My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.
― Michael Curtiz, Yankee Doodle Dandy
Flopping his untied sneakers off, L stood unsteadily on his bare feet; his sweaty soles stuck to the floorboards. Yagami kneeled on the floor nearby, fussing over his brown leather bluchers. L's head spun. Shrugging his jacket off, he tucked it under his armpit and took a wide view of the hallway: white plaster walls, a woodblock print featuring a pair of pink Japanese anemones swaying in the wind, a mirror ― which L avoided because the monster stood behind him, slippers lined up neatly on a teak shoe rack, and two coats hanging on pine cone coat hooks ― a faded yellow overcoat beside a frilly pink windbreaker.
Yagami pulled a face at L's muddy sneakers. He picked them up with care, and set them down on the shoe rack next to his bluchers. The monster's arm passed right through L: he saw it emerge from his chest in the mirror, but couldn't feel it at all; he could only smell the monster's foul breath on his neck. L wanted to scream. His arms were shuddering, he couldn't help it. The monster raked a claw through its midnight blue hair and grinned at its own reflection in the mirror.
"What's got you spooked?" Yagami asked, smiling at him.
This kid was scary.
"I'm not worried," L threw back in his best neutral voice.
A door creaked loudly. L spun around, breath hitching and heart hammering in his chest. This was a bad idea, such a bad idea, he should've never gone through with it. Field work wasn't his thing, L worked so much better behind a computer screen, safe, tucked away from the rest of the world, in his own private sanctuary where nothing could hurt him. He was no good at field work, the face-to-face, oh Feynman, he was so bad with people! Who was he kidding? Why was he even in the Yagami house? This was such a stupid idea.
Oh. It was just Yagami's sister. Phew. L breathed easier, readjusting the position of his legs.
Yagami's sister had her back to them; a pair of headphones strapped over her ears, she bounced her head to some tune L couldn't hear. Then she turned around, saw L staring at her, and froze.
They stared at each other for some seconds: L stared at Yagami's sister, Yagami's sister stared back. Finally she turned to her brother, pushed the headphones down her neck, and said
"Hey Light, who's your friend?" She tilted her head to the side, toying with her pink iPod mini.
Glancing up at her, Yagami grinned; and rising to full height, he gestured at L. "Sayu, meet my college pal Ryuga," he let a silence fall, "Hideki."
L frowned at Yagami: why was he being so formal? Yagami didn't usually act like this, it felt oddly distant... even though L wouldn't really consider himself Light's friend ― he was plotting to destroy him, after all.
Footsteps skidded over the floorboards.
Turning, L saw Sayu make a mad dash for him: headphones swaying wildly from her neck, and a bubbly smile plastered to her face. L froze to the spot. She stopped right in front of him, the toes of her pink elephant slippers inches away from L's bare feet. Clasping her hands in front of her heaving chest, she exclaimed with a look of pure joy:
"Hideki Ryuga is my favorite star!"
Huh. Oh ― that was it? That's why Light grinned at him like a maniac? L sighed. He should've chosen a different alias, not the name of a celebrity Yagami's sister adored. There ― more evidence he was unfit for his job. He was calling it quits after today. Tonight he would phone Watari and tell him the deal was off, that he wouldn't play Ryuga-the-Kira-supporter any longer. He was spent, utterly and completely exhausted. Watari had been right all along ― he wasn't made for fieldwork. He would get another agent to cozy up to Light until Light revealed all his dirty little secrets. L was done.
"I got like all his albums," Sayu said. "Been to all his concerts," Sayu said. "I even tried getting his autograph this one time," she made a sad face, "but the bouncer wouldn't let me backstage." Sayu shook her head. "He said I need parental supervision. Can you believe that?"
Light was nearly falling over, muffling his chuckles with a hand, trying and failing to keep a straight face. L made eye contact with him. So this is why you invited me over? So you could humiliate me in front of your kid sister? I see.
"So Ryuga," Sayu went on, "funny you have precisely the same name!"
"Yes," L said. "Funny."
"Did you know that besides his successful music career, Hideki is also an actor? Yes, yes ― he's playing the lead role in that movie coming out next month! What's it called? The thriller drama, ...ah, yes, Vital!"
"Aww fuck," L said in a bored tone. "Must they ruin another movie with that steroid-pumped bozo?"
Sayu stared at him, suddenly at a loss for words. L observed her critically; taking in her cream colored cardigan with upside-down printed black hearts, her childish high ponytail, and the mud brown band T-shirt she wore underneath, bearing the faded image of a duck-faced Hideki Ryuga, along with enormous letters spelling out his name.
"You know 'Ryuga' is his stage name, right?" L scowled. "Damn that overhyped piece of human trash for dragging my name through the mud! He can't even sing. His castrated voice sounds worse than a screeching cat getting mauled in the washer. They only cast him in that movie for his stupendous fan base of stupid little girls who will buy literally anything with his name on it."
Sayu's shoulders sank, her face turned pale as a corpse. L watched her closely: had he overdone it? He feared she might burst into tears, when suddenly Sayu snapped at her brother:
"Why do you always bring weird people home?"
Pivoting on her heel, she stormed to the kitchen, elephant slippers clacking on the floorboards. L watched her go. He wondered whom Sayu could be referring to. Who were these friends Light used to take home with him? And what made them so weird?
"Sayu can be a handful sometimes, but still. Just saying, you could've let her down gently," said Light, sniggering at him.
"You knew this would happen," L said coldly.
The persisting smile on Light's face said he did. He moved around L and stretched his arm, reaching for L's jacket. "You can leave that here," he said, "hang it on a peg."
L dubiously stared at Yagami's outstretched arm ― was this supposed to be a friendly gesture of some kind? All it made L think of was how dirty and cheap his own jacket looked compared to Yagami's designer trench coat. He didn't want to hang his familiar canvas jacket alongside Light's marvel of fashion 2003. L protectively hugged his jacket to his chest, relishing in the warmth it still radiated. Yagami kicked a pair of cotton slippers toward him and headed for the stairs. L looked at the slippers, stepped over them, and followed Light.
He felt stupid carrying his jacket around like some sort of safety blanket.
Stopping at the base of the stairs, L took aim, and flung his jacket into the entrance hall ― it landed on top of the shoe rack, covering Light's shiny bluchers and his own worn sneakers with army green canvas. L shot a look at Light; who kept climbing the stairs casually, as if nothing had happened. The monster, however, kept its beady yellow eyes on L, watching his every move.
L ran upstairs after Yagami.
Then, halting half-way up the stairs, he realized his big mistake: his total hare-brained blunder. He'd seen this house over a zillion times on surveillance tapes, he'd studied the floor plan late into the night, till his eyes were red and puffy, hell ― he'd even been inside this house before, walked up these very stairs. Hideki Ryuga hadn't. He couldn't, he wasn't supposed to be this familiar with these stairs. He couldn't have run up so quickly, so easily, without stumbling even once. And yet, here he was, just inches away from Light. Shit.
Light peered over his shoulder, a deep frown crawled over his nose.
So L tripped ― deliberately. He keeled forward and let himself fall face-first down the stairs, smashing his knee against the steps. Arms grabbing at air he tried to break his fall, finally slowing down he collapsed, shut his eyes and gasped out in pain. That had been one of his more stupid ideas.
Within seconds, Light was at his side, helping him stand. "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
"Yes, I'm fine," L managed to say in a small voice as he took the hand Light offered him, and leaned heavily on Yagami who stood on a lower step of the stairs. Lowering his head, L mouthed a tentative "thank you".
Light shook his head, laughing. "No problem ― you're the first one to fall down these stairs," he said. "They're supposed to be the safest ones."
L bit his lip and without lifting his head, he peered up at Yagami. "There's a first time for everything."
L breathed a deep sigh of relief when Yagami briskly strolled upstairs without further inquiry. Ignoring the dull ache in his left knee, L shuffled on after him.
Yagami picked a copper colored key from his trouser pocket chain, and deftly slid it in the lock. Something cracked as he pushed the doorknob down ― the pencil lead hidden in the door hinge; had Inspector Yagami discovered it yet? L wondered. Light ignored the bit of rice paper that fluttered down, and stepped inside his room ― L followed, watching the monster from the corner of his eye.
"Hold on a sec," Light briskly walked out, leaving L in the middle of his room.
L watched him go; he didn't know what to do.
The monster lounged on Light's bed, watching L with a bemused sort of smile. Did it know? L frowned. Did the monster know L could see it? No, no that wasn't possible. L swallowed thickly, the moment of panic passed with a tremor over his limbs. It's fine, just breathe.
Minutes later Light was back, carrying a Doremi Harukaze chair flush against his chest; L recognized this chair as the one from Sayu's room. A small high-backed chair made out of plastic, it had three legs, images of a wide-eyed anime girl, and it was completely pink.
Light set the kiddie chair down by his desk, next to his own ergonomic gray office chair. He was grinning from ear to ear.
"Go on," he said, patting the pink chair. "Sit."
L simply stared at him. Light continued smiling back.
Grumpily L lowered himself on the girly chair. He tucked his feet under himself, folded his arms over his knees and rested his chin on them. Light nonchalantly leaned back in his office chair and grabbed the remote.
"How about some music?" Light directed the remote at the stereo behind L's back.
"Surprise me," L deadpanned. "What does a good boy like you listen to?"
Light snorted, and pushed play.
L started. He sat up straight, back stiff as a rod, nails digging into his knees. This was pro-Kira music: a pissed-off nasal voice of some guy who sounded like he suffered from a permanent cold, yelled
"Now go to sleep bitch! Die motherfucker die!"
Gunshots were fired. L watched Yagami closely ― 'do you really listen to this on a daily basis?' he thought. 'Or do you think I like this kind of music?' Or, worse yet, had Yagami figured him out? Did Light suspect him of spying for L?
Suddenly, a peer appears at the same university Light applies to, rivalling him in academics, matching his tennis skill, claims to be from a small town nobody has ever heard of, and says he supports Kira. Shit ― he couldn't have been any more obvious, could he? L had painted a blood red sign on his own back: I am L's pawn, don't trust me. He should have listened to Watari when he had the chance: he was not cut out for field work! Why was he even here? What in Euler's name did he think he was doing?
"What? Why are you still alive? How many times I gotta say 'Close your eyes!'? And go to sleep bitch! Die motherfucker die! Bye bye, motherfucker, bye bye!"
A chill ran down L's spine. He took some deep breaths to calm his nerves. No, there was no way Light could do anything ― even if he suspected him of working for L ― because, because Kira needed a face and a name to kill, and there was no way Yagami could obtain his legal name ― that was classified. L sat a little easier in the chair.
"So," L tentatively said. "What topic did you choose for the History assignment?"
Yagami responded with a mocking smile.
L frowned; but before he could figure out what Yagami found so funny, the smirk had gone and Light spoke to him in a lively voice, with open-hearted eyes.
"My paper's on the period of enlightenment following the Meiji reforms. It's a fascinating part of Japanese history: our nation had been closed off from the entire world for nearly three hundred years and pushed back in development by vicious warlords. We were far behind Europe and America in terms of government systems ― while all developed nations in the nineteenth century already had a centralized government, Japan still suffered under the yoke of feudal rule. We even had a caste system!
And yet, less than a decade later, our ancestors had transformed Japan into a modern civilization. They laid railways, built steam ships, greatly improving both transportation and communication; they revolutionized the textile industry with reeling machines ― and they did all that in under a decade. Japan industrialized itself faster than any other nation ever had: what took Europe and America over half a century to accomplish, we did in a matter of years. By the 1880s our ancestors had completely rebuilt their own society from the ground up!
The most brilliant feat however, is that our reformers managed to keep the transition from feudal rule peaceful. They convinced both the shōgun and his daimyō that change was vital to society as a whole, and would even benefit them in the end ― and so they avoided unnecessary bloodshed."
L yawned without covering his mouth. "How boring."
"Excuse me?" Light raised an eyebrow at him.
"Our history is war."
Light blinked; he uncrossed his legs, leaned forward, bringing his face closer to L's, and openly stared at him in what appeared to be utter astonishment. "What a cynical thing to say," he said at last, his amber eyes were wide and watched L eagerly; his pupils had dilated.
Without moving an inch, L scrutinized Yagami. "Not at all," he said. "It's simple fact; frankly I'm surprised you haven't encountered it sooner, or come to this conclusion by yourself. History is the study of war and armed conflict ― that's plain as day. Peace is merely the lull between two subsequent wars; an illusion. Sometimes peaceful periods hold on for quite a while, and people are lulled into the illusion that this peace will last forever, ...but it never does."
L paused for effect; Light sat on the edge of his seat now, actively listening.
L ventured a sly smile. "And all significant technological advancements are just preparations for the next war."
"Really?" said Light, smirking back.
"Okay," Light tilted his head back and crossed his arms, "microwave ovens."
"Satellite and spacecraft communication, GPS, ship navigation, HPMs ― or high-power microwave weapons ― that's a type of e-bomb, a non-lethal electromagnetic weapon that kills the enemy's electronics."
"Alright," frowning lightly and sitting back in his office chair, Light nodded. The crooked grin was still firmly plastered on his face; he seemed to be thinking of something.
"Not to mention weapons based on the bio-effects from exposure to electromagnetic fields: they can be used to alter people's sensory perception and control their behavior from a considerably long distance, or to murder a large group of people silently, invisibly, without a trace," L said, looking directly at the monster which hovered beyond Light, just above his shoulder.
Light burst out laughing. "What? Where do you find all this baloney?"
"The US Air Force currently sponsors a project called 'Hello' which studies how the buzzing sounds created by microwave heating in the inner ear can be modulated to make people hear voices inside their heads.
An ongoing project called 'Goodbye' develops a crowd-control weapon which emits heat rays that give people second-degree burns, forcing them out of the way without causing any permanent damage.
Another project called 'Good Night' investigates how microwaves in the 1 to 5 GHz range that penetrate all organs of the body, can be used to damage vital organs, killing people from a distance, without a sound."
Recovering from his fit of laughter, Yagami leaned his elbow on the desk and rested his chin on the back of his hand. "How much of your time do you spend on pro-Kira forums and Conspiracies . net?"
"These aren't conspiracy theories, but real modern technologies," L deadpanned.
"Yeah right," Yagami shook his head. "So tell me what thrilling part of homeland history you wrote about."
"The Nanking Massacre," L articulated clearly, pronouncing each word slowly and deliberately staring Yagami in the eye. "The senseless slaughter and depraved abuse of entirely innocent Chinese civilians by ruthless soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army in 1937."
Light paled. "That's a highly controversial topic."
"It is," L said, leaning forward as he stared intently into Yagami's amber eyes. At this point Light began blinking rapidly, but L's eyes remained wide open. "Our government still denies it ever happened, and documents accounting for the death toll have been erased."
Light looked away, lowering his head; his lower lip twitched in obvious discomfort. The monster cackled with furious laughter that echoed through the room.
L grinned. "It's one of the most exciting episodes of our country's history, as it was excluded from school textbooks."
The monster leaned in and spoke into Yagami's ear. "The man has a point. Are you going to let him walk all over you?"
At this Yagami's lips twisted into an ugly sneer. He gradually raised his head, locking eyes with L.
A cold shiver ran down L's spine, his insides jangled, and a high pitched beep assaulted his ears. He frowned ― just what was Light up to?
"Yeah," Light said with a woeful smile, keeping his eyes firmly locked on L's, "I guess the 1936 Olympics didn't bring about the kind of peace the ancient Greeks had intended it to."
L blinked. That was unexpected. He should have known Yagami had more tricks up his sleeve. He had underestimated him yet again.
"Speaking of sports, you are impressively good at tennis," Light smiled a charming smile, and tilted his head to one side.
L felt a flush come to his neck. "Not that good," he stammered, curling his toes over the edge of Sayu's kiddie chair.
"Oh no," Light said, leaning forward and eagerly holding L's gaze, "I saw your technique ― you are very good."
Trying a small smile in return, L curled in on himself, embarrassed by the praise. He had expected Yagami to be heartless, unpleasant and scathing, even. He didn't know what to do with this 'nice Yagami'. Who was he? L watched Yagami, not knowing how to respond.
"Even though you lost to me," Light went on.
'Ah, there it was ― that insufferable Yagami pride; you think you're better than everyone else, don't you? You are no better than the murderers you kill. Who gave you the right to decide who lives and dies? What possessed you to take another man's life in your hands? You call yourself Kira, an activist for the greater good? You're nothing but a common killer to me, just another foolish criminal, ignorant of the way the world works; I deal with trash like you every single day. I won't let you get away with this, over my dead body.' Anger built inside of L, though he didn't let it show.
"But you're still rather good," Yagami paused, tilting his head back so the tip of his nose was up in the air. "I wonder," he said, taking his time to speak casually slow. "I've been competing at National level since I was 13 years old. Why haven't we met earlier?" Light looked at him for a long moment, then leaned back in his chair with a lazy smile. "I'd certainly have remembered you."
'Wait, did he just wink at me?' L thought. He felt his shoulders tense, and his heart contracted in his beating chest.
"What is that supposed to mean?" L said.
"Absolutely nothing!" Light laughed, he waved his hands. "Please don't get offended, you're just hard to forget ― that's all."
L let out a sharp breath. He had to get out of here; at his first opportunity to do so, he would. Luckily he'd saddled Inspector Yagami with a good deal of work today; there was no chance the inspector would be home sooner than seven. And by seven L would be long gone. It was a great relief not to worry about Inspector Yagami showing up and blowing his cover. He discreetly peeked over Light's shoulder at the timer on the stereo: four thirty-five, he had time.
His eyes trailed over the bedroom's pristine walls, the oddly bare walls, void of posters or pop art or any other knick knacks students generally put up. There was just one card congratulating Light on his high school graduation, and one photo of Light with some of his school friends ― three boys and one girl ― on his bedside table. The photo looked like it had been taken two months ago: they were all wearing warm clothing, Light didn't look that much younger, and this photo had not been in Light's room when the surveillance was underway. Together with the overall tidiness, Light's bedroom projected a maturity unbefitting an 18-year-old college boy ― this thought had occurred to L before, when he first chanced to see the Yagami house surveillance tapes. This was an adult's bedroom, not a child's.
Circling his head about, he made a point of looking at each object in the room. He took in the shelves... besides the Introductory Psychology textbook and a Probability Theory book Light needed for class, the shelves were empty and frighteningly clean, not a speck of dust on them. Where were those Tennis trophies Yagami bragged about? Why weren't they proudly shining on the shelves? He looked over the desk, also empty save for a sleek Parker pen and Yagami's personal computer, which was turned off, the screen black.
"Sorry," L started softly, looking at the floor. Perhaps if he asked this question cautiously, he might get a true answer. "I was out of line the other week, but ever since our tennis match this one thing has been bothering me to no end."
As he spoke, he scrutinized the wheels of Yagami's office chair; he gauged the angle and force with which he'd need to kick the chair to send Yagami flying through the room.
"Ask away," Light said easily.
Keeping his head down, he looked up at Light. "You turned our final game around in your favor, right when I was winning, too." L coughed, it was difficult to keep a straight face when Light regarded him with such an open, disarming smile. "I didn't see it coming," L confessed. "I thought I had that game in my bag," he let a harried smile to run over his lips, "and there you were, out of nowhere. How did you do it? What's your secret?"
He stared at Light, observing each little quirk of his facial muscles, each blink, each shift in body language, however slight. He was convinced the clue lay in the tiny details: no matter how strong Light's self-possession was, there had to be things beyond his control. Light was a good liar, but L had met many liars before... he wouldn't be discouraged or manipulated, not when so many lives were at stake.
"Ah, that," Light said, smiling sheepishly. "I didn't mean to do that."
"I noticed," L said in a disenchanted voice, it was not particularly hard to make his voice sound that way ― disappointment seemed to be his default mood these days.
Light furrowed his brows in fake concern.
With genuine hurt in his eyes, L raised his head till he faced Yagami, and locked him in a wide-eyed stare. Two could play at this game.
"You were going to let me win," L spat.
"Are you actually surprised?" L leaned forward, pushing his chest out; his eyes didn't leave Yagami ― he was looking for a reaction. "Thought I wouldn't figure it out?"
"No, I ―" Light began, then stopped himself. He looked serious, without his phony smile, a deep frown settled over his nose. Pursing his lips, Light assessed L carefully.
L held his breath, this was the moment of truth.
Light didn't smile, he looked directly into L's eyes, and spoke in a clear, well-articulated voice. "It's refreshing to meet someone so disgusted by flattery," he said, "I forgot people like that existed."
L pouted. "So you thought to cushion my ego by losing on purpose?"
"Something like that, yes ― polite society seems to require that sort of thing."
L watched him closely, looking for a tell, some sign Light might be lying. He couldn't find any. It seemed Light was being honest for a change... and, had he just heard him sneer at the words 'polite society'?
L sat up higher in the kiddie chair. "Hmm," he rubbed his bottom lip with his thumb, "that still doesn't explain how you parried my last shot; you shouldn't have been able to."
"Do you need me to spell it out for you? I'm left-handed. That's how."
There was something frantic about Light's voice, he spoke fast, too fast, like he was in a hurry. Maybe he wanted to hurry past this topic? Had L finally hit on a sore subject?
"I've never seen you write with your left hand in class," L said.
Yagami groaned. "Do you need a demonstration?"
"That would be nice, yes."
Light jerked up from his office chair, pulled the top drawer of his desk open. L's eyes went wide ― that's where his Kira notebook lay, proof, the scoreboard where Light kept track of all the people he killed. 1,943 People to date. Yagami took a navy colored notebook from the drawer, and flipped it open on his desk. He picked the Parker pen up in his left hand. L couldn't stop staring at the desk's top drawer.
"See?" Light said, jabbing his right index finger at the open notebook.
L looked up: in a neat little scrawl of black ink, Light had written 'dead net cord' down on an empty white page. Light had written it so fast, L hadn't even seen him do it. Could it be he felt uncomfortable having this ability?
"Are you ashamed of being left-handed?" L said.
"It's hardly something to be proud of," Light retorted, glaring at him.
"Don't tell me you believe those old wives' tales about left-handed people being doomed, evil from the cradle, born to be bad." The corners of his mouth twitched up; L knew he was over-doing it, but it was just too much fun to pass up.
Yagami flinched. "It doesn't matter what I believe," he said, gripping the Parker pen tight in his left hand.
L stared at him, the smile gone.
With a bitter voice that sounded far too cynical for his age, Light continued. "It's what others believe ― public opinion ― that counts."
'How odd,' L thought, peering into Light's open, defenseless face, 'I almost feel sorry for you... almost. It still doesn't make up for all the awful things you did, for all the horrid crimes you continue committing.' L shuddered, taking a quick peek at the monster.
'So what if you've had a tough childhood?' he thought. 'So what if you've had to grow up early? So what if you had no-one you could really trust, no-one you could rely on?' L glared. 'Think you were the only one? That the hardships you've endured make you special? Excuse your many crimes?'
He bit his lip. 'No, there is no excuse for this.' What Light had done was inexcusable. L would stop him, he'd put an end to this. He couldn't afford to let Kira win. One way or another, L would stop him; he had to.
L crossed his arms. "Fuck public opinion," he said.
Light blinked at him, then snorted. "That's one of the things I like about you, Ryuga." He shook his head, chuckling softly under his breath, the tension leaving his shoulders. "You say things like that..."
Light leaned against his desk, but remained on his feet.
L scowled. "Things like what?" It annoyed him how easily Light saw through his confidence, how easily he picked apart his insecurities, and then had the gall to mock him over them.
Yagami laughed, slipping back to his phony friendly self. "Oh, it's nothing ― let's just forget about it."
L wanted to ask Light to clarify, to specify exactly what he'd meant with his last comment, when a woman's voice called from downstairs.
"Boys, dinner is done. Come join us!"
L looked at Light.
"That must be Mom," Light said, pushing off his desk and sauntering to the door.
L meekly followed after him, keeping his head down. A new song started playing as they walked out Yagami's bedroom, the monster hovering inches over L's head:
"And old men have heart attacks, and I don't wanna be responsible for that, so. Put the mike down and walk away. You can still have a little bitta dignity."
A shudder ran through L ― 'Keep it together,' he thought, 'it's just some stupid song. Nothing will happen to you, just sit through this dinner and you'll be fine.'
They walked toward the stairs, the monster floated ahead of them. It perched on the banister, and, raising its paws like a kid on a rollercoaster, it slid down with a loud bellow of "Yahoo!"
Staring after the monster, L nearly missed Mrs. Yagami who waited for them at the base of the stairs.
"You must be Ryuga," she said with a warm smile, "Light has told me so much about you."
Uncertainly nodding in her direction, L gave her a slight smile in return.
They followed Light's mother into the living room. A small square Western style table stood near the opposite wall, and four high backed chairs surrounded it. Sayu sat in one of these chairs, absorbed in her phone. Four square ceramic plates were on the table, along with four smaller soup bowls, and four juice glasses. To the right of each plate lay a pair of chopsticks and a small ceramic spoon. A stack of paper napkins, a jug of water, salt shakers and seasoning were arranged at the center of the table.
"Please, sit." Yagami's mom gave L a hearty nod and gestured at the chair closest to the wall, furthest away from the door.
L maneuvered around a potted plant ― a miniature palm tree ― and sat down. Light plopped down next to him, to his right. To the left of L, Sayu sat smiling into her phone. There was hardly any space left between Sayu's chair and a large wooden chest of drawers. L was now officially cornered.
"Sayu," Mrs. Yagami said, pointedly looking at her daughter. Sayu glanced up. "Phone." Mrs. Yagami stretched out her right hand.
Sayu blinked, sighed, and reluctantly put the light pink Nokia 7600 into her mom's open palm. Then she noticed L. Sayu cringed. She glared daggers at him, moved her chair away, crossed her arms, and drew her mouth into one taught line.
"Ryuga, do you like karē?" said Mrs. Yagami.
Sayu snorted. "Like he'd refuse a free meal."
The monster clapped Sayu on the shoulder. She didn't see nor feel it. A heavy feeling built in the pit of L's stomach. His appetite was gone.
Mrs. Yagami's mouth fell open in a tiny little 'o'. "Sayu," she said, when she finally found her words, "you don't talk that way to guests." She shook her head in dismay, facing L. "Well some people are allergic, you can never be too sure."
"I'd love to have curry rice, thank you," L said mechanically.
"Oh, that's wonderful. No vegetarian either, are you?"
Mrs. Yagami chuckled. "Just call me Sachiko, it's easier."
Sayu made a disgusted face at her mother. As Mrs. Yagami disappeared into the kitchen, a waft of rice vinegar hit L's nose. He breathed the scent in, and it relaxed him, somehow it felt comforting... and safe.
Seeing no-one was going to offer him one, L poured himself a glass of water, and nervously sipped from it.
The monster held a casual conversation with Light, who looked at L, while secretly making hand signs under the table. L watched Light's hands flash from the corner of his eye. Dammit, he didn't know sign language. L cursed himself for never bothering to learn it before.
When the monster huffed, it sounded like the hiss of a slowing train. "Am I supposed to watch you eat?" it growled, sniffing Light's face.
Light's eyes sparkled with mirth. He looked down and chuckled at his plate.
L frowned. "What do you find so amusing?"
Light locked eyes with L. "Oh just, ...you know," he glanced at his sister, then back at L.
Without her phone to keep her busy, Sayu glared out the window, through the garden, at the passing cars. L bit his lip. ...Right, that was the most he would get out of Yagami.
The monster groaned, sounding like an untuned cathedral organ.
L hid his hands under the table ― his fingers were trembling. He watched the monster dissipate through the ceiling just as Mrs. Yagami returned with a steaming pot in her hands. A chunky vegetable soup with bits of omelet roll was inside. She used a handcrafted silver ladle to pour the soup, then sat down facing L.
"Light tells me you're from a town near Iwaki," said Mrs. Yagami, turning all her attention to L.
L nodded. Sayu started eating without saying 'itadakimasu'.
"What was it," said Mrs. Yagami, frowning in recollection, "...Hirono?"
"Ōkuma," L corrected her.
"Ah right, your parents work at the power plant." Mrs. Yagami looked at L with a sincere smile, her eyes shone. "That's an important job, and I hear you've chosen a sensible profession as well."
"It helps that I'm good with numbers and that I like Accounting," said L.
Light raised an eyebrow. "How can you like Accounting? Who actually likes Accounting? That's literally the most boring topic on the planet. Seriously, what do you like about it?"
Ignoring her son completely, Mrs. Yagami resumed. "Ah really," she covered her mouth with a hand, "my Light was so good at math in school."
L paused with a spoonful of carrot and shiitake mushrooms at his lips. "He was? I wouldn't have guessed with how he does at uni."
Light glared at him, and kicked him under the table.
L's hand jerked, he spilled soup over his shirt, but caught the mushrooms just in time. He chewed the juicy mushrooms slowly. Picking the bits of carrot off his shirt and stuffing them in his mouth, he glared at Light.
Mrs. Yagami's face fell. "Why? Is something wrong at school?"
"Nothing's wrong," Light replied with a steely voice while narrowing his eyes at L, "Ryuga's merely joking."
L put the spoon down. He calmly looked into Mrs. Yagami's disturbed eyes and said in a flat voice, "Ha ha."
Light kicked him under the table again. L didn't flinch.
"Oh," said Mrs. Yagami, "good to hear. I started fearing the worst." She laughed, and began eating her soup. "But Light has always been a perfect student," she said between bites. "I've never had to worry about him."
She smiled at her son with a warm, caring expression. Light smiled back. Sayu rolled her eyes.
"But I really hope you choose something a little more ...practical to study, Light."
L looked up from his soup bowl. Light sat frowning at his mother.
Mrs. Yagami turned and addressed L. "My Light wants to join the police and become a Detective."
L raised his eyebrows, but no-one at the table noticed, because his hair covered most of his forehead.
"I keep praying that you'll change your major later on Light, you still have time. There are so many other professions you can do, and they're a lot safer than being a Detective. I worry so much about your dad when he's working a dangerous case. Don't make me worry about you, too ― I don't think my heart could take it."
Mrs. Yagami nodded at L. "So hopefully Ryuga here will have a positive effect on your career choice."
'I doubt it,' L thought. His gaze crossed Light's.
Then Light looked down at his bowl, and swallowed a spoonful of yams.
L shifted in his chair. Sitting like normal people didn't feel comfortable, not comfortable at all ― he felt exposed. And he thought so much about how to act natural, how to move and what gestures to make, that he barely had enough brainpower left to analyze the other people in the room. He furtively glanced at Light. Something seemed off about him. Mrs. Yagami didn't pick up on it, but Sayu kept sending him these brief, concerned glares, which Light couldn't see because he only looked at his food and ate in silence.
Might now be the right time for an anecdote to clear the air? L pursed his lips. He didn't know that many jokes, at least, ones that were appropriate. He frowned. In fact, he wasn't certain this one was that appropriate either... but it involved policemen, lacked any overt allusion to female body parts, and didn't have any swear words. So he just went with it.
"What sort of animal has an extra arsehole in the middle of its back?"
Light dropped his spoon and looked L square in the face. Sayu burst out laughing.
Mrs. Yagami smiled faintly. "Wait, don't tell me, let me guess. It's an invertebrate of some sort, is it not?"
Light stared at his mother.
"Not quite," L said, stirring the soup with his spoon.
"Then, a marsupial?" Mrs. Yagami leaned forward in her chair, a small amused smile on her lips. "One with a pouch on its back?"
"Why would it need an extra arsehole?" L said. "To defecate on its young?"
Unable to hold it any longer, Sayu doubled over with laughter. Light wrinkled his nose at her.
"Okay, I give up," said Mrs. Yagami, "tell me, what animal has two assholes?"
L picked up one shoulder and casually said, "a police horse."
After a beat of sizzling silence Light's mouth fell open, his shoulders sagged and he stared at L in plain bewilderment. Sayu clutched her tummy, giggling, her shoulders shook with laughter. Then she collected herself, turned red in the face, crossed her arms and turned away from L with a huff.
Mrs. Yagami laughed L off gracefully. "That was a cheeky joke, Ryuga, you nearly had me there."
L cracked a smirk. "I meant no offence."
"Oh I know you didn't."
"Soup is wonderful Sachiko, what's it called?"
"It's just ordinary noppe jiru on a dashi base, nothing special."
L blinked. "Dashi? I didn't taste that."
Mrs. Yagami's eyes turned into half moons. "The taste is quite subtle, don't you think?"
She stood and cleared the bowls away, then returned for the heavy pot of steaming noppe soup. When the door to the kitchen closed behind her, Light nudged L with one foot under the table. L looked at him.
"Seriously, you calling my mom 'Sachiko' is the creepiest thing I've ever heard."
"She said to call her by her first name," said L.
A mysterious smile played on Light's lips. "She did," he said, tilting his head to the right.
Minutes later Mrs. Yagami brought in two large bowls: one with seasoned curry rice which L could smell from where he sat, and a bowl of cucumber salad. The salad had curious white bits in it that looked fishy, and snippets of dark green seaweed. Sesame seeds were scattered over the glittering, shining mass of fresh vegetables. Light helped his mom portion the rice over plates, while Mrs. Yagami dished the salad out.
There was a heavy chest of drawers to L's right. From surveillance tapes he knew it contained a spare set of dishes, clean kitchen towels and washcloths, a dustpan and brush, dish-washing liquid, bars of soap, and among other things, a first aid kit. To his left, a miniature palm resting on a low table, separated him from the long and stylish rectangular sofa. A delicate glass coffee table was set in front of the sofa, and cushions were strewn about on the floor. The glass table was covered in girls' magazines ― Sayu's magazines, her iPod still lay on the coffee table, on top of a lipgloss ad. The model had bottle blonde hair and luscious pastel pink lips, heavenly, full lips L just wanted to bite... This model reminded L of someone, ...someone he had seen before... He frowned, but who? He couldn't place her at the moment. Her name just slipped beyond his grasp.
A wide flat screen TV claimed most of the opposite wall. It was a relatively new Fujitsu model, one from 2001. Mrs. Yagami had purchased it two years ago on discount at a Yamada Denki warehouse in Akihabara and had it delivered home. The NPA men who'd installed the surveillance equipment said that rigging this TV had been a nightmare: its screen was incredibly flat, practically impossible to tamper with. Fujitsu still refused to disclose the manufacture scheme, on patent grounds. Fitting a camera inside this TV without breaking it was risky business, and they hadn't been able to remove the camera once surveillance was over. Albeit deactivated and no longer receiving signals from and sending footage to NPA headquarters, the camera was still there, its lens looking right at them.
Between the TV and the door to the hallway there was a cabinet with black lacquer drawers depicting lotus flowers. Photos of the Yagami family, smiling and hugging, hung in chromium frames over the cabinet. A photo of a much younger, dark haired Light Yagami caught L's eye ― L placed him at about six years old in the picture, he was dressed in a formal kimono and held a lit sparkler in his left hand on what appeared to be the Japanese New Year's eve. And above the door there was a fashionable square shaped clock, which had only lines to mark the hour, no numbers. The clock struck five, Mrs. Yagami seated herself. L snapped his chopsticks and brought a bite of curry rice to his mouth. He chewed, swallowed ― it tasted so good.
'But where,' he wondered, 'where could Light's Tennis trophies be?' They weren't on display in the living room... strange.
"So you're rooming near Shinkoiwa station?" Mrs. Yagami started conversationally.
L bobbed his head, shoving some salad into his mouth and humming lightly. He couldn't tell what the fishy bits were... they were stringy and salty, difficult to chew.
"I do hope you're careful," she sighed. "That place is awfully dangerous. It's not right for students to live there... But what can you do, really, with the prices of student dorms as they are now?" she shook her head. "It's not very fair on students coming from outside Tokyo."
Light cut in. "That's not the worst of it ― tell her what you eat for lunch, Ryuga."
L frowned at Light. "...why?"
Light shook his head at him, and turned to his mother, urgently gripping the edge of the dining table. "Mom, I found him on campus, eating Puccho gummy after Puccho gummy, for lunch. And that's it. That was his lunch."
"Oh dear," Mrs. Yagami's eyebrows shot up. "Ryuga, honey, I wouldn't want to teach you how to live your life, but so many young people nowadays keep unhealthy eating habits. And what a shame! You can't live off snacks, especially when your body is still developing, you really do need all those minerals and vitamins you can only get from normal food, to grow healthy and strong." She paused and glanced at her daughter, then focused back on L. "I keep telling our Sayu to have healthy snacks when she goes out with her friends to that local mall they recently built here round the corner ―"
"Mom!" said Sayu, slamming her palms flat on the table.
Mrs. Yagami continued talking, without bothering to react at Sayu's little outburst. "You should be really careful with what you eat, Ryuga. Those sweets are filled with toxic waste products that aren't even listed as ingredients. You are better off avoiding sweets altogether, if you don't want to develop gastric ulcers or gastritis, or one of those horrid gastrointestinal problems later on."
With a look of intense disgust, Sayu spit out all that was in her mouth.
Mrs. Yagami gasped. "Sayu, manners." She stared at her daughter helplessly, with widening eyes.
Sayu wiped her lips with a paper napkin.
"Light brought a guest home, you can at least try to show him some respect, even if you don't feel like it." Mrs. Yagami sucked in a deep breath of air. "How would it look if your brother acted the way you do now, when Erika or Yuki stayed over?"
Sayu crossed her arms and glared at her mother.
Light mischievously grinned at L.
Mrs. Yagami sighed heavily. "Really Sayu, you'd better help me in the kitchen. I've got a stack of dishes there that need washing up." She sent Sayu a meaningful look.
Sayu narrowed her eyes, but stood, grabbed her plate, and stalked off to the kitchen. The kitchen door slid shut with a bang.
Turning her attention back to L, Mrs. Yagami forced a smile. "Sorry about that, she's not normally like this." Mrs. Yagami shrugged. "Anyway, I hope you will heed my warning and take better care of yourself." She reached out and took hold of L's right wrist. "Dear Heavens, you're thin!"
When Mrs. Yagami let go of L's hand, it fell limply on the table. She clutched both sides of her face.
L grimaced. "Sometimes I get so busy I just forget to eat," he admitted. "But," he pointed at his plate, "this salad tastes very nice, the cucumber really brings out the fish. What sort of fish is it?"
Mrs. Yagami smiled faintly. "You like it? I'm glad. It's tako su, I made a slight variation by using regular vinegar instead of rice vinegar."
L stared at her. "Tako... su?"
"Yes, not all people enjoy octopus, but I'm glad you do." She beamed at him. "I was so worried you wouldn't like it."
Octopus, he had been eating octopus the entire time. "No, no ― I loved it," L said. He felt like throwing up. He clamped his teeth together and forced the rising bile down his throat. Octopus, or 'tako' was a gourmet dish in Japan, many impoverished Japanese would kill for a slice, he couldn't show his own personal dislike of it, he wouldn't.
Mrs. Yagami smiled. "Octopus salad is easy enough to make, you could even do it at home! The octopus is first boiled, then the tentacles are removed, and the head is sliced up in cubes. You'd better get rid of the eyes though, they aren't very nutritious. The brains are fine, they contain a great amount of useful minerals." Mrs. Yagami nodded happily.
"Then you only need to chop up some cucumbers ― a pair of cucumbers should suffice for one portion ― and you're done. Seaweed and vinegar can be added to adjust the taste, if you aren't entirely satisfied with the final result, and sesame seeds are my personal little touch. I came upon this octopus at our local fish market, but if you're only going to make tako su, you can just buy the octopus head ― they sell them separately in most supermarkets."
L felt sick.
He nodded dumbly without saying a thing. He looked down at his plate: he'd eaten all his curry rice, and still had five bites of the glossy green salad to go... The white bits of octopus head swam before his eyes.
With resolve, he clasped his chopsticks and prepared to wolf down the salad.
"Mom, don't you think it's time we had dessert?" Light said, standing up. He winked. "Sayu must be feeling all lonely in the kitchen."
Before L could convince himself to take a brave bite of tako, Light had lifted his plate off the table. "You're done with this, right Ryuga?"
L stared at Light ― how had he known? He gave a dull nod. The sick feeling subsided. Instead about a million other questions arose in L's mind: how had Light known about it? Why was he being so nice? If Light knew about L's dislike of octopus, then it must mean his own acting skills were a lot worse than he'd thought. If Light had seen through this act of his, then what else did Light suspect? What else did he know?
Light cleared all the other plates and vanished beyond the kitchen door. L stared after him.
Awhile later both Light and Sayu returned with a steaming plate of little pancakes. With a stoic face Sayu set four ceramic tea cups on the table. Mrs. Yagami hurried to the kitchen and back, before pouring a clear green tea into each cup. L asked for sugar. Then they all sat at the table, eating dorayaki pancakes and drinking their tea.
A sweet red bean paste had been spread over the pancakes, L licked his lips. Along with the rich green tea, it created a celebration on his tongue. In a mere matter of minutes his plate was empty. Mrs. Yagami poured him another cup, but there were no more pancakes...
L reclined in his seat. His feet itched to crawl up the chair, but he grit his teeth and forced them stay put on the floor. He needed something to distract himself, and ended up studying the photos on the opposite wall. Little Sayu wearing a bucket hat, posing under a sunflower; a picture of the whole family, taken about one year ago: Mrs. Yagami in a long evening gown, holding Sayu's hand, Mr. Yagami with a stiff arm over his wife's shoulders, a new haircut and a well-trimmed moustache, and Light in a badly fitting navy blue suit, standing off to the side, a fake smile plastered to his face, his dyed hair shining in the overhead lights.
L rubbed his thumb over his upper lip. Something wasn't right about that photograph, but for the life of him, he couldn't put his finger on it. So he filed the thought away for later examination, and turned toward Light, who had also finished eating by now. Light smiled back at him.
"I was just wondering," L said, twisting the little teaspoon around between his fingers. "Where do you keep your Tennis trophies?"
The smile drained from Light's face and he turned unnaturally pale. Mrs. Yagami set her teacup down, and cast a worried look at her son. Sayu grinned, while nibbling at her pancake.
Light's lips thinned, without replying he stared back at L. With his large, wide eyes he looked like a deer in the headlights, ...or a child caught in a lie.
L frowned, he didn't understand any of it.
"Light put all his trophies away in the basement two years ago," said Mrs. Yagami, "when he stopped playing."
L cast her a look, then turned back to Light.
Light's face took on a mask of indifference. He shrugged. "They started taking up too much space in the house."
Mrs. Yagami pursed her lips. L looked about the spaceous living room, he recalled how the shelves in Light's bedroom had seemed so empty. It didn't make any sense. Surely there had to be sufficient space for at least one trophy, or even two. Light could have left the most important ones on display. Why pack up all of them?
Light coolly sipped his tea, flat out ignoring all the worried looks his mother sent him.
L picked up two sugar cubes, and turned them around in his fingers. Just then the front door clicked, keys rattled, and heavy footfalls moved through the hallway. L froze, this could only mean one thing, but that was impossible. He glanced at the clock ― it was only 17:29. A cold sweat broke out on L's back, he shivered. Could the clock be wrong? No, L cast a glance out the window, it was still light out in the street, no, he couldn't have lost track of time, it couldn't be past six. So why? Why was Inspector Yagami home?
Dimples appeared in Mrs. Yagami's cheeks, and her shoulders relaxed. "Oh, that must be my husband," she said. She stood, and walked over to the door.
L crushed the sugar cubes in his hand. Like sand, the sugar grains slipped between his fingers and seeped onto the table, out of his grasp.
Mrs. Yagami touched the door handle.
L pulled his feet off the floor, and hugged his knees to his chest. His heart was pounding.
The door to the hall creaked open. L watched Mrs. Yagami cross the hall and stop at the hallway. There, dressed in his long khaki trench coat, with his back to them, L saw the inspector take off his shoes. Any moment now Inspector Yagami would turn around, walk inside the living room, and then he would see him.
L was trapped here, there was no escape. Just seconds later Inspector Yagami would walk in and blow his cover. And everything, everything he'd been building up to this far would be in vain. The whole thing, pointless. A waste of resources, a waste of time, a waste of lives ― all because of one little mistake. A stupid, childish mistake he couldn't have made, a mistake he was too smart to make. He should have stayed behind the monitor, where he belonged. He'd let his feelings guide his decisions. He'd wanted to meet Kira face to face, to feel the thrill of the hunt, feel the satisfaction of defeating him up close. To be the first to see the look on Kira's face when the sucker realized he'd lost. He had been arrogant, and childish, and ...stupid. And now he would pay the price: L would lose, Kira would win. And when that happened, he'd end up paying with his life.
"How was your day Honey?" Mrs. Yagami said in the hallway.
Inspector Yagami grunted. "Someone thought it would be funny to make me sign off all District reports of the First Quarter."
Mrs. Yagami stroked her husband's back, and helped him out of his coat.
With a breathy sigh, Inspector Yagami turned around and pecked his wife on the cheek. "Given that it's April Fool's, figured it was okay to put off till tomorrow. What's for dinner? Smells good."
Mrs. Yagami laughed softly. Inspector Yagami followed her down the hall.
L bit his nails.
And then it happened. Mrs. Yagami walked inside the living room, but Inspector Yagami did not follow, he stopped at the door frame, utterly still.
L stared at Inspector Yagami....
...the inspector stared back.
However, before they could say a thing, Mrs. Yagami spun on her heel and spread her arms. In a pleasant cheerful voice she told her husband:
"Oh Honey, Light brought a friend home from university," she inclined her head toward L, "this is Ryuga."
Silence stretched, the inspector said nothing in reply, a deep frown cut into his forehead. With a severe tight-lipped grimace, the inspector stared at L.
Light and Sayu exchanged a look. Mrs. Yagami likewise looked puzzled.
Inspector Yagami cleared his throat.
L gulped. 'This is it. He is going to out me.'
I picture Light as a solid Eminem fan, from way back in the 90s. Eminem's songs mentioned in this chapter are respectively 'Go To Sleep' and 'Nail in the Coffin'.
Credit for the crass joke L makes in this chapter goes to Lars Kepler.
Light is definitely ambidextrous in canon. :-) Ever tried doing your homework with your right hand, and writing names inside a potato chip bag with your left? Not an easy task. And Light pulled it off with ease. With ease! And made it look like he was only eating potato chips... wow.
So yeah, inspired by that, I imagined Light could have been born left-handed ― which explains the ambidexterity, and adds more depth to his character.
Back in the 80s and 90s, many countries still supported the abusive practice of 'converting' left-handed people. Children who were born left-handed were forced to write with their right hand instead. In many cultures, including Japan, left-handed people were thought to be 'born evil', and friends with the Devil. In the past, most left-handed people were punished for who they were, and not accepted by society. To this day, the percentage of left-handed people in Japan remains lower than in most countries.
published July 11, 2017