Kill a man, and you are an assassin. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill everyone, and you are a god.
― Jean Rostand, Pensées d'un biologiste
As a rule, L only believed in things he could prove by hard fact alone. So when Mr. Matsuda came running in, talking in rapid jibber-jabber only this younger Japanese policeman was capable of, his hands shaking, L merely looked at him through the dense fog rising from his teacup.
"And this happened when?" asked L, as he sat Matsuda down on the couch facing him.
"Just this evening – and I swear – the apple was flying through the air!"
L sucked the skin of his thumb. He needed some time to think. Suppose Matsuda was telling the truth, and this wasn't some kind of overwork-induced hallucination ... where did that leave him? Apples flying through the air in the Yagami house. It was ridiculous, really. But either way, it was no conclusive evidence of anything. Perhaps another scientific anomaly? It wouldn't be the first one discovered. Apples could levitate if thrown hard and fast enough.
"Gods of death love apples," said L, staring at the floor. What could Kira have meant by that?
L looked up into Matsuda's bewildered eyes. "Nothing important," he said. "Can you increase surveillance of the Yagamis? I'd like to search the place, too – preferably around noon."
Matsuda nodded, starting up.
"And Mr. Matsuda," L called before the agent got to the door.
"Make sure Inspector Yagami knows nothing of this."
A tad less confident, Matsuda nodded again before exiting the room. L was left to his own devices, with two cups of tea for company.
"Careful, don't touch anything," said L.
He'd wanted to go in alone, but Matsuda had insisted on following him inside the house. Which meant the NPA still did not trust him. L wondered if that was a bad thing. After all, L himself hadn't really trusted anyone else since his eighth birthday. This made them rather, what was the word? ...oh yes, 'Professional'.
"Anything moved even an inch will raise suspicion," L said, locking Matsuda in a challenging gaze.
"I may look dumb, but I wasn't born yesterday."
L shrugged. "Just a precaution."
He slouched off toward the stairs. Matsuda finished unlacing his shoes and hurried up after him. L paused before the door to Light's bedroom. One whole week of night-and-day surveillance had not revealed a thing. He studied the sturdy wooden frame as Matsuda produced a duplicate key and slid it gently inside the lock.
'What are you hiding, Light?' thought L.
Two things happened: The door swung open, and a piece of tiny rice paper fluttered to the floor. L caught it mid-flight. Calculating the angle under which it fell, it must have been wedged in the upper left corner of the door frame.
"Hey, but we agreed, ― "
"You can come inside the house, but I won't let you enter his room. If Light notices our presence, this will have been a complete waste of time."
Matsuda sulked, but didn't argue further. He hung back and watched L from the hallway.
First step was booby traps. There were plenty. The hardest part was figuring out whether they could be reversed, before triggering them. Tinkering with the various bits and pieces took L about an hour. Two o'clock; time was ticking.
Next up were diary records and school work. Which gave him little more than a few anxiety-driven passages, girls' phone numbers, and algebra homework. He noticed an empty paper shredder in the corner. Figures. Three o'clock.
Hacking into Light's computer took no more than a second. He already knew the password. Erasing his own fingerprints from the keyboard took longer. The PC was empty. L reckoned the boy carried everything on a USB stick, with him at all times. He sighed. Quarter past three.
Matsuda pointed at his watch. L gave a nod. It was time to go ― Sayu Yagami would be let off from school at three thirty. A public high school on walking distance of ten minutes from the house. Mrs. Sachiko Yagami, taking a yoga class at a friend's every Tuesday afternoon, would not be home until five ― she still had to do her grocery shopping. Mr. Soichiro Yagami usually left the office at five, arriving just in time to enjoy a nice home cooked meal at six. But the Kira case kept him away longer. The last to arrive would be Light Yagami. Special exam preparation classes on the other end of Tokyo kept him busy till six. The commute was one hour, depending on traffic. Punctual to the dot, Light would slide his house key in the lock at seven o five, making no detours.
L began setting up the booby traps when something peculiar caught his eye. He wondered, briefly, how he hadn't spotted it before.
Ignoring Matsuda, L opened the top desk drawer. He felt the bottom. Matsuda was screaming now, but L didn't hear a thing. He closed the top drawer and opened the second. Feeling the bottom with his hands, closing the drawer, opening the first one, feeling. L's breath hitched and his heart was beating at a maddening pace. Somewhere he heard church bells ring.
He felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up. It was Matsuda, blabbing on about time. Why had he expected to see Light Yagami?
"There is a false bottom," said L.
Carefully, L lifted all the entrails out of the first drawer, setting them down on the floor. He listened, knocked. The plywood sang an unholy bass under his knuckles. Standing by him, Matsuda had turned dead silent.
"Yes, this is certainly not part of the original design," L said, preparing to lift the back.
His fingers scuttled round the edges. He found two chinks large enough to let his fingertips slide through, one on each side of the board. It was easy. Almost too easy.
He went over the drawer again, looking for clues he might have missed. L crawled on his hands and knees, head askew, avoiding the papers and pens arranged around him on the floor. He could feel Matsuda growing impatient. It was five minutes past three thirty.
Then his fingers stumbled onto something.
It felt like an unevenness in the surface, an imperfection. L crept under the open drawer like a mechanic slipping under a busted truck. He reached deep in his baggy jeans. The bulb of a penlight suddenly illuminated this dusky space. L smiled.
"Mr. Matsuda, could you hand me your pen?"
Unscrewing the pen cap, L extracted the cartridge, and slid it up the hole. At first the cartridge moved freely, experiencing no resistance. Then it butted against something hard. L pushed further. He felt a heaviness against his arm, like he was lifting weight.
"Keep going, I see something!" said Matsuda.
L pushed the cartridge all the way up the shaft and Matsuda gasped.
"What is it?" said L.
"You...you should see this."
L poked his head around the table. Matsuda stood back, pointing at the open drawer. His face ashen with agony. Slowly, L crawled from under the table, not letting the cartridge go.
There was a false bottom. Underneath it lay something L had long suspected. An electric circuit ran up the sides of the original bottom. If anyone lifted the false bottom directly, a switch would connect the circuit, sending an electric current down a primitive explosive device. The drawer's contents were designed to self destruct. Under the false bottom lay a single black notebook. L carefully extracted it and replaced the lid. Rising from the floor, he flipped to the first page. Japanese characters carefully written in black ink caught his eye. L's ghostly face lit up. This was definitely Light's handwriting. The clocks struck three forty.
"I can't believe it," said Matsuda, reading over L's shoulder. "Those are..."
"All the names of Kira's victims?" said L.
L leafed back to the front. There was Kira's first victim. Name copied onto the page in neat Japanese characters. The next line had a name and date, the name did not look familiar. Beside it the inscription: "die of traffic accident". L gulped, but showed no other outward sign of distress. Inside, he was raging in turmoil.
"Ryuzaki, does this mean Light is Kira?"
"We cannot know for certain yet."
"Huh? But what about the creepy notebook?"
"It still doesn't provide a motive nor sufficient proof. Who is to say Light is not merely interested in solving the Kira case? Which is why he kept a log book of who was killed and when."
"With the words Death Note stamped on to it?"
L shrugged. He had to get out of here. He needed to go someplace, alone, gather all the evidence and think. He looked over his shoulder at Matsuda, who hovered over the notebook in frightened fascination: staring, but afraid to come near.
"It's direct evidence!" Matsuda cried.
Unblinking, L said: "Do you know of a way to kill people by writing their names on a slip of paper?"
Luck had it that Sayu Yagami changed plans on her way from school, and passed the time at the local mall with some friends. She came home at four, missing the detectives by about five minutes. By that time L and Matsuda were long gone, in a station wagon bearing a civilian number plate. Matsuda sat stiff as a rod, steering wheel clutched in both hands, eyes glued to the road. L studied the photos he'd taken on his phone. Among the rules "Death Note, How To Use" was this gem:
The human who touches the Death Note can recognize the image and voice of its original owner, a God of Death, even if the human is not the owner of the note.
L wondered if this was all a figment of Light Yagami's undoubtedly bright imagination, as he watched Tokyo's street lights flash by in the growing dusk.
L arrived early.
Sitting down on a wooden chair, he smiled at the proctor. The man pretended not to notice. L sighed. He glanced at the ceiling, the shabby old paint peeling off the walls... They actually claimed to be Japan's best university? More time passed. Sitting upright exhausted L. A throbbing pain pulsed through his feet. He wiggled his toes, but it only got worse. Sigh. This is why L never wore sneakers. Bending under his desk to adjust the laces, L watched the first candidates file in.
Most kids had their heads stuck in books or last minute crib notes. One guy with sweaty palms kept dropping his pencil and cursing. He didn't even notice the proctor glare at him. Nobody paid attention to L. Everyone was busy.
The minute-hand of a large overhanging clock edged towards nine. And there was still no sign of Light Yagami.
L fidgeted in his seat. His shoes were killing him. A cold February wind blew in through the open doors, lifting a couple of papers. The gymnasium grew quiet. Even the cursing guy stopped cursing. L filled his name on the answer sheet and sharpened his pencil. The proctor commenced his obligatory speech; and Light walked in.
Hands in his pockets, head held high, without a bag. Light met everyone with a congenial smile.
L gulped. He kept his eyes trained on Yagami, at all costs ignoring the monster that lurked behind. Flying two feet above the ground on tattered wings, hands like claws, feet the shape of deformed sticks. The monster looked so much deadlier now, in the morning light, compared to what L had seen five weeks ago, upon rewatching the Yagami house surveillance tapes.
"...wish you all good luck," said the proctor.
The doors closed as the proctor went out for a last minute smoke. L watched Yagami come closer and closer. L touched his pencils, fumbled with the paper, minding his own business, while actually scouring the gymnasium with his eyes. A staying sweat broke out on his back when he realized there were just two seats left. One at the back, and one directly beside him.
'Relax, it's fine. You can do this,' L said to himself as Light sat in the vacant seat right next to him.
The monster sat down on L's desk.
Sheets of exam paper were being passed down from the front. The first rows were already writing furiously. L took a chance and glanced over to his right. Yagami drew a Parker pen from his jacket. It was all good, he hadn't noticed yet. L breathed a sigh of relief. It was getting hard to keep his hands from shaking. Something inside him was trembling very hard, and his shoes were killing him.
The girl in front of L shoved a stack of exam papers on L's desk, before turning back to her work.
L stiffened. He mustered all his forces not to jump and run out of there screaming. It was getting tough to do so. The girl's hand had gone through the monster's pelvis, and come out again. L kept his eyes trained to the front, but still he noticed when the monster reached down and scratched its scraggly arse.
Something tapped his shoulder. L jumped. He looked to his left, then to his right, and his breath nearly stopped on its way out his throat. Light Yagami was smiling back. That was the first time L locked eyes with Kira.
Yagami pointed at something behind them. L turned in his seat. A row of unhappy faces glared back. L remained stuck in place for the best part of a minute; then pulled a copy off the stack, and passed the rest down the line. The unhappy faces muttered traces of "Hallelujah", and L swore he heard the monster snigger. He blocked out everything and concentrated on the exam.
When L's feet slipped out of his sneakers, trailing up to the chair, the boy behind L muttered "Weirdo" under his breath. Yagami cast a sidelong glance at L, then returned to his work.
It was a beautiful day in March, the winter chill no longer biting his face as L made his way across To-Oh University campus. He carried a small backpack in his hand, one shoulder strap trailing over the ground. Sakura trees were in full bloom and upperclassmen girls enjoyed their lunch underneath. L watched them from the corner of his eye.
Mentally, he rehearsed his speech.
Not the one he was supposed to give at the Opening Ceremony. No, he had memorized that one on his flight back from London. It was the other speech L worried about. The one he would give in private, to one person only. The whole investigation hinged on it.
L strolled toward the assigned lecture hall. Already a large crowd had gathered round its entrance, all talking loudly and bustling with energy. L joined the throng. He noticed a particularly pretty girl standing unoccupied by the window, and walked up to her.
"Hi. My name's Hideki Ryuga. What's yours?"
She laughed. "I'm Kiyomi Takada, pleased to meet you."
Kiyomi carried a small leather purse, she wore a short pleated skirt and a matching blue sweater. L took to biting his right thumb as he asked her where she was from. Her eyes lit up, pure white teeth showing as she spoke real fast. So fast even L had trouble catching up.
"Takasaki... " said L, trying to recapture lost memories. "Isn't that in the Gunma Prefecture?"
"Quite the commute, if you ask me."
"Oh, I've already rented a room in Tokyo. I'm living with three girls and splitting the rent. Can you believe that's cheaper than applying for official dorms?"
L shook his head.
"Well neither could I. My friend Yoko just set up the TV, and now ― after nearly two weeks ― at last we have something decent to watch. I got so tired of re-watching all the Matrix movies on DVD. So, what did you do during the vacation?"
If you counted the short time frame between the entrance exam and today, L had quite an eventful 'vacation', to say the least.
"Uh, yeah. You know, after school ended," Kiyomi readily supplied.
She looked at him strangely. L realized he was losing her. She began looking around... Outside the window, new students were coming in. The campus was growing crowded.
"Eh, sorry. Yeah, I went to London," said L, rubbing the back of his neck in what he hoped counted for a 'cheesy' expression. It's always easier telling the truth.
"London?" she exclaimed with a little gasp, hand clasped over of her mouth like a good little lady of Japanese 'society'.
"My father's way of saying 'Good job on passing', since he had no time to congratulate me in person," L said with a shrug.
Kiyomi beamed, eyes fully back on L. "Tell me all about it."
He had her in the palm of his hand. As L detailed to Kiyomi the delights of East Asian tourists on their first trip to London, the moving throng of students begun their way inside the lecture hall. Kiyomi and L followed along. There was no "L" anymore. He was just another student lost in the crowd, talking his head off to impress a girl. L thought that gave him sufficient cover.
"Welcome, " said a man on stage, once they were all seated. "Today is a beautiful day, the start of your academic lives. Many of you have been looking forward to this day, and now it has come. Your chance to prove yourselves, your chance to shine under the glory of your predecessors, your chance to show the world what you are made of."
L briefly thought how encouraging this speech might be for Kira. He recounted his Oxford days, and couldn't remember any speech of this kind. Must be a Japanese thing.
"I now call on two students, who ranked highest on this year's entrance exam, to give the student representative's speech," the man on stage cried, and a bunch of supportive hollers broke from the audience.
L slipped his feet back in his sneakers. With Kiyomi sitting beside him, he had tried sitting normally, but keeping his feet inside those pesky little sneakers was simply not doable.
"Come on over here, Hideki Ryuga, and Light Yagami."
L could see Light from a mile off. The flying monster was impossible to miss. L sauntered down the steps, hands in his pockets and a slouch to his walk. He rehearsed the speech in his head again. He did not look at Light, he did not think of the monster flying closely behind.
Light and L reached the desk. They faced each other and formally bowed. Light took this opportunity to offer L a friendly smile. L returned the gesture. He wondered who was being the more genuine here.
"Dear fellow students," Light began, "I congratulate you all on passing the entrance exam!"
Cue for loud laughter and roars of goodwill. L was listening, but only with half an ear. His main efforts were focused on observing the monster that currently prowled along stage.
"Let us all be good students and try not to annoy our teachers ... too much."
Light smiled, standing firm in the spotlights, not flinching an inch. The monster didn't bother him apparently.
"I'm very grateful that I could be here today, and I hope to meet many of you in the coming weeks. Best of luck to everyone! And with that, I give the word to my fellow student representative, Ryuga."
"Thank you Yagami, that was very entertaining."
The crowd laughed. L proceeded when the hollering dissipated.
"Sadly we live in an age in which we cannot afford merriment. We live in constant dread and fear of the future. And no amount of binge drinking or partying can wipe the daunting realization from our minds that once we graduate, there won't be any jobs for us. Those of you who will graduate, of course."
The lecture hall had gone eerily silent. And somewhere at this point, the man who had opened the ceremony wanted to stop L, but the Principal impeded him. L went on.
"We can only hope that five years from now the labor market will look better. But I don't think it will. The Bank of Japan is doing nothing to fight our country's mounting deflation."
L paused to let his words sink in. Everyone was staring at him, including Light.
"Despite the low birth rate, we cannot count on employment, since Generation X intends to hoard their jobs, leaving us with nothing. The influx into the labor market is virtually zero."
The man who had opened the ceremony placed his hand over the mike.
"I wasn't finished yet," said L.
He rummaged in his trousers, and revealed notes for a 30 minute long speech, composed in the most horrible handwriting imaginable. Another professor escorted him back to his seat. Kiyomi didn't speak to him after L got back. He didn't blame her. He sat out the remaining part of the ceremony, and went on to his afternoon classes, backpack trailing behind him on the floor.
Japanese History in Global context, half time. Most students had run out of the stuffy classroom for some much needed air.
"Hey. I'm afraid I forgot your name," said L.
The boy with the neatly combed hair looked up from his notes. "It's Light, Light Yagami."
"Oh, that's right. Yes. Yes, that was your name."
Light gazed back with nicely concealed frustration. "Can I help you with something, Ryuga?"
L's eyes lit up. "As a matter of fact, yes. You can."
L produced his cell phone, flipped it open, and handed it over to Light. He put on the cheesiest smile he could muster, flashed the Victory sign, and said "Could you take a picture of me?"
"Uh...sure." Light trained the cell phone at L, and a soft "click" came from the device.
"Thank you!" L snatched his phone from Light's hands and began tapping away at the keypad, completely oblivious to Light's incredulous stare.
"May I ask what you are doing?"
L looked up. "This?" He stabbed at his phone. The LCD screen shimmered at the abuse.
Light winced, "yeah."
L picked his phone up between thumb and index, staring at it as if the object were alien. Then he turned back to Light. "I don't know."
Light leaned back with a snort. "Ryuga, are you being sarcastic?"
"Oh no. No Yagami, I would never do that."
"Right... So why did you ask me to take your picture?"
L dropped his voice to a theatrical whisper, shoulders sagging lower than usual. "Everyone else has been avoiding me..."
Light smiled, doing his absolute best not to groan. It was kind of amusing. L wondered how long Light could keep that poker face up.
"What do you need the picture for?" Light asked patiently, so very patiently.
L raised his shoulders, uncurled a little, daring to smile and showing more of himself. Body language, it was all about body language. "Oh, sorry! Hehe. It's for my blog."
Light gaped. "You have a blog?"
"Honestfaces . com"
L turned his cell phone so Light could read. A bright page flashed into view, with Hideki Ryuga's smiling face in the center. Above it was this line of text:
KIRA never harms the INNOCENT.
So if you're innocent, like me, post a selfie on my blog. Together we take a stand against crime!
Light saw that a couple of people had already responded. He leafed through the photos: a grand total of three. He gave L an incredulous look, and handed the phone back. "You're a Kira supporter? Actually, no, that doesn't surprise me."
L smiled. "You say that like it's a bad thing."
L pocketed his phone and stared at Light. They were looking into each others eyes. It was as if the whole classroom, all the others, and the monster looming over them had disappeared. None of it mattered. In this world there was only him, L, and Kira, the one he pursued.
"What's so good about killing people?" said Light.
L grinned, revealing a row of slightly yellowed teeth. He had prepared for this. If Light was Kira, he most definitely wouldn't praise Kira's actions. At least, ...not in public.
"I believe there is a difference between killing people, and doling out deserved punishment," said L.
Light smirked. "And who is to decide when punishment is deserved? Kira? Both judge and executioner!"
"Laugh as much as you like, Yagami, but Kira is markedly less corrupt than our official law enforcement services, and he doesn't waste a cent of taxpayer money."
Light shrugged. "I just don't think that all crimes merit death. Kira comes over as a cold and unforgiving bastard. If Kira actually exists, and these deaths aren't plain coincidental, he should be brought to justice," Light finished, folding his arms and gazing intently back at L.
L opened his mouth to say something in return, but he never got to, as a loud voice invaded their space. The classroom was full, all eyes were on them. The professor had crossed her arms, and was leaning against the blackboard.
"You two back there, Mr. Nice Suit and Mr. Sitting Strange, do I have your permission to resume my class?"
wise guys and thugs, summerowl, TwistedGrim, gnarley, E. I. Lorelai, The Maxx, Warfang, Dotti55, SpeakWhenItRains,
Thank you so much for beta reading! You were a big help to me in writing this story. Couldn't have done this without you.
published March 4, 2016