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December 2019

 

The sky above was pure black, except for a few anemic stars. Below them hovered a thick, swarming haze of light pollution, and as he sat up, he reflected on the last thing he'd seen – Light and distant chandeliers and darkness above – he fell back down again; he was dizzy.

A tingling pain pervaded the outer layers of his flesh. Dazed, dazzled, he rolled over onto his side. His body was below him and he was on the ground.

After a few minutes he seemed to be sitting or standing, limping a little – this improved as he walked, but not enough, and he was in Tokyo, by his own building, looking at an assemblage of other buildings. A stage set. A car shot by, or something like a car.

The cold was bitter, and he was naked. His first productive thought was to get into the building, and he stumbled into the parking garage. The inner door was different; there was just a straight electronic keyhole, not a scanner, and it was locked and didn't respond to banging. Looking around for a camera, he spotted a trash can, its lining bag recently replaced and fresh, with a neat little light above it that hummed like a bee. He grabbed the bag and made himself decent, if ridiculous.

He carried within him a certain biological fear. He couldn't shut it down – a wildly flapping nerve, some ancient reflex never bred out – his heart was beating quickly and hard and in an angry way, and his limbs, though freed of paresthesia, were now palpably full of acids. He left the parking garage, tried the front door, peered into the lobby; the main room wasn't visible from here, but he could tell even from the lobby that the place was different. Different lights, screens, desk. Shaking legs, uncontrollable shaking.

He wanted a pay phone. There were none. He wanted a newspaper, at least, but there seemed to be none of those either, so he went walking until he could find a screen, a crawl – anything; his feet numbed again and a few more of the fast cars came. One of them slowed, but then it sped up again.

Once he'd left the financial district, he found a couple of Internet cafes and coffee shops that were open overnight; he stumbled, mothlike, into one. Only one or two people, who looked somehow like off-duty medical personnel, were huddled at a table in the back. He eased himself into a chair, not bothering even to talk to the employee behind the counter, and rested his head on his arms. It was only then that he noticed his hair was gone – even the brows and lashes, and the light fuzz above his hands.

 

“Excuse me. Sir, you can't be here.”

“May I make a phone call?” He had been half-unconscious. His heart had slowed a little, and he sat up, placing his hands on the table in front of him as if it were a desk of authority.

“No. Sir, you have to leave. There's a shelter a couple of kilometers away where you can go.”

“A glass of water, please.”

“No,” said the employee, from above him -- “no. It's in Higashi Nippori.”

“Where am I?”

“Otemachi. Go out, turn right – walk about twenty blocks. I'm not sure where it is from there on.”

“Can you look it up?”

The employee had a marvelous phone, a thin slab of very clear stuff like black glass, with the icons hovering below its surface; L felt his hands drawn to it like a child to a bauble. The story of Moses and the brazier of coals floated vaguely into his consciousness. Then the polite ejection was complete. He was walking again.

The buildings grew a little smaller as he moved towards Arakawa, and he was aware of a very faint light in the east by the time he arrived. It was a tight little place, the shelter; everyone in bunks – the sort of place, he thought with disgust, where they'd only take people who seemed clean, sane, employable – people who don't need the help as much, which perhaps was triage and perhaps simply bigotry. But he was clean; he was sane; he was probably even employable, and the attendants took pity on him despite the hour. They gave him some baggy black trousers, a white t-shirt, a brown jacket, some socks, some puffy sneakers, a bowl of noodles, three hours on a bunk in a dark-gray, breathing room, and a phone call.

 

The Wammy emergency line didn't pick up; it just rang into infinity, and L eventually hung up, thanked the attendants, and went out, his eyes blinking sore in the morning sun.

He didn't seem to be very interested in what had happened. The chain of events was so incoherent, and the bottomless well at the center of it – a sinkhole at the center of an orderly city – so cleanly deep that it seemed impossible to even look at it. Time had passed, he thought – obviously time had passed, or there was an afterlife that resembled the earlier life, though with faster and fewer cars, quieter trains, a general urban hush all round.

He could imagine his personal hell consisting of precisely this mechanical cleanliness with himself on the outside of it. Perfect reversal: everyone encased in technology; himself outside, wriggling on the dirty sidewalk like some sort of sweaty animal.

He trudged south to Chiyoda; the walk was long, and he found himself uninterested in a train in the same way that he was uninterested in how this had come to happen. Sometimes he was aware of other pedestrians and sometimes not. It all seemed disjointed, melting, time-lapsed.

 

Aizawa was relieved to be working on a Sunday. He was rarely alone at work anymore, and he'd slowly, imperceptibly, reached a point in life where he was happy only in his family's company and his own. When lunchtime came, he slipped down the back stairs for takeout, and was happy to find the transaction almost soundless, a minimalist arrangement of two greetings, an order, and payment.

A light winter rain had sprung up by the time he left the restaurant, and he put up his umbrella even as the headquarters building hove into view. With the rain had come a rise in temperature, and he found himself sweating in his overcoat. Undoing the top button, juggling his food bag into the umbrella hand, he was keenly aware of life's small indignities and embarrassments, which allowed him to peripherally glimpse the reality of his essentially insane problem, the small blunt fact he'd found in his inbox, Near's news: remain calm; don't reveal this rashly; the Kira dead are regenerating in San Francisco and Nice and Novosibirsk; the Kira dead are respawning in Tokyo.

“Aizawa-san.”

The voice was small and hoarse, and he'd almost anticipated it; he felt freshly the same shock that he'd felt at their last meeting, when he'd held him dead in his arms. The same disgust, the same protectiveness, the same sense of upsetting communion. Ryuzaki was a small figure, almost childlike, curled against the wall of the building. His hands held tightly to the sides of his legs; his back was bowed, his head rested carefully against his knees. Aizawa felt his hands move – putting his packages and umbrella on the bench; using the bench for support.

Ryuzaki sighed and got up. He seemed to be having unusual trouble holding up his head, as if the muscles of his neck were atrophied. He took up the umbrella and stood holding it politely.

“May I use your computer?” he asked.

 

In the elevator up, he leaned against the wall. Aizawa stared at the panelling and thought: such a thing should not exist; this is not something from which we can recover. I'm sorry that this happened to you. I am genuinely, deeply sorry. When it sunk in what we'd done to you, I almost quit; I couldn't look Matsuda Touta in his vacant, well-meaning eye. But there is no room for you here. There never was. Go home, or I'll dash your brains out, drown you in a sack.

Thus, he ran through all the stock images of destroying helpless things, all of them sounding childish and bizarre in even Aizawa's flattest inner voice; yet the sense of revolt remained, even when they had been purged.

The elevator arrived, and Aizawa asked him, “Do you want a cup of coffee?”

“Just water.” He looked more than ever like a dying teenager, though ten minutes with the computer, hungry fascinated eyes, seemed to restore him a little. He asked Aizawa questions, all the obvious questions, questions about Light. As he answered them – usually to Ryuzaki's bemusement or indifference; once there was a brief sharp hilarity, clearly at Aizawa's expense – he was struck by Ryuzaki's use of familiar speech. It surprised him that Ryuzaki would ever speak this way; he had assumed that he spoke Japanese only superficially, despite his lack of accent, and yet he was speaking it now as if to family, as if in his extremity he were returning to childhood habit.

The questions stopped, and there was another sigh. There was a sheen of something on his skin – sweat or grime or something less natural; the eyes bulged even more than usual, which gave him a look of decay even when they were closed. He took up the computer again.

 

“Near,” said L, several hours later; he was sitting cross-legged on a pink bed.

“It was early when you called before,” said Near through the computer, logo, disguised voice; the whole bit. L sighed and got up to fetch his mug of tea from the dressing table.

“I see.”

“You're not the first.”

At first he didn't know what Near had meant. “Oh – right. There are others. Of course...”

“Others, yes. A late Soviet serial killer, Ivan Golubev, in Russia. In America, Susan Young, the environmental activist responsible for the bombings at Seattle. Several dozen more of Yagami's victims. Probably many more even than that; this isn't something that many people are interested in publicizing. And Yagami himself.”

A strange sound came from L's throat; he said, “Light?”

“He's already in custody.”

“Did you use Aizawa?”

“No. I didn't trust him with him. He doesn't even know. I sent Lester and Lidner.”

“I see.”

“You see all,” said Near.

“Near. Have you been...”

“Fine. Are you with Aizawa?”

“Yes.”

“I need you.”

“I need money.”

“You'll have money.”

“Near,” said L, a wild flutter in his throat, “I need money now . I can't stay in Aizawa's daughter's bedroom.”

“She's in America, reading international relations,” said Near – a bland denial.

“Oh – fine, then. But tomorrow.”

“Can you go to Russia?”

“Well, I don't want to. I have a lot of things to – to think about.”

“Golubev,” said Near. “He was in custody briefly, too, because he was picked up freezing on the street. He escaped. Probably under someone's protection; hard to walk out of a Russian prison. No leads. No real support. I need someone good on it. I have no idea how I'm going to do it otherwise. I'm going to have my hands quite full with the rest.”

“Who would you have called if I hadn't been here?”

“Nobody.”

“Where's Roger?”

“He's dead.”

“I'm sorry,” said L.

“Recently,” said Near; he spoke almost in admonishment.

“Oh.”

Near pressed on. “I have Lidner and Lester and Giovanni, but they've got their own business to work on; I have F and Zed, but they don't take assignments – Linda won't talk to us at all anymore. She even made sketches of Mello and me for Yagami. She didn't know, but...”

“Look – never mind, Near. Fine.”

“You'll do it?”

“I'm – a little overwhelmed.”

“I'll send a computer. Stay where you are.”

“Why? Will it be coming suddenly?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

L sighed and leaned back against the wall; Near cut the connection.

 

He slept badly that night, and when he did, all of his dreams were literal – replays, tapes, of what he perceived as the last few weeks: Light and Misa talking in the glare of the sunset; surveillance footage; the creature on the freeway amidst the smell of petrol and impeding rain; the sound of thunder; Light lying to him. The effect was not of sleep, but of uncontrolled and episodic time travel, and when he woke, breathing hard in the too-hot bed, clutched in his own arms, he wondered briefly at the absence of the tug at his wrist, the perpetual shuffling of paper into neater piles, the unconvincing chattiness, that meant Light was somewhere nearby.

 

He lay awake until eight, when Aizawa's son Riku banged on his door and handed him a package containing a laptop and a cell phone, another flat clear wonder; it held a line of credit, and he spent most of the morning out shopping, which was both fun and revolting.

It made him feel like a teenager again – which was bad enough – a teenager playing roleplaying games with his classmates; dice and papers. Here, you'd roll for intelligence, integrity, strength; there, you'd draw your character, equip him with armor and money, assign “flaws” that would allow you to give him positive attributes. L had disdained the games. He always played some snotty variant on a half-elf cleric called “I” who wore a white robe and solved mysteries. “I casts Healing,” he had said, deadpan, “as I is badly injured.” It had been hilarious.

And now here was I, made flesh again, buying clothes (self-consciously; what had been comfortable suddenly felt like a costume) – downloading music and books, pulling a life together clumsily and out of unfamiliar brands. More than once he wound up in a park, sitting on a bench, still wearing his shelter clothes (which were beginning to smell of sweat; he appreciated the comfort of that) and hugging the warm computer to his chest. It was still impossible to fully believe that he was here, and that the excruciating tension in which he'd lived for the past year was gone, snapped, replaced by these soft yellow rays of evening light and the sound of geese and the rotting-wood smell of the bench. Everything seemed to be rotting, in fact, and food tasted wrong. There was a disconnect in the world, a muddled frenzy of recalculations in a different mathematical base.

 

They were at dinner when he came back; he ate with them and then fled upstairs as quickly as he could. Aizawa knocked at his door only a few minutes later.

“Yes?”

“Are you in touch with Near?”

“Yes. He will support me from now on.”

“Well, listen,” said Aizawa, and L heard him opening his bag -- “he shouldn't have to.”

He opened the door. Aizawa was juggling at the bag's zipper; he first pulled a handful of small bills from its pocket. It was the only cash L had seen all day.

“Thank you, but this will not get me very far.”

Aizawa refused the joke. “That's not what I mean,” he said distractedly -- “I've secured something for you – though I don't know that you'll have anything to do with the thing, or want to enter it.” He reached deeper into the pocket and handed L the deed to the headquarters building.

He cleared his throat. “Surely I have no legal right to this.”

“You left it to the NPA, in case of your death,” said Aizawa. “I'll let the lawyers sort out any other claims you've got, but for now, by the powers vested in me by the NPA, the place is yours. I'll see to it that you have a legal identity to claim it with.”

“What are you even using it for?”

“Nothing. Someone else leases it.”

“Thanks,” said L, crumpling the paper a little in his fist. He looked down and away from Aizawa. “I am touched.”

“Well, it's the best I can do.” Aizawa's voice was a little peevish.

“I am touched,” he said again. “You had no need to do this.”

Aizawa shook his head -- “No.” L waited – he looked as if there were more – but all he said was, “What name do you want to be called on the documents? Ryuzaki?”

“Yes.”

“Ryuzaki what?”

“Rue.” He pronounced it “roo,” contrary to B's intent in creating the pseudonym; he'd always been irritated by the obvious reversal of “Rué,” and there was no longer a need, even a slight need, to feign empathy with B or interest in his decisions.

“How do I write it?”

L took a piece of paper and wrote it; dragon, promontory, and then the fragment of katakana which had always pleased him so – it looked a bit like “I L.” “Ru.”

“Is it your name?”

“In the sense of possession, yes.” He handed Aizawa the paper. “Sorry for being opaque. It's part of the profession.”

“Not the way I practice it,” said Aizawa with unexpected firmness.

“I know.” He looked at him and recognized that he'd snapped back to condescension; it was time to go, even if he'd always wished they could talk on a human level. He and Aizawa inevitably poisoned each other a little, and there was no further medical use for this poison. “I'm leaving tonight,” he added, and thanked him -- trying to sound the way he felt; they had been kind.

It must have worked. Aizawa said goodbye more kindly; he bowed and then shook L's hand with care, squeezing it in a hard, firm motion, the first physical contact he'd had since losing Light.

 

There were five Russians, all alike – oh, they were diverse in size and sex, but they all looked so identically tired that they seemed likely to melt together into twinned lumps if placed next to each other. He wasn't sure what the cause of their exhaustion was. They were too few for a task like this, but nobody seemed to mind that; it was too impossibly daunting to mind, like trying to resent gravity.

He turned on his computer at ten a.m. Japanese time – six a.m. in Novosibirsk – expecting to be the first presence in the room. Instead there was already a broad, uniformed back; it was the one with the crew cut, and he spoke with intent to startle.

"Lieutenant Krupin, did you move me?"

He could no longer see the window. Krupin turned, or half-turned, his forearm draped against the table at which he'd been slumped with his head in his arms. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“It doesn't make much of a difference, I guess.” Russian had always come to him with some difficulty; he was more or less fluent, but the pronunciation slowed him down – so slurred, so solemn – and he was conscious of the drabness of his speech, the excess of words.

“I needed another of the good computers to run the metro security footage through.” Krupin shoved his chair back and scooted over to approach L. “So I put you on an old Mac we have. Seems to be working okay.”

“The software is fairly robust, and I wrote it on an old Mac.”

Krupin hit a few keys, his hands extending in the camera's eye. “The aunt got off at Dovatora at ten-thirty again. She was carrying the same bag. I'm going home, but the others can check the morning footage; she didn't go home again so far as I know. I'm sending the clip.”

“Thank you. She doesn't even care, does she?”

“Well, she hasn't got a car. What's she going to do?”

“Borrow a car. Tonight I'll want someone to follow her. ”

“Are you asking me?”

“No, I'll ask one of the women. I don't want to put this the wrong way, but you're always uniformed, Krupin, even when you're not.”

“It's not something I often hear,” said Krupin after a brief pause, during which he visibly took it the wrong way, and just as visibly tried not to.

“Are you coming or going? I've never seen one of you here at such a time as this before.”

“Going.” He saw Krupin's eyes on his screen; there was a tracery in their movement which he recognized – looking at the details, the points, of his name; trying to decipher a human curve in them.

“Cloister Black,” said L. “000000 for the letter; CCCCCC for the background; font to fit screen. Further questions?”

“Is Golubev even still dangerous?”

“You can think of better things to be investigating?”

“A few. He did these things at the behest of his mother, and she's gone. It's not the nineties anymore.”

“That's not our problem at hand,” said L. “But I agree.”

“Why's this an important enough case for you to get involved?”

“We were asked.”

“A lot of people must ask.”

“We were asked adamantly. This man, he's a regional bogeyman; were you too young to remember him?”

“I don't believe in bogeymen, though I do remember the nineties rather well. It just seems – I don't know. Look. So much here can be political; propaganda-motivated, aimed at making the state look strong. There's still prestige in calling L and getting an answer...”

“Oh?”

Krupin had said too much; L had caught him at the end of an awful night – he wondered why he'd stayed here. “Never mind. Sorry. No. I'm going home.” He crossed the room, took hold of his bag and slung it over his shoulders; ill at ease, an awkward shuffling, too much strength for his intent. His face made no impression.

L couldn't think of the right word, so he said, “Will you be here tomorrow night?”

“Yes.”

“I will be here. Report to me, please.”

 

He had been troubled over the past few days by a strong desire to touch people. It was a physical response, the same as the sweat and the racing heart – pure reflex. He wanted to be near to others, to palpate them, to rest his face in someone's collar and to feel the furry touch of hair. It barely occurred to him that such a thing might be possible; asking or paying someone would miss the point – this had to be spontaneous, or it would not work.

L, on a whole, was not a toucher. He had not been hugged since he was ten, and he had not been willing then. Discomfort was part of it – the unpredictability of human bodies, their warmth and assorted smells – but far more than that, it was a function of a sort of field that seemed to enwrap and enfold each person. The field was composed of hairspray and clothes; makeup, shoes, the washing and exfoliation or moisturization of the face in the morning. It was a thin membrane, a type of armor cultivated by the fastidious – and he rarely met anyone who wasn't fastidious; he rarely met anyone who wasn't a cop or a spy or a doctor.

That had been the pleasure of ruining Light in the rain. Light had been aware of that membrane, L thought, in a way that most weren't, and he had not appreciated the rudeness of the downpour. His hair had still been damp when they had touched for the last time. L had been thinking, in a vague collaged way, of electricity – the strike of lightening; the emergency generators; Light's wetness; the sinoatrial node.

 

In the afternoon there was a piece of mail that made him clutch the arm of his chair.

 

Dear Ryuzaki,

I am writing to tell you that I'm alive and I'm very sorry not to have written sooner. When I was well enough to contact Near I found that he was already in touch with you. I also learned that B is alive, in California, and desperately in need of help. I am flying there very shortly to see what I can do. Unless Near has radically mis-assessed the situation, you are not in trouble; I hope you will forgive me the triage, and I am, of course, desperately eager to see you again as soon as we can possibly arrange it. We can talk then about the implications if you don't mind. I would rather not via e-mail.

Watari

 

It was impossible to classify his emotion; relief, certainly, happiness – and yet there was something wounding about the businesslike conclusion of the letter. It was too calm for the setting, an event implausible to the point where the foundations of logic and empiricism seemed to dissolve into an invisible and odorless gas.

A part of him was disappointed. Obviously, this wouldn't last long; it was completely unreasonable to be disappointed at the survival of one's family. But there had been several kinds of bitterness calcifying between them for years, and the freedom from them had been a small consolation for his loss and all the losses.

One of these bitternesses went by the initial B, and for a few minutes of blind walking his mind mechanically punned and played (B for bitterness; bitter rue, which you must wear with a difference – how clever to flippantly choose B's old alias for his cognomen – spontaneity a serious vice; maybe the only dangerous one he had).

Anyway – anyway; really he just didn't want to talk to anyone who'd been involved – he wanted to be somewhere entirely new, and for the moment, lacking any immediate work to do on the case, he took another walk, stopping at a waffle house and then a bookstore.

 

The bookstore was cavernous and smelled of paint rather than paper, and he noticed deep markdowns and a certain ominous quiet; perhaps the end of books had happened sometime in his absence, along with the end of so much else. The science fiction section was poor. He turned to literature, but on the way he stopped before a cardboard display and took up a volume, holding it delicately and with a certain revolted interest.

 

Amane Misa: Diaries

 

He choked a laugh and looked around guiltily. It had a melancholy photo on the front: Misa from a distance, looking perky as ever, but in a slightly blurry grayscale that made her look elusive and strongly implied a falseness to her smile.

Searching more for distraction than information, he sat down on the floor and began to leaf carefully through. It was full of wild swings in mood and apparent intelligence -- the bright happy child succeeded by a melancholy and precociously suicidal one, who was in turn succeeded by a brittle teenager who wrote less and less and began to assume the automatic, disinterested rhythms (friend in Aoyama; saw Morning Musume) of the Misa he knew. Then there was a gap, and a series of longer, more mature, even less actually informative entries about film shoots, TV appearances, directors, other singers, other actors.

The final entry was the only one to mention Light, though rubi suggested the “Tsuki” pronunciation for the kanji of his name; had Misa's connection to Light gone undiscovered, obsessively examined though her life must have been? He had, L knew, become publicly known as at least a strong candidate for the man behind Kira. Had Aizawa intervened? Or had the mystery simply become more absorbing than its obvious answer?

 

I haven't written about Tsuki because missing him permeates everything. I miss everyone, though. Much more than I thought I would. It was a comedy. I played the silly ingenue very well. I don't think I would ever recover from being a silly ingenue, even if I lived for many years, even if I have regrets, it's not in my nature, I've come too far in this direction now. Tsuki was the only thing that kept me grounded to anything that wasn't fake. He was the only real thing in the world, the only one who acted rather than reacting. I'm not choosing to die because I miss him; I'm choosing to die because I think death will bring me closer to him. If in the smallest of split seconds I can understand how he felt when he was dying, I can finally understand him enough to be worthy of his love.

 

“The world's well rid of you,” he said very softly into the book, and got up and put it back on the shelf, wiping his prints instinctively with his sleeve.

 

W, I am very glad to hear that you are alive. Have you found B?

I don't think it's right that we are here; I won't complain, but I feel sick. All the deaths that have happened because I wanted to be sure (when of course I was right and I had always known I was right) are terrible to think of. If some cosmic glitch, some mistake, some reversal in the flow of things has whisked you and me and a handful of others back from our timely demise, many others were not similarly spared, and my regrets are very painful. They stick in the gut and the throat.

You and I can debate about the intervention of God or gods. For me, unfortunately (and you will find this incredible) all of this has only strengthened my disbelief. A god should be unknowable, and the rules, the chain of decisions, involved in this case are all too knowable, if not actually known.

Near probably told you that I am doing a case in Russia. I am probably going to travel for it, especially if you will be occupied with B; there's no reason for me to be in Japan. I have no real desire to work, but Near needs my help. Ryuzaki.

 

Lieutenant Sidorova, a lean and nervous-looking officer several years Krupin's senior, had reported inconclusively on the progress of Golubev's aunt; it didn't appear that she was travelling nightly to see him at all. To all appearances she was having an extramarital affair. L had his doubts – perhaps she was brighter than she'd seemed at first – but he let it pass for the evening, and once Sidorova was gone he told Krupin that he was coming to Russia alone and that Krupin would be responsible for his housing and arrangements there.

 

Dear Ryuzaki,

No, I haven't spoken to Near since the initial contact. He's become very Near, hasn't he? Tell me about the case.

You would be back at work. I admire your sense of duty, though I worry a touch about your dramatic (in the highest sense) tendency in responding to all this. It's something that you and B have in common. I absolutely do not think that you're overplaying, but don't let the narrative take you over. Don't become caught up in what seems to be the symbolism of these events. There were so many factors to it all, some of which you cannot control, others of which you don't even glimpse. You may as well say that the whole business of Kira was Light's parents' fault for raising him to think of himself as a son of God in the Gatsbyian sense (and yes, we can save further talk of sons of God for later).

You were cautious, yes, but somehow I still appreciate your refusal to crash the helicopter into a building with the three of us in it, or to poison Yagami's jam or whatever it is he eats (he must have eaten sometimes, but he always gave such an impression of being above it). On a fundamental level, on the only important level, the deaths that followed ours were his fault and his alone.

Watari

 

W, He eats crisps. Ryuzaki.