L wouldn't stop staring at him. It wasn't so much the staring in and of itself as much as it was the secretiveness with which L was doing it.
Light would be punching data into the program he had written, trying desperately to pinpoint a pattern in the temporal distribution of Kira's murders, and then he would see it: L, no longer clicking or scrolling or typing, instead eating little bear-shaped cookies at an absently mechanical pace, straining to maximize his peripheral vision, concentrating so intently on this visual task that he didn't even notice when his fingertips eventually met an empty box.
It was only when Light was so distracted that he entered a column of data incorrectly for the third time that he snapped. A sigh, brisk and cold. A slow kneading at the bridge of his nose. Quickly and quietly, "Ryuzaki, do you need something?"
The typing started up again before Light had even gotten all the way through the question. "No." His voice was a slow, careful monotone. "Though I must ask… Yagami-kun, have you recently experienced a craving to eat ice, dirt, or paper?"
Light had certainly recently experienced a craving to heave L over his shoulders and throw him out the nearest window, handcuffs and all. Instead, he settled for rubbing hard at his temples and closing his eyes. Staring at a computer screen for twenty hours a day was starting to get to him. He fortunately had twenty-ten vision, so he had acuity to spare, but he very much wasn't pleased with the headaches.
"Should I interpret your silence as an ashamed affirmative? Yagami-kun, you have nothing to be—"
"No, Ryuzaki. You should interpret my silence as a no."
Part of the reason L could get away with forcing Light to stay up so obscenely late was that sleeping had become—well, taxing, to say the least. Sometimes Light wondered whether he was getting any genuine rest at all, or whether his nights had become a time-consuming mockery that only served to place Kira's capture another few hours away.
"Good night, Ryuzaki," Light said, turning out the lamp on his bedside table. This left the only light in the room as the glaring fluorescence of L's laptop. L was huddled close to the screen, as if it were a fire, expressionlessly skimming some unknown paper. "Are you getting any sleep tonight?"
L looked hard at Light, frowning through the sheer force of his gaze, and the sight of Light tucked under the covers in his pajamas seemed to answer the question. "No," he said. His gaze went back to the screen, flicking back and forth rapidly, eyes still hard. The laptop screen was definitively turned so that Light couldn't see a thing. L bit at his thumb, viciously. Something was wrong.
But Light was in no mood to ask. "Suit yourself." He yanked the covers over his shoulders and closed his eyes and reprimanded his thudding heart and ordered himself to sleep well and soundly. He was a full-grown man. He was leading the most important criminal investigation the world had ever seen. He had scored perfectly on his university entrance exam. He was not about to be driven out of his mind by a handful of bad dreams.
Unfortunately, none of this mattered the moment he fell asleep.
Nothing happened in the dreams, which made them all the worse. It always began with a creature, winged and skeletal and grinning, approaching. Or, rather, he was approaching the creature, but he could do nothing to stop himself. As he approached, the creature became enormous, massive as a skyscraper, and its grinning maw became a silent scream into which he entered.
The creature didn't eat him. It wasn't anything nearly so straightforward. In fact, he walked into the scream and came right out the other side. But the creature had changed him, and the world into which he exited was different every time, but always it was sick.
This time, there was a small dog, sitting on a branch in a tree, and its head swelled up, like a balloon filling with sand, until the neck snapped under the tremendous weight and the engorged head fell off. A new one grew in its place. Light walked right past it.
There was a man climbing a ladder onto a rooftop, but he was nothing but a ribcage and fleshy arms. His heart was pumping blood and it was spilling out through the ribs and falling to splatter on the ground. When the heart had exhausted its supply, the man fell, and splattered. Light realized that he was running.
He ran faster, and the sickness spread even faster. Spiders with arms and teeth and briefcases boarded buses that were driven by caterpillars with beaks and toes. The sun was actually a face that was on fire, thrashing and grimacing. A dandelion was blown to pieces in the wind, and every seed carried with it an enormous virus, glycoproteins stretching out like fingers that gripped wrought iron benches and bare shoulders and sidewalk cracks to propel the seed farther along. Light was sprinting, flying, and the world was pressing in on him: eyes sprouting on violins with horns curling out of them, umbrellas lifting headless beasts that were swept off course by sudden eruptions of thorny vines, steamed windows through which could be seen the shadows of children drinking through proboscides. Light could hear the wind in his ears, rushing, and then heaving, and then—laughing. But it wasn't the wind laughing because it was Light laughing, and with every burst his feet lifted higher off the ground until he burst through the atmosphere and—
The room was so cool and still and silent that it failed to feel real. With violently trembling hands, he turned on his lamp. The light launched an acid-tipped arrow between his eyes, splitting his skull. He clutched at his head to hold it together to no avail. "Holy fucking shit."
L was awake. Of course he was awake. Light groaned through the pain and the frustration.
Silence, and then a halting "Do you need…a glass of water?"
"I need a minute." Forgetting about the chain, Light tried to get out of bed, was jerked back, and fell unelegantly to the ground.
"Oof," L grunted, pulled halfway across the bed.
Light could see his heart thudding through his shirt. He rubbed at his chest with his free hand. His pajamas were soaked through with sweat, and he was freezing.
L could be heard whispering his way through the sheets and thudding softly down to the carpet. He landed next to Light in a crouch, hugging his knees to his chest. Solemnly, he reached out and pressed one cool hand to Light's forehead. Light decided to permit this for ten counts, and, fortunately for the both of them, L pulled away after only seven. "You need a warm glass of milk," he diagnosed. "Watari always gives me that." He stood smoothly, grabbed both of Light's hands, and heaved him to his feet. L's handcuffed hand continued to hold onto Light's handcuffed hand, the chain trailing loosely between them, until they had made it to the hallway and L was apparently satisfied that Light was going to follow without protesting or swearing or falling over.
Light was fortunately distracted from the memory of his nightmare by the nagging question of whether Watari continued to bring L warm glasses of milk on a regular basis.
In the kitchen, with a finely painted mug spinning slowly in the whirring microwave, Light was leaning against the island and rubbing at his temples. L was perched on the opposite counter, staring at him, not being secretive about it this time. "Bad dream?"
Light snorted. "Something like that."
A long pause, and then: "Did you see how you killed them?"
Immediately, like a hidden reflex: "Fuck you."
L gave a little peeved frown. "Language, Light-kun. This isn't like you." He turned and opened the microwave just as it beeped, cutting it off mid-alarm. "Your warm glass of milk is ready," L said, presenting it to Light like a gift.
"Thanks." Light took a little sip. It was fine, he supposed. L continued to stare at him expectantly, so he repeated, "Really, thanks."
As apologetically as he was capable of, L said, "Twenty-three percent."
Light set the mug down on the very edge of the island, where it teetered for a split second before crashing to the ground. The mug shattered, and the milk was a steaming deluge. Light lifted a mild eyebrow and said, "Oops."
Light had been reading the same sentence for the past ten minutes. It wasn't that he was daydreaming. He was actively reading the same sentence for ten minutes straight without being able to understand how the words fit together. It was even a sentence in Japanese, so there was no language barrier. It was a slightly more philosophical article, proposing to academia a postmodern response to the question of the morality of Kira's means and ends, but nothing too difficult. And yet—
"As noted before," the author continued, in the same voice as the rest of the article, "for many postmodern writers several of these lines of challenge are pursued simultaneously—indeed, they can be mutually supporting."
It went in through Light's eyes and apparently seeped out the back of his skull and dissipated into the air.
Light focused, planting his elbows on the desk, sinking his head into this hands, and staring hard. He paid close attention to each character, making sure he was reading them all correctly. "A-s-n-o-t-e-d-b-e-f-o-r-e-f-o-r-m-a-n-y-p-o-s-t-m -o-d-e-r-n-w-r-i…" Nothing was wrong. The spelling was impeccable. The grammar was flawless. But the words made no sense strung together.
He reread the previous paragraph. It was clear enough. He fully understood that it was an attack on the perspective that rationality as a concept was untenable. But this sentence… Why was his mind failing him? The letters swam, and Light's fingers sunk deeper into his hair.
"Ryuzaki," Light groaned, closing his eyes, hoping half-heartedly that the darkness would soothe the pain radiating behind his brows. "I need more coffee."
The chain clinked amenably. "Of course, Yagami-kun."
Perhaps the ease with which L agreed should have put Light on edge, but he was just happy to get his caffeine. Most likely L would take advantage of the trip to rifle through the cupboards for a refill on snacks. Sure enough, they left the kitchen with Light holding a fresh cup of black coffee and L clutching several sleeves of cookies to his chest.
L dumped them on the desk and, before Light could sit back down, requested, "I would like to make a trip to the washroom."
Light shrugged, holding the cup close to his nose, breathing in the rich roast of the coffee. "Let's go."
All business was as usual, with Light waiting outside the stall, sipping his coffee and humming to himself to distract himself from the fact that L was pissing a few feet away from him.
While still in the stall, L called, "Yagami-kun?"
Light's humming cut off and was replaced by a long sigh. "Yes?"
"I cannot help but notice that your recent loss of appetite has impacted the frequency of your bowel movements."
Light almost lost hold of his coffee. "Ryuzaki," he managed through gritted teeth, "I refuse to have this conversation with you, now or ever."
"I am concerned about your health." The toilet flushed and L emerged, actually looking a bit worried indeed. "I would not want you to fall ill."
Light snorted. "Of course, because that would hinder our progress in the case." Not that they were making much progress as it was. "Let me guess. My likelihood of being Kira would shoot up to twenty-nine percent if I were to catch a cold?"
"No." Light could see L frowning in the mirror. "I simply would not want you to fall ill."
Light wasn't sure how the conversation had started, but he was sure that he wasn't interested in it coming to an end anytime soon.
"Hamlet clearly had some kind of psychological or neurological condition that prevented him from rationally approaching the situation that he discovered upon his return home. How else can you reconcile his tremendous intellect with the clumsiness with which he goes about attempting to murder his uncle?"
"First off, you can't go about trying to diagnose literary figures created before the advent of modern medicine, especially if your diagnosis is only one that has appeared in the past century. Second—"
"Do not treat this claim like it is some Oedipus complex nonsense. The diagnosis is not required to be based on Freudian psychology or even to be complex. For instance, a simple case of depression exacerbated by extremely troubling family circumstances can be supported through an appeal to Hamlet's incredibly over-quoted soliloquy." L continued meeting Light's gaze evenly as he quoted, in English, "'To die; to sleep; no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd.' Listen to the precision of the language. ''Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd,' Shakespeare tells us. He has thought about this before, and it is seeping into his characterization."
Daringly, oh so daringly, dipping-into-ad-hominem daringly, Light commented, "It sounds like you have thought about this before."
L's hunched shoulders lifted, like a defense, like one half of a shrug, and he said, "Does that surprise you?"
Light's gaze touched on the darkness under L's eyes, on the hollow of his collarbone, on the torn skin at the base of his thumbnail, on his twisting bare toes, and he shook his head once. "No, I suppose it doesn't."
"Have you?" L asked.
It was a reflex. "Of course not."
L smiled, sadly. "'For who would bear the law's delay, the insolence of office and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes, when he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin?'"
Light was uncomfortable. He remembered his headache and rubbed briefly at the bridge of his nose. "You're the one who has the whole soliloquy memorized."
L shrugged, a full shrug, exaggerated and obliging. "You're the one who understands exactly what I'm quoting."
"I'm not suicidal," Light snapped.
"I'm sitting here with you, so what does that make me?" Like a secret, L flashed two fingers and then four.
It was one thing for L to be continually suspicious that Light was Kira and quietly suffering from depression, but it was quite another upon L's revelation that these two unfortunate facts were working in tandem.
Light had been putting on a good face for the task force, considering seriously L's suggestions and being supportive of his confessed lack of motivation, but this was the final straw.
"I'm just not feeling it," L drawled, the slow clumsiness of his speech echoing the childishness with which he pulled at his lower lip. "Why even bother?"
Impossible. Surely L wasn't suggesting what Light thought he was suggesting, that the hundred days that Light had been part of the investigation had been for nothing, that the fifty-three days of his solitary confinement had been for nothing, that the past ten days of the complete opposite of solitary confinement had been for nothing. Absolutely impossible.
"Trying hard to go after him," L continued droopily, "just puts us in danger,"
Of course. L had suggested the other day that he didn't want Light getting sick, but he had denied that it had anything to do with Light's probability of being Kira. L seemed to be suggesting the same thing now, but he was dragging his own wellbeing into the equation. If Light chose to continue the investigation and something happened to L, he could be accused of sabotage and incriminated as Kira. But if Light chose to discontinue the investigation, he could be accused of a more obvious kind of sabotage and again incriminated as Kira. It was a trap.
"Don't you agree?" L glanced at Light, ever so slightly, and his eyes were sharp and focused.
L reached for a cup of tea, his movements slow and exaggerated. This was not only a trap, but a show. "I've thought I was going to die so many times already," L sighed, really playing it up. Light could just imagine Matsuda making irritating little sympathetic noises. Alright. If L wanted a show, Light would give him a show.
"Ryuzaki," he said, quite calmly, standing up.
L turned to look at him, with a mild sort of curiosity, as if at a wild animal through a very dependable pane of glass, and that was all Light needed to work up the anger to actually pull back his fist and slam it into L's face.
The impact was tremendous, and it filled Light with a sick sort of pleasure. Misa was screaming and the coffee table with its plates of sweets had been overturned and L's legs were flying through the air, knocking over a plant and a picture frame before slamming into the opposite wall.
Pulling himself up off the ground, L looked genuinely stunned. "Ouch," he said, dully.
"Don't be ridiculous," Light snapped, loud and clear, so the microphones would have no trouble picking it up. "Just because I'm not the true Kira, just because you were wrong, you want to give up? You're going to sulk like a child?" If the investigation were to be compromised, there would be no mistake about who was to blame.
L rubbed at his injured face, recalculating. "I may have worded it poorly." He was backtracking, cutting away from the childish language. "But I am saying that continuing this is not going to get us anywhere, so perhaps we should stop."
Light let his anger show itself on his face as frustrated disbelief. "What are you talking about? Unless we chase him, there's no way we'll catch Kira! Who's the one who swore to send Kira to his execution?" He allowed himself a pause, as if finally realizing what L was suggesting, and then grabbed L by the front of his shirt. L didn't put up a hint of resistance. "The police, the FBI agents, TV announcers—how many innocent people do you think have been victimized? You're the one who put Misa and me in confinement!"
The hem of L's shirt covered his mouth and the dark fringe of his bangs covered his eyes, so Light did not see the signs that L would finish "I understand that, but whatever the reason…" with a swift kick in the face.
"One for one!"
"It is not that my reasoning was wrong," L was now saying, but his voice was a bit muffled by the ringing in Light's ears. "It is the fact that the case cannot be solved simply with Yagami Light as Kira and Amane Misa as the second Kira." Light couldn't figure out where his limbs were in space, let alone come up with a response in time. L was already moving on. "So I am a little disappointed. I am only human. Is that not allowed?"
"No," Light answered, nonsensically, he soon realized. "It's not," he powered on, trying desperately to make a coherent argument out of it. "The way you talk, it's like you won't be satisfied unless I'm Kira."
"Not satisfied unless you're Kira…?" Something had shifted in L's voice, his curiosity dipping inwards, and Light knew that he had been thrown off his game. "Yes, that may be true…." His voice was wandering and soft, slow and distracted, not directed at their audience anymore. Light took the opportunity to get his feet back under him, to steady himself, to force his proprioception to cooperate with his other senses. "I have just realized something…" He was rising, eyes trained on Light, just as Light rose as well. Whatever he had realized was going to be inflammatory, and he was preparing himself for a violent response. "I wanted you to be Kira."
And it wasn't even for show. Bastard.
The blow landed flat against the front of L's face, and L braced himself valiantly against it. "One for one," he muttered. "I will have you know that I am quite strong."
Despite the implied warning, Light was slow in preparing himself for the kick. It caught him right underneath the chin, and he saw stars and crumpled to the ground.
Something was wrong. Even L could tell, and he broke what little was left of the show at once. He tugged at the chain and asked softly, "Light-kun?"
"Goddammit," Light groaned and vomited onto the carpet.
It was the worst sick day Light had ever had. He was dizzy and nauseous, reduced to a shaking lump in fetal position under the covers, utterly unable to sleep. L was on the other side of the bed with his laptop, typing occasionally, apparently doing a lot of reading. He did not mention Light's tossing and turning.
The rest of the task force was still hard at work outside the bedroom walls, and sometimes L's laptop would bing softly, indicating that some brave member of the taskforce was attempting to contact him. Once, it was a question for Light.
"Yagami-kun," L ventured, a long time after the bing had come.
"Where did you save your database of international organizations that could benefit financially from Kira's killing patterns?"
Light's head swam for a long time, and L waited in absolute silence until Light mustered up the concentration to direct the inquirer along the right path.
L sent off the email, and then he said, "Yagami-kun?"
It was a question this time. Light could decide whether or not he wanted to respond. After a moment, he hummed.
"Would you consider the consumption of a sedative to help provide your body with the ability to recuperate properly?"
Light grinned into the pillows, a real, sloppy smile. "Are you asking me if I want drugs?"
"What would Watari say now?"
"I was not—" The ensuing silence was filled with L's surprise. "You were teasing."
"No need to show off your deductive reasoning, world's greatest detective."
"You did it again."
Light poked his face out of the pillows to find out whether L looked as unnecessarily bewildered as he sounded. He did. Light lifted an inquiring brow.
"Since we began working together like this, not once have you been teasing with anyone, let alone me. I admit I have held concerns about your mental health after the confinement."
Light was alarmed to realize that L was right.
"Regardless, my question remains. Will you accept a mild, clinically tested, legal sedative?"
Light just shook his head.
"You know why."
L stared thoughtfully for an impressively few number of seconds. "Nightmares are worse than nausea."
Light pillowed his head on one of his arms, quietly pleased. "Bingo."
"Some sleeping aids decrease dream recall."
Light wrinkled his nose, and L almost smiled. "Forgetting is even worse."
L did smile now, a sad smile that reached his eyes. "I know."
This was not the first time Light noticed L's dark circles, but it was the first time he noticed them.
L was changing the subject, and he was no longer looking at Light. "Although it was justified, I cannot help but observe that it was my kick to your lower jaw that immediately preceded your onset of nausea." L glanced over briefly. His mouth was hard. "I am not apologizing. But I do feel…badly."
Light stared, quietly amazed.
"Watari said you were not concussed." L's teeth were worrying at the pad of his thumb. "But…"
"You said yourself that I've been off lately. I'm sure it's just a bug."
L scowled, biting down hard. He looked with distaste at his thumb then wiped it on his sleeve. There was a faint smear of blood against the white fabric. "Don't think these handcuffs would come off if you were to require a trip to the hospital. I'll follow you into the operating room if I have to."
It sounded more like a promise than a threat.
"If it is a bug, you really should get some sleep."
Light grabbed his pillow with both arms and hid his face in it, unexpectedly upset.
"I'm sorry." A pause. "I am not apologizing. I am expressing my condolences."
"Do you ever apologize?" Light wanted to ask. But, instead, he muttered, barely audible, "I can't."
Stunning what sickness can draw out of people.
A sigh. Light heard L shifting closer. "Light-kun, if I promise to wake you as soon as I see signs that you are having a nightmare, will you sleep?"
"Will you be able to tell?" Hidden in this question was another one: "Have you been able to tell?"
A pause. This told Light that L was answering both questions when he said, "Yes."
Light shifted his face out of the pillow and kept his eyes closed. "You'll wake me in the middle of REM?"
"It's better than nothing."
Now that he was giving up, the drowsiness was kicking in. "Is that what you do? Wake up before you get to REM?"
L did not reply for a long while. Light could already feel his breathing slowing and fists unclenching when L finally said, with distinct remorse, "Twenty-six percent, Light-kun."
When L woke him up, Light was standing in the middle of a clean city street, deserted but for a parade of young girls, all identical, all with hair just like Sayu's, all walking calmly in single file until they disappeared into a pothole. There was total silence, but for the laughter. And just like every other time, it was Light's laughter.
"Light," L was demanding, just above a whisper, shaking insistently at Light's shoulder. "Wake up, Light. Light, Light, Light, Light—"
He was lucid enough to register the sound, but delirious enough to register it as laughter.
L was silenced quite effectively by Light skidding wildly off the bed and yanking L along with him. "Fuck," Light contributed, blinded by confusion and horror and literal darkness. L had landed partially on top of him and was saying something that his ears would or could not process. Light pushed him off and started sliding away. "Oh, god. Dear god. Fuck."
"Light, please." L was reaching towards him, intending to comfort, perceived as attacking. Light threw all of his limbs at L, uncoordinated but effective, and L hit the bedside table. Before Light could do anything absurd like try to flee, there was a click and the lamp turned on and the room was familiar once again.
L was crouching by the bedside table, pulling his hand away from the lamp, and there was a steady stream of blood coursing from his brow. L's hand paused, and then moved to touch his head. It came away dripping red down his arm.
"I'm so sorry." The dream was gone. There was blood on the carpet and L was very silent. Light pulled his pajama shirt over his head, worked it through the handcuff, and balled it up for L to press to his head. "We have to find Watari."
"I'm sure he's on his way." L's voice was slow and stunned. He nibbled at his bottom lip as he spoke, slurring his words slightly. "I'm sure he's already seen. If we leave, we'll miss him."
"Unless he's usually awake at two in the morning, I highly doubt he's seen anything."
"Oh." L was staring with mild concern at the blood on his left hand. "Then I should call him." L fished his phone out of his pocket before Light could stop him, and by that point there was blood everywhere and little point in trying to prevent its spread any further. L dialed, held the phone to the ear not covered by Light's shirt, and after a few rings, said, "Watari, I have a superficial head wound that is bleeding profusely, and I request your medical expertise." When L closed the phone, Light saw that his hand was shaking. He whispered, "Watari is coming."
"You should sit down."
"I am fine standing."
"Come on. We both know you should sit down."
"Thank you, but—"
"Ryuzaki, Yagami-kun." L's voice was unexpectedly sharp. He compressed his mouth and turned away.
Light crossed his arms over his chest and wished he had given L something else for his head.
Watari was there in under a minute, carting with him a large first aid kit, wearing a startling blue plaid pajama set. He did a brief double take at Light being bare-chested, but recovered quickly enough. Taking in the blood spattered across the carpet and down L's front, he demanded, "L, what happened?"
L did not reprimand him like he had reprimanded Light. "Yagami-kun and I fell off the bed, and I hit my head on the bedside table." It was just vague enough to be true.
Watari's eyes went very wide and he cleared his throat. "Well. While you're keeping the pressure on that head wound, let me check your eyes."
Watari held out his finger to check L's focusing and tracking. "Right at my fingertip," he reminded.
Watari moved his finger more slowly, and then frowned. "Is it double?"
L was silent.
"L." Watari spoke with a parental firmness that made even Light want to tell him about his vision.
"Slightly," L admitted in a murmur. "Just when it's moving."
Watari sighed and nudged up his glasses. "We'll check again in a few minutes, right after I get a clean compress on this. Yagami-kun, thank you for giving up your shirt. I'll do my best to have the stain removed for you."
"Oh. Thank you." Light doubted he was ever going to be clear on Watari's exact job description.
L failed the second vision test and lied unconvincingly about failing the third one, which meant that within the next ten minutes all three of them were in a limo headed to the hospital.