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Kodama

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Only a handful of people had known where L was buried. Soichiro, Matsuda, Aizawa, and Mogi had all huddled under black umbrellas as the plain pine coffin had been lowered into the muddy hole. Of course, Light had been there too, years ago, standing numbly off to the side beneath the dead cherry tree. No one was supposed to know that L was dead-- not the Tokyo police or the wider world-- so it was all done with as little fanfare as possible. Quietly. Maybe that’s how L would have wanted it anyway, Light had remembered thinking. A plain headstone with an inscribed alias was better than an unmarked grave, although no one would come to mourn the detective. 

 

Light had considered visiting the grave a few times over the years, pulled there by an unspeakable yearning to be in the man’s proximity again. At first, he’d interpreted it as wanting to relive his triumph over ‘the world’s greatest detective,’ but as time went on, Light recognized the real emotion. He missed L terribly and everything, all his triumphs and his progress towards his perfect world, seemed too easy without someone pushing back, someone challenging him. Without L.

 

It was that boredom that finally roused him from restless sleep six years later, pulled him from the soulless apartment he shared with Misa as if by a string through the alleyways. The moon was high in the starry sky when he found himself standing under the same gnarled cherry tree beside L’s grave. He kept a respectful distance, knowing he didn’t really belong here, and yet, he felt peaceful. 

 

“Since when did ya take up sleepwalkin’?” Ryuk settled into one of the twisted branches like an oversized vulture. “Huh…” He looked around, yellow eyes glowing in the moonlight. “I remember this place. It was raining when--”

 

“Stop.” Light’s gaze darted up to Ryuk momentarily, not wanting the verbal reminder of that day. “I just came out here to think, ok? Misa barely lets me have a moment alone these days.”

 

“Thinkin…” Ryuk chuckled quietly as he preened his feathers with his claws. “More like nervous.” When Light stayed silent he turned his attention to the tree-- it gave him an odd feeling. Like it’s empty, a void. “What’s with this big rope on the tree anyway?” He pointed a long claw to a very thick rope circling the truck.

 

“Kodama tree.” Light leaned back against the tree and slid down to the grass. “Just a silly legend that some really ancient trees have spirits called kodama living within them. Whoever harms the tree or cuts it down is supposedly cursed, so the rope is a warning not to bother it.”

 

“Huh. Looks dead already though.” Ryuk poked his head into the tree, but all he saw was dried up old wood and bugs.

 

Light snorted, watching Ryuk’s curiosity. “See any spirits?” He’d never believed in that old fable, and the state of the tree itself was testament enough that there was nothing alive about it.

 

“Nope.” Ryuk pulled his head back, making a face. “Eh, but ya never know. There’s a lot of things beyond the human world. Even I don’t know the half of it.”

 

“And the half you do know, you can’t be bothered to share.” Light smiled up at the shinigami sprawled out on the branch and said fondly, “You really are useless, huh…” He sighed as he stared at L’s gravestone and pulled his jacket closer against the chill of late winter.

 

----

 

L had never been religious, never believed in any sort of afterlife. He knew all of the Christian symbols and stories, of course, but they had never held any sway over his emotions or actions, and he had never bothered to learn about any other culture’s practices. As far as he had been concerned in life, once you were dead, that was it. So finding himself coming to awareness in a desolate, colorless landscape had been the only thing to truly shock him after the pain of dying. He quickly learned that the afterlife… was utterly boring. Nothing ever happened, nothing ever changed. The only thing that made him feel anything at all was watching the living, and even observing everyone’s lives became like nothing more than some aimless soap opera after a while.

 

In his boredom, L’s curiosity naturally drew him back to Light Yagami and his exploits. To Kira. Of course his suspicions had been correct, and watching Light play everyone like a grand puppetmaster through the subsequent years was as agonizingly infuriating as it was impressive. L constantly found himself tamping down that admiration every time it began to stir, reminding himself time and again that no, he shouldn’t feel admiration for the man that had had him killed, determinedly feeding the flames of his bitter anger and barely having to force the smug satisfaction he felt as he watched the Kira conflict beginning to draw to a close.

 

L was not prepared to be shocked by anything Light did, and watching the young god steal off into the night didn’t phase him, as Light had made it something of a habit to leave Misa alone. Seeing Light’s destination this time… made him sit up and take careful notice. No-one had ever visited his grave before. He had thought he had been forgotten. The bitter spirit watched the exchange between Light and the shinigami with intense focus, interested in Light’s kodama tale. Heh. He knows death gods exist, considers himself a god of sorts, and yet tree spirits are a silly legend? Snorting, he whispered to himself, “Light Yagami, you are a strange man.” Still… it was obvious that Light was only indulging Ryuk’s curiosity, but the shinigami rarely asked about mundane curiosities.

 

---

 

It wasn’t until Light nearly fell asleep under the tree that he remembered he needed to get back home before Misa noticed him missing. He stood up hurriedly and brushed the leaves from his suit, glancing down at his watch. “Shit, I’ve been here over an hour.” At least no one else had come here or noticed him; from the looks of the straggly plot, no one much came here at all. 

 

“Pfft. Coulda just rented a room if you wanted to be alone.” Ryuk floated behind Light as they left the graveyard. “You just wanted to be with him, didn’t ya? You miss him.”

 

Light didn’t say anything, only quickened his pace and shot Ryuk a glare.

 

Ryuk nodded, knowing he’d hit on it. “Don’t worry, I won’t say anything to Misa.”

 

Light stuck his hands in his pockets and turned into an alley, a shortcut home. He murmured, “You better not.”

 

“We going there again? I kinda liked it. A little spooky, heh.” Ryuk would bring some apples next time if so. 

 

“Maybe.” Light shrugged, but the answer was yes .

 

-----

 

L’s curiosity didn’t wane the entire time Light and Ryuk stayed silently in the graveyard, coming to full alertness again when the pair finally left. In the years he had been observing them, he had learned all of (or at least most of) the ins and outs of their unspoken language, and the revelation that Light-- that Kira-- actually missed him hit hard, left him reeling for the first time in… With a start, L realized that the only time he’d ever come close to being this shocked had been discovering shinigami existed. He watched them until they had returned to Light’s apartment before turning his attention back to the graveyard. Light… misses me. Before he could tamp down the familiar stirrings of longing he had always tried to deny, they swirled through him, bright and hopeful and almost enough to bring tears to his eyes, if he could have cried. He forced the emotions dormant again, but the damage had been done. He knew Light would be back to visit his grave, just as he’d always known exactly why he had tried so hard to hate Light. Because I’ve never truly hated him.

 

The decision was easy. L had no desire to watch anyone else. Before the sun rose again in the human world, he settled into the cool, dark hollow of the dead kodama tree to wait for Light’s return. It was surprisingly peaceful.

 

----

 

It was a couple of weeks before Light found a quiet opportunity to slip away to the graveyard again, and he’d barely walked through the stone gate before he stopped in his tracks. The old kodama tree--which had been dead for seven years-- was budding and every branch was dotted with young leaves.

 

Light looked around to make sure they were alone before saying quietly to Ryuk, “Didn’t you say that tree was dead last time we were here?” 

 

“Uhhhh…that’s weird.” Ryuk scratched his head because he did remember both saying and thinking that. “Nothing but bugs and rot in there before.” 

 

“Go check it out. I’ll be a moment.” Light wandered over to L’s grave and crouched down in front of it before pulling out a cloth and scrubbing the grime and spiderwebs away.

 

Ryuk floated closer to the tree and stuck his head inside again to take a looksee. “Whoa…” Something had certainly changed-- the bugs and rot were gone and now there was sparkling amber sap coursing through the veins of the tree. Maybe that old tale about the kodama was true? He’d heard stranger things in his immortal life. “Pssst. Hey, any tree spirits in here?”

 

L roused himself from his not-quite-slumber, blinking down from the branches where he had taken to resting and scowling. Of course Ryuk has to poke his nose in. He descended back into the trunk and settled in front of Ryuk, crossing his arms in front of him and grousing, “It’s impolite to barge into someone’s home without permission, shinigami. Piss off.

 

“Whaaa?” Ryuk startled, pulling his head back slightly before cackling. “Hyuk hyuk hyuk. If it ain’t the grouchy detective. Guess Mu didn’t suit ya?”

 

Bristling, L’s expression darkened, and he looked away, his gaze landing on Light. What is he doing… His eyes widened in surprise, a pang of gratitude shooting through him. Belatedly, he said, “No… No, it didn’t suit me at all.” He looked sharply back at Ryuk. “You aren’t going to tell him I’m here. Got it?”

 

“Hmmmm.” Ryuk looked back over at Light, who still had his back turned, then stuck his head back in the tree. “Guess it serves him right not knowin’, probably wouldn’t believe me anyway. Ok.” Plus, it would be entertaining to watch this odd situation play out with Light not knowing L was hearing and seeing him. He shushed and settled into the branches when Light walked over and sat beneath the tree, resting his back to the trunk. “Doin’ some tidying up, hyuk?”

 

“I suppose.” Light pulled an apple from his bag and tossed it up into the tree for Ryuk. “It was bothering me. Why doesn’t anybody clean things up around here?”

 

“I dunno.” Ryuk munched the apple, smirking down at L still hiding. “What does it matter? Everybody here’s dead anyway.”

 

Light frowned slightly, but he couldn’t dispute it. “So is the tree alive or what?”

 

“Seems so. Maybe the kodama came back, heh.” Ryuk stuck his tongue out at L and waggled it, cackling at the glare the detective sent his way.

 

“Pfft. Or maybe you were just wrong before.” Light laughed quietly, but he was pleased that something was alive here, even a tree. “Seems weird for a cherry tree to be budding in winter.” That wasn’t all that felt odd about the tree. Light couldn’t put his finger on it but...it was like he was being watched by someone other than Ryuk; the eerie feeling made him shiver. I never believed in ghosts. “But I guess if shinigami exist it's not outside the realm of possibility.” He paused and gazed up at Ryuk, “Can you see one? A kodama, I mean?”

 

Ryuk was quiet a moment and then shrugged. “Eh, I dunno.” He’d keep his word to the dead detective.

 

Light sighed at Ryuk’s obtuseness, but then it was rare he ever got a straight answer from the shinigami. “Hope it’s not mad I’m here, if there is one. I don’t feel like being cursed by two spectral annoyances.”

 

L snorted at that and returned to settle in the branches beside Ryuk, ignoring the shinigami as he muttered under his breath, “You’ve still got a ways to go before I’m not angry anymore, Light.” He hoped Light couldn’t see him; he wasn’t ready to ‘talk’ to him yet.

 

“Eh, he can’t hear ya.” Ryuk downed the rest of his apple, then grimaced when he realized he said that out loud.

 

“Who, the kodama?” Light grinned, an interested look on his face. “So there is one?”

 

“Uhhhh…” Ryuk snickered, looking between L and Light on the ground. “I forgot I got something to do. See ya later.” He flapped away quickly over Light’s amused protests, heading towards a group of kites flying in the distance.

 

L watched Ryuk disappear, shaking his head and refocusing his gaze on Light, settling into a comfortable crouch in the higher branches. At least he didn’t give me away. “Why are you here, Light?” he whispered softly.

 

Light heard no voices, but the sound of the wind whistling through the tree’s new leaves was soothing. It didn’t feel like the tree or its spirit was angry, so maybe it was alright to stay. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by magic in the world anymore. Not after what I’ve…” He trailed off with a sigh, picking up a stick and poking at the leaf litter on the ground. “Listen to me, talking to myself.” He laughed quietly, bitterly. “Or maybe you’re listening to me, kodama? Do tree spirits usually take up residence in graveyards? Are you one of the dead here or did you lose someone too?” Lose someone . Light wouldn’t have described it that way years ago, but it had taken time and honesty to realize that’s what it was. He poked at the ground again, digging a little hole in the soft, rich dirt. “Everything’s boring without him.”

 

L stayed silent as Light spoke, letting those words sink into him and stir up the emotions he always tried to suppress. Elation mixed with stinging resentment and incredulity, and he stared down at the top of Light’s head through narrowed eyes. Lose me? That implies you had no control over the situation. The familiar anger flared, and he could feel himself quivering at the audacity. “If it’s so boring without me, then why did you kill me?” he said grouchily, reaching up on impulse to shake one of the branches above him and laughing in petty satisfaction when the old bird’s nest was knocked loose, falling square on Light’s head. How’s THAT for boring?

 

“Ow!!” Light scrambled back in wide-eyed surprise when something bonked him on the head, and he looked around for the culprit. “Ryuk!!” But the shinigami wasn’t up in the tree and was nowhere to be seen. His heart was hammering as he gazed at the tree which seemed more menacing than before. A large bird’s nest made of sticks had broken apart on the ground (but mostly on Light’s head), but the wind had been still. That is...very strange. He stood up slowly and backed away from the tree, wondering if the kodama wasn’t so friendly after all. Or maybe he’d hit a sore spot somehow. “What did I say?” He gave it a puzzled look over his shoulder as he grabbed his bag and headed for the gate, still unable to shake the feeling he was being watched.

 

L’s smile disappeared as soon as Light began to leave, realizing his impulsive pettiness might drive the man away, make Light think twice about returning. No, that isn’t what I wanted, he thought, dropping back down onto the lowest branch and calling in a panic, “Light, come back.” But even as he spoke, he knew it was futile, and he watched miserably as Light vanished from sight. Retreating back into the tree, he curled around himself, trying desperately to hold onto the hope that he hadn’t ruined things. I miss you too, Light. I’m so lonely, please come back… 

 

---

 

Light hadn’t planned on ever going back to that graveyard, not after what had happened, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it either. The death of his father had sent him into a spiral of depression that he couldn’t show to anyone-- not the team, not Misa, not even to himself. There was no time to mourn and gods didn’t feel sorrow for the sacrifices needed for creation; he hadn’t allowed himself to mourn anyone out of fear that it would break his resolve. Now, there were too many strings tied to his fingers that only he could pull, too many people relying on him to continue his path of righteous judgment and win. But when he was alone, the sadness settled on his shoulders and he longed to sit under the cherry tree where he’d found solace before. Maybe if he brought a peace offering to the kodama it would tolerate him this time. Silly that I’m buying into this fable, but... what if?

 

He sent Ryuk off to Mikami before mustering up the courage to go back to the graveyard, slipping out at night while Misa was sleeping. Light needed to go alone this time, mostly because he didn’t want the shinigami cackling at him if he was assaulted with bird nests again. And I don’t want him to see me weak. He brought with him an offering of his mother’s mochi and a box of sugar cubes he’d taken from the taskforce kitchen. No one but Ryuzaki had ever used them but Light...kept buying them anyway. There were boxes and boxes of them stacked. Just in case

 

Light approached the tree slowly and marveled that it was in full bloom. Only 2 weeks had passed since his last visit but the tree was afire with pink sakura, and the petals drifted on the wind to dust the surrounding headstones. It was beautiful in the moonlight and surprisingly warm. There’s truly magic here. “Hello again.” He knelt beneath the tree and gave it a cautious look before pulling out the offering of sweets. “I guess I...angered you last time. Sorry about that.” Light opened the box and dumped all the sugar cubes and mochi into a little root hollow in the tree and then sat down against its trunk. The desire to unburden his heart was strong but he didn’t want to offend the tree again. He’d thought a lot about what it was exactly that had angered the tree and kept circling around to the same disturbing idea. It’s L, and he’s angry at me. 

 

Hearing Light’s voice again caught L’s attention, and sent a shock of elation through him so strong that, for a moment, he thought he would vibrate apart. He came back! He watched Light with wide eyes, warmth and affection suffusing him at the sight of the peace offering, and though a part of him still reflexively tried to dismiss those feelings, he was so grateful to have one more chance to see Light that he couldn’t help but smile. It’s been so long since I’ve had any sweets… I wonder? Since it was an offering, by the laws of the spirit world he just might be able to take it.

 

L emerged from the tree, reaching eagerly to pluck up a sugar cube, dropping it into his mouth with an absolutely delighted sound of surprise and pleasure. “Oh damn.” The rest of the treats rapidly disappeared from the little hollow with zero regard for being discrete. “Never thought I would ever taste anything sweet again, thank you, Light.” With a happy sigh, he settled into the lowermost branches to study Light curiously, his smile fading a little at seeing how serious Light looked. “What’s wrong?” he murmured.

 

“I don’t blame you for being mad, you know. I know I’d have been furious.” Light smiled to himself, reaching up to touch the blossoms on a low-hanging branch. Nothing had fallen on him yet so he guessed the offering had been well-received. He looked into the little hollow but everything was gone, and he gaped at it before reaching inside to check. Maybe it really was L in there. The ominous feeling from before was absent now, too, and it made him braver to speak his mind. “Just so you know, I wish it could have been different. That I could have been…” He let his hand fall back into his lap from where he’d been toying with the flowers again, wondering if there was logically anything he would have done differently. Not unless we could have reached each other. “You wanted me dead, too. I didn’t have any other choice.” He said quieter, “But still, I regret it.”

 

L stared down at Light in amazement; he hadn’t been addressed directly by name, but it was obvious Light was talking to him specifically and for a moment, he felt a flash of anger for the absent shinigami. So much for not telling Light about me, huh? But the feeling fizzled almost instantly, because… well, he hadn’t exactly been subtle, had he? And of course, he’d had ample time to think about everything in the past few weeks, to finally be honest with himself. Sighing softly, he said, “We both know things always would have ended the way they did, Light. We’re both too stubborn.” I never could have let you in before, not the way I wanted to. That’s what I regret. After a moment of hesitation, he reached out to brush the flowers on the surrounding branches loose, letting them float down around Light in a gentle rain of pink. It was the only thing he could think to do to show Light that he understood.

 

Light looked up when the petals started falling around him, and he held out a hand to catch some of them. He smiled even as his eyes filled with tears, making the world seem unfocused and hazy. “At least it wasn’t a birdnest this time. Heh, not that I didn’t deserve that.” He laughed quietly and wiped his eyes, feeling a strange sense of relief despite all the danger that lay ahead of him as soon as he left this place. I think it’s alright to stay a little longer. “Does this mean you forgive me, L?” Even if he was just being ridiculous, talking to a tree and nothing more, it felt incredible to finally speak that question. 

 

Tears? L laughed haltingly, whispering, “You definitely deserved worse.” He didn’t really feel that way, though, not anymore, and he could tell that Light was still trying to be strong. Dropping down to crouch on the ground beside Light, L pressed his fingers gently over Light’s heart, voice filled with conviction despite how futile it was to say anything. “Of course I forgive you, Light.” 

 

Light felt a sudden chill and shivered as the wind blew and sent more petals floating through the air, falling around but not through the space directly beside him. Little piles were forming where they logically shouldn’t-- on what Light would have said were crouching knees, if he didn’t know better. 

 

L wondered if Light would even feel his touch, surprising himself when he spoke again. “I’ve missed you dearly. I’m sorry… I never treated you as anything more than a rival.” A suspect. His voice lowered to a hush, “I’m sorry I could never admit how I truly felt for you.”

 

Light let out a shuddering breath and reached out to touch the emptiness beside him, but his hand just passed right through it, of course, and knocked the suspended blossoms to the ground. “I...must have been seeing things.” 

 

L looked down with wide eyes as Light’s hand passed right through him, shivering at the queer sensation and scrambling back to settle down a short distance away. That… was unexpected. He watched Light with wide eyes, wishing that their interaction wasn’t so one-sided, that Light could hear him or see him. It’s not fair.

 

Light blinked and watched the wind once more, but everything seemed normal again. Whatever normal is now. He stayed silent a while before saying, “I hope Ryuk is wrong about Mu and kodama really do exist.” He stood up and placed a hand against the gnarled tree, almost feeling the life thrumming there. “That souls could live in trees.” That you’re in there. 

 

L slowly stood, stepping up beside Light to study the tree. How IS it possible I’m able to reside here? His scrutiny shifted to Light before he said quietly, “I don’t know about kodama, but human souls certainly exist. I exist.” He placed his hand over Light’s, feeling an aching sense of urgency at Light’s words. “Spending time with you, Light, when I was alive, even now--  it’s the happiest I’ve ever been.” Please come back to me. Don’t let this be the last time I ever see you. Don’t go to Mu.”

 

Light needed to go home and knew he’d be missed if he didn’t leave soon; tomorrow was an important day but being here had helped calm his fears. “I’ll come back soon, but if I don’t…” He wasn’t ready to be a martyr, although Light had accepted long ago that would be his eventual fate. “I wonder if this tree could hold two souls.”

 

L smiled, wondering if Light had heard him somehow. If you hear anything, please hear this. “Yes, Light.” He stepped closer, pressing a soft kiss to the side of Light’s mouth, the yearning he felt in every inch of his being stirring the branches above them again and making petals float down around them. He reluctantly pulled back, looking at the tree-- his tree, now-- and said, “I’ll make room for you.”