly everyone is here, we're still waiting for Inspector Yagami."

Kitamura shook his head. "Yagami will not be joining us today."

The room went dead silent with the simultaneous intake of five breaths.

Ide's eyes locked with L's ― he had noticed him.

It was Ukita who broke the silence, he leaned over the table toward Kitamura, and said in a breathy, worried voice, "has something happened to him?"

"As far as I know, Yagami is doing just fine," Kitamura looked each officer in the eye as he spoke, but there was something impatient about him ― L saw it on his neck. The little hairs that sprouted from the roll of fat just below where his neck connected to his shoulders, twitched ominously.

"He has been called away on the Sūfuri case. We direly need his expertise there." Kitamura surveyed the group of faces. "I called you all here today to discuss the formation of a new task force."

Ide tore his gaze away from L, walked over to the table and sat down opposite Ukita. Mogi also sat down, next to Ukita. When he saw everyone was sitting down, Matsuda darted to the table, and sat himself at its foot, beside Ide and opposite Mogi. The seat to Kitamura's right remained vacant.

"A second, more personal purpose for this meeting," The Director continued, "is so I can finally meet the mysterious detective L in person."

If the task force members weren't stilled by shock already, now they were doubly so. Aizawa's eyebrows reached his hairline, Ukita's jaw dropped, deep creases crawled over Mogi's normally placid forehead, Matsuda frantically rotated his head about. Ide's eyes briefly flashed to L's corner, then returned to the Director.

L shuffled out of his corner. The eyes of the task force were on him, he sensed their stares, but he was entirely focused on the table's head. He took off his mirrored sunglasses, hid them in his baggy jeans. L stood face to face with Director Kitamura of the NPA.

Kitamura observed him critically, judging everything he saw... from L's slouch to his casual clothing. L was aware of a judging set of eyes, mentally taking him apart as Kitamura continued to stare.

L held out his hand; the Director shook it firmly in his own beefy clammy one.

"So, L, we finally meet," the Director said. "I must say I'm surprised. I've wanted to meet you ever since you helped us solve the Hachiōji supermarket murder case in 1996 ― I thought you'd be a little older."

Unfazed by this little jibe, L didn't change his facial expression. He stared straight back at Kitamura, and voiced calmly: "I'm older than I look."

"Oh, yes, I suppose that is the case." Kitamura let his hand go.

"And for the purposes of this investigation, I would prefer it if you'd refer to me as 'Ryuzaki', from now on."

Kitamura looked him up and down again. Then he showed L a sly, coldhearted smile. "I suppose I can do that."

Cool as ice, L sat down by the head of the table, at Kitamura's right. And seemlessly, the Director resumed the meeting.

"Good, now that we've dealt with that, I would like you all to brief me on what you have discovered so far about K.I.R.A." Kitamura paused and nodded to his left. "Aizawa, perhaps we should start with you? You seem to be the most up-to-date on our state of affairs."

The corners of Kitamura's mouth went up, but his eyes remained calculating and cold.

"K.I.R.A. is a very large and powerful organization," Aizawa began, "that might have ties to foreign governments; as of this moment, we cannot rule out our own. Several of our country's policymakers have publicly expressed their support of K.I.R.A. Their motives in doing so remain unclear."

Aizawa looked over the serious faces of his colleagues, took a deep breath, and continued his report.

"We weren't able to find a single trace of communication between members of K.I.R.A., neither online nor via official channels such as regular post or telephone. But we know that these heart attacks are the coordinated actions of a large group. We suspect they use old communication networks, such as abandoned telegraph lines, or that they meet somewhere face to face, in person, and transfer orders by word of mouth, ...but K.I.R.A. would need a lot of people for this to work."

Matsuda fidgeted in his chair, and looked down at his hands. With an earnest face, Aizawa looked at Kitamura as he spoke.

"We know K.I.R.A. must have infiltrated nearly every prison on the planet, and we're thinking K.I.R.A. could have planted an informant in our midst. The FBI murders could never have been carried out without someone from the police providing information to K.I.R.A."

Kitamura pursed his lips; the hairs on the back of his neck stopped twitching. Aizawa's level voice continued delivering the report.

"Our forensic team has also investigated the cause of death, and they think all these heart attacks could be triggered by an injection of potassium chloride into the victim's main vein. In most cases, death sets in almost instantly, and is invariably due to a heart attack. If injected with a thin enough needle, the puncture wound would be almost impossible to find, especially if the forensics weren't looking for any puncture marks."

Now Aizawa looked across the table, and inclined his head deferentially toward L.

"Ryuzaki has since dismissed his earlier hypothesis that K.I.R.A. might be able to 'control people'. The instances in which this has happened were very few and far between, and can easily be interpreted as the ravings of mad men ― after all, some convicted felons will do the strangest things and act in the oddest ways, simply because they are in dire need of psychiatric help."

L nodded and Aizawa went on.

"And if someone inside the prison were administering the drug that caused these fatal heart attacks, K.I.R.A. would have first-hand knowledge of the moment of death and all its particulars, long before any reporter got hold of it. K.I.R.A. could have sent us those taunting messages about Shinigami just to scare us off, or to put us on the wrong track. While we were worried about Kira's apparent mind control, we should have been looking in a different direction altogether."

Aizawa paused, he clasped his hands on the table, and pursed his lips.

"There are still quite a few loose ends though." Aizawa gestured at L. "Like when K.I.R.A. murdered Lind L. Taylor ― no outside influence was observed. We don't know how K.I.R.A. could have administered the fatal substance."

L coughed. "That might have been more of a publicity stunt on my part."

Everyone in the room turned to stare at him in surprise.

L smiled his naughty smile. "I really wanted to work on the K.I.R.A. case, so to draw your attention and ensure my own involvement, I might have downplayed some vital information..."

L put his thumb to his lip. He sure had their attention now.

Ukita lost his patience, and asked, gasping: "what did you do?"

That moment L realized how damning he must have sounded. He shook his head slowly.

"Nothing illegal. I just didn't mention one crucial piece of information in the broadcast: Taylor had a weak heart ― his physician warned me he wouldn't last a day without life support. It's not exactly obvious that K.I.R.A. killed him. It could have been plain old fear, or just... his heart."

Kitamura nodded and scratched his chin. He leaned back in his chair and addressed Aizawa.

"Has it occurred to you to follow the money trail? Someone must be funding these murders if so many people are involved. After all, you can't get potassium chloride for free."

Aizawa shook his head.

"We haven't found any definite trails yet. A few transactions did raise suspicion, but they turned out to be false leads after all. If they're smart, they'll masquerade their financial exchanges with clever accounting ― register the sale of one good, while in actuality they're selling something else entirely, and siphon large amounts of cash through a million little cash streams."

Aizawa nodded at Ukita.

Ukita's voice took on a competent business-like tone. "We thought we'd get more out of the medical authorities. Potassium chloride is no ordinary drug, its sale should be controlled," Ukita sighed.

"Unfortunately, we've found that not to be the case. The Pharmaceutical and Food Safety Bureau hasn't been able to help us very much, since we found that even there, corruption is widespread, and drugs which should be heavily monitored, are flying anonymously over the counter."

Ukita set his jaw and narrowed his eyes warily. Kitamura inclined his head toward him.

"Well it sounds like you've done an excellent job so far," Kitamura said, holding Ukita's gaze. "K.I.R.A. is just a very slippery criminal group. But I am confident that with NPA's finest men working on this, we will find out who is behind K.I.R.A. and bring them to justice."

Kitamura shared a look with each member of the task force, then his eyes settled on L, and a sly smile crept over his plump lips. L frowned. He couldn't trust Kitamura, he felt, but he couldn't have continued working with Inspector Yagami... It would be okay, he told himself, it would be okay.

But his feet ached inside the sneakers, and his right leg trailed up his chair, closer, closer... he needed to think, he couldn't think, sitting like this.

"Now," Kitamura looked specifically at Aizawa. "Could you bring me the most relevant files on what we've just discussed? I'd like to go through them all together with you."

Aizawa nodded and stood. Ukita followed him out the door.

Kitamura stretched his arms behind his balding cranium. "My, I feel so swamped all of a sudden." His fat fingers pinched the air. "Can we call the catering people? I'm dying for a good cup of coffee." He smiled.

"No need!" Matsuda squeaked, jumping from his seat. "I'll do it," he said, while panting and anxiously gripping the back of his chair.

"Right," said Kitamura, smiling broadly and slouching back lazily. With half closed eyes, he sang, "There's a bright young man who knows the way to a man's heart!"

Seconds later Matsuda was out the door.

L thought he overheard the vaguest gist of a curse on Ide's lips: "suck up".

Mogi sat there like a stone statue and stared right in front of him, without saying a word.

Ukita and Aizawa returned first, with two stacks of papers in their arms. They spread the files out over the table, and Aizawa began to divulge their contents. Matsuda took a little longer to make the coffee. When he wobbled in with a heavy tray in his shaking arms, Aizawa was already showing Kitamura the Pagliarelli file.

Matsuda came round to the head of the table, and stammered, "Your coffee's ready, Sir!"

Kitamura looked up from the papers. When the rich coffee aroma reached his hairy nostrils, a pleased smile took possession of his full, cruel lips.

"I like my coffee with two sugars, please," he said, stroking his greying sideburns.

His eyes glittered with amusement as he watched Matsuda blush and stammer and grip the coffee pot in his shuddering fingers.

L eyed the dancing tray warily, he had a feeling something would go very wrong, very soon. So he slipped out of his chair, and took the long way around the table, passing Ide and Mogi and Ukita. He peered at the documents from a safe distance behind Aizawa's shoulder, "did you bring the Tokyo Detention House file?"

Aizawa turned around. "Yes, and the FBI murder case file. Do you believe we need more?"

"No," L said, "this is good." He glanced over at the 'dangerous zone' he'd just vacated.

Just then Matsuda lost his grip on the coffee pot. It came clattering down, spewing coffee all over the table, over the case files... Aizawa pushed his chair back in alarm. Ukita ran out the room, and ran back with a mountain of paper tissues in his arms. He and Aizawa started dabbing at the documents, carefully lifting them off the table.

Kitamura however was not so lucky. The coffee pot turned, and downed its final contents over his cream colored breeches.

Kitamura screamed, his face turned bright pink. He grabbed the air with his hands and yelped out in pain as the scalding coffee coursed over his groin.

L, Ide and Mogi watched these proceedings with wide eyes...

Kitamura recoiled from the table, screwed his eyes shut and crossed his legs. He wailed out like a pig brought to slaughter.

Matsuda hastily set the tray on the window sil, plucked a few tissues from Ukita's stack, dropped to his knees in front of Kitamura's chair, and started patting Kitamura's lap with the paper tissues. The tissues quickly absorbed the hot brown liquid.

Kitamura's eyes flashed open. "Stop touching me! You damaged idiot."

In a rage he shoved Matsuda's hands away.

Matsuda stumbled backwards, his hands clenched around the tissues, he cowered in fear.

"What is this?" Kitamura barked, slamming his hands on the table and glaring at the task force members. "I thought we had our best men working on the K.I.R.A. case, and he can't even pour a cup of coffee!"

Kitamura pointed a fat finger to where Matsuda lay crumpled on the floor. Matsuda hung his head in shame.

Everyone around the table was silent.

L looked from Kitamura, to Aizawa, to Ukita, Mogi, Ide, and Matsuda... and back at Kitamura. Then he decided he should also remain silent for the time being. He had no intention of getting dragged into Matsuda's mess.

Kitamura pushed his chair back, stood, and shook his head slowly. "I need a moment." His once tidy, cream-white pants were spattered with a deep brown stain at the crotch, that trailed down one leg of his pants.

Everyone watched him walk around the table, around L, to the door... After Kitamura left the room, Mogi and Ukita made a quick job of tidying the table, and wiping away any stray coffee drops that had made it to the floor. Aizawa recovered most of the dripping wet documents, and Ide carried the tray off. They worked in silence.

Matsuda stared at his hands. He slowly clambered up from the floor, shuffled to his chair and sat down. Ide glared at him. Matsuda had the decency to pull a guilt-stricken face and drop his gaze to his shoes.

When everything was cleaned up, L sat down and lifted the Tokyo Detention House file in front of his face ― it was covered in coffee stains.

Kitamura returned dressed in a new dark grey suit, with a new white shirt and a new navy blue tie. He smelled heavily of an expensive, freshly applied cologne. His face was flushed like he'd recently thrown iced water on it, his sideburns were a little wet.

"So, gentlemen," he mouthed in a serious, calm voice, "let us resume our meeting." He looked to his left. "Aizawa, you were telling me about Pagliarelli prison?"

They wasted the following two hours going over all major case files related to Kira. L discreetly checked the time on Ide's watch. He had to go... he bit his lip and glanced at Kitamura. The Director didn't seem quite so lenient... If L left early on their very first meeting, he might not forgive him... and Kitamura seemed like the type to hold a grudge: he hadn't made eye-contact with Matsuda or spoken a word to him since the incident.

Aizawa noticed L's twitching. They shared a look. Then Aizawa cleared his throat, drawing Kitamura's attention.

"What is it?" said Kitamura, looking up from a graph that showed the number of Kira victims each day for the last two months.

Aizawa smiled uncomfortably. "I'm really sorry Sir, but I kind of promised my wife I'd be home early." He wrung his hands. "It's our second anniversary, so it's not that big of a deal...but she's been going on and on about it for weeks... I'll just call her and cancel, ...don't know how she'll take it though." He pursed his lips. "I'm really sorry to bother you with this."

Kitamura clucked his tongue, his mouth snapped shut with a thwack. He sat back and frowned at Aizawa.

Aizawa laughed good naturedly. "What can a man do? Women really don't understand that we have jobs, and get in such a frenzy over silly little things like anniversaries."

"Do you love your wife?" Kitamura asked him.

Aizawa's smile fell. "...Yes." He stared at Kitamura in surprise.

A deep knot formed above the bridge of Kitamura's nose. "Then don't treat her like that!" he shouted.

Everyone around the table, L including, sat up straighter.

"Neglect her, break a few more promises, and she'll start looking for love elsewhere," Kitamura went on, slamming his fist on the table. "Pretty little things get lured away just like that," he snapped his fingers. "If you want to keep your wife, you must work to keep the romance going, it's not going to happen by itself. Not when you let her down repeatedly and cancel your plans with her on such short notice."

Another moment passed in shocked silence. Aizawa had a confused frown on his face. L looked at Mogi and Ukita, they too were stunned.

"To be quite frank with you, I'm also sick and tired of this meeting," Kitamura muttered with a scowl. "I have a wife waiting at home for me with maguro otoro sashimi and premium grade sake, two sons whom I barely get to see anymore, home from boarding school for the weekend." He raised his eyebrows and looked around the table, his gaze finally rested on Matsuda. "Do you think I want to be here?"

Nobody replied.

Kitamura shook his head. His eyes closed as he rubbed the roll of fat on the back of his neck. "Go," he said in an agonized voice. "Meeting's over. I expect you all on Monday, eight o'clock."

L cautiously lifted a hand.

Kitamura rolled his eyes and groaned. He threw his head back, gazed at the ceiling, and said without looking at L,

"Yes Ryuzaki, I know you are 'otherwise engaged', your spokesperson or whoever he is made it clear to me that I am not to call you on your private phone, that you will contact me."

With that Kitamura pushed his chair back, heaved a great sigh, and stomped out the room. Aizawa and L exchanged a look ― well, at least it worked.

L's back was drenched in sweat by the time he reached To-Oh campus. He checked his phone ― Yagami's text said to find him in the cafeteria. L ducked to his locker, retrieved his backpack and tennis racket, and hurried down the hallways, his hair fell into his eyes. Students stopped and stared at him. L didn't give a hoot ― it was 16:41, he was running late.

***

They're already waiting for us when Ryuga and I reach the court... Don't know how that makes me feel... it's not even five yet. Their support and belief in my skill is touching, but at the same time I feel like they're making fools of themselves, and they'll come to hate me if I lose this silly game against Tokyo U.

Oh well, it can't be helped, I don't care either way if they like or hate me ― I'm just here for Ryuga. Flashing them a broad American smile I walk onto the court.

One girl practically leaps over the fence when I approach. As a precaution, I take a step back... she looks pissed. Her cheeks are flushed and her bangs fall into her eyes.

"Where were you yesterday?"

But she's not looking at me. Glancing over my shoulder, I see her eyes hone in on Ryuga. He frowns, but heads right over to the gate, gently pushes it open with a finger, and walks up to the steaming girl.

"Were you expecting me?" he says, staring intently into her eyes.

She looks away, at her pale blue tennis shoes. What was her name again? I can't recall... she's a friend of Shiho's, the active spokeswoman of the tennis club. Was it... Kiki? No, her name ended on a 'ko'... Kuniko? ...Kimiko? ...Kanako? ...Kyoko? Yes, that's it. Kyoko studies her shoes and says in a tight, marginally less angry voice,

"Obviously. We train at five, every day. You said you wanted to be on our doubles team. I thought you'd at least show up."

She wipes her shoes on the turf, and bobs her head up and down.

"Oh," Ryuga says in the same carefree tone. "You weren't being ironic when you told me to come train on April Fool's?"

Kyoko looks up at him, her lips purse and red spots appear on her neck. She folds her arms over her chest.

"Ryuga, this is not a game. Tokyo U isn't going to make it easy for you. If you aren't up to training regularly, you might as well back out now."

I walk over to them and say, "Don't worry Kyoko, I'll make sure he makes it on time from now on."

Kyoko looks up at me, her eyes go wide. "Yagami?"

"Yeah," I say, "I'd like to join. Where do I sign up?"

Shiho rushes toward me with a ring binder under her arm, but Kyoko stands between us, and says with a stiff nod, "you can arrange that later with Shiho. Practice starts now."

Further back, Yasunaga stands among a small group. He smiles and waves me over, his prescription glasses with yellow colored lenses flash gaily in the dying sunlight.

"I knew you'd come round," he says when I walk over.

He claps me on the shoulder and nods at the gate where Ryuga's still chatting up Kyoko.

"That's the guy I saw you play with," he mutters.

I cup my mouth and shout, "Hey, Ryuga!"

He turns his head toward me.

I smile. "Over here!"

Ryuga lazily saunters over the court. The little group around Yasunaga parts for him, and stares at him in awe, like they just saw Pete Sampras walk by. I grin.

Yasunaga sticks out his hand. "Michi Yasunaga, club manager."

Ryuga cautiously takes Yasunaga's hand in his, and meekly tells him his name. Yasunaga gives his hand a firm shake.

"Call me Mitch."

Ryuga nods, then hides his hands inside his jeans.

Yasunaga raises a finely shaped brown eyebrow at him, and with an amused smile he points out Ryuga's clothes. "Sorry to ask, but you're training in that?"

Ryuga wears the same long-sleeved baggy white shirt and stained blue jeans he's been wearing all day...

Yasunaga thumbs over his shoulder. "Locker room's right there."

Ryuga pauses, pulls his hands from his pockets, then pinches his shirt between his thumbs and lifts it slightly. "What's wrong with these?"

"Well..." Yasunaga doesn't know what to say, and smiles uncomfortably at me. I shrug. He turns back to Ryuga. "I thought you might like to change?" he tries again in a gentle voice.

"No," Ryuga says without missing a beat.

Yasunaga's sculpted eyebrows reach his hairline. "O ― okay..." he says, showing us the palms of his hands, "whatever makes you happy. After practice, you can both finalize your registration with Shiho. We need to hand in your competition forms tomorrow," he adds in a more serious tone.

Not a minute later Kyoko has us all lined up. She paces up and down the line, barking orders at the top of her lungs. Her voice is low pitched and deep like the impenetrable depths of Lake Motosu. Her baby blue hairband makes her square face look round, her fat lips wobble as she spews out commands... all these things combined give her the impression of a puffer fish.

I can't help smirking, so I cover my mouth with a hand.

Ryuga stands to my left, Shiho stands to my right. Every now and then, Shiho looks over at me, and we share a smile.

A cross looking, red faced Kyoko orders us to run ten laps around the soccer fields.

Glancing to the left, I see Ryuga hasn't noticed anything. He continues to stare passively at our 'leader', until we start running.

After our first sprint Ryuga's breathing turns heavy, now he's huffing and puffing beside me. Time by time his shoulder brushes against my left arm. I run on the inner edge of the field, he runs on the outer edge. We're somewhere in the middle of the pack ― I like to start out slow, later, when I'm all warmed up, I'll accellerate.

Ryuga's not doing well. He's keeled over, his posture is terrible, he coughs into his shoulder, his knees shudder ― it's not a pretty sight.

I'm about to tell him to stop torturing himself, when he lifts his head and glares at me through his hair. Something in his look is competitive and fierce, and tells me to back off, so I do.

I guess Ryuga knows his own limits better than anyone else. So I run ahead, increasing speed till I'm running side by side with Yasunaga.

Ryuga lags behind the group, his body slumps forward and then he just stops running, he slows down to a walk.

Yasunaga drags a hand through his shortly cropped hair that's so dark it could be black, but it's not. His hair is a special shade of brown, most closely resembling kogecha I've ever seen... it glitters in the sun.

"You're doing the doubles match with Ryuga, right?" he asks.

I nod, looking straight ahead.

"Okay, I'll have you two go up against Jippensha and Sateru," he winks. "I'm warning you, they're good." A cruel smirk cracks his face open. "They were going to face off against Tokyo U originally, before you two showed up... They might have some lingering sentiments of jealousy."

I look at Yasunaga without turning my head, from the corner of my eye. "Why don't you play against Tokyo U?"

He laughs. "Oh no, I could never play doubles!" Laughing wrinkles appear under his eyes which turn into half moons. "I'm too selfish to play on a doubles team. The other player would only bother me, get in my way. When I play, I hog the whole court like crazy."

He throws his head back and laughs. We slow down, and wait for the rest of the group.

Kyoko has taken us through a series of exercises by the time Ryuga wobbles over, his hair sticking to his forehead and his shirt soiled with wet patches under his armpits. He moves about like a zombie in a space suit... making a half-hearted attempt to repeat the stretches Kyoko has us do.

After a couple more sit-ups, Kyoko announces that she's done, and Yasunaga takes over. He splits us up into three groups ― beginners, intermediate level players, and competitive players. In a cheerful voice that sounds like the beginning of spring, Shiho calls the beginners over to follow her. Kyoko barks at the intermediate level group, and they follow her with sighs, lowered heads and dragging feet. There's only five people left: two guys I don't know the names of yet, Yasunaga, Ryuga and me.

Yasunaga shows us to the largest tennis court we have, turns around, grins broadly, takes his umpire's whistle between his teeth and says

"Okay gentlemen, court's yours. Feel free to start whenever you please."

So I guess the other two guys are Jippensha and Sateru. I move toward them to make their acquaintance, but neither of them looks very glad to see me... I guess Yasunaga was right about lingering jealous sentiments... I can definitely feel them here, in the air. One of them spits on the turf, then wipes it out with his foot.

"Satoshi Jippensha," he says, "pleased to meet you."

He doesn't sound too pleased though. I'm a good foot taller than Jippensha, but he looks older than me. The other guy must be Sateru... he doesn't say anything, just nods in my direction.

Not to come across as rude, I flash them a bright smile and say,

"Same here! I'm Light Yagami, and my friend here is Hideki Ryuga."

In spite of how exhausted he looks, Ryuga smirks at them, while holding a finger to his lip. So he's noticed it too... these guys don't like us. They've been training for this upcoming game for months, and they don't like that we suddenly showed up and took their place. Which means, ...which means we are far better players than they are, if the club was so eager to substitute them at such short notice, ...which means this practice match should be a piece of cake!

Ryuga moves ahead of me, over to the left side of the court. He stands some distance away from the net, by the service line, and watches our competitors as they move onto the court.

Sateru has large, sleepy looking eyes, but his mind is alert. I can tell, because in the five seconds of knowing him, he has already figured out my physique, most likely playing style, and temperament. He moves closer to the net, up front, to ruin my game. I grimace. As a tennis-player, he has me all figured out.

Jippensha seems a lot more airheaded. He sports an unfortunate bowl cut, his shiny black hair falls over his pointy ears in straight spikes. His chin, also pointy, rests on his racquet which he holds in his arms. Jippensha rolls his eyes, "You start," he says. He's also the most verbal of the two.

Sateru stands to the left of the centre mark, directly facing Ryuga, while Jippensha faces me. Ryuga and I are both physically taller than them, but I know that in tennis, height is not an advantage.

"Good," Ryuga whistles. He grabs a ball from the stack, and walks up to the baseline, while keeping his eyes trained on the other two. He drops the ball, lets it bounce once, twice...

Jippensha bites his lip in frustration. Good Ryuga! Keep it going, you're really getting on their nerves!

Then Ryuga hits it sharply with his racquet so the ball zips over the net, clear across to their side of the court, over Jippensha and Sateru's heads. The ball bounces just before the baseline, ...once, ...twice! I leap in the air and shout with joy.

"Fifteen love!"

Take that, assholes.

Yasunaga holds his hand up. "Settle down Yagami, I do the scoring over here. You don't need to worry over stuff like that."

My fist clenches around my racquet's handle, a searing rage builds within me. I want to rip him a new one, but I force myself to smile at him nicely ― he can't help being an ass, it's part of his job description ― good guys never make it to management, even on a second-rate tennis club run by university students.

He smirks down at me from up high on his umpire seat. We're good, for now. He thinks he has me right where he wants me. And I'm not about to shatter his delusion.

With a pissy face, Sateru tosses the ball to our side. Ryuga catches it deftly in his right hand. He offers the ball to me. I move behind the baseline, grip the ball tightly in my left hand, bend through my knees, survey the court ― I want to dash back up front right after my serve and smash their return. Jippensha and Sateru are in Two Up position ― they both stand near the net, though Sateru lingers a little more behind... his legs are thin and muscled... I have a feeling he could make it to the baseline in a heartbeat, and cover the entire court.

So I won't shoot over their heads, I'll land my serve nice and neatly in front of Jippensha's feet, then run up to the net, and squash his return with a smash.

Dropping the ball, I just tap it lightly with my racquet. It goes over the net, bounces right between Jippensha's flashy orange sneakers, he swings his racquet back, and I run up to the net, as fast as my feet will take me.

Jippensha hits the ball with his racquet ― a weak backhand shot. I raise my racquet up high above my head, ready to land the smash of the century.

The ball comes flying toward me, ...any second now.

Before I can land a clean hit, something bumps into me from the left, and collides forcefully with my chest. I am shoved a good three metres back, over the singles sideline.

The ball bounces twice on our side of the net. We lost the game.

Yasunaga blows his whistle. "Fifteen ― fifteen," he calls out smugly.

I look to my left and see Ryuga sprawled out on the turf. He glares at me. I glare back at him.

Wasn't it obvious I was baiting Jippensha with that easy serve? Couldn't Ryuga see that was my shot to take? What was he thinking, getting on my side of the centre mark? Idiot.

He gets up without saying a word to me, rubs his dust covered right thigh, on which he fell, and grimaces at the other two. Sateru smugly takes the ball from him, and moves over to the service line.

I get up with a grunt. No point in dusting off my shorts ― they'll need a good long scrub after this. I grab my racquet in both hands, crouch low, bending through my knees, grit my teeth, and prepare for the worst. Don't like the look Sateru gives me ― like he can sense my weakness.

Four years ago, I wrecked my right elbow at Nationals. I still managed to win, somehow, but my elbow took a long time to heal. I couldn't even participate in any big games one year later, in 2001... my doctor told me to take it easy... Ever since, my right backhand has been weak. I haven't loaded or put any real force into it for years. If Sateru aims his serve to my left, I'm as good as dead.

Sateru smirks at me. He drops the ball and hits it sharply with his racquet, sending it flying to my right. Phew, he hasn't figured me out yet. I race to the baseline, and manage to hit a good groundstroke with my right forehand after the ball bounces. My shot goes deep into the opponents' court, and bounces at a sharp angle ― perfect. They'll have trouble returning that.

Jippensha hurries back, nearly falling over himself. He grips his racquet with two hands, scowls at me, and hurls it at the ball, knocking it straight back at me, to my left... shit. The ball spins to my left foot. I swing my racquet to the left, grip it tightly with my right hand and support my grip with my left. Maybe I can land a double-handed backhand groundstroke... my face is a mask of steel ― I can't let any anxiety show. If they know my weak spots, they will target me.

The ball bounces and springs to the left, away from me. I dash after it, bring my racquet lower ― maybe I can hit it just before it hits the ground again.

In a flash I see movement to my left ― Ryuga. Fuck, he's closer to the ball than I am, and it's still on my side of the centre mark! I glare at Ryuga, trying to communicate with my eyes.

You're supposed to cover your side of the centre mark! Get out of my way.

He doesn't get it.

Ryuga and I both race for the ball, he hits it, and I... hit the ground with a sharp, painful thud. I grunt, rubbing my right elbow. It hurts like hell.

Before the ball can land on their side of the net, Jippensha volleys it, sending the ball right back to me. I'm still down on the ground, I can't get up in time to make it.

Ryuga rushes to my side of the court, and returns Jippensha's shot with an aggressive volley of his own. Out of breath, he bends over and clutches his knees ― awe-struck, I stare at Ryuga's heaving back. So he's been sparing himself all this time, reserving his forces till he really needs them in the game... I knew he was good, but I hadn't known he was experienced enough to tell when he needs his energy the most. That's a skill which can't be taught, it's something you develop after playing many games...

The ball whips over to Sateru, and he's waiting for it. With one firm whack, Sateru returns a lob ― the ball goes up high, spinning wildly.

Ryuga raises his head, but he's too late ― the ball flies deep into our court, to the left of the centre mark. I can make it if I start running now.

Ignoring the pain that pulses through my right arm to my shoulder, I scramble to my feet and run to Ryuga's side of the court.

The ball bounces away from me.

I jump after it and hit it on the uptake, aiming for the gap between Jippensha and Sateru. The ball makes it over the net and ricochets all the way to the baseline... it drops right before the baseline, inside the court, and bounces its way out.

They didn't see it coming!

Jippensha gapes at me with his mouth wide open. Sateru's sleepy eyes are wide awake.

I hear a whistle, and Yasunaga's pompous voice calls from above, "thirty ― fifteen."

I blink. The racquet is in my left hand ― when did that happen?

Ryuga smiles at me. I smile back ― we can make this work, but we'll need to find a better way to communicate.

Turning around, I lift my right hand and smile at Yasunaga. "Can we get a minute?"

"Sure!" he shouts.

Ryuga frowns, but obediently follows me to the ball stack.

"Listen," I say in a low voice once Ryuga stands beside me, "something isn't working."

His frown deepens. "We just won the game..." he says.

"By a sheer stroke of luck."

He stares unrelentingly into my eyes. It's kind of creepy, up-close.

"No," he says, "we won because we're better than them."

I heave a deep sigh... how do I put this without setting him off?

"What you did back there... you were on my side of the court, you took my shot, and it ruined our game."

He purses his lips, his chest puffs out toward me, his eyes are round and hard. "What are you trying to say?" he demands.

I roll my eyes. Then I look at Sateru and Jippensha ― they're diagonally across from us, cooling off with bottled water. Jippensha says something I can't hear, Sateru watches us warily.

"Those two," I say, looking back at Ryuga, "they're definitely worse than you and me, but they work well together. It seems they've been playing doubles for years. They communicate with private cues on the court, while playing ― they don't bump into each other and soil each other's games."

A thoughtful expression crosses Ryuga's face. "So what do you suggest?" he says. "It's not like we've got years to practice this ― the game against Tokyo U is in two weeks."

I let my hand trail lightly over the fuzzy green balls.

"You're a good baseliner," I say.

He widens his eyes and his shoulders slacken to his usual slouch. I pick one ball up in my left hand and squeeze it.

"You take the groundstrokes well," I tell him, "but you're in no shape to chase the far shots. Running after wild balls will only tire you out, so you need to remain put, and focus on a small area."

He takes a sharp breath, his wooden racquet dangles forlorn in his gangly arms.

"Also, I concede that your serve is better than mine," I say, dropping the ball back on the stack.

He blinks and his anemic face takes on a healthier color.

"So I think we should play up our strengths. You would do great in the back if you'd let me take the odd balls. Just stay behind the service line, and don't move beyond it. If you only try to take the shots I miss, the ones I can't get to in time, we'll be unbeatable."

"Are you...," he bites his lip, "suggesting we use the One Up - One Back court position?"

I shrug and look at him ― some say One Up One Back is unstable, that you should always try to maintain a Two Up court position ― but so what? I like to volley, he likes to hit groundstrokes ― I'm an aggressive net player, he's a stick-to-the-back of the court baseliner. I think this court position can work for us.

He points at my right arm. "But your right backhand... is weak."

My shoulders drop. A chill runs through me, and my racquet suddenly weighs like a ton of bricks. He noticed that? A lump forms in my throat and all I can see is Ryuga, the bags under his eyes, his long, clever calculating gaze...

"What if they hit the ball to your left again?" he says without missing a beat.

My heart pumps wildly in my chest. I hate it when others know my weakness, ...but I guess I don't really have a choice now, we're on the same team. So it's okay if Ryuga knows my weak spots, maybe I should just tell him.

A little breeze blows his hair apart so I look directly into his dark grey eyes as I say,

"My right hand has never been my dominant hand. I've always played better with my left, but I..."

I can't say the words.

"You're hiding your left-handedness," he finishes for me.

I cringe ― why does he have to say it like that? Like I'm doing something wrong. It's not like I enjoy lying to everyone around me ― I'm only doing what other people ask me to, showing them exactly what they expect from me.

He adjusts his stance. "Though I suppose everyone in this club already knows you're left-handed, and if they don't, they'll find out either way, sooner or later, so I suggest you stop letting that handicap you, and just play."

He looks at me. I can't read the expression on his face... it's void of any emotion, but at the same time, he doesn't seem closed-off... his expression looks honest, open...

"Play the way you want to play," he says. "Play freely, don't think about it. That's when you're at your best."

I frown. Can I trust him? Does he even know what he's talking about? Left-handed people are far less likely to get promoted in any serious government company. To make the changes I intend to make, to have any reasonable impact at all, I must be at the top. I can't cleanse the NPA from a lowly position as detective sergeant, and my father's coattails will only take me so far.

Ryuga carefully reaches out to touch my right elbow... right where it hurts, and smoothes out the hairs on my arm.

"What would you tell me if I had a secret weapon I refused to use because it made me unpopular?" he says, cocking his head and cracking a smile.

I snort. "Sorry, I really can't picture you that way."

His left hand rubs soothing circles into my damaged elbow, the tingling sensations warm up my skin.

Then Yasunaga's voice calls loudly over the court. I look up, direction noise ― they're waiting for us; Sateru and Jippensha and Yasunaga. I glance back at Ryuga.

"So we're doing it? One Up, One Back?" I ask him, my fingertips feel the wires of my racquet.

His hand drops from my elbow, and he strokes his chin.

"If you can't handle the shots to your left," he says, "I'll take them for you."

I grit my teeth. "Ryuga, ―"

"No more excuses Yagami. If you want to play, then play, but I won't lose to these clowns."

Before I can get a word in, Ryuga takes a ball off the stack and stalks to the back of the court. He bends through his knees and adjusts his grip on his racquet. Sateru narrows his eyes.

Oh what the hell, I march up close to the net, so close I'm nearly breathing into Jippensha's face. He takes a frightened step back. I smile ― intimidation works, every time.

These losers have nothing on Ryuga and me. The ball falls from his hand and bounces thrice before Ryuga hits it with his racquet. It soars over the net, making Sateru run back.

I'm on edge, fingers clenched round my racquet's handle, ready to run wherever they make me run, ready to catch the ball before it reaches Ryuga. Even though a doubles court is wider than a singles court, I feel liberated with so much space at my disposal. With Ryuga behind the service line, I have 70 square metres all to myself ― nearly 11 metres right and left, and a little more than 6 metres back and forward. Now I can finally move.

I swing my racquet around recklessly in a flashy, showy motion, and love the fear in Jippensha's eyes... he has no idea, no idea of what I'm capable of. The sun finally sets and bright white spotlights flicker on all around us.

I'll show him.

Sateru hits the ball over the net, to my right. I jump and volley it on the run, sending it right back to them. Jippensha's face contorts, he struggles to return my shot. His forehand groundstroke barely makes it over the net... I leap forward and smash it. Yes!

Yasunaga's whistle pierces the air. "Fourty ― fifteen," his amused voice sings over my head.

Jippensha growls as he hands me the ball. Grinning at him I throw the ball over my shoulder.

Seconds later Ryuga's serve soars over the net. Sateru volleys it, and I run. The ball bounces and my racquet hits it ― a fine offensive lob with topspin.

Gasping breaths escape my throat... I rest my hands on my knees, chasing the ball took a lot out of me. Now I'm all the way to the right of the court... I should head back to the centre, when I catch my breath.

Jippensha parries my shot with a hasty poorly executed forehand, he wobbles after hitting it, and doubles over, breathing heavily.

My racquet slices the air and hits the ball before it can touch the ground ― volley!

Sateru swings his racquet back, he waits close by the service line, his eyes locked on the ball. It bounces and he beats the ball back to us, over the net, to the empty left side of our court!

I run, my calves burn, ache for me to stop. I run, accelerate, racquet feverishly clenched in my left hand. I feel my heart thud in my chest, hot air burns my lungs, pain stretches from my ankles to my calves to the back of my knees, but I run.

Fuck, I can't make it. The ball zips past me, I look over my shoulder and see Ryuga run after it... he's going to miss. Ryuga crosses the service line, he's five metres away from the net.

The ball bounces once, I hold my breath.

Ryuga is four metres away from the net, one metre away from the ball.

The ball spins backward, closer to Ryuga... and he swings his racquet back. If he nails this shot we win the set, if he doesn't...

With a violent whip of his racquet, Ryuga catches the ball in the nick of time ― I don't know how he does it, but he lands a clean defensive lob. The ball goes high and deep, Jippensha jumps in the air, racquet raised, ready to smash it...

But he misses, the ball flies deeper yet... Sateru runs after it.

Sateru catches it on his racquet, and a weak volley finally makes it to me. All I've got to do is raise my racquet ― smash. The ball spins away from Jippensha when he tries to return it.

It bounces once... Sateru whips his racquet, misses... it bounces twice. I smile ― we won! We won, we won, we won! I turn around. Ryuga wears a grin that stretches all across his face, ear to ear. I run up to him and slap his waiting open palm with a low-five. He pumps his fist, I swing my racquet in the air.

Yasunaga's voice sounds tired and a little bored when he blows his whistle, saying: "Fifty ― fifteen, and it's a Game for Ryuga and Yagami."

Sateru hangs his head, his shoulders shudder and he drops his racquet... it falls to the ground. Jippensha however moves around the net and walks up to us. His eyes widen, and the scowl that previously contorted his pointy face is replaced by a giddy smile. Strange ― is he happy to lose?

"That last game was awesome!" Jippensha shouts.

Ryuga and I both stare at him.

"You guys were great, I couldn't believe my eyes ― how you hit that last ball, Ryuga, we thought you couldn't possibly make it, but you did! I've never seen anyone play so well in my life," Jippensha shakes his head, "no, I've only seen it on TV, the French Open..."

He pronounces 'French Open' wrong.

"Teach me how to do that wicked backhand of yours," Jippensha says, squeezing Ryuga's shoulders.

Ryuga's mouth falls open.

We play two more sets against Jippensha and Sateru after that, and win both sets. By the end, Ryuga's barely standing... I wonder how he'll survive playing against Tokyo U... he's nowhere near ready to play competitively.

Yasunaga's the first one to go, at exactly half past six, then the beginners get changed, followed by the intermediate group who boisterously clap each other's shoulders. Sateru helps Kyoko collect the stray balls once the beginners have left, Ryuga and I register ourselves with Shiho, and Jippensha hangs around to talk ― we can't seem to get rid of this guy, he sticks to us like glue.

I think I'll forego changing just this once... my T-shirt sticks to my chest, my shorts are stained in so many places, I stink... Wouldn't want to soil my school clothes. I'd love a shower right about now, ...but I don't have a towel with me, nor soap, nor a clean set of underwear to change into...

So I throw my trench coat over my shoulders ― it's chilly outside ― say my goodbyes, rush to the station, take the first subway I can get, switch lines at Yoyogi Station, get out at Meguro, and walk the fifteen minutes home. I glance at my watch ― it's nearly half past seven when I'm finally walking down my street. A cool sensation passes my bare calves as I walk over the garden stones and large-leafed hostas brush my legs. Deeper into the foliage, a round-leafed hydrangea bush rises to my waist ― its pretty, pom-pom like flowers seem grey in the dark, but really they're a delicate blushing pink, which calls a beating heart to mind. Silvermound crawls over the garden stones... it needs cutting back. Closer to our front door, Mom's red azalea towers over the garden, it will bloom soon: the bulging buds are ready to burst, ...they have a surreal blueish hue under the street lamps. One more step and I'm home, where it's nice and warm.

Racquet bag wedged under my arm and schoolbag hanging over my shoulder, I slide my key in the lock. An overwhelming warmth hits me as soon as I open the door, and a familiar, slightly sour, and yet mostly sweet scent of rice vinegar... Ah, it's so good to be home! I take my coat off, untie my tennis shoes, and walk through the hall. The kitchen door is a little ajar, voices issue from there. I train my ears to the sound ― Mom and Father, from the looks of it.

Father sounds deeply affected by something... Mom's voice is fluid and soothing, I can smell the notes of freshly cooked Miso soup... my stomach grumbles.

Chill, stomach ― it's just Miso soup.

They seem to be pretty preoccupied at the moment, so I think I'll just head on upstairs and have a late dinner when everyone's gone to bed. So I pick up my bags, and head on toward the open stairway. I set my foot on the lowest stair, and it creaks.

Fuck.

The kitchen door swings wide open, and there stands Father, one dark silhouette in the dim hall. His glasses obscure his eyes... I cannot read his expression.

"We didn't hear you come in," he says, "how was university?"

I shrug, which makes my racquet bag slide down my shoulder, out of the shadows and into the beam of light that's coming from behind Father. Shit ― I cringe ― I didn't want him to know. Not now, not yet, I'm not ready for this and no I don't want to talk about it.

A smile transforms his weary face. "Glad to see you're playing again, Light."

He says my name with such awful pride, it hurts my ears. I narrow my eyes and look away. Mom steps out the kitchen and stands behind Father; she has soapy cooking chopsticks in her gloved hands, and a fond smile on her face.

I sigh ― there's no avoiding them now.

"Hey Mom, hi Dad, school was good, ...I spoke to Ryo."

Mom clasps her hands. "Oh, how is my little Ryo doing?"

She's always referred to him that way ― 'my little Ryo', even when he started weighing 85 kilogrammes... which is a lot for a guy who's only 174 centimetres tall. I try my best to smile.

"He's well. And he sounds more mature now, more... how to put it? ...aware of himself."

Mom laughs. "That's good, good." She points behind her at the kitchen. "Come to eat."

"It's fine, I'll eat later ― there's something I need to take care of first," I hitch the racquet bag up my shoulder.

"Oh yes! Of course, honey, you do that." With those words Mom bustles back inside the kitchen.

Father proves harder to deal with, however. He's just watching me with this happy smile that I seriously don't need right now. I could be sending more criminals to Hell, instead I have to deal with this.

"Did you join To-Oh's Tennis Club?"

I roll my eyes. "Yes, I did."

Then he wants to know if there are any upcoming games... Why? Because he wants to be there, apparently. To cheer me on or something. I resist the urge to facepalm.

Instead I shake my head, slowly, as if to drive a point through.

"It will probably be during working hours, Dad, it's okay if you can't make it ― I understand."

I don't want you there.

His mustache evens out and a wide, peaceful smile settles on his relaxed face. Why? Doesn't he get it? Doesn't he get what I'm trying to say?

I frown at him.

"Then I'll just take a day off work," he says.

What? Fuck, no! I feel like pulling my own hair out right now. What the fuck? Can't he get it? Can't he get when he's not wanted?

I cringe-smile, my legs start feeling numb... "Won't that cause problems?"

"Not at all! I'll have them cover my shift."

I laugh, what can I say, what can I do to put him off? To steer him away from this dumb idea? Because I don't want him there, I don't want him there! It's hard enough as it is, on my own, I don't need him there, too.

Because I know, I know, that five years ago, my own father bought my National Junior Tennis Championship.

Sighing deeply, I lean my weight on the banister. Winning two years in row, when I was thirteen and fourteen... what did it really mean? That my father had money, and knew whom to bribe, nothing more... it was not my skill nor my talent that won the game.

I look at Father.

His proud, loving smile used to be something I would fight for, something I wanted to see. I used to want to make him happy... now I don't care about that anymore. Why did he lie to me? Why did he treat me like a race horse wearing blinders, when I was clearly smarter than that? Did he really think I wanted to win that badly? At any price?

Do the values he taught me mean anything to him anymore? ...did they ever?

I shake my head. Then it comes to me! I look him in the eye, control the level of my voice, because I want to shout of joy ― I've found a way, a way to put him off his stupid plan!

"Thanks Dad, it means a lot to me that you'd be there to see me play. It's my first time playing doubles, and I'm not sure I'll do well. Remember the guy who was here yesterday, Ryuga? He's my doubles partner, and he doesn't have any experience with doubles either. So you being there for me would mean a lot."

Father hates Ryuga.

He pales, the color drains from his face and he takes a step back ― his hands are shaking. Why? I don't understand... well at least my plan works. He's not smiling that calm, self-assured smile any longer, and I suppose some work-related emergency will suddenly come up, and he won't be able to make it, ...sorry Light. Yes! Just perfect.

"Ryuga is not your friend."

What? I don't recall a time when Father ever told me whom I should be friends with... What's going on?

"You can't trust him. Light, where did you meet?"

"...at the university," comes out of my mouth.

I stare at Father. Maybe now, now I'll finally learn how my father knows Ryuga, and why he hates him so much...

"And he plays tennis?" Father asks.

"Yes," I nod. Why does this surprise him so much?

"Is he good?"

"He's very good..."

Father huffs, the corners of his mouth tug down. Ryuk floats in through the wall. Father goes on without interruptions.

"Listen Light, if there's anything you need help with, anything at all, you know you can always come to me, right?"

He frantically searches my face with his eyes... Where did that come from?

Ryuk makes bunny ears behind Father's head and pulls funny faces in a ludicrous attempt to make me laugh. I yawn ― it's been a long day.

"What would I need help with?" I say.

Father purses his lips. "...I don't know, ...maybe you've gotten in with the wrong crowd? Made the wrong friends? That sort of thing?" He wrings his hands. "Peer pressure can be difficult to deal with, but I want you to know you can rely on your dad. I'm here for you, and I'm not going anywhere. There's nothing you can't tell me ― all problems have solutions, no matter how unfathomably large they seem. And you'll never lose me, no matter what you do, even if you do something wrong, I'm always on your side."

Holy shit. He knows.

He knows, he knows, he knows about the Death Note...!

"I don't ...have... any problems," I stammer in a daze.

He looks at me like he doesn't believe me... like he knows. But that can't be, right? ...Right?

I take a deep breath, close my eyes, open them. He's still watching me... I feel cornered, but I can't fall apart now, not now. Gritting my teeth, I look directly into his eyes and say,

"What's your problem?"

Father frowns and narrows his eyes, the lines around his mouth grow deeper, his chin becomes more pronounced. I grip my racquet bag tighter. It's now or never: I must be resolute, decisive and strong.

"Don't you have any faith in me, your own son?"

Father's mouth falls open and the deep grooves over his nose disappear. He looks lost, like he doesn't understand what's going on ― good. I raise my voice and add more depth, more pathos to it.

"What do you want from me?" I shout, spreading my arms.

My schoolbag drops from my shoulder, and sags heavily into the crook of my damaged elbow ― it hurts ― I cringe. Pain propels me, and as the words slip from my tongue, I have an out-of-body experience: it feels like someone else is saying them, these words, not me... I could never say them, never express them with such feeling...

"I'm the best student To-Oh ever saw, I study hard, from morning till evening, I do my chores, I even do Sayu's chores sometimes! And I don't complain about it, ever, even when I'm dead tired and would rather get some rest. I just do it, I don't think about it."

With a shaking hand, I grip my schoolbag and hitch it back up my shoulder... but my elbow still hurts... it's screaming in pain. I bite my lip and glare at my father. He looks shocked.

"I didn't even complain when you couldn't make it to my graduation because you were so busy working the Kira case, or when we didn't go anywhere this vacation, while all my schoolfriends went to fancy onsen resorts with their families ― and my grades are far better than theirs!"

Blood rushes to my face. Father gapes at me... his eyes widen, his shoulders slump and the worried frown makes a comeback. Have I overdone it?

He doesn't say a thing... he just stands there and stares. The door to the kitchen opens on a crack, and Mom's face appears in the opening. Her eyes look so sad... a strong feeling of guilt pinches me in the gut, I didn't want to make her sad.

Fuck ― I throw my head back and groan.

Then I hear Father's footsteps retreat. I look down and see his back... with a slouching gait he stumbles to the kitchen, his footsteps are small... he shuts the door upon himself without even looking at me. I am left alone in the dark, unlit hall.

A long sigh of relief escapes me... That was a narrow brush with fate. But hopefully I've convinced Father that I've got nothing to hide, and he won't pry any further. Still, there's one thing I must check right now, without further delay!

Ignoring Ryuk, I rush up the stairs. There's a light on in Sayu's room, her door is closed. I retrieve my room key and wrench my bedroom door open... shit, someone's been in here. The pencil lead doesn't crack ― it's already broken. And the little sheaf of paper I always wedge between my door and the doorframe is nowhere to be found... Father? Has he been inside my room?

First things first, I lock my door behind myself. Ryuk says something, but I don't hear him ― I don't have time for his nonsense. Setting my bags on the floor, I rub my right elbow. Everything looks just the way I left it this morning, apart from the pencil lead in the door hinge and the bit of paper wedged in the doorframe... I take slow steps towards my desk, unlock the top drawer, retrieve a mechanical pencil that's there for just these purposes, empty the drawer's contents, unscrew the butt of the mechanical pencil, withdraw the pencil lead with shivering fingers ― focus ― I can't lose my cool now, ...and poke the pencil lead up the hole.

The false bottom moves up, and there it is:

the Death Note.

So Father doesn't know about it... He has been in here, but he doesn't suspect. He doesn't know the important things. That's good. I got all worried for nothing... I let the false bottom drop down and put everything back inside the drawer, then lock it. It's high time I took that shower.

Minutes later I stand under a soothing hot beam. Water spills over my face, matting my hair to my forehead. The droplets falling on my skin are like a million heartbeats that envelop me in their warm caress, and I feel reborn.

Sayu bangs on the door. I roll my eyes and groan, "just a minute!"

"Better make it quick," her voice squeaks through the door, "I really need the bathroom!"

Ugh. I turn the temperature down and rinse off with cold water. Throwing a T-shirt over my head and awkwardly tugging a pair of boxers up my wet legs, I clean the shower stall after myself.

Sayu starts banging on the door again.

Give me a minute, Jeez!

She rushes in as I walk out, and slams the door shut with a bang.

I shake my head... was I really that obnoxious at her age? ...oh well, whatever ― I lock myself in my room again.

Ryuk's lounging on my bed with a half-eaten apple.

I cringe. "Can you not do that?"

"Do what?" he says innocently, his bright yellow eyes glitter with joy.

The apple core slips between his fingers, and falls right through his ghostly body... Gasping, I dash up to my bed, hold my arms out...! I fall on my knees, my chest bumps into the matress...

I catch the apple right before its juicy mess lands on my pale blue sheets.

Ryuk laughs.

My fingers clench around the dripping, juicy apple and I grit my teeth. I stand up and walk to one corner of my room, drop the apple in the waste basket, take a tissue from my nightstand and wipe my hands. I glare at Ryuk from the corner of my eye.

He smirks at me.

Turning my back to him, I sit down at my desk and unlock the top drawer ― it's time Kira punished The Evil. I take my fountain pen in my left hand and with a flick of the wrist, I flip the Death Note open on a fresh new page.

It's deliciously empty... my fingertips run over the brand new paper, ...it smells antique, as though the dust of centuries has settled between the pages, but feels silky smooth to the touch...

"Raito, let's play Mario Kart together," Ryuk whines.

"Don't bother me, I'm working," I say without looking up from my desk.

He cackles. "Eh? You've started referring to this as your job?"

"May as well be," I say. "I perform an important job for society, even if I don't get paid for it..." I shrug, "it's still a job."

"And of course, this is serving you, too," he says in an amused tone.

I drop my pen... what? I spin my office chair so it faces my bed, and directly look Ryuk in the eye. He wears a shit eating grin.

"How?" I ask, staring at him.

How is this serving me? I don't understand... It takes so much out of me, so much time and dedicated effort, such excruciating mental strain, concentration, hiding things from the people I love because they don't understand, they wouldn't see why I must do it, why I can't stop.

Because if I don't push society to straighten itself out and reform, then nobody will.

...I don't see how this is helping me personally. It doesn't make my grades any higher, I don't earn any money doing this, and it's not even something I can later mention on my resume. What would I be gaining from this? ...I'm totally mystified.

Ryuk reaches one of his large talons behind his head and scratches the back of his ear with it... a gross green substance comes out... I cringe. He grins maliciously at me.

"You enjoy having power over others," he says. His gravelly voice ripples with mirth.

He's wrong! He's so wrong about me, he's completely off the mark. But he just continues talking more nonsense.

"It gives you a deep sense of self-satisfaction to know you disposed of so many people singlehandedly. Having such great power makes you feel good about yourself."

I shake my head and turn back to my desk... He might be an almighty Death God, but Ryuk's dumb as nails.

"Don't worry," he says.

I try to ignore him, to block out his voice. But still it comes and disturbs me...

"Love of power is a very human trait. Most humans are weak to it, and succumb easily when given the chance."

No. I will not succumb, and I won't become corrupt like our country's law enforcement agencies. With a stiff hand I write Futoshi Matsunuga in the upper left corner. I don't care when, I don't care how, but Matsunuga must die.

This man killed seven people in cold blood. And what did he get for it? The death penalty? No. Lifetime in prison? Wrong again.

Seven years.

This man got seven years ― one year for each person he killed...

That's how much a human life is worth to our society: one year jail time.

Matsunuga was arrested five years ago, in mid 1999... after a lengthy series of hearings and trials, he was found guilty two years later, in 2001, and charged with the murder of seven adults: four men and three women between the ages of twenty and thirty-nine. No mitigating circumstances have been detected, test results show that Matsunuga was sane, and not under the influence of any substances at the time...

They're releasing him next Monday on good behavior. Good behavior! How can anyone like that be released on good behavior? His good behavior sure won't bring those seven people back to life. And it doesn't mean anything, see? He's just biding his time till he gets out. I know ― I've seen the look in his eyes... they crave blood. If this man is let loose on Tokyo's streets, he will kill again.

No doubt about it. I can't let that happen, I won't allow it. So with a flourish of my pen, I quickly add the particulars of his death:

April fifth 2004, heart attack, one second after he steps on free soil.

He won't die in the prison's custody, so they'll have less paperwork to deal with. A smile creeps onto my lips ― I like my deaths fair and karmic.

***

Watari peered over his wineglass at the TV, a local news report was on: 30 convicted criminals inside 5 different Japanese prisons had lost their lives yesterday, all died of a heart attack. The latest death had taken place 15 minutes ago, at 23:55 to the dot.

A large pimple bloomed on Watari's nose. The pimple was bright red and shiny. L considered if he should squeeze it.

Watari set his wineglass on the table and dabbed at his lips with a silk handkerchief. "Have you figured out how they do it?" he asked, muting the TV.

"Nope," said L.

L stood and paced about the hotel room. His footsteps became smaller and smaller, and then he was walking in circles, twirling round and round and round. He spread his arms and laughed. He was an airplane, he was flying, he had grown wings so he could fly far away. Tears prickled his dry eyes.

"I would very much like to know who Yagami's contact is," said Watari, forking a bite of Sicilian orange salad into his mouth.

L clutched his belly, squeezed his eyes shut, and shook with laughter. His legs hit the armchair, and he tumbled to the floor with an "Oof!"

"Are you alright?"

He heard footsteps just behind his head. L's right hand made the okay-sign and dropped to the floor. His chest convulsed, and he thrust himself forward, rolled over the floor, holding his stomach and laughing.

"Just peachy," he said between hoots of laughter, gasping for air.

'I'm going insane,' he thought. His cheeks hurt from smiling but he couldn't stop. He was seeing things, flying monsters no one else saw; he was hearing things, bodachs with raw voices that crept through walls... L rolled onto his back and looked up at Watari.

He'd shown the Yagami house tapes to Watari, Roger, to Near, and even Mello... none of them displayed the reaction he'd hoped for. He was the only one who saw it, the only one who heard it, the only one who smelled it.

A hysterical giggle tore from his throat. L clamped a hand over his mouth. The moment Watari heard L was seeing flying monsters, he'd declare him mad and unfit for duty.

Watari shook his head. "You're completely derailed, L."

L inhaled slowly, filling his lungs with air. "I haven't been able to identify his contact, but I know how Light contacts K.I.R.A.," he said in a whisper, studying the ceiling.

The random patterns on the ceiling morphed into the monster's Cheshire grin ― L shivered, clutching the front of his shirt. He bit his lip and forced the image from his mind. L tasted blood on his tongue, he swallowed it down. A low groan poured out of his throat.

Watari sat down at the table, held his glass aloft, swished it and stared at its crimson glow.

"Don't drink," Watari said. "All you have to do is give him the impression you're drinking, you don't actually need to knock back glasses. Yagami is a lightweight, after he's had a few, he'll hardly notice what you're doing."

L smiled. "Oui, bien sur!"

"L," Watari said with an edge to his voice, "this is serious."

"Pffftttt, hahaha! Serious!"

Watari frowned at him. L cocked his head ― from this angle, it looked like Watari was smiling...

"I can say from experience, it's all too easy to lose your head when you start drinking."

L sat up and rubbed his temples, he squinted at Watari. "Si, certo ― with your vast drinking experience," he nodded with a grin, "you would know."

"I only have one glass before bed!"

L wagged his finger. "Continui a dire che a te stesso."

Watari set his glass down and gawked at L.

"I only drink it for my health! Red wine contains resveratrol, a useful molecule which, among many other things, prevents the development of heart disease."

L raised his eyebrows. "Dessert wines?" He pushed himself up off the floor and stumbled toward the table.

Reaching out his hand, L held the bottle by its neck. He pinched his nose, and read in an intentionally squeaky voice:

"Cantine Pellegrino 1880, Marsala Fine, Rubino Dolce, Denominazione di Origine Protetta."

He turned the bottle around in his hand, "18 percent alcohol by volume!"

Uncorking it, L threw his head back and took one long swig, directly from the bottle. He sighed... a relaxed, satisfied smile took hold of his lips. One trickle of red spilled from his mouth and ran down his chin as he said in his normal voice,

"Yes this is so good for your health. I'm feeling the benefits as we speak."

L burped loudly.

Watari stood, and walked over to L. An expression of serious disapproval was etched on his weathered face.

"You clearly need to learn to handle your liquor better," he said, wrenching the bottle out of L's weak grip.

L stared at him. L's hands dropped to his sides and a feeling of deep melancholy tore at his chest. The wine cork fell from his hand and rolled over the floor... L watched it roll under the armchair.

"W-why?" L said, against the hiccup in his voice. "S-s-so I... hic, can add-d al-al-alcohic d-dep-pen-n-ndency-y to my... hic, looong l-list of p-personality flaws?"

Watari did not reply. He turned on his heel and walked away with the half empty bottle... L heard the hotel room door open, and close.

***

Author's Note:

So, big change in this chapter. Some of you expressed interest in Light's point of view, what Light thought of Ryuga, why he wanted to play tennis with him, why he shared his lunch with him, why he invited him over...

All along I planned to tell some chapters from Light's point of view. But originally all these chapters were written in past tense, third person limited, because that's my comfort zone POV. However, after reading some of your responses I got a really cool idea for the sequel fics, and that led me to experiment with viewpoints, and try writing in first person present tense for the first time! :D

So since then, I've rewritten all chapters in Light's POV to first person present tense. I think this tense is better suited to showing Light's character, although it does make the writing kind of harder (and more fun) to do, since I'm doing something that's outside my comfort zone (something new and exciting).

This is also the longest chapter I've ever written... ack! O_O It was meant to be long, but not so long... I got a bit carried away writing the tennis game, sorry. ^_^"

As always, feedback appreciated! :-) Love, KK.

.

published August 21, 2017

Chapter Text

Triple Bagel

2004

I'll let the racket do the talking. John McEnroe

***

And so two weeks flew by without his notice. He was Ryuga at school, Ryuzaki with the task force which demanded more and more of his time now Kitamura was in charge, simply L at the hotel suite with Watari, and on his own in his shitty Shinkoiwa dorm he didn't go by any name. Each day he lived on sweets and fear, fear he'd mess up, say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, and it would all be over. Before he knew it the day of the big game against Tokyo U had arrived. Skipping a Programming tutorial and a lecture on Japanese History in Global context, he met up with Light and the others by the tennis court.

Mitch wore a grotesque smile as his eyes lilted behind those thin yellow lensed glasses: he clapped L on the shoulder and thrust a plastic bag in his hands, sniggering "Go get changed."

L stared at the white-and-green striped bag. Opening it wider, he peeked inside: a navy blue polo shirt, black shorts, a pair of long grey socks and black tennis shoes laced with electric blue cords stared him in the face.

He looked up at Mitch. "What is this?"

Mitch laughed and pointed at him. "You can't possibly hope to represent To-Oh dressed like that."

L scowled; he didn't feel comfortable playing in new clothes, clothes he hadn't trained in, had never worn before, clothes that weren't even his. Crumpling the plastic bag, he was about to thrust it back at Mitch, when someone lifted it from his hands. L turned. Light was already heading for the changing room, bag in hand. L hurried after him.

"Give me that," he snatched the bag from Yagami's fingers once they were inside. The monster didn't follow them, they were alone for once.

A pungent smell of stale chlorine hung in the air. Two benches ran across the center of the bare rectangular room, lockers lined the walls. One gap in the lockers led to the showers. A large mirror hung over a leaky sink, and a small ventilation window was cramped in the tiny space above it, showing clouds move over a deep blue sky: the window was shut ― it wasn't large enough for an adult to climb through... L tossed the plastic bag to the floor and slumped down on the nearest bench. He wriggled his feet out his sneakers and trailed them up till his heels dug into his buttocks and he sat perched on the bench with his thighs clamped to his chest, chin resting on his knees. He stared at the cracked vinyl floor.

Light dropped his schoolbag on the other bench, let his racket bag slip on a peg, and began undoing his pale green button-up shirt. He turned around to face L, and in doing so, exposed more and more of his broad healthy chest covered in a faint dusting of golden hairs.

'What an ass,' L thought, glaring daggers at Light's pecs and abs, 'he even dyes his body hair.' How conceited would one have to be?

"Why aren't you changing?" Light asked him conversationally.

L shrugged. "Don't feel like it."

Shaking his head, Light slid the shirt off his shoulders.

L stared at Yagami's ripped looking arms, at his bulging, well defined biceps, his striking deltoids ― life wasn't fair! Why couldn't he have a body like that? Girls would be all over Yagami wherever he went, while no-one ever, no-one in their right mind that is, nobody spared a glance at L...

"Do you feel like sweating in that sweatshirt?"

L hugged his legs tighter to his chest and buried his nose between his knees. "Yes," he said, voice muffled by his jeans.

Light bent over his schoolbag and pulled out a sterile white polo shirt with To-Oh's logo emblazoned over its left breast. Turning away, he walked up to the mirror, admired his own reflection, and pulled the shirt on over his head, careful not to mess up his hair.

His eyes locked with L's in the mirror. "It's dreadfully warm this April, don't you think Ryuga?"

L raised his head and glared at him. "I see what you're trying to do Yagami."

With raised eyebrows and a squeaky clean smile, Light cocked his head. "Oh ― what's that?"

"To make me change my mind."

Light grinned, broke eye contact in the mirror, and turned back around to face L, he knelt down and untied his bluchers, then daintily stepped out of them. On thin black socks he padded back to his bag, unbuckled his brown leather belt and zipped down his grey slacks. He pushed the slacks off his hips, shimmied out of them.

"So what if I am?" There he stood in baby blue boxers, grey slacks pooled around his ankles, wearing a smile that said he owned the world.

L continued glaring. "I won't let you tell me what to do."

"Fine then," Light said, stepping out of his slacks. "Be stubborn." His left hand dug deep inside the schoolbag, and resurfaced holding a small white bundle. L watched it curiously for a moment. Next thing he knew, Light had hooked his fingers in his boxers and yanked them down: a mass of straight taupe hairs... and from underneath all that, Light's todger proudly emerged, resting on giant hairy goolies. L blinked, then narrowed his eyes at it.

It was large ― even flaccid it was larger, wider in girth. Why? Must this boy get everything handed to him? It wasn't fair, simply wasn't, wasn't fair! L swallowed down a surge of rage that swelled in his gut. One swift queixada to Light's jaw would mess up that prissy face.

'Restraint,' L told himself, 'restrição.' He was here on a mission, he couldn't act on all his urges, not even the destructive ones presently swirling his mind. No, he would be patient, and wait, lay low like a spider... till Light got strangled by his own web of lies and then he would hurt him real good. Yeah.

'Paciência me levará para lá,' he repeated in his mind.

The white bundle turned out to be a peculiar kind of athletic supporter: unlike usual jockstraps, this one had a flap at the back which covered the bum... Light's penis dangled against his legs as he pulled the athletic supporter up his thighs. Yes, his pisser was certainly above average, and larger, larger than L's ― no way in Fermi's name could L compete with that. L ground his teeth. With a lethargic wobble he hopped off the bench, and started rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, crouching low, close by the floor. His foot soles felt damp from the stone tiles. He narrowed his eyes at the useless plastic bag on the floor, just within reach... then spun himself round fast, gaining speed. He swung his right leg and... chapeu de couro-ed the bag with the flat part of his foot.

The bag hurled away, flying through the changing room: clothes spilled out, dropped to the floor, and finally the black and blue tennis shoes crashed into a locker, producing a hollow "Boom!", L smiled at his own handiwork.

Light, now wearing pristine white shorts, stood still and stared at him.

"What?" L growled. He was aware that he crouched like a predator from the Amazon region and his voice had taken on a gruff savage tone, but he couldn't find it in his heart to care.

They held eye contact for what seemed like a minute. With that same puzzled expression Light asked in a soft voice, "...are you well?"

'No,' L thought, 'I'm so far from 'well' it's not even funny. The last case I solved was in 2003, I'm seeing flying Death Gods everywhere, hearing voices in my head, and I'm about to murder you.'

Light was blinking, his shoulders had sagged, mouth fallen open, and he watched L with wide amber eyes, soft and open like a child's.

L took a step back. He had to get a grip on himself... his back shuddered uncontrollably, adrenaline sped through his veins and spurred him on. Damn this bloody tennis match, he wanted to smash Yagami's face in, to bash his brains out. He heaved an unsteady breath ― 'return back to normal, turn back to normal already.'

"Ryuga?"

L staggered forward. He bent down and picked his new polo shirt off the floor... it was covered in a fine layer of dust and sand ― not that L cared. He shook it rather violently. Schooling his expression into one absolutely void of any feeling, he looked up at Light and said in a deadly tone, a tone that broached no argument,

"Yes I'm quite alright."

Light's brows gathered in a sceptic knot over his nose. "If you say so..."

"I say so."

They stared each other down ― L crouching near the floor, polo shirt feverishly clutched in shuddering fingers, Light standing by the bench with a dumbfounded look on his dumb face.

L heaved a sigh, he turned away from Light, let the frustration seep out of him, stood up and took off his sweatshirt; doing so he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror ...and looked away. He had no desire in seeing his own cadaverous chest, not now, not evercertainly not with Mr. Perfect right over there. He winced at his own spindly arms, at the ribs that showed through his skin. His chest was so horribly small ― his pecs and abs so miserably underdeveloped. L tore his eyes away from the mirror, and put the shirt on without stalling. His navy polo shirt bore To-Oh's logo on the back: a large light blue circle 'O' with a smaller silver 'T' inside it.

Only then did he dare look up again. L paused. Mitch's shirt was a bit big... there was too much free space between him and the polo shirt. It hung from his scrawny shoulders like from a coathanger, making him look even smaller and younger than he was. With a sigh L averted his eyes.

Light shed his black socks, showing off two elegant smoothly shaped feet. He sat on the bench and took his sweet time tugging a pair of white socks up his calves, then daintily slipped his feet inside pure white tennis shoes, and bent down to tie their creamy laces.

L cringed. Looking down, he saw his own ungainly large boorish feet. He unzipped his jeans in silence and pulled them off his skinny legs ― they nearly dropped themselves, just by gravity alone ...even his jeans didn't want to be anywhere near him. He turned his back on Light, took a quick peek inside his own black briefs, and inspected the meager bulge hiding in there... why did he have to be so small? And why did that bother him? He was an averagely sized guy, absolutely nothing wrong with him, normally he didn't even think about such things, his size never kept him up at night, and yet... Why did Light have to be... bigger? Seeing his own flaccid little penis made him feel so hopelessly inadequate. L snapped the waistband of his briefs and hastily put on Mitch's black shorts.

These were also too large for him; he pulled the string taut and still they felt breezy. He glanced sideways: wearing those tiny milk-white shorts, white socks pulled up to his knees, the tennis shoes which were also all white, and the chalky white polo shirt with the collar down, Yagami resembled a schoolboy sucking on a carton of milk. To complete his image of innocence personified, Light took a white sweatband from his bag and turned toward the mirror.

L watched the process curiously... there hadn't been any surveillance cameras in the Yagami house bathroom ― for some reason Inspector Yagami had been strictly against it and put his foot down, which ended all discussions on the matter, even after L informed him that the footage of his wife and daughter would only be viewed by female officers ― so L had never seen what Light did in there.

Yagami stood before the mirror, brushing his fringe back with a little plastic comb. He stroked his hair out of his eyes, gazing in the mirror, then stretched the sweatband, pulled it over his head and pushed some stray hairs underneath it. Light took another once over in the mirror, then smiled at himself.

L cringed.

Pacing the room barefoot, he flipped the grey socks around, chucked them back in the plastic bag and stuck his feet inside his new black tennis shoes ― how odd, they fit him perfectly and had very soft insoles. He jumped up and down ― the shoes were bouncy! Their outsoles were so pliable, L would wear them to school and everywhere else he might go ― he liked them.

Not much later they were all on the bus to Tokyo U: a public bus crammed with elderly women, that drove incredibly slow through congested traffic. Mitch kept egging on the bus driver, uttering oaths they'd be late, but the driver didn't seem to care. Shiho and Light held a lively conversation about school, to which Jippensha listened with rapt attention. Kyoko read a book, and Sateru brooded silently from his seat in the back of the bus, staring out the window with droopy eyes. The monster's legs dangled from the bus ceiling... its midriff dissolved into the roof, so its upper body stuck out, like a kid hanging out an opaque sunroof.

The bus halted and Mitch bustled out, pushing his way through the old women. Shiho smiled an apology, and squeezed herself to the doors. The others followed. The monster phased through the bus roof, and floated over their heads.

As they passed through the Tokyo U campus grounds, L noticed the facilities here looked a lot nicer than the ones at To-Oh... the buildings looked newer, all glass and shiny metal... none of the crumbling concrete and peeling paint that defined To-Oh. The pathways seemed cleaner: there weren't any cigarette butts laying around, nor random junk like spilled smoothies and discarded paper cups. L craned his neck and stared at the brightly colored banners hanging all around, announcing career events, study sessions, tutors, pre-exam parties, post-exam parties, sororities, fraternity recruitments. Mitch nearly ran into a guy handing out flyers ― L blinked at the flyer thrust into his hand, which showcased Tokyo U's new student pub. He grimaced before scrunching the flyer and tossing it in the nearest bin.

Soon enough they reached the sports fields. These too were a lot bigger than the ones at To-Oh: here they had a separate baseball field, two football fields, three volleyball pitches, a track field, an outdoor basketball pitch, a separate netball pitch, four tennis courts, two separate badminton courts, an open air swimming pool, and a sizeable gymnasium. Even Mitch couldn't help but stop and stare. Then he tsked, pushed his glasses up his nose, glared at the smaller stadium seats round the main tennis court, and marched on. The delegation from To-Oh followed him down marble steps, through a wonderful green lawn where orange flowers had been planted to spell out 'Tokyo U'. A steady wind blew from the east, pushing L's hair into his eyes. It was a bad day for playing tennis outdoors, but the date had been set months in advance, so there was little they could do about it now.

A girl in a sweet red polo and a frilly black tennis skirt approached them; her high ponytail bobbed merrily with each bouncy step. L gazed at her long shapely legs... her socks ended just below her ankles, leaving the rest of her legs deliciously exposed.

"You must be team To-Oh," she said, briefly making eye contact with each of them.

L gulped when she looked directly at him... She was so beautiful.

"My name's Haruhi Suzumiya, pleasure to meet you! You've arrived right on time. The first game will start in about fifteen minutes. You can leave your things over there," she pointed to a cordoned off section of the stadium seats.

Off to the left, at the bottom, fifteen seats were marked with blue streamers. The remaining unmarked stadium seats were beginning to fill with eager students from Tokyo U.

Mitch gestured at Light and L. "I'm Mitch Yasunaga, and these are Light Yagami and Hideki Ryuga, they'll be competing today."

"Ah, right! Ryuga and Yagami, pleased to meet you," Haruhi flashed them a flirty smile. "You can warm up on the track field if you like, it's right over there," she said, pointing beyond a mesh fence.

Light looked in that direction. "Thank you Suzumiya, I think we'll do that." He turned toward L and smiled. "You coming?"

L blinked, coughed, pulled his polo shirt lower. "Ah, eh... right." He followed Light to the track field, but couldn't help glancing over his shoulder now and then, at the dazzlingly beautiful Haruhi.

Light started running laps around the field while L remained close by the fence, jogging on the spot.

Haruhi and Mitch stood by the side of the court, talking. Moments later Shiho joined them, and a group of boys from Tokyo U came along. The group was mostly dressed in casual ― orange-red hoodies with their university logo printed on the back, and black jeans ― only two were dressed to play tennis. L narrowed his eyes and studied his competition closely. One guy was just about L's own height, quite tall for a Japanese man. The other was a good deal shorter ― no more than 5 feet 3. Both wore orange polos, red shorts, black socks, black tennis shoes, and unwarranted sneers. L glowered at them through the metal fence grid.

A hand landed on L's shoulder. He turned around. Light smiled at him warmly. L frowned ― what did he want?

"Don't let them bother you," Light said, looking into his eyes. "They're smug because they haven't lost to our university three years in a row. But that makes them weak. They don't know what defeat tastes like."

L stared at him. Was this actually happening? Was Light Yagami offering him moral support?

"If they lose at least one game, they'll quickly crack under the pressure," Light grinned. "So Ryuga, we've got to give it our all."

L blinked, he racked his mind for a reasonable response... his search turned up dry. He pursed his lips and nodded.

Light let go of L's shoulder, backed up a few steps and started doing some stretches. L joined him. They were halfway through their usual warm-up routine when Sateru sauntered over with his hands in his pockets and a dull expression on his face.

"Game's about to start," he drawled.

L and Light glanced back to the court: their opponents were already in formation ― Two Back, behind the baseline, the tall one readied himself to serve.

Light glared at Sateru. "Why didn't you say anything earlier?"

"I don't recall you asking me to," Sateru replied in that same far-away voice.

Light grunted; he hurried back to the court, taking long forceful strides ― not running, no, Yagami was much too 'dignified' to break out in a run ― he marched over to the stadium seats with his head held high, rummaged in his racket bag, cautiously withdrew his Prestige MP and wiped it clean with a small white towel. Frankly L was a little surprised he didn't kiss it after that.

L flipped his no-name wooden racket around in his hands, bent it a little. It squeaked but didn't whine.

That's when a short round-faced kid showed up, wearing coke-bottle glasses, a plain white shirt buttoned all the way and a red necktie with Tokyo U's logo. A little ways behind him was a mousy girl: her black hair wound tight in two thin braids, a frilly peach colored blouse tried and failed hard at giving her the impression of a cleavage, and an unshapely brown skirt came down to her ankles, complemented by pastel pink mary janes... They both looked like they'd been bred in some secluded mountain village, and magically transported into the center of Tokyo. L eyed them curiously.

Light put his Prestige down, smiled broadly and called out: "Ah Ryo! You made it."

L frowned.

"How could I miss your big game?" said the boy whose surname was undoubtedly 'Ryo'.

L examined them both closely... old school friends? If so, they hadn't played a large role in Yagami's life for months, even back when Light attended school ― L had done his research. He rubbed his lower lip with his thumb. Could these two be the 'weird people' Yagami's sister had mentioned earlier?

Ryo addressed the girl. "Himewari, please meet my high school friend Yagami," he nodded at Light and winked, "this good man saved my sorry ass from getting bullied plenty of times."

L's ears perked up at this.

The girl smiled sweetly, her narrow nose pinched a little and her knees buckled slightly. "Pleased to meet you," she whispered.

Light beamed at them. "Likewise, hope you have a good time watching our game," he squeezed his eyes affectionately and let out a little chuckle. "Might be a bit boring if tennis isn't really your thing... sorry."

He made no attempt to introduce L. They all continued talking like L wasn't even there.

Stooping his shoulders, L looked down at his shiny new tennis shoes. Why did that hurt? Why did it bother him? He was long used to being flat out ignored, overlooked, underestimated... it was more of a blessing than a curse, really ― it helped him do his job. But now... he felt a twinge in his chest and this awful dreary feeling took hold of him. L narrowed his eyes as he watched Light talk to his friends. It almost felt... like a personal insult. He pretended to examine his own racket while eavesdropping on their conversation.

"Oh no, not at all," Ryo said, "I like watching you play, and Himewari here has been playing tennis since middle school."

Light took a step back, dropped his shoulders and stared at the girl. "Really?"

"Yeah..." she whispered with a breathless little giggle added in at the end. "Had to quit due to health complications..."

Light's face assumed a pained expression. "I'm sorry..."

The girl smiled. "Don't be, when Ryo told me about this game I got quite excited," she whispered in a rushed high pitched voice and laughed her rapid broken laugh. "Didn't know our university had a tennis club. I'd love to watch."

"Oh, well in that case," Light winked, "hope you enjoy the show. I'm gonna destroy your school's tennis team ― just a fair warning."

"Sure you will," Ryo chirped, squeezing Himewari's hand and sharing a private smile with her.

Mitch walked over, he seemed agitated: his long triangular face was pinched, narrower than normal... as though someone had placed their thumbs on either side of his face and squeezed it. His sculpted eyebrows were even more prominent, his upper lip quivered.

Light quickly turned to his friends. "Coach calls me ― you better get back to your seats."

"Right," said Ryo, "good luck out there."

"Thanks!"

Ryo walked up the bleachers with his girl. Mitch snorted, then spoke hurriedly, neither looking at either L or Light, but beyond, past their shoulders, at the foreign crowd gathered in the stadium seats. When he spoke, his voice sounded a lot softer than usual.

"They agreed to three sets, but insisted on getting first serve... I couldn't talk them out of it."

He opened his hand and showed them a golden 5 Yen coin.

"They wouldn't let me do a coin toss ― they claimed my coin was biased."

He closed his hand around the coin, shoulders sagged.

"They weren't wrong," he admitted, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "But still, to demand first serve like that..." his gaze finally fell on Light. "They point-blank refused to play if they didn't get to serve first. They even threatened to call off the match."

Light pursed his lips, then a mischievous smile slid onto his face, as a willful gleam possessed his eyes. Coupled with the smile, the look in his eyes made him seem rather unstable... quite a bit off-edge, like he wasn't fully 100% there. L frowned.

"Let them have it," Light said.

Mitch blinked, his mouth fell open before words tumbled out. "But it gives them unfair advantages at the very start, when it matters most." The lines round his mouth tightened, lips receded. "Plus they're on the east, so you'll have the wind working against you right off the bat."

"That hardly matters," L pitched in. "It might even be strategic to lose the warm-up on purpose, lower their expectations, make them think we can't play worth a damn."

Light nodded. "My thoughts exactly."

Mitch shook his head. "They want to skip the warm-up round, said they don't feel like 'wasting their time'," he made a face.

L looked past Mitch, over the net, at the two players from Tokyo U. The taller one bounced an optic yellow ball on the ground, one, two, ...three times, closed his hand around the ball, and turned away to talk to his partner. L decided to call the taller one Bounce, and the shorter one Skip, since they hadn't told him their names.

"Perfect," Light whispered.

L turned back around and stared at Light. In what universe was it 'perfect' to play on enemy turf when your opponents disregarded all conventional rules?

"What do you mean?" blubbered Mitch.

Light's grin stretched far across his face. "They don't suspect a thing ― just look at them," he nodded and glanced over the net, "they're bored."

And so they were. L frowned, wondering why he hadn't spotted this sooner: Skip's grip on his racket was weak, Bounce let his arms hang loose, his shoulders slack, he looked perfectly at peace, as if he were walking on a beach.

L scraped the tip of his nose. He hopped off the stand, racket clenched in hand, and stalked past Mitch to the baseline. Skip caught sight of him and followed him with his eyes. He said something to Bounce, whose black beady eyes began hunting L over the court.

"Wait," Light called out from beyond the sideline, "shouldn't we have one more judge from our school?" He nodded at the umpire seats.

The nearest seat was taken by Shiho, the farthest seat supported some lad L had never laid eyes on before, and sandwiched in the middle was none other than Haruhi. Her frilly black miniskirt rode up a little because of the wind and how she rubbed her bare legs together against the cool spring breeze... Mmm, those legs! Haruhi parted her cherry red lips and spoke in a surprisingly loud voice that carried over the whole court:

"Tokyo U is organizing this match, so it makes sense that we're judging it."

Mitch approached the umpire seats. "What's this I'm hearing?" he stopped right in front of the referees, plonked his feet in the ground and squared his shoulders. "You lot are playing on home turf," he waved his hand at the stadium seats, "you've got dozens of supporters here today who can all vouch for your team. We however are entirely vulnerable to your whim ― you even hold the majority on the umpire team."

Haruhi thrust her chin up to the sky, raised her plucked eyebrows and looked down at Mitch.

"Well I'm not giving up the judge's position allotted to me," she said.

L blinked... this girl sure knew how to stand up for herself. He looked around the stadium seats, at the men from team Tokyo U dressed in red hoodies. None of them questioned Haruhi.

Bounce yelled over the net: "Come on man, we haven't got all day. Ya came here to challenge us, so do ya wanna play or what?"

Light moved onto the court. He came up close to the net, and said in a calm voice: "If this is how you organize matches, it's no surprise To-Oh lost to you three years in a row."

Bounce's arms twitched. "Wha― what are ya tryin to say? Tha― that we fix games or somethin?"

Light shrugged. "I said exactly what I said, please don't make me repeat myself."

Mitch grinned. "We might have to report you to the JTA."

"Based on what?" said Haruhi, crossing her legs.

Mitch puffed up his chest. "Oh I don't know? Refusing the warm up round? Claiming first serve like it's your God-given right? Oh, oh maybe selecting an umpire team so your school is in the majority? Gee, I know not what to pick."

Jippensha, sitting beside Sateru in the blue stadium seats, sniggered. His sleepy eyed friend merely yawned and cradled his chin in his hands. A few seats higher, Kyoko took a handkerchief from her purse and diligently wiped her round glasses. The monster crept along the stadium seats, sniffing people's bags... like an animal searching for food. Completely and utterly horrified, L looked away.

Haruhi shook her head, with a bored expression she looked Mitch up and down. "None of those things are listed as violations in the Japan Tennis Association's Tournament Rules, they sound like things you made up ― have you even read the Tournament Rules?"

Mitch twitched like a teapot about to boil over. "I'm a certified Coach with the JTA," he spat. "Unlike you, I know what I'm talking about."

Haruhi's eyes flashed, her manicured fingers balled to tiny little fists. She leaned forward in her seat, craned her neck, when the other umpire from Tokyo U heaved a sigh and stood. "Fine," he said, "you can have my seat," and with those words he sauntered off to the bleachers.

"Huh?" Haruhi whirled around. "Koizumi, get back here this instant!"

But the guy kept walking, then sat down heavily in one of the stadium seats.

Mitch smiled. "Guess it's not up to you after all, Suzumiya."

Haruhi leveled a steely eyed glare at him. Mitch hurried back up the stand, coaxed Sateru from his seat, exchanged some words with him, then returned with Sateru in tow. Minutes later a grumpy Sateru sat in the third umpire's seat beside an even grumpier Haruhi and a sunny Shiho. Haruhi placed two fingers at her lips and let out a resounding whistle. Bounce flung the ball up high, swung back his racket and hit.

The ball hurtled towards them. L clenched his fingers round the racket handle. It was now or never, Light would either intercept the shot, or miss ― the ball flew over the net, into the right service box.

L rooted his feet to the spot, he wouldn't go after the ball, Light would. That's what they'd agreed. He just had to... had to trust him.

Light dashed to deuce court.

The ball started dropping, losing altitude, losing speed. It wobbled above the singles sideline, then swerved into doubles alley. L held his breath, Light swung his racket. Now the ball was at the edge of the court, inches off the ground... Wack! Light's Prestige caught the ball on time, sending it flying over the net with an aggressive volley. L heaved a sigh of relief.

He didn't care for this game. It was just a game, a childish game that wouldn't stop Kira, a game that didn't decide anything, not really... But once they started playing, adrenaline coursed through his veins, blood rushed to his limbs and his heart pumped wilder than ever. He wanted, no, he had to win.

Skip jumped into action: darting over the baseline, arms outstretched. A gust of wind swept over the court, slowing the ball. L grit his teeth. The ball lost its spin and bounced softly on the ground. L groaned. Skip merely flicked his wrist and that alone sent the ball spinning over the net.

Light rushed into ad court, racket clamped in both hands, and volleyed the ball on the run. L watched with bated breath as Bounce stepped over the baseline: his broad shoulders were squared, head lowered, eyes narrowed. The ball flew over the service line, touched the ground and ricocheted to the singles sideline. Bounce lunged at the ball, his whole body came alive, and in one single swoop he knocked the ball to L.

L grinned ― this was it, his shot at saving the game. He steeled himself, clawed his right hand round the racket handle till his knuckles were white, and planted his feet in the ground. The ball whisked over the net, into deuce court. Light was on the other end of the court, far off to the left, he couldn't make it here on time.

L made the C sign with his left hand.

"Fine!" Light shouted ― sounding pained and out of breath.

The ball came hurtling L's way, its green-yellow hue devoured him. For once in years, he lived in the now, one goal in mind. His muscles and tendons contracted, leaving him with sweet pleasurable pain, the sensation that this very moment, he was truly alive. L charged forward, racket raised. The ball bounced then soared into the sky. L rammed his racket down with one decisive hit.

The ball flipped ways, heading straight for the net; L bit his lip. A blast of wind hit him in the face, blowing his hair out of his eyes.

The ball slowed, its yellow body slipped lower still. L's eyes stung from staring, his shoulders sagged under the pull of gravity. Beyond the net, Bounce grinned and nodded at his partner, Skip's lips contorted in a cruel smirk. L's heart sank ― it was over, he'd blown it, he'd made them lose.

In the blink of an eye the ball zipped just over the net.

Skip chased after it, but was too late: the ball skidded to a halt, bobbing softly on the ground before rolling off the court. L blinked. He stared over the net, at Bounce's pale face, Skip's raw expression of rage. Somewhere off in the distance, Haruhi's whistle floated over reluctantly.

"Love ― fifteen!" Shiho shouted.

As the crowd chorused an overwhelming "Boo!", Jippensha's cheers mingled in and scattered over the court. Skip formed a fist, pulled his elbow back, yelled a curse and punched the net in anger. Bounce looked down at his shoes and kicked up some dirt. L took a deep breath, blinked again ― it was unreal, like in a dream he felt numb, dazed by the noise, the crowd, the sounds floated about him, mirages, spinning clouds. A moment later he thought he saw the monster leave the stadium seats and float high over their heads, to the other side of the court with an apple in its mouth.

A worn out thought re-entered his mind: 'Gods of death love apples.'

Was this what Kira meant by that cryptic message he'd had those prisoners write in their last moments? If Shinigami were real, could they form mutualistic relationships with humans? As long as Light fed his Shinigami apples, the monster would kill for him. An apple a day keeps the cops away... No, no ― this was insane, he was overthinking it. L squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head. He was here to solve a case, not play The Ghost Busters. When he opened his eyes, the dream-like sensation had passed.

Yagami clapped him on the back, laughing. "Good work Ryuga!"

L forced a smile. A tennis ball was put into his hands ― he watched it.

"You're serving... right?"

He looked up. Yagami had this lost, confused frown on.

"Yeah."

Yagami grinned. "Good. Let me know if you're on board with my signals, okay?" his eyes glittered. "I've got some strategies in mind, but they all depend on our opponents' next formation."

L nodded. "Got it."

Yagami squeezed his shoulder, then headed for the net. As he walked, Light shook his right arm from the elbow down, flexed and stretched it. He stopped by the net and rubbed his elbow; his knees knocked together and his shoulders sagged, little tremors ran from his upper arms down to his wrists: he was shaking.

Considering how much tennis L played as a kid, he could count himself lucky he'd never contracted tennis elbow. 'It must hurt,' L thought, watching Light.

He shook the thought away. Bounce and Skip took their positions: Two Back, behind the service line and before the baseline, square center in no man's land, like last time. Light bent over, widened the gap between his legs and crouched low on the ground, his head under the net, giving L a clear path to serve. Haruhi's high pitched whistle pierced the air.

Light closed his left hand in a fist and placed it over his bum. He stuck out his middle finger.

L rubbed his own thumb over his lower lip. 'Body serve?' ...he could do that, but why? He glanced from Skip to Bounce: they both looked alert. Aiming his serve directly at their bodies seemed dumb... just what was Yagami playing at?

"No!" L shouted.

Both Bounce and Skip raised their eyebrows. Someone in the bleachers burst out laughing. Light flipped his middle finger again.

L rolled his eyes. 'Sweet Ainsworth, tell me he's got more than one strategy?' L thought, heaving a sigh. 'What a genius.'

"Fine!" he called out.

Light stuck out his pinkie. Frowning, L followed the direction with his eyes: from this perspective, Bounce stood to the left of the center line...

'So he wants me to attack Bounce?' L pressed his thumb to his lips. "Yeah, I'll do it," he said half-heartedly.

Light looked over his shoulder and their eyes locked across the court. For what felt like a minute but had to be less, they stared at each other. Yagami wore this pleading expression where his eyebrows tented and his cheekbones hitched up. What was he even trying to say? L shook his head and broke eye contact. He bounced the ball a number of times ― it was a good ball, bouncy and fluffy, the seams were very smooth and evenly placed. He traced one seam with his thumb, scouring the court with his eyes, then shifted his grip on the racket, took a firm stance, lifted his racket to shoulder height and dropped the ball. As it bounced back, he swung his racket down in an arc to meet the ball at knee height when a shrill whistle broke the air.

L clenched his arm muscles, stopping the motion before his racket could land a clean hit. The ball bounced off to the side. L blinked, what had just happened?

"Warning for team To-Oh," said a clinical voice from the umpire seats.

L frowned up at Haruhi.

Mitch leaped from his seat and ran onto the court. "Explain! Just what is the meaning of this?"

She scowled at him with contempt. "One of your teammates has violated the JTA Tournament Rules."

"Which one?" Mitch crossed his arms.

Haruhi raised her wrist and pointed a lazy finger at L. "That one."

L gaped at her. But... how? He hadn't done a thing. Light straightened himself up and started walking toward the umpire seats where Mitch was presently pacing about.

"No," Mitch took off his glasses and rubbed his nose, "that's not what I meant. I'm asking which rule you claim we broke."

He talked loudly, even from a distance L could hear him well. Light halted next to Mitch and addressed the umpires; L had to strain his ears to hear him.

"Do we have a problem?" said Light, sounding at once cooperative, calm and completely in control.

L narrowed his eyes. Just where in the world had Yagami learned to act like that? He came across as more mature than people twice his age.

Haruhi turned in her seat and looked at Light. "I sincerely hope you're aware your baseliner just employed an illegal serve ― if not, then I'm afraid your communication is very poor and yes, with a teammate like that, you do have a problem."

She batted her eyelashes and smiled. L's mouth fell open; just what in the world... was this girl?

Mitch shook his head. "Ryuga's serve was perfectly legal. I don't know what your problem is, Suzumiya, but the underhand serve is a well documented and permitted shot according to JTA guidelines."

Sateru lounged in his umpire seat with a dull face. Shiho leaned sideways in her seat, bringing her face closer to Suzumiya's. "He kind of has a point there...?"

Haruhi looked at her and responded in a lower tone: "Your team's Coach would have a valid point if your baseliner had executed the underhand serve correctly. As it stands, he allowed the ball to touch the ground before striking ― that's not how the underhand serve is carried out. I'm sorry, but as a judge of this match, I cannot condone such blatant disregard for the rules."

"Oh... okay," Shiho tried to smile.

Mitch grumbled something and sulked off the court. Light had a few more words with Haruhi. L couldn't hear them from this distance; he decided to walk up closer when Yagami abruptly turned and started heading back ― they met halfway, at the service line.

"So," L said, tracing his index finger over his chin, "what's the verdict?"

Light sighed. "We have one warning. Two more warnings and we lose the match."

L's left arm dropped to his side. "The entire match? But that's insane!"

Light closed his eyes and shook his head. "Don't ask me, I don't make the rules."

L went on staring at him. "I could understand losing a set after three warnings, but an entire match? That― that doesn't even sound fair!"

He got no more response from Light than a defeated shrug.

L glared over Light's shoulder. If these kids were going to let another school push them around like this, he would have a word with them. Sexy goddess or not, Haruhi Suzumiya had absolutely no right to make such preposterous claims. He would stop her, he had to put an end to this. With a deep angry frown and a heavy scowl on his face, L marched toward the umpire seats, when something snagged his right hand.

He turned around. Yagami had a firm grip on his wrist. L glared at him.

"It's not worth the trouble," Light said in a soft voice, looking directly into L's eyes. "Let's just play, okay?"

Light's level-headed tone threw L off, he didn't quite know what to say, how to react. When he did speak, he sounded cold as always, showing none of his inner turmoil.

"Why? So Suzumiya can flag us again?"

Light narrowed his eyes. "Don't do it, please. I've met her type before: if you argue with them, you'll only make things worse. These people don't play by the rules, the only way we can win is by being better."

L raised his brows. "Isn't that the normal way people win, by being better? Or do you have some other tricks up your sleeve?"

All at once Yagami's face changed. His brows furrowed demonically, nose contorted to a wrinkly stub, lower lip jutted out... and L knew he'd hit a sore spot. Perhaps it wasn't wise, considering they were both on the same team now... but still, Kira was Kira. Yagami's fingers tightened round L's wrist, stopping the blood flow to his hand. L grit his teeth as they glared each other down.

"Do what you like!" patience gone, Yagami flung L's hand away, turned and stalked off to the net.

L's right arm swayed from the recoil. He observed the umpires: Sateru sat there like a sack of potatoes, head cradled on one shoulder... Haruhi had both her hands on the armrests, her back straight, head raised, long fine neck exposed, and two sharp lined eyes oversaw the court like a power-hungry headmaster. L cringed ― what had he ever seen in her? How in Darwin's name had he ever found that attractive? The sight of Haruhi Suzumiya now only aroused faint disgust. His eye finally landed on Shiho, the only reasonable person there, and his last hope.

L dove into his pocket and discreetly flipped his phone open. Shiho was number six on his contact list. He blindly typed a text and sent it:

stop haruhi. shes cheating!!

He walked over to the side of the court and selected a new tennis ball from the stack when his phone vibrated ― incoming text message. L glanced up at the umpire seats. Haruhi was looking elsewhere, she hadn't noticed a thing, meanwhile Shiho looked directly at him. They held eye contact for a few seconds.

Shiho nodded. She slipped one hand inside her purse, and L's phone vibrated once more. L pressed his thumb to his lip. He could hardly read Shiho's texts with a whole stadium watching him...

Shiho smirked, pulled her hand from her purse and flashed him the Victory sign.

L blinked. Had she... understood? He wasn't quite sure, but it was better than nothing. With a shrug he dragged himself off to the baseline. Skip tapped his foot impatiently as L got ready to serve. Yagami crouched down again, spreading his legs and lowering his head under the net; his left hand moved over his bum. Without further ado Yagami flipped L the bird, then pointed his pinkie at Bounce.

L groaned ― 'Yeah, I get it. You want me to serve toward Bounce's body even though it serves no point at all. Screw you.'

Yagami was just a punk who thought himself talented because he'd gotten his way too many times. L narrowed his eyes, scanning the court for another spot to direct his serve. If Yagami thought L would take his orders, he was dead wrong; he would show this arrogant little kid how the world really worked.

Haruhi's feminine voice caught him off guard. "Team To-Oh, I strongly advise you to serve overhead."

L tightened his left hand around the tennis ball.

Shiho turned to face Haruhi. "Surely you can't be serious."

"I am serious," said Haruhi, looking straight ahead. "And don't call me Shirley."

"Aww, come now Miss Suzumiya," said Skip, "if the tenderfoots don't know how to serve overhead, they can't help it, can they?"

Some happy cheers broke from the audience.

L blinked ― 'What? Who are you calling tenderfoots?' This little squirt could be no older than nineteentwenty, tops ― and he played like some mediocre club player who could only dream of making Regionals.

"I suppose so," Haruhi drawled in a lazy tone. "Alright, I'll allow it this once," she said, waving her hand like she was the Queen of Japan.

Skip tossed his head back and laughed. L glared at him. He was asking for it, big time. Just that moment Yagami placed his left hand over his buttocks, stuck out his middle finger, then his thumb. L followed the direction with his eyes: Skip!

Yes, that was brilliant, Skip was pretty much out of it: L doubted Skip could counter a serve aimed directly at his body, he snickered. He didn't bother confirming Yagami's command, but instead adjusted his stance, swung his racket back and dropped the ball. His racket whooshed through the air.

Racket and ball collided mid-drop, and the ball went flying over the baseline, over the service line, over Yagami's head, narrowly missing his top hairs by an inch. L held his breath; would it work? His eyes darted feverishly from Bounce to Skip, watching their next move. Bounce seemed to have clued in to where the ball would fall, he shouted something. Skip swung his racket back to the right, ready to hit a forehand shot. The ball hurtled over the net, L bit his thumb.

Wind slowed the ball down, it dropped lower still. Now it flew over the enemy service line. L bit his thumb down hard, staining his lips with blood. Had he, had he hit the ball hard enough?

Skip lashed out with his racket, aiming for the ball.

L ran to the left, racket raised, in case Yagami's backhand gave out and he needed help. He projected the trajectory, kept a close eye on both Skip and Bounce. His heart thudded in his chest with each step, his feet hopped over the ground, the new sneakers made him feel so light and free he could fly away, just like a tennis ball, spread his arms and whoosh...

"Aargh!" a loud yelp startled everyone.

The stadium gave a low sound of hushed surprise as Skip fell to the ground, tossing his racket aside and clutching his knee. L skidded to a halt. Light rushed over, placed his hand on the net, and asked Skip,

"Are you alright?"

L gulped ― crap, what had he done? A ball at that speed could damage vital organs... sure he'd wanted to take Skip down a notch, but hurting him had never been L's intention. Besides, L glanced up at Haruhi and the other judges, this could very well get them disqualified... Skip lifted his head and scowled at Light, raised his fist in a challenge, scrambled up off the ground, took one step toward the net, then clutched his knee and doubled over again. Though this time Skip didn't fall, but somehow remained standing on his feet. L licked the blood off his lips, tongue tasting of rust, as Bounce raced over to Skip's side: they talked in low voices.

Haruhi Suzumiya clucked. In the most unconcerned tone she said, "Love to thirty," and proceeded to examine her own fingernails.

L's mouth fell open. He'd thought Suzumiya set them up on purpose, but as it turned out she was just a bitch.

Turning away from the net, Light headed over to L; a smile of triumph plastered over his face. He carried the racket in his left hand, right hand raised for a high five.

"Nice serve Ryuga!"

L cautiously lifted his hand. Their palms collided, Light's hand forcefully slapped against L's ― the contact stung, like he'd scorched his hand on a burning stove, but L set his teeth together and clamped his mouth shut. He resisted the urge to rub his tingling palm, that would be a sign of weakness; he couldn't show any weakness, not now, not in front of Kira. In a cool tone he said:

"Your signals were on point, Yagami."

Yagami laughed nervously. "But I can hardly take credit for the phenomenal serve you just pulled off. You really went for it, up and hit him right in the knee!"

A frown formed on L's face, he hardly registered moving his hand until he bit down on his thumb and tasted the salty flesh on his tongue. He turned his head to look around Yagami, past the net, at their opponents. Skip had his arm thrown over his partner's shoulders, Bounce helped him stand.

Uncertainty inflected L's voice. "Is he going to be okay?"

Light peered at L from under half closed eyelids. "They're putting on a show for the umpires."

L's frown deepened. "You sure?"

"Yeah," Yagami said without hesitation. Moments later Suzumiya let out a shrill whistle. Light smiled at L. "We better get ready," he said before hurrying back to the net.

Picking a ball off the stack, L kept an eye on their opponents: Skip staggered to the service line, limping and clutching his knee, as Bounce approached the net. L narrowed his eyes. Switching formations halfway through the game could be strategic... or Skip was hurt worse than he let on. L pursed his lips ― either way he had to watch his back, two more warnings and they were done. By the time L returned to the baseline, Light was crouching below the net, legs spread wide, left hand over his bum.

'What's it going to be this time?' L thought drily, forcing himself to look at Light's buttocks, at his hand signals. Light flipped his index finger, then his pinkie: a deep serve, to the left of the center line. That space was free.

"Lovely," said L; he tossed the ball up high, and sent it flying over the net with a wild swing of his racket.

Bounce charged after the ball, reached with his racket and hit a groundstroke, knocking the ball off to the right. The ball zipped over the net, L grit his teeth but remained put. Light volleyed on the run. Bounce picked the ball up eagerly, landing a hard smash right in the center of the court. Light ran back, just in time to swat the ball before it bounced twice; he hit it with topspin, making it curve down. Bounce lunged and whacked the ball to L.

L gripped his racket, narrowed his eyes, bent through the knees ― the ball was flying his way, deep inside their court. Moments away now, seconds. L sprinted past the baseline, into no man's land. He was breathing hard and his hair was in his eyes but he didn't care, he barely noticed because beyond, the yellow green ball spun through the sky. The ball touched the ground, sprang up, and L swept his racket across. He nibbled on his thumbnail as the ball scattered over the net. Bounce ran for it, all the way back to their service line... L frowned. What was he doing? Wasn't Skip supposed to take that shot? L's eyes flitted over to the shorter opponent, he did a double take.

Skip balanced on one leg, heavily leaning his weight on it ― he hadn't recovered! L glanced at Bounce, the guy made a mad dash for the service line, like his life depended on it. All pieces clicked: this was their teamwork at play, Bounce picking up the slack for his partner. L blinked dumbly as Bounce rammed his racket down. They were better players than he'd thought, Tokyo U hadn't just randomly picked them, they must've gone through a series of selections and months and months of training. They looked so comfortable playing side by side, relying on each other, they might as well be one person... Even if he or Light could easily defeat them both in an ordinary one-on-one match, together they made a formidable opponent.

Shit, just how should he tell Yagami? Light was completely wrapped up in the game, didn't seem to notice Bounce was taking all the shots. 'Fuck.' L bit his lip, balled his fists. Any minute now Light would strike the ball and play right into their trap.

In a ragged voice he shouted, "Light!" He bent over, braced fists on his knees, and thrust his chin up, glaring defiantly at Bounce. His breath came in frantic bursts. 'Skip is their weakest link!' he thought furiously at Light's back. 'Target him.'

It was too late. The ball was over the net and, and Light shifted his stance, marginally, if only by an inch. But L noticed, and so did Bounce.

As Light's Prestige came crashing down, the ball changed course and swerved off to the left, going far, deep, high ― a lob! L grinned, a lob ― yes, that would save them. Bounce made the Y sign with his free hand.

For some seconds Skip just stood there, stunned, then came to life: he lifted his head up, trained his eyes on the ball, limped a few paces back, racket at the ready. The ball rained down, Skip gave a sharp swing, and moments later,

nothing. There was a dull clang as the ball hit the mesh fence... Skip's racket had missed it by a hair. The stadium fell silent and L blinked ― he couldn't believe his eyes. They had won three points now. That meant, that meant... one more win and they'd win the set, the very first set of the match. L's heart leapt to his throat, then took to pounding like no tomorrow.

With an impersonal voice Suzumiya announced the score. Skip scowled and flung his racket at the net. A chorus of boos broke from the bleachers. L stared at it all, dazed. Bounce consoled his peevish partner.

Looking over his shoulder, Light winked at him. "Thanks Hideki."

L started, wide eyed, arms at his sides in useless stupor as he stared at the boy. 'Since when am I... Hideki? When did you ...? When have we ...?'

'Hideki...' The name sounded foreign and wrong to his ears, he wasn't used to hearing it, couldn't identify with it... Especially, especially when it came out of Yagami's mouth. L frowned. It had such a... a perverse twang to it.

He was long used to people calling him Ryuga, or Ryuzaki, or variations on that; after all those names vaguely reminded of his very first legal name, the name he'd had since birth, his family name, given him by his late parents. But Hideki... and the way Light pronounced it too, had sounded so soft and mellow and, and warm? Inviting, even ― L didn't know what to think, he certainly didn't feel like a 'Hideki'.

'Oh,' memory dawned on him. In the heat of the game, without realising, he'd called Light by his first name. Just like that, it had slipped out, and now... it was too late to take back.

Uncertainly, he smiled at Light ― 'not Yagami, Light' ― or at least tried smiling. His stomach was a jumble of nerves, ready to spill over and ruin everything he'd worked for. He was this close, this close to catching Kira red handed; he wouldn't give up now.

Light gave a friendly wave with his racket and turned back to the net. L breathed a sigh of relief. He could do this, he told himself; he just had to stay strong, keep it together, just a little longer, just a little. Bounce threw the ball over in a low arc, letting L catch it easily in his right hand. The crowd fell still, Light squatted under the net ― no signals this time, and L served.

They waged a bitter battle, knocked the ball mercilessy over the net; how many times now, L couldn't tell, he wasn't keeping track. His forehead was covered in a sheen of sweat, his calves and upper arms ached. Just then the ball flew into ad court, to the left of Light.

Holding the Prestige in both hands, Light whipped his racket to the left. He twisted himself tight like a coil, spun round and hit a defensive backhand that sent the ball deep in their opponents' court. Then his shoulders sagged, his knees buckled and he swayed on his feet like a deflated balloon. His shoulder blades shook with rapid little jerks as he cradled his right elbow.

L stared, a frown wedged between his brows... This had to stop, Light was hurting himself. Couldn't he see?

Light lowered his head, a defeated groan escaped him.

L set his jaw, if Light wouldn't see reason, he would. With a tougher grip on his racket he stalked past the baseline when Light raised his left hand. L halted in his tracks. Light's index finger pointed up at the sky, made a circle, then plunged down till his whole arm pointed at the net.

Switch positions ― that was the signal.

L ran forward as Light staggered back. Beyond the net, Skip was just getting ready to hit a groundstroke. L drew an unsteady breath; his joints, his muscles were on fire. The ball bounced off of Skip's racket and soared through the sky. L narrowed his eyes at the ball, fingers giddy on his racket ― where would it land? A flurry of wind hit him in the chest. He fought against it, ran faster, faster. Out of breath he made it to the net. The ball shot toward deuce court, over the net. L lunged.

Landing on one foot, he saw the ball surge toward him, straight at his head. He raised his racket and smashed down.

An ear splitting crack ripped the air around him, then a squeak, the sound of snapping wires. L glanced sideways, at his racket...

...he could hardly believe his eyes. The ball tore right through his racket, leaving a gaping hole in the middle, frayed strings at its edge.

"Bloody Curie," he bit out.

All he could do was watch the ball wobble further, spurred on by the wind. Behind his back someone was laughing, and without looking he knew it was Skip. L pursed his lips bitterly.

"Hideki, down!"

L blinked. The voice came from his right... he turned his head to see, his mouth fell open. Light was chasing the ball at breakneck speed, his shoulders hunched and his face drawn in a brutal scowl.

Without thinking L dropped to his knees, ducked his head under the net, taking his racket down with him. From the corner of his eye he watched Light gain on the wayward ball which hovered inches off the ground now.

The ball touched down, losing momentum fast. A great deal slower, it bounced back and feebly reached its apex. L bit his thumb; the ball started dropping. Light stretched his damaged right arm, bringing the Prestige closer, closer. The laughter beyond the net wouldn't die, and the stadium seats sounded rowdier than ever. L grimaced ― 'They must think the game has ended,' ― maybe it had.

With a loud yell from deep inside his throat, Light hit his Prestige over the ball.

L stared, as he reckoned everyone else must be doing; he could no longer hear Skip laugh, and the audience had stilled. Light collapsed to a squat, panting and bracing his hands on his knees. But the look in his eye was tense, he kept watching the ball, the net, their opponents. His lips mashed together, and despite the sweatband his hair looked funny, sticking at odd angles.

The ball didn't go much higher than Light's waist. A little, just a little lower and it would crash into the net. L gulped ― the ball headed directly at him ― he found Light's gaze across the court. They looked in each other's eyes as the ball crossed the service line, and held their breaths.

A sharp gust hit L in the forehead, parting his hair. His eyes snapped shut. The ball whistled over his head. L turned. He saw the net and Skip frantically running to it, saw the ball lose speed, and then, then the ball tipped over the net. L blinked, he couldn't believe his eyes, he was grinning, laughing as the ball fell to the ground. Skip pounced like a cat with his swishing racket for a tail, but missed and the ball scattered away from him, bouncing a second time before rolling off to the side.

The crowd gasped and in the hushed silence Jippensha's voice carried: "Bagel! Bagel, bagel!"

L lifted his head to the stadium seats. Jippensha was standing and waving his arms about, a wicked grin cracked his face. L waved back. Some rows higher up the stadium Kyoko robotically clapped her hands, she'd unbuttoned her grey duffle coat so her sky blue polo dress showed. Her breasts looked oddly... pointy? L raised his brows.

"And it's a set for To-Oh," Sateru stated. "Love to fifty, bagel."

Shiho and Haruhi watched on slack jawed for a minute, then Shiho joined in with Kyoko's clapping. The rest of the stadium kept eerily quiet. L grunted and staggered to his feet, then laid eyes on his racket.

It was broken, utterly unsalvageable: a gaping hole in the center where the ball had ripped through... L smoothed his hand over the snapped strings. 'I failed you,' he thought, tenderly stroking the racket's throat. 'Promised I'd care for you, and did not.' The string holes had busted, leading the wooden frame to splinter. L winced at this marvel of the 20th century his own hands had turned to a mutilated carcass. This racket belonged in a museum, not his grimy hands.

"Will it play?" a deep voice said to his left.

L looked up. Mitch stood by him, wearing a concerned frown. They had two more sets to go. L shut his eyes and shook his head.

"Right, I'll get you a new one."

L's eyes flashed open and he stared at Mitch's. How could he say that so casually? What a tosser, there was nothing 'right' about his antique racket being sundered to bits. The other man promptly turned around and walked away ― he didn't seem to care.

"We've got a little technical issue," Mitch announced, stopping in front of the umpires.

"Oh?" said Haruhi. "What might that be?"

"One of our rackets broke in the heat of the game, the damage is severe so it cannot be restrung, I'm afraid we need a replacement."

L glared icy daggers at Mitch's back. Then he gently stroked the shattered plywood, his racket squealed as the wind whistled through the cracks. L covered the damaged parts with his hand. 'There, there. You've served me well. No one can replace you.'

Haruhi blinked and pursed her lips, then asked: "Why are you telling me this?"

Mitch's shoulders twitched. "I'd like to request a replacement racket, on behalf of my team."

"Sorry but we uphold a strict policy at Tokyo U to only allow teams to compete with their own equipment." Haruhi folded her arms. "Letting Team To-Oh compete with our equipment would not be fair, because then you could always claim we had doctored the equipment somehow or given you a faulty racket, and you would have grounds to challenge the outcome of the match."

Practically shouting Mitch said: "Are you kidding me?"

Haruhi went on in the same detached regal tone. "Why would I be kidding you? You're the Coach, aren't you? It's your responsibility to provide your team with proper equipment. Tokyo U cannot be held accountable for your lack of discipline."

Mitch growled. "By JTA guidelines, the club that hosts any competition is obligated to provide decent replacements if needed."

Haruhi stuck her chin up. "What half baked player doesn't even bring a spare tennis racket to college level competitions?" She waved her hand dismissively. "Please, spare me the whiny nonsense. Our team didn't come here to waste their time. They can't help it if their opponents don't take the match seriously. Either your baseliner finds a way to bat with his bare hand, or Tokyo U wins this match by default."

L's eyes went wide. She couldn't be serious, could she?

Suddenly Shiho cut in, interrupting the train of L's thoughts. "Aren't you being too harsh on them? Yagami and Ryuga have been newly recruited to our club, today's their first big game, they're both first year students."

Haruhi pivoted 90 degrees and fixed Shiho with a hard look that made her draw back in her chair.

"What half baked club puts their newly minted members out on the first big game of the year?"

Shiho winced.

Haruhi pointed at Sateru behind her. "Why isn't he playing today?" She snapped her long manicured finger nail at Mitch. "Why aren't you playing, huh?"

Behind the net, Bounce started laughing. "ToTo sent a rookie team cos they can't play worth a damn."

Skip cracked up.

"Oi!" Jippensha cried from the bleachers. "Whom you calling ToTo?"

He was overwhelmed with boos and cries of "ToTo, ToTo," that emerged from the audience. L shuddered when he heard the monster's gravelly voice chime in: "ToTo, ToTo sent their losers from To-Oh."

L studied his racket... could he fix it? The racket would never be restored to its old glory, it wouldn't play like it used to, but perhaps it could play, at least for a while. He traced the frame with his thumb. If he hammered a nail in here, and ...here, the frame might hold till the end of the match. All he needed was some new string, two nails, a hammer and a timeout. He looked up to call Mitch, and came face to face with Yagami ― no, Light.

Something was fishy about the way Light looked at him: he was staring, and not particularly politely either. Light stood about five feet away, and blatantly gawked at him, not even trying to conceal it. L stared back.

They were locked in an intense staring match. L's eyes hurt but he didn't blink, and neither did Light.

Light's hair hung lopsidedly about his face, the sweatband made it hitch up in a funny way. His clothes looked clean for the most part, but his shirt bore patches of sweat on his chest and under his armpits, and his socks had shifted down to his ankles. He took a step forward, L remained put.

Just a yard between them now... L narrowed his eyes. The chanting from the bleachers intensified and the monster hovered over their heads screeching, "ToTo, ToTo, losers from ToTo."

Light blinked, then started talking, his tone surprisingly soft... "Hey Hideki, I did bring a spare racket with me; just in case something happened to my main racket."

Despite willing them not to, L felt his eyebrows twitch. "Are you mocking me?"

Light raised his brows. "No." Then he frowned. "Why?"

"Are you saying that just to rub it in?"

"What?" Light stared at him in surprise. "Rub what in?"

Without a word L held up his broken racket in front of his face. The frayed strings formed a barrier between them, a wall that would not be crossed, could not be crossed. A wall as high as the clouds and as deep as the Marianas Trench. The wall between L and Kira. L clenched his fingers round the racket handle. He could see Light's dawning expression through the gaps of the strings and the gaping hole in the center, the hole that threatened to bring his wall down.

"Oh," Light made a faint noise, then went on in something that sounded suspiciously close to a conspiratory whisper, "sorry, I wasn't trying to poke fun at you."

L blinked, his grip on the racket faltered and he caught it swiftly before it could clatter to the ground. His fingers hooked round the top of the racket head and poked through the gaps in the little bit of string still there. He heard a crack ― that was it, now the frame was definitely, irreparably broken. L stared down his nose at the poor thing. It was his fault, he had broken it.

"We can still win this match," Light's voice whispered above him, calm, soothing, full of confidence and a resilient type of strength.

L looked up, big eyes silently forming the word 'How?'

In the same quiet, reliable voice, Light said, "You can use mine."

Narrowing his eyes and lifting an eyebrow, L straightened his back so they stood face to face. He never would have thought... the way Light went about caressing his Prestige MP, L never would have thought he'd let anyone else near... let alone touch, let alone play with it... He shifted his damaged racket to his left hand and tentatively reached with his right, let his fingers run over the smooth frame of Light's brand new looking Head Prestige MP.

"Are you sure?" L said, looking Light in the eyes. "Won't that throw you off your game?"

Light had a soft smile on his face. "Why?" When he blinked and tilted his head to the side, a strand of golden brown hair broke free from the sweatband and fell over his eye. "I'd still be playing with the same racket..." he trailed off, slightly confused.

Ah, L should've known. He dipped his head in a nod, like Light would ever let him play with the Prestige... he breathed a dejected sigh, he should have known he'd get the spare. Whilst Mitch and Haruhi bickered on, he followed Light to the edge of the stadium where they'd left their stuff. Light knelt down and unzipped his bag.

L blinked, his throat went dry and he couldn't help but gasp... his fingers trembled as he took the racket from Light's hands.

It was blue, thicker and sturdier than the Prestige, the perfect power shot, and incredibly light for its size. A Babolat... Light had given him a Babolat Pure Drive... the perfect racket for serving, any baseliner's wet dream, the legendary racket that won Andy Roddick last year's US Open.

"Graphite matrix held together by tungsten fibre," Light supplied. "That's what makes it so light."

L raised a sceptic eyebrow. There had to be a catch. He eyed the Prestige in Light's hand warily. "Why don't you play with it? Given your injury, wouldn't a lighter racket be preferable?"

Light's eyes narrowed.

Fiddlesticks, Light had never told him about the 2002 Junior Championship of Japan, Hideki wasn't supposed to know that. Slowly L cocked his head to the side, keeping eye contact. "Figured you had Lateral Epicondylitis at one point, am I wrong?"

"Do you want my racket?"

L rubbed his lip, looking over the Babolat. "Can I practice with it first?"

"We're in the middle of a game."

"I'll take that as a 'No'."

Light thrust his head up to the sky and groaned. "Why do I even bother?"

"Thank you Light, it's a nice racket. How kind of you to let me have it."

Grumbling under his breath, Light zipped his bag and stomped up the court. L smirked, so Light did have a generous side, he wondered how he could exploit this...

"Ready when you are," Light shouted over the net.

Heads turned all around the stadium. L raised his new racket and waved it about. Mitch, Skip and Bounce looked shocked. Jippensha grinned at them, Kyoko re-adjusted her glasses, while Shiho leaned over and whispered something into Suzumiya's ear.

"The match goes on," Haruhi announced in her imperial voice, silencing everyone else. "We start the second set. Will all participants please switch sides," she checked her watch, "you have exactly five minutes before the next game."

And with that Skip and Bounce scurried round the net, over to L's side of the court. Light walked slowly, a little ahead of L. He didn't say anything or even acknowledge their opponents when they crossed paths by the net post. L furtively glanced at him: Light wore a stoic mask of indifference, the face of a statue. The only human thing about him were the beads of sweat on his brow that threatened to spill over into his eyes and the reddish color to his cheeks. Everything else was fake.

Some kid dressed in black and red pressed a ball into L's hand; Light squatted under the net. Skip and Bounce huddled together and whispered furiously. L nibbled on his thumb ― those two had to be devising a new strategy. So what was he supposed to do? He frowned, trying another grip on his racket... this handle was certainly thicker than what he was used to. He wondered if he had time left to remove some of the overgrip tape. Maybe he could cut it with his teeth?

"Time's up!" Haruhi's whistle cut through L's thoughts. Two anxious faces glared at him from beyond the net. No hand signals from Light, he'd have to figure things out on his own.

No problem, when push came to shove L was still the better player. He'd been playing tennis for a lot longer than Light, had come very close to becoming World Champion in his youth, and he may be a little out of shape, but made up for that in spades with experience. He scanned the court for a good place to land his first serve, found it, kept on scanning the court to confuse his opponents, then smiled and flung the ball up high into the air without warning.

The ball rained down and L swung. The force of the shot rattled him, made him gasp. He took a step back, two steps, huffed. No way... he blinked, the ball was over the net, deep in their opponents' court. Bounce chased after it. L stared, feeling the Babolat in his hand... he'd heard tales of the Pure Drive, the racket that redefined the game, but he hadn't expected this kind of power.

A sharp gust of wind hit him in the back, L smiled. With a racket like this, he could beat those two blubbering idiots easy, no sweat. The Pure Drive took his shot and relayed everything to the ball, with minimum energy loss. What a step up from needing to put all his weight into a serve with the wooden racket. L watched Bounce stagger after the ball and miss. He'd landed a full point! With just one hit.

Light turned and waved at him, their eyes locked across the court: they had this match in the bag.

"Love, fifteen," said Haruhi.

Skip thrust his head up and groaned. L grinned. With the wind working for them, they made quick work of scoring two points. When Bounce could parry L's serve, his counterstroke was weak and slammed down by Light's aggressive volleys. Somewhere during the third game, the monster floated down and landed on the court, directly in Skip's path. L held his breath,

the monster looked with interest at the boy's head. Skip did not see that, of course, and ran right through the monster.

For a horrific second man and monster were one... then the monster dissolved into thin air and Skip was on the other side, parrying Light's volley. L breathed out. The monster reappeared, grinning madly at Skip's back. Not much later the game was over, and L received more boos from the audience. At that point Ryo and his girlfriend quietly left the stadium. Haruhi called for silence, Sateru woke up while the monster balanced itself on top of the net, walking it like a tightrope. The score was love to forty in favor of L and Light. This was the defining game. One more point and they'd win the match.

L dropped the ball; his sneakers felt too warm, feet clammy with sweat as he swung the Pure Drive.

Bounce volleyed, making Light leap to the net. L watched with bated breath as Light reached with the Prestige and played a weak forehand. The ball made a low arc over the net, fazing right through the monster's left foot.

The monster cackled, "watch it Raito."

A chill went down L's spine. He kept his eyes on the ball and tried so hard to unsee the monster, but he couldn't. The monster lost its grip on the net and dropped gracelessly to their side.

With a wicked grin Skip played the ball to Light's left. L grit his teeth; Skip must've found their weakness. He checked with Light ― no signals, that meant Light could take it, if just barely. L hoped this game would be over soon.

The Prestige swooshed to the left, then hit the ball with the weakest backhand L had ever seen Light play... the ball grazed the net as it spun lethargically to the ground. Light panted, bent over and leaned heavily on his knees. L frowned, with Light down they were completely vulnerable: this entire formation depended on a strong offense, without an active netplayer, they were toast. L scanned the court for the most likely target... there were too many places, too many spots their opponents could hit. He couldn't tell where he should go. Bounce was laughing: they had done it, they had tired them out within the first two sets.

L bit his thumb, he strongly doubted they could keep this winning streak going if they had to play another set. He narrowed his eyes, he couldn't afford to lose this game. Just a little, only a little bit more and it would all be over. L willed his muscles to move and sprinted to the net, shouting "Light!" at the top of his lungs.

Light perked his head up.

Skip grinned; the ball touched his racket, then went high and wide and deep: a lob. L's mouth went dry, he'd made a mistake, a fatal error. He'd ran forward too soon, too fast, given their opponents enough time to adjust strategies... codswallop.

He made a mad dash back, running to the baseline like his life depended on it, it did, it didn't, no it did! L licked his lips, eyes on the ball. He calculated its path, flexing his arm, forcing all side-thoughts from his mind. He felt like a child again, alone with his racket, alone with the ball... a mad spinning energy pulsed through him, closed off to the world he opened his mind to memory, to the way a backhand felt, the squeeze of his muscles, the thrust, the technique. He was ready. Two more steps,

one more step,

L skidded to a halt, gasping. The monster stood directly in his path.

He shook his head, no, this was more important. He kicked off and ran straight through the monster's ethereal body which parted for him like a cloud of smoke.

L coughed, out of the smoke, turned his eyes up to the falling ball. Eyes narrowed he swung, put all his weight into this backhand, muscles moving like years ago, when he still had them.

Whack, the ball sped over the court. Light ducked under the net, the ball whistled over his neck, and L grinned. Felt good to feel alive again.

Skip's mouth fell open. Bounce gave one last try, but then the ball caromed off the ground and hit the mesh fence with a metallic twang.

They had won, it was over. L sighed, sinking to his knees.

"Double bagel!" Jippensha shouted before the umpires could get a word in.

Haruhi pursed her lips. "Team To-Oh wins the second set," she said with distaste. "Please switch sides and prepare for set three."

L's head snapped up.

"Wait a minute," Mitch sprang onto the court, "according to my understanding, our team just won the match. Want to challenge me on that?"

Haruhi batted her eyelashes at him. "You think you've won? That's cheeky. You've only won the first two out of five sets."

"I can't believe this. You agreed to three sets."

Haruhi shrugged. "Tournament Rules say college level men's doubles matches have five sets."

Shifting his weight from foot to foot, Light staggered to the umpire seats. "It's fine," he said, leaning against the net.

Mitch raised one of his sculpted eyebrows at Light.

"Really," Light smiled, but it looked pained.

L cringed, they couldn't take more of this, that was obvious. Haruhi was preying on their weakness. L tried to make eye contact with Shiho, but she had her head turned to the side and was saying something to Sateru.

"See, Coach?" Haruhi said tartly, "your team wants to play. Just let them play, don't interfere with their game."

Mitch tsked and walked off with impotent fists. Haruhi smirked. Defeated, L and Light trudged to the other side, wind pushing them forward.

"Hold on," came a faint shout from the audience. L thought he recognized the voice...

Heads turned, and eventually Haruhi motioned with her hand. "You got something to say? Speak up, we can't hear you."

Bewildered, L watched Kyoko stand and fiddle with her purse. "Can I suggest a timeout?" she cast a meaningful glance at their opponents, "Team Tokyo U looks like they deserve a break." Her face was a blank slate that didn't show any feeling. In a cool robotic voice she went on, "common courtesy demands that we offer our contestants a fighting chance."

Haruhi raised an eyebrow, tilting her head to one side. "...I suppose we could have a timeout," she turned toward Sateru, "what do you think?"

"Huh?" Sateru's sleepy eyes were unfocused as he half-frowned at Haruhi.

"Timeout," Haruhi supplied grumpily.

Sateru's frown deepened, "...why?"

L glared daggers at him. What was his problem? Here came their badly needed break, and Sateru had to go and ruin it.

Before Haruhi could answer, Kyoko spoke up again. "It is imperative that all players stay hydrated in this warm weather."

Haruhi hummed. "Perhaps. Alright, participants, you have fifteen minutes, starting now. Use them wisely."

And with that Haruhi hopped off her high chair and sprang towards the group of guys wearing red hoodies. L's gaze drifted over the spectators till he found a face staring back. He looked at Kyoko and she fixed him with her tiny round-glassed eyes.

"Catch."

L turned and grabbed a plastic bottle from the air; water slushed inside.

"Suntory Tennensui, a clean, safe mineral water delivered to us directly from the Minami Alps," Light said, smirking, "courtesy of our hosts."

L studied the label, then looked past the bottle at Light. "Is it contaminated?"

Light burst out laughing. "That bottle hasn't even been opened ― the cap's still sealed."

L gave a dismissive shrug. "Plastic bottle caps can be re-sealed with ease, a child could do it. Besides, there's no need to break the seal when you can simply squeeze a hypodermic needle inside."

Light stared at him with bug eyes, "...it's safe to drink," he took a swig of his own bottle and smiled, "see? I'm not dead yet."

"Not yet," L countered with his own smile.

Light rolled his eyes.

Screwing the cap off his bottle, L checked his phone. Two unread texts, both from Shiho. He opened them in order of receipt.

Really?! o_O No way!

one read. The second was a tad more coherent.

Oh wait, you can't read my messages. ^_^" I'll keep an eye on her, don't worry.

Not that it made a difference... L scowled, this Haruhi was proving herself quite the tough cookie.

A puddle of sweat had formed inside L's sneakers, soaking his toes. He raised his legs one by one and tugged the soggy shoes off, dropping them to the ground with a thunk. Cool air passed over his ankles, let his skin breathe. Felt good to be barefoot again, to dig his toes in the gravel and let the earth caress his feet.

He was spent, literally and figuratively spent. L guzzled his water and swiped the back of his hand across his mouth, coating his chin in minerals. From the corner of his eye he observed Light, who was in no better shape. If they carried on like this, Light would only damage his elbow.

So L turned to him. "Let me play."

Light raised an eyebrow. "And what have you been doing for the last hour?"

"You don't have to take all my shots. I can hit those balls Light, I can help."

The look on Light's face turned dark. "We agreed on a strategy so let's stick to it, okay?"

In a flat tone L pushed on. "This strategy isn't working."

"How is it not working?" Light scowled, "we've won every game so far."

"You're tired."

Light narrowed his eyes and his words came out in a low, barely restrained hiss. "I'm fine. Here's an idea: why don't you focus on your own game and worry about yourself."

"They can see it," L stared Light in the face. "Next game you will be targeted. They'll play wild balls and force you to run all over," he shrugged, "it's what I would do."

Light threw his head back, downing the last of his water. Bangs covered his eyes as he glared down at L, jaw set and mouth drawn in one rigid line.

"I suggest we change court positions," L smiled, "confuse them a little. Two Up would work for me."

Light shook his head, "that formation never worked in practice, why should it now?"

L pursed his lips and cocked his head. He drew a line in the ground with his foot. "Let this be the center service line. Then if you stand here," his big toe drew an x in the dirt, "and I stand there," another x so the line ran between the exes, "we can cover the whole court."

Light frowned doubtfully at the schematic.

"Hold the racket in your left, that should cut the odds of you taking my shots."

Light blinked dumbly at him.

L grinned. "Think you can manage? If this surprises you, imagine how big of a shock it'll be to them," he thumbed over at Skip and Bounce.

For the longest moment Light stayed silent, holding the racket tight against his chest and fingering the strings. Then, hesitantly, his left hand gripped the racket. His fingers clenched round the handle till he got a feel for it, and the racket slipped down, lingering by his side.

In the blink of an eye Light whisked the Prestige back and swung. L gasped as the racket crashed into his bottle and sent it flying, spraying them both with water.

A cruel smile played on Light's lips, "course I can. Do you doubt me?"

L returned the smile. With the wind blasting in their faces they resumed their old formation: Light up front, racket in his right, L in the back. He bounced the ball a couple times, readying to serve.

"Umm," Haruhi's ringing voice carried over the court, "I'd like to inform Team To-Oh that the break has ended."

"So what?" Mitch groaned irritably from his seat.

"Your baseliner isn't wearing any shoes."

L looked down at his bare feet, and looked up again. He exchanged a nervous glance with Light... there, by the side of the court, his sneakers still lay abandoned on the gravel. He could still get them, if he made a run for it. But he didn't want to, not when his feet were sweating like crazy and prayed for air.

"And?" Shiho said softly.

"And he better put his shoes on before the game starts," Haruhi snapped at her.

Shiho drew her lips in one line, her brows furrowed slightly. "Why?"

"What do you mean, why?"

Shiho shrugged. "I don't see this mentioned in the JTA handbook, just saying." She held up her phone and pointed to the screen.

Frowning, Haruhi leaned in and read over her shoulder. L smirked; Shiho was taking a stance, he liked it.

"Well I'll be damned," said Haruhi, twiddling the hem of her skirt. "I was sure I'd read that rule somewhere... can't find it now," she rolled her eyes. "Fine, Ryoga can play as is."

"Ryuga," a calm voice called from the stands. L raised his head and found Kyoko's tiny spectacled eyes staring back at him.

"Whatever," Haruhi waved her hand dismissively, "go on, play."

L took a deep breath, closed his eyes and concentrated. On himself, the ball, the stadium impatiently chanting their support for Tokyo U, their incompetent opponents, Kira, the monster, the wind. He cracked his eyelids open and tossed the ball into the sky. A whack of the Pure Drive sent it flying over the net, and before Skip or Bounce knew what hit them, L dashed to the front, claiming his new position by the net. Light switched his racket to his left hand and sneered at the flabbergasted looks on their opponents' faces.

It was a downhill match from there. Together they scored point after point while Skip and Bounce could only gape and stare as the ball rolled away from them, repeatedly out of reach. L slammed the Pure Drive down, muscles ringing with fresh energy. Light looked at him in amazement.

"I was wrong about you Hideki," he told him between games, "you're no baseliner," he giggled, "I've never seen someone rip the net apart like you."

L grinned. "Told you they wouldn't give two shits if you played left handed. Even works in our favor."

"Yeah..." a wan smile settled on Light's lips.

L held out his right hand. Light eyed it curiously. "Wanna make history?" said L. "Let's show these clowns what we're made of."

In the following 30 seconds Suzumiya's whistle sliced the air, their opponents bent through the knees, rackets at the ready, the monster spread its wings and took off, soaring over their heads, and Light grasped L's hand, squeezing it tight. "Hell yeah."

They exchanged one last lingering look before L bustled off to the back and readied his serve. He swung the Pure Drive, breathing hard. Racket and ball collided, vaulting the ball to the other side. Ignoring burning pain in his calves, L ran to the net as Skip parried, which sent the ball scattering into ad court. L sharply bit into his thumb.

Wide-eyed he watched Light make a beeline for no man's land, where it seemed the ball was headed. Then the ball changed course mid-air, and rapidly lost altitude. L's heart hammered in his chest, Light halted in his tracks.

The ball plummeted to the ground, L tasted blood on his tongue. Light raised the Prestige and took a clean groundstroke. The ball went high and deep, both Bounce and Skip made a run for it, but neither could return the shot.

Haruhi whistled. "Love ― forty, and second warning for Team To-Oh." She studied her nails. "One more warning and you're out."

L frowned, Light swayed a little, balancing on the balls of his feet.

Mitch was up on his feet, chest puffed up and ready. "Warning! What warning?"

Haruhi looked at him smugly. "You sure like to argue, Coach."

"And you like to bend the rules whichever way pleases you!"

"Carry on like that and I'll issue another warning."

Mitch shut his mouth, but showed all anger on his face. Haruhi smiled like an amused child trying out a new toy.

"I'm sorry but, Miss Suzumiya?"

Haruhi turned to Shiho, "yes?"

"What are we giving the warning for?"

"How good of you to ask," Haruhi snapped her fingers, "Koizumi, write this down!"

One of the guys in the red hoodies pulled out a writing pad and started taking notes.

"See, one of your team's players just took a groundstroke before the service line. I will award him full points for this game, but have to give him a warning because the JTA Tournament Rules explicitly say you can't take groundstrokes so close to the net."

"That rule is horseshit."

"Watch it, Coach."

Mitch grumbled. Light stared at a far-off point, his upper body bent forward, shoulders squared, and jaw clenched tight.

Bounce tossed the ball over to L, and it was game on again. L took a deep breath and served. High and deep, the ball flew into enemy territory. Skip jumped in an effort to volley, but missed by an inch. The grin grew on L's face as he stopped by the service line, panting. His calves ached from running so fast. Bounce struck the ball with a force that sent it spiralling into deuce court.

L dashed, L lunged, L reached. He slammed the ball over the net with a volley that screamed power. Seconds later he felt the cool air on his hot forehead, traced his thumb down his racket handle. This was amazing, he hadn't felt this alive in years.

Skip returned the shot, and the ball flew over Light's head. Light ran, making it to no man's land just in time as the ball dropped to the ground, bouncing back. He held out his racket... and, missed.

L's eyes went wide. Too far away to change a thing, he could only watch by as Light helplessly reached and reached but his arm came short, and the ball had begun to scatter away. This was it, their winning streak gone. L choked on a breath.

He saw the harried look on Light's face, the desperate, wild gleam in his eyes, and in that moment, all he felt for the kid was pity. This man wasn't Kira, he couldn't be. What was L even doing here? He was wasting time chasing shadows of a man who did not exist. Beads of sweat dripped down Light's face, his nostrils flared in a grunt as he leaped, launching himself after the ball.

The stadium gasped as Light's feet pushed off the ground. L's heart beat violently against his ribcage, his fingers clenched round the Pure Drive as Light swung the Prestige, ramming the ball over the net, high, deep, far. Light landed on his toes, crouching like a cat. The ball soared over Skip, high above Bounce's head. A sinking feeling formed inside L's gut... the ball was going to crash into the mesh fence. Oh boy. The game was as good as lost. With a groan he tilted his head to the sky. That's when he saw it.

L's blood ran cold. Everything he'd felt up till now became irrelevant as the monster swooped down and swatted at the ball with its scraggly hand.

L's jaw dropped as the ball started losing altitude. In a shock Bounce charged after it, but he was too late, the ball crash landed before the baseline, and skidded off court. They had won, they'd won this game, and the set, and the match... all through a dark, demonic kind of divine intervention.

Dazed, L stared at the spot where the monster had been, as the stadium erupted in chaos. Tokyo U supporters were screaming, rabidly protesting the outcome of the game. Haruhi announced the score, a sour note to her voice. There was clapping, booing, astonished gasps and oohs and ahhs. And through it all, Jippensha's voice carried over the noise, singing:

"Triple bagel! Triple bagel, triple bagel!!"

Light appeared to be as stunned as L felt. He swayed on his feet, rubbing his right elbow absently.

L approached him slowly, doing the math in his head. Could Light have instructed the monster to cheat? But then why, how could he look so startled? Was he that good of an actor? No way, L couldn't believe that. The monster... the monster must have acted on its own.

New theories popped inside his head like flies, crawling maggots that would not go away. What if it was all the monster's doing, all along? What if Light had been placed under some terrible curse, forced to do the monster's bidding against his will... did Light even have any free will at all? Had he been given the choice? Was this what happened to people who sold their souls for fame and glory? L shook these thoughts away; they were no use to him now.

"Hey," he half-whispered, catching his breath as he stood beside Light.

The kid looked at him like through a veil, through a fog of memories and mixed contorted feelings.

L pursed his lip. "So, we won. Congratulations?" he laughed awkwardly, tracing his thumb along his chin.

"Yeah, we did... I can hardly believe it, my last shot was awful." Light cringed, "hardly any spin at all, and so high, I was positive it would smash into the fence." The kid's eyes went wide, like that of a young doe. "But then... it didn't."

L rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "That was strange, I haven't ever seen such an abrupt change of course before... do you think it was the wind?"

Light frowned, slowly nodding. "Must have been, yeah... the wind could be a lot stronger up there," he pointed to the sky.

L followed the direction of his finger and gulped, that was the exact spot where the monster had been.

"Nice work, men." Mitch placed his large hands on both of their shoulders. "Keep it up like that and you might just make Nationals."

Light raised an eyebrow, "...Nationals?"

"You bet," Mitch winked. "You are staying on with us, right Yagami?"

Light blinked up at him. "There's going to be more doubles matches?"

"Oh yes. You've scored enough points today to land yourselves a spot at Regionals. I can definitely see you competing with universities of Nagoya, taking it up against Shizuoka University ― I hear they're pretty good. If you're up for the challenge, that is."

"Like hell I'd pass up an opportunity like that."

Mitch grinned, clapping Light on the back. "That's what I was hoping to hear."

"Excuse me, boys," a cutting high pitched voice made them all turn. "Fourth set's about to start, we're waiting for you." Haruhi smiled the deadliest smile L had ever seen on her cherry red lips. Skip was already standing on their side of the court, hands on his hips, and a sneer on his face.

Mitch went green with fury. "No. No way. My team won the match fair and square,"

L gulped, in his mind's eye he saw the monster hit the ball.

"I won't let you strip them of their victory. Put an end to this nonsense," Mitch pointed at the ground, "and give them their dues."

"What 'dues'? Do I have to remind you today's tennis game consists of five sets? They've only played three. I'd hardly call that a match."

"They won three out of five! They won all games of all three sets. There is no way your team can even hope of beating them now."

Haruhi hummed, "unless your team gets another warning," she pressed a finger to her lower lip, "suppose a warning for not listening to the head umpire," she smiled, "which is me."

A deep rumble came out of Mitch's throat. "I can and will report you to the JTA for this."

Haruhi rolled her eyes. "Fine, whatever, I don't really care. Okay in this match of Tokyo U against To-Oh, taking place on the Tokyo U campus grounds, Friday April 16th, Team To-Oh wins with three sets to zero, six-null, six-null, six-null, also known as triple bagel. Happy?"

"Delighted," Mitch bit back with a tight smile.

"My pleasure."

The match wrapped up surprisingly quick after that. When the Tokyo U crowd learned they couldn't change the outcome of this match by a lot of booing, most of them left. Fewer than ten spectators stuck around till the very end. Light and L were given a prize cup made of plastic, painted metallic gold. Mitch took the prize from them, saying he would put it on display at their tennis club's administration office.

L bitterly eyed the edible candy consolation prize medals on Bounce and Skip's necks.

Fifteen minutes later they were all on the bus back to To-Oh. Sateru fell asleep along the way, head resting on Shiho's shoulder. Light and Jippensha sat up front. The monster lounged by the entrance, studying the bus driver with morbid curiosity. L sat in the middle, squished between their tennis bags. Mitch stood, holding onto a strap and leaning over L, looking down at them all and telling them what he thought of their play, and what they should do to improve. L tuned out most of it; he picked up on how Kyoko kept sending him cursory glances, these strange straight-faced looks like she was about to say something, yet she never once opened her mouth to speak. She stood behind Mitch, her hand on the back of L's seat... her beady eyes seemed never to leave him, for whenever he turned, he found her staring back. Then she would look away quickly, at the floor, out the window. The sun was just setting, and it painted her boxy face a radiant orange. Her eyelashes gleamed with specks of fire, and round glasses cast mournful shadows over her face as the bus kept rocking her back and forth.

L set his backpack down on the tiled changing room floor. He collapsed on a bench with a sigh. Opposite him, Light did the same. They looked at each other and laughed.

"That was one hell of a match, Hideki. I must say I'm impressed."

L smirked, "you couldn't possibly think we'd lose?"

"Well, no, but I hadn't banked on such a glowing victory."

"Yeah," L nodded along, "it was too easy. They didn't even put up a fight. I was getting bored, to be honest."

Light erupted in a fit of laughs.

"No, no, really, the whole match I was bored out of my mind. And you wouldn't even let me do anything."

Light held up a hand. "You did something."

"In the final set."

"No," Light said standing up, "long before that." Turning to face the wall, he pulled the polo shirt over his head. "Your serve dominated the game. I never could have kept serve so long, it was brilliant."

This brought a small nervous smile to L's lips. "Don't say that," he changed out of his borrowed clothes and rummaged inside the backpack for his familiar white sweatshirt.

"Why not?" Light wiggled out of his sweaty jockstrap. "It's true."

L spread the sweatshirt out on his knees, tag side up. "Don't say things you don't mean."

"Come now," Light said as he turned to face L, "I'm not that self absorbed that I'm blind to the qualities of oth... you're wearing that again?" he pointed at the shirt on L's knees.

L blinked. "What else am I supposed to wear?"

Light paced two steps forward, to the middle of the locker room, then stopped, his penis flip flopping about with the movement. "Without showering first?"

From the corner of his eye L peeked at the showers, then looked back at Light. "Well... yeah. Is there a problem?"

"I just, ...I don't know how anyone can play three sets in row like you did today, and not take a shower." Light blinked at him, at a loss for words. "It's your decision after all, but... I don't know, just feels so much better after showering," Light wrinkled his nose. "You've got to wash that sweat off, else it'll clog your pores and leave you feeling exhausted for the rest of the day. I don't know... showers tend to recharge me. Without one, I just can't relax."

L saved that bit of info away for later use: apparently depriving Light of his daily shower routine was enough to drive him up the wall. Now, if he pulled some strings he reckoned he could cut off the hot water supply to the Yagami household for about one week. When would be the most rewarding time to really put the screws on Light? L smiled, how about midterm exam week?

When L got to the showers Light was standing under a stream of hot water, eyes closed, letting the liquid drip down his skin. Soft patter could be heard as water hit plastic: Light wore a shower cap. A transparent fucking shower cap covered all his precious hair, his feet cushioned by scarlet flip flops, designer flip flops with fabric straps.

L chose a showerhead far, far away from Light, and turned it on. A mouthful of cold water drizzled down on him. L flinched.

A bout of chuckles came from his left. "Need help?"

By way of answer L only glared at Light.

"You've got to really yank these taps to get them to work."

L crossed his arms over his chest, enduring the cool drizzle.

"Fine," Light held his hands up, "suit yourself."

In a horror L watched Light lather himself with fucking scented shower gel. The stink of vanilla and cedar wood was so strong it permeated the shower room, carried by the vapor from Light's showerhead. Then Light foamed up a bar of sooty soap... which produced an oddly snowy foam. With gentle strokes he applied the foam to his face, careful to avoid his mouth and eyes.

Light caught L staring. He glanced down at the bar of soap in his hands, then back up at L.

"Oh, you don't have any soap."

Light looked at the shower rack, spotted the bottle of shower gel, grabbed it and held it out to L, along with the bar of soap.

"You can use mine."

Stupefied L stared at the soap and gel bottle in Light's hand... then he snatched them, turned away and made quick work of finishing his shower. He dropped the soaps in Light's shower rack on his way out, and shivered in the cold locker room. What possessed him to take a shower in bloody April, when he didn't have a towel? L hugged himself, chattering his teeth. He tried jumping up and down to shake the water off.

Just as L was tugging his jeans on, Light came out of the showers. He toweled himself dry and sprayed the room with Axe deodorant. L coughed, took some steps back, and started pulling on his trusty white sweatshirt.

"Aren't you going to... umm," said Light.

Sweatshirt pooling round his neck in thick folds, L stopped. "What?"

"Freshen up?"

L raised an eyebrow. "I was under the impression my shower just took care of that."

"No," Light pursed his lip, "I mean," he pointed at his spray bottle of Axe Adrenalin.

"Oh that, I have sprayed this morning."

"Today... morning?" Light's jaw all but dropped. "Hideki, it's nearly seven in the evening."

L took his phone from his pocket, flipped it open and read the time, "18:55 to the dot. Your point?"

"Isn't that... too long to go without re-applying deodorant?"

"Why?" L eyed Light with genuine interest. "My brand is supposed to last 12 hours, it says so on the bottle. I woke up late today, so should be fine till about ten."

The look on Light's face morphed into horrified shock.

"Do I smell bad or something?" L sniffed his own armpits.

"No, no! You're good," Light squeaked before bolting to his bag.

L shrugged and pulled his shirt the rest of the way down. Light put on a new pair of maroon boxers, buttoned his pale green shirt, and slid into his grey slacks. Soon enough they were outside, fully clothed and carrying their bags. L dragged his backpack over the ground. With his hair dripping down his shirt collar, he followed their group around campus.

"Booze booze booze!" Jippensha shouted in his ear. "We gotta celebrate your legendary victory over Tokyo U."

L sighed as he tolerated Jippensha's loud voice and companionable arm draped over his shoulders. This was not how he preferred to spend his Friday evening, but it was part of the plan. Near would have to find someone else to play chess with. The sky had turned a deep navy blue, while the stars and the moon were overshadowed by streetlights and flashing neon signs beaming from every corner. L looked up and scrutinized the nameplate of the small student pub they walked in: Fajiirojikku. Then his eyes rested on Mitch and Light, who walked ahead and were already inside, looking for a spot to leave their coats and bags. Kyoko and Shiho followed behind Jippensha, Sateru was nowhere to be seen: he'd made up some incredible story about not being in the mood and had gone home to sleep off his funk. That left just the six of them. The lights inside the pub were low, which gave the room a ghostly midnight blue vibe. L smiled, he felt just at home in the dark. Once they were all inside, Mitch gathered them in a semi circle around himself.

"Alright," he said, rubbing his hands together, "drinks are on me, you can order whatever you like. Don't hold back on my account," he winked, "I'll simply dump it all on the club's budget."

"You can't do that," Shiho playfully punched his arm.

"Haha, watch me."

Not waiting for the others L hopped on a bar stool, leaned over the bar and grinned at the bartender's breasts that spilled out of her black tank top.

"I'll have a kangaroo cocktail," he said, drumming his fingers on a wooden coaster.

He intended to get drunk tonight. And he intended to get Light drunk. And then Light would spill all his little secrets over this very bar. The plan was foolproof, as there was no way Virgin Mary Yagami had any drinking experience whatsoever. L grinned; and he had recently built up his own tolerance. Now he could drink for hours without losing his cool.

The bartender looked at him. "A ...what?"

"A vodka martini," L said without missing a beat. Light sat down next to him and perused the menu.

"Ugh," the bartender groaned, "why didn't you just say that?" She went about the motions of mixing his drink with a scowl on her dolled-up face.

Light still seemed pretty pre-occupied by the menu. Jippensha sat down beside Light, and Mitch sat himself next to him, and Shiho took the empty seat beside Mitch. L blinked when Kyoko cautiously mounted a bar stool right beside him, shivering a little and crossing her shaven bare legs.

As an afterthought L leaned over the bar and said to the tender: "Stirred, not shaken."

The bartender rolled her eyes at him. "Yeah, whatever." She slammed the drink down in front of L's nose so hard the liquid sloshed, spilling over the side.

L pouted when he saw she had failed to add the customary pimento stuffed olive.

Mitch requested a lager, Jippensha asked for a pint of porter, and Shiho wanted a Midori Sangria. While their drinks were being made and Jippensha stuffed his mouth with arare crackers, L found Kyoko stealing glances at him.

He stared back at her, drink in hand ― have you got something to say?

Instead of talking however, Kyoko addressed the bartender. "I'll have what he's having," she said, nodding toward L.

Okay, not what he expected. At that point Jippensha got his beer and started chugging like no tomorrow. Mitch stroked the handle of his glass, observing how the bubbles popped and the foam fizzled out. A reddish Sangria cocktail topped off with a fresh lemon slice was positioned on the counter in front of Shiho, while she bent her body this way and that, moving her phone camera around, trying to get the best angle for a shot.

When Kyoko got her vodkatini, Light finally set the menu down and smiled at the bartender. "Can I have a glass of Qoo Fuji Apple?"

Three heads turned, Jippensha's to the greatest degree. Shiho's mouth fell open, L's eyes went wide. Before they could put their shock into words, Jippensha spoke.

"Quit messing with us Yagami. You don't have to be the 'good boy' now, it's not like anyone's watching, you can literally order anything you like."

Light blinked at him. "I like to drink Qoo after an intense workout..." When Jippensha didn't respond apart from dropping his jaw to the bar, Light clarified, "heavy exercise really tires me out, so a glass of apple juice is just what I need to freshen up."

"Here you go, one glass of Qoo," said the bartender, really drawing out the 'qoo' as she set a tall frosty glass with a pink straw and ice cubes in front of Light, filled with a clear liquid that looked like piss.

Jippensha slowly worked up the courage to talk. "Okay, but beer can also be quite relaxing," he motioned at his own glass.

Light took a draught from his straw, inhaled deeply and let out a long contented sigh. "Thank you for your concern Jippensha, but I'm completely satisfied with my apple juice," with those words he took another sip, then smiled warmly at Jippensha's baffled expression. "You and I are athletes, we really shouldn't be consuming alcohol."

Jippensha choked on his pint. "Dude, it's just a beer. I don't advocate getting sozzled..." he shook his head in disbelief, "just something small to unwind."

Light's smile didn't waver. In fact it turned into something quite patronising: he smiled the way a good-natured educator would look on his hard-working but hopelessly deluded student. Something gnawed on L's stomach... he dismissed it as the drink he'd had and perhaps hunger. Later, he'd eat later; keeping up with this conversation and setting his plan in motion was more important.

"It's not something I'd recommend," Light shrugged, setting the straw to his lips and taking a sip, "unless you want sore muscles, loss of physical endurance, cramps and slow muscle recovery from dehydration and the subsequent reduction in ATP synthase, electrolyte imbalances, inhibited ability to absorb essential protein, minerals and vitamins from food, disrupted sleep patterns and the resulting decrease of Human Growth Hormone production."

Jippensha shook his head wildly. "That doesn't happen unless you drink a whole keg of beer."

Light pushed the straw around his glass of piss. "Even the smallest portion of alcohol can completely nullify all the work you've put into training and greatly reduce athletic performance."

"Try and see," Jippensha slid his beer glass along the bar.

L held his breath. He watched with avid attention as Light's Adam's apple bobbed up and down and Light pursed his lips. Then, tentatively, clearly reluctant to do so, Light reached for Jippensha's beer glass, curled his fingers round the handle and pulled it close. He sat there staring into the depths of the murky dark brown liquid, watching the foam dissipate.

"This is so exciting," Jippensha said, leaning in over Light's shoulder, "just a year ago my brother took me out drinking and I had my very first beer! This kinda feels like passing on the torch."

With dread written all over his face Light stared at Jippensha... then turned back to the drink, let out a long sigh, and lifted the glass to his lips, careful not to touch the place where Jippensha's lips had been.

"Go on then, drink!" Jippensha piped up, his own cheeks red from either enthusiasm or the beer he'd had.

L watched Light tilt his head back and the dark liquid flow slow but certain to the top of the glass.

That was when Mitch set his own drink down and cleared his throat. "Lay off him Satoshi. If he doesn't want to drink, he doesn't have to."

No. Jippensha turned to Mitch. No. Light tilted his head forward and the dark brown liquid sloshed back down to the bottom of the glass. No. Mitch placed a hand on Jippensha's shoulder and continued in that same commanding carefree voice.

"It'll be cheaper for the club if he doesn't drink," Mitch chuckled. Shiho punched him in the rib. Mitch laughed and shifted on his bar stool.

No. Light put the beer glass down with a shy smile and shifted it back to Jippensha. No. Jippensha good naturedly grinned back at him. No, no, no no no no. L sat there blinking like an owl, his whole plan torn to shreds. This... this was going to be a lot tougher than he'd anticipated.

"Do you prefer opening a game with the underhand serve?" Kyoko said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

L looked at her, cast his gaze around the pub then looked at her again. "Are you... talking to me?" he raised an eyebrow.

Kyoko nodded.

"Ehm," L traced his thumb over his lower lip, martini glass forgotten on the bar. What did she want from him? He had to think of something fast before this talk stretched out longer than it should. He was here to interrogate a suspect after all. "Really any type of serve can work, depends on the opponent."

"Ah, right." Kyoko smiled. Her cheeks were a little flushed from the drink.

L glanced sideways. Was this consultation over? From the corner of his eye he spied Light start on a tall glass filled with some clear greenish liquid, and... white lumps of... something floating around the glass.

He turned around in his seat, and pointed at the drink in Light's hand. "What's that?"

"Aloe Drink," Light said with a smug smile.

L stared daggers at the glass.

"It's good, you should try one," said Light.

"No thanks," L called the bartender and asked for a light beer. Muttering the words "to Kira, long may he live," he gripped the glass with two hands and downed it in one go, letting the cold bitter liquid fill him with bile. This was turning out to be a long night. He set the glass down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, only to find Light sniggering at him.

"What?" L flat out said, staring Yagami in the face.

Nothing changed about the casual, laid back pose Light was seated in, or about the mocking smile on his face. That set L more than a little on edge. He didn't want to admit that every fibre of his being was screaming at him to get the hell out of this place, to crawl up in his dorm room under a heap of old blankets and think nothing but Knot Theory. If he pretended he didn't feel the anxiety creeping in and grabbing him in a deathly grip, then maybe he could keep projecting this false confidence and find another way to get the truth out of Light.

"I've always wondered why you admire Kira so much," said Light. "It doesn't seem to make any sense ― you're not stupid."

L frowned at him.

"At least, I don't think you are," Light added as an afterthought, twirling the straw between his thumb and forefinger.

L's frown deepened and a scowl deformed his face. "Why do you hate Kira so much?"

"You really believe Kira can eradicate all injustice from our world?" Light countered, leaning closer to him. Dark blue shadows played over Light's face, accentuating the bridge of his nose and concealing most of his forehead.

L narrowed his eyes. "I want to believe," he said slowly, placing emphasis on each separate word. His eyes bored holes into Light's widened pupils in the dimmed room, and Light stared right back, none of them blinked or said anything else for what felt like a minute. If this was a test, L supposed he passed it when Light broke the stare and slipped back into that easygoing manner from before.

"It's not exactly like that," said Light, taking a languid draught of his aloe vera juice. "I don't... hate Kira," he shrugged, like admitting it out loud was making him uncomfortable.

L perked his ears and leaned in closer, his heart beating in his throat. Was this the moment he'd been waiting for? Did Light now trust him enough to let him in on a little secret?

A soft drowsy voice cooed from his left: "Ryuu―ga, do you prefer playing deuce or ad court?"

L twisted around in his seat to find Kyoko totally plastered. She sat bent over the bar, and gazed up at him with her head cradled in her arms.

He shook his head briskly. "Neither. I'm more used to playing singles, so I don't have a favorite side of the court." He turned away from her, hoping to resume his interrupted conversation with Light.

Strangely enough Light quirked an eyebrow at him, and had this mysterious all-knowing smile on his lip. L put it down to Yagami being Yagami, and pushed on with his questions.

"What does bother you about Kira?"

Light pursed his lips. "Well... while I can appreciate the significant decline in first degree felonies recently ...presumably caused by the nationwide Kira scare," he paused to examine his fingernails, "I can't get behind the hype around it," he said while looking down at his hand that rested on the bar. Slowly he tilted his head up to face L.

They looked at each other, and L thought he saw something of the real Light Yagami spilling to the surface, something undeniably genuine.

"It's the people who worship Kira as though he were a god that bother me. At best they look silly, worshipping something that doesn't exist. No one even took the time to investigate what these heart attacks are, or what causes them. We could be dealing with a virus that rapidly spreads through prisons ― it's not unthinkable. But no they just assume it's the work of one entity, and call it 'Kira', how asinine. The word itself is a bastardization of the English slang word 'killa' used by gangs and thugs in America... but of course none of these Japanese fanboys can even pronounce it right, let alone the original word 'killer' the slang term is based on."

A beat went by in which L pulled one leg up to his chest, and Light finished his aloe vera drink, all the while maintaining eye contact.

"Do I even need to bring up how absurd it is to dub your supposed hero of justice with a mispronounced slang word used by law breakers and thugs? Whoever came up with the name 'Kira' needs to go back to school."

L snorted, "you're missing the point. Kira stands for justice, but the problem is that our law enforcement agencies don't. They only stand for themselves and the people backing them. That's why they treat Kira and everyone who supports Kira like thugs."

Light tilted his head to the side. "Really? You're gonna go there?"

"It's the truth," L shrugged, trailing his second leg up the bar stool. "The name is ironic, it's supposed to sound off."

"Whatever," Light rolled his eyes. He reached into the bowl of arare crackers, and held his hand open in front of L, "want one?"

L fished three bite sized yellow rice crackers from Light's hand, and stuffed them in his mouth.

"As I was saying, at best they look foolish, and at worst, their actions look rather... disturbing."

"Disturbing?" L spoke through a full mouth, "how so?"

Light made a face. "People who mindlessly follow Kira instead of thinking for themselves, don't you see how that could be a problem?"

L now sat perched on the bar stool like a hungry crow on an electric wire. "I still think for myself, and plenty of Kira supporters do, which is why we support Kira."

Light shook his head. "I'm talking about the ones who don't." He held up his hand, "don't try to deny these Kira followers exist."

"I'm not denying anything."

"Good." Light heaved a sigh, he looked up at the ceiling, then back down at L. "I'd hate to see such a large and growing group of well-meaning people used to do someone's dirty work... Hideki, for all we know some psychopathic mastermind could be causing these murders, using slogans like 'Justice' to assemble his own personal army."

L smirked, he wanted to laugh. The earnesty in Light's eyes was disconcerting. Was he aware his own actions were at odds with his words? What was this? Split personality? Was 'Light Yagami the killer' even the same person as this boy talking to him right here? Or was he that good of a liar? The last question that popped up in his head sounded chilling to him. Who even was Light? When you stripped away all the lies, what would be left? And was there even anyone who truly knew him?

"I think you're reading too much into this," L said smoothly, "any following has its idiots. They rarely ever form the majority though. It's the vocal minority you see online and on TV making the rest of us look bad."

Light puckered his lips and rocked his head side to side. "That sounds like a valid argument."

Unable to hold it any longer L burst out laughing. Light laughed with him. While they sat there at the bar, L couldn't help but wonder: 'What a puzzle... the man is a two faced weasel, but he's fun to hang with, can be generous... and... and giving, and he doesn't let me stay mad at him.'

If he didn't know any better, he never would have guessed Light could harbor that foul raggedy winged monster. The thought alone sounded absurd. Was this how everyone else saw him? Was this how his friends, his family... knew Light?

"Ryuu―ga," he heard Kyoko's voice murmur softly from his left. L shifted around on his stool. Her hair was a tad tousled so part of her bangs fell over her left eye. She had taken her glasses off and folded them neatly on the bar.

"Yeah?" he asked her, unsure what she wanted from him.

"How do you wrap your racket handle?" she said sweetly.

L frowned, he didn't get it... what a weird question to ask here, in a pub. What was she bothering him for? He shook his head. "I use 20 mm electrical tape for the base layer, then attach two layers of overgrip tape," he shrugged, "three layers is overkill, but if you want a softer grip you could try that."

"Ah yes," her eyes shut and the smile broadened, turning her round cheeks even rounder, "I don't use any electrical tape..." her eyes opened and she seemed to... bat her eyelashes? as she spoke... "just start taping the overgrip directly on the handle... one layer ― my hands aren't that big," she laughed.

"The electrical tape is just there so the overgrip becomes easier to remove," L explained, "I don't like thick racket handles either."

Kyoko blushed bright red at that. "Oh really... yeah that would be smart," she chuckled, "I've had to ask Mitch sometimes to help me change my grip, cause the overgrip tape can be so tricky to take off. It sticks so strong to the wood."

Good Gay-Lussac, how could he get rid of her? It was bad enough Yagami was stone cold sober, and now with Kyoko butting in every five minutes, he could hardly get anything out of him. Think fast, think fast... he dropped his gaze down to Kyoko's sky blue polo dress, and an idea popped in his head.

He stared her in the eye for the longest time until he had her full attention. Her eyes wide, she blinked at him. He kept a straight face and said calmly, "That bra doesn't suit you."

Kyoko's face fell.

L continued talking, "It's too cone shaped, that doesn't look very natural."

She turned scarlet.

L frowned, maintaining his dead-eyed impassive manner from before. "They don't make cone shaped bras nowadays... do they?" he raised an eyebrow. "Did you borrow your grandma's?"

Kyoko wrinkled her nose and narrowed her eyes at him. "I don't remember asking for your evaluation."

L opened his mouth to say something back, but before he could Kyoko snatched her purse and jumped off the bar stool. She sent him one last silencing glare, before walking off in the direction of the bathroom with the words "excuse me, that last drink doesn't agree with my stomach."

Her glasses were still on the bar, they reflected the dim overhanging lights in a weird way... L sighed. Well, at least now he could get back to what he'd come here to do. He turned in his seat to find Yagami start on his second glass of aloe drink.

L grinned. "Okay, back on topic, ―"

Light raised a hand. "You do realize you just scared off the only girl in this pub who was even remotely into you?"

L's confidence deflated. "Are you implying..." he frowned, surely Kyoko wasn't interested, not that way. She couldn't be; no girl ever was.

Light sent him a deadpan look.

So... Kyoko had... liked him? L almost couldn't believe it... If that were true, then he had royally screwed himself over.

" 'How do you wrap your racket handle?' That's some obvious innuendo right there," Light said with a mocking smile, "how do you not pick up on that?"

Twigs snapped, L was done. His eyes narrowed before he could help it, and his heart rate sped up, hot air moments from bubbling to the surface. Teeth bared, he was prepared to give Light a piece of his mind when Mitch leaned over the bar, glasses slipping down his nose as he spoke in a mellow tone.

"We're about ready to order barbeque, and I was wondering what you gentlemen would like. So far I've got orders for pork belly, shrimp, and chicken," Mitch winked. "Would you like to add anything?"

"Naka karubi," L said in one breath with Light.

They blinked at each other, eyes wide, then spontaneously Light burst out laughing. And just like that, despite everything, L found himself laughing with him... he just couldn't stay mad at the guy.

When Mitch called the bartender over, L leaned against the bar and put on a sly grin. "I'll have a London Fog, Beautiful."

The bartender glared at him, which only made L smile more. "A ...what?" she said, hands on her hips.

"Gee," L shook his head, still smiling, "the service here sure is lovely."

The bartender cringed. "Oh I'd love to make the drink for you," somehow L doubted that, "but can't exactly do that when you won't tell me how," she finished with a tight grimace, the sort of smile you make when you don't feel like smiling but there's a gun pointed at your head.

"A London Fog is real easy to mix," L said lightly, "you take a shaker," he gave her a pointed look, "pop one and three quarter ounces gin into it," he made a sprinkling motion with his hand, "a half ounce of Pernod," another sprinkling motion, "and, this is important, two cracked ice cubes," he held up two fingers. L smiled, staring at her cleavage. "Then you give it a good shake. You can serve the drink with a little bit of crushed ice."

She started getting the ingredients together, selecting different bottles from various shelves. "Why didn't you just say so?"

L shrugged, watching her stretch out and stand on tiptoe to grab a bottle from the top shelf. "Figured this was a student pub, not some random joint where they can't even get your drink right."

The bartender snapped her head down, eyes flashing. The bottle came down hard, landing on top of the workspace with a bang. "Oi," she said, "I happen to be a graduate law student."

"Exactly," L said, smiling at her.

She didn't say a thing but narrowed her eyes murderously while mixing his drink. Then she poured it all neatly into the wrong type of glass, set it on the bar and asked him sourly, "you want an umbrella with that?"

"I'll have a slice of lemon, thank you."

With a groan the bartender plodded to a fridge, picked out a dry, sickeningly brown lemon, deftly cut a slice and affixed it to the glass. "Hope you enjoy your meal," she said with a tight smile, and ran off to attend another customer.

L stared at the rotten lemon wedge on his glass...

"I think a lot of unhappy people latch onto the idea of Kira," Light said, drawing L's attention back to him, "without really considering why. It's true that some things in our society need to change, but Kira isn't the only answer." Light smirked, "it's certainly not the most logical answer."

L frowned at him. "And what do you think needs to change in this country?"

"A couple of things," Light spread his arms out. "For one, our Defense Forces are incredibly weak. We simply do not have the firepower to defend our country from an outside threat. I think we rely too much on our allies for protection."

L's jaw fell open. He took a sip of his London Fog, felt the liquor hit his throat, and turned to stare at Yagami. "You do know why that is, right?"

"Yes but times have changed! Japan is not the same country it was sixty years ago. Gone are the days when warring samurai couldn't keep their horses in check, or uneducated teenage monarchs permitted their blindsided advisers to cloud their minds. We've been a peaceful country for decades, generations have come and gone, we preach non-violence in schools, in the streets, even restrict gun ownership to the police. And yet the rest of the world still insists on treating us this way. I think it's only fair for Japan, like any other developed nation, to have our own military."

L breathed in, took a long draught of his drink, and bit down on his thumb. "What sort of military are you suggesting? We're a small country. Unless we reintroduce conscription, we can't boast the manpower larger countries have."

Light shook his head, pushing the straw around his glass. "We don't need more manpower; at this point we're the most technologically advanced country in the world. Instead of creating another super tiny sized computer or a phone that nobody really needs, we could be developing new weapons. A highly efficient army that doesn't rely on physical attacks." He looked at L. "Brute force has been proven to be the dumbest strategy, so why do armed forces still rely on manpower?"

L shrugged. "Because it's cheaper? Where will you get the energy to power up thousands of man-sized robots?"

Light laughed into his hand. "Who said anything about robots?" he snickered, "no, I was thinking more in terms of missiles, jet fighters, that sort of thing."

L frowned into his glass. "Wouldn't larger military groups still have the advantage then?"

"Not if we develop more efficient fighter planes that can take out their planes in a matter of seconds." Light had an odd gleam in his eye as he said that.

Disturbed, L brought his attention back to his drink. He lifted the glass to his eye and shook it gently, watching the mint colored liquid swirl inside.

"There's a lot more that our nation has to change," Light said, "this is just the tip of the iceberg. It's true that our police force has become corrupt, and not all criminals are dealt with justly,"

That part caught L's attention, he gave Yagami a long hard look.

"but randomly murdering convicted criminals won't solve that," Light went on. "It won't bring justice to the men who were wrongly convicted, nor to the ones whose crimes are still undiscovered."

Light looked L in the eye, his expression absolutely serious. "I intend to change that, Hideki," he curled his lip like he was holding something back. "That's why I chose to major in Crime, that's why I want to work for the NPA when I graduate. I want to rebuild the system from within."

"That is a noble goal," L hummed, tapping his bottom lip, "only I wonder if there will be anything left to restore by the time you'll be in a position to make a difference." He narrowed his eyes, "and by that time, will you still live by these ideals," he cocked his head sharply, "or will you have become corrupt yourself?"

Light smiled. "Only time will tell."

L tipped his head back and downed his glass, vaguely smelling the putrid lemon as red hot acid burned its way down inside. A thick fog encroached his mind, even as he fought it, the world around him steadily grew darker. And in the black void, Yagami's smile taunted him, always an arm's length away.

It took him a moment to realize he was closing his eyes. L blinked rapidly, shifted on the bar stool, hugged knees to his chest.

"You okay?" Light wore an expression of concern, his hand was on L's shoulder.

"Yeah," L mustered a weak smile, "just... tired." It was true, he didn't feel like twenty-four, more like a ninety-nine year old man.

"Ha!" Light grinned, patting him on the back. "After the match we played, I don't blame you."

"Thanks," L gripped the bar to steady himself.

"No really, you killed it on the court today. That was... one of the most memorable matches I've ever played."

Light's smile was so warm and encouraging. It confused L more than anything. How could someone so cold and calculating as Kira be so pleasant to be around at the same time? Was it all fake? All his care, concern, sociability... was it all just teeth?

"All that training we did at the club must've paid off," L said.

"Oh, I bet! You're a strong player to begin with Hideki, and with the right strategy we can capitalize on our strengths and cover our weaknesses."

L wanted to pretend the compliment didn't touch him, pretend he didn't suddenly feel ten degrees warmer. But he did, and it scared and thrilled him all at once.

"I'm not sure how we'll fare against the other teams," he said, tossing the decayed lemon wedge into his empty glass, "haha I haven't played in awhile and so have you, right?"

"Yeah, pretty much haven't touched a racket since Junior High."

L was bad at giving compliments. He felt like he had to reciprocate somehow, but all he came up with sounded silly in his own head... so silly he couldn't bring himself to say the words aloud. And so they fell into a heavy kind of silence; not an awkward silence, but one that couldn't easily be broken.

He felt relieved when the barbeque arrived because that gave him something to do rather than just sit there gazing at his empty glass. One large plate with grilled beef strips was set between him and Light, since they had ordered the same thing, along with chopsticks and little cups of rice with a side dish of carrot salad for everyone.

Light and the others dug into their food. L beckoned the bartender over.

She rolled her eyes. "What can I get you?"

"I'd like a Paradise."

The bartender simply stared at him.

"It's a mixed drink."

She flipped through the menu, then looked up at him. "We don't carry that."

"Ok then can I have The Last Word?"

She gave him a death glare. With nimble fingers L picked up a menu and showed her the page. She eyed it, did a double take, cursed under her breath and set about mixing his drink. L nibbled on bites of beef while watching her jiggling tits.

"Hey Hideki," L heard from his right.

"Hmm?" he turned to see Yagami smile at him.

"I was wondering who your favorite tennis player was," he tipped his head forward, "that is, if you have one. Like an athlete you've looked up to for the longest time," he chuckled, "maybe someone you hope to beat one day?"

L blinked, "Andre Agassi," he said without thinking. Agassi had been his hero from day one, way back in the eighties when he first got into tennis, and he hadn't been much impressed by any other player since.

Light nearly fell out of his seat. He leaned forward, and babbled in a hushed excited tone: "No way, your favorite player's Agassi? Ha! Mine's Sampras."

L put on owlish eyes. "He is? But your playing style more closely resembles Agassi's style."

"Yeah," Light smiled wistfully, "I love the way Sampras serves, he's got such a gorgeous effortless style that makes it look easy. He's perfectly at home on the court, his movements look so casual, so simple, like he couldn't care less, and then he swings and his shots land." Light laughed, "but whenever I try to replicate that in my own game, it always goes south."

L hummed. "I would've thought you'd enjoy the way Agassi puts on a show whenever he steps onto the court."

"Well," Light cocked his head, "Agassi's talent can't be denied, it's no wonder they had such a memorable rivalry. Watching their matches against each other used to be the highpoint of my year."

A massive grin popped onto L's face at the memory, "I recall lying in front of the TV as a kid and watching their very first international match at the Italian Open."

"Was it a rerun?" Light raised an eyebrow.

"No, I got to watch it live!"

Yagami's brows gathered in a knot above his nose. "How old are you, Hideki?"

At that moment L realised he'd slipped up. Andre Agassi had played Pete Sampras for the first time on an international level at the Italian Open in May 1989, when Light Yagami had been only three years old... and L was nine. By Foucault! He wanted to smack himself, but the damage had been done. Light stared at him with suspicion in his eyes.

"I'm 18," L lied. He hoped it sounded at least halfway convincing.

Light's eyes went wide as saucers. "Wait so you remember watching a tennis game when you were like... three?" his voice sounded choked.

"No, four."

Light scrutinized him.

L pulled a tight smile. If he was going to lie, he might as well go all the way. "My birthday is later in the year." Hideki would have to turn 19 within the next month.

After a moment Light nodded, though he didn't look convinced.

L shrugged. "What can I say? I have a good memory..."

"Shit," Light shook his head slowly, smiling. "With a memory like that, how am I going to beat you at midterms?"

"You should've thought of that before you made the bet," L grinned. This time perhaps his lies would be taken at face value.

Light snorted and L joined in the laughter. He felt more than a little woozy now from all the drinks he'd had. Maybe eating something would help... L placed the untouched little cup of rice on his knees, and used his chopsticks to bring a mouthful to his lips. Just as he tasted lukewarm seasoned rice on his tongue, a song played softly over the general hubbub in the pub. He frowned, strained his ears to catch the melody, until he could make out words. It came from close by, too.

"Someone told me that Love would all save us," the song went, "but how can that be? Look what love gave us: a world full of killing, and blood spilling, that world never came..."

L looked to his right, and saw Yagami reach for his phone. The song grew louder when he pulled the phone from his pocket.

"And they say that a Hero can save us, I'm not gonna stand here and wait!"

L raised his brows. So that's what Light had for a ringtone? He wrinkled his nose. It sounded so... emo.

Light glanced at the screen, then shot him an apologetic smile. "Hold up, gotta take this."

L nodded. "Sure thing," and went back to gobbling his rice down.

"Yes?" Light spoke into the phone.

Ten seconds passed in silence, with Light only listening, then he visibly paled.

"I see," he spoke into the device; his voice sounded like it came from far away, his eyes glazed over as he stared dully into the distance, unseeing.

L frowned, rice bowl forgotten in his hands. Who could be calling Light at this time? From the look of it, they sounded serious. All of a sudden Light glanced at L; their eye contact was brief but meaningful. L could practically see the cogs turn in Light's head.

With blind fingers L placed his rice cup on the bar.

Light nodded, more to himself than to L. "I'm on my way, shall I get you anything?" he nodded once more and hummed. "Kay bye," he hung up.

The silence between them was thick with heavy tension. When Light met L's eyes again, he didn't look like Kira, not one bit, he was just a boy of eighteen. Those wide amber eyes held so much grief, and pain, worry, sorrow... and ...fear.

L frowned back at him.

"It's my Dad," Light finally got out, his lips curled in pain. "He..." Light winced, his wide watery eyes turning smaller, "he had a heart attack."

'What?' L gawked at him. He couldn't find words for the better half of a minute, and Light did not feel inclined to say much more. L resisted the urge to barrage Light with questions, rude invasive questions about things he wasn't supposed to know. In his head, he went over all the things he'd told Inspector Yagami. L felt dismayed, he hadn't known the man was under this much pressure. He'd been so wrapped up in this Kira business, he had forgotten people died of natural heart attacks too.

The only thing Hideki could say, the only thing that sounded reasonable... "I'm sorry," L stumbled out.

Light thanked him with a curt nod. "They... they have him in the hospital," he said slowly, "they found him just in time, but it was a close call."

So he was alive. Well, that was a relief. L trailed his feet down the bar stool, blindly searched for his sneakers. Kira or no Kira, Light and his family didn't deserve this. He grabbed his phone from his jeans pocket and flipped it open, speed dialling Watari.

Light frowned when he saw L put the phone to his ear. "What are you doing?"

Wasn't it obvious? "Calling a cab," L said in a dead tone. "We're going to the hospital."

Light shook his head and waved his hands about. "You don't have to do that."

L frowned. "I really don't mind," he said with the phone still pressed to his cheek.

"It's... it's okay," Light spoke fast, "I'll go alone, the hospital is only two subway stops from here."

L pressed the End Call button without taking his eyes off Light. "You don't have to wait for a subway, I can get you there in less than five minutes. Your dad is in Tokyo Adventist Hospital, isn't he?" That was the only hospital in a three mile radius still open at this hour.

Light nodded. "Yeah, but... it's not like I can do anything for him now," his arms dropped to his sides in defeat. "His condition has stabilized, it's no longer critical. They have him on bed rest and he can't receive any visitors. Mom and Sayu are there, so it's not like I'm in a hurry. I think I'll drop by the grocery store and get them something. Mom hasn't had a bite to eat since noon..."

"If you're sure," L gripped his phone tighter, "I can still call a cab for you."

Light tried to smile, but it came out as a tired grimace. "Thank you Hideki, it's okay, really," he sighed, "think I just need to clear my head..."

L looked over at the coat rack, located Light's trench coat, schoolbag and racket bag, then turned back to his friend. "I'll... tell Mitch you're leaving early."

Light pursed his lip in thanks. Together they stood and walked to the door, where Light put on his coat in a daze. L handed him his bags.

"Thank you Hideki," Light repeated, looking deep into L's eyes like he had so much more to say. But all L got out of him was, "See you Monday," and he was out the door.

***

Author's Note:

Thank you very much LadySeshiiria, ForeverBlackened, and N64King for helping me edit this chapter! ^_^

Fun fact: there's a Death Note canon character who goes by the codename 'John McEnroe' ― he's a middle aged FBI officer and a member of Near's SPK. However, the starting quote of this chapter comes from the real-life John McEnroe, a famous American tennis player.

Light's ringtone is Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott's song 'Hero'.

Oh yeah and I couldn't resist adding Haruhi Suzumiya to this... XD she's just too perfect for the role of "Tokyo U's super bitch" ― just think about it, Haruhi had pretty good grades at school, so it's thinkable she'd enter Tokyo U... So this is an older Haruhi Suzumiya, who took a tennis class in college.

(Both the Death Note manga and the Haruhi Suzumiya light novels were first published in 2003, in the novels Haruhi is a high school student, just like Light, making Light and Haruhi around the same age.) ^_^ If you're annoyed by the appearance of Haruhi Suzumiya in this chapter, no worries ― she won't reappear in later chapters. (I just needed a one-time character to use for only one chapter, and figured it was easier to use Haruhi than create a new OC.) ^^ Then I thought what the heck and added Itsuki Koizumi in there just for fun.

I don't think the nudity in this chapter warrants a Mature Rating, since so many people use communal showers when going to the gym, and it's not described here in a sexual manner... not in this chapter, at least. As a fair warning, the rating will go up in Chapter 9, so that's something to look forward to, I guess. :-)

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published December 6, 2018