Into The Void
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.
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?"
L looked the inspector square in the face. "Nobody is going to believe that."
"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."
"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?"
"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.
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.
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