He’s never fired a gun before. Contrary to what Soichiro Yagami believes, there are some lows that he won’t stoop to. A gun is a coward’s weapon. L prefers to believe that he is not a coward.
And yet here he is.
He’d not been expecting the little pistol to pack much of a punch and the recoil throws his wrist, sending the weapon clattering to the warehouse floor. Light follows soon after, sinking to his knees as if in benediction.
‘I don’t –’ he stammers, his voice thick, ‘I – what?’
There’s a hole singed in the front of his shirt, a stain around it, rapidly growing. As the pain sets in Light keens and sobs, toppling onto his side.
‘Rem!’ he shrieks, ‘Rem, what have you done?’
L is frozen to the spot, body one place, mind another. Somewhere, he is aware of his teeth chattering, his hands, shaking. The throbbing ache in his wrist.
Many times he has imagined with dull satisfaction escorting Light Yagami to the execution block. Has been able to picture perfectly the look on his face, so self-righteous and, beneath that, afraid. How he would bluster and rail against him.
But Light is just a boy. He is not dignified in his terror. He writhes and screams. He wails for his mother. He wails, even, for L. Says that he’s sorry. Says that he was only trying to help. That he only wanted to be a hero.
A voice, not L’s own, commands his body to move. To do what needs to be done. Gingerly, he retrieves the gun from where it has skidded, coming to rest an inch or so away from the spreading pool of blood. Light looks up at him, eyes glazed with tears, jaw straining with the effort it must take to hold back his screams.
‘L,’ he hisses, through gritted teeth, ‘You don’t have to do this. You’re stronger than this.’
L fingers the trigger. He is not a violent man, and the gun feels perverse and foreign. Yet stronger still than his dismay is the commanding presence piloting his hand, telling him that, if he just does this one thing, then Light can die a hero and Misa will not be utterly destroyed. Though he has no idea where that thought came from.
When the NPA forces arrive at Daikoku Warf, the stage is set. The bloodied corpse, the smoking gun. L thinks for a moment about attesting his innocence but, then, who would believe him? Certainly not Soichiro Yagami, who gazes at him now with such hatred in his eyes that L wonders if he’s going to kill him right here and now. But protocol always comes first, even at the worst of times.
As he is being cuffed, he recognizes that the dreamlike feeling has left him. His body is entirely his own. It does not matter – his fate is sealed.
His execution as Kira is slated for the next coming month.
The call comes through close to midnight, though it’s still early morning in Japan. Linda is the one to receive it – she’s in the studio, finishing a canvas, and none of the dormitories are within earshot of the upstairs extension. Peering through the gloom –Mr. Wammy would be disappointed, is always telling her in his fatherly way that she’ll run herself blind – Linda checks the time and wonders who it could possibly be at this hour. Only grocers and salesmen use the landline.
‘Hello?’ she says, stifling a yawn against the back of her hand, ‘This is Linda speaking.’
‘… Linda?’ A man’s voice, hesitant.
‘The one who paints,’ she says, flatly, ‘Look, are you after Mister Ruvie? Because he’s asleep. Everyone is.’
‘No, I –’ he sounds confused, disorientated, ‘That’s okay. You don’t have to wake anybody.’ A beat. ‘I think I spoke to you, before. Linda.’
About to hang up, Linda freezes, her heart lurching into her throat. ‘L?’
‘I, uh – yes?’
‘Oh my god.’ She clamps a hand over her mouth. ‘I’m so sorry, sir!’
‘What are you sorry for?’
‘I didn’t recognize your voice!’
L chuckles. He sounds young. ‘That’s quite alright.’
Linda pauses, steadying herself. When she opens her mouth again, she’s careful to speak evenly.
‘Sir, was there something you needed?’
That note of confusion creeps back into L’s tone. ‘I’m not sure.’
‘You’re – not sure?’
‘Hm.’ A clicking sound, someone swallowing dryly.
‘Is this… is this about the Kira case?’
Another chuckle, this one distinctly bitter. ‘Oh, I’m sure it is.’
‘I apologize for taking up your time, Linda, but –’
‘Oh no, sir, it’s –’
‘— could you tell me about your painting?’
Not just confusion now, but desperation. ‘Please? I’m – it would be good for me, to hear about something other than the case.’
‘Oh. Well… alright.’
Linda, a little embarrassed but nevertheless determined to fulfill her duty, goes to great pains to describe to L her process, her subjects, the oils and brushes that she uses. All the while she is debating whether to run and fetch Mr. Ruvie, because L is frightened, very palpably, and if her memory serves her correctly, the only thing L is frightened of is –
‘Thank you, Linda, that will be all.’
She cuts herself off, abruptly, mid-sentence. ‘O-of course, sir.’
‘Give everyone my love.’
‘I will, but, L –’
She waits till morning to tell Mr. Ruvie about the strange conversation, but by then it’s far too late. The news will reach them within the hour.
L’s sluggish demise is not broadcast via the usual channels. He may a household name, but he is far from a public face. There are no magazine articles, no late night talk shows. His death will be a quiet descent into obscurity, noted only by those few who knew him personally.
Nevertheless, Light keeps tabs. He tracks the illness, its progress, from behind his computer screen. It’s there in the reemergence of certain crime syndicates – those that L had intimidated into hiding, those that Light will make sure are dealt with permanently. It’s there in the sizable sums of cash donated, anonymously, to child welfare programs, relief funds, and conservation projects. Politicians abruptly removed from office, and the better ones ascending in their place.
It’s there in the bouquets of flowers left at the Yagamis’ doorstep. Soichiro and his wife assume they are intended for Sayu – a secret admirer. Light knows better.
Chrysanthemums for honesty. Rhododendrons for foresight.
Purple hyacinth. Contrition.
He’d never had L pegged as a romantic.
He’s not worried. After the fevers had begun, the migraines and the vomiting, L had stayed his hand, the case against Kira eventually petering out altogether. Now it’s little more than a topic of mild discomfort. His father does not suspect him. His father scarcely talks to him at all.
He assumes Light is grieving. Wonders if Light hates him for suspecting L. Wonders, even, if he knew about L’s affliction before all the rest of them, if that’s why he had fought so viciously in order to catch Kira. In a way, he is right; Light knows full well the extent of L’s illness, has orchestrated every measure of it, from the order in which his organs will give out on him to the exact number of hours he will survive off of life support, having finally decided, in true L fashion, that it isn’t worth the bother.
Still, the flowers bother him. Their increasing messages of tenderness set his stomach roiling. He’d not wanted –
He’d not wanted to be forgiven. But, then, he’d written L a slow death, hadn’t he? It probably afforded him time to reflect.
Sometimes he pulls out the old burner phone he’d been given, composes a message, tempted, perhaps, by the prospect of some mutual understanding.
– You know, it should really be me sending the bouquets.
– The girls at the tennis club still ask after you.
– To-Oh’s such a drag. No one here’s even heard of Durkheim.
– Does it hurt, terribly?
He never does end up sending anything. Plausible deniability and all that.
It hardly comes as a shock. Light is a lonely boy. Brilliant and handsome and athletic, but with a savage hunger to him that prevents anybody from drawing too close, as if he were a brightly colored snake. And L understands; he isn’t at all attractive – he’s beaky and gangly and Aiber had told him once, affectionately, that he possessed the general bearing and disposition of some feral child – but he understands. What it’s like to be lonely, to be not only the smartest person in the room, but in every room you’ve ever encountered. That and, well –
He’s seen him looking.
So he kisses Light. Or, rather, Light kisses him. Instigation is not so much a factor anymore. L’s lips are dry, frigid and immobile. Not at all the way Light had been imagining. There’s something ugly about the way his face contorts as he pulls away, darkly amused and, beneath that, disgusted.
Light had not imagined disgust.
‘So, that’s how it is?’ he says, his mouth a snarl.
Light shrugs his shoulders. ‘Didn’t seem right to send you to the grave without ever being kissed.’
‘Oh, I’ve been kissed before.’ L cocks his head, and there’s that earnest, revelatory look Light despises so fiercely. ‘Have you?’
He doesn’t live long enough to hear Light answer.
‘Never by anybody who mattered.’
‘And his associates,’ he adds, with the expectant air of a man overseeing a property development. And in a way he is. ‘His associates…’ a moment of hesitation, ‘and then himself.’
Rem resists the urge to roll her eyes as she quickly amends her writings. ‘Will that be all?’
Light nods, fingers pressed to his lips, that sharp, terrible mouth smiling ecstatically behind them. ‘Yes, that’s it.’ He looks up at her, eyes shining brightly. ‘Best nip it in the bud before anyone else comes looking for me, wouldn’t you say? Put a lid on the whole affair.’ When Rem doesn’t immediately offer her assent, his brow furrows. ‘What’s the matter? Can’t you do it?’
‘Oh no, I can do it. The question is, can he?’
‘Of course he can. I don’t understand what you mean.’
‘No, you wouldn’t.’ Rem sneers at him as the rest of her begins to crumble into ash. ‘You’re despicable.’
They find him in the woods beyond the estate grounds during their weekly foxhunt, a scrap of ruled paper clutched in his hand and no entry wound in sight. It’s been so long since he went out into the world that they at first have trouble identifying him. It’s only when the signet ring is spotted on his left hand that it all clicks into place.
Roger has the body carefully preserved in the Winchester morgue, the proprietor of which having by now – after countless attempts have been made to infiltrate and dissemble Wammy’s House – learnt to keep his mouth shut. Then he contacts Quillsh – still searching Japan high and low for his unruly charge, no doubt – to inform him of the bad news.
The children are, of course, distraught. Or rather, all but Mello, whom a strange calm has befallen, the likes of which Roger has never before witnessed. That night, he climbs into Matt’s bunk. He’d taken L’s death better than most but now he has grown silent and perturbed. Matt has never been entirely comfortable with his position at the estate. Neither is he entirely certain of his place in its future. His talents are hardly exceptional.
Mello presses their foreheads together, grasps Matt’s hands in his beneath the duvet. They have not done this in a long time. Not since they were both children, Mello sobbing Croatian in his sleep, plagued by nightmares he couldn’t be persuaded to speak of. Matt wonders for a moment if that’s what this is, if L’s death has dredged up something suppressed within him. But then Mello smiles; Matt can tell because he can feel the puggish scrunch of his nose against his cheek, and Mello hardly ever smiles in earnest.
‘He couldn’t do it,’ he whispers, laughingly, ‘He loved us too much.’
Matt doesn’t understand, doesn’t pretend to.
‘What now?’ he murmurs.
Mello shrugs, breath a hot puff in the dark. ‘Nova metla dobra mete.’
New brooms sweep clean.
When Roger gathers he and Near in his office several weeks later with an aim to partner them, Mello concedes quietly, surprising all. Though his dislike of Near is an open secret, he tries hard in the following months to swallow his pride, until one day he finds that he no longer has to bite his tongue around the other boy. Until he finds also that he has come to appreciate Near’s particular, acerbic brand of humor; that it could even be said he misses him, somewhat, on the rare occasions when their work demands that they part.
He wonders, then, if this is what L had been talking about, all those years ago, when he had spoken to them all of the fruits of self-sacrifice.
Not everybody graduates from Wammy’s House in such a manner. Linda, for instance, stays behind and in time becomes an excellent art teacher. Matt assists her sometimes – he enjoys being with the children – though his job as estate groundsman often keeps him more than occupied.
Presently, he is working on restoring their grand fountain, which has, over the years, fallen into a state of utter disrepair. His pace as he crosses the quadrangle is so brisk, his disposition so sunny, it’s difficult for Roger to reconcile the man before him with the solemn boy he’d had to coax outside with a broom all those years ago.
Part of it is missing Mello, he suspects. Right now he and Near are camped out on the Crimean border, intercepting gunrunners. Communication is being kept at a low and they’re all worried, driving themselves to distraction. More and more Matt talks of refurbishing the mansion’s security system, even though it’s in perfect working order, even though they only had it serviced last year.
Roger asks him, once, if he’d prefer a teaching position, and Matt shakes his head, smiling softly.
‘I like the quiet,’ he says, when what he really means is, I have no desire to rear child soldiers.
Roger doesn’t press the matter any further. He doesn’t have the heart to. Not when Matt tends to A’s grave, and to L’s anonymous plaque, so beautifully.
– I’m sorry.
– I miss you.